How to capture a great sound in a less than great sounding space

Posted by Aaron Groombridge on

How to capture a great sound in a less than great sounding space

 Capturing a great idea or performance in a crappy sounding space IS better than not capturing it at all. Consider the following options when you are stuck trying to capture an instrument in a not-so-good sounding location, consider the following options:

 If the space sounds average, and there is some outside noise

  • Use mainly close micing with either condenser or dynamic microphones.
  • If you get too many bass frequencies when close micing with a dynamic mic, move it back slowly; the bass frequencies will reduce - But not so far back as to capture too much room or outside noise.
  • Avoid multi-microphone recording as this is usually about capturing the atmosphere/room, which you are not trying to do in this scenario.
  • DI electric bass instruments (see below).

 If the space sounds rough but is not awful, and there is some outside noise

  • DI as many of the electric instruments as you can (see below).
  • For acoustic instruments, including guitars and vocals, try using a dynamic microphone. These will typically pick up what is directly in front of it significantly more than most condenser microphones.
  • If you are capturing an amplifier, try turning it up loud enough to be louder than other noises around you but not so loud that you can hear the sound coming back from the walls. A quick option is to try making a blanket fort around the amp and microphone.. Lean a mattress against the wall... But these options will only help with high-frequency echoes - which will be half your problem - the other half is mid and bass frequencies which will make you mix sound muddy and cheap.
  • Get REAL acoustic treatment (It makes a huge difference) to help take the room out of your recordings. You can use a reverb plugin to put a better room sound in later. Make sure you are turning your microphone level up to compensate for the quieter amplifier. Bonus tip - empty egg cartons belong in the recycling.

 If the space sounds terrible, and there is a lot of noise

  • DI everything you can!
  • If you want to record acoustic instruments - consider investing in acoustic treatment or another location.  
  • If you are still keen to work with a mic in the room, a dynamic microphone close to the source will help limit the room issues and create excessive boominess, challenging to fix in the mix.

DI means

  Plug your electric instrument directly into the “High Z” or “Instrument” input on your audio interface, and then using amp simulator and reverb plugins to create the sound you want. DI for bass is pretty much a standard for home/project studios as the bass frequencies are so challenging to control. The truth is that the vast majority of bass you hear on recordings are DI.

Don’t give up!

  • Do not let these limitations stand in your way of creating, recording, and practising techniques.
  • Consider building your sound around your limitations; use them creatively.
  • Capturing a great idea or performance in a crappy sounding space IS better than not capturing it at all.
  • The truth is, outside of a multi-million dollar studio built for recording sound, you will always be wrestling with ok room sounds.
  • I have recorded in kitchens, basements, bedrooms, garages, warehouses, office buildings, lounges, bathrooms, hot water cupboards...
  • Where possible, stay away from reflective surfaces like glass, try keeping bass-heavy instruments away from concrete walls, and avoid recording in the corner of the dead centre of a room.  Somewhere in between will typically be best. 
  • Take advantage of the challenge you have and learn to make it work.

Still stuck?

  If you are struggling to make it work, I can help! Book me in for a session or two and we can work to get the best out of your space together.