Experimental Studio Techniques for a unique sound

by Tony Koretz www.koretzmusic.com/tony.html

As we all strive for a sound that uniquely identifies us, it is often a good idea to try and think outside the square a little, to come up with ideas that just might be what a particular song needs, to give it that edge when it comes to a recorded sound. Since there are many people these days either doing the recording themselves at home or in small project studios, I thought I would like to share with you a few ideas which you might find useful if you are a DIY recording engineer/producer with a decent bit of gear at your disposal and a disposition for experimenting. All the examples I use here are techniques I utilized on my "Kicking Cans" album which was entirely recorded, mixed and mastered at my project studio called Country Lane situated just out of Hamilton.

So here I go, I’ll shoot with a few now and save a few more for another day perhaps.

"The Chequered Flag" used a couple of interesting little tricks. A couple of people asked me how I got the lead guitar sound. Well it was Gibson SG into Peavey 5150 for the most part, but I used a little trick to fatten the lead sound.

Here it is: I sent the original digital pre-recorded lead track off to a two-track analog reel-to-reel tape machine. Recorded it there, and then sent it back to the digital medium, blending the original recording with the analog recording to really fatten it up. Because the tape does not stay in perfect time with the original, I had to chop up the new digital recording from the tape, into segments and match them with the original lead recording.

Sounds complicated but it’s pretty easy really and I used similar techniques with snare and kick drum recordings on a couple of songs too. It can really add warmth and substance to digital recordings.

The second technique involves a short section near the end of the song where it sounds like everything is being sucked down a tube or something. Is it flanging or is it phasing? Well actually, it’s both, one following up on the other, and to get such a pronounced effect this was done on the final 2-track mix rather than on individual instruments.

Want to try to get something a little different from your acoustic guitar sound?

Put a couple of nice mics on the guitar and record them to their own tracks, at the same time run a line from the guitar to a nice guitar amplifier with a little distortion or overdrive and record this to a separate track . I did this on "And The Winds Blows", panning them to different parts of the mix and adding a nice plate reverb to the amped sound. It almost sounds like two guitars playing rhythm, but it’s only one.

Trying to create a sound that is identifiable as "Your" sound can be done in many different ways. How about layered harmonized guitars? This works best if the parts are kept simple. Use a basic riff, add an octave part and maybe a third or a fifth to it as well. The timing has to be precise if you want it to sound like one big wall of the notes making up a chord. It makes the part sound huge if you get it right. I use this technique a lot as part of my trademark sound.

Sometimes you want a particular piece of your drum kit to sound maybe a little bigger, or somehow slightly different. One way of doing this is to attach a sample to the drum in question, that plays at the same time as the original hit.

I did this on "I Belong" with the snare drum, using a snare sample taken from the same snare drum, just a different hit and attaching it to each snare hit throughout the song. These have to be timed spot on or it sounds like two distinct hits, or like it’s out of phase, but if done right the snare can sound pretty big and gnarly.

Reamping is a technique that can be useful to get a particular sound you are after. This can be as simple as taking a pre-recorded guitar track and sending it back to a guitar amp, tinkering with the EQs and re-recording it to a new track, or more complicated like sending a mix of your drums to a nice set of PA speakers, cranking them up, putting some mics out in the room and re-recording the resultant sounds to a fresh pair of tracks and mixing these back in with the original tracks. I used both these techniques on the album, but I’ll let you try and figure out where. You can do similar things to keyboards if
you have rather sterile midi tracks. You could try running them out to a nice amp or good PA speakers putting a couple of close mics as well as a room mic or two, run the track, push record , maybe add a nice reverb, a little bit of delay or some chorus and see what you can come up with. If you happen to own a nice Leslie cabinet . . . . . aah, there’s another story. Just remember the old rule "Gagbage in-garbage out". Make sure all your recordings are of a good standard to start with. If they aren’t, then start again and re-do them. No amount of trickery and audio scull duggery can fix a poorly recorded track.

Using good equipment, in a good sounding room, gives you a pretty fair chance of succeeding in creating tracks that can be modified by some of these methods later. Well that about covers it for today. There are many more useful technical tips I would like to share with you in another article perhaps. So have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Who knows, you might come up with some weird and wonderful new sound that nobody else has thought of!

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