Equalization can be of benefit in the post-processing of most field recordings. Here are some of my commonly-used equalization schemes and reasoning. I will update this periodically as I make changes to my workflow or learn new methods.
I like recording ambient sounds of nature, locations, equipment, and other assorted noises. When I play my recordings back, I want them to sound exactly like when I was there. Here is my technique, equipment, and settings I use.
Last updated: 02-August-2021
The Technique, Equipment, and Settings
This effect of “being there” is achieved through binaural recording.Binaural recording, simply and for my purposes, is recording sound with two microphones separated by a human head or reasonable facsimile. By doing this, when you play it back you get an authentic reproduction of the sound as if your ears were hearing it in real time.
Equipment – Microphones
To get high-quality sound, I use either
a mini-ears (fake ears) binaural set-up as shown below, or
in-ear binaural microphones that I wear in my own ears.
The binaural “mini-ears” I use are from SoundProfessionals and are model number B-15029. They are realistic but fake ears that have microphones embedded down inside of them to simulate a head. They are more portable than a full head system and record great binaural sound. I like to use these for when I can put them on a tripod and leave them outside in the environment. For indoors, they draw too much attention. I use these when I don’t have the ability to be still enough or don’t have the time to spend sitting and recording.
The in-ear, worn, microphones are also from SoundProfessionals. You wear these and they are inconspicuous as it looks like you are listening instead of recording. People don’t know you’re recording, so everyone acts naturally around you and do not ask questions of you. These microphones are from SoundProfessionals and are model number 30-11847 (C7-XLR) – MS-TFB-2-11847. With these, I can record the ambiance of an area without drawing attention to myself much at all.
Power is needed to activate these microphones. The mini binaural ears and in-ear microphones need power so I turn on the power option within my recorder and these high-sensitivity microphones really give a true binaural experience.
Wind protection is a real thing and must be considered. You will have lots of wind noise to edit if you do not cover the ears/microphones with a furry cover during even the slightest windy weather. Yes, you give up some sensitivity to lower level noises, but I find it is better to prevent the wind noise if possible instead of editing it out later.
The in-ear microphones have little foam pieces that go over the microphones and then into your ear, but I sometimes find this annoying and impractical when I want to respond quickly and record something. In many cases I use a product called Windfree that is like a set of earmuffs, but without the fur. It allows sound to come through it nearly unimpeded.
Equipment – Recorders
The recorder that I use is a Tascam DR-05. The recorder can be taken almost anywhere in my shirt, pants, or coat pockets.
It records onto micro-SD cards and has inputs for USB transfer of files. I record in WAV format. I record without equalization and with the sensitivity set to high. For loud sounds, I would probably need to adjust the sensitivity to low, but I haven’t encountered that yet in my recording.
When recording outdoors with a tripod, I use a Tascam BP6-AA battery pack that I bought from BH Photo in order to get a longer record time and not have to change batteries very often. You can see it attached to the back of my recorder and connected through the USB. I use this only when on the tripod outdoors with the mini-ears because indoors or for portable use with the in-ear microphones, it is too large to carry easily.
Outdoors with the mini-ears, I use a tripod for holding the recorder and microphones steady during the recording process. This can be any tripod that is steady and does not make noise. I have found that the smaller, lighter tripods do not work well because they make noise. Mine is a MeFoto brand, but any sturdy one will work.
The DR-05 allows level setting, and I use that whenever I can. This is accessed when the recorder is on standby.
For “set it and forget it” kind of sounds where I don’t know for sure what I’m going to get, I adjust the recording level input to 90 (max) then use the Peak Reduction function during the standby recording. By doing this, the level is automatically set to the highest that does not distort. This setting is retained after recording. If I record a thunderstorm, for example, the peak level from the first thunder will set the max level to the point it will not distort and maintain that level throughout the recording. If a louder noise occurs later, the level will again be set lower to accommodate that peak level. I shoot for a -12dB level on the meter in the recorder. The only thing to watch out for is when setting it up so that you do not inadvertently bump the microphone or otherwise cause a high signal. If you do, then the peak reduction function of the recorder will make all the sound recorded after that event a low level, resulting in disappointing results.
Or, if I have the in-ear microphones in my ears and am listening to what I am to record, while on standby record mode, the microphones are taking in the sound and showing me the level on the meter so I can manually adjust the level. I adjust for an average level of -12 dB as indicated on the recorder’s display while in standby recording mode. I keep the Peak Reduction function active, then during recording so that if I have misjudged the level, the peak reduction feature will bring the recording level down if needed.
The DR-05 also allows for peak limiting with the Limiter setting instead of the Peak Reduction. I rarely use the Limiter. The idea is to adjust the recording level to where the average sounds hover around the -12dB mark on the display, then if an excessive level comes in, it will be limited by the Limiter.
The third automatic level setting on the DR-05 is the Auto Level setting. Using this instead of Limiter or Peak Reduction moves the recording levels up and down based on the incoming sounds. This can be good for some instances but will produce abnormally high lows and unusually-low highs so this can ruin the realism of natural sound recordings so I do not use it often. When I am recording industrial sounds of varying amplitude where realism is not expected, I use this setting, It is best suited for recording conversations and meetings.
As for the file format, bits per sample, and sampling rate, I use uncompressed, 24-bit wave file types recorded at 44.1 kHz.
File type I set as Wave (WAV).
It is an uncompressed format so I am not losing any information in compression.
It is supported by many software clients including Microsoft and Apple.
Files can be manipulated from Wave into other formats as needed. I like the FLAC format and often convert my final files from Wave to FLAC in 24-bit format.
Bit per Sample I set at 24 bits.
I used to use 16 bits as this covers 93-96dB of range and seemed to be enough for field recordings that are usually with some noise in the background and maybe do not need the 24 bit.
But, I was wrong. I have found with my recordings that I lack the “air” sound in my 16-bit recordings where my 24-bit ones have an “airy feel” that I like. 24-bit is definitely better.
This is probably because the noise floor is much lower in 24-bit recordings.
The dynamic range is increased.
There are 65,536 possible levels in 16-bit recordings, where 24-bit ones have a whopping 16,777,216 levels. This additional detail in 24-bit recordings is noticeable to me.
To make recordings outdoors with mini-ears, I put my recorder and mini-ears in a sheltered (from wind and rain/snow) area outdoors, push the record button and step away until my watch says it is time to come back and shut it off. I get about 25 minutes worth of recording time for any particular sound. If I go beyond the 25-minute mark and don’t come back to the recorder to stop it, it continues recording into a different file. Basically, it keeps recording until I stop it and if I go for an hour, it will record two files, one after another.
To make recordings indoors or outdoors with in-ear microphones, I put the microphones in my ears and the recorder in my pocket then place myself where I want to record. I record anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour of sound in-location. I like to capture what it feels like to be there so I may turn my head occasionally to get a different perspective. I might record this as a separate file or just keep recording one file.
Here is an example of an in-ear binaural recording taken from inside a parked car facing a busy roadway with the windows down.
Invariably there are unwanted noises on the resulting file that have to be removed and I do that afterward in software.
For editing, I have two recommendations.
I use the free Audacity software. It takes some getting used to, but this software really works well for editing audio files. Clipping out offending noises is easy, and fade-in and fade-out functions work well.
I also use the relatively low-cost Izotope RX software. It is a standalone editor that in the Elements version has the basics needed for processing. It facilitates much quicker file editing and makes short work of my file editing.
Becoming more of my favorite is Edison from Image-Line and found within FL Studio. This one is great for making seamless loops.
In the end, I use a combination of two or more of the above.
That is how it is done, by me, using my set-up. There are many other choices available out there, but I chose this one as a low-cost alternative to other more expensive set-ups. You can do the same and achieve similar quality files by following these guidelines.
I like ambient drone music and would like to expand my expertise in making such music, so I’ve begun a study of some of what I consider the best ambient drone-type of music. This will be an ongoing collecting of information and you are welcome to check back when it has been updated.
Sage Audio and Mastering the Mix both wrote a great article on the levels required for the various streaming platforms so I thought I would share these as this is a common concern for music producers. I’ll also tell you how I am rationalizing my mastering.
Intervals in music are important for understanding the sounds of chords and dyads. Even melodies can benefit from a clear understanding of intervals. Unfortunately, a lot of the information I have found out there is confusing. I’m trying to unravel it for myself and you may get something out of it as well.
I like Biosphere’s (Geir Jenssen’s) music very much and one of my favorite albums is Shenzhou. The album is made up of repeated looping of Debussy orchestral track samples. The title song is particularly interesting to me as I like the depth and width of the sound. I was able to figure out how to remake it and I’d like to show you how I did that.
Making music with loops is not a new process. However, after thinking about it, I was surprised at how many different ways there are to loop samples to make music. I’ll add to this as I discover more, but the list is long right now.
It may seem strange to want background noise in a recording, but it gives it a certain realism as opposed to the cleanliness of a digitally-mastered DAW creation. I like the sound I hear in the background of Susumu Yokota’s Saku from his Sakura album, so I was able to replicate it using common pink noise and equalization. Here’s how:
I have been building presets for TAL Sampler for awhile and thought I would share some of them that I particularly like. These have a sound that reminds me of Boards of Canada. I even named a few with telling names based on Boards of Canada tracks and titles.
They are free for you to use in your commercial works. Yes. Free. (Not that you would, but please don’t resell them or anything crazy like that.) You can download them in one Zip file (see below).
For the aspiring tape loopers out there, I’m sure I speak for us all when I say that we’d all like to have the time to play around with splicing tape into loops and recording through a four-track. But when this is not possible, here’s an easy alternative right in your DAW.
Some of what makes Boards of Canada’s songs (or for that matter, any artist’s songs) interesting for me are the chords. If you know the chords, you can get a feel for how to make your own song sound similar or “in the flavor of” so to speak. From the chords, you can often get a melody you like by building off of them or playing along with them. You can even arpeggiate them.
I took the chords from Boards of Canada songs and put them into Xfer Records Cthulhu. From Cthulhu, you can make variations, add low notes, and change to major/minor/suspended. This gives a lot of inspiring chord progressions from some of my favorite Boards of Canada songs. I put them into a zip file of chord presets that you can use in Cthulhu for yourself (see below).
Loop recording in FL Studio is one thing I would like to master because it means I can potentially create Eno-style tape loops. In the following months, I will be adding to this post with whatever I can find that can enable me to get some good loops going.
I have put my method for getting perfectly seamless loops from Edison and FL Studio in here also. I divide this post into my research first and then my practice section after where I have tried various things.
Psychic Modulation has made a synthesizer that combines that “lo-fi” sound with vintage tape and synth type of processing, for a synth that sounds remarkably similar to artists such as Boards of Canada and others of that type.
It comes as a low-cost vst file type of plugin that works in your DAW (digital audio workstation). I use it in FL Studio.
Simple to use and fun to adjust, Phonec2 shatters the learning curve usually associated with many soft synths out there today. I like it in my music because it gives me the sounds I need that fit my genre.
I have made my sound bank of presets for Phonec version 2 available to everyone that owns Phonec2.
Using TAL Vocoder (free), you can make some really interesting “percussive-toned beats” that have a sound similar to the band, Plaid. But, you have to use the vocoder in an unusual way. The idea came to me as I read an interview with the members of Plaid – a band I like.
It is easy to be a perfectionist, for me. I like things to be just right and as near perfect as I can get them. This extends well into music and my production of it (or lack thereof). But it doesn’t have to be this way.
After having been to Budapest and found an 1896 C. Bechstein piano in the lobby of The Continental Hotel, I’ve learned much more about how I can make the same sound of it or any other piano within Pianoteq or via other vst instruments and effects. But, in fact, I aim to make it sound even better. Here’s what I have learned so far.
In general, you should not expect to make much, if any, money from music. Do the music for you and not for anyone else. Don’t do it for the money because that is a really rough road to travel – and it leads to poverty (in my opinion).
Wondering how to get started making music? It’s not hard and I can tell you what I did. Read on and you’ll be able to know my experiences and can adapt these ideas for your own.
My background is not music. For me, I had a little piano experience when I was a kid, but that was it (and not really very useful in itself.) I just, in the last few years, had this need to make music. A desire. I wanted to make music. Somehow.
I had the goal of creating a great multi-band compression/expansion scheme using Pro-MB. Fortunately for me, Xfer Records gives away a free plugin effect called OTT that is a three-band compressor. It performs upward and downward compression and is a recreation of the Ableton Live OTT setting (Over the Top) in their compressor.
I like it because it gives a bright and vibrant sound quality to any track it is applied. Also, it is free.
But, I wanted more control like I can get from Fabfilter’s Pro-MB multi-band compressor. So, I set out to replicate it (kind-of). While not the same as OTT, I found it quite easy to get the sound I was after once you know what the OTT is doing:
There’s not a manual with the Gwylim Simcock Felt Piano by Spitfire Audio, so here are my notes about the microphones used to record this wonderful piano. This piano is excellent and I highly recommend it.
Microphones recorded the sound with Neve pre-amps and Cranesong AD converters at 96k. In the interface, the microphones can be involved more or less by sliders with letters beneath them. Here are what those letters mean:
Glitchmachines makes some fantastic plugins for making music. Their plugins are generators and effects or combinations of each. They are packed full of features and are intimidatingly complex while being simple to use. I find that I experiment for hours with them.
I am trying to learn how to use them effectively in my music process and will be updating this post as I progress.
I really admire deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) and his excellent music, including his use of chords and arps. He has a knack for it. I’ve watched him create on Masterclass and he just absolutely knows what he is doing. Moreover, he seems to be a guy who is limitless in his thinking while still knowing what he likes and dislikes. He doesn’t put out a ton of crap that is not up to his standards. Admirable.
Well, I wanted to know more about his producing talents, so I deconstructed some of his music, his chord progressions, and arpeggios. I’ll be adding more as I learn more, so stop back and check the “last updated” text below.
Modes can add interest and really shape a musical piece so knowing the modes and what each is noted for is a good thing. I come back to this post quite often when I am composing so I can choose a mode.
There are a lot of ways to measure the levels of sound in your music production. Meter scales vary widely, and there are many misconceptions about what are the correct levels. Here below is what I have found currently works best for me.
Fracture Sounds makes an outstanding Kontakt instrument called Woodchester Piano for NI Kontakt.
Listen to it here:
These below are presets, or as Kontakt calls them, “snapshots” that are various settings of the Kontakt instrument. These are NKSN (.nksn) files that need to be placed in your Kontakt snapshots folder for the Woodchester piano.
You must own the full version of Native Instruments Kontakt and also must own the Fracture Sounds Woodchester Piano Kontakt library/instrument in order to use these Kontakt Snapshots.
Air is a term used to describe that high and lofty feel to a mix. Sometimes your mix may get muddy or you just want to get a bit more high frequency into it. “Air it out” so to speak.
The U-he Satin plugin is based on tape and there is an old trick that studios did to air out a mix using tape. It was to record at a high speed and playback at a lower one. I’ve made a preset for it and you can download it. Here is what I did to replicate it and how I use it.
Cassette tape is a medium that many bands recorded their sound on before mastering them. I wanted to reproduce this effect using U-h Satin so I made a preset that approximates that.
The U-he Satin plugin does not come with a preset for this, but I can choose the cassette speed of 1 and 7/8 inches per second (i.p.s.). I’ve made a preset for it and you can download it. Here is what I did to replicate it and how I use it.
VHS tape is a sound that groups like Boards of Canada have been compared with. It is that glitchy, old tape sound with plenty of dropouts and fluctuations.
The U-he Satin plugin does not come with a preset for this, but it can be somewhat replicated by choosing a slow tape speed. I’ve made a preset for it and you can download it. Here is what I did to replicate it and how I use it.
Dolby HX Pro Headroom Expansion was a method used in tape recordings in the 80’s to give an improved signal-to-noise ratio. As a result, the recordings were much more powerful-sounding with clarity and presence as well as low-end strength. It did this by introducing a bias signal at the high frequency to push the recording out of the inherent non-linearities of tape.
I had one of the tape decks that could record in HX Pro and it made every recording just shine. I wanted to achieve this with today’s vst plugins and I believe I finally have with the U-he Satin tape simulating plugin.
Xfer Records Dimension Expander is a free vst plugin effect that makes any synth or instrument sound much “wider.” This means more presence and stereo effect.
I wanted to create this in FL Studio using the stock plugins, so first I had to understand what the Dimension Expander plugin was doing. It seems to be modeled on an old trick where the incoming signal is split and the split-half is phase inverted and then fed back into the main signal that is not. Then there is some delay added. This is what powered the Roland Dimension D, a piece of hardware from the 80’s.
Fortunately, you can get something that sounds quite similar, and maybe even better, from FL Studio. I used the Fruity Stereo Shaper plugin. Continue reading →
Xfer Records Cthulhu program creates arpeggios and chords like none other. Lots of patterns when used with the correct synths, can sound a lot like deadmou5 and this makes sense as Joel Zimmerman has been known to use Cthulhu made by his associate, Steve Duda.
I find that often it is desirable for me to get the actual notes Cthulhu creates out to the piano roll in FL Studio so they can be edited individually and outside of Cthulhu.
I’ll start by showing you the basic set-up and then the one where you can get at those individual notes.