Consistency, organization and sonic integrity are important when recording into a DAW. If you are a musician starting a record and you are recording it yourself, here are some things to keep in mind that will keep your computer sessions organized and make it easier to mix your recordings into a great listening experience later on.
1. Some suggestions for the recorder/DAW setup: Record at full 24 bits if possible and don't use compression algorithms (such as those in the Roland VS-2480). Drives are cheap, and you'll never get those bits back. Set it to at least 44.1 kHz as well, higher if your computer's CPU can handle it. 96 kHz is probably good enough these days, in my opinion. 48 kHz is slightly better than 44.1, but you have to convert mixes to make reference CDs if staying in the digital realm. Keep the sample rate the same for the whole project.
2. Always label audio tracks before recording. This way all the files you create will have that track name as well. Rename all earlier audio files to match the track label. A lot of tracks named just "audio 1" and "audio 2" will be confusing further down the line. Set your computer's Date & Time correctly to ensure correct time stamping on all files.
3. If you hear erratic clicks over the monitors, like a pensive monkey at a typewriter, a digital clock is probably set wrong somewhere. Yes, these clicks are being recorded, and the sound you record will be degraded! Check that all converters are following the same clock.
4. If you do any destructive processing of sounds, such as pitch correction of tracks, always print tuned tracks to another track when you are done, so there will be both a processed and an unprocessed version of the track. Keep them side-by-side, with the one you don't want muted or made inactive. Your mix engineer might be able to do the same thing in a better way, later. Don't get rid of the original, unaltered audio file.
5. Don't bounce the lead vocal with reverb to a new track and then delete the dry one! Generally speaking, don't record plug-in reverbs onto the same track along with the instruments without thinking about what might happen to the sound down the line. Reverb tails can make editing difficult.
6. Try to keep tracks organized in an order that makes sense to you. You are probably going to move them around for editing at times, but put them back in order when you are done. Create Aux Inputs and use send-and-return routing for reverb, chorus, and delay effects. This is generally preferred to inserting them on the individual audio tracks. Doing this also saves DSP [digital signal processing] power — hence your computer will have an easier time. You can use one reverb and send to it with Aux Inputs at varying levels and pans instead of inserting multiple instances of that reverb on lots of tracks.
7. If you learn the smart key combinations you can actually have fun "playing" your DAW editor. If you always have to go up to the menus, you'll never see the light of day again.
8. Learn to use playlists for multiple takes of overdubbed parts. Then use Copy and Paste to compile the best bits to a "comp" playlist you create on the same track. That way all the source takes are all there "under" the comp, handy if you need to modify the compiled track as the song develops.
9. Don't record close to the top of the metering in a DAW when at 24 bits — don't "push the envelope." The average recording level can be at around -18 dB, basically in the middle of the meter. It might look tame but it'll help the gain structure in mixing, and everything will sound better.
Setting up your listening situation for recording is vitally important, and it's also usually the step that aspiring recordists skip in their rush to start tracking. Here are some simple tips to help create a good listening environment.
1. To begin, you need to get your monitoring speakers in the best possible position in the best-shaped listening room you have. There are lots of (sometimes contradictory) resources about this out on the Internet — read all you can first. "The Myth of the Sweet Spot" at http://weslachot.com/new/articles_bass.html (also in Tape Op #25) is a good place to start. Allow plenty of time for moving your speakers around in the room and listening — it might take hours or days but it's worth it: once you find a place where they sound good, you'll be really happy about it. All your recording decisions will be shaped by what you hear on playback. There are lots of nearfield speakers that are okay but most rooms are acoustically flawed. A great speaker in the wrong place is worse than a merely average one in the best position. You can find the best place for the speakers you have if you do some research and experimentation. Chair height — where you put your ears — matters, too! Sitting with your ears in the center of any room dimension (including halfway between ceiling and floor) will create problems due to the fact that the wall reflections will be exactly out of phase with the direct sound, causing deep nulls at certain frequencies. There are room-dimension calculators available on the Internet that can help you find the listening position and speaker locations that minimize the effect of the nulls caused by your exact room dimensions.
2. Once you get them in a good place, three (not four) metal speaker cones under each speaker will help the low end. These are available at audiophile sites. Old rubber mouse pads are a second choice for this. There are also several products by Auralex and Primacoustic available. You can also make hollow speaker-stand boxes out of wood and then fill them with sand — the mass will help.
3. Try this: Carefully tape a little mirror flat over each tweeter and turn the speakers so you can see yourself in each mirror equally well when you stare at it. This gets the tweeters "looking" at your ears correctly. (Then remove the mirrors!) The standard is to have the speakers at a 60-degree subtended angle, 30 degrees to each side of the listening position.
4. As for the low end of your listening position trust me: it's much wilder and erratic than you have ever dreamed. It's not just a question of the room being bass-heavy or bass-light. You don't have to have precision measuring equipment to show this. Get a synth keyboard with a low sine-wave bass sound and play it through your speakers while you sit in your normal listening position. (Better yet, use a disk with tones on it made for this purpose.) As you play up the chromatic scale from the lowest note, write down the notes that either jump out loudly or are very quiet. These are your problem spots — they'll be unfairly represented in the sound of a bass or kick drum. These often sound so dramatic that you don't need to hook up a microphone and "analyze" the low end in a more formal way. Be wary of the musical keys that include these notes as main elements. Next, walk around the room, repeating this test (with a friend playing the keyboard), and try to find places where the lowest octaves seem more even, note to note. It might be near the corner or even down the hallway. Later you will know to get up out of your chair and walk to these places to get another angle on the low end of
5. And last but not least: When reviewing mixes later on other speakers, make sure the speakers don't have blown tweeters (it's surprising how frequently this occurs!).