The Recording Engineer’s Handbook
The 5th Edition of this popular book reveals:
• Multiple miking techniques for recording just about any musical instrument
• The secrets of mic placement
• Keys to a great sounding drum kit
• How to choose the right mic for each recording situation
• The secrets of getting great sounds from inexpensive gear
• How to make leakage work for you
• How to get the most from a vocalist
• Tips for a great headphone mix
• The history and uses of classic microphones and their modern counterparts
• The best way to prepare for a session
• Drum tuning tips from the famous “Drum Doctor”
• Classic mics and their history
• and much more!
What It's About
The 5th edition of the best-selling The Recording Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinski reveals the microphone and recording techniques used by the world’s top recording engineers. From practical microphone basics, to in-the-box DAW recording, to session setup strategies, to surround sound recording methods, you’ll find everything you need to know to lay down great tracks in any recording situation, in any musical genre, and in any studio.
The Recording Engineer’s Handbook 5th Edition is a staple in recording programs around the world, and features interviews with great engineer’s of all genres, including Al Schmitt, Eddie Kramer, Chuck Ainlay, Bruce Botnick, Michael Bishop, Wyn Davis, Sylvia Massy, and Mack. The book also features multiple ways to mic just about any instrument you can think of, as well as an overview and history of both old and new classic microphones.
Besides the ever-popular sections on recording gear, gain staging and levels, recording techniques for just about any instrument, and interviews with some of the world’s most honored recording engineers, this 5th edition contains new topics like:
- The latest in recording and microphone technology
- An overview of modeling microphones
- A complete overview of immersive recording techniques
- A new section on cleaning and disinfecting your microphones
- The latest recording methods for drum sounds and individual instruments
- Home studio recording techniques
- And four new interviews with top engineers
Learn the art of recording with renowned author, teacher, producer and engineer Bobby Owsinski, and, in the interviews, explore the creative processes behind not only today’s hits but the classic cuts we’ve enjoyed for years. See for yourself why The Recording Engineer’s Handbook, Fifth Edition is the book that’s a standard text in college music production courses all over the world.
Also, you might want to check out the video version of the book, the Audio Recording Techniques video series, at Lynda.com.
Kind Words From Readers
Absolute recording Bible! Straight forward, to the point, demystifying the secrets in recording. If material beats method, THIS is the way to go!”
A great reference you can keep going back to, and a must-have in any serious musician’s book collection. Worth every penny!
I just wanted to say thanks for your work. Straight to the point, and it doesn’t drag on. Perfect. I’ve learned lots from it.”
In my opinion, the BEST book for recording TECHNIQUES. There are interviews with professional engineers littered throughout the text, explaining what they use, how they use it, where they put mics. Obviously there are no rules when recording, but this will help you see some of the basic setups for recording literally ANYTHING!
It’s the best of its kind!
Mr. Owsinski’s books and this one in particular are awesome for fundamentals as well as some more advanced concepts. They serve as a great resource/ lecture material to use with my classes. Highly recommended!
…and dozens more like it!
Let's Look Inside
Table Of Contents
Chapter 1: How Microphones Work
The Dynamic Microphone
How It Works
The Ribbon Microphone
A Short History of Ribbon Microphones
The Condenser Microphone
The Electret Condenser
Condenser Mic Fallacies
Condenser Mic Operational Hints
Chapter 2: Common Microphones
The Classic Microphones
New Versions of the Classics
The New Classics
Quality Control’s the Thing
You Can Never Be Sure of the Sound
Some Good Choices
Meet Microphone Designer David Bock
Chapter 3: Basic Recording Equipment
The Microphone Preamplifier
Why a Separate Mic Amp?
Vintage Mic Pres
Modern Mic Pres
Mic Amp Setup
Advantages of Direct Injection
Direct Box Types
Direct Box Setup
Types of Compressors
Chapter 4: DAW Recording
The Computer Audio Interface
Firewire versus USB versus Thunderbolt
Setting the Recording Level
Chapter 5: Microphone Placement Fundamentals
The Formula for Getting Good Sounds
The Fundamental Choices
Choosing the Best Place in the Room
Choosing the Right Mic
Finding the Optimum Placement
How to Find the Sweet Spot
General Placement Techniques
Avoiding Phase Cancellation
Electronic Phase Cancellation
Acoustic Phase Cancellation
Chapter 6: Basic Stereo Techniques
General Types of Stereo Miking
The Stereo Mic
The Decca Tree
Near-Coincident Pair – ORFT
Chapter 7: Preparing The Drum Kit For Recording
The Keys To A Great Sounding Drum Kit
The Drum Tuning Technique
Interview with “The Drum Doctor” Ross Garfield
Drum Prep Checklist
Chapter 8: Recording The Drums
Before You Begin
Minimal Mic Setups
Single Mic Setup
Two Mic Setup
Three Mic Setup
Four Mic Setup
Miking The Drums Individually
Miking the Kick
Miking the Snare
Miking the High-hat
Miking the Toms
The Overhead Mics
The Room Mics
Distinctive Drum Sounds
The ‘60s Beatles Sound
The ‘70s Drum Sound
The Reggae Drum Sound
Chapter 9: Miking Individual Instrument
Bass (Acoustic or Upright)
Guitar (Nylon or Gut String)
Chapter 10: Recording Basic Tracks
Preparing for the Session
Setting Up a Talkback Mic
Headphones and the Cue Mix
The Click Track
The Tracking Session
Where to Place the Players in the room
How Long Should It Take?
Recording Without Headphones
A Couple of Non-Essentials
The Assistant Engineer
Chapter 11: Recording Overdubs
Recording in the Control Room
Setting up the Overdub in the Studio
Overdubbing Individual Instrument
Getting the Most from a Vocalist
Electric Keyboards Overdubs
Electric Guitar Overdubs
Acoustic Guitar Overdubs
Chapter 12: Immersive Audio Miking Techniques
Channel-Based Surround Recording
The Microphone Array
Bobby Owsinski Bio
Bobby Owsinski Bibliography
Chapter 10 Excerpt - Basic Tracks - Preparing For The Session
Basic Tracks – Preparing For The Session
Basic tracks (sometimes called just “basics” or “tracking”) refers to the recording of the rhythm section, and is the foundation for any other parts that are to be recorded afterward. What that means is that if there’s something faulty in the recording of the basics, it’s usually going to cost time and money to fix it later. That’s why it’s essential that the basic track recording is as good as it can be both sound and performance-wise.
Basic tracks can encompass any of the following:
- The entire band, regardless of the number of pieces
- The rhythm section only (drums, bass, guitar, keys)
- Drums, bass and guitar
- Drums, bass and keyboards
- Drums and bass only
- Drums and keys only
- Drums and guitar only
- Drums only
- Loops and another instrument
All of the above usually also have a guide or “scratch” vocal recorded at the same time as well to at least provide cues to the various sections of the song. While programming the rhythm section might also qualify as a “basic” session, it doesn’t require any microphones or a scratch vocal, so we’ll leave it out of the discussion.
It’s also not uncommon for the drums and several other instruments to play during the basics, with the idea of only capturing a great drum track, then replacing the other instrument tracks with better sounding and performed overdubs.
Preparing for the Session
One of the keys to a successful basic tracking session is the preparation made beforehand, but before you can prepare for the recording you need some essential information first. Here’s the minimum that you must determine in advance of the session. This will usually be provided by the producer, artist or band leader, and assumes that you’re unfamiliar with the act.
- What type of music will be recorded?
- How many songs do you expect to record?
- Who are the musicians (If you know some of them it might affect your setup)?
- Who’s the producer (if you’re not talking to him already)?
- What time does the session begin? Does that mean the downbeat of recording or when the musicians are expected at the studio to load in?
- How long do you expect the session to go?
- How many musicians will be playing at once?
- What’s the instrumentation?
- How large is the drummer’s kit? How many toms will he be using?
- Will the guitarist(s) be using an acoustic or electric?
- What kind of amps will the guitar player(s) and bass player be using?
- Do any of the players expect to use house gear like drums, guitar amps, or keyboards?
- How many cue mixes will be required?
- Will there be a scratch vocal tracked at the same time?
- Will they bring any special outboard gear or mics that they’d like to use?
- Will they be tracking to loops?
- Do they require any particular instruments, amps or effects?
Determining the above before the musicians hit the studio can go a long way to a quick and easy setup and an efficient session.
TIP: Don’t ask for the setup information too far in advance since much can change by the day of the session. Getting the info the day before the session is usually sufficient.
Setting Up a Talkback Mic
One of the things that engineers, producers and musicians all hate during a tracking date is when they find it difficult to communicate with one another. Usually it’s easy for the control room to speak with the musicians, but it’s not easy to hear the musicians speak to the control room through the open mics that are used on the session, since they’re adjusted for the louder playing levels instead of talking. That’s why it’s essential to use at least one dedicated talkback mic out in the studio with the players so you can always hear what’s happening on that side of the glass.
The type of mic used really doesn’t matter, although an omni set in the middle of the studio can work quite well (see Figure 10.1). Sometimes a second talkback mic is also added in a large studio. In fact, some engineers go as far as to set up a dedicated talkback mic for each musician if it’s only the four piece rhythm section recording.
Figure 10.1: A talkback mic set up during a tracking date
Regardless of how many mics you use, the talkback mic will make communication between the control room and the studio a lot easier, and keep the musicians a lot happier as a result.
TIP: Make sure to mute the talkback mic when the band is playing. It will probably sound tremendously trashy and distorted, since it’s set up for people talking and not playing.
Engineer Eddie Kramer Interview Excerpt
Engineer Eddie Kramer
From Rock icons such as Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Traffic and The Kinks, to Pop stars Sammy Davis Jr. and Petula Clark, as well as the seminal Rock movie “Woodstock”, Eddie Kramer is clearly responsible for recording some of the most enjoyable and influential music ever made.
QUESTION: How did you get started in the recording business?
EDDIE KRAMER: I guess I really learned by watching what the other engineers did whilst they were recording, and I sort of adapted their technique in recording my first Jazz groups. From there I went to Pye Studios and that’s really where I got my first lesson on how to record Pop music. My mentor there was a guy named Bob Auger who was an absolute genius. We used to go out on the road with the Pye Mobile recording 90 piece symphony orchestras on a 3 track Ampex machine. We would use three Neumann U 47’s placed strategically Left, Center, Right for the balance. The conductor would draw out from orchestra what was necessary so if you got the mic placement correct and you got the conductor to help you, then you would theoretically get a great recording. I learned a lot from that situation.
Upon our return to Pye Studios we would record a band like The Kinks, on which I was an assistant, or we would record Petula Clark. So there was a wide range of Pop and Classical stuff that I got to witness and be a part of. This was all three track in the beginning and then it evolved into four track.
From there I started my own studio, KPS Sound Studio, which was a little demo “hole in the wall” where we recorded John Mayall and some of the Kinks. It was a very basic, very primitive two track studio.
Eventually I landed at Olympic where I met my next mentor, Keith Grant – who I owe a lot to. Keith was a monster at doing large sessions. He’d do big orchestras with a choir, rhythm section, horns and lead vocal all at the same time. Olympic was the best independent studio in London, with a capacity of between 80 or 90 musicians, and it’s where I ended up doing Hendrix, Traffic, the Stones, you name it.
We’d do a lot of music to picture and just a tremendous variety of stuff. For example, in the morning we’d do a movie soundtrack from about 9AM to 1PM, in the afternoon we’d do a jingle, then break it all down and record the Stones in the evening! Many times the instruments that were left lying around from the orchestral sessions wound up getting used on the Rock sessions later at night. The Rock guys would come in and say, “That’s cool. I’m gonna use that”, which is how I recorded Jimi using the glockenspiel on Little Wing, because it was just left in the studio.
Having been trained as a Classical musician, then getting into Jazz, then into Rock, I had this very wide range of taste in music that was very eclectic. So when anything weird came into the studio, I was the guy they picked.
That must have influenced your philosophy about recording.
In regards to mic techniques, what I adapted was this Classical idea of recording; i.e. the distance of the microphones to the instruments should not be too close if you wanted to get anything with tremendous depth. Obviously I used close miking techniques as well, but it started with the concept that “Distance Makes Depth” that Bob Auger taught me. Generally the basic philosophy of getting the mics up in the air and getting some room sound and some air around the instrument was what we used. Then you’d fill in with the close mics.
Of the microphones that we used, 67’s were probably the favorite (and still are today), but we used 47’s, 251’s, a lot of KM 56’s and 54’s, ribbon mics, AKG D-12’s, D20’s and D30’s. In fact, on some of the Hendrix stuff I used a D30 on the bass drum which I still think is a really great bass drum mic.
Once I came to the United States in ‘68, utilizing that philosophy seemed to work, but with some modifications. Obviously watching how the American engineers did things influenced me to a certain extent.
How was that different?
It was different in that they didn’t use as many mics and they would be very tight in, which I though was a cool thing. So I adapted that close-in technique of getting right in on the speaker cab which seemed to work very well.
Were you using a combination of close and far mics?
Yes I was. In fact the Hendrix stuff in ’68 at the Record Plant, the Electric Ladyland album, if you listen to Voodoo Child, you can hear the way the room just resonates. That’s because I had mics everywhere, and the fact that he was singing live too! I wasn’t scared of recording an artist in the room live as he was cutting. To me, anything that was in the room was fair game to be recorded. Don’t forget that I had an artist who was an absolute genius so it made life a lot simpler. When you’re recording someone of Hendrix’s ilk, you’re not going to be overdubbing much if it’s a live track. You put the mics up, place them correctly, and give the artist the room and the facility to work in and make sure it sounds cool so when they walk into the control room they say, “Oh, that sounds just like I was playing it out there”. That’s the goal. To capture the essence of what the artist is actually doing in the studio.
Obviously there are other ways to do it. You can do it in sections and pieces by overdubbing and recutting and that certainly works too, but to me there’s nothing more exciting that having the band in the studio cutting live straight to tape where that’s the performance and that’s what gets mixed. That’s the essence of any great recording. I don’t care if it’s Classical or Rock or Country, you’ve got to capture that performance and the hell with the bloody leakage.
So you mostly did multiple takes and then chopped together a good one?
Yeah, absolutely. Chopping multitrack tape was the name of the day. I think that a lot of producers and engineers that grew up in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s hold to that philosophy. I think that even today with Protools one can still do that although it also can be slower in the long run. I urge anyone that’s cutting tracks now not to record directly to Prootools. Go to analog first. Get a nice 16 track headblock, record at 15 IPS, put Dolby SR on if you desire, then transfer over to Protools. But, I’m very, very careful about that transfer process. The critical trick is to use the best converters that money can buy. I’ve been using Myteks for the last two years now. The other thing is to use a great master workclock. I use the Rosendahl with the Mytek and by God, the stuff actually sounds pretty good. Even after that, I love to lock up the original analog drum tracks with Protools for mixing.
When you started you were pretty limited by the number of tracks and channels available.
Definitely. You have to use your imagination and think really hard about how to plan it out. For instance, on Hendrix stuff which is the classic example, it was done on four track. On the first record we used mono drums and mono guitars and so forth. So on “Are You Experienced” we would fill a four track up then dump it down to another four track, leaving two tracks open, then you may have to do that again. On “Axis: Bold As Love” I was doing stereo drums which made a big difference.
So you’re EQing to tape?
I always do. I have done my whole life. If I hear a sound that I like then it goes to tape. If it’s a guitar then I’ll print the reverb as well on a separate track so the sound is there and locked in. I usually have an idea of what it’s going to sound like in the final analysis so the EQ and compression is done right then and there. I think if you bugger around with it afterwards you have too many choices. This isn’t rocket science, it’s music. Just record the thing the way you hear it! After all, it is the song that we’re trying to get and the guy’s emotion. We’re becoming so anal and self-analytical and protracted with our views on recording, I think it’s destructive and anti-creative. It’s bad enough that we have to be locked into a bloody room with sweaty musician (laughs).
Recording music should be a fun filled day. To me, making a record should be about having a ball because it makes the day go quickly and yet your still getting what you want on tape. There’s a friend of mine that has a bar in his studio and after the session is finished everybody has a beer and relaxes. What a wonderful thing! I think artists today have a tendency not to do this. You cut to a bloody click track, go to Beat Detective, do a lot of overdubs in Protools and then spend a lot of time searching for the right plug-ins to make it sound cool. But the track has to move and breathe. Listen to all the great songs and albums that have been recorded the last 30 years. The ones that really stand out are the ones that breathe and move. With human beings, their tempo varies. I do admire what can be done in Protools, but if there’s something that wrong, you should have done another take and maybe chop things together.
Didn’t you tell me once that “All Along The Watchtower” was take #27?
That’s a great example of an artist of Jimi’s stature starting from square one with a very difficult arrangement. He’s yelling at Mitch, “C’mon. Here’s how you do the rhythm part”. Then Mitch eventually gets it. Then he yells at Dave Mason because he can’t get the secondary rhythm guitar part. Eventually he gets it and Jimi keeps going at it and going at it. At one point Brian Jones walks into the studio drunk out of his mind and starts to play piano. Jimi politely lets him play, I think on take 20 or 21, and then excuses him by saying “No, I don’t think so Brian”. Then by take 25 it’s a 4 star, take 26 is good but take 27 is the master, you can just tell. It’s got everything right. Everything is perfectly placed and has the intensity that Jimi wanted. So the song evolved because it had to. There was no time for rehearsal. This was something that had to be learned in the studio. It’s not the way you want to do it, but because he’s a musician of that stature, you don’t mind if it takes 30 takes.
When you’re tracking now, do you still have everyone in the studio playing and going for keepers?
As much as I can I encourage bands to do that. I go into preproduction making the band really understand what the parts are and what the options are. You’ve got to know what the options are because when you go into the studio and start recording, even though you’re well rehearsed something might not work, so you’ve got to have a backup plan. Sometimes when you hear something in the studio it doesn’t sound the same as preproduction so you’ve got to be able to change things. You may only end up with a great drum track and a great bass track and maybe the guitars have to be replaced, which is not a problem, but I at least try to get as much of it on tape to preserve that feel.
So before you weren’t worried about leakage. Are you more worried about it now?
EDDIE KRAMER: It depends on the situation. If the band is of the type that can execute perfectly and doesn’t require any replacement, you want to capture it with the leakage. If you know that you’ll have to work on the parts and they might require a lot of attention to detail, you have to look at the leakage factor as being important.
Engineer Al Schmitt Interview Excerpt
Engineer Al Schmitt
After 18 Grammy’s for Best Engineering and work on over 150 gold and platinum records, Al Schmitt needs no introduction to anyone even remotely familiar with the recording industry. Indeed, his credit list is way too long to print here (but Henry Mancini, Steely Dan, George Benson, Toto, Natalie Cole, Quincy Jones, and Diana Krall are some of them), but suffice it to say that Al’s name is synonymous with the highest art that recording has to offer.
QUESTION: Do you use the same setup every time?
AL SCHMITT: I usually start out with the same microphones. For instance, I know that I’m going to immediately start with a tube U 47 about 18 inches from the F-hole on an upright bass. That’s basic for me and I’ve been doing that for years. I might move it up a little so it picks up a little of the finger noise. Now if I have a problem with a guy’s instrument where it doesn’t respond well to that mic then I’ll change it, but that happens so seldom. Every once in a while I’ll take another microphone and place it up higher on the fingerboard to pick up a little more of the fingering.
The same with the drums. There are times where I might change a snare mic or kick mic, but normally I use a D-112 or a 47 FET on the kick and a 451 or 452 on the snare and they seem to work for me. I’ll use a Shure SM57 on the snare underneath and I’ll put that microphone out of phase. I also mic the toms with 414’s, usually with the pad in, and the hat with a Schoeps or a B&K or even a 451.
What are you using for Overheads?
I do vary that. It depends on the drummer and the sound of the cymbals, but I’ve been using M 149’s, the Royer 121’s, or 451’s. I put them a little higher than the drummer’s head.
Do you try to capture the whole kit or just the cymbals?
I try to set it up so I’m capturing a lot of the kit in there which makes it a little bigger sounding overall because you’re getting some ambience.
What determines your mike selection?
It’s usually the sound of the kit. I’ll start out with the mics that I normally use and just go from there. If it’s a Jazz date then I might use the Royers and if it’s more of a Rock date then I’ll use something else.
How much experimentation do you do?
Very little now. Usually I have a drum sound in 15 minutes so I don’t have to do a lot. When you’re working with the best guys in the world, their drums are usually tuned exactly the way they want and they sound great so all you have to do is capture that sound. It’s really pretty easy. And I work at the best studios where they have the best consoles and great microphones, so that helps.
I don’t use any EQ when I record. I use the mics for EQ. I don’t even use any compression. The only time I might use a little bit of compression is maybe on the kick, but for most Jazz dates I don’t.
How do you handle leakage? Do you worry about it?
No, I don’t. Actually leakage is one of your best friends because that’s what makes things sometimes sound so much bigger. The only time leakage is a problem is if you’re using a lot of crap mics. If you get a lot of leakage into them, it’s going to sound like crap leakage. But if you’re using some really good microphones and you’re get some leakage, it’s usually good because it makes things sound bigger.
I try to set everybody, especially in the rhythm section, as close together as possible. I come from the school when I first started where there were no headphones. Everybody had to hear one another in the room, so I still set up everybody up that way. Even though I’ll isolate the drums, everybody will be so close that they can almost touch one another.
What’s the hardest thing for you to record?
Getting a great piano sound. You know, piano is a difficult instrument and to get a great sound is probably one of the more difficult things for me. The human voice is another thing that’s tough to get. Other than that, things are pretty simple.
The larger the orchestra the easier it is to record. The more difficult things are the 8 and 9 piece things, but I’ve been doing it for so long that none of it is difficult any more.
What mikes do you use on piano?
I’ve been using the M 149’s along with these old Studer valve preamps on piano, so I’m pretty happy with it lately. I try to keep them up as far away from the hammers as I can inside the piano. Usually one captures the low end and the other the high end and then I move them so it comes out as even as possible.
It sounds like you’re a minimalist. You don’t use much EQ or compression.
No, I use very little compression and very little EQ. I let the microphones do that.
What’s you’re setup for horns?
I’ve been using a lot of 67’s. On the trumpets I use a 67 with the pad in and I keep them in omnidirectional. I get them back about 3 or 4 feet off the brass. On saxophones I’ve been using M 149’s. I put the mic somewhere around the bell so you can pick up some of the fingering. For clarinets, the mic should be somewhere up near the fingerboard and never near the bell.
How do determine the best place in the studio to place the instruments?
I’m working at Capital now and I’ve worked here so much that I know it like the back of my hand so I know exactly where to set things up to get the best sound. It’s a given for me here. My setups stay pretty much the same. I try to keep the trumpets, trombones and the saxes as close as possible to one another so they feel like a big band. I try to use as much of the room as possible.
I want to make certain the musicians are as comfortable as they can be with their setup. That means that they have clear sightlines to each other and are able to see, hear and talk to one another. This means having all the musicians as close together as possible. This facilitates better communication among them and that, in turn, fosters better playing.
I start by setting members of the rhythm section up as close to each other as possible. To get a tight sound on the drums and to assure no leaking into the brass or strings’ mics, I’ll set the drums up in the drum booth. Then, I’ll set the upright bass, the keyboard and the guitar near the drum booth so they all will be able to see and even talk easily to each other.
If there’s a vocalist, 90 percent of the time I’ll set them up in a booth. Very few choose to record in the open room with the orchestra, although Frank Sinatra and Natalie Cole come to mind.
If you had only one mic to use, what would it be?
A 67. That’s my favorite mic of all. I think it works well on anything. You can put it on a voice or an acoustic bass or an electric guitar, acoustic guitar, or a saxophone solo and it will work well. It’s the jack of all trades and the one that works for me all the time.