Mixing Saxophone, Gain Staging, & Podcasting Gear

We've been receiving a lot of emails from users lately, but not questions. Thankfully, several have been corrections for errors spotted in our articles, which we always appreciate.  But in the meantime we did collect several solid questions that we want to share here for the benefit of everyone.  Let's get right to it!

mixing saxophone

As always, a special thanks goes to Brigitta for correcting an ocarina tab mistake, Bill for catching a silly error about studio cables, Luke for spotting a geometry error on the circle of fifths article, and Daniel for catching a Beatles history factoid issue.  And thanks to Calvin, Justin, Jason, Andy, Doug, Shawn, Dominic, Daniel, Jamieson, Gabrielle, Anthony, Zaiden, and James for the positive comments.  You keep us inspired!

Mixing Saxophone & Perceived Power

Question:

Good day to you.  I'd like to thank you for your professional yet practical articles you've written to educate the public about sound and the music business.

I have a question about my recording setup. Recently, I have bought a Shure 98 Beta H/C condenser mic and a Scarlet Focusrite 2i2 interface to record my saxophone. Yet I've found that the sound has no power compared to what some videos have achieved on YouTube. Should I add an additional preamp for it or do I need to adjust my DAW settings in regards to reverb, EQ, and compression?

Thanks for the reply,
Ken

Answer:

Ken, thanks for typing nice things!

You sound like you're saying that volume isn't the problem, but the perception of "power" isn't there.  You already have a preamplifier in your interface, which will adjust the volume of the microphone but will not shape the signal beyond boosting the amplitude. As far as preamps go, you're fine, and you're on the money as far as the effects you'll want to be using.

Generally, when someone mentions power, they tend to be referring to the the end result of the compression effect. Compression does two things. It reduces the variances in volumes so that the loudest parts are less loud so that the quieter, subtler parts can be heard more clearly. It also allows you to shape the sound using the attack and release. Lowering the volume of the peaks raises the average volume of the recording, which is how humans perceive loudness and power.  You can find our simplest explanation of compression here, which will guide you in your experiments with crafting the perfectly powerful sound.

compression attack and release

You can compress amplitudes while also shaping the curve with attack and release.

You will likely want to mix with equalization (before compression) to get rid of frequencies you don't want like low-end noise and to slightly boost the signature frequencies a bit for your instrument. For instance, I like to EQ saxophones to have more of that raspy, smokey jazz club feel than a smooth pop sound. That's subjective and you'll have to try out various attempts to find what you like.

Finally, you may find that adding a light reverb helps add that final "professional" touch, versus dry recordings others may be uploading.

I hope this helps!
Jared

Gain Staging Guidance

Question:

I read your article on the 14 Tips for Vocal Recording and found it to be very informative. However, in setting up for correct gain staging I was not able to follow the directions (I'm a newbie). I'm currently using GarageBand with a Focusrite Solo interface.

You indicated that step 1 is to put the master gain on the interface at 0 dB. Did you mean the gain knob on the interface all the way to the left or the master slider in GarageBand? Step 2, you said, involves adjusting the gain on the preamp channel you're using... would this also be the gain knob on the interface?

Again, I'm kind of new at this and it seemed a bit confusing.

Thank you,
Hechter

Answer:

Hi, Hechter.  Thanks for reaching out.

You're not the first person to ask this and we plan on creating a Gain Staging article to help explain further. [As promised, it's live!]

When we say set your sliders and gain knobs to 0 dB, that doesn't mean "as quiet as they can go." It sounds that way but what it really means is to set them straight up the middle (usually pointing straight up) so that you're not adding or taking away volume. Each of these knobs are to be set at a "neutral" setting where they don't interfere at all, sometimes called "unity." It's almost like a factory reset.

This goes for the interface master output gain and also your software's track and master faders. What happens is by setting these to 0 dB you get them out of the way entirely. They aren't a part of the gain equation now, but are set in a way that you're outputting at the right volumes that maximize your headroom and bit usage (without going too far into peaking and distortion).

gain staging

The track, the mix bus or aux track, and the master all set to unity.

Now, you control your volume solely from the preamp's gain stage. This makes it so you're getting the best quality out of your preamplifier while then hitting your analog-to-digital converters at the right volume too.  Once you're set here, you can begin manipulating your volumes with the faders while still maintaining the right gain staging at the preamps and the converters.

I see why this is confusing though. The Focusrite Solo itself (a wonderful interface by the way with decent preamps, I use the Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 myself with the same ones although I have outboard preamps), doesn't have a "master gain." It only features preamp gain. This means the master gain is already set where it should be. I think most interfaces don't actually have a master gain like a physical digital mixer board would have.

I hope this helps. In your case, you just want to control your preamp gain until you're input is dancing around -18 dB in the software, pre-fader. This means you want to observe your levels without the influence of the volume fader interfering, which again means setting the fader to 0 dB.

Good luck, please hit us back if you need more help!
Jared

Recording Gear Choices for Podcasting

Question:

I run a live podcast type setup, and a lot of your gear reviews are tailored to people recording and performing live music. Is the advice just as relevant to things like a radio broadcaster or home studio where the only thing being recorded through the mic is me talking?

I do want a high quality setup and am always looking for ways to improve it. But I don't want to spend hundreds of dollars if I'm not making use of half of the options that make it so expensive or valuable.

Thanks,
Shawn

Answer:

Hi, Shawn, I hope all is well with you.

Yes, the advice is 100% applicable to home studio and radio broadcasting, especially the recording interfaces, preamps, compressors, equalizer info, etc.  All of them are signal processing tools that apply to any sound.

As a single channel vocalist / podcaster on a budget, where it's just your voice alone, all you need is one mic and an interface with a decent preamp.  Later, you can upgrade the preamp (it's not the "coolest" piece of gear, but it is without a doubt the one that makes the highest impact on your quality).

But if you want to keep it cheap, you can EQ and compress in your recording software, like Logic Pro, Pro Tools, FL Studio, etc.  You'll do best to use software intended for musicians versus something overly simple.  Even GarageBand will get the job done, but you'll want access to the free, stock plugins (for EQ and compression), which some non-professional solutions won't provide.

logic pro compressor plugin

Logic Pro's stock compressor plugin (since redesigned for Logic Pro X)

I hope this helps!  Best of luck with your podcast or whatever it is you're doing.  Here are a few articles you'll find useful that I wrote myself:

There will be some slight overlap but those will tell you all you need to know.  The 2nd one will give you some good settings for EQ and compression.  Finally, if you haven't explored the concept of acoustic treatment, it's a direction you'll want to go eventually if you want the most dry, clear vocals possible without room reverb muddying up your quality.

Have fun and best of luck,
Jared

Thanks, Everyone!

We always appreciate the questions, suggestions, compliments, and every other email or social media message we get.  Feel free to ping us whenever you want and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.  Until next time!