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Unusual Recording Techniques: Breaking the Rules

Unusual Recording Techniques: Breaking the Rules

Set yourself apart by thinking outside the box

When it comes to laying down your ideas there are established ways to do things such as correct miking techniques, appropriate equipment to best capture certain instruments, etc. The evolution of digital equipment and software-based recording processes have made it easy to capture and manipulate tracks, even in the post-recording stage as we saw in our “Reamping Demystified” article. We also highlighted the vast selection of software plugins that are freely available online in our “VST Plugins” guide.

However, those tried and tested methods that we know today were ground-breaking in their day. Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”, Brian Wilson’s experimental use of multi-tracking on “Pet Sounds”, George Martin’s legendary collaborations with The Beatles – especially the weird and wonderful instrumentation on “Yellow Submarine” (sinks, tin cans, blowing bubbles with straws…) – and so on.

Plus, as satisfying as it can be to capture and instrument in all its glory, isn’t it more fun to experiment and find ways of coming up with something new? (Yes. Yes, it is.)

So, with that in mind, let’s take a sideways look at some recording ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

Making the most of your environment

When it comes to miking up a drum kit there are those who favour close miking, distance miking, a mixture of both, a single mic just above the kick drum, etc. But rather than focusing on mic placement for a moment, what about kit placement? So, the story goes, producer Martin Hannett allegedly got Joy Division’s Stephen Morris to setup his drum kit on the roof during the recording of the track “She’s Lost Control”. Although we’re not advocating taking your beloved kit to your nearest rooftop, there is something to be said for recording drums in open spaces to harness natural reverb.

A fine example of how to utilise a large open space well can be heard in Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”. Producer Andy Johns had John Bonham setup his kit in the lobby of the recording studio, set up some mics on the first set of stairs, and the rest is history. Admittedly, Bonham’s big hitting drumming style was as consistent as they come, so Johns had every faith in his ability to pull it off and the result is the canyon-sized epic that you can hear below.

To be fair, it wasn’t just the space that created that dense sound, there was a Binson Echorec involved too. However, if you happen to have access to a large open space then don’t be afraid to push the boat out and try your kit or miked up amp out. See how it sounds, and then try to bottle that magic.

Rooms with alternative uses

Bit of a weird one this but bear with us. There’s a reason why your singing sounds better in the shower, those reflective surfaces of the tiles create an aurally pleasing response thanks to reverberation (sounds bouncing back and forth) and certain frequencies are naturally amplified accentuating the timbre of your voice. Science.

So, taking that into account, why not setup your guitar cab or play back your vocal take through a miked-up cabinet, record it to another channel and voila, rich reverb without forking out on some expensive gear. Just don’t run the shower or do it whilst anyone is on the loo. Should go without saying but I am sure weirder things do happen.

Huge sounds on a small-scale

When one imagines cacophonous guitar tones a la Deftones or Pantera, it is easy to think longingly toward using nice full-stack with a beefy tube-powered 100-Watter on top. True enough you can get plenty of tube amps nowadays that enable output wattage to be dropped to a studio-friendly 1-Watt and are host to cabinet-simulated recording outputs too, we’re looking at your Blackstar. But we’re looking at the weird and wonderful here, right? Well what if we told you there was another way, a way to get massive sound without shelling out tonnes of money and you can probably use the practise amp that you’ve already.

Referring back to a recording session that happened many a year ago, I had read about a method used by a very well-known engineer/producer of some of my favourite metal bands to generate epic tones using the delightfully diminutive Marshall MS-4 Micro Stack. My friend had one, so we gave it a go.

The setup is thus: take the MS-4, put it in a BBQ (yep, that’s right – and not lit obviously), mic it up using a trusty Shure SM57 and close the lid. For such a little amp you’d be surprised what kind of effect that enclosed metal chamber has on the sound produced. Wall of noise doesn’t quite do it justice.

Drum tunnel

Moving back to drums for a minute, and this time referring to mic placement, we’re going to talk about the drum tunnel. OK so it has many names and has been around for decades, but what is it? Imagine a long tube extending from your kick drum – roughly 6 feet – with a mic at the end to capture the throaty resonance produced by the kick. Send that to one channel, close mic the kick at source and send that to another channel, then mix the two together to get the tight response of the beater along with the expressive range of the distance mic.

Underwater mic

Get a good mental image. If you came up with someone hopping into a pool with a Neumann U47, then you’re way off the mark but we like your style. Instead imagine a mic wrapped in something waterproof and submerged in a body of water (wash basin or large bowl will suffice). John Newman and Ant Whiting used this technique when recording the kick drum on the track “Love Me Again”. The water reacts to the kick and creates a subtle sub frequency response. Rumour has it that John Lennon recorded vocal takes – that were later scrapped – with a submerged mic on the track “Yellow Submarine”.

The old switcheroo

As we covered in our “Reamping Demystified” article, you can play around with recordings after the fact. However, rather than simply trying out instrument specific effects and amps on the signal such as putting an electric guitar through different electric guitar amps, try stuff like reamping a bass signal through a guitar tube amp. Trust us on this. The depth and texture you can gain by reamping a bass signal through a valve head will blow your mind.

Whilst we’re at it, go the other way too. If you want a brutal sounding tone, then track your guitar through a bass amp for some ridiculously heavyweight results. Though it may seem an odd thing to do, many a metal and punk band have turned to a bass amp to deliver that knockout low-end grunt.

Making the most of getting angry

The legend that is Sylvia Massy revealed long ago how she managed to recreate the visceral live vocal style of Tool’s Maynard James Keenan. Anyone who has seen Keenan live will know that he gives it everything on stage. With that in mind, Massy made him do five laps round the block to get good and breathless (and angry in the process), then got him to lay down his vocals. The result is the incredible “Craw Away”. Another producer to adopt this approach was Machine with Randy Blythe on Lamb of God’s “Walk with Me in Hell”.

Don’t limit yourself

As you can see, if you can imagine it then get creative in your pursuit of pure artistic expression. As cheesy as it may sound but there is a world of sounds out there to draw inspiration from, so get to it!

Further Info

If you have any burning questions that you want to ask, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Customer Service team who are more than happy to help over the phone on 01925 582420. Our in-store specialists will guide you through the world of recording and are equipped to give you the best advise with regard to Studio Equipment, so pop into your nearest Dawsons store.

About The Author

Jon Whittaker

Jon Whittaker is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for audio. An Audio Engineering graduate and a keen guitarist with more years of gigging experience than he would care to openly divulge. Jon has been fortunate to have traveled far and wide to play music, knows how to make a mean brew and has developed a passion for inspiring others to get started on their musical journey. As part of the web team, Jon is committed to producing excellent content for the Dawsons Blog – whilst finding time to tinker with new tech and keeping his gig-ready guitar chops up to scratch.