Must Have Studio Microphones

Want some professional insider information on which tried and true microphones you should buy for your recording studio? You found the right article!

Shure SM57

Many engineers call this the desert island microphone. It can record pretty much anything you put in front of it and at a good quality. Plus, it can handle a lot of abuse which is why you’ll find them on concert stages quite often. It’s a go to snare drum microphone and works great on singers as well. Many also like it on guitar cabinet speakers but these days I use a Shure SM7b. Speaking of…

Shure SM7b

Think of it as an improved SM57. I love this microphone for recording vocals, guitar cabinets and recently I discovered that in a pinch it sounds good on acoustic guitar as well. You’ll find it in radio stations quite often. The only downside is that it requires a good amount of gain from a mic preamp. It couples nicely with a Cloudlifter CL-1 or CL-2, Radial McBoost, Triton Audio FetHead or the Cathedral Pipes Durham.

Michael Joly Microphones

Unless you’re “in the know” then you probably won’t come across MJE microphones. They don’t have the marketing budget that the large microphone manufacturers do. But let me tell you, they sound great.

Michael Joly knows his stuff. He modified one of my old microphones many years ago and I still love it to this day for its realism/clarify/whatever you want to call it. Specifically the MJE-384 and his Rode NT1A mod are the ones I would recommend.

Slate Digital ML-1 or the Townsend Labs Sphere L22

A recent category of microphones is the modeling microphone. Wherein a spectrally flat signal is recorded and then modified by software. The two products that are out there right now that do this are Slate Digital’s ML-1 and the Townsend Labs Sphere L22.

The ML-1 sounds good but I do find the top end to be a bit harsh. Not cheap Chinese mic harsh but it doesn’t sound like I would expect a very high end microphone to sound. A good de-esser plugin will take of the issue but it still stinks because the ML-1 costs almost $1,000. It does come with a very clean preamp as a part of the Virtual Microphone System though, which the Sphere L22 doesn’t.

The Sphere L22 is unique in its own way though. It has TWO capsules! This provide a variety of uses including stereo recording, variable polar patterns and more accurate off-axis response compared to the Slate VMS One. The only two downsides are that it eats up an extra audio channel and costs $500 more than the VMS One.

The Slate ML-2 will be released later this year. It’s a $150 small diaphragm condenser microphone that models over 13 different microphones. I get the feeling that it will be sold out at a lot of stores for many months upon its release.

Sennheiser MD421 II

THE tom drum microphone. Also works great on electric guitar speakers and vocals. You can get them in a three pack for a little less money than purchasing separately. Some engineers say that the original white/beige colored model is the only way to go so if you have the money and want to track them down on eBay I say go for it. The clip design is terrible though so I recommend some of these from Wilkinson Audio.

AKG D112 or Shure Beta 52A

If you need a kick (bass) drum or bass guitar cabinet microphone then you can’t go wrong with either of these choices. I’ve used the Audix D6 and find it pales to these two models. It’s a one trick pony and simply doesn’t work on every bass drum. The D112 and Beta 52A on the other hand can get a usable sound on any kick drum. If you have a lot of money to spare then check out AKG’s D12 VR. I have no experience with it but if the price tag indicates quality then it’s worth a shot.

Sennheiser MKH-416

I can already see the looks on some faces after seeing this microphone on the list. Why? Isn’t it a shotgun microphone that is used on movie sets? Yes…why yes it is! It is also a hidden secret that many voice over artists keep. But I’m letting that secret out now!

Also, if a movie company ever needs ADR (automated dialog replacement) services from you then this microphone and one of the Michael Joly 384s (they sound like cardioid versions of the Schoeps CMC641) can handle those duties. You can also rent it out to filmmakers.

That’s it?

Yep…that’s it. You’re covered for most recording situations. Those virtual microphones made the list a lot shorter than it would have been.

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Too Many Recording Studios?

Do a Google search for “[insert city name] recording studios”. See how many pop up. Surprised? In a lot of cities, the number of music studios is staggering.

That’s why my best advice to anyone who comes across this web site is to consider another career path. There are already more than enough businesses serving a small number of customers. Even if you are good at what you do it will be tough to compete. Why?

Not everybody needs audio services.

If you look around at the most common types of businesses, what do you see? Stores to buy consumer products like food and medicine. Including restaurants. Everybody needs to eat and if you’re not 100% healthy medicine helps. You have gas stations because if you live in the United States a large percentage of the population drives an automobile. Hence, car dealerships and auto mechanic shops are another business you’ll see in nearly every county/city.

Banks are important so people can safely store their money and do easy money transfers with bank cards. Landscaping businesses, because people like to or legally need to keep their yards in shape. Bars and night clubs serve as common gathering places. Gyms, because people want to lose weight or maintain their fitness. Weight loss products and services is a HUGE industry in the USA.

Transportation? Be it humans in taxis/buses/trains/airplanes or cargo on a UPS truck or courier, moving stuff and people around is big business. So is storing that stuff and people (apartments, rental properties or home purchases).

Another thing that you won’t see many media companies talking about? Franchises have hurt small independent businesses. People are more likely to trust a brand name that they are familiar with vs. Sarah’s Drug Store or Bob’s Mechanic Shop. Brand awareness is a big deal!

If you don’t want to go against my advice and start a different type of business or go to college for an in-demand career field then keep reading. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you that this industry is very tough!

Back to the audio business…your potential customer base is small. Very small. Not many people need audio recorded/mixed/mastered. That’s why it is important to branch out as much as possible.

What do I mean by that? Live sound…and not just musicians. Businesses hold meetings/conferences and need people for those events. DJing weddings and other events is also a viable business to go along with the studio end of things. Think outside the box, as they say. In this case, the box is your studio.

Once your audio business is up and running you need to network and market your ass off. Remember the large number of studios I talked about in the first paragraph? Your studio will need to be unique. People who need your services must be drawn to it for some reason. And even if you have a cool and unique studio if people don’t know about your business then it may as well not exist.

That means you need to get involved in the music scene and make a ton of phone calls/send out mail to potential business customers. That’s the bootstrapping legwork that is behind most successful businesses. The owners and employees worked their butts off to get their name out there!

But before you do any of that you’ll need to demonstrate that you can do pro quality work…which is a whole other topic I’ll be writing about in the near future.

What is ASIO?

If you look on the back of audio interface product boxes, product descriptions or in digital audio workstation preference menus you’ll see the acronym ASIO. What is it and why should you use it? Find out in this video:

Digital Audio Workstation Software

Digital Audio Workstation software–DAW for short–are programs that allow you to record, mix and master with professional grade audio interfaces. They feature multi-track recording/mixing/editing, import/export support for a variety of audio file types (codecs) along with my favorite feature…plugin support.

Plugins are additional software that piggyback onto DAWs. While the software that comes with DAWs can do a more than great job, plugins allow you to take recording, mixing and mastering to the next level.

The “industry standard” DAW is Avid Pro Tools. Pro Tools has been around for a very long time and most modern mainstream popular music was recorded and mixed with Pro Tools. As the years go on, this is changing. But PT is still the top dog when it comes to user base on the professional level.

Next, I would put Apple Logic Pro and Steinberg Cubase Pro as the next most popular DAWs. Ableton Live is another name I see a lot. But more and more people are switching to my favorite DAW…Cockos REAPER.

The reason for the switch is interesting. More and more people are discovering the excellent quality Acqua plugins from Acustica Audio. Their equalizers in particular are a cut above the plugin competition in my opinion. The problem with Acquas are that they eat up a lot of RAM and computer power. REAPER just happens to be one of the most CPU and RAM efficient DAWs out there. It also crashes less than other DAWs. It’s super customizable with many available themes. Those three reasons are why I switched to REAPER and have been using it for the past eight years.

I don’t want to steer you in any particular direction because DAW choice is a personal taste. So, I recommend downloading trial versions of the above DAWs and the ones I’ll list below to see which jives with you the best. If you decide to use a DAW that isn’t Pro Tools I would still recommend learning/using the free Pro Tools First on a weekly basis in case you ever need to collaborate on a music project.

Additional DAWs to Try:

Acoustica Mixcraft Pro Studio
Bitwig Studio
Cakewalk Sonar
Image-Line FL Studio
PreSonus Studio One
Propellerhead Reason
RML Labs SAWStudio

Best Guitar (Instrument) Cables

Probably one of the most controversial topics is cable quality. Some say that there aren’t differences between instrument cables. Others (myself included) say that there is a difference albeit slight in many cases.

The nice thing is that these days I can point to a relatively affordable cable–the George L’s .225–and be done with it. But my favorite guitar cable is still the one that’s talked about in this video.

The silent removal Neutrik plug (silentPLUG) is probably the coolest thing on a guitar cable that I’ve ever seen. You plug the black end into your amp then the red end into your guitar in that order. No more loud pops. No more having to put the amp in standby.

This guy did a shoot out between Mogami and Monster cables. I cannot vouch for the results since I wasn’t the one that conducted the shoot out but it’s an interesting video nonetheless:

This guy swears by Mogami guitar pedal patch cable:

And another pedal video:

One last video talking about Mogami guitar cables:

Can you tell I’m a Mogami fan? I wish I had more than two but hey they ARE expensive!

If you’re good with a soldering iron then you can save yourself some money and make your own! Or just buy some pre-made ProCo cables…they are decent enough and have a limited lifetime warranty.

Recording Studio Room Acoustics

In basic terms, the acoustics of a room determine the quality of sound waves. Are carpeted room will sound different than one with hardwood floors, for example. When it comes to recording studios, room acoustics affect not only the quality of recorded instruments and voices but the speakers that playback those instruments and voices.

The importance of room acoustics cannot be understated.

The best web sites dedicated to this topic (that I’m aware of at the time of this writing) are Real TrapsJohn Sayers’ Recording Studio Design Forum and the Room EQ Wizard Forum.

I made this video awhile back:

Foam worked at “Studio B” decently well but if I could do it all over again I would use Fiberglass panels. Reason being is foam doesn’t cut low frequencies as ineffectively, which results in a “muddy” type of room sound.

Many do-it-yourselfer types swear by Owens Corning 703 framed inside of acoustically transparent material. But acoustics are a topic unto their own and rehashing material on DGTRS makes no sense. The sites mentioned above will get you started on the right path to not only what panels to use but how to construct/modify your studio as well.

Student Loans vs. Business Loans

One of the big draws of higher education is the fact that the federal government subsidizes U.S. citizens’ tuition. This is probably the number one reason tuition rates have skyrocketed over the years. With the Parent PLUS loan program, they are pretty much handing out unlimited amounts of money to people with good credit.

It reminds me a lot of the housing bubble. Except if you can’t pay back a mortgage the bank takes your house. This is called a foreclosure. If you can’t pay a student loan back? Tough luck. You are stuck with the bill until you die.

Time is the most valuable resource. Every day that is spent sitting in a college or trade school classroom could be a day that you are building a business. But, it takes money to start a business. Yep…it does. But there are options!

The normal ways to fund a business are through personal finances (saving money), investors (people who will get a portion of a business’ revenue) or through a loan.

Before the 2007 recession hit, it was relatively easy to get a business loan from a bank. Perhaps a bit too easy…which is one of the causes of the Great Recession. Nowadays, you need to have a business going already and prove that it is making money before even thinking about asking a bank for a loan.

So, what is a wannabe entrepreneur to do? Turn to the government…just like with the Federal Student Aid program but for small businesses. That’s the category an audio production services company falls under. Now, here’s the catch.

The government makes it pretty easy to get a student loan. Getting a small business loan can be a little trickier and there are strings attached. I have never personally applied for a business loan from the government but the starting place is here. My advice on this topic ends here so best of luck!