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Old 12-06-2008, 05:34 PM   #49
Human being with feelings
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 2,012

I know this thread might seem like it's getting away from "why your recordings sound like ass," but the little stuff matters. A lot. Organization makes for better recordings than preamps do. Seriously.

Go to the hardware store and buy the following (it's all cheap):

- Sturdy hooks that you can hang cables and headphones from. Pegboard, in-wall, over-door, whatever. Dedicated hooks for guitar cables, mic cables, patch cables, and computer cables.

- Rolls of colored electrical tape. From now on, every single cable in your studio will have one or more colored stripes on each connector. So when you see the mic over the snare has a red stripe and a white stripe, and you go look behind the desk or the soundcard, you will see a white stripe and a red stripe and you will know instantly where the other end of the cable is plugged in. Headphones should be similarly marked (assuming that you ever have more than one set of headphones in use at a time).

-Velcro cable ties. Every cable will also have a velcro cable tie affixed to it, so that you can easily coil up slack.

- Extra batteries. Every studio should buy batteries in 10- or 20- packs. You should never have to stop a session to look for batteries, or for a lack of batteries.

- No-residue painter's tape. This is very low-stick masking tape that you will use to label all kinds of stuff. Stick in on the console or your preamps and mark gain settings for different mics and instruments, stick on guitars and keyboards to mark the knob settings, stick it on drums to mark the mic locations, stick it on the floor to mark where the singer should stand in relation to the mic, whatever. Peel it off when you're done and no sticky residue.

- One or two universal wall-wart power adapters (the kind with multiple tips and switchable output voltage). A broken wall-wart is a bad reason to hold up inspiration, and having a spare handy makes troubleshooting a lot easier. Keep in mind that a replacement wall-wart has to have the same polarity, approximately the same output voltage, and AT LEAST the same current rating (either Amps A or milliamps mA) as the original. So splurge for the 1A/1,000mA one if they have it. If you're not sure what the above means, find out before experimenting.

Next, go to the guitar depot and buy the following:

- 5-10 sets of guitar strings of every gauge and type you are likely to record. This means 5 sets of acoustic strings, 5 sets of electric strings, and each type in both light and medium-gauge, assuming that you might be recording guitars set up for different string gauges (this includes friends or bandmates who may come over with guitars that haven't been re-strung for months. Make them pay for the strings, but have them. Charge them double or more what you paid, really). These strings are meant as backup insurance for the times when there is a string emergency, not necessarily to replace your existing string-replacement routine. So they can be the cheap discount ones. They only need to last through one session, and are there for the occasions when a guitar needs to be recorded that has dead strings. Watch for sales and stock up.

- 2 extra sets of bass strings, same idea.

- A ton of guitar picks, of every different shape, size, material, and texture. Go nuts. Don't skip the big felt picks for bass (although you can skip the expensive metal picks if you want-- they suck). You are going to put these all in a big bowl for all to enjoy, like peanuts or candy. Or better yet, in lots of little bowls, all over the studio. Changing picks is the cheapest, easiest, fastest, and most expressive way to alter the tone of a guitar, and it absolutely makes a difference. Just as important, holding up a session to look for a pick is the stupidest thing that has ever happened in a recording studio. Don't let it happen in yours. Make your studio a bountiful garden of guitar picks.

Drum heads are a bit trickier, especially if you ever record more than one set of drums. You might have to save up, but get at least one set of extra top heads for your best drums, starting with your most versatile snare. The whole idea is not to hold up a session over something that is a normal wear-and-tear part. The long-term goal should be to buy replacement heads not when the drum needs them, but when you've just replaced them from your existing stock of extras. Sad to say, it's also not a bad idea to keep your eyes peeled for deals on spare cymbals, especially if you have old ones or thin ones or if you record metal bands. (Again, this is stuff that you should make people pay for if they break, but it's better to have spares on hand than to stop a session).

If you commonly record stuff like banjo or mandolin, then splurge for an extra set of strings for these. If you record woodwinds on a semi-regular basis, then reeds are an obvious addition. Classical string instruments are trickier, but if you commonly record fiddle, then pick up some rosin and a cheap bow, just to keep the sessions moving.
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