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Using gear limitation at your advantage

Written By William Robertson

Intro

We are, for most of us, all getting stuck at home. Far away from studios where you can
have all the studio gear you want to express our creativity without limits.

We are, for most of us, stuck with our laptop, our favorite instruments maybe (often the
first one we started with), and maybe a few pieces of gear (an audio interface, a guitar/bass amp, speakers, or an external keyboard, etc.). And despite those limitations, we can still get stuck in the option paralysis. There are
so many plugins out there that you can spend hours upon hours trying and
analyzing them, to find the “best” for each application.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this is a bad thing! It is always useful to be curious about this industry. Although, there are also ways to refocus on our gear limitation in order to use them at our own advantages and still having a lot of fun creating, mixing, producing songs with unique vibes and sonic aesthetics.

In this article, I will share a few ways I have found through the years when I had to travel with my laptop and interface.

You got an audio interface? You got saturation!

Saturation is something highly desirable nowadays. Either from the analog nostalgia or the
the current trend of saturated and “in-your-face” sound, it became one of the most important tools an audio engineer/music producer could use.

Studio Gear

Good thing is, if you have an audio interface, you already got saturation! Yes the
microphone preamps of your audio interface, can saturate when you push the input up. It
is normally something you’d like to avoid. But it can be useful in a lot of scenarios. For
example, when recording multiple stomps, try to push the input so the first quick transients get clipped, it gives a nice fattening effect to the track that’ll add up when you will stack the different takes.

Or have you ever tried to route the line out of your audio interface into the microphone preamp inputs? Sending a snare to them? To saturate it. Just a tiny bit or
a lot in parallel? Same for the vocal?

A whole world of possibilities opens up when you got an audio interface, don’t underestimate the fun you could have with that piece of equipment. Of course, if you don’t wanna go outboard, you can still use plugins to saturate. In that case, I would recommend plugins that do not generate a lot of digital artifacts (aliasing for example).

I noticed that Burnley 73 can be very nice in that regard. It has nice midrange aggression. But if you want something a bit more subtle, I really like Satson or Britson.

Pushing the fader up on Britson (with output compensated) on a lead vocal is a very nice
way to give it some aggression without having it to sound obviously saturated. It just gives
more attitude.

You got a microphone and a room? You got a re-amp space !

One of the biggest factors to give a specific vibe to a track is something that we almost all
have already, and very often neglect: Our room. “Yes but my room is not a pro studio
room, it is just a bedroom you know”. Yes! And that’s even better!

Your best asset is your bedroom or even better your living room! Have you ever recorded some claps in your living room? Far away from the mic, they sound a lot more lively than when recording them close miced in a dead space. But have you ever considered re-amping in your live room too?

For example, on an acoustic (or digital) drum sound. Take the kick, snare, and toms and re-amp through your live room. By having a pair of speakers (whatever you could have, Bluetooth speaker, even your phone in mono if you don’t have anything). And playing the parts in the live room, capturing this with a pair of microphones (or one microphone if you only have one.

Don’t have a microphone? Use your phone again!) It will give a very unique reverb/sense of space to your tracks. The goal here is not to go HiFi, but to capture the sound of a room. It might sound weird and wacky, but give it a try and you will see how useful it could be!

You got a DAW with plugins? You got a recording outboard Studio gear ersatz!

A significant part of the advantage of being in a great studio is the ability to record through outboard. I am of those that prefer to process on the way in, to have the “purest”
processing possible (no additional AD/DA conversion to use the outboard).

It makes mixing way easier in my opinion (except if you screw up of course). I don’t hesitate to sometimes even print parallel processing during the recording (if no pitching will be necessary later). Now, stuck at home it is another story. Although nowadays you can find plugins that add very little latency to no latency at all. Sonimus plugins are a great example of this (when avoiding the oversampling options if available).

The trick here is to record your part, dry, as a test, a few seconds might do. Applying
processing to enhance the recorded performance. Let’s say on a vocal, for example,
adding some saturation with Burnley 73 and shaping the sound with its EQ, then adding
some light compression with Tuco to evens out the performance a bit more. Or using the
Satson channel strip in order to do all of this with only one insert.

Then, once you got the right processing chain. You can try to record through those plugins.
There are various ways of doing this according to your DAW. On the Pro Tools for
example, you can put the plugins on an Aux. The input of this Aux should be your
microphone input of your interface.

The output should be a Bus (let’s say Bus 1). And then creating an Audio track which has for input this Bus 1. That way, you are recording and printing the processing on the way in. In Logic Pro X the workflow is similar (a bit more troublesome) and in Reaper, you have an “Input FX” that lets you apply this even more easily. Possibilities are endless for this, and let you dial the right tone without having to “fix it in the mix”.

Using this you can even print parallel processing (with a bit more complicated routing). It is also a way to use less CPU during mixing.

Conclusion

Those 3 examples are just a few among other possibilities you have to enjoy your gear
limitations and create great music. I hope they will inspire you to not get stuck by the-
lack-of studio gear and to keep on pushing boundaries and using what you already got to
improve your craft and your music.

Have fun!!
William Robertson (Wheeliemix)

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