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Producing a song that sounds good starts with recording good-sounding audio. Let's discuss how on gain structure and recording levels affect audio quality, and learn how to record audio into Ableton Live. As the signal passes through a recording system, there are multiple places to adjust the signal level. The general rule is to raise the signal level to the desired level at the beginning of the signal path and then maintain that signal to output. The first place in the signal path that the level can be adjusted is at the microphone preamp in the audio interface. The preamp is necessary because the output level of microphones is generally low.
Use the Preamp Gain knob to adjust the level as necessary. While setting levels in preparation for recording, it is best to keep your headphone or speaker monitor levels at a moderate or reasonable level. This will protect your ears and your speakers in case there is a sudden increase in the volume level. The monitor level is typically controlled from the monitor output control on the Audio interface. When setting monitor levels, it's a good idea to use a sound pressure meter. The listening level should average in the 80 to 85 dB range; anything higher than that will cause ear fatigue and ear damage.
Turn the preamp up until the signal is averaging around -60 beyond the level meter. To see the numeric read out on the meter in Live, increase the height of the meter area and the track width. Next, record-enable the track so that you can see the audio level showing in the meter. If you set the preamp gain too high, you will peak the track and if you set it too low, the audio won't be loud enough. So remember our target is right there around -6 dB.
Next, click the Record button on the desired clip to go into record. As I talk here, you can see signal on the meter. I am averaging around -6dB, and down here in the hotspot, I can see the audio waveform drawing. If I click on that, you will see the waveform here in the overview area. To stop recording, press the Stop button or Spacebar on the computer keyboard. Okay. I will click the Record button to disable. To synchronize the recording to the groove or any other clips that are playing in the session, you may want to enable the metronome.
Remember, we can do that by clicking the Metronome button on the control bar. And if you need a count-in, you can right- click on Metronome button and choose a count-in from the contextual menu. Our choices there are None 1 Bar, 2 Bars, and 4 Bars. Before, during, and after recording, you'll want to be able to monitor the input signal. Live allows three monitoring options. Most frequently, we are on auto monitoring, and that means when a track is record-enabled, the track input is monitored. When not record-enabled, Live automatically switches to monitoring the clips that were already recorded and are playing on the track.
Sometimes, you'll want to choose Input monitoring, or the In button. This will allow you to practice and hear what you are playing when not recording. You will know that you're in Input monitoring because the In button turns orange, and the track activator also turns orange. Other times, you will choose the Off option. Off switches off monitoring a track through Live. This is useful when using an audio interface that allows you to monitor record- enabled tracks at the input to the interface. So after you've finished an audio recording, you need to evaluate it. What is the difference in level between the sound source and any noise, like computer drives or fans? Is the audio signal level loud enough that it masks any noise present? Also, are there and pops or distortion from plosive consonants, like Bs, Ds or Ps? If there are, you'll probably want to re-record using a pop filter if one is available.
If not, try turning the microphone 45 degrees off axis and talk across the microphones diaphragm. Also, is the sound clear and undistorted? If not, try backing off the microphone a few inches. Also, how is the tone quality of the recording? Is it warm and full, or muddy and brittle? If you don't like the tone quality, again try turning the microphone off-axis or try using a different microphone. If both dynamic and condenser microphones are available, make several recordings and compare the differences. Recording audio into a program like Ableton Live can yield great results, if you are aware of how gain structure and recording levels affect the audio quality.
Now that we understand those issues, you're ready to get out there and start recording.
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