Tips for quiet recordings

When recording, it’s important to control the sound that you’re trying to capture, but it’s also important to control the sounds that you’re trying not to capture. Background noise can reduce your ability to process the sound appropriately and can frustrate your efforts to create a convincing mix. At worst it can ruin a recording.

It’s important to deliberately consider noise, because it’s easy to become accustomed to it and ignore it. Remember – even if you ignore it, the microphone will still capture it! There are two approaches to consider when attempting to reduce background noise:

Avoid the noise source

This is done by either removing the noise source, recording away from the noise source or recording when the noise source is quietest. Internal noise sources are often machines – computers, guitar amps, air conditioning systems etc. Turn them off as much as you can. Sometimes you can’t turn them off – studio computers are an example of this. In these cases you should record as far away as possible – either place the computer in another room (with cables going through a hole in the wall, or under the door) or record in another room (with long cables for microphone and headphones). Sometimes the noise waxes and wanes – studios in busy neighbourhoods will be subject to traffic noise, for example. Learn the times that traffic is strongest, and schedule non-critical activites for those periods. Backups, organisation, cleaning and general maintenance can all be done during these periods. Schedule critical recordings for the quiet times – especially quiet or delicate sounds such as whispered vocals or finger-picked acoustic guitar.

Reduce the noise being captured

Once you’ve done as much as you can to avoid the noise sources, you should then focus your attention on reducing the extent to which the noise is captured on the recording. Start by identifying the direction in which the noise is coming from, and find the position in the room in which the noise is quietest. You might have to find a trade-off between a quiet position and a good room sound (sometimes the quietest position doesn’t have a good room sound!). Then, if you can, put up barriers between the noise source and the microphone. This is easiest if the noise is actually in the room (such as a computer or climate control). Then consider mic positioning. Most microphones have a weak spot directly behind the microphone. Some microphones have different patterns that can be selected – these patterns change the sensitivity of the microphone at different angles. You’ll get the greatest signal-to-noise ratio by positioning the microphone so the weakest spot of the microphone is pointing toward the noise source, and the strongest spot is pointing toward the sound you are trying to capture.

On the other hand, sometimes background noise is useful. It might be desirable to capture the background noise if it’s part of the vibe of the recording. And outdoor vox pop and a live band both have (mostly uncontrolled) background noise that are part of the sonic identity of the sound.

-Kim.

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    • linkb97
    • September 3rd, 2009

    Thank you for sharing such great tips with all of us. It is indeed very helpful to all of us.

    Keep up the good work and God bless!

    Cheers!

    • grimestar
    • February 15th, 2010

    Wish to meet you sometime! ha..

  1. Hello. Yes, it’s a good idea to record far away from the computer… their fans make so much noise!

    Also, if you use a metronome, try this silent visual metronome– http://www.viziklik.com

    Regards

  2. @buzzgary
    It doesn’t look as if that metronome syncs to sequencer time, and it doesn’t solve the problem of having to play alongside (and in time with) other tracks. Why not just use headphones?

    -Kim.

  1. October 15th, 2009
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