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Phase 2: Recording - Setting Up Templates, Choosing the Right Bit Rate & Sample Rate

April 28, 2022
6 min read

When Accepting a Recording Opportunity, Understand the Job at Hand

When accepting a recording job, I would always ask as many questions of the individual hiring me as possible so I could better understand the job at hand. How many musicians? Where are we recording? If on location, can I see the venue ahead of time? How many musicians? How many songs? Is this a live performance with audience? How long do I have for setup? Will there be a sound check? How long do we have in the venue? If in the studio, are we recording live or multi-tracking?

Answers to all of these questions should help you to prepare for the session days ahead of time allowing you to create a template or templates in your DAW so you have minimal startup time on recording day.

Recording on Location

If you are recording on location I have found it helpful to define my template based on whether I'm recording a live performance or whether I'm multi-tracking (recording certain elements separately). If live, I figure out how many mics and in what position and build my template around that setup.

For example; I was hired to record a 70 person choral group, accompanied by a pianist on a grand piano who might also play the church organ. This was taking place in a large church. I wasn't able to visit the church ahead of time, although I was able to see some interior photographs online. I sketched out my setup - 2 close condenser mics on the piano in 'cardioid' mode, 4 cardioid condensers for the choir set at equal distances across the front of the choir, 1 dedicated cardioid soloist mic for different soloists to step up to and 1 omni condenser set 40 feet back from the choir to capture the 'room'. It wasn't until 10 minutes before this live performance that I found out that there was also going to be a drummer! Prior planning had afforded me the option of hooking up another cardioid condenser mic, I set it up behind the drummer, 'looking down' over his left shoulder to capture the kit, roughly 'aimed at the snare about 6 feet up in the air. Being a drummer myself, I figured that if I only have time to hook up 1 mic, this would be the best place to capture the kit and give me some control over kit volume....it actually worked out really well.

Fortunately, since I had prepared a template based on my sketch with the other mics already set up in my DAW and "connected" to the correct physical inputs on the interface I was going to use, all other tracks were set up and all I had to do was to add one more track to the mix after following my sketch and making the connections from the sketch onto the hardware on site as I had planned out in my studio prior to the gig. Adding 1 more track was easy and quick.

Creating Templates

Creating templates is easy if you have a good idea of what your recording session will look like. If I know that the guitar player will likely need more than 1 pass to capture the right vibe, I'll set up 6 or 8 guitar tracks hooked to the same input on my interface. They may say, "that was ok, but let me try something else". I'll keep the first one and 'record enable' the next empty guitar track - in 15 seconds we're ready for another take. We might keep both takes and pan 1 right and 1 left, or use part of take 1 and part of take 2.... You will have mix options later with this approach.

Having your template set up ahead of time keeps the creative flow going and minimizes downtime in the session. Look for videos online on how to set up templates for your particular DAW. I use Cubase Pro for recording, but regardless of the DAW you use, you can set up templates ahead of session time to be more efficient in the studio and on location. Having those set up before your artists show up makes you appear more organized and professional when it's time to hit 'Record'!

Choosing the Right Bit Rate & Sample Rate

Choosing the right Bit Rate and Sample Rate and why can be very confusing, so I'll try to simplify the subject.

Bit rate, also referred to as bit depth defines the resolution of the sample. A bit rate of 16 Bits = 65,536 possible points of measurement per sample and 96 DB of dynamic range. A bit rate of 24 Bits = 16,777,216 possible points of measurement per sample and 144 DB of dynamic range.... in other words a much higher resolution.

Sample rate measures the number of samples taken per second of the audio wave, whatever it is you are recording. The higher the number of samples means that the digital translation of the analog audio wave will be more accurate. Human ears are capable of perceiving sound waves from roughly 20 cycles per second (Hertz or Hz) up to 20,000 cycles per second, or a hearing range of 20 Hertz - 20 Kilo Hertz (20Hz-20KHz). The CD standard of 44.1 KHz is more than twice the 'resolution' of our ears, so it is difficult for us to perceive resolutions higher than that, however, it becomes evident when bad digital tools (plugins, AD/DA converters) are used causing 'aliasing' in the digital realm that folds back into upper midrange frequencies (1.5 KHz-5 KHz typically) and cause noise and 'mud' in the middle of your recording where vocals, guitars, keys, horns, cymbals and other elements live.

Recording at higher sample rates will alleviate this issue if done correctly. If you are recording for audio release only, I suggest you record at 24 bit/88.2 KHz, therefore when you perform a sample rate conversion down to 44.1KHz for most streaming services or CD, the calculation from 88.2 to 44.1 is a simple 'one half' algorithm.

Audio Sample Rates vs Audio for Video Sample Rates

If you are recording audio for video (TV, movie, video release) use 24 bit/96 KHz since most video synchs to a sample rate of 48 KHz the sample rate conversion algorithms once again only have to perform a 'one half' calculation from 96 to 48.

Recording at 88.2 KHz and 96 KHz will mean that any Nyquist foldback aliasing that happens will happen way above the human hearing limit of 20 KHz and be imperceptible. There are manufacturers out there advertising recording sample rates of 384 KHz or even 768 KHz, don't be drawn into the notion that spending a lot of extra money on an interface that allows those ultra-high sample rates while recording will make a difference beyond 96 KHz. In-depth testing with professional engineers and audiophiles has proven otherwise.

Will recording at 88.2 KHz sound better than 44.1 KHz? Yes, because now you have moved any fold back 'aliasing' out of the realm of human hearing. That digital aliasing will occur in the 30-40 KHz range, well above what you can hear. Anti aliasing filters built in to some higher end plugins as well as plugins with oversampling functions will also solve this problem, although using several instances of plugins with oversampling could bog down your CPU.

Going higher than 88.2 for audio or 96 for audio-for-video won't buy you any better sound because we are limited by ears with a 20 KHz resolution.

Wordclocks or "Clocking"

Accurate 'clocking' is essential when recording and processing. A 'Wordclock' is the device that controls the sample rate (44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, etc.). Every interface has an internal wordclock, some are better than others. Most internal wordclocks are not as accurate as the dedicated external wordclocks that you may purchase to synch up your interface and other digital gear. Several years ago I bought a Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56 interface, it was, at the time, the flagship interface in their line. The internal wordclock was accurate to 250 picoseconds (250 trillionths of a second or 0.000 000 000 250 seconds). Seems pretty accurate, looking at that number....however, for roughly $300 a Black Lion Audio Micro Clock MKII is accurate to 10 picoseconds, or 10 trillionths of a second. For about $800 the Micro Clock MKIII gives you accuracy to 1.9 picoseconds. Much more accurate than my $1100 (at the time) flagship interface!

If your interface allows it, I recommend a good external Wordclock like the Black Lion Audio Micro Clock series. The difference you will notice will be in the areas like tighter bass, more defined reverb tails and better definition in the midrange. Well worth the money. There are other manufacturers of wordclocks, but very few publish their accuracy and some charge way more. The Black Lion guys are very smart and passionate about their products and not afraid to go head to head with larger companies, they usually come out on top. I know several international mastering engineers that use and rely on the Black Lion clocks!

Next we'll talk about mixing-session cleanup and preparation!

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