Recording: Going Mobile

February 15, 2012

The new Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 is an excellent preamp for mobile tracking, and other affordable, easily portable models from Apogee, ART , M-Audio, PreSonus, and others are great choices, as well.
If your DAW is a laptop, then you're basically a mobile recording unit. Yeah, you may have set up a nice desk with a rack of gear and your favorite monitors and all, but that’s no reason to chain yourself to one area of your home. Even those lucky enough to work in large commercial studios with finely tuned recording rooms sometimes seek out hallways, bathrooms, and storage areas to document strange and seductive sounds. Likewise, your home has some fabulous sonic locations to explore. But you have to get off your butt (literally) to find them.

Gear Up

You already have your laptop DAW, so all you need are a few items to mobilize yourself—stuff you may already have. A portable mic preamp is essential. I typically use only a small, two-channel model, but you may need up to eight channels if you’re going for drums, or recording multiple instruments simultaneously. The other items are closed headphones (to give you some isolation from the instruments you’re tracking), mic cables, and the appropriate mic stands (boom, mini, and/or straight). Cartage-wise, that’s no more than three trips from your “fixed” studio to wherever you roam in your home, so don’t be lazy!

Seek the Blissfully Bizarre

These days, experienced home recordists know how to capture conventionally “good” sounds in their abode. But conservative and predictable sounds are not the goal here. You are on a quest to find unique environments that can really make a track stand out. Bathrooms are good starts, due to the hard surfaces and chances for interesting reflections off mirrors, porcelain, and tile. But don’t ignore the kitchen, hallway, staircases, and even closets. Bring your recording gear, position the mic all over these areas, pop on your headphones, and sing or clap your hands (or have a friend strum a guitar) until you find environments that produce compelling soundscapes.

Planning Helps

As fun as it can be to blindly discover coolsounding areas in your home, you may be more productive if you know what type of environment will best enhance the parts you’re about to record. For example, dry areas (such as living rooms with cushy chairs and couches, drapes, and carpeting) can produce rather dead, mid ’70s-style sounds that can be perfect for retro percussion (schwack!) and organic, un-hyped guitar parts. Want natural reverb and/or slap echoes? Go for that reflective bathroom. Looking for expansive midrange frequencies with some ambience for a guitar solo? Try a long hallway with a wood floor and bare walls. The possibilities are near endless if you’re willing to experiment.

Be Bold

There’s no sense leaving the nurturing womb of your dedicated recording space unless you intend to shake things up. And while it’s hardly an enormous trek to walk from, say, your bedroom to the garage to seek wacky ambiences, some home engineers/producers are loath to risk the unknown. So let those scaredy cats be ever conventional, while you wow listeners by crafting tracks with extraordinary and ear-catching sonics. Go!

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