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ASK the Doctor


51.Adam: Multi-track recording on my computer? 4/18/98 
52.Bela: Problems recording digital audio & MIDI? 5/23/99 
53.Jan: Syncing a digital studio problems? 5/25/99 
54.Alejandro: Convert wordclock to MTC? 6/1/99 
55.Terry: Live high school band concert recording? 11/2/99 
56.Chak Aw: Record guitars via the MIDI port? 3/4/00 
57.Ron: Sharing songs via the net in Europe? 3/29/00 
58.Andrew: Mixing on the PC with Cool Edit Pro? 4/10/00 
59.Mike: Patchbay wiring help? 4/19/00 
60.Robert: Guitar/vocal demos with an Ensoniq PCI soundcard? 5/2/00

51. Adam: Multi-track recording on my computer?

I am interested and determined to learn all I can about how to record projects with just my computer and some microphones. I have a new version of cooledit pro and I have access to microphones. I can boost my RAM to 64, I have a 6 gig hard drive (could be dedicated to recording), I am going to buy a portable cd burner (hewlett packard), I have an AWE32 sound card (I think), and I have tons and tons of music. My biggest question is how to record several tracks at once with a computer.

In other words, if I want to record a drum set (with a separate track for the snare, hat, kick, overhead....) is it possible to have all of those inputs going into the computer at once? If so, how? What hardware/software/godlike powers would I need? Could I run all of the drums and maybe the bass through a mixer and then into the computer and then equalize everything on cooledit pro? Basically, I have no idea how this stuff works, but it seems like I could make some decent recordings with my home computer. I would really appreciate any advice you could give me.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Adam,

Download my recording handbook for starters and read it. There is also a section on using the computer to record. Most software/hardware computer recording systems now available support a maximum of 8 analog inputs(mics or line) at a time. Some also allow a digital stereo input at the same time making a total of 10 simultaneous inputs.

Several systems like this to check out are the Mark of the Unicorn 2408($1000), the Gadget Labs Wave/8*24($500), the Aardvark 20/20($800) and the Event Layla($1000) The Yamaha DSP factory($900) is also a strong contender particularly because of its included virtual 02R mixer.

You can indeed run things through an external mixer and into the computer where you can use CoolEdit Pro to eq, etc. Cool Edit Pro also supports some or maybe all of these in/out cards I just referred you to. Go to the websites and compare features. Do your research!

52. Bela: Problems recording digital audio & MIDI?

Hi There, Just came across your web page & hope you dont mind me sending this query. The problem I'm having is that when I record some midi tracks first. Then record audio, the midi seems to be merged onto the audio tracks when I listen back? For instance,
Track 1 Record MIDI Drums
        Track 2 Record MIDI Bass
        Track 3 Record MIDI Strings.

Now, with these 3 tracks playing, I record my audio vocal on Track 4. When I listen back & mute the MIDI tracks to hear the audio in isolation, I'm finding that the MIDI parts have been recorded onto the same audio track as my vocal? I believe I've the correct drivers, & the soundcard card is setup for full duplex, etc.

I'm using a P2 400, 128MB RAM, Win 98, Cubasis Audio Ver 1.6, AWE64 Gold. If you've come across this type of problem before & can point me in the right direction for assistance, I'd be very grateful. I'll gladly go & buy another soundcard if it turns out to be a limitation of the card? (ISIS Maxi Studio looks good to me? Thanks in advance, Bela.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Bela,

I don't think it's the soundcard. It could be Cubase Audio. Somewhere in the program, there is a routing scheme just like with an external mixer. Signals have to be assigned to go to tape and others have to be monitored while you're overdubbing. Your previously recorded "MIDI tracks" are still assigned to the new track 4 that you're recording your vocal on. On an external mixer the previously recorded MIDI tracks that you want to hear when you overdub would be assigned to the MIX buss(or L/R or MIX) and the mic input channel would be assigned to go to tape through a buss(if its an 8 buss board, buss 1 feeds tape in 1, buss 2 feeds tape in 2, etc.). Are the MIDI tracks seperate or are they leaking on to each other? When you say "Track 1 Record MIDI Drums", is this a sequencer track with the MIDI information or an audio track of the actual drum sounds?


Just wanted to say thanks for your time & advice on my problem with the midi being 'merged' with audio when recording with Cubasis & my AWE64 Gold. I've got it sorted now thanks to feedback from others like yourself. - It was down to my naivety!

Its embarrassing for me to admit but I'd overlooked the RECORDING INPUT MIXER function in windows. I just needed to open this & untick the midi fader. That way I could still hear MIDI on playback as the fader was still up in the Windows PLAYBACK MIXER but it wasn't selected to be recorded when I wanted to record audio. (The RECORDING/PLAYBACK MIXERS I've referred to as Windows items may be part of the functionality provided by the AWE64 Gold drivers in conjunction with Windows).

FROM THE DOCTOR: Hey, my explanation was totally plausible and totally wrong! In the analog world, you can see where the wires are going and often see the problems. In the digital world, it's far more complicated! In this scenario, it wasn't hardware, it wasn't software, IT WAS THE OS, WINDOWS 98!

53. Jan: Syncing a digital studio problems?

Doctor: I am very pleased to have found your website and all the valuable information. I have been sequencing for about 8 years and recently built a project studio in my home. I have attached an equipment list for reference. I am very new to recording and therefore am uneducated on how to set things up. I especially lack knowledge on syncing all the equipment together. With my current setup, I am having much trouble getting everything to sync up together.

(1) TASCAM DA-98
(2) TASCAM DA-88
(1) TASCAM DA-38
(1) TASCAM RC-848 remote control
(1) Adb Multi!Wav Digital Pro 24 digital audio card

Sekd Samplitude

In general, I have been using the Tascam DA-98 as the master by using the self generating timecode output of the DA-98 into the timecode input on the Digital Time Piece and then the timecode output of the Digital Time Piece to the timecode input of the Midi Time Piece AV. The timecode ouput of the Midi Time Piece AV is connected to the timecode input on the Yamaha O2R.

In any event, when I am syncing a sequence to the DA-98, there are a lot of drop outs and the sequence eventually stops. In the end analysis, I am looking for the most reliable way I could sync up the the equipment. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your assistance, Jan Williams.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Jan,

For a guy who admittedly doesn't know much about connecting recording equipment, you've got one hell of a little "project studio" there! Now let's get this mess straightened out.

There is sync for tape machines, there is sync for sequencers/MIDI gear and there is sync for digital recording/mixing equipment. But it is not the same kind of "sync". SMPTE timecode can be used to lock up tape machines and it can be used to lock up MIDI sequencers as well BUT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH SYNCHRONIZING DIGITAL RECORDING/MIXING EQUIPMENT! "Wordclock" is the thing that is used to properly synchronize digital recording/mixing equipment.

All digital recording/mixing gear utilizes computer chips and they use their own internal digital clocks to make sure all the 0's and 1's are lined up properly. When you start interconnecting pieces of digital gear from different manufacturers and the wordclock connections aren't correct, these digital clocks begin to interact and the results are audible. Sometimes it's pops and clicks, audio drop outs, timing problems, drifting or no audio at all. One piece of digital gear must be the MASTER WORDCLOCK and all others with wordclock ins and outs are connected to it. Another rub is that in different combinations of digital equipment, one piece of digital gear as the MASTER sometimes works better than another, so some experimentation in this regard may be necessary.

Your setup is very digital oriented and you need to have all the wordclock connections firmly in place to lock all that digital hardware together. I'm also not sure you need both a Digital Time Piece and a Midi Time Piece AV in your setup. You definitely are going to have to get the O2R, the Tascam recorders and the Time Piece's all connected via the wordclock inputs and outputs. I don't know what will work best in terms of which piece of gear will be the Master Wordclock for connecting them together, but this is critical for working in the digital world and that's where you are, my friend.

I am not familiar with the Midi Time Piece AV but I believe its similar to the Opcode Studio 64 XTC which is designed to sync up a studio like yours. Try making the Midi Time Piece AV the MASTER wordclock and see how that works. Midi Time Piece AV wordclock out to Yamaha 02R wordclock in. Yamaha 02R wordclock out to DA-98 wordclock in. DA-98 wordclock out to Adb Digital Pro 24 wordclock in.

Cakewalk does Midi Time Code and that's what you should be using for your sequencing. To run everything from the DA-98, the SMPTE should come off the DA-98 and go into the Midi Time Piece. The Midi Time Piece AV will convert it to Midi Time Code and send that to the computer. So, MIDI OUT from the Midi Time Piece AV to the MIDI INs on the computer and the DA-98. Cakewalk does Midi Machine Control as well, so with this setup, you should be able to roll the DA-98 and have the sequencer chase the tape machine AS WELL AS play the sequencer and have the tape machine chase the sequencer. The DA-88's and the DA-38 should be connected to the DA-98 so they slave to it as they normally would.

54. Alejandro: Convert wordclock to MTC?

Hi Doc !! Do you know a box (cheap) to convert wordclock to midi time code? Sorry for my poor english !! Alejandro

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Alejandro,

Wordclock doesn't convert to MTC. Wordclock and MTC are responsible for different kinds of synchronization.

Wordclock is for synchronizing the digital clocks in digital equipment. When you use several pieces of digital gear from different manufacturers and the wordclock connections aren't properly done, you can have all kinds of problems from pops and clicks, to random noise, timing discrepencies, drift or no audio at all. One digital device must be the master wordclock.

Midi time code is for synchronizing midi sequencers and digital recorders and mixers that can operate under midi machine control(MMC).

55. Terry: Live high school band concert recording?

You gave me some advice a few months ago as I began my project of recording the high school band. Well, the recording of the marching band went remarkably well. Now, I am preparing to do a live recording of the dress rehersal of the concert band for their winter show. Here are some questions;

  • 1. If I have 6 mic capabilities, where do I place them to get the best concert sound?
  • 2. My table with board and recorder will be in front of the band approx as far or near as a 50 foot mic cable can reach. Is there advantage to recording with more or less mics?
  • 3. The process of getting the music recorded, then edited, then ready for CD can be done by several methods. Is there an advantage of mixing down first then putting it on computer for editing or would it be easier to edit during mixing?
  • 4. Is there need for effects with live recorded band music? This must be a real dumb question but then you remember I am a real novice at this.
The Performing Arts Center is an auditorium that seats about 800. There is a stage.There is a booth up back which controls the PA and lights. I have 4 "vocal" mics (super cardoid); 1 "instrument" mic(unidirect-cardoid) and a "boom" (condencer). The concert band is about 60 members winds, percussion and flutes, horns etc. They will be on stage for recording and performance.My question is "How do I edit the tape for a smooth recording? Can I do this on my Alesis equipment? Thanks for your patience with me.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Terry,

More or less mics depends on what kind they are and the physical size of the band as well as the grouping of the sections, physically on the stage (woodwinds, brass, persussion,etc.). Also a factor is what is the physical layout of the auditorium? Is there a stage? What kind of editing do you have in mind for this project? I'm not clear on what you mean by "...would it be easier to edit during mixing?" As for effects, don't use any going to tape. When you're mixing is the time to make that judgement.

You shouldn't have to edit tape during a recording. I would get the 60 minute ADAT tapes and as long as the show is under 1 hour in length, you're okay. If not, you'll have to have several formatted ADAT tapes ready to go and change tapes during the show. Coordinate the tape change with the conductor if possible. Perhaps there is a natural point in the program where you can make the change over.

56. Chak Aw: Record guitars via the MIDI port?

OK, here's my question. I play a lot of fingerstyle and would like to record via the MIDI port on my PC, mainly to create tablatures. What type of gadgets exist with a MIDI out and a takes a guitar input? My guitar has an internal pickup. Thanks.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Chak Aw,

You're confused about MIDI and PC audio recording. MIDI has nothing to do with actual audio. It is simply an event recording and playback system. If you play a MIDI keyboard, each time you hit a note, a MIDI event is generated which contains information like what note you hit, how hard you hit it, how long you held it down, what MIDI channel is it on, etc. Some guitars are equipped with MIDI pickups which also register these MIDI events when you fret a string. These "events" whether they come from a MIDI guitar or MIDI keyboard, can be recorded and played back by a MIDI Sequencer.

In your case, you need a PC soundcard with audio in and audio out connections. A lot of soundcards also have MIDI connections on them as well. Your guitar pickup would be connected with a guitar wire, the same one you plug into an amp now, but instead of the amp, you would plug it into the soundcard input. This gets the sound from your guitar into your PC.

As for MIDI, if you had a guitar with a MIDI pickup system(Roland used to make one and Casio made an inexpensive MIDI Guitar maybe 8 yrs ago...)you could plug its MIDI out into the soundcards MIDI in. This get your MIDI info into the computer. If you're running a MIDI sequencer, then it would record your playing as MIDI info. CakeWalk has a new MIDI sequencer version designed for guitarists and it might have tablature capabilities. Go to my coollinks page and jump to their website and check it out.

57. Ron: Sharing songs via the net in Europe?

I read your info on Recording with the PC and was wondering if I might ask a few questions. My needs are simple. I work with a band in Europe and we need to share songs that we are developing. I would like to be able to recording basic melodies and some synth stuff directly to my computer using a simple Yamaha synth with midi capability. This seems to be as simple as having the right keyboard and the right digital soundcard -- right now I'm looking at the Creative Labs Platinum sound card.

In addition, I want to be able to record vocals, and my guitar player would like to record guitar stuff directly to PC. Do we need "analog" inputs in the sound card for this? Any and all help appreciated. Thanks. R

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Ron,

If your soundcard only has digital inputs, then you need a DAT machine or some other Analog to Digital interface to get your singing and guitar playing into the soundcard. Analog inputs to the soundcard would be easier to deal with. You just use your mics and regular mixer outputs and run them into the soundcard analog inputs.

Most soundcards only have 2 inputs. That means only 2 tracks at a time can go in. So you'll need multitrack recording software and a decent monitoring setup. This is classic overdubbing, except the tape machine is in the computer. If you want to record more than 2 tracks at a time, get the Aardvark 20/20, the Yamaha DSP factory, the Event Layla system or something along those lines. They can record 4-8 tracks at a time. The DSP factory has all kinds of mixing capabilities built-in as well.

For the Yamaha synth you want to use, you'll need MIDI sequencing software. You see this is not as simple as you thought. In some ways it might be easier to get a 4-track cassette or 8-track minidisc unit and do your demos on them. Then turn your mixes into MP3 files and email those to your buddies. If you want to do work that you can interchange later, then all of you need to be using the same software and running it on similar platforms, etc. Its a balancing act between money$ and what it is you really want to wind up with. "...we need to share songs that we are developing." can mean a lot of things. If its only sending ideas back and forth, down and dirty... don't even bother with recording on the computer.

Once you get into recording on the PC, it can get complicated and expensive quickly. If you're intent on going the computer recording route, Jump to manfacturers' websites from my coollinks page and check out the gear before you buy it. Double check it'll run on your operating system and that the drivers are available.

58. Andrew: Mixing on the PC with Cool Edit Pro?

I am currently using Cool Edit Pro, and I am adding the finishing touches to a pop/rock song(i.e. I've mixed everything down to one stereo track, so that all the effects/processors below were applied to just the final track) that my band originally recorded on a Roland digital. This is going to be our first indie single and so we want it to sound very professional(our sound is slightly Britpop/New York indie - I'm from London, but the rest of the band's from New York). So far, I have used the:

  • 1) Click/Pop Eliminator
  • 2) Stereo channel mixer to make it sound wider
  • 3) Graphic Equaliser(what should I do with the really high and low bands, like around 22k or above?)
  • 4) Chorus -
    here is a problem. I don't know how much chorus I'm supposed to add. Currently I have the vibrato rate set at 10.5Hz, vibrato depth at 2.6 and the spread at 9.8ms. The chorus effect is set at around 20%. Am I on the right track? What's the standard production chorus for pop tunes?
  • 5) Phaser -
    another problem. I'm not sure where to set the centre frequency or resonance etc. Our song is a standard pop/rock tune a la Pavement, Sloan and Blur - what's the standard amount of phase to put on?
  • 6) Dynamic Processing -
    I think I've overdone this already. Currently I am compressing anything above -2db a lot more than the rest. Am I on the right track(this song medium amount of distortion)?
  • 7) Delay -
    I have no idea on this one. I've been experimenting with pre-delay, especially on the vocals(which I just can't seem to master, but I knew this was the most difficult part). Is it a bad idea to put a little pre-delay on the final production(i.e. about 1ms at around 6%)? Do people usually put echo/delay on all the tracks on the final production?
  • 8) Noise Reduction -
    I think I did an ok job on this front, and there's only so much I could do as the original recording is pretty noisy(we used 60s mustangs and telecasters) with a lot of headphone leakages.
This is all I have done/considered so far. Have I missed something out? There's still something slightly unprofessional about the final sound, though the average listener probably wouldn't notice any difference. We are a really good, young band and deserve a really slick production, but we don't know anyone who can help us, because all the music people we know are either only into electronic music or don't really know what they're doing. Of course, I'm assuming that everything could be done on Cool Edit Pro(I also have Sound Forge, but Cool Edit seems to be better, and also more confusing and complicated, especially with the chorus and compressors).

Should I be adding these effects to only some of the tracks and not all of them(only pre-delay certain things, and only chorus certain tracks - maybe this is where I'm going wrong, though each instrumental track is compressed and reverberated separately...should I leave the vocals out of the mixdown for final production)? Are there any effects that the vocals should stay out of?

I have been producing and re-producing the same song for about three weeks, and still can't be satisfied with the finished product. Please help me and lead me to the right direction. I only need to know roughly what is done by the professionals(mainly on the chorus, phaser and delay fronts) so that I can be certain that I'm not doing something very wrong. Anyway, thanks for reading this, and I really hope that you could help. I have just reached the stage where I hate our song because of hearing it over and over again, and I just want to end this techinical torture as soon as possible. I am, after all, a musician, not a producer.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Andrew,

For starters, if you're going to mix from inside the computer, you had better have a very good monitoring system. To really make accurate mixing decisions, you need accurate speakers. I recommend a set of powered monitors like the Event 20/20 bas (about$900 US)or their new line, the PS5/PS6/PS8 priced from $500-700, or the Alesis M1's ($500 US) or the Mackie HR-824's (about $1300 US). Inaccurate speakers are the main reason mixes sound good in one place, but sound like crap when you play them back somewhere else.

As for the effects you've mentioned...

  • Click/pop eliminator:
    if you've got a bunch of clicks and pops that are not helping the music, then use it. I would rather use it on individual noisy tracks rather then on the whole mix. Used on entire mix, it might try to eliminate breathing on the vocals and other sounds that actually sound better when left in.
  • Stereo Channel Mixer:
    Be careful with this effect. Definitely check your mix in mono because this fx is doing things with phase. It often sounds great in headphones, but that doesn't translate to speakers.
  • Graphic EQ:
    You might want to use this on the whole mix if at the very end it needs a little more "air" in the highs (that's your 2 or 3db boost at 16-22K) or a bit more thump from the bass and kick drum (80-200hz).
  • Chorus:
    This is not for the whole mix! Often a little bit of chorus on your background vocals will help thicken them up. Or on a stereo guitar part for the same reason. You have to blend it in for your taste. The effect softer than the parts you're adding it to makes them "fatter". When the effect is louder, it becomes more dominant. You can also send to the effect and "float" your original sound so its not on the mix buss, but the effect is. Now you're hearing only the effect. It all depends on the sound you're after. Chorusing or flanging the whole mix is an effect best used sparingly (check out the Beatles "Back in the USSR").
  • Phaser:
    Again, not for the whole mix! Could be good for a guitar or keyboard part. For all the chorus/flanger/phaser sounds I turn up the feedback setting so I can really hear what its doing, then I adjust the speed and freq/resonance settings to where they are doing what I want, then I turn the feedback back down and balance the effect appropriately.
  • Dynamic Processing:
    A little compression on the whole mix 1.5 or 2:1 and 2-4 db of processing will tighten things up usually. Some songs need more than others.
  • Distortion:
    Do not use this on the whole mix! This is to treat individual tracks.
  • Delay:
    Not for the whole mix! Use on individual tracks appropriately. Pre-delay is different than delay. Delay adds echoes to the source(i.e. a certain word(s) that the lead singer sings) Pre-delay is for delaying the time it takes for the effect to start. Its usually on reverbs. I use pre-delay all the time on reverbs. Sometimes a long reverb tail gets to be a problem but I like the length (decay)so I increase the pre-delay and shorten up the decay. Generally you'll use longer pre-delays on slower songs (60 ms and up) shorter on faster songs (30-60ms).
  • Noise Reduction:
    You have to be careful with this stuff because A lot of noise on individual tracks actually helps the musicality of the overall mix when its all heard together. I've seen many young engineers set their mixes up by meticulously going through each track and gating and eq-ing before they listen to the whole mix. It usually ends up sounding like shit.

Build your mix from the bottom up. Get the drums and bass sounding good together but leave yourself some headroom. Your overall levels should be at -3 or so. You can always turn the whole mix up. Then bring in the guitars and keyboards. Don't get crazy about finalizing things at this point. The sonic puzzle will change a bit as you add new elements so just get it close.

Then work on the vocals and their effects. Don't work at loud levels for long periods, this will screw with your ears. There are no standard settings for any of this stuff. Do listen to the recordings that you admire, especially any bands that are out whose recordings relate to the sound you are trying to get. Compare your attempts and you will get better. It takes time to learn what all this stuff does and how to use it appropriately with your music.

59. Mike: Patchbay wiring help?

The problem I am having is trying to wire my patchbay into my studio configuration. I have a "half- normalled" patchbay with short jacks at the bottom. How would I go about wiring my inputs of my equipment and how would I wire the returns of the effects....i.e. compressor, tube pre.......etc. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. Mike

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Mike,

Usually patch bays are wired ins on the bottom row, outs on the top row. You'll have to break the normal connection for your compressors, fx, mic pres, etc. Otherwise these boxes will have their ins and outs normalled to each other and that is bad.

Tape returns can be normalled(tape ch. out - mixer tape/line in), and DATs or cassettes can be normalled (mixer out - DAT in) and (DAT out - 2 track in). Your mixer buss outs can be normalled to tape machine ins if they match up (8 buss out - ADAT 8 in). If there are 3 ADATs you could normal the 8 buss outs to the 1st ADAT 8 ins, and then also put the other 16 ADAT ins in the patchbay and simply patch out whichever buss out into whichever ADAT in. With your tape returns you'll be patching out of the tape return into an FX and out of the FX into the mixer tape in. When you get it set up right it can be a real timesaver in the studio.

60. Robert: Guitar/vocal demos with an Ensoniq PCI soundcard?

Thanks for the great article on soundcards. I have a few more questions regarding this issue... Could you recommend an affordable card/software combo for a beginner who wants to record demo's - guitar voice harmonica. I currently have a Ensoniq PCI card but am not sure if this is a usable card. I currently do video editing and it has been fine for that but I tend to think I would need to upgrade in order to record. Thanks, Bob.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Bob,

The Ensoniq is certainly usable. Your limitation will be only recording a max of 2 tracks at a time. You could record one track at a time, then overdub one track at a time. With an external mixer you could set up 2 mics, (1) for guitar (1) for vox/harmonica for instance, PAN them extreme left and extreme right (or take direct outs if available) and patch the mixer output into the soundcard line in (stereo in). This would get these 2 tracks into your computer as separate discreet audio tracks. For overdubbing, you'd have to listen to the headphone/speaker out of the soundcard while you're recording the new tracks. If the Ensoniq manual/info says it is a full duplex capable soundcard, and I think it is, this should be possible.

It doesn't have digital ins/outs so if you want that capability, then you'll certainly have to upgrade. That will also require additional outboard equipment i.e. a DAT machine, etc. that can use the digital information. For now, try working with the ensoniq and get your recording chops together.
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