Sometimes, doing it the traditional way simply won't do... what you really need is some unusual idea to spark your creativity, or to give your song a different edge. Here's our pick of Top 5 Unusual Recording Tips & Techniques used by famous artists, which you should try this year!
1) BINAURAL RECORDING
Lou Reed recorded three albums in the late seventies (Street Hassle, Take No Prisoners, The Bells) using the binaural technique. By using a stereo microphone fitted in a specially designed dummy head (such as the Neumann KS100 pictured above) you can replicate the way the human ear hears the sounds.
This technique really gives you a great, unique stereo result... great for live recordings and to create intimate-sounding acoustic tracks, but is too fiddly and expensive to be widely used. However, the Roland CS-10EM is a very affordable binaural microphone and headphone, which could be a great - and affordable - option for those who want to try this technique!
Listen: Lou Reed, 'Pale Blue Eyes'
2) BATHROOM REVERB
Recording in the bathroom is not just for musicians on a budget who can't hire a proper recording studio. The Black Keys have recorded some of their hit album El Camino in a bathroom, too! Small, tiled bathrooms can give you an interesting reverb sound, and legendary music producer Joe Meek, famous for his experimentations, would often use his bathroom to record artists: sometimes, placing them in the bathroom, and sometimes simply placing an extension speaker there and miking it.
In this day and age where you can get great reverb pedals, rack units and software plug-ins, it may seem unreasonable to record in a bathroom for reverb's sake... but so many people forget that reverberation is a real phenomenon in nature, not just an "effect", so many home producers miss out on understanding and appreciating it, whereas seasoned pros often enter a room and instantly recognise whether they like, or not, the natural reverb found there. The reverb Led Zeppelin heard between the walls of old Bron Yr Aur cottage in Wales, was one of the reasons they chose to record some of their most famous albums there.
So, why not trying to recording something, especially acoustic guitars (using a condenser mic!) in a bathroom? It can be great fun (if it's clean...) and you'll train your ears by using some "real" reverb!
3) DISTORTED VOCALS
A clean, crystal clear vocal is what most producers and artists like, most of the time... but, sometimes, what you need is some gritty sounds! Distorted vocals work great for blues, garage rock and psych. Some acts who've used this kind of sound include The Black Keys, Jack White and Thee Oh Sees.
One technique used by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys on their earlier albums, was to plug his microphone to a guitar amp. In recent years, though, he prefers to use a software plug-in called Soundtoys Decapitator to distort his vocals, which he records using a Shure SM58.
The TC Helicon Voicelive Play Electric Guitar also has distortion effects for vocals.
Another popular choice is the Shure 520DX harmonica microphone, the famous "Green Bullet". Jack White uses one, built into one of his guitars! Any old harmonica mic can do a similar job, perfect for "lo-fi" vocals.
Watch: Thee Oh Sees, 'Ship'
4) GET THE "EVIL" ACOUSTIC GUITAR SOUND
The guitar riffs of two of The Rolling Stones most popular tunes, 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' and 'Street Fighting Man', feature an acoustic guitar, not an electric... but most people at the time didn't realise this!
It took many decades until Keith Richards revealed his trick, on his autobiography, 'Life':
Keef would record his acoustic on a portable tape recorder, then play it back via extension speakers ("for more breadth and depth" according to Richards) which were miked - basically, recording his first recording. By overloading the mixing desk, this second recording would sound more distorted, creating that rich, fat sound which is not like that of an electric guitar, and certainly not like most acoustic guitars you've heard, either!
This technique is not the same as just plugging an electro-acoustic to an amp. The best way to do something similar today would be to record your acoustic guitar using a portable recorder, then playing it back through a monitor or amp, miking it to your proper multitrack recorder.
Listen: The Rolling Stones, 'Jumpin' Jack flash'
5) IF NOTHING ELSE WORKS... TRY "OBLIQUE STRATEGIES"!
Oblique Strategies were a deck of cards created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, first published in 1975. Each card offers an aphorism intended to help artists (particularly musicians) break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking.
Sounds crazy? Well, perhaps, but they have helped many top acts to create successful albums: Davie Bowie used them during the recording sessions of his classic "Berlin" albums (Low, Heroes, Lodger) and Coldplay used them on Viva La Vida. French band Phoenix used the cards during the recording of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
Oblique Strategies is now available as an iPhone app or online, so pretty much anyone can have a go, now!
By Ivan Silva