How I Record
My recording process follows the exact same steps. Deciding the song, writing the drum track, recording the video and instruments, mixing and mastering, and editing and uploading. Below will be some tips for each step.
- Deciding a song
When I start working on a recording, I need to start thinking about what song I want to make a cover of. More often than not, it will be based on a video game song, sometimes I might to a cover of a real, released metal song that I like, or maybe I'll to a metal arrangement of a hard rock song from another band. But, for the most part, the song will be a video game song. Think about songs you enjoy and then move on to the next step.
- Writing the Drum Track
Once I've decided the song, I need to write my drum track. In order to do this, I need to know the tempo. I will use a different tool I've got to figure that out. It's a program that is a DAW but it has a built in tempo recognition tool, and that's all I use it for. So, for example, I know that Rainbow Road from Mario Kart 7 is at 136 beats per minute, but I learned that from running an MP3 of the song through my tempo recognition tool. If you're curious about where you can find MP3 files for this part, there's a website called KHInsider which has a vast library of video game song albums.
Once I know the tempo, I can start to write the drum track. I start by adding in ToonTrack Superior Drummer, draw a midi track for my drums and start to write in the midi. Depending on how long the loop of the song is, I will arrange my version differently. For example, Gourmet Race from Kirby Superstar is about forty-five seconds long, so I need to arrange my version in a way that keeps interest but stays somewhat true to the song. In my version, the second run of the full loop became quieter and more subdued in the verse, and "the infernal bridge" had a double time feel. It's really about experimenting with stuff you think will fit in the section of the song, and equally something else that works in the same section of the song.
- Recording the Video & Instruments
Now, it comes to recording; the hardest part of shooting a music video. The order in which I will record each part in a song is entirely dependent on a couple of factors; what the length of the legs of my tripod are, how hard a certain part is (which would mean I record it first to get it out of the way), and how fun a part is.
My camera is a Canon Vixia HF R800, which is filming at 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second. However, because it's a camcorder, and a very cheap one at that, it doesn't do well with filming in the dark, so I need to light up the 'scene', which is really just my kitchen. I only have one light that works to light my face, one of those rectangular film and photography lights.
As for setting up my tones, I have a number of presets I've designed, which you can get from the tones page and mess with. I won't tell you how you should design a tone, but I can tell you what has worked for me, and what you can experiment with, based in PODFarm.
For rhythms, I start with an amp I like or know sounds good. A specific example I can think of in PODFarm is the Treadplate Dual, which I used for 2019, and the Bomber Uber, which I used for the first half of 2020. Ignore the EQ for starters and change up the cab instead. The amp is usually set up fine for testing the cab at first. I've found that the Brit Celeste V30s cab sounds great, as much as it's a stereotypical cab speaker style, and the microphone is generally an on-axis SM57. Then, for the EQ on the amp, I've found having gain and bass low, middle to high mids, and higher treble sounds good, and the volume is just up at 100%. Then I add a noise gate and tube screamer effect pedal to the sound, make sure the gain is low on the screamer as well. And, increase the threshold on the noise gate until you don't hear any noise when idle. Add a reverb, I've found cavernous sounds nice, with the mix down at about 20%. Then add a compressor. This is somewhat controversial among recording guitarists, but I've found it can tighten up the sound to have a compressor on the rhythm tone instead of only adding it after. Keep an eye on the volume meters, play a mix of palm mutes and open strings when adjusting the threshold of the compressor, and make sure the gain is at 0 dB. Keep adjusting until there's no visual difference in volume when palm muting and playing open strings, that will be the sweet spot. You can do the same for a second rhythm tone but boost the bass a little to make it fuller.
My lead guitars follow the same principles, however the main differences are a significantly boosted top range, a significantly lowered bass range, and a delay. For delay, the digital delay effect in PODFarm works great, with the time align synced to the tempo within the program and the mix lowered to 20-25%, sometimes even 15%. And, if you have multiple guitars like I do, design multiple tones for each guitar. It creates a differentiation between each instrument so the listener is like "Oh, that's the Explorer" or "That's the flying V". And the bass and Clean guitars, as of late has always been a third party tone. I have no tips on either. As for acoustics, if you have an acoustic-electric, record with a cable, it's easier than mic'ing up a guitar. PODFarm has a great acoustic tone built in.
When recording, I've found live recordings to be much easier than music video style recordings because you only have to play the part once. Music video style recordings are flashier, yes, but it's so much easier to record live instead. All of my recordings have been recorded live, except maybe Chorus of the Dragons when that video was public. I've also found myself leaving in and errors I make. It creates a more human element for your recording, and makes it not so perfect. Record the Rhythm guitars anywhere from 3-4 times and pan the guitars differently. This is why I make two different rhythm tones. For example, if you record four times, record two guitars with your "main" rhythm tone, which would be the crunchier tone, and pan each 50% left and right. Then record the other two with your second, fuller rhythm tone and pan them completely left and right. This creates a wider and larger sound for when you mix and master. Also, play without headphones and to a metronome.
- Mixing, Mastering, and Humanizing Drums
Once the recordings are done, it's time to mix. I will say now: MAKE PRESETS! It is such a time saver to have presets already set up for mixing and mastering. And, I don't mean single FX presets, but rather FX rack presets. For example, have an FX rack preset for the leads, for rhythm guitars 1&2, for rhythms 3&4, etc. You can make changes to your presets every time you record, but have a baseline to work off of. All of the tips after this are assuming you already know how EQ and compression work. If not, there are some excellent videos that explain how each work online.
For EQ, with the lowest band, create a high pass and cut up to about 250 hertz on the leads, 150-200Hz on the rhythms, 100Hz with a lower boost at around 50 for the kick drum to bring out the character, and isolate the bass to anything below 100Hz, maybe add in some highs if you want that finger noise. The low end of a mix will ALWAYS be the muddiest part of because the instruments have a lot of low end, and will all be competing for space, so by cutting those frequencies, you create the space for each instrument's low end to breathe. Then, bring down the frequencies at 500Hz and 2000Hz 6 dB with a smaller Q. This will remove two frequencies that are common issues with your mix not having any presence or having ear piercing sounds respectively. But cutting these, you open the sound and control the highs. The example to the left is my rhythm guitars.
As for compression, this is harder to understand. I have a PDF that explains how to compress very well that I know for sure is free. There's a website called Musician on a Mission that explains compression VERY well. I can barely explain compression myself, so I'd suggest you check out MoaM and learn compression that way, along with Glenn Fricker's tutorial on compression on Spectre Sound Studios. Their mixing courses and PDFs are completely free. This will also apply to how I master.
Finally, I use EZMix for some of my sounds. It's a very powerful tool that has excellent mixing tools. If you do buy it, mess around with sounds and see what you like.
However, listening to the drums at this point will yield a very robotic performance. So, in order to fix that, you need to humanize them. Some programs have built in humanization tools. One that comes to mind immediately is in Mixcraft. There's a humanizing option which works great. You can do the same with Cubase, but it's not as simple as right click, press a button and off to the races. You have to set up a macro. Steinberg, who make Cubase, have a video that explains how you can make macros to humanize drums. However, it is very complicated and difficult to understand if you don't know what anything in the macro window means. Watch tutorials and it shouldn't take longer than about two hours.
When exporting, export a .WAV file. They are higher quality than MP3s and are have more options for you to mess with when exporting. Make sure you export with a high enough audio bitrate (around 128-160, maybe 256 if you can actually render it) and a sample rate that's equally to your computer's audio sample rate. If you don't know, choose 44.1kHz.
- Video Editing
Video editing is fairly simple once you understand how everything lines up. I will say, if you use Windows Movie Maker to make your music videos... what are you doing? It's WAY more complicated to edit with Movie Maker, so much so I don't think it's even possible to make a music video at all. On top of that, you have to be on an older version of windows, because Movie Maker isn't even supported anymore. Use something like Adobe Premiere, a monthly subscription to Creative Cloud is actually fairly cheap, and you get access to a whole bunch of really powerful tools you'll probably never use, but hey, it's nice to have them. If you play with speakers playing out, as I expect you should, you can line up the metronome and drum track you were playing to with the audio you exported. If you did record with a microphone, you will have to play with headphones, so you don't hear the metronome playing through the microphone, so it's a little harder to line up with the video in editing.
Also, add a vignette. This is something that, again I can't explain because I've made a preset for it, and I haven't made one from scratch in a very long time. And, once again, there are really good tutorials online. YouTube is your best friend for this.
When rendering your video, render it at the same resolution of your base recordings. If you recorded at 1080p 60fps, render at 1080p 60fps. If it's at 4k, render at 4k. Scaling down can cause issues when uploading to YouTube and make your video seem too sharp, which is a thing. If your video is too sharp, it's hard on the eyes, so always export at the same resolution as you filmed. And, make sure your sample rate is the same as the sample rate you used for the .WAV file you exported and at the same bit rate.
And, finally, choose a single shot from your video that shows a frame you think looks good. This can be on the bass, rhythms, leads, or whatever other instruments you used. Once in a million you might get a video in which the very first frame is a perfect screenshot for the thumbnail, like my Wiggler's Garden cover from a very long time ago. That was literally the first frame of the video and it was perfect for the thumbnail, and it became a shirt for about three months that... nobody bought. Edit the screenshot in Photoshop, which if you bought the CC subscription will come with it. If you have a logo for your YouTube channel, you can use that in your thumbnail and it will create a signature style for your videos. And, also add the title and composer of the song so people know what the song is and who wrote it. Add beveling, a relatively thick outer stroke, a subtle outer glow and a subtle drop shadow.
I'm sure there will be several questions you may have had while reading this. If you do, shoot me a contact submission, and I will attempt to answer your questions.