Although I've spent many hours as a musician in recording studios, my experience on the other side of the glass at a recording desk was usually to listen to recorded audio and comment on editing and mixing. Over the last decade I've become more involved in the actual recording, usually of saxophones or the production of electroacoustic music. I thought it might be useful to list a few basic things that I had to understand in the beginning. Absolutely basic stuff for a properly trained audio or recording engineer, but for instrumentalists perhaps not.
You can easily find recommendations for the best microphones to record acoustic instruments. Microphones can colour the recorded sound and be weighted towards particular frequency ranges, similar to speakers really. I chose two diaphragm microphones with a particular recording pattern that produced a neutral sound with little added warmth, and also weighted to focus a little more on high frequencies; they're incredibly sensitive. I'm comfortable that they seem to record a pretty good representation of acoustic sound across the whole family of saxophones.
I use Focusrite audio interfaces and Logic Pro X. I often find that recording to a peak level of around -12 dBFS works for me, you'll have to experiment. The timbre of the recorded sound will change with different microphone positions. I've experienced the 'microphone in your bell' position in various ensembles, which produces a completely different (and unnatural?) sound to a position further away, especially for classical saxophone.
When I've finished recording and I'm working in Logic Pro, I use a combination of the Logic Pro plugins (particularly the Space Designer convolution reverb) and the excellent FabFilter plugins.
Before creating a final audio file you need to be aware of a few things. National and International organisations have agreed a set of protocols relating to audio delivered over different technologies such as YouTube, Spotify, iTunes etc. If you don't comply to the rules, they have algorithms in place to alter you audio to ensure you do.
Rather than focusing on peak normalisation, it's better to look at Loudness Normalisation.
|Apple Music||-16 LUFS||-1.0 dBTP|
|Spotify||-14 LUFS||-1.0 dBTP|
|Amazon||-14 LUFS||-2.0 dBTP|
|YouTube||-14 LUFS||-1.0 dBTP|
|CD||-9 LUFS||-0.1 dBTP|
|EU Broadcast||-23 LUFS|
|US Broadcast||-24 LUFS|
1 LU equals 1dB
Integrated Loudness, the average loudness. Use to check if your level adheres to the streaming or broadcasting rules of the service you're using.
True Peak Meters detect inter-sample peaks to give a more accurate reading of peak levels.
This is the difference between the average loudness (LUFS) and the True Peak level.
Loudness Range. Shows the dynamics of the audio material. This is not measured from lowest to highest point, rather an average dynamic range. I prefer as wide a range as possible for recording classical music.
Remember you can set your target levels in Logic's level meter plugins by sliding the little yellow (or orange?) line. Then you can more easily get a sense of your audio levels. I aim to get a good dynamic range for acoustic recordings, often avoiding compression as much as possible.
Bartlett, B. and Bartlett, J. (2009) Practical recording techniques: the step-by-step approach to professional audio recording. 5th ed. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.
King, R. (2017) Recording orchestra and other classical music ensembles.
LinkedIn Learning: There are so many great courses giving an insight into basic recording and editing, to mixing and on to mastering. Sometimes the courses are free if you are involved in a university.