What makes me sound so “good”?

As I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, while out on a run, I heard my name mentioned by one of the callers. I almost fell flat onto my face, as I attempted to listen to what was being said, all the while keeping my feet moving in some semblance of forward motion. My brain pretty much checks out for most runs. The basic gist of the question was, what EQ did I use to make my recordings sound so good? As I pondered the question, I was at first taken aback by the assumption that there was some magical “EQ” setting that made unicorns fart rainbows while kittens sang on puffy pink clouds. It was akin to the question that people often ask when they see a picture that I have taken that they like. “That’s a beautiful picture. What camera do you have?”. What camera do I have??? Like the camera took the picture? How about, “Hey Mr. Hemingway…That was a pretty good book that you wrote there. You must have a pretty nice typewriter!”.

There really isn’t a magical EQ that you can apply to a recording to make it sound good. There’s no secret software. No special microphone. No single chunk of anything that you can add to a poor audio file, to make it into a good one, or even a fair one. If you want good sound, you have to make good sound, from one end of the audio chain to the other. It’s a combination of vocal technique, properly adjusted recording hardware and software, and post production editing that make a great recording.

Here are a few of the tools that I use for my studio recordings:

Presonus StudioLive 16.4.2 AI Digital Performance and Recording Mixer
I don’t think that there is a digital mixer that can touch this one, at anywhere close to the price point of the Presonus. It has rock solid, clean sound, and it is loaded with features.

Presonus Capture 2
Want to capture everything that went through your mixer, and then change the FX, the mix, the EQ, and anything else that you want – all without changing the original raw audio files? With Capture 2, you can! It’s a great backup recorder, because it saves all of the raw information, just in case you want to change the sound in post production. This is like having a post production time machine!

Presonus Universal Control AI
Yes, my mixer is just to my right, but sometimes I want to change or adjust the board without taking my eyes off a guest on Skype. With UCAI, I can keep my eyes on the computer screen, yet have all of the power of the mixer, all at the control of my mouse.

Presonus SL Remote AI
How about wireless control of every feature of the mix from your iPad? Yep!

Electro-Voice RE20
It has been “the” broadcast microphone of the industry since its introduction in 1967. It has a unique sound that is familiar to on-air talent around the world. No other mic sounds like the RE20, and you will never sound the same if you use a different microphone.

JK Audio Broadcast Host Digital Hybrid
Yes, we can even take a land line or cellular telephone call and bring it into our mix with the Broadcast Host. Copper telephone lines don’t produce the best audio quality, but cell phones are worse! But if that’s the only audio that we have to work with, we can wring out every bit of quality that we can from the call.

Behringer FX2000 Virtualizer 3D
We don’t use it much, but when a cartoon voice is called for, this is the rig that we go to. All of the other effects are redundant to the mixer, so we don’t go outboard for those.

Tascam DR-40 Linear PCM Recorder
In the field or in the studio, this is the recorder that keeps us going. While the computer based recorders work well, it’s far too easy for the smallest error to destroy a perfectly good session. Since the Tascam is a dedicated recorder, it never has a problem recording. In the field with a microphone attached, it serves as a mobile studio. In the studio with a digital mixer attached, it is the perfect backup system.

Back in the day, we recorded and spliced cartridges, in order to have sound clips at our disposal. You would load up the cart machine with all of the cartridges that you though that you needed for a show, and hoped that you didn’t drop one! Now the cart’s are digital, and they are “plugged into” the SoundByte cart machine software. No more birds nest of tape!

Sony Sound Forge Pro 11
Adobe Audition CS6
Presonus Studio One

Whatever software you decide to use for final mixdown and editing, make sure that you are very familiar with how everything works. Don’t try something new when you are dealing with important files. By all means, you should play, but always do it with scratch tracks that you can afford to delete or lose.

Auphonic Leveler
This is one piece of software that every podcaster should have. Are your levels a little to low? Maybe you sound a little too hot, but your guest was recorded low. Are you worried about blowing the ear drums out of your audience members? Auphonic sets the output levels of your audio to national and international audio broadcast standards, so you sound like you are supposed to sound. You have the same level every time!

And how do all of these pieces fit together? Very well, thank you! My broadcast studio is as compact and efficient as I can make it. But my vocal booth is another story for another time…