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Tune Up: Caring For Your Studio Electronics

In our post about caring for your guitars, we shared some simple storage and maintenance techniques to ensure that your guitars stay up-to-snuff and playable. However, that’s only part of the battle when it comes to studio equipment. In fact, perhaps the most prevalent pieces of equipment are your electronics. These include the audio interface, the speakers, the monitors, your rack gear, your effects processors, your amps, etc. Needless to say, that is a lot of equipment to worry about it. This week, we’ll give you some general storage, cleaning and maintenance rules for some of this equipment. You can also check out this article for some general electronics tips.

Humidity

Much like our discussion on humidity and guitars, the environment is an important consideration for your home studio. In terms of electronics (in any room, not just studios), humidity is often neglected as an important concept. So what are the concerns here? Well, if your humidity is too high, that means that there is a significant amount of water/moisture in the air. Therefore, you run the risk of corrosion on the circuit boards or moving electronic parts. While the risk obviously isn’t as extreme as, say, dumping a bottle of water onto your computer, why would you want to leave your electronics in a room with a lot of moisture 24 hours a day?

Of course, keeping the humidity extremely low isn’t the answer either. At low humidity levels, the risk of strong static charges increases substantially. This could actually cause certain components in your computer, speakers or rack units to short out or wear more quickly. So, the name of the game here is prevention. Make sure you keep your studio within an ideal humidity range (roughly 30“60% humidity) at all times. While you should be fine within this range, it’s often better to be closer to the lower end (30“40%), simply because the risk of static charge is a little less likely/damaging than extended humidity exposure. Keep in mind when using humidifiers or dehumidifiers that humidity levels fluctuate with the seasons (and depending on your location). Keep things within this range, and you’ll have a decently safe place to store your gadgets.

Maintenance and Cleaning

We’ll close this article with some simple tips to keep your music electronics clean and maintained. In general, it’s fairly obvious to make sure your electronics are dust-free as often as you can. While this may seem obvious, it’s often neglected. Simply dusting your electronics each day (using a cloth or dust pad), will eliminate a lot of the dust that might get inside of the electronics. If the enclosures are easy to open, you could dust the insides as well, but be wary as there is risk of breakage.

Disclaimer: Don’t attempt to open up electronics unless you understand how they work, as there is always a risk of shock. Please follow the manufacturers’ warnings.

Finally, a few emergency tips are in order. If you are cleaning your monitors or surfaces with cleaners, be cautious about which ones you use. Many computer monitors can be sensitive to many household cleaners (as can most electronics). Also, be aware of how much pressure you are using to clean monitors, as pressing down too hard can cause indents or even cracking (particularly in LCD screens).

Beyond this, if you’ve reached the point of no return by either spilling a liquid on your device or you begin to notice an electrical burning smell, turn the device off immediately. While a burning smell can indicate many different things, and we recommend seeking a trained technician, many guitar amps will smell like this if a fuse or tube is overheating. Therefore, turning off the device and letting it cool down may solve the problem. Shutting off a device and letting it dry after spillage can also solve the problem, as water will only cause short-outs if the device is on (in most cases).

Disclaimer (again): Don’t open the device and try to fix it if you don’t know how to as there as a huge risk of dangerous electric shock. The bottom line: if you are worried, seek a technician’s opinion.

Overall, your studio contains a lot of electronics (even the heart of most home studios, the computer itself). So, neglecting to care for these crucial machines can cost you a lot and even prevent usage of your studio.

Tune Up: Placing Your Microphones

Microphone placement is one of the most complicated and technically difficult tasks in recording/live sound. Ironically, it is also one of those things that people think they’re doing right without actually having looked into the proper techniques. The topic is broad and is obviously different for every application, so in this article we’ll focus on only two kinds of placement: acoustic guitar and vocals.

Acoustic Guitar

You may recall our recent post about acoustic guitar pickups; microphone placement is a completely different ballgame. Say your best guitar doesn’t have a pickup or, even if it did, it probably sounds better acoustic rather than direct in. So, capturing that full rich sound is often really tough. Let’s first talk about where to place the microphone when only using one. As a rule, the most bass sound comes from the sound hole area and the most treble sound comes from around the 10th“12th fret area. So, guitar is often recorded just over the 12th fret. Sometimes though, you may want a little more bass, so try and gauge your placement to taste. It can be helpful to listen to someone playing the guitar and actually move the microphone gradually until you hear the sound you like.

If you intend to create a stereo track, there are a few other ways to do it. One technique is to leave one mic in the same place as if you were recording mono (see above) and to place the other mic the same distance from the strings down by the bridge of the guitar. However, you often get better results by placing two mics near the 12th fret (i.e., one pointing at the 14th and one pointing at the 10th). Again, be sure you do some gradual movements and place the mic’s where the guitar sounds the fullest and most realistic.

Vocals

Almost as tough as effectively recording an acoustic guitar, capturing a vocal take is more complicated than it sounds at first. It is quite rare to record vocals in a pop, rock or hip-hop song in stereo, so we’ll focus on mono microphone techniques. For live settings, you’re probably familiar with the popular Shure SM57 microphone being sung into directly in front of the mouth. This is the most popular (and arguably most effective) live vocal placement. Keep in mind that many backup vocalists stand further back from these mic’s to create a more-distant, blending backup sound.

Where things can really get creative is in the studio setting. Most engineers have a good collection of large diaphragm condenser microphones that they use for different vocalists and different applications. Placement, however, is certainly not an exact science here. Most often, you’ll find a microphone placed directly in front of a singer, a few inches from their mouth. This will create a clean, full sound and, if a pop filter is used, won’t have many unwanted artifacts. However, based on the vocal style, you can place the mic further away or even off-axis. Another popular placement is about 7“8 inches from the face at forehead level, pointing down toward the mouth. This will give the singer the ability to sing louder and with more emotion without a lot of artifacts or the strong possibility of clipping.

Microphone placement is something that has been studied by physicists and sound engineers for years. It can be way more complicated than the scope of this article (for example, when recording a full orchestra or using non-directional microphones). But for home-studio settings, these are some standard tricks to use when making sure you get the best sound possible. As a closing note, be sure to always use your ears. After all, we can give you all of the statistics and techniques in the world, but when it comes down to it, your goal is to record what sounds the best. So trust your ears and experiment with your placements. You’ll get a better track.