The key to getting a great take from a musician is providing them with a great headphone mix. The better everything sounds in the headphones, the more comfortable and confident the musician. So, taking the time to get it sounding great really pays off.
Depending on the equipment you’re using, the headphone output will either be the same signal going to the main outputs or completely independent. The latter is by far the most useful as it allows you to customise mixes for the headphones. However, the mixing stage is a long way off, so don’t worry about upsetting the mix to suit the musician. Audio interfaces that have independent headphone outputs usually come with a software mixer to control what signal is coming through each input and output, so it simplifies this whole scenario. PreSonus and Focusrite products with sufficient outputs have mix control software.
Here are my top tips:
- Use a small control surface like the Korg NanoKontrol or even an iPad. Give this to the musician so they can create their own headphone mix.
- When recording vocals and acoustic guitars, use a reverb plugin to smooth out the sound – nobody will like hearing a dry, raw take through their headphones and it will affect their performance.
- If you’re recording more than one person at once, and you are unable to provide everyone with their own unique headphone mix – prioritise. The singer is always number one. There should always be a little compromise between the musicians, but some musicians will be more important to the song than others.
- Using effects on some of the tracks to make the song sound better in the headphones is a good idea, but be aware that this will put more strain on the computer – so don’t go nuts.
- Give the musician the better, more comfortable headphones. I’ve worked in studios where the singer is pointed towards a rack full of worn, old headphones. The headphones need to sound good, and be comfortable, or the musician will be neither.