Re-amping is a recording technique that can salvage or spruce up tracks recorded in a home studio or less-than-ideal recording environment. It’s also a great way to experiment with sounds and tones without having to constantly re-record a part. You can even totally reinvent a part without compromising the original track. The basic idea is to take a recorded track, send the signal to studio monitors or an amplifier, set up a mic, and record the “re-amped” track. There are lots of possible applications for re-amping, including:
Let’s say you’ve got something on tape, you love the performance, but you’re playing it back, and it’s just a little too clean – it needs a bit of room ambience. You can always go to a digital reverb or delay, but let’s say you want to experiment, or you want a sound that’s just different from the go-to effects in your software or outboard repertoire.
Play the track through studio monitors and put a mic on the other side of the room, or even a room or two away, and pick up the natural ambience on a new track. Mix that in and you’ve added breadth to the original. If you’re working in a digital environment, you can even move that reverb around and control where that ambient track sits. You can nudge it ahead, closer to the original track, or you can separate it from the original – whatever sounds right for the instrument and the song.
This can be a particularly handy technique for recording drums in a project studio. Often a home studio environment is not ideal for recording drums – it might be too small a room, or a controlled room designed to absorb a lot of the energy – which can leave you with a dry and lifeless drum track. In such a case, bring up the kick, snare, and toms in the monitor – you won’t want to bring up the hi-hat or cymbals as you typically don’t want reverb on those – and put a microphone down a hallway. You’ll capture a splashy, boomy sound that you can’t really get with a digital reverb.
“I’ve gone as far as to put a mic one room away, and then another two rooms away, and use those different tracks on the left and right for a stereo effect,” says Jon Marc Weiss, recording engineer and owner of Kiva Productions in Hollywood, PA. “That works pretty well because you can play with the right and left mix to widen the ambience.”
“I worked on this one project where they were basically recording in an apartment, and they needed help – the drums weren’t cutting it. I ended up sticking a mic in the shower, which was adjacent to where they were cutting the tracks, pulled up the kick, snare, and toms through the monitors, and all of a sudden it sounded like the drums were cut in a huge, beautiful sounding room.”
“You can almost get away with using the cheapest mic you have for this technique. It depends on what you’re going for, but I think it would be overkill to put your best, large diaphragm condenser in the room to pick up these ambients.”
While many amp simulators sound great and can be a real handy way to get beefy tone without a ton of volume, there’s nothing like recording an amp pushing air and making noise. Maybe the guitar sound you recorded isn’t knocking your socks off, but the performance is killer. Maybe that bass tone doesn’t have the body you need to hold its place in the mix. Re-amping might be your solution.
Taking a clean guitar track and sending it to an amplifier gives you a lot of room to experiment with tone and effects – and you’re using the actual recorded performance to get your sound, so there are no surprises when you hit the red button. Taking the direct signal recording of a bass track and sending that through an amp provides the same opportunities. This technique can also help you vary the tonal characteristics of the various instruments in your arrangements from song to song as suits your needs without wasting time and energy tweaking knobs and stressing while the performer is ready to play his or her part.
The same applies for just about any instrument you can think of – re-amping through a live amplifier is going to give you a number of options not necessarily available at the time you recorded the performance. There are really no rules – you’re doing this to get a vibe, create a sound, and capture something special or different. Experimenting can yield some great, and unexpected, results.
“There was a guy who had me mix a number of songs for him, and the agreement was that he was just going to leave me alone and take whatever I came up with,” explains Drew Raison, producer and owner of Philly Sound Studios. “He gave me this one guitar solo that was done on a nylon string classical guitar. I ended up compressing the daylights out of it, feeding it through a full guitar rig, and then bringing it back into the system and effecting it. It was a classical guitar solo that ended up sounding like an Aerosmith track, and it worked great for the song. I had actually done the same thing with a cello. I ran that through a Marshall rig trying to emulate a Deep Purply kind of a tone – it was awesome.”
“I’ve seen a situation where we were recording drums,” adds Weiss, “and there just wasn’t enough of the snare sound, we didn’t get that rattle. So we took the snare track, sent that through an amp, and placed the snare drum next to the amp. Every time the snare hit, the live drum would rattle, and we were able to record the snare rattle we missed in the first pass.”
“One thing to say about the home recording process,” says Raison “it’s a learning experience, and it’s a journey. With every decision you make, analyze the results and see how you feel about it. If you like the results, put it in your toolbox for the next time you’re recording. If the results were crap, don’t bring it out again. It’s like cooking. It’s like a blend of different spices and the flavors you can come up with, and there’s no sure shot on anything. Every decision you make, analyze and decide ‘did this work or didn’t it’ and then ‘what can I do to make it better next time?’ That’s what makes a home recording enthusiast become a producer over time.”
A musician, writer, and marketer, Andre Calilhanna manages and edits the Disc Makers and BookBaby Blogs. Email Andre at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The essential studio gear for your home studio
Using compressors and limiters
Signal Processing For The Home Studio Owner: Part 1, Compressors, Limiters, and EQ
Choosing a signature vocal mic for your studio
Isolation headphones and your home recording
Psychology and the music producer