It’s inevitable.

If you’re recording music at home, you’re going to have noise in your recordings. You obviously want to do everything you can to reduce the amount of noise in your recordings.

A few suggestions for cutting down on noise:

  • Use thick packing blankets. (I feel like that sentence is direct copyright infringement on the Home Recording Show…they love blankets over there.) These can be a cheap way to block out some noise.
  • Record in a separate room. This is ideal but not always possible.
  • Use a dynamic mic. They’re less sensitive and may not pick up as much room noise…but they usually require more gain, so you may have more pre-amp noise. Doh!
  • Record in outer space. Again, this isn’t always possible.

There are all sorts of tricks for cutting down noise, but that’s not the point of this article. Let’s just assume that you’ll deal with noise at some point in your home recording career…and by “some point” I mean “every day.” πŸ™‚

On to the main attraction…4 Ways to Deal with Noise in a Mix.

1. Simply Edit it Out

For most tracks in your session, there are spots where you can just edit out the noise entirely. The most common example is on the lead vocal. If you have a particularly noisy lead vocal, you can just edit out all dead spots where the vocalist isn’t singing.

This noise can be more obvious in quieter parts of the song or during the fade-out at the end, so just get rid of it.

2. Use a Gate/Expander

Perhaps completely editing out the audio entirely doesn’t work. Sometimes complete silence can sound worse than noise (depending on the kind of material you’re working on).

Use a gate/expander can be an effective way to turn down the noise without completely getting rid of it. A gate/expander works in the opposite way of a compressor/limiter.

When the signal is above the threshold, the gate allows it to pass through.When the signal drops below the threshold, though, the gate turns the track down. You can adjust it to turn the track ALL the way down, or maybe you just want it to turn it down 10 dB or so.

It’s pretty common to gate the toms on a drum kit, since they don’t get played as much as the kick, hat, and snare. I also started using a gate for the HSC Podcast. Whenever I stop talking, the gate (technically it’s an expander) turns the audio down by 10 – 14 dB. That way you don’t hear the noise of my computer, etc. when I make those dramatic long pauses. πŸ™‚

3. Use EQ Automation

I only do this on occasion, but it can be pretty effective. One place you’ll notice noise is on the last chord of the song, when all the instruments are ringing out. As the instruments fade out, the noise gets more obvious.

You typically hear the noise in the high frequencies first, so one way to minimize this is to automate a high-shelf EQ to slowly cut out the high frequencies as the instrument fades out. You’ll want the automation to correspond pretty evenly with the decay of the instrument, so as the instrument gets quiter, the highs get quieter, too.

This works a lot better than just writing in a fade on the instrument or mix. It’s almost like doing a fade JUST on the highs. Try it sometime.

4. Use Noise Reduction Software

Noise reduction software has come a long way in the last few years. It can be really effective at removing noise without destroying the underlying audio.

I don’t use noise reduction software too much, but if none of the above techniques are working, you might want to give it a shot. I’ve used iZotope RX, and it’s shockingly good.

Final Thought: Don’t be a Noise-o-Phobe

Having noise in your music isn’t the kiss of death. Go back and listen to some of your favorite records. I bet you can hear noise on some of them. Too much noise, on the other hand, can be distracting, but don’t get so caught up in noise-hunting that you forget about the music.

If you want to hear the noise in MY recordings and see how I deal with it, you can still join MixWithUs.com.

How do YOU get rid of noise? Leave a comment!

[Photo by BarelyFitz]

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  • As the instruments fade out, the noise gets more obvious.

  • Sometimes the ‘right’ noise can be desirable. Will Oldham/Palace has a track on his first album where you can hear a thunderstorm in the background — it really works beautifully. Now, if only I can find a song that my radiator works for… πŸ™‚

    • David S.

      LOL! I’m right there w/ you Neil. i’m gonna make all the noises in my house a part of the musical ambience. including, but not limited to, my cat’s flatulence.

  • Just to offer another brand of noise reduction software, Sonnox Restore is in the same realm as RX as far as quality and ease of use, I’ll use either or both in any given session depending on the application and noise involved. Waves also has some noise reduction plugins, but I’ve never used them so I can’t comment on those in particular.

  • Preshan

    If you record in outer space, won’t it be impossible to record any sound at all because there’s no atmosphere/medium for sound waves? Great place to record silence I guess πŸ˜€ Hmmm…

    The EQ automation idea is great, never thought of that before. Thanks Joe!

  • I use Izotope RX probably three to four times a day. Before that I used waves X noise. Both are amazing programs.

    I hear what you are saying about not being a noisaphobe it is easy to over do it. After all isn’t amp hiss actually part of the sound of a guitar amp?

    While I have de-noised a guitar amp or two he noises that I usually get rid of are ground hums, street noise and anything that given the ability to get rid of in recording… the engineer would have.

    If I am listening to a mix and really focused on it and a noise distracts me from the focal point of the mix… I kill the noise with the furry of a thousand armies.

    The only thing that gets denoised nine out of ten times is the lead vocal. I compress vocals so much that ANY noise becomes noticeable and distracting in a mix.

  • Alan Russell

    At recording school we were taught that noise which changes throughout a track is unacceptable, but you can get away with constant, low-level noise (eg tape hiss, room ambience).

  • Record in outer space. Again, this isn’t always possible.

    Love that…

    That’s a great tip on automating the eq…I need to remember that one. Thanks.

  • Cory

    I have the worst sounding high frequency crackle in my guitar recordings. It cuts through the mix like a mutha, especially on held chords. Through hours of systematic troubleshooting I’ve pretty much narrowed it down to the wiring in my house. Has anyone else heard of this?

  • Also, look for ways to decrease the noise in your system… use a power conditioner, upgrade bad cables, check for ground problems and use balanced cables whenever possible. Recording in 24 bit will also help decrease the noise floor also… right?