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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Mixing Live… by Bruce Swedien

Wednesday, October 19th, 2005

Mixing Live… by Bruce Swedien

Have you ever mixed in a live setting? If yes, has this taught you anything helpful when recording artists in a studio?

I absolutely HATE live recordings! I think it’s because I hate surprises! I will do anything I can to avoid doing a “live” gig! I also think it may be because I am by nature, a control freak!

However, my old pal Quincy Jones and I did do a live album for Qwest/Warner Brothers with Lena Horne doing her Broadway Show, The Lady And Her Music, in 1981. We ended up going in the studio to fix most of it!

I do remember one interesting little thing about my work with Lena Horne. During all the recording sessions that I have done with her – (“Stormy Weather”, “From This Moment On”, etc.) she asked me to turn off the air conditioning in the studio, because she is ALLERGIC to the freon in air conditioning systems. If she came into an air-conditioned room her throat would close up and in a few minutes she wouldn’t be able to sing a note! (Of course that fact alone probably made Lena hate the air-conditioning.)

Of course, one look at Lena Horne, one minute of listening to her sing, and any man in the room would do anything she asked!

By the way, nothing that I ever did recording in a live setting ever taught me anything about recording music in the studio. At least, I don’t think so…

Bruce Swedien is a recording engineer whose credits include working with artists such as Dinah Washington, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Muddy Waters, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer, Count Basie, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Paul McCartney, among many others. His first big break came when he engineered Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ million-selling single “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, which spent five weeks at number one in 1962. Swedien has conducted classes in music engineering at UCLA as well as lecturing and hosting recording seminars at various universities, colleges and industry organizations in both the US and overseas. He currently resides in Connecticut where he continues to explore aural possibilities and taking on top-level engineering assignments.

What’s A “Good” School Sound System Anyway? by Don Barber

Wednesday, October 19th, 2005

The sound system purchase decision is often left up to the Principal or maybe the gym teacher, people who know what they’re about in the teaching profession but usually don’t know what to look for in a sound system. The drama teachers most often know about the visual elements of lighting, set, costume and make-up and the music teachers know about band instruments and singing but very little about what constitutes a good sound system for their needs.

St. Andrew’s College, in Aurora, ON, was in the process of outfitting two gymnasiums and a swimming pool with sound systems. They initially based their budgets on quotations from two local music stores, but realized that firms supplying car audio and home theatre equipment were not capable of specifying or supplying a proper system. They got a quote from a professional sound shop, but it was well beyond their budget.

All three spaces were specified identically even though the pool was much smaller and had only a nine-foot ceiling. The systems each consisted of four plastic 15″ boxes with about 1,200 watts of power, and an 8-channel mixer with slider volume controls – less than ideal in a sweaty gym environment and worse in a chlorine treated pool, because the open faders will tend to get dirty and corrode over time. They only needed the capability of controlling 2 mics and a CD player. A Symetrix 450 mixer gave them the control of a wireless and a wired mic and a CD player, with remote control. The built-in VCA controls of the 450 also gives them the remote volume control that they wanted. The plan to mount all those speakers on the far wall from the bleachers would have blasted sound all the way across the gym floor, reflecting off every hard and flat surface on the way. A single Soundsphere speaker was positioned right above the bleachers providing clarity and speech intelligibility at modest levels. They also saved about $6,000.

Don Barber is an audio consultant with Sound Design & Consultant, and can be reached by e-mail at don.barber@sympatico.ca.

Drums Compression Part II by Tim Crich

Wednesday, October 19th, 2005

Professional Sound continues tips on drum compression that was started last issue…
Compressing the room. Run the room microphones through a compressor on high compression and fast release. When the player is playing, the ambient microphone level is lower, removing any unneeded cloudiness. When the player stops, the ambient microphones open, making it sound as if the player is in a large ambient room. As with many things in the studio, compressing room tracks is your personal preference. Do what you feel works with the song.

Level the drums. If the drummer is playing with both sticks on the snare drum, some of the hits may be louder than the rest. To raise the level of the lower ones, split the signal into two. Affect one of them how you normally might, gating out all but the main or loudest hits.
Send the second signal to a limiter, and compress the loudest part. Send a buss output from the first snare channel into the side chain of the limiter. When the snare on the first track hits, that controls the compression of the limiter. Blend the two tracks until both the crispness of the loudest snares, and the subtle in-between parts are properly audible.

Drum gates. With proper microphone choice and placement, leakage from one drum microphone to an adjacent microphone can be minimized. Before you reach for the noise gate to eliminate leakage, choose the right microphone and place it properly. Messing with gates during recording can result in painting yourself into a corner. Sometimes it’s better to wait and gate during the mix, especially when recording a dynamic drummer. Sometimes noise gates are not even needed.
Gate the drum. It is not uncommon to add some degree of gating on the kick, snare and tom-toms, but the cymbal microphones are not normally gated during recording. If the internal trigger on a drum gate isn’t fast enough:
(1) Mount a small contact (pickup or lavalier) microphone to the rim. This tight microphone will open the noise gate faster.
(2) Listen to the contact microphone, sweep the equalization to find the drum’s most prominent frequency, and accentuate it.
(3) Run the signal through a tight noise gate to make it sound like a click.
(4) Plug this into the side chain input of the noise gate on the drum.
This really only works when the player hits solid drum hits. A drummer lightly tapping the drums may not trigger the gates as planned. If the drummer uses brushes, forget about using a noise gate.

Gate the tom-toms. Eliminate leakage in the tom-tom tracks without using a separate microphone as a trigger.
For each tom-tom:
(1) Split the signal coming from a tom-tom microphone into a second channel
on the console. Insert a noise gate on the first tom-tom channel.
(2) On the second channel, determine the fundamental frequency of the tom-tom. Accentuate it by setting a thin Q, then pulling the other frequencies.
(3) Gate and equalize the signal so all that comes through is a solid click when the drummer hits the tom-tom. Leakage from any other instrument, even other tom-toms, should be dialed out.
(4) Run this output into the input of the sidechain of the noise gate that was inserted on the first tom-tom channel. Any time the drummer hits the tom-tom, the trigger opens the noise gate, allowing the signal through. Due to the slow build of a tom-tom sound, try using a contact microphone.

Tim Crich wrote the bestseller Assistant Engineers Handbook. He has over 20 years of experience in the recording studio, and has worked on records by Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, KISS, Billy Joel, Bryan Adams, Cher, Bon Jovi and many more. This article is excerpted with permission from his new book Recording Tips For Engineers, available through www.musicbooksplus.com. For more information, see www.aehandbook.com.

Misconceptions and Expectations of the Mastering Process by Marisa T. Déry

Sunday, June 19th, 2005

A while ago, I was in the middle of a mix session when the engineer – looking at the clocking ticking away – said those dreaded words: “You can fix it in the mastering process” … aaahhh, memories!

Just a few years ago, people were saying, “We’ll fix it in the mix.” First of all, not everything can be fixed in the mastering process. Granted, a lot can be done, but isn’t it better to use your mastering time to make things sound great and not just good enough?

More than once I’ve had people hand me CD masters and an old normal bias cassette (distorted, of course) with the question: “Can you match these?”

Mastering engineers do have a lot of toys and (hopefully) creativity. We will go a long way, using all means possible to make you sound as good as possible, but one also has to be realistic with one’s expectations. Clicks, crackles and pops can be removed, but if they are too long or are on top of key words, then you have problems.

I’ve had old reels given to me that speed up and/or slow down randomly at various speeds; this predicament can be fixed, but it does take time. People must be aware that although we have the tools and the skills to repair problems, we still need time to do it right. We live in an instant-gratification society where people mistakenly think that if we aim the mouse on the screen and click, everything fixes itself instantly. That is not so.

Regardless of the DAW or software that you have, you need time, training, expertise and instinct to do it right. A 10-minute track just might take an hour to clean up properly, so please be aware of that when setting up your budget.

What Can Mastering Engineers Do?
We can add bass, highs, mids; make it sound clearer and LOUDER; clean up the fade ins and the fade outs; balance the levels of the songs; put in the appropriate silence (if required) in between tracks (“if required” because I haven’t put a single second of silence in between two hip-hop songs in the last year). We can also add special effects (rain anyone?) and reverb; add post-production tracks, edit, loop, reverse, chop etc.

Most mastering engineers are creative. We love music. We love sound. We would rather use our focus and energy on “the song.” We don’t just want it to sound good; we want it to sound GREAT. We get our high when the artist’s eyes light up because we were able to interpret sonically what was in his head. A master must sound as good as possible when it is given to the mastering engineer; with the right mix, a mastering engineer can concentrate entirely on the music and not worry about being a (sound) doctor.

When everything is set up properly, we get that little piece of music we all know and love … those eyes are lighting up again!

Marisa T. Déry, a native of Ottawa, ON, is Chief Mastering Engineer at the Tape Complex in Boston, MA and owner of Tamar Mastering. Her clients have included the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Tugboat Annie and RUSHYA. For more info check out www.tamarmastering.com.

Drums Compression by Tim Crich

Sunday, June 19th, 2005

Only the very best drummers can hit the drum the same every time, so using compression is almost a necessity. Proper compression can bring up the lows and help deliver solid drum sounds. Commonly, drums can be compressed more than other instruments because they are less musical and more percussive. Overdo it, though, and risk diminishing the impact of the drums because the low-end can’t really push the speakers. You don’t get that thump in the chest no matter how loud you turn it up.

Try these starting points:

Attack. Start with a fast attack, 5-10 ms or maybe faster. A slower attack time can allow initial peaks to sneak through before the compression kicks in. This may give a nice added crack to a snare sound, but watch for overload. Set the attack time slower on the kick drum, as it may take a few milliseconds to build to its full potential. Fast attack and release times bring up the body of the drums and cymbals. An attack set too fast may diminish the initial crack of the drum.

Release. Start at 250 ms, then move to suit the song. A fast release time can bring up the level of the decay and raise the sound of the snares.

Ratio: 3:1 or 4:1. Drums, due to their nature, have fast natural attack and release times, with plenty of peaks. A high ratio levels the dynamics while delivering the meat of the sound. Control the signal enough to record it, yet don’t over compress it so as to lose the initial transient crack. Of course, as the ratio gets higher, past 8:1 or 10:1, the compressor becomes a limiter. A limiter is great for eliminating transient overload on digital input circuits.

Threshold. Low. A lower threshold preserves the full impact of the drums, and can sustain the cymbal’s natural decay.

Tim Crich wrote the bestseller Assistant Engineers Handbook. He has over 20 years of experience in the recording studio, and has worked on records by Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, KISS, Billy Joel, Bryan Adams, Cher, Bon Jovi and many more. This article is excerpted with permission from his new book Recording Tips For Engineers, available through www.musicbooksplus.com. For more information, see www.aehandbook.com.

Live Sound Tip by Jim Yakabuski

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

Darth Vader You Don’t Need

Effects can take an average show and add all the glitz and sparkle that make a great show. If you have a nice, acoustically dead environment to mix in your choice of effects, it can make or break your mix. One of the bad habits I’ve found myself getting into over the years is checking effects returns during the day and then assuming the parameters are not going to change at all before the show. You can be pretty sure that all is okay with most effects units because you physically have to call up edit parameter pages to get in there and muck around with things, but some units have parameter adjustment wheels on the front, and they have been known to get bumped here and there which can cause some embarrassing moments.

One unit in particular that I am speaking of is a certain kind of harmonizer. It has a spinning wheel on the front panel that is very easy to turn, and on one occasion I just happened to catch myself before I made a horrendous mistake. The last thing that I was editing that afternoon was the pitch of the harmonizer. Without changing that edit page, the wheel got bumped later on in the day and just before show time I happened to listen to my effects returns and catch the mistake before the show started. If I had not, the two lovely ladies who were singing backup vocals for the show would have resembled Darth Vader much more than their normal sweet-sounding southern selves. The edit wheel had spun down and the pitch dropped considerably.

Another way that you can get caught is if someone, like an opening act engineer, makes adjustments to your effects during his show and forgets to tell you, or you forget to recall your program or parameters. Usually these days most opening acts get their own effects gear, but in many club situations everybody is sharing effects. Be sure to store your settings, and in those types of situations, double-check that nothing is out of whack. It’s a good habit to get into. Unfortunately, aside from the benefit that all these programmable units have given us, they can catch us once in a while because we rely too much on their stability. Add this to your pre-show checklist. And use the force!

This article is excerpted from Jim Yakabuski’s book entitled Professional Sound Reinforcement Techniques. The book is published by MixBooks, an imprint ofwww.artistpro.com. You can also find the book online at www.mixbooks.com and www.musicbooksplus.com.

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