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Miking Drums by Tim Crich

Saturday, February 19th, 2005

Miking The Kick

The best way to find the perfect spot is to listen in the control room while your assistant moves the microphone around. As the drummer plays the kick drum, you listen for the sweet spot – you will know it when you hear it. When you hear it, tell the assistant to stop. That is the best starting point.

For a heavier rock sound, you might put the microphone a few inches from the inner head, then baffle off the kick drum. For a more jazzy sound, you might leave the front bass drum head on, then place the microphone a short distance from the front head in a more open environment. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good kick drum sound. It carries the downbeat of the music. This is what people dance to.

Miking The Snare Drum

A loud snare drum’s high transients mean that a dynamic microphone may work best. Start by aiming the microphone across the drum head toward the center of the drum where the stick meets the head. Keep the microphone about an inch above the rim. Maybe aim the microphone off-centre to eliminate some of the click and to coax more of the tonality from the drum. Listen and move the microphone to suit your needs. Aim the snare microphone off-axis to the high-hat to minimize leakage.

When I worked on Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, Tico Torres would remove pockmarks from his snare drum skin by slowly moving a lit portable lighter above them. The heat caused the pockmarks to recede, reviving an otherwise dead drum head for one more pass.

Miking The Tom-Toms

Dynamic microphones work well on close-miked tom-toms where the player hits hard. Condenser microphones sound good on less aggressive styles, as they capture the player’s rich subtleties and dynamics. Close-miked condensers may overload…

If possible, use the largest capsule microphones on the lowest tom-toms. Pull the microphones back some to capture resonance from the tom-toms that may be lost with close-miking. The farther away they are, the more the rest of the drums affect the sound, picking up more of the bulk of the drum, rather than the initial hit.

To get a larger sounding floor tom-tom sound, place foam pads under the feet of the drum. The tom-tom won’t lose as much low resonance through the floor.

Lower the ringing in the toms by tossing a handful of cotton balls inside the toms. Ringing decreases depending on how many balls are tossed in. Even properly tuned toms can ring out. Try hanging the drummer’s stick bag off of the side of the floor tom to reduce rattle.

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.

Touring Tips by David Norman

Saturday, February 19th, 2005

A final drafting of a stage plot and input list should be done during rehearsals so that you can give to your production manager and/or send to venues in advance so they’ll know what to expect with regards to your setup.

Make sure to fax this ahead of time so the local sound crew can position monitors and mic stands where you want them, before you get there. Show locations on stage of all band gear and monitors with mix numbers clearly marked. Don’t forget the location of AC drops for your band gear.

In addition to stand and microphone type (plus alternatives), each channel should indicate channel inserts. Make sure to bring any piece of equipment that is important to your show. Also, make sure the contact person’s name and phone numbers are on the stage plot itself.

Make sure to carry spares. Here’s a list of things that always seem to break down or get lost during a tour: fuses, tubes, cables, plugs, jacks, batteries, disks, cartridges, bulbs, cassettes, DAT tapes, sharpies, board labelling tape and Superglue.

Also for those outside shows, make sure to pack mosquito repellent, sun glasses, sunblock, reflective space blankets to cover your consoles, a Maglite, a warm coat and a towel. If your tour is going to take you abroad, inform promoters and production managers that you require 110 power for stage equipment. You would be surprised how often this is overlooked.
Here’s a little secret for bands that have a keyboard player that plays a Hammond B-3. If generators will power the gig, specify that they have built-in cycle converters. This is necessary in case the generator doesn’t run at the standard 60 Hz. The Hammond B-3 gets its pitch from the cycles, so it will play flat if the power cycles at 50 Hz. I’ve had two acts on the road that with doing outdoor shows we had to monitor the generators constantly.

David ‘5-1’ Norman has tour managed and/or production managed and mixed such acts as; Ani DiFranco, Aaron Neville & The Neville Brothers, Roger Daltrey, The British Rock Symphony, John Tesh, They Might Be Giants, Arrested Development, Better Than Ezra, B.B. King, The Fugees, Wyclef Jean and many others. He is currently off the road and doing freelance production work for Concert/Southern Promotions as Production Manager and has worked shows with ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, Ratdog and Megadeth.

Broadcasting In HD by Andrew Thomas

Saturday, December 18th, 2004

We’ve done many Toronto Raptors and Blue Jays games last year in HD, and we’ll be broadcasting many home games of the Toronto Blue Jays’ upcoming season in HD. We are also simulcasting a number of US HD productions. Dome Productions just completed construction on an HD truck with full 5.1 audio. What we’re debating now is what products to use for surround sound. We’ve purchased the Dolby E Encoder, which has a higher bit-rate for multiple encodes and decodes. It takes eight channels of audio including 5.1 and program left and right and it multiplexes them onto a single AES pair. We can then fire that down our digital path, through our HD video encoder, and then it passes all the way through to master control. It’s then decoded and re-encoded as Dolby AC3 before it leaves the plant because the cable head-ends support AC3 encoding. We haven’t done that yet, but we’re experimenting with it. Interestingly enough, Dome’s mobile unit is experimenting with SRS surround primarily at the request of Fox in the US. We’re not sure if that will work into our plans, but we gather that SRS should be AC3 compatible – it’s still experimental. We’re still trying to iron out some wrinkles in our new system.

Andrew Thomas is Senior Technical Operations Manager for Rogers Sportsnet, in Toronto, ON.

The Future of Digital Recording… by Mike Turner

Saturday, December 18th, 2004

Where do you think digital recording will go from here? Faster, more power, more bit-rate? What?

Yes, please! I think it’s likely that all of the above will be inevitable, but more importantly it’ll be a case of greater and greater user ease. The interfaces will become more intuitive and the results more foolproof. As things stand right now the summing algorithms in software solutions are the weak point. Mixing ‘in the box’ (purely in Pro Tools or other software) is great for processing and automation of just about everything but when it comes to the math of combining lots of tracks into a stereo master, things fall apart a bit. For this reason you’d be hard-pressed to mix something at a professional level without going out through a console or dedicated summing amplifier (such as the Dangerous 2-Bus by Dangerous Music). I’d imagine that if my friends and I (idiot musos, you know who you are!) have noticed this issue, far more intelligent people are already hard at work on a solution so it’s likely only a matter of time before this is improved.

Any words of advice?

Don’t let the gear take over! I’m not kidding here, it’s really easy to spend lots of time learning the software, getting the greatest tones anyone has never heard and forget entirely why you started either of those projects. The bottom line is the gear doesn’t make the music. You do. As musicians we’re in a great place right now. We can make whatever music we feel like, without needing the budget of a huge studio for every track and, therefore, the budget from a label and all of the pressure to sell that comes with it. By the same token, we can find outlets for our music that will allow us to make a living on our own terms, so be confident in your vision and trust yourself.

Mike Turner is a Toronto-based producer based at The Pocket Studios.

Acoustic Recording: Placing The Player by Tim Crich

Saturday, December 18th, 2004

For an overdub, place the player in the middle of the room aimed toward the control room. Place a couple of baffles around the back and sides of the player. Perhaps throw a rug on the floor to lessen the room ambiance in the microphone. Recording an acoustic guitar in highly reflective places such as the bathroom generates lots of short reflections, or slapback. If needed, this effect, can always be added later.

Some engineers prefer to record in totally dead spaces, eliminating the natural reverb of a room, for more variation when it comes time to mix. Using an overly dry absorbent space may suck up some the luster of a guitar, especially if the guitar is not close miked. A natural sounding space with a small degree of inherent room ambiance works wells to capture a full sounding track.

As with vocals, dim the lights, set up a table and music stand to create a more intimate atmosphere. Make the effort to pamper the player a bit.

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.

Recording Vocals by Tim Crich

Monday, October 18th, 2004

The Singer
Different singers will be best prepared at different times of day. While one may be raring to go at 9 a.m., another may not really open up until the late afternoon. A tired singer sings a tired vocal. Schedule the vocal session for the singer’s best time.
Better singers will want to warm up. No one can be expected to jump in on any creative endeavour without warming up first. Give her the needed time and privacy. Once she is ready, doublecheck that her cue mix is just right. Encourage her to memorize the lyrics. Something is lost when the singer is reading lyrics from a page. Better that she focus on the feel and interpretation of the vocal, not hunting around for the next line.

The Mood
Commonly, only essential people are allowed in the control room during vocals. Even the best of singers can find concentrating on vocal parts difficult with a room full of people staring at them.
Dim the lights and light the candles, burn the incense, take all your clothes off, create a mood to help the singer feel comfortable, relaxed and confident. The more at ease the situation is, the better the outcome of the tracks. A strong vocal track makes the singer and you look good.

In Record/Red Lights
Wear headphones during vocals. As the engineer, when you wear headphones and monitor the cue mix, you hear exactly what the singer is hearing, allowing you to fine-tune the cue mix as the vocal progresses. Of course, lower the control room monitor levels to avoid influence. A good cue mix is paramount.
Get into it. Get the singer into it. It’s much easier to record an inspired singer. Keep the vibe up, be positive, and be generous. Tell her what you want, not what you don’t want.
Don’t stop the singer unless you must. Wait for the end of the piece. Stopping and starting can be distracting. Let her run through the song to totally get into the flow of it. Be as specific as possible as to what you want her to do. All singers need guidance from the control room. Simply having her redo a track with no indication of what is needed helps no one. Granted this is not usually the engineer’s job, but the producer’s. Commonly, the more you engineer, the more you will learn about production.
When overdubbing, tell the singer to sing along as soon as she hears the music. This ensures she will have the same groove as the original, rather than starting cold on the downbeat of the intended punch in. Once she knows where she is in the song, switch the track to input, so she hears herself singing. Punch in at the appropriate time. Invite her to listen back in the control room and play the results and discuss them. Singers know how they should sound. If you can take her view of what she wants and bring it up a notch or two beyond her expectations, she will sing better.

Pitch
Louder volume levels can mask slight pitch problems. Turning down the studio monitors will help you hear pitch and tuning issues. Similarly, when a singer is having a hard time hitting notes, turn the cue mix level down. If the singer must have loud headphones, pull the lower frequencies. Loud lows can mess with a singer’s pitch.
Suggest she remove one side of the headphones to hear herself in one ear,
and the cue mix in the other. Maybe record a simple piano or acoustic guitar track playing the vocal melody – no chords, just single notes of the melody of the vocal track. (Of course, not to be used in the final mix.) Add this track in to the cue mix, and maybe remove any other instruments that may be throwing off her pitch.
Try the old out-of-phase speaker setup. In the studio, place two speakers at eye level in a triangle with the microphone, aimed at the singer. Switch the L/R wires on the back of one speaker, then send a mono cue mix through them. The music reaches the singer, but the two signals are cancelled at the microphone.
Consider bringing the singer into the control room. Leave the studio monitors on and do a vocal in the control room with the music blasting directly at her. This might be the best way to get a solid vocal. Set the microphone monitor signal just short of feedback with a non omni-directional pattern. Or she may want to wear headphones in the control room. If so, you would wear headphones as well.

Patience
Singers, like everyone else in the world (including you) will have bad days. Sometimes they sound absolutely magnificent and sometimes they sound like a train wreck. If you lose patience with a player, it may not be long until she loses patience with you. The door swings both ways. Not everyone is a virtuoso.
On those rare occasions when the emotions just aren’t flowing, maybe tell the singer to picture one person in his mind. Forget the studio and the microphones, just picture that person, maybe an old love, or a movie star, or even a certain recording engineer and sing to that person.
When a great lead vocal is completed early in the project, the rest of the instruments will build around it. The players need to hear that vocal track so they can weave in and out of the way. A great vocal track inspires the rest of the players to do their best. Ultimately, the best vocals come from well-written songs.

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.

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