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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

EQ the Dudes Too by Jim Yakabuski

Wednesday, February 18th, 2004

I’ve always believed that there is no “right” mix or “perfect” sound because we all perceive things a little differently, and our version of what sounds good may be completely different from someone else’s. Because of this I think that all of us who call ourselves sound engineers have a slightly different method of tuning and adjusting the equalization of our PAs. I like to use pink noise to make sure all of the various frequency bands (lows, mids, and highs) are even for the left and right side of the PA. Then I run some pink noise through the subs and lows to see what the response of the room is like when I boost some low frequencies. After that I blast the room with a quick shot of full-frequency pink noise to see what the reverb time of the room is. At this point I’m ready to listen to some program music on a DAT. I always use the same song or two so that I can relate what I’m hearing today to what my standard reference is. This is my method and I’m not saying it’s right, or the only way, but it has worked for me. One of the problems that can occur from using program music is if that song has certain particular frequencies that are predominate. This can give you a false reading of the PA system and room’s frequency response. You will usually learn what to look out for after using that song for a while, but what I suggest doing is “test EQing” (by boosting or cutting frequencies to see what effect they have) while the band is running through some songs during soundcheck.

You may sometimes have to explain yourself to the band as they may think something weird is going on (if they’re not in their plastic bubbles called “in-ear monitors”) as you’re boosting low-end momentarily in the house, but I think it is well worth the explaining. You can mould and shape the curve of your equalizers to fit the band’s frequency response in that room, that day. It’s also very useful for finding out what frequencies are harsh and bite-y on the top end. Try to do it quickly with quick bursts of boost and cut. While DAT tapes and pink noise are helpful for getting you close, the band you are mixing that night is going to determine how the PA should be tuned.

This article is excerpted from Jim Yakabuski’s book Professional Sound Reinforcement Techniques. Find it online at www.mixbooks.com and www.musicbooksplus.com.

Good Mixing Habits by Tim Crich

Wednesday, February 18th, 2004

Writing on mixing is a difficult task. Try explaining to someone, without actually being there, how to paint a picture, how to play the blues, or how to remove a spleen. These basic few points just scratch the surface of good mixing habits. Bottom line, the best mixes come from well-written, well-arranged, well-played and well-recorded songs.

Levels
Run the console at its optimum operating level. Pushing fader levels all the way up adds unnecessary noise. Keep all the gain trims as low as possible, and the master buss level at zero for clearer, more transparent mixes – crucial on budget consoles when distortion increases as gains are boosted. Plus, with the master fader always set at zero, you know if it has been moved or not, and lets you know where to return after every fade.

Turn down not up. Before changing a track’s level, see if you can turn something else down to make the track jump out a bit more. Continually raising certain tracks because they are getting lost means there may be an equalization problem. Check to see if frequencies are overlapping, or if any frequencies could be pulled rather than added.

Try this: Set the volume at a reasonable level. Plug your ears with your fingers, close your eyes and listen to the track. This seems to give a different perspective of levels, and is a good method of checking the vocal and snare drum levels. But sometimes you just lose the groove in the levels. Pulling all the faders down and re-setting levels doesn’t take long and may help you regain perspective as you bring each instrument back into the mix. Once you have your levels set where you like them, leave them.

Mix at lower volume levels. Lower volume protects your valuable hearing and the sounds tend to be more accurate. Plus the loud levels might wake up the producer.

As Time Goes By
Take a silence break every few hours. Ears need time to relax and rejuvenate every few hours. Your ears are organs, not muscles – overuse does not make them stronger. If that were the case, I would have a liver of steel.

As with the recording process, don’t go solo too often. It’s great to have the solo button to get a basic sense of an instrument, or to zero in on a problem, but get in the habit of changing equalization with the rest of the tracks in the monitor mix. When you can’t hear the other tracks, you can’t effectively equalize a track to fit in, yet stand out. Don’t spend too long on any single instrument Get a basic sound, then move on, tweaking each instrument as you mix.
Occasionally, listen to the mix through headphones to catch any buzzes, clicks, pops, hums etc. Tiny flaws sometimes not evident in the monitors can come through loud and clear in the headphones. At low levels, headphones may help give you a true feeling of the placement of all instruments. Many listeners enjoy their music through headphones.

Long hours benefit no one. Spending 20 hours on a mix will not make it twice as good as spending 10 hours on a mix. At some point, the best has been done, and continuing on is fruitless.
Finally, and most important, when deciding which instrument takes precedence in the mix, make the guy who signs your cheque sound best!

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

Recording Acoustic Guitar by Tim Crich

Thursday, December 18th, 2003

EQ
Properly miked, a quality well-tuned acoustic guitar with new strings should need little equalization. Perhaps to add some frequencies for sheen, or maybe to pull where the sound may mask other instruments.

When equalizing something with as many overtones as an acoustic guitar, pull the un-harmonic overtones and enhance the pleasing harmonics. This is when the musical recording engineer has the advantage. As a starting point, maybe:
– Roll off below around 82 Hz. The lowest note on the standard acoustic guitar is E, around 82 Hz.
– Sweep the low midrange, from 80 Hz to 300 Hz to find the boomy sound, then pull it using a narrow Q setting.
– Add somewhere between 80 Hz and 350 Hz for body, but only if there is room. Holding down the bottom end is normally not the acoustic guitar’s job.
– Add 300 Hz to 1 kHz for early harmonics.
– Add somewhere from 700 Hz to 1.2 kHz for more “wood” or pull here to ease the secondary harmonics.
– Add 1.5 to 3 kHz for presence. Pull for hollowness.
– Add 3 to 5 kHz for presence and attack.
– Add around 10 to 12 kHz for sparkle. It doesn’t take much to go from sparkle to brittle. Adding highs means adding noise.

Compression
The characteristics of an acoustic guitar might include wide dynamic range, semi-fast rich initial transients and substantial sustain. The acoustic may not have as many peaks as a snare drum unless the part is percussive, but it has peaks none the less. Closer miked sounds may need more compression than microphones placed a few feet away. Try:
– Attack. 10 to 20 ms. A very fast attack can control the initial attack transients of a sound.
– Release. Medium. Start at 250 ms and raise or lower as needed, depending on the tempo of the song.
– Threshold. Medium to high. A high threshold allows all the natural sounds and dynamics of the guitar to remain intact. A lower threshold might bring out more lower body.
– Ratio. Low, to begin with, maybe 2:1 or 3:1 dB of gain reduction. A higher compression ratio may be needed as a player may tend to move off axis now and again. Play with the ratio until the quiet bits as well as the loud bits can be heard. A higher ratio can increase the sounds density, so it fits in with other compressed tracks.

Choose to use two. If you choose to use two microphones on an acoustic instrument, often the one with more lows – usually the closest microphone – may need more compression than the distant one.

De-ess the guitar. Minimize fret squeaks and noise with a de-esser.

Defeat the proximity effect. Pull low end that may be created by proximity effect before sending the signal into the compressor or risk having the compressor react to the added lows, rather than the program.

Sympathy for the level. When the acoustic instrument is not in use, put it away, or loud levels in the room will cause it to ring out sympathetically.

Tim Crich has over 20 years of experience in the recording studio and has worked on records by the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, KISS, Billy Joel, U2, David Bowie, Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne, Cher, Byan Adams and many more. He has engineered for some of the biggest producers in the world. This article is excerpted with permission from his book Recording Tips For Engineers.

In-Ear Monitoring – refining your mix by Fred Michael

Thursday, December 18th, 2003

Today, I want to enlarge on the topic of IEMs, with a focus on ways to enhance the experience for the performer while protecting their ears as much as possible.

It’s important to remember that IEMs are not only an excellent way to hear onstage; they also provide ear protection when used properly. However, the opposite is true as well: exposure to poorly set-up IEMs can accelerate hearing loss. An example of this is when you see vocalists performing with one of their IEMs pulled out. A closer look at this phenomenon is a good starting point for our discussion.

This situation is really the “worst of both worlds” and should be avoided. The musician has, for reasons I’ll explain, removed himself from the protective in-ear environment and is trying to get comfortable with a blend of the in-ear mix and the sound on stage. The problems are three-fold: the in-ear mix is now essentially useless, the onstage sound has probably not been set up for their vocal mix, and there is an increased risk of hearing damage.

Usually, the performer removes one of their monitors because the mix they are getting is completely out of whack, taking them out of the music rather than engaging them. Like a swimmer coming up for air, the performer does the one thing he knows will help. If you see this happening with your group, you need to take a look at your mixing techniques. First of all, allow time at sound check to set up a proper instrumental blend in their mix. The vocalist needs enough support from the instruments and other voices to get a tuning reference, but not so much that their voice gets lost.

Ask the performer which instruments they usually gravitate towards for a tuning reference and start your sound check with an emphasis on those. Remember, this is all about getting them comfortable in the IEM environment; that doesn’t necessarily mean you are building a CD-quality mix; rather, you are starting with the essential elements for the performer to feel comfortable and stay in tune. For some, this means a bare bones sound with dominant vocals, others want everything; experience will tell you what is needed.

Another factor that tempts performers to remove their monitors is the subjective feeling that the mix inside their head is very artificial sounding, removed from the “real” sound onstage. Again, the performer feels isolated and pulled out of the music. Most IEM engineers use ambience microphones to help their musicians stay connected to the stage sound. Usually, this is a matched pair of microphones, placed at stage left and right, and aimed in such a way to get a representative room sound. This is then blended into the mix, making it much more natural sounding. While you may not have the resources to purchase dedicated ambience microphones, any decent-quality stereo recording microphone will approximate the effect. Play with different locations until you have a couple of options to choose from.

Finally, avoid mixing to a level that irritates the performer; this is an alarm saying, “Turn it down!” Properly fitted IEMs, whether custom or generic moulds, can reduce the ambient volume by 15-20dB; this gives you all the latitude you need to build a comfortable, satisfying mix while minimizing risk of hearing damage. Never let your performer use standard ear buds as replacements for IEMs; they do not provide the isolation required for safe use of this technology in the live concert environment.

Fred Michael is President of Rocky Mountain Sound Production Services in Vancouver, BC. Fred can be reached at fred@rmsound.com, or via the Rocky Mountain Sound Web page, www.rmsound.com.

Graphics and Noise: Hiss & Hum

Saturday, October 18th, 2003

Hiss (the steady ‘tssss’ noise – like escaping steam – made by the graphic itself) is not much of a problem on the more professional units. It’s most likely to be an audible problem on bad or low-budget designs, and older or damaged units. With a decent unit you shouldn’t hear any hiss at the FOH mix position at all, over the FOH PA, when the bypass switch is flicked in and out, and while the sliders are all at 0dB.

Of course the prevailing hiss level will be made more audible if you have to boost frequencies above 5 kHz, or if you’re in a small venue where some of the audience are unavoidably seated close to the FOH PA cabs. Hopefully, they won’t notice it over the music.

Lower-frequency noise (buzz and hum) may be induced if graphic EQs are placed (for any reason) near to ‘leaky’ AC transformers – meaning their magnetic fields leak outside their casing and affect other equipment.

Graphics are more likely to pick up hum than other units in the drive rack, so before finalizing a drive rack set-up, it’s a good idea to spend a little time experimenting with the relative locations and spacing of the units in the rack, with the graphic placed furthest (if feasible) from any other units that induce hum.

To make good and bad positions easier to locate, you can temporarily exaggerate the problem by fully boosting the sliders at 50, 150, 250 and 350 Hz (or in the US and wherever the local AC power frequency is 60 Hz, use the sliders nearest to 60 Hz and its multiples). For this test, nothing is plugged into the graphic – though any gear around it must be powered-up and switched on – and it’s simply plugged straight into a PA amp and a bass bin, or any bass speaker made to reproduce frequencies between 50 and 400 Hz.

Note: Although you can use the graphic to exacerbate hums in this way to help positioning, never use a graphic to eliminate hums. You’ll reduce the hum, but also cut an unnecessarily wide range of bass frequencies. For a suitably selective cutting you must use a parametric EQ (PEQ).

This article is reprinted with permission from The Live Sound Manual, published by Backbeat Books, www.backbeatbooks.com. All information is copyrighted and cannot be reprinted without the permission of the publisher.

Recording Tips For Engineers: Getting Work – by Tim Crich

Saturday, October 18th, 2003

The music business is tough.Work is elusive, and will not come to you – you have to hunt it down. But there is work out there, you have to go and get it.
Check out all the studios possible. Leave a card. Try to get a rapport with certain studios, and try to always use it for your projects. If you bring in a few bands, you may get a break on the cost of the studio. As well, if they know you, and if they are familiar with your work, they may call you when they need an engineer.

Check your hearing. Before you seriously become an active, working recording engineer, get your head, er… hearing examined. If your hearing is questionable, it ain’t getting any better. It may be disconcerting if the client sees you adjusting your hearing aid in the session.

Have ears will travel. Place an ad in the local music paper that you are available to record bands at a very reasonable rate. Go to clubs and talk to bands about recording. Print up a demo disc of some of your best work – even if you must book studio time to do it – and mail it out or hand it out to whoever may be interested.
Include a business card with a contact number. Don’t scribble “This whole disc was recorded in half an hour in Dave’s Basement, with no overdubs, and lots of beer.” Use professional graphics.

I love the mall, I love them all. Get to know as many people in the local scene as possible by hanging around the music and recording gear stores, going to shows and supporting local artists. Other engineers, small time managers and local musicians become big name producers, studio owners and rock stars.

He shoots, he scores. Do you play hockey, baseball, bowling, curling, tongue wrestling? Many cities have music industry sports teams. This is how to network in the recording industry. There is nothing like getting sympathy work, so maybe a puck in the head now and again will help your career.

Intensities in ten cities. Attend the major audio shows and conventions such as the AES or NAMM. These shows are great to see what is on the horizon, but also to hang out with the audio industry and be seen.

Get outta town. You may want to move to a locale that has lots of studios, like LA, NY or Nashville. There are many secondary markets other than these three, but of course these ones are the main places. Note that even though there are more studios, there is more competition, and big cities aren’t for everyone.

And on this team. Many engineers today are teaming up with someone such as a producer or mixer, and starting their own production company. With the low cost of equipment, this may be a viable option for some people. Just working as a recording engineer today might not be enough. It is always good to have something to fall back on. I still have my hat from Burger King, just in case.

Use your computer to its fullest capacity. Use the Internet to access data on recording studios, new equipment and newest techniques. There are many Web sites available to research available recording studios in your area, as well as any new techniques that different engineers, equipment manufacturers or organizations post on the web.
Keep a file on all the studios including a list of the attributes and detriments of the studio. List how you laid out the instruments.
Create a Web site with your photograph, name, your credits, your availability etc. Upload your demo, perhaps parts of songs you have engineered. Check the legalities of this, and do not upload anything you don’t own that has not been released yet.

Tim Crich has over 20 years of experience in the recording studio and has worked on records by the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, KISS, Billy Joel, U2, David Bowie, Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne, Cher, Bryan Adams and many more. He has engineered for some of the biggest producers in the world. This article is excerpted with permission from his book Recording Tips For Engineers.

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