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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Helping The Master

Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

“Could you make this bigger, louder, heavier, tighter, brighter, polite, less polite, more blue, less green, etc.,” – these are the types of questions I’m asked on a daily basis in connection with mastering. And yes I can do it, with one fundamental catch: in most cases, the mixes I get sound better on analog.

Mixing to DAT is by far the cheapest way of making a decent record, particularly if you use the great converters on today’s market and 24-bit DAT machines. Always – and I can’t stress this enough – ID your mixes properly, highlighting the mix you want mastered. If you can’t be there in person, write/fax the engineer your thoughts about what needs to be done to any of the mixes, the order of the songs and desired space between the songs. Make sure to tell the Mastering Engineer which tools were used, such as the console, DAT recorder, the converter and so on. Never send a compiled DAT of the album. I’ve had DATs sent to me that were maximized, ends being chopped off and a whole lot of other things that cause me to utter expletives. Always record at 44.1 kHz. All CDs are clocked at that frequency and changing from 48 to 44.1 kHz degrades the sound. And it’s always a good idea to make safeties of your DAT. Record a 1 kHz tone for about 30 seconds at the top of tape, because that tells me about the left-right balance of the mixing console. What level should I record the tone at, you ask? If the peak average of your mix is, for example, 12 dB, you should record a tone of … 12 dB. This gives you 12 dB headroom above 0 dB from your mixing console before clipping. The difference between 0 dB analog and 0 dB digital is that, in analog recording, 0 dB is normal level and 0 dB digital is the max. That’s why analog is great. When you start hitting stuff above 0 dB the tape starts to saturate. Somehow the music has some “glue” to it. When passing through -12 dB with digital, you’re passing through air. Passing through 0 dB digital, you’re dead.

Nick Blagona is Chief Mastering Engineer at Metalworks Studios in Mississauga, ON.

Recording Vocals Without Headphones

Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

Sometimes you’ll find that a vocalist has a hard time monitoring bed tracks through headphones. Here’s a trick I use to overcome that problem.

I set up the vocal mic and put a pair of Auratones, or similar small monitors, about three feet on either side of the microphone; I use a tape measure to ensure that the they are equidistant. I place the speakers 90 degrees off axis and point them directly at the microphone. I then feed the monitors from a mono cue mix buss, and flip the phase on one of them. Sometimes I roll off a bit of top and bottom as well. The vocalist will hear the speakers, due to the distance between his or her ears, but the speaker output will be 180 degrees out of phase at the mic capsule. Therefore, the bedtrack bleed, though not absolutely gone, will be down by about 30 dB.

Take care not to feed anything to the speakers that you don’t intend to use in the final mix, and don’t run them any louder than necessary for the vocalist to sing in tune and in time. A little bit of bleed won’t kill you. No one ever decided not to buy an album because there was a bit of instrumental bleed in the vocal mic! If you degrade the hi-fi quality by 5 per cent, but improve the performance by 30 per cent, it’s a no-brainer. Always let the technology serve the art!

Doug McClement owns LiveWire Remote Recorders in Toronto.

The Old Versus The New

Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

Professional Sound dug deep in its past to bring you a variety of tips from a range of professionals in the audio industry on their views of old technology versus the latest developments.

“Very often, people will arrive here with a CD-R. We don’t want to work with the CD-R. It’s a tool to bring home and listen to. It’s not a professional (format). DAT would be more professional. With a pre-grooved CD-R, you are changing the colour of the CD and it gets paler and there is a chemical reaction doing all of that. After you are finished burning the CD, this reaction continues and the information changes and it causes jitter … you can burn three CD-Rs and they will all sound different.”
– Alain DeRoque, Technical Director at SNB Mastering (Montreal) (PS February 2001)

“I’m a lover of old analog synths. In this day and age it’s so easy just to go with samplers and loop libraries, but everybody starts to sound the same. I like to have some of the old analog synthesizers in tandem with some of the newer machines. The newer machines have all the detail and realism of actual instruments but the analog machines have a warmth that the new digital ones just don’t have.”
– Amin Bhatia, Owner/Operator of Bhatia Music Group (PS December 2000)

“I go discrete out of the ProTools rig, into my console, using all my tube and vintage analog gear that I love. I just like the way tube gear sounds on certain things – they’ve been described as sounding ‘warm’ or ‘very forgiving’ or whatever word you want to use. There’s just an excitement to the sound. It’s like film versus video. Video seems to have some sort of cold or cheap quality to it, while film seems warm, soft and almost airbrushed.”
– Arnold Lanni, Arnyard Studios (PS April 2001)

“They’re not ready … today there isn’t a digital console in the world for music that I would buy … in my opinion, analog consoles are superior in a multitude of respects.”
– Gil Moore, Metalworks Studios (PS October 2000)

“Spots are getting to be almost all delivered electronically where as five years ago we would have the FedEx trucks back up to the shipping door and haul out 100 boxes of ¼” tapes FedEx-ed out to radio stations. They are being almost exclusively handled electronically now where it is FTPing to a secure FTP site (say, at NBC) where they deal with the distribution from a central server to all the individual radio and TV stations. We started throwing up FTP servers outside our firewall to toy around with delivering approval copies to clients, where we used to send a stack of cassettes to everybody in the agency to approve. We can now put up a file and send them an e-mail saying here’s the URL for your approval copy – check it out at your leisure. The clients like that, the immediacy of it is great. You don’t have to wait for mail, FedEx or courier. But one thing that we realized is that you are not making money off of those cassettes. Suddenly you are giving away things that you were charging for. We needed to find a way where we could effectively make money using this infrastructure. The network infrastructure wasn’t cheap to build and like we pay for lights and water, we were paying for this network so we needed to be able to charge for that. What we eventually settled on was basically a ‘firewall fee’ where internal files could fly around from workstation to workstation inside the company, we can’t really charge for that because that’s part of what you are doing. We call it a ‘firewall fee.’ Basically anytime someone crosses the firewall with a file whether it’s us receiving something across our firewall like a client that delivers a V/O (Voice-Over) from out of the country as files or, putting something up on the server for them to download. It’s just something to help us capture what we would be losing on dubs and media that we used to be able to charge for, and a way for us being able to justify the cost of this infrastructure – so there’s a revenue that justifies the expense.”
– Erinn Thorp, Atlanta, GA’s Crawford Post. (PS August 2001)

Adventures in Straying from the Norm by Arnold Lanni

Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

I would like to tell you there is a huge scientific approach but I think it is a series of happy accidents. And that’s the way it ought to be. I think what I try to do before I bring a band in here [to the studio] is have a vision. Some sort of guides to follow — we’ve got this bus and we’re going to drive it. We want to end up at destination B and we are starting off at A. Do you want to take the scenic route? Do you want to take the fastest route? Or do you want to take the least expensive? What is it that we are trying to do here?

It’s hard to talk about recording if you have some knowledge of it already because it obviously starts with a microphone in front of some kind of guitar or drum or whatever it is you are using. And that sound ends up on a medium — in this case we use harddrives. Then it’s how you manipulate those sounds, how you process it, how you deliver it. Then the kind of instrumentation comes in. I give you the analogy where some instruments acoustically deliver a certain colour. I try to explain music in terms of colour, for instance. You don’t hear a lot of sad songs played on the Banjo and you don’t hear a lot of happy songs on the Oboe or the Cello. Those are very extreme examples but psychoacoustics plays a big part. Whether it is something I have developed or a gift, I can generally see colours when I hear music. I try to convey that through some of the artists that I work with — a lot of times they see those colours too. So if we are getting a guitar sound for a specific part, do I mic the centre of the cone”? Do I mic off axis? Do I put a couple of mics up? Should we use two different types of amps on the stage? All those things deliver a colour. So it really all depends.

Arnold Lanni is producer of bands Our Lady Peace and Finger Eleven, owner of Arnyard Studio, and former member of both Frozen Ghost and Sheriff.

Recording: The Basics by Karen Kane

Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

Some of the most innovative recordings come from daring to be different from the norm. Not that the “norm” doesn’t work — doing what is typically done is safe and almost always guarantees good sound.

What is the “norm”? Almost every recording engineer I know who was trained in the late ’60s or early ’70s (like myself) learned standard basic microphone techniques. In the ’60s, what was typically done was dictated by the lack of tracks available and therefore, distant miking techniques were used. For example, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham was recorded with three microphones. By 1971, we started using 24 tracks. So now, the distant miking techniques of the ’60s were overshadowed by the newer methods of close miking (made possible by having many more tracks). Today, there is a better balance between these two microphone techniques, with a leaning in favour of the close miking method (especially for drums).

Recently, after months of recording and using many of the typical techniques that I know and love, I decided I was tired of doing the norm. My next project was about to start and I was quite bored with the ordinary. Fortunately, Fulign, the band I was about to record bed tracks for, was totally into experimenting. (Fulign is a rock band from Erie, PA). Now that several weeks have passed since this event, I can honestly say, had I not followed my instincts to try something different, the recording of this band would not have the special sound it now has.

For Fulign’s drums, the ingredients were all there for trying something new. A large, beautiful sounding recording room, a great sounding well-cared-for drum set and an excellent player who also tunes drums very well. Matt Gurley from Fulign uses a large drum set with five toms and lots of cymbals and the thought of using microphones on everything was not only unappealing but here was a chance to be inspired by the idea of distant miking, possibly without any close mics at all. Typically, the approach would have been to use one or two mics on a kick drum, top and bottom mics on a snare drum, every tom-tom miked separately, a mic for the high-hat and a pair of overheads to capture all the cymbals. Some engineers also use a pair of room mics to capture the sound of the room that the drums are in.

I sought out a fresh approach to that old technique. I started out with four distant mics in various places but I decided after experimenting that using a close mic on the kick and on the snare was a good idea — even if I didn’t use them in the final mix. So ultimately, six mics total were used. The four main distant mics were two Microtech Gefell M300 “pencil” condensers and two Microtech Gefell 1277 condensers. One of the M300s was placed on the drummer’s left side about 3 feet from the kit facing the snare, high-hat and small toms — at a height just below the high hat. The other M300 was placed 3 feet from the kit on the other side facing all the lower toms at a similar height. The room mics were placed about 8 feet in the air and about 12 feet away from the kit. For this style of music, in this particular recording room, this method worked like a charm. The band was thrilled and I myself, was very happy with this non-conventional drum sound — much more than I could have imagined.

Karen Kane has been engineering and producing music since 1974. Her credits, profile, and other published articles can be seen at her Web site www.total.net/~mixmama.

You Don’t Get Nothin’ For Free by James Yakabuski

Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

It’s very easy when using compression on vocals to think that you’re getting some free gain along the way. “If I compress this vocal a little more and then turn up the gain, I’ll have a louder vocal … right? Without those pesky too quiet and too loud parts … right?” Well the truth of the matter is, by knocking back the loudest parts of the singer’s level and turning up the compressor output gain a bit you will indeed get a little extra overall gain.

Just remember that the boosted output gain on the compressor is a boost in level whether there is any input into it or not. What I’m getting at is potential problems relating to level before feedback. If you get a singer’s mic tuned and EQed and you find that pushing the fader to +5dB on his channel starts to get you into feedback problems, then be wary if you start to go for extra gain from the compressor output. If you increase the compressor output to +5dB, you have essentially brought the channel fader’s threshold of feedback down from +5dB to 0dB. This problem happens a lot when you have a singer who whispers a bunch and then screams very loudly at other times. You find that you have to compress those very loud parts quite a bit, and when you see that you’re compressing 6 or 8dB of level, you try to get a little back at the output of the compressor for those whispery parts. This is fine as long as you don’t try to get too much back and get yourself into feedback potential.

The problem will occur when the vocal is not being compressed at all. This is when that 5dB of gain that you added at the output stage of the compressor is added to whatever level you have set at the channel input gain stage, plus the fader level. To test your true level before feedback, always be sure you are ringing out a mic with the compressor in line so that it’s boosted gain is part of the gain structure you’re EQing with. If the mic can sit on a stand with no compression occurring and still be ring free, then you’re doing great. This problem occurs most often when you’re doing a one-off and you haven’t got the time to do a thorough EQing job. If you get a five second sound check on the vocals you’re happy. So when the show starts you start inserting compressors and doing a little of the aforementioned gain boosting. Be aware that if the vocal starts to feedback halfway through a show when it was fine at the beginning, a good place the look for the cause of the problem is your compressor gain staging. If you really need a couple of extra dB of gain to have that vocal cut through, try increasing the threshold of your compressor so you’re not compressing quite as much. Then work the manual-fader compressor a little more. ‘What’s that?’ You say. Oh, that’s the process of using your finger to move the vocalist’s fader up and down to control volume; a novel approach.

“Pay attention to your gozintas and gozoutas!”

When you need more FX in your mix, be sure to think carefully about where you are going to get that extra level. It’s easy to just reach for the FX send on the channel, or the overall auxiliary output send, but be careful that you don’t overload the input to the reverb or delay unit. A lot of the gear we use these days passes much of the signal in the digital domain. When you clip the input to a digital device the resulting return signal can be quite ugly. This is especially true with digital FX processors. With the myriad of FX out there, from chorus and long delays to harmonizing and pitch changes, the amount of processing involved is quite intense within the circuitry of the unit. If you begin this process with an overloaded signal, the return can really sound nasty. If you need more overall FX return, you should first check that you are sending enough signal to the unit, so that you’re not trying to process a bunch of hiss (equally as heinous as overloading the input). You can then get the extra return level at the channel input gains on the console where you have the effect returning. You will be able to get that effect loud and ominous (and clean too) if you just follow the golden gain structure rule: correct level in, and adjust for necessary return gain at the point where the effect returns to the console. Be sure to check these levels periodically if you’re on a long tour as you can go through many gain structure changes and these ups and downs in channel gain will affect your FX in and out levels. Most of today’s FX gear has clearly identifiable input metering (green, yellow, and red), so the task at hand is to find the input level that hangs around the 0dB mark, only occasionally tickling +3dB or so. If the gain structure on the rest of your board is consistent and you haven’t over EQed anything drastically, you should have a nice clean result. Then, when the artist asks for eight seconds of reverb on his voice, you can deliver it with pristine clarity.

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

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