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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

“If It’s Not on Paper, It Doesn’t Exist!” by Doug McClement

Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

Audio engineers by nature enjoy setting up mics, getting sounds, making adjustments to equipment and capturing great performances on their audio storage medium of choice, whether it’s analog, digital tape, or hard-disk. They generally don’t like spending time writing stuff down. If they did, they would have gone into accounting or journalism. Nothing wrong with those occupations, but definitely not enough knobs and coloured lights to keep the readers of this magazine happy!

Yet proper documentation is a crucial part of any production, especially these days when it is common for an album project to do bed tracks in one studio, overdubs in another, mixing in a third, and mastering in yet another facility.

When I receive materials from another studio, I hate having to spend half an hour figuring out what is on the tape and what format was used. Here are some tips on maintaining the proper paper trail:

Tracksheets
Every studio makes up their own custom tracksheets. Many include only the most basic information. The best one I’ve seen was designed by the staff at Power Station in New York. In addition to track number and instrument, their tracksheets contained a box for type of microphone, effects used, EQ settings, comments, engineer, and date of session (for each track). This makes it much easier to duplicate a setup if something needs to be punched in. It also shows you which track has the most recent version of a vocal or solo.

At the top of the form, there were areas to denote song title, counter start number, tape speed or sampling rate, SMPTE frame rate, name of engineer and producer, and date.

On the back, there was a section that allowed you to write down the various verse, chorus sections for each song, and their start times.

The track sheet should contain enough information that the second engineer can pull it out and tell exactly what’s on the tape and where it can be found. Never assume that your studio will be the last place to play back a tape. Someone may have to do a remix 10 years from now, and you may not be around to answer questions. Whenever possible, the tracksheet should stay in the box with the tape. This is more difficult with DA-88 and ADAT formats, due to the size of the medium. At LiveWire, we use white 7″ cardboard boxes originally designed for 4 track ½ inch analog tape. They hold up to four DA-88 tapes and all the documentation in a neat, easy to label package.

Cue Sheets
Cue sheets list the songs contained on the tape, with their times, and whether or not the take is complete (CT) incomplete (IT) or a false start (FS). A column for comments is a good idea as well. (“drummer slowed down”, “guitarist broke a string” etc.) Otherwise, if the band does eight takes of a tune, the odds on you remembering two months from now what makes take six different from take seven will be slim indeed.

Be sure to label which take was the “keeper” and which one was used for the final mix. If you are doing multiple mixes, be sure to label which ones are “vocals up 2db” or “bass down 3db”.

Tape Box Labels
The tape box label serves two purposes: it identifies what is on the tape, and it acts as advertising for your studio. All studios should have their own labels for reels, DA-88s, ADATS, cassettes, and CDs. The tape will end up on a shelf at the band’s management company or at a record label. It might as well have your studio’s name and address on it, as opposed to some big tape manufacturers.

Never let a tape or CD leave your studio without a custom label. You can preprint the most commonly written info, so that the engineer can just check off the appropriate boxes rather than having to write everything out each time (tape speed, sampling rate, SMPTE frame rate, master or dub, number of tracks, etc.). The exterior label should contain enough information that a 12-year-old could pull it out and figure out what is on the tape without having to play it. This would include the name of the artist, client (record label), engineer, date of session, etc.

At LiveWire, our DA-88 labels act as miniature track sheets for each tape. That way, if the overall tracksheet gets lost, you can still figure out what’s on the tape. There is software available from some companies that allow you to print up labels using your own computer, as opposed to using a print shop. Check the classified section of one of the popular recording magazines.

Your studio should also establish a clear method of identifying multiple tapes from the same session, especially in the case of ADATs and DA-88s. Most Toronto studios denote tracks 1-8 as A, 2-16 as B, etc. So if it was a 24-track session, spread over two sets of tapes, the first set would be labelled 1A, 1B, 1C, and the second 2A, 2B, 2C. It doesn’t matter what you use, as long as it makes sense and is consistent. I use coloured dot stickers on the spine of the tape box to make it easier to spot which tapes belong to which set. You can pick them up at any office supply store in the label section. This becomes really important when you are mixing a live album done of 48 tracks of DA88, where the band recorded 10 shows. Now you’ve got 60 tapes to keep track of. Just keeping the right tape in the right box is a chore. Colour coding makes it much easier.

To sum up, the session is not over until the tapes are properly documented. Don’t let the next engineer in the food chain be cursing you at 3 a.m. for not giving him enough information to do his job properly. Professional engineers have professionally labelled tapes. In the end, it makes you and your studio look good, and helps ensure return business from satisfied clients.

Doug McClement is President and Chief Engineer at LiveWire Remote Recorders, one of Canada’s premier audio mobiles. Be sure to check out their Web site at www.livewire-remote.com.

Installation and Design Tips by Devy Breda

Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

What are some important tips to keep in mind when designing a permanently installed sound system? (eg. a church, an arena etc.)
All the stake holders have to participate so you can measure up the exact expectation of those stake holders, that’s most vital. It’s not technical, well it could be technical nature, but let’s take the example of the church. Certainly the pastor may have different expectations then that music leader versus the financial or the business committee, or the building committee or the property manager, they all have different titles or names for their committees, so you have to make certainly that all of them are working on the same page. So they all have a clear vision of what the final product will turn out to be, that’s the biggest thing.

How do you select/test products to find the best system? Eg. speakers, amplifiers, signal processing equipment etc.
To a certain degree we rely on trade magazines. Most degrees is trial and error experience and open discussion with other people in the industry. Be it from a consultant’s point of view or another contractor, through trade magazines or at meetings be it the AES or the NSCA whatever it may be from those perspectives we do discuss products and evaluate them. Certainly some of the trade magazines have been instrumental in reviewing or at least allowing some open forum discussions of products from different perspectives. But trial and error is probably the most.

What are the most important questions to ask a client when beginning a system design? What must you know to do your job properly?
Well somewhat related to the first question to some degree, certainly we have to look at budget, timing, what is going to influence their buying decision, has the client set up a plan, a methodological plan, a strategy of what they are doing and make sure they communicate that to us. In other words, that they have written down their expectations, both technically, financially, what their long term objectives are, the rational why their decisions are being done, so we can participate in the evolution of what they are trying to accomplish. So we have the total picture, that’s critical.

Devy Breda is the principle and founder of Audiospec Inc.

EQ the Dudes Too by Jim Yakabuski

Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

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 PA’s. 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 mold 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 bitey 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 upcoming book entitled Professional Sound Reinforcement Techniques, was released in February 2001. It is published by MixBooks, an imprint of www.artistpro.com. Find it online at www.mixbooks.com and www.musicbooksplus.com.

Live Sound – What You Need To Know by Rob Howick

Monday, November 18th, 2002

How do you select the gear you take on the road?
Sometimes it has to do with, depending on the artist your working with, and depending on the style of music they have, and of course it depends again on what size of venues you’re going to be playing, and how much trucking is available and so you, a lot of times I just take that into consideration. There’s one or two types of speakers I like to use overall but 9 times out of 10 it comes down to the artist and the type of situation you’re in.

What problems do you listen for during soundcheck?
Definitely you’re listening for more so the room. If you are on a tour, the band is pretty much set in the way they’re going to play a performance or a song. So you need to see how the speakers work within the room and listen for different reflections off hard surfaces and see how much is being soaked up by soft surfaces.

What tips can you offer for recording bands live? What problems must be overcome?
Try to isolate your sounds as much as possible and use really high quality microphones because it makes a huge difference. Problems to overcome: a lot of it would be the bleed into the vocalist’s microphone or into any other microphones on the stage from other instruments … that is a huge problem.

How do you mix a band that insists on having a loud stage volume?
I’ve a lot of times I’ve just made up my little own baffles or as it were, a comb for a microphone and something you can attach either to the bass or the mic or the mic stand itself. You might want to make another box shape or a fan shape that surrounds the microphone but it also lets the tone of what you’re listening to come through. Especially for amplifiers, it will work great. That and a Plexiglas booth around the drum kit will work. Try to make it look hip and cool and the kids will love it. If they insist on a loud stage volume, then as long as you get the vocals up out front, then you just have to fill in the sounds that are coming from the stage. Each room is different of course, so some nights you may have to pan a guitar only to one side of the PA because it is so loud coming of the stage from stage left and so you have to pan it to stage right.

How accurately do you mix to an artist’s CD? Do you listen closely and try to mimic the album or do you try to find ways to make a live experience different?
That depends on the artist themselves, depends on how much free rain they give you. Some artists insist that they sound just like they do on the radio, while other artists are open to if you have ideas on special effects or different instruments being prominent in a mix for a certain song. Some artists are very willing to let you do that to a point and other artists are very stern and want it to sound just like the record they slaved on for 18 months or whatever so you have to respect that. They’re the ones paying the bills.

Rob Howick is a Concert Engineer who works with the Cowboy Junkies, Jewel among many other acts.

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