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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Studio Etiquette by Colin Nairne

Wednesday, September 18th, 2002

Try and leave the world outside when you’re in the studio. Take care of any business before you go in so you can keep your thoughts on the task at hand. Having said that, be prepared for anything and have fun. Recording is the best part of the whole process of record-making. Take breaks often as you’ll feel better as the days wear on. Eat! Go for walks! Watch Formula One racing on TV! Schedule a late start for Saturday! Above all, trust your producer . . . you paid the ‘big bucks’ for a reason.

When I’m busy working on a record, I become so focused on the task at hand that all etiquette and manners that my mother taught me go completely out the window. When in the studio, it is important to be sensitive to the situation and the client — everyone finds it less offensive.

Colin Nairne — producer for Barney Bentall, Mae Moore, The Paperboys and Spirit of the West.

The Joy of Digital 8-Tracking by Michael Phillip-Wojewoda

Wednesday, September 18th, 2002

As soon as I bought my Fostex RD-8 ADAT, I immediately locked it up to the 24-track and began using it on albums I produce. On The Waltons’ Cocks Crow, I used my ADAT as an extension of the 24-track, so I ended up with 23 tracks of analog (one track had the timecode running), plus eight tracks of digital (because the ADAT has a hidden ninth track for chasing code). I actually like the idea of using the analog for the rhythm section and the digital for layering vocals; I sometimes don’t enjoy the colouration that you get when you record vocals analog.

A lot of times, I’ll take some tracks on the ADAT machine and import them into my Mac at home. I’m running Deck II, so I have four virtual tracks to work with all in the digital domain. I can edit or comp and even overdub stuff at home, and then take the ADAT back to the studio with the new sounds and lock it up. On Ashley MacIsaac’s Hi? How Are You Today? album, I was doing that a lot; I actually did some pre-mastering. I noticed that the kick drum wasn’t loud enough on one mix, so I found an isolated kick drum and literally pasted in another kick drum visually using the drawn wave shapes on my Mac. I did some rebuilding of tracks that way as well; it was like sculpting.

Michael Phillip-Wojewoda — Juno award-winning producer of acts including Barenaked Ladies, Rheostatics, The Waltons and fiddler Ashley MacIsaac.

More Joy of 8-Tracking by Blair Packham

Wednesday, September 18th, 2002

I had been making a record with singer/songwriter Arlene Bishop at Studio 306 in Toronto, when I had the revelation that once we had the drums recorded, we could do all of our overdubs at home on my DA-88.

I had an AKG 414 that sounded good on Arlene’s voice, but we needed a really good compressor — so I got a TL Audio dual valve preamp compressor. That way, we could go direct to tape. We had a DA-88 tape striped with timecode, and we’d do a rough mix onto one or two tracks on the DA-88 in synch. Then at home, listening to that rough mix, Arlene could overdub vocals and I could do guitar overdubs to my heart’s content. We could then go back to the studio and transfer the remote overdubs back onto the two-inch master tape and mix it. We then have the benefit of getting the drums recorded with a better mic selection and a big room, as well as the intimacy of recording at home, all on one recording. I’m now able to work on projects that are meant for release at home. It’s the difference between doing a demo and doing a master. You get the feeling that everything you do now counts. And at a much cheaper price.

Blair Packham — producer/composer; projects include the television score for the series Destiny Ridge and various TSN themes, as well as numerous artists projects.

Live Sound Crutches by Trevor C. Coppen

Wednesday, September 18th, 2002

Many articles have been written on this topic, but it continues to be a popular issue among many touring live sound engineers.

Many live sound technicians travel with items that make their evening run more smoothly. Much like the musicians that hire you, there is an investment being made to the sound that is desired.

A guitar player will buy a special amplifier or guitar which is crucial to their sound. A sound technician should consider the purchase or rental on a per tour basis of microphones and related items such as headphones, mic stands, clamps and patch cables. Model numbers and brands are irrelevant at this point. These are all personal preference.

Using the same headphones and microphones every evening allows you to more quickly distinguish trouble spots in a sound system. In the event that trouble-shooting is necessary, you are able to start further down the chain because you are aware of your own gear, and it is less probable of breaking down.

After completing a tour with an artist, or during those down times, you can always use these “tools” with other artists. These items create a consistency, especially with vocal mics, where hygiene is also a consideration. No matter what the condition of the PA is, or if you are mixing on the fly, you know what your equipment is capable of.

Having your own tools becomes very handy in a support band situation, whether you are supporting or if a support band is in front of you. Your stands and mics are up and there is no question of supply from the club. The support band will get all the house mics and stands. Or, in a supporting situation, the headliner will be pleased to see you with your kit and instruments clamped, miked and ready to go. This will save a lot of worries for yourself, the band, and reduces change-over time, allowing your evening to flow that much smoother.

Trevor C. Coppen is a freelance sound technician based in Toronto, ON. He has worked with such acts as Hayden, Our Lady Peace and The Waltons.

Mastering Tips by Bud Bremner

Wednesday, September 18th, 2002

Food for Thought on A-D/D-A Conversion

When converting audio from analog to digital, we are trying to preserve what we already have, but does it really stay the same? Despite the fact that I’m a huge analog fan, I believe that digital storage and processing are very useful and do have their places, especially in mastering. Even in our studio we have four DAT players including a classic Studer, but some people will question the idea of converting their digital masters back to analog for processing.

We convert to digital, thinking our audio will be as safe as it was before conversion. However, the conversion back to analog brings with it a perceived “analog degradation”. Was the program material perceived to be in a state of degradation before the initial A-D conversion? Probably not. This perceived “analog degradation” is not really an analog problem at all. In almost every case, it can be traced to inadequate conversion to and from digital. Not the state of being in digital, but the conversion process itself.

Consider this:

Contrary to the big-budget marketing hype of various tape and equipment manufacturers, get ready now . . . “There is no such thing as digital sound.” All sound is analog.

Some sounds are generated in a digital environment, but most sounds we hear and record are analog sources (i.e., piano, drums, violins, guitar amps, horns, etc.). Because our ears are not a digital device but an analog transducer, all sound is heard . . . “analog”. So what’s the problem with analog? There really isn’t one. It’s the first and last step in almost every recording session and it’s a great recording medium (how many studios wouldn’t swap their ADATs for a 2″ Studer if they could?), but in all the comparisons I’ve been involved with, the weakest link is still getting in and out of digital with some degree of accuracy.

Most DAT players’ A-D and D-A converters lack the precision of high-end converters such as those available from Apogee, Wadia or Prism. Considering this grade of converter shows up at the 4K-8K price point and higher, and a common DAT player like the Tascam DA-30 costs about 1.5K — only a fraction of this 1.5K goes into the construction of its converters. Imagine a 1/2″ 15 ips Dolby SR master transferred to one of these machines. This would result in a digital recording, but with comparatively low fidelity because of the inaccurate A-D and D-A conversion.

So go ahead and record your tracks to digital, but understand that using a set of high end converters will eliminate the weakest link in the chain, providing you with a precision copy of your work.

Analog ‘0′ vs. Digital ‘0′ – Are They the Same?

In mastering, many digital masters are submitted with different regard to audio levels and their relative reference level tones. While there is no officially recognized standard that bridges the two, many audio engineers (including the author) have found a few simple rules that work well. Most engineers already know these but for those who are just starting out, here are a few points:

Do not put a 1 kHz tone at ‘0′ digital full scale. A tone at this level will be from 12 to 16db higher than it should be, it has virually no relationship to the RMS audio value that it’s supposed to represent and is brutal on your speaker cones and signal path, not to mention your ears. Can you imagine audio levels hovering nicely around 0 VU, preceded by this killer 1 kHz tone ripping your ears off at +15 VU? It happens!

A level reference tone on a DAT, just like on an analog recorder, is supposed to represent RMS audio values, not peak values. On a DAT recorder, a respectable RMS audio value and its level reference tone will be around -12 to -16 ppm (peak program meter). Tracking usually requires more headroom, so -14 to -16 ppm or 14 to 16 decibels below digital full scale works well. Example: your analog ‘0′ VU reference tone would appear at -14 ppm, leaving a margin of 14db peak headroom above 0 VU. Mastering engineers utilize tighter dynamics control, so a margin of -10 to -12 ppm is usually enough. Now after all that, I’m going to tell you that tones of any kind are not necessary for DAT recording.

The use of 10 kHz and 100 Hz tones are also not necessary for DAT recording. These tones are used for azimuth alignment, and high and low frequency playback equalization on analog tape recorders. Such alignment is not user definable on DAT recorders, so using these tones might send the wrong message regarding your experience with digital recording.

Bud Bremner owns and operates Coastal Mastering in Vancouver, BC.

Vocals in the Studio by Simon Pressey

Wednesday, September 18th, 2002

Getting the best possible performance from your vocalist is paramount in popular music recording; here are a few tips that can help you capture them. Find out which time of day the artist feels most comfortable singing at and arrange the vocal recording part of the session around that. Try to schedule recording the vocals throughout the recording session, not on the last day(s) of it — even experienced vocalists can usually only be at their best for three hours a day. Arrange for somewhere private the vocalist can warm up or practice, with rough mixes of the tracks preferably.

Some vocalists like to perform with the band and friends around, others prefer a more intimate environment. Discuss this well beforehand so you can avoid offending or embarrassing the peanut gallery or your vocalist. Print up multiple copies of the lyrics, including all repeated lines, verses and choruses. Use a clear font that is legible in low light, and number the lines and sections. This makes for easier communication between all parties. Prepare the recording area ahead of time. Make sure the temperature is comfortable and the area free of air conditioning drafts. Try to create a mood, and a room that is buzz-free with adjustable lighting. Have some candles available, a comfortable stool, note paper, pens and pencils, a pitcher of warm water (not iced), a couple of glasses, Kleenex and a garbage bin. Almost all singers like to have something particular, be it a mascot or a bottle of scotch. Be prepared — finding Sambucca at 3 a.m. on a Sunday can be tough. I usually tape the lyrics to the boom of a fully-extended mic stand and back light them with a Littlelite; this has the advantage of readability without the vocalist moving their head and is less acoustically troublesome.

If you’re the engineer, set up and listen to the headphone mix ahead of time, with the same model headphones at the same volume. Monitor mixes can dramatically affect peoples’ pitch and timing. Try the singers’ headphones yourself, sing along to the track and get the assistant to adjust the mix so it sounds comfortable to you. Be prepared to use loudspeaker monitoring — a good vocal performance is worth the small sacrifice in fidelity. Attention to a combination of these details has rewarded me far in excess of the effort required to take care of them.

Simon Pressey, Engineer/Producer, Chief Engineer at Le Studio Morin Heights. Credits include Lawrence Gowan, Patricia Conroy, the Tea Party, the Headstones and Celine Dion.


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