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Sound Advice

What’s In Your Tool Kit? By Blair Francey

April 19th, 2011

Regardless of whether you tech full time or just for fun, you should always expect the unexpected. One of the best ways to prepare for a gig is to put together a tool kit that covers as many technical issues as you think prudent. I’ve put mine together over 20 years of troubleshooting. This is the list of the tools that I take to every show:

  • AC outlet polarity tester
  • Battery-powered multimeter
  • Screwdriver with interchangeable bits
  • Combination wire cutter/stripper/crimping tool
  • Small locking pliers, hole reaming tool, and fuse removal tool
  • Miniature screwdriver, nut driver set, and miniature awl
  • Allen wrench set up to 3/8″, Torx bits, right-angle Phillips screwdriver
  • Metric and Imperial socket set with ratchet driver and extension
  • LED flashlight, measuring tape, Sharpies, pens, and pencils
  • Drum keys
  • Assorted XLR, 1/4″, 1/8″, and banana plug connectors and adapters
  • Nylon cable ties, cable shrink wrap, and tape head cleaning swabs
  • 10/32″ rack screws, and miscellaneous fasteners and washers
  • Assorted picks, fuses, guitar hardware, pots, strap pins, etc.
  • Vacuum tubes: 2 x 6L6GC, 3 x 12AX7, 1 x 12 AT7, 1 x ECC83
  • Co-axial and Cat-5 inline couplers, and USB to PS/2 keyboard adapter
  • Video adapters: DVI-F to VGA-M, DVI-M to VGA-F, and DVI-M to HDMI
  • 45-watt pencil soldering iron
  • 2 GB USB memory stick

Everything listed above fits in one 7.5″ x 14″ x 11.5″ plastic tool case that weighs about 25 lbs. fully loaded.

I also take a second road case containing the following:

  • Passive and active DIs
  • Headphones
  • SPL meter
  • Guitar tuner
  • Spare microphones, stands, and analog audio cables
  • FireWire, USB, and digital audio cables
  • Masking, gaffers, and coloured electrical tape
  • Laser distance meter
  • Power conditioner
  • Extension cords, IEC power cables, and power bars
  • Clipboard, paper, input list, stage plot, tech rider, and contact list for performers and venue

An industry colleague suggested I add fibre optic cables and couplers and a laptop computer with software to perform RTA and RF analysis. Welcome to the future!
Customize this list to fit your needs and remember, this is a small community; if you’re honest, dependable, work hard, and rise to the challenge, you will earn a reputation as a “go to” person. When that happens, work will find you.

Blair Francey joined his first band as a guitarist and vocalist while attending the University of Western Ontario over 30 years ago. His love of music combined with his desire to understand audio production theory, techniques, and equipment have remained an important part of his life. He is currently a Pro Audio Product Specialist for Music Marketing Inc. in Toronto, provides audio production and recording services in southern Ontario, and is a Member of the AES Toronto Chapter.

Recording An Acoustic Guitar On A Shoestring Budget By Joe Lapinski

April 19th, 2011

Recording An Acoustic Guitar On A Shoestring Budget
By Joe Lapinski

Sound engineering is an art form. Just like the painter who simply needs a brush, a canvas, some paint, and a vision, a recording artist can create a great sounding recording with minimal resources.

First, finding a good space takes time and experimentation. Ask yourself: “What do I want this recording to sound like?” Sometimes a large living room is a good place to start for a big, warm sound, while a bedroom is good for something up-close. Both rooms contain furniture that will help minimize unwanted echo – unless you want a natural echo. That’s up to you!

Next is microphones and placement. For an acoustic guitar, I recommend a mid- to large-diaphragm condenser and/or a tube mic – or two of each. These will help capture the detail of the guitar with a wide frequency range. They are versatile, and when combined and positioned properly, create a wonderful conditions for the mixing phase.

Right out of the gate, you probably aren’t going to find the best position for your mic. Record samples of each position and note whether you like it or not. I recommend taking pictures so you can reposition the mic(s) as accurately as possible in relation to the sound you’ve chosen. You need to listen carefully. What sounds best? Is this the sound I’m looking for? If not, move to a different room or reposition the mic(s) more radically. Try one microphone 5″ to 7″ from the sound hole of the guitar and your second microphone about 2 ft. to 4 ft. from the sound hole. This will give you two varying tracks to work with in your mixing phase. Placement is really up to you.

After graduating from the school of mic placement, think about investing in a higher-end microphone preamp. The prices may scare you at first, but a really nice preamp will bump your recorded sound quality substantially. Some professional recording engineers would choose a high-end preamp over a high-end microphone if necessary.

Whether you have high-end gear or not, your only concern should be creating the best possible recording.

Joe Lapinski has been performing, writing, and producing music in St. Catharines, ON for the past 12 years. He is the founder and chief of Yummy Recordings, runs Into The Future Studios, records and produces a variety of music from folk to rock, and works on projects from theatre sound design to film soundtracks. He is the current musical director for Suitcase In Point Theatre Company and is a co-founder of In The Soil: Niagara Homegrown Arts Festival.

The Proper Use Of Pitch Correction By J. Andres Lara

February 19th, 2011

I know many are already thinking: “The proper use of Auto-Tune is none.” While I agree in theory, it is naive to think that there is no place for pitch correction in today’s recording world. It would be like saying the same of digital recording. As the recording world has embraced the DAW and computer recording, so too must we come to terms with the fact that pitch correction is not going away.

That being said, I believe heavy use of Auto-Tune is a passing fad. Some will argue that it’s for effect – what the kids want to hear. But when everyone wakes up from this temporary lapse of reason, they will want to hear actual singing. Digital recording exposes imperfections in pitch and tone more easily than analog. Digital is not as forgiving, and today’s records often lack the warmth of classic records. Tools like Auto-Tune can help compensate for the exposure of these shortcomings in a vocal performance. There are a few things to keep in mind: all those classic recordings were about capturing the performance, not technical “perfection.” What would Neil Young records sound like if he had been forced to sing flawlessly? Secondly, those bands were often very well rehearsed, which unfortunately isn’t commonplace today.

So, what can be done? The best approach is to have a well-rehearsed artist or group record vocals after honing their skills and realizing their strengths and weaknesses. Some may say, “I really enjoy the sound of machine-like, pitch-corrected vocals.” While that may be the case today, I wouldn’t get too used to people admiring singers that can’t actually sing. Rock stars are meant to inspire, so when pitch correction is all that sets a lead singer apart from a fan, that magic is lost.

I think pitch correction should only be used as a last resort to correct minor problems, not to mask a weak vocal performance. So remember, young producers, mixers, and artists, there is nothing wrong with hard work and practice to create a sound that is inspired, imaginative, and perhaps more importantly, unique.

The Dalai Lama Can Help You Thrive In The Music Business Part 2 By Adrian Carr

February 19th, 2011

The biggest challenge I face with mastering is staying positive about the two causes of change in our music business: technology and the Internet.

On Technology

Advances in technology have put tools in the hands of every artist, although the experience and know-how may be lacking. So, a part of my business is education. Educating a prospective client is one of the best ways to gain their respect and loyalty. Since the choice for the client is between getting a great sounding master or buying some software that has flashing lights, cool knobs, and promises, the right decision is not always clear.

On The Internet

We’re seeing a proliferation of new indie labels often run by artists. The role of education is essential. Standard operating procedures for a major label are not on the radar for indie labels and musicians. There’s a reason majors don’t mix and master at the same studio. But, budgets have shrunk and everybody is trying to cut corners. I have to impress the value of quality upon indie labels and artists. A great sounding catalogue will get better reviews and build a fan base, not just for one band but others released by the label. So through knowledge, education, and kindness, we can maintain a positive balance in these two areas. If you lose a job over the Internet because someone far away is cheaper, you can still win by making some new friends on Facebook, and adding contacts to your email list. Hopefully, when the potential client does have a budget, they’ll be back. Or maybe they’ll tell somebody else about you. Both the Internet and technology will usually give you
that opportunity to turn things around and stay positive. Being conscious of your checks and balances, not in terms of the bottom line, but in terms related to the Internet and technology is one of the secrets to success in this new business environment.

The Dalai Lama Can Help You Thrive In The Music Business Part 1 by Adrian Carr

October 19th, 2010

After owning a CD mastering facility in New York City for 10 years, moving to Montreal in 2009 and setting up shop was a challenge. As you know, the current economic environment and changes in the music industry have created hardships for many people. In this short article, I’d like to point out how the Dalai Lama’s teachings are helping me thrive in these challenging times.

Forget the past and you’ll do better in the present.
I try to forget about how things were done five years ago. Pricing, finding new clients, even mastering practices have changed and need to be redefined in a more fluid way; however, this has given me a great opportunity to sharpen my skills. Grasping onto a broken tree branch while being swept down a river only helps if you can find a new way to use it.

Help others.
This generation of audio engineers has grown up in the digital age and I find it’s important to share my knowledge of recording and analog principles. If I can help someone do a better job in mixing, it helps me do a much better job in mastering.

Profit by making friends and sharing resources.
Rather than competing with someone in your city, turn it into an opportunity to collaborate. That’s what mastering engineer Bryan Martin and I have done at Sonosphere Mastering here in Montreal. In so doing, we learn from each other and we offer our clients experience and know-how no one else can match.

In Part 2, Adrian will explain how the Dalai Lama’s teachings can help you with technology and the Internet.

Trained as a composer and pianist at the Juilliard School, Adrian has worked in New York, Los Angeles, and London. He’s won several Grammy entry nominations for his producing and mastering work. He learned the ropes from Sony Studio’s chief mastering engineer, Vlado Meller, and ran his own mastering studio in New York City for nearly 10 years. Then one day while hiking in the Adirondacks, he crossed paths with a Canadian woman on the trail. He’s since moved to Montreal and set up his new mastering studio, ACMastering.

Capturing The Natural Sound Of A 300 Year Old Cello Part 2 by Ron Searles

October 19th, 2010

I always track the mics separately so I can adjust the balance in the final mastering, but I print a stereo fold-down at the same time for monitoring purposes. The centre mic is typically mixed in at a lower level than the left and right mics (approximately -6dB) otherwise it will sound too mono.

With any bowed instrument, the bow is also an important, distinctive part of the sound, and in this recording, a few of the world’s great bows were used. I’m not just talking about the sound of rosin on the string, but also the high frequency that comes off the stick, tip, and frog of the bow. These act much like the tweeters in a speaker system and make up a critical element in the mixture, akin to the thrust of “air” in a human vocal sound. I’m careful to listen for this to make sure it’s in proper balance. Height and angle of the mics can affect this.

Since the proliferation of the iPod, reproduction through headphones is a more important consideration than ever. By checking carefully with very good headphones as well as speakers, I varied the mic position until we had the right blend of cello vs. reverb from the room. Headphones usually make the reverb more obvious than speakers, so I leaned toward being a bit dryer than I might if I was only concerned with speaker playback.

Once the sound was established, we drew a diagram of the mic set-up, with measurements of location in the room, height, distance apart, and especially distance from the cello. All measurements were precise to a fraction of an inch. The positions of the mics and cello were also spiked with tape on the floor. I followed up with a series of photographs clearly showing the mic positions. These measurements, diagrams, and photos all remained carefully filed so they were available for the next (repeat) set-up of the continued recording.

Of course, mic preamp settings were noted and ProTools settings were carried forward from session to session. ProTools’ Session File Import is most valuable for this.

Finally, before going in to record on a new day, I would always A-B between the new “live” mics and a file from the previous session to make sure it matched.

Our friend and owner of the house also recorded through a separate stereo pair of tube powered ribbon mics, through hand-braided solid-silver wire cables and custom-built tube-preamps with solid-silver-wound transformers and power-supplies, all ending up on a vintage, professional analog tape deck. Analog tape-to-tape custom copies will be released later to the analog audiophile world.

Ron Searles is a three-time Gemini Award winning recording engineer, with an additional six nominations. He has hundreds of album credits from all music genres and has recorded and mixed the scores for many award winning feature films including The Sweet Hereafter, Being Julia, and Capote. Ron is employed as a Senior Post Audio Engineer at CBC, his most recognizable work there being the current theme to Hockey Night in Canada. www.imdb.com/name/nm0780728/


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