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Sound Advice

Using The “Import Session Data” Function In Pro Tools by Brian Moncarz

October 19th, 2009

Not a lot of people seem to know about the Import Session Data function in Pro Tools. It’s really a “how to make your life a lot better” Pro Tools function. Basically, we use it at the studio as an extreme. We have templates, so if you’re recording vocals and the artist wants a cool reverb, there’s a template. You just import the session data, an option that’s just under the File menu. You import it from the template and up comes a vocal track with a send and an aux track to a vocal reverb. It saves you 10 minutes of adding all the tracks.

I use it a lot in mixing, so if I’m mixing a record what I’ll do is I’ll mix the first song and use that as a template, and then I can import the session data from one mix to another. Obviously, I’m not going to import volume changes and pan automation, but I’ll import all of my plug-ins and they’ll all come up exactly the same as they were in that first mix, and then I’ll use them as a starting ground for my next mix. Mixes kind of grow that way. For me, the Import Session Data is a total lifesaver.

Brian Moncarz is a Co-Owner of Rattlebox Studios in Toronto, and has worked with artists like Moneen, The Junction, and Silverstein. Contact him at bmoncarz@rattleboxstudios.com.

Miking Techniques For Recording Grand Piano by George Semkiw

October 19th, 2009

Not long ago, I was recording a live grand piano, situated right next to a drummer and a bass amp, so there was a lot of sound interference. We wanted to get a good mic sound on the piano, so I used an old technique I used to use at Amber Sound. I took two omni-directional mics, and clipped them onto the stick that would usually hold the lid up when the piano was open. You get the mics clipped on, fold the stick down, close the lid, and you get a great piano sound with minimal leakage.

You need to use omni-directional mics with this technique, though; if you use cardioid mics, it’s going to sound muffled, because, like a pair of flashlights pointed in two areas within the piano, you’re only going to get clear sound from two focal points. I went through the experiment a long time ago with the cardioid mics, and it sounded like crap. You get good separation, but the sound is just awful.

Somebody else suggested the switch to omni mics, which made a lot of sense, and when I put those in – beautiful. Even with the drummer right next to the piano, you get very little leakage – not enough to worry about, anyways.

George Semkiw is a veteran Canadian engineer/producer, and built Amber Sound in 1979 after working with several big-name studios. His career spans four decades and every conceivable genre of music.

Using A Phazer On Live Bass Guitar by Peter Janis

August 19th, 2009

A common request I get from engineers is to help solve the problem of bass signal phase cancellation in a live venue. This problem is caused by the bass amp (stage volume) mixing with the bass signal in the sound system, which, depending on where you are sitting, will either cancel out or be amplified.

Because of the enormous power required to generate bass, the bass amp on stage will often be three to six times greater than the power employed by the electric guitar. For example, the Ampeg SVT is 300 watts, while a Marshall 50-watt half stack can easily keep up. Once powerful bass energy is generated, it travels further and of course sends out a wider dispersion pattern, particularly at lower frequencies.

Because the two sound sources are positioned differently with respect to the FOH mix position, they arrive at a different time and therefore become out of phase. This not only happens at the fundamentals, but also at the harmonics, which of course send information to the brain such as slap, tone, and localization. As the bass level coming off the stage increases, the resulting effect (called comb-filtering) makes mixing the sound all the more difficult. Unfortunately, when the stage volume exceeds the sound engineer’s ability to control the signal, the bass is often turned off (muted) in the FOH mix and bass definition is lost for most listeners.

As it is impossible to “solve” all of the phase problems in a room (due to reflections off walls and ceilings and seating position), the intent is to at least provide the mix position with the best sound possible so that the end mix is balanced. This is where a phase correction tool comes in.

A typical stage set-up is as follows: the bass connects to a DI box, which feeds the PA. The bass signal then goes to the stage amp. As sound travelling from the DI to FOH will travel at speeds approaching light, it will arrive, be mixed, and sent to the PA almost instantaneously. This signal will reach the sound engineer’s mix position based on how far he or she is stationed away from the PA system. Sound travels through the air at 1,130 ft. per second. Let’s assume the mix position is 50 ft. away from the PA. This means that the sound will arrive in about 40 milliseconds.

The sound from the bass amp will also be generated almost instantaneously, but since the bass amp is positioned at the back of the stage, well behind the loudspeakers, the bass signal will arrive 10 or 15 milliseconds later. By phase-adjusting the signal going into the PA system, we can time-align the two signals so that it sounds better; they will be in phase. Bass is like the foundation of a house. Fix the bass and all of a sudden, everything gets easier to manage.

Peter Janis is the President of Radial Engineering, the Port Coquitlam, BC-based manufacturer of music and audio equipment, including the Radial Phazer, offering variable phase control. Visit www.radialeng.com for more information.

Four Key Tips For Mixing An Outdoor Festival by Pete Bartlett

August 19th, 2009

1. Well, outdoors or indoors, you apply your modus to your mix. We all have our tricks we’ve picked up along the way, and so just because you’re outside doesn’t mean this should change.

2. It’s always nice not to be fighting with some dreadful hall or bad mix position, which is helpful, but it means that outside there are less excuses.

3. If you have a good system tech (the guys at Toronto’s Virgin Festival were superb), you have to trust him.

4. Most of all, remember you’re not mixing for audio engineers – you’re mixing for kids who have the record and want that same experience, only bigger, better, and louder. Be bold.

I don’t dig the “chin scratching” static-sensible mix, where people are going, “Hmm … nice mix.” Give me excitement any day. I try to remember the way I felt when I was 17 (that was some time ago), when your life depended on this gig. If the kids walk out saying, “That was fucking amazing,” then the job is done…

Pete Bartlett is FOH engineer for UK-based indie rockers Bloc Party, recently in Toronto for the Virgin Festival. He can be reached at fohpete@aol.com.

Location CD Recording: Miking & Mixing Techniques – Part 2 by Earl McCluskie

June 19th, 2009

When recording, for example, a contemporary choir backed by piano, bass, and drums in a natural hall environment, the backup will be picked up by the choir mics, and will sound boomy and unfocused if not carefully controlled. Fortunately, most halls have a built-in solution: reception spaces and other rooms with doors opening into the hall. The drums and bass can often be located here. If the bass is acoustic, some sound will enter the hall, but considerably less than if the instrument was in the hall. Communication for the instrumentalists, and conductor if necessary, can be achieved with headphone fold-back and video monitors.

Typically in such a space, one would mic the piano by putting mics inside the piano, closing the lid, and perhaps even encasing the piano in packing blankets. This produces a distinctive sound, but does not take advantage of the natural piano sound in the room. Instead, position the piano with as much distance from the choir as is possible, and balance its pickup with the leakage into choir mics. During sound check, experiment with your post-production plans (EQ, compression, etc), as getting the right balance has to happen now.

Miking technique alone will not give you the kind of control you need to produce a full “studio” sound. Once you have captured a full choir sound, you will find that the room characteristics will define the choir sound as being in a natural acoustic space, and this will not balance well with the drums and bass.

An old trick used for “fattening” up the sound of a guitar involves double tracking the sound source, applying compression and expansion to one track, and then mixing the two together. The choir pickup will have unneeded bottom end from the omni mics, so in the processed track, much of this can be rolled off. You can also narrow the stereo width of the processed version of the choir, using the unprocessed original to create a sense of depth and width. You can delay this track as well, although care must be taken with possible phase cancellations, leading to an unnatural choir sound. Also, any processing done to the choir sound will impact the piano sound, and vice versa.

The sound of the hall has now become an integral part of the choir sound, and can be blended with the backup ensemble tracks, sweetened with appropriate reverb.

Earl McCluskie is a producer/engineer and Owner of Chestnut Hall Music, a music production company based in the Waterloo region of Ontario. The company specializes in location CD recording, both live and session. Recent projects have included Vancouver-based composer Timothy Corlis with the DaCapo Chamber Singers, Montreal’s violinist/composer Helmut Lipsky and soprano Suzie LeBlanc, and the Guelph Symphony Orchestra.

In-Ear Monitors: Tips & Tricks by Keith Gordon

June 19th, 2009

Picking up where we left off last issue, there is another important psycho-acoustic effect to remember when working with IEMs. When IEMs are used in both ears, there is a “stereophonic” effect (stereo mix not required, just both ears used) known as binaural summation which yields a perceived 6dB increase in volume without any change in the level of either ear’s input volume. This means the left and right IEM are each outputting 90dB SPL, but when both IEMs are inserted, our brain sums them together and we hear an equivalent 96dB SPL, yet without the hearing damage associated with those extra 6dB SPL.

You can try this experiment yourself by turning on your MP3 player, setting a level, and putting in one earbud. When you add the second, you will notice a substantial jump in level. The practical upside of this is to always use both IEMs and not just one like so many performers I see on TV. It makes me cringe to think of how much louder they are blasting their IEMs to get the same volume. Even worse, if they are using floor wedges in an attempt to get the “best of both worlds,” they will be blasting their open ear too.

I learned another trick for wireless IEM users from Mike Prowda, monitor engineer for Nine Inch Nails and David Bowie. Prowda likes to use a compressor and limiter before the wireless transmission stage. Wireless systems have fairly narrow bandwidths in which each channel operates, so to best exploit what is available, it is important to aggressively compress and limit the signal before the wireless stage to keep it from overloading while at the same time not leaving any dynamic range unused – and therefore wasted.

This is similar to the approach radio stations take with their transmissions, using multi-band compressors and limiters to deal with different frequencies separately so that the overall energy level is controlled while not making the music sound overly squashed. At the time, Prowda was using Aphex Dominators, though there are similar units that can also handle this multi-band compression approach. For those of you without access to advanced tools such as this, try experimenting with whatever compression you do have before the wireless stage to see if you can find improvement. If you have any questions, please drop me a line.

Keith Gordon is a veteran audio engineer who helped develop a DSP-based hardware/software IEM system (inearsounddesign.com) in conjunction with Westone Laboratories. He can be reached at keithgordonca@gmail.com.

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