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Sound Advice

Keeping It Simple

December 18th, 2002

I try to keep everything as simple as possible. I just find that in big huge venues it doesn’t really pay to get the most expensive equipment, It would be nice to have the best mic preamps, and the best tube compressors, but you just don’t hear it. It simply doesn’t make a difference. It probably does to a board tape, and it does when you record it, but there are so many variables involved in a huge room.

You’re just trying to make it as good as possible for every seat in the house because people pay a lot of money and they have a lot of choices, they don’t have to come and see [your band]. The better we can make it – the better we can make it look, the better we can make it sound, the better the band hears it – the better for everyone. It keeps people coming back, and ticket prices are not going down in price, they’re going up. Let’s make sure that when people pay that money, they enjoy it and they feel they get their money’s worth.

Robin Billinton has over a decade’s experience as Front of House Engineer for the Barenaked Ladies.

Getting Ahead as a Pack-Rat

December 18th, 2002

I just love collecting equipment because everything is designed to do one specific job and different artists want different things. So you might get someone in here saying they want something that sounds a bit dark. Okay, so that preamp isn’t going to work – let’s use this one. It’s like the tools of a carpenter … if all you have is one handsaw you’re kind of limited. If you’ve got 15 different kinds of saws, hammers, drills, etc., all of a sudden you can make cabinets or chairs or whatever you want. That’s the way I look at it. The studio really is a giant tool – it’s just an extension.”

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

The Soundperson’s Survival Kit Checklist

December 18th, 2002

* Several of every kind of adapter imaginable
* A set of Allen keys (useful for guitar repairs and various other things)
* Tape – electrical, duct, masking
* Markers for the console
* Soldering tools
* 9-volt batteries
* Meter for testing cables, batteries, AC lines
* Screwdriver set, wire cutters, exacto knife
* Flashlight
* Ear plugs
* If possible, spare cables and speaker wire
* Headphones to do line checks during set changes

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.

Interconnecting Multiple Sound Systems

December 18th, 2002

At concerts, you often see three audio systems in use: house PA, recording, and broadcast. Here are some tips on connecting those systems without creating ground loops and hum.

Consider using a single power distro system, and connect all three systems’ power cables to that distro. Make sure the distro can handle the total current requirements of the three systems.

If you hear hum or buzz when the systems are connected, first make sure that the signal source is clean. You might be hearing a broken snake shield or an unused bass guitar input.

If hum persists, experiment with flipping the ground-lift switches on the splitter and on the direct boxes. If there is no ground-lift switch, insert an adapter that lifts the cable shield at the input of the system you’re feeding. On some jobs you need to lift almost every ground. On others you need to tie all the grounds. The correct ground-lift setting can change from day to day due to a change in the lighting. Expect to do some trial and error adjustments.

Often, a radio station or video crew will take an audio feed from your mixing console. In this case, you can prevent a hum problem by using a console with transformer-isolated inputs and outputs. Or you can use a 1:1 audio isolation transformer between the console and the feeds. Some excellent isolation transformers are made by Jensen (phone (818) 374-5857, www.jensen-transformers.com). Finally, try a distribution amp with several transformer-isolated feeds.

Bruce Bartlett is Senior Microphone Design Engineer at Crown International.

Helping The Master

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

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.

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