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Sound Advice

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.

The Old Versus The New

December 18th, 2002

Professional Sound dug deep in its past to bring you a variety of tips from a range of professionals in the audio industry on their views of old technology versus the latest developments.

“Very often, people will arrive here with a CD-R. We don’t want to work with the CD-R. It’s a tool to bring home and listen to. It’s not a professional (format). DAT would be more professional. With a pre-grooved CD-R, you are changing the colour of the CD and it gets paler and there is a chemical reaction doing all of that. After you are finished burning the CD, this reaction continues and the information changes and it causes jitter … you can burn three CD-Rs and they will all sound different.”
– Alain DeRoque, Technical Director at SNB Mastering (Montreal) (PS February 2001)

“I’m a lover of old analog synths. In this day and age it’s so easy just to go with samplers and loop libraries, but everybody starts to sound the same. I like to have some of the old analog synthesizers in tandem with some of the newer machines. The newer machines have all the detail and realism of actual instruments but the analog machines have a warmth that the new digital ones just don’t have.”
– Amin Bhatia, Owner/Operator of Bhatia Music Group (PS December 2000)

“I go discrete out of the ProTools rig, into my console, using all my tube and vintage analog gear that I love. I just like the way tube gear sounds on certain things – they’ve been described as sounding ‘warm’ or ‘very forgiving’ or whatever word you want to use. There’s just an excitement to the sound. It’s like film versus video. Video seems to have some sort of cold or cheap quality to it, while film seems warm, soft and almost airbrushed.”
– Arnold Lanni, Arnyard Studios (PS April 2001)

“They’re not ready … today there isn’t a digital console in the world for music that I would buy … in my opinion, analog consoles are superior in a multitude of respects.”
– Gil Moore, Metalworks Studios (PS October 2000)

“Spots are getting to be almost all delivered electronically where as five years ago we would have the FedEx trucks back up to the shipping door and haul out 100 boxes of ¼” tapes FedEx-ed out to radio stations. They are being almost exclusively handled electronically now where it is FTPing to a secure FTP site (say, at NBC) where they deal with the distribution from a central server to all the individual radio and TV stations. We started throwing up FTP servers outside our firewall to toy around with delivering approval copies to clients, where we used to send a stack of cassettes to everybody in the agency to approve. We can now put up a file and send them an e-mail saying here’s the URL for your approval copy – check it out at your leisure. The clients like that, the immediacy of it is great. You don’t have to wait for mail, FedEx or courier. But one thing that we realized is that you are not making money off of those cassettes. Suddenly you are giving away things that you were charging for. We needed to find a way where we could effectively make money using this infrastructure. The network infrastructure wasn’t cheap to build and like we pay for lights and water, we were paying for this network so we needed to be able to charge for that. What we eventually settled on was basically a ‘firewall fee’ where internal files could fly around from workstation to workstation inside the company, we can’t really charge for that because that’s part of what you are doing. We call it a ‘firewall fee.’ Basically anytime someone crosses the firewall with a file whether it’s us receiving something across our firewall like a client that delivers a V/O (Voice-Over) from out of the country as files or, putting something up on the server for them to download. It’s just something to help us capture what we would be losing on dubs and media that we used to be able to charge for, and a way for us being able to justify the cost of this infrastructure – so there’s a revenue that justifies the expense.”
– Erinn Thorp, Atlanta, GA’s Crawford Post. (PS August 2001)

Adventures in Straying from the Norm by Arnold Lanni

December 18th, 2002

I would like to tell you there is a huge scientific approach but I think it is a series of happy accidents. And that’s the way it ought to be. I think what I try to do before I bring a band in here [to the studio] is have a vision. Some sort of guides to follow — we’ve got this bus and we’re going to drive it. We want to end up at destination B and we are starting off at A. Do you want to take the scenic route? Do you want to take the fastest route? Or do you want to take the least expensive? What is it that we are trying to do here?

It’s hard to talk about recording if you have some knowledge of it already because it obviously starts with a microphone in front of some kind of guitar or drum or whatever it is you are using. And that sound ends up on a medium — in this case we use harddrives. Then it’s how you manipulate those sounds, how you process it, how you deliver it. Then the kind of instrumentation comes in. I give you the analogy where some instruments acoustically deliver a certain colour. I try to explain music in terms of colour, for instance. You don’t hear a lot of sad songs played on the Banjo and you don’t hear a lot of happy songs on the Oboe or the Cello. Those are very extreme examples but psychoacoustics plays a big part. Whether it is something I have developed or a gift, I can generally see colours when I hear music. I try to convey that through some of the artists that I work with — a lot of times they see those colours too. So if we are getting a guitar sound for a specific part, do I mic the centre of the cone”? Do I mic off axis? Do I put a couple of mics up? Should we use two different types of amps on the stage? All those things deliver a colour. So it really all depends.

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


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