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Sound Advice

Preparing To Tour From A Sound Engineer’s Standpoint by David Norman

November 18th, 2002

Long before the band comes in for the final tour dress rehearsals, they should have rehearsed on their own so that the time for production rehearsals can be used to get the band and crew on the same page on the look, design and flow of the show.

The production rehearsals should be used for several different things; making the final list of equipment that will be needed BEFORE the tour starts, making an equipment manifest, learning the show for sound cues, becoming familiar with the song order, working on making work tapes for all concerned for light programming and mixing purposes and there’s tons more.

Make sure to have all road cases colour-coded, stenciled, numbered and listed with Destination (Dressing Room, Stage Left, Stage Right, Production, Do Not Tip, Up/Down Arrows, etc.). The order of the truck pack can be easily identified with numbering of each case.

During these rehearsals, the sound crew should have as many cables as possible loomed together and labeled clearly. This reduces patching on a daily basis, because patching often has to done with limited lighting and space in dark corners on and under the stage. The crew should also have all consoles clearly labeled per their respective input channels and all outboard gear should also be programmed and tested for each particular song. Rehearsal time also should be used to get the crew working together as a team. The setup schedule should be discussed so that everyone knows how each day of the tour will progress. The lead in these conversations will usually be with your Production Manager and your Stage Manager. The time taken for brief meetings with all crewmembers saves arguments or discussions during setup.

During rehearsals, make sure you have huge poster boards to write the songlist down so that everyone can see it. Tape it pretty high. That way, you don’t have to have several set lists lying around that people are constantly losing. Make sure to record all of the rehearsals as well.

A final drafting of a stage plot and input list should be done during rehearsals so that you can give to your production manager and/or send to venues in advance so they’ll know what to expect with regards to your setup.

David ‘5-1’ Norman has tour managed and/or production managed and mixed such acts as; Ani DiFranco, Aaron Neville & The Neville Brothers, Roger Daltrey, The British Rock Symphony, John Tesh, They Might Be Giants, Arrested Development, Better Than Ezra, B.B. King, The Fugees, Wyclef Jean and many others. He is currently off the road and doing freelance production work for Concert/Southern Promotions as Production Manager and has worked shows with ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, Ratdog and Megadeth. He can be reached online at david994@aol.com or you can check out his web site athttp://members.aol.com/david994/.

Finding the Perfect Studio an Interview with Bryan Adams

November 18th, 2002

Professional Sound’s sister publication Canadian Musician recently interviewed Bryan Adams on how he built his studio, the Warehouse Studio, and some of his best recording experiences:

After recording so many albums and working in some of the best recording studios in the world you must have learned a great deal about what makes a studio great. How did you incorporate this experience into the design of your facility?

Bryan Adams: My “role model” was the 1980s Power Station in NYC (before it changed). All the isolation booths, the style of desks (SSL and Neve), live chambers, informal atmosphere and a really top technical staff. But most of all … the location. I wanted my studio to be in the centre of the city where all the action is, not tucked out in the middle of nowhere. Musicians want to party and have a little bit of a life. You don’t get that with most studios because they are normally tucked away in industrial complexes or in the rural countryside! Who wants to work in place like that? Not me. I want a little interaction with the world.

When you didn’t own your own studio what considerations were taken into account when choosing a studio to work in? How did you know when a studio was right for you?

BA: That was mostly a decision Bob (Clearmountain) and I would make. We ended up recording in my house a lot before the studio was built downtown [Vancouver, BC]. We’d just rip whatever place we were at apart until we got what we wanted.

What do you think are the major pitfalls in the traditional commercial recording studio?

BA: You’ve got to have someone that really cares about studio life if you want it to work. A lot of the best studios are run by people who were either engineers or producers at one point, or they are technically minded. My studio was designed and is run like a battleship by Ron Vermuelen, who has worked with me since the mid-’80s. I’d have no studio if it wasn’t for him.

Interconnecting Multiple Sound Systems by Bruce Bartlett

November 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 the Senior Microphone Design Engineer at Crown International.

Helping The Master by Nick Blagona

November 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 s econds 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 by Doug McClement

November 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.

Digital Reverb… by John Klepko

November 18th, 2002

Close-miked vocal tracks can often produce strange splatters of high-frequency noise when fed through a digital reverb algorithm. If your goal is a smooth and natural reverberation, then this effect can be distracting. This effect doesn’t really happen in natural reverberant environments like the concert halls and cathedrals that these algorithms are modelled after, unless you are feeding a close-miked vocal through a loud PA system in such an acoustical space. The problem lies in the “s” and “t” sibilant consonants that are aggravated into a type of high-frequency overload distortion by the microphone itself. The simple solution here is to insert a de-esser into the aux send signal path. This will suppress the sibilants that would over-excite the reverb.

In a recording situation, another solution is to place an additional microphone to the side or behind the singer, with the signal acting as a reverb feed only. The sound from these microphone positions will not have any sibilants.

Close-miked acoustic guitar signals can also play havoc with digital reverbs: they exaggerate the squeaks produced by the fret board hand movement. Here again, you could use a spare microphone (or two) placed behind the player as a reverb send signal. The sound, as picked up from behind, will be less detailed but fuller and rounder. This will provide a more indirect “average” feed to the reverb that will be void of those extraneous hand noises.

Another solution I have often used is to place a (cheap) transducer-pickup on the guitar. In this application the pickup signal again lacks the highs and squeaks present in a front placed main microphone. This smoother, more average sound is better suited as a reverb feed.

John Klepko is a sound engineer/producer and musician based in Montreal, PQ. He is currently in the final throes of his Ph.D. music degree (from McGill University) in the area of surround-sound. John also teaches courses in sound recording at McGill University and Concordia University.


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