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Sound Advice

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 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.

Session Communication by Rick Andersen

November 18th, 2002

During a studio recording session, it is professional to keep the lines of communication open between the artist, producer, engineer, and assistant engineer.

Most consoles have a provision for “talk back,” a microphone built into the console that allows the producer/engineer to communicate with the artist via headphones. Also, you should have a (T/B – talk back) microphone set up on the studio floor, so the producer, engineer and assistant can listen to the artist’s feedback.

A T/B mic on the studio floor should only be monitored while your tape machine is stopped, otherwise your audio will be clouded with ambience. A neat trick is to set up an Automatic Talk Back system. In the monitor section of the assigned T/B mic, you insert a noise gate set to ducking mode with SMPTE timecode feeding the “key input” of the unit. Press play on your tape machine and the ducker sees a signal (timecode recorded or generated), and reduces the volume of the T/B mic. When you stop the machine, the timecode stops running and opens up the ducker. The T/B mic is now turned on.

If you prefer heavy effects on vocals, guitars, etc., while tracking/overdubbing, use the above concept, but now insert across the console sends. Using timecode as the trigger source, your vocals can be monitored with or without effects depending on the transport control. Keeping the ducker in mind, various techniques can be applied across different configurations.

One final piece of advice – know when to work and know when to play.

Engineer/producer Rick Andersen is the Director of Audio Post at Omega Pictures International.

Creating Timeless Recordings by Daniel Lanois

November 18th, 2002

A timeless recording feels right. And a recording that feels right is usually made up of some kind of truth – for example, a true documentation of how people were playing in the room at that time, uninterrupted by external opinion. If something has a natural feeling, that’s also a real good ingredient for timelessness.

The irony of timelessness is that sometimes the most dated things are timeless. You listen to a P-Funk record from the early ’70s – and there’s a crass wah-wah pedal that is dated specific to the day – and everybody thinks it’s wonderful and timeless! I think it’s because there was so much commitment that went into it; it was so much the “sound of the moment” and done with such naivete that it is timeless.

Naivete is not something that you can be aware of when you’re trying to work, it’s something that you’re aware of maybe a year down the road; but it’s also a pretty important ingredient to recordings you want to keep listening to.

Daniel Lanois is a recording artist and producer (U2, Robbie Robertson, Peter Gabriel). Originally printed in the Sound Advice section of the Winter 1995 Professional Sound.

EQ And Mixing Made Easy by Gary Stokes

November 18th, 2002

EQing individual channels: “Try to keep in mind, that sound has all frequencies and any EQ you do is always a trade-off, or compromise, so it’s important to pay attention to what you’re losing that’s desirable, when you start mercilessly notching out something that offends you. I think a good example is electric guitar because sometimes it’s better to boost either side of what tone is offensive and thereby preserve more of the overall tone rather than notching out something that bothers you.”

Mixing: “Everyone’s first impulse is when listening to a band playing, and you’ve got complete control over the mix is to turn it up whatever element of the mix is too quiet. I think the first thing you should ask yourself is what elements are too loud and are masking what you want to hear. What is bothering you if you can’t hear the guitar for example. Find what’s covering the guitar. See if you can get away with turning something down before you move something up. Usually in the end, you’ll be less likely to paint yourself into a corner of always trying to turn everything up louder than everything else and consequently running out of headroom and making the overall mix too loud for the audience and everything else goes along with that. Before you turn something up think of what you can turn down to make it sound better.”

Gary Stokes is Sarah McLachlan’s sound engineer.

Drum Miking Techniques by Karen Kane

November 18th, 2002

One the most common mistakes I’ve seen in the miking of certain drums – such as djembe or any other drum with a strong low end – results from the misconception that one microphone alone on top of the drum will do the trick. Unlike the typical one microphone method of miking toms in a drum kit, miking just the top of most other drums will not necessarily get the best sound for the situation. Using only a top microphone will give you plenty of “slap” but not enough of the bass. Most of these drums are usually played slightly off the floor that makes it easy to put another mic directly up into the drum from the bottom. A Sennheiser 421 microphone or an AKG D112 works extremely well for this.

For the top of the drum, the 421 works well but any good condenser microphone also works well. Ideally, if tracks are available, I always put the two microphones on two separate tracks. That way, in the mix, I can balance the two microphones to my taste. During recording, I EQ the bottom mic by taking out a lot of the mid-range and highs, leaving a very muddy track when you hear it by itself. However, when you add this muddy track to the top microphone you end up with a crisp, fat drum sound. If you don’t have enough tracks, EQ the bottom mic similarly, record the two microphones to one track balancing them according to the situation.

Karen Kane has been engineering and producing music since 1974. Her credits, profile and other published articles can be seen at her website: www.total.net/~mixmama.

Preparing Your Masters For Manufacturing by Darcy Scott

October 18th, 2002

There are a couple of common problems and mistakes that CD manufacturing plants encounter when receiving DAT or CD-R pre-masters for production. The first is not having enough information about what is contained on the source. The second is receiving a CD-R, burned “Track at Once.” The first is an easily avoidable situation. When sending in your masters, always remember to supply more than enough information about what is being duplicated, i.e. number of tracks, track lengths, start time, program length, group name, album/project name, and contact name and number…

The second most common problem is receiving a CD-R that is burned “Track at Once” instead of “Disc at Once.” This refers to burning the CD in one complete pass, instead of pausing between writing track IDs. Stopping the disc writing process between tracks causes an enormous amount of errors called “link block errors”, which in most cases makes the disc unable to be glass mastered for manufacturing. The result is to have the disc fixed at the plant or have a new master sent in, which ultimately results in an increased turnaround time, which is the last thing anyone wants to hear.

One more thing to look out for is to be sure the disc is written in proper “Red Book” value. Not many people realize that the reason “professional” CD Burners are as expensive as they are is that they write discs to certain Book values that are required for the type of manufacturing that is being written. With the price of consumer CD recorders coming down to such an affordable range, it’s easy for someone to put their master onto CD-R, without realizing that it may be a waste of time if it’s not written to the proper Red Book standards.

Everyone would like to have their CDs back from the plants as quickly as possible and by checking a few simple things ahead of time, we can make sure that you don get your products back ASAP.

Darcy Scott is the president of NF Audio Manufacturing in Brantford, ON, which manufactures both CD audio and CD-ROM and offers DIGalog Cassette Duplication.

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