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Sound Advice

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%, but improve the performance by 30%, it’s a no-brainer. Always let the technology serve the art!

Doug McClement owns LiveWire Remote Recorders in Toronto.

Don’t Take Chances With Your CD-Rs by Barry Lubotta

November 18th, 2002

Now that everyone is burning CD-Rs as masters, it might be a good time to review a few important steps to ensure they remain pristine all the way through the manufacturing process.

Even brand new CD-Rs fresh out of a jewel box often have a few particles of dust on them. It is a good idea to get rid of this dust before writing, and the best way is with a jumbo camera lens blower (without brush). Expect to pay about $8.00 in a photography store for this handheld round rubber device. You squeeze it quickly to release a stream of air which quickly removes any dust on the CD. You might not think a particle of dust would interfere with the laser writing a CD, but tests have proven that it can.

You also want to make sure that you handle your CD-Rs by the edges only, both prior to and after writing. Make sure that anyone who will listen to the CD-R adheres to this handling policy or else the result will be a smudged master.

Before a master CD-R leaves the premises, place a piece of tape over the jewel box cover so that it doesn’t accidentally open, causing the CD-R to fall out. If you plan to audition the CD before it goes off to the plant, make sure the tape has a piece folded over. This creats a small tab that can be used later for easy removal.

Place the jewel box in a plastic sandwich bag with a locking to protect it even more. At this point are you can be confident that you have done a professional from start to finish and that your CD is now ready for manufacturing.

A CD-R that is to be used for a master must be treated with the utmost respect if it is to provide optimum results at the manufacturing plant.

Barry Lubotta is the owner of Pizazzudio Recording Studio and Mastering Lab.

Miking by Bruce Bartlett

November 18th, 2002

Suppose you’re recording a singer/guitarist. There’s a mic on the singer and a mic on the acoustic guitar. When you monitor the mix, something’s wrong: the singer’s voice sounds hollow or filtered. What you’re hearing is the effect of phase interference.

In general, if two mics pick up the same sound source at different distances, and the signals are mixed to the same channel, this might cause phase cancellations. These are peaks and dips in the frequency response caused by some frequencies combining out of phase. The result is a coloured, filtered tone quality that sounds like mild flanging.

To prevent this problem, follow the 3-to-1 rule: The miking distance should be less than 1/3 the distance between mics. For example, if two mics are 12 inches apart, they should be less than four inches from their sound sources to prevent phase cancellations.

Bruce Bartlett is a mic engineer, audio journalist, and recording engineer. Bruce can be reached through Professional Sound at mail@nor.com

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.

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