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Sound Advice

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.

Ringing Out Monitors by Richard van Steenburgh and Ted Barker

October 18th, 2002

No, we are not talking about that truck driver that recently drove a rig into Lake Ontario. Rather we are outlining the procedure for ensuring that your stage monitors and microphone have their frequency peaks removed and that their resonance is not acoustically coupled to the stage environment. This includes, but is not exclusive to, walls, ceilings, stage and riser resonance. In other words, anything that can set up a sympathetic vibration with frequencies emitted by the stage monitor. Equalizing out these frequencies is the answer. Unfortunately, the more analog equalization that is used, the more phase shifts you create. It is best to strike a balance that will address the worst resonant rings while not varying the EQ curve wildly. The procedure goes like this:

1. Zero the EQ on the console rails and the graphic EQs for each monitor mix.
2. Have the microphone and monitor placed correctly on the stage.
3. Turn that channel’s monitor send until you hear the first resonant ring just before feedback.
4. Find that frequency by nudging the graphic EQ bands up and down quickly and cut it as many dB as necessary to improve the feedback threshold.
5. Turn up the monitor send further until the next ring is heard – find that frequency. Cut the resonant frequency down accordingly.

Continue in this manner until you have all the monitor volume the band could require. For a maximum setting, keep going until you hear multiple simultaneous rings or when one or more of the graphic EQ sliders that could correct the present feedback is at maximum cut. If all goes well, you will be able to operate the stage monitor at least 6 dB below the resonant ring point and have compliments from the band at the end of the show.

Richard van Steenburgh and Ted Barker are from ShowPro, a sound system rental company in Toronto, ON.

Remote Recording by Steve Baisley

October 18th, 2002

A remote recording is a recording done outside the traditional recording studio setting. Recording equipment is either permanently installed in a truck known as a remote truck (or audio mobile), or the equipment is pieced together inside the venue of choice.

A remote truck:

* provides a stable, known system that works
* drastically reduces set up time
* provides a known and constant listening environment
* provides separation from the concert venue
* comes with an operator who knows his or her equipment intimately and can
* troubleshoot in a live setting

A remote truck is essentially the same as a regular recording studio except that it is located in a vehicle. This gives it the ability to move from place to place to record events where they happen. Remote trucks are used for recordings of concerts, theatrical productions and sporting events, and for radio and TV broadcasts. Recordings can be multitrack, stereo mix to tape or both. MTV’s Unplugged, MuchMusic’s Intimate and Interactive, the Grammy’s, the Junos, The Academy Awards, and MTV Music Video Awards all use remote trucks for their music mix and recording. A remote truck may also be used for a remote studio session, when an artist wants to record in a specific space but it is not a live event. In this case, recordings may go on for days, even weeks.

These basic principles apply to almost all remote projects:

A microphone splitter is used to allow the sharing of microphone signals between several audio systems. A two or three-way splitter is typical. For every microphone input on the splitter there are two or three outputs. This avoids having to set up multiple microphones for each instrument. Each split goes to a separate audio system: the house PA, the monitor system and the remote truck. Each system has individual control over the microphone signals it receives; gain, EQ, FX, dynamics processing etc. are set independently in each system without effecting the others. In many cases microphones are added for use in the recording but are not needed in the PA or monitor systems. Once the signals leave the splitter they are carried via multi-pair snake cables to their various consoles, often hundreds of feet outside to the recording mobile.

At this point the process of multitrack recording in the remote truck is virtually identical to that of a traditional recording studio … except that you only have one chance to get it right!

Steve Baisley owns and operates Squash Sound Mobile Recording Facility in Toronto, ON.

Curing An Out-of-phase PA – by Chris Zackoor

October 18th, 2002

Here are a few things to keep in mind when coming up against an out-of-phase sound system in a club situation. Remember the house engineer and you are on the same team so you don’t want to offend him/her by jumping down their throat insisting that the system is out-of-phase. Have a little tact in the situation – it goes a long way!

Most engineers – including myself – will pull out their favourite CD to tune the system. It’s not always at that instance that you will notice the problem but you will know that something is missing. What I mean by missing is that there is hardly any bass or bottom end. When this happens you’ll notice that the system has an empty sound to it, a cancellation of frequencies. You know that there’s bottom end, just not enough of it. Assuming that all the bottom end cabinets are matched they will be 180 degrees out-of-phase with each other and this is your problem. At the same time you’re listening to the system walk around the room so you can assess the situation. There is a good chance that you will be clipping the bottom end amps. When you have come to the conclusion that the bottom end is out of phase pull out your trusty Brooks Sirens Systems (BSS) phase checker and phase test the bottom end. When you have the proper phase of all the bottom end components you will then have no phase shift between components, collectively producing coupling cabinets. When finished with the bottom end you might as well go ahead and phase test the rest of the system.

Now what if it’s not as easy to test the system because you don’t have or can’t afford a phase checker or some other time aligning crossover/processor? You will have to trust your ears and your know how to phase test the system. It may take a little more time to do but here are a few pointers.

Starting with the bottom end again, because in my opinion, it is always the easiest to perceive it being out of phase. It doesn’t matter if the system is in stereo or mono, put on some program music and walk to the centre of both the left and right PA stacks or to where the PA will have the most coupling (on-axis). Assess the situation from thereby listening to the system and observing the amplifiers status lights. Then stand in front of either the left or right stacks (off-axis) and assess the situation. You should notice the difference between standing on and off-axis you will have to test the phase of each bass cabinet or pair of cabinets. Keeping in mind that in a club situation you may have 2, 4, 8 or 16 low-end drivers depending on the size of venue so you better get busy!

Let’s say you have two low-end cabinets per side loaded with 15″ or 18″ drivers and that each cabinet is on either side of the amplifier. Turn one side of the amp down and listen to the cabinet by itself. A quick test is to turn the other side of the amp up to hear if the low end is coupling with the other cabinet or not. You may have to do this a couple of times to make sure. When doing this you will definitely notice a difference between it being in or out-of-phase.

Chris Zackoor is FOH/tour manager for the Gandharvas – currently on tour in the US.

De-Essing Your Sibilant Vocal by George Graves

October 18th, 2002

Most engineers know that vocalists love to eat the microphone. So, to keep the level under control he grabs his handy-dandy compressor/limiter to smooth it out. Unfortunately this creates an expansion problem. The limiter works on the lower tonality of the voice and with the gain so high the sibilance is now boosted to a level that overdrives equipment. This does not sound natural. To keep the vocal under control, a high quality de-esser is needed in the recording chain (while recording the vocal) with the use of the compressor/limiter.

Originally when a vocal was recorded to analog tape, the sibilance would distort the tape. Now with digital recording the problem has NOT gone away. It sounds like all the equipment in the chain is distorting.

High-end preamps will also help in reducing this problem. Remember you’re as good as the weakest link in the chain. Cheap boards and Ad converters do not help the cause.

George Graves is a mastering engineer at the Lacquer Channel in Toronto, ON.

Time Is Of The Essence Recording for Broadcast by Ron Skinner

October 18th, 2002

In the broadcast world, time is always of the essence. With today’s recording technology forever becoming less expensive, a musician could work at home for days on a guitar solo or vocal overdub. In the case of a broadcast recording, this situation is much different. A typical studio session for radio could be anywhere from a few hours to a week, depending on the complexity of the session, the importance the music will play in the program and, most importantly, the budget.

These time restraints can put a great deal of pressure on the musician being recorded. In this type of session it is generally one take. Not time for a quick fix-up or punch-in let alone hours of labour to get that all important “Doo Wa” in the third chorus.

The total production time for a fairly high-budget popular music session for radio might be three eight-hour days. In these three days the artist might be hired to record as many as five songs. Seems simple enough, three days and only five songs. The problem is that these three days will consist of everything, including set-up of the studio, recording the bed tracks, overdubs, tear down, the final mix and, of course, you also have to take some time to eat.

The key to a great recording for broadcast is to have your material well rehearsed and to manage your time as efficiently as possible. With a limited amount of time to record and mix, an emphasis should always be put on pre-production. The object should be rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and when you think you have the material all worked out that is the best time to set up another rehearsal, just to make sure.

Ron Skinner is the House Engineer for CBC Radio’s Music Recording Studios in Toronto. He also works as a freelance recording engineer/producer. Ron can be reached by e-mail at: rskinner@toronto.cbc.ca


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