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Sound Advice

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

lease Don’t Step On My Fade by Scott Murley

October 18th, 2002

As a mastering engineer, I am responsible for making projects sound better. Sometimes that means adding stuff, (EQ, compression, effects) and sometimes that means removing stuff. (Music edits, fades, sometimes entire songs!) I am very good at editing things out. If something’s in the song and you don’t want it there … zap, it’s gone! But if something isn’t there and you want me to add it … well now that’s a different story.

Many times I’ve had to deal with a disappointed artist because somewhere in the recording and mixing process, someone pulled a fade too quickly and the song ends in a way which is not how the artist originally intended (or the artist has since changed his/her mind and now wants a different ending.) Remember the old saw; “Measure twice cut once”? Well now I’ve got artists and producers coming to me and saying that they’ve faded it twice and it’s still too short! During mastering, I can step on the fade and try to fix up a sloppy one, but I can’t replace what’s not there. Unless a re-mix is done, it’s gone forever. To be assured of a result everyone’s happy with (not to mention artistic flexibility) fades should be left to the mastering process. I’m trying to be nice about this and I don’t want to start a war with anyone; some of my best friends are mixing engineers. But mastering is the place where the final touches are put on a recording and how a song fades out can be a pretty touchy subject. So let the mastering engineer do the fades. That way, if it’s not done the way the artist wants it done, we have pristine sources so we can just do it again.

Scott Murley is a Mastering Engineer Lacquer Channel Mastering in Toronto.

The Art Of Recording Live Sound by David Norman

October 18th, 2002

If you’re in the process of recording your live show to get those better bookings, do a live CD or to critique your performance, here are some suggestions to make your life a little easier. This article will deal with recording from your live console straight to a DAT machine. With any recording worth making, it’s important to make time for experimentation.

When you decide which of your venues that you’ll be recording at, it’s always a good idea and call the in-house sound engineer and let him/her know of your plans. They’ll most likely have suggestions or feedback to make your life easier before you even walk in the door.

Make sure to fax ahead of time your stage plot and input chart so the sound crew will know what to expect. On your stage plot, show the locations on the stage of the band gear, wedges and the band members’ names to expedite things. It’s also a good idea to show the location of AC drops for power. On your input chart, include your microphone stand and microphone type (plus alternatives). Each channel of your input list should also indicate what type of insert (gate, compressor, etc.) that you would like. Once on site, and you have your gear set up, here are some suggestions to make the best recording possible. Have shock-mounts on all of your vocal mics and use rugs on stages to keep the sound of people walking back and forth down and eliminating that nasty stage rumble. You’d be surprised at how you can pick up from people walking back and forth across the stage.

Another great suggestion that I’ve found is to have Plexiglas placed around the drum kit. This brings your entire stage volume down, prevents leakage of the drums into your vocal mics and makes for a better recording overall. For drums, I try to always use Drum Claws on toms. This is great for keeping the mics in place and not having to worry about someone accidentally knocking into one of your mic stands.

David Norman has mixed such acts as The Neville Brothers featuring Aaron Neville, Peabo Bryson, Michael Hedges, Lisa Germano, Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles), Diana King and many others. He can be reached online at David994@aol.com.


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