header image header image

Sound Advice

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.

Setting Up the Digital Home Studio by Alister Sutherland

October 18th, 2002

So, you’re finally gonna ditch that smelly old 4 track cassette recorder (or whatever you currently use) and plunge headlong into a digital recording environment. Should be easy, right? Just spend the bucks to get the right system, hook it all up and go. The good news is this is basically right. There are, however, some differences in techniques from analog when recording digitally, some of which I’ll cover here.

The most essential part is right at the beginning, choosing the system that best suits your needs and budget. These days there seems to be reams of digital systems out there. If you want to make great sounding material and get the most out of what you buy, there are some criteria I would recommend as required features.

One is that the system does not automatically compress the audio files (this is not like dynamic audio compression, but rather a way of reducing the large size of audio files by throwing away part of them). Some ‘porta-studio’ like disk -based systems do this and they are therefore unsuitable for making CD quality recordings.

Another is that the system be able to record at 16 bit, 44.1kHz or higher and be expandable. The number of channels and tracks you can record and playback will depend on the system and your budget, but I would suggest no fewer than 4 ins and outs (I/O) and at least 8 simultaneous tracks of playback. By the way, in a hard disk recorder (HDR), unlike analog, the number of physical I/O’s (things you plug into) have nothing to do with the number of tracks you can play. A system could have only stereo out but play back 30 or more stereo tracks. Of course, the number of inputs you have will limit the number of simultaneous tracks you can record.

Alister Sutherland is a Toronto-based musician, producer, entrepreneur and educator. A partner in CreamWare US Inc., a company that designs and manufactures computer-based digital audio workstations, he is an expert with computers, music and technologies.

Put Analog Back In The Mix by George Graves

October 18th, 2002

If you want my advice, with all the available digital technology you still can’t beat the sound of a good analog mixdown. I can answer why in two ways. The first being rather technical is that with analog you get a full sine wave as opposed to the jagged sampled sine wave you get with digital. The effect on your sound can be dramatic. With an analog mixdown, you have a much wider, deeper sound with greater stereo imaging.

Which leads me to my second point: an analog mixdown has a texture that digital cannot produce. And, simply put, to my ears it sounds better … that’s it. No more explanation needed.

Mixing engineers working in the analog domain should not forget the mastering engineers (well, they shouldn’t regardless what they do) so they should put 30 seconds of the following tones: 1 kHz, 10 kHz, 15 kHz (if available) 40 Hz (if available) and 100 Hz. This is so the mastering engineer can align their tape machines to the mix tape. The recommended recording level (recording fluxivity) is 250 nWb/m.

So when planning your mix, call around to see if you can get your hands on an analog mixdown machine. It may take some time, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

George Graves is Chief Mastering Engineer at the Lacquer Channel in Toronto, ON.


4056 Dorchester Rd., #202,Niagara Falls, ON
Canada L2E 6M9 Phone: 905-374-8878
FAX: 888-665-1307 mail@nor.com
Web Site Produced by NWC