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Sound Advice

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.

Mixing For Television by David Norman

October 18th, 2002

Mixing a musician for live television can be quite different than mixing for a concert. I’ve done the David Letterman show (twice), The Gordon Elliot Show, The Conan O’Brien show and the Jay Leno show. I’ve also advanced Sesame Street and other shows.

The best thing is to make sure for the particular song that the group will be playing on TV, is to get the studio an ACCURATE input list, stage plot and a tape of just that song. Many touring acts send their usual touring list not realizing that one person may or may not be singing, or playing several keyboards or whatever. Anything the studio doesn’t have to wire or set up is more time for your setup, soundcheck and camera blocks.

As far as mic bleed, usually the monitor mixer and the broadcast engineer work together to keep the stage volume down so the broadcast mix will come out silky smooth. For most of the acts that I’ve done on television, I’ve also made sure that there is plexiglass around the drums to keep the stage volume and mic bleed down even more.

Last, but not least. Most of the television studios are kept cool to cold so that the host doesn’t sweat on TV (and to keep the audience alert), so remember that no matter what time of year it is to bring a jacket!

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

Organizational Tips For The MIDI Composer by Amin Bhatia

October 18th, 2002

Spend at least a day on finding and organizing your sounds, before you start writing, no matter how rushed the project or demo deadline is. By defining your virtual band or orchestra beforehand, you’ll write more coherently because you’ll know who your players are. It also reduces those futile trips to the editor/librarian in the middle of your writing we all know that never works!

As the one-man composer/engineer generation continues, you should never underestimate the value of another set of ears. Even though budgets may be tight, having another producer/engineer on your project, even if it’s only at the mastering stage, is still worth the dough.

Amin Bhatia – film composer, Bhatia Music.

What Type Of Tape Should Be Used For Duplication? by Bud Bremner

October 18th, 2002

This depends largely on the character and purpose of the project. A children’s tape is usually (but not always) normal bias without noise reduction. Why? Normal bias tape is cheaper to make and cheaper to sell. Besides, does your child’s Fisher Price cassette player have noise reduction?

We’ve found that tapes like BASF LHD normal bias duplicating tape gave us a very natural-sounding cassette – closer to the master than chrome tape, but chrome has more ‘sparkle’ to it; so if your master is a little dull, then chrome might be for you. Also, chrome is more forgiving. It’s harder to distort, so it handles dynamic signals better than normal bias. Chrome has proven to have a lower noise floor than normal bias, but the warmth of the normal is real nice.

Bud Bremner owns and operates Coastal Mastering in Vancouver, BC.

Let Natural Acoustics Do Their Job by David Norman

October 18th, 2002

My all-time favorite venues to mix in is Radio City Music Hall in New York City. I did a show last year for the Muhammad Ali movie premiere there and I want to share some tips with you.

The acts that performed were; B.B. King, The Fugees, Zelma Davis (formerly with C&C Music Factory), Brian McKnight, Diana King, Fred Wesley Harding (formerly with James Brown), the Andy Marvel Band (which was the house band for several acts and included members of Whitney Houston’s band), Batoto Yetu, members of A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, The Uptown Horns, the guest speaker was Danny Glover.

I was responsible for the house sound and mixed all of the groups while sound was provided by See Factor which supplied the new V-DOSC PA, and let me tell you this is by far the best sounding PA I’ve ever mixed on. I used a Yamaha PM-4000 with 48-channels and a Crest Century 32-channel for a maximum of 80 channels total. I ended up using 73 channels for this show and decided to place the two consoles in a “V” configuration and sit between the consoles to make it easier for me to get to everything since there were no actual set changes between all of the acts.

With no changeovers between acts, the monitor engineer and myself charted our consoles so we were well covered and all we had to do was sub-group muting when a particular act wasn’t on stage. All drum kits were miked individually and all acts shared the same bass rig. All three guitarists were miked individually. The only channels that we used consistently from act-to-act, were the hand-held wireless vocal mics.

My first consideration was making sure that the vocals and drums and bass were prominent in the mix as all of the acts were in the R&B/Rap genre. I also had to make sure that I didn’t un-mute the wrong sub-group for that particular act!

If you’ve never been to Radio City, it’s an incredibly beautiful old building and it sounds incredible. I’ve seen many engineers mix there and the shows that I’ve found that sounded best are the ones where the engineer doesn’t try to blow the audience out of their seats with volume.

One of the strange quirks of mixing at Radio City is that they usually position the FOH mix stage left and you must sit while mixing the show (I hate mixing while sitting). For me, this is a major pain because I would prefer to hear the full right and left stereo mix. I love miking guitars and keys in stereo and to hear that full stereo imaging is incredible at times.

I also made sure to keep the overall volume at a comfortable level as many in the audience were in the upper age range and besides, the room sounds so beautiful that you can let the natural acoustics do their job.

When mixing here, make sure to walk the entire room to make sure you don’t have any dead spots. A word to the wise, hang a center cluster and add your vocals here to get even more clarity to those seats in the balcony.

Having great musicians on stage, a great PA, a great crew and advance planning, mixing at Radio City Music Hall will be a breath of fresh air for any engineer.

David Norman has Tour/Production Managed and/or Mixed for such acts as Aaron Neville & The Neville Brothers, They Might Be Giants, Michael Hedges, Peabo Bryson, Arrested Development, Patti Austin, Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles), Lisa Germano and many others.

The Most Important Thing To Remember (When Mixing a Band) by Hugh Richards

October 18th, 2002

Don’t forget the words. Words are the most important thing. If you can’t hear the words there’s no point to what you do. [When mixing vocals with a band] it’s just natural balance. You can use delays and some effects you can pull like a doubler. It really comes down to the stage levels and how you balance the sound around that vocal.

Hugh Richards is Front of House engineer for Oasis who are currently wrapping up their Be Here Now tour.

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