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Sound Advice

Vocals in the Studio by Simon Pressey

September 18th, 2002

Getting the best possible performance from your vocalist is paramount in popular music recording; here are a few tips that can help you capture them. Find out which time of day the artist feels most comfortable singing at and arrange the vocal recording part of the session around that. Try to schedule recording the vocals throughout the recording session, not on the last day(s) of it — even experienced vocalists can usually only be at their best for three hours a day. Arrange for somewhere private the vocalist can warm up or practice, with rough mixes of the tracks preferably.

Some vocalists like to perform with the band and friends around, others prefer a more intimate environment. Discuss this well beforehand so you can avoid offending or embarrassing the peanut gallery or your vocalist. Print up multiple copies of the lyrics, including all repeated lines, verses and choruses. Use a clear font that is legible in low light, and number the lines and sections. This makes for easier communication between all parties. Prepare the recording area ahead of time. Make sure the temperature is comfortable and the area free of air conditioning drafts. Try to create a mood, and a room that is buzz-free with adjustable lighting. Have some candles available, a comfortable stool, note paper, pens and pencils, a pitcher of warm water (not iced), a couple of glasses, Kleenex and a garbage bin. Almost all singers like to have something particular, be it a mascot or a bottle of scotch. Be prepared — finding Sambucca at 3 a.m. on a Sunday can be tough. I usually tape the lyrics to the boom of a fully-extended mic stand and back light them with a Littlelite; this has the advantage of readability without the vocalist moving their head and is less acoustically troublesome.

If you’re the engineer, set up and listen to the headphone mix ahead of time, with the same model headphones at the same volume. Monitor mixes can dramatically affect peoples’ pitch and timing. Try the singers’ headphones yourself, sing along to the track and get the assistant to adjust the mix so it sounds comfortable to you. Be prepared to use loudspeaker monitoring — a good vocal performance is worth the small sacrifice in fidelity. Attention to a combination of these details has rewarded me far in excess of the effort required to take care of them.

Simon Pressey, Engineer/Producer, Chief Engineer at Le Studio Morin Heights. Credits include Lawrence Gowan, Patricia Conroy, the Tea Party, the Headstones and Celine Dion.

Tips for Improving Your DAT mix by Greg Below

September 18th, 2002

It has been brought to my attention that many people in the recording industry under-estimate the vast improvement a good set of A/D (analog to digital) and D/A (digital to analog) converters can make! I realize the majority of engineers out there insist on mixing to DAT and accept DAT machines for what they are, a medium to which one can convert and store high quality analog sound information into a digital format at little expense.

Try mixing as hot as possible to DAT with a good set of external 24-bit A/D converters instead of the cheap 16-bit converters supplied in Tascam, Fostex or Sony DAT machines. You may be surprised, if you are not already, at the sonic quality that will make. Also, keep in mind that once you enter the digital domain, keep it that way; converting back and forth from digital to analog will greatly diminish sonic quality as well as create dithering problems. Most professional mastering facilities agree and have the capabilities to keep your material in the digital domain until the format is decided upon.

Greg Below – independent producer/engineer, Distort/Sonic Pineapple Recording Studio. Greg has recorded for EMI Publishing, BMG and FRE Records, as well as many independents.

Creating the Mood in the Studio by Doug McCann

September 18th, 2002

The studio control room environment can, is, and always will be one of the weirdest places to visit. It is amazing how many people go deaf, forget everything about good manners or just become brain dead the minute they walk through the door.

We all know that there are no rules when it comes to getting the magic to tape, drive, RAM or conductive jello. But there are some basic methods we all employ to capture a sound.

The hard part isn’t twisting the knobs. The really hard part is creating an environment conducive to inspired performance within the studio, and the trying to control all of the interference from the outside world. That outside interference can include overly amorous girl/boyfriends, band mates, managers, label execs, video producers, assistant engineers, photographers, other studio clients, other studio owners, delivery guys, meter readers, product reps, dogs, cats, telephones and airplanes. I have lost a lifetime’s worth of wonderful takes all because of ill-timed interruptions.

If you are not a part of the process, then just go away. I know that sounds rude, but it is frequently the best way for you to contribute in a positive way to the session. If you are asked or invited to stay, sit still, be quiet and LISTEN. By concentrating as hard on what you are hearing as those involved in creating the recording, you will avoid becoming one of those horror stories every producer, engineer, musician, etc., hates to tell.

Doug McCann – Producer/Engineer, Soundscape Audio Design; Co-owner of Beta Sound Recorders. Credits include Randy Travis, Patricia Conroy, Terri Harris and the R&B All-Stars.

Substituting a Live Sound Mixer for On-Stage Monitoring by Steve Parton

September 18th, 2002

A standard live sound mixer can be used in the place of a monitor mixer for on-stage monitoring, but there are some simple adjustments to make:

* Put all channel faders to “0” (not full up). This way, all auxiliaries become “prefader”.
* If you have the option, set auxiliaries to POST-EQ. If not, the pre-fader auxiliaries may not be affected by any EQ adjustments, whereas the post-fader auxs will be affected.
* If there is not an actual PFL/AFL output, try hooking an EQ/amp/monitor up to the headphone output. This lets you monitor a channel or a mix like you would in a proper monitor board set-up.
* For an effect send, plug the right side of the console’s main output into the (reverb) unit, and bring the reverb’s output into a channel strip. The pan pot acts as an effect send for each channel (full left is “0”, and full right is maximum send). Make sure that the channel into which you plugged the reverb is muted or is panned left (to avoid looping).

Steve Parton is a freelance studio and live sound engineer who has worked extensively across Canada and particularly in the Montreal and Ottawa areas.

Tips for Mixing Drum Samples by John Albani

September 18th, 2002

When mixing drum machines or drum samples, try using a very short early reflection reverb program to simulate overhead mics. Make sure the diffusion parameter is not set too high. You want a good attack, not a smeared sound. Adding this type of reverb will greatly improve your drum kit’s depth. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with EQ on the reverb to simulate different surface textures.

John Albani is a guitarist and producer/engineer who owns Landshark Studio in Toronto.

Recording Heavy Guitar by Brad Nelson

September 18th, 2002

Distorted electric guitar can be an unruly monster to keep under control sometimes, but I am finding that less is more when it comes to getting a good starting point for guitar amp mic placement.

If you are using a multi-speaker cabinet, the first thing to do is to find the best-sounding speaker of the bunch. Take two Shure SM 57s and point the first one directly at where the dust cap meets the speaker cone; and point the second one at the speaker cone (not to the centre of the speaker!) at a 45 degree angle from the first. The mics should be touching each other to ensure minimal phase difference. Now what you have is one mic that is picking up the brighter tone (straight on mic) and one that is picking up a darker tone (45 degree angled mic) of what the speaker puts out. This enables you to select either a warmer or edgier tone simply by changing the fader level relationship between mics, instead of having to immediately jump to the EQ. Always use a flashlight to see through the grille cloth to ensure proper placement; add more mics if desired end result requires it and stir well!

Brad Nelson is a Metalworks staff engineer who is co-producing and recording the new Headstones album for MCA and has recorded and/or mixed for acts such as Treble Charger, Spooky Rubin, the Killjoys and Tribal Stomp.


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