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Sound Advice

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.

How To Approach Repairs by Paul Buchanan

September 18th, 2002

Repair pointers always seem to be easier to remember or visualize when one is faced with an “eleventh hour repair”. I can’t say that there is one tip that can be globalized to all repairs; specific units, however, can have similar fault conditions that make repair pointers much easier to provide. Hence, the only advice that I can offer is to approach each repair with the same method.

Hope the following helps:

1. Perform a visual inspection before you power up the unit (to see if there are any burnt components, etc.)
2. Start trouble-shooting with the power supply section. Make sure you have all rails up and running. Is there a short from ground to the supply? If so, then check filter caps for shorts and transistor/regulator insulator inconsistencies.
3. Break up the unit into three stages: a) input section; b) control section/filtering; and c) output section. If the unit has more than one channel, use the good channel as a reference for your repair.
4. Never spend more than two hours on a repair at one time. Take a break or start another repair that you know you can finish quickly. Take the manual home at night and plan another repair strategy for the next attempt.

Paul Buchanan is chief technician at Contact Distribution, servicing amplifiers, processing devices and other professional audio equipment.

One Console; Four + Techs by Steve Parton

September 18th, 2002

Whether you are told in advance or not, during multiple-act “festival” style gigs, some bands are going to show up with their own sound techs. This usually happens with the bigger bands who will have arrived after an afternoon of sound engineering mayhem.

As I’m sure you have already labelled all the microphones, the next thing you can do for your newly-arrived sound tech is to have all the auxiliary sends labelled or to put the FXs in the order they appear on the rack. Insert cables labelled to the corresponding gate or compressor would be good, too. And make sure you update the masking tape on the board, because things change easily in this type of show, and making a mental note of a switched channel doesn’t do much good for the other sound techs.

If the show is not the on-the-fly type and there are several soundchecks before the show, the single coolest tool on the face of the planet is a dictaphone or recording Walkman. This way I can check my band(s) and then say to the next sound tech, “It’s all yours, Sherri. Change what you like; I’ve recorded all my settings on this here dictaphone.”

How’s that for camaraderie between sound techs?

Steve Parton, Montreal, PQ-based freelance sound tech.

The Word on MDMs by Ron Skinner

September 18th, 2002

Modular Digital Multitrack (MDM) recorders have brought the digital world a bit closer to home. MDMs have been introduced to the marketplace over the past few years, and this technology is starting to make recording industry professionals rethink the current use of multitrack recording. MDMs are relatively inexpensive, rackmounted eight-track recording devices. They can be easily expanded to as many as 128 tracks of digital recording simply by purchasing additional units. The average price of an eight-track system is under $5,000. MDMs are currently being marketed by three manufacturers (Alesis, Tascam and Fostex). While each manufacturer offers its own unique features and operating standards, the basic premise behind the designs of these units is the same — providing eight tracks of digital recording in a small, inexpensive and expandable unit.

The initial market for Modular Digital Multitrack recorders was the project or home studio. This is the first time digital recording has been taken out of the professional recording studio and put in the home. Over thirty thousand MDMs have been sold in North America since their introduction almost two years ago. This success has created a large network of users who can share ideas and work on each others’ projects. Musicians can now record music in their home recording studios and then send the tape to other musicians to add finishing touches and overdubs (the tape format for these recorders is either S-VHS or 8mm video tape).

The possibilities of this format and its vast popularity has most recently caught the attention of the professional recording and broadcast industries. This type of recording is still not as reliable as professional open reel recorders like the Sony PCM-3348. However, it is being used for jingle and promo production, non-crucial music recording and in the pre-production stages of album projects. Broadcasters are also beginning to use MDMs for complex documentary productions that require mixes that may be too difficult to achieve with multi-machine mixing. In many cases, eight tracks are enough to accommodate a fairly large radio production.

The development of this technology has brought the price of digital multitrack recording down substantially; and it gives musicians and broadcasters the ability to create high quality recording projects at a relatively low cost. MDM recording is an example of how digital technology is starting to touch every aspect of our professional lives. It is this digital technology that provides us with greater flexibility and enhanced creativity. MDM recording is yet another tool within the digital domain that can be used in various types of audio production, from simple home recording projects to more advanced radio and professional recording applications.

Ron Skinner, Radio Technician, CBC Broadcast Centre; independent engineer/producer.


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