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Sound Advice

Live Recording in the Studio by Kevin Doyle

September 18th, 2002

Recently, I was approached by David Deacon and the Word to co-produce and record an album; with the intention of recording the band ‘live-off-the-floor’, including solos and vocals. Their wish was to capture a live organic sound, using all-natural instruments and no computer-based sequencing or sampling.

I was somewhat surprised by this request. In the last three years, I have worked on more than thirty albums, but even so, the last album I recorded live-off-the-floor was in the fall of 1992.

I looked forward to the challenge of re-discovering recording methods that would maximize the sound quality without compromising the flexibility to be efficient and practical in the live environment.

For the drums, I used a 421 for the midrange and a D112E for the low end of the bass drum. After moving the mics around for the optimum position, I used an old Neve EQ to add extra low end and midrange. On the snare, I used two SM 57s: one on top, and the other underneath. After getting the right blend, I added a little top end from a Neve EQ. For the toms, I used KM 100s (-10dB) for their warm low end and clean top end. For the overheads, I used a pair of 414s with their phase reversed. I found that without the phase reversal, I was experiencing acoustic phasing problems in the low end. I tend to never roll off the low end on the overheads, because I like the richness they add to the toms and snare. If I have too much snare in the overhead mics, I’ll strap a stereo compressor over them with a very fast attack and fast release time.

For the bass, I used a Sanken CU-41 on the amp and an active DI. The Sanken is a great mic for bass and guitar amps. The microphone is almost impossible to overload, and has great low frequency response, which are features hard to find in a condenser microphone.

I used two Neve 1073 modules as mic pre-amps and EQ on the bass. I find the 1073s have a great low end and can be punchy and warm. Before hitting tape, I used a little compression from an LA-2 for the DI and a highly-modified LA-3 for the amp.

David Shaw, the piano player and co-producer, informed me that he would be doing very dynamic solos live off the floor, and also some very quiet playing in some of the verses. With this in mind, I chose to use two B+K 4000 series microphones, and the Drawmer 1960 mic pre-amps, for their great transient response and tube sound. I had my assistant, Stuart Brawley (a piano virtuoso in his own right), place the mic pre-amps right on the floor, and under my instructions from the control room, had him set the appropriate levels. After adding about 3dB at 15kHz with some outboard GML EQs, I went directly to tape from the 1960, bypassing the console completely.

With the guitars, I used a stereo DI and a U-67 (-10dB) and SM 57 on the amp. The U-67 has a really warm low end, and the 57 has a good midrange. Depending on the guitar part, I would vary the mixture of the microphones, rather than using EQ. If I needed to use any compression, I used an LA-3 or Summitt.

For the acoustic guitars, I really like the sound of a B+K mic with a Pultec EQ. With acoustic guitars, pianos and many other acoustic instruments, I tend to avoid using any compression at all. I’m still waiting for the optimum compressor for some acoustic instruments that doesn’t affect the quality of the sound.

For the lead vocals, I placed the singer on the floor so he was able to have good eye contact with all the members of the band. I prefer good tube mics, with a GML pre-amp on the floor. For compression, I’ll switch between a dbx 165a or a UREI with a GML or API equalizer.

I’ve been extremely satisfied recording like this recently, and am really enjoying live recording again.

Kevin Doyle has engineered recent projects for Shirley Eikhard, Harem Scarem and Lawrence Gowan, and is currently Head Engineer at D.A.V.E. (formerly Sounds Interchange)

Miking Pianos by George Semkiw

September 18th, 2002

When I mic a piano, I use omnidirectional mics. (Neumann KM56) and place them in the middle of the keyboards. The first mic is placed closer to the bass strings, the second mic is towards the higher strings. You may have to put some sponge around the mic stand to absorb the vibrations after closing the lid but close the lid totally. This gives me a very present piano sound which is not muddy – usually associated with cardioid microphones. When the lid is closed, it helps me keep the leakage (incoming leakage from other instruments) down to a minimum and still allows me to get a full ,present piano sound. If the piano has soft-actioned hammers, place mics closer to hammers; if the piano has a hard-actioned hammers, place mics closer to the hammers; if the piano has a hard-actioned hammer response, place the mics further away from the hammers.

Placement of mics should be done with individual taste in mind and with regards to how the piano actually sounds.

George Semkiw – producer/engineer (Lou Reed, Harry Belafonte, Johnnie Lovesin and The Sattalites).

Focus On The Mix by Tony Cre

September 18th, 2002

Good microphone techniques, understanding the frequency ranges of all the instruments involved and learning how to use processing equipment creatively and sparingly will help you achieve a good, full-sounding mix – but you must always have a focus to make it all gel.

The vocal or melody line is always the most important part of the music and should never be lost or buried in the mix. The other instruments, whether they be rich-sounding keyboards, searing horns or a driving rhythm section, are there to support the melody, but should not be lost or buried in the mix either. Remember, each instrument has its own space and place in the mix.

Tony Cre – live sound engineer (credits include Lee Aaron, The Spoons).

Revelations by Eugene Martynec

September 18th, 2002

I was doing electric guitar overdubs on the first Kensington Market album in the late sixties, and I was getting frustrated by my terrible guitar sound. I asked producer Felix Pappalardi (Felix was enjoying huge success with Cream at the time) how Eric Clapton got such a great sound. He said that they put a mic in front of his amp and he played. Simple!

He supplied most of that great sound. I later found out that this was the case with all good musicians, and that the studio was an enhancement tool, not an apology for poor listening habits from the musicians. Years later, I got a classic question: “Can you make me sound like Jimi Hendrix?”My retort was, “If you can play like him, we can certainly make you sound like him.”

Eugene Martynec – Juno Award-winning producer (credits include Bruce Cockburn, Edward Bear, Murray McLauchlan, Doug & the Slugs).

Quality Outboard Gear = Quality Sound Recording by Tom Cochrane

September 18th, 2002

I’m an equipment junkie! I like gear. I like vintage microphones. I love old Neve EQs, preamps and API’s. I enjoy collecting them the same way someone collects guitars. It’s a joy, it’s a thrill and it’s an inverstment. Gil Moore at MetalWorks is the same way. They took this old Neve board and modified it – they knew there were a lot of problems with that particular board and they worked around it. As a result, it’s a much more user-friendly piece of equipment – accessible, immediate. They made MetalWorks a great studio with that kind of approach.

Using pro mics and preamps, you know that when you lay it down to the ADAT it’s still going to have certain qualities that have been traditionally proven to work and sound great. If you are going to work in the digital domain, I think that it is important to balance that with a certain amount of tradition, and that’s where certain preamps and compressors come into play. I own three API lunchboxes, Neve, strips, LA-2A compressors and such. It gives me a thrill as an artist when I’ve chosen the right microphone for an application. To know that you’ve picked the right paintbrush, the right paints and the right approach and can hear that in the work – that’s a lot of fun.

Tom Cochrane, songwriter, artist, producer and home project studio owner. His latest release is Ragged Ass Road.

Building Song Structure and Vocals on Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill by Glen Ballard

September 18th, 2002

Basically we’d walk in [my studio] at one o’clock in the afternoon with nothing other than some vague ideas, and I would pick up a guitar and head out on some sort of harmonic territory. She (Alanis Morissette) would start scribbling lyrics and singing ideas and I would start scribbling lyrics and singing ideas and I would go to a chord change, and if that felt good, we’d have two chords and maybe a bit of a melody, and then it was built ‘brick-by-brick’, kind of that way. In almost every case, eight, maybe ten hours later, we would have a song.

At that point, I would immediately record a track as fast as I could because I was programming as we went, after we had the guitar harmonic and melodic structure there. I had samples and loops and drum patterns that I would program in and immediately put it on tape, and it was usually no more than an hour of recording. It would be the basic track on tape.

I would play guitar on a couple of tracks and she would sing it, and it was usually once, sometimes twice. I can’t think of a time where we punched in. And I would be amazed.

I would look up and it would be an incredible take, and I was praying that I got it on tape. It was the sort of thing where, fortunately, I know my room well enough where I don’t need a lot of warm-up time on the mic. I’m using an AKG C12 vintage tube mic from the 50’s, which sounds fabulous on her voice, and I was going into a Demeter pre-amp. From the Demeter, I would go into an LA-2A tube limiter and straight to tape. I was not going through the Euphonix console, and a lot of what I recorded was on ADATs.

Glen Ballard, Encino, California-based producer and co-writer of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album.

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