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Sound Advice

Monitoring Volume by George Kourounis

August 18th, 2002

How many times have you been working on a mix with the speakers cranked up, the bass is pounding and it sounds great, only to listen back to it later at a lower volume and to your dismay, most of your bass has disappeared and your mix now sounds limp and thin. This phenomenon is common and it has to do with how the human ear perceives sound at different volumes. Humans don’t hear every frequency with the same intensity (for the benefit of those of you who don’t know, the frequency response of our ears is commonly referred to as the Equal Loudness Contour). In a nutshell, it shows us that it takes far higher levels for very low and high frequecies to sound as loud as midrange frequencies, and that our hearing is most sensitive to frequencies from about 2 kHz – 5 kHz.

Great, but how does this affect the quality of your mixdown?

Just as the frequency response of you speakers plays an important role in how your mix sounds, so does the frequency response of your ears. For example: If you are mixing at 50dB SPL (sound pressure level), a tone of 30 Hz will need to be about 30dB louder than a 1 kHz tone in order for the two tones to sound the same perceived volume to you. Therefore, you may want to turn up the bass frequencies in your mix. When you isten back to it later at a lower volume, the bass will be overpowering. This also works if you monitor too loud. Since we hear low and high frequencies better at higher volumes, you might think that there is enough bass and treble when mixing, only to hear it disappear at lower volume settings.

So how loud should you mix? Well, an industry standard of 85dB SPL has been aopted in order to keep your overall frequency balance as constant as possible at different volumes.It is loud enough to be able to hear the lows and highs clearly, but not too loud so as to trick your mind into thinking that the bass is excessive. Some studios use a hand-held meter that the engineer can use to measure the sound pressure level. If you don’t have one, the volume of most movie theatres is about 85dB, so close your eyes and imagine you are at the moies and set your monitor volume accordingly. I can almost smell the popcorn now . . .

George Kourounis, Instructor, Sound & Recording Techniques, Trebas Institute.

Flute Miking by Mark Karaman

August 18th, 2002

If you want a really really good flute mic, try the LCM-70 from SD Systems, Holland. It has excellent gain before feedback, and more importantly, picks up the flute like . . . a flute! And, it mixes well.

Considering mic placement along the flute (assuming that you’re not doing a classical recording), it mounts near the head joint.

If the flutist has a breathing problem, either a loud, gasping inhale; nose noise; or an airy tone (and you don’t like it); then move the mic as far from the head joint as possible. Many recordists have gone over the flutist’s head and behind with a condenser.

Classical recording is another matter. The room rules. Distance is your friend. A flutist that moves (especially twists) can be a problem, since the flute sound field is noticeably asymmetrical.

Mark Karaman, mkaraman@adio.com

The Old Oscillator In The Bass Drum Trick by George Kourounis

August 18th, 2002

Have you ever found yourself in the situation that you are mixing a song and the bass drum has no bottom end, sort of like it is being hit by a limp lasagna noodle? Well, one often-used technique to beef up the sound of your drum kit is what I call “the old oscillator in the bass drum trick”. No, it does not involve disconnecting a tone generator and placing it inside the drum itself.

Trying to boost the bass with an EQ doesn’t always work, especially if there is not much low end to begin with. So, what we need to do is to add some bass of our own to the sound. All you need is an oscillator with a sweepable frequency control, one extra input on your mixer and a noise gate with an external key input.

First, patch the output of the oscillator to the input of the noise gate and then take the output of the gate and return it on a spare input of your mixing console. Take the bass drum track and split it so that the original drum sound is continuing to come up on its own console input and also is going to the key input of the gate. This allows the gate to open and close in response to the bass drum, but instead of gating the drums, it is gating the oscillator tone. Now, every time the drummer hits the bass drum, the oscillator will sound. Set the tone to something very low, below 50 Hz or so. Definitely experiment with this as it will depend on how much help the drums need, the style of music, and even what key the song is in. By adjusting the gate settings, tone frequency and blend of bass drum/tone, you can come up with all kinds of really cool sounds. Just keep your ears open.

George Kourounis, Instructor, Sound & Recording Techniques, Trebas Institute.

Understanding the Concept of Non-Linear by Dave Beckford

August 18th, 2002

The key to knowing what goes on in a digital suite comes down to the understanding of one concept – non-linear. What this means is that when music is loaded onto the computer, any point of the program can be accessed instantaneously. Skipping tracks on a CD compared to winding tape would be the example here. (I know, this is real basis for most of you folks, but the applications of this principle get pretty funky).

ProTools manages this non-linear access capability with a system called regions. A region is a software defined range that tells the computer where to start accessing the drive and where to stop. Regions can be defined manyally during playback and tightened up visually by zooming in on the sound waveforms (up to 1/44,000 accuracy).

In editing sound, there are two really great advantages to this way of working. The first is that you see exactly what the sound is doing. Being able to zoom in on the kick drum transient to see exactly where it starts at 1/1000th second accuracy is a far cry from this grease pencil and reel crap. Second of all, since you are working with software regions as opposed to sound itself, everything is non-destructive. Want a four bar intro instead of eight? No problem. Change your mind? No problem. Can’t decide and want it both ways? No problem! Since the region information is separate from the sound data, it is possible to have multiple edit versions of your song without effecting any of the original program. Try that, you nanowebering, phase aligning, tone striping reel boy? Watch those hands while you’re rewinding – you might cut your fingers off!

Dave Beckford, Digital Editor, Munition Factory

Recording The Acoustic Guitar As Lead Instrument by Don Ross

August 18th, 2002

After too many frustrating experiences in my formative recording and performing years trying to be heard, I’ve learned a few tricks on how to deal with the lost-in-the-mix’ problem.

Every song on my new album for Columbia/Sony, This Dragon Won’t Sleep, was recorded on 2″ analog tape on a Sony 24-track machine – even the solo guitar tunes. I decided to record the guitar. My live setup involves running my Lowden through a piezo transducer (made by John Larocque at Ring Music in Toronto, ON) in combination with a Sunrise magnetic soundhole pickup. I run the piezo through a T.C. Electronics pre-amp and straight to the board, whereas the Sunrise runs through a T.C. dual parametric EQ (where I cut out all the highs – the magnetic simply acts as a bass booster).

In the studio, I used these sounds minimally in combination with good quality mics (usually Neumanns) in front of the instrument. I always had the option of using some (or none) of the electronic signals from the guitar, which came in handy during some of the beefier arrangements.

Overall, our philosophy was to keep the record sounding as natural’ as possible by avoiding the easy trap of oversoing it with outboard effects. Despite the fact that Gary (Furniss, Sony’s chief studio engineer) sometimes had all but the proverbial kitchen sink patched into the mix, the sound is still very live’ – none of your Kenny G million-miles-of-reverb here! The other nice thing about not killing a recording with effects is that the music is listenable at every volume level, without any loss of detail. Effects have a tendency to date’ a recording. In five or ten years, when all technology changes, reliance on what seems like a groovy effect at the time can really render the album quaint’ down the road (sort of like listening to old records in fake stereo, or with reverb springs overloaded and pinging’ with the singer’s P’s and T’s). Of course, the flipside is that twenty years down the road, the old technology that sounded so crummy becomes all the rage again. I promise, though, that I’ll never put a phase-shifted Rhodes on any of my records! I prefer albums that are timesless, ones that sound as if they could have been recorded last week, no matter how old they are.

Don Ross, composer/producer, Columbia/Sony recording artist and U.S. national Fingerstyle Guitar Champion (1988). Has performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and composed music for numerous television, radio and theatrical scores.

Live-Off-The-Floor Recording by Glen Reely

August 18th, 2002

For Smiling Buddha Cabaret, we’d demoed a bunch of songs, then the band went into the studio with Don Smith. After the recording, the consensus with the band and the management was that the demos had…magic, the attitude that wasn’t on the studio stuff. They decided to go with the original recordings, against all odds. Thank God they did!

It was very live-off-the-floor, a lot of first take stuff. Some of the lyrics were just done on the spot! The actual recording’s done through a Mackie 32 8-bus console into three ADATs with a BRC. The real trick is the monitor setup, which is a mirror of the equipment on 54-40’s live stage. All the band’s mics go into a Peavey 16×16 monitor board (model MD Monitor), and from there we take individual feeds into the recording board.

We baffle the drums sometimes, and the guitar amps, but you have to keep eye contact among the band. Basically, it’s all in the same room – no isolation – and the monitor is loud as hell. Still, I can play people the tapes and solo the overhead mics, and they’re amazed at how minimal the leakage is. Neil has a great sound with an Audio Technica AT4031 – a three hundred dollar mic; sounds great! We put that through an Alesis compressor for deessing, with a Boss EQ in the side chain. We put on a regular pop filter, and that setup seems to enhance the intelligibility of the vocals.

You do sacrifice the room sound, obviously, so sometimes I’ll take a track, feed it out through a monitor into a live room., then record the amience and add it in later.

Glen Reely, recording/live engineer for 54-40. Credit include their recent album, Smiling Buddha Cabaret.

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