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Sound Advice

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.

Scoring From Film: The Essential Tools by Mychael Danna

September 18th, 2002

The equipment I use for basic scoring is a VHS stereo tape deck with audio timecode on one side and a stereo VCR. I turn it into MIDI timecode on an Atari computer running Cubase coupled with a Fostex G16S multitrack recorder. I simply plug the output from the timecode track directly into the Fostex, and it turns it into SMPTE timecode. A MIDI cable runs from the recorder into the computer. One audio cord and one MIDI cord and you have your keyboard setup also MIDIed right into your computer! I’ve scored films without any kind of locking at all – it is possible to do. You get good at using the pause and play on the VCR; you then stack on keyboards and samplers.

I use a 24-channel Mackie 8 Bus console and it’s a beautiful thing. I like old keyboards, and old grungy low-fi and crunchy effects. I have an old Lexicon Primetime and it’s a dirty piece of gear. I also have a Quantec reverb, very warm and thick, which is fairly hard to find. I have lots of high-end equipment too, like my Roland S750 sampler, so I can get bright and shiny when I need it. I have old modular keyboards and I have a few newer digital ones. I use Genelec 1031 self-powered speakers and the amp is matched for the speakers. They’re beautiful. A big pretentious leather chair is a must, as is a portable DAT, because I love to travel and collect bizarre sounds from strange countries and temples. The Casio DAR100 is very small and the microphone I use is small and lovly – the Audio-Technica AT822 is good for hiding when walking into temples when you’re not supposed to be recording!

Anyone can score film and television. Start by finding a student filmmaker and get him or her to provide you with footage on VHS and away you go. You can only learn by doing it.

Mychael Danna, film and television scorer, credits include Atom Egoyan’s Family Viewing and the award-winning Exotica. His current project is North of Niagara, an album that highlights the environmental sounds of the Bruce Trail.

Mixing Board Dusting by Phil Stevens

September 18th, 2002

My favourite method is the two-fisted approach: In one hand is a 4″ natural-bristle paintbrush, and in the other is the crevice tool of my trusty vac-u-suck. Keep the two close together so that anything dislodged or stirred up by the bruch is immediately dispatched by the nozzle o’doom.

Phil Stevens, mudshark@euphoria.org, Crash Landing Productions, Inc. Tucson, Arizona.

Keeping Snare Subtleties In The Mix by Ken Friesen

August 18th, 2002

When working with a track on which the drummer is using both hands on the snare drum, you may notice that many of the subtleties are lost in the mix.

This can be overcome by splitting the tape return to two rails. Tweak the first one to make the hit on the beat (typically the loudest one) sound right.

Apply some serious limiting to the other channel (I prefer a UREI 1176) until that loudest hit is squashed and the rest is unaffected. Equalize to taste and blend the ingredients until all is audible. This process allows those subtleties to shine without losing any of the crisp transients.

Ken Friesen, Lakeside Recording, Clayton, ON.

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.


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