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Sound Advice

Recording Vocals Without Headphones? by George Kourounis

August 18th, 2002

What? Is he crazy? You can’t record vocals without headphones! That would be absurd… Well, why not? Once you know the rules then you can start to break them – and anyway, some singers hate wearing them.

First of all, yes, it is easier to record vocal tracks while the singer is wearing headphones because you have more control over the recording environment. Dealing with things such as feedback, headphone leakage and communications with the control room are much easier when the singer has a pair of cans strpped to the side of his head. But there are other ways to record singers that may be less ‘orthodox’, but worth experimenting with.

Set up your vocal mic as you normally would, but instead of using headphones, use the studio speakers for you audio playback. Don’t send much (or any) vocals through the cue feed in order to revent feedback and adjust the volume of the speakers so that the singer can hear himself and is comfortable with the level. Now what you need to do is set up another microphone and point it away from the vocalist towards the studio speakers. This mic is there to pick up the sound of the speakers, which is basically the same as the unwanted leakage entering our vocal mic. Once in the control room, take the signal from the second microphone, invert its phase by 180 degrees and combine it with your vocal signal. This will cause your leakage to cancel itself out, leaving you with your original voice… sans leakage.

Granted, this technique is not foolproof and you definitely wouldn’t want to use it on every session, but you’d be surprised at how good the raw sound can be. Also, since many singers don’t like the unnatural sensation of singing with headphones on, this is a viable alternative. After all, most singers don’t practice with headphones on, at least the ones I know.

George Kourounis, Recording Engineer & Studio Instructor – Trebas Institute

Recording Electric Guitar Feedback by George Kourounis

August 18th, 2002

The sound of a piercing, overdriven guitar on the brink of feeding back into a chaotic, sonic assault is music to many people’s ears. To some, it means early eviction from their apartment and disturbing the peace charges. Nevertheless, recording electric guitar feedback can be a challenging endeavour due to the unique nature of the sound source.

The usual method of obtaining feedback from an electric guitar is to position the player in close proximity to their amplifier and turn it up to 11. The sound from the amp is loud enough to enter the guitar and gets amplified again, exiting the amp’s speakers and cousing a feedback loop. It is often difficult for the guitarist to control the feedback because he/she has to find the exact spot to aim the guitar in order to get a rich,, useable feedback tone without causing screeching howling. It is this unpredictable tendency that makes feedback tricky to record.

One thing that you might want to try is riding your level to tape. If you are manually riding your record levels, then you have the option of fading the feedback in and out, thus eliminating extraneous thuds, squeaks and ringing open strings which tend to pollute your tracks and are nearly impossible to scrub out later. It also allows you to vary the quitar’s levels to suit the mood of the song. This all might sound obvious, but it’s the little things that separate the good recordings from the great ones.

Also, in order to get the guitar to feed back properly, the amplifier must be set to rather high volume. Now, because the guitarist needs tobe close to the amp, his/her headphones need to be loud enough in order for them to actually hear the song that they’re playing to. You could just crank up the headphone feed and hope you don’t kill anyone, or you could give them a pair of earplugs to wear. The earplugs will bring the volume down to a bearable level so that your player doesn’t go deaf while recording those feedback-soaked solos.

George Kourounis, Studio Instructor, Trebas Institute.

AudioNet

August 18th, 2002

This tidbit of audio humour comes from the rec.audio.pro newsgroup’s “Canonical List of Light Bulb Jokes”. You can access this Usenet group through the Internet of a variety of online communications services – it’s also a great place to pick up audio tips and pose questions to your peers.

Q: How many audio engineers does it take to change a light bulb?

A1: It’s in the manual. Didn’t you read the manual?
A2: If you just turn the other dimmers down a bit, the client won’t even notice that the bulb has gone out.
A3: There is NO scientific difference between your olod bulb and the new one, and anyone who tells you otherwise is peddling snake oil.
A4: Two. One to operate the dimmer and one to say, “A little too bright. Turn it down.”
A5: If you use 110-ohm balanced line in your lamps, you can go for dozens of generations without changing.
A6: Three, if the bulb has poor off-axis response.
A7: Light bulb…? You’re still using those?
A8: One, two, one, two…is this thing on?
A9: I don’t know; how many engineers did it take at (rival studio)?
A10: None. Since it’s analog, leave it broken and replace it with the latest digital bulb from Alesis.
A11: None – they’ll just fix it in the mix.

Shipping Goods to the U.S. for Repair

August 18th, 2002

Shipping goods to the U.S. for repair is really a straightforward matter. Here, you will have two types of entries; the first being a U.S. Returned Goods Entry; and the second a Canadian B3 type entry. Any time you have goods coming back into Canada that have the Commercial Invoice and the Bill of Lading before the goods leave Canada.

By presenting the Commercial Invoice and the Bill of Lading to Customs when you return to Canada, you will be showing Customs that the goods originally left Canada and are now returning. This will avoid you paying duty and taxes on goods that have already been duty and tax paid.

One note about duty and taxes: in this scenario, if the goods are going back to the U.S. to be repaired under a warranty, then they are duty free and G.S.T. exempt when they come back into Canada. If, however, they are being repaired in the U.S. but are not under warranty, the value of the repair must be listed on the Commercial Invoice that accompanies the goods and this value is dutiable and G.S.T. applicable at the rate belonging to that commodity. Repaired under warranty or nonwarranty should be written on the Commercial Invoice.

One more note about duty and taxes – if the good is damaged beyond repair and is replaced free of charge under warranty, you will have to pay the full amount of duties and taxes for the new product. Don’t worry – you can appply for a refund of the duties you paid on the original “defective” product. Your broker can help you with your duties back in the form of a refund claim to Canada Customs.

Clean & Accurate Tracks & Sheets by James Stewart

August 18th, 2002

I can’t remember how many times a project has come to me to be mexed and I must spend one or two hours deciphering track sheets with illegible scratch or nothing written on them at all. Time that could be spent getting a mix up is spent checking tracks with no notes or searching for that elusive solo that is “here somewhere”!

I get the feeling that some engineers who track a project automatically figure that they will be the one who mixis it. Wrong!

Some people think that we can fix it in the mix and believe me, I’ve heard that one too many times. What’s the big deal about being concise? I think that it comes down to who or where these individuals were trained. Weren’t they told how important accurate track sheets and notes are to the session, or don’t they care?

Another thing that bugs me about some engineers is the sonic integrity of their sounds (i.e., snares, kicks, etc. – “we’ll replace it with a sample”), and how about bad punches (thumps or clicks) or different EQ on a vocal, for instance? Obviously vocals are kind of important and they need to be heard, right? Well, if the person who recorded these tracks doesn’t really care, or can’t hear that the punch on the second verse sounds different that the first verse, then they are in the wrong business. Integrity while tracking is vital to the end result. Make a note when you get that slammin’ guitar sound – not just EQ, but note what mics, pre amp, compressor, limiter, etc. were used. You never know when the producer or artist may want to fix a line or replace the out chorus, and if the sound isn’t the same I will be spending an extremely long time trying to match the sounds from before the punch to after the fix!

Regardless of the fact that console automation allows us the freedom to mute, duck, ride, fade, etc., it still doesn’t allow us to forget that tracks that aren’t clean are a pain in the butt. Once again I have witnessed firsthand backing vocal tracks with crap all over them that should have been cleaned before the album was sent out to mix. All it takes is a conscientious and caring knob twiddler to spend an extra half hour or so after tracking has stopped to check for extraneous noise or garbage that is irrelevant to the final outcome. Remember, the most important stage of a project is the recording. It’s not that I want life to be less than a challenge, but please keep everything in order – both on paper and on tape.

James Stewart, Chief Engineer, Reaction Studios

Organizational Tips for the MIDI Composer by Amin Bhatia

August 18th, 2002

Spend at least a day on finding and organizing your sounds, before you start writing, no matter how rushed the project or demo deadline is. By defining your virtual band or orchestra beforehand, you’ll write more coherently because you’ll know who your ‘players’ are. It also reduces those futile trips to the editor/librarian in the middle of your writing… we all know that never works!

As the one-man composer/engineer generation continues, you should never underestimate the value of another set of ears. Even though budgets may be tight, having another producer/engineer on your project, even if it’s only at the mastering stage, is still worth the dough.

Amin Bhatia, Film composer, Bhatia Music

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