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Sound Advice

Toys Vs. Tunes by Avery Tanner

August 18th, 2002

We are all looking for the tools needed to make better recordings, and there has been a lot of excitement over affordable digital multitracks. I’ve heard people say that this equipment will put pro studios out of business.

What these people seem to be assuming, is that they will be able to make great recordings at home purely by virtue of the equipment used. Granted, the better the quality, the easier it is to get results, but people make music – not machines. Drum machines supply fabulous drum sounds at the touch of a button – yet, we’ve all heard some awful program. Digital effects supply great reverbs for a small investment. Remember though, thousands of other people are recording in the same “virtual room” as you are. Use some imagination or your recording may seem dull because we’ve heard “that sound” before. There is no substitute for the real thing and no shortcuts around the work needed to create excellence. The old fundamentals still apply. The right microphone on the right instrument in the right place is still the only place to start. No matter what machine you record on, it can only (hopefully) give back what you put into it. Remember, garbage in – garbage out. Don’t get me wrong – I love my toys, but they are only a means to an end.

Avery Tanner – Owner/Producer, Wolf Trax Audio Productions, Toronto, ON. Credits include The Swinging Gurus, Big Rude Jake and the Gentlemen Players and Cool Congress.

Take 5 by Danny Crain

July 18th, 2002

“I was wondering how to go about making a tape …” Ever hear that one? Believe it or not, I haven’t grown tired of answering that question.

There are a lot of first-timers out there, and some of them are going to come through and become good clients and excellent word-of-mouth advertisers. Five minutes of patient conversation on their level, briefly guiding them through the steps, will score serious brownie points. Send them a polished info pack ,set up a studio tour, and you’ve probably got the job. Sure you have to know how to work those toys and keep on top of the happenin’ techniques, but a little personality never hurt any studio. It’s like the tape on any reel to reel machine: what goes around comes around. By the way, I have become tired of “Yeah, I’ve got this tape and I was wondering if you guys could take out the voices …”

Danny Crain – Engineer/Producer, Outreach Productions, Keswick Ridge, NB.

Hearing Frequencies by Rob Patterson

July 18th, 2002

Making a live set-up sound good may have as much to do with your ears as it does with the room.

We have 2 all heard feedback at one time or another, but did we know what frequency was ringing? I’m sure almost all guitarists know that the A above middle C is 440Hz, but not everyone knows what frequency the next A going up the scale is. You guessed it, 880 Hz. With a little experimenting and some simple math, I’m sure most people will be able to guess at least in the ballpark of what frequency is sounding off. For those sound engineers who think they have perfect pitch (if that exists), here’s a way to find the frequency of a specific note: Multiplying the frequency of any known note (ie: A 440 Hz) by 1.059546 will give you the frequency of the next note up the scale (A# 466.2 Hz). Here’s the point to all this – getting to know your frequencies just by hearing them will take some of the guess work out of your EQing. Use any instrument you can get your hands on to give you sound to experiment with (even if it is controlled feedback). I’ve included the math as it might answer some of those questions you thought were too stupid to ask. By the way … what is a one-third octave EQ anyway?

Rob Patterson – freelance sound engineer and MIDI programmer, Toronto, ON

Making Babies by Paul D. Bauman

July 18th, 2002

Manufacturing – a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it. Somebody has to make all of those fun toys for audio engineers to play with and for people to be entertained by.

But coming out with a new product can be difficult and challenging process, much akin to giving birth – the spark of an idea or identification of a need (inspiration?); a gestation period (design); labour (struggling with a prototype and shaking out the bugs – perspiration); nurturing (going into acutal production); then raising the child to maturity (dealing with production, component supply and quality control).

You might get the idea that there’s a busy bunch of seriously pregnant engineers out there! I’m proud to be a part of the process here at Adamson, where at the moment we’re in various stages of nurturing, raising, and proud parenthood. And as a distracted new product papa, I offer my apologies as this is normally a tips and advice column. To be honest, I don’t have any advice right now – I’ve been too busy with the kids to be able to tell you what to do with them! One important thing, though. Never under any uncertain terms, lend your car keys to a 1000 watt loudspeaker on a Saturday night.

Paul D. Bauman – Chief Engineer, Adamson Acoustic Design Corporation, Pickering, ON.

I Can’t Hear The Words by John Carr

July 18th, 2002

I’ve often experienced artists who come in for a recording project and are producing it themselves or bringing in their own engineer. They have done their homework, the tracks are hot and the songs sound very good; but it’s the mixdown mode I’d like to zero in on here.

They have written exciting material; they have rehearsed it well and recorded it, yet I find when mixing they invariably all seem to let the lead vocals sit well down in the mix. As the writers, they know what the song is saying “I can’t hear what’s being said (or sung).” Basically the song has been lost if it stays that way.

If an A&R rep or publisher hears it like that, they’ll say the same thing too.
Always try to put your best foot forward. Be open to suggestions and, above all, take the time necessary to achieve your goals.

John Carr – Owner/Manager, Street Brothers, Toronto, ON

‘MONO’ Is a Four-Letter Word by Eric Abrahams

July 18th, 2002

Long after some Einstein engineer figured out that music sounds better coming out of two speakers rather than one, and someone else discovered the pan pot, the dinosaur known as ‘mono’ insists on existing. Virtually all the blame for this can be placed on A.M. radio, Ford half-tons, and television, with their shitty litle 3″ speakers. As a result, engineers still have to ensure that their mixes are mono-compatible and that half of the instrumentation doesn’t fall out when mono is pressed.

I have always found the biggest culprit to be multiple miking techniques on pianos, guitar cabinets, and the like. Although it is virtually impossible to determine if your mic placement is phase coherent before actually listening to it, a little planning and common sense can go a long way towards minimizing Tylenol intake.

If, for example, the idea is to produce a stereo image from a single guitar cabinet, a pair of mics is obviously required. since increaded distance from the edge of the speaker cone decreases bass response, setting up a stereo configuration in the middle of the front of the cone isn’t going to do it, unless the desired sound is thin. If one micgets moved to a placement, say 2″ in from the edge of the cabinet, 1/2″ away from the grille, and a foot above the floor, set the other mic up as a mirror image on the other edge of the cabinet. Instant Phase-Coherent Microphone Placement, Just Add Level. At such close distances to a source, a small movement results in a largephase shift. If one microphone is 1″ away and the other is 2″, it takes the sound twice as long to reach the second mic as it does the first, and there is a 180 degree phase shift – perfect cancellation – at 6600 Hz, the frequencywhose wavelength is 2″. This should also be remembered for subsequent overdubs. If the original bed track guitar was done with the two mics 2″ away from the speaker, and, at a later time, the guitarist doubled his rhythm part but the pair of mics was 4″ away this time, each of the stereo guitars on tape will be phase-coherent within themselves but not together. This time, the problem will occur at about 3300 Hz., a 4″ wave-length. Isn’t modern technology wonderful? Engineers will be haunted with this until mono is abolished and North America catches up with Japan in the TV department. Pray it will happen soon.

Wouldn’t mixing be so much easier if we ahd just one ear in the middle of our foreheads? But, then again, we’d look pretty silly talking on the phone.

Eric Abrahams – Head Engineer, Cherry Beach Sound, Toronto, ON. (Credits include: Kim Mitchell, Trash Gallery, Roxy Lane, Russian Blue, Dreamer, Nicola Vaughan, Angel Marr.)


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