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Sound Advice

Revelations by Eugene Martynec

July 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 the 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 (now represented by SRO Management in Toronto); Instructor at Harris Institute for the Arts, Toronto. (Credits include: Bruce Cockburn, Edward Bear, Murray McLauchlan, Doug & the Slugs)

Stereo Imaging by Neil Muncy

July 18th, 2002

Just about everyone uses “nearfield” monitors. While most of these little speakers are amazingly rugged, every so often a problem will develop which affects the stereo image. Good imaging requires matched speakers. If you think you are having imaging problems, or just want to see how well matched your nearfields are, here’s what you can do to test them using only a piece of wire, your ears, and a blanket!

Make a “Y” cable, so that you can feed both speakers from the same power amplifier channel. Connect the speakers, making sure you observe the same polarity for both. Position the speakers on the console so that they form an equilateral triangle with your seated position. Orient the speaker cabinets so that the tweeters are above the woofers. Start the music, and find the centre using your ears. If both speakers are well matched, you should sense that all of the sound is coming from the midpoint between two speakers. Then, to reduce reflections, cover the control surface of the console with a thick blanket. The image should get even tighter and more centred. Next, turn the two speakers so that the drivers are facing each other, and move them together so that they are as close as possible. You should hear a slight increase in sound output. Now reverse the connection to one speaker. There should be a dramatic drop in sound, with all of the low frequencies, and most of the highs, completely missing. If there is any substantial soudn remaining, there is something wrong with one or both speakers. (This test assumes that the drivers are mounted one directly above the other, or that the cabinets are sold in mirror-image pairs).

If your speakers fail these tests, comparing each one individually with another unit which is known to be good shoudl pinpoint the defective unit. If your speakers pass these tests, but the imaging is still “off” under normal conditions, chances are that there is an electrical problem somewhere in the monitor chain, and it may be time to call your maintenance technician.

Neil Muncy – Neil Mancy Associates, Ltd., Consultants in Electroacoustic Systems, Scarborough, ON

Naked Lunch Drums by Peter J. Moore

July 18th, 2002

The search for amazing spaces for “real sounds” has led me to another discovery. The movie set for Naked Lunch has just pulled out of the “Munitions Bunker” beside Cherry
Beach sound studios. I was snooping around and looked at the ceiling structure; fantastic! Next I brought in drums and tested my theory. Yep, the best darn drum sounds I’ve heard in a long time. I told the owner Carman, that he should put the tie lines between the space and his CF750 control room. This he did in time for my next project which was a great success. I found out that the Kim Mitchell project also feld the same way for their drum sounds. Let’s hear it for real reverb.

Peter J. Moore – DI Productions, Toronto, ON (Credits include: Cowboy Junkies, The Silos, Lucinda Williams, Holly Cole, Swamp Baby, Pat Temple, The Corn Dogs, T.S.O. and M.S.O.)

Problem Vocalist? by Richard Chycki

July 18th, 2002

Paranoid, uncomfortable vocalist in the studio? Bad news because, as a producer, the responsibility falls on you to coax good product from him/her. If they don’t like headphones, throw a pair of Auratones up out of phase and put the mic in the “out of phase” null. Easy enough, but what if the vocalist doesn’t like singing into one of those big, cold studio mics but favours that ubiquitous SM57.

Relax, digital breath. Patch in both your handheld and your studio condenser mics. Make a deal with the singer that he/she can use their ol’ fave but you’ll want your mic nearby (get it in writing and try to take their publishing at the same time with a little fancy small print – invisible ink does wonders here!). Allow the vocalist to monitor the handheld – you monitor and record the studio mic which, in use, should still be on vocal axis but probably a little farther away than a normal vocal overdub session.
The relaxed attitude and resultant increase in productivity of the vocalist more than makes up for the slight compromise in studio mic distance. As long as room relativity is low, and your vocalist doesn’t get too aerobic during the session, you should have few problems.

Richard Chycki – Freelance Engineer/Producer in Toronto

Keep That Mix Under Control by Rob Porter

July 18th, 2002

When mixing, combining different treatments of the same track gives more control. I often split my snare track to two channels – one channel slightly gated (3-10 dB attenuation – long decay) resulting in a natural sounding drum which feeds reverbs nicely. The second channel I very tightly gate (60 dB attenuation – short decay) followed by a dbx 160 compressor (4:1 ratio 8-10 dB gain reductino) with lots of 60 Hz EQ added. I use channel two dial in the impact portion of the sound so that the drum still sounds BIG on small speakers or radio.

Rob Porter – Engineer, Mushroom Studios, Vancouver, BC (Barney Bentall & The Legendary, Love & Sass, Lava Hay, Mae Moore)

Be Prepared! by David Mack

July 18th, 2002

If you are contracted to compose a score for acoustic instruments, be prepared! Before you enter the recording studio, keep in mind that time spent in the studio will be a great deal of money. To prepare for the recording date make sure your scores are coherent both to yourself and to someone who may be assisting you. Don’t get caught off-guard with the wrong transpositions, unplayable parts, i.e. ranges, etc., and unreadable parts. Studio musicians are great sight readers and to maximize your hard work and their talents, take the time to make each part crystal clear. Plan. Highly complex rhythmic features and electrifying runs may take more time to sort out in the rehearsal than they contribute to the overall effect. Use them, but make sure they work!

The film cue may end up being a wonderful lconcert piece but risks being overwritten for the intent of the cue. Before writing, examine what each cue requires, and save your resources until you really need them!

David Mack – Composer of film and concert music; graduate of the University of Southern California’s Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television in Los Angeles.

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