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Sound Advice

Amplifying Orchestral Instruments At Rock Concert Levels Part 2 By Peter Janis

August 2nd, 2013

Part 1 of this article was published in the June 2013 issue of Professional Sound.


A piezo is a contact pickup that captures the vibration of the instrument. It is typically connected to a preamp of sorts and the signal is processed like a microphone. But anyone who has tried a piezo pickup will tell you that, for the most part, they do not sound all that great. They tend to sound peaky, and with violin, they can sound shrill. The problem is not so much the piezo transducer, but the way it is loaded.

During our research, we discovered that when you apply the typical load of a mixing console – say 10 k-ohms – on a piezo, it causes the bass and high frequencies to roll off, narrowing the response, and generates peaks in the mid-range. As you increase the load, it begins to flatten out. For years, electronic manufacturers have employed a one-size-fits-all 1 m-ohm input impedance as a means to satisfy as many sources as possible. As the impedance rises above 4 m-ohms, the response extends and flattens out further and seems to really sound great at around 10 meg-ohms.
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K-System v2: A Proposed Loudness Metering Standard For Music Production By Frank Lockwood

June 7th, 2013

Where do music productions fit into discussions about loudness standards for broadcast? How loud should music producers and mastering engineers be making their tracks?

Broadcast loudness standards and the Sound Check feature found in
Apple’s iTunes software could effectively end the loudness war. There is
simply no value in attempting to make a song louder than any other since all
tracks will be adjusted to a standard level automatically. Hyper-compression
just robs music of its natural transients, excitement, and impact.
There is also the true peak level. As more music is distributed in the
form of data reduced files, more headroom is needed to avoid clipping
distortion following conversion to data-reduced formats. Apple’s “Mastered
for iTunes” initiative requests that all 96 kHz/24-bit uncompressed files submitted never exceed a maximum peak level of -1 dB true peak. The writing is on the wall; the world must back off the loudness. The question is, can we? Making everything loud is addictive. If we don’t, there’s the fear that clients will abandon us, that our work won’t stand out, that
others will judge us for not being competitive. But is there an alternative to going cold turkey? I think there is.
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Amplifying Orchestral Instruments At Rock Concert Levels Pt. 1 By Peter Janis

June 7th, 2013

One of the most challenging tasks ever confronted by an audio engineer is amplifying
orchestral instruments on a loud stage. Problems abound, including bleed, resonance, feedback, and frustration! To solve the problem, one must first understand the environment and then deal with the challenges

When in a “classical” concert hall, orchestral instruments such as violin, cello, or upright are
usually miked using an omni-directional condenser microphone. Omnis are particularly effective at producing a natural sound as they do not focus their attention on a particular area of the instrument, but capture a larger area that includes the bow, strings, F-holes, and so on. During classical concerts, feedback problems are usually not a concern as the PA system is only used for “sound reinforcement” and SPLs rarely exceed 90dB.

Problems set in when the rock band hits the stage. Drums, electric guitars, and bass generate significant SPLs that in turn must be compensated for by turning up wedge monitors. The sound generated by the orchestral instruments is lost. To compensate, one can either try close
miking the instrument using a directional cardioid microphone that attaches to the instrument or some form of piezo pickup. The cardioid microphone can work reasonably well but is not without issues. A directional mic only captures the sound from a specific area which may or may not sound right and will inevitably pick up sounds from adjacent instruments, the PA system, and the fold-back monitors. In order to hear themselves on stage, the violins
ask for more sound from the wedge monitors and next thing you know, feedback problems set in. Things can get even worse when playing outdoors: feedback due to room acoustics is replaced by wind noise, sound pressures are
increased due to lack of room acoustics, and this often pushes engineers to use alternatives such as piezo electric transducers.
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Developing A Sonic Vision By Ryan McCambridge

April 17th, 2013

If an artist’s job is to have an artistic vision of the music they create, then it is a producer’s job to realize that vision through a “sonic vision” of the project. When starting out, many young producers and engineers don’t know what they’re listening for or even when a particular instrument sounds good for its purpose. Having a vision for a project is impossible without training this awareness.

The first step to developing these sonic judgment skills is to listen to as much music as possible. Make sure to engage in active listening, which means analyzing each instrument while making notes on their sonic qualities. The range of difference in how an instrument can sound is quite vast, which can only be fully appreciated by listening to many genres. Here are some questions about common instruments that will help prompt your analysis:

PS Sound Advice Ryan McCambridge• KICK DRUM – Is the overall sound soft or hard? How much point and sub is there? Is there boxiness to the sound?
• SNARE DRUM – Is it tuned high or low? How much crack and fullness is there? Is the amount of ring acceptable? Does it sound airy?
• TOMS – Are they tuned in pleasing intervals? Do they sound full or papery? Is there a lot of attack to them? How long do they ring out?
• DRUM OVERHEADS – Do they give a good overall image of the drum kit? Are the drums within the kit aligning with their close mics?
• BASS – Is the overall sound aggressive or tubby? Does it sound higher or lower than the kick drum in overall frequencies? How much attack, growl, and sub is there?
• ELECTRIC GUITARS – In the spectrum of clean to distorted, where do they sit? How bright or full are they? Are they so bright that they sound shrill? Is there enough fullness without crowding the bass and kick drum?
• VOCALS – Is the overall sound aggressive or warm? How full do they sound? How sibilant are they? Do they have depth and dimension? How close and intimate do they sound? Are the early reflections pleasing?
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David Bottrill’s Three Essential Tips

April 17th, 2013

When PS caught up with Grammy-winning producer David Bottrill, he had these bits of advice for budding producers: 

1. Make sure your power is sorted out: “The first thing to sort out in any studio is power. If you’re plugging into lousy power, your recordings are going to be messy. Not only are you going to have bad clocking, because the clocking often goes off, but you’re going to have equipment that doesn’ t run well; there’s going to be buzzes. Sort out your power, even if it’s to the point of having to get some sort of power conditioning system. That’s first and foremost.”

2. The cleaner the signal path, the better: “It’s all about signal path. The cleaner and simpler,
the better. Microphone into mic preamp into compressor, straight to [DAW] or tape; don’t fuss about with lots of different things in the middle. The cleaner the recordings you have, the less you’ll be fighting during mixing because your signal will be as clear as it can be. It will take EQ a whole lot better.”

3. A great performance is more important than a great sound: “Make sure you can set the scene so that everybody feels comfortable – like they can do their best work. That’s less of a technical thing but still very important from an artistic standpoint and a performance standpoint – even if you have to bring the singer to stand right next to you and record right there with just headphones and quiet speakers. Do whatever is going to get the best performance because that will sort out your sound. Your sound will be dramatically improved by the quality of a performance. A great performance with a mediocre sound will still sound better than a bad performance with great sound.”

David Bottrill is a three-time Grammy-winning Canadian record producer. His extensive list of credits includes work with King Crimson, Muse,
Tool, and Peter Gabriel. www.davidbottrill.com.

Creating Thickness In A Recording BY Ryan McCambridge

February 14th, 2013

My absolute favourite moment in music production is when I get to record the first guitar double. It never gets old. I see doubling as a tool to add thickness to a recording, and as such, I think of it as fitting in with other tools that help increase a production’s density. These are three of the most common thickening techniques used in modern recording:PS Sound Advice Feb 13 Ryan McCambridge
• Instrument Doubling – An instrument’s part is played and recorded twice, often   panned to separate places.
• Vocal Doubling & Stacking – A vocal is sung identically and recorded more than once but kept at similar pan positions. In the case of vocal stacking, which is often used on background vocals, multiples of every vocal part are recorded and the position of the panning becomes a mixing decision.

• Sound Replacing/Augmentation of Drums – Drums are recorded but then drum samples are added to the main drum elements (kick, snare, and sometimes toms). Though this may not seem like a true double, the process adds sounds with the same timing so I think of it as being in the same family.

In every case, precision is key. The doubled sounds should be as identical as possible because we’re trying to create one sound out of many. The effect is lessened when we can hear the separate ingredients within the effect.
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