Mastering is a topic we’ve covered before. It’s the cherry on top of your overall recording, but it can also make or break everything you’ve completed before this step. I found this article to be interesting because it looks at mastering from an aesthetic view as well as a technical view. It’s really necessary not to get too hung up on the tech and miss out on listening to get the specific feel of the project you’re working on. I also like the advice to occasionally move your self out of the ‘sweet spot’ that exists in any studio setup. The sweet spot can be very specific, especially when using close field monitors. The problem is that most people don’t sit in the perfect spot for hearing the music – this is amplified when listening in an average car stereo setup. You need to expand your point of view. I also like Appelbaum’s small room setup and some sweet equipment.
Here’s a couple of short video pieces taken from a much longer video class. Again, check out the control room and some of the equipment.
I came across a pretty cool page on the internet. Someone has taken old photos from a Beatles recording session at Abbey Road studio, combined them with a few current photos of the same room (not many changes in that studio room – if it ain’t broke, why fix it) and created an immersive walk through environment. I find this interesting on several levels. First, it’s the Beatles in a recording session. You can look around the studio from the point of view of John, Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin. You pick from one of the five points of view then use the arrows to pan left, right, up and down. There is a zoom in/out function. The tech of the photo environment is great all on it’s own. For any studio hounds, there’s a second bonus. You can view the recording set up they were using at the time. Everyone was in one room. Not a lot of mics being used – it was all about the quality of mics and preamps and the art of mic placement. Check out the simplicity of the drum mics. No stacks of huge amps. At the time this was all being mixed down live and going to two track tape. It was certainly as much art as tech. Imagine the quality of sound in a room that large. I sometimes think that the huge amount of tech available today can be more of a distraction than a help. Seeing the setup in this session gives me a lot of ideas to try in our studio. I hope it gives you some ideas and inspiration.
Now, let’s get in to the time machine…….
Thought we’d throw some tech at you today. Most mixing is done by ear – after all, it is sound and relates most to our sense of hearing. But we’re also used to looking at meters in the studio. Often it’s just to make sure overall levels don’t clip, or to compress and add volume if necessary. You can also look at levels of individual tracks to compare them. Once you’re in the overall mix, how do you compare individual sounds on the meters? Here’s a metering device from Dorrough that gives a better idea of how individual sounds appear on a meter. I also like the street sound example they use. Wish I could afford one of these buggers.
Here’s a song from the band that introduced me to New Orleans funk. For some perspective, Cissy Strut came out in 1969. The Meters backed a lot of great R & B and funk players through out the years. A band that definitely should be better known.
What do The Meters have to do with metering? Nothing. I just like them.
I came across this video of Frank Sinatra recording in the studio. For anyone who has interest in recording and recording technology, there’s a lot to see here. First, the vocalist and a orchestra in the same room while recording? The sound has separation and clarity despite being in the same room – try that one at home. You get a few glances at the mic placement when you see the orchestra and the mic setup for Sinatra. Interesting that he talks about ‘popping’ – there’s no ‘pop screen’ – they went by mic adjustment, singing technique and I would imagine some EQ adjustment in the booth. Again, amazing separation without multitrack or overdubs – right down to two track tape. Sinatra also discusses vocal technique. I don’t know if as much attention is payed to that today. His vocal sound is amazing and looks effortless.
Sinatra may not be your cup of tea, but there’s a lot to be learned watching recording history.
A song recording project is actually a series of very distinct steps. Writing the song, pre-production, recording, editing, mixing, mastering. General wisdom has always said you can’t fix a problem with one of the steps in the next step. Also known as ‘you can’t polish a turd’ (well, i guess you could but……..). The following article gives some great tips on how to get your final mix ready for the mastering step. It could be the difference between a great sounding final product and a ‘polished turd’. Your mastering engineer will be grateful, and studio bloodshed will be reduced.
How you print sound to tracks is the one of the first stages of the actual ‘recording’ process. There are millions of ways to go about doing this. This part of the recording process can be broken down to two overall categories to start with: do you record the sounds ‘clean’ to the tracks and do the sonic production on the tracks during mixing or or do you print EQ, dynamics and effects to the tracks during the recording process?
As always, there is no right or wrong answers. When I began my recording journey I took note of what happened in studios where I was recording and spent a lot of time reading articles (today you can include watching videos) by people considered the masters of engineering and mixing.
I’ve always loved the work of Eddie Kramer, considering the roll call of famous musicians he worked with and the fact that he is still active and working on new techniques today. He was a ‘print to track’ engineer (compression, EQ, FX printed to the track) and a lot of what I do follows that format. I do add to tracks while mixing, but I try to get the essence of the sound while I’m tracking. One quote from him about sonics when tracking:
“To start with I’m a great believer in getting the sound right then and there, put it on tape and don’t think about it anymore. I’ll print with effects, I’ll print with dynamics processing. The bottom line is if I hear a sound in my head, I’m going to go for it – I’m going to print it to tape”.
Every session will have different requirements, so experiment whenever possible. But if you haven’t tried ‘print to tape’ give it a go.
Here’s a little Eddie Kramer clip you might enjoy:
We’ve covered many different avenues of the recording process in previous posts. I’ve come across two different items that present an inside look at recording before the ‘digital revolution’. The first is a recording of the Queen song ‘Under Pressure’. Most people have probably heard the song before. What’s recently been released is the vocals of the song minus all the music. The amazing factor in this is how crisp and ‘real’ the vocals sound. No digital manipulation, no ‘autotune’ (maybe an effect here and there). Just listen to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie give life to the vocal sound. Clean, clear, amazing. A big treat is Mercury’s vocal in the middle of the song where he holds a note then keeps raising it higher. If you listen in the background you can sometimes hear the music bleeding through their headphones.
The second clip shows The Rolling Stones mixing the song ‘Little Queenie’ from the live ‘Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out’ album. Some stuff to watch in this: The mixing booth is pretty small and plain – function is more important than looks. No automated faders – at times it takes three people working the board to test the changes they want. Finally, they’re mixing by sound, not over concerned with watching meters – eyes closed and listening – the band was very involved in the mixing process. Also enjoy the sound of two inch analog tape being rewound when they go back to certain parts of the song.
There are many great things about today’s recording tech, but the simplicity of the past also had some advantages.
When you begin to work on recording in your personal or project studio, what do you think is the most difficult instrument to record? All instruments (including voice) have their challenges. I think many people have found that recording live drums presented the greatest challenge. There are so many microphones, placements and techniques that it can seem a bit overwhelming at first. As with many parts of the recording process, there is not necessarily one correct way to record. You can use two room mics or multiple room and direct mics. As the recording capacity of ChurchHouse increased, I’ve used as many as thirteen mics to get the sound I want. I don’t necessarily use all the tracks in the final mix, but it’s nice to have options.
There’s a lot to consider. What type of mic is best for each piece of the kit? Where do want to place them? The drums need to be tuned correctly for recording, which will probably be different than tuning for a live show. Then there’s the ‘800 pound gorilla’ of the process – the room you record in. The room can make all the difference. In fact it can make THE difference. Some studios are known just for their drum rooms. We’re lucky enough to have both a small, ‘tight’ room that absorbs sound and a large open room with lots of natural reverb.
I’ve included a few articles about basic drum recording that I thought were a pretty good starting point. The bottom line in recording drums is taking the time and experimenting to see what works best for your drum set, equipment and recording room.
In Part 1 of our overview of recording quality we covered the trend in recording to make things ‘loud’ and the loss of dynamics and quality that result. Part 2 covers the next part of the equation – how to maintain quality sound when the source of the music is the internet. Because of file size and download time, most music people listen to cannot maintain the quality of the original recording. I don’t really consider myself an ‘audiophile’, but I can certainly hear the difference between buying an HD CD and downloading an MP3 file. Even though I listen to a lot of music online, when I purchase music I still buy the physical media rather than buying a download.
The article below discusses this difference in sound quality and the possible future of online music. Do enough people even care about quality for the changes to be made? Will Hi-Res audio be available in the future? Let’s hope so.
Has anyone noticed something missing from today’s recorded music? It seems that recording quality, once the keystone of captured music, may be going the way of the dinosaur. We’re not talking about the ‘lo-fi’ ethic which intentionally keeps the sound raw and immediate. What we’re seeing is a downgrading of sonic quality for a variety of mostly commercial reasons. Today’s entry covers what has become known as the ‘loudness wars’.
Simply put, the ‘loudness wars’ is the recording version of “my amp goes to 11”. It’s volume for the sake of being ‘louder’ than the song being played before or after yours. It takes place mostly in the mastering of the music, compressing or ‘hyper-compressing’ a song within an inch of its life. No concern for dynamics, subtlety or tone. Just LOUD – and who cares what gets lost in the process.
Did you ever go to a concert and have a friend who wants to practically stick his head in to the PA speakers – “this is f***in awesome, my brain almost exploded!!” Ummkay, can you even tell what’s being played? Seems strange that’s there’s a ‘world record’ for the loudest concert – you might as well stand next to an airplane taking off. There should be a world record for the highest quality sound….
But I digress. The following clip gives a pretty good overview of what the ‘loudness wars’ are about from a producer and engineer’s viewpoint.
Here’s a shorter video that really puts a visual explanation of over compressing and limiting right in front of you.
This is why I’m thankful that we get to record, mix and master our own music at ChurchHouse. We don’t have to be ‘volume whores’ and I’d rather not produce any music than have crap leave our studio.