Time has a way of passing us all by. Blink and another year passes. Close your eyes and who knows when you’ll wake up…… I felt that I was in the creative equivalent of neutral for a few years. Lots of ideas, not a lot of execution. So at the end of 2017 we decided to try something new for both the writing and recording process. Americana, bluegrass and ‘old time’ country have added a lot to our listening lists for a while now, so the idea of using more acoustic instruments made sense.
The voicing of the variety of acoustic instruments makes all of them very audible in a song mix. Two acoustic guitars might step on each other, but add mandolin or banjo and they stand out. Hand percussion. Twelve string guitar. Fretless bass. Whatever’s laying around. Oh, we’re not abandoning loud, reverby feedback guitars. Just stirring it all in. You might associate the acoustic instruments with bluegrass music but we’re not looking to work in that style. Or maybe yes. Anything’s possible.
So to learn how the instruments sound together, how to arrange the songs, how to do mic placement, what pre-amps to use, what effects, etc, etc, we decided to re-imagine some cover songs we like. Some of the songs will be quickly recorded, some will have more production. We’ll also be starting to work more with video, both ‘live’ and produced. In the mean time we’re writing and recording new original material. Stick around, it should be interesting.
First song up: ‘It’s Gonna Be A Long Night’ by Ween. Did you ever know one of those “I can drink anyone under the table” types. Ween evidently did. Times 100.
We encourage you to listen to the original versions of the songs we cover. Always good to check songs out, especially if you’ve never heard it before. Hope you enjoy it. Back at you soon.
It has been a hectic month – allow me to es-plain. My personal computer (not the studio computer) had a hard drive failure and I had to order, install, etc. a new hard drive and get it up and running which is now done, thus the long silence on the blog. Ugh (insert long exhausted sigh here). The computer is dead – long live the computer.
We put up another episode of In the Studio and also uploaded some other listening pleasure on the YouTube channel from ERP (Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs) and in the next month will have some music from other artists featured there as well. We have recently been filming footage for another music video due to be released hopefully by the end of the summer. In addition, we have been updating the merchandise store (more on that to come) and have added some new items.
Last but not least – we are working a complete re-do of the label site and will no doubt make some additions to the studio site and when we do, we will of course let you know! Enjoy.
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…….
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.
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.
I wanted to pass along an interesting article I read concerning some of the pitfalls you can encounter running a small studio. One of the major problems concerns the fact that a small project studio often does not have multiple people handling the work that comes in. As a result, one person may do the recording, mixing and mastering as well as filling the role of the producer. There are positives to this: less long discussions or arguments over how to proceed as well as a consistent vision for the project. But the downside is the tunnel vision you may incur working by yourself and the project burnout you can encounter as you progress through all the steps.
This article speaks specifically to ‘ear burnout’ and steps you can take to avoid it. One thing the article doesn’t discuss is the positives you have when more than one person works on a project. At ChurchHouse Studios we have taken this to heart and try to have several people working on different parts of the project, especially mixing and mastering. It has produced very positive results for us. Another tip I would give is being aware of who is mixing your music. I’ve found out the hard way that mixing engineers who were in very loud bands and never used ear protection may have lost much of the top end of the hearing and will mix accordingly (also a tip to use ear protection if you’re still playing and don’t have the headphones too loud in the studio).
I want to share a recording technique that I read about when I started studio work and have used during sessions over the last several years. The idea is to track one guitar performance and end up with multiple tracks with different sound qualities.
To do this we have the guitar running in to two separate amplifiers – to get the best variety use amps with different sound qualities. For the example in the photo we’re using a Peavey amp on one side and a Mesa on the other side. Make sure the amps are separated so there is no bleed over between them. Each amp’s sound will be captured by three microphones. In our example we are using two dynamic mics close to the amp and one condenser mic slightly farther away on each side.
Each mic will go to a separate track in the recording software as seen in the photo below. You now have six unique guitar sounds you can use throughout the song. In our example we split the guitar signal going to the amps with a stereo chorus effect to allow for a greater stereo field when panning tracks left and right.
In the final photo below you can see how we used the diverse sounds throughout the song, bringing in different mics during verses, choruses and breaks. You can now accent different parts of the song with unique sonic signatures while maintaining a consistent guitar performance.
If you have enough tracks on your mixing console you can enhance these changes further using different settings of EQ, dynamics and effects on each track. This simple set up will provide you with multiple guitar sounds to make your track sonically interesting.
Discussing re-tuning monitors, pink noise, and frequencies.
Sorry it is late… having to now deal with another tech issue – more fodder for In the Studio.