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.
We recently changed the placement set up for monitoring with our Yamaha NS10M Studio monitors. They were placed further away from the listening point and sound panels were placed at equal distances beside and behind the monitors. The idea was to get a wider stereo feel and to equalize the reflection surfaces around the speakers.
We do use other monitors during the mixing process but I like using the Yamahas for the initial mixing. For quite a while you couldn’t see a picture of a recording studio without seeing a pair of NS10s by the mixing console. Some people love them and some hate them. I like them but you have to know their strengths and weaknesses and use them accordingly. If you’re interested in more of their history, here’s an article from Sound On Sound that has a good discussion of their background:
Since the placement was changed, that meant it was time to redo the room tuning for them. Ahhhh yes, the joy of a night of listening to pink noise. So I broke out the real time analyzer and got to work. Make sure that the mic for the analyzer is positioned in the spot where you’ll be sitting – near field monitors have a tight listening field and accuracy matters. The sound from pink noise will fluctuate, so you have to study the levels while it is running then review the peak capture when you turn it off. Here’s the running sound and peak capture when the EQ going in to the monitors is flat:
NS10Ms tend to be weak at the low end, so the EQ is adjusted accordingly. The process takes a while since when you adjust one frequency it effects the frequencies around it. The final EQ setting looks like this:
Here’s the running sound afterwards (remember running sound fluctuates, so a snap shot at a particular time will not look flat):
The final shot of the peak captures gives a good representation of where we ended up:
I’m pretty comfortable with the flatter EQ at the end of the process. One other tip is to make sure you are hearing equal levels from both speakers so you don’t overload one side when you’re mixing. The real time analyzer should let you get actual equal volumes for both sides. I have some volume hearing loss in one ear – the result of playing in bands for a lot of years (fortunately it is not frequency loss). To check on this take one channel of the song you’re mixing and run it straight down the center of your stereo field while sitting in your perfect center listening spot. If it sounds like it’s coming more from one channel or the other, make the adjustment on the volume of your reference amp. It’s at the end of the sound chain so it equalizes volume for your ears without effecting the balance in your actual mix. I also check the final mix of songs through the Real Time Analyzer so I’m using sight as well as sound to get the frequencies where I want them.
After the NS10 mixing is completed we’ll make any mix adjustments and also do the mastering through the higher end monitors set up in a different listening station. It’s always important to take your time, ‘put the mix down’ and come back to it later for review to get the best results possible. A great song will shine through no matter what, but a great mix will always improve your song.
And because I like to leave a little music for you……..
Father John Misty – “Ballad of The Dying Man”
After I finished writing the last post I sat down to read through it and listened to ‘Heroes’ again. And again. Beyond the beauty of the song itself I was intrigued by a lot of the recording technique in it. I did a little searching on the internet and came across an article on the recording of ‘Heroes’ in Sound On Sound where they cover the recording of different ‘classic’ tracks. I really recommend reading the entire article. It’s not just nuts and bolts tech info; they cover the production of the song and how the recording ideas came about. I won’t rehash the whole article as I’ve attached a link to it. But since we were speaking of vocals the info on them was pretty amazing. The entire vocal part was written and recorded in five hours. The main vocal was recorded on a single track in one take (with a few splice ins here and there). For the main vocal there were three mics: one close, one about 15 feet away and a third at the other end of the very large room they were recording in. The close mic had heavy compression; the other two mics were gated and only opened up as the volume hit a certain level. As the vocal gets louder another mic in the room would open. So towards the end when the vocals are almost ‘shouted’ all three mics have opened up and all the reverb is natural from the room – and all three mics were recorded to the same track. Truly Amazing. Genius always finds a way.
Also check out how Robert Fripp got those high guitar feedback parts (they almost sound like a synth) by measuring the distance he stood from the amp to get the perfect feedback sound on each individual note.
Here’s the link to the Sound On Sound article:
Here’s another link to ‘Heroes’ sound you don’t have to go back to the last post to hear it:
Well, I’ve certainly been AWOL the last couple of months. A lot has been going on, some good, some bad, some blah, blah, blah. Thought I’d throw a couple of things up for you to peruse.
First, for anyone who is interested in starting out in recording music there’s a site that shows you the basics of mixing and listening….and you get to play around with Peter Gabriel’s music..and post your own mixes in SoundCloud. I’ve only touched some of the basic parts (pretty hard to pull my butt out of my own studio) but what I’ve seen is pretty interesting.
On another note, recently spent a night with the legendary Reverend Horton Heat. Totally ass-kicking (and I so want that guitar). Here’s a live video for your enjoyment. Hope to post some pictures from the show soon.
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.
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.
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.