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:
This winter seems like a good time to lock myself in the studio and start to get some work done again. We’ve spent a good deal of time working on song ideas and turning some of them in to song demos. Now it’s time to focus in and work on the production tracks. Which in turn allows me to focus on the recording process from both technical and artistic points of view. As always finding a way to nail the vocal recording process is a high priority.
The first article I’ve attached is a quick and simple overview of some different methods of recording vocals. This really speaks to the performance aspect of recording as compared to the nuts and bolts tech of mics, mic placement, preamps etc.
Personally I like to record takes all the way through. It gives the singer a chance to have the full feel of the song and decide how to vocally connect the song together. But I’ve also worked parts of the song separately, maybe verses separate from chorus or separating vocal parts after an instrumental break. I think it really depends on the song and the vocalist. You have to be open to trying different approaches on different songs.
The next article discusses comping, which is mentioned in the first article (I don’t know if I’d call it a ‘little known’ recording trick) .
I think there are things to consider if you’re going to do a lot of cut and paste comping on a vocal track. If I’m going to put together smaller pieces of the vocal tracks I’d like to get them recorded in the same session. A person’s voice may change slightly from day to day. It’s not like setting up a guitar amp and then leaving the settings stand for another session. That’s not as much of an issue if you’re putting together larger pieces of the song. It’s also not as much of an issue if you’re going to multi-layer several vocal tracks on top of each other. Again, work with the vocalist and see what brings the best out of them. I think we’ll be putting down a lot more vocal tracks then usual in our upcoming sessions for both layering and comping.
Finally, I couldn’t let the passing of David Bowie go by without comment. For many of us music is much more than something we listen to. I grew up from a young age playing music and living music. It informed my life and many life choices. For those of us who grew up in that era, Bowie melded music with life and style. And showed that you could stop on a dime and change styles if you wanted to. Be fearless in your ability and right to change to whatever moved you. I picked the song ‘Heroes’ to put here because it shows the most important part of vocals – emotion. I feel the build in emotion created by the vocals in this song every time I listen to it. If you do it right it’s captured forever.
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 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.
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.
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.
Some people may have grown up in the digital age and not be aware of the specific differences between analog and digital recording. I’ve attached an article titled ‘The Case Against Digital Recording’ although my point is not so much which is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ as much as opening a discussion about the differences. Besides the tech differences, this article also discusses different styles of recording music in general. I actually find that part of the article more interesting.
For full disclosure, ChurchHouse Studios is a digital based studio. Digital recording has made the editing and storing of music much easier. We do, however, create most of our songs using a more ‘old fashion’ process. I favor recording song tracks straight through rather than cut and paste. I also tend to enjoy the subtle differences (some people may say ‘mistakes’) it creates from verse to verse and chorus to chorus. For me it breathes life in to a song and makes that particular recording unique, moments that can’t be recreated. One of my favorite examples is in the Rolling Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’. At about the 2:59 point of the song during the female vocalist’s solo your hear her voice crack from pushing the note so hard and Jagger giving a little shout in the background. For me that moment is chill inducing and priceless. Would that be edited out in today’s world?
I don’t think either digital or analog recording is ‘better’. They both have their place and music, like all art, is subjective and will always remain that way. It’s your choice.
Here’s the article:
This discussion also allows me to throw in a plug for one of our favorite artists, Jack White. His Third Man Records studio is analog and he’s quite a proponent of analog recording.
OK – You’ve twisted my arm – I’ll also throw in a video of Jack White live on Austin City Limits.
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).