Archive for May, 2007

Recording Project Pt 3: Day 2

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

Not much of significance to report today. We started the day around 11, everyone arrived promptly and after half an hour of making coffee, getting comfy and firing up amps etc, we got cracking with the third song. It took a few run-throughs to get warmed up but we quickly got a few good takes.

Moving on the the fourth song, a slightly alarming attitude developed (from my point of view). On one of the earlier songs we’d recorded several takes of the full song, but in a couple of places things were proving a little tricky, so we’d decided to record a few sections individually with the view of editing them together later. Whilst this is fine, and I have no problem with it, the guitarist immediately came out with the suggestion of recording the fourth song in sections right from the start. From a production point of view, I prefer to get a good, solid take of the whole song if possible, with as little editing required as possible. I’m already piecing together one song from a large number of disparate takes, and a second song from a couple of different takes, so given the time-frame we’re working in I’m not keen to be contructing the whole EP from dozens of different takes every time! Far too much time will be spent on editing.

I convinced them to at least try and play the song as one take, and after finding the click tempo they rattled it off decently first time. We got a couple more full takes which just got better and better, so I felt vindicated and the band felt better for getting a complete take. I may comp something together between a couple of takes but there will be no major surgery needed.

Moving on we tackled the last song in much the same way and this one came together even more easily. Again, three “keeper” takes and we were done. From the 11am start it was now 5pm and we had recorded all the major songs they wanted, so we decided to throw in the towel for the day. It was the bassist’s birthday today as well, so after a cake with candles and round of “Happy Birthday” it was a good time to close the day and let him enjoy his celebrations!

After the band had cleared out, I sat for half an hour or so doing some rudimentary mixing. I haven’t done the editing yet, so I was just playing around with the sounds and seeing what’s hot and what’s not. The “Worlds Most Resonant Floor Tom” may have to be re-titled as “The Floor Tom From Hell”, as it’s sounding more like a bongo in places than a tom. I may have to invest in Drumagog and do a sound replacement on it, as it’s almost unworkable. I’m a little saddened by that as it took such a long time to get it sounding good, but I think we have to face the fact that we’re using a 14″ jazz tom as a rock floor tom and it simply won’t tune low enough to get the sound we’re after. The amount of dampening it required to tame it has just taken the life out of it, though it would be fine as a middle tom-tom. Curse you DW and your immensely resonant kits! Fortunately, the drummer isn’t precious about these things, and I’m sure he’d prefer it to sound as good as possible than settle for something under par.

Tomorrow is now basically “luxury” day – we’ve got the room set up and everything miked up, but we’ve already finished the songs we aimed to record. On the computer I’ve got the original multi-tracks of the previous EP we recorded some 15 months ago, so the plan is to try and overdub “new” drums onto the old songs. I’m happy to give it a try, but from my own experiences (I’ve overdubbed myself playing drums to one of these songs already) I’m concerned that the drummer (good though he is) will struggle with the groove the bassist and original drummer had. We’ll try it out, but I think we’ll get more mileage by either overdubbing drums and re-doing bass at the same time, or totally re-recording. This will push the track total up to 8 tracks (which will be a lot of mixing) but will leave the ban with an album performed by the current line-up, which would be nice. We’ll see how things work out.

Recording Project Pt 2: Day 1

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

Well, day “-1″ and 1, really. The evening before the first day’s recording I went to my workplace, where the recording is taking place, and cleared out the room. I kept a few chairs & tables, just for comfort, but moved most next door to another spare room. I brought in the dividing panels & larger tables which are stored elsewhere in the building, set them up and got all my gear in. I seem to have a fearsome number of mic stands, cables & mics, but it’s more than enough for every eventuality. I set up the computer, mixing desk, preamps and monitors, got things working and left. Took about 3 hours, all told.

Next morning, officially Day 1, I meet the drummer at the gate nice and early (9am). Good to see a drummer who’s on time (ba-dum, CHA!). Actually, he’s a thoroughly nice guy, and a very good drummer, so it was looking good from the off. We made our way to the building and he loaded in his drums whilst I went about setting up mic stands, firing up the computer and so on.

We throw up the drums at one end of the room, I sling a pair of Neumann TLM103’s up over them, plug them into the DAV BG-1 - BAM! Killer drum sound straight off the bat. It’s down to 2 things – a nice kit (DW, with fairly small, jazz size drums, and a mix of nice cymbals) and the nice mic/preamp combo. For a different type of music I would simply stick another mic on the kick and be done with it, but we need to mic close as well for versatility and “that rock sound”, although how much will end up getting used in addition to the OH’s I don’t know for sure yet.

However it’s not all roses - there is a nasty distorted “boing” coming off the low tom, so we spend the next hour (maybe more…) trying a variety of different tunings, skins and so on. The problem is that this particular drum is probably listed in the Guinness Book Of Records as “The Worlds Most Resonant Tom”. You can hit this thing, make a cup of tea, read the paper, come back and it’ll still be ringing. And it’s a bit awkward, because it’s the whole drum (skins AND shell) that ring, so dampening the c*** out of the skins doesn’t solve the whole problem and changes the sound a lot. Eventually we get it sounding acceptable, hopefully it won’t leave too much to do in mixing. Fingers crossed.

We take the resonant skin off the kick (which has no hole cut in it) and tune it down slightly to get the kick drum sound. It’s an 18″ kick so it’s never going to be a huge, deep kick sound but it’s quite punchy and there’s some nice beater definition. An Audix D6 is the choice, about 5″ inside the kick pointing towards the beater. That took about 15 minutes.

Next up is an SM57 on the snare. Dead easy, nice amount of ring – not excessive, but enough that it’ll sound lively in the mix. An AKG C451 with a -20db built-in pad goes under the snare too, nice and crisp and hardly any kick in it either, which was a nice surprise!

The tom’s get a Sennheiser E604 each. The high tom was also “boinging” a bit, but it tuned out very easily, with none of the hassles of the floor tom. I also tried an AKG C3000 condenser on the toms, but although the actual tom sound was nicer, they picked up far too much of the rest of the kit and there was very little isolation, so we went with the Sennheisers instead.

By this time the rest of the band arrived, so whilst they loaded in their gear we tried a couple of mics on the hats. Again, the AKG C3000 just picked up way too much of the rest of the kit, so I settled on an SE Electronics SE1a. We moved the dividers into place, isolating the kit a bit more, I checked this didn’t do anything weird or undesirable to the sounds and moved on.

The bass went straight in to the desk on the DI from the amp. Seems to be the one thing Ashdown’s are good for. Very nice sound.

We’re not really concerned about guitar or vocals in these sessions, so an AKG C3000 was again tried & again rejected on the guitar amp, we chose a Beta 57a instead. Even though we aren’t looking for guitar sounds, we are using it in the headphones, so the amount of extra room sounds (drums, mainly) the AKG was picking up meant it wasn’t isolated well enough. The vocals got an SM58, straight into the desk.

We’d made good progress, it was about 2pm by this time so I showed the guys round the building (it trains pilots on helicopter flight simulators in the week!) and we had a bite to eat. Everyone had brought different bits of food so there was plenty to go round.

Everyone’s feeling positive and raring to go, so we crack on with a track. There’re a bit of a nightmare when we decide to use a click. Not normally a problem, but because of the way I’ve set up the headphone feeds (utilising the Delta 1010lt’s multiple outputs and a number of “Sends” in Cubase), Cubase’s click only seems to go to the main outputs, not the 2 sub outputs which feed the two different headphone mixes. Out comes the MIDI sound module, hook it up, send the MIDI to it, bring a click back into Cubase from the sound module using an analogue input and use the Sends to get it out to the headphones. Would have been easy if the MIDI sound module hadn’t decided to play dead for 15 minutes. It worked eventually…

After a bit of tweaking of headphone mixes and click tempos, the band get stuck in. We get about 3 “keeper” takes from the 5 or 6 run-throughs. Nice & easy, so I save and move on. In the process of setting up the drums I had set up a new project, adding the tracks and inputs as I went, labelling them all. Before we started the first song I saved the setup as a Template, so starting a new song Project with that template brings up all the settings. This is a huge time saver!

The next track is one that they want to play to a click, but it quickly becomes apparent that they naturally vary the tempo quite significantly throughout the song. I could program them a click track with tempo changes, but they’d rather try it at a fixed tempo. They start well but always come unstuck at the start of the second verse. It eventually transpires that it’s the guitarist who throws them off, so we elect to record the song without him! We’re not keeping his takes anyway, so the drummer, bassist and vocalist do it themselves, with the guitarist just playing the intro and then dropping out. There’s a few fluffs, so we record two or three almost-complete takes and record a couple of sections separately. That’ll be a nice big editing job for me later, but at least it’s all to clicks.

This takes a couple of hours, by which time it’s after 5pm, the drummer and I have been there for a while and he’s looking tired (I certainly am tired too) so we call it a day. Given that we’ve made good progress (2 songs out of the 6 proposed are down already), I make the executive decision to give everyone a lie-in and call an 11am start tomorrow. I’ll probably be in a fair while before that, making backups of the tracks already recorded and doing a bit of mixing, but it still beats a 9am start!

Recording project Pt 1: Overview

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Hi everyone, I hope this blog is going to be useful to people. It’s kind of aimed at folks who are either starting out or who don’t do a lot of full-band recording. I’m normally in the latter boat, as I tend to get 3 or 4 big-ish projects per year (EP’s or albums, but only demo-level stuff), most of which only take a week or so. The rest of the time I’m usually recording myself or someone doing overdubs or small things like that.

I’m about to start the sessions for a band who I’ve been friends with for a while. I recorded their first EP some 18 months ago, and have since then also recorded their singer’s solo acoustic album. The singer in particular likes the way I record her, which is mainly why they’ve come to me rather than a proper studio. Oh, and they know I’ll work hard for less cash than a proper studio… :)

Since the last recording they’ve changed drummer (I even sat in for them on drums for one gig recently) and have lost the keyboard player they previously had. This should make life easier but means this record will be a different beast from the last one. I’ve also accumulated more gear and techniques, so I’m hoping this one will turn out better than the last one.

The session has been planned for several months now, so I’ve “advanced” some of my fee into buying some gear – cables, a headphone amp, mic stands, little extras like that. I also took a bit of time to find a venue to record in. I don’t have my own room for band tracking, and shut-outs at their rehearsal studios would have been prohibitively expensive. We were hoping for a church or a hall but nowhere appropriate was available, so we’ve settled on doing the “noisey tracking” (drums, mainly) at my workplace. This has a couple of rooms I’ve used previously and offers plenty of space and facilities. The weekend we’ve chosen is also a UK “bank holiday”, meaning we’ve got Saturday, Sunday and Monday uninterrupted.

I’ll be doing all the engineering and probably a large amount of the “production” side too. They’re a band with a good idea of their sound, but there is a tendancy for them to argue and change things at the last minute, so a good deal of diplomacy will be needed :) Before the recording starts I made a point to sit in on a practice with them to hear the songs they want to work on. This gives me an idea of what they’ll sound like (especially the new drummer) and to talk to them about recording-related things. They’ve got 5-6 songs they would like to tackle, but they’ve sensibly prioritised them so that if things overrun or get bogged down they have the important ones down.

This week I also met up with them before their practice to go over a few things such as recording with a click (we agreed we’ll try it both with and without and see what works) and timings. The itinerary runs something like this:

Saturday morning – early start for me, drummer arrives shortly afterwards and we spend the morning getting the drum sounds. The afternoon will then be spent getting guitars and bass sounds (almost certainly only scratch sounds) and scratch vocals. This could overrun, I’ll take as long as it takes to get the sounds, so we haven’t scheduled any actual recording for this day. If we have time we might tackle a song or two, but we’ll have been working for 5-6 hours by the time we’re ready for that, so for everyone’s sanity and health we’ll probably head home. The drummer has to leave late afternoon anyway.

Sunday & Monday – recording takes of the songs. I’m mainly looking for “keeper” takes of drums & bass, for reasons I’ll go into in a bit. I will be recording the whole band though, so if parts are particularly good there will be the possibility of keeping them

Tuesday – Friday – I’ve booked the rest of this week off work, so I’ll be working on the tracks in this time. The guitars & vocals will be recorded in this period, plenty of time to experiment and get sounds. I’m hoping to be finished by the Thursday, but there is scope to run into Friday if necessary. Flexibility is the key there.

(Possibly Friday!) Saturday & Sunday – I’ll have been mixing as we go to some extent, but these two-three days are set aside for proper mixing.

So, that’s the plan, but I’m sure things won’t work out like that! The reason I’m looking to overdub guitars & vocals later is that I have one nice two-channel preamp and a bunch of budget preamps. I’d like to use the nice preamps on everything, but that isn’t practically possible (the kit will have some 8 mics on it alone…) so I’m planning to use it for 2 channels of the drums (possibly kick & snare, or possibly as the overheads) and then overdub the guitars & vocals with it later. This should give me as many channels of “nice preamp” action as possible, rather than tracking everything through the lesser preamps.
The basic gear list is:

  • PC – 3.4ghz P4, 2gb RAM, 40gig system drive, 200gig Data drive (both SATA), 2 x Delta 1010lt I/O cards (all at line level)
  • Cubase SX2
  • Yamaha MG 16/6 FX mixer (10 preamps)
  • DAV BG-1 two channel preamp (the “nice one!!”) 
  • Aleses M1 MkII active monitors
  • AKG 240s headphones (mine!)
  • 3 x junky Behringer headphones (for the band while tracking!)
  • A couple of Behringer Mic100 preamps (will only be used for scratch or guide sounds)
  • Behringer MiniAmp800 4-channel headphone amp
  • 2 x Neumann TLM103 LD condensers
  • 2 x SE Electronics Se1a SD condensers
  • 1 x SE Electronics SE2200a LD condenser
  • 3 x AKG C3000 LD condensers
  • 1 x Shure SM57
  • 1 x Shure SM58
  • 2 x Sennheiser e604
  • 1 x Audix D6
  • T.Bone drum pack (generally awful but might come in handy as a last resort…)
  • Some junky hand-held dynamics just in case
  • A country mile of cables to connect them all together
  • Assorted mic stands

And that’s it. The sessions start on Saturday (26th May) and hopefully by the end of the week we’ll have an EP. Enough ramblings for now, I’ll try and keep the session blogs shorter and more interesting, though I’m no Mixerman.



slaveern-rant: A 12 channels board? Is that’s it?

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

I was working with this band on a few songs. Once their band members casually chatted about ’so-and-so’ studio has a ‘huge mixing board that go across the size of this room’ (referring to my control room). Note that I was using a Yamaha MG16/4 so they compared and I just thought, yeah whatever. Another day after their tracking session the guitarist commented on my setup saying, “I didn’t realize yours a 12 channels board”. He noticed there are 12 white-colored faders on it but in effect it’s 8 mono with pre and 4 stereos. I was stupid enough to try to explain this to him saying “well it’s really an 8 channels board with the other 4 stereo channels….” Apparently he didn’t pay too much attention on my explanation on the mixer, but as he heard the word “eight”, it got his eyeball grew bigger and rolling.

* sigh *

I didn’t know what to say and stopped trying to explain what is this ’small mixer board’ thing is all about. So far at that point they were fairly happy about my work and commented it’s much better than what they had done in another place (commercial). Apparently they don’t know much about recording and they thought they know what it means by ‘pro studio’ though – big console. And I knew that if I continued the explanation, their ‘perceived’ goodness of the product will likely diminished, simply because it is not ‘big’ enough. Think about how they’d feel if I told them:

- I only used the preamp on the mixer; other than that I used the mixer for monitoring/routing only
- Other than the drums all I need is 1 or 2 channels for everything else
- I mix your songs on a PC; an analog mixer is actually not necessary

It’s a sad affair as I saw quite a few on the forum asking for opinion on getting a bigger board because of aesthetic reason (me included).