Monday, 13 June 2016

Mix hour #5


The final mix didn't quite go to plan, as when I uploaded the mix to Soundcloud it was immediately taken down for copyright protection purposes. If interested in what I mixed, the track was Bannockburn by Cnoc Un Tursa
Instead of spend ages describing the mix process, without a reference track, i'll skip it and conclude the experiment.

Conclusion

It was a greatly revealing challenge, which highlighted the most time consuming elements of a mix and also showed what parts I was a bit slow at completing.
Mixing drums seemed to consistently be a long part of the mix, taking roughly half an hour in every mix. This wasn't a surprise to me as previously drum mixing has never been a quick process.
One of the most revealing things was genres, and how mixing techniques can vary so vastly between some. The second mix was the prime example of this, showing how an electronically produced track barely cried for any EQing, compression or even time based FX. They could have been added, however it was far from a disaster leaving the tracks bare. My use of panning was interesting, while I had very little time, I still created a fair bit of interest in the track, making up for using compression and EQs to give tracks contrast.
In terms of FX usage, while it didn't show that adding reverb and delay to tracks was a hugely time consuming task, but it did demonstrate that rushing FX is never a good idea, proven by the very mismatched reverb present on various parts of the third mix.

Time wise, it certainly showed that while one can get a very basic mix completed within an hour, if the aim is to have a create a reasonable product that can be taken away after one hour, you should probably focus on mixing the elements of the recording, then add some time based FX, and only apply EQ or compression if you have a lot of time or if a track is in major need of fixing.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Mix hour #4

I didn't get round to doing yesterdays mix as I met up with some friends in the evening and was busy for most of the day, so instead I thought I would still complete my planned mix, but do it today (as well as decide on a mix for today).

Mix #4:
Big Mean Sound Machine - Contraband
(https://soundcloud.com/rufus-ambler/mix-hour-4)



This Afrobeat song was a decent mix. It was a live recording as would be expected of such a genre, which helped as I didn't need to fret too much with my reverbs. I haven't done too much mixing with percussion and horn instruments so if there had been any issues with the recordings (There weren't as this particular recording session was conducted by the renowned mic company Telefunken), I wouldn't have necessarily known what to do to fix them.
I enjoyed this mix more than I think I would have something like a big band recording due to the rhythmic aspect of the song, which could be lacking in latter song style.

The mix process

I started off as usual with the drums, giving a quick listen to the overhead tracks to see what instruments they mostly picked up, then muted them and built the sound from the the kick and snare. I added a little compression to the kick, but felt nothing else was really needed. I moved onto the snare, first compressing it a little to bring out some of the body, then used a pultech style EQ to bring out some more of the low end & attack of the snare. Near the end of the mixing session it came to mind that it could do with gating a little, so I applied a gate to the track, so it very gently gated out some of the cymbal bleed. I brought the overheads back in next, adjusting them to give a good overall sound of the kit, panning them wide as due to the genre and live nature of the recording. I then moved onto the toms, panning them a little so they had a spacious sound but were not too wide in the stereo field. Last I added in the percussion elements making them loud enough to be heard in the mix but not dominate the drum sound. One of the conga tracks had both a very resonant sound, and parts where the player seemed to play much harder, so I applied a compressor to the track to balance it, and used an EQ to cut out the resonance at around 200Hz. I dialed in a Distressor style compressor on a parallel compression track, sending the drum bus to it. I left it muted til the end of the mix however, to dial in once the other instruments were balanced.
The bass was simple enough to work on, I compressed the bass amp recording a little and balanced the DI track so it was 1-2 dB lower than the amp, giving the bass a bit of attack.
The guitars required little work. While the first track was sounding good, with a slight touch of compression that could have improved it a bit more, the second guitar track had one section where the volume increased dramatically. I could have used automation for this but for times sake, I put a compressor on the track and altered the settings at the loud part so the gain reduction peaked at around 10dB. This kept the volume balanced within the mix. I applied the reverb to the tracks at this point, using the short reverb for the picky guitar and the long reverb for the shimmery strummed guitar.
The horns were next on the list. I decided to pan the trumpet and trombone fairly wide, leaving the baritone sax in the middle as it could accompany the bass track. I applied a bit of the short reverb to the horns, the sax having less reverb than the others due to the low end response of the instrument. The Keyboard track was simple enough to mix in. I didn't particularly like the sound of the organ so I applied a fair amount of long reverb to it and left it quite low in the mix, sitting underneath the horns.
When it came to the room tracks, I was running very short on time, so I left them all the tracks at unity gain and just adjusted the bus.

To dial in the short reverb, I used to snare track to adjust the time of the plugin, and for the long reverb I used a studio room impulse.

A few minutes from the end of the mixing session, I adjusted all the faders once more to balance out some of the instruments, editing some of the panning on things such the percussion. I had ran out of time before I was able to add the parallel compression track back in, so having learnt my lesson from Wednesdays mix where I rushed the reverb and ended up drowning the vocals a little,
instead of throwing the parallel compression track up at a level I thought might be okay, I decided to cut it out as the mix was sounding alright as it was.

Time management

I found that once again, mixing the drums took me quite a long time, spending nearly 30 minutes in the end getting a nice balance. With that said, I did spend a fair bit of time working with some processing FX on some of the drum tracks, which improved the sound a fair bit, but were not quite necessary. If I was extremely pushed for time, I could have instead just quickly panned and adjusted the levels of the faders.
The reverbs didn't take too long, however by the time I had worked through all the instruments, panned and applied reverbs, I was running quite short on time.
I quickly changed some of the panning a bit, adjusted some of the levels of the buses and time was up.

Conclusion

I feel this mix went well enough, and I wasn't exceptionally pushed for time but I still barely went into any depth with my FX usage on the tracks. The balance isn't great, with the drums being present, but not having much power over the mix, just providing a backbeat to the other instruments. I would have liked them to push through a little more during the busy sections of the song. With that said, the drums in the song are very dynamic which could have contributed to this dilemma. I liked the bass, with a quite loud tubby sound, having decent note definition and plenty of power without taking focus away from the other instruments. In my effort to hide the lines of the Keyboard track that I dislike, I seem to have added too much reverb and kept the track too low, making it sound out of place in the mix. In general the reverb doesn't sound too bad, however there could be minor tweaks made here and there.

I will finish my last mix up tonight, which will be a Death Metal song. I'm looking forward to it, however I know for certain it will prove a hard challenge, despite the fact I listen to similar music often and am fairly engaged with an online community of engineers dedicated to audio work within that realm.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Mix hour #3

Todays mix was a hip-hop song:
Side Effects Project: Sing With Me
(https://soundcloud.com/rufus-ambler/mix-hour-3)





I decided today I would challenge myself again today, and I certainly achieved that with this mix. While the stems themselves weren't challenging, the sheer amount of tasks I had to complete in an hour was kept me going 100 mph throughout the whole mix.
While I haven't had any experience mixing or recording in this genre, I listen to fair bit of early 90s hip-hop so I am fairly familiar with the music style.

The mix process

I knew how pushed for time I would be almost from the start, so throughout the mix I was trying to be conscious as to not spend too much time on things that would only make a minor difference to the mix.
I began by mixing the drums, bringing in the tracks one by one, doing panning on the fly and adjusting the volumes so that the kick and snare tracks were the forefront drum sound. I applied a little EQ and compression to the kick and snare when I was starting the mix, but soon realised I didn't have any time to do this for any other tracks, bar the vocals and maybe the bass.
The bass was simple enough to mix in, adding some slight compression before adjusting the levels, allowing the kick to come through nicely.
I moved onto the keys bus next, harp and synth tracks. The harp wasn't too hard to fit in, but the synth line took a little more to time to figure out how to tastefully add it in.
Now came the vocals, by far the hardest part of the mix to work on. When I worked out what vocal lines were doing what, I found that many were double or quad tracks of the same vocal lines. This made the mixing process a little easier, but didn't reduce the time it took to balance the vocals as much as I hoped it would. I started off by balancing the two main vocal lines, then subtly adding in the double tracks for dynamics. I added in the main vocal chorus lines, panning the 4 tracks, varying the stereo width. They weren't easy to match with the verse vocal lines, as the vocal delivery was very different. The backing vocals were laid out in a question-response format, and sounded closer to the vocal style of the verses, so weren't as hard to mix in. As there were 6 tracks per backing vocal delivery, I took advantage of this panning them 20, 40 and 60% left & right, giving a wide stereo image. When I was adjusting the faders of the vocal tracks, with the main two main vocals aside, I worked by adjusting all the tracks of a certain vocal line at once, which saved a lot of time. Once the vocals were mixed, I gave brief thought to FX, adding a slight bit of compression to the tracks. Because time was such a concern, and there were many similar sounding doubletracks, for the compression of each vocal line, I solo'd an individual track and applied a compressor to that, then copied it over to other relevant tracks. In most mixes, this would be a very lazy approach, but I feel it helped achieve my goals without using up too much time.
I quickly moved onto the samples, adding them in a similar fashion to the tracks on the other buses. Some of the samples were harder than others to mix in, and one I felt had no place in the song so I muted it and left it out.

As by this point, I was running very low on time, I quickly got some rough settings of my reverb and delay tracks. Next I threw up some delay and reverb sends to some of the vocal tracks, the snare tracks and the guitar loop.

Time management

As i've said already, I knew I had barely any time for anything other than things that would change the mix drastically, so I had to focus my time on the important tasks. The drums took a while to mix and pan, spending a good 25 minutes on them alone, without even spending any time thinking about any major usage of processing FX.
The bass and keys tracks took virtually no time but following that was the most complex element of the mix, the vocals.
Due to my time saving methods, I managed to get through them faster than if I had been working with them each as individual tracks. But I was still extremely hurried, with every minute spent being of the upmost importance.
I was left with something like 5 minutes to decide what I felt needed reverb and delay and then apply the effects to them tastefully. With the amount of drum and vocal tracks this was a huge effort and I had to stop before I had even applied reverb to all the tracks I planned, because I was out of time.

Conclusion

I was far from happy with this mix, listening back to it, it's best elements are barely acceptable..the worst a trainwreck.
As can be seen in the picture, the some of the buses were clipping, however I had no time to sort this out, so all that could really be done was to quickly drag the mix bus down to ensure the master would not distort.
I had some minor issues with how the drums sounded at the end. The kick and snare sounded okay and cut through the mix enough but if I had more time, the other elements of the drums could have used some adjustment to give them more presence in the mix. The bass and keys and guitar were okay, but the vocals at some points were dire. The verses were okay, being present, if slightly overpowering, however the choruses were mostly very quiet in comparison. It was not helped by the reverb, which brings me to my next point..
Okay, I did have less than 5 minutes to put reverb on a fair few tracks, but it doesn't stop the fact that the reverb sounds terrible in most cases. The reverb on the guitar loop sounded nice, giving it some ambience, and the reverb on the snare was acceptable, but still too much. The vocal reverbs went from bad to shocking though, with the verse vocals sounded much too airy, but still had a forefront sound. The chorus vocals however..a different story. The main vocals sounded too dry, but this would have not been too much of a problem were it not for the backing vocals, which sounded like they were recorded 15m away in a wide hallway.

While I am not at all pleased with the outcome of this mix, I have to remember that this is part of the challenge and it is a learning experience. I know that I bust a gut to fit in time for all the usual elements of a mix, which I barely had time for, so in a way this was a lesson showing me how a simple composition, with many recordings can be far from a quick mixing session.

I've been sleeping little over the last couple of days (not getting to sleep til 5am mostly) so I think I will choose the next song to mix tomorrow.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Mix hour #2

Todays mix was an ambient electronic song:
Bravestar - Downtempo
(https://soundcloud.com/rufus-ambler/mix-hour-2)




Holy shit, this was a tough one. I am kind of familiar with the genre of music, though I wouldn't say I listen to it much, and certainly have done no work in a style like this, bar one little side project I worked on about two years ago which incorporated some ambient electronic style synths.

The mixing process

This mix was very different to any other mixes I have worked on before. Due to the composition process that usually goes into electronic music, most, if not all the tracks have had their tones created and EQ & compression applied, which means it saves me a job as an engineer. Sure, some tracks could sometimes benefit from a little additional FX work, but in this particular case I had no time for that and didn't really see the need anywhere (as can be seen in the photos)
Instead of FX work, I only worked with panning, fader levels and time based FX sends.

I started off working on the drums, combining the three kick tracks and making my way down the tracks in the drum bus. Once I had adjusted the levels of the tracks, I set some basic panning up on a couple of the tracks and brought the main loop into the mix. I checked that the different drum elements were decent, before moving onto the bass. I brought the bass in and adjusted the fader then moved onto the keys. I went down the tracks in the keys bus, adjusting the faders and setting panning. I found I didn't find a place in the mix for the synth track, so got rid of it.

Then I went back through all the tracks I had worked on so far, and gave some thought to automating panning, as can be seen in the picture. I didn't automate many tracks, only some elements that weren't consistent throughout the song. I used some pingpong panning for some of the tracks, however when there were multiple 'extra' elements, I tried to keep a balance of interest between the left and right of the stereo field.

Before moving onto the FX bus I sent some of the tracks to the reverbs & delay to add ambience to the song.
I repeated the same process that I took on the other buses when working on the FX. I found partially due to time constraints and partially I didn't think they fitted the compositon, I cut out around half the FX tracks that were in the stems. Finally I added a touch of reverb to some of the tracks.

Time management

Time wise, this was a very challenging mix. I found that once I had finished the panning automation for drums and keys, I had a measly 20 minutes remaining of my allocated time. I chose to do the reverb and delay sends at this point because I felt that would be more important than adding in the FX tracks. I was partially right in this judgement, given how many FX tracks I decided to cut out, however I was pushed for time towards the end, having less than 10 minutes to add in and adjust the volumes of FX tracks.
I just about made the time limit, which is a bit of a miracle.

Conclusion

As i've mentioned already, this was a particularly challenging mix because of it's genre, so I approached it without much of a clue what to do. When I heard that the tracks needed little to no processing FX, I underestimated how long it would take to get the mix into any finished state. In a way, the panning automation was the main 'effect' I used to give light and shade to the song.
The fact I took so many tracks out could be an issue if I were completing a mix for a client, however as this is only a practice the decision is obviously up to me.
I'm fairly pleased with the mix, but I know for certain there are many things that I could have spent more time on, or tried out; the particulars being trying out some processing FX on some tracks, spending more time trying to integrate the FX tracks and I could have spent more time on the reverb and delay sends.

I haven't decided what i'm going to mix for tomorrows challenge, but I know for certain at some point in this week I will work on a metal track, hopefully something along the lines of Death Metal.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Mix Hour

Since the end of my uni year, I've still been fairly busy with some days in the studio mixing and some gigs I've been to, but I saw that I didn't have anything planned for this last week before I go home. 
To fill this time, I thought I would keep practicing my engineering skills and challenge myself at the same time. 

In the time I've been mixing the cover album for Recluse, I've noticed how useful time constrains are for 'finishing' a mix (A mix is never really finished just left sounding as good as possible, with reasonable time spent). As rough estimate, I have probably spent about 6 to 7 hours mixing each song on the album.
Given this, I thought I would challenge myself, giving myself a measly hour to complete a prepared mix (tracks in a properly bussed project, trimmed & delay & reverb times work out), seeing what results I could achieve in a logically ridiculous timeframe.
Once I had spent my hour mixing, the track would be bounced down, and uploaded to my soundcloud page. 
I would also make a commentary immediately after, documenting any difficulties I had mixing, mentions of what things went well in the process, and issues I didn't get time to iron out. 

Mix #1: Jesper Buhl Trio - What is This Thing Called Love
(https://soundcloud.com/rufus-ambler/mix-hour-1)



I wasn't sure what the outcome of this particular mix would be, given that i've only worked with jazz music only a handful of times ever. With the time restraints, i'm happy with the sound I achieved. The fact that there were only 6 audio tracks helped with this a bit I reckon.

The mixing process

After first giving the track a quick listen, I started off by mixing the two kick tracks together, combining the attack from the kick in track and the thump from the sub kick track. As the overheads were recorded in mono, I duplicated the track and panned each out to 70% left & right respectively. I then combined the kick and overhead tracks, before adding in the snare. Before starting on FX, I tested how the kick and snare tracks sounded together in isolation.
Once I was happy with the drum mix, I started off by EQing the subkick track, cutting out some of the high end spill from the cymbals and snare drum. I also removed a resonant frequency at 650Hz that I disliked. With the kick in track, I applied a lowpass filter at around 10kHz to cut out cymbal bleed, and added around 3dB to both 80Hz & around 800Hz to bring out some of the attack of the drum. I readjusted the balance between the tracks after this and moved on to the snare drum.
As the snare track sounded like only the top of the snare was recorded, it didn't quite have enough bottom end so I boosted a bit of 60Hz using a pultech style EQ plugin. I also added some 4kHz attack and cut a little of a 15kHz shelf.
Now that the drums were finished I moved onto the double-bass track. I started off by sidechaining a compressor to a kick track, ducking the bass a couple of dB when the kick hit. I then EQ'd the track, applying a low pass filter at around 8kHz cutting out some bleed from the piano & cymbals. I boosted a couple of dB at around 120Hz to add thump to the bass sound.
I moved on to the piano last, leaving it as the stereo track it seemed to be recorded as. a little compression was added, reducing at max 4dB, then EQ was applied. a few dB of roughly 200Hz was cut, allowing more of the mids & high end to come through. a few dB of 5kHz added to increase the midrange of the track and a lowpass filter at 18kHz applied to attenuate some of the high notes of the piano.
I then moved onto the FX. For my short reverb I used a drum booth preset and changed the predelay times to the song tempo, and adjusted the time to taste. For the long reverb I used a studio room impulse, and for the delay used Native Instruments Replika, set to an 8th note delay in time with the track.
A small amount of the sub kick track was sent the long reverb, as well as a small of the bass track. A fair amount of the overhead tracks were also sent to this reverb.
To the the short reverb, a little bit of the snare track was sent, as well as a fair amount of the piano. A tiny amount of delay was applied to the piano as it could be considered the 'lead' track in the mix.

Time management

In terms of time management, it took a while, spending a good 20 or more minutes mixing the drums and applying FX.
With 20 minutes to go, I had added FX to all the tracks, and I was working on balancing the tracks & applying reverbs. I was close to finishing with 10 minutes to go, messing about with track balances & reverb sends, however I remembered with 2 minutes left, that the bass could benefit from some compression, so I placed a LA-2 style compressor after the sidechain compressor, compressing at max 4 or so dB. While working on adjusting the volume of the compressor, I slightly broke the rules and overshot a minute or so.

Conclusion

In hindsight, I didn't find anything took unreasonably long, however I probably should have worked a little more on compression, compressing the kick drum slightly, perhaps even trying out how some parallel compression worked on the drums (in moderation of course given it is a jazz song).

For my next song, I think I will challenge myself again, working on an ambient electronic song.

Friday, 27 May 2016

First year completed!

Two weeks ago on friday, I officially finished my first year of university! While it is only the first year, in which getting a pass is all that really matters, most grades i've got have been in the 2:1 area, even with a few 1sts!
I'm pleased about the grades, but at the same time, grades aren't the only thing you come to uni for. I've had a load of my own recording projects i've done which have varied a little between recording to recording, however I certainly feel that my production skills have come along in leaps and bounds since my time at Brockenhurst college. This is certainly from teaching i've received from lecturers, but I have so much to thank my coursemates for, with many tips and tricks picked up from them that I have benefited from greatly.

With my course aside, I've been pretty busy these past few months, recording the alt-rock band Recluse in February, fighting in a Judo competition towards the end of that month, taking part in and holding a couple of recording sessions in the months up and til now, going to a gig every so often and of course Judo training bi-weekly, however the most time consuming thing has been mixing the songs for Recluse.

I started mixing the first song around the start of march. I got a mix completed, however I found that the guitars didn't quite sound beefy enough. In reality I should have double tracked the guitars, however during the recording session I forgot to so instead I re-amped the tracks during one of my mixing sessions, running them through a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto Ace in the university. While I had the mics set up, I also ran the vocal tracks through the amp, which gave me a raw, saturated to mix into the tracks if I wanted. Capturing these additional sounds proved very helpful, solving my issues by both fattening the guitar sounds and also giving me the opportunity to add some edge to the vocals if they suited the mix.
At this point, nearly all the mixes are completed, with five tracks definitely completed, three mixes currently in limbo as to whether they need tweaking and one last mix which I will hopefully finish in university tomorrow! The band hinted to me about sending the mixes off to the mastering engineer that worked on their last album, a proposition i'm pretty excited about. I managed to see them play live last week at long last, supporting a Kings of Leon tribute act. While I enjoyed the tribute band, I would have preferred to see Recluse headline the gig.
I'm pretty proud of the whole experience of working with the band, the mixes i've been doing and everything to be honest. I feel that the whole project has been a great piece of work to sit as my main piece of work of my first university year.
Aside from skills, it has also taught me that I cannot rely on using university studios for mixing, purely due to time and booking issues, especially if i've got a nine track album I need to mix. For next year, in the last few weeks invested in a fairly expensive pair of studio monitors, so I can record in university and do my mixing in my house next year. I'll include some pictures of gear i've brought in my next blog post.

I've been thinking a fair bit about the house lately, very much looking forward to it!
Lately the noise here seems to have increased with the progress on the building site, with the trains remaining the same irritating noisy entities that they were when I first moved to Cardiff. I could be totally wrong, and instead just got more fed up with the noise disrupting everything from mixing music, playing guitar and even just watching Youtube videos.
While I've definitely enjoyed living here and have certainly seen the benefits of living in halls, even if only for the first year, I cannot wait to move in September. Going to probably take a bit if getting used to sharing a house with eight people but I'm sure it'll be great!

As a brief sidenote, in some previous blog post I had  mentioned the list I had made of everything I had drunk or smoked in the year..to conclude this year, here is the list that spanned from the 16th of September to today. It's a long list, however I know that had I wished I could have certainly added a lot to many different sections of the list.

Times drunk: Too many to count
Times chundered: 1

Captain Morgans rum: 1L, 10 shots
Diserrano: 1L, 7 shots
Desperadoes bottles: 44
Cider pints/bottles: 84.5
Beer pints/bottles: 78.5
Crabbies bottles: 13
Hooch bottles: 9
Glasses of Wine: 8
Gin & Tonics: 14
Various Cocktails: 18
Vodka shots: 32
Sourz shots: 8
Sambouka shots: 3
Tequila shots: 6
Jager bombs: 11
Absynth shots: 2

Nights high: 10
Joints smoked: 14

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Recording Recluse (Day 2)

February 14th, Valentines day. What would I be doing other than waking up early on a Sunday morning & spending a day recording a band in a studio!? Aside from the fact that any studio day is usually fun, it was nice to have something actually planned that day...
I woke up a little later that day, as there was no rush to set things up, given the fact we left all the gear there from the previous day. When the band showed up, it seemed we had all caught a cough overnight and were feeling a little ill, which wasn't the best of things for a recording day; but as the phrase goes, "the show must go on".

Guitars were the next in line to be tracked. The songs only had one rhythm section, with a few solos here and there, which made recording guitar a fairly fast process. He was playing into a Marshall JCM800 paired with a JCM900 4x12 cab, with a Boss SD-1, Phaser of some sort & Dunlop crybaby wah going into the input.
When it came to getting a tone, I was surprised to hear the guitarist saying that he set the amp on a fairly clean, quiet setting, adding most of the distortion using the SD-1. Given that it was an old school Marshall, which typically like being played loud, not just for the 'pushing air' factor that every amp benefits from but also playing the power tubes hard, it was surprising to see the amp set like that. I asked if I could mess around with the amp controls and ended up setting the preamp gain at 10:00 o'clock and the volume at 3:00 or so. By now the amp was sounding quite raspy, which suited the genre of songs being recorded, but also it was loud as hell at this point, which ticked both boxes in my opinion.
When I was happy with the sound in the room, I stuck my ears up against the speakers (for as little time as possible!) to work out what mic placement would work. I decided to stick up a microphone against all 4 and try out various combinations. I started off by putting a 414, MD421, SM57 & RE20 against the center of the cone, with another 414 about a meter or two away from the cab in figure of 8 pattern, to capture the room sound using a mid-side technique.
Pulling up the mics at the desk, I found the most obvious change was to cut the RE20 out entirely as it phased with any combination of the other mics I tried. The MD421 picked up a fair bit of low end and low mids, which I was happy with, as I would use this to support other brighter sounding mics. The 414 (against the grill) sounded really good, capturing a nice 'real' representation of how the guitars sounded to my ears in the room. The SM57 I wasn't too happy with, as it was way too bright and fizzy, even by a 57s standards. I moved it so it was off axis, pointing a couple of inches from the edge of the speaker. This improved it's tone drastically. It was still a very bright sound, but it had more high mids in it, which helped the presence of the guitar tone when combined with the MD421 & 414. The room mic worked nicely, capturing a quite big sounding tone, with no particular emphasis on any spectrum of the EQ.
I was surprised how quickly the setup went, with only one or two quick changes needing to be made.
Ttracking rhythm guitar went pretty smoothly, with only one or two hiccups, however the leads took a little longer, as the guitarist hadn't done a solo over one of the songs before, so was trying to figure out something in the studio. As they were only short takes, it wasn't an issue redoing the solo many times, however in the end, we ended up deciding to use two solos. One of them was much too short, however I liked the way it came in, and the other was much longer, however had a weird middle section where the wrong note was played. So I took the longer solo and cut it to just after the wrong note, then brought the other first solo in and found a point where they sounded like they were playing on the same scale. I left the mics exactly as they were for the lead as the high sustained notes sang nicely.
There were some other comps here and there that I did, which was mostly at the end of a few songs, because his guitar was a little bit faulty and the input jack crackled in the ringout.
To summarise, I was pretty happy how the guitars went. The tone was good & the recording went pretty smoothly.



video

video video

A couple of the songs suited acoustic guitar, so we decided to track acoustic guitar, leaving whether it would be included in the final mixes till a later date.
I used a stereo pair of 184s in a method i've found has worked well for me in the last couple of sessions. I placed one facing the soundhole, with a 45 degree angle of the mic facing the upper  end of the fretboard. The other mic I placed over the guitarists shoulder, pointing downwards towards the soundhole (no need to mention that they were placed equidistant to avoid phasing). I also tried a 414 in figure of 8 mode to try a mid-side technique, however found it phased out when combined with the 184s. I instead changed it to an omni polar pattern and put it a little distance out from the guitarist as a room mic.
The tracking took no time at all, as the parts were very simple and there weren't many tracks that needed acoustic guitar on them. While we had the acoustic mic'd up, I also quickly tracked an acoustic song that the guitarist was working on as a personal project.

Vocals were final piece of the jigsaw.
Once again, they were pretty simple to track, with only one vocal line, with no backing vocalists.
After we had finished with recording the guitars, I had a little while to setup a few microphones to test which would work best, while the guitarist/vocalist went outside for a smoke. I set up the C4000, AT4033 & 414, getting the vocalist to switch microphones when the song changed sections (e.g. verse went into a chorus). He came into the control room and we decided which microphone would be best for tracking. The AT4033 won out in the end, with the C4000 being bland & boring as I expected, however the 414 had fairly flat response that sounded good, but the AT4033 had a nice low end warmth that made it more pleasing to the ear than the 414. I've used the 4033 for a fair few projects now and as I mentioned in the last blog, it's always worked for any use I throw at it. In the back of my mind I expected that I would choose it over the other two mics, but testing different microphones and techniques out is great to do when you have the time.
Most songs only required one take to get right, so tracking didn't take long at all. There were a few hairy moments however, where I found the quiet sections of some songs metering healthily at around -12dB, then when louder passages came round, at times it metered at something close to -3dB, at which point I was slightly shitting myself, hoping it doesn't clip. Before the next vocal take, I attempted to hook up a compressor on the input path to sort out the volume difference, however after a while fiddling around with the compressors & patch bay, I gave up and decided that I would sort it out in the mix with automation & compression plugins. Massive difference in vocal volumes wasn't all bad however, I liked the dynamic range, despite the fact it would certainly have to be reduced a fair bit for the mix.

We finished at around 5:30, which meant that I had spent around 16 hours by myself tracking enough material to be the length of a short EP. I was pretty chuffed with how much we had accomplished in a relatively short amount of time. With that said, there is a little of work for me to do on the mixdowns, but nothing too time consuming.
I was pleased with how I handled the session, getting a fair bit of experimentation in without disrupting the session too much, with most mic testing ending up benefiting the end product. I had a few hiccups & made a few mistakes here and there, but over all, think I ran the weekend well.

I would like to thank Tom, Britt and Alex from Recluse for their time and I hope that I can provide some good mixes of the tracks for them. It has been a pleasure working with them!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Recording Recluse (Day 1)

I had a great weekend last Saturday recording a Cardiff based alt-rock band called Recluse (Facebook & Bandcamp link here: https://www.facebook.com/recluseuk/timeline, http://www.recluse.bandcamp.com/).

I contacted them at first when I posted on a welsh gear exchange page on Facebook, asking if any musicians or groups were interested in any recording time. After contacting one of the band members, we soon organised to run a session on the 13th & 14th of February. As they were still working on material for their next album they organised to record some covers.
Due to the the rather shoddy gear booking system currently in place at the university (particularly the fact that the earliest you can book anything out is two weeks before a session) I was able to secure all microphones that I wanted, including a fair few others that I took out just for the purposes of testing. I'm sure this left one or two other people a little shorter on gear over the weekend than they liked, but they should have been more on the ball and booked equipment sooner than I did.

I got up early on Saturday (for once) at 8am and did my usual studio day preparations, namely made a flask of coffee, filled a bottle of water & made a big tray of pasta to eat throughout the day. As soon as i'd got everything ready, I headed out to get a Protools project ready & tidy the studio up for the band.
After they turned up at around 10:30, we briefly introduced each other & had a chat about how the production was going to go, then got to work setting up for the guide tracks.
I tracked the drums in the demo throwing mics up, just to get any signal from the kick, snare & cymbals. While the kit was still being setup, I also took liberty to set up an AKG C4000, Audio Technica 4033 & AKG C414 facing away from the kit in roughly the same spot, to test them out as room mics. I tried to do the same with a Neumann KM184 & the other 414, placing them roughly over the center of the kit as mono overheads, however had issues so stuck with the 184. For the bass & guitar track, I decided to DI both as there would therefore be no drum spill in the signals whatsoever, which would help keep the final drum recordings in time. I ran the bass straight from a DI box into the desk and used my Line 6 POD HD500x for guitars, running a dirty Marshall-ish patch (which suited, given the guitarist would be running a JCM800 for his guitar takes). For vocals, I put a dynamic mic of some sort in front of the guitarist, which caught a little bit of spill from the drums, which I didn't really care about.

As the tracks were laid down, the songs kept on coming, in the end leaving me with 8 covers of varying lengths. At first I thought to myself "I highly doubt that i'll manage to get all of these finished off".
Once we decided the guide tracks were of good enough quality, I listened to each room mic recording and decided on what purposes they would best suit, if any at all.
I found the C4000 sounded a little dull, but had reasonable low end response. I decided that it would be good as a secondary kick mic, picking up the real low end, with large diaphragm dynamic picking up the attack.
The 4033 had a nice balance of low end and airy room sound, so I thought this would be best for getting a room sound of the cymbals. On a side note, i've found this mic is very versatile, doing well in almost any application i've thrown it at. It's great for vocals with a nice warmth to it, does acoustic guitar well, i've used it as a drum room a fair few times now..I need to pick one up myself at some point!
The 414 didn't do that much for me as a room mic, it was a little thin compared to the other microphones and I wasn't that excited by the high end or midrange.

Before micing the kit up properly, I quickly redid the 414 vs 184 overhead test and decided to use the 414s as they had a little more bottom end. I ended up using a Glyn Johns technique as it's fairly simple to setup, and just something that usually works for me. I could have experimented a bit more, but this session wasn't really the time for that.
Next I moved onto the kick. I stuck to my usual choice of an Audix D6 as my first kick mic to capture the attack, then had the C4000 reinforce the low end resonance. I found that the C4000, even with a pad had such a hot signal and had to move it about 5 inches out, which wasn't ideal as it started to pick up a little bleed from the rest of the kit, and had a bit less of a bassy sound. A while later in the recording, I remembered about the -20dB pad on the console...
The snare was the next to be mic'd up. As a quick a test, I placed an SM57 & Beyerdynamic M201 in roughly the same position on top and shot them out. While the M201 sounded okay, it was a little scooped which I didn't quite think would fit with the session, so I stuck the to the usual of a 57 on top & bottom of the snare. I found that it took a while to cut the hi-hat bleed down to a minimum, something that's lately shown to be a part of micing a kit that I need to practice. Two songs into the drum recordings, I found I had forgot to reverse the polarity of the bottom snare mic, which pretty much meant I had to retrack the songs, which luckily the band wasn't too phased by (Aren't I punny?).
Toms were the next part of the drums to be mic'd. As usual, I settled on Sennheiser MD421s, placing them at about 30 degrees off axis, 3 inches from the rim and an inch or so from the skin. Like the snare, I also had issues with spill on the floor tom, with one of the ride cymbals cutting through despite the fact I had aimed as much of the null as I could at the cymbal, raising it up as high as I reasonably could. Aside from spill, I also found the rack tom was sounding quite dull so I did a mixture of moving the mic closer to the center of the skin & EQing on the desk to improve the sound.
For room mics I used a C4000 on cardioid polar pattern facing away from the middle of the kit, at roughly the height of the top of the kick drum. I also tried a new idea, which was to place the 4033 a little above the top overhead mic, facing the ceiling. I found this combinations of room mics worked nicely, as the C4000 picked up a little more of the fatness of the snare, kick & toms while the 4033 captured the room sound finer, adding a little bit of top end to the snare & cymbals.
At this point, I was just about ready to get on with recording, but after a discussion with some of the band, decided that I wasn't quite picking up enough of the hi-hat or ride cymbals. I scouted out a few more mic stands and put a 184 over the hi-hat & rides (I had some issues with a channel that didn't seem to work, so changed the other 184 to an Oktava Mk12, but didn't bother changing mics back when I found the issue was the channel).
It was finally time to track the drums. It went pretty smoothly (aside from my fuckup with the snare bottom phase), only needing a few takes at max to get a final take for each song.





Bass was the next instrument to be tracked.
It was fairly easy to set up the amp. I ran the bass into a DI, then from the DI into the bassists pedalboard and amp. He ran a fuzz & wah pedal into a Laney amp with a 4x10. I decided to mic up all 4 speakers, using an AKG D112, Electrovoice RE20, D6 & C4000. The mics all were placed roughly on the center of the cone. I ended up cutting the RE20 out as it didn't pick up much lows or even low mids. I didn't decide on the day whether I would even keep all the mics and left that to the mix.
Tracking the bass mostly went smoothly, aside from one or two sections that the bassist had trouble with. They were mostly quite easy to do drop ins for as they were small parts in between different song sections, however one part would always mess up a technical run that he had written. After a fair few takes, we gave up on that part and he wrote a simpler part to fill it. When he had worked out a part, we tried recording it and found he was even messing up that, which was probably as we were all a bit fatigued by that point as it was fairly late in the evening. In the end, to finish the song up we just had him play root notes following the guitar line. It was a shame that it came to that, as the bass line he had originally written sounded pretty good, adding a bit of variation to the song.
By the point we had finally got the bass all tracked, it was about 8:30, so time to pack up. I left the bass mics setup in case we would try that troublesome bass section out the next day, but other than that, nothing more needed to be done that day.



Day 2 to come..

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Busy times

Things have been rather quiet lately, as we've been coming to the end of our current course modules. I had my last bit of work on Monday, a practical live sound assessment that involved soundchecking and mixing a band performing a couple of songs. For my groups test we happened to have my flatmates course band performing, which I was pretty happy about as I knew I'd be working with a good vocalist. 

Other than one module which we study throughout the year, that is all our work finished for the moment! On the subject of that module, 'repertoire & music production', I accidentally missed our Wednesday lecture after falling asleep after my alarm went off. It was a little ironic that our Thursday tutorial was then cancelled as my lecturer was ill..

With uni things aside, I've been fairly busy since I've got back, organising things like recording sessions but most excitingly securing a house to move to next year!
With one of my flatmates sadly returning to Germany next year, and another moving into a house with some of her coursemates & some of our other friends staying in halls, the rest of our flat are joining one of our friends in an 8 bedroom house, along with two of their coursemates and their friends. 
We looked around a couple of properties on Tuesday and decided we would take one of the ones we had seen that day. It's a nice place, with large enough bedrooms, enough toilets & bathrooms, a  decent sized kitchen/living area & also is in a prime location! A 10-15 minute walk to the city center & uni, and only around the block from where our flatmate will be living!

It's probably going to be a little weird moving into a house with 8 people, but it surely can't be that different to living where I currently am? Either way, I look forward to it!