Monthly Archives: January 2015

Mixing my first Studio Session

After completing my session in the studio, I saved the files onto my hard drive in order to take home. As I prefer mixing in Logic than Pro Tools I chose to consolidate the audio files and note down the good takes. I have reaped the benefits of consolidation in many of my previous projects as it allows greater flexibility with the audio. Consolidation is the process of adding silence to the start and end of each audio file or ‘take’ so that all the files line up at the same timecode. Effectively, all regions now start and end at the same point. By doing this, it ensures there are no issues with syncing audio together, which helps vastly when there are multiple start points for different tracks.

This is noted by Thornton (2009) who also provides another benefit to consolidation,

‘This will achieve two things. First, it will take the load off the computer, because it is no longer having to chase round your hard drive looking for hundreds of bits of audio. Second, it makes transferring the Session to another person with a different system much easier.’

When I returned home I uploaded the files onto my Macbook Pro and imported them into Logic Pro.

I began by labelling the tracks and then adjusted the E.Q. on the acoustic guitar. This involved applying a basic high pass filter at around 100 Hz on both the acoustic body and neck mics, whilst boosting wide between 2-10khz. This helped reduce any unwanted bass frequencies and increase the presence of the guitar.

‘Cutting some of the bottom end below 100Hz thins out the acoustic guitar sound… all these frequencies in the acoustic guitar track will do is make things a little muddy… A modest EQ boost somewhere in the 5-7 kHz range can add a little presence to the sound.’ (Walden, 2006)

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I also made a slight decrease in signal at around 200-300 Hz, specifically more on the Body EQ as the main issue with the recording was the ‘boomyness’ that was captured. This was due to the miking techniques used as explained in my previous blog post. My techniques are also supported by Walden (2006),

‘If the guitar sounds a little boomy… sweeping a parametric band from Q through the 100-300 Hz range may help identify where the problem lies. Once the offending frequency is identified… it can be gently cut by 2-3 dB to reduce the problem.’

After this I just adjusted the gain to bring it to a reasonable listening level.

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This has definitely improved the acoustic guitar sound, however I wanted to bring out even more top end. To do so I applied the Waves Aphex Vintage Aural Exciter and adjusted accordingly. Computer Music states that,

‘As its name implies, the Waves Aphex Vintage Aural Exciter is an exciter, and it adds a treble ‘sheen’ to any signal. This was particularly useful back in the day for pepping up signals that had become dull…’

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I found this plug in increased the quality of the recordings dramatically and managed to bring out much of the high end that was missing. I found the noise reduction function incredibly useful as it managed to boost the the treble in the guitar without enhancing the slight scuffs and scrapes from clothing, breaths and general hum that could be found in a similar frequency range. This is what makes the plug in preferable to say just adding further E.Q.

This is shown in the two following audio clips. The first contains the Aural Exciter with the original noise kept in;

The second has the noise reduction function turned all the way up.

It is a stark difference and I’m sure you will agree the second clip produces a far more desirable sound. This is tool that I will not necessarily aim to use, as that implies I’m not recording accurately in the studio but I’m sure it will be useful in situations where the high end could not be picked up at the source.

Following this I created an Auxiliary Bus to house the reverb effect I had planned to use on the guitars as I had recorded them as dry as possible.

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I used Space Designer to find the perfect reverb as it has a wide selection of impulse responses from interesting acoustic locations ranging from real caves to traditional plate reverbs. I decided to use a big church reverb and remembered a technique that David McSherry had taught me in 1st year when applying it. I Increased the reverb to maximum or ‘full wetness’ and reduced the dry input to zero. This meant that when I sent the auxiliary back to the channel the signal returning would be fully wet and increase solely the reverb and not the dry signal. This gives me greater control with the application of reverb and ensures no sudden jumps in volume. This was key as I only wanted to apply a very small amount of reverb.

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I employed another E.Q on the auxiliary channel with a high pass filter at 150 Hz. This meant I could add the atmosphere without making the mix seem too muddy. I essentially adjusted the Q until I found a good balance of tone and reverb without the boomyness of the low end.

After Individual mixing on each track I listened to the piece as a whole and set levels and pan positions accordingly. To do so I turned all the tracks down and set levels individually in order of importance. For example starting with the main rhythm acoustic and finishing with the picking guitar. I set the tertiary acoustics panned wide on either side of the mix to promote distance and panned the main acoustic narrower to aid intimacy and stress it’s importance in the mix.

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Finally I compared the two tracks. Going from this,

To this.

Although I find you can never be perfectly happy with a mix, I was extremely pleased with my results after this session. However it taught me a lesson that capturing the right sound at the source is always easier than fixing it in the mix! I’ll make sure I will not make the same mistake again and use these mixing tools as a way of enhancing the piece and not fixing it.

 

References:

Thornton, M. (2007) Tips For Beginners: Digidesign (Avid) Pro Tools Tips & Techniques. [online] SOS. Available from http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jul09/articles/pt_0709.htm [Accessed 30 January 2015]

Computer Music in Music Radar (2011) Waves Aphex Vintage Aural Exciter. [online] Music Radr. Available from http://www.musicradar.com/reviews/tech/waves-aphex-vintage-aural-exciter-457388 [Accessed 30 January 2015]

Returning to the Studio

After hiring out all the necessary equipment, I began by loading up pro tools and selecting the 24 in 24 out template as it already has the channels assigned to each room. I decided to set up in the dead room as I was recording acoustic guitar and looking for the driest environment possible so I could add any reverb or delay in post production. In order to achieve this clean sound, I placed a chair facing away from the mixing console, parallel to the longest sides of the room. I did this so that the sound created from the acoustic guitar had further to travel and could therefore disperse more adequately. I had previously assumed that it would be better to place some acoustic foam or sound absorbing material directly behind the mic but my research showed this to be incorrect. As White states in The Producer’s Manual,

‘Some improvised screens behind and to the sides of the mic can help reduce room colouration’ (White, 2011, 128)

This allowed me to capture subtle reflections from the back and side of the 414’s whilst not overpowering the sound with ambience. I set the microphones up using the XY method and placed them around 30cm away from my proposed playing position with the axis of the mics directed at the 12th fret of the guitar. I did this as it allowed me to pick up a wide range of tones from the instrument as described in Sound on Sound by Veteran Nashville Engineers, Chuck Ainlay and Bob Bullock,

‘I like to record acoustic guitar with the XY pattern – one capsule pointing towards the fretboard and the other one more towards the hole – placed somewhere off the 12th fret, about where the neck combines with the body of the guitar.’ (Ainlay in Senior, 2010)

‘It let’s me get the sound of the low and high strings with more definition, which means I use less EQ, and it gives me a good combination of room and guitar resonance’ (Bullock in Senior, 2010)

This resonance allows the mics to pick up more harmonics, which creates a fuller sound.

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The results however were, at best O.K. I kept trying to record at different positions on the guitar and at alternative distances but I couldn’t quite get a sound I was 100% pleased with. Due to my research into miking techniques I had wrongly taken a ‘one size fits all’ approach in regards to my application of the XY method. When I returned from the studio I researched further into my microphone set up and soon discovered the issue. Sound on Sound had a very informative article purely based on the XY method with 414’s and it shows some great examples of how to set up the equipment accurately. Unfortunately, my method was inaccurate as the article states,

‘The problem with this configuration is that each microphone sits directly In the active area of the polar pattern of the other mic, forming an acoustic shadow for high-frequency sounds, which will mess up the imaging fairly comprehensively.’ (Hugh Robjohns, SOS Technical Editor)

This definitely shows in the recording, as the original feels very muddy and has a distinct lack of top end.

Despite these flaws, it made for good practice and that is exactly what these sessions are for. It ensures I won’t make the same mistakes in the final production phase and the E.P. is destined to be greater for it.

I also thought it would be important to attempt mixing these recordings as it would be extremely helpful to have experience with poor recordings as I can guarantee my workload will be less when it comes to the final mix stage with better recordings.

Please follow this link to see if I could (somewhat) rescue the session!

References:

White, Paul. (2012) The Producer’s Manual. Second Edition. Sample Magic.

Senior, M. (2010) Recording Acoustic Guitar: Techniques From The World’s Top Engineers & Producers. [online] SOS. Available from http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr10/articles/acguitar.htm#para7 [Accessed 29 Jan 2015]

Returning to the Studio

Today felt like my first step on a long journey towards completing my E.P. It was important to get familiar with the equipment that I will be using throughout this project so I thought I’d get involved as soon as possible.

I had hired the multitrack studio out from 10am – 3pm along with a matched pair of AKG C414 XL’s, an AKG 414, headphones, appropriate cables and I had also brought my trusty Shure SM57.

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Please click here to see my blog post for this session.

Returning to the studio – The Desk & Shure SM57 & AKG C414 Mics

As I will be in the studio tomorrow for the first time this calendar year, I thought it would be prudent to catch up on my research so I’m prepared for recording as soon as possible.

To do this I made sure I read up on the operation manual for the Audient ASP 8024 desk. This included going over the basic signal chain and the glossary of terms to establish functions such as solo, pan, mic / line and gain. Although these terms are extremely familiar it definitely helps going over them to familiarise myself with their location on the desk relative to the channel.

I also felt that I should research studio microphones as I spent the whole of my last project using location mics. I already own a Shure SM57, which is renowned for being a powerhouse in terms of durability and flexibility for recording most instruments. I intend to bring this microphone to every single recording session as both a back- up microphone and a legitimate contender for most recording challenges I face. This is due to its low sensitivity (-56.0 dBV/Pa), wide frequency response (40 – 15,000 Hz) and it’s cardioid polar pattern that rejects most unwanted sound.

I have also hired out a matched pair of AKG C414 XL microphones as I intend to record acoustic guitar tomorrow. These large diaphragm condensers are fantastic for natural instruments as they have a good high frequency response, which in turn attenuates the boomy bass frequencies that are not as desired in acoustic guitar recording. Pair that with a wide dynamic range and it’s a good all round choice for recording an acoustic.

I have chosen to hire out two as I’m planning on recording the instrument using the XY technique. DPA microphones (2015) state that this set-up is ‘a coincidence stereo technique indicating, that two microphones are placed in the same point. The most commonly used XY set-up consists of two first-order cardioid microphones angled typically 90 degrees to produce a stereo image’.

X-Y Miking

In this sense I feel the 414’s are perfect for recording the detail of the acoustic guitar. Tomorrow I will mic up in both the live room and dead room and assess which set up I prefer. I feel like I have prepared appropriately and I’m looking forward to getting started!

 

Please see the file attached to see specifications and miking recommendations for the AKG C414 XL.

C414 XLS XLII Manual

 

Here is the link to the Studio session that proceeded this research.

 

References:

Audient (2014) Audient ASP 8024 Operation Manual. [online] Audient. Available from http://audient.com/sites/default/files/asp8024_manual_8.21.pdf [Accessed 28 January 2015].

Shure (2014) Product Specifications: SM57 Cardioid Dynamic Microphone. [online] Shure Incorporated. Available from http://cdn.shure.com/specification_sheet/upload/81/us_pro_sm57_specsheet.pdf [Accessed 28 January 2015].

DPA Microphones (2015) Mic University: Stereo Techniques: XY Stereo. [online] DPA. Available from http://www.dpamicrophones.com/en/Microphone-University/Stereo-Techniques/XY-Stereo.aspx [Accessed 28 January 2015].

First Tutor Meeting

Today I had my first meeting with my tutor for this project, Bryan Rudd. It was highly productive and he gave me the go ahead with my idea to record the E.P. He identified that I should see myself as an ‘Autuer Producer’ as I would be performing and I held the main creative vision of the project. I really liked this idea as I do feel like I know exactly which direction I want the E.P. to go in.

After discussing my ideas and influences Bryan understood what it was I was trying to achieve and even suggested some session musicians that I should get in contact with. These include Steve Jackson of Ploughmans Bunch.

I should also consider what my aims and objective are for this project and by doing so; I can decide my learning outcomes. In this regard I am going to make sure I start thinking as an auteur producer and work out what I would like to achieve from the project. I already know I want to focus on arrangement, as it is a key aspect of dealing with different musicians. It is one thing having the backbone of a track written on an acoustic guitar but I will have to think creatively to develop the songs into something bigger than I could achieve by myself. However I must make sure I maintain my artistic vision and integrity throughout. Therefore, I will work with musicians specific to each track so I can best bring out the feel of the song as I see it as a producer. In order to work out which instruments I think will work out on each track, I shall find examples from songs already in the public domain and use them as inspiration for mine.

I have booked out the studio for Thursday 29th January so I should be able to add my first tracks to my ‘work in progress’ tab. In summary I was very pleased with the outcome of the meeting and it has encouraged me to get the project up and running.

 

References:

http://www.strumminstevejackson.com/