Monthly Archives: March 2015

Drum Recording: Quicksand

The next song to record on drums was Quicksand. I had arranged this session for the 28th April in the Multitrack suite. The session was set up in a similar fashion to the last drum recording. I spent lots of time setting up the microphones again as Casey set up the kit. Fortunately I had learnt from my last session and was able to streamline the process with new ways of thinking. Small issues from the last session were all covered, for example I had bought my own studio tape for fixing un steady drum mics and dampening the snare, rack and floor toms. I had also arranged for Robbie Caswell-Jones to bring his bass guitar to the recording so he could play as well and help achieve a better ‘feel’ or ‘groove’ to the song. Because of this I asked Robbie to sign a release form before he began recording.

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As I intended on recording without a click track again this would be vital. I also made sure I brought extra spare microphones in case they were required and had learnt since the last session that AKG 414’s were great as overheads so I thought I would give this technique a try. This is shown by Senior,

‘The C414 is particularly good here, as it only starts rolling off at the low end below 50Hz in cardioid mode… I once did a session where we got a beautiful full-range kit recording (complete with a nice punchy kick drum) out of nothing but a pair of C414s.’ (Senior, 2007)

My Engineer Daniel Marnie assisted with the early stages of the recording on tasks such as miking the kit and getting levels for the tracks.

I had also learnt from the last session in terms of project management. As I was managing three separate people at once it could have been easy for them to get restless at certain stages, especially as we were recording ate due to Casey’s other work commitments. Because of this I made sure I kept morale high by providing food for the artists and my assistant. This also saved time from the first session as the drummer and guitarist had took a break to go to Mcdonalds and get food. I’m a strong advocate for regular breaks in the studio but this had taken about an hour or so and I felt we had lost valuable recording time. The practice I employed saved two important facets, time, and it’s close relative – money. I was fortunate that my degree covers the costs of my time in the studio but in the ‘real world’ this would not be the case. These are two valuable commodities that every good Producer feels they could always have more of, yet they also manage to achieve a successful project within the allocated budget and timeframe. As my main aim for this project was to produce an EP to a high standard to show my skills as a producer, I believed I should replicate every area as close as possible to the real thing. This practice reflects this method, which I achieved by being confident and self assured at all times whilst non-threatening and open to other ideas.

As I had taken pictures from the last recording and I was extremely pleased with the drum sound I achieved, I was able to use these as reference points for this session. This helped the process run smoother as well.  Here are some pictures from the recording:

Here is the Audix D6 Kick Mic.

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I used the SM57 on the Top Snare again.

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For the bottom I used the Audix i5.

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The Rack Tom was miked with an Audix D2.

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I used the Audix D4 on the Floor Tom and AKG 414’s as room mics. I tested out different polar patterns including omni-directional to provide more room tone but as well but this was pretty void as we were recording in the dead room so I chose cardioid instead.

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Here is the blanket placed over the kick drum and mic. This meant I had to constantly check the position of the microphone but it was worth it for the clear sound it presented.

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Here’s a shot of Robbie and I’s set up in the live room. I had miked the acoustic with a 414 and the bass was patched into the desk via DI.

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A picture of the team listening back intently!

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Chords written down for Robbie.

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Overall it was an extremely successful session and I was able to achieve another great drum sound as Casey performed admirably and we recorded a great take. I’m really enjoying this experience so far and feel I’m putting my learning into practice by applying the techniques I’ve learnt to the following session. For my next recording date I shall be recording my acoustic guitar, which I am really looking forward to!

Here is the Session Sheet for this recording:

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References:

Senior, M. (2007). Q. Which mics should I buy as drum overheads?.Available: https://www.soundonsound.com/sos/dec07/articles/qa1207_1.htm. Last accessed 29th March 2015.

Recording Drums – Fireworks

My first recording session of this EP was arranged for the 21st March and the goal was to record the drums for the opening song Fireworks. Having already sent my drummer Casey the arrangement of what I would like for the track and him confirming that it would work, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry too much about getting a great performance of him and this was shown as soon as he started playing the kit. It was also great that my assistant engineer Daniel Marnie would be helping with the session and this would let me take a step back and think about the session creatively and managerially whilst the technical aspects were covered.

Before we even began setting up I made sure I was focused on all three of my roles simultaneously and because of this I was able to get Casey (officially ‘Christopher’) and Daniel to complete my Waiver and Release forms, which I discussed in a previous blog post.

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Because this was the first session with my drummer, I spent a lot of times with Daniel on microphone placement and setting up while Casey tuned his drums and prepared for the recording session ahead. I really liked that he spent so long crafting the perfect sound as this would really help the drums to cut through and I shared this belief with my careful approach to miking. Here are some pictures from early in the session:

Here is Casey tuning up with Guitarist Robbie Caswell-Jones.

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We set up the drum set in the drum booth as it would give us a ‘dead’ sound that would be more workable in the mixdown stage. I begin by micing the kick drum with the Audix D6 mic, being careful not to get too close to the skin whilst not too far away to pick up a muffled sound. I placed a pillow in the bass drum and covered the mic outside with a duvet to dampen the sound and reduce any unwanted frequencies picked up. This would also aid the clarity of the other mics as less of the kick was escaping through the back of the drum, which would equal less bleed picked up.

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The Top of the Snare was recorded with the famous Shure SM57 microphone and was aimed at a 45 degree angle, just off centre of the middle of the drum. This was because Casey played a mixture of full snare hits, rim shots and dampened hits using an empty wallet. Therefore the best way to pick all of these sounds up evenly was to compromise in the middle of all three. The snare mic was also coming from underneath the hi-hats, pointing as far away as possible to cancel as much of it out as possible.

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The bottom snare was miked with the Audix i5 and provided more of the top end when blending both snare mic signals.

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The Rack Tom was recorded using the Audix D2 microphone. We had a few issues getting it to stay on the clip but improvised with some spare tape I found in the studio. For the next session I’m making sure I buy my own just in case!

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The Floor Tom was recorded using the Audix D4 and was pointed at a 45 degree angle (like the rack tom) as close to the centre as possible without getting in the way for Casey.

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I used the Audix ADX51’s for overheads which would be used to pick up the cymbals and provide high end to the drum track.

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After Daniel and I had finished miking I got Casey into the drum booth to start playing and see if he was comfortable with where we had placed the microphones. After a few tweaks here and there to best get the mics out of the way without compromising the potential sound we managed to find a great placement for each mic. I then explained to Casey that I would go into the studio and get levels for each of the drums but I would give him constant feedback through the talkback. I proceeded to adjust the gain on each track to get the correct levels and checked the phase on certain mics including both snares. Daniel and I labelled each track in Pro tools and assigned the mics and drums to faders in the same order shown in the pictures.

I then took a step back and really listened to the drum set.

Was this the sound I wanted?

The answer was no.

I brought this up politely to Casey and stated that his playing was great but the kit didn’t sound quite right so we discussed what we could do to achieve a better sound. I realised that the sound was very boomy so I went back into the drum booth and after a few more tweaks between us in mic placement and tuning / dampening the floor tom with tape we achieved a much more balanced drum sound that I was very happy with.

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After getting a level for a tracking acoustic guitar in the live room we were ready to record. We agreed to record without a click track and really go with the feel of the song and only use it as a last resort. After a few recordings it wasn’t quite working out so I suggested if it would be a good idea to have the guide vocal over the top as well to guide him as to where we were in the song. However we didn’t have another microphone left! In order to over come this I placed the SM57 used to record the guitar in a ‘happy medium’ position that picked up vocals and guitar evenly. This wasn’t ideal but it was only tracking so I kept reminding myself that the drums were the most important part. I shall make sure I remember to bring a spare microphone next time.

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The introduction of the vocal melody really helped Casey out and I was pleased that my suggestion had worked. We had a great drum take within the space of an hour recording. After listening back numerous times we were all pleased with the take and I deemed it to be perfect for the track.

I was extremely pleased with how my first session went although I still feel I could have been more organised and express my views creatively. For example Casey dropped the motown drum sound for a sound that he preferred and to be fair did also sound great but I feel I should have suggested trying out an alternate method. For future sessions I aim to put these views forward.

Here is the session sheet for this recording.

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Meeting with the Orchestral Society

Today I took a big step forward to recruiting the classical musicians that I desired for my E.P. I achieved this by arranging a meeting with the Lincoln University Orchestral society. I managed to locate the group by visiting the societies page on the Students Union website but could not find a direct contact.

I then searched the group on facebook and was fortunate enough to find them. However the group was ‘closed’ which meant you were required to be a member to leave a comment or see what was being posted. To get around this barrier I was able to find the three admins of the group and send them a direct message.

I received a response from the conductor of the group, Robert Steadman. He said that they met every Wednesday for rehearsal in the MHT and I was welcome to come along and describe my project to them so I gladly accepted.

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Before arriving I created a sign up sheet with details including the performers name, instrument and contact details. Upon arrival the orchestra were rehearsing a specific piece so I waited until they had finished and entered the room. I was introduced by Robert and began describing my project. I mentioned specifics such as the timeframe, I also stated that as I had a small budget to work with I would attempt to get them as much funding as possible but also reiterated the fact that I was a student. It appeared to peak interest, which was great and after the meeting was completed Robert invited me to join the group and I posted on their wall. Now I’m just waiting anxiously for replies, so fingers crossed!

 

References:

Lincoln SU. (2015). Orchestra. Available: https://www.lincolnsu.com/activities/orchestra. Last accessed 18th March.

Arranging Out of Hours with Media Loans

A source of great stress for me recently as a Producer has been trying to arrange my session dates. Fortunately I managed to get it all sorted which was a massive relief! This will allow me a much greater deal of time to record that will allow the sessions to be more creative. This will be due to the fact that I can step back as an auteur producer and take stock of each recording. It will also give the session musicians more time to rehearse and practice so they can get into a creative flow and achieve the best possible takes. Ironically this may end in the sessions being shorter! However they will be far more productive as it ensures none of the process is rushed. As the recording dates have been booked far in advance, the out of hours sessions have allowed me to rent the studio space over weekends and evenings, which are far more convenient for the session musicians. This should enable me to the opportunity to record more instruments as I can now fit around their schedules as opposed to the artists trying to work around me. In this regard, they will hopefully be more likely to record with me in the studio.

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Securing an Accordionist

After running through some of the songs with my tutor Bryan Rudd, he suggested that one of the songs ‘Wind In Our Sails’ would sound great with an Accordion in it. This is actually something I had toyed with before and attempted to emulate specifically for this song so it was great that we were on the same wavelength. He stated that he new a great accordion player called Darran Walster so he gave me his contact information.

I opened up a dialogue with Darran and he was keen to be on the project. We agreed to record on Sunday 26th April. I was extremely pleased I had secured a unique artist to my project!

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