Recording Technology Is Your Friend

If you’ve been keeping up to date with my articles, you’ll know one thing about me. I’m a bit of a control freak. I talk a lot about “having control”, and “controlled environments”… and that’s because it’s part of my style. I’ve tweaked my techniques to help me feel comfortable, but more importantly I’ve developed my skills to help suit my needs as a producer.

Every aspiring producer has high hopes and dreams of being the next Dr. Luke, but we can’t lose our heads. We have to be practical. We have to think of our livelihoods and how we can build a name for ourselves. Sometimes that may mean compromising some of our beliefs for the overall benefit of our careers.

I’ve gotten a lot of flak for using Melodyne, elastic audio, and using MIDI instead of a real piano. But I wouldn’t change a single thing. As producers, we have to work with the hand we’re dealt. That means if a project comes in and their singer is tone deaf… we’d better be doing our damnedest to make them sound as pristine as possible. If our recordings don’t sound top notch, it’s going to be rough showing our past work to potential future clients. We’ll lose business and create a sub-par resume. Double the negative.

It may seem like you’re cheating, but trust me you’re not. You’re using your skills and the beauty of technology to create something beautiful. If not for you, that singer may never stand alone on his own two legs. Your job is to make artists sound better… that way they can realize their dream. In the process, you’re helping yourself and furthering your own career as well.

Recording technology also works to your advantage when you’re on a deadline. If you’ve booked out a week of studio time, you’ll want to finish all of your sessions on a schedule. If the drummer isn’t nailing his takes, you’ll need to consider punching in and out of problem areas and fixing flubs with elastic audio. Is it really worth it to re-record a fill that can easily be fixed with some quantization? Quantization will take 10 seconds. Re-recording could take hours. Sign me up for quantizing any day!

When it comes to MIDI, there are some fantastic plugins out there that sound like the real deal. I don’t know about you, but I can’t just put $10,000 towards a baby grand. That money would take me a lot further if it were spent on some solid gear and microphones… those I’ll end up using every single session. The piano may sit around for a month or two before a pianist comes through. And even then… are they a solid musician? With my old friend MIDI, I can always quantize!

I know many purists out there are going to disagree with my techniques, and that’s fine. Everyone has their way of doing things. As we build our pedigree, we can get away with more. It’s the reason Justin Timberlake can write a 5 minute song and get away with it, but if Johnny No Talent writes the same 5 minute song it’ll never gain any traction. You have to earn your way to the top… you can’t start there. Then, when you’re at the highest point of the mountain… do whatever the hell you want.

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Overhead Microphone Phasing And Urban Legends

Nearly every sound engineer has dealt with phase. I have showed how to cancel an entire signal simply by duplicating and inverting the signal in this video. We’ve spoken about identifying phase by using phase inversion and listening for changes in the low end. But, how do we avoid phase issues?

This article will focus on drum overheads using the spread pair technique, but the principles will hold true for other studio applications.

Spread Pair Overhead Technique.

This is when we spread our two overheads apart from each other. Personally, this is my favorite overhead mic position. It provides an exciting stereo spread of the cymbals and natural tom panning. But, it can cause phase issues! The trick to avoiding phase is to place the microphones equidistant from the sound source. But, there is more than one sound source! Which source should we measure from?

There are two schools of thought on this:

1. Equidistant From The Snare. When you listen to the overheads, the snare drum is likely to be the most audible drum. If you’re like me, you will put a high pass filter on your overheads to better isolate the cymbals. This will cut some bass drum frequencies out, making the bass drum a less important part of the overhead mix.

2. Equidistant From The Bass Drum. If you are not intending to use a high pass filter, this is the method may be for you. This is a very realistic interpretation of a drum kit. The snare is not the center of the drum kit. That position belongs to the bass drum.

The best way to avoid phase issues is to keep the mics low and therefor closer to all of the drums. This is due to the speed of sound and the relative distance the microphones are from each sound source. The greater the height and microphone spread, the greater the time smearing. This discussion will continue below…

Time Smearing Due To Microphone Spread

WARNING! ONLY READ THIS PART IF YOU’RE A SERIOUS AUDIO GEEK:

The speed of sound is 340 meters per second. Meaning if one overhead microphone is 4 inches further from the sound source, it will take the sound 3/10ths of a millisecond longer to reach the furthest mic. 12 inches will get you about 1 millisecond of this time smearing.

I’d like to address an urban legend. Some colleagues have attempted to convince me that I must use the bass drum as the center of my spread overheads. They explain that low frequency sound waves move slightly slower than higher frequency sound waves. And they’re right about the psychics, but they’re wrong about the math.

And here’s why:

A frequency of 10 Hz travels 0.1 meters per second slower than a sound wave of frequency 100 Hz. This however is not a scalable equation. As sound sits in the more normal audible range, this speed change is close to negligible. (And as many of us know, 10Hz is not an audible frequency.)

But, let us walk through their argument as if it were:

Picture a signal generator. 340 meters away from the signal generator is a microphone.

The speed of sound is 340 meters per second.

If the signal generator were to generate a sound wave of 100Hz, it will reach the microphone in 1 second.

Now, imagine the signal generator were to generate a sound wave of 10Hz, it will reach the microphone in 1.0003 seconds.

This is a difference of 0.0003 seconds.

That is 3/10ths of a millisecond slower than the 100Hz signal over 340 meters!

Now think about one of your drum overhead microphones being 4 inches further than the bass drum than the other overhead microphone.

100Hz signal reaches the mic in 0.00029412 seconds

10Hz signal reaches the mic in 0.00029420 seconds

A difference of 0.00000008 seconds or 8/100,000ths of a millisecond

We have now put this urban myth to bed.

Please leave your comments and feel free to contact me directly at Anthony@myrecordinginternship.com. I’ll do my best to respond to you and answer any of your questions. Now, go out there and make great music!

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How To Produce (Conclusion)

The “How To Produce” series has been a very satisfying compilation to write so far and I’m actually kind of bummed to see it come to a close. I’ve given a lot of advice and I hope you’re able to gain some knowledge from my writing. Producing is my life, my passion, and I hope it sparks the same in you. I’m going to keep this last part short and sweet… but if you want to read more in depth feel free to go back and check out the entire series!

The Importance of Connecting with an Artist

Making a connection with our clients is quite possibly the most important aspect of our job. We need to find the balance between our musical knowledge and our communication skills. Working with others is how we grow not only as producers, but as humans. We need to use our talents to create, inspire, and thrive.

The Importance of Drums

As the backbone of the music, you have to see the drums as the most important part of the song. Though they act as one instrument, you have to view them as several. The snare, kick, and cymbals have their own place in the mix and their own distinct sound. When listening to drums, there is a lot that comes into play, so you’ll want to be sure that everything works in perspective with the song as a whole.

The Importance of Guitar

The guitar acts as the meat of the song, and there are a lot of caveats when it comes to working with them. Whether working with heavy distortion, or completely clean tones, the guitars need to work organically with the rest of the music. Be mindful of the listener and make sure the guitars follow the drums. The tighter they are with one another, the better the song will flow.

The Importance of Bass

The bass is the fat of the song. The best advice when it comes to bass is to keep things simple. Be creative when the music allows it, but don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Follow the roots, use fills tastefully, and avoid overpowering the entire song.

The Importance of Vocals

As the flavor of the music, the vocals need special attention. They need to sit right in the mix, and they really need to convey that raw emotion. Dynamics are key. Lyrics are crucial. And remember to motif.

The Importance of Effects

Mixing plays a significant role in the final product. A keen ear can create emotions using reverb, delay, and a plethora of different interesting effects. Effects shouldn’t be forced and should stay true to the overall feeling of the music. Mixing can make or break a song and it takes years to master. So make sure to hone your skills and constantly practice your craft.

I want to thank you for reading this series. I genuinely hope it helps you out in your production career. Please use this advice and our entire site to your advantage… after all we created it to help! If you like our work, please leave a comment and let us know what you think. Here’s wishing you the best, peace and rock on!

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How to Produce Effects (Part 6)

So far in this series we’ve gone over a ton of production techniques. (If you haven’t gotten a chance yet, definitely check out some of my earlier articles… they’re worth the read.) This week I wanted to focus a bit more on some of the fun stuff – producing effects within our mixes. Generally I like to work on my effects after all of the music has been recorded, so bear that in mind while you read on.

Keep It Simple

As uninteresting as it sounds, sometimes the simplest effects are the most… dare I say… effective? A radio filter on vocals is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it always sounds so damn cool. A simple flange on your guitar tracks can pique the interest of any listener. And although you may feel like you’re going back to your old bag of tricks from time to time, keep in mind that the bands you’re working with don’t do what you do. They don’t know you added that same effect on 10 songs in the past 2 months. All they know is that it sounds hella cool on theirs. And if they’re happy, you’re doing something right.

Borrow From Different Genres

You may not want to let your metal bands know that you’ve been pulling inspiration from Taylor Swift, but if you hear something you think would work, go for it! Side chaining isn’t a typically “metal” thing to do, but sometimes it can work perfectly. Sampling and pitch shifting are big in rap, but you’ll hear them all the time in pop and rock. Different genres are constantly borrowing ideas from one another, that’s how music evolves. Try taking ideas you find cool and see if they work with different styles. You might just surprise yourself.

Keep it Interesting

Think of how your effects will sound in the song you’re working on. Every decision you make matters, and it affects how the song will be perceived. If you overdo it, your song will sound synthetic. Is that what you’re going for? Is that what the band wants? After you’ve worked out your effects on a single song, think of your effects in context of the album as a whole. If you’re working on a 10 song record, are you using the same effect too many times? Earlier we said it’s ok to use the same effect – but that’s over the span of 2 months and several different bands. You don’t want the record to sound like it was mixed by a one trick pony. Spread out those effects. Keep things moving and make sure each song has it’s own little taste of something special. The more diverse it sounds the more clout you’ll have as a producer.

Don’t Force It

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard effects that are completely out of place. If it doesn’t feel right odds are that it doesn’t belong. You’ll come across bands who want to throw some awkward effects on their songs and that’s fine. It’s your job to steer them in the right direction, and find the right balance for these effects. Just make sure you aren’t making any poor mixing choices yourself. Avoid things like overly effecting intimate vocals, or layering way too many effects on one particular track. If you’ve been working on a particular part of the song for a long time, take a deep breath, step away from it for a while and come back to it later. You’ll be able to listen to it with a fresh ear and more clarity. If in doubt, you can always get input from a second ear.

Be Creative

Firstly, you’ll want to make sure you’re using effects that sound good. So playing it safe is always a great way to go. But don’t let this hinder your ability to create. If you’re feeling innovative in regards to certain parts of the song then go nuts! Add effects, create layers and get weird with it! What’s done can always be undone, so it’s not like you’re stuck with what you create. Find inspiration from other mixers, other songs, and try to create your own sounds. Have fun, and be creative!
I hope you’re able to incorporate some of these ideas in your future mixes and I’d really love to hear what you create. You can always find me online and send me some of your stuff. Please feel free to comment below and send me some links! As always, thanks for reading. Peace and rock on.
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