Monthly Archives: August 2016

Drum Recording Checklist

drum recording checklistProbably the single most troublesome instrument when it comes to recording is the drum kit. Engineers obsess over the drum sound, and well they should since the drums are the heartbeat of virtually all modern music. It’s a fact that drums that sound small in the track will make the rest of the track sound small as well, regardless of how well everything else is recorded. The drum recording must go well and a great sound kit is the first step.

While it’s true that different people have different ideas of what constitutes a great sounding drum kit, in the studio it usually means a kit that’s well-tuned and free of buzzes and sympathetic vibrations. Free of sympathetic vibrations means that when you hit the snare drum, for instance, the toms don’t ring along with it. Or if you hit the rack toms, the snare and the other toms don’t ring along as well.

The way to achieve this is all in the tuning and the kit maintenance. Here’s a simple checklist from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook that outlines how to get a drum kit up to speed before you even set up any mics.

  • Have the heads on all the drums been changed? Be sure to change at least the top heads before recording
  • Have the drums been tuned? Are all drums tuned to work both by themselves and with each other?
  • Are there any sympathetic vibrations occurring? Tune the drums so that any drum that’s hit does not cause another to ring.
  • Is there an unwanted ring? Suppress it with tape, a muffling ring, or MoonGel.
  • Is the hardware quiet? Spray with a lubricant like WD-40 if not.
  • Is the level of the cymbals all the same? Balance the level with lighter or heavier cymbals as needed.
  • Is there another snare drum available? A song may call for a different snare drum sound.

If the drum kit sounds great in the room, it’s that much easier for it to sound great when recorded. Spend whatever time is required to get your kit to work acoustically and your drum recording will greatly benefit.

You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

August 30, 2016

Pro Tools Expert Founder Russ Hughes On Episode #124 Of My Inner Circle Podcast

Russ HughesI’m very pleased to have Pro Tools Expert founder Russ Hughes as the guest on the latest edition of my Inner Circle Podcast.

Russ had a successful career in multiple aspects of the music business, but started a small blog dedicated to helping Pro Tools users. The blog has grown into a group of sites (,, and that may be the most influential in the digital audio world today.

Russ and I will discuss the future of Avid, and the hot upcoming workstations, among other things.

In the intro we’ll take a look at how an artist finally got the best of a major record label (you don’t see that every day), and the passing of engineer Rudy Van Gelder, a giant in the world of recording.

You can listen to it at, or via iTunesStitcher, Mixcloud or Google Play.

Engineer Rudy Van Gelder Passes

Rudy Van GlederJazz engineer Rudy Van Gelder passed away last week at age 91, and although many won’t recognize the name, he was a giant in the industry. He was responsible for recording some of the greatest jazz albums ever by artists like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Donald Byrd, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and hundreds more.

While we look to Bruce Swedien as the Godfather of modern engineering, Rudy actually predates him in that he started his career in the mid-1940’s in the days even before tape. He was never a luddite though, as he was always involved with the latest that technology had to offer right up until his final session.

Van Gelder was unique in a many ways. He was the first independent engineer able to make a living from his passion, and like many today, he was self-taught in that he never had a mentor or worked directly for a record label or studio. For the first part of his career, he used a day gig as an optometrist to finance his recording habit (sound familiar). He also had the first home recording studio as well in that he recorded many of his biggest records in the living room of his parent’s house prior to building his own studio.  And on the tech side, he owned one of the first three true recording consoles every built, the others going to Les Paul and a studio in New York City.

Speaking of tech, to the very end Rudy guarded his recording techniques like they were nuclear secrets, never telling or showing anyone any of his methods. Even when photos were taken of recording sessions in his studio, he would move the mics so no one could see their placement. Only in his last years did he finally get an assistant to help. I wanted to get him to do an interview for the Recording Engineer’s Handbook but he would never agree, one of the few engineers that I’ve encountered that ever felt that way.

Rudy was also a big proponent of Neumann mics, being the owner of the second U47 in the United States. Very early he decided that the microphones where a huge part of the sound and deserved special care, so he always handled them with gloves and would never let an artist touch them.

So let’s give it up for Rudy Van Gelder, truly one of the giants in our business. A pretty amazing guy who made some equally amazing recordings.

New Music Gear Monday: GIK Acoustics Portable Isolation Booth

GIK Acoustics PIBIn these days where home studios proliferate we’re all faced with a situation where you have to record but have some room reflections that need some control. The problem is that there’s either no room to build a iso booth or not enough money, or both. Now GIK Acoustics have come up with a solution that can keep those nasty reflections at bay with the new PIB, or portable isolation booth.

The PIB is comprised of sections 6-foot 6-inches tall x 3-foot 7-inches wide – tall enough to easily accommodate most singers. It can also be folded down to become a 4-feet tall x 3-foot 7-inch wide isolation screen that can be used around acoustic instruments. It’s made of 2-inch thick rigid fiberglass which effectively absorbs down to 150Hz, and the thin wooden outside face has some interesting looking cutouts that improve absorption while providing some diffusion at the same time.

It only weighs about 30 pounds and you can use two of them together (as in the photo on the left) to build a larger booth.

The stock PIB uses black fabric over the fiberglass on the inside, with a blond wood veneer on the outside, but custom fabric colors are also available. The GIK Acoustics PIB portable isolation booth costs $325, which is a small price to pay for something so versatile and useful. That said, it’s important to remember that if you’re looking for total isolation from the outside noises, that’s not what this unit is mean to do. The PIB is meant to control room reflections, and as the video below shows, it does that very well.

Heart “Barracuda” Isolated Guitar Tracks

Heart BarracudaSometimes we can grow up listening to a song but not really hear what’s going on inside. Granted, that’s what mixing is for, but it’s pretty cool to be able to get an x-ray focus inside a track to hear what was really going on when it was recorded. Today we listen to the isolated lead guitar tracks from Heart’s big hit “Barracuda” that will give you some new insight to how well arranged the track really is. Here are a few things to listen for.

1. The interplay between both guitar tracks is great in that they each have separate parts that never get in the other’s way. There are only a few times (like in the verses) where they double each other, but the rhythms, solos, and fills are all separate but equal.

2. The sound of both guitars is different, which makes the track sound larger. Likewise, the sound of the lead guitar solo is much more distorted than the rhythm tracks.

3. They’re each effected differently as well, with the track on the right being slightly flanged while the guitar on the left has a short room ambience.

4, The 2 tracks are far from perfect by today’s standards, but state-of-the-art for 1977. Although the timing is mostly pretty good, most of each take would either be played until it fit better with the drums or edited today. You can hear a lot of ghost notes and amp noise in the spaces that would be deleted today as well. We don’t hear those things in the mix though, and one might argue that those little things give it the energy that we love.

Heart has had many lineup changes in it’s history and they’re still a great band, but this classic lineup with guitar players Roger Fisher and Howard Leese had some magic that we’ve all loved over the years.

August 25, 2016

Top 10 Guitars Of All Time

Top 10 GuitarsIf you’re a guitar player then you certainly have a favorite guitar model, and chances are good that your personal favorite has even changed a few times over your career as well. While we can all agree on a few as all-time greats, when it comes to picking ten of them the choices can really be diverse. That’s what makes this video on the Top 10 guitars of all time from WatchMojo so cool. There’s a few choices in there that make you scratch your head, but on a list like this that’s all the better.

One of the things I really liked about this video is some of the performance excerpts that are included, which make it worth the time to watch.

Do you agree or disagree with this list? Are there any other guitars that you think should have been included?

5 Great Session Tips That Will Save You Time And Money

5 Session TipsWhen you’re recording basic tracks, especially in an expensive commercial studio, it’s easy to get off track in a way that not only causes you to waste time, but money as well. These 5 session tips from the latest edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook will ensure that not only the tracking session, but all the overdub sessions that occur afterwards, run efficiently.

“There are a number of things to remember when the session gets up and running that will keep every happy and motivated, with their full attention on playing and singing.

1. Start off with the easiest song. This is usually something that the band knows backwards and forwards. It will help everyone to get comfortable in a new environment, get into the groove of recording, and make it easier to move on to the more difficult tunes later.

2. Record a tuning note. This may seem a bit old fashioned, but it could be a lifesaver later. Before each session, be sure to record a 10 second tuning note before each song as something to reference to later, especially if there are no keyboards involved. This way, if for some reason you happened to use a tuning that was a couple of cents flat, you have the tuning note as your reference. Even with today’s tuners, sometimes the tuning note just makes things easier.  This seems like such a small thing, but you wouldn’t believe how much time it can save you down the road if a situation arises where you just can’t figure out why everything sounds out of tune.

3. Don’t forget to record a count-off for every song. If someone gets a great idea for adding something to before the song begins, you’ll have a tempo reference point to work with. Even if you’re playing to a click that’s being generated by the DAW itself, recording the click at least four bars ahead of the downbeat is a foolproof way to make sure that any pickup or opening part is easily executed.

4. Take frequent breaks. One of the best abilities a producer can develop is knowing when it’s time to take a break. It’s hard to keep anyone’s attention for more than three hours, so be sure to take frequent short breaks. Sometimes just bringing the band in to the control room to listen to a playback can break it up just enough so their minds don’t begin to wander. A ten-minute break can pump new energy into a flagging session, so the producer always has to keep his finger on the pulse of the players to gauge their concentration.

5. Keep the food light and have it delivered. When it’s finally time for lunch or dinner, going out to eat will waste a lot of time, and sometimes it’s impossible to get back in the flow of things afterwards. If the break is too long, it may take an equally long time for the players to get their focus back. One of the biggest problems to avoid is having a large meal, since normal digestion naturally slows down a player’s ability to concentrate. Keep the mealtime short, the portions small, and allow absolutely no alcohol so that everyone stays fresh and the session is kept on track.

These 5 session tips will keep you session running smoothly and keep all involved happy and motivated.”

You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

August 23, 2016

Mastering Engineer Colin Leonard On Episode #123 Of My Inner Circle Podcast

Inner Circle PodcastColin Leonard is one of the hottest mastering engineers going, and he’s so busy that he can’t get to all the work he’s offered. So he’s created a new online automated mastering process called Aria that uses his analog signal path to the do the job. That’s right, it’s online automated analog mastering!

On podcast Episode #123 Colin discusses how he came up with the process and the differences between other online mastering sites.

In the intro we’ll take a look at the music business in Japan and how it’s really still like the US was about 15 years ago in terms of CD sales (and even rentals), and I’ll look at a study that shows how only the right kind of music can help us concentrate. You won’t believe the genre that’s the best.

You can listen to it at, or via iTunesStitcher, Mixcloud or Google Play.

Enjoy the show!

The iPhone Headphone Jack Sails Into The Sunset, And We Should All Be Happy

headphone jack plugAs usual, rumors abound about Apple’s upcoming iPhone 7 release, but what seems to be getting the most attention is a piece of ancient tech history that the company appears to be leaving behind – the standard 3.5 millimeter headphone jack. While there’s a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth in the media over this issue, I say, good riddance to this vile piece of primitive technology, and thank you Apple, for being rid of it.

Apple, of course, has a history for leaving pieces of tech behind before the competition, and we’re all better because of it. Remember the Sony floppy disc? How about the CD/DVD drive? How about VGA ports (among many other communication ports that no longer appear on Apple gear)? Everyone complained about these being left off the then latest unit, only to forget they even existed about a half-second after they got used to whatever new alternative was introduced. So it will be with headphone jack on the iPhone as well.

Yet I can hear your screams already. “What will I do with my expensive headphones/earbuds that have the standard connector?” Just like in all connector transitions before, there will be 3.5mm to Lightning port adapters that will nicely take care of that. You think Apple didn’t consider this, especially when it owns a headphone company?

The truth of the matter is that the headphone jack has long been the weak link of the chain in what was otherwise a beautifully designed piece of technology. It doesn’t take much to break it, and even if it’s not broken, a little dirt can make it unusable as well. It’s a wonder such a fragile piece of mechanics works as well as it does in the first place anyway. Time for something new.

There’s actually a lot to like about Apple’s headphone transition to the digital Lightning connector. First is the fact that it promises to be more robust since there are fewer moving mechanical parts involved. Second is that it will now allow an almost end to end digital signal to be available, moving the digital to analog convertor into the headphones, which has the benefits of a potentially better convertor, and eliminating any cable loss or interference in the analog domain. Seems like a win to me.

Sure, this means that soon we’ll be buying new headphones with either Bluetooth or built-in digital to analog convertors to accommodate our new phones, but is that such a bad thing if the quality is better? Basic headphone design hasn’t changed all that much over the years (although that’s changing), and this might give it the kick in the pants to do so in a bigger way. [Read more on Forbes]

New Music Gear Monday: Rupert Neve RNHP Headphone Amplifier

RNHP headphone amplifierMore and more engineers and musicians are doing their thing on headphones these days, and while once upon a time that might have seemed like mixing sacrilege, we’ll see more of it in the future thanks to sound for virtual reality. So if you’re going to spend time listening on phones, why not make them sound as good as possible. That’s what Rupert Neve Design’s RNHP headphone amp aims to do.

The RNHP reference-quality headphone amplifier is based on the headphone output circuit in the company’s 5060 Centerpiece Desktop Mixer, and features 24 volt rails for lots of power and headroom so it can drive even the most inefficient set of phones. It’s a simple device with only a 1/4″ stereo headphone jack on the front panel along with a volume control and three source selector switches, but don’t let that simplicity fool you. Quality doesn’t have to be complicated or feature-ridden.

The switches allow you to pick between a +4dBu balanced line feed from a combo XLR/1/4″ jack, unbalanced stereo RCA inputs, and a 3.5mm (1/8”) mini-jack input. All inputs are specially calibrated to the optimum impedance levels for their typical sources, and everything is housed in a rugged VESA-mountable steel chassis.

The fact of the matter is that most headphone amps on just about any piece of gear are almost an afterthought and not much care or thought goes into the design. It’s pretty much a feature that’s added that was way down the list of sonic priority rather than something at the forefront of the design. That’s why a dedicated headphone amp can really make your phones come alive, especially during those times when you’re not able to listen on standard monitors.

At $499, the RNHP is somewhat expensive, but considering how important and overlooked headphone audio is, it’s an investment that could pay off big down the road. And not only that, it’s designed by Rupert Neve!

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