Category Archives for "Book Excerpt"

7 Simple Tips For Improving Your Drum Sound

drum sound - parallel room micsWhen it comes to a live drum sound during a tracking session, sometimes the smallest details can make a big difference when you consider that there are usually multiple mics involved. Changing one thing can sometimes make a difference, but sometimes it’s the fact that many small adjustments have a cumulative effective on the overall sound. Here are 7 tips culled from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition that can individually or together improve your recorded drum sound.

1. Microphones aimed at the center of the drum will provide the most attack. For more body or ring, aim it more towards the rim.

2. The best way to hear exactly what the drum sounds like when doing a mic check is to have the drummer hit the drum about once per second so there’s enough time between hits to hear how long the ring is.

3. Try to keep any mics underneath the drums at a 90 degree angle to the mic on top to keep the acoustic phase shift to a minimum.

4. Most mics placed underneath the drums will be out of phase with the tops mics. Switch the polarity on your preamp, console or DAW and choose the position that has the most bottom end.

5. Try to keep all mics as parallel as possible to keep the acoustic phase shift to a minimum (see the graphic on the left).

6. The main thing about mic placement on the drums is to place the mics in such a way where the drummer never has to be concerned about hitting them.

7. The ambient sound of the room is a big part of the drum sound. Don’t overlook using room mics where possible (see the graphic on the left).

The above tips can generally apply to just about any drum miking setup, but remember to listen carefully after each adjustment to note the difference, if any, that occurs, then make sure it fits with the track.

2 Schools Of Thought On Guitar Pedal Order For Better Sound

effects order 1I was asked by a guitar player recently why his tone wasn’t what he wanted, and the first thing that got my attention was the maze of stomp boxes he was using. Although that wasn’t the only problem with his rig, it was a good place to start, since everything was connected more or less haphazardly. Here’s some info on guitar pedal order taken from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (written with the great player/composer/writer Rich Tozzoli), that can help you get a handle on your processors.

“There are two things that will directly affect how your effects interface with your amp; the pedal order and gain staging. Effects order means the order that each pedal appears in the the signal chain between the guitar and amplifier. There are several schools of thought on effects order, and they each have a different result.

School Of Thought #1

This effects chain is the order generally recommended by most of the pedal gurus. There are several rules that make up this order:

  • Any distortion pedal must come first right after the guitar. The exception is if you’re using a compressor pedal, which will be first in the chain. Do not put a volume pedal first, as this can alter the way a compressor or distortion pedal sounds.
  • Any modulation or tone devices like wahs should come next. This enables you to keep the sustain coming from your distortion or overdrive devices and alter an already harmonically rich signal.
  • Delays come almost last in the chain, since you want to be delaying your already effected signal.
  • A volume pedal comes either last in the chain, or directly in front of any delay.
  • In situations where a pedal is providing a lot of clean gain, that will come last in the chain so as not to overload any of the other pedals.

So a typical pedal order might go something like:

compressor distortion → wah → chorus → delay → volume pedal (see the graphic on the left)

While this might not be the quietest order, it does sound really good because any distortion, overdrive, or sustain is being affected by the effects that come behind it.

School Of Thought #2

If we’re talking about recording, we may want the least amount of noise going into the amp. With that in mind, there are two rules in this scenario:

  • The noisiest pedal goes last in the chain before the amp.
  • The one with the most gain goes last before the amp.

The reason for both of the above points is simple; if the noisiest pedal is first in the chain, that noise will be affected and amplified further by every other pedal in the chain that you switch on. Same with the pedal with the most gain; if it’s at the beginning of the chain, it could possibly overload any other effect that comes after it, since most pedals only want to see a typical guitar signal and nothing greater (see Figure 4). Also, any noise caused by increasing the gain on a pedal will be amplified downstream by any other pedal switched on.

Generally, you’ll try to keep the basic order as in School of Thought #1 in order to be sure that any distortion or sustain is affected by the effects placed later in the chain. That being said, this order won’t sound the same as Order #2, especially if a distortion pedal is placed last in the chain (which isn’t recommended) because of its gain, so it might not be for everyone.

If you follow the above suggestions, you’ll find that your signal chain should clean up quite a bit and your recordings should benefit greatly as a result.”

You can read more from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

The Pre-Session Recording Checklist

recording checklistOne of the keys to an initial basic tracking session running smoothly is the information that you receive pre-session. Here’s a recording checklist from my Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition that shows the some of the info that really helps to receive in advance of the session. This will usually be provided by the producer, artist or band leader, and assumes that you’re unfamiliar with the act.

  • What type of music will be recorded?
  • How many songs do you expect to record?
  • Who are the musicians (If you know some of them it might affect your setup)?
  • Who’s the producer (if you’re not talking to him already)?
  • What time does the session begin? Does that mean the downbeat of recording or when the musicians are expected at the studio to load in?
  • How long do you expect the session to go?
  • How many musicians will be playing at once?
  • What’s the instrumentation?
  • How large is the drummer’s kit? How many toms will he be using?
  • Will the guitarist(s) be using an acoustic or electric?
  • What kind of amps will the guitar player(s) and bass player be using?
  • Do any of the players expect to use house gear like drums, guitar amps, or keyboards?
  • How many cue mixes will be required?
  • Will there be a scratch vocal tracked at the same time?
  • Will they bring any special outboard gear or mics that they’d like to use?
  • Will they be tracking to loops?
  • Do they require any particular instruments, amps or effects?

Following this recording checklist before the musicians hit the studio can go a long way to a quick and easy setup and an efficient session.

TIP: Don’t ask for the setup information too far in advance since much can change by the day of the session. Getting the info the day before the session is usually sufficient.

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

8 Indicators That Your Mix Is Finished

8 indicators your mix is finishedOne of the hardest things for many mixers to determine is when a mix is finished. In fact, engineers new to mixing may think a mix is ready in an hour, but a pro will usually take considerably longer. How much longer? Well, some big hit maker mixers that I know may spend up to 16 hours just on a vocal!

That said, the time spent on a mix is all over the place these days, so this excerpt from the 4th edition of my Mixing Engineer’s Handbook outlines 8 indicators that will let you know when your mix is ready for the world.

“One of the tougher things to decide when you’re mixing is when the mix is finished. If you have a deadline, the decision is made for you as the clock ticks down, but if you have unlimited time or a deep-pocket budget, a mix can drag on forever.

Just when is a mix considered finished? Here are some guidelines:

1. The groove of the song is solid. The pulse of the song is strong and undeniable.

2. You can distinctly hear every mix element. Although some mix elements, such as pads, are sometimes meant to blend seamlessly into the track, most mix elements should be clearly heard.

3. Every lyric and every note of every line or solo can be heard. You don’t want a single note buried. It all has to be crystal clear. Use your automation. That’s what it was made for.

4. The mix has punch. The relationship between the bass and drums is in the right proportion and works well together to give the song a solid foundation.

5. The mix has a focal point. What’s the most important element of the song? Make sure it’s obvious to the listener.

6. The mix has contrast. If you have too much of the same effect on everything, the mix can sound washed out. Likewise, if your mix has the same intensity throughout, it can be boring to the listener. You need to have contrast between different elements, from dry to wet, from intense to less intense, to give the mix depth.

7. All noises and glitches are eliminated. This includes any count-offs, singer’s breaths that seem out of place or predominant because of vocal compression, amp noise on guitar tracks before and after the guitar is playing, bad-sounding edits, and anything else that might take the listener’s attention away from the track.

8. You can play your mix against songs that you love, and it holds up. This is perhaps the ultimate test. If you can get your mix in the same ballpark as many of your favorites (either things you’ve mixed or mixes from other artists) after you’ve passed the previous seven items, then you’re probably home free.

How much time should all this take? In the end, most mixing pros figure at least a full day per song regardless of whether you’re mixing in the box or mixing on an analog console, although it’s still best to figure a day and a half per mix if you’re mixing in a studio with an analog-style console and traditional hardware outboard gear. Of course, if you’re mixing every session in your DAW as you go along during recording, then you might be finished before you know it, since all you may have to do is just tweak your mix a little to call it complete.”

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

Tips For A Great Headphone Mix

Tips For A Great Headphone MixPerhaps the greatest detriment to a session running smoothly is the inability for players to hear themselves comfortably in the headphones. This is one reason why veteran engineers spend so much time and attention on the cue mix and the phones themselves. In fact, a sure sign of an inexperienced engineer is treating the headphone mix as an afterthought instead of spending as much time as required to make them sound great.

While it’s true that a veteran studio player can shrug off a bad or distorted phone mix and still deliver a fine performance, good “cans” makes a session go faster and easier, and take out of the equation a variable that can sometimes be the biggest detriment to a session. Here are 3 tips from the recently released Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition that will make sure that the players and vocalists are happy with their headphones when the session begins.

1. Long before the session begins, test every headphone to make sure there’s no distortion and they’re working correctly (test with actual music).

2. Make sure there’s plenty of cable available so that the musicians can move around as needed. Use cable extenders as necessary.

3. Check to make sure that the cables are not intermittent (Nothing stops a session as fast as a crackling phone).

As far as the headphone mix is concerned, some engineers send the stereo monitor mix (the mix that you’re listening to in the control room) to the phones first and then add a little more of the individual instruments as needed (“more me”). This is a lot easier than building up individual mixes, unless that’s what the musicians request. Of course there are plenty of systems now available for the player to dial in his own mix, but it’s still a good idea to for the engineer to set up a preliminary mix for him. Some players just can’t aren’t able to set up a basic mix.

Whereas at one time each studio had to jerry-rig together their own headphone amp to power their cue mixes, these days it’s easy and fairly inexpensive to bu ya dedicated headphone amplifier from any number of manufacturers that’s easy to set up and sounds great. Companies such as Behringer, Furman, PreSonus, Rolls, and Aphex all make units that will work better and can be a lot cheaper than the traditional method of a large power amp with resistors strapped across it.

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

January 18, 2017

An Inside Look At Tape Delay

Tape DelayMany delay plugins today are either trying to directly emulate tape delay or have a tape delay setting. Setting up a tape delay used to be one of the first things you learned how to do when you started in the studio back in the day, since there was no other way to accomplish the task (this was before outboard digital delays came into widespread use). On a typical mix, there may be several delay machines set up – one for a fast 15 ips delay, a second for a slower 7 1/2 ips delay, maybe even one at an even longer 3 3/4 ips delay, and usually another one for predelay to a reverb chamber or plate. The big problem for the assistant was keeping track of how much tape was available on each machine so you didn’t run out during a mix and suddenly lose your effect.

Today very few studios have a tape machine, so most engineers, producers and musicians don’t really know how the real things works. Here’s a short excerpt and diagram from my just released Mixing Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition that describes tape echo.

“In the analog days delay was accomplished by using an outboard tape machine. The delay occurred because the playback head was located after the record head, which created a time delay (see the figure on the left). As the speed of the tape machine was changed, so would the delay.

For example, a 15 IPS (inches per second) tape speed would result in a delay somewhere in the 125 to 175 milliseconds range (it would be different with different models of tape machines because the gap between the heads was different for each), while it would be double that, or around 250 to 350 milliseconds at 7 1/2 IPS.

Because of the analog nature of magnetic tape, it has the characteristics of wow and flutter of the tape path, plus a rolled-off high frequency response and increased distortion with each repeat, which most tape delay plugins try to emulate.”

For years, hardware digital delays and then digital plugins were too clean for those raised on pure tape delay, but many of today’s plugins do a great job emulating the distortion, wow and flutter and rolled off response to give you something close to the real thing.

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

If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it, please leave a comment on Amazon. Thanks!

14 Studio Etiquette Tips That Your Session Mates Will Love

14 Studio Etiquette TipsKnowing the proper etiquette while recording is almost as important as doing your gig. If you make people uncomfortable or do something that’s considered out of place, chances are that you won’t be asked back. Let’s look at the way everyone expects you to act during the session with these 14 tips taken from The Studio Musician’s Handbook. Most of them apply to just about everyone on a session.

1. If there’s creative dialogue with the artist, songwriter, producer or engineer, make sure that your opinions are wanted and warranted before you offer them.

2. Be careful about musical references. You may think that the track you’re working on is great because it reminds you of Dusty Springfield’s classic “Son of a Preacher Man” only to find out upon your mention of it that it’s on the artist’s “Ten Most Overrated Songs” list.

3. Whether you’re on your own or part of an ensemble, focus on your work first. If you have input for other players, make sure it’s warranted and you can actually help them out. Players often tweak each other’s parts or help one another to understand a written passage, remember a song’s form, or get a sound.

4. Remember – always defer to whoever is in charge. That person is usually the producer, but you may be receiving guidance or input from a musical director, the artist, or the engineer.

5. Keep an open mind. Greet suggestions with willingness and always respond positively. If you’re receiving input from more than one source and they contradict one another, diplomatically point that out and let them resolve it.

6. And don’t forget – if you can’t keep your cell phone outside the studio, TURN IT OFF (not just on vibrate – that’s a distraction too).

7. Put away the magazines, computers, iPhones, and anything else that can be a distraction. The last thing a producer wants to see is you updating your Facebook status in between takes!

8. If you need time to check your messages or Facebook, make sure you ask first. Most sessions have timed or natural breaks when you can meet you individual needs, but be sure to always ask if you wish to leave the recording environment while there’s work being done, even if you’re not directly involved at that moment.

9. Your behavior should always be positive, and you should strive to be “present for the moment.”

10. There’s a time and a place for everything, but sometimes cajoling, goofing around or humor doesn’t belong at a session. Then on another day with the same people, the session may be all about the gags and laughs. Studio pro’s know how to “go with the flow” and are experts at reading people and situations.

11. If people are conversing, treat the session like any other workplace and try to avoid potential conversational “hot spots”: politics, religion, family and money.

12. Everyone likes a good conversation and a funny joke, but it’s best not to risk being misinterpreted or misperceived as offensive.

13. Earn and honor rank. That means if there are players on the session with more professional or personal history with the artist or producer than you have accumulated, let them lead. Everyone benefits when everyone gets along and knows their place

14. Always wait until the job is done before you ask the powers that be if they are open to your creativity. It’s appropriate to do so before you offer your ideas. Always ask first if they are open to your input. If so, and you hear it in your imagination, let them know.”

The best way to endear yourself to everyone on a recording session is to act like a pro. Follow these 14 etiquette tips, and you’ll encounter very few problems along the way. What are your tips?

To read additional excerpts from The Studio Musician’s Handbook and my other books, check out the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com.

January 11, 2017

The 4th Edition Of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook Is Here

Mixing Engineer's Handbook 4th editionI’m very happy to announce that the 4th edition of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook is now available on Amazon.

So what’s different? This updated version is self-published for one thing, but it also contains new sections on Immersive Audio and online mastering, as well as new and updated hit-mixer interviews. If you haven’t seen the book since the second edition, it also has a brand new “Advanced” chapter that covers all the techniques that are now expected of a mixer that you won’t find anywhere else, including cleaning tracks, adjusting track timing, pitch correction, sound replacement, and automation techniques.

The print edition of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition is now available on Amazon, with the Kindle and electronic versions following shortly on the iTunes bookstore and Barnes & Nobles.

College and university instructors that use the book for their courses will be happy to know that it can be ordered through Ingram. An Instructor’s Resource Kit is also available, which contains a syllabus, course outline, discussion topics, Powerpoint/Keynote presentations and quizzes for a 12 week semester. Please drop me an email for the download link.

A table of contents and book excerpts can be found at bobbyowsinski.com/mixing-engineers-handbook.

Finally, if you own a version of this book and feel that it’s helped you in any way, it would help me out a great deal if you could post a review on Amazon. Thank you kindly!

Studio Air Conditioning On A Budget

mini-split air conditionerOne of the things that frequently happens when building your own studio in your basement or garage is that you construct it to get as much isolation as possible, then realize that the temperature inside always hovers around tropic-level heat, even while the weather is below zero outside. That’s because the last thing that most home builders consider is ventilation and air exchange, or they think they don’t have enough money to get the air conditioning job done properly.

Here’s a quick excerpt from my Studio Builder’s Handbook (written with Dennis Moody) that covers what might be the best way to make those studio temperatures comfortable without spending a lot of cash.

“HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) is a bigger part of any studio than you might realize, so it has to be taken into consideration right in the beginning. Don’t even think of using a window air conditioner since they’re way too noisy and will defeat any isolation you might’ve built. For real studio HVAC you really only have two options; forced-air or a mini-split.

Forced-air is certainly the way to go but gets very expensive very quickly, since the ductwork has to use a lot of right angle bends and diffusors to lower the air speed so it doesn’t make any noise (air noise is a vocal killer). It also requires a concrete slab to mount it on the ground outside. Finally comes the installation labor, which must be done by a pro.

A much more viable solution is known as a “mini-split”. This is a system that’s very popular in Europe and Asia were the compressor is located outside the building and the air handling unit inside. All that’s required is a 1″ hole that’s cut through the wall to allow access for a hose to go from the compressor unit outside to a cooling head mounted on the wall inside the studio, and a small drainage hose. The cooling head is mounted on a wall and is very quite. Depending upon how large your space is, a unit that puts out between 9,000 and 12,000 BTU unit may be enough. A big plus for the mini-split is that not only is it inexpensive, it’s very quiet as well. They are also available with an optional “heat pumps” for those cold winter days that everyone experiences (even in warm climates).

While you can install a mini-split yourself, your might want to get a pro HVAC technician to do the complete job. It should only take a few hours to install, so it won’t be outrageously expensive, but because these units need freon gas to function, you’ll have to have a professional technician do the freon work and they charge a lot for handling this gas. Even with the extra expense of a professional tech, at least you’ll be sure that it’s done right. Make sure that you have the unit serviced every year, and keep the filter clean as that helps to keep the unit from getting noisy.

If you do decide to install a forced-air system, it’s important to know where your feeds and returns are going to be. For instance, you don’t want to place an air conditioning feed directly over the mixing position of your console, or directly over were your drums are going to be set up. As practical as this might sound, you’ll find this kind of direct placement will mean that it will become uncomfortably cold when the air blows directly on you. Make sure you put the feed in a place where it will be defused and quiet.”

You can read more from The Studio Builder’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

Don’t Let Phase Cancellation Destroy Your Drum Sound

Checking phaseOne of the most important and overlooked aspects of drum miking is making sure that the mics are all in-phase. This is really important because with only one out-of-phase mic, the whole kit will never sound as big as it should, and if not corrected before all the drums are mixed together, might not be able to be fixed later. Here’s an excerpt from The Drum Recording Handbook 2nd edition (written with Dennis Moody) that looks at an important part of this issue.

“So just what is phase anyway? Without getting into a heavy explanation, it just means that all the microphones are pushing and pulling together. If one mic is pushing while another is pulling, they cancel each other out at certain frequencies.

There are two types of phasing problems that can happen – electronic and acoustic. An acoustic phasing problem occurs when two mics are close together and pick up the same signal at the same time, only one is picking it up a little later than the first because it’s a little farther away. That said, electronic phasing of the mics is just as important.

Why would there be an electronic phase problem? Most of the time it’s because a mic cable was mis-wired (either repaired incorrectly or originally wired incorrectly from the factory), or the microphone itself is sending a signal that’s out-of-phase from the other mics that your using. In other words, one mic is outputting a positive voltage on pin 2 of the XLR connector when the other mics are outputing negative on pin 2. This is something that was more prevalent in the days before XLR connections were standardized, so it’s not much of a problem now unless you’re using an old vintage mic.

Regardless of how it happens, there are two ways to check the electronic phase.

Checking Phase The Easy Way
There’s a very easy way to check mic phase. After you get a mix balance of the kit together, flip the phase selector (this is more accurately a “polarity” switch) on each mic channel one at a time either on your console or in the DAW. Leave it on the position that delivers the most low end. Do this on every mic in the kit (select the overhead and room mics in a pair, but check the left mic against the right as well).

Checking Phase The Slightly More Difficult Way
This method takes a bit more work, but you’ll know for sure if you have a mic cable that’s wired backwards. Also, you really have to have another person with you to make this work. It’s a two-man operation.

First you have to pick a mic and make it your “reference.” Any mic on the kit will do, but it’s easier to pick a mic that can easily come off the stand.

Now take your reference mic and put it next to another mic on the kit, say the kick drum mic, as in the graphic on the left. Make sure that each mic is at the exact same volume level (this is important!). Now have someone talk into the mic while you switch the phase selector on either the console or DAW. Again, choose the selection that sounds the fullest.

Do this to each microphone. Any channel that has it’s phase selector different from all the others has a mis-wired cable. Make sure you mark it so you don’t have the same problem again!”

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

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