Category Archives for "Book Excerpt"
When it comes to your drum sound, 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 3rd 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.
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.
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.
You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
The road case is essential to anyone on tour with gear that needs to be protected, so I thought this would be a good time to bring back something that I posted about few years ago. It’s an excerpt from The Touring Musician’s Handbook that provides a good look at the differences between popular road case styles. Here we go.
“For many musicians, buying road cases for their gear is sort of a right of passage. As soon as you stencil your name on the cases, it suddenly means that your stock as a musician has risen and you’ve made the jump to becoming your own brand.
While some players choose not to case up their gear in order to save money in the beginning of their touring career, they soon see the shortsightedness the first time a favorite instrument is damaged from a fall off of a ramp or loading dock. Road cases are not only worth it, but almost mandatory in that your gear always has to work, and the only way to assure that happens is to keep it protected from the frequent and many knocks of the road.
The ATA Standard
Although many cases may look similar, the sturdiest (and consequently most expensive) ones are what’s known as ATA cases. This is a design based on an airplane parts packaging specification (known as ATA 300 Category 1), developed by airline packaging engineers and certified by the Airline Transport Association. ATA 300 compliant cases are designed to withstand the rigors of being shipped a minimum of 100 times, and specifies that the case will have recessed handles that will not break during transit. The standard also details the level of quality of every piece of construction material that goes into the case, including locks, hinges, and fastening systems, and also states that all rivets and screws must be non-corrosive and all edges must be rounded and have certain level of construction quality. Because of this ATA standard, the typical road case has also come to be known by the name “flight case,” since it’s made principally to survive multiple flights.
Tip: If the road case is too heavy for a single person to carry it, it needs casters.
Types Of Road Cases
Road cases come in a lot of different styles and a lot of different materials. As a result, all road cases are not created equal. Some are great for keeping the weather off your gear, while others are built to withstand the constant battle of the road. Let’s take a look at the different types.
Fiber Cases – Fiber cases are the typical drum cases that most drummers have used some time during their life. They’re made out of fiberglass reinforced polyester and are very strong and rugged. While they work great for the club musician or weekend warrior because they keep the scuffs and incidental scratches off of the instrument, they’re deficient for road work in several ways; there’s little or no shock mounting for the instrument, the case is closed with a nylon strap that can be cut or lost, and their irregular shape make them difficult to pack efficiently. This means they usually get tossed on the top of the evenly packed square cases in the truck where they bounce around a lot as a result. Guess what that does for the instrument? They’re also prone to caving should something very heavy be placed upon them.
Aluminum – Aluminum cases have a major advantage in being extremely light weight, and usually have a fair amount of shock absorption inside. That being said, they’re very easy to pierce, and should generally not be used for shipping purposes as a result. It’s possible to have an ATA standard aluminum case, but you have to use so much aluminum that you lose the weight advantage that aluminum has over other types of cases.
Carpet Cases – These are simple plywood cases with an outer fuzzy carpet material. This type of construction once again offers little in the way of impact relief and protection. They’re heavy because the internal frame may be constructed of steel, and even though the carpet finish makes them very tough, there’s not much in the way of shock mounting. Carpet cases are great for things like cables and mic stands, but not for anything expensive that must be protected.
Molded Plastic – Some cases are made out of molded plastic which might be good for keeping the rain off an instrument but not much help under the repeated impacts of being loaded onto a truck. Their weakness frequently is in the latches, which can break or come loose over time, and you don’t see plastic cases in very large sizes. Once again, molded plastic cases may come in an odd enough shape that it won’t easily pack in the truck. There are ATA molded cases made, which are also mil spec for military electronic gear, but they’re really expensive and generally custom made.
Sandwiched Material – The strongest and most common road cases are the ones with sandwiched material and reinforced edges and corners, and these can be made of different materials for different types of transit. Most sandwich-type road cases are constructed in three main layers:
The edges of the case are reinforced with aluminum extrusion, and have steel or zinc corner pieces and recessed handles and fasteners.
There are generally two types of protective foam used in road cases. Polyurethane foam is very soft and provides a gentle cushion for any delicate item. It’s usually available in ½ inch to 10 inch thickness in ½ inch increments. The problem is that it’s so soft that it can be crushed by a heavy item, in which case a polyethylene foam is used instead.
Polyethylene foam is very dense and not very flexible, and the texture is almost like plastic. Frequently it’s used under a heavy item where polyurethane would simply not last due to the constant compression. Usually you want at least a half-inch of foam between your instrument and the outer layer of the case, although most people prefer one inch for added protection.
One thing that’s mostly overlooked with road cases is that the internal foam layer can have some negative chemical interactions with the finish of your instrument that can cause it to become dull and discolored over time. Nitrocellulose lacquer (like those used on vintage guitars), varnish and shellac are much more susceptible to this than the modern polyurethane and polyester type finishes. The way to prevent any interaction from occurring is to make sure that your road cases have a cloth lining over the foam (see Figure 7.7).
Some companies use a velvet-like material layer mostly for cosmetics, but it will also protect your instrument from any finish damage from the foam. If buying a custom case, a cloth covering only adds a small amount to the overall cost of the case.
Remember, if you buy good quality cases, they can last for your entire career on the road, so go for the best and don’t cheap out.
Tip: When buying road cases, try to buy either cases already in stock at your local music store or pro audio dealer, or have them made locally. The cost of shipping them can sometimes be almost as much as the case itself. Almost every city now has a company that makes road cases, so finding one that’s local should be easy.
The good thing about the ATA-type road case is that they can be repaired. Just about anything can be replaced and the case will come back as good as new. In fact, there are companies that specialize in repairing road cases like Mobil Flight Case Repair, although just about any road case manufacturer can do it.”
You can read more from The Touring Musician’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
As we’re all too aware, crafting a hit song isn’t easy. Most people in the music business struggle their whole careers to be a part of just one, while others do the same to get a taste of that magic once again. While there isn’t an exact formula for a hit, there are a number of common elements between them that you’ll find that may help you in creating one. Here’s an excerpt from my Deconstructed Hits series that will hopefully shed some light on the subject.
“After looking at hundreds of hit songs, there is definitely a list of similar characteristics that you’ll find in a hit song on the charts today:
As you listen to songs in the future, begin to listen to the similarities in song form, arrangement and production, which can be a great help if you’re a songwriter, arranger or producer. The more you know about how a hit song is made, the more likely you’ll actually create one.
Keep in mind that even though you may not like a song or an artist, it is still worth a listen. Hits are hits for a reason, and they are definitely hard to come by. Each has some sort of magic––as well as some common elements––so something can be learned from every single one.”
Direct boxes are something that we use every day in recording, yet take for granted because of their simplicity. Here’s an excerpt from my Recording Engineer’s Handbook that looks at the ins and outs of this useful recording tool.
“Direct Injection (DI or “going direct”) of a signal means that a microphone is bypassed, and the instrument (always electric or electrified) is plugged directly into the console or recording device. This was originally done to cut down on the number of mics (and therefore the leakage) used in a tracking session with a lot of instruments playing simultaneously. However, a DI is now used because it either makes the instrument sound better (like in the case of electric keyboards) or is just easier and faster.
Why can’t you just plug your guitar or keyboard directly into the mic preamp without the direct box? Most preamps now have a separate input dedicated for instruments, but there was a time when that wasn’t the case and plugging an electric guitar (for instance) into an XLR mic input would cause an impedance mismatch that would change the frequency response of the instrument (although it wouldn’t hurt anything), usually causing the high frequencies to drop off and therefore make the instrument sound dull.
Advantages of Direct Injection
There are a number of reasons to use direct injection when recording:
Direct Box Types
There are two basic types of direct boxes; active (which can provide gain to the audio signal and therefore needs electronics requiring either battery or AC power), or passive (which provides no gain and doesn’t require power). Which is better? Once again, there are good and poor examples of each. Generally speaking, the more you pay the higher quality they are.
An active DI sometimes has enough gain to be able to actually replace the mic amp and connect directly to your DAW.
An excellent passive DI can be built around the fine Jensen transformer specially designed for the task (www.jensen-transformers.com for do-it-yourself instructions) but you can buy basically the same thing from Radial Engineering in their JDI direct box (see the figure on the left). Also, most modern mic pres now come with a separate DI input on a 1/4” guitar jack.
Direct Box Setup
Not much setup is required to use a direct box. For the most part, you just plug the instrument in and play. About the only thing that you might have to set is the gain on an active box (which is usually only a switch that provides a 10 dB boost or so) or the ground switch. Most DI’s have a ground switch to reduce hum in the event of a ground loop between the instrument and the DI. Set it to the quietest position.”
You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
On the journey to becoming a successful studio musician, a lot of roads lead to the same place, but the way it usually works is that someone hears and likes your playing and either hires you or refers you as a result. This excerpt from my Studio Musician’s Handbook (written with studio bassist Paul ILL) outlines the 5 ways it could happen (note The Wrecking Crew photo, the most famous group of studio musicians ever, on the left).
#1. Your Band
Your band is recording with a producer. The producer notices that you play really well and have a great feel and he calls you to play on other records. Sometimes it might be the engineer on the session that remembers you (and remember, many in-demand engineers become producers at some point). Either way, in the course of doing your own record, you show up on the radar of someone who can hire you later.
If you’re in a band and working with a producer, really pay attention and work with him to help him make that record sound better. You’re more likely to be called for another project afterwards. He might have had so much fun working with you in your band that he’ll think of you for a solo artist he’s working with. That’s how I developed myself. I worked with Tim Palmer in London with my own band, and that’s how I got the job playing with Tears For Fears. So I’ve developed relationships with all the producers I’ve worked with over the years in my own band.
Session drummer Brian MacLeod
#2. By Referral
If you have a friend who does a lot of session work who likes how you play, chances are that you’ll get a referral at some point. If the player can’t make a date or doesn’t get on with the client, a referral from someone established will get you in the door.
…if you’re looking to get into session work as a drummer, you can’t do it. You just have to play a lot of gigs and wait for the time where you get that opportunity.
Session drummer Bernie Dresel
#3. By Contractor
A contractor is a person that hires musicians for a gig. Most times he’s a musician on the session himself, but doesn’t have to be. Many contractors hire musicians for a variety of gigs, not just recording sessions. If you become a trusted insider for everyday live gigs, chances are that soon you’ll be hired on a studio date as well.
#4. By A Recording
Many times an artist or producer will hear you on a recording you played on and want your style or sound. It’s more likely you’ll be called if the recording you played on was a hit, since everyone likes to use the same team or sound of something already successful. If that happens, be happy that you’ve been lucky twice.
…(producer) Patrick (Leonard) said, “Hey Brian, if you lived in LA I would use you on the records I work on.” Ironically the engineer/co-producer on that record was Bill Bottrell (who eventually went on to produce Sheryl Crow, Michael Jackson and Shelby Lynn) and he said the same thing to me. So I had two top-of-the-line producers tell me that if I lived in LA they’d use me on their records. It became a no-brainer for me to run up to the Bay area, pack my things in a U-Haul, and get my butt to LA. Then it kind of expanded from there.
#5. By Association
The old adage “all boats rise and fall with the tide” is really true. If someone within your circle of players makes it “big”, they’ll most likely take you with them, at least on some level. Maybe you have something unique in your sound or your feel that your player friend will remember. Maybe he just wants to help you out because you’re such a cool person. Maybe it’s some payback for a good deed long in the past. Doesn’t matter as long as you’re remembered and get the call. Once you’re called for one session and do well, chances are you’ll be called for another as word gets around and your resumé builds.
You can read more from The Studio Musician’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
While it’s safe to say that most engineers rely on experience when choosing which microphone to use in a given situation, these are some things to consciously consider when selecting a microphone. Here’s a list of items to think about from the latest edition of my Recording Engineer’s Handbook.
You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
Drum recording is too often left to trial and error to when getting sounds. Here’s a checklist from the 2nd edition of my Drum Recording Handbook (written with Dennis Moody) that makes sure that the basics are covered (assuming that the drums sound great acoustically) before you open up the mics.
“Like the foundation of a house, the drums are the foundation of a recording. With a strong foundation, you can build almost anything on it that you or your clients can imagine. A little effort and time spent miking the drums and getting the sound just right can result in a recording that sounds better than you would have ever imagined.
Remember, take risks, experiment, take notes on what works and what doesn’t, be creative, and most of all, have fun!
Here’s a list of things to check if something just doesn’t sound right. Remember that each situation is different and ultimately the sound depends upon the drums, the drummer, the room, the song, the arrangement, the signal chain, and even the other players. It’s not unusual to have at least one of these things out of your control.
☐ Are the mics acoustically in phase? Make sure that tom mics and room mics are parallel to each other. Make sure that any underneath mics are at a 45° angle to the top mics.
☐ Are the mics electronically in phase? Make sure that any bottom mics have the phase reversed. Make sure that all the mic cables are wired the same by doing a phase check.
☐ Are the mics at the correct distance from the drum? If they’re too far away they’ll pick up too much of the other drums. If they’re too close the sound will be unbalanced with too much attack or ring.
☐ Are the drum mics pointing at the center of the head? Pointing at the center of the drum will give you the best balance of attack and fullness.
☐ Are the cymbal mics pointed at the bell. If the mic is pointed at the edge of the cymbal, you might hear more air “swishing” than cymbal tone.
☐ Is the high-hat mic pointed at the middle of the hat? Too much towards the bell will make the sound thicker and duller. Too much towards the edge will make the sound thinner and pick up more air noise.
☐ Are the room mics parallel? If you’re using two room mics instead of a stereo mic to mic the room, make sure that the mics are on the same plane and are exactly parallel to each other. Also make sure that they’re on the very edge of the kit looking at the outside edge of the cymbals.
☐ Does the balance of the mix sound the same as when you’re standing in front of the drums? This is your reference point and what you should be trying to match. You can embellish the sound after you’ve achieved this.
These are not hard and fast rules, just a starting place. If you try something that’s different from what you’ve read and it sounds good, it is good!”
You can read more from The Drum Recording Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
It’s surprising that so many monitors (speakers that is) are purchased just from a review or word of mouth, since they’re such a personal item. Here’s an excerpt from my Studio Builder’s Handbook (written with Dennis Moody) that covers some things to think about before you purchase your next set of speakers.
“1) Don’t choose a monitor because someone else is using them. Just because your favorite mixer uses a set of Tannoy Precision 8D’s, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be right for you too. Everyone hears differently and has a different hearing experience. Plus, the match with your room might not be ideal, they might not be a good match with the type of music you work on, and if they’re unpowered, you may not have the same amp to drive them with as the reviewer, so they’ll sound different from what someone else hears.
2) Make sure you listen to the monitors before you buy them. The pros take their time and listen to them under a wide range of conditions before they commit to a purchase, so why shouldn’t you? It’s true that you might not live near a big media center with lots of pro audio dealers, and even if you do, you may not have a relationship with one that gets you a personal demo in your own studio. That shouldn’t stop you from listening though. Take the trip to your local pro audio or music store and spend some time listening.
Here’s what you should listen for when you evaluate a monitor:
3) Listen with source material that you know very well. The only way to judge a monitor is to listen to material that you’re very familiar with and have heard in a lot of different environments. This will give you the necessary reference point that you need to adequately judge what you’re listening to. You can use something that you recorded yourself that you know inside and out, or a favorite CD that you feel is well-recorded. Just stay away any critical listening with MP3’s; the higher the quality of your playback source, the better. A high quality 24 bit source like from a personal digital recorder is great because it gives you a better idea of the frequency response of the system.
If the monitors that you’re auditioning aren’t powered, you might want to bring your own amplifier to the audition because the amp/speaker combination is a delicate one. A speaker has a much greater interdependence on the power source than most of us realize, and many engineers search for the perfect amplifier almost as long as for the perfect monitor. Thankfully, that’s not as much of a problem these days since most high quality monitors have built-in amplifiers perfectly matched to its speaker drivers by the manufacturer.
That being said, you can easily get used to just about any speaker if you use it enough and learn it’s strengths and weaknesses in your room. It also helps to have a reference point that you’re sure of to compare the sound with, like your car or a particular boombox, then adjust your mixes so they work when you play them there.”
You can read more from The Studio Builder’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
Sometimes getting an electric guitar sound is dead easy and other times getting it to fit into the track seems nearly impossible. Here’s an excerpt from my Audio Recording Boot Camp book that provides an almost foolproof method for miking a guitar amp.
“Electric guitar recording has evolved through the years, from miking the guitar amp from a distance, to close miking, to using multiple mics, to recording direct and finally using an amplifier emulator. No one technique is better than another. In fact, multiple techniques are frequently used on the same recording.
Electric guitars don’t have need anything fancy to capture them. The frequency response doesn’t go that high or that low, and the more distorted it is, the fewer transients the signal has, making it somewhat easier to capture than other instruments. As a result, dynamic mics are frequently used with good results. That said, sometimes it’s surprising just how good an amp can sound when a large diaphragm condenser or ribbon mic is used, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Miking The Speaker Cabinet
While many engineers like to use our friend the Shure SM57 in this role, just about any mic can work if you know the sound that you’re looking for and the best way to approach it.
Classic Setup One – Close Miking The Cabinet
|Figure 1: The standard cabinet miking technique|
A) If there’s more than one speaker in the cabinet, listen to them all to find the one that sounds the best (make sure to wear some ear protection). Is one scratchy sounding or distorted? Is one muffled with no high end? Does one have no low end? Find the one with the best balance of frequencies that’s not unintentionally distorted.
B) Place the mic about one inch away from the best sounding speaker in the cabinet and about three quarters of the way between the edge of the speaker and the voice coil (away from the voice coil). Have the guitar player play the song you’re about to record and listen on the monitors. Does it sound like what you heard in the room? Is the sound full enough? Is it too edgy? Is it too bassy?
C) Move the mic towards the voice coil (the center of the speaker – see Figure 1)). Is the sound still full? Did it get brighter? Did it get bassy?
D) Move the mic towards the outside edge of the speaker. Is the sound still full? Did it brighter? Did it get bassy?
Classic Setup Two – Distance Miking Where The Speakers Converge
|Figure 2: Distant miking|
E) Move the mic about at least a foot away from the speaker or speakers to capture some of the room sound. The ideal distance on a cabinet with two speakers is where the output of both speakers combine (see Figure 2). Does it sound bigger? Can you hear the sound of the room in the recording? Can you hear some frequencies cancel out between the two speakers?
F) Move the mic to the side to capture more of the sound of one of the speaker’s voice coils if more high end is required.
Classic Setup Three – Close and Distance Miking
|Figure 3: Close and distance miking|
G) Move the mic back to the best sounding position close to the speaker and add an additional mic at the spot where the sound of the speakers converge, which should be around 18 to 24 inches away. Is the sound still full? Did it get brighter? Did it get bassy? Did it get bigger sounding? Is it closer to what you heard in the room? Is there more of the room sound?
H) Increase the distance to 6 feet if possible (Figure 3). Is the sound still full? Did it brighter? Did it get bassy? Is there more of the room sound?
I) Place both mics at the point where they give the sound closest to what you heard in the room, or what best fits the track when the other instruments are playing.”
As you can see, miking a guitar amp doesn’t have to be a heartache. By following this outline, you should end up with a big and bitey guitar sound that fits your track well without needing to add a lot of EQ or effects.
To read additional excerpts from the Audio Recording Basic Training book, go to the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com.
Everyone wants their music to sound great on Spotify or Pandora, but making a master requires a little more forethought than just getting a loud master. In that spirit, here’s an excerpt from the latest Mastering Engineer’s Handbook 3rd edition that provides 3 tips for a better sounding online music.
1. Turn it down a bit. A song that’s flat-lined at -0.1 dBFS isn’t going to encode as well as a song with some headroom. In iTunes for instance, the AAC encoder sometimes outputs a tad hotter than the source, so there’s some inter-sample overloads that happen at that level that aren’t detected on a typical peak meter, since all DACs respond differently to it. As a result, a level that doesn’t trigger an over on your DAW’s DAC may actually be an over on another playback unit. This is the same for most encoders.
If you back it down to -0.5 or even -1 dB, the encode will sound a lot better and your listener probably won’t be able to tell much of a difference in level anyway.
2. Don’t squash the master too hard. Masters with some dynamic range encode better. Masters that are squeezed to within an inch of their life don’t; it’s as simple as that. Listeners like it better too. And then there’s the fact that on many services (like Apple Music), normalization occurs so all songs play at the same level. Songs with too much compression sound a lot worse than when there’s just a modest amount.
3. Sometimes rolling off a little of the extreme top end (16kHz and above) can help the encode as well. When any type of data compression is involved, it requires the same common-sense considerations. If you back off on the level, the mix buss compression and the high frequencies, you’ll be surprised just how good your online music can sound.
To read additional excerpts from The Mastering Engineer’s Handbook 3rd edition and my other books, go to the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com.