Category Archives for "Engineering"

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.

4 Quick Drum Tuning Tips From The Famous “Drum Doctor”

Drum Doctor Ross GarfieldIf you’re doing a session in Los Angeles and you want your drums to instantly sound great, then your first call is to the Drum Doctors to either rent a fantastic sounding kit, or have your kit tuned. Ross Garfield is the Drum Doctor and you’ve heard his drum sounds on platinum recordings from Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, Mettalica, Dwight Yokum,  Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitiz, Michael Jackson and many, many more (that’s him on the left with Mick Fleetwood).

Ross was kind enough to do an interview for The Recording Engineer’s Handbook, but I’ve featured some of his tips in other books like The Drum Recording Handbook, The Touring Musician’s Handbook, and The Music Producer’s Handbook as well. Here’s a few of his quick drum tuning tips. For more info on Ross and his company, go to drumdoctors.com.

1. If the snares buzz when the toms are hit:

  • Check that the snares are straight.
  • Check to see whether the snares are flat and centered on the drum.
  • Loosen the bottom head.
  • Retune the offending toms.
  • Use an alternate snare drum.

2. If the snare has too much ring:

  • Tune the heads lower.
  • Use a heavier head, such as a coated Remo Emperor.
  • Use a full or partial muffling ring, or add some tape or Moongel.

3. If the kick drum isn’t punchy and lacks power in the context of the music:

  • Try increasing and decreasing the amount of muffling in the drum, a sandbag, or try a different blanket or pillow.
  • Change to a heavier, uncoated head, such as a clear Emperor or Powerstroke 3.
  • Change to a thinner front head or one with a larger cutout.

4. If one or more of the toms are difficult to tune or have an unwanted “growl”:

  • Check the top heads for dents and replace as necessary.
  • Check the evenness of tension all around on the top and bottom heads.
  • Tighten the bottom head.

These are just some quick tips, and you can find more extensive tuning techniques from the Drum Doctor in my Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition. You can read more from that and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

March 14, 2017

Use Your Laser To Burn Music Onto Anything

laser cut musicOK, this is rather nutty but fun. If you have a powerful laser and too much time on your hands, you too can burn music onto virtually anything. To prove it, William Osman uses his laser for good instead of evil as he burns music onto a taco, a piece of cardboard, and finally onto an old piece of plastic called a CD. It all sounds like crap but at least it proves that it can be done.

Modulated waveforms are so 1999 though. I think I’ll stick with digital files, thank you very much.

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Ozzy Osbourne “Crazy Train” Isolated Guitar

Randy RhoadsThere are few guitar players that you can truly say are influential, but Randy Rhoads is certainly one of them. His playing on Ozzy Osbourne’s initial solo album set the guitar world on fire, and for many metal players, it’s still the bar that everyone aims for. When “Crazy Train” exploded onto the radio guitar players everyone said to themselves, “What the f$*k was that?” and that’s exactly what we’re going to listen to today – Randy’s isolated guitar track from that hit. Here’s what to listen for (the guitar enters at 0:19 on the video).

1. Yes, that’s two guitar parts spread left and right and not an electronic double (actually producer Max Norman claims that there’s a third part in the middle but for the life of me I can’t hear it). You can hear some inconsistencies with some of the harmonics and chords, but there are very few. Pretty amazing how close the parts are.

2. The ambience that you hear on the guitars is mostly from the room, again according to Norman. There’s also a little bit of an AMS 1580 delay set to a light flange.

3. The solo at 2:49 is just one guitar panned a bit to the left with a short delay from the AMS on the right.

4. Randy used a fully cranked Marshall 100 watt amp (no master volume) with 2 cabinets, so it was a full stack – unusual for recording. The mic on the cabinet was an SM-58 (!!), with an AKG 451 a few feet back outside the amp room, and a couple of Shure SM87s in the room. The use of microphones intended for live may have come from the fact that Norman was primarily a live sound engineer before moving over to the studio.

Mic Placement Tips To Help You Find The “Sweet Spot”

Finding the sweet spotMic placement may be the most important part of recording since a change of half-an-inch can sometimes make a huge difference in the sound. Finding that correct placement isn’t always easy though, so here’s an excerpt from my Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition to give you some easy tips to find that “sweet spot” quickly.

“Quickly finding a mic’s optimum position is perhaps the single most useful talent an engineer can have. Sometimes the search resembles questing for the Holy Grail as more trial and error is involved. That said, you should always trust your ears first and foremost by listening to the musician in the tracking room, finding the sweet spot, and placing your microphone there to begin. If you don’t like the resultant sound, then move the mic or swap it with another. EQ is the last thing to touch.

TIP: Mics cannot effectively be placed by sight, which is a mistake that is all too easy to make (especially after reading a book like this). The best mic position cannot be predicted, it must be found.

How to Find the “Sweet Spot”

How you listen to an instrument in the studio is just as important as the act of trying to capture its sound. As good as many microphones are, they’re still no match for our ears, and we can sometimes be fooled in what we’re hearing over the monitor speakers. Here are a few tips to help you listen more closely to the way the mic your using is capturing the sound.

  • To place an omni microphone, cover one ear and listen with the other. Move around the player or sound source until you find a spot that sounds best.
  • To place a cardioid microphone, cup your hand behind your ear and listen. Move around the player or sound source until you find a spot that sounds best.
  • For a stereo pair, cup your hands behind both ears. Move around the player or sound source until you find a spot that sounds best.

Before you start swapping gear, know that the three most important factors in getting the sound you want are mic position, mic position and mic position.

Get the instrument to make the sound you want to record first, then use the cover-your-ears technique to find the sweet spot, position the mic, then listen. Remember that if you can’t hear it, you can’t record it. Don’t be afraid to repeat as much as necessary, or to experiment if you’re not getting the results you want.”

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.

February 15, 2017

The Magic Frequencies For EQing Mix Elements

Magic FrequenciesWhen it comes to EQing, there are certain frequencies that seem predominant for every instrument. Many call them the magic frequencies, because they do tend to work most of the time. Here’s a chart of those frequencies from the latest edition of my Mixing Engineer’s Handbook.

Remember that using the magic frequencies might make an instrument or voice sound dynamite on its own when soloed, but then it might not fit in the mix properly. That’s why it’s best to listen against other instruments when adding or subtracting EQ. Also remember than every song is different because the players, arrangement, recording environment, players and feel is different, which will greatly influence your EQ decisions.

Instrument Magic Frequencies
Bass guitar Bottom at 50 to 80Hz, attack at 700Hz, snap at 2.5kHz
Kick drum Bottom at 80 to 100Hz, hollowness at 400Hz, point at 3k to 5kHz
Snare Fatness at 120 to 240Hz, point at 900Hz, crispness at  5kHz, snap at 10kHz
Rack Toms Fullness at 240 to 500Hz, attack at 5 to 7kHz
Floor Toms Fullness at 80Hz, attack at 5kHz
Hi-hat and cymbals Clang at 200Hz, sparkle at 8k to 10kHz
Electric guitar Fullness at 240 to 500Hz, presence at 1.5 to 2.5kHz, attenuate at 1kHz for 4 × 12 cabinet sound
Acoustic guitar Fullness at 80Hz, body at 240Hz, presence at 2k to 5kHz
Organ Fullness at 80Hz, body at 240Hz, presence at 2 to 5kHz
Piano Fullness at 80Hz, presence at 3k to 5kHz, honky tonk at 2.5kHz
Horns Fullness at 120Hz, piercing at 5kHz
Voice Fullness at 120Hz, boomy at 240Hz, presence at 5kHz, sibilance at 4k to 7kHz, air at 10k to 15kHz
Strings Fullness at 240Hz, scratchy at 7k to 10kHz
Conga Ring at 200Hz, slap at 5kHz

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.

Easy Edits For That Distorted Guitar

Distorted guitar editingHere’s a great distorted guitar recording tip that I got from Richard Chycki, engineer for Rush, Dream Theater, Aerosmith and many more. I liked it so much I’ve used it on every session since, and included it in the latest version of my Recording Engineer’s Handbook as well.

Distorted electric guitar is notoriously difficult to edit, since it’s difficult to see the attacks and releases of notes and phrases. A great way to make it easier is to always record a direct track along with the amplifier mic or amp emulator track. This track may never be used in the final mix, but will more easily show the natural edit points of the track.

On the graphic on the left, for instance, you’ll some some of the points between the clean and distorted guitar track that would be pretty hard to pick out normally since the waveforms don’t conform to the attacks of the individual notes because of the distortion. The clean direct track makes each attack pretty easy to see, so editing can be a breeze.

After editing, be sure to hide and disable the direct edit track to unclutter the mix window and free up system resources.

That said, these day’s, it’s always a good idea to have a direct track  along with the distorted or amp track anyway, since reamping and guitar simulators make it so easy to change the sound as needed during mixing. Thanks, Richard. This is one that I’ll be using for a long time!

The Magic Of Foley

WB Foley StageMost people (even many audio engineers) don’t realize that the sound effects that they hear in a movie aren’t real. They’re recreated to sound more dramatic or “more real” than they actually sound. That’s the job of the Foley artist, and there aren’t many of them, even in Hollywood.

The process is named after Jack Foley, who started working at Universal Pictures back in 1914 in the era of silent films. When the first picture with sound was being made, the producers realized that the microphones weren’t picking up much beyond the dialog and the movie sound needed help if it was going to be another close to realistic. The call went out around the lot for anyone who had previously worked on radio, where live sound effects were part of many of the broadcasts. Foley stepped up and used what he already knew, and discovered many new tricks for adding sound effects to movies along the way. Most of his methods are still used today.

What’s interesting about the following video (from the Great Big Story network’s Frontiers series) is the everyday objects that are used by Warner Bros. Foley artists Alyson Moore and Chris Moriana.

I’m lucky in that I live close to most of the big Hollywood studios (I can walk down the block to 2 of them, with 2 others a bike ride away), so I’ve been in Foley stages numerous times over the years. They always strike me as someone’s messy garage, yet everything is there for a reason. This video is only the tip of the iceberg of how Foley works.

[photo: Warner Bros Sound]

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