Category Archives for "Recording"

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

How To Sound Like The Beatles Using Modern Gear

Beatles GuitarsIf you ever wanted to record some of those authentic Beatles guitar sounds but didn’t know how to go about getting them, then this is the video for you. It uses only modern gear and relies mostly on pedal combinations. Granted, the amp is a Vox AC30 and the guitars and bass are modern versions of what John, Paul and George used, but the sounds are pretty much nailed.

Here’s a list of the timings and what gear combinations are used.
0:00 – Hard Day’s Night
0:31 – Nowhere Man
0:47 – Taxman
1:00 – Paperback Writer
1:18 – Think For Yourself
1:45 – Revolution
2:05 – Happiness is a Warm Gun
2:31 – I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

Equipment
Vox AC30 Amplifier: http://bit.ly/2igi9Hw
Rickenbacker 330 Electric Guitar: http://bit.ly/2hCh8tG
Rickenbacker 360-12 Electric Guitar: http://bit.ly/2ibAA3R
Epiphone Hummingbird Pro Acoustic/Electric Guitar: http://bit.ly/2hdssjq
Epiphone Casino Electric Guitar: http://bit.ly/2haJ4GV
Hofner 500/1 Violin Bass: http://bit.ly/2h2Hcg2

Pedals
MXR Studio Compressor
Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer
Dunlop Germanium Fuzz Face Mini
Sola Sound Tone Bender Mk IV Fuzz
JHS Colour Box
DLS Effects Versa Vibe
Keeley Caverns Delay-Reverb
Boss FBM-1 Fender Bassman Overdrive
TC Electronic Ditto Looper

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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