Category Archives for "Recording"

Drum Recording Checklist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engineer Rudy Van Gelder Passes

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Music Gear Monday: GIK Acoustics Portable Isolation Booth

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

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

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

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

New Music Gear Monday: Rupert Neve RNHP Headphone Amplifier

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

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

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

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

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

Helpful Recording Accessories

Vocal EZE accessoryThere are a number of recording accessories that prove to come in handy almost every day you’re in the studio. In fact, a session can absolutely ground to a halt without a few of them. Here are some suggestions for some accessories that you’ll be so happy you have when the need arises.

Console tape – for marking everything from mic position to making notes. Get the real deal – Shurtape P724.

Sharpies – the best ones are the ultra-fine-point type that let you squeeze lots of info onto a small strip of console tape without blurring.

Flashlight – for looking into the many unlit spaces in the studio and around gear. I like the Outlight A100 or the very cool 9V Blocklite.

Gobos – for increasing the isolation between instruments. If you don’t want to build them yourself, the ATS Studio Stacker is a good place to start.

Throat Spray – a quick spray will help keep a vocalist’s sore throat at bay. Entertainer’s Secret or Vocal EZE work great.

Throat Coat – a nice herbal tea to sooth abused vocal chords. Tastes good too, even if your throat feels fine.

Etymotic ER20 ETY Earplugs – for finding the sweet spot when loud drummers or guitar players are playing. The best $13 you’ll ever spend.

Monoprice 108323 headphones – excellent sounding yet inexpensive headphones. If you’re constantly replacing your expensive phones, try these. You’ll be shocked how good they sound for 20 bucks.

Hue lighting – digital mood lighting from your smartphone. The starter pack is expensive, but you’ll be surprised at the effect they have on just about any session when you dial in the prefect color scheme.

Cable adapters – a variety of cable adapters for every occasion. The adapters from Seismic Audio or Monoprice are fairly inexpensive.

– 10 dB inline pad

– XLR Phase reverser

– XLR male to male

– XLR female to female

– 1/4” male to XLR female

– 1/4” male to XLR male

– 1/8” male to 1/4” female

– 1/4” female to female

Headphone extender cables – extend the life of your headphones cables with cable extenders. Once again, the cables from Seismic Audio are pretty good quality yet inexpensive.

8 to 16 channel drum snake – cut down on the clutter of mic cables around the drums. Once again, Seismic Audio beats everyone’s price.

Personal mixes for musicians (at least 4 stations for rhythm section). Hear Technologies is my favorite, but there are lots of alternatives these days.

Every studio, regardless of how large or small, can benefit from having these recording accessories readily available. Anyone else have an accessory that I missed or you find you can’t live without?

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

4 Surround Sound Miking Techniques Perfect For Virtual Reality

With virtual reality becoming more and more popular, surround sound is making a comeback. While most of the concentration on the audio side of things is on mixing, the fact of the matter is that there’s a lot of interesting information that can be captured during recording. Here’s an excerpt from my Recording Engineer’s Handbook that outlines 4 surround sound miking techniques that don’t require anything fancy in terms of microphones or encoders.

Remember that at it’s most basic, surround sound miking is just an extension of normal stereo miking techniques.

1. OCT Surround

Optimized Cardioid Triangle (OCT) is a modified Decca Tree that uses three cardioid microphones in a triangle with the center mic about three inches or so from the center, and the side mics (which face out towards the sides) 15 to 36 inches away from each other. By adding two additional rear cardioids 15 inches back from the L and R and eight inches farther outside the L and R and pointing to the rear, a surround version of OCT can be derived. For better low end response, omni’s may be substituted.

OCT. surround mikingjpg

2. IRT Cross

IRT stands for the German-based “Institute of Radio Technology” where this technique was created. This configuration is in essence a double-ORTF-setup (see ORTF in Chapter 5) with four cardioids arranged in a perfect-square-shape with an angle of 90 degrees to each other respectively. To compensate for the narrower angle compared to ORTF (which is 110 degrees), the distance between the mics is greater (eight inches compared to six inches with ORTF). Strictly speaking, the IRT microphone cross is an array for ambience recording. Its prime characteristic is a transparent and spatial reproduction of the acoustic environment, and was used for many years on NPR’s “Radio Expeditions” spectacular recordings.

IRT cross surround miking

3. Hamasaki Square

The Hamasaki Square configuration is similar to the IRT Cross except that figure 8s are substituted for cardioids. The length of each side is much wider, at about six feet, and the figure-8s have their nulls turned to the front so that this array is relatively insensitive to direct sound.

Hamasaki square surround miking

4. Double M-S

The method uses a standard M-S configuration with the addition of a rear facing cardioid mic.

Double MS surround miking

The aim of any recording is to capture the environment as well as the source, and surround miking accomplishes this goal to the extent that we have never heard before. Any of the above methods add a spaciousness that you simply can’t even approximate with outboard processors or any other previously mentioned miking techniques.

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

Creating Sound Effects Via Algorithm

Sound Effects Via AlgorithmI have great respect for sound designers in that they not only have to create effects that not only sound totally real but, in many cases, better than real. That last part is the key that will continue to keep them working despite a new algorithm from some MIT researchers that can independently add realistic sound effects to silent videos.

The researchers from MITCSAIL used artificial intelligence to enable a computer to learn the movements and surfaces occurring in a video and insert the appropriate sound effects. As you can see from the video below, the results are impressive.

The computer associates what it sees in the video with the appropriate sound from a database, then inserts it as needed. That should send a chill down a few sound designer’s spines.

In order to prove that the method was effective, the researchers did an A/B test on a on a number of test subjects. They showed one video that had the sound effects inserted using normal foley techniques and the other using the algorithm. In most cases, the test subjects failed to notice a difference between the two, and in some cases even preferred the one generated by the algorithm.

If you’re a sound designer reading this and fearing for your job, you needn’t be worried – yet. Although the algorithm shows promise, it has a long way to go. It’s only useful for very short clips as it tends to misfire on longer ones and play sounds at the wrong times, and it’s dependent on the sound library that it has available.

These problems will no doubt be worked out as development continues, but remember, only a sound designer good judgement can make something sound “better than live,” and judgement isn’t exactly the strong suit of computers, at least not today.

The “When All Else Fails” Recording Checklist

When All Else Fails Recording ChecklistIt happens to all of us. We’re trying to recording a sound source and for some reason it’s just not happening. What to do? It’s easy to just try a bunch of random things but sometimes that makes you more confused than ever. That’s when to try this following recording checklist when all else fails.

The “When all else fails” Recording Checklist comes from the 3rd edition my Recording Engineer’s Handbook, and it’s a sure way to set you on the right path the next time something just doesn’t sound right. Here we go:

Change the source, if possible (the instrument you’re miking)

Change the mic placement

Change the placement of the instrument or vocal in the room

Change the mic (don’t be afraid to try something that you think won’t work)

Change the mic preamplifier (again, the most expensive isn’t always the best choice)

Change the mount of compression and/or limiting (from none to a lot)

Change the room (the actual room you are recording in)

Change the player

Come back and try it another day

The last point is really important and often overlooked. Unless you’re on a tight deadline and just have to get something recorded (in which case you won’t be picky about the sound anyway), sometimes it’s just better to pack it in and come back and try it another day. You’d be surprised how much different things can sound on fresh ears and a fresh mind.

This also applies to playing as well. Many times a player just can’t seem to get a great take with the right feel even though he’s playing the right notes. Once again, coming back the next day with a fresh mind does wonders, and often times you’ll get it in the first or second take.

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

Louis Armstrong In The Studio In 1959

Louis Armstrong studio 1959Here’s a great piece of archival footage that shows the only film ever taken of the legendary Louis Armstrong in the studio. This was during the 1959 recording of the album Satchmo Plays King Oliver and it shows Armstrong and his All Stars recording the master take of “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” as well as silent footage of them listening to the playback afterwards.

Also featured in the clip are Trummy Young (trombone), Peanuts Hucko (clarinet), Billy Kyle (piano), Mort Herbert (bass) and Danny Barcelona (drums). The original album was produced for Audio Fidelity Records by Sid Frey, who commissioned the film to be made.

The 33 minute film was discovered in a storage locker in 2012 and was brought to the Armstrong House Museum with help of Frey’s daughter, Andrea Bass. It’s amazing what you can find when doing some spring cleaning sometimes!

It’s very cool to look at some the gear that’s being used here during the recording. Armstrong is playing and singing into a Neumann SM2 stereo mic (although you can be pretty sure that the recording was in mono on just a single track), while Peanuts Hucko on clarinet is playing into a 251. Too bad we can’t see what’s being used on the other instruments. It’s also pretty cool to see a pair of Altec A7 Voice of the Theater speakers in the background that were probably used for studio playback.

Louis Armstrong is generally credited for ushering in the modern jazz age, so it’s very cool to be able to see this small part of history.