Tag Archives for " Recording Engineers Handbook "

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.

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.

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!

February 1, 2017

The 4th Edition Of Bobby Owsinski’s Recording Engineer’s Handbook Now Available

Recording Engineer's Handbook 4th editionI’m proud to announce the fully updated fourth edition of my Recording Engineer’s Handbook, a complete compilation of the best recording techniques currently used today.

Along with the rich treasure trove of information from the previous versions of the book, the latest edition also includes new sections on immersive audio recording, electric guitar recording tricks, and DIY microphone and mic preamp kits. Best of all, the information is presented so that musicians, artists, engineers and producers at any level can learn both the basic and advanced skills required to make their recordings shine.

Among the many topics covered in The Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition include:

  • An overview of recording elements, including microphones, preamps, compressors and DAWs, and the secret for getting great sounds even from inexpensive gear
  • Multiple miking techniques for just about any musical instrument or vocal, including how to choose the right mic for any recording situation
  • Prepping and recording drums and percussion, including the keys to a great sounding drum kit
  • Basic tracking and overdub advice and strategies, stereo and immersive audio recording techniques, and much more

Part 2 of the book also includes interviews that feature the wisdom and down-to-earth practical advice offered by a host recording professionals, including all-time greats like Al Schmitt, Eddie Kramer, and Ed Cherney. These hit-maker engineers share their expertise and creative processes behind not only today’s hits, but the classic cuts we’ve enjoyed for years.

The print version of The Recording Engineer’s Handbook, Fourth Edition can be purchased on Amazon, and now there’s a Kindle version as well. The book will also be available at retail book stores and the iTunes book store.

Distribution to colleges and universities is through Ingram. A table of contents and book excerpts can be found at bobbyowsinski.com/recording-engineers-handbook, and an Instructors Resource Kit featuring Powerpoint/Keynote presentations, discussion topics and quizzes for a 12 week semester is also available by request.

7 Tips For Improving Your Drum Sound

7 tips for improving your drum soundWhen 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.

Direct Box Basics

Radial JDI direct boxDirect 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 transformers provide ground isolation and allow long cable runs from high impedance sources like guitars and keyboards without excessive bandwidth loss.
  • The extremely high impedance of the DI insures a perfect match with almost every kind of pickup to provide a warmer, more natural sound.
  • The length of cable can be extended up to 50 feet without signal degradation.

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.

Choosing the Right Microphone For The Job

Choosing the right microphoneWhile 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.

  • There’s no one mic that works well on everything. Just because you have what could be considered a “great” mic doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be the best choice in all situations. There are times when the characteristics of that mic just don’t match up with the instrument you’re recording, and another mic will work better. In fact, sometimes even an inexpensive mic can work better than an expensive one.
  • Select a microphone that complements the instrument you’ll be recording. For instance, if you have an instrument that has a very edgy top end, you normally wouldn’t want to choose a mic that also has that quality, since those frequencies will be emphasized. Instead, you might want to choose a mic that’s a bit mellower, such as a ribbon. This is one of the reasons that a ribbon mic is often preferred on brass, for instance.
  • Is the mic designed to be used in the free field or in the diffuse field? Free-field means the sound that comes directly from the source dominates what the mic hears. Diffuse-field means that the room reflections play a large role in what the mic hears. Mics designed for free-field use tend to have a flat frequency response in the high frequencies, and as a result can sound dull when placed farther away in room from the sound source. Diffuse-field mics have a boost in the upper frequencies that make them sound flat when placed farther away. A good example of a diffuse-field mic is the esteemed Neumann M 50, which was meant to be placed somewhat away from an orchestra, so it has a high-frequency boost to compensate for the distance.
  • Select a mic that won’t be overloaded by the source. Some mics are sensitive enough that you must be aware of how they’re used. You wouldn’t want to put certain ribbon or condenser mics on a snare drum with a heavy-hitting drummer, for instance. Even some dynamic mics have little tolerance for high sound-pressure levels, so always take that into account.
  • Choose the right polar pattern for the job. If leakage is a consideration, then choose a mic with the proper directional capabilities for the job. If a mic is flat on-axis (at the front), it probably will roll off some of the highs when it’s 90 degrees off-axis (on the side). If it’s flat 90 degrees off-axis, it may have a rising high end when it’s on-axis.
  • Is proximity effect an issue? If you intended to place the mic within 6 inches or closer from the source, will the bass buildup from the proximity effect be too much? If you think that may be the case, consider an omni pattern instead.
  • A large-diaphragm condenser mic is not necessarily better than small-diaphragm condenser. Believe it or not, small diaphragm condenser microphones can sometimes capture the lower frequencies better, are generally less colored off-axis than large-diaphragm mics, and have a smoother frequency response. Large-diaphragm mics are a little less noisy, though.

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

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.

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.