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Archive for October, 2010

2nd Studio Session Report


Yesterday I was kindly asked by Sammy Vere and Gemma Sharp to help them Mic andRecord their drum tracks for their 1st assessed piece. Little did I know that they were planning to use a Mic setup we had previously looked at in our last lecture, which I remember captured a much richer, fuller sound that that of my first recorded drum kit. I also didn’t know tillyesterday that Gemma was very competent Drummer with 3 years experience and so I decided to re-record my drum section and replace my previous recording. Although I was very grateful to Eliot for his efforts playing the Drums for me the 1st time I felt Gemma and the new Mic setup would benefit my mix, greatly.


Like before a Sennheizer  602 Bass mic is used for the Kick drum although this timeplaced using a Mic stand, just away from the second skin, I did feel the kick seemed muffled in timbre, having recorded the kick from inside the drum itself. Possibly a lack of experience but I knew this way was going to sound good.

A pair of Shure SM57 dynamic Mic’s were used for the snare, one facing down towardthe top skin one pointed up toward the lower skin. A phase cancellation issue will come in to play here so a reverse phase tool will be used later in the pro-tools session to counter this.

An AKG 414 condensor Mic was placed facing toward the Hi-Hat and was set to a cardioid pickup pattern one of the 6 different settings available, (this would Mic would require phantom power).

The following two Mics were used to capture the stereo image of over-head drum sound. Notoriously used for cymbals and capturing harmonic resonant frequencies. A second AKG 414 was used for the left channel again using the cardioid pattern and was positioned to the far left (when facing the drummer) between the Floor-Tom and the right Cymbal. In the right channel the Neumann Omni-directional condensor mic was used and placed over-head facing the snare drum. This would sit at a complete right angle from the drummer and the left over-head Mic. Each Mic was set at an equal distance from the Snare drum so in theory the input for left and right signals would be of an equal amplitude.

Each Mic was routed out of the Live-room through the patch box.

Kick – Channel 1

Snare Top – Channel 2

Snare Bottom – Channel 3

HiHat – Channel 4

Over-head Left and Right – Channel 5 & 6

In the pro-tools control room we opened 4 mono tracks and 1 stereo track, we setup the inputs so they related to the channels I’ve shown above. When I recorded my first piece I used two mono tracks for the over-heads and panned them left and right this time we used a single stereo track and panned each channel within that track left and right. I suggest the advantage of recording it this way is to save on the number of track you need running and also so any effect you apply to one channel also effects the other. So you can EQ and Compress 2 channels equally allowing both to sit compfortably together within the mix. Notice the channel far right called TB this if for talkback and the channel we used to route signal from the microphone in the live room to the headphones Gemma was wearing (we would use these to instruct her when to play, what to play etc, etc).

Next we set up the levels on all 5 of our tracks so none of them were clipping hitting into the red. This stage was relatively easy but we did find the Hi-hat was often hitting alot louder than all the other channels so we reduced this channel by a 10db increment using the stages gain control above the -10/+10 gain control.

We also applied the reverse phase to the bottom snare channel. This is a plugin feature found on a 3 band EQ. Phase can cause in affect, cancellation of heard frequencies the snare sound will still be heard but less tight and sharp sounding as though parts of the sound are missing (hard to describe “best heard on then off”).

We were now ready to record and I was so right to do so I could already tell the recording was going to sound so much better, having a drummer that could play properly was just a bonus.

We recorded Sammy’s and Gemma’s tracks 1st. When it came round to re-recording my drum tracks. I imported the recording of the Saxaphone that Mike Sands performed for me the previous week and asked Gemma if she would mind playing a swung Jazz groove in time with what she heard. She practiced for a bit whilst I checked my levels. I reduced the gain on the Kick as I felt it too heavy and asked Gemma to play the snare alot softer reducing the gain a marginal amount. I then armed the tracks to record cued Gemma in. The Sax introduced and Gemma rolled in with a lovely rollup snare fill (superb). 2 minutes later I had myself a new recorded Drum kit.

I was very pleased with the outcome of this studio time and was already looking forward to my next studio session, which was funnily, booked for today at 3pm. I plan to record my Bass and hopefully lead guitar sections over the top of my now swung jazz drums and sax.

1st Studio Session Report


I had the studio booked from 9 till 2pm today, so I begun the recording side of my first assessment piece. First things first, I came in and turned everything on: Power Mac, Monitor Screen, Focusrite Pro-tools sound card, Genelec Monitors and the Patch Bay. Oh and the lights…

I then proceeded to setup the appropriate microphones in the Loud room for recording a drum kit. After discussing the days plan with Eliot ‘my session drummer’ I was persuaded to record the Drum section first and build up from there. He said it would make the recording process work more smoothly, he felt it would be easier to follow a drum pattern than than to follow a metronome tone or rhythm instrument. If you’ve read my previous blog, just shows how little I know but keen to learn none the less.

I decided to use an array of microphones. 3 dynamic and 2 identical condenser.

Kick – Senheiser 602

Snare – Shure SM57

Hi-Hat – Shure SM57

Overhead-Left – Neumann

Overhead-Right – Neumann

Using Mic stands I placed the an SM57 above the Hi-Hat and another right above the Snare. I put the 602 right inside the Kick. (My classmate Andrew Hosker told me to put the Kick Mic close to the skin itself to get that sharper sounding hit, simply by placing the Mic closer or further away you can marginally effect the attack of that recorded sound). I’ve always been a big fan of sharp punchy Kick drum sound. Although to be fair the sound of this Kick wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The acoustic characteristics seemed very thuddy sounding, more like a Boof Boof type kick over the Bup Bup that I prefer. Something I hope I can fix when it comes to the production stage.

Implementing the NOS setup and the two Neumann Condenser Mics I had with me. I positioned the stand so the Mics sat right in the middle of the Drum kit to hopefully capture as much of the kits overall sound as was possible.

All 5 Microphones were routed using XLR cables into the studio control room through the patch boxes in the corner as shown. Each output was numbered 1-8, 1 for Kick, 2 for Snare, 3 for Hi-Hat, 4 & 5 for Overheads. 1-8 outputs would of course correlate to outputs 1-8 on the patch bay. These outputs I would then route into input channels for the Focusrite s’card and in turn Pro-tools setup.

Eliot  took his seat behind the drums and started practicing his drumming, which was a perfect opportunity for me to go back to the control room and set up my tracks and levels. I opened 5 mono Audio tracks which would automatically route themselves to input channels 1-5. All I need to do was solo each track for monitoring, turn the volume up so I could hear each hit and proceed to adjust the gain till the level was on average hitting a good level every time. Not to high, just incase the odd is to hard and clips the level which of course will make that track distort when is played back, but not so low that we fail to capture all the qualities of the sound from the tinny twangs and hisses that make up that hit’s timbre. I repeated this process for each track till I was happy with the overall level.

I then briefly spoke with Eliot and asked him to play a simple Hip Hop beat around 90 bpm. At this point I hadn’t sent a metronome back to Eliot through an output in Loud-room because Eliot preferred to listen to beat off his Ipod and follow that.

He continued to play and at an appropriate time he begun playing and continued to do so for just over 2 minutes, all of which I recorded in Pro-tools and that was the first part over and done with, fortunately this only took one take.

With an hour of studio time left, I wanted to record some more material. Annoyingly we didn’t have any other instruments with us because we assumed we would get as far as we did so quickly. As a result I took a walk down the corridor to see if there were any musicians practicing that wouldnt mind me recording a 2 minute section of them jamming. At this point I wasn’t thinking of the implications but I can now say I was very happy with my decision. As I found a guy named Mike Sands a very talented Saxophonist who kindly abliged.

I setup the NOS setup with Neumanns in the Chill room and did all the required re-routing, cables and Pro-tools etc.

I also set a Master and Aux channel to foldback the drums to Mike and quickly without wasting to much of his time recorded a 2 minute sample of him jamming with his Seprano Sax, very nicely he also let me record a 2nd stereo track of him playing his Alto Sax which set me on a whole new direction with the piece. I now ittend to make my piece into something more Jazzy with a Funk type Bass and twangy Electric guitar.

Studio Session Plan


Tomorrow I will be having my first Studio session to begin producing the first part of my assessment. I plan to record an original piece of my own creation using the following recording and production techniques. In the session my fellow student and session guitarist/drummer Eliot Finch will be assisting me.

For the first part I would really like to make use of the 4 main Microphone set ups that we were taught in class. AB, XY, MS & NOS just so I can have personal preference over which captures the best stereo sound. Given my untrained ear I may find this difficult to distinguish the different qualities of each setup which is better, which is worse but I plan to make a worth-wile attempt and discover what works for me.

I’d like to lay down a simple Acoustic Guitar rhythm section intially folding a metronome tone back to Eliot so we can get a feel for the timing of the track. Ill set the metronome speed to 120bpm. I’d like to begin with Mid and Hi range frequencies and work out from them building the bass line, drum, other instruments sections I choose to use around this Acoustic section in theory the rhythm will stand out and give the track a fuller groove.

Mic setup uses:

Acoustic Guitar – XY,

Vocal – MS,

Bass – AB

Drums – NOS

this may get changed in session.

Once recorded and Im happy each part fits well in the mix (before I do any processing). Then I’d like to experiment with the plugins we’ve looked at before in my previous blogs. HP filter, Compression, Amp Farm and few we’ve yet to look at 8 band EQ, BitCrush, Delay etc. Im not looking to create a big powerful piece with an over-kill of effects but more something that uses the tools and methods we’ve previous learnt so that when I come on to my second production where I’m meant copy the methods of a well known composer I’m up to date on how a standard session is dealt with, blah blah blah x)

Routing & Plugins


Today we looked at effects and techniques you can use in Pro-tools, to make pre recorded tracks sit better in the mix, sound louder, bassier grittier what ever your preference i.e. Amp distortion on the Bass, Hi-Pass Filter cutoff for Acoustic Guitars and Compression together with Side-chaining techniques on Vocal and Bass parts. We also looked at methods of capturing a different acoustic environments apposed that of the original recording.

To start with we opened a pre-recorded production that was made up of roughly 8 tracks; Bass, Lead, Vocal, Drums etc. For this lecture we looking at the Acoustic guitar track but everything we were about to learn could was a technique that could be used on any piece of recording in Pro-tools. So we soloed the Acoustic section and selected the channel A3 output, A1 and A2 being the studio monitors in front of us (standard), using the patch bay to the right of the desk and a single patch cord, we routed the signal out from Pro-tools and in to the live room. Which we then routed in to a Guitar Amp from the patch box via xlr cable.

Using 4 different dynamic & condenser microphones we Miced up the Amp. This method of re-recording could be used to capture natural reverb after an instrumen has already been recorded. You might want to fold-back the signal in to the recital hall for example and re-record the sound from there. For instance you could have the guitar amp at one end of the Hall and the microphones at the other, thus capturing the large open space of the sound as it almost echoes around the room toward the Mics.

(note Time-adjuster/Sample Delay important plugin used here, explained later)

For this excercise the 4 microphone used were:

Shure SM57

DPA Condenser

AKG 414


Then using 4 mono audio track in Pro-tools we re-recorded the tracks. Once we’d recorded about a minutes worth we went on to look at a Time adjust or Sample Delay plugin. When this fold-back technique is used you must notice that there will be an inevitable time delay between Pro-tools playing the audio and the microphones recording in. The further Mics are from the source the bigger the problem. This issue might seem minor when listening back to the mix but the out of sync parts will sound better if they hit at exactly the same time otherwise they would be out of phase. The image below shows two waveforms notice how the lower one begins slightly after the other.

Now you can manually drag the waveform back so it sits in line with the other but this can be tricky to get right especially if you have more than two drops, i.e. pause play pause play between choruses verses etc. It is very easy to miss parts and you’ll quickly find a track will sit tight in the mix to start with and then suddenly fall out of phase because you’ve missed a drop-in point. This issue will be looked at some more in later blogs. An easier way to fix this delay issue is to use a Time-adjuster or Sample-delay plugin which will compensate when playing back, digitally moving the delayed track forward by the correct number of sample so that it hits at the same time. See the Time-adjuster plugin below notice the box with the number 4 in, this  represents the number of samples (length of delay) between the two tracks. We are able to measure this gap using the cursor tool in the sequence window the number of samples is displayed in the transport window to the top of the screen, normally you will see this gap as time in milliseconds but we can easily switch it to view number of samples if we wish.

Once we’d got our tracks playing correctly it was time to move on to our effects plugins. One that I found particularly interesting was the Hi-Pass-Filter a simple tool that allows you to quickly remove any Bass parts from an audio track and adjust the cutoff envelop to where you prefer. Hi-Pass filters allow high frequencies to pass through and cutoff any frequencies below the range. A Hi-Pass can start as low as 0Hz and is then adjusted along the bandwidth 0-20Khz to a point you’d prefer the filter to allow through 200-20KHz or 1600-20KHz for example.

See the Hi-Pass-Filter below:

We also looked at Compression. Which deals amplitude or volume control of tracks. Compression is useful when trying to make tracks louder more powerful with out them distorting or clipping the output. Compression can also be used to reduce volume rhythmically, commonly used in Dance music. Compression can be set to reduce volume on the hit of a kick drum using side-chaining techniques.

First you set the volume threshold to a level you desire and then sidechain the on/off switch to the apropriate track. For example you might want to side-chain compression to the Rhythm track when ever the Vocals come in so that the volume of the Rhythm is reduced and the Vocals become more prominent in the mix.  To clarify in this example the compression is plugged into the Rhythm section the side-chain trigger comes from the Vocal. The moment the Vocals seises to play the Rhythm section will immediately return to the flat volume where it started. You can set the Attack and Release on Compression so that the volume changes smoothly or harshly, what ever you prefer. With Dance music a harsh transition is usually favourable, where as with band music normally a slower release is preferred.

Limiters work in nearly exactly the same fashion but prevent amplitude from exceeding a level. The threshold control sets the level of which the volume will be reduced often used on the Master channels to prevent your signal from clipping the output “red lights unhappy face =( “.

Lastly we also looked at Amp plugins, different sounding virtual amplifiers great for changing the sound of a Bass or Lead Guitar. For instance we can plug a Bass directly into Pro-tools from a channel in the Control room i.e. channel one on the mixer beneath the monitor display (see to the right). We then choose an Amp plugin from the list of TDM plugins available, the image below shows the Amp Farm plugin, know for a dirty distorted sound. You would then record in the input to a new audio track with this plugin applied the rest is self explanatory.

Onward and Upward, DJ

MS & NOS Stereo Mic Setup


This week we learnt two more stereo mic setups: MS(Mid-Side and NOS (Nederlandse Omroep Stichting,  the name of a Dutch radio station that that invented this stereo recording technique).

MS Setup

The Mid-Side  set up uses two AKG 414 microphones both of which are condenser Mics (require phantom power) but we set them to two different  pickup settings directional cardioid and figure of 8. They  are both attached to our spacer bar but fixed next to one another as apposed to 30cm apart for the AB setup The closer the better. The figure of 8 Mic capturing escaping harmonic qualities from the left and right sides which our directional cardioid pick up mic might not otherwise capture.

Both the figure of 8 and Cardioid Mic’s are routed into our Pro-Tools session as mono tracks.  A third Auxiliary track is used to create a stereo image from the figure of 8 mono input. Track 1 is set up to record the input of our forward facing cardioid Mic (mono signal). Track 2 represents the positive side of our figure of 8 mic, which we pan hard left. Positive and Negative sides are relative to in and out phase stereo recordings you want pairs to be in phase for a crisper sound. To create our negative side we bus an output (bus A-E or F-J) to the Auxiliary channel and pan hard right. Together they create a stereo pair. Sometimes recording can sound better 180 degrees/furthest out of phase you can use the following EQ-3 plugin to switch between in and out phase as shown below the blue lit icon is this function.

The NOS Setup

This setup places two AKG 414 Mics on a spacer bar that sit 30 centimetres apart.  Each microphone faces at a 90 degree angle from the other mic. Similar to the X&Y setup but with an even space apart. This method is most commonly used for recording and overhead sound drum kit  and acoustic guitars with vocals, even orchestral like groups. See below


Stereo Recording Mic Setup


Useful sites for this module:

zigzagmusic.com & dpamicrophones.com

AB Setup

Looking at omni-directional and cardioid condensor microphones and their placement in relation to the sound source. This method of recording in stereo allows for a more open recording this way you are able to record as close to what your ears would hear normally when listening to a live instrument. ideal for Acoustic instruments like the Guitar, Piano even Drums.

– Use two omni-directional microphones (picks up signal equally in all directions).

– fix both to a mic spacer bar with both ends facing in the same direction this will allow us to capture both left and right sides of the sound aka stereo.

(distance is critical for a decent stereo image, too wide and the sound will appear out of phase, too close and the stereo image becomes no different from a mono recording)

XY Setup

–   Use two cardioid microphones (AKG 414) placed on the stereo bar,

–   placed at 90′ of one another to capture left and right



–  both send mono signals into protools inputs which are then sent through a stereo channel in protools,

–   Mic placement and gain control is key to capture the best sound possible,

–   The closer the mic the less gain is needed,

–   you must fine tune the gain so the channel never clips (into the red) which will prevent a horrible distorted sound.

Using a xlr signal out box and patch bay we are able to route signals out of the live room and into the control room and in turn into our Pro-Tools set up. Using a collection of Jack and xlr cables and plugs we can route the signal into physical channels on the Pro-Tool mixing desk. Which we can independently alter gains, levels and other parameters. We can even send signal back into the live room as a fold back so our musicians can hear one another play through their headphones we provide them particularly useful when musicians are in different rooms to one another. We also have a microphone in the control room, which we can use to speak to our musicians. To tell them sit closer to mic or move them left or right for example, all depending on our production techniques etc.

Record and Compare.

With a trained Ear you may be able to hear the difference in quality of each recorded sound whether it be a recording from an AB or XY setup and distinguish which sound better but for this exercise a basic understanding of the methods one would undergo to record a single instrument in Stereo was to be understood and the recorded sound itself was irrelevant.

I look forward to what is yet to learn. DJ.

CMTYr2 – Studio Project

The Studio Project module is aimed at the aspiring musician rather than the recording engineer. In the process of working on a number of creative projects, students learn about the history of music production and studio-based recording, from their origins in the 1950s to the present day. They are introduced to the work of pioneers such as Phil Spector and George Martin who, in the 1960s, were among the first producers of commercial music to challenge the convention that recordings should recreate the illusion of a concert hall setting. In turn, the approach of more recent producer/composers is also investigated – such as that of Brian Eno, Trent Reznor, and Frank Zappa with his notion of a ‘movie for your ears’.

Students continue to develop their fluency in the use of computer software for recording, editing, sound-processing and sequencing; and they continue to learn about microphones and the creative applications of their placement. Working collaboratively by forming and recording their own musical ensembles, they make use of their technical knowledge to create two contrasting musical productions, which comprise the assessment for this module. One of these is free of stylistic constraints; the other should consciously emulate a particular style of music production, either from the past or from the present day.

Assessment 1

1st production “free of stylistic constraints”, and be an “original OR cover” track:

  • band recording 2-6 mins (any genre) must include:
  • drums, bass, guitar/piano, voice

you may also include:

  • woodwind, brass, strings, percussion, synths

(All instruments to be miced.  In addition, guitar and bass may be d.i. (direct inject))

Treatment – only use:

  • High pass filter, sample delay (time adjuster), compression, sidechaining, limiting (on master fader).
  • NB:  The mix output must not clip prior to limiting.
  • Limit to -0.2dBs

Use no other effects or eq.

  1. This is a “dry” task to demonstrate appropriate mic placement and basic studio competence.

Record your plans and progress in your blog, including photographs of your mic placement and screen shots of aspects of your mix (such as plug-in placement).

Assessment 2

2nd production “should consciously emulate a particular style of music production, either from the past or from the present day”, “in an ORIGINAL piece”:

Provide evidence (in your blog) of the production techniques you intend to use, with links to appropriate articles (detailing those techniques) and links to tracks where those techniques are clearly demonstrated

  • band recording 2-6 mins (any genre) must include:
  • drums, bass, guitar/piano, voice

you should also include at least one of the following:

  • woodwind, brass, strings, percussion, synths

Treatment – appropriate use of:

  • eq, compression, effects, elastic audio manipulation, sample delay (time adjuster), sidechaining, limiting (on any track, aux input (including a sub-mix) and the master fader)

With the exception of bass and guitar, which may be d.i., all instruments must be miced, although this production need not be of a ‘performance’ ie. it could include ‘sampling sessions’, in which case, evidence of the original recording must be provided (as a ‘muted’ track/s).

(To clarify, you could for example, record individual drums and cymbals, then programme a drum track, or trigger drum sounds by midi.)

NB:  The mix output must not clip prior to limiting.

  • Limit to -0.2dBs

The purpose of this task is to borrow present and/or past production techniques in creating your own, original production pastiche.

You may focus on one approach ie, using several techniques of one producer, or combine a variety of techniques, for example, sample drums, then ‘send’ them to the recital hall and record the hall’s natural reverb.

From the following list of producers you must choose one to research their production techniques and apply them to your own produced piece.

  • Phil Spector
  • George Martin
  • Brian Eno
  • Frank Zappa
  • Trent Reznor

Record your plans and progress in your blog, detailing your ‘production intentions’ including photographs of your mic placement and screen shots of aspects of your mix and the steps taken to achieve your various production goals.

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