Project Update 5: Mastering and Reflection

The mastering for this project has taken place in the studio’s on campus, for my project 1 mix, I mastered at home on non calibrated monitors in a weird position in the room. The result was not very effective, nor was it what I would deem now, as an industry standard master. I have been mastering in the Audient 8024 studio on campus, the benefit of which is that there is the Avalon and an honest pair of Dynamic Audio monitors, far more honest that the Opals that I am used to mixing on. What I was hoping to achieve with this mastering process was to add, some quirky plugins and processing to really spice up the tracks.

When these track are released, which will be sometime next year, we aim to publish them on Bandcamp, SoundCloud and Youtube, sharing on Facebook and Instagram. These platforms have recommended formats for the audio that is uploaded to them. Bandcamp and SoundCloud both will accept 24 bit depth WAV files at the mostl, and sample rates from 44.1k upwards. They will also accept and MP3 encoded file.

Radio is a bit of a different story, song length has a limit on air time which is quite often between 3:30 and 4 minutes which is the biggest length that I am aware of. This is why I made a radio edit of Little Loco, I am unsure about Baby It’s You as I would be shaving off a minute and a half of audio from it. Little Loco is radio friendly territory already luckily. The section I cut out was just after the bridge solo, there is a random 12 second or so breakdown before kicking into the third chorus. It is not 100% vital to the track and is quite easily omitted and then faded back together.

Little Loco:

The track is a bit of a big rock song, so I aimed to add more edge and brightness. So I opted for some Mid Side processing, which enabled me to process the middle and sides differently. Straight away I tried to find the sweet spot with the mid track that would line with the sides tracks to be properly in phase, this spot was roughly 1dB above unity gain. I then added the Abbey road RS127 rack plugin, which adds “brilliance”, a real sweetness to the high end which I set to 3.5K and +4db. Then adding the same plugin to the mid track with +2 db.

The track was sounding much brighter, our lecturer then showed me something very cool. Basically, we split the track into two mono tracks and then one by one ran them through the Avalon, running it clean, only using the the EQ. He set the high shelf to 32K and boosted it by only couple of dB, but the effect was amazing, yet incredibly subtle, as if someone had removed a blanket from in front of the speakers. It added a lot of height and air to the top end. Finally, our lecturer showed me what a bit of multiband compression can do to just tuck everything in and tame the whole track, this was possibly the most subtle processing however it made the track feel just that extra bit cohesive and like it was being played from a CD. The limiter used was an Izotope Vintage Limiter set to “Tube”, the ceiling brought down to -0.3 dB to avoid any jumps from intersample peaking and just to keep it safely from regular clipping.

Baby It’s you:

For this song I went into the C24 studio, the benefit of this studio is the mastering outboard gear which I made good use of. The BAX EQ and the Foote Compressor, both of which a quite subtle for the purpose of detailed mastering. I ran the EQ after the compressor as I didn’t the compressor to flatten whatever EQ’ing did. I added in some 18k at around 3dB which like the Avalon for little Loco added some air and space. With the compressor Steph showed me this technique to set the sweet spot for the attack and release, where you absolutely hammer the ratio, ratio, threshold and the gain to slam the track, then roll back the attack until it’s not choking transients, and then roll off the release until it’s not choking the following transients. The ratio was fairly light on at 1.5:1 and the gain reduction maxed out at around -2.5 which is a very comfortable amount of headroom for dynamics to still have a lot of presence. I used the Izotope Vintage Limiter set to “Tube” again, with the ceiling brought down to -0.3 dB.

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I aimed for an average integrated LUFS value of -13.0. In the chorus and other louder parts the short term value was reaching -12.0 and the quieter parts such as the verses around -15.0. At this point the song was hitting the ceiling fairly regularly getting the tracks to a nice and loud level. The mastering I feel went fairly well, improving the tracks a lot. They sound far more lively than mixes and generally

Comparison to Industry Standards:

I feel like in terms of the quality of the performance, that I have reached near to, if not, and professional standard, particularly with my level of editing and performance correction in post. I’ve mentioned how in a previous blog how it’s generally a dead giveaway that the mix sounds ameteur if there are mistakes in the edit or performance. I have really put a great deal of time into getting the sound of the performance to a next level for myself.

If I had to compare these songs to a similar sort of production, I would probably go with Trippin’ The Light Fantastic by Ball Park Music.

As well as Kevin Parker from Tame Impala, as their Producer and Writer he is a big part of the bands inspiration and is a fantastic producer.

This is perhaps the area or point of view that I was missing from this project, the producer role. I relied quite heavily on the creativity of the band and the songs to make the songs special and a high quality “production”. When I listen to rippin’ The Light Fantastic by Ball Park Music, it just sounds a little bit more like a song you would hear on the radio, and like it has more character and production value. Not that the quality of the The Grüvs songwriting is any lesser, their songwriting is awesome! The production value I’m talking about, is generally having a push for certain tonal aesthetics, ideas, or even addition instruments or sounds. My project is pretty much just “the band”, which isn’t a bad thing, however it can be really beneficial for the development of bands sound and character.

I’ve compared Little Loco to Trippin’ The Light Fantastic, whilst the track felt like it was felt like it was fairly pushed, I think I could have pushed it a little more with the limiter threshold. Trippin’ The Light Fantastic is running at a couple of dB higher and is generally just a tiny bit louder, and a little bit more like a radio master with it’s higher level. I think I could have afforded to push the songs a little bit louder to be in the same ball park (pun intended). I think the mix was also maybe a bit brighter, I think throughout my process I haven’t mixed in quite as much high end, the brightening in the mastering process was effective however I only really added extreme high end and not so much the more aggressive and noticeably brighter high mids (roughly between 3k to 7k). I would say I was worrying a bit about having too harsh a mix throughout the process and I feel like for all of the resonant high frequencies that I removed, I should have replaced to some degree.

note: (On top is Trippin’ the Light Fantastic, below is Little Loco)

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Overall Reflection:

I have travelled a large distance with this project. I have really stepped up my recording quality level since the last EP I did in trimester 2, just going to the effort to experiment and research on techniques, principles and different tones for pre production really prepared me to get a better sound. My confidence in the studios has gone up also, the further use of the desks and the outboard gear has been a real benefit for my project. Things such processing the vocals and mix through the Avalon for recording and mixing, and using the 1176 compressor for the bass.

I have improved on my artist coaching and production, I felt very involved when it to electric guitars and vocals, the guys would often ask for my feedback on a harmony line or guitar part, and I would give my honest opinion in the kindest way possible. Especially with the lead guitarist James, as a guitarist we had a lot in terms of taste for tone in common and we were able to bond over it and he really respected my opinion, despite it being their song. Similarly with rest of the band it really helped getting to know them and their tastes, the relationship was really casual and relaxing and the bonus of this was they seemed quite comfortable performing in the studio.

I feel a lot more confident about taking on a musical project, as well as a project on my own. Managing it was a struggle at times with the band, although I could safely say that I managed my bookings and time spent on the project well enough to not lose lot of sleep. I did spend an extensive amount of time in the studio’s, I wanted to avoid mixing at home as much as I could mainly because of my limited plugin supply, but also due to the poor quality sound environment. I have learnt a lot about session management and workflow between stages of the project, so from recording drums to editing them, and then to recording bass, to editing it and so on.

I am a little disappointed that I couldn’t deliver all 4 tracks to the standard of a high quality master, partially because I did a lot of work recording and editing them and won’t receive any credit for it, however I will be back in the holidays as soon as I can. I believe this project, when finished with artwork could really give the band some traction in their genre and in the Indie/Alt rock music scene in Brisbane. Unfortunately I won’t be releasing a link to to songs as the band (hopefully) will be releasing the songs when they’re all back in the country at the beginning of next year.

Peace!

Bibliography:

Perkins, J. (2014). The 2014 Mastering Guide to Audio Formats and Delivery Mediums. The Pro Audio Files. Retrieved 8 December 2016, from https://theproaudiofiles.com/audio-mastering-format-and-delivery-guide-2014/

https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/1696878?hl=en&ref_topic=2888648

Film Dialogue Project

Just recently I was asked by a film student whom I have worked with previously to help him out with recording some dialogue for their major project. The project was to create an old car advertisement, for the Ford Falcon GT-HO, not sure of the particular model. His request of me to was to record, edit and mix the dialogue of 3 different voice actors in the studio and bounce the separate tracks for him to add in to his final video. The audio was to be modern and clean with a bit of colour to help emphasise the emotion and style of the voice.

Something very interesting I learnt was how a film director will director will direct a vocal actor, which is very different to how us audio people will coach our artists or produce a song in the studio. The film student, named Bunitj, directed his actor more by trying to tap into their emotional position or to put in other words, he would try and establish a setting or persona for the actor to follow. Whereas in the music vocalist recording scenario, the song is motive and the performance and how it will be performed is more or less already known, just has to be executed to as high a quality as possible.

We initially began recording in the Raven MIDI on campus, which is not as dead a sound as I was hoping for. However we were able to move later on into the Audient B which has a big carpeted live room and is dead and dry as a bone. The three actors were, an elderly man, who was trying to achieve a voice similar to that of the race car driver Allan Moffat, I believe, the role of the older generation in the ad. Secondly was Bunitj himself, as the adult age role, and thirdly was a young boy called Henry who play the role of the child in the ad.

I record the voices with a Rode K2, I also auditioned a Shure SM7B, however the K2 was more balanced and cleaner. We took several take and then went back through finding the best takes and swapping parts and chopping up where needed. We also dropped the pitch of the older actor and Bunitj’s voice by around -45 to -50 cents, which just gave the voice the deeper tone it needed. There was a rough time bracket we had to fit in to, which meant we were finding more spots in the takes to shorten or lengthen gaps which made a more natural feel to the voice.

To Brad’s voice (the older man) we wanted it to sound a little more gravelly, straight away I reached for the Izotope trash 2 plugin, I managed to find an overdrive preset that fit the bill, it added a little more aggression to the tone. I also made a point of de-essing his, and all of the actors to keep the sibilance in check. Bunitj and Henry’s voice fine with the tone recorded, these two were to been more modern and clean as they were younger roles. On each of these I added in a small room reverb, the reverb was very subtly blended in as we didn’t want it to sound like they were in any particular room, but just enough to take the dry edge off, whilst still sound like a commercial voice narration. I also added in compression to tame the peaks of each take.

They didn’t require any specific sample rate or bit depth so I just bounced each of the tracks out at 48/24, as they might as well have a better quality if anything. I tried to get each to peak at around -10 dBFS, as the Australian standard peak is -24 LUFS for TV advertisements.

Here is the link to the final project…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTvpqxXzlso&feature=youtu.be

Bibliography:

Australia Government,. (2010). FREE TV AUSTRALIA OPERATIONAL PRACTICE OP- 59 (p. 2).

Project Update 4: Final Mixes

The past couple of weeks have been a massive effort to complete all of the editing, final recordings and mixing. But I’m fairly happy with how the project has come together over that period. The mixing was a very gradual process as I tried to experiment and clean up and process tracks as I went, with the bulk of the creativity and colour being added toward the end of the mixing. In this blog I will talk about my mixes, specifically the processing and techniques I used and why. Aesthetics and production techniques has been a tricky topic, trying not to have to make too many compromises with booking the right studios and getting the right microphones, outboard gear, plugins, monitors etc. that I’ve needed, luckily I managed this fairly well.

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Drums

With the drums I made a point of keeping the kick and snare at the front and fairly dry, part of achieving this sound was just pulling back on the rooms and over heads, which really emphasised the “dry” factor.

Little Loco: On the kick I used blended in the sample and original to taste, this ended up with the recorded kick being the strongest as it felt like the deeper sound that a rockier track like this one needed. I also teamed that with some parallel compression and a transient shaper to add some extra punch. The snare had a strong blend of the original recorded sm57 track, with a blend of the sample to make it feel maybe a little synthetic that I originally thought I would want, this track just feels a little too rocky for a synthetic drum sound.

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Baby It’s You: The kick and snare blend involved a lot more sample in this song, it’s a little less organic and bit more dreamy, with the reverbed guitars and the driving pad sound. The kick in particular has a much more boppy sound.

The toms on the track were the original recorded only, I had a little bit of trouble getting them to stand out in the mix without making the cymbal bleed in the tracks sound weird, I experimented with transient shapers to boost the attack and fiddled with getting the fades on the tom hits to sound natural in context with the track. I tried to pan them around where they sat in the stereo spread of the over heads.

The Overheads and Ms Room mics were side chained to the kick drum, I used this effect to help open up the kick drum further without having to push it too loud on the faders. But only enough to make the kick a bit more present in the mix. The rooms were blended in fairly lightly, even less so in Baby It’s you to go with the dry synthetic approach. I spent a fair amount of time cleaning out resonant frequencies in the drums and a lot of other hissing and whistling that just made the rooms and overheads very abrasive.

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Bass:

The bass was a little bit of a struggle, I think just getting a decent tone out of a fairly cheap bass guitar is a tough thing to do. I tried to clear out the midrange a bit with an eq and then distort what ever was left of it with the Fabfilter plugin called “saturn”. Having been a straight DI sound I wanted to beef up the low end a bit. For this I used some multiband compression to clear out mids and boost lows and highs a bit, I aimed for the presence region to be almost but not quite as prominent as the lows. I also ran the ran through an Ampeg SVT UAD plugin to add some colour to the track as it just sounded to dry. In Baby It’s You, I rounded of the high end and let some of the mids back in just to smooth out the bass sound, I wanted it a little more aggressive for Little Loco.

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Keys:

I real didn’t do much to the keys other than EQ and add reverb as the sound already had a lot of character, one thing I noticed was the amount of noise coming through on the track. I used the Izotope RX de-noise to get rid of as much as possible. The keys in general with both tracks sounded fine, but in the context of the mix seemed dull or weak in comparison to the drums and guitars, it was smooth but kind of glassy. Turning them up didn’t really solve the problem, so I added in a fair amount of high end and compressed it to flatten out the frequencies and get it to cooperate with the mix a bit more. Here is one of the level automation and clip gaining I did in Little Loco.

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Rhythm Electric Guitar:

Given that the lead guitarist is playing a lot of single note sort of stuff, and not very often playing chords. Its straight away lacking a thick presence in the mix, so I tried to compensate by making the rhythm a lot bigger and fatter. I did this by duplicating the rhythm auxiliary that the tracks were running through, and I used the Izotope plugin “Trash 2”, a distortion, EQ, dynamics and everything in one plug in really, to change the tone and therefore the waveform so it would sound more like three different guitar tracks. I cleared out the midrange in the guitar a bit to make room for the vocals and spent some time clearing out resonant frequencies.

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Lead Electric Guitar:

I tried to thicken up the lead  and make it a bit sweeter, the tone was fairly lively having been recorded on a valve amplifier but still very dry. Again a made a duplicate and blended some different overdrive sounds from the Trash 2 plugin. It worked really well in making the tone not only a more distorted but it was really effective at creating a boost or clean type of overdrive sound which I was very fond of. I had the verses, pre choruses, choruses, and bridge all in separate tracks to easily be able to process the parts differently. I each part to have its own level in the mix, effects send levels and so on, this would save me having to automate a single track very heavily. However there was still volume automation done on all of the guitar, bass and keys tracks across the sessions. The bridge lead octaves in Little Loco were double tracked and panned left and right to create a massive sound, however I had to edit the different takes to sound almost seamlessly different. The tiny differences between those two tracks are the main reason it sounds so big, just duplicating and panning a track hard left and right will leave you with a centered and louder track..

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Vocals:

I went a bit crazy with the vocal processing, the main effect I used was New York compression, which is a form of parallel compression. However, it has an extra duplicate track that is compression and distorted to the max, it just sounds like trash. Lightly blending that track in with another heavily compressed track, and the original makes it super crisp and lively. Kevin’s voice is very smooth and not too bright, this processing helped me to bring out a bit more of the Bruno Mars sort of character in his voice.

The vocals in Little Loco are fairly dry, I made it that way as it feels like more of a rock song that’s fairly full on, none of the references I’ve had for vocals for this song in particular have a very strong reverb, or on very many songs in the same genre for that matter. For Baby It’s You, I wanted the sound to be a bit more roomy and weird. So I used some parallel compression and delayed the parallel track by about 12 milliseconds, this creates a cool room sound echo effect. On top of this, going with the weird effect, I dialed in a stairwell reverb sound and a UAD Space Echo. The combination of these three effects was fairly cool and definitely felt like it worked with the feel of the song. I also ran all of the vocals through the Avalon in our Audient 8024 studio, I boosted the preamp gain to get some more warmth out of the vocal and compressed everything to level the tracks out smoothly.

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BV’s/Harmonies

The BV’s were all recorded through the Avalon as well, the sound it gets for vocal is much warmer and sweeter than the plain dry Audient preamps. I didn’t want theses tracks to stand out very much so I kept it to the basic EQ, compression, reverb. I had to use Melodyne on of these the straighten these out, especially for the oohs and ahhs, which were sustained notes that the vocalist had to sing swapping between chest and head voice, which is fairly challenging.

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FX:

The standard reverbs I was using were the ReVibe 2 small, medium and large studio reverbs, which don’t have a lot of character, the level i dialed in with them made them fairly transparent in a full mix, I myself really only noticed how much the reverbs were doing until I muted the reverb auxiliary. I also used Mod Delay 3 to create a quarter note delay on Little Loco for the Lead Electric in the Bridge solo.

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Mix Reflection:

The quality of the mix I feel is fairly good, although I realised yesterday, again, that I need to involve reference material in the mix and master process just as well as the recording process. I’ve found it hard in the past also, continuing to work with references, just as I don’t always want to stick to them exactly. I think the main thing that helped me in the recording phase was my vigilant use of references for each instrument. If I kept that up throughout the whole project I think my song would be far greater in terms of their industry level quality.

Little Loco – The mix turned out well, I wish maybe I would have looked into processing keys/synth tracks, I think in the back of my mind I thought that all the effect and processing was in the recorded signal, however in comparison to the other tracks which had a lot going on, it sounds a little bit weak and in the background maybe? The synth sound are a bit less thick than most of the synth references I was given. The drums and vocals are dry like I intend, however maybe a little too dry, I have been second guessing myself since one of the band members mention this upon giving his feedback. I’m fairly stoked with the sound from the electric guitar tone, particularly the lead tone. The Izotope Trash 2 plugin was a major part of helping me shape the tone. I’m very happy with the overall levels of the mix, every is coming through quite clearly, the only level change I would make is to the synth in the second part of the bridge, which I would boost a tiny bit.

Baby It’s You: I liked the FX I used on this track, the vocal sound felt like it felt the vibe of the song. I struggled a bit with the bass tone in this song, I’m unsure why but it sounded very boxy and weak despite my fiddling with the processing. It came to the point where I had to go back to the dry track and just throw on the Ampeg SVT plugin and ditch my extra processed track, which I think was treated poorly before committed it to audio. I like how I’ve made the drums a little more sample oriented on the kick and snare, however I wonder if given that, I could’ve supplemented some Tom samples also. I’m fairly happy with the level balance in this song.

Tomorrow I will be finishing the remaining mastering for the song Baby It’s You, so be expecting a blog then. I have also to cut radio edit of these songs, however I am unsure how I will cut one and a half minutes out of Baby It’s You, I could potentially leave out the radio edit for this song also.

Project Update 2: EP Progress & Repairing Audio

At this point in the EP project I have almost finished recording, the only tracking left to be done is backing vocals which is happening very soon. In other new the 4 tracks is being dropped to 2 track, just for the sake of getting to a more professional standard, I believe I overscoped this project a lot and didn’t take into much consideration other learning outcomes that I had(have) to tick off that aren’t related in any way to this project. The obvious thing to do at this point is to get 2 of the 4 song up to as high a standard as I can for this unit, and then come back throughout the holidays and finish the other 2 tracks. The band is planning to release anything until next year anyway.

I’ll now go into a bit about the instruments or elements of the tracks and how I went about recording them. Excluding drums as I already completed a blog on that component… https://lucaswillmermusic.wordpress.com/2016/11/10/ep-project-update-1-drum-recording/

Bass

The bass was a mexican Fender Jazz that we ran through a DI direct into the desk in our Audient 8024. I also ran the bass through a Urei 1176 compressor and a Qure SPL tube EQ. The aim of the EQ was to run the input of the bass in fairly hot and get more colour, as well as a low end boost. The compressor was set to a quick attack, a ration of 4:1, and a high input as well, again just to add colour and fatten up the low end. There’s nothing cleaner and thinner than a flat DI sound. The reference sound for bass that the guys sent me was Mr Beat by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, check out the song below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUzsSIflpjc

The song has a very 1970’s psychedelic tone and feel about it, the bass isn’t too aggressive, it’s sounds a bit boppy even. I did some research into the bass for the band and how they achieved that tone. I discovered there is an actual technique called “dampening”, it basically involves putting a piece of foam underneath the strings at the bridge. The reason for this was that back in the 70’s it helped the base cut through more on the radio. It’s created a certain tone associated with the genre and period of time. We racked all of the songs with a piece of foam in the bridge, the bass player Billy enjoyed the sound and had apparently never heard of it before. I’ve since then experimented with the bass tone further, using a fabfilter plugin called “Saturn”, you’re able to distort different frequency bands with different tones, with the plugin i could really saturate the mid and low range, it thickened up the bass a lot. A the moment I’m working with the original DI and blending a duplicate in with the Saturn plugin on it to still get a bit of honky high end from the original track.

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Keys/Synth

The keys and synth were track with a Nord Stage 2 keyboard in our Synth/Midi/Raven studio. Initially I went to record through 2 basic active radial DI’s, however the preamps in there are really nice API 500 series ones with FET direct inputs, so I just used those. Either way it didn’t make a great deal of difference to my ear, the main reason I wanted to swap was to see if there was any major difference.

One thing I’ve noticed with all of the instruments/vocals, however lately the keys/synth, is that every is very smooth and rounded of in the high end. Even the more aggressive synth patches sit back maybe a little too much. I noticed this when I was trying to boost some of the different clip gains in the track and just the track level in general, I was struggling to get it to cut through at all. That will probably be something I will try to rectify with an EQ and some multiband compression in mixing. In hindsight, I should’ve tracked MIDI through USB as well, at the time I didn’t see the need, until Steph our lecturer came in and recommended it so I could add sub bass in post if there wasn’t enough low end.

Electric Guitars

The rhythm electric guitar was tracked in the Audient 8024 with a mexican Fender Telecaster and Roland Jazz Chorus amp. I got the amp of the floor for recording, I have been doing research on the physics of how the room and surroundings can affect the recordings and tone of the amp. Getting the amp off the floor uncouples the amp from the floor which means there is no messy low end resonance from the floor. More research explained to me that the angle that the amp is pointed in the room can create random reflections from the wall that the mics will pick up, to although I don’t believe I’ve encountered this issue before, however just to be safe I angled it in an odd position that would stop any dry reflections. Which is why I’m assuming most electric guitars amps sit in the deadest and driest rooms for recording.

The Lead electric was tracked in the Neve studio with a mexican Fender Jazzmaster through a Vox AC30 Tube amp. I spent the first hour of the session getting the signal running so that the guitarist, James, would be able to sit in the control room with me for tracking, but of course with the amp in the live room. The signal flow was a little confusing, it began with running the guitar into a passive DI, then with a mic input lead into the desk, i pulled that out and used a gender bender to turn the input into a send and plugged the guitar passive DI output into it. Basically that reverses the signal flow to send the guitar signal out into the dropbox in the live room. I then ran the signal from the appropriate channel, into a reamp box, which is basically turning the signal back into an unbalanced TRS jack line to go back into the guitar amp in the room.

This all worked great, however all the trouble shooting I managed to do in 30 minutes didn’t solve the issue of noise. It came to the point where I got James to go into the live room and plug directly into the amp, and the noise remained, unless he stood in certain positions in the room. This means that the issue is the pickups in the guitar. So I made an executive decision to record with him in the live room. It wasn’t ideal however it worked well and I don’t have very much noise in the recordings at all.

All of the electric recordings were kept fairly clean most of the time, we did some experimenting for both of the sessions and it was really fun producing the guitars, particularly with James. He is a very proactive guitarist and we had a lot of fun coming up with layers for bridges/chorus and using different effects on these parts such as tremolo, chorus and delay. I didn’t want to track with any reverb initially however I was happy enough with the guitar tone from both of the guitarists to record them.

The mics I used on the recordings were all very different, I made it so as I wanted to audition them all and see what sound they all had and what their character was. I also made a point of recording the talkback mic in all of the sessions as you never know what cool or weird sound you can get from them. The mics I used on the rhythm tracking were a Sennheiser MD421, Royer 121, and an AKG c414. The 421 has a very flat response in comparison to most microphones, especially in comparison to the c414 which is very bright. The mic I was relying on for the main body of the tone was the 121, it has a very warm tone.

The mics used for Lead were a Sennheiser MD421, Rode K2, Royer 121 and a DPA pencil condenser, the last 2 were swapped around a bit, we swapped out the DPA for the 121 for the smoother and softer songs.

Lead Vocals

Vocals were tracked in the Neve Studio with a Neumann U87, a traditionally clean and bright microphone. I wanted to use the Neve as the preamps are great for more rock styled vocals, according to our lecturer. Our Audient 8024 studio also has an Avalon preamp/EQ/compressor which I would have also been happy to use, and will be using for BV’s, it’s more suited to a pop vocal.

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We experimented with doing full takes for a song and then, breaking it up into verse, pre choruses, choruses and so on. We used the broken down method on all of the songs, as it meant Kevin wasn’t singing for very long periods at a time, and it also helped me zero in more on the individual parts. One thing I struggled with throughout the session was Kevin’s experimenting, he would often to little things like hesitations or frequently changing little parts in the melody. The lacking in consistency is making it harder to edit the parts as they are all very different. Having a variety to edit with is great, however only if there are enough GOOD takes of each part.

Repairing Audio

Just after recording rhythm guitar, as I sat down to compile and edit the tracks, I’ve discovered in a select few of the songs, there are clicking noises from effects pedals. Although I told the guitarist beforehand that we would record the parts with different effects separately, I’m unsure about how clear I was about it, as I didn’t mention that it would appear in the track, even tho his pedal board was metres away from the microphones.

Part of this trimester has covered, repairing audio and performance correction with plugins such as Izotope RX and Melodyne. The obvious desire is to get it right in the recording, but I can quite honestly say that sometimes it’s not so simple, and little accidents are going to try and kill your tracks.  

I used Izotope RX de-click to try and clear out the deal clicking in the recordings. In Izotope Audio editor, it makes it quite simple to visually see in the spectrum where the evil noise is in the track.

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The way you get rid of the clicks, short of erasing the audio, is to use instant process and select de-click and it will target the clicks at where ever you click on the waveform. Or you can select the click module on the right and try to clear them automatically. The video below is very clear on explaining how RX works for de-click.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsB_igerSuc

Acoustic Single: Justine and Emma, You Were There – Mix and Master

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Over the the past 10 weeks I have been chipping away at this side project, it has been a massive learning curve, I feel this is the closest I have come to reaching an Industry standard in all aspects, of recording, mixing, mastering and just producing an artist general. I’ve been sending mix after mix, after to Justine and Emma getting as much feedback as I can get. I believe that since the beginning of the trimesters, I have sent 6 or 7 different iterations of the song. Each with multiple changes and additions, this song has travelled an incredibly large way, as I have in my music production skills.

Emma is a very keen musician and has released multiple tracks of her own as well as toured with her own band. She came in to play guitar and help produce Justine’s song, it was very helpful having her on board as she had great vision for the what the tone and vibe of the song should be, without stealing Justine’s thunder. Emma always offered a plethora of feedback after I sent each mix. Here is an example from around the second or third mix…….

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Her thorough feedback helped me consider more things in the mix that I may not have before and really encouraged me to tune everything to a finer taste, instead of just whacking a compressor or EQ on a track. We covered a lot in terms of the production in the song, things such as getting rid of the rim hits on the snare in the outro,  getting more warmth out of the guitars, and lowering the reverb to the vocals in certain parts like the chorus. It was a big team effort between the two of us.

Mix

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Vocals:

So I made a point of beginning with the vocals as I wanted them to be as good as possible and everything else to fit around them. During a mix session my lecturer, Steph, came in and handed me the wonderful tip of using a multiband compressor to compress and boost the high end, the result was a super crisp vocal. Having used a U87, the vocal sound was overall very bright and consequently this created a fair bit of sibilance, so I used the de esser on an Izotope Nectar plugin and reduces the sibilance region by about 10db as it was fairly intense. This cleaned up the vocal a lot and still kept it super crisp. For a reverb I got into our Neve studio at uni and ran the track through one of the multi effects units (can’t remember what it was called), and found a tasteful short hall reverb. It had an odd fluttery character, but it sounded cool blended in with the original. However I didn’t use this for the harmonies as I wanted the main vocal to stand out a little in it’s own way.

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Acoustic Guitar:

I ran into issue in post with the acoustic, as I didn’t realise at the time just how heavily Emma was strumming, her playing was incredibly dynamic and it was hard get the compression not to make it sound odd. So i used a lot of automation on my guitar signals to compensate. Another thing I discovered about my acoustic recording was that I had the microphones way to close to the guitar, as I assumed that if there was hard dynamics, that compression would take care of the issue. However it created a lot of mid and low mid resonances that would cut through. I ended up using multiple layers of EQ plugins to pull out the nasty resonances. There were multiple between 500 Hz and 4K, however 1K always held a plethora of resonance. As well as compression to smooth out the intense strums, however I struggled with making the compression less obvious as she was strumming incredibly hard in certain parts. I also had a fair bit of noise coming from the two acoustic mics, I used the Izotope RX denoise plugin to get rid of as much as possible without sacrificing and tone, I backed of the threshold just a little bit to be sure as I was fairly confident no one would notice a low level of noise beneath everything else going on at the same time.

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Bass:

The bass was recorded at my home during mixing, it was just an idea that later become apart of the track. I went direct in with my Fractal Axe FX 2 digital effects preamp, with an US Fender Bassman amp model. That tone was fairly dead and dry, partially due to my lacking in a high quality bass guitar. So I printed on a UAD Ampeg SVT head plugin to add a bit more character to the tone, it mainly added a bit more gain saturation to the low and mid range.

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Percussion:

Throughout the mix I didn’t do much to the percussion other than fatten them up a bit with some compression. Slow attack and a 4:1 ratio, and I brought the the threshold down to a tasteful level. I also cleared out some of the mid range with the tom and snare which really helped beef them up. I also ran them through a natural studio reverb, the Revibe 2 plugin, to make up for the lack of roominess from the NEVE live room. I ran most of the tracks through this plugin, i felt like it would give the vibe of everything being in the same space, I even sent a bit of the bass and main vocals into it.

Synth/Keys:

There were a number of these tracks in the mix. Some of which were from the scratch midi tracks that Emma sent to me, I figured I would keep some of them as they seemed to work fine when blended in lightly. The main Rhodes keys sound that continues throughout the song, was created with a mix between a Kontakt piano patch and Massive rhodes piano patch. These alone lacked some texture, so I added a bit of a dotted 8th note soft delay to give it some pulse, as well as adding an LFO in the rhodes patch in massive, with a slow rate and only a small amount mixed in so that it wasn’t very obvious.

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Master

For the master I used Mid Side processing, however there wasn’t a great deal that wanted to change about the middle or sides mix, processing wise, as I was fairly happy with how everything was sitting in the mix dynamically and spatially. My main ambition for this technique is to become more proficient with Mid Side in general, in both recording and mastering. To further compensate for the intense dynamics of the song, I automated the threshold of the limiter I was using, Pro Limiter. I hoped this would make the song more linear in terms of levels. However it just made the whole track suddenly get quieter and was quite distracting. I’ve since then calmed the automation right down. I also discovered how weird the song will sound if you boost the mid too much, every thing in the centre feels very separate from the rest of the mix. Finding a good blend of mid and sides is a very crucial part of MS mastering.

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The processing I used was merely an EQ on both the mid and sides channels, there was still some ugly mid range from the acoustic pushing through, so I cut out just a bit of that which cleaned . On that submaster aux track I added an UAD LA2A compressor to smooth everything out, and Pro Limiter to get the track up to a solid level. I was monitoring the LUFS throughout the printing of the mastered track on Izotope Insight, I tried to keep the LUFS value at around -13.0 in the loudest parts of the song. At this point it was hitting the ceiling fairly regularly in the louder parts, particularly the the percussion hits and strums.

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The distance I’ve travelled with this project was far greater than expected, I think Emma is largely responsible for really pushing me to do better and better. Like I said this is probably as close to “industry standard” as I have reached. However we will see how far I go with my major project.

Here is the link to the project, we will officially release it when artwork is finalised…

https://drive.google.com/a/student.sae.edu.au/file/d/0ByPzMC6XGO5gYU10U3QzdFE0anc/view?usp=sharing

Producer Contracts and Agreements

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Creating contracts and agreements in creative media can be quite tricky, specifically due to the fact that it’s concerned with intellectual property. This blog post will talk about the specificities of a contract and the rights that an audio engineer would consider for a band recording project, similar to my major project for this trimester. In recent years, the role of the engineer/producer has expanded a fair bit, as many of us now work on a freelance basis, there is now a need for booking studios, budgeting, hiring equipment as well as the trusted vision for the project. As we’re mainly independent, we have an obligation to be aware of we rights and entitlements we have for our projects.

The contract aims to ensure a balanced and fair relationship between artist and producer, and speaks clearly about making sure that everyone receives a fair amount of payment, the grounds of product ownership are laid out, and that both parties can use the product to its utmost capabilities. There are a couple of ways that an agreement can go from the Producer’s perspective.

Agreement 1:

The more commonly used agreement with smaller artists, is to charge a fee for the project or per song, this basically means that the producer is being paid for their service and doesn’t have any real ownership to the product. Other than an addition to their portfolio and their name on the project as “Producer”. In this scenario, as the producer doesn’t have ownership, they’re not entitled to any percentage of royalties that are gained.

Agreement 2:

This is more commonly used with bigger bands and producers. The producer will decide to take a part ownership in the project, this means there is no sum of payment for the producer, just as any of the artists involved. The benefit of this degree of ownership is that the producer is then entitled to receive a percentage of royalties. Which makes good sense, especially on projects that sell millions of copies and get huge recognition, as it will yield a far greater return than if they had been paid upfront.

These agreements can vary depending on the involvement of the producer in the composition, if they’re heavily involved in the creating of a song and contribute, for example, 50% of the song. Then they’re entitled to part ownership of the song and the respective amount of royalties to follow. Personally as a younger producer doing an alternative/indie EP, I would vouch for Agreement 1, mainly due to the fact that I there isn’t a lot of money in this market for younger producers working with smaller artists, getting paid upfront is far more ideal than waiting for “potential” royalties, as with smaller artists, it’s much harder to guarantee a high return.

These contracts should include a number of other articles including…

  1. The specifications of the product or the object, and services
    1. Is the producer under an exclusive contract to the project? Meaning they can only work on the project that they are signed to until it’s completion.
  2. The duration of the project
    1. What are the deadlines for certain milestones and/or bookings?
  3. The authorisation granted to the producer, with regards to exploitation of the product
    1. Who has ownership/copyright over all of the audio recorded?
    2. Who has the rights to publish?
  4. Sessions for studio time and when the artist is required
  5. Cost for each studio session
  6. Fees and Royalties (if applicable) to be paid, from online or hardcopy purchases and broadcast etc… as well as dates and accounts
    1. What are the included production costs? Is this part of the producers expenses?
  7. Agreement on advertising and promotion

 

Bibliography:

Arts Law : Legal information for musicians. (2016). Artslaw.com.au. Retrieved 25 November 2016, from http://www.artslaw.com.au/legal/raw-law/legal-information-for-musicians/

Salmon, R. (2008). A Guide To Contracts For Producers | Sound On Sound. Soundonsound.com. Retrieved 25 November 2016, from http://www.soundonsound.com/music-business/guide-contracts-producers

VINCENT, J. (2016). 10 Music contracts (pp. 6-10). Paris: United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture. Retrieved from  http://www.unesco.org/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CLT/diversity/pdf/WAPO/10Music_en.pdf

Lykens, A. (2012). Non-Exclusive Contracts vs. Exclusive Contracts – Part 1 « American Songwriter. American Songwriter. Retrieved 25 November 2016, from http://americansongwriter.com/2012/10/songwriter-u-non-exclusive-vs-exclusive-part-1/

Difference between an exclusive & a non-exclusive licence | IPR Helpdesk. (2016). Iprhelpdesk.eu. Retrieved 25 November 2016, from https://www.iprhelpdesk.eu/kb/3189-what-difference-between-exclusive-and-non-exclusive-licence

AMIN,. (2016). Producer Contract Fact Sheet (pp. 1-2). Sydney: Australian Music Industry Network and MusicNSW. Retrieved from http://www.musicnsw.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/ProducerContractFactSheet_web.pdf 

EP Project Update 1: Drum Recording

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Quick Update

This week as the EP project is progressing, we did our drum recording. This was a bit of different session to other recordings however, as I was running the session in the company of the class and our lecturers, as well as Max (the awesome drummer) and Laurent (the keys/synth player) who helped guide Max through some of the tracks transitions, as some were newer and required more attention in parts. The session went fairly well and I’m quite happy with the sounds we pulled from Max. At this point we had finished the demoing that we needed to get final recordings underway.

Pre Production

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Demoing the drums the day before was a huge advantage for and certainly would have helped max with getting accustomed to the tracks he would be playing to. The main advantages for myself were that I would have a bit of freedom to try different mics, I then would better know the songs, I could see the kit and get a good idea of the tone and use all of this to create a more informed and detailed arrangement for the official recordings the following day. This was the drum mic arrangement for the demo recording, which took place in the Audient 8024 studio…

Channel Item Mic
1 Kick Shure beta 52
2 Snare Top Shure SM57
3 Snare Top Sennheiser MD421
4 Tom Rack Sennheiser MD421
5 Tom Floor Sennheiser MD421
6 OH L AKG C414
7 OH R AKG C414

After this session I discovered I would have liked to try a MS drum recording technique, although given there was fairly limited time, this would not have been practical as I would have had to figure out how to do it properly which I wasn’t aware of at the time. Part of this arrangement, particularly the snare miking, was influence by Kevin Parker, from Tame Impala’s, drum miking technique. Hence why I tried the MD421 on the snare, as well as an SM57, because I wanted to see which worked better with the snare. As it turned out, we actually enjoyed sound of the both of them layered together. The beta 52 on the kick worked very well, as well as the MD421’s on the toms. The kit was a very nice older Gretsch kit, with a Black Beauty snare, it sounded fantastic and really made getting a decent sound out of the kit much easier. The over heads were quite bright however, and I had a sneaking suspicion that I would end up using the Neumann U87’s anyway, which I did.

Official Drum Recording

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I arrived at the studio with the equipment with plenty of time for setup, along with Max and his kit shortly after. Max’s performance on the day was very very good, he managed to remain on the click track quite diligently. I went for a similar approach in some aspects, as I was fairly happy with how the demo recordings turned out. However I wanted to experiment a bit more with room mic’s, a second kick and a high hat mic. We were also in the Neve studio which I felt would allow us to pull better sounds with the better preamps, which I cranked to get some crispiness and distortion out of the mics. Here is the mic arrangement…

Channel Item Microphone
1 Kick In Beta 52
2 Kick Out C414 (bit of an experiment)
3 Snare Top Sm57
4 Snare Top 2 MD421
5 HH KM184
6 Tom 1 MD421
7 Tom 2 MD421
8 ….Spare
9 OH L U87
10 OH R U87
11 Room 1 KM184 (Mid Side)
12 Room 2 C414 in fig 8 (Mid Side) L
13 Room 2 C414 in fig 8 (Mid Side) R (90 flipped)
14 Room 3 Sm57 (through distressor)
15 Talk back Sm57

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This mic setup I feel yielded a good sound overall. The mics I feel that I could have better used are the the Kick Out, the OH’s (good but could’ve improved further), and all of the room mics. Given that my reference for drums don’t have very roomy sound, I don’t feel that those tracks are as critical as say the kick, snare and OH’s. As for the drum sounds, I aim to be adding in samples for the kick snare and potentially toms, as I will be using both sample and the recorded tracks to create the semi synthetic sound that I want for the kit.

I learnt a great deal of new things from this experience that will assist me in future recordings, and not just of drums, some are just good general rules of thumb for recording…

  • Killing 400z on the toms will get rid of some of the cymbal mess and allows you to bring them up louder.
  • Mid side room making technique is better in a wider and probably less dead sound room where there is more reflection.
  • A condenser on the kick out is good maybe a half metre back, the kicks sound wave ripples out like dropping a rock in water, but use a carpet or blanket for a kick tunnel to stop bleed.
  • Making up the bottom is good for most scenarios, especially if the mix engineer is a different person and wants that sound as an option later on.
  • Pointing a dynamic mic at the kit is great for a different sound, except it needs to be kept at a distance from the cymbals in particular otherwise they will just cut through that signal too much
  • Record the talk back mic as well, cus why not…
  • Spread pair of overheads is more a jazz style technique for making up drums.
  • XY over heads, behind and above the drummer have a better stereo image than^.
  • With the kick tracks line up in phase, they will have a huge low end presence, same with the snares.
  • The high hats dispel a lot of air which can get easily picked up from the mic
  • The analog distortion sound of the preamp adds so much character to the drum kit or any signal, until the point where it clips at least.

I feel that one of the major learning curbs from this project though, and I realised this during the debrief afterwards, was how I didn’t listen to the drums in the room, especially from where I had put the mics in the room. For some reason it didn’t occur to me that from the same spot in the room, the microphone and my ears are both picking up the same sound. I feel like I should have been more specific with positioning my microphones in the room, and been more aware of what sounds each is picking up. The SM57 was picking up too much ride cymbal from where I had it at the kit, and the MS room mics were picking up a lot of low mid resonance from the back of the live room where I placed them. I should’ve listened in with more detail to each mic was and what is was picking up, then moving around accordingly.

I think next time I go to record drums, regardless of the genre, I’ll add a mic to the bottom of the snare, rearrange the over heads to a more relevant position, better arrange my room mics and most of all pay more attention to what they’re hearing, and changing the position accordingly. Otherwise I feel the session ran very smoothly and efficiently. That was one of the main praises I received from everyone at the end of the session, we track all 4 songs with in the 3 hours and with plenty of time to spare.

The next phase of the project will be finer editing, the recordings are well performed and and haven’t required much, if any editing or comping attention. Next week I will be recording all of the electrics and keyboard/synth parts.