When all is said and done, boys will be boys & none more so than studio heads; & what do boys like most of all in the world (well aside from the obvious) yeah the second most obvious (keep up) toys; & none more so than toys that bear a close resemblance to… well i’ve already said enough to paint the backdrop, today’s post is about microphones!!!
Now every studio engineer could fill a blog or two with microphone slaver & ask a 1,000 of us “what’s your favourite microphone?” & you would receive a 1,001 different answers; you would hear the revered names of AKG, Audix, Blue, Miktek, Neumann, Rode, Sennheiser, Sony it would even (for & from the cognoscenti) be reduced down to the model numbers (cos boys love obfuscating just as much as they love toys) the legendary C 414, the famed C800 G, the ever useful e609, the incomparable U87; but i can tell you right now if you put a gun against my head & even if that gun was loaded only with a BB cap or indeed the humble potato (if i was exiled to Elba herself & was obliged to have a microphone cupboard of only one microphone) i know just exactly which microphone i would be reaching for and perhaps more importantly why.
The Shure SM 58 (pictured above) is without doubt my absolute fave; & having bought a bundle of them over the years (two this week alone) i can tell you why, as for all live and many studio applications they are without compare.
Aside from their very rugged construction (not quite the armoured tank that is the SM 57 but pretty damn rugged) their unidirectional cardioid response (dramatically reducing feedback nightmares in the live setting) or their inbuilt “pop” filter; the key lies in its frequency response curve & a little (but poorly understood) phenomenon called the “proximity effect”.
Simply put (& i quote): “when the sound source is less than 6mm from the microphone, the microphone boosts bass frequencies (by 6-10 dB at 100 Hz) creating a warmer and richer bass sound than when farther away”; this means (given the above profile) & the 58′s unidirectionality the artist (& we are talking every singer you have ever heard of has used a 58) can achieve incredible control over this effect & we (the humble sound engineers) can place the vocal in a live mix more easily than you might ever imagine!!!
M1NT cellars – chinese radio advert
Producing from start to finish a radio advertisement is one thing; producing it for a chinese radio station is quite another but with a lot of thankyou’s a great deal of team work & a few late nights it is done…
M1NT cellars (http://m1ntcellars.com) is another Alistair Paton brainchild; having grown out of the huge success of the global nightclub phenomenon M1NT it is selling high quality imported wines & spirits to the Chinese market at crazy low prices (I guarantee you will place a sneaky order or two after you’ve read this piece!!!); now when I say Chinese market i mean just that… over 300 cities & what better to penetrate that market than radio advertising… at a fraction of the cost of TV placement it still has been shown to be at least 1/3 as effective; evaluate your CPP (cost per point); (see http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/177002 if you don’t know what I’m talking about) & away you go.
What about from our studio-perspective; well it goes something like this… brainstorm (with client input)… generate script & tag-line (“the life and soul of everybody’s party”)… generate some music or “jingle” (ideally 2 or 3 variations)… pitch to client & modify accordingly… translate (not such an easy task as many nuances & idioms can be lost in the process)… review script in chinese… find voice talent… dub… edit/mix… master for radio… crack large bottles of champagne & get some well needed sleep.
All joking aside; as a studio one of the other things that you need to do is manage your budget… quality voice-over talent does not (& neither should it) come cheap!!!
Thankyou’s… well to Jim & Paul for help with the original script development… my man Aho for production, dubbing & the late night editing… Alfred & Elle for those sexy vocal tones & of course Alex & Audrey at M1NT cellars; the “life and soul of everybody’s party”!!!
A musical life is full of paradoxes; the white notes existing in tension with the black, the crashing sforzando to a pin drop pianissimo the elegant beauty of analogue vs. the white light clarity of 64 bit digital but nowhere is this dialectic more palpable than in the recording studio; the studio guys are endlessly craving the warmth and vitality of a bar room scenario the bar room guys are craving the separation and depth of a condenser mike driven studio ambience.
Well at dbstudios (where the “only limitation is your imagination” as you well remember) you can have the best of both worlds and I’m not going to slaver on about our funky 26-in live room nor extol our on-site recording abilities and facilities (just check our testimonial pages for that); I’m gonna talk about one very simple but vital ingredient to recording drums… the “room” mike; often poorly understood and certainly poorly placed it can be a key element in transforming a very average recording to a recording that will put a smile on everyone’s (and most importantly your client’s) face.
As with any microphone placement; there are only two questions of any significance… what & where; so let’s begin with “what”: I think this can be simply answered the best quality condenser or ribbon mike you have in your collection so on these days (slightly depending on the flavour we want to transmit) we might reach for a U87 a T103 or as you can see in this shot a Superlux R102; “where” is slightly trickier, your room will have a sweet spot or two but at dbstudios we don’t get too stuck in our ways. because if you think about it for a minute that sweet spot is not set in stone; a particular drum configuration, other equipment placement even humidity can & i would even go so far as to say will change that microphone’s ideal positioning.
So what do you do; well here we go #dbstudios tip of the week; solo up the chosen microphone… put on some headphones & walk around your room carrying said microphone (obviously with your drummer playing you muppet!!!) & then use the greatest of all God’s given instruments; (though some may beg to differ) your ears.
When it sounds sweet… that is the sweet spot… place microphone accordingly; that easy eh
The same is not quite true for external live recordings but we’ll come to that in later postings; we’ll be posting in samples from this particular session (Battle Cattle) at a later date.
Have we completely lost the plot at DB studios?!? What the hell are the boys doing ripping out their perfectly good pane of glass and building some fancy looks-like-you-could-grow-cucumbers-under-it double paned contraption with one of the panes set at at an angle in their otherwise pretty handsome tracking room & what’s more instructing their slightly-puzzled (it must be said) contractors to include two small porcelain tea jars inside the frame!!!
Shanghai finally got to us?!? A pair of very small mini-me’s have just passed away and their ashes are going to be interred within studio 2′s window frame?!? We can’t stand you seeing us trying (yet inevitably failing) to smile as we say “take 374…” for the 374th time!!!
Well Belgium “nul points” & a quick glance at http://tinyurl.com/3oxe8uj or its equivalents will reveal all!!!
Sound waves are very similar to the waves that are generated in a pool of water when you for example throw a stone or perhaps grandma’s pet poodle into that tranquil lake district loch; & just as you experience when you hear an echo… they can come ‘right back at you”. This is why you hear drug-addled yet seasoned sound engineers talking about parallel surfaces as if they were the latest strain of HIV; a sound wave can be generated by a vocalist for example and then moments later bounce off a perpendicular surface (an observation window for example) to return to interfere with the sound waves that we are trying to capture through a high end vocal chain (referring to a microphone + preamp etc.)… net result an acoustic mess!!!
So that’s why we use a double paned window with the inner (facing the microphone) window set at a jaunty 10-15 degrees…
Aha well what about the two tea jars i hear you nearly forget… simple; desiccant (& i had to check that spelling a few times) so as to avoid any condensation between the window panes as the session unfolds & we patiently and always with a warm smile intone:
db studios (with all our purist analogue/high brow musical pretensions… who am i kidding!!!) has finally acquiesced and the DJs are rolling in thick and fast to do their mixes… well what does it take?!?
Aside from our standard studio rig… the macs… the project mix i/o… protools 8 (and ozone 4 mastering plug-ins) not much!!! A pair of Pioneer CDJ’s that fit your budget a decent submixer (a DJM 2/400) is just great and then that all important connection a pair of high quality RCA/jack leads.
These were not that easy to come by and i ended up getting my man james (see blogroll: sunnytone) to make me up a set; the net result… (dj danes was the first through the doors – hailing from Barcelona he produced a heady mix of house trance and techno)… blistering.
Then all you need to understand is normalisation the media you are mastering to and hey presto… mix-tastic!!!
Talk to any band leader and am afraid you’ll hear the same old cliche… things ain’t what they used to be… guys not rehearsed up… not knowing the changes… the hooks… the bridges… whatever it may be… you get the picture; well after yesterday’s dbstudios’ session I’m afraid I experienced very little that would persuade me otherwise.
We were “hohnered” (no prizes for her instrument of choice) to welcome Marion Campbell all the way from Stirling Scotland; now at 81 you might expect there to be a few glitches a few lapses of memory a few forgotten chord changes, but indeed nothing could be further from the truth; she laid down well over two hours of music played pretty well back-to-back ranging from Irish folk to Scottish ballads with even 45 minutes of modern tunes thrown in, with out a single sheet of music or chord prompt in sight… just wonderful!!!
A big thanks to Nick Watson (who many of you from Shanghai will indeed know) for bringing Marion (who is indeed his maternal auntie) to our attention and he’ll be the man to contact for the three album boxed set when all the material is finally mixed and mastered.
All studio buffs wondering how we recorded… well because of time constraints were we obliged to mike externally… a pair of Lunas (essentially one for each hand – the left hand mike (assuming a right handed player must have a good bass response) and a pair of overheard Pulsars to fill things out; more details check out:
Musicians and studios alike often put off buying or owning ribbon microphones (the ribbon refers to a thin aluminium, duraluminum or nanofilm ribbon placed between the poles of a magnet that may be damaged with careless usage) partly because of their at times heavy price tag, their (perhaps not entirely deserved) reputation for being overly fragile or maybe just a greater familiarity with the available range/s of cardiod and dynamic microphones; but from #dbstudios perspective all of those considerations will fly out the window when you actually listen to these babies, in a word unbelievable.
Originally developed in the 1920′s by Dr Harry F Olson of RCA; they went on to be a staple of radio and television broadcasting for many years to come because of their accuracy and to a certain extent flattering capture of sound, being it vocal or instrumental; only recently being featured extensively in studio and stage scenes from Olivier Dahan’s stunning recreation of Edith Piaf’s life both on and off stage La Mome.
Once again fast becoming a must-own for any serious studio you could do a lot worse than consider the AEA range, beasts such as the R44 or R84 (which even comes in a slightly more robust DJ version) available at outlets such as:
you can even pre-listen to your purchases at:
now you have no excuse!!!
As a studio engineer/producer if you don’t know something about click tracks you darn well should.
Nearly every band/musician (apart from those who really know their s###) will fight you tooth and nail… cos they want to record “live” (whatever that really means in a studio setting) and would prefer their drummer’s meandering sense of rhythm (seeing it as glamourously creative and spontaneous rather than is often the case downright meandering) as opposed to the discipline of playing against and recording over a click track; but if your goal is a truly polished end product then I advise you (& then it is for you to advise them) to think again!!!
So for each and every recording you make (with very, very few exceptions) go to Track (assuming you are working within Protools) and select Create Click Track; then you’ll have to think about the song’s tempo and meter (e.g. 92 bpm 2/4) but believe me this will, with some practice, come quicker than you think.
Set up some foldback headphones for your drummer and then in most instances (after laying down a guide/scratch guitar +/- vocal track) get your drums down, switch your session to “grid” (as opposed to “slip”) mode and your songs template will be ready.
From there… bass… guitar… keys… horns… vocals/BVs etc. and so on and very soon you’ll be one step nearer that studio sound you’ve heard a thousand times over yet never been able to achieve.
musicians struggling send ‘em off to: http://www.metronomeonline.com
limited click sounds try adding Xpand: http://tinyurl.com/bbftl5
In the old days (good or bad it’s all a matter of perspective) in addition to the house monitors (which would always include (and somebody please tell me why!!!) the inevitable Yamaha NS 10s) we would run any final mixes through a small set of radio speakers… why you may ask… well cos it was, and to a certain extent is, a place where a great deal of music is still consumed.
But nowadays there is a new standard (or to be more precise format) the MP3 and it’s why at #dbstudios we always “switch” all our final mixes at some stage into MP3 format and have a good listen… initially on our Harman/Kardon Sound Sticks II and then via i-tunes on our coveted nanochromatic using the standard suppy earphones, cos that is how the vast majority of music, at least for now is consumed.
You know it makes sense