Archive for the ‘recording’ Category

DIY Audio Mixing Circuits

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

For a while now I have been interested in summing in the analog as opposed to the digital domain and I built a 16 channel summing mixer with Daking-style amplifiers. I haven’t been very happy with the usability of summing mixers without linear faders and pan controls. It just doesn’t feel right. If you’re mixing with rotary knobs, you can only turn two knobs at once, but when you mix with faders you can do at least 8 at a time.

I basically started doing some research about the kinds of circuits that I need to build and I wanted to post links to the stuff that I found to be the most helpful.

Simple Mixer Schematics from All Electric Kitchen: http://www.all-electric.com/schematic/simp_mix.htm

Slightly more complex mixer circuits (Pre’s, EQ’s, Line Drivers):  http://www.all-electric.com/b&c.html

Elliott Sound Products (ESP) Article on Audio Mixing: http://sound.westhost.com/articles/audio-mixing.htm

I will add information as I read more!

Classic Gear: Distressor

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

By Carlton Meriwether (from the New England Institute of Art AKA AI New England)

Distressor EL8-X

Distressor EL8-X

Distressor EL8-X

The Distressor EL8-X is a mono digital compressor/ limiter produced by Empirical Labs. A highly adaptable machine they’re considered one of the industry standards for compression and distortion. They have a multitude of compression ratios ranging from 1:1 to 20:1 and a Nuke setting for brick wall limiting. Two types of distortion can be applied focusing on 2nd or 3rd harmonics.  Time based features like attack and release are calibrated to keep consistency between machines when stereo linking.

The Distressor was built with not only modern compression but with vintage emulation in mind. The Distressor has a soft parabolic knee when set to ratios less than 6:1 giving a more natural sound to compression. Setting the unit to 6:1 or greater applies a more sharp vintage knee to simulate tube, FET, or  optical compressor machines from the past. There are specific settings listed by the manufacturer to emulate the LA-2A, 3A, 4A; the dbx160; the Fairchild IGFET and 670.

With a frequency range of 2Hz to 160kHz and a 110dB dynamic range the Distressor is a complete all around compressor. With an MSRP of $3000 for a pair ($2295 through dealers like SweetWater) the Distressor is a reasonably affordable replacement for multiple vintage compressor/limiter rack modules. An over all well built machine utilizing all metal film and Roeder resistors, the craftsmanship is well above average in American made electronics. The hand connected input and output ports allow for consumer changing of the “hot” pin in the xlr connectors to match any gear already in use and the A/C power source can run on 110 and 220 volt inputs giving the Distressor superior compatibility on a global scale.

Sources:

http://www.empiricallabs.com/distdes.html

http://www.empiricallabs.com/index2.html

http://www.wikirecording.org/Distressor_Compressor

http://www.wavedistribution.com/distressor.htm

http://www.empiricallabs.com/distman.html#DRatios

Classic Gear: dbx 160

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Written by Joe Cenedella (New England Institute of Art AKA A.I. New England)

dbx 160 (1976) Designed by David Blackmer, using early Overeasy circuit and RMS detection

The dbx 160 was introduced in 1976 as a professional quality compressor/limiter.  The brainchild of David E. Blackmer (founder of dbx) it quickly became a must have for studio engineers of the time.  Besides being one of the earliest compressors, the dbx 160 introduced to the market features that allowed for a much smoother and more natural sounding compression.  The 160 uses voltage controlled amplifiers (VCAs) which adjust gain settings to fluctuate with the voltage creating smooth and natural sounding compression that closely simulates how the human ear interprets sound. Along with the VCA the dbx 160 introduced true RMS detection paired with feed forward gain reduction. This allows the model to achieve an infinite compression ratio (120:1) without excessive gain levels, and without excessive distortion, which causes oscillation in the feedback loop. All models of compressors at the time the dbx 160 was introduced gave the user some control over compression in the form of preset ratios (10:1, 20:1). (source) this is where the VCA’s come in allowing the attack and release to fluctuate with the input signals envelope. This allowed for more of a set it and forget it approach instead of constantly adjusting the ratio throughout a performance.

The Features:

Auto detected/attenuated 40dB for ground loop hum

Introduced “over-easy” compression, or soft knee compression

Adjustable threshold 10mV-3V

LEDs for input level, output level, or gain

First to have fully adjustable compression up to 120:1

RMS detection, VCAs, and Feed Forward gain reduction

VU origin adjustable 20dB (+/- 10dB input)

Mono inputs, two required for stereo tracking

Output level of +/- 26dB Hi-Z, +/-24dB Lo-Z

Cost New: $300 in 1976

Cost Now: pair sells on ebay for $1600

Link to user manual: http://mixonline.com/online_extras/dbx_160.pdf

Official dbx Pro Audio Info: http://www.dbxpro.com/vintage_download.php?product=160

Other Sources:

http://mixonline.com/TECnology-Hall-of-Fame/1976_dbx_160VU_complimiter/index.html

http://www.barryrudolph.com/mix/comp.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variable-gain_amplifier

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dbx,_Inc.

Henny Penny and the Dance Album

Friday, May 28th, 2010

What’s Henny Penny?

As many of you already know, I have been recording a new album with Penny Larson on drums and with me on bass.  We’ve decided to call ourselves Henny Penny, because it’s hilarious, it rhymes, it’s the combination of both our names, we think that the story of the sky falling is very poignant during these troubled times [smile], and because we can’t think of anything else that fits.  I have been working with Penny in the studio for a couple of years now on other projects and I have always appreciated her talent as a drummer and as an arranger and composer. We really hit it off in our recording sessions so we started a band. We started playing together in earnest in late summer of 2009 and this January tracked the drums for the dance record.  We are writing new material collaboratively and working on some of my older songs as transformed into dance numbers.

What’s the Dance Album?

When I came to Boston in 1990, I thought that I was going to be a visual artist and that I would study psychology.  I ended up playing bass in a ska band called Thumper.  We had fans that danced and the sheer joy of playing bass for dancers infected me.  That early musical experience really drove my decision to pursue music both academically and in my creative life. Unfortunately I never really had an opportunity to play bass in a dance band again, but I did lay some grooves for about 511 hip-hop instrumentals.  I have just completed my class work for a Sound Recording Technology Master’s at UML and my capstone project is this Dance Album.  I will be exploring toe-tappin’, finger snappin’, tail-feather shakin’, and rug cuttin’ from an academic as well as from a creative perspective.  I want to make people move again.  I have asked a number of friends to lend their talents to the project.

Connor Smith has been playing keyboards and contributing to sound-scapes.
Keith Cornella has been playing some Tele laying down licks and textures.
Tammi Esquivel layed down 21 tracks of vocals and wrote most of the lyrics in Patience
Dayna Brown is developing vocal parts for Just Dance, Light Drowns, Heart & Mind, and some other pieces.

There are a bunch of things that are going to be particularly cool about this record.  It will be my best work to date and tracked with great care, accuracy and attention to quality.  The record is being tracked with the intention of releasing the music in 5.1 surround sound.  This means that there with be 3 speakers in front and to slightly behind the listen, plus a sub woofer for special effects and support of bass frequencies in general.  There will be a stereo release as well, but it probably won’t be as epic or mind bending!

I will try to keep you all updated!

Tracking an 8-Piece Drum Kit for 5.1 Surround

Monday, February 1st, 2010

The Project: Drums in 5.1

I am currently working on a recording of music that I have been writing with Penny Larson, the awesome-est drummer ever. We tracked the drums at U. Mass Lowell’s wonderful Rm 114, which is by far the best room I have ever worked in. Big enough to make great drum sounds with lots of diffusion and enough low frequency absorption to prevent the room from being boomy or rumbly. It’s just totally delicious.

Penny and I first worked together recording Bryan McPherson’s “Fourteen Stories” and then subsequently on Sierra’s EP “Rocks.”

Penny Larson's 8 Piece Drum Set

Penny Larson's 8 Piece Drum Set

The record will be released in 5.1 Surround at 24bit 88.2kHz so there is a lot of opportunity to use the 360 degree soundstage to allow the kit to be heard in all of its glory. There are lot of issues that arise when recording a really large drumset and I will talk a little about these types of issues.

mkit from the Front

8 Piece Drum Kit from the Front

Problems Micing a Large Kit

More Drums = More Mics = More Problems

As you add microphones to a drum setup, the potential for phasing and bleed problem increases exponentially. More drums usually means closer together drums, so isolating the drums becomes difficult. When sounds bleed into unintended microphones the possibility of phase cancellation or other problems increases as well. Adding to the mix problems are a zillion cymbals that will cause physical problems with mic placement as well as bleeding problems. Two objects can not be in the same place at the same time.

Microphone Selection and Techniques

Surround Microphones

Although I love recording with omni’s and a Jecklin Disk, I decided to try something different for this particular drum tracking session. The Jecklin Disk technique creates a very nice realistic stereo image, but I am not going for realistic in this case. I want drums that are bigger than life and over-the-top.

Used a variation of spaced cardioids very similar to that used in the Decca-Tree style employed in the Fukada tree. In this case I chose to use 2 Neumann KM140 Cardioid Small Diaphragm Mics for the left and right speakers and an AKG 414 XLS in Cardioid for the center channel. I used a pair of Neumann TLM103 for room mics facing into an RPG Schroeder Diffusor away from the drum set.

Front 3 Microphones: Neumann KM140's with AKG 414 XLS in Cardioid in Center

Front 3 Microphones: Neumann KM140's with AKG 414 XLS in Cardioid in Center

Rear Surround Left Neumann TLM103 toward RPG Diffusor

Rear Surround Left Neumann TLM103 toward RPG Diffusor

To recap the surround microphone setup: Left, Center and Right “overheads” are actually in front of the kit to enable better balance between cymbals and drums. Rear surround large diaphragm cardioids point away from the kit into the corners of the room.

Kick Drums (plural, as in two!)

I have always been a fan of the delicious warm thump produced by micing the front hole in the kick with an AKG D112. It always provides a great tone, but can lack a little bit in fast transient response and clarity. I have been using Earthworks TC25’s and SR25’s for the kick and snare drums. The tiny diaphragms offer a tremendously accurate transient response and can handle very high SPLs. I use the Kick Pad which ships with the SR25 to pad the mics output and scoop out the middle frequencies to create a great kick sound. With most double kick players, one drum is the main drum and the other is used for accents and kick fills.

First Kick Drum: AKG D112 and Earthworks TC25

First Kick Drum: AKG D112 and Earthworks TC25

Second Kick Drum: AKG D112 and Earthworks SR25

Second Kick Drum: AKG D112 and Earthworks SR25

The Earthworks TC25 is an omni-directional microphone while the SR25 is Cardioid and provides a little bit of isolation with the pickup pattern. I used the SR25 on the second kick drum and employed the Kick Pad in the signal chain, while I used the TC25 turned off axis on the main kick drum. The TC25 has a flat response all the way down to earthquake, so I chose it for the main kick drum, while the second drum was happy with the slightly tighter sounding SR25.

Snare Drum

The first secret to a good snare sound is a good drummer and a good snare drum. For this particular recording Penny brought 5 snares to choose from and I selected the one that sounded the closest to my ideal of the Al Green and Fleetwood Mac snare sounds: excellent attack, white noise snare sound, warm woody tone (sometimes obtained from Brass and Copper drums!), good tonal variation (rim, sidestick, center, flam, rim shot, etc), and a lot of low midrange (150 Hz – 300 Hz). Again I used a two microphone technique using a traditional snare mic, Sennheiser 421, and an Earthworks TC25 omni. The 421 provides the traditional proximity effect low mid whap (technical word) while the omni fleshes out the toal tone and timbre of the snare. I place the omni pointing at the shell of the snare drum so that it picks up both the top and the bottom of the snare.

Snare Drum: Sennheiser 421 Over the Head (Warning: Never Try This Without A Great Pro Drummer

Snare Drum: Sennheiser 421 Over the Head (Warning: Never Try This Without A Great Pro Drummer

Snare Drum: Sennheiser 421 (View 2) DANGER! Amateur/Intoxicated/Drunk/Average Drummers WILL Destroy Mics in this Position!

Snare Drum: Sennheiser 421 (View 2) DANGER! Amateur/Intoxicated/Drunk/Average Drummers WILL Destroy Mics in this Position!

Snare Drum: TC25 Pointed at the Shell of the Drum

Snare Drum: TC25 Pointed at the Shell of the Drum

Toms (All Five of Them!)

There’s really no super secret tracking technique here, just 5 Sennheiser 441’s. Currently the 441 is my favorite dynamic microphone period. It has a wonderful pickup pattern rejecting sources to the sides and a very small rear lobe behind the microphone. The 441 has fantastic tone, a great bump in the lows and low mids from the proximity response and rejects the other toms, drums and cymbals in the vicinity. The hardest part of micing the toms on Penny’s ginormous kit was getting around the cymbals and other hardware. Obviously the 441 is a large microphone and this does make it hard to use in tight spaces.

Tom No. 5: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 5: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 4: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 4: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 3: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 3: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 2: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 2: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 1: Sennheiser 441

Tom No. 1: Sennheiser 441

Notice in the Tom No. 1 photo that I had to use a mic clip from a 421 and LOTS of GAFFER’S TAPE to fashion a mic clip. Sennheiser makes great sounding microphones but by far the absolute stupidest microphone clips EVER. EVER.

Flat Ride Cymbal Spot Mic

After doing a few test takes, it became evident Penny’s flat ride cymbal just wasn’t cutting through the rest of the drum kit. The tone of the flat rides is superb, but they become inaudible with a large or loud kit. I used an AKG 452 under the cymbal to get it to push through the masking. Even though the mic is pointing up, the cymbal isolates the mic from the other sounds so phasing wasn’t much of a problem.

Flat Ride Spot Mic: AKG 452

Flat Ride Spot Mic: AKG 452

Again, I cannot stress enough how important a great drummer and good drums are to getting the sound of a great kit. Thanks Penny!

Penny Larson: The Great Drummer in the Center of the Sound

Penny Larson: The Great Drummer in the Center of the Sound

Woody Giessmann of the Del Fuegos Talks about Working with Hendrik at Indecent Music

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Recording at Indecent Music with Hendrik

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

The following video is about my recording philosophy and the gear that I use at Indecent Music.  I record, mix, and master out of Indecent Music.  I also provide audio engineering training and private lessons so that song writers can learn to be more effective at making their own demos.

Before You Come to the Studio to Record an Album…

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Many potential clients ask me the same questions before they come into the studio to work on their albums or EPs:

What should I do to prepare myself to make a great recording?

Should I record a demo myself first?

I almost always answer the questions with more questions:

1.  Why do you want to make a recording?

Is it to get gigs?  Sell at gigs?  Try to get licensing for TV or movies? Is it to finally hear the music the way that you hear it in your head? Is it to document your songs accurately to the way you play them or is it to fully realize the full arrangements with drum, bass, strings, urdu?

2.  Who is the audience of the recording?

Record label executives  or your friends and fans?  Are you the audience for your own music or are you trying to sell this stuff?  Are you planning on giving it away as a promotional tool to help build your following?

3.  Are you ready to record in a studio now or do you want to demo the songs to figure out how they should be arranged and performed?

Usually demoing the songs yourself will help you figure out what you haven’t practiced enough, and force you to think about the dynamics and the tempos and the form in a way that you haven’t already.  I always want artists to know the tempos of the songs before they come to the studio.  If they can bring lyric sheet with chord changes that also really helpful as well.

If you have a way to record yourself, I would always do at least some recording yourself to help you figure out what you are trying to do.  The recording equipment can be very simple, like GarageBand, a 4-Track or 8-Track cassette or digital recorder, or something a little more sophisticated like a full-blown DAW like Sonar, Logic,  Cubase or ProTools.

After you have had a chance to record simple versions of the tunes with piano or guitar and voice, then you can think about adding other instruments in a much more concrete way.  Some music might start with a drum pattern or loop and build from there.

After you you have done all this pre-production, it will be time to start talking to a good producer or engineer to help really get the recording process planned and started.  As a engineer, it’s much easier for me to do my job when the music is more fully formed before I start my work.  As a producer, I like to be involved in the music process as early as possible so I can help to shape the form, dynamics and feel of the song while the song writing is in process.

How to Become a Hip Hop Producer

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Their is difference between someone who makes beats – meaning composing and performing (or programming) original instrumental music, someone who is really a producer, and a recording engineer that specializes in hip hop tracking and production.

The fastest way to learn to beat making is to make beats with whatever you have available. I have worked with a couple of heads who were complete geniuses with the Playstation software from MTV. Their music was simply amazing. Software that is highly under-rated is FL Studio or FruityLoops. The step sequencer is the easiest way to make music quickly. Read the manual! Watch videos online.  Start working with as many other beat makers that you can find on the net, in your home town. For me, competition made me write stuff that was much better than working by myself in a vacuum. The three big instruments to learn would be keys, drums, and bass. You did not need to work in a studio to do this kind of work. You need a computer, a decent audio interface (Not an M-Box), and a couple of nice monitors. If money is a factor, don’t get a Mac. You get a lot more computer in the PC world and there’s tons of software available.

A real producer puts the whole show together. They hire everyone, often write songs with the artists, choose the studio to work in, find live musicians to fill out the sound. Sometimes that means doing everything yourself. A lot of the time the producer FUNDS the project and gets the biggest share of the profit (if any).  A producer is a big picture person usually with an excellent understanding of the psychology of creative people, motivation, fear, competition and excellence. This is something that comes with lots of experience, a strong musical background, charisma and usually fame or money.

An engineer deals with the tiniest details of tracking and mixing. Moving a mic a half inch, rotating a mic off axis, how to attenuate the peaks of the kick to get it to sound bigger, without making it wimpy. Attack and Release time minutia for compressing drums, bass and vocals. How the sound stage can be used to the best advantage, how to either avoid masking or use it to create new timbres. You need to learn this either in a studio as an apprentice, in a good audio school that has great facilities (I teach at New England Institute of Art in Boston and at U. Mass Lowell both have great facilities) and then leverage that into getting good internships.

Sometimes there are people who really are all three. Sometimes you will find yourself in one role or the other depending on who you’re working with.

The best job to get to learn audio engineering is working for live sound companies as a grunt. You will carry the bass bins, mic stands and a 43 foot console. But you will get to watch the FOH and monitor guys throw down. Live is good because it forces you to learn to do things quickly and it puts you around dozens of musicians every weekend. Not wanting to be embarassed is a very powerful way to learn.  You are always on stage being watched from the time you load in, to the time you strike the stage.

(posted to GearSlutz 7-4-09)

How To Use a Compressor: Understanding Dynamics

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

One of the hardest audio processors to understand is the compressor.  Even after several years of using compressors many of my students and readers still have lots of questions about how to dial in the sound that they are trying to get.  Compressors are in the Dynamics Processors family which also includes limiters, expanders, gates and noise reduction.  Dynamics processors work in the Amplitude Domain.  Compressors work on the amplitude of an audio signal, which is basically the loudness of the signal.  Look at a waveform view of an audio signal:

Graph of a Sine Wave with Amplitude and Frequency

Graph of a Sine Wave with Amplitude and Frequency

The vertical axis shows Amplitude, which in analog (electrical)  audio refers to the amount of voltage in an analog signal. When the wave is above the center line, then the voltage is positive and when the wave is below the line the voltage is negative. Audio (in the electrical analog sense)  is AC or Alternating Current which means the voltage goes from positive to negative and then back again. The further away from the center line, the higher the voltage and the louder the wave will sound.

The Dynamics of music is generally thought to be the differences between the loud parts of music and the quiet parts of the music.  The dynamics of audio includes all of the differences in amplitude along the waveform.  In most pop music, for instance, the loudest parts of the music are the snare drum hits, followed by the lead vocal, then the background music. Notice in the following image the red dots above the waveform.  They are marking the locations of the snare and kick drum hits in the music.

The red dots mark the locations of the snare and kick drum hits.

The red dots mark the locations of the snare and kick drum hits.

Notice that there is audio in between the loud hits as well, but that it just has a lower amplitude. Compressors and all dynamics-based effects work on the amplitude of the audio, to adjust and change the differences in voltage.  The loudest level in digital audio is 0 dB Full Scale or (0 dB FS) which means that anything above that level will be distorted or simply just an error.  We can’t change the loudest possible level, but we can change everything that is below that level.

What a compressor does:

A compressor attenuates (decreases amplitude) audio that is above a threshold by a ratio.  The attack time is how quickly the compressor starts to attenuate the signal after the threshold is exceeded and the release time is how quickly the compressor stops attenuating the signal when the audio drops below the threshold level.

Probably the most common use of a compressor is to make an audio signal sound louder without peaking out the signal and causing clipping and distortion.  In a nutshell, the loudest parts of the audio signal (the peaks) are made a little bit quieter so that all of the signal can be boosted by the amount that the peaks were attenuated.