Recording, Mixing and Competitions

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Fancy photo of me in the studio recording the EP

Been quite busy this week with my music production. I had a friend come down to Plymouth to stay with me and finish up his EP he started with me earlier this year. Couple of issues along the way due to technical issues and issues regarding booking studio spaces at my Uni….but hey ho we got what we needed done at least.

Mixing the EP is coming along nicely. For the main track on the EP called “Tail Light City” been struggling to get a nice snappy warm snare sound for quite a while. Glad to say I think I finally got achieved that sound. It was not coming through due to a “pong” sound that was being produced when the snare skin resonated. Bit of EQ and that pong was a thing of the past. Also, been getting quite creative with my being a producer side of things for the EP. Trying different effects and techniques to get a better sound out of the song rather than straight mixing and tweaking. Will give details on the progress of the EP as time goes on.

I’ve also found this week I’ve been playing the piano a lot more than usual. Really enjoying playing some tunes I used to love to play a few years ago. I’m considering putting a few pieces together and getting a small EP of my own done with just covers on it.

Screenshot of my Mix

Screenshot of my Mix

Finally this week I’ve been working on a mix for a competition on Indaba Music. I heard about this competition because I noticed one of my lecturers had been listening to a few submissions’ on his facebook. It’s really quite fun being able to take a multi track and just straight mix. No client or assignment deadline hanging over your head, just artistic mixing to the best of my ability. It’s a shame I don’t have any fancy plug-ins yet, I had to mix everything with just the stock plug-ins of Pro Tools 11. Don’t get me wrong, the plug-ins are great on Pro Tools, but they are more tools and they lack a lot of character. On the other hand, I find you have to make use of the tools to create your OWN character rather than relying on the character of a plug-in by, for example, Waves. But at the end of the day, you don’t win with brownie points, you win by having the best overall sound. Chances are I won’t win, but I wanted to try and I’m hoping to get some constructive feedback from it. Please have a listen and, if you wish, vote for me. Please note, I do accept sympathy votes.

Link to Indaba Music Mixing Competition Submission – http://indaba.us/ent8

Tips for Sound Engineers running a Studio Session

Being a Sound Engineering student, I have had quite a bit of experience with studio sessions. So I thought I would do a post on some of tips on how to make the most out of your studio sessions, no matter where you are recording or what you are recording.

The band or artist

I can’t stress this enough. Make it PERFECTLY clear to your band or artist that they should all know their parts AND have practised. It will make the session go SO much smoother. My worst recording sessions have always been when people that don’t know what they are doing. For now it just takes the piss because I normally offer free recording sessions to bands so it just wastes my time and they are wasting a free session trying to record drums with the guitarist standing in the room, “so the drummer knows where he is in the track”, but if the band is paying for a session you wanna make it clear that they should know it to get the most out of their time in recording sessions….unless you don’t really care and they will spend most of their money just trying to figure out what parts they are supposed to be playing.

Draw up a plan

Always have an initial plan. You should have list of what order you are going to record instruments but also you should have list of what microphones you are going to use and how you are going to place them. You don’t want to be standing there stroking your beard working out what you are going to do to record drums. Not only does it not look professional, but it wastes recording time. These bands are probably paying for this session, you should at least have the decency to be prepared for them. Try asking the band for a rough recording of the songs, ask them to do it with their phones or whatever. It’s always good to hear what it is you going to be recording.

Knowing the Studio

Especially if you plan to be freelance, you wanna give yourself some time to familiarize yourself with your studio. Try and get into the studio at least 30 mins before the band gets there if you can, and learn your way around the studio. Look at the patch bay, learn where all the controls are on the desk if you aren’t familiar with it and get in the live room and get a feel for the sound of the room. Also while you’re in the live room, it might help finding the microphone inputs. Like I said earlier, you don’t want to be standing there waving a microphone cable around trying to find the wall box to plug your cables in. It wastes your time and the bands time.

Finally before the band gets there, try and get a signal through the desk into your DAW and out the monitors. It’s all very well being prepared and knowing the studio but you don’t want the drummer being in there all ready to go and then have to sit there whacking a snare drum while you try to figure out why no sound is coming through the monitors. There is useful tool for doing this without the need of someone in the live room, which I will go into next.

Helpful tools to take with you

It’s always good going into the studio with tools to help you with your session. This is a list of what I take to my sessions, but if you want to add your own that’s great! Post a comment if you can think of something else to take as I would much appreciate it.

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  • Spare picks: you’d be surprised how many guitarists don’t bring their own pick
  • Tuning key: Always important to have the drums tuned, and sometimes drummers won’t have a tuning key, so having one spare is always helpful
  • Memory stick or hard drive: Make sure there is enough space for large sessions, you want at LEAST 10gb free, but ideally more. Also, make sure your memory stick works with both PCs and Macs. You don’t want to go to take your session away and find you can’t because it’s not formatted correctly to the Mac or PC.
  • 1/4 inch to 3.5mm adaptor: VERY important as most headphones nowadays have a 3.5mm jack but most studios have 1/4 inch jack slots.
  • Pink noise generator: Probably the most useful tool in my kit, it plugs into an XLR socket and, with phantom power, generates constant pink noise. This tool is SO useful to trying to get a sound through the desk, like I said earlier, as it means you don’t need someone in the studio clapping their hands, shouting “test, test, test” or whacking a snare drum. It’s also useful for trouble shooting too if a microphone cable or microphone is broken.
Pink Noise Generator

Pink Noise Generator

Take it all with you in a little bag to keep it together as well. I used an old make up bag my Mother had. Mock me if you will, it just works.

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Expect the inevitable

Be prepared for SOMETHING to go wrong. There is nothing you can do about, something WILL go wrong. It might be a nice small thing like a cable doesn’t work or the speakers aren’t working because you forgot to turn them on. But there is almost ALWAYS going to be something that goes wrong, whether technically or by other means. Only advice I can give is be prepared for it to happen and don’t get too worked up about it. It happens to all of us. Some greater power is at work with us engineers when this happens and you just gotta get through it.

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So I hope these tips are helpful for aspiring engineers or even current engineers. If you have any more tips I would love it if you posted in the comment box. Not only will it be helpful for me, but anyone else who stumbles upon this blog. Much appreciated, happy recording!

DAWs Part 2

Continuing from my last DAWs post, I shall be discussing only one DAW, as I’m afraid it is going to take up a whole post. I have a lot passion to not liking Logic. Now I know a LOT of people will disagree with this post, so hear me out when I say this is MY opinion, you can’t convince me otherwise as I am just that stubborn on the subject. So if you plan on commenting your hatred towards my blog post about how Logic is “amazing” don’t waste your time, unless you have something genuine to comment on my post.

Apple’s Logic

Apple Logic 9 typical screen

I first came across Logic at University. When I first heard I was going to be using  Logic I was quite excited. I had heard so many good things about Logic; it’s ease of use, how creative you can be with it, it’s huge  bundle of plug-ins and instruments and more recently priced very reasonably at £130. By this time I had used Sonar and Pro Tools quite heavily, so I’d say I was quite experienced when it came to using DAWs.

Now when I eventually did use Logic…wow….it was really not nice to use. That’s all I can say without blurting out random curse words. I don’t like the workflow, the plug-ins weren’t good (will go in more depth in a bit), and really using it didn’t make me feel creative at all because I spent so much time trying to figure out things, which normally helps with my creativity but this held me back.

Starting with the workflow. It feels like Apple Logic was designed mainly for laptops. This should be a good thing but not when I don’t use laptops, I use a desktop. The edit screen is the main window and then the mix, MIDI editor and Sample Editor are all squashed at the bottom. You can tweak this around to fit your structure I know but this is the initial view Logic first gives you, most other DAWs will give you the option to customize it like that, not have it all ready customized like that. This is all to optimize for touchpad use on a Macbook, and all the tools are in in drop down menus and built to make use of the command key to do any editing, selecting or drawing etc. This is just crap and inpractical if you use a mouse and you spend all your time dragging your mouse around the screen.

Now with the plug-ins. With the instruments I feel they are full of a lot of bloat settings. The default settings have too much done to them, and with all these “fancy” switches and buttons crammed into the plug-in it’s hard to work around. Then with the dynamic plug-ins like compressors and EQ, you really have to push them to the limit to get them to do anything.

Going back to the workflow, Logic feels very immature. The right side of the screen is full of all these default instruments that when you open, it will create an instrument channel with compressors and delays and all sorts. Even when you open an instrument channel and you specifically select an instrument it does this. Logic is always trying to do things for you. THAT is frustrating. Even little things like making a send to a bus, it will try and help you by making the channel for you and adding settings. No Logic, let me do that myself so I can control the parameters please. And if that was considered “immature”, with the brief 15 minutes I tried Logic Pro X, it’s even worse! To bypass a channel (this basically turns that app off to compare settings) there is a little off switch….an off switch….are we all 5 years old? What happened to a button that specifically said ‘Bypass’.

Finally the last thing that I don’t like about Logic is it’s owners. Apple has made Apple Logic ONLY for Mac. That grinds my gears. Even though I don’t like a Logic I know plenty of people that do and as a result they specifically buy Macs just so they can use it. For goodness sake just let PC users have it. They used to, it’s just dickey.

I feel I should say something good about Logic thought. The Logic Environment is pretty cool as you can create all sorts of complicated instruments and creative tools for live use. Actually if Apple sold the Logic Environment as a separate product, I do think I would get that as it works very well and is incredibly useful…..um….and the EQ has an analyzer which I’ve used a few times….AND that is the good features of Logic.

One my early sessions of the Logic Environment

So yeah that is my opinion on Logic. And don’t think I haven’t had my fair share of using Logic, I have used Logic for a lot of my Uni tasks because I have had to. I have a lot of experience with Logic and the short answer is, I don’t like Logic and I can’t wait to finish University and hopefully never have to use Logic again.

  • DAWs (discoveryofmusic.wordpress.com)

DAWs Part 1

Now I am an Audiophile. Being that I am studying Audio Production, I’ve got to be really. As such, I am passionate about things to do with audio. In this category of my blog which I am calling “Audiophile” I am going to discuss and rant about Audiophile stuff. I feel the best way to start is where I began getting into being an Audiophile, and that was with my first DAW.

For those of you that don’t know what DAW is, it is a Digital Audio Workstation which is a piece of software where you most commonly can record, edit, mix, compose, sequence, perform and create audio and music. You may have heard of a few: Apple Logic, Pro Tools, Ableton Live….FL Studio. These are probably the most commonly known ones. The screens normally look something like this.

Mixpad – My first DAW

In this post I am going to discuss the DAW’s I have encountered and what I like, don’t like or protest about each one.

Sonar

SONAR Home Studio 7XL

Ahh my first proper DAW was Sonar Home Studio 7XL. Before Sonar I had a DAW called Mixpad, but that feels like an age ago and I don’t really want to discuss that one. Sonar is my nostalgic DAW, it was what got me into recording music. I remember getting Sonar and just recording stuff for days. I never released any of the music to anyone, I just enjoyed using it myself although I did compose, with a friend, one my first proper pieces of music with it, which I did release.

Now what I liked about Sonar was its simplicity. There was no playing around. If you wanted to record something, you plugged in a Mic and pressed record. If you wanted to play around with levels and panning. Easy. You could look at a Sonar session and know what was going on. One of the sole parts that I love about Sonar, and I’m still yet to find anything as good, was it’s drum sequencer. The sequencer was SO easy to use, and you could get stuck in and creating drum patterns and loops in seconds.  The string virtual instrument as well was brilliant! You could tweak the perfect string sound you wanted and then record the MIDI right in.

The problem with it was though, was that it was TOO basic. Once I got to a level of learning basic audio production, small things were really hard to accomplish. Adding a simple fade in was a mission, editing multiple takes was time consuming, and I STILL to this day don’t know how to create a stereo input. Looking at how Sonar has evolved since then makes me smile. It’s like watching a child grow up, they really have come a long way since I last used it. I hope one day to purchase it again just to try it and see how far it has come.

Pro Tools

One of my Pro Tools sessions

Oh yes, Pro Tools. I remember when I first heard about Pro Tools when researching into an artist. I first came across Pro Tools when I did some work experience in London in a film studio and just from being there for a week, I witnessed how powerful Pro Tools could be when it came to doing anything to do with audio. Pro Tools is my current primary DAW (Pro Tools 11 to be precise) and I also currently hold a certificate in Pro Tools 101, which makes me a qualified Pro Tools user. *go me*

I couldn’t list all the features of Pro Tools. I really don’t think I literally could. I have a book which has MOST of the features in and it’s over 300 pages! What I really do love about Pro Tools is it doesn’t play games. If you want to achieve something, you have to do it yourself. This may sound like a bad thing but it really isn’t, as Pro Tools is so innovative, achieving most tasks is still easy but you need to get suck in add all the inputs and send yourself. The signal flow is incredible and it’s ability to move signals and audio around Pro Tools is amazing. It’s editing tools are so powerful. You can easily edit audio to the point where you can even zoom into the physical waveform. Like I said, I couldn’t list the features as it would take a VERY long time and there are books that can do that much better than me. It’s these capabilites that truly make Pro Tools the industry standard DAW that most Sound Engineers, Sound for Film and T.V Editors, Mixers and Sound for Games go to do their jobs.

What I don’t like about Pro Tools is two things. Price and lack of inspiration. Now with lack of inspiration, Pro Tools is great for everything when it comes to recording, mixing, editing and mastering. But when it comes to actually sitting down and saying “right, today I am going to compose a piece of music with just Pro Tools” I find it quite hard to do just that. It’s MIDI sequencing capabilities feel very long winded without recording yourself playing the MIDI information yourself with a keyboard. When it comes to automating Plug-ins, it’s quite difficult to set up even to do the simplest tasks. I can only assume it is like this because initially Pro Tools was never designed to do any of these things, and these capabilities are very new to Pro Tools anyway. And the price….well without student discount you can buy Pro Tools 11 with the discs, and an iLok, for £500+. It is an industry standard DAW I know but to be honest you don’t get a whole lot with it. I’ve been using Pro Tools for over a year now and all ready I am looking to buying some 3rd party plug ins. You’d think by spending that much money you’d get a LOT more plug-ins and instruments bundled along with it. And this is just for the standard Pro Tools package. If you want Pro Tools HD…which is basically and EXTREMELY powerful version of Pro Tools, you’re looking at spending well over £2,000+ pounds, although this does include a PCI E Sound Card and a sexy piece of hardware.

Luckily being a Uni student, I picked up Pro Tools 10 last year for £200 and I get 4 years free upgrades. Also, when that runs out, if I want to upgrade from say Pro Tools 12 to Pro Tools 13, it won’t cost me much more than £100, which isn’t TOO bad. I imagine I will be using Pro Tools for a VERY long time, maybe even ’till the end of my DAW career. But one thing’s for sure…I LOVE using Pro Tools!

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This blog post has been VERY long but I wanted to get stuck in with this new type of blog post. I will be posting another later talking about other DAWs so keep on the lookout for them if you enjoyed this one.