The Process of Making Records

Discussion in 'Music and Recordings' started by Psalmanazar, Mar 29, 2022.

  1. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

    Slaytanic Cliff Clavin
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    Hey man. So this was a really good question. We started off in the wax cylinder days of just using one mic direct to disc or film. We moved people around, changed the sound by different mic positions and mics, and eqs were invented in the 20s and were broad to make one mic sound like another than to correct sound problems. This lasted until the Germans developed analog tape. We, the English speaking world, had good RCA mics yet no idea how German radio broadcasts repeated themselves so clearly (we had... shellac lol) until we found tape machines in the rubble of World War II. Suddenly there was a canvas on which to process sound. You could bounce between two of them! And as tape machines got more tracks, more processing and more realistic recordings became possible.

    recordings have been multitrack since 4 track tape machines came out. Now we use a bunch of mics on different stuff and fit them together like a plastic surgeon. Let's start with mics, then a brief history of stereo recording, then basic processing, and current digital processing with both the typical ones that sound awful and the good ones and the unrealized potential of digital audio processing lost in a world of fleeting connections. I'll link posts here.
     
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  2. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

    Slaytanic Cliff Clavin
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    Mics:
    Microphones are tools to convert sound pressure into electricity. They are no more than an audio wrench or hammer.

    There is no such thing as an accurate microphone. It doesn't exist. Mics have different pickup patterns and different tonal responses. You can have only u87 and KM84s from the 80s and some guy with a bunch of Shures can make a more accurate and better sounding recording than you. There are microphones that are straight up better than others and vintage microphones that had a flatter sound than most modern ones but better doesn't matter because it won't be the only mic in a multi track recording, might not be the one you need, and any vintage microphone is a point of failure waiting to die. They are tools and tools are ephemeral.

    Anything vintage and anything with a tube in it better have an immediate, more reliable modern or solid state replacement to swap in for real world use. Tube mics are not reliable tools in 2022. Tube gear is a time bomb. The communist made equivalents are not as good as the western tubes from back in the day. Only the Russian ones were close and that's gone. Time to move to solid state mics and develop new guitar amps.

    Volume
    We haven't even talked about maximum level yet. Some mics can take more than others. The SM57 will make a more accurate recording of a cranked guitar amp than most nice classical music mics. Oooh you have a modded and cherry picked Soviet made Oktava 012 from the 1960s. Yeah it's cheap and sounds real nice on an orchestra 20 feet away. Shove it over a drum kit, on a snare, or guitar amp, and it will distort horribly and sound like shit. That Neumann KM84 might sound amazing on a snare but some guy will whack it eventually and you will lose what you could have sold for thousands of dollars to a fool on the internet. An SM57 is still 100 bucks.

    Pick up patterns
    Mics have different pickup patterns and different off axis responses. You can't shove anything at anything. You want to use the right one for the job that gets what you want and rejects what you don't. You don't want to hear gross mouth noises and high hat bleed.

    Anti Shure hate
    And for deningrating Shure? The Shure KSM 137 and 147 electrets have a more neutral sound than the modern Neumann KM184 and can take ridiculous amounts of level and cost less than 400 bucks each. No Chinese mic or vintage clone is as utilitarian and ubiquitous. Shure will also fix their mics unlike a ton of modern manufacturers.

    "Quality"
    Yngwie J Malmsteen is a better guitarist than Johnny Ramone yet who wrote more good music? Johnny Ramone.
     
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  3. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

    Slaytanic Cliff Clavin
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    Recording
    So for stereo, you'd think shoving two really good mics in a room at something you'd want to hear would produce the most realistic stereo recording. That's just not true.

    The mind filters away a lot of the junk upon seeing someone. You don't hear the room noise, and HVAC system. You also filter out the unpleasant little squeeks, resonances, and can zoom in on something that might not be entirely cutting through.

    A microphones does not have a giant electro-chemical processor mounted onto it. It has an XLR cable that sends it to a mic pre, that often provides a ridiculous amount of gain if it's a ribbon or inefficient dynamic. There is nothing close to a clean mic pre if you're pushing the gain like this but we've had clean pres since the tube era at reasonable levels.

    So to get the most accurate capture, you should use a bunch of mics at close distances to capture them relatively isolated and room mics for the big picture. Unfortunately something one foot away does not sound like it sounds in a room. And the room mics lack immediacy. Hence all the unrealistic to the point of zoning you out of it popular music recordings and all the lame doze off classical recordings.
     
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  4. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

    Slaytanic Cliff Clavin
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    Mixing
    Okay so you have your artist recorded. You have takes of everything done the best you could in what their time and budget allotted. Now you have to fit them all together. You might have even front loaded the recording with various processors before it was recorded. This is what was done prior to digital. After the mic pre brought up the signal to line level, you eqed and compressed it, and eqed it to tape to mostly only capture what you wanted. They would mix signals from different mics together on a console and record them to one track on tape.

    In digital, this mostly isn't done. We do not have to commit to a vision then and there. You can have as many channels as you want but the stereo converters are almost always of higher quality. In classical music now, this is almost never done but they must still be processed. I hope you see what I am getting at with the headless chicken of milquetoast visionless records now.

    So you set your levels of the muiltitracks to a semi realistic balance on the volume faders, pan the close mics left and right to where they are on the room mics and overheads, maybe stick the guitars almost all the way left and right if there are two parts, and play it back. Well guess what? Your mics picked up a ton of junk and your recordings are uneven.

    1) Noise and bleed
    All of these home vocal recordings are only possible due to de-noising algorithms from Izotope and Acon. These covid productions would never have happened without them. There's so much garbage getting into the mic when recorded outside of a properly built studio. These people were using cell phones. Lady Gaga sang into the backward side of a vintage Neumann u47 set to a cardiod pickup pattern. Ignorance, incompetence, and a poor choice of mic that definitely cannot repair herself on the spot if it breaks in the middle of a live broadcast performance. A 1/50 chance is still unacceptable in the pro world where they pay for your time. And most bedroom recordings are worse than that.

    Expanders and gates will cut out noise too. Expanders are compressors in reverse. Gates are limiters in reverse. Of course gates kill low level detail. They cut it out entirely. They are mostly used to kill noise and bleed. The standard tom mic for decades was the Sennhesier MD421. This mic has bad cymbal bleed. WIthout gates from Drawmer and SSL, this mic could not have been used. Before it, toms weren't individually miced at all. Those big, clear punchy 80s toms are only possible with processing. Now we have mics with better rejection and more pleasant off axis response so we can get more natural punchy tom sounds but those only happen with the MD421 with gates or overdubbed fills.

    2) Equalization
    Your ears in the room didn't hear that gross drum resonance. that nice snare sound like cardboard upclose. The snare wires mighht not be coming through or are ringing. The guitar amp has weird tube harmonics and a cabinet resonance. The violin is screeching. The woman's voice is really sibilant on her fricatives.

    Well it's time to cut the junk until you can't hear it and only hear what you want. Boost what you want to hear. Make it fit together into what you want.

    You can eq stuff so that it sounds awful on it's own but sounds perfect when everything else is playing. That jangly guitar doesn't need it's body when the bass is there half the time. That guy's voice is really chesty but it's centered and up front and so is that fat driving bassline. Electronic music will make it so that bass doesn't need to be where the kick hits with eq and they will lower it with dynamics! That kick really doesn't need any rumble. Cut it out. It might work in the mix and everything else sound better and louder.

    Those big punchy tops? They might sound like he's hitting cereal boxes with a drum stick when soloed. Nobody will ever listen to them soloed. Nobody would ever want to. Ginger Baker's toms in cream sound like practice pads but work. The Cream bass is just some fat gross resonance but sounds great in the mix.

    RIngo's drums sound totally unrealistic but work wonderfully.

    Most detail you hear is because of a high shelf on a good mic and cleanish recording. Most guys, including me, just shove it up until it's harsh and back off on what you want to have perceived detail and sheen. Brings up ambient detail. Maybe the upper mids a bit too if the center is low enough. Modern classical guys will run to the hills at this but most things back in the day were tracked to tape with ridiculous high shelves to not have the high end get totally saturated off and because they can always lower the shelf later without adding noise but turning it up adds noise. Popular music guys will have high shelves before and after a lot of compressors even. Chris Lord Alge just decks an 8 kHz shelf on his SSL console!

    3) Dynamics
    The human ear and brain is a natural psychoacoustic compressor. A mic is not unless you start pushing it. You never want the listern of the final product to have to turn up and down the volume on something. That type of dynamic range is the arch enemy of all recording. That's like telling someone watching a movie they should have to adjust the brightness of their display to see what's going on. Modern Hollywood has awful dynamic volume and contrast control fwiw.

    For music, almost everything that's not a big flat line like a distorted guitar is compressed or leveled. Especially up close. If you don't compress it, the next guy down the line will. And back in the day, tape did this for people a bit.
    1) Recording guy (with the physical compressors on the way into the converter or tape deck)
    2) Mixer
    3) Masterer
    4) Radio broadcaster with the optimod. Spotify or Youtuber lowering your slammed levels to make it sound wimpy. The club owner telling the house sound guy to shove a limiter on the outs to the power amp so the dumbass DJ doesn't break the expensive PA system.

    Someone is going to turn it down and it better happen at 1) or 2) before it gets mixed with other tracks and the compressor modulates them too.

    You want compression to happen. It is a good thing. Judicious compression sounds good. Something flatlined until it sounds like a sample or a brickwalled modern master does not.

    Compressors are nothing more than volume modulators turning the gain up and down faster than your fingers. They do so in milliseconds or nanoseconds. They have a bunch of non-linear filters in them to turn stuff down how and as quickly as you want if you choose the right compressor and know how to set it. And the best modern analog and digital compressors are amazing. They can retain all the individual hits and level out the overall volume of a performance. They can catch only the nastiest peaks, they can flatline only the peaks, they can enhance only the peaks by turning down what's right after them without flatlining them, they can bring up the room and add pleasurable distortion, etc.

    Compressors are also distortion machines. The "classics" of which there are a million clones and plugins of, are known as much for their distortion as their function. All of them.

    4) Distortion
    Large format consoles that sound good are not worth it in 2022. They simply are a waste of money and won't be recouped by anyone in the music industry. They're a luxury item so much so that SSL doesn't even make them themselves anymore. A Chinese OEM does. Unfortunately this means that most recordings are going through a hodgepodge of different gear on the individual tracks or some ho hum multichannel thing. They will either sound boring or like a they came from a different place in space and time with different equipment. Boring is boring. You can add some cool distortion to universalize the various tracks and make particular ones stand out. There are a million cool dirt boxes ranging from subtle to extreme.

    This is no different than vocalists on big budget productions singing into a blue stripe 1176 smushing the peaks down into an LA2A evening out the performance before it even hit tape. Both of those compressors produce high amounts of distortion that sounds good.

    Sometimes saturation and clipping is a more transparent peak control than any compressor. Run your peaky tracks into something hot. It might just pleasantly saturate them out instead of modulating the rest of the track too like a compressor and might even produce less distortion when measured.

    The classical world will run aghast at that dirty truth. but they tend to use a bunch of RME Octamics based around cheap TI chip amps that sound like trash when turned up but otherwise are middling yet work. Or older "clean pres" that produce nastier upper harmonics than the Octamics. Some guys try to do it the right with lots of expensive gear for audiophile recording but often capture lamo performances. What label will pay for that on a big soundstage?

    They'd rather have the guys with the bunch of Octamics or Millenia or whatever utilitian middling pre that's expensive but has a convenient ethernet hookup bash out their recording quickly with whatever they know works and use the processors they use on all genres. Including digital saturators with cartoony guis on the tracks with nasty treble. Including 1176 type things with all buttons in and Distressors set to "NUKE". Watch a youtube video of either and you will understand at how extreme this is. Which is more true to the music? That's up to you. What they play at hi-fi shows is boring as hell.
     
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  5. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    Thanks so much for this, I greatly appreciate your insight. In your experience, how many musicians percentage-wise seem to either give a shit about this stuff, or even know what's going on beyond playing/singing? I'd think the more time an artist spends in the studio, the more the process would rub off. But I wonder how many times recording artists watch something like Sound City and think they know better than an engineer and demand Neve consoles, or on the flip side, achieve some success recording using a cell phone or the wrong side of a mic, and think it means all this fussy shit doesn't make a difference?

    Edit: also per the milquetoast comments, is there a similarity to modern digital photography and cinematography where certain decisions are pushed to later in the process simply because capturing the raw (like RAW) is the defacto standard for the devices themselves?
     
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  6. ergopower

    ergopower Friend

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    That's some fascinating shit right there. Thanks a ton for posting it.
     
  7. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

    Slaytanic Cliff Clavin
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    Maybe about a third like it and think it's cool. Less know what's cool and really works. A drummer I work with a lot understands it's the performance and the mics and the pres don't even matter that much for modern condensers. When he heard how neutral the current Shure SDCs were and how high headroom they are, he got some and never wanted to switch.

    Gear
    For modern analog gear and digital plugins, very few current engineers seem to care about the technical aspects. The ones that do are incredibly anal retentive. I'm in the latter. Really clean gear has only been a possibility since the 80s. And what has been made since has been some of the cleanest and most neutral ever. The discontinued Neumann KM84 small diaphragm condenser mic. The Hardy and Jensen mic pres. The Aphex compressors. Even the early sony betamax converters with the external Apogee filters were cleaner than almost any tape machine.

    Now? We have amazing gear for really cheap. The FMR and Kush stuff is all fantastic and dirt cheap for what it is. The Daking stuff is vibey and cheap for the quality even though you can tell they cheap out on the casework. The Apogee and Prism digital converters have always sounded great. I haven't heard any bad ones. RME interfaces are more reliable than any console ever made even if the treble gets disgusting.

    Tape

    A lot of guys still love tape because it does do positive things to the sound, even on cleanish studer tape machines. The slight saturation and compression is good and the dips and peaks are in posistive places with most later machines and formulations imo. The problem is the last multitrack tape machine was made 30 years ago, there's a massive repair backlog for anything over 4 tracks (YEARS LONG), tape ops are older guys and have to be paid a lot per hour, and the new artists can't afford new tape. And they're not good enough musicians to commit to tape. Because most things sound better mixed TO TAPE to maximize the level as they're recorded, rather than mix things FROM TAPE, where you have to capture what you don't want, lower the gain with eq and compression, then raise it up again, raising the distortion and noise. And with more tracks comes more buildup of distortion, crosstalk, and noise.

    Neve-ish gear

    Honestly, the Neve hype is cool but Rupert Neve was just trying to make the cleanest, most acceptable things he could with commonly available transistors in the 1960s. And he didn't even make the cleanest or most utilitarian sounding solid state gear back then. Anything Neve branded from then does not compete with the TAB designs that used BJTs, Spectrasonics, or even their lauded competitor API, which is generally easier to deal with distortion wise but loses bass and air ime. API type eq filters are much easier to deal with for broad tonal shaping. The Spectrasonics stuff, now Spectra 1964, is still made and far cleaner than anything Neve worked on imo.

    The old Neve stuff has several major problems:
    1) distortion builds up. yeah it sounds cool on a couple tracks but it ends up ridiculous across a whole mix. the high and low ends are ridiculous.
    2) the high shelf on the modules is resonant and rings. it can get gross
    3) they hard clip instead of fuzz out like a distortion pedal. This means they can get really nasty inadvertently
    4) The eqs are very broad. You can't correct very narrow and annoying ringing or resonances. You need another eq. What if that narrow notch is the only problem? Then the eq is useless.
    5) Poor parts matching. different tonal characteristics among different eqs.
    6) Heat issues. They're all class A. They need constant maintenance.
    7) The diode bridge compressors they used are insanely distorted to the point of making drums into just thuds. this is because they exploit the transfer curve of certain diodes thus need to lower the gain an insane amount and have to raise it back up.
    8) All the consoles were worth more money chopped up and sold as racked channel strips than together. 2000-5000 bucks a channel. Even back in the 80s. 5000 now. Why keep them? Why would you want 24 channels of that distortion? Some of these guys are paying to use an antique just to say they used it.

    SSL, cheaper pcb consoles, and then digital took over for good reason. How can you notch something out with a 1970s EQ not a GML 8200 that costs over 6000 dollars? You cannot.

    The 90s Focusrite modules are way better. The current ones are Chinesium but the old red aluminum ones are killer. The current RND stuff is mostly better. It lost a lot of the flaws and made the distortion optional. And that forward distortion can be had from a lot of other stuff: anything trying to be a blue stripe 1176, a ton of distortion plugins, distressor, the ancient Oxford Inflator plug, a lot of older cheap gear just plain old driven into the red. It's not exactly the same but it gets you in the ball park. As does the current RND stuff with the "Silk" function for way cheaper and less offensive. That's a lot of the sound you hear from modern pop. It's not a Neve 1073. It's an RND pre because it's cheaper without the negative characteristics. And even then, there have been improvements on the old Neve designs. The Avedis gear is like improved Nevish pres, improved API type filter eqs and uses Jensens, Yet anyone with a job can buy a couple RND and Avedis preamps because they're under a 1000 a channel vs over 4000 for the real AMS Neve designs from the 70s.

    How do you flex that gear if the musicians can score the same stuff at Vintage King as you can? And it's flat out better designed than the stuff they can't score because that old stuff is old or not produced in any quantity?

    Digital plugins
    The best of these are better than all classic processing gear. This has been true since about 2015 when U-he Presswerk and Tokyo Dawn Kotelnikov came out. They're cleaner tonally. They're more effective. The best modern hardware can be less conspicuous and there's a wider variety of it but how many guys on gearslutz are going to learn to hit the Kush Tweaker (think a way better sounding distressor) at the right level and learn to use the well chosen filters? Hardly any. Now learn to set a flexible digital compressor with a ton of controls. They'll be lost if all they used is something with two knobs, auto settings, and don't want to read the manual.

    Milquetoast Recordings
    It is exactly like modern photography and cinematography. Before they would have to light everything correctly. The effects would be in camera or forced in with mattes. Think of how awesome Bram Stoker's Dracula looks vs a Marvel movie.

    Most of these modern artists are not ready for the studio yet enter the studio. They can not bash out a classic in 72 hours like Disraeli Gears. They cannot bash out Black Sabbath 1 in an afternoon. The engineers do not have to commit even to a general distortion. We have a bunch of different Neve plugins to add to clean recordings if anyone desires that. There are even Tascam plugins and you can buy an exact copy of the Tascam 424 circuit to overload for a couple hundred bucks.

    The musicianship is not as good. And I don't just mean they can play this or that. Most of the guys who aren't at least pushing 40 can't pick up and play anymore. Jacob Collier whatever. I don't care. He couldn't be tasteful to save his life. He couldn't be literally made to join a band in whatever style because he had to eat, be handed an instrument, and play the most memorable thing of his life on the spot like Marty Friedman did in Megadeth's Tornado of Souls or Ginger Baker w/ Fela Kuti. Those guys could play. That came from years of playing live with other people from various genres. Those guys gigged. There are very few of them left ime.

    They do not have the desire to be the best. The desire to be exemplary. They are not willing to spend years doing nothing but refining their work to become legendary. They just want to immediately be recognized as halfway decent. They do not want to sleep in the attic and play multiple shows a night for years like the Beatles.

    For what I do mostly, metal, the old guys are lunatics. They were not cool in the day. They were not guys trying to be accepted. They wanted to be the best and rise above their contemporaries. Those guys were nuts and willing to sacrifice everything to get good at a style of music that is barely commercially acceptable. I know only a few younger guys who are like this. Most of them are wholly derivative and just want to be accepted among their local group of barflies in denim and leather.
     
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  8. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    This thing is local to me. I don't really need it (well c'mon, none of us *need* any of this), but I do like the nice red and front panel aesthetic.
    https://reverb.com/ca/item/49617953-focusrite-red-1-4-channel-preamp
    Maybe worth making a lowball offer?
     
  9. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    This is the best thread I’ve read on this site in some time. Thank you for sharing and for this wealth of information!
     
  10. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

    Slaytanic Cliff Clavin
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    100% especially if it has both input and output transformers, has been recapped, and works. If you can afford it and will use it, why not? You can always sell it.

    An equivalent 4 channel pre will run you about 3000 USD new from API, Daking, Hardy, etc. the current 4 channel Focusrite ISA is the Chinesium one and goes for 2k usd new.
     
  11. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

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    Like to add a few things with respect to mics. Drums in a room cannot be mic'd with two microphones. It's guaranteed to sound like shit. We can treat the room, try all sorts of EQ, and they will still sound like shit, or at least nothing like from any of the records that we listen to.

    Drums sound different to a drummer than to the audience. Drums were invented not necessarily to be recorded, but to be played back to an audience in decent sized venue. Drums set up to sound good to the audience maybe 25 feet away will usually sound too reverbant to the drummer. When I take all the practice rings, practice cymbals, and stuff taped to the drums, they sound fantastic when I open the front door to house and stand in the street (instrument room is an open space to the left of the door). However, it's difficult for a drummer to practice like this. It's also difficult to record like this. Drums are set up for a drier sound when recording.

    The other factor is extremely high dynamic range and SPL. Cymbals need small condensers that can capture the high frequencies and transient attack. A large condenser on cymbals sounds like garbage, however they work fantastically on kick drums. Snares will hit 125db SPL easily in much of the range where our ears are most sensitive, so some special requirements here, and even then we will usually need pad it down 10db on the microphone circuit. Toms are less loud, but still get 110db easy. Think about how loud and dynamic this actually is. Most old-fart audiophool geezers listen at 90db SPL. I've known e-stat guys who listen at 70db SPL.

    So we can see the issues - varying requirements for each piece of the drum kit - at least for a what would be considered a good modern recording.

    There really isn't a purist approach. Well there could be. There was this dude who would play drums out in the open along Kanan road leading to Malibu. When my wife I used to hike around that spot, we could always hear him from the mountains above. I bet if I set up two medium-diaphragm condensers from 25 feet away, I could get a good sounding recording of that dude. Still, it would not sound anywhere near the same as what we hear on studio recordings.

    drmmer2RGB (Large).jpg
     
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  12. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    Dang bruh, this might well be the most epic thread I've read in a while.
    :drunk:
    You see the same thing with race car liveries, digital design provides so many options and no limitations and that results in anyone without an incredibly strong design language and tight vision making messy boring blah forgettable shit.

    I only know which Iron Lynx Ferrari is the Iron Dames in the WEC because its the only pink one, but I couldn't tell you any detail of the livery.

    [​IMG]

    I can't even tell its a ferrari, its just a dark vaguely sportscary blob with lots of small shapes on it.
     
  13. rott

    rott Secretly hates other millenials - Friend

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    Epic thread, nice studio insight!

    Brings back some memories, our 3-person metal band in high school recording a "demo" on a Tascam 4 track tape recorder, SM57 and SM58 on my drums, processing via guitarist's Zoom effects thingie. Wish I had held on to my cassette copy..
     
  14. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

    Slaytanic Cliff Clavin
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    Yes and you can't make a record that sounds good at 110-120 db because that would kill your hearing. So everything has to be compressed down. Sorry old farts.

    Drum kits need to be multimiced. Sorry audiophiles. Sorry guys who love boring classical music.

    Then there are the just plain old issues with modern design pro mics from a lot of the bigger European brands. All the new underwater ribbon mics for crappy modern music to trash up and new way too bright classical mics for European state funded orchestras for pushing fake detail in boring performances. Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic discontinued a lot of their more neutral studio mics because the music industry is mostly dead. State funded orchestras in European states that refuse to fund their militaries do not count as an industry.

    The typical artist now can't afford real studio time even in a cheap commercial studio and can't afford to use good condensers and ribbons. That's the truth. There is only money for the poppiest of pop everything. The biggest sycophants and sellouts to the marketing department. People who want their music in tv shows to make more in licensing than in sales or touring like a lame 80s-90s rock band.

    And Chinese mics suck. The clones with Chinese capsules suck. The Chinese ribbons are muddy. The condensers are distorted bright. The dynamics aren't tanks and have weird sound issues. Anyone who shills Behringer can shove it.
     
  15. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    This has to be the most California picture I've ever seen. Did you talk to him? I'm betting his name is Lance.
     
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  16. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    There are many common recording methods ranging from a single microphone in front the talent, to many mics in a multitrack session. A recording session might be tracked in a studio over many days or a live performance captured at a venue. A few typical production methods include:

    Tracking session -> Mix Session -> Mastering -> distribution
    Tracking session -> live mix to two -> Mastering -> distribution
    Live venue record -> Mix session -> Mastering -> distribution
    Live venue record -> live mix to two -> Mastering -> distribution

    In multitrack tracking sessions it is common to have multiple takes and edit them together for the best overall performance. Live to 2-track is a little trickier to edit takes. However, when dealing with top talent such edits are typically few.

    Venue recording is different in that the performance is captured in entirety and the only editing consists of deleting dead time between songs. Live to 2-track is very limited in post recording processing, however top engineers such as Claudia Englehart are able to capture the performance with great sense of space and timbre. An example is Bill Frisell East / West album, West CD.

    Of great importance is achieving a good sound in the space where recording is to occur. If the sound isn’t good in the acoustic space, no amount of expensive mics, preamps, console, processors etc. is going to make it any better. Drummers need to know how to tune their drums. Pianos should have been recently tuned. Placement of the instruments and vocalists with respect to each other so they can interact helps create a sense of naturalness to performances.

    There are two basic schools of recording multiple musicians.

    Old School:
    Keep the musicians together in the recording space, place microphones using polar patterns to control bleed, but use the off-axis bleed to create a sense of space, of being there with the musicians. This works best in large rooms with good acoustics. Eg: Columbia 30th Street studio

    New School:
    Isolate musicians as necessary and eliminate bleed. Drums, bass, vocalists each in their own isolation booths. Gobos, with the rest, especially for piano. Wind instruments in the main room. Sense of space will be created using processing in the mix console, such as pan, delay, etc. The cue mix to headphones of each musician must allow the musicians to feel connected. A poor cue mix will result in performances that don’t feel cohesive.

    Here are some pictures to help visualize.

    Old school example from Columbia 30th Street studio with Frank Laico engineering:
    01 Mic setup Miles Davis Quintet Footprints.png
    All the musicians are in a very large, good sounding space. Frank always claimed the space was 100x100x100 ft, but historical photos tend to indicate only 80ft ceilings. The musicians are facing each other with a virtual center just to the right of mic #4. Microphones are generally facing outward from the center except for piano mic, #6. With cardioid patterns this diminishes pickup from the other instruments. Piano mic #6 is proximal to the piano but farther away from the other instruments taking advantage of the inverse proportional law. No headphones or cue mix necessary, the musicians perform as they are accustomed.

    New school style at Studio X (fka Bad Animals, Kate Smith Studios)
    I have mics and preamps from my project studio collection being used in this jazz session. Look carefully off the left end of the mix console and two of my Martech MSS-10 preamps are visible just below the isobooth window where the drums are located. Not visible are the Schoeps CMC62 pair, Elux-251, Soundelux U95S, and assorted other mics such as MD441s.
    02 IMG_0418_studio_x_small.jpg
    It is evident that a team of people are required to manage all the aspects of a large recording session. The person standing is the producer. The person in white is the recording system engineer. The fellow with white hair at the console is the tracking engineer. The person near the isobooth handles many tasks such as console patching, signal routing, fixing cue mix issues, etc.

    03 IMG_0419_studio_x_small.jpg
    Main room is through the glass in front of the console. Bass is in another isobooth visible from this angle.

    04 IMG_0423_studio_x_small.jpg
    Close-up of bassist in isobooth

    05 IMG_0424_studio_x_small.jpg
    Close-up of drummer in isobooth.

    New school style at Robert Lang
    Again I have mics and preamps from my project studio collection being used on this Kenny Wheeler Tribute project with Steve Treseler and Ingrid Jensen:
    https://ingridjensenstevetreseler-whirlwind.bandcamp.com/album/invisible-sounds-for-kenny-wheeler

    06 Kenny Wheeler Tribute project 011 small.jpg
    Isobooth off left end of SSL 4048 console, main room though the glass in front of the console.

    07 Kenny Wheeler Tribute project 016 small.jpg
    View from console right side isobooth toward piano with gobo and sound drapes in use.

    08 Kenny Wheeler Tribute project 020 small.jpg
    My AEA R92 ribbon mic for Ingrid’s trumpet in the main room

    09 Kenny Wheeler Tribute project 028 small.jpg
    View of piano gobo placement in the main room. Note high ceiling, acoustic treatments, and no parallel walls in main room. Door behind trumpet in rock wall leads to the rather large drum isobooth.

    10 IMG_7126_small.jpg
    My AEA R92 touring with Ingrid in another studio on the east coast.

    Futher reading / viewing:

    New school
    https://www.robertlangstudios.com/
    https://www.billfrisell.com/east-west
    Bill Frisell East West
    West recorded live direct to 2-track by Claudia Engelhart

    Sylvia Massy
    https://www.sylviamassy.com/book/
    https://www.amazon.com/Recording-Unhinged-Creative-Unconventional-Techniques/dp/1495011275

    Old school
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CBS_30th_Street_Studio
    December 16, 2008 - Anatomy of a Session with Frank Laico
    https://www.aes.org/sections/reports/?ID=272
    https://londonjazzcollector.wordpre...cording-engineer-columbia-30th-street-studios
    https://www.morrisonhotelgallery.co...mbia-Records-30th-Street-Studio-Opens-in-SoHo

    Anatomy of a Session Pt 1


    Anatomy of a Session Pt 2
     
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    Last edited: Mar 30, 2022
  17. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    Great post. Totally different world and music from what I'm used to.

    There's also a lot of people who combine the New School with the Old School. Glynn Johns. Steve Albini. Paul Orifino. Most Motorhead records. This keeps the live feel with some bleed between certain parts but also allows for enhanced processing for a larger than life sound.

    The main drawback to the old school with a lot of current artists is that while it generally sounds more realistic, a lot of bands now cannot play their own material or do not have arrangements that can be played live in the studio with some overdubs. They cannot play their own music without the help of the production process.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2022
  18. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    Best content I've read on SBAF in a while.

    Not trying to be an ass or whatever, but for clarification, is there one generally accepted definition or sound of what "neutral" would be amongst most (competent) studio or recording professionals? If so, is it roughly the same as we define it in "headphone land" or "speaker land" or whatever?

    This triggered a great ah-ha light bulb moment from putting 1 and 1 together...
     
  19. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    So much trvth to that.

    Counterpoint. There are many musicians in the jazz world that can and do play very well. Many of them record well on stage. In a way they are still old school, working out their arrangements playing on stage so they are very ready when they hit the studio, just like half a century ago. But that is just one small segment of the music world.
     
  20. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

    Slaytanic Cliff Clavin
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    Yes the jazz players can play well. Especially if they gig. You can just hand them something and they can play along without asking for the key or time signature, which requires back and forth.

    The only thing is a lot of the classically trained guys who went to music school and don't play live in a variety of genres, they are often hopeless on their own. Like they can play anything but ask them to just join a band, they can't do it unless they are told what to do. Especially for metal I've found where they just don't "get it" or grasp the feel of something with only a couple more chords than a ramones song. You want them to be a Marty Friedman but they're usually not.

    I don't see this with the latin jazz or soul guys. They just play. There are metal bands with Afro-Cuban drums and it's pretty crazy.
     

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