Production with Dr. Bær

Hey folks,

the summer and vacation time is over and I'm back in music production and I have a very cool project to share with you!
I spent the week with Dr. Bær, a German metal band recording their debut EP in the Sportstudio.
Metal music has always been dear to me, since I grew up listening to a lot of it. Not having worked on a lot of metal music lately, I was very excited to produce this EP.
Before the studio work began, we spent a few hours together in a rehearsal and talked about the bands goals for the EP, sound, recording strategies and I had a chance to listen to their songs.
Listening to a band before you record them is very necessary in getting a feeling for what they want and where they're going with their sound.
I took away a couple of ideas for instrument setup, equipment choices and the recording process from that rehearsal and I had a pretty clear picture of what the 2 days of recording would look like.
To start, we spent half a day setting up and micing drums, guitars and bass as well as a preliminary vocal track and setting up monitoring for everyone.
The setup went pretty swimmingly, since everyone had well prepared instruments and we had no major technical hickups.
Working with old gear like that, things can go south very quickly and sometimes, you don't even know why.
Apart from a sudden computer shutdown that was easily salvageable (save your projects frequently!), recording went very smoothly as well.

We spent the entirety of today mixing and left with something that's pretty close to a finished product, making everybody involved very happy.

Something I wanted to focus on for myself in this session was experimenting with different choices of microphones and preamps.
We at Sportstudio have the luxury of having lots of different pieces of gear to choose from, making it easy to learn a lot about the impact of microphones and preamps on the sound of an instrument.
Disclaimer: I was reminded again of how important it is to get your instruments to sound right acoustically BEFORE you think about putting a microphone on it! Choosing the right room and positioning for your instruments is paramount as well!
It is quite amazing, how the choice of a microphone can influence signals in a specific way. You can't make a horrible sound great by putting a very expensive mic on it, but you can lift a great sound up or accentuate certain characteristics.
Most notably, I tried out some different choices for drum overheads, snare and toms.
Knowing that the drum sound has to cut through lots of guitar walls, I chose a pair of very clean sounding overhead mics (dpa 4011's). I spread them out to get the cymbals away from the middle, I don't want them interfering with the snare drum or vocals more importantly. 
To go with that, I chose a very clean and "uncoloring" preamp. The cymbals in the mix work perfectly, they're neither harsh nor too dull and they blend really well with the rest of the instruments.
For snare bottom this time I used an SM57. I tried a couple of other mics before but I can't seem to get the sound I want from using condenser mics. There's something about the hard sound of the snare wires with using a lot of condenser mics that turns me off.
The SM57 worked perfectly. It gave me the needed snare wire sound and a lot of body to go with the rather snappy and aggressive top sound.
Lastly, the toms were micd with Sennheiser clip on mics. I typically use 421s or something similar for toms, but I wanted something thinner, brighter and more aggressive for this occasion. The toms themselves were very rich in sound with thick wooden shells and double layer coated skins. I managed to get a lot of clarity and attack out of the toms, which made me very happy, because I don't have to work hard in the mix. :)

I encourage you to always experiment as much as possible and don't be afraid to do something that doesn't work! Nobody knows all the answers and you might find out something interesting to add to your toolbox!

I'm gonna leave you with a few impressions from the session and a rough snippet (straight from hard disk) and hope to see you next time!

Rob

Mastering Spotlight: The Power of Distortion

Hey folks,

I had a very fun and interesting session recently, mastering a Trap/Future Bass track with a very talented local Freiburg artist.
The process was very exciting, because there wasn't really anything to "fix" in the mix and we were able to be very creative with our processing.
One of the complaints that the artist had was that the track sounded a little "lifeless". It needed something exciting and moving.
Usually whenever I hear or think that I immediately check the frequency spectrum, because a lot of the time, "lifeless" means a lack of a certain frequency range or a slightly whacky balance overall. People also use "flat" as word to describe that.
Electronic productions rarely lack bass and treble frequencies. What I experienced though is that quite a few electronic productions come in kind of a "bathtub" shape. Lots of bass, lots of treble but a little lacking in the middle. Fixing that usually does the job in terms of giving "life" to the track.
However, we wanted to take it a step further.
Something I experimented with when I started using analog gear is how far you can push it. It seems to have a different sonic response in extreme settings than in subtle settings. Doing that, I also found something very interesting with the A/D conversion. The distortion created by my A/D converter when I clip the input actually sounds very interesting. It's not the kind of distortion that a straight digital >0dbFS clip gives you. It's much smoother, much more usable.
So with this track, I decided to give it a try to add quite some edge and excitement to the overall sound. You have to be careful doing that though, it can go south pretty quickly.
The extra distortion worked like a treat. It added a lot of dirt to the heavy transients, making them very exciting and more present and it increased the density in the mix.
It's interesting that something with a negative connotation like "clipping" or "distortion" can yield such wonderful results.
We all were quite happy with the final master.

Cheers,
Rob

Mastering/Mixing Spotlight: Vanessa Iraci, about Vocals and Proximity

Hey folks,

I was asked to work on a duet with the extraordinary Vanessa Iraci, singing "Hurt" by the Nine-Inch Nails with guitar accompaniment.

There was a couple of things that made this particular job very interesting. Firstly, it goes with a video, secondly, Vanessa had a pretty good idea of what she wanted the sound to be like from the get go. It's always a plus, coming into a project with a more or less clear picture of where you want to go with it.
For this one, the voice should be warm and articulate with a very special and specific array of effects on it.
I listened to the recording and immediately imagined a very intimate, almost whispery sound that would support that very deep and revealing song.
I find placing Vocals to be very difficult and at the same time incredibly important, because the voice is often times the center point of attention and the proximity and color changes a lot about the subjective perception of the performance.
Some songs require a lot of air and space for the vocals, others might require a very well defined, almost thin image.
So how can we achieve that?

There's a couple of ways of making signals (voice in this case) seem very close to the listener. Firstly, altering the frequency response. A good amount of bass (somewhere around 100-200Hz, depending on the singer and situation) brings vocals to the front. That however only works if the rest of the production can support it, meaning, the more you have going on in your production, the less room you have to make one particular instrument come to the front and pop out.
Higher frequencies, responsible for the brightness of a signal also work well. Generally, imagine someone speaking directly into your ear at a very close distance. Try to replicate that sound, you'll notice that bass frequencies and brighter frequencies are pronounced.

Secondly, level is a good tool. I listened to a Gregory Porter record the other day and noticed how incredibly much louder he is than the rest of the band. Letting a vocalist overshadow the rest of the band might sound extreme, but it ensures that he or she is always in front and that those characteristic sounds of a voice in close proximity cut through the mix well.

What we also have to think about is reverb. Generally, reverb makes things appear further away than they are. However, if the time between the signal and its reverb tail is long enough (Pre-Delay), you can put the singer into a large room and still have it appear very close to the listener. This is also a great way of making multiple instruments part of the same room and by giving them all different amounts of pre-delay, distributing the space from front to back in a way that almost sets up a stage.

I hope you found that interesting and I'll be back with more blogs soon,

also check out the video of "Hurt"!

-Rob

 
 

Production with the Monstein Ensemble Pt. 2

Hey folks!

This is part 2 of the blog on the recording sessions with the "Dimitri Monstein Ensemble".

The second session was all about strings (*drool*) and before I begin, I want to say something about preparation.
I can't stress enough the importance of good preparation, especially for a recording session. There's so many variables and so many things that can go wrong, it's best to check as much as you can before the session. Time is valuable and sitting around trying to fix a problem is no fun for anyone in the studio. I learned that the hard way...

So to prepare for that session, I made backing tracks of all the material, complete with an optional click track and a good balance. I think it's helpful for someone playing over a backing track to have a track that sounds at least in the ballpark of where it needs to be.
Playing over raw recordings just isn't as pleasurable..
Additionally, I planned out my microphone setup and prepared the gear as far as I could.
Unfortunately, we had the trouble of dealing with several broken headphone extension cables and going back to what I said earlier, I'm definitely going to add that to my pre-recording-checklist.

In terms of microphone setup I went for a stereo ribbon room mic supported by ribbon close mics and a large diaphragm condenser for the cello.
Strings can be tricky, especially if the room isn't very large and experimenting with different positions and microphones is essential in getting a good sound.
In this case, the room was plenty big and the setup worked wonderfully. I just love the sound of ribbon microphones for strings... Here's a picture of the string quartet in action.

Photo by Felix Groteloh

Photo by Felix Groteloh

You can see that even the close mics are still not very close to the instrument. I found that the closer I get, the more I dislike the sound. You also have to account for the movements that the players are making during a performance. There's nothing worse than having a brilliant take ruined by the musician moving out of the microphones "sight".

At the time of writing this blog, the post production is almost done, so stay tuned for the results!

So long,

-Rob