Don't even deny you've missed me. I have some new material on the site (yay) - which is cool because I took a serious break for about a year and a half! Boooo!
You know what I loooooove? I love being waaay above the crowd so that I can hear absolutely nothing but reflections. This will surely give me a great spot to mix audio from!
but wait, that's when audio
Total sleeper mic. I did some recording this last weekend, and the 635 was the bees knees for lead vox. So darn smooth and just the right amount of everything. This microphone has been around forever and can be used for a variety of sources. Everything from vocals to guitar amps, and even snare drums.
Which brings me to the point of this post: don't get so wrapped up in the latest tech, that you forget how truly great some of the old tested & tried staples are. Classic gear is "classic" for a reason.
So I walk into church the other day a little late during worship, and the mix is just a big pile of mush. No definition. Can't pick out individual parts. Just a big pile of auditory guacamole. Thankfully, this is an exception at my church, but it does happen on occasion. Now, any engineer that has any experience at all will tell you this has happened to everyone (myself included). If you find yourself in this this situation, here is a list of things you can do to rectify a mushy mix!
1. HIGHLIGHT CERTAIN KEY INSTRUMENTS
In other words, bring these 4 instruments out in the mix above everything else. Make sure your lead vocals are the star of the show with the other 3 instruments as a solid support/foundation. Work on getting these sounds out in front of the mix; making sure the kick drum and the bass guitar are not stepping on one another. Same thing should happen with the snare and lead vocals. No one ever walks away from a gig humming the snare drum!
2. KILL reVERB & OTHER EFFECTS
3. THE MUTE BUTTON IS YOUR FRIEND
One of the most powerful tools in your mixing disposal, is the mute button. I have had times when the band is killing it, and then there's some dude rocking a solo that sounds something like Yoko Ono getting in a fight with a bumble bee.
There are times when somebody in the band is just not paying attention and are off in La La Land, or sometimes you'll have somebody who is convinced that they should play as many notes as possible. This can leave you in a difficult situation because you don't want to be rude and mute them, but you know what...you totally should. Go ahead.
One of the most effective uses of the mute button, are out-of-tune background vocals. Have you ever had that situation where you have a "vocalist" that hears everything a half-step lower than the actual song?
How about the guy that is convinced he should try and play the "new" blues minor pentatonic scale "he just learned" throughout the entire song?
Or the same guy that just bought an e-bow, and decides he wants to run it through a flanger because "it sounds soooo cool."
I think you may be getting the idea now.
Here's a technique developed by Courtney Love's engineer he has used countless times (I'm almost sure of it): When there is something coming across the speakers that sounds like someone is torturing a possum with a cattle prod - you grab the fader and start bringing down the volume gently but quickly...and then in one smooth act of mercy, you bring the other hand up to the console and press the Mute Button.
Aaaahhhh. That's better!
4. MAKE EVERYTHING SOUND AS NATURAL AS POSSIBLE, NOT AS BIG AS POSSIBLE
The Voicing Concept
IS IT REALLY THAT SIMPLE?
WHAT IS IT, WHAT IS IT?
For instance: Does that acoustic guitar sound just like what it would if you were sitting in front of it unamplified? This is THE test!
DON'T MAKE EVERY INSTRUMENT AS BIG SOUNDING AS POSSIBLE, BUT RATHER MAKE IT AS NATURAL SOUNDING AS POSSIBLE!
2. Make sure you can hear EVERY instrument & voice clearly in the mix.
If something is stepping on something else, or something gets lost in the mix, you aren't mixing up to your potential. It's that simple. No excuses. Don't settle for anything other than the best.
COME ON MAN, DON'T BE SO GOOFY - IT TAKES A LOT MORE THAN THAT TO GET TO THE ABOVE
1. Does every instrument sound natural?
2. Can I hear everything clearly and cleanly in the mix?
BLAH BLAH BLAH, HERE COMES ANOTHER ONE OF "THOSE" ARTICLES AGAIN.
AN ANECDOTAL STORY THAT MAKES ME SOUND LIKE A JERK
I wasn't getting paid by the hour. I was getting paid by the song. I think to myself, "Well, how bad can it really be?"
It was bad. Really bad.
At this point, I stand up and start packing up my gear - yes, right in the middle of the session.
"Hey man, what are you doing?"
"Because you aren't ready to record. Go home and work on your songs."
I'm thinking to myself, "Oh well, there goes that - they won't call me again."
Fast forward a month - I get the call! "Hey man, we're ready now. You still wanna record us?"
And were they ever ready! They killed it, and we turned out a great album!
TECHNOLOGY IS KILLING THE BEAUTY OF MUSIC
Sure we could "george" a bad sounding snare. - Why would you ever record a bad sounding snare?
We could re-amp. - Why not just change out the amp or mic for something that sounds great?
We could even get creative with a rackmount pitch shifter and an out-of-tune vocal. Why not just have them sing it over?
We were focused on getting the best performance possible during the recording stage; because if you didn't, there wasn't much you could do to salvage it except to re-record it. Bands were willing to give it everything they had, and pre-production was an actual thing.
Yes we had our tricks if we accidentally missed something (like at 3:30 in the morning and your brain is shot after tracking for hours on end, and you don't notice a minor issue), but then again, that was the exception.
"There's no such thing as fixing it in the mix"
Now excuse me, I gotta go quantize some sloppy drum tracks and tune some vocals.
1. Some of THE best educational material regarding audio engineering was written before the internet took shape.
2. I don't care whether I write everything on this site. I have no pride in this regard. My #1 goal is that you'd learn audio! So with that in mind, enjoy this vintage article written by Chris Foreman when he was with Altec.
It's Not Getting Any Better
You know what, no matter how much technology has given us nice tools, it has also given us a lot of substandard records over the years. I have found myself being tempted into thinking that I have to have the latest and greatest gear to make a good record. The truth is, you have to have great songs, well written, decent pre-production, great musicians with good sounding instruments, and an engineer with a great set of ears with experience to know what to do with what he/she hears.
Listen, I get it. I myself have been very thankful to be in a studio actually working, and even more thankful to have something like Melodyne to bail me out of folks who couldn't sing in tune. Musicians are lazy. I know. I'm a lazy musician myself. Now all you have to do is look good and shake your butt, and you've got a job. I'll never make it in this business with those kind of needed qualifications. Ha!
Technology. The great perpetuator of....oh nevermind.
Anyway, that brings me to my main part of this blog post. As an engineer, take pride in your work. Work hard. Know your stuff. Read, read, and read some more. Track and mix everything you can get your hands on. Learn from the older cats that's been in this business for years.
Nowadays it's give me the following, and I can make a good record:
A full Pro-Tools rig
Top of line of the latest & greatest plugins
The most expensive microphones I can't afford
A pair of Genelecs (are Genelecs a thing still) - maybe some Barefoots
An outboard summing device
Some Avalon & Manley tube pres
Blah, blah, blah
There's nothing wrong with having great gear. If you think I'm saying the opposite, you're missing my point.
If the song is weak, you have lazy musicians, and amazing gear - you have.....well you have what we have had in the last 20 years.
No one get all huffy and freak out on me. I know it's a super over-generalized statement.
Yes, there have been a few really great albums in the last few years, but the bad most definitely outweigh the exceptional. If it didn't, you wouldn't be rolling through the radio channels when you get in your car every 2nd song looking for something you like listening to. But we're used to that these days, and I guess it's the new normal.
If the song is weak, you have lazy musicians, and amazing gear - you have.....well you have what we have had in the last 20 years.
I leave you with this. I don't even normally listen to this type of music, but my goodness, the engineering is so beautiful, and with none of the technology we have now (listen with headphones):
Wait, where's the massive kick drum? And why is the song only three and a half minutes long? Wait, he sang that in tune without autotune? It was recorded with just a few microphones? No automation? None of that? Yes, yes that's right. And what about editing? No editing on a DAW? Nope. A razor knife, a splicing/editing block, and some reel to reel tape - and editing was on exception...not the saving grace of a record.
This week we are test driving the "Blockfish" Compressor. I have used this compressor now for many years on countless projects. It's not an everyday kind of compressor, but it's definitely a lot of fun and sounds great on a number of sources. For this demo, we try it on some drum and loop tracks:
This plugin is part of a plugin pack that also includes a killer little de-esser, and a gate/expander. The above demo was done with a Windows 10 machine. Reaper is the DAW. There is a Mac version, but it's only compiled for older PPC based Macs. The pack can be found here (along with some other cool plugins as well).
A free Emulation of the Watkins Copicat:
"Charles Watkins invented the Watkins Copicat, an echo unit introduced in 1958. Mr. Watkins was inspired by the Morino Marini Quartet who made famous the Comi Prima, which contained a special use of repeated phrasings. The Copicat revolutionized the world of music beginning in the United Kingdom, Watkins’ home country, and soon covered the world. The echo unit did not contain any printed circuit boards, just a few valves, a tape loop and as he said “a bit of imagination.” The Copicat was sold by the hundreds of thousands and is still regarded as a standard echo unit for most recording studios and concert halls. Accredited as the major element in the sound of the 60's, many models are still being played nightly over 50 years later. "
One of the many things that sets this album apart, is the incredible line up of guest musicians who lent their gifts to make this project happen. Pictured below are some of the artists that are featured on The Beatitudes:
The breadth of musicians and special guests on The Beatitudes project is really remarkable. I am quite sure Stu must be very happy with how his original vision (from so many years ago) to make an album revolving around the beatitudes played out. There's not a weak performance or a mediocre song on the whole album. The songs are powerful, thought provoking, fresh, & inspiring.
My Interview with stu:
Effects & Other Gear
"The Beatitudes" album and Stu's book is available here. Purchase a copy
to support a great artist!
I would like to say thank you to Stu Garrard for taking the time for our interview with him.
AN ARTICLE WRITTEN WITH A LITTLE MORE CLARITY - I'M IN THE MARKET FOR A NEW VOCAL MICROPOHONE...
I am in the market for a microphone for my wife. She's a powerhouse of a singer with a deeper tone, and an insane range. I can't just watch a video of a random lady with a totally different sounding voice, and say - "yup, since that microphone on that lady sounded the best, that's the one I should buy."
I was in no way saying that a microphone shootout in your own studio is a waste of time - because it's not
But there's no way you can tell me this right here:
microphone shootouts in your own place on your own gear
Just about every engineer with a decent mic cabinet will change out microphones in a session to determine what sounds the best according to the client's instrument - but in the real world, if a client is paying you by the hour, you better already know your mics so that you aren't wasting a lot of time. This is called being professional. Of course, nowadays, there's not much of that kind of work (hourly) going around anymore...
REASONS & VARIABLES WHY MICROPHONE
SHOOTOUTS ARE WORTHLESS & A BIG PHAT WASTE OF TIME!
1. The acoustical space you are in. Rooms & Venues vary wildly. Any engineer with any experience whatsoever will tell you that the space in which the microphone resides will play a BIG part in how the microphone sounds.
2. The Instrument. Every instrument is going to sound different. And then mix in the variables in how that instrument behaves with:
a. The musician playing the instrument.
b. The room
c. The microphone cable (cable type, build, length, etc)
d. The temperature
e. The humidity
f. The build quality
g. The materials the instrument is made of
h. The strings, reeds, drum heads, etc
i. The age of the instrument
...just to name a few
3. The Musician/Vocalist. Every person sounds totally different.
4. The Temperature. Yes, temperature can make a huge difference in the sound of whatever the microphone is mic'ing.
5. Humidity. Take a drumset, and put it in a very dry climate. Then take that same drumset and put it in a very humid climate. Humidity makes a big difference in how an instrument sounds.
6. Tuning. The old music store trick of detuning an acoustic guitar comes to mind. It'll sound richer.
7. The Amplifier - No two guitar amplifiers will sound the same.
8. The Mic Pre. Same microphone on 2 different preamps can sound totally different!
9. Microphone Placement. If you take a microphone and move it an just inch on most sources, there will be a tonal difference.
10. Microphone Impedance and how it behaves with whatever mic pre it's hooked up to.
11. Cable Length.
12. Speakers. Instrument amps vary wildly according to what brand/type of speaker it's running with.
I think you may have the idea now.
To achieve great tones, you don't have to spend a fortune on pedals and other gear. If you aren't a gear snob, or if you don't mind buying used, you can find some good pedals that are more than adequate to give you what you need. Let's dive into how to build a respectable pedalboard affordably.
THE PEDALBOARD ITSELF
Don't forget about some velcro. Gotta hold those pedals down!
Once that's dry, get a drill (borrow one from a friend if you don't have one), and drill holes for your handles on each side of the pedalboard. The drill bit should just barely be larger than the screws that go into the handles. Use your handles laying sideways on the pedalboard for a drilling template if need be. Once your stain is dry and your handles have been attached, you have a cool little pedalboard. Total cost isn't more than about $20-$30.
Other options could include:
- Counter-sinking the handle screws on the bottom of the board
- Cutting a 4" x 2ft wooden piece with one side (the side that touches the floor) rounded. Then screw this to top of the board upright as a riser to lift the back of your pedalboard up. Drywall screws work best for this. Or, just some large rubber feet on one end will work too!
- Sanding your pedalboard before you stain it
Some would argue that you HAVE to have a pedalboard power supply that has isolated outputs. While this is a nice option, it's not totally necessary. There are thousands of guitarists right now that are using the Truetone One Spot. Super affordable & Super reliable. For my main pedalboard, I use a Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 Plus, but for my 2nd pedalboard, the One Spot has done a stellar job.
To me, a good delay should have the following:
- Good Tone
- Easy to tweak interface during a live session.
- Tap Tempo - either on board, or a jack for an external tap tempo pedal.
Not all of the pedals on this list feature tap tempo, but they have the two most important things down:
Good Tone & Reliability
B. The discontinued Boss DD-20. This is one of THE most recorded delays in modern history. It's versatile, sounds great, and it can be bought for a fair price used.
C. The butt-ugly Ibanez DE7. Ugly shell. Great delay tones!
D. The MXR Carbon Copy Delay. Gorgeous analog delay tones with some internal trimmers for more tonal options.
E. It's really hard to beat the TC Electronic Flashback Delay in terms of price vs. features. Rock solid performance and a stellar reputation puts this pedal in a definite spot on this list.
I am convinced that the most affordable & greatest fill-in-the-gaps type pedal is the Zoom Ms-50g. Nothing can come close to the price/feature set of this pedal. It can do just about any effect you throw at it, and it does them all fairly well! This pedal is a total sleeper. If you know what you are doing with tone, and have a good ear, it's a killer economical choice. The only negative about this pedal is the user interface (and the manual is no help). At first there is a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it's actually very easy to navigate. This pedal features EQ's, Compressors, Modulation Effects of every type, Reverbs, Delays, Pitch shifters, Amp Simulators, etc.
THE LITTLE FOXES THAT SPOIL THE VINE
His problem wasn't any of his hardware, but that his guitar was filthy. His strings (that probably hadn't been changed since the 80's) had caked on dirt and sweat. The fretboard looked a lot like the one in the picture here, but it was far worse. I spent at least 2 hours just cleaning the guitar before changing the strings. Once I gave the guitar back to him, he plugged it in, and was blown away by the difference. He asked me, "what did you do?" I replied, "I cleaned it."
You Know Where This is Going Don't You?
"THERE IS NO "FIXING IT IN THE MIX"
DISCLAIMER: IT'S LIVE - DON'T TOTALLY STRESS OUT ABOUT BLEED
Now with that in mind - read on:
THINK ABOUT BEING INTENTIONAL
Check this out (what do you notice):
Drum overheads have minimum bleed because they are behind the band.
Guitar amps are in front of the drums and are (for the most part) mic'd with super cardioids.
Keys and the Leslie are behind the guitar amps and not directly in front of the drums.
Monitors shooting in the nulls of the vocal microphones.
Notice the sound absorption between the lead guitarist's amp and the keys area.
Here's another example:
Notice the position of the performers in relation to each type of instrument.
FIND THE BALANCE BETWEEN A CLEAN MIX,
AND NOT UPSETTING WHOM YOU ARE SERVING
Don't be so hard headed that you are going to go for the ultimate stage plot while ignoring the needs of the musicians you are serving. Find the balance. If you are super polite and professional, most bands will compromise with what you want to achieve as well (within reason). Feel it out. Problem solve. Be bendable. If the musicians are not comfortable on stage, you can (and will) lose the vibe very quickly. That's a lose-lose situation.
Stay tuned for the next post as we discuss more creative ways to clean up a live mix.
Yes it's mono. If you want to turn it into stereo, you could build two of these. One powers the tip, and the other the ring.
The original schematic appeared in a Japanese book with a lot more filtering in place. I simplified it for almost anyone to be able to build this easily. The 386 is a very robust and forgiving chip. A 9 volt battery will work fine, but a guitar pedal power supply would be good too if you don't mind the wallwart.
The chip is an LM386 - which is readily available almost anywhere you can get electronic parts. I recommend using a socket for the chip to make the build easier and more successful. This circuit features a low parts count and can be made for about $10.
If you see any corrections or additions that need to be made, please feel free to comment below.
Note: If you'd rather have a volume control, you could add one right before the 1/4" out. If you build a stereo version, a stereo potentiometer would be a great addition. Either way, a 100k, audio log potentiometer would work. 1/2 watt is ideal and will work fine.
If you are not for sure how to build anything electronically, I have temporarily left my electronics page open for a limited time so that you can learn!
So, why not always compress electric rhythm guitars? Here's the reasoning behind it:
Compressor pedals on pedalboards
Stay with me here folks...
the inherent compression aleady found in overdrive pedals
3. Guitar amplifiers can/will naturally compress a guitar signal. This is especially true of tube amps. One of the reasons for this is gain compression.
"A tube amplifier will increase in volume to a point, and then as the input signal extends beyond the linear range of the device, the effective gain is reduced, altering the shape of the waveform."
This effect is also present in transistor circuits. The extent of the effect though, depends on the topology of the amplifier. With the plethora of circuit topologies of guitar amplifiers, there can be other contributing factors of compression (like output transformers & etc), but I think you get the basic idea.
This is where stuff gets really fascinating.
Basically, when you take a device beyond its' normal tolerances, the signal will either be clipped, and/or the top-most part of its dynamic range will be compressed. Acoustic guitars will do this as well. Once you play an acoustic guitar loud enough, and beyond the point where it can effectively reproduce the sound, the soundboard of the guitar (top part where the bridge rests), will mechanically "stabilize" into a slimmer vibrational constant; thus giving the effect of compression.
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