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Ladies and gentlemen: By now most of you know Alex Case’s writing very well (for instance, he wrote

that famous ‘The Snare—mastering the art of noise’ article in the January’issue). What you may not know is that Alex is a busy engineer in the Boston area, that he teaches music production and engineering at Berklee College of Music, and that he’s just the right person to be starting our new beginner’s series. Before turning the mighty pen over to Alex for this extended-mix opening column, let me just reassure fellow fans of Mike Rivers’ ‘Oops Wrong Button’ that the series will continue in its more advanced state. It’s simply time to start over from Square 1 so recording novices can be brought up to speed. And now without further ado I give you…Alex.—NB
The roads of Boston are famous for their random wandering. Few streets intersect at right angles. Individual streets change names, become one way, or dead end without warning. The natives, not just the rent-a-car equipped tourists, admit that it’s easy to get lost. A running joke says that somewhere in this city you’ll reach an intersection while driving down a one way street and innocently encounter all three signs of doom at once: no left turn, no right turn, and do not enter. Maybe there is a flashing red light to warn you are approaching this dreaded intersection. And there is probably also a sign admonishing you to yield to pedestrians, as if your ability to make progress weren’t already limited enough. Naturally there are no signs telling you what street you are on or what street you have reached. The cars, most of them taxis, just line up. Your blood pressure rises. Your appointments expire. You scream to yourself, “Why am I driving in this town anyway?” Without some fundamental understanding of how a studio is connected, you’ll eventually find yourself at the audio equivalent of this intersection: feedback loops scream through the monitors, no fader seems capable of turning down the vocal, drums rattle away in the headphones but aren’t getting to tape... I could go on. Believe me. I could go on. At the center of this mess is the mixing console (a.k.a. mixer, board, or desk). In the hands of a qualified engineer, it manages the flow of all audio signals, getting them to their appropriate destination safely and smoothly. The untrained user can expect to get lost, encounter fender benders, and eventually be paralyzed by gridlock. The role of the mixer The ultimate function of the console is to control, manipulate, and route all the various audio signals racing in and out of the different pieces of equipment in the studio or synth rack—it provides the appropriate signal path for the recording task at hand. Consider mixdown. The signal flow goal of mixing is to combine several tracks of music that have been oh-soRECORDING JULY 1999

Part 1: Consoles and Connections

carefully recorded on a multitrack into two tracks of music that our friends, the radio stations, and the record buying public can enjoy. They all have stereos, so we ‘convert’ the multitrack recording into stereo: 24 tracks in, two tracks out. The mixer is the device that does this. Naturally, there’s a lot more to mixing than just combining the 24 tracks into a nice sounding 2-track mix. For example, we might also add reverb. And equalization. And compression. And a little turbo-auto-panning-flangewah-distortion™ (patent pending. It’s just a little patch I’m working on in the ol’ digital multi-effects box). It is the mixing console’s job to provide the signal flow structure that enables all these devices to be hooked up correctly. It ensures that all the appropriate signals get to their destinations without running into anything. A primary function of the console is revealed: the mixer must be able to hook up any audio output to any audio input. See Figure 1 for an example of the many possible hookups you might expect your mixer to provide. In connecting any of these outputs to any of these inputs, the console is asked to make a nearly infinite number of options possible. We mentioned mixdown as an example above, but we do more than mix. Our signal routing device has to be able to configure the gear for recording a bunch of signals to the multitrack recorder simultaneously, like when we record a big band. It should also be able to make the necessary signal flow adjustments required to permit an overdub on the multitrack.Additionally, we might need to record or broadcast live in stereo. Fortunately, all sessions fall into one of the following categories. 1. Basics A multitrack recording project begins with the basics session. When doing the basics session, nothing is on tape yet, lots of musicians are in the room playing, and the engineer is charged with the task of getting the first tracks onto tape. You know how it goes. The band all plays together, and you record them onto separate tracks. Of course the

singer will want to redo her part as an overdub later. Ditto for the guitarist. You still record everything, as sometimes the keeper take is the one that happens during basics. No pressure, just sing/play along so the band can keep track of which verse they are on, and we’ll record a more careful track in a few weeks.

2. Overdubbing For the overdubs there are often fewer musicians playing, fewer microphones in action, and possibly fewer band members around. It is often a much calmer experience. During basics there is the unspoken but strongly implied pressure that no one can mess up or the whole take will have to be stopped. The crowd in the studio is overwhelming. The crowd in the control room is watching. The lights, meters, mics and cables all over the place complete that “in the lab, under a microscope” feeling. Performance anxiety fills the studio of a basics session. Overdubs, on the other hand, are as uncomplicated as a singer, a microphone, a producer, and an engineer. Dim the lights. Relax. Do a few practice runs. Any musical mistakes tonight are just between us. No one else will hear them. We’ll erase them. If you don’t like it, just stop and we’ll try again. Meantime, the console routes the mics to the multitrack tape. The console creates the rough mix of the mics and the tracks already on tape and sends them to the monitors. Simultaneously, it creates a separate mix for the headphones. And we never miss an opportunity to patch in a compressor and some effects. Figure 4 lays out the console in overdub mode. 3. Mixdown For mixdown, the engineer and producer use their musical and technical abilities to the max, coaxing the most satisfying loudspeaker performance out of everything the band recorded. There is no limit to what might be attempted. There is no limit to the amount of gear that might be needed. In case you’ve never seen what goes on in a big budget pop mix, let me reveal an important fact: nearly every track (and there are at least 24, probably many more) gets equalized and compressed and probably gets a dose of reverb and/or some additional effects as well. A few hundred patch cables are used. Perhaps several tens, probably hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of outboard signal processing is used. Automation is required. And an enormous console is desired. During earlier recording and overdubbing sessions you might have thought, “This is sounding like a hit.” It’s not until mixdown when you’ll really feel it. It’s not until the gear-intense, track by track assembly of the tune that you’ll think, “This sounds like a record!” As Figure 5 illustrates, the signal flow associated with mixdown is actually quite straightforward. Gone is the need to handle microphone signals. Gone is the need to create a headphone mix. Nothing needs to be sent to the multitrack. The mission is to route multitrack music plus effects to the monitors. The only addition is the master 2track machine. The point, after all, is to create a DAT, cassette, or CD master of the mix. 4. Live to 2 For many gigs we bypass the multitrack entirely, recording a live performance of any number of musicians straight to the 2-track master machine or sending it live to a stereo broadcast or the house monitors. A Live to 2 session is the rather intimidating combination of all elements of a Basics and a Mixdown session. Performance anxiety fills the performers, the producer, and the engineer.
RECORDING JULY 1999

Such freedom often leads to creativity and chance-taking, key components of a great take. So you may one day be glad you recorded the singer that day. Ditto for the guitarist. With the intent to do so many tracks as overdubs later anyway, the audio mission of the basics session is reduced to getting the killer drum and bass performance onto the multitrack. And sometimes even the bass part gets deferred into an overdub. So for basics we record the entire band playing all at once to get the drummer’s part on tape. Check out the set-up sheet for a very simple basics session. It’s just a trio—drums, bass, guitar, and vocals—and yet we’ve got at least 15 microphones going to at least ten tracks. I say “at least” because it is easy to throw more mics on these same instruments (e.g. create a more interesting guitar tone through the combination of several different kinds of mics in different locations around the guitar amp). And if you have enough tracks, it is tempting to use even more tracks (e.g. record the bass DI direct to the mixer as a separate track from the miked bass cabinet). The console is in the center of all this, as shown in Figure 3. It routes all those mic signals to the multitrack so you can record them. It routes them to the monitors so you can hear them. It routes those same signals to the headphones so the band members can hear each other, the producer, and the engineer. And it sends and receives audio to and from any number of signal processors (more is better): compressors, equalizers, reverbs, etc.

inevitable headache because the console is capable of routing so many different kinds of outputs to so many different kinds of inputs. 24 tracks is the norm for multitrack projects. Most of us exceed this. Number of microphones and signal processors? Well, let’s just say that more is better. The result is consoles that fill the room—or a pair of 17" computer monitors—with knobs, faders, and switches. The control room starts to look like the cockpit of the space shuttle, with a mind-numbing collection of controls, lights, and meters. These two factors, complexity and quantity, conspire to make the console a confusing and intimidating device to use. It needn’t be. Flexibility: friend or foe? In the end, a mixer is not doing anything especially tricky. The mixer just creates the signal flow necessary to get the outputs associated with today’s session to the appropriate inputs. The console becomes confusing and intimidating when the signal routing flexibility of the console takes over and the engineer loses control over what the console is doing. It’s frustrating to do an overdub when the console is in a Live to 2 configuration. The thing won’t permit you to monitor what’s on the multitrack tape. Or if the console is expecting a mixdown, but the session wants to record basic tracks, you experience that helpless feeling of not being able to hear a single microphone that’s been set up. The band keeps playing, but the control room remains silent. It doesn’t take too many of these experiences before console-phobia sets in. A loss of confidence maturing into an outright fear of using certain consoles is a natural reaction. Through total knowledge of signal flow, this can be overcome. The key to understanding the signal flow of all consoles is to break the multitrack recording process— whether mixing, overdubbing, or anything else—into two distinct signal flow stages. First is the Channel path. Also called the Record path, it is the part of the console used to get a microphone signal (or synth output)

But for the console itself, the gig is actually quite straightforward: microphones in, stereo mix out. Of course we want to patch in any number of signal processors. Then the resulting stereo feed goes to the studio monitors, the house monitors, the headphones, the 2-track master recorder, and/or the transmitter. Board of confusion These four types of sessions define the full range of signal flow requirements of the most capable mixer. Yet despite having distilled the possibilities into these key categories, the console demands to be approached with some organization. Broadly, we can expect to be frustrated by two inherent features of the device: comRECORDING JULY 1999

plexity of flow (where is the signal supposed to be going?) and quantity of controls (look at all these pots!). Complexity is built into the console because it can provide the signal flow structure for any kind of recording session one might encounter. The push of any button on the console might radically change the signal flow configuration of the device. In this studio full of equipment, that little button changes what’s hooked up to what. A fader that used to control the snare microphone going to track 16 might instantly be switched into controlling the baritone sax level in the mix. It gets messy fast. The sheer quantity of controls on the work surface of the mixer is an

Put all the Channel paths on. and some numbered tape busses at its output. as this will help you understand how the signal flow structure changes when going from basics to mixdown. In between you find a fader and maybe some equalization. The second distinct audio path is the Monitor path. you know. Along the way.It usually has a microphone preamp at its input. compression. the Monitor Path has a fader and possibly another collection of signal processing circuitry like equalization. say. the left side of the mixer and the Monitor . compression. Try to break up the console real estate into channel sections and monitor sections so that you know which fader is a channel fader and which is a monitor fader. and more. and other handy features associated with getting a great sound to tape. It is the part of the console you use to actually hear the sounds you are recording. Split consoles Console manufacturers offer us two channel/monitor layouts. It typically begins with the multitrack tape returns and ends at the mix bus. One way to arrange the Channel paths and Monitor paths is to separate them physically from each other. Keeping these two signal flow paths separate in your mind will enable you to make sense of the plethora of controls sitting in front of you on the console.to the multitrack tape machine and. cue sends. Try to hang on to these two distinct signal paths conceptually. effects sends. record it.

but not both. Working on this type of console is fairly straightforward. Reach over to the right side of the console and fix it with the Monitor faders. producer and musicians an honest aural image of what is being recorded. Herein lies an opportunity to improve the console. It turns out that for tracking. tends to be oriented toward either the channel path or the monitor path. If the normal course of a session rarely requires signal processing on both the monitor path and the channel path. aux sends. Head to the left side of the board and grab the Channel fader governing the snare mic. Adding elaborate signal processing on the monitor path only adds confusion at best. This is a split configuration. The music being recorded couldn’t be heard otherwise. and the monitor path should only report the results of that work accurately. overdubbing. But the monitor section is just creating a ‘rough mix. During tracking the engineer is dedicating ears. Sitting in front of 48 faders is less confusing if you know the 24 on the left are controlling microphone levels to tape (channel faders) and the 24 on the right are controlling mix levels to the loudspeakers (monitor faders). t h i n . filters. in the channel or the monitor path. mixing.’ giving the engineer. see Figure 8B. In-line consoles A clever but often confusing enhancement to the console is the in-line configuration. Mixing and Live to 2 sessions are almost entirely focused on the final stereo mix that we hear. we only really need signal processing once. etc. Levels to tape look good. trying to get the best sounds on tape as possible. We’ve just seen the channel path focus of tracking. Here the channel and monitor paths are no longer separated into separate modules on separate sides of the mixer.paths on the right as in Figure 8A. See the snare overload on the multitrack? This is a recording problem. then why not cut out half the signal processors? If half the equalizers. compressors. the manufacturer can offer the console at a lower price. and live to 2 sessions. Sure the monitoring part of the console is being used. In fact. The real work is happening on the channel side of things. So it’s not too confusing that there are two faders labeled. but the guitar is drowning out the vocal? This is a monitoring problem.“Lead vocal. heart. they are combinedinto a single module set. so the engi- neer and the equipment become more monitor path oriented. the one on the right is the track you’re listening to. Experience tells us that our focus. brains. are removed.” The one on the left is the mic you’re recording. and equipment to the record path. and misleading lies at worst. For example adding a “smiley face” equalization curve—boosting the lows and the highs so that a graphic eq would seem to smile—on the monitor path of the vocal could RECORDING JULY 1999 hide the fact that a boxy. . and therefore our signal processing.a n d muffled signal is what’s actually being recorded onto the multitrack.

an in-line console presents us with the ability to both record and monitor signals on every module across the entire console. But where is it? Unlike the split design. might have two very different audio sounds within it. Levels to tape look good. letting the engineer decide. some equipment is required for both the channel path and the monitor path—like faders. So there is always a channel fader and a separate monitor fader (less expensive mixers often use monitor pots). . but the guitar is drowning out the vocal? This is a monitoring problem. for example. can be switched into the record path during an overdub and then into the monitor path during mixdown. and don’t be bothered if the channel fader sharing that module has nothing to do with the guitar track. The in-line console is a clever collection of only the equipment needed. Therefore. which now consists of two distinct signal paths.” But you know that the channel contains the vocal being recorded. On an in-line console. Each module has a monitor path. RECORDING JULY 1999 Channel surfing An unavoidable result of streamlining the console into an in-line configuration is the following kind of confusion. the channel path and the monitor path are combined into a single module so they can share some equipment. on its monitor fader. or little bit of both. Of course. Each module also has a channel path. And as an added bonus the console gets a little smaller and a lot of those knobs and switches disappear. This motivates the creation of the in-line console. you must be able to answer the following question in a split second: “Which of the perhaps 100 faders in front of me controls the guitar track?” Know where the guitar’s monitor path is at all times. To use an in-line console. The equalizer. Ditto for any other signal processing. A given module might easily have a vocal microphone on its channel fader but some other signal. The monitor strip may say. Therefore each module might have a previously recorded track under the control of one of its faders.or spend the freed resources on a higher quality version of the signal processors that remain. reducing costs and confusion further still. Switches lie next to most pieces of the console. each module might have a live microphone signal running through it. The solution is to turn down the monitor fader for the guitar. like a previously recorded guitar track. Consider a simple vocal overdub. whether a given feature is needed in the channel path or the monitor path. where it’s needed. as it was overdubbed yesterday. “Guitar. The live vocal track is actually being monitored on some other module and there is no chan- nel for the guitar. A single module. It is essential to know how to turn down the guitar’s monitor fader without fear of accidentally pulling down the level of the vocal going to the multitrack tape. when it’s needed. piece by piece.

If you have enough mental RAM for this. the headphones— each has a logical choice for its source: the channel path or monitor path. These pieces of paper can be as important as the tape/hard disk that stores the music. you’ll learn the best place for signal processing for any given session. but more helpful would be to have had the signal processing chain in front of the multitrack tape machine. Getting your ducks in a row If you’ve dialed in the perfect equalization and compression for the snare drum during a basics session. . Your mission is to know how to piece together channel paths. Much to the frustration of the assistant engineer who needs to watch and document what’s going on and the producer who would like to figure out what’s going on. Equalization. and any desired signal processing for any type of session. Once you’ve lived through a variety of sessions it becomes instinctive. many engineers don’t even bother labeling the strip or any equipment for an overdub session or even a mix session. By staying oriented to the channel portion of the signal and the monitor portion of the signal. The entire session set-up and track sheet is in their heads. you can use either console to accomplish the work of any session. It helps you get into the project. and effects unit is patched into the mixer. the overlapping of microphones and tracks that appears on an in-line console is not so confusing. The inline console becomes a perfectly comfortable place to work. No worries. compression.One must maintain track sheets. The engineer can be expected to keep up with the microphones and reverbs and tracks on tape. you are in for a surprise. You can focus instead on music making. you’ll find that that powerful snare was a monitoring creation only and didn’t go to tape. not after. monitor paths. try to do it. But through practice you are going to keep up with all the details in a session anyway. Hopefully you remember and/or document the settings of all signal processing equipment anyway. track. And it varies by type of session. is no longer intimidating. set-up sheets. but fail to notice that you are processing its monitor path instead of its channel path. This comes with practice. split or in-line. It evaporated on the last playback last week. Then the signal flow flexibility of any mixer. And when you know the layout of the console this intimately. They’ve got lines and changes and solos and lyrics to keep track of. When you play back the track next week for overdubs. it helps to maintain a mental inventory of where every microphone. and other session documentation. reverb. which makes it a little easier to remember what’s where. Through experience. You are forced to be as focused on the song as the musicians are. rather than just relying on these notes. RECORDING JULY 1999 Sure the split console offers some geographic separation of mic signals from tape signals. However.

Equalization is generally done with arrays of filters. which we’ll learn about later. or mastering for final duplication/distribution. Usually this is done via a small device called a direct bo . passing through that channel’s electronics. then usually getting split to go to several destinaAlex Case always has a con ncingly vi tions (monitor section for listening. Shorter delays are perceived as flanging. channel path (or input path or record path): The signal coming from your source (mic. e of a signal so that the difference RECORDING JULY 1999 . a low-pass filter attenuates (reduces) high frequencies. passes (leaves alone) low frequencies. mixing any number of input sources all at once into stereo. desk): An apparatus with many electronic basics (or tracking): The early stages of a recording project— recording the individual tracks on the multitrack recorder. and learn to sit calmly in front of consoles that have grown well beyond 100 modules. mix bus: See bus. mixing to stereo. We’ll study these effects another time. more than 8. and over again. live to 2: Bypassing a multitrack recorder. board. mixdown: Usually stage three in a recording project after basics and overdubs. or returning from an already-recorded track on your multitracker) into one of the mixer’s channels. mixer (or console. this is when all previously recorded tracks on the multitracker are routed through (returned to) the board. resulting in a final stereo mix. and collect them on our Web site as an ongoing reference.What’s that switch do? I will admit that there is such a thing as too much. equalization or eq: Tonal treatment of a signal by attenuating (reducing) or boosting selected ranges of the total spectrum (bass and treble controls are the simplest examples).com. Glossary We’ll include a list of terms introduced in each installment of the column. you will have trouble doing what you know how to do (recording the sweet tracks) while dealing with what you don’t know how to do (use this enormous mixer with. There are many types of eq. bus (sometimes spelled buss): A signal path that can accept and mix signals from various sources. Here’s a starting list of terms mentioned in this article. You can write sends for delay/reverb etc. master to Alex with questions or suggestions section for stereo mix). microphone preamp: An electronic device that increases the typically very weak signals produced by microphones so that these signals can join others at “line” level in a mixer. innocent look on his face when he sees multitracker to be recorded. on what you’d like to see in ‘Nuts & compression: Dynamic treatment Bolts’ at case@r cordingmag. Heck. their levels and panning and effects adjusted. For example. and over. Impress your clients. instrument. Delay: Electronically created repetitions of a sound (echoes). effect a traffic cop or a console. but when Peter Gabriel invites you to his studio and you sit in front of his 72 channel GSeries SSL.000 knobs and switches). This is done before adding overdubs. filter: An electronic device that reduces certain ranges of the total spectrum. which matches levels so x the instrument’s weak signal is matched to the board’s input. Know how to use a single module and you know how to use the whole collection of 72 modules. gulp. channel. impress yourself. between the loudest and softest moments is reduced. DI: Direct Inject or Direct Input— bypassing an instrument amp by taking the signal (usually from guitars and bass guitars) straight to a channel input of the board. Good news: that vast control surface is primarily just one smaller control group (the module) repeated over. Impress your friends. chorusing or doubling. Master the many subtle aspects of juggling monitor and channel paths through different types of sessions. and you’ll have developed 90% of the ability to use any console anywhere. You may be an excellent engineer capable of recording sweet tracks.

call: 1-800-582-8326 RECORDING JULY 1999 . 5412 Idylwild Trail. and placement in the final stereo mix. Reprinted with permission. Basically a techie term for a knob. either previously recorded multitracks. Boulder. etc. others) of signals outside of the board (reached via effects or auxiliary send busses and send outputs. stereo bus: The final two circuits in a board that accept and mix signals to become the Left and Right channels of a stereo mix. or signals returning from outboard processors. tape bus: A circuit that accepts and mixes signals to or from tape recorders.ra device that increases or decreases the signal strength (a kind of volume control) or tweaks eq settings.g.circuits. Suite 100. adjust their levels. return (tape or aux or effects): A type of input into the board bringing back signals other than the original sources (mics or instruments). module: A group of electronic circuits that combine to achieve a specific task. send (aux or cue): Circuits (busses) that lead to an output connector from where signals can be sent to outboard processors or to monitoring (listening) setups. CO 80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subsciption Information. delays. reverb: An electronically created illusion of room acoustics. split (duplicate) them. See return. patch cable: A cord connecting two points to carry a signal from A to B. all designed to accept audio signals. tonal characteristics. See send. Inc. eo u Excerpted from the July edition of RECORDING magazine. combine them. pot: Short for potentiomente. outboard signal processing: Treatment (reverb. re-route them. returned to the board via return inputs and return busses) overdub: Adding one track or several tracks to previously recorded tracks (e. a singer adds vocals after the instrumental tracks have been recorded). as in a mixer’s channel module monitor path: A mixer signal path that accepts and mixes signals to be monitored (listened to). ©1999 Music Maker Publications. two mix: See ster b s.

of course—stick with this series. using some combination of filters. is Also known as an echo send or aux send—short for auxiliary—it is a simple way to tap into a signal within the console and send some amount of RECORDING AUGUST 1999 Outboard Signal Processing If you read last month’s article on the fundamentals of signal flow through a console. just the good one. compression (and other dynamics processing). That’s what the effects send for.Part 2 in our beginner’s series a convincing emotional presence for a voice fighting its way out of a pair of loudspeakers.distortion. and returning elsewhere on the console to be combined with the vocal and the rest of the mix. A typical application of equalization is to make a mediocre sounding track beautiful. gates.creating . Equalizing. Here the signal processing is placed in serieswith the signal flow. But the fun part of our job isn’t just getting a microphone signal to tape—it’s being able to capture accurately. We’ll explain what all those processes are. parallel and serial flow structures require different approaches on the console. For parallel processing. A dull acoustic guitar is made to shimmer and sparkle. without reverb. And the point of eq-ing the vocal track was to make the painful edginess of the sound go away. The idea is that this ‘fixes’ the sound. consider equalization. The right reverb supports a vocal track that was probably recorded in a dead room with a mic positioned close up. reverbs. however. going through the reverb. wah-wah. enhance subtly. more generally. A shrill vocal gets a carefully placed dip somewhere between 3 and 7 kHz to become more listenable. delays. After microphone selection and placement tweaks. you don’t want to hear the unprocessed version anymore. Consider first the use of reverb on a vocal track.deessing. The important question is. as discussed last issue.courtesy of some boost around 10 or 12 kHz. The reverb itself is a parallel signal path. It’s not merely a matter of support. (Note that in these examples. The structure is illustrated in Figure 1A. The dry (i. compressors.e. How do we hook up all this outboard gear to an already convoluted signal path through the console? Parallel and serial processing Philosophically. without any kind of effect) signal continues on its merry way through the console as if the reverb were never added. as shown in Figure 1B. Adding shimmer to a guitar isn’t so useful if the murky guitar sound is still in the mix too. equalizers. The effects send Not surprisingly. and such are all typically done serially so that you only hear the effected signal and none of the unaffected signal.) Conversely. The more entertaining part of our job is signal processing. A touch of just the right kind of reverb can enable the vocal to soar into pop music heaven. The distinguishing characteristic of this type of parallel signal processing is that it is addedto the signal—it doesn’t replacethe signal. there are two approaches to adding effects to a mix. and multieffects processors. beginning with some amount of the dry vocal. or radically reshape the sounds being recorded and mixed. you should have (or be developing) a comfortable understanding of channel paths and monitor paths. signals are being routed to a L/R bus for monitoring on the speakers shown. we generally turn to signal processing for fun/help. some amount of a given track is sent off to an effects unit for processing.

soles. very important advancement in our session work: cue mixes (On some con. functionally. it’s the mix the reverb ‘listens’ to when generating its sound. 5412 Idylwild Trail. the monitor faders are controlling the levels of all the different tracks being listened to in the control room. It’s not just an ‘effects fader. the “effected” signals come back to the console’s effect r turns or e aux returns—another set of your console’s inputs that usually feed straight into the master L/R bus. The lead vocal might be sent in varying amounts to the reverb. as the number of sends determines the number of different parallel effects devices you can use at once during a typical session. Turn up the effects send level on the piano track a little to add a small amount of reverb to the piano. there are two sets of sends— one set labelled ‘effects’ and one labelled ‘aux’. another adding a rich. it isn’t practical to use one on just the snare. If that destination is. effects sends offer us a second. Turn up the effects send level on the vocal a lot to add a generous amount of reverb to the vocal. The solution.’ An important benefit of having an effects send level knob on every channel on the console is that a single effects processor can be shared by all those channels. for instance. and such are typically done as parallel effects and therefore rely on effects sends.) Generally sent to headphones in the studio or. as we are rarely satisfied with just one kind of effect in a multitrack project. let’s review the faders that are in action: the channel faders are controlling the levels of the signals going to the multitrack. or just the piano. That is. and perhaps a third box generating an eighth note delay with two or three fading repetitions. RECORDING AUGUST 1999 Each one of them might expect to use its own effects send. and the effect sends are controlling the levels of all the different components of music going to the reverb. and delay. In that case. in the case of live sound. There are two more subtleties to be explored. the effects send levels across the entire console can be used to create a separate mix of all the music being sent to an outboard device. In fact. we would probably like to employ a number of different signal processors all at once on a single project. Inc. First. and the background vocals get a heavy dose of chorus. echo. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. Three different sets of faders have to be carefully adjusted to make musical sense for their own specific purposes. It’s a mix the engineer doesn’t usually listen to. There’s more to the effects send than meets the eye.e. is that simple: more effects sends. It’s an important feature to look for on consoles. it’s usually the aux sends that fulfill the functions we’re about to discuss. say. fold-back monitors on the Excerpted from the August edition of RECORDING magazine. Unless you have lots of very high quality (i. we might have one box with a sweet and long reverb dialed in. Fading fast So in case you thought there wasn’t enough for the engineer to do during a session. a reverb or delay. however. Check out Figure 2A to see how it works. Boulder. very expensive) reverbs. Reprinted with permission. the effects send fader or knob determines the level of the signal being sent to the signal processor. or just the vocal. Suite 100. and a hint of reverb. ©1999 Music Maker Publications. call: 1-800-582-8326 . thick chorus. Beyond this ability to build up several different effects sub-mixes. the effects send is really just another fader or knob. delay. Not a channel fader or monitor fader. Reverb.that signal to some destination. chorus. the piano gets just a touch of reverb. We need more than an effects send to do this—we need three effects sends. Probably available on every channel module of the console.

they also have to make musical sense. With one exception: the cue mix. The monitor mix needs to sound thrilling.pre) or after (i. Oh.Outboard Signal Processing stage. Compare the monitor mix in the control room to the cue mix in the headphones. So clearly the cue mix and the control room mix need to be two independent mixes. extra reverb on the vocal would make it difficult to evaluate the vocal performance going to tape as it would perhaps mask any pitch. which is in tune. The headphone mix needs to sound inspiring. post) the channel or monitor fader. But other things go on in the control room during a simple vocal take.e. Or perhaps the vocal pitch sounds iffy. And the effects need to be appropriately balanced—too much or not enough of any signal going to any effects unit and the mix loses impact. And it is much more manageable if the console is a comfortable place to work. it is important to revisit the regular monitor fader to see how it fits into the signal flow. A useful feature of many aux or effects sends is that they can grab the signal before (i. an aux send is used to create the cue mix. aux or effects send number two might control the levels going to a long hall reverb program. Experience through session work in combination with studying magazines like this one make this not just doable. RECORDING AUGUST 1999 . But you have different priorities—you want to hear the vocal in an appropriate musical context with the other tracks. So the 12-string is temporarily attenuated(its level is lowered) in the control room so you can evaluate the singer’s pitch relative to the piano. The problem may be the 12-string guitar. is not returned to the console. That’s a lot to do at once. but sent to monitors or headphones. All these fader moves in the control room need to happen in a way that doesn’t affect the mix in the headphones—an obvious distraction for the performer. and by the way it’s not enough for the right signals to get to the right places. No problem. aux or effects send number three might be the signals going to a thick chorus patch. Moreover. Clearly. monitor faders build up the control room mix. unlike the returns from the effects devices. That’s what the pre/post switch shown in Figure 2A is for. the cue mix can rely on the same feature. and aux or effects send number four feeds a delay unit—six different mixes carefully created and maintained throughout the overdub. Now let’s do a fader check: channel faders control any tracks being recorded. unchanged by any of these control room activities. not the singer. but fun. a mix the musicians use to hear themselves and each other.e. They’re created using aux sends and monitor faders. or diction problems.timing. The singer might want a vocal-heavy mix (also known as “more of me”) to sing to. it’s desirable for the headphone mix to be sourced pre-fader so that it will play along independently. This is some high-resolution multitasking. As the parameters are the same as an effects send (the ability to create a mix from all the channels and monitors on the console). with extra vocal reverb for inspiration and no distracting guitar fills. you might want to turn up the piano and pull down the guitar to experiment with some alternative approaches to the arrangement. aux or effects send number one might control the mix feeding the headphones. Pre or post With all these faders performing different functions on the console. For example. Use the send dedicated to the headphones to create the mix she wants. The levels to tape need to be just right for the medium on which you are recording.

. Rather than sharing one effect over many channels and mixing it with a dry signal. An insert point has a send that goes from a mixer channel to an effect. and a return that comes back from the effect to the mixer channel. the vocal becomes too dry. If the source of the signal going to the reverb is after the fader. the singer is left too exposed. The insert As seen in Figure 1B. which often splits into two separate cables to plug into the effect in/out (a “Y” cable). one signal is the left channel and the other is the right. the engineer is so in love with the rich and sparkly acoustic guitar sound that the vocal track was a little neglected. For those situations. creating a convincing emotional presence for a voice fighting its way out of a pair of loudspeakers. An intuitive understanding of when to use an aux or effects send and when to use an insert will free your mind to be creative with the effects. aux sends. with the sleeve acting as ground reference for both. determining the amount of reverb desired for this vocal. Alex Case welcomes suggestions for ‘Nuts & Bolts.” Oops. but check your mixer’s manual to be sure. which accepts a TRS plug like the ones you see on headphones. e . RECORDING AUGUST 1999 one on the tip and one on the ring. Here’s the rub. but for an insert. eq. the most common inserts come after the eq and before the level fader and bus/pan controls. But there’s another way to do serial processing that offers some advantages in flexibility—the channel insert shown in Figure 2B. and the level of the vocal appropriate for this mix. Signals travel to and from the mixer on one cable. And knowing that cue mixes generally use pre-fader sends while most parallel effects need post-fader sends will keep you out of trouble. serial processing is much simpler than the buss concept of sends and returns we’ve just talked about for parallel processing. you’re routing an entire signal through an effect and not sharing that effect with any other signals. turning up the vocal leaves its reverb behind. send it through an effect. you might then ask? The answer lives in the aux send’s other primary function: effects sends. On most mixers. and bring it back to the point from which it left. The all-important relative balance between dry and processed sound will be maintained. sound even better by the oh-so-careful addition of some room ambience to support and enhance the vocal while a touch of plate reverb adds fullness and width to the guitar. level. buss assignment and panning. For headphones. then fader rides will also change send levels to the reverb. If the vocal’s reverb send is pre-fader. While pushing up the vocal fader will change the relative loudness of the vocal over the guitar and therefore make it easier to follow the lyric. and the larger than life magic combination of dry vocal plus super-sweet reverb is lost. Effects are generally sent post-fader for this reason. Wrench turnings An organized approach to the console and also the outboard processing equipment will help make it easy and fun to work in a room full of gear.Outboard Signal Processing The engineer is really making two different decisions. The solution is the post-fader effects send.’ ite Wr to him at case@r cordingmag.com. I mean five minutes of tweaking the mix. Flexibility in solving these two separate issues is maintained through the use of the post-fader send. You could just run your signals through your effects before sending them to the mixer. one signal is the send and one is the return. Some mixers allow you to select where the insert attaches to the signal flow. Let’s observe a very simple two-track folk music mixdown: fader one is the vocal track and fader two is the guitar track (required by the folk standards bureau to be an acoustic guitar). After a few hours. an insert is a single tip-ring-sleeve (TRS) jack. A TRS jack can carry two signals. The well-recorded tracks are made to A touch of reverb can enable the vocal to soar into pop music heaven. Sometimes certain signals may sound better if you can work on them a bit with the mixer befor they go to e the outboard effect. a channel insert lets you take a signal from a mixer channel. the record label representatives arrive and remind you that “It’s the vocal stupid. Why use an insert? Remember that every mixer channel can do a number of things to a signal—input gain control. What is the usefulness of a post-fader send. Usually the tip is the send and the ring is the return. er. Using this pair of connections “inserts” your outboard effect into the signal flow. It must be fixed. you might want to set the input gain or eq on a sound before compressing it. For instance. Not too tricky—just turn up the vocal. it also changes the relative balance of the vocal versus its own reverb.

and affordability.Part 3 in our beginner’s series Multitrack Recorders Have you ever been picked on by some bully in school? I have. On playback. it is impractical in the studio because it requires processing in a film laboratory before it can be played back. The ins and outs Here’s the idea: as music makes its way from the various microphones to the final 2-track master. reliability. So while 35mm film might be a great release format for sound. Three other features are perhaps less obvious. RECORDING SEPTEMBER 1999 . it plays back whatever tracks are already recorded. the recording must be available for immediate playback right after being recorded. or analog All about the machine at the center of every studio tape recorder—receives whatever tracks you are currently recording at its input. digital tape deck. Second. The multitrack is nothing more than an audio storage device. And in music-making it isn’t just a wish. The tool that lets us relive a situation as long as it takes to perfect it is the multitrack recorder. It stores the rhythm section while you add vocals and solos.there’s tape media like ADAT and TASCAM. removable disks… Naturally the recording device must possess high sound quality. the multitrack gives us that much-appreciated second—or third. we send signals from the multitrack recorder out through the console’s monitor path to the mix bus. internal or external hard disks. tape is the only practical multitrack medium. it’s a modus operandi. For analog storage. or fifteenth— chance to get a better take. And that’s how it’s hooked up: microphone out. It stores the drums while you add bass.) Falling in between the channel path and the monitor path. For digital. What are good devices for audio storage? There are just a couple of valid answers (so far): tape and disk. After the event I replayed it over and over in my mind until I came up with the perfect comeback—the one I wished I’d delivered instead of giving him my Spam and potato chip sandwich. The desire to improve history by rewriting it is pretty instinctive. on the off chance someone makes a mistake. A final functional requirement of the multitrack recorder is that it must be able to record and play back simultaneously. we store it temporarily on a multitrack. Rather than living with the “live-to-2” recording. through the console record path (channel path). it must be able to be erased and then re-recorded over. Its power as a creative tool in the recording studio depends on its ability to overdub record a new : track while simultaneously playing back previously recorded tracks. to the multitrack recorder. (Figure 1 sketches it out in a general way: check out our previous two installments to refresh your understanding of the console’s busses and signal paths.but disks in all their formats are also possible: magneto-optical disks. the multitrack recording device—whether a computer hard disk recorder. First.

Vocals are to be done as an overdub onto track four. and is shown in Figure 2. bass on track two. The divided vocal signal goes both to the recorder and simultaneously to the multitrack output. it is pretty clear what multitrack outputs one. In fact. This accommodates the overdub. few reasons to bounce tracks. and that experimental (but ultimately rejected) contrabassoon solo all spread out to various locations among the keeper tracks. it can’t! So it doesn’t. But one wonders how a recorder can play back the same track it’s recording. The solution is that the machine doesn’t even attempt to play back the track it is recording. and it is the standard signal flow for tracks not currently being recorded. new audio for that track is written/stored on the tape or disk. we do more than just print tracks with the multitrack. track by track. Let’s explore some of the more subtle production capabilities offered by the humble multitrack recorder. When a track is in the playback mode. duce’) describes this configuration. You’ve got two options here: reread this paragraph half a dozen times or sit in front of a tape machine for a couple minutes. So there are two choices for what signal appears at each output of a multitrack. a track isn’t in input mode. During the overdub. As a project progresses. and it is split within the multitrack machine before being recorded. What signal appears at output number four? Seems logical that it should be the vocal being overdubbed. background vocal harmony ideas. Overdubs The cool thing about a multitrack is that it can enter record mode selectively. In record mode. Each track of the multitrack recorder assumes one of two states: playback or record. a process called bouncing There are a . so a multitrack is used to record the rather elaborate audio arrangement of a pop tune a few tracks at a time—an arrangement that might use more than 24 tracks of recorded music. No typo there. two. Instead the output for the track being recorded is its own input. with alternate vocal tracks. solo out-takes. This is standard operating procedure. The first reason is for convenience. It’s much more confusing to say than it is to do. It’s often helpful to reorganize the tracks into a more logical order: all the . or it can play back what is currently being sent to the tape or disk (that’s input mode). and three are. the multitrack can get a little messy. Naturally. That delay is long enough to cause the musical equivalent of a train wreck. On the track actually being recorded. so they instead stay in playback mode. The mode that routes the input of the track actively being recorded to its own output is called input mode If . There is an inevitable delay between when the signal is recorded and when it is played back. It can playback what’s already on the tape or disk (that’s RECORDING SEPTEMBER 1999 repro mode). Playbac k mode (or repro mode from ‘repro. guitar on track three. Let’s check out a power trio session consisting of drums on track one. so that it records only on the tracks desired. its audio is sent to the multitrack machine’s output. its output signal is the audio already recorded on that particular track. Honest. The vocal signal being recorded is sent to multitrack input number four. The tricks and treats Okay. the tape machine can’t play back what it’s laying onto tape or disk. The other tracks aren’t being recorded onto.How can a recorder play back one thing while recording another? Simple enough. One handy feature is the ability to record from one track to another.

So bouncing downlets you take . If drums were recorded across 12 tracks of the multitrack. This is helpful in two ways. simply hook up the output of one track to the input of another. To move a signal from one track to another. First. Needless to say. and no generation loss. we bounce tracks more often on digital multitracks. Instead of doing a direct transfer from one track to another. No patching. all the vocals on the last few tracks. this bouncing ability often exists digitally within the machine. And analog recorders. Another variation on the bouncing theme is submixing. and record. the target track to record mode. On analog machines. and digital tape and MiniDisk machines. this costs you a generation of quality. set the source track to playback. leaving the non-drum tracks unmixed for now. it frees up tracks for other purposes. Digital recording software can sometimes offer “infinite numbers of tracks. it can be a good idea to mix just the drums down to two new tracks.drums on the first few tracks. On digital machines. with the rhythm section laid out in an order that is logical and comfortable for you. which is more than tolerable on some of the better machines.” but that can be limited by the size of the storage medium and the power of the machine doing the recording. have fixed numbers of tracks available. it is often handy to create and record a submix of a component of the tune.

It refers to creating a single track that is in fact a collection of pieces of any number of different tracks—the best chorus happened on take three while the best bridge happened on take seven. In fact. other tracks. Suite 100. These changes generally require the entire mix to be recalled. then creative energy. Clearly. Why not record some effects to the multitrack? If you stumble upon a truly magic effect that you think may be difficult to reproduce. Just do the mix move manually. If the entire mix is on two tracks of the multitrack. Yet another variation on the bouncing theme is called comping A . etc.Aack! RECORDING SEPTEMBER 1999 Mixdown with vocals all over the multitrack coming up on faders all over the console is very distracting. switch by switch. Sometimes submixes are printed to the multitrack not so much to free other tracks but to ‘store’ a mix move. you’ve got to create an appropriate. comping is nothing more than bouncing from many different source tracks one at a time to the same destination track. since you don’t lose a generation of sound quality when you dub off a backup. But if you have spare tracks. This is easier to do with digital systems than with analog recorders. It’s difficult to get a recall to truly match the original mix. or analog tape. you must perform the rather scary act of erasing the original. Push up the two faders with the original mix on them. Beyond the comfort of having a backup copy. Plan to remix these submixes a few times. call: 1-800-582-8326 a large number of tracks and pre-mix them to make room for more of your orchestration. effects devices.. comp is hip-speak for a composite. and the best intro was yesterday’s scratch vocal. there is no reason the entire mix itself can’t be recorded on the multitrack. ©1999 Music Maker Publications. 5412 Idylwild Trail. submixing some number of tracks down to fewer tracks is its own skill. Naturally. Inc. and though you actually own them. The comped track then appears in one place.complementary. if some elements of the tune—like the drums in this case— are already carefully pre-mixed. Often the best you can do is get “close enough for rock and ro l l ”a n d move on. and therefore cheap. Finally. solos. and submixes. This ain’t trivial. print a safety version of the mix on the multitrack. record it to its own tracks. More likely it’s because the total effect uses an elaborate signal path through 14 different effects units. Of course. and some slap echo on the slide guitar would be nice. Boulder. on one fader. and use the snare and slide guitar tracks as sources for the additional effects. recording the audio result to spare tracks of the multitrack. The multitrack can do more than just record instruments. knob by knob. Printed effects are a good habit when you have spare tracks and have created a rather dramatic effect. In order to free a track by submixing. patch cables. You.Excerpted from the September edition of RECORDING magazine. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. there is a downside to submixing.. be it DAT. Without knowing exactly what the entire mix will sound like. and try to have a backup of any tracks you erase. and other musical ideas. compelling submix of the drums. but it just needs a little extra reverb on the snare. the artist. the recall is pretty trivial. Mix . That is. Sometimes it’s necessary to record the effect because you’re borrowing the $3500 Spastron Digital Nirvana Box and it has to be returned tonight. but only if you are willing to erase the original snare track. totally killer. Expect to make a few mistakes. and fader fingers are free to focus on the remaining elements of the mix. as they say. disk. the mix is recorded to the 2-track master machine. Printed mix mo es are a good v way to have manual fader rides and crazy pan pot moves in a mix without automation. You’ve no doubt experienced the temptation to recall a mix. recall. the same studio full of the same gear has to be restored to the exact same configuration it was in the day you mixed. requiring not only basic mixing chops but also a little bit of extra-sensory perception to predict the appropriate mix goal of a given element of the overall mix. Second. They are comped by recording all the appropriate pieces to a separate track. the original kick drum track. Reprinted with permission. and is a lot less distracting during mixdown. the exact settings may be difficult to recreate. And the submixed drums are only useful in the final mix if the submix itself is. And all manual moves must be re-performed exactly as before. you create the basis for a fast. Submixing twelve drum tracks to a stereo pair of tracks will indeed free up ten tracks for vocals. or the label decide a week or two after mixdown that everything in the mix was gorgeous.

and the right machine will let you do everything from storing and assembling passes to recalling entire mixes..” rerecord the words “. The choice is yours. They combine all the advantages of stand-alone hard disk recorders with excellent editing. and lots of them. some drive like an old school bus with a flat front left tire. and the multitrack needs a transport that can keep up with the creative needs of the session.. look for a manufacturer you or a colleague knows to be trustworthy. clean and steady hands. you’ve got the additional decision of whether to be tape. are often more portable. until very recently. say. It needs to be well designed and well maintained. Choose the machine you feel gives you appropriate sound quality for the dollar while offering acceptable reliability and a comfortable transport. Tape counters. etc. Unlike. When evaluating the cost of a multitrack.. You’ll be looking for the balance of sound quality versus price that fits your budget.baby. Hard disks overcome that disadvantage by offering nondestructive software-based editing. The multitrack recorder. fastforwarding and rewinding until you find it.or disk-based. because you can do it without deleting the original tracks. Here it comes. Compared to hard disks. The process of recording a song is fairly active and very non-linear. Rewinding before re-taking a solo gives the session a sort of pace that I find natural. a digital multieffects unit. you get the ability to edit tape. If the machine hiccups during day one of an album you might lose the gig. If this sort of power appeals to you. Beyond this value calculation. Some feel like Italian sports cars. The decision to use a digital or an analog multitrack should really be governed by how it meets the above criteria. but disk-based recorders offer true random access. On the other hand. rent. some other features should be given due consideration. or borrow.‘Nondestructive’ means that the edits don’t alter the actual audio file—they’re done in software “on the fly. is a mechanically complicated device. the normal priorities apply. and a bit of practice and forethought will help you pick the multitrack that’s right for you. if an expensive one). and random access. On cassette you fumble for the location. So how do you choose the right machine? When evaluating which multitrack to buy. but they’re really a whole subject unto themselves. some special tape for taping the tape to another. (Don’t shudder—it’s how we all did it. Another type of multitrack recorder we haven’t mentioned is the DAW (digital audio workstation). If new. How quickly does it fast forward and rewind? Is it cooperative or cantankerous as you record a chorus.com. Splicing digital tape is possible on the (very expensive) open reel formats. cartridge-based tapes like the ones used in DAT. The CD gets there instantly and effortlessly. Instant access to the beginning of the solo makes it all to easy to work way too fast and lose the chance to take a breath and be creative. but I prefer the ‘vibe’ that comes from using tape-based multitrack machines. or fifteenth— chance to get a better take. and ADAT formats. and an editing block to help you cut consistently. These systems are in the hard disk category.” rewind. you can literally cut and paste the tape to change the song in any way you desire.) Should you go digital.baby. And track bouncing in a DAW is different. Cut the solo to half its length. It’s tough to put a price on reliability. anticipating your every recording desire. you should follow the ‘DAW Diaries’ in this magazine for tips and tricks that have worked for my fellow writers. repeat. If you go analog. Changing tapes is a lot easier and quicker than backing up one hard disk project and restoring another (unless you switch hard drives.” so you’re free to change your mind. memory locations... e . In my recording life I use both tape and hard disk machines. You are familiar with the appeal of random access if you have ever tried to zip to the fifth song on an album on both CD and cassette. but is verboten for helical scan. piece of tape. external and removable drives to improve portability.Multitrack Recorders to live on the edge. Swap verse one for verse three. the new effects with the old stereo mix.. make sure it has a warranty to get you through any manufacturing faults.. I guess I’m showing my age. er. Related to quality is the ‘feel’ of the machine. Alex Case welcomes suggestions foruts&Bolts’ You can ‘N . yeah. and they offer the ability to change instantly from one project to another. but the per-project cost of the tape (or disks) to justify to yourself or the clients later. whether tape. Pros and cons We can see where a multitrack is a core part of your studio and its operations. There are other advantages to hard disk recording. do keep in mind the cost of the media as well as the cost of the machine. With appropriate equipment. and good notes on a take sheet can make this less of a headache. DTRS (DA88 series). Want to hear track six? Click.. a multitrack has moving parts. These include ever-decreasing prices. and a willingness RECORDING SEPTEMBER 1999 Tape-based multitrack machines have the same problem—only there’s the added benefit of a room full of people waiting for you to find the right place on tape. Pull out two bars of the intro. All you need is a razor blade for cutting. re-record the chorus. contact Alex at case@rcordingmag. The multitrack gives us that much-appreciated second— or third.or disk-based. yeah. random access locating and its associated nondestructive editing are clearly a powerful production tool. If the machine crashes on day 231 you might lose all the audio for the entire project. so give it some thought before you transact.. If used. rewind to the beginning of the chorus. You’ve got the one-time cost of buying the tape machine to take care of first. tape-based formats are generally much less expensive. and for just a few minutes work you’ve got a new-and-improved mix that will please everyone for at least another week or two. try to assess the amount of loving care or sloppy abuse the machine endured.which can also be an option.. rewind to the second repeat of the words “. For a tape machine.

it is perfectly appropriate to picture the diaphragm of a microphone as a taut. The result. Interacting with air How does a mic go from air pressure patterns in to voltage patterns out? The voltage part we covered in last month’s column. The mic cable then contains a pattern of voltage changes that are identical in shape to the pattern of air pressure changes that occurred at the microphone capsule. undisturbed. below ambient) air pressure. equalize. ribbon. If you ever had the pleasure of playing on a round trampoline. RECORDING NOVEMBER 1999 . In this way a series of compressions and rarefactions is created. The initial motion of the drum head is towards the audience. squishing the air together immediately in front of the drum head. It’s important to understand what is pushing the coil. ambient pressure that had been in the room before the music started. each motion of the drum head toward the audience creates a temporary increase in pressure. As music plays. Following the initial attack of the beater striking the head. The player makes strings vibrate. the positive air pressure is converted into a positive voltage. intimate knowledge of how a capsule diaphragm behaves. Within this pattern. The microphone maps air pressure changes into voltage changes. Really high pressure displacements lead to higher voltages. The unique pattern and speed of this vibration spells out that characteristic ‘thump’ we all know and love. who put rectangular diaphragms in their mics. The microphone creates in the electrical domain an analogy for what had been happening in the air—hence the term analog audio.e. changing the air pressure around it. keys. which today usually has its back head removed so that it is completely open on the audience side. It is not a total vacuum. Consider the mighty kick drum. Starting from there. delay. round membrane like a drum head. where the air pressure is a negative (i. strings. The strings (through the bridge) push the sound board up and down and everything connected to it starts moving. we generally employ a moving coil. or condenser apparatus to create our voltage output based on the motion induced on some capsule by the air. The acoustic sound of the piano is created by the motion of its soundboard in air. Likewise. (Apologies to Sweden’s Pearl Labs. The single-headed kick drum provides a useful picture for seeing how acoustic sound is created.Part 5 in our beg inner’s series Microphones 2– Measuring Air Pressure and Air Velocity (Which way is up?) It is the job of the microphone to capture this complex pattern of changes in air pressure and convert it into an electrical property we can manipulate (amplify. moving the ribbon. which is itself motivated to move by the elaborate machinery around it (fingers. The idea is that a microphone in a silent room puts out 0 volts. compress. The beater strikes the head. you’ve got total. A component of the acoustic wave begins every time the drummer hits the kick drum. just a pocket of air pressure that is just slightly lower than it would have been in silence. When it’s working well we call this music. distort. you can achieve a total understanding of how microphones work by understanding how the capsule interfaces with the air. But it gets a little messy when we take this concept to logical extensions beyond the kick drum. In the subsequent rarefaction. or flexing one side of the capacitor. Those changes in pressure push our ear drums in and pull them out so that we can hear the beat—and tap our feet. the microphone’s output is a negative voltage. and the like). With the exception of the ribbon microphone. the head vibrates freely back and forth. In the studio.) It is suspended from its circumference and free to move most at its center. Same goes for the guitar and the violin. is music. somehow. the rarefaction represents merely a decrease in pressure relative to ambient pressure. and so on). This is an increase in pressure that radiates outward toward the audience. hammers. The compressions represent a temporary and usually very slight increase in pressure relative to the silent. while the recoil of the head away from the audience creates a decrease in pressure.Extreme reductions in pressure produce high amplitude negative voltages.

The capsules are oriented so that they are both open on the left side. So it would be fair to say that wherever there is an air pressure difference. the upper capsule is again pushed inward as the pressure on the open outside of the diaphragm is greater than the enclosed inside. A key difference between the pressure microphone and the velocity microphone has already been demonstrated in Figures 1 and 2. The lower capsule. to the right. whenever there is noise). The figure also shows a particularly illustrative snapshot of an ongoing acoustic wave moving across the entire figure from left to right. so it too is pushed to the right. the lower capsule is not typically called a pressure difference or pressure gradient mic.Microphones 2– Measuring Air Pressure and Air Velocity (Which way is up?) It is perhaps intuitively obvious that whenever there is a pressure difference in the air (that is. it earns the moniker omnidirectional. Unlike flags and sails. The lower capsule is open to the acoustic pressure on both sides. on the other hand. This instant of high pressure pushes the diaphragm of the capsule inward. the velocity diaphragm Much of a microphone’s behavior is determined by the following simple distinction: is the diaphragm open to air on one side or both? Figure 1 demonstrates this distinction. The upper capsule measures pressure. are both perfectly capable of converting music into voltages. You can think of the velocity transducer as being like a flag or a sail that responds to the air blowing against it. In fact. The lower capsule measures a pressure difference. Being equally sensitive to sounds from all directions. RECORDING NOVEMBER 1999 Figure 2: For sound from the side. The interesting result is that this diaphragm doesn’t move at all—it only moves when there is a pressure difference between the two sides. In other words. it goes by the slightly cooler name: a velocity tr nsducer a . rather than measuring the pressure difference between the two sides. These two types of transducers. the diaphram of the upper capsule is displaced. Both types are common in any studio’s mic closet. The lower capsule is open on both sides. The upper capsule shows a diaphragm that is open on one side but blocked on the other. measuring velocity So far the two types of capsule seem to behave identically. or to be more mathematically precise. flaps in the wind at audio frequencies—perhaps as slowly as 20 times per second and as quickly as 20. at least not in rock in roll. the air particles themselves move from the region of high pressure toward the region of lower pressure. there is also air particle motion. . The pressure mic (the upper capsule in each figure) reacts to sound coming from in front or from the side. They don’t get far because the high and low pressure points are changing constantly. Figure 1: The upper capsule is open on one side only. which shows the two microphones rotated 90° so that they are oriented upward. But there are differences between them. The lower capsule rests. they are ‘looking’ toward the oncoming wave. it responds to pressure waves no matter what their angle of arrival. though. it is appropriate to think of the lower capsule as responding to the motion of the air particles. measuring pressure.000 times per second. Naturally. As the acoustic wave rolls by in this instance. the lower capsule sees a higher pressure to the left than it does to the right. but they start moving anyway. Consider Figure 2. Instead. completely uneffected. Similarly. Directionality The physical orientation of the capsule itself is fundamental to determining its directionality. pressure and velocity. a pressure gradient. sees the same high pressure on both sides of the diaphragm. The top capsule has a compression wave immediately in front of it.

You can achieve a total understanding of how mics work by understanding how the capsule interfaces with the air. The omnidirectional pickup pattern shown in 3A is equally sensitive at all angles.Microphones 2– The velocity mic (the lower capsule in each figure) demonstrates an ability to ‘hear’ sound arriving from the front. The bidirectionality of the mic is a byproduct of being a velocity transducer. 5412 Idylwild Trail. diminishing sensitivity as the angle of arrival goes toward the side. we can make visual the directional discrimination properties of the mic. Figure 3 shows the three polar patterns we most often see in the studio. yet it ignores sound coming from the side. The mic’s sensitivity decreases gradually as sound sources move off-axis from front to side. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. and is a natural result of being a pressure transducer. But there is a little more to the bidirectional pattern. The front and the back lobes of the figure-eight pattern are not exactly the same. The arrangement in which the capsule is open on both sides is most sensitive to sound coming straight at the diaphragm—from the front or the rear—and least sensitive to sound coming from the sides. parallel to the diaphragm itself. Reprinted with permission. ©1999 Music Maker Publications. It only measures the movement of particles against it. Inc. And parts A (omnidirectional) and B (bidirectional) we’ve just discussed. If we plot the sensitivity of the microphone as a function of the angle of arrival of the sound from the source. The bidirectional pattern (also called the figure-eightpattern) shows two points of maximum sensitivity directly in front of and behind the capsule. and finally total rejection for sounds fully at the side. Boulder. ignoring particle velocity that moves alongside. To understand this better we need to graph it on polar coordinates. RECORDING NOVEMBER 1999 Excerpted from the November edition of RECORDING magazine. Suite 100. call: 1-800-582-8326 .

suggests the air particles and the diaphragm will move toward the right. The higher pressure. In front of the mic. but it picks up sound from behind with reverse polarity. a positive pressure creates a positive voltage. Motion of the diaphragm this direction will in fact create a negative voltage. say. When physical isolation isn’t available in the form of isolation booths. but each to its own track. is that the velocity microRECORDING NOVEMBER 1999 Look that way It is this reverse polarity of front versus back that enables us to create a unidirectional microphone. which is most sensitive in only one direction. Figure 3: Microphone Polar patterns Consider placing the same microphone on the same sound wave at the same time. engineers achieve a sort of acoustic isolation by using unidi- . Figure 4A orients the mic facing left into the sound. this identical sound has caused the diaphragm to move the opposite direction. The higher pressure on the left still pushes the diaphragm to the right. phone can be equally sensitive to sounds in front of or behind the mic. one volt. This is quite helpful in the studio when you wish to record several instruments at once. left versus right. The air causes the same physical motion. An appropriate conclusion. while behind the mic. but facing the opposite direction. This motion will create an output voltage of. Figure 3C shows this type of pickup pattern.Microphones 2– Figure 4 shows a velocity microphone’s reaction to a given sound wave as it propagates left to right. then. But from the perspective of the microphone. a positive pressure creates a negative voltage.

(It’s called a ‘cardioid’ because. Behind the microphone you have the contribution of the omnidirectional piece being undone—literally cancelled— by the polarity-reversed rear lobe of the bidirectional mic. and mix them together onto one track. you’ll have created a cardioid pick-up pattern using a 2mic combination. It is possible to delay the components of sound reaching each side of the diaphragm so that for sources behind the mic. This is achieved by making sure that the front versus back time-of-arrival difference at the diaphragm for sound arriving from the front of the capsule is exactly (or nearly) equal to 180° of phase difference. RECORDING NOVEMBER 1999 . The arriving sound must navigate the short detour of an acoustic labyrinth on its way to the back side while simultaneously wrapping around to the front. Placing a pressure capsule and a velocity capsule in the same place and combining them gives you double the sensitivity in front of the pair and total rejection to the rear... I guess there wasn’t a Latinbased way to say “Looks kind of like a pizza with one slice missing. This push/push phenomenon emulates the situation of Figure 2 in which sound arriving from the side presents the same pressure on both sides of the velocity diaphragm. it is simultaneously pushed from the rear by the positive portion of the cycle. In this way the waveform is presented to both sides of the diaphragm in a complementary way. Place them as near each other as possible. The sound coming from behind the microphone needn’t reach the diaphragm directly. or some combination thereof. But there’s a little more to it. Directly in front of the microphone you get a contribution from both capsules.”). sound arriving from sources that are in front of the microphone must still be effective at moving the diaphragm. Want to build a cardioid response? Grab a pressure transducer (or any omnidirectional microphone) and a velocity transducer (or any bi-directional microphone). rejecting/minimizing the unwanted neighboring instruments. but it does so in . Ports into the microphone are configured so that there is no direct path from the rear of the microphone to the rear side of the diaphragm. it looked heart shaped. Pretty darn clever.. When the diaphragm is pushed from the front by the positive portion of a cycle. velocity transducers. facing the same way. look closely at some landmark points in the response of the two component patterns of Figures 3A and 3B. Mission accomplished: acoustic manipulation of the signal achieves rejection from behind. not the sort of heart that would sell a valentine greeting card. clever manufacturers have modified the velocity transducer. Figure 4: Reversing the orientation of a velocity microphone reverses the polarity of the output signal To see how a cardioid pattern is born. they arrive at exactly the same time.And all of the intermediate mic patterns can be created by mixing variable amounts of two types of transducers. But it’s a pretty funny looking heart. The downside is that you get a single mic for the price (and noise floor) of two. only the omnidirectional pressure transducer picks-up sound. rectional microphones aimed directly at their intended instruments. If you add up the response of an omni to that of a figure-eight. All studio microphones are either pressure transducers. Not only does sound arriving from the front of the microphone still move the diaphragm. the diaphragm will not move.Microphones 2– Measuring Air Pressure and Air Velocity (Which way is up?) Since the goal of a unidirectional microphone is to reject sound coming from behind. If you monitor with the two microphones at equal amplitude. Off to each side. For this modified microphone to be of any use. If the time it takes the wave to diffract around to the front of the mic is equal to the time it takes the same wave to reach the back of the diaphragm via the longer path. When the diaphragm is pushed from the front by the positive portion of a cycle.. There’s another way to do it that requires only a single capsule. It’s a good trick. you end up with the cardioid response shown in Figure 3C. it is simultaneously pulled from the rear by the negative portion of the cycle. to someone who knew Latin.

Check out the photo of the complete Series that shows the mics side by side. In fact. not surprisingly. velocity transducers. sub. ribbon. A particularly good visual case study comes via the venerable microphone manufacturer Neumann. it accomplishes this at a much more appealing price. features and switches you might find on a microphone. You’ll no doubt find specific session situations where these other patterns are just what you need. it partially but not completely rejects sounds behind it (Figure 3D). e . Alternatively. though. straightforward process.com. We’ve seen how equal parts pressure and velocity produces a cardioid. or condenser. RECORDING NOVEMBER 1999 Know it all All studio microphones are either pressure transducers. The relative levels of the two mics determines the degree of omni versus bidirectional in the net polar pattern. and mix them onto one track. most all studio mics employ one of the following design types: moving coil. facing the same way. That translates into increased sensitivity. It is the acoustic combination of the two microphones we combined electrically above. in combination with your feeling about what sounds best. Want to build a cardioid response? Grab any omni mic and any bi-directional mic. Alex Case wants to know wat you want to know. Armed with this knowledge of the physics behind the technology. Place them as near each other as possible. however.and hypercardioid patterns can be created on a single capsule by acoustically mixing the two types of transduction through the clever design of ports reaching the rear of the diaphragm. Deciding which microphone to buy or which microphone to use on a specific instrument in a specific situation will depend on your knowledge of this basic process of transduction from acoustic to electric energy. Enhanced forward sensitivity comes at the expense of diminished rearward rejection. total rejection at the rear. By using a single capsule. Many single diaphragm cardioid microphones (the famous Shure SM57 and Electro-Voice RE20. You’ll find they all stem from these microphone fundamentals. all these intermediate patterns can be created by mixing variable amounts of two types of transducers. This clever manipulation of the waveform as it reaches both sides of the velocity transducer leads to a cardioid pattern: enhanced sensitivity in the front. Look this way By mixing differing amounts of pressure and velocity transduction. using two mics and a mixer. the KM184. They recently released small diaphragm omnidirectional and hypercardioid mics to complement their well known cardioid. The hyper-cardioid develops a small rear lobe of sensitivity that is the residual rear lobe of the bidirectional component. having less pressure than velocity tilts the balance toward the bi-directional pattern. Conversely. Called a subcardioid it is slightly more sensitive front . or some combination thereof. In addition. versus back.Request h Nuts & Bolts topics via case@rcordingmag. We’ve spent two months digging into these concepts and found that within all of these types of microphones lives a knowable. more omni than cardioid. other polar patterns can be created. This more directional pattern is usually called a hypercardioid (Figure 3E). It is more sharply focused forward. As before. More pressure than velocity leads to a directivity that is. among the many good examples) offer a good visual example.Microphones 2– Measuring Air Pressure and Air Velocity (Which way is up?) Figure 5: Cardioid pick-up is achieved through acoustic manipulation of sound reaching each side of the diaphragm this push/pull fashion—it simultaneously pushes on one side and pulls on the other. next month we’ll discuss the basic specifications. there is no longer perfect cancellation at the rear. The only visible difference among them is the rear ports. Because it is less pressure than velocity. all this acoustic signal processing tries to make a single capsule that is half sensitive to pressure and half sensitive to velocity. It is easy to see the ports on the body of the microphone that are the entry points for the sound into the back of the diaphragm.

Alternatively. As your experience grows. present. three toms. we want to know how it sounds. when it comes to the selection of a microphone by you. Off-axis coloration Naturally. tubby. The ‘color’ of a mic is a very personal. The creation of an album involves making this small decision maybe hundreds of times. The mics: kick. or some such. these words develop a very precise meaning. Your sense of the sonic character of something that is ‘thick’ could be slightly—and sometimes very—different than someone else’s internal conception of the sound. guitar and vocal. The trio: drums. the fact is. The handy thing is. cardioid patterns prevail. It’s not just warm—it’s thick. two out in the room. boxy. airy. heavy. Frequency response Selecting a mic really begins with its frequency response. But your professional development will always—for the rest of your life—include refining your own internal sense of the sound of each make and model of microphone.. This month we tackle the meaning of the various specifications. In the relatively straightforward case of recording a power trio. The oft-cited ‘color’ of a microphone is very much determined by its frequency response. edgy. you might have to select maybe a dozen microphones. As time goes by and naturally you acquire more mics.. but murky on bass. Audio ear training (à la Dave Moulton’s Golden Ears ) in combination with professional interaction with others whose work you admire will help these descriptive words hover near a common definition. Warning: it is a hazard of this job that the words you use to describe a sound likely have a different meaning to someone else. Selecting the right mic for the job is an ever-present part of the recording gig. snare. you can store the data in words: warm. it sparkles. You can store the data (in your brain. it soars. It’s not airy. the frequency response plot that comes with the microphone and that lives in our head is an oversimplification of the complex behavior of the transducer. phat. big. bass. it shimmers. So push yourself to develop a feeling for the frequency response of every mic you own or have access to. RECORDING DECEMBER1999 . guitar and vocals. Your descriptions of the sonic character of each mic are all you need to make a good guess at which mic will sound best on today’s overdub. punchy. One frustrating point is that the frequency response of a microphone changes with the angle of the sound’s arrival at the mic from the source. rather it’s breathy.. your own internal meaning for the words is correct and sufficient. This helps you zero in on the exact shape and location of that low frequency hump. A mic with a low end hump in its frequency response might sound punchy on congas. While I encourage you (and constantly remind myself) to consider omnis and figure-eight patterns more often in the pop/rock recording studio. Figure 1 offers a few samples. But there is a potential hazard to that cardioid pattern that needs scrutiny. Just beware of the difficulty when you try to communicate with strangers on the topic. Try to have in mind a rough sense of the frequency response of every mic you use. and the function of the various controls that might appear on a microphone. you’ll need to add new words to your lexicon to be more precise. So the frequency response plot is a good starting point for learning the ‘sound’ of the device. hat. A frequency response plot is the first view into this. In the last two episodes of ‘Nuts & Bolts’ we explored the inner workings of microphones. And constantly refine your internal sense of its frequency response toward an ever more precise meaning. literally picturing frequency response plots in your mind. that is) visually. The goal is to convert microphone selection from a random. very detailed concept. two overheads. bass. be it fellow engineers or a microphone salesperson. luck-of-the-draw process into an organized system built on total knowledge of all microphone technologies and parameters. This description of the microphone’s output at different frequencies reveals any biases for or against any particular frequency ranges.Part 6 in our beginner’s series Microphones 3– specifications and controls Each session will reveal ever more.

the microphone attenuates the highs more than it attenuates the lows. Specifically. The result is Which microphone shall we try? This question will sometimes fill you with dread and panic. most cardioid patterns are better at rejecting high frequencies off to the side and behind than low frequencies. strings. When you place a directional microphone near a source. That’s the theory.Microphones 3– specifications and controls Figure 2 (see p. The significance of this behavior cannot be overstated. choose a mic that welcomes off-axis sound and doesn’t impose an unappealing coloration onto the sound. (“I’ve never recorded a contrabassoon. The high-hat is always near the snare. electric guitars. In all cases. Moreover. the cardioid microphone is more of a true cardioid at high frequencies and more omnidirectional at low frequencies. 56)demonstrates a pretty typical frequency trend in cardioids. When we work with loud instruments (e. And another thing (this one seems more obvious but is all too often neglected): we often record off-axis sound on purpose.g. Drums. you still record sounds arriving from the sides. on-axis. voices. Said another way. horns. Sometimes that ‘leakage’ of other sounds into this microphone is inaudibly low. etc. off-axis sounds aren’t just attenuated—the off-axis frequency response of a microphone is often different from the on-axis frequency response. The fact is.”) and so on. When the instruments you are recording are required to be very near each other. Leakage abounds. and most home or project studio recording situations). The snare is often very near the top rack tom. but other times you can hear it. The response directly in front of the mic is consistent from low frequencies to high—a ‘flat’ frequency response. these instruments tend to be quite loud. sections (of horns.And sounds arriving from the rear are rejected. RECORDING DECEMBER1999 . we get significant off-axis sound into our directional microphones. But it’s not just drums that require us to consider this acoustic leakage issue. forcing themselves on every microphone in the zip code... In these situations. Sounds arriving from the side are attenuated. and the obligatory electric guitar) or in tight quarters (small booths. if that off-axis sound is dull or murky it will drag down the sound of the mix. percussion. Close-miked drum kits are the most common situation where this occurs. This off-axis coloration means the mic is effectively acting like an equalizer for the sounds coming from all around it. yet hanging on to the lows and doing something in between for the middle frequencies. These ambient room mics are supposed to be far that sounds arriving from anywhere but in front of the mic are spectrally altered. you’ll get an unavoidable amount of leakage from each instrument into the neighboring mics.) and many other tracks welcome the placement of some distant mics for recording the ambient sound in the room. The idea of a uni-directional pattern is that the microphone is focused most on sounds directly in front of the mic. But beside and behind the mic. It’s rolling off the highs.

What next? Proximity effect: the low frequency accentuation that occurs when a sound source is very close to a directional (i. Modern studio production techniques leverage proximity effect selectively for many tracks. Roll-off But bumping up the low end isn’t always a good thing. How do you get rid of this bass boost? We l l . but with about half the bass boost of a pure velocity transducer. will also exhibit proximity effect. Pressure transducers do not exhibit this frequency response-altering phenomenon at all. A subtle part of microphone choice then has to do with the degree of offaxis coloration the mic imparts. This is helpful when advertising monster truck shows. so you’ve got the frequency response of a microphone thoroughly internalized. Keep in mind the off-axis coloration the microphone might add. now you’ve got specifications and controls easy to hear and easy to predict. being half pressure sensitive and half velocity sensitive. Know that backing the mic away from the instrument might be all it takes to solve the problem. annoyingly thumpy sound.f i rst decide if you want to get rid of it at all. though—it will come over time. the enhanced low end can make a voice to learn its frequency response as a function of angle. DJs sound more impressive (and taller) when they are in close on their directional mics. non-omnidirectional) microphone..Microphones 3– from the source and are generally supposed to be picking up room reflections coming from all directions. That means you can expect bi-directional mics to add an amplitude boost in the bottom frequency range whenever they are placed very near an instrument (within about one to three feet). you are hearing an unwanted proximity effect. Cardioid mics.e. you might have to select maybe a dozen microphones. or just plain ol’ talking. Used with a little restraint.. better than reality. both on. Choosing an omnidirectional mic is one solution. But it is perfectly acceptable to want a directional mic to achieve some rejection. or an acoustic guitar can lead to an overly boomy. As if you didn’t have enough to memorize about a microphone. Lead vocals in rock and roll and pop rely on this as well. the apparent frequency response of omnidirectional mics is unaffected by the closeness of the source to the mic. Proximity effect is a property of velocity transducers alone. Getting in close to a snare. a piano. Proximity effect Okay. Don’t sweat it. Choose one whose off-axis response enhances the ambient sound you are trying to capture. sound larger than life.and off-axis. Proximity effect represents another alteration to the frequency response of a microphone. Hit songs need to sound better than the original instruments. it is In the relatively straightforward case of recording a power trio. velocity transducers do. When you hear this sort of problem. announcing sports. Fortunately. Therefore. RECORDING DECEMBER1999 .

Should the It’s not just warm—it’s thick. the gear. punchy. Pad Sometimes the pairing of a loud sound with a sensitive microphone leads to distortion. Think of sensitivity as a specification that really only needs to be worried about at its extremes. On the other hand. You may find that all too common trend here: the more expensive filters sounds better. That is. or heavy. etc. compare the highpass filter on your microphone to the highpass filter on your console to any other highpass filters your studio may have.. The hotter output requires less amplification at the mic preamp. Allowing the highs through. This is (usually) a bad thing. because poorly designed filters can affect the higher frequencies audibly.’ and many microphones have a built-in switch that does exactly this. Engaging the roll-off circuit removes or diminishes a problematic proximity effect. If you’ve got the time. it soars. perhaps look for a less sensitive transducer. And when the mic doesn’t have a roll-off filter built in. Otherwise. It’s not airy. frequency response. what voltage will come out? When the assistant screams at exactly 90 dB SPL into another microphone. big. Listen carefully when you engage a filter. That is.. it is helpful to kick in a high pass filter.When the close mic location is just right except for some unwanted low end due to proximity effect. it sparkles. politically correct term—microphone sensitivity describes how much output the microphone creates electrically for a given acoustic input. if you know you must record a very quiet instrument (have you ever gathered sound effects like foot steps in sand or water dripping?). off-axis coloration. you can often find one on the console or in an outboard mic pre or equalizer designed for the same purpose. mic selection is more a function of polar pattern. and the ear training. rather it’s breathy. Air conditioning and traffic noise from highways or train tracks are typical low frequency headaches. tubby. The roll-off switch is a good solution to these problems. The more sensitive microphone generates a higher amplitude voltage for the same sound pressure level input. placing a very sensitive microphone near a very loud sound source can overload the electronics. This is a good thing. Sensitivity It’s not just a New Age. the high pass filter attenuates only the lows. Additionally. what voltage comes out? RECORDING DECEMBER1999 . causing distortion. even though they pass through the filter. If you know the instrument is ragingly loud (trombone comes painfully to mind). Studio speak calls this ‘roll-off. which can mean a lower noise floor will be recorded. phat. if the assistant engineer screams at exactly 90 dB SPL into a microphone.. seek out a sensitive microphone. it may be used simply to get rid of unwanted low frequency sounds that sneak into a studio.

Given placements and pairings may or may not require you to switch in a roll-off or a pad. both acoustic guitar and snare drum.com. I can’t wait to try it on yours. e Thanks. Many microphones have the ability to sound gorgeous on. when the sound is too loud for the capsule. Session variables Which microphone shall we try? This question will sometimes fill you with dread and panic. to the signal just leaving the transducer. (“I’ve never recorded a contrabassoon. Excerpted from the December edition of RECORDING magazine. a pad can be engaged. Alex Case wants to know wat you h want to know. Session requirements might narrow your options. Reprinted with permission. look for a microphone with a very high rated maximum sound pressure level. 5412 Idylwild Trail. The pad is turned on when recording the snare and turned off when recording the guitar. say 10 or 15 dB... A subtle nylon string acoustic specifications and controls When recording very loud sounds like trumpets and space shuttles. Sometimes a pad isn’t enough. A mic close to a snare drum might encounter sounds well above 130 dB SPL. The pad offers a fixed amount of attenuation.”) Other The oft-cited ‘color’ of a mic is very much determined by its frequency response. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. putting the mic in a soundfield greater than this rating could possibly damage the mic. The pad enables the same mic to be used on instruments of such radically different loudnesses. Request Nuts & Bolts topics via case@r cordingmag. with our ears wide open. times. Suite 100. That is. If the acoustic stimulation of the transducer forces the diaphragm into the extreme limits of its physical motion.Microphones 3– acoustic energy hitting a microphone overload the mic’s internal electronics or the microphone preamplifier. The simplicity of the microphone technology requires that we master just a few concepts.”) It is possible to break the mic selection process down into smaller decisions. ©1999 Music Maker Publications. call: 1-800-582-8326 guitar might be a mere 40 dB SPL or less at the desired mic position. Boulder. this question will fill you with anticipation. The lower voltage coming out of the transducer after the pad will (hopefully) no longer overload the electronics. it may become non-linear. the motion of the diaphragm no longer follows the sound smoothly. (“This new mic sounded great on Amy’s guitar. RECORDING DECEMBER1999 . acoustic signals can become too loud for the microphone. Moreover. the subtlety of recording acoustic sounds demands that we then proceed carefully. for example. enabling the microphone to be used even on a louder sound. For example. This indicates the point beyond which the microphone cannot transduce without distortion. rather it slams into the limits of its freedom to move—it distorts mechanically. Inc. but your knowledge of what these switches do in combination with your reaction to what you’re hearing make these decisions pretty straightforward. you might need to use a mic with a cardioid pattern if you have to put the sax player next to the piano. You’ve got to get the best sound possible. forcing you into a given polar pattern. Experience and ear training will help you match sound sources to complementary microphones. The maximum SPL rating sets the upper amplitude limit for the device.

It’s a satisfyingly simple process. One develops insight and intuition about which mic to try for a given situation through experience. offering several model numbers. Microphones that rely on electromagnetic properties to convert an acoustic event into an electrical signal are called electrod ynamic (more commonly ‘dynamic’) mics. But we can help our experience along by learning how they work. The coil movement creates an electrical signal whose voltage changes as a direct result of the acoustic event. you could power all your favorite equipment free (assuming you don’t pay this person). We can gain insight about which mic to try for a given situation by learning how they work. A fascinating parallel between electricity and magnetism exists and seems tailor-made for audio. the microphone is an elegantly simple. completely knowable technology. More on all that in future episodes of Nuts & Bolts. If he or she pedals hard enough and if the coil and magnet are big enough. so instead we have power companies. This type of mic takes advantage of the motion of air particles during an acoustic sound to move a coil of wire through the magnetic field of a permanent magnet. RECORDING OCTOBER 1999 Power companies use giant steampowered turbines to spin generators that rely on this same fundamental physical property. the recording engineer typically chooses among three types of microphone designs: moving coil. They come from countless manufacturers. It’s helpful to break down the vast range of microphone possibilities into some subgroups. There are two types of dynamic microphones used in the studio: moving coil and ribbon. How do they work? Unusual in our world of complicated gear (ever open up a digital 8track?). Set it up so that the wire rotates through the gap of a magnet when he or she pedals. . and a magnet that induces electrical current onto the coil when it moves. the engineer has to choose among maybe a dozen or maybe even a hundred microphones. Band: The Has Beens. or condenser. The ribbon is a piece of metal suspended between the poles of magnet. The ribbon microphone cleverly combines the diaphragm and the coil above into a single device: a ribbon. What will a given microphone sound like on a particular instrument in a specific style of music in this unique recording space? Aaargh! There is no end to the possibilities. Overdub #16: ukulele. a coil that is moved by the diaphragm. electromagnetic induction also works in reverse. ribbon. Using electricity to create a magnetic field is a basic necessity when recording music on magnetic tape or playing music back through a loudspeaker. it is even simpler than the moving coil system. And not only does a magnetic field induce a current on a wire that moves through it. Designs S Leveraging this principle. The ribbon microphone takes advantage of the same electrodynamic principle we’ve discussed. for now let’s apply electromagnetic induction to microphones. Which microphone should be used? Depending on the studio. That is. an electrical current is induced onto it. The moving coil dynamic microphone converts sound into electricity with essentially three components: a diaphragm that moves with the air.Part 4 in our beginner’s series Microphones1— Transducer electing the right microphone is a constant part of the job. Just persuade someone to hop onto a bicycle modified so that the rear tire is a coil of wire. As a machine that converts acoustic energy into electrical energy. And they both are appealingly straightforward devices. but also a changing current on a wire creates a magnetic field around it. the thing that moves in the air is also the conductor of electricity. Song #5: The Hair I Used to Have. Whenever an electrical conductor— like a wire—moves through a magnetic field. called electromagnetic induction. We don’t know people willing to do that. That is. In the recording studio. And knowing how the thing works gives us some insight into how to use it. you can generate your own electricity if you want.

materials. The ability to store a charge. and manufacturing techniques used today is enabling all microphone technologies to converge toward a consistent. And it’s certainly helpful when using the ever-popular older microphones. Where the wire was broken. without current actually flowing across the gap we’ve made in the wire. that some new microphones have addressed many of the historic design weaknesses cleverly. The result is that an electrical charge builds up on the plates.When a musical instrument plays. again without touching. air molecules move. generally called a capacitor instead. The electrical output of the microphone is a pattern of voltage changes derived from this change in capacitance. As the diaphragm moves. But let me preface this discussion with some very important. One plate of the capacitor is the diaphragm whose motion is a result of the changing sound pressure around it. they have a stronger and stronger influence on each other and try to approach the behavior of a completed circuit—the charge on the plates then increases. We know that if we hook up a voltage source (e. Once upon a time this type of electrical component was called a condenser While the component is today . consider the following. It’s easy to imagine that.Below I discuss some general properties of microphones based on the type of transducer used. The quality of the design. they become more like a fully broken circuit and the charge dissipates. Which one do I use? Knowing the type of transducer technology a microphone employs gives the engineer some insight into how it might sound and what applications it is best suited for. the microphone built around this technology hangs on to the name condenser. Imagine that after cutting the wire we bring the two ends of the wire really close to each other without touching. really good news: we’re lucky to be in the audio biz in 1999. Take note. The air molecules near the ribbon force it to move. pulled by the influence of the voltage source across the gap in between the plates. A capacitor is a component that does this on purpose. As the plates separate.g. creating mics that are often appropriate in a broad range of recording situations. A third microphone transducer technology employed in the studio doesn’t rely on electromagnetic induction at all. Voltage changes that are a perfect analogy to the acoustic event are created. RECORDING OCTOBER 1999 . A condenser microphone is nothing more than a variable capacitor driven by acoustic sound waves. a battery) across a wire. As the plates converge. So with the caveat that these generalities don’t apply to all mics. Mission accomplished: acoustic music in. And these two plates are brought up very close to each other. the motion of the ribbon through the magnetic field induces electrical current onto the ribbon itself. the size of the plates. electrical current will flow.high-quality. electrical signal out. The condenser microphone relies on the electrical property of capacitance instead. If we cut that wire. the two ends would influence each other electrically. the current stops. or capacitance(hence the name capacitor). however. plates of metal are attached. the capacitance changes. It turns out that there is something in between a closed circuit (the wire) and an open circuit (the severed wire). This is a good starting point for deciding which mic to use in a given situation. is a function of the voltage across the plates. and the distance between the two plates. high-durability product.

Sound quality Though microphones of all types seem to be improving in capability. the diaphragm. the job of the ribbon is to react instantly to any change in the air pressure around it. which are very tough on delicate equipment. get two shopping carts. can be an extremely thin plastic membrane with just the lightest coating of a metal to make it . but in enough quantity to get the band through a two-week session. And if there is. Physics asks it. and you fill one cart with chips while the drummer fills the other with beer. the moving coil is more like the beer cart. In the durability category. you’ll certainly find some of them performing on stage or placed near the very loud instruments such as kick drum. drinking) some cans for this very reason. But nobody dares stick a ribbon microphone in the high amplitude world of a rock and roll kick drum. Before the session begins. As a result they are often the transducer of choice for live sound applications. trombone. Not surprisingly. Some new ribbons are designed to be tough enough for screaming vocals and thundrous electric guitar. then the ribbon has to be able to move back and forth ten thousand times a second. and the acoustic guitar. Quite simply. then. Some ribbon microphones are still manufactured today. Unusual in our world of complicated gear (ever open up a digital 8-track?). You and the drummer go to the neighborhood Chomp ‘n Gulp. At the other end of the durability chain is the ribbon mic. But they all want a chance at the horns (not too close. The only moving part. as required by very high frequencies. Consider the following hypothetical expedition. trumpet.e. achieving more sensitivity at the high frequencies as a result. as the ribbon loses mass it necessarily loses strength. therefore. The condenser microphone is generally lightest of all. completely knowable technology. to have as little weight as possible. among others. Unfortunately. the piano. Clever drummers start emptying (i.e. it is worth making some generalizations about how a microphone of a given transducer technology might sound. and the drummer helps. and so forth. you go food shopping for the band you are working with. But consider these questions: Which cart is easier to drive? Which cart is easier to stop and start? The chip cart and the beer cart can go pretty much the same speed. For our microphones. Moving coil dynamic microphones are the largest mechanism used for converting acoustic waves into electrical ones. expensive) ribbon microphones available at some studios. and the ribbon within those mics is certainly tougher than the ribbons in Granny’s microphones. condensers generally fall somewhere in between moving coil and ribbon designs. a 10 kHz component to the music you are recording. thank you). they generally have a natural high frequency roll-off as the ability of the device to transduce diminishes at higher frequencies. the diaphragm/coil assembly is too big to react quickly. but the beer cart needs a stronger shove to get going. As a result the ribbon transducer is typically more agile than a moving coil. behaving more like an empty shopping cart in the analogy above. Consisting of a single moving part (the ribbon) it is a lighter mechanism. Remember. ‘This has nothing to do with microphones. say.’ you—and my editor—think to yourselves. The shopping list consists solely of potato chips and beer.Durability Moving coil microphones are often considered to be the heartiest of the bunch. As a result. the microphone is an elegantly simple. The ribbon itself is pretty fragile—especially on the vintage (i. RECORDING OCTOBER 1999 The ribbon microphone is more like the chip cart.

or the very high frequency portion of a high hat. The true spike of amplitude that comes off a conga might easily distort the microphone preamplifier or overload the tape you are recording onto. you will often find that the moving coil dynamic microphone squashes the transients into a more exciting. The sound of a clave. try using a moving coil and a condenser The apparent transient response weakness in the moving coil design can in fact be quite a handy engineering tool. Then listen critically to the different coloration of each mic. By the time the track you are recording gets combined with all the other tracks in the multitrack project. and after the signal makes its way Beyond this issue of audio fidelity and the prevention of distortion. placed as near to the same location as possible. As a result the condenser offers the best opportunity to capture the detail of a transient.conduct electricity. But listen beyond this. with the condenser sounding a little brighter at the high end while the moving coil offers perhaps a presence peak in the upper mid-range. more intense sound. it acts mechanically as a compressor might act electrically. Meantime the ribbon microphone. and many other instruments is often much more com- from mic to tape. First. dumbek. The use of a dynamic mic might be just the right solution to capture the sound without distortion. to the character of the attack of the instrument. It reduces the amplitude of the peaks of a transient sound. pelling after the subtle reshaping of the transient that a moving coil microphone introduces. This is helpful for two major reasons. dynamic microphones with their natural lethargy are often used for creative reasons. Most apparent will be the frequency response differences. offering more high frequency content RECORDING OCTOBER 1999 . The apparent transient response weakness in the moving coil design can in fact be quite a handy engineering tool. Depending on the application. through the console and various effects processors to the loudspeakers. By reacting slowly to a sudden increase in amplitude. on the same instrument. As soon as a session permits. snare. kick. the recorded sound from a moving coil microphone often just seems to work better. this reduction of peaks can help prevent the sort of distortion that comes from overloading your electronics.

a cymbal. still finds its place in the recording studio. Closemiking them. lo He hopes you have a similar job. Many instruments have a rather painful amount of high end. Excerpted from the October edition of RECORDING magazine. of applying different microphones in different musical situations. In our next Nuts & Bolts episode we’ll look at other microphone properties like directionality and proximity effect so that we can make more sense out of the vast range of options microphones offer.com) ec is the director of ermata where he F records and produces music heves. airy. 5412 Idylwild Trail. Inc. piercing. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. only makes this worse. Alex Case (case@r ordingmag. Reprinted with permission. We can organize our experiences based on what we know about how the microphone works. Boulder. only makes this worse. and others become beautiful. Close-miking them. The natural high frequency attenuarandomly trying different microphones in different applications.than the typical moving coil microphone but less high frequency reach than most condensers. as we so often must do in the studio. call: 1-800-582-8326 tion of a ribbon is often just the right touch to make a trumpet. a triangle. and you’ll bring some order to an otherwise chaotic part of the recording gig. thin. Many instruments have a rather painful amount of high end. ©1999 Music Maker Publications. as we so often must do in the studio. We can look forward to a career-long exploration of the beauty RECORDING OCTOBER 1999 Try to rationalize what you actually hear with how you think it should sound. . a tambourine. without being shrill. Suite 100. and sparkling. Let the other engineers work their way through the microphone closet. or edgy.

l i ke “Bass” and “Treble” or “Low” and “High. harshly assaulting our ears with too much high frequency sizzle. If the audio signal is dull. the equalizer again offers the solution. neither more or less amplitude) at about 1 kHz. which we may need to alter. Pa rt 1 B Y A LE X C A S E The latest installment in our series for the novice is all about tone shaping and how to deal with it. looking low The frequency response of a device describes its ability to create output signals that are consistent across the entire audio frequency range. Think of an equalizer as a frequency-specific fader. Imagine routing a couple of sine waves into this device. If you’ve ever had to listen to sine waves for very long— as in the experiment above or when aligning analog magnetic tape recorders—you’ve learned that they can create . Musically speaking 1 kHz is a rather high pitch. in this case a device with an output that emphasizes the low frequencies and de-emphasizes the high frequencies. When you measure the output of the device that is set up to boost low frequencies and reduce high frequencies (as per Fig. the equalizer is the tool used to fix this—provided that there is some high frequency content in the signal in the first place that the equalizer can bring out. We’ll use meters to assure that both sine waves are kept at the same amplitude (to our ears. Yet it pays to know that theory. Then again. sometimes a very simple term will do—even something as mundane as tone contro l s . And a very high frequency sine wave (say 10 kHz) will measure softer. 1). If the sound is painfully bright. The Equalizer. The master fader on your console adjusts the amplitude of the entire audio signal. Figure 1 shows a typical example. a 100 Hz tone (a bit more than an octave below middle C) will measure louder than a 1 kHz tone input at equal amplitude. But keep in mind that many instruments playing lower notes will have some harmonic content at this frequency. and the other we’ll move up and down to various frequencies in comparison to our 1 kHz reference. One is set to a 1 kHz frequency. or frequency-specific amplitude adjuster. You may well wonder: what sounds in a studio need to be made equal? Equal to what? A more descriptive term for equalizer would be spectral modifier. you’ll do better work knowing the theory where common sense would only get you so far. RECORDING JANUARY 2000 Looking high.PART 7 E q u a l i z at i o n . You’ll see that common sense and your ears have at least as much to do with good use of equalizers as the theory behind them. higher pitched sine waves sound much louder than equal-amplitude waves at lower frequencies).” The audio job of an equalizer is to change the frequency content of an audio signal. lacking high frequency sparkle. Engineers use equalizers to adjust the amplitude of a signal within specific and controllable frequency ranges. almost two octaves above middle C. it increases or decreases the amplitude of a signal at certain frequencies only. this time by reducing the offending portion of the sound’s high frequency content. It crosses 0 dB amplitude change (unity gain.

and we’ll discuss this in more detail later. We begin with the most flexible type of all: the parametric equalizer. The addition (or subtraction) of bass happens via adjustment of the second parameter: Cut/Boost. We’d like devices like microphone cables and mixing consoles to treat the amplitude of all signals the same way at all frequencies. When you learn how to use a parametric equalizer. and good judgment. with a gorgeous. Perhaps the most obvious parameter needed is the one that selects the frequency you wish to alter. It is a parametric eq because it offers you the most parameters for changing the spectral shaping. is to alter the frequency response in ways that are tasteful. frequency select and cut/boost. The mix you found oh-so-perfect becomes too heavy in the low frequencies and loses detail up high. If you feel your vocal track or your entire mix needs a little more low end and a little less high end. somewhere between 40 and 120 Hz perhaps. and a rich. All other equalizers will have one or two of these three parameters available for adjusting on the front of the box. we then decide how much to alter the frequency we’ve selected. The frequency response plot quantifies exactly the sort of changes in frequency content you can expect when a signal is run through the device. Consider an input that is not just a simple sine wave.To understand equalization you need only understand this: you are changing the frequency content of a signal by running it through a device whose frequency response is distinctly non-flat—on purpose. you might run it through an equalizer with a frequency response like that in Figure 1. Naturally. bass. How many knobs? If you consider the frequency response like that in Figure 1 to be adjustable from flat to the specific contour shown. you discover that configuring a device that actually controls these sorts of changes isn’t obvious. RECORDING JANUARY 2000 . As you can see. musical. We hope these sorts of devices don’t change the frequency character of the mix “behind our back” unless we choose to make such changes. In fact it’s got all of three parameters for your knob tweaking pleasure. these two parameters alone. a good monitoring environment. So let’s take another look at the meaning of the frequency response plot in Figure 1. and good judgment. and appropriate to the sound. That’s it. To see how this is done we’ll take a tour of the equalizers you are likely to find in a studio (leaving out equalizers that exist in software for now). which makes them useful for testing and calibrating purposes but not usually for making music. we might have decided that our signal needs additional low frequency content in the area around 100 Hz. The trick. To add a lot of bass. Sent through the device in Figure 1. becoming more and more annoying the higher their frequencies get. at least during audio production. Understanding the three parameters here makes understanding all types of equalizers a breeze. o one got a Nobel Prize for naming this N thing. Or is it closer to 80 Hz? These decisions are made at the frequency select control. To take the shrill edge off of a horn. boost 9 to 12 decibels at the low frequency that sounds best. good ears. warm low end. It’s easy to get it wrong. a good monitoring environment. Dialing up just the right eq ‘curve’ for a given situation will require experience. that spectral balance is altered. distinctly non-musical listening experience. And when we want to make such changes away from a flat frequency response we resort to using the equalizer.It indicates the amount of decrease or increase in amplitude at the center frequency you dialed in on parameter number one above. In our search for a rather unpleasant. The mix is a careful blend of instruments and effects that fills the audio spectrum exactly to your liking. you are learning how to use all types of equalizers. but is instead an entire mix—a killer mix. an airy. present midrange. Dialing up just the right eq ‘curve’ for a given situation will require experience. give you a terrific amount of spectral flexibility. detailed high end. select a high frequency (around 8 kHz maybe) and cut a small amount—maybe about 3 dB. You’ve probably already absorbed the idea that a “flat” frequency response is often desirable. good ears. That’s because sine waves have no overtones. The center frequency the spectral region you are altering is of dialed up on a knob labeled Frequency.

Instead we affect a range of fre- quencies both below and above that 100 Hz frequency. This could be just the trick to make a guitar sound powerful in the lower and fatter notes. We know where we boost (at 100 Hz in the above example) and how high we boost (by adding 8 dB)—but we don’t just boost the narrow and exclusive frequency of 100 Hz. even though that’s the one we dialed up.Bandwidth and Q Consider a boost of 8 dB at 100 Hz. You can hear the result. It’s a bit more subtle than the first two. You can almost taste the Grammy Award after deciding on this eq move. you need to consider a third parameter. and many less expensive equalizers (which we’ll cover later) do without it. Check them out and you’ll see what we meant by saying that selecting a center frequency to boost affects not . But before you know what you really did to alter the frequency response. Remember—that 100 Hz is called the centerfrequency. Just how wide is the boosted region to either side of that center going to be? Figure 2 demonstrates two possible results from the same center frequency and boost settings.

we can find the points on the curves in Figure 2 where the signal is three decibels down from the amplitude at the center frequency. The bandwidth then is 50 Hz (the spectral distance from 75 Hz to 125 Hz). Bandwidth expressed in octaves is more musically useful to our ears than bandwidth expressed in Hertz. This narrowing of bandwidth as measured in Hertz ensures that the equalization character you hear doesn’t change as you zero in on the desired center frequency. the bandwidth is half the value of the center frequency. Let’s define first the bandwidth of an equalization change. you don’t decide to add a flute part 440 Hertz above the tenor an extra $20 to make an eq sweepable will bump up the price of a 32channel mixer by over $600. 1000 Hz is one octave above 500 Hz. the bandwidth is based on the frequencies that are boosted by 5 dB (8 – 3 = 5) or more. Bandwidth is closely related to but not the same as Q. The degree to which we also boost other frequencies nearby is defined by the third parameter. Starting at the center frequency and working our way out both above it and below it in frequency. With a fixed bandwidth of “exactly half an octave.” sweeping the center frequency down from 100 Hz to 50 Hz would be accompanied by a bandwidth that decreases automatically from 50 Hz to 25 Hz. etc. Using a ratio. For music we think in terms of musical ratios or intervals. Now expressing values in actual Hertz is rarely very useful in the studio. The bandwidth of a cut or boost at a specific frequency describes the frequency range bounded by these ‘3 dB down’ points. saying that the flute should be perhaps one octave above the tenor sax.just that single frequency but the neighboring frequencies as well. Q. Because this is how we hear. Figure 2 shows two such possible boosts. For example a 50 Hz bandwidth around a 100 Hz center frequency represents a bandwidth that is half an octave wide. Bandwidth is considered to be the frequency region on either side of the center frequency that is within three decibels of the center frequency’s cut or boost. sax. we stick to this way of describing spectral properties on the equalizer. If the bandwidth during the previous move (from center frequency 100 Hz to down to 50 Hz) had remained at a bandwidth of “exactly 50 Hz” it would have sounded like a wider. . whatever the frequency may be— 440 Hertz (“tuning” A above middle C) is one octave above 220 Hz. When you are writing a horn chart. the most famous of which is the octave. we compare the bandwidth to the center frequency and express them in relative terms— in octaves rather than Hz. The Q describes the width of the cut or boost region. giving a smaller bandwidth of just 10 Hz. Instead you describe it musically. We humans don’t process music that way. The octave represents nothing more than a mathematical doubling of frequency. The wide boost has ‘3 dB down’ points at 75 Hz and 125 Hz. In our example of an 8 dB boost at 100 Hz. The narrow boost is 3 dB down at 95 Hz and 105 Hz.

When you see such a term in a product’s specs it’s implied that you cannot adjust the bandwidth. vintage and new. We consider l center frequency divided by bandwidth instead of bandwidth divided by center frequency.Such a move is called notching or notch filtering. A 4-band parametric eq has 12 controls on it (3 controls x 4 bands = 12 controls in all)! It offers the three parameters four different times so that you can select four different spectral targets and shape each of them with their own amount of boost or cut.or 3-band form: three knobs labeled High. But there is one more idea to take in here before we’re done. The Q therefore is 2 (center frequency of 100 Hz divided by the bandwidth of 50 Hz). from broad and subtle enhancements to aggressive and surgical notches. That’s the idea of bandwidth. If it costs an extra 20 bucks to make the equalizer sweepable. r These devices suffer from having an even less imaginative name than parametric equalizers. It appears most often in a 2. So for a full complement of equalization parameters you have Frequency Select. The terrific amount of sonic shaping power that four bands of parametric equalization offer makes it a popular piece of gear in any studio. In the case of consoles. Take away the Q Some equalizers fix the bandwidth internally. if the bandwidth were adjustable the brochure would brag that the device is fully parametric! This configuration in which only two parameters (Frequency and Cut/Boost) are adjustable is common. remember that there may be the same equalizer repeated over and over on every channel of the console. it is easy for the recordist to use. The spectral ‘width’ described this way (still in octaves) is the Q parameter. But other options exist.Studio-speak includes phrases like “low Q” and “high Q” to describe wide (low Q) and narrow (high Q) boosts and cuts. It then follows that the higher the Q. is the ability to effect a tremendous amount of change on the spectral content of a signal. sometimes we only have control over the amount of cut or boost and can adjust neither the frequency nor the Q of the equalization shape. And Q makes three While expressing the bandwidth of an equalizer boost or cut in octaves makes good sense. of course you go for the narrowest bandwidth around the offending center frequency. And that’s almost the end of the math in this article. and Q as the three controls needed to achieve any kind of alteration to a frequency response. The result. If it costs 50 bucks to make them fully parametric. Generally called progr am eq. Cut/Boost.less precise equalization adjustment at lower frequencies. When writing a horn chart. easier for the manufacturer to design than a fully parametric.. if your ears can follow it all. That’s because a bandwidth of 50 Hz around a center frequency of 50 Hz is—you guessed it—a full octave. and it’s a 64-channel console. you do the math. and each with a unique bandwidth.well. If you have a particular note or tone or hum or buzz that you need to pull out. The narrow boost has a Q of 10 (100 Hz divided by the narrow 10 Hz bandwidth). Expressing values in Hertz is rarely useful in the studio. that translates into a bump in price of more than $600 on a 32-channel mixer. It’s probably best to call them swee pable eq to emphasize that you can adjust the frequency that you are cutting or boosting. remember?). Parametric equalizers give you these three controls for every band of equalization. you don’t decide to add a flute part 440 Hertz above the tenor sax. Mid. Figure 3 shows a possible result of 4-band RECORDING JANUARY 2000 . the more surgical your intervention. Bring on Q.. Because of the downgrade from three parameters to two this type of eq is sometimes called a semi-parametric (or demi-parametric or even quasi-parametric) equalize. the tradition is to flip the ratio over mathematically (the fancy term for this is to take the reciproca—impress your clients!). providing access only to the Frequency Select and Cut/Boost parameters. You also see this type of eq on many consoles. Believe me. parametric equalization. with the steepest cut your equalizer can provide. Band of equalization? That’s right. and Low that are fixed in frequency and Q and offer you only the choice of how much cutting or boosting you’re going to apply. The wide boost discussed above and shown in Figure 2 is 50 Hz wide at a center frequency of 100 Hz. and still very useful in music production. These three controls often appear in sets. Take away the frequency Down one more step. this is the sort of equalizer found on most home stereo equipment (those “Treble” and “Bass” knobs.

How could this be? I was politely informed that for this particular device. There are times in the course of a project when one must reshape the harmonic content with great care using a parametric eq. Being able to see an outline of what you hear will make it easier and quicker to set up the sound you are looking for. I was instantly humbled. Sometimes you don’t even miss the frequency select parameter. offering the engineer only the cut/boost decision. and learned a lesson. Conversely. I accidentally let slip my disappointment that despite a 5-figure price tag. It is not unusual to have dual 31-band graphic equalizers that fit into one or two rack spaces.’ (To be exact. In choosing which type of equalizer to use. if you find an equalizer that is fully parametric and sweepable across four bands yet costs $39. That made frequency selection surgically precise and absolutely repeatable. It was a super high quality equalizer intended for mastering RECORDING JANUARY 2000 piece of the circuit. In other instances there is no time for such careful tweaking and a graphic eq is the perfect.houses.’ Frequency select wasn’t continuously sweepable from. The equalizer was physically using different parts for different frequency selections! It wasn’t just adjusting some variable This company has such high standards for sound quality that they took away a little bit of user flexibility to get a better and more repeatable sound. Graphic eq is an extremely intuitive and comfortable way to work. On a graphic eq. If you wanted The good news is that even well designed program equalization can sound absolutely gorgeous. say 125 Hz to 250 Hz. a must for mastering applications. . In choosing which type of eq to use. the actual eq curve outline looks more like a series of sharp bumps above and below a straight line than than the smooth continuous curve one might expect. and other silliness. it was physically changing the circuit. price and processing flexibility vs. you have to trade off sound quality vs. Plan to master both. this device has . selecting a different frequency by clicking a knob on the faceplate selected different electronic components inside the device. the frequency select knobs ‘clicked. radically reshaping a guitar tone. And often the preset center frequencies are close enough to the ideal spectral location to get the job done on many tracks. fixed Q and center frequencies.) Handy also is the fact that the faders can be made quite compact. I admired a rather impressive British eq. The result of such a hardware design is that the faders provide a decent visual description of the frequency response modification that is being applied—hence the name ‘graphic. the knob clicked from 125 Hz to 250 Hz. That didn’t stop me from thinking it could be useful for tracking a vocal. Some knobs are switches Early in my audio career while attending the AES show in New York City. your equalization contour to be centered on exactly a frequency between clicks you were out of luck. you have to trade off sound quality versus price and processing flexibility versus ease of use.99. you would be wise to wonder how it is that they made the eq so infinitely adjustable and how much sound quality was sacrificed in the name of this flexibility. efficient solution. ease of use. the various frequency bands are presented not as knobs but as sliders—like faders on a console. Turning knobs on a 4-band parametric equalizer is more of an acquired taste than moving sliders. Take away the knobs A variation on the equalizer described so far is the graphic equalizer Like program eq.

is a parametric equalizer. and cuts as well as boosts. If we allow four bands of eq we are up to 12 knobs. filters So far the most complicated equalizer we can build. Naturally. A broad equalization desire might be to brighten up the sound in general.Don’t value an equalizer based on the number of controls it has. A simple program eq that allows you only to adjust the amount of cut or boost might contain extremely high quality components inside. Knobs. As Figure 4 shows. generally about filtering a signal whenever they change its frequency RECORDING JANUARY 2000 . This shape is called a peak/dipbecause of the visual change it makes in the frequency response. A high frequency shelving eq bumped up 6 dB at 8 kHz will raise the output at 8 kHz and above. it would look cooler if we added some switches. switches. the concept of a shelving eq applies to low frequencies as well as high. Roughly shaped like a bell curve. the one with the most fancy knobs on the faceplate. It isn’t limited to a center frequency and its associated bandwidth. Figure 4 demonstrates. Here’s how. it offers a bump up or down in the frequency response. In all cases there is a flat region beyond (above or below) the selected center frequency that is boosted or attenuated. A helpful image comes by way of beer: the shelving eq shape provides a good flat region to set a beer on without risk of spilling. There is nowhere within the eq move to set a beer when using a peak/dip eq contour. The shelving equalizer offers the peak/dip response on one side of the selected center frequency and a flat cut or boost region on the other. The resulting alteration in the frequency response is flat (like a shelf) beyond the selected frequency. An important final option exists for reshaping the frequency response of a signal: the filter Engineers speak . Two other alternatives exist. We’ve talked about equalization changes that offer a region of emphasis when we boost or deemphasis when we cut.

First, filters are cut-only devices; they never boost at any frequency (except in the case of resonant filters on synthesizers, which we won’t go into now). Shelf eq can cut or boost. Second, and this is important, filters offer an ever-increasing amount of attenuation beyond the selected frequency. They do not flatten out like the shelf; there is nowhere to set the beer. They just keep cutting, and cutting, all the way down to silence. response in any way. Under this loose definition, all of the equalizers we’ve discussed so far are made up of audio filters. But to be more precise, a stand-alone filter must have one of the two shapes shown in Figure 5. A highpass filter (Figure 5A) allows high frequencies through but attenuates lows. A lowpass filter (Figure 5B) does the opposite, allowing low frequencies to pass through the device without a change in amplitude, but attenuating high frequencies. Because the sonic result can be rather similar to shelving equalizers cutting out extreme high or low frequencies, there is some confusion between them. Filters distinguish themselves from shelving equalizers in two key ways.

Now the faceplate of our equalizer is pretty complicated. The 4-band parametric (12 knobs) gets a low pass and high pass filter at each end, as well as switches that toggle each band between a peak/dip or shelf shape. But such an equalizer contains a rich amount of capability with which you can freely alter the spectral content of any signal in your studio. These knobs and switches enable you to bend and shape the frequency

If you find a 4-band parametric eq that costs $39.99, you’d be wise to wonder what was sacrificed in the name of all that flexibility.
If there is some unwanted low frequency air conditioner rumble on a track that you never, ever want to hear, a filter can essentially remove it entirely. A shelf equalizer will have a limit to the amount of attenuation it can achieve, perhaps only 12 or 16 dB down. The weakness of using a shelving equalizer in this case is easily revealed on every quiet passage whenever that track is being played, as you’ll still heae the air conditioner rumbling on faintly in the background. response of the equalizer into almost any contour imaginable. Your strong creative drive to push the limits of a sound must be balanced by your musical and technical knowledge of your sound and equipment. Listen closely, and have fun. Alex Case encourages you to insert the words “cup of water” herever the w word “beer” appears abo . Request ve Nuts & Bolts topics via case@rcord e ingmag.com.Thanks.

Excerpted from the January edition of RECORDING magazine. ©2000 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. 5412 Idylwild Trail, Suite 100, Boulder, CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information, call: 1-800-582-8326

PART 8

E Q U A L I Z AT I O N , PA RT 2
B Y A LE X C AS E

To EQ, or Not to EQ, That Is the Question
“I hear they used a Spasmatron 2000 equalizer on that kazoo track.” “No waaaay.” “Yup, and that album went triple platinum.” “No waaaay.” “And I saw on a web site that they raised it 4 dB in the lower highs.” “Wait a second. Get me a pencil...What was that killer EQ move again?”
Last month we discussed the operation and theory of eq. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and look at the nuts and bolts of using it. The technique The number one approach to dialing in an eq setting is quite intuitive: boost, search, and then set the equalizer. Boost by a clearly audible amount, maybe 12 dB or more. Search by sweeping for the frequency select knob until you find the sound you are looking for. And finally set the eq to the desired sound—either cutting the frequency if you don’t like it or finding just the right amount of boost (and bandwidth) if you do. It’s that simple. Over time, through experience and eartraining, you can skip the boost and search steps and instead reach immediately for the frequency range you wish to manipulate. But until then there’s nothing wrong with this approach. And even the famous, expensive engineers resort to the boost, search and set approach on occasion. So when do we boost, search, and set? What are we listening for? Why and when do we equalize? Eq is simple in concept but not necessarily in application.
RECORDING FEBRUARY 2000

But before giving in to despair, realize that all engineers have a lot to learn about eq. Apprentices, hobbyists, veterans, and Grammy winners... all are still exploring the sonic variety and musical capability of equalization. Eq offers a huge range of possibilities and options. Critical listening skills are developed over a lifetime and require careful concentration, good equipment, and a good monitoring environment. No one learned the difference between 1 kHz and 1.2 kHz overnight. Interfering with this challenging learning process is the temptation to imitate others or repeat equalization moves that worked for us on the last song.“Magic” settings that make every mix sound great simply don’t exist. If you got the chance to write down the equalizer settings used on, say, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar track on ‘The Wind Cries Mary,’ it might be tempting to apply it to some other guitar track, thinking that the equalizer goes a long way toward improving the tone.

Beware the urge to imitate others or repeat eq moves that worked on the last song...

But the fact is, the tone of Jimi’s guitar is a result of countless factors: the playing, the tuning, the type of strings, the kind of guitar, the amp, the amp settings, the placement of the amp within the room, the room, the microphones used, the microphone placement chosen, et cetera et cetera. The equalizer alone doesn’t create the tone. In fact, it plays a relatively minor role in the development of the tone in the scheme of things.
RECORDING FEBRUARY 2000

. “Magic” settings that make every mix sound great simply don’t exist. For example.the fact is. This is really low stuff that singers and most musical instruments are incapable of creating. hum. and The Special Effect. In many recording situations. outboard equalizers. low cut) filter that removes all the super low lows entirely. The Fit. This low-end energy comes from such culprits as the building’s temperature control system or the vibration of the traffic on nearby highways and train tracks (note to self: don’t build studio next door to Amtrak and Interstate 10). Why is this kind of eq on all these devices and what is it used for? These devices remove low frequency energy less for creative “this’ll sound awesome” reasons and more to fix the common problems of rumble. Armed with this organized approach. you can pursue a more complete understanding of eq. RECORDING FEBRUARY 2000 . consoles. The audio needs and desires that motivate an engineer to reach for some equalization fall into four categories: The Fix. The Feature..e. and excessive proximity effect. pops.The way to get ahead of this infinitely variable. and even microphones themselves often have low frequency roll-off filters. we find the microphone picks up a very low frequency (40 Hz and below) rumble. Since very little music happens at such low frequencies. it is often appropriate to insert a highpass (i. . microphone preamplifiers. difficult to hear thing called eq is to develop a process that helps you strategize on when and how to equalize a sound. The Fix A big motivation for engaging an equalizer is to clean things up and get rid of problems that lie within specific frequency ranges. buzz.

180 Hz.. kick drum. Exercise care and listen carefully when filtering out hum. a low pass filter helps..poorly designed. electric motors. A slightly different problem is hum. the hum might be less noticeable on these instruments anyway as their music can mask a low level hum. Drive carefully. Sometimes proximity effect is bad. but such a problem might be fixable. Sometimes this bassy effect that increases with proximity to a directional mic is good. or failing power supplies. Ever track a singer with a cold? It’s difficult to get a great sounding performance out of a congested crooner.. Hum is the interference from our power lines and power supplies that is based on 60 Hertz AC power (50 Hertz for many of our friends in other countries). The alternating current in the power provided by the utility compa- ny often leaks into our audio through damaged.That’s rumble. then filter the low frequencies out.g. Again. It can also be induced into our audio through proximity to electromagnetic radiation of other power lines. This is high enough in frequency that it can audibly affect the musical quality of the sound. Often. As more harmonics appear—120 Hz. we need to roll-off at a frequency just above 60 Hertz or perhaps an octave above. If you can’t keep the wind off the microphone. to name a few) aren’t changed much sonically by such a filter. turning down that ring reveals an exciting snare sound underneath. light dimmers. The additional harmonics of buzz make removing it only more musically destructive. Many instruments (e. Buzz finds its way into almost every old guitar amp. bass guitar) aren’t gonna tolerate this kind of equalization. search. proximity effect appears. When the instrument you are recording is very close to a directional microphone.g. and 240 Hz—the hum blossoms into a full-grown buzz. 120 Hertz. helped out a fair amount by florescent lighting and single coil guitar pickups. But low frequency-based instruments (e. To remove hum. Roll off the low end to lose it. a lot of percussion. Poorly miked acoustic guitars have a pulsing low frequency sound that masks the rest of the tone of the instrument with each strum of the guitar. Radio DJs love it—makes them sound larger than life. some vocals. Compensate with some helpful midrange boost and you might find a vocal sound that you and the singer didn’t think was there. Fortunately. most saxophones. Other low frequency problems fixed by a highpass filter are the woofer-straining pops of a breath of air hitting the mic whenever the singer hits a “P” or a “B” in a word. you’ve no doubt discovered that any breeze across the mic leads to low-end garbage. Buzz is more challenging.) most responsible for the ring and try attenuating it at a narrow bandwidth. Equalizers are employed to fix other sounds. transformers. Ever had a snare with an annoying ring? Find the frequency range (boost. Or if you are working outside (doing live sound or collecting natural sounds in the field). Find the dominant muddying frequency (probably somewhere between 200 and 500 Hertz) and cut it a bit. and such. RECORDING FEBRUARY 2000 .

Second is the mid-to-high frequency energy up to 10 kHz and beyond due to the rattling snares underneath. to bring out components of the sound you like. Sometimes a gorgeous spectral element of a sound is hidden by anoth- instead for the ugliest. The snare:It’s a burst of noise. Watch out for overly sizzling “S” sounds. Want a richer tone to the voice? Manipulate the vowel range. look for power in the drum-based lows. hobbyists. Often this approach reveals plenty of low end punchiness that just wasn’t audible before the wellplaced cut was applied. Having trouble understanding the words? Manipulate the consonant range. listen to the low end. Realize that all engineers have a lot to learn about eq. Here are a few ideas and starting points. and Grammy winners. veterans. This one is tough to eq. The voice:It might be fair to think of voice as sustained vowels and transient consonants. er. A good example of this can be found in drums. As you cut this problematic frequency.. And boosting the lows invariably boosts some of the mud. Search at narrow bandwidth The Feature A natural application of equalization is to enhance a particular part of a sound. Apprentices. much less appealing frequency component. The vowels happen at lower mid frequencies (200 to 1000 Hz) and the consonants happen at the upper mids (2 kHz on up). One is the low frequency energy coming from the drum itself. and exciting raucous emotion in the noisy snares. as it reacts to almost any spectral change. Does it never sound right when you go searching for the right frequency to boost for that punchy big budget drum sound? The low frequency stuff that makes a drum sound punchy often lives just a few Hertz lower than some rather muddy junk. Narrow the possibilities. This is unlikely to be fixable (because eq can’t generate missing frequencies).Ever track a guitar with old strings? Dull and lifeless. muddiest component of the drum sound (between about 180 and maybe 400 Hertz) and cut it.. but don’t rule it out until you’ve tried a bit of a boost somewhere up between 6 kHz and 12 kHz. all are still exploring the musical capability of equalization. One approach is to divide the sound into two parts. but don’t be afraid to emphasize some of the human expressiveness of the singer taking a big breath right before a screaming chorus. .

The trick is to find a spectral range that highlights the good qualities of the guitar without doing significant damage to the tone of the synth patch. you are free to pursue other chord voicings. and The Special Effect. We tend to gravitate toward the more obvious low and high frequencies areas when we reach for the equalizer. In parallel. this means that you might be able to pull out a fair amount of low end from an acoustic guitar sound.000 Hz. Around the bass guitar. you’ve perhaps discovered this already. and the same is true spectrally. The mid frequencies are definitely the most difficult region to equalize. it’s true. but you’ll find this approach allows you to layer in several details into a mix. It’ll take some trial and error to get it just right. which resonates with every aggressive strum. we encounter low frequency competition that needs addressing. Eq is a powerful way to gain control of the various elements of this challenging instrument. Frustratingly. Make them fit with the same complementary eq moves. pick noise. as almost all instruments have something to say in the mids. Alone. The tone is down around 50 Hertz and below. The needs and desires that motivate an engineer to reach for equalization fall into four categories: The Fix. And it is the most difficult place to hear accurately. If you play guitar or piano and do solo gigs as well as band sessions. Look for these frequency landmarks in every acoustic guitar you record and mix. plan to focus on the middle frequencies as a key challenge and learn to hear the subtle differences that live between 500 and 6. on the other hand. you owe it to yourself to spend some time examining their sounds with an equalizer. and anything that moves. Also look for the less desirable noises some instruments make and file those away on a ‘watch-out’ list. if you want to hear the acoustic guitar while the string pad is sustaining. Listen carefully to the tone as you seek frequencies to highlight. this covers quite a range from lows (100 Hertz) to highs (10 kHz). The Fit. you’ve got low frequency responsibilities as you cover the bass line and pin down the harmony. Mirror image cuts on the other tracks will help ensure all these high frequency instruments are clearly audible in the mix. this kind of distortion occurs through the addition of some upper harmonic energy. That is. You don’t want to compete with the bass player musically. As an engineer. the lead guitar has emphasized distortion around 8 kHz. The Fit A key reason to equalize tracks in multitrack production is to help us fit all these different tracks together. The Feature. There is the click of the beater hitting the drum followed by the low frequency pulse of the ringing drum. There are often technical considerations behind eq decisions.The kick drum:Like the snare. These mental summaries of the spectral qualities of some key instruments will save you time in the heat of a session when you want more punch in the snare (aim low) and more breathiness in the vocal (aim high). For the instruments you play and often record. The attack lives up in the 3 kHz range and beyond. These are two good targets for tailoring a kick sound. Spectrally speaking. It is always tempting in rock music to add distortion to guitars. vocals. consider reducing this instrument to two components. There is spectral room for the low frequencies of the bass because the acoustic guitar no longer competes here. it might sound too thin. It is very competitive space spectrally. and the rhythm guitar hangs out at 6 kHz. In the highs. full bass for the song—and for the mix. But music wouldn’t be music if we didn’t selectively abandon those approaches. providing uncluttered. This eq cut on the string pad keeps the sound from competing with or drowning out the acoustic guitar. Expect to apply this thinking in a few critical areas of the mix. find a satisfyingly present midrange boost for the guitar and perform a complementary cut in the mids of the pad. fret buzz. consider the guitar’s more peculiar noises that may need emphasis or suppression: finger squeaks. Look for defining characteristics of the instrument and their frequency range. but with the bass guitar playing all is well. But the acoustic guitar still has the illusion of being a full and rich sound because the bass guitar is playing along. One of the simplest ways to bring clarity to a component of a crowded mix is to get everything else out of the way—spectrally. Maybe the cymbals get the highs above 10 kHz. competition appears among the obvious high frequency culprits like the cymbals and hand percussion as well as the not-so-obvious: distorted sounds. The acoustic guitar:Try separating it into its musical tone and its mechanical sounds. RECORDING FEBRUARY 2000 . In the band setting. and the percussive sound of the box of the instrument itself. And this distortion will overlap with the cymbals and any other distorted tracks. On the road to earning golden ears. Solo.

you just print the wah-wah version to a spare track. sweep the frequency knob for fun and profit. tambourine. Gouda.. the lead singer sings. If you’ve a parametric equalizer handy. “My baby’s gonna get some Gouda Cheese. As the track plays. it is traditional to equalize the signal as it is fed back to the delay for each repetition.. anything). Another special effect is actually used to improve realism.. creating a more engaging effect.” And the background singers sing. It then goes through a lowpass filter for some removal of high frequency energy and is fed back through the delay. Dial in a pretty sharp midrange boost (high-Q. RECORDING FEBRUARY 2000 . piano. Without automation. “Wah-wah” is nothing more than variable eq. A final reason to eq is to create special effects... but here are some starting points.. that’s true. The first “GOUDA!” is simply a delay.” For maximum effect. +12 dB). The farther a sound has traveled. This is where we are least analytical and most creative. But music wouldn’t be music if we didn’t selectively abandon those approaches.” The echoes seem to grow more distant.. 1 kHz.gouda. It is delayed again: “Gouda!” Once more through the same lowpass filter for still more high frequency attenuation and back through the same delay: “gouda. Consider the addition of a repeating echo on a vocal line.The Special Effect If you have the sense from the discussion above that there are technical considerations behind equalization decisions. Your imagination is the limit.Gouda! . “Gouda!” Naturally the mix engineer feeds the background line into a digital delay that repeats at the rate of a quarter note triplet: “Gouda. As sound waves travel through space. Gouda. but low and high frequency versions. For example. patch it in to a guitar track already recorded. the first thing to go are the high frequencies. try cuts as well as boosts. the less high frequency content it has. and apply it to any track (acoustic guitar. On automated equalizers you can program this sort of eq craziness.” The result is (with a triplet feel): “GOUDA!.. Your creative challenge: explore not just middle frequencies.

this eq approach applies to signals other than echoes. The result is an audio image of a piano that is more interesting. Inc. try to grab it with eq.than the monophonic single microphone approach would have been. orientation. But there are subtle (and sometimes radical) differences between the sounds at each mic due to their particular location. Reprinted with permission. dull sounding mixes. stereophonic life. search. but you push them back. What is a stereo signal after all? It is difficult to answer such an interesting ferent channels on your mixer and eq them differently. Boulder. question without writing a book. more realistic. just boost. you not only pan things into their horizontal position. Then the image will widen without shifting one way or the other. then the image will seem to come from the left. Send the single track to two difRECORDING FEBRUARY 2000 Add some delays.. The sounds coming out of the loudspeakers are similar in that they are each recordings of the same performance on the same piano happening at the same time. and type of microphone. Excerpted from the February edition of RECORDING magazine.. Critical listening skills are developed over a lifetime. Whenever you have a track with a problem to be removed or a feature to be emphasized. And sometimes we just want to take a sound out and make it more interesting. No one learned the difference between 1 kHz and 1. ©2000 Music Maker Publications. If a mix is getting crowded with too many instruments fighting for too little space. Consider eq differences between left and right that are more elaborate and involve several different sets of cuts and boosts so that neither side is exactly brighter than the other. reverbs. Alex Case has cornered the market on murky. This eq move is the sort of subtle detail that helps make the stereo/surround image that much more compelling. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. hat’s W your eq specialty gonna be? Suggest Nuts & Bolts topics via case@rcord e ingmag. If the signal on the left is made brighter than the same signal sent right. and other processing (topics of future Nuts & Bolts pieces) and a one-mic monophonic image takes on a rich.Obviously. and set the equalizer so that you like what you hear. brighter side (remember distance removes high frequencies).2 kHz overnight.. The End The challenging and subtle art of equalization needn’t be surrounded in mystery. If you begin with a single mic recording of a piano and wish to create a wider. or least an entire article dedicated to the topic. or just plain weird piano sound in you mix. just different. less precise.Again. Placing two microphones on a piano and sending one mic left and the other right is a clear example of stereo.com. a boring old monophonic track can be made more interesting and more stereo-like through the use of equalization. and it even works on non-dairy products.). Suite 100. 5412 Idylwild Trail. But the one sentence answer is: a stereo sound is the result of sending different but related signals to each loudspeaker. so anything goes. one tool at you disposal is equalization. In composing the stereo or surround image of your mix. this section of the article is called Special Effects. call: 1-800-582-8326 . Speaking of stereo. away from the listener by adding a touch more reverb (obvious) and removing a bit of high end (not so obvious). and hopefully more musical. The piano becomes more unusual (remember. its image is more liquid. carve out different spectral regions for the competing instruments using eq.

Attack describes how quickly the compresk sor can fully kick in after the threshold has been exceeded. though. when a signal gets too loud. When the amplitude of the signal is below this threshold the device passes the audio through unchanged. the microphone preamp. and strum of the guitar causes the signal to surge up and recede down in amplitude. the console. Mathematically. The amount of time it takes the compressor to return to zero gain change after the signal falls below threshold is set by adjusting the compressor’s ReleaseSetting this control properly . It’s a trade-off. When the signal exceeds the threshold the compressor begins to turn the signal down. Signals like this one must fit through our entire audio chain without distortion: the microphone. the compressor must stop compressing. The top of Figure 1 (on Page 52) shows the amplitude of about a bar of music. What counts as too loud? The Threshold setting on the compressor sets the level at which compression is to begin. A ratio of X:1 sets the compressor so that the input must exceed the threshold by X dB for the output to go just one dB above threshold. 8 dB above threshold in becomes 2 dB above threshold out. ratio. then it must act quickly. helps avoid introducing artifacts to your sound. the 2-track master recorder. How much? And how fast? RECORDING MARCH 2000 The amount of compression is determined by the Ratio setting. nearly silent bits of music must pass through without being swamped by noise.PART 9 C O M P R E SS O R S usic signals are rarely consistent in level. the ratio compares the amount of the input signal above threshold to the amount of the attenuated output above threshold. Threshold. Every crack of the snare. a 4:1 (four to one) ratio describes a situation in which the input was four times higher than the output above the threshold—4 dB above threshold in becomes 1 dB above threshold out. while the detail of the lowest. When we aim for 0VU on the meters. the multitrack recorder. BY A L EX CA SE What happens when you ignore what they were originally designed to do? M Taking control How does it turn it down? This question breaks in two. . attack…then what? When the amplitude of the music returns to a level below threshold. It becomes desirable to slow the attack time down and let the compression sneak into action. The highest peak must get through these devices without clipping. the compressor turns it down. Its task? Quite simply. the power amp. How fast the signal is attenuated is controlled by the Attac setting. Fast attack times will enable the compressor to react very quickly. the outboard gear. syllable of the vocal. and the loudspeakers. To help us fit extremely dynamic signals within the amplitude limits imposed by our studio. while slow attack times are more lethargic. because if the purpose of compression is to control the dynamic range of a signal to prevent distortion. we reach for a compressor. all we’re doing is trying to avoid distortion at the high end of things and noise down on the bottom. Sometimes compressors change the gain so quickly that it becomes audible—and unmusical (although the effect can be useful as an effect). For example.

one word with two capital letters sort of name like PowerFader—and it would have a Website. collectible. Sometimes the presets simulate the attack and release characteristics of other. People might rave about how great the compression sounds—and you don’t hear what on earth they’re talking about. Great performance. you can hear the guitarist moving on. leaving you to mike a moving target.A few mistakes. Overcompressing is a common problem. Easily compressed When the singer really gets confident and excited he or she sings the choruses really loud—louder than during all the other takes in rehearsal. sometimes people are just full of bull pucky. Other compressors offer full control over all the parameters yet also offer presets. other times it’s too slow. We discuss many applications for compression here in this month’s episode of ‘Nuts&Bolts. Compelling performer. Sometimes you can’t tell that it’s overcompressed until the next day. vintage. If it were invented today.’ Each application sounds different. This brings us to an important issue with compression: it is often hard to hear. collectible. Beyond the controls These four parameters—threshold.Audio hype and attitude. ratio. like so much of what we do as engineers. could sure use a little cleaning up. Sometimes we know when it’s just right. Without amplitude protection a killer take could be lost. until you’ve had some experience and audio ear training. they are not always on the faceplate of the device. Be ready with some gentle compression for the vocal. The engineer is then freed to concentrate more on other things (Is the guitar in tune? Is the coffee strong enough?) The presets reflect someone else’s careful tweaking to get the sound in the right place. some compression is hard to hear and requires experience. a little gentle compression might just coax a usable recording out of an inexperienced studio performer. leads to: .and off-mic. sweet sounding. Be ready for this with some gentle (around 4:1 or less) compression across the vocal. All you need is time between the speakers immersed in compression of all kinds and you’ll pick it up. Sometimes it’s too fast. The humble compressor offers a handy way to control precisely and manipulate the dynamics of the signals we record. Tweaking a device until it sounds so good that you can’t even hear it isn’t easy. attack and release—enable the compressor to carefully monitor and make fine adjustments to the amplitude of a signal automatically. When the bass player pulls out that wonderful old. Spending all day mixing one song with your ears wide open can make it hard to remain objective. Unusable track. Without the constant gain-riding of a compressor. .Again. Then your audio path can withstand the adrenaline-induced increase in amplitude that comes from musicians when they are ‘in the zone. Other times we seek to set it so that we can’t even hear it working. On the other hand. it would have some hyped-up. That is. It’s a good idea for beginners to spend some time with the fully adjustable type for exploration and ear training. There are compressors at all price points that leave off some of these controls. Without some amplitude protection a killer take is lost to distortion. Perhaps they’ve had the chance to hear this kind of compression before. Compression. aren’t those the original strings. it’s part of their sound. They can often get the job done more quickly and with better sonic results. And most of them. valuable.Welcome to the world of compression. couldn’t stay in tune for eight bars if you paid it…gorgeous beast of an instrument. are frustrating to hear accurately. But I don’t hesitate to reach for those compressors with only a few knobs on the box during a session. Again. they are not always user-adjustable. you can be sure that—even in the RECORDING MARCH 2000 . famous sorts of compressors. While these four parameters are always at work.’ When the guitarist gets nervous he or she starts moving around on the stool. The affect of compression is at times quite subtle and at other times quite obvious. Nervous in the studio.

slowly decaying sustain. Pick up. a little bit of gentle compression buys you a little bit of loudness if you want it.) by compression so that the apparent loudness of the song exceeds the loudness of all the other songs on the radio dial. trumpet. Its unique envelope begins with a distinct. the envelope resembles a spike or impulse. its intended purpose was to answer the phone and take messages when you were away. guitar. and the compressor offers a case in point. RECORDING MARCH 2000 The envelope please The envelope describes the ‘shape’ of the sound. ghost-note-filled snare work of the bridge. Ulterior motives When the answering machine was invented. more creative reasons as well. Figure 2 demonstrates this sort of gentle compression. more important role: call screening. smushed. Without the careful. the very foundation of the song (according to the bass player. A limiter will attenuate the extreme peaks and prevent nasty distortion. The slamming that goes on during the chorus might be substantially louder than the delicate. greater than 10:1.hands of a master—the A string is consistently a little quieter than the E string. precision adjustments made to the amplitude of the signal. Piano offers a combination of the two. During the course of a song.Attack is very fast so that nothing gets through without limiting. Threshold is high so that it only affects the peaks. exceeding the amplitude capability of the sound reinforcement system can lead to feedback. All instruments offer their own unique envelope. All too often you need the careful level adjustments of gentle compression (as shown in Figure 1). anyway) becomes shaky. But the day after the first one was sold. damage loudspeakers. see also squashed. And a limiter is nothing more than a compressor taken out to rather extreme settings. we use them for other. There’s more to it than fixing a problematic track. er. Loudness does seem to help sell records. have a sharp attack and nearly instant decay. so that any signal that breaks above threshold is severely attenuated. a gentle envelope on both the attack and decay side. leaving the rest of the music untouched. less obvious.Drums. They guard the equipment and listeners downstream by stopping the signal from getting too loud. Take it to the limit Another use of the compressor is to attenuate the sharp amplitude spikes within the audio that would overload a device and cause (unwanted) distortion. really compressed. Well. That is.“ I t ’s me. some snare hits are harder than others.this sort of processing is used to prevent distortion and protect equipment. violin. Limiters are inserted to ensure these amplitude limits are honored. or broadcasting a signal without overmodulating (getting too loud. We also patch gentle compression across perfectly fine tracks to make them. While dynamic range reduction and peak limiting are effective. Synth pads might ooze in and out of the mix. There are obvious differences . A handy side effect of compressing—reducing the overall dynamic range of the signal—is that now it can be turned up. This is often taken to radical extremes where mixes are absolutely crushed (i. A handy side effect of compressing—reducing the overall dynamic range of the signal—is that now it can be turned up. Pick up!” The use of a device in ways not originally intended occurs all too often. how gradually or abruptly the sound begins and ends. Ratio is high. Called peak limiting. Limiters offer the solution again. better. intended use for the device. And so it goes. voice. sharp attack and rings through a gently changing. The most common message on these devices is something like . et al. Consider the sonic differences among several instruments playing the same pitch: piano. Of course the solution is compression. and didgeridoo. Figure 3 gives an example.e. and turn happy crowds into hostile ones. producer. Artist. the answering machine took on a new. Selling records is a competitive business. While this may seem counterintuitive. and what happens in between. louder anyway. In live sound applications. But even in small measures.simply put) requires that the signal never exceed a certain amplitude.there’s room to make the track louder as a whole when the points of highest amplitude have been lowered by the compressor. Fitting a signal on tape without overloading. and engineer must make this trade-off carefully. Often the music suffers in this commitment to loudness and hope for sales. for example.

This type of compression has the effect of morphing a spike onto the front of the snare sound. Applied to piano.. they have a different tone. Trading off a low threshold with a high ratio offers the engineer precise control over the shape of the more aggressive attack. making these instruments bell or chime-like in character. and gradually pull the threshold down. Another interesting thing happens when you apply some extreme compression with a fast release time. Another unusual effect can be created using the release of a compressor. but do try similar processing on piano and acoustic guitar.’ but don’t forget about it. If the compressor has pulled down the peaks of the waveform and then quickly releases the signal after it RECORDING MARCH 2000 . Patch in a compressor and sharpen the attack. medium attack. Notice the raised amplitude and increased length in the decay portion of the waveform. Musical judgement is required to make sure the click of the sharper attack fits with the remaining ring of the snare. this setting develops a nearly infinite sustain. while still retaining the unmistakable sound of the original instrument. It’s demonstrated in Figure 4. Anything goes. The sound begins. The compressor is the tool we use to modify the envelope of a sound. and the compressor can raise the volume of the sound almost as quickly as it decays—it’s almost “uncompressing” it. But at least as important. Be sure your attack isn’t too fast or you might remove the sharpness of the snare entirely. Dial in a fast enough release time. A low threshold. seen on Page 58. airy. Such compression audibly alters the shape of the beginning of the sound. File this under ‘Special Effects. and cymbals. giving it more a more pronounced attack. high ratio setting can be used to sharpen the attack.. exciting vocal tracks. This is also shown in the snare example of Figure 4. at an amplitude above threshold (set low). Set the ratio to at least 4:1.in the spectral content of these instruments. An unnatural effect like this can be just what a pop tune needs to get noticed. guitar. Done well. Find a track or sample to process. Pop music pushes us to have bright. A fast release pulls up the amplitude of the sound even as it decays. you’ll create a more exciting sound that finds it place in a crowded mix more easily. A good starting point for this sort of work is a snare drum sound. And this isn’t just for snares. An instant later (medium attack). in your face. This approach can of course be applied to most any track. the compressor leaps into action and yanks the amplitude of the signal down (high ratio). each of these instruments begins and ends the note with its own characteristic envelope—its signature.

and you’ve got the sort of vocal that zings the ears with pain on every S. K). We never hear this track—only the compressor does. let’s use a different signal to govern the compression. that’s where a good deal of the emotion lives. In between esses the . and so on. the side chain input is the vocal track equalized so as to bring out the esses.. but the behavior of the compressor—when. But when the singer sings an S. we push vocals with a high dose of high frequency hype (available on your trusty equali ze r ) . Needless to say. The flip side is that you might not want. T. In our discussion of compression so far we have been applying our settings of threshold. breaking threshold and sending the compressor into action.tortured cymbals. rasping. here is a use of compression to make certain parts of the signal louder. how much. You can’t miss it: everyone in the room blinks every time the singer hits an S. That hurtSSS Pop music standards push us to have bright. The threshold is adjusted so that the compressor operates during the loud esses only. ratio. how fast and how long to compress— is governed by the sidechain signal. the delicate detail at the end of a sax note. We can get away with this aggressive equalization move everywhere except where the vocal was already bright to begin with: hard consonants like S and F (and even Z. And this convincing vocal sound must rise above a wall of distorted guitars.shimmering reverb. The vocal itself is what ) gets compressed. say. These sounds are naturally rich in high frequency content. and you really start to hear the breathing. the ambience of the room in between drum hits. and fast release.has fallen below threshold. sweating. X.airy. we feed a signal into the sidechain that has enhanced esses. it goes into the compressor loud and clear.A dd some fast release compression to this bright equalization contour. the expressive breaths between the words of a vocal. you can filter out the rest of the side chain vocal. That is. The compressor is set with a mid to high ratio. you start to hear parts of the sound that were previously inaudible. Clever compression will solve this problem. But what if we compressed one signal while ‘looking at’ another? RECORDING MARCH 2000 . exciting vocal tracks.above a wall of guitars. the pick noise to become overly accentuated.. To get rid of esses. reverb. Once again. and drooling of the singer. Specifically. The sidechain signal is the vocal with a high frequency boost (maybe 12 dB somewhere around 4 kHz to 8 kHz. let’s compress the lead vocal. in your face. fast attack. But instead of compressing it based on the vocal track itself. tortured cymbals. attack and release to the signal being compressed. wherever the particularly painful consonant lives for that singer). Fast release compression enables you to turn up the sound and hear more of the decay of a snare. and de-emphasize the rest. and sizzling synth patches. We feed a modified vocal signal into this alternative input (called a sidechain . and sizzling synth patches. D. Run them through the equalizer that adds still more high end.

analytically. By modifying the amplitude of the waveform.compressor doesn’t touch the vocal. a wall of extra distorted guitars doesn’t come flying in. It feels right. I almost think. Mostly the whole mix just gets squashed big time. The distortion typically dialed in on most electric guitar amps adds an unmistakable. ©2000 Music Maker Publications. compression is also a kind of distortion. Reprinted with permission. And it seems to communicate an intense.compression. but it’s well short of a scream. on the edge. there is something about the sound of extreme compression that makes the music more exciting. the chorus soars. Jakob Dylan’s voice is certainly raised. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. not emotionally. with the 2mix compression pushing hard. 5412 Idylwild Trail. A profoundly effective example of this is Tom Lord-Alge’s mix of “One Headlight” by the Wallflowe rs . Mercedes makes a car with the word Kompressor on it. But if you listen analytically. Request Nuts & Bolts topics via case@recordingmag. More is better Sometimes a strong dose of compression is applied—to an individual track or the entire mix—just for the effect of. that the song gets a little quieter at each chorus. This vocal can be made edgy and bright without fear. Inc.A t each chorus there is a compelling amount of energy. well. Boulder. pushing the limits sort of feeling. Suite 100. call: 1-800-582-8326 . Excerpted from the March edition of RECORDING magazine. That’s the sort of compression that sells records. instinctively stimulating effect. That is. Alex Case wants one.com. But musically. you hear that there is no big change in the arrangement: the drummer doesn’t just start banging every cymbal in sight.

Once the vocals and the rest of the rhythm section are going. the vocal is almost always the most important single piece of every pop song. Why? Because the drums are often the most difficult thing to get under control. In some cases. it helps to preset the signal flow with as much as we think we’ll need. and tempo for the entire tune. rhythm guitar (doubled). Global effects We don’t yet know yet all the effects we may want for this mix. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. snare. it isn’t even the right way. It’s hard to hear the problems and tweak the sounds of the drums without listening to them in isolation. There is no single right way to do it. 5412 Idylwild Trail. a ride cymbal. or quarter note triplet in time). It isn’t the only way. we can start mixing. because every track should support it. Having said that. Inc. the drums. and lead guitar to the same effect. So we tend to start with the drums so that they are out there all alone. RECORDING APRIL 2000 Excerpted from the April edition of RECORDING magazine. These are effects we’d like to have at our fingertips so that we can instantly send a bit of vocal. and all the other various add-ons the drummer has managed). Where do we start? Well. But easily 99% of all pop mixes start with the drums. a ‘spreader’ (see the sidebar). “The drum part” is a part with at least eight separate instruments playing all at once in close proximity to each other (kick. two or three rack toms. quarter note. there is something of a standard approach to mixing pop music that is worth reviewing.. Consider a pop/rock tune with the following somewhat typical arrangement: drums. a short reverb (plate or small to medium room with a reverb time around one second). Reprinted with permission. so it helps to do a chunk of the tedious and technical thinking ahead of time so that it doesn’t interfere with your flow of inspiration while mixing. clavinet. What do we do with the drums? The kick and snare are the source of punch. Boulder. So most engineers start with. call: 1-800-582-8326 . creating. snare. lead guitar. That’s part of the pleasure of our craft. The latter tends to interfere with the former. We keep learning. Whether physical or DAW-based. power. The way to have all these effects handy is to use aux sends (see Nuts & Bolts #2. 8/99). We’ll probably want a long reverb (hall-type program with a reverb over two seconds). They’ve got to sound awesome. lead vocal. bass.. Alex talks us through a mix Launch the appropriate plug-ins or patch in the appropriate hardware. Kick-starting With the console laid out. and exploring. Suite 100. yet we have to hook everything up correctly too. so it’s natural to start with these tracks. hi-hat. it’s hard to dial in just the right amount of compression on the rack toms. a crash cymbal. and background vocals. a starting point from which you can take off in your own direction. but some standards do exist. BY A L EX C A SE As this month’s issue of Recording focuses on mixdown. ©2000 Music Maker Publications. And I’ve been doing it (trying at least) for about ten years. Starting with the vocal makes good sense. But it is a framework for study. a floor tom. and some delays (eighth note. Mixing forces us to be creative in how we shape and combine the various tracks and effects. Where do we begin? First let’s lay out the console.PART 10 Mixing By The Numbers W anna know how to mix? Me too.

Plan to send it to the short reverb and/or hope to find some natural ambience in the other drum tracks. The kick needs both a clear. . And any recorded ambience or room tracks should be listened to now. An aggressive boost of lows forces the compressor to yank down the signal hard. Try to find a narrow band to cut and the rest of the mix will go more smoothly. Pick a range you like: 8 kHz might sound too edgy or splashy. The snare definitely benefits from the addition of a little ambience.Step one: keep them dead center in the mix. it controls the relative loudness of the kicks. Look higher in frequency than you did on the kick—maybe 100 Hz or so. It likely gets a similar treatment: eq and compression. it’s time to raise the overheads and hear the kit Why not distort the vocal? Or flange the reverb?. You make the call. The obvious: eq boost at around 3 kHz for more attack and eq boost at about 60 Hz for more punch. Hz keeps the compressor from reacting to that unwanted murkiness. crisp attack and a solid low frequency punch.. medium attack. Compression does two things for the kick. 1&2/00). First. Eq and compression are your best tools for making the most of what was recorded.. You’ll find plenty of punchiness using this approach. and vocal are all so important to the mix that they almost always take center stage. Placing the compressor after the equalizer lets you tweak in some clever ways. A low frequency boost for punchiness is also cool for snare. The buzz of the snares is broadband. but 12 kHz starts to sound to delicate and hi-fi. The overhead microphones are a good source of extra snare sound. snare. With the kick and snare punchy and nicely equalized. Somewhere between 500 and 1000 Hz lives a cluttered. The kick. Not so obvious: eq cut with a narrow bandwidth around 200 Hz to get rid of some muddiness and reveal the low frequencies beneath (see Parts 7 and 8 of this series. from 2 kHz on up. Also look for some unpleasant sound to cut. See last month’s column for a description of the sort of low threshold. The second goal of compression is to manipulate the attack of the kick so that it sounds punchy and cuts through the rest of the mix. boxy sound that doesn’t help the snare tone and is only going to fight with the vocal and guitars anyway. high ratio compression that sharpens the amplitude envelope of the sound. The notch around 200 Getting en-snared The snare is next. bass. making the weaker kicks sound almost as strong as the powerful ones.And as you push up your low frequency boost on the eq you can hear the compressor react.

That is. If the tracks are already bright as recorded. Glance back at your kick drum too. If you’ve got the toms on separate tracks. as the track may already have a lot of low end. We need to compress to balance the bass line.Or distort the flanged reverb? Anything goes.S l ow the release down so that it doesn’t dis- . The obvious eq move is to add low end. as with the kick. The overheads have the best ‘view’ of the kit and the snare often sounds phenomenal there. slow attack time adds punch to the bass in exactly the same way we did it on the drums. This is most effective if the chorus effect doesn’t touch the low frequencies. The bass provides important sonic and harmonic stability in the low frequencies. adding that desirable richness without weakening the song’s foundation at the low end. we find similar issues. Simple solution: place a filter on the send to the chorus and remove everything below about 250 Hz. The two tracks might be identical in every way except that the perfor- . Compress for attack and punch.. If your kick sound is defined in the low end. The chorus effect works on the overtones of the bass sound. Travel safe. A response—either too much or too little in a single low frequency area. Try to eq out some 200 Hz muddiness. a chorus with its associated motion and pitch bending would undermine this. don’t feel obligated to add more high end. say at about 65 Hz. Listen for a bump or dip in the Get down Moving on to bass. Eq in a little bottom. It’s tempting to add a gentle high frequency boost across the overheads to keep the kit crisp. In fact a gentle and wide presence boost between 1 and 5 kHz can often be the magic dust that makes the drummer happy. reach for your tried and true eq and compression. Find eq settings on both the kick and the bass so that the kick’s punch and power don’t disappear when the bass fader is brought up. The trick is to get a good balance of low frequencies from 30 through 300 Hz.fall into a single. and maybe some crisp attack around 6 kHz. say. We often add a touch of chorus to the bass. Many compressors can release so fast that they follow the sound as it cycles through its low frequency oscillations. Combine them with the kick and snare tracks to make the song really move. 40 Hz cycles so slowly (once every 25 milliseconds) that the compressor can actually release during each individual cy c l e . But be careful.. Release is tricky on bass guitar. a low note at. not cycle to cycle. and some strings on the bass are quieter than others. tort the waveform in this way and rides the sound from note to note. Some notes are louder than others. powerful whole. Gentle compression (4:1 ratio or less) can even out these problems. then make room for it in the bass guitar with a complementary but gentle cut. and you’ve completed your drum mix—for now. and equalize in a correction. Chugging on It’s a rock and roll cliché to track the same rhythm guitar twice.

different mics. Strength in the vocal will come from panning it to the center.. Complementary equalization contours (boost one where the other is cut and vice versa) can add to the effect of the doubled. A touch of compression might be necessary to control the loudness of the performance. snare. revealing more of the emotion in the performance. wide. Strength in the vocal will come from panning it to the center. see the sidebar). humanly different. ear-tingling wall of sound. RECORDING APRIL 2000 . guitar. The vocal highlights a problem in the guitars. but often electric guitars are recorded with the amp cranked to its physical limits. intelligible. You might have to go back and modify the drum and guitar eq settings to get this just right. This results in a rich. Balance their levels so that the net result stays centered between the two speakers. or both. giving it amplitude compression effects already. The goal is to make the vocal more convincing. the drums. The soft words become more audible. Send some vocal to the spreader so that the vocal starts to take on that much desired larger-than-life sound. strong. Time to add the fun parts: vocal and lead guitar. and maybe boosting the upper lows (around 250 Hz). risks seeming a little small relative to the drums and guitars. hyped-up mix you’ve got screaming out of the loudspeakers. so you go back and fix it. So most engineers start with. Speak up The vocal gets a good deal of our attention now. Pan it opposite the toms and solo guitar to keep the spatial counterpoint most exciting. Compress to control the dynamics of the vocal performance so that it fits in the crowded. The voice must be present. As with a lot of mix moves. different microphone placement. weakening the vocal with a Key in The clavinet completes our rhythm section. a different amp. you’ll find a balance of crystal clear lyrics and perfectly crunchy guitars. adding a bit of width and support in a way that the untrained listener wouldn’t notice as an effect. Where do we start? Well. and exciting. But the loud words are pulled back by the compressor so that they don’t overdo it. With drums. Mixing requires this sort of iterative approach. Search carefully from 1 to maybe 5 kHz for a region to boost the vocal that raises it out of the guitars and cymbals. Add a short delay panned to the opposite side for a more lively feeling. The ‘spreader’ to the rescue (again. Use equalization to make sure the consonants of every word cut through that rich wall of rhythm guitars you’ve created. Natural singing dynamics and expression are often too extreme to work—either the quiet bits are too quiet or the loud screams are too loud. or some other slightly different sonic approach. chorused-like sound. Presence and intelligibility live in the upper middle frequencies. Consider adding some flange or distortion (using a guitar foot pedal or an amp simulation plug-in—or re-recording it through an actual amp) to make it a buzzy source of musical energy. The high frequency emphasis will highlight the breaths the singer takes. and clav going in the mix. In mixdown you make the most of this doubling by panning them to opposite extremes: one goes hard left. Too much spreader is a common mistake. a tiny point in the center. Trading off among the competing tracks.. the vocal is almost always the most important single piece of every pop song. The vocal. and maybe boosting the upper lows (around 250 Hz). and bass guitar were treated.mance is oh so slightly. adding compression. Additional strength and excitement comes from maybe a high frequency eq boost (10 or 12 kHz or higher!) and some slick reverb. you may find it helpful to turn the effect up until you know it’s too much and then back off until it’s just audible. Compress the dynamic range of the track so that it can all be turned up loud enough to be clear and audible. It probably wants compression to enhance its attack in much the same way the kick. Giving it a unique sound through eq and effects will ensure that it gets noticed. the other hard right. spread sound. we’ve completed the rhythm section. bass. It is not unusual to add short reverb to the vocal to enhance the stereo-ness of the voice still further and to add a long reverb to give the vocal added depth and richness. This compression and equalization track by track has so maximized the energy of the song that it won’t forgive a weak vocal. adding compression. Perhaps the second track is recorded with a different guitar. The effect is better still as the subtle differences between the two tracks are stretched slightly. Panning it midway off to one side is a good use of the stereo soundstage.

Just as we dialed in a slightly different delay time for each side. Sending the vocal to an additional delay or two is another common mix move. if you have the gear that can do it. delay pulls right while pitch pulls left). and it might feed a short slapback delay. sort of like the early sound reflections that we hear from the left and right when we play in a real room. You are trying to make it sound the best it possibly can. Send the delay return to the long reverb too. electric guitars are naturally compressed already. the vocal will sound too digital. It’s good to pan the solo about halfway off to one side and the slap a little to the other. In order for the spreading effect to keep the vocal centered. it helps to do the following. a normal amount of vocal processing. and listen carefully). delays. This way the main track stays centered. It adds excitement to the sound. We are going to add this effect to the lead vocal. The delay should be tuned to the song by setting it to a musically relevant delay time (maybe a quarter note). Each is set to a different value somewhere between about 15 and 50 milliseconds.Overall The entire stereo mix might get a touch of eq and compression. It is mixed in so as to be subtly supportive but not exactly audible. Going solo The lead guitar can be thought of as replacing the lead vocal during the solo. the voice becomes bigger and more compelling. so your mix challenge is to get it to soar above the rhythm section. adding a just perceptible echo reminiscent of live concerts and the sound of the music bouncing back off the rear wall. Each offers a unique signature to your mix. Add some feedback on the delay so that it gracefully repeats and fades. One delay return is panned left and the other panned right. among others. I recommend resisting this at first. Arrange it so that the two components balance each other out (e. Consider the delay portion of the spreader only. low distortion effects devices. slow attack and slow release can help make the mix sound even more professional. Conservatively applied. Travel safe. Experiment with different amounts of delay and pitch change. then make room for it in the bass guitar with a complementary but gentle cut. flanger—something in your digital multieffects unit that you’ve been dying to try. The slap delay might be somewhere between about 100 to 200 milliseconds long. you should feel free to put a restrained amount of stereo effects across the entire mix. so it is nice if the ‘spreader’ has slightly different processing on the left and right sides. But as your mixing chops are developed. As the entire mix is going through this equipment. and that includes the reverb built into the amp. If the singer is the guitarist. That is. Soft compression with a ratio of 2:1 or less. Hit the spreader and the long reverb a little harder with background vocals to help give them more of that magic pop sound. it might make more sense to keep the solo panned to center. mplain Co about this to case@r cordingmag. That sums up the components of one approach to one mix. Solo guitar might get sent to the spreader. too processed. This sort of thinking is a real source of creative power in pop music mixing: consider a physical effect and then manipulate it into something that is better than reality (good luck.. As this can be done in mastering. but the various parts are typically panned out away from center and the various effects can be pushed a little more. after all.g. say at about 65 Hz. It doesn’t have to compete with the lead vocal for attention. believe it or not. compression. Now listen to just the pitch side of the spreading equation. Of course. It is meant to demonstrate a way of thinking about the mix. The higher pitch tends to dominate the image. Alexs mixes often fea re didgeridoo panned dead center ’ tu and doubled kazoos panned hard left and right. Eq. going back and forth among every piece of the long processing chain. take each delay and detune it by a nearly imperceptible amount. For equalization.com. An eq contour like that of the lead vocal is a good strategy: presence and low end strength. usually a little push at the lows around 80 Hz and the highs around or above 10 kHz is the right sort of polish. Again. If your kick sound is defined in the low end. not too long or it pokes out as an audible echo. maybe 5 to 15 cents. Compression should be used with restraint if at all.pitch shifting. dial in a slightly different pitch shift as well—maybe the left side goes up 9 cents while the right side goes down 9 cents. And that’s just a basic patch. The background vocals might get a similar treatment. And don’t forget to check your final mix in mono to make sure it’ll survive radio airplay. The idea is that these quick delays add a kick of supportive energy to the mono track being processed. Overused. If you listen to the two panned short delays (and I definitely recommend trying this) you find the stereo image pulls toward the shorter delay. Why not add a bit of distortion to the vocal? Or flange the reverb? Or distort the flanged reverb? Anything goes. RECORDING APRIL 2000 . and two kinds of reverb represent. make sure you are using good sounding. I hope it inspires you to form your own variation on this approach. It’s going to require some experimentation. and you can even add additional distortion. we want a stereo sort of effect. Additional reverb is also unusual for guitars. it isn’t possible in the physical world. e What’s a spreader? It’s often desirable to take a mono signal and make it a little more stereo-like. you can add a touch of phaser. low noise. The extra trick is to pitch shift them ever so slightly. The tone of the guitar is really set by the guitarist. And the lead vocal is going to be panned straight up the middle. not the step by step rules for mixing. and now every word sung is followed by a wash of sweet reverberant energy that pulses in time with the music. Not too short or it starts to flange/comb filter. Now we are taking advantage of our signal processing equipment to create a widened sound that only exists in loudspeaker music. A standard effect in pop music is to spread a single track out by sending it through two short delays.

And I’m a fan of involving the recording engineer during preproduction as well. There is a lot of gear in the control room with lights and meters evaluating every thought the musicians have. The way the band listens to the music of other artists is by listening to those recordings over loudspeakers. or during rehearsals and jam sessions. Preproduction requires just a few mics and a cassette deck.. Give the artists a chance to react to themselves as they appear in loudspeaker playback and they’ll often make the appropriate adjustments necessary to sound great on a recording. liquid. There is already a lot of pressure built in to that first studio situation. Working with more mics and a DAT or 8-track recorder is sometimes even better. no-rules sort of endeavor. I know we probably should’ve done this befor looking at a mix the way we did last month. Big budget artists as well as struggling up-and-comers need to scrounge up the time it takes to work off-stage in a cheap studio. and make rough recordings of the songs they plan to record later. an understandable paranoia sets in. It’s a lot of money. So don’t get mad if you disagree.(Yes. There is an unfortunate inconsistency here. S Begin at the beginning Perhaps the single most neglected part of making a good recording is preproduction. bear in mind that different producers and artists have different ways of working. but it e was Mixing’s Art And Science Month in April and those Editor guys asked so nicely. There are a lot of mics all over the place.PART 11 The Session Preproduction and live recording B Y AL E X C AS E urely part of the pleasure of music recording is that it is such a free. Quite possibly all that has gone wrong is that the band hasn’t had a chance to listen to themselves the same way they listen to all the bands they love—the same way their future fans will listen to them: on loudspeakers. The way most people hear our music is by listening to the recording over loudspeakers. In this episode of ‘Nuts & Bolts’ we look at the actual process of recording. let’s discuss the actual session and our creative and technical options along the way. For the first-time recording artist. The same band that really works the crowd live can often work the loudspeakers through their recordings. meter and loudspeaker in the studio leads to a performance that is more conservative. less exciting. The mission of preproduction is to capture the performances on tape for study and evaluation later.) Armed with the specific knowledge of components of the recording chain discussed so far in this series.. amplified and mocked by every mic. they just need a chance. while this is all based on experience. or garage. But the way the band listens to their own music is live at the gigs. Throughout this article I’ll be dispensing advice and then making the case for it. rehearsal space. An overwhelming fear of making mistakes that will be captured. passionate new artists often create a band that is simply thrilling live. .. It is an investment that all bands and producers should make. Think about it. Many bands have never actually heard themselves until the first take in the studio on the first song of the first session for their first album. RECORDING MAY 2000 Talented. That’s not the sort of vibe that will lead to a Grammywinning performance. Then the album fails to “capture” this.

but during playback everyone will. The band deserves a chance to work these things out ahead of the album sessions. Inc. The drummer will stop rushing during the chorus. The audio quality of the final product will improve markedly if everyone gets to hear what they and their instruments sound like coming back off tape. Beep/Quack/Eep or whatever noise your computer makes when an error is made. Then these ideas are evaluated during playback over loudspeakers. The fact is. It is. but it isn’t The rules for the preproduction session: First. rhyme. If the squeaky pedal and dull old strings are discovered before the big session. How can the songwriter change a word or two later if the track is already recorded? “We’ll just punch in the new words. call: 1-800-582-8326 If the band has never heard themselves before. Suite 100. this band that you like so much live will come up with ideas for modifying Excerpted from the May edition of RECORDING magazine. If it happens in the heat of the actual album-making session. Trying to rescue the vocal take from preproduction and use it on the album will draw so much attention and require so much effort that you’ll fail to properly evaluate the rest of the recording. and structure are evaluated with the same care given a poem. Reprinted with permission. treat it like the actual session. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. the whole reason for preproduction is undermined. Make a rough recording for the songwriter. And more exciting. At first it seems perfectly logical: record the preproduction session to DAT. the singer will plan out some of those “oohs” and “ahs” at the end. Boulder. The project engineer also benefits from doing the recording during preproduction. And asking even world-class drummers to overdub their drum performance to an already existing vocal take is rarely successful. and I do this funny thing at the end of the bridge that just sounds awful—I always thought it sounded awesome. get ready for some challenges. but during playback the sad. in the car. I drift flat when I sing loud. The point of preproduction is to document with adequate sonic quality all the music and performance ideas that the band has as of today.you’ll find yourself trying to smooth over and hide a problem or wasting precious studio time and creative energy waiting for someone to run to the music store for the $5 solution. Mistakes become audible. then the problem can be addressed. and if they nail a take we’ll use it on the record. and are most always fixable before the album sessions. The best way to extract all the benefits of preproduction is remove the temptation to keep some of the takes or some of the tracks. The drummer may not notice the squeaky kick pedal during performances. etc. you start to hear things that have perhaps gone unnoticed for years. and if we get a killer vocal take we’ll use on the album. The guitarist may not seem to know that the strings on her guitar are replaceable. A line must be drawn between preproduction and session work.” someone says. Record the instrument and you’ll find its every weakness—guaranteed.Record the rehearsals to multitrack. in headphones. anywhere where you do a lot of listening to the recordings you buy. Every one must put their hearts into the session 100% and make it count. and you are just listening. The songwriter also benefits from preproduction. Songs differ from poetry in that they are set to music. ©2000 Music Maker Publications. The songwriter should therefore get the chance to study his or her work as it lives on loudspeakers. When you aren’t playing. I rush during the solo. wherever people prefer to listen: turbo-tweaked mega-hi-fi systems. RECORDING MAY 2000 . Think back to the first time you recorded yourself. Most pop music songs are studied on paper: meter. musicians will fix many technical issues on their own if you just give them a tape of some rehearsals. lifeless tone might motivate the effort. word choice. when you leave the live vocal mic (the Indestructo X2000) in the van and start using the sweet vocal mic (the Delicato Tube2k) in the studio. acoustic paradise of the recording studio. The second rule—and this is ironic—is to make sure everyone knows that it’s not the actual session. Matching the sound of the vocal will be a lot of trouble when you leave the rehearsal room and go to the fancy. Beep/Quack/Eep. Make a rough recording of the preproduction session for every member of the band. 5412 Idylwild Trail.

But some approaches are more use- The final product will improve markedly if everyone gets to hear what they and their instruments sound like coming back off tape. I’m really digging take 12. Post recording processing consists of two options: editing and mastering. Highly improvisational music is difficult to pull off musically through an assembly of overdubs. when. The jobs of production and engineering happen in the studio. If you can record the solo during the inspired groove of the live session. Drummers and bass players are often so musically interactive that they prefer tracking together (don’t miss our discussion of the Basics session Strategize: who. you can still modify the sound of the recording with a final dose of any effects you desire—typically equalization and compression. It isn’t easy to find the killer solo that will take over the world when you’re playing all alone in headphones. This month we discuss the live sessions. They rely on loudspeaker playback to be realized. The band is expected to have an opinion on how appropriate such sounds are to their music. or overdub sessions. Without the distraction of other instruments and performers. Live to two It isn’t always necessary to record to a multitrack. It is imperative that the producer and engineer look out for these audio concoctions that will contribute to the music and translate it into an action that the band understands and appreciates. Say drums. where. the overdub. Mixdown won’t be necessary. etc. guitar tone. If you are recording a single. This sax solo might benefit from being recorded at the same time that the rest of the band plays. Preproduction also gives the producer and engineer a chance to contribute meaningfully to the creative music making process. you’ll find more expressiveness. And there are other instances where the live to two is tempting. The studio experience of the production and engineering team enables them to make musical suggestions that are unique to recorded music. Time for a saxophone overdub. the engineer can really focus. Give them a recording of how they sound and let them do what they are really good at: making their own music sound great. We can certainly record more complex arrangements and bigger bands live to two tracks. more power. Next month’s ‘Nuts & Bolts’ takes on basics and overdubs. The recording strategy must also factor in the musical advantages and disadvantages as well. In a live to two the performer is as focused as the engineer. Other players often add pressure. there is still opportunity to modify and enhance the live next month). Do whatever you think sounds best. chasing that elusive goal— their best performance. or guitar are obvious examples.” Drummer: “But I fumbled that fill in the first chorus. but there is no reason not to add reverb or more elaborate effects as well. but it is the job of the studio cats to be able to create them. You can cut and paste together (literally or digitally) the best parts of all the takes into a single best take . run the piano track through a Leslie cabinet. Solo piano. basics. But live to two isn’t just for solo instruments. Like so much in music. we plan on a live to two recording session. why? Before the actual album sessions begin. Let’s put it in context by skipping ahead for a moment to that common multitrack session. add slap-back to the guitar during the solo. you can record it straight to your 2-track master machine—probably a DAT. and power trios often like to be recorded all at once. live to multitrack. song structure. stop takes. To achieve simplicity and intimacy. use some gated room mics on the drums. and so on that will blow you away. and which are overdubs? These sorts of decisions are important to work out. You’ve got to decide among the live to 2-track. there is rarely a single right way to do things. as there is nothing to mix the solo instrument with. Double the vocals in the choruses. bass and guitar have been recorded. Singer: “Let’s use take 17! Listen to how I phrased the opening line. Certain styles of music are built on a foundation of interaction: jazz.the arrangement.—there is a vast sonic palette to choose from. Preproduction gives the producer and engineer their first chance to start making these studio decisions. lyrics. or require compromise: recording. Record it live. Of course. more emotion. Your decision to go live to two shouldn’t be based on engineering convenience or desires alone. Certain components of music feed off the live interaction of other musicians. the producer. These are creations that rely on the studio and its equipment to be created. living in a musical world that exists within the headphones. RECORDING MAY 2000 .” In many live to 2-track sessions it is just an engineer looking for a sweet sound and a musician searching for his or her personal best. simple instrument. and band should develop a recording strategy. Perhaps the band hasn’t had a chance to listen to themselves the same way they listen to all the bands they love—on loudspeakers. ful than others. what. It’s just a schedule of who records their instruments and when. That is. Producers and engineers have a familiarity with the gear of the studio like musicians have with their instruments. Consider the vibe at the overdub. The saxophone player is all alone in the studio. playing into perhaps a single microphone. engineer.A n d you can master the 2-track tape just recorded. voice. blues. In what order should the songs be recorded? Which tracks get recorded first. An important musical benefit of the single player live to two session is that there are no other musicians around. Capturing the tone and adding just the right effects is the sole priority of a live to 2-track session.

but it’s always something of a thrill ride. Live recording liberates the engineer of all those headaches associated with trying to separate the players and get clean tracks. What should we watch out for when we put the band all in one room? First the good news. This leakage into other mics starts to capture a different view of the instrument than a closely placed mic can manage alone. Stick all the players in one room and live it up. Two tracks of recorded music can easily come from more than a dozen microphones aimed at any number of instruments playing live. highly interactive sort of music benefits from being recorded in this sonically integrated way. send the snare to a plate reverb. If the singer were facing the band and singing into a cardioid microphone.. We know that in a live to two track session there will be no mixdown later. entire orchestras were recorded live with a single well-placed microphone. know the tune. the vocal signal is probably going to get some careful signal processing. instrument by instrument. Musicians don’t like ‘em much either. The music we tend to record live to two. They’ve got to get the performance just right. Try to get a chart. Back in the day.Live to two becomes a much more intense session now. We constantly go to such trouble to achieve isolation in multitrack sessions. it’s going to cause the vocal compressor to react differently. you’ve got to listen for the impact it has on the sound that has leaked into the mic. Take 94.. you need to minimize leakage into its microphones.take a “live”approach to the recording technique. Musical issue: it’s hard on the performers.. The lead vocal deserves special attention. and ride the faders accordingly. you must somehow hear the big thing: the overall 2-track mix itself. The sound of the snare is going to be audible in pretty much every microphone . especially the ones getting extra processing. The second issue to manage in a live recording situation is panning. more organic total sound that is often well- Two tracks of recorded music can easily come from more than a dozen microphones aimed at any number of instruments playing live at once. Consider these ideas to help out. set up compression on half. But live recording often permits you to dispense with them altogether. Perhaps you want to use eq and compression to keep it strong and audible in the mix. they can hear each other acoustically. as there can be no fixing of mistakes. Here we go again. If there is too much bass leakage into the vocal mic you might find yourself getting into some trouble. but it gains a more integrated. dial in equalization that is just right for each of them. When an instrument is picked up by microphones other than its own. and the vocal to both the reverb and delay. The band will sound tighter. the microphone sitting bravely in front of the Fender Twin Reverb won’t notice a bit of vocal. the way they write the songs. You’ve got to hear every little thing going on microphone by microphone. Safety net? What safety net? Arranged this way they can see each other. Manning the board Recording the band all at once in a single room requires you to keep in mind two key issues: processing and panning.rolling. Skip the coffee—you’ll have plenty of adrenaline. It’s fine if the vocal leaks into the guitar mic and the drums leak into the organ mic.. so such co-mingling of sounds—we call it leakage—often isn’t a problem. So you can get rid of the headphones. and effects unit by effects unit in the live to two session. attend a rehearsal. and so on. If you plan to apply some heavy processing to a single instrument. the song will gel. at once. And elaborate signal processing might be required. Moreover. Second. You’ve gotta try it live and loose. And those habits die hard. but most of the other leakage isn’t a problem at all. when the loud parts are. As instruments are panned left and right (and rear for you surround sound experimenters out there). It can be done. Bye bye booths. When you try to eq in some low end strength to the voice itself you also bring up the unwanted low frequency bass leakage. Skip the coffee. When it is working it starts to make the instruments come together into a more compelling single sonic ensemble. We’ll never rerecord one without the other. RECORDING MAY 2000 aligned with the aesthetic of the music being recorded. this highly improvised. they are so comfortable they might forget they are being recorded. The good news is that in a live to twotrack session we don’t perform overdubs. the Rhodes to a quarter note delay. Arranged this way. when the soft parts are. a magic thing starts to happen. Goodbye gobos. No need to hide the guitar amp in the closet and the bass amp in the basement (isn’t that why it’s called a basement?). just repeated attempts at the tune— “Okay. Consider the good ol’ snare. You’ve got to know what the song is about and memorize the arrangement: know who is playing when. Headphones are a necessary evil in multitrack production. If the snare stumbles loudly into the vocal mic.” But it’s good news for the engineer. They don’t make for a very exciting or comfortable environment to jam. This is a good way to capture something special on tape. and/or just plain learn the tune in detail during the first couple of takes. or the way they play live. On the other hand. The live recording might lack the precision that can come from well-isolated tracks. In addition. probably more of them. They can arrange themselves in the way that is most comfortable for them— probably the way they rehearse. get a tape from the preproduction session (see above). For example. You’ve got to minimize leakage into the quiet instruments. You’ll have plenty of adrenaline as you adjust the levels on all those microphones. Headphones are a distracting part of any session for the engineer. maximum acoustic rejection could be achieved and the problem avoided. First.

But do avoid too much leakage on those tracks destined for a good dose of signal processing or aggressive panning. . The live feeling and sonic benefits of a live to two session can also be captured in a multitrack environment. Old timers like me call this ‘live to 24. polished. it seems safer to call it ‘live to multi. The mixing of the tracks will get to happen in a separate. You may have to back off on the extreme pan pot settings. we can record the band with all the live and intimate approaches described above and still mix it down later. a chorus section.l ower stress session. lead vocals.Record with similar strategies. With a little attention to these strategies on processing and panSometimes it just isn’t possible to meet the audio demands of the project in a live to two. Just because the music needs to be recorded all at once doesn’t mean the engineering has to happen all at once. guitars. Record the live session to multitrack. If you’ve got drums. and awesome raw tracks. and professional stereo master release. If the snare leaks loudly into the guitar and you pan the guitar to the left. you might use an omnidirectional mic on the piano panned right to pick up extra snare leakage on purpose. Next month we explore the more typical production process: recording to multitrack and then overdubbing any number of additional tracks so that they can be mixed into a powerful. musician comfort.Arrange the musicians to maximize their comfort and encourage their creativity. the overall snare sound can stay more centered. The live to multitrack session takes some of the pressure off the engineer as the priority is all about session vibe. If the snare sound also leaks into the piano that gets panned right. You might want to plan your panning strategies so that leakage like that of the snare can be kept under control.’ Request Nuts & Bolts topics via case@recordingmag. and miscellaneous hand percussion. Wild and complicated arrangements and large bands make getting the mix right while recording nearly impossible. pulling things in closer to center to keep the stereophonic image of the band tighter. Alternatively.Knowing that the snare will leak into the acoustic guitar track that you want to pan left. a horn section. then you’ll hear the snare image drift left. Seek advantageous blending of the instruments in the room through strategic mic placement that captures the tone of the instruments and a good dose of acoustic leakage.’ All or most elements of the tune are recorded simultaneously so that the musical benefits of the live session are captured. Alex Case thinks they should call that TV show‘Saturday Night Live to Two. keys.’ but as my digital audio workstation goes to (a not yet utilized) 64 tracks. That is. you’ll find recording the band all at once in a single room is a liberating way to work. the session is probably too complicated for a live to two track approach. less crow d e d . bass. the sound of the snare in the more distant microphones often sounds fantastic. Live to multi that is in the same time zone. In fact.ning. you might use leakage on purpose.com.

And sometimes we throw accuracy out the window. Listen to both trends as you move the overhead microphones and you’ll find the sweet spot that solves both problems. too much crash cymbal. The snare. so important musically. RECORDING MAY 2000 Onmidirectional patterns are also a good choice for overhead microphones. While it’s typical to think of them as ‘hearing’ mostly what’s in front and what’s behind. More than two drum mics? It is possible to capture the entire kit with just a pair of overheads. With the mics down close the snare might be four times farther away from the overhead mic than the crash cymbal. Condensers and ribbons are also desirable for the high frequency detail. Mic type Condenser mics are the most popular choice here because they tend to be best at capturing transients. are also a good choice—if they can take the sometimes very high sound pressure levels booming out of the kit. so they are up for the job of capturing the percussive detail of the drums accurately.. gentle compression is probably welcome. Sticking a mic in close to the snare lets you ride a fader to change the amount of snare in the live mix—a handy thing. drums balance and the drums vs. That’s a small kit. Punch: use compression to tighten up each hit of the drums and add a bit more attack. Place the mics so that the snare and kick remain as close to the center as possible. move the kit. Make sure it supports the mood of the song—somewhere between tight/focused and wild/out of control. The bidirectional microphone is most sensitive to sounds directly in front and directly behind the capsule. trash can lids. omnis often have a sweeter low frequency character than a lot of directional microphones. but even acoustic signal processing of the highest quality pays a price. So placement of overheads determines the cymbals vs. clarity. And these instruments are all in close proximity to each other. In the heat of a session you may not be able to count on the drum balance that you can pull out of the overhead microphones alone. As a result. Listen to the spectral and timbral effect of choosing a different pick-up pattern. There are cardioids with fantastic low end and omnis that are low frequency deficient. The second issue is that moving the overhead microphones will adjust the relative balance between cymbals versus snare/kick/toms.Learn By Drumming: Live To Two The drums are easily the most difficult part of the live to two challenge.’ As you back the mics away from the kit they start to view the whole kit without preference to the cymbals. and attack to the overall sound in the overheads. For a live to two. change the pick-up pattern. so you’ll need a mic with the ability to handle high sound pressure levels (up to and above 120 or even 130 dB SPL). If you don’t like what you hear. 3. For this sort of work. Please refer to the 2/97 issue for more about stereo miking configurations. listen. The drum kit rattles out transients from down beat to fade out.and repeat. etc. two rack toms. If you’ve added close mics to the kick and snare. If you use a ribbon mic (especially an old one) on the snare. or snare pulls left) and move the mics (or change the mics.) in a way that you think will help. The idea is to get maybe 80% of the drum sound from the overheads. Power rock and roll playing will crush them. Capturing acoustic energy from all directions. they’ll grab more ambiance than a cardioid or figure eight. many instruments.. gongs. Compare not just the blend of cymbals versus toms and drums versus room sound. and finally listen in the control room. New ribbon microphones can handle this. though they are a little more difficult to place. Cardioids let you ‘aim’ the microphones to tailor the sound. omnis will need to be closer to the kit than more directional mics. Ribbon microphones. one shredded ribbon. Safety: use compression to prevent the distortion that comes with levels to tape/disk that are too hot.until you love the overall balance of the kit. it totally rejects sound incident from the sides. Three goals: 1. even in a live to two-track session. In fact a single microphone can work. To over-generalize grossly. also gets the special attention of a close mic. A small kit might consist of kick. More typically. Pick-up pattern Anything goes here. These days they often have a terrific transient response. How high? To make this determination you’ve got to wrestle with two conflicting trends. It’s usually very careful. And what musical compressors they are! Rock drums can benefit from being carefully captured by a condenser or ribbon. and excellent sounding. buckets and beer kegs. For the stereo image to work in loudspeakers you must arrange mics symmetrically about the kit. but of course this sort of thing varies from one mic model to the next. hand percussion taped on. then position the mics. A dynamic cardioid mic is up to the job. go ahead and compress them hard so that they add punchiness. Dynamic mics can act a little like compressors when highly transient waveforms hit their capsules. so try to give yourself room to make and fix mistakes. The kick is loud. two kick drums. snare. These conflicting goals force us to back off the compression on the overheads significantly. Try instead to capture the entire kit with a pair of overhead microphones placed above the drum set. First. Care: not too much compression or you’ll hear the decay of the cymbals become unnatural. placed either overhead or down in the kit tucked between the snare and the rack tom opposite the hi-hat. and… Isn’t live to two a blast? . cymbals. with their unique high frequency detail. Return to the control room. Mic placement You might want to abandon the idea of close-miking every piece of the kit in a live to two session. it’s also about frequency response. Too much ride cymbal and not enough toms? Just rotate the microphone so that it faces more toward the toms and looks less directly at the cymbal. first listen to the kit in the live room. pull the mic away and the relative distances from mic to snare and from mic to cymbal converge. Just using one or two overhead mics on the drums requires finesse. and especially for rock it grabs a present tone that will sound exciting. hi-hat. What a mess. a couple of snares. Moving coil dynamic microphones certainly aren’t ruled out for the pair of drum overheads. old (and nearly irreplaceable) ones probably can’t. and they make a make a musical statement when massaged ever so by our indestructible friend the moving coil dynamic. Many condenser mics these days can take it. return to the room with a specific objective in mind (e. These overheads might be coincident (the two directional capsules placed as close to each other as possible but oriented in different directions) in either XY or MS configuration. Using so few microphones on so broad an instrument requires that you have time to really tweak the mic placement and that you have a nice sounding room to help balance the sound. take out some insurance or book the studio under a false name—one hit. for less ride cymbal. rotate the figure eight pattern so that the ride falls a little more into the side rejection area. anyway. As you move the mics away from the drums (higher or farther) they’ll pick-up more and more of the ambient sound of the room. but also the sound quality of the drums coming through the mics. freeing you to focus on the bass. This two to four microphone approach should enable you to get the kit under control in pretty short order. It might also have more drums. clever. I find it helpful to focus on what they don’t hear. but most of the time the kick demands the robustness of a dynamic. Effects For multitrack sessions it is common to eq and compress every single drum track on its way to the tape machine—in pop and rock. If you go for a condenser. a floor tom. This sort of judgement also requires experience. pumping softer then louder as the compressor rides the gain too aggressively. Directional mics require a little signal processing to achieve rejection in certain directions. looking down on the kit and the room from above and off to the sides. arguably purer device than the cardioid mic. bidirectional. Figure eight patterns let you do some ‘aiming’ as well. Or they might be a spaced pair of microphones. we support the overheads with a couple of close mics. as well as a long list of additional toms. To extract a decent amount of low end thump without too much messy room ambience. First you’ve got to find the right drum sound versus room sound combination. Less obvious is the fact that the omni mic is a simpler.. When the overheads are in close to the cymbals they act more like ‘cymbal mics. 2. cereal boxes. room combination. Sneak in the close microphones to add that extra little power and detail. The amount of ambience is a matter of musical judgement. the kick drum welcomes a dedicated mic. What I’m really trying to say is that choosing between omni. and the guitar. you’ve got to back off on this approach. to get the same balance of room sound versus kit sound. you’ve got to get a microphone in close. it probably needs a pad to prevent nasty distortion of the microphone’s electronics. Think of the bidirectional mic’s rejection off to the sides as your tweaking tool: for instance. If you’ve just got overheads up. and the vocal. You’ve got to listen to the whole kit as well as all its individual pieces. it’s suicidal to dial up a stack of effects in a live to two session. a ride cymbal and a crash cymbal. and repeat.g. Placing just a couple of mics to capture so complicated an instrument is a skill acquired through experience. more laid back jazz and brushwork are no problem.. and cardioid isn’t just about pick-up pattern. It’s an engineering challenge: one player.

and other members of the rhythm section are also recorded during the basics session. The making of the recording becomes now a 4-step process: basics. they’ll be grumpy at first. Mixdown was the focus in the April issue. bring everyone into the control room for a loudspeaker listen.PART 12 This ought to be a piece of cake after the challenges of last month’s live-to-two-track session. For example. we always keep them on a leash. they always know when they missed a fill. or in the worst case surrounded by gobos and heavy blankets to at least minimize leakage into the drum mics. keyboardist. Right? his month we continue our discussion of the recording session vocabulary. playing a tune that consists solely of drums and bass is musically not very inspiring. mixdown. The vocalist might be squeezed into a small booth for isolation. ‘basics’ refers to drums and bass. overdubs. When the band is to be recorded a piece at a time through overdubs. The point of the scratch tracks is to feed the drums and bass information and inspiration. Drummers know every single hit they’re layering into the tune. it is usually easiest to lay down the fundamental groove of the tune first. So RECORDING JUNE 2000 the drummer and bassist don’t get lost. adding some basic effects (reverb on the vocals at least). (Gobos are movable absorbent isolation barriers. Mastering is the sole topic of a future Nuts & Bolts column. These additional rhythm section tracks are just meant as a guide to the drums and bass and will be re-recorded later. they’ll certainly know when they nailed it. they know the feel they are going for. You’ll know you got a keeper take when the drummer likes it. This month we take on basics and overdubs. Drums are placed in the biggest room available in the studio/loft/basement. They need to hear each other easily. and try to make the basics session a satisfying place to perform. Drummers and bass players usually play off each other and therefore like to be recorded simultaneously. . . moving beyond preproduction and live recording and into the multitrack recording process. As always. The Multitrack Session BY A LE X CA SE T Guided by voices With the exception of drum and bass music. When they’re happy. Scratch tracks are compromised sonically in pursuit of better basic tracks when necessary. That’s easy for the recording engineer to accommodate. and mastering. Carefully dial up a great sounding mix in the headphones. The singer. As all overdubs will be performed around these tracks. these drum and bass tracks form the basic tracks. So the drummer and bassist don’t get lost within the tune we also record scratch tracks. Ideally they should also be able to see each other perfectly. they are called the basic tracks. The bass is recorded through a direct box and/or through a bass cabinet isolated in any way possible—stuck in another room or booth. In 99. guitarist.) The bass player stands in the same room as the drummer and the jamming commences. But I digress. the point of the basics session is to get the most compelling drum and bass performance ever captured on tape. tucked in a closet. it is a session priority of the engineer (and everyone else involved) to help ensure that the band is comfortable. Period. singing into a second-choice microphone because all the good mics are on the drum kit. World Trade Center twin towers of guitar rig. Recorded on the multitrack. It’s easy to get lost during a take. to keep the guitar from leaking into the drums it might be run through a small practice amp instead of the louder-than-loud. Stuck in headphones. The basics session is simply the first track-laying session.9% of pop and rock sessions. We track instruments one at a time when live to twotrack and live to multitrack aren’t appropriate or possible. The top engineering priority is the quality of the drum and bass tracks.

With experience you can set up microphones and get levels onto tape that are perfectly usable as of Take One. Mistakes in the drum track usually demand that the entire take be redone. Perhaps you haven’t had a chance to tweak: solo the snare to be sure it is crisp or eq the floor tom so it sounds as full as you’d like. RECORDING JUNE 2000 . That’s a fine approach. The bassist probably needs to punch-in a few spots to fix funny notes—notes that were early or late. But it can be bad news sonically. And sometimes such “perfect” tracks are accused of being too perf e c t . If you record distorted tracks on the multitrack. or notes that just don’t seem to work. Spike the punch Typically some fixes are called for at the basics session. louder) than in all the previous takes. but first decide if they should be fixed at all. notes that were sharp or flat. That is. The true test is the control room playback. Most likely. Almost perfect? What if the take feels right except for a few minor mistakes? Many such mistakes are fixable (see below). best possible version of the song. while it might have been nice to tweak the eq and add a dose of compression during basics. the band and the producer have to make sure the playback through loudspeakers is as inspiring as the live take was. consistently strong drum take. That’s good news musically.e. you’ve got a track recorded well enough that such processing can be dialed in during the mix. Do you still feel that excitement when you can’t see the performers? The basics session is complete when the performance passes the loudspeaker playback test. Make sure when the band loves the take that the levels didn’t head too far into the red zone and distort. The first thing repaired is the bass track. It is tempting—very tempting—to fix every single flub so that the tracks on tape represent some ideal. not a luxury we can all afford. Sometimes the band nails it on the first or second take. While the take was being recorded we had the benefit of watching the players.l a cking life. but try to avoid patching and piecing together a drum performance. or emotion. Meantime. you can’t un-distort them later. and many bands are famous for their “perfect” recordings. wrong notes. soft notes. loud notes.The engineer has to make sure the audio quality is top shelf. when the bass player loves the take as much as the drummer you’ve still got some minor repairs to do. Track until you get a single. There are exceptions. They are also famous for spending a lot of time (sometimes years!) in the studio. It isn’t easy to keep the loudspeaker playback exciting. The other thing you’ve gotta watch is levels. Pick your spots carefully so that your project falls at the appropriate spot between the high audio craft of Steely Dan and low-fidelity on purpose of Tom Waits. warmth. Then evaluate the bass part. When the drummer and bass player fall into “the zone” they tend to play harder (i.

The red lights go on. The key to successful punches is in selecting your punch points carefully. Because we are looking for a high frequency moment in the music so that we can punch during a zero crossing. It has long. and the bass player is live. but other times you might try to punch in and out on an individual eighth note of music or a single syllable of vocal. high frequencies cross the zero amplitude axis more often than low frequencies. Punching in and out on a digital audio workstation is usually simple. Done correctly. Bass is probably the most difficult instrument of all to punch. Ideally we go into and out of record at something very close to a zero crossing point so that we don’t get an audible click where the wave abruptly transitions from old to new. As a result. compared to high frequencies. The click you try to avoid is replaced by the flanging sound that comes from briefly hearing the two waveforms (old and new) simultaneously during a slow crossfade. Simply put. Punching in and out on a multitrack recorder is tricky business. we know to reach for zero crossing points on the waveform to avoid glitches. You cue and play the tape/hard disk a few bars in front of the mistake to be replaced. You’ll acquire the skill only through practice.Punching-in is the process of going into record during a track already recorded. because you’ve got to punch out. Sometimes you punch entire verses. We aim for the same target for punch points. our odds of getting a click-less punch point are worse for lower frequency sounds like bass. But setting a crossfade beyond 20 milliseconds often leads to other audible artifacts. Don’t go out for pizza now. The intent is to help dovetail one track into another. The bass player plays along. You’ve got to get the multitrack out of record (typically by pressing the play button alone. a crossfade gives you a brief window in time during which both old and new track are mixed together. this helps make the punch point less audible. try to perform your punch during the high frequency transients of the part. You go into record while playing (typically you hold down the play button with one finger and feather touch the record button) at just the right spot. This adjusts exactly how abrupt the transition from the track to the punch will be. away from zero amplitude. As in editing and looping. slow moving waves that spend a lot of time. When we loop a sample. without touching record) so that only the mistake is replaced and the rest of the previously recorded track is preserved. Many digital machines let you select a crossfade time for punches. laying down a new part while you erase the old part. The low frequency signal of bass presents a challenge. . At the basics session you have the unique pleasure of fixing the bass track.

You get the chance to hear out the many subtleties of the recording discipline. the room fills with microphones. Try an omnidirectional large diaphragm condenser over by the brick wall to see if the sound works. First. Maybe the day begins with an electric guitar overdub. Conveniently.don’t be afraid to throw experimental signals over on extra tracks. A slamming snare hit. will temporarily fill the mix with so much noise that a small error in punching in or out over on the bass track is covered up. But as the producer and the guitarist and the other band members experiment with alternative musical ideas. Overdubs After recording the killer drum take of the century and performing maybe a handful of bass punches. RECORDING JUNE 2000 It is during the calm. while the session is distracted by something else. Of course there is room to experiment. Overdubs are typically less stressful and less crazy than basics or live session work. keep the alternative track and be a hero. Punch in and out at the instant the bass player is articulating a new note.On bass. this recording technique will never fail. Then move on to the next overdub.A n d session budgets can rarely afford to let the engineer experiment. When the guitar track is done and the session moves on to the next ’dub (tambourine for example). late night overdub that you get to hear the difference moving a mic one inch makes. Bring out another mic for the tambourine. They can reach for the guitar with a second’s notice to try out a new musical idea. leave the guitar setup as is. the drummer is required by the Rock-N-Roll Drummers’ Union to hit the snare on beats 2 and 4. erase it and explore other ideas on tomorrow’s overdubs. If it sounds weak. As the various overdubs are done. that means we hide our punch points in fret noise and pick noise. maybe didgeridoo. What does an overdub session really look like? If you are picturing a single microphone in front of a single instrument in an otherwise empty room. Or whatever—check out Bill Stunt’s ‘Another Article About Recording Electric Guitars?!’ 2/00 or Bob Ross’s ‘Eclectic Electric Guitar’ 7/97 for some other hints and craziness. Your punching technique is enhanced by a second element to your strategy: punch when no one is looking. During overdubs. er. brave dynamic cardioid up close to the amp and hitting record. and the bass player is going to articulate a new note on most of those snare hits so that many punch points become available. I encourage you to use overdubs as a chance to experiment with recording ideas and refine your ever-developing recording technique. Compare a dynamic to a condenser. As engineer you’ve got a fair amount of freedom now. Time to move on to phase two of the multitrack session: overdubs. For example. Find out what a ribbon microphone in the corner sounds like. So many instruments reward distant miking. Here’s how it goes. That is. you’ve completed the basics session for the tune. . You are given the mental relief that comes from focusing your energies on perhaps a single musician with a single instrument. This is handy for a couple of reasons. Overdubs onto spare tracks represent a terrific opportunity. In this way you build up the pop music arrangement around all the other tracks already recorded. and so on. the audible effect of recording on a wood floor versus carpet. The typical day of overdubs fills the studio with as many microphones as a basics session. a straightforward electric guitar overdub can be as simple as sticking a single. You can experiment with alternative mic placements. you’re missing out on a lot of the fun. There is no obvious way to learn all the options and know which ones wo rk . If the tone at the amp is good. you can stick a few alternative microphones up next to the trusty dynamic already there to see how the sound changes. I mean listening. Do this sort of work on the side. the change in sonic character that comes when you change from one mic to another. select punch points on bass that are going to be masked by some other loud and distracting event. The engineer sets up the tried and true approach plus an experimental set of mics. During overdubs you record single instruments or small sections onto separate tracks of the multitrack. The buzz and grit when the bass player digs in on a down beat gives you an instant of high frequency activity where your punch can hide. with the electric guitar amp previously set up and ready to go the band and producer are free to experiment freely. If you like the sounds.Even the humble tambourine track welcomes some engineering exploration. and experimental miking techniques. using maybe a single microphone. stereo miking. should there be time or motivation during the overdub to reach for another kind of tone. for example. or an omni to a cardioid.

But I am certain that this approach to overdubs gives the engineer a lot more pleasure. Accumulating the various overdub arrangements within a single room not only makes getting the different overdubs done more quickly and easi- best suited to the task (see Nuts & Bolts Part 4. bright pads. ly. Some people think it’s cooler if they are hanging out in a room full of microphones. But separate from those welcome accidental discoveries. and the acoustic guitar mics by the stone wall. Boulder. Try a moving coil mic. Or possibly the more colored sound of El Cheapo Dynamic mic might give the tambourine the edge the tune needs. and maybe Parts 5 and 6 as well. But it is the overdub session most of all that lets you make progress here. you can raise the faders over on the electric guitar mics in the corner. 11/99 and 12/99). while they record into the intended set of microphones. They feel more like a power session player.com. liberating the musicians. they like the vibe that comes from filling a room with equipment. Since tambourines are a percussion instrument full of transients and high frequency energy. the tambourine may sound better via a dynamic than a condenser. Rain stick? Cool idea. The recording room is ready for action.A few hours into an overdub session you might have emptied the mic closet and used up all the mic stands. do they call them underdubs? Request Nuts & Bolts topics via case@r cordingmag. Have a seat where we tracked the acoustic guitar a few hours ago and we’ll start from there. With each different overdub you’ll learn a bit more about the recording craft. Leaving the microphones set up after each overdub forces you to explore new recording techniques. acoustic guitars. Explore multiple recording techniques at once through this ‘don’t take it down until the end of the session’ approach to overdubs. it also leads to some fun exploring of engineering ideas. You are occasionally rewarded. e Excerpted from the June edition of RECORDING magazine. the tambourine mic in the center of the room. Have fun. Whatever floats their boat. Good call. and placement strategies. producer. call: 1-800-582-8326 . Just step up to the tambourine mic.). and engineer to work fast and freely. models. 10/99. Perhaps you always record tambourine with a condenser. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. 5412 Idylwild Trail. it makes perfect sense to use the type of microphone RECORDING JUNE 2000 There’s one other reason to follow this approach to overdubs. you are giving yourself a chance to learn ever more about the never ending process of tracking. That is. During an intense day of overdubs you may find yourself faced with a tambourine overdub. Suite 100. The more time you spend in the studio the better you’ll get at it. The overdub session becomes a comfortable place to explore multitrack recording ideas. Explore multiple recording techniques at once through this ‘don’t take it down until the end of the session’ approach to overdubs. you can open up different mics in the room to see how it sounds. there is no substitute for experience. and so on. and all your condenser mics are spoken for. Inc. because you’ll get to hear half a dozen different kinds of microphones and mic placements all from the comfort of your chair behind the console/DAW.etc. Reprinted with permission. ©2000 Music Maker Publications. It’ll only take a second. and they feel like they are getting their money’s worth from the studio if most of the mics get used. Alex Case wonders: in New Zealand and Australia. You might be pleasantly surprised by how accurate that newfangled dynamic you just bought is. shaker. If the tune is full of high frequency tracks already (cymbals. While the band plays with different parts on the didgeridoo. Mandolin? Good idea. In developing your familiarity with microphone makes.

gently fading echo. It’s pretty jarring to hear a delay fall at a non-musical time interval. This echo send remains cut most of the song. sends the output of the delay back into itself. How do you set up the delay unit itself? Most delays have available the controls shown in Figure 2: input and/or output level..? One way to do this is simply by listening. brilliant rock and roll arrangement. we use the snare to ‘tune’ a delay—to set a musical delay time. Well. Put this into automation and you’ll get the perfectly tailore d d e l ay eve ry time. So much of pop music has a back beat—the snare falling regularly on beat two and beat four. Delay time can be fixed or variable—using the three modulation controls (rate. The other controls on the delay aren’t necessary here. not just the return.PART 13 Theof our look at having audio Delay Part 1 irst some music. it is usually easiest to use the snare for setting the delay time both because it is a rhythm instrument and because it hits so often. a triplet.’ So we resort to an automated send as shown in Figure 1b.’ As we’ll see throughout this and next month’s article. as some equations RECORDING JULY 2000 .hello. In the case of the long delay used by Pink Floyd. It may help at first to pan the snare off to one side and the delay return to the other. and regeneration control. the piano.9% of the time these echoes should be set to a time that makes musical sense. Typically.. Input/output levels are selfexplanatory. with all its compression and equalization. Now we have a fader and cut button dedicated to the control of the send into the delay. an 8th note. Send the snare to the delay and listen to the echo.. How is this calculated? Bear with me here. You know the first line: Hello (Hello. depth and shape)—as we’ll see in later examples..’ and pre s t o — that single wo rd starts to ech o. Starting with a long delay time of about 250 milliseconds. delay time. This sends the voice. The dreamy. a delayed signal can be further delayed by running it back through the delay again. Patching it up this way would add a delay to the entire vocal performance. But when you adjust it into the time of the music. we need to set the delay time to the appropriate length of time and add enough regeneration to make the echo repeat a few times. Is there anybody in there? This is a classic use of a long delay. which is returned on a separate fader (see Figure 1a). Should it repeat with a quarter note rhythm. not just the word ‘hello. to the delay. BY A L E X C A SE wait around a bit before hitting your ears F Figure 1 explains what’s going on at the console. the simple controls of Figure 2 empower the delay to become a fantastically diverse signal processor. out of mind state of our friend Pink is enhanced by (the entire. disturbed. almost. Hum or sing along with me the tune ‘Comfortably Numb’ from The Wall by Pink Floyd. or the guitar. Even if you plan to add delay to the vocal. as happens to the word ‘hello. but with practice and concentration. dial in a musical delay time instead. How long is long? 99. don’t just pick a random delay time. We have full control of the return from the delay as it is on its own fader. The Regeneration control. How’s it done? Perhaps the simplest way is to use a post fader aux send from the vocal to the delay. sometimes called the feedback control. you’ll instantly feel it..hello). you can dial in triplet and dotted rhythms too. That is. It is easiest to find a quarter note delay. Sometimes we calculate a delay time instead. That is. This is how the delay is made to repeat more than once. You briefly open it up for the wo rd ‘ h e l l o.. This can be mighty confusing. adjust the delay time until it falls onto a musically relevant beat.. including) this repeating.

with no rest in between the words: hello hello hello hello hello.Then convert from minutes to milliseconds: 1/T minutes per beat x 60 seconds per minute x 1.. If you know the tempo of the song (we’ll call it T) in beats per minute (BPM) and you want to calculate the length of a quarter note delay in milliseconds (Q).. do the following: .Use an Aux Send (literally an Echo Send) or Spare Track Bus to send the Vocal to the Delay The quarter note delay strongly emphasizes the time of the song. To appreciate the perfection in Pink Floyd’s dotted 8th note delay time. then it falls on the “and” of beat two. ‘Dogs’ from Animals.The length of time of a quarter note in milliseconds per beat is: Q = (60 x 1. let you display delay times in either milliseconds or bpm directly.000/T For example. T = 60: Q = 60. they cleverly use a dotted 8th note delay.) RECORDING JULY 2000 Table 1: evaluating the musical timing of delays 1 x x x x e x x x x & x x x x a x 2 e & a 3 e & a the beat sung word quarter note delay 8th note delay dotted 8th note delay Hel lo hel . The two syllables of ‘hello’ are sung as 16th notes..lo hel .lo hel . disorienting feeling. Knowing the quarter note delay makes it easy to then calculate the time value of an 8th note. This timing scheme determines that ‘hello’ won’t fall on a beat again until beat four. like the TC D-Two reviewed elsewhere in this issue. This would make it seem like Pink is being nagged or pushed around. we know a song with 60 beats per minute ticks like a watch.000/T = 60. Let’s try using the equation.lo x x hel . It is worth transcribing it for some production insight. with a quarter note occurring exactly once per second. more obvious choices: a quarter note delay or an 8th note delay (consult Table 1). keeping an uncertain.lo x x hel . The result is a pre-calculated creation of the desired emotional effect. (They’ve used this trick before.lo with regeneration net effect Hel lo ..Sing the 8th note delay and you find the repeats fall one after the other. The echo never again falls on a down beat. Sing it to yourself as a quarter note delay: Hello x x hello x x hello. The delay time they chose has the effect of inserting a 16th note rest in between each repeat of the word.. First it anticipates beat two by a 16th note. It’s really a pattern of three in a song built on four.000)/T = 60.000/T = 60. This is just plain annoying.000 msec (one second) per quarter note Double the tempo to 120 bpm. It remains true to the overall ‘numb’ feeling of our hero Pink.lo hel . The tune is dreamy and lazy in tempo. dotted or triplet values. but remember that you need to know before you look at a bpm value if the delay is calculating a quarter note or some other length. Hello is sung on the downbeat.are about to appear. moving at about 64 bpm.First convert beats per minute into minutes per beat by taking the reciprocal: T beats per minute becomes 1/T minutes per beat. In the ‘Comfortably Numb’ example above. to devastating effect: ‘Us And Them’ from Dark Side Of T e h Moon. it disappears as the next line is sung. . Finally.lo hel .. .. Figure 1a) Constant Send .000 milliseconds per second. by which time the next line has begun and ‘hello’ is no longer audibly repeating. etc.000/60 = 1. disconnected feel to the story told.000/120 = 500 msec (half a second) per quarter note I use milliseconds because that is the measurement most delay units expect. And it’s a catchy hook—a real Pink Floyd signature. It then falls a 16th after beat three. Some newer delay devices. This guarantees it a dreamy. it’s orderly and persistent.lo hel .lo hel . let’s consider two other. T = 120: Q = 60. a 16th note.

like you are in the smoky bar yourself. As Figure 3 shows. Pulsing. Start with a single audible echo somewhere between 90 ms and 200 ms. it remains in repromode so that the output of the tape machine is what it sees at the playback head. The only way to hear an echo on the vocal of a song is to go to a terrible venue (like an ice hockey rink or the Grand Canyon) and listen to music. It isn’t easy to overcome the guitarist’s wall of sound. The best “Yeaaaaaaaaah!” ever recorded in the history of rock and roll (and I have this from a reliable source) is Roger Daltrey’s in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who. The echoes we find in pop music tend to be used with more restraint. The scream occurs right after the reintroduction when those cool keyboards come back in. That is.” This scream is a real rock and roll classic. not the whole mix. After the last chorus the singer naturally wishes to scream “Yeaaaaaaaaah!” and hold it for a couple of bars. the signal goes in.Long delay It’s a funny idea. the echo needs to be mixed in almost subliminally. All you need is Roger and a long delay with some regeneration. And guitarists playing the blues tend to like it. subliminal echoes feeding a long reverb can create a soft and delicate sonic foundation under the vocal of a ballad. and finally the sig- . The sound of an echo across the entire mix is in fact not a pleasant experience. The Send Channel is a Console Strip dedicated to controlling exactly what is sent to the Delay. A soft echo underneath the lead vocal can give it added richness and support. piano. You never heard Elvis without it. Solo John Lennon therefore often had it. adding an echo to a singer. During mixdown the machine remains in record. In some cases the echo is added to a single track. This makes quite a statement. only more RECORDING JULY 2000 Figure 1b) Automated Send . It is messy and distinctly non-musical. Slap A staple of ’50s rock is sometimes part of a contemporary mix: slapback echo. nearly hidden by the other sounds in the mix. Support If a constant echo is to be added to an entire track. the tape makes its way from the record head to the playback head (taking time to do so). so: it’s half a dozen Roger Daltreys. On a vocal you’ll instantly add a distinct retro feeling to the sound. Listen carefully (especially at the end of the scream) and you’ll hear a set of delayed screams underneath. It’s Roger Daltrey. though the tape machine is recording. Then there’s the vulnerable rock and roll singer in front of his mate’s Marshall stack. You can do this too. Help the singer out by pumping some in-tempo delays into the scream. On guitar it starts to feel more live. The same as the old boss. and right before the line “Meet the new boss. It doesn’t seem to have any motivation based on reality. or whatever. And it’s mixed in faintly so as to be almost inaudible. guitar. This approach can strengthen your singer.Uses two different Aux Sends or Track Buses. Signal is sent from the console to the input of the tape machine in exactly the same way you’d send signal to any other effects unit: using an echo send or spare track bus. especially when the melody heads into falsetto territory. and milliseconds later it is played back. Before the days of digital audio a common approach to creating this sort of effect was to use a spare analog tape machine as a generator of delay. phrases. or licks. That signal is recorded at the tape machine. In other cases the delay is added only to key words. gets printed onto tape.

Why bother? Some people are simply turned on by anything retro. Wait a second.’ This cuts the sampling rate in half. Tape delay becomes a more complex. the amount of time stored in a fixed amount of memory effectively doubles. like the ‘hello’ that begins the song. This can be darn difficult to simulate digitally. manufacturers made tape delays.’ These are a quick dose of several echoes. very rich effect now. the delay is often a hook that people sing along with. Tape delay is more trouble. Want to lengthen the delay time? Slow the tape machine down. you introduce that signature analog tape compression. as in the Pink Floyd example. We can buy a digital delay that is easily adjustable. I take the trouble to use a tape delay when I want that ‘sound. The signal is delayed by the amount of time it takes the tape to travel from the record head to the repro head.’ and. Can’t make these delay times fit into the rhythm of the song? No prob. which were tape machines with a loop of tape inside. It isn’t just a delay—it is a delay plus equalizer plus compressor plus distortion device. is a way to emphasize a particular word. hence the ‘times two’ label. That is reason enough for some engineers. None of these delay times seem exactly right? Maybe your tape machine has vari-speed that lets you find tape speeds slightly faster or slower than the standard speeds listed above. maybe three choices of tape speed: 7 1/2.tape speed. 15. ‘crotch. more expensive. Tape delay was originally used because it was one of the only choicRECORDING JULY 2000 es at the time. To help out. Here in the year 2000 we have more options. you’ve got the opportunity to create tape slap. and how it is calibrated. A single tape machine. The actual delay time then is a function of the speed of the tape and the particular model of tape machine you are using (which determines the physical distance between the two heads). I personally am not into retro for retro’s sake. one with a different head arrangement so that the delay time will be different. The spacing between the record and playback heads was adjustable to give you more flexibility in timing the delay. depending on the tape machine.” meaning ‘times two. Nice delay units provide you with this filter as an option. It’s sometimes the perfect bit of nuance to make a track special within the mix. wonderfully flexible. Moreover. there is often the ability to double the delay time on outboard digital delays by pressing a button labeled “X2. or 30 inches per second (lovingly called ‘ips’). it tends to add a low frequency hump into the signal. um. and we know some great old records used it. and at hotter levels still. Simulating a call and response type of lyric. You might have two. is capable of just a few different delay settings? Yup. Listen also to key end words in the verses: ‘face. probably cheaper than a tape machine. it can be more subtle. If you push the level to the tape delay into the red.’ ‘race. Life is good. Listen carefully to the third verse—the words ‘turn’ and ‘burn’ each get a single subliminal dotted quarter note delay.’ which get a little delay based boost.’ An analog tape machine introduces its own subtle color to the sound. chorus ends with the word ‘away. which might cost several thousand dollars. analog tape saturation distortion. It can be obvious. Emphasis Adding a long delay to a key word. the . Drag. This can even be a cassette deck if it has a tape/monitor switch to let you monitor the playback head while you record. Mainly. With half as many samples to keep track of. The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” on Bringing Down the Horse ffers a o great example of really hiding the delays. Alternatively. It’s not unusual to low pass filter these sorts of delays. The result is a tape delay. But if you have a spare tape machine that has perhaps been sitting unused ever since you made the investment in a DAT machine. courtesy of the regeneration control. Go buy another analog 2-track machine. A 3-speed tape machine used this way is like a really expensive effects device with three presets. Figure 2) Signal Flow Through a Typical Delay Unit nal is played back off tape and returned to the console. Removing the high frequency content from each repeat makes it sink deeper into the mix. A set of emphasizing delays hits key words throughout “Synchronicity II” on The Police’s final album Synchronicity The first line of every . and it either fits in one or two rack spaces or exists conveniently in a pull-down menu on our DAW.

While sampling rates are creeping up on all our digital toys (especially DAWs and multitrack recorders). Inc. An echo isn’t just an echo any more. Reprinted with permission. Halving the sample rate also lowers the upper frequency capability of the digital device. Suite 100. Excerpted from the July edition of RECORDING magazine. That is. 96 kHz and more. ter note triplet delay isn’t just an effect. as the delay time falls below about 50 milliseconds. You know this if you are following the sampling rate wars: 44. The Edge has composed the delay element into the song. 5412 Idylwild Trail. slap. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. and emphasis. we sometimes reach for delay to fill in part of the rhythm track of a song. Reggae is famous for its cliché echo. The key benefit of increased sampling rate is improved high frequency resolution (A ‘Nuts & Bolts’ column dedicated to digital audio is forthcoming). Boulder. A classic example is apparent from the very RECORDING JULY 2000 introduction of U2’s “Wide Awake” on The Unforgettable iF The quarre. Drum programmers have been known to put in an 8th or quarter note delay across the entire groove.com.1 kHz. we sometimes lower the sampling rate on our digital delays. it’s part of the riff. The distance between the Record Head and the Playback Head as well as the selected Tape Speed determine the Delay Time.Figure 3) Tape Delay . Low pass filtering the delay is often a desirable mix move. Delays are sometimes so short that they aren’t perceived as echoes. repeats of an earlier musical phrase. ©2000 Music Maker Publications. the sound of the delay is no longer an echo. We still hear the delay. In Record. 48 kHz. Ditto for “In the Name of Love” from the same album. Groove Beyond support. it’s a part of the tune. Next month we explore these shorter time effects. Guitarists use delay too. Alex Case wonders: why are flight dela always long delays? Request ys Nuts & Bolts topics via case@rcord e ingmag. U2’s The Edge has made delay a permanent part of his guitar rig. Make it short The delays discussed above are all audible as echoes. but it takes on a new persona as the delay time gets this short. call: 1-800-582-8326 .The Tape Machine is always rolling.

aren’t heard as echoes. Check out the combination of the bass with a long delay. do the same experiment with an acoustic or electric guitar track. “No duh. Inc. On your mixer/DAW. they take on a new persona. medium (between about 50 ms and 20 ms). Pan both the source audio and the return from the delay dead center. The sonic difference between a long delay and a short delay isn’t just the apparent length of the delay. Listen carefully as you do this. You see. sometimes hollow. Very short delays have an important spectral effect on the sound. 60ms. Mixing together—at the same volume and pan position—the original signal with a delayed version of itself might have results like the two special cases RECORDING AUGUST 2000 Excerpted from the August edition of RECORDING magazine. 5 ms.” you think to yourself. If you are actually reading this in your studio. Case. Depending on the bass sound. That’ll teach you: never leave your studio. Sine of the times Consider first a pure tone (no fun to listen to. you may hear the delay separate from the bass into an echo somewhere between about 60 and 80 milliseconds. This mix of a bass sound with a very short delay sounds like it’s been equalized. textured effect. Again start with a long delay and gradually pull it down to a short delay. It’s a blurry. perhaps repeating a few times. Welcome to the real world of delays.The Short Delay. call: 1-800-582-8326 . a lack of low end. down to 3 ms and below. 100 ms. cleverly called long (greater than about 50 ms). 20 ms. 5412 Idylwild Trail. they sound like an echo. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. sometimes boomy. Next try a snare sound. While we’re here. Let me explain. maybe 200 milliseconds. Long delays sound very different from short delays. Listen carefully to the mix of each source sound when combined with the output of the delay. 10 ms. They aren’t just for echoes anymore. What the heck is going on? The long delay is just an echo. it’s hard to describe. as demonstrated above) they are no longer repeats or echoes of the sound. We covered long delays in last month’s column. Let’s check out how it works. Again we find it is a distinct echo at long settings. but helpful to study). The delay introduces a strange timbral change at short delays and something tough to describe as it transitions between the two. Suite 100. chaotic mess. well.) Patch up a sampler loaded with a variety of sounds or find a multitrack tape with a good variety of tracks. Part I: Untangling the Comb Filter BY A LE X CA SE he humble delay is a powerful production tool. Then there are the delay times in between long and short. and short (less than about 20 ms). Reprinted with permission. try the following experiment. or a string patch on the sampler. the spectral content of the signal. (Those of you reading this on an airplane or tour bus are out of luck. Gradually lengthen the delay time and listen for the point at which it starts to sound like a distinct echo again. Long delays are pretty intuitive. medium and short delays are so darn cool that we’ll dedicate this and next months’ columns to them. 80 ms. set up a delay fed by an aux send that returns to your monitor mix at about the same volume as the synth or original tracks. So we classify delays into three broad categories. ever. At one short delay setting there’s extra low end. Short delays. Boulder. The very short delays (15 ms and lower) sound strange. They have a more complex. In between the very long and the very short delay times. Now start shortening the delay. then at a slightly different delay time. When delays become shorter than about 50 or 60 milliseconds (depending on the type of sound you are listening to. T Make it short As delay times fall below about 50 milliseconds. Start with a bass line. ©2000 Music Maker Publications. on the other hand. The same device that delays a signal starts to change the color. not all delays sound alike. Yuk.

The math works out as follows. We looked at the results of this 2 ms delay for the single frequency of 500 Hz in Figure 1a.. With the delay fixed to 1 millisecond. That is.. . give it a try. and nulls at 250 Hz. watch your meters.. 1500 Hz. and .. For a given delay time (t expressed in seconds. then they combine cooperatively.. disappear again at 1500 Hz. not just one. . The situation in Figure 1b represents another special case. for example... and in 1b.Again. the only relevant peaks and valleys are those that fall within the audible spectrum from about 20 Hz to 20. . . 1000 Hz. 5/2t. sweep the frequency of the sine wave up slowly beginning with about 250 Hz.. 2/t.. 1250 Hz. The math reveals that the peaks and dips happen at several frequencies. Of course. certain frequencies line up just right for perfect constructive or destructive interference. reach a peak at 1000 Hz. you can see how the peaks and dips in the waves either add up or cancel out. and the result is a signal of the same frequency but with twice the amplitude. To explore this further.) If the delay time happens to be exactly the same as the period of the sine wave.. reach a peak again at 2000 Hz. They show that these doublings and cancellations happen at certain other higher frequencies as well. The frequencies that cancel are: 1/2t. For any given delay time.002 seconds = 2 milliseconds). creating the situation of Figure 1b. the dashed line is the 2/t (constructive) case. The time it takes a pure 500 Hz tone to complete one cycle is 2 milliseconds (Period = 1 / Frequency = 1 / 500 = 0. return to your mixer setup combining a sine wave with a delayed version of itself set to the same amplitude. and the math is easy.. If you have access to a sine wave oscillator (either as test equipment or within your synthesizers or computer).001 seconds) has peaks at 1000 Hz. 3/2t.. In Figure 1a.shown in Figure 1. and you’ll find that the sine wave is essentially cancelled. 2000 Hz. the dashed line is the 3/2t (destructive) case.000 Hz. Sweep the sine wave frequency higher and lower. This is consistent with our observations in Figure 1b of how a 1 millisecond delay cancels a 500 Hz sine wave. A 2 millisecond delay has amplitude peaks at 500 Hz... not milliseconds) the frequencies that double are described by an infinite series: 1/t. . and nulls at 500 Hz. if the delay time we set up on our delay processor is exactly equal to the time it takes the sinusoid to go through one cycle. we have the constructive interference shown in Figure 1a.. 3/t. So mixing together equal amounts of the original sine wave and a 2 millisecond delayed version will create the case shown in Figure 1a. I recommend 500 Hz as a starting point—it isn’t quite as piercing as the standard test tone Figure 1: Combining Sine Waves RECORDING AUGUST 2000 of 1000 Hz.. If the delay time happens to be equal to half a period (half the time it takes the sine wave to complete exactly one cycle). 2500 Hz. The combination results in zero amplitude—pure silence. . 1500 Hz. Now look at the dashed-line wave forms on Figure 1. You’ll hear the combination of the delayed and undelayed waves disappear at 500 Hz. 3000 Hz. (Just look at the solid lines for now. Set the delay to 1 millisecond. 750 Hz. we’ll come back to the dashed lines and what they mean in a minute. Using these equations we confirm that a 1 millisecond delay (t = 0. then the original sound and the delayed sound move in opposition to each other—they are 180 degrees out of phase. and listen carefully.

On your mixer. the 500 Hz portion of the signal gets louder.Raise the fader of the source signal to a reasonable leve l . No single delay time can cancel out all the frequencies at once. or didgeridoo. And the mix reaches its minimum level when the two signals are at equal amplitude. you get more attenuation of the original sine wave. and what happens is definitely cool. Musical instruments containing a 500 Hz component within their overall sound will be affected by the short 1 millisecond delay. This is called comb filtering (see Figure 2) because the alteration in the frequency content of the signal looks like teeth on a comb. they are too short to be perceived as echoes. Start with both faders down. from your sampler. So short delays are less like echoes and more like equalizers. and mixing in a delayed version of itself at the same amplitude will cut certain frequencies and boost others. Some frequencies are cancelled. Combining a musical waveform with a short delayed version of itself radically modifies the frequency content of the signal. In fact.there’s more. We’ve got a dela (not a fader or a compressor) y changing the loudness of our mix. it will do the same thing with guitar (or piano. Another fader controls the return from this delay. quieter As you add more of the . It would be nice to understand what is going on. delayed sine wave.N ow raise the second fader. But mixing together the guitar sound with a 1 millisecond delayed version of the guitar sound definitely does do something. In fact they are so short that they start to interact with discreet compo- Figure 2a Figure 2b RECORDING AUGUST 2000 . The guitar isn’t a pure tone (thank God). listen to what happens.so on. we saw that the signal got louder when we added this delay. But wait. Taking a complex sound like guitar. As you make the delayed signal louder your mix of the two waves gets . With the delayed and undelayed signals set to the same amplitude. Try the 2 millisecond delay. This is the phenomenon shown in Figure 1b. or anything). the 500 Hz portion of their sound can in fact be cancelled. Run a guitar signal—live. What remains is the tone of the instrument without any sound at 500 Hz. Can you find a delay time setting that will enable you to completely cancel the guitar sound? Nope. which has sound energy at a vast range of different frequencies. We already saw a 1 millisecond delay remove the 500 Hz sine wave entirely. In the case of the guitar. one fader has the original sine wave at 500 Hz panned to center. It is a complex signal. We’ve got a dela (not an y equalizer) changing the frequency content of our signals. And the sine wave is also sent to a delay unit set to a delay time of 1 millisecond. also panned to center. rich with sound energy at a range of frequencies. The intermediate frequencies experience something in between outright cancellation and full-on doubling. or off tape—through the same setup above. others are doubled. In the case of the 500 Hz sine wave. Time for music Stupid parlor trick or valuable music production tool? To answer this question we have to get rid of the pure tone (which pretty much never happens in pop music) and hook up an electric guitar (which pretty much always happens in pop music). Let’s ride the faders in the following experiment.

etc. Of course. In fact.e. Short delays offer a very interesting extra detail: they create mathematical—not necessarily musical— changes to the sound. The spectral result is that the combining of a signal with a delayed version of itself acts like a radical equalization move: a boost here. This is the typical way of viewing music. introducing some delay. This is one approach to capturing a nice sound at the microphone. Problem is. because it’s how our ears hear: double the frequency. . But if you look at comb filtering with a linear (and non-musical) frequency axis. You can tilt the amp back so that it faces up toward the raised microphone. go up an octave. another cut there. you can flop the amp on its belly. An important part of the recording craft is learning to minimize the audible magnitude of these reflections by taking advantage of room acoustics in placing musical instruments in the studio and strategically placing absorptive materials around the musical source. vocal. dialing in carefully the appropriate boosts and cuts. the sound reflected off the floor and into the microphone will arrive a split second later than the sound that went straight from amp to mike. A single short delay creates a wildly complex eq contour. Recording a sound and a single reflection of that sound is a lot like mixing a track or sample with a delayed version of itself. It isn’t until you view the implications of the short delay in this linear way (Figure 2b) that you see why it is in fact called a comb filter. They show the same information. Double it again. raising the microphone also pushes the microphone further off-axis to the amp. a cut there. comparing part 2a to part 2b. the comb filtering is a little less pronounced. In fact. and so on. saxophone. But then again. as in our discussions above. reducing the comb filter effect. That’s the theory. we place a sweet tube microphone a few feet away and try to capture the natural sound of the amp in the room. thereby changing the spectral locations of the peaks and valleys of the comb filter effect. for example. You can raise the amp up off the floor. piano. one rarely could. Patch up the comb filter with a special radical effect in mind. Raising the microphone therefore lengthens the acoustic delay time difference between the direct sound and the reflected sound.nents of the overall sound. The path is longer via the reflected path. and the comb filtering is even less audible. you go up a half step with each fret on a guitar but the frets get closer together as you go up the neck. perhaps setting it on a piano bench. part of the point of using short delays in your mix is to create sounds that you can’t create with an equalizer. You’ll get a better hairdo using the comb in Figure 2b instead of 2a. more musical controls. For example. all equally spaced in terms of the linear number of Hz. you see that the peaks and dips in the filter are spaced perfectly evenly. Time for reflection It’s still fair to ask: why all this talk about short delays and their effect on a signal? After all. Figure 3a: Reflections Cause Comb Filtering Consider recording an electric guitar. With the amp in the middle of the room on a beautiful wooden floor. It is distinctly non-musical. changing the timbre of the electric guitar tone as picked up by the microphone. The distribution of the cuts and boosts is a mathematical peculiarity. and so on. Study Figure 2. Fortunately the sound reflected off the floor will also be a little quieter. adding some degree of constructive (i. facing straight down into the floor if that sounds g o o d . In theory you could simulate comb filtering with an equalizer. It’s pretty impressive. how often do we use delays in this way? It is essential to understand the sonic implications of these short delays because all too often they simply can’t be avoided.A lways do what sounds good. To fully imitate the comb filter effect that a 1 millisecond delay creates. Delay-induced comb filtering is only part of the equation. Better yet. go up another octave. This is a good approach. Figure 1 demonstrates this for a sine wave. additive) or destructive (i. If you want more careful tailoring of sound. shown in Figure 3a.e. you’d need an equalizer with about 40 bands of eq (20 cuts and 20 boosts within the audible spectrum). The result is some amount of comb filtering. raising the microphone will make the difference in length between the reflected path and the direct path even longer. Another common approach to recording a guitar amp (and pretty much any other instrument) is to use a combination of two or more microphones to create the sound as you record it onto a single track. Figure 2 summarizes what happens in the case of a complex wave like guitar. Place absorption at the point of the reflection. I’ve never seen so crazy an equalizer (other than in software). This relationship is why. subtractive) interference to different frequencies within the overall sound. If the floor is carpeted. another boost here. Comb filtering is a part of everyday recording. use an equalizer with its logarithmic. RECORDING AUGUST 2000 This highlights another unique feature of using short delays to shape the harmonic content of a sound. learn to use these reflections and the comb filtering they introduce on purpose. But Figure 2a presents the information with a logarithmic frequency axis.

you need a subscription to Recording. Mastering it will lead directly to better sounding recordings. have him or her slowly move the microphone around while you listen to the combined close/distant microphone mix. one track. Figure 3b: Multiple Microphones Lead To Comb Filtering unit. No magic. In theory. they act very much like the signal plus delay scenario we’ve been discussing. The reflections from the various room boundaries into each microphone arrive at a later time than the direct sound.com. It’s that simple. looking for critical changes in the timbre. but thin in the control room.Consider the session shown in Figure 3b: two microphones. you’ll have found a sweet spot. adding still more comb filtering. Sound travels a little farther than a foot per millisecond. Avoid it as necessary. anything. If you lack an assistant. heavy. make it part of your routine to listen for the comb filter effect. Experiment with the comb filter-derived signal processing to get a sound that is natural—or wacky. It effectively selects different key frequencies for cutting and boosting using the exact same principles we explored in Figures 1 and 2. you also control the amount of comb filtering introduced into the guitar tone. but at different times. The myth of the sweet spot Perhaps you want a tough. Keep the close mic fixed and move the distant one slowly. exposure to the various stereo miking techniques. When those comb filter peaks and notches fall into frequency ranges that complement the tone screaming out of the guitar amp. For endless opportunities of exploration.Place two microphones on the amp as shown in Figure 3b. (For certainty. the ceiling. there’s too much to keep track of. responds well to comb filtering. move the distant mic back about a foot. which changes the frequencies being cancelled. become a tax accountant.” You adjust the two faders to get the right mix of close and room sounds and print that to a single track of the multitrack. In other words. the peaks and dips of comb filtering offer a distinct. To lengthen the delay time difference by about a millisecond. Perhaps the problem is that. which my mom and some scientists would classify as broadband noise. Maybe a comb filter derived hump at 80 Hz is the ticket. So we get a complex interaction of the many components of guitar If you have the luxury of an assistant engineer. That’s only half the story. For subtle tone shaping or a radical special effect. you not only change the close/ambient mix. Explore this issue by moving the microphones around. Or use it on purpose when you can. Electric guitar. as quietly as you can. Finding the mic placement that captures the tone that pleases the guitarist simply requires a bit of patience—and an understanding of the spectral implications of short delays. Then combine them.) Understanding comb filtering is part of how we master the vast recording process. The direct sounds into multiple microphones arrive at different times. move the distant mic back about ten feet. Moving the distant microphone to a slightly different location is just like changing the time setting on the delay sound radiating out of the amp.And an essential tool in mic placement is the use of comb filtering for fun and profit. One day you may find yourself in a predicament: the amp sounds phat out in the live room. or fourth…) microphone on acoustic guitar. To get a ten millisecond delay increase. we recording engineers like this complexity. piano. become a recording musician. courtesy of the short delay between two microphones. and many other topics. Alex Case knows the differ ce en between a comb filter and an oil filter. audible sound property to be manipulated. Other instruments reward this kind of experimenting. record a take onto tape while you slowly move the microphone. No dumb luck. To achieve predictably good sounding results you need recording experience. As you adjust the faders controlling these two microphones. These two mics pick up very similar signals. There is an infinite number of variables in recording. And make short delays part of your mixing bag of tricks. an understanding of microphone technologies. knowledge of microphone sound qualities. RECORDING AUGUST 2000 . and psychoacoustics. Naturally. Try placing a second (or third. Each of these microphones receives reflected sounds from the floor. you’ve got a big dip in frequency right at a key low frequency region. Check out each mic alone. Or should it be 60 Hz? You decide. Request Nuts & Bolts topics via case@recordingmag. In other words. Your goal is to introduce a frequency peak at some powerful low frequency. Every time you record with more than a single microphone. the short delay is a powerful signal processor. With energy across a range of frequencies. The art of microphone placement requires mastery of room acoustics. Here we have a close microphone (probably a dynamic) getting the in yer face gritty tone of the amp and a distant microphone capturing some of the liveness and ambience of the room. larger than large guitar tone. You might label the fader controlling the close microphone something like “close” and the fader governing the more distant mic something like “room. musical acoustics. Undo the problem by changing the spectral location of the frequency notch: move a microphone. leading to some amount of comb filtering. which changes the delay. and all the other room boundaries—all in addition to the obvious direct sound from the amp. What frequency ranges disappear? What frequency ranges get louder? The hope is to find a way to get rid of unwanted or less interesting parts of the sound while emphasizing the more unique and more appealing components of the sound.

a simple effect with powerful sonic capability. all signals sent to it— guitar. setting the signal processor to a single unchanging delay time). or didgereedoo—experience the exact same amount of delay. This month we focus on the modulation section of this delay unit. Things really get interesting as you start to change the delay time as part of the effect. and other times where you dial in a fast. Figure 2c graphically contrasts two different settings. Figure 2a describes a fixed delay time of 100 milliseconds. RECORDING SEPTEMBER 2000 . Shape. Your writer hopes that by the end of this column you’ll have renewed interest in using the humble delay. the delay time remains exactly 100 milliseconds. all session long.The Short Delay. Many effects are built on varying delays. Part II– Flange and Chorus his month’s Nuts and Bolts column wraps up our three-month look at delay.describes how the device moves from one delay setting to the next. The delay unit takes whatever signal you send it. That’s it. It’s a slap echo as discussed last month. Depth. You’ll find cases when you’ll want to sweep the delay time imperceptibly slowly (the dashed line). or more. vocal. very audible rate (the solid line). clever ways.e. B Y AL E X C AS E T Figure 1 reiterates the controls on a standard digital delay device (we looked at this some in our two earlier columns on delay). In the preceding two-month discussion on delays—long and short—we’ve spoken almost entirely about fixed delays (i. holds it for the delay time you set (100 ms). then sends it out. These controls let us change the delay time in controlled. The third control. Depth controls how much the delay is modulated. Throughout the song. Some great effects begin when you start using some of the delay modulation controls. That fixed delay time might be increased and decreased by 5 milliseconds (the dashed line). Usually three basic controls are found: Rate. That’s a delay without modulation. Figure 2b gives a graphic representation of what happens when this control is changed. and Shape. Rate controls how quickly the delay time is changed. 50 milliseconds (the solid line).

only on the bridge). The specific frequencies where spectral boosts and cuts occur depend on the specific short delay time we use. Recall from last month what happens when you combine a signal with a delayed version of itself. A different delay setting results in a different set of peaks and valleys (see Figure 3). Or you might want a square wave sort of trajectory between delay times. Pop music is full of examples of flanging. The flanger’s ringing. You set the limits on the range of delay times allowed (depth). the comb filter bumps and notches sweep also. chorusing. You might flange just a single track. It’s just a pop mix detail to make the arrangement that much more interesting. And you determine how the delay moves from its shortest to its longest time (shape). and related effects are now yours for the taking. offering us a good chance to hear the vocals with and without the delay treatment. As your modulated delay sweeps from one delay time to another. Sometimes you don’t hold back: the entire mix gets flanged. The flange effect actually softens the rather hard sounding. Each time the words “Then she appeared”occur. That’s it. as on Michael Penn’s “Cover Up” from the album Resigned A wacky flange appears on . Finally.“Then She Appeared”from XTC’s last effort as a band on the album Nonesuc offers a good case h study of a gently sweeping flange. the vocal for the single word ‘guests’ near the end of the second verse.g. RECORDING SEPTEMBER 2000 . You set how fast the delay moves (rate). The way cool effect comes from modulating the delay time. Set the delay modulation controls to taste. That’s good old comb filtering. When the delay time is below about 20 milliseconds. Figure 2d highlights a common feature of the Shape control: it lets you use a shape that is some mixture of the two—part sinusoid. Your delay may also have a random setting in which the delay time moves less orderly between the two delay extremes. in which the delay time snaps—instead of sweeps—from one setting to the other. Or you might limit the effect to just one section of that track (e.mostly sinusoidal general pattern. attenuating or even canceling each other out.doubling. One delay setting causes the peaks and valleys to occur at one set of frequencies. These three controls let you take control of the delay and play it like a musical instrument. modulated delay offers a broad range of audio effects. ear tickling sound comes from the comb filter effect we discussed last month in combination with the modulation controls we just went over. a bit of your traditional flange begins courtesy of a short vocal delay being slowly modulated. Feel free to take a more subtle approach. Flange to taste.As Figure 2d shows. whooshing. In this example the flange comes and goes throughout the song. Flanging. for example varying the delay time in a slightly random. No more flange on the vocal for the rest of the tune. Other frequencies oppose each other. Other times you might apply the effect to a single instrument. and difficult to sing ‘sts’ at the end of the word ‘guests. Flanging invites your creative exploration. Those peaks and valleys in the frequency spectrum introduced by a short delay offer a distinct sound. The only rule is that the delay time needs to be less than about 20 milliseconds—in fact I recommend starting with a delay time of 10 milliseconds or less. part square. certain frequencies are constructively reinforced. Figure 3 shows the result: flanging. sibilant. like the drum kit. Flange Dialing in a very short delay time and modulating it via these three controls lets you create flanging. The simple effect that comes from mixing in a short. it can sweep in a perfect sinusoidal shape (the dashed line) back and forth between the upper limit and the lower limit you set (those upper and lower limits you set with the Depth control).’ And it makes me smile every time I hear it. some delay units let you use a combination of all the above. This ensures that audible comb filtering will occur. The Shape control lets you mix these options and set a contour for how the delay moves between its highest and lowest settings.

It happens too fast. the best way to answer that question is to listen to the effect of combining a signal with a medium delay somewhere between about 20 and 50 milliseconds. We saw how long delays are used for a broad range of echobased effects. we call flanging. This kind of medium delay sounds a little bit like a double track—like two tracks of the same singer singing the same part. The result is neither an echo nor a flange. What do these medium delays do? Try a 30 millisecond delay on a vocal Short delays of about 20 milliseconds or less create the radical comb filtered effect that. The resulting sound is stronger and richer. But the delay is too long to lead to audible comb filtering.Double The first Nuts & Bolts of Delay column (July 2000) focused on long delays—those greater than about 50 milliseconds. track for a good clue. You record a killer take. especially when modulated.then have the singer record the part again on a separate track along with him or herself. What goes on in between 20 and 50 milliseconds? Naturally. RECORDING SEPTEMBER 2000 . It is a common multitrack production technique to have the singer double a track. It even shimmers a little. The delay is too short to be perceived as an echo.

followed fairly closely by the rhythm electric guitar. The chorus doesn’t lose strength and the tune doesn’t sag or lose energy one bit. among other things Roy Thomas Baker is famous for taking doubling to the hilt.If you are unfamiliar with the sound of doubled vocal tracks. The same part is recorded on two different tracks. Adding more players doesn’t just create more volume—the combined sound is rich and ethereal. They are generally mixed in a little lower in level than the lead vocal. Rather than supporting the vocal. The vocal remains doubled for the next line and then the harmonies commence. For example. The doubled tracks— panned hard but mixed aggressively forward—offer a contagious hook that invites the listeners to sing along. support the vocal. they appear panned to opposite sides of the stereo field. a clean example can be found at the beginning of “You Never Give Me Your Money” on the Beatles’ Abbey Road.” when they sing the hook “good times roll. a different amp.they become the vocal. where you need a good strong vocal. The chorus is sung by doubletracks panned hard left and right. A contemporary application of doubling can be found on Macy Gray’s “I Try” from the album On How Life Is Typically. listen to the first harmonies on the first song “Good Times Roll. On mixdown. Speaking of harmonies. the vocals take on a slick. It’s brilliantly done. Verse One begins with solo vocal. At the chorus. The two parts are nearly identical. a different microphone or slightly change the tone RECORDING SEPTEMBER 2000 . hyped sound. The value of having multiple instruments play the same musical part is indescribably magic. reinforcing the principal track from the center or panned off to each side.” It sounds deep and immense. adding their inexplicable extra bit of polish. It transports the listener.Check out the harmonies. doubletracks . On the words “funny paper” the doubling begins. The Macy Gray tune turns this on its head. throughout The Cars’ first album. Sometimes you switch to a different guitar. Pop vocals—especially background vocals—are the instrument most often doubled. doubled and tripled (probably much more). the vocal track panned dead center does something quite brave: it all but disappears. This layering of tracks borrows from the tradition of forming instrumental sections in orchestras and choirs.

multitrack effect. of the guitar are mixed together at similar volumes. Alex Case used to sing in ahc rus. Then one track pulls ahead and we notice it. To hear a terrific use of flange. at their heart. And you get great inspiration to do more with it. They are an audio treat. leading to a pair of guitar tracks that vary slightly in timing. not like a clone copy of the original track. If it isn’t convenient. Through the interaction of the two guitar tracks. This Nuts and Bolts series will soon discuss reverb and pitch shifting. Neither does the jazz trumpet solo.com. Short delays create that family of effects called flanging. slightly late in the next. our ears seem to pick up on these subtle delay changes. and a sweet guitar. the same album gives us a classic application of chorus to an electric guitar. Check out the rhythm guitar in “New Sensation” and the steely cool tone the chorusing adds. plain and simple. The solo folk singer doesn’t usually benefit from this treatment. You get a good taste of chorus. bass.pads. We can take a quick tour of all of the above with a single album: Kick by INXS. Some delay units have the ability to offer several delay times simultaneously (called a multitap delay). The result is the beginning of a slick. Even rock and roll guitar legends are human (mostly). among other things). there’s more. In fact. Flange. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. keys. Chorus An alternative name for the doubling effect is chorus. Note especially the sound of the guitar in the second verse.of the doubling track in some other way. Inc. This helps it sound more organic. and you’ll create a few layers of the track underneath the primary one. To my ear the delay is being modulated between a short flanging sort of sound (around 10 milliseconds) and up to a longer. 5412 Idylwild Trail. spin Throwing Copper by Live and listen to the beginning of the tune “Lightning Crashes. ©2000 Music Maker Publications. and so on. Boulder. But many pop tunes welcome this as a special effect on lead vocals. Think of it instead as a special electronic effect. The guitar sound includes short and medium delays. Request Nuts & Bolts topics via case@recordingmag. representing a nearly infinite number of patches. Excerpted from the September edition of RECORDING magazine. affordable. stacking up 40 medium delays of a single vocalist will not sound convincingly like a choir of 40 people. and brilliant playing. A simple delay unit offers a broad range of audio opportunities. Suite 100. Maybe the only difference between the tracks is the performance. True doubling? Listen to “Sweat” and those hard panned questions. strings. distortion. or physically possible to have the singer double the track. call: 1-800-582-8326 . And it isn’t just for vocals. Modulate the delay so that the doubled track moves a little. chorus sort of delay time (around maybe 40 milliseconds). Naturally. Doubled guitars are part audio illusion. two more classes of effects that. just run it through a medium delay. Then the other track pulls ahead in time and temporarily draws our attention. Medium delays lead to doubling and chorusing. and echo—three very different kinds of effects that come from a single kind of effects device: the delay.” I’ve no idea what kind of craziness is going on. This medium delay concoction is a powerful tool in the creation of musical textures. o He hopes to one day sing in a flange. The idea is that you could add this delay effect to a single vocal track to simulate RECORDING SEPTEMBER 2000 the sound of an entire choir— chorus—through the use of medium delays. You’ll often hear a bit of chorus on the electric bass. when the effect and the relatively clean sound signal and becomes its own perceptible event: an echo.“How do you feel? What do you think? Whatcha gonna do?” Finally. not an acoustic simulation. backing vocals. Spread them out to different pan positions for a wide wall of vocal sound. among the panning.” They really went for it. Layering and doubling tracks can be simulated through the use of a medium delay. Add a bit of regeneration (the lower control in Figure 1). when the delay is long enough it separates from the original To see how “out there” the effect can be made. listen to “Mediate. chorus. are based on the delay. Fun stuff. Dial in several slightly different delay times in the 20 to 50 millisecond area and you are synthesizing the richness of many layered vocals. At times the two tracks are so similar they fuse into one meta instrument. Reprinted with permission. The ‘chugga chugga’ of the left guitar track is slightly early in one bar. Of course. part audio roller coaster. Just make sure the sound is appropriate to the song. John Scofield’s trademark tone includes a strong dose of chorus (and distortion. and phase shifting effects going on.

And E has our sine wave returning 4 milliseconds after point A to what looks exactly like the starting point: the amplitude is zero. This makes it look a lot like point A. Okay so far? We are going to follow these points through some signal processing and move them around a bit. and increases. notably zero. After it has been run through a fixed. The other points follow. We start the clock at point A. the sine wave is at an amplitude of exactly zero and is increasing. Point A originally occurred at a time of zero. for example. Introduce a fixed delay of one millisecond and Point A now occurs at time equals one millisecond. Fixed delay Run this sine wave through a fixed delay of.004 seconds or 4 milliseconds Figure 1i labels some key landmarks during the course of a single cycle.. unchanging delay of one millisecond. Play it slower than the recorded speed and the pitch goes down. Yet we aren’t finished discussing delay.Pitch Shifting e all know what happens when you play an audio tape at a faster speed than it was recorded: the pitch of the recording goes up. Can it be done digitally? Of course. Yes. at time equals zero. BY A LEX CA SE W D is the point of maximum negative amplitude and occurs 3 milliseconds after the beginning of the cycle. Somewhere in this simple principle lies an opportunity for audio exploration and entertainment. confirmed courtesy of the following familiar equation: Period = the time to complete one cycle Period = 1 / Frequency Period = 1 / 250 Hz Period = 0. It reaches its positive peak amplitude at B. but while the amplitude is the same. How is it done? Using a delay. Point D is forced to occur at a time of 4 milliseconds. Accelerating delay Here’s the mind bender. Figure 1i shows a simple sine wave with a chosen frequency of 250 Hertz. Visually. This sine wave completes a cycle every 4 milliseconds. I said delay. Point D. it is decreasing this time. because even pitch shifters are built on this effect. Here. 1 millisecond. flange. say. Table 1 shows us what happens. What happens if the delay isn’t fixed? What if the delay sweeps from a starting time of 1 millisecond and then increases. occurred undelayed at a time of 3 milliseconds. For RECORDING OCTOBER 2000 . Here the delay changes at a rate of one millisecond per millisecond. Looking point by point. and increases. chorus. To see how.? Table 2 summarizes. Say what? For every millisecond that ticks by during the course of this experiment. the delay gets longer by one millisecond. Loyal readers of Nuts & Bolts have just spent the last three issues reading about delays: echo. and their many cousins. It has an amplitude of zero again at the halfway point (time equals 2 milliseconds) labeled C.. you’ve got to put up with a bit of math (which I seem to sneak into every article) and follow along with Figure 1. you might say the sine wave slips along the horizontal time axis by 1 millisecond. taking exactly 1 millisecond to do so. and you get the situation described in Figure 1ii. and increasing.

At this time the delay is also zero. That is. A pitch shifter is a device that changes a delay in specific controlled ways so as to allow the user to affect the pitch of the audio. If you haven’t had the chance to study physics. By this time the delay has increased from zero to two milliseconds. If we imagine applying this effect to an entire three and a half minute tune. or a minor third. Skip to point C. we are adding a delay of 210. our example found that changing the delay at a rate of 1 millisecond per millisecond moved the pitch by an octave. And the surprising result is a change in the pitch of the track. First.000 milliseconds). By this time our pitch shifting delay has increased from 1 millisecond to 210. then—starting at the speed limit— you can drive most of the way across Texas (it’s about 600 miles from Dallas to El Paso) without getting a ticket. Back to our trusty equations.008 Frequency = 125 Hertz That’s right. we need a very long delay. one need only change the delay at the correct rate. it ain’t easy. then 2 ms. But a delay of hundreds of thousands of milliseconds (hundreds of seconds) is a lot of signal processing horsepower that is rarely available— RAM isn’t that cheap.000 milliseconds (31/ 2 minutes equals 210. Strange. Say you are driving at a speed of 85 (edited for your safety) 55 miles per hour and accelerating at a rate of 1 mph per hour (our Canadian neighbors should use kilometers per hour for similar results). Back to the music. then five milliseconds later the delay unit is operating at 15 milliseconds. but true. the song now ends 420. Therefore the final sound of the pitch shifted song occurs at 210. let’s calculate its frequency.000 milliseconds. doubles in length to seven minutes as we lower the pitch by one octave. Table 2 shows the location of our sine wave landmarks both before and after the introduction of this steadily increasing delay. Most delays are capable of a one second delay (1. By the end of the tune. We sum it up as follows. So the underlying methodology of pitch shifters is revealed. and so on. The constantly increasing delay caused the pitch of the signal to change.000 milliseconds) at the most.000 milliseconds (that’s seven minutes!) after it began. not just a single cycle of a sine wave. we know the pitch has changed.000 milliseconds (original time) plus 210. which used to be 31/2 minutes long. The 31/ 2 minute song is lowered an octave but doubled in length. Driving 55 mph now becomes 56 mph an hour from now.000 milliseconds) after the beginning of the song. The result is clearly still a sine wave. In addition. That means that for each hour that passes by your speed increases by one mile per hour. Naturally. Here we are increasing the delay by 1 millisecond each millisecond. Our example demonstrated that an increasing delay lowers the pitch. We’ve got a key problem.000 milliseconds (the length of the delay). you might be puzzled by the idea of changing the delay time at a rate of 1 millisecond per millisecond.A 250 Hertz sine wave run through a delay that increases constantly at the rate of 1 millisecond per millisecond will be lowered in pitch to 125 Hertz. This delay of two milliseconds leads point C to finally occur at a time of four milliseconds after the beginning of this experiment. That is. if at one point the delay is 10 milliseconds. The key landmarks are identified. The sine wave in Figure 1iii takes a full 8 milliseconds to complete its cycle. Return to our example in which we lowered the 250 Hz sine wave by an octave through a steadily increasing delay. Before pitch shifting it occurred 31/ 2 minutes (210. It is also true that a decreasing delay raises the pitch. we find we are increasing the delay from a starting point of one millisecond to a final delay time of 210. It is also possible to change the pitch by two octaves. I find it helpful here to get in my car. Super cool mega turbo delays might go up to maybe 10 seconds of delay. But since it takes longer to complete the cycle.example. Whoa! If you subscribe to the idea that cops won’t pull you over for speeding until you are at least 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. our song. or a perfect fifth—whatever you desire. It originally occurs at a time of two milliseconds. at the start of the tune we add an increasing delay: 1 ms.000 milliseconds. Looking at the new sine wave at the bottom of Figure 1. Do the math point by point and you get a sine wave that looks like Figure 1iii.008 seconds Frequency = 1 / Period Frequency = 1 / 0. Period = the time to complete one cycle Period = 8 milliseconds or 0. Consider the last sound at the very end of the song. Skipping the details—though you are encouraged to prove these on your own—we find a number of finer points on pitch shifting. Simply increasing the delay forever as above is exactly like playing a tape back at half the speed it was RECORDING OCTOBER 2000 . Point A then remains unchanged and occurs at time zero. Second. This highlights two problems. Point A initially occurs at a time of zero.

The delays are kept short. A quick review of this effect: the spreader is a “patch” that enables you to take a mono signal and make it a little more stereo-like. That’s right. it is worth noticing that pitch shifting is a natural part of some effects we’ve already investigated here in the Nuts & Bolts series. Too short and the effect becomes a flange/comb filter (as we discussed last month). listen for a subtle amount of pitch shifting. You ‘spread’ a single track out by sending it through two delays and two pitch shifters. So our window for acceptable delay times in this effect is between about 15 and 50 milliseconds. The result is pitch shifting that never uses too much delay and never makes the song more than 50 milliseconds longer that the unpitch shifted version. As you listen to the richness that the chorus effect adds to a vocal or guitar. the pitch is slightly lowered. pitch shifting is a component of that effect we call chorus. Too long and the delays stick out as distinct echoes. what happens if our digital delay increases at a rate of exactly one millisecond per millisecond but never goes over 50 milliseconds in total delay? That is.A ny delay time. ever so slightly. each set to different values somewhere between about 15 to 50 milliseconds. Getting the pitch shifter to reset itself in this way without being noticeable to the listener isn’t easy. The pitch goes down and the song gets longer. recorded. Since a chorus pedal relies on a modulating delay. Any delay time Older pitch shifters ‘glitched’ as they tried to return to the original delay time. ‘Mixing by Numbers’ in the 4/00 issue. In our sine wave example. Today we simply reach for a device labeled “pitch shifter. the pitch is then raised. These days—we are lucky to be alive in audio in the year 2000—those glitches are mostly gone. every time the delay reaches 50 milliseconds it resets itself to a delay of zero and continues increasing from this new delay time at the same rate of one millisecond per millisecond. Life is good.that increases at rate of 1 millisecond per millisecond will lower the audio by one octave . So why not keep it a small delay time? The devil is in the details.” dial in the desired settings (gimme a shift up of a major third mixed in with a shift down of a perfect fourth). not the absolute delay time itself. Recall the chorus effect that comes from adding a slowly modulated delay of about 30 milliseconds. Where pitch shifting signal processors differentiate themselves from tape speed tricks is in their cleverness here. After all. As the delay time is then swept down. It is a problem solved by clever software engineers who find ways to make this inaudible. Repeat until thickened. Digital delays can be manipulated to always increase. Side effects Before we get into the special effects we create with pitch shifting devices. Special effects The Nuts & Bolts review of the a basic pop mix. introduced a common effect built in part on pitch shifting: the spreader. and get to work. it introduces a small amount of pitch shifting. our analysis showed it was the rate of change of the delay that led to pitch shifting. As the delay time sweeps up. RECORDING OCTOBER 2000 . but also to reset themselves.

we aren’t just simulating early reflections from room surfaces anymore. Like so much of what we do in recording and mixing pop music. The goal of the spreader is to create a stereo sort of effect. Just as we dialed in unique delay times for each side of this effect. this densely packed signal of supportive. The effect is taken to the next level courtesy of some pitch shifting. opera houses. stadiums or pubs. careful doses. The spreader takes a single mono sound and sends it to two slightly different short delays to simulate reflections coming from the left and right. we dial in different pitch shift amounts as well—maybe the left side goes up 8 cents while the right side goes down 8 cents.’ Why limit the patch to two delays and two pitch changes. The idea is that these quick delays add a dose of support to the original monophonic track.Added in small. In effect.In using a spreader. Modulate those delays like a chorus and. maybe 5 to 15 cents. RECORDING OCTOBER 2000 . plain and simple. interesting loudspeaker creation. these two short delays simulate some early sound reflections that we would hear if we played the sound in a real room. Take this effect further and you end up with what I think of as a ‘thickener. While it’ll sound unnatural when used on vocals. Shift each of the delayed signals ever so slightly. What if you have the signal processing horsepower in your DAW or in your racks of gear to chain together eight or more delays and pitch shifts? Try it. That’s only half the story. guess what? More pitch shifting is introduced. we try to keep the signal processing on the left and right sides ever so slightly different from each other. As a result. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in symphony halls. By adding delay and pitch shifting. It’s a studio creation. the effect has no basis in reality. many keyboard parts respond well to the thickening treatment. Detune each delay by a nearly imperceptible amount. the return of one delay output is panned left while the other is panned right. and the formerly boring mono signal becomes a much more immersive. The spreader makes use of our signal processing equipment (delay and pitch shifting) to create a big stereo sound that only exists in loudspeaker music. slightly out-of-tune delays will strengthen and widen the loudspeaker illusion of the track.

The high frequency driver of a Leslie is horn loaded. The typical example used in the study of the Doppler effect is a train going by. The result is a low frequency simulation of what the Leslie is doing with the horns at higher frequencies. Crazy as it sounds. It would be very difficult to spin the large woofer to continue the effect at low frequencies. And with the high frequency horn spinning by. and often a good dose of tube overdrive distortion. Honest. enters with a fast rotating Leslie. Hammond B3 organs and many blues guitars are often sent through a rather wacky device: the Leslie Cabinet. er. the speed is reduced. The Leslie is a hybrid effect that is built on pitch shifting. and the horn spins around within the amp. but we mention it because it is part of our pitch shifting toolkit. As the sound source departs. Let’s add a serious amount of pitch shifting. you can hear a fast Leslie and a slow Leslie effect. the pitch similarly decreases. this album. Listen to the single note organ line at the introduction to ‘Time and Time Again’ on the Counting Crows’ first record. well. So what’s it sound like? With the drum and horn rotating. That classic sound of the pitch dropping as the train passes is based on this principle. the loudness of the music increases and decreases at any given listener position— amplitude modulation. a Doppler effect is created: the pitch increases as the horn comes toward the listener/microphone and then decreases as the horn travels away. Sound sources approaching with any appreciable velocity will increase the perceived pitch of the sound. the engineers who came up with this were really thinking. Listen carefully throughout this song. as well as the acceleration or deceleration in between. Typically offering two speeds of rotation. As the line descends. The Leslie effect is used wherever B3s and their ilk are used.Big time Enough with these subtle pitch changes. The net result of the Leslie system then is a unique fluttery and wobbly sound. Instead they enclosed the woofer inside a drum. It is essentially a tricked out guitar or keyboard amp in which the speakers rotate. The Leslie is too funky a device to cover in detail now. August And Everything AfterThe high note . and other RECORDING OCTOBER 2000 . sort of. The drum has holes in it and rotates. volume fluctuation. horns ablaze.

Fortunately. String patches can sometimes be made to sound more orchestral with the judicious addition of some perfect octave and perfect fifth pitch shifting (above and/or below) to the patch. The pitch shifting can essentially be tied to MIDI note commands enabling you to dictate the harmonies from your MIDI controller. just plain annoying harmony line. aggressive pitch shifting really works. The pitch shifter is processing the vocal line on tape or disk according to the notes you play on the keyboard.never ending. It’s built on a single vocal track.three-. And a static pitch shift will rarely cut it. TANKAPA (The Artist Now Known As Prince Again) lowers the pitch of the lead vocal track and takes on an entirely new persona in the song. I mean very happy. But get out your arranging book. you can apply it to any track you like—guitar. this might work. never changing. Too low and it conjures up images of death robots invading the mix to eat Shreveport. like adding maple syrup to the ice cream you put on top of your shoo fly pie. vocal. because the ably the most famous is the DigiTech Vocalist series). devices and software plug-ins to facilitate this abound (prob- In the hands of talented musicians. Bob George from The Black Album. oboe— if you have the device or one of it many imitators or simulators. pitch shifter makes it easy to add a constant. You can even use a pitch shifter to add two-. or four-part harmony if you are so inclined.’ The entire bass track seems to include the bass plus the bass dropped an entire octave . You’ve heard special effects in the movies and on some records. Otherwise it is going to sound cloyingly sweet. Nothing subtle about it. RECORDING OCTOBER 2000 . If the song is entirely diatonic within a major key and is a very happy song. Dial in a pitch change that is a major third up and add it to the lead vocal. where a vocal is shifted up or down by an octave or more.A n d the octave down bass line is mixed right up there with the original bass. and relies almost entirely on good sounding pitch shifting. Use pitch shifting to turn a single note into an entire chord. Too high and your singer becomes a gremlin-on-helium sort of disaster. This results is a harmony or countermelody line with all the harmony and dissonance you desire. Of course. The trick to creating harmonies using pitch shifting is to compose musical harmonies. The result is fantastic. Go beyond harmonies.B3-centric tunes and you’ll hear the Leslie pitch shifting vocabulary that keyboardists love. The hazard with an obvious pitch shift is that it can be hard to get away with musically. No effort was made to hide the effect in the bass line of Sledgehammer on Peter Gabriel’s classic ‘So. The effect is obvious.

We continue our tour of the delay in a future Nuts & Bolts installment when we take a detailed look at reverb. it takes an instant to decelerate. TC Electronic Intonator. That is. If the bass player can’t play a fretless. Then we tuned it up using a pitch shifter. There is no replacement for actual musical ability. We’ve all been there. are pretty darn heavy. it shifts the pitch automatically by the amount necessary to restore tuning. call: 1-800-582-8326 . the sampled and pitch shifted note was re-recorded back onto the multitrack. Wow. Are we done yet? Naturally. People want to hear your music. When it detects a sharp of flat note.com.don’t over polish your product. But please be careful with these devices. Large reels of tape. It was raised or lowered to taste.violin. As analog tape risks extinction.hire one who can. and you risk removing a lot of emotion from the performance. this effect may soon be lost on the next generation of recording musicians. It takes time to stop these large reels from spinning. Singlenote guitar lines are transformed into something more magic and less guitar-like using pitch shifters to create the other notes. 5412 Idylwild Trail. And it’s not just for analog tape. If the violin player can’t control his intonation. Schlump. That was then. Out of time This month represents our fourth month of discussion on delay. Inc. Suite 100.). where would folk music be now? avoid the distraction this causes during a session). First. Alex Case strapped his pitch shifter to his gear shifter and drives byhc nting. as Garbage demonstrates via a Pro Tools effect between the bridge and the third Chorus of ‘I Think I’m Paranoid’ on their second album. it doesn’t stop instantly. give her one with those pitch-certain things called frets. Wave Mechanics Pitch Doctor. If you monitor the tape while it tries to stop (and many fancy machines resist this. If Bob Dylan had been pitch-shifted into perfect pitch. The pitch dives down as the tape stops. where would folk music be now? There is a lot to be said for a musical amount of ‘out-of-tuneness. With the problematic note shifted to pitch perfection. no one was the wiser.Pitch shifting everything into perfect tune is rarely desirable. the effects device can monitor the pitch of a vocal. Yes put it front and center in ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ on the album 90125. or didgeridoo.’ Remove all the warts. A final obvious pitch shifting effect worth mentioning is the stop tape effect. This is sometimes a musical effect. Now. And it really works. you hear the tape slow to a stop. don’t expect to create an opera singer out of a lounge crooner. Excerpted from the October edition of RECORDING magazine. Surgical effects Pitch shifting is also used to zoom in and fix a problematic note. Don’t expect to rescue poor musicianship with automatic pitch correction. automatically muting to ware permits pitch shifting to be done automatically (Antares AutoTune [hardware and software versions]. like two inch 24 track. we used to sample the bad note. And if Bob Dylan had been pitch shifted into perfect pitch. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information.Chords loaded with tensions are okay too. clever software taking advantage of powerful hardRECORDING OCTOBER 2000 Second. Boulder. Reprinted with permission. ©2000 Music Maker Publications. used well. In the old days of multitrack production (about a year ago). When an analog tape is stopped. Finally. etc. not your effects rack. Vibrato is an obvious example of the de-tuning of an instrument on purpose. no.And don’t stop with simple intervals. a Request Nuts & Bolts topics via case@recordingmag.

which needs an elastic medium through which to travel. These reflections are different from the direct sound in time of arrival. music stands. they also generally arrive at a different angle than the direct sound. Time passes and the receiver (R) hears it. a vacuum... . doesn’t sound like much.floor. and ceiling (and furniture. Reverb units are signal processors acting like acoustic spaces. Sound travels through air. thanks to many different musicgear makers.architectural space sound like? What does a cathedral sound like? An opera house? A hall? A club? As you no doubt have experienced. This reflected sound energy in a room is reverberation. As the rays show. we hear first the direct sound from source to receiver. solid lines are single bounces. The heavy line is the direct sound. That is. RECORDING NOVEMBER 2000 B Y AL EX CA SE Since the reflected sounds travel along a longer path than the direct sound. and the dotted line shows one of millions of multiple-bounce paths that make up the reverberant sound. Outer space is therefore completely silent. Blueprint An understanding of the sound of a physical space begins with a look at the floor plan of a room. The only thing that doesn’t propagate sound is. Bouncing off walls. In fact. all these spaces add their own signature to whatever sound happens within them. Figure 1: Room reflections.Reverb. It makes a sound in the room. architectural spaces have essentially been squeezed into rack spaces. Forget outer space then. or didgeridoo. anything. When we listen to music in anything other than an anechoic chamber. The room acts like a signal processor: music in. which might be a singer. water.. cello. where NASA probes and Hollywood stars have often ventured. we listen to the sound of the music plus the sound of the room.. What does the sound of a physical. music plus effects out. Figure 1 shows a source (S). nothing. under rt 1 Pa the hood A Look W hat does space sound like? Deep space. and spectral content. and other musicians). It’s the shortest path. a room full of nothing. So that direct sound is followed by a quick volley of reflections. they reach the receiver after the direct sound. dashed lines double bounces. Shortly after the sound commences the listener is immersed in a field of these reflections—too many to be identified discreetly. But the reflections are audible too. angle of arrival. will not have sound. stone.

With both signals panned to the same location in the stereo landscape. in approximately equal parts. Now pan the delay to hard right. Follow that thought and slowly decrease the delay time. Send it to a short delay of about 5 milliseconds. hard left for example. Flexible surfaces (like very large windows or panels of wood) tend to absorb a good amount of low frequencies. the placement of the stereo image heads toward the center. The reflections in larger rooms take longer to reach the listener than the reflections in smaller rooms.Finally. Presto—the comb filtering seems to disappear. Time How delayed are the reflections? It depends on the room size and geometry. Short RECORDING NOVEMBER 2000 . that changes the pattern of reflections. and manipulates the loudness and spectral content of a signal. the comb filter alteration to the frequency content of the signal is unmistakable. due to the energy the sound loses as it travels through the air and bounces off various room boundary surfaces. Air and fuzzy surfaces (like carpet. All the while. If the source or receiver is particularly close to a room surface. As the delay time approaches zero. changes the angle of arrival. We discussed how a delay of about 5 milliseconds introduces comb filtering when combined. Monitor both at about the same volume. the amplitude of the signal at different frequencies changes. fiberglass and foam) tend to absorb high frequencies. All said. the room introduces delay. Instead we get a localization cue: the delay seems to shift the image of the piano toward the undelayed signal. with the undelayed signal. This points out an enigmatic property of short delays: the angle of arrival matters! Short delays directly combined with their undelayed brethren will create comb filtering. that means that a signal whose reflected path is about five feet longer than the direct path will create comb filtering. Listening to a sound followed immediately by its reflections seems likely to be a review of the Nuts & Bolts Delay Trilogy just completed (July–October 2000). Try taking a harmonically rich sound like a piano patch or track. the comb filtering effect is gone. Because sound travels at roughly one foot per millisecond. Right? Not necessarily.

Digital reverberators are. and delayed versions of itself. the reflections coming from direct sound. cleverly employed. But someAttic. Some reflections we lored to that experience. down like a Hollywood movie. most reverb devices sound different from most others on the market.” We zoom in on where between the music in. so Figure 1 shows the first handful or our hearing mechanism isn’t taiso of reflections. works. Good news. and add it all computer to do a decent job simulatfrom the source. we make use of itive. There is no single best. Initiate subtle vibration in a ing—at all times—where the singer But even simplified. is very difficult to do so with analog from one side. is and what she’s singing. a bit like a of various experiments. some equalizers sound better than others. extract audio. Not surprisingly then. creating its own sound. If you’ve hear after a single bounce off a surheard sound in an anechoic enviface. You listen to. statistics. springs arrival of the first waveform and the due to air and boundary energy don’t exactly behave like rooms. ion about the room in which the changes of amplitude. Other reflections strike two. or more surfaces before finally and a little confusing.. Quite Where do the room reflections the opposite.. because Just because a spring doesn’t sound amplitude.. Resourceful equipment Synthesized space from behind. sorta. very shrewd volume adjusters. singing forget about life your recently penned before audio was digThe room acts like a signal processor: tune. changeable panners. after all. some reverb devices sound better than others. we synthesize an opinThe only processes at work are music. ignored so as not to confuse our perthis leads us to ask: sonal audio analysis system.fiberglass. simulate reverberation. we had a period of non-digital for the sake of analysis we slow time absorb a complex sound field.let it go. eq. but the simulation ends there. “Insulate the itized.. quality. just a broad palette of reverbs awaiting our creative use. Each manufacturer offers its own approach. And the whole algorithm used to simulate the complex pattern of sound energy is going to have an audible effect on the sound of the reverb.“Fiberglass. the source based on the angle of sound. Though it isn’t intuand spectral content. to summarize.” and system has developed the ability to day. time of arrival. difficult to localize. delay. chambers very often. Sounds without the come from? This too depends on the support of reflections are difficult to physical geometry of the room. it reflected version of the word arrives sound in a space. come from directions different than Yet our personal audio analysis the direct sound. The direction from research has shown our localization which they come seems to be a lot abilities suffer without some addiabout luck. We localize ing traveled farther than the direct hall sustains a single violin note. but it without the use of an actual room a decaying acoustic space would.fiberdesigners looked for physical sysglass. spectrum manipulators. even though they physical geometry of the room. An audio waveform goes in and triggers a nearly infinite set of faded.. and However. the musical value doesn’t! sound event happens based on the angle of arrival. In fact. systems (ears and brains) can make Using amplitude.” To create the sound of a room tems that could sustain a sound like This ought to be confusing. The fact is. Reverbus ex machina sense of this. approach. pattern of reflections that immediabsorption. then electronics. panned. figure out which reflections reach We don’t hear sounds in anechoic the receiver. They are elastic and can respond to ately follow.” Then a up into a complete perception of a ing the sonic character of a space. music plus effects out. and need only patience and a ruler to sound just plain strange. our studios benefit from having many different reverbs. The spring continResearchers have teased this out a bit of delay and attenuation havues to vibrate for a time. isn’t. . then the other. economy full of dot Let’s make the com mirages. we may source a singer. Our personal audio analysis new millennium in a thriving digital these reflections. it is important to know that we the clues these reflected sound waves Living as we do at the edge of a aren’t distracted or confused by offer. “fiberglass. reaching our ears.delays reaching the listener from a It’s tempting perhaps to think that very different direction do no such the reflections from all around are thing. equalized. some delay units sound better than others. Pretty darn cool. Rackmount units display the word ‘hall’ and do a fun job of sounding like one. you know it’s unnerving three. ronment. She sings “Fiberglass. and/or the tional reflections. incorporate the While it is fairly trivial today for a receiver hears the word first direct reflected sound field. As you know from listening to one need only assemble the set of They found some success using two music and conversations in real reflections a room would add to a devices: the spring and the plate. and angle of effects racks and pull-down menus like the Musikvereinssaal in Vienna arrival patterns of these supporting are full of that sort of capability— doesn’t mean it isn’t good enough for reflections. Leo Fender put RECORDING NOVEMBER 2000 can. the illusion spring using your audio waveform. Each reflected sound suffers and boing. At the very least. spaces. the first word of the time all those critters catchy chorus for this boarded ship with hit-waiting-to-be-disNoah and the present covered. In our look at reverberation. traditional studio signal processing Jimi or Stevie or You. and a bit of equalization Well. and variable delays. Naturally. The spring reverb offers an intuitive all around do not stop us from knowA grotesque oversimplification. The the direct sound..

Overdriven.K i t chens sometimes are a close second place. The other key driver of reverberation in a physical space is the absorptivity of the room surfaces. And like the spring. Hard reflective surfaces increase the reverb time. or ceiling will lower the reverb time. wood cabinets. there’s always the bathroom. adding support and shimmer. the bathroom has a little reverberant kick . again somewhat like the solo violin in a symphony hall. and/or higher. funky smell When an actual large hall isn’t feasible and a spring or plate reverb isn’t available. walls. The trouble with using reverb from a hall during a studio production is that there isn’t usually a hall around. Absorptive materials on the floor. Sweet sound. Large spaces are reverberant in part because they are large spaces (I get paid to say this sort of thing?). Bang on a sheet of metal and it rings for a while. Spring reverb rings with its own distinct character. Because the tiles reflect sound energy more than your typical room finish treatments like gypsum wall board or carpeting.they have a decent amount of hard surfaces: countertops. Elevator shafts and high rise fire stairs have contributed a big reverb to the studio that could get away with it. Rarely carpeted.) The plate is another mechanical simulation of an acoustic space. So lacking a large space with its associated long reverberation time. Taking the spring idea and making it two-dimensional leads us to the plate reverb. we go to the only room around with really hard shiny surfaces: the tiled bathroom. and such. But as a pop music effect it is a sweet success. longer. it fills in underneath a track. and there’s been no turning back. the reverberance of a space is directly proportional to the size of the room. RECORDING NOVEMBER 2000 .spring reverbs in electric guitar amps. as a simulation of an actual space the plate falls short. appliances. and the reverb time increases (because the reflections have farther to travel). it crashes and wobbles (ever move a guitar amp while it was cranked and—crwuwawuwawoing—the spring gets jostled?). That is. This device is essentially a sheet of metal with a driver attached to it to initiate vibration and a sensor or two or more to pick up the decay that ensues. Make the room wider. Subtly used. (Will surround sound lead to multichannel plates? I fear the answer is yes.

why shouldn’t reverb patches? Breaking it on down Reverb in all its flavors—physical performance spaces. an impulse (e. and plates empower you to dial in any reverb time you like. balloon pop. This gives the halls a degree of warmth that seems to support the type of music that will be played there. Put in loudspeakers (inputs) and microphones (outputs) and you’ve got a physical space reverberator. some studios built reverberant bathrooms on purpose. Hall designers are finding what works for a Gorecki symphony and a Puccini opera. in your mind. Practically and historically speaking. Spectrum Listen. RT60 typically refers to the decay of the octave band centered on 1 kHz. Actually. mechanical resonating systems.Naturally.g. But only you know the RECORDING NOVEMBER 2000 . synthesized ambience that matters. Chambers offer their own unique signature to the audio sent to them. reverb time measures the number of seconds necessary for the sound in a room to decay by 60 dB.Lose the plumbing fixtures and make the room a little bigger and you’ve got a reverb chamber. acousticians design spaces with different reverb times at different frequencies to satisfy musical taste. it’s just the sound of the added. The art of building and maintaining them has distinguished a select few studios that get bookings partly for the sound of their chambers. Halls for classical and romantic music repertoire typically have low frequency reverb times that are a bit longer than the mid frequency reverb times.springs. isn’t an opera house simulation on the cheap. In fact. and certainly not the reverb make and model number. cement. Take two different reverbs and set them to the same patch. halls are distinctly not flat in the spectral content of their reverb. If they have it. Like using a tone control. No plate sounds exactly like any other. but a wholly different kind of reverberation. Sometimes called RT60. What it lacks in physical volume— it’s nowhere near the size of an opera house—it makes up for in highly reflective surfaces of stone. The result. not the algorithm. Always listen for what you like. opera houses extract better speech intelligibility by shortening reverberation to just over one second. No symphony hall sounds exactly the same as any other. RT60 measures how long a sound lingers in a room after But there is nothing stopping us from measuring the RT60 at the octave bands below and above 1 kHz. a sharp clap. digital effects devices. Cut that sound up into different frequency ranges and create a reverb time measurement for each spectral region of interest. what we might call its Phatness. not the reverb time. and acoustic chambers—can be broken down into a few parameters. But I must preface it with this: all reverbs offer unique and subtle sonic contributions to your audio that defy measurement. Some of the most famous symphonic halls have reverb times averaging just under two seconds. tile. The resulting ratio quantifies a hall’s warmth. of course. Digital reverbs. and such. Bass Ratio mathematically compares two octaves of low frequency reverb (125 Hz and 250 Hz) to two octaves of mid frequency reverb (500 Hz and 1000 Hz). Have fun. Reverb time Easily the most cited descriptor of reverberation is Reverb Time. architectural acousticians measure and calculate the reverb time at all audible frequency bands. You’ll see this expressed in acoustics literature and reverb signal processor manuals as Bass Ratio. dialing in the same values for all their adjustable parameters. Real spaces always have some predelay. beer bottles. not scientific purity. and they’ll still sound different. gun shot. or electronically synthesized click) until you can’t hear it anymore (roughly 60 dB quieter). to the sound of a room decaying.

Reprinted with permission. Plates and springs therefore rarely give you this feature. Tape delay is a common feature in this role as well. Even in kindergarten. the wash of decay commences the instant your sound starts. This approach is clever as it adds more of the desired effect without adding clutter to a mix. If you use a spring or plate reverb.” Experiment with the tone color of your reverb by adjusting its Bass Ratio if it offers one. the direct sound masks the reverb. making it less apparent. Their pattern depends on the shape of the room you’ve selected What good do these parameters do? The answer is built in two worlds: physical acoustics and psychoacoustics. adding a delay is fairly trivial. or domed stadium) it takes an instant before the reverb begins. so predelay controls are found on almost any digital reverb device. RT60. Control the low end to add warmth. spring. Early reflections do their part by suggesting the rough shape of the reverberant space: is it a toilet stall or a cathedral? Selecting a room shape becomes a critical choice in creating realism due to these reflections. Predelay simply inserts a delay between the direct sound and the reverberation algorithm. As predelay separates the reverberant decay from the initial sound in time. why shouldn’t reverb patches? Second. ©2000 Music Maker Publications. real spaces always have some amount of physical predelay because it takes time for the sound to travel out to all the room boundaries and bounce back at the listener. the simplest units let you control the proportion of the early reflections by setting their relative volume. Listen carefully to the sound of a Bass Ratio = RT Lows divided by RT Mids = (RT60@125Hz + RT60@250Hz) / (RT60@500Hz + RT60@1000Hz) fixed amount of reverb with and without predelay. two other fundamental properties of reverberation are the time it begins (predelay) and the timing of the first few bounces—single bounces from the source to a wall to the listener (early reflections). Suite 100. Next month we stir up these reverb ingredients—chamber. call: 1-800-582-8326 . A Bass Ratio of 1.2 will warm up the reverberant wash of ambience by telling the reverb to create a low frequency reverb time that is 1. In the world of digital audio. and there are one or more distinct bounces before the wash of reverb sets in. but often you can add the feeling of reverb by adding some predelay. and has been for a long time. Alex Case was more interested in reverb time than play time. It is easier to hear the reverb after a bit of predelay. it also separates them in our mind. Or if you are going for a brighter reverb (why not?). This suggests two important courses of action when you want a touch more reverb on a track: raise the reverb send so that the reverb gets louder. Predelay and Early Reflections Beyond the length and color of the reverb.—into a few different concoctions and see how they combine to create a terrific variety of pop music flavors. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. predelay.predelay is very valuable to our personal auditory analysis system. Sustain N&B articles through case@r cordingmag. “Insulating the Attic. First. we can adjust the time gap between sound start and reverb start. plate. find some magic shimmer and airiness but avoid painful sizzle and sharpness. Shape the color of your reverb by using eq on the reverb returns on your mixer or on the send to the reverb. Inc. Without predelay. delay isn’t so easy. bass ratio. In the realm of analog audio. or canyon.com. or lengthen the predelay so that the reverb that you’ve already put in the mix becomes more audible. e Excerpted from the November edition of RECORDING magazine. When using a plate or spring reverb— or a bathroom—have the best of both worlds by inserting a digital delay on your reverb send so that you can add a controllable amount of delay before the reverb begins. 5412 Idylwild Trail.2 times as long as the mid frequency reverb time. It isn’t always the case. In a large hall (or gymnasium. By adjusting the parameter identified on most devices as Predelay. Some reverbs don’t offer bass ratio control. first in distinct early reflections and then in an enveloping wash of reverb. RECORDING NOVEMBER 2000 In general.color of reverberation that works for tonight’s track. If real spaces have it. etc. not muddiness. Early reflection control is common even on the most inexpensive digital reverbs. Boulder.

5 seconds and less are ‘small. filtering. Where do we begin? Time & space Digital reverbs can be defined based on the size of the architectural space they simulate: large hall or small room. We discuss the first three here. the laundry room. canyon. And there’s no reason not to send the guitar to the plate. As we discussed in last month’s Nuts & Bolts thrill ride. Pierce Me Here et’s break it down. predelay. Reverb times can range from maybe a couple hundred milliseconds up to 20 or 30 seconds. reverb times of about 1. Learn what they sound like and reach for them whenever the creative urge hits you. though. Naturally. as small as half a rack space.’ these two classic reverb sounds make themselves known. and a plate sounds like. In between. it becomes trickier to classify. and the gym. But that right-most category on Figure One. Part 2 Distilling the Options BY A L EX CA SE W hat does reverb sound like? There are so many kinds. When the reverb comes in a digital box. well. and special effects. Reverb times (RT) greater than about 1. live room. the snare to the plate. . So we draw a line in the sand separating large from small. digital reverb. reverbs that rely on a mechanical device like a spring or a plate to generate ambience define their own class of reverb.5 seconds (and they can go as high as a positively insane 30 seconds or more) make up the ‘large’ reverbs. They each have such a unique sound that they deserve a category to themselves. Figure 1 breaks it down into some logical categories. and so on. ‘Love Struck Baby. classic spring reverb and his vocal has plate reverb—with predelay that sounds likely to be tapebased. equalization. there’s medium room. saving special effects for next month. Texas Flood In general. Predelay is adjustable from 0 to maybe a second or two. Stevie Ray Vaughn offers a case study on both spring and plate throughout his debut album. Just modifying a single reverb patch opens up a nearly infinite set of possibilities. is a little vague. Aack. We’ve got our work cut out for us. his guitar has . And we’re all dying to know what sort of reverb they used on the new Tattooed Waif album. Once we learn what a hall sounds like. So far so good.Reverb. we’ll start to master the topic of reverberation.L Reverb devices in general might be broken down into four broad categories: spring. locker room. etc.’ RECORDING DECEMBER 2000 Figure 1 . Part 1 of this series on reverb introduced a number of reverb parameters: bass ratio. the basement. digital reverberator. big brother’s room (which is larger than my room). plate. It goes on: stadium. precisely because there are so many kinds. From the opening guitar notes and vocal line on the first tune.

because music and music technologies reward that sort of innovation and chance taking. As a result. right? Not exactly. The names of the reverb presets might seem nearly meaningless. And as the distance between room boundaries is greater on average for a hall than it is for a room. It’s no big deal to change it to 2. bright hall. and such. a medium sized room. Taj Mahal. medium room. Likewise. There’s a bit more to it than reverb time. and so on? That’s a little bit like asking “What’s a D minor 7 chord for?” You use it when it sounds right to you. an opera house. not room.e. Listen carefully to recordings you like and learn by example. RT = 1. A hall sounds different than a room. And you can use it when the theory supports it. you know they can all be adjusted to almost any reverb time. Having said that. warm hall. Medium room. be assured that someone has taken the time to try to capture those differences. reverb designers go to great trouble to capture and/or simulate those magic little differences that define a space as a hall. But it’s important to know when you are stretching boundaries and what to look out for. cathedral. What follows is some discussion of good uses of different types of reverbs. however subtle. Small includes things like chamber. it isn’t a bad idea to start a session with one large and one small reverb set up and ready to go. lengthening a great sounding room patch to hall-like reverberation will often lead to an unnatural. Reverb designers have gone to the trouble to capture those differences—the time delay between the direct sound and the onset of reverberation is greater in a hall than in a room because the walls are farther apart. Our ears (and brain) are excellent at catching those subtleties. differences between a large hall and a small room. expensive) hall programs will sometimes sound flat out bad if you shrink their ‘size’ down to room-like dimensions. So when you dial in a preset reverb that says hall.3 seconds. That’s okay. unconvincing sound full of strange artifacts.2 seconds and convert it into a hall. a short ’verb. and so on. So what do we do with a long ’verb. RECORDING DECEMBER 2000 . tight booth.Large takes many names: hall. I can be pretty sure you are all going try it on your next mix. and such. There are countless. Gorgeous (i. the general pattern and density of early reflections is different for a hall than a room. As each has its purpose.

Try similar approaches, and armed with that experience, create your own bag of reverb tricks. Magic dust Sprinkle long reverb onto a vocal or a piano or a string pad for some hype, polish, and glitter. It will almost certainly put the ‘studio’ stamp on your recording, but the slickness of a huger-than-huge reverb can add a bit of professionalism to the recording you are trying to make. Typical modifications to the standard large hall come courtesy of the bass ratio control (discussed in last month’s column) and good ol’ equalization. Brighten it, warm it up, or both. Bright reverbs are often a standard patch in your digital reverberation device. The slightly peculiar thing is that they don’t really exist in natural spaces. As sound travels through the air, the highest frequencies attenuate first. As the sound propogates, it is the lowest frequencies you hear last.

Figure 2
RECORDING DECEMBER 2000

You’ve heard the dominance of low frequencies over high frequencies if you’ve ever stood beside a busy street and listened to the sound of the car radios leaking out of the vehicles. You can hear the thump and rumble of the kick and bass— but not much of the rest of the music—from one car. As for the talk radio addict sitting in the other car nearby, it sounds a lot like the teacher in Charles Schultz’ Peanuts cartoons, “Wawa waaaawuh waaa wo wo wawa waaaaa.” That’s the sound of speech that is mostly vowels (lower frequencies) and that lacks consonants (higher frequencies).As sound breaks out of these cars and into your neighborhood, the low frequencies start to dominate; the high frequencies start to evaporate. Believe it or not, the bright reverb, full of sizzle and shimmer, is a rock and roll protest. It is the sound of an acoustic space that doesn’t naturally exist. It’s what it would sound like if high frequencies won out over lows. And for some applications it sounds pretty good. Paul Simon has such good diction that, rumor has it, he is de-essed at tracking, mixing, and mastering. Using his super human S’s to zing a bright reverb was too interesting an effect to pass up. Listen to the down tempo songs on Rhythm of the Saints A shot of high frequency energy . ripples through the reverb with each hard consonant Paul sings. The other option, if you aren’t brightening the reverb, is to fatten it. Adding a low frequency bias to the sound of your long hall reverb patch adds a warm, rich foundation to your mix. This comes closer to physical, architectural reality as it is often a design goal of performance halls to have the low frequency reverb time linger a bit longer than the mid frequency reverb time. And if it’s good enough for Mozart, it’s good enough for pop. Naturally, we are allowed to select all of the above for a warm and sparkly reverb sound. Be careful, though. If the decay of the reverb fills the entire spectral range of your mix, high and low, it will leave no room for the bass, the cymbals, the vocals, the strings, and so on. Divvying up the spectral real estate is a constant challenge in pop music mixing. And while it might always be tempting to use a full-bandwidth reverb that sings across the entire audible spectrum, it can be wiser to limit the harmonic ‘size’ of the sound of the reverb and assemble a full multitrack arrangement that, in sum, fills the spectral landscape. The third principal variable after reverb time and reverb tone is predelay. That gap in time between when a sound begins and when a physical space is energized and starts reverberating is an excellent parameter to manipulate. To change it in physical space requires moving walls and raising ceilings. The results are ethereal. Think ballad. Start with a long reverb preset on a voice,maybe the “Oooh” or “Aaaah” of a background vocal. Listen carefully as you stretch the predelay from maybe 20 milliseconds to 40 milliseconds, 60 millieseconds, on out to 100 milliseconds or more. The feeling of reverberation certainly increases as you lengthen the predelay. So does the feeling of distance and loneliness. Here we’ve stumbled onto one the most interesting parts of the recording craft. By manipulating predelay, which is a variable in the studio (but not in the opera house) we’ve created the feeling of a longer reverb

When you find yourself noticing and liking the ambient sound of a room, capture it in your recording. Two approaches: place microphones so as to capture a satisfying blend of the instrument and the room, or place microphones to just plain capture the room. The first approach is one of the without lengthening the reverb. If it sounds like we get joys of recording. To record the music and the room, you to violate the laws of physics and architecture in the abandon the pop music tradition of close miking and studio, it’s because we do. start recording instruments from a distance. Ambient If you’ve ever suffered from a mix that became overly miking approaches abound and are a topic of an upcomcrowded, confusing, and messy as all the tracks and ing Nuts & Bolts column. effects were added, you may wish to remember this: preIt is worth mentioning that this ain’t easy. To pull the delay can be used to separate the reverb tail from the microphones away from the instrument is to abandon direct sound by a little extra bit of time. This slight sepasome control and consistency in our recording craft. ration makes the reverberation easier to hear. The result Perhaps you’ve recorded your husband’s ukulele a milis the addition of extra reverb in feeling, without the lion times and know exactly where to put the mic to capactual addition of mix-muddying extra reverb in reality. ture the sweet ukulele tone that always satisfies your clients. You’ve worked hard to find that perfect mic Far out placement location that works anytime, anywhere, any Adding reverb to some tracks is like adding garlic to gig. It is no doubt a mic position placed very close to the some sauces: yum. Sometimes, though, we are a little instrument—so close to the ukulele itself that it more strategic in our motivations to use reverb. ‘ignores’ the sound of the room. There is comfort in the With the help of Figure 2, picture in your mind’s ears close miking approach. the sound of a voiceover you just recorded in your studio. But exploring ambient miking techniques will pay diviFor this example we close-miked the talent in a relatively dends, sometimes setting the vibe for the entire tune. dead ro o m .P l ay back the track and you hear, well, the Capturing those tracks requires experience, quality sound of that person speaking, and he or she sounds near- equipment, and good acoustics—and a bit of good luck by. Recorded by a microphone maybe doesn’t hurt. Explore this path only six inches away from the voiceover when a project has the time and artist, it isn’t surprising that the voice Major warning: a classic mistake that inexperienced recording creative motivation to do so. sounds close and intimate. engineers make is to add too much reverb. For me, learning The second, slightly safer option Now add a good dose of reverb how to use reverb was a little bit like when I learned to make for capturing actual acoustic (hall-type patch with a reverb time chocolate milk a couple (maybe more) years ago. On the secreverb instead of simulating it is of about 2.0 seconds). Perceptually, ond try (without mom watching) I doubled the recipe. On the to record the ambience of the the voice now sounds more distant. third try (sorry mom), the chocolate to milk ratio went decidroom onto separate tracks. Place a The loudspeakers didn’t move, but edly in favor of chocolate (who needs the milk part anyway?). mic or two anywhere in the our image of the sound coming out of Such is the life of a kid. room—the other side of the room, them sure did. As we use pan pots to This ‘more is better’ approach to life might work for chocolate on the floor, at the ceiling, in a locate discrete tracks of audio left to milk, but it doesn’t work for reverb. Too much of a good thing closet, down the hall... Record the right, we use reverb to locate elesounds cheap and poorly produced. It’s literally the calling card room in a location you think offers ments of the music front to back. of a young engineer. a musical contribution to the Your mixes take on an unreal depth Don’t sweat it, though. Reverb will fool you the first few times, sound of the instruments. as you master this technique. but here’s how to outsmart it. Do a mix and add as much Of course you need spare tracks reverb as you want. Don’t hold back. Turn up the reverb until for this, but it enables you to Gel you hear it and like it. Print the mix. Three days later, listen to close-mike the instruments as you The sound of the immediate space the mix. There’s nothing like the passage of time to clear our always have and to capture some around a band can be very evocative ears and let us hear things as we’ve never heard them before. of the sound of the room too. You of, um, the band in a room. Common You’ll say “What was I thinking?” as your mix swims in revermay end up with the opportunity on drums and almost any section berant ooze. We’ve all been there. to create unique sounds on mix(strings, horns, choir, kazoos), room It’s pretty fascinating that we could be in the studio, leaning down. ambience can help unite 32 tracks of into the speakers, ears wide open, adding what sounds like an Spring, Plate, Large Hall, and overdubs into a single, compelling appropriate amount of reverb only to discover, well, oops. It’s Small Room. Those are the obvious whole. Dial in a room patch with a something of an audio illusion. The more you listen for it, the reverbs. And they offer a limitless reverb time of about 1.3 seconds or harder it is to hear it. You get control of the reverb (and other set of sonic possibilities. Next less and start gluing tracks together. effects) in your tracks only when you learn to listen confimonth we’ll look at the more The trombone lines that were record- dently. Relaxed, you’ll hear everything you need to hear, and, bizarre reverb tactics: to reverse it, ed two months and and two hundred with experience you’ll know how to adjust the equipment distort it, compress it, and who miles away from the original saxoaccordingly. knows what else. Hopefully the phone parts will fall into the mix. The fact is, reverb is something we have to learn to hear. For audio police won’t pull us over. As reverb gets this short, it is time most humans reverb is not a variable, it is a fact. Our hearing to ask ourselves “Why synthesize it?” system hasn’t evolved with the concept that reverberation is Alex Case wonders: before Reverb, Recording studios, large living adjustable. Recording engineers must discover and develop this does it just Verb? Offer help via rooms, converted garages, and renoability. So much of audio (especially compression and equalcase@recordingmag.com. vated barns can make a contribution ization) is this way. Give yourself the chance to learn by makto the sound you are recording. It ing some fat, juicy mistakes! makes sense, therefore, to record it.

Technique

RECORDING DECEMBER 2000

Excerpted from the December edition of RECORDING magazine. ©2000 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. 5412 Idylwild Trail, Suite 100, Boulder, CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information, call: 1-800-582-8326

Reverb, Part edge 3 Reverb on the

BY A LEX CA SE

W

e know that on most sessions, adding reverb to a track is usually a straightforward task. We have an almost infinite range of conventional solutions to choose from—but there are also some long-standing and unusual studio reverb concoctions worthy of study. We’ll start with backwards reverb, lovingly called “breveR.” Analog tape machines reward exploration. Tape can be cut, spliced, sped up, slowed down, and—yes—played backwards. Try it. Put your multitrack tape on upside down (swapping the supply and take-up reels) and roll it. It won’t hurt the tape or the tape machine. And—as Jimi, the Beatles, Michael Penn, and others have shown—it can sound pretty cool indeed. Here’s the reverb part. With the multitrack tape playing backwards, add and record some reverb. First and most important find an empty track. Be very, very sure it’s empty. This isn’t easy when you’ve flipped the tape over for reverse play. If you have an 8-track analog multitrack recorder, track one is on top and track eight is on the bottom. Track one of the tape machine, which you are probably monitoring on channel one of your mixer, is actually playing back track eight off tape. Track two moves to seven, three to six, and so on. If you have the privilege of using an analog 24-track mutitrack tape machine it gets even more confusing. And it isn’t easy to identify tracks just by pushing up the faders and listening. Kick, snare, bass, and piano sound close to what you might expect. But it is darn difficult to identify vocals. Is this take one, take two, or what? For reverse effects, I temporarily label the track sheet with the new track numbers by manually starting at the highest track, labeling it Reverse Track One, and counting up from there. Then my track sheet makes clear that vocal take two on track 17 will appear backwards on track 8. Once you know exactly what track you are going to use, push up the source signal fader. Use an aux send to get it into your reverb of choice. And record the output of your reverb to the empty track(s). A good starting

point is to use an instrument prevalent throughout the song, say a snare track or vocal. Maybe the singer sang “La la, Baby.” Played backwards you hear the nonsensical, “ybaB al aL.” Add ’verb and there is a decaying sound after each backwards word. Print that reverb. Now the fun part: flip the tape back over and play the multitrack as originally recorded. The transcendental line is restored: “La la, Baby.” But push up the faders controlling the backwards reverb you just recorded, and a weird ‘this doesn’t happen in nature’ sort of thing happens. The decay now comes before the word that caused it. Reverse reverb is an effect that strangely anticipates the sound about to happen. Figure One shows what’s going on. For simplicity we consider a basic snare back beat falling on beats two and four (Figure 1a). In forward play, the reverb you add decays after each hit of the snare (Figure 1b). This creates the expected combination a dry, close miked snare plus reverb (Figure 1c). That’s the typical approach. This type of reverb adds a natural ambience or perhaps a hyped explosiveness to the mix. Let’s follow these same steps for brever (i.e. reverse reverb). When playing the tape backwards, we observe our snare hitting on beats four and two (Figure 1d). That’s the same back beat, only backwards. Record some reverb from this backwards playing snare (Figure 1e). Return to normal, forward play and check out how the backwards reverb now occurs before each snare hit (Figure 1f). This elaborate process is tedious and more than a little disorienting at firs t .D o n ’t experiment with this for the first time in a high pressure session in front of your most difficult client. And definitely don’t attempt this at 3 a.m. after an 18-hour session. The risk of accidentally erasing a track while recording on an upside-down reel is too great. But after some practice on other sessions or on your own music, you’ll be able to reach for this approach comfortably and add a bit of uniqueness to part of the project.

RECORDING JANUARY 2001

It takes a fair amount of trial and error to get the effect you want. predelay. not room acoustics. Playing tape backwards to create reverb that in turn is played forwards is a lot of trouble. Create the sound you like best for the tune at hand. A subtle dose can retain the naturalness of the instrument and still accomplish the mix goal of getting the sound noticed.” It’s not until you record the reverb and play it back forwards that you can really tell if you like the reverb type. A regular decaying reverb can be compressed and amplitude-modulated (with a single cycle of a sawtooth wave) as shown conceptually in Figure 2. Used carefully and sparingly you can offer your listeners a wild ride. Tape machine manufacturers have sometimes built in the ability to play and RECORDING JANUARY 2001 Figure 1 . “htnom yreve stlob dna stun daer. Patch this up or look for a preset in your digital reverb to create this effect. Use the non-linear ’verb to lengthen the perceived duration of the percussion event slightly. making it easier to hear and therefore easier to slide into the mix.) Variations on the theme Backwards-like reverb effects appear as presets on some reverb devices. It’s hard to predict how it will sound when you dial in a reverb while the vocal sings gibberish. clave. guitars. The sound of a conga. making a reverb swell soft to loud. Since digital reverbs are controlled by software. or other sharp percussion instrument lasts mere milliseconds. In fact. (This works with echo. nonintuitive things. Often called ‘non-linear’ reverbs. you can use non-linear reverb wherever you like. sometimes not. and layers of background vocals. Say what? I know it’s weird. strings. by the way—check out the incoming/outgoing vocal echo effects on “It Can Happen” on 90125 by Yes. A heavy dose of the non-linear reverb sounds like a wacky effect—sometimes appropriate. reverb time. they can do some pretty bizarre. It is a mixing challenge to make such a short waveform noticeable in a crowded pop mix full of synths. non-linear reverbs get louder as they decay. they do the opposite. but look first at percussion instruments in pop music settings. these reverbs don’t decay from loud to soft after a sound. too.triangle. bass ratio. Instead of getting gently softer as they decay. Of course. etc.

high ratio. grooving. or basement. This isn’t surprising. As the compressor changes the amplitude of the reverberant wash. screaming vocals. Compression to the rescue. Slam the reverb through a compressor. it is perfectly normal to record a tambourine in a dry (i. No pro b l e m . That is. Not so compelling. The long reverb time altered by heavy compression makes sure the sound lasts and lasts.e. The reverb essentially becomes a new. cut. squish it hard with compression. we sometimes use reverb with the intent of pushing a particular sound farther back toward the sonic horizon. Adding reverb to our tambourine can rob it of its power. distorting. and that dude way back over there tapping his tambourine. the musical impact of the reverb changes too. adding distance between the tambourine and your listener. agitating. But armed with a sampler or digital audio editor.. Gated reverb Send the snare drum to an aggressively compressed.As we discussed last month. You can sample them and play them backwards. and you’ll find that after snare hit number one it is no longer possible to hear the guitars or understand the vocals. Compressing reverb enables you to change the decay of this decay. adding reverb to a rock ’n roll tambourine diminishes the impact of the percussion instrument. Using compression to alter the way a waveform attacks and decays is old hat.. Slamming drums..A dd some bright hall to it at mixdown. Change the sound of your dry tambourine into a driving. 3/2000. Do this in a mix. very long reverb patch (maybe a plate program modified to a ridiculous reverb time of five seconds or so) and you Figure 2 Squished reverb The inexplicable magic of the delicate decay of sound within an ornate European music performance hall also responds well to—I’m serious here—compression. All your effects units just doubled the number of patches they have. fast releasing compression changes reverb into a burst of noise and energy associated with every hit of the tambourine (or slam of the snare. weak reverb. sliding its contribution to the groove away from the rhythm section and away from the listener. in-your-face tambourine surrounded by the surging. But maybe you’ve experienced the problem of a distant. fizzling sonic aura of compressed reverb. or strum of the guitar. right? So far so good. Bad news. a wall of guitars.With apologies to the engineers who so carefully figured out how to digitally simulate the sound of that gorgeous symphony hall. you can record. . no natural reverberation) booth.. Low threshold. obliterating all delicate elements of your arrangement that dare to come near it. record backwards to make this exercise a little easier. loud noise floor. This reverb takes over. Each snare hit re-energizes the reverb. Reverb is the decay of a sound.). and paste with ease. and it turns into an entirely new kind of sound. reverse. For example. bedroom. Figure 3: Changing the Shape of the Delay . Why the heck not? We discussed the Nuts & Bolts of Compression back in Part 9. RECORDING JANUARY 2001 can create a bed of noise that seems never to decay. huge bass. as rock and roll statements go.

Then we compress it to bring the level of that reverb/noise up. the trick is to make sure the gate isn’t fooled into opening when other nearby instruments play—like the kick or the hi-hat that might be leaking into the snare mic. some not so obvious. If you have recorded some natural room sound on to other tracks during the session. The result is a gated reverb. it’s pretty straightforward to find the threshold. compression. Filter out the lows of the kick and the highs of the hat that leaked into the snare signal you are using to trigger the gate. The snare drum hits. Reprinted with permission. you’ve got to dial in the right amount of compression. Gates get rid of the noise. distortion. out of this world sounds.g.Seems a little irrational to add noise to a mix. They don’t play reverberation backwards. First we add an insanely long reverb to the mix. As Figure 4 shows. and so on. And what’s good enough for artificial reverberation is good enough for natural reverberation. also use a noise gate. hold. it’s also grooving hard. It’s common to set the gated reverb to a musical note value—maybe giving the decay on the snare a dotted eighth note time feel. You’ve got to find a good sounding reverb. flanging. Alex Case (case@r ordingmag. Repeat. there is a lot to patch up to make it work. high fidelity ones and go for the rowdy. revealing those other elements of the mix (ya know. and you’ll be able to get the gate to cooperate. like the vocals). call: 1-800-582-8326 RECORDING JANUARY 2001 . There are no boundaries. It also takes time to tweak it into control. And finally we add a noise gate to get rid of most of the wacky reverb we created. so you are free to chose a wild sounding reverb patch to start with. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. delay. It’s a family of effects—some obvious. Next. Gated reverb rarely sounds natural. Often a simple filter set lets you remove those sounds that are mostly lower (e. reverb isn’t an effect. and release times for the noise gate that make musical sense. hardest of all. shown in Figure 3. Figure 4: Signal Flow Adding a gated burst of reverberation through this fairly elaborate signal path can convert a wimpy snare blip into the powerful snare of God. Suite 100. ©2001 Music Maker Publications.Don’t tell his boss w at’s in h this article—especially the bac ards kw reverb part. The burst of reverb commences. snare drum). An instant later (at a time set by you on the gate) the noise gate closes. Explore compressed and gated reverb and you’ll see how the non-linear reverb patches we discussed above are created. Finally. So when you add this much noise to a mix. attack. The noise goes away. skip the sweet. T anks. hihat) than the instrument your are using to open the gate (e. for example.g. Boulder.com) ec is an architectural acoustician at Cavanaugh Tocci Associates in New England. 5412 Idylwild Trail. The snare hits again. It rewards those who take the presets in different directions and those who dare to combine it with some eq. you’ve got to get the noise gate to cooperate so that it opens only on the snare. gating. doesn’t it? Yup. Inc. they just aggressively manipulate the loudness of the decaying reverb over time. If it’s MIDI tracks you’re using. In the end. Dial in a very fast release time so that the compressor pulls-up the sonic detail of the decaying tail of the reverb.g. If you’re using live drum tracks. h Excerpted from the January edition of RECORDING magazine. remember it will respond well to compression and gating too. Set the threshold well below the level of the initial burst of reverb so that the compressor is still attenuating the signal well after the initial snare kick drum) or mostly higher (e. Then the gated reverb isn’t just loud and energetic. sound hits. The noise gate opens up (triggered by the snare).

If the project is on a tight budget or if the the track sheet gets separated from the multitrack band is long-winded and aiming for a double album. But once you start arguably lead to better sounding master recordings. tape—something that should never happen—all this this can be a big deal. and then you document it on every If you are the studio. mostly fairly obvious means noting the speed in and every track sheet. What good is speeds are 7-1/2 ips. Of course. and/or track sheet. and recall sheets are all useful parts of the well-documented studio. producer. put a phone number.Studio Documentation. that tape quickly the higher sample rates require more tape or hard disk RECORDING FEBRUARY 2001 becomes nearly priceless. 15 ips. the artist. the engineer. or both on There is a similar parameter on digital tape and hard every single document having anything at all to do with disk recorders: sample rate. Most common are 44. By including all of this information you minimize the chance of losing your investment. What's on track 1? "Hi-hat. Generally speaking. All this is important. literally and figuratively. and we'll get to those next month. the track sheet. the first session. but the point of this article is the not-so-apparent information that should be included on each and every track sheet. not every project is recorded on tape. the producer. higher sample rates You can buy blank tape for $X. This month we begin with the best-known of all studio documents. ingly 96 kHz. and digital audio workstations take care of a lot of the housekeeping for you. As with tape speed. On the off-chance that tape costs. and assistant engineer. and increasment to find you." What's on track 19? "Background vocal #3—Low How fast was I going. filling in your track sheet by writing down the song But rolling tape at faster speeds also leads to higher title. Typical times are omitted. let alone analog tape. . email address. which must be noted (in the project. and it to know that track 1 contains 30 ips. But putting music and studio time on tape. 48 kHz. Does it really ever Then there is other informahappen? You betcha.1 kHz. items that nevertheless someinches per second (ips). Part 1—The Track Sheet BY A L EX CA SE In the next two columns we'll look at ways to document every detail of each studio project. Can you actually is the not-so-apparent that it is a blank track available play back a tape at the wrong for recording. But the central concepts should be obvious enough that you can apply them to other media." This labeling must be done so meticulously that to see It is essential that the playthe point of this article back speed of the tape be clearan empty space on a track sheet is to know with 100% certainty ly indicated. Take sheets. You make this decision before information will come in handy. setup sheets. Don't leave it at that—list the artist. tape costs—each tick up in speed will double your engineer. the the hi-hat when you can't tell what the song is? So start faster tape speeds lead to increased dynamic range. Make it easy for anyone who finds the docukHz). information that should be speed? Yep.Officer? Part. that sheet. included on each tion that belongs on a track On analog machines. Identifying tracks The track sheet's most obvious and vital function: identifying what's been recorded on which tracks.

Can you actually play back a tape at the wrong speed? Yep. In this case. or borrow a machine of the same make and model originally used during tracking and the tape might play back again without errors and drop outs. And be thankful your track sheet identified the source machine. All tapes played on all compatible tape machines would perform without a hitch. but you don’t—so if you need to match rates from tape to tape (or disk to disk). always note the make and model number of the machine that creates any master tape—be it 24-track. make a safety copy onto a different machine as soon as you can. When the tape won’t play on Bob’s machine. 8track. Sometimes the only solution is to go back to the original recording machine itself. or even 2-track. you can lower the odds that this problem will haunt you. This not only identifies the format (um. If you keep track of the type of machine used. it may be because it is a different model. write it down. In the analog tape machine world. Bad news: it’s not exactly a perfect world. identifying the source machine is RECORDING FEBRUARY 2001 . The machine will usually know at once what the sample rate is.space to store the increased data. In a perfect world this wouldn’t be necessary. Find. I can’t overemphasize this point: always. Are you my master? Note on Figure 1 that the tape machine used is identified (just above the sample rate). Sometimes a tape recorded on one machine won’t play back on another machine without glitches. Does it really ever happen? You betcha. rent. it also identifies the specific model number. it won’t fit in an ADAT-type machine).

RECORDING FEBRUARY 2001 . They can match the same make and model you used to get the best sound off tape possible.Figure 1 arguably even more important. The dramatic muting on and off and the signature ‘zipper’ noise that only digital recordings gone wrong can make won’t dog your analog project. Analog tapes will play back fine on most any type of machine. Or the mastering engineer can resort to a different tape machine on purpose (not by accident) to find a different sound. Mastering studios often have several different makes of analog tape machines for this reason. noting the tape machine used is a good idea. But analog recordings generally sound best when played back on the same type of machine that did the recording. As you can see.

on the other hand. the studio has five guitars and three other amps. In no time you’ll have six tracks dedicated to the guitar solo. and a dozen tracks for alternative. possible. If eq had been used. Months after making these recordings. for this session I always documented the vocal tracks fully. This can slow down a session significantly. Match those settings on the equipment. Signal path As you can see from the hieroglyphs on Figure One. weeks. Ideally. only indicates the mic and date. capture the date of those individual tracks too. I’d turn the track sheet over and make notes there too. and I can get close enough to that sound again if need be. Noting the mic reminds me of what sort of sound we were going for. I’m not really worried that I’ll have to modify a piece of this track. This particular overdub was recorded through an AKG 414 in cardioid pattern. Having the date can help you hunt down and identify problems. They’ve mapped out all these settings for each and every song they track. Develop your own detailed code. it is shown in a very abbreviated form. what songs might need fixing. The Lead Vocal on Track 24 offers a good example. especially if you don’t Table 1:Some suggested abbreviations (make up and use your own): Kick Drum --------------------K Hi-Hat--------------------------HH Rack Tom 1 ------------------R1 Floor Tom----------------------Fl Electric Guitar ----------------EGT Tambourine ------------------Tambo Background Vocals ----------BGV Do Not Use--------------------DNU To Be Erased------------------TBE RECORDING FEBRUARY 2001 Snare Drum----------------------------Sn Drum Overhead Microphones------O/H Rack Tom 2 ----------------------------R2 Acoustic Guitar ------------------------AGT Piano------------------------------------PNO Lead Vocal------------------------------LV Double ----------------------------------DBL Do Not Erase --------------------------DNE Serve Pickles Often ------------------SPO . The entire signal path has been documented. the microphones. That is standard operating procedure. we squeeze still more information onto the track sheet. but it tells me what I need to know. should you want to answer some of these kinds of questions as sonic peculiarities unfold. The track sheet therefore notes the guitar. and you are ready to rerecord any or all of the vocal track. try to describe the settings of each piece of gear in the signal path. As you get into overdubs later. the amp. as well as the many settings on the amp and any stomp boxes being used. the singer wants to change the phrasing. The date of each track can answer a range of other. and two days of heavy playing older on another. Should we have to retrack part of the vocal—which could easily happen: the songwriter changes a line. The guitarist brought in maybe half a dozen guitars. Moreover. Most guitarists I’ve had the pleasure of working with have given a lot of thought to their tone. or even months. a previously unnoticed mistake now seems unbearable and must be fixed— we’ll be able to match the sound pretty closely and record any changes we wish. When you start mixing a third song. This is an important observation. and two amps. without a pad. I let them keep track of their settings on the guitar rig mentally. In this case. This gets tricky. let the singer do a few takes to match his or her earlier performance. You may notice at mixdown that the acoustic guitar sounds brighter in one song than in another.how long had it been since the piano was tuned? Was this backing vocal cut before or after she had her cold? Was that track recorded before or after we cleaned the heads on the multitrack? The dates essentially provide an audit trail. Granted. and any signal processing going on. As you can see. Keep track of them just in case. you’ll want to figure out when in the course of the project this started. The microphone preamp settings and compressor settings are shown too. guitarists do a lot to shape their sound through the various tone and pick-up settings on the instrument. and which ones are safe. you will start mixing them. The electric guitar (noted EGT on track 10) needs a fuller description. But once you discover that the pedal on the kick drum has developed a faint but powerfully annoying squeak. and the assistant and I make notes of our settings in the studio manually. and without a roll-off. They can dial them up consistently without writing them down. similar questions: For a given piano track. Less experienced guitarists might need you to capture their settings too. ‘I think so’ lead vocal tracks. Some problems are darn subtle and might go unnoticed for days. you can glance at the date of the acoustic guitar overdub and know before listening whether you have a bright or dull tone to start with.How ’bout a date? Note the date of the first tracking on the track sheet. A little investigation reveals that the strings were brand new on one song. Of course. the vocal tracks are important enough to demand it. The tambourine track. It is quite possible you’ll never need the dates.

RECORDING FEBRUARY 2001 . This enables you to. compressors. you guessed it. In these situations. These notes are taken on a specialized studio document called a recall sheet. I encourage the guitarist to work with the guitar tone controls set to wide open (turned all the way up so that the tone controls aren’t shaping the signal). and it is easier to repeat at a later date. The various settings on the amp are manually transcribed onto a sheet of paper. But be forewarned: it is often necessary to write down the settings of guitar amps.Figure 2 have an assistant engineer. etc. recall any studio setting that you may have recorded. equalizers. This typically leads to a better tone anyway. This sort of note taking in a session will be discussed in detail next month.

Save the good takes and wipe (i. it is pretty common to record multiple takes of the same part. Table 1 highlights some of the common abbreviations I use. take one. But for the engineer. Just make sure you can read it in low light and write it quickly during more frenzied sessions.On the track sheet we’ve noted a good deal of information about the project and each individual track recorded. For the session shown in Figure One. A good track sheet presents this information clearly. By the end of the project.. erase and record over) the so-so RECORDING FEBRUARY 2001 . Sounds great. Try not only to write neatly. Don’t fear erasure During an overdub session.e. On and on it goes until everyone is satisfied that they have the killer take of the universe. we turn the track sheet over or reach for recall sheets. each drum track has recall sheets associated with it documenting the settings of the equipment we used that day you’re now talking about dozens— or hundreds!— of takes. I use symbols and abbreviations wherever possible to make the document easier to read. the track sheet only shows settings for select overdubs. then track 14. When there isn’t room to document the entire signal path for a given track. EGT Solo.. it’s going to be a crowded piece of paper—Figure 1 makes this abundantly clear. the producer. and anyone else who works with us. Take two is just okay. There are pages and pages of notes (not shown here of course) associated with the other tracks. but also to work visually. we have the paper-based support information needed for every bit of audio we are putting on tape or disk. Erase it by recording over it. during basics. Many engineers doodle cartoon-like pictures for certain instruments. Create your own system. The next take onto track 13. So in the end. Record an additional take over again on track 12. Save it on track 11 and do another take on track 12. In this way. the document communicates a lot of information in a little space.

you kindly take the track sheets into the office and type them into the computer.” You’ve got to zip to the next song.. in any way whatsoever. then do it.possible. and fast. and critique the performance note by note. Stick with hand written track sheets. In no time you’ll have six tracks dedicated to the guitar solo. The featured performer. Consider it law: track sheets (and all studio documents) should be done in pencil.and even if you don’t have to erase them to make room on your disk. Suite 100. then it is a mistake. make a worse mistake: they use ink. And the psycho-loyal fans are going to copy. and prepare to record the dub onto a free track. Boulder. You can even edit together the best parts of various takes into a single meta-solo. and the print outs will look slick. This process is often an effective way to capture a guitarist’s best solo. and/or the producer should commit to the take as soon as possible. But the next session begins with a designation of the keeper track. And it just isn’t necessary. though talked out of using a computer for keeping track sheets. Moreover. Use pencil. However—and this is very. That’s a chore. ‘I think so’ lead vocal tracks. It is tempting. In addition. get rid of the others. Pens and laserjets are too permanent. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. a recorded performance must stand up to repeated playing. At my most generous. It is pretty common during a pro- . though meaningful to the engineer. Erasing and re-recording is an everyday part of modern multitrack music production. 5412 Idylwild Trail. the band. which disappear as soon as they occur. I recommend designating the favorite solo right there at the overdub session. pull-up a great sounding rough mix in the control room. Cut and paste some graphics. after the session. Inc. a good track sheet has little scribbles and notes that. This doesn’t leave room for the other elements of the arrangement. Some people. ©2001 Music Maker Publications. the engineer. The reason this is important is that unlike live performances. Filling up the multitrack with ‘safety solos’ that you are afraid to erase will come back to haunt you. At any point in the project. the track sheet should welcome creative and free thinking. “Nice take.takes. After a session. They are strictly forbidden. let’s try that sort of thing on the other ballad. to transcribe your track sheets into some sort of computer generated format. You’ve got maybe eleven different songs. If you’ve gone to the trouble to type all the tracks into the computer. transcribe. in this age of slick computer graphics. The manual track sheet system is the preferred approach. Collecting takes onto different tracks is a decent approach. The track sheet should follow. In computerizing it. you’ll have to type in the change and print out a new one. you’ll hesitate an extra bit. Nifty. string bend by string bend. the creative energy of the project. and a dozen tracks for alternative. If the music suggests you should erase the cello and track a triangle. from the basics session to the mastering session. dial up a terrific sounding mix in the headphones. Please. Tape does. some of that information is inevitably lost. for that matter—works best when it is recorded by hand.. call: 1-800-582-8326 . RECORDING FEBRUARY 2001 Excerpted from the February edition of RECORDING magazine. if it diminishes. don’t do it! The track sheet is a living document. may not seem important to the assistant transferring it into the computer. Step Two: after you select the keeper take. That’s a lot to do all at once. Ink doesn’t erase. Replacing the cello with a triangle means that tonight. select a cool font. in pencil. you’d darned well better have a good way to know which are the keepers. ject to invite/hire a special guest to sing or play across a number of tunes on the album. very important—the process is a total failure if you don’t take the necessary second step. It is essential to the success of the recording that listeners continue to enjoy the solo even after they’ve heard it on the radio 17 times. In the course of this overdub session the guest talent flies from one song to the next. and all the others get labeled TBE (“to be erased”). We record on tape or hard disk because it’s easy to erase and record new ideas. I might let the band think about it and listen to it overnight. The track sheet needs to communicate clearly exactly where all the tracks Media The track sheet—and all studio documents. Reprinted with permission.

The session loses momentum if you have to pause the overdub session and look for an available track. But even if you are just acting in an . Give us five or ten minutes and we’ll do another. offer a generalized pool of available edits and alternate tracks. bass. which tracks to use. it says here. and fast. Hang on a minute while the producer and I listen to all five tambourine parts and figure out which one we can erase.Allocate the more variable musical elements to other tracks. and rhythm guitar already set up and sounding balanced for control room and headphone monitoring. take 3. step up to the plate. Push the decision makers to decide. It is wise to allocate tracks as consistently as possible across a project so that. you’d darned well better have a good way to know which are the keepers. like Roland. some just use guitar. Oh! You’re sounding great. and so on. Clear notes like TBE communicate exactly which tracks can be nuked if necessary to accommodate additional overdubs. Good habits laying out the track sheet consistently from song to song reduce the effort associated with advancing to the next song for the next overdub. like Akai. you can tweak the didgereedoo and trombone as required for this particular song and get on with the overdub. you’re now talking about dozens—or hundreds! of — takes.“Umm. provide you with a certain number of alternate takes per track. and even if you don’t have to Good habits laying out the track sheet consistently from song to song reduce the effort associated with advancing to the next song for the next overdub. If you are the producer or if it’s your music. etc.” erase them to make room on your disk. what can be erased. Love the energy in that last take. ‘tambo. the snare is always on track three and the lead vocal on track 24.of audio are. Not every song has piano. With maybe drums.’ I think we’re going with take 2. others. And all of this goes double for those nifty modern hard disk recorders that let you save gazillions of takes per final track! Some manufacturers. for example. which not to use. Some use clavinet. Either way.

Scribble cues off to one side of the page during the course of the first playback of the song so that you can instantly find verse four when asked. Hedging your creative bets by archiving countless mediocre takes will needlessly increase the studio time (a budget breaker) at the very least. Paper Alex Case doesn’t stop at studio documents.. The cool part of the invoice it the part at the bottom that says. Safe albums don’t usually sell. Make checks payable to the order of. integrated look. “Please pay $X.XXX dollars.. clear note taking. Note the times of problematic spots to go back and check. written on again. For eight-track projects. As the attached Eight-Track Sheet shows. scratch paper. Good studio documents are a session tool you can have without parting with too much money. but it won’t leave room for the engineer to write all the information legibly.” In creating these documents. the track sheet should be mostly open space for notes. the space for the tracks should be as large as conveniently fits.. When used.Home Made Documents If you’ve got a printer and some graphics skills. They’ll document audio tracks. Next month we discuss the rest of the studio documents: take sheets. These documents get pretty rough treatment. meals.g. . maybe others.). You’ll need a track sheet—maybe both an eight-track and a twenty-four-track version. at every overdub session. etc. phone messages and food orders. even more is documented when possible. engineering capacity. Go to town. shipping.” When blank. And—my favorite—design a professional looking invoice. You’ll give them a consistent. Worse. and written on again. by all means go ahead and create your own studio documents. using the same font for example. and recall sheets. You’ll create recall sheets for every piece of you own so you can document their use in any application. “Lead Vocal. live to two or multitrack. They’ll get written on. setup sheets. limos. choruses only). A large logo might look cool now. engineering time. You’ll use them at the basics session. the document should welcome. even inspire. erased. and note paper. I use a separate track sheet that leaves even more room for all kinds of notes (see Figure Two). You’ll want a setup sheet that outlines the basic studio setup for any session you might encounter. help the session by coaxing these sorts of commitments out of the key players. but it’s worth the effort to develop and use these documents thoughtfully. If your track sheet does all these things. the engineer. On a track sheet. I’ve seen track sheets where the number in each track space was so large I couldn’t write the words.com inevitable that they’ll be used as coasters. it’s a session asset. And it will better survive all this abuse if you print it on to heavy paper. This month’s article discussed the wealth of information that must be recorded on the track sheet. you’ll naturally want to give them a professional look that supports your image and reputation. and finalSend questions and suggestions to ly during the mix sessions. special gear rental. That’s the itemized list of expenses for a session (studio time. But here are some other things to consider: Space Leave adequate space where required for the document to work. In addition to the tracks themselves. It’s case@recordingmag. Even card stock isn’t a bad idea. I think I heard a flubbed note on the Acoustic Guitar at about 6:43 and a fret buzz around 7:31. and erased. “Me. Note when the harmony vocal is singing (e. Sure it would be more fun to buy another microphone or compressor. I leave room to write particularly important items like the name of the artist and the song titles in larger print. tape costs. and more likely.You should see his grocery list. it will rob the project of its creative and performance edge. You’ll also need a take sheet suitable for any type of session.

Here it is. Figure 1 shows the take sheet we use at my studio. Tonight you might just be looking for that killer take for the rhythm section only. the producer. wait. let me find it. Studio paperwork essentials include the track sheet. we’ve got a lot of documentation to complete. The take sheet does more than just list the tunes tracked and their start times. we show it here for illustrative purposes. Beyond this basic bookkeeping. The heart of the take sheet is what comes next. Naturally. and recall sheets.Studio Documentation. It’s flat out dangerous to rely on the drummer. It’s risky to rely on memory. . The project is identified by artist name (written in large print). Without a vocal track it will be RECORDING MARCH 2001 difficult to distinguish verse one from verse two and take one from take two. During the course of a session we use the take sheet to keep track of which songs have been recorded and which songs have not. this sort of thing is very useful. Fermata. And above all we must try to avoid torturing the client with “Wait. One goal of this month’s N&B is to reveal some of the hidden benefits that come from giving the take sheet a little extra care and attention. We also note the approximate end time for each take (rounded off to the nearest 5-second increment) and calculate the length of the song. Hold on. We talked at length about the importance and application of track sheets last month. and the date the project commenced. the engineer checks that tune off. SETUP SHEET. It identifies those songs that are recorded and those that aren’t. It’s foolish to rely on the assistant engineer’s memory. Typically this is done on the back of the track sheet. For a smooth session it is positively vital to keep a thorough and accurate take sheet. the assistant. The reason for all this information is self-evident. the take sheet serves a misleadingly straightforward function: it lists the takes recorded. Watch and compare these numbers to track how the session is brewing. As the band completes a take that everyone likes. Continuing last month’s session with the band Scribe. T Instead of panicking and wildly turning knobs.” It’s even worse on those sessions where the vocal doesn’t get recorded until some future overdub session. the setup sheet. AND RECALL SHEET B Y AL E X C AS E hough we are engineers and not bankers. Odometer The principal role of the take sheet is to identify the precise location of each and every take of each and every song recorded. etc. we see the four songs they are working on are scribbled down at the bottom of the take sheet (see Figure 1). the take sheet serves a valuable production function. On the top we find very nearly the same information that capped the track sheet. you can instead calmly trace problems to their source— if you took good notes. the engineer. There is also a ‘Notes’ column on the take sheet. which as we’ll see below is important information for monitoring the health and productivity of a session. For 12song projects. starting with the song title and start time. we now pick up where we left off and continue our discussion with the take sheet. the drummer loves the solo. We note the take number. the singer hates verse 3. here you make notes of critical observations offered by the producer or the band members. It’s important to keep track of comments such as the producer likes the bridge. the take sheet. Is that Take two? Not sure. Like the track sheet. Part 2—The TAKE SHEET. No.

Figure 1 RECORDING MARCH 2001 .

Figure 2 RECORDING MARCH 2001 .

just that it is complete. When the band starts getting things in one or two takes. A good sign. forget the studio. you’ll see we were having trouble with the tune ‘Notoriety.’ Take 1 was just okay. If the session persists with multiple unsatisfactory takes (e. ‘That isn’t happening. or more takes of the first tune as the band warms up. the interlude about 90 seconds into the tune. The band stops and immediately counts it off. selected. It does not reflect an opinion whether or not this is the preferred. four. “that interlude is a tricky section. You might easily need three. and most importantly manage the session mood to help people relax. review the studio setup and make sure the players can see each other.A careful look at the timing of the aborted takes reveals that the band keeps stopping at the same point.” So the band proceeds to one-take the next two songs. Looking at Figure 1. or remove the trouble spot. But the finished takes are getting RECORDING MARCH 2001 Figure 3 . though.“ N o problem.there should be only one circled take for each song title. Barometer A good engineer and producer will watch the take sheet for clues about how the band is feeling. that rather than erase it and lose it forever you save it. When the band lays down a take that everyone knows is the one. The producer and band have a musical road block to solve. I: Incomplete—the band aborts the take somewhere along the way. maybe someone missed a cue. rewrite. Takes 2 and 3 were incomplete. launching right back into the tune again.g.’ At this point they should not be interrupted for any- In addition. your take sheet is trying to tell you there’s a problem. circle the take number to designate it the selected take. Titles without circled takes aren’t done yet.” the producer said. The band keeps hitting a snag and aborting the take .session. Speedometer By song number 14. We consider all of this part of the same take and just note the start time of the next down beat without stopping tape and interrupting the groove. every take gets one of three codes: C: Complete —this is a complete take. At the end of the basics A good engineer and producer will watch the take sheet for clues about how the band is feeling. with a false start in between. and everyone gets used to the studio and each other. Let’s come back to it later. time to rehearse. the engineer gets the sounds under control. Let’s move on to the next song’) song after song. Back to ‘Notoriety’ Take 4. There’s enough good stuff in it. the band has progressed beyond the musical train wrecks that caused the whole take to stop. thing short of a pending nuclear disaster or a really good episode of The Simpsons . and just play the music. Check to make sure the headphone mix sounds great. they are in ‘the zone. sure to win a Grammy take. FS: False Start—the tune didn’t start cleanly. ‘Notoriety’ Take 7. no one really liked it. and problems resume. top to bottom.

and tangled with countless mic cables snaking their way around the studio. The setup sheet makes it clear: the electric guitar microphone should be plugged into microphone input number 22. of course. and cranking microphone pre-amps up to their maximum gain settings hoping to hear some guitar.longer and longer. You’re trying to send it to track ten. Setup sheet to the rescue again. The producer must decode this and direct the session accordingly. Setup sheets For any session other than a single overdub. Follow along on Figure 2. Maybe the song is too hard. No one seems thrilled with the feel of the take. throwing switches. This sheet acts as an equipment road map both during and after the session. common mistake. it can be difficult indeed to find and fix problems. The easy way to take a that tells you that the one plugged into microphone receptacle input number eight is the floor tom mic. The tune is dragging. No matter how talented they are. etc. we’ve got a fresh pot of coffee. You might find yourself unable to locate the fader that controls the electric guitar signal.) If you are lucky enough to own four identical compressors—same make and model number—it can be hard to remember which Squish-omatic Tormentor Mark IV was on the snare. you’ve got an accurate and current setup sheet RECORDING MARCH 2001 When you are sitting at a console full of twitching meters spitting out the sound of the band rehearsing their first number. you can instead calmly trace the problem from its source. Did someone forget to plug in the EGT mike? It’s a simple. Instead of panicking and madly pushing faders. bands are prone to rushing the tempo as they fight their way through a complicated arrangement while the studio clock ticks and the adrenaline flows. If. The heart of the setup sheet is simply a list of what microphone and signal processing was used in the recording of each and every track. maybe the band is too tired. it makes sense to document the general layout of the studio—the equipment used. Sometimes the take sheet simply hints that the band needs a break. Good producers already have a target beats per minute goal for each tune. Inevitably the producer says something like “Didn’t you use the mic that looks like a giant Tylenol?” break without undermining the band’s confidence is to announce “Pizza’s here” or “Hey.” Don’t fail to notice the opposite trend: speeding up. The take sheet points out the problem. During the session. The problem is solved and little time was wasted. and they should have one—preferably before they notice they need it. it can get confusing and more than a little intimidating. buzzing with musicians. but the meter on the multitrack doesn’t budge. (Ideally you’ll also mark the guilty cable with a piece of tape so you know which one gets repaired later. when the studio is crowded with microphones. Unplug it. you hear the dreaded crackle and crunch of a failing microphone cable on the floor tom. After the session the setup sheet guides you through the many things you accomplished. good luck replacing it. Inevitably the Figure 4 . Let the take sheet help you measure the tempo of the tune so you know when the band is sprinting instead of grooving. Leave it in the rat’s nest of cables and just add another. for example. Unless. the placement of the microphones. the location of the players.

Figure 4 shows the philosophical opposite. This much detail is only necessary in situations where your patches can get overwritten by someone else—and you’re not running some sort of SysEx librarian on the studio computer to save your own patches away from the effects unit. Excerpted from the March edition of RECORDING magazine. the setup sheet and all those recall sheets are an essential part of the recording craft. If even 1% of you decided to call. you can’t sheet a a take track. producer. The track sheet (discussed last month).com. let me find it. that the singer was in the booth but his amp was out in the hallway. The other side of the setup sheet has a floor plan of your studio for you to make notes on where you set essing. The other bands of equalization and the low pass and high pass filters were not used (noted ‘out’). At the end of a project a single song might have well more than a dozen saved versions.. Boulder. equalization or other effects. the location of gobos around the guitar amp. A vocal overdub might get some equalization from your DAW. The documentation must also capture the exact settings of each piece of gear. wait. track by track. I’ve attended sessions where they mixed the wrong take of a song.” piece of gear you use.producer says something like “Give us that killer guitar sound you had during tracking. Here device.. The assistant also takes care of the essential thorough note taking that goes on during your session. that is noted. equalization. Rest assured that the actual documents do in fact include this information!) generally much simpler. (The phone and address are omitted from the figures in this article only because this magazine is read by billions and billions of enthusiastic and talented recording musicians. the venerable Yamaha SPX90. Send questions and suggestions for Nuts & Bolts to case@recordingmag. engineer. Additionally. A solid ten hours of studio time wasted. You’ll need a couple hours just to figure out what the heck is on tape. you know the benefits this brings. etc. Hold on. you’ll need a setup sheet that archives the basic elements of the signal you put on tape: mic(s) and any compression. If you select a microphone and record a track straight to tape without effects. Taking note Projects end not only with a stack of master tapes. No. Suite 100. It’s flat out dangerous to rely on the drummer. This documentation makes it possible—at least theoretically—to recall at a later date any sound you record at any time throughout the project.. Figure 3 is the recall sheet for a mic pre/eq—the Geoffrey Daking model referred to in Figure 2. it is wise to create a recall sheet that lays out every knob. Is that Take two? Not sure.” command. I’d never get anything done. A multitrack tape without a track sheet isn’t easy to use. this information will help you re-attach them to the correct project. call: 1-800-582-8326 . Presence was helped by a little boost at 3 kHz. Reprinted with permission. Didn’t you use the big microphone that looks like a giant Tylenol?” And this will be a good ten days after the basics session. and you can take a tr ck sheet. switch. the typical overdub is It’s risky to rely on memory. the take sheet. The page visually shows the knobs. and so on. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. Inc. Professional facilities will document every setting of every single Don’t tempt fate Notice that these studio documents always contain the same key information: artist. this is also noted. To have a fighting chance of satisfying this request.. there will be a fair amount to document. Documenting those settings is as easy as a “Save As. we have the ability on many consoles and pretty much all digital audio workstations to store the many settings and effects on the mixer. If you add some compression. During a basics or live-to-two session. Two things help: recall sheets and recallable consoles. These documents should live with the multitrack tapes at all times. Photos—made especially easy in this age of digital photography—help. and editable window in the device. . ©2001 Music Maker Publications.and above all we must try to avoid torturing the client with “Wait. You want to get the call from the record company when it’s time to do some more mixing. these documents should always. Beyond recall sheets. For each piece of gear you own. phasing and/or any other effects. Figures 3 and 4 show a common pair of recall sheets I use.. Here you note the approximate location of the drum kit in the big space. But during midown you may have to document settings on every piece of gear you own. the various players up in the room. etc. 5412 Idylwild Trail. Recalls If you’ve had the pleasure of working in a full-rate studio that assigns an assistant engineer to your project. Here it is. For super tweaky sessions you might even make measurements of the locations of key microphones.. But if ever they get separated. but a sketch of the session layout on the back of the setup sheet is a useful way to document what happened. These documents help you get more out of your equipment and communicate a higher level of professionalism to clients. but also with a thick file full of documents. Ditto for a missing take sheet. It’s foolish to rely on the assistant engineer’s memory. deRECORDING MARCH 2001 we added sparkle to the lead vocal by pushing up the super high frequency range at 15 kHz. always include your studio contact information. There’s a team of runners and assistants getting food. a digital multieffects Alex Case reminds you that wile h you can track a take sheet. The recall sheet for this device changes form to accommodate the lack of knobs but wide range of editable windows.

Mis-applying Effects l ying

BY A L EX CA SE

This month we apply some of our studio tools in ways that might seem like some sort of trick. We review some unlikely, unbelievable, or at least counterintuitive approaches to using effects. The beauty of this April Nuts & Bolts column is, it ain’t no joke.
Compressualization When is a compressor not a compressor? When it’s an equalizer, of course. A de-esser to be exact. De-essers attenuate the ‘ess’ sounds in a vocal track made by the letter S. A loud, strong ess of a vocal can zap you with an ear ringing, pain inflicting burst of high frequency energy. Using eq to attenuate the problematic high frequencies associated with the esses will also rob the vocal of its airy, shimmery, voice of the pop music gods quality that you’ve gone to so much trouble to create. The fact is, the vocal probably sounds great, if not perfect, whenever the singer isn’t singing words with the dreaded letter S. To get an edgy, emotion filled vocal that cuts through a mix crowded with fuzzy guitars, hissing cymbals, and shimmering strings, you’ve got to go for a bright vocal sound from the start—it influences mic selection, mic placement, and of course the effects you add. These overly bright esses are an almost unavoidable side effect of otherwise good recording practice. The solution is to use a compressor instead of an equalizer. The goal is to run the vocal through a compressor that attenuates the vocal only on the problematic ess sounds; the rest of the time, the compressor should not change the magic vocal one iota. Trouble is, no amount of fiddling with the threshold, attack, release, and ratio controls will accomplish this. These ess sounds happen so quickly that only an extremely fast compressor attack time could grab them.
RECORDING APRIL 2001

Moreover, even though they are perceptually very loud and annoying, the typical changes in loudness that occur from verse to chorus, line to line, and even word to word are much greater swings in amplitude than a little ol’ letter S. As a result, the compressor reacts to the louder parts of the singing, not the individually, perceptually louder sizzling sounds of the esses. We need a way to warn the compressor that an S is happening, despite the expressive changes in dynamics of the vocal track. We accomplish this through clever use of the compressor’s side-chain. The side-chain offers an alternative input into the compressor—an input that won’t have a corresponding output into the mix. This other input is just used to tell the compressor when and when not to compress. To get rid of the esses in the vocal, we route a copy of the vocal signal with the esses emphasizedinto the sidechain input of the compressor. As shown in Figure 1, we split the Lead Vocal, send it to a parametric eq, and then to the compressor side-chain input. Set the eq to a narrow (high Q) but large boost (+12 dB or maybe more) at the problematic frequency range. To find the exact frequency range, you can hunt around from about 2 kHz–8 kHz until the compressor starts to react to the esses. You’ll find you can zero in on other sibilant problems that might arise—it’s not just for esses. You can de-F, deX, de-T, de-Ch, de-Sh...this basic signal flow structure is effective at removing many related problems. A sharp boost enables the compressor to duck the signal in reaction to a single spectral spot.

You can broaden the bandwidth of the side-chain parametric eq to catch a range of sibilant sounds. This can be pushed to other applications: de-squeak an acoustic guitar, de-thump a piano... If you find the de-Suck setting, email me. Some way cool compressors have a switch that lets you monitor the side-chain. This enables you to really fine tune the triggering frequency that gets the hyper-boost. Once you get the compressor to react to the esses, you must then use your good judgement to set the compression ratio just right. Too high, and the compressor overreacts to each S, literally giving the lead singer a lisp. Too low, and the esses continue to annoy. Like many mix

This effect is nothing more than variable eq. If you’ve a parametric equalizer handy, patch the electric guitar or keyboard track through it. Dial in a pretty sharp midrange boost (high-Q, 1 kHz, +12 dB). As the track plays, manually sweep the frequency knob with one hand and salute Jimi and Stevie with the other. Hip DAWs with automated equalizers make it easy to program this sort of eq craziness. Without automation, you just print your wah-wah performance to a spare track. It’s also worth exploring other frequency ranges. Try cuts as well as boosts; use narrow and broad bandwidths; try sweeping a highpass or a lowpass filter or shelving eq. And perhaps most importantly, apply it to any track. Piano offers a welcome wah-wah opportunity. It seems perfectly appropriate to wah-wah a cello or a snare drum—absolutely anything.

The fact is, the vocal probably sounds great, if not perfect, whenever the singer isn’t singing words with the dreaded letter S.

Figure 1: De-Essing a Lead Vocal relies on a sidechain input with Boosted Esses. Patch this up. Add Delays, Reverb, and Sundry. Win Grammy’s.

You can de-F, de-X, de-T, de-Ch, de-Sh... this basic signal flow structure is effective at removing many related problems.
Stimulator Amp simulators have been a boon to the home recordist. Some (most, actually) guitar amps only sound good when they are cranked up to ear splitting levels.Something musical happens as the amp reaches its limits—electronically, mechanically, physically, and metaphysically. But what is an up-all-night home studio to do? Record direct and achieve that guitar amp near death experience courtesy of amp simulation hardware/software.Neato. Perhaps you use DI boxes when recording bass. That is pretty common practice these days. Great sounding bass amps require money, care, strength, space, a good bass guitar, an excellent bass player, and massive amounts of acoustic isolation when tracking (there’s that “the amp’s too loud’ problem again). The direct inject device makes

moves, it is sometimes useful to tweak it too far (where the de-esser is audible and unnatural) and then back off until you imagine that you can’t quite hear it working. In the end you should be able to push the eq on the actual lead vocal hard, without fear of sibilant destruction. Then your lead vocal can have all the grit, gasp and guts that pop music demands. Betht of luck. Eqwahlization “Wah-wah.” What an effect. Used tastefully, it can give a tune that perfect extra push toward, well, whatever you’re aiming for. How’s it done? With a Cry Baby effects pedal (or one of its siblings), naturally. But what if you don’t have one? What if you do have one but the last nine volt battery in the Tri-State area just pooped out?
RECORDING APRIL 2001

it possible to use the signal coming out of the bass guitar itself for recording onto tape or disk. Think about it. We stick microphones in front of instruments to convert the noise they make in the air into an electrical signal on a wire. Once the music is “in” that mic cable, we can run it through our racks of audio equipment. Such an approach makes a lot of sense for voice and

it always sounded? It’s honky, with no highs, muddy lows, and zero dynamic range. That is what the amp does to the signal coming from the electric guitar. And the electric guitar just isn’t an electric guitar without it; I don’t think Leo Fender ever wanted us to hear the sound coming out of the guitar itself. So whenever a session forces us resort to recording electric guitar direct to let the neighbors sleep, it is essential that we grab the amp simulator. Why not skip the whole ‘electric signal to amp to The amp simulator offers us a single stomp box, rack space or pulldown menu that throws in a ton of acoustic noise to mic to electric signal’ thang? distortion, compression, equalization, and god only knows what else. This piano. But electric basses are, um, you have more options for creating a effect begs for experimentation! electric. Why not skip that whole ‘elec- powerful bass sound at mixdown. Don’t let anyone pull a fast one on trical signal to amp to acoustic noise Record electric guitar through a you. You can use compression to to microphone to electricity’ thang? direct box and—blip, boink, flirp— equalize, equalization to wah-wahThis simple view motivates the DI. ouch. Sounds thin, perky, silly, [other ize, and amp simulation to A DI has to take care of some eleccolorful descriptions thoughtfully delet- improvize. Happy signal processing. tricity book-keeping: it lowers the ed—Ed.]. It won’t wake the neighvoltage, lowers the impedance, and bors, but it won’t sell any records Alex Case makes the “wah-wah” face balances the signal so that what either; the guitar amp is too much a whenever he uses the electric pencil comes out of the DI behaves very part of the tone equation. sharpene. Offer therapy via r much like the signal that comes out of Perhaps you’ve tried to play a CD case@recordingmag.com. most microphones. Off it goes into the through a guitar amp. Notice how bad
Excerpted from the April edition of RECORDING magazine. ©2001 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. 5412 Idylwild Trail, Suite 100, Boulder, CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information, call: 1-800-582-8326

rest of the recording chain—equalize it,compress it, and print it to tape. The DI is quite effective on bass. The sound can be tight, crisp, and rich with low end warmth. In fact, even when you have the luxury of recording the bass through an amp, it is common practice to simultaneously record the bass with a DI onto a separate track. With both an amp sound and a direct sound on tape,

Want to record a big band? But another reason to go out and buy another mic preamp is just for variety. Your need for mic preamps grows right along with the mic count. A classic example is the power trio. Created equal Equalization is a fundamental part of the music recording craft. or mixdown— requires that chain of signal processing gear we use most often. If you build up your multitrack productions one track at a time. loudspeakers. Almost every session—be it live to two. overdub. It consists of a microphone preamplifier. a compact disc player. or your console—to name just a few—the signal coming out of a microphone is much. But please don’t reach for the knobs of the equalizer too soon. A common approach—even when the session is a string of single-mic overdubs—is to leave each signal chain up and unchanged as you move on to the next overdub. And it can easily swell to many more if the drum kit gets bigger. That adds up to at least ten mics. But if you have the sort of facility capable of recording drums. Not only does that avoid stopping the session to set up for the cymbal. the mic pre is no place to cut corners. and compressor/limiter. There is definitely no substitute for good mic selection and placement. RECORDING MAY 2001 If you want to be able to handle the sort of music in which multiple players are recorded simultaneously. you might need to have the following mics up and recording all at once: hi-hat. If you’re lucky. You’ll need enough mic preamps to get them all to tape or disk simultaneously.A microphone generally outputs about 1/1000 the voltage of most of our other studio gear. the mics and mic pre settings on the piano stay where they are. kick drum. an equalizer. it means you’re ready to go if someone wants to change the piano part in the bridge. the number of mic preamps you have determines the number of different microphones you can record at once. bass. snare drum. and compressors. you’ll need extra mic pres. patient. and electric guitar—they all want to jam together. and two ambient mics. two overhead mics. well-controlled recording room. placing two or three mics on the snare drum alone isn’t unusual in pop music recording. a floor tom. equalizer. or if you like to experiment with multiple mics on the same drum. using excellent mics placed in that everelusive ‘sweet spot. As is true for mics. They have their own signature or flavor that can sound exactly right—or exactly wrong—when paired with a certain mic on a certain instrument for a certain kind of tune. one mic at a time. mic signals are different from most audio signals in the studio. much lower in voltage. Obviously. you can certainly make do with one microphone preamp. Keeping the session moving efficiently saves the band money and makes the studio a more creative place to work. One final factor pressures us to acquire additional mic preamps: session flow. . Furthermore. maybe blues: drums. so mic signals must be pampered and protected. When the piano overdub is complete and you’re moving on to a few cymbal swells. You use different ones on the cymbal overdub.’ you may never use eq. Compared to the signal that comes out of a compressor. and smart enough to have a beautiful sounding instrument that you can place cleverly in a great sounding. two or three tom toms.The Channel StripBy Alex Case Purchase priority It’s time to re-ask that favorite recordist’s question: What do I buy next? Let’s organize the answer by looking closely at the workhorse of the studio: the channel strip. So it’s important to make sure we have a good one. basics. Preamble The vast majority of music we hear on the radio or on recordings enters the recording signal chain through a mic preamp. no two mic preamps sound exactly alike. so it too is a part of the channel strip.

solid-state versus tube. That is. we get by with a little help from our equalizer. they are often called ‘sweepable’ eq. remove muddiness. Probably the most obvious parameter needed on an equalizer is the one that selects the center frequency you wish to attack. It appears most often in a 2. frequency select and cut/boost. We need a better strategy than just randomly buying a few different equalizers. this same equalizer is repeated over and over on every channel of the console. select a low-ish frequency (around 250 Hz maybe) and cut a small amount—maybe about 3 We need a better strategy than just randomly buying a few different equalizers. And it often offers frequencies that The sonic shaping power that parametric equalization offers makes it a favorite part of the channel strip. semi-parametric. Instantly you intuit the right choice of equalizer for this overdub. Because of the downgrade from three parameters to two. the sweepable eq is still very musical and useful in the creation of multitrack recordings. digital versus analog. boost maybe 9 to 12 dB at the low frequency that sounds best. Using the same equalizer on most every overdub you do starts to give everything the same sonic aftertaste. You hear the singer’s tone. this type of eq is sometimes called a semi-parametric equalizer. Generally called program eq. how much are the neighboring frequencies affected? A narrow bandwidth (high Q) is very focused on the center frequency. Alternatively. determines the ‘width’ of the cut or boost. and it introduces a sharp spike or notch to the frequency content of the signal being equalized. Add punch. Beyond technology. graphic and program equalizers) have some subset of these three parameters available for adjusting on the front of the box or in the pulldown menu. this device offers the engineer only the cut/boost decision. The parametric equalizer offers the most precise control for spectral manipulation. When you learn how to use a parametric equalizer. different bandwidth settings have different uses. But even more than mic preamplifiers. it a favorite part of the channel strip. equalizers of different types from different manufacturers can sound quite different from one another. RECORDING MAY 2001 . Q). perhaps somewhere between 40 and 120 Hz. so you can select four different spectral targets and shape each of them. And snapping up the latest eq du jour won’t guarantee we’ll end up with a coordinated set. graphic. A 4-band parametric eq has 12 controls on it.Equalizers are an essential part of getting our projects ready for prime time. Obviously. offering their own benefits. mid. give you a terrific amount of spectral flexibility. In search of shimmer. You also see this type of eq on many consoles. The good news is that well designed program eq can sound absolutely gorgeous. add sparkle. But other options exist. The addition(or subtraction of frequencies happens via adjustment of a separate parameter: cut/boost.a. among others. or plain old program eq. because the shimmeriness may be better at 12 kHz for today’s particular track.k. offering their own benefits. bandwidth (a. In parallel. remove shrillness. these two parameters alone. A session starts. But other options exist. This configuration in which only two parameters (frequency and cut/boost) are adjustable is very appealing because it’s perfectly intuitive to use. to 6 dB. The final parameter available on a parametric eq. I suggest diversifying your equalizer collection based on the technology employed and the functional type of equalization: software versus hardware. Down one more level in flexibility—though not intrinsically in sound quality—sometimes an equalizer only allows control over the amount of cut or boost. To take the muddiness out of a piano sound.The rest of the time. A wide bandwidth (low Q) takes a broader brush approach. you are learning how to use all types of equalizers. we might dial up an eq shape focused on 10 kHz. and can adjust neither the frequency nor the bandwidth of the equalization shape. with three different parameters (hence the name) for your knob tweaking pleasure. that translates into a bump in price of more than $600 on a 32-channel mixer. integrated circuit versus all discreet. highlighting the fact that the frequency you are cutting or boosting can be adjusted.or 3-band form: high. As you can see. the missing parameters are fixed by the manufacturer. and low. often you don’t even miss the frequency select parameter. And a bell goes off. vintage and new. Over time you’ll learn to hear the subtle sonic differences between them. it makes sense to enrich your equalizer collection based on functional capabilities: parametric. A slight twist on the idea above leads us to the graphic equalizer. this is the sort of equalizer found on home stereos (labeled ‘treble’ and ‘bass’). This gives us the ability to effect a tremendous amount of change to the frequency response of a track. All the other types of equalizers (semi-parametric. During the course of a project you’ll often find the need for a range of bandwidth settings. It indicates the amount of decrease or increase in amplitude at the center frequency you dialed in on the first parameter just discussed above. as you boost the frequency selected by the amount shown on the cut/boost knob. pulling up a wide region of adjacent frequencies along with the center frequency being tweaked. the bandwidth is determined by the designers of the equipment. Some equalizers have fixed bandwidth. Like program eq. In the case of your console’s channel strip. And snapping up the latest eq du jour won’t guarantee we’ll end up with a coordinated set. The terrific amount of sonic shaping power that four bands of parametric equalization offer makes are close enough to the ideal spectral location to get the job done on many tracks. though. More importantly. We’ve got to listen carefully. we must determine how much to alter the frequency we are selecting. To add warmth and punchiness. If it costs an extra $20 to advance the functional capability of the equalizer from program eq to sweepable. fixing bandwidth and frequency. This type of equalizer gives the recordist the freedom only to adjust the frequency and cut/boost parameters.

hum. and dynamic as music signals must be squeezed into our audio electronics. and rattles that performers and instruments make. misunderstanding w at they meant by h 200+ channels. Graphic eq is extremely intuitive and comfortable to work with. call: 1-800-582-8326 . when there is time reserved for tweaking the compressor until it sounds just right. several frequency bands are presented as sliders rather than knobs. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. The loud stuff needs to be turned down to avoid distortion. only added. and dynamic as music signals must be squeezed into our audio electronics. rumble. for the timbre it creates. It is used to sharpen the transient attack of a sound.On a graphic eq. Compressor liberty When signals as variable. to extract all those breaths.com. Inc. 5412 Idylwild Trail. and that degree of control isn’t always necessary. e Excerpted from the May edition of RECORDING magazine. Unless aggressive compression is a key part of the sound—tracking piano with fierce compression on purpose. You don’t necessarily need a humongonormous mixer.’ Handy also is the fact that the faders can be made quite compact. We have no choice when recording very loud or very soft tracks. The extraordinarily delicate timbre of a glass harmonica or the subtly rich decay of a piano risks being lost entirely. Being able to see an outline of what you hear will make it easier and quicker to dial in the sound you are looking for. ©2001 Music Maker Publications. Trouble is. RECORDING MAY 2001 Compression.emotional. It takes up residence on the channel strip because of this fundamental capability. compression generally can’t be taken away. The faders provide a good visual description of the frequency response modification that is being applied—hence the name ‘graphic. This sort of compression. while the quiet stuff needs to be turned up to avoid the noise floor. Pursuit of happiness A few channel strips of very good quality that simultaneously offer a degree of sonic variety can give a small studio the recording vocabulary of the big studios. therefore. Acquire or improve your channel strip strategically. Reprinted with permission. Radical compression more typically happens during mixdown. As with eq. grunts. they often need to be brought under control. the music is obliterated by the hiss. The compressor/limiter automatically tames music ever so slightly. Boulder. Think of creative compression as a special effect. to lengthen its decay. When the signals get too quiet. emotional. it’s useful to have a variety of compressors around for different applications—they all sound different from one another.Help him find the faders at case@rcordingmag. doesn’t generally happen during recording. This is bad news for common musical elements like sax solos and drum fills. They don’t fit naturally into the constraints associated with storing a signal on tape or modulating it for broadcast out into the ether (that’s radio or Internet broadcast). and buzz of our recording system. Nuts & Bolts has raved about the creative applications of compression. It is an important part of your channel path. It is not unusual for a graphic equalizer to have from 10 to upwards of 30 bands that fit into one or two rack spaces. Suite 100. they often need to be brought under control. Alex Case mistakenly got cableV T .’ in the 3/00 issue)—it’s best to defer such an extreme tone alteration until you are sure it sounds right for the whole tune. Turning knobs on a 4-band parametric equalizer is more of an acquired taste. for example (see ‘The Nuts & Bolts of When signals as variable. Distortion will occur if they get too loud. More conservative (ratio of about 4:1 or less) compression on the other hand is a common part of the recording path.

depending on effects) filling in around and underneath. we naturally try to anced—the song can stand on balance that’s fun to listen to. I of balance. Pressure in the air becomes voltage on a wire (thanks supports the music. This first step of a mix session is really a part of every As the music gets louder in the air. RECORDING JUNE 2001 . you’re the volume just right when we adjust and readjust the volume and pan position of each record to tape or hard disk going to have trouble selling track until the combination (see sidebar). The good old volume control is a powerful audio effect—and every studio has at least one. and reveals all the complexity and to the microphone). and the producer can’t prothe numbers getting stored by the digital system can’t duce until the signals from all the live microphones. And we’ve got to set louder than the vocals. There are two different with the other pieces of the strategies for setting recordarrangement (tracks and ing levels. But at some point play. tape or disk (thanks to the analog-to-digital converter). Carefully. You work to find a At that point the mix is balsome noise.Volume. you’re probably going to have You’ve undoubtedly heard that for digital recording. So going over. In pop music. Part 1: Fiddling with F ders a By Alex Case t is an axiom of the rock and roll recording craft that louder is better. vocal and the snare sit pretty The question is. which then becomes numbers on subtlety of the song. balancing a mix is one of the most important skills an engineer must master. Because all equipment has records. and some not so obvious. if the guitar is tematically. noise floor. sysnothing more than volume In pop music. For tracking and overdubbing. and effects are brought into some kind a child counting on his or her fingers runs out at ten. the engineer can’t hear. Consider the first step in Guess what? Mic preamps are building a mix. you’ll need a A sense of balance microphone preamplifier. the corresponding session. how loud? loud in the mix. is louder than the vocals. usually the that louder is indeed better. the players can’t voltage gets higher on the mic cable.” Let’s think a little bit about what that means. the song loses musical impact. dead center. trouble selling records. So it seems true reveals the song’s subtleties. This and the next episode of Nuts & Bolts will explore the many applications of this humble effect—some obvious. you work hard to find a balance that’s fun to listen to. get any bigger—it maxes out in much the same way that recorded tracks. and every track conas possible so that the musical yet supports the music and tributes to the music without waveforms drown out the obliterating other parts. starts to make musical sense. record music at as high a level its own. and iteratively you devices. Relying almost entirely on volume controls. If you can’t hear the piano the goal is to “print the signal as hot as possible without when the sax plays. On the level If music is picked up with a microphone. If the guitar whether the storage format is digital or analog.

The peaks are clipped off.which is the “ten fingers” point at which the digital system has reached its maximum digital value. analog audio doesn’t typically hit such a hard and fast limit. these days digital audio devices are consistently less expensive to own and operate than professional analog audio tape machines. many pop records are still recorded onto analog tape. the way to prevent this kind of distortion is to make sure the analog levels going into the digital recorder never force the system past its maximum. with faint tape hiss. gone forever. they do introduce other sonic artifacts at low levels. The song kicks in and rarely lets up. you typically record as hot as possible. this low noise floor was a driving force in the transition from analog to digital audio. I’ve bought rack spaces and pull down menus full of compression. On analog magnetic recording systems. prefer audio waveforms without quiet passages (low volume). it’s not a particularly musical effect. If you are intrigued by the waveform shown in the lower part of Figure 1 and are wondering what it sounds like. instead. and experimenting in our own studios. we essentially must pay extra for the tape compression effect. rock and roll also loves a bit of compression. The meters will help you here. But of course it’s not strictly forbidden—music tends to rebel. as we’ll discuss in a future Nuts and Bolts article. it does so gracefully. listening to great mixes. shown in Figure 2. but be careful. you might want to overdrive the digital system on purpose. For this genre of recording. monitor at a low level. on the other hand.At that point the digital data no longer follows the musical waveform (see Figure 1). Digital systems generally have meters that measure the amplitude of the signal in decibels below full scale. Rock and roll. the analog storage format can’t keep up. It starts to record a signal that’s not quite as loud. and occasionally go over. As the audio signal starts to get too loud. At lower amplitudes. Be my guest. as we know from listening to radio. Unlike digital audio. listen carefully. it distorts gradually as you begin to exceed its comfort range. Moreover. Still. Adding further irony. As it runs out of steam. While digital systems don’t have tape hiss. Today. Classical and jazz engineers have to record acoustic music with a wide dynamic range—music that sometimes has long. Analog machines. First. hiss can’t raise its ugly head over the screaming vocals and grinding guitars. Second. RECORDING JUNE 2001 . quiet spaces. Look carefully and you might notice that overdriven analog tape looks a lot like compression. This type of distortion is extremely harsh. the analog magnetic storage medium tracks very accurately with the waveform. So we find ourselves using volume as an effect simply by setting levels as we record music. the nearly silent noise floor of digital storage was a dream come true. Can you overdrive analog magnetic recorders for an effect? You betcha. A quick glance at my effects rack reminds me: compression is an effect. As a result. so it’s best used sparingly if at all. This is a kind of distortion known as hard clipping. This gradual distortion at the peaks is called soft clipping. Obviously. This kind of distortion is full of high frequency energy that can melt tweeters. open. even in this very digital age. tends to have a much more narrow dynamic range.

If the fader on an analog console is a potentiometer. At the other extreme. ty much don’t conduct electricity at all. electric guitar. Reprinted with permission. call: 1-800-582-8326 Electrical resistance is a property of all materials describing how much they restrict the flow of electricity.. To turn up the volume.Given a choice. Boulder. And here’s another clear case of using the volume knob as an effect. Set to a high resistance. Flavor In the recording studio. convenient example. it makes sense to . In the recording studio. So it seems true that louder is indeed better. Suite 100. we generally run into two types of analog volume control: the variable resistor and the voltage controlled amplifier. enabling us to make and record music. CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information. we typically think of them as simple volume controls. 5412 Idylwild Trail. getting the LEDs to flicker. the sound quality differences between analog and digital recorders as they react to where the volume knob is set are a key factor in selecting which format to use on a recording project. Also called potentiometers.. Inc. The idea behind them is simple and clever. motivating the meters to twitch. Excerpted from the June edition of RECORDING magazine. We appreciate this property when we handle things like power cords. lower the resistance and let the Because all equipment has noise. The volume knob on a home stereo. devices with very low resistance fall into the category of conductors Copper wire is a . Hep cats resort to three letter acronyms— VCA. ©2001 Music Maker Publications. we try to record music at a high level so that the music drowns out the noise floor. The copper RECORDING JUNE 2001 audio waveform through. we have to look more closely at our volume controls because there is a second type: voltage controlled amplifiers. electricity has trouble flowing and the volume is attenuated. within that power cable conducts electricity from the wall outlet to the piece of audio equipment. or analog synthesizer is (with a few model-specific exceptions) a variable resistor. Materials with very high resistance are classified as insulators they pret..

This is a pricey. Instead of having that slider on the console physically adjust the resistance in a potentiometer. state-of-the-art console and still couldn’t automate pan pots. it adjusts a control voltage.picture the fader as a variable resistor. RECORDING JUNE 2001 . which are capable of reacting to voltage changes very quickly. While this is all quite useful.. or reverbs. starts the coffee maker. And for consoles. equalizers. how loud? Most compressors use VCAs. automation is almost always just used for two very simple processes: fader rides and mutes. The point of pushing faders and pressing mute buttons? Controlling volume. Studios spent a few hundred thousand dollars on a top of the line. complicated option. But in the case of a VCA. . aux sends. and draws a warm bath. This control voltage in turn adjusts the amount of gain on an amplifier. compressors. If you have a hip digital audio workstation or digital console. the only other way to have something other than the engineer adjust the level would be to stick a motor on the fader. the fader that sits on the console is separated from the audio by one layer. you can automate it so that it wakes you to music first thing in the morning (noon). but motorized faders are certainly available—and at an ever-decreasing price.. Not too long ago even the fanciest consoles offered the ability to automate only the faders and the cut (mute) buttons.The question is. Automation Mix automation can do many things these days.

Ideally. pull the flute out of the horn part until the last chorus. RECORDING JUNE 2001 But as we know from all the music released from the beginning of time up to about 1995. home stereos (my neighbor in my freshman year college dorm)… Here we have encountered a basic property of all audio equipment: turn it up too loud. and tremolo. it should pretty much never sound like a fader was life musical waveform races wildly up and down due to both the character of the particumoved. on the other hand. however faint. they’re aimed at the musical interpretation of the If we recorded pure sine waves for a living. and such. The trick. Another automated volume effect is the Automated Electric guitars amps cranked to the limit—at that much savored edge of becoming fire Send.S Making effective use of dynamic range influences not just how we record to tape.Musical dynamics are so important to composition and performance that they are notated on every score and governed closely by every band leader. etc. grit and gunk Getting paid to play the volume control is why Alex Case that might be lurking down in the depths of each piece of equipment. can be a complicated pattern of hard hits and delicate taps. But check out an extreme example by listening to U2’s Ac htung Baby. The automated send—just another volume effect—offers Accommodating the unpredictability of all musical events. compression. hum. using nothbelow the point where distortion begins. words. Cut the bass in the extra bar before the chorus. strings in the verses. or any other piece of gear. It seems to be the sole determinant for the position of the volume knob on most guitar amps (including mine). microphones. e how we use a compressor. Some very sophisticated mix elements can be crehazards—have very little dynamic range. trying to make the song feel right. room. Dynamic Range . extraordinarily elaborate and complicated mixes were built with this relatively limited amount of automation capability. A constant part of the recording craft is using our equipment in the safe zone between these two extremes. back off a smidge in level. You’ll and spacious reverb to the vocal in the bridge only. But it’s usually a good idea to keep these moves quite starts to distort. again expressed in decibels. of course. The amplitude ‘distance’ (expressed in decibels) ing more than straight forward faders and cuts automation. “Zoo Station. The album begins with some heavy cut activity as the drums and bass enter at the top of the first tune of the album. Stay tuned. and even patch cables. pull the Chamberlin down during the guitar solo. a reverb. the full arrangement of the song may not come together for several months as overdubs are gradually added to the tune. The musical dynamic range of the instrument final chorus. Even a cable made of pure gold manufactured in zero gravity during the winter solstice of tape looks like compression. lar musical instrument and the way it is being played. we record at a level well a way to layer in areas of more or less effects. This is the dynamic range. We turn it up—whatever ‘it’ is—until it hurts our ears. gating. is to send your audio signal through at a level well above the noise floor so that listeners won’t even hear that hiss. If you haven’t already witnessed this yourself. car radios (at least for the car in the lane next to me). compressors. Exploring the upper limit of dynamic range comes naturally to most of us. the amplitude of a real tions. subtle. or the music. This sort of mix move happens throughout pop music. At 0 VU the music gets balance as multitrack components of the song come and through well above the self-noise of the equipment. the signal-to-noise ratio. and distortion results. is volume affects the eq curve. Follow along in Figure 3 as we keep careful control over the range of amplitudes that we encounter when recording audio signals. portable stereos (the jogger who just passed me). the band (maybe with the advice of a producer) gets these dynamics right in their performance. However. a de-esser. For example. Cranking it ’till it distorts. expansion. add distortion to the guitar in the Such an instrument is a challenge to record well. And they bareduce rhythmic delay to the background vocals on key ly move until the end of the song. using the humble mute switch. But in the studio. but safely under the point where it go. and it’s quantified in decibels (dB). This gives us a safety cushion to absorb the musical dynamics without exceeding the moving beyond faders and exploring the finer points of audio dynamic range of the gear. became a recording engineer. introobserve the meters on your console and multitrack zip up at the downbeat. The tarVolume changes are automated just to keep the song in get nominal level is typically labeled 0 VU (that’s a zero. Automation is employed to add rich record a guitar the way Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel does—with the amp set to eleven. Clever volume effects—mostly using VCA-based automation—are the key. Fader rides may be just the ticket to help this assembly of tracks fall into a single piece of music. a non-leap year will still have a noise floor. our equipment. the mix engineer controls the multitrack arrangement. ated this way sends. Yup. we’d turn the signal up right to the point mix. and how The relative level of the noise floor compared to 0 VU. and hit Record. orchestra conductor. With few excepof distortion. Maybe it makes sense to push the guitar up in the choruses. etc. Listeners want to hear the music. not an O).com. and music director. He used to do it for fr peak ee. In the studio we must concern ourselves with a different sort of dynamics: Audio Dynamics.” Automating fader rides in support of the arrangement is a natural application of automation. not the console. between the target operating level—0 VU—and the onset of distortion is called headWe’ll keep digging deeper into volume next month. increase the chorus effect on the orchestral Percussion. must somehow be made to fit within the audio dynamic range of your studio’s equipment. but up to case@r cordingmag. All audio equipment notice that overdriven analog has a noise floor—equalizers. Look carefully and you might At the other extreme (turning it down too much) lives a different audio challenge: we start to hear the inherent noise of the audio equipment we are using. Making clever use of loud parts and soft parts is a fundamental part of composition and arranging.