A finished sound-alike // Hoops.

Recording a sound-alike of the Rubens’ Hoops really taught me a lot about project planning, the roles involved in a recording and the level I should be recording and mixing at and the overall level I should be operating at. I learnt about adhering to the different roles involved in a project (as well as treating a recording as a project rather than multiple seperate sessions) and how they can overlap. We learnt about treating artists well to get the best performance out of them, as well as using our intuition and speed when mixing to capture our initial emotions rather than over analysing the project.

Our first recording session had us swimming in the deep end with spot and room mics on a drum kit. We had an artists who was admittedly cry experienced behind his kit and behind the desk, so he empathised with our requests about mic placement and recording different part of the kit separately to most accurately capture the sound recorded on the Rubens’ Hoops. We quickly realised that we had a few crucial mics (particularly the snare ‘crack’ mic, a Rode NT5 situated next to the SM57 on snare top) because it harnessed the snap and fit well with the clap sample heard on the original track. On getting the mics set up and checking levels and gain, our mentor Trinski showed how crucial it is to check phase of our mics fast.We checked the overheads to make sure the stereo image was centred, followed by the seperate kick mics and the snare/s. Once our technical checks were done, recording itself was a breeze.  Following the guitar and bass session the following week, I applied what I’d learnt about phase to a recording session for a friend and his band. I asked him to “play some time” once the mics were plugged in, and I line checked, got healthy gain into ProTools, and checked phase of all our mics, in the order Trinski had showed us. I told my friend to stop, that I had everything I needed, and was ready to record when he was ready. He seemed surprised, asked if how I’d done line checks so fast, and I (smugly) told him “… you’ve gotta be fast. I did gain and phase as well.” I really enjoy this kind of role, and am leaning to more a engineer type of role, such as running ProTools and the desk.
Adhering to roles is something we learned about very quickly, I was the most adept at ProTools, so I was often a point of reference of for Tools, and found myself her;one people through tasks, and more often than I intended, taking a seat and running ProTools when it wasn’t my turn. This wasn’t my intention but when you’ve got an artists ready to perform, you’ve got to be ready to capture it. Admittedly, in a more real world scenario, team members wouldn’t rotate roles as often, so I’d be the engineer/desk/ProTools guy from start to finish. Contrary to this, one role I was happy to adhere to, and that gave me a help view overview of our performance, was my week as the artist. I was the only one in the session who played an instrument regularly, so I opted to play guitar and bass on the recording. I spent the better part of two weeks sorting out guitar and bass tones for the recording, and settled on some gear discussed in a previous blog post. I worked hard to get my playing similar to the playing on the recording, and on the day I felt I delivered a good performance in a short amount of time. I endeavoured to be an artist that I’d like to work with, in that I was open to feedback and wanted to get a good performance in the interest of the project. I wanted to be ideal in the lead up to tracking vocals and mixing the song.
Between the guitar and bass session and the mixing session, we recorded vocals in one of the smaller Tascam studios. Not everyone could make it, so Aaron and I stuck to our guns and recorded vocals and backing vocals with a friend of his. We both produced, he coaxed his friend and encouraged the best of him, and I worked to ensure we had plenty of options to compile an mix the best sounding tracks we could. The following morning, we started to mix. Admittedly there were a lot of stems on a few different hard drives and we should have ensured we had everything we needed (as well as drums in time). Once the tracks were all loaded (and the project backed up into one place), we started to mix. We ran through balancing and corrective EQ (more methodical parts of the process), followed by compression to create energy, punch and dimensions to the mix, and reverbs and delays to create physical space. Overall I’m happy with the mix and it really showed me there are methodical parts as well as creative. The methodical stuff works for me, as I’m pragmatic and process focused, and find it difficult to focus where I can hear imperfections (within reason and not taking away from groove or performance). The professional mix really taught me a lot about mixing, with particular focus on the FX stem we found. Underneath the song, almost subliminally, there is a track of a crowd cheering during the chorus, that swaps to a wind during the verse. The guitars in particular are very layered, most of which can’t really be distinguished, but that add to the thickness of certain parts of the songs.
All in all, our sound-alike was successful. Any parts of the project we struggled with, we also learnt from and it was really beneficial to analyse a professional mix (that won Triple Js Hottest 100 in 2015) in such detail (to the point where I was playing and analysing the playing) was a phenomenal help to my professionalism. Handling artists is a huge part of our job, and while checking phase and choosing microphones is important, these are the jobs that should become second nature so we’re ready to capture performances, not just sounds.

Jus†ice: A short study

Jus†ice are a french electric duo who climbed the pop music charts in the mid-200s with their infectious original track ‘D.A.N.C.E.’. The band have a dark take on modern electronic music, showing some rock and metal influence in heavy, slapped bass, acoustic sounding drums and heavily overdriven rock guitars in a few songs. The opening song on the duo’s most commercially popular and debut album ‘’ begins with a military style horn section that would not sound out of place on an operatic or blackened metal style song (see: Fleshed Apocolypse’s A Million Deaths). Augé himself describes the live show as having an ‘epic, operatic feel to it’ (Augé, 2013). The album ‘†’ has grit which ties it to rock music, as well as being heavily bass, kick and groove driven like more modern dance music.

The attached ‘Blueprint’ video shows a short interview with the duo’s live sound engineer, Malik Malki, another trait dissimilar to traditional electronic music. He recalls mixing the band on tour for their first album, using an analogue mixer for live shows, which was just a ‘left-right situation’ (Malki, 2013). The band swapped to digital and Malik was able to run the mix on 16 channels, which more option for live mixing depending on the audience’s reaction. The duo also travel with a lighting engineer, further adding to the aesthetic of watching a band rather than a D.J. However, Jus†ice’s live set-up tells a different story. Despite the rocky feel of Jus†ice’s music, the duo run samples via Ableton and control their sound with an array of pad and MIDI controllers (AKAI MPD24 and JazzMutant Lemur Input Devices to name a few). Despite swapping to digital for their live shows, the bands retains an ‘analogue’ grit and warmth to the sound, particular with rockier style synths and overdrive.
The two members of Jus†ice, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay (both born late 70s early 80s) complete the duo’s stage set-up in jeans, sneakers and matching bomber jackets which complete the rock ’n’ roll aesthetic typical of Justice. Their main podium that contains synths and controllers is flanked by 3 full Marshall stacks (unloaded), which become a part of the light show.  The podium’s centrepiece is the signature Justice cross, and is decorated with outboard analogue processors and synths (it’s unclear whether these are real or for show, however the podium can open and split in half so it’s assumed nothing is connected). Many of the dirtier synths in Justice’s sonically resemble overdriven (particularly ‘tube-y’ and fuzzy) guitars. This can be heard clearly on the track ‘Waters of Nazareth’.
While Justice are clearly an electronic band, their ties to the rock realm and obvious influence from metal (in one way or another) make them my favourite electronic band. While the Marshall stacks and analogue outboard gear on stage are attractive, it is the grit and liveliness of their sound that attracts me to them.

Drum Tracking Hoops

After researching The Rubens’ Hoops, we had a session booked for Wednesday record drums for the sound-alike and we’d decided on mics, set up a ProTools session and tempo map.
Our session plan changed a little and we swapped a few of our mics choices based on Daniel’s drum set up and reviewing the gear available. Our research into the recording session for the Ruben’s record led us to an image of drummer Scott Baldwin recording with a set of Coles ribbon mics for overheads, so it didn’t make sense for us to use the Rode NT5s we’d planned on. We swapped the NT5s out (and made use for them elsewhere) for a pair of AKGC414s and warmed up them with the Empirical Fatso. The top end was rolled off and mids were warmer, more like a ribbon. We used  one of the NT5s as a snare ‘crack’ mic which turned out to be the secret ingredient (along with a Shure Beta57 under the snare) in the snappy, clappy snare on Hoops. We used a combination of moon gel, towels and t-shirts to dampen the snare and toms before miking the toms with Sennheiser MD421s (set to ‘Music’ as instructed by Trinski).
My role for the session was to run the Audient console, and on setting up the mic channels, I moved into the ProTools role swell (sorry Ben). We ran the Fatso and some pre amps (both BAE 1073s) pre-tape as opposed to parallel. We got signal to every channel very fast, and Trinski quickly moved in to show up setting up the levels and checking phase. Trinski emphasised the importance of checking phase, and the process of checking it, as well as how quickly it needs to be checked and how quickly you need to commit to your decisions. He explained that by this time the drummer is ready to go and checking phase can easily derail a session and have engineers checking and re-checking. We checked the stereo image of the overheads, making sure the snare was centred, then check the first kick drum mic with the overheads and the other kick drum mics with each other, followed by the snare/s and so on.
Once the console was set up and our drummer ready to go, we had to make sure our drummer had everything he needed to start a take. Our drummer Daniel, had the song dialled + some insight into sounds and understood recording as a player and engineer himself. Throughout the recording, our producer Julian took notes on the bars and beats in the takes for us to reference later. Admittedly, I slipped into ProTools operator swell as operating the console while tracking, but I do think that these roles go together and its easier for these to be operated on the fly (especially during tracking) by one person.
By the end of the day, we had some solid groundwork for the rest of the instruments to be tracked over the next two weeks. I’ll be tracking guitars on Wednesday June 15 and we’ll track vocals with a singer after that, before the mixing session on June 22. I’ll be playing an Ibanez RG as the pickups can be split to single coil like a Telecaster. Unfortunately a Fender Reverb amplifier isn’t easy to come by, and through our research we discovered the specific amp used on the recording wasn’t functioning correctly (this may be the extra hum that can be heard on the guitar). The buzz of the amp is emphasised by vibrato or tremolo effect onboard the amp, and it sounds like there’s onboard reverb as well as reverb added in post production. I’ll be playing through a Zoom G2 effects pedal on the ‘Fender Clean’ emulation with tremolo and spring reverb (similar to the reverb onboard a Fender Reverb) into a Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister and Marshall 1960A cabinet. The amp on the recording has a buzz and I’ve imitated this by setting the ‘Gain’ on the clean channel of the amp to 100% and backing off the matter volume. All these effects and sounds aside, the playing on the recording sounds softly picked through a loud amp. This is easily the most difficult part of the sound to emulate, as the guitar is full of character but also sits in the pocket of the song.
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We haven’t decided on mics yet, but a ribbon and trusty 57 will keep the song warm and vintage with the ribbon mic but also solid with the SM57. A warm room mic would also capture the reverb tail and roominess of the loud amp. In the Audient recording space we’ll draw back the curtains to keep the sound live. The guitar sounds the most gritty unprocessed of the recording.
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In conclusion, Wednesday’s session went well and we’ve got a solid foundation for the rest of the song. We’ve captured the sounds characteristic of the drums in the track, and I’m excited to fit my playing into it.

The Rubens’ Hoops


‘Hoops’ by The Rubens on an album of the same name, was awarded Triple J’s Number One song in the 2015 Hottest 100 competition. The band is comprised of drums, guitar, bass, keys and vocals. For our sound-alike, we’ve allocated musician roles to ourselves for guitar, bass and keys, we’ll outsource a singer and the drummer has been provided for us. The song is structured as follows:
Verse 1 (two parts)
Chorus > Outro
Despite the members of our band not being The Rubens, we may still face some copyright issues. While the work we’re doing falls under the Fair Dealing/Fair Use and some education exceptions laws in Australia. Unfortunately, the fair use laws are case-by-case. We’re definitively safe because of the ‘non-profit’ nature of our work In the ‘real world’, we may face the following:
  • Presendences established by using artists that sound similar to other popular artists. For example, Carlos Santan sued a beer company because they “used a Santana sound-alike” (Anderson, 1990) for a commercial.
  • ‘Tortious misappropriation’ – defined by Bette Midler’s successful lawsuit against the Ford Motor Company for hiring an artist to imitate Midler AFTER Midler declined the offer to recreate her hit for an advertisement.  
This is quite a traditional arrangement, and is (admittedly) not particularly exciting. However, The Rubens add enough variation within the songs arrangement to retain the lister’s attention. While the drums played live are acoustic drums, the drums that start this track, and continue throughout are not particularly  live sounding. Besides a ride and hi-hat (with high pass filters set quite high), the drums are basic and very mono with a kick and snare and occasional rack tom hits or floor tom used for emphasis. The snare itself sound dampened and layered with a clap and something else with a lot of high frequency information. The Triple J live video posted below show a tambourine attached to the hi-hat, which lends itself further to the high frequency sound. The drums will need to be recorded with particular focus on the kick and snare. While we’ll use a room mic, the hats, ride and tom will need to be close mic’d so we can have as much control as possible over the few crucial drum elements in the mix. We’ll use some dampening techniques on the snare, such as a towel or tape, and the kick drum should be dampened as well to keep it fat.
The guitar in the song (which hangs mostly in the right-side of the stereo image) is a decidedly ‘Fender’ sound, characterised by a ’spank’ to the tone, and not much low frequency information. Further investigation into the film clip reveals the guitar player playing a Fender Stratocaster, and the Byron Bay live performance above shows a Fender ’65 amplifier coupled with a Gibson 335 style guitar. Other live videos show a Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster, or the Fender Telecaster. I’ve begun to experiment with a tone for the sound-alike, using the ’65 emulation included with Apple’s Logic Pro 9. The emulation sounds great, but for the ‘realness’, we’ll mic up a clean guitar with a 57 and maybe a large diaphragm condenser or Royer R101.
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The character of the tone is clean signal drenched in tremolo, and the springy reverb typical of Fender amplifiers, giving the guitar its own space in the track. Despite being quite minimally and calm strummed, the guitar is a feature because of the space the tone gives it. The bass guitar sound in the track is solid and sits nicely in the pocket of the chord progression. The tone is mostly clean, but distortion or fuzz is added at regular intervals to assist in the weight and depth of the song.
ANDERSON, S. (1990). ChronicleNytimes.com. Retrieved 5 June 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/1990/10/17/style/chronicle-109490.html
What is fair use? | ALRC. (2016). Alrc.gov.au. Retrieved 5 June 2016, from https://www.alrc.gov.au/publications/4-case-fair-use-australia/what-fair-use
Mushroom Presents: The Rubens – Hoops (Acoustic). (2015). Retrieved from “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfwwxspXiAA”

The Rubens – Hoops (live on triple j) (2016). Retrieved from “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBOAJUKPclA”