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.