I’ve been making a really big effort to network the last few months, and to make sure everyone that I meet or catch-up with knows I do recording (and for free!). A few of these introductions have led to some work lately, and I’m finding myself producing as much as I am engineering the recordings, as well as applying a lot of my own learning from critical listening. I’d always seen myself engineering (micing up, recording, editing, mixing, mastering) more than producing, but my motivation for production is grounded in engineering and thinking about a great mix. I’ve known that in the modern day the lines between these two roles are blurred, but I’m finding it in a way I didn’t think I would.
I’ve been working most recently with an acoustic singer/songwriter, Jordan Bailey, and while the scratch tracks alone we did in pre-production were great, I knew I’d need more layers to produce a full and dynamic sounding mix (even if the arrangement is sparse on the surface). I’ve encouraged Jordan to do a few takes of each rhythm guitars, for thickness and stereo guitars where need be, as well as arpeggios of what he’s already playing, or simplified strumming patterns to emphasise a groove or pulse. A lot of these layers are less sounds you’ll hear, and more you’ll feel as they’ll give the song depth and dynamic. I try my best to produce on the fly, because digging down into the extra layers and harmonies begins to verge on songwriting, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. I encourage Jordan to emphasise and embellish what he’s already recorded so the songs are still inherently his, rather than spilling my bucket of ideas all over his work.
Some of this I learn from critically analysing The Rubens’ Hoops last trimester for our sound-alike project, and understanding how a much goes into a professional mix (this is a great example of something that sounds simple on the surface), as well as a recent obsession with Tom Petty after watching a Netflix documentary on the history of him and the Heartbreakers. It’s mentioned a few times in the documentary, as well as my own research, that Tom records a lot of guitar layers (sometimes in different tunings etc.) to give his seemingly simple riffs depth and impact. In a sense, Tom Petty is just emphasising harmonics that would already exist in the original track, but applying them in a way that gives a sparkle that EQ or distortion can’t.
Neither is a bad approach, but the sparkle works for Tom, and I think the sparkle will work for Jordan. As for the next few projects I have lined up, maybe it’s a good excuse to watch some more Netflix…
We started our AUS220 demo projects this week in last studio we’ll be granted access to at our time at SAE. It’s got a well-lit, professional looking and feeling live room, a smaller isolation booth and racks of professional level outboard gear, both digital and analogue. The studio also has a Neve Genesys. Neve and SSL is the Holden and Ford of the audio world, though it’s not uncommon to embrace both companies due to the different flavours and textures that they can bring to a recording. You can utter the word ‘Neve’ and audiophiles will be torn between reminiscing about a 1073 or stand with their heads hung at the price tags associated with them.
I’m writing this as an open letter, and I’m not saying you’re the only one that has smack-talked the Neve, because I loved the Genesys. There’s some shortfalls, a Windows 98-esque computer (though more modern than a lot of the DOS-style computers I see linked to SSLs pictured below), a few broken meters and some very expensive EQ and dynamics software that are all coupled with some very complex routing, but none of this is without reason.
While the workflow and computer controlled Monitor/Channel path seemed complicated at first, it was demonstrated to me that this way you can audition inserts before recording to tape (e.g. by putting inserts in the Monitor path while listening to scratch tracks and swapping them back to ‘Channel’ when you go for real takes). We also pulled some great sounds from a trash mic with the Neve pres distorting to oblivion, as we as bypassing some of the Neve pres for external pres but incorporting a few channels of Neve EQ and dynamics. While the routing and gain staging is very different to the Audient consoles that I’ve grown to know, the Neve has three seperate gain stages (excluding any outboard processing) to make sure you’ve got a healthy signal to tape (real tape or to Tools) no matter what processing you’re doing before it. The routing is complicated at first but by the end of the day I’d found myself getting a feel for the desk (and not just the heat that it gives off) and could see myself finding new ways to route and capture great sound. Whether or not the first thing I did when I got home that day was look up prices and Australian stockists is a secret that will remain with me (http://www.audiochocolate.com.au/all-products/neve-genesys-64-fader128-input/).
Hell, back in October Eddie Kramer posted excitedly off his Facebook page that his Genesys had just arrived and my jaw-dropped because I’d heard nothing but bad things about them. It was partly because of this that I entered our first Neve studio session open-minded.
I’m just writing this in an attempt to say: give the Neve a chance. I did, and I can really see the benefits ofr routing that seems complicated because it gives you options on the fly. Once you realise the first 8 channels don’t meter, and that you need to switch to Assign mode to do most things, it’s really not all that bad.
Spoke to Andy Szikla of Szikla Technical this week about his flagship channel strip, The Prodigy. Andy discussed the recording of his album, Dark Moon, and how the Prodigal turned from a preamp into a one-stop-shop. Podcast episode up soon!
Live sound is really teaching me a lot about studio engineering and mixing, which is my main focus and passion. I’ve got zero experience in live sound, nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’m enjoying messing things up and experimenting in class without the pressure of a real band on stage. Something that struck me this week was how we approached a rough mix of Madeline Leman and the Desert Swells.
We started by throwing high-pass filters over almost everything, and panning where necessary. We gated a few things and compressed a few things, and I quietly stood back, convinced we’d need to gate the kick drum to keep it punchy and tight, as I’m so used to doing. The kick In/Out mics remained unprocessed as far as I can remember, besides mixing the two tracks with the faders and to my surprise they sounded great. A little slap from the inside mic, plenty of presence from the outside mic, and no mud in the FOH mix because we hadn’t gated or heavily correctively EQ’d. This has already changed my approach to how heavily gated/edited I’ve been mixing kicks for the last few days (well, Thursday night). Admittedly, in metal there’s a lot of (sometimes 100%) triggered kick so it’s a completely isolated signal, but in the studio I love having a solid acoustic kick sound and using the triggers mostly for the ‘click’.
We’ve got a band sorted for our gig in a few weeks and I’m really excited to be a part of that, it’s been a pretty steep learning curve so far but nothing worth doing comes easy!