My first day at Hertz (after thirty hours in transit, a night in a 3 x 5 metre hotel room, and a 4am wake-up by another Hertz attendee with the wrong room key) started with a free breakfast at Hotelu Podlasie (that I definitely abused), before a lift from Wojtek at 9am. Another member of the masterclass expressed his concern that he’d miss the last day of the course, and that he hoped we wouldn’t cover too much mastering on the last day. Wojtek laughed and explained that mastering wasn’t a huge job anyway; icing on the cake/the cherry on top. When we arrived at Hertz, my first impression of the studio was surprise at the size of the building after having seen* photos. The studio is set-up in a house with the entry hall as a dedicated lobby and two rooms as control room and live room. The live room in particular was about 4 x 8 meters, but in hindsight this makes sense for the tightness of the drum tones they record. The control room is closer to 4 x 4 meters, and both rooms are really well acoustically treated, as Wojtek and Slawek explained throughout the day. The live room has a dedicated sweet spot for drums, as well as cylindrical diffusers framing the room (above head height) that are made of thin plywood that resonates/can be mic’d up to emphasise the tone of the diffusers. The ceiling is covered in angled clouds at different heights that break up acoustic energy, and the ‘sweet spot’ is the highest point, specifically designed to break up cymbal wash. As right-handed drummers are more common, the hi-hat side of the room has more diffusion, while the ride-side has has less to capture more ride and tom reflections. While discussing the room, Wojtek discussed his attitude to recording and mic placement and recording in general in the mantra: “Why not?”. He explained he’ll often try weird mic placement that doesn’t always work, but loves to experiment e.g. with mics in the lobby, on the floor, inside acoustic guitars or pianos in the drum room, facing walls, facing windows etc. – why not?
past tense: analysed; past participle: analysed
examine (something) methodically and in detail, typically in order to explain and interpret it.”we need to analyse our results more clearly”
Wojtek’s mantra was reinforced at lunch when he explained that he believed education in audio is important – either at Hertz or university etc. He believes this because in his eyes, you can’t break rules unless you’ve learned them first. Slawek mimicked this in starting the day by saying “One rule: no rules.” The first half of the day was spent talking ‘shop’ with the Wieslawski brothers and introducing ourselves. Wojtek and Slawek discussed having worked their way up, sometimes having had to take steps backward to step forward. They stressed the importance of keeping bands and artists happy, and “If you take job (sic), do it the best.” He explained that no job should be prioritised over others, big or small, because our work is our business card – especially with the internet. We talked a lot about serving the project, and about samples; a necessary evil in modern recording, as well as understanding a band’s vision and ensuring a band feels comfortable and happy while recording with you – from encouraging great performances to understanding the monitoring in your room to ensure the couches that the band spends their days on aren’t in the middle of room nodes or a build up of any frequency. It’s good and well to have a ‘sweet spot’, but an engineer + five band members can’t all sit there – a fact that seems obvious in hindsight.
Following lunch – we spent the after tuning and preparing drums for recording using a cloth, window cleaner, wax and a hairdryer…
Day two at Hertz started re-checking the drums we’d tuned on the first day – followed by being introduced to Dariusz “Daray” Brzozowski, currently of Dimmu Borgir. Daray sat us down and we chatted about what he wants ad expects from audio engineers who record him, or mix him live – which further drove home Slawek and Wojtek’s point about serving the project and artist to get the best possible results. Daray goes as far as to tune his toms in nice sounding intervals, that he stressed weren’t perfectly musical, but so that they rung out in a pleasant way. He discussed how the toms and cymbals will ‘sing’ when tuned well, and even when neither of these pieces of drum are hit, the entire kit will resonate musically when everything is tuned and ready to record. Wojtek was quick to discuss that when you achieve this, bleed between mics, as well as room sounds can really be used yo your advantage. Daray talked about his personal preference to use two seperate kick drums, and stated that he liked the resonance, but admitted that for fast stuff, single kicks with double pedals are more articulate as each hit chokes the ‘note’ from the last. He discussed his own drums, and his experience with different types of hardware, referring specifically to die cast rims and as opposed to rims made of one piece of metal, as the latter are more forgiving for rim shots as opposed to snare hits in the centre of the skin. We talked about some gating tricks that live engineers had used during his time in Vader, where he’d play softly enough during fast double kick passage that the acoustic kick mic would remain closed, but open during slower, stompy, or ‘polka’ beats (a beat my circle of friends has always referred to as ‘hardcore’ beats, but Daray, Slawek and Wojtek (and now me) all referred to as ‘polka’ beats).
After discussing more technical details of drums, tunings and polka, Daray explained how important it to to understand your drummer as a sound engineer. It’s important to push the best performance out of the artists, but to be able to read and understand their limits. He explained that he loves to leave the studio satisfied, and only does so when he’s been pushed, worked hard and really given some good performances. He re-enforced how unpleasant it is to be left in the cold as a recording artist when you’re tracking, sitting in the live room with no contact from the control room, as well as literally being left cold after having warmed up and your engineer takes a long time to pull tones, check signal and be ready to record. At no point during the ay did Daray answer the question “You ready?” with anything except “Always.”
We broke for lunch, and the whole group piled into Daray’s van, except for Wojtek and I. On the drive to the restaurant, Wojtek and I spoke about his search for a new console for the studio, but his reluctance at the initial expense aswell as ongoing to keep a great sounding console sound great. We agreed that the better the console, the better the chance is that you’ll be able rent the studio out to others engineers, which is additional income, and as a studio in a changing industry, it’s important to have income from a few different streams.
After lunch, Daray began to play and we made some minor adjustments to tuning and signal, before collecting samples of the session and his playing. Slawek gave me a eureka moment when he explained that he always likes to take samples and fix hits of the right and left hands to keep any sampling or layers sounding real and untriggered, as well as making sure the fix hits are as hard as the drummer actually plays. Even someone of Daray’s experience slammed the snare like a hammer when we asked to take some samples, despite not hitting that hard at any point during the recording.
At 9AM on the third day, we met Wojtek outside our hotel and on our way to Hertz, asked if we were tired yet. All of us admitting we were. He explained, laughing, that he wasn’t used to talking so much, so he was tired too. We arrived, greeted Slawek and the other guys and chatted for a little while in the control room about running and owning a studio – mostly elaborating on what Wojtek and I had discussed the day before. We talked about investing in equipment, and Slawek explained that as far as he was concerned, investing in vintage mics was as good or better than investing your money in the bank – a belief that I’m happy to believe and take part in. Wojtek continued in saying that “…we agreed we won’t buy anything new this year.”, and the room erupted in laughter. The brothers gave us an example of a plumber in Poland, who spends 2,000€ on his tools and works for ten years – no problem. In a studio, you spend 200,000€ on an SSL that’s 30-40 years old, build a room for it’s power supplies, power the console 24 hours a day and clean it every day while keeping an eye on any pots, buttons, lights and ins/outs that need work, while also having the entire console re-capped intermittently. He continued about buying old consoles and the risk in having to spend to have them re-capped straight away, or eventually regardless, and with a smile, he drew a finger across his throat.
After getting the morning started, we moved onto editing the drums we’d recorded the day before. I’ve had a lot of practice editing drums at Goatsound, and have a pretty concrete ProTools workflow, but it was great to see how Wojtek and Slawek work. Outside of their DAW, Steinberg’s Nuendo, we discussed how important it is to know how to edit each drummer, as well as how to edit and sample to achieve the sounds that the band and drummer are looking for. It’s important to understand how to explain to drummer what will give the best result. Drummers generally like manual editing, and as do I. In my experience, the best results come from at least a little manual editing before any kind of quantising or automatic editing, beat detective etc. On top of this, some manual editing can work for songs with different timing measures, but auto editing if the song stays static.
Wojtek made a point to make sure the drummer doesn’t see your edits; either by making sure consolidation the edits or by hiding them. Further to us, as engineers, using a drummer’s soundcheck to identify their shortfalls, weaknesses and potential problems in the mix, we can use now use this knowledge to edit and use different parts of the kit to anchor problem areas, e.g. leaving snare hits alone for a drummer with strong hands but sloppy feet or vice versa. Slawek, a drummer, gave us a crash course in editing blast beats, showing us different double kick beats and cited one as favoured by Poland’s Behemoth, and another that appeared in the USA’s Nails most recent album a lot. He described straighter blasts, laughing that “Russians love this one.”, and how when a blast needs to be tight but still groove, it’s important to prioritise the snare of kick as leader.
Once our edits were done and the tracks were in time, we moved onto phase correlation which was a really interesting subject for me. As someone becoming more experienced with live recording, the distance between microphones is often what creates space in a mix. Generally, Hertz will check the phase correlation between at least the spot mics, and ensure the transients are all hitting at the same time. When making these movements, it’s important to decide what the centre of your image is (in our case the snare), so you can align the rest of the tracks to this. We took two different approaches, first by manually moving the tracks to be in phase, which I could hear a noticeable difference, and second using Sound Radix’s Auto-Align plugin. Because of the calculations & signals captured by the plugin, the difference wasn’t so noticeable at first. We re-checked Auto-Align and got a better result, but no better than manual moving the transients. Besides mixing, which is the final part of the course, we’d finished drums and would move onto guitars with Decapitated’s Vogg on day four.