Some thoughts on our latest sessions...

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by amper, Feb 20, 2006.


  1. amper

    amper Member

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    While in the process of recording our new album, I just finished skimming through "The Art of Mixing (2nd. Ed.)", by David Gibson, and I thought I'd talk a little about about our process by way of sharing and asking for comments.

    We're a three-piece original, "alternative" (hate that term, but...) rock band. Everything is being recorded more or less individually tracked (some scratch tracks just to keep it all together) into a Power Mac G5 running Logic Pro 7. The interface is an M-Audio Delta 1010 running at 24 bits/96 KHz fronted by an M-Audio Octane multichannel preamp. The majority of the engineering is being handled by myself (the bassist/vocalist), and the room is about a 10' x 10' room at the guitarist's house, drywall with carpeting. For now, all listening is being done in a pair of Sennheiser HD280's, because bringing the desk and M-Audio Studiophile BX8 monitors is just too much for that little room.

    We've been mainly tracking the drum parts at first. The drums are close-mic'd, with a Shure Beta 52A on the kick, Beta 57A's on the snare top and two toms, and two M-Audio Solaris large-diaphragm condensors run as a Mid-Side pair (using the decoder in the Octane) as overheads set about 5 feet away from the kit at standing head height (best I could do in such a small room). Bass is being run DI through a Countryman Type 85, phase-reversed at the Octane. If I had more inputs and more mics, I'd like to have a hi-hat mic and a snare bottom, but that might just over-complicate things, anyway.

    No processing is being used on any of the record inputs. All instruments are normally peaking in the -3 to -4 dBFS range, with the occasional hard hit going to 0 to -2 dBFS (without clipping, that is).

    I've been working during breaks on putting together the beginnings of the mix, and here's what I'm doing...

    No noise gates have been used, yet. We're being really quiet during tracking, with any unnecessary devices in the whole house switched off. So far, I haven't noticed any odd noises.

    I'm starting by compressing instruments to get the dynamic signature I want, which mainly entails making everything a bit more "punchy" (various preset compressors from Logic) on the kick, snare, and bass guitar, some softer compression on the toms (though I may go a bit harder), and none on the overheads. Make-up gain is being used to bring the pre-fader peaks just under 0 dBFS.

    Next comes EQ, first to fix problems in the response of the mics, second to separate instruments in the mix.

    The kick drum is bringing up the bottom end, with the bass guitar sitting just above it, though for one track, I went slightly brighter on the bass because it seemed to make the bass a bit more aggressive, which was appropriate for that song. Everything else only gets "fixing" EQ, if it needs it. None of the EQ is all that extreme, so everything still sounds relatively "natural". Once again, after EQ, the make-up gain is going back to a hair under 0 dBFS. The EQ's so far are all presets from Logic's "Channel EQ", with a few slight refinements where necessary to keep things apart.

    Then I'm panning things around a bit. The kick drum is going just a hair to the left, the snare just a hair to the right. Toms are going slightly left, more or less as they are placed on the kit. Overheads are obviously hard left and right. Bass guitar is going slightly right.

    Now for levels. The snare drum is being left at 0 dB, and is pretty much the loudest instrument. That's what I'm using as the basis for all the rest of the levels. From there, I place the kick, followed by the toms and the overheads, so that the drum kit comes together as a coherent whole. Then I place the level of the bass guitar so it doesn't overwhelm the kick, while still remaining distinctive.

    Final mixdown will be referenced to 83 dB SPL @ -20 dbFS, but I'll probably kick the monitor levels down 6dB to make for a slightly "louder" mix. This is following the advice over at Digital Domain's website.

    The rough mixes I've bounced are using a slight reverb (-45 dB? may be even less) on the stereo output buss, followed by a multiband compressor (another Logic preset, again with make-up gain as above to a little under 0 dBFS). This is sounding so good right now, that I may not even bother with any individual drum reverbs--with the overheads sounding like they're in a much larger, more "live" room, I don't think we need it. Overall, I think the dynamic range is quite good, and I don't want to end up with one of these extremely loud, no dynamic range albums.

    Now for questions...

    Does anybody see anything strange in my practices? I'm not the most experienced recording engineer, but I'm the only one in my band that has any amount of training at all in this stuff.

    We've traditionally mixed the vocals rather low, but this time I want them to stand out a bit more (as in, actually be intelligible). We haven't actually cut any final vocal or guitar tracks yet, so I'm not sure where the levels will end up for either of them, but the guitars will be fairly "large" sounding. Should I think about pulling back from the snare at 0 dB on the fader as my reference?

    As far as the panning is concerned, I'm thinking of maybe opening up the field a little bit more. My theory is this will make the mix sound as if it's a bit closer, as in a smaller club, rather than farther away. I would think that a wider image on the drum kit and bass would make it sound as if you are closer to the instruments. Does that sound like it might work? Right now, everything is in the cans, so I'm possibly being a little over sensitive to the stereo balance.

    Any other thoughts? Right now, I can't think of anything else I want to ask...and the whole works is an hour or so away at the guitarist's house, so my fiddling with it is done for at least a few more days.
     
  2. loudboy

    loudboy Member

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    1. Get yourself some monitors, ASAP. I use a combination of big monitors, small monitors and headphones when I mix.

    2. I usually build a mix from the kick/bass on up, getting a solid rhythm section sound and then adding in the lead vocal. Everything else fits around that.

    3. I wouldn't run 'verb on everything.

    4. Make a subgroup for the drums, and buss everything except kick to it. Hit it pretty hard w/a compressor. I've had good luck doing this.

    5. Record the vocals w/a little light compression. Then smash the snot out of them when you mix. 12-20dB of gain reduction is OK. Use the closest thing you can get to an 1176 or Distresssor. This'll give you that in your face, modern rock thing.

    6. Use the presets in you plug-ins only as a starting point - especially when EQ'ing things like drums. Play around 'til it sounds good. For fixing stuff, subtractive EQ is the way to start, IMHO.

    7. Not sure how it ranslates, but I've always mixed snare and kick to the same level.

    Good luck,

    Loudboy
     
  3. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    8. Listen to loudboy. That's a damned good list of basics!

    I hate vocals that have the snot smashed out of them... he's correct that it's the right thing to do for that kind of music, but IMHO it makes most of it unlistenable – for me. My daughter loves that sound (don't get any ideas).

    Just one old fart's opinion; you'll hear what sounds right for yourself. But start with the above, for sure.

    P.S. - a few other thoughts... on the compressed drum bus, try it with and without sending the overheads, as well. You might find that on the verses (the quiet part) you want more air in the cymbals, then you crunch it all in the chorus (the loud part, if I know alternative rock). Maybe it works, maybe not. You might also try frequency-dependent compression, leaving the high end ringing out.

    You asked about panning... I usually like the bass dead center, where it hits the gut. As far opening up the drum kit, I like to keep the deeper tones closer to the center and pan the higher frequncies toward the edges... but not to the point where you hear anything in only one speaker. I think the perceived distance has more to do with how it was recorded than panning, but try.
     
  4. amper

    amper Member

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    Got 'em already. M-Audio Studiophile BX8's on some pretty decent stands. When we do the final mixdown, everything will be moved back to my studio and recalibrated.

    That's an interesting idea. I was going to go for the guitars first, but maybe it might work out a little easier if I mix the vocal first. I'll definitely give that a try.

    I know that's generally frowned upon, but I like to do a *very subtle* reverb across the output buss because I think it tends to make everything sound a little more as if it's all in the same room.

    I don't want to get out of hand with the compression. What with the channel insert compressors, I've already got a pretty consistent drum sound, and Rob, our drummer, is a fairly consistent drummer, anyway, so I'm a little wary of putting any more compression on subgroups.

    Vocals will definitely be compressed during tracking. My plan is to use my JoeMeek VC1Qcs for that, because I've gotten good results with that on my voice. As far as "smashing" them in mixdown, I still want a natural sounding vocal. I'm not looking for a "modern rock" thing. When I said "alternative", I didn't mean the crap on the radio that's being called "alternative" these days, I meant "alternative" in the '80s sense. This band has been together for over 15 years. We were "alternative" when that actually meant something.

    The presets are pretty good, and I've never spent enough time really fiddling with compression settings to become an expert on it. As for EQ, I'm a little stronger there, but as you say, I'm only using the presets as a starting point. I should have mentioned that the make-up gain in every case is gain reduction, which results in very little EQ boosting actually happening.

    Well, given that the record levels are different for each piece, and that I'm going for a balanced drum sound, the snare and kick levels are probably ending up fairly close to each other. I do like a relatively heavy bottom end, and you *will* feel the kick...but if the snare doesn't come pretty close in volume to the kick, it'll sound out of balance.

    Thanks, and thanks for the suggestions.
     
  5. amper

    amper Member

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    I've found in the past that if just drop the kick, snare, and bass dead center, you end up with a "closed" sounding mix. That's why I always pan out the drums and bass slightly. If you listen in the cans, what you hear is instruments that are nearly equal volume in both sides, but not lumped all on top of each other and obscuring each other.

    Right now, without the real monitors, it's a bit harder to judge the perceived distance, but I'll definitely keep that in mind during the final mixdown. Thanks!
     
  6. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    I don't include snare in what I consider deeper tones, so yeah, I don't pan that to center either.

    I have tried panning kick and bass slightly apart from one another, but I didn't like it. My gut feeling (literally) is that dead center for the low, low low frequencies feels best. It's not even about ears, it about how it hits the kishkas.

    If they're EQed and lined up the way I like them, kick and bass don't hit with the same frequencies or at the same time. It's not easy, at least for me... I have to carve the bass out of the kick and vice-versa to make them sound distinct. Also, when there's a slight "flam" effect it sounds more natural and moves the beat better. Usually I line up the kick to a strict grid and let the bass player's feel determine the placement of his notes. But if two guys are just cooking the **** out of a beat, I try to keep that as much as possible. If everything's gridded up like a click track it doesn't move me.
     
  7. Moose

    Moose Member

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    I've been doing something slightly different.

    I'm recording small project stuff in a room that doesn't sound good. One track at a time. Basically, it sounds like that, too. So, what I've done is isolate the amps and close mic, run the bass DI, etc...

    When I first listened to my scratch mixes, they were NOT cohesive at all, so I set up SENDS to a stereo bus with very wet reverb on it, then I dial up that bus just a little bit. I mix it in as though it was a room mic. I generally start with large room in Platinumverb and start twiddling from there.

    Now, I'm NOT an award winning producer. I'm just a hack trying to translate old skills to Logic, so let your ears be the judge. However, this has worked for me a lot better than putting a reverb on the output. It sounds more natural and, for me, is more controllable because I adjust the reverb as a whole, but also each track's send level individually. More send means more reverb means farther back in the mix, etc.

    It might just be because I learned before the digital age and now that I've picked it up again I still think in terms of piping the sends to a big plate reverb and bringing the return back on its own channel. If you try it, let me know if you like it better than doing it across the output.
     
  8. loudboy

    loudboy Member

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    No problem...
     

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