Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Spice is the spice of life"

By Tim Dolbear

I always say "Spice is the spice of life" and that variety helps flavor our experiences, especially in audio production.

I receive many recordings into Eclectica Studios for mixing that have good intentions sprinkled all over them, but usually these good intentions do not work out as the original recording engineer had intended or hoped for.

An example would be an acoustic guitar that was tracked once, panned Left, then the audio was copied to a second track and panned Right. This second track is then delayed or moved slightly later in time to make a "Stereo sounding" part...  ...Or another would be when 10 tracks of electric guitars are recorded to make the "Wall of sound" and are done by just tracking the same thing over and over again...

In the first example this is simply the same guitar part with one side coming out of the speaker a few millisecond later than the other speaker. This does not cause the illusion of 2 guitar players playing, but simply creates panning to one side when listened to through headphones. When listening with speakers, if you are anywhere but exactly in the center of the two speakers, it sounds mono and tunnel like.

The second example is even worst, if you track the same guitar player playing the same guitar and parts 10 times, you actually get a smaller sound then just two properly done takes. This is because the sound starts cancelling itself out after the first few tracks are layered.

That bring us to the topic of variations.  


It's always good to layer parts that warrant it, but you do not want to simply record a part the same way twice. Lets take the electric guitar example. I find the best way to track 2 guitar parts and get them to sound big and gorgeous together is to first dial in the guitar and amp to the sound you want, mic it and track it. Then play the part again as close as possible to the way you performed it the first time and simply hard pan these take, Left/Right.

For this second track though, you want to vary the elements as much as possible; Different guitar, different amp, or maybe different speaker cabinet, different microphone, even a different preamp for the mic, any change will help.

When you swap out an element in the recording chain, even just one of the above listed elements, it changes the spectrum and tones, even the timbre of the part and therefore sits together with the first part beautifully.

The frequency spectrum of the two parts now compliment each other rather than cancel out each other due to similarities in frequencies. The more variation, the bigger the combine sound is. 

When tracking acoustic guitars, I always use 2 different guitars, but often use the same ADK A51TC mic into my MANLEY preamp. Since the guitar is the main element, for me its enough to swap that out. I also usually use my solid maple Guild Dreadnought for the first take and then my Gibson J100 Extra jumbo body or even my Oscar Schmidt wood bodied Dobro for the second take. I also will capo one of the guitars at the 4th, 5th or 7th fret to make sure I play different chordal registries on the one of the takes.

When a vocalist wants to double up a part, depending on the style, I will sometimes change the mic that we are using. I may have them stand back from the mic or move closer, just to vary the tone by way of the proximity affect of the mic. Sometime turning their head to face off angle with the mic to get more 'room' sound into the take. Again, any and all variations will help because the same voice tracking the same part twice, when they come together in a mix you get a thinning out of the sound from some phase cancelling, and it's usually the lower tones. You end up with a thinner sound, while all along you were trying to make it thicker.

These same kind of principles are for mixing too. Last night I mixed a track that had 2 electric guitar rhythm parts, panned Left and Right, but they had the EXACT same sound from using the same patch on a Line6 POD.

To counter this I sent one through a UAD NEVE 1081 EQ and the other into a UAD API Channel. First I solo'd and then centered the Left guitar to hear it independently. I open the 1081 EQ and emphasis the Hi-mids and lows around 100hz. Then moved it back to Left and unsolo'd it. Next I solo'd and panned center the Right guitar and with the API Channel I High Passed at 100Hz, and dialed in more Mids around 1KHz. I then panned it Right again and unsolo'd. Now when played back together, the two guitar tracks sound fuller and compliment each other.

A key here is to use not only two different EQ settings but also 2 different EQs. These two modeled after their hardware counterparts that have their own personality and ways of affecting the sound.

Channel strips do not equal a console.

I have seen many people using the same Channel strip across their entire mix, example would be the UAD API channel strip on every channel in in a mix in order to get "That API sound". It looks good on your screen and gives you that "I am working on a console" vibe, but even though each track can be affected in a manor that is like an API console, a very big ingredient is missing; Variations in the sound from channel to channel that the hardware console exhibits.

For instance...24 channels of a real API Vision console will have 24 channels that sound basically the same, but not exactly the same due to component within the channel stip. These little variation make the overall tone and sound blend together and fill in. I have a friend who works on a SSL 4000 console and he knows which channels sound best for certain things; "Channel 6 sounds best for snare, 17 and 21 for electric guitar..." This is because as the components age and change, the sound changes too.

This is one place where Plugins are not yet emulating the hardware: Unit to unit Variations.

It goes beyond a big mixing console. I just added a Great River EQ-2NV to my master buss for mixing. Its fed by a Mytek D/A and capture with an Apogee A/D. Beyond the wonderful sounding EQ curve I get from the EQ-2NV, the sound stage or stereo image and depth are all enhanced and affected greatly. The 2 channels are discrete and therefore slightly different I am guessing, but I am sure both channels are dialed in slightly different from each other too, do to the setting of the EQ knobs on each channel by hand with no automatic recall. Just dialing them in to the best of my ability.  

Regardless of what contributes to it, the variations between the Left and Right create something wonderful! It makes me wonder if any of my plugins, while running in stereo, are not simply the same mono channel that was modeled being doubled to make the two channels for a stereo instance?

My UAD MANLEY Massive Passive plugin sounds great as an EQ but does not affect the depth and stereo stage even 20% of what the Hardware Great River does, could this be why? I may research how UA models stereo units if I get a chance.

Regardless, there is a wonderful sound pallet that comes from the imperfections of analog gear.

So there you have it. Switch it up, use different elements in your productions, and then send me your tracks to Mix and master :-)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Yesterday and today...and the future of music.

By Tim Dolbear

Someone the other day asked me what is the future of music and music technology? I thought for a few minutes and answered:

"I believe it will continue to be more and more automatic (autotune, auto song arrangements, auto mixing, auto mastering) until its gets to the point where its not creative or enjoyable anymore for anyone at any level. And it will go back to basics, but music will only be a shell of what it once was. With no return on investment, nothing of quality will be available and Music will simply fall away as its appeal and stimulus will not keep up with humans' shortening attention spans".

To elaborate more...
Programs like MAGIX Music Maker have one click buttons for making a song; asking what style? upbeat or slow...? and then with one click the music and loops are all added to the project and the song is done. Add to that auto lyric writing, coming soon auto singer, and the song is done. There is software to mix the song to the style you want. Then you have LandR, the auto-matic mastering service that has reported to already master 1.5 million song at $9 each. All of these services and software suck at making music to put it bluntly, but they will get better and better...

"Do you want a guitar for Christmas or an Xbox?"
There are real musicians out there, but as the younger generations come up, they have less and less of a want or drive to learn instruments and music theory. I remember teaching guitar lessons years ago and having student quit because it was harder than Guitar Hero to play a real guitar. They had been perverted in their views by playing the easy and automatic video game. People would even record themselves playing Guitar Hero and put it on YouTube, as if what they did was real music, as a real musician or artist. 

Labels were flooded with demos all sounding the same and using the same beats and music when Garageband first came out. 

Right now...
If people are willing to pay $5 for a coffee but not even 99cents for a song for an artist they like, then there is no way real musicians will continue putting out music, not because of the monetary cost, but because or the lack of return on investments and the discouragement that it brings.

We are surrounded by a flood of really bad music, YouTube is filled with a million bands and singers that are nothing special. But I say they have always been there.

The Real 1989

Back in the 80's when I was in the clubs in Los Angeles, there was a million bands out there all struggling to "Make it". But we only knew of the ones around us we could see and hear in person. We did not realize every town had hundreds if not thousands of bands all trying to "make it". So we had drive, we saw the dream as reachable feed by news of bands getting "signed' and a music world filled with Rock Stars.

Now that the days of Rock Stars are gone and the industry has completely changed, I do believe that just as many bands "make it" to the next level as always have, but its so hard to see them as nowadays EVERYONE is out there and available to been seen. In 1989, if you got to make a record, or got onto MTV, so people on the other coast could see you, you had arrived! And you did have a chance to make a career out of music. But now everyone is on YouTube, everyone records and the same pool that has always been there is now see-able as flooded. We see this flood and think "no one is making it nowadays, I know of all these people on face book and none of them are making it anywhere". Well we just did not have Facebook, let alone the internet in 1989 to see all of the others drowning in the pool. So we held on to our dreams and aspirations.

That's enough food for thought on this day in an interesting time.