Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gear? Or Skills?

As a recording engineer, gear designer, electronics dabbler, and overall geek I spend a good chunk of time thinking about gear, but occasionally something will happen that reminds me that while great gear is wonderful, sometimes you just gotta keep moving.

Yesterday, a buddy of mine dropped by the studio and brought with him a recent acquisition, a little 500-series compressor based, loosely, on the 1176.  We ran material through it turned knobs and compared it with one of my modified revision F 1176's (I must confess, I prefer the liquidity of the sound of the class-AB 1176's over the more aggressive edge of the earlier class-A version... but I digress).

It was an eye-opening comparison, as the little 500 module performed quite admirably, sounding downright excellent in many applications.  With a little careful tweaking of the 1176's more flexible parameters we were able to pretty much match performance between the units, though we both preferred my 1176's with their extended LF response and mildly smoother characteristic -- there was more of a bloom from fast release settings on the 1176).  But the truth of the matter is that I would be quite satisfied using his 500 unit probably 90% of the time, if I didn't have my 1176's.  I doubt the productions would suffer in any significant way.

The difference in price between these units is around $1200-ish on the market today, which makes the performance of little module even more impressive.

Sometimes we put on blinders, seeing only the gear that we have and forget that gear doesn't make records, people do.  A useful, good-sounding device does wonders in the hands of a capable engineer.  Likewise, killer gear in the hands of a novice has produced some of the most sonically appalling music I have been victim to hear. 

Let us love our gear, but let us sharpen our skills as well.

Merry Christmas!


Mixing Drums - Parallel Compression

Mixing Drums - Room Mics, a Second, More Aggressive Approach

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mixing Drums - Room Mics

Mixing Drums - Processing Toms Part 2 of 2, Equalization

Mixing Drums - Processing Toms Part 1 of 2, Compression

Mixing Drums - Processing Hi-Hat

Drum Sounds - Consider the Source

I have been getting emails about my video posts on mixing drums, and many folks want me to do a series of videos on mic placement and tracking, apart from the processing side of things.  The appreciation for the raw drum sounds makes me feel really good, but when I consider the possibility of doing videos like that (which would require much more effort than a screen grab using Screenflow, btw), I am struck by the fact that, with no one actually in the room with the drums, hearing the raw drum sounds in that environment, instruction on placing mics has real limitations in its usefulness.

There is no shortage of instruction on drum miking techniques (including earlier, fairly comprehensive posts on this very blog).  But I fear too many folks value the technique, and the equipment the engineer uses, more than the quality of sound being produced by the drums and drummer in the room. 

How can I demonstrate for you, in a video, how a drum sounds in the room?  The only way you will be able to hear it is by my use of a microphone, at which point all the factors of miking have come into play.  Put simply, drums sound different through microphones than they do in the room.

I remember many years ago, when I was new to the studio environment, hearing a killer drum sound through some studio monitors and walking out into the room where the drums were and playing them -- they didn't sound much at all like what I was hearing in the control room.  I would have insisted that the snare was tuned too low and was too ringy, the kick too out of control, and the toms too bright (single-ply, coated heads on the top), but the miked sound was fabulous and big.  This is the rub when it comes to making videos -- trying to explain, with words, what a good drum sound is BEFORE you consider with mic selection.

I will attempt to address this in future posts and videos, but for now please consider that when you're getting drum sounds, push yourself to make necessary changes at the source rather than in the control room to better achieve the best raw tracks.  For example, if the snare sounds too dead or too short/not enough body, consider removing muffling (I personally use very little muffling on snares) and/or tuning it down a touch (tuning the top head too tight will create a staccato sound with no body... in fact, the bright, ringy snare sound that lots of people like is actually better had with a metal drum tuned just barely above its midrange (not cranked up like a marching snare!) with very little muffling... back off the mic a bit so the low-mid content doesn't dominate -- and then compresssss......). 

Some of the things you do to achieve your desired sound by manipulating the source may surprise you, but you will learn great things in the process.  Leave your processors and plugins alone -- get your hands dirty, and make your tracks sing!

Peace to all.


PS - fixing the sound at the source works well for all other instruments too, not just drums :)