Tuesday, September 2, 2014

New Mailing List

Hey friends - I've just created a new mailing list for the Recording Lounge Podcast. It's 100% free to sign up, and if you know me at all, you know that I'm all about no-nonsense, no fluff information. I won't spam your email account, I am primarily using this as a way to send you updates about shows and also great companion information about shows as they come out. Like I said, it's free to sign up and you can unsubscribe at any time. Just need a few pieces of information and you're good to go!

Check it out!


alternate link (in case the first doesn't work - I think only the second link works on mobile)


Friday, June 20, 2014

Days of the Week = Opportunities for Growth

Hey all. Perhaps this is a bit formulaic of me (or even downright stupid) but I've come up with a bit of a business practice that I've found helpful to me in the studio environment. The idea is basically that I have a one hour thought experiment every day of the week targeted to a specific area of the studio. Working 70 hours a week as an audio engineer, having a studio, teaching classes, and trying to grow my business can be very daunting, and hard to find time to really focus on what's important, and focus on what needs improvement and when. If you just look at everything in one huge sum, it seems very overwhelming, but if you have a specific task every day of the week on which to dote, you can really accomplish much greater things. Think of it like a 1hr workout, but for your business, every day. I'll give you an example of what I mean.

Mondays - Marketing. I spend an hour thinking about ways to get the word out about the studio. Could be something simple, could be something complex. I try to brainstorm ideas and come up with new ways to not only attract new business, but stay in touch with current clients and continue to bring value to their lives as they have brought value to mine.

Tuesdays - Talkback. On Tuesdays I try to send an email, text, FB message, or make a phonecall to a client, just to say hey, see what's up, ask how they are doing. Could be a simple hashtag on Facebook or Instagram - just to let people know they matter to me as clients.

Wednesdays - Wash day. On Wednesdays I clean the studio. Sweep, vacuum, mop, clean the glass, dust, etc. Not exactly a thought experiment, but certainly good practice.

Thursdays - Throwback - but not how Instagram does it. I try to listen to old mixes and see things I liked, things I didn't like, how I could have done them better. I just listen to a few and think about them a bit, maybe make some notes on cool things I did that I haven't done in a while, or open up the session to take a peek under the hood.

Fridays - Finance. On Fridays I take a look at my finances, make some predictions and calculations, and try to plan ahead as much as possible. You may find it hard to believe, but I actually went to school for business management and accounting - and if it says something about how nerdy I am, I particularly LOVED accounting...but I digress. Anyway, so in addition to looking at data, I May do some gear shopping or pricing out, making plans for the future, trying to figure out what I need, what I don't need, and what's most important. Sessions will often tell you the gear you need - when you run into situations where you say "man, if I had X, we would have accomplished a LOT more in the studio today" - those are usually high priority. Things that you say "oooh...pretty..." those are usually low priority. ;)  Because the studio is often an unsteady income varying vastly week to week, month to month, I have to make a game plan to keep the lights on while still improving the studio.

Saturday - Seven Improvement Ideas. I spend an hour trying to come up with 7 things that could improve my studio, and I do mean the physical building. Maybe building some shelves for more storage, reorienting a room for better usage of space, adding on, consolidating, re-routing things on the patchbay, reworking the headphone system, need some new XLR cables --- ANYTHING. Whatever seems to need improvement, or anything I can do that will make my job easier and make the experience more enjoyable for clients.

Sunday - On Sundays I try to take an hour to listen to my favorite music coming through the Barefoot speakers at a low volume, drink a glass or two of whiskey, and just chill out. Making time to relax is very important to me. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your business is to step away from it a little while and recall why you got into it in the first place; in my case, it's because I love music.

As simpleminded or cheesy at it sounds, I've found it to be very helpful. I once watched a seminar about "removing everything in your life that causes you anxiety," and how people should strive to do so. It's very interesting to me, the idea that you CAN conquer all of the problems in your life either by fixing them, or removing them, and that anything you dislike, you have the power to change. Although this isn't always true, it's a positive message. The studio is a very stressful job, and doing this is almost like a meditation for me - just to take an hour of my day to really sit and think about something, with nobody around, no phone, no distractions. Just quality time. Give it a shot, whether you're a business owner, a musician, an engineer - you may find it very rewarding.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Recording Acoustic Guitar and Vocal At the Same Time

Hey guys - this is a post with info and pictures from episode 60 of the podcast entitled "Recording Acoustic and Vocals Together." Check it out on iTunes. This post will help you visualize the mic positions and understand some of the thought processes that go into this. To hear sound clips of all of these positions, please check out the podcast.

Considerations -

1. When using one mic, having the performer sit, or raise their guitar close to their face usually works best. When using two mics, it's usually best to have them stand, and separate their guitar as far away from them as comfortable.

2. All of these methods have compromises. Compromises in tone, in isolation, etc. At the end of the day you need to make a decision about what you really need, and just go with it! This however does not mean you can't get a good sound! You absolutely can get a great sound recording a singer and an instrument at the same time. Stop being obsessive about the details that don't matter - what matters in the end is a good performance, and sometimes that is best accomplished with having the person play it live.

3. The more mics you start adding, the more phase problems will arise, especially in close proximity, so be careful. If you can get away with just one mic, go for it. If you're doing two and you want the least phase problems, I'd go for method 5, which seems to have the best phase coherency (to my ear).

4. Small diaphragm condensers will generally have less off-axis coloration, which is great in some cases, but bad in the case of isolation. That means it will make the bleed sound more clear / audible. Large diaphragm mics tend to have a colored off axis sound, even in cardioid, which works to our advantage when recording acoustic and vocals at the same time by rejecting the higher frequencies easier off axis.

5. If you're recording a paying client, be aware (and make them aware) that you can't do too much trickery later on in the mix. If they hit a wrong note, it can't be easily tuned without artifacts. If they miss a chord, or miss a word, they can't just punch in that on the vocal or the guitar - they have to do both. You, and they, need to be aware of this compromise. If they say later "can we add some reverb to my voice?" you will get a little bit of reverb on the guitar as well, just because of bleed. If they want you to cut out the vocal, or turn up the acoustic a lot, you may not be able to deliver. HOWEVER - the performance is everything. It's more important to get that right than it is to have a "perfect balance."


Clips 1 / 2 (Fingers and Pick) - A Single microphone, positioned around the player. This method is great if you only have one microphone, and the player is good. In the example on the podcast, there was quite a bit of room sound in this example, but that of course would vary depending on the room in which we record, and the position is something that depends on how he's playing in the exact take, on that exact song. The closer the mic is to the guitar, the louder the guitar gets; the closer it gets to his mouth, the louder his voice gets. It's as simple as that - you put one mic around a player and balance it by moving the mic. One pro of this method is that is stays out of the way of the singer, and they don't have to worry so much about moving.

This is my favorite one-mic method, which involves an omni microphone, very close to the player, with them sitting. The mic is positioned sort of in between the guitar and the mouth, and in this case, we used a DI to help support the sound. There's a trade off - the mic is in omni, so it's not super sensitive to movements, however, it's sort of up in the singer's space, which can be distracting. It's easy to knock with their guitar, and it's easy to be a distraction while they're trying to play. BUT - it sounds great.


This is my favorite method for recording acoustic guitar and vocals. It involves two large diaphragm mics in figure 8 pattern, placed around the singer. Notice how, the null of each mic is facing exactly what we want to reject: the null of the vocal mic is facing the guitar, and the null of the guitar mic is facing his mouth. The downside - the acoustic guitar mic ends up being fairly awkward to position, and sometimes can sound a bit boomy, however, the isolation between the mics is great.


I see this method a lot, and I'm honestly not a big fan of it. The bleed is too strong, and it sounds kinda funky if you try to pan the SDC mic. The sound of the guitar and vocal seems to be the most upfront, but the bleed is annoying, and it seems a bit more phasey sounding than the others. Again, we're dealing with a compromise. Notice that the cardioid SDC is facing downward to try and reject as much as possible from the mouth, however, the null point on a cardioid mic is the rear, so it's not doing a ton. The bleed is very clear - it's not a dull bleed, which makes things harder. 


These two methods were really great sounding. The isolation from the SM7 is great, as is the isolation from the E700. The TONE of the vocal mic is not as good as from the LDC, but the pros outweigh the cons. In Method 6, we did basically the same thing, except we added the DI, which helps to support some low end, and of course, has no bleed.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Feel, Passion, and Delivery

Hey friends -

One thing has been plaguing my mind recently in regards to studio work. I truly believe that music is a life changing thing, and some people just don't seem to take it very seriously. Allow me to explain.

Perhaps the most impressive thing to me in regards to producing music is when a producer has the foresight and knowledge to hear the song as it will be completed, not as it is in the moment. My question is this -- why is this the producer's job? Shouldn't bands be trying to do this more often?

Don't get me wrong, it does give the producer a certain importance and influence - a certain voice above the band that helps him deliver his best work, and really showcase the band in such a way that brings out the good, no, the best, and makes a record shine. But at the same time, I love it when bands come in and have a cohesive direction for what they're trying to accomplish. Not a whimsical, vague, "storybook" image of what their record is going to be, but instead an honest, thought out, carefully arranged set of songs that truly showcase the best that they can do.

THAT is talent to me.

It's so easy in the digital age to lay down the drums, lay down some guitars, lay down some vocals, do some overdubs, and call it a record. I once read an article about a well known producer and his methods for producing a band; it was very inspiring. His method was as follows: the band comes into the studio, they set up, and they begin to warm up. They set up a few mics in the room and have the band play. They spend the next few hours working out the best arrangement for the song, moving some parts, altering some dynamics, altering some parts, maybe even changing a few lyrics, and then they play it again. And again. And again...with tiny bits shaved off or added on each time. They would add a mic here or there, casually, while the band would continue to work out the song and really LISTEN to the feel, the passion, and the delivery of what they were doing. Not only were they listening to their parts, they were really listening for everyone else. Listening for things to pop out and inspire the band and the producer. Listening for tightness, groove, dynamics. Moving together, breathing together. They became a single unit.

The producer then says "okay - that's it. That's the arrangement. Do it JUST like that." He presses record, they play it just like that, and the producer says, "alright, that's a wrap. Next song."

What an inspiration this was to read - that records are being made like this today. After all, anyone that has been doing this a while will tell you that it's ALL about the performance. Such a small part is the equipment, the actual mics or the gear specifically. Sure, that's important, but compared to the delivery, feel, passion, performance, and arrangement of the music itself - it's nothing.

I once had a similar experience. I was working on a track with a band that just wasn't sounding right. The tones were fine, we worked really hard getting these great drum sounds and a beautiful haunting vocal sound, even the guitar sounds were "perfect" to everyone in the room, but the whole thing just felt weird. Not really "sounded" weird, but we really asked ourselves, how does this FEEL when we listen to it.

I said to the band, you know what, maybe we should try this another way. We set up the band live in the room, tried to recreate some of the mic techniques that we did while tracking the original version (although we forgot some of the chains, didn't have enough mics to do some of the things we wanted to do) and we just found a good spot, and recorded a take. We then listened to it raw, unmixed, and said, "okay, when you're playing it together - what do we like, what do we not like?" We sat and talked about music. Not about mics, not about tones or compressors or EQs, about MUSIC. We talked about a few things, and I had the band go out into the studio again to try it.

I hit record, they played it, and boom - that was it. We then compared back to back the previous take, which had the same mics, the same setup identically, to the new one, with a couple of changes, and the band being more aware of each other, and the difference was so astonishing it would make you sick. EVERYTHING sounded different.

It's so hard sometimes to differentiate between what we're really hearing. We might hear something and think that it simply "doesn't sound right" but it's something subtle, elusive, and or, a combination of a few things, that are sort of clouding up our judgement of what is truly wrong with the sound we're hearing. Is it the way we recorded it? Was it the performance? Is it a tonal issue? Is it an engineering issue? How's the song working?

So I challenge you guys - next time you're working on a song, take an extra hour before you hit record to record a quick demo, and listen to it as a music listener would. Listen to it from the ears of a consumer. What would they think? Would they like it? Some musicians say they are their own worst critic, and that's very true for many creatives, but the truth is, that doesn't mean you simply criticize and pass it off as "me being overly critical." It means you constantly improve, adjust, alter your own methods to be better than they were a few moments ago. It means you are always learning, improving. It means you care.

Some things to think about - see you next podcast!