April 9th, 2012 – Ecanus Mastering Session

I decided to take the knowledge that I have gained in RAT 2812 – Audio Mastering, and put it to the test as part of my Capstone project.  For this mastering session, I used the high resolution prints from the Ecanus mixing session on March 30th, 2012.  As I powered up the mastering room, I listened to a hip hop mix cd that I put together, with tracks such as “Notorious Thugs” (featuring Cleveland’s own Bone Thugs -n- Harmony), “Regular Cat” by Memphis Bleek, “Black Star” by Mos Def and Talib Kweli, and various other tracks.  I chose these songs because I know the frequency content very well, and I wanted to analyze the way they sounded in the mastering room through those monitors in a critical listening mentality.  After the songs were loaded into WaveLab, and signal was routed to the mastering console, I had listened sufficiently to the reference music.

As I played back the two Ecanus tracks, I began to develop an equalization action plan for both songs independently from one another.  The action plans as well as the documented settings used are as follows:

Let’s Fight

All or Nothing

The reference material that I used to compare the overall levels and crest factor was “Promiscuous Girl” by Nelly Furtado and Timbaland.  The mastering engineer got the crest factor down to 3.5 dB during the choruses, and 5 dB during the verses.  I felt that this was way too squashed, so I aimed for a crest factor of 6 to 7 dB to maintain a modicum of dynamic range, while still meeting the loudness requirement of the artist.

May 8th and 9th, 2012 – Audacity and The Womack Family Band Mastering Sessions

 

 

For the final phase of my Capstone project, I decided to master the mixes I had done a few days prior for Audacity.  I also felt that my 20 minute live 2-mix as the SSL crew chief of The Womack Family Band’s performance at last year’s Fall 2011 CRG taping was strong enough that it could be mastered as well.  I had spoken with the band at their live performance in the black box theater on May 5th, 2012, and told them of my plans to master my mix of their performance.  They all seemed pretty receptive to the notion.

 

A quick side-note; I was involved with pretty much every phase of the Womack’s vinyl release, as my crew recorded the performance last November, my mastering class was involved with the mastering for vinyl project for “Bloodline Blues” and “Annalee” by Shivering Timbers, my record label and entertainment booking classes with John Latimer marketed and promoted the release and live performance event, and my live sound reinforcement class with Tim Kennedy actually set up the stage and ran sound for the event.

 

Back to mastering Audacity and WFB…  After critically listening to each song, it was apparent that the Audacity tracks were dull and needed a high shelf boost, along with some low end boosting as well.  The snare also needed a little bit of attack to be brought out, and luckily when 3.3 kHz was boosted in the middle, it worked well with the vocals and did not cause any unpleasant harshness.  All session parameters are as follows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Womack Family Band’s songs were essentially the same as far as EQ action plans go, as they were all derived from the same SSL board live 2-mix from the CRG taping.  The mix needed low and high shelf boosts, and notch cuts in the low mid range where bass was building up to a nasty muddiness, and in the sibilance range.  The DerrEssers were also used pretty aggressively to tame the essing that was present throughout.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, after all the masters were complete, I imported them all into WaveLab as an audio montage, and sequenced all the files in a manner I thought best fitting, and set song spacings and fades accordingly.  Once the montage was satisfactory, I set up the dither and burned three copies to disc, two of which will be presented at my End of an Amazing Two Year Learning Experience Listening Party on Thursday, May 10th 2012 at 3:15 pm.

 

 

May 4th, 2012 – Audacity Mixing Sessions

 

 

I booked out the SSL control room for thirteen hours, from 9am to 10pm, in order to mix the Audacity recordings using the school’s amazing array of outboard compressors, equalizers and reverb units.  As I already had a rough working mix done inside the box, I opted to keep the mix in Pro Tools rather than send all the tracks out to the analog board individually.  I set up the analog side of the board by raising channel faders 1 and 2 to unity gain, panning them out hard left and right, respectively, and assigning their outputs to Mix A.  Through the central routing panel, I assigned a master fader and the super sweet 2 buss compressor to Mix A, leaving the compressor out for the time being until the mix was established.

 

Due to the fact that the analog side of the board was not being used for individual tracks, any outboard processing had to be set up such that inserts inside the DAW would be routed out of the box via the interface, patched to the desired processor, and returned to the mix in the land of ones and zeros.  The obvious choices for the 1176′s were the kick drum attack channel, and the snare top 57 channel.  As the 1176 is a pretty damn fast compressor, the attack settings were around 2 to 3 for these percussive instruments, as I didn’t want to completely kill the transient but still wished to control the sustain of the shells.  Using a 4 : 1 ratio, I set the input levels such that 3 to 6 dB of gain reduction was attained using a release setting of 4.  Because the bassist of Audacity is a very percussive player, I wanted to retain most of the audible spectrum of the bass guitar.  I only filtered out anything below 70 Hz and above 12 kHz.  I then used a multiband compressor to even out the energy among the four bands of the full range instrument, and inserted the LA-2A leveling amplifier.  I set the ratio to limit, and adjusted the peak reduction until about 6 to 8 dB were being lopped off.  I have found that this compressor sounds best (for bass guitar at least) when it is in constant gain reduction, as opposed to only clamping down on the loudest peaks.

 

Two reverb sends were established, one for the plate and one for the superb Lexicon 480L digital reverb processor.  Despite the fact that I did not give the plate reverb its own adjective in the previous sentence, I absolutely love its sound when sending drums and guitars to it.  Therefore, I did just that, sending the snare top, toms, a small amount of kick attack, and both guitars to the input of the plate.  The 480L received the signals of all vocals and the guitar solos.  Both returns were printed back into Pro Tools, along with the board 2 mix.  The decision to print both reverb returns separate from the Mix A return was made in case a later mix needed to be adjusted outside of the SSL studio.  Prior to printing the board mix back into the DAW, the SSL buss compressor was turned on with parameters including a ratio of 2 : 1, attack of 100 mS, automatic release, threshold set to a max of 4 dB of gain reduction (average 2 – 3 dB).  The output gain was set such that the input of Pro Tools showed 6 dB of headroom, which is necessary for the mastering engineer to work with.

 

The SSL was not configured to operate as a control surface with Pro Tools at the time, so I set up the peripherals to communicate with the 4 HUI ports, enabling 32 channels of control via the SSL in digital control surface mode.  The mix inside the box looked a little something like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course, the patchbay:

 

 

 

 

 

May 3rd, 2012 – Guitar Solos Overdub Session

 

 

The only overdubs that I didn’t have enough time to record during the original 2 day wrap-around Audacity tracking sessions were the guitar solos, so I booked the SSL for Thursday May 3rd and asked Mikey to come in to put them to tape.  I chose to use the Dr. Z amp, as I used the Marshall for the rhythm parts, and I wanted a different sound for the solos.  I set the amp up with a combination of a Shure SM57 and a Royer R121, and a Countryman DI to capture the direct signal for future re-amping purposes.  The mics were placed about an inch in front of the grille, equidistant from the speaker to maintain perfect phase relationship, and two inches off the center of the dust cap as illustrated:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A half gobo was placed directly in front of the guitar cabinet in order to prevent room reflections from entering the bidirectional ribbon microphone.

 

I felt that for this session, having only one band member present and working one on one while capturing his guitar solos, it would create a better workflow to have him sit in the control room and play his solos rather than have him out in the live room or an iso booth with talkback.  It’s much easier and more personal to be able to communicate face to face rather than through 2 stages of transducers.  This was accomplished by plugging his guitar into a Countryman active DI box in the control room, routing the output of the DI into the Aviom PB28 XLR patchbay, then to a mult on the main patchbay.  The split DI signal was patched into an API 512c preamp on its way to the DAW, and also into studio mic line 27.  In the live room, a Whirlwind passive DI box was plugged into mic line 27, and the input (which was then turned around to be the output) was fed into the input 1/4″ jack of the Dr. Z amp.  Mikey stated that it was much easier for both his comfort and communication to record this way.  I was actually able to use my guitar to show him the correct harmonies a few times, which would have never been possible through a conventional talkback system.  Control room turn-around via existing mic lines, BOOM.

March 30, 2012 – Ecanus Mixing Session

 

 

In an effort to make my capstone project as diverse as possible, I decided to mix two songs, entitled “Let’s Fight” and “All or Nothing”, for local christian rap artist Ecanus.  I did the mixing at my home studio in Cleveland Heights, where I run Pro Tools 8.0.4 with an M-Audio Delta 1010lt interface/converter, Yamaha MG12/4 mixing console and M-Audio BX5a studio monitors.  The session began with the mixing of tracked out audio files for the beat, as the music bed was not previously mixed down.  I made my mix decisions such that each midi instrument had its own space in the stereo soundfield as well as depth wise.  Once the beat/music bed was fully mixed to my satisfaction, I began to organize the vocal tracks.  The identification of each vocal part as it pertained to each section of the song was key to understanding how the tracks were recorded and organized by the recording engineer.

 

 

I set up compression for each individual vocal track, using the renaissance compressor on all tracks for consistency.  The settings are as follows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The goal was to use light compression with a low ratio to achieve an average of 3 dB of gain reduction at this stage.  Next, delay times were calculated using the formula Td (mS) = 240,000/(beats per minute X note value), and aux inputs were set up and routed via internal busses.  The parameters of the delay channels are as follows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Low pass filters were used on the delay channels to give the effect of the high frequency roll-off inherent when distance is added between the listener and the sonic source, and a small amount of reverb was mixed into the chain of the second delay channel for the aforementioned reason.  The outputs of all vocal tracks and vocal delay channels were routed to a stereo vocal buss, which was processed accordingly:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The SSL Channel dynamics section was used to attain another 3 dB of vocal buss compression at a low ratio of 2.5 : 1, and the RDeEsser was used to knock down a couple hard esses, with a threshold setting that enabled it to be actively in compression for only about 30 % of sibilance-range transients.  The decision to set up a vocal buss was made to give more control to the overall balance between the vocals and the music bed, as breakpoint automation was used for the buss level as the song changes dynamically.

 

 

Next, a convolution reverb was set up with parameters that fit the desired acoustical properties of the song as a whole.  Vocals, strings, snare and other percussion instruments were routed to the verb channel via an internal stereo buss.  The send levels and panoramic controls were submixed to achieve the right balance, and the level of the verb channel was set accordingly to the overall 2buss mix.

 

 

Finally, the vocal buss, reverb return and beat tracks were all routed to a master fader, with a Bomb Factory 1176 plugin as an overall 2buss compressor.  The settings of the convolution reverb and BF76 are as follows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to print the track inside of Pro Tools, an internal layback buss was routed such that the outputs of the print track were being sent to the D/A converter and to the control room monitors for confidence monitoring purposes.  The track was then printed in real time at 24 bits/88.2 kHz.  A high resolution file of the same bit depth and sample rate were exported from the session to be mastered at a later time.  A lower resolution 16 bit/44.1 kHz file was also exported and delivered to the artist.  This entire process was repeated for the second song entitled “All or Nothing”.

 

 

 

Audacity Recording Sessions – Friday, March 2nd & Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

 

I booked the SSL Studio for both Friday and Saturday in order to track five songs for the local rock band Audacity.  Their live performance at the House of Blues for Tri-C’s High School Rock Off caught my attention, and after attending their subsequent recording session with Jim Stewart, I offered them recording time in Studio A as part of my Capstone.

 

Attending the Stewart session proved to be invaluable, as I was able to observe how they function best in the studio.  This observation led me to make the decision to track the drums and bass live at the same time, because Holden (drums) and Garrett can really lock in the groove together.  I walked around the room while striking a floor tom, in order to find the best sounding spot in the room in which to place the drum kit.  I found a spot about 6 feet in front of the vintage keyboard room that yielded deeper low mid resonances, and punchier attack than any place in the room.  I chose that spot to place the kick drum, and then assembled the kit around it.  For this session, I used the school’s Pearl drum kit, however I had Holden bring a couple of his snare drums, and I chose to use his as it was the best sounding.

 

 

The microphone and preamp choices I made are as follows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the Yamaha subkick was not available, I improvised by using the Dr. Z amplifier’s Celestion speaker as a makeshift subkick transducer.  A key feature of the Dr. Z is that the speaker is not hard-wired to the amplifier’s output, but rather it employs a 1/4″ ts jack for connectivity.  This is extremely useful in this situation, as I plugged the 1/4″ ts angled male jack directly into a Countryman active DI box.  The unavailability of the Yamaha subkick actually worked to my advantage, as it is only a 6″ NS-10 driver, and the Celestion speaker is double that diameter (12″), which gives it the ability to capture even lower frequency information in the audible spectrum.  The Audix D6 was placed three inches inside the kick drum’s port, on axis with the shell of the drum, in order to capture the sound of the shell.  The Shure SM57 was placed inside the drum port, one inch from the beater, directly on axis with the beater in order to capture the attack of the kick drum.

 

The snare was miked with a top/bottom combination, and a 57 was placed two inches above the rim, angled at 75 degrees to the plane of the batter head, with the center of the capsule directly above the edge of the drum hoop.  Under the snare drum, a small diaphragm electret condenser (Audio Technica 4041) was placed two inches under the snares, 90 degrees perpendicular to the snare head.  All toms were miked with Sennheiser MD421 large diaphragm dynamic mics, all angled 75 degrees to the batter heads, two inches above the heads, and one inch inside the hoop.  Two overhead pairs were utilized in two different configurations.  A spaced AB pair of Coles 4038 ribbons were placed 4 feet above the snare, with the left side above the hihats, and the right side above the ride cymbal.  A coincident XY pair of Neumann KM184 small diaphragm condensers were positioned 4 feet directly above the middle of the kit using a Shure stereo bar, such that each mic was 45 degrees to the vertical plane that bifurcates the drum kit.  A pair of DPA 4006 small diaphragm omnidirectional condenser mics were placed at the south wall of the studio, 4 feet above the floor, approximately 25 feet from the center of the kick drum.  The pair were 12 feet apart, and arranged in a spaced AB configuration.

 

 

Photographic evidence follows:

 

 

 

 

 

Holden Szalek tracking drums for Audacity.

 

 

 

The bass was tracked using a direct signal from a Countryman DI box, and was amplified to line level via the fourth channel of the Vintech 473 preamp unit.  The first three channels of the Vintech 473 were used for the subkick, kick D6 and kick 57, respectively.  The four API 512c lunchbox discrete preamplifiers were used for the snare top and bottom, and the Coles overhead pair.  I chose the API preamps for the snare and overheads because I found that their transient response is the most ideal for the percussive elements that drive the tunes.  Focusrite’s four channel Red preamp was used for the Neumann XY overhead pair and the DPA 4006 room pair.  The channel strips of the SSL Duality console were used for the toms and hihat mics.  The Steinway piano was used for three of the songs, and was miked with a spaced AB pair of Neumann U87s.  The pair were 6 inches above the soundboard and 18 inches apart, parallel to the diagonal seam of the soundboard.  The pair’s signals were brough to line level via the API 512c preamps, and then routed into Pro Tools via interface I/O channels 18 and 19.  There were songs that required organ parts, so I felt that the best sounding organ in my arsenal at the time was the Hammond B3 with Leslie speaker combination.  The Leslie was miked with an Electrovoice RE20 on the bottom, and a pair of Royer R121 ribbons on the top.  A ribbon was placed on each side of the cabinet, as illustrated in the photograph below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mono DPA room mic was captured through the Focusrite Red pre, and the other three mics were routed to the Vintech 473 preamplifiers.

 

The guitars were tracked next, utilizing the Marshall JCM half stack miked with a combination of a 57 and a 121, with each mic on a different bottom celestion speaker.  The mics were placed the same distance from each speaker as to prevent phase differentials and comb filtering between the pair, and were each 2 inches offset from the center dustcap of each speaker.  The DI signal was captured as well, in case future re-amping was desired.  All three signals were routed through API 512c preamps.  Most rhythm parts were double tracked, and a handful were quad tracked, in order to provide a fullness to the mix at the sides.

 

Finally, the vocals were ready to be tracked, so a small booth was constructed by means of gobos.  The double carpet gobo was placed directly behind the mic, as to absorb sound and prevent reflections from entering the mic.  A Neumann U87 was the origin of a signal chain that included an API 512c preamp on its way into the DAW.  Two 6′ X 12′ carpets were placed on the floor to further cut down any reflections, and the entire setup was placed under the absorptive overhang directly in front of the large window between the control room and the live room.  This placement was chosen for two reasons, the first being that the overhang would absorb ceiling reflections, and of course the other reason was the necessity to have a sight line between the producer/engineer and the vocal talent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audacity has both a male and female vocalist (that are actually siblings, Garrett and Robin Tresch), and they have written some unique counter point melodies and a few awesome harmonies.  Neither of them had ever recorded vocal doubles, and after I explained to them what the process was, they were both naturals at the technique!  All of the musicians in this band have great musical chops, therefore I was able to track everything during a two day wrap-around session (all day Friday, 9 am to 10 pm, and Saturday 9 am to 4 pm).  I knew that when I booked the time, we would be able to get everything tracked for a five song EP, and I based this calculation again off of my evaluation of their proficiency during the Jim Stewart session.  The only thing we didn’t have time for was the guitar solos, which I will be booking a four hour block for in the near future.  I’m planning on using the Dr. Z in order to get a different tone, to give the solos more separation from the rhythm tracks.

 

 

 

Capstone Project Spring 2012

Hello, this is the blog for my Capstone Project, essentially the final project for the Recording Arts and Technologies program at Tri-C in Cleveland, Ohio.  In the future, I will be posting blogs about the progress of my project as a whole.

My Capstone Project will consist of writing, performing, recording, mixing and mastering original music.  The recording and mixing will take place at Tri-C’s state of the art SSL studio, a multi-million dollar recording facility that was designed by Walters-Storyk Design Group. http://www.wsdg.com/

In addition, I have made room to record, mix and master a few songs from Tri-C’s High School Rock Off finalists AudaCity at the same facility.

I will update the process as more information becomes available, thanks for tuning in.

-MP