I have recorded 3 tracks in an acoustic/folk/indie style, Martyn played the majority of the instruments throughout the recording process and I have engineered and produced the recordings.
We have recorded a range of instruments to meet the required amount of audio layers, including - drums, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, percussion, organ, piano, and vocals.
Instead of describing, (and more for the sake of not wanting to repeat myself), how i recorded each track, I will instead, explain the techniques I used for each instrument as the process was similar for every song.
Having listened thoroughly to everything we’ve been taught throughout the year regarding drum tracking, I decided to take no heed and do it my own way… Well not really, but I have done some things slightly different which is why I feel the need to explain the techniques.
I have recorded the kick with two microphones, one inside the drum itself, and one just outside of the head. I wanted to record an even balance between the two sounds. The inside mic captured the snappy attack of the beater, and the outside mic captured more of the low-end resonance. In terms of mixing I EQ’d both kick tracks separately, then sent them to a bus which I EQ’s a little more, and then compressed to even out the peaks. I added a very subtle amount of reverb, mainly to help it gel in the mix better. Finally I added a limiter just to ensure that the level did not peak above 0dB.
The snare was also recorded with 2 mic’s, however, they were both placed on the top skin. I’m a firm believer that, despite the snares actually being located on the bottom skin, it tends not to be necessary to mic this area as it can often yield undesirable rattles from the snare stand and other pieces of hardware. So, i placed an SM57 close to the skin on one side of the drum, and one (akg?) from a stereo pair slightly higher, and on the opposite side of the skin to capture some natural ambiance of the attack. This produced a really pleasing sound as I think the snare sounds brilliant, and complements the style of music perfectly. Again, like the kick tracks, I EQ’d the two snare tracks separately; sent them to a bus to EQ, compress/limit, this time I used reverb in a more creative way. I already liked the sound of the short, snappy snare, but I thought it needed some reverb as it sounded a bit unnatural and dead in the mix.
The rack and floor tom’s, and overheads were recorded as normal. I did not mic the hi-hat for these recordings as I felt that the overheads were capturing it adequately. I think this was a good idea because i believe that if the hi-hat’s had been mic’d, it would have sounded to harsh for this genre.
Having never recorded acoustic guitar I was very skeptical about the results I may produce. However prior to recording I spent a great deal of time researching different ways of recording this particular instrument. Throughout this project I have often used Sound On Sound magazine as a reference, and it has fed me some priceless information.
One idea that I was eager to try and therefore used for my FMP was a technique that used two mic’s. I had one Neumann KM184 aimed slightly off centre, at an angle pointing towards the neck of the guitar as I often find that recording too close to the port hole (I think it’s called that) sounds too boomy and takes up far too much room in the mix. I knew that as I was recording bass guitar at a later stage, I could focus on trying to capture the brighter sounds of the acoustic guitar.
The second was the Neumann vocal mic (can’t remember the model name), and this was placed behind, and high above Martyn’s right shoulder; it may seem a little unorthodox, but this allowed us to capture the ambience of the room. I believed it was critical to get a desirable sound at source as I wanted to keep the effects processing to a minimum, especially for this style of music. With this in mind I also placed Martyn so he faced towards the door of the studio, as this was the only reflective surface of the room. this technique worked brilliantly, It sounds wonderfully natural, there is the right amount of reverb, and the only processing needed was a small amount of EQ and compression so the mix was tidy.
Each song features several acoustic guitar parts, with two tracks (neck / overhead body)
The bass guitar was the most easy process to record. We DI’d the bass using the Mesa and we used the same tone in each song. Mixing the bass was a little harder as I think when we recorded the bass we had the treble and mid too low so the EQing took some time in order to rectify this. The bass is quite heavily compressed so it sits nice and tight within the mix. Although it is not a prominent instrument in the mix, it does hold a lot of significance to the rhythm of each song. I believe this was one of the weakest areas of the project, owing to the fact we didn’t find the most suitable sound at source. Given the opportunity to re-do the project I would relish the chance to record the bass guitar using a real amp and make it sound as natural as possible; personally, I think it’s very obvious is has been DI’d and it retracts from the overall vibe.
Initially I wanted to record the electric guitar parts by miking a real amp to obtain a really natural sound. On the day of recording however, it was becoming more and more evident that we wouldn’t have the time needed to make this process worthwhile. I didn’t want to use the Mesa so we decided to DI the guitar using the Focurite, this gave us the ability to record the the cleanest, most natural sound of the guitar.
I used a small amount of compression as the signal came through the Focusrite whilst recording to control the peaks.
After recording was complete I EQ’d the channels, mainly attenuating frequencies that would take up unnecessary headroom, and clash with other instruments. The recording process itself was simple for all three tracks, but we spent some time using Amp Designer trying to achieve a timbre suitable for the music. All the tracks feature 2 electric guitar parts, for the main lead parts we required a very warm, clean tone. The second parts were less frequent but needed a more ‘gainy’ slightly distorted sound - I found this quite difficult, the balance between making the tone raw and keeping it suitably mellow wasn’t easy; in the end we went for what I could describe as a ‘bluesy’ tone. Both the guitar parts had reverb added on the amp designer settings to give that ‘spacey’ live atmosphere.
Finally, I added some more compression at the end of the effects chain to counteract the dynamic changes the amp designer may have caused and to give me the option to boost the overall dynamic of the guitars if needs be.
The piano was considerably more difficult to record and mix than any other instrument throughout the whole project. I think this is probably due to lack of experience recording the instrument as we’ve never really focused on it before. On the other hand, I think the sound of the upright piano we were actually using was terrible. Even before we started recording I knew it wasn’t going to be a simple task.
For the recording process I used two Neumann KM184’s pointing towards the back of the piano and at separate sides to cover the full length of the instrument. The mixing of the piano was extremely time consuming and I am still not happy with the end result. Due to the location of the piano whilst recording we picked up a fair amount of background noise so we had to EQ quite carefully, trying to attenuate parts of the mix without effect the overall timbre of the instrument. Another problem that occurred was that the frequencies were clashing with the electric guitar, I spent a lot of time trying to make them gel together in the mix.
A technique that seemed to work well and counteract this problem was panning the piano and lead electric guitar parts heavily on opposite sides. Overall the mix sounded complete and because the instruments were given a sense of space and surrounding, both parts were more audible than they were before. A very small amount of dynamic range compression to control peaks and boost the overall level was used.
As I mentioned previously, the end result still isn’t as good as I’d have hoped for. I’m confident that if I were to do this project again, I would achieve a more desirable and professional sound by recording in the new live room with the baby grand. There is a much better acoustic, with a more natural reverb tail. And as the baby grand is electric, the notes will be in tune (that’s always a good start).
This was a particularly difficult instrument to record for two reasons. Firstly, the mixes were already started to sound full and the frequencies of the organ were clashing with the piano and guitars. Secondly, achieving the right sound to match the timbre of the music was harder than I expected. After trying the different variations the organ had to offer for a little while, we were unable to obtain suitable sounds. Nevertheless we recorded the parts anyway.
After a couple of days away from recording and mixing, and upon re-opening the projects and listening back to them, it was becoming clear that in two of the tracks the organ was actually a negative effect on the mix. They both sounded muddy and it was an addition that just didn’t see, necessary. I attempted to counteract this by having the organs low in the mix, so they were just audible to the ear, but I still wasn’t satisfied and muted them from the mixes.
I decided to keep the organ on the third track as the mix was a little less full, mainly because we only used a snare drum instead of a full kit. This meant there was that additional space to make use of the organ effectively, I wasn’t 100 percent with the sound at source but with some processing and sitting quiet in the mix it makes a noticeable if not effective addition to the chorus parts of the song.
In terms of processing, I didn’t spend too much time on the organ as it was infrequent. The only real problem was to try and EQ it so there wasn’t clashes with the guitar part. I also cut frequencies from arounf below 250 as the condenser mic we used picked up a lot of background signal from the lobbey and beyond. Again, if I was to record this instrument at another stage, ideally it would be in a dedicated live room environmental to prevent this happening.
The final part of the entire recording process was vocals. This was a pretty simple and fast process. The only thing out of the ordinary is that Martyn didn’t want vocals fed back through the headphones when he was recording them, I was a little baffled by this, but he maintained that he finds it easier this way. I simply attenuated (i say simply, it took me about 5 minutes to figure it out) the aux 1 being sent from input/channel 1. By doing this, Martyn could still hear the rest of the mix, and only the vocals (input 1) would be muted through the headphones.
I followed the same process for every track I recorded. All three tracks had lead vocals channels, 2/3 lead harmony parts, and chorus and chorus harmony parts. Before recording any audio, I opened up the Logic compressor, put it on the peak setting, and added a small amount of compression (with no make-up gain) to ensure that any extreme peaks whilst he was recording were managed and brought down.
After recording I bounced the vocal stems and then Andy placed Melodyne on them to ensure that everything was in tune. This was necessary as every track featured many harmonies and at times the vibrato of Martyn’s voice would hit the wrong note.
Finally I loaded the Meldodyne’d parts back into Logic, and EQ’d them, mainly removing the unnecessary low frequencies and any areas in the spectrum that didn’t sound like they were sitting in the mix correctly, or harmonics that were taking up room in the mix. At this stage it was important to fine tune the EQing of each instrument to make sure there wasn’t any room being used by unwanted frequencies an muddying the mix.
To conclude, overall I think the finished product is of a satisfactory standard. As it was the first time I’ve recorded some of the instruments and in particular adopted some of the techniques I think I have progressed well over the project and have learnt a great deal about the recording process. Admittedly I wasn’t particularly confident or even competent with this area of music tech before the FMP began, but now I feel I have developed and nurtured a better understanding of it. There were some techniques, the way in which i recorded acoustic guitar for instance, that were notably pleasing. I am also very happy with the way my drum mix sounds. Recording two mic’s on the top skin was very beneficial, and keeping the reverb relatively dry and natural has aided in creating an authentic sound to suit the style of music.
There are a few areas, which I know can be improved, but on a technical and personal level. As mentioned throughout the essay, the piano and organ parts were a particular gripe of mine, and I really wish I had the access and ability to record these instruments in a more suitable place as I really think they affect the overall sound of the mix, and although I don’t believe the finished product is of anywhere near a professional standard, this aided towards that fact.
Another issue, which wasn’t totally within my control was the fact we lost a couple of vital sessions towards the end of the project unexpectedly as Martyn couldn’t get the time off work as required. This meant that we lost some valuable recording time when we needed it the most. The biggest factor was that as it was towards the end of the project, the sessions I had hoped to focus on mixing vocals was then spent having to record them, thus the final mix is not as good as it should have been.