Recently Pensado’s Place, an awesome web series for recording and mixing geeks, started a competition through Indaba where people could download the raw tracks for a great song by For A Season, and mix them for the chance to meet Dave and win some SSL goodies. I figured I’d give it a shot as I have a little downtime at the moment before a load of projects get started next month. There’s still a few days left, so if you feel like getting involved, check out this page.
This track was an absolute pleasure to mix and I didn’t have to do a great deal – just some careful use of compression and distortion, mostly, along with a few delay tricks. This is the first proper mix that I’ve done at my new flat with my new sE Munro Egg monitors and I was worried how the track would translate, but the comments have been overwhelmingly positive so far, which is fantastic.
I’d appreciate some more feedback, and if you think the track is pretty good you can vote for my entry here. It involves one of those tedious Facebook App signup things which sucks, and consequently I really value the time it might take you to vote.
Anyway, I realise I haven’t blogged in nearly a year or so, which is poor form on my part but you’ll start to see a lot more content here – when I have the time!
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to grab some downtime at Metropolis Studios, which I used to track the more significant parts of my final project at Alchemea. The band were Brighton-based Mok, who take hip-hop, rock and jazz and blend it all together to make some thoroughly good and exciting music. I’d seen these guys several months back when they played Powerdown at the Powerhouse, a monthly event where unsigned and upcoming acts play intimate acoustic sets at Metropolis. They were the standout act of the night, and so I kept them in the back of my mind until I had to find a great band for my final piece at college.
Having got hold of the flagship Studio A, I decided that the best thing to do would be to track the drums and vocals along with bass there, and do the rest of the overdubs at college in the Euphonix room. This is because, in my opinion, drums and vocals are the most critical things to get right in any recording, and due to the equipment that we had to hand at Metropolis, along with the room, the results dwarfed anything we could have achieved at Alchemea.
For me, this was a hugely fun experience, but not without it’s lessons. 9 months of a course does not make you a recording engineer, and there are definitely things I could have done better. However, I am immensely pleased with the results, and the band were thrilled to be there. One thing it has done is prove to me that there’s a vast difference between a studio being simply “good”, and being “the best”.
One of the most striking things for me was the ease with which we got a quite stunning drum sound. I started out recording my drums in a spare bedroom at my house in Cornwall, and spent many hours of my time trying to get that huge, modern sound. Equally, we do the same at Alchemea, albeit in a much better room – and it must be said it seems a little futile now! I’m not denying that good results can be achieved in an inferior room – however the expense of tracking at a professional studio with a great room makes perfect sense to me.
Anyway, have a listen for yourself and see what you think – the proof is in the listening. Bear in mind that this clip features no EQ, no compression, no FX… Just fantastic mics, preamps, converters and a world-class room in which to record.
The other thing which really hit it home for me was the vocals. We tracked all of them at Metropolis (U67 -> 1081 -> SSL9072 -> ADA8), but once we’d gotten to Alchemea, one of the singers decided that, on reflection, she wasn’t happy with her takes. So, we set up a mic and recut her vocals for one track, using a C414 -> UA LA-610 -> Euphonix CS3000 -> 96 I/O. By most people’s standards: that’s a serious signal chain, and one an awful lot of people would aspire to own. My assistant and I compared the takes, and the difference was staggering.
The vocals cut at Metropolis had such a beautiful, crystal clear high end, whilst the new takes were flabby, fuzzy around the edges and dull. It’s hard to explain, but with the original takes, it was as though you could “see” the singers face as the tracks played back. Quite amazing. Worth the extra £25,000 in equipment (not including a half million pound mixing desk)? Well that depends – do you want good results or the best results? For me, it absolutely solidified in my mind why certain pieces of equipment are so highly prized – and highly priced. In my honest opinion: I think they totally justify their cost. Yes, the outlay can be enourmous – but time is money, and the time you save not having to compensate for substandard equipment makes them worthwhile.
- Kick In: D112 -> API 512c
- Kick Out: NS10
- Snare Top: SM57 -> API 512c
- Snare Bottom: AKG C414
- Toms: MD421 -> API 512c
- Overheads: Neumann TLM170 -> Shadow Hills Mono Gama
- Kit Mono: Neumann FET47 -> Neve 1081
- Room Mics: Neumann M147
- Vocals: Neumann U67 -> Neve 1081
- Bass: Burl B1
- Desk: SSL 9072 J Series
- Converters: Prism ADA-8
There’s been a huge amount of interest in this post and I’m very grateful. A few people have pointed out that facilities like this are unattainable for most, but that’s not entirely true. Metropolis have great rates for unsigned bands and it’s worth enquiring about. If you catch them before a weekend, you can grab some great rooms for an absolute steal, and if you spend a day there tracking drums to take away and overdub the rest, you’ll be pleased with the results, I can assure you. It’s worth saving a few pennies for rather than tracking the whole thing at a place for £100 a day.
This gnarly little compressor is much like the coveted SSL Listen Mic Compressor (which is also available here), but with more attitude and evil. Anyone who isn’t immediately jumping on this awesome little freebie needs to acquaint themselves with the SoundToys range – I find myself using their Decapitator and Echoboy plugins on every mix; they’re that special. They’re industry standard these days, and I see them used all the time at Metropolis.
Anyway, I’ve got a massive session coming up next week which will be preceded by a similarly massive blog post – so check back soon.
Edit: Turns out this little beast is based on the Shure M62 Level-Loc levelling amplifier, and there’s a nice little summary here at the bottom of the page.
Just thought I’d share my latest mix with anyone who wants to hear it, as I feel I’ve progressed significantly in my mixing after two terms of Alchemea.
This song has proved hugely important in two ways, because it really taught me;
- Nailing the recording of a song is everything. This is a song by Jackie Green, which was tracked recently for a Telefunken event where they pitted various models of their mics against some old classics. As such, there were tens of thousands of pounds worth of mics, pres and compressors in that room and it allowed me to pick and choose the mics I wanted*. The outcome of this is that these source tracks were of just about the best quality possible for me to start off mixing with, and consequently the mix came together very easily indeed. I also found this recently with a track that I recorded at college onto tape – I spent plenty of time choosing mics carefully and positioning them as well as I know how, and that mix turned out great.
- Trust your ears, but only to an extent. The monitoring in the SSL control room is extremely hit and miss in the low end. This mix turned out a lot tubbier than I wanted, even after some careful mastering, but I guess I’ve got to get used to the room still. I knew from my own research and experience that the SSL room would be tricky to mix in and I’ve always been conservative with my low end in that room, but this time I let it slip. On the other hand, I find myself these days spending little time EQ’ing and being much less “by the book”, which is an affliction I’ve had for a long time. Theoretical knowledge is great, but if you’re not listening, what’s the point? Mixing, for me, seems to be turning into more of an instinctive, “feel” thing – which is great progress.
At any rate, all comments are welcome, and I know there are a couple of issues but I’ve still got a long way to go! The track was opened in Logic 9 before being bounced to 2″ Quantegy 456 and mixed on the SSL 4032 G+, and then massaged slightly in Pro Tools 9 in my home studio.
Hello everyone and welcome back – I hope you’re all keeping well and looking forward to the imminent festivities. Myself; I’m currently on a train to Penzance from Paddington, heading home for Christmas; my first visit home in 6 months and some well-deserved rest. It’s been an incredibly busy few weeks (so busy that I have yet to really think about buying Christmas presents – oops) but also deeply rewarding. So, grab yourself a cup of coffee, revel in the fact that you’re not outside in the blizzard that is this unusually seasonal winter weather and I’ll try my best to fill you all in.
The second term at Alchemea is well underway and very much in full swing. We were warned about time management for this particular part of the course, and many students had stated how that, if you hadn’t grasped completely the basics in the first term; this one would be quite a struggle. Read the rest of this entry »
Anyone who’s read much of this blog before is well aware of the admiration I hold for the SEAT On Track live-to-vinyl cuts that have been occurring recently at Metropolis. If you don’t quite know what I’m talking about, see what I mean here. It’s phenomenally exciting stuff, and when coupled with being held in the largest independent recording studio in Europe and broadcast on Channel 4 – sessions don’t get much more exclusive and fascinating than that.
So, you can imagine my jubilation when asked on November 17th to assist on one of the vinyl cuts the following weekend.
This session was my first professional assisting role, and I was thrilled to be involved. More than thrilled, infact! I would be assisting Sam, Xavier and Ben on the session, helping out with exactly what I admire the team for, and getting an extraordinary glimpse of the professional world and how they all interact with eachother. Whilst I enjoy studying at Alchemea and believe it’s an extremely time-efficient means to learn, the one thing it lacks – and all other courses are similar – is an insight into exactly how professional sessions pan out and the various people involved deal with eachother. Not only was this an amazing opportunity, but also an invaluable learning experience.
So, the day started at 8am for me, when I got in on the first tube. I’d have been in at least an hour earlier if it was up to me, but I hadn’t thought to check what time the earliest train was on a Sunday – so I was at the mercy of TFL. Never a good position, and a mistake that I won’t be making again. By the time I’d arrived, a large amount of the session had already been set up, including the majority of the mics having already been put on stands, most of the patching completed and all the wiring of floating hardware – which included a pair of Neve 1081′s, a rack of API’s, a DBX Spectrum Analyser and a Prism. It was obvious that the team were organised and sparing no exspense in the signal chain. I helped out as best I could, but honestly for the first couple of hours, I felt way out of my depth. By the time I was there, a lot of the groundwork was done, and the camera crew and roadies were already loading. I’ve been a runner at Metropolis for 6 weeks now, and whilst I’ve got a lot of experience at the lower end of the industry – this was a whole new level, and about as intense as sessions get. Read the rest of this entry »