Recording Sessions Diary

Recording session week 1

During week one, the team and I experimented with multiple ideas recording guitar played by Jake and vocals from Jay. This first session was purely experimental as we chucked some ideas around about styles of recording. At first we used the Rode NT1A to record the guitar. We researched the NT1 via a few sites, one of which was named – ‘Home studio basics’ (https://homestudiobasics.com/rode-nt1a-vs-nt2a/). They stated that:a ton of people commented on it’s ability to record acoustic guitars with the greatest of ease. If you’re looking for a mic that can do just that, this may be for you!‘ [Quote located at the end of the ‘NT1A Summary‘]

After reading it’s various great reviews tailored towards acoustic guitar, we found the NT1 was ideal for recording guitar and other musical instruments. It’s decent frequency response and cardioid polar pattern mixed with being a condenser are perfect qualities for picking up those quiet elements. It typically gives it a warm and balanced feel with a noticeable high shelf perfect for catching all those organic sounds from the musician playing the guitar. ‘Bright recordings; this presence bump makes it an excellent microphone for acoustic guitars.– Source – https://makebeats101.com/rode-nt1a-review/ [Quote located in the ‘Quick Summary‘].

So we recorded a few takes of Jake and Jay strumming out some chords and as you can see in the image, we positioned the microphone facing the ‘sound hole’ of the guitar. This was to capture the resonance of the sound and at about half a foot away to reflect nicely on the cardioid pattern of the mic:

Pic1.jpg

 

then we decided to put some vocals over the top. So to do this we re-arranged the microphone stand and decided on using the same microphone, the NT1.

Week 1 video:

 

Recording session week 2

Week one was only a test run so that we may develop techniques for the coming sessions. So onto week two, Jay showed us his project file from his DAW (Fruity Loops). The team took a listen and we all agreed this would be the track for the assignment. Jay had already composed the song into an arrangement which then gave us headroom for more content. This was also fantastic for workflow considering the track was virtually laid out for us, so with no time wasted we could jump straight onto the first recording for the task. 

We decided on our first recording to be a re-amp of a synthesised sound to add analogue timbres to the synthetic track. But to guarantee the best recording quality, we would need to book out a studio with a live room for a complete isolated recording. So we booked out control and live rooms A.

Our re-amped synthesised sound was from Xfer’s Serum VST. We did this via playing a MIDI note from Serum from a re-engineered sound that Jay had developed. We re-amped the source sound through a Vox AC15C1 amp, by searching on ‘Musician’s Friend’s site (http://www.musiciansfriend.com/amplifiers-effects/vox-custom-ac15c1-15w-1×12-tube-guitar-combo-amp) it states how the amp ‘offers a highly interactive treble and bass tone control.‘ [Quote located in the ‘An Evolution in Tone’ section]

Now re-amping synthesised sounds can be really unpredictable, so from the off-set we wanted as much control over frequencies as possible. We then chose to record our new sound via a ‘Shure SM57’ microphone as it’s polar pattern is cardioid which helped us focus the recording towards the amp’s speaker. As a team we decided to place the mic directly in front of the speaker to capture the brute force of the sound. As sweetwater.com says (https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/6-electric-guitar-miking-tricks/) “there’s a certain elegance in putting a Shure SM57 up against the grille of a vintage Fender Vibrolux“. [Quote located in the first paragraph]

We started with the amp off to one side of the room and recorded. Yet when we moved the amp towards the centre of the room, we noticed a dramatic difference that we all preferred. I then went and checked out this technique on ‘Sound on sound’s website (https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/guitar-amp-recording). Here they mention how “a number of producers suggest trying out different positions of the amp in the room. Tony Visconti: “It’s not so much that you’re miking a guitar — you’re miking a guitar in a room” Sol and Jake then placed the amp and mic into position as me and Jay remained in the control room to communicate back to the others, after playing the sound numerous times and finding the ‘sweet spot’. [Quote located in the ‘Getting It Right At Source’ section, paragraph 2]

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SM57 recording re-amp’d sound

With a few visits between the control room and live room, Jake suggested we move the microphone a foot back delivering improved results. I also suggested modifying the EQ setting on the amp. I wanted a less muddy sound from what we had captured. By taking out some of the bass and emphasising the trebles it created a much brighter tone.

Week 2 video:

 

Recording session week 3

After listening back to our recordings from the previous week we wanted to layer our sound. It was now time to change amp for variation and to develop our technique. However microphone and positioning was to be kept the same. This time we went for the ‘Laney LC50’ as this amp features a powerful midrange punch perfect for layering with our previous, treble heavy sound. After I noticed undesireable mids and bass tones from the previous week the gaps needed to be filled if we were to layer this sound correctly.

Here we see ‘Seamless’ talk about synth layering. At 13:18 Seamless states that if there’s a quality to a sound that you don’t like then there’s probably a conflict with those frequencies that in his case (and in ours) was within the mid section. He then goes on to suggest EQ’ing out those unwanted frequencies and filling them back in with the layered sound. A tried and tested method that I stand by and I have enjoyed developing these techniques over these weeks in the studio.

You can see how we developed from using the Vox amp with boosted treble, layered with the Laney with a decent mid range to accompany the previous sound. With this in mind we wanted to reduce any unwanted low frequency rumbles and phase issues from the room and floor. With a quick visit back to sweetwater again (https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/6-electric-guitar-miking-tricks/) we noticed a section saying “Getting the amp up off of the floor eliminates low-frequency coupling from the floor as well as minimizing phase cancellations from reflections off the floor“. Taking this onboard we got back to positioning again, this time by moving the amp off centre to the room and raising it off the ground, onto a chair. [Quote located in the ‘Raise the Amp’ section]

DSC_0051.JPG

The EQ options on this amp were more dynamic and I found by reducing the mids just a little and boosting the treble the sound was just right.

Finally we then switched amp again, this time we settled for the ‘Trace Elliot 712’ which is a bass amp with a built in EQ and compressor. This final amp choice was to fill in those low frequencies and this amp gave us the most flexibility out of all our choices via the EQ unit. I was keen on seeing how the sound source could be re-amped through this beast.

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The EQ set-up we arranged

This time we added a new microphone to the mix as well as using the SM57 for contrast. We chose the Audio Technica ATM25 as we wanted to keep the sound focused on the sound source but even more than the cardioid SM57. So the ATM25 being a hypercardioid was a ‘sound’ choice. However considering the omnidirectional behaviours of bass frequencies coming from the speaker, we all decided to set up a SM57 mic and the ATM25 at a distance from the amp by about 4 feet also at a height to collect a room vibe to the recording. Also as both mic’s are dynamic microphones there’s less risk of spill and with the high SPL threshold they can take our cranked up, bassy sound.

So Sol recommended taking the snare drum out of the live room just incase we received unwanted vibrations from the bass interacting with the snares on the snare drum. We speculated using an omnidirectional mic or a figure 8 mic as they are great for capturing all round room recordings. However when we recorded using an AKG C414 with a figure 8 set up, the recording was a lot less defined and messy sounding. We then decided to stick with our original recording using the ATM25.

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Room recording from Trace Elliot 712

 

 

Week 3 video:

 

Recording session week 4

Now onto our second recorded sound, the vocals. Jay had already put in a vocal sample from an artist sample pack into the track, but we wanted live vocals that we recorded ourselves. Sol then recommended his fried Ava who is a vocalist from the performance course at Northbrook. So we decided that we’ll give it a shot and record her singing over the track, covering the vocals.

(Original vocals can be found here https://terralact.bandcamp.com/track/to-be-free-feat-bonnie-x-clyde)

At this point before recording, we reflected on week one when we were experimenting with the Rode NT1A. Although it sounded great recording guitar we felt that perhaps a better alternative was available for vocals. Going back to homestudiobasics.com (https://homestudiobasics.com/rode-nt1a-vs-nt2a/) with their comparison between the NT1 and NT2, there was a clear winner for vocal recording. “The NT1A is said to be better for instruments, while the NT2A is more geared towards vocals.” and another mention: By many accounts, this mic is actually better than the NT1A – It has 3 different polar patterns for added flexibility, and a lot of people said it was the most versatile mic they’ve ever used.[Quotes located in the ‘Differences‘ section and the ‘Summary‘ section of the NT2A]

Taking this information on board we decided to go with the NT2 and organise a session with Ava. She was able to come in during this session but not for long so we had to get to it. We decided to record in the control room so communication was instant and hassle free as we prepared to take numerous takes. The team assembled the mic stand and we included the pop shield on the front side of the mic. The NT2A is a condenser microphone which means it’s a lot more sensitive than our previous dynamic microphones. To prevent plosives from disrupting our recording, a pop filter filters out those harsh sounds made by the mouth. Then we also attached a reflection filter to reduce any spill of the sound.

We played the track to Ava so she could understand the rhythmic and melodic elements to the vocal she was going to cover. Then we set up the headphones so that only Ava could hear the track with and then without the vocals. After looking up the lyrics (https://terralact.bandcamp.com/track/to-be-free-feat-bonnie-x-clyde) Ava felt confident to start recording. We captured a few takes of the intro and saved and backed up our work ready for the next session.

 

Recording session week 5

This week we moved onto recording the main lyrical piece of the track, so we set ourselves up in control room A and invited Ava back in for the second recording. This time we included a new microphone, keeping the NT2 as our main microphone for a linear timbre of recording throughout our track. The new microphone however was the AKG D5 dynamic microphone.

It’s purpose was truly experimental as I suggested; ‘What if we stuck a supercaridoid mic facing the corner during the recording?’ This brought some interesting, ghostly results of Ava’s voice which I liked personally. By putting a supercardioid in the corner I’m allowing a dominant capture of bounce back off the walls with a more subtle recording  of the room recording.

This was only possible by using a supercardidoid like the D5 due to the polar pattern being so broad yet cutting out any sound coming from the other walls nearby: 

So with our main recording and the ‘ghost track’ of her voice layered correctly by Jay and Jake, I felt like we could get more from her vocals. So I got on the keyboard with Ava and we discussed harmonies for certain sections, working with Ava on this part was great for workflow as she understood the concepts I was putting across and we took a few takes until the team were happy with the results.

 

Recording session week 6

This week we focused on adding some of our own effects and drums via the drum kit. An effect in which sample packs can provide anywhere is the common ‘riser’ sound effect usually produced via white noise. But we wanted to have a crack at it ourselves using a more organic, acoustic sound source. Here’s an example of a riser effect.

So firstly how would we obtain such a recording from a natural sound source? Well for the answer, all we had to do was look at how we all produced. When any of us would go about crafting our own riser from a sound, it would usually be either from white noise or a reversed crash cymbal. So with cymbals being a resource we had access to, we realised by recording a crash cymbal we could later reverse that same audio within the DAW and hey presto, a riser effect.

For us to create this sound we had one of us strike the crash cymbal whilst recording with the Audio Technica ATM25. Looking back at week three and its success at capturing our re-amped sound, we wanted to use this hypercardioid to our advantage. Sure it’s more designed for the lower frequency response range but we weren’t after a high frequency recording that would sit too harshly in our mix. So with a precise frontal recording and a bit of bleed from the cymbals backlash with the hypercardioid polar pattern we captured an all round successful crash perfect for editing into our riser effect.

Finally our fourth and final recording that we managed to get in this same session. Using the exact technique that we used with the crash. We then used the same microphone to record a closed and open hi-hat, we varied a few different angles this time to see if we could get new timbres and layered a few for an overall more dynamic drum feel.

Evaluation

The Results (track): 

I have to say I’m very happy with the final results, the choices we made paid off in the end. For example; from when I heard the original track to now, the result is so much more organic and alive. Almost as if it’s breathing and moving about. The re-amp has made the synths pulsate whilst the layered vocals gives the track space. There’s humanised elements brought in by the recorded hi hats beating over their synthetic counter parts.

From a listeners critical perspective, from a fan of this genre I can say I would want a copy of this track. Not just because I helped make it but due to the fact it has its own niche. So much of modern electronic music is made purely synthetically. To hear an almost ‘biologically audio’ piece of music layering with synth sounds and automated drum beats, I guess you could say this is the cyborg of music. Part man, part machine.

Also referencing back to my ‘Critical perspectives’ blog where we saw the interview with DnB producer Reso and once again highlighting the importance of sound design in the DnB world. Fortifying how other listeners would possibly enjoy listening to these brand new, other worldly sounds we created in the studio. Here’s that interview again for ease of access. (Reference is at 4:00)

 

From a journalists perspective I would imagine it would get somewhat of a critical analysis if not mixed reviews as not all sources can be trusted. Picking up on faults that maybe a bit more time could have solved. Maybe criticising us of trying to break the mould too much as some sort of over shot or maybe praising us for those exact reasons. You just don’t know.

More interestingly how would an A&R team see us? Well if they were from the same field as our music I think it would definitely turn some heads. That’s if we have of course shown ourselves to be more than just the music, which I feel we represented with this track ten fold. I mean, how adaptive can you get than a group of electronic producers coming together and adding complete organic elements to a mechanical track. This is just what they would want to see, perhaps a live show by us could really bring something new to the table. As I discussed in my A&R section on my blog how for an A&R team, live shows are a real importance for likeability.

So perhaps by bringing this living element to the music we could work with that if we as a group were to become a hypothetical artist, starting live tours and creating visual spectacles to match the movement of our track. Then I’m sure if an A&R team were to notice us they would think, ‘ah, this hasn’t been done before in this way.’ For example Amon Tobin, a renegade producer who creates amazing visual spectacles that match his organic approach to music.

 

Finally how do we as producers and other sound engineers view the results. Well for one they would definitely pick up on certain techniques and perhaps question some motives and congratulate experimentation. Either way they could see potential for working with the sound we’ve made and helping shape the rest of it with new techniques we would have never thought of.

All in all I feel these sessions have taught us a great deal in development of techniques and building on them to create a better outcome. To work as a team professionally and organise a working system to complete the task and walk away with a sense of pride.

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