Monday, April 21, 2008

High There?!

Do your recordings lack definition? Are the drums hard to hear with everything else playing? Is your mix a giant mess? Are you feeling depressed?

Well, I may have an answer to help all of the above (except the last one). First, let me ask you: do you use your high-end frequencies (10 k - 20 kHz)? If not - you definitely want to pay attention. If you do - you can add your comments and help the poor sods I mentioned in the previous sentence.

The average person's hearing ranges from 20 - 20000 Hz. So, when you see the faders on your EQ going up to 20 kHz - don't ignore the last ones! This is why: the frequencies above 10 kHz give definition and add a much needed 'sparkle' to certain instruments. Also, if you use the whole frequency spectrum, you can create a feeling of space or bunching. Another way of doing this is by using panning, but these two techniques should be used hand-in-hand. For further information on panning see my post: Panning for Gold.

Cymbals' frequencies are typically between 2 k and 20 kHz. Thus, if your drum track has the highs cutoff, they will lack definition and will not stand out. Other instruments which require a 'sparkle' factor are acoustic guitars, pianos and vocals. Vocals sound best when boosted in the low-frequencies (100 - 200 Hz) and high-frequencies (10 k - 20 kHz). Boosting the mid-frequencies (800 - 5000 Hz) can actually make the vocals more muddy and this is a common mistake.

To conclude: we have learned that the high-frequencies are important - don't forget them or reduce them on your EQ. It is for this very reason that condenser mics are better than dynamic ones. Condenser microphones have a better high-end response and thus have more DEFINITION.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Live Sound, Monitors and Pepper Spray

This one's more suited to those of you who do live sound mixing. When mixing a live band , the monitors on stage are often blasting louder than the actual speakers. This can make mixing the sound a hellish experience, especially if you're mixing a church or similar event where the audience is likely to form an angry mob.

If you've ever had that experience, then here are some tips to keep you from further mobbings:

  • Use enough monitors

    The fewer monitors there are, the louder they'll be. The musicians on stage will be so desperate to hear themselves that the monitors might even be distorting. In big stage concerts each musician can have two or more monitors each.

  • Place the monitors correctly

    Placement of monitors can make a huge difference. Make sure that each musician can at least see the monitor they are listening to. Move them so that there is nothings obscuring the sound. A monitor behind the piano is useless to piano player.

    Try changing the angle of the monitor. If possible, face the monitor directly at the musician. Also, the closer the monitor is to the musician, clearer it will be.

  • Stand on the stage

    This is something I do a lot. Go and stand by each musician. Listen to what they can hear, and also what's missing.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Firewire Audio Devices

Using Linux unfortunately limits one to certain hardware. This is because the companies which make these devices do not create Linux drivers. This is a downfall, but one which is easily avoided - don't buy equipment before you know it works in Linux! How do you check this? Well thats why I'm writing this article.

When buying audio hardware you would want a multi-channel recording facility. In other words, you want a mixing desk or soundcard which can record to multiple channels in Ardour or another DAW simultaneously. In my opinion the best way to do this is to use is super-fast and quite well supported in Linux. FFADO (previously known as FreeBoB) is an organisation which creates firewire support within Linux. Here is a link to FFADO's list of devices they support: FFADO Devices Support. Make sure that any firewire products you want to buy appear on their list before you buy it!

The Mackie ONYX and M-Audio NRV-10 mixers are both excellent choices for home recording projects. I heard of Linux-users who are happy with the PreSonus Firepod which is essentially a multiple input firewire soundcard. There are many audio devices out there which work exceptionally well in Linux... just please make sure you do your homework before you fork out tonnes of cash on something.

Other posts you might find interesting:

Microphone Review: Shure SM57 Microphone
The Best Programs in Ubuntu Studio
Audio Recording in Ubuntu - Part 1: Plan your Project
Audio Recording in Ubuntu - Part 2: Recording a Hydrogen Drumbeat
Hydrogen Drum Machine Basics

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Panning for Gold

Hey guys, sorry I've been away a while. To ease my guilt, I'm writing a post about panning with an excessively cheesy title.

Panning is exceptionally important for allowing each instrument in a mix to be heard without detracting from the song itself. It can also be used for funky effects, which can make one dizzy, or for highlighting certain sounds. It is easiest to understand panning visually. Please meet my visual aid buddies in the figure below: Burt, George, and Jim. They will be dancing around the stereo plane to illustrate my point.

Refer to the figure below. If all my visual aid buddies are placed in the center of the "stereo plane" (i.e. equal left and right volumes), they are very difficult to see. Luckily each of my buddies looks a bit different. If they didn't look different, one could be hiding behind the other. This is similar to a piano sounding different to a guitar. When they are played with the same pan setting, you can still differentiate between them but when two guitars are played with the same pan setting, it will sound either like a mess or as if one guitar has a chorus effect.

In the figure below, two of the buddies are panned close together, near the center. They are both quite visible but are blending together well. The green guy looks as if he is a super-geek or smells really badly because he is standing out. This is exactly the same idea for panning different instruments... the guys in the center crowd are gonna have the bigger punch, but unless they are slightly spaced out, they will just be a mess. The guys who choose to stand out will have less punch but more definition. However, I warn you that if the nerd stands out too far he can sound really bad. Also, if you space everything out too much and don't have an "in-crowd", you will have no punch and basically land up with a bunch of bad-smelling nerds.

Yes, that's right... the secret of panning is merely peer pressure. I'm sorry if this explanation is really childish. To make up for it, here are some real tips:

  • Start with your rhythm instruments... i.e. drums and bass.
  • Mute everything else and setup your drum's panning similar to as if you were sitting behind the kit... i.e. your snare and bass close to center, cymbals on far left and right, and toms going from left to right.
  • Next unmute the bass and slowly move the panning fader from far left to far right. You should hear where the punchiest point is. There is no solid rule - you simply have to find it.
  • Next unmute the guitar and repeat the same process as the above step.
  • Continue this method through all the instruments and then move on to the vocals.
  • The lead vocals should always be near the center and background vocals shouldn't be panned too far to the left or right unless you are trying to be arty.
  • Make slight adjustments until you are happy.
  • A word to the wise: be very careful when panning anything too far to the right or left, no one really likes nerds :)
Panning is useful for both live and recording mixes so don't neglect it if you have the facility. You're the sound-guy... be creative.

Other posts you might find interesting:
Monitor/Speaker Placement
Sound Mixing Tips: Bringing an Instrument Out of the Mud
What Gives a Guitar its Tone?
Sound Mixing Tips: High There?!
What Exactly is Mastering For?