The studio environment is misleading. There is such tight control over sound that the notion of errant noise in the form of buzzing and humming is unthinkable. Such noise does occur when musicians bring in their instruments. Amplifiers, drumkits, pickups can all present challenges with noise.
I spent a great deal of time improving my guitar rig. I have a number of stage guitars that I use but more often than not it is the Paul Reed Smith Custom 22 or the American Fat Strat that gets called into duty. The stage backline is usually a Mesa Boogie F-50 1×12 combo. The pedalboard contains an Ernie Ball volume pedal, Analog Man Juicer, Analog Man modified TS-9 Tube Screamer, Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor and Boss DD-6 Digital Delay. I carry a Shure SM-57 for the stage and I close mic the cabinet usually at the centre cone position.
This rig is very quiet in the studio. But some venues are very frustrating. Yesterday I was on a stage where the incessant buzzing was driving me crazy. I found a useful website on guitar noise just to see whether I was missing something obvious: why was the rig whisper quiet in the studio and buzzing like crazy on stage?
I suspect that part of the issue is the power supply and part of the issue is airborne. This stage has a large lighting rig where the power source is being shared with the stage outlets. I am looking seriously at power conditioning as a way to reduce the harsh buzzing sound.
The quest for tone never ends.
I was back in session last night. We tracked an upright bass and captured some excellent tones. I heard back from the bassist this morning and he gave me some feedback on his experience: “Thanks again for the opportunity to record in your studio. I was buzzed all the way home with the tone you got from my upright. I could practice in that room all day!” This was a paid session so I always am pleased when session players provide such comments. My own view is that all I needed to do was step back and keep out of his way and make sure, as a recordist, that I captured the essence of the performance.
Bose and the Extinction of the Sound Engineer
I got into a bit of a discussion with a producer last night on the innovative Bose system that is being heavily marketed these days. As you can see from the picture on the left, it is quite the unique looking sound system. The Personalized Amplification System is a speaker system that provides sound for both musicians and their audience. Simultaneously.
Bose claims that this system resolves most of the major challenges associated with live sound. Mix levels, monitor levels, distribution of sound to the listener… but elimination of sound engineers is absent on their site. They also do not seem to be taking the live sound market by storm as there are a few too many extravagant claims without direct experience. But this is hardly surprising coming from the company that promises high fidelity sound through a plastic box “Wave Radio”.
Here is some of the background from the Bose site:
The L1 Cylindrical Radiator loudspeaker is the core of this system. Its unique pole-shaped design projects sound evenly across the stage and into the audience. Since the sound from these speakers diminishes so gradually, volume levels stay much more consistent for musicians and audience members. And its wide dispersion pattern, nearly 180 degrees, means everyone on stage and in the house experiences full, clear sound without unwanted distortion.
The PS1 Power Stand supports the L1 Cylindrical Radiator loudspeaker and houses all electronics and controls, including dozens of presets to help you get the sound you want from your instrument.
The R1 Remote Control puts control back in the hands of the musician. Mount it on a microphone stand, a music stand or wherever it’s most convenient. It includes a master volume control, as well as tone and volume controls for two input channels.
The B1 Bass Module produces deep, punchy bass for instruments with a lot of low end, like bass, keyboards and kick drum. It connects to the PS1 Power Stand with a single cable.
With a single L1 loudspeaker for each musician, there’s no need for monitors, PA speakers, mixing boards or backline amps. You’re free from the problems that go along with the old way of doing things.
An autopilot for musicians? No more sound engineer? I’m not convinced but I would like to hear this system. With all of the hundreds of articles I read on live sound installation I have not come across a major hall committing to this platform. It may be for the small hall/small club scene.
Good Friday Noise
I did live sound this morning at church. I have had a running issue with the noise level of the HVAC in the main sanctuary for a while now. This morning the HVAC was keeping about 67db on the trusty old SPL meter. By way of reference, I often have a challenge to get the wireless mic much above 67db before feedback. The pastor was particularly quiet this morning which meant I was working from a negative position on the noise floor. What was more frustrating? I could not get the HVAC guy to agree to shut the thing down for the 15 minutes or so that the pastor was giving his message. Coupled with the usual chaos of live sound work I found myself missing the warm cocoon of the studio control room. Live sound does provide an adrenaline rush but maybe I am getting too old for all of the stress. Or maybe I shouldn’t care so much about the quality of sound.
I do care very much about the incredible significance of Good Friday and the sacrifice that was made for all of us. I think the service, despite the noise levels and the relative chaos behind the board, was a very powerful witness to this life changing event.
I could not do any session work last night even though I have quite a backlog of work. I am working on final mixes for a live recording event that I did late last year. I am working through another set of final mixes for a project which has been running on now for almost 18 months. I am also in the midst of basics for another project and I still insist on being active on live sound as well as guitar/bass performance.
I love doing all this work. I hate the dentist.
Let me rephrase that. My dentist is a wonderful human being. I just hate the whole process of going to the dentist. I had a filling that went loose and it fractured nearly half a back molar. My own fault really. I had been experiencing some pain and discomfort with that tooth for a while. I just didn’t see the need to go to the dentist right away. So time passed. Funny thing though… I had booked an appointment to check out the pain and before I could get there the filling and most of the tooth gave way.
I spent three hours last night in the dentist’s chair. Thank goodness for nitrous oxide.
Going, going, gone
A pretty busy week ahead in the studio. I am trying to get one project completed. Some projects have a natural start and end. Other projects never really end… they just stop. I think this project falls into that category but it has not stopped yet. Losing momentum in a project is really tough. I have been working on this one project since September of 2002 and things got stalled for a period of about six months. The producer and artist are both tremendous people. I really enjoy working with them. We are doing a few retakes tomorrow night. They are bringing in an upright bassist for the session. I may try a few different techniques
How to record upright bass
Get a mic, get a pre, patch and press record. I must admit that I often take the easy path with electric bass. I usually patch the instrument through a high quality DI, add a bit of compression, and straight to tape. Sometimes I will patch into a 1272 outboard. The results are predictable although much of the magic really comes from the bass player. A good player is clean and consistent and produces much of the sonic textures from the fingers. As a recordist I try to stay out of the way and let the player work the magic. A poor player… well that often requires major surgery. Fortunately we don’t get too many poor players in the studio.
Upright bass is different and much of the hard work around this instrument depends on a variety of factors: bow versus fingers, dry versus ambient, style, presence. There are many different sound areas and I always find it an interesting challenge to discover the sweet spot. There is a bow area, bridge, soundboard and soundhole. Plucked jazz bassists present the greatest challenge.
The traditional approach is to use a large capsule condenser like a U87 or U49 set about 2″ – 4″ from the bridge with another condenser aimed at the sound hole. I have used a number of different mics with varying degrees of success at the sound hole but more often than not I am looking to capture more warmth and lower frequencies with this microphone. I have worked with a few jazz bassists that do have electric pickups on their acoustic bass and I will always take a feed just in case it comes in handy later on. There is often good presence from the electric pickups.
I might use some limited eq and compression on tracking although my preference is to get a good sound from microphone selection and placement first. It is not unusual for me to consider a low end rolloff around 80Hz and maybe cut low mids around 200Hz.
I have a lot of technology in the studio. I am always looking for ways to use technology effectively to solve audio engineering problems. One problem that I used to face was how to remote control Pro Tools. In the past I used to set up in the control room and try to manage guitar, console, transport control, monitors, keyboards and mice with varying degrees of success and frustration. All that changed when I discovered remote desktop.
I use a notebook computer on the wireless LAN that connects to the Pro Tools workstation through remote desktop. The notebook then becomes the Pro Tools workstation. The monitor and keyboard on the notebook controls Pro Tools remotely. This allows me to set up in one of the talent rooms and control my studio remotely via the notebook. Very cool. Except something happened. I tried to connect to my network and I received a “network not accessible” error. Thus began a prolonged and strange battle with technology.
My first step was to search Google to see if anyone else had this experience. Turns out that most of the world has run into it if they network more than one computer. I found a Microsoft article on the issue here. This knowledge base article precisely described the symptoms I was experiencing: I could not browse other computers in the workgroup, I could not access shared folders or files, I received the dreaded error message: “Workgroup Name is not accessible. You may not have permission to use this network resource”.
The cause was due to NetBIOS over TCP/IP not being turned on and the computer browser service not being started. The resolution is to turn on NetBIOS and to ensure the computer browser service is started. So I tried the resolution.
Didn’t work. Nada. Zip. Still got the same error message.
I crawled on the web for several hours last night and avoided some much needed sleep in the process. Dozens of suggested actions to resolve the problem were discovered and all of them failed. I don’t know why the notebook would no longer see my network. It worked fine for almost a year.
And then I found the answer.
Most networks provision an address for each machine on a network. This address, known as an IP address, is often provisioned through a DHCP service. Some networks operate as broadcast networks and some operate as point-to-point. If you happen to connect a notebook computer to a different network, one that uses point-to-point, then the DHCP service might make a small change in your computer’s registery file.
If a parameter is *optionally* set by *some* DHCP server then that parameter will persist in the registry regardless of any other actions you might try. The parameter is “DhcpNodeType”. Not all DHCP servers set this parameter. I obviously had the misfortune of connecting to another network, which I often do when I travel, where the DHCP service changed this parameter. My network’s DHCP server does not change the parameter and that is why the notebook failed to join the workgroup and gave the error message. This is because my network is set up using the default “broadcast” node type and the persisting DhcpNodeType parameter continued to tell the malfunctioning machine to be a “point-to-point” node. The two types do not talk to each other.
The Solution: check the registry for the DhcpNodeType parameter. If the value is 2 then change it to 1 and reboot. Optionally one may choose the value 4 or 8 to have a computer work in both environments.
Value Type: REG_DWORD – Number
Valid Range: 1,2,4,8 (B -node, P-node, M-node, H-node)
Default: 1 or 8 based on the WINS server configuration
Description: This optional parameter specifies the NBT node type. It is written by the DHCP client service, if enabled. This parameter determines what methods NetBT uses to register and resolve names. A B-node system uses broadcasts. A P -node system uses only point- to-point name queries to a name server (WINS). An M -node system broadcasts first, and then queries the name server. An H -node system queries the name server first, and then broadcasts. Resolution through LMHOSTS and/or DNS, if enabled, follows these methods. If this key is not present, the system defaults to B -node if there are no WINS servers configured for the network. The system defaults to H -node if there is at least one WINS server configured.
By the way, there is another optional parameter at the same registry location that one may add which will override any DHCP server value placed in the DhcpNodeType.
Value Type: REG_DWORD – Number
Valid Range: 1 – 8
Description: This parameter specifies the NBT node type. It is an optional parameter that, if present, will override the DhcpNodeType parameter.
I weep for Microsoft. What a sad journey to make to ensure that your computer connects easily to a peer-to-peer network. “Hey”, tech support asks, “Didja happen to check whether you are B-node or P-node?”
This journal is now online. You may find a couple of broken links on these pages as I am still working on the blog. Be patient. I should have it finished real soon. This blog will be a bit different from the session logs off of my studio website. I will be capturing interesting aspects of my journey through life as well as items of interest to the audio engineer particularly those engineers who work in the contemporary christian music field. My studio website pretty much documents my biography to date so if you are interested in learning a little more about my background you can take a look there. I also welcome any email that comes my way and I will try to answer questions and comments from my friends and colleagues.