Although most of my recording work is done on the other side of the glass I still have many performance opportunities live and in studio. There are times when I contribute directly to projects that I am producing. Such was the case last night as I tracked a number of guitar parts for a current project.
Years past it was always a hard go. However, with the magic of Remote Desktop and wireless networking, this is now so much simpler. I set myself up in one of the talent rooms and I use my laptop computer to drive most of the equipment in the control room. I can operate the Control 24 and Pro Tools environment as if I were in the control room. The laptop operates the studio DAW as if it were directly connected. Very slick.
Currently running about twice the normal load of session work in the studio. Really pleased to see how well the studio is doing and also the improvement in sonic fidelity over the past couple of years. We also are seeing a much higher calibre of talent coming in and that makes the whole process that much more enjoyable for me personally.
First stage test of the new Fender 65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue (DRRI) yesterday. Absolutely remarkable sound! Over the past few months I have played a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, a Fender Custom Vibrolux, a Mesa Boogie F50 and now the DRRI. I have found an absolutely stunning amplifier in the DRRI.
A number of players argue that the DRRI needs to be modded to sound its best. Typically the mods are focused on replacing the stock tubes and the stock speaker. The DRRI comes standard with a Jensen C-12K speaker. This 12″ speaker is a ceramic design with a vintage voicing. The DRRI also comes with 3 12AX7s, 2 12AT7s, 2 6V6s and 1 5AR4 rectifier. I originally thought that I would mod the amp but after the stage performance yesterday I am not so sure. A rare experience for me to be transported by the tone of an amplifier. In fact, I have never been transported. I was yesterday. I will think hard about whether any mods are needed for this rig.
Upcoming session this week features a talented bassist with a number of interesting challenges. I usually track the beds with all players in attendance. For this session, the bassist will be tracking against pre-recorded drums, acoustic guitars and scratch vocals and keys. My primary concern, as always, is the capture of the performance and the sound. Sometimes playing against pre-recorded tracks takes the magic from the performance.
I will be looking at the chain to see if there are any tweaks to improve the technical side of capturing the instrument. I often use the following configuration: Radial DI (either active or passive depending on the instrument) – Brent Averill 1272 preamp – Pro Tools. I’ll only use compression as a last resort. Most of the bassists we work with have pretty good control over their dynamics.
Last week was especially hectic and I did not have the opportunity to update this blog. One of the threads I was looking into last week was the quest to improve the current guitar rig that I use. I returned my Mesa Boogie F-50 for a Fender 65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue. Actually, I tried a Fender Custom Vibrolux first. The issue with both the Mesa and the Vibrolux is the significant hiss at idle. For my applications in the studio and on stage I cannot tolerate the level of hiss. With the 65 Deluxe I see some good points but there are several improvements that I need to make. Currently on the pedalboard:
- Analog Man Juicer compression pedal
- Analog Man modified Ibanez TS-9 distortion pedal
- Boss NS-2 noise suppressor
- Ernie Ball volume pedal
- Fender stage tuner
- Voodoo Labs Analog Chorus
- Line Six DL 4 Delay Modeler
The TS-9 does not match well to the amp. A very solid-state distortion effect. This amp seems to match well with the Soldano Supercharger and Hughes & Kettner Tube Factor pedals. I’m going to try the Tube Factor since it’s a lot less noisy.
Some comments off the Harmony Central review section:
This amp has the best sounding, most soulful clean tone I’ve ever heard. Very sweet, soft compression when driven. I find myself playing through preamp one most of the time, though the reverb and vibrato channel is nice too, just a little more trebley. I usually run the treble down a bit, maybe around 4ish, and the bass up around 7.
Buy a Weber 12F150D speaker and install it. Buy some Electro Harmonix or NOS Philips tubes from thetubestore.com and install them (yes, ALL of the tubes). Re-bias the amp to spec. Enjoy your new amp!!!!!……… For about $200, plus the cost of the DRRI, you will have an amp that rivals the sound of many “boutique” amps that cost nearly twice as much! You MUST do these mods in order for this amp to sound its best. There are other mods (replacing caps, etc.) available on the web that will tweek the sound a bit more, but the above changes will provide at least a 200% improvement over the stock tone IMO.”
Spent about 6 hours yesterday doing mindless drum edits on a couple of songs. All the while I was thinking that I need to hire an assistant to do this kind of work. I still do not forget the days of tapes and razors but I also do not think we were quite as fussy about timing back then. I often spin pop CDs against the click and I am amazed at how many producers are working in bullet time. In some cases the drums are absolutely and totally locked. Which, of course, is not humanly possible. Oh the power of Pro Tools.
Young Talent These Days
We had a young player in the studio recently who demonstrated a certain level of arrogance. I suspect this is due to the prevalence of computer-based multitrack software. Armed with Cakewalk and a Shure SM-58 and anyone can become a fully qualified and experienced audio engineer. This made me think back to the many years I have spent trying to learn this craft. Over 25 years now and what strikes me more so today than ever before is the overwhelming body of knowledge much of which I still have to learn. Perhaps that is the difference as we age. We begin to understand that experience and wisdom really matters. I reassured this young player that I had a pretty good idea as to which microphones to use and where to point them. He played reasonably well.
I picked up Michael McDonald’s Motown CD. This project was produced by Simon Climie and recorded and mixed entirely within the Pro Tools HD environment. I was quite impressed with the overall sound of the album particularly the bass tracks. What was also very interesting was the number of credits given to Pro Tools on this album. Even the Sony Oxford Plug-ins were given an honorable mention. Here is an excerpt from Simon’s take on the project:
Simon recently produced Michael McDonald’s latest album, ‘Motown’, which was released in the UK in May this year. “This was the first album I recorded using Pro Tools HD,” says Simon. “Michael’s vocals are amazing! The album sounds incredible in 5.1 too and it’s selling like hot cakes in America – it’s through ‘gold’ already. All the reviews say that his vocals sound amazing – thanks to HD! We also worked with new arrangements of some great Motown material. The record company wanted Michael to duet with the original artists, so within the hour, we had time-stretched Marvin Gaye’s original vocal into the new Michael MacDonald version and sent off an MP3 file for approval via DigiDelivery. They were amazed.”
Simon believes that the Pro Tools HD system enhances creativity. “It gives me much more of an active involvement and affects the recording process in a big way,” he comments. “We do a lot of editing of the structure of the song as we go, such as making a double length intro or lengthening the guitar section, and I can even arrange the master track while I’m recording something else. I can go through the session and mute things without it stopping or crashing – I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this in Logic, by the way! Traditionally, with a recording session, the band would go away while something was tried out but, with Pro Tools, you can do this on the fly. If we had to go back to the old way of working now and do an SSL-style recall, everyone would be so impatient and angry and you’d lose the moment completely. Pro Tools, a great engineer and the vibe of a big studio with a good live room, is the perfect combination and can only enhance the performance of the musicians. There’s no multitrack tape to worry about – I can just get on and manage the production. It’s pretty limitless.”
Simon continues, “You can almost be at mix status before you finish recording.”
The week-end was full of activity and I was unable to post until today. Session work on Saturday went well. I did live sound Sunday morning and then a performance at a contemporary worship service Sunday evening. The performance was great although I am still fighting the noise issue with my guitar rig. I did not get a chance to use a power conditioner to see if that would have an impact. I’m not even sure that my guitars are appropriately shielded and that may have an impact as well. I’ll try the power conditioner first as it is cheaper and less work then shielding a guitar.
Studio Design Website
This site is a good resource for anyone looking for help in building a recording studio. Our construction work took almost six months from concept to finished product. I cannot recall how many rolls of Roxul Safe and Sound insulation we used for the rooms but I do know that two people spent almost three days stuffing cavities with this material. Floating walls, floating floors, bass traps, staggered double stud wall, dual drywall panels, acoustic sealants, conduits, precision framing… so many details to consider when building a decent recording and monitoring space. John’s site has some great examples of studio projects. Worth a look.
Pro Tools 6.4 was successfully deployed. I had to upgrade the primary DAW to XP Service Pack 1 first. I run 9 computers on the network and the primary DAW is the only machine that has not been patched with SP1. This was a deliberate strategy on my part to ensure a stable platform for Pro Tools. The Service Pack installed successfully and I did some tests of the DAW to ensure that everything worked before moving on to the next stage. I downloaded 6.4 from the Digidesign site. 55MB download in 2 minutes. Really have to love high speed internet access. I also needed to download some updated plugins. Did the 6.4 install and firmware upgrades for the recorders. Everything worked fine except that I had to rediscover the Control 24 ethernet controller. All in all this was a painless experience. Years ago this was not the same story.
We are fortunate to work with a number of very talented musicians in the Toronto area. I am quite excited to have Fergus Marsh coming in to record at the studio. Fergus has an impressive discography which includes:
- BRUCE COCKBURN: Stealing Fire, World of Wonders, Big Circumstance, Live
- STEVE BELL: Romantics & Mystics, Live In Concert, Waiting For Aidan
- BIG FAITH: Grounded, Undertow
- HUGH MARSH: The Bear Walks, Shaking The Pumpkin
- LISA DALBELLO: She
- THE SIDEMEN: Dig In
- GLEN SODERHOLM: By Faint degrees
- MERYN CADELL: 6 Blocks
- YODECA: Yodeca
- MARK HEARD: Dry Bones dance, Satellite Sky
- MARY-KATHRYN: One Spirit
- BILLY BATSTONE: A Little Broken Bread
- LAYTON HOWERTON: Boxing God
Fergus Marsh is a bass and Chapman Stick player who has contributed to over 50 CDs. His work involves local gigs, television commercials, CDs and touring. He moves fluidly between both the Christian and secular arenas. Most recently he has just finished a tour with Peter Murphy of Bauhaus fame, and a worship CD with Ruth Fazal. Fergus is internationally recognized as one of the best players of the Chapman Stick. Fergus lives in Ontario with his wife Lynn and their son Luke. Fergus will be helping Cliff Cline on his current project. More information about Cliff Cline’s project can be found here.
Time for yet another upgrade. I am at the point where I think I need to beef up the primary Studio DAW. The primary will then become the secondary for MIDI, GigaSampler, etc. At one time I used to enjoy the constant upgrading but now I find I am far more concerned about introducing change and impacting stability. A tough decision. With Pro Tools I usually stay pretty current. Here is a list of improvements in 6.4:
- Support for ICON with D-Control* — Support for large format mixing and production
- Support for the new Command|8** — A compact, affordable, yet full-featured control surface
- AVoption|V10 support† — For interoperating with the latest Avid video formats
- Automatic Delay Compensation* — Allows you to take advantage of mixer configurations that were previously only possible with analog consoles, or with digital consoles many times the price of a Pro Tools environment
- TrackPunch* — Allows Pro Tools to be used as a recorder on film stages, rather than only an editing/playback device. For music, TrackPunch enhances current QuickPunch capabilities for music recording by allowing the user to arm tracks on the fly. Operators can punch in and out of tracks by using individual track record buttons instead of one global command. Combined with TrackInput*, TrackPunch allows workflows similar to traditional tape-based multi-track recorders
- 23.976 fps support** — Enables post customers who work with high-definition video to use a new frame rate specific to the medium, facilitating proper synchronization to the source. Pro Tools now offers complete recall of all editing, processing, mixing console and machine control parameters while working entirely within the new 24 and 23.976 frame rates required for high-definition video production (DV Toolkit required for Pro Tools LE)
- +12 dB fader gain — The new +12 dB** range above 0 dB in the fader section of the Pro Tools mixer gives you more latitude while mixing than the previous +6 dB (over 0 dBfs), particularly when balancing with recordings made at lower levels. With a new taper, the faders have a more familiar “console” feel
- RecordLock* — Loading audio with discontiguous (“broken”) time code means that an assistant no longer has to continually re-arm Pro Tools when loading in different takes from film shoots. This also prevents missed record takes on shooting stages, where the distributed time code stops and starts between takes
- Hierarchical plug-in menus** — Group plug-ins by process type, keeping mousing and searching for the right plug-in to a minimum
- Track Position Numbers** — Gives each track a fixed sequential number, enabling operators to better organize sessions, as well as to quickly locate the GUI and control surfaces to a selected track
- Improved Feet+Frames timeline display** — Allows film users to set the “zero feet+frames” point anywhere in the session; and, with multiple feet+frame rates, allows the feet+frames timeline to remain in sync with all workflow variations (DV Toolkit required for Pro Tools LE)
- New Clip Meter Features — Plug-in clipping is now displayed on the D-Control worksurface and on the GUI send labels* for easy diagnosis of gain structure level problems while mixing. Plus, a new “clear clip” key command and a new “clip hold” preference provide additional display enhancements**
- Foley record “Input Mute” feature* — Prevents unwanted loud noises during foley record sessions