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Archive for the ‘Audio-Phil(osophy)’ Category

Audio Editing Tip: Use Compression & EQ

Posted by Keith Freund On February - 7 - 20103 COMMENTS

Editing is sort of like the breakfast of the production process. Although people don’t covet and fetishize it they way they do mixing (the dinner), it is absolutely essential for a well-balanced diet. You might say mastering is the dessert, but I’m inclined to call it a breath mint that you grab on your way out of the restaurant. Or maybe editing is the house salad and pre-production is breakfast since people skip it when they’re in a hurry even though it’s the most important meal of the day and even though they could at LEAST take a Nutri-Gain bar on their way out the door…


meals

Anyway, here’s what I’m really getting at: you wouldn’t eat breakfast and dinner at the same time, would you? That’s gross. To this end, the absolute top of the top mixers (i.e. the ones that charge $10K/song–there are about 20 of them in the world) make sure all of the editing is done before they begin by having their assistants prep all their sessions.*


And that’s how it should be. Not only is it gross to mix and edit at the same time, but multitasking is actually less productive than doing things one at a time. (My freelancer readers will know what I’m talking about here.**) Technical difficulties are the arch-rival of creativity. They will throw you off track and kill your creative flow. So get rid of them ahead of time. But many times you don’t hear things that need editing until the mixing process has already begun.


So whether you’re a mixing a project yourself or handing it off to a mix engineer, the following technique will save you time and headaches by enabling you to quickly simulate a mix and get all the editing done beforehand:

  1. Before you begin editing, put some compression on each track you’re working on and mess with the settings until you’re really, really hearing the compressor work (try using the fastest release and a ratio of 10:1 or higher).
  2. Boost the treble on your master fader with an EQ plugin. A lot. Particularly the 8 to 13kHz range.

There are two reasons why we often don’t find noises and bad edits until the mixing phase. The first is that these noises are generally very quiet and occur during a section where that particular instrument is not sounding. Since compression effectively makes quiet sections louder, the mixing stage can bring noises to the front of the mix which were previously inaudible. For example:

  • The guitar part hasn’t started yet, but the noise of the guitarist putting his hand on the strings makes it onto the recording.
  • The drummer has stopped playing but he moves and his throne squeaks faintly.
  • While editing vocal takes together, you’ve made an edit in the middle of a breath without realizing.
  • You’ve edited guitar solo takes together and made an edit in the middle of a note without cross-fading, creating a pop.

These noises are often audible only in the very highest frequencies, which is why I’m also advocating a treble boost.


More Editing Tips & Common Mistakes

  • I’ve found that rap producers who work in Pro Tools like to edit and consolidate everything exactly to the downbeats, sometimes for looping purposes but other times it’s just an obsessive compulsive thing. DON’T DO THIS. I know it looks gorgeous and symmetrical and all that, but it’s not worth it. Musicians and samples rarely start and end exactly on a beat, so you’re usually harming the attack of the first note and the decay of the last. And by consolidating those edits, you’re also making it impossible to remedy the problem later by cross-fading.
  • Before you consolidate regions in Pro Tools, cross-fade at every edit or cut point, even if only for a fraction of a second. Pro Tools automatically adds tiny cross-fades on edits during playback that are not preserved when consolidating regions.
  • One of John Mayer’s engineers recommended that instead of cross-fading, you should make cut edits by aligning the two sound files at a zero crossing***. I haven’t found that to be effective most of the time, but it’s something to try if cross-fading isn’t working out.


*This includes pitch correction (in the rock world, Melodyne is the tool of choice, not AutoTune), Vocalign for getting background vocals tight, Beat Detective for drums, and fades. Some mid-level producers do their own editing for creative reasons, or sometimes no editor is listed at all (the band must be perfect!)


**Why multitasking is bad: http://freelancefolder.com/5-creativity-killers/


***A zero crossing is that middle line on a waveform that represents 0.

Re-thinking the Death of Record Labels: Gigging

Posted by FixYourMix On September - 22 - 20092 COMMENTS

cave01A friend of mine is an exceptionally talented bass player.  He’s played all over the world with musicians from Michael Brecker to Andy Timmons and he’s also an excellent storyteller.  One day we were hanging out and he started reminiscing about this gig he played during apartheid in South Africa.  He began by saying that he had this six-month contract to play as the house band at a nightclub.

 

Everybody listening had to stop him before he made it through his first sentence:  A six-month contract to play at a venue?

 

We were stunned.

 

“Was that just the way they did it in Africa back then?”

 

“No, that’s the way everybody used to do it back then.”

 

Thirty years ago, young local groups were actually contracted to play at a venue for numerous dates at a time.  Allegedly, you could actually make a decent living doing it too.  You’d play a bunch of small gigs and build a local reputation for yourself or open for a bunch of bands as they passed through town and get some exposure to managers and label reps on the way.  

 

My wheels were spinning from his comment and I missed the rest of the anecdote (fortunately, like all great musicians, he’s prone to repeating his best stories so I got many other opportunities).  This just seemed so crazy in comparison to what is going on in the live music world today.   Another friend of mine, a very talented sax player, just got back from a gig up in New York and told me that insanely talented, well-connected musicians are playing at venues in New York for a free meal…

 

Look at the picture above from the Cavern Club: “THE BEATLES PLAYED HERE 292 TIMES”… 

 

The musical landscape has changed dramatically over the past thirty years.  Once upon a time, musicians were able to be musicians and support themselves with their music through a fertile, logical local system.  Now the clubs are gone, the gigs pay so little that they aren’t even worth the gas, radio doesn’t care about the local scene any more, and (as previously discussed) it’s pretty hard to make it big unless you are already big in the first place.

 

During an interesting segment on NPR’s All Songs Considered, Carrie Brownstein and a panel of music bloggers discussed whether or not labels were useful in discovering new music.  In a brief aside, Carrie mentioned that the label Kill Rock Stars almost passed on her band, electroclash darlings Sleater-Kinney, because they thought it was “just a side project”.

 

Now in Brownstein’s case, the group was a side project to her other band Excuse 17, but there is a prevailing philosophy among the decision-makers at labels that there should be some considerable measure of success derived specifically from the band in question in order for it to merit consideration.

 

That’s pretty difficult to do in today’s musical climate.  I’ve always encouraged people to not define themselves by their day job—do enough to pay the bills and support your passions.  The music business is now saying that that’s not enough.  You have to be professional before going pro.

 

The problem is that we no longer have a system where amateur musicians can cultivate and support themselves in the process of turning professional.  The issue is partly one of supply and demand.  Back in the 60s, venues wanted bands and there simply weren’t that many out there.  It was more difficult to even get an instrument, let alone be good enough at it to play for two hours.

 

All their success aside, Ringo Star and Mick Fleetwood would each tell you that they are not the most talented drummers (Mac Fleetwood doesn’t even know what 4/4 time is and he labored to explain that fact in Ken Robinson’s The Element).  The fact is that they were the guys in their local area with a drum kit.  Drums at the time were exceptionally expensive and too large for most in urban England to store.  If you had the instrument, you were in a band.  If you were in a band of any caliber, you were likely to land a gig playing at some venue with some regularity.

 

Every band needs somewhere to play.  Unfortunately, these days venues are so financially strapped that they’d often rather put the iPod on shuffle than hire four teenagers and a sound guy.  Consequently, the venues with live music are overrun with demos of musicians willing to play for peanuts.

 

In a world where it is virtually impossible to support yourself as an amateur musician, labels are left looking to people who are already famous to fill out their rosters: solo artists from previous hit-making bands like Gavin and Gwen, celebutantes, and contestants from reality TV.

 

Some amateur bands are lucky enough to catch a label’s attention and they land one of the precious few spots on a national tour playing a hundred dates with one band.  Obviously these gigs are rare, but they also reduce exposure to only the fans of a certain band.

 

It has been said that all business is local.  In the Digital Age, there is such a focus put on national and global considerations that the local concerns fall by the wayside.  But ultimately, a return to a fertile local music environment is what will repair the music business.  Labels have an interest in seeing musicians cultivated in their home environments, winning over a local demographic, and climbing a logical ladder toward regional and national success.

 

This was the model that worked thirty years ago and I believe it can still work with some adjustments for the digital age.  In many ways and to their detriment, record labels are stuck in the old ways of conducting business.  In this instance, I fear that they have overlooked a useful lesson from the past.  Emphasizing a fertile local music scene and a logical progression from there toward a national spotlight is what encourages a diverse and creative musical landscape.  There is no one better suited to make this happen than the labels themselves.

Mac or PC for Music Production?

Posted by FixYourMix On September - 15 - 200912 COMMENTS

Whether you are an at-home audio hobbyist or a seasoned and professional Pro Tools operator, everybody yearns for the optimum working environment to produce music. Over the next few weeks I’ll take you through the various components of the digital audio workstation and offer some suggestions for maximizing its performance.


This is by no means the end-all-be-all of how-tos on the subject and I invite all of you readers out there to contribute to the body of knowledge with your personal expertise. As for me, I can only speak from my own experience as a professional audio engineer. So please offer your opinions or questions in the comments below if you are so inclined.


I should admit right off the bat that I am a supporter of Macintosh computers and Pro Tools in the professional environment. The realities of the professional world decree that this is how you must go if you wish to have a successful career. I do swing every which way: I have done high-profile professional projects on Microsoft computers, Nuendo, Logic, Cubase, and tape. By and large, however, contemporary creative demands as well as the desire for portability and universality demand a Macintosh and Pro Tools combination.


Mac or PC:
macpcForget the I/Os, forget the gear (for now). Heck, even forget about the talent. In today’s music production world, you cannot record anything of any kind without a good computer. For the audiophiles out there, I too am a tape guy when the opportunity presents itself. However, the availability of the medium coupled with budgets and real-world artist demands often preclude the use of our beloved reel-to-reels.


So before you choose between Pro Tools and Logic and Nuendo, you have to pick the optimum machine to support those programs. When the question is posed to me there are three main distinctions that I like to draw:

1)  This one is kind of arbitrary but is necessary exposition because, when talking about technology, you will often get the conscientious objector who takes issue with the nomenclature: a Macintosh computer is a PC.


PC stands for personal computer, so the question really comes down to Macintosh or Microsoft. That kind of has a nice ring to it, so I’m curious why the debate is framed in such a manner. Apologies to those Linux supporters out there, but Linux isn’t even a wildcard in this tournament.


2)  A much more substantive and important distinction to draw is that Apple produces an operating system (Macintosh) so that it can sell its computers. On the other hand, Microsoft produces computers so that it can sell its operating system.

This is a subtle difference, but very important. When your Macintosh computer crashes and you need to rebuild from scratch, you can use any OS installer on your computer. Mac doesn’t even ask for a serial number. That is because Apple is in the business of selling computers and the OS itself is simply a construction so that they can sell them machines themselves. That means that every component that is in the machine has an express purpose, specific to the operating system. Likewise, every line of code that exists in the operating system has an express purpose in the functioning of those components.


On the other hand, when your Microsoft (or rather Microsoft-based) computer crashes, you’ll need to have your officially sanctioned serial numbers and identifiers because Microsoft’s sole desire as a company (for our purposes) is to sell an operating system. Not the computer. If you actually go to the Microsoft store, you will not see a single computer “made” by Microsoft. The actual computers that run Microsoft Operating systems are produced by Dell, Asus, Lenovo, and *shriek* even Macintosh. Of course, the high competition for producers running a Microsoft-based platform means that the price can be significantly cheaper, but ultimately that means that the company creating your computer has little at stake in how the operating system functions with the computer itself.


3)  The third distinction deals more with what your computers are actually doing: The computer and the operating system itself has no idea what operations you are performing.


Whether it is a Mac or a Microsoft or Linux, no computer has any real idea whether you are watching a movie, editing a family video, touching up a photograph, or recording death metal. It is just doing calculations. The real question when dealing with music production is how quickly can VERY LARGE chunks of information accessed, transferred, and put to use.


Macintosh realizes this. For a very long time, the talking point about Macs was that they handled big calculations and files better than Microsoft. While this may be true from an OS standpoint, a processor or hard drive or stick of RAM doesn’t know whether it’s running on OSX or Vista. The real distinction is that with Macintosh, you can accept as a given the fact that the components within your machine are top of the line and designed to handle tasks that require large computations and throughput. Macintosh knows that their demographic has long been “creative” types rather than business professionals, so the OS and machines are all designed to handle labor intensive processes.


Microsoft on the other hand, after a certain baseline, frankly doesn’t give a damn about the components that are in the computer. There are Microsoft computers out there on the market that are designed only for web-browsing and word-processing. And rightly so, Microsoft has a huge and broad market that caters to businessmen and soccer moms and even creative types, so some machines handle large computations and have max throughput while others do not.


So from these three distinctions, it should be clear that you can buy a Microsoft, and with the right tweaks and customizations, it can perform equally to a Mac or better. There are plenty of options available due to the gaming community (which overwhelmingly uses Windows-based computers) and these add-ons will likely be cheaper due to vast competition in the Microsoft peripherals market. However, this will require more thoughtful consideration on the part of the consumer than buying a Mac with a very small set of top-of-the-line variables.

Over the past two weeks we have been discussing items pertaining to the audio spectrum at large.  In this article we’ll begin breaking down the audio spectrum into its component parts.  Though we disagree a bit on our subdivisions, Jay’s primer has excellent listening examples to hear each section individually.

 

Generally speaking, sounds can be lumped into three basic segments of the audio spectrum:  Bass, Mid, and Treble. 

 

The associated ranges would be approximately:

 

Bass 25 to 300 Hz.

Mids 300 to 2.4k Hz

Treble 2.4 to 20 kHz

 

Additionally, they can further be broken down in numerous ways depending on how people want to define sections:

 

Sub 25 to 45 Hz

Bass 45 to 300 Hz

Low-Mid 300 to 600 Hz

Mid 600  to 1.2k Hz

High-Mid  1.2 to 2.4 kHz

Treble 2.4 to 15 kHz

Super Treble 15 kHz to ~ 100 kHz

 

This Interactive Frequency Chart, much like the Carnegie Chart in the earlier article will help you understand how the frequency ranges match up with practical instrumentation.

 

For practical purposes, Sub-Bass should be anything that sounds below the lowest fundamental note of your song.  This can include percussion and any sub-harmonics, resonations, formants, and room tones.  These are frequencies that would really only be reproduced by sub-woofers and large format PA/sound reinforcement systems.  Some of this is undesirable—if you’ve ever watched an NFL game on windy day with a system that has a sub, pretty much everything is a big bass wash because of low-frequency wind noise.  We’ll go more in depth on that next week.

 

Bass should be reserved for the fundamental notes of the changes.  That is, the lowest sounding note of each chord progression.  This typically would include all the notes that would normally be played by a bass (Victor Wooten excluded).  This would also include bass playing synths and the left hand of the piano in many instances.

 

The Low-Mids and Mids include fundamental notes for melodic instruments as well as the first few orders of harmonics.  Harmonics help us distinguish sounds from each other and play a very important role in presence and clarity.  More on this when I examine the mid frequencies in two weeks.

 

The High-Mids deserve their own category because these frequencies contain sudden transient content.  For percussion, this would be the sound of sticks or mallets hitting the drum heads and cymbals.  For guitarists, this would be the sound of picks striking strings.  For vocalists, this would be the sound of hard consonance and sibilance.  All of these can be problematic, but also contribute greatly to impression of presence.

 

The treble portion of the audio spectrum contains almost nothing but upper harmonics of treble instruments and room tone.  This helps lead instruments and vocals sound present and full, but also adds brightness and clarity to a mix.

 

Over the next few weeks I’ll go into greater detail on problems with each part of the frequency spectrum.

More from Phil’s Audible Spectrum series:

Recording Techniques in “Kids” by MGMT

Posted by FixYourMix On April - 1 - 2009COMMENT ON THIS POST

In our first time at bat on these Sonic Deconstruction articles, the song choice appears to be a swing and a miss on the recording techniques day. A calamitous choice for one simple reason: almost everything is a sample, loop, or synth! As a result, recording methods aren’t immediately intuitive in the way that King of Leon or Foo Fighters would be. It also doesn’t help that the one track that undoubtedly existed at one point in the real acoustic world (as opposed to tracks that could have been DI’ed or midi triggered) is the vocal track and frankly it doesn’t sound very good. But this is our dishwashing liquid and dammit, we’re going to soak in it.

outside

Recorded at Dave Fridmann’s residential studio in upstate New York, MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular is probably the ideal album to record there. In his September 2000 article in Sound on Sound Magazine, Dave intimated that the design of Tarbox Road Studios is somewhat less than ideal:

The design work required to turn the house into a studio was taken on by Dave himself, who felt that the recommendations of a professional studio designer would in any case be beyond his means…

‘When people are normally doing acoustical design they’re worried about a lot of isolation, and worried about floating floors and cement structures to isolate you from each other. And I was worried about it, but I really couldn’t do anything about it, so I didn’t worry too much, just did what I could.’

Like many residential type facilities—professional, pro-sumer, or hobbyist—layoutisolation is a concern. So when big bands come in wanting to track everything live you often get so much bleed that you lose flexibility in your tracks. Your guitars are in your drums, your drums are in your vocals, you can’t change one without leaving some ghostly artifact somewhere else. Well with a band like MGMT that consists exclusively of two musicians playing instruments that could very well exist entirely in the box, those issues are no longer a concern.

It is my belief that at least a few of the synthesizers were amped or re-amped for mixing. There is a lot of dirt and grit on the synthesizers, especially when compared with the infantile clarity of the sounds in the EP version, which makes me think that amp gain, color, and distortion are part of the sound. There is an audible grime on the melody synth that is evident when the keyboardist lands on that C# that holds for a measure. It almost sounds like that kind of battered old Leslie cabinet.

studio3The vocals are an interesting beast—they are exceedingly sibilant to my ear, which could very well be a combination of mixing and mastering (provided by Greg Calbi). This assaulting high frequency presence might indicate that Fridmann used a hi-fi mic on a less-than-hi-fi singer. I know that his favorite mic is his tube U-47 (one of my personal favorites as well), so he might’ve used that old standby. On a singer with an unpolished and young voice like in MGMT, I likely would’ve opted for a dynamic microphone with a bigger, heavier diaphragm to compensate for the vocal character like the SM7. These mics have the effect of covering up the less audible imperfections that might otherwise be present when a tube mic is used. Either way, the vocals are heavily processed with filters, fuzz, compressors, and fx so the original character of the vocal as interpreted through the microphone is likely lost except on the multitrack file.

By and large, the greatest assets to the sounds on the record would be the mixing techniques. Check back on Friday for some in-depth speculation. Dave, if you’re reading, feel free to set us straight!

How Do I Sound Like Angus Young?

Posted by FixYourMix On March - 19 - 20093 COMMENTS


Angus Young is a dangerous musician to talk about in this column—there is a wealth of knowledge out there on Angus’s setup and for no one else has so much been written about so little (check out this crazy little diagram of his standard set-up). SG, cable, Marshall stack with the output all the way up. Can it get any simpler? No pedals, no effects, no muss, no fuss. Still, the questions keep coming so clearly there is something else that people are missing when trying to replicate his sound.

angus_malcolm_young_091

Did you know that there are actually TWO guitar players in this picture??

Well the first thing we have to do is make sure that we separate the Brothers Young. AC/DC is a band known for its stark simplicity and so the casual listener who likes the face-melting loudness of the band and can name only one band member (and maybe that one guy who died) may not realize that a lot of the big ballsy hooks that we remember and associate with Angus, like the opening to “TNT,” are actually played by his brother Malcolm. Some of the hooks are a combination of both of them playing the same thing such as in “Back in Black.” Of course all these videos are from live performances and there is no real way to know who plays what in the studio. To me, the quintessential Angus Young sound is the opening of “Thunderstruck” that really captures the dryness, the raunchy nasal tone of the SG, and the surprisingly clear tone that he has.


I found this great website, which is really intended for guitar instruction, that attempts to separate the parts of various AC/DC tunes. The site invites you to pick a song and “pretend you’re Angus and play solos over Malcolm’s giant riffs!” Again, there is no real way of knowing if Angus didn’t record all the parts while Malcolm sat in the corner and self-flagellated. But given Mike Fraser’s comments after engineering Black Ice, the band is as no frills as they come—“They plug in, turn up… and there you go, you’ve got AC/DC comin’ atcha…” That would lead me to believe that most of the rhythm parts are handled by Malcolm with Angus chipping in where possible since they probably track live and Angus needs to do his soloing thang (using mostly pentatonic and hexatonic, I don’t want to waste too much space talking about his note selection since it is so simple).


So let’s face it—when people say that they want to sound like Angus Young, some of them probably just mean they want to sound like that guitar thingie from AC/DC, which in the end is a combination of at least two guitar sounds in many cases.

Sound like any artist just by purchasing this!

Sound like any artist just by purchasing this!


Furthermore, in AC/DC’s megahit, 1980’s Highway to Hell, it is likely that these simple punchy parts are the product of numerous guitars stacked on top of each other as a result of engineer/producer Mutt Lange’s “penchant” for “overdubs.” According to Alex Call of the band Clover, Mutt would often have them sing eight tracks of backgrounds going “oooooh” and then bounce them down to a single track, then do it again to make a stereo double. Just imagine the mountain of guitar tracks he probably had for a “guitar group.”


Regardless of production techniques though, it is clear that AC/DC are able to get pretty close to their signature sound that exists on tape when they perform live. So if that is the case, how can they get two guitars to sound so damn loud? I think a lot of it comes from the orchestration of the tune. As a “guitar rock” group, there truly isn’t much else to them. The drums are ridiculously simple, short, dry, and don’t take up much space in the mix while the bass in many songs is practically non-existent. The guitars are titanic in the mix compared to everything else.


With the drums and bass being so small, there isn’t much lower mid and low frequency content. I’m still working on this metaphor, so forgive me in advance: Think of a mix as a closed box filled with sports equipment, bassy sounds are like big Pilates balls whereas treble-y sounds are like ping pong balls. Think of loudness as filling the box as completely as possible. You can make something loud and bassy, but you won’t have much stuff in the mix. Or you can make something loud and treble-y and you can have a whole lot of stuff in the mix.


Moreover, the guitars are very nasal in timbre. Angus’s SG with nickel humbuckers is very treble-y without a whole lot of bass content until he gets that amp crunching with the big chords. Malcolm’s Gretsch Firebird Jet is of a similar tonality although he often plays different voicings to give thickness. He even took out his neck and middle pickups just to focus on that present lead tone. Ultimately, what this means is that there is a whole lot of upper-mid and high frequency content.


Contributing to presence, Young is known for using heavy picks and having a very strong pick attack. On the surface, this may not seem like much since Pete Townsend is also known for having a strong pick attack and they have different sounds. However, Angus’s SG uses low output humbuckers, which are clearer and have more note definition. This also allows him to drive the power tubes harder and the preamp tubes not so hard, whereas Pete Townsend uses high output pickups (like p90s) and drives the preamp tubes more.


Recording 101 tells us that putting reverb on a track has the effect of pushing things into the background. So the utter dryness of AC/DC’s guitar parts contributes to the presence of their sound. Many less professional players balk at hearing themselves play with nothing extending their sounds, whether it be compression, reverb, delay, or anything else. But that is how AC/DC rolls. No effects, the only compression that would come would be from the tubes in the Marshall stacks.


Since there is no reverb, the decay on the guitars is very short. And since the rest of the band is not really filling in the holes that much, especially on the intros that define the band’s most memorable moments, that leaves a whole lot of room to compare how loud the guitars are to total silence. With an album like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, there is so much going on all at the same time that there is never any reference to silence to let you know just how loud everything is. Your ears adjust. Have you ever rocked out while driving down the highway, then parked, got out of the car, came back, turn the car on, and gotten blasted by how ungodly loud you were listening to that record? Well with the orchestration of AC/DC tunes, namely in the first 20 seconds where it is just big guitar hits over drumming, it’s the same effect, you start the record in silence, hear the big guitar hit, then go back to silence, then back to another hit, and so on. Your ears never adjust to a new baseline.


Lastly, looking at the gear list for Compass Point Recording Studios in the Bahamas, which is where Back In Black was recorded, I see a standard collection of solid-state gear, very high-fi with lots of head room. But another thing that I see that is somewhat uncommon is the Aphex Aural Exciter, which became very prominent in the 80s to give things presence and bite. I wonder how much of that was used in the tracking/mixing.


Well, so much for an article about an SG, a cable, and a Marshall amp. Even the simplest set ups can spawn a lot of academic items to ponder and perhaps with the emergence of home recording and hobbyist recording, we could stand to put a little more science and analytics into engineering.

How Do I Sound Like John Bonham?

Posted by FixYourMix On March - 12 - 200914 COMMENTS

johnbonham001

I hold no pretense of being a Led Zeppelin expert, however John Bonham’s drum sound is one that practically everybody wants to emulate.  Whether you actually want to play like him is another story, but it would seem like every drummer would love to be as bombastic and aggressive as Bonham.


The truth of the matter is that if you want to sound like John Bonham, you really need to play like him. You probably shouldn’t be ripping off 32nd note paradiddles at 140 BPM on your Iron Cobra. Moreover, your playing style, the orchestration of your tune, and your own nuances will directly inform the possibilities for your sound. This isn’t to say that you need to be on the same level as Bonham to sound like him, but there are songwriting elements that anyone can use to help accomplish a desired sound.


Listen to any Zeppelin record and you’ll notice that he is very, very simple with his beats in the vast majority of his tunes. Sometimes he only hits the kick drum twice in a measure. This leaves a ton of room for him to have that gigantic bass drum sound that we all know and love.


In most of his kits, John Bonham had a kick drum well over the standard 22” in most commercial kits these days. His bass drum was truly a bass drum often measuring 26 inches. His kick sound is very open lots with of ring and resonation without much dampening. This was pretty normal in a lot of records in the 60s to mid 70s.  In all likelihood it would’ve been similar in much earlier recordings if the technology existed to reproduce those low frequencies.


In the 70s, dance music reduced the kick drum to a very tight, short tick as opposed to the bass foundation for the tune. This kept mixing kick drums simple, the dance beats driving and easily distinguishable, and allowed tunes to be more lushly orchestrated (especially in the bass range which was great for diversity in the dancehall).  However, it put the idea of a big bassy bass drum on the back burner in favor of a more punchy kick sound.


Now to sound like Bonham, you don’t need a 26” monster of a kick drum. What I do is take out all of the dampening in the bass drum:  pillows, towels, everything. Put single ply heads on the kit so that they resonate more (single ply heads have longer sustain, multiple plys are used to make things more durable). Then, detune the kit as low as possible without it sounding like hitting loose paper (more on this in a later article on tuning drums for the studio). The aim is to achieve a deep, long, low sustain. Once you’ve achieved the maximal effect like this, you can tailor the decay by applying dishtowels or something light to the front heads to dampen slightly.


Look at the picture above.  You’ll notice two microphones on Bonham’s kit in the studio.  One is a U87 and the other looks like  a Unidyne 57.  You’ll also notice that he has no hole in the front head and doesn’t have a D112 shoved up in at and against the beater head.  This provides a barrier that reduces the tick of the beater and increases the boom of the resonations from the head and drum bodies.


If you are ripping off 32nd note paradiddles at 140 BPM, there is simply no room for you to sound like John Bonham with this kick drum sound—it’ll end up being a gigantic bass wash. All that steady low-end will severely restrict the amount of loudness you can get out of your song since low frequencies take up such a huge portion of the power spectrum. Because of this, either your kick drum is loud and your tune is quiet, or your tune is louder and your kick drum is quiet. Let that kick drum resonate, give it space to be appreciated and you’ll start moving closer to that Bonham sound.


It is also crucial to understand that in a mix, no sound is an island. In order for something to be big, something else has to be small. So when you listen to a Zeppelin recording, you’ll notice that there is an awful lot of space in the other instruments that frame the drums very nicely. Jimmy Page doesn’t just machine-gun power chords through the Big Muff which would result in a gigantic square wave. He has a lot of single line melodic elements that are often in the higher register that juxtapose Bonham’s big boisterous drum sound (see “All of My Love”).


Try approaching your tunes with some prior planning—if you think you’d like a John Bonham type of drum sound, then orchestrate the part like it would be a Bonham tune. You’ll find that from the onset, your drummer will sound more like Bonham and your engineer should have an easy time getting the sound you want out of whatever mic set-up you have—no matter where you recorded it, no matter what gear you used.


Oh yah, and smack the shit out of the drums…Bonham would be proud.

Is Internet Mixing/Mastering Right For Me?

Posted by Keith Freund On February - 2 - 2009COMMENT ON THIS POST

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Whether you’ve had experience in a “real” studio or not, it may seem intuitively easier to sit in the control room and tap your engineer on the shoulder when you think something needs changing. Quick yes, but this exercise has several intrinsic deficiencies.


The most important deficiency is the environment. Coming out of your natural setting to listen to your songs on someone else’s system presents a steep learning curve in terms of getting your ears tuned to the room and monitors. But it is vitally important that you do in order for the decisions you make in the heat of the moment and under the duress of the clock to translate to the outside world. If you’ve been in this business long enough, then you know the pride-swallowing experience of leaving one venue thinking you have a spectacular mix, then taking it home, playing it for friends and family, and finding out that the bass has mysteriously disappeared or the highs don’t quite sing the way they did in the control room.


With our methodology, you can take our professional mixes from our studio to all the environments that you know: your home studio, your car, your entertainment system. You can even put them on shuffle with your favorite record in your iPod and see if they blend in. You can take your time on these decisions and make sure that you are happy with your product in every situation.


Time is the second limitation of the attended session paradigm. For example, in order to get acclimated to a new room you could bring in a sampling of your favorite songs and listen to them on the monitors for reference, but then you have to ask yourself if it is worthwhile to pay the studio and engineer for you to listen to your record collection when you can do it in your own space for free or better yet–not even have to spend the time because you already know what your rooms sound like. In commercial studios, the longer you thoughtfully consider your mixing decisions, the lighter your wallet gets. But your music is your art and your decisions should be weighed thoroughly. Don’t you think you’d make better decisions by your own schedule and not sweating the clock and the budget?


Studios have an inherent incentive to keep you going as long as possible to maximize their profits (disclaimer: this is not to imply that all studios want to shake down their clientele, but the impetus is always there regardless of how magnanimous an owner may be). I once knew a studio owner that would come in and regale his clients with literally hours of anecdotes and small talk, all of which were on the clock. With our flat-rate policies, you never have to worry about time, money, or any of that. $80 for a mix, take as long as you need on your decisions—it’s that simple.


Our prices are an extraordinary bargain when you consider some of the working environments we are privy to. With the democratization of audio technology, it has become relatively inexpensive and easy to start up a “recording studio.” In all candor however, the vast majority of studios out there are not worth your time.


Let me just briefly describe the primary studio I work out of. It is a $2.5 million dollar room built in the ‘80s designed by acoustics legend Russ Berger. We have full spectrum studio mains as well as near-field monitors and several networked listening rooms. Compare that to most local recording studios and you are likely to see the value.


At Fix Your Mix, we offer you world-class mixes by professionals in a truly professional environment at a price-point that is simply unbeatable. More importantly, we give you the freedom to take your mixes out of our world and in to yours so that you can make sure your record is something you are proud to put your name on.


So is internet mixing right for you? The answer is a resounding “it depends.” If you have access to a multi-million dollar facility that you are familiar with or maybe have an open ledger, then more power to you. For those of you who don’t, it might be time to give us a try. Send us your tunes and we’ll do a free proof for you. Then you can tell us if our business model is right for you.

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