Tag Archives: room mics

The urge to share

Over the last few months I’ve been working a bit more on my own songs after a stint where I was working primarily on things for the Sumner, Yo Zushi and upcoming James McKean records. I’ve embedded a soundcloud player at the bottom of some posts over the last few months, but if you’re interested in getting a nice shiny download of any of the songs you’ve heard, now’s your chance. Four recently finished recordings are available as downloads in the format of your choosing (FLAC, AIFF, MP3, etc), for the monetary sum of your choosing (including for free):

As ever with my stuff, the songs were all recorded and mixed in my home, and the only musician involved other than me is the excellent Colin Somervell, who played double bass on Beware of Tomorrow and On into the Night. Folks interested in production may note that Crossing Oceans is a live recording: two mics, one take, voice and guitar, no overdubs, no edits. Just straight up, the old-fashioned way. It’s far from perfect, but it’s the thing I’ve done recently that I’m proudest of, precisely because it is so naked. Little Differences, you may remember, I’ve shared before: this version, though, is a brand-new re-recording at a brisker tempo and knocks the old one into the proverbial cocked hat.

If you like these, do share them. I’ll be back with a non-pluggy kind of post in a couple of days.

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Andy Wallace, mix engineer

I’ve mentioned before here that Nirvana were the band that inspired me to start playing guitar and making music. Without hearing them when I did, I’ve no idea where I might have channelled my energies. As it was, I did put them into music, and having never been one to do things by half measures, I became a Nirvana obsessive. One of the marks of the young obsessive then (and it may still be, for all I know) was to profess a love for In Utero over Nevermind. The reasons for this are fairly simple: Nevermind was a huge hit record, and therefore middlebrow, and Cobain himself had said derogatory things about it in public (how it was closer to Motley Crue than punk rock, etc.), as had Steve Albini (who recorded In Utero).

The man responsible for the final sound of Nevermind was Andy Wallace. Not coincidentally, Wallace is one of the most in-demand, highly remunerated mix engineers of the last 25 years or so. The records he worked on defined the sound of rock music (certainly at a major label level) from the very start of the 1990s for about ten years, when gradually the Lord-Alge brothers’ (Chris and Tom; they work singly, not as a team) sound took over until it was everywhere, on vocal records from pop to country and gospel, to major-label rock. By the time of American Idiot, it was all over: what the Lord-Alge brothers did was now standard methodology.

For the tech-minded and interested in home recording, I’ve been doing some podcasts of late on the subject of recording drums in the home studio. The CLA/TLA approach to compression is discussed briefly in the podcast on snare drum recording. They use a combination of heavy/fast compression and sample triggering to create a very controlled, compressed snare drum sound, which I surmise from interviews with them they think of as aggressive-sounding. To me, it’s the opposite. By reducing the transient/attack element of the snare drum stroke so heavily, they’re reducing the excitement of the music. The benefit to them is that there’s more room for everything else, and it’s easier to turn in a very controlled, loud mix with all the critical instruments presented with persistent audibility.

As I became alive to this stuff, and realised why I disliked the sound of modern records so strongly, two paradoxical things happened. Firstly, I began to properly understand the nature of Steve Albini’s complaints about Andy Wallace’s mixes (most people who talk smack about Wallace would be unable to identify compressor or limiter if it were placed on a table in front of them, let alone actually work the thing). Secondly, I began to respect the hell out of Andy Wallace’s work, which to my ears gracefully walked a fine line between the controlled and focused sound that labels tend to look for, but still retained an awful lot of the sense memory I have of what it sounds – and, crucially, feels – like to sit a couple of feet away from a snare drum and cymbals while giving them what for.

This is really hard to do.

It’s why Wallace’s work sounds like his work. Sure, there’s been an evolution over 25 years or so, but there are certain things he still does that are Wallacian hallmarks: he still uses the acoustic drums to trigger samples of ambience, he still rides the room mics up (and the overheads too) for a bigger, roomier sound in the choruses (both of which are done in the context of mixes that are still on the dry side) and he still leads the listener by the nose to whatever it is they should be listening to, while never making it apparent to them that that’s what’s going on. And sure, if you’re Steve Albini and it’s your drum recording he’s using to trigger samples and your stereo field that he’s narrowing (as he did on Helmet’s Albini-recorded In the Meantime) that might be annoying and seem disrespectful, but Wallace (or any mixer) has to serve three masters: the record company paying the tab up front, the band who created the music and the listener who’ll ultimately be enjoying it. It’s a difficult place to be and hard to keep all three parties happy all the time, but Wallace has managed it more often than not for a very long time now.

Unfortunately times change and even Wallace’s work misses the mark sometimes now. The Joy Formidable’s 2011 release Wolf’s Law, for example, is one of the most horrendously squashed and flat-sounding records I’ve ever heard, and it’s hard to know whom to hold responsible: the band, listed as the producer; Wallace, who mixed it; or Bob Ludwig, who mastered it. Both Ludwig and Wallace have done stellar work over the years, so maybe they were painted into a corner by their tracking engineers. Who can say? But I can say this: if you listen to a Wallace mix from the 1990s, whether it’s Nevermind, Rage Against the Machine, Grace or The Globe Sessions, you’ll hear a guy giving a repeated masterclass. It’s interesting, too, if you can stand it, to listen to his work on heavier records in the early 2000s (Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Sevendust, Slipknot, System of a Down, Disturbed, etc.); you’ll hear that it’s definitely the start of a different era, but a lot of the old Wallace techniques are still audible, and whatever the artistic merit of those groups, Wallace’s mixes were still efficient and ruthlessly focused.

On into the Night – Ross Palmer

Hi everyone.

I’ve uploaded another new song to Bandcamp and Soundcloud. It’s a song I wrote recently in a dream. Really.  I had this really lucid dream where I, along with my girlfriend Mel and a few of the musicians I play with regularly, were working on this song I’d written. When I woke I could remember the chords and the lyrics to the first verse, so I wrote the song off those. I’m not sure the first verse lyrics make much literal sense, but they came about serendipitously, so it seemed only fair to work with what I’d been given.

The recording isn’t quite the one-man effort my songs usually are. This one features a very talented double bassist named Colin Somervell. The rest of it is me in the usual fashion.

It’s probably destined to be on an EP in the nearish future. In the meantime, you can download an advance mix from Bandcamp (pay what you like) or stream it on Soundcloud.

https://rosspalmer.bandcamp.com/album/on-into-the-night

Beware of Tomorrow available for download

Hi all.

Until tomorrow evening (my time), you can download a song that’s going to be on my next EP from Bandcamp, on the ever-popular pay-what-you-choose model. Minimum price is nothing!

It’s a brand new song, written a couple of weeks ago and recorded in the last eight or nine days.

The mix may change a bit between now and when the finished version comes out, but it won’t be markedly different from this. The cover art of the EP will be done by someone who knows what they’re doing. In the meantime, I used a pic I took in (I think) Monte del Lago in Umbria.

Here’s your download link: rosspalmer.bandcamp.com

Enjoy!

Friday update – new song advance download

Hi there. How y’all doing?

Just a quick heads-up to any of you whom may be interested – tomorrow morning I’ll be uploading an advance mix (probably rough around the edges compared to what the finished version will be) of a song that’s going to be on my next EP in a couple of months’ time.

I’ll put the Bandcamp link up here around 10am GMT tomorrow and take it down on Sunday night.

I hope it’s of interest to some of you!

drums 07 142

A quick pic I took during set-up for a drum recording session a couple of weeks back. Was hotter than all hell in there that day!

Five tips to help you record better drum tracks

OK, so I’m no Steve Albini, but I’ve learned a thing or two about recording drums these last few years, and maybe I could help you if you’re starting out with this stuff.

1) Check your phase relationships
The more microphones are pointing at the same sound source, the more you’re going to battle with their phase relationships. (Which are frequency-dependent!) You can’t assume that more mics on the sound source will make it sound bigger. There’s a good chance you’ll make it sound smaller. When you’re putting eight or so close mics on a drum kit, which is a biggish but not huge sound source, you’ll have to pay very close attention to the relationships between the mics. This isn’t merely a case of, say, making sure your snare mic plays nicely with the overheads. What’s it doing to the rack tom? What’s the tom doing to it? If you increase the high end on the tom, what’s that do to your snare sound? Too wiry? Too much hi-hat? This stuff is crucial.

2) Don’t default to using every mic you have access to
Think about the demands of the ensemble you’re recording. Do they need a hyper-modern, very controlled and processed 16-mic drum sound? Maybe they’d sound better with Bonham-style drums? In which case, keep four of them and forget about the other twelve.
And it’s not just a case of different set-ups allowing you different sounds. A 4-mic set-up of close kick and snare mics plus a stereo pair – not necessarily overheads; perhaps one in front looking down and one over the floor tom looking across will sound better – with its simpler set of phase relationships will very probably give you a more focused drum sound than an 8-, 12- or 16-mic set-up. Maybe that’s what the song needs?

3) Use room mics (or not)
If you want an ambient sound – or you think you might need one and want to keep your options open – try recording real ambience rather than adding digital reverb effects. If you’ve got access to a good room and you put a good drum set in it, with a good drummer playing it, your work is done for you. Walk around the room while the drummer plays and listen. Put a mic in a spot where it sounds good. Repeat.

4) Tune
Learn how to tune a drum kit. It takes a bit of time to learn what to listen for and to know how to produce certain effects. But using half a ton of moongel, or tightening the skins up so they sound like timbales, won’t cut it. Make sure the heads are fresh enough to be worth bothering with and learn to hear when a drum is in tune. If you’re an engineer who can tune drums, clients will love you for it.
I took lessons from a drum teacher to help me with this. Just something to consider.

5) The best-laid plans of mice and men
Maybe you have a set-up you like. Maybe you record your own band’s drums a certain way, and it’s always sounded good. Maybe you’ve recorded 10 different drummers in different rooms playing different kits, all with this one micing plan, and it’s always sounded good.
That’s great!
But the next drummer who walks through your door could have a crazy set-up. Maybe he puts his ride cymbal half an inch from the floor tom. Maybe she has a rack with six toms and a set of rotos. Maybe he plays two kick drums, and now you need a mic for both. Arrgghh.
Drummers are entitled to put their stuff where they want to, so you’ll have to work round them. Be ready to improvise, don’t get flustered. Blind dates can be scary, but you might learn something you can use again in future. How much you can stumble on and then remember is key getting good at this.

And here’s a bonus tip.

6) Don’t process needlessly
When you mix, don’t smash your drums out of habit, or a sense that you ‘have’ to. The excitement in a recording comes from the transients. If the drummer is consistent in performance, why compress the tracks to within an inch of their life? The only good reason would be because you like the sound of them that way. In which case, smash away, with my blessing. But maybe the song would sound bigger and more exciting with an uncompressed drum sound?

Enjoy!

ringo2

This is how they did things in Ringo’s day