Sound recording is easy

With a great, well rehearsed band...

Sound recording is easy - With a great, well rehearsed band... - by Simon Campbell

OK, we decided to open our studio commercially for sixteen weeks a year. The rest of the time being spent on recording our next releases! I have been trawling the web to see what's happening and have become increasingly agitated with the amount of bullshit out there.

A great deal of it can be found on forums, written by people who have never used the gear they comment about, or generated to increase the voodoo about recording music and the sales of books, courses and anything vintage (even if it's total crap).

This is my take on a few of the more annoying myths and legends...

A bit of history

I cut my teeth as a live / studio guitar slinger in the UK during the 70's and later as a Producer. Constantly working with engineers and producers who recorded some of Britain's best, I have seen it all first hand and remember how things were done.

It was a great deal less complicated then. Microphone preamps resided in a great console, outboard was limited and echo / reverb was done with tape recorders, big metal plates or real rooms...

The role of the Producer

There are multifarious ways of recording and I am not saying our methods are definitive. There have been amazing albums recorded with musicians all playing separately and every instrument recorded with multiple mics plus piles of overdubs. But, I like simple.

To do simple however, you need a well rehearsed band who understand how to make a sweet sound from their instruments and create a great balance as a unit.

One quote from my friend and great live sound engineer, Chris Hill of Wigwam Acoustics c 1988:

You put shit in, you get shit out - only louder.

Of course the same can be said for recording :)

Most of the recordings I love come from the oldskool, where bands just rocked up and played with engineers in white coats or suits capturing what they heard.

The picture at the top of this article shows the Led Zeppelin recording set up at Olympic Studios. Looks straight forward to me...

My job as a Producer is to get the very best performance out of the musicians. To create a soundscape that satisfies the artist, which serves the song and ensures all the individual tracks hang together as an album. I generally leave the band to it, unless they ask for advice or they get in a pickle and need creative input :)

Great Instruments

It seems so obvious to me that if you record a poor sounding / inappropriate sounding instrument or amplifier, there is nothing you can do to make it sound better. The finest microphones will only further reveal its imperfections.


Of course there are times when you are trying to create an effect or atmosphere, but generally that's not the case.

Record with the best instruments and equipment available - simple.

Bleed

Whether you are recording a rock and roll band or symphony orchestra, you certainly need the biggest, highest room available to get the best out of a session. This gives you the space to position amplifiers and acoustic instruments to minimise the bleed.

Of course, microphone selection is vital here and I tend to use a lot of ribbon microphones / multipattern condensers whose figure of eight pattern really helps.

I think it's more important to have the musicians in the same room, as after all, you are capturing a performance. Fuck the bleed...


Distortion is our friend

Like bleed, people are obsessed with distortion, or the lack of it.

Every part of the signal chain introduces some element of 'change' or 'distortion' to the sound. Of course some distortion is good (sounds musical), some is bad (sounds shite).

With electric instruments everything creates distortion. Loudspeakers, valves, pickups and cables all colour the sound of that string plucked or key struck. The soundboards of pianos, bodies of violins and reeds from wind instruments all introduce changes to the primary sound; the better the instrument and greater the player, the sweeter the distortion :)


Most Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) plug-ins model analog devices and hence copy the 'distortion' produced by the analog device.

After capturing the instrument with an appropriate microphone / DI, I prefer to introduce 'distortion' to the signal in the analog world rather than 'emulations' in the digital world. It does help of course working with great consoles, outboard and fantastic microphones...

The most wonderful distortion of the original signal is of course the vinyl record - I love it.

Tape

The concept of tape is cool for bands with unlimited budgets, but honestly now prefer the convenience and dare I say it, the reliability and sound of digital recording. The overhead of keeping a reel to reel machine in perfect order, plus the costs of the tape are, in my opinion, totally disproportionate with the results.


As you can probably gather, I don't compromise when it comes to quality and to me the most important aspects of the process lie in the front end, namely the room, microphones and console. If I really believed that tape made a huge difference, I promise, we would have it :)

We use the latest AVID HD I/O converters with ProTools 11.x at the Supertone Studio, which to me sound great.

Less is More

Certainly for drums, the more mics you use, the more problems you have when it comes to mixing. George Massenburg, Daniel Lanois and Glyn Johns use only a few microphones positioned a good distance from the kit.

Of course it can be tricky getting a balance but if you listen to the mics, then reposition till they sound great, it soon becomes second nature.

Recently I saw this video featuring Glyn Johns. He says that many people have tried his classic drum miking technique and then contacted him to say it doesn't work...

If you have five minutes, its worth a watch. Amusingly, the audio is terrible :)

And finally...

We recently moved into our new residential recording facility in Estivella, España (very close to Valencia) and found this old brochure from Pluto Studios in Manchester featuring the Trident Series 80; good memories.

Pluto Studios in Manchester

Of course in this article, I couldn't go into great technical detail, so if you want to know more, come and share a beer at the Supertone studio!

See you next time!

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