In late 2014 I recorded a bunch of songs with local producer/engineer/lord Andy Lawson at his newly finished studio. After much insistence he agreed to let me assist/make coffee/play Fifa/cuddle Cherry and Dusty. Here are some gems I extracted from by grubby little note pad.


 

Drums

– Tuning, setting up and finding the appropriate drum sound takes time. Allow ample time and if possible get the drummer to tune the kit beforehand (although it’s likely to change during tracking).

– Using A Sennheisser 421 for the kick inside mic provides a lot of body and attack. You can always add low end using a sample.

– You can sculpt the sound of the drums (particularly the snare) using paper, an extra head, moon gels/sticky hands and towels.

– Phase is a big deal. Using the overhead mic as the phase standard check the phase of each of the other mics. Do this before tracking and double check again before mixing. To get the snare top and bottom in phase place the capsules at 90 degrees.

– The Ronson drum mic position: An SM58 pointed upwards towards the snare bottom and nearby the kick. Experiment with placement to get a good balance between kick and snare and always check phase with the overheads.

– A mic on the snare shell can provide extra attack and another tone to mix in with the snare top and bottom.

– Three types of tuning are most common. The most open and resonant sound occurs when both the top and bottom heads are in tune with themselves (typical jazz type tuning). For pop or funk tune the bottom head lower than the top head. This will give your drum a deeper tone and a slight fall-off or dip in the decay. To reduce sustain tune the bottom head higher than the top head.

 

Guitars

– If you’re placing two mics on a guitar or bass cabinet you need to check phase. Do this by getting a stab from the player and checking the wave forms follow the same contour, move the mics until they match.

– If gear permits get both a clean and a dirty DI signal. A clean DI is before effects and a dirty DI is after the effects.

– Adjust guitar/bass intonation by playing open then 12th fret. Think shorter string sharpens, longer string flattens.

– Watch string bending on certain chord shapes. Often light gauge strings are the culprit.

– When pedals are being noisy record with a low latency simulator and reamp.

– Place a torch on the grill cloth of an amp to find the cone(s). As a starting point place the mic on the centre of a cone, up against the grill cloth. If it’s too harsh or too forward sounding, move it towards the edge of the cone or further back from the grill.

 

Process

– It’s vital to keep things moving. Sure, allow the band to experiment with sounds or parts but sometimes they’ll need a push to move on.

– Don’t be afraid to compress bass or vocals during tracking. A good starting point is a slow attack with 5 – 7 dB of gain reduction.

– When in doubt stick with simple. This goes for everything from mic placement to the song arrangement.

– Don’t underestimate the power of groove and cool.

– Players really need to rehearse parts thoroughly, skills drop 20% in the studio.

– Place markers in the session as early as possible, this will put everyone on the same page regarding the structure of the song and speed up punch recordings.

– Mult and take notes as much as you can during tracking. For instance, let’s say the guitarist has several significantly different parts, assign them to their own tracks and make notes to make editing easier.

– You need to get the sound as close as possible at the source. Move the player in the live room, change the instrument and adjust microphones before you even think about touching EQ, compression, etc.

– Doubling the lead vocal is helpful for vocalists with a harsh tone (softens the tone) or trouble pitching (obscures perceived pitch).

– When comping take notes so it’s easier to put together! For example “take 03 great middle section”.

 

Microphones

– Ribbon mics are ideal for harsh sounds e.g cymbals and tambourines. Ribbons tend to accentuate the mid range and roll off the top end.

– You can shape the tone of mics (especially ribbons) by changing the pre-amp impedance.

– Warm up vocals before and after singing.

– Before plugging mics into pre’s make sure the phantom power is off – especially for ribbon mics.

– Handle ribbon mics with care.

 

Editing/Mixing

– Valhalla vintage verb has a neat random verb setting.

– When editing, place cuts before transients for transient based material (e.g drum hits)

– It may be possible to salvage BV’s from raw tracks. Actually you can salvage anything from a demo if it has the special sauce.

– Auto Tune: Only select phrases that need work, track them in and draw by hand. You can make it even more natural by adjusting the tuning speed.

– Reverse cymbal hits into climactic moments – try splitting them so they aren’t too harsh.

– Bounce the rough mix, import it into the session and assign it to a different output before mixing. If you have a good reference mix import that to. These will be your guides.

– Don’t get too attached to the rough mix.

– Take regular breaks. Give your ears and body a rest every two or so hours.

– Comping is not exclusive for the lead vocal.

– Always duplicate playlists before editing so you can go back to the original clip.

– Listen out for resonances around 160 Hz for bass.