…are not the same. We hear everything, all the time. We can’t stop hearing. But we have to choose to listen.
“Aité fuiam” – is the Gaelic phrase which means “Welcome to the place of sounds, the place of noise”. It seems like an appropriate name for a Sound Engineer’s website. Be ready to get your headphones on to listen to the audio clips which appear on this site. Read the blogs and updates too. And enjoy the “Fuiam”
This post covers the Creative Project I have undertaken as part of my BSc Audio engineering studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Perth.
I was given the opportunity to take songs which a friend had written and created demos of, to a more full production. This is a reflection on my experiences of doing this as part of my Creative Project for my BSc Audio Engineering at UHI Perth. I was sent the songs as demos in mp3 format and later as multitrack 24/44.1 wav recordings. The songs had been recorded in his home, over a long period of time, using a Boss BR800 multitrack digital recorder, so they existed as multi-track recordings. Drum parts on these recordings were the internal Boss BR800 drum machine which NM had programmed. All references to recording techniques, samples, images, description used in this report have been taken from the sessions for “The Day The World Turned” . The other songs followed similar, if not identical, processes and technology used.
I would like to acknowledge and thank Neil Mackie for freely giving me these songs to mix and produce.
As outlined in the project brief there were three musicians involved with this recording. Neil Mackie – guitar, bass, vocals; Ian Wilson – drums; Andrew Sinclair – guitars, bass, keyboards
This project was vevry much an “In The Box” recording project. The DAW used to mix and master is PreSonus Studio One Pro 4.6 (S1Pro). My initial approach was to take the multi-track recordings from the Boss BR800 and extract them to individual tracks for use within S1Pro. Connecting the BR800 to a PC and using software from Boss this proved to be relatively simple, although lengthy process. The Boss unit records files in a proprietary format which needed to be converted to wav using a Boss convertor. A problem thrown up by doing this was a loss of time-alignment across the tracks. This became a serious challenge and took considerable time to resolve.
The image below illustrates the complete track view of “The Day The World Turned” in Studio One Pro 4
RECORDING THE DRUMS
Tracking live drums took place at IW’s drum room. This is his sound-proofed, custom built drum room. The three songs were tracked to permit the replacement of the programmed drums with live drums. These sessions were recorded using a Zoom L20 digital multitrack recorder. This device records directly to wav format and was set to be 24/48.
As the drum room is a 2.5m x 2.5m square there were challenges with spill between mics on the kit. The images alongside this text shows the drummer during the recording sessions and the Zoom L20 in use.
Below is a screenshot of the drum tracks in S1Pro in the song “Safe House”
Use of Samples for Kick and Snare
As mentioned, there were difficulties with the drum recordings in terms of getting a clean sound from any single drum mic. To address this I decided to use the live kick and snare tracks as triggers to allow me to blend in ‘clean’ sampled kick and snare drums. The sampled drum sounds came from the “Addictive Drums” vst instrument set. The process, in S1Pro, of doing this was as follows:
1) use the “Detect Transients” feature on the track being used to create the groove
2) Drag that sample to the ‘Quantize” toolbar
3) Set the “Quantize toolbar to “Groove”, not to “grid”
4) Create a new instrument track and drag the ‘groove’ to it
5) apply the vst instrument, Addictive Drums, to the track
6) Open Addictive Drums and audition and select the appropriate drums within it.
7) Mix and blend the sampled drums with the live recorded drums.
RECORDING THE BASS
This was recorded in my home studio using a combination of DI from a Palmer EINS valve amp and D.I. with vst plug-in amp sims.
RECORDING THE GUITARS
All guitar tracks were recorded in my home studio using a combination of DI from a Palmer EINS valve amp and D.I. with vst plug-in amp sims. The plugin amp sims used were a combination of Ampire from PreSonus, Amplitube from I.K. Multimedia and VStomp from Hotone.
All guitars tracks were given passive EQ with Fabilfilter Pro Q plugin. The image to the right shows the shape of the EQ filter applied. In essence a wide notch was created for each guitar track. The exact frequencies were not identical across all the tracks. The EQ was selective, based on the tone and frequencies being played in the guitar part.
All guitar tracks were sidechained during mixing to make them automatically ‘duck’ behind the lead vocals. Generally this was done using S1Pro’s internal compressor plugin. The exact settings used varied from track to track. The image illustrates the settings for one of the rhythm guitar tracks in “The Day The World Turned”
I used the feature of “Detect Transients” and “Bend” tool to allow me to nudge guitar notes where they were not as well time-aligned as I wanted them to be. The images below show the toolbas in S1Pro as used for this technique.
The pink/red coloured sections are where the notes on the guitar track have manually been nudged to improve time-alignment. They could, of course, have been re-recorded but making small adjustments in the DAW was quicker.
RECORDING THE KEYBOARDS
These were in my home studio using Arturia Analog Lab software as a vst plug-in instrument within S1Pro controlled by an Impact LX-49+ midi controller keyboard.
All vocals for these three songs have been taken from the original recordings to the Boss BR800. These have been brought into S1Pro for mixing and production. The following tequniques were applied:
Brauerizing: This process covers parallel compression for vocals. The single vocal track was sent to three bus tracks which were in turn sent to a fourth bus track. Each of the three bus tracks had a different type compressor plugin applied to it. The exact setting for each compressor changed from each bus. This technique was pioneered by Michael Brauer, hence it bears his name. There is a fast, a medium and a slower compressor setting used respectively. These are then routed to the fourth “Master Vocal” bus, which is in turn routed to the Main Out. To overcome potential gain difficlties none of the three ‘compressor bus’ channels are routed to the Main Out. Instead they are routed to a Dummy output and sent to the fourth bus.
Huartizing: The producer Warren Huart has developed a technique for thickening up thin vocals. This comprises of taking 8 copies of the vocal line and using alternating small delays, detunes and panning to create 2thick” sound. This was applied to the vocals in the songs after they had been Brauerized.
The image above shows the Vox1 and Vox 2 tracks (gold/brown tracks ) with the Huartized thickening tracks below them. (grey/yellow tracks. In this way, for the mix there were 18 tracks of vocals. To simplify mixing, these the “thickening” tracks were balanced against each other and routed to a bus for subsequent mixing against the Braurized lead vocals track.
The PROCESS (in reality)
Live Drums were recorded at IR’s drum room using a combination of mics (see separate panel). The size of the room meant that achieving a clean sound with minimal bleed for any single drum mic was impossible. This created a challenge when mixing the songs as it was difficult to make ‘clean’ kick and snare tracks.
The drum room used a Zoom Livetrack L-20 digital multitrack recorder. Rather than playing to a click track, the mp3 demo recordings were played to the drummers headphones and he hen played/drummed along with them. This gave me 10 tracks of drums to work with when re-recording other instruments and mixing the songs. Although there was no click track, the original demo recordings used the built-in drums from the Boss unit so, in effect there was a steady time beat.
A challenge which arose (and took far more time to overcome than I expected) was the difficulty in keeping all the tracks precisely time aligned as they were moved from Boss to S1Pro and from Zoom to S1Pro. This took considerable time (stretching into many hours in some instances) for each song. As a learning point there has to be a more efficient way of ensuring time alignment across entirely separate machines. Maybe recording an actual click track should have been done, as a reference track. For example, although the Boss and Zoom units were et to 130 bpm for one of the songs, getting the grid in S1 Pro to align with the recordings meant setting it at 129.5 bpm. It may seem like a small thing, but it became a significant barrier to making speedy progress. There were also challenges with individual tracks taken from the Boss multi-tracks as they couldn’t be fitted to the live drum tracks. The timing was just out. I spent considerable time attempting to get them time-aligned before deciding that it was going to be easier and quicker to simply re-record them.
As the principal contributors to this project have full-time jobs and family commitments it’s been necessary to balance this project against their other time commitments. Also, I spent more time on other coursework and assignments in the run up to December than I’d anticipated. The net impact being that this project didn’t move as fast as I’d planned for it to do so in the last quarter of 2019. The same became true during the first quarter of 2020.
” THE DAY THE WORLD TURNED” : Recording Session Notes
These are notes I captured as I was working on the song “THE DAY THE WORLD TURNED” . This was done using the notepad feature within S1Pro. I used these notes as a way of reminding myself what had been done and what needed to be done for this song. A track list is also included to show the tracks used in the song. The process of taking such notes was used for the other songs too. “The DAY THE WORLD TURNED” is being used as an example.
– Changed Verse rhythm to Ampire from VStomp for Neil’s guitar.
– re-recorded mid-song solo
– look up Will’s comments and back everything off!!
Is it really a month since I last opened this song? It seems so….. 🙁
Better listen to it all the way through …..
Observations – 1st listen through
– turn up the drus on the intro beats.
– lead guitars on the intro go out of time when playing the run up in harmony.
– first guitar solo at 1:30 is out of time.
– too much bass still on the rhythm guitar during the chorus
– Neil’s guitar solo is miising at 2:40
– no rhythm guitar parts during the missing Neil solo
– the whole thing is a mess at 3:50 the’re ssrong chords somewhere.
– playout solo is out of time and week on it’s intro.
Observations – 2nd listen through
– Intro bars with lead are good up tothe bends
– Go through every track and check subtractive EQ to carve spaces for each instrument/part.
– Hammond line rendered as audio from midi
– Hammond EQ’d with hi and low pass filters
– Arpeggio keys EQ’d to take them up freq spectrum
– Reverb applied to Arpegeio keys
– HAMMOND is too stuttery, it’s behind the beat, at times around 1:30.
– HAMMOND – wrong chord played at 2:30
– Sampled kick was wrong. Too many beats. Re-sample and redo.!!
– band pass filter applied to Taurus bass line to keep it away from the guitars and keyboards at the chorus’s
– too many rhythm guitar tracks it was getting too confused. Deleted the left for Rhtm Gtr 1 and the the right for Rhythm Gtr 2. Mix to be a clean rhythm gtr 1 on the right and dirty rhythm gtr 2 on the left.
– Deleted rhythm Gtr 3 (clean) from left channel.
– 1st observation is that it would be better in future to have the Song Notes the other way round. i.e. with the most recent edits at the top, not at the bottom. Then when the page opens in Studio One I can see my most recent edits without scrolling…..
– One of today’s jobs is to re-record or at lest edit all the Hammond keyboard line. The wrong notes and chords must be sorted!!
– at long last I might have got the Hammond to a place where it’s almost OK….
A recent assignment from my Audio Engineering degree course at UHI Perth was to create a Sound Library and then use those sounds with a short silent movie. Following the links on this page will open new tabs or windows on your machine which will show the files as I have stored them on my OneDrive.
Sound Library There are approximately 80 sound clips available here . I’m happy for these to be used by anyone who stumbles across them under a Creative Commons licence.
These were recorded using a Zoom H4n Handy Recorder. When choosing what to record I had in mind the sound design which I would be doing for the video. Many of the sound clips were recorded not to be used on their own, but because I could imagine how they would sound when I manipulated them with a software sampler. In this way, they were used as layers within sounds I created. The sound clips were ‘topped and tailed’ in PreSonus Studio One Pro. The image below is a screenshot of the clips being manipulated. A larger version of the image can be seen here.
We were given a movie clip and asked to a) create a sound design for it and b) edit it down from it’s 3:50s duration to approximately 1 minute.
I chose to interpret the video as an advert. Not for any product in particular, simply to create a short and, hopefully, memorable video.
Click here for it to open in a new window. It’s approximately 60 seconds, take from it what you wish.
An important stage in sound design is to create a spot sheet. This is a way of working out what sound is required at what points in the movie. My spot sheet can be found here.
I’ll be making a series of posts as a Project Log for an albums worth of songs I’m recording and producing. This post is a simple introduction and placeholder for those that will follow. The Album is to be called “Crystal Skies” and all future posts about it will be tagged with “Crystal Skies” .
The songs have been written and recorded by a friend, as demos using a Boss BR800 desk-top multitrack recorder. He has generously allowed me free reign to take the songs from his demos to fully produced, fit for commercial release songs. So no pressure there then! This project will also be used as part of my Degree studies at UHI.
It’s been a while since I updated anything on this blog…. But prepare for more!! Lot’s of interesting observations over the summer of 2019, many related to live music at the Rewind Festival @ Scone Palace and the Cognac Blues Festival. Others from helping a firned with the acoustic properties in her companies offices.
And… it’s back to University time for further studies in Audio Engineering.
Back in 1967 The Beatles, along with George Martin and the technical geniuses at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club. At the time they used all the technology at their disposal – on the 4 Track tape machines which were in the studio. They used a couple of these machines so probably had 8 or 12 tracks available to them. Go back and listen to this work of genius and listen carefully to how many instruments, harmonies and layers you can hear. Recorded on 4-track tape….
Apple has long ruled the roost with lightweight recording tools with their Garageband. Now, it looks like Google are preparing to take the fight to them with their Bandlab application for Android devices. I’m not sure quite what it does though. Is it like Soundcloud? (Note – don’t do what I did and try running Bandlab in a Firefox browser. It’s a Chrome App) So, fires up Chrome……. And opens a full multi-track recorded with midi editing capabilities. Oh wow.
In two minutes I’d made a really simple drum part (loads of kits and sounds available) and two keyboard parts. The software autodetected my Impact LX midi controller keyboard.
You can see three tracks and the midi editor in the image above.
If you choose to add a track you get this –
So, I chose to add a guitar. It gave me choices…… for the effects I wanted to add.
Here’s the list of effects offered. And the list of guitar amps
There’s got to be some good sounds in there somewhere
I chose “Pop Rhythm” and got this –
But It didn’t detect my Steinberg audio Interface. So no guitar signals going in….
But….. I opened it on my phone and could edit it all there….
More reviews of this to follow on another day, This looks to me like Google are taking on Apple!
This really surprises me as there’s no shortage of skilled Audio Engineers and presumably, on a Spice Girls tour, no shortage of money, to fix this. So why is it happening?
And on a far lower scale – here’s an article written by Fish. He has plenty of experience of sound at gigs
“My sister was up this weekend visiting our mum here at the Studio which gave my wife Simone and I an opportunity for a rare night of R and R in Edinburgh.
I’d come across a fabulous review of #JonRonson in the Independent newspaper a month or so ago and decided, despite not knowing much about him to give it a punt. We hadn’t been at any show for a while and figured this would be an interesting step outside our designated comfort zone.
Described as a ‘Gonzo journalist’ and with a screenplay for ‘Men Who Stare at Goats’ in his CV as well as a list of documentary credits and of course a small library behind him I clocked a couple of You Tube snippets I was impressed enough and spent £55 on 2 tickets for the #EdinburghAssemblyrooms
It wasn’t just the show I was interested in but I wanted to get an idea of a one man performance which was a cross between a book reading, observational comedy anecdotes and a Q and A as somewhere down the line I can see myself taking that particular road. In short for me it was entertainment and research combined.
I drove into the city with Simone, timing it so we missed rush hour and glided into an empty parking spot in George Street just as the meters petered out. We were early for the show as we welcomed a chance for a meal together with just the 2 of us.
My wife wanted Italian food and I’d clocked the #BarNapoli as we drove up Hanover Street just down from the venue.The last time I remembered eating Italian in the New Town was with my dad in October 1974 when we came back from a family holiday at Crieff Hydro just before we went to Easter Road to see Hibs gubbed 4-2 by Juventus in the 2nd round of the UEFA cup.It wasn’t a great night. The pre match food however was great.
I’d made a good call with the Bar Napoli on this occassion.
The meal was wonderful in a cosy vibrant environment with the chefs busying away in the open kitchen.I loved the sign above the serving counter which said” we don’t have wi fi here, why not talk to each other and pretend it’s 1995″. We did and the minutes disappeared as we attempted to gorge our way through large plates of spaghetti Amalfitana and pizza Regina Margherita having already devoured a bed of mussels and gamberoni for starters. Showtime was getting close and the white flag was raised at our table with at least another 10 minutes of feasting remaining on our plates. The bill was duly paid and we sauntered off into the city dreich blowing vape reek in the rain like heavily laden steam engines.
I like the Assembly rooms as a venue and was really looking forward to the evening’s entertainment. I’d talked the show up with my wife who had slightly less idea than me of what was in store.
The staff were all helpful and pleasant and after avoiding the bar and the merch stall, which I planned to hit later we took our seats in the hall.
Production was pretty simple with the obligatory projection screen for the expected power point show. We were only waiting for 10 minutes before Jon ambled on stage with little fanfare apart from a muted intro track.
This is where I should wax lyrical about the performance but I can’t.
We were seated relatively close to the back and to stage right and had a decent enough view of the show although Simone had to squint round a mass of human who took his seat in front of her just as it all began. We had a little laugh as normally i’m the one feeling guilty when I sit in front of people and try and huddle down to avoid blocking sight lines and comments.
As soon as Jon started speaking I knew we were going to be in trouble.
Now I know my hearing has been savaged over the years from gigging and having studio headphones up too loud at too many recording sessions but it still works and I know bad sound when I hear it.The problem was I could hardly make out what he was saying because of a number of factors. The vocal mike was too quiet and it was a radio mike that I recognised benefitted from a directional source. Jon was speaking over the top of it so not all the frequencies were being picked up.With the PA being eq’d bottom heavy and favouring low mid end I could hardly make out anything he said. I thought at first it was just me but Simone couldn’t make out anything either.
When the recorded powerpoint presentations came on the sound was about 25% louder but still difficult to decipher.
All this wasn’t helped by the door 3m behind us which when opened delivered long loud squeeks as the pneumatic hinges went to and fro. It actually drowned out the PA for seconds at a time as there was someone popping in and out on a regular basis. It started to become really distracting. I just couldn’t get a handle on the performance and Simone was struggling to make any sense of what was going on on stage.Not having any real idea of what the subject matter was, coming in relatively blind, it was making for an awkward long night.
Also not helping was the fact that Jon wasn’t exactly projecting. Maybe he had an ear monitor up too much so he thought he was louder than he actually was out front but his voice was what you’d expect from someone speaking in a lot smaller more intimate room.
The audience at the front of the stage were laughing away merrily as were a few people around us but in all honesty I just couldn’t get to grips with the show and was starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable.
I looked around for a sound engineer that I could maybe ask to tidy up the PA but I couldn’t see one.That’s not something I would ordinarily do but it was a one man show with one mike and a powerpoint input not a 6 piece electric band and this all should have been easy. Simone told me she didn’t understand anything that was being said and I asked her if she wanted to go. She nodded.
At the next power point video we exited by the squeeky door. We had lasted exactly 20 minutes.
I told the bemused Assembly Room staff outside in the bar area and the merchandisers what I thought and they agreed to pass my opinions to Jon Ronson’s team. It wasn’t their fault and I wasn’t angry, just disappointed.I didn’t bother asking for my 55 quid back and decided to pass on the merch stall..
I’m sure that if there was a bit more attention paid to creating a decent sound that I would have enjoyed the show but in all honesty I can’t provide any sort of review as I have no idea of the content.
We walked out of the empty foyer into a near deserted George Street and back to the car to head home.It was a bit of a downer on what had started of a promising evening and much like Hibs back in 74 we should have been satisfied at 2-1 up and been happy with the free and easy parking and the great meal rather than pushing for the extra goals and getting caught out..
We decided to pick up some wine on the way back and I bought some flowers for my wife. 30 Busy Lizzies for £3 at Tescos was a result and the romantic gesture was appreciated by my fellow gardener.
Over a glass back in the kitchen Simone put on a couple of You Tube clips of Jon Ronson.It was cool and funny and everything was clear and audible. He was wearing a headset microphone.He must have left it in the hotel last night.
It wasn’t a total failure of an evening. I learned a bit about what not to do if I was in that position.It’s easy to take the ticket money for granted but as a total solo performance you have to put in that extra effort to make it happen and pay attention to the detail as when it’s all on you that’s what makes it or kills it. Last night I felt that detail was missing.