Starting out on the engineering road can be quite daunting, especially for instrumentalists, often more used to gigging than studio sessions.
Well, fret no more as Focusrite have opened their Academy, a free online video tutorial site designed to teach Producers and Engineers the essential basics of the art of recording acoustic and electric instruments on their computer.
Drum recording is the first course on offer and covers mic placement, recording, processing and showing you all the interfaces, mics and outboard equipment you need to get started.
Through a whopping 25 Videos, session drummers Craig Blundell and Alessandro Lombardo, with producer Tim Harbour, talk about skinning, try various variations of mic placement using between one and 12 microphones, show you how to correct phase problems to get the best results and then how to process and edit the recorded tracks.
The number of students qualifying from music technology and music production degrees is increasing worldwide year on year.
The goal of many of those students is to work in a professional recording facility, or work alongside a pro producer, but even as an unpaid intern, no facility or producer will want to touch you without experience.
If you haven’t got a degree, you might have much more to learn still, but hey, you wont have an average of £41000 of debt straddled round your neck, so…. its swings and roundabouts.
Emailing your CV to the studio will probably get you absolutely nowhere, as most other local students in your predicament will also have tried this route.
What you actually need is a track record, as studios often only take on
(a) Their friends that they trust
(b) Staff from other studios that they rate
(c) Their friends from other studios that they rate
(c) Whoever they flipping well want!!!! Have you seen the ratio of studios to music technology students????
The problem is that you need experience to be able to get experience.
So what can you do?
Don’t be an idiot!
This is the main factor that studios are worried about with an unknown quantity (i.e. you) and their customers. The studio world is hard enough to keep your head above water now, without having to worry about an intern annoying the talent, The higher profile their clients are, the more important this is.
Be humble, quiet, yet confident in your own abilities and just don’t think you know everything, just because you have certificate. you don’t, you are just beginning to learn that the best engineers circuit-bend the “rules” somewhat to get amazing results.
Lower your overheads.
Whether this is moving back in with your folks, house / dog sitting for someone that’s abroad or just plain tapping off your understanding significant other, you need to be prepared to live frugally for a bit. Hopefully you blew some of your student loan on a laptop so you can learn skills and programs while you look for an internship.
Get some cash behind you.
Everything is easier when you aren’t wondering where your next meal is coming from. This isn’t necessarily about buying all the latest kit, this is about being able to take every opportunity presented to you. Being able to afford the train or taxi fare to be able to fill in for an engineer that’s ill, having a few pounds to be able to buy a drink for someone that might be able to help you you randomly meet when you are out.
Just having a float so you can pick up some sandwiches on the way in (and then get reimbursed) means you are much more useful than someone who has to come in and then go out again.
Get a Job. …anything, its not forever! I’ll cover a few ideas for optimum jobs for musicians in the forthcoming weeks, but right now you just need cash. Consider working nights (as the pay is higher) and it will get your body clock in-tune with nocturnal activities, so you’ll be on top form if you go to local gigs or events to do a bit of impromptu networking or gig driving (see point 5). You can always book time off, be ill or take holidays if you get something interesting come up. Its only there until you get your internship, but you will need to have some money to support you through it, so build up a pot.
Get a driving licence. The amount of DJ’s and performers that i see that need drivers is substantial. Even if they can drive themselves, its not exactly what you can or want to do if you’ve just played a four hour DJ set with the lure of a free bar!
You can always hire a car for the night if you don’t have one, or the performer themselves will often have a car that you can drive. You essentially get a private audience with a professional for a few hours, where you can listen, ask a few questions and learn! Don’t forget point one, be humble, be responsible, be reliable, don’t get caught up in the party!
Watch local artist’s social channels like a hawk for an “SOS” driver post, if you can step in at the last minute and save the day, it’ll go a long way in your favour and wont be forgotten.
Book a session.
With the money saved from your job, book a session in the studio that you want to intern in, If you make music yourself then this is fairly easy, but if you want to produce other bands you’ll have to find someone to work with. Go out and become your own A&R man on the local gig circuit, find a suitable local band that you would like to work with (and ideally have some ideas for) and offer to do a session with them at the studio that you want to work at (or build up to this in another studio and then book into the one you want to work at once you’ve got a bit more experience). If you’re paying for it, you should get some takers for sessions and they will be quite forgiving while you find your feet! Offer to drive / roadie / engineer small gigs, anything that gives you some experience of working with bands.
Think outside of the box
The best connections aren’t always where you think, don’t limit yourself to approaching or working with people in your immediate area or genre.
I once got the guitarist from a major US metal band to feature on a track through a guy who booked me to play a breakbeat DJ set in Tokyo.
Know Your Place If you are lucky enough to get some work experience, there a few things to remember.
You aren’t the producer or the engineer, never offer your opinion on the clients music, this is a big no-no.
Even if they ask you about it, try and say its not your place, this is one thing that REALLY annoys studio owners, as you are effectively representing their business.
You’re there to help out, make some drinks (learn to do this properly before you turn up), and learn what keeps a professional operation running.
Make yourself indispensable. Offer to do the jobs that no-one else wants to, a surefire winner is to sort the cables out, cables are always in a mess.
Bring your cable tester in (what do you mean you haven’t got one??) and give them an MOT. There’s little chance you’ve completed a MT degree without learning to solder some wires, so put your skills to use.
If they don’t have a cleaner, go and tidy up without being asked. Try and think ahead about what might be needed later on in the day / session and get it ready in downtime.
If you are starting out at a practice room / studio type operation, they might not even have proper coffee (how middle class do i sound here now!), go and get a supermarket cafetiere and a bag of premium java, you might just make yourself some new friends.
You want there to be a void left when you finish, because that void is the reason for you to be paid to be there.
Watch and learn how they do sessions, at some point the engineer or producer will be late or cant come and you’ll have a chance to show what you really can do.
Seriously, Don’t be an idiot!
I can’t make enough of this point!
Avoid badmouthing anyone, especially locally, even in different genres, as most studios know a good proportion of the musicians (especially friend of a friend type connections) in the area and you don’t want to get a bad rep. Keep your opinions about someone and their music to yourself, at least until you are Deadmau5 type of level of success and can make your public cussing mildly entertaining!
I knew an American guy that constantly took digs at various British acts on various internet platforms. He then decided to try to get releases signed (that were actually pretty good) by some of the key British labels, but no-one would touch him with a bargepole, because they all knew he was a liability and publicly acted like an idiot, which wasn’t good for their brand to be associated with.
Firstly, this is not an absolute guide… The shape and size of your room, together with working around existing furniture mean that you often have to deviate from these suggestions to get the best results. These are just some best practice ideas to make your setup the best it can be.
I’m also not going to touch on the subject of room acoustics here, as that’s an entire topic to itself and i’ll dedicate more posts to that shortly, but first, lets check that you’ve got as much of the basics covered as possible.
The tweeters of your monitors should ideally be positioned in an equilateral triangle with your main listening position, or rather… the imaginary lines should cross just behind where your head would be.
Ideally the tweeters should be at ear height, or at least angled, pointing directly towards your ears at the listening position.
You should angle them in towards the mix position at about a 30 degree angle.
Low Frequency Control
There’s a lot of different opinions about where in the room you should set up your speakers, but what you really do need to remember is that the closer they are to any wall, the more the bass response will be increased.
Many active monitors will have switches to compensate for this, or LF controls on the back to compensate for this effect, the basic rule of thumb is to reduce the LF by 6db for every wall it is next to. It would be ideal to not have them in the corners of the room, as you would want to roll off 12db of the bottom end for a balanced response and not many monitors let you do this amount.
If you can have them more than a couple of feet away from a wall, then you should be able to leave the LF controls flat.
An ideal home setup would generally be having your speakers on stands just behind your table, desk or console.
If you do have speakers mounted directly onto your desktop, then the desk would vibrate along with your speakers, essentially making the desk part of the speaker and altering the frequency response of the speakers. This is the same if you have speakers or stands that are directly onto floorboards.
Stands don’t now just put the speakers at the right height, they can also isolate the speakers vibration. Carpet spikes have been trying to do this for years in the hifi world, and certainly trying to minimise contact area between your speakers and what they are sat on is always a good thing.
One way to tackle this effect (if you have solid concrete floors) is to make your stands very heavy and dense, as heavy objects conduct vibrations far less than lightweight ones. Solid concrete breeze block towers will certainly do the job, but might not look as attractive as you may want.
Ideally you would want an isolating device between the speaker and the surface it’s placed on.
Foam based isolators are cheap, and are better than nothing, but absorb only some of the vibrations, and of course, the lower the frequency of the sound, the less it absorbs.
Our favourite ones here are currently the Iso-Acoustics range, these use a mix of plastic, rubber and metal poles to absorb the vibrations very effectively across the entire frequency spectrum and can have a very noticeable improvement in the bass and mid range response of speakers. There are both desktop and floorstanding models.
Most active monitor speakers have multiple ways of connecting the audio cables to them. The best ones are either XLR or Stereo (TRS) Jack, as these can be “balanced connections” and these will have the lowest noise.
If your output device also has a balanced output
(it won’t work if its not), then it will send two separate versions of the same signal to the speaker (called hot and cold). The cold signal will be the exact opposite of the hot, 180 degrees out of phase.
If any noise is picked up on the cable run, it would be picked up on both lines equally, so when the signal enters the receiving device (in this case the speaker) it inverts the cold line, making the original signal back in phase, but the noise is now 180 degrees out of phase and cancels itself out.
Poor gain staging of your monitor chain will result in excessive hiss and noise from your speakers, just follow this simple guide to get the best from your speakers.
Set your monitor output in your DAW to -1dB.
You shouldn’t be clipping your monitor output in your DAW, but it should be peaking as loud as possible without going over.
To set your best monitoring range, set your interface output volume knob or monitor controller to its maximum setting and then adjust the volume control on your monitors until they are the loudest you would ever want them to be. Then just turn your interface or monitor controller back down to normal working levels.
This will give you both the best signal to noise level possible, but also the most useful gain control.
In the decade or so since the the first reflection filter was released, they have become common place not only with home enthusiasts, but also with pro studios and producers who turn to them as a convenient way of recording in a single room with vocalists, to facilitate a more natural form of recording whilst songwriting.
Fresh from the critically acclaimed release of their Microphone range, Aston unleash the mother (if your mother is rather large, as its 40% larger than the current industry leading competitor) of all mic reflection filters, its ridged design almost doubles the surface area and help to redirect any waves that do exist in the reflector away from bouncing back into the microphone. The spherical design increases the angles that the filter protects from reflected sound when recording, instead of working solely on the horizontal axis, as almost all the competition does.
Aston claim that all these factors produce a much linear frequency response than conventional filters and these guys should know, as the Aston management spent years working with SE Electronics in the UK, so are very familiar with the performance of the competition and have really gone back to basics to radically re-engineer the reflection filter concept.
The filter is due to start shipping in early 2016 at a UK RRP of £199.
Universal Audio are once again webcasting their producer seminars from the Namm show this week over in Anaheim, with special guest sessions from Christian “Leggy” Langdon (The Pierces, Ed Sheeran), Mick Guzauski (Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams), Derek Ali (Kendrick Lamar, Top Dawg Ent), Vance Powell (Jack White, Chris Stapleton) and UA stalwart Fab Dupont (Jennifer Lopez, Mark Ronson).
Sessions start at 3PM (11PM GMT) Thursday and 1PM (9PM GMT ) at the weekend.
Session times are as follows.
Daily 4.30pm PST (GMT-8)
Tracking and Mixing with Next-Generation Apollos (Daily)
Watch producer/engineer Fab demonstrate the next evolution of the Apollo interface and how it can expand your studio and your sound. Featuring the Dede track, “Sun Kissed Lover.”
Christian “Leggy” Langdon - Live Tracking with Apollo Twin
Daily 3.30 / 5.00pm PST
Showcase Apollo Twin and the latest UAD plug-ins.
Featuring the Jasmine Ash track, “Talking.”
Mick Guzauski – Recording with Apollo
Thursday 3pm, Friday & Saturday 1pm
Showcase Track with Big Data.
Derek Ali Mixing with Apollo and UAD
Friday & Saturday 3pm
Showcase Track with Kendrick Lamar.
Vance Powell Mixing with Apollo and UAD
Sunday 1pm & 3pm
Showcase Track with Chris Stapleton.