August 25, 2008

How to Get Kickin' Bass Drum Sounds

Kick/Bass drum is what drives rock music. It's what makes hip hop danceable. It's how jazz drummers push the band. Such a special drum needs special treatment, especially in the studio!

First and foremost... you need good source material. Sound on Sound interviewed several professional engineers and it was nearly unanimous.
As with recording any instrument, the choice of drum and the manner of its tuning and preparation can make a huge difference to the sound you capture, so this should always be the place to start.
So don't forget to tune the drums before you record - I wouldn't recommend the human-ear-sweet-spot positioning method though, unless you want to go deaf. Nile Rodgers goes so far as to say (in the SoS interview)
Even if the band uses one drum kit for the whole record, I want it tuned right for each song. We'll change the heads or tune it differently, all that kind of stuff. Sometimes we change the beaters... It all depends on how those frequencies are responding to the key of the music, to the pulse of the music. Every record is different, every song is different, every tape is different.
It's important to note that there are a wide variety of opinions on how to get the best kick drum sound even among sound engineers. These are only some of the possibilities.

Microphone Placement
Joe Chiccarelli likes the two mic approach, which is especially popular in rock music.
"In most situations I tend to use two mics: one inside to gather the impact, and one outside to capture the “tone” – the overall note and picture of the drum."

If the drummer doesn't have a hole cut in the front head, or doesn't want one, you can point a mic at the contact point of the beater on batter head. This will deliver a similar *click* sound to a mic inside the drum. Be careful of sound bleeding into this mic though, since it's not shielded from the other sounds by the shell of the drum, you'll need to be wary of phase problems.

Adjusting the distance of the outside mic(s) is the best way to deal with phase problems, but if you don't have the time to experiment until you have the two mics in phase with each other (maximizing the amount of bass they pick up) you can always add a few ms of delay to one of the mics to get them in phase later on.

Chiccarelli also shares one of his tricks on how to get a processed/low-fi drum sound.
Old cassette decks with built-in limiters can deliver quite a quirky picture of a drum. It instantly sounds like a processed drum loop.
He specifically mentions putting said cassette deck inside the bass drum, to get a squashed sound, as well as putting it in the room to pick up the whole kit.

I'm not the first to come up with this, and many other (much more knowledgeable people) have already written up how EQ affects the kick drum sound. Here it is as Laskow states in his Taxi FAQ:
If you need more bottom end, try boosting @ 60 or 100Hz. Try rolling off lower mids (300-700Hz) to get rid of a box-like sound. To add more attack, try boosting in the 1K to 3K range.
For bottom end there is no substitution for running a spectrum analyzer to find the fundamental frequency and boosting that specifically. Believe me it works 100 times better than just randomly boosting some random low frequency.

Also, Boosting between 600-900Hz will give you more punch. If necessary, you can try to reduce bleed from the cymbals by reducing above 3k with a LPF or a High Shelf.

Close mics (the ones you put inside the kick, or point at the contact point of the beater) These are for capturing the attack:

For the outside/distance mics, large diaphragm microphones work well to capture the low frequencies:

If you're only going to use one microphone on the kick, you're better off using the one that can capture the attack and using a triggering plugin or an exciter to get the low end.

Again, what really matters is that the drums fit the mood/atmosphere of the song, not just "objectively good" drum sounds.

Keep on kickin!

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August 19, 2008

Clarity - Hot

If you're talking to a musician and they mention the word hot, slap them in the face. Then proceed to politely ask for clarification.

hot comic

There you have it. Hot as in Loud, Hot as in 'hot damn', and Hot as in cool.

Now I just need to think of an excuse for that google image search for 'sexy bakini'. I really doubt my girlfriend is gonna buy the 'research for a blog post' one.

for real though, it wasn't cooperating with my more um... appropriate ones. Not to worry though, I used Moderate SafeSearch ;)

August 18, 2008

It's all about source

ehx holy grail reverb pedalSource material - the recording engineer's holy grail. If something doesn't sound good in real life... you're already screwed. Let me qualify that though, before the flames start flying.

<-- not that holy grail; though it is quite nice

Of course there are tools that can fix things about your recording: autotune, drumagog, beat detective, the list goes on. But even using these very powerful tools requires SOMETHING about the original track to already sound good.

With autotune and beat detective it's the actual tone and performance that stick around regardless of editing. Drumagog on the other hand helps the tone, but that's all.

It is possible to use a whole collection of tools on each track and 'fix' everything about it. But the fact of the matter is that if you do that... you may as well have just recorded it as midi and triggered samples, because what you'll end up with has basically nothing desirable left from the original performance anyway.

Let me take this opportunity to support my other favorite kind or source, open source: Ubuntu is awesome.
Well jim, that's all fine and good, but how do I capture great source material?
I'm glad you asked! You use your ears young padawan! If it sounds good in real life, in the real air, it usually sounds good when you get it to tape as well. Of course, that assumes you aren't shooting yourself in the foot somehow along the way, and that the songwriting is good, and also that you have a good mix, panned, eq'd and compressed for optimal clarity and definition.

It a long way to the promise land. Keep on...

August 17, 2008

Animals in the studio

Quick post while I'm back in detroit for a few days (back from nashville).

I know some people keep pets around their home studios. I wonder if they help the vibe. Do you keep pets around while you record?

Do they make noise and mess up takes from time to time?

I want answers!

August 13, 2008

Music for film?

So... I don't really know much about it but, from what I hear, getting your music used in film a fairly lucrative. The reason I'm sitting here writing about this is that cdbaby has added a way to make your music available to filmmakers. Has anyone had any experience working with filmmakers in this way?

If you don't know about cdbaby I highly recommend it, it's a nice easy way to get distribution online (iTunes, Rhapsody, and Amazon to name a few) with no crappy reoccurring fees.

I digress, as far as music for film goes. I think that the benefits from the increased exposure far outweighs the initial monetary benefit. For 3 reasons:
  1. You have someone else pouring money into promotion of the end product.
  2. The listeners are much less likely to get distracted and ignore your music.
  3. When someone buys the soundtrack, you get to be bundled in (see: more free exposure)
Then again... you do get paid every time the movie is sold. And money is good too :)

PS - does anyone know if there are musicians who specifically write songs on each album with film in mind?

August 11, 2008

Don't forget to backup!

If you don't yet backup your files, you should. I know you probably don't want to spend the money, but if you lost your files tomorrow, just think how much you'd be willing to spend in order to get them back.

That being said you have 2 options when it comes to backing up your hard work (both song/project files and other).
  1. Copy all your files to another location

    This is something you should always do, even if you use RAID. It's pretty simple to do though. Either (a) manually backup the files you think are important over to an external drive (or secondary external drive if the original files are already on an external drive). Or you can set up a program to automatically do it for you. I use rsync, but
    time machine is a good user friendly backup tool for mac, and according to lifehacker, syncBack is a good one for windows.

  2. Use RAID1 to automatically keep a duplicate copy at all times.

    You're probably wondering why anyone would do a backup using this method since they'd have to do one of the other backup methods anyway. Well here it is: When a drive fails, the computer doesn't act funny. It doesn't crash. It doesn't fail to boot. It works perfectly well, and continues to operate normally as long as you need it to.

    It just tells you that one of your disk drives has crashed and needs to be replaced. When you replace it, it just copies all the files over to the new drive so you have 2 copies of everything again.

    So why does this need to be combined with method 1? Well it doesn't really, but if something happens to your computer, like a fire or being dropped, and both drives are destroyed together, you're still screwed. And believe me dropping your computer will kill both of the drives. I speak from experience.

  3. Keep a remote copy

    This is really just a variation of number 1, but I separated it because the procedure of doing the backup is different. This one requires a remote server on the internet to store your files.

    You can do this automatically with rsync, or you can just do it manually by copying your files to an ftp server.

    WARNING: You should always use SSH when backing up files over the internet (also known as sftp, ftp over ssh, or scp) If you don't use ssh or some other encryption when you backup over the internet, anyone can see the data in your files. That is bad.

Losing your files sucks. Backup today.

August 5, 2008

Improved Wiki, imported Content

My posts will be a bit sporadic in the coming weeks... did I mention detroit is beautiful this time of year?

So here's the low down: I created a wiki, as a resource for whoever needs it.

To get the wiki started, Rane Corp has given me permission to merge in the existing information in their reference section, under the condition that they be cited as a reference wherever their info appears. Not bad at all.

If you look at Rane's pro-audio reference page, you'll notice there is a copious amount of information there. And by copious I mean A LOT.

So I wrote a quick script to convert all the HTML to WikiMedia formatting and got a lot of the work done, but there is still a lot of editing to be done. All the entries currently appear en masse in an all encompassing glossary page. So first of all, each 'word + definition pair' needs to be copy/pasted into it's own page. Not to mention all the places there are stray symbols due to mistakes in the html to wiki converstion.

I'm hoping to make this a resource for music and audio alike, but I need your help! Anyone may edit the wiki anonymously, but accounts are free and let you keep track of your contributions. Everything runs on the same software as the famous wikipedia, so if you help out over there, you should feel right at home.

If you'd like to contribute, the help will be appreciated very much, but more importantly...

Enjoy the wiki!

August 2, 2008

Delay compensation - what the heck digidesign?

So... Jon over at Audio Geek Zine has written about delay compensation in protools a few times this month, and if you're unfamiliar with the topic, you'll find them very helpful. But what I want to know is, why doesn't protools have this functionality built in?

Accoding to Sound Thinking, Digidesign's Protools family is by far the most popular recording software:
With Digidesign's 85% market share and more than 130,000 users world wide, it's not hard to see the huge advantage Pro Tools gives you over any other digital audio work station.
Well, I find it very troubling that the most popular DAW, and possibly (see: probably) the most popular all-around-music-production software, doesn't have such a basic feature built in.

Just about all their competitors have it now:
DAWDelay Compensation Built-in?
Steinberg CubaseYes
Steinberg NuendoYes
Ableton LiveYes
FL StudioYes
Motu Digital PerformerNo
Digidesign ProtoolsEdit: LE - No/HD - Yes
Adobe AuditionYes
Apple Logic(comes with some but it's not automatic)
Cakewalk SonarYes

How did this happen? Maybe digidesign has gone unchallenged in the pro-audio market too long?

Edit: One of the commenters has brought the fact that Pro-tools HD has Delay compensation to my attention.

As far as I'm concerned that's about as good as not having it, but that's subject matter for another post.

© 2008 Jim Robert