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Monday, August 08, 2011

The Den Experience: What does this button do?

Cheers geeks! Today we’ll talk about being good to get your shiny chocolate egg for sure.

Let us assume that the musicians that came to make a fantastic record in your studio have absolutely no equipment. They barely scraped their annual shoe shop wages to buy some instruments so they can actually have a guitarist, a bassist etc. instead of having a bunch of generic guys in a band. So its up to you to have every possible thing needed warm and ready in your studio by the time they break in.

But the worst thing is that your clients are going to sit in the middle of all of your expensive neat stuff poking their fingers mindlessly and mistreating virtually everything they can reach with their dirty appendages. Its time for you to be strong. Its time to set up the rules and hammer them right into your clients’ brains. Here’s the basic sketch of The Den Commandments:

Rule #1. Take off your boots or I’ll shoot you.

This one’s easy. It is useful to have the musicians change their footwear because it makes your place cleaner. Be prepared and have some spare pairs of slippers around. Being barefooted or wearing some light shoes makes people comfortable during all seasons and weathers.

Rule #2. Do not touch anything.

That is right - ANYTHING. It is important to have musicians you are unfamiliar with understand that in some extreme cases they’ll have to sell their kidneys to pay for the broken equipment. Usually this rule is being dropped after you get to know each other, but it can become really annoying at first when the guys start to poke around.

There is plenty of things a musician does wrong, so you’ll have to keep an eye out. For example, some of them never loosen the adjustment screws on your mic stands so you have to change the washer or the whole stand in a matter of weeks. Others like to shake the microphone and tap it on their palms when there is no sound coming - as a result leaving you with a nice AKG radio mic with a broken membrane. There are, however, nice professional artists that know stuff, but you never know it from the start and you just don’t want to find out at the cost of a broken piece of equipment. So its better to have every little thing done by your hands at least during the first couple of days.

Rule #3. No alcohol.

Now don’t you grin - this includes you too. Imagine its the ol' Prohibition times. Its pretty obvious that alcohol makes people sloppy and you are not particularly eager to see your precious vintage amp head toasted because of a spilled beer. Also the process of recording music demands a lot of concentration and no one will be glad to waste prepaid time recording unnecessary takes ruined by some cocktail... Well, if you aren’t actually interested in the result itself as much as in the money from renting your studio, you may discard the latter.

Basically it’s good to have a designated area for food, drinks and other consumables so your place doesn’t get stuffed with dropped chips and your console doesn’t have chicken fat all over its faders. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

If you succeed in agreeing with the guys on the rules above, you’re good to go. You may come up with some more, but those will be more case specific, so you’re on your own on that.

Now you may wonder what exactly is necessary to record a band and the good news is that I’m about to cover that.

First of all, a nice premises of about 30-40 square meters is required. It must be dry and warm there all year round. It may be a basement, a garage, or a storage as long as it has central heating and it doesn’t get moist. It may or may not have additional control room - it isn’t really important. When you get a hold of such place, you’ll want to eliminate parasitic reverberation which will poison your existence and shorten your lifespan if left unhandled. Its not so hard to get a couple of nice carpets to lay on the floor and get some soundproof material for walls and ceiling. There a books written about how to make a quality sound room, so we’re moving on.

Now you’re going to decide which kind of storage will you use for the recorded sound. There are not many options present today for a professional recording studio and there are almost no options for a middle class one. You can decide and go for analog recording using, for example, a high performance tape recorder. This approach is probably the best out there, but takes a whole awful lot to have all the recording, tracking and mixing equipment at hand and it will surely cost a fortune. So we’ll stick to the other option of a digital-oriented studio and the first thing you need is a computer.

If you intend to have the records processed, mixed and mastered right in your studio, get a good computer. It is not so hard to get a nice multicore high performance machine, since you do not require any graphics here - a PC with a fast CPU with as many cores as you can get will work fine for parallel processing. If you already have a nice PC at home and you’re going to work on the records there, then all you need is a PC or a notebook with a FireWire port in it and a quiet cooler just to record and store. I have a six core AMD-based machine running Ubuntu Studio GNU/Linux at and it can handle pretty much every mixing job I’ve ever gave it. I have a small quiet desktop in the studio to catch the data stream and store it.

The next in the chain is the analog to digital converter (ADC) and it will be the bottleneck for the quality of your records, so choose wisely. There are a number of manufacturers out there who make cool external multichannel devices like MOTU or M-Audio, but the real marvel for every studio is Echo’s AudioFire series.

Then you’ll need a decent mixing console. I found pretty much every console with 8 or more phantom-powered microphone inputs to be suitable for the purpose. It is also nice to have a parametric middle frequency control in the tonestack. Other than that, your mixer is a generic one. Watch out for Yamahas, however, they tend to clip with high output microphones.

To actually catch any sounds, as you could already knew, you will need a bunch of microphones. The minimal set consists of four dynamic mics with vice-like fixtures to cling to the drum’s rim, two condenser mics to use as overheads and one bass drum mic. It is also nice to have an additional generic dynamic mic to have the snare drum doubled. This basic set will allow you to record any drum set with one bass drum. Conveniently, it is suitable for recording virtually any other musical instrument in the world including vocals. Of course, you’re going to need the stands and cables for all this stuff. Needless to say that having spare parts and cables can save your life in this epic struggle between you and your bad karma spoiled by too many adult video and bad language.

It is cool to have a minimal set of drums of acceptable quality present at all times in the place, so the drummer won’t have to haul his own one over. There are many available drum sets in the middle price segment.

Alright now. Stop reading and go to bed or your mama will be mad at you. Again.

-- Cheers. Jinx. --

6:18 am - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Den Experience: Welcome to the Den

Current mood: dirty

Hello. This collection of articles is a set of experiences that every recording engineer goes through when recording an ambitious (or not so ambitious) rock band at his/her low-to-middle class studio.

So I'll put you, my dear reader, through all the nine blazing hells of this unnerving, sweaty process of confronting the musicians' Red Button Syndrome (RBS) and having some quality records in the end.

I'll try and describe both basic approaches to making your band's records sound good and some little tricky things I find important to mention because they would probably make your work a little easier and more conscious.

Also I plan to supply you with any kinds of hard evidence of my words not being a home-brewed blabber, but actual steps leading to the end product.

So here I am at The Den studio recording what’s gonna be Castaway Angels’ debut album, and we’re ready to roll.

Please note that all the characters mentioned below are fictional - any resemblance with real persons should be considered coincidental unless otherwise stated.

Here they are - a bunch of sweaty, farting, burping and making silly jokes ugly-ass guys all wrapped up in a rock star mojo. One of them is paranoid, another one is slow, two of the rest pretend to be gay the last one is the singer. You can’t tell, however, from the looks of them, which one is the talent and which one can kick your ass having seven years of Kung-Fu training behind. So its time to set up some basic rules for yourself if you want to make it any further and at least look professional:

Rule #1: Be polite... and remember their names, goddamnit!

All of them! Well, its pretty native. There is no Ronald who likes to be called, say, Roland... or “hey you, the big one!”

Rule #2: Stay calm

Yeah, just like they say in a cop movie. You’ll have to maintain yourself at all times ‘cause nobody likes to see you getting pissed off by his actions no matter what he actually did.

Rule #3: Listen

Its as simple as that. Your job here is to listen to everything around you and to everything your clients say even if its hard to make contact with them at first. You’re here to make their dream come true so don’t set up any obstacles on the way of understanding it first.

Those were the most important things you have to get really familiar with in my opinion. Every creative process involving a bunch of different people (and they’re all different) is a personality soup. So as long as you try not to get onto someone and try to understand what he (or she) wants, you’ll be just fine.

Thats it for the small heads up. Watch out for the updates from The Den - next time we’ll talk about setting rules for everyone else which is much more enjoyable.

-- Cheers. Jinx. --
12:41 am - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Friday, February 11, 2011

Insomnia by Jesse Clarkson review

Current mood: creative

Hey. I promised Jesse to feed something back to him on Insomnia,
so here it is:

First of all, it has the melody - the kind of a melody that is just
great and can provide a solid base for the whole play.

So, let us dissect the song piece by piece.

The intro (0:00 - 0:08)
It's just too short. since the author is to reintroduce this piece later,
he has to make a listener to remember it. Even more - it must
somewhat intrigue him. So I'd suggest to go for an extended intro -
make it 2 times longer and introduce the full hang drum (-like sound)
part only after the first block is played. Jesse can afford to make his
prscussion play alone since it has an interesting sound - just a small
tweak adding some basic bones for the upcoming hang drums - like
one or two hits per bar in some critical rhythmic positions.
Another little issue is the snare (-like noisy sound) which I'd put a
little back in the picture by lowering its loudness about 3-5db and
mixing it into a room/reverb bus a little more so it no longer draws
that much attention to itself yet still contains the needed presence
for the track.

Enter the pizzicato/flute part (0:10 - 1:28)
It's just relly cool. I like the dynamics change for a swifter pace
and how the flute creeps in. Also there is a great move on introducing
some kettle drums.
It has a great flow and forward movement and conclusion. I just love it.

Reintroducing the main part (1:28 - 1:58)
Here is a nice composing move of reintroducing the main part again as
if we're playing it the first time. But usually this kind of refrain
has a variation. so this is the very 1:40 part I was talking about. If
Jesse throws in some nice new melody on top of the old hang drum part -
it would sail into the 1:58 mood change just smooth.

The new stuff (1:58 - 2:12)
Aww.. More! More! - the audience shouts ;) It's a great piece and I'd
go for doubling it one more time adding some high register melody here
in repeat. One can make it even quadruple if manages to make all
the parts creep in really slow one by one - it is a nice technique.

Yet another refrain (2:12 - 2:40)
Nice! Imagine the flute part play two times in a row here (starting it
over around 2:27) so this piece seizes to be just the copy from early
in the track. It has a little quicker perceptive pace, so outlining it
more will mak it sound naturally.

A huge period (2:40 - 2:47)
Yeah it's just what it sounds like - a coda. If you end the track here
it would be just nice... But what is it? Isn't it over yet?

You bet - new stuff revisited! (2:47 - 3:00)
It's a nice way of ending but it leaves thinking there is more, but
*blink* - and it is over. it is a very strange point to make the song
end. If one is not satisfied with the "huge period" version, it's possible
to make listener understand that it's not in vain. One can bring
out the new stuff here, expand it and then make it end like some
orchestral - on a very high energy.
The thing with endings is that they must resolve - rather by emanating
and losing all the song's energy or by taking it to a peak and then
break. I think such approach really matches the song itself. I had
insomnia once - there's more to it than you are trying to tell and
there might be a place for something in a bigger scale musically, so
it won't sound awkward I think.

I really liked Insomnia and am eager to hear more of Jesse soon.
Thanks, Jesse!

Cheers. Jinx.
11:54 am - 4 comments - 2 Kudos