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Monday, August 08, 2011

The Den Experience: What does this button do?

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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. --

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