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A Little Bit about Studio Etiquette pt 2

Studio owners are very cautious about what happens around their equipment. To make sure that you respect the environment that you are borrowing, here are a few thoughts to make your recording experience better.

Be Supportive and Positive

There are many benefits to having a positive and supportive attitude. It can also have a huge impact on the result of the recording.

One of my favorite studio stories has to do with this topic.

I once had a student who was a singer. She was charismatic and a natural and a natural performer. She was also an identical twin. On one of her songs she had convinced her sister to sing back-up parts. Like many twins, her sister was not a singer even though she had almost the same voice and she was also not a natural performer. This was her first time in the studio which is nerve racking for most people. In this case it was worse because the control room was had her sister, myself and about 10 other students in there listening to her. Naturally she was very nervous and it was very easy to hear that she felt uncomfortable.

During one of the takes, I had my head down to where, form her perspective, it looked like I was just listening to the take. What I did was tell my students in the control that we needed to boost her confidence, so when I hit the talkback button everyone has to tell her that she is doing a great job, that her voice is beautiful and that she just needs to project a bit more and turn that voice loose. It took about two takes for her to fully let go of the nerves and she actually got to a point where she was projecting too much and we had to tell her to bring it down a notch. In the end, she found out that she had it in her to not only sing but to sing well. All she needed was a little positive support.

Focus on the Recording

Recording sessions can be very long and monotonous especially if you are doing take after take after take… It may seem like not much is happening but the producer and engineer are listening very intensely to the performance. Even when the song is being played back, they are listening to the performance. A rule that I learned early on in my days of hanging out in studios is that in the control room, the focus is always on the music and therefore;

 

No talking while recording.

 

Most studios have a lounge area so if you feel like you are getting bored and feel the need to talk about something other than what is being recorded, take a break and go to the lounge. The producer and engineer wouldn’t mind, in fact they will appreciate your consideration to maintaining their focus.

Substances

I don’t want to get into how drugs are bad, illegal and why you shouldn’t do them. We all know that.

I have had clients who insisted on bringing various substances to the studio in order to help their performance. It never does. All I will say is this, everything in moderation but if you need the help of drugs or alcohol in order to perform, you have a problem that needs to be fixed. Try to name a successful addicted artist who is living a happy and healthy lifestyle.

I’m sure that there are more things that can be thought of as proper studio etiquette but those are the main ones in my opinion. The bottom line is to give the support that you want to receive, the creation of the music is the main focus and have fun.

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A Little Bit About Studio Etiquette pt 1

When people think of a studio and a recording session the first thing that comes to mind is the image portrayed on TV and in music videos. This image is usually far from the truth. A recording session is not finished after one or two takes and it is far from a party environment. Many studios have equipment worth thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The most expensive microphone that I have ever used was a $12000 vintage Telefunken U47 and we were very careful around that microphone.

With that in mind, you can understand why studio owners are very cautious about what happens around their equipment so make sure that you respect the environment that you are borrowing. Here are a few thoughts to make your recording experience better.


Essential People

The only people who need to be at a recording session are the people that have a direct influence on the recording:

  •         The musicians
  •         The engineer
  •         The producer

People who probably shouldn’t not be there are:

  •         Talkative and opinionated friends
  •         Girlfriends and significant others

It is fine for them to visit because a recording studio is a cool thing to see but there is work that needs to be done and they can be the cause of unwanted distractions. Some friends even try to take over the producers job.

Talkative and opinionated friends can actually be very beneficial to a session if their opinions are in tune with those of the producer. If not, their presence becomes very detrimental to the process, especially if the friend has no recording experience. Their goal is always to help but they can have a tendency to have a short term, from take to take, perspective and not know or be aware of how one action now can effect a later process such as editing or mixing. I have seen a producer tell a band to get rid of a friend in the studio because the producer got tired of explaining to him that all of his suggestions would mean hours of unnecessary editing later. Imagine that your song is a house under construction where the producer and the engineer serve as the designer and the contractor. One day, a friend with no design or contracting experience wants to take control over the building of your house. Would you let him? 

Girlfriends and significant others can have an effect on a session because their presence can set a certain mood. This can work for or against the recording. Many people don’t want to admit it but they act differently around their partners. You can hear it when they answer the phone or when they are around. Girlfriends and significant others typically change the dynamic of the group simply by just being there which in some cases alters the performance.However, there is a time that I would say that friends and partners should absolutely be there. This is when the mixing is nearing the end and the final tweaks are being made. During this part of the process the guitar player wants to hear more guitar, the singer wants more vocals, the drummer… etc. In this situation it is good to have friends in because they can bring a less biased opinion to the group.

 

Use Constructive Criticism

I have a general rule when it comes to criticism.

 Don’t mention a problem if you don’t have a solution to it.

 Imagine that you are playing a new song and after you play it through, someone tells you that you played it wrong and you should fix it but offers no suggestions on what to do differently. How frustrating and de-motivating is that?

This leads into the next rule in part 2.

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4 things that will create better instrument separation

 


There is nothing better than capturing a well rehearsed band banging out an awesome performance live off the floor. The energy, interaction and vibe just feels great but what can be a challenge is minimizing the bleed while capturing that performance and the smaller the space is that you are recording in, the more difficult it becomes.

Bleed is, for example, when the sound of the guitar is heard in the drum overheads. You would then say that the guitar is bleeding into the overheads.

Dealing with this problem is actually a lot easier than you would think as long as you keep these 4 things in mind.

1.Distance between instruments
2.Microphone polar pattern
3.Microphone proximity
4.Barriers

Distance
You already know that the further you are away from something the quieter it becomes. In the audio world this is described in the “inverse square law” (http://bit.ly/ahWVVo). It basically says that a sound will decrease by 6db every time you double the distance to the source. In other words, a mic that is 2m or 6′ away from a source will be 6db quieter than a mic that is 1m or 3′ away from the same source.
What it boils down to is that the further you put two instruments apart the less bleed you will get.
The thing to watch out for when increasing the distance between sound sources is that if they are too far apart, whatever little bit of bleed that ends up in the other microphones can be off time and can be off enough to give an unwanted delay effect.

Microphone polar pattern
A microphone’s polar pattern describes the directionality of the microphone. I generally like to keep it simple and say that there are three main polar patterns.

Cardioid, also called unidirectional picks up sounds coming from in front of it and rejects sounds from behind it.

Bidirectional, also called figure of 8 picks up sounds that come from the front and the rear but rejects sounds from the sides.

Omnidirectional picks up sounds from all directions.

You can improve the separation greatly just by taking the pickup and rejection areas of the microphone into consideration. For example, a very common set up for recording a singer playing an acoustic guitar is to use two bidirectional microphones where one is closer to and pointing at the singer’ mouth and the rejection point is pointing at the guitar. The second mic is closer to the guitar with the rejection point pointing at the singer’ mouth.

Microphone proximity
This one is pretty much a given but a valid rule non the less. The closer a microphone is to an instrument or a sound source the more prominent that instrument or sound will be in that microphone.

Barriers
Placing a barrier between a mic and an instrument will obviously have an affect on the intensity level of that instrument in the mic. The question is, where to put the barrier? Answering this question becomes more difficult the more instruments you add to the recording. I tend to think of this in terms of how easy is it to box an instrument in. It is much easier to box a guitar cab in than a drum kit. I also think of it in terms of the spreading of high and low frequencies in a room. (That will be covered in a later blog)
Some instruments have characteristics that can serve as natural barriers that may not immediately come to mind. Trumpets, trombones and closed backed electric guitar amps are quite directional. I typically do not have any separation problems when close micing a horn section and I would often place two guitar cabs back to back and close mic them.

By keeping these 4 things in mind you will be well on your way to great instrument separation and if non of this works, you could always use an electric drum kit and DI everything.
Enjoy and have fun,

Kyhan