Archive for September, 2006

THE GREAT, ELUSIVE DRUM SOUND

Filed under: — George Petersen @ 12:43 pm

By George Petersen
It’s funny, I suppose, but getting a great drum sound still seems so difficult for many recordists. Of course, you’re waaaaaay ahead of the game if you start with a great sounding kit in a great room (not too dead, not too lively) driven by a master player who actually understands performance dynamics.
Sure, you can always close-mic the kit and (sort of) eliminate the effects of a miserable acoustical space, but working in a small, low-ceiling box can be a recipe for disaster. Odd room reflections, comb filtering and room nodes can still play havoc with your great sound, even when your miking is up close and personal.
In any case, you gotta have the right mics–not necessarily the most expensive mics–but the WRONG mics are a recipe for disaster. Bad mics sound bad and no amount of EQ or reverb is gonna change that. You don’t need a mic on each drum–in fact you can get a great sound with two decent overheads and a kick mic, although few dare to bare their souls with so few transducers. Sometimes, less is more.
Snare mics don’t have to be pricey—just able to withstand lots of SPLs and occasional hits by a wild drummer. To add some spice, you can always add an mic to catch the snare rattles from the underside. You may—although not always—need to put the lower mic out of phase (polarity) with the top mic. Listen to both and decide what sounds best. The under mic is sometimes a good place to try a cheap condenser that has a harsh, raspy sound. Save your good condensers for overheads, toms and hi-hat.
One trick I like using is combining a sampled kick (triggered from a Roland KD-7 pad) with an acoustic kit. Usually the whole idea of a kick sound is ending up with something that’s consistent and samples are just the thing. This way, the kick doesn’t bleed into the overheads (and vice-versa) and doesn’t create snare buzz. The effect is a cleaner sound and if you later want to edit some kick notes, it’s much easier…
STEELY KICK
I once heard Roger Nichols rave about using an old, old E-V 664 for his 1970s Steely Dan kick sound. Eventually I bought a used one to see what the fuss was and picked up one of these chrome, pistol grip, rayguns for $25 at a local flea market. On a 22″ rock kick, it delivered that exact dry thud you hear on “Time Out of Mind.” Switching to a very different sounding, double head 18″ jazz kick, the mic’s sound was identical. Evidently, the signal this mic puts out is the sound of the diaphragm bottoming out due to the excessive SPLs, resulting a dry thud under any conditions. That’s not the sound I always want, but hey, for $25, it’s another useable addition for the mic locker.
THE SM57 WARNING
Some guy read something in Mix about using a Shure SM57 for snare and went to buy one, but the store only carried something called an SM57LC. The guy behind the counter wasn’t much help and called another store in the chain to see if they had any “original” SM57 mics. They also only stocked the SM57LC variant, so the customer left. The next day I get an e-mail from the customer, wondering whether the LC version sounded that much different from the original. He seemed genuinely shocked when I told him that the LC suffix on the outside of the mic box simply meant “less cable.”
When not working on Mix stuff, George Petersen records and performs with the SF Bay Area-based rock band ARIEL. Check ‘em out at www.jenpet.com.
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Got any drum miking tips/stories to share?
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WHAT IF… DIGITAL HAD COME FIRST???

Filed under: — George Petersen @ 6:17 pm

By George Petersen

Our old friend analog recording has been around since 1877. That 130-years represents a lot of time for a technology to mature and improve. Meanwhile, digital recording has been around for about 30 years–not a whole lot of time.

In fact, if you look at the state of analog in 1907 (30 years after its birth), things were pretty grim. The acoustic recording era was the thing, where artists had to scream their performances into a horn with enough volume to make sure the needle cut the groove deeply enough. Bandwidth was about 3.5 kHz. Microphones were not part of the recording process until the mid-1920s.

But what if — and admittedly it’s a BIG what if — digital had come first and was 130 years old? And in that same imaginary world, what if you went to an AES show where analog recording technology was being shown for the first time in 2006? Here’s some user comments you might hear at the upcoming “Analog World Expo” in that imaginary universe:

ANALOG RECORDER BOOTH: “Sure, that upper frequency response is nice, but it won’t matter on a CD or MP3 anyway. No, what about that wow and flutter or nonlinear LF response due to head bump? The tape setup/alignment takes a lot of time. It’s impossible to clone tracks or make perfect safety backups. And that tape hiss…”

2-TRACK EDITING WORKSHOP: “Let me see… you take my original master tape, chop it up with razor blades, use adhesive tape to put it back together and there aren’t any levels of UNDO?”

PLATE REVERB BOOTH: “Man, that reverb would be great on drums or vocals! What do you mean it operates by vibrating a 7-foot steel sheet with a couple contact mics on it, mounted inside a 400-pound box? And it only does ONE sound? How do I tweak parameters, load new algorithms or store different spatial parameters?”

COPPER WIRE BOOTH: “You expect me to replace my 20-pound, 500-foot, 400-channel fiber-optic snake with eight 56-channel copper firehoses that weigh 1,500 pounds each? You gotta be kidding…”

VINYL LP RECORD DEMO: “Wow! That 12-inch disk is big enough to hold the entire history of the world’s music… What do you mean it only holds 20 minutes max per side, and I’m supposed to flip the disk over in the middle of the album? How am I supposed to play this in my car… or while jogging or flying? And if you bump into the player while it’s operating, the record is scratched and flawed forever? Oh yeah… the major labels are gonna love this one!”

TECHNICAL PAPERS SECTION: “And just how do you expect us to make music WITHOUT drum loops, vocal pitch adjustment, cut-and-paste assembly editing, quantized tempo correction, virtual tracking and pre-packaged sequences???”

Fortunately, it was all just a dream, and clearly there’s room for analog and digital technologies to co-exist. But if digital had come first, would analog have ever existed at all?

George Petersen records and performs with the SF Bay Area-based rock band ARIEL. Check ‘em out at www.jenpet.com.
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AUDIOBITES THE APPLE

Filed under: — George Petersen @ 4:32 pm

By George Petersen
Spent the other day down at Apple Computer’s “campus” HQ down in Cupertino—just outside San Jose. The multi, multi-building complex was packed and busy as a beehive. No signs of any slowdowns with those dudes, that’s for sure.
But the reason for my trek was to check out the new Mac Pro CPUs and getting a closer look at Panther, the next iteration of OS X. According to the MapQuest, the ride would take 57 minutes. Strangely, that estimate turned out to be nearly spot-on, mostly because I ignored the first half of MQ’s directions which were largely nonsensical.
Arriving at Building 3 (evidently, this is where the audio, music and media production types hang out) I was ushered into a dark conference room. Inside was Logic 7.2.2—the current update on the 7.2 jump to the Universal version for Intel-based Macs—running on a Mac Pro with twin 2.66GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon “Woodcrest” processors. On screen—a 30-inch Mac Cinema HD monitor, of course—was an MIDI orchestral session with 50 instrumental tracks (some 400 virtual instrument voices) and four CPU-hungry Space Designer plug-ins and the CPU usage meters were barely hitting the 50% mark.
Then they kicked in Motion—another nastily CPU-intensive application for designing 3-D animated graphics—and the meters jumped, but still had another 33% of remaining headroom, even while viewing Logic in the real-time notation display. Power to spare, that’s for sure…
From that point, we moved on to get a close-in look at Mac OS-X Leopard, which doesn’t ship until next Spring, so everything’s subject to change. I’m not really the sort of person who gets excited about operating systems, anyway. in fact, I’m always skeptical about whether many of the “features” they really offer are really of any value to anyone except people who are enthralled with the concept of new animated thingies that spin on the desktop and maybe make funny noises in the desktop.
True to form, Leopard had plenty of that stuff, like the Photo Booth feature in iChat that allows you to do silly morphs on your face when video chatting or changing the background behind you to insert some tropical beach when you’re sitting in a dorm room. What would be more useful is being able to change the incoming picture (like when you’re talking to your boss or some whiney A&R punk at the record label) so that they appear onscreen a tiny little elf jumping around in a jar. Now that would be useful… But sans the cutsey effects, iChat could be pretty useful for video conferencing during long distance sessions, etc.
Leopard’s Mail 3 will include templates for creating your own professional-looking e-mailed party invites. Oh-weeeeee—the world will never be that same… But what really got me was Time Machine, an automated backup system that simplifies the process of recovering and restoring lost/misplaced/deleted files, with a fast, easy to use interface (certainly a first for any backup/restore program) that could be a real lifesaver in the studio, particularly when working in post, where multiple versions of multiple versions are the norm. The speed and versatility of Time Machine alone makes we want to upgrade my OS, and if they provide me a simplified means of deleting all the “essential” frills in the system, Leopard will be wonderful. Besides, if I ever want them back, I ‘m sure I can just “Time Machine” them into the system again…
When not working on Mix stuff, George Petersen records and performs with the SF Bay Area-based rock band ARIEL. Check ‘em out at www.jenpet.com.
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So what do YOU think?
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A LEGEND RETURNS

Filed under: — George Petersen @ 8:21 pm

By George Petersen
You might not immediately recognize the name of Keith Barr. But he founded a couple companies whose names you might have heard of… like MXR and Alesis. Barr, the designer of classic guitar pedals, best-selling digital reverbs and the revolutionary ADAT digital multitrack sold out of both companies years ago—even taking a hiatus to live on a boat off Antigua in the Carribean for a couple years between his stints at MXR and Alesis—but he’s poised to make a return with this new company, Spin Semiconductors.
One of Barr’s passions was designing custom chips—something he did a good deal of during his Alesis days—and Spin Semi’s new product is a chip. The first in a series of affordable processors from Barr, the FV-1 is a true single chip reverb solution. The FV-1 can be readily designed into any variety of products—mixers, guitar amps, recorders, car audio, karaoke systems—most any OEM application seeking a highly integrated, low cost package.
“By integrating the DSP core, memory and the converters into a single 28-pin package, we have created the industry’s only available true single chip reverb solution,” said Barr. “This cost-efficient package lets product designers easily create and run custom programs via an external EEPROM, without an external microcontroller. The degree of integration is so complete that the FV-1 can be treated as an analog part when designed into a product.”
The FV-1 features a DSP core operating at 128xFs, 32K words of delay memory, three potentiometer inputs for real time parameter adjustment and integrated stereo ADCs and DACs. It includes includes eight built-in effects programs along with the ability to load eight custom programs so designers can differentiate their products from others in the marketplace.
An assembler for the chip is available now on Spin Semiconductor’s web site and a complete development board will be available soon. The FS-1 is offered in a 28-pin SOIC package. Pricing is well under $10 in production quantities. Visit wwwspinsemi.com for more details.
When not working on Mix stuff, George Petersen records and performs with the SF Bay Area-based rock band ARIEL. Check ‘em out at www.jenpet.com.
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Between MXRs classic guitar pedals and the first under-$1,000 digital reverb (the 01a) and the Alesis line of ADAT recorders, reverbs, and electronic instruments, both companies offered audio gear at prics anyone could afford. Anyone have any interesting Alesis/MXR tales to share?

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What do YOU think?

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