2011 recording diary

Hi everyone,
This page is where I will keep you up to date on all my recording for the next album. It’s very much the early stages at the moment, and won’t be ready until another year or so, but I wanted to document the whole process from start to finish. Enjoy, and feel free to ask any questions about any of the recording/mixing techniques used.

Recording vocals

Recording electric guitar (guide tracks)

setting up my pedal board!

adjusting gains on my ART pre

another shot of my lovely guitar pedals! 😛

mixing one of the new tracks

recording my baritone ukulele

recording my friend Simon on drums

hell yeah

setting up the preamps!

recording @ NCN studios

15th May 2011

So it’s gone midnight and I’ve just finished mixing a track for the new album; it’s called Home. It’s been a long day but I’m excited to finally have my first mix down! I’ve been listening to it and making overall notes about any tweaks I’ll need to make tomorrow, but I think I’m pretty close to having a final mix already – which shows how far my mixing skills have come. I’m pretty pleased with how all the recordings for it have come out – the vocal, for example, I spent a long time on trying to get the right sound. I wanted a very up front, warm sound, with less ‘air’ then I would usually go for. As I’m singing relatively low in my vocal range in the song, a warmer and less present sound seemed to be more suitable, whereas when I’m singing in the upper parts of my range I usually find an airier sound with more presence sounds better.

As I cut the vocal at home, I had to make use of my Audio Technica AT2020 large diaphragm condenser microphone to record with, as that is the best vocal microphone I currently have. As it is quite hyped in the top end (as are most cheaper LDC’s) it wasn’t the most ideal microphone for the job, so it took a whole evening to find the best sound. What I ended up doing was singing very close to the microphone (for proximity effect), but slightly off axis, along  with a pop filter, to reduce sibilance. I also made use of the impedance control on my ART Pro MPA II preamp. I would typically have the impedance set all the way up (at around 3k ohms) to open up the sound of my voice more, but in this case I lowered it to around 600-700 ohms, which seemed to soften the overall sound. As well as this I also kept the gain stage of the preamp fairly low, and drove the output section more, to try and get a less saturated sound (the Pro MPA II is a valve preamp and so the further you drive the gain section the more the valves saturate the incoming signal.)

In the mix I compressed the vocal a lot more heavily than I normally would – I’d typically only add up to -3db of gain reduction – but in this case I was hitting the compressor at 6-12db. I used a quick attack of around 1ms, and a long release with a soft knee to really smooth out the dynamics. The compressor I used was Pro Tools 9’s standard Digirack compressor, as to my ears it has a really smooth sound when heavily compressing stuff like vocals or acoustic guitar. EQ wise I added a low cut up 100hz, boosted around 250hz and 12khz, and cut around 2-3khz. So far I haven’t use any reverb on the vocals (even the backing vocals), which is a first for me, but I like the way the vocal is really upfront and close sounding, and it doesn’t feel like it needs ‘glue-ing’ into the track either. I may end up adding a small amount (set back with some predelay) later on, but so far I don’t feel it needs it.

I’m very happy with the drum sounds I got for this one too. I think the toms could be a little more rounded, but I love the weighty, dry sound of the snare drum and the overall deadened sound of the kit. I’m a huge fan of 60/70’s pop/rock drum sounds (and overall the tightness of the sound of the rhythm sections back then) and so I was going for a similar sound – dry with a small amount of room. In the mix I used the Waves REQ 6 and RComp Eq’s and compressors (from the Waves Ren maxx plugin bundle I bought recently), the stock AIR reverb that comes with PT9 and the stock Digirack gate for gating the snare, kick and toms. I also used the Massey tapehead plugin on the room mic, to add some saturation and grit.

For the acoustic guitar I used the Waves REQ 6 and RComp for EQ and compression, and the Massey tapehead to help saturate some of the harshness around 3khz on the X/Y mics, of which it did a great job. I used the Waves Rverb for reverb – using a small ‘room’ sound with a predelay of around 35ms.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the piano I recorded turned out, considering it was the first time I had ever recorded a real piano. I managed to capture a nice stereo image, which I spread out over the mix with a hard left, right and center panning for the three mics that were on the piano. This really helped pad out the mix and the arrangement. I used the free PSP pianoverb plugin I have to add a little more sustain and ambiance to the overall sound. This worked a lot better than using a normal reverb, as pianoverb is a convolution reverb sampled from an actual piano, so the reverb behaves in the way an actual piano would reverberate, which made it perfect for adding just a little more atmosphere and character to the sound.

Lastly, for bass guitar (which was recorded direct into my ART preamp) it took me awhile to find space for it in the mix. At first it seemed like it was either just there, or too in your face. Eventually I found by using the right combination of boosts and cuts on the Waves REQ 6, along with Rbass for some added low end harmonics, I managed to give it its own space. I also ran it through the drum reverb bus just to help glue the rhythm section together.

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