We’re Gonna Need A Montage

There really isn’t much that’s more enjoyable to me than being in the studio with a bunch of highly creative individuals open to experimentation, not scared to express their wacky ideas, up for the challenge of thinking differently and seeing where a creative idea can lead.

I see my role as a facilitator, challenger, supporter and often collaborator when it comes to these exciting creative projects. Yes, at times I will also be the realist and time keeper if necessary, just to keep the process moving in a useful direction and stay within the desired budget.

The positive studio environment born from these types of projects is what keeps me loving what I do!

Two very creative bands I have had the pleasure to work with over the years are no longer together, with one this month announcing the end. As a little homage to both bands I’ve put together a montage of their videos to the soundtrack of a song written by one of them and covered by the other as part of a Christmas give away limited run of CDs in 2011.

Click image to the play a montage of a few Hey Sholay and Mad Colours videos set to a rare gem of a mash up of Hey Sholay covering the Mad Colours song Kisses. I had the pleasure of recording, producing and mixing all the content here.

Enjoy!

On The Right Foot: Preproduction and Its Importance

So, firstly, what is preproduction?

 

Preproduction in many art forms is an essential process undertaken before the main production begins to ensure the quality and continuity of each of the stages, a planning stage if you will. Most projects have rigorous planning and detail refinement up to several months before the start of the project for the benefit of everyone involved. So each of the personnel knows what is expected of them, can deliver their necessary task, and all logistics are in place for the project to run seamlessly. Here’s a wiki definition.

 

However, in my experience (10 years as a professional producer/engineer) I have had maybe 10 to 15 preproduction sessions out of literally countless recording sessions, and of those few preproduction sessions all have benefitted the project greatly.

 

It appears that in many local music scenes the procedure goes a little like this: band want to record, they do some research and find a few recordings they like the sound of, check out who recorded them and where, then book a session. They turn up on the day, set up and start recording, with the person doing the recording never having heard a tune or met the band! This seems a little odd considering all the meticulous planning that goes into other art form projects and (hopefully!) records released on a label? I personally feel that this spontaneous approach can be very limiting and often detrimental to the project itself. From my (and many other engineer/producers) point of view it’s like being thrown completely in the deep end with no float and often no clear destination!

 

If a band is going into a studio to record a single track for release, even a self-release, it’s in everyone’s interest to do at least one session of preproduction. Mainly so the engineer/recordist can hear the songs, meet the band, get a feel for the sound and who they are, including their names etc. At the very least email the songs if only recorded on an iPhone as it gives an idea of what to expect!

 

There’s been the odd occasion when I’ve had no contact with the band at all prior to a session and have had to check out the bands previous output online to get a handle on their direction from this source only. The issue here is you can not be sure the band are still going in that direction and if they were happy with their previous efforts anyway! There have been sessions where this has happened and I’ve managed to produce something relatively close to what was intended but probably more by luck and experience than by design. The reason for that was quite possibly because the band didn’t actually know what they wanted! At least not until they heard it!

 

There is a caveat here though I feel. Demoing. A demo is basically when a band or artist have written a song or songs and want to hear what it/they sound like when recorded, or maybe recording several songs to pick which ones sound the strongest when recorded. Sometimes songs that work well live don’t translate well in recorded format. The band can then between themselves or if there’s a label involved make a decision on which songs to record and begin the process of preproduction. With demos the trick is 1 – Try not to get too attached to this recording and 2 – Don’t expect the recording to sound like a finished production!

 

Anyway, I’m digressing. So, what else does preproduction offer? Not only does it offer a chance for the band/artist and producer to meet and discuss ideas but also how their personalities will gel. The studio is an odd place for bands and producers. Well known producers can be quite strong characters so there is an element of getting comfortable with the personality and environment in order for the band to perform at their very best.

 

Likewise, a band can be quite an intimidating entity from an outsiders perspective, and therefore the producer also needs some common ground to be established in order to feel a connection and (eventually) be trusted by the band or artist. Trust is something often overlooked in this relationship particularly if the producer isn’t very well known and has to battle to gain trust or the other way round i.e. if the band are new and inexperienced.

 

 

There are obviously many degrees in which a producer is utilised in a project, particularly in modern music making. For example, they may be more of the traditional vibe person, the type of character that gets the band pumped and performing at their best like the Jimmy Iovine’s and Phil Spector’s of the world. Or perhaps they have a more managing and organising presence. Often, fine-tuning the writing by working with the primary song writer, to get to the heart of the songs is commonplace. In addition many producers these days ARE the writers or at least come up with the structure and instrumentation/beat, and the artist is there as the voice and vehicle for their ideas.

 

So you see, there’s much to think about, and these roles would be one of the things to discuss in a preproduction session (actually this is probably the first thing to discuss in a first contact email. A kind of pre-preproduction discussion!!)

 

I now just want to take the opportunity to clarify the term producer/engineer. I mentioned it earlier and don’t want to confuse this role with the other producer roles previously mentioned.

 

An engineer/producer is usually just a single person that takes care pretty much of all aspects of the recording. From setting up and positioning mics to operating the selected medium to record on to i.e. Protools, tape, HD etc and also discussing with the band the arrangement and parts and sometimes the way they are played and the sounds to be sought. This is quite common these days, many facilities are operated by the owners, which happen to also be the engineer, the producer, and tea boy/girl!!! Even though this may appear to be obvious and many bands have only had contact with this type of sound professional it’s not IMO sometimes the best route for all bands to go down. Unless of course there are the usual budget constraints then this may be the only option available.

 

 

Another avenue to explore here is the band/artist or band member doing the producing. This could be done either in a studio with an audio engineer to operate the equipment or it could mean the band in their own room recording themselves, which can of course work well for some bands. This approach can work because the band are comfortable with their environment and feel they can produce results of a high enough standard for their needs. Some self recorded projects have turned out to be some the best records ever made……but it remains quite rare!

 

Anyway, digressing again! Back to preproduction. Other things to consider during the session include, are any external musicians going to be used? Such as string or brass players if the band are wanting an authentic bespoke recorded string or brass section. OR even if such parts are to be added will virtual instruments be acceptable or even preferred? How about a good keys player? All these things most producers will have some idea of and indeed many of their friends are probably musicians and other people that can be very useful.

 

Is all the bands equipment in good working order such as the myriad of guitars the guitar player wants to use? Are they all in serviceable order i.e. the intonation is spot on and new strings are on each one? Are drum heads in good condition and are the drums tuned? Will it save time to get a professional drum tech to come into the studio to sort this? There are many other aspects of planning a session that can be useful to mention in the preproduction session. Even discussing which studio will best suit the needs of the band should be considered. Aspects such as mic and mic pre choices, the size of rooms and other facilities such catering or if there’s a cafe or other type of eatery near by? Do the bands work schedules need to be considered in booking studio time?

 

So, what else should be included in the preproduction sessions?

 

Time is often something that is overlooked in terms of how much is actually required. It is true to a certain extent that recording is a somewhat quicker process these days mainly due to digital format recording and not having to manage limited tracks and maintain tape machines and other devices well known for encroaching on valuable studio time. But, it should never be underestimated. By underestimating the amount of time required the result could (and probably will) be compromised in some form or another. Will the product be mixed in the proposed session? If not who will mix? The budget at this point again determines this, as additional mixing by a specialist mixer can often be more than the production budget!

 

As a final thought (and this isn’t meant to offend anyone, it happens) inexperienced musicians can sometimes counter the desired outcome of a recording session. This can mostly be prevented if in the preproduction sessions everyone is honest and leaves their ego’s at the door. For example, if the drummer has bad timekeeping and can’t play to a click it’s unlikely the recording is gonna be super tight sounding. So much of the sound of a band IS the ability of the band to play well. I’ve said similar things in past writings so I don’t want to go on about this, but basically expectation has to be managed if there are elements that are less than ideal. Rarely is everyone at the same level particularly in part-time or “fun” bands so please – just because you have entered into preproduction doesn’t mean all of sudden the band are going to sound as good as Queens of the Stoneage!!

 

Preproduction is merely a proper and important planning stage to enable a band or artist to fully extract the maximum potential from a recording/production/mixing session.
Thanks for reading. Dave.

Tutorials And The Results Myth

Hello there, long time no bloggy!!

I’ve been a little preoccupied over the last few months with various life changing events and struggled to find time or energy to actually commit anything to black and white. Not that I’ve been short of subject matter. There’s always something in the ever changing world of audio and music production one can champion or indeed moan about pretty much forever!

Today’s attempt at putting my perspective across relates to an email I received this morning regarding drum recording. It was presented by a well respected producer and engineer which is great because it’s always nice to see how the “pros” do things. The thing that concerns me a little as with so many of this type of tutorial is not the manner in which they are conducted and by whom but where and with what.

This particular email/article proclaimed “how to improve your drum sounds and sound like a pro” Nothing new or untoward there I hear you say. And I’d agree. But so many of these things are totally out of reach of roughly 99% of people actually making music. I understand they are meant to be somewhat inspirational but the “real world” just isn’t like them. Basically the scenario is this……

You have a “pro” engineer/producer and film them in one of the top rooms (studios) in the world add in one of the worlds greatest drummers on beautifully maintained and tuned £5k drum kit with access to greatest mics, outboard, Neve and SSL consoles ever conceived like it’s totally normal! Like we have all those things at our disposal on a daily basis. I’m sure under those circumstances and with enough experience it’s pretty hard to go wrong getting a decent drum sound!

How about a video of some “pros” instead going to a shitty assed box room with a bunch of Shures and a Behringer Euro mix direct into a Focusrite interface with a guy/girl that’s been playing drums for about 6 months on a kit that’s not been tuned like……..ever! with skins that haven’t been changed like…….ever! and then try to achieve “world class” drum sounds! I’m sure it’d be a much harder task and very useful to see how they’d overcome those limitations. How would they coach the drummer? Treat the room? Set up the few mics they have in this “arsenal” in order to achieve the best result? How, if necessary come mix time they would blend samples to improve what they’ve got rather than totally replace? I do understand why people use samples and triggers. I use them on occasion mainly to add something I feel is missing from the sound when mixing but I don’t condone the exclusive use of them. They are often overused or misused and can, to a certain extent mislead the world into thinking the producer really knows their shit cos they’ve managed to get this “killer” drum sound when in all honesty Mr Slate has done the heavy lifting!! It would be nice to see a more “real world” take on the very subjective topic of drum recording/mixing/sample replacement/reinforcing overall.

Please be aware that I’m not condoning bad playing or maintenance of instruments. I am merely reaching out for understanding that most of the folks these video tutorials are aimed at have somewhat lesser facilities available to them and it would be great if the professional community understood this and shared their knowledge in a more ordinary environment. Great drum sounds are no longer limited to the top studios!!! There are hundreds if not thousands of mid sized adequately equipped studios throughout the UK that are more than capable of achieving great sounds overall and not just with drums. The secret is to find the people….yes people! that know how to do it. A studio is merely a tool as it always has been. Similarly, what can be achieved in a spare room, bedroom or garage these days with the right knowledge and experience can also be comparable with many of the historically great rooms.

There are probably many of this type of tutorial out there but I’ve not come across many if any at all. If anyone has please feel free to share them with me as I’d be very interested to see them.

In fact since I do feel strongly about this, and since I’m all about supporting artists to reach their full potential. I’m going to see what I can do – and in some way shape or form put together some tutorials that are accessible and “real world” usable.

Blimey, what am I letting myself in for here?

 

 

My 2014 In Words and Music (with links!)


It was a very productive year for me in and out of work with the highlight being the news I’m to become a Father of twins around April 2015.

Work wise there were several highlights throughout the year but here’s a recap month by month of what I was fortunate enough to be involved in. I’ve not actually written every single thing I did so please don’t be offended if you worked with me and your details are not listed.

I soft launched my online mixing service, which I hope to expand on more in 2015. Despite not promoting the service I received enough work to test it out including Raleigh Richie’s ‘Stronger Than Ever’ live radio broadcast mix (for Game of Thrones fans he’s the one who plays Grey Worm). Another project via the online mixing service was The Fuckwits 2nd full album “Ideology“. A veteran but lively punk band from Sheffield self recorded this album and I had the challenge to mix it and make it a cohesive and engaging listen. The songs stood up for themselves but needed gentle persuasion to enable them to translate to an audience. More can be found about them here.

One thing I do want to do more of in 2015 is collaborate more with artists, bands and other producers to expand my reach and network and really try to work smarter.  Therefore if you’re looking for someone to work with in the coming months please consider me. With luck and hard work this will be my most creative and productive so far.

Just before I begin with the review I just want to say how I feel I’ve progressed this year more than any of the others working in audio. I’ve learnt things that two years ago I didn’t even know existed, and began to understand some of the more esoteric aspects of the field.

Here we go then hope you enjoy the read and if you like listening to new music do check out the clickable links….

January:

Whispering Dolls – Rock n Roll 3 piece made up of a couple of members from the now defunct band Dead Delta. With no Bass Player in sight this was an interesting challenge to get the sound fat enough at the bottom end. To achieve this we worked on adding layers of guitars and compensating with low EQ and sub harmonic effects pedals to fill the void.

The end result of the 3 tracks I recorded and mixed (Quicksand, The Fear and By The Wayside) can be heard on sound cloud via the bands website – here

Sam Taylor – solo Country/Folk artist with heart felt emotive songs that tell stories of love, longing and loss. A gent of a guy to work with and no stranger to 2Fly Studios since he helped build it back in 200? when he was singer/songwriter in Dead Like Harry. This was an album recording of 11 tracks with 10 making it on to the as yet unreleased album. Albums are always busy projects and musicians that came into the studio to record parts included Ed Cosens (Reverend & The Makers), Adam Crofts (The Hosts), Jon Trier (Richard Hawley), Lucy Revis & Chris Brain (Studio Strings), Jody Marie, Joe Hastings, Matt Taylor (Dead Like Harry).

All in all though a thoroughly enjoyable record to make. The mixing was also a pleasure due to Sam’s trust and ability to allow me to experiment before settling on the direction the album mix was to take. The album will be released early 2015. Here’s a link to another project of Sam’s until this is released – here

Public School Battalion – super group consisting of 4 members from Rotary Ten, Fury of the Headteachers, Champion Kickboxer, Smokers Die Younger, Nat Johnson and the Figureheads. Brilliant songs from very creative musicians and I had lots of fun with the mixes making the band sound more electronic. I’d previously worked with James Trafford from Rotary Ten on two albums, which I remember fondly as really got to cut my teeth on them back in 2007 and 2009 (I think).

The link to listen and buy the Dead Tapes EP is here. 

Dead English Gentlemen – 3 piece of two brothers Ryan and Kyle Hall, and Rob Burras. Again no bass player (maybe the rumours about bass players being difficult to work with are true?). We worked on a 6 track EP to be released on new local label *Jammed Together. A rather large sound for a 3 piece, a mix between Frank Zappa and Death Tones. Very energetic and quite technical in parts. The challenge I faced was getting the sound as energetic on a recording as it is live.

Take a listen to the finished work “We Don’t Tell Lies, We Just Keep Secrets” – here.

*Jammed Together is a collective of musicians headed by Ron Adams with the aim of creating interesting music from set sessions that I record and then mix ready for label release.

The Retrospectives – at the time a 3 piece band and now a duo. Sort of like Elvis Costello tinged Indie Rock. I’ve had the pleasure of working with them for past 5 years since they were 15/16 years old.

I believe the track we worked on in January was “Gold And Green” which you can listen to and purchase here.

This was a bit of a departure from their usual style musically speaking but still very well written and performed non the less.

February:

Bonfyres – music collector John Kearney experimenting with creating music using musician Andy Martin as a conduit/producer. A self recorded project brought to the studio to take advantage of higher quality equipment and my mixing skills to create an unusual, experimental musical journey. As yet to be released. It will provide an interesting listen for the more avant-garde listener.

William Barstow – Another ex member of Dead Delta now a solo acoustic artist. Recorded two tracks, voice and guitar on one and for the other I added some keys and percussion.

The two tracks ‘French male and dead’ and ‘New York’ can be heard on a playlist listed here

The Exhibition – post punk/indie 4 piece. Worked on a single release for local label Of National Importance Records. The track “Artery” a dark blend of early 80’s Joy Division-esque melancholy framed with a powerful developing arrangement.

Artery link for a listen – here.

The Payroll Union – in for a day of demos ahead of coming in to record their upcoming album to be recorded later in 2014 and released early 2015. They recorded 11 or so tracks in a day so as a band they could here the parts and arrangements etc.

SSS – Five piece indie band from south Sheffield. I have an ongoing relationship with SSS but I think this is the track recorded and mixed in January – ‘Morning Light’.

They recorded a few tracks throughout the year and can’t quite remember the order in which they were recorded.

Brave New Storm – An interesting alt folk band. I recorded several songs with them but only one has been released so far. “Walden” can be heard here.

March:

The Monday Club – A poppy indie 3 piece (at the time now 4). This was a single release for a local label Tiny Teeth Records run by Ex-Little Man Tate and now solo singer/songwriter Jon Windle. Very catchy tunesmiths these boys gathering a decent following nationally. Here’s “Itchy Feet” the finished track here.

Spits and Strings – Humorous and quick witted hip hop four piece. This session was actually the start of mixing their debut album that was recorded over a few sessions spread over 3 or 4 months throughout 2013. The lead single from the album can be heard here.

Brigantii – An interesting mix of soul and cool vibes. Nice and different for me and would like to do more of this type of thing. This was the tracking session for an EP to be self released later in the year. Link to their band camp is here.

Be The Revolution – bit of an experiment here. Having never worked with main chap Ian Huddleston before even though we’d threatened to work together for years!! So this was an interesting session. The two tracks were quite psychedelic in nature so I was able to go to town along with guitar player Luke Killeen. These two tracks were later included on an EP towards the back end of the year. Listen here.

Danny Maddocks – Solo artist and highly accomplished jazz guitar player. Danny also has a great smooth vocal and creates luscious sounding jazz tinged tunes. Visit his website for a little taster – here.

April:

Volcanoes – In 2013 I did an album with this band. It was a great learning exercise. Time was tight but we got something really good out of it. Not sure if the full album will see the light of day but there were a couple of very well received singles from it. Take a listen here to one of them.

5th Pier – Nottinghamshire 4 piece with catchy poppy indie tunes. Did a few tracking days for 4 tunes for a self released EP. Some of the tunes are on their sound cloud page if you’d care to listen – here.

Frazer – I’ve worked with Frazer a few times now. I started working with them when they were quite young and green but still knew how to write catchy songs. Now though they are really starting to show promise in their song writing. Last thing we did can be heard here.

Southpaw – Very energetic, lyrically clever almost post-punk punk band from Retford I believe. I first worked with them for one day last year and this session was to record another two tracks for them to release a 4 track EP. Limited time again as usual but a decent result. Here’s one outlet for listening pleasure.

The Payroll Union – So this is where we begin album tracking. There’s several sessions for this one. This was a great project to work on. It pushed all my skills to a higher level working on this. Great songs well delivered with passion and conviction. This album will be out sometime during 2015 in the meantime here’s their previous work which is also great.

Tim Ashforth & Brian Ferry – two members of a band called Little Ze that was one of the first full albums I recorded along with Alan Smyth at my home 2fly Studios. This never came out but I often re-visit the files to try to update with new skills etc. But, I digress. Brian (Fez) and Tim now play with Mike Hughes (singer from Little Ze) along with drummer Jon Crofts (also Little Ze) for Mikes self titled solo project. They wanted to do something of their own outside their other commitments and have written some very good bluesy experimental americana type stuff. There’s nothing to hear as yet but hopefully again this will be completed sometime this year and will available to enjoy then.

May:

Matt Willoughby – The tune I actually recorded in this session with Matt will probably not be made available. It was another Tiny Teeth session but more of a development/see what happens thing. It was a really good tune so is a bit of a shame and the drummer used (Richard Hunter) has done many sessions in various bands throughout the year very good and easy to work with. In leu of the actual song here’s a single of Matt’s produced by Will Stocks of the Retrospectives.

Yellow Elevators – I’ve worked with Travis Eaton for many years on various projects he’s undertaken right from the Barnsley based Harringtons but this project is his most accomplished and interesting to work on. Quite psychedelic it allows for some fairly radical effects and production touches that enhance rather than sound gimmicky as in a lot of pop music. Check out their sound cloud page for a listen – here.

Blind Drivers – Rotherham based Blind Drivers fronted by Matt Thompson came in to record a 5 track EP. A bit of a challenge to mix due to the varying nature of each song on the EP but the result is a simple melodic pop/rock thing that works pretty nicely. Listen here.

Redfern – A trio with no web presence that I can see, which is a shame, as they create something poppy and catchy but a little bit different.

Soul Fire Saints – Heavy Alice in Chains-esque rock here. Gathering some interest locally and on the web this was the first of a couple of sessions in 2014 to record an EP which is now available to listen on their website.

Black Thunder Revue – Ballsy blues rock from Sheffield all home grown and gritty. Done several things over the years with them from their previous incarnation as Socrates Johnson which I didn’t realise till after they’d changed their name is a character from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure…! Some stuff is audible here.

Thirty Hearts – Quirky dark indie. Lyrically intriguing and musically interesting Thirty Hearts are well worth a listen. Good guys to work with too some tunes are available here to check out.

June:

Continuations of The Payroll Union album and other sessions with Yellow Elevators and Redfern. Plus another single session with The Retrospectives.

There were however other notable sessions with two of my more successful artists/bands. Hey Sholay recorded a demo for a new tune that would hopefully make it onto their next album. Something I recorded with them in 2013 is here, part of the Cloud, Castle, _ EP (available on lovely warm orange vinyl no less!) and they’re debut album ((o)) and a bunch of other things are obtainable here!

Following that was David J. Roch whom recorded with myself and a producer called Andy Bell (a great folk producer!). On this occasion we were recording a song for the centenary of WWi that can be acquired here. I’ll mention David a little later on regarding his second album.

The Ratells – This was a demo session again for Tiny Teeth Records that I think may have got put on the back burner. These things happen a fair bit for one reason or another. But of what I remember the tune was a strong one. Here’s a link to their website though so you can check out their other tunes.

Another notable session in June was one that I’m not fond of for several reasons but it did show me I have an amount of patience comparable to Mother Teresa! I’m not going to name names here cos I’m not that sort of person. They will know who they are if they were ever to read this (which they probably won’t!!) they would have to agree I did exactly what they asked of me. No links here but I do hope that the amount of effort I expelled on this project was worth while for them.

July:

Gilmore Trail – Full album tracking and mixing in 12 days. A self funded album but one of huge proportions in terms of ambition and arrangements. Clever and sometimes beautiful instrumental rock. I’ve worked with these guys before on their last album in fact but they really upped their game on this project. The album isn’t released till later in 2015 again so keep an ear out. Check out their website for updates etc.

The Monday Club – Another single session with The Monday Club. Again on Tiny Teeth Records this one can be found here.

Feral Mantra – Doncaster/Sheffield band. 80’s tinged Cure-esque dystopian riffing. Catchy tune with an interesting sound. Although a difficult birth this single turned out pretty good. Their sound cloud can be accessed from this here link.

Solanas Sons – This was a mix of two tracks for a single. The tunes were recorded at the Old Pig Farm Studio on the outskirts of rural Sheffield and released through their label MothBox Records Lead track “Rollin Around” and b-side “Pick Me Up” were mixed at my home set up. “Rollin Around” is gathering the band a good reputation and hope to hear more from this band and hopefully mix them again – listen

The rest of July was made up of mainly mix days and alterations etc for material recorded over the last couple of months.

August:

Notable sessions this month were another SSS single, a Redfern session to complete their EP (even though I can’t find it!!)

Dave Woodcock & The Dead Comedians – Album tracking in 3 days!! Yes that’s correct an entire album recorded in 3 days. We did over run ever so slightly but still quite an accomplishment for the time allocated. This comes out fairly soon I reckon as they’ve released the first single which was mixed by their guitar player and super photographer Chris Saunders. Have a listen here – track

This month also sees me undertake mixing for The Payroll Union album. Mixed from my home studio in-between other work there was a lot of vocal compiling and things to be done before the mix could begin so more interesting stories from this session a bit later.

A few more mix alterations for Gilmore Trail, Feral Mantra and another single from the mighty Retrospectives – this catchy tune this time here

September:

Reverend & The Makers – Album tracking and production. Very pleased to be asked to take the helm for their 5th album. I was associated with this band from their conception so to come full circle was quite fitting. This album contains some very big expansive moments that were truly great to be a part of. Utilising a whole host of Sheffield (and beyond) talent this in my humble opinion is their most accomplished album to date. This took most of September to piece together and then the band went off to Jamaica to mix with long time collaborator Youth. Hopefully the results will cement their position as a forward thinking bunch of contemporary pop stars! 😉 website

The Shrines – A brand new band made up of members from various other Sheffield bands some of which I’d worked with in the past and some not. A fresh sound but with history well delivered and the audience reaction is good and quite rightly so. Check them out here and here.

Jakarta Club – this session was just a demo session to record some tunes for other producers to hear their songs presented in a way so as to know where to take them. I very much enjoyed working with this band and for the time we had for so many tracks the result was pretty passable. Can’t find anything online for this so not sure if they’re still a functioning band or not.

October:

Soul Fire Saints – returned for second session to complete their debut EP. (see previous link above)

65daysofstatic – Ah the mighty 65dos. This session was for demos and development for their next album which I will be taking the recording duties in mid-January. We’ll be holed up in the middle of Lincolnshire slaving away. I’m not gonna say too much else about this as I don’t wanna let the cat out bag too much but I will say this is a very exciting project indeed. Here’s a link to their brilliant website if you want to know more about them (you’ll be glad you did) – website

Lomas – A short evening session in the studio and separate mix session. I think this was a self released single. Seemed to get some nice attention for the band. The result can be heard here

Ordnance – A new band to me and what a great band. A three piece with and original mix of electronics and guitars. Very evocative both musically and lyrically and very accomplished in all areas. Two song were completed over a couple of sessions in both October and December 2014. They can be found here

Julia – Singer/song writer/guitar player Matt Hall first came to my attention in the band The Velotones a few years back and I thought they had potential then. Matt had a brief stint in Violet May and is now collaborating with Andy Martin (ex-Dead World Leaders) and bass player Will Hitchmough and drummer Joe Smith (formerly of 10 Take Band) This was an initial demo session of all the tracks they’d written since their formation in April just to see which ones worked recorded. Two tunes were selected from this and recorded in December so more on that shortly.

Jammed Together – The first jam session of the year due to other commitments such as the release of the Dead English Gentlemen’s EP. Jammed Together is a platform for local musicians to get together and basically jam an improvised song. This then has a little more work and usually some lyrics and a tidy up and mix and voila…..a song that didn’t exist a few hours prior. There’s lots of interesting stuff over at the sound cloud and if you fancy having a go get in touch via the Facebook page, and listen to previous sessions here.

Joe Carnall Jnr – ex-Milburn and The Bookclub frontman as well as Reverend & The Makers bass player is now doing a solo outing, co writing/producing with Ed Cosens also of RATM. This session was to record and mix his first solo release, a song entitled “Three Things (Only A Fool)” This had to be done and dusted for a pre-christmas release so couldn’t hang about with it! Here’s the song complete with video on Joe’s website.

The Payroll Union – Proper mix time this time! In between these other sessions I managed to find time to more or less complete this record. All was going great. The band were happy with how the mixes were progressing and so was I. I was employing everything I learned throughout the year on this one and as I stated in my opening paragraph this year more so than any I felt happy with what I learned and how it had come together to assist me making better and more engaging mixes than ever before. So 95% there and bam a huge obstacle in the way of a band disagreement! Not with me may I add but internally. This threw a giant sized spanner in the works so much so that integral parts had to be replaced. So this record will now spill into 2015. A testing time for the band I feel but one that will provide a story for the album.

Can’t add any links as nothing is quite at that stage to be released but again it’s really worth keeping an eye on their Facebook page for news and things.

November:

Kartica – 2Fly regulars Kartica have recorded most of their output there. This session was a little different as a member was absent. Hopefully things will work themselves out and their plans for an album comes off sometime in 2015. Here’s a link to one of their previous recordings.

65daysofstatic – Promotional lead track (here) for the new album recorded and mixed over the course of a couple of days. Starting to get quite excited about this project now as it looms closer.

Luna Jackyl – energetic 3 piece rock. Top chaps and 2fly regular Dave Atwood drummer for Rumpus is the drummer for this project so a good starting point as Dave is a superb drummer. No online presence for this as yet it seems.

The Time Sellers – A young Sheffield band, these chaps are really good for their years. This sessions two tracks were recorded and are available on their sound cloud. Hope to work with these guys again at some point in the future, lots of potential Listen here.

Adelphi – a three piece with the addition of Rich Hunter on drums for this single track. Catchy and energetic tune hopefully will be available at some point during 2015. Nothing online at the moment other than their Facebook.

Thirty Hearts – returned for another session just before the end of the year. Two tracks were recorded and mixed and will be self released sometime during early 2015.

Something REALLY worth noting regarding November 2014 is the release of two albums. One recorded throughout 2013 and the other recorded between January 2012 and November 2013. Firstly the wonderful Nat Johnson’s first full solo record “Neighbour Of The Year” was released through her own label. It was a privilege to work with Nat on this record and although it appears without studio trickery it was quite a tough mix to get the right level of intimacy and solidity. Presented on clear 10” vinyl this is one of the highlights of my carer so far. Please check it out here!!!

The second record “A Cynic A Realist An Undertaker” released this month and the one that took the longest due to rewrites and remixes and several other factors is David J Roch’s follow up to debut “Skin & Bones”. Produced by myself and partly by Jim Sclavunos (Grinderman, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), it was a bit of a battle but came out a triumph in the end. Gentle and expansive, dark and brooding this album is full of the emotion it exudes due to the long road to complete it. Check out David’s work here.

December:

Julia – with two tracks selected from the 10 recorded a month or so ago the band blistered through the recording phase due to being very well rehearsed but not over prepared. Both tracks are wonderfully put together and came out pretty much as I had imagined them to which is a very rare occurrence for me to be more or less fully happy with my work so quickly. One of the tunes opened up the show on the first BBC Introducing of the year here (Dead English Gentlemen follow too!). New Facebook page.

Ordnance – another follow up session to complete previously recorded material and finalise mixes etc. (link previously above) Looking forward to doing more with these chaps in 2015.

Pretty Citizens – Nottingham and Barnsley based band. Enjoyed working with these guys. Great voice and interesting arrangements a band that should do well over the coming months following the release of these tunes. Not online as yet but you can visit their sound cloud here and keeps yer ears peeled.

So, that’s it, my round up of 2014. Fingers crossed 2015 is equally as busy even though there’s the life changing addition of twins this year so I apologise in advance if I fall asleep during any sessions from April onwards! 😉

Ok…..so I appear to have told a little fib!

Ahem! Apologies first….I said after yet another dry spell that I’d try to do more writing and keep up to date in a journalistic sense with events and projects I’ve been working on. I haven’t! So, er…. sorry about that! 😉

Well, here’s the rub. I work a bit too hard. When I’ve finished an average 12 hour day if I’m honest I don’t want want to think too much about music anymore. (At least not until the next day!) Even though I love it and consider myself very lucky to actually make a modest living doing it. However, the summer is here now so things may quieten down a little and give me some time to think of something else to write about. These things pop into my mind from time to time but if I fail to jot them down I quickly forget about them. Must try to resolve that practice too!

So anyway, one thing that I would like to share with you this time is as follows.

I’m currently mixing an album of great songs that are a very good example of the genre. But, there are a few issues to say the least. I would like to point out that I didn’t track the album so when agreeing to mix the album I didn’t know what I was going to be presented with. It turns out it’s much less ideal than I’d hoped. Several of the elements are very usable and work absolutely fine but the main issue as you’ve probably already guessed are the drums. THE most difficult aspect of a recording to get right full stop and if you don’t have a solid foundation from the off you’re going to end up in somewhat of a pickle further down the line!!
At this point just so you know I’m not going go into the dozens of factors you have to take into account when tracking drums as there’s plenty of that sort of info (some good, some not so good!) available on the internet.

One major factor above all else with drum recording is the actual performance. If this were a little more consistent I wouldn’t have to spending 90% of my time on each mix on the drums. Why is this taking such a colossal effort you may ask? Well, when you’re having to adjust practically every hit just to get some consistent level regardless of tone you can see where the time is going! Even my geekpertise! with a little compression and automation is fairly useless in this situation. Using compression for that purpose is a mugs game. To use compression affectively i.e if you don’t want to ruin the sound, a strong performance has to be there. So nope, can’t get round it that easily! What I’m having to do is use and combination of the clip gain feature (in protools) replacing the some of the actual hits with the tab to transient technique and also use tons and tons of automation on gates, EQ’s, filters, compression ratios and thresholds plus the use of a plugin called a transient designer to get some consistency. It’s hard work believe you and me!!! But, I’m getting there. I’m actually fairly pleased with some of the results.

I do recall I mentioned something in a previous post a little while ago about getting out of the way of the mix sometimes. Not doing too much so this may sound a little contradictory. Well, it is but I did try that and it really didn’t work. So I was forced into trying absolutely everything I have in my arsenal plus a fair bit of trawling the internet for other workarounds I hadn’t considered or didn’t know how to do.

I was determined not to let this beat me though as short time ago my mixes were criticised by one particular mastering engineer and this knocked my confidence quite heavily. I’m pretty sensitive to this sort of thing as I try so hard to make the music I work on, walk the line between how the artist wants to be represented and how a mix will translate their intention to an audience plus sound good on radio and youtube etc. Looking back on that however it was a great thing ‘cos it actually adjusted my thinking on my approach. Maybe before I wasn’t doing my best, even though I was working so hard maybe I wasn’t working smart enough. So I changed a few things. I’m not entirely sure what I changed but I changed something.

Basically what I’m trying to get at is….. find a way to make things work even if they’re not ideal.

Wow….a lot of words to explain a ridiculously simple concept!! But, if you think about it it’s not that simple. To make something truly work you generally have to go too far to come back. You can get near to a completed mix quickly and give excuses about the quality of this and that, but if you’ve not really and truly explored the many approaches you can take maybe you’re cheating yourself somewhat. I love mixing more and more these days and have enjoyed the opportunity to work on some beautifully recorded stuff……it’s rare but it does happen. That though is sometimes too easy…although I would prefer it that way, because typically music doesn’t make the artist money these days means they have to find other ways of recording. Sometimes it works great to do it yourself, other times it really, really….really doesn’t.

One thing I would like all bands and musicians recording themselves to consider is this – “are you actually doing yourself any favours going the DIY approach?” Yes for sure if you have loads of time and wanna play around with recording go for it so you can get a feel for what the band sounds like. But when it comes to recordings you want to release to your audience my advice is use the best facilities and engineers your budget will stretch to. In Sheffield alone there are several very good studios with great engineers, equipment and rooms (the things most overlooked about a quality recording). Mixing can be undertaken by these people too but if you want to mix it yourself or have someone like me mix it that’s up to you but do seriously consider getting the source sounds good to start with. That way you have the option of taking it in any direction you want instead of it ending up being a “management job” rather than a “mix”.

I Said I’d Be Back Soon!!!!

This time off is proving to be quite fruitful in terms of blogs (he says two days in!!)

Right on to the next project of 2014….Mr Samuel Taylor debut album. I’ve known Sam for many years he’s a top bloke. Very enthusiastic and committed to his craft. He was part of the band Dead Like Harry which recorded with 2fly for most of their output over the years.

This project was an album project to be recorded over a period of around 10 days with a few extra revisit days. The first day was spent how most sessions early on are spent, getting drum sounds, drinking tea and chatting about how we’re going to approach the tracks. Sam’s style is very classic folk/rock but he wanted to experiment a little in terms of textures. Initially, we considered being influenced by the likes of John Barry, the composer responsible for many of the Bond themes but also one with a distinct style and use of interesting instrumentation and harmony but he has penned many a film score and 70’s advertising campaign. (“The Girl With The Sun In Her Hair” being one of my personal favourites which was used for a shampoo ad in the 70’s.) They really don’t make ad’s with music like that anymore!! But after going through the process I think we may have been just a little ambitious!

Anyhow…….

For the rhythm track recording Sam had selected two fine musicians. The drummer Adam Crofts (The Hosts and ex Dead Like Harry) and Eddie Cosens (Reverend & The Makers, …….my brother-in-law also!)

Having never worked together, once the sounds had been established, the pair got on famously musically speaking and soon we had a couple of takes of the first tune nailed…i.e. done. The rhythm tracks continued to go down without hiccup and pretty soon we were ahead of schedule. Nothing had been rehearsed for this album as Sam wanted to keep a fresh feel to the record. This was to prevent over familiarity and allow the players and takes to evolve naturally through the several passes. Everyone worked very well together the musicians took direction well and understand both Sam and I’s esoteric random suggestions!! You know the ones……everyone says them even if you think you don’t!

Over the next couple of days various tasks were undertaken. Vocals were done two to three tracks at a time as not to over tax Sam and to give time to comp between the takes to create a master vocal track that all the backing vocals etc could be matched to the lead performance. In between vocal takes we recorded acoustic guitars, some electric guitars and various bits and pieces of percussion most notably a “Stomp-Box” that I’d actually never recorded before. It’s basically a block of wood with a piezo pick up embedded in it and you do as you’d imagine and stomp your foot on it. This creates a kick drum like low sound. Many acoustic performers tend to use for a low end rhythmical purpose stated above. As I’d not recorded one before I did a little searching around to find the best way of getting the best out of it. Turns out you just shove a stack of low end on it and it sounds pretty how you’d imagine.

There were some lovely people and other great musicians enlisted for this album too. On piano was my good friend Jon Trier. Jon is a fantastic player and very gifted musician. He knows exactly what to play and when. It makes production so easy when you have this kind of player available for sessions. Funny story here though…..all the parts were played very nicely and sounded great coming from Jon’s rig (a Native Instruments Kontact with some pretty great sounding pianos!) Sam decided that there was something not quite right!!!! It took me a while to understand what he meant by ‘not quite right’ cos all the parts were played very well and sounded really great. That was the problem. They sounded too great!!!!
It was something I’d never considered with sampled instruments. Especially sample packs. These things sound great right out of the box and with one or two minor tweaks you got the perfect sound from any desired instrument.

Sam then went on to explain that he wanted particularly the pianos to be unique to this record……..and he was totally right. Jon managed to find a very nice Yamaha upright for us (him) to use. It was owned by a friend of his and fellow top class musician by the name of Pierro Tucci. This was his personal piano situated in his home studio. So what followed was a little field recording. We took Jon’s and my MacBooks and set up a very simple 3 mic array. Two Royers over the piano and a U67 down a short hall roughly 11’ from the piano. It sounded great. Very different from the perfect sampled piano. There was the odd chair creaking and noises from Jon’s fingers hitting the keys. We had to stop at one point due to the bin men emptying bins!! But, Sam was totally correct. The real piano even with all of it’s imperfections sounded much more suitable for the type of record we were trying to make.

Jon also provided a great string arrangement for one of the more extravagant songs on the record. Joe Hastings and friend and colleague of Sam’s also provided a couple of great string arrangements…..Joe also came in on a couple of sessions and gave some brilliant input. The strings players were my usual go to cello player the wonderful and very reliable Miss Lucy Revis, and the violinist was a friend of her’s who I’d not worked with before Chris Brain. Both played the parts with the necessary attention and subtlety and made the tracks come alive and have a wonderfully natural sound. We worked them quite hard too in certain songs and terms of timing and layering. The results speak for themselves as all good music should!

Accordian was provided by Sam brother Matt another ex Dead Like Harry member. The backing/duel vocals were provided by the crystal voiced Jodie Marie a singer songwriter from Wales. Her and Sam’s voices worked very well together and there was a real chemistry between them that again gave energy to the songs.

So, not to go on too much cos believe me I can! The next few days were spent adding more guitars and vocals and even rerecording the odd song here and there….primarily cos it was recorded in the wrong key and the vocal didn’t sit well. It was either too high or too low and sounded odd either way!

All in all though a thoroughly enjoyable record to make. The mixing was also a pleasure due to Sam’s trust and ability to allow me to experiment before settling on the direction a mix was to take. An attribute that can only be learnt through experience.

Sorry if I’ve missed anyone out…oh! yea…..there was something else….the butters in the form of John Redgrave (ex Dead Like Harry again!!) and George Bannister for kind of providing some backing vocals (i.e. shouts/screams) and some hand claps and foot stomps……thanks for that lads!!!

Tata for now.

Dave.

Not Been Here For A While………

Ok so, this seems to be a recurring theme on my blog but, I just wanna apologise again to my surely depleting audience. This is really no excuse but since the beginning of the year I have been incredibly busy and just thought I’d share a few things on here to let you know I’m not dead or no longer doing music. Quite the opposite in both regards in actual fact.

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2014 in music so far….
Early January saw me working with whispering dolls.  3 songs recorded over 2 days that turned into a bit of a mission if truth be known…..not from the bands or bands music point of view but from my own! These were/are great tracks full of energy and ballsy, bluesy riffs, great vocals and strong steady drums. I’d worked with all the members of this band in various forms over the last few years so thought I knew what to expect…….

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Recording went pretty well, everyone knew their parts etc. The vocals were actually recorded a little while after the main tracking due to illness but even those were pretty painless.
The issue’s started when it came to mix time. Things I actually hadn’t anticipated started to really screw with the mixing. Primarily there was no bass guitar! Now, that doesn’t sound like too much of a problem on paper….but, when trying to get enough bottom end from guitars and drums alone that where the fun begins. (unbeknown to me!) I had a mental picture of how this band should sound: pretty much as I described above…ballsy, sweaty, punchy but with enough clarity and definition that the mix was able to translate the desired emotions.
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I just couldn’t get it to do that!!! Back and fourth I went…..rebalancing and EQ-ing, riding levels and adding distortions and harmonics…..nothing was working! It just sounded to me like a big old mush of nothing. I had to get this finished as I’d been squeezing in revisits to the mix after sessions and I could feel myself getting fatigued and also had a considerable amount of other work to manage.
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Eventually I found half a day to really get stuck in once and for all. This friday afternoon found me ready for the challenge. I brought up the session and as I usually do started with the kick…….urgh! What had I been thinking? It was WAY too processed. When recording drums particularly I often find that I’m enjoying the sound of them but by the end of the day when everything and the kitchen sink has been piled on top they just don’t cut it anymore and end up having to use copious amounts of compression and EQ to ‘bring them out’ again….I was particularly guilty of this because I was trying to convey a sense of power and solidity but with a natural edge……well, the natural edge went right out the window! I peeled back the layers expansion, compression and EQ and all of a sudden was a Kick drum! Right, do that for everything. Which I did.
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Now there was clarity, a space which in turn gave some depth. I tried a couple of new parallel buss techniques and I started to feel like I was getting somewhere. I applied a similar philosophy to the rest of the instruments and hey! presto! a mix that was much closer in my mind than it was before.
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Ok, so that was just one of the many projects I’ve worked on so far this year. I have a bit of time off for the next few days so I intend to write one of these a day detailing some of the trials and tribulations in a day in the life of me.
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Tomorrows instalment will be about recording the brilliant Samuel Taylor‘s debut album so it may well take me a couple of days this one as it was recorded over about 10 days.
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Thanks for reading.
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Dave.
x

Holding Back?

I’d like to introduce a short piece of writing on an issue that isn’t just related to music but one that has an impact on my life and has for many years. It’s an issue that I wish didn’t affect me but it does. In fact it has a direct effect on my career and personal life. It’s something that many people live with on a day to day basis, particularly creative people. Some creative people me being one of them tend to have perhaps too much sensitivity coupled with self and social awareness. This post is about my own sensitivities, self consciousness, vulnerability and insecurities that I face when confronted with a situation that could improve my career or even my life.
 
Waiver: I’m fully aware this is somewhat self indulgent and that there are far more important issues to deal with in the world but my intention is to articulate my own personal struggle and not to upset, infuriate or alienate whomever may read this. I’m simply exorcising my demons, shining some light on them, and perhaps wearing far too much of my heart on my sleeve?
 
15/10/2013
 

I’m currently sat on a cool retro chair in a wonderful apartment style hotel room in Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles,CA. That is pretty good by anyones standards! Nothing bad has happened to me today at all. I’ve ventured out into the world of LA, walked all around the famous Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard sites. Had a Philly steak sandwich and fries at a Brazilian Grill bar and bought some hippy supplies from a Trader Joe’s (new experiences galore!). But, as I’m walking round and seeing all these famous landmarks I’m beginning to feel increasingly small and insignificant.

Seeing (from the outside!) a studio like Sunset Sound and the Capitol records building (which is literally a stone’s throw from our hotel) should be for someone like myself pretty exciting and inspirational and an opportunity to go in and make connections perhaps. However, as I stood outside these places I hold in such high regard a familiar feeling started to come over me. A feeling of paralysing inability to actively experience them from the inside!
I may not yet be one of the top producer/engineers in the world but I feel I’ve earned my stripes, put in the time and know how to create a well received likeable if not loveable music based product.
 

So why do I still feel somewhat incapable of reaching out to places like these that may or may not help me in reaching the next step on my career path?

 
Some would say it’s a confidence issue but I don’t think it is. I may not shout the loudest in most situations but, on subjects I have some knowledge (mainly music) I rarely hold back my views and opinions. Something is clearly preventing me from going into these places and asking “What goes on here?”, “May I have a look around?” I really wanted to walk into the Los Angeles Recording School in particular and say who I was and what I did an enquire about the syllabuses and such like….. but I couldn’t!!…….I played the scenario out in my head over and over. Other than them showing a total lack of interest, what was the worst thing they could have said? But would the lack of interest even have happened though? It’s doubtful but maybe that’s it, maybe I just look for the worst in some situations and play the negative scenario out in my mind instead of being positive and going for it?
It seems I decide without trying that it’s not worth the hassle and embarrassment and walk away indignant so to speak. Go figure!!
 
Is it something in my DNA/genetic make up or my upbringing that prevents me from doing what I need to do in order to succeed? How does one overcome such disabling habits? I sometimes try to find excuses such as “it must be the way I look or something I’ve said”. At times I’ve over analysed my last statement so much so that if I perceive it’s something remotely dumb or naive the embarrassment from what I just said actually becomes almost physically painful.
This also happens in my writing both written word and musically. I over analyse to the point of stifling any creativity I may have enjoyed feeling when I started. The flow of writing on a certain point I was trying to make, or musical journey I was trying to create gets stuck in the analytical process of judgement against the literary and musical standards I suddenly insist I must reach. I’m doing it now as I type this! Are other people actually making those kind of judgements about me, my personality or creative ability?
 
Or is it me making those presumptions and assumptions about myself? Quite clearly it’s ME.
 
If only I could find a way to manage these thoughts or habits (because that is what they are) and turn the energy they consume into something that actually helps me to progress within my chosen field.
As a by product I’m almost certain I would find some inner peace and satisfaction in other areas of my life along the way. Obviously there IS a disconnect somewhere in my ever increasingly tumultuous psyche that needs to be resolved. But how?
 
Over the years I’ve tried to utilise several of the techniques designed to quell these feelings of emotional and physical dissatisfaction (many suggested by my very talented wife Sara who happens to be very knowledgeable and adept in this area and is dragging me to a Heart Summit in Amsterdam so I can explore all of this in more detail) but none have stuck with me longer than a couple of weeks however much they helped at the time…….is this the problem? Can I not resolve my issues due to impatience and lack of belief? Either self belief or belief in the comprehensive proven research of others?
 
I deduce then I have to do one of two things at this point. Understand that I have to accept and trust some of the techniques I’ve attempted to use in the past and do everything I can to combat these fears OR live with them and accept I may never progress? Working in the music industry this is not a particularly good affliction to have seen as it’s incredibly competitive and usually based on personality and connections more than talent and reliability! I, just like countless other producers and engineers, writers and musicians have firsthand experience of the cut throat nature of the business.
All I want is to succeed and be able to create opportunities that enable me to pursue the career I’ve dreamt of since I was a child, reach my full potential and achieve my life’s ambition.
This will only be possible though if I can prevent my insecurities from stopping me taking the steps to making this a reality. I also need to not get wound up by my own mind chatter regarding other peoples business practises. Probably a subject for another post perhaps?!!!
 
I must admit I’m doing ok, not great, just ok, I’ve had some minor success and critical acclaim for some of the work I’ve produced and the more well received work I do produce the higher my profile gets.
So what is actually holding me back?
We’re all familiar with the saying: “it’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know”. I’m sure to some extent this is true but all that can change on the toss of the right coin or if you’re in the music industry (and particularly my side of the industry) if you have just one huge world wide hit!! Also “right place, right time” another cliched saying that probably rings true here.
 
Quite possibly the real true underlying source of these feelings is that I just don’t want to be fake. My ambition and tenacity were a topic of ridicule to some people close to me throughout my adolescence and this has possibly led on to something that happens on occasion when someone asks what I do for a living? I reply with either Recording Engineer (which immediately I have to explain what that is) or I say Record producer. The latter term instantly makes my skin crawl and I feel like a fraud or I project that the person asking the question thinks I’m full of shit. I swear I can almost hear them thinking: “yeah! sure you are mate!”. Obviously I need to come up with a job title that doesn’t have this effect on me!
 
Is the title and description I give, something I need to validate to myself in order to fully feel capable of accomplishing my ultimate goal? I generally like to think of myself as a socially aware and socially sensitive type of person. I notice what is occurring around me (perhaps a little too much sometimes and occasionally to my detriment). I have values and views that presumably don’t offend many people but I will defend those views and values if I feel the need. One thing I’ve noticed though is…… I often don’t feel the need to defend them. If someone is adamant that they are right and what they say is correct then that’s not my issue. It’s also not in my nature to belittle someone else’s view or value unless I strongly disagree or don’t understand their context. Is this yet another reason for my inability to face my own short comings and foibles? Should I be more challenging even if I haven’t got an informed opinion on a given subject? And if I claim to have an informed opinion on that particular subject which I’m now challenging how do I know if the source of that information is correct? In all honesty I want to be me and be accepted as me.
 
This takes me back to my past again where I wasn’t allowed to have thoughts of wanting to be successful in music. “Know where you come from” was what I was often told. My roots are important to me but they are just that….. roots. My beginning in life. Where I was nurtured into adulthood. They are not my life now and are actually many of the things I’ve kicked against in order to become a creative individual. I do not want to live by constraints of the past. This post is fast becoming some form of cathartic exercise which I’m happy to let it develop into if the truth be known. These are issues I’ve thought about for years and I don’t actually think I’ve ever had a platform in which to explore them. As I communicated earlier in the post the written word is not my forte, which is unfortunate as at times I do feel I have things to say and writing things down, it must be said, is a pretty efficient way of scrutinising your thoughts plus a foolproof way of repeatedly expressing your ideas.
 
I’m not entirely sure if this makes any sense at all but I feel I’ve expressed several matters of contention here that have lived with me for quite a long time. It’s been quite a journey! It’s probably from a writers point of view a very disjointed journey but you know what?………….I don’t really care. If there was to be a conclusion to this which there may or may not be it would probably be to stop editing oneself so much, care not what other people may or may not think of you and follow your heart and dive into the world…..your world!
 
If you are struggling with any of the issues described in this post the recommend person to contact is www.sarajsanderson.com
 
 
Ta ta for now. D.

All In The Best Possible Taste……(and fidelity)

definition: fidelity:the degree of exactness with which something is copied or reproduced

Sitting comfortably? Let me begin.

So I just read this.
http://blog.chromatik.com/peter-gotcher-interview/

The link above is for a great interview with a chap named Peter Gotcher who deserves to be much more well known than he is but chooses to stay fairly anonymous as far as the general public are concerned. He has legitimate reasons for doing so but just so you know in case you don’t read the interview; he’s one of the creators of the Protools recording software.

A point he makes towards the end of this interview piqued my interest and I strongly agree that it is something which is becoming increasingly relevant. It is one of the aspects in modern music production that often gets overlooked during the process and is one of the most important elements which separates good music from bad.

I am referring to ‘taste’ or perhaps ‘appropriate taste’. Some would probably refer to it as ‘production value’ but personally I do not feel that term adequately describes what I’m trying to get at here.

Many ‘classic’ albums, as in the ones that are still bought (or illegally downloaded!) today are by modern record making standards full of errors both musically and sonically. This is due to several factors. One factor might be the format on which it was created but the songs were/are great songs and still have all the character, conviction and solidity that we recognise as ‘classic’ and love them nonetheless.

Why? Because they are usually chock full of great ‘tasteful’ decisions that culminate in a very satisfying piece of ‘art’.

Now, I don’t want to spoil the interview for you so maybe go read it first (as that was the idea!!) and then come back. Ok welcome back. Basically Mr Gotcher talks of his love/hate relationship with his creation. Love/hate in regards to what it has done to music in the modern age. He predicates how some of the albums we now consider classics would’ve turned out if Protools was available 30 or 40 years ago and if they would have …. and I quote….. “had the life sucked out of them [by protools!!]” ed-(Not a direct quote but you get the picture) Quite a bold statement I think you’d agree from the softwares creator. But, I think he’s totally right. We all hear the record makers personal taste in recorded music even if we don’t know we’re hearing it. By record maker I mean the artist, the producer, the engineer, the mixer, the label and even the artists management. Pretty much everyone who has had an input into the overall production of the record. This though can be just one person in this musically democratised era. However, as Peter puts it “having the life sucked out of them” seems to be a common practise in the current musical climate. So loud and bright and quite frankly overcooked through endless hours, days or even weeks of tweaking and revisiting (I’ve been guilty of this myself to a certain extent).

So do records made now have less life than say a record made 30 years ago? Is this due to the software it was produced with or has taste become merely another casualty of the music creator/listeners thirst for a quick fix? Alternatively, is it the labels of today that are left battling so much for our attention that many of these ‘classic’ elements and procedures of record making are simply being abandoned?

Firstly, I think I need to address what I mean by taste.

You just know when you hear something whether it’s right or not. Somehow it doesn’t communicate the desired message or something within the mix puts you off or is just plain annoying. This must surely be where artistic credibility or artistic and appropriate ‘taste’ comes in to play. That special thing in the music that makes us listen over and over again. The lovingly selected ingredients that paint a sonic landscape in our minds that enable us to enjoy the experience of the music and attach those special memories to particular pieces throughout our lives.

I very fondly remember one of the first times on hearing ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac and particularly the song ‘Go Your Own Way’. It was a record that I’d not paid much attention to for the last 30 years or so but when the 30th anniversary of the record came round a few years ago I listened again with adult ears. I must admit my reaction to it surprised me somewhat. With in the first few bars of ‘Go Your Own Way’ this record was firmly back in my consciousness! So much so that I was immediately transported back to being roughly 4 years old sat on my fathers lap listening to this mesmerising record wearing some oversized white headphones complete with curly cable. The feeling was palpable. Every detail of that moment came flooding back to me in vivid technicolor (well maybe a little sepia, it was the 70’s!!) My surroundings at that time, the time of day, the smell of damp dog in the air!! I quite clearly had/have a very emotional connection to that record……….but why?

Is it purely nostalgia?

I personally don’t think it is. As an audio professional of over 10 years and listener of 1000’s of records over a thirty odd year period I feel I can put forward a fairly solid theory on the subject of musical communication. Just to clarify and justify; I’m not music degree educated but, I am experienced in the ‘real world’ aspects of music. I’ve learnt through trial and error and experiential activities (basically I’ve made lots of mistakes along the way). The experience I have regarding this particular record may have something to do with the story behind the record itself, a very emotional story and one that only as an adult I would have any hope of understanding. But even as a child I must have been able to feel the emotion infused within all aspects of the recording. It grabbed me as an infant, so what was going on there?

Firstly, but not necessarily most importantly is the overall sonic signature or aesthetic of the record. It’s dynamic (not overly loud) and punchy yet pleasing on the ear. I wouldn’t describe it as soft but there is a certain warmth and gentleness that invites you to listen again and again. This warmth helps to also communicate the songs composition to the listener using elements such as correct or appropriate frequency content or balance. Interesting use of instruments even though fairly standard the texture they provide is one that appears faultless but each song contains very human and heartfelt performances. This records overall level of artistic communication is almost impossible to rival in any genre or era.

You can blame any number of factors for the downturn in record sales, the industry didn’t choose the correct model to sustain itself and embrace the way music is consumed, or perhaps file sharing is responsible. The bottom line is music and some other forms of entertainment sales have dwindled over the past few years for whatever reason(s) (you can add your own theory here) but I feel the subject of this blog i.e. taste, has a lot to do with it.

Basically A LOT of the music made today lacks taste. And by taste I mean good taste. Good taste in the traditional sense- high artistic quality, high artistic values, originality, emotional reward etc. You can obviously argue that taste is subjective, a matter of personal opinion, and of course yes it is but, much of the ‘pop’ output of recent years has been pretty awful on many levels. Musically it delivers nothing new or remotely intriguing, It’s often so rhythm heavy that any harmonic content (actual chord progression) the piece may contain isn’t even heard! it plays no or very little part in the emotional communication of the material. On rare occasions the chords aren’t even in key with the vocal! and if they are they are so overused and obvious they might as well not be there. The melodies although deemed ‘cool’ are often so lacking in development that even the lyrics can’t engage the listener long enough that they want to keep listening. Many though still go on to become big hits. This happens for several reasons in my opinion including:

1. There is so much money behind the artist usually major label money and they can afford (through paying the right people) to get the song on the ‘powerful’ radio stations. Then the listenership is basically force fed the song twenty times a day for six weeks BEFORE it’s released! The buying public are then expected to purchase the song even though they’re most likely already bored of it!

2. A song appears on a ‘hip’ TV programme or commercial or even it’s on a popular TV programme designed to ‘showcase’ talent (you know what I mean!) Again this is usually to do with repetition but sometimes a song does hit the zeitgeist at the right time and the public buys into it. It can though still be a terrible song however!

3. Power of the personal brand. Lady Gaga could potentially have a hit with Humpty Dumpty based on her existing brand credibility and loyal fans. Plus no doubt the costume she’d wear for the video would be more impressive than the song itself.

4. It doesn’t actually take many sales to be a hit song these days. Who knows maybe certain record labels even go as far as to purchase enough copies to top the charts (I have no evidence of this of course).

The point or rather point(s) I’m trying to make is that it seems the art of communication via the medium of song has become so dumbed down (especially in the pop genre) that it shocks us when something comes along that surprises us and ticks those boxes we should always hold dear to our hearts as human beings. The sense that we should be moving forward and striving to make even more amazing music than has previously gone before rather than simply pandering to markets where the people with power have the majority say. They choose what gets released into the public domain and choose what will become a hit by basically paying for it to flood the market. They remove our choice from the matter. They don’t give a shit about any of the things that make music mean something to us, it’s all about “business”. Music is a fundamental human right that as evidence through archaeology and research has proven; precedes or at least originates along with the development of language. Its use, the more it is studied goes way beyond this soulless and flippant marketeer nonsense that gets played on most popular radio stations. I’ll say it again we ARE in danger of losing the art. Not that it doesn’t still exist, far from it. Thousands maybe even hundreds of thousands of artists are still pursuing the art of music but the mediums we use and covet for some reason are ignoring these artists purely due to the fact that they won’t get paid to promote them. Millions of people are not getting the opportunity to hear great tasteful music and the people creating it are having their creative expression stifled. I wonder what amazing music is out there in the world that I’ve never heard? It genuinely breaks my heart to think about it.

How can we change this and start getting a serious increase in tasteful music that is enjoyed by the masses rather than niche groups that have to go out of their way to find it?

I don’t proclaim to have all the answers but one thing I’m doing is asking the question and raising awareness. Awareness is the first step towards change so my second thing is to ask YOU reading this is to comment and if you agree with part or all of what I’m saying pass it on, keep the question being asked and raise even more awareness. Yes music can be an industry but music is also part of human and spiritual development and has amazing affects on brain development, memory, wellbeing, connectedness and much more. Great music is good for us and important to humanity, let’s encourage the return and growth of music as art and not just satisfy our need for a hook, the throw away music shared in the office or on mobile devices on buses. Let’s share with our friends, children and grand children for decades to come. Great music that means something to each of us and adds to our experience of life. Let us make music a human experience again instead of the material and mechanical experience it is becoming. It is ALL about taste and it’s diversity, therefore no one is right or wrong but of course it IS about true artistic expression and furthering our ability to innovate and to document our pillars of quality.

Mix With The Masters Experience-PART 3!!!

Hello again,

 
Ok, Part 3 with much less of a hiatus between parts!
 
Let me go over a couple of the more esoteric points from the last instalment with you. Let’s start with the drums.
 
Now, I don’t really know the protocol regarding how much info to divulge here. I mean, I don’t want give away both Eddie’s and my own IP in terms of detail in the specific techniques he passed on but we’ll all use them very differently. That is what makes us individual after all. I left the previous post mentioning that the drums were the first instrument we as a group examined.
 
The kit set up was fairly standard. Kick, snare, hat, one rack tom and a floor tom plus a ride and 2 crash type cymbals. Fairly standard by any stretch of the imagination. It was initially set up in the large space off the main tracking room but after a short while that ideas was abandoned I don’t remember why though. So everything was relocated to the main tracking space very near to the stair well to be able to utilise Eddie’s favourite techniques no doubt. On to the finer points. Let me see if I can remember the kick details firstly.
 
It was a single kick drum and pedal (thankfully!!) a 22″ medium depth shell. Can’t remember the colour, possibly green. For isolation purposes Eddie had a couple of the guys build a ‘tunnel’ out of packing blankets. (The type removal companies tend to use to cover and protect your fine furniture).
 
The blanket as I’ve pointed out was for isolation purposes mainly from the cymbal bleed but, also for the purposes of shortening the decay time of the kick drum itself. The mics that were used were as follows; a Shure SM91 boundary mic…..actually I must interject here as i forgot that there was a brick inserted into the shell which was affectively used to reduce the resonance of the drum. The SM91 was placed on top of the drum and this mainly addresses the attack of the signal. I’m struggling to remember the main kick mic possibly a Shure Beta 52 or possibly an AKG D12.
One of the techniques that really struck me though was the use of a Neumann U47 FET. I’d only used one once or twice but was immediately struck how present it sounded. Even though it was being used in conjunction with the other mics it had all the necessary character and clarity one could want from a kick drum. The blend however was also something to behold. Eddie’s use of each mic created a very solid and timeless sounding kick drum.
 
The Snare Drum!!
 
I presume I have to be honest here, I actually can’t remember what was used on the snare! I think it was a 14″ wooden snare and there were definitely two mics (top and bottom) used. One was perhaps the standard snare mic of a SM57? and the other maybe one of the newer Shure mics…….possibly a KSM ??. Sorry, my memory can be my own worst enemy sometimes! It sounded great anyway whatever it/they were/was.
 
The Overheads however I can remember! Cos they were not one, not two, but, three Neumann U47 tube mics! I think at some point one was swapped out with a clone that someone had brought to compare the difference of which out of interest there was relatively none!! (In that application!) The thing that struck me here was the use of three mics. I’d always tended to go for two overheads as most people do but how Eddie described using a 3 mic overhead was as in LCR (left, centre, right) a term i’d been introduced to just a few months earlier from reading the Mixerman books: Zen and the Art of Mixing and The Daily Adventures of MIxerman….both superb but very different books. Well worth purchasing if you’re serious or even if you’re not about your audio career! So basically this overhead technique took the LCR thing and it made perfect sense. The stereo image was all of a sudden ‘filled in’ for want of a better term. The snare was most definitely in the centre of the image and the sides also felt more positioned. So, again an absolute method to be utilised in subsequent work.
 
The toms were mic’d with some of the smaller Shure clip-on mics again sorry I can’t recall model numbers but they sounded pretty good. Not my first choice for toms but the kit was well tuned and as it turns out very well played and the toms play a slightly more secondary roll in most drum patterns so you can get most things to work. This does very much depend on the player though…I can’t stress that enough!!!!!
 
Room ambience (my favourite aspect of drum recording) was an interesting topic and mic choice too. As i said earlier the kit was set up at the bottom of a staircase of roughly 20′ long by 5-6′ wide. All stone. It was very reverberant and quite bright sounding too. A pair of Velvet Audio Black Knight mics were set up towards the top of the staircase. They were on an XY bar but I can’t remember in which direction they were facing to tell what the mic pattern was!.
There are as most of you reading this know hundreds of techniques regarding room ambience. And also hundreds of techniques regarding the mic-ing of a drum kit. Obviously it wholly depends on a) time frame and b) the intention behind the production but, I want to share one experience I had not long ago. This isn’t connected to the MWTM story other than it was an audio experience and it was to do with drums.
 
 
For a while now I’ve been seeing mic-ing drums with fewer and fewer mics but i’d never had the chance or opportunity to experiment with the technique. So I was pleased when one did. This could and should probably be a blog in itself so I will try to keep this brief and if anyone wants to know more either I’ll expand it into a full blog or you can email me and ask questions.
Anyway, This thing came up where we wanted to go for a real striped back authentic sound especially on the drums so, having had a chat with the drummer (who happened to be one of my best friends) we decided to go for the minimal approach. I used the much coveted Neumann FET U47 on the kick drum but about 2′ away, a Beyerdynamic M160 hypercardioid ribbon mic and a single Coles/BBC 4038 (figure of eight) as a mono overhead. 3 mics on the kit and then a room mic, a single Neumann U67 about 11 or 12′ from the kit itself squashed into a mic-pre with compression but not shockingly so and I have to admit, it was awesome. Very direct sounding yet very controlled too and much easier to mix once the track had been finished than I first suspected. But, may I add one thing here……..the drummer was great. That’s the thing that makes ALL the difference and don’t let ANYONE convince you otherwise!!
 
 
So, I think that’s a fitting place to end part 3……hope you like it and be sHure(wink wink!!) to tune in next time for the thrilling instalment of MIX WITH THE MASTERS EXPERIENCE!!! WOOHOO!!!!
 
Here’s a pic of all the guys on the course I found the other day.
 
 
 
D. x

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