Saturday, May 17, 2014

Recording Tip 45: Dont be fooled by plugins that look like analog gear. The pic has nothing to do with the sound.

“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they’ve been fooled-Mark Twain

It’s really amazing how our perceptions can be influenced by what we see. A number of years ago I was working in Ocean Way LA Studio One. This is one of the legendary studios in the world, designed by the legendary Bill Putnam.
Oceanway had one of the greatest mic collections on the planet, and one of the first Focusrite Consoles in the U.S. I was recording some of the best musicians in the city and believe me, like Al Schmidt’s quote from earlier, if I couldn’t get at least decent sounds in such a circumstance, I had real problems!

That day I brought a number of outboard mic preamps which were sitting alongside the console.  I didn’t need them. The console’s mic preamps were fantastic. But I was considering purchasing a few of them, so I was having a shoot-out to see how they fared against Rupert’s creation.

The band played down a take and things were sounding very good. Although most of the mics were going through the Focusrite, a few were going through the gear I brought in. On first playback the guys came in and noticed the large pile of mic preamps. “What is all that?” the drummer asked. I told him what they were and why they were there. As the playback began the drummer looked at the mic preamps, up to the speakers, back and forth a few times. He nodded in approval and said, “YEAH! Sounds great!” Now this was a very famous and seasoned studio musician who worked with some of the greatest artists and engineers in the world. Frankly I was surprised at what I saw him doing. A large part of his impression was not what he heard, but what he saw. Back in those days the large racks of outboard gear were a bit of a rarity so it was rather impressive seeing that extra stuff piled in the room. I got many kudos that day and more gigs. So from then on I always brought as much extra gear as I could! And yeah, I kept my mouth shut when the drummer gave the compliment. If he thought I was especially brilliant for bringing that gear in, who am I to say he was wrong?

Fast forward to the DAW age. A plugin creator can make a plugin GUI look any way they want. No longer are we dealing with physical knobs, transformers and the like which caused certain gear to have been made the shape and size it was. A GUI is only made for the movements of a mouse. So as plugins were created, I found it interesting what the designers chose to do.

George Massenburg made one of the best GUI for an equalizer in my opinion. It really makes much more sense than a recreation of a physical knobs. It’s clean, simple, and easy to use. Just push up or pull down. Nothing sexy with that. And while not visually beautiful, it does the job very well. Colin McDowell at MdDSP did a very similar thing. Again, not sexy, but works great.

Many other plugin designers however have chosen vintage looks, especially when attempting to replicate vintage gear. I don’t fault them for that, except when the controls don’t work well and a game of cat and mouse begins in the attempt to get the knob where one wants it to be. But the key thing to remember is that the look of the plugin has nothing to do with how it sounds.

I bet if Waves or UA had some hacker at their company swap the GUI of their Pultec emulator with their SSL most users would not hear the difference. They’d be mixing away, convinced a great classic Pultec emulation was being applied, even though it was emulating an SSL. Which sounds NOTHING like a Pultec!

So of course what I’m getting at is we, duh...have to always listen with our ears and not our eyes. Most of us won’t have a hardware Pultec, Fairchild, or whatever lying around to compare to a plugin. And while it’s interesting to do that, what matters is which one is right. Maybe you’d pick the hardware...but maybe not. Hearing if the plugin you’ve selected sounds right for the mix is all that matters no matter what the plugin is or how it looks. That’s why blind listening tests are the best way to make evaluations. My earlier post, “Perception is Reality?” talks about this.  

Critical listening is an art and something one gets at better with practice. When the mix is done no one will know what I used, nor will they care. They want to be moved emotionally by the mix and that’s all that really matters.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Recording Tip 44: Try acoustic filters. Cut a hole in the end of a Styrofoam or paper cup and stick the tip of the mic thru it

This was something I first heard Tchad Blake did. It’s a fun thing to do and can give you an atypical sound when needed.  

Everyone has heard what a voice sounds like when you cup your hands around your mouth or hold up an old cheerleader megaphone and talk or sing. When you do that you’re hearing acoustic filtering which makes a cool sound when recording.

I’ve recorded singers using a paper like a megaphone, styrofoam cups around an SM57 for a snare...I even put a mic in the hole of a cinderblock brick in front of a kick drum. Sure, you can try to make an odd sound later with EQ, but there’s nothing quite like doing it in the moment and letting nature create the sound. And no matter how good you are with EQ, there are very few times it sounds as interesting as it does with an acoustic filter.

So when looking for a different sound, take a styrofoam cup or whatever, cut a hole in it and place it over the mic, holding it with some tape. You’ll never know how it will sound till you hear it, but I’ve found more often than not it works. You’re obviously looking for something out of the ordinary, and that is what you’ll get!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Recording Tip 43: I have a friend who put a bass cabinet face down on the floor with a KM84 under with great results

This tip has raised lots of questions, as I knew it would. I just couldn’t put enough information in a tweet, but hopefully it may have gotten a few of you to try some less typical things when recording.  

The friend of mine who did this is a very good engineer. We’ve known each other for a long time and often talk about different ways of doing things. I will say however, that while I’ve always liked his results, I’ve yet to find one of his ideas to work for me. That’s part of the nature of the recording. As you try different ways of doing things, you’ll find someone who’s recording methods line up with yours, and some just don’t. So the first lesson here is don’t fret it if some tip you learned doesn’t work when you try it. It’s no different than a musician trying to emulate some other player, but that person’s style doesn’t feel right to them when they try it. We’re all different. We come to this craft with our own musical loves and preferences that may be very different than those whose tips we wish to emulate.  

But as you’re different than me, you might find this tip to work for you, so here it is.

As best I recall, the bass cabinet was a small one. He’d tried a few normal techniques to no avail. Finally in desperation (often a good source of good ideas) he took a KM84 and placed it flat it on the studio floor. He then laid the speaker cabinet face down on the floor OVER the mic and turned up the amp till it “farted” a bit, and there was the sound. Go figure! I’d have never thought of such an idea. But it was a great sound.

So lesson #1, don’t worry if something some idea you heard doesn’t work for you. Find someone whose methods relate to what you do and follow them.  

So, lesson #2 the total contradiction to #1….Try anything! You may find something so bizarre as my friend that works for you.  Always keep looking. You just may find a wacko idea that does work.