This week I fulfilled a small goal I have been harboring for a while – I have gone and bought myself a year’s subscription to Pro Tools. Not wanting to start from scratch on a track I fished out an old uni project which, although won me a comfortably passing grade, I feel like I never really finished to my liking. It was a cover of seventies disco pop song Yes Sir I Can Boogie by Baccara- but with a twist of analog synth and distorted guitars, as inspired by Kavinsky’s Nightcall and much of Daft Punk’s epic Random Access Memories. The point at which I abandoned (for want of a better word) the project was when I was trying to find a vocoder to use so that the verses would be sung by a robot voice. I never found a decent hardware or software vocoder I could use, so this week my search continued.
I firstly started by looking at Pro Tools’ marketplace for plugins, but to my amazement a search for ‘vocoder’ brought up no results. I suppose I could have trawled through modulation and synthesis options to see if they provided a synth which has a vocoder function – but I’m an impatient man and I wanted a quick result. I did eventually find a highly recommended option which was Morphoder by Waves, and although $29 seems like an absolute steal, my recent purchase made even this a little tight. And who can be bothered going to a bureau de change at this time of night? So I decided to look for free of charge options. It was surprisingly easy to find free vocoder plugins, and I very quickly found TAL-Vocoder (which is yours too if you follow the link). The only problem was that being a free VST it’s not compatible with Pro Tools, so I had to go back to my trusty Ableton Live, playing the vocal part through the vocoder, adjusting the settings, then exporting to Pro Tools to see how it sounds in the mix.
At first this seemed like a cumbersome way to work, but it became quite a neat little routine and I found I could very quickly get some results. Now, even as I speak I am being told that if I bother to try and mess with my folder structure settings and download the right software to convert it to another file type, and pray very hard and write a letter to my MP I can probably get it working in Pro Tools. But you know what – I like the idea of having Ableton as a little lab in which I can cook up some sounds to then export to Pro Tools to become part of the big picture. Like nurturing children in a little rural village, them sending them out into the big wide world to make something of themselves.
Being the composer of the track, lucky me got the privilege to play a wonderful Steinway and Sons piano in the Peel Hall. I’m no piano virtuoso, but I took lessons back in the day and still noodle around from time to time, so the part didn’t take TOO long to get right. The feel of the track is fairly calm and laid back, so I had the Dampening pedal on all the way through the performance – It made the sound a lot softer and less bright. I also made sure to keep a good length on the notes I was playing, as I wanted it to be as smooth as possible throughout. The natural reverb of the room was so phenomenal that I could have sat there and played all day – but we had work to do.
After some brief coaching from Me and Ben, Andreas took to the bongos to record one of the many percussive parts. We had him play fairly firmly, as the overtones of the drums came out best with harder hits. I was surprised how well the room tone played into the way the bongos sounded – it really filled out some of the space the sound was lacking. Soon after, Andreas and I warmed up our vocal chords for some on-the-spot vocal harmonies. I sang an octave below him and we overdubbed another melody line, making the whole arrangement sound pretty huge. It kinda reminded me of the Bohemian Rhapsody Choral section, but slightly flat.
Guitar wise, we chose to use a Fender deluxe (great for clean tones) and an Epiphone Les Paul (for it’s warm neck pickup). I wanted to reduce string noise, which usually lands in the higher register, so I rolled the highs off a little from the amp – This gave us a quintessentially warm and jazzy sound that worked perfectly with the drums we had already recorded. For a second guitar dub we drove the amp a little and reduced the volume on the guitar, adding a slight difference in tone that brought out more character in both tracks.
We managed to write the MIDI for the synth using an actual keyboard, meaning I once again had to channel my inner Mozart. After a bit of fumbling, we got a clean take and tidied it up in Pro-Tools.
All that’s left are the Shakers and Cabasa – fairly standard practice for both, though we used two shakers at once to bulk up the sound a little. Bish bash bosh, and we have a (mostly) finished track!
So to follow on from the recording session at peel hall, after a quick snack, we went back to the newton studios and recorded guitars, percussion, synths, and vocals. This went shockingly well and if you want to find out about the performance side of this recording check out Niall’s post here:
Warning techy writing ahead. Turn back now.
So we started off with the guitar tracks which featured a clean tone. To capture all the detail in the tone I chose to use an SM57 with a Royer-121 on the front of the amp, just to the side of the dust cap on the cone. The reason I chose this combo was for the attack from the SM57 followed by the thicker more natural sounding Royer. I would like to stop for a moment to strongly recommend every studio gets at least one Royer ribbon mic as they are the best sounding high SPL ribbon around. The beauty of the Royer ribbon technology is that they offset the ribbon so that the microphone has a different tone depending on which side you use, the front giving you a more rounded tone and the ability to have higher SPL intake (135) and the rear of the mic having a much brighter sound. Of course, you must remember to phase reverse the signal when using the back of the mic else you will get a muddy comb filter effect. After dropping the Royer level in the mix it complements the SM57 really nicely. I can’t understand why people think the SM57 is enough on its own. Yes, it sounds good, but why have silver when you can win gold. And that’s what we have here. Gold
Next up we had the synth. Dom created a really nice patch which
I then ran through the Peavey keyboard amp. This adds thickness and warmth to the dry digital signal. I once again used the Royer to capture the tone so the signal sounds the same as we would hear it if we were in the room. I also use the Royer set up on the percussion to capture clean tones.
For vocals, I chose to use a u87 with an MD441 on top. This is a classic condenser/diaphragm setup used by most male singers such as ed Sheehan as the condenser captures a crystal clear sound with the dynamic mic adding thickness through the use of the proximity effect. When it comes to mixing a plan to use the Toft analogue desk to get a nice analogue warmth to the voice.
The other day we got access to the great Peel Hall on Main Campus of the university.
The idea was to utilise the halls fantastic acoustic treatment and instruments for our project.
No million pound instruments were damaged during this recording session.
When in a space like this, there is no ignoring the tonal qualities of the room, so with that in mind we brought along many fine microphones -all condensers actually- to capture the best possible sound. For the grand piano, we used a pair of AKG 451’s about three “Ben’s” away from the instrument. (Luckily he was kind enough to demonstrate just how far that is) We also used two AKG 214inside the piano as close mics, for a more controllable sound in post production. And finally, a Rode NT2-A under the piano, to capture the warmth and saturation to blend in with the acoustic elements.
When we were done and happy with how the piano sounded, we had about two hours to spare. We then had the idea of recording more stuff, as the acoustical properties and natural reverberation of these other recordings would match up with the piano. So we found a pair of bongo drums, I volunteered to play and the rest of the team engineered my bongo slappin’!
And then we also decided to record backing vocals to fill out the sonics of the track even further. Me and Niall sung in different octaves with two close mics and two room mics, again to capture the beautiful acoustics of the space we’re in.
All in all, a very successful session and the results sound absolutely stunning!
Today we had our first recording session. Here’s Niall drumming away at a jazz track we’re producing.
We thought we’d try out some new techniques – so far all of our recording projects have been fairly by-the-books.
We used an AKG414 about 30 cm away pointing at the kick drum to capture more air, and an Audix D6 slightly closer for the really low frequencies. In short, and in English – The bass drum was fat. We also did some other interesting things such as using an AKG214 for the snare and a C3000b as an underhead. Henric, the studio manager, taught Andreas how to get nice sounding overtones from playing a cowbell, which may come in handy for our lounge-style song. We also found out we can de-rig a full microphone set-up for a drum kit (cable-management included) in about 10 minutes. Speedy stuff.