HOW TO: RESONATE WITH GUITAR RECORDING

HOW TO: RESONATE WITH GUITAR RECORDING

From acoustic to electric guitars and everything in between, this tutorial will get you comfortable recording anything in the chordophone family.

SOUND BEFORE THE SOUND

Listening track: Kiss A Girl – Keith Urban

There’s no one way to record guitars. There are as many variations of guitar recording techniques as there are guitars. And when I say ‘guitars’, I’m not just referring to electric and acoustic guitars, but lumping in other chordophones like banjos, mandolins, resonators and ukuleles as well… which makes for a lot of techniques. The aim of this article is to get us thinking about the best ways to get the sounds we need, by focusing on our ideas and concepts first, then choosing our tools and techniques second, making the process as seamless and inspiring as possible.

Whenever you’re facing a situation with as many creative variables as guitar recording, the most important thing to do is not do anything. That’s right. Before you go plugging anything in, just stop! Spend a minute or two mapping out what you’re trying to achieve with the live take and any upcoming overdubs. Let’s take a country track as an example. Rather than just diving into the guitar tracks, stop and conceptualise them first, then make a detailed list that may read something like this:

• Double tracked acoustic guitars

• Twangy telecaster lead lines

• Long, timed, tremolo strums throughout

• Big grunty chords in the chorus; double tracked

• ‘Scene change’ Leslie guitar line in the bridge

• Guitar solo

• Imitation reverby ‘pedal steel’-type guitar throughout

• Banjo line in verses

• Mandolin in breakdown verse

By my count, that one song could involve up to 11 different instruments, a couple of capos and multiple recording approaches! It’s easy for the process to get convoluted. By laying it out, you have a clear sense of what you’d like to attempt. There’s no guarantee these overdubs will all work, but they will give you a pretty clear starting point, and certainly help you refine your vision as the overdubbing process evolves.

Top Tip: Make a guitar production plan first!

guitars_line-up

This applies to any guitar recording situation; whether you’re a solo singer/songwriter, or play an obscure form of Scandinavian metal. Even better; use sonic references to give the creative team a clearer understanding of when to use different recording techniques.

The most successful guitar sessions begin with a guitarist knowing where they want to go. I may play them a song once and they’ll say, “Telecaster for the main rhythm track with a ‘Mellencamp’ tone; Gretsch into the Vox, heavily compressed, as a secondary rhythm; the Strat into the Boogie with slight phaser for the solo; and 6- and 12-string acoustics, the latter with a capo on the 5th fret panned left and right to give that rhythmic shimmer.” Boom! They’ve basically given me a roadmap for the next two hours of work.

Listen to Keith Urban’s Kiss A Girl for an example of well-planned guitar tones that effectively build the track.

Right-Position

ACOUSTIC INSTRUMENT RECORDING TECHNIQUES & APPROACHES

As a producer, you’ve decided you want some acoustic guitar in your track. But what sort of acoustic sound are you after? Is it a nice and close James Taylor-esque vibe, or a ‘John Lennon-in-1964’ heavy strum, or the more ambientWar-era U2 acoustic guitar bashing? Behind these choices are three very different approaches but each starts with choosing the right instrument.

While electric guitars come in a variety of shapes and configurations that are easy to delineate from each other, acoustic guitars generally all have a similar configuration — body, sound hole, neck. And while a $200 acoustic may not look that dissimilar to a $50,000 acoustic, they’re often incredibly different beasts. Fortunately, as an engineer, there’s a few simple things you can get into the habit of doing to peel away the veneer and mother of pearl inlays and get at the sound.

The easiest is to just listen. If you have a general idea that your guitarist is going to gently finger-pick, get them to play something stylistically similar while they’re working parts out. Walk around in front of the guitarist — up close, pulled back a little further, near where the neck joins the body, down at the base of the instrument — and listen. If there’s a few different guitar options, get the guitarist to change them around every 20 seconds or so. I guarantee it will take you only about one minute, and in that time you’ll be able to make a decision about which guitar is the right one, where it sounds best and whether the part is working with your own ideas.

Conversely, if they’re playing a harder, heavier strumming part, step back even further and listen to how it’s exciting the room. You’ll also be able to work out quickly whether you want the sound to feel up close and tactile, or more ambient and enveloping.

A trap is thinking that just because a guitar is big with a commensurately big sound, it’ll sound ‘big’ under the mics. One of the most impressively loud and expensive-sounding acoustics I’ve owned came across as overly boomy, undefined in the mid range and hollow in the top end when recorded. Conversely, I have a moderately-priced acoustic that has a more closed and confined tone, and mics love it both up close and far away. Guitarists feel comfortable playing it too, because they can play hard into it without fear of the sound ‘running away’ from them.

Top Tip: First and foremost, find an acoustic that works for the part you have planned.

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RIGHT POSITION & RIGHT MIC

Picking the right mic for the job requires even more listening. I generally prefer large diaphragm condenser microphones on acoustics, especially for a big bold tone. But small diaphragm condensers give a different sense of focus and sometimes a cleaner top end. I’m always wary of proximity effect particularly on closer finger-picking, but even on the big strummy stuff. Too much bottom end is going to over work your compressor before it hits tape. I’ll often put my condenser mic into omni and move it much closer to the guitar, eliminating proximity effect while keeping the tonal focus of the top end. For more robust-sounding tracks, I love dynamic microphones pushed hard into a compressor. And of course, one of my favourite acoustic sounds is multiple guitarists all playing the same chords around one mic in omni, triple tracked!

Guitar-mic-diagram

Top Tip: Pick a mic with the right focus, but try an omni pattern if proximity effect is bringing the boom.

So how do you find that sweet spot for the mic? When I’m playing an acoustic guitar track, I’ll put up an appropriate mic (which can change) in a general position. But then, while tuning, practicing an idea or talking to the artist about the part, I’ll find myself moving around the mic. If my chair has wheels (which it almost always does), I’ll be changing my angle, my distance, sometimes even the whole positional relationship to the mic while listening with headphones on. Somewhere in all this shuffling around, I’ll find the sweetspot where the combination of the instrument, the mic and the air sound as close as possible to the sound I’ve conceptualised. At that point I freeze, and make a mental note of the position.

If I had to spell out a starting position, it would be with the mic at a 45-degree angle to the point where the guitar neck meets the body. But I always move around from that position. Sometimes I end up close to the guitar with a more acute angle. Other times I end up 90 degrees on axis, but back a metre! This part of the process is critical for you to dial in the right sound.

Top Tip: Swivel on a chair around the mic until you find the right spot for your guitar.

One-Mic-or-Two-a

ONE MIC OR TWO, OR MORE?

I’ve always found the more ‘strummy’ the part is, the less mics you need. Conversely I almost always use more than one mic for lighter finger-picked parts. Often it will be in a classic two-mic configuration, of one near the neck and the other behind the strumming hand, pointed at the lower bout of the instrument’s body. In this case, the second mic is supporting the first, and, because the sound will have a lot more bottom end, I may use a more ‘narrow’ mic, like a dynamic or a small diaphragm condenser. Generally I’ll pan the two mics hard left and right, resulting in a moderately narrow stereo image with a little stereo movement. Listening to James Taylor’s crystal clear finger-picking style on Carolina On My Mind, it sounds like the engineer used a two mic combination to capture the clarity of his articulation without sacrificing the body of the guitar tone. The guitar seems to have just enough width to indicate the two mics were probably panned hard left and right.

Another alternative might be to use a good mic/bad mic combination. Once you’ve found your sweet spot, put your good mic there, and supplement it with something weird, like a crusty dynamic, or ribbon mic or something really obtuse like the Copperphone. I’ve even put up a mic with a busted diaphragm and combined it with the original ‘good’ tone. You’ll be surprised at how much of this ‘bad mic’ you end up using. Seconds by U2 is an example of a guitar tone that has been chosen to feel grittier and tactile. Perhaps a combination of a smaller, boxy-sounding guitar and a dynamic mic.

I regularly mix sessions that come in with two tracks of acoustic guitar. I assume they’re two takes, but it’s actually one guitar with two mics playing big strummy parts intended to ‘lift’ the choruses. Panning these tracks hard left and right usually results in a big slab of mono, right where the vocals and bass are sitting in the mix. My recording approach is to double track the strummy acoustics to lift a section, rather than expecting a stereo configuration to do that job. Conversely, if you’re looking for intimacy in your finger-picking, double-tracking may not only depersonalise the part, but also be quite time consuming; stereo miking may be more appropriate.

Top Tip: Multiple mics can give width to a detailed finger-picking part, but try double-tracking heavy strumming if you want width.

Drawing-the-lower-string


CAPOS

Some people love them, other people not so much. I love them because they allow you to play chord progressions in easier to play positions with more open chords. These sorts of chords tend to ring out more fully, yielding a more substantial tone. Double-tracked guitars make a great case for slapping a capo on one side, showering you in rich harmonics and good overtones, and helping emphasise the size of your acoustic contribution.


COMPRESSING THE LIFE INTO IT

Compression can be vital for turning an unamplified acoustic guitar sound into something larger than life. There’s no rules for this. Some will favour transparency, while others want to hear the gain reduction. I’m firmly in the latter group. Ensure your attack times aren’t completely killing the front of your strumming or picking, and your ratios help determine how aggressive your compressor will sound. The acoustic guitar on Steve Earle’s Transcendental Bluesis being smashed with loads of gain reduction, effectively electrifying this acoustic tone.

Going even further back to John Lennon’s acoustic guitar tones on The Beatles’ records, what you’re generally hearing is a Neumann U47 into an Altec or Fairchild compressor, being hit pretty hard with a moderate attack, then adding the tape machine’s own saturation on top before hitting the master bus compressor again at mix time. These various layers of compression, in combination with a killer right-hand strumming technique, are a huge part of the sound of The Beatles’ records throughout their career.

Top Tip: Compression can make an acoustic sound larger than life, but watch those attack times if you want to hear that pick.

DRAWING THE LONGER STRING

These concepts are all applicable for the rest of the pack like High Strung/Nashville guitars (a 6-string with only the thinner strings from a 12-string pack), banjos, resonator guitars or mandolins. Listen to the instrument, place the right mic where it needs to be, and work out if it’s a single or double mic track, or a double-tracked overdub. Be wary that the sound may emanate from a different part of the instrument. For example, Resonator guitars and banjos seem to come across better with a mic closer to the bridge. Some open back banjos even sound better from the rear of the instrument. Mandolins may sound better with the mic nearer to the F hole. There’s no magic technique — just define the sound, and move around until you get close to it.

Conceptualisation is just as important with electrics as it is with an acoustic track. There’s simply a bigger arsenal: guitars, pedal boards and amplifiers, both real and virtual. The tonal combinations a good guitarist can access is astounding.

Gearing-Up

GEARING UP

When I’m called in to do sessions, there are some default colours I need to have covered. For an album project, it wouldn’t be unusual to take at least six guitars. Remember, the actual guitar is your first physical point of creative connection with the part you’re about to play. If an instrument inspires you to play in a way that suits your production aesthetic, you are truly halfway there.

To cover the bases for an album recording project, I would usually take the following:

• A guitar with humbuckers for thicker tones — perhaps a Les Paul or SG.

• A guitar with single coil pickups — usually a Telecaster.

• Something in between — either a Grestch or something with P90 pickups.

• One or two ‘specialty guitars’ — a 12-string, or a guitar with a higher action for slide playing.

• A guitar with a weird combinations of pickups — my current favourites are Goldfoil pickups; or a specific tone — like a Rickenbacker.

• A B-Bender if I’m doing a country song that requires it.

Even though guitarists often agonise over their pedal boards, if you’re a producer/engineer it’s worth having a few trustworthy basics on hand. A couple of different overdrive/distortion options, and a delay and tremolo can regularly get you out of a bind. Do some research into the boxes that regularly appear on good guitarist’s boards, and invest in your own board. It can save a situation when the guitarist is struggling to nail his own combination.

It’s a similar story with amps. Once upon a time you needed to have a few amps around to cover as many bases as possible. These days, I have a couple of amps, but also know my way around amp simulators. If you’re struggling to get the tone you want from your amp, plug in a DI to stop the session from stagnating and get a ‘placeholder’ sound that you can refine within your DAW or re-amp when the pressure’s off. A lot of guitar players are still on the fence about the validity of amp simulators, but they’re pretty good these days, and rather than being in a situation where you have to choose between one or the other, embrace both worlds and make them work for you in the creative environment.

Top Tip: There’s a lot of electric guitar gear to choose from, so if you’re a producer, make sure you have the basics well covered, including handy virtual options.

GUITAR AMPS: IS SIZE EVERYTHING?

Once upon a time, it was assumed the only way to get a big sound in the studio was through a big amp turned uploud. But as guitar recording has evolved, so has our approach to amp size. The ‘secret’ to recording any guitar amp is to find its ‘sweetspot’ — the point where it is being pushed in its circuitry hard enough to sound big and full. Below this point volume-wise, the amp is being under worked, which is rarely the sound you want. Beyond the magic gain area, the amp goes in to a form of distress, which may be exactly what you want.

While I don’t have any issue with louder amps, an amp with a moderate output will generally do the trick in the studio. Getting a 30-50W amp into its sweet spot will usually give you what you need. A lot of guitarists and engineers find smaller amps more manageable in the studio; you can get the right gain level without ear-bleeding volume issues.

Not all amps sound the same. Here’s a small list of a few iconic examples of popular guitar amps and their users:

Vox AC30 – The Beatles, Brian May, The Edge.

Fender Dual Showman, Deluxe, Twin – Keith Richards, James Burton, Mike Bloomfield, Pete Townshend, Neil Young.

Marshall – Angus Young, Billy Joe Armstrong, Eddie Van Halen.

Top Tip: Get to know the level where your amp is happiest and record that!

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MIC IT UP

Assuming we’re plugging into our amps and we have our first killer sound coming out of our cabinet, it’s time to put some mics up and get recording. I know one main thing; if it doesn’t sound great at the source, there’s nothing an engineer can do to fix it. And if it sounds great it’s hard to mess it up! I can’t stress how important it is to make sure the sound is the right sound coming out of the amp. Don’t be scared to get down to speaker level to listen. A lot of guitarists only ever hear their amp pointing at the back of their legs. When you put a mic on the speaker cone, they often complain about the sound being too bright. So before you put any mics up, it is essential to go and listen to the guitar amp every time!

Once you have listened and made any necessary adjustments, go back and think about what you had in mind for the sound of this particular guitar part. Think about not only the tonal aspects, but also ambient aspects. Does it need to feel fleshy and tactile and close, or a bit more roomy and ambient? These desired characteristics will have a huge influence on your mic selection and positioning. Not only that, go up moderately close to the amp and just move your head around and back a bit. You’ll soon find some spots where the sound seems to have a ‘purer’ voice. I usually recommend putting a mic there, wherever that might be, regardless of whatever else you do!

Top Tip: Get your ears down to the speaker level to find the sweet spot and put a mic there.

TUNE YOUR EARS

Having a reliable tuner plugged in and ready to go at all times is critical in a recording situation. Encourage your guitar players to check tuning regularly. Never assume that just because all strings are in tune at the open string that you’ll be in tune once you start playing chord shapes. It’s a much better idea to get used to being in tune at the open strings, then running through the combination of chords and shapes you’ll play during the song and see if they’re in tune, adjusting and ‘averaging’ your tuning so you can get through the song. You’ll soon start to find ways to shape their chord positions to sound more ‘in tune’.

There’s nothing worse than listening back to guitar parts where every time a D chord is played you realise the A note on the second fret of the G string is out of tune. Train your ears to be vigilant in spotting tuning issues, get used to the tricks to make guitars feel more in tune — like different chord shapes and positions — and don’t be scared to retune troublesome guitars and drop in every time there’s an out of tune D chord.


I’ve tried many different approaches to amp miking. For a long while, I would put a single mic back a metre or so, in the spot where the sound waves of the amp have developed a bit more. The mic is usually a dynamic, but not always — it’s not unusual to use a large diaphragm condenser in this spot. If the amp sounds good, it’s a simple way to capture a realistic representation. The other technique I’ve been using is to combine two very different tonal mics together reasonably close to the speaker cabinet. It always involves one ribbon mic, which is usually a little duller, pointed right at the centre of the speaker, in combination with another more ‘toppy’ mic. Usually that’s a Shure SM57, but it may also be a large diaphragm condenser, and this will be a little away from the centre of the speaker, to soften the tone a little. The critically important factor is that the diaphragms of both mics have to be at the samedistance from the speaker, to maintain the phase relationship between the mics. This way you’re getting the best of each mic representing the best bits of the amp sound.

The thing I love about this technique is that, if recorded on to two tracks on a DAW, they essentially act as ‘bass and treble’ representation of the guitar sound, that you can balance appropriately against the track as your production develops. In other words, if at some point the guitar sound is a bit too gnarly, reduce the 57 and favour the ribbon mic, and vice versa if the sound is too cloudy or thick. These slight 3-5dB changes when you’re balancing the guitars against each other in the production can go a long way, without you having to reach for an equaliser!

Top Tip: Try balancing the sound of two different mics to give you the right blend, rather than reaching for an EQ.

Lastly, you might want to consider a ‘room mic’. Often I record guitar amps in our vocal booth, so there’s usually some sort of vocal mic already plugged in, going to a preamp and compressor. When I need a guitar sound to have a little more ‘air’ I’ll open up that channel onto another track. Sometimes it can be left where it is. But other times I’ll go and point it away from the amp, put it into an omnidirectional pattern, or push it right up against the window or into a corner for some weird reflections. If you do this, always check the phase.

I use this a lot when I’m going for that Neil Young Alabama sound — often I’ll put a delay only on the ambient mic to separate it a little further from the close mics, and maybe even pan the close mics one way and the delayed room mic the other for maximum width. It can be a fun way to push your guitar sound beyond just a good sound into something really special.

Top Tip: Try adding a room mic for a bit more air. Get fancy with some delay to push it even further away.

Mic-it-up


LAYERING IS THE NEW DYNAMICS

Having an understanding of how guitars are layered is a critical component to producing better guitar tracks. The two examples by Green Day and Everclear are virtual masterclasses in guitar layering, with each layer having a slight tonal and drive variation, resulting in the dynamics of both songs changing, pushing and pulling, and building.

When you’re mapping out your guitar parts at the start of your session, discuss whether you’ll be building up the song with overdubs or going for a simpler ‘guitars and a solo’ approach like The Black Crowes’Remedy.


EQ & COMPRESSION

If everyone has done their job right, at this point you should barely have to do anything! Bring the mics into some good preamps that you know and trust. I don’t usually EQ these mics at all, beyond possibly a hi-pass filter at between 80-110Hz. In terms of compression, my own ‘rule’ is simple — the cleaner the guitar tone the more compression you need! So for those clean funky rhythm parts, don’t be scared to get the gain reduction knobs moving as you track, and play into the sound. But for the big rock things where you’re overdriving your amp, keep the sound big and open, and let the amp breathe.

Mr Tambourine Man by The Byrds is an early example of deliberately using studio compressors to influence a guitar tone, with the sound being run into several compressors to flatten the dynamics of the playing. The moderate attack and release time, and high ratio of compression provide maximum note articulation and sustain, unheard of before on the electric guitar. It’s a masterclass in guitar compression!

Top Tip: Electric guitar recording doesn’t require much post work. But sometimes compression can create a different sense of movement.

LAYING IT DOWN

At this point, you’re largely ready to roll. With preparation like this, not much can go wrong. Just keep checking your tuning, and sit back on the groove! A lot of musicians have a tendency to push the front of the beat pretty heavily. That’s fine if that’s the vibe you’re going for. But in general, make sure they’re hearing their overdub in a good balance with the rest of the track, and remind them to listen and sit in with the existing tracks. It’ll make your tracks feel like they have more authority and confidence, and make them easier to work with.

Whatever you do, just remember to think about what you’re doing first. Then make sure your sound is happening and your guitar in tune. After all that, recording the guitar is the easy part.

Originally published here: http://www.audiotechnology.com.au/wp/index.php/how-to-resonate-with-guitar-recording-part-1/ and here: http://www.audiotechnology.com.au/wp/index.php/how-to-resonate-with-guitar-recording-part-2/

7 Tips to Humanize Your EDM Productions

7 Tips to Humanize Your EDM Productions

Electronic music — some love it, some hate it. Those who love it tend to love the big diverse sounds and the intensity. Those who hate it typically describe it as repetitive, mechanical, or even fake.

So, what can we do to enlighten those who would call EDM boring? Well, my approach is to bring humanity back into electronic music.

Here are a few of my favorite techniques for bringing new life into EDM productions:

1. Loosen Up the Timing

Humanizing the timing, particularly on drums, is one of the best ways to give your otherwise rigid sounding tune some groove.

There are a couple of ways to do this. Moving everything slightly off grid manually, while tedious, gives you the most control over the groove. The fast option would be to use the humanize option in your DAW if it has one.

Don’t restrict yourself to just drums though, you can humanize pretty much anything. My favorite thing to loosen up is piano.

Changing the velocity of each note and offsetting the timing of each chord by a few milliseconds can really bring your piano into reality (more on this in tip #4.)

2. Play Slightly Out of Tune

I know this one sounds crazy but stay with me!

When recording live instruments, there is always a probability of them being just ever so slightly out of tune. Even if you tune between every take, strings may stretch or intonation may be slightly off. This just adds to the “liveness” of the track.

If you take a tuner and watch the pitch on a vintage analog synth, you will see that the pitch fluctuates slightly. This is one of the reasons old synths have so much charm. To recreate this, try tuning your synths a cent or two sharp or flat; better yet, try adding a slow LFO that slightly modulates pitch.

Subtlety is key here — too much and the track will just sound sloppy. The idea is to add just a subtle touch of realism, but not enough to sour it.

3. Real Instruments

I am lucky enough to have a late 19th century Steinway piano in my studio that frequently finds it’s way into my productions. Even if you don’t have a real piano, you can still use real instruments.

Electric guitar is an obvious choice, as is live bass.

Apart from those, try adding some real percussion. Shakers, tambourines and claps are easy to track and will beat pre-fabricated loops most of the time. If you’re feeling adventurous, grab a mic and find some random sounds to record. I once made an awesome bass pluck by recording an aluminum tube dropping vertically onto a rubber mat with an SM57.

4. Play the Parts

I always seem to write better melodies and chord progressions when I play them on a keyboard as opposed to writing them in a keyroll. Even if you aren’t a master on the keyboard, record your MIDI data and use that. This will save quite a bit of effort and you’ll spend less time working on tip #1.

Play around on different instruments to find new inspiration. A melody written on guitar will give you a completely different feel, even if you later transcribe it to a keyboard-based instrument.

5. Get Out of the Box

Most electronic music is produced entirely in the box these days, and while digital is sounding better than ever, you can still add some warmth to your sound by taking it into the analog domain.

Guitar pedals are great on synths and most of the time they force you to collapse the sound into mono which by itself can add a cool aesthetic to the sound.

I love running bass patches through a Boss CE-1 chorus pedal. Another option is to have your music mastered by an engineer that uses hardware, just to give it that special edge.

6. Vocals

It may seem obvious, but so many EDM tracks are left as instrumentals. Bringing a fantastic vocalist into the mix usually turns a good song into a great song. If the song is already sounding huge, have your vocalist sing in the breakdowns and let the drop work as the chorus.

Try experimenting with mixing as well. To contrast a spacey mix, try having the vocals quite dry. Alternately, if the song is tightly produced and has a very clean sound, adding loads of delay and reverb can create a cool effect.

I’m a sucker for tape delay on vocals. Check out Gabriel & Dresden’s remix of Way Out West’s “Mindcircus.”

Even if the vibe of the song doesn’t lend itself to regular vocals, try a vocoder or talkbox, or put some crazy effect chains on your own voice.

The human voice is an amazing instrument and even if you mangle it with effects, it still adds an otherwise unobtainable humanity to music.

7. Dynamics

In electronic music, it’s pretty easy to get away with heavy compression on just about everything. While the pumping may help give the track a higher perceived volume, the lack of dynamics may also take some life away, especially on larger sound systems.

If your target audience is in a club or at a festival, back off on the compression, especially on the 2-buss.

To get back some of the loudness that you might lose if you dial back the compression, try using a saturator, particularly on the high-mids. Of course this runs the risk of addingharshness, so, as with many of these tips, subtly is key.

Bringing it All Together

Sometimes all your production needs is a touch of life to get things meshing. Try these tricks and see what they can do for you.

Originally published here: http://theproaudiofiles.com/7-tips-to-humanize-your-edm-productions/

3 Categories of Guitar Pedals for Sessions

3 Categories of Guitar Pedals for Sessions

1. Overdrive

Guitarists can be really picky about which overdrive pedal is their main squeeze. Everyone has a different preference.

Even though you may have your go-to, it’s a good idea to have several options on a session. If you’re going to be recording layers of guitar tracks it really helps to have variables.

Guitars with duplicate sounds are going to stack up the same frequencies. This can make it harder to mix. If each part has a slightly different DNA it will ease your plugin count.

When I go to a session, I take 3-4 overdrive pedals and a fuzz. You can pick your own Overdrive Cocktail.

I break them down into five categories: Bottom, Mid, Top, Flava, and Trippy.

Here is what my regular choices are in these categories:

Bottom

Effectrode TubeDrive — this pedal really does sound like a real tube amp when it starts to break up. The low end isn’t chopped off and there isn’t a mid boost. It’s also less compressed like a lot of other overdrive pedals.

Mid

Klon KTR — this is a very mid-heavy pedal. The low end is attenuated and there is some compression happening. It’s a slightly different mid-boost than a Tube Screamer.

High

Creation Audio Holy Fire — this doubles as an overdrive/distortion and is very transparent. If I wanted some sparkle and drive without messing with my core tone, this is the one.

Flava

Fulltone OCD — this pedal definitely falls into the colored overdrive pedal family. It’s a little more in the Marshall family. More gain than the KTR with more low-mid accents.

It’s always good to have one or two overdrive pedals that aren’t transparent. Especially if you have to track all the parts with one amp.

Even if I use the same guitar, the difference between these sounds will be noticeable.

Trippy

I find that I can get away with one fuzz pedal per session. I have a collection of them, but for an all purpose fuzz, I use a Tonebender MKII. It’s pretty much the classic Jimmy Page tone. It’s more versatile than most fuzz pedals.

It’s rare that I have to get super weird on a session. I generally only swap out the fuzz if I need to go far out.

2. Delay

I often take more than one delay to a session. I have three that are my main homies.

Fulltone Tube Tape Echo — I love this thing not only for its tape delay, but as a tube preamp. I usually only bring this one on songwriter records because of it’s size. On the cork sniffer sessions you can really hear the difference of a real tape echo.

Strymon El Capistan (tape delay emulation that does some cool things that a real tape echo can’t do with real-time tape manipulation).

MIDI Sync

Commercial sessions move fast. The more you can commit to a sound, the faster mixing gets done. This is partly due to the fast turnaround.

Guitarists know their sounds. What could take an engineer 15 minutes to set up, a guitarist can nail in 1 minute.

This is especially the case with delays. The only complaint from engineers about using guitar pedals is tempo sync. Some engineers like to have delays locked down with the song.

Sure you can use tap tempo, but it’s not the same. For this reason I always take aPigtronix Echolution Ultra Pro 2.

The Echolution accepts MIDI Beat Clock. That means it reads the tempo from Pro Tools! It’s like using a plugin at your feet. Tempo and delay perfectly synced!

The advantages to using a pedal versus a plugin? The guitarist can manipulate the delay real time. Also, the pedal sounds better in my opinion.

I’m still not in love with any delay plugins for guitar delay manipulation.

There are a lot of sounds I know how to pull out of the Echolution quickly with high quality results. Time is a premium in commercial sessions.

Note: always remember to take a long MIDI cable with you. Not a bad idea to take a small USB midi interface as well.

There are a lot of delays out there to choose from. I’m still collecting. Not all accept MIDI Beat Clock.

3. Modulation

I think of modulation in 4 ways: Tremolo, Chorus, Uni-Vibe, and Leslie.

Leslie

In a pinch, you can fake a Leslie sound from a chorus pedal. But, for a serious session I may want something more authentic. There are a couple of companies such as Strymon making nice sounding Leslie pedals. Personally, I use the Hughes and Kettner Tube Rotosphere.

Tremolo

A lot of vintage amps have tremolo. But, you never know what the studio is going to have upon your arrival unless you chat with the engineer first (always do this when you can).

When in doubt, I always bring my Fulltone Supa Trem as a backup. Tremolo has been a touchy thing with me; more so than a lot of other pedals. Some sound very generic and dull to my ears. The Supa Trem and the Diaz Tremodillo sounds very authentic to me. Different folks, different strokes. You may have your own preferences. I encourage you to experiment.

Uni-Vibe

A Uni-vibe isn’t the same as a Leslie, although its invention was meant to be a substitute. If I have space to bring more pedals on a gig, I’ll pack my Fulltone mini Deja Vibe. I like it because it doesn’t sound dead like some others.

Chorus 

It doesn’t get called out very often, but when it does it’s absolutely perfect because it’s such a specific sound.

A dab of chorus can be a really nice thing. In a pinch, I can use my El Capistan to create a chorus set on a short delay with no feedback.

I always ask what the vibe of a session is before I pack. If there is any hint of 80s vibe, myTC Corona Chorus goes in the bag. The old Boss Chorus pedals are a classic sound as well.

There are quite a few good options with chorus pedals.

Conclusion

I’m out of words and I haven’t even covered reverb. I don’t bring a lot of reverbs to sessions as I find it’s often best left to the mix engineer.

 

Originally posted here: http://theproaudiofiles.com/3-categories-of-guitar-pedals-i-take-to-sessions/

Tips for Mixing Rock Vocals

Tips for Mixing Rock Vocals

I want to talk about how to approach vocals in a Hard Rock song. I’ll be the first to say that there’s a ton of great resources floating around the internet on this subject, but I’d like to throw my hat into the ring.

Hard Rock is a pretty broad category — containing Punk, Pop-Punk, Garage, some styles of Alt-Rock, Grunge, Hardcore, about 25 billion sub-genres of Metal — you get the point. Every genre, style, and song within a genre is going to have its own nuances.

Rather than try to spoon feed a bunch of techniques, I’m going to discuss the approach to vocal treatment, what should be considered, and then go over a few techniques that might help reach the goals of your vocal sound.

What Do You Want to Convey?

I think the best place to start is by figuring out where you ultimately want to end up. The most important question is: what do I want this vocal to convey? Because some vocals are meant to sound anthemic, like you’re in an arena with ten thousand people, and other vocals are supposed to sound like you’re in a small, dank bar with a janky PA system. I like to envision the space, and I also like to create a subjective scale for how “engineered” the vocal should sound.

Pop-Punk records usually want to sound a bit done up — it should sound like a natural voice — but a stellar capture of that natural voice. Whereas with a Grunge record, I’m really looking to do as little treatment as possible. It’s a style that has no qualms admitting that it’s a recording, and you get everything you get from that.

Metal genres are often heavily effected, but should be done so to the end result of sounding exceptionally aggressive. The more adjectives I can staple on to the idea of the sound, the more deliberate my vocal processing (or choice of not processing) can be.

Balance

One of the common threads in heavier Rock genres is that the vocal isn’t always the star of the show. There was about a five year period in the early 90s where you could not understand the words to any songs playing on the Rock FM station, unless it was Sublime or Chili Peppers. The guitars often take precedence in the mix, and the snare drum is usually pretty competitive as well.

Of course, sometimes the vocal is the star of the show, and this may very well change from section to section. It’s not uncommon for the verse to be “smaller” and more vocal-centric, and the chorus to lay in with extra guitar layers and more driving drums.

We have to assign what our biggest elements are going to be. Once we have that assignment, it is extremely important to approach our vocals in the context of competing elements. The solo button is not your friend. The solo button is something that you wronged in the past and is now coming for your blood.

This is probably the biggest distinction between Hard Rock genres, and say, Hip-Hop or Pop. The latter are vocal-centric, and the music moves around the perfect vocal sound. In these Rock genres, the vocal has to meet and live within a world where the guitars and drums may take center stage. This concept will be a recurring theme in this article.

Tone

Tone shaping is probably the most challenging aspect of treatment. However, if we know ultimately what we want from the vocal, our treatment becomes a lot clearer. It’s impossible to describe the infinite scenarios of how to shape the tone of a vocal, but I’ll go over a few key points.

Top End

It’s very rare in any style of Hard Rock that we want a shimmery, angelic top end. That’s better suited for Pop and R&B. So when I’m looking for a brighter vocal, instead of thinking 10kHz+ (that shiny, glittery range), I’m thinking of 5k-8k. This is a more assertive, edgy range of treble. And I’m rarely looking to accentuate that range any more than necessary unless I’m doing like a Pop-Punk kind of thing.

Playing up the treble is really only if the vocal needs to float above bright guitars, or if the treble was deficient to begin with. Often enough I’m just looking to have a balanced top end (turning the treble down if the capture is bright, turning it up if it was dark), and the real presence is going to come through the midrange of the vocal.

Midrange

This is usually going to be the focal point of my vocals. The midrange sort of divides into two categories: the “cutting” midrange, which is around 1-4kHz, and the heavy midrange, which is that 300Hz-1k zone. For more aggressive styles — Death Metal, Hardcore, etc. — I generally want that cutting midrange to be the focus. This is the range that helps the vocal be heard through heavy guitars.

For darker styles of Heavy Rock, I’m probably going to focus more on that lower midrange, and simply have the vocal a bit louder in the overall mix so it competes. What’s important to note is that in solo the vocal will often sound overly midrangey or overly “woolly”, but once the bass and guitars are in, the vocal sounds just right. Solo mode hates you and tells you lies.

Cleanup

The last consideration is how “clean” I want a vocal to sound.

That lower midrange can be tricky. A lot of what we hear in there is proximity build up and room tone — stuff that we traditionally call “mud.” Unfortunately that same range is also the body of the voice and dimensionality of the recording.

My recommendation is to focus on broad tone shaping first, and save any kind of cleanup for after we’ve done our dynamic processing and to do the cleanup with our guitars and bass playing. That mud stuff might not need as much attenuation as you initially expect.

Dynamics

I tend to favor a very heavily compressed sound for my vocals in most styles of Hard Rock. I handle my dynamics in stages in order to get this right. The first thing I do is regular ol’ volume automation or region editing. Even if I want the vocal to be quieter in some places and louder in others I still want the vocal feeding the compressor to be evened out.

I want my compressor to be acting on my vocal in a uniform way. I automate the vocal to be consistent in level, and then feed the vocal into my compressor, I apply my compression, then I automate the vocal again to create the appropriate variations within the section.

In terms of the actual degree of compression, I find it generally works best if it’s proportionate to the density of the mix. When we’re in a quiet, open section, little to no compression is fine. When the guitars are in full effect and the drums are bashing away we might need a lot of compression.

In addition, I find that Rock tends to be (shocker) very accepting of distortion. So even if I’m really crunching my vocals it’s usually ok. If we’re talking a real wall of guitars, I may even incorporate a second compressor either in serial or parallel and sometimes even a limiter as well.

Ambience

I tend to find that drier is better most of the time. Unless we’re going for that “stadium” sound. More often than not though I’m using (a) a very short room tucked subtly, (b) a tight slap back delay, or (c) no ambience at all. Reverb tends to make things sound too produced and polished.

Now to completely contradict what I just said, sometimes a song or song section does seem to call for a prominent reverb and I find the solution to not making the vocal sound “overproduced” is to swing in the other direction. I’ll make the reverb pretty heavy. I tend to choose chamber or plate reverbs in these instances, halls just ultimately end up sounding too pretty and rooms tend to not have the “vibe” factor going on.

Special FX

I have a pet peeve. Cliche vocal distortion effects sound super lame. I guess at one point, running the vocals through some kind of distortion effect sounded unique and edgy, but now it kind of sounds like self-parody. I’m not opposed to doing it. The opposite really, I love unique effects. I’m just picky about making it work. I want distortion or really any special effects to sound like a natural extension of the feel of the song, and not like a “hey, this is Rock, so I used distortion, rawr!” kind of thing.

There isn’t really a guide to when vocal distortion sounds predictable vs. when it sounds inspired. It’s just feel.

One suggestion I can make is to look for distortion in places you wouldn’t normally think to get it. And I’ll leave it at that.

Bringing It All Together

The key to all of this is to make the vocals work with the other instruments playing. I find Rock vocal processing to be assertive, creative, fun … It should be a bit balls to the wall.

What it shouldn’t do is sound out of context.

There aren’t really “rules” the same way there are “rules” in Pop or R&B or commercial Hip-Hop, but there’s still an aesthetic of musicality and the rest of the instrumentation will guide that.

 

Originally published here: http://theproaudiofiles.com/mixing-rock-vocals/