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UA Apollo first session and mixing through sE Eggs

I recently used my Universal Audio Apollo for its first recording session. I recorded an acoustic cover of “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters for my work colleague, as his anniversary was coming up. I initially thought about using work’s FireStudio Project for the sake of ease (as my UA Apollo is now screwed into a 14U rack), but decided I wanted to hear how the converters performed and how the Apollo performed overall. I also decided to use quite a high sample rate and bit depth to pick up all the little nuances of the delicate performance, so I recorded at 96kHz at 24bit (I usually only record at 44.1kHz at 24bit).

I tracked through my Warm Audio WA12s on acoustic and used the built in pres in the Apollo for vocals. Mics on the acoustic were a Cascade Fathead II and a KSM32 both stacked on top of each other facing where the neck joins the body. Tone button was pushed in on the channel which the Fathead II was plugged into, and KSM32 was left flat. Vocals were tracked using the KSM32.

Overall, I’m really impressed with how the Apollo captured the audio and performed in this session. It’s hard to tell how good the converters compare to my previous FireStudio Projects, as I recorded at such a high bit rate and sample rate, so until I record at my usual 44.1kHz and 24bit, I won’t be able to comment. Recording at such a high quality meant I was able to capture a more dynamic performance; the transient detail of the acoustic was also excellently captured despite going through a relatively dark coloured pre and every nuance of both instruments were captured well.

This was also the first mix I did through my new sE Eggs. These are also excellent! I’m very impressed with these monitors and how well they translate onto other monitor systems… no, seriously. Every monitor company will say this classic line “if your mixes sound good on these, they’ll sound good on anything”, but they seldom do. Mixing on my sE Eggs, bearing in mind it’s my first mix on them and I’m getting used to them, I’ve not had to make any revisions. These truly are honest monitors. As Andy Munro has said in an interview, it’s painful listening to MP3s through these because they make everything sound so distorted… because they are.

Recap of this year so far

As the summer unfortunately draws to a close, I thought I’d write a post on how things have been this year. I’ve recorded a total of four bands which I’ve worked around a full-time job; these were Tate, Summer Drive Home, Fissure of Riddles and Light Fire Down. This is double from what I recorded last year, so I’d like to think that word is spreading about my recorded work.

With every project I do, I’m always pushing myself to get better results than the previous one. My latest project that I’ve worked on has been Light Fire Down’s second release, and I feel this is getting into the ballpark of what I would consider a “professional” result, the band are extremely happy with it, and my brother even commented on how my mixes are now sounding professional.

I’m currently wrapping up Tate’s 2-track debut release. This has been the longest project, taking the best part of eight months to finish. The plan was initially to record drums whilst they recorded everything else and got me to mix and master the songs, but due to the guitarist’s interfaces breaking, they’ve got me in to do the rest. We initially recorded six songs, but for them to keep costs down, it’s been whittled down to two. All that’s left is vocals for one song, then I can complete the mix and master it.

Overall, this year has been great for me. I’ve been working constantly on bands’ songs, and there hasn’t been a lull unlike previous years. I’ve been recording mostly every week or at least mixing. I’m hoping that the next year will be even bigger.

Mix tip – don’t paint yourself into a corner when mixing

I’ve been recording for seven years now, but it’s only been from the past two years that I began to find my feet when recording and mixing. I want to write a post about not painting yourself into a corner when mixing. One thing I’ve recently learnt is that you should only start mixing an artist’s tracks when EVERYTHING has been recorded. Don’t give into the temptation of mixing early, as you’ll paint yourself into a corner and will have wasted HOURS if not DAYS mixing… trust me, it’s not fun to do that.

I have made this mistake countless times; it’s so tempting to get those drums really smacking, or to EQ those nasally guitars, but without all the tracks in your recording project, this is pointless, as we don’t know how these tracks will sit with the other instruments.

By having all the tracks in your project, you’re able to balance out the levels and see what you’re working with. Before adding any EQ, see what you can do just by moving the faders, this forces you to balance out the tracks the best you can without the aid of EQ or compression. Another great tip to start practicing, if you’re not already, is to mix in mono. It’s so easy to gain separation in a mix with panning, but by restricting yourself and mixing in mono, you’re forced to make all the tracks balanced in a one-dimensional setting. Then once you pan everything out wide, everything pops out of the speakers and you get a great sounding mix.

Mixing in mono is a great tip, but another tip is to make sure the level coming out of your speakers is REALLY quiet. Mixing at low volumes is key to getting a great sounding mix. By mixing at low volumes, you have to make your mix sound punchy and full without the aid of volume; volume will excite the low and high end, which deceives you into thinking your mix sounds full when it really isn’t. By mixing at low volumes, when you eventually crank the volume knob, your mix will come together.

Another great tip when mixing is not to mix ANYTHING when soloed. The listener will never be listening to just the keyboard part or the drums on their own, they’ll be listening to the whole song as a stereo file. This is great for us engineers as we’re again forced to make sure things cut through a dense mix and finding creative ways to do this. You may find that when you solo what you’ve been mixing, the EQ sounds really bad on its own, but in the context of the whole mix, you don’t notice that bad EQ sound.

So to recap, do this on your next mixing project:

- Only start mixing when everything has been recorded

- Before adding EQ or compression, use volume faders to balance out tracks

- Mix in mono

- Mix at low volumes

- Never mix in solo

Summer Drive Home – “This is Purgatory” video

Summer Drive Home have just released this DIY video of one of their songs from their debut EP. It’s got some scenic shots of my hometown, them at practice and also us all at the recording sessions.

I’m pretty pleased how this EP came out considering the circumstances we were in. I recorded drums in a great sounding room, but in the same room as the drummer and not being able to properly hear his takes. The rest of the time, we had 4 hour windows to get the rest of the stuff done. We were rushed the whole the time, constantly racing the clock to get a great sounding EP, and I think we achieved that.

Of course, listening back now, I would’ve done a lot of things differently, but overall I’m pretty happy how it came out. The EP is out on the 18th of this month on iTunes, Spotify and many other online stores.

 

Light Fire Down EP #2 – Tracking all finished!

So tonight, we finished tracking Light Fire Down’s second EP. We added harmonies and backing vocals, and redid a few bits and pieces. Really pleased how it’s sounding already, particularly drums, considering the EP has had no mix processing whatsoever besides volume and panning. I’m really looking forward to sinking my teeth into mixing this record, I’ve recently bought a Yamaha SPX90, and I’m currently waiting on a DBX 160x which I’m going to use on drums.

I’m taking a different approach to mixing this EP, like I said in previous posts. I want to save myself unnecessary hours of work by only mixing when everything has been recorded; before I even touch an EQ or compressor, I’m going to get separation by volume changes, and I may even mix in mono. I’m also going to add vocal automation to level out volume inconsistencies first before I compress them. I want to break the usual habits of my mixing routine and potentially save myself time, yet still get great results in the process.

Unnamed band – Guitars

The unnamed band that I recorded drums for back in January have hired me back in to record the rest of their EP. Their guitarist has equipment himself that he uses to record, and so they wanted to keep costs down, but due to equipment failure (and them not being happy with how the takes were sounding), they hired me back in.

A few weeks back, I tracked bass with them. We went through a Fender American P-Bass into a Ashdown NM2 overdrive and then into an Ampeg PF500 and TC Electronic RS 2×12 cab. The guys wanted some meaty dirt, and the Ashdown NM2 really gets there without any fuss. I took a DI signal from a Sansamp as well, and I’ve added the Orange amp that comes with Guitar Rig to growl it up some more.

Today, we tracked guitars. as with bass, we tracked round the guitarist’s house in a couple of spare bedrooms (put the amp in one room, and we were in the other). Having a separate room away from the amp is such a blessing, as you’re not bombarded with an ear-piercing amp for 8 hours, and it’s just generally a lot more comfortable. Tom, their guitarist, has this Boss 2.1 system which we used just for hearing the songs rather than using them to objectively listen to amp tones, as I had my Sennheiser HD280s for that.

We tracked with a Vox AC30 which was recorded with a Fathead II, SM57 and MD421, but I’ll probably just use the Fathead and the 57. The Fathead II and the MD421 went through my Warm Audio WA12s whilst the SM57 went straight into my FireStudio Project. The band want to have a sort of lo-fi “live” feeling to their tracks, but still sound good. I guess the best way to put it is “just listen to Thrice’s ‘Beggars’ or ‘Major/Minor’ albums”, and you’ll get the idea.

This project has been long in the works, and the guys are looking to wrap it up fairly soonish. Next up is vocals.

Summer Drive Home – Forget Everything and Run

My friends in Summer Drive Home have just released the title track from their debut EP. Like I said in the previous post, I’m really pleased how this one’s turned out. It’s crazy to think that we started this project back in early March and finished it mid May. It’s been a hard old slog, but I think the efforts have definitely paid off. 

It’s also good to see that Weymouth’s music scene is finally getting more diverse again. We’re seeing bands such as Light Fire Down, Summer Drive Home, and the unnamed band that I’m currently working with that sound like a combination of Thrice, Letlive and Bad Sign. We’ve also had a couple of Punk Rock shows put on at a local venue with great turnouts. Perhaps this is the start of Weymouth’s music scene picking up again, like how it was back in 2006-2010.

Anyway, here’s a video that the band have put up of “Purgatory”. The EP is out on iTunes, Spotify and more from July 18th, so pick up a copy and help these guys out!

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