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Unnamed project – drum session and the beginnings

On Monday, I recorded drums for an upcoming (and currently unnamed) project that I’m a part of. We’ve written three songs over the course of about a month, two of which were written anyway from previous projects that we’d been in. I suppose we’re reminiscent of Jimmy Eat World and The American Scene, but these three songs are quite different from one another, as we’re trying to hone in our sound. The band comprises of myself, Max from Light Fire Down and Billy who I’ve known for about a couple of years. We’re still searching for a bassist, but for this EP we’re going to record the parts ourselves and put it out there for any potential bassists to hear.

The drum session went pretty well. It was nice to take as long as I wanted with mic placement and choosing what mics to place on a source without a band getting panicky that I’m eating into their tight budget. We recorded in the back room of the village hall where I recorded Summer Drive Home and Tate, as it’s the best room I’ve found locally that sounds incredible for drums, and it’s super super cheap to hire for a day.

Mics were mainly going into my new Audient ASP008 which was fed into my Universal Audio Apollo via ADAT; the rest of the mics went into pretty coloured pres like my Warm Audios for toms and my newly built Hairball Audio Bronze 500 series pre for the outer kick mic. I tried a couple of different things, but it was my usual go-to array of mics on the sources:

  • SM57 inner kick
  • NT2000 outer kick
  • Subkick
  • SM57 top and bottom snare
  • SM57 hi tom
  • MD421 floor tom
  • SM7B hi-hat
  • KSM32s overheads
  • Fathead II room

This was the first session I had with this setup where I recorded drums, and I’m seriously impressed with how it’s sounding. Everything was right; the room we recorded in was insane, the kit we used sounded incredible and had heads that were pretty new, the mics I was using were all of good quality, and the mic pres and conversion were also pretty high end. I also experimented with some Auralex foam (pictured) that I’d borrowed from work to cut down on some room reflections getting into the close mics, which worked a little bit. I wanted to hang some duvets on the side walls, but there was no way we could’ve held them up. I also used these Studiospares knock-offs of the Primacoustic crash guard for the top snare and hi tom mics which helped a little bit with bleed, but also seemed to give a more focused sound to each drum.

I’ve since comped drums and I’m going to quantize them before we record DI guitar tracks to be reamped at a local studio. Looking forward to the end product of this product!

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Light Fire Down ‘Piece of You’ EP release

Today is the day that my buds in Light Fire Down release their new EP that we recorded for digital and physical release. We recorded this EP way back in May/June last year, and the guys have finally put it out for your listening pleasure. I’m extremely happy how this EP turned out, songwriting wise and production. I think we all kicked it up a notch with this one!

I’m also proud of the result considering the circumstances we were faced with. I recorded this whole EP when I would finish work at 5pm each day. We only had four hour windows to get each instrument tracked, and were constantly racing the clock. Not to mention having guitar lessons taking place above us each session, where I’d reluctantly tell them to be quieter or move to another room. We even had a guy walk into the drum session mid-take, and had the door slam behind him. We were basically battling the clock and everyone else every session. It was a nightmare. Having said that, the added pressure made us more focused and work harder.

Despite the added pressures, these sessions were a lot of fun. With us being so absorbed by the recording process, the laughs we had made it more sane for us (that, and having pizza brought to the sessions). Anyway, you can stream the whole EP below.

Light Fire Down on BBC Introducing

The Light Fire Down EP I recorded back in the summer had one of its songs, “Carolena”, played on BBC Introducing on the 24th January. I was super happy that it got airtime on a “proper” radio station, and I’m glad that the guys are pushing this release more than their first. I’m glad that I mixed this EP in mono to gain mono compatibility, as the BBC summed the track to mono when it was broadcast. You can listen to the broadcast HERE for the next month or so (their track is the first that was played in the broadcast), and also check out the song that the guys uploaded to YouTube. The EP will be out on the 20th February.

What worked well this year.

A recent video from The Recording Revolution goes over the idea of writing down what went well/not so well this year in the studio. So, I thought I would write mine down on this medium in hopes of bettering myself in the next year.

What went well:

– Mixing at low volumes.

– Mixing in mono.

– Balancing tracks with faders before adding effects.

– Recording in a studio space with proper monitoring.

– Minimalist mic’ing yields better results than thinking that I have to use all the mics I recorded a source with in a mix.

What went badly:

– Getting too eager about projects, and mixing instruments before the whole project was finished.

– Rushing to get sounds/tones for the sake of getting more recording done and sometimes paying the price later.

– Buying too much equipment that I don’t need/use enough to warrant having it.

– Setting prices too low.

– Less sessions than I hoped by not advertising my services, relying too much on word of mouth to get me work.

I’m hoping that by publishing this post, I’ll be able to better myself in the following year and get more professional results and even more work than this year. I can refer back to this post and remember how I felt at this current time.

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

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