AE240: Analog Recording Technology = Tape Recorders and Phun fer All!

    Spring 2011:6pm - 9pm Wednesday Evenings

4-Track Echo Jam
Oh Brother Ryan
    Week-9: Vinyl Mania

    Week-8:  Reflexshun, geekin', mixin' and Over-Dubbin'.

Raw Mixes
Proc'd mixes
Noah's Lowdown
Noah's Lowdown
Boz Scag's Lowdown (clip)
What Do You Want The Girl To Do? (clip)
My World Is Empty 
with Justin's BKGs & Tucker's fiddle
    Week-7b: Electronics and Overdubs
 Band Class Tunes
Motown Versions
Thursday's OD Session w/o Vox
Thursday's OD Session w/Vox
Wednesday's Live Session
    Week-7a: (Wednesday)  Motown and other fun recordings
    Ok, this day was admittedly alot of work and I did not necessarily let everyone in on the technical hurdles.  On one hand, I apologize for that - I was a bit pre-occupied with pulling the whole thing off, literally all of the challenges from A to Z (see bulets below). 
    • Adam's Class: I did not work hard enough to ensure everyone was on the same page.  I know what I didn't do...
    • Taking OWNERSHIP: it's ok for y'all to take ownership, OUTSIDE of the control room, in other essential areas.  For example, standing next to Jordan and calling out the changes might have helped reduce the distraction caused by trhe wrong notes, improving the energy in the process.
    • TECHNICAL: I am slowly migrating all of my gear from one rack to several portable racks.  The interconnecting harnesses are not yet done.  There are known ground loop issues for which I should make adapters.  I solved a cue system mystery but have't fully implemented the fix. 
    • Z: as in, making sure Z had library coverage and that Tina was happy with the solution.

    Week-6:  Motown Rehearsal in LH-1, Learn the 24-track, Fly jack's tacks into the 24 track.

    We did indeed accomplish all that I crazily set out to do.  Ryan's Mix of Jack's track was a bit bkg heavy and, in light of our MS discussion, I attempted a Mid-Side after-the-fact remix.

Not Done (Ryan's Mix)
 Not Done (ec Mid-Side tweak)
    Set up for a four track recording of the Motown rehearsal.  Please listen to ALL versions of the original (below).  Note that I edited the rehearsal just so we could get an idea of what it sounded like.
    • Drums and Bass on Track-1
    • Vocal on track-2
    • stereo instruments on Tracks 3 & 4
Rehearsal (edited)
Processed Rehearsal (edited)
Mono (45 RPM) Mix
Stereo (LP) Mix
Original Rhythm Track
Original Vocal Track
About Motown Recording: How did they get that bass sound

It was just a transformer direct straight from the bass. The bass and all of the guitars were plugged into one homebrew amp that consisted of a 15" Altec speaker and a McIntosh 60 amp driving it. The front end was a mixer so the musicians could put their own monitor mix together. The directs were located at the input jacks of the mixer and came up on the patch bay in the control room.

The only "sound" was James Jamerson and Bob Babbitt playing their Precisions. I practically had a heart attack the first time I tried to get a sound on another bass player.

Engineering a rhythm session at Motown was all about getting at least one "keeper" backing track an hour without screwing anything up. The drums were a pretty standard single overhead with snare and kick fill mikes mixed directly to a single track. We used between three and five guitars playing at once all direct.

Probably the biggest difference in addition to everybody playing at once was that the playing was lots softer with more dynamics than what became common in the 1970s.

The bass drums were spiked into the rough wood floor with nails so that they wouldn't creep. They did refuse to change the heads on Benny Benjamin's kit so we got the A&R department to buy us a great set of Gretsch drums for producers who were willing to use them.

Our Studers were mono and 2 track C-37s for both the mix and mastering rooms. We never had a 4 track. When we got a 4 track tape in, we had to put it on the 8-track and jerry-rig tape guides using hair clips! We had gone directly from 3 tracks to 8 at the same time everybody else was going 4-track.

Watch this clip

It was staged. Motown overdubbed all vocals, but you can see the instrument mixer in the studio.  In the control room, Lawrence Horn is at the board in the second CR shot and Russ Terranna is the second tweaking the 670. James Dean is the guy on the right in the first CR shot. I don't recognize the person at the board in the first shot. This video is also the only time I ever saw Bobbye Hall in the Hitsville studio!

Bob Ohlsson's workroom (615) 562-4346

DVD: Standing in the shadows of Motown

    Week-5: Submix and Bounce Jack's song, Overdub BKGs and fly in composite Vocal.

    Week-4: Brad Senne Session

    Another cool tracking session taken to the extreme in terms of exploring how much isolation is possible.  The added texture of Acoustic DI through an amp was nice.

    You might ask WHY I always bother to do 'pre-mastering,'  the answers are simple.  I listen in my car on the way home.  In a fresh and familiar environment, I know in an instant what works and what doesn't.  The pre-masterign process helps me put 'numbers' to what my ears heard. Also, the songs were mixed out of order - 3, 1, 2 - and while I set up (and mixed)  all the paramters for song-3, they were not at all appropriate for the other two songs.  Through mastering, I tied to reconcile the disparity between what I heard in the car (disappointed) and what I felt the songs had the potential to be.

    Week-3: Machine Alignment, Flanging and Jack's Guitar OD
    Raw (off theboard) Mix
    Processed (4-band) Mix
    Not Done sans Vox (raw)
    Not Done sans Vox (proc)
    Notdone w / Vox (raw)
    Notdone w / Vox (processed)

    Week-2: Jack and Nick

    This session went pretty smoothly. Your feedback appreciated.

    KIT: Nady TCM-1150
    VOX: EV-664
    Guitar: Cascade Fathead
    Bass: DI via Altec 438.

    Week-1: Introduction, History and Editing

    Weeks 1 thru 5: Two Track and Four Track experience

    On SESSION days, Four students with have defined jobs in the control room as detailed below and will then rotate throuh the jobs so everyone gets a shot. Anyone in the control room should be listening and avoid distracting talk as the engineers (and musicians) will want your feedback and observations.

    RECORDING ENGINEER: operates the preamps in the tall rack

    MULTI-TRACK TAPE OPERATOR: Keeps track sheets and session log on the 4-track or 24-track.  Get song titles, learn the band members names, etc...  Machine operates at 15 IPS, the tape will last 30 minutes max.

    MIXER / Communicator: Responsible for the rough mix in the Control Room, FX sends / returns and Foldback / Cue (when aplicable).  It is very important to comunicate with the band, get song titles, learn the band members names, etc., amd EVEN MORE IMPORTANT to slate each song via Talkback.

    Stereo Tape-op: This is a 'logging' job.  Unlike the multi-track, which will likely be stopped between takes, the logging machine will operate at 7 1/2 IPS and not be stopped unless nothing it happening.

    STUDIO REPRESENTATIVE: At least one person will be in the studio to make sure the band is comfortable and that they are on mic.  Other students are welome and encouraged to listen. 






    Below the calendar is the weekly plan...

    Week-s 1 thru 5: 2-track and 4-track techniques and recording
    6 apr
    13 apr
    20 apr
    27 apr
    4 may
    LH-1 CR
    LH-1 Studio
    LH-1 CR
    LH-1 Studio
    intro / listen /editing
    echo and flanging

    Weeks 6 thru 10: 24 track
    11 may
    18 may
    25 may
    1 june
    8 june
    LH-1 CR
    LH-1 CR
    LH-1 CR
    LH-1 CR
    LH-1 CR
    intro to 24 track
     mix and sequence

    commentary, opinion and perspective

    I often help students with mixing problems, and often find myself resolving simple issues like 'extreme use of plug-ins.'  Unless you are specifically going for 'affected,' there are more gentle ways of achieving what is often referred to as 'glueing all the pieces together.'

    More often, our goal is to reconcile disparities between various mics and instruments so that nothing in the mix sticks out.  If the rhythm track is trashy and bright - for example - but the vocal doesn't match, it will be hard to hear the vocal.  Do you make the vocal bright and trashy OR do you attempt to tame the rhythm section and make 'sonic real estate' for the vocal to fit.  The song often dictates the choice, but it's generally better to make sonic real estate.  Leave the trashiness or the final polish until after the mix is balanced.  Mastering engineers can often help advise you along the way - objective ears can be very useful.

    'Air' and other forms of treble enhancement - as one example of abused territory - must be done gradually.  Like sculpting, it is important to not chisel too deep too fast.  That said, all variations of ART are valid - you can use extreme EQ if that's what the track calls for - but there are often many ways to achieve the desired goal often by applying EQ and processing in stages.

    Even as your hearing diminishes over time, your ability to listen will improve as experience adds to your 'sensitivity library.'  This is known as knowing what to listen for.

    THE LOUDNESS WARS have undone many of our technical achievements.  We need to be able to play all different kinds of music - back-to-back, in shuffle mode - and it needs to be 'in the spectral ballpark,' a big field for sure.  Future mp3 players will have 'automatic level matching software' that will eventually prove that the loudness wars corrupted rather than enhanced.  Consider the following exercise...

    If you listen to lots of different types of music - and want to do a compilation of same - you might need to reconcile the differences of the various tracks, especially if they come from extreme audio periods and would be an extreme mastering exercise...

    Think about how different the Altecs sound compared to the Polks - and listen to what we achieved week-6.  Even though this was only a rough mix for the purpose of evaluating 'what to do next,' it is very much in the spectral ballpark.  The top end is there but not painful. There is detail and air.  The bottom is perhaps a bit plentiful, but it is not muddy. This is a great foundation from which to start.  A mastering engineer could 'tame' this easier than if it were bass light and / or had high frequency harshness.

    During the final phase of mixing to tape, Ian noticed the top end was getting messy - and his perception was right - the question is, what could be done to fix it?  On listening during the ride home, I noticed that there should either be more bottom snare brightness or less overhead treble.  Keep in mind that it is even more important to reconcile the drums with the needs of the song as it is to know how to reconcile all the drums mics / tracks with each other.

    Because of the lousy crotch mic I had at the time, the snare brightness will have to meet the cymbal brightness in the middle - help the bottom snare by carefully adding a little top to the crotch mic and possibly tame the cymbals either by lowering their level or treble EQ OR using a high frequency limiter to preserve the air but tame the peaks. 

    Once a drum track balance is achieved, any additional EQ - to make them fit with the track - can be applied via submix EQ, if necessary.  Again, like sculpting, many small steps - small amounts of multiple EQ and compression in stages often works better than one heavy-handed 'attack.'

    When the Altecs were THE studio monitor, mixes did not come out too bright - the emphasis was on balancing the vocal or lead instrument against the 'background - the arrangement made sonic real estate, with vocal intelligibility being of max importance. Vocals were mixed way up front because most people listened on AM radios or 'sound systems' without tweeters - kinda like the Altecs, but darker. The u-47 helped with its presence and along with tape and echo, it was the sound of the fifties.

    We have not really made any significant fidelity improvements since then - mostly just that miniaturization has allowed more channels and reduced amplifier distortion (and a significant loss of color along the way - not bad, but different).