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Recording Matthew Ryan’s Certainly Never

Tales from the vault

may-dayIn the mid 90s, I had the pleasure of recording Matthew Ryan’s Debut album “Mayday” on A+M records. We recorded the record in NY, LA and Nashville using some of the finest recording gear available. We used 2 inch tape for the whole record, as most people did then. I used lots of equipment to get a very rugged natural sound but the biggest example of this was the song “Certainly Never”.

Matthew and I talked about the production on “Certainly Never” and he wanted a very room like, no frills sound for the song. At the time we were recording at Bearsville Recording Studio and I had access to the finest microphones and gear around.

The track consisted of Matthew playing piano and singing and Dave Ricketts playing Stratocaster (I believe) across the room about 20 feet away. Keeping with the spirit of the song, I took one AKG 414 and put it into the figure 8 pattern. I had Matthew and Dave play half the song, then I moved the mic a bit for vocal piano blend (still using the figure 8 pattern) and adjusted Dave’s amp volume a bit. I then had them play the song again. Was it perfect? No… Was it the right vibe?….. I believe it’s one of Matthews favorite on the Record. The lesson here is? Don’t over-think.

Audio File Transfer

WAV FileHey Jim, can we use stuff we’ve recorded at home and bring the parts into the studio?

Of course you can, I do Audio File transfers all the time. Oh, but before you bring me those files, here are a couple of things you need to think about.

Most studios operate in Wave Files, so hopefully your system is using wave files or can convert your audio to WAV.

Here’s the tricky thing for some systems, we need the files to be continuous files from 0:00 or the beginning of the session. In other words, if your vocal track(in this case) has dozens of edits, each of these edits is a different file. So when I bring it in to my system they’re all out of time and starting at the beginning of the session as opposed to where they are supposed to be.

Putting these files in correct order and in the correct spots is very time consuming. This time will cost you a lot of money if I have to fix it.

Studio Software Pro toolsThe solution is simple. Clean your edits and consolidate or create continuous files from 0:00 and we can avoid this time sucking job all together.

But Jim, will they sound as good as if you recorded them? Well…… Maybe , Ummmm…. maybe not….Did you record with a decent microphone or preamp?

Good mics and preamps can help audio to sound good. Although, sometimes you don’t have the good gear at home, but because you were relaxed and in the right frame of mind, your tracks come out sounding great. This happens all the time. Your best vocal, sometimes is when you’re sitting at home with no pressure. I’ll take vibe and performance over sonic quality any day. Of course if it’s distorted, (and we don’t want distortion) we might be retracking it anyway.

Jim, can we do it as an analog transfer? Meaning we just play the file from the workstation right into your system? Not the preferred way to do it, but if it’s something we just can’t recreate, we will give it a shot. There will be no synchronization so the timing will be off, but that’s not the end of the world. With todays advanced studio software, it might take additional time to sync the tracks up, but it can be done.

I hope this helps. Jim
 
 

Audio File Transfer

Mic Preamp – Why Quality Matters

api-512c-mic-preampMic Pre Mojo

If you have an M box, a mixer, an iPhone or anything you can plug a microphone into, you have a microphone preamplifier AKA Mic Preamp. You may not see it or even know that it’s there, but it is.

I am a Microphone Preamplifier lunatic. If I’m producing a recording, I insist on using a studio with the quality of mic preamps that I use for my productions. It is that important!

Some might naively say “But Jim, a mic pre can’t possibly make that big of a difference”. To which I would reply “Oh contraire mon frère, an audio chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.”

If the 1st thing your microphone hits is a substandard mic preamp, you are battling uphill from there. If you’er recording dozens of tracks (as I normally do), the sound will seem much less vital and clear with a cheaper mic preamp. You may not notice the lack of quality as much when you’er recording a single track, but when you multiply the lesser quality with many tracks, the difference will be quite apparent. It takes a quality mic preamp to help capture the true sonic properties that make a voice or instrument sound clear and present in the mix. Without quality mic preamps, you get little clarity and a lot of mush.

Much like plugging your guitar into a cheaper amp or a good amp, you can hear the difference. Like guitar amps, mic preamps have different sound qualities according to make and model. So saying which mic preamp is the best is a matter of taste and opinion.

One of the big problems with mic preamps is of course their cost. Ranging from about $800 to $5000 for a single mic pre, the typical home recording user (usually) isn’t going to buy 20 quality mic preamps. But a good studio will!

People ask me all the time, why records sound the way they do. Well, Great songs, great performances, great Production and engineering, great gear and Great Mic Preamps!

What I Recommend:
If you are recording at home and are serious about your sound quality, I would create a quality single chain by purchasing the following:

api-512c single-channel • One – API 512 mic preamp $800

• One – Empirical Labs Distressor (compressor) $1200. el8-distressor

Not cheap I know, but for 2 k you would have the same channel found in many professional recording studios and the sound to match.

That’s it for now, Good luck. Jim

Recording with or without effects

“Jim, Should I record with effects like reverb or delay on the track?”

recording-with-effectsAs a Music Producer and audio Engineer, this is another question I get frequently. Typically, the answer is no, but it comes down to personal taste.

Personally I record a lot of my guitar effects thru the guitar amp as if the player is performing live. Why? Because I LIKE THE SOUND of guitar effects thru the amp while the guitarist is cutting the track. “But Jim, then you cant change it”. Correct, but I LIKE IT…..so I have made a production decision.

That being said, my preference is to record vocals dry with no effects and adjust them later according to the mix. I do however record vocals with some level of compression. The amount of compression I use is dictated largely by the genre of music the track is for. Pop music is very compressed so I’ll use some compression while tracking and maybe a bit more when I mix. When recording and producing a Jazz record, I will use much less compression while tracking as this genre dictates that.

A lot of keyboards have built in fx. Again, If I like the sound, I’ll use it. If I don’t, I’ll have the player remove them.

When recording Bass guitar, I’ll usually take a direct line straight from the bass and maybe a line from the amp so I can add dirt or distortion if need be. Both of these will get a bit of limiting (high ratio Compression) and I will blend the two later.

When recording Drums, I rarely ever use delay or reverb while tracking. BUT I use a fair amount of compression on the overheads and rooms. Why? Because I love the sound of compressed drums. I will also put a bit of compression on the Snare and kick when tracking. You need to be very careful with this as snare compression can pull unwanted hi hat into the snare mic. We will pay very close attention to mic placement so we usually don’t run into the bleeding hat problem.

A lot of how I record is based on my opinions, preferences and experiences. Some engineer/producers prefer to do all effects/ compression at mix. I do a combination of both. The point is, if you love the effect or sound ….record it. You may not get a chance to get it back later.

Hope this helps, Jim

Recording with or without effects

Tales From The Vault #2

Music Producer Stories from Jim Ebert

Back in the 90s, I produced a song called “Hooch” by the band Everything. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and myself and the band were trying figure out where to record the album. The budget was ok but by no means a 90’s label budget. At the time, the band lived on a farm property which had an old, brick ,large mainhouse that was vacant. The house was a couple hundred years old and had a ton of charm. We worked a deal out with the property owner to rent the house for a month to record the album.

Then we went to work, somehow I rented a package from an LA rental company, which included: A studer 827 24 track, 10 API mic pres,2 la2a’s, 2 1176’s, an Elam 251, 2 akg 414’s, A bunch of hooch-by-everythingSennheiser and Shure Studer-a827-24-trackMics, Cabling, Snakes, and other stuff. I brought pro tools and a few instruments, the bands friends bought a console to monitor with and after 2 days of wiring, we had a studio.

As far as tracking, all the rooms in the house sounded different. We would set the drums up in one room and see what song fit that drum sound. So, we recorded drums in several different rooms. The drum loop for Hooch was recorded in the servant’s quarters(200 year old house) with 2 shure 57’s straight to a cassette deck then dropped into pro-tools for arrangement. The background vocals were recorded on the back porch after trying several other options. The only expensive mic we used was the Elam 251 for lead vocals. The rest of the mic’s were mainly 57’s.

All of this was a lot of fun and work and really made possible who rented me everything for 7k and that covered shipping for all the gear as well. This made it possible to expand our timeline from 2 weeks to 5 weeks to record the record.

It takes time to make records, to look at options sonically and musically,emotionally,
This was a magic time in my carreer and my liver will never forget it.

Music Producer Jim Ebert