We’re pleased to welcome hyponotherapist Paul Avard to the Playhaus to record a new hypnosis CD.
Recording a hypnosis CD is an interesting challenge. The listener will focus on the voice so intently that the recording needs to sound natural, as if the speaker were there in the room. The quality of Paul’s voice is perfect for helping induce the necessary state in his patients. Our job was to capture this as clearly as possible. Using our trusty Rode K2, with it’s warm analogue valve technology, we think we’ve captured Paul’s voice perfectly!
For more information about Paul Avard, please visit his website!
This week we’ve been recording some heavy guitar tracks, and thought we’d share some insights into what we think helps improve heavy guitar sounds.
Lots of guitarists hit the studio without a clear understanding of what guitar tone they are after. What sounds great in the practice room may not be what’s needed on tape. Often the way a guitarist plays live is not quite disciplined enough for the studio, although it has the energy and feel of a great performance automatically. Nevertheless, for really good studio sounds, a bit of planning is often required.
There are three main stages to this process. What the guitarist is doing, what his gear is doing, and lastly what the producer/engineer is doing. Every stage is key to getting the right tone. Too many musicians expect a magic button in the studio that will ‘fix’ problems later. While there is a lot of amazing things to perfect a performance in a modern DAW, it’s important to get as close as possible to the finished article while the tape is rolling.
We’ll talk about each stage in detail, but for now, here are our top tips for the guitarists to concentrate on:
Great guitar tone starts (literally) in the hands of the guitarist. How you play and what you play with are crucial. Are your strings heavy enough for what you’re doing? That set of 9s you have now are okay, but for really heavy riffs, there’s just not enough weight to get a big sound. Modern heavy sounds usually incorporate dropped tunings, so make sure your strings are heavy enough. The track we worked on today required a dropped C; both guitars had a low .52 to maintain the tone. Also, as you know, nearly new strings sound best, so try and plan ahead and get new strings the day before a session.
Picks are another issue here. Every guitarist in the world has a grey Jim Dunlop in their pocket right now, but for heavy sounds you’ll need something much heavier. Our weapon of choice for dropped C riffs is the Dava Control Nickel Pick. This pick is made from the same metal as your strings, and greatly improves the definition of your riffs; essential for fast, heavy figures.
By this we mean how your guitar is set up. Common problems with intonation and action can spoil a guitar track very easily. A common problem with intonation comes when guitarists tune down. My guitars are always hitting a low C at the bottom, and are set up for that. The intonation is adjusted specific to the tuning; what works for EADGBE won’t work for CGCFAD for example. The most common issue is on the bottom string. Setting up guitars is an art and a science, so if you don’t know how to fix this already, consult a specialist.
Other problems often overlooked relate to the condition of the guitar itself. Are there loose controls? Does the input jack crackle occasionally? Making sure your guitar is always studio-ready and in good condition is essentially for getting the job done.
This is a biggie. We know you’ve used a tuner; but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are in tune.
The biggest problem is that the electric guitar is not ‘in-tune’ as an instrument. the frets are positioned in a way that gets close to dividing the octave up correctly, but it doesn’t come close compared to, say, a piano. Notice how a big Em chord can sound great, then an A major chord sounds out of tune by comparison? This all to do with the fact that a guitar can never truly be in tune.
So what to do about it? Short of investing in a True Temperament fretboard, there are still a few things that can help. The most important thing is to tune to the key of the song. For example, you can get a D major chord in tune to itself, but that may come at the expense of a G minor sounding dodgy. In other words, find a balance for the chords you’re going to play on the track; don’t just rely on the fact that the open strings are in tune. Also, learn to do this by ear. An electronic tuner is an essential place to start, but with practise you will be able to get much better tuning by ear.
What you play here is obviously massively important, but often a stumbling block for guitarists. Many players tend to flesh out chords a little more live, and with good reason; it sounds good. In the studio, less is always more. Power chords (i.e, root + 5th) should be just that; don’t let any open strings ring unneccessarily. Perfect your picking so that single note riffs are just that; any mis-picked notes will usual carry rogue overtones over into the mix.
Another common mistake is to think more is more in terms of number of tracks. Layering riff after riff will only result in a lack of definition, it almost never sounds heavier. Contrary to popular belief, Metallica’s huge guitar sound is only ever two guitars at once; any more, and it all gets a little mushy. Really heavy bands Killswitch Engage and Pakway Drive do use up to four guitar tracks, but this takes great skill in the areas we’ve already outlined to get right, without it all blending into one big mush. The right combination of strings, picks and technique are essential in getting that heaviness across.
Hopefully these tips will prove useful. It’s important as a guitarist to remember that the tone you are after starts with how you play. As producers we’d love to have a magic button to press give you the perfect tone; sadly, we don’t! By thinking carefully about what it is you are hoping to achieve, the recording process can be dramatically simplified.
And on that note, we’ll leave you with this; a heavy tone that we think is pretty much perfection…
Until next time!
Had to share this!
The ever-brilliant Professor Brian Cox is joined by the excellent comedian Robin Ince to discuss the science of acoustics.
The acoustics of a space play a massive part in the quality of your recordings. Give us a controlled space over an expensive microphone ANY DAY!
This podcast explains some of the science behind sound:
Today we’ve been working on a production which reinvents an old musical for our friends at Musicline.
The Rocky Monster Show was written by the late, great Malcolm Sircom. Malcolm had MD’d the original production of the The Rocky Horror Show, and developed the Rocky Monster Show as a homage that would suit younger audiences.
Produced in the early 90s, the original recordings of the show were ready for a 21st century remake. With modern virtual instruments being of the incredibly high standard that we enjoy today, it seemed like a great time to revamp these tracks with the very best sounds that modern recording technology could offer.
The first hurdle in this ambitious project was the timing. The original recording was not created to a click track, meaning it’s not strictly in time. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing; we knew that we wanted to retain the original feel of those recordings. This meant that we needed to ‘map’ our new arrangement to the timing of the old recording. That way, our new virtual instruments would play back sympathetically with timing of the original recording.
Thankfully, Logic Pro 9 has a powerful feature called Beat Mapping to make light work of creating tempo maps.
Beat Mapping works by analysing the audio to find the ‘transients’ i.e. the peaks that (normally) represent the beats and bars of the music. From this information the Beat Mapping tool allows us to manipulate the timing of session so it is in time with the original music, even if that music is technically out of time!
A word of warning; in our experience, the automatic Detect feature will lead to some unusual results. For best results, manually map your tempo. A simple rule of thumb would be that each transient will (usually) represent one beat of the bar. Therefore, one bar of the song will have four main transients. By drawing a line from each one to the first, second, third and fourth beats, we can precisely map the tempo to the audio.
Depending on the timing of the original recording, it’s sometimes enough to just map every four beats i.e. one tempo ‘event’ per bar. Mileage will vary on this one; we’ve worked on songs that drift all over the place and require hundreds of tempo events.
What makes this tool so powerful is that it allows recordings that are not strictly in time to be sync’d with programmable elements. One simply trick here is to remember to always tick ‘Protect MIDI’ in the Beat Mapping section. That way, your programmed elements will follow the tempo map. Otherwise, Logic will change your programmed parts so that they don’t sound out of time onto themselves. In this instance, we DO want them to be technically out of time i.e. they follow our original (out of time) recording. Thankfully, with a bit of practice, the Beat Mapping tool is a cinch to use.
We’ll blog some more about this massive undertaking very soon; we’ve used every trick in the book to bring this show up to date for 2012!