Audio Equipment

Prism Sound Titan

I’ve added a new flagship interface to the studio to add more clarity and depth to our production. I met Frank Oglethorpe at an event in San Francisco and got to hear the Atlas & Titan in action. The audio detail was giving me chills and put me in a space where the music was visual.

The Titan was in a small studio room that had treatment on the walls. It was an ideal situation to test out the ability of the DA and hear some recent mixes I’d just finished vs. mixes at the hosting studio. There was a difference in the low end where the frequencies had more depth without the mud. I immediately knew I had to demo a unit at my studio to hear if the mixes benefited from the converters in the Titan. 

 Engineer David Hughes at Shine On Studio.

Engineer David Hughes at Shine On Studio.

I connected with Jeff Briss from Cutting Edge Audio and got the approval from Frank to demo a Titan. When it arrived, I wasted no time connecting it to the HDX system. The first mix I played came to life and filled the room with rich detail and precision clarity. My eyes got large and my ears were saturated with excitement. This was such an amazing experience that I knew a Titan was the missing piece for the studio. 

I’ve had the Titan now for a few months and the response is exactly what I want to hear from my clients. Everyone loves the full sound and clarity that the audio has on every system they playback their music. This was a serious investment and it has already paid dividends that make it worth every penny.  

I highly recommend Prism Sound and their audio interfaces. Send me a message and I’ll hook you up with info on how you can connect with the right people to demo a unit for yourself.  

Plugins - An open discussion

There are way too many plugins out there and you may feel confused on which ones to buy and incorporate into your workflow. Here is an open discussion for you to ask questions and get insight for all those plugins. I'll regularly post any new releases or deals that I come across for those plugins that you should consider adding to your system.

Building a Home Studio | Part 2

PC or Mac, this is the ultimate question. If you're unsure of which one to get, you can always get a Mac and install parallels to run both platforms. A PC will ultimately be a little more affordable and have multiple options for a decent DAW.

I have personally had both computers and over the years have settled on a Mac. I started with a G4, then moved to a G5, and now I currently use a Mac Pro. If you're going to run a ProTools HD system, you'll need a computer that can handle PCIe cards. You can buy a chassis to house the PCIe cards, but then that is one more cable and device on your desk.

Be sure to get a computer with a fast processor and at least 8 GB of RAM. The i5 & i7 processors are excellent options for audio production. If you're not quite sure what to choose, call a specialist. I work directly with Joseph Secu at Sweetwater.com (800) 222-4700 x1232.

Also be sure to get a good monitor. With all the mainstream TVs having the ability to connect via HDMI or VGA ports you can have a large selection of monitors to choose from. Being able to see what you're working on is very important. You're going to be staring at this computer screen for hours on end, so it would be a good idea to invest in a screen that doesn't strain your eyes.

Tomorrow we'll cover microphones.

How to start a recording studio | part 2

Now you've got your computer and interface all ready to go. It's time to pick out a microphone or two so you can start recording. There are so many options out there and the prices are all over the place. Keep your budget in mind and remember there is more gear needed to complete the studio. So be reasonable about what you can afford.

BLUE KIWI • Main Vocal Mic

At the very least, seek out a decent vocal mic. Vocals are such a big part of the music that it pays to have a clean vocal mic. If you have the budget, I highly recommend the BLUE KIWI mic as your main vocal mic. It's produces a very clean sound and has impressive detail in capturing vocals. I use this mic on a daily basis at the studio and it has been my go-to mic for years. Now, this is not an entry level mic at $1,999, so don't buy it if your budget doesn't allow this expense. There are other mics out there, so do a little research and find one that works for your setup. The RODE NTK is an excellent utility mic that can track vocals and then be used to record a kick drum. The tube in the NTK gives the signal a nice analog warmth that helps tracks sit nicely into the mix. I've used my NTK on guitar amps, acoustic guitars, vocals, drums, congas, violins, and a slew of other instruments. All the tracks sound great, so this mic is well worth the investment.

Now your budget might be tight, so not to fret, there are some great options out there for a budget studio. Blue makes a few smaller versions of their flagship mics. The REACTOR is a great mic if you can find one. They're about $500 brand new and they have the same capsule as the KIWI. The Blue Bird is another excellent option and it is another versatile mic that can be used for many different applications. Right now Sweetwater.com is offering a Blue Bird mic + a Focusrite Scarlett interface for $299. That's a good deal for getting yourself up and running.

The staple mic is the Shure SM58 and you can never go wrong with this mic. It is built like a tank and can take a beating and still provide quality audio recordings. This mic is under $100 and will give you solid recordings on almost anything you put in front of it. Now it's not designed to be used as a multipurpose mic, but I've had good results from using it as a snare mic and a vocal mic. If you want a solid instrument mic, the Shure SM57 is your new best friend. It is a universal mic for anything that needs to be recorded and it is also built like a tank. This mic is the go-to mic for many engineers for tracking snares, guitar amps, toms, and sometimes vocals. Very affordable and extremely versatile are the big bonus points for these two mics.

I could go on and on about all the different mics, but these are just some of my favorites. If you have a question about a mic or want to know what I think about a particular mic, just post a comment here and I'll respond as soon as I can. Now get back to recording!

Drum mics | Kick Drum Recording

Kick_Mics.jpg

The biggest drum seems like the easiest drum to mic, but this big fella can be tricky at times. You really have to pay attention to the music. The tone of the kick drum needs to match the tone of the music. This requires selecting and placing the right mic in the right spot to capture the tone that you need.

There are a few options I recommend. The Shure Beta 52 is a rock solid mic for any recording. It provides depth, punch, clarity, and snap that works well with virtually every recording. You can never go wrong when using this microphone to record your kick drum.

My backup mic is the AKG D112. This egg-shaped mic is versatile for many recording applications, so it's an excellent choice for those of you on a tight budget. Besides kick drum tracks, this mic works well for recording any instrument that has a lot of low-end detail. I've used this microphone to record congas, bass guitar, trumpets, horns, and vocals. So for the $199 price tag this mic carries, it's well worth the investment.

The third microphone that I recommend is a little unorthodox. The RODE NTK is a secret weapon that I like to use when I need a bit more slap in the kick drum. It's a tube-based condenser that has a magical sound when placed in just the right spot. Usually I find that spot slightly off-center in front of the drum head. The $499 price on this mic does put it in the slightly expensive category, but this mic can do it all. From vocals to acoustic guitar, this mic is excellent on almost any recording.

Hope this helps you get better kick drum recordings. Happy tracking.

Vocal mixing tips and secrets: Mic Placement

Everyone is looking for advice about how to get those sweet full-sounding vocals into their mix. There are many options out there and I can only offer my thoughts and experience, but I encourage all engineers to think outside of the blog, book, or videos. Come up with your own way of recording vocals and you'll be much happier with the final mix. It's a great idea to take information and techniques from multiple sources and experiment to find out what works best for the music and the equipment that you have access to at the moment.

Microphones are a major factor when you're recording vocals. Not all microphones are created equal and they certainly all won't give you the same sound. The price of a microphone isn't a concern that you should worry about when searching for the right mic for your vocal tracks. Focus on a mic that will give you what you're looking to track as a solid base for your vocals. If you're looking for clean and crisp vocals, try to find a mic that has a flat frequency response or one that at least has a smooth response in the range of the vocalist. Some mics are specifically tailored for vocals and they typically do a great job. If you have the ability to audition mics before you purchase them, I'd highly recommend that route.

Now for the first tip / secret that I use to get great sounding vocals. Placement of the mic is by far the most important place to start. Move the vocalist around the mic to find the right spot for the amount of presence and clarity. Don't just have the vocalist stand right in front of the mic. Many times, vocalists will stand too close to a mic. This causes too much presence in the low frequencies and tends to pick up a lot of sibilance. A pop filter placed right in front of the mic won't alleviate this problem. But it is a good idea to use a pop filter to guide the vocalist to the proper distance from the capsule of the mic. There's not a specific amount of space that you can use on each vocalist, you have to work with how loud and what type of tone the vocalist has for each individual track. That's why they have a goose neck for being placed in different places depending on the vocalist. Plus, it's a great idea to mount the pop filter on a separate mic stand. This allows you to move the mic around while maintaining the spot where the vocalist stands. Keep in mind that the vocalist doesn't have to be on axis with the capsule of the microphone. It's quite alright to experiment with having the vocalist sing off to the side of the mic. This technique may reduce the amount presence and help the vocal fit right into the mix.

I hope this information helps you get started with tracking amazing vocals. The vocalist can be the most amazing singer in the world, but how they're recorded is half of the quality. So work with your vocalists and talk to them if you're hearing something that doesn't sound good. It's perfectly normal to have a vocalist do another take if there are problems with the recording. Never fall back on the notion that it can be fixed in the mix. Strive to be the best engineer you can be and do everything you can to get solid vocal tracks. Less is more and this goes a long way when you start to mix and the vocals already sound perfect. A few tweaks here and there and you should be able to get the right sound for the mix. Please leave a comment if you have any questions about the techniques that I've listed here.

Turn your speakers up, not your meters

If I had a nickel for every time I had to turn down levels on the tracks I receive when I'm doing a mixing session, I'd be a millionaire. If you want to hear what your mix sounds like at a louder volume, try turning up the volume on your monitors first. Don't push the faders all the way up or use a compressor/limiter, you're only doing damage to your mix.

Set up a reference track! Just import your favorite song into your DAW session and listen to it through the monitors. You have an idea what that song sounds like so you can use it as a reference point to calibrate your system and get a good point of reference for your mix. Mixing without a reference track is like driving a car blindfolded. Not a good idea.

Most DAWs come with a metering plug-in or a metering software program. Use it! It's there for a reason. Metering helps you get a good idea of how loud your mix actually sounds. If your DAW doesn't show RMS levels, there are a bunch of programs out there that are free and will give you a good reference point for your RMS levels. Try and give each of your mixes at least 10dB of dynamic range. If possible, give your mix anywhere between 15dB to 20dB of dynamic range. You'll notice a huge difference in the audio quality of your mix if the dynamic range has lots of room to breathe.

Louder is not better if your mix has a bunch of digital distortion. If no one will listen to you music, it's probably not the content, but rather the lack of quality mixing that was put into the music. Take the time to give your music a real good listen. Critical monitoring is so important to making sure that you get a good mix. Don't over compress and don't smash your limiter or compressor so that your meters are all the way maxed out at 0 dBFS.

Black Lion Audio Signature Mod

 Black Lion Audio Signature Mod 002r

Black Lion Audio Signature Mod 002r

Many clients have asked how we get such amazing audio quality and we're proud to say that it's a combination of mics, cables, and converters. At the heart of our drum and instrument recording is our modified Digi002rack. For many years, we were tracking with a Blue Face Digidesign 96 i/o on an ACCEL PCIe Core card. The recordings were good and we were very happy with the audio quality. 

One day, a client came by the studio with a road case with a Digi002rack that had the Black Lion Audio Signature Mod. To be honest, I was slightly offended that a client wanted to track with the LE interface instead of our HD interface. We had a brief discussion about how each of us was impressed with the audio quality of our respectable interfaces and converters. At the end of the discussion, we decided to have a shootout with the interfaces and compare them side-by-side to hear if there was any obvious difference. 

The band's drummer played a simple rock groove for about 60 seconds with a nice array of tom fills and cymbal compliments. We tracked the performance with both interfaces one after another using the same mics & cables, the only variable was the interface. We bounced the tracks down to a stereo wav file and then burned a CD with both tracks. We popped the CD into the CD player and put it on random. Then we listened to the two tracks. Instantly after listening to the first track, the second track kicked in and so did the detail. It was stunning how clear and accurate the tone and shape of the drum sounds were in track 2 over track 1. The kick had sharp punch and deep boom. The snare had crisp pop and resonating decay. The cymbals were vibrant, but not too brittle.

I was sure that track 2 was the 96 i/o. Oh the wave of shock that rippled through my mind when I saw that track 2 was the BLA mod. A system that cost 1/3 of the expensive HD system had just out shined what I thought was the holy grail of audio interfaces. Needless to say, I was able to purchase a new 002r from the local Pro Audio retailer for $300 on closeout cause they were starting to stock the new 003r units. So for less than $2,000, I was able to purchase a new 002r unit and ship it off to Black Lion Audio in Chicago for their premium Signature Mod. 

Now the studio has been tracking with the BLA 002r for the past 5 years and clients have been impressed with the audio quality. It is one of those things you have to hear to believe and we're happy to invite clients to come by the studio and hear some of the recent projects we've produced.

As amazing as the BLA 002r is for instruments, it does fall just short of the new AVID HD interfaces. We picked up a OMNI interface with the HD Native Core card and the vocal tracks from this interface are impressive. With the combination of our BLA 002r and the HD OMNI, it's a perfect combination of music and vocals for any project.

Vocal EQ mixing secret: High & Low Pass Filters

Vocal EQ mixing secret: High & Low Pass Filters

Good vocals always need to sit perfectly in the mix. Here's some insight from Engineer David Hughes on producing and mixing vocals.

AVID HD OMNI

 APOGEE ROSETTA 800 w/ XHD option

APOGEE ROSETTA 800 w/ XHD option

Shine On Studios is proud to announce the addition of the AVID HD OMNI system to our studio. This top-of-the-line HD interface for Pro Tools HD offers pristine A/D & D/A conversion with two high-end mic pre-amps. Paired with our Apogee Rosetta i/o, we now offer 8 additional channels of HD recording!

The studio is sounding better than ever. Tracks are clean and punchy! The clarity is amazing and Pro Tools 10HD offers our engineers so many ways to enhance and mix tracks. Everything from Elastic Audio to extremely low latency, gives every track produced at the studio that professional touch that makes them shine!