Rusty Tip of The Week #11 -Plugins

Rusty's Tip of the Week - The Truth About Plugins

Now don't get me wrong , i love plugins and use them extensively when mixing, even though i run back through an analog board as well. But it's important to understand the nature of them as well. The first most important thing is that they are obviously in the digital realm so unlike their analog originals they DO NOT like to be overloaded. The second and very important tip for is that just inserting them on a 'track' will not affect your input path into PT at all. So don't think you are running 'through' a compressor before the signal hits PT - if you have inserted on the recording track its only on the output. To record 'through' a plugin you need to run an AUX which the input hits first and put the plug across that.
My Current Favourites are Waves  SSL4000, Reel ADT, API550EQ, Neve Sheps73 , LoAir, plus Slate Trigger, Autotune and the usual Bomb Factory bundle.

Rusty's Tip Of The Week #10 -Monitoring

Tip #10 How can you trust what you are hearing.....

Another endless topic thats become even more confusing now that so much music is listened to on nothing more than iphone earbuds.

Common sense and best practice audio are the best places to start i have always found.

You will have noticed that so many pics of control rooms the world over still seem to have those smallish rectangular speakers with the white woofer- The Yamaha NS10 - and there's a very good reason  - consistency.

Certainly in the hey day engineers and producers could jetset about the globe and be fairly sure that there would be some monitor speakers they had used countless times before at every studio they worked at. (-ed - "Even the very first DG's control room c1985 - see pic- saw to it that probably the most notable piece of kit it had at the time was NS10's so that producers coming in to do demos(yes done at real studios back in the day) had monitors they were used to.")

This is very important and beats super quality every time because as an engineer especially when tracking you are often listening to tracks individually, not as a mix and having a consistent reference that every time you dial up the kick drum you know how it should sound, and likewise for all the other basic instruments.

Of course monitors can be a personal preference and many engineers carry their own from studio to studio. for the same reasons as above.

The reason NS10's are good for this is they are only average quality and quite mid range sounding (sometimes they are run with a sub for electro music for eg) so it stands to reason that if it sounds good on them it will sound even better on higher quality speakers.
 Theres also something about them that engineers recognized years ago that the way the box works frequency wise  is very helpful in balancing parts together especially vocals .

Of course today the list of Nearfield Monitors is endless. Nearfield becoming the main preference because in theory because of their smaller nature to 'mains' they are much less affected by the acoustics of the room, so if you are basically within 2meteres of them, roughly on axis, they will sound very similar from place to place. this is of course very popular for home studios wheres theres little or no tuning done at all. Plus they are nearly always self powered now so the internal amp is well matched to the drivers, whereas NS10's will need a separate amp.

The way i would evaluate monitors is to set them up where you will be most using them, then play a combination of single tracks such as kick, snare, bass, guitar, vocals, piano
and then play your favourite fully mixed and mastered tunes that you are used to hearing all the time and think about how accurately the speakers recreate the sonic in your head
you associate the way the solo tracks and the songs with, so picking some songs you have heard 1000's of times is a good idea. You dont need to worry about any fancy acoustic theory, set them up where you will be working , move them around and use your ears.

You dont want anything too bassy or hifi sounding either because then you may tend to under do the bass side, or not hear parts that have been "smoothed out"a lot by the nature of the monitors. Thats why the slightly gnarly unported (less bass) NS10's are such a benchmark.

Worrying about how your mix will sound on lots of different monitors(and now days earbuds) is best left to mastering engineers but its certainly a good idea now days to listen on headphones and ear buds to see if theres anything sounding horribly wrong, and the same if you do have a second set of speakers, prefarable larger and more bassy than the nearfileds. A good set of professional studio cans you trust and use a lot is of course important as well, but they won't give as true a representation of how it soudns in a room with some air around it and again thats why good consistent monitoring is essential.  Then there is always the car stereo , never to be underestimated and worth burning a cd if it doesnt have an aux input.

Russell Pilling has been listening to NS10's(with a sub since 2002) KRK,  JBL, Klipsch, Genelec and many more big and small monitors for about 30 years.

How To Get The Best Result from your Mixdown Engineer – Rusty’s Tip Of The Week 9

The short answer to getting the best result from your mixdown engineer is "Leave Them Alone".

But seriously, imagine setting up the drum mix while the singer and guitarists are telling you what they want, and at the same time watching out for the drummer slyly pushing up fader number one thinking it’s his kick drum?

(Note to drummers - These days it almost never is).

There’s a time for everything and I’ve found it’s so much more efficient to have time alone to sort out busses and fx, do all the patching, get all the lines up through the board, start pulling sounds and so on.

Some bands still have day jobs and find it works well to come in after work, when there’s a mix up ready for tweaks. At this time everyone can have their turn to listen and talk about what they are hearing and figure out what they would like to hear more or less of.

When mixing albums it’s so great to be able to finish 1-2 songs a day and then start a draft mix of the next song so it can stay up over night and can be listened to with fresh ears in the morning.

Mixing is a very important process and it's all on one guy to pull it the way the band and/or producer are hearing it in their heads. If it has been the same engineer tracking then it’s often easier becuase by that time he will have a very good idea of the band’s ideas and the vision of the overall sound.

It’s harder if it comes in 'cold' with maybe 20 guitar tracks for each song which have to be sorted through, 'the fix it in the mix’ approach where no one has made any decisons during tracking. This can lead to very extended times for each song, often over a bands expectations.

There are counteless articles from name producers and engineers advising people to make those descions early and commit, it really does save a huge amount of time later. It’s also a good idea for the band to listen to rough mixes and make any notes of things they are concerned about or creative ideas to try regarding FX and dynamics.

But the overall message to reinforce today is, it really will be quicker and better if the engineer is given time to simply engineer before any input and ideas are contributed - there’s a lot to be done in the purely technical realm before the creative decisions need to be made.

Russ-T-Rokk Pilling has been mixing bands on his lonesome (and sometimes with a little help :) at Damien Gerard Recording Studios Sydney for over 25 years

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Rusty's tip of the week #8 - Communication - How To Get The Best Performances

This topic is infinite and experiential, not something you'd easily be taught at audio college.

Something all great recording engineers know and utilise every session is their communication skills.

From countless hours recording with players and producers, they have discovered what works for both themselves and the artists, to find out exactly what they're after in a take or song and then how to coax them into achieving it in a relaxed and creative way.

This is a key element in recording that is so often brushed over because it's very personal and subjective. There's certainly a reason artists keep going back to a particular engineer or producer for their projects and it's much less about their gear and more about if they 'click' and feel confident and comfortable with that person.

Sales people certainly don't want to hear this but it's so much more about the people than the gear. A great engineer can work with a 4 track or an unlimited track Pro Tools rig and achieve amazing results every time because they understand the process and where the artist wants to go. For example, it may mean they only want to use one microphone and do no overdubs.

Some tips along these lines are -

1/ If you're recording a band get to know them as soon as they arrive, or have a meet beforehand, help them carry some gear in, find out their names and write them down alongside what they play for reference during the session, make them feel like you are part of the band for the day.

2/ Suss out what kind of music they listen to, what sounds they like, what recent and or classic albums and songs you have all heard. This way you can talk about the sonic side of things and have some references to draw from. Finding out what they want to sound like can be really invaluable. They may have previous releases you can discuss to find out what they do or dont like about their earlier stuff.

3/ You can then apply this little bit of inside knowledge in a big way when cutting tracks and takes, as you will be pretty much on the same page from the start.

4/ Spend time helping with their individual sounds, but always be careful about putting your own ideas across, it's a matter of judgement as to when is a good time. Always ask what they think of the sounds when playing back.

5/ With any ideas they ask to try out, start with "it's not a problem, lets give it a go", even if it sounds crazy. They'll figure out themselves if it works or not. You never know, it may end up being a great new part.

6/ Help remind the artists about time, e.g. if they are trying to finish a song in a day keep them moving along in a nice way.

7/ Speak in the positive, never say a part is really really bad. Instead,  'maybe give it another go' or "maybe that guitar needs tuning again'.

Its all about keeping the artists comfortable and not intimidating them. Raving on about some flash new mic you have that they aren't allowed to go within 3 feet of isn't going to do that, but saying - hey why dont we try the vocal on a 'hand held SM58 just for fun'? can be the difference between a nervous vocal take and a great one. Its a matter of spotting those kind of problems early on and solving them before the band have even realised.

This list could be endless of course but hopefully some of the above will help.

Russ T Rokk Pilling has been tracking and communicating with bands at Damien Gerards for over 25 years.

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