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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
It's been close to three years since I've embarked on a recording project this big... my band ( http://www.theburningsensations.com ) has decided to record a full-length CD, and instead of shelling out $2500+ to go into the local "pro" studio or bumming cheaper time in a friend's studio, we're going to do the whole CD using my gear (most of which was recently upgraded) in my home studio.

So I'm thinking it may be interesting to chronicle what happens as I go through the process, somewhat for the benefit of recording newbies who stand to benefit from my experiences, and somewhat for my own benefit to actually keep track of what did & didn't work. :)

Tonight was "prep night"... I cleared out the studio room a bit. I collected all my mics in one place and picked out the ones I'd be most likely to use. I collected all my XLR cables, tested them for faulty wiring & shorts. Then I got down to business, making a big table of every instrument, which mic & cables would be used for each, and which preamp channel each would run through. The end result was something like this:

Bass drum - Shure PG52 - Focusrite Octopre LE channel 1
Snare drum - Audix i5- Focusrite Octopre LE channel 2
Hi tom - Shure PG56 - Focusrite Octopre LE channel 3
Mid tom - Shure PG56 - Focusrite Octopre LE channel 4
Low tom - Shure PG56 - Focusrite Octopre LE channel 5
Left overhead - Studio Projects C4 SDC - Focusrite Octopre LE channel 6
Right overhead - Studio Projects C4 SDC - Focusrite Octopre LE channel 7
---
Talkback mic - EV ND267AS - Focusrite Octopre LE channel 8
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Guitar 1 - Shure SM57 - Presonus Digimax LT channel 1
Guitar 1 - KEL Audio HM1 SDC - Presonus Digimax LT channel 2
Guitar 1 - Behringer GI100 direct box - Presonus Digimax LT channel 3
---
Guitar 2 - Shure SM57 - Presonus Digimax LT channel 4
Guitar 2 - ShinyBox 46 ribbon - Presonus Digimax LT channel 5
Guitar 2 - Behringer GI100 direct box - Presonus Digimax LT channel 6
---
Bass - Horizon direct box - tube preamp - Presonus Digimax LT channel 7
Bass - Behringer BDI21 - Presonus Digimax LT channel 8

Now, I'm sure some of you are thinking "3 tracks for each guitar... isn't that overkill?"... I'm really into blending multiple tracks to come up with my ideal guitar tone, which usually works great provided there are no phasing issues. Basically, one mic captures a little more high end and gets panned out to one side or another in the mix, a second mic captures more "thump" and gets panned to the center of the mix, and the direct box provides a little "sizzle" when necessary.

Finally, I spent some time in Sonar, building a template based on the planned track list above, with placeholder tracks for guitar overdubs and vocals.

The plan for the rest of the week is as follows:
- Tues night -- drummer brings kit over and we set up mics, check levels
- Wed night -- other guitar player brings rig over and we set up mics for both of our rigs, check levels
- Sun afternoon -- first recording session (backing tracks, no vocals)

--B
 

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Wow, makes me wanna soundproof the garage and get a real drum kit in, good luck, let us know when the album is due out!

BTW, you got some nice stuff there! I was looking at the Octopre LE too, what's the interface that all is connected to? I might be getting a Motu Traveler.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Ah, the Octopre LE is connected to a Frontier Design Dakota by an ADAT lightpipe interface. I tried a firewire interface (Presonus Firepod) and while I like the convenience of it, it suffered from major dropouts/pops/clicks/etc. After lots of fingerpointing between Cakewalk (Sonar), Presonus, and Windows XP, I decided to send the Firepods back and go with the Frontier cards, which have delivered stellar sound & performance so far.

-=-=-

So last night was drum setup night... our drummer (Scott) brought over his kit (a 5-piece Pearl kit) with quite a few Zildjian cymbals. Once he got the kit set up, I started working on mic placement as follows...

- Shure PG52 just inside of the hole in the bass drum head, covered by a blanket
- Audix i5 on the snare, about 1" off the rim pointed towards the center
- Shure PG56's on each of the three toms, about 1" off the rim pointed towards the center
- Two Studio Projects C4's w/ cardoid capsules for overheads, on stands about 2' above the cymbals

While the Shure PG mics came with drum mounts (most likely for live performace), I opted to put all the mics on individual stands to reduce the amount of vibration they'd pick up from being directly mounted to the drums.

All of the mics, then, were plugged into the Focusrite Octopre LE. The low-cut filter was engaged for the snare/tom/overhead mics, and phantom power was engaged for the overheads as well.

With everything wired up, I fired up Sonar, loaded up my template from Monday, and recorded a few test tracks. We spent most of our time working on the bass drum tone, trying to get a good mix of "meat" and "click", which we accomplished with some EQ tweaking (less mids, more highs). We added a little compressor and Lexicon reverb to the snare. We left the other tracks (toms, overheads) dry for the time being, and made a few adjustments in levels to get a good kit sound. As for stereo imaging, bass & snare & mid tom tracks were left in the center, high + low toms were panned about 15% to each side, and overheads were panned about 45% to each side. Overall, it's not perfect, but it's hard to finalize until there are other instruments (bass, guitars) in the mix as well.

Thinking about it more, we probably should do more experimentation with the bass drum mic on Sunday to naturally get the sound we want (without relying on so much EQ)... this may involve getting the mic closer to the beater head to pick up more of the attack from the beaters.

Tonight is guitar setup night... the other guitarist and I will be getting our rigs set up and mic'd, and we'll run a few test tracks for the sake of optimizing our overall guitar tones.

--B
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Alright... so last night was official guitar setup night. The other guitar player (Dave) brought his rig over, and here's how we set things up...

Dave plays a JSX head through a B-52 4x12 cab loaded with V30's. We picked a speaker, put an SM57 towards the cone and a ShinyBox 46 ribbon towards the edge. We then took a line out from the JSX into a Behringer GI100 with the cab sim engaged. All three channels plugged into a Presonus DigiMax LT preamp/converter.

My setup is a Randall RM4 preamp (loaded with Blackface, Brown, Recto, and Ultra Lead modules) into a RT2/50 power amp through an Avatar 2x12 loaded with V30's. Similar to Dave's setup, I picked a speaker, put an SM57 close to the cone, put a KEL HM-1 condenser close to the edge, and took a line out from the RM4 to feed the GI100. Again, all three channels were connected to the DigiMax LT.

At that point we were ready to crank up the amps and record some test tracks. First thing I noticed was that the HM1 was out of phase with the SM57/GI100 on my cab, making my guitar sound really thin (luckily, in Sonar that's an easy fix). Next concern was relative levels between the mics & placement in the stereo space...

For Dave's guitar, the ShinyBox 46 (which captures a lot of low end) was panned center, mixed at about 30%. The SM57 (which captures a lot of the high end) was panned 50% to the right, mixed at about 60%. Finally, the GI100 (which captures the sizzle) was panned 100% to the right, mixed at about 10%. The mics on my guitar were set at similar levels, but panned to the left side of the stereo space instead. Finally, a low-cut filter was applied to all guitar tracks to remove unneccesary bass build-up.

This creates a massive guitar tone which, in most cases, can be tweaked by adjusting relative levels instead of using a lot of EQ. So if a guitar sounds a bit thin, we bring up the level of the condenser/ribbon mic. If the guitar needs more presence, we bring up the level of the SM57 or the direct box.

I also spent a little time applying gates to the drum tracks (kick, snare, & toms) from last night... since there's some natural bleed of drums between all the drum mics, the gates help to reduce the effect, so that I hear only kick in the kick drum channel, only snare in the snare channel, etc. This tightened up the drum sounds considerably (and sometimes can be helpful in reducing phase-related issues as well).

--B
 

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Where do you aim the SM57 exactly? Right in the middle of the cone? This is how I have mine, is this a good way? Is this right? The pic is at and angle, but its pretty much level with the cone and in the middle of it.

 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Usually when I'm only using one mic, I put an SM57 half way between the center of the cone and edge of the speaker (so probably 3-4" from the side of where your mic is placed), about 1" off the grille, pointing directly at the speaker (not at an angle).

Now, I can't say if it's right or wrong... it solely depends upon the tone that you want to get...

For example, high frequencies are generally radiated from the center of the cone and low frequencies closer to the edge of the speaker. (Of course, results also vary based on what speakers and mics are being used, but that's a whole separate discussion!) I like a little more "meat" in my guitar tone, so moving the mic closer to the edge brings in more lows. Or if I use multiple mics, I use one on the center of the cone to pick up the highs, one on the edge of the speaker for the lows, then blend to taste.

Again, it just depends on what sounds good to your ears. :)

--B
 

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The SM57 manual says not to have mics too close to each other, and it says onle one mic per sound source. Don't know why. I was guessing that I would need two per sound source anyway for a stereo tracking.
 

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As you have more experience than me and know more, do you mind me asking another question?

Some of my amps have a jack line out and compensated line out. Whats the main difference between unbalanced and balanced TRS jacks and why would I use one from the other?

And for the amps that have XLR Di out, what would happen if the phantom power was on on the interface? As I don't understand the different wirings given in the TSL xlr diagram.

Here's the diagram for my amp with the XLR out
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Ant1981 said:
The SM57 manual says not to have mics too close to each other, and it says onle one mic per sound source. Don't know why. I was guessing that I would need two per sound source anyway for a stereo tracking.
When you start putting multiple mics on the same item, you run the risk of phasing issues, where the sound waves hit each mic at different times. Long story short, this causes certain frequencies to cancel each other out, resulting in a thin or hollow sound. So if you use multiple mics, always try to keep the capsules the same distance from the speaker/drum/etc. you're micing.

A cool feature in Sonar (probably in other recording software as well)... you can zoom in to incredibly detailed levels on recorded tracks to visually ensure that they are in phase. If they are out of phase, you can either move the mics to adjust or click the Phase Reverse button (in Sonar, also some preamps have 'em) to put things right again.

The waveforms should line up like this:
/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/
/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/
/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

When you have a phase problem, it might look like this:
/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/
\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\
/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/
(note how the second one is out of phase)

One of the mics I'm using in the studio (the KEL HM-1) appears to be completely (180 degrees) out of phase with the other mics, so it was an easy fix in the software (it looked exactly like the second "diagram" above). What's far more challenging is when signals aren't exactly 180 degrees out of phase... then adjusting is a lot more tricky.

--B
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Ant1981 said:
Some of my amps have a jack line out and compensated line out. Whats the main difference between unbalanced and balanced TRS jacks and why would I use one from the other?

And for the amps that have XLR Di out, what would happen if the phantom power was on on the interface? As I don't understand the different wirings given in the TSL xlr diagram.
One poit of clarification... "line out" and "compensated line out" is different than "unbalanced" and "balanced". A line out on an amplifier is typically fed straight from the preamp circuit (or possibly after the FX loop if one exists); however, a compensated line out typically has some sort of speaker emulation circuitry added to it. In general, both usually sound far worse than using a real mic on the speaker, but sometimes the compensated line out can be used for recording in a pinch (e.g., you can't find a mic, you need to record quietly).

Now, balanced vs. unbalanced... I'm sure there are more scientific explanations out there, but essentially balanced connections (XLR cables, TRS cables) provide a means of noise cancellation that unbalanced connections (most guitar & line-level cables) do not provide. So, balanced cables are nice in studios where you may need to use long cable runs OR the cables are subject to lots of electro-magnetic interference. But there are plenty of recording scenarios where I've gotten by with unbalanced cables and had no significant noise issues... it's one of those things I only think about if I hear a lot of noise when monitoring.

Finally, whether or not phantom power will damage the TSL's circuitry is hard to say... it really depends on how Marshall has engineered the circuit. I'm sure the TSL doesn't need the phantom power, so I'd try to avoid sending it at all costs. I know enough people who have fried microphones and other rack gear by accidentally sending phantom power that was not needed.

--B
 

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I see what you are saying, but there are some desks where if one mic needs phantom power, then every input receives it. So what to do? Lucky though my Motu can choose which input gets phantom or not.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Yeah, that's kind of a sticky situation... I've got two mixers that use global phantom power, and two of my three preamp/converters have global phantom power as well... only thing I own that has individual phantom power switches is the Digimax LT. Good news is that it seems like the majority of passive (non-powered) mics don't respond adversely to phantom power (at least the dynamic mics I've used... SM57's, e609, i5, MD421, etc).

One possibility would be to see if you can convert the XLR output from an amp/etc into a 1/4" output to plug into the preamp... there should be no phantom power on the 1/4" jacks. This may lead to impedance mis-match issues, though, if you're plugging a low-impedance device into a jack looking for a high-impedance signal. What fun!

Another idea... If only one or two mics require phantom power you may want to look into a dedicated box to provide it... I have an ART box that provides 12-48V of phantom power for 2 channels, does nothing else. I bought it because I had a mixer where the phantom power circuit died, but every now and then I use it if I'm in a situation where 1 or 2 mics need phantom power and I'm not sure how the other mics will respond.

--B
 

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Good luck Brent, hope you don't plan on recording with any of those crappy guitars. I've got a badass Hondo you can borrow if you want.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 · (Edited)
Sweet... send the Hondo on over... care of Butterspoon Studios, West Chester OH. Be sure to insure it for its full value ($20), though.

So tonight I was hoping to get the direct box & preamp set up for the bass, but no such luck... my birthday's tomorrow, and I spent most of the evening shopping for food and cleaning up the house for a party this weekend.

But I did manage to set up the headphone distribution amp... it's a Rolls 4-channel headphone amp driving 3 pairs of AKG K44's and my Carvin H40M headphones. With any luck, all the AKG's will have long enough cords that we won't have to stand on each others' toes during the recording process.

Also, since I stumbled across my camera while I was cleaning house, I took a few pictures of how everything is set up so far:


There you can see the studio PC tucked into the far corner of the room as well as the rack full of preamps/converters/compressors.


There's one side of the drum kit...


... and there's the other side.


You can actually see the mics in this pic.


Both guitar cabs, in relatively close proximity to each other & the drums.


Dave's JSX head & B52 cab, with an SM57 and ShinyBox 46 ribbon mic.


My Avatar 2x12 V30 cab, with an SM57 and KEL HM-1 on separate speakers (since I'm using a stereo power amp with different tubes 6L6/EL34 in each side into a stereo cab). Note how on both cabs the SM57 is pointing at the center of the speaker cone, while the condenser/ribbon is positioned closer to the edge. You can also see the Behringer GI100 direct box (e.g., red box rip-off) hiding around the left side of the cabinet).

Enjoy!
--B
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggghhhhh hhhhhh!

So today was, without a doubt, about the last thing I expected to happen in the recording process...

The band has, over the course of the last year, become progressively more dysfunctional... People couldn't agree on what type of music they wanted to do, which put a major wet blanket on the writing process--we haven't produced any new tunes in over a year. Nobody could agree on gigging--either it was not frequent enough gigging, gigs in crappy clubs, gigs that nobody shows up to, etc. We've got a frontman who's half afraid of the crowd, and a ****y bassist who can't keep a groove. But, nonetheless, in the year and a half that we've been at it, we've written some pretty cool songs and played some pretty cool events.

Anyway, yesterday was the straw that broke the camel's back... for weeks we've been planning this full-day recording session, but once the weather forecast was released, the drummer decided he'd rather spend the day working in the yard than recording. This, of course, ticked off everybody else (who'd committed to spending the full day recording) and started a small turf war in e-mail, which ended with the other guitar player sending the "this isn't working out... it's been fun..." e-mail. He came over to the house to pack up his gear and go home. So not only did the recording not happen, but now the band is no more, so the recording will not happen at any point in time.

Overall, it's kinda mixed feelings... like I said before, we managed to write some pretty cool songs and play some cool clubs. And I personally liked all the guys in the band. But there was a lot of drama and discontent, which managed to make the good times pretty frustrating. So now I've got a little more free time to spend working on writing and recording new material... I think I'm going to steer clear of joining another band until I finish my masters program.

--B
 

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Sorry to hear that. Similar things happened in my last band. Our bassist turned up when he felt like it and our drummer was some stupid musical snob, so eventually it fell apart.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Yeah, I actually have pretty good relationships with the drummer & other guitarist (who I've been in other bands with and have known for about 8 years)... I think we're going to take a couple months off, then maybe get together and record some of the songs as a 3-piece--I play bass pretty well and the other guitar player used to sing for us, so we should be able to cover all the bases. But in the mean time, I've decided to pack up the recording gear, even sell a few things (amps, recording stuff) on e-bay... I've got way too much gear around here considering that I'm 1) no longer in a band and 2) don't have any bands to record now.

--B
 
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