Friday, February 8, 2013

Classical Piano Recording: Update

A couple years ago, in honor of my late brother, Frank (an avid Chopin fan), we did a short series on piano miking.  A big thanks to my good friends and excellent engineers Randy Poole (Anita Baker, Michael W. Smith, CeCe Winans) and Kevin Edlin (Nashville Symphony, Kings Singers) for contributing their techniques and tips to the GetYoshed blog!

The project Kevin was recording while writing this blog was a solo piano album for acclaimed pianist Agnes Wan (  This album has recently been released and we wanted to share it with you to listen to while you're reading Kevin's post and thinking about your own piano recordings. The album can be found on Soundset here or iTunes here. Here's what Kevin wrote:
"Thanks for having me, I really appreciate it. As far as classical piano recording techniques go, here are some of my thoughts. The first thing to consider is the type of piece you're going to record - whether it's a work for solo classical piano, or rather a piano concerto (a piece written for piano and orchestra) with the pianist as the featured soloist. Further consideration needs to be given to the approach of the recording, i.e. a live concert as opposed to a closed session. As you may know, in classical music the aesthetic is generally for recordings to be made in somewhat of an audience/listener's position, but yet having more clarity and detail than seated patrons can observe.  
For purposes of this discussion, I'll leave out anything related to recording a piano as only a part of the orchestra, where it is only an element of the music and not a featured instrument. I'll also only include non-studio techniques, as most classical recordings are made on location in different concert halls and performing arts venues.  
For a solo classical piano piece, the first thing one should do is make sure the instrument is in a good spot on the stage. The sound of the piano as it resonates in the hall it's played in can change greatly if moved from the front to the back of the stage. Generally, you'll want to have the instrument somewhat in the center. This however can vary slightly though, as some performers like to have the center of the sound board directly in the middle of the stage, while other prefer to have the hammers and action in the middle, thereby putting the keys and the performer in the center as well. Sometimes this is done for acoustic reasons, and sometimes it may be done like this just for the sake of appearances. After this has been decided upon, it's a good idea to talk with the performer about past experiences he or she might have had playing in that hall (if they ever have before) to gain any insight from them, and just to make sure they're comfortable. It's also paramount to do a little moving of the instrument from upstage (closer to the back wall) to downstage (closer to the audience) - and a lot of critical listening while the performer plays through a few excerpts of the material at hand. I can't emphasise this enough. Sometimes, just a few feet in either direction can make a big difference in finding a particular spot on the stage where the sound blooms.  
When it comes to equipment, I would normally start with a spaced pair of omnidirectional microphones positioned 4 to 5 feet over the opening of the lid at full stick, with the angles of the mics generally at the same degree as that of the open lid. This would be used as the main pair of mics, and for the most part be responsible for capturing the instrument and the overall sound of the recording. For this, my preference would generally be the DPA 4006. I have however had good results using a pair of high quality cardiod or sub-cardiod microphones, such as Schoeps or Neumann, in an ORTF position or something similar. I also try and use the cleanest, quietest, and most neutral preamplifiers available, typically by manufacturers such as Millennia, Grace, or Lavry. The Millennia HV-3D 8 channel unit is very commonplace for this application. For a solo piano, I might also put up a pair of flanking omnidirectional microphones, with each one being 6 to 8 feet or so to the left and right of the main pair. This is primarily to capture the reflections of the stage and to allow for a greater width to the recording. Lastly, I almost always have some sort of ambient hall pair of mics. These are usually omnidirectional as well, and could be anything ranging from the DPA compact series to some sort of high quality large diaphragm condensers. Using these allows one to capture the natural reverberation of the hall. They can be placed anywhere from the far left/right corners of the very back of the hall and high up near the rear ceiling, to mid-way down the isles near the stage and fairly close together - or anywhere in between. The exact position can depend on the size the room, whether it's a small recital hall or a large concert venue, and the given rooms acoustics.  
Another major factor involved in classical mic technique that I have yet to mention is whether or not an audience is involved. This can be much greater factor than most people first imagine. In live concert recordings, microphones are often times not allowed to be placed on stands on the stage during performances! Depending on the venue management, the performer and/or music director, and what the audiences of that venue are accustomed to seeing, equipment such as mics, stands, and cables on stage can be thought of as cluttering and unsightly. It can therefor be necessary to suspend them in the air somehow from the ceiling, rafters, or architecture of the building. This could mean hanging them from the overhead grid or catwalk railing of a performing arts center, or even through the rafters and attic of a church. Naturally, this can pose some problems. The ways and means of doing this could be the subject of an entirely different essay, and would well go beyond the scope of this one. Suffice to say, in a live audience situation, a good classical recording engineer must be able to get the microphones in the best spot available despite the possible adversities. So, whatever mic placements you have decided are best from your acoustic experiments and critical listening, you may now have to suspend in mid air and secure properly so that all performers, patrons, and backstage personnel are safe from any falling equipment! The placement of ambient hall mics are a good illustration of this. While in some occasions no one will care if the main or flanking pairs of mics are attached to stands on stage or not, it will always be against fire codes to put equipment in the isles or seating area of a hall during a performance. Mic stands, cables, or anything that could be a trip hazard will always be completely off limits when a live audience is present. This however becomes a non issue during a closed session! One then has the freedom to choose to narrow the focus of the ambient pair, as opposed to hanging them from the one accessible beam found in the back of the hall. This however can even affect the mic choice of the main pairs as well. For instance it is usually easy to hang a pair of small diaphragm  condensers on a stereo bar in front of an audience, while it may be nearly impossible to suspend a pair of Neumann M 50's or M 150's (with their accompanying tube power supplies) safely in the same hall.  
This concludes many of my thoughts on recording a solo classical piano piece. I'll leave the topic of recording a piano concerto to another essay. And while I know that I have recored Chopin pieces before, I can't recall which ones, or exactly when or where. I'm sure I've recorded the Nashville symphony performing the music of Chopin in concert, and probably also the Aspen Festival Orchestra as well. And while I have never recorded an album of his music, I am never the less both humbled and thrilled to be included in your blog."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Best Sounds Ever

My good friend, Ed Wyborski, recently wrote to me, posing the question of the “best ever” sounds.  What is the best snare sound, trumpet sound, mandolin sound, etc.  Of course, “best” is always subjective, but so many great sounds are very distinct or unique.  Here’s what Ed wrote; please add to the list and comment on your favorite sounds and, if you know, how they were created. We will be at the AES booth at NAMM this weekend asking people for their input as well.

The Question - What is the best ever use of an instrument (or close to an instrument) in songs we know at this point in time, if you believe in a linear timeline.  What is the thing that gets your attention when you hear a song that makes you say “I know that song – it has a great…?).  You can pound to it, dance, and jump or just yell out.  “Ya baby – I remember when this came out – it was soooo cool”

So, I open for debate, to honor all those great musicians, recording engineers and producers that have captured these incredible sounds. What is the best ever – What, Who, When, Where and now the hard part “How?”

The virtual phone is now open.  Please add and expand in every direction.

      - Hand claps – Buffalo Springfield,  For what it worth
      - Leslie speaker with organ – Devil with the blue dress?
      - Leslie speaker with guitar – John Jaszcz, Detroit 1977, hot night, cool drinks, great song – no idea what    it was but it was cool (note: This speaker got me a “A” at Wayne State in the Psychoacoustics of physics class 500 level)
      - Leslie speaker with other – Good Question
      - Cow Bell – Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels? – Little Susie was only 5 years old – rock and roll? 
      - Bongo -  must be Santana – Soul sacrifice – a long time ago (extra points for the place)
7    - Something cool – Ride with me  - some kind of sound at start
8    - Best “hey hey hey” - Don’t you forget me Simple minds?
      - Saxophone – Deacon Blues?
      - Talk Box – Rocky Mountain Way 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Kirk Franklin: Hello Fear

Kirk Franklin is a phenomenal producer and choir director, and together with his production team, incredibly talented singers, and Fo Yo Soul Records, he created a masterpiece entitled Hello Fear, that Yosh had the distinct honor of contributing mixes.  

Certainly congratulations to Kirk are in order after a huge first week, selling nearly 90,000 copies (making it the 4th best selling gospel album of all time) and debuting No. 1 on the Billboard Gospel Chart as well as No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and appearing in top spots of several other charts as well.  Even amidst all this success, however, what makes Kirk Franklin Kirk Franklin is his heart.  As he told, "I am just humbled.  It is a blessing to know, that after all these years of making music, God continues to give me songs that people want to hear. I knew going into this project that God was not as concerned about what I do in the process of this album but what I become in the process of this album. I am hopeful that Hello Fear reaches the hearts of everyone who purchased the CD and helps them along their process of becoming who God would have them become." 

If you haven't heard the album yet, it is available in any record store, or Walmart, Amazon,
as well as iTunes.  He is also on tour with Steve Harvey - a show definitely worth seeing.

Check out one of the single's "I Am"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

11 New Years Resolutions for 2011

There are always ways to improve oneself, and the beginning of a year brings a renewed inspiration to make oneself better.  So whether your new years resolutions have a tendency to fade mid-February or become habitual, we thought we’d compile a list of ways we Audio Engineers can improve our work and ourselves.

Add your own tips in the comments below and let us know what you think of ours!

In No Particular Order... 

1.  Check crossfades prior to consolidating.
It can be as simple as doing a batch fade (highlighting across multiple edits and hit Command-F in Pro Tools), but neglecting to crossfade edit points will cost hours of work later trying to remove clicks and pops from the track.  Before consolidating, we always duplicate the playlist in case something is wrong, and crossfade all the edit points.  We know from experience, trying to copy/paste audio, or drawing with the pencil tool to remove clicks is a tedious and frustrating process.

2. Check disc allocation.

In today’s audio world, sessions are constantly moved from hard drive to hard drive and worked on by different engineers, in different locations, at different times.  With all this change in location, Pro Tools sometimes gets a little confused as to where it should place your audio files and fade files.  It is very good practice to hit Setup-Disc Allocation and be sure every track will write to the proper drive so sometime down the road you don’t get a call asking for a drive that should be located on your “Macintosh HD/user/desktop.” It is also great practice to keep the drives you’re not writing to in “Transfer Only” mode.  In the Pro Tools workspace, keep your audio drive on “Record” and the others on “Transfer.”

3. Name Audio Tracks.

Don’t press record on that audio track you just created until you name it!  It’s never convenient to look at a session and see Audio 1, Audio 2, Audio 3, etc.  Big Synth, Ac Gtr, Ld Voc, is much easier to know, at a glance, what is on that track.  Also, the name of the track is what Pro Tools will name the audio file you record on it.  So when we lose an audio file, It’s good to know what it is that’s missing and have a name that makes sense in order to find it.

4. Back up… and do it again.

Music is expensive to create, and it can never be recreated exactly. Thus, when you put your heart and soul into a recording, take the time to back it up.  Many have said, “it’s not backed up unless it exists in 3 locations.” Great advice, but at least have it in two!  If your hard drive breaks, or is lost, or you accidentally delete the wrong folder, save yourself the time, money, and stress by having it backed up.

5. Print it.

So you just spent an hour and a half with the fancy new delay plug-in you bought and came up with the perfect delay for that one word in the bridge. You love it and listen to it on your rough mix for weeks while you send your session to your mix engineer, who then hears the delay in your rough and has a feeling you want it there, but has no idea how you got it and doesn’t have that obscure delay you use.  Simple solution, print the effect – on a separate track of course; the mix engineer still needs control, but give him what you have.  Chances are, if it’s really that good, he’ll want to keep it, but you can allow him more time to make the other parts of your song sound great if he’s not spending all his time recreating your delay.

6.  Stay in Touch.

With the majority of music happening in home studios and project studios these days, an engineer can go weeks or even months on end without talking to other engineers.  You don’t see them in the studio lobby because you’re not in the commercial studio that often.  Call them up, have lunch, do whatever it takes to stay connected with other professionals.  Community is a great tool for learning, staying current, and creating more business for yourself and your fellow audio engineers.

7. Study Music.

If music is your business, make it your business to know music.  If you’re a young engineer and know all the current Top 40 hits, but don’t know the history, don’t know where that music came from, you’re not getting the full picture.  Likewise, if you’re an engineer who’s been doing this awhile, but somewhere down the line lost interest in pop music and don’t know what the current guys are doing, you can’t stay relevant, and you can’t be your best. Make it a goal this year to improve your musical repertoire.

8. Do it right.

Whether in a major recording studio, a live recording session, or a bedroom with an Mbox, a good engineer will take the time to get their levels set correctly, make sure the sound is good, and make sure there’s no noise on the channel.  The same is true through every step of making a record; if this audio is going to be heard, even if it’s only by those who made it, then it’s worth taking the time to make it right.  This is your craft and your job, and your name will be on it, make that name stand for quality work.

9.  Stay Organized.

It can get very difficult to stay organized as life gets very busy, very quickly, but it can really save you.  Know where your sessions are, know where the backups are, know how you label things, and where you put things.  Consistency and organization will really help when that client calls that you did one song with 3 years ago and asks you for a file, and it can save you a lot of costly and time consuming mistakes.

10.  Never Say “No.”

You may absolutely know that your client’s idea is simply not going to work, or completely disagree with their request to change something, but they’re the client, and if they’re making a request it’s because they hear something that they think can be better and “better” should always be the goal.  So maybe they are wrong, and maybe it feels like a waste of time, but just maybe something better will come out of trying. 

11.  Be healthy.

“Getting in Shape” is such a cliché New Year’s Resolution, but it’s a good one.  The music business is hard on one’s health.  From the sitting in front of a computer or a console all day, to being on the road all the time, to the never-ending supply of coffee and soda they have at the studio, to the long, long hours, it can do wonders for your future to eat healthily and exercise.  And don’t forget to keep your ears healthy.  Wearing earplugs to concerts, and not listening at full volume for too long will help keep your ears functioning properly much longer. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Attitude of Engineering - by Grant Greene

Get Yoshed is excited to welcome back Grant Greene in this week’s post!

Hi everyone! It’s been awhile since you have seen me on A lot of things have happened since Yosh’s and my first blog. In what may seem a bit of irony, I have gone back to school to finish up my undergraduate degree. If you recall, Yosh suggested that I needed to take a ProTools training course. As it turned out, I did have to take a hard disk recording class as part of my degree. While it might seem there isn’t a lot to learn in an intro to hard disk recording class for someone that has been working with ProTools and other hard disk recorders for over 15 years, I did learn a few tips and tricks, but what I learned the most was a few perspectives of the up and coming engineers in this business and the instructors teaching these students.

During one of the first discussions of the class, the instructor asked the class what made each student hirable in the industry. Most of the students answered that their personality, or good attitude, made them good candidates to be hired at a studio. The instructor quickly dismissed these claims and said that to him, as a studio owner himself, knowledge and skills were more important than anything else. While I agree that you need to be smart and have a knack for learning quickly, I disagree with him that attitude takes a back seat to how well you know how to record, mix, or wire a studio.  Over the past 11 years, I have learned A LOT watching Yosh work. I can’t recall once where he told a client that something couldn’t be done. You give Yosh a problem, he will find a solution. While this might seem to validate the opinion that knowledge is more important to attitude, it is actually the opposite. It’s Yosh’s attitude that drives him to come up with a solution to any problem. He might not know the answer immediately, but he will come up with one, if not five. This is what makes a great engineer in my opinion.

Over the years, Yosh has had many interns and I can tell you this, while most had the “chops” to be successful recording engineers, few had the right attitude. The right attitude makes up for any lack of knowledge. Back in the “day”, there were no schools for recording. Those interested in breaking into the business didn’t walk into a studio with the knowledge to run a large format console, multitrack tape machines, and all the outboard effects gear. They weren’t expected to be able to record a full band or mix an album on their first day either. What they were expected to do was to make coffee, answer phones, get things for the clients, clean the studio, and keep their mouths shut. So you might ask yourself, how did they learn? Well this is where attitude comes in. Those with the drive and determination found a way to learn. If they were told there was a session at 10 a.m., they would arrive at 8 a.m., or earlier, to be sure everything was in order and help the client set-up for the session. If they were told that they only had to work until 5 p.m., they would stay to 2 a.m. to help the assistant engineer tear down. If there was no session happening at the studio, they would ask the studio manager if it was o.k. if they used the studio to hone their chops. Those with the right attitude can always learn something they don’t know. Working in an industry where things are rapidly changing, we are constantly having to learn. There is no way we can know everything about every piece of gear or software out there, but we can have an open mind and a drive to educate ourselves and add more tricks to our arsenal.

In my next appearance here on, I’ll touch on things interns should and shouldn’t do in the studio.
 - Grant Greene