Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Capturing The Bass In A Live Performance

Capturing The Bass In A Live Performance - (these tips can also be used in the studio)

1. The Performance
It all starts with the performance. This is ultimately what matters the most. You want a good player who knows the songs well. Otherwise you will end up spending more money to fix things after the fact.

2. The Instrument
The next step to a great bass recording is the Instrument. You want to use a quality bass that is in good condition (no fret buzz, bad jacks or pots, well intonated, etc.) It is also important to keep the bass in tune between songs. Fresh strings can be important as well but it is recommended to change them a few days before the show since they can be too bright and noisy when first changed. Also, planning ahead and having a backup instrument can save a show from disaster.

3. Di or Amp?
Should you use a direct box or mic the bass amp? It is recommended to always use a direct box in live situations so you can have a bass signal free of bleed. If the bass amp is well isolated from the stage and you have the ability to mic it in addition to the direct box, go for it. Just be aware that if you are mixing a bass amp and direct box together, there will most likely be a slight timing difference between the two tracks. The Direct box will be very slightly ahead of the amp since it has a shorter path to travel. This can cause phase issues and cancel out the low end of the bass. You will have to phase align the two tracks in your Digital Audio Workstation after the fact. You can also always apply a bass amp plugin or send the direct recording to a bass amp and record that in post production.

4. EQ and Compression
Subtle EQ and compression can help bring out the dynamics of the performance. If not done properly however, it can also hinder the recording. If in doubt, bypass any such effects. From experience I’ve encountered bass recordings that sound very thin even though they sounded fat on stage. This could be caused by many factors. Sometimes a bassist is misled by the sound coming from the bass amp. As a result they tend to drop the low frequencies on the instrument thinking there’s enough low end from the bass amp only to realize that the recording had little to no low end. Again, If in doubt, capture the recording with no processing.

5. Monitoring
Always keep an eye on the input signal. Even if the signal was not clipping during soundcheck, there is a good chance the player will be playing harder during the performance. In the digital domain, you want to avoid clipping as it can ruin a recording. Recording too low is preferred to clipping in the DAW, so leave yourself plenty of headroom. One way to help prevent this is to make sure that the player has enough of themselves in their monitors while they are playing at a reasonable volume during soundcheck so that once the band starts they don’t struggle to hear themselves and start playing louder. The bass player could also be clipping his amp/direct box before it gets to the engineer, so use your ears as well to tell you if there is a problem. One issue often overlooked, is the proximity of the bass player to their amp. Low frequencies are heard best from a distance since they have long wavelengths. Standing too close to the amp can actually give the impression that there is not enough low end. If possible have the bass player move farther away from the amp until they can hear the true tone of the amp.

In conclusion, meters are crucial but let your ears be your ultimate guide.

by Daniel Ayittah

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Capturing Drums in A Live Performance

Capturing Drums in A Live Performance
-by Daniel Ayittah

1. The Drum Kit.
Your choice of the drum kit or instrument for that matter will greatly influence your recording. This is because each instrument sounds different sonically depending on the material used to build it. The choice of kit is as critical as the microphones used. If your drums are cheap you should expect a cheap sound in your recordings.

2. Performance
The first step to getting a good drum recording is to use a good drummer. A bad performance cannot be fixed later in post production. If you’re willing to invest in a live recording you might as well invest in a good drummer.

3. Tuning and Changing heads.
Second on the checklist is to make sure your drums sound good using your ears first. The drums have to be tuned appropriately to achieve this. Tuning your drums properly will help them to blend in the mix properly. It’s also preferable to change your drum heads prior to a recording. You should also have spare heads available. If you don’t know how to get your drums to sound good, get a drum technician or a professional drummer to help. You can’t expect to record a bad snare with a good mic and expect the microphone to do the magic. Many a time I find people making the mistake of using the “we’ll fix it in the mix” path. That’s a trap for failure. Check drum parts for unnecessary noises which can affect the recording. An example is the rattling of snare wires. These can be silence by adjusting the lever on the side of the snare else you can place a towel or cloth in between the wire and the bottom of the snare. It is also advisable to have spare snares available. Squeaking drum thrones can be dealt with by applying some oil to the joints.
Cymbals cannot be tuned unfortunately so you may have to replace them if they don’t sound good.
Dampen your drum heads where appropriate to avoid unwanted resonance. You can put a small cushion or padding at the bottom of the kick mic to deal with too much sustain. However don’t stuff your whole laundry into it. Padding it too much will change the sound of the kick drum into a less interesting thud.

4. Placing microphones
Proper mic placement will help you to get a good signal from your drums. This is a wide topic but a rule of thumb is to have the mics for the snare and toms pointing to the Center of the drum heads instead of the sides. Overhead mics should not be too close to the cymbals as well. It is also advisable to do a test recording of the kit and adjust mic positions till you get the right sound. There are several resources online about drum miking techniques which you can check out if you’re not sure of what you’re doing.

Using good microphones is crucial to the fidelity of your recording. If you use cheap mics you should not expect a pro sounding recording.
There are many mics to choose from hence we’ll not dwell on that. However it goes without saying that a shure sm57 has been an all time favorite for snares. Speaking of snares it’s always preferable to record the top and bottom of the snare. You can get away with using a single mic for the kick but make sure you’re doing it right. If in doubt consult a professional recording engineer. Your FOH(Front of House) engineer would be the best place to start.

5. Drum Enclosures
There's usually a debate about whether to use enclosures or not, also popularly known as a drum cage. I would suggest that if you have a lot going on the stage, it may be advisable to use an enclosure. Same goes if your stage space is too small. The enclosure not only helps to isolate the drums but also prevents the drum sound from bleeding into other sources on stage. That's worth taking note of. 

See you in the next episode...