Let’s face it, your’e not rich. You work hard for your money, and when it comes to studio time want to get the most out of the few hours you booked. In the studio, I’ve seen a lot of artists who work super efficiently, but I’ve also seen a lot of artists who use their studio time poorly. I’m going to give you a list of tips on what not to do, and some things that can help you get the most out of your time.
1) Rehearse , rehearse, rehearse! This applies to all artists, bands and rappers alike. The tighter you have your grooves down, the less time we have to take doing overdubs. For rappers, unless part of your aesthetic is freestyling all your verses (Lil Wayne, Common), then I highly suggest writing your lyrics down, and practicing them so you don’t have to do too many do overs. Sometimes artists will just write their verses down in their iphone, then not practice reading them. You must actually practice them! Otherwise (and I’ve seen it) when you get in the booth, you have to do a lot of back writing because you didn’t read it out loud to count the syllable’s correctly,
2) Come early if you can. This way you have time to feel the vibe of the studio, and do any vocal exercises you may want to do before getting in the booth. This way the engineer can start up the session, which takes a few minutes anyway. And if you can’t make the session, always give the engineer a warning a head of time. It reflects poorly on you if you don’t show up without telling anyone, and aggravates the engineer for wasting his time coming down to the studio.
3) Get to know the studio lingo. Knowing terms like “overdub, from the top, fly, in/out/ ad lib, punch, stack” can all make communication with your engineer much easier. It also helps to know a little about music theory. Just basic terms like bars, phrases, measures can go along way. So instead of saying “ can you uh do that thing with that part”, you can say “can you punch me towards the end of the measure”. Any time spent trying to communicate with your engineer is potential time you can be recording!
4) Put your phone on silent. If you do this you wont have to waste time by redoing a take that your phone went off during, and you can wont be tempted to waste studio time by talking to whoever calls you.
5)Bring your own beat on a flash drive or cd. Finding a song on Youtube, then putting it in the Youtube to mp3 converter doesn’t take long for the engineer, but there have been times where the beat wasn’t on youtube. Or it took a lot longer to find the exact version you were thinking of. Sometimes the internet may be down (some studios don’t have internet on their studio computer). It’s best to come prepared so you don’t have to rely on these factors.
6)Get high before . If you are going to get high before your session, do it in the car! Seriously, it takes 10 minutes to roll the blunt, and another 10 minutes to smoke it. If you have 2 hours booked, that’s already 16% of your time wasted.
7)Don’t come with your whole posy, unless they are all in the group. If you are coming to the studio, come with 1-2 people. Chances are they will distract you, and waste your time. I’ve seen it happen too many times to count.
Follow these steps and you will surely get the most out of your studio time!
Dan Zorn, Engineer
Studio 11 Chiacgo, IL
209 West Lake Streeet
On August 25th, the young and talented Millenium Barclay / Universal Music France signed rapper ‘Gradur’ arrived at Studio 11 to begin work on his new 13 song untitled mix tape. According to his manager, their reasons for choosing Studio 11 were quite simple. They wanted that “grimey” chicago drill/rap/trap sound and heard that we were the best place in Chicago at delivering. We also assisted them with meet greets, video locations, city tours, and other specialized amenities.
Gradur At Studio 11 Chicago
We were excited to meet and begin working with him, as our research discovered that he was on the verge of becoming the next big rap star out of France. His sound is very similar to some of the big name Chicago trap/drill rappers of the moment, but in our opinion, was a little more eclectic and artsy because of the beats Gradur and his management decided to use.
The vocal recording sessions occurred over a 7 day period of time primarily in Studio 11’s B room, although the A room was used occasionally for listening sessions with other producers such as C-Sick and Johnny May Cash (Young Chop’s brother).
Going in, we knew that the sessions should be fairly simple. Gradur would be rapping and singing over instrumental 2-tracks, which is a fairly common process used when recording rap based music in the studio today. In the B room, we decided to stick with the microphone we had already set up, the Audio Technica AT 4060. Gradur had a bigger, chestier sound, and we found the AT 4060 did a great job at preserving the detail and aggressive character of his voice. The AT 4060 signal was then routed into our Manley Voxbox for amplification into Pro Tools. Some additional equalization and compression was added to his voice on the Voxbox to add additional clarity and depth.
Since Gradur enjoyed a big sound to his voice, it was decided that doubling all verses and tripling all hooks would be the best way to produce his raps. Two “in out or embellishment” tracks were also added for each verse to help add additional expression to key words and phrases. These tracks were then panned 50% left and right. An occasional “adlib or atmosphere” track was added to the verses as well, but was not used in every song. The occasional in out track was added to the hooks as well, though we found not every song needed one.
The hardest thing going in our sessions with Gradur, was our English/French language barrier. Our engineer Kris was not too fluent with the French language as Gradur wasn’t with the English language. Some simple hand signs and gestures were invented to help speed along the lines of communication during the sessions, and by the end of the week, communication was no longer an issue.
Once all recording was done for a song, the vocals were then mixed in with its corresponding instrumental using plugins like the Sony Oxford GML EQ and Waves REQ for equalization. For all dynamic processing, (compression, de-essing, expansion) we used the Waves RAxe, RCompressor, RDeesser, RVox. For effects like chorus and reverb we used Digidesign’s Short Delay and Reverb One, Waves Metaflanger, and the Sonnox Oxford Reverb. For special effects like delay, distortion and filtering, we used the Digidesign Delay, DFi and EQ series as well as the Waves Metaflanger, Multi-tap and H Delay. We used Antares Autotune for all auto tuning. Additional post production tricks were then added such as beat cutting, stutter edits, record stops, and instrumental manipulation. Each final mix was then routed into the Waves C4 multiband compressor/expander to glue the instrumental and vocals together a little better, and then routed into the Waves L3 for maximization to match current industry standard RMS models.
On the final day of recording the last few bounces were made and files transferred. We all said our goodbyes. Hand shakes, bad jokes, and smiles filled the room and photos were taken. We all knew that this would not be the last time working with each other as over the course of 7 days, good friendships and business relationships were definitely made.
Overall, the Gradur recording sessions went extremely well. Gradur and his management originally planned to record only 9 songs, but because of our effectiveness at keeping recording sessions moving along quickly and productively, they were able to actually record 13 songs. This of course, is how we like to do things here at Studio 11. Keep it fun, keep it productive, keep it professional, and most importantly, keep it simple.
On April 27th, Studio 11 welcomed the richly talented, smooth flowin’ Chicago Hip Hop artist known as Joey Price into our studio to record his brand new mix tape titled “Barely Broke Intellect”, dropping September 9th, 2014. “Barely Broke Intellect” was recorded and mixed in our B room studio by veteran engineer/producer Kris Anderson, the same room in Studio 11 that such artists as Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Rockie Fresh and King Louis all started their careers in.
Joey Price’s smooth layed back vocal delivery was recorded using the AT 4060 tube condenser microphone, which is known for capturing a rich warm mid range tone that is not to heavy on the high end. The signal was then routed into the Manley Voxbox for signal processing and amplification into Pro Tools HD, the digital recording system inside our B room.
Once all the vocal tracking had been finalized for each song on the mixtape, the vocals were then mixed together with their instrumental accompaniment inside Pro Tools. During the mixdown process, Joey Price’s lead and background vocals were treated using the Waves Renaissance Compressor and De-Esser plug-ins, along with the Sonnox GML EQ plug-in for equalization. For basic effects such as reverb and chorus, Joey’s vocals were then processed using Waves Renaissance Reverb, Waves Metaflanger, Sonnox Reverb, Digidesign’s Reverb One and DVerb. Digidesign’s Extra Long Delay and Waves HDelay and Supertap were used for all special delay effects. Distortion and phone filter processing were done using Ampfarm, Digidesign’s Lofi and Digidesign’s 7 band parametric eq plug-in.
Check out Joey Price’s new promotional video for ‘Barely Broke Intellect’ where he discusses his own life experiences and the influences, music and words of ‘Barely Broke Intellect’.
Getting bass to translate is one of the toughest things to accomplish as an engineer or producer. After many years of working with various genres (and making countless mistakes) , I have finally compiled a list of tips that will help you get your bass to sit right in the mix and to be heard on any playback system (including those wretched Mac Book speakers). But before we delve deeper, we first must understand a bit about the playback systems themselves, and how our human hearing affects the way we perceive “bass”.
On a fundamental level, humans are able to hear sound because our ears (through a complex series of processes), pick up air molecule displacements (vibrations), and convert them into electrical impulses. Our brain detects these impulses and then, as a transducer, translates them into “sound”. On a piece of paper, humans are capable of hearing frequencies from 20hz to 20Khz. However that’s “perfect” hearing. Most of us do not have perfect hearing, and on top of that begin to loose sensitivity to certain frequency ranges as we get older. We pick up vibrations through hair cells in our inner and outer ear, and as we age, some of these cells began to deteriorate. The first hair cells to go are typically specific ones that are attached to our “outer ear” , the part of our hearing responsible for detecting high frequency content. So depending on your age when your reading this, you can have a very different hearing response than someone much younger or older than you. So the reason your old man can’t hear you isn’t necessarily that he is loosing all of his hearing, but most likely because he’s losing or lost some of those higher frequency hair cells (typically where the articulation of the human voice sits).
Because of the way we humans have evolved, we are most sensitive to mid frequencies around the human voice (2-5Khz), and will hear these over other frequencies of the same SPL. This concept is widely known as the Fletcher Munsun Curve, and understanding this can help you greatly when mixing, and specifically when dealing with bass.
Fletcher Munson Curve
The Fletcher Munson Curve refers to how our “frequency response” changes with volume. As shown in the graph above, when 1Khz is at 60db, it takes about 80dB to hear 50hz as the same perceived “volume”. A 20dB difference. As the overall dB increases , 1Khz at 110dB will sound the same as 50 hz, if 50 hz is played only 10 dB louder. This relationship changes or “flattens” out as the volume is increased. So what does this mean for you? If you listen to your mix at a louder volume, things are going to sound equal and balanced in volume. Bass, mids and highs will seem in their place, but it’s is a trick! Once you turn the level down, all of a sudden bass (and some highs) get lost in the mix. You may not have chosen to turn the bass up when it is at a high level because it sounds present in the mix, but when played at a quiet or reasonably loud level, it is lost in the mix. On top of the frequencies flattening out, if the overall volume is loud when mixing the music, the song has a greater impact. This “greater” impact fools your ears into being satisfied. But they aren’t satisfied because things are clear in the mix, they are satisfied because the music is cranked and your body can “feel” the bass. You aren’t going to think anything is really wrong with the mix if it’s loud…so the solution? Monitor at low levels, and you won’t trick your mind into thinking things are balanced when they aren’t, especially when dealing with bass.
Another reason to monitor at low levels is because it won’t interfere with the acoustics of your room as much. If something is cranked, and you’re in your not so perfect sounding bedroom, then that will reflect in your mix. Low frequencies will be boosted, standing waves will cause strange phase issues, and your mix will be all wrong. Listing at a low level, will eliminate any problems relating to acoustics, and will give you a more direct , unaffected sound.
If that isn’t enough, yet another reason to monitor at low volumes is so your ears don’t fatigue. If you spend enough time working on a mix at high volumes, you will certainly began to loose sensitivity to certain frequency ranges. Mids will become washed and hard to distinguish, highs will become less harsh, and your decision making will be less accurate. We’ve all had at least one song where we thought we nailed the mix, then after checking on it the next day, thought “Man, what the hell was I doing?”. Well that’s ear fatigue, and it can greatly destroy the quality of your final mix (and especially your hearing). And after all, without your hearing, you’d be out of a job! If you want more information on what loud sounds can do to your hearing from the perspective of a used to be engineer, now hearing specialist, check out this website http://www.heartomorrow.org/
Monitoring at low volumes isn’t at all a new concept, and has been a “secret” of mix engineers for decades. This “secret” is based off of the concept that if it sounds good quiet, it’ll sound good loud, but if it sounds good loud, it wont’ necessarily sound good quiet. After all a good mix sounds good at all volumes, on all playback systems. So next time you listen to a professionally mixed and mastered song on a laptop, or cheap playback system, listen to how the bass is audible and clear. You will find that even on your cheap 15 dollar portable whatever, that you can still hear the bass, crystal clear. Why is that you ask? Keep reading and you’ll see why.
It’s 2014 and we have entered an era where people are no longer listening to your mixes on vinyl through a good home stereo system. Now your audience is listening to your music on mp3 through their macbook speakers, cheap ipod earphones, and ihomes. There is even more demand on getting your bass to translate because, with the exception from the earbuds, these are playback systems that generally struggle to reproduce fundamental bass frequencies. Here are two frequency response graphs that illustrate this “lack of low end” The top graph is the frequency response for a Mac Book laptop, and the bottom is for a Sony laptop.
Looking at these graphs, one can see right away that there is a serious roll off of low end around 200-300 hz and below. As you may know this is where most “bass” or low end sits in a mix. So why can you still hear the bass on professionally made albums through your laptop speakers? It’s because the artist, and engineer learned to compensate for this issue. . Similar to what I said before about having your mix translate if it is monitored quietly versus loudly, if your bass sounds good through crappy speakers, it will sound good through great speakers. This is why you will see many professional studios, and even some home studios using “unflattering” speakers to run their mixes through. Speakers like the Yamaha Ns10’s are a staple in the recording industry not because they sound good, but actually because they sound “bad”.
There are two major steps in getting a good bass sound that will translate. And it all starts with the Artist. ( And if your the engineer, don’t worry, you still have options.)
For the Artist:
Proper Bass Arrangement
Many good artists are aware of this problem, and consciously try to avoid it during the writing process. Something amateurs do often when making music, whether it’s hip hop, house, rock or what have you, is to choose bass that is bone rattlingly low because it sounds “epic”. While this may sound “epic” in your Dre beat headphones, it’s not going to sound good anywhere else. Trust me. A good way to avoid having a lost bass, is to play either an octave higher than you normally would or if that’s too high, if you can play a different arrangement somewhere in between. As we discussed earlier, our ears are less sensitive to frequencies that are lower, and tend to gravitate towards ones that are higher in the spectrum. So bass with more upper mid/high end content is going to cut through easier. But that’s not bass anymore you say? Well actually even a bass line played in an upper register will still contain alot of low end content and also point to the fundamental bass frequency (a nice little trick you can thank your ears for).
As a general rule, for most genres I’d say stick away from writing in a sub bass line if you’re worried about bass translation. This is not to say sub bass can’t be used, but it all depends on where you are using it. If you have a bass with alot of low end content already, adding a sub is only going to make things worse. If you have a bass that hardly contains any low mid “meat”, you can put a sub on there . And if you do put a sub on there, filter out the highs, and low mids, so when combined with the actual bass, won’t sound muddy. Sub can easily destroy a mix if it isn’t sitting in the right place so take the time to make sure it sits in the right place.
For the Engineer:
If your an engineer, and you get a bass line that is too low to be heard on any small playback system and can’t be changed, don’t panic, there are a few things you can do.
1) Apply Maxbass.
The engineers over at Waves realized the issue of bass translation, and actually made a plug in specifically designed to help bass translate called Maxbass. Without getting too technical, Maxbass basically duplicates the signal, adds new upper harmonics to it then mixes it back in with your original bass. It’s essentially adding more audible frequencies to your bass to make it more audible for the listener.
2) Add Harmonic Distortion
Simular to what maxbass is doing, a great way to get your bass heard is to add frequencies that are more easily heard to it. By adding a bit crusher, or sample reducer you can add upper harmonics that will give your bass a lift in the mids and highs to make it stand out in the mix more, all without actually boosting the volume of it. Or try running your bass through a saturator, or subtle distortion effect. Used in parallel, can produce wonders for a bass.
3) Run Your Bass through a Transformer.
When lower frequencies pass a transformer, especially an old one, the audio signal gets more “DC” or slower moving. Transformers don’t pass DC current through them, so as the signal passes through them, various things begin to happen. Saturation, new harmonics, and interesting phase changes occur and are added to the signal. The end result will be a little more edge in the midrange, and the frequencies that were too low to be audible will have been shaped in a way to make them sound colored and surprisingly, louder! The added saturation and color of the transformer will shift your bass a little higher, and allow your ears to fill in the fundamental frequency. (Studio 11 offers individual track processing. So if you want to run your bass through one of our many units with transformers, it’ll only cost you about 10 bucks. Hint, hint ; )
Compressing bass can increase the overall subjective volume of it, and will help keep a more constant level throughout your track. Compression also naturally brings out the subtleties such as the sound of the pick, and guitar slaps that are more audible to our ears. Increasing these will increase the over all presence of the bass. Compress away!
5) Move Things Out of the Way
Sometimes the kick drum may have too much low end content and will be masking the bass. By side chaining the bass with the kick, you can increase intelligibility greatly between the two instruments, and as a result your bass will sound more present. Also, if the kick is in the way, roll off some low end content . When combined with the bass, the low end of the bass will fill in what the kick is missing and your ears will assume it’s from the kick.
Try simply boosting upper frequencies , and taking out some mud to improve intelligibility. It doesn’t hurt to roll off some sub on the bass either. Rolling off frequencies (like 30hz) we can’t hear well anyway will only make the bass cleaner, and adding upper frequencies around 1khz for example will bring out the presence of the bass more.
Try listening to your finished product on various playback systems to get an average of how the bass sounds. Check it on the laptop. If you can hear your bass clearly on a mac book for instance, in my opinion, you’ve nailed it. Also one of my favorite tests is to hear how it sounds is on my ipod earbuds. Because I listen to alot of music through these while i’m out and about, I have a good reference of my how bass stands next to other recordings. Or if you have a car, that’s always a good test too. The point is to try it all over,so that you can make adjustments as necessary. Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to crafting bass that translates!