Mastering: What It Is — And Why You Shouldn't Do It In Your Garage

By Ron Boustead

Let me admit that I am completely biased when it comes to the importance of having your project professionally mastered. This is how I've made my living for the past fifteen years. In my view there are three equally crucial aspects to professional mastering; the room itself, the gear in the room, and the engineer. Compromise on any of these and your project suffers. Let me try and break down this whole mastering voodoo, then I'll give you some tips on how to prepare for and get the most from your mastering session.

THE ROOM
In a professional mastering facility, the studio has been designed, built and outfitted to do one thing, produce master recordings. That means sonic accuracy across the entire frequency range; from the 20 cycle rumble in the bass and kick all the way up to the airy transients of a ride cymbal or vocal reverb at 20K and beyond. If you're not hearing the whole picture, uncolored, you can't make intelligent processing decisions. To achieve this kind of sonic truth, a mastering room might invest 50-100K dollars in amps and loudspeakers alone.

THE GEAR
Mastering studios don't have 64 channel mixing consoles, isolation booths, microphones or guitar fx boxes. Instead, they scour the globe for the finest analog and digital electronics best suited to making two track mixes sound like records. If you could get the same lush, distortion-free resolution from inexpensive plug-ins; trust me, we'd all be using them. You can't. We don't.

THE GUY TURNING THE KNOBS
There are many talented project studio owners out there, and if I needed to record or mix my own project I wouldn't hesitate to call one of them. But when it's time to master, there are tangible benefits to using a specialist.

Every day, all day, mastering engineers do the same thing. They evaluate the mixes, determine the necessary processing, edit and assemble, level adjust, put the songs in the proper sequence, tweak the spacing; and by the end of the day, produce a master recording ready for duplication.

Mastering engineers have a deep working knowledge of the marketplace; how various styles should sound, how loud is loud enough, how the vocal is laying in the mix, how will it sound on the radio.

Objectivity. As an artist, producer or mixing engineer, you've lived with your project from the beginning, maybe a year or more. The mastering engineer brings a fresh perspective, and can compare what's coming off your tapes with comparable commercial releases.

Mastering engineers make it their business to learn special skills and secrets to help your music leap out of the radio, and believe me; it's trickier than squashing the life out of it with massive amounts of compression.

There's peace of mind that comes with using the right guy for the job. You know it will be right the first time, and you'll still be able to listen to it 5 years from now.

COST
Unless you have a big fat record deal with a major label, budget is a legitimate concern, but mastering is the last place you should cut corners. It's like the final gas station before crossing the Mojave Desert. Mastering is your last chance to get all the resolution, punch and sparkle your project deserves before you put it out there for the world to hear. Besides, you'll find that most mastering facilities will cut their rate for indie projects, especially if your schedule is flexible and you don't need to attend the session personally.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR AND GET THE MOST FROM MASTERING
A typical 10-12 song record will require an intense, full day of mastering, and unless you've negotiated a flat fee, you'll be on the clock. So here are 10 tips you can use to make it all go smoothly.

Choose a mastering engineer based on their body of work, reliable references and reputation in the community. Get him/her on the phone ahead of time. Make sure you're on the same page.

Choose your mixes ahead of time. If you come in with 17 versions of each song, you're wasting precious time.

Decide on your sequence before the mastering session. The clock is running and there are better things for the mastering guy to be concentrating on.

Label and organize your tapes. DO NOT compile all your mixes to one DAT or CD. You want to work from the most original sources.

Do not over-process your two-track mixes before mastering. Leave the mastering engineer room to do his thing with the best tools for the job.

If you're attending the session, try not to stay up all night mixing the night before.

Make notes ahead of time about any problems, concerns, or special treatment required, especially if you're sending in your project without attending.

Don't show up with a six-pack, your girlfriend, and your posse. It's not a party. Anything that distracts the engineer from making your record sound great is counter-productive.

Contact your duplication facility before the session and find out the optimal format of master you can provide them.

Give yourself the luxury of one final listen-through to your finished master, ideally a day or two after the mastering session in a listening environment you're comfortable with. Make sure you love it before you commit to duplication.

Whether you've just been signed by Clive Davis, you're making a CD to sell on mp3.com, or composing underscore for a Sundance Film Festival entry; you'll be more competitive, more satisfied and more relaxed if you let a mastering pro finish the job.

Ron Boustead is a singer/songwriter/taxi member and mastering engineer at legendary Precision Mastering in Hollywood, CA, and can be reached at 323-464-1008 or www.precisionmastering.com.


Need a Record Deal, Publishing Deal, or Film and TV placement for you music? Then check out TAXI: The World's Leading Independent A&R Company.


Is Your Sound Quality Good Enough For Film & TV Placements?

By Michael Laskow

You might be missing some great opportunities because you think your recordings/demos aren't good enough.

Many people think that "Master Quality" requires a professional studio with 24 or more "digital" tracks, and the final mix has been "mastered".

TRUE if you were making a record for a major label, it's NOT true for what Film and TV people need. They simply need a good, clean recording. You DO NOT need to go to a pro studio, have a live string section, tons of bells and whistles, or a mastering session for your songs.

The majority of songs that are placed in film and TV projects through TAXI have been recorded in home studios on 8-tracks some even on 4 tracks!

Here are some examples!

BZ Lewis Builds Lucrative TV and Film Career From 8 Track Home Demo

"Armed with nothing more than a computer, some software with a computer I/O and a nice mic, there's no reason not to get a good sounding mix." says BZ Lewis.

It all started back in 1997 when "Wide Open" (a song by his band, Sugar Danks) began to get placed in films and TV. A simple but well-recorded demo, 'Wide Open' was done with 8 tracks on a 75 MHz computer — 6 years ago when computer recording was still in its infancy.

"Even though my setup was very simple," say B.Z., "I was able to get a great song and a great recording out of it. As I listen back to the song I realize how much I've grown as an engineer, but I think the mix still holds up today. That song has been in more than 10 films and platinum selling video game titles, and it was the song that launched my career."

His music has now been placed on all the major networks, platinum selling video game titles, 15 independent films, regional and local ad campaigns — all from contacts made through TAXI. In fact, B.Z. Lewis has used the benefits of his TAXI membership to build a lucrative career.

4-Track Demos Score TAXI Member Two "Holds" by Diamond Rio

Think you need to have elaborate demos and state-of-the-art equipment to compete in today's music business? TAXI member Elliot Park proves the time-honored adage that 'it's all about the song' by getting two of his home-recorded, 4-track demos on "hold" for superstar country act Diamond Rio.

We asked Elliot (from his home in the tiny town of Baird, TX — population 1623) to shed some light on his approach to writing and recording.

"I use a Technics Digital Piano hooked up to a Boss 4-track Digital Recorder. I usually do my own vocals, including harmony. When I need a female vocalist I have a couple of very talented friends who help me out."

"I don't really have an acoustically controlled environment. I mean, I've seriously had to redo vocal takes because my dogs started barking at a skunk outside. But a good mic and a little reverb added (on my 4-track) makes a good demo. I never worry about padded walls and all that — a room with a carpet works fine for me. The main thing is the song."

Electronica Duo PB&J Get Dozens of Film and TV Placements With Home Demos

As we often discover, PB&J's professional-caliber recordings were done at home. When asked what they use to record their material, James and Phil succinctly say: 'Sonic Foundry and a computer.' It doesn't get a lot more simple than that, does it?

"We have charted in the top 40 in over 20 countries in Dance/Electronica via Internet Radio, and have licensed more than 60 tracks for use in MTV's 'The Real World' television series."

"TAXI works. Plain and simple," asserts four-year member TAXI Phil Francis, when asked to describe his TAXI experience.

"I know — because since 1999, my partner James Kernick and I have had numerous deals and placements, including 5 independent films, a 20-song publishing deal, placements on E! Entertainment's Style, a featured minute-long usage on 'Malcolm In The Middle,' and a national Verizon commercial — among other things."

"All of these accomplishments came about as a direct or indirect result of our relationship with TAXI."


Need a Record Deal, Publishing Deal, or Film and TV placement for you music? Then check out TAXI: The World's Leading Independent A&R Company.


Demo Doctor

By Andy Cahan

For the past ten years, I've recorded thousands of demos for various publishers, singers and songwriters. I've been in the music industry since 1963 and have acquired tons of valuable information I can pass on to you. If you are on the internet, please check out my website at: http://www.allentertainment.net/demodoctor.html. That will provide you with all the information about my career in the music industry. Because of my reputation with production, arrangement and vocal coaching abilities at these sessions, I have acquired the name "The Demo Doctor".

In addition to recording and producing the artists just getting started, I've also recorded and produced such luminaries as Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Flo & Eddie (The Turtles), Eric Carmen, Jimmy Webb and John Wesley Harding in my studio.

In my "question and answer" column coming up in the next issue, I will tackle some of the basic misconceptions and myths that cloud the demo business. I will share with you some tips about making better demos, provide basic down-to-earth advice, will answer all questions and guide you along the right path to preparing, recording and presenting your demo. There's a Doctor in the house and I'm ready (24/7) to help.

I will cover some of the fallacies of making demos--such as how much money you should spend. You don't have to spend a million bucks in an expensive studio to achieve your goal. It can be accomplished in your home studio. Less is more, and by using the basic information covered in this article, I strongly believe that if you prepare efficiently, and use these simple techniques, you will come out ahead.

The accepted industry standard for submission of songs is a three song demo (demonstration). You should start out with your best song. Don't think that the delusion of saving the best for last will be more dynamic. Not true! Usually, that A & R person listening to your tape has several hundred envelopes of song submissions on the floor next to his desk waiting to be heard. If your material doesn't knock his socks off in the first thirty seconds to a minute, he will eject your tape and move on to the next.

Plan out your session so you don't waste time and money. Know exactly how the song goes before you record. Use a step by step procedure beginning with a typewritten or neatly written lyric sheet. This will be helpful during the recording, programming and editing processes with respect to marking locations of verses, choruses and the bridge of your song.

Rehearse all of the instrumental and vocal parts before you go in to record. This way you save studio time and should be totally confident and comfortable with your performance.

Keep the duration of your song to about three and a half minutes. Make sure the key of the song fits the vocal range of whoever is singing. Nothing is worse than having a squeaky voice, straining to hit those high notes, or running out of breath and hardly hitting those low notes . Avoid long intros and solos, you're selling the "SONG" not the solo. Try and get your "HOOK" / "CHORUS" (memorable musical or instrumental phrase) heard as soon as possible, preferably within the first thirty seconds to one minute. This procedure will turn out to be extremely effective in your presentation.

Try to "animate" the song exactly the way you want it. There are several requirements that help speed up the process and allow it to flow smoothly: I suggest that you listen to and study samples from your favorite CDs and records. Make notes on their arrangements, instrumentation, rhythms and grooves in their style of music and apply those to your arrangement in your own original style.

Start out with the basic chords on a rhythm instrument such as keyboards or guitar. This will lay a solid foundation for your vocals, bass, drums and other overdubs. Avoid over-producing your track. Keep it simple. Your final mix should be clear and uncluttered allowing your vocals to be heard.

What ever medium you decide to record on, weather it be ADAT, DA-88, hard drive, analog reel to reel or multi-track cassette, the key is to record your song as clearly and simply as possible. Be conscious of too much bass or treble on the overall tracks. And defiantly avoid any distortion in your recording. Try to keep away from a lot of effects early on. Make sure you cut everything "FLAT" (all your settings are in the default position). Save all of your effects and "EQ" (equalization) for the final mix down, inasmuch as you eventually will run into problems with frequency levels that can not be corrected, subsequently leaving no room for adjustment.

When you are finished with your demo, there are some very simple rules you should know in presentation. Make sure all of the song titles are listed in the correct sequence on the tape and the tape box. You must have your name, address and phone number on all your lyric sheets, tapes and tape boxes. Nothing is more frustrating to the A & R guy than a tape with no name! Make your presentation letter concise and to the point. There is no need to go into your life's history. Just simply explain your intentions with your songs. Make it clear that you are selling the song and / or yourself as an artist.

These are just some of the things I look forward to discussing with you in the next issue. In this day and age of cutting edge technology, the competition is overwhelming. But if you stick to your guns and constantly strive for something original in your music, your chances for success will be that much greater. Good luck and have fun!

If you have a question about recording or producing demos, send them in to the Demo Doctor. If you're on the internet, you can e-mail me at:

andycahan@verizon.net.

My website address is:

http://allentertainment.net.

Or, snail mail me at:

  Andy Cahan
  PO Box 261969
  Encino, CA 91426-1969
  Phone: 818/489-4490
  Fax: 818/728-9059

Andy Cahan is a 35-year veteran of the music industry. As a recording engineer and record producer, Cahan has worked with such artists as Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Flo & Eddie and Eric Carman.


Need a Record Deal, Publishing Deal, or Film and TV placement for you music? Then check out TAXI: The World's Leading Independent A&R Company.


Demo Doctor

By Andy Cahan

Hi , this is Andy Cahan, The Demo Doctor, making another house call. During the past month, I've received a lot of questions asking me about Equalization. So I thought I'd focus part of this column on answering that question.

Equalization is the term used to describe the process of changing the balance between high and low frequencies. Equalizers allow us to selectively boost and/or cut specific frequencies or bands of frequencies. With regard to equalization of the instruments you are recording, you must first assign the range of each instrument into its own frequency so that it won't interfere with any of the other instrument frequency ranges.

There are many types of equalizers and they get used in many different ways by different people. In general, "Parametric Equalizers" allow for very specific effect with adjustable Q and frequency control for each frequency band.

"Graphic Equalizers" feature as many as 31 individual sliders centered on fixed frequencies and tube equalizers utilize vacuum tubes in their circuits as opposed to transistors ("solid state") and are often preferred for their warm sound.

All mixers provide some kind of EQ, switchable on or off, in the signal path. These days, semi-pro consoles usually feature a couple of overlapping bands of semi-parametric EQ on the low-mids(200-2K) and hi-mids(1.5K-7K), and one EQ each for the low(100 hz) and high(10K) bands with shelving switches and low-frequency roll-off. Professional consoles offer fully- parametric designs and more overall flexibility, as you might expect. Since we can't all afford Neve VR consoles at home, another option for small studios is outboard equalizers. Get a couple of good ones and insert them into the signal path and print through them to tape. This will definitely take your sounds up a notch without totally blowing your college fund.

I've also received questions inquiring about dynamics. The term, "dynamics" refers to whether a sound is "soft" or "loud". The ability of a recording medium to reproduce the difference between soft and loud is called its "Dynamic Range". Vinyl records and cassette tapes have a limited dynamic range of about 20 db, while modern CD's and Digital Audio Tape (DAT) are capable of full dynamic range- that's 100 db! The limiting factor of how much of that range you get to actually hear is determined by the speakers, amplifiers and the room you're listening in.

We've all heard terms like "bright", "dull", "deep" and "thin" used to describe music. Two major factors complicate this affair. The first is that we all hear the same thing differently; one person's "bright" is another person's "dull". The second is the accuracy or lack thereof, of our sound source, i.e. the speakers and amplifiers. Technically, the audible frequency range for human hearing is 20 Hertz(Hz) on the low end and 20 Kilohertz(Khz) on the high end. Most people's hearing range falls between 40Hz and 16 Khz and in fact, the specified frequency range of FM radio is 50Hz to 15Khz. A typical car radio, boom box or home stereo has two EQ knobs on it. The "Low" and "High" knobs are usually centered at 100 Hz and 10 Khz respectively with a broad "fixed Q".

"Q" refers to the range of frequencies affected by the boost or cut and is expressed in octaves. Their effect is not subtle but for consumer applications this is simple, convenient and usually sufficient. The loudness button is simply a low frequency boost that compensates for the apparent lack of low frequencies at low listening levels. While the human voice is the most dynamic, all of these instruments present a similar problem to the engineer. How can we preserve the performance, that is the soft and loud of it, and get it accurately on tape? With these instruments, we usually have to use a microphone.

The two main types of microphones are "dynamic", which have no active electronics involved in amplifying the input signal, and "condenser", which require either batteries or "phantom power" to power their electronics. Both types have a thin membrane, called the diaphragm, that vibrates and that physical vibration is translated into an electronic signal.

In general, condenser mikes are brighter and have a broader frequency response, but they are more fragile. That's why you usually see an SM57, a general purpose dynamic mike, in the lead singer's hands at a concert. They can withstand a lot of abuse. Classic condenser microphones like the Neumann U-47 and AKG C-12 use vacuum tube electronics and are treasured for their unique sound. They are rather large and have diaphragms 2 inches in diameter.

Ribbon microphones are another vintage design that incorporate a thin rectangular strip as its diaphragm, hence the name.

PZM designs are a relatively new invention. They work on a completely different principle and don't look anything like traditional microphones. The signal created by the microphone is very small and it is the microphone pre-amp that increases this level to what is known as "line-level" for interfacing with the mixing board. This is yet another link in the chain with its opportunity to affect the sound, and they do.

Everyone has his favorite microphones and pre-amps for different situations and most do color the sound. The important thing is whether you like that color and if it's appropriate for the particular situation at hand. Here again, we run into the concept of "flat frequency response" and again it is relatively meaningless. Most microphones are not "flat" and some are better suited for certain jobs than others. As always, you need a reference, and in this regard, frequency response charts and the like can be useful.

That about does it for this month. If you have any questions about demo making or recording in general, send them to the Demo Doctor. If you are on the internet, you can e-mail me at:

andycahan@verizon.net.

My website address is:

http://allentertainment.net.

Or, snail mail me at:

  Andy Cahan
  PO Box 261969
  Encino, CA 91426-1969
  Phone: 818/489-4490
  Fax: 818/728-9059

Andy Cahan is a 35-year veteran of the music industry. As a recording engineer and record producer, Cahan has worked with such artists as Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Flo & Eddie and Eric Carman.


Need a Record Deal, Publishing Deal, or Film and TV placement for you music? Then check out TAXI: The World's Leading Independent A&R Company.


Demo Doctor

By Andy Cahan

Dear Demo Doctor:

Met you at the TAXI Road Rally Convention. Thanks for your input! My JVC Consumer cassette deck just went belly up. It records both distorted and noisy at the same time! I think it's time to spend some money on a machine that will give me consistent quality and will last a few years. My thoughts are a single cassette machine (I really don't need to dupe cassette to cassette and I'd rather spend the money on one quality deck). I'd be willing to spend a grand (or less) on it if that's what you suggest will do the trick. Any suggestions?

P.S. Any cassette suggestions? TDK, Maxell, Radio Shack Normal Bias?

Peter
New York, NY

Hi Peter,

I personally use the Denon hx pro. It's a work horse, gets the job done and it is very reliable. The price is right too, around $300. I always make my master a DAT, this way all copies won't have a generation loss. It's never a good idea to dupe from cassette to cassette. Any time you do this, you will have one generation loss, consequently losing fidelity. Also, the mechanics and quality of those high speed dupe machines is severely inferior. Just look at the width of a cassette tape and imagine it was divided into four tiny "bands" or "tracks" of signal, thus running the tape at a very high speed. These tiny tracks are the reasons for this loss of fidelity. Finally, I use TDK and Maxell, position II, 60 minute cassette tape. Don't use anything longer than 60 minutes, because the "mil" (thickness) is thinner on 90 minutes and up, and stretches out real easy!

Dear Demo Doctor:

My band is currently recording a demo at my house on ADAT. We used sm57's on the drums and a Rode for an overhead. Although it sounds bright when we run it through my EQ into the speakers the highest frequency barely moves. I believe the Rode has a pretty wide range and when I play CDs through that same EQ the highs show up very well. Why is this?

Thanks for your time.

Mike
Peoria, IL

Hi Mike,

For overheads on the drums, I recommend using an AKG 451 instead of the Rode. The AKG 451 is perfect for the job, and you definitely won't run into any EQ problems, especially if you set the mic in just the right position. Also, it is crucial that you record FLAT! Do all of your EQ during the final mix. The reason for this is simple. If you put EQ on tape when recording, you will be frozen with that setting. Of course you can try to alter the EQ, but you won't have the response range needed for total control. A very good idea for checking out your high end is to play a CD with KILLER drum sounds Then A-B them with yours.

Dear Demo Doctor:

Your Demo Doctor articles with TAXI are very interesting and enjoyable to read. Thanks. I have two microphone questions for you:

1) I am considering buying a Neumann TLM 193, and would like to know how it differs from a U-87.

2) Can you compare the TLM 193 to the AKG 414 for me as a vocal only mic?

I realize that your answers would be in your opinion, but I very much respect your musical experience, as well as your vast experience with mics of many types. Thanks for your help both with my questions, and in your TAXI articles.

Craig,
Flagstaff, AZ

Hi Craig,

Thank you very much for your compliments on my TAXI articles, I appreciate it very much! In answer to your first question, the Neumann TLM 193 is a limited sounding mic. It has a characteristic midrange frequency range and it doesn't come close to the warmness of a Neumann 47. In fact, the Neumann 47 is one of my favorite mics for vocals.

As far as comparing the TLM 193 to the AKG 414 f as only a vocal mic, I would definitely use the AKG 414 over the TLM 193. The AKG is my other favorite! It's a very crisp mic, and should be used to enhance a muddier vocal. A crisper vocal applies for the Neumann 47.

Dear Demo Doctor:

I have always thought my 4 track tunes on my Tascam 424 were very clean, but am convinced that I must invest in more expensive recording equipment (digital perhaps) or go into a studio to make a demo that people will actually listen too. Am I wrong? I do have some.

POWERFUL tunes on 4 track and I don't have a stack of moolah to upgrade. I have the 424, an ART DR-X digital effects unit, a Sansamp, MXR compressor, EV monitors with a receiver as an amp, a Shure SM57, etc. Your opinions and advise are sorely needed and sincerely appreciated.

Thanks!

Steven Van Nostrand,
Columbia, MD.

Hi Steven,

For a nice clean, broadcast quality set up, I strongly recommend you use the ADAT as your multitrack. Once you are in digital domain like that, you can bounce tracks with absolutely no generation loss, and perform your punch in and out's with extreme precision. Also, it comes in real handy if you should ever decide to bump up to a "Professional 24 track studio" I would also invest in a good mike. The Neumann 47 or the AKG 414. It would be ok to buy them used, as long as they've been totally refurbished. The rest of your equipment will do fine. I would use the Shure SM57 for live electric guitar and some vocals depending on the "color" of the individual song.

Thanks for reading my column, and keep those questions coming in! We'll see ya next time! If you have any questions about demo making or recording in general, send them to the Demo Doctor. If you are on the internet, you can e-mail me at:

andycahan@verizon.net.

My website address is:

http://allentertainment.net.

Or, snail mail me at:

  Andy Cahan
  PO Box 261969
  Encino, CA 91426-1969
  Phone: 818/489-4490
  Fax: 818/728-9059

Andy Cahan is a 35-year veteran of the music industry. As a recording engineer and record producer, Cahan has worked with such artists as Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Flo & Eddie and Eric Carman.


Need a Record Deal, Publishing Deal, or Film and TV placement for you music? Then check out TAXI: The World's Leading Independent A&R Company.


Demo Doctor

By Andy Cahan

Organization is the key word when to comes to recording your home demos. The object of the game is to get everything accomplished smoothly and efficiently. These following recommendations will work whether you're a 'one man band,' completing all of the programming and performance yourself, or if you're a songwriter hiring outside vocalists and musicians.

First and foremost, make sure all your vocal and instrumental material is well rehearsed and that the performance is polished. This creates the foundation to get the best performances in your first three recording takes. After those initial takes, the energy level starts to go downhill and eventually you will lose the original feel of your performance.

Obviously, if you are depending on others to perform for you, make sure they have their parts well rehearsed. In fact, you should sit down with each musician individually and go over all of the parts in detail. This is your 'baby', and the final result should be exactly what you envision the song to sound like.

Any solos should be planned out as well. Try to incorporate melodic hooks in solos that will stick in the listener's head. Also, have all your lyric sheets neatly laid out and a separate page for the chord charts.

One very important item: make sure the key of the song fits the vocal range of the singer. As a single programmer and performer, you can adjust the pitch of your sequencer and transpose the keyboard accordingly. On the other hand, when you're depending on outside musicians, the new material must be ready and rehearsed before they hit the studio.

Pre-plan all your vocal and instrumental melodies and arrangements before you record these overdubs. Know what layers you will record first so you can build your sub mixes. Definitely take advantage of composite recording techniques and create your master comp tracks.

Lets talk about the practice of digital sampling, or copying sounds from one recording to another through use of digital technology. This has been going on for well over a decade, and is becoming more and more widespread among mainstream artists.

Sampling itself can take many forms; sometimes a few bars of an original recording are sampled, other times the whole bass or drum line from the original recording is sampled. The technology allows the separation of sounds in some cases, meaning the sample itself may be almost impossible to isolate in the finished 'hybrid' recording. Sometimes, the original sound recording is not sampled at all, but instead an extract from the original composition is re-recorded and then the recording is used for sampling purposes.

A 'loop' is a section of musical material that is recorded and then cycled repeatedly and selectively on some form of sampling tool. That 'loop' can then be stretched, reversed, or otherwise edited to create new and unusual sounds. When combined with other instruments, a loop provides an innovative backbone for songwriting and studio production. Samplers are available through companies such as Roland, Ensoniq, Akai, and Yamaha.

It's a widely known fact that the music industry at the brink of the millennium has a serious fascination with drum samples and loops. We are hearing them in all genres of music, from Hip Hop to Rock. Drum machines are not hitting the mark, and neither are most drummers, even the technical ones. What drum machines and many technical drummers lack is FEEL. Your rhythm section is the backbone of your music. If that backbone is weak, you have no chance of competing with the thousands of artists who have the groove.

By the way, always make a back up copy of all your data and tapes. In fact I usually run two back ups, that way you're totally covered in the event of any defective tapes or disks.

Contact Andy at:

andycahan@verizon.net.

My website address is:

http://allentertainment.net.

Or, snail mail me at:

  Andy Cahan
  PO Box 261969
  Encino, CA 91426-1969
  Phone: 818/489-4490
  Fax: 818/728-9059

Andy Cahan is a 35-year veteran of the music industry. As a recording engineer and record producer, Cahan has worked with such artists as Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Flo & Eddie and Eric Carman.


Need a Record Deal, Publishing Deal, or Film and TV placement for you music? Then check out TAXI: The World's Leading Independent A&R Company.


Home Demo Recording

By Frank Fuchs

Not long after the rush and release of writing a song, comes the realization that you will need to record it. And while we hate to write anything in stone, especially things related to the creative process, there are, nonetheless, several recording Facts of Life that you should be aware of. A basic roadmap of that recording process can be outlined as follows:

In setting up your studio, try to have the instruments that you normally use, permanently patched into your mixer--keyboards, drum machines, mics, etc. Designate one side of your mixer for these instruments and leave them plugged in all the time to reduce set-up time and cable madness. Leave the other side of your mixer (say tracks 1-4 or 1-8) for your tape return. While recording, try to get as much level to tape while avoiding overload and distortion.

Begin by playing the form of your song on keyboard or guitar along with a basic drum groove. Add a reference vocal at the same time or as an overdub--using a separate track for each.

Now, listen to the track. Does the structure hold together well? Are the words able to flow with the groove? Does the lyric feel rushed or forced? Adjust the tempo and chord patterns until they feel right. Does the melody of each section work well with the arrangement and is there some melodic development and contrast from one section to another?

Once you are satisfied with the structure, go back to the instrumental track and begin to fill it out. Either play keyboard or electric bass and define the groove of each section. Bass parts add the harmonic bottom and hold the rhythm section together. With a drum machine, you can add variations to each pattern, creating separate verse and chorus parts to shape your arrangements and get away from an overly mechanical feel.

If you're using a computer, set the external sync and the computer will start the drums when you press "play." You will be able to change any of your drum parts as you fill in your track. If using live drums, play to a click track. When playing with MIDI stuff, don't rage against the machines! Watch your timing--a live feel helps mechanical tracks, but be sure to play within the grooves and watch your transitions.

From bass and drums, move on to keyboard parts and guitars or your favorite instruments. Begin to add colors to the song. Regardless of the musical genre--blues, techno, country, rock--the process is the same. Always monitor the vocals so you can work within the parameters and emotions of the singers. No wild solos that step all over the lyrics or clash with the melody. The band should support the song. Your creativity as a writer lies in your ability to perform magic with words and music.

Now you are ready to update your lead vocal track. If necessary, redo the performance to bring out the emotional impact of the lyric or melody. Take care of any loose ends in terms of phrasing and intonation. Edit lyrics if necessary, removing filler words. Does the vocal work with your new arrangement and instrumentation? It is not unusual to start from scratch and do it all over again, if you haven't captured your original feeling.

Create background vocals if they are appropriate for your song. If adding harmonies to a chorus, follow the phrasing and lyrics of the lead vocals and, if possible, use other singers to add color and texture to the vocal track.

When mixing your tracks to DAT or cassette, make sure to keep the vocals as the centerpiece of your song. Try not to shy away from your vocal, which is a common songwriter hang-up. The strength of your composition will come through if you don't bury it in overdubs.

Overall sound and production are important, yet a good song will always shine through. I remember Joe Cocker telling me the story of how he came upon the song "Up Where We Belong." He was listening to an old scratchy guitar/vocal demo with what seemed to be a drum hit on a kitchen table. "The verse was ok," Joe told me, "but the soaring melody of the chorus--the power of that melody and lyric was all I needed to hear." Naturally, Joe went on to remind me several times that the song was a Number One hit!

All of which proves that if you write a great song, the rest will take care of itself. The fun is in the creating, so have a good time.

Frank Fuchs is a songwriter/guitarist who has performed with and written for such artists as Cissy Houston, Phoebe Snow, Syd Straw, The Spinners, Brass Construction & Melba Moore. He was a former staff songwriter for both Sony Music and EMI Music and is currently a member of the TAXI A&R staff.


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Great Drum Sounds: How to get Great Sounds From Your Home Studio

By Michael Laskow

In any given year, we at TAXI listen to over 40,000 tapes. The vast majority of them were recorded in home and project studios just like yours. People are always asking me for tips on recording, so I've decided to do a series of columns designed to help you get professional sounding recordings in your studio. The first in the series is all about the zen of recording drums. Enjoy.

Nothing makes a home recording, any recording for that matter, sound better than great drum sounds. Pro engineers spend more time getting their drum sounds than any other instrument on their recordings and it shows. I've personally seen situations where engineers have spent days, several days in fact getting the drums to sound just so, before they'll move ahead with the rest of the record. What a bunch of wussies! Do they actually think the drum sound will sell any more records?!! Maybe not, but it's still very satisfying to get a great drum sound, and most engineers will go to great lengths to get one.

Kits are changed, heads are changed, cymbals are changed, heads are taped up, heads are un-taped, mics are selected, mics are changed, the kit is surrounded with mirrors, the kit is placed on wood, head damping devices are used, mini pads are cut in half and placed on heads, two kick drums are taped together (end-to-end), and after all these variations are tested, the whole process may begin again with yet another kit, or worse yet, another drummer.

The Rx
So without any further delay kids, here's my prescription for a great drum sound you can get in a (kind of average, these days) home studio: The imaginary studio consists of a console with at least eight inputs (let's hope it's a Mackie or something that has good head room and nice sounding equalizers. Let's also assume you've got at least eight tracks (although you won't need them all for this set-up) on your tape deck and seven decent microphones. My recommendations for drum mics on a budget are 4) Senheiser MD 421's, 1) Shure 57, and 2) Shure SM 81's. There are other more expensive mics that I would use in a pro studio, but I'm not going to mention them because this article assumes you're broke. If you had any money, you wouldn't be reading the crap that I write, you'd be reading the Wall Street Journal.

Rule of Thumb
If the mic has a "pad" switch, use it when recording drums. Always better to pad at the mic than the console.

The Killer Kick
Mic the kick drum with a Senheiser 421, but only after throwing a sandbag in the drum to weigh it down. Let the sandbag touch the head (that the beater hits) just enough to dampen out any obnoxious overtones, but not the good, natural sounding ones. The mic should be placed about half way in to the drum itself and pointing at the beater. If you bring the mic in from the right side of the drum and angle it at the beater you will be avoiding leakage from the snare drum which is a good thing to do. You can experiment with the depth of the mic, but always keep the mic pointed at the drummer's shin bone on the leg that controls the hi-hat and in line with the beater.

The Sumptuous Snare
For the snare drum, it's always a safe and highly effective choice to use the venerable Shure SM57. Bring it in from the audience side of the kit and give it a 45 to 60 degree angle with the capsule about an inch or two above the head. Again, the farther out it is from the head, the roomier the sound, but the more potential you have for phase problems. By the way, it's always a good idea to point the mic at the drummer's crotch--not that it's a particularly good sounding part of the anatomy, but because it's away from the hi-hat and any potential leakage problems.

Thunderous Toms
Mic all three toms with the 421's set at a 45 degree (or there abouts) angle to the drum head with the end of the mic (the capsule end) pointing at an imaginary spot about 2" past the rim nearest you as you place the mic (this is assuming you're working from the audience side of the kit). The floor tom mic can be placed a little close to the center of the head, but not too close. The distance of the mic from the actual head should range between one inch and six inches depending on how "roomy" you like your drums to sound. Once again, the further the mics are from the drums, the roomier the sound, but you'll have to pay more attention to possible phase cancellation problems.

Overheads Easy
For the overheads use the SM 81's with the roll-off kicked in. Place the mics about 16 inches over the cymbals' centers and towed out at about 45 degrees. That will give better separation, and also reduce the amount of low end from the toms that is picked up in the cymbal mics. Who needs bottom end on their cymbals?! Please note that I haven't mentioned a hi-hat mic. That's because in most cases, you don't really need one. You'll get enough hi-ht bleeding in to the other mics. If you have the luxury of plenty of inputs and tracks, go ahead and mic the hi-hat, but chances are you won't need to.

EQ and Track Assignments
And now, because I'm running low on space, here's the quick and dirty run- down on equalization and track assignments:

Final Thoughts
Always check your drums in mono. If anything in the kit seems to disappear, then something's out of phase. Be systematic in tracking down the culprit.

If you follow this prescription closely and then, and only then, start to experiment with slight modifications of positions, level and eq, you'll find yourself getting a drum sound that just might sound professional. Of course, individual drummers have drastically different levels of "feel," and feel is very important to the sound, sometimes more important than the drums themselves or anything you can do in the control room.


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Making Demos

By Rob Chiarelli

Okay, so you find yourself spending hours trying to get your demo to sound like a record, but it just sounds like a demo and you want to know why. Well, most of you guys (and gals) probably have some pretty sophisticated stuff, but don't know how to get the most out of it. So, in the next few weeks I'll be sharing with you some ideas that will hopefully shed some light on the recording process, and the art of making killer demos.

So let's start with the basics.
The first thing to keep in mind is that a demo is just that, a demo. But that doesn't mean it can't sound great. For example, if you have a great ballad that sounds strong with just a piano and vocal, then don't spend 9 1/2 weeks doing the string arrangement, because chances are it won't sell the song. Spend the time on getting a great vocal. And when you mix it, make sure the vocal is clear as a bell and every word is understood. Let's talk about cutting vocals.

Sure there are a lot of choices in microphones, priced form $49.95 to 6,995.99. But even the most expensive microphone when placed incorrectly sounds like garbage. The key is distance, not EQ. Remember that eating the mic can be fine for live performances, but it generally chokes off the natural sound of the capsule. Have you ever had someone scream into your ear at 119 decibels? Well, a microphone works much the same way. Give it a couple of inches to breathe. And when cutting the vocal to tape, remember that the shortest path between the microphone and the tape is always the cleanest. A decent mic, a decent preamp, and a decent compressor will usually sound great direct, no EQ. Try it.

So, what's this thing called compression?
Although singers vary, and so do the characteristics of different mics and compressors, etc., a good rule of thumb is this: Less is more. Unless you realy want to change the sound of a vocal (or instrument) just use the compressor to cut off the peaks so the signal gets onto the tape properly. Over-compression will dull the vocal sound and make the vocal sound thin and unnatural. Most guys will use 4:1 to 6:1 compression when cutting a vocal. And remember, compression lights aren't supposed to be on all the time. Use your ears, they are always the best judge. If you have a compressor with an adjustable attack and release time, start with a fast attack and medium release and fine tune it with your ears.

EQ: When to use it, and when not to.
If the voice sounds good without EQ, don't use it. Just because there is a knob in front of you doesn't mean you have to turn it. Leave a good sound alone. If you're using a cheap dynamic mic that sounds dull to begin with and you can't correct it with mic placement, try a bit of EQ and brighten it up.. Intelligibility in a voice is usually around 6kHz. A little boost will do wonders. But if the microphone sounds "woofy", first try filtering out the low frequencies below 70Hz; that will usually clean up the low end garbage. If that doesn't do it, there's another problem area usually around 220Hz and another around 900Hz. Backing off a db or so there will usually do the trick, so don't over-do it.

If your mic has an adjustable pattern,(omni, cardioid, hyper-cardioid, figure 8) then I suggest you use the cardioid pattern (the heart shape) for lead vocals or up to four background singers (all placed in front of the mic in a semi-circle, fairly close to the capsule). For large groups (five or more singers) on a single mic, it may be more practical to place the singers around the mic and use the omni-directional (sphere) pattern. Let your ears and coomon sense be the judge.

What are some good microphones for the home studio?
If I were to buy just one mic for under $800.00, I would buy an AKG 414. They are great all around mic for both male or female vocals, background vocals, and acoustic instruments (and it's also one of my favorite drum mics). For that matter it works well on just about anything. That's why I recommend it. Other options might be the AKG C-1000, if you're on a smaller budget. If you don't mind spending $1300.00, a Neumann U-87 or TLM-170 are good choices, but I'm not sure it's going to make a difference in your demo (or record). Every professional studio in the world has at least two 414s and two U-87s. That should tell you something. But hey, if your really on a budget, a Shure SM-57 or SM-58 will work fine too. And for around $100.00 you can't beat it. Plus it's also a great stage mic.

© 1994 by Spotlight Publications, Inc.
Rob Chiarelli is part of TAXI's A & R department and has worked with artists such as Calloway, Teddy Pendergrass, Chuckii Booker, Club Nouveau, Samuelle, New Edition, and many others.


Need a Record Deal, Publishing Deal, or Film and TV placement for you music? Then check out TAXI: The World's Leading Independent A&R Company.


More Tips from Studio Buddy©

We know that many of you are not yet aware of Studio Buddy©, The Home Recording Helper. What is Studio Buddy? A self-contained database that answers the questions most people have about home recording.

It's FREE. It runs on PCs and Macs. And it's small enough to e-mail to your friends.

Alex Reed, TAXI's Director of A&R, and myself wrote the hundred and some odd answers that are a lay person's guide to getting great sounds out of your home studio, and our friends at Disc Makers, Recording Connection, and Tascam helped fund the programming.

The result is a program that will give you the information you need to make big improvements in your home recordings. It's available at www.studiobuddy.com.

Here's an example of just one of the questions covered:

How to Record a Lead Vocal

There are so many ways to record a lead vocal, that it would be impossible to cover them all in the space given here. But, here are some rules of thumb.

  1. One of the main objectives is to make the singer feel comfortable so he or she will deliver their best performance. Make sure the studio and control room lighting, room temperature, and general ambience are what the vocalist feels most comfortable with. Unless the singer is the type of performer who likes a room full of people while he overdubs, ask everybody to clear the area. Send them to dinner. Send them home for the day.

  2. Make sure the vocalist has exactly the kind of headphone mix they ask for. They need to hear what they need to hear, not what you think they should hear. Check the cue mix by listening to headphones yourself. Don't rely on the monitors to tell you what the singer is hearing. A little reverb in the cans is usually a good thing. Don't print the reverb to tape.

  3. Most engineers use condenser mics to record vocals, but there will be rare cases when you'll find that a dynamic mic works better. I generally start with two or three mics that I think will sound good on a particular singer. Record all three to three separate tracks (simultaneously), then play them back and compare. The mic that sounds the best "raw" is the best one to work with. Once it has been chosen, then you can eq and limit accordingly.

  4. The choice of microphone will often be affected by the octave the singer is working in because that will help determine the timbre and texture of the singer's voice.

  5. Make sure to note the singer's exact position relative to the mic. They will undoubtedly take breaks or work on the same track another day. If you haven't marked their spot, and noted all console and outboard setting relative to the vocal, it will be very hard to match the exact sound.

  6. When in doubt, pad the mic. If the mic doesn't have a pad, pad the input at the console.

  7. If you're overdubbing the vocal (which is usually the case), it's a good idea to use the microphone in omni. The frequency response will be better, and the overall sound will generally be more "open" or transparent.

  8. If you're recording a sensitive or dynamically quiet piece, make sure that you're not picking up air conditioning noise or other low-end rumbles like trains or jets passing overhead. The microphone's roll off switch is a handy tool for that. So is the console's high-pass filter.

  9. A pop filter or windscreen is a beautiful thing. I recommend the nylon stretched over a hoop variety over the foam "condom" type. You can usually avoid pops without a filter by angling the mic slightly across the singer's mouth rather than pointing the mic directly at the singer's mouth, but be careful not to point too far off axis. That will cause a degradation of frequency response unless you have the mic in the omni pattern.

  10. For a loud, dynamic vocal, try placing the mic at least six to eight inches a way from the vocalist's mouth. For a more intimate, less dynamic vocal part, try getting the vocalist closer to the mic, but watch out for pops and lip smacks.

  11. Because the human voice is one of the most dynamic "instruments," it's a good idea to use a limiter to catch the peaks. There will be times that you will want to compress the vocal by setting the threshold lower, and using a 5:1 ratio, rather than the normal starting place of 3:1.

  12. You may want to try adding a little 8 or 10Khz while cutting the vocal. You may also want to roll off some bottom as previously mentioned. Generally, it's best to print the vocal with minimal eq, and save the rest of your eq'ing for the mix when you can judge how the vocal needs to be eq'ed relative to the other instruments in the track.
  13. Performance means everything with vocals, so I recommend cutting the track top to bottom and not stopping the vocalist for punch-ins too often. Go for "vibe." Cut several takes on different tracks, then listen back, find the best one, and punch in the fixes on that track. Many engineers will make a composite vocal using the best sections from several tracks, then bouncing them to one composite track. That way, you will always have your original tracks intact until you've built a composite that you're happy with. Then you can erase the original tracks, and punch-in on the composite to clean up any remaining faux pas or bad notes.

  14. Don't beat the track or the vocalist to death. Sometimes you'll hit the point of diminishing returns. When you get to that point, take a break. Go to dinner. Work on another song. Work on another instrument. When you revisit the track you were originally working on, the vocalist will be fresh and more productive.


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Recording the Acoustic Guitar — How to get Great Sounds From Your Home Studio

By Michael Laskow

While the acoustic guitar remains one of the most simple instruments by design, it also remains one of the hardest to get a great sound on in the studio. It's really not brain surgery, but knowing some of the basic laws of physics doesn't hurt. Unfortunately, I skipped school that day and didn't learn my physics, so I had to learn how to get a great acoustic guitar sound one mistake at a time. After making those mistakes, I sat down and formulated these laws which are considered to be the Ten Commandments of recording the acoustic guitar (by me anyway).

For the sake of argument I'm going to assume that if you're reading this, you own a 4 track, or an 8 track recorder, a fairly small console, some basic outboard equipment, and you don't own any $2,000 microphones. If you own 13 foot long console and a 48 track digital machine, you can skip this article because you probably know what I'm about to tell you.

Let's get right to it. If the sound you want to get is a country/pop, strummed sound similar to the Eagles "Lyin' Eyes," here's the formula: Place the microphone about 6 to 8 inches from the guitar's sound hole, but angle the mic toward the area where the fretboard and the sound hole meet. If you point the mic directly into the sound hole, it will be very full--probably much too full, and very boomy. Use a compressor/limiter to knock down any peaks (3:1 ratio), and set the threshold a little lower to give it a slightly "squashed" or tighter sound. Set the threshold higher to just limit the peaks and give a more open sound. You may need to EQ out some boominess. If so, try rolling off some bottom (100Hz), or cutting a couple of db at 300Hz. To add some "silk" on the top end, try something in the 8-10K range, but be careful, to much will add noise to the track. Positioning the mic so it angles toward the pick will give more attack-less sweetness.

For that John Cougar Mellenkamp sound, try medium gauge strings, a little more compression, and try adding a little EQ around the mids--lets say 700Hz-1.2K. That will give you a sound that is a little more "woodsy" (a highly technical term).

"Ya, well what about Melissa Ethridge," you say. Try this on for size. Use a guitar with a built-in pick up and a microphone to boot. You will undoubtedly get some phase anomalies, but that's part of the sound. Experiment with moving the mic closer and farther. That will affect the phase relationship of the two sound sources. Sooner or later, you'll hit on something that will put a smile on your face. You can pan the two signals left and right to get a broad stereo sound, but make sure that if you check the sound in mono, that there's still some signal left. Keep an eagle ear on Mr. Phase, he can be a tricky bugger.

And now ladies and gentlemen, for the most often heard acoustic guitar sound at the 1993 Grammys...it's that Eric Clapton classical/gut string guitar! Piece of cake. Once again, use a condensor mic, but place it about ten inches away from the guitar. As a matter of fact, try placing it about 3 to 4 inches up the neck, but aim it at the players picking fingers. This angle will reduce boominess by virtue of the mic's cardioid polar pattern producing a natural roll off when it's aimed off-axis, while simultaneously delivering the attack of the fingers. Try and say that three times in a row! The added distance will pick up some of the guitar body's resonance. A compressor/limiter is a must for this case because of unexpected peaks. A 4:1 ratio is a good place to start, but set the threshold fairly high so that the most of the guitar's natural dynamics are left in tact.

When mixing acoustics guitars for rock or alternative tracks, you will usually have an electric guitar or two in the track as well. My personal preference is to pan the acoustic and electric across from each other. Send one full left, and the other full right. You'll quickly discover that the electric will overpower the acoustic and the most effective way to even them out is to compress the acoustic a little bit more than what you may have already done going to tape so you can bring the acoustic's level up high enough to compete with the electric.

Another simple but effective trick is to have the acoustic and electric guitars play parts that counter each other rhythmically (giving them each their own space), and have them each play in a different octave. That will give you a full sounding track that remains open and airy at the same time. You can also make an acoustic guitar sound bigger or more rock-like by panning the original to one side and a delayed signal (short delays are best) of the same guitar to the other side. That effect can be taken one step further by using the pitch change option on your delay to "de-tune" one of the guitars just a pinch (one cent is a good place to start). The delay will provide the brain with the psychoacoustic information it needs to perceive the guitar as bigger, while the pitch change will make it appear "fatter."

Funny how fatter is always better in the world of recording, but not in the case of the human body. Just a tangential observation... must be time to go. See you later.


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