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Sittin' in the pocket

If you’re a drummer, you’re probably rather aware that people are relying on you at one stage or another, to keep the tempo of what you’re playing. If you weren’t aware, it’s probably the reason your other band mates were giving you the Ice Cube stink-face at your last practice.

For future reference, the picture below is what to look for:

The number one reason for people getting annoyed at drummers is, yep, not being tempo-consistent. If you are inconsistent with your dynamics, that’s not so bad, as the band can continue as one and still retain some coherence (although admittedly this could prove to be just as awful).

Keeping a regulated tempo is the backbone of the rhythm section and sets in play the creative nuances that make each song and performer unique.  I have no idea who said it, but the quote ‘rules are there to control the fun’ is very appropriate in moderation for this blog post. Staying in time and being ‘on the beat’ (or at least tastefully ‘sitting in the pocket’) along with the rest of your band-mates can absolutely blow your songs message wide-open.

If you’ve been to a gig at a well-established venue, with medium to large acts on the bill, you’ll notice that they are all playing as one. When they are all in sync,  harmonically and melodically you can tell there is more gravitas to what is being played. If you struggle to play in time, people will definitely notice, and you will be mocked accordingly for ruining your songs message. However, help is at hand, and it’s never too late.

1, 2, 3 ,4

There are about 1000 analogies I could draw on to reinforce this message but, if you’ve read this far then you’ve probably already got an idea it’s a fairly fundamental part of music. The easiest way to be consistent, is learning to play to a click.

Now, as a guitarist, you may scoff at my suggestion, but also as audio engineer in a commercial recording studio, let me tell you, this is our number one gripe. Actually, that and out of tune drums, but that’s for another day!

I learned to play to click around the age of 15, I had a well-rounded concept of tempo prior to this, but I downloaded an app to fully develop my sense of time. Every day I would run through some scales, or some riffs at different tempos. With the scales I would start slow and loop a few times, slowly building the tempo. This is probably the best way to recognise your tempo inconsistencies.

If you have the means, recording your performance to metronome and analysing where the transients (sound waves) land around the tempo map can easily indicate if you’re ahead or behind the beat and where you need the work.

Practicing your rudiments to click is going to be one of the best exercises you’ll probably ever undertake. Apart from being able to keep your band mates and audience grimace-free, you’ll unwittingly become a better player for it, and recording engineers will love you for being able to play to a click too. It has to be the least taxing part of being a musician and one of the most appreciable traits in a band-mate.

In the long run, it will save you money as well. In recording situations, doing re-takes and drop-ins because you can't play in time, will soak up a large portion of your time in the studio and everyone's energy. If you happen to follow this path, the engineer will have to spend hours upon hours quantising your takes. This in-turn, will spiral your mixing budget and will slowly kill the engineer of any passion for the project. We don't mind having to do little tweaks here and there, but if you can save us a whole lot of work, we really appreciate it and can focus on making your project sound great.

So below the fallen engineer I’ve listed some apps, which also include tap tempos so you can work out tempos for yourself. Spare a moment for the engineers around the world currently looking like this guy below, editing drum comps.

 

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/tempo-tyrant/id1070975234?mt=12

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/tempo-tyrant/id1070975234?mt=12

Even Google has one if you type in ‘Metronome’ !

 

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REAL AMPS VS PLUGINS (PLUS FREE TONE DOWNLOAD)

Hi, I’m Matt and over the next 500 or so words I want to talk briefly about real amps, vs amp simulations.

Some people fully embrace amp sims, others truly hate them, whilst the majority sit somewhere in the middle and probably don’t care. They’ve come a long way in the last decade, and some are, in my eyes, as good as a real amp. A sim knocks the pants off the majority of cheaper amps and is more versatile for an equal (or less than) price tag!

They don’t need tubes replaced, they certainly aren’t heavy and for night owls, they can be as quiet as you like whilst tonally tearing your face-off.

The reason I’m waffling about amp sims is because I recently used one of my own custom BIAS FX patches in a real recording session and it instantaneously gave me a full, modern metal crunch, with less than 5 clicks.

Admittedly I’d already set up the patch but preparation saved me a hell of a lot of time in the end and helped the session run smoothly.

I’d already recorded drums and bass and got them in a tonal ballpark without too much trouble. The band I was recording are heavily modern metal influenced by bands such as In Flames and Killswitch Engage. Usually I would always record an amp and take a DI so I have the best of both worlds (and the ability to re-amp later).  This time I decided to embrace a digital imposter and run the guitars straight into Bias FX with no amps or mics.

Since it’s release I’ve been genuinely blown away with Bias FX, it’s versatility, UI, and most importantly price. For less than £150 you can have any tone you’ve ever wanted from some of the best classic equipment emulations I’ve ever heard.

From Marshall JCM heads, Crunching Peavy 5150s to a plethora of pedals, such as the legendary Tube Screamer, there really is an infinite amount of combinations of amp tones and pedals.

Having sang the praises of plugins and software, sometimes there’s no match for running a signal through some quality outboard gear. As a modern recording engineer, I’m predominately in the box (ITB), so sometimes you can’t beat getting the chance to run a vocalist through a Neve 1073DPA, a guitarist through an Orange Thunderverb 200, or a kick and snare through an Empirical Labs Distressor, or the FMR Audio RNC (really nice compressor).

There’s always going to be a market for tube amps and playing loud (especially in a recording studio or a live gig), but for tinkering on a budget you can’t go wrong with software.

 You might be pleasantly surprised what you can get out of a plugin!

If you’ve read this far, you can download my custom patch off Bias FX’s ToneCloud. Just look for ‘MattmetalF4C’! As a final note, I constructed this patch for use with 6 string guitars in standard all the way up to 8 string guitars tuned to D#. It works from anything from stadium rock to tear your face off progressive metal. So as long as you’re on the heavier side of music, I’m sure you’ll find it a decent starting point.

 

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Playing at someones wedding?!?!

hello all,

We have our fair share of cover bands here at Soundlab rolling through the doors on a weekly basis. Songs of all sorts and sounds filling the air. may be a fair bit of Bruno mars it seems recently, but still a good bit of Abba or some old rockers blasting Free's alright now.

The music world is going through some changes at the moment at these cover bands are some of the few musicians actually getting paid to go out and do their thing.

Now i am going to waffle at you today a bit about the wedding band. I play in a silly band that plays a few weddings and as i said above, we get an awful lot of cover bands in here too, plus the fact that i am getting married next year i think starts to make me a bit of an expert on the wedding band topic! 

 

As soon as that word "Wedding" is thrown anywhere... it's like the price get's doubled, the expectations are far higher and the pressure is on. The band can't be turning up all scruffy and half cut, unrehearsed. This is someones special day here and they are probably parting with a figure over £1000 to hear those cheesey songs you have been working away learning. Slick and professional is the name of the game in the wedding band business.... Totally un rock n roll! but it pays well!

Things that people forget about are the key ingredients to success in any business. Good communication is so vital! the bride and groom will want to know that everything is booked and checked and confirmed and booked again! Any flakiness and delay in responding will just irate them and make them look elsewhere for more reliable musicians (No easy task to find).

being punctual, this isn't a turn up 5 mins before you play kinda gig down the local boozer. you may have to go and set up hours before when the guests aren't all milling around. Remember it's not your day and you have to do what you can to keep that Bridezilla off your back! 

Equipment! Needs to be checked and rechecked, most wedding venues will ask for PAT testing on your gear, and it's important you don't have that crackly amp, a guitar that slips out of tune, simple things like a drum matt to make sure the drummer isn't chasing his kick drum round the room. if your equipment is shit, it's more than likely your sound will be shit and your performance will suck, you will get bottled off stage and boo'ed all the way home with no payment! 

Practice and organisation. This kinda goes without saying. Know your parts! Know the songs! It's amazing how many cover bands i see who try and "wing it" when song structures go all wrong, solo's go on for twice as long and everyone in the band starts looking at each other. practice! Be tight! Be good at what you do! other wise what really is the point. if your product is pants, that means your business sucks, your going to ruin someones big day, and get no more work.... great! .... Jog on mate! 

Read that crowd and play to them! There is a good chance that, that slipknot song you have been jamming with the band probably won't go down too well at a nice wedding (Altho is some cases it might) Make sure you have a plan of songs to appease most audiences and be able to switch the set about. Bring out your ropey songs and filler when it's buffet time and everyone is leaving the dance floor! 

 

But really there is a lot of money and good times to be had being a good wedding band, playing once or twice a week can give you a great income and support any other music you would want to do. Take it seriously and it will pay you seriously!

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5 Essential Preparation Tips For Recording Your Music

Preparing for a recording session is something I feel is overlooked by bands/artists, especially when some decent prep can enhance the recording experience a great deal!

  1. Practice Makes Perfect
    First things first, you need to know the songs you're wanting to lay down and you need to know them well, inside out, back to front, upside down whatever. Practice hard, at rehearsal, at home, in your head, as much as possible. Practice until you are dreaming about your parts, practice until you know the songs in your sleep, practice until your mum knows the songs. 
    When practicing as a band at rehearsals, try to practice the songs in parts if you hear certain sections lacking. 
    Once you are in the recording session. Trust me when I say that there is no bigger time waster than band members stopping mid take to turn around and ask "wait, what bit comes next?" or "wait, I'm playing that bit on a 3 but you're on 4..."
    Absolute un-needed aggro for the producer, the session and most importantly the record! 
     
  2. Structures & Tempo
    Once you are happy with how everything's sounding in the rehearsal room, record yourselves playing the songs on a mobile phone (TIP: to cull the high frequency cymbal sound a bit, put a sock over the phone speaker as you record... trust me, it's an undiscovered industry secret).
    This will provide you all with a rough idea on how the song sounds (ignoring production at this point of course) and how it's structured.
    It can also be a good indicator of tempo, how the pace of the song 'feels' (whether it's too fast, or dragging a bit) and where there are significant tempo changes if any, which is extremely useful for you all to be aware of.
    If you have the equipment to do so, creating a click track for the song for your drummer to practice to will help things monumentally.
     
  3. Involving The Producer Before The Recording Session
    The producer is the person who at the end of the day, is responsible for how your recordings turn out. Therefore the more you involve the producer earlier on, the better. Keeping the dialogue going via email after initially making a booking is something no good producer will turn his/her nose up at, it's in their best interest for your recordings to come out as good as can be, as they will be an audible example of their skills in their trade.
    Send the producer examples of records you like, this can be a massive help for the producer to prep for your recording session, as it gives a rough idea as to how you want things to sound and what records you as a band enjoy listening to (NOTE: keep these in relation to your bands genre, if you're a death metal band but love the Kooks' first record, this isn't going to help the producer with how you want the snare to sound on your recording).

    Another massively helpful and greatly appreciated thing to do is to email over all demo recordings, time tempo maps and song notes in general to the producer. Think of them as an extra band member - the more prepared they are the better your session is going to go, period. Having a band you've barely spoken to come in to record some music with no idea on how they want things to sound or how fast\slow the songs are is more than daunting for a producer to deal with, whereas having a band turn up, with a tempo mapped out on Logic/Pro Tools etc. all ready for the guitarist to lay down a guide track for the drummer to record to, is bliss. Speeds things up a great deal and allows for extra time to be spent on stuff that can make your songs sound amazing!
     
  4. Your Equipment
    Unless you've organised to hire out the studio's own equipment to use (which depending on where you've chosen to record, can be a pricey endeavour), you 100% need to make sure that all of the equipment you will be using for the recording process is in tip top shape. That means re-stringing all guitars and basses, re-skinning and tuning all drum skins, buying new sticks, plectrums. I know this is the boring, expensive and mundane part of being a musician but honestly this is so important, a producer can only go so far with what is being recorded, meaning that if it sounds shit before the microphone, it's a lot harder to improve afterwards. 
    Cymbals are a biggie here, unless you're doing shells in a different take to cymbals (which happens a lot more than you think), your cymbals are probably going to bleed into almost every microphone in the drum recording session at least a little bit. If your cymbals are cracked, they will sound awful - everywhere. 
    Vocalists, you don't get off easy here either, your voice is your instrument! So the old "let's go down the pub and blitz 30 Jaigerbombs to celebrate recording tomorrow" is not the wisest of moves and no matter what your mate says, smoking is in no way 'good' for your voice. Take care of yourself prior to recording and make sure you are in the best form for your vocal takes! Avoid high acid food and drinks (despite popular "music industry folklore," this INCLUDES Lemon), and stay away from spicy food.
     
  5. The Greater Good
    Before you enter the studio - it is crucial that you all know that you are going in there for one purpose - to create and capture the best impression of your music for other people to listen to. 
    This seems like a pretty obvious and simple thing to behold, but it's actually something that gets dusted underneath egos, procrastination, twitter, getting high and other personal wants and needs more than it ever should almost as soon as the first couple of takes are down. 
    The best advice I personally have ever been given on this, was not from a producer/studio engineer but from the CEO of Basick Records. 
    "You have to all be clear on the fact that this recording could be the first thing someone hears of your band, so making it sound the best it can sound is crucial to possibly becoming that persons new favourite band." 
    This to me encompasses what 'the greater good' means in a recording session. Nothing is more important than the quality of the music you're trying to record. This is the thought that should be in all of your heads the whole time you are making a record, so having this firmly in mind BEFORE you step foot in the studio is a very good start.
    Another factor to 'the greater good' is remembering that the producer knows best.
    If the producer you are working with is worth his/her salt, then you can count on 'the greater good' on their mind 100%. After all, as I said earlier the recording you are working on together is also a reflection of them and their skills too. 
    So, with that in mind it is key to appreciate that even if you really, really want to sack off the original guitar part and change it to someone else's riff but played backwards so no one notices (side note: I actually knew a band that used to do this and believe me, people noticed), you should remember that if the producer says that that's not a good idea, then it probably isn't.

I hope these help! Let us know in the comments if you have any other tips I may have missed!

Blog and photo by Jack Longman!
www.wingsablaze.tumblr.com
@JackGIANTS

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Recording "Live At The Lab" Sessions

Recently we have had loads of Live at the Lab sessions here at soundlab. Many different types of bands, acoustic and duos, full rock bands, sometimes keys, backing tracks and a whole manor of different instruments and scenarios to test out our new set up and equipment.


With the live sessions being limited to just a single live performance with no overdubs and everyone all having to be in the same room, this throws up all sorts of possible problems. We are limited to 16 mic lines in the room with just 2 jack tie lines, whilst having these limitations can restrict some of our microphone choices and setting up of the room and session, it also helps us concentrate more on the source and performance and needs of the band. So instead of chucking up every mic we have got and trying to catch slightly different sounds and looking for that sweet reverb spot that enhances a certain tone or instrument, we have to take the less is more approach, mostly with very direct and close mic positioning. Room and ambient sounds will always be there with the bleed of so many instruments and so much noise in the room. For instance the drum overheads will be pick up some “bassey guitar roominess”, that the close 57 on the amp won’t have. The vocal mics will be picking up plenty of drums……. imagine a soft vocalist a few feet away from a crash cymbal that is being twatted by some oaf. We have to try and use these things to our advantage and position the room accordingly. So altho we only set up close mics on the kit, the vocal mic and probably most of the mics in the room are going to be acting as rooms mics for the kit.

We have toyed with smb for a vocal mic, which works great if you have a loud aggressive vocalist as they will produce a nice big signal to work with, but for anything vaguely delicate a more directional mic is preferred such as a 58 or the Sontronics st6, as the singer is actually closer to the mic capsule there is less chance of spill from said oaf…. Even tho you will always get some, you don’t want to lose the vocal in a sea of cymbal and back ground noise.


Being a live session too it is always about the performance. So we have to have the band feeling as comfortable as possible. We are only able to send 2 separate headphone mixes, so we have to spend a good amount of time making sure everyone has a good mix to hear and to perform to.


We have also had a great chance to test out all of the different microphone preamps we have at our disposal. The SSL vhd pre’s are my personal favourite at the moment. being so flexible from squeaky clean and warm or adding those 2nd or 3rd Harmonics just fattens up the kit or any source sound you need. Close 2nd for me are the Api’s and sontronics which both have amazingly clean and clear results and plenty of head room and padding options which come in very handy with loud bands! To my surprise and amazement the Neve 1073 dpa is yet to tickle my taste buds. It’s easy to hear the warmth it can bring and provide but every signal just seems so hot, there are only a few positions of db to choose from and 20db attenuator trim pot which doesn’t give many options at all. I’m sure with more play i will come to grips with this pre-amp as it is considered probably the worlds greatest and most loved! 


Anyway, i look forward to getting some of our recent sessions out there for the world to see and hear. We have had some great bands in over the last few weeks. Hope you all enjoy! Now gotta go mix them :)


I will go into more detail about the recording and mixing process we do here at the lab in the coming weeks. This is my first blog.... So plenty more to come......


Cheers

James

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Soundlab Studios Session Notes: PINTS EP #3

PINTS
Unless you’ve lived under a rather boring rock for the last two years, you would have definitely heard of Pints. The East London based quintet that my brother sings for, that is putting the punk back into punk. 
Their shows are energetic, covered in beer, usually dangerous to some degree, but undeniably and outrageously fun. 
So naturally as much as they probably didn’t even notice, they’ve been picking up some speed over the past year. 
So after finally convincing the band to get their shit together, maybe have one practice and try to make a record again - we had some scattered dates booked to record 3 great songs.

SESSION 1 - PREP

Starting with a Saturday for drums and bass, I decided to use the demos I had recorded on my phone (from standing in the practice room whilst they rehearsed) to iron out some decent guide tracks with some programmed drums so everyone could be clear on where we were with the songs - so there’d be no “oi I swear you don’t play that live” conversations arriving later on.

DRUMS

I decided to set up drum mics pretty methodically, I wanted a large shell sound with cymbals spread wide.
I used our Gretsch Catalina kit as it had just had a service and was sounding lush. It’s a 24" bass drum which I thought was going to be problematic as the music is so fast, but the head on the kick seemed to have a really nice attack, so to emphasise this further I started with sticking an AKG D112 as close to the front head inside the kick drum as possible, followed by a Sontronics DMB1 mic on the outside of the resonant head to capture the warmth and sub sound of the kick.
With the snare I made sure to look down the sm57 whilst placing it, to see for myself what part of the snare if be capturing with the microphone. I used a sennheiser clip mic for the bottom of the snare, but followed the same method of looking “through the mic” in order to get the desired sound.
I’ve been really enjoying the Sontronics DM-1S on the rack tom even though it is meant for snare, I find that it sound really good about an inch and a half away from the Tom also, pointed towards the centre of the head. I used an AKG D550 for the floor as I feel it’s larger diaphragm works well for capturing the low thud needed to punch through the guitars on a hardcore record.

For over heads I used the new pair of Sontronics STC-1S’, which are by far some of the best overhead mics we’ve had. I spread them as wide as I could, using the snare as a centre of phase. To brighten up cymbals a bit more and plus provide some bite to the shell sound, I stuck a Saturn mic centrally overhead, again set the same distance from the snare as the overheads.

As Studio 1 is by nature a very dead sounding room, more suited to something like vocal tracking etc. I wanted to create a nice warm room sound. I set up a Delta ribbon mic roughly 4ft from the kit, in line with both the snare and kick. I do this mainly because i for one mix kick and snares into tracks completely central, but 9 times out of 10 a drum kit is not set up with a snare directly in the middle of a kick drum, so I found arranging the room mics almost diagonally to the kick in line with kick and snare gives the kit a better image when mixing. I then stuck a Sontronics Aria 4ft from the ribbon (keeping to the same angle rule). I kept both of these microphones pretty low, to capture more shells and not cymbals. After this, I made a few corrections, the DMB1 on the kick was phasing with the AKG inside of the kick drum so I fixed that and also faced the bottom snare mic more towards the wire so get more of a “crack” with the snare sound, I then stuck a JM37 over the top of the kick near the snare as a “fat mic” to give more weight to both kick and snare in the mixing stages.

BASS GUITAR

After drum tracking tracking was completed and we had recorded some basic sample hits, we decided to make the most of the time we had in the studio and move on to bass straight away, before editing any drum takes etc. (being completely honest, the drum takes we got were all pretty good, I actually felt like the very few parts slightly venturing from the click actually gave it more of the effect this band needed on a record, so ended up not editing anything). 

I had planned out an idea for bass in my head for this already and was excited to put it into motion. We tracked bass using a fender jazz, recently re-strung (a biggie in punk music, probably one of the main contributors to “the punk bass tone”), into an Orange Dual Terror guitar head and Warwick 4x10 cab, micd up with the Sontronics DMB1, an SM7B along with a DI signal. 

After some testing I decided to swap the SM7B for a 57 as it was giving me problems, but after that we were on our way. The tone we got was great, the guitar head gives the bass enough gain to sing through the guitars whilst the DI together with the DMB1 keeps a strong bottom end on things to stop it becoming too much of a mid-heavy mess. 

That was the end of session 1 on this EP, finishing drums and bass for 3 songs in just shy of 9 hours.

SESSION 2 - GUITARS

The following week, on a Friday evening we started guitars. This is where a mini-disaster struck! My beloved JCM800 decided to not even turn on, which left me up the creek without a boat, nevermind a paddle - seeing as I was basically relying on it for all of the guitar stuff for this record, I even had settings planned out in my head before I got to the studio. 

Live and learn, this has taught me not to rely on things like that and that even when I feel relatively prepared for a bands session, things can still always go wrong and surprise you. 

Amps do break after time - and you should have always have a plan B especially when it comes to gear for guitar tone. I decided to roll with my own Orange Rocker 30, I figured it  a good choice seeing as Pints use tiny terrors (mainly for convenience) for stage amps, although the rocker 30 is slightly more versatile, so I’d still have a little room to fiddle with things if needed. 

I figured I’d try and push the high end a bit more than usual, seeing as Oranges are by nature pretty muddy/bottom heavy and fuzzy, so a brighter tone would help seeing as the music is so fast in places, I also went a lot cleaner than I would normally to help with clarity. 

We used a Gibson Les Paul for the first guitar tone, no pedals - just straight into the amp and miced it up with a Delta ribbon mic, and AKG CS1000 and the venerable sm57.

As my comfort zone had already been smashed open by the JCM not working in it’s hour of need, I decided to steer away from my usual technique of closing a cab off and had it firing out into the live room. Although I was pretty happy with the result, seeing as most of the tone was “thinking on the spot” work I took a DI signal of the guitar incase everything went wrong later/I had shit in my ears.

This guitar tone was for Dave, the primary songwriter, so we tracked all the parts he plays live and panned hard to the right, keeping to the method I have had throughout of presenting the band ‘exactly as they should be’. 

For the second guitar tone we used one of the Pints stage amps, into our JCM900 cabinet, on which I used the 57 and AKG again, but this time subbed the Delta for a JoeMeek JM37. I got a much bitier tone with this, which filled a hole in the first tone and evened out the overall guitar sound relatively well. Again, as these sessions were done on short timeframes and with the amp I had planned to use out of action - I took a DI signal for both guitars, incase I ended up hating the tones in a few listens time.

Overall, the guitar tracking was done in a similar fashion to drums, I kept the guys playing how they play live as much as possible in order to retain as much of their style as I could whilst still comping guitar parts together and being a tuning Nazi. We smashed through both the guitar parts for the three tracks in a good four hours and added some minor feedback/pick slide stuff before calling it a night.

SESSION 3 - VOCALS

Vocals were tracked in last evening session we had booked in, Pints have two singers, one of them being my brother who is the ‘frontman’ of the band and Tom who plays guitar doing the rest. 

I decided as I was basically going to be tracking shouting and screaming all night, that the SM7B was the obvious choice for the job, especially with the fact that the whole band were present at the session this time (for gang vocals later) and this mic could take a few knocks etc. more than a delicate condenser mic.

Similar to the rest of the tracking, we tracked as closely to how the band play live as we possibly could whilst checking that things like delivery and diction were on point. 

Luckily, both singers were pretty much shouting at similar volumes so I didn’t have to fiddle with the pre-amp much, making it easy for the guys to interchange between parts, show eachother ideas etc. 

For gang vocals, I used the Saturn multi-pattern microphone, this thing is nuts, literally the most diverse mic I’ve ever used. I set it to figure of eight and got the band (who were now pretty plastered drunk) at equal distances away from it, I find this creates the illusion of more bodies shouting along, and after getting a healthy level with the pre-amp, we went through the songs and recorded each line about 5 or 6 times, panning each take at seperate places, which made it sound massive.

After this we were done! Now onto mixing, lord help me.

Jack.

 

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