Ed Privat Working the Mic

It’s important for singers to learn how to “work the mic” like Ed here. If you maintain the same position relative to the mic through loud and soft passages you not only run the risk of clipping or overdriving the capsule, you are going to have to hit a compressor pretty hard to tame the performance.

On the other hand, if you do “work the mic” by turning away from or increasing the distance between you and the microphone during loud passages, you get a more even and tonally interesting recording. Even, because you are using distance and/or position to control your level and tonally interesting because when you back off the mic, it will record a more ambient sound. Soft sections will sound as if the vocal is being whispered in your ear and loud sections will sound bigger and more powerful.

Ed wasn’t too sure if he was going to sing the chorus in a subdued falsetto or belt it out. Listen to how the tone changes when he shifts to belting it out. Nice. 

For more info on how to audition for Songsmiths, visit www.songsmiths.co.za/auditions-2017/.

Recording Electric Guitar and Vocals With One Microphone

You know I’ve been doing these one-mic recordings for Songsmiths? Well, so far the musicians auditioning have played acoustic guitars, but Katleho arrived with an electric and a practice amp. Should I mic the amp separately? Nah.
I placed the amp on a chair facing Katleho and the vocal mic – in omni – pretty much the way I have been all along. I then had a listen to the guitar/voice balance and thought we should be hearing more guitar. Moving the amp a little closer to Katleho fixed the balance issue and we were off.
I think the recording turned out well. There isn’t even any bleed of the piano into the single mic even though it was playing loud enough in the studio for both musicians to hear it. This is because Katleho’s body stands between my studio speakers and the mic. Bodies are excellent sound absorbers.
Nice job and good luck, Katleho.

View all of the Songsmiths auditions.

Balancing Voices (sound sources) When Playing and Recording

Before a Songsmiths audition video is posted, the audio from the video camera is replaced with the audio I recorded using a studio mic. This is done for sound-quality, but also for balance purposes. In other words, when I place that mic, I make sure that the voice/guitar balance is right so that the vocal stands out. If I used the audio from the video camera, in most cases the voice would be overpowered by the guitar which means that the voice/instrument balance in the room is off.
It’s pretty easy to get by without worrying about balancing yourself. Vocal and instrument sources are kept separate and balanced in the mix both when recording and performing live. But what if Izak wanted to play for some friends at a party without mics or a PA? Wouldn’t it sound better if he found a balance between his voice and guitar? Yes, but will the song still sound like Rock if he’s not strumming hard? Should the feel change when a rock song is played on acoustic guitar? Not real pressing questions given that it usually doesn’t matter, but it’s worth thinking about.
I do think that balance matters when it come to drums though. A drum kit is actually a collection of several different instruments and it’s a good idea to think about the balance between, for example, the snare drum, hi-hat and bass drum when you’re playing a groove. Why? Well, when I’m creating a drum sound, I often rely heavily on the overhead mics. Those mics capture the sound of the full kit in a room which is how drums are normally experienced. So, if the drummer has a good touch, those overheads might be about all I need to create a natural,live drum sound.
In my experience, drummers can strike a better balance by lightening up on the cymbals a bit. That helps the snare drum power through and reduces cymbal bleed in the other mics. Cymbals can also sound better when they’re not being crushed. Especially crashes. When hit too hard, crashes lose their tone and sound noisy to my ear.
Another example I just thought of: piano. Pianists/keyboardists should pay attention to the balance between their right and left hands. Do you want to emphasize a bass line? When using both hands to play a chord, are the notes balanced?
So think about it, musicians. Think about balance and dynamics on macro and micro scales. Are the vocals and guitars balanced? Are the drums and cymbals balanced? On the micro scale, are the loud and soft notes you’re playing loud or soft enough? How about the tone of your instrument at those volumes? Practice balance because you sure don’t want to be thinking about all of this when you’re performing or recording.

Recording a Voice-Over with LM Radio Personalities

What a pleasure it was to watch these seasoned voice-over professionals work. Two of them earned their stripes on-air and are currently personalities on LM Radio. As you can imagine, not everyone can carry a radio show. You have to be articulate, spontaneous, fun and creative. You also have to be a bit of an actor and those acting skills transfer well to voice-over work. These three performed their script without much preparation, but the result is a natural banter with timing that would make Woody Allen proud.

Record a voice-over at The Cooler.

Preparation Makes for the Best Recordings

When I was first getting into recording, there was a lot of talk about whether gear or engineering skills had the most impact on the quality of a recording.  A lot of newbies (like me) were setting up home studios and we had to decide how to spend our budgets most effectively. Do we buy an expensive pre-amp or take an engineering course?

The truth, of course, is that the best recordings are made by skilled engineers using state-of-the-art equipment. It’s also true that a great engineer can make good recordings on modest gear. So, my strategy was to work on my engineering skills first while slowly building a collection of key gear.

Let’s take this concept a step further. Can a skilled engineer using state-of-the-art equipment make a great recording when the musicians are playing less-than-ideal instruments? I would say so, as long the instruments stay in tune long enough to get a take…and the song is good and the musicians turn in their best performances. But wouldn’t it be better if the band had the best instruments, amplifiers, new strings, new drum heads, etc? Of course it would.

That’s why I was happy to see Gerrie pull his blue Fender out of it’s case when he came by to record his Songsmiths audition. And look! It has shiny new strings! Can you hear them sparkle? Nice.

I know I’m stating the obvious when I say that to get the best sound on your recordings you need pro gear, the best instruments, etc. The point I’m making is that we need to do whatever we can to improve our productions. A pro studio should have at least one super-awesome pre-amp and mic and a stellar reverb. Engineers should clean and maintain their equipment. Musicians should service their instruments, practice and put new strings on their guitars and new heads on their drums. Everyone should be using good quality cables too. Because, while we may never find ourselves in the ideal production environment, if we pay attention to the details over which we have control we can make recordings that sound like a million bucks. Preparation makes for the Best Recordings.