Ape Trax Studio Blog

October 4, 2009

Forums Suck…What Can We Do About It?

Filed under: Studio News — justin @ 11:04 pm

How many hours a week do you find yourself on the web searching for audio and recording questions? Two, three..ten? When I do finally come across the topic I’m looking for, it’s almost always buried somewhere deep in some train wreck of a forum post. What fun is that?

I really really don’t enjoy aimlessly wandering around forum sites hoping that I find what I want.  So what the heck can we do about it?

We’re happy to say that we have found a better option to help you record digital audio

What I like about it:

  • It’s simple to search.  There’s a huge search box right on the homepage, awesome!  I can’t even find the search box on most forums.
  • User voting is built in. Each user can vote on both the questions they like and the answers they think are the best.  Questions with the most votes show up at the top making it super easy to find the best information.
  • Earn Awards.  You even earn points and awards for achieving different milestones and making positive contributions throughout the site.  It’s surprisingly fun to collect awards as you go.

You can find out more about how this new recording community works?

We’ve already setup our new Ape Trax profile over there…let us know what yours is.

May 2, 2009

The Hammond B3 as the New Corvette

Filed under: Studio News — j @ 4:28 pm

My current band practices at a facility that neighbors Steve Albini’s studios, Electrical Audio,  and oftentimes I feel a bit humbled traveling in such close proximity to a massively well fitted studio,  not to mention its head engineer.  Occasionally I’ll peruse his gear and mic listings with an envious lust,  and cast longing glances at the unassuming brick building that houses his space.  Despite these occasional attacks of gear envy,  I’ve never thought Ape Trax (well not for a long time now) to be under-equipped. I’ve got the tools to do what any band could probably ask for in some way or another,  and short of those Tympani I saw on craigslist the other day,  no sonic possibility is too far out of reach.  With such a preponderance in digital possibilities,  do-with-whatcha-got know-how, and knack for creative alternatives,  I rarely feel the need to give an artist an outright “no” when they ask for, say, a string quartet in their backbeat.

Me and the band were taking a short break outside the practice facility one day,  when we met a gentleman we later affectionately labled “bike shorts dude” pull up on his fancy mountain bike.  The facility is used by hundreds of other bands, players and performers,  so it wasn’t unusual to strike up a conversation.  What followed was the most grueling 20 or so minutes of cock-waving I’ve experienced in recent memory.

Bike Shorts Guy seemed intent on giving us a detailed catalog of his space in the facility,  stacked to the ceiling with some of the most drool-inducing vintage and boutique gear imaginable.  Don’t get me wrong,  I am not snubbing my nose at the thought of possessing a mint Hammond B3 with two refurbished leslies,  but when someone is gonna try and start a pissing match with me,  my spine stiffens and I just go all frosty.  My guitarist Bryce happened to be with me at the time,  so some verbal sparring went on long enough to gauge Bike Shorts Dude’s general view of his musical equipment,  and for that matter,  the world.  He definitely seemed to be more of a collector than a player,  putting the rarity and price tag of his gear above actual use.  Just as the barely concealed vocal tensions took a turn towards his nearby bicycle, I managed to extricate myself from the conversation and soon forgot about it.

A nice microphone is not always the right microphone.

However,  just a couple days later I was at a local music retailer for some patch cables and decided to linger in pro audio for a moment to drool over some microphones.  Fate dealt me a hardy backhand that day,  because I ran into Bike Shorts Guy AGAIN arguing with the employees about the relative merits of certain microphones. (He wasn’t even buying anything!  he was just standing there arguing and being a dick!)

Predictably,  Bike Shorts was of the opinion that the $3000 mic locked up in the glass case was the end-all be-all and why would any self-respecting audio enthusiast deign to use anything less?  A couple of employees attempted to explain,  patiently,  that each mic has its own characteristics,  and that one might prefer to use a lower-priced dynamic for certain applications,  even though,  yes sir,  that Neumann you’ve got your eye on is very sweet indeed.  It’s just all in what you want out of your sound. (here I imagine the employees were trying to salvage a sale)  Bike Shorts Guy stared at them blankly for a moment and simply said

“THIS mic (pointing at the price tag of a $400 dollar mic) will never do what THAT mic (pointing at the aforementioned Neumann) will.”

Eyerolls abound,  I motioned a helpful eye roll to the pro audio floorstaff,  put my hood up and got the hell out of there before I got sucked into another conversation with Bike Shorts Guy.

The point the sales staff valiantly tried to make was an excellent one.

Any mic — or any piece of gear,  for that matter — regardless of its price tag has its own inherent strengths and weaknesses.

This was actually a mistake I made early on in my recording career,  when the first time the studio got its hands on a nice tube mic I just stuck it in front of everything.  The mix engineer had a (justified) cow at me and set me straight immediately thereafter.  “What the hell dude?!?  You know there’s a perfectly good MD 421 over there.”

The lesson here should be comforting news to anybody recording on a budget.  You don’t always need top-dollar gear to get good sounds. Just listen extra hard to the stuff you already have,  and learn to make the most of it.  Again,  I’m not denying the high end stuff it’s proper due.  I just take exception to Bike Shorts Guy’s thinking that anything less is too pedestrian to consider.  We all start somewhere.

April 16, 2009

Digging the New SPL Frontliner

Filed under: Studio News — justin @ 12:16 am

Since it’s just a fact of life that all studio engineers are gear heads it only makes sense that I was drooling over the new Sound Performance Lab channel strip dubbed Frontliner. Oh how we love preamps here at Ape Trax Studios and this one sure looks superb.

The New SPL Frontliner

The one-knob de-esser looks intriguing, I’m really like the fact that you can quickly dial-in the appropriate amount of de-essing quickly and painlessly. I’m looking forward to checking one of these out soon.

March 30, 2009

The Myth About Mixing With Headphones

Filed under: Studio Tips — justin @ 2:00 pm

Ok, this always seems to be a hot topic on most recording forums and I don’t understand why people still think that mixing with headphones is so much worse than mixing with monitors. In fact, I think that it’s more important to mix with headphones than it is with monitors. I introduce to you your new studio mix environment…

a picture of ipod-like ear buds

Yes, I am just awaiting the evil comments…”How dare I say such a thing”.

After reading an interesting article about why you should not be mixing primarily with headphones I decided that this approach was wrong, and I’ll tell you why…

Most people listen to their music with iPods, their phone, or their computer.

and to do this they typically must use headphones. Yes people today digest their music with a small portable device and a headphone no one sits in front of their home stereo any more, well, maybe this guy still does:

The old Maxell ad of a guy in a chair listening to music.

If the ultimate music listening environment is most likely a set of headphones then why not mix with a pair of headphones, and while you’re at it, a pair of crappy stock iPod ear buds. If you still can’t wrap you head around the idea of sticking these admittedly crappy-sounding headphones into your ears and mixing your clients work, at least think about creating multiple mixes. (done with headphones, monitors, multimedia speakers) This can at least give you different variations with which to choose from later.

Now I’m not saying abandon the monitor all together–let’s not be hasty. The studio monitor, along with as many other playback sources as you can find will still be a major part of the studio environment, but I’m saying re-evaluate the way you view you mixing priorities.

March 21, 2009

Improving Your Vocal Mic Technique

Filed under: Studio Tips — justin @ 4:15 am

It may or may not come as a surprise that many of the singers that walk through the doors of our studio know little to nothing about microphone technique and how it affects their voice and, of course, their final recording.  I’ve seen singers attempt to use a microphone from just about every angle and distance and yes, extreme setups can be correct for certain situations, but knowing what suits your voice and your musical style is crucial in the final sound of your music.

What is mic technique?

Just singing in the general direction of a microphone is not enough in a studio environment where the highest quality is expected. The recorded sound of voice is influenced by many factors other than their actual voice.
Distance to the microphone is important because the closer you get to a microphone, the louder the end result is going to be. Cardioid microphones also exhibit what’s called the “proximity” effect, which boosts low frequencies as the singer gets closer to the diaphragm of the microphone.

Why should I care about mic technique?

As studio engineers we try to keep the dynamic range of recorded vocals within a certain range (we are allotted only so much dynamic range on a CD) using studio equipment like compressors and limiters. The greater the dynamic range, the harder our equipment has to work, and the harder our equipment has to work, the greater the chance of there being unwanted artifacts making their way into the recording. That said, the singer can be of great help by controlling the way they approach singing into the microphone.

Tips to improve your microphone technique

Use a pop filter to capture plosives. This typically happens when singing phrases containing “B’s” and “P’s” that produces a quick blast of air that hits the microphone diaphragm resulting in an unpleasant thud.  A fine mesh pop filter is designed to disperse these blasts of air before reaching the microphone.

Position the microphone slightly above your mouth and pointed downward about 8 – 12 inches away. This is a great starting point for most singers and works well in most cases, but always remember to experiment.

Do not cover the microphone with your hand. Many singers like to sing with the microphone in their hand, and this is fine, just be sure not to cover the main capsule with your hand. This can only lead to muted frequencies and inferior vocal recordings.

Change the microphone distance based on volume. This is important and rather difficult to master for many vocalists. In order to keep the the overall level of volume within reason it recommended that on louder phrases you back away slightly from the microphone to avoid overloading or distortion. The opposite is true of softer phrases, get a bit closer to the microphone to avoid letting in any room noise or monitor bleed.  If the song is structured in such a way that there are long phrases of loud and soft parts,  consider concentrating on each of these sections separately.  You can hold one postition for the softer vocals, and then go back and re-adjust for the more aggressive ones.

Try different microphones. While not really microphone technique, this is extremely important to the final sound vocal sound. Some voices sound good with a $3k studio condenser, and some sound great with a $50 dynamic mic. Typically all-out screaming just doesn’t sound any better, and many times worse, on an expensive vocal mic.

Place written lyrics in front of you. If you must use written lyrics, please arrange them properly so you can see then while practicing the points above. Do not attempt to sing and hold lyric cheats on your hands at the same time–it doesn’t work. Have someone else hold them for you if needed, or setup a stand at a comfortable height for singing.  Be aware that having a music stand too close to the mic can cause some unwanted reflections that most vocal mics will pick up.  We’ve found that the best setup to avoid these reflections is either taping or clamping the lyric sheet at eye level onto the boom arm of another mic stand or lowering a music stand to about waist height and tilting the rest back into a lectern position.  With this second option,  you’ll have to use your eyeballs more to keep an eye on your cheat sheet so you don’t drop the direction of your voice.

Just remember to experiment, and be conscious of what you are doing when you step in front of a microphone. Just singing in the general direction of a microphone is not going to cut it. Remember, it’s your music, your baby…do it right.

March 19, 2009

Newsletters, Blogs, and Twitter…Oh My!

Filed under: Studio News — justin @ 4:22 am

You may have noticed a few extra links on the Ape Trax home page as of late. We now have an official newsletter, blog, and twitter account for the studio. Here’s what you can expect…

Studio Newsletter
We now have a studio newsletter that will include many of the great updates you can find here on the blog. Be sure to go sign up to receive all our studio deals that will be available only via the newsletter.

Ape Trax on Twitter
Yes, even the studio has been having a great time with our new twitter account. J is going to be tweeting from some of the upcoming studio sessions and we also have a huge giveaway planned for May that will be available only on Twitter. Become one of the first to follow Ape Trax Studio on Twitter.

Recording Blog
We also have a new studio blog…I know, we’re out of control. We plan to offer all kinds of great info via our own little corner of the blogosphere about, recording news, tips, and best practices. Even those of you who are not clients of the studio will be able to find great information about recording and music.

We look forward to hearing from everyone out there.

March 8, 2009

Recording Studio Checklist

Filed under: Studio Tips — justin @ 3:59 pm

Realize that by going into the recording studio you are putting your band and your music under a microscope where it will be poked and prodded into submission. Every line, every transition, and every break will be revealed in astonishing clarity and failing to prepare yourselves and your music for this environment can be the difference between a successful song and just another forgotten track.

Don’t fret; here are a few tips to help you prepare for a successful studio project:

Download the studio checklist.

Have You Even Practiced This Before?

Have your songs completed before going into the studio. The studio is not the place to be writing and practicing your material. Save that for back home where it’s free. You wouldn’t build a bridge without a set of plans, would you? Be prepared before hitting the studio. You will save yourself a bunch of money and everyone else a giant headache.

Start With Nothing But The Best

Beg, borrow, or rent the best equipment you can get your hands on. Everything starts with your gear and starting in the hole just makes everything else harder. That starter drum kit may be fine for rehearsal or even live gigs, but all will be revealed once we throw a mic in front of it and try and sell it to the world.
Make sure your gear works before we hit record. Do all the amps work? Do the drums rattle and squeak? Do the outputs on your keyboard sound alright? Asking yourself a few simple questions can save the day.

Preparing Yourself For War

Musical instruments can and will break–usually at the worst of times. Luckily many problems can be easily solved with a bit of preparation. Bring along extra sets of guitar and bass strings, guitar picks, cables, drum sticks, drum heads, drum keys, and batteries to power gear.

Restring Your Ax

Put a set of fresh strings on all your guitars and basses the day before the studio session to get the fullest sound possible. The extra day will give the strings some extra time to stretch out a bit–no one likes a guitar that constantly goes out of tune.

What Do You Want To Sound Like?

One of the most difficult questions for bands to answer is: “What do you want your songs to sound like?” Most jazz groups don’t want their songs sounding like an extreme black metal record. Let us know what sound you are looking for. The easiest way to do that is with a great example. Something as simple as an iPod or a CD of a song with a sound you like will go a long way in helping us understand the sound you are looking for.

More Is Not Better.

We know you love your girlfriend dearly, but unless she’s going to be on the record, or is bringing the audio engineer cupcakes, we would advise that you leave her and the rest of your posse at home. You are here to do one thing and only one thing…make the best damn record you can. Trust us when we say that everyone else just gets in the way of that process.

The More You Party The Worse You Sound.

We know you have an image to uphold as the hardest partying group in the whole city, but that’s not going to help you in the studio. Vocals quickly become harsh and out of tune. Musical parts get sloppy and offbeat. Soon enough a great song dissolves into a smoking wreck that you can’t stand listening to. Get a good night sleep before coming in and everything, including recording, becomes easier. Unless you have the budget to hire studio musicians to come in and re-record the drunken mess you’ve made the day before, we suggest you save the beers for your next gig.

Food Can Be The Best Motivator.

Studio sessions are long, tiring, and take everything you have to keep things running smoothly. Bring along your favorite food and drinks because you’re in for the long haul. Nothing keeps morale up better than having a bag of Cheetos ready and waiting when you need it.

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