Silent Front – Album Recording Diary

Over the Xmas break I was glad to be working with Silent Front again at Silver Street Studios, this time on their 2nd as yet untitled album. Below is a day by day account of the recording, with details on what techniques and microphones were used.

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Day 1

The first day was spent solely focusing on the drum sound. We spent the better half of the day just tuning the drums. Once they were sounding nice it was time to start placing the mics. For kick I miked the front and batter side, with an AKG D112 and Behringer C2. I miked snare top and bottom with SM57s. Tops and bottoms of toms with ElectroVoice 468s and Red5 RVD9s. For overheads I used 2 x Oktava MK-012s, and 2 x Red5 RV4s for splash/ride cymbals (underneath so as to provide some shielding). Finally I used 2 x SE Ribbon mics as an ambient pair, positioned a few metres equilateral from the kit. Pre-amp wise I used TL Audio PA-2 valve pres on overheads and the Soundcraft Ghost’s pres with everything else. Once all the mics were positioned it was on to soundchecks. I usually set up the entire band for soundcheck and go through each member individually, then ask them to play as a unit to get used to the headphone levels. I’ll be adjusting the musician’s mix initially, making sure everyone can hear themselves. Then I adjust the control room mix, with the drums most prominent. Once the levels are checked and the musicians are happy it’s onto recording the takes. I prefer to record the band as a unit because it helps retain the live energy and visual contact essential for this style of music. Because there’s just the one live room I only mike up the drums to begin with, with the rest of the band plugged straight into the desk, so as to retain separation between the instruments. By the end of the day we probably got about half of the songs recorded.

Day 2

Pretty much picking up where we left off, day 2 was spent on the rest of the drum and guide guitar/bass parts. For the last song we decided to record it in two different versions, one with the same setup we’d been using up to this point, and one completely live with guitar and bass amps miked up as well. The live take sounded pretty good, and since the guitars weren’t very loud in this track it bode well for mixing. So we decided to stick with the live take.

Day 3

Day 3 was bass time. Placing Russ’s monster bass amp in the middle of the room, I used 2 x close mics (EV868 and SE2200a) and 2 x ambient mics (SE Ribbons) to capture the sound. When all the bass parts were done, we got round to setting up the guitar equipment. I used an SM57 and SE2200a on the cab, with the SE Ribbons for ambient. I put bass & guitar parts through the TL Audio valve pres. We found that the guitar tone had too much mid-range that was muddying the sound, so we decided to call it a day and return to guitars the next day with an extra EQ pedal. I find the best, most natural sounding results are found when the sound is right from the source.

Day 4

So we returned to guitars on the final day of recording, spending a fair bit of time shaping the guitar tone. I noticed that the guitar sound was “sucking” due to natural compression of the amp’s valves. It was fine once we turned down the input gain however. Due to Phil’s multi fx pedals we decided to record in layers, so that switching between the fx would be seamless. Once the guitar tracks were laid down it was onto vocals. To integrate them with the rest of the recording I had Phil stand in the center of the room, with one close mic (AT4033) and two ambient (SE Ribbons).

Vocals are due to be finished off in the next couple of weeks, after which mixing will commence.

Follow Silent Front’s album progress on their website here, and view their bandcamp page here.

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Recording update

Time for an update… I have a few album projects in the works at the moment due for completion soon. They are:

Silent Front Album

Due to be recorded this month. Silent Front are a post-hardcore band from London, I’ve been a fan myself for a very long time! They have several EPs/Splits under their belt as well as their first album “Dead Lake”.

http://silentfront.blogspot.co.uk/

Black Skies Burn Album

Thrash/grindcore band based in and around Didcot. It will feature 10 songs, definately the most extreme band I’ve recorded in a while.

http://www.reverbnation.com/blackskiesburn

Everyone Needs A Nemesis Album

Great band from Reading and fantastic live. The album’s been in the works for most of the year, but due out shortly featuring 11 songs.

http://www.everyoneneedsanemesis.com/

Mayors Of Miyazaki Album

Gareth from Silent Front’s other band, more of an indie sound but still quite mathy with melodic vocals. The album was recorded by Harvey Birrell at Southern Studios. I’m currently in the process of mixing/mastering the 10-song album.

http://mayorsofmiyazaki.bandcamp.com/

More news soon!

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Mastering: My thoughts

Here’s some information on what mastering is, how it can help your tracks and my methods and thoughts on the process…

“Mastering is the final process or “polish” given to a mix to enhance frequencies, increase loudness/punch and remove sonic defects like clicks/pops/noise. Once mastered your tracks will have uniform loudness and quality, ensuring no one track “leaps out at you” during playback”

Here’s a list of factors involved in mastering:

  • Compression
  • Equalisation
  • Limiting
  • Noise/click/hum removal
  • Stereo widening
  • Harmonic enhancement
  • Multi-band limiting/compression

Whilst I agree that mastering should aim to maximise perceived loudness, this is often done at the expense of audio quality in much of today’s music. Common artifacts that can occur by driving the levels too hard are distortion, loss of clarity and loss of attack or “transients” particularly in the drums.

Another thing that people use is stereo width expanders, which essentially narrows or widens a mix. What people don’t realise however, is that you can introduce all kinds of phase problems by using these kinds of processors.

At the most, mastering should aim to subtly enhance what’s already there and not fix issues which should be addressed at the mixing stage. A perfect example of this is trying to reduce vocal sibilance in mastering, when a “DeEsser” could have been used on the vocal itself. If you have a full band playing, trying to reduce sibilance will also have an effect on the cymbals, snare, guitars and anything else with alot of high-end.

My method is to maximise loudness but keep things such as drum transients intact, because they are what ultimately gives the recording its life and character. So, as I often say to people when they ask me to “make it even louder”… just turn it up! It’s a no-brainer.

Here’s an interesting article on the so called “loudness war” with lots of technical information about RMS levels, which is how the average loudness of a track is measured:

http://mastering-media.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/diy-mastering-part-5-how-loud-is-too.html

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These Are Our Demands

I’m really glad to have finished mixing 2 tracks which have been in the pipeline for ages, with These Are Our Demands (who used to be called Harry Angel). They’ve been around on the Oxford circuit for years, playing a hybrid of alt. rock, post-punk and new wave. Check out the tracks below

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/65984933″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/65987492″ iframe=”true” /]

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New mastering equipment

I’ve recently aquired a new mastering equalizer. The TL Audio Dual Valve EQ-2 is a crystal clear, yet warm sounding equalizer that is now the staple of all my mastering jobs. For more info and rates on mastering check here http://umairchaudhry.co.uk/mastering.html

Here’s more on the TL Audio EQ-2 taken from TL Audio’s website:

“No other high end equaliser can offer the same degree of power and flexibility as the new TL Audio EQ-2. Like the C-1 and PA-1, the EQ-2 features a raven blue 6mm CNC milled aluminium front panel, General Electric US military specification valves and high retention gold plated ceramic valve bases, but we’ve also added two much-requested features: a peaking/shelving switch on the LF and HF bands, and drive/peak LEDs. The internal circuit design has also been refined quite significantly to produce an even fatter, smoother sounding equaliser.

The EQ-2 boasts two channels of fully parametric 4 band valve equalisation – which in conjunction with variable high and low cut filters offers unlimited control of any audio source. But that’s not all – unlike many valve equalisers, the EQ-2 provides continuously variable frequency controls, so choice of frequency is not limited to switched selections. It also features a pair of the acclaimed TL Audio mic preamps (with phantom power), to enable high quality direct-to-tape microphone recording, and a pair of front panel auxiliary inputs enable a guitar or keyboard to directly access the EQ-2.

Another brilliant refinement is the “stereo mode” switch – when activated, the EQ controls of channel A automatically process the signal on channel B in an identical fashion – thus the audio signals through both channels have the same EQ applied to them: ideal for precise equalisation of stereo sources and overall mixes. Quite simply we believe that the EQ-2 is one of the best sounding and most versatile equalisers currently available!

The EQ-2 employs a total of six valve stages per channel: one in each of the four EQ bands, followed by a pair in the output stage. General Electric US military specification valves are used throughout, run from a stabilised 250v DC supply.”

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Nightshift demo winners

Just quick a shout out to Nightshift demo of the month winners Jordan ‘O Shea and Trev Williams from Oxford, who I’ve just finished recording over the past couple of days. Thoroughly nice blokes, and good guitar and singing skills. Check them out.

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Dallas Don’t

Nightshift Magazine’s demo of the month winners Dallas Don’t spent the weekend with me at Silver Street Studios. They’re a wonderfully impassioned band from Oxford, lying somewhere between the Pixes and Murder Inc. Check them out here http://dallasdont.tumblr.com/

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