Permanent Revolution - Project Overview
We set some really firm goals with this project and in terms of tracking, we met all those goals within the time frames we set. However, during the second half of the trimester we each had some side projects and started our main second project Big Mono. We became very committed to our other projects and the final mix downs for Permanent Revolution went on the back burner for a couple of weeks. The intention of this blog is to look back at everything we learnt throughout the course of this project, so far.
We aimed to do the scratch tracks for all 10 songs in one day, to capture the energy of the band's live performance and to be used as a guide for the other elements to be recorded too. We were very efficient at getting set up and packed down and the band were well rehearsed, so we got this all done in an 8 hour day. This was not without eras though.
Count in's: The songs where the band all started together had the drummer counting everyone in but a few songs had a guitar intro with no count in, so when it came time to record the guitar parts there was no way for him to know where to start. We discussed many ways to fix this such as adding a count in just at the right moment but since we were all really happy with the guitar sound we achieved on the scratch tracks we decided to use those actual recordings for the intro and to just start as the drums and bass all came in together. This worked because those sections only had the guitar but had the songs been more complex this could have caused major issues so we definitely learnt that having a count in on a scratch track is essential.
Vocal Mic: The vocal mic picked up just as much of the band as vocals and it was hard to get more vocals due to how much bleed was in the mic signal. I believe this is because we used an AKG-D5 which is a hyper cardioid mic and may have caught a lot of reflections off the glass. (We probably should have just used an SM58), Also a baffle to isolate the singer a bit might have helped. We were able to get what we needed from this signal in terms of a guide track by EQing the track to cut the other elements as much as possible and make the vocals stand out more when combined with the other elements it served its purpose as a guide.
Permanent Revolution - Scratch Track Refelction
Recording the drums went really well. James was a really solid drummer who knew exactly what he wanted and with little more than some caffeine, he was able to smash out great takes. We had a pretty straight forward set-up aiming to achieve that vintage punk drum sound with minimal mics and a mono overhead. We did use more mics than we actually ended up using in the mixing stage. Using just what we need, where we need it and relying heavily on the Kick, snare and overheads. We are not using any gating to clean those drum sounds up, just blending them accordingly. Some songs have very little toms and the overheads capture a great sound already, other songs have drum beats built around the floor tom and on those songs, we will be using the floor tom mic to EQ and make it a bit of a feature. We have learnt a lot this trimester about micing drums and mixing drums. It’s a lot of work but in the end, that's what it’s all about.
Guitar & Bass
Process: We decided to record the guitar and bass together to save on time and to allow Paul and Jimmy to bounce off each other a bit. The guitar amp was really loud which caused concern for another session across the hall, thankfully they only had a small whisper to record. Making sure that both studio doors were locked and using ear protection was essential during this project. I do stand by the fact that this type of volume helped to add the right amount of grit and danger to the guitar tone and to Paul’s overall performance. We are here to capture musicians in their natural environment and if this is how loud he likes to play, then that’s what we need to capture.
Microphone Choices: We used 2 SM57’s the same as on the scratch tracks and 2 C414’s distant, blumlein. However one of the C414’s picked up an annoying clicking sound which was actually the sound of Paul’s pic of the strings, Because they were both on figure 8 using one proved to be quite thin compared to the 2 together and the sound we have from just the 2 SM57’s on the amp was already just what we needed. In fact, paul seemed happier with just the 2 SM57’s right from the start and when we set the mics up and listened to them he didn’t really like what the C414’s added to the sound. We still recorded with them anyway because we thought we could potentially blend them in and as engineers still learning our craft, having extra things to play with is part of the learning process. However, we have gone back to the original, classic sound of just the 2 SM57’s for the mixing stage. Which goes to show sometimes a simple approach is the best fit for the situation.
The gang vocals didn't cause any complications and in terms of mixing, it's mostly just about getting the level right, so I'm not going into a lot of depth about the gang vocals. However, tracking the lead vocals was the biggest learning experience for us as a production team and for Paul as an artist.
Microphone Choice: First of all, we made a rookie era for amateur engineers and that is just picking the mics, setting them up and running with it without any critique, reflection or comparison. Getting the right mic for the job is exceptionally important for vocals and the AKG - D5 while a great mic for some singers was a terrible choice for Paul. It made his voice sound thin and lacked presence. We didn’t notice this until we lived with the mixes for a week. In Retrospect, we should have grabbed a handful of mics and tried them out until we found one that brought the best out of his voice.
On top of that, Paul was not that happy with his performance and went away to work on his pitch and delivery. When we came back to do them the whole team worked harder to get a more passionate and enraged performance out of Paul and I think that in terms of the genre and subject matter we achieved this. We choose an SM7 which brought out the lower end in Paul’s voice and allowed him to get into it like a live performance, grabbing the stand and dancing around the room which was not picked up by the mic but allowed him to let loose. Sometimes being comfortable can make a huge difference.
Mixing an entire album is a bigger task than we anticipated and this process can take way longer than the actual recording. We have mixed the first single (Class Traitor) with a lot of back and forth between the team members and the band until we were all happy with the sound. The thing I find the most interesting is that we mixed it to the reference tracks which all had quite prominent vocals yet the consistent feedback from the band was the mix needs less vocals and more guitar. So it goes to show that a reference track can be a good guide but an artist knows what they want for their sound in their head and each project can need variations of different things in order to achieve the desired sound and ultimately make the client happy with the end product.
We have put mixing the other 9 tracks on hold until we finish this trimester and on the first week of break, we will spend the whole week mixing these tracks to get them back to the band to be sent off for mastering. This was not due to scope creep on this project it was because of our other projects and study commitments taking the front seat. the bright side though is, what we have learnt in these few weeks mixing our other projects will massively impact our ability to mix this project and I believe we will have a better end product as a result.