Large Ensemble Project
This project involved recording 5 or more instruments. I wanted to use a well known song that was released more recently to show my skills of recording and mixing a professional sounding product. I decided to go with "Ain't It Fun" by Paramore. This is a fun rock tune that I could replicate in the studio while enhancing my knowledge of recording techniques. I listened and studied how each instrument was placed in the mix with eq, compression, and overall volume. My main objective of this project was to get the drums crystal clear while having it stand out, "in your face", while also creating a big room feel. The 5 instruments that I used to complete this project were drums, guitar, bass, voice, and marimba.
While recording the drum kit, I knew I had to do this step perfect to achieve the big room sound. I placed the kit in the center of the room and mic'd it up as I usually would with two close mics bottom and top of the snare, kick in, kick out, two overheads, and a room mic. I left tom mics out of tracking because this wasn't a tom driven song. For snare I used two sm57's facing dead center of the drum head. Kick drum was recording using an AKG D112 on the inside as well as a Cascade Fathead II on the outside. For overheads I used the CAD condenser microphones in a spaced pair setup. The front of the kit covered using a shield so I would get the direct sound of the kit into my room mic, condenser. My room mic was roughly 20ft from the kit facing upward of the ceiling above the kit. I also placed two large sound absorbing shields 5-10 feet from the kit on both right and left sides. I did this avoid any reflections that may interfere with my overheads.
Once I had setup my kit and microphone placements, I chose my desired preamps. Both CAD condenser microphones were ran through the ART Pro MPA II tube preamp. I did this to add some weight or overall "warmth" to the kit so that they didn't sound too "airy". I like using this preamp because it brings out different tones that other preamps wouldn't necessarily. I also thought it would add a good texture to the overall kit with a slight grit to it. I next ran my Fathead kick out mic through the AEA TRP ribbon pre. I don't have a certain tone that I feel this preamp gives me, but this preamp does a great job at bringing the gain level up in this microphone which is exactly what I needed. My kick, snare mics, and room mic were all sent through the Focusrite Octopre. I feel that this preamp gives me incredibly clear tones and I love the fact that it comes equipment with a compressor. I used a small amount of compression on all of the mics that were ran through the preamp specially the snare top and kick in mic. This helped tremendously in the mixing phase.
Room Mic View
For my vocals I used a female singer who could sing in the style of Hayley Williams. I used the AKG C414 straight into the Focusrite Octopre for a clear crisp sound. This setup was placed in the vocal booth. On the preamp itself I used a slight compression setting around a 2-3 level.
Bass guitar was track directly through the ART Pro MPA II. I then duplicated tracks to later create a "DI" track and a "Bass Amp" track. This way I could create realistic snappy bass tone through the amp and still have that low pulse through my DI track. I then used both faders to get the desired tone.
I tracked my guitar through an Avid M-box so that I had the advantage of taking multiple DI guitar tracks and tweaking them to my liking to get it sounding identical to the real song. After doing several different takes with harmonies and different pickup settings.
For my 5th instrument I recorded the marimba for the intro and harmonies in the chorus as its played in the real song. I set up the marimba in the control room to get an isolated sound and created a spaced pair microphone set up. I used the AKG c414 and the Shure KSM32. Both of my mic's were sent through the Pro MPA II.
For drums I opened up all takes in the playlist and comp'd each part that I felt was great timing wise or had good energy. I then made sure to create fades on all ending parts or cross-fades where clips were joined. Vocals were also comp'd and then sent through Melodyne to perfect the pitch of small sections that may have been off. All other instruments in the editing phase went through a similar process. I selected the best takes from all playlists and careful cross faded them to avoid any pops or clicks in the mix. Once this step was complete, I decided to use audio bend in order to further correct my timing on drum, bass, and guitar takes.
The pro expander/gate was applied to my snare mics, as well as my kick mics. I wanted to do this to ensure I wasn't getting any other sounds of the kit into my mics. I then eq'd my snare and kick mics accordingly to bring out the best tones of each part of the kit. For snare I took everything off below 100hz and gave a peak at 250hz for the lower thumb of the snare as well as one around 5khz for some high end. I decided my "Kick out" microphone was going to be my low end mic and my "Kick in" microphone was going to be my high end "slappy" sound of the kick. I rolled off the highs of the kick out and raised some of the frequencies roughly 80hz and below. I then added a sub harmonizer to really bring out the low end feel of the kick. My kick in track was done completely different. I raised up some tones in the 4-6khz range really bringing out that mid snappiness of the kick. I then notched out some frequencies 80-100hz to leave room for my bass. All of these tracks were then ran through the Pro dynamic compressor plug-in the keep levels even. Snare bottom and kick out had a relatively light setting whereas snare top and kick in were compressed rather harsh. Both snare top and bottom were sent to a snare reverb track where I added the Space plug-in. I did this to bring out a roomier and more spacious snare sound.
My overheads were lightly mixed with eq only and sent to its own bus track where I added light compression only. The room track was also sent to this bus. All of my kick and snare tracks were sent to its own drum bus where I used the Joe Meek compressor another eq to cut out some of the mid frequencies while bringing up some low end and high end.
I took my two identical bass tracks and made one "DI" and the other "Bass Amp". My bass amp was created using the waves amp plug-in. I used a generic bass amp setting and adjusted by tones until I found what I had in mind. I then took my DI track and adjusted the frequencies cutting out anything in the higher range. I then cut out anything about 50hz and below to give some room for my kick drum to come out in the mix. I then used a heavy compression setting on my DI track so that it was consistent throughout the whole song. Both bass tracks were sent to a bus with a light compression setting.
I took all of my DI guitar tracks and added the Waves amp plug-in. I kept some of my tracks clean while I added a pedal to add grit and fuzz to others. All of my guitar tracks were then level to my liking and sent to a bus where I could all together add an eq and cut out anything really high and really low in the guitar. I wanted only the mid range of the guitar since bass is my low end and my cymbals and vocals will be in my high end of the overall song. In the bus track I added a reverb send to add some sustain and space to the guitars.
Vocals were carefully mixed with eq only letting off some frequencies 50-60hz and below. I applied a generic vocal compression setting to each track and set the threshold to the appropriate position careful not to over compress my vocals. I leveled each track so that it mixed well in the song. For my "Choir" track at the end of the song, I had two girls sing. I took this track and added a doubler plug-in and changing the pitches of the track while duplicating it. This gave me a realistic sound of multiple people singing the same part. All vocal parts were sent to a bus where I had applied a vocal verb send using the Space plug-in.
I left my marimba peace virtually untouched. Both left and marimba tracks were sent to a bus where I had created a reverb send to give the marimba some openness to the track. I then added the Pro Dynamic Compressor to keep the levels in check and have mix well in the song.
My submix track consisted of a multiband compressor, pro compressor, and limiter. I used the multiband compressor to squash down some of the frequencies that may have been coming out of the mix too harshy such as the low end and super highs in the mix. Once I corrected that, I ran it through the Pro Compressor with a super light mixdown setting only having about 1db of gain reduction. I then added an eq to take off everything 20hz and below as well as roll off everything 20hz and above. Lastly placed was my limiter to ensure there would be no clipping. I left some headroom with levels at the loudest parts jumping between -3 and 0db. I wanted the song to be loud but not too loud to the point where it was becoming squashed.
This project was nothing less of a learning experience. I faced many obstacles during the tracking and editing phase but enjoyed every part of it. In the end my tracks were record clean the way I wanted, and my mix came out beautiful. What I took from this project is some tips for editing and another view of a different genre. I love challenging myself and getting better at mixing with each song. If I had to go back and change anything I would only have to add addition parts to the song and possibly track using a real amplifier. All in all, this was a great opportunity to fine tune my craft.