Tag Archives: live

Recording Tips

Recording Tips
I'm not going to go into huge great step by step detail, but I will tell you some of the main things I do that seem to make a difference, or things that I've discovered work better for my own tastes.
It's all about passing knowledge on that could have helped me when I started, and you may find interesting or useful.
You are welcome to ask me any questions on what I use or how I do it.
Making Sounds, Construction & Composition
This is by far the most important part for me. If the sounds cut it and each one pleases my instincts, the tune will make itself. I like to be satisfied with each sound no matter how tiny, and I tend to make lots at once rather than a set for a specific tune.
So I have a library of sounds and not all will work together but some will.
The main thing is I never want to settle for a weak sound, or say “the mix will cover it”. I also try hard to make something different each time, and I will take as long as it takes to come up with something I like. If I feel it's too similar or just rehashing then it doesn't feel right.
When I first started, EVERY sound was new and different, so it was easy.
The more you make the harder it gets, so I thought loads of new kit would make discovering new sounds easier, it didn't.
I soon realised that is about you, your personality and creative force, imposing itself on the equipment and making the new sounds flow through that.
Then new sounds come alive from kit I've had for a long time, and being prepared to take as long as required until the right sounds surface, works.
I never settle for presets and I like to sample stuff again, like the 808 and 606, rather than going back to an old sample.
I prefer to have a little movement and colour in the synth sounds, as I don't really play with eq and effects, I let the sounds themselves do the talking.
I use a spectrum analyzer throughout to try and make each sound sit in a separate space in the eq, so there isn't too much conflict and they have room to breathe.
You can also compare other sounds and tracks to see where those sounds sit in the frequency range, then try and match or surpass them.
This makes mixing and mastering far easier, as there is far less work to do, it also means very little processing, if any is required before you prepare a master.
This is exactly how mastering engineers want it, unprocessed, unfinalized, uncompressed etc.
It makes their job much easier and they can bring the best out of your material much better than you or I can. This is exactly how Ron Murphy from NSC Sound Enterprises
and many other engineers want to receive the master.
I'll put each sound into Pro Tools, edit it's length (always 24 bit), normalize it , use Maxim on it if it will work to get as much power as possible. I've usually used the FX inside units to add reverb, chorus, multi fx to the actual samples.
I can now use the V Synth to fly new sounds in to take advantage of it's heavy FX and filter processing. The variphrase only works properly if you get the right encoding, but most of my sounds only need to work across a small range of keys.
Some sounds by nature will work well across a larger range, but I actually like the differences in speed that moving up and down the keys brings.
I now use the software sampler and drum machine inside Ableton Live 4 to play the samples.
I'll use the stretch and pitch and saturation settings to further seek out new sounds, and they work pretty well, and I can make different drum kits from the result. The synth sounds remain pretty much the same except for length and looping.
I'm going to start using Reason a lot more to make drum sounds, as it's a powerful compression and fx program. I think this will produce good drum sounds too, as they are the sounds I find the most difficult, as I don't like to use the same ones over and over.
The reason I use all samples and Live 4 software to compose is simply to make it faster, portable and to blur the line between playing live and recording at home. It's this that means I'm now able to go and play a live set that I literally compose on the fly, something which I wanted to do for years, but didn't think it was possible.
It's harder to separate sounds in Live, but with some Eq used to keep the sounds in their own little eq spaces and a turned down Fuzz plug in as a compressor on just Bass Drum and bass line, it works very well.
So rather than running live midi kit , they are all used as sound sources for samples.
I used to be very anti this, but again it's all about you imposing your own character on the sound and kit, rather than letting it dictate to you.
So it doesn't matter what kit you use, just make it your own, unique slant.
Now my sound and studio is portable worldwide without having to worry about racks of gear to take with me or look after.
All this means my mixes are very static, and you don't want to have to worry about mixing too much when constructing on the fly. Plus I do mix in mono for now, just to make sure you hear everything , no matter where it gets played, TV, PC, stereo etc.
I might start to use a little stereo spread on the samples and the fx when the valve gear is fully installed as I'll have 2 systems to compare the sound, and the valves will bring the best out of the width.
Final Recording & Mastering
If the sounds have been made right, this bit won't be too difficult. I use the spectrum to make sure that the high frequencies slope offquickly form 8 to 16K, otherwise this will really screw the sound and make it sound too harsh on things like hi hats. This is very important for vinyl. You can also see if you are over cooking the bass.
But since I've got the sounds right from the start, I just have to adjust levels, ususally only slightly, and the start and end of the tracks in Ableton.
In the arrangement view I'll edit the ending to make sure it's smooth, it leaves less things to do in Pro Tools, except things like fades and maybe a little level changes.
I used to render to disk, but after reading www.johnvestman.com I now will go straight out to the analogue reel to reel and then back into Pro Tools.
Adjust the spacing between tracks and fades etc, then back out onto the reel to reel.
I may even decide to stop doing that at all , and just record straight out from Live, it's just my Edirol Firewire interface is a little hissy, and the Pro Tools M Box isn't.
But I try to do the smallest amount of processing possible, to avoid degradation of the sound file, again check out johnvestman for his opinions on this.
So when it reaches the hands of the mastering engineer ( on analogue reel to reel at 15 inches per second), it has had very little done to it.
Then they can use the equipment they have and their experience and expertise to bring the best out of what you give them.
It also makes their job a lot quicker and easier.

Live @ NEW FACE Bar, Zhanjiang City, China

16th July 2005 NEW FACE Bar, Zhanjiang City, China,
After a very long journey by bus, 10 hours, which was a big oversight, arrived in Zhanjiang, knackered, just in time for the gig to start. Sound check was bollocks. I actually had to unplug in the middle of playing, kept having people say to me your set up is wrong, no it fucking isn't! It's so simple, you just plug in and go. Lo and behold the guy hadn't plugged it in properly (left & right how hard is that?), or checked the gain so I was overpowering the speakers. Next time I will take control of the soundcheck and have a prepared ableton file ready for a test. When I had finished the guy couldn't get the CD deck working again, with people complaining about the silence! Terrible, last time I give benefit of the doubt to anyone. The gig itself, I didn't play as well or as tight as I know I can, and again not happy with the smoothness. But it's the best so far. I kept my head up and watched people intently, to try to figure out what they like. Eventually people started to dance. I played techno in my style (recording to follow as I screwed up my minidisc so I have to wait for it). It gradually started to work. I played with the speed and watched 2 people sit down when it went too fast, around 145BPM is ok I think. I don't care what anyone says, after I threw in some teched up electro beats, they responded, slowly, but they did. I then got told to play techno again, a mistake I think, but I did. Yet I know what my eyes saw, and I will be ready to throw that again, as that's what I prefer to compose live and in the studio. I'm still not at the stage I want to be (technical audio glitch problems as well, just need to go back to an eariler ableton version), as it must be as smooth as a rehearsed set would be. But I now have a good guage of what people may respond to , as well as communicating with them and seeing what they like, actually working. When finished a few people told me they really liked it, couple of drinks bought for me, and I think it seemed to go down well. So it tells me I am on the right lines. What's disappointing is what was played by the Dj's afterwards got more response. As well as the DJ shouting (bollocks in any language) over the tunes, the music was bullshit cheesey crap. Couldn't play that if I tried, wouldn't anyway, I have to flex, but not bend over for this. I never was stupid enough to think I could be a smash here, but I could be at the forefront of building something new here. This will take some time.