This week I got together with pianist Ben Eames. He is in 3rd year of the BMus (Hons) Music course at Napier and is a keen performer. For ages, I’ve been very interested in recording the concert grand Bosendorfer piano up at our campus. Coincidently, Ben was looking to get some solo recordings done.
We met on a night out to discuss what he’d be looking for, so that I had some idea on what to research before our session. I found out he is very much a classical pianist and he would prepare whatever he was semi-comfortable playing. I booked the Recital Room, borrowed some nice mics and had to bring down the uni’s Digidesign 003 to enable me with a recording platform and four mic inputs.
Although I only had Ben for a couple hours, I was keen to experiment with as many mic setups as possible. It was a nightmare setting up as my Pro Tools 10 threw a strop earlier in the day after installing the 003 drivers. So I went into uni anyway and spent nearly an hour setting up, not knowing if I was able to record because I was reinstalling the software…
2 x Neumann TLM103
[TLM103s: spaced 1′ from soundboard, 3′ apart, Perception 400 (omni): to make ‘happy phase’ triangle 3′ from TLM103s]
The Neumanns were positioned at about G two octaves either side of middle C, and the AKG completed a triangle, pointing inward to the middle of the piano.
I believe this is a popular tri-micing technique, as it works well to cancel out any phase issues providing you create an equal triangular shape.
[TLM103s: spaced 4″ from soundboard, 3′ apart, Perception 400 (cardioid): underside of piano 3′ from TLM103s]
Same position with the Neumanns only they were closely miced this time. The AKG was directed to the underside of the soundboard.
A slightly more unorthodox approach to a classical recording. It’s understood that close micing is more of a rock thing, as room ambience holds less importance in busier mixes.
[TLM103s: spaced 1′ from soundboard, 3′ apart, Perception 400 (omni): 5′ from TLM103s and 8′ from ground]
Similar to the first setup however this time the AKG was used more for ambience as the mic is high up and further away from the source.
I think this particular setup was quite effective as it felt the Neumanns were doing a good enough job providing a stereo image. The AKG worked the acoustics to provide a good room sound, filling the space with a natural reverb.
When it got to mixing the recordings, I didn’t have the first damn clue how to go about it. Mixing a solo piano? Surely it naturally feels just… unnatural to do anything to such a beautiful sounding instrument. I realised that with this type of recording, most of the work and concentration takes place whilst recording, and I guess this is where I wish I had more time.
What I did do though, was by instinct delay the ‘third’ mics by about 3ms, 3ms and 8ms respectively – basically until they sounded in line with the other mics. The dampers were posing my biggest challenge (again, probably my poor placement), so I notched out very intricate frequencies at 2.19kHz, 2.23kHz and 6.62kHz which took out the worst of the damper sound. EQ-wise, I brought up about 2dB wide berth of c. 210Hz, lowered about 1dB of mid at c. 700Hz and raised the air a bit with 2.2dB at c. 7.5kHz. I used a very light compressor on each, which wouldn’t have done much and I brought up the loudness overall by a gentle limiter.
Overall, I felt the outcome was good and anyone who had listened to it had positive things to say. Because the talent was in the playing, I’m not going to take any credit for it as I really didn’t know how to make it sound any better!
Quite a few things, really.
MMP – Good News!
Taking on a pretty big project – probably biting off more than I can chew. It basically involves me writing a module on live sound and teaching it to a group of six students from The Academy of Music and Sound. Got the go-ahead a few days ago after a meeting with their head, Jonathan Tait. It was a brilliant meeting and it went well – I was quite nervous because he was calling the shots whether I can use his students or not. He welcomed the idea with open arms and offered his full support – great success!
He took the email I prepared and circulated it around the Academy, to which I’ve already had 9 responses! I now have to take all applicants and filter them down so that I have at least one drummer, bassist, guitarist and vocalist… Might be tough as I haven’t had any drummers reply yet!
It was an uplifting feeling though, that people are interested in working alongside me, however now I must rise to the challenge I’ve set myself. I aim to work hard at this for the next few months, and will begin teaching the module in January. My biggest worry is that I don’t get enough work done, resulting in a disappointing end product. The last thing I want to do is let these guys down and create a bad reputation for myself…
Wee Red Bar
I’m forever busy working at the amazing Wee Red Bar, at the Edinburgh College of Art. Absolutely love it there and it’s the perfect venue for a young live sound engineer.
During busier months, I was used to doing up to 3/4 shows per week but now I’m down to 1 or 2. Suits me better anyway for when uni work sets in – tend to get carried away with work!
There’s been some cracking gigs happening the past couple months. Some of these include:
Hector Bizerk was probably the most memorable. They rocked up from another gig in Glasgow to play on a five band bill *shudders* with a 15-channel tech spec. I had 10 minutes to: reverse the previous stage setup, frantically rip apart the stage box for a whole new patch, throw extra D.I.s and mics in, set up their gear/electronics AND line check the entire setup, ready for their unique hip hop sound. Was one of the quickest changeovers considering, however they sounded fantastic as they’re a great act and really nice guys.
After a rather controversial change of hands in Cabaret Voltaire‘s operations, I’m back working there doing club shifts. Technically, everything’s changed in terms of control and overall sound. We have no mixing desk and outboard now, just a few switches controlling the amp levels of each room. All the lighting is automated and without a desk, meaning there’s no creative control over this. It’s a shame because even the little things like the timed flashing of par cans or building up a heavy strobe effect all makes a positive difference to people’s nights. Now, it’s too bright and colourful in the club, making it look cheap and cheesy. As for the sound, well, don’t get me started.
I’m still regularly playing bass with northeast ceilidh band, Ceilidh Stomp. We’re very busy in the wedding season and also with parties/fundraisers. I play with some great musicians including Liam Flaherty who first got me involved with the band. Clare Penny runs the band and is a ridiculously hardworking woman – definitely the most organised band I’ve ever been in! As I find myself performing less and less, it’s great to have gigs lined up as I’m busier with other work, and it’s a great source of income!
Getting things going with Bertrand. We’re an alternative rock four piece and have been together for a while now. I’ve been in the studio doing a bit of recording with drummer Ben where we laid some tracks down, also experimenting with a few different ideas. Hopefully in the next couple months you’ll have some proper recordings to listen to, as we only have demos with MIDI drums at the moment. We played at The Wickerman Festival in July and have just been to The Third Door supporting The Glitch. Anyway, yeah, I hope to begin tracking more of our songs soon. Stay tuned!