IT’S LIVE! Recording the Sunday Sessions

A few people have asked how the Sunday Sessions are recorded.
What mics, how many takes, software etc

The ‘Studio’:
Is basically a large room used for theatre/dance/music in the middle of an artists warehouse/residence

It’s not sound proofed, there are no baffles, no partitions, no booths. There’s no separate/isolated control room

It has a sloped corrugated iron roof partially covered with what’s left of the original ceiling material, some kind of compressed wood fibre that’s slowly deteriorating. It has a few large mirrors on some of the walls and full length drapes here and there or anywhere we like

If it rains, it’s great for … well, it’s great for recording rain on a corrugated iron roof!

Despite the mirrors and the roof or perhaps because of it and the various drapes, props and materials around, the room has a nice acoustic quality to it
Not hard, not too live, not dead, no echo and an almost imperceptible reverberation

The primary purpose of the sessions isn’t recording. It’s a pressure free environment away from any industry hype or pretense, where people can jam, play around with ideas, meet new/like minded people, push the envelope, give and accept critical dialogue. It can accommodate and there have been up to 15 players, more at a pinch

There’s no order/list of players or predetermined pieces on the day unless someone brings along something they’d like to try. No audience as such, though occasionally there are listeners

Instruments are set up across one side of the room in a wide semi-circle as they would be for a band on a stage, leaving room for dancers/other activities in front. The FOH PA enclosures are angled inwards towards the players. Everyone can see and hear each other without the use of head sets.

Because recording isn’t the primary aim, not everything is recorded and not everything recorded is published. Try to present the best of each session. Sometimes for a variety of reasons nothing makes the grade …

All recording at the sessions is one take: Often there’s no discussion about what’s going to happen. Players will sometimes start while a large file is being saved or before record is pressed and because it’s entirely improvised, it’s not the kind of thing one can say “OK guys, start again!”. The end result is sometimes beginnings are either faded in or a reasonable starting point is found and suitably edited. Likewise with endings. Some improvisations have extended to an hour!

Everything is close miked: (to prevent live leakage) or DI’d. In a room of this size it’s not necessary to have drums, electric bass, electric keyboard and guitar amps thru the PA. As a consequence, the recorded sound is not the same as the live sound

What goes in: No overdubs, no samples. Everything is recorded fairly flat, with a boost to the tops on ribbon mics and some roll off on the subs to eliminate rumble. There are Triton FetHeads on ribbon mics, which combined with the Pro Channel ‘tube’ plug in gives a close proximity to the warmth of a tube preamp. Phantom power required for a FetHead can’t pass through to the microphone. MORE @ Tech Tips

What comes out in the Mix Down: Some compression on some individual channels, EQ tweek, ProChannel ‘tube’ on ribbons, reverb on vocals etc. Compression on drums, reverb for spacial positioning

The tracks are edited then mixed down and mastered, with a touch of 4 band compression, EQ tweek and final reverb. Since October 2015 the ‘sound’ of the room has been captured using two (2 x STC 4021s)

Editing & mix down Choices: If a track isn’t adding to what’s going on, necessary to the sound or for whatever reason isn’t up to scratch it’s archived as a reference for anyone who asks “Why aren’t I in there?”. If no one asks it’s eventually deleted, as are monumentally boring bits and blatantly obvious mistakes. Clicks, pops, hum etc are of course edited or EQ’d out

The final product has a lot less than what we started with!

All mics and DI’s first go thru: a PreSonus StudioLive 24.4.2 – 24 channel digital mixer and firewire to the recording computer

Fujitsu Lifebook SH761: Processor – Intel(R) Core(TM) J7-2620M. CPU – 2.70 GHz. RAM – 8.00 GB. Operating System – 64-bit / Windows 7
At the moment recording 24 tracks @ 48,000 Hz Record Bit Depth 24

Recording Software/Daw: Sonar X2 Producer 64-Bit. The 64-Bit takes advantage of extra memory capabilities for recording as a consequence is less prone than 32-Bit to drop outs.
The mix down: is done in Sonar X2 Producer 32-Bit to take advantage of a wider range of plugins. Sonar X2 32-bit has a 64 bit engine, so there is no loss of the recorded quality/depth
Extra Processing 32-Bit & 64-Bit Plugins: The Sonar 32 & 64 bit range, Sound Forge 10, iZotope Ozone 5 and Variety of Sound (Warm, free and extremely nice)

From the Presonus: there’s a stereo send to a 1970 Jands JM10 12 Channel Analogue mixer to the PA FOH with a touch of reverb added via a Digitec DSP128 processor. Talkback and other non-recorded signals go thru this desk to the PA and Fold Back.

The PA/FOH: 2 x 15″ JBL reflex enclosures & 2 x JBL 2425J HF compression drivers, powered by a Behringer iNUKE NU3000 – Stereo 880 Watts per side, so they say. In such a small space the FOH with a touch of reverb also acts as a foldback for vocals and acoustic instruments. No guitar amps, bass, keyboards or drums. This is quite adequate for the players and an audience.

Fold Back System: 1 x dBTechnologies Opera Biamped 15″ wedge for brass and vocals. 1 x ElectroVoice FM-12C wedge for the drummer. 2 x 12″ x 2 way enclosures powered by an Amcron Micro-Tech 1200 – Stereo 480 Watts per side. The two 12″ speakers are set either side and to the rear of the players at head height

Fold back carries a raw signal from the Presonus, no reverb or effects. Mono vocals & acoustic instruments and a slight touch of keyboards & guitar amps to their opposite sides of the band setup so everyone can hear each other. The monitor for the drummer carries vocals, acoustic instruments and a touch of the other amplified instruments. (if the drummer can’t hear themselves, they’re playing too ^&%$#@ loud! :-)

Gain for FOH & Fold Back is set: just below feedback, then taken down a notch. It’s fat and hot, even if I do say so myself. Quite often have to show mic shy ‘singers’ how to ‘make love’ to a mic, it is after all an intricate part of their ‘instrument’. (More about mic technique and muscle memory exercises for singers/players/performers in a later article)

Drum Kit: The house kit is on a 10″ mobile drum riser, permanently close miked (great minds think alike :-).
Cymbals 2 x (Matched Pair) Rode NT55 positioned overhead by about 1/3 of a mtr.
Kick drum 1 x Sennheiser e602-II.
Main snare is a 1930’s Premiere double snare 2 x SM57 one on top, one underneath close to the snare). There is also 1 x Dixon Piccolo Snare and 1 x Drouyn 12″ Double Snare
Tom Toms 3 x SM57.
HiHat 1 x SM57.
The drums are not damped. So we get a full range of tonality which can be EQ’d out and compressed in the mix. Tonality can’t be put in in the mix because if it ain’t there, it simply ain’t there! However it’s easy to make drums sound like cardboard boxes. I have a special preset.

Congas/percussion 1 x Sennheiser 421
Usually have to tell people not to play Tambourine, Cow Bell, Triangle, Afuche/Cabasa, Claves etc into the mic. A) They have unique sounds so they’ll be heard anyway and; B) they’re ‘hard surfaces’ that overload the mic signal

Bass: Via a DI after the musicians effects if they insist. For a normal recording situation I’d also mic the bass rig with the Shure 330 Uni-Ron Ribbon or a 1940s Electro-Voice V-1 Ribbon @ about 1/2 mtr from the cabinet, sometimes with a chunk of acoustic foam clipped to the reverse side. I prefer to play and record bass without any effects unless they’re an essential part of the live sound. With a nice clear fully tonal recording you can do anything with it. You can’t delete effects from a recorded sound and you can’t add ‘tonality’ or ‘string and finger sound’ with EQ if it wasn’t recorded in the first place. All you can do is + or – bass & treble.

For recording double bass, use their bug if they have one into one channel and another channel with an ElectroVoice V-1 about 12″ from the instrument directly in front about 6″ above the bridge, with a chunk of acoustic foam clipped to the back. Best if the instrument is far away from the kick drum, or side on at worst.

Digital Keyboard: Via a DI, again after the musicians effects if they insist.

Guitar cabinets: Vox AC30 – 1 x Fostex M88RP Flat Coil Printed Ribbon (with a chunk of acoustic foam clipped to the reverse side), Roland JC120 – 1 x 1952 Riem 230 Mignon Ribbon (same, chunk of acoustic foam), Fender Princeton DSP65 – 1 x 1960s Shure 330 Uni-Ron Ribbon

1960s Shure 330 Uni-Ron ribbon & guitar cab

In a normal recording situation, I’d double mic guitar cabinets with Shure SM57s or an SM58 with the grill taken off, basically the same as an SM57 about a foot away and slightly to one side of the speaker. There’s usually not enough channels or mics available on the Sunday Sessions to double mic :-(

Sax/Brass: 1 x SM57 sans transformer + FetHead

In a normal recording situation for more than one brass instrument an SM315 ribbon, doubled with an Rode NT55 above the SM315 and just above head height. Players proximity to the mic is important. One step back for trumpet/flugelhorn, one and a half steps back for trombone. One step forward for flute. OR place flute and sax/es to the front or back, with trumpet/flugelhorn and trombone playing slightly to the ‘sides’ of the SM315. Do test runs to find the optimal positioning

Vocals: In this live situation 2 x Beyerdynamic M500 Ribbons (matched pair) thru Triton FetHead pre-amps, 1 x Sennheiser e835, 3 x Shure SM58’s. If recording vocals separately I’d use ribbons as a first choice

Again, in this live situation, all vocal mics have foam covers which cuts down on ‘popping’ ‘p’s, ‘b’s and the whoof of the ‘when/what/why’ and fullsome f‘s. Also makes for easy cleaning after each use. Otherwise I’d use ribbon mics with pop screens. Other tips for reducing popping

Finally & a recent addition
The Room Mics
11 08 2015 STC 4021
2 x STC 4021 Apple and Biscuit
Suspended midway between floor and ceiling, about 1/3rd of the room apart
Slight boost to tops and bottom end and slight compression, no other effects.
Mixed in as a ‘dry’ stereo track to the mastered track to give it a unique, actual ‘room’ or ’82a signature’ sound.

NB: Whatever you send SoundCloud:, they first convert it to a WAV file, then render to a 128kb/s MP3 for listening. This results in low quality MP3 artifacts. They recommend up loading a WAV file which uses up copious amounts of bandwidth for upload and download.>

I export an MP3 via Lame at the highest quality Lame preset called ‘insane’
Lame first produces a WAV file, then converts to MP3, my setting in Lame for that WAV file is 44,100 x 24 bit

For best listening to the 82a Sunday Sessions from SoundCloud: Download the file. You’ll get the original MP3 file @ 320kb/s (on the earlier recordings 156kb/s vbr – gradually being replaced with the 320kb/s MP3’s ) More on MP3’s – Free Lame Encoder & Sonar

full list of Microphones, bugs and Di’s

VA@82A (Virtually Acoustic):
The last hour is usually an acoustic period. Absolutely essential amplification only!

Captured at the 82a Sunday Session on the 31st May 2015
Craig Collinge electric piano, Arron Manfield sax, Benni Seidel audio edit mix,
Mono raw, recorded flat (no EQ)

After mastering

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Thanks to Frank Sinko for caring for this mic before I bought it

Captured at the 82a Sunday Session on the 15th March 2015
Melanie Eden vocal, Peter Busboom guitar L, Arron Manfield flute, Benni Seidel bass. When players listen anything is possible

Recorded with Vocals and flute thru PA (recorded with 2 room mics, amps close miked – FedHead preamps)

Left Room
RCA Varacoustic MI-6203-D 1945
1945 RCA Varacoustic MI-6203-D ribbon
Right Room
1952 Riem 230 Mignon 01
1952 Riem 230 Mignon ribbon
Guitar amp mic
1960s Shure 330 Uni-Ron ribbon SN530
1960’s Shure 330 Uni-Ron ribbon
Bass amp mic
1940s Electro-Voice V-1 01
1940’s Electro-Voice V-1 ribbon

Mixing process: Because the room is live and there’s spill, a lot is EQ’d out, leaving only what’s required to define the character of each instrument or voice. The tracks are then grouped, edited, cut down, getting rid of glaring mistakes and really boring bits before position/panning & reverb/effects on each channel if necessary and a mix down. The mixed track is kept in the one DAW file as separate tracks. A copy of the raw mix is exported as a high quality .wav file, so if the DAW file is lost or corrupted there’s still a copy of the semi finished track.

Mastering: Usually left for a few days before mastering with Sound Forge 10 & iZotope Ozone 5. I do this in Sonar X2 so the mastered tracks stay in the same DAW file as separate tracks. The mastered tracks are also exported as high quality .wav files in case the DAW file is lost or corrupted.

Monitoring: 2 x Behringer Truth B2031As – 2 x Bowers & Wilkins DM12s and a Hyundai SW-HY-1010 for Subs powered by a SonyTA-1120A. (The B&W’s, Hyundai sub and Sony were found discarded in a Sydney back lane) Five different head sets … incl Sennheiser HD 595’s and AKG 701’s

Distribution: MP3 by Lame via the Sonar DAW
Lame Code for Sonar )

About 82A Sunday Sessions

The 82a Sunday Sessions are every Sunday 3:00pm to 7:00pm in a private studio/rehearsal space in Alexandria Sydney Australia The sessions are open to experienced musicians/performers/artists who're interested in collaborating, experimenting, pushing their envelope and critical dialogue in a cross section of performance arts. Music, spoken word, movement etc. The facilities and equipment are provided free to participants. Originality and critical dialogue are encouraged!
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