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Recording a band in a tight space: need advice!

Discussion in 'Recording' started by gunsofbrixton, Jan 31, 2010.

  1. gunsofbrixton

    gunsofbrixton Active Member

    Hi all,

    I am just starting out recording bands. In a few weeks I have a recording session with an indie-rock band coming up. I will be recording them in a well-equipped, but very small studio. There are no iso booths or chambers to put the guitar and bass amps. This poses a few problems I'd like your advice on.

    Basically, I'd like to record as much as possible live, because I think the performance will be better this way. But I am afraid that the amps will be much too loud on the drum mics, given that they are all in the same room. Do you think I should go for overdubs or will I be able to isolate the drum kit from the amps using Gobo stands? I don't mind spill from the amp mics on the drum mics, it should just be within reasonable limits.

    If I opt for overdubs, how can I ensure that the guitar and bass players get a sound they are used to on their headphones? Obviously I can't give them the DI signal on their headphones because it sounds toatlly different from what's usually coming out of the amp. My idea was to turn down the volume of the amps until I feel there is not too much spill on the drums mics and have the band play this way. Once the drums are recorded the rest of the band would then do their overdubs with the amps at normal volume. The downside of this would be that the spill on the drums mics is not from the same performance as the actual bass and guitar tracks. But I don't think this would be noticeable.

    I reallly appreciate your advice on this.
  2. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Can you DI the bass? Do you have a guitar effects device? Do you have TWO DI's?

    If so, DI both the guitars and the bass. Get a reasonable sound from the guitar pedal through the DI. Everybody plays and you get the feel.No bleed to the drums. If they need the vocals as a guide, use a hyper cardioid vocal mic and place it so the singers voice isnt being projected into the drum mics. I say hyper cardioid because in these circumstances you never know when you're going to get a keeper killer track from a vocalist and if theres minimal bleed you might get at LEAST a parallel backing track.

    Headphones are crucial in this situation as the drums will saturate everyones hearing. Gobo off the drum kit as best possible without sacrificing the sound of the drums. Plexi screens or office dividers work wonders for this. Rent em or buy em....If this is something you're going to be doing, its best to own and learn what they do and having an all-in-one room has its challenges as well as some rewards. After you get the groove settled, clear the drums and get the guitar players real sound....and then the singer...Minimal bleed for anything. Less headaches and repairs at mix. Its a longer process, but the rewards are huge as far as a finished sound.

    Again, amps arent necessary to get the basic drum and bass groove which will cement the feel of the songs. Everything else is a guide track. Dub later to nice clean separated rhythm grooves. Everybodys happy.
  3. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Tight spaces can make or break a recording. I've done lots of live recording in very small clubs. Tight? You betcha'. You can make all that bleed work for you or against you. In tight spaces, I don't see that you have any choice but to make it work for you. I was pretty dumbfounded when looking for a used 16 track machine back in 1978. I checked out this Ampex MM 1000-16 at Regent Sound Studios with owner Bob Loftin. He just walked me into a control room and started playing with this machine during a 16 track, tracking session. The band was in such a tight space they had no room to move. The lead singer had his back right up against the control room window. I was trying to pay attention to Bob's demonstration of the machine but I couldn't help but notice how good the band sounded. No separators, no gobo's, no nukes or crannies. Just a nice-sounding tracking session with Robert Palmer! And like the Charlie Daniels commercial, that's how it's done son. Pick the right microphones (SM57's & some 8's). Tweak your trims carefully. Keep it simple and remember less is more. You can use phase inversion with certain sources to help cancel some bandwidth issues and tighten things up. Don't really flip anything on the drums unless it's bass drum or, bottom snare. Vocals keyboards and guitars are fair game. Some of these procedures may not be possible during your tracking session but are possible during your mixing ITB in software. Noise gates on bass drum & snare drum with some limiting can work wonders. Live is where it's at. Make 'em bleed.

    No worry I'm menopausal
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  4. gunsofbrixton

    gunsofbrixton Active Member

    Yeah I have enough DIs available. But will I get a reasonable sound through the DI? Ok, it's only a guide track. But maybe the drummer will play better with a decent guitar sound on his headphones? There is one other option I was considering: A DI box with speaker simulation. Connect the preamp out of the guitar & bass preamps to the DI with speaker simulation. I think I would probably get a more decent guitar sound like this. What do you think?

    And what about my idea with the guitar amps turned low during the drum & bass recording?
  5. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I agree with Remy that you could just mic em up and let the live feel and bleed be your friend. I have done this many many many times and it will work. However, If you are just starting out then getting as clean and quiet a capture as you can will help tremendously at the mix. I wouldnt worry about the 'great' sound of the guitars in the phones for the drummers benefit as much as the bass being a keepable sound at the start. After all, you want to cature the groove of the rhythm section and keep the drum tracks pristine at this point. A Pod is the best thing for this scratch track or a pedal board with a DI on the output. No, it wont be an amp mic'd but it'll be enough in the phones to facilitate a good capture of the groove.

    Are these simply new clients or are they friends you have known before taking on this project?

    Discuss these things with them beforehand and explain why you are going to record things in a certain way. Perhaps the guitars have a device to do this in this way already and theres no worry.
  6. gunsofbrixton

    gunsofbrixton Active Member

    They are friends and they don't pay me for recording them...so there's not a lot of pressure on me, which is good.
    What do you mean exactly "perhaps the guitars have a device to do this in this way"?

    I think I actually want to have some mic bleed. I want the recording to have a slightly "raw" feeling to it, rather than perfectly polished. It's just that I recently mixed a few tracks of another band and the drums were extremely difficult to mix because there was so much bleed from the guitar amps. No compressor would work on the overheads because of it. I kind of want to avoid this. They didn't use anything to screen the drums from the amps though.

    Would you generally go for a live approach or an overdub approach with this kind of music (think Interpol or The National)? Or does it completely depend on the band and the song?
  7. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    "Raw" has nothing to do with sound control but more to do with playing. "Raw", to me, would be a lack of heavy processing in the mix allowing all of the original nuances to come through. You're going to get that 'playing together' feel by tracking drums and bass at the same time. This in itself, will contribute to a "raw" sound.

    Perhaps the guitar player(s) has a rack mount of floor multi-effect processor of some sort. THIS is where you can use the DI and acheive a decent sound for a guide track right out of the box.

    Since you arent under time constraints or a budget, take as much time as you need and get it right from the beginning. If the players are good, the songwriting sound, and theres a good vibe in the room, there's no reason you cant produce a quality recording.

    My personal choices for the style of recording have everything to do with the quality of the songs and the groups' or songwriters desire for level of completion. If you want national, be prepared to work for it and have the budget for that. Demo or personal use wont require as much nitpicking and control.
  8. Kapt.Krunch

    Kapt.Krunch Well-Known Member

    One thing not mentioned is the amps being used. If the band's "sound" depends on a cranked tube amp, then turning their amp(s) down may disorient them, and cause problems. What amps will they be using? 20 watt and over amps will be pretty loud, if cranked, and will bleed more into drum/vocal mics. But, they may need that volume if not listening through headphones to a tracking mix, to "feel" and hear their own amp like they want. 50/100W Marshall or Twin Reverb? They'll blast, or they'll sound anemic.

    Smaller amps, 15W and under can be cranked a bit higher to let the amp do its thing, and keep more of it out of other mics. Keep in mind that even a cranked 15W Fender Blues Jr. can get fairly loud. If a smaller amp just doesn't seem to be keeping up with the drums, then a mic in front of it, and mixed through headphones to the player may help. Some people HATE that because it seems to disconnect them from the "organic immediacy" of hearing the entire amp and its room reflections, instead of just the 2-dimensional sound of the mic directly in front of a speaker. Guess what. That's basically the sound being recorded, and close to the sound they are going to hear from now on, if recorded and used. Tell them to get used to it, and make it their friend.

    The smaller the amp, the more it can be cranked to sound like a good tube amp, and the less it may bleed through. Some balancing of tactics may be in order. Consider the volume of the amps, and consider some certain isolation techniques. You may even just hang a quilted packing blanket in front of the drums to help isolate...but that will also change the drums' room sound.

    One thing you may consider is going ahead to see if you can get a good live instrument performance, recorded well, and then adding vocals. This should give you total control over the vocals, and you can maybe add in a little room reverb, or whatever, later to match the sound of the rest of the instruments. If you watch what you are letting into each instrument track, then you may be able to do some tweaking to each track later, without TOO much bleed problems. The drum overheads will probably be the ones that will have the most effect on the overall mix, if you start tweaking them, since they are picking up a lot more stuff, overall. If the bass is direct, no problem. The guitar cabs will have little bleed from anything except maybe the kick and possibly some powerful cymbal crashes, since they are so close to the amp speaker. It may help to position the amps and mics so the mic directional properties work in your favor to reject sources from behind. The kick may also have little bleed, if it's in a drumhead hole, or inside the drum. The snare mic may pick up some stuff, but the snare crack itself will be so loud, and, perhaps the hi-hat so insistent, that it can be taken care of. You can probably just roll off the low end of the snare before tracking, or later.

    Just remember that if anything IS bleeding into something else, everytime you make a level or EQ adjustment to any track, or add effects such as delay or reverb, you also have to consider that the initial instruments that bled through will also be affected, somewhat, and may muddy, thin, phase, reinforce, diminish, garble...whatever...when mixed together. Keeping your initial recording levels as high as possible on each instrument will help, since as you may turn down a track to fit into the mix, it also turns down the background bled into those tracks. More this, less that. Less that means less affect on the intial tracks when tweaking this.

    Heck, we just mic everything for rehearsal (all guitar cabs; kick; snare; two OH; bass direct, but bass amp pumping...no mic; keys direct; 4 vocal mics)...and mix it down (with guitars, keys, BG vox and drum OH panned) in a Mackie 1604 directly through VERY light compression to a HiFi stereo VCR left running...WITH the vocals routed out to a Mackie 808S and four JBLs for vocal monitoring. Once I convinced the guys to watch the levels they kick in and out on the guitars, we get some pretty decent crisp and full rehearsal recordings, since I've positioned everything fairly well. Bleed? I dunno. Probably TONS of it, but it's going straight to stereo anyway...so who knows? All completely live, no overdubs, no effects added later, except some slight levelling and small EQ tweaks on the way to CD, for the ones we want to keep. I've gotten comments about how good they sound...if we could just tighten up the performances...;) Perfect? No. Pretty darn good for demo? Absolutely. All us...all real.

    Good luck,

  9. gunsofbrixton

    gunsofbrixton Active Member

    Words...they mean something else to everyone. Describing music is difficult...When I said "raw" I had something like the first Franz Ferdinand album in mind. I read about how it was recorded, pretty much everything live and with a lot of bleed. BUT very heavily processed. Just listen to the voice!

    @Kapt.Krunch: Thanks for your advice. I think I will go for a live approach rather than overdubs (if the band are good enough!). I will experiment with isolation and mic placement. We'll see if I can tame the bleed.

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