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The Roger Nichols Recording Method

Discussion in 'Recording' started by ChrisH, Apr 22, 2016.

  1. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    Hi Everyone,

    I'm creating this thread to discuss Roger Nichols as an engineer and of course his recording and mixing methods stated in his book.
    Just purchased a copy of this book, not sure how many know about this book though.
    Haven't seen the protools files yet because it requires an iLok, so i'm debating purchasing one, probably wont unless someone can vouch that it would be worth it.
    I've read through the entire book once, some really good interesting information, I feel any engineer at any level would benefit from reading this book.

    This book is full of interesting quotes on approach I've never heard.. For example..

    Regarding Microphone Placement Starting Point:
    - "As a starting point, place the microphone at a distance from the instrument equal to the size of the sound source."

    Something also interesting to me but not surprising is that he's wasn't a big fan of compression at all, in fact he avoided it to the point that it was only used as the last option and only when you couldn't hear any change in tonality and character.
    After microphone placement he stresses always using Eq before Compression whenever possible and at the same time microphone placement before EQ, of course.
    Also EQ'ing things on the way in was his jam which makes me long for something like a Toft ATB16 just for tracking with EQ and dedicating to it, I think there's a lot to be said for that approach.
    In regards to EQ there is certainly a boost before (while tracking), cut later while mixing theme.
  2. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    I'll have to check out that book. I love eq while tracking. As far as when to cut/boost, I'll do either at any time. In general I'll do a bit of both, say like a hpf long with a boost in the top, or a mid cut. Typical fare.

    Consoles like a toft are cool from what I hear. I messed around w a trident 64 at the studio for a few months while we it, I loved the low end on the eq. I sold just about everything I had (gear wise) but I held on to a Tascam m-30 mixer. I paid $100 for the mixer, reel to reel, and spring reverb, of a buddy of mine. Anyway is like a $20 mixer, but it's got 8 Transformer based (coupled?) pres, and a 3 and semi parametric eqs.

    I bought it on a whim, hadn't heard of it, didn't even know if it passed signal, i just knew it powered on. I took it home, and after an hour, lol I got sound. (In my defense it's a confusing mixer, due to its routing and submixing section, which made it so versatile, in the late 70 early 80's home recording scenarios.)

    As soon as I heard the check check of my voice, I went whoa, this thing sounds good! Imo it sounds better than any mackie, a&h, berringer, or presonus stuff I've used.

    Im going to redo the case and clean up the electronics before I put it to use in the new setup. Figured I'd mention it, becasue a lot of the older Tascam stuff is super cheap, and actually well built and designed. Transformers can contribute a lot to sound.

    As dingy and old as the mixer looks, it's actually quite 'clean' sounding. At like $2.50 per channel, the old Tascam mixers can be useful. Two caveats- they don't all have phantom power, or balanced output (think RCA output connectors), so, it's not an end all, but worth keeping your eyes open at yard sales.
    ChrisH and Kurt Foster like this.
  3. miyaru

    miyaru Active Member

    I never EQ while recording. Although that is subjective..... I do put fx on guitar while tracking using stompboxes, and use the eq on my amp while tracking. I do not use a console at all, I use my Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 for everything soundwhise in my studio. I did use a console in the past, but space limitation is now a factor so the consoles had to leave in my new home....... Do I miss them? not really at the moment.

    I find it tricky to record with EQ or compression, I leave that for the mixing stage. Bookwhise I'm reading Mixing Secrets from Mike Senior right now. Interesting book, learn from it, and see opinions that are interesting. For about $30,= it is a nice book!

  4. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    If I know the band well I'll do all sorts of things on the way in. When I don't know what to expect I hedge, bypassing most eq and compression. Usually I'm using a Tascam M2600 Mk2 which is okay but nothing special. I guess it's fairly neutral, which leaves getting good sound up to me. If I had to track without processing it wouldn't kill me. Besides, if you can pick your mic you're effectively eq-ing on the way in anyway.
  5. miyaru

    miyaru Active Member

    That's right Bouldersound, choosing a mic, is chossing a sound colour.......

  6. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    keep in mind Nichols had the advantage of ..... 1) great rooms he could trust for tracking and listening subjectively. i know he placed great importance on having a good listening environment as i attended a seminar where he, John Storyk and John Meyer set up a C/R at the Hilton in SF, and 2) great consoles. i myself would hesitate using the EQ on any table top board.
  7. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Yeah mic position and choice is the first key, (after room, instrument, Ect). after exhausting the mic collection and picking the perfect mic, there may still be room left for enhancement or correction with EQ and compression. I find chipping away a few db at a time leaves less dbs for the plug-insand CPU to have to augment. Eq is just so powerful, and fast, and intuitive, tracking, to me is a great time to apply it, during the inspiring sound getting. i love the power of tone eq and compression have, and I want to "feel" it when we are tracking. The eq and compression interact in a realtime way, the effect the performance itself. The interaction of the artist and the processing on the way in is part of the performance. It effects how the artist hears themselves during the moment of performance. this can be done in monitoring only, but I just try and print what where excited about at the moment.

    If you think of like, good gain staging technique outside the realm of just pre amp gain, and apply it to EQ and GR, it's letting each processor handle a lesser load, so nothing has to work to hard on its own. It helps preserve overall continuity to the sound imo. Your feeding the daw a more refined "finished" product.

    This is all naturally circumstantial. But I personally love that opportunity to enhance in the moment.

    I'm more into channel strips, and chained units, than consoles in general. There more compact. And there's less fat. Consoles have faders, summing amps, auxes, buses, and the related chips and caps. This contributes to there sound for better worse or negligible effect. Channel strips are more affordable, and less maintenance and power hungry in general. There's not the phase coherence issues you'd have with a console. a console that doesn't control Daw functions, is impractical in most recording cases, when your talking anything larger than a 16 ch footprint.

    Consoles make sense if you need a lot of channels and or quickly, like drums, or a studio that records other bands and musicians. This is where affordability happens. 8ch of Tascam or toft does a whole drum kit. A whole kit for $50, with xformer based pres, and eq. It's impossible to beat price wise. The toft illustrates that at a different price point. 8ch of toft the trident based eq and pres in the toft, would cost 2-3x in separate rackmount units. The extra power supplies for 16 individual pre and eq units would be expensive and impractical.

    I like combo pre/eq units like a cleared/neve or whatever brand, and a separate compressor unit. When you start to squeeze a compressor into the channel strip, it limits the compressors design constraints. The presonus eureka has a decent transparent compressor built in.

    I like the idea of a stereo pre/eq, patched into a stereo compressor, preferably with the ability to patch the compressor pre or post eq.

    Again this is all circumstance. My philosophy is from the player and instrument, on in the chain, make everything as enhanced as possible as soon as possible, I want my processing done sooner than later. This doesn't mean I won't go light if unsure. I always (whenever possible) print DIs and safes, and triggers, samples, Ect. Printing the direct outs, and/or splitting the signal after the pre amp is always a fail safe too.

    My philosophy is to basically have a fail safe, and an enhanced inspired version whenever possible. I look at the tracking as a processing stage that cannot be reproduced, yet until Dsp is better. Even if the pluggin and the box were identical sounding, the way the next eq (for instance) in line handles the signal is different when it's in a series of inserts, vs soley processing a signal. If I apply a 6db boost during the tracking and print it, it would sound different than printing flat, and applying the same exact settings and processing. I belive this is true analog or digital. I'm not definding one way or another just noting it is 'different'.

    Flat is for pancakes lol.

    I'm going to take the Tascam apart, clean it up, replace all the scratchy pots, rebuilt he power supply, do chips and caps, make new hardwood sides for it, and roackmount it. This is really just for fun, more as a soldering project than anything else.
    JayTerrance likes this.
  8. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    another thing to think about, ..... digital eq sounds different than analog eq.

    check out a Millennia STT-1 Origin. no compromises. excellent channel strip.
  9. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    That looks pretty cool. I still like having a compresser in a different box personally. Something like that is great, but it's all gonna have a millennia sound. I would argue if those units were separated there would be inherently less design compromises and a better final product. Maybe not, lol I haven't used it. Like the La-610 for instance, is not the same design as the 610 and la-2 separately. They removed tubes from the compresser sections, I think in the amplifier section of it. Millennia notes they included the amplifier tubes with they're selective unit.

    I'm wondering what other options are there for Eq besides desktop consoles, or consoles? A pultec? A range peq15? The 550a? It seems to me an eq in general (besides a tube based) can be incorporated/paired a lot more easily with the preamp and its box. That's where your getting your gains, both signal, and frequency dependent gains in the eq. Plus, I like the idea that when messing w phase (eq) the pre and eq, are close together physically, and with similar/match component levels. All that crap, seems to just be at that crucial point, the input amp.

    Compressors just seem like a different animal, something that should be separate. Obviously there's hard bypass, and individual ins/outs on a lot of channel strips. As cool as that box is, I'm not into Swiss army boxes like that in general, because, they, unlike a real Swiss Army knife, only do one or two things usefully well.
  10. JayTerrance

    JayTerrance Active Member

    {like +1}
  11. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i have an SST-1 and i can say there are absolutely no compromises. the full featured comp section can be accessed separately and is very much like an LA2. the eq is stellar and we all know what the mic pre is. the advantage of being able to kick in the transformer if you wish and the choice of ss or valve topology is an added bonus. of course it all comes at a price but i will say if you can find a nice used one you will not loose money when you decide to sell. these box's have held their value quite well for over ten years now.

    this is an example i recorded a few years ago .... keep in mind my lame singing and playing aren't top notch but you can hear the sound. the solo is done on a dano longhorn bass squished by the comp.

    kmetal likes this.
  12. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    I love how most good gear holds its value! My question is, do you feel like the extra options and switches are truly useful? Not so much at the top echelons like milllenia, but you know how those things can be pure gimmick.

    Millennia is a company I ignored for a long time, because I was always into saturation and harmonic buildup/distortions. I've always felt clean/transparent had a place, good clean, not that old 90's 'sterile' clean. I've figured out quite a bit about distortions, and bad garages, over the years. I've always noticed cleaner recordings seem to stand the test of time. Anyways, I gues what I'm trying to say is, I'm into clean gear lately, and there's a difference between a focusrite Octo pre, and a milllenia or grace. All clean, but the money is in the size and presence, which is where the price points reflect.

    Tubes don't have to be dirty or old sounding. I was shocked how clean the Manley tube pres are. And I'm longing to hear a McIntosh. As a rocker guitarist, I always associated the characteristics of tubes, with grit and power, but I've learned a bit.

    did you do that to tape Kurt?
  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I understand that many engineers do think this way, and if that works for them, then it's not for me to say otherwise.

    But, speaking for myself, I never say "never"... LOL, or really put any limits on what I do, as each project is its own thing. There have been times where I've tracked with no EQ at all, and other times where I've used all kinds of it.
    If I can get a sound I like on the way into the DAW by using EQ to do it? Then I will. Every project is different, and what worked on one song/track might not work for another.

    I'm all about context - taking each project/song/track as its "own thing", with its own requirements, its own individual approach.

    Although, there seems to be more of a tendency in digital to record without adding obvious EQ - because so many preamps/I-O's don't offer any EQ adjustment to the signal - unless you're counting the front-loaded tonal differences of certain tranny or tube preamps/channel strips, or using the tonal character of certain plugs which allow processed signal to be printed as such to the DAW; or, for that matter, even using HPF's on particular mics - which also have their own tonal characteristics, too - which will also change the EQ of a signal.

    I'd wager to say that nothing I record is ever really truly flat, as I commonly use those things I've mentioned above, and they all offer their own coloration and tonal textures.

    As Kurt ( @Kurt Foster ) has said several times, even preamps that are touted as being "transparent" as their main selling feature aren't 100% truly transparent. While there are pres that are certainly far less colored than others, there will always be some kind of tonal character involved, to one degree or another.
    Obviously, this coloration is more apparent with transformer or tube-based models; and after all, that's precisely why we choose to use those types at certain times - but even preamps like Grace, RME, and Millennia, which are sought after because of their lack of obvious coloration, will still have their own individual tonal character. It's just the nature of the beast - anytime you route signal through a box with voltage - which uses wires, caps and resistors - you're bound to pick up some sonic coloration.

    It really comes down to whether or not you dig the sound of that particular coloration... or lack of it. ;)

    kmetal likes this.
  14. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i do think all the options are useful. the box is well built using military grade switches and potentiometers.

    that was recorded to Cubase 24/48. unfortunately i can't load the wave file here so i was forced to use the nowhere mp3. it sounds better in wave.
    kmetal likes this.
  15. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    You know man, I've been racking my brain for months about this. As a collective, our ability to share/demonstrate/present content is pathetic, especially given the field where in. I can see where on RO or any site in general, it would be expensive to store .wav files, especially when talking "mix micro tweak #1,000" in the critique section, or an HD film clip would be massive, both storage and stream wise.

    So with an understanding of the constraints aside, 34 years ago, 16/44.1 became Standard. So now we're listening to a degraded version routinely, that's 2 years older than I am. That's one big thing I like Dropbox for, is that it will stream any quality your hardware/connection can support.

    I think we should put our heads together about this, and hopefully find a way to demonstrate our points in at least 'cd' quality. I'm slowly getting things together on my new rig. I'd gladly contribute anything I can to make things easier, and I'd feel just fine with the ones I know remotely accessing my remote drive. It seems storage is not so much the problem but the streaming? I'm just starting to learn about CPU component level relationships, and networking, so I don't understand the how's and whys of how it even works now.

    I love our multimedia approach these days. We're finally showing more and more of our own work, and using audio examples to describe our points. Even better is we can hear them right in our sweet spots. Compared to even just 3 years ago, we are really illustrating our texts better. And this is only the beginning... What I've noticed often is the point rendered irrelevant due to you tube destruction. I wonder if YouTube HD is actually streaming 16/44.1.??

    Battery low, that's it for now. Cheers.
  16. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    I believe this has to be true, spot on.
  17. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Given the option I'd prefer eq and dynamics be controlled by eq and dynamics processors, not by the inherent flaws of the storage and transmission technologies.
  18. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    This is very interesting, it makes sense to me but I have not had the pleasure of experiencing quality analog processing myself.
    It's all about having fun and being intuitive, right? I imagine being intuitive with processing while tracking would be a very cool and exciting experience.
  19. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I don't know about "intuitive", but if I were an author I would be annoyed if printing or shipping my book changed the words I wrote.
  20. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    well then you should prepare yourself to be annoyed for the rest of your life. there is no capture or processing that does not change the signal in some way. the best to be expected is to record something and then be happy with the results.
    JayTerrance and ChrisH like this.

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