`Warm Day of the Year` Performed by Eoin McCabe Recorded by

`Warm Day of the Year` Performed by Eoin McCabe Recorded by
UNIVERSITY OF LIMERICK – IMEDIA – MIDI & STUDIO TECHNIQUES – LECTURER: JÜRGEN SIMPSON – 2004
Stereo recording assignment
‘Warm Day of the Year’
Performed by
Eoin McCabe
Recorded by:
Daniel Scully, Ronan Tighe & Brendan Brophy
This report compiled by
Daniel Scully (0419842)
Monday 7th February 2005
The Artist
Eoin McCabe – Eoin is an old friend of mine and a prolific songwriter. He kindly agreed to come
down to UL and provide the talent for our recording; we couldn’t have done it without him. Eoin has
created a vast repertoire of original tracks. In addition he plays a wide range of instruments as well
as providing the lead vocals for the group ‘Ventilin Pimps’.
Ventilin Pimps are a four piece band who have recently burst on the scene from Drogheda and
have built up a large following in a short space of time. Their terrific live sets of funky rock riffs and
haunting violin-based melodies have seen the band headline Whelan’s of Wexford St. in Dublin
twice already. Following the success of their debut single 'F# Organ' the group have received rave
reviews not least from Hotpress who commented 'The coolly named Ventilin Pimps are an up and
coming four piece from Drogheda, with vocals reminiscent of Damien Rice's former band Juniper.
Their debut single features a rocking rhythm section, discordant electric guitar and a violin player.
Dan Hegarty, 2FM, summed up the band by saying simply 'Great Stuff'. The band has just finished
recording their debut album with their next single 'Dead From The Waist Down' due to be released
shortly. This will coincide with a full national tour.
The Studio Experience
We booked the recording studio from 6pm on the 28th of January to 3.30 pm on the following day.
Initially we thought this would be ample time to meet the requirements of the assignment and
perhaps allow us to record another song or two. How wrong we were! It was not as easy as we
had presumed. It took most of the first day to figure out how to operate the O2R desk in
conjunction with ProTools. It really was like baby steps. Thankfully Eoin is a good mate of mine, a
patient guy who was quite content to tinker with the instruments in the studio while we got to grips
with using the control room. Trial and error eventually led to us being able to get a track down
correctly, but it took a lot longer than we had anticipated.
Finally, content that we knew what we were doing, and capable of doing it again – we put the first
nights work down to practice and experience. That night the ProTools file which we recorded is
called Eoin McCabe Session and also in our folder on Sound One. It sounds terrible but serves as
a good example of our learning curve. We started from beginning again at 9am the next day, and
everything went a lot smoother this time. It took all day, but thanks to Eoin’s talent and our
perseverance – we got what we needed – a multitrack recording. It is in the ProTools session
entitled ‘Friday’ and ‘Friday Back-up’.
The track which Eoin choose to perform is entitled ‘Warm Day of the Year’. It is just under 3
minutes long. It is a track that Eoin felt comfortable with it, in terms of playing acoustic guitar,
electric guitar, piano and singing. That said, I hope that you forgive the fact that the track does not
meet the 4 minute duration required by the assignment. As none of us in the group play an
instrument, I was grateful for Eoin’s help and not prepared to argue with him about the duration of
the track. It is a really nice song after all.
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The Recording Process
In this section I will identify the various tracks we recorded and the recording techniques used. The
microphones we used were the RODE matched pair and the Neumann U87 matched pair for both
mono and stereo recordings.
The Acoustic Guitar (Guide Track)
The first track we recorded was the acoustic backing/guide track. Eoin had brought his own
acoustic guitar which we recorded using various microphone techniques. We made the recording
of the acoustic guitar using a pair of Neumann U87 microphones. There was five recording made
in all, consisting of various microphone positioning techniques producing a selection of mono tracks
and a couple of stereo tracks.
It was a difficult process to balance the results, insofar as finding the right position to make the
most of the sound without getting interference from Eoin’s finger movements along the fret of the
guitar across the strings. That sound was hard to avoid.
The best recording was done when the microphones were evenly spaced between the body and
bridge of the guitar. But even so, there was still a problem of the ‘screech’ across the strings being
recorded in some segments. The guitar track is very important to the track and it sets the tempo
for everything else. It was vital to get the right sound for this track.
The Vocal Track
This was the easiest part of the recording, but still had its ups and downs. We did a few takes but
they were all very different. In some tracks the vocals were clear and defined in terms of the lyrics
but on other tracks the lyrics were too elongated, where Eoin seemed to drag the words out. We
found a happy medium in the end that matched the tempo of the chosen acoustic recording.
Eoin is the only voice on the track, there is no harmony – so all the vocal tracks were recorded
using a single Neumann U87 to produce a mono recording. On only one occasion did we get the
vocal recoding just right – without bleed from playback over the headphones? This was the track
we used in the final edit. We could not figure out what we were doing wrong and ended up with
this playback bleed for the rest of the tracks recorded that day. It was only slightly heard, but
clearly visible in the waveforms on ProTools. However the recording of Eoin singing does sound
really nice and warm – he has a great voice.
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The Piano
The grand piano was the easiest to record in different ways. Eoin does not really play piano as
such, but he was prepared to give it a go. We opened the lid of the piano and positioned our
microphones; both the RODEs matched pair and the Neumann U87 pair just above the strings are
different angles depending on the technique used. Personally, I found it difficult to make
judgement as to which microphones or positions worked best. We could have used any of the
techniques because the segments of piano were going to be short and faded in and out on the
track.
However, the problem of bleed on playback was still hindering us. In the end the best piano tracks
were recorded when everything but the vocal was muted on playback. This way Eoin played the
piano just to the sound and rhythm of his voice on the track. This worked well in terms of placing
the emphasis on the lyrics, building them up and fading out with them.
The Electric Guitar
We used a spaced microphone technique utilising the RODE matched pair, which were place five
feet apart in front of the amplifier of the guitar. We had sought to connect the guitar directly to the
control room but were unable to find an adaptor socket. Recording from the Amp gave us a weird
stereo sound, very Pink Floyd, but difficult to avoid feedback. There are five different electric tracks
to choose from.
It was intended to sound very loose, light in the background of the track to give it more depth and
distance between the lyrics. We would have liked to have had a sample which we could have used
as an intro to the song, but again the problem of bleed form the backing track, meant that individual
elements of the track could not be used out of sync. Pity.
Percussion
Lastly, we asked Eoin to utilise the various percussion instruments in the studio, by beating on the
drum kit, tapping on the cymbals. In this way we trying to evaluate how different percussion
sounds might work with the track, we recorded some of the sounds but in the end, we decided the
track did not need a percussion section or background beat. The piece of piano gave the track
enough lift. The percussion tracks were recorded in mono and are in the ProTools folder entitled
‘Friday Back-Up’.
Post – Production
The tracks that we recorded with Eoin were all stored in our folder in Sound One, on the Studio
Mac. We put these tracks in the Shared Folder, downloaded them onto a computer in The Music
Technology lab, burnt the files to DVD and moved them over to the post-production desk. This
meant that we didn’t take up time in the Recording Studio Control Room editing the song. We then
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took the time to analyse each track in turn to figure out what worked best together. This process
took a whole afternoon and evening – along with a couple of creative arguments thrown in.
We began by selecting our choice of vocal track first. The next step was deciding on which
acoustic backing track to use – two mono tracks or which stereo track to use. We even tried mixing
tracks on top of each other to get more depth or echo on the guitar track in certain segments at the
beginning and end, but it just didn’t sound right to us in the final mix.
The other striking elements of the recording session were the little segments of electric guitar and
piano, even though they are quite short in duration. They give a real smooth attitude to the track.
We had five different piano recordings to choose from and a four different electric guitar tracks. We
ended up splicing the elements we liked from each instruments various tracks on to two new tracks
specifically for those edits. These edits were then positioned beneath the acoustic and vocal
tracks. The piano and electric guitar are also faded in and out where required as well as being
lowered slightly on the playback volume.
In was while in the Post Production studio that we realised where some of the tracks recorded were
better than others. The problem of bleeding from ‘playback’ over the headphones during recording
– proved to be a real nightmare in terms of syncing up tracks. This meant that some tracks were
just unusable. The entire files from the Post Production studio are on the accompanying DVD, and
are also saved onto the hard drive on the computer in that studio.
Discussion of Stereo Recording Techniques
The word 'stereophonic' is actually derived from Greek, and means 'solid sound', referring to the
construction of believable, solid, stable sound images, regardless of how many loudspeakers are
used. There are basically three ways of creating stereo sound images over a pair of loudspeakers:
•
The first is an entirely artificial technique based on Alan Blumlein's work, and uses pan
pots to position the sound images from individual microphones by sending different
proportions of each microphone to the two channels.
•
The second technique is the use of two or more identical but spaced microphones. These
microphones capture sounds at differing times because of their physical separation, and so
record time-of-arrival information in the two channels.
•
The third system is that of coincident microphones, and this has become the backbone of
all radio, television, and a lot of commercial stereo recordings. This technique uses a pair
of identical directional microphones, each feeding one channel. The microphones capture
sound sources in differing levels between the two channels, much like the pan-pot system,
but this time the signal amplitudes vary in direct relation to the physical angle between
microphones and sound sources.
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Analysis of Stereo Recording
We recorded the sound sources one at a time providing for monitoring facilities (i.e. - headphones)
for each of the takes and recorded these onto separate tracks in ProTools using the routing system
in the O2R desk. In the case of the sound sources destined for stereo recording, there had to be a
stereo element to the source as the acoustic and electric guitar tracks and that of the piano. The
techniques we used are outlined below.
Coincident Pair
With the coincident-pair method (XY or intensity stereo method), two directional microphones are
mounted with grilles nearly touching and diaphragms one above the other, angled apart to aim
approximately toward the left and right sides of the ensemble (see illustration below). For example,
two cardioid microphones can be mounted angled apart, their grilles one above the other. Other
directional patterns can be used, too. The greater the angle between microphones, and the
narrower the polar pattern, the wider the stereo spread.
Coincident-pair technique
Let’s explain how the coincident-pair technique produces localizable images. A directional
microphone is most sensitive to sounds in front of the microphone (on-axis) and progressively less
sensitive to sounds arriving off-axis. That is, a directional microphone produces a relatively highlevel signal from the sound source it's aimed at and a relatively low-level signal for all other sound
sources.
The coincident-pair method uses two directional microphones symmetrically angled from the centre
line, as in the illustration above. Instruments in the centre of the ensemble produce an identical
signal from each microphone. During playback, an image of the centre instruments is heard
midway between the stereo pair of loudspeakers. That's because identical signals in each channel
produce a centrally located image.
If an instrument is off-centre to the right, it is more on-axis to the right-aiming microphone than to
the left-aiming microphone, so the right microphone will produce more signal than the left
microphone. During playback of this recording, the right speaker will play louder than the left
speaker, reproducing the image off-centre to the right -- where the instrument was during
recording. This is particularly true of the acoustic recordings for the song.
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Mid-side technique
A special form of the coincident-pair technique is the mid-side (MS) recording method shown in the
diagram below. A microphone facing the middle of the performance is summed and differenced
with a bidirectional microphone aiming to the sides. This produces left- and right-channel signals.
With this technique, the stereo spread can be remote-controlled by varying the ratio of the mid
signal to the side signal. This remote control is useful at live concerts, where you can't physically
adjust the microphones during the concert. MS localisation accuracy is excellent. If used correctly!
Mid-side technique.
Left channel = mid + side. Right channel = mid - side. The polarity of the side mic lobes is
indicated by + and -.
A stereo microphone uses two coincident microphone capsules mounted in a single housing for
convenience.
A recording made with coincident techniques is mono-compatible, that is, the frequency response
is the same in mono or stereo. Because of the coincident placement, there is no time or phase
difference between channels to degrade the frequency response if both channels are combined to
mono.
The MS (mid-side) coincident-pair method using the Neumann U87 pair with a figure of eight
pattern was utilised mostly in the case of the piano and guitar tracks, this was then repeated using
the RODE matched pair, and comparisons made. The closer the microphones were to the actual
piano strings the better, regardless of which direction they were pointing in. However, there was
also a slight difference in the waveform structures between the different methods, as they
appeared in the ProTools edit window.
Spaced Pair
With the spaced-pair (or A-B) technique, two identical microphones are placed several feet apart,
aiming straight ahead toward the musical ensemble (see illustration on the next page). The
microphones can have any polar pattern, but the omni-directional pattern is the most popular for
this method. The greater the spacing between microphones, the greater the stereo spread.
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Spaced-pair technique.
Instruments in the centre of the ensemble produce an identical signal from each microphone.
During playback of this recording, an image of the centre instruments is heard midway between the
stereo pair of loudspeakers. This really was not suitable for the personal nature of the recording
we were doing with Eoin; it might suit a group recording better.
If an instrument is off-centre, it is closer to one microphone than the other, so its sound reaches the
closer microphone before it reaches the other one. So the microphones produce almost the same
signal, except that one microphone signal is delayed with respect to the other. If you send an
identical signal to two stereo speakers with one channel delayed, the sound image shifts off centre.
With a spaced-pair recording, off-centre instruments produce a delay in one microphone channel,
so they are reproduced off-centre.
Here comes the maths part. The spaced-pair array codes instrument positions into time
differences between channels. During playback, the brain decodes these time differences back into
corresponding image locations. It takes only about 1.5 milliseconds (msec) of delay to shift an
image all the way to one speaker, so if we want the right side of the musical output to be
reproduced at the right speaker, its sound must arrive at the right microphone about 1.5 msec
before it reaches the left microphone. In other words, the microphones should be spaced about 2 ft
apart, because this spacing produces the appropriate delay to place right-side instruments at the
right speaker. Instruments partway off-centre produce interchannel delays less than 1.5 msec, so
they are reproduced partway off-centre.
If the microphones are too close together, the delays produced will be inadequate to provide much
stereo spread. In addition the microphones will tend to favour the centre of the ensemble because
the microphones are closest to the centre instruments.
To record a good musical balance, it would be necessary to place the microphones about 10 or 12
ft apart, but such spacing results in exaggerated separation. One solution is to place a third
microphone midway between the original pair and mix it’s output to both channels. That way, the
ensemble is recorded with a good balance, and the stereo spread is not exaggerated.
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There's another problem with spaced microphones. The large time differences between channels
correspond to gross phase differences between channels. Out-of-phase low-frequency signals can
cause excessive vertical modulation of a record groove, making records difficult to cut unless the
cutting level or low frequency stereo separation is reduced. In addition, combining both
microphones to mono sometimes causes phase cancellations of various frequencies, which may or
may not be audible. In the case of our recording that was a problem, primarily because of
feedback from the desk playback.
There is an advantage with spaced miking, however. Spaced microphones are said to provide a
warm sense of ambience, in which concert hall reverberation seems to surround the instruments
and, sometimes, the listener. This is because the two channels of recorded reverberant sound are
incoherent; that is, they have random phase relationships. Incoherent signals from stereo
loudspeakers sound diffuse and spacious. Since reverberation is picked up and reproduced
incoherently by spaced microphones, it sounds diffuse and spacious. The simulated spaciousness
caused by the phasing in and out, is not necessarily realistic, but it is pleasant to many listeners.
Near-Coincident Pair
The near-coincident technique (illustrated below) uses two directional microphones angled apart,
with their grilles spaced horizontally a few inches apart. Even a few inches of spacing increases the
stereo spread and adds a sense of depth and airiness to the recording. The greater the angle or
spacing between microphones, the greater the stereo spread.
Near-coincident-pair technique.
Here's how this method works: angling directional microphones produces level differences between
channels; spacing microphones produces time differences. The level differences and time
differences combine to create the stereo effect. If the angling or spacing is too great, the result is
exaggerated separation.
Quick Comparison of the Recording Techniques
The coincident-pair technique has the following features:
*It uses two directional microphones angled apart with grilles nearly touching, one microphone’s
diaphragm above the other.
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*Level differences between channels produce the stereo effect.
*Images are sharp.
*Stereo spread ranges from narrow to accurate.
*Signals are mono-compatible.
The spaced-pair technique has these features:
*It uses two microphones spaced several feet apart.
*Time differences between channels produce the stereo effect.
*Off-centre images are diffuse.
*Stereo spread tends to be exaggerated unless a third centre microphone is used.
*It provides a warm sense of ambience.
*It may cause record-cutting problems.
The near-coincident-pair technique has these features:
*It uses two directional microphones angled apart and spaced a few inches apart.
*Level and time differences between channels produce the stereo effect.
*Images are sharp.
*Stereo spread tends to be accurate.
*It provides a greater sense of "air" and depth than coincident methods.
Overall the recording, method that we preferred was the XY coincident technique in terms of the
feel of the playback that best suited that particular song. But honestly, I don’t think my ears are
experienced enough to be able to tell the difference yet between tracks without being told how they
were recorded in the first place.
Problems we encountered
In hindsight, on two occasions the Neumann U87 microphones we utilised were placed too close to
the acoustic guitar and the amplifier for the electric guitar. (Unfortunately we were unable to find an
interface in the studio which would enable us to feed the electric guitar directly through to the desk
and had to use the Studio Amp instead). This had a completely different perspective to
microphones placed further away from the sound source, and this contrast was undesirable. It drew
undue attention to the instruments in question. In the case of the acoustic guitar recording, it is
possible to hear Eoin’s fingers moving across the strings and in the amplified sound from the
electric guitar there is a certain degree of distortion or feedback – which was not wanted.
The relative balance between the 'spot' microphone and the main pair is critical, and it's surprising
how little a contribution is required from the close microphone in order to sharpen the instrument's
definition, which is normally all you're trying to achieve. However, if you're aware of the close
microphone as I have just pointed out, it's too high in the mix. That is I think a big problem with our
recording.
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Conclusion
There can be no doubt as to the phenomenal amount we have learned as a group through ‘trial and
error’ during the entire recording process. I began the project confident that we could meet all the
requirements of the brief and produce a top quality recording at the same time, especially given the
talent we had secured on Eoin’s part.
However, in the end – it turned out to be much more difficult than we had expected. To be frank,
we were just not competent enough in terms of our recording experience to make it perfect. That
annoys me a great deal. I’m glad of the experience but not necessarily proud of our work. I realise
that we could have/should have done a better job of it. I know now that I need to sit in on a couple
more recording sessions with a professional such as David Carrugo, observe, ask questions and
learn what it was we were doing wrong. It really is a hand’s on skill, all the theory in the world can’t
make up for experience.
All of us in the group are determined to give it another go in the next semester, but this time
recording four musicians in a band from Galway with the object of producing a professionally
recorded EP to help promote their music. Got to get it right the next time.
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