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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Recording Drums and Percussion

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper


Recording drums and percussion instruments can be tricky at times. Every sound engineer has his own story to tell. Noisy symbols, poorly tuned drum heads, questionable room acoustics etc. All can contribute to the chaos, a kind of sonic dysentery. We can't actually cure the disease, but we can treat the symptoms.

The underlying problem can be attributed to those pesky transients. No, not the ones under the overpass. Transients are those sounds that come out of nowhere, like the crack of a snare drum, a sudden burst of signal, or the grinding smash of a distorted guitar or a crash symbol. Drum related transients often tend to be especially problematic. So where do we begin?

For starters, new drumheads and a decent pair of drumsticks seems obvious, but never overestimate a musicians common sense. Invest in your craft. You are only as good as your tools. Dampening the drums heads is often necessary, but certainly not mandatory. When recording, capturing a workable signal is tantamount. Learn to strike your drums in a manner conducive with good sound management. Pardon my saying so, but garbage in, garbage out.

Next, let's go over room acoustics, as a bad room adversely effects those afore-mentioned transients, and any listeners within earshot. A live' sounding room, like a garage or a nite-club will be subject to various bounce back' issues, such as unwanted room echo or worse yet, the dreaded square wave'. You can't see it, but it's stalking your studio, even now. The louder you play, the angrier it gets. Acoustic treatments will usually do the job, but each room is different. Sound baffling, bass traps etc. all play an important roll, but ultimately, it's up to you to get it under control.

Finally, we reach the subject of microphone placement and technique. The possibilities are limitless, so I'll cut to the chase. The more microphones you set up, the more sounds you must dial in. Some engineers can successfully mic an entire drum kit with a pair of overhead room mics, but as a rule, I recommend a minimum of at least four, adding a mic for the kick drum, and another for the snare. The overhead microphones can be adjusted to pick up signal from the toms and the symbols. The two produce radically different signal response, so crosstalk and cancellation usually aren't a factor.

Here's something to keep in mind. Most drum isolation booths are far more trouble than they are worth, so don't bother. The drums are the foundation upon which your song is being constructed, so set them babies up in the big room. Let the guitarist set his rig up in the iso' booth, as his tracks may need to be re-recorded later anyway. Today, it's all about the drums.

Keep an open mind and learn all you can about your craft. Leave your ego home, and play what is best for the song. Recording music is really not that hard, but capturing the magic often takes a little time. Just keep banging away, and by all means, enjoy the process.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Diamond Dave vs. Elvis Costello, Once More for the Glory Days

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

The more things change, the more they stay the same
. The year is 2007, but it sure feels like 1984. Why you ask? Well for one thing, I’m writing about David Lee Roth and his nemesis Elvis Costello in the same article.

I believe it was none other than David Lee Roth who once stated: "Rock critics like Elvis Costello because they look like Elvis Costello." David whom, you ask? My reply is, precisely. You see, it was also DLR who famously remarked: "Here today, gone later on today."

Perhaps both statements bear merit, with one distinction. David Lee Roth is a goner, and the rock critics are still writing about Elvis Costello, albeit, he's no longer this years model. True, David has rejoined the Van Halen brothers for an up-coming-reunion tour, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. We’ve all been down that road before, and it’s barricaded. Elvis, on the other hand, never really went away, releasing new music every year or so.

Elvis was born Declan Patrick MacManus on August 25th, 1954 in London England. A gifted songwriter, his quirky demeanor was quickly embraced by the early British punk movement. Costello's first album, My Aim is True' was released early summer of 1977. The album cover featured the now infamous photo of Elvis looking like Buddy Holly. The album spawned two classic singles in America, Alison, and the haunting Watching the Detectives'.

Elvis Costello has often been credited with possessing a virtual encyclopedia of songwriting ability. Three decades and countless releases into his career, critics still write about Elvis because he continues to be relevant in an irrelevant arena. Indeed, his contemporaries are mostly gone, with few exceptions. Elvis adapted to a career as an outsider years ago, and has come to represent the ultimate survivor. He is perhaps the most diverse and prolific songwriter of his generation.

Elvis Costello is currently touring Europe in support of his latest CD, Almost Blue', but don't shell out your hard earned cash expecting to see that skinny, knock-kneed kid from the seventies. Elvis has matured, as has his music. He has redefined the accepted parameters of Rock and Roll and contemporary songwriting. Yes, Elvis Costello still resembles a record critic. An old, balding, bearded critic perhaps, but is that really so bad? Long live Elvis Costello, always more jester than king.

As for Diamond Dave, the jury is out. It’s an uphill climb for David and the boys, and frankly, I’m just not convinced Roth can get a grip. I'm afraid that ship has sailed for the last time, and is currently taking on water at an alarming rate. My advice: abandon ship. Women and children first, of course.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Samson C-Que 8 Product Review

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

Samson C-que 8
4 Channel Headphone Amp


Four channel headphone amplifier with individual controls for each channel.
Ideal for digital-audio workstations or studios.

Dual headphone outputs, front and rear. Plus one front panel output per channel, allowing for a total of eight headphones at one time.

Separate Left and Right line inputs for master stereo bus.

2-channel / Stereo mode switch.

Samson C-que 8

This versatile little headphone amp
, one of Samson’s C Class Signal Processors, delivers as promised. Indeed, the C-que 8 is ideal for small studios, addressing many of the problems associated with typical inferior headphone mixes.

A bad headphone mix is as inexcusable as it is predictable. How in the name of Marilyn Manson can anyone expect to lay down strong basic tracks if you can’t hear what the other musicians are doing? The same holds true for the overdub process. A musician is only as good as his (or her) ears. If the sound in your cans doesn’t rock, your not apt to perform at your best.

With a retail price of around $149.00, the Samson 4 C-que 8 is a safe and affordable solution. It fits nicely on the desk or console, and my unit has yet to throw me any curves. This is a quality device with no apparent drawbacks. I would recommend the Samson 4 C-que 8 to anyone serious about their workstation or studio headphone mixes.

The Legacy of American Folk Musicians

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

Editors Note:
This is the third of a series of articles about Bluegrass and American folk music I prepared for I hope you find it interesting.

We are fortunate that as of this article, many of the great American Folk singers are still alive and productive, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger.

Seeger, born May 3rd, 1919 was a friend and contemporary of Woody Guthrie's and represents one of the last living connections to a bygone era. Seeger is best known for co-writing the classic folk songs Where Have All The Flowers Gone' and If I had A Hammer'. His contributions to American folk music are priceless.

Guitar 002

Bob Dylan Is a living legend. His songs have been performed by some of the greatest musicians in modern history. Songs include Blowin' in the Wind', A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' and Knockin' On Heaven's Door.

Also among the living, Joan Baez continues to perform, and is currently touring in support of her vast body of work. Baez possesses an amazing voice, and an uncanny style. She is probably known best for her classic song, Diamonds and Rust'.

Unfortunately, other extraordinary folk artists like Phil Ochs and the legendary Woody Guthrie have been gone for far to long. It is up to us, the living, to preserve their legacies for future generations. American folk music in an art form unique to America, and it's pioneers, true American heroes.




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