Signal Chain/Microphone Preamplifiers

August 27th, 2013 Blog Comments Disabled

One of the most important factors in recording is the series of devices used in creating the signal chain. I had microphones be the topic of an earlier posting. This post picks up, if you will, where the microphone left off. Excluding the cables themselves (which should not be underestimated), the next step in the audio chain is typically a microphone preamplifier. As most professional microphones are low level instruments, the sonic output of the microphone itself is next to nothing. One typically plugs a mic (okay, technically it’s the mic cable, but you know what I’m saying….) into a preamp, be it on a P.A. mixing board, a recording console, or, as is the case in most studios now, a rack mounted or standalone preamp.

The quality of the preamp is critical to the quality sound production your microphones can and will deliver. The subtleties and characteristics of the pre have a definite and resounding result on the tone of the mic. Some will strongly argue that a high end mic pre is more important than the mic quality itself. I’m not taking sides in that argument. Yes, I have heard some less than spectacular mics really come alive due to the preamp. But, I see the best of all situations being a proper mic through a proper pre. Magic can happen! If you haven’t experienced a fine microphone through a fine pre, your jaw may drop upon hearing it. The depth of tone, the clarity, the presence, the body of sound….all of these things are recognized. Once this is heard, it’s hard to go back to just making due with whatever is lying around the rehearsal space.

This is also why so many high end mic pres have such a high end price tag to match. There are certain names that exemplify some of the most desired mic preamps: Neve (or their clones, such as Vintech or Brent Averill), API, Universal Audio and Avalon to name a few. Certainly there are more, and they each have a sonic fingerprint, some more so than others, that are found to be quite desirable for certain applications.

The point here: When you’re ready to record, consult the studio of your choice and ask about the preamps they have to offer. Let them know what your are wanting to record (drums, electric guitar, vocals, etc…) and ask for their recommendations. If you are personally intrigued, schedule some time to come in and audition the mic/preamp combinations your chosen studio offers. What you pay in studio time for this is negligible, but what it returns to you in knowledge and experience is priceless. One can immediately hear the difference of a good, better, best signal chain, even at the early stages involving only the mic and pre (yeah, yeah, I know….the cable’s in there, too!).

Until next time…..

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The Changing Studio

August 5th, 2013 Blog Comments Disabled

Gasoline Alley’s Chief Production Engineer, Jerry Gaskins, gives some thoughts on how recording studios should be adapting to the fast-paced changes in the recording industry.

The times, they are a changin’…….”
Used to be, bands would save up a few thousand dollars, carefully decide which songs would make the cut, what studio to record in, which songs kept the “concept”, and go make an album!!!  8-10 songs, about 45 minutes of total playing time…..yeah, those were the days…..

But not anymore!

Don’t get me wrong, there are still bands/artists that will save their money, have a full concept in mind, and step in prepared to make a full length CD.  And that’s terrific!  It allows for more time, more creativity, more production ideas and experimentation.  But the majority of this studio’s business, at least so far, has been for 3 to 6 songs at a time.  Some done as individual singles, some done as a 6-Pack/EP (the terminology seems interchangeable with the clients).  The music audience is after singles that they can download.  You know: iTunes, CD Baby, TuneCore, Pandora, etc…..

As a functioning studio, to remain functioning, one must adapt with the times.  This is understood and the artists want what they need done.  Again, cutting a full length CD (now typically 12 songs or so, often running a hour of playing time or more) is a fantastic experience for the creative and musical mindset.  But as the requests for individual songs are ever increasing, a studio needs to be prepared and willing to assist with the artists’ needs….be it only a couple of songs, a 6-Pack, or something in between.  Or even go further to assist the artists.  As more and more people are acquiring recording software and want to experiment on their own with their home recordings, a full studio can still be of help.  Most homes do not have a live room, adequate for recording a full drum kit, a large choir, or a guitar amp “turned to 11!”  Many don’t have a proper location or mic selection for tracking vocals.  Consult the studio of your choice and ask if they will allow you, for example, to record just the drums at their place and then you take your files back home to edit and mix at your discretion.  Or track only the vocals.  Speaking for Gasoline Alley, things of this nature can certainly be done.

Of course, the flip side to all of this is that most musicians don’t care to be engineers, editors, mixers or producers.  They know what they want their music to sound like and convey that to the assigned parties, allowing the artists to get on with their project and vision, while the studio guys and gals dial in the desired results.  And in my experience, things are MUCH more satisfying, creative, and enjoyable, letting the folks do what they do best, and leaving each talent to its own.

As stated at the beginning, the times are changing.  The demands are changing.  What hasn’t changed is that folks want their music to sound as good as it can, with the budget they have to work with, and be able to get it out to an audience.  Make sure the studio you choose is changing with the times and is there to help you, as an artist, get done what you want to get done.

Until next time……

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