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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What Microphone Should I Use?

July 24th, 2013 Blog Comments Disabled

Gasoline Alley’s Chief Production Engineer, Jerry Gaskins, explains how to find the right microphone for your recording project.

I recently received a phone call from a potential client asking what microphone I used.  I asked him to repeat the question, thinking I may have misheard what was asked.  His question was repeated and I paused…..he truly wanted to know what microphone I used….not microphones, plural, but what microphone did we have at the studio.  I informed him that we had a variety of microphones to choose from, including tube microphones, ribbons, condensers and dynamics.  I also let him know that we could experiment with the microphone to find the best suited for his needs, be it for instruments or vocals.  He almost seemed stunned that there would be options for consideration!

This really made me think, though, about how many people are used to going to a friend’s place or a home/garage/bedroom studio and being told that there is ONE mic to do the sessions with!  Judging from my conversation it’s more common than I was aware.

Microphones are to a studio as construction tools are to a job site.  You can maybe build something with just a hammer and a wrench, but to get things done with a greater degree of quality, having the right tool for the job can make all of the difference.  A pair of pliers, a few screwdrivers, assorted power tools… get the idea.  Same idea applies to microphones for recording.  There are a variety of microphones available (as mentioned earlier), large diameter elements, small diameter elements, offering different sensitivities, dynamic ranges, and tonalities.  Not to mention different (and often, selectable) polar patterns, offering a variety of applications, feedback rejection, enhanced sibilance, etc…..

The point of all of this is to encourage folks to research a bit about microphones that they may want to use… record their acoustic guitar, their speaker cabinet, their saxophone, their voice.  Or, to ask the studio you wish to record at about the microphone selection they have to offer.  Explain what you want recorded, and let them explain the microphones they offer, and what they would recommend….and why!

Simply put, find a studio that has the right tools for the job.

Until next time……

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5 Things To Look For In A Recording Studio

July 12th, 2013 Blog Comments Disabled

Finding the right fit for your band/musical act/recording needs can be tough. Gasoline Alley’s Chief Production Engineer, Jerry Gaskins, gives us a few tips on what to look for in a recording studio.


1. A comfortable environment

          You are comfortable with your bandmates, your booked venues, and your songs.  You should feel comfortable with your studio/engineer/producer.  A good vibe and a great hang go a LONG way to making a better project.

2. An equipment list that can substantially separate the studio from a bedroom/garage recording set up

You should look for things like a Live Room, an Isolation Room, a Control Room, a healthy selection/variety of microphones, pre-amps and assorted hardware.

3. A clean, maintained, environment

You don’t want to be walking onto the set of “Sanford and Son” when you go to record.  If the place looks trashed, the gear probably is, too.  Conversely, if the studio is clean and organized, your odds are much improved that care has been taken with the equipment as well.

4. A safe/secure environment

If you plan on recording a few days and you bring in your drum kit or guitar rig, you may prefer to leave your equipment in the studio.  This minimizes set up time and eliminates the need to accurately re-place mics for consistency of recording.  You know you want to feel your gear will be there tomorrow when you return to track!

5. A certainty would be the sound quality being produced by the studio

You should ask to hear examples of material that has been recorded at the studio.  Even if the studio you are checking out has the coolest gear, and the greatest floor plan, and is the perfect photo op, if it can’t make good sounding recordings, you’re wasting your time and your money.

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