Some thoughts on recording and mixing
All of my work through the ’80s and ’90s was recorded on analogue tape and this remains my favourite recording medium. However, increased costs and relative inflexibility compared with digital systems have meant that tape has become less popular in day-to-day sessions. At Fairview Studio we have an Otari MX80 2″ 24 track tape machine which I love using. This runs at 30ips with no noise reduction and gives 15 minutes continuous recording time. This really focuses the mind on achieving the best performances from artists. Recording into a computer obviously gives more options for doing multiple takes (and then spending hours editing the best bits together) but my personal preference is for setting up a session and letting the artists settle in gradually before I’m ready to hit record. I use this approach whichever recording device I’m working with and it’s really the basis of my recording philosophy. I like bands to play live in the studio. I think it makes a huge difference to the final outcome. Players bounce off each other both musically and emotionally and that just doesn’t happen when the reording process strips the performances down to individual, seperate contributions. At Fairview we have three recording areas with excellent seperation (if required) so it’s easy to set most bands up to play and record together. Ok so we might correct the odd bum note or timing error after the take but that’s easy. Capturing the spirit, sound and attitude of a band or artist is by far the most important aspect of making a record in my opinion.
My preferred digital recording system is the Otari Radar 2.
Generally acknowledged to be the nearest digital thing to tape the Radar system perfectly complements my use of classic microphones and analogue consoles.
I use a combination of selected microphone pre-amps from SSL, Neve,Focusrite, TL Audio, Golden Age, Warm and Joe Meek alongside the desk mic amps. I have a great interest in pre amps which have character and bring something to the sound. These, coupled with the use of high quality analogue processors for eq and compression mean that sounds are sculpted before recording and sit well within the monitor mix.
I’m definitely not a “sort it out later” or “we’ll fix it in the mix” engineer. I like to print the best performances sounding as good as they can be.
Having captured the best performances from my clients, I then transfer the recording into any of ProTools, Cubase or Logic for mixing. (The availability of these systems is dependent upon the particular studio being used).
At Fairview Studio I use Cubase simply because it’s spread across two large screens which is better for my ageing eyesight! However, I’m happy to work in any of the above mentioned workstations…they’re just tools after all and they all do the same things. By the time my recordings get into a DAW most of the sonic work has already been done at the recording stage by careful manipulation of the sound source, then experienced selection and postioning of microphones.
These pictures show my microphone set up when recording Gavin Griffiths (Fish, Mostly Autumn, Panic Room) in Fairview Studio.
To Plug-In…or not!
I have very mixed feelings about Plug-Ins. There are a couple that I really like….and many that I don’t! My opinions are based on having lengthy experience of high quality outboard equipment and being able to compare the digital version with the original.
When mixing in DAWs I often send set up sends to external outboard equipment….my favourite compressor or reverb/delay etc. I return these into the system and tweak as I go along. When I’m happy with the mix I print the processed version to a track so that it’s there in case of a revisit to the mix at a later time.
My favourite reverbs are by AMS and Lexicon.AMS don’t make a plug-in version of their RMX16 Reverb so being able to route out to external effects is very important.
Lexicon make plug-in versions of some of their classic hardware but in my opinion they don’t sound as good as the original units. It’s to do with the way the reverb “wraps around” the source sound that is lacking.
Mixing. Well I always do it “in the box” these days for various reasons. Many clients want the flexibility of being able to come back after the original session (or indeed pass comments via email or text) and tweak elements of their recordings. Whilst a mix assembled in the analogue domain using outboard “hardware” accessed by much convoluted routing in patchbays may well sound better than it’s digital counterpart, trying to recreate that mix in order to simply turn the vocal or guitar solo up is pretty much impossible. Mixes created in the digital domain can be recalled instantly and in the exact detail that they were left.