Tim Latham

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Pro Tools Recording Session

Well, I’m back from England having finished 5 weeks of recording The Kanyu Tree at Angelic Studios and it’s fair to say that pro tools/daw’s have changed the way in which records are made forever.  This has been true for a while, but this record has point a fine point on this sentiment.  This is the bands first record so they didn’t have the history of the limits of analog recording so they were free to explore all of the options available to them to make the record that they wanted to.  Tempo has always been an issue when making records.  What works live doesn’t always work on record.  Natural timing pushes and pulls give recorded music it’s human feel.  While locking everything to a grid is appropriate sometimes, it occasionally takes the heart out of a song. This was the biggest challenge on this project.

The producer and the band liked some sections of some songs to be locked solid to a grid, but other sections felt too stiff.  We tried recording the songs at several tempos and then edited the sections together, each having it’s own tempo.  But some songs still didn’t “feel” right.  The answer came in the form of elastic audio.  We averaged out the tempos, recoded the song to a click at one tempo and had the flexibility to change tempos of different sections using elastic audio until the song worked as a whole.  While certain sections felt good at a specific tempo, but when the song played through some of the sections still needed to be tweaked just a bit to get the whole song to feel right.  I’ll state the obvious by saying that this was inconceivable before daws/pro tools came along.

Also, some of the arrangements are huge with many layers of vocals and guitars that would have taken tons of bouncing down and comping to make room for further overdubs.  We had the luxury of experimenting with varying arrangements thanks to the massive track count in pro tools.  Being that I wasn’t sure if I would be the mix engineer for the project, I made sure that the tracks were cut n a way that would allow for maximum flexibility during the mix.  The quick example is that I made sure to take a dry di signal on all of the guitars and bass for the purpose of re-amping.  Being that I am indeed mixing the record I’m glad that I thought of the mix engineer when recording.

Having spent much of my time over the past years mixing, I had a pretty clear picture in my minds ear of how I though the record would sound when finished.  By getting better at mixing, my recording engineer skills have also improved as well.  I have a pretty good sense of how different instruments blend together in a mix so I’m able to record them in a way that facilitates the mixing process.  Keeping the final mix in mind as I’m recording helps me tremendously when it comes time to mixing as I hope that when other engineers mix tracks that I’ve cut find that there is less damage control going on and just having fun with the balances and imaging.  It was a tremendous experience working with such a talented team and using all of what pro tools has to offer to cut an awesome record.  On to mixing……

Update: Recording with the final mix in mind

I recently had the pleasure of producing/recording/mixing a blues album for some very talented folks who happen to be friends of mine as well, The Tangiers Blues Band. The idea was simple, yet hardly original: Record an album in a day. We spoke about the technical aspects of recording, briefly. The idea was to set up and let them play. It is a blues records. And to me that meant not getting too precious about any of the technical details. I used 4 mics on the drums, one each on the guitars,lap/pedalsteel and bass with a pair on the B-3. Eleven mics were used on the whole record.

Tangiers Tracking Session Set Up

I used no more than 14 tracks on any song. We recorded the entire album live in 4 hours. Some of the vocals were replaced and the harp had to be overdubbed overdubbed (Harpist, Danny Clinch has a  day gig in photography and he was busy shooting Eric Clapton the day we recorded).  Less than 8 hours total were spent cutting the whole project and about the same amount of time was spent mixing it. I knew in my minds ear exactly how I wanted the record to sound and I nailed it. I approached the recording with mindset that a different mix engineer was going to mix it and I wanted to make it obvious what we were after. I love getting tracks from great recording engineers because it makes mixing so much easier. Whether or not others think it’s a good recording is a matter of taste. But having a crystal clear picture in my minds ear before we started allowed me to set up quickly, get out of the way and let the boys make some noise. A sample of what we accomplished is here.

Loudness War

There is a lot of discussion in the mix engineer world regarding the “loudness war”.  There has been a trend for the past few years to limit and compress mixes to within inches of their lives to make them louder, not better.  There has been complaining from every section of the audio engineer world.  Mastering engineers and mix engineers alike have been at odds with each other over this topic.  Mix engineers are in a tough position as most are aware of how lifeless records become when compressed and limited too aggressively, but clients expect mixes to sound like records when submitted, before mastering.  Mastering engineers are left with no room to do much of anything, other than to provide a red-book standard file (ddp) suitable for reproduction purposes.  I’ve been asked by mastering to provide the un-crushed versions of mixes that were crushed, but the mixes tend to come un-glued at the seams when done so.  So the mastering engineer then has to approximate what was originally given them while adding their input, which is very difficult because the client expects the mastered version to be very close to what they’ve been listening to.  I try to educate new clients as best I can about the pitfalls of slamming before mastering with some success.  But there are occasions where I either hard limit to the point of clipping, or not pay my bills.  I typically will use compression across the mix buss as well as some soft limiting to give mixes enough apparent loudness while at the same time leaving enough room for mastering engineers to work their magic.  Until dynamics are re-introduced into the musical vernacular, as a mix engineer I will try to walk the line between crushing mixes and leaving  enough dynamics in mixes to keep them more musical.