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Author Topic: Dynamics concept...  (Read 6106 times)

Brian Kehew

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Dynamics concept...
« on: March 13, 2005, 06:28:08 am »

A LONG post, but essentially simple concept.

You record a band, putting some squash on the room mics (when the compressor responds, they go up and down in level, right?) A little compression on the snare, to make it 'sit' and be more stable (it, too, goes up and down, with the leaked cymbals and room tones on that mic mirroring the snare's level changes).

You record the vocal and bass with dynamic control. Nothing drastic, just some nice smooth LA-2 or RNC, depending on budget. (They go up and down in a limited fashion, nicely controlled.)

You mix, putting about half the tracks through some sort of dynamic auto-control: compressors, limiters, distorters. (Up, down). Your drums have the "bus it out and compress it, feeding it back under the kit" mix trick (Up and down, plus whatever the individual tracks are doing: snare up and down, kick up and down, toms up and down, cymbals and room smashed once again, just a little bit.)

So, in your mix, look at any one thing: such as your  "snare sound"; it's coming from the close mic, the overheads, the leakage, the sub-compressed track, the added verb or ambience. ALL these components that make up your "snare" are moving in different volume "directions" due to their levels and compression ratios....up and down. Maybe they all move downward together on a hit, but at different rates and distances.

So the overall result may be your snare is rushing down for a few milliseconds, then up for a few milliseconds, then down for a long while, then up for a while, then down... One single track can be a dynamic nightmare of contrasting changing levels and tones.

Look at the whole mix process, then 2-bus compression (see other thread), then basic mastering, then even radio limiting. You can have music that is SO hard for your mind to focus on. I think it's one of the big secrets of "old records" - 1 or 2 compressors in the whole building. Tracks almost HAD to have natural dynamics and EQ shapes. This is MUCH easier for your ears to listen to... and the SOUND is better.

Hmmm?
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compasspnt

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2005, 07:27:25 am »

Again, I believe this is exactly right.  In the "old days," I (and I doubt seriously anybody else) would NEVER use mix buss compression...not on the Stax stuff, ZZ Top, LZ, Al Green, Thorogood, etc.  The only compression anywhere was indeed from the "one or two compressors in the building" placed on perhaps the bass instrument and the voice.  Bob O. has stated elsewhere that Motown didn't use, or perhaps even have, a compressor, and in fact didn't even employ one in mastering!

I try to follow this basic philosophy today, although I will use compressors in a few more places than in the past, and occasionally on the mix buss.  Of course, one might be used for special effect to really squash something, such as the piano on Lady Madonna.

But I have seen some things in other people's sessions that I cannot believe...EVERYTHING super-squashed at every juncture as a matter of course and habit.  This type of sound, while perhaps exciting to the manipulator at the moment of inception, is almost unlistenable to the end user, especially when it's that way song after song after song.

(One "old days" personal exception to these statements, as mentioned in another thread, was the acoustic guitars on Big Star and other artists...but that still wasn't squashing EVERYTHING.)
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Bob Olhsson

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2005, 08:49:16 am »

We had some limiters, more than many studios. A pair of LA-2as in the stereo mix room, a Fairchild 670 and an 1176 in the mono mix room, a Fairchild 670 and a Fairchild 666 in studio A and a pair of Electrodyne compressors in studio B.

Something I suspect lots of younger people are missing is that we USED the faders on the console. What Danny Dallas, a popular Detroit engineer, used to call his "arm-strong limiter" was in constant use. Dynamics control was very smart but not over baked with excessive thinking the way carefully programmed automation frequently becomes. With practice, a wonderful feedback loop can be developed between the fingers and the ear exactly like playing an instrument. One of my frustrations today is that I no longer do enough tracking in the same studio with the same setup to operate at the level of skill I took for granted in 1970.

(When we lose a major studio, we lose the years of sweat equity that went into learning how to make the best use of that room. It's a far more profound loss than just a historical building, some nice gear and a legend.)

compasspnt

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2005, 09:40:58 am »

Sorry, Bob, if I ascribed facts to you which were not entirely correct.  What I was referring to was when you said recently:

"...At Motown we didn't even have a limiter or compressor in the mastering room, just an Ortophon high frequency limiter. Berry Gordy hated the sound of limiters as did a number of the singers who would demand that you take it out if they heard it in the headphones..."

Of course there were limiters, or you couldn't have put it on their voice in the first place!
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McAllister

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2005, 12:17:36 pm »

Is this loss of fader-riding-ability also due to the abundance of outboard mic pres? Were faders moving during tracking, or just during mixing?

Sorry if this is an over obvious question.

thanks
M
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compasspnt

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #5 on: March 13, 2005, 03:01:31 pm »

McAllister wrote on Sun, 13 March 2005 12:17

Is this loss of fader-riding-ability also due to the abundance of outboard mic pres? Were faders moving during tracking, or just during mixing?


Speaking only for myself, I always have, do now, and always will, ride faders during tracking, as well as during mixing.  If I'm overdubbing a vocal through an outboard pre, say an API lunchbox, I will be sure to place it where I can easily get to the volume knob.  Then I will "learn" the song as things progress, and ride the volume, dependent upon the program material.  The same with equalisation.  For example, Lenny's voice is quite different when he changes from natural to falsetto, so I would make instantaneous changes in high eq and in volume as the voice changed, during the actual performance overdub.

In mixing, no matter what, or how much, if any, automation I'm using, I will always save several things to do manually as the mix goes down.  This is usually the lead vocal, plus another thing or two, and of course, certain reverb send changes, etc.

Call me crazy, but I like it this way.  And sometimes you'll get something unexpected that you really like.

Terry
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maxdimario

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #6 on: March 13, 2005, 04:18:27 pm »

Do you guys find that the older passive H faders had any advantage whatsoever over modern carbon ones?
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JGreenslade

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #7 on: March 13, 2005, 04:20:29 pm »

Bob O. wrote:
Quote:


Something I suspect lots of younger people are missing is that we USED the faders on the console



When I hear some of the latter Motown productions it conjures up an image of a frenetic control room during mixdown. Obviously I don't know what was printed to tape and what was manual, but given the day's lack of automation I'm guessing mixdown had to be organised with military precision. If you get a chance Bob, maybe you could recall (no pun) some of the techniques employed to keep everyone synchronised / from treading on each other's feet during the mix? Is there a link or two about where the "team briefing" topic has been broached before?  

It occurred to me that a thread on "great control room performances" could perhaps be in order? The kind Terry mentions - a lot of manual touches need to be done, there are a lot of cats in the room, everyone knows what they're doing, they all hit the nail on the head, the planets were aligned and one or two unplanned incidents got left in because they just happened to work at that moment.

Listening to a recent, un-squashed Aretha recording on HD600 cans a few weeks back, I couldn't help but notice how "unnoticeable" her volume modulation is. I have to wonder if all musicians could control their amplitude as well as her compressor manufacturers would go out of business!

Justin  
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JGreenslade

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #8 on: March 13, 2005, 04:25:49 pm »

Quote:


In mixing, no matter what, or how much, if any, automation I'm using, I will always save several things to do manually as the mix goes down. This is usually the lead vocal, plus another thing or two, and of course, certain reverb send changes, etc.

Call me crazy, but I like it this way. And sometimes you'll get something unexpected that you really like.



The funny thing is, however "on form" you are when the computer records your fader movements, it never seems to have the same "vibe" when it comes back at you does it?  Is this imaginary / mental attitude?

I don't know how anyone can just stand around watching the automation do its job during mixdown, it doesn't feel right to me. I'd rather do a handful of mixes and splice the best takes if need be, usually I compromise and go for the mix with the best overall feel. I call this the "rolled up sleeves, double expresso technique".

Justin
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compasspnt

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #9 on: March 13, 2005, 04:33:25 pm »

thermionic wrote on Sun, 13 March 2005 16:25



The funny thing is, however "on form" you are when the computer records your fader movements, it never seems to have the same "vibe" when it comes back at you does it?  Is this imaginary / mental attitude?



That is a very good question...will have to think about it!
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jwhynot

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #10 on: March 13, 2005, 06:07:08 pm »

Funny, I've often thought that about analog consoles as well - especially if I allow myself to worry about it - in which case I forget that the difference between fader moves under your hands and the same moves playing back is probably nothing compared to the difference between how you listen with hands on faders compared to hands off.

Regarding the topic, yeah, I find I deal alot with tracks made by people who, quite understandably, will get a sense of excitement and power from compression and various types of overdrive.  I think part of it is the proliferation of options, as well as mythology...  (whole other topic).  And it's partly the age-old (at least as far back as 16-track) problem of reductionist thinking.  You know, solo the Rhodes track and everyone debates if it's "big" enough, forgetting for the moment that one essential mix formula is "a lot of big sounds mixed together makes either a small sound or at best a medium-sized sound".

When I'm producing I'm also susceptible to the thrill of a blown-up or heavily-compressed sound.  Let's face it - it's cool as hell.  You can make a drummer with brushes sound like the nuclear bomb.  The antidote of course is to refer constantly to the whole of the recording - even if it's left unsaid someone, hopefully someone on the date, in the control room, has to be thinking of the context.  At least occasionally.

You'll find the comment again and again on these forums - as people do more and more records and spend more and more time with hands on the process, many of us find we get the same or better results with less and less complexity and processing.  All kinds of complexity and processing - from arrangements to microphones to compression and eq to reverbs etc etc.

These days I'm always quietly pleased to glance over to the patchbay and think how zen, how empty!

A good listening position and sufficient faders is where the action is, right?

JW
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Lee Flier

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #11 on: March 13, 2005, 06:13:40 pm »

Definitely gotta agree about analog consoles and the whole concept of actually using faders to achieve good dynamics.  Another obvious thing missing from this discussion though, is that in the "old days" everything was getting cut to tape!  Which of course, could and often did provide a bit (sometimes more than a bit) of natural compression.

Bob Olhsson

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #12 on: March 13, 2005, 08:19:06 pm »

Tape added a tiny bit of peak limiting to things like pianos but I don't think it was nearly as much of a factor as people assume.

At Motown we were generally mixing all by ourselves. We built one of the first automation systems I'm aware of. Berry Gordy being Berry Gordy had his usual "show me" attitude and had people submit automated mixes and spliced up mixes of the same songs without telling him which was which. The spliced up mixes all beat the automated ones handily and a years worth of R&D went right in the trash! Overmixing remains a real problem along side every other form of overproduction.

My experience with riding faders is that I can't duplicate what I do live after the fact especially in the case of a vocal.

Brian Kehew

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #13 on: March 14, 2005, 03:45:14 am »

>>>If you get a chance Bob, maybe you could recall (no pun) some of the techniques employed to keep everyone synchronised / from treading on each other's feet during the mix?<<<

I would venture to say that the PLAYERs did the mixing on many sessions in those days. Bob mentions the overdub-method Motown went to eventually, but you know the natural (instinctive - not even THOUGHT-about) player dynamics made the mix pop and jump in the right spots. I love to hear the motion of many parts all competing for attention as they climb and dive. That polyphony is THE key to fascinating music -orchestras, Sly Stone funk, prog-rock. There are literally hundreds of interesting inter-dynamics happening each minute. Your mind loves this.

Aside...

Aretha - I just mixed the (soon to be released) Live at the Fillmore box set. It was the biggest mixing challenge of my life. The band was astounding, but sloppy. The random hums and buzzes made it really tough to get a consistent sound. Aretha herself - maybe it's her "live" appraoch, but she had the WORST mic technique I've ever heard. "Into" the mic on the screams, and "away" from the mic on the whispers. This meant the drums rush up in the quiet spots you wanted to raise, and the tone and level just scream when she hits a big one. And she uses those dynamics (I can see that  - on the PA - this makes her dynamics wider, but it's hell on the recorders and soundmen.)
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Brian Kehew

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #14 on: March 14, 2005, 03:50:35 am »

Ah - regarding player dynamics:

These were the cats (and kittens) who grew up playing LIVE, even in the studio. 1950's and well into the '60
s - you would NOT overdub. They HAD to control their own dynamics, as good session guys do even now... ones that do it well make your job easy, and you call them again.
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JGreenslade

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #15 on: March 14, 2005, 04:44:43 am »

Quote:


"Into" the mic on the screams, and "away" from the mic on the whispers



I should find out the name of the track I was listening to that provoked the remark I made about Aretha. It's not inconceivable that someone could have been riding the faders, but I guessed it was her technique as it didn't strike me as sounding "mechanical" as overdoing it with fader moves can.

Going back to the mixdown analogy: I'm now wondering if the "pages of mix notes" is more of a modern phenomena as contemporary technology has encouraged people to leave any commitment to the last minute - maybe a lot of old mixes sound more complex than they were, not just because of dynamic awareness in players, but also because the doctrine of the day was to commit to tape once something worked, rather than faff around with it until the last minute.

Having made the remark about automated mixdowns (which is something I've felt for a long while), I'm now inclined to think that live mixing to 2-track introduces a "knife edge" pressure which brings a certain inspiration to mixes, that may not come out when I can spend as much time as I want programming smooth fades for everything.

When I get around to installing a new console later in the year it's going to be strictly manual, no motors for me!

Justin  
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Level

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #16 on: March 14, 2005, 06:29:54 am »

Quote:

The funny thing is, however "on form" you are when the computer records your fader movements, it never seems to have the same "vibe" when it comes back at you does it? Is this imaginary / mental attitude?




That is a very good question...will have to think about it!


It is neither imaginary nor mental attitude. It is plain ole' fact. Computers do not track fades as smooth. They do it in increments. As tiny as they are, the automation is still in steps, like it or not. Something about that vibrating motor attached to a potentiometer. When we have the tops of our hands laying across multiple faders...we are using our ears and we are doing fades at completely within the human touch. Sometimes "breathing" on a fader is all that is needed.

Can we hear 0.5dB increments? I can.

Just how precise can fader controlling motors smoothly move? At the very least, we feel we can do better...of course 21 fader moves at a time should be "printed" because performing them live is all but impossible.

What really sucks is to rehearse a mixdown and be ready for the 2mix. You simply nail a difficult set of moves...and find our the record enable on the 2 track recorder was not switched in. You do that ONE mix that was simply perfect...to not be repeated again.

Back to topic somewhat...

Here is "the" issue I seem to have with most of my clients. In mixdown, many of my clients are comparing their mixdowns with finalized "mastered works". They are strapping all sorts of boxes to the 2mix buss to sound like the latest, greatest, (nastiest compressed platinum selling) album of late. I cannot be clearer that mixdowns are not the same as final mastered product today. The chain of events and protocol is simply not what it was 30 years ago. I did my share of mixes in the 70's and plenty of vinyl mastering. We simply had the "look ahead" knowledge that seems to be painfully lacking today. I get mixes come here that simply have the last breath squeezed out of them...mastering becomes a futile exercise. I do take time to educate my clients and things go well. Recently, I mastered an EP for a "charting artist" and it seems like their was no time for education. I was given a squashed to hades reference track and asked to "match that level" (volume). The horror. here is what was so cool about it. Every time I approached the level they wanted, the mix turned to hell in very audible ways. The lead singers part would become buried along with the B/G vox (knew it would happen) and I had the lead singer fly in and we sat in the car and I asked, happy with your voice?? The answer..."No..it is not clear and punchual". I slip in the CD that has sane levels on it and he said..this is what we need to use and screw them if they think it is too quiet!

One down...many to go!
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Gordon Rice

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #17 on: March 14, 2005, 09:22:57 am »

Level wrote on Mon, 14 March 2005 06:29

Quote:

The funny thing is, however "on form" you are when the computer records your fader movements, it never seems to have the same "vibe" when it comes back at you does it? Is this imaginary / mental attitude?




That is a very good question...will have to think about it!


It is neither imaginary nor mental attitude. It is plain ole' fact. Computers do not track fades as smooth. They do it in increments. As tiny as they are, the automation is still in steps, like it or not. Something about that vibrating motor attached to a potentiometer. When we have the tops of our hands laying across multiple faders...we are using our ears and we are doing fades at completely within the human touch. Sometimes "breathing" on a fader is all that is needed.

Can we hear 0.5dB increments? I can.

Just how precise can fader controlling motors smoothly move? At the very least, we feel we can do better...of course 21 fader moves at a time should be "printed" because performing them live is all but impossible.

What really sucks is to rehearse a mixdown and be ready for the 2mix. You simply nail a difficult set of moves...and find our the record enable on the 2 track recorder was not switched in. You do that ONE mix that was simply perfect...to not be repeated again.


Hmm--I'm not sure I entirely agree here.  Stepped faders *are* an issue for me with a number of digital consoles and workstations (perhaps significantly, many of those use MIDI for fader automation--I suppose that 128 steps *ought* to be enough to smooth out a 100mm fader but they don't seem to be), but I didn't hear steps on a GML system that I ran for years (good old-fashioned rotary motor driving a string attached to the  wiper), nor on the SSL 9KJ that I ran more recently.  Both of those analog systems, by the way, ran on time every time--unlike, for instance, the old Allison VCA system (I don't remember it personally, but I've heard stories!)or some current digital consoles.


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Brian Kehew

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #18 on: March 14, 2005, 03:15:16 pm »

Diverging further - Amen, Justin - mixes by hand ARE pretty great, and minimize the chances for infinte variations of mixes. Commit and be strong in your choices. Our "edit together" power is better than ever, so if you know what you're doing, mixing by hand is great.

While I don't use it, I would say the power of automated mutes is a godsend. And if your could automate only FOUR faders per mix, I think it would be a lot healthier world!
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drumsound

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #19 on: March 15, 2005, 03:49:50 am »

Brian Kehew wrote on Mon, 14 March 2005 02:45

is.

Aside...

Aretha - I just mixed the (soon to be released) Live at the Fillmore box set. It was the biggest mixing challenge of my life. The band was astounding, but sloppy. The random hums and buzzes made it really tough to get a consistent sound. Aretha herself - maybe it's her "live" appraoch, but she had the WORST mic technique I've ever heard. "Into" the mic on the screams, and "away" from the mic on the whispers. This meant the drums rush up in the quiet spots you wanted to raise, and the tone and level just scream when she hits a big one. And she uses those dynamics (I can see that  - on the PA - this makes her dynamics wider, but it's hell on the recorders and soundmen.)


Tom Dowd used to record Aretha while she played the piano because she sang differently when she didn't.  I'll bet he was riding the faders too.

Most of the live things I've heard/seen from her are very over the top.
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Brian Kehew

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Re: Dynamics concept...
« Reply #20 on: March 15, 2005, 08:04:35 am »

I've seen photos of her using the EV 666 while recording piano/vocal like that. Tighter rejection of the piano and it handles her level changes well!
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