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Mike Senior- session notes
      #1040906 - 02/04/13 01:38 PM
Mike, I enjoyed your most recent article on tracking. It was very helpful, especially on the drum recordings and using "everyday" products to solve problems and get great results. You are an inspiration and I love your book as well. I had two questions 1) what was the recording equipment, i.e. interface, computer, Roland VS, etc.? Any particular reasoning in this? I guess it was enough to record about 13-16 tracks simultaneously and have a click track as well. 2) Also how did you set up the cue system? It seems you needed click to one and guitars to all. Thank again and please keep up the great work. John

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Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist

Joined: 08/08/03
Posts: 1510
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Re: Mike Senior- session notes new [Re: johnctiller]
      #1040973 - 02/04/13 10:06 PM
Hi John,

Thanks for the kind words about the article -- glad it turned out to be instructive for you! Like all the authors contributing to this column, I'm still feeling my way a little bit with the format, so it's great to get direct feedback to hopefully keep improving things month on month.

Now, your questions...

Quote johnctiller:

1) what was the recording equipment, i.e. interface, computer, Roland VS, etc.? Any particular reasoning in this? I guess it was enough to record about 13-16 tracks simultaneously and have a click track as well.

This is a complicated one to answer, because it's as much about psychology as it is about practicalities. The system I used for this recording was a Roland VS2480 multitracker. (There's a laptop in some of the pictures, but that was mainly just there to capture audio examples for the article.) Although this is officially a 24-track machine, it will only record 16 tracks of PCM data, so I run it as a 16-track machine operating at 24-bit/44.1kHz resolution. There are only 8 mic preamps on the VS2480, and they're cheap as chips, so I tend to bypass them if I can by feeding external preamps directly to the VS2480's line inputs. In this case I used the preamps in an old Studiomaster console that was in the studio, taking the recorder signal from each mixer channel's insert point.

For this session the track listing was as follows:
1: Hat
2: Ride
3+4: Stereo Overheads (crossed pair)
5: Rack Tom 1
6: Rack Tom 2
7: Floor Tom
8: Click (a Boss DR660 drum machine synced up to the VS2480 via MIDI Clock)
9: Bass Amp
10: Bass DI
11: Kick
12: Snare
13+14: Stereo Overheads (spaced pair)
15+16: Stereo Guide Guitar (via a Behringer V-Amp)

Beyond choosing PCM recording and bypassing the VS2480's preamps, though, the main reasons for preferring this kind of setup aren't really about sonics:

  • Part of it's just history: while I was working on the staff in studios, I assisted on far too many sessions that ground to a halt in front of a computer screen, and that has left me with an almost Pavlovian emotional reaction against using computers on recording sessions!
  • There's a lot of convenience about using the VS2480 too, because it means I can work in places I know nothing about and, if necessary, be almost completely self-sufficient. There are eight sends on board for foldback and enough outputs for six separate mixes if necessary; there are eight stereo multi-effect processors built in, because I'm fully loaded with expansion boards (3 VS8F2 and one VS8F3); and every channel in the mixer has a polarity switch and variable high-pass filtering, which are pretty much the only essential features for me while tracking. (I usually apply these on the monitor channels only, though, so the recordings are always raw -- the only exception being if I need to submix any channels to a single recorder track.)
  • Computer screens, like television screens, have a tremendous magnetic pull on the eye, and I've frequently felt that the moment waveforms and arrangements start appearing on that screen it shifts the focus of musicians away from communicating with each other and what they're hearing, and towards what they're seeing. On some sessions that's fine, but on ensemble tracking dates I'd usually rather everyone concentrated on what they feel about their performances, rather than how anything looks. With a hardware recorder, I find that the technology feels less intrusive somehow, and that the session focuses much more on the band, their music, and their performance.
  • Another danger of doing initial ensemble recordings onto a computer is that it can feel like a bit of a safety net. Musicians are pretty savvy about what you can do with computers these days, and having all those editing tools directly on tap can get in the way of their actually playing a great take, I think. Although I'm pretty well-practised with doing large-scale edits in the VS2480, it does still take much longer than it would in a computer, which encourages more of a 'big picture' mindset for the initial tracking sessions which seems more appropriate when you're trying to generate the overall feel of a given track.
  • I also like doing overdubs on the VS2480. I know that some people will just record tracks and tracks of a part and comp it all together later, but that's more time-consuming than necessary for pretty much anything else but lead vocals, in my view, so I prefer to create most other overdubbed parts on a single track, with any necessary fixes achieved with drop-ins. I trained on analogue tape, so punching in on the fly is second nature, and I just find it gets everyone to the end result quicker. And, unlike with tape, the big advantage with the VS2480 is that if I fluff a drop-in I can always undo it. Hypothetically speaking, of course...


2) Also how did you set up the cue system? It seems you needed click to one and guitars to all.

I have to say I honestly can't remember the specifics, but I do remember that it was a bit of a faff, and involved rigging cables all over the place to use a couple of headphone preamps that were racked up somewhere behind the bass player. Looking back at the VS2480 project, I suspect that the guitar foldback to the guitarist and bassist was probably handled by feeding the headphone output of the V-Amp directly to my Aphex Headpod headphone amp. Then the drummer's foldback was fed from the VS2480 -- originally I just sent click and guitar foldback, but it looks like I later added some drums in there too, presumably because the physical obstruction of the headphones was making it a bit tricky for Miko to hear his own playing.

Let me know if any of that's unclear, or if you need further info.

Recording Secrets for the Small Studio
Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio.

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Re: Mike Senior- session notes new [Re: johnctiller]
      #1040984 - 03/04/13 04:26 AM
Very good point about the PC locking in the performers in the "editing" mindset. On a recent session I worked with this guy that will spend 3 times more time to edit a take than re-record it. I was tracking and not manning the board so that gave me a lot of time to twiddle my thumbs


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Re: Mike Senior- session notes new [Re: johnctiller]
      #1041561 - 05/04/13 02:48 PM
Thank you for your help and insight. I was wondering if latency was an issue for the musicians hearing the guitars, drums, click etc.? Hopefully someone will take note of your ideas on the Hard Disk recorders and come out with a new one that does 16-24 tracks without a computer. It seems there are not many current options available now. Thanks,
John C. Tiller

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