Episodes 1 through 10
Jim Hamilton is an interesting guy. His career includes drums and percussion, often with well-known artists. But also Jim is a tap dancer who performs around the world. And he owns Rittenhouse Soundworks, an amazing recording studio in Philadelphia.
He has also been a life-long student of music and recording. Our conversation covers the relationship of tap dancing to modern drumming, and the evolution of the snare drum. We explore how technology affects the recording process and the interface between the performer and the listener.
We talk about the high-resolution audio as it is recorded, verses the relatively low-fidelity music that most listeners experience.
In this second part of my conversation with Wes Dooley of Audio Engineering Associates, I ask Wes about why ribbon microphones sound different from condenser (or dynamic) microphones. Wes also explains more about his recording background and how that led into ribbon mic design and manufacturing.
(Technical info: Wes used an AEA KU5 mic into a D.W. Fearn VT-2 mic preamp and recorded into Pro Tools at the AEA Studio in Pasadena, CA. Doug used an AEA R44CX into a VT-2 and recorded to Pyramix, at the D.W. Fearn Studio in West Chester, PA.)
1 - Your Hearing is Amazing! March 19, 2020
If we could not hear, there would be no music, and no music recording. This episode explores the characteristics of our hearing, it's limitations and idiosyncrasies, and how to preserve your hearing. We look at the range of frequencies we can hear, and look at the quietest thing we can hear -- and the loudest noise we can tolerate. We can damage our hearing while we are doing surprisingly mundane tasks. If you prevent this damage, you can appreciate the full impact of music your entire life. Includes sample sounds.
2 - A Brief History of Recording March 25, 2020
I have always been fascinated with the history of recording, and I find it useful in understanding where we are today. In this show, I talk about this history, from the Edison phonograph to modern digital recording. But it's not just facts and dates. I'm more interested in how the advances in technology changed the concept of recorded music, and how the requirements of the music drove the technological advances.
3 - Overview of the Music Recording Process April 2, 2020
This is a short introduction to the overall concepts of recording music. It starts with a story of my earliest attempts to record music, why I was not pleased with the results, and how I have spent the 50+ years since then trying to make it sound better. Some of the influences that formed my notion of how music should sound are also covered.
It also gives you a preview of some of the topics that will be covered in more depth in future episodes.
For those of you in the recording world, this may seem a bit oversimplified, but even those of us who have been doing this for a long time can sometimes get a better perspective when we explain something to the layman.
There is also a YouTube video of this episode, which is slightly different, on the D.W. Fearn YouTube channel.
4 - The Room Where Music is Recorded April 9, 2020
Music is recorded in an acoustic space, which could be a professional recording studio, a home studio, a concert hall, or even outside. The characteristics of the room not only affect how the recording is going to sound, but also how the musicians perform.
In this episode, we look at the acoustical characteristics of the recording space: the room proportions, sound absorption, diffusion, and a brief look at sound isolation (soundproofing).
5 - My Conversation with Wes Dooley of Audio Engineering Associates Part 1 April 16, 2020
I’ve had the privilege of knowing some amazing people in the world of pro audio, and one of them is Wes Dooley. I’ve known Wes for decades, and I am still learning new things from him every time we talk.
Wes is best known as the founder of Audio Engineering Associates, which manufactures some of the best microphones in the world. I wanted to know more about how Wes got started in music recording, and equipment design and manufacturing.
There is more to our conversation, and I will post the second part in an upcoming show
We recorded this conversation while the country was mostly in stay-at-home mode, with Wes at AEA in Pasadena, CA, and I was at D.W. Fearn in West Chester, PA. We talked on the phone, with each of us recording our side of the conversation in our studios. Wes is using an AEA KU5 ribbon mic, and I’m using an AEA R44CX. Both mics are going through D.W. Fearn VT-2 Microphone Preamplifiers and recorded on a Digital Audio Workstation, Wes with ProTools and me with Pyramix. I then combined the two audio files to create the interview.
6 - Introduction to Recording to Magnetic Tape April 23, 2020
I spent about half of my career recording to magnetic tape, and although everything I record now is done digitally, I understand the allure of sound of tape, and the fascination with the machines that record it.
This is the first of three episodes on tape recording, which I am publishing all on the same day for those who are interested in the topic. This first installment is an introduction to magnetic tape recording, with some basic principles and an explanation of the mechanical parts of a tape machine. I talk about some of the inherent deficiencies of the tape-recording process, and the technological advances that helped mitigate them. And I explain how you may have to change the way you record in order to get good results with tape.
Part 2 is on machine alignment and maintenance. Not particularly exciting stuff, but vital if you want good performance.
And Part 3 discusses the practical aspects of recording to tape in the studio.
7 - Tape Machine Alignment & Maintenance April 23, 2020
In this second of three parts on recording to magnetic tape, we look at why proper machine setup is critically important for good, consistent results. This episode is rather arcane because we are talking about an obsolete technology. It includes details on how and why adjustment is necessary, and a rough outline of how it is done.
Tape machines from different eras and from different manufacturers have variations on these generic procedures, so if you want to learn how to do this, you will have to acquire the manual for your tape machine and follow the alignment instructions the manufacturer recommends.
But this episode will give you a good sense of what is involved and what you have to look forward to if you want to record to tape. I don’t want to discourage anyone from doing this, but I think it is important to learn some of the basics before investing in tape technology.
Some of the topics covered are: reference alignment tapes, setting head azimuth, adjusting record and playback level and equalization, setting tape bias for best performance (with a couple of different methods), mechanical wear and adjustment, parts replacement, and why all these things are necessary.
8 - Using Tape Recording in the Studio April 23, 2020
This is the final of the three parts in this series on recording to magnetic tape. I explain some of the differences in workflow between recording to digital and recording to tape. This is more “hands-on” than the first two installments.
The limitations of the medium affect the way you will record. That’s part of the “tape sound.”
I discuss the battle with tape noise, setting levels, routine calibration tones, punching in, bouncing tracks (which is a different concept than what many DAWs call bouncing), practical aspects of figuring out where you are in a song, variable speed recording, editing and splicing, preparing tape for mastering, manufacturing problems with the tape itself, storing tape, and retrieving music from old tapes.
Your comments and suggestions are always welcomed
Updated 18 June 2020
copyright 2020 Douglas W. Fearn