11 -What Morse Code Taught Me About Music Recording May 14, 2020
This topic may seem like a stretch in a podcast about music recording, but using Morse code on Amateur Radio taught me quite a bit about hearing acuity. And my experience building devices for my hobby taught me a lot about electronics, circuit design, and construction.
From my first exposure to Morse code from interference from a RCA Coastal Marine station in New Jersey as a kid, to learning the code and using it for over 50 years, the code has been part of my life. Although I do not have much time to use it these days, it is a skill I try to utilize when I can.
I also taught myself the original Morse code, as developed by Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail in the 1830s, which is quite different from the modern code.
This episode has actual code segments to illustrate my points, including a recreation of the cacophonous jumble of code signals I had to deal with before I could afford more advanced equipment.
12 - My Conversation with Mix Engineer Jon Castelli May 21, 2020
Jon Castelli is an up-and-coming mix engineer in LA who has had great success in recent years, working on projects like Khalid's Grammy-nominated for Record-of-the-Year, "Talk," Platinum record for Summer Walker and Drake's "Girls Need Love," and Gold record for Harry Styles "Lights Up"
This conversation with Jon was recorded about a year ago, with me in my studio in West Chester, PA and Jon at his studio, The Giftshop, in Los Angeles. An editing version of our interview recently appeared in Tape Op magazine.
Jon offers lots of good, practical information about how to refine your craft, and what it takes to work with top-level artists and producers.
We talk about many things, including how he sets up for a mix, recording and mixing vocals, the software and hardware tools that are intrinsic to his process, the roles an engineer/producer/mixer plays during the recording process, fixing problems, microphone choices, the use of saturation and distortion, developing your own sound, and loudness goals. I started by asking Jon about how he got into music and recording.
13 - Recording In Improvised Spaces May 28, 2020
Sometimes we have to record in less-than-ideal locations, such as at home, or perhaps on location. Understanding the challenges of adapting space for recording will help you get the best possible sound out of your improvised studio.
In this episode, I give a quick overview of some of the acoustical principles that will affect how your recording sounds. Some are obvious, like sound-proofing, sound absorbing, and controlling echoes. Others may not be immediately obvious, such as the room proportions. A deeper understanding of these factors will help.
I also touch on some other challenges to recording in improvised spaces, such as lighting and heating/air conditioning.
Even if you record in a real studio, insight into these principles may help you get the most out of the room.
This episode is based on a series of YouTube videos I did some years ago. The images and video in that series help illustrate the points. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FD5SlKYQiA for the first part. All my videos can be accessed from www.youtube.com/c/DWFearn
This was also the topic for a talk I recently gave to the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences (CRAS).
14 - A Conversation with Chris Tabron June 4, 2020
Chris Tabron is a very successful Brooklyn-based producer, engineer, mixer who has worked with artists such as Beyonce, The Strokes, Robert Glasper, Battles, Lower Dens, The Voidz, and Charlotte Day Wilson.
I spoke with Chris about how he got into music recording and production, and about his approach to working with artists – and the art of recording and the skills needed to be a producer.
Our conversation went on for about two-and-a-half hours, of which this is the first hour. The second portion was less formal – really just the two of us chatting about things. Chris had some questions for me, too. I’ll post that part of our conversation in a future episode.
Chris recorded in his studio in Brooklyn, using a Shure SM7 mic into a Neve 1073 module. I was using my usual AEA 44 mic into a VT-2 mic preamp.
15 - Microphones! June 11, 2020
We all use microphones all the time, but how much do we know about how they work? Is that knowledge useful?
In this episode, I discuss the three main types of studio microphones, dynamic, ribbon, and condenser, and the three main pickup patterns, omni-, bi-, and uni-directional, and why understanding some of the basic principles can help you get the most from your microphones.
16 - A Conversation with Mastering Engineer Dale Becker June 18, 2020
Dale Becker is a mastering engineer in Los Angeles. He is known for his work with artists such as
Khalid, Chloe X Halle, Lauv, Macklemore, Rufus Du Sol, JoJo, Kesha, Tiesto, Meghan Trainor, Jeremy Zucker, Beast Coast, Fletcher, Gallant, Louis the Child & Bryce Vine.
He works at Becker Mastering, along with his father, Bernie.
We talked about the art of mastering in the digital age, along with some discussion of mastering for vinyl, Dale’s experience as a recording engineer and producer, the new immersive formats like Dolby Atmos, loudness, and his philosophy of music. He offers some suggestions for preparing your mixes for mastering, and how he faces the challenge of creating a master that pleases all parties involved, and works for all distribution outlets. Learn more at https://www.beckermastering.com/
My first job, and really the only time I have ever worked for someone else, was in radio broadcasting. While in high school, I started working as an engineer, on weekends, at WPEN, an AM/FM station in Philadelphia. The station was founded in 1926 and the studios where I worked were built by RCA in 1947. Little had changed by the time I started there in 1966. The AM transmitter site was several miles to the west of the city. It was one of the first directional AM stations in the country, and that site was built in 1936.
Back then, radio stations were operated by engineers, who were the de facto producers of the radio program. The “air talent” did not have any equipment in the studio except a microphone. The engineer made the program flow by operating the microphone, turntables, tape machines, and radio network sources. At least that was how radio worked in major cities.
Back then, radio stations and recording studios were very similar, both in equipment and facilities, and in the creative dynamic. I was fortunate that WPEN was still practicing “old-time radio” when I was there. The station had 13 engineers, 11 studios and control rooms, and carried two national radio networks. The largest studio occupied the entire first floor of the building and was set up for a live audience. About ten years before I started working there, that studio was where the predecessor of American Bandstand originated, before it moved to TV. Now it was the home to a live-audience talk show at night, which featured top names in politics and entertainment.
During the broadcast day, programming originated from five different studios, plus there were several well-equipped production studios/control rooms used for recording commercials and other program elements. One production studio had a disc-cutting lathe, which is where I first learned how to cut lacquer discs.
There were people working there that went back to the station’s inception in 1926, and I tried to learn as much as I could from these people who invented broadcasting.
I learned about working with talented people, both on staff and as guests, and how to make an audio experience flow naturally to provide the best experience for the listener. I also learned about equipment maintenance, and how to construct reliable equipment in-house.
This job also provided me with the income necessary to start my own recording studio, which had always been my primary goal. But working in radio back then was exciting, too. In this episode, I talk about what I learned at WPEN, and how that experience helped me learn the craft of recording.
18 - My Conversation with Dom Morley July 9, 2020
Dom Morley is a Grammy-award winning British engineer, producer, and mixer who has worked with artists such as Amy Winehouse, Adele, Sting, Nick Cave, and many others. He has worked as a staff engineer in several top studios in London and now has his own studio in Oxfordshire. Educating aspiring engineers and producers is important to Dom, and he is in demand as a teacher and lecturer. He often conducts workshops at the NAMM Show.
An educational service he offers is the Mix Consultancy, where anyone can submit their mix for Dom’s personal evaluation and suggestions. https://www.themixconsultancy.com/
I recently spoke with Dom about his early influences, breaking into the business, working with artists and producers, and helping those coming up with solid advice on developing their craft.
For this conversation, Dom was using a vintage RCA 77 microphone into a Wunder Audio PA-Four mic preamp and D.W. Fearn VT-7 Compressor.
I am using my usual AEA R44 mic into a D.W. Fearn VT-2 mic preamp. Both mics were sent through individual D.W. Fearn VT-4 Equalizers, and the mix goes through a VT-7 Compressor. The conversation was via Skype, so there is an occasional delay of my voice audible in Dom’s mic when we overlap. The recording is 24 bit, 96kHz PCM digital before the podcast conversion to MP3.
19 - Tad Rollow, Research Engineer July 16, 2020
Tad Rollow is a research engineer who has worked at companies like Eventide, Avid-DigiDesign, and Sennheiser. You probably own hardware or software whose design Tad has been part of.
Tad has a wide range of interests and experiences, including hardware, software, and chip design. He’s been recording music since high school and continues to do that. He has a degree in electrical engineering and a PhD in acoustics.
Tad understands the intersection between engineering and art, and knows that a product not only has to have great specifications but it also must sound good.
Our conversation was recorded at 24-bit/ 96kHz PCM. Tad was recording in his home studio in San Francisco, using a Sennheiser MKH8050 mic into a D.W. Fearn VT-2 microphone preamplifier, and recording to ProTools. I am using an AEA R44 microphone, a VT-2 preamp, and a Merging Technologies converter, recorded to Pyramix.
The mix was processed through a D.W. Fearn VT-5 Equalizer and a VT-7 Compressor.
This podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcast, and many others.
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20 - Vacuum Tubes and Recording July 26, 2020
My recording career started with vacuum tube gear, and it’s a sound I still prefer. In this episode, I tell the story of my early experience with a homemade mixer using tube mic preamps, and my reluctant transition to solid-state audio equipment and my eventual return to tubes.
There may be many reasons why tubes sound different than transistors (solid-state), and I explore some of those differences. The biggest reason may be the distortion products that exist in all amplifiers, whether they are tube or solid-state, and why our ears prefer the even-order harmonic distortion of tubes.
But tubes are not the best choice for everything, and I explain why solid-state integrated circuit op amps are a good choice in some applications.
And tubes are not appropriate for digital electronics, even though the first digital computers used vacuum tubes. I tell the story of going inside a Univac tube computer while it was operating.
Episodes 11 through 20
Your comments and suggestions are always welcomed
Updated 2 August 2020
copyright 2020 Douglas W. Fearn