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Zak Glynn
Manchester
Last Update: 21.04.15
Recording, Mixing and Mastering a radio single in just 8 days.
SSR Manchester - Zak Glynn,

POSTED ON – 21.04.15

Recording, Mixing and Mastering a radio single in just 8 days.


How quickly can a song be recorded? I've been thinking a lot about this recently, Steve Albini manages to churn out an album in 3 to 4 days, recorded mixed and mastered. But then producers like Andy Sneap may spend months on a single album, a month tracking and another mixing. Is one method one better than another? One certainly sounds a lot more "produced" than the other but I suppose it's down to preference, engineers work in different ways.

Just like my last blog, coincidence loves me and I ended up receiving a phonecall from Bolton based Pop Punk outfit Hometown Heroes asking if I could record, mix and master a single for them in just around 8 days, Due Tuesday 21st of April, work starting Monday the week before to be aired on Bolton FM as a premiere. Most engineers I asked about this said that I'd have to be crazy to accept it, and to be honest when people say "You'd have to be crazy" I see that as a challenge for me to be exactly that level of crazy. So I accepted and we put together a schedule

  • Day 1 - Guitars and Vocals
  • Day 2 - Had a session already booked here with a different client, so no work was done
  • Day 3 - Reamplifying guitars
  • Day 4 - Bass Guitar
  • Day 5 - Drums
  • Day 6 - Mixing
  • Day 7 - Mixing
  • Day 8 - Final Tweaks and Mastering
Some of the problems we had included that their amplifiers were not up to scratch with the produced sound that Hometown Heroes were intending for the single, so I decided to use SSRs in house Orange TH100 Amplifiers for guitar duties and use the Sansamp emulation in Protools to grit up the bass guitar a bit. Another problem was budget constraints, in an ideal world every single recording would be done with fresh strings, fresh drum heads and sticks on a nice sunny day where if the artist is feeling a bit stressed they can go and lie down in a room of puppies to make them feel better. But not everyone can afford stuff like that, I've been told that any self respecting artist should have a properly maintained instrument and my retort to that is that not every self respecting artist can make a living to afford that.

Onto the recording, which was fraught with minor problems and inconveniences.

Day 1:
Monday wasn't too much of a struggle in terms of tracking, We tracked guitars in Hometown Heroes practice space at Redbridge in Bolton. Tracked on a Telecaster which turned out to very microphonic pickups which even at some point managed to pick up the click track being played from a PA speaker. My portable rig consists of a Focusrite Scarlet 8i6 and assorted accessories including di boxes. We managed to keep the pickup bleed to a minimum and track guitars with relative ease. Using my Blue Bluebird microphone we then tracked vocals in the live room, Wall reflections were relatively dead in the room so it wasn't too bad for a vocal recording space and these takes did suffice for the final track. This session took just around 3 hours.




Day 2:
Had a session already booked with another client that day so no work was done on the single.

Day 3:
None of the guys were free on Wednesday, so I used this time to reamplify guitars in SSRs Venue, normally you need special permission from Jay to move the amplifiers but I circumnavigated this by just going to where they were with my portable rig. The one problem this lead to was a rather severe ground loop through the system, so I had to run the output from my interface into the venue splitter isolation transformers and then take the signal out and into a reamp box.

For the amplifier settings I dialed back on the gain more than I usually would because the guitars were double tracked, so that the overall sound would be thicker anyway I could scoop away quite a bit of mids and bring the bass down aswell. For Mics I used a SM57 and a Sennheiser E606 each placed around 2 to 3 inches from centre of a speaker. Overall I ended up scrapping the SM57 tracks as they just came out sounding rather dull compared to the clarity of the e606 and I didn't have time to experiment with the individual speakers in the cabs. I do quite like the tone that was achieved, although I'm not as fond of the TH100 as the Rockerverb series of amplifiers.



Day 4:
Thursday was an utter nightmare, my train got cancelled and I forgot my iLok so we ended up tracking bass into Logic 9. When I said I would do this single for Hometown Heroes I did tell them that an absolute priority was to get new bass strings for their bass. In my honest opinion, if you're not using flatwounds then you do not have an excuse to not change your strings before tracking. The secret to great bass tone for fast rhythm, or really anything is a fresh set of strings. So we threw on a set of Rotosound 105-45s for Drop D tuning and they sounded great. However because of the situation of me being late, the bassist had to do the session in a rush to make it to his meeting later that day. On the take the playing was slightly sloppy. luckily I found out how I could correct it.



Day 5:
Friday was the big one, Drums. I remember reading a quote somewhere from Eyal Levi of Audiohammer (Black Dahlia Murder, Motionless in White and Whitechapel) saying that any band can produce a really good album for under £500 if they spend the money on getting their instruments pristine and getting the drums recorded in a fantastic acoustic space. Ghost 2 is by no means a “fantastic” acoustic space, but it’s still decent. It’s probably better than I give it credit for, but I’ve been spoiled by the drum sounds of Electrical Audio.

Personally, I don’t think I am very good at making a “produced” drum sound where every single thing is pristine with the exact balance between every drum is measured. Because of this I asked fellow student and group c’s resident drum tech Oskar in to help me with this session as produced sounds are his expertise. He also donated his sE Electronics sE5 pencil condensers to the session, which were used on overheads to great effect.

The channel list:
  • 1 Kick Inside (Attack) - Audix D6
  • 2 Kick Outside (Bass) - Shure Beta 52
  • 3 Snare top - Shure SM57
  • 4 Snare Bottom - Audix i5
  • 5 Rack Tom - Sennheiser MD421
  • 6 Floor Tom - Sennheiser MD421
  • 7 Overhead L - sE Electronics sE5
  • 8 Overhead R - sE Electronics sE5
  • 9 Stool Mic (Placed just under the drum stool) - Rode NT2000
  • 10 Room Mic (Placed in doorway of Ghost 2) - Crown PZM

Overall these microphones all performed their purpose quite well, all except for the NT2000 which was removed from the final mix as it didn't add anything. Oskar was on hand to tune and dampen the drums, the setup was SSR’s in-house Yamaha kit as it was the same kit that Hometown Heroes actually use. I really like the sE5s as overheads and might be seeing a pair in my personal mic locker sometime soon.

Again, similar to bass I think that the key to a good drum sound is fresh heads tuned correctly on every drum, even the toms. However I’m aware that reheading a drum kit is not the cheapest thing in the world. But especially in this case, the kit would’ve sounded much better with fresh heads.

While we were packing up the room, Oskar managed to edit the drums using Elastic audio to quantise them perfectly in time, the edits are very indistinguishable to me and I think Oskar really did a great job.



Day 6:
Saturday was pretty rough, I ended up scrapping the attempted mix from this day and restarting it on sunday as it was just a mess of midrange and bass frequencies. A situation where I’d got so deep into apply processing and tweaking that making any major changes was essentially impossible.

Day 7:
Sunday was much better, my ears felt more refreshed to mix and everything came out much clearer. I also realised that it was possible to use elastic audio editing on the bass guitar tracks which tightened up the lower frequencies. A final note for this day was I finally spent some money on a plugin. The Valhalla Room reverb which I do like the character of a lot more than the default D-Verb in protools. The Valhalla has a stranger character, almost lexicon like with a few strange little quirks.

Day 8:
Monday was pretty stressful, as I don’t really understand mastering properly since I only had one single lesson on it in college. All I really did was add some additional compression to the mix, -3db of gain reduction with around +6db of makeup gain since I aim for most of my mixes to be around -6db before mastering. I did what I knew for it which wasn’t much, but nobody complained so I didn’t mess up too hard.

I sent the final product to Hometown Heroes and I’m glad to say they were really happy for it. They had actually paid me on the friday of drum tracking before they’d even heard the final mix. Personally I prefer that I am not paid until they’re happy with the final product all together. As far as I’m aware, the track was aired on Bolton.FM and everyone enjoyed it and Hometown Heroes thanked me for doing the job in such a short amount of time, however if I’m honest I don't think I'll be doing anymore radio singles anytime soon, they're too stressful!

Zak Glynn
Posts

POSTED ON – 21.04.15

Recording, Mixing and Mastering a radio single in just 8 days.

POSTED ON – 30.03.15

Exploring full band takes and capturing emotional responses

Biography
Zak currently studies BSc (Hons) Studio & Live Music Production at SSR and is a freelance audio engineer under the name "Daybreak Audio Services".

As of 2015, Zak has completed a full europe tour with anglo-swiss power metal band Gloryhammer. The tour covered 30 gigs across all of europe including such venues as the O2 Academy Islington, Switzerland's famous Z-7 and the infamous Beibob in Belgium.

Zak is also a in-house engineer at The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn, which has the longest named pub in Britain.

As a recording engineer, Zak favours the raw style of Steve Albini, some of his work can be found below.


In his spare time, Zak can be found playing in his punk rock project "Dayruiner".