Live Room Set-Up: Music Production
Following, or simultaneously to, the powering-up and calibration of the recording equipment and, if required, the creation of DAW session files, recordists should prepare the studio for the arrival of the performers. At this stage, whoever is responsible for the set-up (possibly the assistant engineer) should consult the session plan in order to gather information regarding:
-Musicians’ placement, including the use of microphone stands and baffles
-Transducer and backline selection and positioning (including rental-related information)
-Inputs and track allocation
-Headphone / Foldback mix and talkback requirements
-The distribution and arrangement of comfort or atmosphere-related items
-Instrument-related requisites, e.g. oiling of pedals, tuning of drums, etc.
-The set-up stage provides an opportunity for recordists to start their relationship with artists and producers on positive terms and it is important to note that strong first impressions commonly have a long-lasting impact in music production environments.
Spatial positioning can affect the sound of instruments dramatically so recordists should be very careful when selecting the placement for their sound sources. In rock and pop music, it is common for engineers to start the set-up process by searching for the ideal position for the drum kit, which seems sensible as this instrument is usually the largest and most complex element in standard productions.
Some of the most common techniques used for drum placement involve the playing and auditioning of a given component of the kit at different positions within the recording environment. Some individuals use the floor tom or the bass drum as the ‘placement testing’ instrument due to their low-frequency resonance. With that in mind, if a pronounced low-end resonance is desired, in most small to medium-sized, rectangular-shaped rooms, the best sounding position will almost certainly lie in the centre of all dimensions, i.e. the middle of the room.
Considering the importance of the snare drum in contemporary rock music, recordists may alternatively use this instrument for their drum kit placement tests. In such case, a technician may easily carry and play a snare drum around the studio unaided, listening for the interaction between the instrument’s ‘dry’ sound and its early reflections. Once the most appropriate sound (balance) for the ‘backbeat’ is found, the drum kit may be assembled around it.
There are no hard rules on how to place the rest of the performers and respective backline in relation to the drum kit, although it is common for bass players to prefer the hi-hat side of the kit and to request a line of sight with the drummer’s bass drum foot. Assistants should always consult the session plan for instructions before making any decisions involving placement.
Upon the arrival of the performers at the recording space, technicians should be ready to start the sound-check process. At this point, the backline should be in its general position (session plan) and drum kit should be in its place and in tune.
The sound-check can be long and arduous process that demands concentration and it should be free from any unnecessary distractions relating to set-up.
Whenever possible and reasonable, the well being of the artists should be given priority over all else. This includes the allocation of adequate space for each of the performers and the strategic placement of baffles, allowing good visibility to be maintained throughout (encouraging interaction / interplay). The importance of artist comfort should never be underestimated, as musicians may perform beyond expectations when inspired by their surroundings.
Comfort and atmosphere-related items may include:
-Tapestries and pillows
-Chairs and small tables
-‘Mood’ lighting devices and candles
-Incense and other aromatherapy products.
Excerpt from Music Production: Recording by Carlos Lellis.
About the Author
Carlos Lellis Ferreira holds an SAE/Middlesex University MA in Creative Media and a diploma Summa Cum Laude from Berklee College of Music. He has worked as an engineer and producer with artists such as Rosabella Gregory, Joby Talbot and Grammy Award winners Sir John Tavener and Thomas Dybdahl amongst many others. He is currently the Audio Production programme leader at SAE Institute, UK.