The Sound Check: Music Production
The sound-check stage of recording sessions requires great focus from the production team and ideally only those directly involved in the process should be present in the studio. At this point any distractions can have serious consequences and delay production considerably. The following are notes that may help streamline/optimise the sound evaluation procedure. During sound-check:
– All mobile phones must be switched off and not simply set on ‘silent’ or ‘vibrate’ mode (use ‘airplane’ mode as an alternative).
– The recording environment should ideally be free of still and video cameras, as all efforts and attention should be dedicated to the appraisal and optimising of sound (filming commonly inhibits the production team at such an early stage).
– Talkback communication must be kept constant, with no extended gaps between performance and control room feedback.
– Musicians should not have to wait in the studio unnecessarily, i.e. producers should stagger arrival times.
– Performers must play the part that they will be recording at its appropriate level and intensity (although they may start the process by playing something else in order to avoid fatigue).
– Drummers should play their whole kit (the ‘groove’) and not individual elements in isolation, i.e. they should perform their part using the whole instrument, even during the evaluation of snare or bass drum sounds, etc. The rationale for this comes from the fact that drummers have a tendency to play unnaturally when hitting a single component of the kit repeatedly, presenting recordists with an unrealistic picture of what will happen later.
– Drummers should remove all unused elements from the kit, e.g. toms.
– Musicians should be allowed and, if appropriate, encouraged to play using effects processors, e.g. guitarists using effects pedals, etc., although recordists should ideally split the signal and evaluate/ capture both the ‘dry’ (DI) and the ‘wet’ versions of the instrument’s sound (allowing for subsequent ‘reamping’).
– The team should not be afraid to change instruments, strings, drum heads, microphone positions, etc. to improve sounds that do not correspond to expectations.
– Engineers should only resort to the use of equalisation if changes in microphone and/or position do not seem to yield the desired results.
Reamping and the Sound-Check
The use of a ‘reamp’ box may facilitate the sound-check procedure for guitarists, who may record their part and audition it played back through a few different amplifier models. This may help musicians evaluate sound objectively, as some individuals can appraise sound better (and accept criticism) when they are not playing their instruments.
It is possible for multiple microphones to present polarity problems when combined, producing a ‘hollow’ or ‘thin’ sound. As an example, two ‘mics’ aimed at the top and the bottom of a snare drum respectively may require the use of the polarity inverting switch of one of their corresponding channels. In situations when such a switch is not available, technicians may need to wire a polarity inverting cable, e.g. an XLR lead with pins two and three from one end connected to pins three and two of the other end respectively. NB Ensure such cables are marked very clearly. In extreme circumstances engineers may record signals that are incoherent polarity-wise and use the audio region inverting function of a DAW after recording.
Polarity coherence should ultimately be evaluated by ear during sound-check.
Excerpt from Music Production: Recording by Carlos Lellis.
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.