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My Take on Music Recording is a podcast that covers many different aspects of the recording process, with a focus on the intersection of art and technology. Although recording is a technical process, it also involves music and musicians, working with engineers to create a satisfying experience for the listener.
Doug Fearn has made his living from professional audio since 1966 as a recording engineer, studio owner, record producer, and pro audio equipment designer and manufacturer.
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.
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.
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.
Your comments and suggestions are always welcomed
Updated 28 May 2020
copyright 2020 Douglas W. Fearn
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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).