Recording Magazine

I sometimes write for Recording Magazine, starting in the September 2014 issue. As I write more for them, I will add each article to this page.

Great Tone in the Box:

Using Harmonics and Distortion for Analog Sound in Digital Mixes

June 2016

There is a school of thought that says in this digital age of plug-ins, a recordist is best off recording tracks as cleanly and as flat as possible, to maximize flexibility during the mix. Another school of thought says that you should craft your tones ahead of time on the way into a digital recording system, to maximize the sonic potential and save yourself time during the mix. Both approaches are used successfully every day on recordings, but there is little question that the latter approach generally requires a much higher budget for hardware: analog preamps, EQs, compressors, and other devices to achieve the desired tonality.

In a way, the gear choices that an engineer makes reflects their sonic personality. Familiarity allows the engineer to quickly get the sounds they are looking for. For busy professional engineers who need to work quickly, this approach makes perfect sense, and is at the root of the analog gear explosion of the last decade. The amount of great gear available these days, all made by passionate people, is astounding.

Ask the right question

The new generation of front-end hardware typically has more controls, often a gain and a level knob or perhaps simple EQ or input impedance controls to manipulate tone, rather than just a single gain knob on an interface preamp. Despite the additional expense of many of these units, they aren’t necessarily better—they just sound different, and in many cases the differences are quite subtle. The four main parameters of audio are frequency response, distortion, noise, and time-based effects, so whatever differences in sound exist between audio products like mic preamps can be described in terms of these parameters, and we can manipulate these parameters using plug-ins.

We can debate whether digital distortion can sound the same as analog, but I believe this is the wrong question. Rather, I prefer to ask: can we make a given recording sound better with the tools available to us? With distortion plug-ins, we can add back in much of the tone we associate with analog technology: tape, tubes, analog preamps, etc. We can then fine-tune the added distortion with additional EQ or compression….

Read more in the June issue of RECORDING, or download a PDF of this article.

Acoustics Myths and Their Hidden Truths:

A Lucky 13 Ways You Might Not Really Know What’s Going On With Your Room Sound

November 2015

I have a deep love and respect for mythology (Norse is my current favorite). While the myths and stories of our ancestors may not be an abundant source for scientific truth, they are packed with meaning that can inspire us and enrich our lives. This kind of meaning is what drives art in general, and without artistic meaning, what’s the point of recording music?

As a result, I’m not a big fan of “mythbusting” or “debunking”. Implied in these terms are absolutes that I rarely agree with: that the “myth” (taken as a synonym for “lie”) being “debunked” has no truth to it whatsoever, and that anyone who “believes” in it is therefore ignorant and/or stupid. On the contrary, I find that many of these “myths” have their roots in truth. More often, the problems tend to come when the truths are misinterpreted or taken to an extreme that isn’t always the most accurate way to think about the problem at hand. Like all mythologies, audio myths are an invitation to think more deeply about a given scenario.

Read more in the November issue of RECORDING, or download a PDF of this article.

Creating Space:

Using room acoustics to your advantage, even if you don’t have a great-sounding room

March 2015

One of the hallmarks of a superior recording is mastery of the sense of audible space. There are certainly a variety of techniques a recordist can use to achieve space, and the particular techniques each engineer chooses to use will largely shape his or her style as it develops.

One of the best ways is to take advantage of the space in the room where the tracking takes place. Capturing a sense of space can be done through a combination of instrument placement, microphone technique, and an understanding of the room acoustics at play in the room. This can give the recordist a bulletproof formula to record tracks where the sense of space can be precisely manipulated during the mix, to achieve exactly the right amount of space and ambience, with or without external effects. This article will discuss a few strategies to accomplish exactly that.

Of course, the ideal scenario for capturing space in recordings is to record great musicians playing great instruments in a great-sounding room! Recording under these conditions almost feels like cheating, in the sense that the recordist has fewer challenges to overcome under these ideal circumstances. It becomes a simple matter of setting up the mics, getting levels, and capturing the players doing their thing.

But what are some characteristics of a great-sounding room? We first have to understand a few of the technical details of great acoustics, so that if they are not present, we will have some idea of how to overcome these limitations….

Read more in the March issue of RECORDING!

What Makes Magic Garden Grow?

An Interview with Brian Lucey

September 2014

Having mastered four Number One records recently, from artists like The Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys, this thoughtful engineer is glad to share is ideas on choosing gear and building a creative space that gets results.

Brian Lucey’s new Magic Garden Mastering facility in Los Angeles was a long time coming, and the product of a careful design that evolved over 14 years and three different rooms. Lucey is a Grammy-winning mastering engineer with four recent #1 records—The Black Keys’ Turn Blue, Ray LaMontagne’s Supernova, Arctic Monkeys’ AM, and Chet Faker’s Built on Glass. His second facility, which he opened in Columbus in 2010, was one of the first facilities to take advantage of the new RealTraps Modular Kits approach, which can bring world-class sound quality to nearly any room, even if it wasn’t designed from the ground up to have superior acoustics. The brand new LA room takes the Modular Kit design to the next level.

Brian was quick to point out that the design process for him was also grounded in his intuitive sense as an artist, as well as the empirically proven performance of his previous rooms…

Read more in the September 2014 issue of RECORDING!