Posts Tagged ‘recording studio’

An amazing “home studio”

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Butch 01_500
I am interested in looking at recording studios and the kit that goes into them and endlessly fascinated by things like microphone placement.
So a recent video definitely ticked a range of boxes for me. It was a visit to the home studio of song writer and record producer Butch Walker. Butch has been a successful artist in his own right and has written songs for and produced albums for artists like Pink, Fall Out Boy, Weezer, Green Day, Avril Lavigne and Taylor Swift to name just a few.
Butch’s success means he has the resources to push the term “home studio” way past anything else I’ve seen before.

Butch has set up his studio in a lovingly converted quite large former stable block.

Redd 47It is large with a spacious live room and looks great with lovely oak walls, nice rugs and large separate zones for guitar, piano and keys, bass and drums. It’s the kind of place you might expect of someone who is successful in the music industry.
However I did not really understand the magnitude and quality of what I was looking at until about half way through the video tour when Butch gets down to talking about microphones (always my favourite part).

He is in the studio isolation room. There is a drum kit and a piano. Butch points out a mic that he uses as a mono close mic on the drum kit which can also swing round on the stand to double as a vocal mic for someone playing piano. It’s a mic I didn’t know that well – so I looked up Redd 47 – It’s a Chandler Redd 47 valve mic based on a classic EMI mic from Abbey Road – currently retailing for 6 grand! A serious mic in anyone’s book: he’s got my attention!

Butch WalkerNext he goes back into the spacious live room and goes to the other drum kit he has set up. Both kits have the same mic set-up and he can switch from recording one to the other at the patch bay at the mixing console.

For drum mics Butch has industry standard Sennheiser MD 421s. These mics are often used to catch out new sound engineers because they look like they should be side address mics but actually are end address – the test is to see if you set them up correctly.  These retail around £300-400 a piece so just about in my ball park – if I was buying 1 but Butch has 4!

Soyuz 013 pairFor overheads he has some small diaphragm condensers I wasn’t sure of – initially I thought Neumann KM 184s but it turns out they are hand made Russian Soyuz 013s. They retail for around £1300 for the pair and he has a pair on the kit in the live room and another pair in the drum room. He also has an AEA R88 ribbon mic set up as a room mic for the live room kit (about £2.5 grand). I’m viewing a “home studio” about a million leagues above most!

By now I’m googling every new mic he mentions. His kick drum mic is a Soyuz 017 FET – about 2.4 grand – and he’s got one for each kit (of course he has). He’s also got another Soyuz 017 in a section of the live room set aside for singing and acoustic guitar. Also on the kick drum on the beater side he’s got an AKG C414 (around £1000) set in figure of 8 to pick up the kick and the bottom of the snare. Above the snare he’s using a vintage Calrec 1050C (about £400) – he’s got 2.
When he goes back into the drum isolation room it turns out he also has a Leslie Rotary speaker in there for that Hammond organ sound – with “a couple of Coles 4038s” on it. That’s a vintage design ribbon mic that retails at around £1200 – and he’s got a pair.

API 2448 mixing consoleButch continues explaining what he uses in the studio – I’m amazed at how matter of fact he is with all this kit that mostly has high end price tags. Towards the end he moves to the mixing console area (he doesn’t like having a control room as it’s too isolating).

His monitors “are just some that people were raving about”. So he tried them out and loved them so much he just bought them there and then. I google them – they are PCM 6-2s and a pair will set you back nearly 10 grand. He also goes on to discuss the analogue mixer console which is an API 2448 – I just googled it. No change out of £103,000 for one of those!

There is more too with 20 or so guitars including quite a few Gibsons in the electric section and a Martin or 2 in the acoustic section. In addition there are quite a few desirable items in the racks around the mixer including the UA OX top box (around £1000) plus quite a number of keyboards and synths too plus stacks of speakers and guitar heads and amps.

Butch Walke's guitarsIn the end I am overwhelmed by his set up – and more than a little bit jealous too. It may seem that I’m fixated on the prices and I am a bit because once I started looking things up as he mentioned them I just could not believe that everything you looked at is a high end premium price of kit.  I’ve added a few mics to my wish list (which was already quite extensive) I’d just love the luxury to be able to choose the right piece of kit you need without being concerned about the price of it.

The studio has a lovely live room with lots of space and a natural but not obtrusive acoustic and Butch has mountains of gear including loads of pretty expensive stuff. However in the end what comes across is that everything there is the right tool for the job – an ethos I can understand.
Butch Walker - home studioButch has been involved in a considerable amount of success over the years which has allowed him the resources to create this great space for making music and to fill it with some high quality kit. He knows what he’s doing with all of it and has used it to make hit records so I can’t really begrudge him his success or studio and he really does have some great kit – especially the mics.
But – although it seems he does actually live there – I’m not sure it really is a “home studio”.

You can see the video on YouTube

Chris Radley – dVoiceBox studio


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Podcasts are one of the fastest growing media sectors. Maybe you have thought about creating one for your company or for yourself. A podcast is a great way for a company or individual to create more brand awareness or reinforce or grow a perception of industry sector expertise. For musicians it could be a good way of engaging with fans. Relevant content delivered by people with a passion for the subject can make for compelling or informative listening.

But it can be hard to know where to start – even if you have a great idea for a podcast – recordings made in an office or other work or home environment almost certainly won’t sound very professional or be that easy on the ear.

As ever increasing numbers of people consume podcasts it becomes much more and more important for a their producers to apply the same kind of high production values as the best professionally produced radio shows. You need a good quality listening experience to set your podcast apart form the ones produced on a laptop in a kitchen with someone using a USB mic.

Studio microphone and pop shieldThe way people listen to podcasts is intimate – often on headphones or earbuds – and so you don’t want any imperfections in the quality of the production to irritate. You certainly don’t want distracting background noises like traffic, slamming doors or dogs barking. Voice levels and dynamic range need to be consistent and voices and other content to need to be well recorded and produced without any harshness or lack of clarity that might impede the listeners understanding.

In the near future it is likely that podcasts will be streamed like music is now in which case your podcasts need to sound as good as, or better than, the others it is listed alongside on the streaming service. These quality concerns are similar to those of audiobook production of which I also have experience.

Content is key – it is important to plan and script so that you know where the podcast is heading from the start and what ground is going to be covered.  A script might actually turn out to be more of a series of bullet points rather than something to be read out verbatim – that generally doesn’t work well with those inexperienced at voice presentation.

We can help with structuring the podcast episode if needs be – or we can just focus on the technical aspects while you deliver the content! Of course I will take care of editing and post production after the recording session is finished – this might include adding music or other audio elements like intros and outros.

Using more than one presenter can make the podcast more interesting and we have space in our live room for at least 3 seated contributors so if you want a double or triple header  – or maybe an interview – it’s no problem.

Radio production experience is important when producing effective podcasts – it helps to know the ways that audio can be produced to make the podcast flow in a way that works well for the listener – keeping them informed, interested and entertained.

dVoiceBox mixerAt dVoiceBox I already produce podcasts with people like former BBC Radio 2 presenter Frank Renton – his podcast Still Listening to the Band gives his listeners an insight into the world of brass band music. I’ve been producing that for the last couple of years.

My previous experience also includes 22 years in radio which included several years producing award winning (New York Radio Festival) social action broadcasting content in the days when commercial local radio still did speech based content. My studio specialises in spoken word projects and so I know how to record voices and produce voice based audio that sounds great and which listeners will want to listen to.

Got an idea for a podcast? Give me a call and lets get started!

Contact 07866 784925

Chris Radley

dVoiceBox Studio

Studio Upgrade

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dVoiceBox mixerMy studio is  built around my medium format 32 channel Soundcraft Ghost mixing desk.  It is almost certainly the case that if I was starting out now I would not have a desk like this but 18 years ago when I bought it new I was recording a lot of production library and TV music.

Back then I was running lots of hardware samplers, sound modules and synths and I needed to be able to mix them all at the same time. At first the studio had them all hard wired in. These days if I do music projects it’s all done “in the box” – in the computer using Logic so I wouldn’t really need 32 channels.

Nevertheless I have no plans to get rid of this desk – it’s great for tracking sessions – I love the pre-amps on voices and recently I’ve also been loving them for drums.  There is also the other thing that when a client comes in to record for the first time – they walk in the door and instantly what they see visually says “professional recording studio” – it puts their mind at ease.

Studio mixer fadersBecause I don’t plan to get rid of the Ghost I had to decide what to do recently when the rack mounted power supply for it appeared to be on the way out: it was buzzing very ominously.  I went onto ebay to look for a replacement as I know they come up from time to time.

While searching Soundcraft Ghost power supplies I found the studio systems website – run by Tim Jones.
I discovered that Tim is an analogue mixing desk guru who refurbishes and repairs all kinds of wonderful analogue conoles.  But even better than that as far as I was concerned – Tim builds replacement power supplies for analogue desks under the Blue Dog Power Supply brand name.

Tim told me that he’d built lots of power supplies for Ghosts.  I decided it would be better to have brand new power unit rather then buy a secondhand Soundcraft unit which might be ageing (and buzzing) like my existing one.
Blue Dog Power 03
I ordered a Blue Dog power supply and it arrived within a few days,  I put it in the rack yesterday, connected it up and fired up the Ghost. Tim claims his power supplies give a much lower noise floor on the mix buss.
I’d seen lots of people reporting this too but wondered how a new power supply could make such a  difference.  All I can say – it does! The noise floor is loads lower.

So far I’m very happy with the Blue Dog – Tim was very helpful and answered all my questions, the unit came quickly and it works just the way I want – Thanks Tim!

Blue Dog Power 02You can find out more about Tim Jones on his website or Facebook page

Chris Radley

dVoice Box Studio


Recording Firedaze “Another One Like That”

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We’ve just finished mixing a new track for Leamington based band Firedaze. This track is following on from their 2014 album, “Never After Land” which was also recorded at Dmusic/dVoicebox.

Logo of Coventry Blaze Ice Hockey teamFiredaze singer Steff has a massive passion for ice hockey and is a regular supporter of the Coventry Blaze Ice Hockey team. She recently decided to write and record a song that could be used by supporters of the team to cheer the team on.

“Another One Like That” is a song that started life as another song by the band with a similar title – “Another One Like This”. In fact the original song is still in the Firedaze live set – but Steff felt the reggae style laid-back folky vibe of the original was not right for a song to cheer the ice hockey team on. She knew the song needed to be more up tempo and rocky with an easy to pick up and sing along hook line.  The band took the lyrics of the original song but set the words in a much more rocky setting.

Firedaze normally use samples, foot percussion and drum loops when performing live but for this song it was decided that the sound needed to be the much more straightforward sound of a band with a live drummer.

Steff - guitarist and singer - FiredazeOnce the song structure was fixed the band recorded a guide track that could be used to track the drums. The choice of drummer was a former Firedaze and Rack and Ruin sticksman Duncan Arrow. I recorded the drum track in Dunk’s home studio using his Roland V drums recorded into Logic and then imported the drum audio files into the song project back in the dVoicebox studio.

Bass, guitar and fiddle were then re-recorded to replace the guide versions. I usually record fiddle player Jen’s violin in another room here at the studio to get the natural sound of the instrument. However for this song we decided to DI using just the feed from the AT Pro-35 fiddle-mounted mic she uses live.
The bass was also recorded on a DI via the TLA5051 channel strip to take advantage of the unit’s warm valve drive and slight compression.

Steff had recorded the original main vocal part during a rehearsal session wearing the AKG headset mic she uses live. While this mic works fine for live performance it sounds very nasal and slightly fuzzy when recorded. The final (and much clearer) version was recorded using an AT4033. I generally use this mic or sometimes a Rode NT1 for Steff in preference to the studio Neumann U87 as they just seem to suit her voice best.

VU meter on a TLA5051 channel stripWe had several reference tracks we were using for the general attitude and vibe of the track in particular some songs from the Drop Kick Murphys and Chumbwumba. One key element was the sound of a live crowd sound signing along – to achieve this kind of feeling we recorded all the band members and then got anyone male who came in during the recording session to record several passes of the main hook line. I then layered up these many voices and used some panning and reverb to spread them across the stereo picture.

Steff was pleased with the result. Her dream now is to hear the crowd at the Skydome singing this song every time the team stick the puck in the net.

“Another One Like That” by Firedaze is now on Soundcloud:

Chris Radley – dVoiceBox

Mic Blog 02

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It is only relatively recently that I’ve started to get really interested in microphones. Not just the sound of them but how they look too. I think this post says quite a lot about me and microphones.  It was reported this week that Bradley Wiggins is making a cameo appearance in the long running radio 4 soap The Archers.

I discovered the story when I saw a photo on the BBC website.

I suspect many people would be drawn to the image of the famous Olympic gold medalist, maybe wondering when the side burns had morphed into a full beard.  But such thoughts were not for me – my first thought was “What kind of mic is that that they’re using there?”  I think it’s becoming an obsession.

Anyway I was particularly struck by this microphone as it was one I’d never seen before.

I’ve listened to the Archers off and on over the years and often wondered about the practical aspects of recording it but it’s only really recently that I’ve begun to wonder about the mics they use.

Further research threw up a photo by Edward Moss taken on a recent tour of The Archers’ studio in Birmingham that clearly reveals the actual mic to be an AKG C426 B.

It has been designed for stereo recordings and is a neat solution for coincident recordings where normally you’d put up 2 mics at a fixed point in either X/Y or Mid/Side configurations. It’s basically 2 mics in 1 and they both rotate in relation to each other so you can get the optimum angle for the recording – between 0 and 270 degrees. Each mic has a LED on it so you can see the angle of each at a glance.

I discovered that the C426B is an update on the original AKG C24 which also used the 2 mics in one set up and years ago was highly regarded by many studio engineers.

I gleaned from various forums that the C426 B is apparently great for drum overheads, piano, choirs, strings – and as we know the BBC deem it suitable for radio drama recording.

Sadly I’ll almost certainly not get to road test one. Firstly they are no longer in production and secondly they cost (and I could only find a US price) around 3000 dollars secondhand.

They look great though – really eye catchingly different – it would be great to put one up in the studio just to get the “what the hell is THAT!” reactions.

More than the appearance though I like the neatness and relative compactness of this solution to X/Y and mid/side recording.

Chris Radley – dVoiceBox

Audio production – The Beatles are Coming

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Dvoicebox was asked by Atlantic Publishing to help with some audio production for the DVD documentary that accompanies the book “The Beatles are Coming”.

The DVD uses archive footage to tell the story of Beatlemania “from The Cavern to Candlestick Park” – it’s during the years when the Beatles still played live with their Vox AC 30 amplifiers continually drowned out by the screams of their fans.

Frances Hill from Atlantic Publishing had sourced a large number of archive clips from the Getty Foundation. They included TV interviews, film of live events and footage from contemporary newsreels.  Most had been very rarely seen before.

The clips were from a wide variety of initial sources and recorded on a range of audio devices of varying quality. It was my job to clean up and enhance the worst sounding recordings and standardise the levels and overall sound as much as possible across the whole project.

It was a fascinating job and, as one who was too young for Beatlemania, gave me more of an insight into how it was that the Beatles became so phenomenally famous in the early 60’s.

There were also some great examples of how not to do interviews – conducted by some shockingly complacent, patronising and inane TV interviewers. I suppose they represented the stuffy establishment view at the time – No wonder the down to earth and funny young Beatles were like a breath of fresh air to young people just escaping the austerity of the 1950s.

The clips were cut together into an hour long documentary. I recorded the voiceover from a script written by Tim Hill. It was then produced as a DVD to accompany a book containing hundreds of photos from the Beatlemania era which has just been made available.

“The Beatles are Coming” book and DVD is currently exclusively available for just under a tenner from W H Smith.

The Beatles are coming was produced by Atlantic Publishing




Recording Poetry and Music

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DvoiceBox has been invited once again to record the Love in Leamington event on the evening of Feb 12th 2014.  Once again the venue is in among the books in Leamington’s Library and we’ll be providing the PA for the event as well as recording it all for subsequent radio broadcast and podcasts.

Here’s the poster

Poster for Love in Leamington 2013

DvoiceBox recorded the first Love in Leamington in 2013. A CD of that event is to be made available by the Warwickshire Library Service.
Love in Leamington takes place in a space in the middle of the Leamington Library itself (with the book shelves wheeled to one side). Acoustically its quite a dry space and that helps with recording – although on the night the musicians felt it made their performance feel a bit “flat”.

Last year there were a variety of musical ensembles (choirs, bands and solo performers) performing music inspired by Julie Boden‘s poetry. It was quite a challenge to know what mics to use and where to place them – especially as some performers couldn’t decide until the last moment whether they were going to perform on the stairs in the Library or not. This year the recording and PA is a bit simpler from a technical perspective with just the one band – a trio, an MC and a 7 poets performing.

Should be fun – I’m looking forward to it!



Mic Blog 01

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I am certainly no expert on microphones – but recently I have become more and more fascinated by them. So this post is about mics – and later on I might add some more.

On my voiceover blog I’ve written a few times about my experience of using different mics for spoken word projects – on those occasions I’ve talked about mics I have used or have in my studio. This post is about a mic (actually 2 mics) I don’t have but I think it could be cool to have.  Mind you the cost of one of them is even more than (double)  the Neumann U87 I’ve blogged about before – so I’ll not be owning one anytime soon.

So I was recently watching videos of a band I’ve been following for a while – The Smoke Fairies. The duo are Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies. I love their folky, bluesy, kind of PJ Harvey-ish music built around simple but  brilliant guitar parts with stunning vocal harmonies.  Early in 2013 they released a limited edition 7″ vinyl single The Water Waits taken from a recording session recorded back in 2011.

At the time the band were touring in the US with Blitzen Trappen and they recorded a session upstairs at the United Pressing Plant, Nashville.

It seems they press the vinyl records downstairs and have a suite of rooms upstairs that have been used by recording artists for more than 50 years.  The “Upstairs” series are all analogue recording sessions – recorded to quarter inch tape and then released as vinyl records.

The video I watched was shot by Luke Norby from the Blitzen Trappen crew and shows members of the band learning songs in the session to provide drums, bass and keys behind the duo as they perform six songs.

I have a background in analogue tape based recording – mostly in radio and to a lesser extent in music. The site of the vintage console and the spools of tapes spinning had me hooked: the whole session is recorded using vintage analogue mics and equipment provided by Chris Mara from the “Welcome to 1979″ recording studio in Nashville.

It’s a while since any band I’ve been in has had to record a song and nail it in a couple of takes with no overdubs allowed (the recording goes straight to quarter inch 2 track stereo tape) So I appreciated watching these musicians working through a long session to get the songs down.

On the one hand I had my musician head on – appreciating the hard work and the rewards of the players. On the other hand my studio engineer head was in gear – interested to note for example, an EV RE20 as an over-head on the drums, the amps out in the corridor with the mics on them, the vintage console – the tapes running at what looks like 15 ips – you have no idea how fascinating all of that is!

But more than the tape and the vintage console – what really caught my eye was the mic Chris used for recording the vocals.  Katherine and Jessica sing together most of the time and have a great musical chemistry so it makes sense to put them head to head on a mic that does a figure of eight configuration.  It’s a well established old school recording technique.

Engineer Chris Mara could have used one of his U87’s but instead goes for a real vintage looking silver mic – but what was it? I was intrigued – It was a massive silver metal object like one of those old school radio mics from the 30’s and 40’s that you might see in old black and white news reels.

Actually some research revealed to me that the mic in question is exactly that – it’s an RCA 44  velocity mic, or ribbon mic and it was widely used in broadcasting the 1930’s and for many years thereafter.

I guess these days you might not want to use it for a contemporary pop recording – nevertheless there are quite a few rock artists who rave about the modern recreation of this beast from the past (now available as the AEA R44) which is hand made and comes with a price tag to match.  Ribbon mics are favoured by many engineers for stringed instruments as well as voices and you can use them for percussion and brass too.

And because it was designed to be used for musical ensembles as well as in radio broadcasts you don’t have to be right on top of it to sound great.  Jessica and Katherine in the Smoke Fairies sessions are around a foot away and it sounds fabulous.  I did some more on-line research on the RCA 44 (in the process discovering the Coles 4038 BBC ribbon – subject for another post perhaps).

I’d love to get my hands on an original RCA44 – or maybe the AEA R44 – but at the moment their price range puts them into the major investment category (about £3780 for the AEA) still – nice to have something to aspire to.  The Coles 4038 on the other hand – while still pretty pricey – is perhaps more within reach and with a great BBC broadcast pedigree may be one to consider for future spoken word work.


You can also see the Smoke Fairies and the RCA44 in action in the video here:


AT4033 Shockmount repair revelation

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What do you do when the elastic breaks on the shockmount of an AT4033 microphone?
That was question that formed in my mind this week when, at the end of a studio session, I discovered that the elastic in one of my AT shockmounts was rather “slack”. Closer inspection revealed that it had broken on one place and was worn and about to break in another.
I’ve used this shockmount for many years as it’s the one that came with my very first AT4033 – right back when I first started getting into voiceover work.
I quickly discovered on a variety of on-line forums that other AT users where quite rude about the AT shockmount and the elastic – but in all the years I’ve had mine (more than 15) it’s never broken before.
Which is why I didn’t know what to do.

The particular shock mount in question is the AT8441 that came with the original AT4033 (it’s got 4 “legs” that stick up and down) – the current mic is the AT4033a and the current shockmount is the AT8449 (which has a metal “O” rather than the “legs”) – it looks different overall but the elasticated middle part of the mechanism that holds the mic is the same.
The trouble is a new shock mount is more than £70.

So I wondered about a DIY approach. There’s loads of ideas on different forums about how you could go to the pharmacy and get some scrunci hair ties, or maybe you could get quite fine elasticated cord from a ship’s supplier’s, or the rubber bands out of certain vacuum cleaners. Others suggest buying some document binders and somehow using the elasticated cords that hold them closed.

Many, many intriguing ideas…. and I was entertaining at least some of them because I was scared of the price or a new shockmount – and all because the elastic on my current one was gone.

In the end I did what I probably should have done in the first place and went onto the Audio Technica website – in fact I’d done a search on-line using “How do I repair my AT mic shockmount?” and found just the page. Not only was there a sequence of photos showing me how to re-thread the elastic but it also linked to the page on their webstore where I could buy the elastic.

In the end I fixed my AT4033 shockmount for less than a tenner and they sent the parts within 2 days. It took some time researching on the internet to sort it but it was worth the effort.

One tip though – if you do have to do this yourself – make sure you’ve got scissors handy to trim the cord because it frays every time you push it through a hole in the mount. If you don’t trim it then you can’t get it through the next hole!

Chris Radley
dVoiceBox Studio