Sunday, December 6, 2015

Facebook Questions and Answers 12-6

Hey everyone!  Here are our answers to the Facebook poll from last week--enjoy, and if you have any other questions just drop me an email at

Q: Have you found there to be "perfect" default mic placements (your go-to placements) for marimba, snare drum, timpani, etc.?  Or do you find that each environment, mic models, and instruments offer different challenges and do not allow for standard placements?  --Brandon Arvay

A: That's a great question--for most single instruments and/or groups of instruments, I use a 20" custom stereo bar and a pair of DPA 4006-TL omnis in an A/B configuration (and panning the omnis hard L and R).  When recording in our room I know about where to place everything from years of recording those instruments, but to tell the truth it's about how the instrument sounds at various distances and heights--and don't forget distances between microphones.  You can find several different stereo bars online; AEA, Grace, and DPA make really nice ones (that are really expensive); I was lucky to have one of our former house engineers make one for me modeled off the DPA bar. You can make one yourself pretty easily, or of course you can use a separate stand for each microphone.

Before I came up with our "standards," I tried a lot of different set-ups--both with my ears and the mics.  For example, when recording marimba I would stand in front of the area to be played, and have the marimbist play while I moved myself (and my ears) backwards, upwards, downwards, etc. until I found what I wanted the image to sound like (imaging is how long or short the instrument sounds from right to left, or where notes are in space, how far away or how close the instrument is during tracking).  Then I placed the array in that position at that height. I also used several different pairs of mics before we got the DPAs (Earthworks, AKG 414, etc.).  I tried XY, ORTF, NOS, etc., but found that straight-up A-B stereo was the best for our room.

I use omnis as overheads on virtually everything, no matter how many other mics I use as spots. Snare drum and other "narrow" instruments like tambourine, triangle, cymbals--you don't have to worry about what they sound like left to right; you just want the mic array pointing straight at them from whatever distance you feel sounds best--based on ears.  Same with glock because it's so narrow; xylophone--you want to figure out the top note and bottom note of what's to be played, then stick the array in the middle of it from a distance that sounds best.

Same for marimba--if you're playing a Bach cello suite and you point the array at middle C, the whole thing is going to live on the right side of the image, rather than having symmetry.  So I'll have the player put their mallets on the highest and lowest notes, then put the array in the middle of that, rather than the middle of the instrument.

For ensemble recording, I have the DPAs on a stereo bar up pretty high, then use spots throughout the ensemble--and that changes depending on what instruments are being recorded.

Q: What is your method for mastering to insure consistent sound quality across all device platforms?  For instance, do you do any rough mixing on sub-par playback systems or do you rely primarily on quality reference monitors?  Especially marimba!  It's such a rich sounding instrument, it easily distorts computer speakers.  --David Newton

A: Great question! I have a set of Genelec 8040 nearfield monitors in my office/studio control room that are FABULOUS.  That's where I do all my critical mixing and mastering.  However, I also have a set of KRKs with Primacoustic decouplers at home, plus two pairs of cans--Sennheiser HD600 and Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro Reference, and at various points I will use all four to zero in on my mastering settings.  The "Truth" for me is typically what comes out of the Genelecs--if it sounds great there, it sounds great on virtually anything.  We also have a set of Bowers and Wilkins Nautilus speakers with dual Macintosh preamps, but the room they're in isn't acoustically treated so I rarely use them (they're over in the recording suite of our largest concert hall).  Using all four of these sources over time has allowed me to make accurate extrapolations from what I hear over each one--it takes a while to develop that kind of familiarity with your gear, but it's time well-spent.

To be honest, I don't check out what things will sound like on general computer speakers or on Apple earbuds, Bose headphones, Beats, or even my own IEMs etc. because I trust that people who listen to what I'm working on will have something good enough to enjoy the full high-definition audio experience when listening to our recordings.  Often it's too much reverb in combination with the low end of the marimba that distorts small speakers with limited frequency response.

Maybe in the future we can discuss the mastering workflow for most of the percussion music we record!

Q: When mixing/mastering on headphones, do you prefer open-back, closed-back or "partially" open?  --Nathaniel Compton

A: Another great question: My Sennheiser HD600 cans are open; the DT-770s are closed.  To be honest, I haven't found many headphones that image as accurately and cleanly as the Sennheisers, and if you're in a quiet space the openness of the headphones doesn't matter, at least not to me (you can also go up another hundred dollars to the HD650s, but most of the online chatter doesn't lead me to believe that the difference is truly that great between the models).  It should be said that I mix and master with a combination of monitors and cans--if I get things sounding great on the Genelecs in my office, then they'll sound great on virtually anything.

Q: How do you eliminate hum in a daisy-chain of pedals going to a Fender amp?  --David Wright

A:  Most of the time--I say most--hum is a result of unclean and inconsistent power (or a bad ground).  I'd suggest getting a quality power conditioner (Monster and Furman make several excellent models at a variety of price points), and then recheck your connections.  Hum can also come from a power cord coming in contact with a mic or instrument cable, so you want to make sure that everything is "clean."  I spent an incredible amount of time in the back of my largest hardware rack, taking plastic zip ties to keep audio cables and power cables separate after my system developed a hum--that cleaned things up immediately.

Thank you to everyone for the questions, and we'll do it again soon!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

More Q and A with Garnet House

Today's question:  Reverb.  What do you use, and how do you apply it?

Another great question!  In the world of classical recording, reverb is a must, as we experience classical music in concert halls (mostly), or at least resonant spaces that allow sounds to be warmer and wetter than say, a super-dry space.  Of course, if you record in a dry space you can make it sound like a concert hall using today's reverb VST plug-ins like Altiverb or the Waves bundles.

I use Altiverb for all of my reverb generation and/or enhancement of existing spaces.  You can find out more about the software by visiting  The staff at AE have developed software that allows them to sample spaces and develop signatures based on microphone location and source projection.  For example, everyone has probably walked into a space and clapped their hands to deduce what kind of reverb tail a room has.  That's basically what AE did, but they erased the hand clap, leaving only the signature of the space.  Pretty cool, yes?

Most of the recording that Garnet House does is percussion, and a good deal of it is recorded at Florida State in our percussion studio.  This is a pretty dry space, but it's very accurate--it doesn't color any source signals with false bass or weird responses from corners--it's very clean and predictable.  So I can record in this space and have a great idea of how the Altiverb halls will take that source and translate it into where and how I hear the source on stage.

When I first started, I used a LOT of reverb, because it was just so cool-sounding.  Who doesn't love a great reverb on a source?  But as I've gained more experience I find myself using it more judiciously--and probably less of it percentage-wise--than when I started.

For me, the real trick is finding a room or space to place your source, say a solo marimba--that enhances the natural tendencies of the instrument and the player, as well as the style of the music being recorded.  The spaces will naturally EQ the source (which makes sense if you think about it; a wooden stage and room will sound different than one of stone), and then you just have to figure out the position from which you listen (closer or farther away), and determine how much of the signal comes out wet or dry (determined by a wet-dry adjustment--wet is more reverb, dry is less).  These, along with the size and shape of the room, determine the reverb signature.

The other question involves the whole album--most orchestral recordings or solo recordings will use one reverb signature for the whole record.  Sometimes that's definitely the way to go, but sometimes with percussion you might like different spaces for different pieces.  For example, on Blake Tyson's Firefish we used the same space for every piece except the multiple percussion piece called "Inside the Shining Stone."  Turns out it was written to be performed in a very old stone castle--so that's exactly where we put it using Altiverb.

Ultimately, reverb is like icing on a cake--you don't want to be overwhelmed by it; too much can definitely be too much!  But in the right measure it can add a great deal of seasoning to your recording and make a super sound source sound absolutely magical.  So keep experimenting and remember that some hosted VST reverbs will lower your amplitude when applied--so keep your ears nice and sharp when in post production!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Client Q and A with GHP

Excited to get our first question from the Facebook post on Wednesday!  The question is:  "
What is compression, and how do you use it in your recordings?"

This is a great question.  Compression has two basic meanings; One, when you reduce the size of an audio file for ease of transmission--say compressing a .wav file to an .mp3.  This is something you can do within most DAWs, but to be honest I never do it.  I always record to a minimum of 24-bit/44.1 and never use a container like .mp3.

The .mp3 container is popular for streaming, and it's what iTunes does to your CD tracks in order to host more of them on a device or stream them more easily.  Back when I first started recording in 2007, I would occasionally save versions of things as .mp3 files to cut down on file size--so that I could email them.  But with the advent of Dropbox and similar services (clouds, file-sharing services like WeTranfer), there's no reason to do so.  Not for me, anyway. And when I go running and listen to streaming music on Pandora, for example, I just have to get over how bad highly compressed audio files sound.

The second meaning is called Dynamic Range Compression, or DRC.  When you compress something using a plug-in algorithm, you are narrowing the dynamic range of the file.  In other words, it brings down the louds, and brings up the lows.  This can also add a lot of punch to a mix if used correctly.

Do I use DRC compression?  Yes.  But only under certain circumstances.  Some pieces need it--say the Silverman commissions on our SoundCloud page--Sparklefrog has a light "classical" compression setting determined by the VST plug-in Am-munition in Samplitude, while Quick Blood has a stronger setting.  The Trevino, however, has no compression whatsoever, and that's largely due to the way we recorded it (keyboards first, percussion on a second pass, close mics on everything with a healthy gain structure).

For drum set, definitely.  I will usually run compression on the snare drum and kick; sometimes the toms, depending on what I'm after.

The trick is to think about how your tracks are likely to be experienced--if it's pop music, you'll find LOTS of compression, as the normal listening levels of music today are way higher than those of the past decades.  If classical, it really depends on the dynamic range of the project.

But mostly, I think my job is just to make things sound the best they can, and sometimes compression can add some power--but the key is to use it judiciously, and not as a fallback in your workflow.

Jeff, I hope that answers your question!  Send more to us on Facebook, and look for more answers soon!

Monday, February 16, 2015

New Website Reveal!

We are VERY excited about our new website design, and also about the "official" launch of Garnet House Productions as a Limited Liability Company!  This is something that we've been working towards for many years, and only through our amazing clients and support staff have we been able to take the plunge.

While this blog used to be mostly for pictures, it will now be a real blog, complete with project discussions, hints, reviews, and other information that our clients--and new clients--might enjoy.  So please keep us bookmarked and let us know if there is any topic you'd like for us to deal with as part of the blog.

Check out and enjoy!

The Garnet House Production Team