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Creating Spacious Mixes with Panning

Panning in a musical context is the act of distributing the sound signal into a stereo or multi-channel sound field. Most DAW’s will have a Pan Knob that you can use to send the audio hard left, left, centre, right, hard right, and everything in between. The benefit of panning is that it can create space and width inside your mix and allow the listener to have a broader listening experience.

So how do you pan your mixes? Well here are a few top tips that will help create space and depth in your mixes.

Vocal Tracks

Music that features a voice in it, no matter the genre, typically follows this panning method. The Vocals should be panned centre, as well as any kick or snare tracks (although if you don’t want that hard-hitting sound you can always pan the snare and kick just off centre). If you have a couple of harmony vocal tracks, you can pan them hard left and hard right so that they’re not competing with the main vocal. If you have a lot of different harmonies pan the strongest hard left and right and then pan the others in opposite directions with each other. For example, if you have two of the same harmony takes pan one 90° left and the other 90° right.

Frequency Zones

If you have a few instruments or sounds that are occupying the same frequency, a nice trick can be to pan them on opposite sides of each other. This will create space and alleviate some of the muddiness.

Song Structure

Another useful trick with panning is it can allow you to diversity the sound of your song structure. For example, you could keep your intro and verses very tight, and then when the chorus begins you can open up the sound by panning certain voices and instruments out. This will create a wider sound and ultimately make it feel like a bigger chorus.

Keep it Balanced

The most important thing to remember is to keep your mix balanced! Once you start diving into panning it can become quite easy to just start panning everything. This is not recommended. The best use of panning comes from using the technique just to open up your mix. You don’t want to be left with a track that sounds too loud and muddy in the right ear and brittle in the left.

Check Your Mix

Make sure you are checking your mix on a variety of different sources. From headphones, monitors, cellphone speakers, etc. This is important as listening on only one source can give you an altered listening experience and what sounds good on your mix headphones might not sound great on a pair of cheaper in-ears. So, make sure to check check check!

Overall panning is an incredible tool to open up the sound of your music. There is no right or wrong way to do it and my advice would be to just trust your ears.

 

The Importance of Field Recording

Throughout the past few years, I’ve been networking with people in the sound community. I’ve met and spoken with so many amazing people in the film, television, and video game industry who have been nothing less than helpful and hopeful. One tip that gets brought up the most is sound libraries. Any sound designer knows those sound libraries are very important to have. That includes the ones you’ve recorded and the ones you’ve bought. Of course, not buying all the sound libraries at once but little by little over time.

An important part of your journey as a sound designer is also learning to record sounds, yourself. You don’t even need the fanciest or most expensive equipment in the world to do it. I, myself, own a Zoom H1, Zoom H4n, and Zoom H6 with a Sennheiser MKH 416. Learning to work with what you have is also a valuable skill. Of course, you’re not going to have access to everything you want to record for a film. But, a good practice is recording things around your home. I try to go on a walk every day and carry a Zoom H1 in a fanny pack. You never know what interesting sound you’ll find out in the world of your neighborhood. Plus, the sunshine and air are great for your mental health and overall health. Stepping away from your computer is a nice reset from work, too. If you can record it at a higher sample rate, you have so much more freedom to work with the audio versus what you get in a library. But, be prepared to have enough hard drive space to hold all the sounds you want. This also can be helpful in learning how to clean up the audio. Not everything you record out in the field will be clean and this can be a helpful experience with that.

If you’re into ASMR videos on YouTube like myself, there are interesting sounds in just tapping a glass or candle holder. Watching other people record sounds is also helpful on your sonic journey. I didn’t know cactus needles can sound like rain falling! Watching others record different sounds can help give you ideas and maybe, that’s the sound you’ve been looking for on a project you’ve been working on. We had some storms and wind a month ago here in Sacramento so I opted to record some rain on my metal awning and some wind through my window for wind howls. Always be careful and make sure your equipment is safe as well. You wouldn’t want rain getting into it. For wind, a good windscreen or blimp are great options to capture wind better.

Field recording shouldn’t feel like a chore or job, either. You never know what kind of sounds are near you or right outside your house. Just the other day I recorded my weekly garbage pickup. The truck has some nice squeaky brakes as well. Always be aware of what’s around, always keep listening, and don’t be afraid to experiment. So go out there and explore your world sonically!

 

 

Jeri Palumbo – Sports and Entertainment Broadcast Mixer

Jeri Palumbo is a Broadcast Sports and Entertainment Mixer based in Los Angeles. Jeri has been working in audio for over 30 years, first as a trained musician and arranger before going into post-production and then moving into live broadcast. Working mainly within sports broadcasting, her clients include the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, The Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, and The Oscars. Jeri is also part of the RF Coordination team each year for the Rose Bowl. She has worked with entertainment shows including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and American Idol. She has won a Telly Award for her mixing work on “Songs of the Mountains”, a live bluegrass show.

Jeri’s family background is made up of four generations of musicians and her grandmother and mother were both professional jazz musicians. Her great-grandfather was a musician and violin maker, and Jeri’s father was a folk guitar player. Jeri started piano at age three and by the time Jeri was in high school she was arranging and writing scores. Jeri attended The Juilliard School of Music majoring in composition and orchestration, landing her a contract as a musical director which led to her interest in sound engineering. She worked side by side with the sound engineer and was introduced to the Fairlight CMI, the first digital synthesizer and wave manipulator, she was fascinated by how the engineer was able to change pitch and EQ. This was a game-changer and inspired Jeri to learn more about engineering and the potential possibilities of sound manipulation with digital audio tools.

Her Parents

Jeri’s parents would warn her that a career in music was unpredictable and urged her to obtain skills needed for steady employment and the possibility of retirement. Jeri studied computer science and IT (for two semesters) and then landed a job working in IT/LAN platform trouble-shooting at First Union Bank. While Jeri loved working and learning the technical aspects of the job, she still craved the creativity music provided. She wanted to blend her technical skills with her creative skills and looked toward Post-Production.

Post-Production

Jeri enrolled at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC, and hit the streets knocking on doors of all the post-production houses in nearby Charlotte, NC. She offered to intern for free and most did not return her calls. One that did was Media-Comm where she interned for a semester and learned to use the video editor from AVID and AVID’S AUDIO VISION, their pre-cursor to ProTools. Eventually, Media-Comm hired Jeri where she focused on enhancing audio for TV shows. One show that broadcast out of Media-Comm was RaceDay, a live show that preceded NASCAR on Sundays. Eventually, RaceDay came knocking and asked Jeri to mix the show. While Jeri had never mixed a live show and she had her doubts, the director of the show said “Audio is Audio and you will be fine”. Jeri did her homework and was told by a former mixer that he would not touch it as it was live and found that several people had turned it down because of the live elements and fast pace. Jeri took the gig and pulled it off.

Sports Community Radar

RaceDay was a big, complicated national show, and Jeri ended up on the list of live sports mixers because of it. Within a week CBS Sports called and asked Jeri to work on the NCAA Final Four. Jeri caught the attention of CBS Sports, Fox Sports, and ESPN. All of this led to a career working across the country on high-profile sports events, primarily serving as an A1 working in the broadcast truck. She was also asked to A2 for a friend in need one day and eventually wore all the hats in broadcast audio; A1 mixer, A2, RF Tech and Comms. As an A1 mixer, Jeri is in charge of everything you hear in the final broadcast. Jeri has been particularly embedded in RF technology and coordination, which has numerous technical challenges, particularly with the shrinking RF UHF spectrum. She worked alongside major RF manufacturers and colleagues of RF gear and technology in the recent RF Spectrum auction and lobbying to save a portion of the RF Spectrum for production. One of Jeri’s close partnerships with regard to saving these RF changes was with the late, great Mark Brunner of Shure. Jeri’s in-depth tech articles on the RF spectrum and the impact of the changes have appeared in several trade magazines.

Her most recent stint in sports was as A1 mixer for eSports and Gaming. In an unusual and unprecedented move, (and to much debate from many of her colleagues), Jeri mixed a live broadcast in stereo while simultaneously mixing an embedded object-oriented surround to the HOUSE – with no FOH – from the same console (Calrec Artimis see article https://calrec.com/blog/craft-profile-jeri-palumbo/). What Jeri tried to convey, and what those on the outside didn’t know, was that the network launch for this major event was three weeks short of having their studio finished for audio. So she did what any professional would do, tried to make it work with what she had, from the broadcast truck.

It’s Not All Sports

Jeri with her mentor Les Paul

Jeri has also been involved in other fields of audio and has worked as an A1 on a bluegrass show called Songs of the Mountains. Songs of the Mountains was a live-to-tape bluegrass show broadcast on PBS. There were tough parameters on this show as the producers did not want to mic the traditional instruments. Instead, they wanted it to be organic and traditional, where the musicians would play around a central microphone and step forward for solos. The show was challenging with the various acoustical instruments and Jeri found herself riding EQ more than faders as the frequencies would often play against each other. They used an AKG C414 because of it’s adaptability in the ever-changing scenario of the different instruments used.  Jeri is proud of the work she did using simple techniques and she was awarded a Telly Award for her work.

New Projects

Recently Jeri has been instrumental in launching Arena Waves, a library of the highest quality music audio for Sports and Television content. Arena Waves kept Jeri extremely busy in 2020, while most live events were canceled due to COVID19, and was launched at the beginning of 2021.

Like so many in our industry, Jeri’s career path has been diverse. Her solid educational background in music and IT allowed Jeri to move into post-production and then into live broadcasts and engineering and again, back to music.  In her own words with Arena Waves, “It’s a perfect meld of everything I know”.

Arena Waves is high-caliber music licensing library for sports, gaming, television and film. With seasoned composers and session musicians on board, (most have played on your favorites records), Arena Waves debuted at launch in the mid-three-quarters to high range when it comes to catalog volume (over 70k+ and adding 50-100 new cuts per week). Several things make this catalog unique, one being its ease of use while also having mobile platform flexibility. But more importantly,  it’s worth noting the efficiency of the ready-made cut-downs for bumpers and highlights in the Producer’s Edge section. Cues are drop-in ready. Arena Waves also writes on-demand theme and cue requests and can provide quick turn arounds. With remarkably catchy themes from hard-driven rock, to dark and broody or moody, there is literally every style for every listener and media requirements and tastes. In fact, the catalog is so eclectic that, even though its intended purpose is sports, television and film, one can create personal playlists (register, it’s free) for their own listening pleasure. The music is that good and that diverse.

For more information, check out www.arenawaves.com and be sure to follow all their socials.

What is a typical day like?

Arrive early, unload the truck, run cables, interconnect with the facility, set up audio, fax if working in the field. In the truck, patch my patch bays, SAPS, routers and fader layouts. Load and set up music cues.

How do you stay organized and focused?

The pressure of live keeps me focused.  Also having a Plan A, Plan B, etc as backup options for live. For complex mixing (i.e. eSports or multiple routers of audio), I’m a big fan of populating my bottom layers to remain static while cloning to upper layers per need of each show.

What do you enjoy the most about your job? 

It’s live, it’s exciting and when it goes well, it’s instant gratification.

What do you like least?

It’s live, it’s exciting and when it goes badly, you SWEAR there’s not enough money in it EVER!

The best part of being on the road?

I’m on the road although I’m not on a bus, I am on planes a lot.  The best part is the road family, exploring new areas of the world and for certain eating local cuisine.

What do you like least? 

The hours, the wear and tear on your body, lack of sleep.

What is your favorite day off activity?

Exploring local cultures

What are your long-term goals? 

To try new things, push my personal limits and continue to follow current and new passions.

What if any obstacles or barriers have you faced? 

For CERTAIN misogyny and sadly, only from certain productions and a small posse of peers.  Also sadly, everyone else –  not just me – has experienced the exact same treatment from the exact same people from the exact same productions.  When a recent interviewer offline told me she encountered these issues WITH THE EXACT SAME PEOPLE 20 YEARS AGO on a sports event (this production travels), I challenge all the networks to wake up and investigate these “hand fuls” that are predictable, unprofessional and putting a black eye unfairly on the entire broadcast community (and is now into its second generation of newcomers being mistreated yet again, by the EXACT same people). I assure that the broadcast community is not what these few bad apples represent, but the network productions ignoring it won’t fix it.

How have you dealt with them? 

I ask questions not only of them but of those around them.  If they all “posse together”, then I move on to a team that is worthy…and good…and healthy.  I don’t stay in places where I know it will be IMPOSSIBLE to change.

The advice you have for other women and young women who wish to enter the field?

1) you have to have thick skin.   Sports and Rock n Roll comes with a lot of testosterone that often “react” in their environments of comfort (ie a football field before a game).  These people are in “game mode” and are not there to think of anything else.

2) production mal-treatment vs real emotions.  Please know the difference.  It’s intense and gets crazy and not every minor thing said is a reason for “HR”.  HOWEVER, abuse should never be tolerated.  Just know the difference and if you don’t know, get educated before entering this environment, hence “thick skin”.

3) know when you are in a toxic team – those that withhold information, constantly throwing their fellow members under the bus, not owning up to errors, etc.  Be aware that even though this exists to some extent everywhere, not EVERY production conducts itself this way and the good ones, with good leaders, will NOT tolerate this from their team.

4) move on when you know it’s not going to work out for you.  Get out earlier and find your tribe sooner

5) hone your skills

6) when you’re wrong, admit it. If you don’t know something, admit it.  When you DO know, help your teammates learn

Must have skills?

1) know your audio or tell those around you you are willing to learn what you don’t know

2) people skills

3) be kind and understanding to those around you

4) everybody has a bad day and everybody has a bad GIG…shake it off, learn from it, get up and do it again

Favorite gear?

OOOOOOoooooh….well, in-studio mixing,  I’m a big fan of Eventide gear.  I’m also a big fan of the AKG414 due to its wide range of patterns,m. I love Sennheiser wireless mics for field and lav needs. I love all Lectrosonics RF wireless IFB/In-ear products. Both Sennheiser and Lectrosonics wireless mics and IFB/IEMs are interchangeable to me in quality and robustness.  Radioactive Audio Designs uses a nice VHF and lower bands for communications that steer clear of broadcast bands….and Clear Comm and Telex have some nice workarounds with their comms systems as well. Shure’s Wireless Workbench is great for some concert venues (although I haven’t really used this on large scale events). I like seeing Studers in the studio broadcast environment while I like seeing a Calrec on  broadcast trucks or remotes.

More on Jeri

Jeri Palumbo | NAMM.org

The Life of an A1, in the Booth and on the Field

Women in Audio: Jeri Palumbo, Broadcast Engineer and Musician

Jeri Palumbo — Roadie Free Radio

Jeri Palumbo – Signal to Noise Podcast

Find More Profiles on The Five Percent

Profiles of Women in Audio

Nitrosonic Studios: Women-Owned and Operated Studio and Audio School

 

Nitrosonic Studios was founded in 2005 by producer Brian Pulito, with a mission to provide the best recording experience possible at an affordable price. Since then, Nitrosonic has grown and expanded into one of the region’s top destination studios. In late 2018. Engineers April Edwards and Danielle Barkman were handed the reins, and along with studio musician and friend Leah Arrington, they have taken Nitrosonic to all new highs.

Boasting newly constructed studios at a convenient downtown location in Lexington, Kentucky with state-of-the-art recording gear, three professionally tuned drum kits, and a 50’x20’ live room, Nitrosonic boasts an impressive scene. It is also a one-stop-shop, with engineers specializing in recording, mixing, and mastering all under one roof. In fact, this year, they launched an Audio Engineering School with programs in each specialization in collaboration with some of the country’s most well-regarded engineers. Each education program is also offered virtually as well are the Studios’ mixing and mastering services.

We were able to catch up with both April and Danielle.

As a child, what did you imagine your career would be?

April: I wasn’t sure what I wanted as a career, but I knew I wanted to be great at whatever it was. I was always drawn to music and I took piano, guitar, violin, and vocal lessons as a child. My mother played the flute and various forms of hand percussion and she took me to a lot of Drum Circles and Operas when I was a kid. From a very young age, I was told that I had a great ear; I feel like I was destined to become an audio engineer.

Danielle: Drummer or audio person of some sort. I grew up in a musical family, most everyone played something. Drummers everywhere lol. Also Engineers. I relieved seeing a medium format console turn down and rebuilt in the dining room table when I was very young, I was drawn to it even then… all the knobs and faders were so attractive. That, or maybe grow up and join the muppets, but they were pretty musical too, so I guess I would’ve ended up in music either way.

What is your approach to recording a session? Any particular routine you’ve set for yourself to make the process smoother along the way from recording to mastering? 

We try to prepare as much as possible before the session even starts. We make input lists for ourselves and monitoring lists for the musicians, so everyone is on the same page and there is no confusion. We have bands drop their gear off the night before so we can have it miked and ready for soundcheck when they walk in for the session. We spend a lot of time on preproduction planning; this includes figuring out where we want the instruments and players to live, where to place our Airhush Gobos, which Earthworks Audio microphones we’re going to use, and how, which Unison Preamps we want to run through and more!

We are constantly striving to “get it right at the mic” because it makes every phase after recording that much easier and more enjoyable if you do. Instead of spending time trying to fix things in the mix and master, we get to be creative and have fun! While recording as a team, April is already thinking about the Mix and Danielle is already thinking about the Master, and we make decisions together that help us achieve the best results in those next stages.

Additionally, a big part of this job is playing “psychologist”. You have to learn what makes your clients tick and how to get the best performances out of people. We make sure our clients are comfortable, having fun, and “vibing” in our studio, because people perform way better that way. We make sure bands take breaks when they need to, stay hydrated, and don’t get “hangry”. It makes our job much easier when the musicians are happy and relaxed!

Let’s talk gear. Your studio is LUNA and Universal Audio equipped. Can you explain what the LUNA system is and when you first worked with UA? 

The Luna Recording System by Universal Audio is inspired by an analog workflow and allows us to record with sub-2-millisecond latency from input to output. We have access to the industry’s most iconic and coveted equipment through UA’s plugins, extensions, and Unison preamps, with end-to-end emulations that precisely model the colors and behaviors of this gear that we can now use totally in the box. Nitrosonic Studios used UA gear and plugins long before we took over, but we became immersed in the UA world when we purchased our Apollo interfaces a couple of years ago and discovered LUNA last year. We fell in love with LUNA right away. It’s amazing how specific we can now be about the sounds we capture; we have access to the gear that’s found in the world’s most notorious recording studios but without the hefty price tags, and we can pick and choose what we want to sound like on any given day for any type of session. Some of our favorite features include the Neve and API Summing extensions, the Studer and Ampex Tape extensions, and the juicy list of Unison preamps and channel strips at our disposal including the Neve 88RS, the API Vision Channel Strip and the UA 610-B.

Nitrosonic Studios became woman-owned and operated in 2018 before the studio moved to its current location. Can you tell us more about how you decided to take the reins and what you envision for Nitrosonic? 

In 2016, April started as an intern while enrolled in audio engineering school with The Recording Connection. About a year later, the previous owner moved out of state and handed her the reins as lead engineer and studio manager. At the time, Nitrosonic also offered band rehearsal space, which is how Leah Arrington (now the third owner of Nitrosonic) discovered the studio. Leah and her band The Slick Floors recorded an EP with April, and she happily returned with her other band Metric Soul to record a project, which is how Danielle discovered the studio. Danielle is the drummer for Metric Soul, and since the session, she’s stuck and stayed, first acting as a session drummer, assistant manager, and April’s right-hand woman. On the winter solstice of 2018, the former owner approached us and asked if we wanted to buy the studio and we eagerly accepted his offer. We then approached Leah with the opportunity of being the third owner of Nitrosonic Studios, and without hesitation, she jumped on board. Now, not only is Nitrosonic owned by three women but we also employees two women, Abigail Buettner (Studio Manager) and Amanda Aday (Creative Director). We decided to buy the studio because the choices we faced were to either continue doing what we love or get a normal job, and we weren’t about to do that.

Our vision for Nitrosonic Studios was to take it from being a small local studio to a known destination studio that bands and artists from around the world travel to record in. We are located in the thriving NoLi district in Lexington, KY, and have partnered with several businesses and Air BnB’s around the neighborhood to help accommodate the needs of traveling musicians. Before COVID hit, we were partnering with local venues to help promote our services to the acts that were coming through Lexington on their tours, and because of that, we’ve gotten to work with some amazing touring bands such as The Mike Dillon Band and Vintage Pistol. We are trying to utilize our studio as a vehicle to be able to work with the best in the industry; this doesn’t just include musicians but other engineers as well. Over the past couple of years, we have networked and built working relationships with some of the most incredible audio engineers including David Dominguez (Weezer, Guns N’ Roses, Sublime), IRKO (Pitbull, Jay Z, Snoop Dogg), and Drew Mazurek (The Neville Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Linkin Park). Another goal of ours is to recruit more women into this field because we are seriously underrepresented and the music industry would benefit greatly from having more women audio engineers and producers because let’s face it, we’re good at what we do!

Congratulations on Nitrosonic’s Audio Engineering School. Tell us more about how the school developed and what programs are available to students. 

Thank you! We are so excited about this endeavor. We realized we wanted to start teaching audio engineering because we would love to inspire more females to choose this field, but also because we realized how expensive audio engineering school can be and how outdated some of the course material is. We wanted to give a fresh and modern perspective while demonstrating how we use some of the newest and best technology on the market. There is so much random information available online that it’s sometimes hard to weed out what’s good and bad advice when it comes to audio, and so we wanted to streamline the learning process for people, so they only get the information they want and need to better themselves as engineers. Because we record, mix and master in-house, we’re able to teach people how to best execute each process in order to set themselves up for success in the next phase.

Due to the current climate, in-person learning just wasn’t a viable option, and so we created a totally online, live, and interactive program with classes on Recording, Mixing and Mastering. The classes are each four weeks long with intensive instruction for beginner to intermediate students. We are also excited about the growing list of special guest instructors that will be making appearances throughout our classes including David Dominguez, IRKO, Drew Mazurek and Maria Caridad Espinosa.

In addition to the classes, we’re also now offering one-on-one professional consulting services in recording, mixing, mastering, sound treatment and more!

Danielle, you’re also a drummer. Can you talk about how being a percussionist relates to engineering? 

Danielle: I feel it gives me a great connection to audio engineering. Possibly because drums area sonic assault and take up so much of the frequency spectrum, we are subconsciously aware of what is going on in all these areas. I’m not honestly sure myself, but I know that if I can get a killer kick drum sound, I can therefore get a killer bass guitar sound because of similarities in the frequency and attack, release, etc. this is true on up from the toms to the snare to the cymbals. Years of dealing with drums in live PA settings really does train your brain to deal fast and effectively.

What kind of music did you grow up on? Was there a band that made you want to work in the field? 

April: I grew up listening to The Grateful Dead, and every summer my parents and I would hit several Dead shows. It was quite a colorful childhood I had!  I actually got into the field of audio engineering as a singer/songwriter; I wanted more control of my music because I had a couple of bad experiences with engineers who either didn’t deliver the quality I was looking for or didn’t deliver at all. I intended to learn how to record and mix for selfish reasons but I fell in love with working with other artists and bands, even more so than being an artist myself.

Danielle: A bit of everything. My mom has things like Willie Nelson and Doobie Brothers, my grandmother was from New Orleans and jazz was always a part of life. My cousin is a great drummer and he was throwing funky treats at me like Earth Wind & Fire and Sly & the Family Stone. I had to be different from any of that and went towards punk and metal, looking for thrills in the loud and fast. College and my percussion instructor then reignited my love for jazz and I really focused on my jazz, funk and jam. It was all about the groove and living in the moment from then on. Anything from Galactic and MMW to Steely Dan and Grateful Dead. Now I’m here, and I forgot the question, oh yeah, music and stuff… in terms of inspiring me to want to get into audio I would have to pin it on Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon, Supertramp – Breakfast in America, Soundgarden – Super Unknown, and Tom Waits – Swordfish Trombones as some of the albums that made me realize just how much the studio is an instrument, and really made me want to learn more.

April, when did you feel like you were officially a “mix engineer”? Was there a specific mix you were working on when it clicked for you? 

April: It was more of a gradual awakening. I just kept putting in the work and the hours and I got better with every mix. I would send my mixes off to better, more seasoned mix engineers for any advice and mix notes I could absorb, and I still do that sometimes (but not as often)! I used to need constant affirmation that my mixes sounded good, but with every happy client, I grew more confident and stopped seeking as much outside validation. When my mixes started sounding as good or better than music that was currently charting, I knew I was becoming a legit mix engineer.

Danielle, how did you fall in love with mastering, and why do you think there’s so much mystery surrounding the practice?

Danielle: I was always drawn to mastering even when I was young… even before I knew what it was. It was the mystery of it that drew me in. It’s like fight club, no one wants to talk about it lol. I kept seeing the names of the best mastering engineers on every cassette I got as a kid, and I just knew that for some reason a good mastering engineer was very important to a great album.

There’s something so pleasing and satisfying about taking a beautifully mixed track and getting that extra 1.5-2% of magic to appear. To find a way to make something better, without noticeably changing how it was. It’s like a magic trick when done right, and it can ruin the party vibe when done poorly.

If you could visit yourself as a teenager, what is one piece of advice you would give your former self?

April: Stop chasing boys and chase your dreams! Ha! That would’ve saved me a couple of years.

Danielle: Never believe what anyone tells you is possible, or more importantly, what is impossible. If you want something, go after it. Don’t get discouraged so easily, you can turn that into determination. Be yourself, it’s ok. Really, it’s ok to be yourself, I’m not kidding, just be yourself. If you get really good enough at something like drums or engineering, you can be as goofy, unique and weird as you want to be, and you’ll get away with it. Also, grow bangs, they frame your face better!

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Unity During A Pandemic

As I write this, I have just watched the United States’ inauguration of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. It was surprisingly moving for me. I was face-timing my sister, who lives back home in Sweden when her husband texted her to come downstairs. He was born in America and very eager to share this moment with her, besides, Lady Gaga was going to sing. So we said our goodbyes and I decided to check out the singer’s performance. It was good, and her belting made me stay on the channel. In addition to Gaga, Jennifer Lopez sang, and unfortunately, for I am damaged, her vocals were distorting, and it saddened me. Then in Spanish, she shouted “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” and I forgave the technicians…

Just before this pleasant interruption, in my otherwise busy day, I was lying on my sofa engulfed in a Swedish TV show called Fröken Frimans Krig (Miss Friman’s War). It’s a show about the fight for equality and the battle for women’s right to vote in early 20th century Stockholm. It deals with matters like women not being of legal authority. Because back then, her husband was her custodian and spoke for her. It brings forward the worryingly common fact, that many women died from giving birth. Finally, in Sweden, if you slept with someone you weren’t married to, you could be branded as a sex worker and had to report to an authority every week, where you were inspected for disease. It’s shocking to think how far we’ve come and it’s thanks to women like them. Nonetheless, let us not forget, these things are still happening in some countries.

Now, with the inauguration of Kamala Harris, I feel like I’m on the precipice of change once again. She is the first woman, the first black and south Asian to be sworn in as a vice president. This leaves me elevated and hopeful and I can see a brighter future. Concurrently I am ashamed for not fighting harder for our equality, maybe I am too comfortable to do so. If I was allowed to work and had a male artist say something inappropriate, would I say something back or hold my tongue? Or would my recent experiences, following these strong leading women, guide me to be bolder and confront any unkind words or actions.

Biden talked of unity. So far from what we all feel right now, as we are divided beyond our comprehension. Closed borders and further from our loved ones, even our neighbours. So even though we are all facing this pandemic together, we lack, from all world’s corners, unity. So my question to you, is how can we create unity beyond ourselves today? How can we as sisters, brothers, and non-binary unite in our differences in a global pandemic?

Well, today is historical indeed and a win for feminism and equality, but may it serve as a reminder of how far we have come and that it is up to each and every one of us to work towards it.

 

9 Ways To Prep For A Vocal Recording Session

Great vocal performance on a record does not happen by accident. Many factors contribute to making a recording session successful or not so successful. After 30 years of coaching singers and 15 years of recording them, I’ve gathered some tips that should help your next recording session go smoothly, giving you the result you are looking for; a killer record!

BEFORE SCHEDULING THE SESSION

It’s true that you can hold lyrics in front of you while recording and no one would know. But after all these years of working with singers and being a professional vocalist myself, something magical can happen once you cross over from the “on-book” to “off-book” phase. You can focus more on the emotion, the subtle use of air and vibrato, scoops, straight tone, falls, attacks and releases, articulation, riffs, runs and so much more. If you have the time, get off-book so the song is really inside of you. Which leads us to #2…

Maybe this should be an obvious one but, I’ve definitely had vocal sessions where the singer was still figuring things out; timing, phrasing, notes, etc. Now, when I record YouTubers who literally try to produce, record, film and release a song in less than a week, there is no getting around this. I actually enjoy helping these recording artists work through the songs in this way because it is like a combined coaching AND recording session (which I LOVE!) If creating content quickly is your current strategy then that is the way it has to be. Just remember, it definitely doesn’t work for every recording session or with every recording engineer. If you have the time, putting in the same effort as if you were going to be performing the song live without lyrics in front of you will elevate your performance dramatically.

Before putting in the time to rehearse the song, make sure that you are singing in a good, healthy key for your voice and a tempo that feels right. If you are using a karaoke/instrumental track then obviously, you are tied to the key and tempo of the track. While a karaoke track can be altered, the quality of the karaoke track will diminish ever so slightly the farther away from the original recording you go. So, a half step up, not too noticeable. Four half steps…noticeable. If you are creating your own instrumental with a producer (like I do for artists all the time) then take the time to find the right key and tempo before the producer starts working on it, if possible. That being said, it’s really easy to change the key and tempo of programmed instruments before anything is recorded.  Don’t just sing through it once and call it good. Sing through it a few times in a row to make sure your voice does not tire after a few run-throughs. Double check that you aren’t rushing or dragging as you sing along, which could be a sign that the tempo isn’t quite right OR that you need to work on your timing 😉 If you are rehearsing the song, prepping for the session while using the track your producer has created for you and feel like the tempo or key needs to change, let them know ASAP so they have enough time to make a new track and you have enough time to rehearse with it before the session.

Equivalent to filming yourself perform a song prior to the actual performance, the benefits of listening to yourself are enormous. Simulate the actual recording session at home, even if you are just recording into your phone using an app. Going through the process of actually recording should highlight spots that need a bit more work or help you plan your session better. Do you need to record the low, soft verses first before the big, belty choruses? Or vice versa? Do you struggle with phlegm because you ate a cheese sandwich an hour before? Did you notice the overall emotional delivery falls a little flat and could use more thought? Invite a music buddy to listen back and provide feedback on this “scratch track” version.

Even if it’s just one session with a coach prior to the recording session, this is a much safer, efficient and cost-effective way to record a song. Getting feedback after the recording session can be very discouraging. Forking out more money to re-record vocals was most likely not figured into your budget. Be sure to include funds in your budget for at least one coaching session prior to and if possible, during the session. It can relieve so much pressure to have a team member with you that is listening only to your vocal delivery, who knows your voice and what your goal for the song is. Totally worth the extra dough to have someone in your corner at the session.

DAY BEFORE/DAY OF SESSION

The next four pointers are specifically for the 24 hour period before the session:

Get a good night’s sleep the night before your session. Make sure the session isn’t scheduled for 10 am the day after a late-night gig or at the end of a long workday. Be as rested as you can.

Do your best to stay hydrated hours before the session in addition to drinking water during the session. Bring plenty of water so you can stay hydrated during the session. Adding a lemon wedge to your water can help break up phlegm if that is an issue for you. Warm or room temperature will keep your vocal folds and all other tissues involved in singing nice and pliable. See #9 for more specifics about this.

Arrange your schedule so you’re not running late or in a hurry to finish. If you got in the biggest fight of your life the night before with your SO, see if you can reschedule without a penalty (I never charge people for rescheduling because what’s the point of forcing a session to happen?) Take some time before the session to unwind, meditate, calm down, whatever you need to do to get your mind focused and clear.

There are hundreds of lists out there of what foods and beverages to avoid. For the majority of people, these lists are pretty accurate. But there are exceptions. Be sure to know your body and your voice and how it might react to certain foods, either positively or negatively. I always tell people my own story regarding typical “no-no” foods and my own voice. You will always see “caffeine”, “dairy” and “sugar” at the top of the lists of foods/beverages to avoid before singing, but I had one of my best vocal lessons ever when I was going through extreme stress in my life and was living off of Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha’s which are loaded with caffeine, dairy and sugar. I had had 2 that morning! But seriously, for me at that time, it worked. Keep a journal that connects what you eat, when you eat and when you sing with how your voice feels. You will start to see correlations between certain foods and how your voice performs.

I hope this has given you some tips that will help you rock your next record. Feel free to email or pm me on socials for specific questions!


Becky Willard is a Warm Audio featured artist, a music producer, recording engineer, songwriter, composer, vocalist and mentor. She began working with artists almost 30 years ago as a vocal and songwriting coach.  It was a natural transition from coach to producer as she guided singers searching for their sound and began recording them in her home studio.

In 2010, Becky founded Vox Fox Studios and has become the go-to producer for many Utah artists as well as artists from all over the world. These artists go to Becky to produce their music because they know they will get their best vocal performances, modern production sounds and mixes that are “radio-ready”.  As a songwriter herself and session vocalist, her songs and voice can be heard in dozens of TV shows and movies. As a woman in a male-dominated field, Becky is actively engaged in educating and inspiring young women in her community and worldwide to pursue music production and engineering.

Read Becky’s Blog

Audrey Martinovich – Studio Owner, Recording Engineer, & Producer

 

Audrey Martinovich is a recording engineer and producer that specializes in acoustic music such as classical, jazz, and folk. She co-owns & engineers at a recording studio in Madison, Wisconsin called Audio for the Arts and produces podcasts. She has been working in audio for eight years and has been a full-time studio owner & recording engineer for three years. She has recently worked with The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra, and artists Johannes Wallman & Sam Ness. She produces the Big Wild Radio Show every week, which reaches over 100,000 listeners and has engineered remote guests for podcasts such as Alan Alda’s podcast, Pod Save America, NPR’s A1, & Terrible, Thanks for Asking.

Early Career – Opera, Experimenting with Mics, & Looking the Part

Audrey has always had an interest in music and signed up for every possible music class in school. In addition to vocal lessons, she also took classes on piano, guitar, and music theory. She discovered her interest in audio engineering while studying opera in high school. She and her teacher, Alisanne Apple, would record her vocal lessons to get an audience perspective on technique, ensuring diction and tone came across well. This was her first experience with microphones & experimenting with microphone placement. She then bought her own microphone and tried plugging it straight into the mic input on her computer, no mic pre, and when it didn’t work, she wanted to learn how to get it to work. At the same time, she began researching sound design and had an epiphany that she could create and manipulate sound as a career. From there, she attended Madison Media Institute for Recording and Music Technology, Entertainment, and Media Business and received a Bachelor of Science degree with flying colors.

A Crash Course in Audio

How did you get your start?

When I was about to graduate college I started looking up studios in my area and making some calls, trying to get my foot in the door. I actually saw Audio for the Arts and tried to call, but the phone number on the website didn’t work! The owners at the time, Buzz Kemper and Steve Gotcher happened to reach out to the career advisor at my school the same week and asked for a few students to come by and interview for an internship. They liked my classical music background since Audio for the Arts works with a lot of chamber groups and the fact that I showed up looking ready for a job interview (not in “a ripped Metallica t-shirt”) so they thought I would represent the studio well.

How did your early internships or jobs help build a foundation for where you are now?

Before the internship at Audio for the Arts, I shadowed a FOH engineer at another company for a Battle of the Bands event. That day was a crash course in live sound and troubleshooting quickly. Shortly after, I started interning at Audio for the Arts. At first, I did a lot of data archiving which really laid the foundation for data management. Then, I officially became an employee and assisted on PA gigs, mostly running cables and placing microphones. They saw that I was good in that environment and introduced me to remote recording.

Did you have a mentor or someone that helped you?

Buzz Kemper and Steve Gotcher taught me so much. Kevin Guarnieri was an instructor of mine in college and he introduced me to Pro Tools which is so vital for me.

Current Career – The Importance of Being Proactive & Meeting Deadlines

What is a typical day like for you on the job?

I usually get to the studio around 9 or 10 am. If I have any sessions happening at any point that day, I always set up and test gear first, even if the session isn’t for several hours and it’s a 10-minute setup. That way, I know I’m ready and can lose myself in whatever emailing I have to do until my client arrives. Typically, this includes scheduling and coming up with estimates for gigs. Earlier hours in the day are usually radio, podcast, or commercial production with voice talent and producer in the booth or connected remotely. Then, I either reset the studio for an afternoon music recording session or dive into some mixing, either alone or attended. One day a week I bring my son to the studio with me and he does schoolwork while I edit and mix the whole day.

How do you stay organized and focused?

I try to identify my pitfalls and trick myself into avoiding them. For example, if I get an email that needs a response, but not at that second, I have to mark it unread otherwise I will forget to come back to that email. It’s the same way with texts and messages. I just can’t open the message till I can actually tackle the to-do list or I will forget. As an added bonus, having unread messages in my inbox gives me a bit of urgency to cross items off my to-do list.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

Getting to work on a variety of projects in a day and being exposed to all sorts of amazing music.

What do you like least?

The sometimes crazy hours and stress of deadlines. It makes it hard to spend much time at home.

What’s the hardest part about your job?

The coordination that leads up to a gig such as coordinating logistics and drafting estimates. Figuring out exactly what the client wants, how to deliver it, and then assigning a dollar amount to it is something a lot of creatives struggle with and I’m no different.

What is your favorite day off activity?

Going for a hike or walk with my son or working on house renovations.

What are your long-term goals?

To work on music that really resonates with people and to feel fulfilled. I’d be thrilled to ever win a Grammy for Producer of the Year since no woman has ever won that category, but I really don’t want to be the first. That honor belongs to someone like Linda Perry.

What are your short-term goals?

I look at my short-term goals as if they are a to-do list so there are things like “revamp the studio’s website” on there, but generally, I’d like to work more on albums than singles. I like seeing how a song’s meaning can change when it’s contextualized within an album and want that to be a bigger percentage of my work in the future.

#1 tool/piece of gear you can’t live without?

Pro Tools

What’s one mistake you’ve made/bad gig you’ve had and how did you learn from it/overcome it?

It’s hard, but there are certain types of people that you have to assert yourself around or they can be abusive. I had a client come in to record a backing track of a song they had written to pitch to a potential singer. This guy came in with an attitude, looking for any reason to throw a fit. We did a first piano take and he wanted to layer it and when we did, it turned out that the base take was too short. He screamed at me for “deleting part of his performance” when he had actually counted his rests incorrectly and came in too early, resulting in a shorter song. Had this happened really early in my career, I probably would have defaulted to the “the customer is always right” perspective and let it slide. Instead, I invited him into the control room, had him sit down at my computer, and asked him to point out where any edits had been made on the track. He couldn’t find any edits, because obviously there were no edits to be found. He definitely wasn’t sunshine and rainbows after that, but he was less quick to react after that. If you don’t correct abusive behavior like that, it will continue and nobody deserves that. It doesn’t matter who the artist is.

Advice you have for other womxn who wish to enter the field?

Listen to music constantly. Make music constantly. Even if it sucks, one day it won’t. You have to go through the sucky material to get to the good stuff first! See if any friends or local bands want to record so you can practice. Then you’ll have demo material and testimonials you can take to a studio or to whoever.

Must have skills?

A proactive attitude is a must. Even if you don’t know much about recording, if you have the ability to see a problem and address it before it becomes a bigger problem, or better yet, before anyone notices, I want you to assist me.

What other skills/hobbies do you have that you feel help you in your line of work?

Playing an instrument helps with being able to communicate with the artist. It’s good to be able to understand what to do when an artist says they want to “punch in the Bm7 chord in the bridge so give me an 8 count before that chord.”

Favorite gear?

I love good analog preamps and things with tubes, whether it’s a microphone, mic pre, compressor, whatever.

How has your career been affected by Covid-19, & how have you adapted to the current situation?

We normally record quite a few choral and orchestral concerts every spring and winter, however, all of the concerts have been canceled. Most of these large ensemble groups have switched to putting together virtual events so we have been doing a lot of video production and live streaming since lockdown.

More About Audrey

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Profiles of Women in Audio

 

2021 – Change, Hope, Possibility

 

Well, here we are.  We made it to 2021, and at the time of my writing of this blog, I don’t know if it’s better.  We are still drowning in a pandemic, unemployment insurance hit a big snag when the CARES Act expired in December of 2020,  the President of the United States attempted to stage a coup by inciting his supporters to storm the Capitol, and yes, the entertainment industry is still shut down.  It’s been almost a year.  My youngest daughter, who is in the first grade now, has yet to have a school year where she did not have distance learning for at least part of the year.  This is obviously not what I planned for my family.  I didn’t really prepare to be out of work for months and months when I left my full-time residency in 2019, and none of us were prepared for the emotional/mental toll all of this would take.  As dark and sometimes hopeless as it seems, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel.

We have a vaccine and have already begun distribution to those who need it the most.  It seems that the President might finally be held accountable for his actions.  By the time you read this, you will know more than me, but as of just a few minutes ago, House Democrats introduced their resolution of impeachment.  States should be about finished ramping up their systems to support a new round of unemployment relief, and finally, there will be a very significant changing of the guard on January 20.  I have all of my fingers and toes crossed that this means we will finally be getting down to the serious business of getting our country on track and ready to thrive.  Please note that I did not say “back on track.”  We need to move forward from all of this, not back.  Actually, we need to launch forward, with fresh ideas and open minds.

When concerts and theatre come back, I hope we remember what we learned in the downtime.  Pre-Covid there was an entire group of people that had never once been to a concert or to the theatre, and it wasn’t because they were afraid of the virus.  I think we often forget that while performing arts is so important to humanity in so many ways, it’s also very much a luxury.  Millions of people who had previously never experienced a live performance due to lack of funds, inaccessibility, or chronic illness experienced their first (almost) live performances during the pandemic.  I have personally spoken with multiple people who told me, through tears, that watching some of the theatrical livestream events that have been available recently was the highlight of their year, and they truly never thought they would be able to afford a theatre or concert ticket.  I don’t know how the ability to attend a live performance became a marker of elite status, but I hope that we are able to continue offering this kind of programming in a more accessible way long after we’re able to gather together in person.  Why can’t we offer in-person ticketing as well as a livestream experience for any and all performances?

I also hope that this sense of community and camaraderie that has been overflowing in the entertainment industry will continue when we re-enter some kind of normalcy.  We’ve all been doing a great job of lifting each other up, checking in, sharing jobs and projects, donating, and offering support in many manifestations during the pandemic.  Let’s always remember how much that has meant.  My fear is that once we are back, and working, and busy, we won’t remember to slow down and check-in.  Some of us will fall into the old grind seamlessly.  Some of us will not.  I am used to having many plates spinning at all times, and I have always taken pride in my ability to stay focused, to remain detail-oriented, and to keep going no matter what happens.

I’ve already noticed that I haven’t been able to necessarily lock in to work the way I could pre-pandemic.  I had a one-off event in October mixing one of three stages for a telethon, and of all things, I forgot to bring my headphones.  There was no PA, and this event was being streamed directly to live tv, and I left my headphones at home 3 hours away from where I was working.  That’s just not really like me.  I don’t forget details, especially not big ones, and it made me wonder what else I would forget when I’m back to regular work.  I’ve also been finding that when I’ve been lucky enough to work here are there, I am just filled with anxiety over it—before, during, and after the work is done.  I really can’t even pinpoint the source of my anxiety in these moments.  Maybe I’m worried I won’t have the stamina to make it through, I’m rusty, I’m making mistakes, employers are regretting having hired me…you name it.  Whatever the unfounded reason is, the point I’m making is that if it’s there for me, it must be there for others, and I hope that we all just remember that safety net we built for each other as we continue trickling back into the industry.

Let’s also remember all of the work we’ve been doing to make our stages a more equitable place for all of our people.  It is easy to sit behind a computer screen and say, “Yes, I will call out and call in inequities when I encounter them in the workplace.  I will ask the hard questions.  I will respond with grace when I am questioned, and I will keep working to level the playing field.” It’s harder to speak up when there’s a group of real live people staring back at you telling you to stop rocking the boat.  I’m telling you right here and now that I am planning on rocking every boat I sit in, so if you’re riding with me, make sure you can swim.

This morning my horoscope said, “Geminis will never take anything a politician says at face value; they’re always going to do their own research and dig deeper.  It’s not that Geminis are pessimistic-they believe that change can happen and that things can get better-they’re just not going to blindly believe it.” One hundred percent, internet astrologist, one hundred percent.  In 2021, I’m inviting you to join me for some Gemini skepticism powdered with hope and possibility.  We’re not beyond hope, but we do need to keep our eyes and ears open and remember the lessons we’ve been teaching each other, and ourselves, in the meantime.


Elisabeth Weidner is a Sound Designer and Composer for theatre. She served as the Sound Director/ Resident Sound Designer/Composer for 10 years at PCPA-Pacific Conservatory Theatre,  before going full freelance in 2019. Elisabeth is also an adjunct professor at California  Polytechnic State University SLO where she teaches Sound Design and Engineering for  Theatre, and she sits on the USITT Sound Commission jury for the Current Practices and  Research in Sound papers submissions. In 2020 she was elected to serve as Co-Vice Chair of the TSDCA )Theatrical Sound Designers and Composers Association). She is also the producer of the podcast: No One Likes Us. www.elisabethanneweidner.com 

Read Elisabeth’s Blog

How I Got Started

 

When I was 13 or 14, I was reading the liner notes of some CD and saw that one track had been written, recorded, produced, and mixed by one of the band members. At the time I only had a loose grasp of what most of those things meant, but I knew one thing: I wanted to be able to do all of that. Someday I would have a liner note like that all to myself. (Ironically, nine years later I have stayed almost exclusively within live sound.)

A local DIY music venue I knew of offered both audio classes and volunteer opportunities. I quickly convinced a friend to take the first class with me: Live Sound 101, a primer on signal flow, miking techniques, and general day-of-show procedures. Live Sound 102: Mixing for Monitors soon followed. Before long, thanks to the open schedule of a high schooler and parents who would pick me up at midnight, I was volunteering at shows multiple times a week. Within six months I had gotten through all of the classes: Small PA Systems, Mixing for Front of House and Troubleshooting. Once I felt comfortable behind the monitor board I moved up to shadowing the front-of-house engineers.

Like a lot of people, my first gig was unplanned. Around a year and a half, after I first started volunteering, I found myself sitting in rush hour traffic on I-5 with another volunteer friend, worrying about whether we’d make our 5 PM call time. Before leaving my house, we had noticed that there still wasn’t anyone listed as the sound engineer that night, and we spent the drive speculating about who (if anyone) would be there when we showed up. Suddenly my phone rang – the venue was calling me. I picked up, and a voice on the other end told me that they still hadn’t found anyone to come in, but it was okay because I could just run sound, right? The interns were busy, but one could come after doors if we felt like we needed him. Surprised, and feeling nervous, I agreed.

That was that –  suddenly, I was the sound engineer, and my friend who was signed up to shadow the sound engineer was now shadowing me. The show itself is a blur, and I don’t remember much, but I know that once I got over the initial anxiousness and we got to work, things went pretty smoothly. It was a hardcore show, and a few of the bands contained audio students I recognized from a local community college. I went in and filled out the hiring paperwork a few days later, and it was official. I had my first job as a sound engineer.