Keeping sound sources in phase will ensure your recordings sound as full and vital as possible. Here’s where to start.
Welcome to another Dojo. Before I begin, have a look at Fig.1. Recognize this symbol? You’ve no doubt seen it as a button or switch on mic preamps, audio interfaces, some plugin GUIs, and in your DAW. This is the symbol for phase, and phase is one of the most overlooked fundamental elements that can greatly improve your recordings and mixes. If you’re new to phase, this is not about using your phaser pedal (or plugin), but rather checking that the waveforms of your recordings are in the most optimum relationship with each other. I’m going to start with basic explanations you’ll need to know. Tighten up your belts, the Dojo is now open.
When you perceive sound, you experience ripple-like changes in air pressure. The classic visual example is dropping a stone in a pond and observing the resultant outwardly expanding rings. This change in air pressure is transduced (by microphone diaphragms, speakers, guitar pickups, etc.) into positive and negative voltages, back again into sound waves, and vice/versa. Simply put, a transducer is anything that converts one form of energy into another.
So, when you sing or play guitar into a mic, the changes in air pressure cause the diaphragm of the mic to move back in forth, which generates a tiny electrical current (that’s exactly analogous to the air pressure waves). This current goes into your interface’s mic pre, where it’s amplified and then transduced again into ones and zeroes (the digital version of positive and negative charges). It is then output from your interface and transduced back into an electrical current that causes your headphones or monitor speakers to move back and forth. Then, our eardrums transduce that back into bio-mechanical electrical charges that our brains perceive as sound! That’s a lot of transduction … and all you did was say “check one, two, three!”
Once we start recording music with the same sound source recorded to multiple tracks, like using a DI in conjunction with a mic for recording electric bass, checking phase becomes vitally important! It is here that we want to start toggling that phase button on and off and exploring the multiple ways to phase-align our tracks.
Start by toggling the phase button on one of the two tracks to invert the polarity of that track’s recorded material and listen to the difference. You can also visually check for phase by zooming into the waveforms of both tracks to see if the two tracks are in phase with each other. (Go online for a visual representation.) Take a look at Fig.2, depending on how far away the mic was placed from the amp’s speaker, the amp track will range in phase relative to the DI track.Depending on how far away the mic was placed from the amp’s speaker, the amp track will range in phase relative to the DI track. In our online illustration, notice how there is a slight difference in each waveform’s peak and trough (red dot) relative to each other (90 degrees out of phase). As phase increases towards 180 degrees, the recorded sound will lose low to upper-midrange frequencies, will start sounding “hollow,” lack energy, and may even seem to disappear altogether—which can happen when two identical sine waves are 180 degrees out of phase.
How do we fix phase? Outside of flipping the polarity of one track by toggling the phase button, this is a loaded question. Musically speaking, phase is a naturally occurring property of acoustics and what we are trying to do here is mitigate the adverse effects of phase in our recordings. “Fixing phase” seems to imply that something is wrong, and that is highly dependent on what is out of phase. For example, using two close mics to record the same 2x12 cab? Make sure your mics are phase-aligned as close as humanly possible, otherwise you’ll have an anemic sounding guitar track. Close micing an acoustic guitar with a DI? The same logic applies. Are your left and right monitors out of phase? Fix it immediately!
Using two close mics to record the same 2x12 cab? Make sure your mics are phase-aligned as close as humanly possible.
Conversely, I find that phase matters less the further the additional mics are away from the source. Trying to record a choir with two overhead mics, two mid-room mics, and two far balcony mics? Start by flipping the phase and systematically listen to how all mic combinations give you the most desirable sound possible. If you don’t like the sound you’re getting, move the mics and check the phase again.
There are other great ways to fix phase and phase align tracks, and that will be the subject of the next Dojo. Until then, keep recording, checking phase, and blessing the world with your gifts. Namaste.
The silky smooth slide man may raise a few eyebrows with his gear—a hollow, steel-bodied baritone and .017s on a Jazzmaster—but every note and tone he plays sounds just right.
KingTone’s The Duellist is currently Ariel Posen’s most-used pedal. One side of the dual drive (the Bluesbreaker voicing) is always on. But there’s another duality at play when Posen plugs in—the balance between songwriter and guitarist.
“These days, I like listening to songs and the story and the total package,” Posen told PG back in 2019, when talking about his solo debut, How Long, after departing from his sideman slot for the Bros. Landreth. “Obviously, I’m known as a guitar player, but my music and the music I write is not guitar music. It’s songs, and it goes back to the Beatles. I love songs, and I love story and melody and singing, and there was a lot of detail and attention put into the guitar sound and the playing and the parts—almost more than I’ve ever done.”
And in 2021, he found himself equally expressing his yin-and-yang artistry by releasing two albums that represented both sides of his musicality. First, Headway continued the sultry sizzle of songwriting featured on How Long. Then he surprised everyone, especially guitarists, by dropping Mile End, which is a 6-string buffet of solo dishes with nothing but Ariel and his instrument of choice.
But what should fans expect when they see him perform live? “I just trust my gut. I can reach more people by playing songs, and I get moved more by a story and lyrics and harmony, so that’s where I naturally go. The live show is a lot more guitar centric. If you want to hear me stretch out on some solos, come see a show. I want the record and the live show to be two separate things.”
The afternoon ahead of Posen’s headlining performance at Nashville’s Basement East, the guitar-playing musical force invited PG’s Chris Kies on stage for a robust chat about gear. The 30-minute conversation covers Posen’s potent pair of moody blue bombshells—a hollow, metal-bodied Mule Resophonic and a Fender Custom Shop Jazzmaster—and why any Two-Rock is his go-to amp. He also shares his reasoning behind avoiding effects loops and volume pedals.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
Blue the Mule III
If you’ve spent any time with Ariel Posen’s first solo record, How Long, you know that the ripping, raunchy slide solo packed within “Get You Back” is an aural high mark. As explained in a 2019 PG interview, Posen’s pairing for that song were two cheapos: a $50 Teisco Del Rey into a Kay combo. However, when he took the pawnshop prize onstage, the magic was gone. “It wouldn’t stay in tune and wouldn’t stop feeding back—it was unbearable [laughs].”
Posen was familiar with Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic—who specializes in building metal-body resonators—so he approached the luthier to construct him a steel-bodied, Strat-style baritone. Eich was reluctant at first (he typically builds roundneck resos and T-style baritones), but after seeing a clip of Posen playing live, the partnership was started.
The above steel-bodied Strat-style guitar is Posen’s third custom 25"-scale baritone. (On Mule Resophonic’s website, it’s affectionately named the “Posencaster.”) The gold-foil-looking pickups are handwound by Eich, and are actually mini humbuckers. He employs a custom Stringjoy set (.017–.064 with a wound G) and typically tunes to B standard. The massive strings allow the shorter-scale baritone to maintain a regular-tension feel. And when he gigs, he tours light (usually with two guitars), so he’ll use a capo to morph into D or E standard.
Another one that saw recording time for Headway and Mile End was the above Fender Custom Shop Masterbuilt ’60s Jazzmaster, made by Carlos Lopez. To make it work better for him, he had the treble-bleed circuit removed, so that when the guitar’s volume is lowered it actually gets warmer.
"Clean and Loud"
Last time we spoke with Posen, he plugged into a Two-Rock Classic Reverb Signature. It’s typically his live amp. However, since this winter’s U.S. run was a batch of fly dates, he packed light and rented backlines. Being in Music City, he didn’t need to go too deep into his phone’s contacts to find a guitar-playing friend that owned a Two-Rock. This Bloomfield Drive was loaned to Ariel by occasional PG contributor Corey Congilio. On the brand’s consistent tone monsters, Posen said, “To be honest, put a blindfold on me and make one of Two-Rock’s amps clean and loud—I don’t care what one it is.”
The loaner vertical 2x12 cab was stocked with a pair of Two-Rock 12-65B speakers made by Warehouse Guitar Speakers.
Ariel Posen’s Pedalboard
There are a handful of carryovers from Ariel’s previous pedalboard that was featured in our 2021 tone talk: a TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Noir, a Morningstar MC3 MIDI Controller, an Eventide H9, a Mythos Pedals Argonaut Mini Octave Up, and a KingTone miniFUZZ Ge. His additions include a custom edition Keeley Hydra Stereo Reverb & Tremolo (featuring Headway artwork), an Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain oil can delay, Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay and Pitch Shifter, and a KingTone The Duellist overdrive.
Another big piece of the tonal pie for Posen is his signature brass Rock Slide. He worked alongside Rock Slide’s Danny Songhurst to develop his namesake slide that features a round-tip end that helps Posen avoid dead spots or unwanted scratching. While he prefers polished brass, you can see above that it’s also available in a nickel-plated finish and an aged brass.
Free your microphone placement and gain structure, and your EQ and compression will follow.
Hello everyone, and welcome back to another Dojo! In the last two columns, I’ve focused on bus mixing techniques to get your recordings more on point—and I hope that was helpful. This time, I’d like to place focus in the other direction and give you three tips to capture your best recorded tones yet.
In my experience, the best way to get great recordings begins with getting in tune with your inner ear and the tones you are hearing in your head. This understanding will act as a catalyst for the first important tip: choice and placement of microphones. As simple as this is, we run the risk of listening with our eyes instead of our ears, because we are creatures of habit. How many times have you placed the same mic in the same place on the same amp (or same place at the guitar, for acoustic players)? Did you really explore the possibilities, or was this the best solution at the time and now it has become ingrained? Maybe it’s time to re-think the process and try something new?
Regular Dojo readers are already familiar with the three most common microphones used in recording: condenser, ribbon, and dynamic. Regardless of what mics you have, use your ears and listen to the source you want to record. For example, listen not only to where the amp sounds the best at the speaker, but also in the room. For acoustic guitar, placing the mics near the 14th fret in addition to other locations can yield a wide variety of tones. If you are recording by yourself, make several different short recordings and document the mic placement for each, listen, and then make decisions. The idea here is that you want to get the sound you’re looking for without using any EQ. In short, if you don’t like the sound you’re getting, move the mics until you do!
Once the decision has been made, the second tip for making better recordings is to pay careful attention to your gain structure (aka recording level) and give yourself plenty of headroom. The best way to do this is to set the recording track’s fader in your DAW to unity (zero), and then adjust your preamp’s gain level until the signal meters between -15 and -5 for most DAWs (check your specific DAW to find out which VU metering type you are using). If you’re somewhere in this range, you’ll have good signal-to-noise ratio and ample headroom for loud passages, like when you kick in the overdrive channel for the chorus and solo sections.
A scenario like Fig. 1 has bad news written all over it. The track faders are pushed near the top of their range and the master bus has already peaked. This can happen quicker than you think if you didn’t set your input levels properly to begin with. If you find yourself in this predicament, you’ll need to recalibrate your gain structure for every track for the entire mix. Ouch!
The final tip is focused on signal processing and preserving the efforts of the first two tips. Once your tracking is completed, don’t be too quick to start adding copious amounts of EQ and compression. The reason for steps one and two was to mitigate the need for EQ and preserve the natural dynamic range of your tracks. Now, when you need to use EQ and compression, you can use it with subtlety and not out of necessity to fix a poorly recorded track.
As always, if you have any questions you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I also want to invite you to checkout my new single “Christian Graffiti” on your favorite music platform to hear all of these tips in action. Until next time, namaste.
Christian GraffitiProvided to YouTube by DistroKidChristian Graffiti · Bryan ClarkChristian Graffiti℗ Rainfeather RecordsReleased on: 2022-09-30Auto-generated by YouTube.
How to efficiently combine tracks that can benefit from being processed via a single channel.
Welcome back friends. This time I’d like to show you how to really take advantage of using aux busses in your mixes to bring your music to a new level. Last month, I explained the benefits of using VCAs to make top-level, final volume adjustments to mixes that are already super-polished and just need that extra bit of attention to detail. But what about when you’re waist deep in the mixing process and really need to start bringing it together? Aux busses are the answer. If you’re not using them in your workflow, you’re really missing out on a vital mixing technique and (likely) wasting valuable CPU/RAM resources by redundantly instantiating the same plug-ins on individual tracks.
So, what is an aux bus? I’d like to parse out the two terms individually for greater clarity. Luckily, it’s going to be much simpler than parsing long German words like “bezirksschornsteinfegermeister,” which kind of translates to “head district chimney sweep” (30 letters long and by no way the longest in the language).
A “bus” is most often defined as an audio sub-group that sums (combines) assigned audio sources into a single dedicated channel and fader—like your stereo mix bus that combines the outputs of all tracks. For example, you might want to combine (bus) all your rhythm guitars together onto one stereo channel for greater control.
The term “aux” describes another audio path that is auxiliary to the main path. Most of the time, these are aux sends and returns used for effects or a new track with audio sources that have been already bussed there for sub-mixing.
Having more collective options outside of individual tracks can really make your mixes feel and sound cohesive.”
The lines between “aux” and “bus” are further blurred because DAW programs treat this function differently. For example, in LUNA (Universal Audio’s DAW), you create a new “bus” (shift + cmd + N) which instantiates a new channel to which you will route the outputs of any desired tracks. Using the same key commands (shift + cmd + N) in Pro Tools, does the same function, but this time you’re creating an “aux input.” Other DAWs have different ways and names to achieve the same result as well. Be sure to read the help guides for your DAW on this subject.
Now, I want to focus on the efficiency of combining tracks that can benefit from being processed via a single channel (an aux send) or by being summed together for ease of mixing. There are two widely used ways to do this. Let me show you how.
Effects Bus via Aux Send: One way to cut down on CPU-hungry plug-ins and make your tracks feel more unified is to create an aux send and place a particular type of effect on it. Let’s use reverb for example. In Fig.1, I’ve created a reverb bus where I can route various tracks in the mix. It could be a piano, snare drum, lead guitar solo, and the main vocal.
All of these tracks’ outputs are routed to the reverb bus, and I can control the amount of reverb (either pre or post fader) by the send level within each individual track. Notice how my send levels are different for every track, and they are pre-fader [Fig.2]. In this situation, I am deciding how much signal is sent to the reverb for each track.
Effects Bus: Another way of using a bus is to group multiple tracks to be processed together—background vocals and horn sections are great for this. In this case, you can create a new bus, route the chosen tracks to it [Fig.3], and apply effects that are more tailored to gluing the individual tracks into one larger, consistent sound by using a common EQ, compression, and anything else you deem worthy.
When I do this with background vocals (BGVs), I typically use more compression and thin out the bottom end of the grouped singers so my main vocal will still sound rich and full-bodied. As a bonus, you can also place an aux send on this bus [Fig.4], route that output to our reverb bus as well, and adjust its level accordingly.
It’s not uncommon for me to set up four to five stereo busses on a typical mix (three different reverbs, an interesting delay or two). I may not use them all, but having more collective options outside of individual tracks can really make your mixes feel and sound cohesive.
If you have questions or suggestions, you can reach me at email@example.com. Until next time, namaste.
You can fine-tune families of instruments by boosting their volume with this handy technique.
Welcome to another Dojo! This month, I’d like to show you the benefits of creating and using VCAs (Voltage Controlled Amplifiers) when mixing, for added control and nuance. Tighten up your belts. The Dojo is now open.
Diving right in, what is a VCA? Think of it as a glorified volume-only control that uses voltage to adjust the amount of a signal’s/track’s volume when routed to its output.
Say you want to easily adjust the overall volume of your drum tracks within your mix. Perhaps you have several drum-loop tracks, drum machine soft synths with MIDI sequence tracks, and a full drum kit with multiple mics spread over multiple tracks (you know, a typical session). Or you might want to combine (sum) four individual rhythm-guitar track outputs into one VCA and be able to control the overall volume of all four from one channel. You can create a single VCA channel for all the drum tracks, another VCA for the rhythm-guitar parts, and then assign the outputs of those grouped tracks to their dedicated VCAs. Now, you can globally tweak the overall volume of all your drum tracks and all your rhythm guitars in your mix without changing the routing, plug-in levels, or effects sends, or the panning of any other tracks or groups.
The benefits of using VCAs really emerge after a mix has come together. For example, you might need to make an “all guitars up” version of the mix, or a “drums down 2 dB” version, etc. You may even want to automate volume rides in certain sections of a song—particular licks and fills, or even solos. You can also do this with vocals, background vocals, synths, etc.
Following the hypothetical example above, I’m going to show you how to create a VCA within Pro Tools and assign it to tracks of your choosing. Remember, every DAW has its own idiosyncratic way of creating and setting up a VCA channel, so be sure to consult your help section and/or read your instruction manual. Key commands may differ, but the process is essentially the same.
First, group (Cmd+G) all the tracks you want to be assigned to a VCA and name that group. I’ve named my group “DRUMS” [Fig.1]. Now, I’m going to create a VCA. Cmd+Shift+N, select VCA, and name it. I’ve named this “DRUMS” as well [Fig.2].
Notice the new VCA channel and how there are no options for FX inserts, EQ, or panning [Fig. 3]? That’s exactly what we want, and it’s proof that we’ve set it up correctly.
Finally, I’m going to assign my drums into a single VCA by clicking on the “no group” button and selecting “DRUMS” from the dropdown list [Fig.4]. That’s it!
Now you can rinse and repeat as many times as you like for as many instrument groups as you like. This is where VCAs really shine and can help you fine-tune specific volume relationships of instruments (and groups therein) within the fluid environment of a mix.
If you’re new to using VCAs, allow me to offer some suggestions that will help you get the most out of employing them. I use VCAs after I’ve shed proverbial blood, sweat, and tears obsessing over all aspects of the mix. Only after I feel like I’ve worked out a solid approach to EQ, compression, effects, parallel processing, outboard gear, aux busses, and all automation do I start using VCAs. On a self-judged scale of 0 to 10, my mix should be hitting about a 9. Then, I’ll typically fold all drum tracks into a single VCA, all bass (synth, stringed, etc.), all electric guitars (minus the solos), all synths and keys, all background vocals, and then group the lead vocal(s) and instrument solo(s) if appropriate. In this case, I have six VCAs to control the entire mix from a high level, and I can automate gain (volume) rides as needed to get that extra bit of focus and excitement out of the mix.
Next month, I’ll be guiding you through how to use aux busses to make your mixes better at an earlier stage.
Blessings and keep rockin’! Namaste.