Summery: The AES Convention is well worth checking out. Even if you don’t have a “pro” studio. Even if you aren’t super technical. Even if you don’t have 100k worth of gear lying about.
As you probably know there are more projects studios then ever before. So I say YAY to AES (in association with SoundonSound) for embracing this new direction and putting on the Project Studio Expo Sessions.
Hard to believe it’s free.
Years ago I had very little interest in the engineering side of music. I was an artist. The engineering would be handled by some guy in a lab coat. I had a Tascam 424 in the 90s that got little use. Around 2000 I downloaded the free version of Protools. This time it was a slippery slope.
For the last few years I’ve gotten free passes to AES. It seems a lot of organizations give out “exhibits only” passes. This year I got mine through Tape Op Magazine, but I also remember SoundOnSound and Gearslutz allowing people to register. Anyway, up until this year, I managed never to make it. Now, I wish I had.
The exhibition only pass gives you access to all the exhibit booths, an overwhelming amount of gear; mics, speakers, software, vocal booths, preamps, converters, clocks. I did a slow and curious meander taking it in. Stepping inside vocal booths. Trying to get in the sweet spot of speakers. I even had my ears molded for custom earplugs. Thanks, Andrew at earinc.com.
But this year they launched the Project Studio Expo Sessions and I knew I had to go. This stuff was tailored to me! These were hour long sessions that focused on large blocks of knowledge like mixing or tracking.
I’ve been reading, doing, and thinking about recording for a while now. I’d be lying if I said everything was new to me at the sessions. But even the refresher information was useful because it was presented in a different way. Some presentations helped me prioritize information. For example, I’ve read Mike Senior’s mixing book (It’s very good), but obviously he can’t cover it in 60 minutes. What did he do? A very prioritized version of mixing dos and don’ts. This was highly time efficient and left you focused on a few key concepts like phase and single driver monitors.
There was also a good deal of completely new information. I went to most of the sessions but not all. Here is a taste of the sessions I did attend.
This is what it looked like. Since the sessions were in the exhibition area (noisy) we all got a set of wireless headphones. Straight ahead is the session screen. Looks small here but it was easy to read even from the back where I took this. The presenter is a bit to the left just out of frame. The sessions I attended were at “nice” capacity: Lots of interest but not too crowded. Since I’d seen this session before I sat at the back for easy duck out. I could’ve (and did) sit in the front row on other sessions.
Total Tracking had a great overview of mic types. I suppose I’ve seen the information over the years but it was never as condensed and accessible. They explained how the mechanics of a microphone effect it’s sound. For example, dynamic microphones having the most mass, tend to react slowly to transients. At the end of Sunday’s session they had a tip I’ve never seen. Rubber band a pencil on a condenser mic as a plosive filter.
Mixing Secrets with Mike Senior stressed the importance of phase when mixing. (Phase came up quite a bit across all sessions.) He’s been doing a feature for SoundOnSound magazine called “mix rescue”. It takes one lucky readers mix and recuses it. He’s seen a lot of phase issued with home mixes. Phase: Better recognize.
Master your tracks I’m of the opinion you can’t compete with true mastering done by a skilled engineer in a great listening environment. But what if you can’t afford that? What if no one can stop you from mastering your own music! This session shows you how to use DIY mastering to make your tracks sound better. MORE IMPORTANTLY it show you how not to destroy your tracks with DIY mastering. Craig blitzed through a mastering demonstration in about 15 minutes. Widening the stereo field, adding compression, and using small EQ adjustments.
Keeping the Human Element in the Digital Age: Ever feel like the precision of technology is sucking the soul from your recording? I have. Craig starts out with an overview of how the brain works and how to get in the right frame of mind to produce creative work. He notes that today’s musicians are taking on many technical roles that used to be handled by engineers. Near the end he gets less philosophical and more practical. How do you musically apply quantization? Autotune? Dynamics with automation? Good stuff.
All of the Project Studio Expo Sessions looked worth attending. I wish I made them all. Trouble is this weekend was packed with non AES stuff too. After the prior night activities I barely made it to the 11AM session. By 2 I was famished and shot. Next year.