All things related to the pre-production stage of production: the planning, production goal, deciding the production approach, decide desired technology, consider the desired site (location) of production, list required resources, plan live room layout and configuration, set up control room
My current studio and live microphone stocks a modest range of dynamic microphones, dynamic ribbons, condensers, tubes and contact microphones. The range of microphones include: Shure 57s, 58s, Beta52As & SM7Bs; Electro Voice RE20s; Sennheiser e935s, e945s, e906s & MD441Us; MXL 550s & 551s; Rode NT-USBs, NT1s, NT3s, NTRs, NT4s & NTKs; Audio Technica AT2020s; AKG C414XLIIs, P420s & CGN523Es; Royer 121s; Neumann TLM193, OPR87C, OPR87I & OPR84s; Mojave MA101FETs; DPA 4099s; IK reference mics; a Zoom H6 XY and MS mic; Sony lapel mics; and a range of contact mics. This stock allows for versatility in most recording scenarios that have been presented to me; of course coupled with great instruments, amplifiers,outboard processing hardware, interfaces, consoles, and of course artists. But sometimes, in certain scenarios, even these are not enough.
Current Research Study Project
In my current doctoral research study project, I have designed a composition requiring me to source sonic samples of significant aspects of my life. Water is one of the most significant and influential elements in my life and my life partner’s lifestyle [see blog or Media Use Part 1], I felt a need to be able to record water samples across a range of contexts which I have experienced. The ocean, rain, waterfalls, swimming pools, and domestic water use. However, this needed to occur without causing damage to my current range of microphones. Ready and portable – armed with my Zoom H6 -my research project would not be complete without the range of real water samples – out in the environment. However, I also felt a need to record sonic samples of water from a submersed perspective. Of my current stock of microphones, there were none that allowed me to record in a submersed scenario, without needing a further layer between the microphone and the element of water, such as by using plastic bags or tubs, duct tape and silicon. I therefore felt an alternative solution was needed.
I researched my options, exploring what other audio engineers have used to gather some water-based samples. I finally decided to purchase a fully submersible microphone, and I now received what will be the latest microphone to add to my stock of studio and live microphones: an Aquarian Audio Products Hydrophone H2a-XLR microphone.
A hydrophone microphone is designed to be immersed in water – natural or salt water – multiple times without degrading from excessive water damage or corrosion.
The Aquarian Audio hydrophone microphone is quite compact, measuring just 25mm wide, but 46 mm long. It weighs just 105 grams.
It is a condenser microphone, requiring 48v power in order to charge the electro-static transduction process. As such it is extremely sensitive, with minimal extraneous noise. “The hydrophone sensor is cable of picking up sounds from below 20Hz to above 100KHz” (Aquarian Audio Products 2016). Designed for deep water where maximum microphone bandwidth can be achieved, the Aquarian Audio Hydrophone apparently boasts an operating depth of up to 80 metres. However, the model I purchased came with a 9 metre cable, a length I thought was more than adequate for the sample events I am looking for.
Using a Hydrophone – Context
Having just received the microphone, I am still yet to venture out into a deep water environment where I can test the microphone to its full capacity. However, I was keen to immediately test the microphone to get an idea of how sensitive it was going to be, how accurate it was going to potentially be in capturing the original sound source, and how much noise it may or may not inherently have. Using my Zoom H6 with this hydrophone to gather a number of preliminary samples, I considered the options I had immediately around me. I chose the 60,000 litre salt water fibreglass swimming pool found in our front garden as my first test environment. A place where my partner and I have spent considerable hours over the past two decades, it is surely a significant part of our lives, and therefore somewhere I am going to need to gather sample events for my composition. In saying that, embarking on this test I acknowledged there would be some limitations of using this test environment to trial the functionality of this condenser microphone. Namely, the structure of the pool – the pool is 4 metres wide, 9.5 metres long and 1.9 metre deep (reducing to about 1.4 metres in the shallow end) and made of a fibreglass shell with the sides and bottom curved into one continuous surface. Due to this particular environment, the hydrophone microphone would likely display a narrower bandwidth than what it would optimally have in deeper waters; and the captured sound source was likely to include the original sound source and a number of reflections off the hard surfaces of this domestic swimming pool. Irrespective, as I was going to need samples of this environment eventually, I considered it a useful initial test environment.
Using a Hydrophone – Part 1
The first 5 sample events I believe demonstrate the sensitivity this condenser microphone has in underwater situations. I was surprised how sensitive the microphone was, despite the large amount of water residing between/separating the subject and the microphone capsule during these recordings. As indicated above regarding the reflections, the captured sample events demonstrates a cacophony of sonic textures resulting from a fusion of both the intended sound source and its’ multiple reflections.
Note also the frequency range of each sample event relative to the micopphones’ depth and proximity to either the surface, the bottom, or the sides of the swimming pool. I have been reminded that in a shallower water environment: there is likely to be less fully developed low frequencies due to the shorter distance between any surfaces. Additionally, in calm water conditions the sound waves under the surface are likely to rebound back off a flat water surface, phase cancelling the original signal below it. This phenomena of a varying frequency range is particularly noticeable in Using a Hydrophone – Part 2 sample events 7 and 8 when the condenser microphone capsule is being bounced up and down at variable depths under the surface, and then breaches the surface of the water. Listen and compare the frequency range and the sonic texture of each sample event as the condenser capsule moves through the water.
In the first sample, the hydrophone was submerged in the swimming pool to a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was set to 6 (of 10). My friend (the subject) was in the pool and approximately 2 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and blowing bubbles under water in the direction of the microphone. The reverberations off the nearby pool surfaces are quite noticeable from about 1/3 third into the sample event, providing a minor delay of the original signal until the end of the sample event.
In the second sample, the hydrophone was maintained in the swimming pool at a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was set to 7 (of 10). The subject was in the pool and approximately 3 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and blowing bubbles. The overall levels are softer in this second sample event while she was mimicking what she had done previously – with the exception of when the hydrophone capsule got knocked by something (tall volume spike midway) – despite the gain level being increased marginally. See image i below. The reverberations off the nearby pool surfaces are quite noticeable from about one third into the sample event, providing a minor delay of the original signal until the end of the sample event for the second third, but then decays and releases back to mainly the original signal in the final third of the sample event. As a result of the decaying signal, the amplitude reduces. With the return to the original signal in the final third, there is greater clarity of the signal.
Image I – Pro Tools 12 Sample event 1 (top) and Sample Event 2 (bottom)
In the third sample event, the hydrophone was submerged in the swimming pool to a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was maintained at 7 (of 10). The subject was in the pool and approximately 3 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and trying to talk underwater. I note that despite her being farther away from the hydrophone capsule than she was in the first sample event, as she was trying to talk loudly under water toward the microphone capsule, the audio is louder than both sample events 1 and 2. As you can see in image ii below, the overall mass of the wav file is exponentially greater in this third event than both the previous two sample events, with the subject’s speaking voice producing far greater mass and density than she did when blowing bubbles underwater. This mass and density represents increases in sound pressure levels, and reverberant signals, resulting in a cacophony of sonic textures. Had I included a longer sample, you would observe, as per the sample event 2, at a certain point the signal decays and releases back to mainly the original signal, with reduce amplitude, but greater clarity.
Image II – Pro Tools 12 Sample event 1 (top), Sample Event 2 (middle, Sample Event 3 (bottom)
In the fourth sample event, the hydrophone was submerged in the swimming pool to a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was maintained at 5 (of 10). The subject is in the pool and approximately 0.5 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and blowing bubbles. Sonically, this fourth sample event demonstrates a cacophony of sonic textures, resulting from excessive sound pressure levels due to the close proximity of the transducer relative to the sound source, and the accompanying reverberant signals from the multiple surfaces of the pool. The inherent distortion results from excessive sound pressure levels, with an over-gained signal. For non-audiophiles: note the clean flat line along the top of the wav form indicating a form of dynamic limiting. Given that no dynamic processing was used to achieve this limiting of the audio signal, the limiting effect indicates acceptable gain levels for the equipment were exceeded, resulting in what is referred to as digital (signal) clipping. See image iii below (top wav form).
Image III – Pro Tools 12 Sample event 4 (top) and Sample Event 5 (bottom)
In the fifth sample event, the hydrophone was maintained at a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level is reduced to 5 (of 10). The subject was in the pool and approximately 0.5 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and trying to talk underwater. As you can see in image iii above (bottom wav form), the overall mass of the wav file is exponentially greater in this fifth event than the previous sample events, with the subject’s speaking voice producing far greater sound pressure levels than she did when blowing bubbles underwater. Sonically, this fifth sample event is heavily distorted due to the excessive sound pressure levels due to the close proximity of the transducer relative to the sound source. The digital recording is therefore clipped given the amplitude far exceeded the specified gain levels of the equipment. For non-audiophiles: in this example the cleaner flatter line along the top of the wav form – relative to the previous example – indicating extreme limiting of the audio signal. Again, as no dynamic processing was used – it similarly indicates excessive sound pressure levels at unacceptable gain levels for the equipment, resulting in severe digital (signal) clipping across almost the entire length of the audio wav file. It is also worth noting the very thin sound of this sample event as a result of the absence of low frequencies in the shallow depths; and yet as per sample event 4, there is a cacophony of sonic textures given the multiple reverberant signals arriving from the numerous surfaces of the pool.
Using a Hydrophone Part 2
In the following examples, I gathered a number of sample events using the hydrophone closer to the surface of the water line. I hope the sample events further show how sensitive the hydrophone microphone is, effectively capturing sonic qualities of very subtle movements.
In the sixth sample event, the Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was set at 6 (of 10). The hydrophone was being dragged along the surface of the swimming pool at a relatively slow walking pace. The sound of rushing of water is the wake of water that the small condenser capsule (25mm wide, but 46 mm long, weighing 105 grams.) is creating and capturing as it breaches the surface of the water. I think you will agree that this confirms both the sensitivity and low noise levels of this particular microphone. The deeper frequency you hear (boomy quality) in the audio file is when the transduction surface of the microphone capsule is re-submersed under the surface of the water.
Sample event 6wp indicates that it is the same sample as sample event 6, but with post-production audio processing added. In the studio – following recording the sample – I chose to add two (2) reverb processing devices – a Eventide and a Lexicon reverb – to the initial audio file. While doing this, and listening to the altered sonic textures of the audio, I am imagining the many applications that I could use such an effect in my sonic compositions and sound design.
The seventh sample event is a similar execution as sample event 6, with the hydrophone being dragged along the swimming pool at a relatively slow walking pace, but being bounced in and out of the water in an approximately 30 centimetre arc. The popping and gurgling sounds are occurring as the capsule breaches the surface of the water (popping), then followed by the re-submersion (gurgling). It is a similar but more exaggerated version of sample event 6, with the sample event’s frequency varying dependent on where the condenser microphone capsule is relative to the water: being just under the surface, at depth (only about 30 cms in this example), breaching the surface, or above the surface of the water.
The eighth sample event is a similar execution as sample event 7, with the Zoom H6 track 3 gain level remaining at 6 (of 10). The hydrophone was being dragged along the surface of the swimming pool at a relatively slow walking pace, but being bounced in and out of the water over a much larger arc – approximately 1.5 metres. This is a more exaggerated version of sample event 7, with the popping and gurgling sounds associated with the breaching and re-submersion are relatively deeper in tone due to the greater depth, speed and height the capsule was dropped from, back into and under the water. Sonically, you may hear what sounds like wind noise in this audio sample event. I noted at the time that this was due in combination to both the faster movement of the capsule above the surface of the water after breaching; but also partially due to the wind in our local area picking up nearing the end of the test. You will also note that near the end of the sample event you can hear a voice – talking, describing my actions. This voice was captured by the microphone capsule after it had breached the surface of the water, with the speaker’s mouth about 2 metres away.
The ninth and last sample event had the hydrophone submerged in the swimming pool to a depth of about 1.5 metres held stationary. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level remained at 6 (of 10). The subject was approximately 2 metres away from the hydrophone drop point, swimming up and down the pool in freestyle form. The low frequency plop occurred every time the subject kicked her feet, with training flippers on. The bass frequency was pronounced, reverberating off the surfaces of the pool, producing a sound somewhat similar to a deep tom sonic boom after the skin had been struck. And yet, the hydrophone microphone still clearly captured what sounds to be running water – the sound of the subject’s hand and arms entering and breaching the surface of the water with each and every stroke. Again, I am imagining the many applications that I could apply some processing to this sample event, and use such an effect in my sonic compositions and sound design.
The Aquarian Audio Products Hydrophone H2a-XLR microphone is an extremely sensitive fully submersible condenser microphone, with minimal extraneous noise. It is well designed and constructed to be impact resistant, using sturdy materials. Whilst it is designed to be submersed in a far greater depth than I have tested to date, I believe I have made a good purchase with this hydrophone, something that will complement my current stock of studio and live microphones. I believe this microphone will allow me even greater versatility in a range of recording scenarios that I can foresee me being presented. I daresay I will probably now go searching further afield, exploring less predictable outdoor terrain, and feeling the need to be less mindful than I usually would taking my more expensive studio microphones. I am looking forward to progressing my sonic compositions and sound designs using water samples across the range of contexts which I have experienced in my life – the ocean – including boating, body surfing, snorkelling and scuba diving – rivers, waterfalls, natural pools, and domestic water use – in order to capture specific sample events that represent significant events and memories. I look forward to this next chapter in my creative practice.
It is intended for this series of microphone-related blogs to continue.
Tips when using Pro Tools on a general use computer
When you are using someone else’s computer, such as in a Studio or general use C-Lab environment, you are not likely going to be aware of what the previous person used Pro Tools for. They may have, for example used an alternative interface and customised the routing (I/Os) within Pro Tools for their own specific use. Therefore it is always advisable when you are creating a new Pro Tools session or re-opening an existing Pro Tools session to confirm the following:
Audio File Type: wav
Sample Rate: whatever your clients project requires – for example, 48 Hz
Bit depth: whatever your clients project requires – for example, 24 Bit
I/O Settings: Stereo Mix (not ‘Last Used’)
Once you have the Pro Tools session open, can I suggest you check the two sections in the Setup drop down menu:
Setup/Playback Engine: does it have ‘Built in Output’ selected, or is ‘Pro Tools Aggregate I/O’ selected because the previous person was using an alternative external interface? Without an interface, you need to have ‘Built in Output’ selected
Setup/Playback Engine: H/W Buffer Size: make sure you have the correct H/W Buffer Size selected for the type of session you are conducting – mixing or recording/tracking
1024 Samples (recommended for Mixing)
64 Samples (recommended for Recording/Tracking)
When you have completed this task, close this display window by pressing the ok button in the bottom right-hand corner.
Setup/IOs: reset all of the I/O tabs (Input, Output, Bus, etc) by pressing the default button in the bottom left-hand corner of the I/O display window for each of the I/O tabs. If any routing changes had been made in the previous session, this action will reset all of the I/Os back to the original default setup. When you have completed this task, close this display window by pressing the ok button in the bottom right-hand corner.
These simple steps should become your standard operating procedure every time you create a new Pro Tools session or re-open an existing Pro Tools session on a general use computer, or in a Studio used by others.Having completed these simple steps, you can be confident that your Pro Tools’ session is correctly setup, ready for a successful Mixing or Recording/Tracking session, minimising the chance of experiencing signal flow issues during your Pro Tools’ session.
If however, having followed these simple steps you do have Signal Flow issues during your Pro Tools session, can I also suggest that you check the following:
Overall session signal flow. Remember, Pro Tools is no different to a studio, it is just ‘in a box’. All of the rules of Signal Flow still apply
are your session inputs (in the ‘mix’ window) routed correctly?
are your session outputs (in the ‘mix’ window) routed correctly?
are all ‘mute’ buttons off?
are there any ‘solo’ buttons selected?
If you have checked all of the above suggestions, but continue to have issues whilst within the Pro Tools session, I suggest you consult the Studio Supervisors.
It is the goal of the audio industry to facilitate the realisation of recorded artefacts – recorded and then distributed in the mediums of shellac or vinyl records, magnetic tapes, compact discs and now more commonly as wav or MP3s. Within the process of producing these artefacts, there are considered to be three stages of the production process:
The pre-production stage;
The production stage;
The post-production stage.
Whilst there are blurred lines between several of these stages depending upon what musical style (genre) one is working within, the acoustic style recording process essentially adheres to the following three stages:
The pre-production stage is about planning for the production of the artefact
The production stage is the actual recording process of the artefact. This process is commonly referred to as the tracking
The post-production stage follows the tracking stage, preparing each track so that it is well balanced in terms of instrumentation, levels, frequency and dynamics – in preparation for the final step of this stage – the mastering process – prior to the artefact being released to the public
Before we proceed to discuss the pre-production stage in detail, allow me to remind all of the actual purpose of the production process. At the heart of the production lies the actual reason for the artefact – the song or composition. This focus – the main reason for the production process – needs to be maintained throughout the creation of the artefact process. It must not become secondary to the process. It is often said that that to make a great song, you need to have:
a great song;
a great performance;
a great recording;
a great mix;
and great mastering.
Investing time in the pre-production stage is required if you want to:
act as per all business organisations with sound forward planning
develop a target for you to focus your project’s aims and objectives
minimise project risk by considering issues that may arise, in advance
allow for total transparency of your plan
– allowing for consideration of all factors
– which in turn allows for optimal communication to all concerned parties
– increasing the ability to delegate to external parties
set a plan in sand – have clear parameters around what the project is, but maintain flexibility as you need to make a change as matters outside of your control or consideration arise
minimise the risk of concerned parties not knowing what is going on, and either being unprepared, late, or no -showing
However, as I have observed many times with less experienced or aspiring engineers, the pre-production planning is however an often overlooked aspect of the production process. It is unfortunate, as overlooking this key part of the production process actually jeopardises the opportunity for success of any project. Successful project management is about good planning, followed by good execution of the plan, supported by good management and administration of those tasks.
Key elements of the Pre-Production Planning Stage
The key elements of the pre-production plan following will be elaborated further in the next blog in the series:
– know who your client is (key stakeholder)
– is the key stakeholder the artist, the musician, the songwriter?;
– or the recording engineer?;
– or the producer?
– or the record label?
– clarify what the scope of the project is
– confirm what the budget for the project is
– confirm any specifications of the project are (session parameters, output format)
Target musical style (genre)
– potential reference tracks
– target market
– market segmentation
– market platforms
– Studio site – what does the recording environment look like?
– is there a separate control and live room?
– is the live room sound-proofed and been acoustically treated?
– how many recording lines are available in the live room?
– what equipment is available in the control room?
– console type
– external hardware
– flexibility of routing options (ie a patch-bay)
– variety of microphones available
– degree of competence the artist has with their instrument
– quality of the equipment for recording environment
– degree of experience the artist has in a recording environment
Studio Production Specifics
– stage plot
– line chart
– data management
– data collection tools
– naming protocols
– session management
It is intended for this blog to continue in a series of Pre-Production Plan blogs.
Barney, Jay B and Ricky W Griffin. 1992. The management of organizations: Strategy, structure, behavior: Houghton Mifflin College Div.
Hracs, Brian J, Doreen Jakob and Atle Hauge. 2013. “Standing out in the crowd: the rise of exclusivity-based strategies to compete in the contemporary marketplace for music and fashion.” Environment and Planning A 45 (5): 1144-1161.
Mehrens, Christopher E. 2015. “Project Management for Musicians: Recordings, Concerts, Tours, Studios, and More ” Music Reference Services Quarterly 18 (2): 130-133.