Shure Notes And Tony Huerta

Featured

Tony Huerta published in the Shure Notes articles for Audio Engineering:

Read below or go to 

 

 

Take 6 Recording Engineer Tony Huerta:

A Cappella Studio and Live Recording

The Take 6 story began at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1980, when freshman Claude V. McKnight III formed a quartet known as the Gentlemen’s Estate Club. When tenor Mark Kibble heard the group rehearsing in – of all places – a campus restroom, he joined in the harmonies and performed onstage with the group that same night.

Fast forward almost thirty years: The a cappella jazz group known today as Take 6 are not only the heirs to the rich tradition of the doo-wop and gospel groups of the 1950s, but also the leaders in the second wave of jazz and pop vocal groups that emerged in the 1990s.

With these noteworthy legacies at their foundation, these multiple GRAMMY winners continue to look and move in a forward direction as the first decade of the 21st century unfolds. 

With a new CD “The Standard” fusing a spectrum of genres, we turned to the group’s engineer, Tony Huerta, to break down the complexities of recording a cappella music. Here’s what he had to say.

Sharing the Knowledge

I’d like to share some important tips and techniques I’ve developed for recording a cappella music – a genre where the instruments are human. We’ll talk about the live aspects of a cappella performance, too  –there’s a relationship between the perception of the live performance and the perception of the recorded material by the same artist.  I’ll explain that in more detail a little later.

A Genre Defying Description

A cappella has come a long way from the days of barbershop quartets and doo wop groups, evolving into a style of music that offers a full spectrum of percussive and instrumental sounds. The lines between pop, jazz and R&B are blurred.  Probably the best evidence of this is seen in the a cappella group I’ve had the good fortune to work with – Take 6.  This group of six men has garnered 10 Grammy Awards out of 18 nominations in the past 20 years with the awards spread over a number of different categories – jazz, R&B and gospel —including several for producing.

Let’s get started.  It’s time to answer this question: “How do I capture that sound in a quality studio or live mix?”

Keys To a Great A Cappella Recording

The first key to a great recording is microphone selection that leads to overall EQ in your final mix.  You’re going for clarity over warmth. It’s great to have a full selection of top-notch microphones at your disposal but more important than price is the EQ each mic reproduces.

Get ready to throw out your conventional thinking about vocal recording. Specific EQ is everything in an a cappella mix.

“Specific EQ is everything in an a cappella mix.”

You already know that a cappella means no instruments.  The real translation is “in the church style” from the  times when instruments were not allowed in the church.  Modern a cappella is far from “vocal-sounding”.  Drum sounds (beatbox) produced vocally have infiltrated the style along with vocals with guitar effects and enough bass riffs to make even your 70s funk band happy.  I’ll build this mix for you from the bottom up starting with drums, bass, backing vocals, lead vocals, and finally, special effects.

Recording the Beatbox/Vocal Percussion Tracks

How do you record the vocal drummer?  The “beatboxer” is another term for the timekeeper of the group who will produce sounds consistent with the EQ and timber of a real drum kit, along with other sounds like record scratching, congas, timbales, and other percussion instruments.

Mic Types

First, I place four microphones around the performer just like I would a drum kit using four tracks.  I use two handheld dynamic mics for kick and snare, one in each hand, and two condenser microphones placed as overheads.  Microphone selection is key here.  You need microphones that will pick up the frequencies of real drums – the kick, snare, toms, and cymbals.  Start with the kick.  I have tried every microphone possible to find the perfect vocal kick sound and have found that microphones designed for  a real kick work the best and provide the EQ I need.

Vocal Kick Microphone Placement

All you care about at this point is the EQ the mic puts out. The microphone should reproduce a clear low end below 80Hz without coloring the sound with wind noise off the artist’s mouth, and reproduce the EQ of the beater smack of a real kick with an EQ peak around 5-7 kHz.  Have the percussionist hold this microphone in his dominant hand and work with the angle of attack on the mic to find the best on/off axis sound.  You’ll know the EQ is right when the sub pumps and the smack takes your head off.  EQ it just like a Kick Drum.

Vocal Snare EQ and Microphone Placement

Next, let’s work on the snare.  This is probably the most important component of all the percussion tracks.  Focus on the specific EQ of a real snare drum and you can’t go wrong.

“Focus on the specific EQ of a real snare drum and you can’t go wrong.”

I break it down as the three EQ areas that make up a complex snare sound; 250 Hz – 900 Hz for the body of the snare sound, 2.5 KHz – 4.0 KHz for the smack of the stick on the skin, 6 KHz and up for the sizzle of the actual snares on the bottom of the drum.  Picking the microphone that best suits your style of song is key here.

For instance, if I’m going for a classic 80s snare sound, I would pick the mic that best represents 250 Hz for the body, 2.5 KHz for the smack without a lot of sizzle.  I choose between several different microphones for the snare; usually dynamic instrument mics that I’d usually use on a real snare or on congas in a live show.  I use them straight on the mouth and have the artist touch lips to the mic in very close proximity held in their non-dominant hand.  Although it’s vocal, these artists can really make a full bodied snare sound with just their mouths.

Overhead Microphones

To capture the rest of the sound coming off the artist, I use two high-quality overhead condenser microphones.  I place them about a foot higher than the artist’s head, just over the shoulder on either side of the head, pointed down toward the mouth.  They are equidistant from each other and follow the 1:3 ratio in spacing to minimize phase issues.

Pan the tracks hard left and right to give the artist the ability to pan their own performance by turning their head.  EQ the overheads just like you would normal drum overheads including high pass filter.  They will pick up the rest of the kit like the high hat, toms, and cymbals.

Mixing and Sampling

After recording a few good passes, the last thing I do is record several takes of individual sounds at the end of the track.  I take tom fills, several different crash sounds and high hat samples.

“Walk the line between the natural beatbox sound and produced sound to match the style of song you are mixing.”

I also get elements of the snare that might be missing in the artist’s original snare track, like smack or sizzle that I can lay over the top of the snare track to make it hit harder.  You will use these sounds as samples and lay them over the existing drum takes.  When it comes to mixing, you can use these sounds simply to enhance the tracks or, use them like a hip hop producer and totally program the drums with the samples.  Walk the line between the natural beatbox sound and produced sound to match the style of song you are mixing.

 

Recording Vocal Bass

The bass and remaining vocals are not as complex and require less time and energy.  Tracking should be like normal vocal production – except for the bass.

Think of tracking the bass as though it were a real bass.  Real basses don’t breathe and neither do the vocal basses I record.  I track line by line from breath to breath to get a clean continuous track.  It takes patience to record three takes in this manner.  I use two like tracks mixed slightly left and right to thicken up the tracks.  Again, EQ is the key.

Mic Placement

I use one of several different condenser microphones, chosen depending on the vocalist to pull out as much natural bass sound as possible.  I record them at the closest proximity I can without a high pass filter with two pop filters to make sure no air noise is recorded.  I never roll off bass frequencies on a vocal bass.  Although they truly don’t sing as low as 50 Hz, the low end presence is still felt in the mix. 

Mixing Vocal Bass

Since vocal basses usually sing one octave higher than instrumental basses, I might put a very light pitch sub-harmonic effect on the tracks tuned one octave down, blended into the mix to create a subtle low end feel.  Keep in mind the sonic quality and EQ of the kick you recorded earlier and blend the two as if you are mixing instruments.

I generally EQ the bass up several decibels at 70 Hz and below, a cut between 80 Hz to 125 Hz, a sizable boost at about 4.0 KHz and again above 10 KHz.  I go for thick across the mix, but not boomy at 100 Hz or muddy at 200 Hz.  The extreme boost in the high end compensates for the lack of attack from the bass voice.  You don’t have the plucked attack of the string that helps an instrumental bass cut through the mix.  You must make it cut through with EQ.

Lead and Backing Vocals

The lead vocal is probably the easiest part of the overall recording session. Here are a few tips and tricks, including what I do to record a great lead.

  • I set the mood in the studio by dimming lights.
  • I make sure that the soloist can’t be seen by anyone.  I don’t want insecurities to color the session.
  • I try to put the artist in the state of mind that matches the track feel.
  • I also ask the artist to tell me what the song means.

And finally, I tell the artist that we are going to take a dry run as a warm up.  That gives me a take without the singer overdoing it; the artist is relaxed and that will often be the best take in the session.

“I’ve never heard a good fifth take –   the first and third are usually the keepers.” 

I let the artist know that we can do an unlimited number of takes; he doesn’t have to get it right on the first or even the fifth try. Even if the singer wants to do more at this point, the song takes on a different feel and the singer starts to push the performance.  I’ve never heard a good fifth take – the first and third are usually the keepers.

In editing, I take the best lines from all four takes and combine them for one comprehensive track.

Backing vocals

Mic Types

Backing vocals should be recorded on the best condenser microphones available.  Since you will be focusing on blend, tuning and timing, I usually use the same brand and model of microphone for all of the backing vocals to ensure consistency in EQ and focus on clarity and brightness as opposed to warmth.

“…focus on clarity and brightness as opposed to warmth.”

Mixing

The most common mistake I hear in live and studio a cappella is that it is generally too warm in the frequencies between 160 Hz and 400 Hz.  Warmth is fine on the soloist but all other parts need an EQ adjustment down at that lower mid range. In harmony singing, frequencies multiply upon themselves dramatically in that range when in tune, and the mix takes on a muddy or indistinct sound.

The harmonies and clarity in the mix are best represented by a slight boost in the frequencies between 2.0 KHz and 4.5 KHz to bring out the attack/brightness of the vocals, and a slight boost above 10 KHz to 12 KHz for sibilance and airiness.  I’ve found that 99% of the audience will accept that odd EQ as clear and distinct.  It allows the listener to aurally pick out individual voices.

And here’s a live sound note: Take into account the acoustic properties of any venue if you’re mixing live. If your venue or sound system has any slight boost at 80 Hz through 100 Hz or 200 Hz through 400 Hz, you might need a larger than expected cut in those frequencies in order to compensate for the a cappella performance and harmony.

Editing and cleaning

When tackling the editing phase of a cappella recording, I go for clarity.  I mostly remove all breaths from backing vocal tracks and bass tracks.  Breaths from the vocal percussion tracks are removed if I am going for more of a produced sound and not if I’m producing a natural product.

“You might think that people will notice the missing breaths. They don’t.”

You might think that people will notice the missing breaths. They don’t.  Just make sure and leave the lead vocal breaths in and no one will notice the others that are missing.  They will perceive the song as ultra clear instead of hearing 25 tracks of breathing.

Mixing it down

Here are a few of my basic rules and tips.  First, I mix from the bottom up.  I compress and EQ the kick and bass to work together.  Just like mixing instruments.

To thicken the bass, I pan one bass part left and insert a slap delay effect panned right the same amount.  I set the delay time to 15-20 milliseconds and adjust the volume until the bass is panned even across the mix.  Then I build in the rest of the percussion tracks, always making them sound as if they are instrumental.  Step out of the box a little to make it happen. Don’t worry how your EQ curve looks.  No one will ever see it when they listen to the CD in their car.  Make it sound good!

I work on fitting the background vocals into the mix with compression and the EQ tailored to each voice.  I will also use the slap delay thickening trick on background vocals to spread them in the mix, as well as sometimes double tracking them.  Play around and see how blended you can get the vocals with EQ.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “Those background vocals are too blended!”

Go for something different.  The human voice is amazing, make it sound that way.  Take your time.

Mixing Live:

The Take 6 Experience

We asked Tony Huerta to explain how he gets great sound in live recording.  Here’s what he told us.

First of all, the members of Take 6 are exceptional musicians, vocalists and performers.  Every note and part is critiqued and perfected.  But even with the best musicians in the world, there ‘s still room for a bad mix.  Remember what I said:  the sound engineer can ruin a great concert or enhance a great audience experience.  The engineer will stop being transparent if the concert sounds bad. Here are some of my ideas for success in mixing a cappella.

1. Listen to the room.

I start by listening to the room with a flat EQ and familiar songs that I have heard on multiple sound systems and stereos.  I listen for frequencies that stick out especially focusing on the low end and low mid-range between 50 Hz and 630 Hz.  I insert a 31 band stereo EQ on the main L+R send off the mixer including any center/side fills and remove any frequencies that make the room sound muddy.  I don’t ever use pink noise or software that adjusts the EQ to flatten the room characteristics.

“Don’t mistake your technical prowess as automatically pleasing the audience’s ears.”

Although the room is technically flat using that equipment, the human ear will always perceive the room as not pleasing, and you, the engineer, will have the audience perceive your mix as flat sounding.  Don’t mistake your technical prowess as automatically pleasing the audience’s ears.  Now that the room sounds good, let’s talk about specific mix ideas for a cappella sound.

2. Start with the drummer.

I start with the drummer and split his channel 3 ways using a Whirlwind three-way splitter or internal bussing on a digital mixer.  This opens up the opportunity to EQ and place effects on the upper drum parts without affecting the kick channel and vice versa.  The three channels are as follows: one being the kick, the second being the snare and over-head channel, and the third as a vocal channel in case they sing on the same microphone.  That gives you the ability to effect and EQ it differently than the beatbox channels for swift mid-song changes to all vocals.  Just mute and open the channels.   I also put the subwoofer send on an auxiliary out and route the kick channel to it.

For microphones, I prefer dynamic microphones that can handle high sound pressure levels (SPLs) I use the Shure Beta 58 on Joey Kibble from Take 6, since it can be wireless.  A small EQ difference can be heard by sending the signal through the airwaves so I prefer the wired models if I can get away with it.  Then I give the drummer a short break so I can dial in the bass and other vocalists.

3. Next the bass.

I ask the group to sing a vamp or section of a song that can be easily repeated.  I have the bass start off and start working the EQ.  I send their low end to the subwoofer auxiliary send and brighten the track as described in the recording section above.  The goal is to make the bass huge without being muddy at 100 Hz or 200 Hz through 400 Hz.  Never put a high pass filter on a vocal bass.  The human voice is so dynamic.  Even though most basses can’t sing notes down to 50 Hz, they have natural sub-harmonics that will sound and ring down there.  Let it thump and be sonically low.  I prefer vocal basses to use Shure’s Beta 58, KSM9 or similar competitive models.

4. Now the backing and lead vocals.

Next, I have vocalists sing the vamp with the bass, starting with the lowest part above the bass part, working my way to the top voices.  Each person has different characteristics and needs to be EQ’d to sound the best.

“Each person has different vocal characteristics and needs to be EQ’d to sound the best.”

Once I’ve worked through each part and have the whole group singing at once, I bring up all of the parts to hear them all together for the first time.  It will be apparent at that time if you need to remove some of the low-mid frequencies between 200 Hz and 400 Hz to clear up the mix.  Then add in the vocal percussion to fill out the mix.

5. Then, add the effects.

For a final touch, I add in the effects.  I usually have four effect units but two good reverbs will do.  I use a short, warm hall reverb set between 1.8 and 2.8 seconds decay, and a second bright hall reverb set between 4.0 and 5.0 seconds decay. I blend the two depending on the song.  I use one delay as a timed 3-bounce delay that goes with the tempo of the song, used only as a special effect on certain parts of songs.  The other delay is for the bass, a slap delay set at 15 milliseconds for thickening just like in the studio.  I pan the bass left and the delay return to the right, blending them until they are even in pan and thick.  I only use the bass thickening delay if the mains in the venue are closer together.

Finally, audience perception …

There is something about an a cappella performance that touches the soul of the audience.  Maybe it’s that the performers aren’t relying on instruments to interpret their musical and artistic talent to the audience.

What you hear from Take 6 a cappella is a direct path into their musical world as they feel it, totally human and raw in its form, directly from the heart.  The energy needed to perform as they do is nothing short of amazing.  They don’t have an instrumental section of the song to catch their breath, they are the instrumental section.

The key to success as live a cappella engineer is to remain invisible – and mix for clarity.  The keys to success in the studio lie in your ability to capture enough energy and translate it into a recording that’s as incredible as the live show.

GEAR CHECK

Here’s the Shure gear you’ll find in Tony’s locker:

Studio  

Microphones

KSM32
KSM44
KSM27
Beta57A®
Beta58A ®
SM57

Live

Wireless Microphones
UHF-R®
KSM9 (vocals),
Beta 58A (bass & beatbox) capsules
In-ear Personal Monitors
PSM®900

 

TONY HUERTA
Sonic Audio

Shure Notes thanks Tony for his invaluable assistance with this article.  Find out more about Tony and his projects at www.sonicaudiopro.com

Urban Method Me and You

Urban Method!

Such and Incredible group of Denver musicians.  Check out Sonic Audio’s own, Urban Method, finalists on NBC’s The Sing Off.  Find them on Facebook!

Here is their first original song, live at the Paramount Theater.  The audio was mixed by Tony Huerta of Sonic Audio!!

Or…  Buy the track!

Urban Method: Me & You

From The Heart

You know, I must speak from the heart for a moment and take the time to tell you what’s on my mind.  First of all forgive the spelling and grammar errors in the post, I’ll be writing exactly what flows from the heart.  I’m in my hotel room in LA after a long day of rehearsing with Urban Method and have to get some things off my chest…

I had 3 experiences lately that put my professional career and life of music into perspective.  First of all, a little history of some personal things I’ve been through…

6 years ago I got a divorce, I was unemployed, and barely making my child support payments.  That left me with not much to eat.  I supported myself by pushing hard to make my passion of a cappella music and studio recording make money.  It wasn’t much income and I continued to lose weight except that I got to eat bowls of soup at The Olive Garden where I was a part time server…  I was almost homeless but relied on music to pull me through by mixing the Groove Society project that came out in 2004.  I think they have no idea how grateful I was for being hired to do their CD!  2 years later, I met the woman of my dreams.  Not because she was the most beautiful person on the outside, although she’s pretty cute, but for who she is on the inside.  She had a way of bringing confidence and focus to my career.  No matter what, I knew that she loved me for who I was, and more importantly, for what I had a dream of becoming.

Experience #1

For those of you who don’t know, I mix Take 6, an a cappella, gospel, jazz group that I’ve been a fan of since 1989.  It’s been a blessing to work with such fine, strong, christian men for the last 5 years.  I found myself last month on a treadmill, running 3 miles, while looking out from the 33rd floor of a building in Shanghai China.  I thought to myself, “How did I get here”?

Experience #2

I put together this group called Urban Method to audition for the NBC Sing Off.  I have had a dream for about 3 years of putting some of the best talent in Colorado all in one group.  Finally, this was the time and opportunity to do it.  I put out a Facebook message to 7 of the best singers I knew.  But more importantly, some of the best personalities I knew.  We formed the group, I arranged a few songs, along with Richard, and we taped a video to send to Sony Pictures.  A week later we got the contract, and 3 weeks later, learned we were on the show.  Now we are in the top 4, have been taping episodes in LA for a total of 9 weeks, and have the chance to win it all.  We worked 7 days a week, 12-15 hours a day rehearsing, for 9 weeks with no days off.  And it was worth it!

Experience #3

I have been working with the choir teacher at Douglas HS (Randy Gifford) for about a year, helping him get good sound equipment for his students.  I drove up there soon after finishing the Sing Off episode 10 taping to talk to the kids and work on the sound system. We talked for a few hours about life, career, and music. After working all day with the kids, I had a nice long drive back to Denver, about 3.5 hours.  I had a lot of time to think….. and think….. and ponder those kids and their future.  I enjoyed seeing their faces light up with intrigue about music and what I had been part of.

What was I thinking after all that?

After looking in those kids eyes in Douglas, Wyoming, feeling the emotion of being in China, and the utter exhaustion of being on the Sing Off, this is what I think…

The moments in my life I realize had the most impact on my life and career are:

1.  The times when I looked up to someone older (more accomplished) than me and wanted to be in their shoes.  ie, Take 6, my brothers Juan and Marco, My High School choir teacher Mr. Roberts, and the 17th Avenue Allstars.

2.  The many hours of sitting in symphony rehearsals, piano lessons, choir rehearsals, and recitals with my Mom as she taught and played music.  I was bored out of my mind but realize now that the music and drive to achieve my dreams was planted in my soul then.

3.  When I heard for the first time from Claude McKnight and Mark Kibble about how they prepared for the opportunity of launching Take 6 and getting the record deal with Quincy Jones.  Then, knowing that if I want to make it in music, fully committing myself to my dreams and putting in the countless hours regardless of the outcome.

The Conclusion

Go, define what makes you tick.  Next, find what you really love to do!  Study those who you are inspired by and learn from them!  Chase your dreams tirelessly by putting in the thousand of hours to master the skills necessary to be successful!  When you find success, be the one who inspires those around you to make their dreams come true.  I will continue to drag my kids to rehearsals and countless concerts.  I will continue to talk and work with young musicians to inspire them to chase their dreams.  I will continue to work hard with Urban Method knowing that success is the direct result of hard work focused on a heart felt passion.  I’m not trying to brag about my success in my career.  I’m making sure people around me can see where I’ve been, how hard I’ve worked, and what I’ve become.  I want everyone to know that they can do it too.  If you focus on affecting the people around you, you will become successful and happy regardless of income and status.

Ahh, now I can sleep!  I have a long day of rehearsals tomorrow doing what I love.  Goodnight….

Tony

Vocal Percussion/Beatbox Sound Tips

Learn from Sonic U

Vocal Percussion (VP)/Beatbox Live Sound: By Tony Huerta

In mixing a cappella, there are several ideas and sound techniques that stray from what most engineers learn and practice in the industry.  I thought I’d start a blog that addresses these differences to help groups get a more full and clear sound.

First blog…  Lets start with the ever important and most widely misunderstood vocal percussionist (VP) or beatboxer.

I start by using a “Y” split cable to bring his/her channel into two channels on the mixer. You can also use Whirlwind three-way splitter or internal bussing on a digital mixer. This opens up the opportunity to EQ and place effects on the upper drum parts without affecting the kick channel and vice versa. The three channels are as follows: one being the kick, the second being the snare and over-head channel, and the third as a vocal channel in case they sing on the same microphone. That gives you the ability to effect and EQ each channel differently for swift mid-song changes to that vocalist by muting the vocal channel and opening up the Kick (KK) and Snare/Over-head (SNOH), of vise versa.  Just mute and open the channels as needed.  Never have all three open at once, that defeats the purpose.

Second, I EQ the KK channel to sound like a kick drum.  Have the artist do a kick sound and adjust only the KK channel to have a good amount of 60 Hz, almost no mids, and a peak at 5 KHz.  I also put the subwoofer send on an auxiliary out and route the kick channel to it.

Then mute the KK channel and open up the SNOH channel alone with the artist doing snare and hat sounds.  EQ it to handle all of the low-high mids  and highs.  I usually put a HP filter up to 150 Hz, bring up 250 Hz, put a peak at 3.0 KHz, and a shelf EQ at 11KHz and above.

Then bring the two channels together by bringing them both up.  Have the artist do their “full kit” and blend the two channels until it sounds good.  The best part is that you could put a little reverb only on the SNOH channel to give it some room.  During the show, the engineer can use either channel more or less to create atmosphere in the mix, ie. Dance tunes get more KK, slow songs, more SNOH.

For microphones, I prefer dynamic microphones that can handle high sound pressure levels (SPL’s) I use the Shure Beta 58 on on most beatbox, since it can be wireless. The Sennheiser EW100 with the 965 hypercardiod capsule is also a good choice. Small EQ differences can be heard by sending the signal through the airwaves so I prefer the wired models if I can get away with it.  Also, if you want a huge kick sound, use the Audix D6!!

Remember, you can always email your sound questions to tony@sonicaudiopro.com

Success In Sound as a Career

Audio Engineer: TONY HUERTA ON A SUCCESS IN LIVE SOUND

What the Engineer Can Do
Throughout my professional career, I’ve discovered many truths— no matter the venue, the artist or the acoustics – the sound engineer can either ruin a great concert or enhance a great audience experience.

I’ve left a lot of shows early after giving the engineer the kind of tilted head look you’d expect from a Jack Russell Terrier. Most people in the audience probably blamed the artist. But as a sound engineer, I believe that the sound crew must have the talent and ability to overcome acoustics, equipment and at times, even the artist to make the performance a positive experience for the audience. Here are things to focus on in order to be successful.

3 Keys to success

1. Remain Transparent to the audience
A good live engineer has to possess the ability to remain invisible to the audience. All the glory goes to the talented individuals on stage. No matter what you do, you must never take the focus off the artist and put it onto you. From your effects, EQ, mixing, and technical aspects, the audience perception should always be that the artist holds the key to the great sound.
• You must take care of the needs of the show during sound check in order from the basic and through the complex. First, tackle the room acoustics with EQ, speaker placement and cross over. Second, adjust and dial in the gain structure of your artists. Third, adjust the mix by volume and channel EQ. And last, add in effects for a more pleasing sound. Don’t move on in the sound check until you have addressed each issue in order. Skipping to channel EQ when your room hasn’t been treated is a recipe for a bad mix, or as I say, “you can’t shine a turd”.
• During the show, the needs of your mix change slightly. But, just like sound check, skipping steps will only create a bad mix. First, handle all feedback with EQ either on the channel with a parametric EQ or on the main graphic and/or parametric EQ. Second, ride your mix into balance by adjusting compression and fader level. Only then can you move to the third and most fun part, the effects and creative mixing ideas. Don’t Skip ahead! For instance, who cares if you put a very cool time delay on the lead vocal if the beatbox is killing your mix. Handle the basics and then the creative. If the mix is complex, you might never get to the creative side. The talent level of your artists will usually dictate how much time you have to be creative. In plain terms, if the artist stinks at blending their own mix with dynamic singing, you will have to do it for them with the faders!

2. Practice exceptional customer service
As a performer, there is nothing worse that showing up for a gig and having an engineer with a bad attitude and a closed mind. If the engineer is too bold, argumentative, or just has a bad mood, the artist will lose trust in their engineering abilities, taking focus and energy from the show. The artist should have nothing to worry about on stage except their own performance!
• It’s simple but essential. Greet the artist with a smile and respect. Handling an intense situation like a concert will only get worse if you show your emotions. Hide behind a smile and good attitude. The whole reason I got hired with Take 6 was because Mark Kibble liked my attitude while I was mixing on a small little sound system for a high school concert.
• Have a “what ever you want attitude”. They are the hired artist and they were hired for a reason. Not because their sound engineer is great, but because they generally know what they are doing in creating their own music. Listen to the artist and do what they say. Don’t argue. Just work with them and do what they want. Of course, if the artists are new to the business, they will most likely look up to you for suggestions. Even then, don’t step on their toes. Offer suggestions, not demands.
• Don’t be late, be early. Don’t smell bad, shower and chew gum. Keep your mouth closed more than open. Be efficient and yet courteous under stress. And most important, be patient. Your not running the show, you are just in charge of being invisible once the show starts.

3. The gear is not the most important aspect of your job
Believe it or not, the settings, the numbers, the knobs, and the equipment, are not the most important part of your job. Your job is to create a mix and an experience that 99% of the audience will perceive as good, thus, remaining transparent. Since you are mixing for humans, and since humans are all different and unique, each person will perceive your mix in a unique way. Great engineers never please everyone, they just please more people in the audience than a bad engineer. Focus on what sounds good no matter what the setting. The audience will never see your settings.
• No matter what you’ve read, let go of the technical side. It’s hard when just starting out, but you have to be comfortable in your abilities to control the gear without it controlling you. To some degree, we all got into sound because we are attracted to the detailed and complex technical side of the job, right? We like to twist knobs, look at numbers, and see what a different setting do to a sound. Now, THROW ALL THAT OUT THE WINDOW! For the sound check and show, focus on what you hear, not the numbers or settings. Only do it if it sounds good!
• Practice closing your eyes and dialing in the mix. Then when you have it sounding right, don’t look at the numbers or dials. They don’t matter.


Tony Huerta
tony@take6.com or tony@sonicaudiopro.com

Tony Huerta on the Starting a Group!

You know, in my experience as a performer, then studio engineer, then live sound engineer, I’ve been around music my whole life.  I have some thoughts on what makes a band or a cappella group good, great , and excellent.  Now this is just my opinion.  You may disagree, you may think I’m right.  But either way, maybe you will take away one thought or idea that makes your musical career or hobby just a little better.

First, let’s be honest.  If you could assemble the most talented singers or players into one band, would they all have the same goal in music?  Would they be at different stages in adult life and not be able to take the chances needed for success?  Do they have a family and can’t go on the road touring?  Are they too young and not mature enough to handle the life or music of what you are trying to accomplish?  We all want to perform and make music with the best in the business, but usually it’s the life issues that prevent that, right?  Some groups seek out less accomplished musicians just so they can get dedicated members.  That works!  But then it takes a lot more determination and work to overcome the musical shortcomings of the less musical members.  Unfortunately, I’m pointing out the truth of almost every band out there.

I’ve come up with an idea that possibly fixes most of these issues.  I own Sonic Audio.  It’s a small recording studio with a small, but dedicated list of clients.  We work hard and make sure to personally connect with every client.  My Facebook friends list is huge all because I have thousands of friends, true friends, through running my business this way.  I like it that way!  What I noticed is that individuals would come through the studio recording with their bands of groups and would have a few really talented people in each group.  None of which sang together, and some that didn’t even know each other.  I had the idea to ask each one if they were interested in doing another musical group if I put one together.  Every one of them said yes!  So I planned a meeting and we talked about the possibilities.  I was the only one who knew the talent of each new member.  They were amazed when we started to learn music how amazing everyone was.  The eyes were wide with amazement when each voice was perfectly in tune and in time the first run of a song.  Wow!  Plus each person came knowing their music.  I made sure that I chose the most talented people, but also the singers with the best work ethic.  How did I know?  Because they were the only musicians that came into the studio sessions knowing their music down cold.

Now, here we are!  The group is called Urban Method http://urbanmethod.us.  We learn music quickly and sing it correctly after one or two tries.  We focus on the style of what we are doing and how our creativity will reach the audience.  It is truly the most enjoyable musical experience of my life!

So, how does that translate to you?  I urge you to contact a recording studio engineer in your area, preferably someone you know.  Contact a sound company that mixes a lot of bands that play the music you like.  If you don’t know someone, then book some studio time with someone you respect.  Urge them to help you find other band mates in your area that fit into your level of musicianship.  I know they will love to help because they will enjoy putting together a kick butt group of musicians that can really play.  The studio guy or sound equipment owner are in the business because they most likely love music.  Tap into that and exploit that for your benefit and theirs and start a new successful band.

Or, call me.  I know people that might work well with you!

Tony

Clinics

Sonic Audio provides clinics for the following areas from beginner to expert:

Live Sound 101

Room Acoustics

Good Equipment/Bad Equipment

CD Production

These Topics Regarding A Cappella Music

Group Dynamics

Beatbox Live Sound

Bass live Sound

A Cappella CD Production

A Cappella Engineering for Live Performance

Tony will teach you how to make your a cappella concert sound the best.  There is nothing worse than hearing your favorite group sing live and have it ruined by a bad mix.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Tony will give you simple and effective solutions to great sound.  Topics covered will be: room acoustics, microphone selection, general and specific EQ, the use of Sub woofers, and how to build a great mix.

A Cappella Engineering for CD Production

No matter how tight, how in tune, or how exciting your group, there is always the possibility your performance will be ruined by a bad sound mix.  Sonic Audio walks you through the ins and outs of modern a cppella recording.  We can teach you some of the tips and tricks the pros use in making a cappella sound the best.  There is nothing worse than hearing a group live, buying their CD, and then being totally dissappointed because of bad production.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  A Cappella is the most difficult form of music to record.  We will give you the knowledge to make your recordings accurately define the power and blend of your group.

 

A Cappella Engineering for Live Performance

Throughout the Vocal Jam, Tony will be working one on one with each group on a professional sound system.  Sonic Audio has 15 years of professional a cappella performance coupled with his knowledge of technical sound reproduction.  They can teach microphone technique to enhance the voice right at the source, stage performance while utilizing the tools of sound and sub-woofers, bass reproduction and vocal percussion techniques, and group dynamics and blend through sound.

 

For more topics and articles on sound and recording, go to:

Learn from Sonic U

Learn from Sonic