In 2000 I had a major bike smash and was made redundant (no connection). It was, you might think, a terrible year - but no. It took me a month or two to recover from the crash enough to be able to get back on a bike, and work, having closed the whole plant, realised they had contravened various employment laws and decided to be safe - in short they offered us all a very nice sum in return for a signature on a 'we will not sue you' disclaimer. I was able to buy some nice kit for a home studio,and take a couple of years out to pursue that as a hobby.
I quickly realised that I needed some expert help if I was to learn properly, so I went to London and, through my mate Jez, got in touch with a legendary engineer called Gwyn Matthias. I offered to sleep in the studio and work for nothing in return for the odd bit of one to one tuition on the desks and other secrets of the studio.
During the several months I was there, I worked professionally on a couple of albums - one as assistant engineer and the other as mixing engineer. Gywn turned out to be the busiest most over-committed person I think I have ever met. His free time was about as plentiful as rocking-horse poo. He also turned out to be a truly wonderful bloke who I am proud to call a friend, despite him being a Taff
Below are 2 tracks, one from each of the albums. Totally different styles and genres of music. The first was an American married couple - Cicero Buck - very much in the soft-rock/Carpenters style - him bass player and 'yes darling' - her vocals and trousers. She has a great voice but was unwilling to take our advice on important matters - which was silly methinks. The second track is by a reggae/soca pairing of Jamaicans Ray Carless (sax) and Anthony Jones (drums, producer). This was a pleasure to do and I think Ray is the best sax player I have seen (and I've seen a few) and another lovely bloke.
Interesting story, sounds like a pretty cool experience.
Already Googled Gwyn, he's done a fair bit hasn't he, really nice you stayed friends. I will have a listen to those links later, nice one, I am always interested in new music, especially when it comes to me with a background story.
despite him being a Taff
Haha! I get enough of the Welsh wanker banter at work daily, and that's a tame expression! I respond with my suspicion that the reason is probably a latent envy of the obvious superior genetics, and because I am of course here to successfully steal English work and women.
She was a stubborn as a mule. She wanted 2 violins on one of the tracks. The performance room at the studio was made for that sort of thing - acoustic oak-panelled walls, lovely, BUT a couple of violins on a pop track is nearly always a terrible idea - especially when the players are hired in dot-readers rather than band.
Tell you what - you know what's what, so here's the track...see what you make of it
(This is the title-track of the album, mind, not a track 13 filler....)
Once she overruled us on this I just knew it was going to be hard word and wouldn't result in something I could be happy with - I was right. That last track actually makes me slightly nauseous - I have 'perfect pitch', which sounds like a blessing but, believe me, it isn't.
Yep you got it Dean - it sounds badly out of tune as soon as the strings come in. In reality the tuning is pretty good - my ears tell me it is about 2 cents low but my kit tells me the violins are less than half that amount flat. The problem is that they sound much more out and this is ALWAYS the case with this sort of mix.
The psycho-acoustic and physical effects causing this emphasis of tuning difference are complicated and I don't fully understand them. Certainly a part is the waveforms - particularly the over and under tone harmonics of the instrument. For some reason voice, violin and guitar interfere with each other disastrously producing a combined effect (a Fourier product) that sounds much more out of tune that it really was. We often don't realise how much of what we hear (and see) is constructed by our perception systems and is not, in any objective sense, the actual waves our ears receive. The same is true for vision. A startling demonstration shows us just how important this is :
This first demonstration is purely audio and will probably blow your mind slightly and make you think there is some trick - there isn't - the effect is called the 'Shepherd Tone'. There are a series of tones playing together and rising in pitch. Intermittently each single tone drops an octave, until they all have done so - at which point it simply loops. Thing is, your brain goes with the majority and you hear it rising and rising and rising.....forever.....
This second shows something called the McGuirk effect - a confusion between sight and sound caused by the vision centres over-ruling the audio centres and changing the audio perception to suit the visuals...
Now, I could have tried to explain all this to her, but it would have made a whooshing sound as it flew over her head. Worse, it would have made her doubt her own intonation (you never tell a vocalist they are our of tune. If you have to raise it, you talk gently about subtle intonation variation, no doubt caused by the microphone, and would she be a complete star and pitch down slightly to make up for our crappy kit. Tell a singer she/he is out of tune and you can kiss the day goodbye - nothing worth recording will happen for the duration. Been there and hot several very painful and expensive scars. The only mistake close to as bad is telling a lead guitarist his sound is wrong, or his riffs are not right....they often look at you as if you are the most tasteless and ignorant person in the world...
In both cases it is easy to understand why - both need HUGE ego. Getting on stage with a few hundred people can be scary. Being in front of huge crowds and being the focal point, rather than being able to hide like the drummer and bassist can, needs a lot of self-belief. Shatter that at your peril.
Normally we wouldn't even mention it - stick the incoming signal through Auto tune, rough-tune it and stick that into the input chain. Feed unprocessed (dry) signal back to the singer's headphones and there you go. The rough mix then sounds OK when they come in for a quick listen, and vox-confidence is maintained. You can tweak the tuning more in the proper mix later if needed - though it usually isn't.
Here is one last audio trick - this only works well if you have GOOD QUALITY headphones and you MUST close your eyes as it plays. If you do then you are in for a shock as your ears reverse the trick and overrule other senses like touch.
Click HERE to launch the sound.