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ASK the Doctor

This is where you can ask for help with your audio, MIDI and recording problems. I'll be organizing the questions and answers as they accumulate. Hopefully this can become a useful resource for all of us. For now, e-mail me and I will post as we go!

1. Epic: rappin' in Detroit 6/24/96 
2. Sarina: plug-tunin' in PA. 6/26/96 
3. Brian: Fatter guitar sounds 10/17/96 
4. Jason: Mini-disc recordings? 12/6/96 
5. Mike: 18-bit?24-bit?Vocals? 1/7/97 
6. MHart: digital warmth? 1/27/97 
7. Todd: MIDI/drum triggers and live overheads! 1/28/97 
8. Mark: band in a box ideas? 2/1/97 
9. Dave: How do I make a cd-R? 4/13/97 
10.EZ: What's the secret of rap bass? 5/21/97


1. Epic, rappin' in Detroit:

I'm a perspective mc whose tryin to get into the industry. It's not that i want to make money from it but i want to do it inexpensively and still be known. I love rockin a crowd and do it for the love. If i became known i could pereform for larger sets and thats what i want. The hip hop arena in Detroit is dying. What advice could you give me to expand and reach the top. I've been rhymin for a while and sound like no one in particular. I've got much to learn so any advice would be absorbed and utilized. email me at i'm not to familiar with this email jazz. Epic the punetical

the doctor's Rx:

Epic, you're on the right track because you realize you need help and you're looking. There has never been a better time to D.I.Y. (do it yourself) in the music business. The equipment you'll need is relatively inexpensive and the RECORDING HANDBOOK online here will get you started. Go to the handbook page and on the AOL browser, click on the print icon, upper right on the options bar, and print it out.

To get 'known', you'll need to perform, produce a recording of your music to sell and assemble a press kit. Two great resources online for the independent musician are P.A.N. and I.M.I.. Check out my 'Cool Links' page for them and other good places to continue your search.  

2. Sarina, plug-tunin' in PA:

Peace to you and your whole record company! Let me introduce myself as Sarina a.k.a 2-TAME (Like tha rapper)! I came across your hompage on the internet and thought it was kinda butta! For tha simple fact that you have worked with De La Soul, and a Tribe Called Quest, those to names caught my attention immediatley. I have been a TRU Native Fan for ever since Tha Plug Tunin' days and Promo days of tha JB's. I admire and respect the people who you've worked with and I also find it interesting how you juggle production and and artist work toghter.

Right now I am about to transfer to Temple University in tha fall of this year to be a Bussiness major with a minor in Video Production (my concentration in Video Production specifically would be in editing only). I am of course very interested in the business of music and have been doing some self-studying of my own about the music business as a whole, but I would like to know more information about the Executive side and the business side that will benefit for those who want to go that route and not the route of the artist. I am very concerned about the future of hip hop and the direction that it is going. hopefully in tha future I would be able to change some of the negative vibes that go on on this game of Hip Hop and make it more pleasant for those to enter at their risk!

Well, I guess thats all I have to give right now. Can you at all write me back and and maybe we can vibe together and hopefully help me out on ssome information about how to get to where I want to go! I would greatly appreciate it.

the doctor's Rx:

Sarina, thanks for the compliments. There's an old saying that your real education begins when you get out of school and I can tell you it's true, especially in the business of music. Having said that, take advantage of this opportunity and do your book learning.

When you graduate, if you still want to work in the music business, find a job with a label or a publisher. That may mean moving to New York or Los Angeles, but you have to go where the jobs are. If you can get a summer internship while in school, that might help also. Most labels promote from within, so starting at the bottom and rising through the ranks is how many get their shot. This is a people business and who you meet and keep in touch with along the way could likely benefit you later.  

3. Brian, Fatter guitar sounds:

Hi there, Question: I have always had trouble getting guitar tracks to sound thick on my recordings. In addition to using Gibsons which have a thicker sound or humbucking pickcup guitars, is there any mic technicque, mic or ourboard I should know about to get better guitar sounds? Also, If I use Tele's or Rickenbackers, how can I fatten or clarify the sound? I like a lot of stuff from the 60s and 70s. We haven't started yet, but the tape machine is a 2" 16-track Studer, and board is a Neotek and they've got plenty of vintage mics. I guess mic placement and amp is important as well. Guitar players whose sound I like:
David Gilmore, Johnny Marr, Robyn Hitchcock, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Neil Young are just a few that come to mind. Thanks, Brian K.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Brian,

Terms like 'thick' and 'fatten' are pretty subjective. I would say, in general, Gibson electrics with humbucking pickups are 'fatter' sounding than Fender electrics. It sounds like all your favorite guitar players are simple, straight ahead types. Gilmore, a strat through a HiWatt amp with lots of compression. George Harrison and Tom Petty, Telecasters and Rickenbackers through Vox 30 amps or TwinReverbs, with the occasional Gretsch hollowbody. None of your favorites are big on overdubbing stacks of guitars, which is that heavy-metal-huge-guitar wall of sound approach.

'I guess mic placement and amp is important as well' is an understatement! A 2" 16-track is a great analog machine for rock and roll and vintage mikes and mike-pre's are also good. Mike placement can be very creative; several different mikes on the same rig, closein front and back and room mikes, or as simple as putting a 57 in front of the speaker and going for it. Knowing what you're after helps alot, i.e. don't waste too much time trying to make your Ibanez Strat and Fender Princeton sound like a Marshall stack. In the end, none of these can save lousy playing and shitty tone. So, put on new strings, put a couple of mikes in front of the cabinet or cabinets and listen. If the room has a sound that works, mike that and blend it in as you like. Start with a good tone you like and you'll be way ahead. Don't rely on fixing it in the mix if you can get it right going to tape! Don't be afraid to experiment and Good Luck. 

4. Jason, Mini-disc recordings?:

What can you tell me about the new Mini-disc recorders coming out like the Sony MDM-X4? Tascam also is making one, what are your feeling on these machines? One more question, I just got a new mackie 14 channel mixer, i spent $450 on it. So would you still suggest a mini-disc or what else I am looking to spend no more that $1200. I would like to be able to make excellent demos, and possibly a CD, or is CD out of the question for that price?? Thanks for your time.thanks, Jason S.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Jason,

The new minidisc machines look really great as far as I can tell. I mean 4-track cassette machines were never meant to make records on either, but it can definitely be done and the MD units have many features that would come in handy. Primarily, they are a powerful writing and demo tool but they are not cheap.

The MD units I've seen seem to be in the $1,200 range currently, but like everything else the prices will be going down. In your case, you've already got a seperate mixer, so for another $1200, I'd look for a used 8-track 1/2" machine or a used ADAT and have twice as many tracks to play with. Depending on how complex your music is and if you have the synths, microphones, etc. whatever to perform the stuff, you could definitely make a cd and slamming demos. Do read my handbook. 

5. Mike, 18-bit?24-bit?Vocals?:

Your info is great----- however I have a problem --- I want to create the singing vocals of Tracy Chapman ,the recording was done excellent. What mic should I use to get that clear sound, what pre amp if any,(or condenser mic) and what amp. I own a Alesis ADAT XT and Roland VS 880, I want to record at 24 bits but the analog=digital converters are at 18 bits and the internal processor is at 24 bits. Is there a way to bring in sounds at 24bit and have the recording made from this point. I know the CD can only record at 16 bit but wouldn't the clarity of sounds be clearer and sharper. If you can answer these questions you must be a genius. Thanks Mike,

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Mike,

Good vocals mainly require a good vocalist! 24 bits, 18 bits... It isn't going to make any difference if the singer sucks! As to your question, '...wouldn't the clarity of sounds be clearer and sharper?' My answer is no, not necessarily. You could record 24-bit, but it would certainly take a lot more time and money and very likely not even be noticeable in the final product! With the equipment you already have, you should be able to make an excellent vocal recording.

I read that Tracy Chapman's latest LP was cut on an old Neve console. Don Gehman was the producer and there's an interview in the Jan.97 issue of EQ Magazine in which he discusses some of his tricks. I'm not sure what mike was used on her record. A decent condenser mike like an AKG 414, or Neumann TLM 193 through a Neve preamp is a good combination that won't require the refinancing of your house. There are also lot's of new, inexpensive tube mike-pre's out now. He's probably using an old C-12 or U-47 (if you can find one, $6-8,000.00). You can spend less, you can spend a lot more. My advice is to work on the performance, make sure the signal path is as clean and distortion free as you can get it, and go for it. A great song, good ideas and performance will win everytime over a technically superior recording.  

6. MHart, digital warmth?
I'm a recording artist in Vancouver - 3 releases - last one done to 2" studer analog. For the next record I'm looking at going with the Radar 24 track digital or hooking the Tascam digital to 24. Any comments for warmth - apogee filters, that sort of thing. Thanks, MHart.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear MHart,

You say tomato and I say tomato... warmth is one of those words that'll send the analog-digital warriors to their respective camps! I don't know what kind of music you're doing, but there are good reasons to work on both types of machines. Apogee AD-DA converters are great and can really help. I like to use one on the DAT machine in the mix, which brings it very close to the sound of a 1/2" 2-track at 30 ips. If the budget is tight, you do what you got to do.

The Radar sounds like an amazing machine. It's the question of backup which concerns me with hard disc recording. The Tascam digital 8-tracks sound great as well and all of these formats can be bounced over to the trusty Studer 2" for the mixes. And speaking of the mixes and 'warmth', I can only say one word... NEVE. If not a Neve board, then lots of outboard Neve EQ's and tube EQ's, please. BACK TO INDEX

7. Todd, MIDI drum triggers and live overheads!

Greetings! I have grown weary of the "groove limitations" of drum machines in recording music in my project studio. In response to this weariness, I am developing a hybrid system of drum triggers on real drums and a pair of cymbal microphones. Thus, the triggers record MIDI events into a sequencer, while the cymbals (and drum bleed-through) record onto tape. Thusfar this system gives me huge sound, lets me change drum sounds at the final mix, use real drummers, sounds realistic with all the acoustic sounds and uses only two precious tracks of analog tape. My question for all studio gear-heads is: What mics should I consider for my cymbal overheads? Here are my candidates:
Shure SM-81
AT 4041
Crown CM-700
AT Pro37R

I am considering the Crowns, because of major bang for the buck. The problem is, its hard to find ways to evaluate studio equipment without using it in your crib. Any Feedback? -Todd Jones, Huge Sound Generation & Capture Facility

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Todd,

Congratulations on a very creative approach to getting drum sounds and giving yourself some real flexability in the mix if you need it. For overheads I've used a pair of AKG 414's alot, but I actually prefer a couple of small diaphram condensers, like the ones you're considering, in an x-pattern over the drummer's head. Another brand to look at with maximium bang for the buck would be the Oktava microphones from Russia, which have only been widely available in the last year or so.  

8. Mark, band in a box ideas?

I am an arm chair guitar player. I don't have a great deal of interest in getting a band together, but I would like to develope a back up system for acompanying me. I've seen guy's that play one-man-band kind of things with drum machines, base and keyboard, I guess somehow sequenced together. What do I need in the way of equipment to set up this kind of system? I like to do vocals & lead work and maybe put this all thru some kind of small PA. What are the basics I would need?

Thanks, Mark in Lenexa KS

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Mark,

Sequencing is exactly how this is done. It's up to you whether you want all the sounds coming out of one box or seperate drum machine, synth modules, sequencer, etc. For simplicity, the 'all in one box' approach does mean less to carry and setup! Always a consideration of mine from my self-roadie days, many moons ago... There are a lot of all in one type units out there now, from the early pioneering Korg M-1(I've seen alot of used ones on the market now in the $800 range) to spiffy newer units from Yamaha, Roland, Peavey, etc. which can go for anywhere from $1200 to $3000.

As far as equipment goes, a small mixer will handle your drums and synth inputs and your guitar input if you use an amp simulator (like a Sansamp, for instance). If you go with the all in one concept, get a unit with extra outputs so you can assign bass to it's own output, drums to their own mono or stereo pair and the rest of the music to it's own mono or stereo pair. When you plug these into their own inputs into the mixer, you'll be able to tweak levels right from the mixer instead of having to deal with all those menus and pages that invariably torment the 'all in one box' user.

In a nutshell, that's the major drawback to these units. They are not user-friendly and if you are not a gearhead, the learning curve may seem frustrating in the beginning. It's hard to design a box that does as much as these do without it getting so complicated to operate. Most of them have buttons that do 6 different things depending on what mode you're in. But, it is worth the trial and tribulation eventually. Don't buy one without auditioning the sounds and operating set-ups.

For P.A. my suggestion is two small self-powered monitors. I like this approach over one amp because if one quits, you still have one to work with. You could have a seperate guitar amp or go with a RockMan or Zoom type unit into the mixer. And of course a microphone into the mixer for vocals and perhaps a multi-fx unit for some reverb and that should do it. Your budget and wheels or lack thereof will be major determining factors in how much and how big a system you put together. Good Luck. BACK TO INDEX

9. Dave, How do I make a cd-R?

How do you use a CD Recorder to Record a CD Master? I have Emagic Logic Audio for MAC. I am using the Mac AV (2 analog INS/OUTS) but plan to get a PCI card soon to handle more tracks. I would like to record high quality demos, but I am sick of using cassettes. I want to buy a CD recorder but would like to avoid buying an DAT.

I envision that I can record all the tracks (soon with a 8 IN/8 OUT analog PCI card). Then send out the 8 tracks (just like an ADAT) to my external mixing console, adding effects and EQ, and then send them back into the computer. This saves them as a SDII file or AIFF file, which can then be burnt onto the CD using mastering software.

I think I'm on the right track, but can't seem to get an answer in any of my magazines that is specific enough. Electronic Musician had an article called "Burn Baby Burn" that was helpful, but I'm still not there.

Also, what will I use the digital I/O on the PCI card for? It would be nice if I could keep everything digital. For now, I need to go analog to add effects, EQ. In the future, I may be able to avoid this with Effects plug ins.

Your comments are appreciated! Dave King

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Dave,

Let's tackle all these issues one at a time! I agree with you on cassettes but you should have a DAT machine. For starters, it's re-recordable and a cd-r is not. It's also the digital path back into your computer's digital i/o. Having a DAT will also mean you won't have to tie up the computer everytime you want to make cassette dubs. Even with their limitations, you'll still need them occasionally.

If you're intent on keeping everything digital, then you'll mainly need more money. It's definitely cheaper and, in my opinion, somewhat simpler and more flexible to retain the analog mixer and effects you're using now. Use the computer for it's strengths, i.e. fast random access and moving sounds around. Use the analog mixer and effects for their strengths, i.e. knobs, buttons and faders you can get a hand on and tweak quickly.

This approach also reflects my own bias (naturally!) against the 'all in one box' mentality. When the 'one box' breaks, you can't work. I'm into duplication of hardware and software. I like having an ADAT, an analog multi-track, a DAT machine, one computer with sequencing software and another running digital recording software. Things always go wrong and this approach allows me to keep working, no matter what happens.

For burning your cd's, you'll need a cd-r unit properly configured and installed in your computer and the cd-r software. The cheaper software often comes bundled with the units (I've used incat easy-cd) and will burn audio cd's. They will give you individual track id's on the cd as long as you keep each piece of music as an individual audio file, .wav file in PC land and .aiff in Mac land. If you want to make a cd out of one long piece of music and place the id's where you want, you'll need more expensive software like Red Roaster. Sound Forge has just come out with an update that will do it too, and others will be coming to market soon. The features will expand and the prices will go down, we like that.

In any event, I recommend you get a DAT machine. In combination with the computer you already have, that'll give you two digital recording devices capable of analog and digital i/o. Add an ADAT to that with a lightpipe interface to the computer and you've got a very powerful modular recording system with built-in backup. Good Luck

10. What's the secret of rap bass?

ey yo your track record is impressive, and I respect that. I need to know what most people use to create strong acoustic bass type sounds that you hear on almost all rap albums. I think some may use tb-303s but I don't know. I want to get samples from what ever machine producers use to make those sounds.


the doctor's Rx:

Dear ez,

For starters, there is no 'what most people use'. And even when two people use the same samples, the final sound you get to hear on cd, vinyl or cassette is often radically different. There are usually at least three stages of EQ and processing that take place. First, when the sound is initially recorded on the multi-track tape, second when the tracks are all mixed together and third when the final mixes are mastered. Each of these steps can drastically change the sound, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

As far as acoustic bass sounds on rap albums go, usually they are manipulated samples. On Digable Planets, "Cool Like DAT", the bass sample was a piece of a very fast solo run sampled into an Akai s-950 and slowed down to make the signature 1 bar loop which starts off the song. The horn riff was also sampled and slowed down to be in time and then harmonized through a Yamaha spx-90 to be in tune with the bass. When I mixed, I also ran the bass loop through a tube EQ to fatten it up some more. We actually brought in a human with an upright bass to play that part, sampled it and locked it side by side with the sample, but the group decided to go with the original sample in the end.

As far as what 'producers use to make those sounds', a lot of NY guys are using similar machines. For drums, the SP1200 is the correct tool. The samples are coming off of breakbeat records and out of each guy's record crate! For other bits of dust, it's usually the akai s950, s1000 or an emax or kurzweil k2000.

In the world of rap more than any other type of music, the multi-track often bears little resemblence to the final mix. There are two primary reasons for this. One is because most rap records loop individual sounds down the entire song and define sections by muting in the mix. The other is because the sound of rap is so dependent on the level and EQ balances between individual tracks. One track might have all the lowend EQ'd out and be soft in the mix while another will have all the highend EQ'd out and be pumped up to feature the bass. Without the proper level and EQ applied, you'd never realize it could all work together
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