The Mosfilm professional team held a series of authorial seminars on sound engineering in the first half of 2019.
Lyubov Stalnova, Director of Marketing and Sales of Oktava PJSC discussed some secrets of working with professional equipment, features of microphones choice
for recording instruments and vocals with Anatoly Ryasov, the sound engineer of Mosfilm film music studios, the author of the seminar “A Music Group Recording.”
Anatoly, you are one of the founders of the project Music-Recording.ru. Workshops of the project are held in real studio work based on the largest recording center in Russia. Tell us why these seminars are held?
The traditional difficulty in sound engineering education is the distinction between theory and practice. I wanted to organize events where these things would be as close to each other as possible. Our classes are not an alternative to a long-term education offered by universities, but they can help within a specific topic and provide an opportunity to discuss current issues of recording in real studio work with professional performers.
Each of the seminars has a clear goal: recording of an orchestra, recording of a drum kit, working with studio acoustics, etc. Any participant may ask questions to the speaker during the recording process (however, not only recording but also meetings dedicated to orchestration, mixing, and mastering are planned).
There is one more moment. Unfortunately, Russia still does not have a solid platform for dialogue between anyone interested in sound recording. We do not claim to declare our seminars as such a platform, but we would like to take another step towards an effective sharing of experience. Unlike many creative professions, sound engineering exists in a technological environment.
Equipment is not just our tool but the space and condition for the existence of sound recording. From the outside, the person sitting at the console looks like a loner, but he/she exists in an environment of constant study of processes in the field of new technologies. In addition, the most important task for any sound engineer is to go beyond his or her own developments and to be constantly ready to change technological solutions. According to practice, such events were interesting not only for novice musicians and sound engineers, among the participants were many specialists with long-term experience in the field of sound recording, acoustics, and audio hardware production.
Does training always take place with the help of well-known teams?
So far, we have invited professional musicians only because it is much easier to reveal the stated topics in conditions when performers do not spend time on extra takes. However, if the task turns out to be related to the recording of a beginner group, then we will, of course, find a suitable team.
My seminar was devoted to a one-time recording of a musical ensemble. We recorded only wind instruments, percussion, and vocals with the help of overdub but just to pay more attention to solo instruments.
For this activity to be successful, of course, we needed musicians who were used to playing together. I have been collaborating with Pyotr Nalich for more than 10 years, so I was sure that his band would be suitable for solving these problems. Therefore, we were able to consider in detail all the nuances related to the selection and placement of microphones, the choice of preamplifiers, individual monitoring, as well as, most importantly, the issues of studio time planning.
The sound had special attention in the seminar program. Drums, bass guitar, piano, percussion, and vocals require different recording conditions. Moreover, its quality often depends on the suitable microphone. Tell us how the microphones for work were chosen?
We worked with a large lineup, we had to answer all the questions, but we had to record two songs in time. In addition, I wanted to demonstrate the differences between recording on analog tape and in Pro Tools because I prefer to combine these technologies in my work.
Certainly, most of the microphone setup was made up of models that I often use in my work; these is an equipment from leading global and domestic manufacturers. However, at the same time, I try to experiment with sound when I have such an opportunity. This is an almost endless process, because each record, even if the musicians cast is not different, can make you abandon the usual steps. It is wonderful that at this seminar, I had the opportunity to use almost the entire line of domestic microphones by Oktava – I remember perfectly well how I stopped near the company's stands at Musikmesse long before I met its representatives.
Which microphones did you use?
Oktava, being well aware of studio work specifics, prepared the entire range of microphone equipment for recording vocals and instruments for seminars. This is a new broadcast microphone MK-115; instrumental MK-012 with three interchangeable capsules; new vocal microphone MK-117, tube microphone MKL-5000, and ribbon microphone ML-52-02.
Why did you use Oktava ribbon microphones to record guitar instead of traditional instrumental ones?
I like ribbon microphones and use them for a variety of tasks, but for an electric guitar, I actually use them on almost every recording. The fact is that, perhaps, the most important element of the sound for me is the timbre. Curiously, there are many sound engineering publications and videos dedicated to equalization – working with different frequencies but almost no one talks about timbre, although we all work with timbres as much as with frequencies.
Moreover, I think that sound recording is, first, working with timbres. But the problem is that the timbre meter does not exist, and therefore the timbral changes will not be demonstrated on the screen effectively. Therefore, a ribbon microphone is the perfect way to add a new color to your timbral palette.
When I record an electric guitar, in addition to the dynamic and condenser microphone, I install a ribbon microphone at a short distance from the combo, and thus simultaneously get a new plan and an additional timbre. I like it when it's possible to select one of the microphones or balance all three on the mix, often I pan the ribbon one in the opposite direction from the others and use a separate reverbatron for it (for example, sheet EMT), thus achieving a more surround sound. This scheme works perfectly for overdubs of the same part – when listening; it often seems that more than two guitars are recorded. In addition, here I may say with confidence that Oktava ML-52-02 microphone is perfect for these tasks.
The most difficult part of a band recording is drums recording. Do you agree with this statement? Please tell us more about the microphones placement scheme.
Drum kit recording is at least the most technologically expensive part of the recording, at least in terms of the number of affected equipment. And if the performer is good, then part of the compliments will go to the sound engineer as well. But, of course, the drum kit is the foundation of the sound and requires special attention during recording.
Different approaches may be used here. I see the drum kit not as a set of cymbals or toms – parts, each of which must be singled out and sounded in a special way, but, first, as a single instrument. Therefore, “close” microphones (maybe with the exception of the base drum) often have an auxiliary function for me, and the most important ones are overheads. And here the task of the microphone is to provide a balanced sound of the drum kit as a whole. If we talk about choosing a microphone for overheads recording, it is usually a stereo pair of tube microphones. In the future, I would be interested to listen to MKL-5000 on drums because we used this model for recording of vocals at the seminar.
I also like to use two or three additional plans – a couple standing behind the performer, and, certainly, microphones that record the acoustics of the room. These very plans make it possible to turn a drum set into a small “orchestra.” For the same reason, I like to record drums on an analog tape recorder – in addition to light compression and timbral color, the tape mostly provides not detail, but a solid sound of the drum kit as a single instrument. Therefore, if it is necessary to focus on the details, I would prefer recording in Pro Tools.
What are the difficulties of choosing a microphone when recording vocals?
Many difficulties! The trick is that the vocal is an instrument that is not separated from the body; here any nuances of mood affect the performance much more. Certainly, there are some points of reference, but in reality, the vocalist even on the next day of recording sometimes sings quite differently from the previous day. Because of this, I used to pay too much attention to choosing a microphone for a vocalist, but now I often choose tube microphones. And Oktava tube microphones, for example, MKL-5000 or MKL-111 sound very decent. When choosing a suitable preamplifier, they allow you to hear all the nuances of the soloist's performance and this is the point where maximum specification is required.
Why do you consider it important to cooperate with music equipment manufacturers?
Mosfilm has long established good relations with leading western and Russian manufacturers of musical equipment. However, even in Moscow, a full-fledged dialogue between manufacturers and users has not yet been established. In other words, of course, there are formats for exhibitions, forums, and the like, but not workshops where one may listen to and compare different models in the studio conditions. This communication is no less important for improving technologies than other components of production.
But there is another bigger problem. The fact is that the sound engineering community cannot exist properly in the conditions of endless complaints that not everything in Russia is good with sound recording. Somebody may often hear that this is the fault of musicians, producers, fellow sound engineers, in general, anyone but the specialist himself, complaining about a heavy fate.
I want to contrast something with this periodically renewed crying. Well, we certainly have many areas that need to be modernized, but it is worth noting, for example, that Alexei Aigi's music recorded in Russia is heard not only in Russian, but also in famous French and American movies. I believe that Artemyev's soundtracks are not at all inferior to western soundtracks, and, for example, I like many recordings of “Auktyon” no less than the albums of some English bands. Today, we are not isolated from the world sound recording; every year, the number of international projects at Mosfilm increases and this trend is likely to attract more and more domestic sound engineers, musicians, and equipment manufacturers.