Producing The C-FaB Album

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Blog post by level 1 AP student Rory Hunter.

Recently, myself and a team of Audio Production students at the University of Lincoln, recorded some tracks for the upcoming C-FaB Festival’s compilation album. As the music is country, folk and blues, the brief for the album was for it to sound as live as possible.

My first idea of capturing a ‘live sound’ in the studio was getting the artist/band to come in and rather than record the separate parts of the song, record a full complete performance of the song. This method brought a variety of advantages to recording along with some pitfalls to carefully think about.

The main advantage that came from this method of recording was how natural the recordings sounded. They flowed better, had more feeling in them and felt more of a real representation of the artist and their music. Performance are rarely perfect, it was the small imperfections in these performances that made it work.

The recordings came out well due to how comfortable the artists felt when performing. A studio environment can be quite alienating to some musicians, especially when they are more used to playing live. So when asked to just perform a song as they would at a gig, it felt a lot more familiar and comfortable for them. This is certainly beneficial for bands as they are more used to performing with each other rather than separately.

Inevitably the pitfalls we had to be aware of were technical ones. The first thing was microphone placement. Although this is important in all studio situations, there were more things to consider than usual. Avoiding spill between microphones was something we were always checking and thinking about. We knew it would be impossible to completely eliminate this from happening but we tried our best to reduce it. This was obviously easier to do with the solo artists, (although the acoustic guitars had a tendency to pop up on the vocal mic). However, with bands, we had to think about where each instrument would be in the live room and how we could isolate it. We used methods such as foam boards and grouping certain instruments together and giving them their own place in the room.

Our main incentive for making sure we did a good job on microphone placement was to make the tracks easier to mix. It was in the mixing stage we would truly find out how good a job we had done with our microphone placement. For example, there was one track that needed the vocal level increasing and the acoustic guitar level decreasing. However, due to the acoustic guitar spilling in to the vocal mic, a relatively simple task became more complex and required some clever mixing.

Sticking to our brief of recreating a ‘live sound’, we avoided as much we could in altering the sound with any plug-ins as such. It felt more like polishing a performance rather than mixing individual performances in to one track. However, panning was hugely important to the mixing of the tracks. Particularly with the tracks with more parts, it was key to making the tracks feel fuller and richer and give each instrument its own place in the mix.

Overall, I feel that going for a ‘live sound’ was extremely beneficial to the album. It really suits the genre of music and represents the festival well – an event that is all about live music. Although it wouldn’t be suited to every genre of music, I would definitely experiment with this recording style again as I feel it has a lot of potential benefits.

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C-Fab album tracks recorded and mixed by Rory Hunter, Vashti Hayes, Anthony Belcher, Matt Jones, Adrian Rayworth, Jack Martin and Gaz Bailey.

About David McSherry

Senior Lecturer in Audio Production