Post-production for The Wknd Sessions needs to be done in a logical and easy manner; after all, there are 3 albums' worth of material that we're producing. Things can quickly go south when moving from one step to another when you're dealing with 30 tracks in one go.

First things first: directory structure. After the last couple of seasons, I've adopted the following structure:

- Season X
 - Act # X
  - Song #1
  - Song #2
  - Song #3
- Act # Y
:
:
- OUTPUT
  - 1-MIXED
  - 2-MASTERED
  - 3-WAV
  - 4-MP3
  - 5-MP3-PREVIEW

The Act # X directories will have the audio stems used. The OUTPUT directory will hold all the mixed, mastered, finalized, MP3 and MP3 preview files.

Here's a breakdown of the workflow I'm adopting:

Step 1
Mix, making sure to leave in approximately 10dB of headroom. Lead-in cues are not removed. Files are stored in OUTPUT/1-MIXED directory in 48kHz 16-bit WAV format. Cue lead-ins at the beginning of each song are not removed. No fade-ins or fade-outs.

Step 2
Use files from OUTPUT/1-MIXED and do mastering. Cues lead-ins are not removed. No fade-in or fade-outs are created, but apply silence in between cue and start of the song. Files are stored in OUTPUT/2-MASTERED directory in 48kHz 16-bit WAV format. Use this for the videos.

Step 3
Use files from OUTPUT/2-MASTERED. Remove cues, create the fade-ins and fade-outs where necessary. Files are stored in OUTPUT/3-WAV directory in 44.1kHz 16-bit format. Use this for The Wknd Sessions compilation CD audio.

Step 4
Take files from OUTPUT/3-WAV and convert to MP3 format. ID3 tags are embedded. Files are stored in OUTPUT/4-MP3 directory in MP3 format with constant bit rate @ 192kbps. Use this for The Wknd online store.

Step 5
Take files from OUTPUT/4-MP3 and create 30-second excerpts. 5-second fade-in and fade-out is created for each song. Resulting 30-second clip is saved in MP3 format with constant bit rate @ 192 kbps and stored here. Verify that ID3 tags are still persistent after the file save process. Files are stored in OUTPUT/5-MP3-PREVIEW directory in MP3 format with constant bit rate @ 192kbps. Use this for The Wknd online store previews.
 
 
Post-production work has started for The Wknd Sessions season 6. There's a total of 30 songs to mix and master - THREE albums' worth!

As mentioned before, here at the Wknd Sessions we use Ardour for our recording DAW of choice. When it comes to mixdown, this season we're trying out a new DAW that's got a lot of old-school analog feel: Harrison Consoles' Mixbus.

Why a different DAW? Well, Mixbus is not really new - it's actually built on top of Ardour. Harrison Consoles - makers of fantastic, high-end mixing desks mostly used in film post-production - have taken their design approach and sensibilities, and retooled Ardour to make it more like working on a traditional hardware mixer. There's a lot of intuitive controls and knobs, much like what you'd get on a normal mixing desk.

There's also a lot of other nice features - a new summing architecture, built-in tape saturation controls and many nice touches that put the gloss on top of the already fantastic Ardour software.

Two mixes already done to date - and they're sounding a lot better compared to what we did in Season 5! Have a listen:
 

Gear gear gear

02/28/2012

 
For The Wknd Sessions season 6, we're fortunate to have some of our own gear. It's a big step up from the past seasons, where a lot of the equipment was rented/borrowed. It definitely feels much better when you know the equipment you're working with.

Here's a breakdown of the stuff we used:

Recording backline
Microphones
So far, the results are pretty impressive. The Focusrite interfaces performed flawlessly and was a godsend in terms of monitoring and routing options. The Beta 52A gave me an awesome punchy kick tone, and the AT2020s surpassed all expectations as a vocal mic (I was pretty blown away by what it could do).

Wishlist for next season: in-ear monitors for the performers.
 
 
Today we recorded six acts in total, and at the end of it I think season 6 will carry the most diverse range of acts to date. Definitely something worth watching out for.

We had two acts today that tested our gear to its limits - all 16 channels were used and the dynamic nature of the music they played meant a lot of problems with the monitors. Tried hard to minimize the bleed from monitors to the mics, but sometimes there's a tradeoff between getting a good sonic signal and getting a good performance. At the end of the day, The Wknd Sessions is visual first and foremost. Which means we sometimes have to bend over backwards to make sure the artists can perform well.

Also had a chance encounter with a Roland Space Echo (but forgot to snap a photo, drat!) from sometime around 1973. That's a unit that was built close to 40 years ago. FORTY YEARS! Back then, things were definitely built to last.

I also had the chance to mic up a fantastic Marshall stack using our Audio Technica AT2020. That mic is built to withstand up to 144dB SPL so it was a good mic choice. Will write about that particular experience in another post later.

All in all, over the the course of the weekend we capture a grand total of thirty songs from ten acts. That's enough material to release THREE albums. Now begins the exciting part - mixdown.
 
 
Today we recorded four acts, covering a wide range of musical styles: folk, punk, indie and even post-dance-PinkFloydesque-electronica-mishmash. That last one is not a joke.

We were fortunate that no major technical glitches happened - just one, in fact: one of the XLRs in our snake was faulty. The only other major incident was a delay in the shoot due to a camera not yet arriving on location.

Gear-wise, everything held up pretty well. Our DAW of choice - Ardour - held up really well. I don't remember seeing the CPU usage going higher than 50%, even when we were tracking 15 simultaneous tracks.

The Focusrite gear also performed like a champ. Coupled with their superb mix control software, it definitely came into play when one of the acts required a separate monitor mix for the lead singer. Having two monitor outs on the Saffire Pro 40 is definitely a good thing - although I wished there were more! I'll definitely write a separate entry about using these devices.

All our mics were flawless. The beauty of the Audio Technica AT2020 really came to the fore on the folk act. I definitely heard a vast improvement in sound quality compared to singer-songwriters we covered in past season (those we did with whatever mics were handy, usually a Shure Beta or SM57). Clear and crisp with a very warm bottom end. Definitely looking forward to mixing that.

Overall, it was a good day. And tomorrow we'll be tracking another 6 bands.
 

Acoustic treatment

02/25/2012

 
The location we're using was just recently renovated. They had new laminate flooring put in, and on first inspection last night I encountered a couple of problems.

Firstly, the floor is resonating badly - I can literally feel the drums under my feet! There may be problems with the resonance leaking up into the mic stands and wreaking all kinds of audio havoc. That may be easily treated though - just decouple the mic stands from the floor with some kind of damping material. The other problem is not so easily treated though.

The room is fairly big and rectangular, around 20 feet by 70 feet. Already that's not a good start - there's bound to be a lot of standing waves in there once we get going with the bands. To make things worse, the concrete walls are pretty much bare and the room is devoid of any furniture. And along one of the walls, starting from the middle of the room to the end, are panels of mirrors. Basically - the room is reflecting sound like crazy. There was about three seconds of echo in there!

Even though we're going to be close-miking everything, I'm somewhat worried about all those reflections ending coming through in the vocals and drum mics. And coupled with the inherent reverberation in the room - there's a lot of potential for sonic (and mixdown) nightmare. So what can we do about it?

1. Angle the performance area by a couple of degrees, instead of parallel along the room length. This may help reduce the obvious standing wave scenarios, but perhaps not by much.

2. Apply some DIY acoustic treatment, such as those suggested in this post on Ginny's Audio Blog. Some cool ideas there, but since we're shooting in a couple of hours I won't have time to make my own gobos, screens or bass traps.

Most likely the only thing we can do now (due to lack of time and resources) is to throw some carpeting on the floor and hopefully have some reduction in the reflections - whatever we can get is much better than nothing at all.
 
 
So tonight we set up the location for this weekend's shoot. Gear's in, set looks awesome. Retro, in fact! But I didn't manage to finish the cabling work, only managed to get the drums and bass amp wired up. Tomorrow will continue the rest of the amps and vocal mics.

Need to remember to angle the amps upwards and not perpendicular to the floor - to reduce reflections off of the floor. The floor's carpeted, but I think it's still going to help. Need to get some really good guitar tones this time round. Inspiration: Foo Fighters' Wasting Light - some awesome guitar tones there.

Will write more tomorrow about the sessions!