DiscoverMy Take on Music Recording with Doug Fearn
My Take on Music Recording with Doug Fearn
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My Take on Music Recording with Doug Fearn

Author: Doug Fearn

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Doug Fearn draws on his 50+ years as a recording engineer, record producer, studio owner, and pro audio equipment designer to explain the art and science of recording for the audiophile, music lover, and people in the music recording industry.
35 Episodes
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Even if you don’t recognize the name Colin Hay, I guarantee that you have heard him. Colin is best known for his band, “Men At Work,” the Australian group that had #1 hits such as “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now” in the 1980s. Men at Work sold over 30 million albums during their existence.Since then, the singer-songwriter has worked as a solo artist, touring the world, sometimes truly solo and other times with a band.He has been a “Star” on several tours with the Ringo and the All-Stars ensemble, starting in 2003.Colin has also had an acting career, performing his own songs in movies and TV shows, and even an experience in a Shakespeare touring company.By the way, Colin is originally from Scotland, as you will quickly notice from his accent.This interview is not about his career, although we talk about that a bit, but instead focuses on his recording experience. Colin has had his own sophisticated home studio for decades and uses his space to record his songs.We also talk about the art of songwriting and, well, a life in music.Here are links to a a few of Colin's songs:“Down Under” Men At Work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfmxO-HQ5rU“Who Can It Be Now?” Men At Work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuFC6ud1cAQ“Maggie” Colin Hay  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDuvFz0WQ-g
Since the earliest days of sound recording, noise has been a major limitation in audio quality. In early part of my career, tape hiss was usually the biggest challenge. But today’s digital recorders are virtually noise-free in most situations.We still have to battle with noise, but the sources of the noise have changed. Today’s engineer has to deal with noise generated by the switched-mode power supplies that are in our LED bulbs, computer equipment, and even appliances. These sources of noise can get into electric guitars and create quite a racket. But the noise can also raise the noise floor in subtle ways, and we might not immediately recognize the source. Light dimmers, cell phones, and solar panels are other sources of noise.In this episode, I talk about the various causes of noise, and provide some tips on how to identify the source, and advice on how to eliminate, or at least minimize, the noise on your recording.For more in-depth, practical suggestions on how to avoid and mitigate electrical noise, my friend Jim Brown has a wonderful set of tutorials and presentations. Jim is an expert on this topic and has served on AES Committees for decades. Go to his web site, http://www.k9yc.com/publish.htm and scroll down to the section titled, “Hum, Buzz, and RF Interference -- Written for Audio Professionals.” You will find several excellent resources there.There is a transcript for this episode. If you want a written version, you can download a PDF version from dougfearn.comAnd please keep the suggestions and comments coming. Your feedback helps me determine what I should talk about.If there is sufficient interest, I am considering having an occasional question and answer episode. If you have something you would like me to answer, record it in your studio with your best equipment. In keeping with the high audio quality goal of my podcast, you can record your questions at 24-bit, 96kHz sample rate and send the file to dwfearn@dwfearn.comSimple questions I can answer in an episode dedicated to answering them. Some other topics may suggest an entire episode dedicated to the topic.Please tell your friends and colleagues about this podcast. And leave your ratings and reviews with the podcast app you use. Thanks.This episode was recorded with a Sennheiser MKH8050 condenser microphone instead of my usual AEA R44 ribbon mic. The MKH8050 is an amazingly clean-sounding mic, although it is probably not the best choice for vocals or voice recording. The preamp is a D.W. Fearn VT-2 and the converters are by Merging Technologies. The audio was processed through a D.W. Fearn VT-4 equalizer and a VT-7 Compressor. The original recording is 24-bit, 96kHz.
Distortion is present in all electronic audio equipment and on all recordings. Sometimes it is part of the sound, such as in an electric guitar.But distortion is usually something we try to avoid.In this episode, I go through the most common types of distortion, their impact on the listener, where the distortion comes from, and what we can do to minimize it.This is somewhat technical, but I try to keep the explanations simple. Learning how to identify the sources of distortion, and how to mitigate them, should help you make better recordings.I’ve recently added a new feature to the dougfearn.com web site. You can now read transcripts of many of the podcast episodes online, and download them is you like. Not all episodes have transcripts, just those that are scripted. Let me know if you find the transcripts useful.Thank you to all of you who have subscribed to My Take On Music Recording, left reviews and ratings. The podcast is available on dozens of different podcast platforms. And thanks to those who have written to me via email. I will try to answer all of them. You can send email to dwfearn@dwfearn.com
Disc Cutting

Disc Cutting

2020-12-1036:28

I never did any disc mastering, but I did cut thousands of lacquer discs. I explained how I learned this art, and describe the process of cutting a disc. The medium imposes a lot of restrictions, not only in the disc-cutting process, but also going back to the recording and mixing.In addition, I include some thoughts on the vinyl record medium. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with records.
This is a continuation of the story of my recording career, starting where Part 1 (Episode 30) ends in 1973 and covers the following years, up to 2020. During that time, my studio went from 8- to 16- to 24-track, more sophisticated equipment was added, and I moved to a much larger building. After my studio-ownership days, I continued recording, on location or in other studios. In 1993 I introduced the first studio product I designed, the VT-1 single-channel vacuum tube mic preamp.Since 2007 I have been recording in a studio carved out of the D.W. Fearn parts storage space, which has been continually revised, upgraded, and refined.Throughout this two-part series, I describe not only the equipment and facilities, but also the recording techniques I used, which reflected the type of music I was recording, and the evolving technology.Many elements of this story could be expanded into an episode of its own. If you would like to hear more about an aspect, please let me know.Thank you for all your great comments and feedback. This episode was the result of listener feedback. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for future episodes, please contact me at dwfearn@dwfearn.comThis podcast was recorded with an AEA R44CXE microphone into a D.W. Fearn VT-2 mic preamp, into a VT-4 Equalizer and VT-7 Compressor. The converter is a Merging Technologies Hapi and the software is Pyramix. The original recording was made at 96kHz sample rate, 24-bit PCM.You can subscribe to this podcast through Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and many other podcast providers.
My Recording Career, Part 1: Early influences and first studioThis two-part episode tells the story of my life in recording. It starts out with the musical and electronic experiences that shaped my career and then describes the process of learning about recording and the many disciplines required. I explain how my first studio was constructed and the challenges I faced and mostly overcame. I trace the steady increase in track count -- this was in the days of tape, of course -- and the transition from analog to digital.Throughout, I describe the experiences that changed my approach to recording.Part 1 ends in 1973, when my studio was 8-track.Many elements of this story could be expanded into an episode of its own. If you would like to hear more about an aspect, please let me know.Thank you for all your great comments and feedback. This episode was the result of listener feedback. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for future episodes, please contact me at dwfearn@dwfearn.comThis podcast was recorded with an AEA R44CXE microphone into a D.W. Fearn VT-2 mic preamp, into a VT-4 Equalizer and VT-7 Compressor. The converter is a Merging Technologies Hapi and the software is Pyramix. The original recording was made at 96kHz sample rate, 24-bit PCM.You can subscribe to this podcast through Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and many other podcast providers.
The VT-7 Compressor has an interesting backstory, including a Nashville dinner with my friend, Cranesong’s Dave Hill back in 2003.In this episode, I tell the story of how the VT-7 came about, and explain how a pulse-width modulator (PWM) compressor works and why it is an excellent way to create a versatile compressor/limiter. I also go through the history of the compressor and the various methods used over the years.The operation of the controls on the VT-7 are described, with some ideas on how best to set them for a given compression task.The VT-7 has become an indispensable tool for many of the world’s top recordists, mixers, and mastering engineers. It is often used in conjunction with the VT-5 Equalizer, on the mix bus, or in the mastering chain.If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, I always appreciate hearing from you. Send me email at dwfearn@dwfearn.comAnd if you have friends who would find this podcast interesting, please pass along the link to them.Don’t forget that you can use a podcast app, like Apple Podcasts and many others, to automatically notify you when a new episode is available, and/or automatically download each episode.
Tony Maserati, Mix Engineer

Tony Maserati, Mix Engineer

2020-10-0601:14:07

This conversation with mixing engineer Tony Maserati is a little different from most of the other interviews I have done on the podcast. It is mostly just Tony and me having a very informal chat about the things that are important to us, both in our professional lives, but also in life in general.If you want to see the impressive list of artists that Tony has worked with in his career, go to tonymaserati.comYou will see artists ranging from James Brown to David Bowie, Queen Latifa to Beyonce to Lady Gaga, that Tony has recorded, produced, or mixed.He is best known as a go-to mixer at the highest levels in the music business. Tony is also noted for his appearances on Mix With the Masters.Our conversation is unstructured, and a bit longer than most of the podcast episodes, so you might want to check out specific sections, like:03:17  Moving back to Upstate NY from LA and living in the country22:46   Recording today with remote musicians adding parts26:43   Recording and mixing are two different skills39:47   What problems Tony finds in the tracks he is sent to mix43:40   Advice for people who want to get into the recording/mixing business58:24   Tony’s approach to mixingYour comments, questions, and suggestions are always welcome. You can email me at dwfearn@dwfearn.comThank you for all the comments you have sent me. I appreciate them all. And thanks for passing along info about this podcast to your friends and colleagues who you think would find it useful.
In this episode, I describe how the D.W. Fearn VT-4 and VT-5 Equalizers came about. I start with some history of equalization, and then my experiences with various eqs and how that influenced the design of the VT-5.I talk about the design process, including the reasoning behind the choices I made in the frequencies and the curves, and the design of the amplifiers in the VT-5. Then I explain how I use the VT-5 on the sessions I do, which is not meant to be a tutorial on equalizing, since everyone has a different style, but as an illustration of one approach to using the equalizer.In 2020, we made some internal changes to the VT-5, which does not change the sound of it at all, but did allow us to eliminate the small, low-speed cooling fan.A plug-in version of the VT-5 is available from Acustica Audio, and I explain the design process behind it.The VT-5 has become an indispensable tool for many engineers, mixers, and mastering facilities. I originally designed it to fill I need I had, and it has been very gratifying to see the acceptance it has gained in the music recording world.
Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia was responsible for a huge number of hit records, starting in the 1960s and continuing into the 21st century. Eventually Sigma had two studios in Philadelphia and three in New York.Joe Tarsia founded Sigma in 1968 but his career as an engineer goes back to the 1950s at Cameo Parkway Records. He started in a mono studio, using very few microphones, hardly any outboard gear, and recording to tape. He has lived through the evolution to stereo and multitrack tape and from mono vinyl records through the CD and into the digital age.I sat down with Joe in January of 2019 at his home and recorded our conversation using a Flea M49 in the bidirectional position, to a Tascam DR-100 portable recorder.A slightly longer version of this interview is available on my YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMwTQ8XhY9cThe video includes many still photos taken at Sigma, thanks to former Sigma engineer Arthur Stoppe.This is an important part of our recording heritage, and I urge any of you who have access to pioneers like Joe Tarsia to take the time to capture their history.Thank you for listening to this and the previous 25 episodes.Your comments and suggestions are always appreciated. Email me at dwfearn@dwfearn.comAnd if you find this podcast useful, please share it with others that you think would enjoy listening. Thanks.
During the Covid pandemic, most of us have had to shift to the virtual world for our conversations, presentations, classes, and committee meetings.One thing that I notice is that almost everyone has bad audio. Not just low fidelity (that’s intrinsic in the on-line medium), but audio with poor intelligibility due to bad mics, bad mic technique, poor-sounding rooms, and extraneous noise.I compiled a few suggestions on how you can improve your virtual audio and made it into this short podcast episode. I also talk a bit about improving the video component.None of these suggestions cost a lot of money. Some actually cost nothing.It looks like we will be interacting with each other through Zoom and Skype (and others) for the foreseeable future, so it pays to put a little effort into making the best of this technology.And I suspect that we will be doing a lot more of this virtual communication even after the pandemic is under control, so it is worth sharpening your skills in the realm.Thanks for your comments and suggestions. You can always reach me at dwfearn@dwfearn.comAbout half of the listeners use Apple Podcasts to listen to this podcast, and adding in the listeners who use Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and others bring that method of consuming the podcast up to about 80%. One advantage of Apple and other podcast providers is that you can subscribe to my podcast and receive notification of new episodes, and even automatically download each episode if you wish.For those of you who prefer to be on my email list, just send me email with a request and I’ll add you to the list. I send out one email for each new episode, with a link.I am gratified by the large number of listeners, but I suspect you know others who would like My Take On Music Recording. Please send them a link. And any mention you make on social media is also helpful.Thanks.
At first glance, you would think that flying an airplane and recording music would have very little in common. And it’s true that there is not a whole lot that directly translates from one to the other.But there are many aspects of learning to fly, and constantly working to perfect and extend your flying skills, that have a parallel in recording.In this episode, I explain some of the fundamentals of flying, how my recording career helped me in mastering those skills, and how my  audio background helped me in the airplane. Dealing with airplanes also taught me things that were helpful in designing and manufacturing professional audio equipment.Thanks for your comments and suggestions. You can contact me at dwfearn@dwfearn.com or through my podcast web site dougfearn.com
I’ve known Jason Miles for over 20 years and I learn new things from him every time we talk. Jason is a keyboard player, synthesizer programmer from the earliest days of the Moog synthesizer, and a Grammy-winning producer.He has worked with artists such as Miles, Davis, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Sting, Chaka Chan, Suzy Boggess, David Sanborn, and many others.In this interview, Jason talks about how he got started playing music and how that lead into his pioneering work with creative synthesizer programming, and playing on many albums. He has performed along with many major artists in places like Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Capetown South Africa Jazz Festival. He has a new record out, the proceeds of which will help support people in the music business who have limited income during the Covid pandemic. Jason also has a one-man music and storytelling show.Listen to Jason tell the stories about how he broke into the highest levels of the record business, and how he re-invented himself through the decades. He is always learning and embracing new music and new technology. It’s a fascinating story.http://www.jasonmilesmusic.com/Thank you for your comments and suggestions. I appreciate them. You can reach me at dwfearn@dwfearn.com, or through my podcast web site, https://dougfearn.com/
Microphone preamplifiers are essential for almost all recording. In this episode, I look at the requirements for a quality preamp, and how preamps are designed and used.Although this focuses on the D.W. Fearn VT-1, VT-2, and VT-24 mic preamps, the principles are applicable to any preamp.We look at the extreme range of levels a preamp has to deal with, and the techniques used to accommodate this range. Why is there a 20dB pad on most preamps, and how best to use it (or not)? Many modern mics have a transformerless out, and a non-standard output impedance. How do we deal with that?Do mic preamps introduce distortion? What kinds? And which add to the sound and which distortions are annoying?How does phase shift through the mic preamp affect the sound? What can be done in the design process to minimize phase shift?How do we use the "Phase" (polarity) switch on a mic input, and where is it most useful?What exactly is “phantom power?” How did that come about? What are the advantages, disadvantages, and potential problems?Using a mic preamp on a mix buss is also covered, along with the special requirements for that application.How about installation of your outboard preamp? What do you need to consider in cooling, wiring, and AC power in order to get the maximum audio quality?How can mic patch panels create potential serious problems, not only for the audio quality but also for the safety of your expensive microphones?I take you through the history of the design of the VT-1 preamp, which is the basis for all the D.W. Fearn mic preamps and also influences the sound of our equalizers and compressor.Understanding some of the technical details will help you to use your preamps better. I avoid a lot of technical jargon and theory, and just focus on the aspects that will be helpful for most recording engineers.Thanks to everyone who has contacted me with your comments and suggestions. I have already added some topics for future episodes, based on listener feedback. You can contact me at dwfearn@dwfearn.com
Mix Engineer Mike Miller

Mix Engineer Mike Miller

2020-08-0201:00:14

Mike Miller is a great example of the latest generation of recording mixers. Mike started as a musician, playing piano at age 4, later switched to guitar and as a teenager he began touring with bands whose members were much older. Recording with those bands introduced Mike to the studio and he was instantly captivated and knew that was what he wanted to do.His early success as a producer doing most of the tasks involved in making records eventually led him to specialize in mixing. Mike started out in his home town of Rochester, NY, not noted as a recording center, but he was able to capture success there. Eventually, however, he needed to move to cities where the business was, including, New York and Los Angeles. He has moved to LA and developed relationships with many people in the music business who were impressed by his talent and ambition. They offered him advice and guidance, and Mike feels that it is important to pass that knowledge along to those who are just starting out.Mike recorded his side of the conversation in his studio in Los Angeles using a Flea 47 microphone into a Hazelrigg Industries VLC mic preamp, and recorded to Pro Tools. My side was recorded in my studio in Pennsylvania using a Flea 49 mic into a D.W. Fearn VT-2 mic preamp, Merging Technologies converter and recorded in Pyramix. The final 24-bit, 96kHz PCM recording was processed through individual VT-4 equalizers and and VT-7 Compressor.Thanks to all of you who have dropped me notes about this podcast. Those has been very valuable to me. You can reach me at dwfearn@dwfearn.com, or through my podcast web site, https://www.dougfearn.com
My recording career started with vacuum tube gear, and it’s a sound I still prefer. In this episode, I tell the story of my early experience with a homemade mixer using tube mic preamps, and my reluctant transition to solid-state audio equipment and my eventual return to tubes.There may be many reasons why tubes sound different than transistors (solid-state), and I explore some of those differences. The biggest reason may be the distortion products that exist in all amplifiers, whether they are tube or solid-state, and why our ears prefer the even-order harmonic distortion of tubes.But tubes are not the best choice for everything, and I explain why solid-state integrated circuit op amps are a good choice in some applications.And tubes are not appropriate for digital electronics, even though the first digital computers used vacuum tubes. I tell the story of going inside a Univac tube computer while it was operating.Recorded with an AEA R44CXE microphone through a D.W. Fearn VT-2 vacuum tube microphone preamplifer, a Merging Technologies Hapi converter, and recorded at 24 bit/96kHz PCM. The audio was processed through a D.W. Fearn VT-5 Equalizer and VT-7 Compressor.
Tad Rollow is a research engineer who has worked at companies like Eventide, Avid-DigiDesign, and Sennheiser. You probably own hardware or software whose design Tad has been part of.Tad has a wide range of interests and experiences, including hardware, software, and chip design. He’s been recording music since high school and continues to do that. He has a degree in electrical engineering and a PhD in acoustics.Tad understands the intersection between engineering and art, and knows that a product not only has to have great specifications but it also must sound good.Our conversation was recorded at 24-bit/ 96kHz PCM. Tad was recording in his home studio in San Francisco, using a Sennheiser MKH8050 mic into a D.W. Fearn VT-2 microphone preamplifier, and recording to ProTools. I am using an AEA R44 microphone, a VT-2 preamp, and a Merging Technologies converter, recorded to Pyramix.The mix was processed through a D.W. Fearn VT-5 Equalizer and a VT-7 Compressor.Your comments, questions, and suggestions are always welcomed. You can send email to dwfearn@dwfearn.com. The link is also available at https://www.dougfearn.comThis podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcast, and many others.Their apps allows you to listen at any time, automatically download new episodes, and even receive a notification when a new episode is published. And you can rate the podcast and leave a review.
Dom Morley is a Grammy-award winning British engineer, producer, and mixer who has worked with artists such as Amy Winehouse, Adele, Sting, Nick Cave, and many others. He has worked as a staff engineer in several top studios in London and now has his own studio in Oxfordshire. Educating aspiring engineers and producers is important to Dom, and he is in demand as a teacher and lecturer. He often conducts workshops at the NAMM Show.An educational service he offers is the Mix Consultancy, where anyone can submit their mix for Dom’s personal evaluation and suggestions. https://www.themixconsultancy.com/I recently spoke with Dom about his early influences, breaking into the business, working with artists and producers, and helping those coming up with solid advice on developing their craft.For this conversation, Dom was using a vintage RCA 77 microphone into a Wunder Audio PA-Four mic preamp and D.W. Fearn VT-7 Compressor.I am using my usual AEA R44 mic into a D.W. Fearn VT-2 mic preamp. Both mics were sent through individual D.W. Fearn VT-4 Equalizers, and the mix goes through a  VT-7 Compressor. The conversation was via Skype, so there is an occasional delay of my voice audible in Dom’s mic when we overlap. The recording is 24 bit, 96kHz PCM digital before the podcast conversion to MP3.
My first job, and really the only time I have ever worked for someone else, was in radio broadcasting. While in high school, I started working as an engineer, on weekends, at WPEN, an AM/FM station in Philadelphia. The station was founded in 1926 and the studios where I worked were built by RCA in 1947. Little had changed by the time I started there in 1966. The AM transmitter site was several miles to the west of the city. It was one of the first directional AM stations in the country, and that site was built in 1936.Back then, radio stations were operated by engineers, who were the de facto producers of the radio program. The “air talent” did not have any equipment in the studio except a microphone. The engineer made the program flow by operating the microphone, turntables, tape machines, and radio network sources. At least that was how radio worked in major cities.Back then, radio stations and recording studios were very similar, both in equipment and facilities, and in the creative dynamic. I was fortunate that WPEN was still practicing “old-time radio” when I was there. The station had 13 engineers, 11 studios and control rooms, and carried two national radio networks. The largest studio occupied the entire first floor of the building and was set up for a live audience. About ten years before I started working there, that studio was where the predecessor of American Bandstand originated, before it moved to TV. Now it was the home to a live-audience talk show at night, which featured top names in politics and entertainment.During the broadcast day, programming originated from five different studios, plus there were several well-equipped production studios/control rooms used for recording commercials and other program elements. One production studio had a disc-cutting lathe, which is where I first learned how to cut lacquer discs.There were people working there that went back to the station’s inception in 1926, and I tried to learn as much as I could from these people who invented broadcasting.I learned about working with talented people, both on staff and as guests, and how to make an audio experience flow naturally to provide the best experience for the listener. I also learned about equipment maintenance, and how to construct reliable equipment in-house.This job also provided me with the income necessary to start my own recording studio, which had always been my primary goal. But working in radio back then was exciting, too. In this episode, I talk about what I learned at WPEN, and how that experience helped me learn the craft of recording.
Dale Becker is a mastering engineer in Los Angeles. He is known for his work with artists such as Khalid, Chloe X Halle, Lauv, Macklemore, Rufus Du Sol, JoJo, Kesha, Tiesto, Meghan Trainor, Jeremy Zucker, Beast Coast, Fletcher, Gallant, Louis the Child & Bryce VineHe works at Becker Mastering, along with his father, Bernie.We talked about the art of mastering in the digital age, along with some discussion of mastering for vinyl, Dale’s experience as a recording engineer and producer, the new immersive formats like Dolby Atmos, loudness, and his philosophy of music. He offers some suggestions for preparing your mixes for mastering, and how he faces the challenge of creating a master that pleases all parties involved, and works for all distribution outlets. Learn more at https://www.beckermastering.com/Your comments, questions, and suggestions are always welcomed: dwfearn@dwfearn.com
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