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sleduc on August 25th, 2016

Creative Commons image Photography Composition Chart – All in One with Fibonacci’s Gold by Rodnei Reis at Flickr

The following information was adapted from Bruce Block’s The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media chapter 4 starting on p. 87.


  • Line
    • Edge
    • Contour
    • Closure
  • Intersection of Planes
  • Imitation through Distance
  • Axis
  • Track
    • Actual Tracks
    • Virtual Tracks
  • Linear Motif
  • Line Contrast and Affinity
    1. Orientation
    2. Direction
    3. Quality


  • Basic Shape Recognition
  • Shape Contrast and Affinity
    • 2D: circle and triangle
    • 3D: sphere and the three-sided pyramid

Films to Watch

  • Linear Motif
    • Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
      • Directed by Bruce Beresford
      • Written by Alfred Uhry
      • Photographed by Peter James
      • Production Design by Bruno Rubeo
  • Diagonal Linear Motif
    • Natural Born Killers (1994)
      • Directed by Oliver Stone
      • Written by Quentin Tarantino and David Veloz
      • Photographed by Robert Richardson
      • Production Design by Victor Kempster
  • Shapes of Spaces
    • The Conformist (1969)
      • Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
      • Written by Bernardo Bertolucci
      • Photographed by Vittorio Storaro
      • Production Design by Fernando Scarfiotti
    • The Shining (1980)
      • Directed by Stanley Kubrick
      • Written by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
      • Photographed by John Alcott
      • Production Design by Roy Walker

Controlling Line and Shape during Production

Here is a practical situation. Tomorrow you’re going to direct a scene, and you’ve decided to emphasize lines and shapes. How can you control them on the set?

1. Squint. Most lines in the modern world are vertical and horizontal because they’re created by architecture. Doors, windows, and walls tend to be vertical and horizontal. The same thing often is true with furniture. What is the linear motif of the shot? Use a contrast viewing glass or learn to squint properly so recognizing the lines in your locations and pictures becomes easier.

2. Evaluate the lighting. Since line exists because of tonal or color contrasts, line can be controlled through lighting. As a picture gains tonal contrast, more lines will appear. Brightening or darkening an object can create or obscure lines to alter the linear motif.

3. Stage movement carefully. When an object moves, it creates a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line or track. Each of these three lines communicates a different visual intensity to the audience.

4. Create a linear motif storyboard.Line is an important factor in planning shots. A storyboard is a series of drawings illustrating the composition of shots. But the following storyboard plots the linear motif of line orientation from shot to shot. The linear motif will decrease or increase the visual intensity of any sequence. It doesn’t matter if the sequence is a violent car chase or a quiet conversation; the contrast or affinity of line can orchestrate the intensity changes of the scene.

Block, Bruce. The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media (p. 114).

The most intense frames of this storyboard are 12-13-14, because they have the greatest visual contrast. The line orientation moves from diagonal (12) to horizontal (13) to diagonal (14). This is an extremely useful storyboard, not because of realistic drawings of people and objects, but because it uses the Principle of Contrast & Affinity to structure the linear motif of the sequence. Visually, this sequence will build in intensity toward a climax.

Shape control requires careful examination of an object’s silhouette:

1. Evaluate the shapes:

  • a. Actor. If the actor and wardrobe are reduced to silhouettes, what is the basic shape?
  • b. Scenery. Define the lines to discover the shapes in your picture. Horizontal and vertical lines usually create squares and rectangles. Diagonal lines create triangles.
  • c. Set dressing. Define the basic shape of the furniture and other set dressing.

2. Control the lighting. Lighting can change or emphasize the basic shapes of objects in the picture. A pattern of light can create a circular, square, or triangular shape.

3. Simplify. Shape works best if it’s easy for the audience to see similarities and differences. Use the lens choice and camera angle to emphasize, or remove lines and shapes in the shot.


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sleduc on August 24th, 2016

Creative Commons image Follow Public space by minoru karamatsu(柄松稔)at Flickr

The following information was adapted from Bruce Block’s The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media chapter 3 starting on p. 13.

Part One: The Primary Subcomponents

1. Deep Space

  • The Depth Cues
  • Perspective
    • One-Point Perspective
    • Two-Point Perspective
    • Three-Point Perspective
  • Size Difference
  • Movement
    • Object Movement
    • Camera Movement
  • Textural Diffusion
  • Aerial Diffusion
  • Shape Change
  • Tonal Separation
  • Color Separation
  • Up/ Down Position
  • Overlap
  • Focus
  • 3D Pictures
2. Flat Space
  • The Flat Cues
  • Frontal Planes
  • Size Constancy
  • Movement
    • Object Movement
    • Camera Movement
  • Textural Diffusion
  • Aerial Diffusion
  • Shape Change
  • Tonal Separation
  • Color Separation
  • Up/ Down Position
  • Overlap
  • Focus

Reversing the Depth Cues

Certain depth cues can be reversed and used to create flat space.

  • Tonal Separation
  • Color Separation
  • Textural Diffusion
  • Size Difference

3. Limited Space

  • Limited space is a specific combination of deep and flat space cues.

4. Ambiguous Space

  • Lack of movement
  • Objects of unknown size or shape
  • Tonal and texture patterns (camouflage)
  • Mirrors and reflections
  • Disorienting camera angles

Comparing the Four Space Types

  • Deep Space
  • Flat Space
  • Limited Space
  • Ambiguous Space

Part Two: The Frame

  • Aspect Ratio
  • The Film Frame Aspect Ratio
  • The Digital Frame Aspect Ratio
  • The Screen Aspect Ratio
  • Surface Divisions
  • Dividing the Frame
    • Halves
    • Thirds
    • Grids
    • Square on a Rectangle
    • The Golden Section
  • The Surface Divider
    • The Purpose of Surface Divisions
  • Closed and Open Space
    • Closed Space
    • Open Space
  • Large Screens
  • Strong Visual Movement
  • Elimination of Stationary Lines
  • Contrast and Affinity

Films to Watch

  • Deep Space

    • Touch of Evil (1958)
      • Directed by Orson Welles
      • Written by Orson Welles
      • Photographed by Russell Metty
      • Art Direction by Robert Clatworthy
  • Flat Space and Surface Division
    • Klute (1971)
      • Directed by Alan Pakula
      • Written by Andy and Dave Lewis
      • Photographed by Gordon Willis
      • Art Direction by George Jenkins
    • Manhattan (1979)
      • Directed by Woody Allen
      • Written by Allen and Marshall Brickman
      • Photographed by Gordon Willis
      • Production Design by Mel Bourne
    • Witness (1985)
      • Directed by Peter Weir
      • Written by Earle Wallace and William Kelley
      • Photographed by John Seale
      • Production Design by Stan Jolley
    • American Beauty (1999)
      • Directed by Sam Mendes
      • Written by Alan Ball
      • Photographed by Conrad Hall
      • Production Design by Naomi Shohan
  • Limited Space
    • Fanny and Alexander (1982)
      • Directed by Ingmar Bergman
      • Written by Ingmar Bergman
      • Photographed by Sven Nykvist
      • Production Design by Anna Asp
  • Ambiguous Space and Surface Divisions
    • Don’t Look Now (1973)
      • Directed by Nicolas Roeg
      • Written by Allan Scott and Chris Bryant
      • Photographed by Anthony Richmond
      • Art Direction by Giovanni Soccol

Controlling Space During Production

Here is a practical situation. Tomorrow you’re going to direct a scene and you’ve decided to use deep space. How can you create deep space?

  1. Emphasize longitudinal planes. Any wall, floor, or ceiling can create a longitudinal plane. Keep frontal planes out of the shot because they’re flat. Including longitudinal planes is the most important way to create deep space.
  2. Stage objects perpendicular to the picture plane (toward or away from the camera). This is commonly called staging in depth. Arrange the objects emphasizing size change. Objects in the FG should be larger and objects in the BG should be much smaller. Keep movement perpendicular to the picture plane to emphasize size change, textural diffusion change, and movement in depth.
  3. Move the camera. Get a dolly, a crane, or hand-hold the camera but keep it moving as much as possible. Be sure to motivate the camera moves by linking them to object movement or dramatic purpose. Dollying in and out, tracking left and right, and craning up and down create relative movement.
  4. Take advantage of tonal separation. Light scenes with more tonal contrast. Make objects in the FG brighter than objects in the BG.
  5. Use a wide angle lens. A wide angle lens has a wider field of view and a greater ability to include more depth cues in the picture. Wide angle lenses also have a greater depth of field than other lenses. Depth of field refers to the area in front of the lens that is in acceptably sharp focus. Objects must be in focus if they’re going to be used as depth cues.

Perhaps you’ve changed your mind and tomorrow you’ll use flat space. Take advantage of the flat space cues:

  1. Eliminate perspective. Remove all longitudinal planes and emphasize frontal planes.
  2. Stage objects parallel to the picture plane. Keep the objects in the picture on a single, frontal plane so that they remain the same size. Keep movement parallel to the picture plane (this is sometimes called flat staging). If objects move perpendicular to the picture plane, use telephoto lenses to minimize the depth cues.
  3. Remove relative movement. Don’t use a dolly or crane for camera movement unless the dolly moves parallel to frontal planes. A tripod and a zoom lens may be all you need because the camera should tilt and pan only to maintain flat space. Zooming will keep the space flat but if you hate the zoom lens, don’t use one.
  4. Reduce tonal/ color separation. It will be important to reduce tonal contrast and condense the gray scale. The production designer should reduce the tonal range of the set to one third of the gray scale. Color should be limited toall warm or all cool colors. Reversing the depth cue of color and tonal separation can further enhance the flat space.
  5. Use telephoto lenses. A longer, telephoto lens excludes depth cues because of the lens’s narrow field of view. The longer lens will require objects to be staged farther away from the camera, eliminating the depth cues of size difference and textural diffusion. When objects are the same size, the picture looks flatter. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a telephoto lens optically flattens the image— it can’t. Using the flat space cues, not just a lens, creates flat space. See the appendix for a complete explanation of lenses and space.
  6. Let objects blur. A shallow depth of field will allow the backgrounds to go out of focus. Blurred objects eliminate depth and emphasize flat space.


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sleduc on August 24th, 2016

Visual structure is based on an understanding of the Principle of Contrast & Affinity.

Creative Commons image Follow Fear of the unknown by Johnny Silvercloud at Flickr

What is contrast?

  • Contrast means difference
  • There are light and dark areas to this image or a wide range of tone and high contrast between the light and dark areas

Creative Commons image of boat by eflon at Flickr

What is affinity?

  • Affinity means similarity
  • This picture has tone that is very similar or low contrast


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sleduc on August 24th, 2016

Creative Commons image DAW mixing by Peter Morgan from Flickr

The following material is adapted from chapter 4 of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinski

Balance. The volume-level relationship between musical elements.

Frequency range. Having all audible frequencies properly represented.

Panorama. Placing a musical element in the soundfield.

Dimension. Adding ambience to a musical element.

Dynamics. Controlling the volume envelope of an individual track or the entire mix.

Interest. Making the mix special.

Owsinski (2013-04-09). The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, 3rd ed. (chapter 4). Cengage Learning PTR. Kindle Edition.

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sleduc on August 24th, 2016

Creative Commons image Crap by AJ Cann at Flickr

The following material is adapted from chapter 4 of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinski

The Signs of an Amateur Mix Before we can talk about how to make a great mix, it’s good to be aware of the signs of one that isn’t that great. Does your mix have any of these characteristics?

The mix has no contrast. That means that the song has the same musical or sonic texture throughout the entire song, or the mix is at the same level and intensity through the song.

The mix has a wandering focal point. There are holes between lyrics where nothing is brought forward in the mix to hold the listener’s attention.

The mix is noisy. Clicks, hums, extraneous noises, count-offs, and sometimes lip-smacks and breaths can be clearly heard.

The mix lacks clarity and punch. The instruments aren’t distinct, or the low end is either too weak or too big.

The mix sounds distant and devoid of any feeling of intimacy. The mix sounds distant because of too much reverb or overuse of other effects.

The mix has inconsistent levels. Instrument levels vary from balanced to quiet or too loud, or certain lyrics or instrument lines can’t be distinguished.

The mix has dull and uninteresting sounds. Generic, dated, or often-heard sounds are being used.

Owsinski (2013-04-09). The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, 3rd ed. (chapter 4). Cengage Learning PTR. Kindle Edition.

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sleduc on August 23rd, 2016

Creative Commons image Guy Sebastian by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer at Flickr

The following material is adapted from chapter 5 of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinski

The Arrangement: Where It All Begins

Good balance starts with a good arrangement. It’s important to understand arrangement because so much of mixing is subtractive by nature. This means that the arrangement, and therefore the balance, is changed by the simple act of muting an instrument whose part either doesn’t fit well with another or doesn’t fit in a particular section of a song. If the instruments fit well together arrangement-wise so they help build the song dynamically and don’t fight one another frequency-wise, then the mixer’s life becomes immensely easier.

Tension and Release

All art is built around tension and release, which is just another expression for contrast. It’s big against small, fat against slim, wide against narrow, and black against white. In photography it’s shadows against light, in painting it’s light against dark, in music it’s loud against quiet, and in mixing it’s full against sparse. That’s what makes things interesting; you never know how big something is until you see something small to compare it to, and vice versa.

All good arrangements are filled with dynamic changes, which means loud versus quiet and full versus sparse. One of the jobs of a mixer is to create this tension and release when it’s not there, and when it is, to emphasize it. This is done by muting and unmuting tracks and changing the level of certain vocals or instruments at points within the song.

Conflicting Instruments

When two instruments occupy the same frequency band and play at the same volume at the same time, the result is a fight for attention. Think of it this way: You don’t usually hear a lead vocal and a guitar solo at the same time, do you? That’s because the human ear isn’t able to decide which to listen to and becomes confused and fatigued as a result (see Figure 5.1).

So how do you get around instruments conflicting with one another? First and foremost, a well-written arrangement keeps instruments out of each other’s way right from the beginning. The best writers and arrangers have an innate feel for what will work arrangement-wise, and the result is an arrangement that automatically lays together without much help.

It’s not uncommon to work with an artist or band that isn’t sure of the arrangement or is into experimenting and just allows an instrument to play throughout the entire song, thereby creating numerous conflicts. This is where the mixer gets a chance to rearrange the track by keeping what works in the mix and muting any other conflicting instruments or vocals. The mixer can influence not only the arrangement this way, but also the dynamics and general development of the song as well.

To understand how arrangement influences balance, we have to understand the mechanics of a well-written arrangement first.

Most well-conceived arrangements are limited in the number of arrangement elements (not mix elements; there’s a difference) that occur at the same time.

An arrangement element can consist of a single instrument, such as a lead guitar or a vocal, or it can be a group of instruments, such as the bass and drums, a doubled guitar line, a group of backing vocals, and so on.

Generally, a group of instruments playing exactly the same rhythm can be considered a single element. For example: A doubled lead guitar or doubled vocal is a single element, as is a lead vocal with two additional harmonies. Two lead guitars playing different melody lines or chordal rhythms.

The Foundation
The foundation is usually comprised of the bass and drums, but can also include a rhythm guitar and/or keyboard if they’re playing the same rhythmic figure as the rhythm section. Occasionally, as in the case of power trios, the foundation element will only consist of drums, since the bass usually needs to play a different rhythm figure to fill out the band’s sound, so it therefore becomes its own element.

The Pad
A pad is a long sustaining note or chord that adds a sort of “glue” to the arrangement and therefore the mix. In the days before synthesizers, a Hammond organ provided the best pad, and was later joined by the Fender Rhodes. Synthesizers now provide the majority of pads, but real strings or a guitar power chord can also serve in that role as well.

The Rhythm
The rhythm element can come from any instrument that plays against the foundation element. That can mean a double-time shaker or tambourine, a rhythm guitar strumming on the backbeat, or congas playing a Latin feel. The rhythm element is used to add motion and excitement to the track. Take it away, and the track loses a bit of life and energy.

The Lead
A lead vocal, lead instrument, or solo.

The Fills
Fills generally occur in the spaces between lead lines or can be a signature line. You can think of a fill element as an answer to the lead.

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sleduc on August 23rd, 2016

Creative Commons image Live Recording Gig Gabriel Recording Studio Sarnen by Dave Kobrehel at Flickr

The following material is adapted from page 193 – 210 of The Recording Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinski

“In a tracking situation, aside from the responsibility of getting something decently recorded, the most important thing is to get good headphone mixes for the players – in fact, to get the best one possible. Amazingly, bad things happen to even the best players when the headphone mix is all screwed up. I don’t think you can pay enough attention to that part of it because if the guys are hearing something that feels good, it moves the session from sort of a technical exercise for the musicians to a real inspiring and fun thing. It’s really amazing how no matter what tools you’re using, if people aren’t having a good time, it’s just not going to work.” - Wyn Davis

Headphones and the Cue Mix

Perhaps the greatest detriment to a session running smoothly is the inability for players to hear themselves comfortably in the headphones. This is one of the reasons that veteran engineers spend so much time and attention to the cue mix and the phones themselves. In fact, a sure sign of a studio neophyte is treating the headphones and cue mix as an afterthought, instead of spending as much time as required to make them sound great. While it’s true that a veteran studio player can shrug off a bad or distorted phone mix and still deliver a fine performance, good cans make a session go faster and easier and take a variable that is quite possibly the biggest detriment to a session out of the equation.


  • Long before the session begins, test every headphone to make sure there’s no distortion and that they’re working correctly (test with actual music).
  • Make sure that there is plenty of cable available so that the musicians can move around as needed. Use extenders as necessary.
  • Check to make sure that the cables are not intermittent (nothing stops a session as fast as a crackling phone).
  • Send some of the stereo monitor mix (the one that you’re listening to) to the phones first. Add a little of the individual instruments as needed ( more me ). This is a lot easier than building up individual mixes (unless they’re required).

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The Click


Many times just providing a metronome in the phones isn’t enough. What good is a click if you can’t hear it, or worse yet, groove to it?

Here are some tricks to make it not only listenable through the densest mixes but also make it seem like another instrument in the track, too.

  1. Pick the Right Sound – Something that’s more musical than an electronic click is better to groove to. Try either a cowbell, shaker, or even a conga slap. Needless to say, when you pick a sound to replace the click, it should fit with the context of the song.
  2. Pick the Right Number of Clicks Per Bar – Some players like quarter notes, while others play a lot better with eighths. Whichever it is, it will work better if there is more emphasis on the downbeat.
  3. Make It Groove – By adding a little delay to the sound, we can make it swing a bit. Now it won’t sound so stiff and will be easier for players who normally have trouble playing to a click. As a side benefit, this can help make any bleed that does occur less offensive, as it will seem like part of the song.

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Getting the Most From a Vocalist

One of the hardest things to record can be a vocalist who is uncomfortable. Even seasoned pros sometimes can’t do their best unless the conditions are right. Consider some of these suggestions before and during a vocal session.

  1. For the most compelling performance, make sure that the singer observes the Three P’s: Pitch, Pocket, and Passion. Your singer needs to sing in-tune (pitch), stay in the groove of the song (the pocket), and sell the lyrical content through his/her performance (passion).
  2. Make sure the lighting is correct. Most vocalists prefer the lights lower when singing.
  3. A touch of reverb or delay in the headphones can be helpful, although many vocalists prefer a dry vocal to make it easier to stay in tune.
  4. If you need to have the singer sing harder, louder, or more aggressively, turn down the vocal track in the phones or turn the backing tracks up.
  5. If you need to have the singer sing softer or more intimately, turn the singer’s track in the phones up or turn down the backing tracks.
  6. Maintain a dialog with the artist between takes. Long periods of silence from the control room can make the singer believe that you’re judging him even if you’re not.
  7. Try turning off the lights in the control room so they can’t see you. Once again, a vocalist may think that you’re judging him when, you might be talking about something completely different.
  8. If the take wasn’t good for whatever reason, explain what was wrong in a kind and gentle way. Something like, That was really good, but I think you can do it even better. The pitch was off a little. This goes for just about any overdub, since players generally like to know what was wrong with the take rather than be given a Do it again blanket statement.
  9. Keep smiling even if you don’t feel like it, since anything else can kill the mood.

“Given a 3-piece rock band, for example, I would prefer to have them try to play live, although not necessarily all in the same room, so that they’re interacting with each other and can accom- modate each other’s little changes in emphasis and timing. Given a larger ensemble, I’ve always found that you get better results if it’s possible to set everybody up to play live. I’ve done sessions with as many as 12 or 14 band members playing simultaneously. If it’s possible to have everybody play at once, that’s the best way to do it.”

- Steve Albini

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Recording Basic Tracks

  • While many modern recordings are made with as few players as possible playing at once, most recording veterans prefer to have as many players as possible during the basic tracking date. The reasons? The vibe and the sound. While such a session can be rather nerve wracking in complexity, it can really be a lot of fun as well.

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Where to Place the Players

  • Regardless of how good the headphone system is, the players won’t do their best unless they can see each other, so that becomes priority number one. Even if the players know a song down cold, they can’t react to any nuances without clean sight lines to each other. Plus, many players (especially studio veterans) rely on looking at the drummer playing the snare in order to stay locked in time.

“One really revealing thing is to walk around a room and sort of stomp and clap and holler and hear where you’re getting reinforcement from the room and hear where it sounds interesting. Wherever you find the place that you like the sound of the reflected sound is a good place to start.”

- Steve Albini

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How Long Should It Take?

  • Generally speaking, you should be recording within the first hour after the musicians arrive, providing that you were prepared in advance and didn’t start your setup when the musicians did.

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Fletcher on Recording Without Headphones

  1. The key to not using headphones in a spread out recording situation is to keep the amps about 10 feet behind the players and get the players pretty close to the drums. The visual of everyone that close together helps, as well as minimizing the acoustic delay times that occur when you spread the players out too far. When live on stage, there are monitors to solve that very problem.
  2. Sometimes a small speaker like a 10 or a 12-inch as a satellite speaker placed in the null of the pickup pattern of the mics will work wonders getting the drummer to lock with the bass player while you move the bass amp farther away from the drum kit. Gobos will often come in pretty handy, too.
  3. A lot of my guitar reverb/ambience can be had by moving the guitar amp so the little bit of bleed in the drum mics makes it a cool ambience for the guitars. Be careful that this doesn’t overpower the drum kit.
  4. If there are two guitar players, set them up on opposite sides of the kit. This will provide a better stereo picture when you dis- engage the mono button.
  5. Now that you have the whole band set up in a room, mic the room. You should get a reasonable balance of all the instruments. It should sound like a band in a room [fancy that!] The mono button is still in until you’re positive about the clarity of the bottom of the track.
  6. Need more snare? A Shure SM57 aimed about a foot off the side of the center of the shell of the snare drum usually will add all you need without complicating the rest of the balance.
  7. I usually try to get soft things around the drum kit. I actually carry a booth that is 8 feet high, 20 feet wide in the back, and 10 feet long at the sides. It descends from 8 feet high in the back to 4 feet high in the front, which is soft, with 4 inch insulation that’s cloth covered. Use front gobos as needed. A gobo between the amps and the kit will work pretty well at helping to control the bleed. This usually alleviates the bounce and splatter that will be caused by reflections off hard walls. Depending on where you position the kit, these reflections will come back to haunt you as Haas effect problems.
  8. At times, a floor monitor (like at a bar gig) will work well for a scratch vocal. Make sure you can EQ the monitor so the little bit of bleed you get from the scratch vocal track can be used as a vocal reverb when it’s time to mix. Sometimes it’s a way cool thing to have the reverb of the scratch track be the main vocal reverb. Not only are there always performance variations, but if you’re trying to place the singer in the same room with the band, it works like a charm. Just like the guitar and bass amps, you may need to move it around for balance.
  9. Most of the time the singer will actually gravitate to the spot in the room where the band’s balance is best.

“You put the mics up, place them correctly, and give the artist the room and the facility to work in and make sure it sounds cool so when they walk into the control room they say, Oh, that sounds just like I was playing it out there. That’s the goal. To capture the essence of what the artist is actually doing in the studio.”

- Eddie Kramer

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Acoustic spill (known as leakage) from one instrument’s mic into another is often thought of as undesirable, but it can and should be used to enhance the sound instead of avoided. Many recording novices are under the mistaken belief that during a tracking session with multiple instruments, every track recorded must contain only the instrument/source that the mic was pointed at. Since it’s pretty hard to achieve, why not just use the leakage to embellish the tracks instead?

Instead of trying to avoid leakage, great attention should be taken to the kind of leakage being recorded. Leakage can be used as a sort of glue between instruments in much the same way that instruments magnify one another in a live situation.

So when tracking with multiple instruments, keep in mind the following:

  1. Keep the players as close together as possible. Not only will it help the players communicate, but the leakage will produce more direct sound than room reflection, resulting in a better sound.
  2. Whenever possible, use omnidirectional pattern micro- phones. The leakage picked up by omnis tends to be a lot less colored than direction microphones.

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sleduc on August 23rd, 2016

Image of Al Schmitt from

The most decorated engineer/mixer in Grammy history.


The following material is adapted from page 191 of The Recording Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinski

“The art of being prepared for the studio, along with a lot of the engineering arts, is being lost in all the cut-and-pasting. I’ve found that the preparation that people have before coming into the studio has diminished over the last few years by an astounding amount. People will come in and work hard to get something on the first chorus and then say, “Okay, can’t you just paste that everywhere now?” When people used to play these performances from top to bottom, there was a synergy with the track that happened. Something would evolve as the track went on. You definitely lose that if you’re just using a hard disc recorder as a glorified musical word processor.”

- Wyn Davis

Al Schmitt – Preparing for the Session

I talk to the contractor and…

1. Find out how many musicians are going to be on the date and who they are.

  • This is important to me, because having worked with so many of them for so long, I often know how they play and what their sounds are like.
  • For example, I may know how many toms they have on their drums (whether it’s two, three, or five) and this helps me plan my mic setup.

2. I’ll contact the studio and get a list of their microphones.

  • And I also own a large complement of mics.
  • Together, I usually have what we’ll need. But I determine up front if we’ll need to rent any.

3. Then I begin visualizing how I’m going to set up the studio and what microphones I’m going to use.

4. I’ll plan how I’m going to lay out the board as far as what mics are going to go in what positions on the board.

  • I usually start by putting the bass first,
  • then the drums,

So the rhythm section would be first. Percussion might be next.

  • then the keyboards, and
  • then the guitars.

If there is brass…

  • I’ll set up the saxophones, the trombones, and the trumpets.
  • Then I’ll have the ambience mics for the brass.

If there are strings…

  • I’ll put the harp first (if there is one),
  • then the violins,
  • the violas,
  • the celli, and
  • the upright basses.

5. Once the board is set up, I’ll think of how I’ll take these instruments and put them to tape (or to the DAW).

  • For example: if I have a direct pickup on the bass and a microphone on the bass, I will combine them and put them to track 1.

Then drums will be next.

  • I will put the kick to track 2;
  • the snare to track 3;
  • the high hat to track 4; and then depending on what there is,
  • I might put the toms next and then,
  • the overheads or
  • I might combine the toms and overheads together.

This will depend on how many tracks I have available and on how big the session is.

Next, I will put the keyboards, whether it is acoustic pianos, [Fender] Rhodes, or synths.

  • The keyboards will be together or close to each other on the tracks.

Then, I’ll put the guitars, then perhaps the vocal, the ambience mics, the saxophones, the trombones, and then the trumpets.

Then it’ll be the strings and, depending on how many tracks I have left, I will determine how I lay out the strings.

  • I may use two tracks for the violins and one for the viola, and I may use just one track for the cello and basses.
  • Again, the layout of the strings depends on what my options are as far as number of tracks remaining.

6. I’ll also set up all my echoes, which are merely for monitoring purposes at this point.

  • If I’m doing a live date, chances are I will have enough space on the board to use two or maybe three echoes.
  • I’ll set up an echo for the vocal.
  • I’ll set up an echo for the strings, and then the brass.
  • If I’m working at a studio like Capitol (Recording Studio), I’ll use a live chamber.
  • I’ll use a separate chamber for the drums and for the brass and saxes. I’ll use these merely for monitoring purposes.

The (echo) will not go to tape. I’ll print everything dry (no effects).

Echoes will be added during the mixing.

7. I’ll get a setup sheet from the studio and then discuss it with my assistant, Bill Smith.

We’ll talk with the studio assistants, one or two, depending on how big the session is going to be and discuss what we’re going to be doing:

  • how we’re going to lay out earphones,
  • where the instruments are going,
  • what mics we’re using with what instruments, and
  • where the mics are going to go.

This sets everyone on the same page before we even begin.

Download sample track sheets:

8. Then, about three hours before the downbeat, we set up the room.

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sleduc on August 23rd, 2016

Creative Commons image Engineer by Incase from Flickr

The following material is from page 211 of The Recording Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinski

1. An assistant should be well versed in the use of Pro Tools.

  • This has become very important. Most studios today won’t hire assistants unless they are proficient with Pro Tools. It’s almost mandatory.

2. Most of the good assistants we work with today are good musicians in their own right.

  • They can read music. When we’re punching in and have a score in front of us, it’s easy to find the spots, and this saves time. We work with a lot of artists, and occasionally some temperamental ones, who don’t want to be wasting time while an assistant is looking for the top of the second verse, bar 84, or the third beat of bar 22. This has to be done quickly, and it is up to the assistant to be able to find these spots fast so that we can do the punches and fixes.

3. Good personal hygiene was cited by nearly everyone I spoke to.

  • Very simply put, a good assistant smells good. I don’t necessarily mean cologne. I mean no body odor, bad breath, dirty socks, and so on. No one wants to be in a small control room for 10 or 12 hours with someone who smells like an old goat. Take a shower, wear clean clothes, and keep the breath mints handy.

4. One of my engineer colleagues used a word that describes well an important attribute of great assistants: transparent.

  • When you really need them, they’re there. The other times, they’re in the background. But they’re always paying attention to what’s going on and staying with the program. If the assistant sees a problem, he tells the engineer at the appropriate time, and it’s the engineer’s job to take care of it. A good assistant never displays a bad or negative attitude and always leaves his ego at the door.

5. Develop strong computer skills.

  • With everything we use today being computerized, you’ll need to be up to speed on Microsoft Office and all facets of the Internet.

6. If you make a mistake, admit it. Right away.

  • You may have to take your lumps, but we’ll fix it and move on. And once the mistake has been corrected, don’t continue to dwell on it. If you’re worrying about a mistake you just made, you’re going to make another one right away. It’s like golf; you learn from your last shot, but you’ve got to focus on your current one.

7. Keep a good, accurate, and legible track sheet.

  • It’s very important. Otherwise, you’ll create a lot of confusion and mistakes. We find many interns coming out of the schools who just don’t have this skill down, and it’s one of the most important things an assistant does. When noting the track sheet, make sure you talk to the engineer and find out whether it’s a DNU (“do not use”) track or a TBE (“to be erased”) track. If it’s supposed to be on track 18, make sure it is on track 18; if it’s supposed to be on track 6 or 7, make certain it is. The importance of this cannot be overstated.
  • Download sample track sheets:

8. If you are asked a question by the engineer or producer and you’re not sure of the answer, don’t guess. Be honest.

  • Let them know you’ll find out and do it. Today, with the Internet and the great maintenance crews, information is readily available. Get the right answer and give them the information.

9. An assistant needs to know how to align the tape machine.

  • The ability to line up an analog 2-track machine or a 24-track machine is a skill you should master. There isn’t always going to be a maintenance guy around at the moment that it’s required, and you should be able to do it well and accurately.

10. When I was starting out, I found this item very important and helpful. Keep a notebook with you during a session and make diagrams of all the setups, note how the board is laid out and the names of the engineer and artist, what microphones are used, and so on.

  • Three months from now, if you’re doing a follow-up to the session, this information will be a big help to you (and to the engineer) because you’ll be prepared and know what he needs. This notebook will also prove very important to you if you later find yourself thrown into a session on your own. You can refer back to the session in the notebook (assuming the recording sounded great) and see how the studio was physically set up, what mics were used on what instruments, and where they were placed. Believe me, this will prove a big help when starting out on your own. But in the near term, while you’re an assistant, this will help you be more prepared and efficient.

11. On a light but nevertheless important note, keep food menus at hand and be sure to know where you can get a good pizza, good chicken, good burgers, sandwiches, and so on, and who delivers.

  • You’re at a studio where you’re working all the time, and people come in from out of town. They’ll want to know where they can get good sushi or whatever. You should know where the good places are and who delivers and have the menus available.

12. And last but not least, know how to make a good pot of coffee!

“To me the assistant has two main jobs. One is he’s your liaison with the studio, obviously, and the second is documentation. One of the things that is sorely missing is the need for proper documentation from studios. I’m amazed that studios don’t require every assistant to write up a proper track sheet on a session. I don’t care if it’s recorded to Pro Tools or a DAW, I want to see a track sheet at the end of the day.” —Frank Filipetti

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sleduc on August 22nd, 2016

Other Resources

Preparation for Blog Post Creation and Note-taking


“Sound is Half the Picture” – Steven Spielberg

Tools for Mixing

  • Adobe Premiere Pro
  • Adobe Audition
  • Avid ProTools
  • Apple GarageBand
  • Audacity

NLE – Non-linear editor like Audacity, GarageBand, Adobe Audition, Avid Pro Tools, etc.

Equalizer – An equalizer boosts or cuts the amplitude of certain frequencies which alters the harmonics or overtones resulting in the change of the character of the sound.

First Order Filters

High Shelf – This type of equalization, called a first order filter, is the simplest kind of equalization to perform using electronic components. This is found on your basic consumer hi fi systems.

Low Shelf – Cut the sound of the low frequencies in our recording below 100Hz, for example.

High-pass Filter – Lets all the high frequencies pass, eliminating all the low range.

Low-pass Filter – Lets all the low range pass and killing off the high frequencies.

Second Order Filters

Peaking Filter or Parametric Equalizer – Target a more specific range of frequencies. This is often called the and it has three settings:

  1. The frequency, which is what frequency you wish to target,
  2. The gain: how much you want to boost or cut that frequency
  3. The Q, or quality factor, which is how wide the parabola of the adjustment will be.
    • High Q values will have a steeper slope.
    • Sometimes Q is expressed in octaves – the more octaves a Q has the more wider and gentler the effect.

Notch Cut or a Band-stop Filter – Really high Q filter used to completely eliminate a particular frequencies. Used to eliminate constant frequency based noise like a electronic hum or to prevent feedback in a live audio setting.

Graphic Equalizers – Commonly found on mix boards, they behave the same way as parametric equalizers except instead of selecting specific frequencies and changing the q value, all the frequencies are presented as sliders with a predetermined interval and q value.

Why do we use equalizers? - Essentially three main uses:

First: Fix inadequacies in the recording: Microphones aren’t perfect and some have a specific frequency response and you may want to use the equalizer to compensate and create a flatter response.

  • You can also target specific hums with a notch filter and eliminate them or use a high pass filter to cut low range rumble caused by wind noise.

Second: Use EQ when you’re mixing audio sources that are competing in a similar frequency space .

  • A common occurrence when mixing voice over with a background music track, if you cut the background music in the 1200 HZ range, the sweet spot of human voice, you can make some more room for dialogue or voice over tracks:

Third: Making the track sound better – or just different.

  • For instance boosting the bass frequencies on a dialogue track, say around 160 hz will add power to human voices, but too much can make the track muddy and unintelligible.
  • You can add a bit of presence by boosting the 5kHz range but again too much will cause ear fatigue.
  • Sibilance or ess sounds can be found between 4 and 10 kHz, you can boost this for more of a clear sound or cut it to get rid of harsh ess sounds.

Instrument Frequencies – Refer to a mixing instruments chart available online that give you a general guideline for which frequencies to target depending on the instrument.


Dynamics – General loudness of a passage of music from piano which is soft to fortissimo which is loud and forceful.

  • Dynamics in sound engineering is same concept – the dynamic range is the difference from the very soft to the very loud. Sometimes we need to compress that range – to make the difference between soft and loud passages smaller.

Compressor – Makes the difference between soft and loud passages smaller.

  • Compressors help smooth out sudden increases in volume caused by momentary changes of distance from the mic or just natural changes in volume.
  • Compression makes the audio sound more powerful and louder than it really is.
  • A compressor works by essentially squashing down sound that goes above a certain threshold, based on a pre-set ratio of 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, or higher.
  • 2:1 compression means for ever 2 dB increase in volume above a threshold like -12dB from the input, there will only be a 1 dB increase in output volume. 2db goes into the microphone and 1db comes out the speaker.
  • A more drastic compression would be 4:1, for each 4dB increase of input there would only be 1 dB increase in the output.

Compressor Attack and Release – determine how quickly or slowly they kick in.

  • Too fast and you can get a pumping sound, too slow and spikes in the audio can slip through.
  • Once we have compressed the dynamic range, we can safely boost the entire track to make everything generally louder if desired.

Limiter – A limiter essentially prevents peaks from going over a specific target generally used for broadcast and they have very short attack and release times.

  • A limiter has a high compression ratio of 10:1, 20:1, or even 100:1.

Expander – The opposite of a compressor.

  • Expanders are generally only used for the quieter parts of the dynamic range.

Noise Gate- A noise gate is one kind of expander. Essentially like a high pass filter except for amplitude.

  • Anything louder than the threshold will get through, anything lower than the threshold will be expanded down into nothing.

Multi-band Compressor – Combines the best of EQ – the control of harmonics and overtones with the control over dynamic range that a compressor has.

  • A multi-band compressor breaks the track into different bands of frequencies which you can independently apply compression.

Fast Fourier Transform or FFT – A noise reduction tool that works by first taking a snapshot of your audio waveform – creating a profile of the unwanted sound. Then using various settings you can subtract the offending noise from the entire track.

  • Chirping – Too much FFT processing can result in something called chirping which is squirrely weird digital bird sounds. You can avoid chirping but not completely removing background noise.


Delay - Repeating of an original audio signal numerous times.

Combing – By repeating the audio with a delay of 15 milliseconds or less, we get an effect called combing where interference patterns created resemble that of a comb.

Chorusing – With a delay of 15-35 milliseconds we start getting chorusing effects where the brain is starting to perceive more than one voice or instrument is being sounded.

  • Chorusing filters can also vary the pitch and timing of the delays for more effects. This may be useful for creating bizarre and other worldly characters for your audio.

Echo – Beyond a delay of 35 milliseconds and we will begin to perceive an echo effect.

Reverb – The mixture of a large number of random and decaying echoes.

  • Advanced digital reverb generators can even simulate the time and frequency response of a specific rooms like concert halls. Echo and reverb can give your audio track a sense of space – whether that’s a large cavern or even a small hard room.

Pitch Shifting – Take a wave and squeeze the time, this is adjusting the frequency. Make the time shorter and the frequency will go up. Stretch it out longer and the frequency will go down.

Phase Vocoders / Sinusoidal Spectral Modeling – Stretch and squish waveforms making things like auto tune possible.

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