As a second-year student at the faculty of Creative Music Technology, I am getting to know a sophisticated techniques of audio recording and sound processing, however, also founding that in most cases simplicity plays the key role.
Beatbox in recent years, along with the development of technology dedicated to beatbox artists creating in the studio and live performance, overcomes the ever-greater barriers to creating sound. One example is the great Roland RC-505 (loop station) which, in addition to a great sampling control, offers advanced and extended presets of effects, adding in real time different sounds synthesis. I am writing this short report on how I approached the recording of a beatbox, the microphone selection and the mixing techniques I used.
Leave a comment on what do think about these settings and how you finding the overall sound.
This is the first project realized with an artist from Poland, Xankish, who currently is active in the world of beatbox and live performance. He needed to submit a ''wildcard'' for the Grand Beatbox Battle 2019 (via Youtube) and thanks to my student access to the recording studio, located in the Leicester College facility, together, we had the opportunity to try the equipment in great acoustic space.
Before I start to talk about this session and techniques that are applied, listen to the final product:
Microphone - choice & strategy:
You can find all the specification of AKG C414 on the official AKG website.
This multi-pattern condenser microphone is used to record vocals and instruments in many professional studios also for live sound.
Full frequency bandwidth and fairly flat response make me wanted to try out this legendary mic. with the Beatboxer. I set the pattern on Cardioid, also set the Bass cut filter to 40Hz. When set to 80Hz, some of the sounds, (for example, bass) did not have a sufficiently bottom end.
During the test, I noticed that Xankish in order to execute some sounds, he has to turn his head slightly down or sideways. Sound in beatbox is created mainly by the midriff, vocal cords, mouth and lips, it is usually highly dynamic performance with body lots of movement, however in studio situation it is wise to be more static and direct the sound so that it goes in diaphragm (an less the artist decides to hold the microphone in his hand).
Pop filter was not used because some of the sounds would be recorded too weakly (like kick and snare), despite the lack of it, the recording came out without volume peaks.
What you can not see on the recording is its direction. It is directed at a slight angle up. I did it to be sure that when the Xankish directed his head down the signal would be strong enough and have easier mix. As a result, I made the air blown out with the nose added an unwanted 'breeze' to the recording so I advise against this microphone setup.
Mixing & Mastering technique:
The session was recorded in Ableton live 10. Below is the final look in the ''Arrangement view''
The first expectations regarding the mix were:
- the least possible effects (it is a representation of the artist's skills and not a creative song).
- proper compression and EQ.
- mix made so that it was good on different devices (stereo and mono).
The first step was to create two additional audio tracks and copy the file. I did this to use Parallel signal processing (it is based on a New York Compression - or Parallel Compression technique. This common method works well with he vocal, drum percussive and bass sounds). The advantage of using parallel signal processing is that we keep the original audio and add compressed signal from the second and third channels.
The recording came out well, no peaks (except one 'snare' sound, however after -4 dB volume reduction sounds well) and fairly equal volume level. After recording, I found that I could set the Input Gain of the microphone a little bit more. If using only one audio track, I would have to increase the volume of the recording significantly to get the same result as using 3 tracks of the same audio.
the starting point was the appropriate EQ setting of the ''Center track'':
Firstly I used low cut filter at 80 Hz to remove unnecessary frequencies and
boost at 90 Hz +3 dB wide Q to add fullness to the bass sounds bottom end and punch to the kick. Then I turned on the high cut filter at 21 kHz just to boost about 1 dB high shelf around 1.41 kHz set to wide Q. Bearing in mind that I have two additional tracks I made quite a lot of space by reducing mid range -10 dB at 562 Hz.
One of the assumptions was to heavily compress the signal, so the main audio was set at 7:00: 1 compression ratio with threshold set to -16.0 dB. Almost immediate attack and Auto Release makes the compressor work aggressively and +8 dB signal Output compensates for the signal.
After compressing, I started working on the Gate settings. Despite the continuity of sound during the beatbox performance, there are breaks when there is complete silence between a sounds. At these moments, the setting of the Gate makes sense, however, in this performance, too high setting of the Threshold may cause the sound signal which we want to keep, to be silenced. Setting a lowest possible threshold -41 dB and fast attack and release was low enough to silence unwanted floor noise in between some sounds and high enough to register gentle sound (like taking a breath).
after setting the first audio, I started processing ''Left track'':
I wanted to experiment with Parallel processing. Track is set to Panning 6 Left to make space for the ''Central track'' set to pan Center. EQ eight settings are different to fill the frequency spectrum cut out from the ''Central track''. The low cut filter set at 156 Hz eliminated the very low frequency information (''Central track'' is responsible for low end) about -10 dB reduction at 255 Hz with a narrow Q (there is usually ''moodiness' in this frequency area. The frequency, Q and reduction values varies depending on sound source) and high cut filter at 17 kHz to roll off highest frequencies.
The compressor on this track only has to slightly reduce the dynamics. Ratio 4:20 : 1 and Threshold at -8 dB and +10 dB output as a signal compensation. This track also includes A and B sends with Reverb effect (panned Left and Right) to create stereo image, 'blend' together and soften a sound.
Gate used on this track with a slightly higher Threshold -36 dB and Floor -65 dB. The Sends (Reverb) channels on this track are set more loudly, so the Gate task in this case is the effective muting of the Reverb tail. There is also an automated Simple Delay which turns on just to accent some snares and other small elements (delay and reverb are used to create echo effects).
The ''Right track'' has been created to emphasize low-mid and high frequencies:
Set on Panning Right 6, this channel was originally set as Center track, but after the mix phase it turned out that this combination sounds better.
EQ eight set to Low cut 267 Hz added enough low frequencies (when set below 260 Hz, after compression, the sound was introducing to much distortion in this area). High cut set to remove all the frequency over 7 kHz and big Gain reduction -14 dB with wide Q in 1.5 kHz area, made the sound in connection with the rest of the tracks. Compressor, Gate and Simple Delay settings are not much different then settings from 'Left track'. This track has the most parallel Reverb effect from Send A and B channels. After choosing which track should emphasize the most space, the 'Right track' fit context the most.
Sends A pan 10R:
Send B pan 10L:
Reverb settings in both cases have a light Predelay, similar settings for Input Processing and Diffusion Network, however because of the different audio treatment on each track they give variety effects.
Small Size value, narrow Stereo and short Decay Time 1.28 s / 1.68 s make it sound like it's located in the medium size room , the tales of this Reverb are silenced by Gate.
These settings are the result of experimenting and trying different combinations, remember, if it sounds good you should keep it.
At the end of the Master channel I added EQ eight, Multiband Dynamics, Compressor and Limiter:
Thanks to three tracks I did not have a problem with the loudness in fact their volume values are set to about -7 dB. EQ eight only to get more brightness to the track and to make sure that no frequencies below 40 Hz and over 18 Hz are introduce. Multiband Dynamics was a great tool to bring up the low end and mid of the track by Upward Compression. Another Compressor set to very high Threshold -5 dB with fast attack 0.01 ms and auto release juz to glue all track and sends together. Limiter works as a ceiling making sure that Master volume signal will not go over -1.30 dB.
Thanks to the artist's good preparation for the session, during the recording, we were able to focus on getting the best shot. The microphone worked great and the audio was recorded in high quality without noise ,volume peaks or distortion. The mix and master described in this blog is not a model that matches all scenarios but only my attempt to get a good sound. After finished work, I think it is too much compressed and I could set the Compressor a bit lighter, however thanks to hard compression all the sounds are present on different devices (phone, laptop, speakers. Only on the headphones it seems to be a bit too sharp for high frequencies).
Video recording & edit:
The video was recorded with GoPro Hero 7 as one shot. The camera operator during the recording session was Cezary Jaworski.
Edited with Filmora Wondershare software by Etalon Production.
I hope you have found something that will help you in your mixing or recording techniques or you inspired to work on a similar project. If you have any questions about this session or you need advice on how to use Ableton Live for recording and mixing, contact me via email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay well and keep the good work going.