Academy Dashboard Forum Academy Academy Lesson Suggestions Brass and woodwind

  • This topic has 10 replies, 3 voices, and was last updated 3 years ago by Nicholas Jackson.
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    Nicholas Jackson

      A question (I just joined the Academy yesterday). There isn't much on YouTube from other sources regarding recording / mixing brass & woodwind. I have a good alto sax player here (namely Mrs J) and she plays flute, clarinet and soprano sax too. I'd love to see something on this, I haven't heard Warren mention this area much, although I'm sure he must have experience. I think I've nailed a fairly good sound just by plonking a U87 about a foot away from the bell but should I know more? I do appreciate that saxophones aren't very trendy in modern music. Another thing we're considering is mixing real sax with samples to make a section for example, so that makes me ask, what should I be doing to mix, reductive EQ?

      If I'm not looking hard enough here, please let me know!

      Derek Nellis

        Hi Nick!

        I've actually been doing a lot of mixing horns, particularly with my band that has 4 horns: Trumpet, Alto, Tenor, Trombone. I totally agree that info on mixing horns is much more sparse than with other instruments, but I've learned a few things so far.

        For EQ, I generally put a shallow low cut below bottom of the register (in case they want to go there), and then do some reductive stuff on very resonant areas of the horn.  The tricky part with this is that every player has a different sound/tone/timbre (especially considering mouthpiece differences), so these resonances can vary from player-to-player.  Sometimes you won't have to do much with EQ, and in general I'd say go easy, since you don't want to butcher the sound they've worked so hard to develop over the years.

        Outside of that, I find approaching a horn section as a single entity works really well.  I have all the individual tracks sending to FX tracks (so I can level balance the sends separately), and all the balanced horn and aux tracks get routed to a horn bus that I can THEN do some real EQ shaping on to match the rest of the tune.  This seems to keep a good balance between keeping the integrity of individual instrument sound and blending with everything else.

        As for using samples, I can't say I've tried to make it actually work, but I've worked with it and can say that they tend to clash in a not-so-pleasant way.  Basically, it really brings out the fact that some of the horns are sampled, which could be distracting, but if you can make it work then more power to ya!  If anything, I'd suggest just doing multiple takes so you have a "section" of real horns.

        Lastly, it can be hard to get horns to sound like a cohesive "horn section" when recorded separately as apposed to live recording a whole horn section together at once.  Lining up the tracks helps (of course), but the subtleties in timing/feel can be pretty tedious and hard to line up.  I've found that a good deal of parallel processing can help with a cohesive sound, as well as mask subtle differences in articulation, leading to a fatter horn section sound.

        Hope this gives you some direction, I'm still learning too!

        Nicholas Jackson

          Hi Derek, at last someone else who 'does' brass!

          Excellent tips. I agree recording section at a time far better. I have a couple of problems there. Although my project studio is 7m x 4m its only 2m high I think that will cause terrible standing waves with say, a trombone. However, we're considering using our living room as a 'studio extension' which would mean me cabling through and perhaps buying a rack with preamps, not impossible. The other problem was getting musicians here because of lockdown, however as no-one has gigs right now, we might try again!

          Great EQ tips, I kind of knew I didn't want frequency stacking but as you say, you don't want to demolish the sound of the instruments. I wondered whether to EQ soloists differently from a section (or when the instrument is in the section).

          Samples: well, you can make big improvements with diligent articulation but I agree, the real thing is just better. It's the warmth and dynamics form a real section that can't be beat.

          And I hadn't thought of parallel processing but I've done it elsewhere. Good tip. I must check out your work if you've sent links! Thanks very much for the reply.

          Final question, do you do jazz? (sorry if jazz is a no-go zone...).

          Derek Nellis

            Actually jazz is my wheel-house!  If anything, I know much less about recording rock and pop, which is what most engineering blogs/videos focus on.  I made a post in personal mixes here

            I'm still waiting for a new drum track, but otherwise it's fairly up-to-date with my methods for processing the horns.

            About horn solos, I find that using the light EQ method per-track doesn't affect them too much, though the parallel processing needs to be tweaked for sure.  This tune in particular was troublesome since all 4 horns solo, and then solo "together" as well.  Basically when they're "soloing" together, I kinda split the difference with the parallel sends.  Still could use some tweaking though!

            Nicholas Jackson

              That's great news a 'jazzer' in the Academy! I've had a quick listen on my laptop and will listen properly in the studio later, I love the style btw. Its kind of funky as well as jazzy. What we've done here is a bit more 60s 'cool' style I'll post a link later. It was the first thing I'd ever recorded and mixed, and it was a 'live session very intimidating for me! I've learned a lot since (mainly from Warren).

              Thanks so much for sharing, I'm sure I'll have questions..

              Nicholas Jackson

                Hey Derek had a proper listen in my studio. I'd love to see the band live I'd really enjoy it. Love the double-time bit at the end. I listened to the Mix14 master AIFF (I actually downloaded it to make it easier, the browser didn't want to play it). I can't comment too much more than (was it Paul?) as I'm learning myself, but I guess I might have been a bit more active on the solos to put them forward but all the instruments are nice and clear lear and you can hear what they're doing. I appreciate your problem with all recording separately, I guess there's been a lot of that in lockdown!

                Here's a link to the session we did in Jan, my first ever engineering job (the track Wendy isn't mine though, that was recorded years ago). It was all recorded in three hours, live, but my wife redid some sax later. We had the rhythm section in the studio and my wife in the living room with a mic and headphones feed, and a computer monitor each way using Zoom so they could see each-other for visual cues (but of course with a delay... tricky). I've used very little compression (to keep it authentic) and there were only three mics on the kit, a kick-in using a felt beater and two overheads. My studio isn't tall enough to get the O/Hs away from the kit though. The bass was a nightmare, its an upright and used a small amp which I DId, but next time I'd prefer DI straight from the pickup with a mic on the body end of the neck. Live & learn. I love the guy's playing though. Next time I'll also use Warrens 'duplicate bass tracks to split top/bottom to SUM' trick.


                The song at the top is not from that session, but my first stab at writing my own material (its pop not jazz), I think I could mix it better now but I've moved on to my next song. Its me on all guitars, bass and vocals my wife on all the brass and the same live drummer as on the jazz session. I introduced some Logic kik and snare samples to reinforce the live stuff. I did a little video too, don't know if you live in the UK but it carries a little visual topical reference to lockdown!


                Thanks so much again Derek.

                • This reply was modified 3 years ago by Nicholas Jackson.
                Derek Nellis

                  Hey Nick

                  So I listened to some of the stuff and overall I'd say it sounds pretty nice!  The thing with straight-up jazz is that you really want to go light on the processing, since the musicians generally don't like the integrity of their sound tinkered with too much.  And that "natural" sound is kinda the vibe anyways (as apposed to rock/pop "better-than-real" sound).

                  I'm not familiar with micing (or really amplifying for that matter) upright, but I'd assume it would be best to close-mic the body, then get a (DI?) off the pickups.... if that's how it works?  Maybe a room mic would be nice too?  Could help with blending those nice overtones with the plucking.

                  Also, that's a wonderfully warm alto sound!  I'm generally more partial to bright and aggressive alto, but her sound is warm AND fat!  I usually associate warmer alto tone with having a thinner sound, so it's very nice!  That said, if you listen to around the middle register (starting with their middle D up to around G, sometimes A depending on the player) those notes can be very resonant, especially on Alto.  I'll usually fish around that frequency range a bit to scoop a little out so they don't poke out more than the rest of the range.  I'll usually not do it unless I start hearing it though, in which case I'll slap an EQ at the top of the FX chain.

                  I thought the drums sounded good!  For jazz you actually don't want a super present kick sound from the beater, it's more about that fat, resonant "tail" that comes off it.  Honestly I can't say I'm the biggest fan of that sound, so I personally shoot for somewhere in the middle (since the modern sounds kinda sounds a little too... fake-ish?  Well kicks I've heard when playing in bands don't sound quite so tight anyways, though I don't do much rock/pop!).

                  Mixing in samples can be a hot-button issue with some people, though I haven't ever done it myself.  That may be something between the engineer and musician though, and I have heard some musicians form strong opinions about it.  I'm impartial, as long as it sounds good, right?

                  Hopefully I can get some stuff published soon.  We're playing at our local History Museum in December (they're doing a video game exhibit) that will be streamed, and I'll be able to grab multitracks off it which is awesome, so I should be having some fun with that later this year!

                  Keep up the good work man, sounds great to my ear so far!

                  Nicholas Jackson

                    Thanks so much for taking the time Derek. As you can hear this is kind of 50s 60s bebop style and I think from that leads the mellow alto sound, she's experimented with many mouthpieces, this is what she prefers (she was delighted to see your comments). At the time we used a U87 though GAP Pre-73 and a GAP compressor going in, but since we've a bought Warm Audio WA73 preamp and a WA-2A opto compressor. The sound is more transparent but still er.. warm! We have nothing to post yet, only test recordings to CD backing tracks.

                    You're so right, this type of jazz, very little compression, but my big problem was finding a modern reference track to check my mix, hardly anyone does this stuff now, and the originals, although great, tend to have the audio spectrum around the middle, with little bottom end. If you can think of anyone who does well mastered jazz in this style please me know, I'll buy a CD!!

                    TripWillie 2

                      Hi Nicholas, glad to see more Jazz people ! I enjoyed the song you worked on, really nice ! Puts me in the mind of Parker. As for modern bands playing this kind of Jazz, I recommend a band Called The Atlantis Quartet. You can find them on YouTube. All great musicians, they experiment with rhythms  and tones. Very modern sounding but they are very good students of the classic roots.  Hope this helps !

                      Nicholas Jackson

                        Hi Earl thanks so much for the response. Yes jazz isn't all I do but we have a great interest here, and I'd like to do more as I think I can now do a lot better. You're spot on with the influence, definitely Parker and Mrs J is also a huge fan of Paul Desmond, Art Pepper, Cannonball, that kind of vibe. We're checking out the Atlantis Quartet right now (Lines In The Sand) sounds good thanks!

                        I don't know my way around PLAP too well yet but have you posted anything?

                        Nicholas Jackson

                          Guys as you showed in interest in the sax, we recorded this only as a bit of fun before Xmas.


                          I still see nothing  on brass in the academy, might have to do a reboot!

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