Hugh Palmer

MELBOURNE SOUND RECORDIST & AUDIO ENGINEER

Professional Sound Recordist based in Melbourne, Australia.

Offering a range of audio related services including Sound Recording, Sound Design, Music Recording and Audio Restoration.

Reflections

The past three months have been some of the busiest of my life. During this period I have developed an ability to hear when somebody within a two kilometre radius utters the words "Who would be interested in..." and be there with my hand up in their face before they have finished the sentence. Never have I networked so hard, been so dedicated or devoted myself to anything quite so much as I have done to my career in sound. Countless days have been spent waking up with just enough time for breakfast before heading in to the studio and from then on being devoid of all sunlight and food (but never coffee) until the following morning.

In this time I have been sound recording and booming on two feature length films and a TV series - the latter of which involved a Pozible Campaign which you should go, check out and throw your money at. I’m not sure if it’s all the cool gear that I get to use or the challenge of having to record a high quality of sound under pressure but I’m really enjoying working on film sets.

I have also been in the studio a lot, recording and mixing a more musical set of sounds. I have recorded a punk band, a hardcore band, an alternative rock band and a jazz band. I’ve also written a number of songs, both for the screen and otherwise. I have written an hour of electronic music for a live show, a future/classical piece for a tower defence/first-person shooter game, a re-imagining of an old nursery rhyme for a web-series, a cinematic drum based score for the same series and I even found time to write a personal piece incorporating live and electronic elements.

Also, since the start of the year I have started more vehemently doing post sound for film and am seriously enjoying it. Most recently I took part in doing a trailer for a web series, two episodes for two different web series and a short film. All of these have been an invaluable learning experience. I have learned to appreciate and enjoy the mixing of these projects, rather than just recording and manipulation of the sound effects and foley. It’s only really been in the past month that I have realised the power of a good mix. I have always enjoyed the sound effect side of things, getting individual elements just right, but now I can see the creative freedom that mixing an entire product affords you. I can see now how much more it is than pulling levels and adding reverb and this makes me really excited to go and work in this aspect of audio more. 

But is all off this work paying off? Or have I just been beating the proverbial dead cat. I often worry that I have over-committed and in will have to start hiring ghost producers to help me get my work done. Thankfully I am yet to experience such an occurrence and instead have always handed everything over on time or early and to the satisfaction of my clients. So I think that I can display my ability to do quantity, but obviously that isn’t the important part of all of this. Nobody cares if you can write a hundred songs that all suck, it’s the songs that give you goose bumps that matter. So with that in mind I would like to share with you three of my recent products that I am most proud of.

 

The first of these projects was put forward by a group of film students. The brief was to write an intro song for a dark comedy web series wherein a rivalry between two warring bakeries turns ugly after one of the bakers turns to murder. To fulfil this brief we decided pretty quickly upon a reinterpretation of the traditional song Paddy Cake. Our initial notion was to write it in a 60s gospel swing style but I felt that this wasn’t going to be quite dark enough for the genre. I borrowed a mac from a friend as my logic board had just fried and sketched out a 32 bar rhythm. That demo actually ended up being quite a close representation of what I was after. Having such a simple tool such as Garageband as a starting point meant I wasn’t “restricted” to a universe of options. I didn’t get sucked into tweaking that reverb or making sure the drums sat just right. I couldn’t change those things so I didn’t have to worry about them. This is definitely something that I feel helps the writing process and will be pursuing further as a creative tool.

When we got back into the studio all of my team members were down with the new direction and so we jumped right in to tracking some drums. This was a great session for me as we tried some pretty extreme recording techniques in order to achieve the grungy sound that I was after. Things like two valve condensers as rooms, running cranked into Neve pres and straight into a pair of destressors on brit mode, ration set to high. A pretty extreme sound, but done in the context of the song it worked great. In fact I think every element of the track had distortion of some kind on it. We also recorded some sequences of metal racks and objects getting smashed it time to the beat. These I cut up to the grid, and with a little bit of sampling added in, managed to have a cool beat that sounded like a bunch of pots and pans in a kitchen. The whole process really taught me just how important (and how much more fun) it is to pull a good sound during recording. The extra hour spent experimenting and fixing problems can save a half a day messing around in the mix. Overall the project was a great success in my view. All of the team members pulled together and produced a great sounding project. And more importantly the clients loved and it was implemented as the theme music without a single change requested.

 

The second project that I am proud of is a short film entitled Aura of NostalgiaThis was the project where I was afforded a large amount of creative freedom. It basically centres around a man whose emotional stability begins to breakdown due to a night of drinking and reminiscing over his relationship. I was lucky to work with such a creative and audio minded director who really pushed freedom to really try to tell the story from an acoustic standpoint and to bring about the illusion of the apparition of his memories. To achieve some of these effects I used a combination of delays and reverbs running into each other, coupled with manipulated samples and soft-synths as well as various filters throughout. This was a fun process and I know that it was appreciated by both the director and the producer.

Re-watching the film after hand-over, I am struck by inconsistency of the placement of some of the sounds. I don't want to be too specific with what I can hear as it might colour your watching. But I'll just say that I know there is room for improvement and I really can't wait for my next opportunity to be able to implement this improvement.

 

Third project was a three stage process of recording, mixing and mastering. All of which was shared with a talented friend of mine. The basic idea was to go to a small bar in Fitzroy and record the resident jazz band while getting in a cameraman to film some shots for a promo video. Seems simple enough right? The hardest thing was the prep. It took us a solid three weeks of sourcing microphones, interfaces, talking to bar staff and general running around to ensure that the night would run smoothly. In the end due to some solid leg work by myself and others the night was a great success.

In terms of the recording engineering we had some troubles attempting to daisy chain two 8 channel interfaces via ADAT. Luckily however we had a backup plan and ended up having two computers running separate Pro Tools sessions which we synced up later. This was a little bit finicky with having to switch headphones in order to monitor things from one system to the next but overall it was ok. The sounds we pulled were generally pretty good. Obviously it was hard and quite different to what I'm used to, being unable to properly monitor a sound as you set it up. We ended up setting microphones in positions that we knew from experience would generally give us a good sound and then tweaked where possible. The overall sound that was pulled was pretty good. If I were able to go back and change it I would definitely tweak the piano and the trumpet but other than that I think they were all represented quite well by the recording. 

I loved this project and it really reinvigorated my love for recording music. The live setting was a little tricky but I would love to do some more work in the environment in order to really nail the approach. You can listen to the recordings here

 

Well, those of you that made it all the way through that mammoth of a post, I thank you for taking the time to pry further into my thoughts. Stay tuned, there's definitely more work to come.

H

Confessions of an Addict

I’m here to admit something to you all, to finally come clean. I am an addict. My obsessive behavior is tearing professional career apart. Days that I could be working are spent indulging in my destructive. Yes, my name is Hugh and I am a gear addict!

“HI HUGH!”

But seriously I do often think about how much time I could be doing something productive that I spend drooling over the next mic. Sure it’s important to stay updated with the latest technology, but you can’t put the pre-amp before the performance. In other words don’t allow the fact that you can’t afford or don’t have gear allow you to stop making or recording music. The Beatles recorded their second album with just two tracks of recording. Albeit two tracks of recording through an EMI desk with beautiful microphones but still, I can’t remember the last time I recorded a drum kit with two microphones, let alone an entire band.  

These days there is an absolute plethora of gear to check out and it’s all just a mouse click away. But take a look at the piece of gear sitting on your studio desk, the one that you bought 6 months ago after an intense period of longing. Is it collecting dust or have you just put it down after a monster session? This is an important question to ask yourself as you are purchasing gear. So often the grass can seem to sound so much better with a brand new mic, until you get there. And then you’re just going to need that valve preamp.

So go and use what you have and use it well. I am in the position – as I’m sure many of you are as well – where I need the gear to get the job to get paid in order to get the gear… The cycle is viscous and real. But don’t let it get you down. There is a reason there is entry-level stuff. Skimp, save and get what you can to get your first jobs. People paying you $150 for a session aren’t expecting racks of 1073’s. There is a plethora of gear available that will do the job well and won’t leave you having to mortgage your house.

The State of Loudness

Back in the early 90s it became apparent to the industry just how powerful the effect of perceived loudness is. Anybody who has some experience in audio will know just how impressive it is to bump up your mix a few dB, or to run the vocals through a compressor that’s really just boosting gain. It’s a phenomenon that can be creatively used to great effect. Bringing a loud and heavy drop after a quiet breakdown is the basis of 95% of all electronic dance music. It intrigues the ears and excites the listener.

 

This is something that was known for a long time before the 90s, however what they realized was that this effect directly correlated to songs playing next to each other on the radio. If a song came on that seemed louder, the listener perceived it as being better and this supposedly meant more record sales, which of course meant more money for the record company. So, pretty quickly there became a massive push for mastering engineers to start hitting their equipment as hard as possible without completely destroying the fidelity. There was less care given to the sonic quality of the song and more towards just how it loud it was going to sound. By the mid 2000’s this trend was in full swing and it became a war (or race as mastering engineers are pacifists) to see who could pull the loudest sounds.

 

But music, like so many other things in life, is a balancing act. If you take away something from a whole then it’s going to feel off. If you emphasize something to the extreme then be sure to expect that something will diminish. In this case, when you aim for the heights of loudness while mastering then your compromise is going to be the dynamic range of the track. And not just throughout different sections, but between the balance of the instruments too. This, for some genres and pieces of music might not be too much of an issue. But for so many it will take away the life, the breath. Having music “brick walled” creates a fatiguing listening experience and can seriously take away the impact of a performance.

 

So where does this leave us? Is music irrevocably ruined? I wouldn’t throw out my stereo just yet. Interestingly one of the things that has been so terrible for music in so many ways is starting to reinstate the dynamic masters of yesteryear. Itunes, Spotify and other electronically based listening mediums actually employ loudness normalization algorithms in order to keep consistent volumes between different tracks from different eras. To achieve this programs generally utilize a relatively low loudness standard. What this does is it allows a large headroom margin, ensuring that a normalized dialog track that plays next to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring will sound (on average) the same volume, while still affording the Stravinsky piece the room needed to deliver a shattering crescendo. What’s really incredible is when a hyper compressed piece of audio plays against a relatively un-compressed piece it’s the hyper compressed piece that suffers, sounds flat and uninteresting.

 

Beethoven v.s. Opiuo

So due to modern listening methods and loudness normalization it is the general hope of many (myself included) that we will see a return a mastering process where less attention is given to the loudness and the engineer is freed up to focus on sonic quality.

The Plugin of My (And Your) Dreams is Here

The one thing that's always been missing from my digital analog racks has finally arrived! No more blank spaces in my pro tools sessions. No more empty racks showing the lack of wiring and dissapointing my clients!

Boz Digital Labs have finally put together something spectacular! A completely 100% authentic emulation of a genuine rack spacer. Put this on everything and hear just how much it will change your sound. And what's more is that its completely FREE! Whats more, is it has 4 different emulations of different spacer types -  I promise the Elite really does make you feel like you're better than everyone else.

Grab it here and check out the video below!

 

 

The Legality of a recording

Lately I have been pondering a question that may not strike our minds too often while we pull that massive drum sound... Who owns the rights to this recording? The fact is that this is a complicated issue (who knew law was complex?!) but nonetheless I will attempt to decipher this issue so as to make it vaguely more approachable for you - and myself.

Copyright law in Australia is based upon a 1968 Commonwealth Act, including several amendments under this act. Many artistic and inventive things are covered under these acts but what we need to focus on specifically is: Musical Works & Sound Recording Subject Matter Other Than Works. These are two separate and distinct parts of this Act and both protect different parties rights in different ways.

Musical works belong to the writer of that work. If you can logically and reasonably argue that you have had a part to play in the writing of a musical piece, then you may have a claim to the rights of that song under Australian Law. That is provided that the work was published or made in Australia or a country on a list of complying countries (for those of you keeping up this does not include countries such as China and Iraq). But then you have to take the lyrics of a piece into account, this is covered under a separate literary copyright. 

On top of the copyright for works there is a separate amendment to the act which covers "Subject Matter Other Than Works". This, once again covers a large range of subjects but of a particular interest to us is sound recordings. This roughly defined as the aggregates of sound within a record and there are all manner of situations in which different people are granted the copyright under different scenarios. The most important thing to take note of here is that the Copyright Act actually allows you to come to mutual agreements as to who owns a particular recording. 

So write out agreements. This is the only and most important thing I am writing about. Make sure that whenever you make a recording that all parties are aware of who owns what and that this is all documented in writing. Otherwise all manner of troubles can come out of it. If you are sampling any recognisable piece of music, even if you rip it apart, stretch it and reverse it, if it  can be traced in any way back to the original you can be in deep, expensive poo.

So write your agreements and pay session musicians and enjoy all that royalty money that comes.

How relevant are the Grammys?

Kanye is in the news again for "sticking up for creativity" during this years Grammy awards ceremony. A noble thought, but how worthy is this cause? I decided to search for a creative vein which must still exist within these awards. Instead, after half an hour of searching, I was cast into such a mind numbing tornado of boredom. Controversies ruled and the music took a second place to LA based drivel. I resigned to forgoing my hunt for the silver lining and to just state what we all know deep down about these awards. 

We can equate it to the football world cup. Entertaining, but not about to change the way that I go and kick a soccer ball. In fact its worse than that, its more like cock fighting is to MMA. Irrelevant and a cheap distraction from the heart of the art form.

Basically their outdated, they honor cultural success over any kind of creative or intellectual milestone. As Maynard James Keenan of Tool has put it:

I think the Grammys are nothing more than some gigantic promotional machine for the music industry. They cater to a low intellect and they feed the masses. They don't honor the arts or the artist for what he created. It's the music business celebrating itself."

So what is the solution? How do we better structure these or any awards and if we could, would there be any point? In order to answer this we need to look at the root motives for these awards and those of the artists attending them.

I think it vitally important that we keep tabs upon our reason for making music, to whom we are making it for and what is the goal of this music. I believe that the vast majority of artists started writing for themselves. They had to. Its such a long and arduous process of finding and sculpting a sound that you would have to love it. But when success comes knocking upon the door you then have to start treading the line between writing and performing what you love, and what your audience loves. Hopefully these two things keep relatively in alignment. If not then your fan base will undoubtedly let you know.

We need to keep in mind that these awards are nothing but a cherry being thrown on a cake by an arbitrary fashion show posing as a serious institution. They never should be any kind of motivation for making music nor should they offer any kind of validation for you making the choices you did. If you think they do then you may have lost sight of why you started making music in the first place... For you. 

So lets not lose sight of the reason that we make our art, even amid all the expensive dresses, thongs and champagne. It is mainly an ego show anyway, as is this article really. So please, don't take it too seriously. I certainly try not to. Hopefully, if we all try to ignore their boorish headlines and events, like a child screaming for attention they will eventually shut up and then hopefully this will be the last time that I ever have to write about the Grammys.

Zoom H6 VS Tascam DR 680

I've spent the past 3 weeks researching what is going to be the best way for to go about recording audio while away from the studio. After some careful deliberation I boiled it down to two units the Zoom H6 and the Tascam DR 680. 

Both of these units are entry level in terms of price, they both have the ability (with some attachments and modifications) to record 6 channels of audio and they both record 24bit/96kHz audio. And while I do think that the DR 680 would ultimately be the superior unit, for my immediate needs and unfortunate lack of funding, the H6 has come out the champion. 

In the end and after weeks of head scratching it came down to a good old pen on paper list of pros and cons. Here's how I eventually broke it down:

h6.jpg

Zoom H6

Price: $435

4 ins

Ok pre amp, not as good as 680

Lighter and compact                    

Comes with 2 stereo mics

~ 5 - 8 hours battery life

 

Tascam DR 680

Price: $635

6 analog ins / 2 digital ins

Quieter pre-amps

More professional looking for clients

Would have to buy atmos mics

~ 30 - 90 minute battery life

Basically, its clear that the DR680 would give me a decent recording device. I would however be left to have to go and buy microphones for atmosphere recording and a battery to sustain it for longer than the often cited 30 minute recording time with 8 (!!!!) AAs. With the savings in cash here I could then invest in a far superior NTG3 (over the NTG2), as well as putting cash away to eventually get external mixers (like the sound devices 302) in order to improve the sound quality of the H6. 

 

So in conclusion if you have the extra 500 ish dollars then I would probably nab a DR680 and upgrade it all the way. If however, you are like me and are still waiting for people to start throwing money at you, the H6 seems like a good answer for the meanwhile.

Here it is!

Hello everybody and welcome to my hub of interaction. 

I'm really excited to have this space up and running. I will be using it to post up ideas, tutorials, and projects that I am working on!

Watch this space, more awesome shit to come!