RECODING TECHNIQUES WITH CAT COLEMAN
WE TAKE A LOOK BEHIND THE SCENES AT MUSIC FEEDS’ LIVE STUDIO SESSIONS.
Since 2013, Music Feeds’ studio in Sydney has been a hub for live sessions. Some are recorded, mixed and shared around the world, but a whole lot more have been streamed as the band plays, under the attentive ear of freelance producer and engineer Cat Coleman. Ghost, Josh Pyke, Gang of Youths, Gary Clark Jr. and Franz Ferdinand; they’ve all passed through Music Feeds with Coleman at the helm. The fact that these sessions combine elements of front of house [FOH] mixing and standard studio work makes them interesting from a technical standpoint, but also somewhat complicated. A lot of work goes into grabbing the gig as it unfolds, while making sure that the audio and video streams successfully reach your smartphone.
How would you prepare for a session that combines elements of both FOH work and a typical studio recording?
I usually leave a three hour window. That includes an hour for me to get in before the band arrives and set everything up, half an hour for the band to set their stuff up, half an hour for soundcheck, half an hour for them to play, and then half an hour to pack down. I also talk to their people to get a tech rundown, input lists, stage plot and all of those sorts of things, so in the hour that I have before they turn up, I can set up most of the mics, lines and instruments.
They’re probably closer to FOH, just having everything ready to go so you can drop things in when they need to be there, but utilising all of the studio gear, tricks and outboard tools. I have a reverb send and a delay send set up so I can use them when I need to, I’ve got a limiter over the master bus as well, and I use bits of compression on a lot of things – you’re outputting to the internet, essentially, so you need to make sure you’re nowhere near that clip level. I usually multitrack everything to ProTools as well as send it out to a stereo mixer for YouTube or Facebook, so later on, if we wanted to mix a playlist of the best Music Feeds live sessions, I’ve got everything ready.
Is there a go-to setup for live studio sessions?
Most of the first hour is used for setting up, so you end up mixing on the fly. When we stream live to Facebook, I’m really mixing blind because most of the time, I can’t actually see the band in the room. They might be set up in a corner away from the window, for example, so I’m just mixing what I hear. You can’t solo anything either, because the stereo output of the desk is going directly to the live feed. But it’s fun, and I’ve been pretty happy with my live mixes.
What kind of gear chain is used to stream the audio and video?
I normally go from the microphones to the preamps, into ProTools to multitrack it all, then I output each multitrack into our 40-channel Raindirk console. After that, I take a stereo feed off the console, which goes out to the internet and syncs up with the video through a video mixer and a Wirecast system, which is the software we use to stream it out live. We’ve got some really nice preamps in the studio, some APIs, and Shadowhills which are all outboard and standalone units.
Streaming sites can put some pretty heavy compression on digital audio. How do you make sure the quality holds up?
All of my live sessions are recorded at 48kHz, and before the stereo feed goes out to the internet, it runs through a limiter which gives me overall control. There’s usually a fair bit of headroom before it goes to YouTube or Facebook, too, just because it’s better to be safe than sorry. But we did a lot of testing, especially when Facebook Live was introduced. Most of the tests at the beginning sounded terrible because we couldn’t really control the audio [from their end], so we didn’t stream live to Facebook for quite a long time. But eventually something changed on their end, and all of a sudden, the audio sounded clean.
What other bits of gear go into making a live studio recording sound good?
The mic collection. We’ve got the standard studio range, some nice Neumanns and some new Audio Technicas. That range is a big plus. You also need good monitors – we’ve got these great Focal Twin monitors, and ever since we put them in, my mixes have improved 100 percent. But I think the best thing at this studio is the room: it sounds fantastic, especially for drums. There aren’t many studios around with a big, great sounding room like that.