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Working With Headphones

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Just Press Play Logo Gif 13423The Advantage:
When monitoring over control room speakers, the distance from the speakers to the guitarists ears is typically at least five feet. Let's use five feet for the example. As mentioned in other articles, sound travels at approximately a millisecond per foot, so when recording guitar in the control room the delay from the monitor speakers to the guitarist is approximately five milliseconds. That's five milliseconds before the guitarist hears the track (the other players) as well as himself/herself. The deal is that hearing the band five milliseconds late causes the guitarist to react five milliseconds later. Further, the guitar signal is heard over the monitors five milliseconds later totaling 10 milliseconds at the point of playing through the monitoring. So you may think 10 milliseconds late hurts the overall feel of the groove. Yes it does, if you are not used to the delay. Over the years, when overdubbing guitar and monitoring over control room speakers, my brain is used to this and has caused my hands to make up for the delay. I end up ever so slightly playing on top of the groove to make up for the delay.

But there are times when my brain does not want to deal with the delay make-up (if Im tired). So if I am playing a rhythm guitar part and I am not quite locking into the groove, I monitor using cans instead of monitoring over the control room monitors. The speaker monitor delay time no longer exists! Using cans to monitor is surely a great way to lock into the groove!

The Disadvantage: The down side is EQing the guitar signal. Mid-price to expensive cans sound like total ear candy so sonically delicious the brain says that no EQ help is needed. But after recording, you play back over the speakers and notice the guitar sounds slightly dark, or whatever.

The disadvantage fix: Hey, the fix is simple so here we go.

Dont EQ the guitar; simply set the level. Record the part and dont worry about the performance at this point. After recording, if the guitar amp and guitar amp mic is in the control room, to avoid feedback, take the guitar track out of record mode or mute the guitar amp mixer mic input. Take off the cans and monitor over the monitor speakers. Play back the guitar track and EQ to taste on the mixer module used for the guitar recorder track return. After you are happy with the EQ settings, transfer the EQ settings to the guitar mixer module used for the guitar mic. Get rid of the EQ on the recorder track mixer module return. Now mute the control room monitors and put the cans back on. Record another pass and repeat the above procedure if needed. After you are happy with the EQ, most likely youll want to compress the signal.

If you want a compressor in the chain, theres no problem working with the settings with the cans on. See Parts 10 through 13 for details on compressors.

This is the instant gratification article for those of you that are familiar with working in cans-land. The next article will offer full details but before I get into writing that article, the following is serious stuff to help avoid getting slammed with a million dB of feedback in the cans!

When I was playing guitar in the studio for many years, many times, I was slammed with feedback levels that caused serious pain! This was typically caused by an engineer or 2nd engineer that had made an incorrect patch on the mixer patch bay causing a feedback loop. This is different than guitar amp feedback. Its feedback that is caused by an electronic loop of feeding a signal back to itself. The sound is so loud it will scare you big time!!!

Extremely important: Always remember that a thinking engineer mutes the Cue System (cans monitor path) before making any patch or mixer mode changes! After making an incorrect patch, if a feedback loop happens, the cue system will not hear it. If the control room monitor volume is set to a normal listening level or higher, the feedback squeal will scare anyone in the control room! Not nearly as bad as someone wearing cans.

The first time I got blasted, I realized I needed a way to protect this from happening again. Logic states to position the cans back off the ears. I positioned to around 75% on ear, 25% off ear. That position eliminates direct sonic pressure to the ear in a big way. The monitoring is not as fun, but its better to be safe.

So let's say that even with the cans on over your ears at 75%, you get blasted. Alert your brain to always be prepared to slam the cans off you head as fast as possible. I became very good at that technique! In one motion I let go of the pick, hands off the guitar and hands knocking of the cans off my head over my shoulders. You may want to practice that technique a few times. Best to put something soft like a few pillows in back of you as to make a soft landing for the cans.

Now for a story that is needed to drive home the concept: It's 10 AM and I'm playing a record date in a major studio in Smell A (smog reference in the L.A. basin). While playing the song for the first time, the engineer was setting levels and setting the cans levels. The engineer told the 2nd engineer to make a patch on the mixer patch bay. That caused a feedback loop that caused me to slam the cans off my head as fast as possible. The sonic blast was so loud my ears were ringing big time! Major ear pain!!!! As a recording engineer, I knew what happened. I ran into the control room and enthusiastically told the 2nd engineer, Always mute the cue system before making a patch on the patch bay! The novice was scared so I calmed down and mentioned once again the logic regarding muting the cue send before making patches. About five minutes later, the 2nd engineer made the same incorrect patch again causing the same feedback thing! I ran into the control room and this time I was not nice.

The above is a common story. I am going to drive this home once again: The key is to always mute the cue system when switching mixer modes or patching paths!!!!!!

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