On a sunny Monday morning a handful of eager students joined one of London’s most recognised recording and mixing engineers, Jon Olliffe (Jamelia, Miss Dynamite, Nick Cave), to get an in-depth understanding of studio recording, mixing, mastering and industry insight with the help of guest lectures from Paul White (Editor-in-Chief of Sound On Sound), James Stanson (Music Manager – Massive Attack, 2manyDJs) and John Flynn (Balance Mastering).
Throughout the week, Jon taught the entire process of making a record from scratch – covering everything from microphone choice and techniques through to recording a variety of instruments including guitars (electric and acoustic), full drum kit and also a vocalist. As the week progressed, the students learned about studio workflow, file editing, arrangement and finally, mixing a record ready for mastering as a commercial release.
Things kicked off with a explanation and demonstration of basic microphone techniques – how they work, different types of mics and setting up for the recording process. The class then recorded some electric guitar parts for the track that was to be the creative focus of the week ahead. Session guitarist Rob Aitken was there to provide the guitar parts for the week and the students explored how to record a great guitar sound – with plenty of tips and secrets that Jon had picked up from his vast experience of recording hit tracks down the years.
Monday’s evening session was a Q&A session with artist manager James Stanson, who offered an insight into the workings of the wider music industry – explaining how to get your out to labels, managers and A&R effectively and how to build a career in music from the ground up. The students were particularly interested in how James was able to find artists and production talent in the current climate where the internet – via social media, streaming websites and sharing platforms – can overwhelm us with so much new music from aspiring producers.
Rob returned the studio to finalise some additional electric guitar parts – this time the students were encouraged to take the lead in this session, deciding on the best micing and recording techniques to get a sound to fit the track that they were creating. Jon spent time explaining the best ways to record acoustic guitar – again giving the students the opportunity to get their hands dirty to get the right recording. The afternoon was spent picking through the best guitar parts from each take and, crucially, learning how to keep sessions organised ahead of the final arrangement and mixdown.
Reaching the halfway point in the week, it was time to focus on the drums. Jon talked the students through microphone choice – using London School of Sound’s enviable collection to explain why he places microphones in certain places above others in the quest for the best drum sound possible. He then went more in-depth on the difficulties of recording drums and shared some studio nuggets, hints and tips to make the drums much easier to deal with at the mixing stage.
Sound On Sound’s Paul White was the guest lecturer on Wednesday who, along with Sample Magic co-founder David Felton, explored how the music industry has changed, what the future might hold for music studios and the famous hardware/software debate.
Vocals were the order of the day on Thursday. Jules Aitken, who was the guest vocalist for the week, joined Jon to show the students how set up and manage a vocal recording session – covering everything from microphone placement and microphone choice through to getting the best out of the singer. The students were asked to A/B between two very different microphones and choose which one worked best for the vocalist and track in question. After recording the vocals, the afternoon was then spent doing a quick vocal edit and vocal mixdown in preparation for the main mix session.
The evening session saw the students move out of the live room and into the control room for a critical listening session. Here the students presented Jon with their own music and mixes for constructive feedback during a group listening session.
Finally it was time for the main mix! The day begun with gathering all the best tracks and takes from across the week that were needed for the final mix. Once selected, Jon starting explaining how to work with EQ, compression, levels, panning and automation to get the song sounding full, balanced and clear. Not only did Jon explore the technical aspect of mixing but he also the spent a lot of time discussing psychological aspect of the craft as well – digging into why mixing is as much science as it is an artform.
Final mix complete, it was time to take it to master. Whilst it wasn’t possible to master the track within LSS, we were joined by John Flynn from Balance Mastering, who was able to answer questions regarding the dark arts of mastering as well as running through how, why and what mastering adds to the final mix.