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In The Studio: Successfully Dealing With A Dead Room

Attaining better recording results in an acoustically "dead" space

Horn players usually wear single-sided headphones so they can hear the track in one ear and pitch their instrument, blend and hear one another with the other ear.

So just putting reverb in the phones is no good; they’ll just tell me to take it off so they can hear the track’s rhythm better. (These phones have to be loud; try standing next to a trumpet player who’s really blowing!)

That’s when it hit me. What if I create a bigger sounding room by adding ambience to the room itself rather than with a cheesy effect to the recording?

I took a mix of the horn mics using an aux send from the microphone input faders and sent it to a digital reverb. I think it was a Lexicon PCM 90 set to “large room”.

I patched the PCM 90’s 100-percent “wet” output directly to the power amplifier feeding the studio loudspeakers out in the room where the players were. I kept the 25ms of pre-delay in the preset to represent about 25 feet of distance to my “imaginary” room’s nearest wall.

While the players were warming up and rehearsing the chart, I slowly brought up the level to the speakers until someone noticed. (Obviously, you can’t use a lot of this or you’ll feed back.)

At first the leader of section said: “what the hell is that?” But when he figured it out, he asked for more!

We started overdubbing and when I solo’d the horns, I could hear a little of that “enhanced room” also getting recorded, and it sounded great.

The players were all smiling and playing their butts off. Hearing that added ambience in the same room as the rest of the section gave each of them the feeling of playing in a livelier, bigger room.

We got better performances, good sound and less hassle.

Barry Rudolph is a veteran L.A.-based recording engineer as well as a noted writer on recording topics. Visit his website at www.barryrudolph.com.

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