The goal of every Soundkeeper Recording is to bring the listener to the performance, to create the feeling the listener is in the presence of the musicians, in the space where the performance actually took place.
With many types of music, especially pop or rock music, this is going to represent quite a departure from the records we've all gotten used to. Wonderful and magical as many of them are, they were made to sound like "records." Our goal is to explore the idea of records that sound like performances. Two different approaches, each with its own rewards.
To give you this feeling, it is important to capture as many of the sonic cues our ears/brains would perceive in the presence of the performance as is possible. Listening to a live musical event, we hear not only the sounds of the instruments but also the sound of the air around the instruments. This sound is a combination of the space in which the performance occurs, its effects on the sounds of the instruments, and how the players play their instruments as a result of that interaction.
To this end, the performance space must be carefully chosen as it must support the performers and the sounds they create. Microphones and the rest of the recording chain must also be chosen with care as these will have a profound effect on the result, as will the techniques used to implement the equipment.
Our experience has taught us traditional recording studios are better suited to a different type of recording philosophy than the one we employ. We prefer instead to use spaces in which the performance would best be heard by interested listeners and where in fact, the musicians actually perform their best.
Modern recording studios and techniques offer musicians unique options they would not otherwise have. The common practice of multitracking involves placing one or more microphones close to each instrument, recording each to its own track on a multitrack recorder, often separating the players with barriers. This allows the recording engineer to adjust the sound of each instrument individually and to change the musical balance after the performance has occurred. Later on, during the mix down, all the individual tracks are combined into a stereo (or surround) mix to be used on the final record.
Multitracking allows the players the room to fix something they've played, whether a single note, a musical section, or their entire part. It also allows for overdubs where additional parts can be added to the original performance. In this way, a single player can play more than one instrument, a single vocalist can sing more than one vocal part, and musicians that are not present at the original performance can add their parts later on. There is no argument against the convenience modern recording studios and techniques offer, and there is a long legacy of magical recordings that could not have been created any other way.
In contrast however, when a group of players get together to make some music, live, in real time, the sounds they create are very different from those the same players would create in a recording studio. A live performance, whether in front of an audience or for the players themselves, involves direct communication between the musicians as they play. Each player influences the others and there is an electricity in the air, a frisson, created by their interaction. Without the barriers that separate the players in a studio, without the safety of being able to fix parts after the performance, and without an engineer to adjust musical balances, the energy of the performance takes on a very different character.
Now the players are listening more intently to each other since their actions (along with those of the engineer) will determine how they balance. Now the ensemble is at its most real; all the players are creating music at the same time, together.
Soundkeeper Recordings are made with all the musicians playing live, in real time. The musicians determine the musical balances and musical dynamics. They are recorded directly to stereo. There are no overdubs. There are no mixes. We call it "recording without a net." The prime interest is in capturing the feel of the performance, the excitement and emotion that make the music what it is. This is preferred over a note perfect performance with less feel. If the feel is there and the players agree, we consider it a take.
From the hundreds of microphones available and all the competing philosophies on recording in stereo, we have chosen to use a stereo array comprised of only two microphones where each mic feeds its own channel of the stereo pair. This is in contrast to the more common method of having a separate microphone placed closely to each instrument and having the engineer create the final musical balance by using a recording console. We prefer to have the microphones listen from a position that more closely reflects what a listener at the performance would hear, and to leave musical balances to the musicians. We have also found great sonic benefits in eliminating the console entirely.
With this simple stereo array, we are able to capture not only the timbre of the musical instruments but also their individual locations upon the stage in order to better immerse the listener in the performance and the actual space in which it occurs.
A few words about level and musical dynamics:
A great deal of the emotion in music is the result of how the composer and musicians manipulate their dynamics, both the subtle inflections and the larger overall volume at which they'll play certain musical passages. In order to preserve this component of the performance, the final recorded level on the record must allow for the difference between the quietest moments and the loudest peaks in the music. Rather than dynamically compress the difference between the loudest and softest parts of the music, as is common practice today, we have chosen to leave this intact. This means that Soundkeeper Recordings will play back at an average level that is lower than ordinary records. Many listeners will advance their volume control in order to enjoy the full dynamics of the performance. Please use caution in setting playback volume in order to avoid equipment damage resulting from too loud a signal during the musical peaks. (Remember to return your volume control to a lower setting before playing other records.) With the proper playback level, you will enjoy the dynamics of the performance as determined by the musicians.
Soundkeeper Recordings are produced, recorded and mastered by Barry Diament. More information about Barry's work can be found at his website, www.barrydiamentaudio.com
From all of us at Soundkeeper Recordings, Happy Listening!