Rode Procaster Levels, Music Theory, & Reflection Panels

Among the recent questions we've been helping readers out with, there were a couple very technical ones about recording and acoustic treatment.  The third is about overcoming the obstacle of fear when it comes to pursuing music theory.  It can be daunting at first and we have some advice regarding making progress...

rode podcaster gain levels

We like to shout out the good people that we talk to, even if we don't use their questions for one of these posts.  Thanks to William for a great discussion about the one thing the music industry could use more of, James over at Sonuus for the conversation about their new microphone, and Doug for sending over kind words about our writing style.

In addition, mad props to DonSuite, a composer who had this to say:

This is the first tutorial I could understand about Reverb and Delay.  My Scoring tracks sound bigger and wider.  I used to think reverb was flooding the sound and making it sound unnatural.  You changed my mind.  Thanks!

No problem, thanks for taking the time to send us a positive message!  Let's get on to this episode's Q&A session:

Not Enough Preamplifier Gain For The Rode Procaster?

Question:

Hi,

I'm setting-up a podcast project with a client and have two Røde Procaster dynamic mics connected via XLR cables to a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 which in turn is connected to a MacBook Pro.

But, I'm having problems getting enough gain using the 2i4 (the mic signal is quite weak) and this creates noise problems at the processing stage (hissing, etc.) in Adobe Audition.

I've been around various forums trying to find some help but it only creates even more confusion - lots of opinions out there! However, I came across your article on preamps and then interfaces and being new at all this I really appreciate how you explain the technology and your criteria for choosing a particular product.

From the info gathered so far I'm thinking that the Presonus AudioBox 22VSL could offer a better solution than the 2i4 (more gain) and would be more suitable for the two Røde Procasters. I'm trying to keep the set-up as simple as possible and budget is also a consideration.

I would really appreciate any feedback you might have on this set-up.

Thank you,
Mark

Answer:

Mark,

In dealing with this issue, I'd first assume that the problem exists elsewhere than in the gain stage of the preamplifiers (in an attempt to save money!).

But I will admit that I've just done a search on this specific issue and the Rode Procaster does have a fairly low output.  As listed on Rode's site, at 94dB the mic spits out 1.6mV of signal.  Nobody speaks that loud naturally.  You could move the mics closer to help compensate for this issue, but that shouldn't be necessary nor would it look that great on video if you're adding that to the podcast.

rode procaster

The Focusrite Scarlett range, including the 2i4, is capable of producing a gain of 50dB max compared to the 65dB max on the Presonus AudioBox.  That extra 15 dB would more than solve your problem.  If you figure that you're capturing your speech around 74dB with the mic around 6 inches to a foot away, that 50db of gain is only going to push the signal to around 0.16 volts.  The preamp is meant to boost the signal to line level around 1.2V.  You're still drastically below, but 10 more decibels of gain could push you to 1.6V, well above line level.

Yes, purchasing a different interface could solve your problem but I'd place the blame on the microphone first.  Personally, I wouldn't recommend replacing either.  You'd experience the best boost in quality by using that cash (and perhaps adding a bit more) and purchasing a standalone preamplifier with more gain.

Before I mention that, let me say that you should check several things first to see if you aren't attenuating your signal by accident:

  • Make sure you're speaking down the vertical axis of the mic.  The grill looks as if you would use it like a condenser mic but you should speak into the top of it like a typical dynamic stage mic.
  • Check to see if your DAW (Logic, Audition, etc.) is reducing the signal.  Some have settings that by default will drop incoming signals fairly significantly.
  • Double check that the Pad button isn't engaged on the preamps.  That drops the volume by 10dB.
  • See if anything funky is going on in the Scarlett Mix Control software.  Specifically look for the output level attenuator and the dimmer switch.  They can drop levels before the converters, resulting in a low signal in the computer.

scarlett mix control output dim

Assuming these are fine, I'd suggest a standalone preamp.  The ones in the Saffire range are decent, but will pale in comparison to something like the FMR RNP (which features 66dB of gain).  We have lots of recommendations here but if you go this route, be on the lookout for two independent mono channels and at least 60dB of gain.  Also, I'd make sure to buy something in the mid-range, because Focusrite's included preamps are comparable to the "Under $200" range.

Best of luck.  Let us know if we can help you further!

Jared

Music Theory Anxiety - Where to Start?

Question:

Hello,

First of all your site is great it is just what I needed... I love it!

I've been struggling with music as a whole for years now, alot less now since I started, but still a whole lot. Let me give you a quick run down of my musical background: I love music so much!  It's what I eat, breath, and think about 99% of the time throughout my day, so I try my best to become a great musician.  I've been producing for 2-3 years, am comfortable with my DAW, and can make simple music quick.  But that's not really why I started making music.

I wanted to make great musical pieces.  I'm mostly interested in Festival Trap, Trap, and Future Bass but also pieces from Hans Zimmer; they can make me wonder alot about the magic of music.  But from the point where I'm standing now, creating gorgeous musical pieces feels like black magic that only the die hard pros like Hans Zimmer, Flume, and Skrillex know the deep secrets of!  (Yes, I know Festival and all that trap ain't that beautiful but it is to me!)

And it saddens and frustrates me so much because I love music and I won't stop at nothing!  But luckily I found one of your articles "Why Learn Music Theory," and it gave me so much hope!  You touched all my insecure points... my anxiety was answered!

It feels like I finally found the holy grail of music. I'm definitely going to buy that music theory book you recommended. But I still have one little fear... Is that book the only thing I need to create great, logical music pieces?  Will it teach me the "why and how" of great music or is there something more that I need to know?

Thank you for taking time to read my mail!

Your sincerely,
Cihan

Answer:

Cihan,

I love Trap and Dubsteb and all that!  I've just recently been getting into the retro-futuristic synthwave stuff that's emulating the sound of the 80's.  It's all fantastic to me.

That book is one I personally recommended to be included in the article.  If you don't have much of a music theory background, it's going to boost you to the next level of your production skills very quickly.

foundations of music and musicianship

It starts at the beginning, introduces you to major keys, then minor keys.  They help you to make sense of chords and chord inversions, and then proceed naturally to chord progressions.  From there, you'll understand how songs can almost write themselves.  The bassline becomes obvious based on chord inversions and then you can add extra grace notes to make it unique.  The same goes for the lead melody.  It's framework pops right out of the top notes of the chords.  And then you learn how to harmonize everything with your rhythmic instruments.

There's also some advanced information that will separate you from amateurs.  There are special rules in music theory for Western music that teach you to avoid hidden dissonances you'd may not have noticed until they're pointed out, such as the duplication of certain notes in chords, etc.  You'll learn how to work through the circle of fifths and so much more people ignore because it seems intimidating on the surface.

circle of fifths

All in all, it's solid.  Not only do you get this information but they offer a CD to listen along (ear training is just as important as analytical work) and each lesson has worksheets you can make copies of for practice.

Can you find this same information in other books?  Sure.  Is it scattered about online for free?  Yes.  But having it all organized in one logically written book will save you time and clear up the confusion you get from jumping around a million sources online from topic to topic.

It was very worth my time.  I went from making rudimentary rap beats to being able to write full orchestrations of classical music.  They may not rival the greats, but they follow the same set of rules and sound like "real" pieces.  This information carried right back into my beat production and pushed me into a separate league of quality compared to most other producers.

I hope this helps.  This book will cover all of the fundamentals completely.  Don't have anxiety about there being more out there to learn.  There's always more!  You have to start somewhere.  This book is an accessible, high-quality place to start.

Jared

Calculating First Reflection Panel Placement

Question:

Hello,

In your equation for first reflection, it's stated as (y times x2) divided by (x1 plus x2).  I'm having difficulty determining what y, x1, and x2 represent... it's not specified in your article... I tried figuring it out but to no avail.

Can you help?

Thank you,
Phil

Answer:

Phil,

I assume you're talking about the 4th image on this page:

acoustic treatment first reflection panels

You're right, we didn't provide a legend at all! We borrowed that image from Real Traps who also don't provide a legend, but they do offer an explanation, which I'll explain with a drawing below.

If you want to take a shortcut, what you can do is sit in your mix position and have another person hold a hand mirror to the wall. Have them move the mirror around and mark the area on the wall where you can see your monitors through the mirror.

As far as the math goes for the equation:

  • y is the distance from your ears in the mix position to the line your monitors create from side wall to side wall. This is all based on sidewall measurements with no diagonal distances.
  • x1 is the distance of the monitors to the sidewall (should be equal on both sides).
  • x2 is the distance of the center of your head to the sidewall.

I'm attaching the drawing so it makes more sense, with an example calculation:

mix position example

I hope this helps. I don't plan on quitting my day job to become an artist, so let us know if we can help further!

Jared

Thanks, Everyone!

We appreciate the questions and are more than happy to help, so please never hesitate to send us an email, no matter the topic (at least try to keep it related to music though)!