Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Monday, February 8, 2016

Engineer Richard Chychi Discuss The New Dream Theater Album

Richard Chychi imageMy guest on this week's Inner Circle Podcast is engineer Richard Chychi, who was on the podcast about a year ago. This time he comes on specifically to tell us about recording the new Dream Theater album, which was pretty spectacular technically.

The album features the band augmented by a full orchestra and multiple choirs, which lead to some songs having more than 500 tracks across 3 Pro Tools rigs.

The story of putting it all together is fascinating (especially the 700 hours of mixing). I'm no longer going to complain when I get a 100 track session in to mix!

In the intro I'll discuss how AM radio is dying both in the US and in other parts of the world, the latest RIAA metric giving 1500 music streams the equivalent of 1 album, and the layoffs over at Avid.

Remember that you can find the podcast at BobbyOInnerCircle.com, or either on iTunes, Stitcher and now on Mixcloud and Google Play.

New Music Gear Monday: IZotope's Free Vinyl Plugin

iZotope Vinyl plugin imageDid you ever want to get that old vinyl record sound on a recording? It's pretty hard to do manually, since you have to simulate everything from scratchiness to electrical noise to record warping. There is a plugin that will do all of that for you and more, and and the best part is that it's free!

I'm talking about iZotope's excellent Vinyl plugin - the ultimate lo-fi weapon. The plugin will return your tracks to a previous era quickly and with ease, and once again, it's free!

Vinyl provides controls to inject mechanical noise, record wear, electrical noise, dust, scratch, and warp, as well as simulating the era of the recording (1930, '50, '70, '80 and 2000) and the speed of the record (33, 45 and 78 RPM). There's even a unique Spin Down feature that simulates the sound of slowly stopping a record, as well as a stereo to mono switch.

A few years ago I was mixing a song that was a newer version of 1940's blues song, when the artist asked me to "make it more realistic." Vinyl was inserted into the stereo buss, and before you knew it, you'd swear we were back there listening on an old record player.

To get Vinyl, go to iZotope's website. Did I say that it's FREE.

Here's a Soundcloud example of Vinyl getting that old radio sound.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Michael Jackson "Thriller" Instrumental Track

Bruce Swedien image
Engineer Bruce Swedien
Michael Jackson was a star for a long time before Thriller, but the iconic album made him a superstar. Here's the instrument-only track (with some background vocals) that is a model of excellence, from the production (Quincy Jones) to the engineering (the Godfather Bruce Swedien), to the great performances. Take a listen.

1. Check out how the song develops, with something new happening in every section and in every 8 bars of the verse. Either a new instrument enters or a main instrument moves to a new register.

2. Listen for the synth on the left side during the chorus. It's difficult to hear during the final mix.

3. Bruce Swedien is a master of ambience. Check out how each of the instruments are in their own space, from the synth pad to the handclaps to the guitars to the horns, everything fits so well. Especially listen for the parts where you can hear the reverb tails to hear how they fit into the song.

4. Listen for the percussion in the last verse around 3:10. Again, it's something that's easily missed in the final mix.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ringo Shows How To Play Beatles Hits

We all love Ringo Starr, don't we? The understated Mr. Starkey has shown he's one of the most influential drummers ever, but there's a secret behind his brilliant fills, and he reveals it in this video.

Here Ringo shows Dave Stewart how he came up with some of his coolest drum patterns.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Mastering Compressor Tips And Tricks

Mastering Compressor Tips imageWith powerful mastering tools now available to everyone, it's easy to do more harm than good when self-mastering. Although you're always better off going to a true mastering engineer, sometimes that's just not in the budget.

Here are a few mastering compressor tips from my book Mixing And Mastering With T-RackS: The Official Guide that I don't think you'll find anywhere else.

"Adjusting the Attack and Release controls on the compressor and/or limiter can have a surprising effect on the program sound.
  • Slower Release settings will usually make the gain changes less audible but will also lower the perceived volume. 
  • A slow Attack setting will tend to ignore drums and other fast signals but will still react to the vocals and bass.
  • A slow Attack setting might also allow a transient to overload the next plug-in or piece of equipment in the chain.
  • Gain changes on the compressor caused by the drum hits can pull down the level of the vocals and bass and cause overall volume changes in the program. 
  • Usually only the fastest Attack and Release settings can make the sound “pump.” 
  • The more bouncy the level meter, the more likely that the compression will be audible.
  • Quiet passages that are too loud and noisy are usually a giveaway that you are seriously over-compressing."

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Avid Has Another Round Of Layoffs

Avid Layoffs imageThings are getting ugly at Avid again as the company pink-slipped as many as 60 employees from its Pro Tools, Venue and other audio teams last week.

According to Pro Tools Expert, the layoffs happened in the places where Avid could least afford - Product Management, Beta and QA, Applications Engineer and Marketing.

Although Avid stock is not at an all-time low, it's pretty close, down to $6.90 when this was written, which is way off from its 52 week high of $18.10. To put it in perspective, Avid stock hit a high in February of 2005 at $66.90.

This is another great example of why a public company doesn't belong in this niche space we call the audio business. The industry is filled with mostly boutique operators who care deeply about their products and customers, some to the point where barely making a living is enough as long as their customers are happy.

A public company like Avid is beholden to its stockholders and not its customers however. The bottom line is more important than its users and dealers, and that's been obvious ever since Avid purchased Digidesign.

Some analysts think that this might be a last ditch effort to set the company up for a profitable quarter, but that's not going to save the company.

There's a lot of disgruntled Pro Tools users out there, and it won't take much for them to switch to another DAW en masse. That time might come sooner than you think.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Artist Management Consultant Mike Gormley On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Mike Gormley imageMy guest on this week's Inner Circle Podcast is artist management consultant Mike Gormley.

Mike was head of PR for Mercury and A&M Records before he headed into management, where he worked with acts like The Bangles, Oingo Boingo, Wall of Voodoo and Danny Elfman, and now heads up LA Personal Development.

We'll discuss the differences between PR and management from the classic days of the 80s and 90s to today, and you'll hear some good war stories as well.

In the intro I'll discuss how Spotify will now stream video but not for the reasons you might think, the latest music streaming platform called Cur Music, and the latest in the labor dispute between Guitar Center and its employees.

Remember that you can find the podcast at BobbyOInnerCircle.com, or either on iTunes, Stitcher and now on Mixcloud and Google Play.

New Music Gear Monday: Waves NX Virtual Monitoring Plugin

Waves NX imageMixing with headphones has always been an iffy situation. While it can be done, the mixer runs the risk of missing on the low-end component of the mix since the phones are so close to your hears. It's not how much of the world listens to music, so you end up constantly comparing your mix on speakers anyway. All this might change with the introduction of Waves NX however.

Waves NX is a virtual monitoring plugin that lets you hear the acoustics of a high-end mix room over headphones. It tracks your head via your computer camera to optimize the sweet spot, and allows you to monitor either in stereo or in 5.1 surround on your regular stereo headphones.

NX attempts to bridge the gap between monitoring on speakers and monitoring on headphones so that you no longer have to worry that what you’ve mixed on headphones will sound different once you switch to speakers. The plugin lets you hear the same natural depth and stereo spread on headphones that you would hear on external monitors so there's less need for cross-referencing between the two.

Waves NX works on most DAW apps on both Mac or PC. Nx requires a webcam, and will support any webcam that works on your system. It's available at an introductory price of only $49. Check out the Quick Start tutorial below.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Temptations "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" Instrumental Track

Papa Was A Rolling Stone cover imageIt's always fun to listen to what's inside a hit record, especially when some of the polish is wiped off. Here's a great example of a great arrangement and playing on The Temptations big hit "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." It's the instrumental-only version, except for the background harmony vocals in the chorus. Here's what to listen for.

1. The stereo panning is very distinct with most of the instruments either hard left, hard right or center. One of the cooler things is how the guitars are split hard left and right, with the fills in the center or just off to one side.

2. This is an excellent example of a song written around a single riff that never changes. All of the dynamics, and the differentiation between the sections, are created strictly by the arrangement. Not an easy feat.

3. The only drums are kick and high hat. The backbeat in the second half of the chorus comes from some highly compressed handclaps.

4. There are a lot of guitars playing. Usually there's a minimum of 2 but at times as many as 6. You never think of a Motown song being that guitar intense, but it's actually easier to do with clean guitars than distorted.

5. There's a touch of one beautiful sounding reverb on most of the instruments, with the exception of a tape delay on the solo trumpet.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

An Interview With Engineer Steve Albini

Steve Albini imageSteve Albini has been making records with bands for a long time, and has developed some opinions as a result that have sometimes flown in the face of the mainstream music business. While his most famous credit remains Nirvana’s In Utero, Steve has worked with a diverse lineup of artists such as PJ Harvey, The Pixies, The Stooges, Cheap Trick, Silkworm, Jesus Lizard, Bush, and even the mainstream Page/Plant Walking to Clarksdale.

Always interesting, here's an interview with Steve from a few years ago where he covers choosing an engineer, where vocals should sit in the mix, workflow, and the future of the music business.


You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

3 Reasons To Use Your Amplifier Tone Controls

Amplifier controlsAs a general rule, most musicians (especially guitar players) have no idea how to use anything that adjusts the frequency bands of their instrument, meaning the amplifier tone controls.

The reason is that they're never taught what tone controls are there for, and there's not a lot of information in the manuals that comes with amplifiers either (if anyone actually reads them).

This excerpt from the Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook shows the 3 general reasons to use the amplifier EQ.

1) Many stringed instruments (like bass and guitar) have dead spots on the neck where a few notes can drop in level. A bit of EQing can help smooth things out if you can zero in on the frequency band of the notes that are dropping out.

2) You need to compensate for a frequency range deficiency. This could mean a situation where a Strat might not have enough bottom when played through a Marshall Jubilee so you’d add some low end with the tone controls to compensate. On the other hand, a Les Paul through the same amp might be too bottom heavy so you’d subtract some bottom. And then that same Strat might just have a mid-range that’s like an ice pick through the eardrums on certain notes, so you’d back off on the mid-range a bit and pull the pick out of the ears.

3) And finally, to keep the instruments from clashing in a scenario where 2 players use the same model instruments and amplifiers (like two Les Paul into two Marshalls). In order to fit well together frequency-wise, one player would adjust his tone to have a bit more bottom and maybe scoop out the lower midrange while the other player would go for more top end with a midrange peak just where the other guy scooped it out. There you have it - instant blend.

Of course things are never quite that easy in real life. Most guitar players never get to audio nirvana with their sound in the first place (it's like finding the perfect wave - it's out there but rarely experienced), and once found, it's difficult to get them to deviate from anything they’re comfortable with, even if it makes the band sound better. But if a player hears how successful the above techniques work in a controlled environment like the studio, they’re usually a bit more open to experimentation afterwards. Of course you can always tell them that xxx (fill in their favorite artist) does it that way to get his or her attention, because he probably does.

Whatever the method used, a judicious use of the amplifier tone controls can make a huge difference in how a band blends together both on-stage and in the studio.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Winter NAMM 2016 Overview - Part 2 "Oddities"

Part 2 of my Winter NAMM overview looks at some of the odder offerings at NAMM. Some may be useful to certain customers, but the rest of us may be left scratching our heads. Here we go.

The 24 string guitar - because you can't have too many strings, right? This was actually a trend at NAMM, with quite a few companies showing guitars with extra strings.

The accordion controller - because accordions are just so cool.

The lightshow PA speaker - Most Chinese companies showed products like this. I guess it keeps you from getting bored at the show.

The lightshow PA speaker with crystal ball - Let's tell some fortunes during Karaoke this evening.

The Shure Electrostatic Ear Buds - I listened, but they just weren't $2,500 better than what came with my iPhone. Oh, and you need the special $1,000 amp to drive them.

The Stomplight - because floor lighting makes you look so amazing.

The traffic cop controller - You can go direct traffic after the gig.

The wearable metronome - It's so large that you may not be able to hold your arm up to see it.

The multi-switch guitar - For those guitar players who have an extra $6k and are truly bored on stage, here are many more controls to play with.

The plastic mixer cover - Protect your mixer when those bar fights break out and the suds are flowing everywhere.


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