Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Producer/Engineer Steve Albini On Recording And The Music Business

Steve Albini interview image
Producer/engineer Steve Albini has long been both an interesting and controversial voice in the recording and music business for his tell-it-like-it-is approach. He's very smart and insightful, so he's always a pleasure to listen to.

Here's a video from a 2010 appearance at Leeds Metropolitan University where Steve shares his views on a number of subjects, including the music business, his approach to recording and producing, interaction with artists and bands, and even a little of his involvement with Nirvana.


You should follow me on Twitter and Facebook 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.

Monday, March 30, 2015

New Music Gear Monday: Exponential Audio Excalibur Modulation Plugin

Exponential Audio Excalibur plugin image
If you're not already familiar with Exponential Audio plugins then you should be. The brainchild of former Lexicon chief engineer Michael Carnes, the first two products, the R2 and PhoenixVerb, give you that great Lex reverb sound at a very reasonable price.

Now Michael has come up with something completely different with his new Excalibur modulation plugin. It's a multi-effects unit with a modular synth-like architecture that allows you to  quickly and easily configure both traditional and non-traditional effects.

If you're not up to building your own effects chain, Excalibur comes with 500 presets of classic chorus, flanger, phase shifter, phasor, ring modulator, resonators, glide, distortion and reverb effects.

The plugin is built around a 4 voice engine (with 2 inputs per voice) that allows for millions of different combinations of the above effects.

The Exponential Audio Excalibur operates on Mac or Windows platforms and on most DAWs. It also works in just about any plugin format and is comfortable with sample rates up to 384kHz. Despite it's architecture, the plugin is super efficient in terms of processor power (as are all Exponential Audio plugins) and low latency. An iLok 2 is required.

The Exponential Audio Excalibur multi-effects plugin normally sells for $199 but there's an introductory price of just $119 that's good until April 10th. A free trial is also available.

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

Friday, March 27, 2015

Engineer Dennis Moody On The Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Dennis Moody image
We celebrate the one year anniversary of the Inner Circle podcast with my very first guest, engineer Dennis Moody.

Dennis is unique in that he does both live sound as well as works in the studio, and he does both extremely well.

In fact, he's a favorite engineer of the some of the best drummers in the world, including Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, Michael White and the late Ricky Lawson, among others. When these drum gods want their drums recorded right, they call Dennis.

On Inner Circle #1 I spoke to Dennis primarily about concert sound, but this time around we focus on the studio, especially his method for getting drum sounds.

In the intro I talk about the possible breakup of Google+ and the spinoff of Photos, as well as the 6 elements of every great mix.

Remember that you can find the podcast at BobbyOInnerCircle.com, or either on iTunes or Stitcher

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

38 Special "Hold On Loosely" Isolated Vocals

Hold On Loosely Record image
Some artists and bands are lucky enough to get one iconic song that will continue to be played on the radio even decades after it was popular. 38 Special's "Hold On Loosely" from the bands Wild Eyed Southern Boys album (their 4rth) is just such a song, and today we'll take a listen inside to the isolated lead vocal. Here's what to listen for.

1. Take a listen to the reverb. There's a lot of it on the vocal (which you don't hear in the mix), and it's pretty short and delayed. Reader Bruce Coffman wrote in that it sounds a lot like a gated reverb from a Lexicon 224 with the diffusion maxed out to give it a sort of cloud at the end, hence the name "cloud delay."

2. Most of the song has the lead vocal doubled. The exceptions are in the beginning of the first verse and the ad libs on the outro.

3. The double is pretty close but not perfect. In fact, on some phrases one of the parts is dipped out, presumably because of the performance. Don't forget this song was recording in 1981 in the days before DAWs so you'd be lucky to get one perfect performance, let alone two.

4. Listen to the "Don't tell me" section of the pre-chorus. It's dry and spread out left and right, where the other doubles are up the center.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

The New AES 3D Audio Standard

3D audio image
You may not be aware of it yet, but 3D audio may be the next big thing. What is 3D audio, you might be asking yourself?

It's what will accompany the graphics in the new virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift, the Microsoft HoloLens or Sony Project Morpheus. In an immersive graphics world our normal 2D audio just isn't enough, so that world has to be expanded to 3D to keep up with the visuals.

In staying on top of the trend, the Audio Engineering Society has introduced a new standard called AES69-2015 which provides a framework for binaural and 3D personal audio products. This format describes both the format and exchange of spatial acoustics files.

3D audio isn't just for virtual reality headsets, as everything from smartphones to tablets to anything that employs a headphone system will soon be employing it in some fashion.

The lack of a standard protocol meant that binaual sound data, expressed as a head-related transfer function (HRTF), made it difficult for developers to exchange algorithms, thus slowing the development of the sector and keeping those algorithms proprietary.

Among the things that AES69-2015 supports include:
  • a description of the HRTF measurement setup
  • consistent definitions of the metadata
  • the ability to describe multiple conditions like the number of listeners and distances in a single file
  • predefined descriptions for the common measurement setups, which are now called "conditions"
3D audio may not be something that touches you now, but it's a growing sector of the industry and one to keep an eye on as virtual reality grows. It very well become be a new source of work for audio professionals in the future.

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, March 25, 2015

9 Reasons A Guitar Pickup Sounds The Way It Does

Strat pickup image
As any electric string instrument player knows, there are a number of different types of pickups, and within each category there's a tremendous variation in possible tone.

This excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook explains the 9 factors that affect how a pickup sounds. The next time you're in the market for one, keep these in mind so you can better tailor the pickup to your needs.

"Just like most things in life, something that seems so simple on the outside is very intricate on the inside and a pickup is no exception. Here are the numerous factors that contribute to a pickup’s sound.
1. The number of turns or winding. This is the number of turns of wire around the bobbin of the pickup. The more turns, the louder the pickup, but the worse the high-frequency response becomes. The number of turns is measured by the electronic resistance of the wire, which is measured in ohms. The higher the ohms value, the hotter the pickup but the less high-frequency response you’ll have. Humbucking pickups have more resistance than a single coil because there are more turns of wire, which is why they’re hotter and have less high end. 
2. Type of wire used. The diameter and insulation determines the number of windings that can fit on a bobbin, which will determine the resistance, which determines the output, etc. 
3. Type of winding method used. We’ll look at this a bit closer in a bit, but many of the pickups in the early days of the electric guitar were wound by hand, which meant that there were more or less than the required number of windings on the bobbin, and an uneven wind would also affect the capacitance of the pickup, which can cause a peak in the frequency response. This problem was virtually eliminated when manufacturers switched to machine winding (see above), but while every pickup was now the same, some of the magic that occasionally came from a hand-wound pickup also disappeared. 
4. The type of magnets used. Although Alnico (a blend of aluminum, nickel and cobalt) is the alloy of choice for most pickups, occasionally you’ll find pickups made of other materials such as ceramic or neodymium. This will affect the strength of the magnetic field which we’ll cover next. 
5. The strength of the magnets used. Magnets used for pickups are categorized by strength on a scale of two to five with five being the strongest. A stronger magnet will produce a louder and brighter sound  while a weaker one will produce one that’s warmer. 
6. The magnet height. How close the individual magnets are to the strings will determine how loud that string is. On pickups that have adjustable pole pieces that’s not so much of a problem, but on pickups with fixed pole pieces (like a Fender Strat or Tele) that could cause a slight imbalance in the string output. As an example, prior to the late 60’s, most guitarists used a wound G string, so the fixed height of the magnets on a Strat were different to compensate. 
7. Pickup Cover. Metal covers on humbuckers can cause a resonance that results in feedback problems at high volumes. That’s why many of the early rockers removed their pickup covers, and why many guitars and pickups are sold that way today. 
8. Pickup potting. Many pickups are sealed in wax to eliminate vibration induced signals that make a pickup microphonic. The heat from the hot wax can weaken the magnet though, thereby changing the pickup’s sound. 
9. Potentiometers. Although not exactly a part of the pickup itself, the volume and tone pots are part of the electronic circuit along with the pickup and can affect the sound. The higher the resistance of the pot, the more high end will pass. Fenders use 250k ohm pots, Gibson uses 500k, and many other manufacturers use 1 Meg pots.
There are other factors such as winding direction, magnetic polarity, and the type of bobbins used, but their contribution to the final sound is subtle at best."

You can read additional book excerpts from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook and my other books at bobbyowsinski.com.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Evidence That The Loudness Wars May Finally Be Over

For way too long mixers and mastering engineers alike have been forced to squash songs before their final release, first in an effort to sound louder than everyone else's (especially on radio), then to just keep up in level with what's already out there.

But squashing a song to within an inch of its life may finally be counterproductive, as most digital services are now each employing their own brand of normalization in an effort to make all songs the same volume level for a better listening experience.

Here's a great video from UK mastering engineer Ian Shepherd that explains how it all works using a number of hits from U2 as an example. You can check out Ian's blog for a lot of great audio information at productionadvice.co.uk.

Let's hope that this is the first step in the return to dynamics in music.

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

New Music Gear Monday: Radial Reamp JCR Reverse DI

Radial Reamp JCR image
One of the cooler studio tricks is recording a clean signal from an electric guitar along with the amp sound, then using that later to change the sound by sending the recorded track to another amplifier.

This really helps both the player and the engineer in that you don't have to burn either out trying to get a great sound to fit the track while recording. Just get something that works for the moment and change it later to fit as needed.

The clever people at Radial Engineering have come up with a great way to do that with their Reamp JCR box, which has all the features needed to make the operation happen both quickly and easily.

The Reamp JCR is actually a reverse direct box in that it takes a signal from your recording device via an XLR cable, then sounds it out to the amp via a 1/4" jack. The box also features phase invert and ground lift switches on the input side, and a filter control switch, mute and level control pot on the output side.

While you'd think that you could just use a regular direct box to do this, you won't find this level of control on a normal DI and it won't sound as good because the impedance isn't optimized for an amp. The Reamp JCR features a custom wound transformer to take care of that.

The Radial Reamp JCR retails for $199 and is built like a tank (just like all the other radial gear). No studio should be without one.

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

Friday, March 20, 2015

Producer Michael Beinhorn On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Michael Beinhorn image
I'm very pleased to have the noted producer Michael Beinhorn on the latest edition of my Inner Circle podcast.

Co-writer and producer of Herbie Hancock's 1983 mega-hit "Rockit," Michael has worked with Soundgarden, Hole, Marilyn Manson, Korn, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ozzy Osbourne among many others.

In this interview, we chat about the rumor that Michael likes to fire drummers, as well as his career, influences, and inspirations, as well as the future of pop music. Don't miss this interview with a very smart and interesting man.

In the intro we'll also take a look at why your Facebook Likes may decrease soon, as well as the 5 ways that you can charge for your services.

Remember that you can find the podcast at BobbyOInnerCircle.com, or either on iTunes or Stitcher

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

Metallica "Enter Sandman" Isolated Drums And Bass

Metallica Enter Sandman image
"Enter Sandman," the single off their huge Black Album, broke Metallica to an international previously only touched by pop stars. The song was the first song written and mixed for the album, which set the tone for the rest of the songs.

Here are the isolated bass and drums from "Enter Sandman." Keep in mind that the drum track was cobbled together by section from 50 takes, which was necessary to keep the same intensity between the sections. Here's what to listen for.

1. I think this came from the Rock Band game, which might help to explain why the kick is only on the left and snare on the right channels respectively.

2. There's a huge amount of reverb on the drums. You don't notice it when you hear the entire mix, but its much more than many engineers are comfortable adding.

3. The bass lags behind the drums in spots, especially during the first half of the song. Of course, this was made in the days before DAWs, so what would be an easy fix today required re-recording then.

4. Speaking of the bass, you can hear the amp noise whenever there's a break in the song. Again, that's something that would be cleaned up in the DAW today.

5. Both the drums and bass are playing very disciplined parts, one of the reasons that the band was able to crossover with a hit single. In other words, the song is made like a hit single.

6. If you listen on small computer speakers both the bass and drums speak well thanks to the EQ points selected for the kick and the fact that the bass has a lot of top end.

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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Attempted Crowdfunding Buyout Of Gibson Guitars

In one of the more bizarre crowdfunding efforts to date, a rather anonymous guitarist known only as "John L" tried to put together an IndieGogo campaign to buy out Gibson Guitars for $22 million.

Not surprisingly, the plug was pulled on the campaign after raising only $200 amid accusations that the whole thing was a scam, something that John L profusely denies.

The acquisition campaign was started because the campaigner disagreed with the direction that Gibson owner Henry Juszkiewicz was taking it in. If you were at the last NAMM show, it was pretty obvious that the company is moving away from being a traditional instrument manufacturer and more a lifestyle products company.

It's not known how Mr L came to value the company at $22 mil, or even if Juszkiewicz would even consider selling the company at all, let alone for that amount.

Of course, when you don't give donors critical information like who the new management might be, and a roadmap for the future should the acquisition actually occur, people get suspicious.

Here's what's left of the campaign.

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, March 18, 2015

6 Rules For Adding Effects To A Mix

Adding effects to a mix image
Having trouble figuring how to use your effects during mixing? Here are a set of rules that can help you choose the best effects for each track more efficiently, courtesy of The Mixing Engineer's Handbook.

Rule 1 - As A General Rule Of Thumb, Try To Picture The Performer In An Acoustic Space And Then Realistically Recreate That Space Around Them.
This method usually saves some time over simply experimenting with different effects presets until something excites you (although that method can work too). Also, the created acoustic space needn’t be a natural one. In fact, as long as it fits the music, the more creative the better.  

Rule 2 - Smaller Reverbs Or Short Delays Make Things Sound Bigger.
Reverbs with decays under a second (and usually much shorter than that) and delays under 100 milliseconds (again usually a lot shorter than that) tend to make the track sound bigger rather than push it back in the mix, especially if the reverb or delay is stereo.

Rule 3 - Long Delays, Reverb Predelays, Or Reverb Decay Push A Sound Farther Away If The Level Of The Effect Is Loud Enough.
As stated before, delays and predelays (see below) longer than 100 ms (although 250 is where it really kicks in) are distinctly heard and begin to push the sound away from the listener. The trick between something sounding big or just distant is the level of the effect. When the decay or delay is short and the level loud, the track sounds big. When the decay or delay is long and loud, the track just sounds far away. 

Rule 4 -  If Delays Are Timed To The Tempo Of The Track, They Add Depth Without Being Noticeable.
Most engineers set the delay time to the tempo of the track (see below on how to do this). This makes the delay pulse with the music and adds a reverb type of environment to the sound. It also makes the delay seem to disappear as a discrete repeat but still adds a smoothing quality to the element.

If you want to easily find the right delay time to the track and you have an iPhone, grab my "Delay Genie" app from the iTunes App Store. It's free and will making timing your effects to the track incredibly easy.

Rule 5 - If Delays Are Not Timed To The Tempo Of The Track, They Stick Out.
Sometimes you want to distinctly hear a delay and the best way to do that is to make sure that the delay is NOT exactly timed to the track. Start by first putting the delay in time with the track, then slowly alter the timing until the desired effect is achieved.

Rule 6 - Reverbs Sound Smoother When Timed To The Tempo Of The Track.
Reverbs are timed to the track by triggering them off of a snare hit and adjusting the decay parameter so that the decay just dies by the next snare hit. The idea is to make the decay “breathe” with the track. The best way to achieve this is to make everything as big as possible at the shortest setting first, then gradually get longer until it’s in time with the track.

Of course, the biggest part of adding effects to a mix is experience, but following these rules will provide a perfect place to start.

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


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