Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Have A Happy And Prosperous 2014!

New Year 2014 image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
To all the readers of The Big Picture Production Blog, Music 3.0 blog, my Forbes blog, or my books and programs, I want to thank you for a great 2013 and wish you a fruitful, successful, and most importantly, a musical 2014!

Let's remember the phrase "When I lift my brother, I lift myself" so together we all have the best year ever.

Bobby
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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, December 30, 2013

Is JamBandit A Game Or Musical Instrument?

Is it possible for an app to be both a game and musical instrument, or neither? On some level, JamBandit is very cool, as it takes an existing hit song and allows you to play along with an appropriate instrument via the screen on your iOS device. You always stay in tune, you can hold a note as long as you want, play a lick, change the vibrato, and have the general power over the performance, but is that actually performing?

Watch the video and decide for yourself, and please share your views below.


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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.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The 5 Best Audio Products of 2013

As we take a final look back at 2013, I thought I'd pick the 5 audio products that struck me as the most innovative from the last year. This was actually pretty difficult since there were so many great products, but at least to me, the following 5 stood out.

Triad Orbit Mic Stands image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture Blog
1. Triad Orbit Mic Stands: Mic stand technology has remained pretty stagnant for 50 years or so until the Triad Orbit articulating mic stands were introduced. What makes the Triad-Orbit stands different is that each leg of the base has four ratcheted positions that provide up to 65 degrees of pitch. The Orbital boom is built around a stainless steel ball swivel mechanism to deliver a very wide range of motion (360 x 220 degrees), and the Orbital 2 boom is also way different than anything you've seen since it's basically 2 booms on one stand. Triad Orbit stands aren't cheap at $179 for a standard stand, $139 for the standard arm boom and $259 for the dual boom, but they're built like tanks and very well may last a lifetime.



Sound Radix SurferEQ image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture Blog
2. SoundRadix SurferEQ: Here's an idea that could totally change the way we think about equalization. The SoundRadix SurferEQ plugin is different from other equalizers in that it tracks the pitch of an instrument or vocal and changes the EQ on the fly, staying relevant to the music or program.

SurferEQ uses a real-time pitch detection engine that triggers a low pass, high pass, bell, shape or harmonic filter (that's a new one) to make sure that the EQ is working at the right frequency during the song. It's available for Mac or PC in RTAS, VST and AU, and retails for $199.


Apple Logic Pro X image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture Blog
3. Apple Logic Pro X: The latest version of Logic may not overtake Pro Tools in the pro world, but there not much that can beat it when it comes to creating music. There's a lot to like in this new version, including a new streamlined look, a new collection of virtual instruments (including the incredible virtual Drummer, with sounds from Bob Clearmountain), built-in pitch correction and remote control from an iPad. Best of all, Logic Pro X is only $199.



Sennheiser Laser Drum Mics image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture Blog
4. Sennheiser Laser Drum Mics: This isn't actually a product yet, but just the idea of it gets points for innovation. Actually, the laser mic is a misnomer. It's actually a laser mic clip for Sennheiser's e904 and e604 clip-on mics that's the innovative piece. By placing a laser and a sensor in the mic clip, the laser can then precisely measure when the drum head is struck and open up a noise gate, so what you're actually hearing is a laser-controlled mic (we'll get to those real "laser mics" someday soon, as this is the just a glimpse into the future).

The laser drum clips are still in the prototype stage, so there's no pricing yet, but you can see and hear how well they work in this video.


UAD Ocean Way Studios Plugin image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture Blog
5. UAD Ocean Way Studios PluginThe Ocean Way Studios plugin takes room simulation to the next step by modeling the sound of two of the studio's famous Bill Putnum-designed tracking rooms (Putnam was the original owner of both United Studios (now Ocean Way) and Universal Audio when it manufactured hardware starting back in the 1960s. Bill Putnam jr. runs Universal Audio today). You're able to choose from a number of Ocean Way owner Allen Sides' great vintage mic emulations and place them any distance in the room, as well as mix and EQ multiple combination of mics.

This could be a great addition to a home studio owner who only has a small room to record in, but wants it to realistically sound like a larger one - and with the Ocean Way sound to boot. The Universal Audio Ocean Way Studios plugin works on the UAD platform and can be purchased for $279.

Winter NAMM is coming up in less than a month, and I'll probably have a new list afterward, but for now, this list above are the products that caught my attention in 2013.
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Friday, December 27, 2013

Tell Me What You'd Like To Read In 2014.

Take The Survey image
In order to provide you with the exact material that you want to read on the blog every day, please help me by taking this very short survey.

Click here to take survey

Thanks very much!


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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.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Duran Duran "Hungry Like The Wolf" Isolated Vocals

It's always interesting to go back and listen to the song that set an artist or band off on a career, so today we'll look at the isolated vocal track from Duran Duran's first big hit "Hungry Like The Wolf." The song was written in only day around a backing track from a Roland TR-808 drum machine (you can find the samples here) and Jupiter 8 keyboard (samples here). Although the first recording was finished by the time the band went home for the night, all of the parts except for the backing track were re-recorded again at London's AIR Studios a few months later. The song was released on the band's Rio album to much fanfare in 1982.

Here are some things to listen for in the song (the vocals begin at around 10 seconds):

1. The lead vocal has an interesting modulation effect supplied by an Eventide 949 Harmonizer. It's a trick we used to use on a vocalist with pitch problems where you tune one channel up a few cents and the other down a few cents. That spreads the vocals out a bit across the stereo spectrum, gives the impression of a double, and makes you forget all about any pitch problems that might be occurring. Listen - it works!

2. Theres a nice delayed reverb on the vocal tracks that has most of the top and bottom end filtered out so it blends into the mix better. When you listen to the the vocal in the track with the rest of the instruments, it has a nice sheen on it without actually hearing the reverb, but it's pretty apparent when you just listen to the isolated vocals.



You can read more about how the hit songs that you love were create in Deconstructed Hits.

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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.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

4 Rules For EQing When Mastering

T-RackS Mastering image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Not everyone can afford professional mastering, and it's so easy to do it yourself these days thanks to some great and affordable tools. The problem is that these tools are so powerful that it's really easy to get into trouble and wind up with a product that's a lot worse than what you started with. The process that causes all the trouble is usually over-EQing.

This is especially true when an engineer is mastering his own mixes (not a great idea, by the way). There’s a tendency to over-compensate with the EQ, adding huge amounts (usually on the bottom end) that wrecks the frequency balance completely. Here are 4 rules on EQing when mastering that come from Mixing And Mastering With T-RackS: The Official Guide that can keep you from getting into trouble and help to make masters sound better than ever.

Rule #1: Listen to other CDs (or high-resolution mixes - no MP3s) that you like first before you touch an EQ parameter. The more CDs, the better. You need a reference point to compare to or you’ll surely over-compensate.

Rule #2: A little goes a long way. If you feel that you need to add more than 2 or 3 dB, you’re better off remixing!

Where in recording, you might use large amounts of EQ (+/- 3 to 15 dB) at a certain frequency, but mastering is almost always in very small increments (usually in 1/10ths of a dB to 2 or 3 at the very most in rare cases). What you will see is a lot of small shots of EQ along the audio frequency band, but in very small amounts.

For example, you might see something like -1 at 30hz, +.5 at 60Hz, .2 at 120Hz, -.5 at 800Hz, -.7 at 2500, +.6 at 8kHz and +1 at 12. Notice that there’s a little happening at a lot of places.

Seriously though, if you have to add a lot of EQ, go back and remix. That’s what the pros do. It’s not uncommon at all for a pro mastering engineer to call up a mixer and tell him where he’s off and even ask him to mix it again.

Rule #3: Keep comparing the EQ’d version with the original version as well as other songs that you’re mastering. The idea of mastering, first of all, is to make the song or program sound better with EQ, not worse. Don’t fall into the trap where you think it sounds better just because it sounds louder. The only way to do this well is to have the levels pretty much the same between the EQ’d and pre-EQ’d tracks. That’s one of the reasons why IK Multimedia’s T-Racks works great for mastering. It has an A/B function that allows you to compensate for the increased levels so that you can really tell if you’re making it sound better or not.

Rule #4: Keep comparing the song you’re currently working on to all the other songs that you've mastered. The idea is to get them to all sound the same. It’s pretty common for mixes to sound different from song to song even if they’re done by the same mixer with the same gear, but it’s your job to make the listener think that the songs were all done on the same day in the same way. They’ve got to sound as close as possible to each other as you can get them, or at least reasonably close as to not stand out.

As you can see, equalization in mastering isn’t that difficult as long as you keep in mind exactly what you’re trying to do, which is to make a group of songs sound like they belong with each other.

Remember: Even if you can’t get the songs to sound just like your best sounding CD, you’re mastering job will still be considered “pro” if you can get all the songs to sound the same in tone and volume!"

You can read additional excerpts from Mixing and Mastering With T-RackS and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
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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.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bruce Springsteen "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"

Let's celebrate the holiday with one of the best versions of a Christmas standard that you'll ever hear. It's "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" by my old neighbor Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street Band from the famous 1978 concert at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ. This version really smokes!

Merry Christmas everyone, and thanks so much for reading!


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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, December 23, 2013

Top 10 Christmas Songs

Santa plays guitar image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
I wanted to find a definitive list of the best Christmas songs to post, but each one seems to have it's own unique twist. Therefore, here's the top 10 ASCAP Christmas songs. Note that they're recordings, not traditional songs, and although the song order might seem right, the artist performing it might not (remember that it's an ASCAP list).

1. "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!"
Written by Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne
Most popular version performed by Dean Martin


2. "Sleigh Ride"
Written by Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish
Most popular version performed by Leroy Anderson


3. "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas"
Written by Meredith Willson
Most popular version performed by Johnny Mathis


4. "Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree"
Written by Johnny Marks
Most popular version performed by Brenda Lee


5. "Jingle Bell Rock"
Written by Joseph Carleton Beal, James Ross Boothe
Most popular version performed by Bobby Helms


6. "Winter Wonderland"
Written by Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith
Most popular version performed by Amy Grant


7. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"
Written by Edward Pola, George Wyle
Most popular version performed by Andy Williams


8. "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
Written by Gloria Shayne Baker, Noël Regney
Most popular version performed by Whitney Houston


9. "Frosty the Snowman"
Written by Steve Nelson, Walter E. Rollins
Most popular version performed by Jimmy Durante


10. "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"
Written by Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie
Most popular version performed by Bruce Springsteen

Have a Happy Holiday!
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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.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Yamaha To Acquire Line 6

Line 6 logo image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
In a move that surprised many in the industry, the MI market was shaken up on Friday when it was announced that Yamaha has agreed to acquire guitar and amp company Line 6. Few details of the agreement have been revealed except that Line 6 will be operated as a wholly owned subsidiary, and that management team will remain in place and the brand will continue.

While acquisitions like this sometimes mean that the company being bought was in trouble financially, that's not the case here, as both sides are quite pleased with the strategic nature of the situation. Line 6's investors were able to cash out and the company will be able to gain some much needed marketing clout and expertise from Yamaha, while Yamaha gains some great proprietary technology and expertise that they need as well.

My take is that while it's tough to see another large MI company absorbed by an even larger one, this is the nature of the business and something to be expected. In all industries you have the mega, the medium and the boutique. The mega's tend to acquire the medium companies, which opens up room for the boutiques to grow. If you're a small company in the MI business, you have Ghandi's words to follow:

"First they ignore you,
Then they laugh at you,
Then they fight you,
Then you win."

In business, winning can mean a lot of things, from growing to becoming a mega corporation, to going public, to growing just big enough to keep the founder happy, or to selling out to a larger company. In the case of Line 6, it's the latter, so congrats to the executive team at the company, and here's to keeping the brand alive.

Just another reason why NAMM should be all the more interesting this year.
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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.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Tribute To Ricky Lawson

Ricky Lawson image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
The great drummer Ricky Lawson has suffered a severe stroke that has him clinging to life, and as a tribute I thought I'd post part of an interview that I did with him for The Drum Recording Handbook (written with the excellent engineer Dennis Moody).

It just might be easier to say who Ricky Lawson hasn’t played with rather than list all of his credits. Having performed with the likes of Quincy Jones, the Brothers Johnson, Phil Collins, Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Babyface, Lionel Ritchie, Anita Baker (The Rapture), Whitney Houston (I Will Always Love You), not to mention as musical director for Michael Jackson, Ricky was also the original drummer for The Yellowjackets, where he won best R&B Instrumental Grammy in 1986 (And You Know That). There’s obviously a reason why these musical superstars used Ricky on a first-call basis, and that’s not only because he's so massively talented and guaranteed to provide a giant grove, but he's so exceedingly humble and helpful to others as well.

"Can you describe your kit? Do you take a different kit on the road than you use in the studio?
I’ve been with the Pearl company for about 3 ½ years now and use a Pearl Studio Master kit with maple shells. I use a different kit on the road from the studio because the studio is such a detailed environment and everything has to be precise since it’s always under a microscope. On the road things don’t need to be so precise so I do take a different kit. With the economy being what it is these days, we can’t always afford to take equipment with us on the road so we get backline companies to supply us with equipment. I just order what I have at home and they supply it for me. 

What size are your drums?
I generally use five toms in the studio - 8x8”, 10x10”, 12x12”, 14x 14”, and a 16” over on my high-hat side.  The bass drum is usually 22x16”.  I’ll use a host of different snare drums depending upon what you’re going for. For a hip hop or R&B kind of vibe I’ll use a snare that’s 14x6” or 6 ½”.  Something that’s reasonably deep.

Sometimes for something that’s a little on the pop side, I may use a 14x4 ½” piccolo snare or maybe even a 13” snare which has become very popular because it has the weight to it but it still has the snap because of the smaller diameter. I’ve used snare drums as small as 10” in diameter and maybe 5 ½” deep for jazz projects and hip hop projects. Usually I enjoy the wood snares better because they have a tendency to sound a little warmer than the metal snare drums, but it’s all a combination of drum heads and microphones and processing and the engineer to make things sound good. You can have a $10,000 drum kit and he can make things sound like cracker boxes, and you can have cracker boxes and he can make it sound like a $10,000 kit. There are a lot of little factors that make a difference and what we try to do is cut down as many as possible or turn them to our advantage.

I have my own kit tuned the way I like it, with the heads that I like and with the kind of microphones and the kind of engineer that I know can capture it, because a lot of engineers cannot capture what a real acoustic drum set sounds like.  

What do you like to use for mics on your kit?
I always use Shure mics because they’re consistent and always work.  When I toured with Steely Dan those were the mics that we used. We used the KSM’s, the VP-88, and the Beta 52. If a guy pulls these mics out I know it’s usually going to be great. 95% of the time they use an SM-57 on the snare drum. I’ve seen some teeny, tiny mics where the guy got a killer sound and I’ve had a session where the guy used $30,000 worth of mics on the drums and it sounded like $500 worth.  I’m telling you that the sound is in the engineering and the studio environment. It’s not really what I like to see on the drums, it’s who I see engineering because you can get a cat that doesn’t know what he’s doing and it can be a nightmare. Back in the day, they might have only used three or four mics tops, but if a guy knew what he was doing, he got a killer drum sound. It’s the engineering factor that plays such a big part in the situation.

How many snare drums do you bring to a session?
Usually anywhere from five to six. At my studio I have about eight that’ll I’ll regularly choose from. You’d be surprised. Different drums bring out different spirit in the music. I used some snare drums that were as big as a coffee can and it sounded huge just by backing the mic away and capturing more of the sound with the overhead mics. If you play a fatter drum you have to get in a little bit closer so it can capture that meat, that body of the drum. I went through four snares on the last session that I did, not because they sounded bad but because the client wanted to blend my snare along with the electronic snare drum they had going on.  We changed them until we found the right one because my job is to give them what they’re looking for and in this case, that’s what they wanted.

Sometimes people think that a snare drum is going to sound a particular way because of the size of it, but it all depends on the tuning of the drum. I always tell them, “Hey, let me know what you need and I’ll get you there,” because that’s our job, to get them exactly what they need.

Do you tailor the kit that you bring to the session to the type of music?
Yes, sir.  If we’re doing pop stuff I’ll make sure that I have some big toms and if we’re doing jazz stuff the toms will be a little bit smaller so the sound isn’t as bombastic. A lot of times I choose a kit that’s pretty general that I can use it on just about anything. With the 8”, 10”, and 12” with 14” and 16” floor toms, I can do pretty much anything that’s going down. I can play Jazz, I can play funk, I can play Pop, I can play Gospel with that kit. Whatever is necessary.

At my studio I use four toms but I have the ability to add two more to that configuration, but I bring five toms to an outside session.

Any advice for someone just starting to record?
Yeah, come over to the Ricky Lawson studio and take a quick lesson (laughs). I enjoy teaching and I wish I had someone do this with me when I was a young kid, so if someone wants to come over to my place to watch a session, great. Come on over, because a lot of it is not only the playing but the fellowship and how you talk to people and get along with people and comprehend what someone is saying. 

As far as advice, the first thing is to play good time. Secondly, you have to make it feel good.  If you don’t, you’re going to get beat up from having to play it over and over again.  I usually try to get stuff done in one or two takes. Hopefully I can get it done in one (laughs), but if not, two or three is not bad.  But job one is to play good time.  

Do you have any tricks to making things feel good?
No, man, I just listen to the music and I try to play it as if I wrote it. When you think like that you have a tendency to play it a lot differently than if you just got it cold. A lot of time we haven’t heard the music or seen the artist before. That’s the biggest drag. It’s hard to get the music cold, figure it out, and then play it as if you’ve been playing it for years. Then you have to make it happen in the least amount of time on top of that. Usually a session is three and half hours and you’ve got to get it done in that time, and that’s if you’re by yourself (overdubbing drums).  

Sometimes the other drag can be if you have other musicians involved because you may have to pull them into it as well, which adds another factor to what’s going on. But if you have good guys, it’s almost like a good basketball team. Once the music is counted off they know exactly where they’re supposed to go and how to get there. They just come in and take everything to the next level, and that’s a hit when you can do that.

What’s the most magic gig you’ve ever done?
Michael Jackson’s gig was the ultimate just because of the quality of the musicians and the dimension of the show. That was one of my best. Also, working for Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (Steely Dan). Working with those guys you cannot help but kick booty. And of course The Yellowjackets, where writing your own music and then have it win a Grammy and be recognized at that level felt so good. The thing is, the Yellowjackets were just a band playing music that we liked. It wasn’t like “Let’s go out and change the world.” We were just having fun and it really worked out. Now I hear that music somewhere every day."

More about Ricky, as well as his enormous credit list, can be found on rickylawson.com
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Trouble With Cheap Mics

U87 clone image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Chinese U87 Clone
In many ways we're in the golden age of audio gear. On the whole, inexpensive audio gear (under $500) sounds better than ever and is a much better value than even a decade ago and way better than 20 years ago. The same can be said for mics, as there is a large variety of cheap mics that provide much higher performance for the price than we could have imagined back in the 70s and 80s.

That said, there are some pitfalls to be aware of before you buy. Here's an excerpt from The Recording Engineer's Handbook 3rd edition that covers the potential downside of inexpensive mics.

"One of the more interesting recent developments in microphones is the availability of some extremely inexpensive condenser and ribbon microphones in the sub-$500 category (in some cases even less than $100). While you’ll never confuse these with a vintage U 47 or C 12, they do sometimes provide an astonishing level of performance at a price point that we could only dream about a few short years ago. That said, there are some things to be aware of before you make that purchase.

Quality Control’s The Thing
Mics in this category have the same thing in common; they’re either entirely made or all their parts are made in China, and to some degree, mostly in the same factory. Some are made to the specifications of the importer (and therefore cost more) and some are just plain off-the-shelf. Regardless of how they’re made and to what spec, the biggest issue from that point is how much quality control (or QC, also sometimes known as quality assurance) is involved before the product finds its way into your studio.

Some mics are completely manufactured at the factory and receive a quick QC just to make sure they’re working and these are the least expensive mics available. Others receive another level of QC to get them within a rather wide quality tolerance level, so they cost a little more. Others are QC’d locally by the distributor with only the best ones offered for sale, and these cost still more. Finally, some mics have only their parts manufactured in China, with final assembly and QC done locally, and of course, these have the highest price in the category.

You Can Never Be Sure Of The Sound
One of the byproducts of the rather loose tolerances due to the different levels of QC is the fact that the sound can vary greatly between mics of the same model and manufacturer. The more QC (and high the resulting price), the less difference you’ll find, but you still might have to go through a number of them to find one with some magic. This doesn’t happen with the more traditional name brands that cost a lot more, but what you’re buying (besides better components in most cases) is a high assurance that your mic is going to sound as good as any other of the same model from that manufacturer. In other words, the differences between mics are generally a lot smaller as the price rises.

The Weakness
There are two points that contribute to a mic sounding good or bad, and that’s the capsule and the electronics (this can be said of all mics, really). The tighter the tolerances and better QC on the capsule, the better the mic will sound and the closer each mic will sound to another of the same model.


The electronics is another point entirely in that a bad design can cause distortion at high SPL levels and limit the frequency response, or simply change the sound enough to make it less than desirable. The component tolerances these days are a lot closer than in the past, so that doesn’t enter into the equation as much when it comes to having a bearing on the sound. In some cases, you can have what could be a inexpensive great mic that’s limited by poorly designed electronics. You can find articles all over the Web on how to modify many of these mics, some that make more of a difference to the final sound than others. If you choose to try doing a mod on a mic yourself, be sure that your soldering chops are really good since there’s generally so little space that a small mistake can render your mic useless."

You can read additional excerpts from The Recording Engineer's Handbook or my other books on the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com.
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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.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Lesson In Drum Ambience

Here's a great video that provides a unique look at drum ambience. It's of a drummer playing the same beat but in different ambient locations, then smoothly edited together into a seamless piece.

It's a great lesson on what real ambience actually sounds like. Remember this the next time you're dabbling with reverb presets. You can read about reverb basics here.



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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, December 16, 2013

Christmas Gifts For The Musician And Engineer

We're just a few days away from Christmas 2013, and many of you may still be looking to buy some audio or music-related gifts. Here are some books and programs from my catalog that would make great gifts for that musician, engineer, songwriter, producer or music exec in your life.

Social Media Promotion For Musicians cover image


Social Media Promotion For Musicians - If you don't have the online presence that you think you should, or you're not increasing your fan or client base through your online efforts, then this book's for you. Covers Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, bookmarking sites like Digg and Delicious, as well as your website, blog and mailing list. (Kindle version is also available). See the table of contents and read some excerpts.




Deconstructed Hits - If you're enjoyed my song analysis on this blog, you'll love the Deconstructed Hits series. Designed to look deep inside the hits from different genres, you'll get some real insight as to why songs are hits and how they're both the same yet different. Each book looks at song facts, song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production. There are three volumes: Classic Rock Vol. 1, Modern Rock and Country, and Modern Pop and Hip Hop. You can read more about them, look at the table of contents and read some excerpts here.




Mixing Engineer's Handbook 3rd Edition - Are your mixes not sounding the way you think they should? The latest version of the Mixing Engineer's Handbook (written especially for the home or small studio) can come to the rescue. New interviews and a new "advanced" chapter that looks at automation, sound replacement, pitch correction techniques and more make it a must-have for any musician or engineer. Also available in a Kindle edition. You can read more about it, look at the table of contents and read some excerpts here.





lynda.com online training tutorialsVideo Courses At Lynda.com - Have you ever wanted to learn a new piece of software, but hated the "how-to" videos you found on YouTube with their bad audio and lighting and people that barely know what they're doing? Try Lynda.com, with more than 1500 courses with super high production values by experts and in small digestible bites. Check out my courses on mixing, recording, mastering, studio building, and social media, and get 7 days free of unlimited access to lynda.com.



Recording Engineer's Handbook 3rd Edition - Not sure how to mic a tabla, marimba or fiddle? Here's the book that will show you not only one, but multiple ways how, as well as the techniques you can use for getting a great recording every time. Invaluable to the recording musician. Also available in a Kindle version. You can read more about it, look at the table of contents and read some excerpts here.





The Studio Builder's Handbook (with Dennis Moody) -  Every musician has a home studio these days but the product coming out of it can be disappointing, not so much because of the gear, but because of the acoustics in the listening position. The Studio Builder's Handbook shows how to improve any listening area for as little as $100, as well as showing you everything you need to know to keep your neighbors from hearing what you're doing, and you from hearing them. You can read more about it, look at the table of contents and read some excerpts here.






The Music Producer's Handbook - This is the book you need if you want to be a producer, but aren't sure how to get there. Covers everything from getting a production gig, to handling a budget, to getting paid, to working with musicians, to making sure that the recording is great. Also available in a Kindle version. You can read more about it, look at the table of contents and read some excerpts here.





How To Make Your Band Sound Great - If your band isn't quite where you want it to be musically, if you don't sound as tight as the records you love, or if you're stage presence isn't knocking your audience dead, then you should read this book. Also comes with a DVD that shows a band in rehearsal as they get a song tight and together with tried and true techniques that always work. Also available in a Kindle version. You can read more about it, look at the table of contents and read some excerpts here.





The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (with Rich Tozzoli) -  For most all guitar players, the quest for the perfect tone is like looking for the perfect wave. The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook shows you why electric guitars, acoustic guitars and amplifiers sound the way they do, why the tone varies, and how to zero in on the perfect tone for your playing. There's also a host of great interviews with some real kings of tone that you won't want to miss. You can read more about it, look at the table of contents and read some excerpts here.





The Touring Musician's Handbook - If you want to know what it takes to get a gig as a touring musician, this books for you. Covers the essentials like gear, chops and attitude required to get the gig, how to pass the audition, how to prepare for the road, what to bring with you, and how to stay healthy. You can read more about it, look at the table of contents and read some excerpts here.


There are other books on being a studio musician, music business, creating videos, recording, mixing and mastering in my library that you might like as well. Check them all out at bobbyowsinski.com.
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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.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

New Music Gear Monday: Ear Trumpet Labs Microphones

While so many boutique microphone manufacturers go for the retro look, most try to copy the vintage Neumann look of the 60s and 70s. Ear Trumpet Labs has gone for the ultimate retro look however, with it's line of condenser mics looking like the mics seen on black and white movies of the 20s and 30s.

Like so much vintage technology that we take for granted, there was usually a good reason for the design. In the case of a mic like the new Myrtle, the look is a direct result of the spring suspension system that isolates the capsule from the mounting, eliminating the need for an expensive isolation mount that needs to be purchased.

All of the Ear Trumpet mics share a distinctive retro look, but they're also meticulously hand-built in Portland (for those of you who prefer to buy USA). What's more, company founder Phillip Graham uses recycled metal parts to make his mics, which makes them totally unique compared to anything else on the market. You can hear him explain how he does it in the video below.

The Ear Trumpet Labs mics are prices very reasonably and can be purchased directly from the company.

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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.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

AC/DC "Back In Black" Song Analysis

Deconstructed Hits: Classic Rock Vol. 1 cover image
As you may have noticed, I haven't been posting any song analysis for a while. That's because I've been compiling them into what's become a series of books called Deconstructed Hits. The first 3 books in the series are now available and include Deconstructed Hits: Classic Rock Vol. 1, Deconstructed Hits: Modern Rock & Country, and Deconstructed Hits: Modern Pop & Hip Hop.

Each book contains the stories and techniques behind 20 iconic songs from a particular music genre, covering everything from basic song facts to song form, arrangement, production and sound. Here's an example from Classic Rock Vol 1 - AC/DC's "Back In Black."

Album: Back In Black
Writers: Malcolm Young, Angus Young, Brian Johnson
Producers: Robert John “Mutt” Lange
Studios: Compass Point (Nassau, Bahamas), Electric Lady (New York City)
Release Date: 1981
Length: 4:14
Sales: 2+ million (single), 50+ million worldwide (album)
Highest Chart Position: #37 US Billboard Hot 100

"Back In Black" is by many accounts one of the greatest hard rock songs of all time, and it’s the title track from AC/DC's seminal Back In Black album, an album that’s one of the best sellers of all time. This was actually the 6th album by the band, but the first without singer Bon Scott, who had died suddenly, causing the band to briefly consider disbanding. With the newly hired Brian Johnson as their new lead singer and lyricist, and Mutt Lange (who had previously on their Highway to Hell album) set to produce, the band was soon to reach heights that no one could have anticipated. What most people don't know is that Back In Black is the 2nd biggest selling album of all time, with 49 million copies sold world-wide (22 million in the US alone). 

THE SONG
"Back In Black" is a very typical rock song form-wise. It uses mostly arrangement techniques to develop the song rather than varying too much from the normal rock song form. It looks like this:

intro ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ verse (solo) ➞ chorus ➞ bridge ➞ chorus ➞ verse (solo)

As you can see, there’s basically only two sections - a verse and chorus. The solo happens over a verse, and a different guitar line with a variation on the chord changes of a verse is used to change it into a bridge.

The lyrics never feel forced in the song and they feel good as their sung thanks to their natural rhythm. They’re in many ways a tribute to previous singer Bon Scott dying as not so much the tragedy of his death, but a celebration to carrying on while honoring him.

THE ARRANGEMENT

In their typical style, AC/DC keeps this song as pure as possible with almost no overdubs except the lead guitar. First of all, listen to the turn around between 8 bar phrases during the solos. It's still a verse, but it sounds different thanks to this slight change of bass and rhythm guitar. There's nothing added to the 2nd verse to develop it, which is unusual, but it still works great, as do the background answer vocals added to the last chorus.

Arrangement Elements
  • The Foundation: bass, drums and rhythm guitars
  • The Pad: none 
  • The Rhythm: unusual for a rock song, the vocal is in double time to the pulse of the song in the verse so it adds motion 
  • The Lead: lead vocal and solo guitar
  • The Fills: lead guitar between the vocal lines in the verse, background vocal answers in the last chorus
The other thing that's interesting is the dual count off, first with a guitar and then the high-hat. Countoffs are almost always cut off from a song (they're the sure sign of a demo), but here it just adds to the live feel.

THE SOUND
The sound of this record is great - big, pristine, very real and in your face, but there's a lot more going on beneath the surface than it seems. Although the record seems bone dry, the rhythm guitar has a long reverb tail that only appears on the same side (the right channel) and the lead guitar has a short double that's panned to about 1 o'clock of the rhythm guitar side. 

Brian Johnson's vocal is doubled, but the second voice is not at the same level and instead just there for a bit of support. The snare has a nice room ambiance, but also has an ever so slight bit of delayed reverb added to it as well. Angus Young's solo guitar is overdubbed and placed up the middle.
Listen Up:To the vocal countoff way in the background before the song begins.
To how far behind the beat the snare drum is played.
The the vocal double being slightly different on the last “Back in black’s” in the choruses.
To how the guitars are actually more clean than they are distorted.
THE PRODUCTION
"Back In Black" is such a band oriented song that except for a few extra parts for support, what you hear on the record is exactly what you hear live. In order to pull this off, the band has to be exceptionally tight during the recording, which AC/DC certainly is.

The thing to listen for is how disciplined the band is. They play only what's necessary, with no extra ghost notes, slides or other things that you'll hear most copy bands play when doing this song. Also note the way the attacks and releases are played by the bass and two guitars. They're perfectly in sync. 

Finally, listen how far behind the beat drummer Phil Rudd is, giving it that tension that the song needs to really work well at that tempo.




You can read additional excerpts from Deconstructed Hits: Classic Rock Vol. 1 and my other books on the excerpt section at bobbyowsinski.
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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.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Is Guitar Center Broke?

Guitar Center Wall image
Is Guitar Center, the music store we all love to hate, going broke? It looks that way, according to a number of news stories in The Nation, Reuters, Huffington Post, and a wonderful post by Eric Garland. As many of you already know, GC was purchased by Bain Capital (formerly owned by Mitt Romney) six years ago, and it's been downhill ever since.

GC has a number of problems, not all of its making. One is that it carries a huge amount of debt as a result of the Bain deal, currently owing over $1.18 billion (yes, that's with a b). That's a lot of interest it's paying on the debt service (just think of what you pay on your credit card every month), plus it seems to have a $953 million(!!) balloon payment coming up in 2017 that's really going to stretch the company's finances to its limits.

Then there's the fact that the employees in some cities have tried to unionize, which has not only sent chills through company management, but has caused (along with other factors) the company's bonds to fall to junk status. GC tried to counter by giving its employees an extra $1.25 an hour, but that hardly seems enough to appease its poor abused workers.

Then there's the fact that GC's earnings have been essentially flat despite the upturn in the economy. Much of that has to do with the fact that GC's biggest competitor is the Internet, with musicians purchasing from Amazon, Sweetwater or even GC's own Musician's Friend. Anyone who's tried to buy something at GC knows that the process can be long and painful regardless of the size of the order, compared to the quick and easy online experience.

The big box store concept that we used to love so much has fallen on our collective disfavor lately, so we no longer look at GC as that mecca where we can see and try things not found in our local mom and pop store. Like in all parts of tech, when all things are equal, convenience always wins. With the relative commodity nature of music and audio gear these days (even with cheaper guitars and stringed instruments), we no longer have to try before we buy in many cases. We're winners when that happens, but Guitar Center may end up being the big loser.
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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.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pitch, Passion And Pocket

vocalist on mic image
My good buddy and fantastic engineer/producer Ed Seay has a saying that I've used in a number of books about the 3 P's or "Pitch, Passion and Pocket." That refers to the 3 things that every great vocal must have, although you can apply it to other musical performances as well. Ed is not only one of the greatest mixers anywhere, but he's a great teacher and mentor too, having brought along production luminaries such as Dave Pensado and Brendon O'Brian, not to mentioned having worked on tons of hits by Alabama, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton, and many more, so he knows what he's talking about.

Here's an excerpt that explain Ed's Pitch, Passion and Pocket concept from How To Make Your Band Sound Great, although you'll find similar sections in The Mixing Engineer's Handbook (Ed's interviewed in it) and The Music Producer's Handbook as well.

"In the studio, the three P’s are what a producer lives by. You’ve got to have all three to have a dynamite vocal. And while Pitch and Pocket problems can be fixed by studio trickery, if you don’t have Passion, you don’t have a vocal. On stage, the three P’s apply maybe even more so, since you don’t have any of the advantages of the studio.  Let’s take a look inside the three P’s.

Pitch
Staying in pitch means singing in tune. And not just some of the notes - every single note! They’re all equally important!! Pitch also means following the melody reliably. There’s a trend these days to skat sing around a melody, and while that might be desirable in some genres, it doesn’t work in any genre if you do it all the time. Skating might show off your technique and ability but a song has a melody for a reason. That’s what people know, that’s what they can sing to themselves, and usually that’s what they want to hear.

Pocket
The Pocket means singing in time and in the “groove” (the rhythm) of the song. You can be in pitch, but if you’re wavering ahead or behind the beat it won’t feel right. All of the things that help instrumentalists that are advocated elsewhere in the book apply to vocals as well. Concentrate on the downbeat (on beat 1) to get your entrances. Concentrate on the snare drum (on 2 and 4) to stay in the pocket.
Quincy (producer Quincy Jones) used to say that some singers have it in the pocket of their voice. Supposedly Michael Jackson has such an amazing pocket that he could sing a line and you could build a groove around it.Frank Fitzpatrick
Passion
Passion is not necessarily something that can be taught. To some degree, you either have it or you don’t. What is Passion? It’s the ability to sell the lyrical content of the song through performance.  It’s the ability to make me believe in what you’re singing, that you’re talking directly to me and not anyone else. And passion can sometimes trump pitch and pocket. A not-all-that-great singer who can convey the emotion in his voice is way more interesting to listen to than a polished singer who hits every note perfectly but with little emotion.  In fact, just about any vocalist you’d consider a “star” has passion, and that’s why he or she is a star.

On-stage, Passion can sometimes take a back seat to stamina, since you have to save yourself for a whole show and you can’t blow it all out in one song. That’s why many singers have only one or two big “production numbers” where they totally whip it out. This means that you have to learn the limits of your voice, learn how much of you goes into just cruising and when you can do it, and how much you need left in the tank to do your biggest, most effective show stoppers. 

In the studio, there’s never any cruising - you’ve got to give all the passion you can give for every song. A few paragraphs ago I said that you either have passion or you don’t, but sometimes you really have it and you don’t know it, and it’s the job of the producer to pull it out of you. That could mean getting the singer angry to stir some emotion, building him up by telling him how good he is, or making him laugh to loosen him up. Anything to sell the song! But once you know how to summon it up from inside you, you can do it again and again.
You’re telling a story that’s real to you. Do you believe in what you’re singing about?  You have to convey it from a place other than your memory of bunch of words and chord changes.Frank Fitzpatrick"
Thanks for the tip, Ed!!

You can read additional excerpts from How To Make Your Band Sound Great and my other books at bobbyowsinski.com.
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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.

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