Saturday, September 20, 2014

Engineer Ed Stasium On The Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Bobby Owsinski's Inner Circle Podcast
My latest Inner Circle podcast features the great engineer Ed Stasium who talks about the excellent guitar sound that he gets (my personal favorite) on the records that he's done for The Ramones, Living Color, and Mick Jagger among many others. We'll also touch upon some interesting other bits of his engineer career, like his first record ("Midnight Train To Georgia").

In the intro section, I also talk about the pros and cons of giving your music away, as well as the 8 different things that enter into creating a production budget.

Remember that you can find the podcast either on iTunes or at, and now also on Stitcher

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Who "Who Are You" Isolated Drums

I just love listening to tracks from a hit song. It doesn't matter from which era, since each hit captures some kind of magic, and it's fun trying to sort out exactly what that magic is. Today we'll look at the drum track from a hit from The Who from 1978 called "Who Are You."

This was the last recording of drummer Keith Moon, as he died 20 days after the album was released. Moon was a one-of-a-kind drummer, especially when compared with the drummers of today, and you'll hear that his playing is almost garage-band like, although it was perfect for The Who at the time.

What's interesting was that the drums here were overdubbed, which is why all you hear is headphone leakage, and the leakage contains obvious overdubs. Here's what to listen for.

1. Listen to how dynamic the high-hat work is. Moony plays more than the beat, as the playing really breathes.

2. The sound of the drums is really the sound of the kit. This song used engineer Glyn Johns famous minimalist mic technique (as compared to today) so that the drums sound more like one instrument rather than what we hear today. Check out this video that will show you what he used.

3. The playing's not perfect, especially the kick. You can hear slight lags in timing in the kick, tom fills and the hat, although I'm sure that never bothered anyone listening to the record. Today we'd fix all that, most likely to the detriment of the song.

4. You can hear Moon singing and/or grunting at times throughout the song. Again, we'd probably fix that today.

5. At 3:30 you can hear a tympani overdub that isn't that obvious when listening to the entire mix.


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, September 17, 2014

How Much Does Music Contribute To A Film?

It's really easy to take film music for granted. When it's done really well, we don't notice it at all; it just enhances the film in ways that we really perceive, but don't necessarily pay attention to.

Here's a great example of how important the music of a film can be. It's a short clip from the original Star Wars (Episode 4), but minus the John Williams score after the first 15 seconds.

Considering that this was the feel good payoff of the film, notice how awkward it is without the music (kind of like real life sometimes).

So hail to all film composers and all the things you do!


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Getting The Most From Amp Tone Controls

Tone controls image
I'm always kind of baffled when I hear a band live and there's no separation between instruments, especially between guitar players. Then I think back to when I was a young player and remember, "They just don't know how to set their tone controls yet."

For too many players, setting those amp tone controls is such a random act with little thought behind it. Here's an excerpt from my Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (written with the excellent guitar player, composer and author Rich Tozzoli) that gives some context as to how to get those most out of these controls.

"So often players are confused by the tone controls on their amps. What’s the best way to set them? Is there a method for doing so? In order to get the most out of them, it’s best to understand the reasons why they’re there in the first place.

The biggest reason for having tone controls is so that all the frequencies of your instrument speak evenly so no particular range is louder or softer than any other. Shortly after the first amps were developed with only a single “Tone” control, manufacturer’s noticed that players might be using guitars with different types of pickups with their amps, so more sophisticated tonal adjustments were really necessary. A guitar with a humbucking pickup might sound too boomy through an amp, but if you roll off the low-end with the bass control, the frequencies even out. Likewise, a Strat might be too light on the low-end or have too much top-end, but a simple adjustment would make all frequencies come out at roughly the same level.

Another place where tone controls come in handy is if you have a frequency that really jumps out, as compared to all the rest, either because of the way the amp is overdriven or because of a pedal. Often a slight adjustment of the Treble, Middle or Presence control can alleviate the problem, although these controls will also adjust all the frequencies around the offending one as well.

Where tone controls are especially effective is how the guitar fits within the context of the mix of the song. You want to be sure that every instrument is distinctly heard and the only way to do that is to be sure that each one sits in it's own particular frequency range, and the tone controls will help shape this. It's especially important with two guitar parts that use similar instruments and amps (like two Strats through two Fender Super Reverbs). If this occurs, it’s important to be able to shape your sound so that each guitar occupies a different part of the frequency spectrum. To make our example work in the mix, one guitar would occupy more of a higher frequency register while the other would be in a lower register, which would mean that one guitar has more high end while the second guitar is fatter sounding, or both guitars might have different mid-range peaks. 

Not only do guitars have to sonically stay out of the way of each other, but they have to sit in a different frequency space than the bass and drums (and vocals, keys, percussion, and horns if you have them) too. As a result, you either adjust the tone controls on your amp or try another guitar so it fits better in the sonic space with everything else. While the engineer can do this with equalization either during recording or mixing, it’s always better if you get as close to the sound as possible out in the studio first because it will save time and sound better too.

The best way to get an ear for how guitars are sonically layered is to listen carefully to a number of hit songs in almost any genre and really dissect how everything fits together. Of course, the producer, engineer or artist (if you’re playing on someone else’s recording) will also have specific ideas as to the sound they’re looking for in the track, and will guide you in that direction."

To read additional excerpts from the Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook and my other books, go to the excerpts section of

Monday, September 15, 2014

Using Sound To Talk To Atoms

Atom and particles image
I love when I hear about audio or music being used for things other than what we're familiar with, and this is a really good one. One of the latest uses for audio is in quantum physics where scientists from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden are using sound to communicate with with atoms.

Quantum physics deals with particles at a nanoscopic or sub-atomic scale and a great number of everyday products like the transistor, the laser and the MRI machine operate on a quantum scale. You might say that modern audio, which is so dependent upon the microchip, is a direct result of what happens way down there in the quantum universe.

In this case, the scientists first decided to try to listen to the sound emitted by an atom, which is the weakest sound which can be detected (imagine the amplifier needed for that!). After that they decided to try to manipulate the atom with sound, which proved to be a success.

It turns out that using sound works a lot better than light, which is what is usually used for this purpose, because it travels 100,000 times slower, which provides more control over the atoms and their particles. Because the atom is so large compared to the wavelength of the sound used, it can be customized to only react to certain frequencies.

Lest you think you might try this at home, you should know that the experiments where carried out at near absolute zero temperature and the scientists used a frequency of 4.8GHz, which equates to a D28 note. That's 20 octaves higher than the highest note on a grand piano!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

New Music Gear Monday: iCon Digital iControls Pro

While many have gotten used to mixing in the box with a mouse or trackball, some of us just have to have some faders under our fingers to feel comfortable. Unfortunately many of the mainstream DAW controllers can be way more money than a home studio can bear. That's why the iCon Digital iControls Pro may be the perfect solution in those situations.

The iControl Pro offers 8 motorized touch sensitive channel faders plus a master, as well as transport control, 9 encoder knobs and a jog wheel all in an ergonomic aluminum form factor. It also has solo and mute buttons for each channel, the ability to switch to different banks and layers, and DAW horizontal and vertical zoom controls. The unit has 2 USB inputs to allow for daisy chaining devices  using Mackie control for Ableton, Cubase, Samplitude and Logic Pro, and Mackie HUI control for Pro Tools. iMAP software also allows all of the controls to be mapped for MIDI too.

Best of all, iControl Pro only retails for $429 and streets for even less. Find out more about it on the iCon Digital site, as well as the company's other fine controllers. Check out the nice overview below from Sounds and Gear.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Boston "Rock And Roll Band" Isolated Drums and Bass

It's fun to go back and listen to the hits from when rock was in its infancy to hear what the recording and production techniques were like back then. Here's a good example of one of the turning points in music production - it's "Rock and Roll Band" from Boston's first album.

This is really the song that started it all for the band as it's the one that first got the attention of both the band's managers and the record label. What you'll hear is Jim Masdea on drums and Boston leader Tom Scholz on bass. Here's what to listen for:

1. Listen to how tight the bass and drums are, and how near perfect both tracks are performed. The bass is sometimes ever so slightly ahead of the drums, but both are about perfect in their execution. That was a big departure in 1975 (when the song was recorded) when most songs still had a much looser feel, and it was a taste of what production would become a decade later.

2. The drums are in mono. They're very well-balanced (especially the ride cymbal, which is usually lost on most recordings) and have a nice medium dark reverb on them that doesn't get in the way.

3. The sound of the bass is interesting. Leave it to Scholz to not record a bass as a bass. There's some sort of very short delay or modulation on it, so the midrange is mostly in the middle but the extreme low end is puffed out to the sides. Of course, you need to listen on headphones to really hear this.

Above all, this track still really holds up because it was made so well, and as always, a great song is always remembered.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sending Money Via Audio

Bitcoin audio key image
A Bitcoin Audio Key
Bitcoin is going to save the world, or not, depending upon who you talk to these days. It's part of a growing shadow economy built around encryption, secret keys and anonymity, and there's a lot to be said for that.

But that's not enough for many of the more spy-centric Bitcoin users. As a result, a company known as Sound Wallet has taken encryption to a new extreme by taking a BIP38 encrypted key and converting it to a sound file. The average listener just hears static, but if you use an Android app called AndroSpectro you can dig out the encrypted key from the noise.

That's still not enough for some paranoid users though, as a user called Krach will cut you a 7" vinyl record for the utmost in security. The burst of energy right at the beginning of the record contains the key, but then gradually blends into some harsh electronic music.

I guess you could call this the ultimate safe, since no one would even think to look through ones record collection for their money. Then again, for most of us banks still work OK.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

3 Tips For A Better Sounding iTunes Encode

iTunes mastering prep image
iTunes is becoming less and less important as downloads wane in desirability, but that doesn't mean you can ignore it completely. There are those that still want to purchase their songs, especially at higher sample and bit rates, so having the best sounding AAC files is still worth striving for.

In that spirit, here's an excerpt from the latest Mastering Engineer's Handbook 3rd edition that provides 3 tips for a better sounding iTunes encode.

"There are a number of tips to follow in order to get the best sound quality from an iTunes encode. As it turns out, the considerations are about the same as with MP3 encoding:

1. Turn it down a bit. A song that's flat-lined at -0.1 dBFS isn't going to encode as well as a song with some headroom. This is because the iTunes AAC encoder sometimes outputs a tad hotter than the source, so there's some inter-sample overloads that happen at that level that aren't detected on a typical peak meter, since all DACs respond differently to it. As a result, a level that doesn’t trigger an over on your DAW’s DAC may actually be an over on another playback unit.

If you back it down to -0.5 or even -1 dB, the encode will sound a lot better and your listener probably won't be able to tell much of a difference in level anyway. 

2. Don't squash the master too hard. Masters with some dynamic range encode better. Masters that are squeezed to within an inch of their life don't; it’s as simple as that. Listeners like it better too.

3. Although the new AAC encoder has a fantastic frequency response, sometimes rolling off a little of the extreme top end (16kHz and above) can help the encode as well.

Any type of data compression requires the same common sense considerations. If you back off on the level, the mix buss compression and the high frequencies, you’ll be surprised just how good your AAC encode can sound.

Remember that iTunes still does the AAC encoding. You're just providing a file that's been prepped to sound better after the encode.


Monday, September 8, 2014

New Internet Speed Is10X Faster Than Google Fiber

Internet speed is becoming increasingly important to everyone who records. Being able to collaborate in real time, whether it be creatively during tracking or listening to a mix as it's going down, is becoming more the norm every day, so any increase in Internet speed is always most welcome.

Until now Google Fiber was thought to be the Internet speed record holder at around 1 gigabit per second, which is way faster than the average 10 megabit broadband speed that most of America uses right now. The problem with Google Fiber is that it's currently only been installed in Kansas City, Austin and Provo, and will take a lot of time and trillions of dollars to roll out across the US.

Now comes a brand new technology from the famous Bell Labs that raises speeds to a ridiculous 10 gigabits per second (10 times more than Google Fiber) called "XG-FAST." The speed is fantastic, but the real breakthrough is that these speeds can be had over the existing copper landline structure already in place instead of layer new fiber, something that scientists had thought to be theoretically impossible.

But there is a catch - XG-FAST is only working in the lab so far, so it's not anywhere near to coming to a computer near you, but then again, neither is Google Fiber. That said, I'd put my money on Bell Labs getting this in the hands of consumers like you and me way before the Google boys do. And it can't get here fast enough!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

New Music Gear Monday: DDMF The Strip Plugin

DDMF The Strip image
There are some people who are in love with any and all things Neve, but even if that doesn't describe you, you'll still enjoy this new plugin by DDMF called The Strip.

The Strip sure does look somewhat like a vintage Neve channel strip, but it doesn't exactly try to emulate one. Instead it just goes for the best series of processors that it can be, which includes high and low pass filters, a 5 band EQ, a gate and a compressor. Plus the order of the order of the EQ and compressor is interchangeable, a nice feature not often found in channel strip-type plugins.

The Strip boasts some very low CPU usage so you can slap one on every channel if you want without having to worry about running out of processor power. It's also available for Windows and Mac OSX, and in VST, RTAS, AU and AAX 32 and 64 bit formats.

Best of all, it's only $39 until the end of September, with a free demo version available. Check it out!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Electronic Music Superstar Stonebridge On The Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Stonebridge is one of the most musical and cutting edge electronic music producers on the scene today and I'm really pleased to have him on the latest edition of my Inner Circle Podcast.

Stone has been producing international hits since 1993 but most recently he's had some big ones with Ne-You, Britney Spears and Jason Derulo.

In this show he talks all about his technique, how he got into DJing and producing, and gives some advice that's useful to anyone in the business.

I'll also talk about the the new Yahoo music video service as well as provide some tips for managing your studio time.

You can listen by going to bobbyoinnercircle.comiTunes or Stitcher.


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