Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Guess Who "American Women" Isolated Percussion Track

The Guess Who American Women cover imagePercussion is the secret weapon that producers use to give motion to a song. Sometimes the percussion is obvious in a mix, and sometimes it's almost imperceptible (like the shaker on Tom Petty and the Heatbreaker's big hit "Refugee"), but it almost always makes a big difference how the song feels.

For decades now garage bands have been playing The Guess Who's "American Women" and wondering why it didn't sound like the record, and the reason is they're not playing the percussion that's an integral part of the song.

Take a close listen to the following video and you'll realize why it's almost a different song without the conga and  tom hit.

Note that they're not playing totally in the pocket, but that was the state of production for the era, when timing wasn't scrutinized as closely as it is today.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

George Massenburg On Recording Drums

George Massenburg recording drums image

George Massenburg is not only a legendary engineer, but he's one that likes to experiment.

Here's a video where George breaks from the norm when recording drums and tries some different and interesting techniques.

As always, there's a lot of thought behind everything that he's attempting to do.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

4 Reasons To Add Reverb To A Track

Reverb front to back imageLike many other aspects to mixing, the use of reverb is frequently either overlooked or misunderstood. Reverb is sometimes added to a track to create width and depth, but also to dress up an otherwise boring sound. The real secret is how much to use and how to adjust its various parameters.

Let’s look at some of the reasons to add reverb in this excerpt from my Audio Mixing Bootcamp book.

When you get right down to it, there are four reasons to add reverb.

1. To make the recorded track sound like it’s in a specific acoustic environment. Many times a track is recorded in an acoustic space that doesn’t fit the song or the final vision of the mixer. You may record in a small dead room but want it to sound like it was in a large studio, a small reflective drum room, or a live and reflective church. Reverb will take you to each of those environments and many more.

2. To add some personality and excitement to a recorded sound. Picture reverb as makeup on a model. She may look rather plain or even only mildly attractive until the makeup makes her gorgeous by covering her blemishes, highlighting her eyes, and accentuating her lips and cheekbones. Reverb does the same thing with some tracks. It can make the blemishes less noticeable, change the texture of the sound itself, and highlight it in a new way.

3. To make a track sound bigger or wider than it really is. Anything that’s recorded in  stereo automatically sounds bigger and wider than something recorded in mono, because the natural ambience of the recording environment is captured. In order to keep the track count and data storage requirements down, most instrument or vocal recordings are done in mono. As a result, the space has to be added artificially by reverb. Usually, reverb that has a short decay time (less than one second) will make a track sound bigger.

4. To move a track further back in the mix. While panning takes you from left to right in the stereo spectrum, reverb will take you from front to rear (see the figure on the left). An easy way to understand how this works is to picture a band on stage. If you want the singer to sound like he’s in front of the drum kit, you would add some reverb to the kit. If you wanted the horn section to sound like it was placed behind the kit, you’d had more reverb. If you wanted the singer to sound like he’s in between the drums and the horns, you’d leave the drums dry and add a touch of reverb to the vocal, but less than the horns.

If we were going to get more sophisticated with this kind of layering, we’d use different reverbs for each of the instruments and tailor the parameters to best fit the sound we’re going after.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

7 Rarely Used Pro Tools Features

7 Rarely Used Pro Tools FeaturesFor those of you who use Pro Tools, you'll enjoy this video by Paul Maunder. It's all about 7 rarely used PT features that could save you a lot of time during your next session. If you use another DAW, you might be able to find a similar function as well.

The rarely used features are:

1. Plug-in Settings Auto Increment
2. Restore Last Selection
3. Consolidate Clip 1kHz Tone
4. Rectified & Power Waveform Views
5. Metadata Inspector
6. Slip/Grid Mode
7. Cursor Location Indicator

Very cool. Thanks, Paul!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Engineer Richard Chychi Discusses 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.


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