Sunday, August 31, 2014

New Music Gear Monday: Blue Mo-Fi Headphones

Headphone technology, just like loudspeakers, hasn't changed much in about a hundred years, but Blue Microphones is trying to take things to another level with the introduction of its Mo-Fi headphones. The company teased the product as far back as Winter NAMM without actually showing it, but now the Mo-Fi's appear to be finally ready.

So what's different? First of all, the phones have extremely large 50mm drivers, which is the biggest you've ever seen on a pair of headphones. Secondly, they have built-in 240mw amplifiers so you're no longer at the mercy of the headphone amp (which is usually underpowered) that you're plugging in to.

The Mo-Fi's also have 3 settings, which you can toggle between on the right earcup - Off, On, and On+. Off provides a passive mode where they act just like any other headphone, while On+ provides more of a bass-heavy experience for those that find that sort of thing desirable. The amp is powered via an internal battery that is recharged via a mini-USB port, and a charge is good for up to 14 hours.

The phones also have a unique multi-hinged headband design that bends at 6 joints and is unlike any other headphone on the market, and has a removable/replaceable cable.

The Blue Mo-Fi headphones are somewhat expensive at around $350, but if you're going to be spending any amount of time with phones on your ears, why not try something new and different? Check out the Mo-Fi site here, and the video below.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chicago "Make Me Smile" Isolated Bass, Vocals and Guitar Solo

It's always so cool to be able to listen inside songs that have been around for a long, long time, and Chicago's "Make Me Smile" (from the band's Chicago II album) is a prime example. In the video below you'll hear the isolated bass, some drum leakage and Terry Kath's lead vocal, as well as a bonus of Kath's excellent guitar solo at the end. Here's what to listen for.

1. Peter Cetera's bass is somewhat out of the pocket, especially on the intro of the song. He's usually a little ahead of the beat throughout the song, although there times when the bass and drums settle in pretty well together.

2. The bass part changes in the second verse and becomes more active, as it does during the guitar solo, something that's easy to overlook when the rest of the tracks are in the mix.

3. The sound of the bass is pretty cool, with lots of leakage from the drums into the amp mic, since this was recorded in the days before widespread direct box use.

4. Terry Kath was as great a vocalist as he was a guitar player. Here he does ad libs right along with his lead vocal, and it sure sounds like it was done all in one complete take.

5. His guitar solo is one of his best (and one of my favorites). Take notice of the tone - not too distorted and using the front pickup of the Gibson SG he used at the time.


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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Potato Chip Bag Microphone

This one is downright scary when you think about it. We've all heard about the CIA being able to listen to conversations from a block away by measuring the minute vibrations on a pane of window glass with a laser. The following research, which is a joint effort between MIT, Microsoft and Adobe, takes this concept a step or two further by capturing sounds from a plant in the room, or my favorite, a bag of chips.

It's called the Visual Microphone, and is built around the passive recovery of sound from video of an object.

Although for best results a high speed camera with a frequency higher than the audio frequency you're trying to capture is needed, the following video also shows how an everyday low speed camera with a "rolling shutter" can work as well.

And be careful about what you say around that empty bag of chips from now on! There's no telling who's listening.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why Your Show Is More Than A Collection Of Songs

Your Stage Show image
Many artists at varying levels of success put little thought into their stage show, and it shows. It's a rare performer that can captivate an audience by his or her performance alone, and most audiences, even on a club level, expect to be entertained on multiple levels these days.

In the following excerpt from my How To Make Your Band Sound Great book, I point out the differences between an amateur show, one that's tight and professional, and a big production show that you'll see from a typical arena act. Which one do you fall into?

"So what is a Show exactly.  It’s much more than just a collection of songs.  While the world is full of performers that have seemingly no stage show, there’s a lot more that goes on than meets the eye.  

Everyone can name a great performer who just stands there and plays and gets rave reviews and while that can be you too, today’s audiences are a lot more sophisticated and require a certain level of professionalism from a performer, even with a minimal show.  Let’s look at some typical shows and spot the differences.

An Amateur Show
In an amateur show you’ll typically find the following traits:
  • The band doesn’t know what song to play next
  • The band tunes up in-between songs
  • The band has mindless banter with audience
  • The band has inside-jokes that only the band or a few people around the band understand
  • The band takes too much time between songs
  • The band keeps the audience waiting while changing guitars, clothes, etc
  • The band doesn’t acknowledge the audience, or worse, disrespects the audience
A Tight, Professional Show
Likewise, in a tight, professional show you’ll typically find the following traits:
  • The band has a set list and knows exactly what they’ll be playing and how much time it will take
  • The band knows exactly what will happen in-between songs
  • The band knows exactly when, where and how the audience will be addressed
  • The band has as little time possible between songs, or has something predetermined that will entertain in those spaces
  • The band plays to the room
A Big Production Show
Not only observes all of the above, but has the entire show planned
  • The band designs the set for maximum audience impact
  • The band works out sound and music cues beforehand
  • The band works out lighting cues beforehand
  • The band works out wardrobe, guitar changes, etc. beforehand"
One tip - the old showbiz adage of “always leave them wanting more” really works.  You’re a lot better off to leave too early than too late, so sometimes just a single encore song (or none at all) is really the best."


Monday, August 25, 2014

There's A New USB Spec In Town

USB Type C on the left
We're all getting weaned off of Firewire for Thunderbolt and USB 2 for USB 3, but now comes yet another data transfer format that promises to up the ante for moving our data around. It's the new USB Type-C.

USB Type-C (sometimes referred to as USB 3.1) has a new cable and connector scheme and it's twice as fast as the current USB 3.0 at 10Gps, which is fast enough to be used for video transmission. The spec is also robust enough that it will even be able to be used for DC power transmission, which could open up all sorts of applications, and maybe help get rid of those ugly wall warts that we all hate.

The other thing that's interesting is that since the connector is brand new and very sleek, it's now possible to easily integrate them into mobile devices like phones and tablets (goodbye Lightning?).

Predictions are that we'll begin seeing the new connectors on laptops and peripherals by the end of the year.

While all this sounds great, the downside is Type C won't mate with existing USB connectors, so we'll need a whole new set of cables. Hopefully they'll be a lot cheaper than Thunderbolt.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New Music Gear Monday: Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2 Synth

When the Minimoog and Arp Odyssey first came on the market as the first mass-manufactured portable synthesizers way back in the 70's, they were pretty limited in the number of voices available. As a result, polyphonic synths couldn't get here fast enough as we all wanted the ability to play chords with our favorite non-traditional sounds.

Today there's a trend back to monophonic synths and the new Pro 2 by Dave Smith Instruments is really one of the kind. It contains 4 oscillators, two classic analog filters, a 32 step sequencer, a load of control voltage inputs, and what the company is calling a 4 voice "paraphonic" mode that lets you play up to 4 notes, albeit without the big multi-oscillator synth sound.

There's also an audio input that allows you plug another instrument like a guitar into it for some killer sounds, or use the filters to process external audio. Add to that 3 digital delays and an analog "bucket brigade" delay, and an output section of the instrument is also entirely analog, and you have one fat sounding synth.

The Pro 2 retails for $1,999. The video below shows Dave Smith explaining just what the unit can do.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Warner Bros Supervising Sound Editor Jason Brennan On The Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Bobby Owsinski's Inner Circle Podcast image
On the latest Inner Circle Podcast, supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer Jason Brennan joins me to discuss the latest television audio happenings on the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank. Jason is a one-man gang as he handles just about everything that has to do with audio on a TV show.

We'll also take a look at some of the new YouTube features that artists, bands and musicians might find useful, as well as the battle of the old RCA Studio B in Nashville now being rented by Ben Folds.

You can listen by going to, iTunes or Stitcher.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Steely Dan "Bodhisttahva" Isolated Bass And Drums

Steely Dan has always been known for their almost perfect tracks, even before the days that could easily be done via a DAW. Here's a great example of just how great those tracks could be with the isolated bass and drums from "Bodhisttahva" from the band's second album Countdown To Ecstasy.

This album still featured what amounted to the Steely Dan band before it became just Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, but you can still hear hints of the perfection that would come later with the studio bands they used for all their subsequent recordings. On this track, Jim Hodder was the drummer and Walter Becker played bass. Here are some things to listen for.

1. The drums are spot on and feel great. This has been a Becker-Fagen trademark in that they got drum machine-like time from their drummers well before such a machine existed.

2. There's a nice reverb on the snare. Elliot Scheiner, who mixed most of Steely Dan's records (although not this one) once told me that Becker and Fagen disliked reverb and he had to discretely sneak it in where he thought it was needed. That's not the case here, and it stands out and sounds most appropriate.

3. Becker's a great bass player. While the band used a studio bass player on most tracks on their subsequent albums and on tour, Becker plays the heck out of this difficult part. There are a couple of minor faults that would never be left in during later recordings at 0:41 and 3:07, but you never hear them in the track with the other mix elements.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fender Going Direct Via The Web?

Fender sign image
We all have a love/hate relationship with our local music retailer. In some cases, they're a most valuable resource, loaning gear when needed, allowing us to try different products before we decide to buy, and providing last-minute help to get us through the next gig.

In other cases that have been well-documented here, they have been cold, hard to connect with, money-grabbing, inexperienced and unknowledgeable, and generally unhelpful. And anywhere in between. Still, most of us wouldn't trade a relationship with a good dealer for anything in the world.

That's why it's more than disturbing about the news of Fender planning to sell direct via its website (as reported by Music and Sound Retailer - thanks for the heads-up Rob Carty). Fender announced the fact at a recent dealer meeting at it's factory in Corona, CA, and I'm sure it went over like a lead balloon with that group.

Actually Fender dipped its toe in the water last year when it offered custom-designed guitars from its Custom Shop via its website. Other manufacturers like Taylor have a similar program, but at least the final transaction is done through a dealer.

We all buy music gear online because sometimes it's just faster and easier. Some types of audio gear and music accessories typically don't require trying the item before you buy it, so there's little risk of getting something unexpected. That said, I can't imagine someone buying a guitar online (except for a vintage instrument, and even then....).

As music pros out there know, line up a dozen identical instruments and one or two will just have some magic that the others don't have. That's one thing a dealer can provide that's a crucial factor for the serious musician.

I suppose it's the wave of the future for all manufacturers to go direct in some form, but if that happens, they shouldn't lament the fact that the local dealer is becoming a dying breed, and the ones that are left show no brand loyalty. Who can blame them?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

3 Ways To Overcome Loud Stage Volume

loud music image
Anyone who's ever mixed a live show has been presented with the situation where the guitar or bass player is playing too loud for the room. Here's an excerpt from my PreSonus StudioLive Mixer Handbook that outlines 3 ways to help get that excessive stage volume under control, or at least mix around it so everything sounds balanced.

"Many guitar players can only get their sound when they crank their amp up to a level that might be too loud for the room and the mix. There are several ways around this:

1. Ask the player to angle his amp either towards the side of the stage, or even turn it around to face the rear of the stage. If the player is getting some of his guitar in the monitors or in-ears, this new placement might not be a problem as the sound of the instrument won’t change, only his stage volume. You might have to turn up the guitar in the monitors more than normal (or the guitar player might have to do it himself if he does his own mix like you’ve seen in the previous chapter), but it should solve the issue.

2. Kindly ask the player to turn down. Some players take such a request as a personal affront, so you have to make it clear that this isn’t an attack on the quality of his sound or his playing, you’re only trying to balance the mix better. If a player is afraid that his rig will no longer project to the back of the room, assure him that helping him sound great is what you’re there for, and you’ll make sure that everyone will hear him even better than before. Even with that tact, some players (especially those with a lot of pedals or modeling amps) will find it easier to comply if asked nicely, while others never will.

3. Mix Up To The Stage Volume. One way around a bass player, drummer or guitar player who’s stage volume is very loud is to mix up to that level on stage. That means that you’ll increase the level of everything in the mix until the loudest thing on stage seems in balance with the rest of the instruments. The problem is that the mix may now be too loud for the audience, who’ll probably ask you to turn it down, but at least it will be balanced at the higher volume level. This is usually less of a problem in a large venue."


Monday, August 18, 2014

The Man Buying Up The World's Vinyl

record collection image
Don't look now but there's someone trying to corner the world's supply of vinyl records, and has been purchasing collections of millions of records from all over the world for more than 30 years. Brazilian transportation magnate Zero Freitas has a 25,000 square foot warehouse in Sao Paulo filled with his collection, which is so large,that it's estimated that it will take a team of interns 20 years to catalog it all - if he stops buying any more.

Freitas isn't too discretionary when it comes to what he buys either, having just bought a 15,000 album set of polka records and another 300,000 set of Cuban records. It's also nothing for him to strike a deal for a million+ collection for millions of dollars.

The obsession came early, as he owned 3,000 records by the time he left high school and 30,000 by the time he was 30. When the bus company he owned expanded and he became wealthy 10 years later, there was no stopping his purchasing. He has never listed a record he owns for sale.

After all these years of hording, Freitas has decided to share his collection with the world and is preparing a non-profit library called Emporium Music, which will feature listening stations and even a lending service of duplicate records. There's no time-table on when it will be completed, but many friends consider this a big step forward, considering how low-profile he's been through most of his collecting career.

There's a fantastic article on Freitas with a lot more detail in the New York Times by Monte Reel that you should definitely read if you're interested.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

New Music Gear Monday: The Moog Theremini

Leave it to the clever folks at Moog Music to come up with a completely new take on everyone's favorite sci-fi instrument - the theremin. Moog has released the Theremini, which takes Bob Moog's favorite instrument to a new level of precision and fun.

While the traditional theremin took a great deal of skill and dexterity to play, the Theremini employs assisted pitch quantization that allows a player to adjust the instrument to their playing proficiency, so every note is always scaled perfectly. In fact, Moog claims that it's impossible to actually play a wrong note in certain setups, which means the player can spend more time on being more expressive with vibrato and level (and the built-in delay).

The Theremini contains a built-in tuner to provide real-time visual feedback of each note played, as well as the proximity to the pitch, making it easier to learn how to play. It also contains a number of presets that enables you to select from 32 wave or wavetable based patches, so you can draw on some non-conventional theremin sounds as well.

The unit comes with a built-in speaker, two 1/4" audio outputs, a headphone jack, a pitch CV output, a mini USB jack, MIDI in and out, and can be mounted on a mic stand or camera stand with an adaptor.

The Theremini is priced at a very reasonable $319 and is built to order, so there is about an 8 week delivery time. Check out the Moog Theremini website and the video below.



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