Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Bob Clearmountain - Recording Drums With 4 Mics

Bob Clearmountain is one of the great recording and engineers of all time, mixing huge hits for The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, The Pretenders, and many more. He's also a part owner of Apogee Electronics, so he occasionally does some videos demonstrating their products.

Here's a great video where he shows the original Glyn Johns minimal miking technique as used on classic records by Led Zeppelin and The Who. Bob uses a 4 channel Apogee Quartet to record (hence the 4 microphones).

Matt Chamberlain is the drummer, and towards the end of the video he discusses the drum selection and tuning for a Jon Bonham sound. Very cool.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Musician And Entrepreneur Scott Page On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Scott Page image
I'm really pleased to have the the excellent musician and entrepreneur Scott Page on my podcast this week.

Not only has Scott played with such seminal bands as Pink Floyd, Supertramp and Toto, but he's also quite the entrepreneur as well, having started a number of tech companies, one which even went public!

How many rockers do you know that have rung the bell of the Stock Exchange? Well, Scott has.

On this episode's intro I'll also discuss controversial streaming site Grooveshark shutting down and rebirth, as well as the new study that outlines the 3 eras of pop music.

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

New Music Gear Monday: Little Labs Pepper Effects Blender/DI

Little Labs Pepper image
Little Labs is known for its unique problem solving boxes that more often than not tackle a problem that we might not be aware of initially but come to find out how important it is in our audio chain (a great example being the IBP phase tool). Now the company has introduced a new box that tackles the complex connection environment that electric musicians (especially guitar players) frequently find themselves in.

The Little Labs Pepper is a device with multiple uses. It can act as a blender for direct and effects signals, a direct box or a reamp box, but with a precision and adjustment range that most dedicated boxes don't have. It's made to be the hub that interfaces both hi-Z studio guitar pedals and low-Z studio effects, at both mic and line levels, all at once.

Pepper incorporates a high-quality analog signal path with UTC-style output transformers for mic and instrument level, along with a balanced transformer-less line level out. It also has both pedal and "Pro" hard bypass that can be controlled with a footpedal, and adjustable instrument input load impedance, as well as a "Load-Off" switch just for piezo pickups.

The unit is powered by a heavy duty external power supply and is Mu Metal shielded for quiet performance in both live and studio environments.

The Little Labs Pepper isn't cheap at around $650 street price, but it does what few other devices can do. Check out the video below for a more thorough explanation.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Ronettes "Baby I Love You" Isolated Vocals

The Ronnettes with Phil Spector image
Here's a real treat. It's the isolated vocal track from The Ronette's 1963 hit "Baby, I Love You," an excellent example of the Phil Spector "wall of sound." The song featured The Wrecking Crew on the backing track, and background vocals that included Cher and The Blossoms (with Darlene Love). Here are some things to check out.

1. The track is swimming in reverb, but that was the Spector sound. Gold Star Recording had a unique live chamber that had a frequency response that was just right for packing on a lot of verb without getting in the way.

2. Everything was recorded on the same track. This was probably done on a two track tape machine with the instruments all recorded on one track, which left the second track open for vocal overdubs. That's why you hear the lead vocal, background vocals and claps, which were all recorded at the same time.

3. The track is panned to the left, which probably means that the music was panned to the right. In the early days of stereo, there was no standards and no one really had any idea how to pan things (believe it or not). Not only that, pan pots didn't exist yet, so the engineer only had the ability to pan hard left, hard right or in the center.

4. Check out the claps, which you don't hear well in the full mix. The song starts with them, they come back during the instrumental breakdown and then do double time on the outro.

5. Listen to the end to hear Phil Spector.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Programmed High-Hat Feel Trick

Programmed tracks are generally so stiff that we need to do something to give them a more natural feel. Here's a cool trick (#82) from my 101 Mixing Tricks coaching program that improves a high hat by automating a few parameters. Of course, it can be applied to any programmed instrument.

If you'd like to get 4 additional tricks that can be used on your next mix, just go to 101MixingTricks.com to sign up.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Engineer Dave Hampton On My Lastest Inner Circle Podcast

Dave Hampton image
I'm happy to have the great engineer Dave Hampton on my podcast this week.

Dave has worked with both Prince and Herbie Hancock (among others) building cutting edge audio systems for their studios and live. He's also the man behind the new Auratone-like Reftone monitors, fulfilling a big need in the market since Auratone went out of business.

On the episode's intro I'll also discuss Google's new search ranking system that penalizes sites that aren't mobile-ready, and the 9 factors that determine the sound of a guitar pickup.

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

6 Mic Placement Tips For Electric Guitars

Guitar cab miking with 2 mics image
When it comes to recording electric guitars (or any other instrument, for that matter) so often we rely on experience or sight when placing the mic. That might be a good place to start, but there's a more thorough way to get a great sound.

Here's an excerpt from my Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (written with Rich Tozzoli) that outlines 6 mic placement tips for making sure that the mic placement will capture the right sound for the track.

"A common recording process has an engineer EQing, compressing, and adding multiple mics in trying to capture a sound, yet never taking into account what the sound in the room at the source is like. That’s why it’s imperative that every engineer use the following steps in any serious microphone placement:

1. Go out into the room, stand in front of the amp or acoustic guitar player, and listen to them play the part from the song you’re about to record. Playing the song is important because you might be deceived if it’s another song or just random playing. Listen for the tonal balance from the amp or instrument as well as the way the room responds. Listening to the amp or acoustic guitar in the room will give you a reference point to the way it really sounds so you have a better idea of what you’re trying to capture.

2. Find the sweet spot. There are several ways to find the sweet spot.
  • To place an omnidirectional mic, cover one ear and listen with the other. Move around the mic or player until you find the spot that sounds best. That’s where to place the mic to begin.
  • To place a cardioid mic, cup your hand behind your ear (instead of covering it) and move around the player or amp until you find the place that sounds best.
  • To place a stereo mic or stereo pair, cup both ears and move around the player or amp until you find the place that sounds best.
  • As an alternate method, crank the amp until it’s noisy, then put on headphones and listen to the mic as you move it around until the noise has the best combination of highs and lows.
3. You can’t place the mic by sight. The best mic position must always be found, not predicted. It’s okay to have a starting place, but it’s usually never what ends up being the best spot.

4. Change the mic position instead of reaching for the EQ. Chances are that you can adjust the quality of the sound enough by simply moving the mic in order to avoid using any equalization. The EQ will add a least a small amount of phase shift at some frequency and can’t be undone later. Moving the mic (which amounts to an acoustic EQ) will usually sound smoother and more pleasing to the ear.

5. Give the mic some distance. Remember, distance creates depth. The guitar and amp will sound a lot more natural than using artificial ambience. If possible, leave just enough distance between the mic and the source to get a bit of room reflection to it.

6. Be careful miking multi-speaker cabinets. 4x12 cabinets like the typical Marshall 1960 pose a special challenge in that at a certain distance you have phase anomalies from the multiple speakers that you really don’t want to capture.

The cabinet will sound fine when close miked from right against the grill cloth to approximately three inches away from the best sounding speaker in the cabinet, but until you get to a distance of 18 inches where the sound of all the speakers converge, you may be capturing some speaker interaction that’s not all that pleasant sounding. That distance varies with the make and model of speaker cabinet.

Also, be careful about buzzes and rattles from the cabinet, which could sound very much like distortion or a blown speaker. Finding it may take some time, but a bit of tape should do the trick to quiet things down."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

All Hail The Wrecking Crew Movie

The Wrecking Crew logo image
I had the pleasure of seeing the release version of the most excellent Wrecking Crew movie last night at the historic United Studios in Hollywood and it was a blast.

For those of you who don't know, the Wrecking Crew was the group of studio musicians who played on hundreds of hit songs, television shows and movies in the 60s and 70s including hits by The Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, The Byrds, The Monkees and tons more. They acquired the name "Wrecking Crew" from the rather straight-laced studio musicians that came before them that thought the group of studio musician upstarts were going to "wreck the business."

The documentary was the brainchild of Denny Tedesco, who's father was the ad hoc ringleader of the Crew, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, one of the most recorded session players in history.

I saw an early cut a number of years ago, but this final cut just blew me away. If you're a lover of music and have heard these songs a lot (who hasn't), this is something that you'll want to see, and you'll definitely want the DVD/Blu-ray disc, which has an additional 6 hours of interviews that didn't make the movie.

There were 2 great things about last night besides the movie. One was the fact that the showing was held at United Studios on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, which was where so many of those hits were actually recorded way back when, and the Q&A session afterwards with Denny, Don Randi (one of the many keyboard players from the Crew) and Dave Pell, who at 90 years old is still sharp as a tack and told some great stories of the days when he played with the greats and ran several record labels. You just don't hear stories like that anymore.

Don Randi, Dave Pell, Denny Tedesco at United Recording
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that it's just better that you see the movie and enjoy it for yourself. Here's the trailer, but be sure to check out the website as well, especially the union contracts from all the sessions.

Monday, May 18, 2015

My Favorite B.B. King Moment

B.B. King image
I usually reserve Mondays to look at near music and audio gear, but I think it's important to recognize an event that has shook the music world.

B.B. King passed away last week and while his millions of fans morn, the guitar world cries even louder. There have been many great and influential blues guitarists over the last 60 years or so, but none has risen to the level of Riley B. “Blues Boy” King.

While it may be true that 1965’s Live At The Regal album was the main wake-up call for his British progeny like Eric Clapton and Peter Green, who then passed it back to a new generation of guitar players in the States, to gauge his influence just on that record is to do a great man a disservice. B.B. had many lesser hits by that time and each one of them had guitarists crowded around a record player trying to cop his trademark licks. Those licks may not have been B.B,’s exclusive domain, having learned at the feet of T-Bone Walker, but he made them his own with his easily recognizable left-hand trill, the vibrato that so many a young would-be guitar god tried to emulate.

Although “The Thrill Is Gone,” his 1970 hit single, may have been his most identifiable song, the fact of the matter is that B.B. made many landmark recordings during his long career, most of the them live. Live At The Cook County Jail and Live In Japan, both from 1971, Live In Africa in 1974 (which was only released on 1991), even the “When Love Comes To Town” duet with U2 from their Rattle And Hum motion picture show B.B. in some of his best moments.

My favorite though is the little-seen Cafe Au Go Go video (seen below) from 1968 when B.B. was perhaps at his peak. For those that were used to seeing The King sitting during his performances in his latter years, this was a revelation. Commanding the stage as only one of the greats can, his voice and guitar roar in a way that happens on those rare and fleeting occasions when the muse is in the air. The footage is raw, grainy and sometimes out of focus, but it’s a chance to see the man at what may be his best.

We’re all lucky that B.B. was recognized for his greatness so early in his long life (if you can say mid-40’s is early), since there is so much of his career that has been documented since. Even though the world of guitar morns today, we can rest assured that Riley B. King will continue to influence and inspire guitar players for generations to come. May your next journey be filled with love and music, B.B. (Originally posted on Forbes).

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lenny Kravitz "Fly Away" Isolated Vocals

Lenny Kravitz "Fly Away" image
"Fly Away" was one of Lenny Kravitz's biggest hits, reaching #1 in the UK and #12 in the US. The song also went on to a long history of use in commercials around the world.

Today we're going to look inside the song with an isolated vocal track that's pretty cool. Here's what to listen for.

1. The vocal is very compressed. You can especially hear it grab on the attacks of any loud phrases like the beginning of the chorus at "I want to get away." There's also a lot of sibilance that comes from the heavy compression that you don't necessarily hear in the full mix.

2. There's a medium-long reverb on the vocal that moves from right to left, with the left side being slightly longer. A very nice mixing touch.

3. Listen to the chorus effect that acts as a double during the chorus on "I want to fly away."

4. Also take note of the half-note delay on the background vocals, which is also added to the second verse of the lead vocal.

5. On the third chorus at 2:10 another background part enters ("With You") that's fairly dry so it pushes to the front of the mix.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Music On A DNA Molecule: Music Delivery Of The Future

Music Delivery via DNA image
I've written about data storage on DNA in the past, but now it looks like it's one step closer to fruition with a new project that encodes music onto synthetic DNA molecules.

The project is a collaboration between British scientist Dr. Nick Goldman (the inventor of the technique) and performance artist Charlotte Jarvis using specially commissioned music from the Kreutzer Quartet to store the music in the form of an MP3 file on DNA molecules that are suspended in a soap solution.

A Kickstarter campaign for the project aims to raise money to create installations where the listener can be have the soap bubbles pop on their skin and therefore be "bathed" in music. They call the project "Music of the Spheres."

The campaign has already exceeded its goal of around $7,500 USD with a week to go.

The whole thing sounds far-fetched at first, but if you think about it for a second, it could actually be a new and exciting way of music delivery. Not only that, it's an experience that can't easily be pirated (at least not yet), so it could actually be a way for artists to make money at some point.

Just imagine selling your album in the form of a bottle of bubble solution.

Check out the video below.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

6 Things All Great Studio Musicians Have In Common

The Wrecking Crew image
The ultimate group of studio musicians - The Wrecking Crew
When people think of studio musicians they immediately think of great technique, but there are a number of other traits that you'll find common in all successful players who make their living in the studio.

Here's an excerpt from The Studio Musician's Handbook (which I wrote with the great studio bass player Paul ILL) that takes a look at everything expected when you hire some for a studio gig.

A studio musician:

1. Has Great Chops - Studio musicians are expected to be creative, extremely versatile, and have a formidable skill set. They are usually the best musicians in town in terms of plain physical dexterity, and are able to play numerous styles convincingly.

Your ability to read music will determine the type of sessions you can play on. For record dates, the ability to read and transcribe lead sheets is essential, but many other sessions like jingles and television and movie scores require expert sight reading.

2. Has Great Gear - A wide variety of gear in excellent working order is a must. Having only one sound makes for a boring recording, so the wider the variety of sounds you can get or the more you can double on other instruments, the more valuable you become.

3. Is Easy To Work With - Your reputation among other musicians and those in our industry who make the recordings is what gets you hired and keeps you working, so if other session musicians, producers and engineers like you as a person, like how you play, and like the feeling you bring to a session, then you’re more likely to get calls for work.

Smiles and a pleasant, accommodating attitude, as well as superb personal hygiene and an appropriate sense of style go really far in the session business. There are a lot of great players out there and unless you’re something unbelievably special, the people paying your check will always take the easiest to work with all things being equal. No back-talk, no sass, no snide remarks, nothing other than a wide smile and a “Tell me what you want,” and “No Problem!” attitude.

4. Has No Ego - Everyone has their own idea of how they should sound, how the song should be played, how others should be playing it, and a host of other musical items both large and small. That all goes out the window when you’re being hired to play on someone’s recording.

You’ve got to have a thick skin while recording, and realize that even if the artist-producer-songwriter listens to your idea it might not carry much weight or be acted upon. If they listen to you and actually use one of your suggestions, consider it a good day.

5. Takes Criticism Well - If you have a fragile ego, being a session musician is not for you. Except for the times when you’re playing a written part, you can bet that every take is going to be listened to under a microscope and picked apart with a fine toothed comb.

As difficult as that might seem, you can’t take this personally because the artist-producer-songwriter only wants what’s best for the song. You may play a part with a bitchin’ feel, but if the sound isn’t right and doesn’t mesh with the track, chances are you’ll do it again.

6. Uses Proper Studio Etiquette - There’s a way to do things in the studio and it differs from playing live. A studio musician’s protocol exists and you’ll be expected to abide by it.

There's an entire chapter dedicated to this in The Studio Musician's Handbook, but suffice it to say that if you like being the center of attention, studio work may not be for you.

To read additional excerpts from The Studio Musician's Handbook and my other books, go to the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com.


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