Thursday, September 17, 2009

Live Nation's Club Passport

In yet another example of the severity of the slide in concert attendance, giant concert promoter Live Nation announced on Thursday the introduction of the Live Nation Club Passport, which gives attendees an all-access pass at specific clubs for $49.99 until the end of the year. The pass applies to a number of House of Blues venues, as well as all clubs promoted by Live Nation.

On the surface this seems like a pretty good deal if you go to a lot of club shows until you read the fine print and see that the Passport doesn't guarantee that you get in if the show is hot, meaning that you still have to purchase tickets to popular shows. So a seemingly great deal is really just a way for Live Nation to up the attendance at some of their less popular shows, rather than the real bargain that it's made out to be.

But it's the artist that always loses, and it's still unclear how an act will be paid if most of the crowd is made up of people with Passports. If you're dependent upon the door, it looks like you'll be out of luck if you expect to make any dough, but it's still better to play in front of people than to an empty house.

While this seems like a post that's down on Live Nation, it's really not, since you've got to hand it to them because at least they're trying new things to boost attendance, and that can't be all bad.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Magic and Myth of THX

Anyone who goes to the movies is aware of THX, but not many people are actually aware of what it is and what the logo means in relation to a theater. THX is owned by LucasFilm and the brainchild of former LucasFilm chief scientist Tomlinson Holman (my friend and mentor), who is now a professor at USC and is the man that coined the phrase "5.1" surround sound. Tom is good at coining names that stick, and in fact, THX stands for Tomlinson Holman eXperiment.

So what is it? It used to be that movies theaters varied a huge amount in audio playback quality. A movie that sounded great in one theater would sound like it was coming out of a tin can in another because there was no real standard for playback quality. This came to George Lucas' attention upon the release of Star Wars, which was a very sound-heavy movie with a great score and lots of sound effects. As they followed the release of the film across the country, Lucas and his production team were frequently appalled at how many theaters had an inferior audio playback system and how bad their movie would sound as a result. If all theaters sounded equally as bad, you could compensate for that. But if the quality was hit or miss, that was a problem.

As a result, Holman came up with THX, which is a standard for playback quality between theaters, in 1983 before the release of Return of the Jedi. A theater that is THX-certified meets a minimum level of acoustic and electronic playback quality. Only speakers and amplifiers that meet the required quality level are certified, and only those pieces can be used in the playback chain. As a result, the overall playback quality of movie theaters has gotten dramatically better, and any theater that has the THX logo ensures the highest playback standard available.

Soon the THX company found that the market for theaters to upgrade had saturated, and being a company in search of profits, began licensing the concept for home screening rooms, and in 2005, home theaters, and this is where you have to scratch your head and think, "Is this really needed?"

For the most part, a THX certified home theater is more for the videophile with more money than sense, looking for bragging rights with his friends. Any gear that is THX-approved is a lot more expensive than the same piece that's not certified, even though there's little difference between the two. It would be nice if a home theater can be built to THX acoustic standards, but the majority of the time this isn't possible, except in the case of new construction, and that defeats the purpose of spending the extra dough on certified gear right there. And the chance of a room staying calibrated after your wife buys a new couch or moves the furniture around are just about nil. And, let's face it - most high-end home theaters don't scrimp on gear and sound pretty good anyway.

For theaters, which have their share of problems because they're larger and have more people to deal with, it's certainly the way to go. For the home, I'd probably pass if my money was on the line.

By the way, Tom Holman never received a dime for his invention.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Laser Microphone

Transducer technology (microphones and speakers) hasn't changed much in the last 100 years. Sure, it's evolved as the material and part tolerances became much smaller and the efficiency of the units grew much higher as a result, but the basics are still pretty much the same. But the laser microphone might become the first new transducer breakthrough that really has a chance to revolutionize the way we capture sound.

After watching the smoke from a candle waver as his wife spoke over dinner, inventor and theorist David Schwartz got the idea for the mic, which uses the laser as a measurement tool against a gas that acts as a traditional diaphragm. This is not to be confused with the laser microphones now used in surveillance by the CIA and KGB, where a laser is projected against a window to measure the fluctuations in air pressure when someone in the room speaks. Schwartz's mic still measures pressure fluctuations, but in a more controlled manner aimed at a much higher fidelity audio capture.

Although the mic is still in the early stages of development at Schwartz's company Schwartz Engineering and Design, it holds a lot of potential. Why? Because the laser mic can have a huge dynamic range way beyond that of even the best instrumentation mics that are in use today. And it can have an absolutely flat response with no coloration, unlike every mic currently on the market (although a lot of recording engineers might find this a flaw since the flaws add "character"). Plus, the mic has the potential to have only the lowest theoretical noise floor, a problem with many of the favorite mics that we use today. This means complete realism in the sound that's captured.

Now there are still plenty of places in every stage of circuitry downstream of the mic that will color the sound, but if the source is as high a quality as promised, the sound coming out the speaker ultimately will be better than ever, and the quality of all circuitry in the signal chain will get better as the flaws are more easily seen and correct as a result of using the higher quality source material.

So here's hoping that this technology comes to market in the near future. It's about time for a real breakthrough in an industry that hasn't had one in a long, long time.

The following video of the laser mic isn't that great, but it does explain the general operating principle.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Various New Items

Album sales in the US are down 18.1 percent in August from the same time a year ago. To make matters worse, compared to the same period in 2007, sales were off by 37.2 percent.

Want more good music sales news? Album sales are down 14.5 percent compared to the same point last year and 31.1 percent versus 2007.

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Regardless of decrease in album sales, it looks like The Beatles will sell about 500,000 in the first week since the release of their remastered catalog. That being said, you can bet that they are coming to iTunes, just not yet. I don't know why everyone expected this to happen last week because it's not to anyone's advantage to release the band's physical and digital product too close together, as it would cannibalize physical sales.

If both Apple computer and Apple records wait until later in the year for the digital release they can take advantage of the Christmas market with sales items like last minute iTunes gift cards, and use the iTunes release as a second launch of the physical product to take advantage of the Holiday.

Let everyone buy the CDs for now, see what the sell-through is, then release on iTunes. That's what I'm predicting.

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A new NPD study finds that U.S. video game sales fell in August for the 6th month in a row as sales were down 16% from a year ago to $909 million and 14% year to date. Hardware sales were down 25% as well.

Isn't the gaming business starting to look like the music business, as it's sales spiral ever downward?

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In yet another NPD report, kids 12 and younger account for 2% of video game industry unit sales and households with kids in this age group comprise 45% of total industry sales. The report also states that 57% of kids ages 2-12 play video games, and only 62% of them use a computer.

This means that there is some room for growth in this segment of the market if the industry can capitalize on it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

EQ Tips For Delays And Reverbs

It's pretty common for an engineer to have a problem with the sound of  a delay or reverb during mixing. Usually the engineer will spend a lot of time trying different presets in an attempt to help everything blend better, but just a little EQ added or subtracted to the effect could've made everything fit nicely in the first place.  Here are a few tips for EQing effects that will help everything blend without spending a lot of time experimenting.
  • To make an effect stick out, brighten it up.
  • To make an effect blend in, darken it up (filter out the highs).
  • If the part is busy (like with drums), roll off the low end of the effect to make it fit.
  • If the part is open, add low end to the effect to fill in the space.
  • If the source part is mono and panned hard to one side, make one side of the stereo effect brighter and the other darker.
If your effects aren't blending, try the above tips before you change the preset. You'll be surprised at the results.

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