Thursday, May 6, 2010

Finally, A Reverb Plug-In I Can Love

I'm not ashamed to say that I've always had trouble with reverb. It just seemed so hard to make it sound good. I could make it mesh perfectly with a vocal or instrument when soloed only to find that it stuck out from the track like a sore thumb with all the instruments in the mix. I would find that the correct wet and dry balance was always elusive, with the verb either disappearing or washing everything out (I've since learned a lot of tricks to make things work better, which I've shared in previous posts).

Of course, there were those times when the verb sound came easy if I worked in a studio that had an EMT 250, a wonderfully tuned EMT 140 plate, or even a great chamber (like at Capitol or the old A&M), but if you weren't working in the A-list places, you could probably forget about having access to any of these. When the Lexicon 224 and the later 480 came along, I was afraid to tell anyone that I had one personal setting that I thought sounded good and worked for me, and I would never deviate from it because I found the unit too complex to set up. Only years later did I find out that I wasn't alone, and most engineers felt the same way.

When the DAW came along, reverbs got a little easier to make sound good, especially with convolution-based reverbs like Altiverb, but I still had to fiddle more than I wanted to make everything sit in the mix just right. That's why I'm so blown away with the new Lexicon PCM Native Reverb plug-in. No matter what you do and how you do it, it always sounds great.

The PCM Native Reverb is actually a bundle of different reverb plug-ins - vintage plate, plate, hall, concert hall, random hall, room and chamber. It works on the Mac 10.4.2 or later, Windows XP, Vista or 7, and any version of Pro Tools after 7.3. It also works as a VST, Audio Units or RTAS plug-in, so it's compatible with just about any DAW on any platform.

It takes up about 500 meg of disc space and isn't very processor intensive at all like you'd expect. I haven't tried more than 3 plug-ins at a one time yet, but the processor load hardly budged under those conditions.

I won't get into a long review here except to say that I can't make it sound bad, regardless of the type of verb plug-in or it's setting. I especially love the chamber, which just sounds so thick and gorgeous, yet lays in the track perfectly. I compared the Lexicon to 4 of my other plug-in reverbs, all of which I think sound pretty good and I was pretty happy with, but they just don't sound as good. I'll continue to use them, but the Lexicon is now my go-to verb.

Michael Carnes and Casey Young should really be commended for their work on the PCM Native Reverb, especially the user interface. Unlike Lexicon hardware of the past, the PCM Native plug-ins are logical and easy to use, and have a built-in help screen that tells you what each control does if you need it. The fact is, it's harder to make it not sound good than the other way around.

So kudos, Lexicon. I don't think I'll be having any of my former reverb problems ever again.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

6 Questions For JamHub VP Sales And Guitarist Dave McCarthy

Dave McCarthy is one of the most well-liked people in the pro audio business, having met just about everyone during stints in executive positions at lexicon, Line 6, Peavy and now with JamHub. Dave is the perfect guy to sell a new product like JamHub (the silent rehearsal studio - see my JamHub article for a description, or the JamHub website) because he's more of an evangelist than a sales exec. It's difficult not to get caught up in his excitement, and his product explanations are so clear on its benefits that you've got to have one now!

What most people don't know is that Dave is a hell of a guitar player, having toured with a variety of bands including everyone's 60's favorite Mitch Ryder. Here are Dave's answers to this week's "6 Questions."

1) How did you break into the business?
I played and toured with bands in the Midwest and Canada. In the early 80’s I landed in LA and had to go to work selling gear in music stores. At the end of my retail career, I began jumping store to store and taking my rather large clientele with me. Joe Goodman decided to end the chaos (to Los Angeles retailers) and make it his mission to get me a rep gig ( and get me out of retail) so he had me work on pro accounts while he shopped my resume. He helped me get my first rep gig with a manufacturer, which was with Lexicon.

2) What makes you unique?
I think I’m unique because I still believe that we’re in the joy business. It’s not about the products, it’s about the joy they create. It causes me to approach my job with wonder and excitement.

3) Who was your biggest influence?
When I was working in music stores, I met Dan Armstrong and we became close friends. I wasn’t really smart enough to hang with him, so he spent most of the time teaching me what he knew. So much of this business is undocumented and the only way some of that knowledge continues is from one person to another. Knowledge is the greatest gift.

4) What's the best thing about your job?
Every once in a while I get to see someone have a perfect moment. When something I show someone opens the doors to expression for them and you see the lights go on, that is the best part of what I do.

5) When and where were you the happiest?
In the late 80’s traveling the world evangelizing for Lexicon and meeting the kind of folks that cared about fantastic audio.

6) What's the best piece of advice you ever received?
You have 2 ears and 1 mouth. Listen twice as much as you talk. If you listen twice as much as you talk you’ll know what to say.

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Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

EQing To Overcome Proximity Effect

A few weeks ago I posted an article about one of the mixing engineer's unsung tools, the high-pass filter. The HPF works like magic to clean up mixes either live or in the studio by rolling off the low frequencies that many times don't add anything to the sound. Here's another EQ tip that will also clean things up substantially.

Most engineers these days (especially beginners) tend to put a cardioid mic as close as possible to the instrument or amplifier they're trying to record. You see this especially on guitar and bass amps where the mic is smashed into the grill cloth. What happens when you do that is you cause the mic's low frequency response to increase due to the proximity effect. The proximity effect only occurs with cardioid or hyper-cardioid microphones, and is a condition where the low frequencies are accentuated (made louder) the closer the mic gets to the source.

The frequency where the proximity effect is centered is different for every mic, but most of low frequencies from the effect can be cleaned up with our friend the high-pass filter. But while that might take care of the low frequencies pretty well, you still have the 200 to 600Hz region (which is also boosted) to deal with, and the 400 to 600Hz part is a range that most of us don't find too pleasing to the ear.

What's more, the more mics that are mashed up against the source, the more those frequencies build up. So if during a tracking session you're using 15 directional mics, boy, is there a lot of build-up in that area.

The way to clean up your tracks (after first using the HPF) is to listen to the song with all the tracks in the mix, and before you EQ anywhere else, attenuate in the 200 to 600Hz area (or even a bit lower, depending upon the mic and the where you set the cutoff frequency of the HPF). What you'll find is that suddenly everything will begin to get clearer without having to add any mid or high frequency EQ (which is the first inclination of most engineers).

Of course, the way around the proximity effect in the first place is to mic all your instruments just the way the old timers in the 60's and 70's did - from a distance. It doesn't have to be much, just a foot or 18 inches will do, but you'll find that the instruments will begin to blend a lot better and you won't need nearly as much EQ in the mix.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

The Making Of "God Only Knows"

In staying with the Beach Boy theme for this week, here are two videos regarding the making of their hit "God Only Knows." Once again, this is a terrific piece of musical history that can teach us a lot about how great records were made back in the days of limited technological resources.

The first video is the vocal track without the music. Listen to:

1) How spot on the doubled lead vocals are. Remember, this was in the days before cut and paste.

2) The background harmony vocals are just gorgeous, especially the round-robin at the end at about 2:00.

3) The reverb sound is awesome. It's the famous Capitol Records chamber and it's so clean and smooth. Luckily, it's still in use today and still in great demand.

The second video is "the making of" for the song similar to the one posted yesterday. It doesn't feature a complete take, which is why I put the vocal one first.

4) Once again Brian is in full command. He knows what he wants and he knows how to get it from a great group of musicians (the famous "Wrecking Crew"). There's a great film about the Wrecking Crew. You can find out more on the film's official website.

5) And once again, all the musicians are playing at once in a relatively small room. Gold Star was another studio noted for it's superlative reverb chamber, which many think was more responsible for Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" than he was. Unfortunately it closed in 1984. The studio is now the site of a mini-mall at the corner of Santa Monica and Vine Street in Hollywood.






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Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Making Of "Wouldn't It Be Nice"

This is a fascinating piece of history that I recently found about the making of the 1966 Beach Boy's hit "Wouldn't It Be Nice." It's illustrates a number of things:

1) How much in control Brian Wilson is of the entire production. He was the writer, arranger and producer of the song so he knows exactly what he wants and he's very direct in getting it from his players, who were the cream of the crop of Hollywood studio musicians.

2) The song was done on a 4 track tape recorder at the now defunct Gold Star studios in Hollywood. That means that the entire band had to play at once in the relatively small studio area. Gold Star was originally a small demo studio that came to prominence thanks to Phil Spector and his many hits. It's still the same today - when a studio is hot, everyone wants to use it (same with the musicians).

3) Like many other Brian Wilson productions, there are 3 basses on the song. The genius is that they all rarely play at the same time, with the Fender bass played in the verses and the upright during the B sections and bridge. The 6 string bass is actually a baritone guitar that used to double some of the lines.

4) Hang in there until 6:10 when we get to hear the famous Beach Boy vocal harmony overdubs as they were being recorded at Capitol Records studios. These guys were so good!!

5) Notice the small tuning inconsistencies in the guitars and horns. This doesn't seem to bother Brian at all but it would never fly today, nor would some of the small timing errors.

6) Also notice the loud click every time that Brian hits the talkback switch. This was a problem on a lot of early consoles that used to annoy the heck out of anyone out in the studio or wearing phones. It was cause by chattering analog relay switches that weren't tamed until a digital alternative came on the market in the 80's.

Considering that this was just some audio out-takes, the video that goes along with it is extremely well done and keeps your interest through the entire piece. It's an awesome piece of musical history that really shows how a hit was made way back when.



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