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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Physical Mix Preparation

It's time for another book excerpt, this time from "Mixing And Mastering With IK Multimedia T-RackS." One of the most overlooked part of mixing is the preparation beforehand. There are multiple levels of this preparation, but the most overlooked part is your own personal physical preparation that's covered by the following short but important section.
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Now that your DAW session is set up, it’s best to take a break and get yourself physically and mentally prepared. Regardless of how much time you spend on a mix, it’s mentally taxing because of the focus and concentration that it commands.
Get Comfortable
You’re going to be here for a while, so best to be comfortable. Change into some comfy clothes, get the temperature of room just right, and adjust the lighting so it’s easy to see the various monitor screen(s). Get some coffee, tea or soft drinks ready, and something to snack on later.
Note Taking
Make sure that you have a pen and a pad of paper to write on to take notes during the session. Post-it notes can also be helpful. If you have a hardware controller, a roll of console tape (Permacell 724 - tape that can be reapplied without leaving any sticky residue behind) will be essential to mark it as needed.
Turn Off The Internet
The greatest time-suck for just about any kind of work is the Internet. It’s just too easy to check your email or Facebook, or go down the rabbit-hole of surfing the Web when you take a break. It’s one of the most difficult things to stay away from these days, but you’ll get a lot more work done if you can avoid firing it up in the first place.
Play Something You Know
This may be the single most important piece of advice during mix prep. Play a a song or a mix (or both) that you know well before you begin to mix to give you a reference point. This will calibrate your ears to your monitors and keep you from over or under-EQing as you go along.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"No Women No Cry" - Bob Marley Multitrack

Bob Marley was a superstar that transcended stardom to become legend, even before he died, and 30 years later, his music is as fresh as it was back when he was at his peak. Today we take a listen to the bits and pieces of the multitrack to the song "No Women, No Cry" from the 1975 Natty Dread album. This version is pretty interesting, but the one that's more widely known came from a live album a year later.

It's believed that Marley wrote the song but gave the songwriting credit to his childhood friend Vincent Ford in order to help him sustain the soup kitchen that he ran in the Trenchtown ghetto. Regardless who wrote it, it's still powerful today. Here are a few things to listen for.

1) It's interesting that the track is built around a primitive drum machine. Considering how formidable Reggae rhythm sections are, you expect the full band to play on every song.

2) The low vocal parts by the Wailers are pleasing out of tune. These probably fall into the "close enough" category so prevalent at the time.

3) The number of keyboards used is also a surprise; 4 organ tracks, a piano, and clavinet.

4) There are two lead vocals, but you can't tell if they were eventually comped together from listening to just this single multitrack pass in the video.

5) The recording looks to be done on 23 tracks of a 24 track tape machine. Track 24 was usually reserved for timecode if needed, but sometimes the edge tracks of the tape were avoided altogether or used for bass and kick drum because they'd be damaged and have limited frequency response.



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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Sony C-37A At 55 Years On

There are certain pieces of audio gear where the manufacturer gets it right and creates a classic, but doesn't realize it until years later after the unit has been replaced with a new "updated" version that doesn't sound as good.  The Sony C37A microphone is one of those pieces. The illustrious George Peterson wrote a wonderful article for Mix Magazine about the history of the C37Aa a month or so ago that I think is well worth repeating below.

A CLASSIC MIC TURNS 55
The large Sony logo on the mic helped spread the word about the C-37A.
The large Sony logo on the mic helped spread the word about the C-37A.
In the early 1950s, Japan didn’t manufacture condenser microphones. Imported European models such as Neumann U47s were highly coveted, although very expensive. Seeking a domestic alternative, Heitaro Nakajima—of the Science and Technical Research division of Japanese broadcaster NHK—was interested in building a condenser mic, having seen a U47 during recent travel to Germany. NHK’s first attempt at creating a condenser mic was based on a silver-coated celluloid diaphragm, which was noisy and would burn if the DC bias voltage was too high. NHK eventually scrapped the project. [Note: After 24 years at NHK, Dr. Nakajima left in 1971 to oversee R&D activities at Sony and was instrumental in moving the company forward into PCM-based recorders and later the co-development of the Compact Disc with Phillips.]
ENTER THE C-37A
Upon hearing from Nakajima about the NHK prototype, Sony engineer Kanane Nakatsuru wanted to build a condenser microphone. He experimented with numerous diaphragm materials, finally settling on DuPont’s Mylar, which had just become available in Japan. Mylar had the strength and tensile properties Nakatsuru was seeking, but he was unsure about how to add a conductive gold coating to the material. Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka suggested that Nakatsuru contact someone he knew who had developed a sputtering method of layering gold vapor onto various materials. It worked with Mylar films, as well, and Sony’s first condenser mic project moved ahead. The mic capsule, which eventually was called the C-3, was a single-diaphragm design using a 6-micron Mylar diaphragm.
The electronics side was less complicated, but the cost of the Telefunken AC-701 miniature triode vacuum tubes used by European microphone manufacturers were prohibitively expensive in Japan. Nakatsuru instead went with a single-stage amplifier using a cathode-follower design as an impedance converter with a readily available (and far more affordable) 6AU6 pentode tube configured as a triode.
Sony C-37A and CP-3B power supply
Sony C-37A and CP-3B power supply
The C-37A took its name from the outer diameter of the C-3 capsule element, which was 37 mm. On seeing the completed prototype, Ibuka proposed the idea of putting the Sony name in large letters across the mic’s center band. So when the mic appeared on Japanese television broadcasts, the Sony brand would be visible, especially in close-ups on singers or newscasters. The concept worked and the word soon spread about Japan’s first condenser microphone.
The mic was released in Japan in 1955, although it didn’t make its official debut in the United States until the Los Angeles Hi-Fi show in 1958.
The C-37A design features a slot on the back on the mic grille for mechanically changing the polar pickup pattern. Turning the slot to the right selects the “N” non-directional (omni) pattern, while turning it to the left selects the “U” uni-directional, which is essentially cardioid at 1 kHz, becoming tighter at higher frequencies.
On the CP-3B power supply is a rotary, 4-position highpass filter switch offering four choices in low-frequency roll-off. The M (Music) position was essentially flat, with M1 (Music 1), V1 (Voice 1) and V2 (Voice 2) offering progressively increased bass attenuation. A pushbutton is also provided to enable a high-frequency roll-off curve. The underside of the CP-3B has recessed switches for selecting impedance (50 or 250 ohms) and output level settings. Inside the power supply are multiple taps for operating at 100, 117 or 220 VAC.
Specs included a 30 to 16k Hz frequency response. The entire package shipped with mic, power supply, an attached 10-meter mic cable, carrying case and manual. It also included a 21-3P audio output connector so the user could make a custom output cable that interfaced to whatever connection that was required. (This was in the pre-XLR days, when universally standard audio connectors didn’t exist.)
Sony’s C-800G (left) and C-800 mics have similar names, but the mics are quite different in design and sound. Unfortunately discontinued today, the C-800 comes close to being a modern reissue of the original C-37A.
Sony’s C-800G (left) and C-800 mics have similar names, but the mics are quite different in design and sound. Unfortunately discontinued today, the C-800 comes close to being a modern reissue of the original C-37A.
AFTERMATH
The C-37A was followed by the solid-state C-47FET (with onboard 9-volt battery powering) and the phantom-powered C-37P version. However, perhaps the most interesting Sony model to follow the C-37A decades later was the C-800 released in 1992, which, aside from its outer body style, was a near-perfect clone of the C-37A with a few modern improvements, such as higher output and lower self-noise. Unfortunately, the C-800 was launched at the same time as the much-heralded C-800G—a far more expensive, dual-diaphragm tube mic that featured an innovative outrigger Peltier cooling device. Lost in all the hoopla, the C-800 never got the attention it deserved, and sadly was eventually discontinued, although the C-800G remains in production and is a highly regarded choice, particularly on pop vocals.
Like the C-37A, the C-800 had a single-diaphragm capsule, used a mechanical vent to change polar response and was based on the same 6AU6 pentode tube. In fact, the elements of the C-37A and C-800 are so similar that a C-800 capsule can be employed as a replacement part for a C-37A. Tip for Sony: Bring back the C-800, perhaps as the C-800A, but with a cool retro finish so it doesn’t resemble the C-800G, and this time around actively promote its C-37A heritage.
Today, some 55 years after its initial launch, the Sony C-37A remains a viable tool that is still prized in studios throughout the world. Typical C-37A applications include horns, acoustic bass, strings, guitar, banjo, mandolin, drum overheads and vocals. And among the mic’s most ardent fans is Daniel Lanois, who has used his C-37As on a long list of top artists he’s produced, such as Bob Dylan, Bono and Peter Gabriel.
Not bad for a microphone that was designed more than a half-century ago.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

"Superstition" Multitrack - Stevie Wonder

There was a great article today on ProSoundNews about the making of Stevie Wonder's classic hit "Superstition" so I thought that would be a good song to focus on today. You can take a look at the article here.

Here's a video that solo's the various tracks from the multitrack of the song.

1) Listen how the drums groove, especially the hi-hat. It appears that there are several drum tracks, but they all groove hard.

2) I'm not sure if there are 4 or 6 tracks of clavinet, but you can hear that some of them have a lot of processing on them (as indicated in the article). Some are almost a double but have a very different sound.

3) The bass is Stevie's signature synth sound, but also the way he plays it, which is nothing like a real bass player would play it (which, of course, he isn't, nor is trying to be).

4) The horns are really compressed, out of tune at times, and have a few rough edges, but they work in the track!

5) Like most hit songs, you can hear how the track almost mixes itself at the end of the song.

Since the clav parts have had keyboard players baffled since the song came out, the second video is somewhat of a breakdown of the parts.







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Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Hot For Teacher Guitar" Van Halen Isolated Guitar

Today we take a listen to Eddie Van Halen's smoking isolated guitar on "Hot For Teacher." For many guitar players this song is the ultimate in guitar dexterity, and even isolated, Edward does not disappoint.
The song was part of Van Halen's "1984" that was recorded at Eddie's 5150 home studio. It was voted the 39th greatest rock song by VH1. Here are a few things to listen to:

1) What can you say about Eddie's playing except "mind blowing." He's one of the true innovators of modern rock guitar and this song is an excellent example of why.

2) Eddie seamlessly goes between rhythm and lead during the song. Since this was done at home with presumably as much time as needed, I suspect that we're hearing a lot of takes comped into one. It wouldn't surprise me at all if this was one entire performance though.

3) The sound of the guitar is great for both the rhythm and lead parts. I'm not sure exactly what gear he used (I suspect it was his "Frakenstrat" and "brown sound" Marshall), but it's the sound that guitar players have obsessed over for years afterwards.

4) The studio sound of the isolated track is different from the original record (the video is at the bottom), in that it's in stereo with a short reverb and long delay timed to the track. While it's basically the same effects setup on the record, the dry sound is panned left while the effects are panned right, which is the same on most of the early Van Halen albums. It's also interesting how low in the mix the guitar is on the final version.





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