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Thursday, September 29, 2011

DIY High-End Headphones

I know that "high-end" and "headphones" don't necessarily deserve to be in the same sentence, but I thought this was interesting. There's a guy who does a mode on some rather run of the mill Fostex T-50 headphones (like the ones that many studios use) that supposedly turns them into something "high-end" (there's that word again). Here's a review from Head-Fi TV about the modified T-50's with a new name - Thunderpants.

You can find out more about the mod on this website.



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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Pick Punch

I can't decide if this product is a good idea or not. It's called the Pick Punch, and it allows you to make guitar picks by punching out your old credit cards. I suppose if you had other sources of plastics, you could make picks from different thicknesses as well. It's about $40 on Amazon. You could buy a lot of your preferred picks for that amount, or even get some custom one's made, but then all those old credit cards would go to waste.

Guitar players, what do you think?

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

William Shatner Is Iron Man!

Whether you love or hate him, Bill Shatner is interesting. Here's a behind the scenes look at him recording Black Sabbath's seminal "Iron Man." He's actually singing (sort of)! The song his from his new album Seeking Major Tom.

What I really want to point here is the mic technique used by the engineer. Notice how the mic is placed above the lips slightly point down? That's the best way to prevent plosives. Also notice that the body of the mic is above the capsule. That's not so important for a condenser mic with solid state electronics, but for tube mics it's a necessity to keep the heat from changing the sound of the diaphragm.

Enjoy.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

6 Audio Products That Need To Be Invented

I got to thinking about the pro audio products I'd like to see invented after reading a similar story on home theater audio. When you think about it, we've all gotten pretty comfortable with technology that no one could ever consider as cutting edge. Even though core recording products exist in the following areas, there's plenty of room for growth. Let's take a look at a pie-in-the-sky wish list:

1. A new speaker technology. We've been listening to recorded and reinforced sound with the same technology for about 100 years now. Sure, the loudspeaker has improved and evolved, but it's still the weakest link in the audio chain. What we need is a new loudspeaker technology that improves the listening experience and takes sonic realism to the next level.

2. A new microphone technology. Something is seriously wrong when the best and most cherished microphones that we use today were made 50 years ago. Just like loudspeakers, the technology has improved and evolved over the years, but it's basically the same in that it's still based around moving a diaphragm or ribbon through a magnetic field or changing the electrical charge between two plates (that's a condenser mic, if you didn't know). There has to be a new technology that takes a giant leap to getting us closer to realism than what we have now.

3. Get rid of the wires. Studios have been pretty successful at reducing the amount of wiring in the last 10 years or so, but there's still too much. We need to eliminate them completely. Think how much different your studio would be with wireless speakers, microphones, connections to outboard gear, etc. Much of this is possible today, but the real trick is to make the signal transmission totally lossless with zero interference.

4. The ultimate work surface. Here's the problem. Engineers love to work with faders and knobs. The problem is that faders and knobs take up space, which changes the room acoustics, and which are expensive to implement. When the faders and knobs are reduced to banks of 8, it gets confusing switching between all the banks needed during a large mix. What we need is a work surface that takes this hybrid to the next level, giving the engineer enough faders and knobs to do the job, yet making it totally easy to look at the banks underneath or above. I realize that the bank concept has been implemented on digital consoles for years, but there's no way to actually view what those other banks are unless you call one up. There has to be a better way.

5. The ultimate audio file format. I've done experiments recording the same instrument at 48k, 96k, and 192k and I can tell you unequivocally that the 192kHz recording won hands down. It wasn't even close. Consider this - the ultimate in digital is analog! In other words, the higher the sample rate, the closer to analog it sounds. We need a universal audio format with a super high sample rate that can easily scale to a lower rate as needed. Yes, I realize it's a function of the hardware, but lets plan for the future, people.

6. The ultimate storage device. Speaking of the future, there are a lot of behind-the-scenes audio people that are quietly scared to death that the hard drives and SSD's of today won't be playable tomorrow. Just as Zip and Jazz drives had their brief day in the sun, how would you like to have your hit album backed up onto a drive that nobody can read? That's a more real possibility of that happening than you might know. We need a storage format that is not only robust and protected, but has a lifespan akin to analog tape (tapes from 60 years ago still play today; some sound as good as the day they were recorded). We just can't guarantee the same with the storage devices we use today.

What are your thoughts? Any other products that are needed?
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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tips For Getting A Gig

I've given tips on how to get gigs both as a studio musician and on the road as a sideman in excerpts from The Studio Musician's Handbook and The Touring Musician's Handbook. Now UK session player Bob Knight provides a bit of reinforcement during a recent interview on the excellent musiccoaching.com blog.
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"The most important thing for me, talent aside, is finding musicians that understand the music. It sounds flippant. But I’m not a fan of the gospel chops approach of playing higher, faster, louder, better. I think a lot of people don’t really grow out of that. I’ve seen so many people blow auditions by getting their chops out, because they feel that they need to prove they can play rather than just play the song. The majority of things I book are song based. So, chops aren’t that important. You need to have a  degree of facility or technique beyond the music you’re playing, but that’s kind of a given. We all studied lots of things we don’t necessarily need so they would open up our musical vocabulary.

Personally, I’m really looking for people with ears, people with a good attitude and people who go the extra mile when the paycheck doesn’t necessarily dictate that they have to. I want them to want to go that extra mile because they care about turning in a good performance. Obviously, budgets these days are a real fight. I’m also looking for people who are socially aware and know how to behave in front of an artist and with other musicians. And because I’m a drummer, I’m always looking for the feel.

From a non-musical perspective, I need people to be punctual, always. You can never be the last in the lobby. You should always strive to be the first for a bus call, a lobby call or a sound check. To turn up last, a minute before the call time and say, “I’m here on time” really isn’t good enough for me. Specific timings are set out by tour managers as the latest you can arrive, not the time you should arrive; because there’s something that can go wrong – public transport or your own private transport, etc. If people are late for me, I usually give them a three strikes option. And on the third strike, they get fired. I’ve seen it through on a couple occasions, and it’s not particularly pretty. I don’t think people think you’re actually going to do it. But in a professional environment, music can be a bit deceptive:  it feels quite social; everyone is getting on; you’re not in an office. I think sometimes people forget they’re at work, and they think they can take a lot of liberties.

Of course, maintenance of equipment and general personal hygiene, etc., as ridiculous as it sounds, are all really important. You don’t want guys coming on tour with a toothbrush and one shirt when you’re away for six weeks. But you’d be amazed."

Read the entire interview here. 
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Worst Gigs Ever

Every musician who has ever gigged has had terrible gigs, and usually there are a number that compete for "the worst gig ever." A while back, the Guardian posted an article of worst gigs ever featuring a number of celebrity musicians. I've posted a few of these before, but here are four more.

Andy Summers, The Police
Oxford, 1978

It was an earlyish Police gig, in a smallish theatre, maybe about a thousand people. We were playing our set when suddenly the doors burst open and about 30 skinheads walk in, fully clad, in leather and bovver boots. And we were like: "Fuck." They walked down to the front and started pogoing and moshing and screaming "Sieg Heil!" – it was really fucking intense. No one knew where it was going to go. And I have to hand it to Sting, because he invited them all to come up on stage. So they were pogoing all over the place, and it was just ridiculous, us trying to keep playing throughout. Sting got them all singing along. Then he told them to fuck off. And eventually they did. A week later, our very tough London promoter went down to Oxford with a bunch of guys, found them, and divine retribution was delivered.

Peter Murphy, Bauhaus
Hammersmith Palais, May 1983

It was the last show Bauhaus played. The performance was quite intense and overwrought. We were at the height of our career and just about to break, and there was a decision to split, so I wasn't expecting the gig to be triumphant. I felt like I was jumping off the edge of a cliff into the sea. There was an audible gasp when the audience saw us come out – we knew how fervent they were. But between the band there was a lot of juvenile but dark, repressed, negative energy – sort of: "We are the creme de la creme and we can do what we like, we can split up or we can record a fart as a track on an album." I personally had to get out of that. But it was the end of something I had worked very hard to achieve, so it was very bitter. It was never going to be violent – it was gentlemanly, all stiff upper lip and respectful. One of the band members, though, chose to close the show with the words "RIP", and that was not cool: it was as though we were some death-orientated, Munster-rock band, and it cemented the perception of us as this graveyard rock thing, later to be identified as goth. I always thought of Bauhaus as the Velvets gone holy, or the Sweet with better haircuts.

Carl Palmer, Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Chicago, 1974

We were in a town called Normal. The concert was sold out and all was going well, until the encore. We all walked to the front of the stage to take a bow when a grand piano appeared behind us through a hole in the stage. Just as it opened, I stepped back and fell in the hole. Luckily, one of the road crew caught me, but I ended up breaking a rib and had to finish the gig with a large red and purple patch on my right side. I spent the rest of the night in the local hospital being woken up every hour in case I had internal bleeding. There was nothing "normal" about it.

Roger Hodgson, Supertramp
Reading Festival, 1974

It was pelting down with rain and we were all drenched but soldiered on. My amplifier blew up and I was forced to play with a small practice amp - a Fender amp that was not grounded and every time I went up to sing and touched the microphone, I got an electric shock. The amp was so quiet I couldn't hear it so I was playing blind, soaked to the skin and getting electric shocks every other minute. Gratefully, I'm still alive and touring and lived to tell the tale.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lenny Kravitz "It Ain't Over Till It's Over" Song Analysis

A Muse asked for a song analysis of Lenny Kravitz' "It Ain't Over Till It's Over" and I'm happy to oblige. Kravitz' most successful single, the song reached #2 on the Billboard charts in 1991. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"It Ain't Over Till It's Over" is a mid-tempo ballad that reminds you of the Philly Soul days. It's form is pretty simple and looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge/Solo, Chorus, Chorus, Chorus, Chorus

There's nothing tricky about the form, and it's definitely the melody hook of the chorus that gets you, as with most pop hits.

The Arrangement
The arrangement is also fairly simple with basically rhythm guitar, bass, drums, and electric piano carrying the song. Most of the sweetening is around the vocals and most of that occurs in the repeated chorus outro. Listen to how each one changes a bit from the previous one, either by changing the melody or the background vocals to keep things interesting.

  * The Foundation: The drums and bass, although the bass plays very freely, which gives the song that 60's/70's feel.

  * The Rhythm: They rhythm guitar.

  * The Pad: The electric piano

  * The Lead: The lead vocal.

  * The Fills: The background vocals and sitar at the outro choruses.

The Sound
The sound of "Over Till It's Over" is very unlike the 90s in that it's pretty dry. The strings in the intro are especially bare, but this actually works very well. Interestingly enough, it sounds like they have a bit of reverb on them later in the song.

The rhythm section of piano, bass, drums and rhythm guitar are also dry, but the guitar solo and sitar in the outro/chorus have a bit of a timed delay on them that put them in a different ambient space. The electric piano sounds like it's a Fender Rhodes with nice stereo tremolo that glues the track together.

The lead vocal has a very short reverb on it that gives it just a little bit of space, but it's really sibilant. It's surprising that it was left in. Take note of the second line of the second verse where it sounds completely different from the rest of the record. I don't know what happened there, but it's probably a vocal overdub fix that sounded different, so they just tried to emphasize the difference to keep it interesting.

Also note the drum sound, which is very dead and dampened, almost like sound Ringo got on later Beatles records.

The Production
I didn't care much for this song when it was out originally, but listening to it under a microscope changed my mind about it (which is the opposite of what usually happens). It's well thought-out, and well put together, and a great example of how you don't need to double things to make them sound bigger or better.

A quick note on the electric piano part, which goes up an octave for the intro and choruses. This makes it blend in with the strings and makes the choruses sound different from the verses.

What I really liked was something that could easily get by if you're not listening hard. At about 2:05 it sounds like the electric piano makes a mistake and briefly hits a wrong chord. It takes courage to leave that in, but it does nothing to diminish the value of the song. Good call!

Send me your requests for song analysis here.


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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Secret Of How To Listen To Each Other

Here's an excerpt from my band improvement book "How To Make Your Band Sound Great." It's surprising just how few musicians listen to the players that they're playing with, yet that's the secret to a tight sounding band. Usually as a musician gets older and wiser, he hips up to the following, but not always. Here's the secret of how to listen to each other.
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"One of the fundamental errors that band members frequently make is not listening closely to the rest of the band. It’s easy to just focus on yourself, but in order to play well together, it’s listening to everyone else that really counts.  This is the single most important action you can take when playing with other musicians.

So what do you listen for? You listen to how the other musicians are playing or singing a phrase or part. How loudly are they playing? What are their dynamics like?  How do they start and end each phrase (more on this later)? Where are they accenting?  How are they playing the accents?  Are they playing ahead or behind the beat?  Does their tempo speed up when they play louder or slow down as they get softer? All these items require your attention as much as possible. The more you listen to each other and how each of you play or sing, the tighter you become.  It’s that simple.

Things To Listen For When Playing With Others
  • How loudly are they playing?
  • What are their dynamics?
  • How do they start and end a phrase?
  • Where are they accenting?
  • How are they playing the accents?
  • Are they playing ahead or behind the beat?
  • Do they speed up when they play softer or louder?
That being said, it does require some work. During rehearsal, if you notice that you’re not playing a phrase or part the way everyone else is (or if just one of you doesn’t seem in sync with everyone else), stop immediately and ask, “How are you playing that?” Then determine which way sounds best and just rehearse that phrase or part until you’re all playing it together.

During a gig you sometimes get a different perspective on how things sound since the environment is different and you’re probably set up differently than during rehearsal. As a result, you’ll probably notice things that got by during rehearsal. Make a mental note of the parts that aren’t being played well together and address those items first at the next rehearsal."
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Monday, September 19, 2011

Musicians Maintain Their Hearing As They Get Older

I was somewhat amazed to find the following article on mediplacements regarding musicians maintaining their hearing as they get older. I think the reason is that musicians and engineers learn how to listen, and therefore are able to be more selective as they age.

The problem for all musicians (as was pointed out to me by Mead Killion of Etymotics on a panel of a recent ASCAP seminar) is that musicians tend to lose their hearing in particular frequency bands, but learn to compensate while it's happening. Anyway, here's the good news from the original article.
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"Lifelong musicians experience fewer hearing problems in old age than those who do not play an instrument, it has been revealed.

A study published in journal Psychology and Aging studied musicians who had began their training by the age of 16 and continued to practice until the day of testing.

It was found that when it came to detecting sounds which grew increasingly quieter, musicians did not have an advantage in old age.

Despite this, when it came to detecting a gap in sounds, identifying the relationship between different sound frequencies and the ability to hear speech among background noise, musicians fared better than their non-musical counterparts.

This suggests that being a lifelong musician could combat age-related changes in the brain due to the constant use of their auditory systems on a high basis.

Lead investigator Benjamin Rich Zendel said: "What we found was that being a musician may contribute to better hearing in old age by delaying some of the age-related changes in central auditory processing.

"This advantage widened considerably for musicians as they got older when compared to similar-aged non-musicians.""
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chris Lord Alge On Compression

Here's Part 2 of video that's more or less a commercial for the Chris Lord Alge-branded Waves compressor package (the "CLA" series), but it's a pretty good explanation of how he uses the basic LA-2A, LA-3A and 1176 compressors used by mixers from the beginning of studio time. In Part 2 he covers drums and guitars, while in Part 1 he covers vocals. If you don't already know, Chris has been one of the big-buck mixers since the 80's, and has worked on just about every kind of music that you can think of.


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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Life On The Tour Bus

A Tour Bus Rear Lounge
It's time for another book excerpt, this one from The Touring Musician's Handbook about life on the tour bus. The Touring Musician's Handbook is primarily aimed at musician's who want a job as a sideman for a touring act, and a big part of that is bus etiquette, as you'll soon see.
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As stated in Chapter 1, the tour bus is looked upon as the mansion on the hill (see Figure 10.2). It holds a unique place in the minds of concert goers and musicians everywhere, but when it comes right down to it, it’s just a way to get a bunch of people from point A to point B as comfortably as possible. The definition of comfortable, however, is in the eye of the beholder. Let’s take a look at life on the bus.

The Bus Itself
Most tour buses are laid out the same. There’s a small front lounge (see Figure 10.3), a larger rear lounge (see Figure 10.4), bunks for either 8 or 12 people (see Figure 10.5), a galley (see Figure 10.6), and a bathroom with a shower. Most buses have a satellite television in both lounges as well as a DVD player and sound system, wireless Internet, and maybe even an X-Box or other gaming device. Many now have iPod docs as well.

The rear lounge can usually be reconfigured as a twin or queen size bed as necessary. There are multiple air conditioning zones (up to four on some buses), so there’s usually at least one area that you can find that has a temperature you’re comfortable in. The bus also has a generator so you’ll have plenty of AC power for plugging in laptops and anything else requiring external electrical juice. Most bunk areas are small, but many have a flip-down television, a DVD/CD player, and their own power outlets.

If the artist and the band share the same bus, it’s not uncommon for the artist to commandeer the rear lounge, even though it’s supposed to be for everyone (you better knock before trying to enter). Someone might even sleep back there if they’re claustrophobic in a bunk.

Life On The Bus
Because you share such tight quarters with seven to eleven other people, it’s very easy for tempers to fray. That’s why everybody has to be on their best behavior, no matter how difficult that may be. Because you can offend someone without even knowing, you have to be extra considerate of everyone on the vehicle and respect their physical space and personal belongings. Keeping yourself and your area clean and dumping the trash at every stop goes a long way to keep from setting off anyone’s phobias or quirks.

“Traveling by bus with eight other people is not something everyone can deal with.You have to have a certain type of personality to handle the intimacy and lack of privacy. The bus is close quarters, you can't walk down the aisle without bumping into someone, you can't sit alone anywhere without there being noise and a conversation, maybe someone watching a movie or listening to music. It's difficult to read because there are too many distractions and there is literally nowhere to go except to your bunk, which is about the size your coffin will be when you die. You have to be extremely cool and conscientious of others and hope they will be the same to you because it can be completely psychologically draining.”
 Sue Foley
As far as the bus goes, you never want to leave any of your stuff out in the aisle. When I started touring, they told you once to put your shoes in your bunk and if you didn’t listen, the next morning they were gone. You always want to clean up after yourself and you don’t want to go to sleep leaving your beer bottles or food out.
Walter Earl
You also have to take into consideration the opposite sex if you have a mixed male and female band. Women have different needs and a different energy from guys, which changes the dynamic of the behavior on the bus dramatically. Surprisingly, it tends to get mellower as the testosterone levels seem to decrease.
I know this is going to sound really old school but I always bring a book because sometimes when you’re on the bus with a lot people crammed in, the chances of having some kind of unpleasant discourse between band members or management or crew is pretty high. The longer you’re out, the less sleep you have, and the more you see the differences in personalities. It’s inevitable that there’s going to be a blow-up. I always want to have an escape or a self-defense to get out of those social situations which can go bad and lead you to losing your gig. Burying yourself in a book is a good way to stay out of those situations.
Ed Wynne
Is it a smoking bus, and does that bother you? How much are recreational drugs or alcohol a part of your touring life? Can you sleep on the bus? These are the things you must ask yourself before you take the gig.

TIP: Buy a cheap pair of slippers just for the bus. They’re easier to slip on and off in the tight quarters of your bunk.

To read additional excerpts from this and my other books, check out bobbyowsinski.com.
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bob Ludwig On Disc Mastering

Listening to mastering guru Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering speak on almost anything is a pleasure, since he's a man filled with great joy, which certainly shows in his much acclaimed work over his long career. Here's a great piece of history from the AES archives as Bob discusses the early days of disc mastering.



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Monday, September 12, 2011

David Bock On Microphones

Bock Audio 241
There are a few people on the planet that know a lot about microphones and how they're made, but not many know as much and have the dedication of David Bock, the founder and owner of Bock Audio (formerly Soundelux Microphones). After all, how many people would go to the extent of teaching themselves German just so they could read the old Neumann service manuals? David makes some truly excellent mics, and you'll see a little of just how that came to pass with this excerpt from The Recording Engineer's Handbook.
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"After stints repairing microphones (among other things) at such prestigious facilities as the Hit Factory and Oceanway, Bock Audio (formerly Soundelux) founder and managing director David Bock went from repairing vintage microphones to manufacturing them.  David now utilizes his expertise to produce updated versions of the studio classic 251, Although he previously made versions of the U47, FET47, M49 and U67 in the previous Soundelux incarnation of the company.  David was kind enough to share some of his insights as to the inner workings and differences between classic microphones and their modern counterparts.

What actually makes a vintage microphone so special?
There are a couple of things that go into that.  The bottom line is that the 50’s were really the golden age of audio design. Those guys really did know what they were doing when they designed a lot of the key gear that people are still using. They used a lot of the correct techniques and they had the luxury of decent materials and the time to research things properly.

There is a tone to these things that is harder and harder to duplicate. Not impossible, just harder and harder. They had tubes back then that are harder to get now. The available selection of materials was a lot greater back then.  Then there’s the element of chance. Why would someone pay $20,000 for a 251?  Well, maybe that particular 251 really does sound unique because AKG’s production was so sloppy and the capsules were so poorly machined that you’re bound to get one that excels beyond everything else and the rest are just kind of average. Now we have CNC machines that can make these tiny little holes on the capsule backplate all the same, which AKG really couldn’t do.

As you were trying to build an updated version of a vintage microphone, were you trying to copy everything including the circuitry and trying to get it as close to the original as possible, or were you trying to just make it sound like the original?
The sound comes first but that’s not the whole story. The first thing I had to do was try to find what makes the microphone sound the way it does. There were at least 15 points that you have to look at, it turns out, if you’re going to emulate the sound of a microphone. The first large problem is “I want to copy the sound of a 251”. Well, which 251?  I rented about ten 251s here in town (Hollywood) and you know what? There’s no such thing as a common 251.  They’re all totally different.  I could hear it and I could measure it. 

Among some of them there is a common thread though. Frequency response is the primary guidepost because all microphones have their own signature. But frequency response curves don’t always tell you everything. You have to take frequency response measurements not only far-field but also proximity (near-field), which strangely are not published and are completely critical to what we believe a microphone sounds like in the directional world. That’s key and it’s somewhat of a disservice that most of the larger condenser microphone manufacturers have not been publishing those graphs for many years. That’s why most engineers will say “Those graphs don’t really mean anything”. That’s because you’re always looking at a 1 meter graph but you’re not always putting your microphone 1 meter away from the sound source. So of course they don’t mean anything because they’re not telling you what you’re hearing. If you saw a proximity graph and a 1 meter graph you’d have a much better idea of what the microphone sounds like. 

So the dissection process continued through a lot of substitutions. You might take a power supply and substitute a different circuit topology and see what it changes, for instance. There are also a lot of measurements that you have to do. Our ability to test things today is definitely better than back when the classics were built but it’s not completely conclusive and opens up a can of worms that says “If I can’t measure it then I can’t hear it” which I completely disagree with. If you worked only towards measurements you end up with something that actually doesn’t sound particularly good compared to things that were designed with listening in mind. 

Finally, there are listening tests. My primary listening test is to make a recording of a drum set in a large room. I’ve got a couple of key locations where I place the microphone to give me an idea about the close and distant pickup characteristics. That’s where you start hearing the differences. Microphone capsules are related to drums. If you took 10 DW [drum] kits and you tuned them all the same they’d still sound all different. There’s a parallel you could draw towards microphones. You could tune all the snare drums and toms the same and even use measurement devices to be sure that they’re the same, and yet the trained ear of an engineer can pick out the differences between them.  We can lock on to things that are different about each one.

What was the hardest thing to get right?
Always the capsule because it’s so small and if you make a tiny change it makes a huge result.  But that’s not to say that the capsule is 99% of the sound. An 87 and a 67 don’t sound that similar yet they use the same capsule.

What’s the biggest difference in the way microphones are made today from the way the classics were made?
Mass production and availability of quality materials. Also, the need for profitability on a corporate level seems to affect how things are made a lot. I’ve seen the way Neumann microphone are built and they’re very different from the way they used to be. The way they built their microphone in the 50’s and early 60’s, I’ll be able to keep those microphone running for a long time.  Not so with the newer microphone. They still make a great capsule but they don’t make the microphone the same in terms of construction. They’re built for ease of production and lowest cost. It’s true almost across the board.

So if we were to make a broad statement, microphones are not made as well today as they were 50 years ago.
No they’re not. If you had a “cost is no object” attitude, you still don’t even have the same metals available. The quality of brass is different now from what they used in the 50’s and 60’s, for instance, and an equivalent can’t be found. 

With the way the business seems to be going, with less and less emphasis on sonic quality, will there be enough people left to appreciate what you’re doing?
Anybody who is serious about the profession either evolves to a point where they say “I can use an SM57 for every track to make a record” or “I’d rather use a hi-quality microphone to make a record”.  You’re going to go one way or the other and most people, if they stay in the business long enough, will usually gravitate to the more exclusive side."

Do check out David's mics at Bock Audio.

You can read additional book excerpts at bobbyowsinski.com.
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Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Really Happens To A Cymbal

Drummer's do what they do - they hit their drums and cymbals, usually very hard. Engineer's try to capture that process as closely as possible, but neither group usually has a great idea of what actually happens during the time the instrument is hit. Now we do.

Below is a hi-speed video of the violence that occurs when a cymbal is struck. What amazed me is how deformed the cymbal actually became. It's another good reason why you should never get a microphone too close to a cymbal. Of course, the best reason is that, like most instruments, the cymbal needs some room for the sound to develop.


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Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Ins And Outs Of Mix Bus Compression

Time for another book excerpt, this time from Mixing And Mastering With T-RackS: The Official Guide. In it we'll take a look at using mix bus compression.
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Generally you’ll find that most renowned mixers use the buss compressor to add a sort of “glue” to the track so the instruments fit together better, but that also means that they’ll actually use very little compression. In fact, sometimes only a dB or two of gain reduction at the most is added for the final mix. That being said, many mixers will also offer their clients (artists, band members, producers and label execs) a more compressed version to simulate what it will sound like after it’s mastered. This “client mix” is achieved by using a signal path across the mix buss that’s similar to what a mastering engineer would use, that is, a compressor that’s fed into limiter at the end of the chain to raise the level to a point similar to a mastered release.

Because the clients get used to hearing the “client mix,” it’s so easy to let buss compression get out of hand. One of the problems with compressing too much is that it leaves the mastering engineer a lot less room to work, and in the case of a track that’s “hyper-compressed”, virtually eliminates the ability for the mastering engineer to be of much help at all.

There are two times during the mix that you can insert your buss compression - when you first start the mix or towards completion. While the two choices might not seem all that different, you will get a slightly different result from each.

At The End Of The Mix
If you wait to insert the buss compressor later in the mix, (the way it’s been traditionally done), the compressor settings will be a little less aggressive since you’ve probably already inserted a pretty good amount of compression on the individual tracks. Usually it’s inserted at the point during the mix where most of your elements and effects have already been added to your mix and it’s now time to concentrate on balances. One of the advantages of inserting buss compression towards the end is that if you don’t like the sound, you can easily substitute a different compressor or even eliminate it all together. It doesn’t take much (usually a dB or two) to make a sonic difference to where it’s at least a little bigger sounding.

At The Beginning Of The Mix
The other way is to insert the buss compressor right at the start of the mix and build your mix into it. Since this affects the dynamics of the mix right from the beginning, mixing this way might take a little getting used to, but it has some advantages. First, the mix comes together a little quicker since it has that “glue” almost right away as a result. Second, you’ll find yourself using a little less compression on the individual tracks. This has the secondary benefit of giving you greater control of the overall compression of the mix. If you feel like there’s too much, it’s pretty easy to back off on the buss compressor to where you or your client feels better about it (if that’s what they’re looking for), where if you added it towards the end, sometimes the only way to dial it back is to tweak the individual instrument compression, which can take quite a bit of time and rebalancing. The third thing is that the buss compressor tends to even out the levels of the individual instruments a lot so you need less automation. The downside of doing it this way is that if you decide you don’t like the sound of the compressor, the overall sound and balance of the mix can change a lot when you insert a different one. When starting with the buss compressor in the signal path from the beginning of the mix, you’ll find that you’ll be using somewhat more compression - about three or four dB.

You can read additional excerpts on this and all my books at bobbyowsinski.com.
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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

6 Tips For EQing Effects

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.
1. To make an effect stick out, brighten it up. 
2. To make an effect blend in, darken it up (filter out the highs).
3. If the part is busy (like with drums), roll off the low end of the effect to make it fit.
4. If the part is open, add low end to the effect to fill in the space.
5. If the source part is mono and panned hard to one side, make one side of the stereo effect brighter and the other darker.  
6. Place an EQ on the effect and attenuate all of the frequencies around the vocal (2k to 4k) to make it sit better in the mix.
If your effects aren't blending, try one or all of the above tips before you change the preset. You'll be surprised at the results.
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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Interview With David Aaron Katz Of Superior Vocal Health

Every day the Internet is full of advice for guitarists, keyboardists, DJ's, drummers, and engineers, but the one that gets overlooked all the time is the singer. I'm always on the lookout for anything that might help a singer, especially in the studio, when I came across the products of Superior Vocal Health. I thought about doing a special post on the products, but then it occured to me that it might be better to go to the source and interview the man behind the products - David Aaron Katz.

What led you to create your products?
I have been singing opera, Broadway and popular music internationally, as well as teaching and coaching singers of all styles for about twenty years. Throughout my career, I have always been super conscious about how I used my voice and what is good or bad for my instrument.

I have always been interested in and concerned with nutrition and natural living i.e., herbs and diet and a clear mind and heart. About 8 years ago I became incredibly sick with a poisoning of my body from the foods I was eating.  I almost died, and I was hospitalized for some time. I lost the ability to produce almost any sound and lost about 20 pounds and could barely walk or even hold my children.  My body was wrecked. This led me to the path of raw foods and a complete lifestyle change related to what I put into my body. After many months of being completely committed to my new diet choices and lifestyle, I began singing again. I was blown away that my voice had almost doubled in size and my ability to produce sound was easier than ever before. This led me to study more and more about nutrition and the body; specifically, nutrition's effect on the voice.

I continued to study and became an Herbalist and Nutritional Consultant. Year after year I researched and tried different remedies for a tired, over-used voice, a sore throat, a tired body, a cough or sinus congestion, etc.  Believe me when I tell you that I've tried them all!  Some worked and some did not.  Most worked for only a short period of time or did not work they way they claimed. Some actually did more damage than healing! This led me to search for what really does work, naturally, without chemicals or drugs, and without adversely affecting the voice, throat and body. My goal was to find what actually helps the body as well as the voice.

I wanted an optimal formula that could do everything and address all the issues, not only for singers but also for voice professionals such as broadcasters, actors, lawyers and teachers who have to deal on a regular basis vocal problems. What I found was that one formula could not address all of these issues the way I wanted, so I created the current product line such that, with all four products in tow, a singer or voice professional can have in their bag a full Vocal Health Care Maintenance Kit whenever a specific issue arises.

What's the main problem that singers have and why does it happen? 
This is a difficult question because every "body" is different and each voice is unique. However, my experience with countless numbers of awesome singers has led me to see a few universal issues or problems that singers deal with.

Number one is diet. There are certain foods that create more mucus than others and can also lead to acid reflux. Lately in my practice and coaching, I have found that more and more singers are affected by or allergic to foods which negatively affect their voice and body. These are foods that can create mucus, make their cords and throat swell or zap their body of energy, and these singers do not have a clue it is happening to them.  We sing with our whole body, not just our throat, so when we clean up the colon and the body, the results are reflected in the crystal clear sound of the voice, easier and better breath flow, more energy and stamina, and a more powerful sound. You can find a huge amount of information on diet and its effect on the voice at my blog site: Superiorvocalhealth.blogspot.com.

It is inevitable that all of us at one time or another will be under the weather or need some type of help. In my Vocal Health Care Kit, the Superior Vocal Health product line assists you in getting thru those difficult times, no matter what your level of study or career as a singer or voice professional.

How do your products differ from some of the other similar products on the market?
This is probably the number one question I get from all of the artists, producers, and voice professionals. The difference between my products and others on the market today is: Intention, quality, production, consistency and effectiveness.

First and foremost, Superior Vocal Health is a company created by a singer for singers. It is not an herbal company or an ENT who wants to tap into a niche market to make some extra money! I know the voice and I use the products. In fact, I've been using the products for over 10 years. I know what the singer needs. My company mission is to help the singer.

Our products are 100% organic and certified Kosher, GMP Certified, and made in the USA in an FDA regulated facility. The quality is absolutely the best you can find. Our formulas are stored in dark blue cobalt bottles because the herbs are live. This is extremely important.  While it is more costly for us, it ensures that the consumer gets the very best product. This type of storage retains the efficacy of the live herbs and allows the product to continually work and do the job it is meant to do. In addition, the shelf life of the product is up to five years!

I always encourage artists and voice professionals to be very careful about what they put in their body and on their vocal cords. Any product stored in plastic bottles means that the singer is putting petroleum into their body and on their vocal cords, since plastic is made from petroleum.

As I mentioned before, the Superior Vocal Health product line is not a magic bullet. Balance and moderation are the keys to a healthy and successful life. Our products are for helping and aiding the voice professional when they need some support. Never rely on anything to help you sing better.   

For more info on Superior Vocal Health products, go to their website.
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Monday, September 5, 2011

Vintage Hammond B3 Vs. A Clone

I've been a Hammond organ player and lover for years. I can remember carrying my first B3 up multiple flights of steps, over bars, and onto trucks without lift gates, but that was when I was a lot younger and more eager to suffer for my art. You could never beat the sound of a real Hammond and Leslie cabinet though. But the new generations of clones and virtual instruments are getting oh-so close to where it's difficult to tell, especially if they're played through a real Leslie.

Here's a great side-by-side comparison by Jim Alfredson (check him out at organissimo.org), that shows you just how close they really are these days.



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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Carmine Appice On Jon Bonham

Thanks to my bro Ronnie Ciago (who's a great drummer in his own right) for this video. You always think of Led Zeppelin drummer Jon Bonham as being the guy who influenced a generation (going on 2) of drummers, but who where his influences? In this video, drumming great Carmine Appice gives a behind-the-scenes look.


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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Motley Crue "Dr. Feelgood" Song Analysis

My hommie Fran Doyle requested a breakdown of a track produced by the great Bob Rock, and what better way to illustrate his technique than with Motley Crue's big hit "Dr. Feelgood." Released on September 1, 1989, the album of the same title was recorded at Little Mountain Studios in Vancouver, and eventually went on to sell 6 million records. The song "Dr. Feelgood" is the Crue's one and only gold single, and was named the 15th greatest rock song by VH1. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Dr. Feelgood" starts off with a rather common form, but since the sections are short, repeats them in an interesting way. The form looks like this:

Intro, Chorus/Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus/Solo, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Intro, Bridge/Solo, Chorus/Intro, Bridge, Chorus/Outro

What's interesting is that the bridge is repeated 4 times, once being used as a solo. In that respect, you can almost think of it as a second chorus.

The Arrangement
Like with most guitar trios, the arrangement is fairly sparse, with a doubled rhythm guitar and lots of lead guitar overdubs. Same with the vocals; the lead is doubled with the occasional harmony vocal for support, and a lot of vocal answers.

  * The Foundation: Bass and drums

  * The Rhythm: Rhythm guitar, hi-hat

  * The Pad: None

  * The Lead: Lead vocal and lead guitar

  * The Fills: Lead guitar and unison gang vocals

The Sound
Once again, with a guitar trio, everything has to be bigger than usual to fill up the frequency spectrum. In this case, the drums are huge sounding not only frequency wise, but ambiance-wise as well. In fact, the drum sound came to be known as the "Tommy Lee sound" among drummers and engineers. This is basically a bigger than usual kick drum sound and a snare with a very short, but very loud room ambiance that's timed to the track. The hi-hat is also very loud in the mix, since sometimes it's the only instrument pushing the rhythm.

The rhythm guitars are doubled and spread left and right except for the solos, where the lead is panned a bit to the right and the right double is lowered in the mix. This makes for a nice sonic panorama.

The vocals are doubled as well, along with a big gang vocal sound that provides the "Dr. Feelgood" answers. As with most songs from this period, there's a lot of ambiance on everything, which amounts to a timed delay and long timed reverb. Everything is also very compressed, although not so much that it alters the sound and makes it fatiguing to listen to, as happened towards the end of the century.

The Production
Bob Rock is one of the great rock producers and this song shows why. Just go down to your local bar and listen to a hard rock copy band play it. Doesn't sound the same, does it? That's because Bob managed to take some very ordinary hard rock/metal licks and make them sound exciting. Just listen to the intro as an example.

The second thing is the arrangement. This could have been a 2 minute song with another producer, but Bob manages to not only lengthen the song, but make it exciting each time a section is repeated. This occurs by changing it a little (listen to the last Chorus/Intro where it plays without the bass, as compared to the song Intro), adding harmonies, guitar fills, and additional gang vocals.

Lastly is the guitar solos and fills, especially the fills. Sometimes Mick Mars is only playing sustained harmonics, yet they manage to be exciting because they're placed in exactly the right place to keep you from losing interest. Listen to the wah dive-bombs right at the end of the intro; it just lifts the song up, then takes you into the next section. No wonder this song has become a hard-rock classic.


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