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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Household Items As Musical Instruments

Thanks to media maven Marsha Vdovin for pointing out this great video. It's from Cycling 74 and shows how some ordinary household items can be turned into musical instruments with a piezo pickup and Cycling's Max application. It's a perfect combination for when you're looking for something new and different in a track.


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The 3 Components Of Acoustic Treatment

While soundproofing the space where you have your recording gear set up can be an expensive and time consuming proposition, treating the acoustics of your room luckily can be quite the opposite. Believe it or not, it’s not that expensive and can be done in only a matter of hours if you have all the building blocks on hand.

So what are the building blocks? Acoustic treatment for your room is built around three main components: acoustic panels, bass traps, and diffusers. Let’s take a brief look at each.

Acoustic Panels
Acoustic panels are the major way that reflections are kept from bouncing around the room. If your walls are hard (meaning there’s no absorption), these reflections are going to cause certain frequencies to cancel themselves out as they bounce around, causing those unwelcome dips and peaks in the room response as well as an uneven reverb decay time.

You can think of an acoustic panel as a very large picture frame that has sound absorbing material inside instead of a picture. Although you could permanently attach the sound absorbing material to the wall (like most commercial studios do), using a sound panel allows you to move it as needed and even take it with you if you move.

Acoustic panels are easy and inexpensive to make (check out this video on my YouTube channel for information how), but they’re also available pre-made from a variety of companies like Ready Acoustics, GIK Acoustics, RealTraps.com, ATS Acoustics, MSR, AV Room Service and many more.

Bass Traps
Most control rooms use what’s known as a “bass trap” to control at least some of the low frequency energy in the room. In most rooms, the main problem at low frequencies is due to one or more deep nulls or peaks in the range anywhere from 40 to 200Hz. Bass traps reduce the depth of the nulls and attenuate the boomy sounding peaks, and the overall response of the room is flatter as a result. Even though your brain intuitively thinks that you lose low end by attenuating it, the room will actually sound tighter and more predictable, with less change in the response when you move away from the sweet spot.

Bass traps work best in corners because bass tends to collect there, but they can also work well spaced off the front and rear walls. Since bass is omnidirectional, the traps don’t have to be paired or symmetrically placed, although believe it or not, the smaller the room the more you will need. The most effective ones extend from floor to ceiling. If that can’t happen, the next most effective method is to just treat the 8 individual corners of the room.

As with acoustic panels, pre-made bass traps are made by a number of manufacturers like the ones mentioned above.

Diffusers
A diffusor scatters sound to reduce the direct reflections from the speakers back to the listener. There are two types of diffusers; 2D and 3D. A 2D diffuser (as seen on the left) scatters the reflections in the same single plane that they were received, while a 3D diffusor scatters it in random directions at random times. If made well, the 3D diffuser is better at scattering the reflections, but more difficult to build so it’s more expensive.

While diffusers can be used anywhere in the room that doesn’t already have an acoustic panel, a common strategy that’s used by many large commercial studios is to use a diffusor on the rear wall. Doing this is controversial, as there are as many designers who believe that the rear wall should be non-reflective as there are that believe it should be diffuse.

In small rooms where the rear wall is closer than six feet from the listening position, you're likely to have more success trying to absorb the sound with deep traps than you are diffusing it. A bookshelf filled with books is a great natural diffusor (and adds some absorption as well), but shelves randomly filled with objects, or small angle wood blocks can work too. Companies like RPG, Real Traps and MSR also make both off-the-shelf and custom diffusors as well.

With any of these acoustic components, you don't need to spend a fortune to achieve tangible results. That said, it isn't easy to predict in advance just how much of an improvement there will be for any given approach (even for the pros studio designers), so some experimentation is required.

You can find out a lot more about how to build a home studio effectively and inexpensively by consulting The Studio Builder’s Handbook, which I wrote with Dennis Moody. You can also read some excerpts from the book on my website.
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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Miranda Lambert "Kerosene" Song Analysis

Reader Mike Ward requested a song analysis of Miranda Lambert's "Kerosene," a single from her 2005 debut album of the same name. The song was cowritten with Steve Earle and reached #15 on Billboard's Hot Country charts. As in all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Kerosene" is an interesting song in that it uses a modified blues form that's 16 bars long instead of 12. What can be termed as the chorus comes on the last 4 bars. The form looks like this.

Intro, Verse, Verse, Bridge, Verse, Verse, Outro

It's a compact song coming in at about 3 minutes even, but well conceived in that it's both interesting and makes sense from a songwriting standpoint as well.

The Arrangement
This is really a rock song that happens to have a vocal with a country twang. There's no steel or fiddle here, but there is a banjo that comes in the 4rth verse. It's played in such a way that you just feel it's another instrument texture though, so unless you listen hard, it never comes across as a banjo.

Given that this is almost like a blues song with similar repeated verses (not taking the lyrics into account), the arrangement really keeps the song interesting. Listen to how the bass doesn't come until the 2nd verse, then takes the song to a whole other level. Then check out how the feel of the bridge changes to give the song a peak.

The 4th and last verse is the one I like though. The electric and acoustic rhythm guitars that push the song lay out and you hear the banjo (it almost sounds like a piano for a second), then they return at the end lift the song up. The first half of the bridge is then used as the outro.

The Sound
"Kerosene" is pretty much in your face with not many effects. On the last verse the snare gets an interesting room sound, but there's not much other ambience, even on the vocal. The bass is especially big sounding, and since the snare is playing quarter notes almost throughout, the kick isn't as up front as it usually is in most songs.

The Production
There's a lot to like about the production of "Kerosene," which was produced by Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke. The snare quarter notes throughout the song is very unusual but really drives the beat home, and the tambourine on 2 and 4 almost takes the place of the usual snare timekeeping. I especially like the harp and slide solo on the bridge, then how the bridge is used as an outro with a solid ending instead of a fade. All in all, quite enjoyable.

Send me your requests for song analysis!

Just in case the song is taken down by SME, here's the YouTube link.


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

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Auditioning Tips From Musical Dirctor Paul Mirkovich

It's time for another book excerpt, this time from The Touring Musician's Handbook. Paul Mirkovich is arguably one of the highest profile keyboardists on the planet. As musical director and keyboard player for the television shows Rock Star INXS House Band and Rock Star SuperNova: The Tommy Lee Project, Paul has been seen by millions of television viewers. But Paul has spent plenty of time on the road as well, having been the musical director for Cher, Pink, Janet Jackson and Anastasia among many others. In this excerpt, Paul gives us an idea what he looks for when he auditions a player for a big name tour.

For additional excerpts from this book and others, check out my website.
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First off, I want the person auditioning to play the music exactly like the record. I don’t want to hear them improvise, and I don’t want to hear their take on it. I want to hear them play it exactly with the right feel, just like they were playing Mozart or Beethoven. I want them to respect the music regardless of if it’s Pink’s music, or Cher’s or Janet Jackson’s, and I want them to play it exactly as you hear it on the record. Then if I ask them to change it, they’re changing it from a place where I know that they know what it is, so they can take their own spin on it after the fact.

One thing I love to do to keyboard players is to say, “You’re on stage and Pink is going to start this ballad. Play me 16 bars of an intro to this song before she comes out.” You’d be surprised how many of them will play the most ridiculous shit. They’ll play a lot of chord substitutions that don’t fit with the music. It’s a pop song with a one and a three and a five in the chord and their putting a seventh or a ninth on there and it’s like, “What exactly are you playing?”

Sometimes I’ll just say, “Just play me something. I don’t care what it is,” and they’ll immediately go to the busiest jazziest thing that they have. It’s like, “Dude, this is a pop gig. I don’t want to hear you play jazz. If the artist came right now she’d say, “What the hell is that?” So I’ll walk over and I’ll play something simple like The Beatle’s "Golden Slumbers" with just two fingers and the left hand barely moving and I’ll show it to them and say, “Just play that.” If it were me, I’d watch how it was being played and play it right back exactly the same way, but most of the time they’ll maybe get close but the time will be all over the place. I don’t care how many notes you can play, if you can’t play them in the right time, it doesn’t make a bit of difference.

A lot of times I’ll find guys that are great jazz players who have no clue how to play something like simple pop. There’s a right way and a wrong way to play anything and that stuff is just as hard to play right as any other stuff.

I’ve been playing with Cher for twenty years and some of it is really simple music, and after a while the players begin to wander a bit. I always tell them before a show, “Let’s play this show like it’s the fourth or fifth time we’ve played it, not the 105th. Let’s go back to square one and play it liked we originally learned it.” There’s a fan that comes in every night that can’t wait for her to sing "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," and as silly as that may seem to you or me, they’ve waited their entire life to hear her sing that song. If there’s a bunch of shit all around it and it doesn’t sound like the song they expected, they’re going to go home disappointed. So that’s the attitude you have to have when you go to play pop music. There’s an art to how the producer and the artist put the song together and you have to respect it, unless they’ve asked you to change it. You can’t just change it up because you’re bored or you think that your idea is better.
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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

The Renovation Of Electric Lady Studios

Here's a great video that shows the renovation of Electric Lady Studio A, and the construction of their new API mix room. The API came from a studio that I once used a lot, Sonoara Recorders in Los Felix, CA.



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

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

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

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Sound Of Monster Cable Versus Coathangers

Okay, this is from the "You can't make this stuff up" file. Engadget posted a story where a group of 12 "audiophiles" showed just why they get so much abuse from pros over their so-called "golden ears."

The group was A/Bing different cables, and unbeknownst to them, the engineer running the test swapped out a set of cables for coat hangers with soldered-on speaker connections. Not a single listener was able to tell the difference between the Monster Cable 1000 (at $500 each) and the coat hangers (free), and all agreed that the coat hangers sounded excellent.

It's easy to get down on the Monster cable here, but the fact is that a coat hanger very well may have been a better conductor since it may have been thicker and maybe shorter, although it's certainly not as safe or easy to use. Monster Cable takes some reasonable good cable and markets it in such a way that its perceived value is a lot greater than it deserves to be. The problem is that for speaker cable, 12 or 10 gauge zip chord (lamp cable) will work just as well as expensive Monster cable.

For low signal level work like guitar and mic cables, Monster makes a decent though overpriced product that will certainly sound better than most cheap cables, but you'll bet a bigger bang for the buck from some plain old Mogami or Canare, the studio standard for more than 30 years now.

Still, you have to laugh at the so-called "audiophiles," who many times have a lot more money than sense. After all, how many pros would buy a $500 volume knob?
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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

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

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