Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Overview Of Pro Tools 10 Features

It seems like we just got used to Pro Tools 9 (at least I did) when Avid suddenly sprung Pro Tools 10 on us. While it seems like it's mostly for power users, the latest version does have a few features that the average user might find useful.

Here's a video that explains many of those new features. One of the things that it doesn't go over is the one that I think is the most useful, which is clip-based level control, something that other DAWs have had for a while. I'll post another video just on that next week.

One of the features that seems to be getting the most hype is Euphonix-style channel strip. Having spent a lot of time on the Euphonix Series 5 and therefore playing with the real thing, I'm not sure it's worth the press that it seems to be getting. While it's certainly better than some of the stock plugins that come with PT, the channel strip on the S5 was pretty colorless in my opinion. There just didn't seem to be a lot of character there, which is perfect for certain types of music and program, and less so for others.

Regardless, check out the video on PT 10's new features.



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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Radiohead "Subterranean Homesick Alien" Song Analysis

Reader Mark Jay asked for a song analysis of Radiohead's "Subterranean Homesick Alien," so here it is. The song comes from the band's breakthrough 1997 album OK Computer, which has sold more than 4.5 million copies to date. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song's form, it's arrangement, the sound and production.

The Song
As you'd expect from an experimental band like Radiohead, "Subterranean Homesick Alien" has a fairly interesting form. It doesn't have a traditional chorus (although it does have one) and has no real bridge, but the sections that it does have work well together. They look like this:

Intro, Verse, Interlude, Verse, Chorus, Interlude, Verse, Interlude, Verse, 1/2 verse (which could be termed a bridge), Chorus, Interlude, Ending

Unlike so many songs that end in a fade, SHA has a definite ending and it's a beauty as the changes are nothing like you'd expect. Very cool.

The Arrangement
There are a lot of layers in this song, but they weave in and out and generally never play against one another, which is the sign of a great arrangement. The song is really built around a stereo electric piano, but there are a lot of guitar parts that appear in every section, sometimes only for a phrase. The breakout of the arrangement looks like this:

  * The Foundation: the bass and drums

  * The Rhythm: the drums and a very subtle shaker

  * The Pad: electric piano

  * The Lead: the vocal

  *The Fills: guitars and sometimes electric piano

The Sound
British mixers have a way of layering effects that American mixers don't seem to grasp and SHA is a good example. By just listening to the mix you can hear all the parts layered almost like you'd hear them on stage. The vocal isn't dry, but it's the dryest part in the mix and as such seems up front with the drums and bass slightly behind. The piano is furthest back with a combination of a long reverb and a timed delay.

The song uses the stereo soundfield well as many of the guitars and the piano pan back and forth from left to right, sometimes with the dryer part on one side and just the effect on the other.

The drum sound is unusual in that the hat is very bright (it almost sounds over-EQed) and the toms somewhat back in the mix compared to the rest of the kit. Also, the bass part is a little on the woofy side and not that well defined, but when you put them together, they work in the song, which is what counts in the end.

The Production
There are a number of very cool things about this production. First of all, the use of stereo to keep the mix interesting, and the number of guitars parts that weave in and out of the song (I stopped counting at 12). Of course the performances are all great, which is something that you'd expect from a band of this caliber with no deadline for finishing the album. All in all, an enjoyable listen.



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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gibson And Guitar Owners May Get A Reprieve

I recently posted about the raids on Gibson Guitars by the US Fish & Wildlife Services for supposedly violating the Lacy Act and using protected wood in their instruments, and about the possible negative repercussions to guitar owners in the U.S. as a result.

A violation of the Lacey Act could mean guitars, violins and other instruments built before 2008 – when lawmakers added woods to the Lacey Act’s list of endangered plants and animals to protect – could be seized at airports by inspectors if the owner of the instrument couldn't produce documentation of where the individual wood pieces came from. Yeah, like that's possible.

Thankfully, two Tennessee congressman unveiled a plan to amend the Lacey Act in response to those raids, which would protect guitar owners and manufacturers alike. The revised bill, which supposedly has bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives, would:
• exempt guitars, antiques and other items manufactured before May 22, 2008 (when wood protections were added), from the ban on importing or exporting endangered woods
• require federal agencies to compile and make public a database of the wood import and export laws for each nation
• eliminate penalties for those who “unknowingly” violate the Lacey Act
• and reduce the paperwork required for importers and exporters of plant and wood products.
This is not a done deal however. Timber and environmental associations (strange bedfellows they are) are lobbying congress hard to preserve the status quo. Obviously, timber groups think that the Lacy amendment would undercut the U.S. forest industry, but we're talking relatively small numbers of specialty lumber here. It would hardly make a rounding error in the bottom line of the industry.

I'm as much for environment protections as the next tree hugger, but we're talking about a renewable resource that, if managed properly, can help several economies and still have little impact on the local environment. Keep your fingers crossed that this amendment will get done.
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Monday, October 24, 2011

Using Alternate Tunings For A Different Guitar Sound

Sometimes changing the tuning of a guitar from standard to some alternate tuning can create a different sound that really makes a song sparkle or a guitar stand out from the track. In this excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook, we'll take a look at the different types of tunings available as well as provide a few examples on songs that you've probably heard before.
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"Like an electric, the standard tuning for an acoustic guitar is E-A-D-G-B-E (low to high), where the pitch of each note is referenced to a standard pitch (A = 440.0Hz). However, the guitar is an easy instrument to change tunings with in order to create a whole new palate of sonic possibilities. These tunings can be placed into several subcategories, such as open tunings, lower tunings, higher tunings, dropped tunings and double drop tunings.

Open Tunings
Open tunings allow the guitarist to play a chord without any fretting, and has long been a favorite of the blues greats, especially those specializing in the slide guitar. You’ve heard Open G tuning, D-G-D-G-B-D, on many of the Rolling Stones hits including "Start Me Up," "Brown Sugar" and "Honkey Tonk Women." It was also a favorite tuning of Mississippi Delta bluesmen Son House, Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson.

Open A tuning, E-A-C#-E-A-E, was famously used by The White Stripes on "Seven Nation Army" (although that’s not acoustic), and Open D, D-A-D-F#-A-D, is favored by 60’s folk giant Richie Havens.

Another popular tuning, D-A-D-G-A-D, is sometimes called D modal or Celtic tuning. You’ve heard it on Led Zeppelin’s "Kashmir" and "Black Mountainside," and the Doobie Brothers’ "Black Water."

Drop Tunings
Drop tunings lower just the 6th string of the standard tuning, with Drop D being one of the most popular. Drop D is tuned as D-A-D-G-B-E and is used by Soundgarden ("Spoonman"), Creed ("Higher"), Radiohead ("Optimistic") and Led Zeppelin ("Moby Dick"). Drop C, C-G-C-F-A-D, would be a full step down from Drop D.

With double drop tunings, the 1st and 6th strings are dropped a full step, so Double Drop D is laid out as D-A-D-G-B-D. This was used by Neil Young on his hits "Cinnamon Girl," "When You Dance," "The Loner" and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s "Ohio." Double Drop C, C-G-C-F-A-C, is a full step down from Double Drop D.

Lower Tunings
With lower tunings, all six strings are tuned down. An Eb tuning drops each string down a half-step and has been very popular with some of the greatest guitar players of our time such as Edward Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix and Slash.

D tuning, D-G-C-F-A-D, where each string is tuned down a full step, is a favorite of John Fogarty, Dream Theater and the Nirvana hit "Come As You Are."

C tuning would be down two full steps to C-F-Bb-Eb-C-G, and has been used by Queens of the Stone Age and other metal bands. Tunings even lower are favored by Swedish death metal bands, but string tension will be quite low on some of these tunings, causing tuning and intonation problems.

High Tunings
Higher tunings, which are not used as much with acoustic guitars, will increase the string tension. F# tuning would be one full step up from standard with the strings at F#-B-E-A-C#-F# and G tuning (also sometimes called Third tuning) is G-C-F-A#-D-G. Not all acoustic instruments can handle these tunings, so it might be better to use a capo instead."

To read additional excerpts on this and my other books, check out the excerpts page on my website.
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

New York AES 2011 Report

Here's an overview of the day that I spent at the 2011 AES Show in New York City. First of all, thanks to everyone who came by the Hal Leonard booth for my book signing. It was great to personally meet so many of you that have I've only previously known through Facebook.

Other than that, the AES show was fairly depressing. It was the smallest show I've been to in some time as many audio companies, especially those that sell software, didn't even bother to exhibit. Who can blame them? NYC is one of the most expensive places on the planet at the moment, and AES charges a fortune for their booths. What's worse, they really don't reach much of an audience these days since the attendance at the show consists of mostly grey beards. I think the average age must be something like 45 or older. It's depressing. Even I was feeling old. If AES doesn't address this issue soon and do something to attract the younger generations of the business, it's going to die and fairly quickly.

As far as the show itself, there wasn't much to tell. Most of the manufacturers consisted of boutique creators of mics and mic preamps, it seemed, many times 2 or 3 to a booth. JBL and Yamaha didn't have booths at all, but did bring in their trucks that featured a few exhibits inside.


Of course the big news was Avid's introduction of Pro Tools X, which seemed to be pretty good if you're a power user. In a nut shell, if you regularly do sessions at 192kHz or use 256 tracks, you'll have to run out and get this right away. If not, continue upgrading to PT 9 like the rest of us (I just updated last month, but I'm not the only one as this was a comment that I heard on the floor over and over).



Ocean Way decided that making monitors and drum libraries wasn't challenging enough and jumped into the microphone biz as well with a model based on a U47FET. I'm sure it sounds great since Alan Sides knows his mics and wouldn't have it any other way. The price is right at about a thousand bucks.









Focusrite entered the controller biz in earnest with this nifty workstation that's the big brother to their 2802.












This interesting device by VisiSonics is actually a surround mic and camera. It has 64 mics and 5 cameras, which is cool in itself, but the best part of the software, which allows you to isolate any conversation in a crowd with a touch of the touchscreen. I'm sure the FBI or CIA will be all over this.









The Kamesan KS-117 Lip Checker does just that. It checks and measures the sync between audio and video so you know just the right amount of offset to apply. It was in the Tascam booth, so I guess they distribute them.

Also from Tascam, the iXZ is an outboard preamp for the iPhone recording. There are a few of these already on the market, but this one is only 50 bucks. Great for interviews, I bet.









I loved the sound of the these JBL computer monitors. The LSR2325P's sounded huge and have bit bang for the buck at only $199 each. Of course, I use LSR4328's everyday myself, so I'm already a big JBL fan.









Finally, this is what I felt like by the end of the show.

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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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