Thursday, February 23, 2012

The IKEA Salad Bowl Speaker System

Let's say you know some audiophile who'd just love to own a custom, one-of-a-kind speaker system to impress his friends. Undoubtedly that audiophile has plenty of money to burn. Why should a company like B&O, VonSchwiekert, Magnapan, or Revel get all the dough when you can whip something up for him with some old fiberglass, a few left over speaker drivers, and some parts from Ikea that will look every bit the part (and you can put most of the money in your pocket as well).

Using 3 of Ikea's Blanda Matt salad bowls and a few Baren Hangs pegs for feet, here's a three-way system that certainly looks the part. Of course, it probably won't sound that great, but when has that ever stopped an audiophile from buying before? Thanks to Gizmodo for the heads up on this.

salad bowl speaker system image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog



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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Inside Apple's New iTunes Mastering Tool

Mastered for iTunes image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Mixing engineers, producers and mastering engineers have faced a dilema for a number of years now. That is, "Should digital files intended for Internet distribution be mastered separately?" This has been a sore spot with many veteran mastering guys, some who believe a separate master is a must, while others feel that an MP3 or AAC file made from a well-made master is more than sufficient.

It seems that Apple has finally made the decision for us all, as they've just released their Mastering For iTunes guidelines. I learned of this through an email from legendary mastering engineer Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering, who I believe was instrumental in Apple getting their mastering thing together (more on this later).

Among the things that the guideline recommends is:
  • Always use the highest resolution file available. That means if your project started out at 96kHz/24 bit, that's what you should send to iTunes for encoding.
  • Compressing the living hell out of the track to make it as loud as possible actually works against you. That's because of a circuit called Sound Check in iTunes (it's called different things on different players and services) that lets the listener hear all his songs at about the same level. A highly compressed master actually pulls the level down, so it sounds quiet and less punchy. This is a mantra that Bob and many other top mastering engineers have been singing for quite some time. 
  • It's best to leave a dB or so of headroom when mastering a data-compressed online file like an AAC or MP3, as I've state in both The Mastering Engineer's Handbook and Mixing And Mastering With T-RackS. Some encoders actually output a little hot, and mastering at -1 or -2dB instead of -.1 dB can make the difference between clipping or not.
  • Bandwidth is becoming less and less of an issue, so data-compressing is becoming less and less necessary.  That means that larger file sizes of greater fidelity will be less of an issue in the future. That's why Apple is pushing its AAC Plus lossless hi-res format. Soon it will become more and more possible to hear your glorious hi-res files as they were intended.
Apple has gone as far as to make a number of tools available to mastering engineers or anyone who plans on distributing via iTunes. This is so you can monitor your file before sending it to iTunes to determine how it will sound. These utilities include:
  • Master for iTunes Droplet. The Master for iTunes Droplet is a simple, standalone drag-and-drop tool that can be used to quickly and easily encode your masters in iTunes Plus (the hi-res version of iTunes) format.
  • afconvert. The afconvert command-line utility can be used to encode your masters in iTunes Plus format.
  • afclip. The afclip command-line utility can be used to check any audio file for clipping.=
  • AURoundTripAAC Audio Unit. The AURoundTripAAC Audio Unit can be used to compare an iTunes Plus file to the original source file.
By the way, you have to be on at least Mac OS 10.6.8 to run these tools. If you have anything to do with distributing via iTunes, be sure that you check out the iTunes mastering guidelines.

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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, February 21, 2012

The Untold Story Behind "Hey Jude"

Below is an interesting video of The Beatles recording one of their biggest and most iconic songs - "Hey Jude." The video was shot for a BBC television show called most appropriately Music. Take note about 2:22 where you'll see engineer Ken Scott (in the fashionable pink shirt), George Harrison and producer George Martin together in Abbey Road (actually it was still called EMI Studios at the time) Studio 2.

The real story is that what you hear on the video was almost the basic track to the song, but not quite. The film company, doing what film people do ("Don't worry, you won't even know we're here"), put everyone on edge, causing Paul McCartney and George H. to get into a row (which is why George is in the control room instead of playing). The next day the band took what they thought was the basic track to Trident Studios because it was the only studio in London that had an 8 track tape machine at the time, and the band wanted the extra tracks for the various overdubs to come. It seems that they had a difficult time transferring what they did at Abbey Road to 8 track, so they wound up recutting "Hey Jude" again and then finishing it at Trident.

There's a lot more to the story, including how the song had to be saved at the last minute due to a giant problem, but you'll have to wait until Ken's memoirs are published. The book is titled Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust and will be available for preorder soon (publish date is June 6th). In the meantime, you can  read a lot more about the book by going to the Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust 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.


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

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Look At Mixing Listening Levels

Listening-Thinking Waveform image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
One of the most critical and overlooked parameters when mixing is the monitor level. Either mixing too loudly or too quietly can fool your ears to the point where you'll end with a mix that will seem to be missing something later. Here's an excerpt from my latest book, The Audio Mixing Bootcamp, that explains a bit more about mixing levels and how to find what works best for you.

"One of the greatest misconceptions about music mixers (especially the great ones) is that they mix at high volume levels. Some do, and at excruciatingly loud levels as well, but most mixers find that they get better balances that translate well to the real listening world by monitoring at conversation level (79dB SPL) or even lower.

High SPL levels for long periods of time are generally not recommended for the following reasons:

1) First the obvious one, exposure to high volume levels over long periods of time my cause long-term physical damage.

2) High volume levels for long periods of time will not only cause the onset of ear fatigue, but physical fatigue as well. This means that you might effectively only be able to work six hours instead of the normal eight (or ten or twelve) that’s possible if listening at lower levels.

3) The ear has different frequency response curves at high volume levels that overcompensate on both the high and low frequencies. This means that your high volume mix will generally sound pretty limp when it’s played at softer levels.

4) Balances tend to blur at higher levels. What sounds great at higher levels won’t necessarily sound that way when played softer. However, balances that are made at softer levels always work when played louder.

Now this isn’t to say that all mixing should be done at the same level and everything should be played quietly. In fact, music mixers (as opposed to film mixing, which always uses one constant level) tend to work at a variety of levels; up loud for a minute to check the low end, and moderate while checking the EQ and effects. But the final balances usually will be done quietly.

Sometimes, the only way that you can check how much low-end is on a mix is to turn it up to a moderately loud level for a brief period, so don’t be afraid to do that if needed. Just remember that keeping it up loud for long periods of time probably won’t help your mix translate to other systems too well.

Listening On Several Speaker Systems
If you don’t have an alternate monitor system yet, then what are you waiting for? Most veteran mixers use at least a couple of systems to get a feel for how everything sounds - the main system where the mixer does all of the major listening work, and an alternate system for a different perspective. 

The alternate speaker is used simply as a balance check to make sure that one of the instruments isn’t either too loud or too soft in the mix. Also, one of the arts of mix balance is getting the kick drum and bass guitar to speak well on a small system, which is why an alternative monitor system is so important.
The second set of monitors doesn’t have to be great. In fact, the crappier they are, the better. Even a set of ten dollar computer speakers can do. The idea is to have a second set that will give you an idea of what things sound like in that world, since unfortunately, there are a lot more people listening on crappy monitors than good ones these days."


To read additional excerpts from this and my other books, go to bobbyowsinski.com.

Also, check out the Audio Mixing Bootcamp video course from Lynda.com.

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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, February 19, 2012

Clapton's Guitar Tech

Here's a short interview with Jim Dickson, Eric Clapton's guitar tech of 30 years. He talks all about what it takes to be a guitar tech and the relationship with the artist that's required. Also interesting was how much the tech is required to think ahead before a particular gig or tour so he can anticipate the needs of the artist before even the artist knows them. There's a few good Clapton stories as well.

If you want to read a lot more about guitar techs and being on the road, check out some of the excerpts from The Touring Musician's Handbook on my website.



----------------------------------
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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