Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Making Of An Audiophile

Here's a great movie about the lives of audiophiles. Once upon a time we'd make fun of their obsession, but now I wish that more of them were around.

There was a time during the 70's when having a good audio playback system was just as important as having a smart phone is today. It was not only a status symbol, but something cherished and valued as well. We spent a lot of time listening back in those days (usually to a full album at a time), so you wanted the experience to be sonically as great as possible. The average college student had a better sound system in his or her dorm room than you'll find today even in so-called "home theaters" as a result.

We spend at least as much time listening today, but thanks to the world of MP3s and digital streaming, and especially thanks to listening to music through earbuds, the sonics of music isn't as important. That said, there are those that care deeply about the sound they listen to, and are willing to go to great lengths and sacrifices to achieve greatness. I'm not sure that their methods are always the best, but at least they try.

This movie shows what it's like to be an obsessed European audiophile. Here's also a list of some past posts on audiophiles that you might enjoy (although you may not if you consider yourself one).

The Sound Of Monster Cable Vs. Coathangers
The $8,450 Speaker Cable
The 10 Most Expensive Speaker Systems
The Million Dollar Speaker System



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

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Timing Your Effects To The Song

Delay Genie IOS app icon from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Last week I posted about the 6 rules for adding effects to a mix, and 3 of the rules entailed timing your effects to the track. One of the comments I received asked about more information on just how to do that, so here it is.

Timing the effects to the track means that all of the delays and reverb paramaters are timed so that they match the tempo of the song so they pulse with it. As a result, the effect isn't noticed as much (sometimes not at all), but make the track sound bigger with a bit of an ambient sheen that doesn't push the track too far back in the mix.

First of all, the absolute easiest way determine the timing is with my Delay Genie iPhone app (that's its icon on the left) which will easily determine the tempo of the song if you don't know it, and give you all of the possible combinations that you need. If you don't have an iPhone or just want a bit more in-depth explanation, here's some info taken from The Mixing Engineer's Handbook and the upcoming Audio Mixing Bootcamp.

Delays are measured tempo-wise using musical notes in relation to the tempo of the track. In other words, if the song has a tempo of 120 beats per minute (bpm), then the length of time it takes a quarter note to play would be 1/2 second (60 seconds ÷ 120 bpm = .5 seconds). Therefore a quarter note delay should be .5 seconds or 500 milliseconds (.5 X 1000 ms per second) which is how almost all delay devices are calibrated.

But 500 ms might be too long and just sound confusing in the mix. 


Divide that in half for an 1/8th note delay (500 ms ÷ 2 = 250 ms). Divide in half again for a 1/16th note delay (250 ms ÷ 2 = 125 ms). 


Divide again for a 1/32nd note delay (125 ÷ 2 = 62.5 ms or rounded down to 62 to keep it even). 


That still might not be short enough for you so divide again for 1/64th note (62 ÷ 2 = 31). Again this might not be short enough, so divide again for a 1/128th note (31 ms ÷ 2 = 15.625 rounded up to 16 ms). 


And yet this still might not be short enough so divide again for a 1/256th note if there is such a thing (16 ms ÷ 2 = 8 ms).

Now such small increments like 8 and 16 ms might not seem like much, but they’re used all the time to make a sound bigger and wider. It’s something that you might not exactly hear, but you can perceive it since it acts as the critical “first reflection”, which is the loudest and most important echo of a sound in any environment. Even a short delay like this will fit much more smoothly into the track if it’s timed.

Another way to determine the delay time is to use the following formula: 
60,000 (the number of milliseconds in a minute) ÷ Song Tempo in bpm = 
Quarter Note Delay In Milliseconds.


Example 60,000 ÷ 128bpm = 468.75 milliseconds (rounded down to 468 to keep it an even number).
All the other values can be determined from this by either:
  • dividing by 2 for lower denominations (i.e 468 ÷ 2 = 234 ms for 8th note delay, 234ms ÷ 2 = 117 16th note delay, 58.5 32nd note delay, 29ms 64th note delay)
  • multiplying any of the above by 1.5 for dotted values (i.e. 234 ms x 1.5 = 351ms for dotted 8th note)
  • multiplying any of the above by .667 for triplet values. (i.e. 234ms x .667 = 156ms 8th note triplet)
Dotted and triplet values are very effective delay settings and many times take precedence over straight note delays since they have an interesting feel, providing movement to the part in a subtle way. Plus they fall in between the “can be heard” and “can’t be heard” crack. In other words, they’re noticeable without sticking out like an untimed delay.

It’s also an interesting effect to sometimes use a stereo delay with a straight delay of a ¼, 1/8th, or 1/16th note on one side and a dotted note or triplet on the other. If the delays are under 100 ms or so, it simulates the sound of a room. During the early 80’s and 90’s, a delay of around 25 ms on one side and around 50 ms on the other was used to enhance the sound of a clean electric guitar, for instance.

While we're mostly talking about delays, timing also applies to things like predelay and decay time on reverbs. Use the above formulas for the predelay, but to time the decay time, use the snare drum to set off the reverb, then set the decay so it lasts just until the next snare drum hit or the one after that. 

Remember that you don't always want an effect timed to the track. Sometimes a delay that's not timed will stick out, but it might be appropriate for the song. As in all cases with mixing, the right effect or effect parameter is what works for the song.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Look Inside The Beatles "Rain"

Here's a great look inside the making of The Beatles 1966 hit "Rain." The song is often mentioned as a favorite of the various Beatles, since it was done all together as a band and might even represent their peak performance together. "Rain" was the B side to "Paperback Writer," but there was actually a lot going on that warrants a mention.
  • On the first take you'll hear at 0:00 (which was actually take 5), the backing track is at a higher pitch than the rest of the subsequent takes. That's because they recorded the song faster than normal on a sped-up tape machine so when they slowed it back down to normal speed it would sound bigger.
  • At 2:47 you hear a take with just John Lennon's lead vocal. Again, it's slowed down so it sounds a little slurred as a result.
  • At 5:20 you hear just the bass amp and tambourine track. This was a grand experiment looking for a different bass sound where engineer Geoff Emerick used a speaker cabinet as a microphone for the bass amp, a variation we do all the time these days with a "sub-kick" mic.
  • At 8:23 you can hear John doubling his lead vocal on the chorus. The vocals are split left and right so you can hear it well.
  • At 10:53 you can hear the boys adding the background harmony vocals.
It's pretty interesting to hear that the drums and background vocals are sometimes a little shaky, but work well in the track. Still, we probably wouldn't let those things go by today.



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

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Monday, April 30, 2012

6 Tips For Balancing The Bass And Drum Mix

The biggest bass drum from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Perhaps the most difficult task of a mixing engineer is balancing the bass and drums (especially the bass and kick). Nothing can make or break a mix faster than the way these instruments work together. It’s not uncommon for a mixer to spend hours on this balance (both level and frequency) because if the relationship isn’t correct, then the song will just never sound big and punchy.

So how do you get this mysterious balance?

In order to have the impact and punch that most modern mixes exhibit, you have to make a space in your mix for both of these instruments so they won't fight each other and turn into a muddy mess. While simply EQing your bass high and your kick low (or the other way around), might work at it’s simplest, it’s best to have a more in-depth strategy, so consider the following:

1) EQ the kick drum between 60 to120Hz as this will allow it to be heard on smaller speakers. For more attack and beater click add between 1k to 4kHz. You may also want to dip some of the boxiness between 200-500Hz. EQing in the 30-60Hz range will produce a kick that you can feel, but it may also sound thin on smaller speakers and probably won’t translate well to a variety of speaker systems. Most 22" kick drums are centered somewhere around 80Hz anyway.

2) Bring up the bass with the kick. The kick and bass should occupy slightly different frequency spaces. The kick will usually be in the 60 to 80Hz range whereas the bass will emphasize higher frequencies anywhere from 80 to 250Hz (although sometimes the two are reversed depending upon the song). Shelve out any unnecessary bass frequencies (below 30Hz on kick and below 50Hz on the bass, although the frequency for both may be as high as 60Hz according to style of the song and your taste) so they're not boomy or muddy. There should be a driving, foundational quality to the combination of these two together.  

A common mistake is to emphasize the kick with either too much level or EQ, while not featuring enough of the bass guitar (see the graphic on the left for a good visual of what it sounds like). This gives you the illusion that your mix is bottom light, because what you’re doing is shortening the duration of the low frequency envelope in your mix. Since the kick tends to be more transient than the bass guitar, this gives you the idea that the low frequency content of your mix is inconsistent. For Pop music, it is best to have the kick provide the percussive nature of the bottom while the bass fills out the sustain and musical parts. 

3) Make sure that the snare is strong, otherwise the song will lose its drive when the other instruments are added in. This usually calls for at least some compression, especially if the snare hits are inconsistent throughout the song. You may need a small EQ boost at 1kHz for attack, 120 to 240Hz for fullness, and 10k for snap. As you bring in the other drums and cymbals, you might want to dip a little of 1kHz on these to make room for the snare. Also make sure that the toms aren't too boomy (if so, shelve out the frequencies below 60 Hz). 

4) If you’re having trouble with the mix because it's sounding cloudy and muddy on the bottom end, mute both the kick drum and bass to determine what else might be in the way in the low end. You might not realize that there are some frequencies in the mix that aren't really musically necessary. With piano or guitar, you're mainly looking for the mids and top end to cut through, while the low-end is just getting in the way, so it’s best to clear some of that out with a hi-pass filter. When soloed, the instrument might sound too thin, but with the rest of the mix the low-end will now sound so much better and you won’t be missing that low end from the other instruments. Now the mix sounds louder, clearer, and fuller. Be careful not to cut too much from the other instruments, as you might loose the warmth of the mix.

5) For Dance music, be aware of kick drum to bass melody dissonance. The bass line over the huge sound systems in today's clubs is very important and needs to work very well with the kick drum. But if your kick is centered around an A note and the bass line is tuned to A#, it's going to clash. Tune your kick samples to the bass lines (or vice versa) where needed.

6) If you feel that you don't have enough bass or kick, boost the level, not the EQ. This is a mistake that everyone makes when their first getting their mixing chops together. Most bass drums and bass guitars have plenty of low end and don't need much more, so be sure that their level together and with the rest of the mix is correct before you go adding EQ. Even then, a little goes a long way.

While these aren't the only mix tips that can help with the bass and drum relationship during your mix (you can check out either The Audio Mixing Bootcamp or The Mixing Engineer's Handbook for more), they're a great place to start. Remember, go easy on the EQ, as a little goes a long way.

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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, April 29, 2012

Brian May On Vox AC-30 Amplifiers

Like most guitar players, I'm pretty much a tone freak. It was a long and sometimes painful journey to figure out how to get the sounds that I heard on so many of the records that I loved, one that I've outlined in The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook.

One of the things that I discovered is that you can sometimes get the best tone just by going back to basics with a good sounding guitar plugged directly into a good sounding amp with no pedals in between. With the amp cranked to a level where it breaks into a nice creamy distortion, if you turn the volume on the guitar down, you get a great clean sound. Want more distortion or any amount in between, turn up the guitar volume. No pedals required.

In this short video, Queen's Brian May shows you that's the way he does it as well, using his trusty Vox AC-30 amps. You can't argue with the great sound.



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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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