Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Friday, June 21, 2013

From A Rock Star To Living In A Van Down By The River

Sly and the Family Stone image
Here's my most recent post over on the Forbes blog about Sly Stone's legal problems and how his troubles relate to all musicians.

"We so revere our heros, especially the ones that helped us through our formative stages of youth. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone with a song played on the radio then or now is living anything less than the American dream of fame and fortune. After living in Los Angeles for more than half of my life and meeting many of my musical heros, I can tell you that perception is so far from the truth it’s laughable. Take the case of one the masters of 60s funkiness, Sly Stone."

To read more, go to Forbes.







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Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Concept Of EQing The Mics

Ken Scott placing U87s on the toms image
Ken Scott placing U87s on the toms
We've all been taught that in order to get the most natural sounding recording, we should move the mic first if it doesn't sound right, then change the mic if that doesn't work. Most experienced engineers will only resort to EQ (at least more than a touch) as a last resort. But there is another way and it comes from legendary producer/engineer Ken Scott, one of the 5 original Beatles engineers, who's worked with everyone from David Bowie to Elton John to the Rolling Stones to Supertramp, Kansas, Missing Persons, The Tubes and many, many more.

Ken always uses the exact same mics whenever he records, and he always EQs at exactly the same frequencies. After watching him work it occurred to me that he wasn't EQing the instrument at all; he was EQing the mics.

The reason why I came to this conclusion is that he would get his sound, and often the instrument itself would change, but he'd hardly ever have to touch his EQ. Regardless of the instrument, it sounded great when he put the mic on it.

This is illustrated in Ken's memoir Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust in Chapter 22 when discussing the making of Devo's Duty Now For The Future album. He says:

"I think we used three different drum kits on the album because we were after different drum sounds. We set up one kit, got the sounds for the songs on that, tore that down and put another one up. The thing with me is, because I’m such a creature of habit, I hardly had to change anything from kit to kit. I even used basically the same EQ, which I had to change very, very little for each kit. And as I always use the same frequencies it wasn’t quite as much of a headache as one might have expected. I’m a firm believer that the sound comes from the studio, not from what I do."
I can say that I experienced this exact same feat with Ken when we were doing the most recent SNEW album, What's It To Ya, together. There was one song that required a completely different drum sound on the outro of a song from the other half. When the new drum kit was reset, Ken put the mics up, didn't change a thing, and it sounded wonderful.

Now obviously this method can only be effective if you always use the same mics and are very, very familiar with how they sound. That being said, I've seen it work first-hand, and it's certainly a totally different concept around using the EQ. Dare I say, one that only a master can use.

To read additional excerpts from Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust and other books, go to bobbyowsinski.com.
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

ZZ Top "La Grange" Isolated Guitars

Today we gave a great study in how to use electric guitars in a song. It's Billy F Gibbon's isolated guitar parts in ZZ Top's break-through hit "La Grange" from their Tres Hombres album in 1973. Here are some things to listen for:

1. The intro clean guitar has a nice short delayed reverb on it.

2. The verse distorted guitar is doubled and spread out left and right. It also has a different reverb.

3. The solo (which is one of my all-time favorites and was played on a 55 Strat through a Marshall Super Lead 100) is a completely different sound, which keeps the song interesting as new elements and sounds are introduced.

4. When the clean intro guitar is introduced again after the solo at 2:15, it's dry except for what sounds like some recorded room ambiance.

5. Listen to the amp noise in between the phrases during the outro solo at 2:33. Not that anyone ever heard it in the track though.


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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Recording The Bass Amp

Miking The Bass Amp image
Using a Beta 52 and SM 57 on the bass cabinet
Today everyone is conditioned to go direct with the bass guitar that many times miking a bass amp is completely overlooked. That's too bad because it can bring something to the track that you just can't get any other way. Here's an excerpt from my Audio Recording Basic Training book that provides an exercise for bass amp miking.

"Back in the 60’s and 70’s, the way engineers recorded the electric bass was by miking the bass amp. As direct boxes became more and more available, the trend eventually swung the other way, with most bass recording done direct. Today it’s very common to record a bass using a combination of both an amp and direct, which provides the best of both worlds. While the bass will sound full and warm with a direct box, the amp can add just enough edge to help the bass punch through a mix.

When using a direct box, be aware that they’re not all created equal in that some will not give you the low fundamental of the bass that you expect when recording this way. Active DIs do a better job at this than passive, although some passive boxes (like the ones made by Radial) do an excellent job because of the large Jensen transformer used in the circuit.

Depending on the sound that fits the track best, mix the amp track with a DI track. The sound will change substantially depending upon the balance of the DI and miked amplifier. ALWAYS check the phase relationship between the amp and DI to make sure there’s no cancellation of the low end. Flip the polarity switch to the position that has the most bottom. Also remember that there’s no rule that says that you have to use both tracks, so don’t hesitate to use just a single track if it sounds best in the mix.

E7.4: Miking The Bass Amp
A) Listen closely to the amp as the bass player plays. If there are multiple speakers, find the one that sounds the best as in E7.1A. 
B) Place a large diaphragm dynamic mic like D-112, RE-20 or Beta 52 a little off-center and a couple of inches away from a cone of the best sounding speaker in the bass cabinet.   
C) Move the mic across the cone. Is there a spot where it sounds particularly good? Keep the mic at that spot. Is the sound balanced frequency response-wise? Can you hear any of the room reflections? 
D) Move the mic towards the end of the cone? Is there more low end? Is it more distinct sounding? 
E) Move the mic towards the center of the speaker? Is there more low end? Is it more distinct sounding? 
F) Move the mic about a feet away from the speaker. Is there more low end? Is it more distinct sounding? 
G) Move the mic about 2 feet away from the speaker. Is there more low end? Is it more distinct sounding? Can you hear more of the room? Does it work with the rest of the instruments? 
H) Raise the cabinet about a foot off the floor. Is there more low end? Is it more distinct sounding?  
I) I) Place the mic where it gives you the best balance of body and definition, and balance between the direct and ambient room sound."
You can read additional excerpts from this and other books at bobbyowsinski.com.
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Monday, June 17, 2013

Queen & David Bowie "Under Pressure" Isolated Vocals

Here's an isolated vocal track from the Queen and David Bowie 1981 hit "Under Pressure," a song that continues to be played and covered even today. As with most isolated tracks from this period, it's pretty interesting in what it reveals.

1. The reverb is very long, delayed, and kinda mid-rangy. It does sound like the high and low end has been filtered, which is why it fits into the track without being too noticeable (unless it's isolated like here).

2. This doesn't sound like there were too many takes recorded. Of course, Bowie was famous for only doing a single take on most of his records. There are some flat notes by Freddie Mercury, especially at the end of phrases, but they're not noticeable in the track with rest of the instruments (That's a good lesson for producers who beat up their vocalists).

3. There's a modulation effect on the vocals to widen them out. This might've been a Harmonizer, as this was a trick used with the device.

4. Listen how the effects are taken off the vocals during the bridge (1:43) so they're up closer in your face.




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Sunday, June 16, 2013

New Music Gear Monday: Zoom H6 Digital Recorder

A number of years ago I presented the specifications for a pro level handheld digital recorder I designed to a respected manufacturer of electronic devices. "There's not a big enough market. Not enough people have a need," I was told. They should have listened. Flash forward about ten years and the hand-held recorder has become a standard accessory for every single musician, producer recording engineer, not to mention videographer. While stereo digital recorders predominate, now Zoom has one-upped everyone else in the market with their new H6 6 track digital recorder.

This is one of the coolest devices ever. It has 6 recordable channels, 4 with mic preamps and two from the onboard mic (although you can change the mic with a module that has two additional inputs), it records up to 96kHz, and it's layout is far more streamlined than you'd expect a device like this to be. Plus you can change the X/Y stereo mic, with a shotgun or an MS mic, along with the aforementioned dual input module.

The price is $399, and supposedly it will be in stores in July. Check out this video, which explains all.


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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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