Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Paul McCartney "Maybe I'm Amazed" Isolated Guitar Solo

Here's the isolated guitar solo from one of my all-time favorite songs. It's "Maybe I'm Amazed" from Paul McCartney's first solo album. Paul plays basically the same solo twice in the song and you'll here them both back to back. Here's what to listen for.

1. I suspect this was played through some sort of Fender amp since you can hear the built-in reverb boing at the end of his phrases.

2. You can hear some slight mis-fingerings and undeveloped technique, but Macca makes up for it with an extremely lyrical solo melody. Most guitar players with better technique would probably just wail with a lot of notes instead, but this is a solo worth remembering. It's stands out as much as the rest of the song.

3. Listen to the string noise in between the phrases. We'd trim these in the workstation today so you wouldn't hear them, but you don't hear on the final record anyway.



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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An Old High-Res Audio Format Returns

DSD Word Cloud image
I recently wrote on the Forbes blog about the potential problems that Neil Young's Pono high-resolution audio service might have when it launches. This is nothing against hi-res audio (I'm an audio person, after all, and have recorded my share of hi-res over the years), just an observation that the public always goes for convenience and not quality when it comes to formats.

No sooner did the article post when I read a press release that audiophile music retailer Acoustic Sounds launched superhirez.com, a site that offers DSD (Direct Stream Digital) downloads, among other types. DSD, if you recall, is the technology used on the highly-hyped but rarely purchased SACD disc that was launched in 1999. Until now, no company has offered true DSD downloads to my knowledge.

Acoustic Sounds actually started as a specialty vinyl pressing house and gradually morphed into the largest seller of SACD discs in the world. The company also sells hi-res album downloads both in Apple Lossless Audio (ALAC) and FLAC as well as DSD.

Right now the company has about 30 DSD download releases for sale (although more for the other formats), with albums by Shelby Lynn, Nat "King" Cole, Counting Crows, and Norah Jones the most recognizable.

Of course, you can't just download a DSD album and expect it to play. You'll need some software first and it'll cost you around $130. That means your investment in the format is more than just buying the files, so you really have to be committed to the format.

That said, today there are more hi-res audio formats than you can shake a stick at, and I hope they all survive. We really need to preserve the best quality audio every chance we get, and there's still no other audio experience that sounds better. I'm pleased that there are at least some people out there who think highly enough of audio quality that they're willing to pay extra (at around $25 per album) for a superior product.

That said, I still think that our best chance for a common high-quality audio format lies with Apple's Mastered For iTunes (MFIT) program, which considers any file that's 24 bit as hi-res but prefers a 96kHz files sampling rate. During a brief visit with my friends at Oasis Mastering yesterday, they said that most major labels now order MFIT mastered files on their orders, which is a major improvement from this time last year.

In the end, Superhirez.com is definitely cool, but Mastered For iTunes is where the high-quality action really is at the moment. If you want to learned more about how to prep your songs for MFIT, check out the Lynda.com Mastering For iTunes course. You can get a free 7 day Lynda.com trial, which you can use for lots of other programs and courses as well, here.
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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The 440Hz Conspiracy

440 Hz Music - Conspiracy to Detune Good Vibrations from Nature's 432 Hz?When it comes to tuning an instrument, we think of the standard A note at 440Hz as the reference standard, but it wasn't always that way. Prior to 1940 there were a variety of standards, although A=432Hz (also known as "Verdi's A") was the one most frequently used. It wasn't until 1940 that the US adopted A=440 as the standard, with the rest of the world following in 1953.

But why did the world change in the first place? For one thing, A=432 is supposed to be a more "natural" vibration based on the fact that it's divisible by 3, unlike A=440 which is only divisible by 2.

A=432 is said to just feel right, and when tuning without any pitch reference, trained musicians are said to automatically tune their instruments there, and the ancient Egyptians and Greeks have also been found to have tuned their instruments at 432. The science of Cymatics, which is the study of visible sound and vibration, is apparently on the side of A=432 as well, as you can see from the graphic on the left.

The physical nature of the two frequencies are pointed out by Dr. Leonard Horowitz in his paper Musical Cult Control, but he goes even deeper into what he thinks are the reasons why we went from A=432 to A=440.

Horowitz claims that there was a conspiracy between the Rockefeller Foundation and Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in changing the standard because"herding the populations into greater aggression, psycho social agitation and emotional distress" was necessary to create a war mentality. Supposedly the Rockefeller Foundation had strong financial interests in weapons of war at the time, and of course the Nazi's had strong interests in, well, war.

But the ultimate test is listening, so here are two versions of the same piece - one tuned to A=432 and the second at A=440. See which one you prefer.



I liked the A=432 better, but then again, I believe that the guitar should be an Eb instrument because it just feels and sounds better. What do you think?
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Monday, August 26, 2013

5 Tricks For Adding Delay To Vocals

Sometimes getting a vocal to sit right in the mix takes as much time as mixing the entire rest of the track. Just finding that right combination of space that makes the vocal sound more glamorous without pushing it back in the mix can be something that seems so easy, yet takes so much time to make work.

Here's an excerpt from the 3rd edition of The Mixing Engineer's Handbook that looks at 5 techniques to make that vocal work better with the track. I've also added a quote from my good buddy Dave Pensado (his interview is also in the book) about one of the techniques that he uses.

"Here are a number of techniques often used for particular mix elements. Don’t limit yourself to the examples cited though, as they can easily work for other instruments, vocals or program sources as well.

1. A stereo delay with a 1/4 or 1/8th note delay on one side and a 1/4 or 1/8th note triplet or dotted note on the the other provides movement along with depth and is a favorite trick of EDM mixers.

2. To simulate a vocal double, dial in a 1/16th note delay, then modulate it (see the Modulation section of this chapter) so it slowly raises and lowers in pitch. If the modulation can be set so it’s random, it will sound more realistic.

3. For a quick vocal effect to give it some space and depth during tracking or overdubs, set up a mono 220 millisecond delay with a couple of repeats.
4. Paul McCartney reportedly uses a 175 millisecond delay on his vocals almost all the time.

5. For getting a dry vocal to jump out, use two bandwidth limited (at about 400Hz to 2.5kHz) delays in the neighborhood of 12 ms to the left and 14 ms to the right each panned slightly off center. Bring up the delays until you can hear them in the mix, then back it off to where you can't. Occasionally mute the returns to make sure it's still bringing the vocals out as they sit well into the rest of the balance. You can also time the delays to a 1/64th note on one side and a 1/128th note on the other.  
I like a vocal mostly dry, but then it usually doesn’t sound big enough. You want the vocalist to sound like they’re really powerful and dynamic and just giving it everything, so I’ll put an 1/8th note delay on the vocal but subtract a 1/16th, a 32nd or 64th note value from that 1/8th note. What it does is give a movement to the delay and makes the singer have an urgency that’s kind of neat. I put the 1/8th minus 1/64th on the left side, and put the straight 1/8th note on the right side. You can experiment with pushing the pitch up a little bit on one side and down on another too if your singer’s a little pitchy, since that usually makes them sound a bit more in tune. Sometimes putting the 1/8th note triplet on one side and the straight 1/8th note on the other, if you’ve got any kind of swing elements of the track, will make the vocal big, yet it doesn’t make the singer sound like he’s taking a step back.  Dave Pensado

To read additional excerpts from The Mixing Engineer's Handbook or other books, go to the excerpts page of bobbyowsinski.com.
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Sunday, August 25, 2013

New Music Gear Monday: SoundRadix SurferEQ Plugin

Here's an idea that could totally change the way we think about equalization. The SoundRadix SurferEQ plugin is different from other equalizers in that it tracks the pitch of an instrument or vocal and changes the EQ on the fly, staying relevant to the music or program. This is some revolutionary thinking about equalization that for the last 60 years remained fixed and static.

SurferEQ uses a real-time pitch detection engine that triggers a low pass, high pass, bell, shape or harmonic filter (that's a new one) to make sure that the EQ is working at the right frequency during the song. It's available for Mac or PC in RTAS, VST and AU, and retails for $199.

Check out the video below to see it in action.



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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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