Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Friday, August 8, 2014

Studio Designer Carl Tatz On The Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Bobby Owsinski's Inner Circle Podcast image
Carl Tatz, a former long-time major studio owner in Nashville, now builds studios for some of the town's music elite. Not only that, many feel that his innovative Phantom Focus system has taken monitoring to the next level.

On the latest episode of my Inner Circle Podcast, Carl and I discuss at length how studios have changed through the years, and the needs of current studios.

I'll also discuss artist management is more important in our Music 4.0 era, and 5 good reasons to own a turntable.

Have a listen at BobbyOInnerCircle.com.
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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Derek And The Dominos "Layla" Isolated Rhythm Tracks

What a difference a great mixer can make. A few weeks ago I posted the isolated lead guitar and vocals from Eric Clapton's short-lived band Derek and the Dominos hit "Layla." One of the things that struck me about the original song when listening with fresh ears was how odd the original mix was, with unusual panning, a very tinny sound and muddy balance.

A few years ago the 5.1 version of the the album (Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs) was mixed by the great Elliot Scheiner and allows us to finally hear what the original tracks really sound like. As you'll hear, the difference is substantial. Here are some things to listen for:

1. The bass and drums in the remix sound much larger than the original and are panned in a fashion that we've become accustomed to.

2. Everything is so much clearer, including the 3 rhythm guitars panned left, right and center, and the organ.

3. You can hear clearly hear Bobby Whitlock's harmony vocal. It was probably track shared on one of the rhythm tracks, since they were only recording on a 16 track machine at the time and probably ran out of tracks fairly quickly.

4. Listen for the two pianos on the second section of the song. The original was played by drummer Jim Gordon (who wrote the section) and then overdubbed by keyboardist Whitlock.

All in all, the remix is a pleasure to listen to. Contrast it to the original mix below.


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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Making Of A Ribbon Microphone

If you ever wondered what was inside a ribbon mic, this segment from the How It's Made cable TV will not only show all the components, but how they're made and put together as well. It outlines the making of an AEA r44C, a modern version of the old RCA 44 that's so loved by brass players everywhere. Wes Dooley, founder of AEA, has done as much as anyone for keeping ribbon mics alive (with a big shout-out to David Royer and John Jennings of Royer Labs too), and AEA and Royer has helped bring them back from obscurity.

Unfortunately you have to wait through a 30 second commercial before the video begins, but it's worth it.


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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

10 Steps For Mixing With Mastering In Mind

Mixing with Mastering in mind image
One of the things that mastering pros complain about is that so few mixers actually think about how the things they do while mixing might affect mastering. Mastering is the final creative place in the production process where a mix can be altered, but the mix won't necessarily be improved unless you help the mastering engineer out by following some very simple tips when you're mixing.

Here are 10 steps for mixing with mastering in mind compiled from the latest 3rd edition of The Mastering Engineer's Handbook. The tips apply not only to online distribution, but CD and vinyl as well.

"Regardless of if you master your final mixes yourself or take them to a mastering engineer, things will go a lot faster if you prepare for mastering ahead of time. Nothing is so exasperating to all involved as not knowing which mix is the correct one or forgetting the file name. Here are some tips to get your tracks “mastering ready”.

1. Don't Over-EQ When Mixing: A mix is over-EQed when it has big spikes in its frequency response as a result of trying to make one or more instruments sit better in the mix. This can make your mix tear your head off because it’s too bright, or have a huge and unnatural sounding bottom. In general, mastering engineers can do a better job for you if your mix is on the dull side rather than too bright. Likewise, it’s better to be light on the bottom end than have too much.

2. Don’t Over-compress When Mixing: Over-compression means that you’ve added so much mix bus compression that the mix is robbed of all it’s life. You can tell that a mix has been over-compressed not only by its sound, but by the way its waveform is flat-lined on the DAW timeline. You might as well not even master if you’ve squashed it too much already. Hypercompression (see Chapter 6) deprives the mastering engineer of one of his major abilities to help your project. Squash it for your friends, squash it for your clients, but leave some dynamics in the song so the mastering engineer is better able to do his thing. In general, it’s best to compress and control levels on an individual track basis and not as much on the stereo bus except to prevent digital overs.

3. Having The Levels Match Between Songs Is Not Important: Just make your mixes sound great, because matching levels between songs is one of the reasons you master in the first place.

4. Getting Hot Mix Levels Is Not Important: You still have plenty of headroom even if you print your mix with peaks reaching  –10 dB or so. Leave it to the mastering engineer to get those hot levels. It’s another reason why you master.

5. Watch Your Fades and Trims: If you trim the heads and tails of your track too tightly, you might discover that you’ve trimmed a reverb trail or essential attack or breath. Leave a little room and perfect it in mastering where you will probably hear things better.

6. Make Sure To Print The Highest Resolution Mixes You Can: Lossy formats like MP3’s, Window’s Media or Real Audio and even audio CDs won’t cut it and will give you an inferior product in the end. Print the highest resolution mixes possible by staying at the same resolution as the tracks were recorded at. In other words, if the tracks were cut at a sample rate of 96kHz/24 bit, that’s the resolution your mix should be. If it’s at 44.1kHz/24 bit, that’s the resolution the mix should be.

7. Alternate Mixes Can Be Your Friend: A vocal up/down or instrument-only mix can be a life-saver when mastering. Things that aren’t apparent while mixing sometimes jump right out during mastering and having an alternative mix around can sometimes provide a quick fix and keep you from having to remix. Make sure you document them properly though.

8. Check Your Phase When Mixing: It can be a real shock when you get to the mastering studio and the engineer begins to check for mono compatibility and the lead singer or guitar solo disappears from the mix because something in the track is out-of-phase. Even though this was more of a problem in the days of vinyl and AM radio, it’s still an important point since many so-called stereo sources (such as television) are either pseudo-stereo or only stereo some of the time. Check it and fix it before you get there.

9. Know Your Song Sequence: Song sequencing takes a lot of thought in order to make an album flow, so you really don’t want to leave that until the mastering session. If you’re cutting vinyl, remember that you need two sequences - one for each side. Remember, the masters can’t be completed without the sequence. Also, cutting vinyl is a one-shot deal with no undo’s like on a workstation. It’ll cost you money every time you change your mind.

10. Have Your Songs Timed Out: This is important if you’re going to be making a CD or vinyl record. First, you want to make sure that your project can easily fit on a CD, if that’s your release format. Most CD's have a total time of just under 80 minutes. When mastering for vinyl, cumulative time is important because the mastering engineer must know the total time per side before he starts cutting. Due to the physical limitations of the disc, you’re limited to a maximum of about 25 minutes per side if you want the record to be nice and loud."

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Anatomy of Songs

Here's a rather light-hearted look at the anatomy of songs in different genres. There's actually a lot of truth in it though, as I found when doing research for my Deconstructed Hits series of books. If you analyze the hits of a particular genre (and their eras, which is equally as important), you find that there are numerous similarities.

For instance, in some of the most loved classic rock songs, there was no set song form formula, where sometimes a song took a wild turn in the middle that was totally unexpected ("LA Women," "Magic Man," "Free Bird," and "Don't Fear The Reaper" for example). Today most pop songs are built around the magic triad of verse, chorus and bridge. And today most songs have an ending, since that makes it tend to play better in a digital format, while in previous eras the fade was a lot more common.

That said, there's more than a grain of truth in the following graphic. Enjoy.

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

New Music Gear Monday: The New Sony Walkman

Sony NWZ-ZX1 Walkman image
The original Sony Walkman is one of the most successful products in consumer electronics history, opening up the door for the personal electronics trend that we've all participated in since. Of course, the Walkman was subsequently trumped by the iPod, that that hasn't kept Sony from wanting to repeat the success, hence the introduction of the new ZX1.

The Sony NWZ-ZX1 is a high-resolution audio player with 128 GB of onboard memory that can store as many as 800 songs in a variety of hi-res formats like AAC, ATRAC, FLAC, WAV and AIFF. One of the surprises is that it doesn't have DSD playback ability, which many other hi-res players are currently providing. It does accommodate files of 192kHz, which many audiophiles are hoping will become a new standard someday (it's nice to dream, I guess).

It's similar to an Android phone in that it has a 4 inch screen and uses the Android operating system, and is molded out of a single piece of aluminum to provide a luxurious feel. The unit also features a loop for a lanyard (which seems to be a big deal in Asia), and a proprietary charge/data/USB port, and of course, the standard 3.5mm mini-headphone jack.

You don't have to power up the screen to change or adjust tracks as there are a number of controls on the side of the unit, including power, volume, and play, next and back controls. The ZX1 also has Near Field Communication (NFC) built in for quick Bluetooth pairing, but you can only get hi-res operation with a wired connection. The battery life is reported to be more than 32 hours, which is excellent.

The ZX1 isn't available in the US yet, but it is in Japan and the UK. You can still purchase the unit on Amazon for a whopping $779, but it seems like the retail will be around $549 when released in the States.

Sony is betting big on high-resolution audio, recently rolling out 25 new hi-res products. All of us in audio love to see the support for higher quality audio, but unfortunately history tells us that convenience always trumps high quality in the consumers eyes. Unless the price of the unit comes down when its released in the US, the Sony NWZ-ZX1 will probably lose out to other capable, yet less expensive units like the FiiO X5.
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