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Friday, April 15, 2016

Toto "Rosanna" Isolated Drums, Keys And Horns

Toto Rosanna imageThe band Toto has some of the most acclaimed studio musicians as members, which is why it's always a pleasure to listen inside one of their songs. Today we'll take a listen to the isolated drums, keyboards and horns from the Grammy-winning song "Rosanna." This one's a real treat! Here's what to listen for:

1. The late great Jeff Porcaro is on drums playing a version of the half-time "Purdie shuffle" feel. You can hear why he was one of the most in-demand session drummers ever, with rock solid time and a feel that pushes the track along perfectly. His drums sound great, with just a touch of reverb for ambience.

2. The arrangement is based around David Paich's (another great session player) piano, which starts in a middle register and moves up an octave for the B section of the song, then back down for the C section and chorus. It also has a nice stereo spread with the left hand panned to about 9 o'clock and the right at around 1:30.

3. Listen to the way Steve Porcaro's synthesizer strategically weaves in and out of the song. It's mostly on an organ patch, but you can hear the patch morph into a string patch at the end of the chorus.

4. In the solo section around 3:20, percussion is added that gives that section some movement.

5. Check out the horn section on the turnaround to each chorus and playing a fill line in the chorus. It's a section of 2 saxes, 2 trumpets and a trombone that are doubled and panned in stereo.

6. The outro jam is a real treat.



Thursday, April 14, 2016

Was "Stairway To Heaven" A Rip Off?

Was "Stairway To Heaven" Ripped Off?In what could become one of the more entertaining court battles in music history, Led Zeppelin is being sued for stealing parts of "Stairway To Heaven" from a song by the 60s band Spirit called "Taurus" more than 45 years after the song was written. The estate of Spirit guitarist and "Taurus" songwriter Randy California filed the lawsuit, which is going to trial on May 10th.

All this stems from the fact that Zep opened for Spirit several times during their first tour of the United States during which Spirit performed "Taurus" as part of their set. OK, we get that, but why wait 40+ years to sue?

If you listen to the Spirit song below, you'll hear some vague similarities to the intro of "Stairway," but it's of a rather generic guitar pattern and nothing like the song's melody. That said, after last year's "Blurred Lines" plagiarism lawsuit won by the estate of Marvin Gaye, suits like this are now leaning more in favor of the plaintiff than ever before.

It's been estimated that "Stairway" has made the Zeps $540 million over the years, and the California estate is obviously hoping for at least a reasonable piece of that, but songwriters Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (who are the only Zeps named in the suit) obviously have deep pockets and are willing to fight as necessary.

So songwriters beware, there's nothing new under the sun given the 12 note scale that western musicians use, so you're probably copying a previous song without even knowing it. And today, that's enough to get you sued.

Go to 0:45 on the video below to hear what's considered to be the similarities between songs.
(photo: Jim Summaria via Wikipedia)



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

So You Want To Buy A Cheap Microphone

real vs fake U87 image
Can you spot the fake?
I've received a lot of questions lately about my opinion on some very inexpensive vintage mic clones. I love finding a great cheap mic as much as the next guy, but there are some things to watch out for before buying. I thought it might be helpful to repost the following from 3 or 4 years ago.

In many ways we're in the golden age of audio gear. On the whole, inexpensive audio gear (under $500) sounds better than ever and is a much better value than even a decade ago and way better than 20 years ago. The same can be said for mics, as there is a large variety of cheap mics that provide much higher performance for the price than we could have imagined back in the 70s and 80s.

That said, there are some pitfalls to be aware of before you buy. Here's an excerpt from The Recording Engineer's Handbook 3rd edition that covers the potential downside of inexpensive mics.

"One of the more interesting recent developments in microphones is the availability of some extremely inexpensive condenser and ribbon microphones in the sub-$500 category (in some cases even less than $100). While you’ll never confuse these with a vintage U 47 or C 12, they do sometimes provide an astonishing level of performance at a price point that we could only dream about a few short years ago. That said, there are some things to be aware of before you make that purchase.

Quality Control’s The Thing
Mics in this category have the same thing in common; they’re either entirely made or all their parts are made in China, and to some degree, mostly in the same factory. Some are made to the specifications of the importer (and therefore cost more) and some are just plain off-the-shelf. Regardless of how they’re made and to what spec, the biggest issue from that point is how much quality control (or QC, also sometimes known as quality assurance) is involved before the product finds its way into your studio.

Some mics are completely manufactured at the factory and receive a quick QC just to make sure they’re working and these are the least expensive mics available. Others receive another level of QC to get them within a rather wide quality tolerance level, so they cost a little more. Others are QC’d locally by the distributor with only the best ones offered for sale, and these cost still more. Finally, some mics have only their parts manufactured in China, with final assembly and QC done locally, and of course, these have the highest price in the category.

You Can Never Be Sure Of The Sound
One of the byproducts of the rather loose tolerances due to the different levels of QC is the fact that the sound can vary greatly between mics of the same model and manufacturer. The more QC (and high the resulting price), the less difference you’ll find, but you still might have to go through a number of them to find one with some magic. This doesn’t happen with the more traditional name brands that cost a lot more, but what you’re buying (besides better components in most cases) is a high assurance that your mic is going to sound as good as any other of the same model from that manufacturer. In other words, the differences between mics are generally a lot smaller as the price rises.

The Weakness
There are two points that contribute to a mic sounding good or bad, and that’s the capsule and the electronics (this can be said of all mics, really). The tighter the tolerances and better QC on the capsule, the better the mic will sound and the closer each mic will sound to another of the same model.

The electronics is another point entirely in that a bad design can cause distortion at high SPL levels and limit the frequency response, or simply change the sound enough to make it less than desirable. The component tolerances these days are a lot closer than in the past, so that doesn’t enter into the equation as much when it comes to having a bearing on the sound. In some cases, you can have what could be a inexpensive great mic that’s limited by poorly designed electronics. You can find articles all over the Web on how to modify many of these mics, some that make more of a difference to the final sound than others. If you choose to try doing a mod on a mic yourself, be sure that your soldering chops are really good since there’s generally so little space that a small mistake can render your mic useless."

You can read additional excerpts from The Recording Engineer's Handbook or my other books on the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Is Gibson In Financial Trouble?

Gibson Brands imageThere are signs that Gibson's move to diversify isn't working out as planned. Moody's Investor Service has downgraded Gibson Brands (formerly Gibson Guitar Corporation) credit to junk status, and according to reports, the company has put up two of its Nashville warehouses for sale as a result.

Moody's gave 3 reasons for the downgrade:

   1. "Weak operating results" as a result of a poor reception to the company's 2015 guitar line.

   2. Frequent management changes in its finance department.

   3. The company's recent move into consumer electronics and the associated risks of doing so.

Starting in 2012, Gibson began to buy consumer electronics company like Onkyo and Teac. Prior to that, it had purchased the Stanton Group, which included Cerwin-Vega, Stanton DJ and KRK. In 2014 the company acquired Woox, a Singapore-based company specializing in consumer electronics accessories.

According to an article by Ted Green, this most recent acquisition left the company over-leveraged and the company is facing $100 million in payments over the next 22 months. Speculation is that the company doesn't have the cash to make these payments, which is the reason for the sale of the two Nashville warehouse properties.

Gibson has done a number of business maneuvers in the last few years that have been head-scratchers, but the fact of the matter is that the company is trying to grow by expanding beyond MI. The problem there is that unless you know the other markets well, it's very difficult to play in the land of the really deep pockets. Let's see what happens over the next few months.

Monday, April 11, 2016

New Music Gear Monday: Radial BT-Pro Bluetooth Direct Box

Radial Engineering makes a grand variety of useful direct boxes, and just about the time you think they've thought of everything, they come up with something new. One of the company's more unique DIs is the new BT-Pro, a unique Bluetooth direct box that converts a wireless audio signal into an analog stereo balanced line.

This allows you to connect your phone or iPad directly to a PA or recording device without having to resort to an assortment of patch cables.

The BT-Pro is built to be bullet-proof just like all other Radial DIs, as it's made from 14 gauge steel with an l-beam frame that hangs over the controls to keep them out of harms way.

It uses the latest Bluetooth wireless A2DP interface over 2.0 EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) for higher speed transmission to deliver optimal audio quality, with reception out to 60 feet. This standard employs a 16-bit wireless compressed format with the actual bit rate determined by the transmission source material.

There are two balanced XLR outputs that feature isolation transformers to eliminate any buzz or hum,  an output control, plus a built-in headphone amp for troubleshooting using a standard 3.5mm mini TRS output connector.

There's also a stereo-to-mono switch that sums the input for dual-mono operation, as well as two side-mounted switches that insert the isolation transformers into the signal path. This is supplemented by a ground lift switch for the XLRs to help further eliminate any ground loops. The unit is powered via a USB connector.

The Radial Engineering BT-Pro sells for a reasonable $229.99, and like most Radial gear, will probably last a lifetime. Find out more on the dedicated BT-Pro web page.


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