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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Death of the CD Slightly Exaggerated

For a few years now, music industry pundits have been predicting the demise of the CD as digital music becomes a bigger and bigger part of our every day lives. A new UK study finds that the assumption that the CD will die soon is just that; an assumption and not a fact.

It appears that most UK music fans are still happier buying a CD than downloading, according to the latest research by The Leading Question and Music Ally, both specialist media and technology research companies. In what was a major surprise, even teens (who are widely believed to be leading the charge towards digital music) say they still prefer CDs.

The Leading Question spoke to over 1000 music fans as part of their annual Speakerbox survey regarding the state of music consumption in the UK. Despite the growth of digital sales, the research showed:
• 73% of music fans are still happy buying CDs rather than downloading.
• 66% of 14-18 year olds prefer CDs.
• 59% of all music fans still listen to CDs every day.
• CD burning is at the top of all sharing activities (23%), above bluetoothing (18%),
filesharing single tracks (17%) and filesharing albums (13%)

This UK study parallels recent studies in the US, where CDs are still selling and still a large part of everyday music life, especially in the Country and Hard-Rock genres. For sure, someday the CD will die as a delivery format. It just doesn't look like that day is coming as soon as the popular predictions say.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Vocal Recording Checklist

Whether you're a producer or engineer, vocal recording can be one of the most challenging types of sessions you'll have during a project. Here's a checklist to help you keep the vocalist comfortable, get a great sound, and get the best performance possible.

1. Did you select the correct mic for the singer’s voice? Choose a mic with a lot of body for a thin voice and one with enhanced high end for a dark voice.

2. Did you select the correct microphone preamp? Certain mics come alive when they’re paired with the right preamp. Also, a certain mic/preamp combination can be just the right color for a vocal. Experiment.

3. Did you select the correct microphone pickup pattern? Not every vocal needs to be recorded with a cardioid pattern. An omni pattern will cut down on proximity effect and a figure 8 can help with isolation from speakers or other instruments.

4. Is proximity effect wanted or needed? Remember that the closer you get to a cardioid mic, the more the low end will become exaggerated. This could make the vocal too big for the track. Try the mic on omni if you really need to get a close and intimate sound.

5. Is the singer the correct distance away? Too far away and you’ll hear more room, which could change the vocal sound or take away the intimacy. Too close and the vocal might sound too big or too close due to the proximity effect of a cardioid mic. If the singer is singing softly and breathy, keep the singer close to the mic. If the singer is shouting, screaming, or just plain loud, back the singer off the mic from two to three feet.

6. Is the singer drifting off-axis? Some vocalists drift around the room and off-axis of the mic if they feel it’s too far away. Put up a dummy mic that they can get close to so they can feel anchored. This also helps when putting up different mics to determine which one works best for the vocalist.

7. Is the singer popping the mic? Try any of the following:
a) place the mic at eye level and point it down at the singers mouth
b) turn the mic slightly off-axis,
c) switch the pattern to omni
d) back the singer off the mic until the pops disappear
e) use a pop screen.

8. Would a handheld mic work better? Some singers aren’t comfortable unless they feel like they’re on stage. Give them an SM-58 and don’t worry about the sound. A great performance beats a great sound any day (and a 58 isn’t all that bad combined with the right preamp).

9. Are you limiting the signal? Just a few dB of limiting can help keep the vocal under control and stop overloading the signal chain. Don’t use software compressor/limiters because of the latency.

10. Is the headphone mix at the correct level? The phone mix is crucial to a good performance. If the track is too loud, the vocalist may sing too hard which might not be the sound you want. He may also sing sharp as a result. If the track is too soft, the singer may not sing aggressive enough.

11. Is the ambience conducive to a good vocal? Most singers like the light down low when they sing.

Hypbot's Great Marketing Ideas

Bruce Houghton's Hypebot is one of the best and most read music blogs on the Web. It's always filled with not only timely music stories but pertinent advice.

Bruce outdid himself today with his response to Rhino Record's digital single releases celebrating 60 years of the 45 RPM single. For between $1.49 and $1.99, Rhino will provide the original hit song, its B side and the original artwork. A shout-out to my friend Robin Hurley at Rhino who's responsible for the promotion.

But this got Bruce thinking and he came up with the following marketing ideas:
  • Gems You Missed - A series of 2 - 3 seldom played but worthy cuts
  • Cover Up - The original song plus a great cover version or two.
  • Something Old, Something New - The classic version and a cover by an unknown artist
You don't have to be a heritage act or have a deep catalog to riff on the digital 45:
  • Three Sides - One song in an early studio version, the final mix and then captured live.
  • Radical Mixes - two or three very different mixes of the same song perhaps done by the fans.
  • Two Sides Of (Your City) - Two different bands each contribute a track to a series chronicling a local scene
  • Artist X Introduces _____ - One song by a somewhat popular artist plus a track by their favorite new band.
It's great marketing ideas like these that will expand interest in music and the industry.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Recording In The Cloud

The latest hi-tech phrase leaking into our every day language is "cloud computing." Cloud computing means that instead of using applications or storing data on your personal computer, you upload everything to an online server via the Internet. The beauty is that you never have to worry about upgrading applications or worry about backups because someone else is doing that for you "in the cloud."

On a corporate level cloud computing makes sense and has been somewhat common for the past few years, but except for a few online backup services like Mozy and Carbonite, most consumers haven't gotten into it yet. They will soon enough as Microsoft has just announced that it's Office suite is now available for free as long as you use it in the cloud.

Now a company called Indaba has developed a way of recording multitrack audio and collaborating with other users in the cloud using their application. This wouldn't have been possible a few years ago due to the speed of just about all areas involved in the process, but Indaba says it's made breakthroughs in several key areas (improved audio quality, real-time effects, offline mode, and non-destructive editing) by switching from running on Flash, which hampered some audio features, to Sun’s new JavaFX platform.

I'm still not sure that it's fast enough for professional use (although I've not tried it yet), but if there's an idea that's capable of destroying the Pro Tools stranglehold on the music industry, this is it.

Indaba follows the "freemium" model, in that its basic version is free, a $5 per month fee gives you more control over effects, access to additional loop libraries, and more room to store songs and tracks, and a $25 per month fee offers unlimited session storage, unlimited private sessions, and other features required by full-time session musicians and other heavy collaborators.

Here's a video that explains Indaba's features.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mixed Bag

Here's some short comments on several Monday news items:

As predicted, LiveNation has extended their "all-in Wednesdays" to seats other than only the cheapest lawn seats. Last week the concert promoter offered a $29.95 all-in price (including parking, service charges and even refreshments) and it was a smashing success. LiveNation will offer a $49.95 all-in deal on all amphitheater concert reserved seats on Wednesday July 15th.
  • Prediction: Watch this deal expand to other nights and other seats as people respond in a big way as the contents of their wallets continue to shrink. Other promoters will follow their lead as well.

Perez Hilton recently signed a deal with Warner Bros. for his own label. This is another case of people peripherally connected with the music business believing they're actually IN the music business, or have any talent other than being able to tap their toes when listening to music.
  • Prediction: Perez will soon discover that being a label head is a lot harder than it looks. Also watch for his credibility to wane (even more so) now that he's part of the establishment he so loves to take to task.

Michael Jackson sold 8 million CDs in the last 14 days!! There hasn't been a period like that in the music business in a long, long time. That 8 million does not include digital sales either.
  • Prediction: Although sales are now beginning to wane a bit, look for them to stay strong at least in the near term as MJ's estate troubles keep him in the news and as Sony catches up with CD back orders.


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