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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Interesting Digital Music Facts

Here are some interesting facts about digital music that have recently come available through various online research organizations.
  • The Apple's iTunes Store has increased its market share in the digital music arena, capturing 69% of the digital music market during the first half of 2009, according to the NPD Group. The rest of the top five: Best Buy - 16%, Wal-Mart - 14%, and Target and Amazon MP3, both at 10%.
  • The iTunes Store continues to dominate music retail, grabbing a 25% share of the overall market while selling 2 billion (with a "b") tracks during the first half of the year, according to an NPD report. Wal-Mart leads all retailers in physical CD sales with a 20 percent share of the physical music market, followed by Best Buy at 16 percent and Target and Amazon tied at 10 percent each.
  • CDs still comprised of 65% of all music sold in the first half of the year compared to paid digital downloads, which comprised 35% of music sales. The digital segment is growing fairly rapidly though, since the split was 80%/20% in 2007.
And a bonus digital fact:
  • The percentage of US internet users who have created a social network profile jumped from 43% in 2008 to 59% in 2009, according to Universal McCann's annual Social Media Tracker report cited by eMarketer. The U.S. easily led all nations in social networking activity, but 7 other countries polled had higher percentages of internet users with a social network profile. Russia came in first at 85.3% after registering just a 23.1% penetration rate in 2006.
What these facts tell us is that internet use and digital music consumption is on the rise and won't level off for a while. That being said, CDs are still a huge business and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Music Software Popularity

The second Music Software Popularity Index for the second quarter of 2009 has arrived from the Digital Doctor website. The ten most popular music software products, based on recent search engine activity, are:

1. DigiDesign Pro Tools (13.3)
2. Steinberg Cubase (10.2)
3. FL Studio (8.3)
4. Cakewalk Sonar (7.1)
5. Apple Logic (4.5)
6. Adobe Audition (3.8)
7. Ableton Live (3.5)
8. Apple GarageBand (3.3)
9. Sony Sound Forge (2.9)
10. Sony Acid (2.8)
11. Band-In-A-Box
12. MOTU Digital Prformer
13. Propellerhead Reason
14. Steinberg Wavelab
15. Steinberg Nuendo

This index is based on quarterly Internet search activity on Google, Yahoo, AOL and MSN. Collectively these 4 search engines represent more than 95% of the searches on the Internet. Over 100 search terms are used to construct this index, and 15 music software products are tracked. An annual average of the past four quarters is also included for comparison.

I've used a lot of these software packages myself. I was a Digital Performer user from version 1.0 until I switched to version 1.0 of Nuendo. Played around with Cubase, Logic and Reason for a while, and actually did a few television cues in GarageBand. Recently got into using Ableton Live a bit too.

But after many years of trying to avoid Pro Tools, I finally gave in 3 or 4 years ago and never looked back. Pro Tools is the de facto standard in just about every major studio, every professional audio production, and every post house. It's cheap and easy to get into, and with version 8, it's assimilated the best parts of virtually every other DAW out there, not to mention rock solid in function (I never had a crash yet).

Although it's great to have competition in the marketplace, if you want to work in pro situations, you have to be well-versed in Pro Tools.

Additional details are available at the Digital Music Doctor website.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Drum Recording Checklist

Here's a useful checklist taken from my book "The Drum Recording Handbook" (written with engineer Dennis Moody).

Like the foundation of a house, the drums are the foundation of a recording. With a strong foundation, you can build almost anything on it that you or your clients can imagine. A little effort and time spent miking the drums and getting the sound just right can result in a recording that sounds great. Remember, take risks, experiment, take notes on what works for you and what doesn’t, be creative and most of all have fun!

Here’s a list of things to check if things just don’t sound right. Remember that each situation is different and ultimately the sound depends upon the drums, the drummer, the song, the arrangement, and even the other players. Sometimes things are just out of your control. Also, these are not hard and fast rules, just a starting place. If you try something that’s different from what you’ll read below and it sounds good, it is good!

1. Do the drums sound great acoustically? Make sure that you start with a great acoustic drum sound with the drums well tuned and minimum of sympathetic vibrations.

2. Are the mics acoustically in phase? Make sure that tom mics and room mics are parallel to each other. Make sure that any underneath mics are at a 45° angle to the top mics.

3. Are the mics electronically in phase? Make sure that any bottom mics have the phase reversed. Make sure that all the mic cables are wired the same by doing a phase check.

4. Are the mics at the correct distance from the drum? If they’re too far away they’ll pick up too much of the other drums. If they’re too close the sound will be unbalanced with too much attack or ring.

5. Are the drum mics pointing at the center of the head? Pointing at the center of the drum will give you the best balance of attack and fullness.

6. Are the cymbal mics pointed at the bell. If the mic is pointed at the edge of the cymbal, you might hear more air “swishing” than cymbal tone.

7. Is the high-hat mic pointed at the middle of the hat? Too much towards the bell will make the sound thicker and duller. Too much towards the edge will make the sound thinner and pick up more air noise.

8. Are the room mics parallel? If you’re using two room mics instead of a stereo mic to mic the room, make sure that the mics are on the same plane and are exactly parallel to each other. Also make sure that they’re on the very edge of the kit looking at the outside edge of the cymbals.

9. Does the balance of the mix sound the same as when you’re standing in front of the drums? This is your reference point and what you should be trying to match. You can embellish the sound after you’ve achieved this.

10. Are the drums placed in the best sounding part of the room? Even if you've followed everything else up to this point, if the drums are placed too close to a window or in a part of the room where the reflections "boing," chances are your drum sounds aren't going to sound as good as you want them to sound. Move them to the biggest part of the room that has the smoothest sounding reflections.

If you follow these simple tips, you'll be surprised how great your drum sound can be.

Monday, August 17, 2009

PsyOps And The Audio Industry

In an interesting article in Wired Magazine, loudspeakers used for psychological warfare operations (pysops) in Iraq and elsewhere are getting a bit long in the tooth, having been designed in the ’90s, so they're looking for the Next Generation Loudspeaker System (called "NGLS" for short).

In reality, loudspeaker technology has changed little since the 20's. Sure it's improved and evolved, but the transducers are still the same transducers. In fact, the picture on the left looks a lot like the University horns that my first band used in the 60's.

But the military does want a new twist, intending to network speaker systems so they can be “interconnected using secure wireless technology to form sets of loudspeakers that provide high-quality recorded audio, live dissemination, and acoustic-deception capability.”

According to the article, "A set of scattered, networked speakers could certainly create some confusing sound effects. It could create the impression of a patrol or a vehicle moving around, surrounding the enemy with phantoms while masking the presence of real forces.

Special Forces have already had good results using focused sound in the form of the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). The unofficial PsyWarrior site reports that LRAD could be clearly heard at 1,400 meters, and it proved a handy way of communicating with the locals. “Iraqis were seen writing down the counter-terrorism tip-line number at over 600 meters range.”

The article goes on to talk about first putting speakers on aircraft during the war in Vietnam. Many different broadcasts were tried, including the celebrated “Wandering Soul,” also known as the “Howling Ghost” or “Ghost Tape Number 10″ (”Number 10″ or “So Moui” was Vietnam slang for “very bad”). This played on the Vietnamese belief that unless a person is buried properly, his or her suffering soul will wander the earth.

According to the article, "The Wandering Soul tape had an echoing voice, supposedly of a dead Viet Cong, warning his comrades that his soul is doomed to wander forever and telling them to go back to their homes. The Viet Cong soon realized that the voice was not really a ghost, but it certainly had a very disturbing effect on them, and in many cases provoked them to open fire on the helicopter carrying the speakers," which of course, is what they wanted.

There's a huge difference between the "million dollar speaker system" from yesterday's post and the manpack systems used by the military, but it does go to show that the audio industry has a great impact on our lives in so many unappreciated ways. Many of us just see it as a way to reproduce music (which it does in its simplest form) but audio gear also provides everything from a sense of satisfaction to a feeling of superiority to the harbinger of fear.

Most of us are isolated in our own little audio world, but there's a lot bigger world out there than we know. And it's ever so interesting to get just a little taste of the things beyond our immediate horizon.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Million Dollar Speaker System

High-end audio has always seemed to be more about price and hype instead of audio quality, but it looks like insanity has taken over the industry once and for all.

A company called Transmission Audio now makes a speaker, called the Ultimate, that at $1,000,000 is probably the most expensive in the world. Now understand that this is for just a single speaker system, so you'll need to shell out a couple of mil for a stereo pair!

The Ultimate is a really large speaker system with each one consisting of six, seven-foot tall panels that houses a total of forty 15-inch subwoofers, twenty-four 8-inch midrange speakers, and massive arrays of 2-inch and 1-inch wide ribbon tweeters. And that's just for one channel. Double those numbers for stereo! A pair of Ultimates are nearly forty feet wide!

Each Ultimate speaker comes with its own power amplifiers with a total output of 31,000 watts, and the manufacturer claims the Ultimate can generate up to 146dB SPL, which if true is louder than a jet plane taking off.

Just to put the price of the Ultimate into perspective, you could build a very fine professional sound system very capable of providing quality audio to 20,000 for less than that. Or a first-class recording facility complete with Alan Side's wonderful custom monitors for a lot less.

I don't know if Transmission Audio's sold any of these at all, but I'd love to know who their clients are and what they do for a living. My guess is it's a person with more money than they know what to do with, trying to compensate for impaired hearing. There's a sucker born every minute, especially in audiophile world.


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