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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Avid And Mackie Play Nice

Recently Mackie released a new product called the Onyx-i Firewire Recording Mixer that was able to communicate with just about all DAWs, including Digidesign's (now Avid) Pro Tools. The problem for Mackie was that it appeared to reverse engineer the Pro Tools protocol rather than do the usual expensive technology license agreement with Avid, a skirting of the license that Avid had come down hard on in the past.

This lead to all sorts of speculation that Avid would soon be turning their expensive corporate attorneys loose on Mackie and we'd see one hell of a court fight as a result. Lo and behold, word on the floor at the Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention now going on in New York City is that Avid has forgone litigation in favor of an arrangement to facilitate Mackie and that an official announcement is forthcoming.

This is certainly surprising and could only mean a couple of things (putting on my speculators hat for a second). First, even though Avid's stock price of around $15 is actually doing a better of late, it's way off it's near $50 a share of 2005. Some analysts speculate that the reason why Avid absorbed the Digidesign name was to prepare itself for a sale, so the last thing Avid wants right now is more litigation, even if their the one doing it.

Secondly, this could be the beginning of a new open-source strategy for Pro Tools. Since Pro Tools has pretty much hit a saturation point in terms of both high end sales, they may believe that in order to secure the somewhat more volatile low end of the market that it's best to let other manufacturer's hardware talk to PT, giving the user one less reason to even try anything else.

Whatever the reason, I think it's probably a lot better for the industry if the Pro Tools protocol becomes more open. No matter what you think of the platform, it's still the industry standard, and until someone comes along with something a whole lot better, it looks like it will stay that way for a while.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How The Music Business Is Changing

The conclusion of most industry pundits at the Digital Music Forum in Hollywood this week all agree that the music "business" is in tough shape. But perhaps the grimmest of statements comes from NPD Group’s Russ Crupnick, who points out that the number of music buyers has dropped from 153 million in 2006 to 132 million in 2008.

Crupnick also states that spending of each of those consumers is down from $79 a year to $35, which he says is the result of the proliferation of free, advertiser-supported music services, which are cannibalizing digital sales. Yet despite the rapid growth of digital downlads, almost two-thirds of music consumers still purchase CDs only.

BigChampagne’s Eric Garland claims, as buyers shift from full album purchases to singles, that lower prices per unit have not prompted them to spend more on music. Also, the number of free streams of popular hits is more than 10 times the total of paid downloads, and that’s just on legal services.

What this adds up to is the fact that a tough time is getting for the record labels, while it's a golden era for fans. For artists, it's too soon to know.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Studio Ears And Studio Eyes

I've got my "studio ears" back. Unless you're in the studio every day non-stop, it takes a couple of weeks (at least for me) to get them back.

What are studio ears? It's the ability to hear deep inside a track - to hear all the details, good and bad. At the beginning of a project, it's easy to hear major mistakes and flams, but it's difficult to hear the really small ones. Things that sound perfectly acceptable during week one drive me crazy by week three.

How do you develop studio ears? For me, the best way is by editing the tracks after basics. Regardless of the musicians, there are always fixes in timing that are necessary to tighten things up.

As a producer, I'm a big one for working it out during preproduction, getting it close during recording, and fixing it during editing. This keeps musicians from feeling beat up from too many takes, as long as they're playing with feeling but just not laying perfectly together. But it means that I'll have at least several days per song fixing things up later, which is where my studio ears get bigger and bigger. Now a 10 millisecond flam, which is about as little as you can perceive, will drive me crazy until I fix it.

A bad habit that many engineers and producers fall into is studio eyes, which means that you move things so they perfectly line up just because they look like they're not aligned, even though they sound perfectly fine. This is when your experience kicks in. You close you eyes and let your heart and brain take over. If it feels good, it is good!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Coke And Live Nation Have A Drink Together

The Coca-Cola Company and Live Nation, the world's biggest concert promoter, have announced a multi-year strategic sponsorship and marketing alliance that will make it the official soft drink of the promotion company’s venues, and the 36 million music fans that attend shows there. The sponsorship will begin this holiday season when the 12 million members of My Coke Rewards will gain access to bid for Live Nation tickets, artist merchandise and VIP trips to House of Blues shows across the country.

But what lies beneath this deal is something that must be driving the artist's that are tied to Live Nation's crazy since it also gives Coke access to their relationships with their fans.

The problem lies in the concept of unintended co-branding. It's difficult enough for an artist and a consumer brand to partner up in such a way that that it really benefits the artist. Too often it's seen as a sell-out by the artist's fans. Even worse, a co-brand can totally ruin an artist's career if the sponsor's public perception is totally opposed to that of the artist's fans. That's why Live Nation's artists must feel rather uncomfortable about this deal today. Even though Coke's image is somewhat benign, just the fact that the artists don't get a say in the matter is a warning of what can possibly come to pass at a later time.

It's always a big temptation for an artist to co-brand since everyone except the superstars really need the financial support these days (although the superstars seem to be the ones doing it the most), but it's a deal with the devil that usually affects the artists relationship with his fans, and in the new world of Music 3.0, that relationship is far more valuable than anything a sponsor can bring to the table. But having a sponsor foisted upon you whether you want it or not is truly a worst case scenario.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Sound Guy

I love vocal groups, having been in many during my club days. And I love arranging vocals in the studio, so this video hit a sweet spot with me since it's performed so well. But it's also a clever and funny ode to the sound man, one of the most under-appreciated people in an artist's sphere of influence.

I hope you love this as much as I do.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Instant Effects Setup

Ever wondered what effects to dial in so things sound good during tracking without getting into your head turned around by the infinite possibilities available? Here's a quick and easy setup that will sound great on just about any kind of music without having to pull you hair out over parameter settings.
  • For drums - a reverb using a dark room set to about 1.5 seconds of decay with a predelay of 20 milliseconds
  • For all other instruments - a plate with about 1.8 seconds of decay and a predelay of 20 milliseconds
  • For Vocals - a delay of about 220 milliseconds.
It's amazing how well these settings work without any tweaking, but if you can't help yourself, you can time the delay and predelays to the song, but keep the parameter close to the settings above. For instance, if the only delay in the 220 region is a 232 ms quarter-note-triplet, that's the one to use. The decay is set so that the decay of a snare drum hit just about fades out by the time the next one comes around.

Remember, these settings are to be used as a quick way to get your mix sounding really good during tracking. For mixing, they may be a starting point, but you'll probably want to get a lot more sophisticated. We'll cover that in another post.


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