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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Making Of Dolly Dagger By Jimi Hendrix

If you read this blog much you probably know by now that I'm a sucker for "making of" videos and stories. It doesn't matter who the artist is, you can always learn something from their creative experience because each one is so unique.

Here's the making of Jimi Hendrix's Dolly Dagger from the Rainbow Bridge album. The song was never a big hit, but a "making of" really doesn't have to be. I have a little bit of a connection to Rainbow Bridge in that I was the producer and surround mixer for the DVD release, and my good friend Eddy Schreyer's (a great mastering engineer and owner of Oasis Mastering) father was the cinematographer on the film.

The video features a very young Eddie Kramer (engineer for most of Jimi's records) working on an API console and an Ampeg MM-1100 tape recorder (gear that I cut my teeth on as well), which probably dates this to about the early 70's. Eddie has also been a friend for a long time and is featured in a couple of my books. You can read an excerpt of an interview with him from The Recording Engineer's Handbook.

The video is interesting in that Eddie talks about how complicated the song is, and it really is for the time. Today, most engineer's would revel in it's simplicity, but it's still pretty interesting to see and hear how it was put together.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Barry Rudolph's Top 10 Recording Products From NAMM

One last Winter NAMM post, a repost actually, this time with Barry Rudolph's insights. Barry is a great engineer (he's had hits with Rod Stewart and Lyndard Skynard among others), but also a great writer as well (Mix Magazine and Music Connection among others).

While I usually see the offbeat items and general trends at trade shows, Barry looks for products that he'd use, so you get a completely different set of eyes on the subject. Take a look at Barry's Top 10 recording products from NAMM.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter NAMM 2010 Overview - Part 3 - Audio And Recording

In the final part of the 2010 Winter NAMM overview, we take a look at the audio and recording side of things. While there were no blockbuster products again this year, there were quite a few useful boxes. Let's look at some.

First of all, SM Pro Audio lived up to their monicker of "clever audio solutions" with a variety of great boxes that were truly clever audio solutions. One of them that I really liked was the DiDock (pictured left), which featured an iPod or iPhone dock complete with balanced and unbalanced outputs with level controls and a headphone amplifier. This is the perfect box for any kind of live applications that include an "i" device. SM also had a number of other boxes that I liked including the Jackeroo all-in-one tester/generator and gender bender, and a number of volume controllers, summing amps and outboard VU meters. Every item had a really substantial feel to it and the "bang-for-the-buck factor" was very high.

And speaking of clever solutions, Lehle had a number of cool guitar-oriented pedals that solve the problem of switching between amps, guitars, pedals, or just about anything else you can think of.

Speaking of fixit boxes, Tascam came out with a number of boxes that had you thinking, "Why did this take so long to come to market" Balancing up an unbalanced line (and vice-versa) has always been a royal pain, but here were a couple of 8 channel rack-mountable boxes, about 15 years too late. Better late than never, I guess.

Tascam also featured a number of "trainer" boxes for guitar, bass and even vocals, that allow you to play or sing against existing tracks or loops, record it, slow it down, add effects, and do all the things that help you to increase your skill level fast. Once again, where was this when I really needed it?

Portable solid-state recorders were everywhere again but one of the coolest was the Xacti XPS01M (totally Japanese model number) by Sanyo.  The unit was incredibly small and light, maybe too much so since it might be easy to lose because it feels like a feather. Even so, it had a pretty nice display, enough functions to do what needs to be done, and a 150 buck price tag.

This has nothing to do with recording (at least in the traditional sense), but it seems like the  next big thing in guitar pedals is to make them look well-used. I guess this company figured that if players would pay big bucks for a beat-up "relic" guitar, they'd do the same for a "relic" pedal. It's true that the only thing that counts is how it sounds, but sometimes you just want something to look brand new so you feel like you got your money's worth for a second.

A cool device that I really liked was a plug-in battery meter that really tells you the battery strength while it's under load, which is the only way to know for sure how much life the battery has left. All you have to do with the Batt-o-meter is plug it in, although it tests batteries outside of the device as well. Good idea.

Stepping back into the recording world, Movek's myMix is a new twist on the personal headphone mixer, adding a built-in digital recorder along with virtual mixer. Up to 8 units can be connected together for 8 different mixes via ethernet and an ethernet switch. Nice form factor, but I had a little trouble navigating. From experience, the last thing a player wants is something complicated when mixing his headphones. Perhaps I didn't spend enough time with it.

For quite a few years now, the vast majority of new microphone models have been made in China. Some of the biggest microphone brands have even resorted to having some of their mics made there, or at the very least, some of the parts. Chinese manufacturers have now apparently decided that it's OK to put out their own versions of these mics, so at the show it was common to see knock-offs of Shures, Neumanns, Sennheisers and just about any other major brand you can think of. I find it hard to imagine that the IP attorneys of these companies are sitting idly by, despite the difficulties of international justice. Wanting to do my part, I started to play a game with these Chinese imitators, going on the booth and checking out the mic details closely, taking some pictures, and then covering up my badge and scurrying away when approached, giving them the illusion of some American industrial espionage. They did it to us for a long time and now deserve the return favor.

Here's another blatant example of a Mackie console rip-off from China. Once again, I hope there's a team of IP attorneys working on this. After all, these things are plenty cheap already compared to what they used to cost. At least with an American company you have some home-grown QC going on.

Enough of the rant - one last product that caught my eye. It's called Mic Check and it's used to clean and disinfect microphones. A really good idea that probably can done for a lot less money with just a typical drug store-bought handi-wipe, but give them points for the packaging.

That's it until the next trade show (NAB in April). Next post - back to our regularly scheduled program!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Winter NAMM 2010 Overview - Part 2 - Amps And Keyboards

Once again, Winter NAMM provided a variety of new guitar amp ideas, although most of them are just a rehash of something done before. Let's take a look at what the show had to offer.

Jet City Amplification is a new company featuring designs from Mike Soldano at a very reasonable price. Jet City had a pretty good buzz going into the show thanks to a thorough social networking campaign that really raised their visibility. I'm surprised that more companies don't take this approach, as it's a prototype for how it's done. Can't say for sure about the amps though, since I didn't really hear one. But they sure looked nice, the price was great, and Mike Soldano is one of the true amp gurus in the industry.

Perhaps one of the most surprising and disturbing new amp developments comes from Marshall and their new JMD:1 series modeling amp. In truth, this is no different from Line6's Spider Valve series in that the digital modeler is in between a tube preamp and output stage. It's a shame that the maker of music's most iconic amplifier feel the need to go in this direction. That being said, I really like the Spider Valve so maybe this model won't be so bad for Marshall after all.

Here's an interesting look from Randall. Don't know how it sounds but the large volume knob and VU meter instantly caught my eye. It's amplifier eye-candy.

Speaking of interesting looks, check out this idea for cabinet design. The physics of these cabinets don't suggest that they'll sound very good, but give the company points for thinking out of the box.

Here's another interesting look, with the power tubes visible from the front instead of vented from the rear as usual. Might make for a small light show during a gig.

I don't know if a batch of 5 and 6" speakers just came on the market at a huge discount or what, but all of a sudden there are a lot of companies featuring speaker cabinets with large multiples of small speakers like the one on the left. For those of you not old enough to remember, this reminds me of the "Sweet 16" speaker system article in Popular Electronics magazine in the 60's that advocated putting 16 5" speakers in a cabinet to increase the bass response and sound level beyond what any single speaker can give you. The problem is that with that many speakers that close together you get things like beaming and frequency cancellations due to the complex interactions between the speakers. That being said, this is for a bass amp, and we all know how well an SVT works, so maybe they do have something.

One of the items that I liked was "The Ultimate Attenuator," a box that will knock your amp level down to where it doesn't blow out the room while keeping your sound intact in the process. Attenuator systems have come and gone through the years, but this one looked cool because it had an active buffer system in it to give you more control of the output to the speaker and to a mixing console, if that's where you wanted it to go. Pricy at $500 though.

The final guitar item was a preamp tube substitute called "Tube Grinders" that claim to never wear out or change in tone like tubes do as they age. I suspect they're just an electronic FET-based circuit wrapped up in the shape of a tube but the company wasn't saying. They are expensive at $150 each, which is well worth it if you really like what you get from them.

On the keyboard side of things, Nord showed its C1 organ, which comes with all the classic Hammond tonewheel sounds plus sounds from the cheesy Vox and Farfisa organs popular in the 60's. Nord did a pretty good job with the C1 as it was complete with dual manuals, waterfall keys and an optional pedal set.

Yamaha showed a working acoustic celeste, just the thing for emulating those "Born To Run" B sections and choruses.

For those piano bars with bored piano players, this grand comes with a television monitor built into the music stand so you won't miss Desperate Housewives during the gig.

And finally, for the keyboard player that can't fit a keyboard into a tiny car, here comes the foldable keyboard controller. Just fold it up, put it under your arm and you're good to go.

Tomorrow we'll take a look at the pro audio portion of winter NAMM.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Winter NAMM 2010 Overview - Part 1

Winter NAMM 2010 has come and gone and like the shows before it, has left us with lots of good memories, a few less dollars in our bank accounts, and a number of trends and new products to discuss.

If I had to take the market temperature of the show this year, I'd say it was both hopeful and optimistic. A number of manufacturers and distributors told me that 2009 was outright bad (like we didn't know already), but the end of 09 and beginning of 10 were great for business. This must've been the case for dealers as well since the crowds seemed to be up from last year, and any doom and gloom was noticeably absent. Here's hoping that reality follows that optimism.

That being said, there were fewer exhibitors this year, the booths were noticeably smaller, and many of the smaller manufacturers shared booth space. Roland moved into the arena dome, and the lighting manufacturers that usually reside there moved onto the floor, which was a lot better for all concerned.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Gibson did not exhibit this year, and rumors of their demise ran rampant through the show. They did have a minor presence in the Monster Cable booth (an odd choice), but even that booth was a small 20 x 20.  Meanwhile, Fender increased it's presence by taking over most of the 3rd floor.

Speaking of Fender, they had a bunch of interesting hybrid guitars, meaning different variations of traditional models like the Jaguar and Jazzmaster. They even had a bunch of interesting double necks like the Bass VI and Jazzmaster like on the left. At first I thought this was a Jag and a Jazz together, which would've really been a visually interesting (though not very practical) combination.

While we're on the subject of guitars, Moog showed the new Moog guitar, which had most of the famous Moog effects built-in. I'm not sure who the instrument is aimed at, but I played it for 5 minutes and walked away scratching my head. Is it a synthesizer or guitar? Or both? It probably does some pretty cool things, but I couldn't dial them up.

Instruments with composite bodies were more and more in evidence this year, and they're starting to sound pretty decent. Blackbird (on the left) likes to state that theirs is the only guitar that's able to survive the Antarctic weather. Maybe so, but I don't see them replacing wood instruments any time soon.

Another trend that seems on the rise is body-less stringed instruments. I can't say that every manufacturer had one, but more manufacturers showed them than ever before. I'm not sure why this is supposed to be cool, but I guess you can't get a more modern look.

There were also a couple of neat things on the guitar tuner front. TC Electronic showed "Polytune," a multi-string tuner that tunes all the strings at the same time. The demo looked like it worked pretty well, but who can say until you get it on a gig? You can tune by just strumming the open strings, then go into a more detailed single string mode like most other tuners. For $100 street, it looks like a definite upgrade from those cheap $20 tuners that everyone is using these days.

Speaking of cheap tuners, the Peterson Strobotuner has always been the holy grail of tuners, but at a cost of 3 to 4 times what a normal hi-end tuner costs, it was left to the guitar techs. Now you can have one on your iPhone for only 10 bucks. This is almost too cheap. I would've paid a lot more for it.

Speaking of the iPhone, it's amazing how many musicians and industry pros have one. It's almost an industry standard now, just like the Mac. It's now noteworthy if someone is using something other that a Mac or iPhone.

Here's something I wish I had last month during guitar overdubs - a single or dual string  capo. I'd want to use it not so much for the capo action, but to mute a particular string to make the performance cleaner. Either way you use it, this is a product that's been overlooked for too long.

We'll cover much more of the show in the next post, but first I leave you with an observation. I know that electronic music is huge and that thousands of people turn out to a typical event by a superstar DJ, but according to what I've seen at NAMM, this whole DJ fad has long since peaked. Case in point, a almost no-name guitar player from a near no-name metal band had a line of around a hundred people waiting in line for a meet and greet, while right across the hall Crystal Method (who I really like, by the way) had maybe a dozen people in the Pioneer room. Even Kenny G (on left) drew a larger crowd. Yay for music!

Next post, amplifiers, keyboards and various other instruments.


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