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Thursday, April 15, 2010

6 Questions With Engineer Benny Faccone

10 time Grammy winner Benny Faccone may be the king of the Latin engineers, since he's worked with every major Latin artist from Santana to Ricky Martin to Luis Miguel to Mexican supergroup Mana. We go back a long way together, originally connecting at Berklee College in Boston a lot more years ago than either of us want to admit.

What makes Benny a star in the Latin world is he brings American rock sensibilities to the music, providing a sound as good as any record on the charts anywhere. Benny recently opened his new studio called "The Cavern" named after his love for The Beatles as he ventures more into production. You can find out a lot more at his website. I'm pleased that he consented to this week's "6 Questions."

1) How did you break into the business?
This question is kind of difficult to explain because the business is so dIfferent than when I tried to break in. In a way, it was easier because there was a place to go and learn the trade, meaning at the professional studios like A&M (where I got my start), Capitol, Oceanway, and many more.

I started out at Berklee College in Boston, and when I graduated I know I wanted to be where the actIon was in LA. I came to here knocking on doors, but the doors here at the time were very obvious since the studio system was still around. I made the rounds, and with a connection from a Berklee graduate, I got an interview at A&M studio's where I ended up working for 6 years, learning from a lot of incredible engineers about the art of great recording and mixing. At that studio, I was able to build my client list up to where I could go freelance and work in the same studios where I started. Today I get Berklee graduates coming to me for recommendations, and the only place I can send them to are home studios where they are basically personal assistants or pro tools operators to a producer.

2) What makes you unique?
I think what make me different from other mixers is how I like to hear music. Everyone has their own "sound" and you can hear influences from certain mixers, but after a while I developed my own style in how I hear instruments blend together.

I work a lot in Latin music, but I approach it like I would American music. I try and blend vocals and music as a piece. These days Latin music is all about vocals, and basically the music is gone. They don't care about what the music sounds like as long as the snare and vocals are loud. Everything else doesn't seem to matter.

3) Who was your biggest influence?
My biggest influences were and are still are Bruce Swedien, Al Schmidt, and all those great engineers who took pride in making a good sounding record that has emotion. I learned a lot from Don Hahn, who was my mentor. He was incredible at blending orchestras in minutes. Bruce Swedien was also a big influence. I had the privilege to work wIth Bruce right after he did the "Thriller" album with Michael Jackson. His thing was about a track having a groove and punch.

4) What's the best thing about your job?
I guess the best thing about my job today is still having the opportunIty to go to great studio to record and mix. Although I have my own studio to record and mix in, it's still great to remember how good things could sound when you're working with great gear.

5) When and where were you the happiest?
I think that is a day to day thing in this business. When a song or record is finished it's like giving birth to a child. Also on a day when a session goes well it could be a very happy feeling.

6) What's the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best piece of advice I was given was, "Whatever you do, try and make it the best you can and something you can be proud of."

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.

Follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

NAB 2010 - A Yawner Of A Show

Most trade shows, even the ones held during the most dire economic circumstances like we've recently lived through, usually have something interesting or unique to offer, even if it's only the vibe. Not so for this year's NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), which was about as limp a show as I can remember.

Why do I say it was limp? Let me count the ways.

1) Traffic was down. Granted, I was there on a Tuesday (the 2nd day), but the attendance seemed significantly off from previous years.  Sure there were people in the aisles, but they weren't filled like always. But a sure signed was that a lot of the overpriced food vendors weren't even open, and the ones that were closed by 5PM. The economy has finally caught up with the broadcast industry.

2) Exhibitors were down too. This used to be a pretty big audio show, with an entire hall dedicated mostly to it. This show, the pro audio exhibitors were significantly less although the ones that cater specifically to radio or television where there as always. In fact, audio and radio were relegated to a small portion of hall C, instead of the huge North hall as before.

3) The vide wasn't too exciting. It was just dull. No excitement anywhere. Nobody talking about gear, deals, even parties. I heard a lot about where people were going to eat that night, but that's about it.

4) No new product big announcements. There was 3D, more 3D, and even more after that. That and the fact that incandescent lights are pretty much going away in favor of LED's, which just follows the trend from last year. And let's face it, when the biggest announcement is Avid buying Euphonix, you know the show is pretty lame. And why did Avid buy Euphonix anyway? Very curious and a topic for a future post.

So what did I see? Not much but here goes:

A) 3D. If I hear or see one more thing about 3D I'm going to puke. Some of it looked cool, but much of it had so much parallax in it that it could, in fact, make you throw up. Still a parlor trick, and it will continue to be so until you can view it without the stupid glasses. And by the way, if it's supposed to make the picture look more real, it's failing miserably.

On the left we so an unbelievable complex 3D camera setup.

B) What happened to Sony? This is a company that has really lost its way. We've known this for a long time in both the record and consumer electronics businesses, but now it's even true for broadcast television equipment, a market they once owned. Everything just seems a step behind. Panasonic and Canon have hipper cameras at all price ranges, and Sony's 3D stuff really seemed like a me-too product line (lamer than most). I think one thing kind of tells the whole story - every camera manufacturer used LED lighting in their demo scenes. Sony still used old-fashioned, hot, tungsten lighting. Sometimes, it's the little things that tell the story.

C) What exactly is Avid? It's a bathroom cleanser; it's a hair conditioner; it's a chewing gum; no, it's a shoe polish. They make editing gear, they make speakers, they make DJ equipment, they make recording software, they make keyboards, they make recording and sound reinforcement consoles, they make....., they make........., they make...... Since all of the companies that they absorbed are now called Avid instead of their original brand names, Avid just stands for confusion.

On the left, the screen that started the beginning of a confusing Avid demo.

D) The Vocal Booth. This is the coolest thing I saw. I don't know how I've overlooked these guys all these years. This is the perfect add-on to just about any home studio. Want a well-isolated, acoustically treated vocal or overdub room? These guys have it. For about $10k you have have something that really works, complete with air conditioning (which is the hard part). Check them out at

E) Hard Drive Boxes. Hudzee had a great idea for this DAW world with plastic boxes designed especially for hard drives. Remember tape boxes? It's the same thing, just for drives. Makes it easy for storage and identifying what you have.

Check them out at

There you have it. At least there were a couple of things that weren't 3D.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.

Follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Synthesizer Of Yesterday And Today

Technology is a wonderful thing, and the best thing about it is it keeps marching on, getting better and better with each passing year. In 2010 we take either hardware or virtual synthesizers for granted because it's pretty much impossible to use a bad one. Even the most inexpensive virtual instrument has a long list of extremely usable presets that means that your most difficult job is finding the perfect one to choose for a particular song.

But it wasn't always that way. When synths first came along in the late 70's, every sound had to be programmed, requiring a skill set by the average keyboard player that might stagger the players of today. All the parameters that are instantly accessed today by a touch of a button had to be individually programmed, which required both time and skill (this is where the term "programmer" first came into being in terms of keyboards, since major acts needed one to program the synth between songs).

As an example of how far we've come, here's a video from 1980 where Dr. Bob Moog (inventor of the synthesizer and founder of Moog Electronics) gives a demo to the BBC.

Follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.

Monday, April 12, 2010

3 Considerations Before Taking A Gig For The Exposure

The longer you're in the music business, the more times you're approached to do a gig for "the exposure." This usually means that either you won't get paid at all or you'll be paid a discounted rate for the privilege of doing a gig.

I've found that whenever "exposure" is brought up by the party offering the gig, that usually means that they're just trying to get something for nothing, so the exposure doesn't amount to much. On the other hand, if the concept of exposure isn't brought up or given a soft-sell, it occasionally can turn into just the thing you need to help your career advance.

So just what is this "exposure" thing and what can it do for you? Exposure is building awareness of either your personal brand or that of your band. This extended awareness will hopefully result in additional gigs or additional sales for your products. So how do you determine whether you'll gain enough exposure to make the gig worthwhile? Here's the formula I've come up with after years of getting burned:

1) Don't believe what anybody tells you. If you're told that agents, managers, record labels or a possible new audience might see you, take it with a grain of salt. Do some research and find out for yourself before you make a commitment. The gig is going to cost you time and probably money, so try to make sure up front that you'll be getting what's actually promised.

2) Try to match any potential exposure to your needs. Assuming that you've verified that you'll actually be playing in front of a crowd, try to find out:
  • Is this a crowd that wants to be entertained in the first place? No use playing to a thousand people who just want some background music instead of the real thing. It's like playing a wedding because a manager that you want to meet will be there. It's the bride's day and she'll control what you play and how you'll play. You'll never be at your best no matter what you do so it's a no-win situation. Avoid at all costs.
  • Is this a compatible audience? Don't take the gig to try to open up a new market segment. It hardly ever happens. If you're a great ska band but asked to open up for a hard rock band, chances are the crowd won't like you no matter how great a show you put on. It's an incompatible audience so don't waste your time.
3) Never play for a convention or conference crowd. You may have 5,000 people in the audience, but there won't be enough of them to like your type of music to make a difference. I once saw The Cult absolutely bomb playing to a NAMM crowd. Thousands of musos, but they were there for the party, not the band.

Don't let that exposure gig go the wrong way. Think really hard about it and do your homework before you commit.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.

Follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Finally, A New Loudspeaker Technology

Audio speaker technology hasn't changed much for almost a hundred years. There's been some novel ideas, like modulated flame and modulated air (like the laser microphone talked about here a while back), but none have ever come to fruition as a commercial product with any widespread appeal.

Now comes a product with a real chance from a company call Emo Labs. Their Edge Motion technology still uses a vibrating membrane like all other speakers, but it's modulated from the side instead of the rear. Their first product uses a clear membrane set over the front of a television or video monitor and provides a stereo playback system with a large area (critical for low end response) without interfering with the viewing.

The videos are pretty interesting and the quality appears to be good, especially the high end. That being said, I've not heard it so it's impossible to gauge anything other than the response of the people in the video.

While it doesn't appear to have professional application yet, the Edge Motion technology is interesting and it's nice to see something new in an area that really needs a leap forward. Hopefully, Emo Labs will have a booth at NAB this week where I can get a demonstration.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.

Follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.


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