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Thursday, December 29, 2011

7 Music Production Predictions For 2012

It's time for some predictions for the new year. Here's what I see happening in 2012. The good part is that we'll see just how accurate I am on some of them by the end of January after the CES and NAMM shows. For a few others, we'll have to wait awhile. Here we go.

1. Tablets take off for music production. For such a relatively new class of products, tablets like the iPad have quickly become a must-have device. While we've had some great music software available for it in 2011 (Garageband is insanely good for only $5), 2012 brings us the serious I/O and accessories needed to take advantage of it's portability.

2. Plugins hit the wall. When DAWs and plugins were fairly new, pro engineers complained that they didn't sound like or as good as their hardware counterparts. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but it seemed like someone flipped a switch and the pro world not only accepted, but suddenly loved the latest batch of plugins with no reservations. Yes, plugins sound great these days but that's the problem. Where do you go from here? When all the great analog hardware is successfully digitally duplicated by multiple companies (and even surpassed in some cases), it's harder and harder to come up with something new. Add to that the fact that the market is saturated, and you'll see some software companies falling on hard times in 2012.

3. Pro Tools weathers the storm. Computers are really fast these days and Pro Tools can now operate natively and talk to hardware other than Avid's, which is why a chorus of "Why do we need Pro Tools anymore?' began to rise from DAW users everywhere in 2011. I have to admit that my new i7 iMac runs circles around my old HD1 rig for way less money. So while it may seem like this is the time when the Pro Tools hold on the audio industry is finally broken, let's not get too hasty. It's still the standard of the music and post business, and the pros (especially the big facilities) can't afford to make any changes now even if they wanted to (and they don't). If the pros use Pro Tools, than those aspiring to be pros must use it as well. We very well may see a new contender to the throne in 2012, but don't expect any big industry changes.

4. Studios make a comeback. In all the major cities, the number of major studios has dwindled in recent years to just a handful. Even these were just barely hanging on in 2010 and the beginning of 2011. That all changed during the summer, as major studios have been booked solid (and some even ahead a few months) ever since. There are a number of factors as to why this happened (some looser label budgets for one), but a big one is the re-found appreciation of what a real facility brings to the sound of project. There's just nothing like tracking and mixing in a real studio with tuned acoustics, and great mics and signal path. Finally gear owners everywhere are beginning to realize that just owning the gear isn't the key to great sounding music (although it can be if you know how to use it, so keep buying those books, please) and the benefits of recording in a real studio. Look for the trend to continue in 2012 with even some new facilities coming online.

5. SSD's are everywhere. I predicted this last year, but it was a bit premature. In 2012 you'll see the beginning of the end of the spinning mechanical hard drive and the inclusion of solid state memory in just about every newly designed piece of music gear. Add to that the fact that hard drives have actually gone up in price thanks to the recent floods in Thailand while SSDs (solid state drives) have continued to fall, and you'll find that you might have bought your last ever mechanical hard drive.

6. Apple gets into the television business. This isn't directly about music production, but it does apply in a round about way. It's been rumored for a while that Apple will be introducing their own branded television soon, and that seems inevitable at this point. The bigger rumor is the fact that the user interface is every bit as groundbreaking as just about every other Apple hardware or software product. As a result, the digital living room will finally come pass in 2012. Virtually every other product that the company has released has affected music production, from their desktops to the Macbook Pro to the iPod to the iPhone (have you heard some of the music recorded on it?) and iPad. I predict that elements of the user interface of the iTelevision (or whatever it's called) will find it's way into the gear that we use to produce music, making things simpler and easier in the process. And this will happen in 2012.

7. EDM breaks out in a big way. Electronic Dance Music is the biggest trend that the mainstream music world still doesn't know about, but not for long. 2012 will be the year that it finally breaks out, although the process started already in 2011 with the big time success of LMFAO.

Let's see how these predictions turn out. I'll have a review at the end of January to see just where we're at. In the meantime, have a happy, artistic, and musical New Year!

If you liked these predictions, you might want to check out my 12 music business predictions on my Music 3.0 blog as well.
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You should 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 social media and the new music business.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

5 Tips For Performing In Cold Weather

Anyone who's have had to play a gig outside during the winter knows just what kind of hell that can be. Forget about just being cold, what really makes it bad is when your fingers are freezing and they won't move, or every time you open your mouth to sing you get this huge gulp of icy cold air that dries your vocal chords out.

That's why this article for CD Baby's DIY Musician blog is so apropos to the season (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere). Here are their 5 tips for performing in cold weather:

"1) Get to the gig early and let your instruments acclimate to the temperature. Radical shifts in temperature (both up and down) can damage your equipment. So I recommend bringing the instruments in their cases, leaving them on stage IN their cases for a while, and then taking them out.

Once they’re out of the cases, don’t play them yet. Give them more time to settle. That direct contact with the air might make them tense up again. Finally, allow yourself enough warm-up time before the performance begins and the crowds arrive so you can play the instrument, tune it, play it, tune it, play it, and tune it.

Oh, and if your instrument is your voice, go easy. Warm up slowly, first in the car, then outdoors.
Be sure to cool down and load out in the same way.

2) Warm up your amps. The same advice above could be applied to the amplifiers. Let them adjust to the cold. THEN put them on stand-by for a while. Once your guitar is tuned, fire up the amp and let it sing.

3) Wear fingerless gloves (or drummers, where gloves with grip). This may not be possible for every musician, depending on the instrument and style of music you play, but I’ve gotten away with wearing fingerless gloves on a few cold occasions, especially at gigs with limited lead playing, complicated chord comping, or right-hand palm-muting. So if its your typical rock, folk, or pop show,… try fingerless gloves. But try it at practice first!

4) Limit your set time. Don’t get stuck entertaining Jack Frost for 3 hours while the hungover bassist catches hypothermia. I’d say that 30-45 minutes in the cold is more than enough. If the event planner or promoter wants more music, they can hire an additional band and you can work out the backline details together ahead of time.

5) Construct your sets so each player gets some relief. Space out the songs where Sarah’s gotta belt out those high notes. Let a different player carry the lead on the next song. That way, when the spotlight and pressure are on someone else, you can take a minute to tune-up again, warm your hands, whatever else you need to do to keep rockin’."

I hope you don't ever have to do a gig where it's freezing, but in the event that you do, remember to use these tips wisely.
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You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Looking At Last Year's Predictions

Dr. Beverly Crusher From Star Trek TNG
It's time to take a look at some of the predictions I made around this time last year to see just what did or didn't come to pass. These were rather random in that they're not all directly about music or production, but they are related in some way. My comments are in italics on the bottom of each one. Here we go:

1) The end of the mechanical magnetic hard drive. I believe that 2011 will be the tipping point for the decline of the hard drive. In 2010 we saw most computer manufacturers offer solid state drives as options, but what's most telling is the fact that both internal and external hard drive prices are dropping like a rock (you can get a 2G drive for less than 80 bucks right now), which means that the drive manufacturers can see the writing on the wall. Just watch what happens in the new year as people discover the beauty of solid state memory.
I missed on this one, but perhaps the prediction was just a bit premature. It's true that solid state drives (SSD's) made a big penetration into the market in 2011, but I think the big growth will actually happen in 2012, thanks to the recent flooding in Thailand which knocked out all of the plants make traditional mechanical drives. Tried to buy a hard drive lately? They're about twice as much as they were, which now makes SSD's a reasonable alternative. The high storage capacities aren't there yet, but it will be all over once that happens, with SSDs in all of our gear forever.

2) The tablet really takes off and becomes the predominant computing device. And speaking of solid state memory, I think the time has come for the whole idea of a tablet as a computer. You know what convinced me? I was watching an episode of vintage Captain Picard Star Trek Next Generation the other night, and tablets played a big, yet subtle role. Everyone had one, they pass them back and forth to each other, and it's such a natural thing to have and use. So many of the most useful gadgets start out as elements of science fiction only to become reality when the technology catches up. Guess what, in the case of the tablet, it finally has. Watch as we leave our laptops behind.
I hit a home run on this one. Everyone who owns or uses a tablet computer (especially an iPad) doesn't know how they got along without one.

3) The connected TV will gain traction. I know, it's not looking too good right now, with Samsung's Google television looking like a bust and Apple TV selling well but not setting any records. But hear me out on this. The state of the cable set-top box is still seated so far in the 1990's that I'm honestly surprised that cable subscribers aren't rioting with pitchforks and Molotov cocktails outside the company headquarters. I'm on my fourth piece-of-crap box from "Un-Scientific Atlanta" that works so badly that they should be ashamed to even have it on the market. And the cable companies still treat any kind of interactivity as if it was some sort of science fiction. Wait a minute - it was - in 1979!! Believe me, people want their TV's to be connected. Just don't wait on the cable companies to figure it out though (that's a sure recipe for disaster). In 2011, someone (probably Apple) finally will.
Okay, this one didn't happen either, and even took a step backwards in 2011. That doesn't mean that TVs won't eventually be connected. All it will take is the rumored Apple Television (the iTV?) to hit the stores and our living rooms will change forever.

4) 3D will have a big impact on the music business. Wait, I can't believe I'm saying that. Up until yesterday I was firmly convinced that 3D was surround sound all over again; basically a parlor trick that would never make it, at least until you didn't need glasses to view it. Yesterday I had my mind opened up, blown, and to put it bluntly, totally changed (how often does that happen?). The whole trick with 3D is that it has to be done technically well (something that doesn't occur that often, it turns out), and the production and post-production methods have to have a totally different approach. Yes, I've seen the future and I'll report more in depth on it as the new year dawns next week.
Boy, I was way off with this. I still believe that 3D will be a boon for music as soon as people are exposed to it. The rumored Apple Television is supposedly 3D as is the next iPad, and that might have a big bearing when all this happens. Trust me on this one - 3D will change how we enjoy music!

So one prediction came true and the other 3 we'll still have to wait and see about. All in all, it just makes looking forward to our electronic future that much better.

You should 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 social media and the new music business.

Monday, December 26, 2011

12 Major Changes To Recording In The 2000's

I wrote the following a couple of years ago when I first started this blog and had far fewer readers than now, so I thought it might be a good candidate for a repost with the necessary updates.
I got to thinking about the many changes that came about in the recording business during the 2000's recently - some of it good, some of it bad, most of it significant. Here are what I consider to be the 12 major changes to recording in the 2000's, in no particular order.

1) Pro Tools Standardization - As the decade started, Pro Tools was already creeping into the major studios, but every year since it has become more and more entrenched as the standard audio capture format for any professional application. Sure, there are a lot of other great DAWs, but none of them have the traction of Pro Tools. In any professional situation, from music to radio to film and television post, this is the DAW that you're going to have to use as we move into 2012 - until something better comes along (no, I don't have a clue what that might be).

2) The Downfall of Commercial Studios - When I moved to Los Angeles in 1980, there were more than 250 "24 track" commercial studios in town. Many of them were multi-room facilities and they all were teaming with business. As we move into 2012, there are fewer commercial studios than ever before thanks to cuts in recording budgets, the ease of setting up a home studio, and the fact that studio rates have remained about the same since the 80's while overhead has risen dramatically.

One of the sad byproducts of this is the fact that the apprentice system that existed and taught so many great engineers has pretty much fallen by the wayside. With only a few commercial studios left, it's only the lucky few that get to sit behind a great engineer and learn something new every day. That's good for me since more people buy my books, but it's not a great thing for the industry at large.

3) The Rise of Software and Fall of Hardware - Once upon a time, every studio needed a pretty good amount of outboard gear to be able to record and, especially, mix a record. It would be nothing for a studio to spend in excess of $100k for outboard EQ's, compressors, effects devices and reverbs that they absolutely needed to have in order to attract independent engineers and producers and make a competitive record. During the 2000's we saw a shift away from outboard hardware boxes to software plugins that do the same thing, only cheaper and easier. At the beginning of the decade, most pro engineers complained about "the sound" of plugins that emulated their favorite outboard device, and for the most part, they were right. Plugins didn't quite measure up. Now that major computer horsepower is so inexpensive and programmers are better at what they do, the difference in sound quality between the plugin and the real thing is no longer an issue even with the old-schoolers.

One of the big reasons why software plugs have caught on is price. Why buy a rack of Neve 1073's at $2500 a piece when you can buy a Universal Audio UAD card that can give you a hundred of them for half the price of just one? Sure, you don't get the mic preamp and and you can't track with them, but if you don't record more than a couple channels at a time anyway, it's hardly a problem.

Even in live sound there's been a shift as the industry changes to a digital signal path. There'll always be a market for outboard gear, especially for tracking, but the days of large expenditures for hardware are over.

4) The Fall Of Rental Companies - It used to be that renting gear was one of the secret cash-cows of the business. Every town had at least one major rental company (New York, LA and Nashville had 4 or 5) and many engineers and producers made extra dough on their projects by renting their pricier gear back as an extra. Thanks to the rise in software plugins, the need for that expensive hardware has dropped drastically. And even when it is rented, the length of the sessions have decreased to such a degree that what used to be a three or four week rental might now take only three or four days. As a result, a lot of the major rental companies have either gone under or cut back drastically, the minor ones don't exist anymore, and it's rare that an engineer will even think about renting the gear back to a project as he's just thankful for the job.

5) Mixing In The Box (Who Needs A Recording Console?) - As the 2000's came around the corner, you would never even consider doing a project without a recording console, and for sure, you'd never open a studio unless you had a Neve, SSL, API or the like. Today, vintage recording consoles that regularly went for $250k plus and didn't depreciate much can now be had for $50k or less with the seller feeling extremely pleased that he even found a buyer. With so little tracking with live musicians being done these days (see Loop-based Music) and the increased power of the DAW, why buy a recording console at all?

DAW's offer so many features these days that a competent engineer can make a great sounding record in a way that couldn't be done in 2000. The sound is good, the plug-ins are great and plentiful, the automation and recall are better than on any console, you're no longer limited to a certain size control room by the size of a desk, and inexpensive controllers are plentiful. It's no wonder that even the old-schoolers have finally acquiesced to "mixing in the box."

6) Less Money Going Around - As everyone knows, CD sales are way, way down and as a result, so are recording budgets. Where once a $100k budget was considered bottom of the barrel and budgets for even non-superstar acts were beyond $500k, we now live in a world of $40 and 50k budgets or less. No money - no big studio, no rentals, no hardware purchases. It's all tied together. Superstar acts still get a blank check, but there are fewer and fewer of them. The future of the recording budget is here - get used to $40k or less.

7) Sample and Loop-based Music - Once upon a time, all music started with real musicians tracked live. That all changed during the 2000's. Programs like Acid and Ableton Live made it easy to make some great music without ever seeing a real musician. Loop libraries gave you access to just about every kind of sound and mood that you could think of, and samples of every type of instrument became more realistic. Suddenly, you didn't need a studio, you didn't need a tracking room, you didn't need a player - all you needed was a laptop, some software and a set of headphones. Television and film composers no longer needed an orchestra, keyboard players could record great guitar and bass parts without the players, and no one needed a drummer if you had BFD, Steven Slate Drums, or a similar program. It changed the music world, although not so much for the better, I'm afraid.

8) The Rise of Alternative Markets - Some markets thrived since 2000. The church market became a saviour for many audio gear companies as churches installed bigger and better sound systems, recorded their services and even broadcast them on television or the web. The sound system install market flourished as commercial building projects popped up everywhere. While this was truly a bright spot for many companies in recent years, the recession brought these markets to a resounding halt. Market saturation may mean that the worse may be yet to come, unfortunately.

9) The Rise of the Home Studio - It's now possible to have a studio on your laptop that's much more powerful than anything The Beatles ever had to work with for less than a thousand dollars. Home recording is within reach of anyone that wants to do it, and everybody does. This has been both good and bad. It's brought about Music 3.0, where an artist is no longer bound by the marketing, distribution and sales system of the record labels, but the filter that the label provided and the help of the many professionals along the way had it's advantages too. Just because you have your own studio doesn't mean you know how to use it. As a result, we have fewer real professionals than ever before who are making less money than ever before - and more and more people making their own music at home. It hasn't resulted in better music so far.

10) The Influx of Chinese Gear - Audio and music gear is better than ever before on average. It's really difficult to find what would be considered a "bad" piece of gear these days (I remember the old Kent guitars with the bowed necks when I was growing up - those were bad), and it's cheaper than ever as well, all thanks to those hard-working Chinese/Vietnamese/Cambodian near slave-laborers. Just about every gear company does the same thing these days - design the piece here, manufacture it in Asia, and sell it as cheaply as possible against a dozen other manufacturers with the same product and idea. The problem is that while all the gear is good, not much of it is really great. That's why we have more boutique gear manufacturers than ever. I wonder how they all survive?

11) The Failure of the Hi-Res Formats - In the beginning of the 2000's, the great hope for the industry and audio pros alike was the hi-res SACD and DVD-A formats. The trouble was, the public looked at these formats and yawned. It's difficult to hear hi-quality audio when your sound system is worse than what you could find in the typical college dorm room in 1970. Bad presentation, bad marketing, and no consumer interest all equal format death.

12) Change in Consumer Buying Habits - We all know this one. CD sales down, digital sales up, piracy still high, not as much money coming in. It's the reason for most of the items on this list and is covered every day on my Music 3.0 blog.

If this sounds like I'm complaining, you misread my intentions. I'm just noting how the music/recording business is evolving. In fact, I'm excited by the future, something I'll expound on later this week.

You should 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 social media and the new music business.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Making Of Pink Floyd's "Money"

Here's something that I posted about 3 years ago but thought it would be fun again for those new readers that haven't seen it before. It's an excellent video on the making of Pink Floyd's "Money," and it's still pretty cool.  There are lot of interesting things illustrated here:

1) Old fashioned tape loops. Yes, in the days before digital, this is how it was done (I get nostalgic looking at the MCI 4 track).

2) Track layering. You can plainly hear how there's usually a lot more going on in a record than what seems apparent. The numerous guitar tracks are a great example here.

3) The use of of effects. Effects are used to place a track in an artificial acoustic space and you especially can hear how it works very well here when Alan Parsons (the engineer for the session) adds the effects in on the vocals, then cuts them off during the bridge.


You should 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 social media and the new music business.


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