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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Developing The Groove In Your Mix

Normally every Friday I post a song analysis that's picked from reader requests. This Friday we'll trying something a bit different that's related to song analysis, as well as mixing.

My new book called The Audio Mixing Bootcamp is just being released at the NAMM show by Alfred Music Publishing. You're probably thinking, "Bobby's already written The Mixing Engineer's Handbook, so why is he doing another one on mixing?" Good question. What I realized was that MEH (as well as most other books on mixing) are primarily conceptual. That's fine if you already have some mixing chops and want to get better, but it's not so helpful for someone that's just starting mixing and just can't make things sound right.

So the idea behind The Audio Mixing Bootcamp is that it's a book of mixing exercises. The exercises might take you to a place where things sound terrible, but then bring you back to where things sound better than anything you've ever done. Now you know what works and why, as well as what doesn't. And that's the whole idea of the book. "Try this." "Wow, does that sound bad." "Now, try this." "Wow, does that sound great."

I'll be posting some excerpts and exercises from the book in coming weeks, but let's start off with one that will get you listening, which is perfect for song analysis. Every song is built around the groove, and you have to find that first before your mix can rock. In this excerpt, there are a few exercises to get you listening deep into a song that you know in order to train yourself to identify the groove.

"The groove is the pulse of the song. It’s that undeniable feeling that makes you want to get off your seat and shake your booty. You don’t have to know what it is as much as recognize it when it’s there, or when it’s not. Despite what you might think, it’s not only dance music that has a groove. Every kind of music, regardless if it’s R&B, jazz, rock, country, or some alien space music, has a groove, but the better the music is performed, the “deeper” the groove is.

Contrary to popular belief, a groove doesn’t have to have perfect time because a groove is created by tension against even time. As a result, the playing doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be even in its execution. In fact, music loses its groove if it’s too perfect, which is why a song can sound lifeless after it’s been quantized in a workstation. It’s lost it’s groove.

Another misconception is that the groove always comes from the drums and bass, since it could come from other instruments as well. Some songs, like The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” has the rhythm guitar establish the groove, while most of the Motown hits of the 60s relied on James Jamerson’s bass.

Regardless of what instrument is providing the groove of the song, if you want a great mix, you’ve got to find it and develop it first before you do anything else.

Exercise Pod - Identifying The Groove
E3.3: In order to hear a groove at it’s best, let’s go to the masters.
A) Play any song by James Brown, Prince, Sly and the Family Stone or George Clinton. Can you feel the pulse of the song, the groove?
B) Can you identify the instruments that are providing the groove?

E3.4: Pick one of your favorite songs and have a listen.
A) Can you feel the pulse of the song? What instrument(s) are providing the groove?
B) Play a song at random. Can you feel the pulse of the song? What instrument(s) are providing the groove?
C) Play a song from a genre that you seldom listen to. Can you feel the pulse of the song? What instrument(s) are providing the groove?

E3.5: Now listen to all of those songs again. What makes the groove stand out? Is it the balance of the instruments? Is it because the instruments providing the groove are louder? Is it the tone of the instruments? Are they punchier sounding than the others?"

I don't have any excerpts from this book up on my website yet (soon I hope), but you can read excerpts from my other books at
Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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, January 18, 2012

A 48 Track DAW For The iPad recently posted an article on a full-blown 48 track DAW for the iPad that looks pretty awesome. The app comes from a new company called Auria, and isn't available quite yet, but it's features are very complete, as you can see from the following:
  • "48 mono/stereo, 24-bit/44.1kHz tracks, with recording for up to 24 tracks (you’ll obviously need a USB audio interface that can do that.)
  • 64-bit, double precision mix architecture (something that just came out in the latest version of Pro Tools)
  • Full delay compensation
  • “Vintage-inspired” channel strips, with a desktop-like UI and VU/RMS switching
  • Plug-in support. Out of the gate, PSPaudioware, Overloud, Fab Filter and Drumagog all work. You need to do custom wrapping of plug-ins for this host; standard plug-ins won’t work. The format is based on VST, but it’s not VST in the traditional sense in that they have to be custom-wrapped for sale through the app. 
  • Dropbox, SoundCloud, AAF, MP3 export
  • Advanced channel strips, EQ, expansion/compression and dynamic controls ready to go
  • Convolution reverb. (This one blows my mind.)
  • AAF import/export, making one definite application using this as a satellite for your desktop DAW"
Check out the video.

I expect this Winter NAMM show to be a big one for iPad apps, and as always, I'll report on everything I see. In the meantime, the Auria app is a good start.

You can read the entire article from here.

Ask Ken Scott A Question

Ken Scott has had a fabulous career, from being one of the 5 main Beatle engineers, engineering a number of Elton John and Duran Duran albums, to producing 4 David Bowie albums (including the illustrious Ziggy Stardust) and records for Jeff Beck, Devo, Missing Persons, The Tubes, Kansas, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Supertramp, and various solo Beatle singles, among many others.

Now is your chance to ask Ken a question on recording, production, or any of the artists he's worked with. He'll give you his answer during our session at NAMM on Thursday at 12:45. We'll post them here and on the Alfred Music Publishing website.

You can ask the question here, or just add a comment at the bottom of this post.

By the way, Ken will give a presentation at the Alfred booth (#4822) at noon, both Ken and I will be on at 12:45 (where I'll ask him your questions), and I'll be on at 1:15PM.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Silent Events Spread

An advertisement for Silence Events. 
Okay, here's something really new that I'm totally down with - silent events. The concept is that everyone at the event listens on headphones instead of a traditional sound system, and it seems to be the hot thing this year around Paris discos.

I know, I know, you're not a jetsetter or part of the Eurotrash scene. No problem, the trend is beginning to spread all over Europe, which means it's only a matter of time until it reaches the States.

Here's why so many like this idea:

1) The fidelity is so much better when you listen on headphones.

2) The privacy is way better too, both to those listening, and those not.

3) You don't have to worry about annoying your neighbors, which apparently is a big deal in Paris these days. In fact, there's a "no noise" curfew at 10PM for live events, and a silent outdoor disco keeps the riot squad away.

If these things ever catch on in a big way, a byproduct could be an increased demand for better audio quality, which is something that so many in the pro audio community have been hoping would happen for years. Don't hold your breath though. I'll believe it's for real when I get my first invite in LA and they ask me to bring my headphones. Then again, no one thought that the house concert scene would ever take off either. For more on silent events, check out this article.
Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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, January 16, 2012

2 Tips For Recording Your Band

The people that read this blog run about 50/50 seasoned pros to beginners in the business, and this post is aimed directly at those that don't have a lot of recording experience. It's an excerpt from How To Make Your Band Sound Great that covers the mindset of recording, not the technical part.

There are so many great artists, bands, musicians, engineers, and producers out there, and so much written about how they work that's pretty accessible to anyone who wants to find it. The problem is that it's easy to get the impression that recording some great music is an easy process from reading some of these. There are certainly times when the planets align and you can catch lightning in a bottle, but just like anything else done well, it usually takes a lot of work. This excerpt aims to make someone who doesn't have that much recording experience feel a little better about themselves and their journey.

"Whether you're recording yourselves with your own gear or are using a studio, the goal is the same - make the songs and the recordings sound as big, as polished, and as accessible to your audience (however large or small) as you can. With that being said, here are some things to be aware of:

1. You Hardly Ever Sound Great The First Time
Contrary to what you might have heard about hit records done on the first take, most recordings of any type require a lot of work to be any good. It takes time to get both the right sounds and performances, and unfortunately, these things usually can’t be rushed.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to learn when recording is not to expect gold-record-quality playing right off the bat. One of the worst ideas that you can get is that you have to be perfect every time you play. It just doesn’t happen that way so don’t get discouraged. Even the best studio players make some flubs or have slightly erratic time when they’re playing. They just go back and fix the problems afterwards and you can too. Yes, it does happen occasionally when someone gets extremely lucky and plays something terrific on the first take, but it’s a rare exception even for studio savvy and expert musicians. 

Recording is hard work. It’s not uncommon for people to slave over a part for days or even weeks until it feels right in the track. So if pros won’t settle for something that’s not the best it can be, why should you?

I know you’re probably thinking about all those hit records in the 50’s that were done in just a few takes, how the first Beatles record was done in one twelve hour session, and how in the glory days of Motown in Detroit they used to crank out three number one hits in three hours. All true. But don’t forget that all those famous 50’s artists honed their act from months and years of playing on the road - the Beatles played six sets a night for a year in Hamburg before they hit the studio, and the Motown studio musicians were the best of the best jazz musicians in Detroit with some hall-of-fame songwriters and arrangers.  But besides all that, the bar is set so much higher for recording these days. Sad but true that many of those incredible tracks just wouldn’t make it through the recording process if they were done today because of defects in the playing.

The fact of the matter is that recording today on any level is a demanding process, so don’t expect great results right away.  Just like a band learning a new song together, everything takes some time before it actually gels, so just be prepared to work until you get it.

As an example, I really believe that a typical overdub takes at least two days to record. The first day you work the part out until it’s a perfect fit for the song. The second day you actually perform it well, since now you know how to play it and can just concentrate on performance. The whole trick to to follow your gut. If you think deep down inside that you can do it better, then you probably can.

It’s A Lot Of Work
In the majority of cases, making a record is hard work. It takes a lot of time to work parts out, make them sound great, and play and/or sing them well. Sure there’s been a handful of records that have been done on the first take or in a couple of hours (mostly in the 50’s and early 60’s), but that’s a rare occurrence that involves as much luck as winning the lottery.

During the recording of one of my early band’s demo tapes, we became increasingly frustrated because it seemed to take forever (a whole 4 hours!) to record  six songs from our set. “We must really suck,” is what we told ourselves from that point until the band broke up, but only later when I began to regularly work in studios did I learn the real truth.  Recording is hard work and takes a lot of time to make something that will sound good.

Now these were songs that we’d been playing at gigs every weekend for about a year so we knew them backwards and forwards. Or so we thought! First of all, you never really know exactly what you’re playing and exactly what you sound like until you record yourself. Almost always you’ll find that something that you thought was gangbusters is in fact just a buster. You might be playing a line differently from the other guitar player. Maybe your rhythm pattern is different from what the drummer is playing. Maybe you just can’t hit that high like you thought you could.

The secret here is to be brutally honest with yourself about your playing and singing, just like in the previous chapters.  If it doesn’t sound great, either rehearse it until it does or don’t play it at all!"

You can read more book excerpts on my website.
Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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, January 15, 2012

Bob Ludwig's 3 Mixing Tips

I saw this article in the Huffington Post (of all places) and I just had to excerpt some of it. Here are 3 mixing tips from mastering legend Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering. Of course, these a mixing tips from a mastering engineer's point of view, but excellent tips nonetheless. Go here to read the entire interview.

"Is there a top 3 "don'ts" that you have to fix in mastering?
Bob Ludwig:
1. The most common big criticism I have is not paying enough attention to the vocal. The vocal is everything to the success of a song. Make it loud enough to be able to hear the lyrics. The problem is, if the vocal level is too high, all the energy of the track disappears, if it is too low, you can't understand what is being said. If you want to be able to hear every word and you are mixing it, be sure to have a friend who does NOT know the words come in and tell you what is being sung. Once you know the lyrics, you can mix them very low and still understand them, but everyone else might miss some important words. It is hard, but crucial to get the right level.

Always cover yourself by doing one or two extra mixes with the vocal raised +0.5dB and another +1dB. Some languages need extra vocal level as more nuances of the language can easily get lost. Louder vocals are usually found on country music mixes, French and Japanese mixes.

2. Vocal sibilance not contained is a problem. As in item "1", some producers will make the vocal as bright as musically possible in order to have it be intelligible yet tucked into the track. Sometimes the vocal is simply too sibilant. These days where most big projects are being cut for vinyl it is even more important to control sibilance as it creates high amplitude, high frequency grooves that are beyond the ability of all but the best cartridges to reproduce and one gets a "spitting" sound on the sibilance. Controlling sibilance in the mix is by far the best place to do it as the de-esser will only affect the voice while de-essing during mastering necessitates compromising the brightness of the entire track.

3. A mix with a bright vocal and a dull drum sound is really a problem. The all important snare takes up a lot of spectrum and trying to brighten it with eq will make the bright vocal even brighter and quickly become unacceptable. It is a real trap that can only be helped by mastering from the TV track with a separate vocal a cappella track, something that most often is not an option."

If you're going to send you mix off to a mastering engineer, heed these points and you'll get much better results.
Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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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