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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Will The Real Dylan Strat Please Stand Up

Dylan at 1965 Newport Folk Festival
Most stories involving a guitar revolve around one that was stolen and sometimes returned (like Peter Frampton's famous Les Paul). This one's different because of the claim that a famous guitar was not stolen or lost.

It all revolves around the Strat that Bob Dylan used at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, which was significant because it was the first show that he did electric, which almost caused a riot with the purist acoustic fans there.

The PBS television show History Detectives claims to have Dylan's Strat from that show, found by a New Jersey women in her woman's attic. The women's father was a pilot for Dylan's private plane at the time and claimed that the guitar was accidentally left behind. He tried to get in touch with Dylan several times afterwards but was never able, then passed away in 1977. Not only did the case (marked "Property of Ashes & Sand Inc," Dylan's tour company at the time) have the sunburst Strat, but also contained several pages of lyrics. The show brought in several rock and guitar historians who feel that they've authenticated the guitar and lyrics beyond a shadow of a doubt.

End of story, right? Not really. Dylan's attorney issued a statement stating that the original guitar played at the festival was still in his possession, and that he didn't use a private plane for show, driving down from his home in Woodstock, NY instead.

So who's right here? Having just co-written a book that relied on people's memories of events from long ago (Ken Scott's Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust), I can say that the memory can be a fuzzy thing. Dylan could easily be thinking of a different show. I guess we'll have to watch the show to see the evidence presented.

One thing's for sure, the guitar is valued at $1 million +, but the women isn't selling.


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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, July 11, 2012

Recording A Great Guitar Sound

Every guitar player, engineer and producer wants to record the ultimate guitar sound, but it’s not always easy to capture the great sound that you hear in the room. In this excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (written with my good friend, television composer and great guitarist Rich Tozzoli), we’ll look different electric guitar miking techniques.

While many believe there’s only one accepted way to mic an amplifier, you’ll be surprised to learn that there are as many ways as there are guitar and amp sounds. Let’s look at some.

Using A Single Mic
It’s amazing what you can do with a single mic if you experiment a bit. Here are a number of techniques that have been used on popular recordings since the 50’s. They all work, but remember that what works for one recording may not work for another. That’s why it’s good to always have an alternative in your pocket when you need one.

SM57 On Amplifier Speaker image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
The Classic Setup - An SM57 On The Best Speaker

The Classic Setup
Place a Shure SM57 about one inch away from the best sounding speaker in the cabinet. Place the mic about three quarters of the way between the edge of the speaker and the voice coil (away from the voice coil). If you need more high end, move the mic towards the voice coil (the center of the speaker). If the sound needs more body, move it towards the outside edge of the speaker. Make sure that the mic does not touch the speaker cone when the loudest passages are played.

Distance Miking Where Speakers Converge image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Old School Setup: Distance Miking Where Speakers Converge
The Old School Setup
The way amplifier miking was consistently done in the 60’s and 70’s was to place the mic from one to two feet away from the center of the speaker or speakers. This allows the sound from the speakers and the cabinet to develop, but also captures some of the room, which can be a nice bonus. The ideal distance on a cabinet with two speakers is where the output of both speakers combine. Move the mic to the side to capture more of the sound of one of the speakers voice coils if more high end is required.

Single Mic On Marshall Cabinet image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Miking A Marshall Cabinet With One Mic

Miking A Marshall 4x12
If you’re using a Marshall 4x12 cabinet, position a single mic 12 to 24 inches from the cabinet, dead center to all 4 speakers aiming for the logo plate. You can use this for other closed back cabinets as well, except their logo’s might not be in the same position. On the typical 4x12 speaker cabinet (like the standard Marshall 1960 model), the four speakers usually become additive at a distance of 15 to 24 inches from the cabinet center (depending upon the speakers).

Using Two Mics
As much of a variety as you can get with one mic, you’ll get a lot more with two. Over the years, many engineers discovered that they could more closely capture the sound that they were hearing in the room by adding a second microphone. Here are some examples.

SM57 and MD 421 On Guitar Amp image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
SM57 and MD 421 On Guitar Amp

The Classic Two Mic Setup
Place the SM57 near or against the grill cloth as in the classic method #1 above. Now add a Sennheiser MD 421 at the same position to the right of the 57, but aimed at a 45 degree angle pointing towards the voice coil. Many sounds can be achieved from this setup by summing the mics at different levels and by flipping the phase on one. Of course, you can use any mics you choose, but the classic setup uses the 57 and 421.

Miking The Rear Of An Open Back Cabinet image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Miking The Rear Of An Open Back Cabinet

Two Mic Variation #1
With an open-back amplifier (like a typical Fender), place a mic about a foot away from the rear of the amp, off center from one of the speakers, while using any of the single mic setups for the front of the cabinet. Usually you’ll have to flip the phase on the rear mic, but try both positions and use the one that has the most low-end.

Additional Distant Mic Added To Close Mic image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Additional Distance Mic Added To Close Mic
Two Mic Variation #2
While using the mic setting from the single mic Classic #1 with the mic close to the grill of the cabinet, add an additional mic at the spot where the sound of the speakers converge 18 to 24 inches away. This distance might be increased to as much as 6 feet depending upon the size and sound of the room, which will then increase the captured ambience.

Other guitar amp miking setups can be far more sophisticated using a lot more mics, but one of these methods can get you where you need to go most of the time.

Don't forget that everything starts with the player, instrument and amplifier first. If the sound is crappy at the amp, there's nothing you can do to make it sound better via the miking. Get a great sound first, then pick your choice of miking.

To read additional excerpts from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook as well as my other books, go to


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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Headphones Are Made

Every wonder how headphones are made? Here's a segment from the television show How It's Made that shows the making of some AKG K702 phones. As you'll see, there's quite a bit done manually. Fascinating!


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, July 9, 2012

When A 20 Year Old Hears Vinyl For The First Time

Vinyl Record image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Here's part of an amazing post from the British blog Q The Music, where a 20 year-old Caroline Bursell is exposed to vinyl and high quality audio for the first time. At that point, her entire perception of music changes. 
"Hitting record shop Sister Ray in London's Soho, my first experience of LPs is to dive nose-first into art gallery of album covers, or records racks if you prefer, around the store. From this visual feast, The CribsIn The Belly Of The Brazen Bull and Caribou's Swim are selected from the "New Releases", while to really put vinyl to the test, a £150 copy of Led Zeppelin's 1969 albumII is also on the playlist. 
Now all I need is my first record player, and Sister Ray owner Phil Barton not only obliges, but he seems distressed when I explain my predicament to him. "Seriously, come downstairs," he orders, leading me through a maze of stacked vinyl to the shop's best record player. TheZeppelin record is retrieved from its sleeve, cued-up and I finally get my first taste of needle-meets-vinyl crackle, it's endearingly enticing isn't it? 
However the static is soon forgotten as Whole Lotta Love rumbles out of the speakers and fills the room. Clear and all encompassing, it's as if the audio spectrum has opened up to me and now I'm swimming in the sound, rather than just watching the waves from the beach. Not that I'm trying to sound like I found God or anything, but this has to be the musical version of that revelation. "In MP3s it's all wedged up into one space, everything is compromised," explains my sonic Sherpa, Phil. "Whereas on a record like this on a decent system, you can isolate everything. Just listen to the voice, and now to the drums. Normally, you miss things, like bass players!" The music is like a big, warm melodic bear hug. 
Then it's my turn as I shakily lift the needle onto Side A of Caribou's Swim to play my very first record. "As a physical piece of product, it's so much more rewarding than the click of a mouse or the flick of a finger on a screen," suggests Phil as I finally get the record going without scratching it. "You're supposed to turn it over when you get to the end, you engage with it. They're beautiful things as well. Artists in the studio aren't listening to their music on MP3 players stuffed into their ears. This wonderful work that they've created gets mashed down to the size of nothing - a sandwich as opposed to a great big feast." I can almost taste the gravy as the smooth sounds pour out of the speakers and Daniel Snaith's rhythms take on a new fluidity before my ears. 
Leaving the shop, I decided to put the experience to a true taste test and retrieve my standardApple earphones, Caribou is duly selected but by comparison it now sounds like a grainy audio mess, while the delicate flowers on the album's artwork are reduced to a pathetic muddle of pixels. 
It's amazing to me how I've accepted this version before, and all of a sudden I desperately want (need) to invest in vinyl. It's as though despite having listened to one of my favourite albums countless times, I now feel like I haven't really heard it yet."
What happens here is that Caroline's reference point of what sounds good changes. Before listening to the vinyl record and a good sound system, she had nothing to compare the earbud sound that she was used to hearing to.

This is the same for any musician, recording engineer or mixer. Until you've worked on something, or listened to, something really good (preferably great), you don't have a proper reference point so it's difficult to tell if what you're doing is any good. You can easily fool yourself into thinking that what you're working on is a lot better than it really is.

Among all the things we musicians and engineers have to learn, I believe that this single point is the most important. Working with the best musicians, engineers, producers and gear for at least one project will provide the reference point that you need to up your game from that time on.


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, July 8, 2012

Here's What's Wrong With Your Music

Big Ear image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Readers often send me their music to comment on, and while I'd love to get to everything, sometimes that's just not possible. That said, there are a number of traits that I notice among these songs that I thought was worth a mention, since they encapsulate many of the problems that I hear.

Before you send me a link to something to listen to, make sure that your song doesn't have any of these common problems first and save us both some time.

1. No groove: Every song has to have a pulse and it has to be made obvious so the listener can feel it. Every kind and genre of music has it. If it's not there, nothing else counts. Sometimes I hear songs where the groove just isn't there because of poor playing, or it's not made obvious in the mix.

2. Bad drum tracks: I don't mean the sound, but the actual playing. A number of times this year so far people have sent me their "masters" or CDs that have such horrible playing that the only person that's ever going to like it is their mothers.

What do I mean by bad playing? Rushed or slow drum fills, uneven tempo that's way too noticeable, floppy uneven kick and/or snare hits won't cut it.

The problem is that most musicians who've never worked on a real record project before are just not critical enough and let too much go that should have been re-recorded, fixed or edited. Your basic track is the most important thing you'll record next to the vocal. Make it as perfect as you can before you move on.

3. Tracks out of the pocket: This means that a part doesn't groove against the rest of the track. The number of songs I get with vocals that rush, or the bass being out of the pocket against the drums, or another instrument that way too early or too late is really a shame. Usually the songs I get have their owners more worried about the sound than the playing, but great playing beats great sound any day.

4. Out of tune: Tuners are cheap. Use one. There's no excuse in this day and age.

5. Bad recording: The real key to a great sound is a great player first, then a great instrument, although a great sounding instrument can make a mediocre player sound a lot better. Get those two first and everything else will take care of itself.

6. Bad mixing: Mixing is so much more than balancing instruments and adding effects. It's finding the groove and building around it, then finding the most interesting element and emphasizing it.

Here's the bottom line. There's a reason why pros exist. Spend the extra money to work with one, at least for one project. You'll be surprised how much you'll learn.

Oh and by the way. If you're going to ask that I critique your song, send me a link that I can stream (even YouTube is OK). DO NOT send me a file. There's a legal issue involved and it fills up my hard drive and takes time to download. I can't promise that I'll listen, but I will try.

Also understand that sometimes there's just not much to say about a mix. You made some decisions that reflected your creative taste. They're not right or wrong, but they're probably different from the way others might've made them. They're not right or wrong either. Some questions just don't have an answer.


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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