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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chicago "Make Me Smile" Isolated Bass, Vocals and Guitar Solo

It's always so cool to be able to listen inside songs that have been around for a long, long time, and Chicago's "Make Me Smile" (from the band's Chicago II album) is a prime example. In the video below you'll hear the isolated bass, some drum leakage and Terry Kath's lead vocal, as well as a bonus of Kath's excellent guitar solo at the end. Here's what to listen for.

1. Peter Cetera's bass is somewhat out of the pocket, especially on the intro of the song. He's usually a little ahead of the beat throughout the song, although there times when the bass and drums settle in pretty well together.

2. The bass part changes in the second verse and becomes more active, as it does during the guitar solo, something that's easy to overlook when the rest of the tracks are in the mix.

3. The sound of the bass is pretty cool, with lots of leakage from the drums into the amp mic, since this was recorded in the days before widespread direct box use.

4. Terry Kath was as great a vocalist as he was a guitar player. Here he does ad libs right along with his lead vocal, and it sure sounds like it was done all in one complete take.

5. His guitar solo is one of his best (and one of my favorites). Take notice of the tone - not too distorted and using the front pickup of the Gibson SG he used at the time.


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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Potato Chip Bag Microphone

This one is downright scary when you think about it. We've all heard about the CIA being able to listen to conversations from a block away by measuring the minute vibrations on a pane of window glass with a laser. The following research, which is a joint effort between MIT, Microsoft and Adobe, takes this concept a step or two further by capturing sounds from a plant in the room, or my favorite, a bag of chips.

It's called the Visual Microphone, and is built around the passive recovery of sound from video of an object.

Although for best results a high speed camera with a frequency higher than the audio frequency you're trying to capture is needed, the following video also shows how an everyday low speed camera with a "rolling shutter" can work as well.

And be careful about what you say around that empty bag of chips from now on! There's no telling who's listening.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why Your Show Is More Than A Collection Of Songs

Your Stage Show image
Many artists at varying levels of success put little thought into their stage show, and it shows. It's a rare performer that can captivate an audience by his or her performance alone, and most audiences, even on a club level, expect to be entertained on multiple levels these days.

In the following excerpt from my How To Make Your Band Sound Great book, I point out the differences between an amateur show, one that's tight and professional, and a big production show that you'll see from a typical arena act. Which one do you fall into?

"So what is a Show exactly.  It’s much more than just a collection of songs.  While the world is full of performers that have seemingly no stage show, there’s a lot more that goes on than meets the eye.  

Everyone can name a great performer who just stands there and plays and gets rave reviews and while that can be you too, today’s audiences are a lot more sophisticated and require a certain level of professionalism from a performer, even with a minimal show.  Let’s look at some typical shows and spot the differences.

An Amateur Show
In an amateur show you’ll typically find the following traits:
  • The band doesn’t know what song to play next
  • The band tunes up in-between songs
  • The band has mindless banter with audience
  • The band has inside-jokes that only the band or a few people around the band understand
  • The band takes too much time between songs
  • The band keeps the audience waiting while changing guitars, clothes, etc
  • The band doesn’t acknowledge the audience, or worse, disrespects the audience
A Tight, Professional Show
Likewise, in a tight, professional show you’ll typically find the following traits:
  • The band has a set list and knows exactly what they’ll be playing and how much time it will take
  • The band knows exactly what will happen in-between songs
  • The band knows exactly when, where and how the audience will be addressed
  • The band has as little time possible between songs, or has something predetermined that will entertain in those spaces
  • The band plays to the room
A Big Production Show
Not only observes all of the above, but has the entire show planned
  • The band designs the set for maximum audience impact
  • The band works out sound and music cues beforehand
  • The band works out lighting cues beforehand
  • The band works out wardrobe, guitar changes, etc. beforehand"
One tip - the old showbiz adage of “always leave them wanting more” really works.  You’re a lot better off to leave too early than too late, so sometimes just a single encore song (or none at all) is really the best."


Monday, August 25, 2014

There's A New USB Spec In Town

USB Type C on the left
We're all getting weaned off of Firewire for Thunderbolt and USB 2 for USB 3, but now comes yet another data transfer format that promises to up the ante for moving our data around. It's the new USB Type-C.

USB Type-C (sometimes referred to as USB 3.1) has a new cable and connector scheme and it's twice as fast as the current USB 3.0 at 10Gps, which is fast enough to be used for video transmission. The spec is also robust enough that it will even be able to be used for DC power transmission, which could open up all sorts of applications, and maybe help get rid of those ugly wall warts that we all hate.

The other thing that's interesting is that since the connector is brand new and very sleek, it's now possible to easily integrate them into mobile devices like phones and tablets (goodbye Lightning?).

Predictions are that we'll begin seeing the new connectors on laptops and peripherals by the end of the year.

While all this sounds great, the downside is Type C won't mate with existing USB connectors, so we'll need a whole new set of cables. Hopefully they'll be a lot cheaper than Thunderbolt.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New Music Gear Monday: Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2 Synth

When the Minimoog and Arp Odyssey first came on the market as the first mass-manufactured portable synthesizers way back in the 70's, they were pretty limited in the number of voices available. As a result, polyphonic synths couldn't get here fast enough as we all wanted the ability to play chords with our favorite non-traditional sounds.

Today there's a trend back to monophonic synths and the new Pro 2 by Dave Smith Instruments is really one of the kind. It contains 4 oscillators, two classic analog filters, a 32 step sequencer, a load of control voltage inputs, and what the company is calling a 4 voice "paraphonic" mode that lets you play up to 4 notes, albeit without the big multi-oscillator synth sound.

There's also an audio input that allows you plug another instrument like a guitar into it for some killer sounds, or use the filters to process external audio. Add to that 3 digital delays and an analog "bucket brigade" delay, and an output section of the instrument is also entirely analog, and you have one fat sounding synth.

The Pro 2 retails for $1,999. The video below shows Dave Smith explaining just what the unit can do.



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