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Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 Year End Review On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Bobby Owsinski's Inner Circle Podcast graphic
On the latest Inner Circle Podcast, I look back at the biggest stories in both the music industry and the world of recording and audio in the last year.

So much happened in 2014 that it almost seems like two different years, with many of the biggest stories happening in the first half. It just goes to show how much things can change during the course of 12 months.

I'll take a look at the 10 biggest stories that happened in the music business, as well as the big stories in the world of audio, then I'll tell you my Top 5 audio products for the year. It's all there in this year-end special.

Remember that you can find the podcast either on iTunes or at, and now also on Stitcher.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Van Halen "Running With The Devil" Isolated Guitar

The first 3 Van Halen albums were spectacular in many ways. Of course, Eddie's playing was a revelation, but overlooked was the sound of those records. The band managed to stay fairly bare bones in its recording style with few overdubs, yet still sound huge. Here's a look inside one of the band's early hits with the isolated guitar track from "Running With The Devil" from the very first self-titled Van Halen album.

The song doesn't begin until 0:30. Listen for the following:

1. The trademark sound on the early Van Halen albums was the reverb on the guitar. Listen to how the somewhat dry guitar is on the left while the delayed reverb is on the right. It's also a very long reverb.

2. Eddie is a very sensitive player and this song shows him at his best. Listen to how intense he plays the choruses, but then backs off during the verses. I bet if he did this song again today there would be three guitar parts instead on just the 1: the chorus guitar, a verse guitar and another playing the fills. I like this one way better, as the entire part is a performance.

3. There's only a single overdub and that's during the solo, where a new guitar enters and switches sides. It's a bit edgier and has less reverb.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Top 30 Christmas Songs Are All Old

This is the last day for Christmas songs until next year, but here's something worthing thinking about.

With all the great songwriters that are currently in the business, it's a wonder that there hasn't been any new Christmas songs of note in decades. This Washington Post chart shows that the majority of our most popular Christmas songs were penned in the 1940s and 50s, with the most recent Christmas staple coming in the 90s.

The thought is that new Xmas songs haven't been adopted because the songs that are still popular are the ones that baby boomers became familiar with in their youth, but if we keep playing the same songs over and over each year, that becomes a perpetual motion machine with each generation growing up to the same songs.

That said, enjoy the songs for one more day, have a very merry Christmas, and thank you for your continued support of this blog!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

EMI's Famous Consoles And Little Known Ambiophony Technology

Here are couple of excerpts from the Ken Scott autobiography Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust that I cowrote with him both involving some of the gear used at EMI's Abbey Road Studios back in the heyday of The Beatles. These are both sidebars from Chapter 7 entitled "Engineering Other EMI Artists," and cover the famous EMI consoles as well as a little known feature of the the large Abbey Road Studio 1 called Ambiophony.

"The EMI Consoles
EMI REDD.37 console image
The sound of The Beatles came from a number of custom consoles designed in-house by EMI; the REDD.37 and REDD.51 “Stereosonic” Four-Track Mixer Desks, and later the TG12345. Although the very first Beatles album was recorded on the REDD.37, the REDD.51 was used to record about 85% of their songs, according to Recording The Beatles. Both consoles were nearly identical and were based around valve (vacuum tube) electronics. The consoles were what we’d consider very simple by today’s standards, but were quite sophisticated for their time and very scary the first time I ever saw one as a 16 year old kid. They each had 8 input channels that fed 4 output (subgroup/buss) faders, with two aux sends and  2 stereo returns. The console also had two Auxiliary line inputs, but they were rarely used because of the lack of EQ on these channels.

EMI TG12345 console image
Since the REDD series consoles were woefully inadequate for 8 track recording, a new console was eventually brought in. In 1968, EMI installed the solid state TG12345 in Number 2 control room. It boasted 24 inputs and 8 subgroups/busses, four echo sends, two separate cue mixes, and a limiter/compressor on every channel.

I worked very little on the TG, using the one in Number 2 for a few tracks on the Mary Hopkin album Postcard and for the majority of A Salty Dog by Procol Harum, as far as I recall. I have to say that I'm a bad judge of the TGs though. The change from the old REDD desks to the more modern TG was a painful one for most of us at the studio, and I don't think any of us liked it. It had none of the warmth, both literally and physically, that the REDDs had. That being said, some great sounding records were made on it, but first impressions go a very long way.

Even though Studio 1 was one of the largest recoding rooms in the world, it only had a short reverb time; 2.4 seconds if you want to be precise. While this was plenty for most music recording, many classical producers preferred a longer reverb time like that of Kingsway Hall, a place many classical recordings were being made by both EMI and Decca at the time. In an attempt to remedy the situation, EMI employed an experimental system known as Ambiophony.

Delay Drum graphic
The system was built around a new piece of technology known as a delay drum; a rotating metal disc drum on the outside with oxide that acted just like a piece of magnetic tape. The difference was that it doesn’t take long for a tape loop to start to wear out, something the drum never did. A signal from the studio was sent to the drum, then multiple playback heads placed around the outside of it would pick off the signal and send it out to different speakers placed around the studio.

In the end, the Ambiophony system wasn’t much of a success, since even though it may have been very clever for its time, it was extremely touchy to set up and suffered from feedback in the studio. It was, apparently, used by Geoff (Emerick) on one Beatles song, the incredible orchestral overdub on “A Day In The Life” from Sgt. Pepper."

Monday, December 22, 2014

The World's 12 Richest Bass Players

Krist Novoselic image
Bass players generally get the least attention in a band, but that doesn't mean they don't profit from it just as much as singers and guitar players. The Richest took a look at the top bottom enders and it found there's quite a bit of wealth in those low notes. Here's what it found:

1. Paul McCartney – $1.2 billion (no surprise there)

2. (tie) Sting – $300 million
2. (tie) Gene Simmons (Kiss) – $300 million

4. Roger Waters (Pink Floyd) – $270 million

5. Adam Clayton (U2) – $150 million

6. Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) – $115 million

6. John Deacon (Queen) - $115 million

8. John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) – $80 million

8. Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones) - $80 million

10. Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath) – $65 million

11. Tony Kanal (No Doubt) – $45 million

12. Krist Novoselic (Nirvana) – $40 million

Here's the trick. All of the above except for Wyman are songwriters as well as bass players, which proves the old music adage, "If you want to get rich, write a hit song!"

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bobby O's Top 5 Audio Products Of 2014

There are always a number of new audio products that stand out from crowd, at least for me, and I'd like to solute some of them in my first annual Top 5 Products list. I'm going to list the pieces in no particular order and tell you why I thought they were cool.

SSL XL-Desk - A new console featuring 500 series slots. How cool is that? Of course this concept was no big deal in the 60s and 70s when a number of console manufacturers operated using cartridge modules, but few modules were interchangeable between manufacturers then. Now they are, making the XL-Desk very flexible.

Sample Magic Magic AB plugin - Anyone thats mixing knows that it can be a pain to easily A/B you mix against another. Magic AB makes this easy, since it's a plugin that goes across your stereo buss and allows you to compare up to 9 different songs, as well as loop them at just the right points, and precisely match levels.

PreSonus StudioLive RM - The PreSonus StudioLive console provides a tremendous bang for the buck, but one of the cooler features is how it can be remotely controlled from a laptop or iPad. PreSonus takes this concept one step further with the StudioLIve RM by providing just the I/O and leaving the control to your laptop or a specially built touch sensitive surface. The fewer controls, the less you pay, and it's so cool to use something so futuristic as well.

UAD AMS RMX16 - You might say that the RMX16 was the sound of the 80s in that it was part of the drum sound on so many hit records, especially those coming out of England. Universal Audio released a plugin version of the reverb a few months ago (coded by the original designer of the RMX16) and it sounds so much like the hardware version that it's scary. Just dial in the Nonlinear or Ambience setting and you'll know what I mean.
Blue Mo-Fi Headphones - The world of monitor speakers changed for the better when powered monitors became the norm, and now the same thing may be on the horizon for headphones as well, thanks to the Blue Mo-Fi's. It has three selections - using the built-in amp in the headphones, bass boost, or bypassed so it works like a normal headset. This is another one under the category of, "Why didn't anyone think of this before."

Special Mention: Audionamix ADX Trax - This is the software that so many of us have wanted for so long. It allows you to precisely isolate a vocal from a finished stereo mix, then raise and lower the level as needed. I don't know how they do it, but it's very cool indeed.

These products really caught my attention this year, but there are lots of others that are worthy of inclusion as well. I'm sure you have your own top 5 and I'd love to hear them. What did I miss that was cool?


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