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Friday, January 30, 2015

Winter NAMM Wrap Up On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

This week's podcast is a little different in that I'll give you my Winter NAMM 2015 wrap up overview. 

You'll hear about the new trends from the show (like Pro Tools 12 going to the cloud) as well as a look at some of the cool new gear that I spotted, including some of the odd things that other blogs and magazines probably missed.

No guest on this one, but I'm sure you'll dig it anyway.

Remember that you can find the podcast at, or either on iTunes or Stitcher

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Cars "Let The Good Times Roll" Isolated Vocals

If you ever need a lesson in stacking vocals, you can get it from The Cars and producer Roy Thomas Baker, with a great example being this week's isolated vocal track of "Let The Good Times Roll" from the band's first 1978 album.

The entire album was recorded in only two weeks, but the background vocals are special in that they fully utilize Baker's unique Stephens 40 track tape machine with layers of overdubs.

This technique has been used a lot since then, but mostly when you have a band that doesn't sing well together. By doubling, tripling, quadrupling (and more) each vocal part, you even out any of the rough parts that might occur while providing a big choir-like sound at the same time. Here's what to listen for (it starts at 0:12);

1. The reverb on the lead vocal is delayed and very long and dark. If fact, it seems to build after the vocal phrase, almost like it was compressed with short release time.

2. Listen to the phrase releases on the harmonies of "Let the good times roll." They're very short, clean and concise.

3. The lead vocal by Ric Ocasek isn't doubled, which is unusual for the time, and it's not exactly in tune, although it's quirky enough that it doesn't matter in the track.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The World's Oldest Song

Ever wonder what the wold's oldest song is? No, it's not "Happy Birthday," but a 3,400 year old hymn found in the 1950s during a dig in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit. It was written on clay tablets in cuneiform signs in the hurrian language, which was later interpreted into modern musical notation in 1972 by professor Anne Draffkorn Kilmer of the University of California, according to an article on Open Culture.

The song isn't all that much melody wise, but it does confirm that there was a 7 note diatonic scale and harmony being used way back then. That said, academics the world over have battled back and forth on the correct interpretation, so what you'll hear might or might not be accurate, but it's done by the original discoverer of the tablets Dr. Richard Dumbril.

A big thanks to my buddy Jesse Siemanis for the heads up.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Winter NAMM 2015 Overview - Part 2

In the last edition of my Winter NAMM 2015 overview I talked about some of the cool audio gear that I spotted at the show. Today we'll look at guitars, bass and keyboards. Once again, there's no particular order.
16 string bass imageIf you're a bass player and into a lot of strings, then you'll love this 16 string bass. It's really a dual course 8 string bass so it gives you a 12 string guitar quality. I don't know how effective it will be for laying down a traditional bass line, but it's cool for soloing and playing chords.

Ampeg SCR-DI bass direct box image
Ampeg showed something I thought they should have come out with years ago - a bass direct box. The SCR-DI comes with the Scrambler circuitry used in their pedals, a lot of controls to shape your sound, as well as a headphone amplifier and stereo aux inputs. It's around $200.

BeatBuddy image
For guitar players who play solo a lot comes the BeatBuddy, a drum machine in a guitar pedal format. It has a bunch of different beats and drum kits right out of the box so you can just plug it in and do the gig right away. It's about $350.

D'Angelico Guitars image
D'Angelico has been know for great sound guitars that jazzers have played since the 1920s. The company has taken the bold step of introducing a whole line of solid and semi-solid body guitars and basses with shapes of other guitars that we know and love so well. Custom colors too. Aerosmith's Brad Whitford and blues girl Susan Tedschi are endorsers.

Dialtone pickups image
Don't like the sound of your pickups? Well now you can dial in the tone that you want with these new Dialtone pickups. They allow you to shape both the resonant frequency and the bandwidth via two controls on the side.

Bohemian Guitars image
Do you play down home on the farm blues? Then perhaps you need a Bohemian guitar to play at your next gig. The body is actually made out of an oil can, but the pickups and electronics are modern.

Slaperoo Slapstick image
Looking for a different bass sound? How about this Slapstick by Slaperoo Percussion. It's a metal ribbon that you play like a single string bass. Just slap it and it gives a pretty funky sound. There are different sizes, and they're all tunable. They're best selling N-100 Noodle is around $250.

Line 6 Viarax and Firehawk FX image
Line 6 showed a number of things that were cool. First of all is their new Variax guitars, which are made by Yamaha (which purchased Line 6 last year). You get the same cool modeling electronics from the previous Variax as well as the ability for multiple tunings. But there's more. Their new Firehawk FX pedal gives you all the cool effects and amp models you expect from Line 6, plus it remembers all the settings from the guitar, so you can change your entire setup including sounds, effects and tunings, by hitting only a single switch.
Line 6 Relay G70 image
Line 6 also introduced its new Relay G70 and G75 guitar wireless systems. These are cool because all you need is a single receiver with two transmitters to switch between guitars. The transmitters have a sensor that can tell when you put your first guitar in a stand and then instantly switch to the second.

Moog Modular synth image
Moog re-introduced its modular systems after many years. You can now have a Model 55, 35, 15 or a Keith Emerson custom modular system for your very own. They ain't cheap though - ranging from $10k for the Model 15 to a whopping $150k for the Emerson model.

Roli Keyboard image
The Roli Seaboard Grand piano has to be a way different keyboard than anything else that came before it. It's a plastic MIDI keyboard that makes the traditional keyboard into a soft pressure sensitive surface. The company is also developing an audio engine for the unit, which should be available this year. It's expensive, starting at $2k for the 37 key version up to $8,888 for the 88 key version.

Roland Blues Cube amplifier image
Finally, the Roland Blues Cube amp might be an unusual turning point in software sales. Why, you may ask? As you can see from the photo, it features a single tube in the back. But no, it's not a tube, but a firmware package dressed up to look like a tube and even glow like one too. Flip in your Eric Johnson or Don Felder Tone Capsules and you have their sounds. Available in 60, 45, 15 and .5 watt models. The price for a 60 watt version is a reasonable $700.

That's it. I hope you enjoyed these overviews. On to next year.

Monday, January 26, 2015

2015 Winter NAMM Show Trends

NAMM 2015 Attendee image
NAMM Attendee
The latest Winter NAMM show, the semi-annual exhibition of musical instrument manufacturers occurring each January in Anaheim, has ended, and more so than most, this one reflects what’s happening in the music creation business and even the world we live in. 

NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) is unlike any convention anywhere, from the hustle and bustle of a Black Friday at the local mall, to the cacophony of simultaneous sounds from every kind of musical instrument imaginable, to a bevy of both legit and wanna be rockers bumping into you at every turn. The show is grueling, tedious and fun all at the same time.

Every year I post several editions of cool new gear that I spied at NAMM on my music production blog, but this post is particularly about the trends seen at the convention that show the latest from this side of the music industry and how it meshes with the more publicized production and business side. Here’s what I saw:

Avid Pro Tools First, Pro Tools 12 and Cakewalk Sonar - Avid’s Pro Tools is the king of the digital audio workstation (DAW) app in that it’s used by the majority of audio professionals in music and post. Avid is transitioning to the cloud with Pro Tools 12 and the free entry-level Pro Tools First, where you have the choice of buying the app outright, or paying a monthly fee. Of course, being in the cloud has it’s advantages for Avid, in that it can now charge users to store their projects there, and also to rent any plugins needed for the project. Also, being in the cloud also allows for online collaboration, which many see as the future of music creation.

While Pro Tools is primarily a Mac app, Cakewalk’s Sonar is one of the kings of the PC DAW world, and it too has introduced a monthly and yearly membership model to go along with a straight purchase of the software. Of course, this has been a viable business model for the tech world for some time, so it’s surprising that it took so long to be implemented on this end of the music business.

That said, it may not add up to the profits that these companies anticipate. Most professionals won’t indulge in the membership model because cloud recording just isn’t practical in terms of the number of simultaneous tracks that need to be recorded at any one time because of the upload bandwidth required. And while cloud storage of a project might have it’s advantages, most engineers, producers, artists, managers and record labels feel more comfortable with the data on a local hard drive that can be locked up or taken home for safety, at least at the moment. 

As far as cloud collaboration, there are a host of companies betting that this will be the next big thing, but it almost seems like a solution a problem that isn’t there. At least on the pro level, musicians and producers prefer working together in the same room to allow for the best interaction. That’s not always the case when it comes to guest players or vocalists, so I can see the need in that situation, but there still doesn’t seem to be a huge number of users clamoring for the feature, at least as far as I can see. Let’s see how this shakes out in a year. Read more on Forbes.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Winter NAMM 2015 Overview - Part 1

Winter NAMM 2015 image
Another Winter NAMM is over and I'm here to report the trends and products that caught my attention over the 4 day show. This year's exhibition was sleepy as far as new products were concerned, but there sure was a lot of enthusiasm.

As has become the norm at not only NAMM but trade shows in general, there wasn't much that could be considered groundbreaking, but there were a lot of evolutionary products. I'm going to get to things like the latest Pro Tools 12 and PT First release tomorrow, but today we'll touch on the audio products that caught my eye. These may or may not be products that others talk about, but I found them personally interesting.

Trident Hi-Lo image
Trident Hi-Lo 500 Series Filter Set - This wasn't released yet, and I'm not even sure that it was shown much at the show, but I thought it was one of the cooler things that I saw. It's a dual hi and lo pass filter set where the frequencies overlap, which is cool by itself, but the fact that it also automatically tracks the signal make this unit very provocative. It wasn't connected and unit might even be a prototype, but I like what I see so far.

iZ Radar Studio image
iZ Radar Studio - Radar has always been an excellent sounding DAW that was one of the first to have a dedicated controller. That said, it was based around a tape machine remote that once served a great purpose but is a bit passe today. Radar Studio opens up the architecture for the first time so you can use the Radar hardware with your favorite DAW. This new iteration ships with Harrison's Mixbus, but is also capable of running Pro Tools or anything else if you want.

Mackie Freeplay Personal PA image
Mackie FreePlay Personal PA - This is basically a boom box that's loud enough to use as a small PA system if you want to. It's battery powered, has two mic/line inputs, some DSP effects and even a feedback suppressor, and the whole thing can be driven from an app on your iPhone. There's also a little kick stand that allows you to use it as a personal monitor as well. It's about $400.

Cherub DT-20 Drum Tuner image
Cherub DT-20 Infrared Drum Tuner - I almost hesitate to include this because the product doesn't appear to be ready, but I like the idea. Via an infrared beam, the unit senses the vibrations of a drum and provides a note equivalent readout. It if works, drummers and engineers everywhere will rejoice.

Behringer X Air XR12 image
Behringer X Air XR12 mixer - Behringer has a whole slew of unusual wi-fi mixers that use an iPhone or iPad as the main controller. This XR12 has 12 inputs, 4 onboard effects engines, automatic mixing, and Midas-designed preamps. The price? How does $299 grab you?

Manley Force image
Manley Labs Force - Manley showed it's new Force, which features 4 tube preamps from it's very popular CORE channel strip. Best of all, it's priced at a very reasonable $2,500.

Apora Bohemeth image
Apora Bohemeth - Here's a very interesting dual channel Pultec-style tube EQ that's controlled from a computer or tablet. It has cool displays, it looks well put together, but not much information is available, as you can see from the company website.

Coleman Audio Phone Mix DI image
Coleman Audio Phone Mix DI - If you ever wanted to plug your phone or tablet into your recorder or DAW you know it's a pain to do. Glen Coleman is always on top of things like this, and has developed an interface to make it easily happen. Plus, it can also act as a regular DI or even as just a way for someone to privately practice while waiting for the next take to begin. The price is around $450.

Blue Hummingbird microphones image
Blue Hummingbird Microphone - I used to love the swivel mount that was available for the AKG 451's way back in the day. It allowed you to get the mic capsule into some tight places, or just keep the mic body generally out of the way. The cardioid Blue Hummingbird has that same 180 degree rotating head, plus it's capsule comes from the very nice Blue Bottle mics. It's designed to take the high SPL and quick transients of a drum kit. The price is only $299.

Dangerous Audio Convert 2 and Convert 8 image
Dangerous Music Convert 2 and Convert 8 - Dangerous Music makes some serious gear that's used by pros with discerning ears everywhere. The company adds to its product line with the new Convert D/A stereo and 8 channel convertors. They both feature up to 192 sample rates, excellent internal clocks, precision calibration, and 4 inputs.

Tomorrow I'll get into some of the trends I spotted at the show, and on Wednesday we'll look and guitars and keyboards.


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