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Friday, May 8, 2015

Frank Sinatra/ Quincy Jones "Mack The Knife" Session

Frank Sinatra: LA Is My Lady cover image
The last time I posted something on Frank Sinatra it was a big hit, so here's another chestnut. It's a look at the making of "Mack The Knife" with Frank singing with the Quincy Jones Big Band.

The cut is from an album called L.A. Is My Lady, despite the fact that the recording took place in New York City in 1984. It was filmed for a documentary called Frank Sinatra: Portrait of an Album that was released in 1985.

What's cool is it's an all-star band with the likes of George Benson, Lionel Hampton, Steve Gadd, the Brecker brothers, and Ray Brown all laying it down.

One thing to take notice of is the 3 mics on Frank. There's the obvious C12, but also another right behind it and one off to his right side (can't tell the model). Sometimes the one in the front is a decoy with the mic behind it being live to keep the vocalist from getting too close. I can't say if that's the case here, but the sound is great.

By the way, that's Mule Holley, who also played upright bass, doing the scats in the beginning of the song. Also, that looks like Jerry Lewis to Frank's left.

Thanks to my buddy Paul Svenson for the heads up.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Study Defining The 3 Eras Of Popular Music Might Surprise You

3 Eras of Popular Music image
A new study by a team of engineers and evolutionary biologists at the Imperial College of London found that there have been 3 major revolutions in music in the last 50 years.

The scientists analyzed nearly 18,000 songs from Billboard's Hot 100 chart, about 86% of hit singles during that time period, in order to produce a history of popular music. The results were published in the Royal Society Journal.

The 3 revolutions might surprise you. The first occurred in 1964, but not because of the British Invasion as is popularly thought. The study paints a picture of the rise of loud guitars, major chords and bright energetic melodies, while dominant 7th chords were rarely used. Rock, soul, funk and disco dominated and older styles like Doo Wop dropped off the charts.

Although many give The Beatles and Rolling Stones credit for this change, the study found that it was already occurring and those bands just moved the trend along.

The second revolution came in 1983 with songs that were based around synthezisers and drum machines from the likes of artists like Duran Duran, and loud heavy rock with lots of chord changes, like Van Halen, Queen, Kiss and REO Speedwagon. These rock bands were joined by new wave acts like The Police, and dance-pop like Madonna. All this was at the expense of classic country and folk music, which lost popularity as a result.

The study claims that the last and most important of the 3 occurred in 1991 with the explosion of hip-hop. This period featured a move primarily to rhythm, no chords, and signified the most social change reflected or caused by the music.

The study was based around a computer program that scanned each song looking primarily at its harmony and timbre. The team them built a "fossil record" of the music as defined by when certain chords and timbre styles became popular or disappeared from the charts.

Agree with it or not, it's a fascinating study.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The 8 Constants Of Vocal Recording

By my count, there are 8 “constants” that we find in vocal recording. These are items or situations that almost always prove to be true. Just keeping them in mind can save you a lot of trouble in the search for a sound that works for you and your vocalist.

Here are a few tips taken from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and the Music Producer’s Handbook to help you get a great vocal sound quickly and easily without any of those nasty side effects.

1) Your mic selection, amount of EQ, and compression used is totally dependent on the voice you are recording. Setting up the same signal chain for everyone might work sometime, but best to keep an open mind (and ears) before you settle on a combination.

2) The best mic in the house doesn’t necessarily get the best vocal sounds. There is no one microphone that works well on everything, especially a instrument as quirky as the human voice.

3) A singer who is experienced at recording knows which consonants are tough to record and knows how to balance the them against the vowels to get a good final result. A singer with this kind of experience will make you look like a genius.

4) With a good singer, many times you'll get “the sound" automatically just by putting him/her in front of the right microphone. On the other hand, with a bad singer (or even a good singer that just doesn't adjust well to the studio), no amount of high priced microphones or processing may be able to get you where you need to go.

5) In general, vocals sound better when recorded in a tighter space, but not too tight. Low ceiling rooms can also be a problem with loud singers as they tend to ring at certain lower mid range frequencies, which might be difficult to eliminate later.

6) Windscreens are actually of little use when recording a vocalist with bad technique. There are two different sorts of people in this category: the people who have never sung with sound reinforcement, and the people who have developed bad habits from using a mic on stage.

7) Decoupling the stand from the floor as well as the microphone from the stand will help eliminate unwanted rumbles. Often times a microphone isolation mount isn't enough. Place the stand on a couple of mouse pads or a rug for a cheap but efficient solution.

8) Just marking the floor with tape might get the vocalist to stand in the right position in front of the mic, but she can easily move her head out of position. An easy way to have a vocalist gauge the distance is by hand lengths. An open hand is approximately eight inches while a fist is about four inches. By saying, “Stay a hand away,” the vocalist can easily judge his distance and usually doesn’t forget (see the graphic on the side).

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

TC Electronic Bought By Behringer

Behringer City in China image
Behringer City in China
Behringer was once looked at as strictly knockoff gear made in China aimed at the lowest end of the market. Today that's less the case as the conglomerate MUSIC Group, which owns Behringer and is controlled by founder and CEO Uli Behringer, continues to go up-market with its acquisition of the Danish TC Electronic group of companies.

MUSIC Group, which had acquired Midas, Klark Teknik and Turbosound previously, now places TC Electronic, Tannoy, Lab.gruppen, Lake, TC Helicon, White Acoustics and TC Applied Technologies all under the same roof, which makes the company one of the largest in the pro audio industry.

Behringer was one of the first to utilize the low cost manufacturing that China had to offer in order to lower not only costs and overhead, but retail prices as well. Today the company has it's own block of manufacturing buildings in Zhongshan known as "Behringer City" that has managed to eliminate even Chinese subcontractors while maintaining a higher level of quality control.

There was no word on the price of the transaction since the MUSIC Group is privately held, but reports were that TC Electronic had been on the market for roughly $170 million.

Regardless of what you thought about Behringer in the past, the fact of the matter is that the company has used its new-found acquisitions wisely and has put new engineering effort into the products across all its companies. Midas, Kark and Turbosound have all benefited from the streamlined manufacturing to now feature high-end products at very reasonable prices, while Behringer's latest products show new innovation while still maintaining the low prices we've come to expect from the line.

TC Electronic products and technology looks to be an ideal fit in the new MUSIC Group fold. It should make for very interesting AES and NAMM shows next year. Find out more about MUSIC Group and the TC acquisition on its website.

Monday, May 4, 2015

New Music Gear Monday: Hafler HA75 TubeHead Headphone Amplifier

Hafler HA75 TubeHead headphone amplifier image
There are a lot of artists, bands, musicians and engineers that mix on headphones, some because they're forced to because of the environment they're working in, and others as a check of the work they did on speakers. Most find it an unsatisfactory experience as it doesn't truly represent what the rest of the world will be hearing.

Hafler has tried to change all that with its new HA75 TubeHead headphone amplifier. The unit incorporates a 12AX7 class-A tube circuit that not only supplies enough clean level to overcome the noisiest environment, but a couple of extra features not normally found on headphone amps.

The first is a Variable Focus control that simulates listening in a room by bringing the stereo image more to the center, as well as an adjustable Negative Feedback Control to increase or decrease the feedback to tailor the sound better to your tastes. There's also an old-school Loudness control to tailor the low frequencies for low listening levels according to the established Fletcher-Munson curves that we sometimes forget about.

The HA75 features two fully balanced inputs on XLR connectors as well as unbalanced RCA connectors and unbalanced RCA throughput jacks. Dual headphone outputs can handle anywhere from 8 to 400 ohms.

The esteemed Hafler brand was purchased by Radial Engineering, recently relaunched at AES, and now produces both high-quality solid state and tube headphone amplifiers as well as phone preamps. Hafler was known for its power amplifiers in the past, and although none have been included in the relaunch, don't be surprised if you see a few new ones soon.

The Hafler HA75 TubeHead headphone amplifier retails for around $1,000.


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