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Friday, July 10, 2015

The Beach Boys "Wouldn't It Be Nice" Isolated Vocals

The Beach Boys in the studio image
"Wouldn't It Be Nice" is the opening track of The Beach Boys triumphant Pet Sounds, an album that many think is the group's best ever. The song's basic track was cut in 21 takes by the famous studio band The Wrecking Crew at Gold Star Studio in Hollywood as leader Brain Wilson tried to capture some of the famous Phil Spector "Wall of Sound."

The vocals were cut over two sessions at the long defunct Columbia Recording Studios, also in Hollywood, with the ever-meticulous Wilson demanding take after take from the band to reach his vision. Here's the isolated vocals from the final product, and a list of things to listen for.

1. Like most songs of the era, the lead vocal is doubled. The difference is how tight the doubling is, which was unusually precise for the time.

2. The background vocals are also doubled and spread slightly left and right. Sometimes, the harmony stacking is a little different on each side as well.

3. As with most Beach Boy songs, there's lots of long reverb on the vocals.

4. What's unusual for most pop harmony vocals is the use of the low bass voice, which is used so well during the bridge.

5. Listen through to the end where you can hear a little snippet of discussion after the take.

6. All of the outtakes from the sessions for Pet Sounds are available in an album called The Pet Sounds Sessions.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

MP3 Meets Vinyl - The Universal Record

The Universal Record image
OK, it had to happen. Here's a marriage between an old fashioned record and a digital MP3 with something inventor Jesse England calls the "Universal Record."

It's actually Bluetooth receiver in a disc that can be played from a turntable. The needle tracks the disc via the vibrations of the music which act like a groove, and also adds the surface noise (lots of it) similar to what's found in a vinyl record. Check it out.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Ins And Outs Of Hiring A Union Player For A Session

Union Recording Session image
Most musicians who play club gigs in the United States don't belong to the Musicians Union since they don't feel that it has much to offer them. While that may or may not be the case, everything changes when you're working on a union gig for record label or a symphony orchestra, because that's where the union guarantees a reasonable wage rate and demands that your employer contributes to the union pension fund.

But what happens if you're a producer who wants to hire a union player? It isn't as easy as saying, "I'll give you $75 to play the session," because things don't work like that once you've crossed the realm into union territory. Here's an excerpt from my Music Producer's Handbook that explains just some of the ins and outs of hiring union session players.

"It costs a lot more money to hire musicians that work under the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) union rules than ones who don’t. Not only is the pay generally higher for working a shorter session than non-union players, but you also have additional costs that go beyond what the player gets directly, which we’ll cover in a bit. What’s more, union rates can be somewhat of a maze since different scales cover different situations, rates are renegotiated every few years, and pay scales vary from union local to union local (not that much, but they do vary).

Generally, the union pay scales for recording are based on 3 hour sessions and are broken down as follows:
Demo Scale - This means that whatever the musicians play on is only used to secure a master record deal and can’t be sold commercially. This is the least expensive (to the producer) of all the scales. Demo scale is a relic from a time when demos were a necessity to take your project to a higher level in the business, and even though it’s still on the books, this scale is outdated since any recording is so easy to release commercially.

Limited Pressing Scale - Another relic of the past thanks to digital music, the limited pressing scale allows the producer or label to make and sell up to 10,000 copies of anything the musicians play on. The limited pressing scale pays a bit more than the demo scale.

Low Budget Scale - The low budget scale was originally created to help small indie record labels who never had the large recording budgets that were typical of a major label product. The key here is that the budget needs to be submitted to the union for approval in advance before you can play on it, but the label can sell as many copies of the product as they can.

Master Recording Scale - This is the scale used to pay musicians to record a typical medium or big budget master recording for a major record label. It’s the highest paying scale with the most perks.

Jingle Scale - The jingle scale is a little different in that most jingle (commercial music) sessions are so short that everything is based upon a single hour pay with 20 minute increments. The number of jingles that can be recorded in that time period is limited to 3 (or 3 minutes of music), or else you must pay the musicians for another session. The musicians also get payed again for every 13 week run that the commercial stays on air (but it doesn’t come out of your budget). The musicians also get paid again if the producer takes the music bed that you played on and creates an additional commercial (called a dub fee) or a new commercial (called a conversion fee).

Motion Picture and Film Scales - This is a dizzying array of scales for orchestral recordings that vary depending upon the size of the orchestra and budget, and whether the performance is a “buy-out” (you only get paid once for the original performance) or if you’ll get paid for subsequent performances.
Additional Fees
There are other fees that must be paid under certain circumstances on a union date.
• The leader is always entitled to twice the scale rate regardless of what kind of session and which rate scale you’re using.

• If a musician doubles on a second instrument during the session, he will make an additional 20-30% (depending on the type of session and scale), and an extra 15-20% for each additional instrument played.

• And in some cases, he may even get an additional payment for cartage of large instruments like $12 for cello, baritone sax, bass sax, contra-bass clarinet, tuba, drums, marimba, chimes, accordion, Cordovox, and each amplifier, and $30 for harp, keyboard, tympani,  vibraphone, and bass.

• Besides the hourly scale amount, the producer will also contribute another 12% or so to the musician’s union pension fund, an additional 3% to his health and welfare fund, and in some cases, 4% more to a vacation fund.
As stated before, the scales and rates are subject to change every few years, so it’s best to check with your union local to find out exactly what those rates are today. This section is only just a thumbnail of the detail as well, so check for all the particulars that might apply to your specific session well in advance of the downbeat, and make sure that the session leader or contractor (who files the paperwork) is on the same page as you.

Here’s a list of the major media center’s union locals and websites:
New York City Local 802
Los Angles Local 47
Nashville Local 257
Chicago Local 10-208

Hiring Union Players
The best way to ensure that you get exactly the players you want, stay within the confines of the union, and have all the paperwork filed, is to hire a union contractor who will put the appropriate players together for you. If you need a horn or string section, a single call to a contractor will get you the players you need, instead of having to assemble the section yourself (which can be hit or miss as to the quality of players if you’re not familiar with them).

The contractor acts as a go-between for musicians and producers, and is required to be present at all times during the session when his contracted musicians are recording. Contractors come in two varieties: union and independent. Both are usually musicians themselves who supervise and provide additional services for a session. A Contractor can help musicians and singers prepare by supplying them with the necessary information for the session, and making sure that they and their specified instruments and equipment arrive at the event or session on time. He coordinates the event, coaches, conducts, computes session fees, and submits the proper union forms (if it’s a union date) to the employer and union office.

It is not uncommon for contractors to specialize in a specific area of the business like jingles, orchestral dates, or film/television sessions. For a contractor, it’s all about relationships. His or her reputation is founded on the experience level and quality of the musicians he or she makes available, so it really makes sense to cultivate relationships with the local contractors."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Uninterruptible Power Supply Guide

CyberPower Line Interactive UPS image
CyberPower Line Interactive UPS
A few weeks ago I went searching to replace my current UPS (uninterruptible power supply) and found out a lot of interesting info that I'd like to pass on.

First of all, what is a UPS? It's a battery backup that keeps your computer and computer-based gear running long enough during a power outage so that you can properly shut it down and not lose any data. In the summer when blackouts happen frequently thanks to the demands on the power grid, just a quick power interruption can easily ruin a session if you don't have time to back it up and shut it down properly, and a UPS supplies this. Not all UPSs are built equally though, so here are a few things to know.

1. A power conditioner is not a UPS. A power conditioner doesn't contain a battery and therefore won't supply power during a blackout. All a conditioner does is help filter out some power grid's nasty artifacts, provide some additional AC sockets, and usually give you some surge protection as well.

2. There are 3 types of uninterruptible power supplies: Standby, Online and Line Interactive.
  • A Standby UPS switches in only when there's a power outage, which sounds good on the surface, but the time lag still might cause your computer to shut down, which defeats the whole point of owning a UPS. The other thing is that most Standby UPS's don't handle brownouts (power voltage sag) very well, so they switch on and off, making you and your gear crazy in the process.
  • An Online UPS is the best and most expensive in that the power is constantly fed out of the battery and converted to AC so that there's no time lag in the event of a blackout, and it's also immune to brownouts. Sounds great but very expensive on the order of thousands of dollars.
  • Maybe the best solution is what's known as a Line Interactive UPS that uses a special transformer that constantly adjusts to the varying voltage during a brownout or power surge, and also has a faster switching time to the battery during a power outage. The best part, it's only a bit more expensive than a Standby UPS at around $100. Here's a great unit by CyberPower worth considering.
3. With a UPS, the bigger the battery, the longer it can supply power during a blackout, but for the most part we're talking minutes rather than hours. The larger the battery, the more it costs as well.

We all use computers in our studios, so a UPS should be considered an essential accessory. Buy the right one and you'll never have to worry when the power goes out.

If you want to get deeper into Uninterruptible power supplies, check out this article.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Mastering Engineer Pete Doell On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Pete Doell image
This week I have mastering engineer Pete Doell as a guest on my Inner Circle Podcast.

Pete is currently a senior mastering engineer at Universal Music Mastering Studios in Los Angeles, but he's unusual in that he has a long history as a tracking, scoring and mixing engineer before he went into mastering.

Pete has worked with a wide variety of major stars including REM, Marilyn Manson, Celine Dion, Los Lobos, Brian McKnight and Dwight Yokum, and we'll talk all about what he's done and more on the podcast.

In the intro I'll take a look at how a band from New York tried to game the Spotify system, and a brief guide to uninterruptible power supplies.

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

New Music Gear Monday: Chandler Limited REDD.47 Mic Preamp

The records that were made at Abbey Road Studios back in the 1960s are still revered for their great sounds, and one of the reasons is the excellent consoles built in-house by EMI engineers.

One of their most famous is the REDD.47 model (REDD stands for Recording Engineering Development Department), and now the preamp from this vintage desk has been exactly replicated by Chandler Limited so you can put a little of that early Beatles sound on your tracks too.

The Chandler Limited REDD.47 mic preamp is a single-channel tube unit that features the usual bevy of controls with a few differences. The preamp features both course and fine gain controls, but they're stepped just like on the original desk, with course being in 5dB and fine in 1dB increments. There's also a 20dB pad that can be inserted via a switch if needed.

The REDD.47 also features a "Rumble Filter" (high-pass filter) that is out of the circuit in it's far left position but varies in frequency up to 180Hz as you turn it clockwise. Right below that is a variable output control. There's also a polarity switch that curiously engraved as "Pole," and a 48V phantom power switch.

Unlike the original device, the Chandler REDD.47 preamp has a front panel 1/4" jack along with a switch to select either the mic or DI input. The rear panel is as simple as you can get, with just a female XLR for input and a male XLR for output.

This preamp is quoted as a "Holy Grail" device where the sound difference between it and most anything else can be immediately perceived. One downside is that it only has 57dB of gain, so if you're using some low output ribbon or dynamic mics (like an SM-7), this might not be the best choice, but that seems to be the only caveat about the unit.

The Chandler Limited REDD.47 mic preamp retails for around $2300 for a single channel, which is pretty steep considering that you can get 2 channels of great preamps for the same price from numerous manufacturers. That said, if you want something that has a sound that's in a class of its own, this is the one to try.

Check out James Ivey's review below for more info.


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