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Friday, January 1, 2016

Have A Great 2016!

I want to thank everyone for reading my musings, for your input and suggestions, your questions, and all the love that you send.

We don't know what lies ahead for the music business in the new year, but we do know that it will be interesting, and hopefully I'll be there to bring you the latest news and analysis when it happens.

If there's something that you'd like me to write about, a topic that you'd like to learn more about, or if you feel that I'm wasting space by posting, please let me know.

I'll be changing up this blog a bit in the new year to keep things fresh, and your input is most welcome and appreciated.

Have a great 2016!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Is A Strat Made From Cardboard Still A Strat?

Cardboard Strat imageThe Fender Stratocaster is probably the most popular guitar in the world thanks to its comfortable body contour, sound and versatility. Through the years, the Strat has been made from lots of different woods, but what happens if it's made of some other material? What if that material was cardboard?

Take a look and listen to happens when Fender master builder Paul Waller meets up with paper products supplier Ernest Packaging.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

16 Ways That Playing In The Studio Is Different From Live

Live vs. Studio playing imageI've talked to a number of musicians lately who are used to playing live, but have been having some trouble adapting to recording. I've posted it before, but I thought that this excerpt from The Studio Musician's Handbook might be appropriate. It's about the 16 ways that playing in the studio is different from playing live.

"You’ve probably had a lot of experience playing live, but playing in the studio is a distinctively different experience. The thought process is different, the mindset is different, the approach is different, and the chain of command is different.

In an effort to contrast these two different experiences, let’s move from the most simple differences to those that are, shall we say, a bit more subtle.

1. Repertoire - Most live gigs rarely change repertoire without rehearsal. A session musician has to be ready to change material on the fly. Not only are they are expected to learn it “on the fly,” but also come up with the appropriate parts that will help make the song not only as memorable as possible but as accessible and pleasing to not only the artist and producer but to listeners who may make the song part of their lifetime’s musical soundtrack. No pressure!!!

2. Scrutiny - On stage whatever you play is gone as soon as you play it. In the studio, what you play is under a microscope and will likely be analyzed, dissected and reorganized all in the name of making the performance stronger.

3. Equipment - The gear you use on a gig won’t always translate to the studio. You choose the gear for a gig based upon versatility, durability and general ruggedness. The only thing that counts in the studio is the sound. While one size might fit all on a gig, it usually makes for a boring recording, especially if you’re recording multiple tracks or more than one song. The studio requires a wide range of sonic possibilities, so you’ll need to bring different guitars, amps and pedals to get there.

4. Leadership - On a gig you have a bandleader that calls the songs, counts them off, possibly may direct the solos, and ends the songs. In the studio you’re answering to a hierarchy consisting of the producer, artist, and engineer (in cases of sonics). The producer is the ultimate decision maker, with ultimate authority over everything you play.

5. Nuance - The little things count in the studio. Everything you play can be critical so nuances are just as important as the body of what you’re playing. When you play live the nuances are usually gone in the wind, overcome by the the stage volume, acoustics and attention of the players and audience. In the studio, everything you play is scrutinized and that’s too much pressure for some players. In the studio, you’ve got to be great every time, every take.

6. The Live ‘Feel” versus the Studio ‘”Feel” - Players well versed in both idioms tend to exhibit more finesse and restraint in the studio and cut loose in a different way. The studio requires the musician to play to a whole different set of variables created by the signal chain after the instrument and the needs of the session.

7. Etiquette - You can get away with being a jerk on a live gig since the other players usually will put up with you (up to a point) as long as you perform well or the audience loves you. Not so in the studio. If you make someone feel even slightly uncomfortable for any reason, chances are you probably won’t be asked back. 

8. It’s hard work -  That’s not to say that playing or singing on a 4 or 5 hour gig isn’t difficult, but you play a lot of different songs every set and get the glory of audience feedback. In the studio, the only feedback you get is from the producer, artist and maybe the engineer, and 99% of the time they’re analyzing how you can play a part better rather than singing your praises. And the level of concentration is definitely up a few notches. On a gig you can breeze through the music, almost losing yourself in your playing. In the studio, every note counts and requires your utmost attention.

9. Preparation - Live gigs almost always require sufficient rehearsal. Most recording sessions happen with little or no preparation. As a result, a session musician has to be highly adaptable and be able to learn music on the fly.

10. Approach - Studio musicians can be asked to change their approach in the middle of a take! Not so in a live performance.

11. Pace - Early in a session, studio musicians often hear, “We really like what you’re doing but we don’t like the sound. We’re going to change a few things in here.” Rarely, if ever, do live performances stop to tweak sounds, but it’s very common in any recording context for those on the production/engineering side of the glass to stop mid-take and say “You’re doing great but we have to fix a few things.” A session player needs to always be ready to move at the pace determined by the environment. Things may change on the fly from breakneck speed to time-crawling meticulousness.

12. Creation versus Interpretation - Live musicians are usually expected to re-create a pre-existing repertoire, where the studio cats create the repertoire

13. The Required Skill Set - For rhythm section players, there’s a whole different level of musical literacy required. Not only should one be able to read music well, but the top session musicians can access a variety of styles and feels on a moment’s notice. It also takes a really good set of ears and musical taste buds to make it to the top of the session musician hierarchy. 

14. Artist vs. Entertainer - Live musicians entertain, studio musicians create entertainment. It’s like the difference between going to see actors in a play and actors on the silver screen. Both achieve the same end, but theater changes from performance to performance while film is a one-time document meant to stand the test of time and to weather repeated exposures.

15. Venue Variables and Studio Situations - Live performance almost always presents the same circumstances for the musician. His or her instrument(s), collaborators, and set list (see Repertoire above) will usually not change much or without fair warning. Not so in the studio. Except for the great studio bands of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, studio musicians are used to seeing new faces frequently, almost always play new material, and although the venues change, it’s not in the ways live venues do. The session musician learns to expect change at any moment since the tune can morph and he may be asked to play a different part or instrument.

16. The Live Wolf Pack and the Studio Lone Wolf - Most live performances require a group and a sizable supporting cast, unless you’re a DJ or a solo singer/songwriter. Recording musicians usually convene at a studio, arriving on their own, so a different camaraderie exists than the “We’re all together on this bus!”, mentality of live work. Recording musicians are independent and can work with different people every time they play music. Not usually so for the live players."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Neuroscience Of Drumming

The neuroscience of drumming imageMost of us have heard this drummer joke - Q: "How do you tell if the stage is level?" A: "The drool comes out of both sides of the drummer's mouth."

Drummers have long been the brunt of many musician jokes and have been depicted as being only slightly smarter than the drums they're hitting, but a number of new studies show that quite the opposite may be true - the drummer may actually be the smartest musician on the stage.

A Swedish study at the Karolisnka Institutet in Stockholm shows "a link between intelligence, good timing, and the part of the brain used for problem-solving." As a result, drummers "might actually be natural intellectuals."

Another by Baylor neuroscientist David Eagleman in conjunction with producer Brian Eno discovered not only a huge difference in brain activity from the random test subjects, but the fact that drummers have different brains from everyone else. What's more, their ability to keep time helps them perceive the natural timing of the world around them that others, even other musicians, miss.

What many researchers have found is that drumming is actually therapeutic and can release endorphins that's become known as a "drummer's high." Oxford psychologists have also found that the positive emotions gained from drumming leads people to work together in a more cooperative fashion.

Here's a bit from an interview with The Clash drummer Topper Headon about therapeutic drumming.

The moral is to treat your drummer with respect. He or she just might be smarter than you.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Year-End Review And 2016 Trends On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

2015 ReviewMy latest podcast features my annual year-end recap of what I thought were some major events in the music business and the pro audio world.

We'll take a look back at Apple Music, YouTube Red, the CRB ruling, Facebook video, Amazon Prime Music, Guitar Center and some upcoming new technologies.

I'll also provide some trends to follow in 2016, like the latest on streaming, internet  and Facebook marketing, Pandora rising in prominence, and the new-look websites, as well as the decreased importance of analog, new digital controllers, plugin overload and headphone surround.

There's a lot to look back on, and to forward to.

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

New Music Gear Monday: Sonnox Evolution Envelope Shaper

Sonnox Oxford Evolution plugin imageOne parameter than many engineers overlook is the envelope of the sound they're processing. Sure, you can change it with a compressor, but sometimes you need more control than a typical analog-style processor can give you, and that's where an envelope shaper comes in.

Sonnox has taken this concept to another level with its new Oxford Evolution frequency dependent envelope shaper plugin, which has separate transient and sustain sections that allow you to radically re-shape the envelope of the sounds you're working on.

Evolution is great for adding extra snap for drums or percussion, boosting sustain to keyboards and guitars, for smoothly controlling leakage in a track. It comes with a attack, release and hold controls for both the transients and sustain, as well as a master control for each, and the ability to alter the main frequency band that it's operating in. A DIFF button (similar to a Listen control on a gate) allows you to hear only the effect, and a Warmth control adds harmonic saturation.

The Sonnox Oxford Evolution plugin is available for AAX, Audio Units and VST formats and costs $270 USD. There's a 15 day free trial period available. Here's a video that lets you hear how it works on various program sources.


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