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Friday, January 8, 2016

James Brown "Sex Machine" Instrument-Only Track

Here's a real treat. It's the instrument-only track from James Brown 1970 classic "Get Up (I Feel Like A) Sex Machine."

The song was recorded live with no overdubs, but thanks to some clever processing, you hear the band like never before, with some vocal leakage in the background.

Here are some things to listen for.

1. The panning is interesting in that the bass is in the center, but the drums are a little to the left, piano  and horns hard left, and guitar to the right. The vocal leakage is also on the left.

2. The horns have the studio reverb while the guitar uses the amplifier reverb. Everything else is dry.

3. Most of the song is just guitar, bass and drums, with the horns punctuating the intro and turnaround, and a couple of brief piano lines.

4. For all we hear about the kick being so important in funk, you can hardly hear it in this song, yet the groove is awesome.

5. Speaking of groove, it's mostly coming from guitarist Catfish Collins (Bootsy's brother). Bassist Bootsy Collins plays a line that's not as disciplined as you might expect. The discipline comes from Catfish and drummer John Starks, as they play their parts that hardly ever move.

6. Listen for the distortion on the bass when Bootsy hits it hard.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Listen To A Record Made From Concrete

Concrete record imageVinyl sales just seem to keep growing, but the concept of information stored in grooves doesn't have to be confined to just a piece of plastic. Here are a couple of examples of records made out of concrete that actually play.

The first was created to showcase the features of Ultra High Performance Concrete by German engineer Ricardo Kocadag and actually sounds pretty good. You can hear it on this Facebook video. Read more about it here.

The second you can hear below and was made by Kulish Design Company for the 2015 World of Concrete exhibition.

I don't see concrete catching on as a storage medium any time soon, but it does show the technology isn't limited to plastic.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The 6 Categories Of Tours

The 6 Categories Of Tours imageIf you've never been on a real tour, it's easy to think that they're all like U2 or Alecia Keys, but there are actually a number of different types, categorized by their duration. This excerpt from The Touring Musician's Handbook outlines the differences in each.

"Tours can be divided into six general categories of duration; local shows, one-offs, fly dates, mini-tours, full tours and corporate gigs. Let’s look each one.

The Local Show
Local shows are easy. You get to sleep in your own bed, you probably have a good bit of the day (at least the morning) to attend to personal matters, and you get to play in a familiar venue in front of friends and family. You can’t really call a local show part of a tour (unless you happen to be passing through town during a real tour), but these types of shows are frequently used as a warm-up before the tour starts. It’s a good time to fine tune the set list, hone the production, and tighten the band. It’s a sweet gig, but there’s never enough of them and they’re all too short. Fun, though.

The One-Off
The one-off is a single show where you return home after it’s completion. It can be relatively local or it can be half-way around the world, but regardless of how long it takes you to get there, you’re still only playing a single show.

The typical one-off generally means that there’s at least some travel time involved (you might arbitrarily say a couple of hours) which basically means that your entire day is consumed leading up to the gig. If you can’t do much else in your day but travel, sound check and play the show, you’ve experienced a one-off.

The Fly Date
The Fly-Date is the most desirable type of one-off that you can get, and means that you’re flying on a plane out of town for the show, then directly returning either the same day or next (it might take a little longer it your gig happens to be in an exotic place). You may do a series of fly-dates, but you’re always returning back to your home base after the gig.

Acts like Aerosmith and Madonna might only do fly-dates for an entire tour, but they have private jets that can take them exactly where they need to go and bring them back to their airport hub directly afterwards without having to worry about the rigors of commercial aviation. That’s not the case for the players in a touring band, who may have to fly commercially, although it may be in business or first class.

The Mini-Tour
Anything that’s two dates to a week on the road is considered a mini-tour. This means that you’re away from home for that entire duration and don’t see your bed at home until you return. If a band from Boston books a show in New York and then returns directly home after the gig, that’s a one-off. If it books shows in Providence and New Haven on the way and doesn’t return home to Boston after either one, that’s a mini-tour.

Mini-tours are inefficient and difficult to make money on since there are are few economies of scale with labor and rentals. The bus, bus driver, techs and tour managers usually cost more since everyone would rather take a longer gig for the job security, and a short gig might get in the way of that happening. Aside from the money aspects, it is a desirable gig, since you’re not away from home for very long.

The Full Tour
Once you get past a week out on the road where you don’t return home, you’re on a full tour. Tours can range from a week to a couple of years, in the case of a major act with a hit album. If the album continues to sell, the tour will keep going in order to take advantage of the sales momentum, even returning to play the same city a second and third time.

Many touring musicians refuse to sleep at home even when a tour travels through their home town, preferring to stay in the mood and rhythm of the tour. Even though it might feel good to sleep in your own bed, it can be mentally disruptive, not to mention financially harmful since the business manager might decide that you don’t need the per diem for the day since you’ve telegraphed that you didn’t use your hotel room. It’s OK to go home to do your laundry and check in on things though.

The Corporate Gig
The corporate gig is a somewhat modern event where an artist or band plays what amounts to a private party for a corporate entity. Once upon a time this type of gig was frowned upon and deemed a “sell-out,” but as the touring business has become more mature and financially aware, the corporate gig is now the industry’s cash cow. It’s now become commonplace for a Fortune 500 company to hire superstar acts and pay them sums that exceed their normal nightly take when on tour, but much smaller acts (including many that don’t have national visibility) benefit immensely as well.

Corporate gigs are normally one-offs and fly-dates, since most are so lucrative that they’re worth playing even if the artist or band is not currently on tour."

To read additional excerpts on The Touring Musician's Handbook and my other books, check out the excerpts section of my website.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

DARPA Brings Back The Vacuum Tube

Vacuum tubes imageVacuum tubes once ruled the world, and they still do when it comes to guitar amplifiers, but by and large tubes seem like they've seen their day in the sun. Except that's not completely true, as there's a magnetron tube inside every microwave, and tubes are still found in communications satellites and even modern aviation radar systems.

In fact, tubes may soon be an integral part of the circuitry in even more equipment, as DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has instituted a new program called Innovative Vacuum Electronic Science and Technology (INVEST) to take tube technology to the next level.

Why? Tubes have an unmatched ability to generate high-frequency signals at a power that would melt a solid-state device. We're talking about operating frequencies at around 75GHz. And tubes are impervious to EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) coming from a nuclear blast which would fry solid-state gear.

There are two upsides for the audio business that could come about because of this new program.

1. Tube technology has been fairly static for about 40 years. An improvement in the technology may overcome some of its problems like the heat, efficiency and fragility.

2. Most audio vacuum tubes are manufactured overseas. Since the tubes that DARPA will create will be for national defense, they'll be manufactured in the US, which could open up another source for the tubes we commonly use.

It's pretty cool that tubes may be staging a comeback. It's just another case of what's old is new again.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Gear Review: PSP 2445 Reverb Plugin

PSP 2445 Reverb Plugin imageFor the last few years on this blog, Mondays have been dedicated to previewing recently released gear. This year we're going to change it up a bit with some mini-gear reviews. The first one is on PSP's new 2445 reverb plugin.

The PSP 2445 is an emulation of both the EMT 244 and 245 digital reverbs. The 244 was intended to be a simpler version of the famous EMT 250 (which was the first digital reverb ever released, way back in 1975). A few years later EMT released the 245, which had a slightly different reverb algorithm and added predelay and first reflection controls.

PSP's 2445 is a dead ringer for both in that it has the sound and the look of the original 245, complete with the level meter, predelay, reflection, time (reverb decay), low frequency boost (at 100Hz) and high frequency roll-off (at 6kHz) switches, and algorithm selection (244, 245 or both).

The 2445 augments these parameters with input level, output level, and output mix controls, plus a hidden panel that provides access to several other tweaks. These include output channel assignment for each reverb engine, a high pass filter, low reverb time and high reverb time controls, width and balance of the reverb signal.

In Use
As you'll hear in the video, the 2445 sounds great even with it's default setting. This is because the original 244 and 245 were essentially very dark sounding reverbs due their 16 bit convertors and 18kHz (yes, that's right) sample rate. The result is a smokey sounding reverb that blends into almost any track.

In reality, it's difficult to make this plugin sound bad not matter what the setting. That said, I found that it does something very well that most other reverb plugins just can't keep up with, and that's a very short bright room.

Short bright rooms work especially great for electric guitars and for snare drums, but that's where most digital reverbs fall short. While a reverb might sound pretty good at a medium or long decay setting, if you back the decay time down to its lowest, you'll often find a boing or hollow feedback-type sound that's pretty unusable. This is were the 2445 shines though, as it only gets better as you back the decay time down and crank up the Reflections control. Check out the video below for more.

The PSP 2445 is available in VST, AAX and RTAS formats for Windows, and AudioUnit, VST, AAX and RTAS formats for Mac. It's currently available at an introductory price of $99 until January 9th when the price will return to $129.

Find out more on PSP's 2445 page. This is my new favorite reverb and well worth checking out.

By the way, if you want to learn more about my 101 Mixing Tricks Program, go to


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