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Friday, February 26, 2016

Louis Johnson Isolated Slap Bass

Louis Johnson isolated bass imageHere's a very cool example of 80's slap bass played by Louis Johnson on the Brothers Johnson hit "Strawberry Letter 23." The best part is that you get to hear the bass by itself, then hear it with the full band minus the drums from the 4:20 mark.

Here's what to listen for.

1. Slap bass is one of the most difficult instruments to record because of its transients, but Norm Kinney did a great job here. Most every note has the same level and intensity.

2. The feel of the part is great. The groove is incredibly strong, as is the timing.

3. You can barely hear the click during the spaces around 1:28.

4. Listen to how it fits into the track at 4:20.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How About Candle Power For Your Effects Pedal?

ZVEX EFfects Candela Vibrophase imageOkay, you're on stage and find out that your effects pedal doesn't work and you don't have a replacement battery or power adaptor handy. What to do? How about using candle power?

That's exactly what the ZVex Candela Vibrophase does. It relies on the heat from a simple tea candle to power the pedal and is actually a pretty complex piece of machinery.

This is not a cheap device at around $6k, but I guarantee that everyone will be talking about you if buy one.

What's It Like To Record In Jamaica?

Producer Richard FeldmanAlthough featured in my Music 4.0 book for his chops as a music publisher with his Artist First Music as well as being the former president of the American Independent Music Publishers association, Richard Feldman has an equally rich history in reggae music production. With credits of amazing reggae music stars like Andrew Tosh, Joe Higgs, Junior Reid, The Congos, I Threes and Wailing Souls, he also won a Grammy award for his 2005 production of the legendary Toots and the Maytals True Love. While his non-Jamaican credits are formidable, producing artists like Keith Richards, Ben Harper, Willie Nelson, No Doubt, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and many more, it’s the reggae connection that truly makes Richard unique.

Here's an excerpt from an interview that we did for The Music Producer's Handbook that gives you an idea of what recording in Jamaica is like.

How did a kid from Oklahoma like you get into Jamaican music?
In 1970 I went to Jamaica on vacation and fell in love with reggae music because there’s some essence of Jamaican music that captures the nitty and gritty of all kinds of soul music, which I was already into. My interest was probably ahead of a lot of people, because reggae really wasn’t that popular at the time. There were a few Jamaican singles out at that time like My Boy Lollipop, (a 1962 pop hit by Millie Small), and The Israelites (a 1968 hit by Desmond Decker) which I didn’t even know was Jamaican. It was the rhythm and heavy bottom end that I heard in the clubs and at outdoor sound systems that really knocked me out.  

I came back to Tulsa with a lot of records, and in 1973 started a band called “Guava”. The band included some members of Eric Clapton’s band at the time (when they weren’t on the road) and we actually started playing our hybrid version of reggae music in Tulsa, so I slowly learned how to play it. In fact, Family Man (Bob Marley’s bass player) stayed at my house when they came through Tulsa, and he and I recorded two records on my little 4 track recorder. Working with a guy like that who really knows it taught me a lot, because I was learning from a master.

Then in 1978 I went down to Jamaica to play on Inner Circle’s record as a guitar player and I actually got fired. They really wanted a rock player but I naively thought that they were hiring me because I could do all the picking guitar stuff that they did. In hindsight, I was pretty stupid because there were hundreds of guys in Jamaica that could do that, so why did they need me to play it? 

I remember as I was overdubbing on their new album, they kept asking me to “model it,” and I just couldn’t make out exactly what they meant. When the session was over I asked them, “What were you trying to tell me?”, and they said “model it” meant to swagger like a model down a runway, or blast your licks out. It turned out to be a good experience and a good education, and I made some connections, but it really wasn’t until the 80’s that I did production.

How did that happen?
Lee Jaffee, who I had met in Tulsa with Bob Marley and who had brought me to Jamaica to record with Inner Circle, hooked me up with the Wailing Souls. I did an album with them which won a Grammy nomination and led to more work. He also referred me to a record label that wanted to do a potpourri of reggae artists. I produced a wide variety of artists for them, and some things like Volume 1 and 2 of reggae versions of Grateful Dead songs.

In the spirit of Bob Marley, reggae had open arms to everyone who loved it, although that began to change when Dance Hall (a more sparse and hard core genre of reggae) came around. There’s a tradition of producers that weren’t Jamaican that goes all the way back to Chris Blackwell (who released many of the early reggae hits on his Island Records label). In fact, some of the famous early Jamaican producers like Leslie Kong were Asian, so you don’t have be of that race to produce that music. 

There weren’t that many people around that were doing it at the time, so I became sort of a go-to guy for labels that wanted to release reggae music. I began to know the studios and how to work down in Kingston, which is such an amazing place to record. If you need a percussion player, you can sort of yell out the window and there’ll be a line of guys ready to do it, and they’ll all be great and affordable (laughs).

Jamaican studios have a reputation of putting out these great sounding records with the most marginal equipment. Have any idea about that?
They pushed their gear as hard as they could and got every ounce of sound that they could get out of it. I did a live session at Tough Gong where I wanted to use a real Hammond organ to get a “bubble” (style of playing) going and along with the organ comes a guy who was their Hammond organ guy. That was his only job - to keep that Hammond working, so there’s a reverence for some of that equipment that you don’t even get here sometimes.

Some of the studios are better than you think though. Tough Gong studio has an amazing sounding room with an SSL console. Studio One and Federal are both pretty good. There are lots of them. I’ve heard that there were more studios per square mile than anywhere in the world for a while and they all had their own flavor. Now it’s just like here where everyone has a studio in their house with Pro Tools, but there are still a lot of commercial studios in Jamaica.

How much have you recorded in Jamaica?
Probably around 20 times but I’ve never totaled it up. I’d do parts of records here, but to get the real flavor, I’d have to go back down there. For example, I did a record with Willie Nelson where Willie doing his country stuff but with a Jamaican flavor. Another producer started it, but it never sounded right. I think one reason was that no one took it down to Jamaica. The album had been cut up here with Jamaican’s that I knew, and they’re really good players, but it just didn’t have the full flavor that it needed and you could only get it down there. 

Believe me, taking multitrack tapes down to Jamaica and back is not an easy job (laughs)! Their tape machines run at different speeds down there because the power is different, so you have to jump through hoops just to get things in tune. Then there’s the ever present brown-out or black-out, where you’re finally getting something going and everything in the room goes dark.

Are you tracking the entire band?
Yes, except in the case where I was using a drum machine. I’d get Sly (producer Sly Dunbar, half of the famous Sly and Robbie rhythm section) to come over and he’d just sit there with the original Linn drum machine and pound out a beat. It would be a single two-bar phrase that he’d slowly add to. 

There’d be about 15 guys in a control room that’s meant to hold 6, just listening to him making this beat with everyone stoned out of their box. That’s definitely a different kind of vibe than you see up here.

Would you rather track the entire band or just go for a good drum track and replace everything later?
I guess the key word is “depends.” Toot’s band is rock-steady. Their tempo does not budge! Why wouldn’t you want to cut with that band? They’re just incredible. I know that Sly and Robbie have the same thing going.

What’s your preproduction like?
Non-existent. With Toots, we’d get to the studio, then there’d be the ritual hour and a half with his “chalice” (pipe), and then you’re on. You just better have your shit together, improvise, and go quick after that.

 It’s mostly your preparation then.
Yeah, I would do my homework and come up with some grooves and different things in my head, but I would always differ to the masters in the room that not only had the musical knowledge, but also the musical history knowledge that was way beyond mine. I’d always trust them, but I’d have a few other ways ready to go if needed.

How long do the sessions there normally last?

You don’t see the normal amount of tracking and re-tracking that you see in pop stuff. These guys know when they got it so there’s a lot less second guessing. When I was working with Ben Harper for the True Love record, we had players from Ben’s band and the rhythm section from Toot’s band. After a take, Ben’s guys wanted to go into the control room and judge it, but Toot’s guys just said, “That track done, mon. It finish!”, and they were right. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Look At Linear Phase Vs. Minimum Phase EQ

Filter Phase imageHere's a great look at how phase shift is induced by inserting an EQ in the signal path, and the differences that the slope of a filter has on your sound.

It's put together by the clever folks at  , as is worth a watch, since you'll approach EQ a little differently next time you use it.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Tape Op's Larry Crane On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Larry Crane imageMy guest on this week's Inner Circle podcast is a great engineer and one of the founders of Tape Op magazine, Larry Crane.

Tape Op is one of the most beloved magazines in the industry, but Larry has some pretty significant engineering credits that include Elliot Smith, Sleater-Kinney, Death Cab For Cutie and the Decemberists, among others.

As always, we had a great conversation that will give you some insight about where Larry and Tape Op are coming from and going to.

In the intro I'll discuss the significance of the quick increase of both Spotify and Apple Music's paid subscriber numbers, we'll look at the YouTube purchase of the Bandpage app, and why it's suddenly easier to fly with your instrument.

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

New Music Gear Monday: DNA Music Labs Hotkey Matrix

DNA Music Labs Hotkey Matrix imageIf you're a Pro Tools user, you know that it's an incredibly flexible piece of software, but its massive feature set can sometimes be daunting. Even if you're an experienced user, there are the times when you know what feature you want, but just can't find it in the menu or don't know the command. Now Pro Tools operation just got a little easier with DNA Music Labs Hotkey Matrix, a dedicated command key control surface.

Hotkey Matrix features 144 color-coded keys designed, arranged and mapped to a comprehensive set of Pro Tools commands. What's cool is that all of PT's commands are accessed from just a single dedicated key, so you don't have to use the mouse to search through menus or use modifier keys for keyboard commands.

It's pretty much plug and play, as it works directly with the native features of PT and the operating system, so you don't need to install any new software to make it run. It's also commercial-grade hardware where the keys are rated for over 50 million presses, so it can stand up to everyday use.

The shortcuts are laid out in groups that cover editing, selecting, nudging, windows and layout, zooming, file menu functions, track and playlist, and MIDI.

The DNA Music Labs Hotkey Matrix works on Mac OS and Windows 7 and is priced at $280. There's a version for Pro Tools Native and Pro Tools HD. The unit only works on PT 10 and above however.

Here's a video that explains it in more detail.


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