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Friday, March 11, 2016

Def Leopard "Foolin" Isolated Vocals

Def Leppard "Foolin'" imageDef Leppard's first album was one of producer Mutt Lange's many masterpieces, with layer upon layer of stacked parts that fit perfectly together. Here's the isolated vocal track from "Foolin',"one of the hits from that album. Here's what to listen for (the quality isn't that great, unfortunately).

1. The lead vocal is compressed pretty hard, but it works perfectly in the context of the mix.

2. The vocals have an interesting gated reverb effect that blooms and then cuts off instead of the normal decay that you'd hear. Some mixers and producers used to refer to this as the "cloud" sound.

3. You don't think of Def Leppard as a keyboard oriented band but there sure are a lot of synths on this song, especially the low synth on the B sections and coming out of the solo.

4. Listen to the stacked background vocal harmonies at 4:10. It almost sounds like the background vocals on The Cars early albums.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

RCA Was Apple Before Apple

RCA Microphone imageRecently I read a great post on the Daily Beast about how the old RCA company was actually Apple way before Apple came into existence. Of course, that means that there were numerous similarities between the company that were pretty impressive. For instance:
  • RCA founder David Sarnoff was the original Steve Jobs. He willed his company to be the most innovative and technology driven company of its time. When Sarnoff retired in 1970, the company lost its way and diversified into food and real estate, eventually being acquired by GE. There's no sign of that happening with Apple, but you can't deny that Jobs influence definitely made a difference in its products.
  • Similar to iTunes, for a time RCA was the worlds largest seller of music with the acquisition of the Victor Talking Machines company in 1929. The RCA record label had the biggest stars of the day with Louis Armstrong, George Gershwin, Enrico Caruso, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Arturo Toscanini, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Elvis, and many others. 
  • It was also the first to commercialize the turntable, so everyone could listen to their favorite artist via vinyl record when they wanted to at home.
  • And speaking of the vinyl record, RCA was the first to come up with the 45 RPM vinyl single, as well as the first to commercialize the stereo vinyl record.
  • And the company was a technology pioneer, being the first to produce a ribbon microphone (still coveted today) as well as the first commercial tube amplifiers.
  • RCA was the first to get into "wireless technology," especially televisions. In fact, the company was the first with a full production commercial television, then the first to commercialize the color television.
  • To go along with the television set it was selling, the company also provided content in the form of one of the three major television networks, and one we still watch today - NBC.
  • The company was also a leader in motion pictures with its sound on film technology and Technicolor process.
  • And like Apple, it had its technological misses, with the 8 track cassette and Quad sound.
The point is, Apple may be the perfect tech company for the beginning of the 21st century, but RCA might have been its equal in many ways in the 20th.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

5 Steps To Punchy Drum Compression

Drum Compression imagePunchy drums are what every engineer aims for in a mix and there's definitely a way to get there. Sometimes just using the right compressors can do the trick, but most of the time it requires some adjustment of the parameters to really get the sound you're looking for.

Here's a few excerpts from my Mixing Engineer's Handbook, Audio Mixing Bootcamp and Drum Recording Handbook books all culled together for an overview on drum compression.

"It would be great if every drummer hit every beat on the kick and snare with the same intensity, but unfortunately that doesn’t even happen with the best drummers on the planet. When the intensity changes from beat to beat, the pulse of the song feels erratic, since even a slight change in level can make the drums feel a lot less solid than they should be. Compression works wonders to even out those erratic hits and helps to push the kick and snare forward in the track to make them feel more punchy. Let’s take a look at how to do that with the drums.

The Compression Technique
Before we get into specifics, here’s the technique for setting up a compressor. Regardless of the instrument, vocal or audio source, the set up is basically the same.
1. Start with the attack time set as slow as possible, and release time set as fast as possible on the compressor. 
2. Turn the attack faster until the instrument begins to sound dull (this happens because you’re compressing the attack portion of the sound envelope). Stop increasing the attack time at this point and even back it off a little so the sound stays crisp.
3. Adjust the release time so that after the initial attack, the volume goes back to at least 90 percent of the normal level by the next beat. If in doubt, it’s better to have a shorter release than a longer one.
4. Set to the lowest ratio above 1:1 (which means no compression). Usually on drums, the lowest ratio provides the most punch, since it lets the transients of the drum be heard. 2:1 or 1.5:1 work great.
5. Bypass the compressor to see if there’s a level difference. If there is, increase the Gain or Output control until the volume is the same as when it’s bypassed.
Tracking Versus Mixing
Generally speaking, most engineers won’t compress much, if at all, during tracking, since anything you do while recording can’t be undone later. That said, some engineers like to limit the instruments a little (only by a dB or two) just to control the transients a bit. A compressor becomes a limiter when the ratio is set to 10:1 or more. If you choose to do this, make sure that the limiter kicks in on only the highest peaks. If it’s limiting constantly, it’s probably too much and you might regret it later since it can't be undone. Decrease the threshold control so it only limits on the occasional transient.

Compressing The Kick And Snare
The biggest question most engineers have when compressing either the kick or snare is “How much is enough?” This depends first and foremost on the sound of the drum itself and the skill of the drummer. A well-tuned drum kit that sounds great in the room should record well, and a reasonably good drummer with some studio experience usually means that less compression is needed because the hits are fairly even. Even a great drummer with a great sounding kit can benefit from a bit of compression though, and as little as a dB or two can work wonders for the sound. With only that amount, the setup of the compressor is a lot less crucial, especially the attack and release.

Sometimes you need the kick or snare to cut through the mix and seem as if it’s in your face, and that’s when 3 to 6dB or so does the job. It’s here that the setup of the compressor is critical because you’re imparting its sound on the drum. Make sure you tweak the attack and release controls as above, and even try a number of different compressors. You’ll find they all react differently, even with the same settings, so it’s worth the time to experiment. Remember: if the attack is set too fast, the drum will sound less punchy, regardless of how much compression you use.

Compressing The Room Mics
The room ambient mics are meant to add the “glue” to the sound of a kit, and can really benefit from a fair amount of compression, which means anywhere from 6 to 10dB. In fact, many mixers prefer the room sound to be extremely compressed, with way more than 10dB being the norm.

The problem is that the more compression you use, the more the ambience of the room is emphasized. That’s okay if you’re recording in a great sounding room, but if it has a lot of reflections and the ceiling is low, you may be emphasizing something that just doesn’t add much to the track. One trick is to actually set the attack time so it’s much shorter than usual to cut off the sound of the initial drum transient, then tuck the room tracks in just under the other drum tracks.

Note that regardless of how good the room mics sound, the more of them you use, the less space there will be for the other instruments in the track. The more instruments there are, the more you’ll have to back them off. Sad but true, but unfortunately, there’s only so much sonic space to any mix."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Creating A Custom One String Piano

Una Corda imageDavid Klavins builds custom boutique pianos that some say are the best in the world. He also builds unusual pianos and one of them is Una Corda, a single string piano that has a sound somewhere between a piano and a harp.

Here's an interesting video about the building and customization of the instrument for pianist Nils Frahm.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Mastering Legend Vlado Meller On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Vlado Meller imageYou're in for a real treat this week as my guest on the Inner Circle Podcast is mastering legend Vlado Meller.

Vlado has held staff mastering positions for Columbia (when it was the #1 label in the world), Sony Music, and Universal Music before striking out as an independent.

In that time he's racked up credits with the Beastie Boys, Andrea Bocelli, Johnny Cash, Celine Dion, Duran Duran, Julio Iglesias, Michael Jackson, Lil Wayne, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Metallica, George Michael, Oasis, Pink Floyd, Public Enemy, Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Shakira, Barbra Streisand, Jack White, and many, many more.

Vlado has a lot of great stories, but one of the best is how he fled the Russian invasion of his native Czechoslovakia to eventually get a job at the famous CBS Studios in New York City.

In the intro I'll take a look at Avid's latest restructuring, and a very interesting Nielsen study that finds how different radio is from what we're actually listening 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: Avid Pro Tools iPad Dock

Avid Pro Tools Dock imageAvid recently introduced a pretty cool accessory for Pro Tools called the Pro Tools | Dock. It's a unique controller that takes an iPad and marries it with controller hardware to give the user the ability to edit and mix at a faster pace.

The Dock is based on the advanced touchscreen workflows on the Master Touch Module of the S6 (Avid's high-end console controller) and basically shows a super-channel view for fast navigation, metering, and on-screen plug-in control . The hardware of the dock includes dedicated automation switches, transport controls, a weighted aluminum jog wheel, and color-coded Soft Key switches.

The Dock’s eight soft knobs can be used to control parameters like EQ, Dynamics, Panning, and Sends on the Attentioned (focused) channel, just like the S6 Master Touch Module. ‘Attentioning’ a track is done just by touching the track tile on the screen and it brings it to the fader.

The Pro Tools | Dock works with EUCON-enabled DAWs and video editing tools, including Pro Tools, Media Composer, Logic Pro X, Cubase, and Premiere Pro. Retail price is $1,199, not including the cost of the iPad. It won't be available until the end of the year though.


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