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Friday, April 1, 2016

Recording A Band With Just One Stereo Mic

Recording With 1 Mic imageUsually I post an isolated track on Friday, but this is something that's pretty close. In this video, engineer John Cuniberti uses a single stereo AEA R88 stereo ribbon mic to record the band San Geronimo - no overdubs, no additional mics.

For those of you who don't know, John was the guy who came up with the idea of reamping, a technique and box that's used every day in studios around the world.

The recording just goes to show how good it can actually sound when the band is placed at the right distances, know how to control their volume, and all come up with a good performance at the same time. Of course, having a great acoustic environment really helps as well (25th Street Recording in Oakland).

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Music business Lesson From Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa imageSolo artists many times get a reputation for being hard bosses, but the fact of the matter is that there's a lot of pressure on them from many different angles.

Here's an original Frank Zappa interview from 1984 that describes why he sometimes needed to be a "dictator" in his dealings with his band, as well as how much it cost him to get the band ready to tour (and remember this was over 30 years ago so we're talking about 2.3 times more in today's money).

Great animation by Carl King and score by Stephen Cox, by the way. Thanks to DrumTalk TV for the heads up.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Legendary Trumpeter Jerry Hey On Miking Horns

Jerry Hey imageEngineers that don't work with horn players much often don't understand the difficulties or the technique for getting a great sound. Here's an interview with Jerry Hey, who may be the most widely recorded horn player ever, from my Studio Musician's Handbook that explains things from the player's point of view.

I understand that you have strong feelings about how people mike your horn.
I guess I have strong feelings because over the course of my experience, being in great situations and being in awful situations, I’ve learned a lot.

You carry your own mics, don’t you?
I have for about 10 or 12 years. When you go into studios like Capitol or Oceanway, they have a good microphone collection so you don’t have to worry. But with home studios being such a big part of recording now, a lot of times they don’t have any good mics. It forced me to take one part of the equation and make it the same every time so that I always know that it’s not the microphone’s fault if something doesn’t sound right. I carry 3 Royers (model R-121) with me now.  

Why 3 Royers?
Usually in my horn section there are 2 trumpets, one trombone and one sax. The trumpets play on one mic, and trombone and sax play on a mic each. The Royer has become sort of a standard for horns now. Most of the studios now have bought them so I don’t have to even take them in to a lot of places.

So do you just have someone use your mics right away or do you wait to see what it sounds like?
It depends on the engineer. For instance Bruce Swedien has a great mic collection that he bought new that no one else has ever touched, and he’s put a whole host of microphones in front of us. We did a very high intensity tune for Michael Jackson once where he put his RCA 44 on the trumpets and I told him “Bruce, you’re the only guy that I’d ever let put that microphone in front of us”. He said, “Wait until you hear it”. It just sounded amazing because it was in such pristine condition. In a situation like that where a guy has world-class microphones, there’s usually not a problem. But in situations where I’m in somebody’s home and they have little or no microphone selection and they put up something that I know doesn’t sound good, I’ll tell them I have the Royers available.  

Do you have a favorite placement?
Because the Royers have a figure 8 pattern, the room is an issue in the placement. If you’re in a smaller room with 4 horns, you can’t have the mics too far away from the trumpets at the level we play because the room becomes a factor on the back side of the mic. So the placement can be anywhere from a foot and a half to 4 feet or so away. We’ve done some Earth, Wind and Fire stuff where it’s been 6 feet away. That was kind of roomy because the room was small but that was that sound that we were going for; kind of a “live” kind of sound. So it does depend on the size of the room and how far away you are from the wall that you’re playing toward and how much slap off the wall you’re going to get. But generally I’d say about 2 feet from the end of the trumpet bell takes most of the room away from it.  

How do you determine where in the room you’re going to play?
That depends on the acoustics of the room. In a moderate size room like Oceanway, Conway or Capitol, when you play soft it sounds like you’re playing soft and when you play loud it sounds like you’re playing loud and you can hear yourself all the time. Almost anywhere in those rooms sounds great. If you go into another room that has carpeting on the floor or soft walls or ceilings, the quality of sound doesn’t change that much (from soft to loud) and you feel like you have to work harder. In a deader room it helps to be closer to a wall so you can get a little feedback from what you’re playing otherwise it’s easy to overblow and work harder than you need to work.

Do you mean play into the wall?
Not into the wall but move a step or two closer to get a little bit of feedback.  When you’re playing trumpet your effort is a factor on how much you can hear yourself so in a deader studio it makes it a lot more difficult to play and to hear everybody. So if you move up a little closer to the glass or the wall, it can make you not work so hard.  

Does that still matter if you’re wearing headphones?
We always us one sided headphones because it’s very difficult to expect the engineer to get your balance good enough with the rhythm section, and also balance the horn section the way it should be in order to play in tune with double-side phones. That puts another cog in the link of recording when you have to make the engineer work that hard. Also, with one headphone we can hear everyone in the room which helps keep the time and phrasing the same.  

Do you always play with the same guys?

If I can. The other trumpet player is Gary Grant and we’ve played together for over 30 years. I know what he’s going to do and he knows what I’m going to do so it’s just like a clone standing right next to you. The saxophones have changed a bit over the years with Dan Higgins or Larry Williams or a few others that I’ve used. Bill Reichenbach on trombone has been the guy for a very long time. It’s understood that we go in there as a team with everyone going at it at the same level. It makes life easier and we have a good time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Congresswomen Wants To Get Rid Of The Air Force Bands

A few years ago I was in Louisville to give a presentation and happened to catch the US Army Field Band in concert. Excellent from top to bottom, the band served up a wide range of music that was as top-notch as it comes, as is the case with all military bands. It was a totally enjoyable experience.

Last week, Republican congresswoman from Arizona Martha McSally attacked the Air Force's bands before House Armed Services Committee, according to the Washington Post. In her words, "We have hundreds of people playing the tuba and clarinet. If we really had a manning crisis, from my perspective, we would really tell people to put down the tuba and pick up a wrench or gun."

She went on to describe the bands as a waste of taxpayer money, but she's not the first to take that stance. It's been going on since almost from when military bands were first created.

The fact is that the military bands are one of the largest employers of musicians in the country, and most of those employed are elite in that they've previously trained at conservatories and colleges and must pass a rigorous audition to be accepted.

And the bands work a lot, with the Air Force bands alone logging more than 1600 performances per year ranging from official military functions to concerts to community outreach programs.

As Colonel Larry H. Lang, the commander and conductor of the United States Air Force Band points out, "Unless you reduce the strength of the army by that amount, you haven't saved any money; you just turn them into something else, and end up contracting what they did," he said. "And you find out they did a lot."

This is just another attack on the arts, and hopefully one that won't gain traction. The way the military misspends money, especially the Air Force, the band should be the least of their worries.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Maag Audio Founder Cliff Maag Sr. On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

The graphic on the left is the Maag Audio EQ4, one of the most unique equalizers (and a secret weapon of hit mixers) that you'll find. The EQ points aren't in the usual places and it features a one-of-a-kind "Air Band" that makes the high end of virtually any mic sparkle.

Cliff Maag Sr. is the inventor of this EQ (as well as the previous widely acclaimed NTI EQ3 and the Nightpro PreQ3 & EQ3D) and he's the guest on this week's Inner Circle Podcast.

Cliff will describe how his engineering experience led to the development of this unique EQ, as well as the impressive care that goes into building the hardware versions. I learned a lot from talking to him and I hope you will too.

In the intro I'll take a look at how Kanye West's constant changing of his mixes after they've been released online might be the wave of the future for music production, and how some companies are taking control of your phone's microphone to gather marketing information.

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

New Music Gear Monday: Joey Sturgis Tones Finality Limiter

Joey Sturgis Tones Finality Limiter imageThere are a lot of compressor/limiter plugins available, but after a while they all begin to sound the same. For the most part, most try to emulate an existing hardware unit, which some do better than others. There is still room for another limiter, however, especially if the thinking behind it is different, which is exactly what describes JST's new Finality.

Joey Sturgis Tones Finality takes limiting to the next level with some really well-thought out features, a great sound, and reasonable price. It has all the standard parameter controls like input level, release, threshold, output, meter control and gain, plus a few others that you don't see often, if at all.

One of the cooler things that it has is a Look Ahead control that allows the plug to anticipate loud peaks before they cause a problem. This is something that mastering compressor/limiters have had for what seems like eons, but you don't see often in limiters that you used on individual tracks.

There's an Agro button that changes the release envelope to one specifically for drums (it works great, by the way), and the Color button adds a pleasing saturation sound with the amount determined by the Threshold level. There's also a Hard/Soft switch that again changes the release envelope and determines how agressive the sound will be.

There's also a built-in Sidechain High-Pass Filter with an on-off switch, frequency control and monitor switch, so you can set how the limiter reacts to low end of the track. An Auto-Gain switch automatically controls the amount of make-up gain added (love this), and a Mix control mixes between the uncompressed and compressed signals, which basically adds parallel compression without the need for extra channels and setup (why doesn't every plug have this?).

I loved the sound of Finality on drums, especially the kick, where it gave it some added girth without having to do much tweaking at all. Works great on bass and guitars as well, and I'm sure I'll find more uses for it over time, as I've found it to work in almost any situation so far, unlike many other similar products.

Finality is available direct from Joey Sturgis Tones for $79 for the Advanced version, and just $49 for the simpler yet still effective Lite version. There's also a limited demo version available.


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