Monthly Archives: July 2016
Monthly Archives: July 2016
Although it may not be entirely obvious if you’re not listening carefully, music production has changed immensely from the early days of 16 and 24 track recording until now (hits made before multitrack recording were even more different by virtue of the limited tracks available). Here are some observations on how the production of today differs from what was done in the 60s and 70s.
1. Hits today are “less organic.” With so many songs built around beats, loops, sequenced tracks and virtual instruments, the intensity from section to section in a hit is changed by adding or subtracting an instrument or vocal, instead of a live player just playing more dynamically. This has changed the feel of the current hits, for better or worse.
2. Hits today are quantized or “put on the grid” in a digital audio workstation app. Back in the days of tape, performances generally weren’t perfect (Steely Dan aside). The track space was limited, and if a player played the part nearly perfect except for one flub, many times you couldn’t take the chance that the next performance would be played as well, and you might record over a better take. That meant that you lived with the mistakes, but that also helped the songs sound more human or organic. In other words, in those days there was no such thing as “undo.”
3. Effects layering is more sophisticated today. Back in the early days of hit making, the only effects that most studios had were reverb and delay, and usually only one of each. Today we have a huge array of effects available, and even the most basic native plugin is far more variable than any of the original effects used way back when. Plus, effects today can be easily automated so they can appear or morph for only a single word or beat, which make the hits of today sound more “slick.”
4. Most songs have an ending. Before the turn of the century, most hits ended with a fade. Not so today. According to one study, hard endings play better in the digital world, where a fade is more likely to make the listener skip on to the next song.
While there’s still a lot of music production that remains the same as it ever was, there’s a lot that’s different too. The next time you listen to a song, keep these observations in mind. It will make you think differently about what you’re hearing.
For a detailed look at the production of hit songs, check out my Deconstructed Hits series of books.
If you’re a guitar player you may own a Les Paul, and if you’re an engineer you probably have to record one from time to time. That’s a good enough reason to learn all you can about the instrument, so here’s a great video that points out 5 things you probably didn’t know about the instrument. Previously I posted something similar post about both a Strat and Tele that was so popular I thought I’d do the followup on a Les Paul.
One of the things that Philip McKnight talks about in the video is the pickup strength of the Les Paul and how the Burstbuckers supplied on current model aren’t as hot as everyone thinks. It turns out that high-output pickups generally don’t sound nearly as good as the quieter ones, regardless of the make or brand, and this is a perfect example.
That said, check out the 5 things that you should probably know about the instrument.
With virtual reality becoming more and more popular, surround sound is making a comeback. While most of the concentration on the audio side of things is on mixing, the fact of the matter is that there’s a lot of interesting information that can be captured during recording. Here’s an excerpt from my Recording Engineer’s Handbook that outlines 4 surround sound miking techniques that don’t require anything fancy in terms of microphones or encoders.
Remember that at it’s most basic, surround sound miking is just an extension of normal stereo miking techniques.
1. OCT Surround
Optimized Cardioid Triangle (OCT) is a modified Decca Tree that uses three cardioid microphones in a triangle with the center mic about three inches or so from the center, and the side mics (which face out towards the sides) 15 to 36 inches away from each other. By adding two additional rear cardioids 15 inches back from the L and R and eight inches farther outside the L and R and pointing to the rear, a surround version of OCT can be derived. For better low end response, omni’s may be substituted.
2. IRT Cross
IRT stands for the German-based “Institute of Radio Technology” where this technique was created. This configuration is in essence a double-ORTF-setup (see ORTF in Chapter 5) with four cardioids arranged in a perfect-square-shape with an angle of 90 degrees to each other respectively. To compensate for the narrower angle compared to ORTF (which is 110 degrees), the distance between the mics is greater (eight inches compared to six inches with ORTF). Strictly speaking, the IRT microphone cross is an array for ambience recording. Its prime characteristic is a transparent and spatial reproduction of the acoustic environment, and was used for many years on NPR’s “Radio Expeditions” spectacular recordings.
3. Hamasaki Square
The Hamasaki Square configuration is similar to the IRT Cross except that figure 8s are substituted for cardioids. The length of each side is much wider, at about six feet, and the figure-8s have their nulls turned to the front so that this array is relatively insensitive to direct sound.
4. Double M-S
The method uses a standard M-S configuration with the addition of a rear facing cardioid mic.
The aim of any recording is to capture the environment as well as the source, and surround miking accomplishes this goal to the extent that we have never heard before. Any of the above methods add a spaciousness that you simply can’t even approximate with outboard processors or any other previously mentioned miking techniques.
You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
We all love vinyl and if you’re an artist you’d like to release your next album on it. The problem is the long 6 month+ wait times at the pressing plants and the big orders that you have to place just to get in line.
Qrates.com offers vinyl orders for as few as 100 copies, has a unique online ordering system, and provides built-in crowdfunding for the product as well all on one site. Chief Marketing Officer Taishi Fukuyama joined me on this week’s podcast to discuss the Qrates business model, as well as a little bit about the music scene in Japan at the moment.
In the intro I’ll discuss Deezer’s launch in the United States (finally) as well as Fairlight leaving the audio business (now that’s a piece of audio and studio history).
It looks like Fairlight will be leaving the audio business soon as it recently put those assets up for sale. The Australian company has been a pioneer in digital audio in both music and more recently postproduction and has always made very robust hardware and software, but in a market that’s increasingly going downmarket in terms of price, just about all companies making hardware are having a rough go these days.
Fairlight was one of the companies responsible for changing the sound of music in the 1980s with the introduction of its CMI (Computer Music Instrument), a digital sampler (and the first with an attached computer monitor, which was very novel at the time) used by Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Trevor Horn, Hans Zimmer, Thomas Dolby, and a host of other English music stars. The CMI cost between $25k and $30k, and the company eventually ran into trouble finding buyers for its expensive hardware, and left the business.
Fairlight later reappeared as Fairlight ESP (Electric Sound and Picture) this time concentrating on a series of integrated audio workstations complete with a high quality control surface and a custom DAW designed specifically for postproduction.
In August 2009, co-founder Peter Vogel produced a limited run of 100 up-to-date CMI’s, the in 2011 released a Peter Vogel CMI app for the iPad and iPhone. The app includes the complete CMI sound library and an accurate translation of the CMI’s renowned Page R sequencer, so at least the beauty of the instrument isn’t lost forever.
Now the company has decided to exit the audio business entirely to instead concentrate on its patented picture key work surface technology which it licenses to manufacturers of highly user interactive tactile equipment.
Fairlight was always a quality company with quality products, but being based in Australia probably made them more expensive than the market could bear.
Even back before the cassette days engineers and producers checked their mixes in their cars. Back then, some studios maintained a low power AM transmitter on site so you could run out to your car to make a quick check, but now we use all sorts of portable files to check on everything from computers to phones to even an Amazon Echo to be sure that a mix translates. All that running around takes time away from mixing, so that’s where Audified’s new MixChecker plugin can be a big help.
MixChecker inserts across the stereo buss to simulate the response of a number of different devices and environments. You can switch between simulating a pair of headphones or a monitor with a 5 inch or an 8 inch monitor to start, or just hit bypass to hear the mix normally. When it comes to environments, you can then switch between normal monitors (although with different speakers), small Auratone-like monitor simulations, headphones, smartphone, tablet, laptop computer, computer with external speakers, earbuds, the car, a television set, a home stereo system and a boombox. Pretty cool.
I can’t say for sure how accurate these are, but it looks like Audified spent a lot of time sampling the environments and devices to at least get you in the ball park. That said, we all know how our cars sound, and for many of us, that’s still the ultimate test.
That said, Audified MixChecker is definitely something to look into. It’s only $149 and is ilok protected (although you don’t need the hardware key, only the License Manager), and is available for AAX, AU and VST in 32 or 64 bit and for Mac and Windows. There’s also a 30 day free trial. Check out the video below for more detail or visit the dedicated Audified MixChecker page.
Thanks very much to Kurt Hoffler for the heads up.
Usually you’ll find an isolated post or song analysis here on a Friday, but after a number of years of doing that and really taking a close look at many of the classic songs that we all grew up hearing, I thought that an overall analysis would be worthwhile. The 60s and 70s were a period of great experimentation in music, where in many cases the rules that are being used today were just beginning to be constructed. As a result, there are many telling differences between the songs of that period from what we commonly hear today. Let’s take a look at 4 ways classic songs are different from the popular songs of today.
1. The classic rock songs had no formula. The common formula for a hit song today revolves around the triad of verse, chorus and bridge, with a hooky instrumental riff for an intro and interlude. That’s also be the case with some classic rock songs too (“China Grove,” “Feels Like The First Time”), but more often than not songs of the era didn’t contain a bridge that provides a peak in the song. In fact, in many songs the peak (and what could be considered a bridge) happened as a result of the introduction of a completely new section that’s somewhat out of context with the previous part – almost like a different song melded into the original. Examples of this are “LA Women,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Layla,” “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” “Magic Man,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Free Bird.”
2. Tempo was never an issue for the classics. A look at the Top 40 of the last ten years shows that the tempo revolves around the 120 to 130 beats per minute area. The classic hits that we love have no such restrictions, as the tempo from song to song varies wildly, sometimes even within the song too.
3. The lyrical content was much more diverse. Hit songs have always been about love, either gaining it or losing it, and many have presented it in a lowest common denominator form with forced “moon – June” style rhymes. The classic rock songs certainly had some of that (“Feel Like Making Love”), but for the most part came from a different, more thoughtful place (“Layla,” “Magic Man,” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Dreams”). That said, many of the hits of the past tell stories about everyday life (“LA Women,” “China Grove,” “Radar Love,” “25 or 6 to 4”) or interesting thoughts and experiences (“Don’t Fear The Reaper,” “Rocket Man,” “Kashmir,” “Smoke On The Water”).
4. Melody played a larger part in the song. Many of the songs on the charts in the last 20 years have revolved more around the beat than the melody. There’s always some sort of singable lyric involved or it wouldn’t be a hit, but melody played a much larger role in the classic rock hits. Sometimes the melody was closer to that of the standards of the 40s, like “Rocket Man,” or just had a wide range between verse and chorus (“Magic Man,” Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Feels Like The First Time,” “25 or 6 to 4”). Then again, there was also a fair number of songs where the melody of the verse was basically the same for the chorus (“Dreams,” “Layla,” “China Grove”) too.
So the next time you listen to a song, see if you can work out the song formula that it’s using. If you can’t, chances are it’s from an era long gone by.
I know that you love the look of your front studio wall so much that you hate the fact that those unsightly studio monitors are blocking it, but now there’s a solution. It’s Turtle Beach’s new Hypersound Glass speakers that have the added benefit of radiating directionally as well.
Turtle Beach has been working on hyperdirectional speakers for a while and the company holds 28 patents on the subject. This is the first from its Hypersound line that are transparent however.
Super directional speakers have been around for a while and have found a home in museums and salesroom floors where the visitors only hear the prerecorded message when standing in front of an exhibit or kiosk. Turtle Beach is also pushing at least one model for home use with televisions as well.
The problem is that the frequency response is restricted to midrange and higher frequencies, since lows are omnidirectional. That makes this class of speakers good for dialog and not so good for music. I tried to find the specs on the Hypersound Glass speakers but they were nowhere to be found (nor was the price) despite numerous dedicated pages and even a white paper.
That said, the technology is interesting, as is the demo video below. File this one under “interesting in certain applications.”
It’s inevitable that it’s going to happen during some point in the project. There’s going to be a strong disagreement between two of the parties involved, and the producer is going to have to diplomatically sort it out. Even worse, the conflict can come between the artist and the producer, which requires a deft hand at getting the job done yet keeping everyone happy. Here’s an excerpt from the latest version of my Music Producer’s Handbook that covers the steps to take when it comes to resolving a conflict in the studio.
“Being in any relationship requires at least some compromise, and working with a group of musicians is no different from what you’d expect between family members, friends, bosses, and co-workers. There are times when you just have to bend in order to keep the peace.
While compromise is easy for some people to do, others have a personality that seldom allows it and a conflict occurs. Here are some effective steps that you can take to state your case in a way that should resolve or mediate the conflict.
1. Cool off first. Conflicts can’t be solved when emotions are running hot. Take some time to get away from the problem for a bit and brainstorm on exactly what the conflict is, how it was caused, and most important, what a possible solution would be.
2. Present accolades, support, and respect. The first thing to do is acknowledge the person’s accomplishments and talent. Something like “I want to start by saying that I think the tracks we’ve captured are really great, and you’re playing your parts way better than I ever thought possible.”
3. Analyze why the problem occurred. If you give a clear explanation of why you think there’s a problem or why the problem or conflict has occurred, you set the initial groundwork for solving the conflict. If the other person knows exactly what your side of the story is, you might find more often than not that you’re both on the same page, but on different sides of it.
4. Take responsibility and use “I” messages. If you are involved in a conflict that you’re aware of, take responsibility and own up to it, but make sure that everything is from your point of view. For instance, it’s best to say, “I think you were flat on that part,” rather than “Everybody knows that you always sing that part flat,” or worse, “You’re singing sucks, man.”
5. Describe what “I” or “we” need so that the problem doesn’t happen again. This is the solution from your point of view. “We really need you to be here a half hour before the session so that you have time to warm up. That way we won’t waste any studio time, which is costing us money.”
6. Support their success. Tell him that you want him to win, because if he wins, so do you. “The better you sound, the better we all sound” or “Do you know how great this is going to sound once you get that part down? It’s going to kill!”
You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
I know that it’s common to feel like you’ve just heard the loudest sound in the world when leaving your local club after a metal band does its thing, or maybe compare that to the launch of Saturn V vehicle, but neither of those are even close. According to a fascinating article in the FiveThirtyEight, the loudest sound in world ever measured occurred on the morning of August 27th, 1883 when the volcanic island of Krakatoa blew itself to bits. It was reported that the sound was heard over 2,800 miles away, and there’s some evidence that the sound actually traversed the globe multiple times.
While a Saturn V has been measured at 204dB during launch, Krakatoa measured 174dB from 100 miles away, still loud enough to pop your eardrums!
What actually travelled around the world was the infrasonic sound waves (below our hearing range) from the blast. The way this was spotted was similar to the way nuclear tests are monitored and seismologists check for earthquakes – microbarometers and low-frequency microphones. In fact, a most recent case centered around the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over southern Russia on February 15th, 2013. The nearest monitoring station was 435 miles away, yet measured an infrasound level that was still 90dB.
So can infrasonic waves kill you? It turns out that the Air Force has done tests and found that humans exposed to an infrasonic level of 110dB experience changes in their blood pressure and respiratory rates to where they get dizzy and lose their balance. A 1965 test found that the test subjects began to feel their chests moving without their control at around 151dB, and at that point, their lungs were being artificially inflated and deflated.
While certainly not on the level of the full frequency range explosion of Krakatoa, yes, super low frequencies can be a killer as well. Just remember that a new active volcano has now emerged where Krakatoa once stood. Best to keep 3,000 miles away.