Monthly Archives: July 2016
Monthly Archives: July 2016
Bobby’s worked with a variety of great artists ranging from Michael Jackson to Carole King to world music superstar Johnny Clegg to the legendary Harry Belafonte. He’s also a composer with his own music library, and his credits include shows like Oprah Winfrey, The View, Survivor, and ABC’s 20/20 News, and commercials for Coca Cola, Ford Motor Co. and American Airlines. Along the way, Bobby’s also been nominated for a daytime Emmy award. We had a great chat that you’ll enjoy.
In the intro I’ll discuss Apple’s interesting proposal for a new streaming royalty rate for songwriters and publishers, and the new breed of big fast flash drives now available.
We’ve been used to the keyboard, mouse and trackpad as our main computer interface for a long time now, but didn’t you ever wish for more control than these single dimensional input devices provide? Meet the Sensel Morph, a multi-touch pressure sensitive controller that rethinks the way we input data in just about any application.
The Morph is basically a pressure sensitive tablet that can detect large levels of pressure information. While that in itself makes it unique, it goes another step by providing magnetic overlays for a variety of applications, and even a template where you can specify your own control overlay from scratch for Sensel to print it for you, or they can send you the 3D printing file so you can print it at home. As it’s currently configured, the unit comes with one of three standard music control surface overlays: an MPC-style control surface and drum programming grid, a keyboard or a drum kit.
The Morph works out of the box with many applications, and it’s also hackable if you have the technical chops. You can connect it to your computer via USB, to your iPad via Bluetooth, or to an Arduino via developer cables.
The unit is able to work with such precision thanks to approximately 20,000 individual sensor elements at a spacing of less than 1/16” inserted on a custom-formulated highly-tuned polymer layer. That gives each individual sensor element the ability to detect anything from a feather-light tap to a hard push and everything in between (with over 4,000 detectable voltage levels).
The Sensel Morph was part of a Kickstarter campaign that quickly reached it’s $60,000 goal, then it’s stretched goal of $250k, and now sits at $442k, so there’s obviously some appetite for the unit. You can buy a your own Morph now directly from Sensel for $249 with one overlay, and even better, the company is currently delivering.
Check out the video below for more about the Morph, and also take a look at the music section of the Sensel website.
Here’s a real treat. It’s the isolated vocal track from the title track of David Bowie’s iconic Ziggy Stardust album and it features not only David’s excellent vocal skills, but producer/engineer’s Ken Scott’s impeccable production as well. For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember, I co-wrote Ken’s autobiography Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust and there were so many great Bowie stories that he related while doing it that it’s difficult to pick just one, so I’ll include a few.
Since this is all about the isolated vocal, a great story from the book is about David doing vocals. According to Ken:
“David was always exceptional with his vocals, since 99% of the time it was the first take, beginning to end, with no punches. I’d get the level and he’d sing the song down and that would be it. Sure made my job easy. You’d think there was a mistake when he was laying it down, but when we’d listen to the playback we’d find that what we thought sounded odd the first time through was intentional and worked perfectly.”
OK, how about the technical bits of recording Bowie. Again from the book:
“What I quite often did while recording David’s vocals was use an AKG C12a and a U67 and place them at a 90 degree angle to each other so he was singing in-between them. I came up with this method so I could instantly switch between the two to see which mic sounded better (and maybe even use both), instead of having him stand in front of one mic and sing a bit, then go in front of the other mic and sing a bit. It also had the added benefit of helping suppress any popping and sibilance as well. We didn’t have many tracks at that time, so even if both mics were used, they were mixed together to a single track. Unlike many other recordings of the time, we never recorded the effects because David only did one take, so there was never any time to set them up.”
How about mixing? Again, right from the source:
“The album, like the others that followed, was mixed on a 20 input Sound Techniques console, using moderate board EQ, a single EMT plate reverb, and just a little compression on the overall mix. Compression came from two UREI 1176’s and two Teletronix LA2A’s. The multitrack machines were an Ampex 8 track and later a 3M 16 track. Any delay came from a Studer C37 stereo tape machine with a varispeed.”
Just a little bit about Ziggy Stardust the album, which everyone mistakenly mistook for a concept album. According to Ken:
“There’s always been this whole thing about Ziggy being a concept album, but it really wasn’t. There are only two rock albums that I would 100% consider concept albums; Tommy and Quadrophenia by The Who, and that’s because they were written as a complete piece, whereas Ziggy was just a patchwork of songs. Yes, they fit together very well and one can weave a story from some of them, but when you consider that “Round and Round” was originally there in place of “Starman,” it doesn’t make much sense as a concept. How does “Round and Round” ever fit into the Ziggy story? It’s a classic Chuck Berry song. How does “It Ain’t Easy” fit in with the Ziggy concept? That was taken from the Hunky Dory sessions. All this about Ziggy being Starman is bullshit. It was a song that was just put in as a single at the last minute at the record label’s insistence. So while it’s true that there were a few songs that fitted the ”concept”, the rest were just songs that all worked well together as they would in any good album.”
With those things in mind, here are some things to listen for:
1. Listen to how much reverb is on the vocal during the verse, then how dry it is in the chorus.
2. Listen closely for when the vocal is doubled, and when it sits by itself.
It’s so cool to be able to go back and listen to this again with a bit more of an x-ray on the vocal. Bowie was a exceptional once-in-a-lifetime artist and this is just one of many, many examples of that.
Since 1983 Rane Corporation has been manufacturing well-engineered, well-respected audio gear that, unlike other audio gear manufacturers, is made exclusively in the United States. The Seattle-area company began in the inexpensive band and studio gear space, but soon found that it’s products were better suited to the sound contractor niche, and later, innovative DJ gear, where it has thrived ever since.
That’s a nice story but it looks like at least some of that will end as it’s just been announced that Rane will be acquired by inMusic, which already owns 13 audio companies like Alesis, Akai, Numark, Marantz, M-Audio and Denon. It seems like a good fit in terms of products (at least on the DJ side), but the downside is that Rane’s 60+ employees will be let go and the company’s manufacturing will shifted to inMusic’s Far East subcontractors.
While inMusic has been one of the better audio company conglomerates in that it’s taken companies that were faltering and brought them back to life, it’s still a shame to have another skilled American workforce on the streets. If you recall, a similar situation recently occurred when the Tannoy workforce was downsized as manufacturing was moved to China after 60 years in Scotland when its parent company TC Applied Technologies was acquired by Behringer.
A bright spot in this story is the fact that Rane is being acquired because the owners want to retire. They’ve have had a good long run, so it’s nice to see their hard work rewarded. Their workers have had a long run as well. Too bad it won’t turn out as well for them.
One of the things that many musicians and engineers don’t realize is that there’s a way to actually measure sound isolation, and this excerpt from my Studio Builder’s Handbook (co-written with Dennis Moody) shows a real world comparison between different materials and isolation levels.
“Before we get into how sound isolation is accomplished, we need to take a small detour into the world of sound transmission measurement to understand why some techniques work better than others.
All materials have what’s known as an STC rating, which stands for Sound Transmission Class and is the measurement of a material or a partition’s ability to block sound over a range of 16 different frequencies from 125Hz to 4kHz (see Figure 4.1 for some examples). The higher the STC rating, the more isolation it provides at certain frequencies.
It should be noted that there is no single material that will block all frequencies, and that STC measurements only go down to 125Hz. Frequencies below 125Hz (the ones that usually cause the problems with neighbors) are the most difficult to block, while the higher ones past 1kHz are the easiest. That means that STC measurements aren’t the best for determining isolation because they assume that there will be equal energy dispersion and don’t consider low frequencies. To make matters worse, STC measurements sometimes vary widely from testing facility to testing facility.
That being said, STC has been around since 1961 and it’s the standard measurement that laws have been written around, so even though a few new measurement techniques have been designed (the one called MTC, or music transmission class is the most promising), there’s little support in the design industry for it’s adoption. That means that we’re stuck with using STC. The good news is that humans just don’t hear that well at low frequencies so a wall with a high STC usually attenuates the low frequencies enough to provide adequate isolation (providing other factors in transmission are taken care of, like we’ll see later in the chapter).”
You can read more from The Studio Builder’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
I’m very pleased to have engineer/gear manufacturer Steven Slate on Episode #117 of my Inner Circle Podcast.
Steven will discuss his journey from musician to engineer to manufacturing some of the coolest and most forward-thinking audio gear available today.
You’ll also hear all about what goes into to making a product like the Virtual Mic or the Raven control surface, as well as some very cool behind-the-scenes company history.
In the intro I’ll discuss how the balance of online music distribution is changing as there are now more streams than YouTube music views, and how the great little audio manufacturer Rane is being acquired by inMusic.
Every now and then we see a hybrid device that perfectly captures the best of both worlds between analog and digital. Here’s a great example of such a hybrid, called the XOXX Composer, that takes some spinning wheels, magnets and some custom software to become a hybrid controller.
The XOXX Composer is comprised of 8 wheels, each with 16 positions that hold small magnetic balls. The balls can be positioned so that when they pass over a sensor at the bottom of the device they a trigger a sound via the software over a MIDI connection. By moving the magnets, you create custom events that can become a beat or instrument trigger thanks to the software.
The device is a prototype developed by Axel Bluhme while studying at the Royal College of Art in London. It’s not available for sale, but Bluhme is considering a crowdfunding campaign in the future.
While I’m not sure of its viability as a product, it sure is cool. It’s great to see MIDI controllers reimagined, and this one is certainly outside the box.
There are a lot of plugins that monitor a single aspect of your mix, like dynamic range, frequency response or headroom, but until now there hasn’t been one that looks at everything and more within the same plugin. That’s where Mastering The Mix LEVELS plugin comes in, a neat bit of kit that instantly tells you exactly what’s happening with your mix.
LEVELS monitors headroom, the stereo field, the “bass space,” and the dynamic range of your mix, as well as provides a mono selection and left or right solo. Just insert it into your master buss you’re ready to go.
The Headroom function provides a true peak meter to make sure your master buss doesn’t clip, as well as EBU R128 compliant integrated and short term LUFS meters to accurately measure the mix’s perceived loudness.
The Stereo Field function features a vectorscope to see the stereo width of the track, a correlation meter to any monitor potential phase issues, a Left/Right meter to check the stereo balance of your mix, and a unique Low Pass button that solos the low frequencies below 300Hz so you can see just the stereo width of the low end.
The Dynamic Range function allows you to instantly see if your music is over-compressed, thanks to an oscilloscope that glows green if your music is dynamic. It also features a ‘DR’ Dynamic Range display based on the Short Term LUFS to peak ratio.
A particularly cool function is the “Bass Space” feature that provides level meters for 40Hz, 80Hz, 120Hz, and 160Hz to help you identify any channels that are too hot in any one low-frequency area.
Mastering The Mix LEVELS is about $89 USD (depending upon the exchange rate of the British Pound) and is available for both Mac and Windows platforms in VST, VST3, AU and AAX formats (both 32 and 64 bit). There’s also a free 15 day trial with no credit card required.
This is a very cool plugin that’s worth a checkout. Thanks to Kurt Hoffler for the heads up!
When Lorde broke on the scene in 2013 with “Royals” the song was met with positive critical acclaim and the singer immediately built a huge fan base that embraced her minimalist sound. That sound is somewhat deceiving though, because even though the backing track doesn’t contain many elements, Lorde’s vocals are far more complex than you might think from a casual listen. Take a listen to the isolated vocals to see what I mean.
As an interesting aside, the song’s title and lyrical hook is actually named after the Kansas City Royals baseball team. Lorde saw an image of the Royals hall of fame great George Brett on a 1976 copy of National Geographic and decided the name was cool (how she saw such an old magazine is unclear), and it provided the inspiration for the song.
Here’s what to listen for.
1. Check out the nice delayed reverb. The delay is pretty long and so is the reverb tail, which is pretty much needed to fill the spaces in a minimalist arrangement like this one. It’s also pretty dark so it adds a nice glue to the track.
2. The background vocal arrangements are very sophisticated and Lorde is excellent when it comes to singing with herself. There are also some difficult harmonies that she pulls off perfectly.
3. The vocals are pretty compressed, and you can hear the compressor pulling during the choruses, which are sung with much more intensity than the verses.
4. The second verse develops nicely thanks to a combination of simple and stacked harmonies, as well as a slight melody change.
5. Unlike just about everything on the charts today, the lead vocal isn’t doubled, which is very refreshing sound.
6. You hear the finger snaps and lots of phasing artifacts throughout the video. I suspect this isolated track was created by playing with the phase of the track to eliminate everything but the elements that were panned to the center during the mix. The phasing sound is byproduct of the process.
I’ve always said that “Real men play Telecasters” because the guitar’s shape makes it tough to play to any length of time, especially if you’re used to something more contoured like a Strat. That said, the Fender Telecaster is an iconic guitar with an iconic sound that has graced thousands of hit records over it’s 60+ years of existence. It doesn’t work on everything, but when it does, it’s usually perfect for the job.
Here’s a great video about 5 things you probably didn’t know about the Tele, and even if you’re a serious gear head and Tele owner, I bet there’s a couple of items here you’ll dig.
By the way, here’s a great abridged history of the Tele that covers some of rarer models.