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Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Costs Of Hiring A Mixer

Hiring A MixerAn ever-important aspect of production is mixing, which can make or break a song. A brilliant mix can put an otherwise average production over the top, while a mediocre mix can bring down a brilliant production (although sometimes the song itself is so brilliant that nothing can detract from it). If you’re not an engineer yourself, an engineer without a lot of mixing experience, or you just want to bring in the A-team to finish an important project, it’s important to understand the costs of hiring a mixer when you create your budget. Here’s an excerpt from the latest edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook with some advice.

“Mixing engineers are all over the board price-wise, especially in the current depressed music market. At one time there was a mixer (who shall remain nameless) who was charging as much as $10,000 per mix, plus a percentage of the sales to mix just one song. Even more outrageous was the fact that he’d do as many as three mixes a day, since his setting for each instrument never changed much because it was his “sound.” Very few budgets can support that kind of excess anymore, and virtually all mixer’s prices, although still at a premium, have come down in recent years.

While some mixers charge by the song, others charge a daily rate, and so the price can escalate quickly if there are fixes or the mix goes longer than expected. The rates might be as low as $250 a day, and can run up to $2,500 or more (although most rates are somewhere in the middle these days). These rates may not include the studio costs if a mix using a studio console is desired, which are separate from the mixer’s rate. That means that mixing could theoretically cost as much as $5,000 a day with the mixer included, although this is a rate that only a very few A list projects can support.

Because budgets are so small these days compared to what they once were, mixing specialists have been caught in a dilemma—the client (you, the producer) can afford only the studio or the mixer, but not both.

As a result, many mixers have resorted to creating their own mixing environment and giving an all-in price that makes the process much more affordable for the producer. This is one of the advantages of the digital age and DAWs: it was impossible to build and equip a suitable mixing room for less than a half-million dollars back in the analog days.

Since the music business is weak at the moment and budgets are way down from what they were before, present an offer to your mixer. If you’re willing to wait for when the mixer can fit you in during his or her down time, or if you agree to let him mix alone without you or the artist attending, you might be surprised at the rate you can get. Even if the price you offer is below his rate, chances are he can work something out with you that will get you a great mix for a price you can afford.”

The costs of hiring a mixer may be less than you think, and every penny can be truly worth it if it takes your mix to the next level.

You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

July 5, 2016

Engineer/Producer Tony Shepperd On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Tony ShepperdEngineer/producer Tony Shepperd has had an interesting journey in the music business that has taken him from Los Angeles to Nashville and back again.

Along the way he’s mixed projects for a variety of household names like Whitney Houston, Kenny Loggins, Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie, and many more. Tony is also about to get into the world of audio hardware with the launch of a very cool new summing box.

This is a guy who can make even inexpensive gear sing (as you’ll hear in a couple of his stories), so it’s well worth the listen.

In the intro I’ll talk about how Brexit may affect the music business, and if having too many tonal choices is actually a good thing.

You can listen to it at bobbyoinnercircle.com, or via iTunesStitcher, Mixcloud or Google Play.

July 5, 2016

The Apple I/O Death Chart

old iMac portsMany of us rely on Apple computers as our workstations, which means that we have to upgrade every few years to keep up with the technology and horsepower available (same on the PC side actually). Apple has always led the way with new technology, but it’s also in the forefront of booting old tech to the curb before the rest of the industry as well. Here’s a great chart courtesy of The Verge that illustrates this perfectly. The Apple I/O Death Chart shows an impressive array of ports that have fallen by the wayside.

apple-death-chart

As you can see, the floppy disc drive, VGA port, CD/DVD drive and SCSI were just some of the ports that Apple killed off before anyone else. Now it’s been rumored that Apple will soon do away with the 1/8th inch headphone jack in favor of using the Lightning port on the upcoming iPhone 7. Of course, the USB-C port on the latest Macbook laptops have replaced the power, Display Port, Firewire and HDMI jacks on previous models.

While this is supposed to make it more convenient for most users, pro users suffer as we have lots of peripherals and interfaces using the old technology that a new computer might not support. That means it’s off to buying either a host of unexpected new gear with compatible ports or some expensive adapters.

That said, I don’t know anyone who’d trade in their Thunderbolt interface for SCSI, or HDMI for VGA, or go back to floppy or Jazz drives for storage.

Thunderbolt may be an exception. It’s fast and in theory more practical to implement, but the cables are expensive (mostly because there’s intelligence built in) and you never seem to have enough ports.

So check out the Apple I/O Death Chart with a nostalgic eye and know that we’re part of an industry where things constantly change, evolve, morph, transform and hopefully, improve. One last thing to keep in mind, Apple’s I/O standards last about 15 years, so the 1/8th inch headphone jack is way beyond it’s lifespan.

New Music Gear Monday: SoundRadix Muteomatic Plugin

SoundRadix MuteomaticAnyone who doesn’t use a console has the same problem while recording. You have to manually mute the talkback or listen mic when recording starts, and you have to unmute it when recording stops. Doesn’t seem like much, but doing it dozens of times during a session can be a complete pain. The clever boffins at SoundRadix have created a solution for this though, and it’s a plugin called Muteomatic.

Muteomatic will automatically mute the talkback or listen mic channels according to your DAW’s transport state, opening the mic automatically when the DAW stops and muting it when the DAW is in playback or recording mode, all while clearly displaying when the mic is open or muted, so that you won’t have to worry about talking to yourself for a few minutes without the players hearing you ever again.

In addition, Muteomatic can be used to automatically mute reverb or delay channels so that long effect tails end when the DAW stops playing, so you don’t have to worry about talking over them.

Muteomatic also works the other way as well, opening up the talkback channel when the DAW is in playback or record mode so you can give cues to the players.

The plugin is RTAS, AAX, VST and AU compatible on both Mac and Windows platforms, so it’ll work with any DAW application.

Here’s the best part though. The SoundRadix Muteomatic plugin is FREE, and you can get it here on the dedicated page on the SoundRadix website. You can check it out in action in the video below.

I love it when someone creates a truly useful utility, and it’s even better when they’re priced within reason. In this case, it’s a major bonus that the plugin is free. Thanks again, SoundRadix. You make truly awesome plugins.

Thanks to Oz Amaro for the heads up.

Chicago “25 Or 6 To 4” Production Analysis

Chicago 25 or 6 to 4 coverThe band Chicago has become one of the most long-lived American bands after starting in 1967, and still going strong almost 50 years later. Over the course of its history, the band has sold more than 100 million records, with 21 Top 10 singles, 11 number one singles, and 25 platinum albums. In fact, Chicago is the first American band to chart Top 40 albums in five decades. While the first album was a staple of underground, the second album broke the band into the mainstream with three Top 10 singles, the highest charting being “25 Or 6 To 4” at number four. While some believe the song is a reference to drug use, composer Robert Lamm has factually stated that it’s a song about writing a song at 25 minutes to 4 in the morning. Here’s a production analysis of the song.

The Song
“25 Or 6 To 4” is built around a single simple descending chord pattern that serves as intro, verse and solo, and an 8 bar bridge. The energy of the band’s performance and the signature horn lines and guitar soloing of Terry Kath turn that simplicity into gold.
The melody is memorable because of the ascending counterpoint to the main chordal changes of the song, which are descending. The chorus is much different from the verse, but the addition of the harmony vocals (always a strong point of the band) changes the section’s sound significantly.

The lyrics tell the story about trying to write a song in the early morning and reflects on the real-life experience that composer Lamm was having at the moment. The lyrics rhyme well and don’t seem forced, although they sing better than they read. The song’s form looks like this:

intro | verse | chorus | interlude (2x) | verse | chorus | solo (12x) | intro | verse | chorus | outro (2x) | tag

The Arrangement
Chicago is a seven piece band which includes a three piece horn section, and with the exception of an overdubbed lead guitar, that’s exactly what you hear on the recording with very little sweetening.

The song begins with the dual rhythm guitars playing the signature descending 4 bar chord change, which is joined the second time through by the drums. The band joins on the third time through as the horn section plays its opening line. On the first verse, the intensity lowers a bit as the vocal enters and the band is stripped down to rhythm guitar, bass, drums and electric piano (a Hohner Pianet) and the holes between the vocal phrases are filled with different horn lines.

On the chorus the two harmony vocals enter and a lead guitar line fills the hole in between the two phrases. The song then begins a short interlude (twice through the chord pattern) with a horn line played against a short lead guitar solo.

The second verse is musically identical to the first with the exception of lead guitar fills in the holes between vocal phrases along with the horns. The second chorus is identical to the first except for the lyrics.

The guitar solo lasts for 12 times through the chord pattern, with the chord pattern changing to straight 8th notes on the 5th time and guitarist Terry Kath changing to a wah wah sound on the ninth time through as the intensity heightens. During the solo, the supporting instruments play off each other and the lead guitar as they would during a jam, which makes this section particularly exciting because of the interplay. The song then repeats the intro to the song, which is the same except the drums continue to play time and the lead guitar continues the solo.

The third verse is identical to the second, as the guitar continues to solo in between the vocal phrases. The last chorus is also identical to the others with the exception of a slight change in the guitar fill. The outro consists of twice through the instrumental patter, but it’s played much closer to the intro in spareness. The song ends with a ruboto (gradually slowing tempo) horn tag with different chord pattern for the first time in the song.

Arrangement Elements

The Foundation: bass and drums
The Rhythm: keyboard, rhythm guitar
The Pad: none
The Lead: vocals, lead guitar, horns
The Fills: lead guitar, horns

The Sound
Even though “25 Or 6 To 4” is based just around the seven pieces of Chicago, there are some interesting aspects to the recording. For one, the rhythm guitar that’s played throughout the song is doubled and slightly panned left and right. The horns are also doubled and panned hard left and right, but the arrangement of these parts is not identical, with the trombone sometimes hard to the left and sometimes the trumpet hard to the right.

What’s most interesting is that the drums are doubled, with the primary kit mostly up the middle and the secondary one slightly to the right.

There’s only one effect used on the song and that’s a nice long reverb that blends in so well that you can hardly hear it, yet it supplies the polish expected from a studio recording of the time.

The Production
Chicago II is much more experimental than the previous album in terms of taking more advantage of the multitrack format. Doubles on the drums, horns, and rhythm guitars make the sound larger without it sounding sweetened, yet provide some ear candy if the listener happens to be using headphones.

The drum track really propels “25 Or 6 To 4” along, although it doesn’t stick out of the mix. The fact that the song is based around a slight snare fill at the end of each bar almost goes unnoticed, yet it’s an integral part to the feel of the song, as is the constant 8th note kick drum that never wavers throughout the song.

The band’s performance really brings the song home, both through a commanding Peter Cetera vocal, Terry Kath’s guitar hero soloing, and the excellent interplay of the band, especially during the last half of the solo. All hit songs are exciting and “25 Or 6 To 4” maintains that excitement even after 40+ years of repeated listenings.

You can read more from The Deconstructed Hits series and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.