Monthly Archives: August 2016

Record Making With Duke Ellington

Record-Making-with-Duke-EllingtonHere’s a priceless film from 1937 that shows Duke Ellington in the studio recording, and the process of making a vinyl record release afterwards. There’s a lot to notice in the video that will make you appreciate the recording process from back then.

First of all, notice that the band is recorded on a single microphone. The balance of the band is determined by how far away the players are from the mic, so you see the bass, guitar and piano fairly close. You also see the soloists getting up near the mic when it’s their time to wail. It’s amazing how balanced everything is.

The other thing to notice is that everything is being recorded directly to vinyl. This was the era before magnetic tape, so there was no intermediate process in between the band recording and the master.

Finally, the process of making a vinyl record has not changed since 1937, except that there are now automatic stampers. Other than that, it’s still the same!

Oh, and notice that the studio engineers all wear a coat and tie. A little bit formal for making music, don’t you think?

To find out more about this legend, visit the official Duke Ellington site.



New Music Gear Monday: Townsend Labs Sphere L22 Modeling Microphone

Sphere L22 modeling micRemember a few years back when “modeling” the sound of a vintage piece of audio equipment was looked on with suspicion? Well, those days are over as we now have successful plugin models of just about any piece of popular gear that even the hardened pros are impressed with. One of the last avenues for modeling has been microphones, however, but even there the walls are breaking down, and the new Townsend Labs Sphere L22 promises to change our perceptions on how we think about modeling microphones forever.

The Sphere L22 is a dual diaphragm large condenser microphone that can record quite nicely on its own, but really shines when the modeling software kicks in. It comes with models of the world’s most popular and desired vintage mics, including the U47, U67, U87, M49, C12, C451, 4038 (the Coles ribbon mic), and even the venerable SM57. There are also nuances like capsule variations built in, in case you happen to prefer the sound of a U47 with a K47 capsule as opposed to a M7 capsule, for instance.

Any of these models can be chosen even after the recording has been completed thanks to the software utility that interfaces nicely with a Universal Audio Apollo, or as a straight up AAX, VST or AU plugin. You can even decide to use the mic as a coincident stereo mic, thanks to its two capsules, or use different mic models on each output. The software allows you to vary the polar pattern, the pickup axis, the high pass filter, and even amount of proximity effect you want to adjust, which has to be a microphone first. There’s also an output control, phase reversal and a mode control.

Townsend Labs is right in the middle of an Indigogo crowdfunding campaign that’s already been very successful, raising more than 400% past its stated goal. There’s still time to get in on it for a special deal though, as there’s about 3 weeks left before the September 1st deadline. You can get a single Sphere L22 for just $1199 (that’s $600 off retail) and a pair for just $2199. This includes the L22 microphone, 10 foot breakout cable, carrying case, shock mount, hard mount, protection bag, and the software plugin. Check out the Sphere L22 Indigogo campaign page to learn more, go directly to the Townsend Labs site, or check out the video below for more info.

August 5, 2016

Mark Knopfler Talks And Plays “Sultans Of Swing”

Mark Knopfler 61 StratOne of the most iconic guitar songs from the 70s is Dire Straits “Sultans of Swing,” which features Mark Knopfler’s soaring clean Strat solos and fills. At one time or another, most guitar players have tried to cop some of the licks from this song, only to discover that you can’t really get the same sound unless you’re using your fingers instead of a pick.

In this video, Knopfler talks about the origins of the song with Straits bass player John Illsley, then we see him move to the stage and actually play those same revered licks on his pristine 1961 Strat (it’s pretty amazing that it’s still in such good shape).

It’s amazing how much an instrument can inspire you, as Knopfler tells her, which is one of the reasons that we musicians all maintain a constant state of Gear Acquisition Syndrome our entire lives.

August 4, 2016

The Most And Least Metal Words

most metal wordsIf you ever wondered if a word was “Metal enough” for a song lyric, there’s a study that evaluated the lyrics from 222,623 metal songs that can tell you. The data set included songs from 7,364 bands spread over 22,314 albums. The research was amazingly comprehensive, but it was done privately by a single data scientist for his own amusement. Still, it’s pretty amazing to see just what passes for metal words, and some of the non-metal words are hilarious (I’d love to read the lyrics from the songs where the words “fiscal,” “literary,” “residential,” and “administrative” come from).

So here they are – the top and bottom 20 metal words are shown in the table below, along with their “Metalness”.

Most Metal Words

Rank Word Metalness
1 burn 3.81
2 cries 3.63
3 veins 3.59
4 eternity 3.56
5 breathe 3.54
6 beast 3.54
7 gonna 3.53
8 demons 3.53
9 ashes 3.51
10 soul 3.40
11 sorrow 3.40
12 sword 3.38
13 goodbye 3.28
14 dreams 3.28
15 gods 3.24
16 pray 3.22
17 reign 3.15
18 tear 3.12
19 flames 3.12
20 scream 3.11

Least Metal Words

Rank Word Metalness
1 particularly -6.47
2 indicated -6.32
3 secretary -6.29
4 committee -6.16
5 university -6.09
6 relatively -6.08
7 noted -5.85
8 approximately -5.75
9 chairman -5.69
10 employees -5.67
11 attorney -5.66
12 membership -5.64
13 administrative -5.61
14 considerable -5.60
15 academic -5.51
16 literary -5.49
17 agencies -5.48
18 measurements -5.47
19 fiscal -5.45
20 residential -5.45


I found this vector representation describing the words most important to these bands particularly amusing.

Band Similar Bands Most Representative Songs Most Representative Words
Motorhead alice cooper, helloween, iron maiden “Life’s A Bitch”, “Waiting For The Snake”,”Desperate For You” gonna, know, ain’t
Machinehead biohazard, metallica, anthrax “From This Day”, “The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears”, “Clenching The Fists Of Dissent” pain, inside, strength
Diamondhead quiet riot, rainbow, wasp “Victim”, “It’s Electric”, “Wrathchild” oh, yeah, baby

I’m not sure this study is useful as anything other than an academic exercise, since most metal songwriters shouldn’t need to be told which words are metal enough (at least I hope not). Either you know, or you should stay in other genre. That said, any time music can be analyzed, it does tell us a little bit more about what makes a song popular, and there’s never enough information about that. Check out the Degenerate State site for much more data.

The Producer/Engineer/Musician Checklist For Getting Paid

Checklist for getting paidYour not a music professional if you haven’t been screwed out of money at least once. That’s par for the course and part of the learning process, but it obviously becomes a real problem if it continues to happen. Regardless of what end of the music business you work in, as an independent contractor it’s your responsibility to make sure that your covered business-wise. Here’s a “getting paid” checklist from the latest edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook that as relevant for musicians and engineers as it is for producers.

Before any serious work on the project can begin, there are a series of important questions that the client must answer about your compensation.

1. Who’s paying? Is it a record label, the artist or band, or an investor?

2. How are you getting paid? Will you be paid per song, on spec, by the hour, or with a flat fee for the project?

3. What’s your compensation? Do you get some money up front (an advance)? Do you get a percentage of sales? Do you get a combination? If so, how many points?

4. Do you get paid from the sale of the first unit onward? Or will you be paid after the advance is recouped, or even after the investor is recouped?

5. Will you get an advance? How much is it? Does it come out of the recording budget? If you can’t get it all, can you get at least half your fee up front?

6. Will you be paid on something other than music sales? Since sales are pretty minimal these days, can you get a piece of merchandise or publishing?

These questions may be hard for you to bring up, especially before even taking the gig, but they’re vitally important to getting paid for your hard work.

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

Engineer Ed Cherney On Episode #120 Of My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Ed CherneyEd Cherney has become one of the legends of the audio end of the music business, having won 3 Grammys, an Emmy award, 5 TEC awards and been inducted into the TEC hall of fame.

His client list is a who’s who of great artists that include Bonnie Riatt, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Elton John, Bob Seeger, Sting, and even Spinal Tap, among many more.

Ed’s interview on Episode #120 of my Inner Circle Podcast may be one of the best ever on the show, as Ed tells stories about his struggle as a journeyman engineer before breaking through, the big lesson of his career that came from Ry Cooder, and working with The Rolling Stones and Quincy Jones. A very enjoyable listen!

In the intro I’ll discuss the implication of the quickly falling CD market, and how a new study with a lost Amazonian tribe has lead researchers to believe that the music and tones that we like may be more learned than biologically embedded in us.

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

How The Fuzz Tone Was Born

Maestro Fuzz ToneIf you’re a guitar player, chances are you’re in love with the distorted sound that’s so easy to create these days, thanks to a variety of amps, pedals and plugins. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a time when guitar distortion didn’t exist, but believe it, there was a time when there was no such thing. In fact, the story about how the original “fuzz tone” was born takes a number of unusual twists that are pretty amazing for such a ubiquitous sound.

While the music world freely accepts that the first distorted guitar on record was the 1951 Jackie Brenston/Ike Turner hit “Rocket 88” where guitarist Willie Kizart reportedly poked a hole in his amp’s speaker to make it fuzz out, (later emulated by Link Wray on “Rumble” and Dave Davies of The Kinks on “You Really Got Me”), making that sound reliably repeatable came about as an accident in the summer of 1960 in Nashville.

Country star Marty Robbins was in Bradley Film & Recording Studios, in Nashville (the famous Quonset Hut) recording a ballad for Decca called “Don’t Worry.” Backing him was the A-Team, Nashville’s best session players, which included guitar player Grady Martin.

The Quonset Hut had just received a new custom-built console with Langevin 116 tube amplifiers, but unbeknownst to everyone involved, it contained 35 output transformers wound by another manufacturer while Langevin moved to the West Coast. The problem was that these transformers weren’t up to spec, and during the session one of them failed on Grady Martin’s six string bass channel, causing it to distort, but in a musical way that everyone on the session loved.

Word spread around Nashville about this interesting new sound, and people began to specifically ask for it, so Glenn Snoddy, the engineer on the session, built a box that emulated the sound of the console distortion – the first stompbox!

The big difference was that the Langevin module was tube-based, while Snoddy’s box was all transistor. It didn’t matter though, because studio guitarists loved it.

In 1962 Snoddy sold the manufacturing rights to Gibson, who then released the “Fuzz Tone” under its Maestro label. Dealers snapped up all 5,000 units produced in 1962, which was great for the company. The only problem was that guitar players refused to buy them. Reportedly, Gibson shipped only three Fuzz-Tones in ’63 and none in ’64.

So what changed their minds? In 1965 Rolling Stone Keith Richards used a Fuzz Tone (the model FZ-1) on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and the rest is history. From that point on, guitarists couldn’t get enough of the sound, which has evolved over time. While we each have our idea of a good and bad distortion, if you life is connected to the guitar, you can’t live without it.

Get the story directly from Glenn Snoddy on this video.

New Music Gear Monday: Dangerous Music 2-BUS+ Summing Mixer

Dangerous Music 2-Bus+When it comes to outboard summing mixers, there are two distinct camps. There are the mixers who claim that a summing mixer is essential to giving their in-the-box mix that analog console sound, and there are those that claim they can do just as well without one. That said, more mixers that fall into the later camp would find a summing mixer useful if it had the ability to impart some additional color, and that’s exactly what the Dangerous Music 2-BUS+ summing mixer does.

Dangerous Music introduced the original 2-BUS back in 1999, and the new 2-BUS+ has a redesigned analog summing circuit that exceeds previous specifications. What really makes this version really different is that it now includes three innovative custom color circuits that provide an array of tonal options as well. The Harmonics control is an odd- and even-order distortion generator that runs in parallel with the unprocessed signal, and can be applied to either the entire mix or to individual channel pairs. Paralimit is an FET-style limiter that has a sound similar to that of an 1176 in the “all buttons in” mode (sometimes called Nuke or British mode). It has a blend knob and assignment buttons so it can be applied to the entire mix or just a stereo pair. X-Former is a pair of Cinemag output transformers with an exclusive core-overdrive circuit to emulate the sound of the “classic” analog consoles. These new controls allow the engineer to add new color to the mix without strapping additional outboard gear across the buss.

The 2-BUS+ has 16 input channels that connect via either XLR or D-sub connectors, switchable stereo analog insert for easy outboard gear integration, and a stepped master output gain control for exact recalls. There’s also mono switches for busses 1-2 and 9-10.

The Dangerous Music 2-BUS+ isn’t cheap at $2999, but it does offer many more features than most other summing mixers, and Dangerous Music has been in this product niche for longer than anyone. If you need your mixes to sound big and fat and can’t make them sound the way you want staying strictly in-the-box, then this is something that you should strongly consider.