Monthly Archives: September 2016
Monthly Archives: September 2016
If you ever wanted to hear a true Hollywood story, then you’ll love this week’s episode of my Inner Circle podcast. Engineer Tom Weir has had some studio experiences that you could only get if you grew up in Southern California, and you won’t believe how cool some of them have been.
Tom is also the owner of Studio City Sound, and we’ll discuss just how different having a Hollywood-area studio is compared to almost anywhere else in the world.
In the intro I’ll take a look at what people are really listening to when streaming (it’s not what you think), and talk about the famous console from Abbey Road Studio 1 being up for sale.
It has tuning issues, it’s neck-heavy, the neck is fragile, and reportedly, Les Paul hated it, but the Gibson SG is still a great guitar. It’s so light and has a great sound that once you get used to one, it’s hard to go back to any other Humbucker guitar.
Brought out as a redesigned Les Paul model after the sales of Les Paul declined, after a few years the SG became it’s own model. And what does the SG stand for? “Solid Guitar,” although we all wish it were something more exotic.
I’ve posted some of these “5 things you didn’t know about...” videos before and they’ve been met with great enthusiasm, so here are 5 things you probably didn’t know as the Gibson SG.
Everyone wants their music to sound great on Spotify or Pandora, but making a master requires a little more forethought than just getting a loud master. In that spirit, here’s an excerpt from the latest Mastering Engineer’s Handbook 3rd edition that provides 3 tips for a better sounding online music.
1. Turn it down a bit. A song that’s flat-lined at -0.1 dBFS isn’t going to encode as well as a song with some headroom. In iTunes for instance, the AAC encoder sometimes outputs a tad hotter than the source, so there’s some inter-sample overloads that happen at that level that aren’t detected on a typical peak meter, since all DACs respond differently to it. As a result, a level that doesn’t trigger an over on your DAW’s DAC may actually be an over on another playback unit. This is the same for most encoders.
If you back it down to -0.5 or even -1 dB, the encode will sound a lot better and your listener probably won’t be able to tell much of a difference in level anyway.
2. Don’t squash the master too hard. Masters with some dynamic range encode better. Masters that are squeezed to within an inch of their life don’t; it’s as simple as that. Listeners like it better too. And then there’s the fact that on many services (like Apple Music), normalization occurs so all songs play at the same level. Songs with too much compression sound a lot worse than when there’s just a modest amount.
3. Sometimes rolling off a little of the extreme top end (16kHz and above) can help the encode as well. When any type of data compression is involved, it requires the same common-sense considerations. If you back off on the level, the mix buss compression and the high frequencies, you’ll be surprised just how good your online music can sound.
To read additional excerpts from The Mastering Engineer’s Handbook 3rd edition and my other books, go to the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com.
For those of you who lamented the fact that the esteemed digital workstation company Fairlight was giving up the ghost, you can take heart in the fact that the company has been acquired by video gear manufacturer Blackmagic Design. Blackmagic has a wide range of high and low-end video products, but really has no audio products so this fills an empty spot within its existing product line.
There was a time when Fairlight provided some powerhouse music creation tools, but the company has been concentrating on the broadcast part of the audio business for a number of years now, manufacturing integrated audio control surfaces and software that are renowned for their speed, flexibility and sonic quality. The products are mostly used for live broadcast event production, film and television post production, and immersive 3D audio mixing and finishing. The company creates everything from compact desktop audio post systems to large format mixing consoles with dedicated controls. Fairlight audio engines can deliver up to 1000 tracks which lets customers create complex productions without premixing, along with a massive 64 channels of monitoring.
Blackmagic Design began as a small company making mostly video interface boxes and adapters, but now provides high quality video editing products, digital film cameras, color correctors, video converters, video monitoring, routers, live production switchers, disk recorders, waveform monitors and real time film scanners for the feature film, post production and television broadcast industries. It’s DeckLink capture cards launched a revolution in quality and affordability in post production, while the company’s Emmy™ award winning DaVinci color correction products have dominated the television and film industry since 1984.
It’s good to see Fairlight get a second life and Blackmagic seems like a great home for it.
I really love Exponential Audio plugins because you get high performance effects that don’t require a ton of CPU power at a reasonable price. While the company’s existing plugins are very cool indeed, Exponential founder (and ex-Lexicon engineer) Michael Carnes has outdone himself this time with his new NIMBUS reverb, a true next-generation plugin.
NIMBUS takes the excellent sound and parameters of the company’s PhoenixVerb and gives it an injection of steroids, providing a host of new and useful features. For instance, there’s expanded EQ with 3 separate sections – one on the reverb tail, another on early reflections, and a new EQ on input. Each section allows you to select between 6 different types of filters (2 Lowpass, 2 Hi-pass, Bandpass and Notch). Thanks to these new EQs and filters, it’s easy to keep problem sounds like traffic and rumble out of the reverb, create different effects, or work around buildup in overused frequencies.
There’s also a very cool new dynamics process called Tail Suppression that helps lower reverb levels when the input signal is strong, so you never have to worry about having a vocal that’s too wet yet you can keep the lush reverb in the spaces in between phrases.
NIMBUS also provides a choice of several early reflection patterns, which I don’t ever remember seeing in another reverb. One of the patterns is a special ‘Vintage’ selection that has a very low density that helps to get the sound of some of those old hardware favorites that we all know and love. Another feature that I really like is that you can lock predelay and reverb delay to tempo, something that had to be done manually previously.
Finally, there’s a new Warp section that provides three different parameter sections. One is an input compressor/expander that provides variable attack, release and knee to allow you to control how the input feeds into the reverb. This can allow you to set how much reverb dynamically occurs during quiet passages, for example. Plus, it can even approximate the non-linear converters of 30-year-old hardware devices (Lexicon 224 anyone?).
Warp also has a flexible overdrive circuit that gives you the ability to add some nice sounding harmonic distortion or even a bit of transistor crud to get a sound closer to what real plates and chambers (the ones that use real analog amplifiers) sound like.
Finally, there’s a word-size reduction control that can help you emulate the sound of the convertor and DSP distortion from all those expense vintage reverb devices that we used to use back in the analog days.
The Exponential Audio NIMBUS Reverb plugin is available for Mac (10.8 and up) and Windows (7 and up), and in various plugin formats – VST and VST3 (64-bit only), AudioUnits (64-bit only), and AAX (32 and 64-bit) so it will play nice with just about any workstation that you use. Go here for all the details.
NIMBUS will be available at the end of September for $199, and you’ll be able to test-drive it for 21 days. You’ll find it at the Exponential Audio Online store.
Digital reverbs have come a long way. It’s truly amazing what you can now get for very little money that rivals or betters hardware reverbs costing more than $10k. That said, sometimes there’s nothing like the real thing, even if a little DIY is involved. Speaking of which, the wonderful TapeOp Magazine recently posted a great article on making a relatively inexpensive do-it-yourself reverb.
Of course, the easiest DIY reverb has been a speaker and a mic in a live room, and that technique has been used almost since the beginning of recording (Capitol’s chambers are still some of the best ever, for instance). All you need is a live room like a bathroom, place any kind of speaker in it, and place the mic as far away as you can. Of course, it always helps if a stairwell is handy as well.
When it comes to-do-it yourself reverb, many of us would love to have a plate, and believe it or not, it’s not all that difficult to build yourself, if you have a little time. The TapeOp article does a good job in explaining how to build one yourself. Of course, depending upon your construction skills and ingenuity, your mileage may vary when it comes to the final project. Another more intricate way of building your own plate can be found here.
The article also discusses some other tricks that many of us have tried over the years, and mostly forgotten. Dropping a small speaker down the hole of an acoustic guitar (or even a 12 string) gives a very interesting effect. Don’t forget to detune the strings!
Also another oldie but goodie – dropping a speaker down the soundhole of a piano while the sustain pedal is held down yields a wonderful reverbish sound that can’t be duplicated.
Yes, digital reverbs are better than ever and something we’ll all continue to use, but sometimes a bit of good old fashioned do-it-yourself reverb, no matter how you get it, just can’t be beat.[photo: Ionosonde Recordings]
Just about any piece of gear that has crossed the doorstep of the legendary Abbey Road Studios is truly revered, especially if it’s from 60s and 70s. The studio’s boffins in the maintenance department were renowned for being meticulous in creating and upgrading any gear used in the studios, which came across in recordings that still sound great today. Of particular interest was its consoles, and now perhaps the most famous console of all, the REDD.37, the one that recorded most of The Beatles records from Meet The Beatles to Let It Be, is available for sale.
The console was owned by Lenny Kravitz for the last 25 years, and the previous owner, Chris Solberg, had it for 12. Prior to that it resided in Abbey Road Studio 1.
REDD.37 is the last of the tube consoles created by EMI’s Record Engineering Development Department (REDD) and is considered the highest form of tube console art. It’s built around the excellent sounding Siemans V72 microphone preamps that are highly sought after to this day, and at 800 lbs, is built like a tank.
The console has narrowly survived two disasters, leaving Solberg’s house in the Oakland Hills just days before the massive Oakland Hills fire wiped out the neighborhood, and arriving at Kravitz’ studio in the Bahamas two days after a hurricane wiped out his warehouse with all his gear.
As cool as owning a console like this might be, it does have some limitations (it was built in 1958 after all). Among them is the fact that it only has 8 inputs, there are no direct outs or phantom power, it only runs on 240/50Hz power, and it has very basic two band EQ (although it has two different Pop and Classical EQs that you can drop in). It’s also extremely hot because of all the tubes, so make sure that your HVAC is up to the task.
Also included with REDD.37 are two Studer tape machines also from Abbey Road – a 1″ 4 track J37 (serial number 7) and a two track C37, so it’s quite a package.
I don’t know what the asking price is, but you can inquire at Vintage King, who’s handling the sale.
Here’s a video that explains more about this fantastic piece of music history.
Thanks to Ryan Kairalla for having me on his Break The Business podcast. We talked primarily about succeeding as an independent artist, but strayed off into other subjects as well. On the podcast, Ryan also covered the legacy of boy band maker and fraudster Lou Pearlman. A very interesting listen!
Charlie Drayton is a unique and special player in that he’s equally adept and in demand as a drummer and as a bass player, so his perspective is that of the total rhythm section. Charlie’s long and eclectic list of credits includes such names as Herbie Hancock, Keith Richards, Johnny Cash, Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey, Michelle Branch, Seal, Iggy Pop, Neil Young, Janet Jackson, Courtney Love, among many others, and he laid down the beat for the B-52’s irresistible hit “Love Shack.” In this excerpt from my Studio Musician’s Handbook (written with Paul ILL), Charlie gives us a look behind the curtain of his session work.
“Give me some background on how you got into session work?
My father guided me toward the studio at an early age while watching him produce jingle sessions in NYC. He would occasionally have me sing on spots which featured a young voice, either in a group chorus, or solo performance.
Before a session would begin, I would usually find a seat between the drum booth (this was back in the 70’s) and the bass chair and B-15 amp (which was the standard bass amp in any NYC studio back then). It only took sitting through a few sessions to know that being in the studio was like being in the best classroom you’d ever walk into, and your dad is the principle. My father then took the band I was playing in into the studio to nurture ourselves and grow in the studio environment. What a trip it is to hear yourself played back in high quality audio for the first time! I can still remember the first time experience, vividly.
If I remember correctly, my first professional recording session was playing drums for John Sebastian. He was brilliant and a huge supporter. Walking into the studio was easy, but that first day of tracking was one hell of a ride in my life! The scary part was trying not to be to overwhelmed that the bass player was Anthony Jackson (a highly regarded New York session player) and the guitar player was Steve Khan (I think Steve recommended me for that session). Needless to say, I was hooked and still am.
What do you bring with you to a session?
It depends on what the music or the producer requires and what hat I’m wearing on the session, but I’ll just list some of the items at random. I come with a sense of humor, an open heart and mind, and great deal of patience. If I’m a principle player or producer on a session, a song is also a wonderful thing to bring with you.
I also bring a hot water kettle and assortment of herbal and black tea, an endless amount of sugarless mint candy, some incense, chop sticks, cayenne pepper, hot english mustard, crushed red pepper, and fresh ground cardamom.
Also, there’s nothing better then having your own gear on a session! For me that could consist of, drums, cymbals, rags, hockey tape, bullet mic, Line 6 Bass pod, iPod for drum mute, and a few of my favorite pieces of hand percussion. Also basses, guitars, pedal steel, amplifiers, stomp boxes, and a really good cable. I also bring my own headphones (Sony 7506 or Audio Technica TH-M50) along with an extension cable,
Sometimes I’ll bring my Black Pekingese,”Holiday” too. My introduction to her was during a session I was producing.
Do you tailor what you bring according to the session?
I try, because I’m lucky to have access to a large selection of gear which I would love to see as often as possible.
Is your stage rig different from your recording rig?
This depends on what will inspire me to execute a performance or what I have access to at the time. Sometimes I may reach for some piece of gear that does not belong to me, so basically anything that will guide me to feed the music.
What do you like in your headphone mix?
The freedom to dial it in myself. My first preference though is no headphones whenever possible. I like to sing with the speakers at low level. If playing live with a band, I’ll dial the entire group into the mix. If playing against prerecorded tracks, it’s possible that I may not play along with all of the elements on the track. I will try different combinations of elements in the mix until it feels good and I’m the most comfortable.
What do see that’s common with all good session musicians?
A good session player is not necessarily a better musician than a player with no session experience, but a good session player has the advantage of having more tools to choose from and is used to narrowing down the options. Dealing with adversity is key. If your talent is on loan and you’re having a shitty day but you’ve committed yourself to a session, guess what? You’ve got to show up and play the music! The more I do it, the better I get at it.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out?
That we would come to live in a time where you would not need to have much talent to be successful in the music business. The art of playing music and being commercially successful in the music business are now two entirely different things.
I don’t know why humans would bring computers into the recording environment for some of the wrong reasons and deconstruct the craft of creating and making music. I’m not against computers, but I thought music was doing just fine without them. Didn’t Milli Vanilli try to hip us to that?
Any advice for someone starting out doing session work?
Don’t lose the connection or spirit of playing in a live environment. Spirit is a key ingredient that enables you to shine and make the right decisions in session.
Embrace the music with your heart, even if it’s not your cup of tea. Be in the moment, and that does not mean play everything you know.
Do you have any session musician tips?
Be a musician first without any title before the word musician. I’ll enjoy hearing your playing more. Don’t limit yourself. Be in the moment, because In the studio, you’re making musical decisions that can last a lifetime on record.
What kind of sessions are the hardest for you?
When the producer’s dreams are unrealized. Sometimes they don’t have the ability to play your instrument so he or she endlessly suggest the worst musical ideas possible for you to play, or how you should be playing them. Or when the food is bad, which in reality is the same answer.
What kind of sessions are the most fun?
When it doesn’t feel like work and you don’t want the session to end.
What do you hate about recording?
You can read more from The Studio Musician’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
Dave has been a pioneer in the digital space in many ways, going way back as one of the creators of the Synare (the first electronic drum) and later the first computer sequencer with Passport. Dave was also the creator of Berklee Online, one of the first online education programs in the world, and now teaches music business with his own courses with New Artist Model.
In the intro we’ll take a look at how Spotify is making their own records under fake names, and the big sub-industry of microphones on mobile devices.