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Monthly Archives: October 2016

New Music Gear Monday: A-Designs Mix Factory Summing Amp

A-Designs Mix FactoryMixers either swear by outboard analog summing amps or don’t see the need for them at all, but the ones that do are very passionate about them. We’re now into the second generation of summing amps, and the latest ones are incorporating a lot of features that the the first gen didn’t have. That’s one of the reasons why the new A-Designs Mix Factory is so cool; it has a lot of great features. But the other reason is more important – its concept was actually developed by a mixer.

The brainchild of producer/engineer/mixer Tony Shepperd (you can hear him talk about it on my Inner Circle Podcast #116) and electronically designed by famed engineer Paul Wolff, Mix Factory is a 16 channel outboard summing mixer with a lot of features. Each channel has a gain control, a pan pot with center detent, and a mute switch that also acts as a level indicator. What’s interesting is that the 16 channels are divided into two groups of 8, each with its own insert and master volume control. There’s also a master insert for all 16 channels that has it’s own insert as well, and each insert has it’s own mute button.

But mixers not only want control, they want sound, and Mix Factory delivers by providing either a clean signal path, or a colored one with Cinemag transformers that can be accessed from a front-panel button.

The 16 audio channels are rear panel accessed via two D-Sub input connectors, with XLRs for the main outputs (both pre and post master fader) and inserts. If you need more inputs, the Mix Factory is also linkable up to 64 channels. It also has an external switchable power supply that allows the unit to be used for both US and foreign markets.

The A-Designs Mix Factory goes for $2,990 street, which isn’t all that much considering what you get. You can find out more here.

Deep Purple “Space Truckin'” Isolated Organ Track

Jon LordThe original Deep Purple lineup had a very unique sound in the annals of rock, and much of that was because of Jon Lord’s organ. While most organ players want their Hammond’s to sound like the instrument they are, Lord treating his C3 more like a guitar, going as far as plugging it directly into a Marshall stack to get his unique sound. No where is that more evident than in this isolated organ track from the band’s hit “Space Truckin.'” Here’s what to listen for.

1. The organ has a very short slap echo on it. It sounds like the echo from a tape machine running at 15 ips.

2. In the verse, the organ is overdubbed and split in stereo. Lord is also playing in a higher register. Listen to how different the ambience is.

3. Listen to the space noises during the guitar solo coming from the organ (remember, this was the days before synthesizers.

4. You can hear the some leakage from the rest of the band, but it’s a beat before the organ part. This is probably due to the gap between the synch and playback heads of the tape machine.

5. There’s an ending that’s not on the record if you listen to the end. It’s nothing special though.

The Long Lost Secret To The AC/DC Guitar Sound

shaffer-vega wireless systemWhen we listen back to those great early AC/DC albums like Back In Black and Highway To Hell we think of what may be the epitome of hard rock guitar sounds. While on the surface you’d look at Angus Young’s fingers on a Gibson SG into a JMP 100 Marshall amp and think that was the sound (and surely it’s a big part of it), there’s actually another major component that’s almost always overlooked – his onstage wireless rig, which he actually used in the studio for those projects.

At the time Angus was using on of the first wireless guitar systems called a Shaffer-Vega Diversity System (SVDS for short), which was quite popular at the time with widespread use by the likes of Ace Frehley of KISS, Van Halen, The Stones and Frank Zappa, among others. It was the way that the SVDS worked that really set it apart from any wireless system to come afterwards though.

The SVDS used a compander circuit to keep down the noise, which mean that it compressed the signal during transmission and expanded it upon reception before feeding it into the amp. Along the way though, it also boosted some of the mid-range that became lost in the process, and unintentionally added some pleasing distortion of its own to the signal. Essentially, it acted as an overdrive for the amp! When Angus couldn’t get the same great sound that he got on stage while recording in the studio, producer Mutt Lange suggested he revert to his on-stage setup, and the rest is AC/DC history.

Sadly, Shaffer-Vega stopped making the units in 1982 after the FCC changed the wireless regulations, making the frequencies it used illegal. That said, the device has been resurrected by a company called SoloDallas using one of Schaffer’s original units as a model to create the “Schaffer Replica.” The unit uses only the audio circuitry from the original SVDS, but it’s just what you want for that original AC/DC sound.

Another interesting twist to the story is that SDVS creator Ken Shaffer was indirectly responsible for being named in a big R.E.M. hit, being the subject of “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” which revolves around a mugging of news anchor Dan Rather. I know, the story’s hard to follow, but there’s a great article that covers it nicely on Dangerous Minds that’s worth reading.

The 5 Ways To Become A Studio Musician

The Wrecking CrewOn the journey to becoming a successful studio musician, a lot of roads lead to the same place, but the way it usually works is that someone hears and likes your playing and either hires you or refers you as a result. This excerpt from my Studio Musician’s Handbook (written with studio bassist Paul ILL) outlines the 5 ways it could happen (note The Wrecking Crew photo, the most famous group of studio musicians ever, on the left).

#1. Your Band
Your band is recording with a producer. The producer notices that you play really well and have a great feel and he calls you to play on other records. Sometimes it might be the engineer on the session that remembers you (and remember, many in-demand engineers become producers at some point). Either way, in the course of doing your own record, you show up on the radar of someone who can hire you later.

If you’re in a band and working with a producer, really pay attention and work with him to help him make that record sound better. You’re more likely to be called for another project afterwards. He might have had so much fun working with you in your band that he’ll think of you for a solo artist he’s working with. That’s how I developed myself. I worked with Tim Palmer in London with my own band, and that’s how I got the job playing with Tears For Fears. So I’ve developed relationships with all the producers I’ve worked with over the years in my own band.
Session drummer Brian MacLeod

#2. By Referral

If you have a friend who does a lot of session work who likes how you play, chances are that you’ll get a referral at some point. If the player can’t make a date or doesn’t get on with the client, a referral from someone established will get you in the door.

…if you’re looking to get into session work as a drummer, you can’t do it. You just have to play a lot of gigs and wait for the time where you get that opportunity.
Session drummer Bernie Dresel

#3. By Contractor

A contractor is a person that hires musicians for a gig. Most times he’s a musician on the session himself, but doesn’t have to be. Many contractors hire musicians for a variety of gigs, not just recording sessions. If you become a trusted insider for everyday live gigs, chances are that soon you’ll be hired on a studio date as well.

#4. By A Recording
Many times an artist or producer will hear you on a recording you played on and want your style or sound. It’s more likely you’ll be called if the recording you played on was a hit, since everyone likes to use the same team or sound of something already successful. If that happens, be happy that you’ve been lucky twice.

…(producer) Patrick (Leonard) said, “Hey Brian, if you lived in LA I would use you on the records I work on.” Ironically the engineer/co-producer on that record was Bill Bottrell (who eventually went on to produce Sheryl Crow, Michael Jackson and Shelby Lynn) and he said the same thing to me. So I had two top-of-the-line producers tell me that if I lived in LA they’d use me on their records. It became a no-brainer for me to run up to the Bay area, pack my things in a U-Haul, and get my butt to LA. Then it kind of expanded from there.
Brian MacLeod

#5. By Association

The old adage “all boats rise and fall with the tide” is really true. If someone within your circle of players makes it “big”, they’ll most likely take you with them, at least on some level. Maybe you have something unique in your sound or your feel that your player friend will remember. Maybe he just wants to help you out because you’re such a cool person. Maybe it’s some payback for a good deed long in the past. Doesn’t matter as long as you’re remembered and get the call. Once you’re called for one session and do well, chances are you’ll be called for another as word gets around and your resumé builds.

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

October 25, 2016

Dirk Ulrich From Brainworx And Plugin Alliance On Episode #132 Of My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Dirk UlrichDirk Ulrich is the founder of 2 great music plugin companies, Brainworx and Plugin Alliance, but his journey into software development involved an extensive stint as a studio owner and producer first.
In this interview, we talk about some of the company’s very cool plugins, Dirk’s outlook on the future of plugins, as well as why the company is heavy into Mid/Side technology.
On the intro we’ll look at the latest growth numbers that the music business is celebrating (they’re really good for a change), and the fact that two big audio companies that everyone has heard of and experienced, DTS and THX, have both been acquired by larger companies outside the music business.
You can listen to it at bobbyoinnercircle.com, or via iTunesStitcher, Mixcloud or Google Play.
October 25, 2016

The World’s 10 Best Concert Halls

musikverein concert hallMost mixers have at least one convolution reverb in their arsenal that has a variety of concert hall impulses. Ah, but the question is, do you have the right ones? Why not have the best of the best (if you can get them). Here’s a list of the world’s 10 best concert halls (inspired by an article in Business Insider) as judged by the godfather of acousticians, the recently passed Dr. Leo Beranek.

#1: Musikverein, Vienna, Austria (pictured on the left)

This is a relatively small hall at only 1,744 seats. According to Beranek in his Concert Halls and Opera Houses book, “the superior acoustics of the hall are due to its rectangular shape, its relatively small size, its high ceiling with resulting long reverberation time, the irregular interior surfaces, and the plaster interior.”

#2: Symphony Hall, Boston, USA

Another small one at 2,625 seats, famed acoustician and Harvard professor Wallace Clement Sabine helped plan the hall, while introducing his new technique to measure and increase reverberation time.

#3: Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Netherlands

 Yet another small one at 1,974 seats (see a trend here?).

#4: Konzerthaus Berlin, Germany

Just 1,600 seats, this concert hall opened in 1821, but was severely damaged during WW2. It reopened as a concert hall again 1984.

#5: Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, Japan

Another small one at 1,662 seats, but different from the rest in that it’s relatively new, opening in 1997. Who says we can’t make them as good anymore?

#6: Stadtcasino Basel, Switzerland

Just 1,600 seats, again showing that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

 #7: Symphony Hall, Birmingham, England

Another relatively new hall, opening in 1991. It’s somewhat larger than the others at 2,262 seats.

#8: Culture and Congress Centre (KKL), Lucerne, Switzerland

Another new one, opening in 1998 and having 1,840 seats.

#9: St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, Wales

This hall opened in 1992 and seats 2,000.

#10: Meyerson Center, Dallas, USA

Another relatively new hall, it first opened in 1989 and holds 2,062.

When we think of the finest concert halls, we automatically think of something large with a long decay time. If this top 10 list indicates anything, that supposition is far from the case, as smaller halls are consistently considered to sound better. Maybe that will play into our reverb settings in the future. Goodbye large hall?

New Music Gear Monday: MXL DX-2 Dual Capsule Microphone

MXL DX-2Most directional condenser microphones have dual capsules, but they’re almost always identical, and it’s how they’re placed that makes the mic directional. That said, what if you created a mic that had 2 capsules, but one was a large diaphragm and the other was small so you could get a combination of the sound of the two instead? That’s exactly what the new MXL DX-2 dual capsule instrument microphone does.

The DX-2 is meant for guitar amps, and as such, it’s built with a flat face that makes it side-addressable.  That means that it’s easy to hang over an amp or speaker cabinet without the need of a microphone stand, although it is possible to mount it on a stand as well. While that’s pretty cool in itself, the real coolness comes from the two condenser capsules, one large and the other small, inside the mic. On the rear of the mic is a crossfade control that allows you to go from one diaphragm to the other and everywhere in between. This allows you to dial in the exact sound without changing mics, and provides a wider tonal palette than most mics that you might use for this purpose.

Besides the difference in size, both capsules also have different pickup patterns, with the large being super-cardioid while the small diaphragm features a wider cardioid pattern. Those patterns probably won’t mean much with the mic being that close to the source, but it does change the sound, as you can hear from the video below.

What’s interesting is that according to the video, you do get some cancellation between the mics at a certain point when the mics are mixed together, but that could also make for an interesting sound as well.

The MXL DX-2 is very affordable at only $149 retail and has recently become available for shipping. Check out the video below to hear what it does and the website for more information.

October 21, 2016

A Look At The Early Music Business In The Beatles First Album

beatles_and_george_martin_in_studio_1966The early music business in the 50’s and 60’s was a completely different animal from what we have today. For one thing, studio recording offered a quick turnaround since the technology was so much simpler then, but the mentality of doing things quickly to see if it worked or not was a big part of the business as well. One of the things that’s the same as the pop business of today is the fact that everything is based around the hit song, and that’s perfectly illustrated by this video on the making of The Beatles first album, called Please Please Me in the UK.

The video has Sir George Martin describing how he looked for a hit song for the group from outside songwriters and actually found one, only to have it brushed off by the band because it was too soft and went against their tough Liverpool image (hard to believe that now). There’s also individual clips from the Fab Four describing a little bit of their songwriting process at the time, and some great archival live concert footage.

An Acoustic And Computer Giant Passes

Dr. Leo BeranekOne of the world’s foremost acoustic geniuses has passed. Dr. Leo Beranek and his company Bold, Beranek and Newman (BBN) have been been the leader in acoustic design for decades, designing the acoustics of the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York, and concert halls at Lincoln Center and Tanglewood, among many others.

Dr. Beranek taught acoustic engineering at Harvard and M.I.T. for more than three decades, and did quite a lot of groundbreaking research, including determining the noise standards for public buildings and airports that are still in use today. His biggest selling book, Acoustics, was originally published in 1954 (it was updated in 1986 and 2012) and still remains a textbook for acoustic engineering students around the world. His 1962 book, Music, Acoustics, and Architecture, which examined the acoustics of 100 concert halls around the world, is also considered a classic.

During World War II, as the director of Harvard’s Electroacoustic Lab, Dr. Beranek worked to improve voice communication between airplanes and the ground, which to that point was impossible. After the war, he was responsible for designing and building the first anechoic chamber, a critical tool in acoustic measurement today.

While his acoustic achievements were widely known and have impacted not only music listeners but society in general, his contribution to the world of computing may have a more lasting effect.

BBN was responsible for the precursor of the Internet as the company transitioned to fields other than acoustics, which Beranek felt was limiting. The company built the Arpanet for the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a way for government agencies and universities to more easily share information. It was the first computer-based network in the world, and it went into operation in 1970. In 1972, BBN was the first to send an email message that used the symbol “@,” a process that we take for granted today.

Dr. Baranek led a good long life as he passed at 102 years old, but he’s one of the few people who’s work has had an unseen affect on all of our lives every single day. We’re going to miss him.

Choosing the Right Microphone For The Job

Choosing the right microphoneWhile it’s safe to say that most engineers rely on experience when choosing which microphone to use in a given situation, these are some things to consciously consider when selecting a microphone. Here’s a list of items to think about from the latest edition of my Recording Engineer’s Handbook.

  • There’s no one mic that works well on everything. Just because you have what could be considered a “great” mic doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be the best choice in all situations. There are times when the characteristics of that mic just don’t match up with the instrument you’re recording, and another mic will work better. In fact, sometimes even an inexpensive mic can work better than an expensive one.
  • Select a microphone that complements the instrument you’ll be recording. For instance, if you have an instrument that has a very edgy top end, you normally wouldn’t want to choose a mic that also has that quality, since those frequencies will be emphasized. Instead, you might want to choose a mic that’s a bit mellower, such as a ribbon. This is one of the reasons that a ribbon mic is often preferred on brass, for instance.
  • Is the mic designed to be used in the free field or in the diffuse field? Free-field means the sound that comes directly from the source dominates what the mic hears. Diffuse-field means that the room reflections play a large role in what the mic hears. Mics designed for free-field use tend to have a flat frequency response in the high frequencies, and as a result can sound dull when placed farther away in room from the sound source. Diffuse-field mics have a boost in the upper frequencies that make them sound flat when placed farther away. A good example of a diffuse-field mic is the esteemed Neumann M 50, which was meant to be placed somewhat away from an orchestra, so it has a high-frequency boost to compensate for the distance.
  • Select a mic that won’t be overloaded by the source. Some mics are sensitive enough that you must be aware of how they’re used. You wouldn’t want to put certain ribbon or condenser mics on a snare drum with a heavy-hitting drummer, for instance. Even some dynamic mics have little tolerance for high sound-pressure levels, so always take that into account.
  • Choose the right polar pattern for the job. If leakage is a consideration, then choose a mic with the proper directional capabilities for the job. If a mic is flat on-axis (at the front), it probably will roll off some of the highs when it’s 90 degrees off-axis (on the side). If it’s flat 90 degrees off-axis, it may have a rising high end when it’s on-axis.
  • Is proximity effect an issue? If you intended to place the mic within 6 inches or closer from the source, will the bass buildup from the proximity effect be too much? If you think that may be the case, consider an omni pattern instead.
  • A large-diaphragm condenser mic is not necessarily better than small-diaphragm condenser. Believe it or not, small diaphragm condenser microphones can sometimes capture the lower frequencies better, are generally less colored off-axis than large-diaphragm mics, and have a smoother frequency response. Large-diaphragm mics are a little less noisy, though.

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

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