Monthly Archives: October 2016
Monthly Archives: October 2016
If you’re like me, you don’t have a huge amount of experience with in-ear monitors. I’d just gotten fitted for a set, and thought it would be a great idea to find out as much as I could about them, so I asked Ultimate Ears sales director Mike Dias to come on this week’s podcast to fill us in.
In this episode we’ll talk about all the nuances of in-ears, as well as the laser scanning process for the ear molds, and the fact that these tiny earpieces hold as many as 18 drivers!
On the intro we’ll look at Amazon’s new Music Unlimited streaming service and it’s deceptive low prices, and some out-of-the-box thinking of putting music venue sound systems in the ceiling instead of on the stage.
Everyone who knew Frank Zappa is shedding a tear at the fact that items from the great composer’s estate, which includes gear from his legendary Utility Muffin Research Kitchen studio, is about to go to auction. The property was on the market for about $5.5 million, and has reportedly been purchased by Lady Gaga.
Among the items available include Harrison and Neve consoles, tape machines and gear from his studio, all his touring and rehearsal gear from Joe’s Garage, and a wide variety of musical instruments. A full list can be found here.
As often happens when the parents die and money has to be split amongst the siblings, Frank and Gail’s children have been particularly divided over the sale and auction, which has led to much acrimony between them. For anyone who has spent any time at the estate, it’s a particularly sad way to see it go. One can only hope that their differences can be resolved so that Frank’s memory can continue unimpeded by anything but peace, love and music. Check out the video below for a look at the estate.
One almost essential accessory for any computer-based DAW is the monitor controller, and there are a lot of them to choose from these days in just about all price ranges. Most of them in the sub-$1,000 range, while quite capable, are usually without some feature or features that you wish it would have. That’s what makes the new Drawmer MC3.1 so compelling. It’s one of the few monitor controllers at that price point that has all the most wished-for features covered.
The Drawmer MC3.1 monitor controller (not to be confused with a computer interface with monitor control capabilities) first and foremost allows you to adjust the level of the control room monitors, but it also incorporates a number of features usually found in controllers costing many times more. For instance, it has 3 sets of speaker outputs plus a mono sub output that can be switched individually and simultaneously, making A/B comparisons a snap. Each output also has a level trim to provide precise channel matching.
As far as inputs, there are a total of 5 – 1 digital AES/SPDIF, 2 balanced analog inputs, a stereo RCA analog input on the rear panel, and a 3.5mm front panel AUX input with it’s own level control. The digital and balanced analog inputs utilize Neutrik XLR/1/4″ COMBI jacks. These inputs can be selected to feed two separate signal paths; one for the main speaker output, and a second for the Cue buss to either an external output or to the internal headphone amps. Speaking of which, there are actually two separate headphone amplifiers with individual level controls and input switching so the artist can listen to a different mix than the engineer. There’s also a built-in talkback circuit complete with level control, external mic input, and a footswitch control, which is a very cool and overlooked feature even on high-end controllers.
But the main function of a monitor controller is to control the level of your speakers and here the MC3.1 also has a few extra tricks as well. First of all, the level can be set either with the large variable volume control knob, or by a button that switches to a preset level, which many mixing for TV or films will love. There are also comprehensive mix checking facilities as well, including dim, mono and phase reversal switches, plus mute switches for left, right and both speakers. The MC3.1 also has the unusual feature of Band Solo, which allows the user to listen to just the low, mid or high frequency bands to hear how they’re being reproduced by the speakers. Finally, the unit has timed relay protection on all speaker outputs to prevent power up/down bangs.
The Drawmer MC3.1 monitor controller is packaged in a desktop wedge form factor in a rugged steel box with a stylish brushed aluminum cover. The retail price is $999 and you can find more details on this dedicated page from Transaudio, the U.S. importer for Drawmer.
It’s time to listen inside another big hit from the past. This time it’s the instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” It’s actually pretty amazing what you can hear once you strip the vocal off, although it shouldn’t be too surprising since it is the center of attention. Here’s what to listen for:
1. The reverb tail on the main guitar riff is very long. This makes perfect sense since it has to hang over at the end of the riff.
2. There’s not that many elements to the song. It’s actually pretty simple in that there’s usually only 3 elements playing at the same time – rhythm section, a keyboard pad, and a guitar riff.
3. There are some extra guitar parts that aren’t that apparent in the final mix. Listen to the clean guitar on the second half of the verse and the second 8 bars of the chorus. Also in the bridge there’s a 16th note guitar that plays underneath the main figure.
4. The drums are pretty plain in they just keep the beat. It sounds like a drum machine with real drums overdubbed with the high hat doubled and panned to each side, which fills up both the frequency and the aural space.
It’s always fun to listen inside of a hit, and sometimes just taking away the vocal reveals many parts that you don’t hear in the mix but are essential to the song. That’s the cool thing about production. The most important parts of the house aren’t usually the ones seen from the outside.
When you think about it, we’re still stuck in the last century when it comes to live sound systems, especially in clubs. In almost all cases you’ll find a speaker array on both sides of the stage, sometimes sitting on the stage and sometimes flown. The problem with that is excessive SPL levels up close to the stage and beyond, especially outside the club. Time for some out of the box thinking. Let’s put the club sound system in the ceiling.
That’s exactly what a Swedish company called JBN Sound Solutions does. It sells an innovative ceiling system that hovers over the dance floor radiating the sound downward. This makes the audio more uniform, provides areas in the club with very low SPL (how many times have you wanted that), and best of all, keeps the neighbors from complaining. The company has already installed over 4,600 systems worldwide, but it’s first US install is just underway in Austin, Texas.
Noise pollution from clubs and venues has been a major problem in areas that are newly gentrified like in many downtown areas. Where there were previously no complaints over audio levels, newly constructed condos and hotels can suddenly spell trouble for a club. That’s what’s happened with The Nook Amphitheater in Austin ever since a new Westin Hotel opened nearby, so they’re turning to JBN in an effort to keep the sound inside the club and keeping everyone happy.
The system consists primarily of evenly spaced custom 10″ bass drivers and 6 1/2″ dual-concentric mid-tweeter drivers, although there’s not much additional information as to what kind of power or DSP the system uses.
That said, JBN systems are used in clubs, casinos, resorts and hotels around the world, so they must be on to something. And when you think about it, a sound system in the ceiling focused downward does make a lot of sense. Let’s see if the rest of the industry catches on.
Drum recording is too often left to trial and error to when getting sounds. Here’s a checklist from the 2nd edition of my Drum Recording Handbook (written with Dennis Moody) that makes sure that the basics are covered (assuming that the drums sound great acoustically) before you open up the mics.
“Like the foundation of a house, the drums are the foundation of a recording. With a strong foundation, you can build almost anything on it that you or your clients can imagine. A little effort and time spent miking the drums and getting the sound just right can result in a recording that sounds better than you would have ever imagined.
Remember, take risks, experiment, take notes on what works and what doesn’t, be creative, and most of all, have fun!
Here’s a list of things to check if something just doesn’t sound right. Remember that each situation is different and ultimately the sound depends upon the drums, the drummer, the room, the song, the arrangement, the signal chain, and even the other players. It’s not unusual to have at least one of these things out of your control.
☐ Are the mics acoustically in phase? Make sure that tom mics and room mics are parallel to each other. Make sure that any underneath mics are at a 45° angle to the top mics.
☐ Are the mics electronically in phase? Make sure that any bottom mics have the phase reversed. Make sure that all the mic cables are wired the same by doing a phase check.
☐ Are the mics at the correct distance from the drum? If they’re too far away they’ll pick up too much of the other drums. If they’re too close the sound will be unbalanced with too much attack or ring.
☐ Are the drum mics pointing at the center of the head? Pointing at the center of the drum will give you the best balance of attack and fullness.
☐ Are the cymbal mics pointed at the bell. If the mic is pointed at the edge of the cymbal, you might hear more air “swishing” than cymbal tone.
☐ Is the high-hat mic pointed at the middle of the hat? Too much towards the bell will make the sound thicker and duller. Too much towards the edge will make the sound thinner and pick up more air noise.
☐ Are the room mics parallel? If you’re using two room mics instead of a stereo mic to mic the room, make sure that the mics are on the same plane and are exactly parallel to each other. Also make sure that they’re on the very edge of the kit looking at the outside edge of the cymbals.
☐ Does the balance of the mix sound the same as when you’re standing in front of the drums? This is your reference point and what you should be trying to match. You can embellish the sound after you’ve achieved this.
These are not hard and fast rules, just a starting place. If you try something that’s different from what you’ve read and it sounds good, it is good!”
You can read more from The Drum Recording Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
Ariel Hyatt was one of the first in the PR world to realize the value of social media, and her Cyber PR agency has been helping artists and bands with their online presence ever since.
Now Ariel breaks new ground with her latest book called Crowdstart, which provides a step-by-step breakdown of how to launch a successful crowdfunding campaign. Ariel’s my guest on this week’s podcast to talk about what she’s learned in the sometimes confusing world of crowdfunding.
On the intro we’ll look at the streaming wars and how Spotify and Apple Music own the majority of the market at the moment, and how many believe that the latest generation of audio plugins are “cheating” in that they may allow you to bypass years of experience during mixing.
Just about any music involves repetition, and we’ve proved by our listening habits over hundreds of years that we like it that way. It’s not just the songs, symphonies or operas that are so often built on patterns that repeat (like drumbeats, rhythms, melodies, or harmonic cycles), it’s also the fact that we love to listen to the same recording again and again. We don’t get bored by a part or a hook that we’ve heard before; our enjoyment may actually increase.
While so many techniques (like tension and release) are common among many art forms, repetition is something that’s singular to music. In Elizabeth Hellmuth Marguilis book entitled On Repeat: How Music Plays The Mind, she outlines how if you were to repeat a word phrase common in a hook of any pop song, after a while it begins to become just a collection of sounds and loses it’s meaning, something that songwriters unknowingly seem to take advantage of more and more. This is called “semantic satiation,” which is that moment when a phrase is overloaded through so much repetition that it slips out of the meaning-processing part of our brains.
But patterns of repetition aren’t just songwriter techniques. They’re invitations for listeners to participate. As Margulis puts it: “Repetitiveness actually gives rise to the kind of listening that we think of as musical. It carves out a familiar, rewarding path in our minds, allowing us at once to anticipate and participate in each phrase as we listen. That experience of being played by the music is what creates a sense of shared subjectivity with the sound, and – when we unplug our earbuds, anyway – with each other, a transcendent connection that lasts at least as long as a favorite song.” That could be the reason why we return again and again to listen to a song we love. We like the way that it plays us, rather than the way we play it.
In fact, a USC study found that songs that have the most repetition are the ones with the highest chart positions and are more likely to be hits. If you really want some good examples of this, just check out VH1’s 15 Most Repetitive Songs Of All Time and look at the number of times the hook is repeated for each. For all you songwriters, do you think you can break 100 repetitions in one song?
Repetition is part of our musical experience and it’s something to be embraced. It’s been with us a long time already, and looks like it will be with us for a long time in the future.
We all have our favorite mics for recording specific instruments in the studio, but when it comes to miking them live, everything is out the window. Mostly that’s because mounting many mics can be a pain. While you can afford to spend time getting the placement just right in the studio, when it’s live everything is fast, fast and faster, so that becomes the primary consideration, although it still has to sound good. Thankfully, Audio-Technica has taken all this into consideration with introduction of its new ATM350a instrument microphone.
The ATM350a is a small diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone that’s able to take high SPL levels (up to 159dB SPL!), which is essential for a mic that’s tightly placed on an instrument, and is basically an upgrade of the previous ATM350. Where the new version shines though, is the fact that it comes with an array of mounts that makes it able to easily fit on almost any instrument, from string bass to drums to piano to horns and almost anything else you can think of.
Each version of the mic comes with a specialized mount for a particular instrument, although there are also multiple mounts provided in each kit. The ATM350U kit with Universal Clip-on Mounting System, for instance, includes the ATM350a Microphone, an AT8543 Power Module, an AT8491U Universal Clip-on Mount, an AT8490 5″ Gooseneck, an AT8468 Violin Mount (hook-and-loop fastener), and a protective carrying case. Other kits include one with a 9 inch gooseneck and a magnetic mount intended specifically for piano miking, one for drum miking with a very cool universal mount, one for woodwind miking, and one that includes a wireless transmitter. The mounting hardware is also available separately.
The Audio-Technica ATM350a retails for between $299 to $349, depending upon the package. There’s more detailed info on the company’s website, and on the video below.
It’s always a treat to hear the isolated tracks from a hit, especially when they’re from the old days of extreme tape machine limitations. The Beatles “Day Tripper” is an excellent example of how great a recording could be with only 4 tracks as we listen to the isolated bass and drums from the song. Of course, the magic is all in the song and you can certainly hear that in the recording. Here are some things to listen for.
1. The sound of the bass. It’s pretty woofy and not too defined like it would be in later recordings, but actually works in the track pretty well in when mixed with everything else. The bass sounds pretty bad by itself, which proves the point that sometimes relying on the solo button isn’t exactly the best thing for a mix.
2. There’s a lot of leakage. That would make producers, engineers and players crazy today but it was just standard operating procedure back then. No big deal, you just make it work for you.
3. The B-section bass changes. Paul McCartney plays a different part on each of the three B-sections, but each one of them is brilliant and works as well as the previous one. I wonder if this was planned or just happened spontaneously?
4. The drum B-section snare. Ringo play’s a little pickup snare fill on the second half of the B-section that almost sounds like a mistake. it’s a tad slow, as are the fills and builds, but it actually works well against the other tracks.
5. The bass line on the outro. It’s also a little different from what you’re used to hearing. It actually sounds like this version of “Day Tripper” might either be an outtake or the song was edited to make it a bit longer on the final version.
6. There’s an ending. You don’t hear it on the record but there’s one there if you listen to the end.