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Monthly Archives: November 2016

November 30, 2016

Crappy Sound Checklist

Crappy sound checklistWhether you’re in a live situation or in the studio, things can suddenly sound distorted, or there could be no sound output at all. You can spend a lot of time chasing your tail trying to find out what’s wrong unless you have an orderly procedure to follow that allows you to troubleshoot the system quickly so you can get back making music in short order. If something doesn’t appear to be working or if the sound is noisy or distorted, here’s a checklist to help you get to the bottom of the problem.

If There’s No Audio:

  • Is the mic plugged into the correct channel?
  • Is the Mute switch on the channel engaged?
  • Is the input button on the DAW selected?
  • Is the Mic/Line control raised high enough?
  • Is the master fader at or near zero?
  • Is there an outboard device connected to the insert of the channel or interface? Disconnect it to see if the sound returns. If it does, the fault lies with the outboard device or its cables. Is the device turned on?
  • Is there sound getting to the output? If you have meter deflection but no sound, the problem could be with the amps or speakers. Are they turned on?
  • Try another mic cable
  • Try another microphone.

If The Audio Is Distorted:

  • Are all mics distorted or just one? If all are distorted, then check to see if the amplifiers for the sound system are overloading. Also, check to seen if a speaker is blown.
  • Is the mic input trim control set too high?
  • Is distortion occurring somewhere else in the console or signal path? Use a PFL (pre-fader listen) to check.
  • Are any overload lights on anywhere in the system?
  • Try another mic cable.
  • Try another microphone.

Follow the above checklist and you should find your problem with a minimum amount of time spent.

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

November 29, 2016

Engineer Jordan “DJ Swivel” Young On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Jordan DJ Swivel YoungIf you listen to music on the radio at all, you’ve surely heard The Chainsmokers “Closer,” as it’s been #1 for a number of weeks. Jordan “DJ Swivel” Young mixed the song and he’s going to talk about that mix and much more on Episode #137 of my Inner Circle Podcast.

Jordan has also worked worked with mega-artists Jay-Z, Kanye West and Fabolous, and was Beyonce’s engineer and mixer for a few years as well, all of which we’ll discuss. This is one of the longer interviews, but I guarantee that you’ll find every moment is interesting.

On the intro I’ll look at the streaming price war that’s taking place, and the 50th anniversary of the venerable Shure SM58.

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

November 29, 2016

7 Ways Electric Guitar Manufacturers Save Money (And Make You Pay More)

electric guitar manufacturersElectric guitar manufacturing has come a long way since the early days of guitar-crazed 60s. Back then, if you didn’t buy a brand name at a premium price, chances are that you were getting an instrument that was difficult to play and only a few steps beyond wood plank. Today’s precision manufacturing has changed all of that, and it’s surprising how good sounding and playable even the most inexpensive guitar can be. That doesn’t mean that electric guitar manufacturers haven’t found new ways to save money though, and this video from Phillip McKnight shows the 7 ways that could happen.

If you don’t have time to watch, here’s a list, although Phil’s explanations are worth the viewing as it’s pretty educational.

1. Inlays

2. Maple veneer

3. Binding

4. Set neck

5. Pickups

6. Photo finish

7. Wood

If you’re a guitar player, this is well worth the watch.

November 28, 2016

Cool Cyber Monday Recording Accessories

We all love a deal and Cyber Monday is the day for it, so I decided to put together my own list of cool gear especially for musicians and engineers. Here are some accessory items that make great gifts for any musician or engineer (even yourself).

earpeaceEarPeace Hearing Protectors – They reduce the volume but don’t change the frequency response, plus they come with an extra ear protector, a cool carrying case, and different filters. I don’t know what I’d do without them. You’ll use them more than you ever thought. Black Friday deal from $12.

 

blockliteBlocklite – This goes under the category of “Why didn’t I think of that?”. Blocklite is a simple LED add-on to any 9 volt battery that turns it into a flashlight that’s perfect for checking all those dark spaces during a session or show. Cheap too at only $17.95 for a package of 3 including the batteries!

 

 

Monoprice 8323 headphonesMonoprice 8323 Headphones – Tired of spending big money on replacing trashed headphones? At $28 you won’t find a cheaper and better sounding replacement.

 

 

lynda.comLynda.com Online Training Tutorials – Have you ever wanted to learn a piece of software, but hated the “how-to” videos you found on YouTube with bad audio and lighting and people that barely know what they’re doing? Try Lynda.com, with more than 1500 courses with super high production values by experts and in small digestible bites. Check out my courses, and get 7 days free of unlimited access to lynda.com.

snark-sn1-tunerSnark SN-1 Guitar Tuner – We’ve all gotten used to using software guitar tuners, but when you want to tune as fast as possible, this is the best tuner I’ve found. It clips right onto the guitar so you don’t even have to plug it in, and it even has a built-in metronome. At $9.95 each, it’s unbeatable.

Shop Amazon for Cyber Monday deals in musical instruments.

 

active-snare-dampeningRemo Active Snare Dampening System – Designed in conjunction with drumming heavyweight Dave Weckl to get rid of unwanted ringing without the tape. Once fitted to the drum by attaching it to the rim, you can adjust the amount of dampening by either moving the Dampener from the center to the edge of the drum head, or by sliding the O ring up or down. Genius! And just $32.50.

 

primacoustic-voxguard-vuPrimacoustic VoxGuard VU – Like other vocal isolators only better in that it adds a 3 inch by 7 inch Plexiglass window so that the vocalist can see the rest of the band or receive cues from the producer (among other things). The unit fits on to a common microphone stand and an extender clamp allows you to fit the microphone holder. It’s also adjustable so that you can move the mic closer or further from the vocalist. Just $99.

 

radial-reamp-jcrRadial Engineering Reamp JCR reverse direct box – which has all the features needed to make the operation happen both quickly and easily.The Reamp JCR is actually a reverse direct box in that it takes a signal from your recording device via an XLR cable, then sounds it out to the amp via a 1/4″ jack. The $199 box also features phase invert and ground lift switches on the input side, and a filter control switch, mute and level control pot on the output side.

 

 

string-strechaString Strecha – New guitar strings sound great but it takes so much time until they stretch out, but String Strecha will allow you to stretch each string by the same amount every time. This thing is a favorite of top-flight guitar techs everywhere, and you should have one in your guitar case or in the studio at all times. Well worth the $12.50.

music-producers-handbook-2e-coverBooks By Bobby Owsinski – Okay, so I’m a little biased, but if you’re looking for a book for someone in the music business, you’ll hopefully find one of mine that will hit the sweet spot. There’s something for everyone, including books on productionmixing, recording, recording drums, mastering, being a studio musician or a touring musician, improving your band, navigating the new music business, social media for musicians, studio building, guitar tone, and making videos. From about $16 to $30.

 

the-x-clipThe X-Clip – If you want to mount an SM57 and a small diaphragm condenser mic right next to one another and keep them in perfect phase, then the X-Clip is just the thing you need. Get one for $19.95, or the Studio Bundle of 3 for $49.95.

Have a happy Cyber Monday!

Shop Amazon for Cyber Monday deals in electronics.

Stevie Ray Vaughan “Pride And Joy” Isolated Guitar Track

Stevie Ray VaughanThere’s nothing like listening to a master and guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan certainly fits that description. I remember going to see him in a small club before he broke out big, but right in the middle of stream of big hype. The audience was filled with LA guitar players (including quite a few heavyweights), all with a “show me what you got” attitude. It took about a minute and half of the first song, “Pride And Joy,” to make a believer out of all of us. Yes, this guy was the real deal. Here’s the isolated guitar track from the studio recording of that song.

1.  The first thing you’ll notice is how big the guitar sounds. It has much more bottom than most guitar tracks, but this is a function of the fact that he was playing in the trio version of Double Trouble at the time, so more sonic space needed to be filled.

2. While everyone looks at his incredible dexterity when soloing, Steve was actually a great rhythm player as well, as this track bears out. Listen especially to the turnarounds, which are incredibly precise.

3, There’s a long delayed reverb on the guitar that’s very bright, again to fill in the sonic space.

4. No overdubs here. This sounds like one take all the way through, rhythm and lead guitar!

There’s no doubt the man was really a master. He’s very much missed.

November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

ThanksgivingTo all my friends and readers, I wish you a happy holiday. I truly appreciate your support and I am humbled and honored that you take the time out of your busy day to read my musings.

It’s a good day to take some time off, eat a nice meal, have a cocktail and watch some football, but don’t forget that it’s also a great day to see some live music as well!

A Road Case Primer

road caseThe road case is essential to anyone on tour with gear that needs to be protected, so I thought this would be a good time to bring back something that I posted about few years ago. It’s an excerpt from The Touring Musician’s Handbook that provides a good look at the differences between popular road case styles. Here we go.

“For many musicians, buying road cases for their gear is sort of a right of passage. As soon as you stencil your name on the cases, it suddenly means that your stock as a musician has risen and you’ve made the jump to becoming your own brand.

While some players choose not to case up their gear in order to save money in the beginning of their touring career, they soon see the shortsightedness the first time a favorite instrument is damaged from a fall off of a ramp or loading dock. Road cases are not only worth it, but almost mandatory in that your gear always has to work, and the only way to assure that happens is to keep it protected from the frequent and many knocks of the road.

The ATA Standard

Although many cases may look similar, the sturdiest (and consequently most expensive) ones are what’s known as ATA cases. This is a design based on an airplane parts packaging specification (known as ATA 300 Category 1), developed by airline packaging engineers and certified by the Airline Transport Association. ATA 300 compliant cases are designed to withstand the rigors of being shipped a minimum of 100 times, and specifies that the case will have recessed handles that will not break during transit. The standard also details the level of quality of every piece of construction material that goes into the case, including locks, hinges, and fastening systems, and also states that all rivets and screws must be non-corrosive and all edges must be rounded and have certain level of construction quality. Because of this ATA standard, the typical road case has also come to be known by the name “flight case,” since it’s made principally to survive multiple flights.

Tip: If the road case is too heavy for a single person to carry it, it needs casters.

Types Of Road Cases

Road cases come in a lot of different styles and a lot of different materials. As a result, all road cases are not created equal. Some are great for keeping the weather off your gear, while others are built to withstand the constant battle of the road. Let’s take a look at the different types.

Fiber Cases – Fiber cases are the typical drum cases that most drummers have used some time during their life. They’re made out of fiberglass reinforced polyester and are very strong and rugged. While they work great for the club musician or weekend warrior because they keep the scuffs and incidental scratches off of the instrument, they’re deficient for road work in several ways; there’s little or no shock mounting for the instrument, the case is closed with a nylon strap that can be cut or lost, and their irregular shape make them difficult to pack efficiently. This means they usually get tossed on the top of the evenly packed square cases in the truck where they bounce around a lot as a result. Guess what that does for the instrument? They’re also prone to caving should something very heavy be placed upon them.

Aluminum – Aluminum cases have a major advantage in being extremely light weight, and usually have a fair amount of shock absorption inside. That being said, they’re very easy to pierce, and should generally not be used for shipping purposes as a result. It’s possible to have an ATA standard aluminum case, but you have to use so much aluminum that you lose the weight advantage that aluminum has over other types of cases.

Carpet Cases – These are simple plywood cases with an outer fuzzy carpet material. This type of construction once again offers little in the way of impact relief and protection. They’re heavy because the internal frame may be constructed of steel, and even though the carpet finish makes them very tough, there’s not much in the way of shock mounting. Carpet cases are great for things like cables and mic stands, but not for anything expensive that must be protected.

Molded Plastic – Some cases are made out of molded plastic which might be good for keeping the rain off an instrument but not much help under the repeated impacts of being loaded onto a truck. Their weakness frequently is in the latches, which can break or come loose over time, and you don’t see plastic cases in very large sizes. Once again, molded plastic cases may come in an odd enough shape that it won’t easily pack in the truck. There are ATA molded cases made, which are also mil spec for military electronic gear, but they’re really expensive and generally custom made.

Sandwiched Material – The strongest and most common road cases are the ones with sandwiched material and reinforced edges and corners, and these can be made of different materials for different types of transit. Most sandwich-type road cases are constructed in three main layers:

  • an outer layer of a plastic-based laminate called ABS
  • a middle layer of 3/16 to ½ inch cabinet-grade plywood such as birch, poplar or maple
  • an internal shock-absorbing foam layer that corresponds to the exact shape of the instrument or piece of gear.

The edges of the case are reinforced with aluminum extrusion, and have steel or zinc corner pieces and recessed handles and fasteners.

Protective Foam

There are generally two types of protective foam used in road cases. Polyurethane foam is very soft and provides a gentle cushion for any delicate item. It’s usually available in ½ inch to 10 inch thickness in ½ inch increments. The problem is that it’s so soft that it can be crushed by a heavy item, in which case a polyethylene foam is used instead.

Polyethylene foam is very dense and not very flexible, and the texture is almost like plastic. Frequently it’s used under a heavy item where polyurethane would simply not last due to the constant compression. Usually you want at least a half-inch of foam between your instrument and the outer layer of the case, although most people prefer one inch for added protection.

One thing that’s mostly overlooked with road cases is that the internal foam layer can have some negative chemical interactions with the finish of your instrument that can cause it to become dull and discolored over time. Nitrocellulose lacquer (like those used on vintage guitars), varnish and shellac are much more susceptible to this than the modern polyurethane and polyester type finishes. The way to prevent any interaction from occurring is to make sure that your road cases have a cloth lining over the foam (see Figure 7.7).

Some companies use a velvet-like material layer mostly for cosmetics, but it will also protect your instrument from any finish damage from the foam. If buying a custom case, a cloth covering only adds a small amount to the overall cost of the case.

Remember, if you buy good quality cases, they can last for your entire career on the road, so go for the best and don’t cheap out.

Tip: When buying road cases, try to buy either cases already in stock at your local music store or pro audio dealer, or have them made locally. The cost of shipping them can sometimes be almost as much as the case itself. Almost every city now has a company that makes road cases, so finding one that’s local should be easy.

The good thing about the ATA-type road case is that they can be repaired. Just about anything can be replaced and the case will come back as good as new. In fact, there are companies that specialize in repairing road cases like Mobil Flight Case Repair, although just about any road case manufacturer can do it.”

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

November 22, 2016

Jay Clark Of EarPeace, Vinyl Piracy, And THX For Tours On Episode #136 Of My Inner Circle Podcast

Jay Clark EarPeaceHearing protection is important for everyone, not just for us in the music business. We’re constantly assaulted by damaging sounds, and too frequently don’t have ear plugs when we need them.

While there’s a lot of great protection products out there, Jay Clark felt there was something missing and come up with EarPeace, a new hearing protection product that has a number of features that are very appealing.

EarPeace is now endorsed and branded by some of the biggest music festivals and clubs, brands like Red Bull, and bands like Metallica. I spoke with Jay about how he came up with the product, and the difference between EarPeace and other brands.

On the intro I’ll look at piracy today, thanks to a huge bust of several tons of vinyl and CDs, as well as What.CD being shut down, and why THX is getting into tour sound.

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

November 22, 2016

Adobe VoCo – With Great Power Comes Responsibility

Adobe VoCoAdobe recently provided a sneak peak of a feature of the upcoming Adobe Max product that they call VoCo, which will prove to be revolution in both dialog and music vocal recording if it works as previewed. So what is VoCo? The company is calling it “Photoshop for voice.” It samples the voice of a person and then allows you to construct or reconstruct dialog in that person’s voice, even if they didn’t say it in the first place! In other words, you can now manipulate voice like text.

VoCo will be very cool for those working with dialog for film and television, where you can rebuild the lines you need instead of going to ADR or resorting to massive cleanup tools. It’s a no brainer there, providing there’s some way to insert the needed voice inflections. I don’t know if this can be used for singing, but it would be a boon to producers to be able to replace a word or phrase on an otherwise perfect vocal after the fact. Those are some of its very cool upsides.

The downsides are many, however. It could give unscrupulous people a means to construct “fake news” with quotes that don’t actually exist. It could allow a producer to construct a vocal that actually had never been sung against an artist’s wishes to fulfill a contract. It potentially puts the power of performance into the hands of someone other than the performer.

Since VoCo is still on the drawing board, it’s too early to say if the powers above are overstated or not, but while we look at all the cool applications for the feature, there’s a lot of potential for the less than honorable there as well.

That’s why I look at the video below with a combination of awe and fear. This is some great technology that certainly has current real-world applications, but are we opening up Pandora’s Box here? See for yourself.

New Music Gear Monday: Cart Tatz Design PhantomFocus eChair

PhantomFocus eChairWe’re all gear-heads in some way and most of us will jump at a good deal regardless of whether we need the piece or not. That’s said, it’s pretty easy to overlook the basic necessities of the studio, and many times that’s the physical comfort of the engineer. If you’re going to sit in a chair for 8+ hours per day, it better be comfortable or the chiropractor bills are going to mount up. That’s why the new PhantomFocus eChair from Carl Tatz Design is so intriguing. This may be the first breakthrough in comfort in years that engineers will notice immediately.

If you don’t know, Carl Tatz is a Nashville based studio designer who’s also the creator of the breakthrough Phantom Focus playback system, but the eChair may be his everlasting gift to the engineering community. It looks a bit odd, but boy does it work well when it comes to both ergonomics and comfort.

First of all, the chair is dead easy to assemble. After having struggled with putting together a big traditional office chair recently, I was particularly impressed that the eChair went together without needing any tools in probably less than 2 minutes. And that’s without any instructions!

But it’s the adjustable features of the chair really make it special. The big one is the ActiveTilt seat that can be set to automatically pivot forward and backward with your body as you lean towards the console or desk, so you’re back always stays at the same angle. Then, the Free-Float backrest can be unlocked so that the hidden springs actively push it into your lower back as you lean your body forward and backward as well. It’s like a mini-massage every time you lean back. The more or less standard features that many other chairs have are also included, like armrests that have height, width, and yaw-angle settings (I find this a must-have for my tennis elbow), backrest height that can be changed, and pneumatic lift for easy seat height adjustment.

To be sure the eChair is not inexpensive at $550 (with free shipping and available in 3 different colors), but that’s about the same as a standard issue Herman Miller Aeron chair that most studios use, only with more updated features. If you suffer from back pain and you’re studio or office chair isn’t helping, then you owe it to yourself to check out the PhantomFocus eChair.

Check out the short video below for a description of how the features work.

 

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