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January 31, 2017

Dubai-Based Engineer Joshua F Williams On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Joshua F Williams DubaiWe pretty much know about life in the studio around us, but how different is it in other countries? My former assistant Joshua F Williams has been one of the top engineer/producers in the Middle East for the past 10 years, and he’ll tell us what the music scene is like in the Dubai area on my latest podcast.

Yes, the techniques are different, the instruments are different, and even the way you listen to things are different there, but Josh also sees the similarities between Europe, Los Angeles, and the UAE. It’s some interesting insight into a land that most of us are curious about, and well worth a listen.

In the intro I’ll look at the changing streaming music business (32 services have closed in the last 5 years), and at the world’s first “perfect” concert hall.

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

January 31, 2017

Do Dogs Have A Preference In Music?

Dogs musicAll of us know that animals respond to music (my cats Roger and Chloe love to hang with me when I mix), but are there certain genres that they like better? A new study by the University of Glasgow in conjunction with the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found out that shelter dogs definitely had some music preferences. The dogs wore heart rate monitors and their cortisol levels (known as the “stress hormone”) were checked in order to find out how relaxed or agitated they were when different types of music was played.

The first thing that the study found is that shelter dogs in general have lower levels of stress when music is played.  This is important because dogs find shelters very uncomfortable and are likely to react in ways that make them less likely to be adopted. Thankfully, music seems to relax them a bit.

Ah, but what kind of music? It turns out that the dogs responded more to soft rock and reggae than any other. Believe it or not, Motown got the most paws down, and heavy metal actually induced body shaking. Audio books, oddly enough, were also something that the pooches liked.

The tests were so successful that the Scottish SPCA decided to pump music into its shelters permanently.

The university is now conducting similar studies on cats, but the kitties aren’t being as cooperative as the pooches (no surprise there, as cat lovers know). Cats are averse to wearing heart monitors, so only the cortisol levels are being measured. There have been studies before, and music made especially for felines (like this recent album) created as a result, but in my experience the kitties seem to like music that’s soft and rhythmic, and aren’t too happy with anything loud and aggressive. Just like many humans, I’ve found.

New Music Gear Monday: Ultimate Ears Sound Tap Personal Monitor DI

Ultimate Ears Sound TapIt looks like the days of the floor monitor are numbered as the live gig world quickly adapts to in-ear monitoring, something that the concert industry embraced many ears ago. Today IEMs are priced within reach of just about any gigging musician, but what really holds back many players from jumping in is the complicated setup and expensive wireless packs involved. Not anymore, as Ultimate Ears (one of the leaders in IEMs) recently released its ingenious Sound Tap personal monitor DI that puts in-ear monitoring easily within reach.

Sound Tap allows you to plug the speaker cable going to a floor monitor directly into the box, which you then plug in your IEMs and control the level to taste. There’s also a Speaker throughput connector to keep the that floor monitor working if you don’t want to lose it, yet still keep your in-ears going. If you want to eliminate the floor monitor altogether, there’s a combo XLR/1/4″ connector that can accept the monitor or aux output feed directly from your mixer, eliminating the floor monitor yet still keeping you hearing what you need to hear.

The unit has two combo Speakon/1/4″ jacks, two XLR/1/4″ combo jacks, and an 1/8th inch jack for your IEMs. There’s an Input control to adjust the level so it works with the unit, then a Master Volume to adjust the level of the in-ears. There’s also a switch that selects between the Speakon and XLR inputs, and two sets of level LEDs so you can drive the unit to its optimum. One of the best things about the box is that it also has built-in protection against feedback or anything else that might hurt your ears.

Sound Tap uses two 9 volt batteries that can last up to 35 hours. If the batteries die, only the IEM output goes dead, as the signal still throughputs through the box.

Ultimate Ears Sound Tap retails for $249 and comes with a number of adapter cables as well as an IEM extension cable. You can find out more on the dedicated web page or from the video below.

 

Lady Gaga “Paparazzi” Isolated Vocals

Lady Gaga PaparazziLady Gaga’s debut album was a worldwide smash, and the 5th single off the record, “Paparazzi” continued a streak of hit singles that would last for years. The song was written by Gaga and former manager Rob Fusari, who also co-produced the track. The mix was done by Robert Orton and mastered by Gene Grimaldi at Oasis Mastering. Here’s what to listen for.

1. The vocal in the first verse has a short stereo 1/16th note delay to give it some space, yet keep in almost dry and in your face.

2. An additional longer delay (sounds like an 1/8th note triplet) is added to the vocal when the choruses begin. This fills the spaces in between the phrases towards the end. Mixer Robert Orton likes to use delays much more than reverbs, and this track is a great example of that.

3. The bridge changes to a lightly flanged vocal that’s panned fairly wide (about 10 and 2 o’clock) leaving a big space in the middle.

4. There’s a fair amount of compression on the vocal but it’s really done tastefully in that you hardly hear it pump or pull. I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that there were several compressors used in series to keep it so steady without any side-effects.

Isn’t it fun to listen inside a big Lady Gaga hit?

January 26, 2017

Don’t Look Now, But A.I. Composed Music Is Taking Hold

A.I. Composed MusicIt’s tough out there for songwriters and composers of every genre. There’s more competition than ever, thanks to better training and the proliferation of home studios, so the last thing that’s needed is another obstacle to go up against. That’s why the rise in A.I. composed music (meaning by artificial intelligence) is so disconcerting. Most of us are used to dealing with human competition, but going up against an evolved computer is another story.

The New York Times had a great article on A.I. composed music not too long ago, and cited numerous examples from different genres. Here are a few of them below.

In the first, composer Lejaren Hiller used a computer to produce the “Illiac Suite” for string quartet, which is said to be the first computer-generated score.

Here’s one by Future that was composed using Sony’s AI tool Flow Composer.

And finally, here’s one in the style of The Beatles, also composed using Flow Composer.

I wasn’t too impressed until I heard the last one, which is quite good in that at least it has a memorable melody.

Somehow though, I don’t think human songwriters and composers have much to worry about – yet. A.I. composed music isn’t going away though, so prepare for a future of trying to decide whether a song was composed by human or machine.

Winter NAMM 2017 Overview – Part 3

Today is the final installment of my Winter NAMM overview, and we’ll look at a few very cool products, but mostly at the oddities of the show. As you may know, downstairs in Hall E is where the newer companies and first time exhibitors dwell – the “mad inventors” as we like to call them.As a matter of fact, there was an overflow into Hall D this year, although that was much less fun do the fact that it’s near “drum world” and therefore subject to lots of noise. This is where you’ll often find the hidden gems, and there were certainly a few there this year.

Let’s begin, again, in no particular order.

First of all, here’s the hit of the show, at least for me. It’s called the Backbone and it’s simply genius. This block of aluminum connects to the neck of a Strat or Tele via the four bolts on the back, then connects to the bridge. The sound improvement is simply amazing. It takes an already good sounding guitar and turns it into a monster. About $60, it’s non-destructive in that it doesn’t harm the instrument, and it only takes about 5 minutes to mount.

The new Line 6 Spider V 240HC head is unique in that it has both midrange and hi-frequency drivers in it. You can use it at home to play along with your favorite tracks, then when you plug it into a cabinet get some frequency extension from the tweeters.

 

 

The GaffGun is brilliant in that it makes taping down those cable runs so easy. No longer do you have to peel off an individual strip, lean over and tape it down. Just let Gaff Gun do the work for you. It’s expensive at $269, but worth it if it saves your back.

 

 

 

The new CITES regulations mean that guitar manufacturers are going to have a difficult time shipping instruments with rosewood fingerboards, but there may be a replacement for the endangered wood. Believe it or not, it’s paper.  Richlite makes glued paper that feels just like rosewood or ebony, and it’s available in multiple surfaces and colors. Really, it’s hard to tell the difference.

It thought that this Smartwinder was a good idea in that it had a tuner built into a powered string winder, until I saw the guy who was manning the booth tuning his guitar by ear.

 

 

There were effects pedals everywhere at the show, and it’s no wonder – pedal sales were way up last year. You have to do something to stand out from the crowd, as you can see from this photo. Can’t say who the company was, just that it was in Hall E.

 

Believe it or not, boomboxes are back, like this one from Elemental.

 

 

 

Just about anything can be electrified these days. I saw an electric kalimba down in E, but what really caught my eye was this electric harp.

 

 

There were also a lot of devices with the amplification built in, like this guitar. Sort of reminds you of those really old Sears guitars with the amp built into the case.

 

And finally, if you’re looking for a robotic drummer then this is for you. It’s from Polyend and it will play the skins just the way you programmed it.

There was so much more at the show, some that I documented and much that I missed, but hopefully these three posts give you a flavor of what Winter NAMM really is.

January 24, 2017

Winter NAMM Show Overview On Episode #145 Of My Inner Circle Podcast

2017 Winter NAMMThe Winter NAMM show is always the one exhibition of the year to look forward to. Not only are some manufacturers now skipping AES in favor of NAMM, but it’s so much more fun and colorful, as musical celebs seem to be everywhere.

Here’s a report from the show, from the big picture point of view about the vibe of the show, down to some of the cool products that I saw.

It’s a short show because I didn’t want to repeat myself on some of the things that I’ve posted on my blog. Shorter is better, right?

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

Winter NAMM 2017 Overview – Part 2

Yesterday was a lot of fun looking at some of the major items that caught my eye at NAMM, but today we’ll look at some of the other audio products. Once again, this is in no particular order.

Digigrid displayed a couple of audio interfaces called M Cube that allow you to connect to a computer and to an audio network as well. They come in single and dual channel models. The MSRP starts at $549.

 

 

 

That clever Dave Derr at Emperical Labs made a 500 series module for his wife to take on live gigs that include a preamp, EQ and compressor, all with an easy setup. It turns out the DocDerr works like a champ on other instruments as well, so here it is for the world to enjoy. It retails for $799.

Electrodyne Audio is back and showed the new Summing Station, which is a 16 channel summing mixer complete with monitoring controls and real transformers. Price is around $3k.

Speaking of summing mixers, if you really want that Neve sound, then the Heritage Audio MCM-8 or MCM-32 might be fore you. You get either 8 or 32 channels of summing through a Neve-style 1073 output stage. The 8 channel model is only about $1,300.

 

Icon Audio showed some very cool control surfaces like this Icon Platform M.  Icon’s controllers start from around $350, and can be mapped to just about any DAW.

 

Those clever boffins at OWC exhibited the DEC, an expansion chassis that screws on the bottom of your new Apple laptop and gives you back all the connectors that are missing. What’s more, there’s room for up to 4 solid state drives as well. Starts at about $300 but isn’t available yet.

 

Believe it or not, Tascam is still making some pro-level legacy players for CD, DVD, cassette and BluRay. Good to know. Tascam also showed a couple of large diaphragm mics as well. Why not? Everyone else is doing it.

 

Trident came out with a little brother to its successful Series 88 console and this is the Series 78. It has fewer features, but the same mic amps and signal path and a much lower list price as well.

 

 

If you need to easily break out some 3 phase 220v power, Whirlwind has a quick and easy way to do it with its new Powerlink.

 

 

And finally, Dynamount has finally begun shipping their robotic mic stands. They have one for every situation and start at around $279.

That’s it. Tomorrow I’ll look at some of the music-related products as well as some of the oddities spotted at the NAMM show.

 

Winter NAMM 2017 Overview – Part 1

Winter NAMM 2017Winter NAMM just ended and as usual there’s a lot to talk about. I’ll be covering the various new products and oddities over the next few days, as well as a big picture overview on my podcast.The show was generally filled with enthusiasm and everyone was feeling pretty prosperous. Hope it stays that way in the age of Trump, as things could fall apart quickly if we get into a trade war with China. Let’s dig in.

On the audio side of things, this was a show dominated by in-ear monitors. So many companies large and small are trying to get into the space (even Fender), that the future on stage amplifiers and floor monitors is looking pretty dim. I won’t even begin to touch on that here because we could spend a couple of days just on the subject, but I did see one outstanding product in the space that I’ll cover on the next New Music Gear Monday.

Let’s get into the audio products at NAMM, in no particular order. Some of them might not be exactly new, but I never spent much time looking at them before so they’re new to me.

Maag Magnum KProbably the coolest audio product that I saw was the new Maag Audio Magnum K compressor. Cliff Maag (who’s a great engineer, by the way) has been talking about this for a while, and it’s now a reality. What makes this compressor so different is that it’s really 4 units in 1. It has a standard compressor with most of the features you’d expect, which feeds into another special compressor just for the midrange, with a EQ 2 in parallel to put back the lows and highs that might be lost during compression. Finally there’s a soft limiter on the output. Sounds wonderful. It’s around $2,400 for a single channel, but no other compressor on the market does what this one will do.

I love JST plugins and Joey Sturgis has come up with a couple of great new ones. The first is Soar, which is a very realistic tape echo, and the second is Toneforge which may be the best, most intelligently laid out guitar simulator on the market. There are a lot of parameters in Toneforge that can be tweaked, but they’re all easy to get to and just make sense the way they’re presented, which can’t be said for many other similar plugs. Toneforge is available for a NAMM special of just $79. Soar will be released later in the Spring.

Lynx Aurora (n)Lynx showed its new Aurora (n) interface, which will go up to 32 channels in a single U rack mount unit, in 8 channel increments. It can be connected via USB, Dante, Pro Tools HD or Thunderbolt. The prices start at $2,799 up to about $6,600 with all the options, which is pretty good for that many channels of high quality conversion.

Apogee GrooveApogee showed a neat little device called the Groove that’s one of the best sounding computer headphone amps you’ll ever hear. It connects via USB and can handle sample rates up to 192kHz. It can be found for around $265.

 

 

 

Barefoot Footprint01On the speaker front, Barefoot Sound showed their new Footprint01’s, which sounded great. There’s so much sound coming from such a small speaker that it’s hard to believe, especially on the bottom end. They’re only around $3,400, which is a pretty good price for this quality of speaker.

 

 

 

Chandler Limited presented the new RS124 compressor, which is a reproduction of the Abbey Road version of the old Altec 436C compressor. EMI boffins did a lot of technical upgrades to the original Altec unit and rechristened it the RS124, and now you have have that same legendary sound for around $2,900. The company also showed its REDD .47 mic preamp, a reproduction from the famous Abbey Road tube consoles, which is available for around $2,300.

Speaking of tubes, Teegarden Audio presented its Fatboy DI and Magic Pre 4100 mic preamps. I love tube mic DI’s, and most bass players agree that they’re really hard to beat. This one goes for around $700.

 

 

 

Nugen Audio showed one of the coolest plugins at the show with its Mastercheck Pro. The plugin goes across your master buss and will tell you the best settings for numerous distribution sources like Youtube, Spotify, Pandora and just about anything else you can think of. Not only that, it will also send it through the appropriate codec so you can hear what your mix might sound like on the service so you can adjust accordingly. This seems like it should be a must have for today’s mixer. It’s available for $149 until the end of the month.

Warm Audio had a number of new products, starting with the updated WA-12 MKII ($469) that now has an output control and socketed chips, the WA-412 ($1,199) with 4 channels of old-style API preamps, and the WA-87 U 87 clone. At just $599 it’s hard to beat if it sounds as good in the studio as it did on the show floor.

 

Speaking of mics, EveAnna Manley revealed her new Manley Silver tube mic. It will retail for around $4,000 when it begins to ship later in the year. It falls directly between the company’s Reference Cardioid and Reference Mono Gold mics.

 

 

 

 

MOTU demonstrated some new additions to its audio interface family, as did Slate Digital with its VRS-8. The company also had a new virtual mic, the MLS-2, which is the first with a small diaphragm.

That’s it, more on NAMM tomorrow.

The Clash “London Calling” Isolated Guitars

The Clash London CallingThere are some songs that get ingrained in rock n’ roll memory and become classics, and The Clash’s “London Calling” certainly fits that bill. It’s always a great treat to hear inside a song as there’s usually much more happening than we’re aware of in the full mix, and this song is no exception. Have a listen to the isolated guitars. Here’s what to listen for.

1. The famous opening riff is actually a combination of two guitars – one is Joe Strummer’s rhythm that’s playing the Em to Cm sus, and the other is Mick Jones straight Em against it. There’s also a E pedal note that gets louder as the intro goes along.

2. The rhythm guitar stays on the Em with a reggae pattern for the first half of the verse while the bass and lead guitar play the Em to C pattern. For the second half of the verse the rhythm goes back to the straight 1/4 notes like in the intro.

3. In the second half of the B section a second guitar joins with a chordal line that’s often missed when listening to the full mix.

4. The b7 at the end of the B section (some might call it the chorus) is way out of tune. Intentional? It certainly does add tension.

5. The interplay between the 2 guitars is off rhythm-wise during the second part of the 2nd verse. You don’t hear it in the track though.

6. You can really hear the backwards guitar solo pretty well here (it’s pretty buried in the full mix).

The final mix of The Clash’s “London Calling” is all kick, bass and vocal and the guitars are mixed pretty far down (listen at the bottom) so it’s fun to be able to hear exactly what’s going on. As always, there’s always a lot more there than you hear on the final mix of the record.


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