Bobby Owsinski

Author Archives: Bobby Owsinski

The Pre-Session Recording Checklist

recording checklistOne of the keys to an initial basic tracking session running smoothly is the information that you receive pre-session. Here’s a recording checklist from my Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition that shows the some of the info that really helps to receive in advance of the session. This will usually be provided by the producer, artist or band leader, and assumes that you’re unfamiliar with the act.

  • What type of music will be recorded?
  • How many songs do you expect to record?
  • Who are the musicians (If you know some of them it might affect your setup)?
  • Who’s the producer (if you’re not talking to him already)?
  • What time does the session begin? Does that mean the downbeat of recording or when the musicians are expected at the studio to load in?
  • How long do you expect the session to go?
  • How many musicians will be playing at once?
  • What’s the instrumentation?
  • How large is the drummer’s kit? How many toms will he be using?
  • Will the guitarist(s) be using an acoustic or electric?
  • What kind of amps will the guitar player(s) and bass player be using?
  • Do any of the players expect to use house gear like drums, guitar amps, or keyboards?
  • How many cue mixes will be required?
  • Will there be a scratch vocal tracked at the same time?
  • Will they bring any special outboard gear or mics that they’d like to use?
  • Will they be tracking to loops?
  • Do they require any particular instruments, amps or effects?

Following this recording checklist before the musicians hit the studio can go a long way to a quick and easy setup and an efficient session.

TIP: Don’t ask for the setup information too far in advance since much can change by the day of the session. Getting the info the day before the session is usually sufficient.

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

February 28, 2017

Composer Richard Gibbs Talks About Woodshed Recording On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Woodshed Recording StudioIn my mind Richard Gibbs’ Woodshed Recording is one of the top 5 studios in the world (see the photo on the side), and it’s not because of its idyllic setting on a mountaintop overlooking Malibu’s Zuma Beach.

No, it’s because it can be configured any way you want at the drop of a hat, with a console/workstation and outboard rack that can be repositioned anywhere in the room, movable walls so there are multiple iso rooms, or none at all, and windows and doors that open to let in the cool sea breeze yet have little affect the studio’s acoustic integrity. And that’s only the start.

The studio has a who’s who of hi-end clientele like Coldplay, U2, Lady Gaga, Barbra Streisand, Kanye West and many more, which is impossible for most studios to attract – but not Woodshed.

In Part 2 of my conversation with Richard, he talks about how the studio came about, the mistakes that were made in the process, and some studio building advice.

In the intro I’ll take a look at the MQA process that’s been widely adopted by labels and associations, but may or may not be used for high-resolution streaming, and hearing loss and prevention.

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

February 28, 2017

Butch Vig’s Smart Studios Story

Smart StudiosProducer Butch Vig set up Smart Studios with bandmate Steve Marker in Madison, Wisconsin, and thanks to big hits from Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, the studio helped define the grunge sound of the ’90s. Now a documentary has been made about the studio by former studio employee Wendy Schneider. Here’s a clip of the Wendy, Butch and Steve talking about the film, studio and gear and the studio’s legacy.

One of the cool parts about the film is you’ll see just how they used some lower-end studio and music gear and still got some great sounds.

Read more about the documentary and gear behind the studio here: https://goo.gl/byUgHr

New Music Gear Monday: PSI Audio AVAA C20 Active Bass Absorber

PSI Audio AVAA-C20One of the problems with most studio control rooms or small home studios is that fact that there are problems in the low end response. We try to control these with bass traps, but to be effective, normal passive traps take up a lot of precious room. There is an alternative however, and that’s to use a new breed of low frequency absorption that’s active, and that’s exactly what the PSI Audio AVAA C20 Active Bass Absorber does.

The AVAA C20 works on frequencies from 15Hz to 150Hz and it’s dead easy to set up in that there are no settings or calibration, only an on/off switch. So how does it work?

When audio sound waves hit a wall they build up pressure, which makes them bounce back into the room, reinforcing some frequencies and attenuating others, which creates an uneven frequency response. A normal passive bass trap takes that pressure wave and turns it into heat with material like fiberglass or rockwool, but you need a lot of it to be effective, especially at lower frequencies. The AVAA C20 has a microphone that measures the pressure of the sound wave. An acoustic membrane then is driven to absorb the volume of air going through the acoustic resistance of the front panel of the unit, turning the pressure of the sound wave to zero so it doesn’t bounce back into the room.

The interesting thing is that the AVAA C20 is totally analog and there’s no DSP involved. No, it’s doesn’t make a sound either, but it does the job of a bass trap up to 20 times as large as the unit!

The PSI Audio AVAA C20 is not a small investment at $2000 each, and you’ll need 2 for a 400 square foot room (one for each corner). Unlike physical passive traps though, these are easily portable, so you’re buying something that you can use in any environment for a long time. Check out the video below or go to the website for more info.

Edgar Winter Group “Free Ride” Isolated Guitars

Edgar Winter Free RideFor years now we’ve heard The Edgar Winter Group’s “Free Ride“on classic radio, movies and commercials, and as with all hits, there’s a lot of subtle expertise that’s gone into the track. Let’s take a listen to the isolated guitars.

1. The opening guitar riffs, played by songwriter Dan Hartman, is one of the prettiest Strat sounds you’ll ever hear. It’s panned slightly to the left, and you can hear a nice long delayed reverb on the right.

2. The B section feels likes it’s rushing just a bit. That might be because he was following the drums (remember this was before people started to record with a click track) when tracking.

3. Rick Derringer’s lead guitar is up the middle with less reverb (Ronnie Montrose played on the album version). You can hear some of the noise that we’d normally mute today on the second time through.

4. The guitar solo is double an octave up.

5. There’s an ending that you don’t hear on the record as there’s a short jam and a full stop ending if you listen all the way through.

February 23, 2017

Losing Your Hearing? There May Be A Cure For That Soon

hearing cell hairsThe biggest thing that every musician and engineer lives in fear of is losing one’s hearing. To make matters worse, it happens naturally to all of us as we grow older, although its gradually enough that we can unconsciously compensate. That said, all it takes is a loud concert, or a sudden loud feedback, or cymbals in your ears on stage, and your ears will ring for days and some of your hearing may never return to the way it was. The good news is that there’s been a new breakthrough by research scientists at Harvard and MIT that might make permanent hearing loss a thing of the past.

We actually have two sets of auditory cells in our ears that are long and thin like hairs (see the photo on the left). Hair cells grow in bundles in the inner ear and are mostly concerned with balance. In the cochlea, the hearing organ deep in the ear canal, there are two kinds of specialized hair cells – outer hair cells that amplify pitch, and inner hair cells that convert sound into electrical signals sent to the brain. The problem is that each cochleae (one in each ear) has only about 16,000 hair cells, and once they’re damaged, they don’t regenerate – as in, gone for good!

That’s what happens with most mammals, but fish, birds, lizards and amphibians can have cochlear hair cells that die but can be regenerated in as fast as a few days. Coming back to mammals, mice and other small mammals also have these regeneration characteristics when they are newly born, and that’s where the researchers came in. The team managed to grow up to 11,500 hair cells from the stem cells of one baby mouse ear, which could bring hope to people of all ages already hard of hearing or getting that way.

These laboratory-grown hair cells aren’t perfect however, even though they appear to have many of the characteristics of actual inner and outer hair cells. They might not end up being fully functional, so the most immediate use for this new technique might be to create a large set of the cells to test drugs and to identify compounds that can heal damaged hair cells or regrow them and restore hearing.

Either way, that’s good news for just about everyone who depends on their hearing for a living. Now turn that music down!

8 Indicators That Your Mix Is Finished

8 indicators your mix is finishedOne of the hardest things for many mixers to determine is when a mix is finished. In fact, engineers new to mixing may think a mix is ready in an hour, but a pro will usually take considerably longer. How much longer? Well, some big hit maker mixers that I know may spend up to 16 hours just on a vocal!

That said, the time spent on a mix is all over the place these days, so this excerpt from the 4th edition of my Mixing Engineer’s Handbook outlines 8 indicators that will let you know when your mix is ready for the world.

“One of the tougher things to decide when you’re mixing is when the mix is finished. If you have a deadline, the decision is made for you as the clock ticks down, but if you have unlimited time or a deep-pocket budget, a mix can drag on forever.

Just when is a mix considered finished? Here are some guidelines:

1. The groove of the song is solid. The pulse of the song is strong and undeniable.

2. You can distinctly hear every mix element. Although some mix elements, such as pads, are sometimes meant to blend seamlessly into the track, most mix elements should be clearly heard.

3. Every lyric and every note of every line or solo can be heard. You don’t want a single note buried. It all has to be crystal clear. Use your automation. That’s what it was made for.

4. The mix has punch. The relationship between the bass and drums is in the right proportion and works well together to give the song a solid foundation.

5. The mix has a focal point. What’s the most important element of the song? Make sure it’s obvious to the listener.

6. The mix has contrast. If you have too much of the same effect on everything, the mix can sound washed out. Likewise, if your mix has the same intensity throughout, it can be boring to the listener. You need to have contrast between different elements, from dry to wet, from intense to less intense, to give the mix depth.

7. All noises and glitches are eliminated. This includes any count-offs, singer’s breaths that seem out of place or predominant because of vocal compression, amp noise on guitar tracks before and after the guitar is playing, bad-sounding edits, and anything else that might take the listener’s attention away from the track.

8. You can play your mix against songs that you love, and it holds up. This is perhaps the ultimate test. If you can get your mix in the same ballpark as many of your favorites (either things you’ve mixed or mixes from other artists) after you’ve passed the previous seven items, then you’re probably home free.

How much time should all this take? In the end, most mixing pros figure at least a full day per song regardless of whether you’re mixing in the box or mixing on an analog console, although it’s still best to figure a day and a half per mix if you’re mixing in a studio with an analog-style console and traditional hardware outboard gear. Of course, if you’re mixing every session in your DAW as you go along during recording, then you might be finished before you know it, since all you may have to do is just tweak your mix a little to call it complete.”

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

February 21, 2017

Composer Michael Carey On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Composer Michael CareyMichael Carey started his career as a guitar player, but soon found his way into writing music for commercials. His credits there include Toyota, Ford, Sonic, Coke, Papa Johns, NASCAR, Exxon, and Outback Steakhouse among others, as well as on-air promo packages for CBS, NBC and TBS.

Michael missed album work though, as has since made his way back into songwriting, production and session work, and he’ll tell you about that journey in the interview of my latest podcast.

On the intro I’ll take a look at the biggest selling albums of all time in the US (Michael Jackson’s Thriller just went 33x platinum), and take an in-depth look at my 10 favorite compressors and why they made the list.

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

February 21, 2017

Goodbye Clyde Stubblefield

Clyde StubblefieldSo much of today’s music was influenced one way or another by Funk music of the 60s and 70s. Of course, James Brown could be credited as the inventor of Funk, but the man behind the feel was drummer Clyde Stubblefield, who passed away last week at age 73. He was the backbeat behind such Brown hits as “Cold Sweat,” “I got The Feelin’, “Mother Popcorn,” “Sex Machine,” and many more.

Stubblefield laid down one of the most sampled beats in hip-hop ever on the Brown’s extended jam “Funky Drummer.” The beat can be found on tracks from the likes of Run DMC, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, L.L. Cool J and others. The snare pop is instantly recognizable in songs such as “Run’s House,” “Fight The Power,” “Shadrach,” “F*** Tha Police,” “Freedom! ’90,” “Mama Said Knock You Out” and hundreds more.

Here it is below, but you have to go to 5:22 to hear the drum break. Below that is a Stubblefield solo from the Boston Garden concert from the 70s.

One thing’s for sure, we’ve lost another funk master.

[Photo: MTPhrames]

New Music Gear Monday: Two Notes Torpedo Live Digital Amplifier Load Box

two notes torpedo liveA guitar amp load box lowers the volume to, or even eliminates, the speaker cabinet so you can crank up your favorite amp without tearing the walls down with SPL. I go way back when it comes to guitar amp load boxes, even building my own before there was one on the market. I then purchased an Altair (which I still have) and a Scholz, and every other one that came on the market there for a while. They did the job, but there was always something missing from the sound. That was then and now is now, as the latest load boxes are a whole different animal, which brings us to the Two Notes Torpedo Live digital load box, the next generation of the device.

Actually I’m a bit late coming to the party on this one, as the Torpedo Live has been available for a few years. That said, it’s put back what was missing from the old boxes and then some, thanks to digital processing.

I was speaking to an old friend who works at a rather famous company that specializes in amplifier simulators, and he told me the formula for a good sounding amp model. “It’s all in the cabinet simulation,” he stated, and that’s exactly what the Torpedo Live gives you – not only models of 8 of the most widely used speaker cabinets, but 8 on the most used guitar amp mics in multiple positions and distances on the cab. Add in 8 different types of amp simulators and some EQ and you have an amplifier load box like no other.

What’s more, the Torpedo Live can also be further controlled by a very nice software interface via USB, and switched via MIDI. It has both balanced analog and digital outputs (with sample rates up to 96kHz) to connect directly to your DAW.

The Two Notes Torpedo Live goes for $995, and there’s a newer Torpedo Studio that adds more cabinets and effects for $1850.

If you’re a guitar player who loves his amp but needs the output level controlled, or wants to use a cranked amp in a home studio,this is for you. Check out the video below for more info or go to the website page.