Category Archives for "Production"
I’m a purist when it comes to guitar pedals I must admit. Back when I was a serious player, my guitar rig devolved from one with the typical half-dozen+ pedals to none, as my sound came the “classic” way from just the guitar and amp (and sounded great, by the way). The same with the studio. I always hated using guitar pedals on a mix because of the noise and the inherent sound quality problems that occurred as a result.
Today things are different though, as pedals are now pretty quiet and the audio quality doesn’t change much thanks to the many reamp boxes on the market like Radial’s ProRMP and EXTC. This video by my buddy Dave Pensado shows some cool ways to make use of those pedals as something other than stomp boxes on stage.
If you grew up in the days of recording studios built around consoles and hardware, then you were probably used to using a Lexicon reverb. Although not the first digital reverb, the Lexicon 224 and subsequent versions became a must-have for every studio to have in its arsenal in no time, and we all grew to love its sound. Michael Carnes helped design and perfect these reverbs for Lexicon for 25 years before he began making reverb plugins with own Exponential Audio. The company already has some pretty cool reverb plugins, but Michael’s new R4 gives you the best features and character of those old hardware units at a very reasonable price.
The Exponential Audio R4 has a super amount of flexibility, allowing you to conjure nearly any reverb sound you can imagine, or it can be dead simple, with dozens of meaningful presets that can be easily searched for a quick solution to every situation. Among its many features (taken from its press release, which I couldn’t top) include:
I’ve been playing with the R4 for a while, and I can tell you that unlike many reverbs that you have to struggle with to make sit in the mix, this one just works with almost no hassle. Dial up a preset and you’re ready to go, or you can get as tweaky as you desire with all the available parameters if you want.
The Exponential Audio R4 reverb plugin is now available on all platforms for $299, with a free demo available. If you’re an Exponential customer already, there’s also a $150 discount available. Check out the product page for more details, as well as the excellent videos that explain the features of the R4 supplied by Groove3.
There are few guitar players that you can truly say are influential, but Randy Rhoads is certainly one of them. His playing on Ozzy Osbourne’s initial solo album set the guitar world on fire, and for many metal players, it’s still the bar that everyone aims for. When “Crazy Train” exploded onto the radio guitar players everyone said to themselves, “What the f$*k was that?” and that’s exactly what we’re going to listen to today – Randy’s isolated guitar track from that hit. Here’s what to listen for (the guitar enters at 0:19 on the video).
1. Yes, that’s two guitar parts spread left and right and not an electronic double (actually producer Max Norman claims that there’s a third part in the middle but for the life of me I can’t hear it). You can hear some inconsistencies with some of the harmonics and chords, but there are very few. Pretty amazing how close the parts are.
2. The ambience that you hear on the guitars is mostly from the room, again according to Norman. There’s also a little bit of an AMS 1580 delay set to a light flange.
3. The solo at 2:49 is just one guitar panned a bit to the left with a short delay from the AMS on the right.
4. Randy used a fully cranked Marshall 100 watt amp (no master volume) with 2 cabinets, so it was a full stack – unusual for recording. The mic on the cabinet was an SM-58 (!!), with an AKG 451 a few feet back outside the amp room, and a couple of Shure SM87s in the room. The use of microphones intended for live may have come from the fact that Norman was primarily a live sound engineer before moving over to the studio.
Today is the 3rd anniversary of my Inner Circle Podcast and I’d like to thank you for being a loyal listener. I never envisioned getting to 150 episodes, but it’s all been made possible by followers like you!
Episode #151 brings back engineer Dennis Moody. Dennis was my first guest, and he’s celebrated every podcast anniversary with me since. As always, we look at the many trends that are happening in both the studio and live sound business. If you’re not familiar with Dennis, he’s the engineer to drumming gods like Steve Gadd and Dave Weckl, and also mixes live sound in arenas to clubs, so he has quite a history.
In the intro I’ll take a look at Spotify’s current A/B tests of its new Hifi tier, and at some killer vintage recording consoles with big histories that are now for sale.
So many of you really like these Friday isolated tracks, but I’ve recently had some comments like, “Why do you keep posting old songs?” Fair enough question, and there are 3 reasons.
1. Plain and simple, the isolated tracks are much more available for older classic tracks than new ones, which are much more closely guarded by labels, artists and producers.
2. More people know the songs. Even if you weren’t born when some of these songs were recorded, you still know them because you’ve heard them on the radio, in movies or on commercials (probably over and over).
3. They present a great learning opportunity. Today’s tracks are scrubbed upside down so they’re perfect, but hits of the past were pretty raw in comparison. They were still hits anyway, so listening to an isolated track with imperfections can be a great lesson on just what’s important when it comes to a hit (hint: it’s performance, not perfection).
With all that said, today’s isolated track we’ve heard a lot through the years. If you lived through the disco era, it represented a sort of surrender of the rockers to a new trend that was taking over at the time. Here’s the isolated vocal track from Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music.”
The story behind it is that Wild Cherry frontman Rob Parissi wanted to write a hit song, and decided to copy a hit, but make it just enough different to avoid getting sued. The #1 song at the time was “Fire” by The Ohio Players, and that was the inspiration for “Play That Funky Music.” The title came from a real life situation where a black audience member shouted, “Play some funky music, white boy,” while the hard rock band played a gig. Here’s what to listen for.
1. Listen for the cowbell on the intro, B sections and chorus on the right channel. You’ll also hear handclaps on the B and chorus sections.
2. The vocal is pretty squashed and has a medium decay delayed plate effect that gives the vocal ambience yet it still sounds dry if you don’t listen closely.
3. Listen for the stereo horn replies after the verse phrases. Sometimes there’s just a baritone sax on the left and trumpets on the right, and sometimes they’re spread in stereo.
4. Unison stereo background vocals are introduced in the B sections and choruses.
5. You can hear the two rhythm guitars spread left and right during the solo at 2:42.
6. You usually don’t hear the 3 part harmonies on the outro at 4:00 onward because the song is faded by then.
One 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.
Some might argue that “Staying Alive,” both song and the movie, heralded in the disco age. It’s certainly a song that everyone knows as it was iconic for the time as has seeped into our musical heritage. Whether you like disco or not, the Bee Gees had a sound that was entirely unique and hasn’t been duplicated since. There’s something about brothers singing together that produces a blend like no other, and it’s evidenced here on this isolated vocal track. Here’s what to listen for.
1. There’s a quarter note delay with a single repeat on the vocals that also has some short room on it. This delay is pretty loud when you hear it by itself, but it disappears into the mix when all the instruments are added (that’s what timed delays do).
2. Barry Gibb’s lead falsetto vocal is by itself, but you’ll hear certain phrases doubled that aren’t obvious in the final mix.
3. The B-section and chorus harmonies are doubled, which is why they’re so thick.
4. The bridge (“Going nowhere…”) full voice track is doubled, but it has a different sound to it than the other sections of the song, which makes me think it was an overdub done on a different day.
5. You can hear a lot of breaths in between words on the lead vocal. Today a producer would be tempted to eliminate them, but they add urgency to the track here.
The Bee Gees were certainly artists of the highest caliber. Great melodies, great changes (although not so much in this song), great lyrics, great harmonies. Always a pleasure to listen to.
Here’s a great distorted guitar recording tip that I got from Richard Chycki, engineer for Rush, Dream Theater, Aerosmith and many more. I liked it so much I’ve used it on every session since, and included it in the latest version of my Recording Engineer’s Handbook as well.
Distorted electric guitar is notoriously difficult to edit, since it’s difficult to see the attacks and releases of notes and phrases. A great way to make it easier is to always record a direct track along with the amplifier mic or amp emulator track. This track may never be used in the final mix, but will more easily show the natural edit points of the track.
On the graphic on the left, for instance, you’ll some some of the points between the clean and distorted guitar track that would be pretty hard to pick out normally since the waveforms don’t conform to the attacks of the individual notes because of the distortion. The clean direct track makes each attack pretty easy to see, so editing can be a breeze.
After editing, be sure to hide and disable the direct edit track to unclutter the mix window and free up system resources.
That said, these day’s, it’s always a good idea to have a direct track along with the distorted or amp track anyway, since reamping and guitar simulators make it so easy to change the sound as needed during mixing. Thanks, Richard. This is one that I’ll be using for a long time!
I’m proud to announce the fully updated fourth edition of my Recording Engineer’s Handbook, a complete compilation of the best recording techniques currently used today.
Along with the rich treasure trove of information from the previous versions of the book, the latest edition also includes new sections on immersive audio recording, electric guitar recording tricks, and DIY microphone and mic preamp kits. Best of all, the information is presented so that musicians, artists, engineers and producers at any level can learn both the basic and advanced skills required to make their recordings shine.
Among the many topics covered in The Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition include:
Part 2 of the book also includes interviews that feature the wisdom and down-to-earth practical advice offered by a host recording professionals, including all-time greats like Al Schmitt, Eddie Kramer, and Ed Cherney. These hit-maker engineers share their expertise and creative processes behind not only today’s hits, but the classic cuts we’ve enjoyed for years.
The print version of The Recording Engineer’s Handbook, Fourth Edition can be purchased on Amazon, and now there’s a Kindle version as well. The book will also be available at retail book stores and the iTunes book store.
Distribution to colleges and universities is through Ingram. A table of contents and book excerpts can be found at bobbyowsinski.com/recording-engineers-handbook, and an Instructors Resource Kit featuring Powerpoint/Keynote presentations, discussion topics and quizzes for a 12 week semester is also available by request.
Lady 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?