Category Archives for "Production"

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 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.


The Magic Of Foley

WB Foley StageMost people (even many audio engineers) don’t realize that the sound effects that they hear in a movie aren’t real. They’re recreated to sound more dramatic or “more real” than they actually sound. That’s the job of the Foley artist, and there aren’t many of them, even in Hollywood.

The process is named after Jack Foley, who started working at Universal Pictures back in 1914 in the era of silent films. When the first picture with sound was being made, the producers realized that the microphones weren’t picking up much beyond the dialog and the movie sound needed help if it was going to be another close to realistic. The call went out around the lot for anyone who had previously worked on radio, where live sound effects were part of many of the broadcasts. Foley stepped up and used what he already knew, and discovered many new tricks for adding sound effects to movies along the way. Most of his methods are still used today.

What’s interesting about the following video (from the Great Big Story network’s Frontiers series) is the everyday objects that are used by Warner Bros. Foley artists Alyson Moore and Chris Moriana.

I’m lucky in that I live close to most of the big Hollywood studios (I can walk down the block to 2 of them, with 2 others a bike ride away), so I’ve been in Foley stages numerous times over the years. They always strike me as someone’s messy garage, yet everything is there for a reason. This video is only the tip of the iceberg of how Foley works.

[photo: Warner Bros Sound]

Muscle Shoals Studio To Reopen

Muscle Shoals Sound StudioIn the list of iconic recording studios, Music Shoals Sound Studio is right up there with the most famous. During its heyday of the 70s, the studio hosted a wide array of artists that produced dozens of hit records, including Aretha FranklinCher, Boz Scaggs, The Rolling Stones, the Staple Singers, Bob Seger, Traffic, Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, Leon Russell and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The studio closed in 1978, but thanks to a grant from Beats By Dr. Dre, the studio is set to reopen once again.

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio will first be open for tours with an admission fee of $12, but will soon reopen as a working facility in the coming months, according to the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization that now owns the studio. The studio is the Alabama Tourism Office’s Attraction of the Year, which will be heavily promoted.

State tourism director Lee Sentell thinks that the documentary “Muscle Shoals” played a direct influence on the decision by Beats Electronics to restore the studio. “Without Steven Badger’s documentary, the (Alabama) Music Hall of Fame would probably still be closed, and Dr. Dre and the people at Beats Electronics probably would not have known that the studio in Sheffield was just sitting there waiting to be revived,” he said.

The interesting thing about this is that the famous artists that worked there did so mostly because of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, the studio band that owned the facility. Consisting basically of keyboardist Barry Becket, drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist David Hood, and guitarist Jimmy Johnson, the Rhythm Section backed up musical luminaries like Rod Stewart, Boz Scaggs, Joe Cocker, Glenn Frey, Bob Seger, Percy Sledge, the Staples Singers, Aretha Franklin, Alice in Chains, Joe Tex, Bobby Blue Bland, Eddie Floyd, Clarence Carter, Little Milton, Sawyer Brown, Tony Joe White, the Oak Ridge Boys and many more.

Muscle Shoals Sound Studios was actually moved to a different larger location in town in 1978. It was sold to Malaco Records in the mid 80s and remained in operation for another 20 years.

This original version of the studio will soon be open for sessions again though, although chances are that much sought-after swampy sound won’t be found without the players that made it happen.

Rush “Tom Sawyer” Isolated Guitar Track

Alex LifesonThere is probably no other group that has as a fanatical a following as Rush. It seems like there’s no in-between with the band – you either love them or hate them, intensely. There’s no denying that Rush has had some huge hits though, and “Tom Sawyer” is one of their biggest. Here’s the isolated guitar track from the song. Listen for the following:

1. The guitar uses the same sound throughout the song. It’s a big stereo chorus that takes up a lot of space. In a power trio there are fewer instruments and mix elements so you have to make each one bigger in the mix and that’s what happens here.

2. There’s also a room reverb with a short decay on the guitar. It may even be the original room ambience.

3. The guitar solo is clearly an overdub with a slightly different sound. It doubles with the original guitar at the end of the solo and again at the end of the song.

4. As you’d expect, Alex Lifeson plays with extreme precision, although there are a few notes here and there that are ever so slightly rushed (like in the outro). Boy, you have to be pretty picky to even hear or care about them, and certainly you never hear them in the context of the mix. That said, this was an amazingly precise performance given the time it was recorded in (1980) and the tape technology that was in use.

How To Sound Like The Beatles Using Modern Gear

Beatles GuitarsIf you ever wanted to record some of those authentic Beatles guitar sounds but didn’t know how to go about getting them, then this is the video for you. It uses only modern gear and relies mostly on pedal combinations. Granted, the amp is a Vox AC30 and the guitars and bass are modern versions of what John, Paul and George used, but the sounds are pretty much nailed.

Here’s a list of the timings and what gear combinations are used.
0:00 – Hard Day’s Night
0:31 – Nowhere Man
0:47 – Taxman
1:00 – Paperback Writer
1:18 – Think For Yourself
1:45 – Revolution
2:05 – Happiness is a Warm Gun
2:31 – I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

Equipment
Vox AC30 Amplifier: http://bit.ly/2igi9Hw
Rickenbacker 330 Electric Guitar: http://bit.ly/2hCh8tG
Rickenbacker 360-12 Electric Guitar: http://bit.ly/2ibAA3R
Epiphone Hummingbird Pro Acoustic/Electric Guitar: http://bit.ly/2hdssjq
Epiphone Casino Electric Guitar: http://bit.ly/2haJ4GV
Hofner 500/1 Violin Bass: http://bit.ly/2h2Hcg2

Pedals
MXR Studio Compressor
Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer
Dunlop Germanium Fuzz Face Mini
Sola Sound Tone Bender Mk IV Fuzz
JHS Colour Box
DLS Effects Versa Vibe
Keeley Caverns Delay-Reverb
Boss FBM-1 Fender Bassman Overdrive
TC Electronic Ditto Looper

Adele “Skyfall” Isolated Vocal

Adele OscarsAdele is a phenomenon unlike any other in music business in at least the last 10 years. With sales of more than 100 million in a time when a million is a big deal, she’s definitely touched a lot of people with her music, and her approach to it. You can attribute at least some of this to the fact that she has some real chops, and this isolated vocal of “Skyfall” perfectly illustrates that. The track uses the “official acapella” from the studio recording, matched to her live performance on the Oscars. Here’s what to listen for.

1. First of all, Adele’s voice is bathed in a dark, slightly delayed reverb. The decay feels longer than it really is because of the amount of verb. Actually, it also has a bit of a midrange honk if you listen on headphones.

2. At the end of the chorus there’s a nice ping pong delay on the last word.

3. There’s actually several lead vocal tracks that overlap. That said, this vocal performance is pretty much perfect, which is somewhat different from other Adele hits that were more “organic” in that a few things were left in that might normally be fixed.

4. The background vocals are spread in slightly left and right to make room for the lead vocal.

5. Compression is used very nicely on the vocal track. You can occasionally hear it on the louder parts, but not so much that you’d ever hear it in the final mix.

December 22, 2016

The World’s Oldest Piano Still Sounds Pretty Good

oldest pianoMany times we take the grand piano for granted, thinking that it’s been around forever in musical history. The fact of the matter is that it’s a somewhat new instrument in the grand scheme of things, being invented in the early 1700s by expert harpsichord maker Bartolomeo Cristofori. The harpsichord predated the piano by about 300 years.

That being said, there are 3 pianos still in existence made by Cristofori, and the video below features the oldest one, made in 1720. What’s more, it still sounds better than you’d expect an almost 300 year old instrument to sound.

When I listened to this video I first thought that I was listening to a harpsichord, since it had a lot of those high harmonics associated with the instrument. The piano is a lot different though, and quite an improvement in that the strings are struck, and not plucked like the harpsichord. As a result, the player is able to play with dynamics, while the notes played on the harpsichord are all at the same volume.

Regardless, enjoy listening to this priceless instrument, which is part of the collections at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Go here for more on the differences between a piano and harpsichord.