March 16, 2017

Google’s AI Music Experiment

Google's AI music experimentMany musicians feel threatened by the artificial intelligence programs that are now trying to create songs based on the music that they’ve learned. Yes, it’s scary when the robots take over, but perhaps we’re looking at it all wrong, as illustrated with this Google AI music experiment.

A.I. Duet, as shown in the video below, is actually part of Google’s Magenta project, which was created to see if machine learning could actually create some compelling music. Yotam Mann coded A.I. Duet and made it open source so anyone can use it to program their own neural net.

While the music that Duet comes up with isn’t that great (at least in this video), one of the things that I find interesting is the possibility of actually playing along with an ever-changing computer musician who’s also listening to you. Not only does that sound like a potentially great learning experience, but should be fun too.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of AI music after all.

You can access the code a g.co/aiexperiments.

2 Schools Of Thought On Guitar Pedal Order For Better Sound

effects order 1I was asked by a guitar player recently why his tone wasn’t what he wanted, and the first thing that got my attention was the maze of stomp boxes he was using. Although that wasn’t the only problem with his rig, it was a good place to start, since everything was connected more or less haphazardly. Here’s some info on guitar pedal order taken from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (written with the great player/composer/writer Rich Tozzoli), that can help you get a handle on your processors.

“There are two things that will directly affect how your effects interface with your amp; the pedal order and gain staging. Effects order means the order that each pedal appears in the the signal chain between the guitar and amplifier. There are several schools of thought on effects order, and they each have a different result.

School Of Thought #1

This effects chain is the order generally recommended by most of the pedal gurus. There are several rules that make up this order:

  • Any distortion pedal must come first right after the guitar. The exception is if you’re using a compressor pedal, which will be first in the chain. Do not put a volume pedal first, as this can alter the way a compressor or distortion pedal sounds.
  • Any modulation or tone devices like wahs should come next. This enables you to keep the sustain coming from your distortion or overdrive devices and alter an already harmonically rich signal.
  • Delays come almost last in the chain, since you want to be delaying your already effected signal.
  • A volume pedal comes either last in the chain, or directly in front of any delay.
  • In situations where a pedal is providing a lot of clean gain, that will come last in the chain so as not to overload any of the other pedals.

So a typical pedal order might go something like:

compressor distortion → wah → chorus → delay → volume pedal (see the graphic on the left)

While this might not be the quietest order, it does sound really good because any distortion, overdrive, or sustain is being affected by the effects that come behind it.

School Of Thought #2

If we’re talking about recording, we may want the least amount of noise going into the amp. With that in mind, there are two rules in this scenario:

  • The noisiest pedal goes last in the chain before the amp.
  • The one with the most gain goes last before the amp.

The reason for both of the above points is simple; if the noisiest pedal is first in the chain, that noise will be affected and amplified further by every other pedal in the chain that you switch on. Same with the pedal with the most gain; if it’s at the beginning of the chain, it could possibly overload any other effect that comes after it, since most pedals only want to see a typical guitar signal and nothing greater (see Figure 4). Also, any noise caused by increasing the gain on a pedal will be amplified downstream by any other pedal switched on.

Generally, you’ll try to keep the basic order as in School of Thought #1 in order to be sure that any distortion or sustain is affected by the effects placed later in the chain. That being said, this order won’t sound the same as Order #2, especially if a distortion pedal is placed last in the chain (which isn’t recommended) because of its gain, so it might not be for everyone.

If you follow the above suggestions, you’ll find that your signal chain should clean up quite a bit and your recordings should benefit greatly as a result.”

You can read more from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

March 14, 2017

OWC’s Larry O’Connor On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Larry O'Connor OWCIf you’re a Mac computer owner then there’s a good chance that you’ve purchased hard drives, memory or accessories from Other World Computing or OWC (I know I have – a lot).

OWC founder and CEO Larry O’Connor joins me for a conversation about new and old Macs, upgrades, and performance enhancements on this week’s podcast. He’ll also tell us some surprising facts about hard drives that every computer owner (and that includes PC people) should know.

In the intro I’ll take a look how the fate of both Pandora and SoundCloud are now hanging in the balance, and at the increasing incidence of hearing loss in adults.

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

March 14, 2017

Use Your Laser To Burn Music Onto Anything

laser cut musicOK, this is rather nutty but fun. If you have a powerful laser and too much time on your hands, you too can burn music onto virtually anything. To prove it, William Osman uses his laser for good instead of evil as he burns music onto a taco, a piece of cardboard, and finally onto an old piece of plastic called a CD. It all sounds like crap but at least it proves that it can be done.

Modulated waveforms are so 1999 though. I think I’ll stick with digital files, thank you very much.

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New Music Gear Monday: Exponential Audio R4 Reverb Plugin

Exponential Audio R4If 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:

  • A character reverb that outdoes all the classics
  • 6 independently-selectable types of EQ for input, early reflection, and reverb tail. 
  • Early and tail EQ can be dynamically modulated.  Whether a subtle pulsation or a sweeping notch, modulated EQ is a powerful new weapon in the producer’s toolkit.
  • R4 retains the Chorused Hall of earlier Exponential Audio plugins. And it adds a second Hall with density modulation that adds motion to the tail without adding pitch change. Of course, you can add pitch modulation on top if you want it! These halls are the perfect solution for sparse or sterile mixes and solos.
  • There’s also a Plate and Chamber; updated from R2.
  • Multiple early-reflection patterns
  • Warp section with compressor/expander, overdrive and word-size reduction.
  • Pre-delay and reverb delay now adjustable by tempo
  • Tail suppression circuit for more dynamic response
  • Gated reverb effects
  • Over 1200 presets
  • Helpful tool-tips to guide new users.
  • Freeze function to capture the reverb tail and run it forever.
  • Industry-leading CPU efficiency–run as many reverbs as you want.

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.

Ozzy Osbourne “Crazy Train” Isolated Guitar

Randy RhoadsThere 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.

Just What Your Mix Needs – Surveillance Tower Reverb

surveillance tower reverb pluiginI know, I know. You can’t finish that mix until you get the sound of an old surveillance tower to pull it all together. But where to find one? Well you’re in luck as the impulse responses from the Teufelsberg National Security Agency tower in West Berlin are now available. Best of all – it’s a free VST plugin.

The Teufelsberg security tower is a three-domed structure erected on a “devil’s mountain” of WWII rubble dumped on top of a half-finished Nazi military school. From this perch high above Berlin, the US government and its allies listened in on the communists of the Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union. It’s still standing, and you can add its cavernous sound to your tracks, thanks to Balance Audio Tools.

The plugin provides 6 different IR reverb sounds, all with fast, zero-latency convolution. There are only two controls, blend and gain, along with A/B compare and preset saving functions. It’s available as a free plug-in for Mac, Windows, and even Linux, and it’s open source.

Download it here.

Have a listen to what it sounds like.

If you want to tour of the structure, check out the video below.

Mic Placement Tips To Help You Find The “Sweet Spot”

Finding the sweet spotMic placement may be the most important part of recording since a change of half-an-inch can sometimes make a huge difference in the sound. Finding that correct placement isn’t always easy though, so here’s an excerpt from my Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition to give you some easy tips to find that “sweet spot” quickly.

“Quickly finding a mic’s optimum position is perhaps the single most useful talent an engineer can have. Sometimes the search resembles questing for the Holy Grail as more trial and error is involved. That said, you should always trust your ears first and foremost by listening to the musician in the tracking room, finding the sweet spot, and placing your microphone there to begin. If you don’t like the resultant sound, then move the mic or swap it with another. EQ is the last thing to touch.

TIP: Mics cannot effectively be placed by sight, which is a mistake that is all too easy to make (especially after reading a book like this). The best mic position cannot be predicted, it must be found.

How to Find the “Sweet Spot”

How you listen to an instrument in the studio is just as important as the act of trying to capture its sound. As good as many microphones are, they’re still no match for our ears, and we can sometimes be fooled in what we’re hearing over the monitor speakers. Here are a few tips to help you listen more closely to the way the mic your using is capturing the sound.

  • To place an omni microphone, cover one ear and listen with the other. Move around the player or sound source until you find a spot that sounds best.
  • To place a cardioid microphone, cup your hand behind your ear and listen. Move around the player or sound source until you find a spot that sounds best.
  • For a stereo pair, cup your hands behind both ears. Move around the player or sound source until you find a spot that sounds best.

Before you start swapping gear, know that the three most important factors in getting the sound you want are mic position, mic position and mic position.

Get the instrument to make the sound you want to record first, then use the cover-your-ears technique to find the sweet spot, position the mic, then listen. Remember that if you can’t hear it, you can’t record it. Don’t be afraid to repeat as much as necessary, or to experiment if you’re not getting the results you want.”

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

Celebrate The 3rd Anniversary Of My Inner Circle Podcast With Guest Dennis Moody

Dennis MoodyToday 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.

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

March 7, 2017

Drummer David Garibaldi – My Most Important Beat

David GaribaldiDavid Garibaldi has played with artists like Patti Austin, Natalie Cole, Larry Carlton, Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum, Boz Scaggs, and The Yellowjackets, but it’s his place as drummer for powerhouse horn band Tower of Power that most people know him for. David credits much of his success to what’s known in drumming circles as the “King Kong” beat. He’s since gone on to refine it and add some latin elements, but still believes that knowing this beat is a major reason for his success.

In the video below, David outlines the syncopated beat in a way that everyone can see exactly what he’s doing. This is great for drum programmers, by the way. If you can capture the nuances of David’s playing, you’re a long way on the path to realism.