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This New Robot May Change Vinyl Record Pressing Forever

Warm Tone vinyl record pressWe’ve been hearing about vinyl record manufacturing coming into the future for some time, and here’s another example. Some Canadian design engineers who usually put their R&D talents into things like MRI machines went to work on the vinyl record press. They made some huge improvements and came up with the Warm Tone vinyl record press.

What’s cool about the Warm Tone press is that so many pain points of the record making process are improved, not just one. Everything from the way the vinyl puck (the piece of plastic before it becomes a record) is warmed and formed to the way the finished record is picked up off the press has been improved. As a result, you now have a high-tech device that’s much more efficient than anything that’s come before.

You always hear that word “efficient” thrown about, but in this case it’s a huge improvement that can end up saving the customer (you, the artist) money.

The typical old-school record press has a 30 to 40% failure rate, meaning that for every 1,000 records pressed, 300 to 400 are bad and must be recycled thanks to everything from operator error or mechanical failure. The Warm Tone is down near 1%!

It’s faster too, spitting out 3 records per minute versus less than 2 from the old system.

All this from a machine that’s iOS operated by a single technician for every 4 presses, as compared to the normal one technician for every press.

The bottom line is that every though each press costs $195,000, it should actually bring the cost of making a record down, and speed up the manufacturing as well. If you’re suffering from a long wait time for your vinyl album to be pressed (as long as 4 months in some cases), then hopefully that wait time can chopped down to something bearable soon.

New Music Gear Monday: Black Box Analog Design HG-2 Plugin

Black Box Analog HG-2 pluginHow many times has it happened where you have a great mix going, but it just needs something a little extra to bring it all together? Of course, there are now a lot of plugins available to add some “glue” to your mix, but they usually bring just one sound to the party. The Black Box Analog Design HG-2 from Plugin Alliance is different in that it’s one of the most versatile plugins mix buss plugins of its type on the market.

Like the hardware version of the HG-2 that it’s modeled after, the Black Box Analog Design HG-2 plugin brings a wide range of harmonics to a mix, thanks to the careful emulation of the 6U8A pentodes and 12AX7 triodes found in the original model. There are separate gain controls for both the pentode and triode emulations so you can dial a blend between both. You can then adjust the Density control to drive both tubes harder without changing their relative balance or the plugin’s output level in order to get more girth and mass.

The Calibration menu emulates the internal trim adjustment in the original hardware unit by modifying the HG-2’s high-frequency response to produce Dark, Normal or Bright coloration. Then there’s the Air knob, which lets you add some extra 10kHz+ to open up the mix. The HG-2 also has a saturation circuit to add either tube sheen or blistering overdrive distortion to just low or high frequencies or across the entire frequency spectrum. There’s a lot that this plug can do, and it’s certainly a lot more than meets the eye.

The Black Box Analog Design HG-2 retails for $249 but it’s currently on sale for $149. There’s a 14 day free trial available. Check out the video for more info, or go right to the dedicated page on the Plugin Alliance site.

Radiohead “Creep” Isolated Vocals

Radiohead CreepRadiohead has engendered respect from artists and fans alike for following its own path and not being afraid to follow its muse. In fact, many consider the band to be the Pink Floyd of their time in many ways. “Creep” was the band’s first single and later appeared on its first album Pablo Honey. Not an initial success, it took a rerelease a couple of years later to actually catch on. The song was reported to have been recorded in a single take, and has been covered by everyone from Macy Gray to The Pretenders. Here’s what to listen for.

1. There’s a nice long delayed reverb on the vocal that’s fairly dark sounding. That’s the only effect used.

2. Thom Yorke gives a great vocal, but it sounds like it was done with one take (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s a bit pitchy in spots, especially at the end of phrases, something that probably no one has ever noticed in the context of the mix.

3. There are some lip smacks and breaths that are left in. They just add to the intimacy of the vocal.

4. There’s also some distortion during the bridge from an overload somewhere in the signal chain. It’s all about the performance though, so who cares?

November 29, 2016

7 Ways Electric Guitar Manufacturers Save Money (And Make You Pay More)

electric guitar manufacturersElectric guitar manufacturing has come a long way since the early days of guitar-crazed 60s. Back then, if you didn’t buy a brand name at a premium price, chances are that you were getting an instrument that was difficult to play and only a few steps beyond wood plank. Today’s precision manufacturing has changed all of that, and it’s surprising how good sounding and playable even the most inexpensive guitar can be. That doesn’t mean that electric guitar manufacturers haven’t found new ways to save money though, and this video from Phillip McKnight shows the 7 ways that could happen.

If you don’t have time to watch, here’s a list, although Phil’s explanations are worth the viewing as it’s pretty educational.

1. Inlays

2. Maple veneer

3. Binding

4. Set neck

5. Pickups

6. Photo finish

7. Wood

If you’re a guitar player, this is well worth the watch.

New Music Gear Monday: Cart Tatz Design PhantomFocus eChair

PhantomFocus eChairWe’re all gear-heads in some way and most of us will jump at a good deal regardless of whether we need the piece or not. That’s said, it’s pretty easy to overlook the basic necessities of the studio, and many times that’s the physical comfort of the engineer. If you’re going to sit in a chair for 8+ hours per day, it better be comfortable or the chiropractor bills are going to mount up. That’s why the new PhantomFocus eChair from Carl Tatz Design is so intriguing. This may be the first breakthrough in comfort in years that engineers will notice immediately.

If you don’t know, Carl Tatz is a Nashville based studio designer who’s also the creator of the breakthrough Phantom Focus playback system, but the eChair may be his everlasting gift to the engineering community. It looks a bit odd, but boy does it work well when it comes to both ergonomics and comfort.

First of all, the chair is dead easy to assemble. After having struggled with putting together a big traditional office chair recently, I was particularly impressed that the eChair went together without needing any tools in probably less than 2 minutes. And that’s without any instructions!

But it’s the adjustable features of the chair really make it special. The big one is the ActiveTilt seat that can be set to automatically pivot forward and backward with your body as you lean towards the console or desk, so you’re back always stays at the same angle. Then, the Free-Float backrest can be unlocked so that the hidden springs actively push it into your lower back as you lean your body forward and backward as well. It’s like a mini-massage every time you lean back. The more or less standard features that many other chairs have are also included, like armrests that have height, width, and yaw-angle settings (I find this a must-have for my tennis elbow), backrest height that can be changed, and pneumatic lift for easy seat height adjustment.

To be sure the eChair is not inexpensive at $550 (with free shipping and available in 3 different colors), but that’s about the same as a standard issue Herman Miller Aeron chair that most studios use, only with more updated features. If you suffer from back pain and you’re studio or office chair isn’t helping, then you owe it to yourself to check out the PhantomFocus eChair.

Check out the short video below for a description of how the features work.


Aerosmith “Walk This Way” Isolated Drum Track

Joey Kramer AerosmithI love to listen to great drummers, especially their isolated tracks. Joey Kramer from Aerosmith is always overlooked when it comes to skill, but just a quick listen to this isolated track from the band’s “Walk This Way” really proves why he’s one of the best. Here’s what to listen for.

1. Listen to how solid the drum track is. Kramer doesn’t drift from in tempo the entire song. He sets the groove and it feels great.

2. The drums play behind the beat. The track feels relaxed yet not lazy, which just goes to show that you don’t need to play frantically or up-tempo to create excitement.

3. The sound of the drums is great. There’s a nice long delayed plate on the snare, but listen to how clean the cymbals are. The balance between the drums and cymbals is also excellent, but I suspect that’s mostly because of the player and not the miking or mix balance. The snare is pretty bright, and the kick a little boxy compared to what we like today, but they work well in context with the mix.

4. The part is a little backwards, but that’s what makes it interesting. The open hi-hat is on beat one and the whole feel is fairly open and laid back during the guitar riff, and he plays hard 8ths on the open hat during the first verse and the ride cymbal on the second and third. He then goes to the bell and crashes during the choruses, which is a little more standard.

5. You can hear leakage from the rhythm guitar and occasionally something loud leaking through the reverb (a vocal scream?), but that’s what recording was like back in 1975.

This is only one of many hits by Aerosmith through the years, but don’t forget that it was also a hit by Run-DMC and it helped revive the band’s career. There’s a good story about how the song was written here.

Getting The Best From Your Singer

getting-the-best-from-singerThe vocals are the focal point of most songs, and a great performance is necessary to sell the song. A mediocre performance can sink the song no matter how great the tracks are. One of the hardest things about making a record is trying to record a singer who is uncomfortable. Even a seasoned pro sometimes can’t do her best unless the conditions are just right. If you’re a producer, you frequently run into one of the following scenarios though.

The vocalist keeps singing sharp or flat.

The vocalist keeps belting it out when the song calls for a softer sound.

The singer isn’t hitting the high notes like you know he can do.

Here’s a video from my new Music Producer Formula course that shows the techniques to overcome these problems and more.

Deep Purple “Space Truckin'” Isolated Organ Track

Jon LordThe original Deep Purple lineup had a very unique sound in the annals of rock, and much of that was because of Jon Lord’s organ. While most organ players want their Hammond’s to sound like the instrument they are, Lord treating his C3 more like a guitar, going as far as plugging it directly into a Marshall stack to get his unique sound. No where is that more evident than in this isolated organ track from the band’s hit “Space Truckin.'” Here’s what to listen for.

1. The organ has a very short slap echo on it. It sounds like the echo from a tape machine running at 15 ips.

2. In the verse, the organ is overdubbed and split in stereo. Lord is also playing in a higher register. Listen to how different the ambience is.

3. Listen to the space noises during the guitar solo coming from the organ (remember, this was the days before synthesizers.

4. You can hear the some leakage from the rest of the band, but it’s a beat before the organ part. This is probably due to the gap between the synch and playback heads of the tape machine.

5. There’s an ending that’s not on the record if you listen to the end. It’s nothing special though.

Michael Jackson “Beat It” Instrumental Track

beat it instrumentalIt’s time to listen inside another big hit from the past. This time it’s the instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” It’s actually pretty amazing what you can hear once you strip the vocal off, although it shouldn’t be too surprising since it is the center of attention. Here’s what to listen for:

1. The reverb tail on the main guitar riff is very long. This makes perfect sense since it has to hang over at the end of the riff.

2. There’s not that many elements to the song. It’s actually pretty simple in that there’s usually only 3 elements playing at the same time – rhythm section, a keyboard pad, and a guitar riff.

3. There are some extra guitar parts that aren’t that apparent in the final mix. Listen to the clean guitar on the second half of the verse and the second 8 bars of the chorus. Also in the bridge there’s a 16th note guitar that plays underneath the main figure.

4. The drums are pretty plain in they just keep the beat. It sounds like a drum machine with real drums overdubbed with the high hat doubled and panned to each side, which fills up both the frequency and the aural space.

It’s always fun to listen inside of a hit, and sometimes just taking away the vocal reveals many parts that you don’t hear in the mix but are essential to the song. That’s the cool thing about production. The most important parts of the house aren’t usually the ones seen from the outside.

New Music Gear Monday: Audio-Technica ATM350a Instrument Microphone

audio-technica atm350aWe all have our favorite mics for recording specific instruments in the studio, but when it comes to miking them live, everything is out the window. Mostly that’s because mounting many mics can be a pain. While you can afford to spend time getting the placement just right in the studio, when it’s live everything is fast, fast and faster, so that becomes the primary consideration, although it still has to sound good. Thankfully, Audio-Technica has taken all this into consideration with introduction of its new ATM350a instrument microphone.

The ATM350a is a small diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone that’s able to take high SPL levels (up to 159dB SPL!), which is essential for a mic that’s tightly placed on an instrument, and is basically an upgrade of the previous ATM350. Where the new version shines though, is the fact that it comes with an array of mounts that makes it able to easily fit on almost any instrument, from string bass to drums to piano to horns and almost anything else you can think of.

Each version of the mic comes with a specialized mount for a particular instrument, although there are also multiple mounts provided in each kit.  The ATM350U kit with Universal Clip-on Mounting System, for instance, includes the ATM350a Microphone, an AT8543 Power Module, an AT8491U Universal Clip-on Mount, an AT8490 5″ Gooseneck, an AT8468 Violin Mount (hook-and-loop fastener), and a protective carrying case. Other kits include one with a 9 inch gooseneck and a magnetic mount intended specifically for piano miking, one for drum miking with a very cool universal mount, one for woodwind miking, and one that includes a wireless transmitter. The mounting hardware is also available separately.

The Audio-Technica ATM350a retails for  between $299 to $349, depending upon the package. There’s more detailed info on the company’s website, and on the video below.

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