Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Top 5 Mixing Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

audio mixing image
Every day someone asks me to listen to a mix and give my opinion. I wish I had time to do it more than I do, but unfortunately I can't always get around to it. That said, there are a number of mistakes that keep cropping up with the mixes I do hear. Here are the top 5 mixing mistakes that I come across.

1. The vocal or lead instrument gets lost. Words get lost or the vocal seems buried during certain sections of the song. This is what automation is for. Go back and ride that sucker so every word can be heard.

2. There's a big frequency build up from adding EQ at the same frequencies to a lot of tracks. Everything sounds better with EQ added, especially when it's soloed. The problem is that if you EQ most of your tracks at the same frequencies, you'll end up with a lot of tracks that sound great by themselves that fight each other when added to mix. Better to do your EQing without soloing, or solo up several channels at the same time, in order to avoid the problem. And remember that you don't always have to boost the EQ. Attenuating a frequency can be more effective.

3. The stereo spectrum is mushy. This comes from taking panning for granted and automatically panning stereo elements hard left and hard right. When that happens it no longer sounds like stereo anymore and becomes "Big Mono" as my buddy mixer Ed Seay calls it. Just because a keyboard is in stereo, it doesn't necessarily mean that it should be panned hard left and hard right. The same goes for overheads. Many mixers intentionally stay away from hard left and right and try to give every track it's own place in the stereo spectrum.

4. There's too much compression. As the great engineer Joe Chiccarelli stated in my Mixing Engineer's Handbook, "Compression is like this drug that you can’t get enough of. You squish things and it feels great and it sounds exciting, but the next day you come back and you say, “Oh God, it’s too much.” Sometimes you have to really squash something so it works in the mix, but usually a little goes a long way.

5. There's too much low EQ. It's very easy to get fooled into thinking that you don't have enough low end either because you're mixing on small nearfield monitors or you're mixing too quietly. When that happens, you'll find that the mix sounds great in your room but way to boomy everywhere else. Take a listen to a recording that you really love first to see where the low end is at or take a look at a spectrum analyzer before you add any.

If you want to get some great mixing tips and tricks, check out my 101 Mixing Tricks coaching program and get 4 free tricks right away.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Big Picture Blog Named In The Top 100 Music Blogs

I'm proud to announce that both my Music 3.0 music industry blog and Big Picture music production blog have been named in the The Ultimate Top 100 Music Blogs by Musicians Empowered. Thanks very much Sarah! And thank you everyone for your support!

Tips For Recording An Audience

Concert Audience image
If you're recording a live performance, then you want to pick up some of the audience to make it sound realistic. Here are some techniques and considerations culled from the latest edition of my Recording Engineer's Handbook.

"Audience recording is both the key and the problem with live recording. It’s sometimes difficult to record the audience in a way that captures its true sound. The transient peaks of the audience makes it not only difficult to capture well, but to isolate from the stage mics as well.

  • Miking the audience lends itself to using omnidirectional mics, but shotgun mics can be especially useful because they help attenuate the intimate conversations from the crowd that happen around where the mic is placed. In the event you have neither type of microphone, just make sure that the mics that you use are identical models and don’t forget to engage the low-frequency rolloff switch if the mic has one.
  • Mic placement outdoors is a lot more difficult because you have nothing to hang microphones from to get enough distance over the audience. For another thing, you don’t have the ambience of the venue to help you out so you usually have to resort to more microphones as a result. Don’t forget the windscreens, because nothing makes a track unusable like wind blasting across the mic’s capsule.
  • Many engineers are tempted to use stereo recording techniques such as spaced pairs, X/Y, ORTF and Blumlien, but these can actually return some poor results when it comes to audience miking. What these setups do is capture the ambience of the environment and a perfect stereo picture, but your primary concern is just to capture the audience. They’re two different beasts and have to be handled that way.
  • It’s very easy to have audience microphones overload either from the stage volume of band or the peaks of the audience response. Therefore, it’s a good idea to heavily compress or limit them to prevent overload.
Technique #1: Place a pair of identical mics at about the half-way point between the edge of the stage and the back wall of the venue. Make sure that the mics are placed at least three feet above the audience. Start with the microphones facing directly at one another across the audience as in Figure 9.1, then aim them both down towards, but not exactly at, the middle of the audience.

Please Note: The higher you get the mics over the audience the better, but if you’re in a club with a low ceiling in a club, you’re better off with placement closer to the audience since the reflections from the ceiling can sometimes sound pretty bad.

Figure 9.1: Simple audience miking technique
Audience Miking Technique #1 image
  • Variation: If you only need a mono audience track, splay the mics off-access as in Figure 9.2. This configuration can result in a fuller sound in mono, but will result in a stereo track that’s off balance since one mic is pointed closer towards the stage and the main sound system than the other.
Figure 9.2: Simple audience miking technique variation for mono
Audience Miking Technique #1 variation

Technique #2: In a club, hang a couple of mics at about the middle of the venue pointing directly down from the ceiling. This is where omnidirectional mics come in handy. Be sure to hang each mic the same distance from the stage as the other if you want a balanced stereo image."

There are a number of other techniques for recording the audience that can be found in the book.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What Data Compression Really Sounds Like

We've been using MP3 data compression since the late 90s and for many people its good enough when it comes to sound quality. If you're used to listening to high quality audio in the studio though, you know that the MP3 version leaves a lot to be desired.

So what does data compression actually do? Lossy data compression actually dynamically eliminates frequencies from the audio that the ear won't notice based on an algorithm. It's throwing away data that hoping that you won't miss in order to get the file size smaller.

How much data? Well it could be a lot and it could be a little, depending upon the algorithm and the data rate you select.

Here's a great real world example where you can actually hear the data that's been eliminated using Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner." First you'll see and hear the original music video, then just the data that's been eliminated. It was created by Ph.D. candidate Ryan Maguire at the University of Virginia for a project called The Ghost In The MP3.

As a bonus, you'll also see what the video codec does to the video as well.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Monday, February 23, 2015

New Music Gear Monday: Rupert Neve Designs RNDI Direct Box

Anyone who's ever played with direct boxes knows that they're not created equally, especially when it comes to the bass guitar. Some sound thin and wooly while others are big and lush sounding, and that can make a big difference when it comes to the mix.

Rupert Neve's reputation as a console designer is unparalleled, having been at the forefront of the art for more than 50 years. Now he takes on the direct box with his new RNDI.

The RNDI is an active direct box based around a very high impedance (2 megaohm) discrete FET amplifier that utilizes a custom designed transformer as well (something that Neve has always been noted for). This is unusual in that most DIs either have one or the other, but the RNDI incorporates both, which the company says is responsible for its outstanding phase coherence and frequency response out to 100kHz.

The box features a 1/4 input jack that's capable of handling both instruments and line level with headroom of 21.5dBU. A speaker switch allows a direct connection from an amp as powerful as 1000 watts. A Thru jack is included in order to send the signal to an amplifier as well. Power comes via 48V phantom power.

The Rupert Neve Designs RNDI retails for $269 and is available now.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Eric Garland Talks Guitar Center Finances On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

About a year ago bass player and analyst Eric Garland started a firestorm after he posted on his blog that Guitar Center's finances were a mess.

A few weeks ago he fanned the flames again after he declared that the end of the giant retailer might be closer than you think.

I'm pleased to have Eric on the podcast to discuss just how he came to those conclusions and to give us a quick lesson in financial engineering.

During the podcast intro I'll also discuss the 4 recommendations from the US Copyright Board regarding finally bringing copyright into the 21st century, as well as the new MQA audio file format.

Remember that you can find the podcast either at, or on iTunes or Stitcher

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

The Beatles "Something" Isolated Bass

After The Beatles became hit makers Paul McCartney played more and more keyboards on basic tracks and did all his bass tracks as overdubs. Paul liked this process because he felt it helped him forge a better bass line that fit better with the other layers of the song. Some say that's why his lines were so melodic, and nowhere is this more in evidence than in George Harrison's classic "Something" from the classic Abbey Road album.

Here's the isolated bass track and some things to listen for.

1. You can hear the influence of Motown's James Jamerson in the way connects the notes between sections, weaving a line that gets from one part to another in a sometimes unusual manner.

2. The part is busy by today's standards with some sections that make you think, "How'd he think of that?"

3. The part isn't played perfectly as there are some occasional brief timing issues, usually being a little late on a note.

4. The very last note of the song is a flam.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Moog Takes Us Back To The Future

Moog Modular Keith Emerson model image
Moog Modular Keith Emerson model
As I stated in my NAMM report, Moog Music has brought back some of its classic modular synths from what many claim to be the "golden age" of electronic music back in the 1970s. These include the System 55, 35 and 15, and a special Keith Emerson replica version that will go for a whopping $150,000.

These things aren't for the faint of heart since you really have to know about the inner workings of synthesis in order to make them sing, since there's no presets to rely on. Of course, that's exactly why we love them so much as well. Each sound is completely nuanced based upon the programming, not an algorithm.

Here's a very cool movie about modular synthesis featuring a variety of synthesizer heavyweights including Malcolm Cecil, Dick Hyman and Suzanne Ciani, who really pioneered the use of the instruments back when they were first new.

You can find out more about Moog Modulars here.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The 3 Eras Of Record Production

Although the position of record producer seems like a modern aspect of the record business, the job has been around from the beginning of recorded music. Through the years, the profession has become more refined in terms of responsibilities, but the job has become more complex as well. To illustrate the evolution of the music producer, here's an excerpt from my Music Producer's Handbook that breaks the profession into three distinct eras which we’ll call “the early record label era,” “the mature music era,” and “the independent era.”

"The Early Label Era
Although recorded music goes as far back as 1857, it wasn’t actually turned into a business until around 1900. Because of the primitive nature of the recording equipment, the recordist acted as more of an archivist than a producer in that he (it was almost always a man) was just trying to capture the music onto a medium suitable for reproduction. The composers, arrangers and band leaders of the day had final say in regards to the direction and style of the music, just as many do today.

Several pioneers of the era including Ralph Peer and Lester Melrose (more on them in a bit) began to record less accessible and popular forms of music in an effort to target specific audiences with the music they were recording. The “producers” of this period were part talent scout, part entrepreneur, and part technician, sometimes going on location and holding massive auditions until they found the music that they thought to be unique. They were also some of the people who eventually gave the music industry and record label executives a bad name by stealing copyrights, not paying royalties and stereotyping groups of people with terms like “hill billy” and “race” music.

The Mature Music Era
As the music industry matured, record labels began to employ men (once again, they were almost always men) specifically to discover talent, then shepherd that talent through the recording process. These were know as “Artist and Repertoire” men or “A&R” men that were in fact, the first vestige of the producer that we know today. Unlike the A&R men of today who are mostly talent scouts and product managers, A&R people of that era were usually well schooled in music, being talented composers and arrangers themselves, and were in charge of everything from signing an artist to finding songs to overseeing the recording, just as today’s producers do.

But producers began to have more control over production as magnetic tape became the production media of choice. Now it was easy for multiple takes, and as two, three and four track machines became available, the ability to separate instruments brought a whole new palate of possibilities. First the first time, the producers role became as technically creative as it was musical.

Still, producers off the era were little more than label employees, sometimes not even receiving a bonus despite being directly responsible for the success of the labels artists and their sometimes massive amounts of label income (such as the case between EMI with George Martin and The Beatles).

The Independent Era
As the technical possibilities continued to soar, so did a quiet rebellion on the business side of production. Even though independent record producers existed going back to the 50’s with Sam Phillips (of Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis fame), Phil Spector, Creed Taylor and Joe Meek, they all had their own record labels and it was lot easier to be in control as a producer if you were the label owner too.

The true revolution began when George Martin left music giant EMI to go independent in 1969. Until then, producers were little more than salaried staff with no participation in the profits they had such a big part in developing. After having to fight for a small bonus after The Beatles literally made EMI a billion dollars, Sir George decided to use his considerable leverage to obtain a piece of the action by leaving his EMI staff position and going independent. Soon many other successful producers followed, being able to cash in on large advances as well as a piece of their best-selling artist’s pie.

Sir George Martin and The Beatles image

Figure 1.1 Sir George Martin in a Session With The Beatles

But fortunes turned, as they so frequently do. After a while, record labels began to see producer independence as a bargain by being able to wipe out the overhead of a salaried position by turning the tables to where hiring the producer became the artist’s expense instead of the label’s. This meant that the label could afford the best production talent in the world and in the end it wouldn’t cost them a dime as long as the record sold.

As time went on, the producer took more creative control, becoming everything from a coach to a guidance counselor to a psychiatrist to a svengali. Some producers like Holland-Dozier-Holland at Motown and Stock-Aitken-Waterman used a factory approach, where the artists were interchangeable and subordinate to the song. Some, like Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, had a grandiose vision for their material that only they could imagine until it was finished. Some like Ted Templeman, Tony Brown and Dan Huff, Moby and Dr. Dre changed the direction of a style of music. And some like Quincy Jones, saved the music industry from itself and started the longest run of prosperity it would ever see."

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How Ultrasonics May Change The Way We Control Things

Knowles MEMS ultrasonic digital microphone image
Knowles has been making specialty audio gear since 1947 and you use many of their products every day without even knowing it. Their tiny microphone and speaker products are found in a variety of cell phones, game controllers, television, computers and headsets, and their condenser mic capsules have long been a place where specialty mic designers have started from.

The company has a new audio product that could actually change the way that we use touch screens. The size of the tip of a pen, it can sense when ultrasonic frequencies are being disturbed, which would allow a user to control a device screen via a hand or finger gesture up to 12 inches away.

The ultrasonic MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical-system) microphone is a true digital microphone with a frequency response up to 80kHz. It's specifically built for low power applications like in a mobile device, but I can see it being used in other applications as well.

For instance, although Slate Digital's Raven controller is an incredibly innovative product, I question the long term use of the touchscreen. It seems like constant arm reaching would result in some sort of repetitive stress disorder like tennis elbow or even something we've not experienced yet. A screen with MEMS would allow you to sit back in your chair and control the screen without a long arm reach.

Of course, being able to control your tablet or phone without touching it would speed up operations, which would be important when mixing a show or setting up a monitor mix.

To be sure this technology has been tried before but hasn't caught on mostly because your finger had to be within 2 inches of the screen, which defeats the purpose of the idea. MEMS could solve all that.

We sometimes forget about the audio out of our natural hearing bandwidth, but Knowles MEMS technology reminds us that ultrasonics can be useful too.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Monday, February 16, 2015

New Music Gear Monday: Grace Design Felix Blender Pedal

Grace Design Felix pedal image
Here's a very cool device that even though it seems to be more live oriented, I can see being used in the studio as well. It's something new from Grace Design called Felix, and it's an acoustic instrument preamp/blender pedal.

Felix is specifically designed for blending the sounds of an acoustic instrument together so it has an input for the built-in pickup of the instrument, plus another for a mic featuring one of those great Grace preamps. It also has an extra 1/4 input so that you can switch from two different guitars if you want.

The top panel is pretty complete in that it has an independent EQ section for each channel that features hi and low pass shelving filters, a parametric EQ, and a very cool notch filter that can be a Godsend for certain acoustic instruments.

There's also 10dB of boost for soloing, a mix control, and an amp output control that also sends to a built-in headphone amplifier.

Then there are the footswitches. The first is an A/B switch so that you can switch between channels, a boost switch, and a mute/tune switch that mutes all the outputs except for a dedicated tuner out.

The outputs of Felix are pretty impressive. Four 1/4 inch jacks include tuner out, dedicated amp output, an effects insert and effects output. It also has two direct outs on XLR's, one for each channel, which can be separate or #2 output can supply a blended output.

Additional controls include 48V, phase reverse, mid-range frequency, and notch filter frequency selection on the side panel.

While Felix looks more like a live device, I can see it in the studio as well, since it has some features that would make it easier to get a great sound before it even hits your preamp. If a player already has the variables of his sound dialed in, you can see how the recording would be up and running in a flash.

The Grace Design Felix isn't cheap at $995, but considering the consistently high quality of Grace products, it seems to be worth every penny. The unit should be available in April.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Hollywood Sound Designer Scott Martin Gershin On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Scott Martin Gershin image
This week on my Inner Circle Podcast I'm pleased to have my good friend sound designer Scott Martin Gershin. Scott has worked on some of the biggest Hollywood blockbuster films including Pacific Rim, Gladiator, Star Trek, Hellboy and about a hundred others. He's also worked on a number of television shows and video games (including Final Fantasy and Resident Evil), so he's seen it all when it comes to working at the highest levels in a town that only wants the best.

Scott will give you some inside info on field recording (especially getting realistic gunshot sounds) as well as his thoughts on going to the mix stage with 2,000 tracks of audio across 6 Pro Tools rigs!

On the intro I'll talk about why opening acts for big concert acts lose money as well as a number of tools under $100 that will help boost your productivity.

Remember that you can find the podcast either at, or on iTunes or Stitcher


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