Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The World's Oldest Song

Ever wonder what the wold's oldest song is? No, it's not "Happy Birthday," but a 3,400 year old hymn found in the 1950s during a dig in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit. It was written on clay tablets in cuneiform signs in the hurrian language, which was later interpreted into modern musical notation in 1972 by professor Anne Draffkorn Kilmer of the University of California, according to an article on Open Culture.

The song isn't all that much melody wise, but it does confirm that there was a 7 note diatonic scale and harmony being used way back then. That said, academics the world over have battled back and forth on the correct interpretation, so what you'll hear might or might not be accurate, but it's done by the original discoverer of the tablets Dr. Richard Dumbril.

A big thanks to my buddy Jesse Siemanis for the heads up.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Winter NAMM 2015 Overview - Part 2

In the last edition of my Winter NAMM 2015 overview I talked about some of the cool audio gear that I spotted at the show. Today we'll look at guitars, bass and keyboards. Once again, there's no particular order.
16 string bass imageIf you're a bass player and into a lot of strings, then you'll love this 16 string bass. It's really a dual course 8 string bass so it gives you a 12 string guitar quality. I don't know how effective it will be for laying down a traditional bass line, but it's cool for soloing and playing chords.





Ampeg SCR-DI bass direct box image
Ampeg showed something I thought they should have come out with years ago - a bass direct box. The SCR-DI comes with the Scrambler circuitry used in their pedals, a lot of controls to shape your sound, as well as a headphone amplifier and stereo aux inputs. It's around $200.


BeatBuddy image
For guitar players who play solo a lot comes the BeatBuddy, a drum machine in a guitar pedal format. It has a bunch of different beats and drum kits right out of the box so you can just plug it in and do the gig right away. It's about $350.





D'Angelico Guitars image
D'Angelico has been know for great sound guitars that jazzers have played since the 1920s. The company has taken the bold step of introducing a whole line of solid and semi-solid body guitars and basses with shapes of other guitars that we know and love so well. Custom colors too. Aerosmith's Brad Whitford and blues girl Susan Tedschi are endorsers.





Dialtone pickups image
Don't like the sound of your pickups? Well now you can dial in the tone that you want with these new Dialtone pickups. They allow you to shape both the resonant frequency and the bandwidth via two controls on the side.






Bohemian Guitars image
Do you play down home on the farm blues? Then perhaps you need a Bohemian guitar to play at your next gig. The body is actually made out of an oil can, but the pickups and electronics are modern.








Slaperoo Slapstick image
Looking for a different bass sound? How about this Slapstick by Slaperoo Percussion. It's a metal ribbon that you play like a single string bass. Just slap it and it gives a pretty funky sound. There are different sizes, and they're all tunable. They're best selling N-100 Noodle is around $250.



Line 6 Viarax and Firehawk FX image
Line 6 showed a number of things that were cool. First of all is their new Variax guitars, which are made by Yamaha (which purchased Line 6 last year). You get the same cool modeling electronics from the previous Variax as well as the ability for multiple tunings. But there's more. Their new Firehawk FX pedal gives you all the cool effects and amp models you expect from Line 6, plus it remembers all the settings from the guitar, so you can change your entire setup including sounds, effects and tunings, by hitting only a single switch.
Line 6 Relay G70 image
Line 6 also introduced its new Relay G70 and G75 guitar wireless systems. These are cool because all you need is a single receiver with two transmitters to switch between guitars. The transmitters have a sensor that can tell when you put your first guitar in a stand and then instantly switch to the second.



Moog Modular synth image
Moog re-introduced its modular systems after many years. You can now have a Model 55, 35, 15 or a Keith Emerson custom modular system for your very own. They ain't cheap though - ranging from $10k for the Model 15 to a whopping $150k for the Emerson model.



Roli Keyboard image
The Roli Seaboard Grand piano has to be a way different keyboard than anything else that came before it. It's a plastic MIDI keyboard that makes the traditional keyboard into a soft pressure sensitive surface. The company is also developing an audio engine for the unit, which should be available this year. It's expensive, starting at $2k for the 37 key version up to $8,888 for the 88 key version.

Roland Blues Cube amplifier image
Finally, the Roland Blues Cube amp might be an unusual turning point in software sales. Why, you may ask? As you can see from the photo, it features a single tube in the back. But no, it's not a tube, but a firmware package dressed up to look like a tube and even glow like one too. Flip in your Eric Johnson or Don Felder Tone Capsules and you have their sounds. Available in 60, 45, 15 and .5 watt models. The price for a 60 watt version is a reasonable $700.

That's it. I hope you enjoyed these overviews. On to next year.

Monday, January 26, 2015

2015 Winter NAMM Show Trends

NAMM 2015 Attendee image
NAMM Attendee
The latest Winter NAMM show, the semi-annual exhibition of musical instrument manufacturers occurring each January in Anaheim, has ended, and more so than most, this one reflects what’s happening in the music creation business and even the world we live in. 

NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) is unlike any convention anywhere, from the hustle and bustle of a Black Friday at the local mall, to the cacophony of simultaneous sounds from every kind of musical instrument imaginable, to a bevy of both legit and wanna be rockers bumping into you at every turn. The show is grueling, tedious and fun all at the same time.

Every year I post several editions of cool new gear that I spied at NAMM on my music production blog, but this post is particularly about the trends seen at the convention that show the latest from this side of the music industry and how it meshes with the more publicized production and business side. Here’s what I saw:

Avid Pro Tools First, Pro Tools 12 and Cakewalk Sonar - Avid’s Pro Tools is the king of the digital audio workstation (DAW) app in that it’s used by the majority of audio professionals in music and post. Avid is transitioning to the cloud with Pro Tools 12 and the free entry-level Pro Tools First, where you have the choice of buying the app outright, or paying a monthly fee. Of course, being in the cloud has it’s advantages for Avid, in that it can now charge users to store their projects there, and also to rent any plugins needed for the project. Also, being in the cloud also allows for online collaboration, which many see as the future of music creation.

While Pro Tools is primarily a Mac app, Cakewalk’s Sonar is one of the kings of the PC DAW world, and it too has introduced a monthly and yearly membership model to go along with a straight purchase of the software. Of course, this has been a viable business model for the tech world for some time, so it’s surprising that it took so long to be implemented on this end of the music business.

That said, it may not add up to the profits that these companies anticipate. Most professionals won’t indulge in the membership model because cloud recording just isn’t practical in terms of the number of simultaneous tracks that need to be recorded at any one time because of the upload bandwidth required. And while cloud storage of a project might have it’s advantages, most engineers, producers, artists, managers and record labels feel more comfortable with the data on a local hard drive that can be locked up or taken home for safety, at least at the moment. 

As far as cloud collaboration, there are a host of companies betting that this will be the next big thing, but it almost seems like a solution a problem that isn’t there. At least on the pro level, musicians and producers prefer working together in the same room to allow for the best interaction. That’s not always the case when it comes to guest players or vocalists, so I can see the need in that situation, but there still doesn’t seem to be a huge number of users clamoring for the feature, at least as far as I can see. Let’s see how this shakes out in a year. Read more on Forbes.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Winter NAMM 2015 Overview - Part 1

Winter NAMM 2015 image
Another Winter NAMM is over and I'm here to report the trends and products that caught my attention over the 4 day show. This year's exhibition was sleepy as far as new products were concerned, but there sure was a lot of enthusiasm.

As has become the norm at not only NAMM but trade shows in general, there wasn't much that could be considered groundbreaking, but there were a lot of evolutionary products. I'm going to get to things like the latest Pro Tools 12 and PT First release tomorrow, but today we'll touch on the audio products that caught my eye. These may or may not be products that others talk about, but I found them personally interesting.

Trident Hi-Lo image
Trident Hi-Lo 500 Series Filter Set - This wasn't released yet, and I'm not even sure that it was shown much at the show, but I thought it was one of the cooler things that I saw. It's a dual hi and lo pass filter set where the frequencies overlap, which is cool by itself, but the fact that it also automatically tracks the signal make this unit very provocative. It wasn't connected and unit might even be a prototype, but I like what I see so far.



iZ Radar Studio image
iZ Radar Studio - Radar has always been an excellent sounding DAW that was one of the first to have a dedicated controller. That said, it was based around a tape machine remote that once served a great purpose but is a bit passe today. Radar Studio opens up the architecture for the first time so you can use the Radar hardware with your favorite DAW. This new iteration ships with Harrison's Mixbus, but is also capable of running Pro Tools or anything else if you want.

Mackie Freeplay Personal PA image
Mackie FreePlay Personal PA - This is basically a boom box that's loud enough to use as a small PA system if you want to. It's battery powered, has two mic/line inputs, some DSP effects and even a feedback suppressor, and the whole thing can be driven from an app on your iPhone. There's also a little kick stand that allows you to use it as a personal monitor as well. It's about $400.


Cherub DT-20 Drum Tuner image
Cherub DT-20 Infrared Drum Tuner - I almost hesitate to include this because the product doesn't appear to be ready, but I like the idea. Via an infrared beam, the unit senses the vibrations of a drum and provides a note equivalent readout. It if works, drummers and engineers everywhere will rejoice.



Behringer X Air XR12 image
Behringer X Air XR12 mixer - Behringer has a whole slew of unusual wi-fi mixers that use an iPhone or iPad as the main controller. This XR12 has 12 inputs, 4 onboard effects engines, automatic mixing, and Midas-designed preamps. The price? How does $299 grab you?

Manley Force image
Manley Labs Force - Manley showed it's new Force, which features 4 tube preamps from it's very popular CORE channel strip. Best of all, it's priced at a very reasonable $2,500.





Apora Bohemeth image
Apora Bohemeth - Here's a very interesting dual channel Pultec-style tube EQ that's controlled from a computer or tablet. It has cool displays, it looks well put together, but not much information is available, as you can see from the company website.



Coleman Audio Phone Mix DI image
Coleman Audio Phone Mix DI - If you ever wanted to plug your phone or tablet into your recorder or DAW you know it's a pain to do. Glen Coleman is always on top of things like this, and has developed an interface to make it easily happen. Plus, it can also act as a regular DI or even as just a way for someone to privately practice while waiting for the next take to begin. The price is around $450.

Blue Hummingbird microphones image
Blue Hummingbird Microphone - I used to love the swivel mount that was available for the AKG 451's way back in the day. It allowed you to get the mic capsule into some tight places, or just keep the mic body generally out of the way. The cardioid Blue Hummingbird has that same 180 degree rotating head, plus it's capsule comes from the very nice Blue Bottle mics. It's designed to take the high SPL and quick transients of a drum kit. The price is only $299.

Dangerous Audio Convert 2 and Convert 8 image
Dangerous Music Convert 2 and Convert 8 - Dangerous Music makes some serious gear that's used by pros with discerning ears everywhere. The company adds to its product line with the new Convert D/A stereo and 8 channel convertors. They both feature up to 192 sample rates, excellent internal clocks, precision calibration, and 4 inputs.

Tomorrow I'll get into some of the trends I spotted at the show, and on Wednesday we'll look and guitars and keyboards.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Engineer/Producer Ross Hogarth My Inner Circle Podcast

Ross Hogarth image
I've very pleased to have engineer/producer Ross Hogarth on this week's Inner Circle podcast. Ross started in the business as a stage tech and live mixer for the likes of David Lindley, Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac, and eventually moved into the studio where he’s since worked with the likes of Roger Waters, Motley Crue, Van Halen, John Mellencamp and many more.

Ross has also just been nominated for Best Engineered Record Grammy for his recent work with Keb Mo.

On the intro I'll also talk about why an attorney might not to want to shop your demo, and the little Amish town that's the center of the touring universe.

Remember that you can find the podcast either on iTunes or at BobbyOInnerCircle.com, and now also on Stitcher

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Beatles "I Feel Fine" Isolated Guitars

It's always fun to listen to hits of years past and dissect the parts, and today's song is no exception. It's "I Feel Fine" by The Beatles, a big hit for them from way back in 1964. This might have been the first example of feedback electric guitar (John Lennon's amplified Gibson acoustic J-160E) on record, but it was discovered accidentally when Lennon leaned his guitar up against the amp after a take. The band loved it and later edited it in to the beginning of the song.

John, who wrote and sang the song, claimed that the riff was based around a Bobby Parker song the band used to play live called "Watch Your Step." What you'll hear comes from the last of 8 basic track takes. Here's what to listen for (it starts at 0:05):

1. John plays the main riff on his Gibson while George Harrison sometimes doubles, and other times plays rhythm on his Gretsch Tennessean.

2. As was the production norm of the day, the parts of the two guitars aren't really defined. They both drift from playing the riff to playing the chords at different times. Today the parts would be much more worked out with every lick in mind.

3. Georges rhythm is a little out of tune, especially in the beginning, but you don't it notice in the track.

4. Listen through to the end to hear the ending not on the record.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Metallica In Slow Motion

We're used to interacting with music on a level that's so fast that we usually only hear the result, but don't see what's actually happening. Here a great video that looks at what happens in slow motion when you play a variety of instruments and vocals, centering around the guys in Metallica.

What you'll see is electric and acoustic guitars, vocal, electric and acoustic bass, slap bass, piano and drums at 2,000 to 5,000 frames per second. My favorite is the snare drum at the end.

This is very cool. Thanks to my buddy Jesse Siemanis for the heads up.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Brief History Of Music Production

 Sir George Martin in a session with The Beatles
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.

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."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Introducing The New MIDI HD Protocol

MIDI creator Dave Smith image
MIDI Creator Dave Smith
The MIDI standard is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, so let's take a minute to appreciate just how cool an invention this really was.

For many of you reading this, you don't remember a time before MIDI, but the rest of us remember it as a time when hardware synthesizers, sequencers and drum machines couldn't talk to one another if not from the same manufacturer. You chose a manufacturer if you wanted all three, and usually at least of these were not to your liking.

MIDI, originally proposed by Sequential Circuits founder Dave Smith (now with Dave Smith Instruments and pictured on the left), solved this by suddenly making not only these devices interchangeable, but controllable via external switches, pedals and, a little down the road, computers.

The standard hasn't changed much over the years, but definitely needs some updating, and that's exactly what the newly proposed MIDI HD does. Some of the new protocol's features include:
  • Plug and play network connectivity over USB and Ethernet
  • Thousands of channels for handling complex systems
  • More precise pitch control and articulation for expanded expressivity
  • Tighter timing thanks to time stamped messaging
  • More controllers and parameters
  • Room for future expansion
  • Backwards compatibility with MID 1.0
That sounds pretty cool, but don't get the wrong idea - MIDI HD is not a replacement for the standard MIDI that we're all used to. MIDI 1.0 is really cheap to implement and MIDI HD isn't, at least at the moment, and it's not an industry standard yet either. The added cost of MIDI HD means that many low cost devices just won't have it for a while.

That said, it's exciting that MIDI is stepping into the future. I can't wait to check it out in person to see just what it can do.

For more information, go to the MIDI Manufactures Association's office site at midi.org.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

New Music Gear Monday: MOTU Monitor 8

MOTU Monitor 8 image
One of the things that's lagged behind in digital audio has been monitoring, but that's becoming a priority more and more when it comes to digital interfaces. In fact, there are now quite a few great dedicated monitoring alternatives now available. Case in point, the new MOTU Monitor 8.

The Monitor 8 is unique in that it can do so many things and fit into so many situations. It can be a control room monitor controller, a live monitor mixer, a multi-channel headphone amplifier, or a computer audio interface right out of the box.

Built-in you'll find a 24x16x8 monitor mixer, a 6 channel headphone amp and a 48 channel USB/AVB audio interface, plus a very nice metering package. For control room monitoring, it has two stereo pairs allowing for main and secondary monitors, but you can also dial up 6 additional cue mixes (which can be individually controlled from an iPhone app) as well.

The unit has the latest ESS Sabre32 Ultra D/A convertors with 123dB dynamic range, and features as little as 32 samples of latency from input to output. It also features a 48 channel software mixer that can take its signal from either a host DAW or the Monitor 8's analog inputs or dual ADAT optical ports, and provides EQ and LA-2 style compression on each channel. The AVB port allows Monitor 8 to connect with a wide variety of hardware using the latest audio networking via CAT-5 or CAT-6 Ethernet cables.

Monitor 8 can work as an interface or a stand alone unit, and it can easily connect to MOTU's other AVB products like the 1248, 8M, 16A, 24Ai or 24Ao, and utilize quick setup presets to get you rolling right away.

MOTU's Monitor 8 is an extremely versatile unit that will find itself in a lot of monitoring situations given its versatility and price point. The unit retails for $995.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Engineer Wyn Davis On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Wyn Davis image
This week my Inner Circle Podcast features engineer Wyn Davis, who's worked with so many legacy rock artists, from Dio to Foreigner to Bad Company to Great White and many more.

Wyn also owns Total Access Recording, a great studio that I've had the pleasure of working in, and we'll talk about his thoughts on how a commercial studio can survive in these days where everyone has a home studio.

We'll also talk about how he gets those great guitar sounds that we just love so much on the records he does.

On the show intro, I'll talk about just exactly what the product is in our new music business, as well as the most popular keys and chords used in hit songs today.

Remember that you can find the podcast either on 
iTunes or at BobbyOInnerCircle.com, and now also on Stitcher

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Beach Boys "California Girls" Isolated Vocals

The Beach Boys image
Here's an absolute classic. It's the isolated vocals from The Beach Boy's all-time great hit "California Girls." The band was already big long before this song, but this 1965 song put them in a new stratosphere.

The song was written by Brian Wilson (who also produced) and lead singer Mike Love. The basic track took 44 takes by the studio band known as The Wrecking Crew (which included Leon Russel on piano here), recorded at Hollywood's famed United Western Recorders. The vocals were recorded about a month later in New York City at the equally famous CBS Columbia Square studios.

An interesting side note, this was the first song that Bruce Johnston sang on, having just replaced Brian Wilson in the road band. You can hear him on the falsetto parts on the outro. Here's what to listen for:

1. Mike Love's lead vocals are doubled and panned left and right. You don't hear the double so much on the final mix because they're fairly close (especially given the era this was recorded in).

2. There are two sets of harmonies that are spread slightly left and right. Although some parts are doubled in places, for the most part there are mostly different counterpoint parts that mesh together perfectly.

3. This is one of the best examples of the BBs trademark, which is the low bass vocal part. It's something that you rarely hear during background vocals of any era.

4. The harmonies aren't perfect. When you think of The Beach Boys, you think of impeccable vocals, but in this case, there are little inconsistencies throughout. There's a few wrong notes, a few minor sour ones, and some ragged releases, especially towards the end.

5. Listen through to the end, where you'll hear what took place after the fade of the final mix.



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