AF’s Weblog

November 25, 2009

Infected Mushroom Sound Alchemy

Filed under: Artists — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:20 am

Exclusive Interview Reveals Production Tips and Tricks

Erez Eisen and Amit Duvedevani “Duvdev” (background).

Innovators, geek tricksters, obsessive-perfectionists, un-serious, electronic-rock geniuses?   Time will tell, yet The Legend of the Black Shawarma, Infected Mushroom’s 7th album release will certainly grab the chair from underneath you and leave you thinking- I’m not sure what was this meticulous musical chaos, but I can’t stop moving even after the track has finished.

Hailing from sunny shores of Israel, now based in another sunny city, Los Angeles, the sun always seems to shine in Infected land, the core of which is Erez Eisen and Amit Duvedevani.  But seriously, between the hard-earned success, the mess, the nuclear shows, the private jokes you will find two very do-it-yourself kind of musician scientists who write, produce, mix, master, tweak and fix almost every detail of their music.

It was only fitting then that Audiofanzine (AF) will ask the obvious:  How do you make that sound?  As we brushed off the cobwebs with a morning coffee in Paris, Eisen joined us late at night from his studio in Los Angeles to tell us the production tales of Infected Mushroom.  Enjoy.

Part 1:  “It’s always changing, you know”

This is Infected Mushroom today.

AF:  Can you quickly present the band? Who’s doing what?

Eisen:  We started- my partner Amit Duvedevani, known as Duvdev, and I, Erez Eisen, in 1996 doing some horrible music.  Now today we are like a big band you know, not so big, but we have a drummer named  Rogerio Jardim he’s a great drummer from Brazil, he lives in America now.  We have an Israeli guitar player Erez Netz, which is considered one of the best electronic guitar players, the best in Israel.  We love him.  And also Thomas Cunningham, another guitar player from America who performs with us.  This is Infected Mushroom.

AF:  What do you consider to be your influences?   You’re using some ‘metal’ gigs and some ‘jazzy organs’ on the same tracks, some hip-hop influences, some Spanish music influences…

Eisen:  It’s always changing, you know.  It started with electronic like Psytrance bands, which is Simon Posford, known as Shpongle as well, also Hallucinogen.  At the time we liked X-Dream, Etnica, many other bands from this genre.  These are the main ones.  And slowly through the years we became open to everything.  We are listening to radio and MTV, not as it is today, horrible, but how it used to be with more heavy metal stuff.  Even if it is hip-hop sometimes, a few Jay Zee tracks, it can be nice.  Maybe we don’t like the whole concept but we like some ideas.  We try to just have fun in the studio basically and to be as creative as we can.

AF:  Your style has changed a lot in the past few years. When you go back to your old tracks and you listen to them, what are your thoughts?

Eisen:   The Gathering, which is the first album as Infected, I tend to think that is has a few decent tracks for me.  I think Tommy the Bat is one of them, and a few others, but the production is horrible.  I’m not so proud of it, let’s say.  But, you know, I was 16 I think when we did it.  So it’s OK.

Infected Mushroom’s Studio in L.A.:  Best place for inspiration.

AF:   Do you begin making a song in your studio or sometimes you need to go to someplace else to get inspired?

Eisen:  No, it’s always in the studio.  We tried doing tracks on the road, but we never did one.  Sometimes we come with just no ideas into the studio and we just decide on a BPM, usually it’s just 145, and we just start kick, bass line, and somehow looking for sounds and stuff.  Sometimes we are lucky, everything goes smoothly and we have a track going on very fast, and sometimes we get stuck like a week on a track.

AF:  I know what you mean.  I have been stuck for 10 years now.

Eisen:  When we are stuck, I wanted to kick myself sometimes, I wanted to say “that’s it, I cannot do anymore music, I have no more ideas”, but then Duvdev said “let’s see it as a fight in the studio”, like a video game- there is a level that is really hard to pass, and you keep trying until you move to the next level.  So this is how we see it these days and it really helps.  For us, when we have these horrible days we just give it a fight.  Sometimes it’s the lyrics.  Duvdev comes in with lyrics, and from there we get something- which is much easier.   Every time it’s something different.

Infected Mushroom Live in Chicago 11/14/09

AF:  What would you consider to be your biggest challenge as a band?

Eisen:  We always have challenges.  I guess the first big challenge was to make the band happen, to find the guitar player, to find the drummer, to write the parts for them, because the tracks are already kind of busy for us, and we didn’t want to make it noisy for the live show.  It’s kind of hard, in the beginning, to think about what the guitar player would play that will not sound too busy, and how to add a drummer that will not create too much of a mess.

AF:   In the studio you can create and produce music under ideal conditions.  It then becomes a challenge to re-create that sound on stage.  How do you approach that?

Eisen:  Yeah, for stage we try to have a little bit more bass, this feeling that you have a big speaker and you want to feel the bass, not just hear it.  This is very important.  And for the rest of the frequencies we try to make it as good as we can compared to what we had in mind in the studio- which never happens, by the way.  With our luck, we go to horrible sound systems most of the time.  It’s always a challenge to do a proper sound check.

AF:  The big thing in this record is your collaborations with Jonathan Davis, Perry Farrell and the Doors.  Is this something that you’ve wanted to do for a long time, collaborate with other artists?  And what was their contribution?

Eisen:  We can start with the Doors.  It was the Doors track that Warner Brothers requested us to remix.  They did a remix CD for many Doors tracks, and basically we got approved to use it in our album – The Riders on the Storm.  We got original channels from the Doors which was really exciting to get all these cool recordings, which sounded pretty good I must say.  This was the easiest one because it was pre-recorded so we didn’t really collaborate.

With Jonathan Davis from Korn, in the beginning we asked him which song he wanted to sing.  He chose Killing Time in the beginning.  He came to the studio and we said, ‘do you mind trying Smashing the Opponent because we think it fits more to your style’.  And he said ‘sure’.   He didn’t practice it, but we just printed the lyrics, he gave it a shot, and I think not more than one hour recording and it was done, the vocals.

AF:  So basically, the lyrics and the melody lines were written and he just performed them?

Eisen:   Yeah.  Everything was written before.  He just came and performed the vocals.  Same for Jane’s Addiction singer, Perry Farrell.  We asked him if he minds doing Killing Time, and he liked it.  With him we did two different sessions.  We bothered him twice.  Actually, he knows us for a long time.  He has Classical Mushroom EP and The Gathering, which was very weird for us.  Like, why do you have these albums?  It was pretty fun.

Our move to Los Angeles was the move to make collaborations with people.  In Israel we were pretty limited to Israeli artists, which I have nothing against.  But it’s limited to Hebrew mainly.   We have dreams, as kids, you want to work with big artists, and you never believe that you will be able to do, so we said let’s try.  We almost got Dave Ghan from Depeche Mode singing, but at the end it didn’t happen.  Hopefully, it will happen with Dave in the next album.

Duvdev and Eisen: Serving up The Legend of the Black Shawarma
to legions of ‘converted vegetarians’.

AF:  Last question about your lyrics from [the track] “The Legend of the Black Shawarma”, they are very positive and they are almost sending a message but maybe with a little bit of a warning.  I am assuming these are not totally random lyrics, is this something that you’ve realized with time and now you wish to share with your listeners?

Eisen:   When we started doing lyrics, we said we will write about everything except about love.  Because, it’s not that we have anything against love, but every song is about love.  So we said everything but love, which was not so hard.  And slowly it became the Duvdev road, most of the lyrics.  He came into the studio with almost all of the lyrics and maybe I didn’t like one or two words.  Duvdev is a pretty crazy guy.  He has lots of weird ideas.  Lots of them we cannot even write about.  We try to write stuff with less meaning, that will open people to think about stuff.  Or we write very un-serious lyrics that it’s just private jokes between us and our friends.  So please don’t take our lyrics seriously.


AF:  So you mean that actually you don’t want to convert vegetarians for real?

Eisen:   Why not?  No, I’m just kidding…  Everything is just funny, don’t take it too seriously.  Converting vegetarians, if there is a meaning it’s mostly meaning:  convert yourself from listening to regular music and be open to listen to other kinds of music.
To read the full detailed interview see:  Infected Mushroom Sound Alchemy

November 19, 2009

M-Audio Axiom Pro 49 Keyboard Controller Review

Filed under: keyboards — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:12 am

It used to be black and now it’s white. M-Audio’s controller keyboard is back with a new look and on steroids…

The first thing you’ll notice as soon as you unpack the Axiom Pro is that it looks different compared to the standard Axiom. No black and gray sleek finish anymore, instead you now have a shiny white finish to emphasize the black controls with red and gray labeling. The color combination gives it an iPod Classic, 80’s revival look–it even has a chrome detail on the top of the encoders. Some might find it a bit too fancy but the contrast of colors will surely make it easier to use in dark environments, compared to the standard Axiom, be it on stage or in the badly-lit cellar you call home studio. M-Audio also used the occasion to add nice blue LEDs to 19 buttons and the keyboard’s LCD display.

White on Red

M-Audio Axiom Pro 49The controller’s layout will be familiar to people used to the first model. Apart from the look and the LEDs, the Axiom Pro has exactly the same controls in exactly the same place as the Axiom.

 

M-Audio Axiom Pro 49From right to left you’ll find eight velocity-sensitive pads, six transport controls for the sequencer, eight rotary encoders (which aren’t notched like on the old Axiom), nine sliders, nine buttons, eight global control buttons underneath the large backlit LCD display, a very convenient 12-key numeric keypad (which also includes letters, so maybe you can send an SMS with your Axiom…), two octave change buttons, and the essential pitch-bend and modulation wheels.

 

M-Audio Axiom Pro 49No big changes on the front panel… nor the rear: on/off switch, PSU connector, USB port (so you can power it via USB), MIDI input and output with 5-pin DIN connectors, and two 1/4″ jacks for sustain and expression pedals (not included). Nothing’s new under the sun. The real innovation is found on the most important element of any keyboard: the keyboard itself.

 

M-Audio Axiom Pro 49Thanks to the new TruTouch proprietary technology, the Axiom Pro provides a much more convincing playing feel than the Axiom. Even though the keys are still only semi-weighted keys with aftertouch, the keyboard feels heavier under your fingers and less cheap than its predecessor. Nice!  When it comes to MIDI, the keyboard works fine with a sequencer: velocity and aftertouch values match the velocity curve you set on the keyboard. On the other hand, we are less enthusiastic about the pads, whose response is not consistent throughout the whole surface. When you hit the side of the pad you record a much lower velocity than if you hit the center. In short, you’ll have to hit precisely in the center of the pad to avoid ugly surprises …

One last remark regarding mechanical parts: the sliders on the model we tested were a bit stiffer than the sliders on the old Axiom. It’s neither better nor worse, it’s just different. We’ll have to wait and see if it stays that way after long hours of use.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

The Axiom was already a very good controller keyboard and it’s no surprise that the new Axiom Pro outdoes it with its improved keyboard, HyperControl technology, LEDs and ASCII message support. It will take you no time to learn it and its several sequencer mappings will allow you start working right away. Considering that it provides exactly the same control elements as its predecessor and that there is no 88 weighted key model, this Axiom is more like a Mark II than a Pro version. It’s an excellent choice for people looking for a high-quality, versatile keyboard but I’m not sure it makes sense for people who already own the previous model.

It is definitely worth the 30%-40% price increase compared with the older version, but it’s probably too high a price for Axiom users considering an upgrade. We regret that M-Audio didn’t seize the opportunity to add more new functions (more pads or an XY pad, like on competitor products). We can’t really complain about anything on this model except that it’s more like an Axiom II than an Axiom Pro…

Advantages:

  • Look
  • LEDs for dark environments
  • Very pleasant feel
  • Hyper-convenient HyperControl technology
  • Control possibility via ASCII messages

Drawbacks:

  • Still no 88-key version
  • We expected more new functions
  • No HyperControl presets for many sequencers

To read the full detailed article see:  M-Audio Axiom Pro49 Review

November 13, 2009

Changing Strings on Electric Guitars

Filed under: Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:52 am

Short Guide to Changing Strings on an Electric Guitar

Everybody knows how to change strings on an electric guitar.   Elementary, no?  Still, it’s an entirely different task when it comes to changing strings properly and on different types of bridges.

Most guitar players tend to overlook it, but one of the most important contributors to having a good guitar sound has to do with how the guitar is set up and adjusted. A good set up will result in maximum playing comfort and tuning precision, i.e. it will allow you to bring the best out of the instrument. When it comes to the set up of a guitar, we usually think about the neck bow, the action (strings height) and the harmonics (tuning), while neglecting the actual stringing. I’ve met too many guitarists who complained about their instrument’s tuning and failed to see the mess of strings their tuners were–making it a feat for the guitar to stay in tune.

The goal of this article is to explain to you (again!) the most important thing a guitarist ought to know: how to change the strings of his/her instrument.

Basic Principles

Basically, changing a guitar string means fastening one end to the tremolo system and the other end to the tuner (a.k.a. machine head or tuning key) so you can wind it until you get the desired note. In order to have maximum tuning stability, the basic principle is to limit chafing at both points as much as possible, i.e. at the machine heads on the headstock and at the bridge (be it with a tailpiece or a tremolo system). Once the guitar has been tuned, the main goal is for it to stay in tune while you play, in other words, that the strings return to their original position after using the tremolo arm.

Required Materials

  • New strings.
  • Cutting pliers.
  • String winder.
  • Optional: Depending on the tremolo system you might need an Allen wrench.

You’ll need the cutting pliers to snip off the the excess string protruding from the tuning peg once the strings have been installed. Apart from the fact that it looks awful, leaving long string ends bulging from the headstock can be dangerous to yourself and the other musicians you play with. A steel string could easily pierce through the flesh or under a fingernail or even poke someone’s eye out…

The string winder is an optional but strongly recommended tool. It allows you to wind the strings steadily around the tuning pegs and makes string setup much easier. You can get one for a couple of bucks in any music store.

Before Reaching for your Beloved Guitar

We recommend that you change strings one by one, unless you need to remove all strings at once to adjust the neck, service the fingerboard, etc. This allows you to avoid nasty situations, like the one depicted here.

In this specific example, a false move could result in the need to adjust the tune-o-matic bridge all over again.

Moreover, for guitars with floating tremolo systems (Floyd Rose and similar), this is the only one way you’ll be able to spare yourself several hours dedicated to tuning the guitar after having changed the strings.

Try to use strings with the same gauge (= thickness) as the string set you are replacing and, where possible, use the same brand. That’s the best way to go if your guitar is properly set up. Obviously, if you plan to change the string gauge, it’s a good idea to set up the guitar accordingly.

Ready? Let’s go!

Step by Step (in general)

1. Bridge: on most tremolo and tailpiece systems, you simply have to feed the string through the tailpiece or through the body of the instrument.


Feed the string through the holes…


… the string comes out through the saddles.


2. Pull the new string…

3. … and feed it through the tuning peg hole.


4. Now we have to wind the string around the tuners. First, pull the string to its full length until it is fairly tight. Leave some extra string length (about 1.5 or 2 times the distance between two tuning pegs of a six-in-line tuner configuration, like on Strats or Telecasters; or the same distance between two tuning pegs of a three-on-a-side tuner configuration, like on Les Paul or SG models) and crimp the string with your fingers so the end of the string points out at a right-angle.

5. Use this kink to fasten the string around the tuning peg and turn the string winder with one hand while you tighten the string with the other, so that the string starts to wind around the tuning peg. Be sure to turn the tuner in the right direction: guitar headstocks are built so that the string goes straight from the nut to the tuner axis; on three-on-a-side tuner configurations, the headstock is built so that the strings are wound on the inner side.

 


6. Continue winding the string around the tuning peg so that the first turn is made above the string end coming out of the peg hole.

 


7. Continue tightening the string and turning the string tighter so that the string winds underneath the string end coming out of the peg hole.

8. Continue turning the string winder until the string is tight enough. Turn the tuner with your hand to tune the guitar.


9. Check the result: you should see the string end coming out of the tuning peg with the first coil above it and all following coils properly and neatly wrapped below it around the peg.

There must be at least three full coils around the tuning peg. It is very important for the winding to be as neat as possible, that way you avoid the string from moving around the tuner axis, the string finds its position naturally and the guitar stays better in tune.

10. Last step: in order for the coils to find their right position, gently pull on the string. The tuning ought to change a bit (the string will sound lower). Repeat (tune the string and pull on it) until it has no effect on the tuning.

11. Finally, cut the excess string protruding from the tuner.

12. Now, repeat all steps for each string!

Now let’s take a look at how this is done on other more complicated tremolo systems…

Conclusion… and some tips!

As you can see, restringing a guitar is not very difficult if you know how to do it. So take your time to do it calmly at home instead of doing it in a rush right before your gig or recording session is about to start.

Last but not least, some extra tips:

I personally fell in love with locking tuners because they are very easy to use, allow me to change strings in no time and play right away without the fear that my guitar won’t stay in tune.

The tuning stability can be improved by lubricating the nut with graphite (rub a very fat pencil where the strings make contact with it) or specialized products (Nut Sauce, etc.) that allow the strings to slide freely through the nut. If you feel the tuners don’t “respond properly” try this solution first instead of running to your nearest guitar tech.

That’s it for today! You have no excuses now, so I don’t want to see spaghetti-like-strings anymore! Don’t hesitate to send me your comments and questions.

To read the full detailed article see:  Changing Strings on Electric Guitars

 

 

 

 

November 6, 2009

The Bizmo: Digital Music Distribution

Introduction

In the age of digital music distribution, with its endless channels and intricacies,  it can be a daunting task for independent artists to try to navigate through all the requirements of each digital music distributor in order to get music tracks uploaded and ‘stocked’ in digital stores such as iTunes.   Luckily, a few enterprising services have sprung up on the net to act as the aggregator and a one-stop-digital distributor-shop, thereby greatly simplifying a very complicated process.   Today we will review one such service called The Bizmo.

 

Music Promotion

Our focus here at Audiofanzine has always been gear- reviewing, updating, testing and breaking.  But gear at the end is at the service of music creation.  Once music is produced, mixed and mastered, we will want to release the music for everyone to hear.   Artists eventually face the marketing and distribution cross roads, and more and more, in the age of DIY and independent artists, artists will try to upload their music directly on iTunes, Amazon MP3, and other leading digital music stores while at the same time doing a bit of viral marketing and general promotion.   It forces an artist to wear many hats these days, and to dedicate more time than ever before to the business of promoting music.  Once a single is ‘done’, the work has just begun, and between tweeting, performing, publishing and selling (and perhaps a day job), an artist is stretched thin to say the least.

It is for this reason we decided at Audiofanzine this week, to take a small detour from gear and recording and to focus on what happens after the track is finished.  Every artist knows that in order to promote music you should upload tracks to your various social network profiles, do an email campaign, book gigs, woo bloggers and magazine editors to review your music, schmooze, network, beg, cajole and talk to anyone online and off who will give you 2 minutes of their time.  But today, we’d like to take this a step further and introduce you to a service we recently discovered here called The Bizmo, which, in addition to the to-do-list above, can be a very useful service to help both your small time viral campaign and your big time music distribution endeavors, with minimal headache considering the mammoth task at hand.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

For a newcomer, The Bizmo did an amazing job building an aggregate music distribution system to simplify a very convoluted and independently impossible process.  What The Bizmo lacks in brand awareness and popularity, it more than makes up for with a ‘don’t make me think’ flat subscription pricing model of just $34.95/year for unlimited tracks (Silver account).  Furthermore, no other competitor beats its wide ranging network of stores.  Taken together with its free microstore widget- which should be more aptly renamed ‘superstore widget’ and you already got yourself the making of a record label.  Check out some other goodies from The Bizmo such as Email Harvesting (A small stand-alone widget that allows you to give away a song in exchange for a fan email address). The Bizmo crew continues to think of innovative and useful features for time-poor independent artists and labels.   Necessity is the mother of invention? No?
Advantages:
  • Inexpensive and simple pricing model
  • Widest network of music distributors (+130)
  • Microstore widget
  • Simple and clear Super Distribution System
  • Free UPC & ISRC codes generated quickly
  • Pay Pal checkouts on demand
  • Good reporting and stats

Drawbacks:

  • 85% royalties payback
  • Songs uploaded on widget must be uploaded again for Super Distribution
  • Metadata for Super Distribution must be entered in order of tabs
  • The Bizmo listed as the label

To read the full detailed review see:  The Bizmo Digital Music Distribution

November 4, 2009

MIDI: The GM Standard and its Extensions

Filed under: MIDI, Synthesizers — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:23 am

GM, GS & XG: A Little History

Many sound cards and synthesizers, as well as most audio software, are compatible with one of the three midi norms (GM, GS, XG). Though MIDI has long since proven its utility, the existence of different standards can be confusing, so this article has been put together in order to clarify a few points.

Dossier sur le general MIDI : GM, GS et XG For someone who just wants to listen to music, or for a multimedia developer looking to add background music or sounds to their program, the Midifile format has proven to be a real asset. It allows a user to play a sequence that was written by another person, whatever gear or software they were using. But in the past, only the notes and rhythm of the musician were encoded, which didn’t necessarily guarantee a similar sound. In fact, the sounds coming from each sound card, each synthesizer, were different (different in their sound and in their organization). Patch number 15 could be a piano on synthesizer X, and a trumpet on synthesizer Y. It was sometimes necessary to be an expert in MIDI and/or have a lot of patience to get the right settings in order to listen to a piece written by another musician working on a different synth or platform.

The MMA (Midi Manufacturers Association) fixed this problem in 1991 by creating the GM (General Midi) standard. The goal of this standard has been to unify the behavior of sound generators when playing back a Midifile sequence. In order to be labeled GM, an instrument must be multi-timbral and polyphonic up to at least 24 voices, and include at least 16 families of sounds (pianos, guitars, strings…), each containing 8 variations (for example, for strings: violin cello, double bass, etc…

The main advantage of this standardization is that each patch number now corresponds to a certain instrument no matter what the machine. So, instrument number 71 will always be a bassoon and number 12 a vibraphone. The sound generator must also contain a drum kit, whose mapping (placement of the separate elements on a keyboard) is also standardized. Finally, MIDI controllers must be recognized also.

To read the full detailed article including the GM reference guide see:  MIDI The GM Standard and its Extensions.

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