AF’s Weblog

September 27, 2012

Acoustic Treatment for Small Studios

Filed under: Home Studio — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:01 am

To read the rest of the interviews please see:  Acoustic Treatment for Small Studios

Whether you’re a self-recording hobbyist or a professional mixing engineer, studio work is about making decisions. If the room you’re making decisions in isn’t a reliable listening environment, then the decisions you’re making won’t be reliable either.

Luckily there is a community of experienced acousticians, design consultants, and studio contractors dedicated to providing specialized services to musicians and engineers, in studios large and small. This article compiles some thoughts from two such studio acoustics professionals:

Tom Day began working on studio design projects in the late 1980s with a friend who had recently opened a consulting firm in Los Angeles. In a couple of years, they built a series of musicians’ studios within, and outside of, the constraints of zoning and code in L.A.’s complex, competitive, and restrictive collection of communities.

In 2001 Tom restarted his business, Wirebender Audio Systems, to provide a variety of services to studios and other customers. He has provided consulting for project studio designs, college studio facilities, industrial and business-space noise control, and a couple of industrial products that required noise output reduction analysis.

Bryan Knisley has been providing custom studio design and contractor services for 12 years. His company, North Orbit, serves a wide range of home, project, and commercial studio clients. Most of the people Bryan works for are musicians or studio owners working in the commercial music industry.

In addition to studio projects, Bryan works on a wide range of commercial and residential sound control projects. He also helps test various products and designs at Orfield Labs, an acoustic laboratory in Minneapolis.

What is the most common acoustic problem you find in the typical home studio or under-designed commercial studio?

Tom: Too much emphasis on reverberation treatment before creating reasonable noise isolation. If the room isn’t quiet, reverberation and reflection problems may not be the biggest problem in the room design. Absorption provides little-to-no value if you are bothering your neighbors, or if outside noises are finding their way into your recordings.

Bryan: I would have to say that most often I find speaker placements and/or mix positions that need to be adjusted before room treatments even start going in. Nearfield monitors are often way too far apart, too close to a front wall, or the engineer is seated too far forward or back for the particular room.

Subwoofers are often right up against a wall, or stuck in a corner. That will excite the existing room modes even more and enhance low frequency problems. Most home or project studios are small, and the fundamental axial mode frequencies are easily reproduced by a subwoofer (or any monitor with a low enough frequency range). For example, a 12-foot wide room has a fundamental axial mode of about 46.5Hz.

What is the most common room treatment question you hear from home studio clients?

Bryan: “How can I treat my low frequency problems so my mixes will translate better?”

Tom: “How do I keep from irritating my neighbors when I’m recording drums?” Next would be, “How do I do all of that [the answers to the first question] cheaply?”

In your experience, are there any particular elements of a typical small studio treatment project that lend themselves to a DIY approach?

Tom: Absolutely. With reasonable knowledge, decent construction skills, patience, a critical eye to detail, and time, I think building a decent small studio space [yourself] is incredibly practical.

Bryan: Yes! Absorption panels are fairly easy to make, and a great place to start. Diffusers, bass traps, resonators, etc. are all very fun to make, and you’ll learn a ton along the way.

Unfortunately, you’ll probably make a ton of mistakes as well. Asking around and finding someone experienced who’s ‘been there and done that’ to come to your space for an hour is probably money and time better spent! I’m very much a DIY guy, but I’m lucky to have worked with very knowledgeable folks over the years and continue to learn new things every day.

A lot of beginning engineers, and even some working engineers and studio owners, dismiss the importance of detailed room treatment, or delay it because of expense. How would your simplest argument against those attitudes go?

Bryan: Unless you’re mixing with headphones, your room is coloring what you hear. You can spend a truckload of money and chase an “ideal” room forever, but with good ears and some effective room treatments you can make a huge improvement in your mixing and/or listening environment. When it sounds good, it’s fun to go to work.

Tom: There is, of course, a return-on-investment to be considered with any expense. However, a well done acoustic treatment can be reasonably priced and can make the difference between a workable space and a constant fight to figure out what is coming out of the monitors.

When room resonances, isolation problems (and the resulting signal-to-noise/dynamic range capabilities of the studio), and reverberant character of the room are appropriate for the work being done, the client can get a lot more work done in less time with more confidence. If the room in question is used for music performance, competent acoustic treatment will make the difference between a recording that sounds professionally done, and one done in a closet.

Sometimes a visit from an acoustic designer can provide useful DIY tips so the client can do the work on a tight budget and get a reasonably professional result.

To read the rest of the interviews please see:  Acoustic Treatment for Small Studios

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September 17, 2012

Motu Track16 Review

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  MOTU Track16 Review

Track16 is the latest addition to Motu’s range of audio interfaces. The numerous features announced by the manufacturer are very appealing. Let’s see how they translate in the real world!

How Does it Sound?

MOTU Track16MOTU Track16

 

Test system

MacBook Pro QuadCore i7 2.7 GHz
OS 10.6.8
Motu Track 16
Motu CueMix FX 1.6 52865
Logic Pro 9.1.7

 

MOTU Track16

MOTU Track16

Let’s make a first attempt with a Cort Jumbo acoustic guitar (thanks to Nico for his guitars and his presence in front of the mic!) captured by a TLM-103, a mic with an excellent signal-to-noise ratio. Note that you can’t achieve max gain via the control on the interface itself and once you close the window (for example to get free space on your screen), there is nothing on the interface to recall CueMix…

Now let’s have a listen…

Conclusion

MOTU Track16Let’s start with the negatives, for example the bulky and rigid D-Sub cable that takes a lot of space on a table or mixer. That’s certainly a pity for a product sold as a desktop interface. Moreover, sometimes there are audio clicks and I was not able to find the reason why (except when you power on/off). The main drawback is the buzz followed by clicks when you increase the trim setting of the Hi-Z inputs. The quality of the mic preamps equals the quality of similar interfaces at the same price-point. You’ll be able to work without constraints, even if the preamps don’t quite reach the performance of the ones on comparable RME or TC interfaces. However, an ideal solution would be to add an external preamp via the ADAT interface.

Putting that aside, this audio interface offers many advantages. First of all, the number of ins/outs and the way they can be managed from the interface itself. The construction seems pretty sturdy, which is reassuring, especially considering that in this price range you can find several plastic boxes with knobs that fall off… The software is quite impressive, even if it lacks some features, like a real routing matrix for example. Nonetheless, the eight buses, high-quality effects, measurement tools, SMPTE LTC sync, the possibility to save setup presets, etc. make the combination of CueMix FX and Track16 a very useful tool.

Advantages: 
  • Perfect construction
  • Impeccable “toggle display” function
  • Quality converters
  • Immediate mute of the current channel by pushing the knob
  • Excellent display features
  • 32-bit, floating-point internal processing
  • Powerful and effective CueMix FX software
  • Zero-latency monitoring
  • Working with a 32-sample buffer size is not a problem
  • Perfect design
  • Quality of the effects
  • Eight independent mixing buses
  • SMPTE (LTC) sync via single 1/4″ jack
  • Audiodesk 3 included
  • 24 bits/192 kHz
  • ADAT S/Mux

Drawbacks:

  • Audio clicks from time to time and when powering on/off
  • Strange behavior (buzz and clicks) of the Hi-Z Trim controls without a signal present
  • Floor-noise of the preamps is a bit high
  • No real routing matrix
  • ADAT switching system not always reliable
  • D-Sub cable: too rigid and without color marks

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  MOTU Track16 Review

July 20, 2012

Exclusive Interview with George Massenburg

To read the full detailed article see Exclusive Interview with George Massenburg

It’s always a great and an unusual experience to meet a personality who has contributed some much to the evolution of the way we work. In addition to the videos previously released on Audiofanzine, we had the extreme pleasure to meet George Massenburg during his last Parisian visit and to talk more about music production with him. An interview with a real open-minded master.

The Interview

Bootz : George, just before we start, what are you working on at the moment?

George Massenburg : I have 3 recording projects that I am working on right now. One is not really recording; it is finishing an Opera McGill production – Don Giovanni, Mozart – and I am directing and post-production supervising… Finishing up Don Giovanni which is an 8-camera hi-def shoot that we did with students with a new methodology of shooting opera : a new way of shooting opera that I think is spectacularly effective as it reveals more about opera, as it is closer and more intimate and more suited to the new generation of kids that want to see something on a small screen. That, and I am doing 2 music projects. I am doing the McGill Jazz 1 and I am doing the Stand Kitten record – cut for commercial release – which is great because the Jazz 1 has many many players which are fantastic. Just great songs, great kits, great drums, great bass, great guitar, great piano, great, great great. And then I do a new pop group called Urban Creature from Toronto, they write and produce their own records. This is a personal project to see how the new model would work. I work completely for free, participating in the record of the group and we see how that goes.

And on the other side you are still working with G Labs?

Well, I got 3 jobs. My 3 jobs really are : education, producing electronic equipment, and recording.  And kind of mix, but I am unhappy if I don’t do one of these. I want to do all 3 and they inform each other. I have to keep recording to stay current with the methodology of the studio; I listen to everything that I can get my hands on, my ears into. I hear new work being done and I want to try it outside. I am in the studio a lot.  Building equipment, right now we have two software products in process for MDW and one that is a hybrid product for GML which is the next generation of the 9000 controller, but with a DSP sidechain.  And this takes a long time to do because internally it looks to run at 384 kHz, very fast, not quick (to develop, NA).  As far as software products, we have new products out for the new Pro Tools platform for 10.2 so called AAX and both DSP and Native. It is a lot of work!

Speaking of the balance between all these projects, I’d like to go back to your early age, to the first period of your career. I’ve read that you started at the age of 15, you were working at a laboratory and at the same time at a working studio.

I had joined a recording studio at Baltimore, Maryland.  But it went back to when I was 4 years old and I used to stick my fingers and unscrew a light bulb, and “Aaaahhh!” just to experiment (Laughs). But I love music recording just from a very early age. I had the good fortune to grow up in the same area as Deane Jensen who was a pioneer in making transformers. He was a friend – a personal friend – and we did hand radio, amateur radio, and photography.  And then he bought an Ampex 602 tape recorder «Wow!», bought headphones and U67. I bought his U67, I still have the 67. Very early on I knew that I just loved recording.  There was a tremendous power recording. Ed Cherney said, “I always thought it was a miracle that music could go through this wire, that’s magic”. Fucking magic. Anyway, the idea just seemed like magic to me.  Still does.

So then, Dean Jensen was your first mentor?

He was really my first mentor.  My second mentor was Dr. Curtis Marshall and I worked for him in a laboratory to build an early computer that used a very strange storage mechanism called an Image Radarcon, a tube that would just scan in and then destructively output a number of scans.  It was used to accumulate electron info graphs sensors into an averaging reports so that a neurosurgeon could read an electrons info graph much faster. But it taught me early on electronics, and I had another mentor who would teach me electronics, and I was 15. It’s not so bad.

Now let’s take a closer look…

The Bernard Pivot

What is your favorite memory of producing an album?

There are so many it is hard to pick one out.  My favorite memory is always the Thrill.  You know you’ve got something that you’ve never heard before and no one else has ever heard before.  All you have to do is not fuck it up.  That has happened on any number of records, it happened on EWAF a couple of times, that happened with Linda Ronstadt a lot – just this is great!  Look out cause you can really fuck it up.  Don’t do that, cause you can really fuck it up.  Worst memory, I wouldn’t want to talk about that. There were a few of them too.

Which artist would you like to work with and why?

I want to work with a new emerging artist, that has ideas and is running into a technical wall. I don’t know who that is. I love the new Bon Iver record, but I can’t do that, they’ve already got a record, they got an engineer, he is terrific, but boy I would have loved to work on that. I love producing and directing opera video. I think that is great. Working with these fantastic students at McGill, great voices, great players, it’s a wide open field, so that’s my dream right now – producing and directing opera. It’s unusual for a rock and roller !

You’re engaged to produce an album for an artist you love but his requirements are: less is more. You need to pick only 5 pieces of your equipment. What will you choose and why?

That’s easy!  I would choose all GML because I know when they work and when they break, I know they are reliable, I know how every knob works.  So that’s my pre, EQ, compressor, I’ll use Prism convertors, I’ll use either Pro Tool or Pyramix. Right now I prefer Pro Tools for rock and roll, Pyramix for classical. I like ATC monitors, also like Genelec a lot. For portable when I have to go to a gig I like these little Sennheiser  (Neumann) KH120 speakers that sound pretty good.  And I’ve got a lot of microphones you don’t want to know about. A 57, I’ll take a 57 but that’s it.

Just to finish, do you have any quote or a catch phrase that drives you about music production?

Yes, there is not a question that cannot be addressed, that can’t be answered or at least discussed with critical listening. Critical listening tells you everything you need to know. You don’t need someone to tell you what to do, all you have to do is pay attention. Sometimes it helps to have someone do that, but everybody has to know that if they care, they can do it on their own.  They have to tell each other the truth. They have to tell themselves the truth.  If the truth is, I can’t get that sound with that piece of shit microphone, that’s the truth and they have to be responsible for that.  I don’t have the right mic, fix that and move on.  Critical listening, everything is answered by critical listening. That’s my favorite.  Another one is Woody Allen :“I can’t listen to that much Wagner, I keep getting the urge to invade Poland” ! (Laughs)

To read the full detailed article see Exclusive Interview with George Massenburg

June 1, 2012

How to Get the Pumping Drums Effect with Sidechain Compression

To read the full article see:  Sidechain Compression

Sidechaining has been around for years; this is the process of using one signal to control another. A couple classic examples are using a kick drum to gate a bass part, or doing de-essing – isolating the high sibilant frequencies from a vocal, and using those to trigger compression so that the sibilants come down in volume.

But in the digital age, we can do a lot more with sidechaining. One of the most popular applications is with dance music, where sidechaining can create the “heavy pumping” electronica drum sound used by artists like Eric Prydz and others.

We’ll describe how to do this with Cakewalk Sonar, although the same principle applies to other programs that allow for sidechaining. Sonar allows sidechaining for several effects, including compression, so that one instrument can control the compression characteristics of another instrument. This offers a variety of effects, including a “pumping” drum sound for multitracked drum parts; we’ll do that by setting up the snare to control compression for all drum tracks.

Fig. 1: You’ll need a drum submix bus to create an overall drum sound.

The first step is to create a drum submix bus, and send the drum tracks to it (Fig. 1). We need this submix so the entire drum track can be processed by the sidechained compressor. To create the submix bus, right-click in an empty space in the bus pane and select “Insert Stereo Bus.” To create a send in track view, right-click in a blank space in the track title bar and select “Insert Send.” From the menu that appears, select the send destination. Make sure you feed the bus pre-fader, and turn the individual drum channel faders down so that only the bus contributes the drum sound to the master.

Fig. 2: Assign the Drum Submix out to your main stereo output.

Let’s take a closer look…

….

Create a second pre-fader send in the snare track, and assign its out to the bus feeding the sidechain input.

Fig. 7: We’re almost there – it’s time to adjust the compressor.

To adjust the compressor, start with the compression attack time set to 0 ms; the drum sound will essentially disappear when the snare hits because the gain is being reduced so much. Gradually increase the attack time to let through more of the initial snare hit, and add a fair amount of release (250-500 ms) to increase the apparent amount of pumping.

And there you have it – the pumping drum sound. May it go over well on the dance floor!

To read the full article see:  Sidechain Compression

May 10, 2012

Avoid Common Recording Mistakes

Filed under: Recording reviews — Tags: , , — audiofanzine @ 1:07 pm

To read the full detailed article see : Avoid Common Recording Mistakes

Why is it so hard to get tracks that kill? Mixes that scream with emotional impact–music that holds up to the work of the masters of our craft?

Experienced pro or newbie neophyte, we all share a desire to improve the sound, relevance, and “vibe” of our recordings. But sometimes the way to do this isn’t just by doing the right thing, but avoiding doing the wrong thing–and that in turn will indeed make things easier.

Bad Gear

Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, bad gear is often the first place many of us look to and point the finger at when something about our recordings doesn’t knock us out. And let’s face it: First-class gear sounds great, and that can’t help but make things sound better–but only if you know what you’re doing with it. I’ve been amazed by the quality of some recordings I’ve heard that were done on primitive or inexpensive gear, however, that says more about the engineer than the gear. Still, it’s important to scrutinize your system from time to time and probe for weak links. Did you upgrade your mixer, but not your monitor speakers? Do you have a great microphone, but are using it with an old, noisy mic preamp? Nothing works in isolation, so consider where the best improvements can be made to enhance your system’s sound quality as a whole, and don’t obsess on any single area (like having the best mic cabinet in the world if you don’t have preamps that are equal to the task).

The Curse of the Adaptive Ear

Even in a well-designed control room with great monitors, our ears adapt to EQ changes very quickly–that’s how you can enjoy hearing your favorite song on a cheap TV speaker or a high quality system. Our ears perceive the extremes of the audible frequency spectrum differently at different playback levels, with the flattest response being at about 85dB SPL. Our ears also tire after long hours, especially at unsafe monitoring levels. That EQ tweak that sounded great last night after 10 hours of playback at 105dB might not sound so hot the next morning. Having high-quality reference material that you can A/B with your mix can help you get back to reality when EQ changes start to throw off your perspective over time, and so can watching your levels and knowing when to quit when your ears have had enough for the day.

Now let’s take a look at some other mistakes…

No Substitute for Performances

I consider myself to be a pretty good editor with tape or DAW; I’ve been doing it for over three decades, and I’ve gotten a fair amount of kudos from clients over the years. But I still need “something to work with”, and the best edit is a performance that doesn’t need one. If you have to edit, it’s a lot easier to do if you have tracks with generally solid performances with few errors and great feel. Piecing something together from sub-standard performances is not my idea of a good time, and the musicality of your work is going to be much better if the musicality of the people you’re working with is already happening. When I work with brilliant musicians, my work sounds better – and so will yours. If things are not quite “there” with the artists you are working with, take some time to do some pre-production rehearsals before you get into the studio so that you can help get things as tight as possible before you start waxing tracks. Rehearse more, edit less.

Number one, with a Bullet

Probably the number one issue is material. A so-so recording of a great song still leaves you with a great song. A great recording of a so-so song leaves you with a so-so song. Of course, we’re not in the business of making so-so recordings, and everything matters, so take a moment to evaluate the weaker areas of your whole rig – and that includes your personal skills and musicianship – and plan out a strategy for improving each of them. Your recordings and productions will only get better as a result.

To read the full detailed article see : Avoid Common Recording Mistakes

April 11, 2012

Capturing The Energy Of Live Shows

To read the full detailed article see:  Audience Mic Techniques to Enhance Recordings

What makes a live recording sound live? The audience, of course. A live recording is all about the energy of the event, and that energy comes from the crowd, so some real thought has to be given as to how it’s captured.

Just setting up some microphones haphazardly usually produces less-than-desired results.  To avoid that scenario, let’s have a look at some proven mic techniques for live recording.

First, it can be tempting to use approaches that engineers recording classical music deploy, such as spaced pairs, X/Y, ORTF and Blumlien.  What they’re trying to do is capture the ambience of the environment and a “perfect” stereo image, but our primary concern is capturing the audience.  Note that these are two different beasts and have to be handled that way.


Figure 1: Center hall position.

Sure, capturing some of the ambience is essential to a great sounding live recording, but it will come as a byproduct of a well-mic’ed audience, so it’s not important to worry about it until the primary mission is accomplished.

Audience mic’ing is a situation for omnidirectional mics if you have any, but never underestimate the value of a couple of short-scale shotgun mics.


Figure 2: Mono center hall position.

These are especially useful because they help to attenuate the intimate conversations from the crowd that happen around where the mic is placed.

In you don’t have the option of either an omni or short shotgun, make sure that the mics that you do utilize are identical models. Also, don’t forget to engage the low-frequency rolloff switch if the mic has one.

Let’s take a look at some other mic positions…

The Great Outdoors


Figure 8: Mics at multiple positions.

Mic’ing a crowd outdoors poses a different set of circumstances in comparison to the indoor experience. For one thing, placement is usually a lot more difficult, with fewer options for hanging mics.  In addition, the ambience of the venue is lessened, so you usually need to resort to using more mics as a result. And don’t forget the windscreens, because nothing makes a track unusable like wind blasting across the mic capsules.

To read the full detailed article see:  Audience Mic Techniques to Enhance Recordings

April 4, 2012

Tips for Mixing Toward Loudness

Filed under: Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:25 am

To read the full detailed article see: Mixing Toward Loudness

Some people want their music really loud, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If loudness is part of their aesthetic and the audience likes it, then I say let’s go for it. In order to deliver the most musically effective loudness, that goal must have been addressed in the mixing process, but not as directly as you might think.

It’s important to remember that there are mix masters, and then there are replication or download masters. Your project isn’t finished until it has been mastered, so the relative loudness of a mix does not represent the final level of the project. Comparing the loudness of a mix master with a finished commercial CD is not particularly useful.

However, there are a lot of aspects of mixes that directly contribute to the eventual loudness of a finished master. So what should you be listening for while you’re mixing? Here’s an example scenario:

My client has brought me a set of 5 multi-track recordings to mix. The client is very concerned that her project should fit in with the latest release from Artist X as much as possible, including being equally loud.

Here are some things I would be sure to pay attention to while mixing her project:

The Loudest Instrument

What is the loudest instrument in Artist X’s mixes? 

The answer is probably pretty consistent across the whole CD; and I’ll be sure to use a similar approach with my client’s project.

This may not seem like a pivotal factor, but the relative loudness relationships within a mix establish a lot about the eventual absolute volume of the mix (and the project). If one hip hop mix has a lot more vocal content than another, the relative loudness of the two mixes will be confused.

If I’m mixing in a drum-heavy genre, I’ll be careful to reference that primary balance benchmark. If my next project is a vocal-driven style, I’ll simply re-establish my benchmark. In either case, I’ve setup the balance relationships within my mixes so that they can directly compare with other albums in the presumed audience playlist.

Now let’s take a closer look….

Mastering

These types of musically relevant aspects of mix structure will help you create consistent, engaging mixes that fit into a genre in a lot of fundamental ways. The mastering process can then more effectively finish preparing those mixes for their commercial audience, including addressing their market loudness.

To read the full detailed article see: Mixing Toward Loudness

March 14, 2012

Exclusive Interview with Chris Lord Alge

World renowned mixer/producer Chris Lord-Alge granted Audiofanzine an exclusive interview. The man behind Green Day, Paramore, Deftones, Madonna, Tina Turner, James Brown, among others, shared his working methods and ethics from his studio in Tarzana. Let’s see what the master has to say.

The Beginnings

AF : Hi Chris, can you tell us what are you currently working on at the moment?

CLA : What I am currently working on right now is finishing up an album by a band called Shinedown, just wrapping that up. The single is already out to radio and then the record comes out. Just before I finished Shinedown, I just finished mixing Bruce Springsteen. I kinda co-mixed that with Bob Clearmountain. Bob mixed it himself and then Bruce wanted me to mix a few songs. I literally just had dinner with Clearmountain last night and we were definitely having some good laughs about it.

There’s a good partnership between engineers! I’d like to go back to the beginning of your career, and just to know a little bit more about how you started and the reasons for why you do this job today?  What pushed you to become a sound engineer?  Specifically, a mixing engineer…

It started with my mom having a band. My mom is a Jazz musician and a professor of music theory.  She’d have her trio set up at my house, so here I am 12 years old and there are musicians rehearsing every day at my house, with tape recorders, a small board and a few microphones. Every chance I could get, when they would leave to go do a gig, I would take the gear down into my basement and let the experiments begin there.

So it’s a family thing?

Yes, absolutely, my mom is a musician, I’m a musician, it was just what I wanted to do since I was young, and by having some gear to tinker around with it was fun to start there. I already had my own band when I was 12, I just used that gear to start recording it. At that point I played keyboards, and then I moved to drums; I kind of filled in where the weaknesses in the band were.

Is there any personality or mentor who showed you the path or took you under his wing?  Showed you some tricks, who gave you the will to do this, someone apart from your family?

Yes, of course! So what had happened was that my mom had realized that I really wanted to do this, so she took me to a studio to interview for a job. I got a job at H&L Records under the mentorship of Steve Jerome(GrandMaster Flash, Bobby O, Pet Shop Boys, NDA). They had hired me for $50 a week to be a runner, an assistant. I started with the toilets, to the tea, to the coffee, to the track sheets, until I finally became an assistant and then Steve Jerome had trained me and showed me how he’d like me to do it. He was in essence, my mentor at that time. When I was at a young age 13/14, he showed me the ropes, all the disciplinary moves that became embedded in my life.

So then I read that you’ve been working at Unique Sound Studios?

Well, let’s not cut to that straight away. I put in a bunch of years right there with Steve with Hugo and Luigi, and that studio ended up being taken over by Sugar Hill Records, which in essence was the birth of rap.  So I was right at the beginning of rap, with Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”, GrandMaster Flash’s “The Message” and  “White Lines”; all the big initial rap records were all done under that roof with Steve or with Eric Thorngren. So I was there for all of that.

What a period! So then Unique Sound Studios came later on?

At that point I started to work in New York freelancing with a few artists, and then I actually apprenticed to get a job. I went back down the food chain to be an assistant at Unique because I saw it as the cutting edge hip studio that was happening at New York at the time, at 82’- 83’. It kind of ended around 87’- 88’. I became an assistant and then staff, basically kind of took over, had a few reasonable hits, and then I just kind of took over working there. Just doing what I wanted.

So it was kind of the normal evolution : you started as a runner, then an assistant, and then as an engineer, very naturally.

Exactly. But you can always go back from an engineer back to an assistant, it helps put you in your place.

Part 4: The Bernard Pivot Style

What’s your favorite memory from mixing an album or working on an album?

My favorite memories would probably be from records I produced. They are all favorite memories, it is hard to say “this was the best”. I think the ones I got the most laughs on were albums I produced by Tina Turner, or John Miles or Rick Price or Joe Cocker, where being the producer, it was basically tweaking your last rough mix, with the artist in there and having some laughs and some fun with it. Knowing that you are playing on it and you’re producing it… And it came out great and you are excited. Rather than, mixing something that you didn’t produce. Of course, working on “American Idiot”, which went by so fast… It was exciting because the songs were so good and you didn’t really realize it at the time. But the best memories are definitely the ones I produced because there is more at stake because you are a producer. Human wise, because you are artistic about it, you play parts of it, there is more “blood” on the tape, than you just mixing someone else’s record.

You mean that this job is 60, 70% human aspect?

It’s 100% human. It’s not a business at all. It’s a personal, emotional business, that unless your heart is into the song, you’d might as well go back into the car and go home. You have to be emotionally attached to the music or there is no point in doing it.

Your worst memories/moments from mixing of all time?

There have definitely been some moments, I am not going to name the bands, but that had full-on fights in here internally with the band mates. No one agrees with what you are doing. Each guy leaves the room and comes back with a different idea. It makes it really difficult when the band doesn’t get along. There have been a couple where the band is breaking up or fighting at the time you are mixing it, or completely unsure of what you are doing. It’s not you, it’s them, and that’s what makes it difficult. A lot of the best records I ever mixed are when nobody is here but me, and I say this to them. Sometimes, they are their own worst enemy. It’s not their fault. They are really better off coming toward the end. When they want to come in here and do battle with it, sometimes they can unglue some of the magic that you’ve put into it by isolating their favorite parts.

Which artist would you still like to work with and why?

I want to work with Paul McCartney, I want to work with Coldplay; I want to actually mix a full fledged U2 album, not just one or two songs like I have done in the past, I want to be in the room with the band. I’d like to mix a new Rolling Stones record with the whole band in here. I want to go after the last of the mohicans, the biggest guns that are left while they still have something. It’s more the absolute legends of rock and roll that I prefer to be working with. Of course, I want to work with Muse and Foo Fighters and all the newer bands, but still they have some time. I want to get the old guys while they still got some action. I want to get it while there is a chance.

You’re engaged to mix an album for an artist you love but the requirements are : less is more. You have to pick only 5 pieces of your equipment.  Which do you choose and why?

If I can pick only 5 pieces of equipment, I’d pick my favorite vocal limiter, I’d pick my favorite vocal reverb, drum reverb, that’s three…

Which ones?!!

It would be my Urei Blue1176, my original EMT246, my Sony DRE 2000, then it would be a pair of Pultecs on my bus, and my Focusrite Red. The Pultecs I say they are one piece of gear cause they are a pair.

You are cheating! (Laughs)

They come as a pair.  With those 5 pieces of gear in a rack, I can go anywhere !

Just to finish up this interview, do you have any leitmotiv or quote/catch phrase about music that you like to use?

One of the things we say in the studio is “Don’t try this at home”! (Laughs) Everything I have here is not going to work at home. It’s really meant to be in the proper facility, in a temple of sound. Not your garage. For me it doesn’t work!

To read the full detailed interview see:  Mixing with an Attitude

 

January 9, 2012

A Guide to Re-Amping Techniques

Filed under: Amps, Bass, Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:05 am

Re-amping is a technique that gained a lot of popularity in the last 15 years. The technique’s obvious advantages are numerous…

 

Direct recording is an ideal way to reserve tonal flexibility for mixing (especially useful in the DIY world);

Instrument amplifiers and stomp boxes offer virtually limitless opportunities to create the right sound with a not-so-virtual interface;

It’s fun, which is still allowed.

Sometimes the re-amping goal is simple. An electric guitar can be recorded direct while monitoring a software amp simulator. During mixing the direct guitar track (sans faux amp) will be re-recorded through an actual amp.

Re-Amp Signal Flow

Now let’s take a closer look…

Either or Both?

Sometimes it can be difficult to decide whether the original signal should be used in combination with the re-amped signal. In these cases there’s usually something unique about each signal, but they may not be working together well. This conflict can often be resolved by creating more contrast between the original and re-amped signals. On keyboard tracks, for example, I will frequently make significant, crossover-style EQ choices that allow me to more subtly combine the unique elements of each signal type. Another technique that can be used with remarkable ease is one I dubiously call “Sum and Amp-ness”. I think it kills for gritty bass, particularly with tight, close drums.

  1. Use a DI bass right up the middle of your mix. Get it sounding great, and setup a re-amp path;
  2. Setup a nicely overdriven bass tone on an amp. Somewhere in signal flow, HPF this path in the 300 – 500Hz neighborhood. I like to do it before the amp;
  3. Use the return from the amp just as you would use the ‘side’ component of a mid-side mic array. For maximum sum and difference affect, mic the amp off-axis.

This set-up leaves you with strong, centered low frequency focus, but adds an interesting distorted ‘width’ component. Try it out in mono-tending drum and bass situations. Finally, don’t be afraid to let the re-amp path hang out in input monitoring while you mix. There’s no real reason to record it until you’re getting close to printing mixes. It’s incredibly easy to make changes as long as it’s all still live.

To read the full detailed article see:  How to Re-Amp

December 1, 2011

AVID M-Audio Fast Track C600 Review

With connections on the side and on top, the brand new Fast Track C600 breaks with the typical M-Audio rack and half-rack design. Have manufacturers decided to fight their battle based not only on features but also on design ? Yes, indeed.

Just like the textile and record industries, the small audio world has been hit by popular trends as we can see every year at the main international trade shows, like NAMM and Musikmesse. Not so long ago, Line 6’s modeling amps set a trend followed by all manufacturers, from Ibanez to Vox, Zoom, Fender, and Marshall. A few months later, and by unanimous decision, a new wave of pocket amps and all-tube 5-watt amps came out. Treading in Samplitude’s and Altiverb’s footsteps, all manufacturers wanted to have a convolution reverb in their product range — nowadays replaced by the “algorithm reverb is definitely better” trend. Another follow-the-leader example is the introduction of dozens of pocket recorders following the success of the Zoom H2.

And now, I’m pleased to announce the arrival of a new trend, this time in the world of external audio interfaces: the “desktop” interface. Where does it come from? Hard to tell, even if Mackie’s Onyx Satellite came out in 2006 and TC Electronic’s nice Konnekt 6 (2008) are precursors, recently followed by Steinberg’s CI2 & CI2+, Lexicon’s I-Onix U42S and Roland’s Capture series, and now by the Steinberg UR28M, Propellerhead’s Balance and M-Audio’s new Fast Track C400 and C600…

The principle of a desktop interface is simple: instead of having the controls on the front panel like an effect rack, all controls are placed on the top panel while connections are located on the front or rear sides. This way, the unit can’t be rack mounted but it gains in ease of use. The controls and lighting indicators are bigger, there is more space between them, and sometimes even more features. Which is the case with the Fast Track C600 we want to review today. It looks wonderful, like a fortuitous meeting…

… in a home studio between a sound card and Kubrick’s monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

AVID M-Audio Fast Track C600

The first thing you’ll notice after taking it out of the box is that M-Audio took a very unexpected turn regarding design. The gray PVC akin to previous interface series is gone. M-Audio decided to go with Darth Vader-like black plastic, sometimes matte sometimes glossy, together with green, blue, red and orange LEDs. The overall look is really great, even if we would rather have the manufacturer use higher-quality PVC or even metal to give it a more classy feel when you turn knobs and push buttons. However, I must admit that the overall design is very attractive. The C600 is rather light, but heavy enough to stay safe on your desktop (and it also features anti-slip pads). Its great looks and ergonomically designed sloping front panel look very promising.

AVID M-Audio Fast Track C600

The first thing that catches your eye is the big volume control on the right with a pair of smaller controls to adjust the level of the two headphone outs (independent, channels 1/2 and 3/4). Above these rotary controls, you’ll find three buttons to turn on/off the audio outs of the sound card pairwise: “A” for outs 1/2, “B” for outs 3/4 and “C” for outs 5/6. This way, you can use this section as a monitoring controller, connecting a pair of speakers to each output pair and switching between them very easily. This section offers another valuable feature: a MIDI transport panel allowing you to control your sequencer. Play, Rec, Stop, FFW and RWD: all main transport controls are there, and a “Multi” button allows you to program eight sequential steps (define eight operations you want to be performed one after the other when you press the button once). In other words, it’s not a Mackie Control but it’s enough to save you time and increase ease of use. Such controls should be available on all audio interfaces.

On the left you’ll find the controls dedicated to the four audio inputs of the sound card. And once again, the space available on the control panel provides valuable extras, like the 8-segment LED meter for each input. This makes gain adjustment much easier… All other features are pretty standard. You get a Pad button for each input stage and two buttons to turn on/off the Phantom power of inputs 1/2 or 3/4. Inputs 1 and 2 are equipped with an additional button to select the front or rear connectors.

AVID M-Audio Fast Track C600

Are they different? Yes, of course. On the front panel, besides two headphone outs on 1/4″ jacks, you have a pair of jack inputs, one of which (input 2) is a hi-Z instrument input. On the rear panel you have four XLR-1/4″ jack combos for inputs 1-4. So, for inputs 1 and 2 you can select either the rear or the front connectors and that’s why you have Front/Rear buttons on the top panel.

AVID M-Audio Fast Track C600

The rest of the connections on the rear are also standard: six line outs on 1/4″ jacks, S/PDIF in/out on RCA, MIDI in/out on 5-pin DIN, a USB port, and one connector for the power outlet. This detail has some consequences: when you’re using only the USB cable to power the C600, only inputs 1 and 2 are available. If you want to use all four inputs, you have to connect the interface to the power outlet. The same applies to the headphone outs since only one is available when the interface is used without external power supply.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

The new Fast Track C600 is a great success in every aspect. The desktop design is very practical, the controls are laid out in a very intuitive manner, instrument inputs and headphone outputs are easily accessible and independent, and the device looks nice. The full-plastic housing gives it a fragile look, but considering the price… When it comes to sound, we noticed an obvious improvement and the comparison with the much more expensive MBox Pro is flattering for the small C600. The preamps and converters perform really nice and this M-Audio interface will certainly be a good choice for musicians who don’t want to spend more than $400 and don’t need more than four preamps. Year after year the quality of budget products increases and the Fast Track C600 confirms this trend.

Advantages:

  • Nice look
  • Practical desktop design
  • Quality preamps and converters
  • Transport keys
  • Big volume control
  • Two independent headphone outs
  • S/PDIF in/out
  • Price

Drawbacks:

  • Plastic housing
  • Sequential Multi button not very useful

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see: Fast Track C600 Review

 

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