Since I was traveling down to Memphis this week I had a lot of thinking time and a lot of time to listen to music.

I don’t have a Aux jack in my car, so I loaded up 3 CD cases worth of music and hit the road.

During that time I listened to a lot of well known artists: Nine Inch Nails, Simple Minds, Peter Gabriel, etc….

While listening to some more well known records, I thought about all the times I’ve shared with friends listening to these songs and all the times I’ve sung riffs or melodies from these songs and everyone around me knew exactly what I was singing.

That made me realize one thing….
As time passes and the internet expands people’s music collections to epic proportions, we will no longer have that one song everyone knows all the words to from the summer of 1979. We will no longer be able to be able to sing  that”Dun Dun Duhhhh” riff from Smoke on the Water and have everyone in the room instantly know what mood we’re in.
We will longer be able to sing “Ma ma se, ma ma sa, Ma ma coo sa” without getting weird looks.

Sure we have more choices, more great music to listen to, and just plain…MORE.
But is more better?  I would argue no.

I have more than my fair share of musical elitist friends who pride themselves on knowing what you don’t. But in my opinion, it’s that musical collective consciousness that brings us all together….and I’m afraid that is soon to disappear.

I haven’t done a “mixing tip” post in a while and I was working on some drums today and thought I’d share a little technique that I started using recently.

Many of you many not be in an ideal space to record drums; or, like me, you have a great room, but it just isn’t as “big” as you’d like it to be.

I’ve gone through TONS of positions in the room from mic’ing on the floor, to mic’ing up high, to pointing mics at the windows for reflections…..so many different methods.  And I’ve also tried so many different MICS.  My favorite for drum room by far is the AEA R88 stereo ribbon, hands down.  AMAZING mic.

But the mic alone won’t give you that magic “large room” sound.  You have to compress the crap out of it!  1176, Distressor, API 527, I’ve tried many different ways, but it still ends up sounding like a smashed small room.

A number of months ago I was working on an audio for video project and the voiceover was done in a less than ideal space. There was WAY too much roominess for a VO. I remembered the new Dereverb tool in Izotope’s bundle and tried it out.  It works pretty well… Not mind blowing, but used in moderation it helps a little bit. It’s a good tool for those doing audio post and film work. But while playing with the settings, I found out you can go the OPPOSITE way and actually make the room sound MORE prominent! Immediately I had to try it on drum room mics…..and sure enough, it worked wonders.

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The Dereverb tool is essentially a glorified multiband compressor where the only thing you can really change is the threshold and the release.  While on some compressors you can do expansion/upward compression (like Wave’s RComp) on Dereverb you can also overly compress the tails and bring up the room sound.

I find it to sound more natural than compression….more like a bigger space.  With the right compressor, I’m sure you can get there, but you really have to spend some time dialing in the right settings.  You can get a little bit of crunchy artifacts going if you dial too much in, but for most drum room sounds, I’m usually ADDING distortion anyway to be more aggressive/in your face, so I don’t mind this at all.

A couple of things to be mindful of:
– It’s best to dial back the High end because it can get quite crispy on cymbals
– You HAVE to render/process and not leave the plugin on (TONS of latency)

I’ve attached a link with samples below. You will find 3 files.

1. “Room – NO processing” – this is the completely dry signal as recorded
2. “Room – EQ Decap” – this is PRE Dereverb but with my EQ and Decapitator applied
3. “Room – DeReverbed” – this is after all processing including DeReverb

Download DeReverb Samples Here!

Enjoy!

 

On the heals of Waves announcing this week that they will no longer support TDM plugins comes a story of my own….

The studio finally “upgraded” from Pro Tools 9 to Pro Tools 10 a little while ago.  Mind you, Avid is currently on version 12.4.

As with many studios in 2015, the reason for the upgrade was one of necessity and not of luxury.  Our 6 year old Mac Pro finally bit the dust and we had to get a new”er” computer.  So we purchased a 2013 Mac Pro with OS 10.8.5 (again, Apple is on 10.11) and went to the latest version of Pro Tools that our hardware supported.

The problem is that our console (Digidesign Pro Control) and our I/O hardware (blue 192 I/O and Accel TDM cards) are no longer supported under the current version of Pro Tools. For the studio to upgrade to equivalent hardware to what we have, we would need to spend tens of thousands of dollars. Now I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the music and studio business isn’t quite what it used to be… A purchase of that magnitude isn’t exactly in the cards at the moment.

So, we went with what we could without breaking the bank.

For the most part, the upgrade went REALLY smoothly.  I honestly can’t complain. To begin with, we now have an Solid State Drive rather than the old standard disk drive. After 15 years of working on computers, this is the SINGLE fastest upgrade I’ve ever encountered.  CPU, RAM, video card….none of that ever compared to the speed increase of an SSD. It made the installations take one day rather than 3.

I’ve been using the computer for about 2 months now and haven’t really had any issues…..except the whole being-out-of-date thing.  When it’s a problem….it’s a big problem….a money sucking problem.

For example, we have a licence for Avid’s soft synth, Hybrid. Despite nearly EVERY license and plugin from Avid working ok, for some reason this one didn’t.  I went to pull up a session from the summer today and completely forgot this plugin wasn’t working now.  The main synth line for the song uses this plugin.

SO….we have a license for Hybrid 1.5. Well, you need 1.6 to work on Pro Tools 10.  Problem is, 1.6 is no longer available.  They are now selling 3.0.
Obviously this means shelling out more money IF I can get through Avid’s labyrinth of support and get them to send me a legacy installer and license.

This is just one example of how the current digital climate makes it REALLY hard to keep up, and keep working. If you aren’t on the LATEST version, you’re out of luck. But in order to STAY on the latest version, you have to constantly spend thousands of dollars to keep up.

For many small business (and especially recording studios)  this just isn’t an option.  Money is tighter than it ever was for many businesses, yet the cost to stay relevant and up to date is higher than ever.

Now, a friend of mine in the music business pointed out something on social media this week that made a lot of sense to me. He explained how the entry to get into recording is cheaper than it EVER was.  This is very true. In the past, to be a professional studio, you pretty much HAD to invest in a big Pro Tools HD system at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars. Now, you can get into a system that does so much more than the old ones ever did for under $5 grand.

But here’s the rub.  Those systems back then, we could get nearly a DECADE of use in some way, shape, or form. Now, we’re lucky if we get 3 years.  Although the entry price was much greater, that kept you going for much longer.

Now, I don’t want anyone to take this the wrong way. I’m not saying these companies are horrible or are just trying to get our money. That’s not the case. Technology is changing at such an incredible rate that these things are bound to happen. The unfortunate thing is that we’re in this situation in the first place.

So, as studio owners, engineers, and content creators what do we do? Do we settle for less because the price has gone up?  Our studio currently has a large 24 fader control surface.  It does a lot, and it looks nice in the room. It helps clients think, “Oh! They are the real deal!”. Do we now “upgrade” to an 8 channel  console that takes up much less space, and begins to make our purpose built, commercial recording studio look like a project studio?  Does that even matter anymore? Have the lines between, professional/hobbyist become so blurred that it doesn’t really make any difference?

One thing is for certain. We are living in very fast times. Everyone has to wear multiple hats, and one of the hats that keeps getting heavier is Technology Compliance Officer.

 

Shortly after completing my review of the AEA N22, I was contacted by Patrick Timmons from a company I had honestly never heard of before….Feather Microphones.

Patrick said he had some mics that he wanted me to try out.  I was happy to oblige, as I love trying out new gear, and telling my audio friends about it. Patrick sent me two different models, the Black Beauty and the Blonde (ash).

From the moment I opened the UPS package, I knew that Patrick takes pride in his products. They came in an ample sized water tight pelican style case.  The mics fit quite snugly in the cushioned insert and further came in a velvet type pouch.
The mics themselves are beautifully designed.  They look like a work of art.

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As the XLR connector is the only thing occupying the bottom of the mic, they require a generic shockmount that will fit multiple sized mics.  Patrick happily sent me an extra to use.

I tried the mics out on a number of different instruments (drum overhead, drum room, upright bass, acoustic guitar, lap steel and ukulele) and shot it out against of few other ribbons and old standbys.  I enjoyed the Black Beauty personally, so I stuck with that one for the remainder of my testing.

(At the very bottom you will find a link to download a few samples)

Overall, I found that the Feather excels with acoustic instruments.  It sounds quite natural.  I honestly wasn’t a fan of it on drums at all. I found it to be quite harsh on the high end, which is odd for a ribbon. The cymbals had a strange bite to them which I found pretty unusable as an overhead or drum room mic, almost like some weird phase incoherence in the upper frequencies. I’d be curious to find out what causes this. I have my assumptions, but I’m not qualified to voice my speculations.

My colleague, Tim Mauldin and I recorded a few acoustic songs for singer/songwriter, Lilly Pappas, and I use the Feather everywhere I could.  We put the Feather up against a “ribbon standard” (the Royer R-121) on acoustic guitar.  The Feather had an upper midrange that just sounded “right”.  I literally didn’t EQ it at all in the final mix.   Same with the lap steel.  I had the Feather sitting in front of a Fender ’57 Deluxe Reissue.  With the exception of notch filtering some hum out of the amp, no EQ was used and no compression was used.

On upright bass, it sounded surprisingly close to my AT4050.  The Feather had a bit more “woodiness” to it. So if you’re looking for a natural sounding mic for bass or maybe cello, this mic is great. I ended up using the Feather in my mix over the AT4050.  Although the AT was more than usable and maybe even had a rounder bottom, the Feather just seemed sit better in the mix.

If you are looking for a nice neutral ribbon mic for acoustic instruments, I would seriously consider getting your hands on a Feather. They will definitely be an eye catcher for your clients as well. The only big turnoff I would say is the price.  I can get an AEA N22 which is also a fantastic ribbon for $300 less.  Granted, they aren’t for the same purpose, in my opinion, but there are a lot of mics you can also buy for $1200.  Although, I could argue that the service is second to none, Patrick is fantastic, and you would be supporting a small startup business. He was extremely responsive with any questions that I had, and went out of his way to make sure I had a good experience with his gear.

Here is a link to download a few samples of the mic.

In the zip file you will find a comparison of the Feather and Royer on acoustic guitar, lap steel, and bass.  For guitar and steel, the mics were place right next to each other.  On the upright bass the AT4050 is about 1 foot above the bridge, and the Feather is right at the bridge (so not a completely direct comparison).  There is also a song that was recorded using almost entirely the Feather microphone (all stringed instruments).  It turned out pretty amazing I think.  Virtually no EQ or compression on this track.  Vocal performance by Lilly Pappas Bjorklund, and all other instruments performed by Tim Mauldin.

Alternately, you can stream the song below.

Future-Proofing Your Sessions

Posted: April 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

Future Proofing Your Sessions

I was having a conversation on Facebook with some friends about the current trend in subscription based software.  Most of you are probably familiar with Adobe’s method of essentially “renting” the software from month to month and now Avid has given users the option of paying month to month as well. My initial perceptions of a subscription based model were not favorable.  But the more I thought about it, the more I got used to the idea. It started to seem like a fairly harmless thing and in some ways (constant updates and bug fixes for example) quite advantageous. In this conversation, I explained that just as I was starting to see a few benefits in the subscription model of software, I thought of one major flaw that keeps me from ever jumping on board.

Lets say you have a big client that worked with you 5, 10, or even 15 years ago. They come back and need the files from an old project. You cant open that project; not because you don’t have the old computer or the files, but because the software company whose program you were using, now prevents you from even OPENING the software that opens those files. It could be because of licencing, or they dont want to support it anymore, or they shut down the authorization server. The point is, you have no way to open that file because the software no longer “exists”.

Currently, I can open old pro tools files going back 15+ years because we OWN the software perpetually and have an old computer running a version going back to Pro Tools 6.

But what if your DAW of choice went to a subscription model and years from now and then went out of business and you find yourself in a situation where you can’t open your old DAW files because you can’t even open your DAW software.

What To To

Well let’s start with the obvious first. Throw out any notion of retaining your session document, EDL, OMF, AAF, or any sort of file that is a pointer to where audio belongs on a timeline, what your mix settings are, plugins, etc.

We’re going under the assumption that THIS is there very file that will no longer work in the future.

So where does that leave us?  We have the AUDIO….that’s all.

At the very least, I hope you are already bouncing a full quality WAV/AIF file of the mix at the native bit rate and sample rate of the sessions.  So even if the client has requested to ONLY be delivered an mp3, you should still be bouncing a WAV or AIF. If you recorded the session at 24bit/96kHz, then you need to bounce a 24/96 WAV file of the FINAL mix. If you recorded at 44.1, then bounce a version at 44.1.  That is the BARE MINIMUM of what should be done.

But lets also address some other things you should probably be doing already.

1. Instrumental bounce
2. A Cappella bounce
3. Vocal UP version
4. Vocal DOWN version
5. Any format the client may possibly request: WAV, mp3 at 320, mp3 at 192, etc….
6. If it’s a film, commercial, etc, stems are an absolute MUST.  So you should be doing separate stems of voice, music, nat sound, effects at the very least.

Those are all pretty easy.  You just have to bounce a couple extra versions….not a lot of additional time invested.
But let’s say you want to retain the “mix” the tracked out version in case something needs to change later on.

Going Above and Beyond

First things first, you should export all of the tracks UNMIXED.  Just the raw files. But here’s the important part!
You need to make sure that you export/bounce all of the individual tracks from the same start point. Otherwise you’re in for a world of hurt when you have to manually line up all the elements on the timeline.  No one wants that. So do yourself a favor and consolidate all of your files from the beginning of the timeline or grid line.

By exporting everything UNMIXED you ensure that you have a pure starting point if something needs to be remixed. And it DOES happen. Just like Hollywood like to to reboots, some artists like to do remixes of classic records, or surround versions. Pearl Jam’s re-release of Ten comes to mind. But something can only be properly remixed if we have the RAW source material.

But here’s another scenario, let’s say the client wants to retain most of the original mix, but make an alternate version. When Guitar Hero and Rock Band came out, many artists had to go back to their original master recordings and make new versions with stems of drums, guitar, bass, keys, and vocals. We can make this process MUCH easier by printing all the processors like EQ, compression, etc that belong to that track.

So what do we do in this instance?  Well, we need to bounce or export that track WITH all the effects included. So if you have a chain of EQ->compression->limiter for example.  The track needs to be bounced exactly as you hear it and at EXACTLY the same fader level as you have it in your mixer. This process is A LOT easier if you have a DAW with track freeze, otherwise you have to bounce to a new track in real time.

Another good idea is to print the click track (if you used one) and put the tempo in the file name of the click.  For example: “Click 125bpm.wav”

Complications

For most of us, things will rarely be that simple.  You have things like summing mixers, parallel compression, mix bus compression, external hardware inserts, virtual instruments, and many other issues to deal with.  Let’s start with the easy ones first.

1. With hardware inserts and summing mixers, you can’t simply use track freeze or export for obvious reasons.  We need to run audio in real time through the hardware, so that means busing the output of our track to a new track and recording the output. Unfortunately this makes for a much longer archival process.

2. For virtual instruments the same basic principle applies as the one above. Some instruments don’t always respond the same way on each play or have the ability to render the track, so you will need to route the audio from the virtual instrument to a new track and record the output.

3. Mix bus processing is where things get a little more tricky. Now, you could take the approach of just leaving it off and maybe writing down the settings of what you have on the 2 bus, or you can process each track THROUGH the mix bus chain when writing new audio files.  This is much easier for things like EQ.  But for compression things get hairy. First of all, you can’t just mute the other instruments and expect the compressor to react the same way. The 2 bus compressor is working based on the sum of the mix.   You COULD do something like bounce the whole mix, send that bus to the side chain and have the compressor react to the sidechain while bouncing your tracks.  But you run into the problem of the side chain only reacting to a MONO source rather than a stereo mix.  I’ve always found that doing this never quite results in the same mix when I play the new files back.  In my opinion, i would just mute the 2 bus compressor, write down the settings and hopefully when it comes time to pull the mix back up you can find something similar or better.

The point to drive home here is that if you are relying heavily on mix bus processing, to iron out your mix, you need to AT LEAST write down whats on it.  Sometimes you can open a bigger can of worms than its worth by trying to export your tracks with the mix bus processing engaged.

The End of the Process

Ok, so lets say you’ve got all of your tracks WITH signal processing ready to go, all bounced from the beginning of the timeline, so they line up just fine when you pull them in.  Now what? Well, I would suggest putting all of those files in a folder and then start a text document in a UNIVERSAL format like .rtf or .txt format and write down any notes that you think my be relevant if some random person had to pull up these files 30 years from now.

If you pull of these files should they all sum to the final mix, do you need additional processing, are there any problems, what’s the signal chain of these files, how many tracks should there be, WHAT are the tracks that should be present, etc.

There are many additional things to discuss and I may make an addendum to this at a later date.  In the mean time.  FUTURE PROOF YOURSELF!

My friend Travis Atkinson over at AEA Microphones was kind enough to send me the new N22 Active Ribbon to try out this week. I’m always in search of a new guitar mic to use.  Let’s face it, even though we gravitate towards that SM57, we’re all kind of tired of using it.  I like a Beyer M201, and recently I started using my Beyer M69 which I’ve always blown off….it’s a nice sleeper mic.   What I really love though is a 57 paired with a ribbon.   You get the upper mid range bite out of the 57 plus the warmth and depth of the ribbon.   So I was excited when Travis told me about the N22.

Local St. Louis guitar player, Tim Mauldin, and I were working on project so I decided to mic up the rig with the N22.  He brought in a Matchless which he runs through a Bad Cat combo minus the amp.  He brought up his newer Gretsch and I currently had in my possession a vintage ’58 Anniversary…….*insert homer drooling sound*.

Since it would be a little difficult to get all mics on the same speaker I placed the 57 on the opposite side.  Paired to together on the same cone was a Royer R-121 and the AEA N22.  I wanted to see how the N22 stacked up against the Royer in addition to how i fit with the 57.  Tim played a rhythm part for a song we were working on in addition to laying down some lead parts.  (both are posted below).  All tracks were run through a Vintech 473 and level matched as best as I could and then straight to Pro Tools HD (192 I/O).

I have to say, the N22 in a phenomenal guitar mic.  Not only did it blow the Royer out of the water in my opinion, but it’s great just all by itself!  Most ribbons I’ve used sound best when paired with another mic.  I don’t usually like them alone.  The N22, once you add a little upper mids to it and take out a bit of beef, it sounds stellar…..and that’s what we ended up using for the track.  The Royer was just a bit too woolly and dark to stand on its own.  There is a clarity to the N22 that just works.  It’s a little pricey, but compared to a Royer, definitely comes in under budget if you’re looking to spend that kind of cash.

I said that this was going to be a quick review, so I’ll keep to my promise.  If you’re looking for a new mic to expand your sonic palette on guitars, I would seriously consider this mic.  Take a listen for yourself, and YOU be the judge.  Below I’ve included some audio samples.  The rhythm guitar clip is short, but you should be able to loop it easily in your DAW.  I’ve included the 57, Royer, and AEA with both lead and rhythm sections.

Enjoy!

DOWNLOAD MIC SHOOTOUT SAMPLES

I had a client recently who wanted MP3 files in addition to a CD master.  When I ask clients what bitrate they want me to deliver I usually always get the same answer…..”huh?”

I actually prefer this answer most of the time because it gives me the opportunity to educate the client on the different types of MP3 compression and what the pros and cons are.

My client told me that they usually use 128kbit MP3s in house because “they’re just going to be played on crappy earbuds, and the file size is greater for 256”.

The voice inside my head screams, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

This is EXACTLY why you want to use better quality files!  If they medium you are using to listen is already compromised, you should START with best quality product so that you can make the most out of your crappy playback device.  Otherwise it’s going to sound TWICE as bad.   Not to mention, low quality earbuds can sometimes overemphasize the frequencies where the harshness of MP3 is most apparent.  (Not all the time though)

Regarding the other argument, the file size difference is negligible.  It’s a few megabytes.   Nothing in this day in age.  We’re talking a couple extra text documents or emails worth of file size here.

Frankly, I’m surprised that we are even balking at the file size of uncompressed audio anymore.   I have 100mbit/sec internet speeds at my HOUSE.  It takes me like 10 seconds to download a 40MB file.  Hard drives for most people are in the 2-3 Terabyte range.  40-50MB is not a big deal.

But that’s going on a slight tangent.   The real problem here is the misconception that low quality files are for low quality playback systems.  That opinion couldn’t be further from the truth.   Garbage in, garbage out.    The same goes for recording and mastering.   If you start with the highest quality possible, then it’s going to sound better as it gets degraded further down the line.  But if you start with cheap microphones, bad preamps, etc…..it can’t get any better than that.

Of course, anyone who reads my blog is going to be fully aware of these things.  So what’s the point here?

Education.

There are always opportunities like this to let our clients know about good quality audio and what that means for them and THEIR clients.  Don’t be afraid to have that conversation.  They’ll appreciate it.