Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gus Stagg Records

I hooked up recently with my old friend Gus Stagg, who was out playing a local festival. For some inexplicable reason, Gus did not have any cd's of his music to offer the music-hungry crowd (which is always a good way to make a few extra bucks, especially since the work has already been done).

After a little while catching up, we decided to do some work together: he does the musical stuff, and I hit "Record". Since Gus does his best singing and playing (guitar and harmonica) all together live, that's what we're shooting for in these recorded versions. I've just got him set up here in the Moonroom, with a Mid-Side microphone setup to pick up the performance in stereo, and a clip-in acoustic guitar pickup for a bit of reinforcement.

Here's a video of the song "Einstein" - "He knew his 'rithmatic", indeed!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sometimes Getting Good Sound Is Simply Knowing What To Avoid

Now, first off, nothing against Tad Donley - he's been through a lot and seems like a genuinely good fellow...

But it may be in your best interests to look somewhere else for your recording project if the guy running the studio sounds like this:

Of course, that's "NOY-mon" U-87...which IS a top-notch mic.

C'mon - the dude missed becoming one of Spinal Tap's drummers by some fluke (mainly because he was a guitarist), so they let him be their live sound guy...he's GOT to have some killer skills...in there...somewhere...right? Pretty sure he mixed "Jazz Odyssey", anyway...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Beatles Remasters, or "You Like Me Too Much"

Or maybe "I Should Have Known Better". Golly, the whole damn world is falling over themselves going on and on about how great these new Beatles remasters sound - the clarity, the punch, the sparkle, instruments that they'd never heard before (!)...

I'll agree that they are a bit better. But not necessarily ALL THAT.

I do think that President Obama missed out on a great opportunity for a stimulus package on this, however. Can you imagine if he'd given a $50 voucher toward the purchase of this box set? Turn in your old "clunker" Beatles cd's for a new and improved batch! Help support the economy, your country, and Michael Jackson's long line of lien holders!

Try this for grits and shins - take one of your new remasters, and play it while following along in this site of Beatles Anomolies. This site lists a bunch of audio oddities and mixing mistakes that ended up in the final Beatles recordings. Now, granted, this stuff is bound to be considered minutia by most casual listeners, but they're actually in there, for anyone to hear.

Of course, many of these mistakes have become integral part of the songs, themselves, but many more have not. Most are generally transparent, until you know that they are there. You all knew that someone says "Oh, f*cking 'ell!" in "Hey Jude", right? Plain as day. Right there at 2:58, along with the line "Then you begin". Listen here, if you don't have it handy. NOW you hear it...now you'll ALWAYS hear it. And if it were missing, the song would be incomplete...we all hear it as part of the song.

But I was amazed/appalled at how much non-critical stuff was NOT FIXED! These are the 21st century remasters of the Beatles, for Pete's sake! Are they worried that listeners are going to miss that "fwip" on the cowbell at :47 on "Taxman"?!? No.

These are the same guys who turned 12 albums worth of great music into (gasp!) 19 albums here in the states. And a whopping 34 albums of compilations! It's all about q u a n t i t y of product. Heck, they even have a MONO box set, which in my opinion, ought to cost about HALF as much as the stereo set, but for some reason costs even MORE. Besides the fact that once the U.S. Limited Edition run of 10,000 copies ran out, they promptly MADE MORE...doesn't sound so limited or exclusive any more, does it?!?

Some fans may think that the $12 per cd price tag isn't that bad...but, come on! These are 35-minute albums! What about the other 45 minutes available on the cd? Howbout two-fers maybe? Both the stereo and mono versions on the same disc? Bonus tracks? Nope. Just crappy 5-minute Quicktime movies that you'll watch one time. Meh.

Leaving a bunch of mistakes in the remasters allows them to re-re-re-re-release the same material yet AGAIN, once sales of these remasters has leveled off. "Newly Repaired Remasters - Sounds Better Than Ever Before!"...then the Remixes...then the 5.1 Surrounds...then the separate multitracks...by which time the true Beatlefans who have every available released version could have bought themselves a car, and listened to the Beatles on the car radio instead. Beep-beep 'm' beep-beep yeah!

The 1999 "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" cd of remixes was impeccable. My only hangup about the Songtrack album was that the tracklist was brand new: I'm unaccustomed to listening to these songs in this order. But THIS is the way to have our Beatles music: clean, polished, fixed...these songs on this disc actually were revelatory. The new remasters, I'm afraid, are not.

When I think back to how impressive some other remix/remasters have been (Alan Parsons Project 1976 1987 "Tales Of Mystery And Imagination", Beach Boys 1966 1997 "Pet Sounds Sessions", among others), these remasters almost pale in comparison.

I bought most of the Beatles lp's, some tapes, sheet music, all of the cd's, scores of bootlegs, Anthology...I just don't happen to have the spare $400 right now.

And I won't, until these are fully remixed. And re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-remastered...

NOTE: Even though the above rant may have seemed a bit cynical, we can rest assured that the REMIXED remasters will probably be coming out - look at the most recent Beatles bootleg/leaks: a year ago, sixteen multitracks from Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band were making the rounds on the internet, and in February of this year, take 20 of "Revolution 1" (which showed the evolution from the slow version to the Revolution 9 version, along with some odd "Mama, Dada" vocals from Paul and George)...not to mention those 2006 "Love" album's mashup/remixes.

Now, referring to this CNN report, Allan Rouse says that the remaster project took four and a half years, that the team spent an average of two weeks on each album...let's do some math...it should certainly have taken less than a year to remaster the entire catalog, then! Just what was being done the other three and a half years?!?

Transferring all of those multitracks, is my guess. So I'm saving now to buy the remixed remasters in a few years. THOSE will be worth the wait. And I don't doubt that they're coming - just wait for the current sales to taper off, and be ready for the announcement.

I'll start by buying a "Piggies"-bank.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

More Recording Secrets

Some thoughts on the often overlooked RECORDING CHAIN

The path (chain) of how audio gets recorded:

Instrument> Performance> Microphone> Placement> Room Acoustics> Cable> Preamp> Recorder

In order to get the best sound, you need to concentrate earlier in the chain. For example, even if you have the absolute BEST stuff available from later in the chain, you won't be able to get anything worth a listen if the instrument is crap. It is infinitely better to actually have new, bright strings on a quality guitar rather than try to emulate that sound later.

The better things sound earlier in the chain, the less work each successive link has to handle.

1. Get the best instrument that you can. Clean/ replace/ tune so it sounds as good as it possibly can.
2. Get the best player that you can. Practice/ sobriety/ comfort/ attitude make all the difference.
3. Use the proper microphone. A Shure 57 works on a LOT of stuff, but not everything. Much of this depends on the character you expect the instrument to have in the song. Background instruments would probably merit a mellower mic choice (say, a ribbon mic over a condensor)
4. Place the mic well. Be aware of proximity effect, polar patterns, directionality, bright/dull character, etc. Closer miking picks up less room sound, further picks up more.
5. Use/refuse the room. Use acoustical treatments and/or instrument placement to your advantage. Consider gobos, blankets, walls, hallways...
6. Use a quality cable. Not ultra-expensive mythological MONST*R cable, just not cheap ready-to-fail stuff. It'll bite you when you least expect it.
7. Use the best pre-amp that you can. Better standalone ones (rather than the merely competent ones on your board) will introduce less noise to your signal.
8. Record at the highest quality you can. You can always shrink files later.

Part of what brings this to my mind right now is that I have been buying some more mics lately. The phenomenal CAD M179, to be precise. This multipattern large diaphragm condenser KILLS. Down to 10Hz?!? 133dB Dynamic Range?!? 11dB Noise Level?!? 143 dB SPL?!?

The M179 features a non-capacitive 20 dB pad switch and an 80 Hz high-pass filter.


Side Address, External bias condenser
Frequency Response:
10-20 kHz
Polar Pattern:
Low (200 ohms nominal).
Output Level At 1 kHz.:
Open Circuit Voltage:
-56 dB (0 dB = 1 volt per microbar).
15.9 mV/Pascal.
Dynamic Range:
133 dB.
Equivalent Noise Level:
11 dB Equivalent SPL, A weighted
Maximum SPL:
143 dB SPL (With pad on)
Total Harmonic Distortion:
Less than 0.15%

These specs compare with mics more than 5 times the price! Granted, this is not an AKG C414, or a Neumann TLM 170R (obviously!). But to have a microphone this quiet, able to withstand extreme Sound Pressure Levels, with almost NO coloration, and a choice of omni/ wide sub cardiod/ cardioid/ hyper cardioid/ figure-8 bidirectional polar patterns (almost like 5 mics in one)...at it's original price of $400 it was a great bargain. NOW THAT IT HAS BEEN DISCONTINUED, if you can find them, the price is just around $150.

Now, WHY such a nice microphone bargain has been discontinued is a mystery to me! Evidently they're not selling as well as they could, but WHY NOT? A mic that is super-quiet and picks up the original audio without adding "character" (i.e. a "presence peak"), is so versatile and this affordable should be in everyone's microphone cabinet! This mic fits/ adapts into the >Microphone>Placement> part of the recording chain so nicely, it's not funny. I have been thinking lately that a LOT of mic customers are buying for audio coloration, rather than considering the recording chain: concentrating on mic type and placement. Or maybe they think it's ugly (as if looks have anything to do with a mic!) - I think it looks really sharp, BTW!

You just wait and see. Five or ten years down the line, I expect that these will be going for even MORE than their original prices. IF anyone lets them go at all.

I guarantee I won't let mine go (four, so far)!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Great Free Tool!

There is a great new FREE tool available from a German website: Pleasurize Music Foundation. It is a Dynamic Range measurement tool, which works regardless of the volume of the music.

As many of you may know, there has been a "Loudness War" going on in the music industry this last decade-and-a-half...resulting in many, many albums that have been "maximized" (compressed and limited) to the point where they have almost no dynamic range (and are ugly and fatiguing to listen to).

There is a "live" version available as a plugin, designed to be used while mixing and mastering in your own software, and an "offline" standalone version for measuring tracks after mixing and mastering.

This freebie is brand spanking new, and I haven't yet used it to it's fullest extent, but it is an EXCITING tool! Since the recording industry gave us the cd format with its' wonderful huge dynamic range, then the same industry gives us music with less and less range in it...what are we to do? WE TAKE OUR MUSIC BACK, that's what! We produce music that is once again musical, pleasant to hear, using accessible technology to improve the audio to what it CAN BE...

Go to the site. Check out their info. Sign up if you agree with their goals. Download the Dynamic Range meter HERE.

Good stuff.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Pawns

Mike Przygoda and Company (aka "The Pawns") and I have been secretly working on a phenomenal audio project - we've been working on mixing this upcoming release for several months now. Originally some TWENTY-NINE songs recorded with up to THIRTY-SIX tracks, it has now been pared down to about nineteen songs, and mixed down to two tracks (that's *stereo*, for you neophytes!).

Here is a hybrid from the sessions: the song is called "The Only One". The mix is a composite of a very early live performance of the song (I believe when the song was only a few days old!), a quick mix of the original recorded tracks, and a more polished "prefinal" mix.

And howbout that groovy/ugly cd cover I threw together? "Pawns? I thought you said Prawns!"...just look closely and nod like you get the joke.

Stay tuned for updates about the exciting release...