Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Who "Pinball Wizard" Isolated Guitars

If you grew up playing in bar bands back in the 70s/80s, chances are you played "Pinball Wizard," the seminal hit from The Who's Tommy rock opera. But how many of us actually played it correctly?

Take a listen to the isolated acoustic and electric guitar parts in the song. Here's what to listen for.
1. There are two acoustic guitars, one playing the low 8th note pedal note on the intro parts, which then doubles the other acoustic during the strumming.

2. The electric guitar, which plays on the intro, first verse and chorus.

3. Take notice how the electric drops out in the second verse, and one of the acoustic guitars changes to different chord inversions so it's slightly different from the first and last verses.

4. There's a nice long delayed reverb on the guitars that give them that big sound that we're familiar with.



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

An Interview With Bassy Bob Brockman

"Bassy" Bob Brockman image
“Bassy” Bob Brockman has a wide range of awards and credits, including more than 30 Grammy nominations with two wins, and an Oscar nomination. His many credits include Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, Brian McKnight, Faith Hill, Korn, Christina Aguilera, P Diddy, Santana, and Sting among many others. In this excerpt from The Mixing Engineer's Handbook 3rd edition, Bob discusses what he uses for plugins and his use of the mix buss compressor.

"Can you hear the final product in your head when you begin to mix?
Yeah, probably. I think that I probably make some subconscious and non-verbal judgements when I first hear a song. I make a judgement on style and then go through a couple hours familiarizing myself with all the parts, then I try to see what’s really crucial and what could be wallpaper. I then find whether there’s something that’s really important that I should make the listener aware of. 

The first 20 years of my career I had a producer standing right next to me, telling me what parts were important. It’s less so now because I see so fewer people. I get sent digital files and I sort of end up making those mix/production decisions on my own and end up delivering a more or less finished mix to the producer or the band, then I’ll get notes on what to tweak.

Are you mixing on a console or in the box?
I can mix in the box if I have to but it’s certainly not my preferred way of mixing. What I’m into is a sort of hybrid mixing. I have a Neve 8816 [analog console] with 16 channels coming out of an Avid 192 D/A with an Alan Smart C2 compressor across the mix buss. 16 channels of analog makes a big difference to me in terms of power and depth of field. I still do mix quite a few things in the box though, especially when I’m out traveling.

How much of the DAW do you use?
I’m very deep into the whole digital mixing process and do all of my work in Pro Tools. The plugins have stepped up a lot in the last few years, with the distortion and saturation plugs having improved immeasurably. They’re now more transparent and not adding a lot of phase shift or distortion when you insert them. That was my problem with plugs before and why I would tend not to use them on phase dependent things like drums and guitars. At a certain point, maybe the seventh or eighth hour the mix, the whole thing would start to sound crunchy to me, so I would go in and bypass the plugs and realize that I was using them as crutch to make things speak. Once you get things dialed in, by the end of the mix you don’t need them as much, so there’s a lot more sonic purity.

I often encourage young mixers to bypass their plugs and listen to what they have, especially in a program like Logic where when you open up a session it’s already got three or four things inserted across every channel as a default. 

Do you have certain effects that you always set up before you begin a mix?
I typically transfer all of my effects from one song to the next. I’ll usually use an [Soundtoys] Echo Boy or a [Massey] TD5 for delay. The [Waves] H-Delay and the [PSP] lexicon PCM42 are really nice as well. I usually have four or five delays which vary from very tight to slap delays to timed things. I tweak the timing so its either pushing or dragging a bit behind the beat. I usually have four or five reverbs all plugged in as well. I don’t have any analog effects processing. It’s all done in the box.

I do have a pair of Neve 1073’s that I might insert across the stereo buss, but for the most part I’ll just leave the equalization to the mastering guy. I try to get the EQ and the sound from what I’m doing to the individual tracks in the mix. I’ve never been much of a user of equalization over the years. I’ve worked with a lot of master buss equalizers like the Massenburg stuff, but there are so many equalization things that happen to the sound just by making adjustments on the Alan Smart [SSL-clone compressor]. It’s such an amazing compressor with the way it grabs the low end and accentuates certain parts of the mid-range or upper mid-range depending upon how fast or slow and the ratio. 

I usually spend the last two hours of my mix not doing much mixing but listening and then making little adjustments to the master buss compressor and hearing what the impact is to all the parts. I definitely don’t have a stock compression setting. I’m always moving the setting around on everything that I do. Each song has to have it’s own contour I guess.

How hard are you hitting it?

That depends on the music. If I’m doing a dance record I’m probably hitting it pretty hard. If I’m doing an aggressive rock record then I’m sinking into it about 3 or 4 dB. If I’m doing something much more open or acoustic I’m barely hitting it. Most of the effect is how it’s putting the low frequency information in check, which it does without the meter moving at all. Even when you’re hitting it very lightly it still has a dramatic effect on the music."

You can read additional excerpts from The Mixing Engineer's Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

3 Advanced Techniques For Miking An Acoustic Guitar

Miking the guitar neck and body image
Figure 1: Miking the guitar neck and body
Many times it's surprising the difference an extra mic can make when miking an instrument. A second mic can add depth and ambiance even without resorting to a stereo configuration, which can be perfect for the right track. Here are 3 techniques for using two mics when recording an acoustic guitar, culled from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook that I wrote with my good buddy Rich Tozzoli.

"The use of a second microphone on an acoustic guitar opens up numerous tonal options. Remember, the sound does not come from the soundhole alone; it’s a combination of all the elements of the instrument – its body, neck, strings, and the integration of the overall design. 

The two mic option has many alternatives in terms of positioning, where each mic can be placed on a different part of the guitar. Several mics can be also be placed directly next to each other in order to create a wider sound field. You can also separate them where one captures the direct sound of the instrument and another records the room ambience or is placed over the guitarists shoulder. 

Although the mics can be grouped onto just a single track, recording the mics on individual tracks provides more options during mixing.

Two Mic Technique #1 - Recording Different Parts of the Guitar 
Many excellent recordings have been made by placing a single mic where the soundhole and neck meet, and another on the body (see the Figure 1 on the left). For example, you could place a small diaphragm condenser such as the AKG C451 on the soundhole/neck to capture the brightness of a guitar, while placing a ribbon such as the Royer 121 near the body of the instrument. Or, you could choose to place the ribbon on the soundhole and the condenser on the body – or any combination of mics. 

You can also experiment by moving the soundhole mic further up the neck to increase the brightness captured by that mic, or further towards the bridge to darken the tone. When placing a mic on the body, it’s best to listen to the instrument first, as every guitar has it’s own unique projection. Once you’ve listened and found what you think is a sweet spot, place each mic the same distance away from the instrument.

The reason you should try to place both mics at the same distance from the guitar is so that they record in time with each other. Any slight time delay between the mics, even if not noticed during recording, can cause the mics to be slightly out-of-phase with each other, which will cancel out certain frequencies and cause an almost ‘washy’ effect. An easy way to check phase is to listen to one of the channels in and out of phase, either by applying a plug-in (with delay compensation!) that has phase reversal or selecting it on your mixing console or microphone preamp. If you notice one of the mics is out of phase, you can either move the mics or try to visually adjust the waveforms in your DAW.

With the old adage ‘there are no rules’ in mind, the above information should be taken with open ears. Some very cool guitar sounds can be had by actually recording out of phase, or better yet, by sliding separately recorded tracks on your DAW by a few milliseconds. This can create a short delay sound, which in certain productions, may actually work sonically to lift the guitar louder in the mix. A few minutes of experimenting should tell you what works and what doesn’t.

One last thing to think about with recording separate parts of the guitar. If you have one high quality mic and one that’s simply mediocre, it makes sense to put the good mic in the most important position, which is usually the neck/soundhole. By letting the quality mic do the ‘heavy lifting’ of capturing most of the sound, the other mic can then be placed either on the body or the strings to complete the overall sound.

Close and ambient miking image
Figure 2: Close and ambient miking
Technique #2 - Close And Ambient Miking
Another technique using more than one microphone involves placing a mic close to the guitar and another in the room to record the ambience (see Figure 2). The first mic, which can be placed either at the usual fretboard/soundhole position or near the body, will capture the more direct sound of the instrument. The second mic should be placed at least three feet further away from the first mic (out in the room) to maintain proper phase integrity. 

This method is quite effective when using either a small diaphragm condenser or ribbon mic up close, and a large diaphragm or omni mic as the distant mic. Make sure to achieve a good recording level on the room mic, as the sound level will obviously be less due to the distance from the source. This technique depends upon the quality of the room and the actual amount of room space that’s available. 

Two Mic Variation #1

Another optional placement of the second mic in the room is to position it above the shoulder or head of the player, facing towards the front of the guitar. This approximates what the guitarist hears at the playing position and can add a nice sense of depth to an acoustic recording. Try using a shotgun mic, if available, placed above the player’s head or shoulders. By virtue of its design, shotgun microphones are highly directional and will minimize the recording sensitivity to the left, right and rear, focusing on the sound projecting in front of the guitar."

To read additional excerpts from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook and my other books, go to the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Can This Be The Speaker Breakthrough We've Been Waiting For?

Graphene speaker diagram image
Loudspeaker technology hasn't changed all that much since Alexander Graham Bell invented the first speaker in 1876. Sure it's evolved to become much more efficient with a flatter and wider frequency response, but we're still talking about the same coil of wire mounted to a diaphragm that moves through a magnetic field that was used 138 years ago. Electrostatic loudspeakers were introduced in 1959 and while they remain the darling of audiophile set, can't take the beating of professional use and have an inherent low frequency response problem.

But that all could change thanks to a new breakthrough by two researchers from the University of California Berkley. The pair have made what is essentially a solid state loudspeaker using the ultra light and thin substance graphene sandwiched between two silicon electrodes to produce a transducer that has a fairly flat 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response.

One of the difficulties for loudspeaker engineers is that speaker design revolves around damping the various resonances in order for the speaker to have a flat response. This usually makes it less efficient and limits the response to a somewhat narrow frequency band. With a graphene speaker, there are fewer resonances to begin with, and what there is can be electronically controlled rather than mechanically, as is needed with electro-mechanical speakers today.

The new transducer is small and can only be used in ear pieces at the moment, but the technology is advanced enough that it can be applied to headphones in the near future. We might not see our concert halls, clubs and studios filled with graphene speakers in the year, but we could have them in our ears before you know it.

You can find the paper here, if you'd like to read more. Thanks to reader Paris in Greece for the heads up.





Sunday, April 13, 2014

New Music Gear Monday: Sonnet xMac Pro Server Expansion Chassis

Sonnet xMac Pro Server Expansion Chassis image
Ever since the latest Apple Mac Pro was announced, it's been looked upon with a combination of lust and apprehension. The lust comes from the fact that the unit is a beast of a performer that should make any DAW fly like it's on steroids, but the apprehension comes from it's shape and the fact that the only connectivity is via USB or Thunderbolt. Those of us with legacy PCI cards are just out of luck. Or are we?

Sonnet has introduced a new chassis called the xMac Pro Server that allows you to easily rack-mount the new "trash can" Mac Pro, provides 3 PCI slots for those legacy cards that you don't want to give up just yet, and has room for a variety of internal add-ons like hard drives, SSDs, or tape or optical drives. It even brings out all of the Mac Pro connections (Thunderbolt 2, USB 3.0, HDMI and Gigabit Ethernet) to the rear of the unit, plus supplies a handy Thunderbolt lockdown so you never have to worry about those important connectors accidentally slipping out.

The unit retails for $1499 and is supposed to ship in June, right around the time when the next batch of Mac Pros ship. Sonnet has loads of tech information about the xMac Pro Server on their website. You have to go to around 2:50 in the following video to actually see the unit.

Thanks to my buddy Biff Vincent for the heads up on this.

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