Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Allman Brothers Band "Ramblin' Man" Isolated Rhythm Section

Here's a real treat. It's the isolated rhythm section for The Allman Brothers Band hit "Ramblin' Man," which was the band's first and only top 10 single, topping out at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song was featured on the 1973 album Brothers and Sisters. Here are some things to listen for.

1. Berry Oakley's bass part is littered with minor mistakes that we wouldn't leave in today, but were considered just fine for the time, not that anyone can easily pick them out with the rest of the parts playing.

2. The dual drums of Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson is interesting in that one plays straight time on the right channel while the other plays a doubletime feel on the left.

3. As with most dual drummer recordings, you're hard pressed to find the kick. This frequently happens, as the pulse of the song is taken by another instrument instead since the kick is somewhat nebulous.

4. Interestingly enough, this is one of the few songs were the guitars tuned up a half step instead of down (or they used a capo).

Thanks to my buddy Fred Decker for the heads up on this.


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Check Out The Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Bobby Owsinski's Inner Circle Podcast logo imageThe latest Inner Circle Podcast has just been posted, and this time the guest is 16 time Grammy Award-winning engineer Benny Faccone. Benny, who's won most of his Grammy's while working with Latin superstars like Mana and Ricky Marin, talks about the differences between American and Latin music, among other things.

Commentary includes a discuss on the need for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a look at some of the new recording consoles and why they don't include DAW control.

If you've missed other episodes of the podcast, they include:
  • Show #1 - Engineer Dennis Moody, who discusses the difference between mixing in the studio and live.
  • Show #2 - Omnia Media COO Thom Kozik, who talks all about making money on YouTube and Multichannel Networks.
  • Show #3 - LA session bassist Paul ILL, who discusses about what it takes to be a studio musician.
  • Show #4 - Publisher/producer Richard Feldman, who talks about how the world of publishing has changed because of digital music.
You can access the Inner Circle Podcast at either BobbyOInnerCircle.com or on iTunes.
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The 3D Printed Loudspeaker That Can Take Any Shape

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I'm fascinated with speaker technology, primarily because it hasn't changed that much in a hundred years or so. That's beginning to change as research all over the world is coming up with both new transducer technology and new ways of looking at the old ones.

An interesting variation on the old with a completely new twist is a breakthrough from Disney Research at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It's a speaker that can be made by a 3D printer that can be created any shape. This is basically an electrostatic speaker using a thin conductive material and an electrode plate separated by a layer of air, but made via a 3D printer.

The big problem with this type of transducer is that it has virtually no low frequency response, but the fact that it can accept unusual shapes allows it be very directional. This might allow a super directional speaker that could be used in a museum, for instance, where the sound only emanates directly in front of a painting that you're looking at. The speaker can also emit ultrasonic frequencies, which can be coded to allow identification of the device, as you'll see in the video below.

The 3D printed loudspeaker probably won't be commercially available for 5 years or so, but it does illustrate that audio is breaking out from the norm of the last century into the future. You can't help but feel that the "big breakthrough" that leads to a more perfect transducer is right around the corner.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

6 Exercises To Help You Visualize Your Mix


Visualize your mix image
The essence of mixing is the balance between instruments or mix elements. No matter how good you are at other aspects of the mixing process, if you don’t get the balance right, you don’t have a mix. Here are some questions to ask yourself as well as 6 exercises taken from my Audio Mixing Bootcamp book that will help you visual your mix before you begin.

"Most mixers can hear some version of the final product in their heads before they get too far into the mix. This is because they’ve heard rough mixes of the song many times before during production, but even if a mixer is brought in just for the mix, they listen to all the elements several times before they really get down to mixing.

If you’re just starting out mixing, you might think, “How can I hear the final product before I’ve even begin?” That’s a fair enough question. Until you have a certain amount of experience, you need a few questions to help mold your vision a bit, and the way to do that is to go back to the six mix elements and ask yourself:
  • How do I hear the final balance?
  • How do I hear the instruments EQed”
  • How do I hear everything panned?
  • How do I hear everything compressed?
  • How do I hear the ambience in the track?
  • What do I hear as the most interesting thing in the track?
If you can answer these questions, you may still not have a full picture of your final mix, but you’ll have at least a general idea, which is the first step to a great mix.

Keep in mind that the producer and musicians have a say in the mix as well, and your version of the mix can suddenly take a wide left turn with their input. That’s okay, because after you’ve gotten everything to the point where you hear it in your head (or even beyond), a left turn should be easy.

1: Either listen to a rough mix of the song you’re working on, or quickly just push up all the faders for a rough balance to the song you’re about to mix. Let’s think about the balance.
   A) How loud do you hear the drums in the final mix? The bass?
   B) Do you hear the vocals out in front, or back in the track?
   C) How loud do you hear the primary musical elements that carry the song?
   D) How loud do you hear the secondary elements like percussion and background vocals?

2: Now let’s think about the frequency response of the various instruments.
   A) Is there an instrument or two that sounds particularly dull?
   B) Is there an instrument or two that sounds overly bright?
   C) Is there an instrument that has too much bottom end?
   D) Is there an instrument that has no bottom end at all?

3: Now let’s think about the panning.
   A) How do you hear the drums panned? Wide or narrow?
   B) How do you hear the panning of any instruments that were recorded in stereo?
   C) Do you hear any instruments panned extreme wide left and right?
   D) What instruments do you hear panned up the middle?

4: Now let’s go to compression.
   A) Is there an instrument or vocal that has wild dynamic shifts that needs compression?
   B) Is there an instrument or vocal that you’d like to change the sound by using compression?
   C) Is there an instrument or vocal that needs to sound a little more punchy?

5: Let’s think about the ambience.
   A) What instruments were recorded with room ambience or reverb?
   B) Do you hear ambience on the drums or snare?
   C) What instruments do you hear rather dry and in your face?
   D) What instruments do you hear further away from you?

6: Lastly, it’s time to thing about the interest.
   A) What’s the most important element in the mix?
   B) If there isn’t one yet, how can I create one?
   C) What’s the next most important element in the mix?
   D) What’s the next most important element in the mix?

These aren’t all the questions that you can ask yourself about a mix, but you get the idea. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. It’s as you visualize it in your head."

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Memphis: What A Town Part 2 - Beale Street and Stax

Yesterday I wrote about hanging out in Memphis and going to the Blues Music Awards and Ardent Studios, today I want to give you an idea of a couple of other must-see music parts of Memphis.

Memphis Beale Street image

First up is Beale Street, which is about 5 blocks of bars on either side of the street, virtually all of them with music. People can buy a drink at the numerous outside mini-bars and carry it with them down the street, which is helpful to maintaining the party atmosphere.

Memphis Beale Street Bike Night image








Beale Street feels very much like the French Quarter in New Orleans, except the music is a bit grittier and bluesier. Every Wednesday night (which was the night I was there) it's motorcycle night and both sides of the street were lined with magnificent rides. I can't image what the weekend must be like if it was this crazy on Wednesday.





Stax Record Company image
Next up is the Stax Records Museum, which operates at the very same site as the famed record label. On the same location but in a different building is the Stax Academy, which helps underprivileged kids become the next generation of soul musicians. A noble cause if there ever was one. The legendary Stax producer/writer/guitarist Steve Cropper also gives advanced lessons there.



Stax Recording Console image


The museum features all the gear that the studio used to make those great Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and Booker T and the MGs records. Here's the 20 channel Audiotronics console (with Spectrasonics mic amps and EQs) that the studio used.







Stax tape machines image






Here's the 8 track and 2 track Scully recorders that captured the Stax magic. This is also the combination that I learned on as well. Once you learn how to make a record on 8 track, anything else is easy!










Stax playback monitor speaker image





Stax was built around an old theater and the studio utilized some of the movie playback gear as well. Here's one of the Altec A-5 monitors that they used. This is quite huge and about twice the size of the more typical A-7.










Stax Studios tracking room image




Here's the original tracking room of Stax. It's a pretty good size with a very high ceiling. As you can see, it now has relics of the studio band on display, including Steve Cropper's Telecaster, Duck Dunn's Precision bass, Booker T's Hammond M3 organ, and Al Jackson's Rogers drum kit.




Isaac Hayes gold-plated Cadillac image

There's so much more to the museum as well, from clothing to records to contracts, but my favorite is Isaac Hayes' gold-plated Cadillac. Just off his Hot Buttered Soul hit in 1972, Isaac splurged a bit an bought this Caddie. It came complete with a television and refrigerator - in 1972!

This is just the tip of the iceberg for Memphis and the Stax museum. If you're into music history, this is definitely a place you don't want to miss.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Memphis: What A Music Town!

Bobby Owsinski, Adrianna Marie and guitarist LA Jones image
Yours truly, Adrianna Marie and guitarist LA Jones
I spent a few days in Memphis last week and if you're a musician, that's one place you have to put on your bucket list. The town is filled with music history, and the best part is that, unlike many other bastions of musicality, so much of it is preserved for the world to enjoy.

I was actually in town for the Blues Music Awards and to give a clinic at the Visible Music College (thank you Tommy Lozure for your hospitality), mostly at the behest of Best New Artist Nominee Adrianna Marie and her Groovecutters. Adrianna is a terrific singer and interpreter of 40's style blues, and I was lucky enough to work on her album last year.

The Groovecutters on the big screen at the Blues Awards show


  First of all, if you're into the blues, the Blues Music Awards is one show that you must attend at least once. It truly is the blues at it's best. I agree that blues can be boring sometimes unless an artist is really great, but this show was 5 hours of greatness and excitement. 

To me, some of the best performances of the evening came from the solo performers like the great Rory Block, Doug MacLeod and Beth Hart. This was not your typical 12 bar blues but something on a completely other level. Of course, Adrianna and her Groovecutters opened the show with the power that only a horn section can bring, and also not your typical 12 bar.

Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and Bobby Owsinski at Ardent
Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and Bobby O at Ardent

But back to Memphis - I can't believe how much there is to see there. My first stop was at the famous Ardent Studios where general manager Jody Stephens showed me around. Jody is music royalty in that he's the drummer and an original member of Big Star, one of the most influential bands to ever come out of that part of the country.






Ardent Studio A = Magic!


Ardent is a magic place. When I walked into the tracking room of Studio A, it just felt like home. I'm doing my best to have a project to go back to record there. I want some of it to rub off.

The control room of Studio A featured a 60 input Neve VR.







Ardent Studio C

Studio C at Ardent was interesting in that it felt more like a room in LA from the 80s, which actually made sense since it was built around that time. That said, studio still had that vintage Ardent feel. This room was equipped with an SSL Duality.










Ardent Vintage Outboard Gear image
Ardent Vintage Outboard Gear



Both rooms had plenty of interesting old outboard gear. It was nice to see real working versions of an Eventide 949, Lexicon Prime Time, ADR scamp rack, Marshall Time Modulator, Fairchild 660 and 670 and lots more.








Scamp Rack at Ardent Studios image
When was the last time you saw a Scamp Rack?













Former Stax mastering engineer Larry Nix and Bobby O
Another treat was getting to hang with Larry Nix, the mastering engineer who did all of the Stax material that we know and love, as well as 78 gold and platinum records, 14 Grammy winners and 2 Oscars (and ZZ Top too). Larry's vintage Neumann V72 lathe is cutting records every day.

Tomorrow, much more Memphis, including the Stax Museum and Beale Street.

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