Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Friday, July 17, 2015

Wilton Felder's "I Want You Back" Isolated Bass

Wilton Felder image
I always question myself when I post old song nuggets, because I don't want to seem like I'm dwelling in the past. The fact of the matter is that so many of these isolated tracks are interesting and fun to listen to, not to mention occasional teaching moments. Take for instance today's track - Wilton Felder's bass track on the Jackson 5's first hit "I Want You Back."

Felder was not only a great bass player but was actually better known as a tenor sax player, as he was one of the founding members of the great Jazz Crusaders. He was also part of Motown's studio team when the company moved to Los Angeles.

There are lots of cool things to listen for on this cut.

1. Listen to the tone of the bass. There's not a lot of really deep bottom to it, which was the case with many records of the time. Engineers didn't concentrate on the bottom end back then like they do today.

2. There's a lot of compression on it. The bass sits at the same level for every note, something also common from the era, especially from the major studios of the time.

3. The playing is very clean, but not perfect. It's about as good as you could get in the days of tape and few tracks, but it's something that we'd fix a little today (although that didn't stop anyone from enjoying the final record).

4. Check out the bridge at around 2:15. Felder plays a difficult part with ease and makes it flow like water.







Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Interview With The Legendary Al Schmitt

Bobby Owsinski interviews Al Schmitt image
At the last Winter NAMM show I had the pleasure of interviewing the legendary engineer Al Schmitt for Lynda.com. It's always a pleasure to speak with Al, but this time I got the chance to ask him some questions about his work that I've always wanted to know, and in usual Al Schmitt style, he answered them with even better stories.

This is a great glimpse into music history with one of the masters of the business.

By the way, here's 10 days of unlimited access to Lynda.com. Check out my recording, mixing and social media courses.



Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

6 Tips To A Better Click Track

Beyer DT102 headphones image
Many musicians, producers and engineers fight with the click track for various reasons, but most of the time it's because the player just can't hear it in a way that's conducive for playing in the pocket.

Here are 6 tips from The Music Producer's Handbook about not only getting the click to cut through the mix and making it groove, but preventing any bleed into open microphones as well.

"Many times just providing a metronome in the phones isn’t enough. What good is a click if you can’t hear it, or worse yet, groove to it? Here are some tricks to make the click not only listenable, but cut through the densest mixes and seem like another instrument in the track too.

1. Pick The Right Sound. Something that’s more musical than an electronic click is better to groove to. Try either a cowbell, sidestick, or even a conga slap. Needless to say, when you pick a sound to replace the click, it should fit with the context of the song. Many drummers like two sounds for the click; something like a high go-go bell for the downbeat and a low go-go bell for the other beats or vice-versa.

2. Pick The Right Number Of Clicks Per Bar. Some players like 1/4 notes while others play a lot better with 8ths. Whichever it is, it will work better if there’s more emphasis on the downbeat (beat 1) than on the other beats.

3. Make It Groove. By adding a little delay to the click you can make it swing a bit and it won’t sound so stiff. This makes it easier for players that normally have trouble playing to a click. As a side benefit, this can help make any bleed that does occur less offensive as it will seem like part of the song.

Preventing Click Bleed
OK, now the click cuts through the mix but it does it so well that it’s bleeding into the mics. You’ll find this mostly with drummers (who usually want to hear it at near ear-splitting levels) and string players (who play very quietly and therefore need the gain of the mics turned up). Try the following:

4. Try a different set of headphones. 
Try a pair that has a better seal. The Sony 7506 phones provide a fairly good seal, but the Metrophones "Studio Kans," the Vic Firth S1H1’s, or even the Radio Shack "Racing Headphones" (they’re mono though), will all isolate a click from bleeding into nearby mics.

5. Run the click through an equalizer and roll off the high end just enough to cut down on the bleed.

6. Have the players use one-eared headphones. Many times players will leave the phones loose so they can hear what’s going on with the other players in the room. If they can have click in one ear (in the headphone) that’s sealed closely to the head, then they get the live room sound in their free ear. One-eared phones have become almost standard for ensemble recording for horn and string sections, and are sometimes preferred by vocal groups as well. A good example is the Beyer DT102 (shown on the left)."

Sometimes all it takes is one of these tricks to put a smile on the face of everybody both in and out of the control room, so give them a try.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

It Had To Happen - A Mixer With Auto-Tune

Peavy Mixer with Auto-Tune image
I guess it had to happen sooner or later. Peavy has introduced a line of mixers (the AT series) that has built-in Auto-Tune.

This is obviously aimed at entry-level artists and bands, and I don't blame Peavy or Antares for doing it because there was probably a demand, but it sure sends the wrong message to musicians who should be spending their time trying to get better rather than relying on technology to fix their mistakes.

Technology is wonderful in that it allows us to do so much more than we could do in the past. For instance, today's typical home studio is far more powerful than anything The Beatles ever had available to them (although it doesn't sound near as good).

That said, technology can also hide the performance warts that were glaring in the past that forced the performer to actually practice the craft in order to get better at it.

I don't blame anyone for wanting to sound their best, and this blog and most of my books and coaching programs have been dedicated to that for years, but there's no shortcut to greatness. You still have to put the time in, and no amount of Auto-Tune will sonically paper that over.

One problem I see today is that much of the time that used to be spent practicing and rehearsing is instead dedicated to learning music and audio hardware and software. While that's a necessary evil, it still draws attention away from a musician's primary asset, which is playing music.

So I'll get off my soapbox now and wish Peavy well with the product as well as its users, but if you're using it, please do so as a temporary solution until you get your chops together for both your sake and ours.

Thanks to Dave King for the heads up on this.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Composer-Producer Rob Arbitier On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

This week I'm please to have composer, producer and music technologist Rob Arbitier on my Inner Circle Podcast.

Rob is not only one of my compadres from the AudioNowcast, but he's been Stevie Wonder's technology guy for 30 years, as well as a composer/producer for commercials, movie trailers and albums.

Rob tells a great story about how he got started started with Stevie, then shares his vision about the future of audio hardware and software on the podcast.

In the intro I'll describe how a lawsuit from American Idol's record label 19 Recording against Sony looks to challenge the major label's equity interest in Spotify, and the importance of the studio headphone mix and some tips on getting a great one.

Remember that you can find the podcast at BobbyOInnerCircle.com, or either on iTunes or Stitcher.

New Music Gear Monday: The X-Clip Dual Mic Holder

The X-clip image
The Shure SM57 may be the greatest single mic ever invented for the snare and electric guitar amps, but sometimes it's just not enough to capture the tone you want. In those cases, many times a small capsule condenser mic is used to fill out the sound. The biggest problem in that scenario is being able to mount the two mics close together, which usually ends up with the two mics being taped together.

Now the tape job is in the past thanks to the inventive new X-Clip dual microphone mount.

The X-Clip is just that - a clip designed to fit around an SM57 or similarly shaped microphone that then acts as a holder for a small diaphragm condenser like an AKG 451.

It's ingenious, it eliminates the tape, and it keeps the mics perfectly in phase with ease. What more can you ask for?

With the X-Clip you can all but eliminate phase distortion by keeping the capsules perfectly aligned with each other, something that's usually pretty difficult when using two mic stands or with the two mics taped together.

A single X-Clip is priced at $19.95, but a Studio Bundle of 3 is currently priced at $49.95. Find out more at thexclip.com.

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