Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Friday, October 23, 2015

Dio "Holy Diver" Isolated Vocal

Ronnie James Dio image
Time for another isolated track, and this one is the metal classic "Holy Diver" from Dio.

I remember Ronnie Dio from way back in the day as our bands used to share a bill together around New York (Ronnie was then the bass player with Elf). I ran into him years later out in Los Angeles and he was still as cool as ever. A great talent and gentleman and genuinely missed by everyone who knew him.

The sound isn't all that great on this video, but there are still a few things to listen for.

1. Listen for the nice long delayed reverb on Ronnie's vocal. The tone of it is shaped nicely as it blends seamlessly into the mix.

2. There's a lot of headphone leakage, and the compression is pretty heavy but still works in the track. There's also a fair amount of breath noises and pops that aren't too obvious because of the tone of the audio track.

3. There's a bit of sibilance from the compression, but it may be emphasized by the data compression on the video.

4. Take notice to the harmony vocals on the second verse and beyond to help the song develop.

5. Ronnie's pitch is excellent throughout. I'm told he didn't need to do a lot of takes or to punch in mistakes much. That's pure talent you're listening to.

6. There's a nice doubled rhythm guitar track in stereo during the solo section.




Thursday, October 22, 2015

Frank Zappa's Dream Of Downloadable Sheet Music Now An Everyday Reality

Frank Zappa imageWith the passing of his wife Gail last week, stories and memories of Frank Zappa rush back into my mind. One that I'll never forget was when Frank did a sales pitch to a venture capitol company for my startup company way back in the early 80s.

Frank had this idea to transmit sheet music electronically to music stores, and had the ear of what was then the largest venture group in the country, Rothschild Capital.

My then business partner Steve DeFuria (who's been a VP at Line 6 for a while now) and I had an idea for a computerized music score writer that we called the MicroScorer.  Printing the music from a score is a feature in pretty much every DAW these days, but back then the idea was revolutionary as all music copying was still done by hand.

Frank connected us with Rothschild Capital, and we flew to New York City for a meeting. There we actually met the famous Baron Von Rothschild up in the penthouse of 1 Rockefeller Plaza in the middle of downtown Manhattan.

The company liked our idea enough to set up another meeting on our turf back in Los Angeles, which is where Frank came back into the picture.

Since we didn't want to have a meeting in my small apartment, we looked around for a suitable place. Frank came to the rescue by giving us the use of his studio to make our initial pitch to two Rothschild bankers, which happened to be at 9AM, one of the few times that he slept (every day he had two 8 hour shifts in the studio and some private writing after that).

About 15 minutes into our pitch, Frank burst into the meeting with coffee cup in hand, torn t-shirt, sweat pants with a hole in the knee, bare feet and severely matted hair, obviously right out of bed. Hardly business attire, even for today's Silicon Valley.

Steve and I groaned a little inside, wondering how his appearance was going to go down with the 3 piece-suited straight-laced New York VCs, but Frank launched into an absolutely captivating hour and a half pitch on our behalf, holding everyone in the room in the palm of his hand.

That was Frank. Everyone who ever came in contact has a story (usually a lot more than one).

Our project and Frank's were never funded, mostly because the oil crisis that year made energy investments the better bet, but it was an interesting little ride at the time.

Today Musicnotes is the market leader in downloadable sheet music, and what the company does is something that Frank actually envisioned in 1981. Sheet music over the Internet was one of his dreams, and he'd be proud to know that it eventually happened. Wish he were still here to see it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

6 Steps To A Perfect Bass And Drums Balance

Huge Kick Drum image
Perhaps the most difficult task of a mixing engineer is balancing the bass and drums (especially the bass and kick). Nothing can make or break a mix faster than how these instruments work together. It’s not uncommon for a mixer to spend hours on this balance (both level and frequency) because if the relationship isn’t correct, then the song will just never sound big and punchy.

Here's an excerpt from The Mixing Engineer's Handbook to help you achieve this sometimes mysterious balance.

"In order to have the impact and punch that most modern mixes exhibit, you have to make a space in your mix for both of these instruments so they won't fight each other and turn the mix into a muddy mess. While simply EQing your bass high and your kick low (or the other way around), might work at it’s simplest, it’s best to have a more in-depth strategy, so to make them fit together, try the following:

1. EQ the kick drum between 60 to120Hz as this will allow it to be heard on smaller speakers. For more attack and beater click add between 1k to 4kHz. You may also want to dip out some of the boxiness that lives between 200 to 600Hz. EQing in the 30 to 60Hz range will produce a kick that you can feel if your speakers are large enough, but that can also make it sound thin on smaller speakers and probably won’t translate well to a variety of speaker systems. Most 22 inch kick drums like to center somewhere around 80Hz, for instance.

2. Bring up the bass with the kick. The kick and bass should occupy slightly different frequency spaces. The kick will usually be in the 60 to 80Hz range whereas the bass will emphasize higher frequencies anywhere from 80 to 250 (although sometimes the two are reversed depending upon the song). Before you continue to EQ at other frequencies, try filtering out any unnecessary bass frequencies (below 30Hz on kick and 50Hz on the bass, although it varies according to style and taste) so the kick and bass are not boomy or muddy. There should be a driving, foundational quality to the combination of these two together.  

A common mistake is to emphasize the kick with either too much level or EQ and not enough on the bass guitar. This gives you the illusion that your mix is bottom light, because what you’re doing is effectively shortening the duration of the low frequency envelope in your mix. Since the kick tends to be more transitory than the bass guitar, this gives you the idea that the low frequency content of your mix is inconsistent. For pop music, it’s best to have the kick provide the percussive nature of the bottom while the bass fills out the sustain and musical parts. 

3. Make sure the snare is strong, otherwise the song will lose its drive when everything else is added in. This usually calls for at least some compression (see Chapter 9 on Dynamics). You may need a boost at 1k for attack, 120 to 240Hz for fullness, and 10k for snap. As you bring in the other drums and cymbals, you might want to dip a little of 1k on these to make room for the snare. Also make sure that the toms aren't too boomy (if so, try rolling them off a bit below 60 Hz first before you begin to EQ elsewhere). 

4. If you’re having trouble with the mix because it's sounding cloudy and muddy on the bottom end, turn the kick drum and bass off to determine what else might be in the way in the low end. You might not realize that there are some frequencies in the mix that aren't musically necessary. With piano or guitar, you're mainly looking for the mids and top end to cut through, while any low-end might be just getting in the way of the kick and bass, so it’s best to clear some of that out with a high-pass filter. When soloed the instrument might sound too thin, but with the rest of the mix the bass will sound so much better, and you won’t really be missing that low end from the other instruments. Now the mix will sound louder, clearer, and fuller. Be careful not to cut too much low end from the other instruments, as you might loose the warmth of the mix.

5. For dance music, be aware of kick drum to bass melody dissonance. The bass line is very important and needs to work very well with the kick drum when it’s reproduced over the huge sound systems commonly found in today's clubs. If your kick has a center frequency of an A note at around 50 or 60Hz and the bass line is tuned to A#, they’re going to clash. Tune your kick samples to the bass lines (or vice versa) where needed.

6. If you feel that you don't have enough bass or kick, boost the level, not the EQ. This is a mistake that everyone makes when they’re first getting their mixing chops together. Most bass drums and bass guitars have plenty of low end and don't need much more, so be sure that their level together and with the rest of the mix is correct before you go adding EQ. Even then, a little goes a long way."



Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Making Your Mixes Loud

Loud Mixes
Everyone wants their mixes loud enough to compete with the loudest mixes out there, even if we can't afford to send them to a great mastering engineer. Here's a video where my good buddy Dave Pensado describes his method for making your mix LOUD.

If you're not already familiar with Dave, you really should be, so check out his great webcast at Pensado's Place.




Monday, October 19, 2015

New Music Gear Monday: McDSP SA-2 Dialog Processor Plugin

McDSP SA-2 Dialog Processor plugin
Anyone that works on dialog (or vocals) knows that sometimes it's tough to make it cut through a mix. Add enough compression and EQ and it becomes sibilant, which a de-esser can control but sometimes at the expense of intelligibility. Now the new McDSP SA-2 Dialog Processor plugin gives you more control over that dialog than ever before to keep the dialog sounding natural.

The SA-2 Dialog Processor is based on the hardware originally conceived by Academy Award-winning re-recording mixer Mike Minkler, who used it on over 100 major motion pictures.

The plugin features 5 bands of active equalization centered around strategic frequencies in the dialog or vocal area. Each band has a threshold control to determine at what signal level the active equalizer begins to effect the signal, as well as the ability to solo each band to quickly audition the effect.

The SA-2 also has two mode selectors. One is for controlling the ballistics of the active equalization, and the second is for placing the five bands at other locations in the frequency spectrum. Finally, there are input and output gain controls for overall adjustment.

The McDSP SA-2 Dialog Processor plugin is available in AAX, AU and VST formats, and sells for $149 for native and $249 for HD. There's also a 14 day trial version. Find out more here, or check out the video below.




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