Archive for November, 2012

Wikipedia and Spotify

Two interesting e-mails reached my inbox this week. One was a simple request for cash ($30 was the suggested contribution) from the folks at Wikipedia. The other was a link (see below) that offers a spirited defense of Spotify.

How could anyone who uses Wikipedia as a research tool sit on the sidelines during their yearly fund raiser? Can you remember spending time in the library armed with index cards, trying to sort through the morass formally known as the Dewey Decimal System? Ah, yes, the pain is coming back, you’re deeply grateful to the eggheads who developed the web, and are flushed with warm feelings for Wikipedia.

Sure, the information can be provided by anyone, including non-academics, and it’s important to verify what you read, but isn’t it great to know that if you want to know something about, say, the Dewey Decimal System, you can blow the virtual dust off of Wikipedia and discover everything there is to know regarding Melvil Dewey, the guy who developed this classification system? Yes, you say! So loosen up the purse strings, send an e mail to donatewikimedia.org and throw a few shekels in the pot.

Spotify has been vilified by tons of people. The main charge-that artists are screwed out of a just return on their emotional, financial and artistic efforts-is beyond the scope of this blog. All I can say is that after trying the free service for several months I signed up for the $10/month plan to make sure artists were receiving something from me. Honestly, if Spotify held a holiday fund raiser where all the money raised went directly to artists I’d throw a few bucks in that pot as well.

I love Spotify. Every time I hear about an artist who’s new to me, or pick up the Times and read about someone I hadn’t thought about in awhile (the synth pioneer, Laurie Spiegel, about a week ago, for example) I fire up Spotify. Even if it’s only a track or two, I almost always get pointed towards some music I can listen to immediately. Fantastic! Listen to what David Macias, the president of a Nashville label services company, Thirty Tigers, has to say about Spotify, and don’t hesitate to weigh in yourself at some point!

http://hypebot.com/hypebot/2012/11/clearing-up-spotify-payment-confusion.html

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Crash Course in Analog Tape Machines

What if you were enlisted to assist on an analog recording session? One of my students is headed out of state to do just that. It’s been a year since we’d ‘analog’d’ together, so I figured he needed a few mental refreshing bullets, so here goes…

FIRST THING

- Make friends with staff
- LEARN HOW TO THREAD THE MACHINE ASAP
- STAFF will likely do the alignments, but you will want be sure to query the engineer as to the preferred Operating Level, Tape Speed and EQ (details below).
- Take every opportunity to observe when geeks are melding with machine.
- ALWAYS put the machine in SAFE MODE after a take until you are sure it is time to record again.

DAILY MACHINE MAINTENANCE

Heads should be cleaned throughout the session especially at the beginning, so you get a feel for the tape’s condition – even new outta-da-box tape may shed – some more than others – this kills High Frequency (HF) response. Use 99% alcohol or denatured alcohol. Dedicated cleaner may be extremely potent / caustic, so keep far away from plastics (like VU meters).

LOOK closely and you’ll see a technique I use to make oxide buildup – and head wear – visible. I lay a sheet of white paper on the deck plate in front of the headstack. Good, non-glare, overhead light reflects on the paper to the head.

Do not use alcohol on the pinch roller – either a dedicated rubber cleaner or diluted windex / formula 409 on a cloth / paper towel is better. Be wary of pinch roller degradation warning signs – when the ‘puck’ transitions from firm to soft / tacky / gummy.

Be super aware of hidden magnets and their proximity to tape and machine – Laptops, speakers / monitors / tools…

SESSION ORGANIZATION

- Tape obviously has no time stamp so keep really accurate notes.
- Set 00:00 at the head (beginning) of the tape. ,
- tapes are stored PLAYED = Tail Out
- Label the reel, label the box, and if you’re handwriting sucks, use your laptop for session logs and make sure to get access to the local printer.

HEADS UP
- Tape machines have Erase, Record (sync) and Playback (repro) heads.
-’Print’ tones at the head – one minute (minimum) each: 1kHz, 10kHz, 15kHz, 100Hz, 50Hz.
- Insert Leader tape after the tones.
- Waver of more than 1dB @ 15kHz is not an encouraging sign.
- In SYNC mode, The machine will automatically switch to input when recording just like PT!
- Obviously the remote let’s you choose monitor modes – INPUT, SYNC (for overdubs) and REPRO for mixing.

TAPE SPEED

I pretty much use 15 inches per second because it is both economical (a 10-inch reel lasts 1/2 hour) and good for rock because the low frequency response is extended compared to 30 IPS, a speed that does not allow you to push low end, especially kick drum. At either speed, I do not recommend EQ-ing (boosting) low end to tape – esp @ 30IPS – low end boost is better to do on playback.

The first image in this link shows how tape speed affects frequency response.

OPERATING LEVEL

Standard operating levels are expressed two ways: in nanoWebers per meter (185nWb/m, 250nWb/m, 320nWb/m or 520nWb/m) or in the amount of dB above standard operating level, as ‘plus 3, plus 6 or plus 9.’ For example 250nWb/m is +3 above 185nWb/m. Follow this link for details…

If, for example the test tape is @ 250nWb/m, but the eng wants to run 3dB higher (approx 320nWb/m), set the test tape ref tones for REPRO and SYNCH at -3dB VU.

- BEFORE record alignment, a known +4dBu reference tone is sent to all channels.
- Machine is switched to input and INPUT CAL is adjusted for 0VU.
- DURING Record alignment, machine is switched to REPRO. Adjust REC CAL / Level for 0VU.
- Record alignment begins with bias – read article above as this should be done by staff – then INPUT cal, record level and finally by HF record level..
- BIAS is primarily to minimize low frequency distortion and maximize punch. BUT, Bias affect High frequency response as well.
- Bias is typically adjusted for a peak @ 10kHz and then increased (CW) until 10kHz level falls ‘x’dB – the amount will be specified by the machine and / or tape manufacturer. This method is called ‘overbias’ and a few dB of HF are sacrificed in the name of Low Frequency (LF) punch and low distortion. The HF loss is made up via the HF record level adjustment.

EQUALIZATION

- American EQ standard is NAB for 15IPS and AES for 30 IPS.
- Euro EQ is called either CCIR (seventies) or IEC
- European EQ hides noise better.

good luck, and may the Electron Goddess bless your tweaker.

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A Shout Out To Marty Toole

Initially, I thought I’d write a blog on the epic achievements of Gary Lewis and the Playboys. Like you, I’m sure, I pondered the possibilities: concentrate on Gary’s troubled relationship with his pap, Jerry, or focus on one of his uber hits… “This Diamond Ring,” “Count Me In,” or (my fave) “Save Your Heart For Me.” But then, remembering the moment when, a new resident of Rockland County, sliding down the hill to the high school baseball field to assume my position in center field as a member of the Senators, the Babe Ruth team I belonged to, I thought of Marty Toole.

Ah, fuck Marty… I met him that year; I guess it would be 1966. After a high school career that included acceptable stats as a halfback, wrestler, and reasonable performances as a pull hitter on the baseball team, Toole X (as we called him back in the day) would end up being voted best looking in our high school class. What? What about the alternative types…the girls who listened to Jesse Colin Young and The Youngbloods paid attention to those guys, right?

Steady now… ultimately, it does all come back to Gary Lewis, and the time in American history when a young kid, devoid of talent to a nearly perfect degree, was able to insert himself into popular culture and stand at the top of the mountain for two or three years.

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Cinematic Strings 2.1

Cinematic Strings (www.cinematicstrings.com) just released an update to their flagship product, and if you’re in need of an attractively priced ($499 US dollars) all purpose string library or want to augment the string samples you currently own, I’d suggest you check out the audio demos and instructional videos posted on their site. They’re very good, and the value of this library is extremely strong.

The sound is rich; the warmth of the samples is enhanced by an excellent convolution reverb, but even with it turned off there is an expressive quality that is extremely attractive. The developers have figured out a way to help you create very convincing fast paced runs. Run mode combines staccato patches (for clarity) and half trill patches (for the smear that inevitably comes when multiple players play fast passages in unison), and you can use controllers to tailor the sound to your liking.

The update adds Ensemble patches that include all sections, and fixes a few bugs. If you’d like to hear the details from the horse’s mouth, click on the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkxBqtydNP4&feature=youtu.be

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ISO Bass Management for 11.1

I recently had a call from Simon Coté at AudioPlus Services who asked if I knew of a system that could bass manage an 11.1 speaker array. Good question, as there isn’t a lot of turnkey surround gear out there beyond 7.1.

Although it wasn’t necessary for the search, I was curious about the setup of the speakers. The system would be fed 11 channels of discrete audio and consist of Focal Twin Solo speakers setup in a standard 7.1 array; LCR (22°-30°), LS/RS (90°-110°) and LB/RB (135°-150°). The other four channels would be Focal Twin Solo 6 monitors setup as two high front speakers and two high back speakers.

I started my search for a bass manager by calling my friend and engineer David Rideau who as my luck would have it, was at GenAudio’s excellent 5.1 room in Los Angeles for a session. Genaudio is all about surround, both discrete and simulated and if anyone would know about multichannel bass management, they would. Dave fired the question to GenAudio‘s Senior Mix Engineer Greg Morgenstein who came up with Meyer Sound’s Galileo Speaker Management System as an option. I let the guys get back to work and searched on Meyer Sound’s Website for the specs.

Unfortunately, Galileo has only 8 inputs per unit which is perfect for 7.1 but not 11.1. Although you can gang Galileo systems together, you can’t manage inputs from both units to a single output. My search continued on Meyer Sound’s Website where I found D-Mitri, a versatile, high-resolution audio system that does speaker management plus much more. D-Mitri is a scalable system where you can design your own analog and/or digital IO, include a recorder, do advanced speaker management, matrix mixing and routing and choose enough DSP for your setup which can include up to 144 outputs.

Communication between D-Mitri’s many boxes is via Ethernet, so a very large system can be setup with a small cabling footprint. I confirmed that D-Mitri was the system for the job through a quick call to Brian Bolly from Meyer Sound’s Cinema division. Brian walked me through D-Mitri’s options which were all very cool and although the system had more horsepower than I needed, was perfect for the job.

I called Simon back with my findings and found that in his own search, had found another option; the Trinnov Magnitude32 Room/Speaker Optimizer. The Magnitude32 is another scalable system but takes the single box approach where you can add expansion boards for more IO and get up to 16 inputs and 32 outputs. Magnitude32 has enough DSP power for Mixing Matrixes, Manual FIR filters, Parametric EQs, Graphic EQs, gains, trims, RMS meters, manual delays, Bass Managment, 4-way active crossovers and more.

The process of finding the right manager for the job was educational for me. I started the day not knowing much about advanced systems like these and by the end of the day had two new systems in my lexicon for advanced bass management and much more. I love audio!

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Getting to Know Grammy U

While the Grammy Awards might be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Recording Academy, the organization supports the professional musical community in a variety of ways. For example, its Advocacy and Government Relations office in Washington, D.C. represents the rights of music industry professionals in Congress, while the Producers and Engineers Wing develops and promotes technical standards and guidelines. Meanwhile, humanitarian issues are handled by MusiCares, which provides assistance to people in the industry who are struggling through medical, financial, or personal troubles (such as an event like Hurricane Sandy).

As a music educator, I am continually impressed by the organization’s student outreach through Grammy U. This important level of membership in the Recording Academy creates educational, networking and performance opportunities that are designed to help prepare college students for careers in the industry. To find out more about Grammy U, I spoke with Nancy Shapiro, Vice President of Member Services at the Recording Academy.

How long has Grammy U been active?

About six years. The Recording Academy felt that the next generation of music makers and music business professionals could really benefit from a program such as this. And we, in turn, felt that music professionals could benefit from listening and interacting with this demographic of young people.

It’s an interactive process where students gain access to professionals in the music business and we’re able to hear their voice and their thoughts, which helps guide us into the future.

Does each regional chapter run its own program?
We have student reps and campus reps all over the country that work out of their chapters, but it is coordinated nationally.

Grammy U is not a separate organization. It’s a classification of membership of the Recording Academy. The Recording Academy has voting members— the professionals that make the recordings. We have associate members, which are those professionals that don’t necessarily have enough credits to be voting members. For example, managers, publishers, and label executives are associate members. Then we have student members. And that’s Grammy U.

It costs $25 a year for Grammy U membership. Or, a student can pay $50, which will cover them until they graduate. Most of them do that.

How has the feedback been for Grammy U?
It’s been great. We’ve just had a Grammy U Soundcheck in Memphis with Justin Bieber. Not only did the students learn a lot because he is their contemporary, but the feedback we got was that Justin loved interacting on a professional level with people his own age. It was a great session.

That’s just one example. We have Grammy U Soundchecks with artists in every genre. When they come to a city, we make sure that our Grammy U students have an opportunity to go to the soundcheck and have a Q&A with the artist, the road manager, and the team behind the artist. And those have proven to be very valuable to the students as well as the artists. That’s what’s so great about Grammy U: it’s valuable on both sides of the fence.

What other events does Grammy U run?
We have high-profile advisory boards in every chapter city, and we do a lot of board interaction. In other words, “Up Close and Personal with an A-List producer,” or “Up Close and Personal with an A-List Engineer.” Or we may have a networking event such as the Grammy Block Party, where Grammy U students get to interact with professionals. So these events can include anything from a professional development event where you sit down and have a panel, or you might just have an “Up Close and Personal” with one key person, or it might be a networking event where you get to meet and interact with many industry professionals.

What sort of plans do you have for future development?

We will be announcing soon that we are hiring an executive director for Grammy U, because it has grown exponentially and continues to grow at a rapid rate. So we are building our staff to accommodate this. It’s a very important segment of our membership, and we will be announcing expansion plans shortly.

After six years, we’re starting to see our Grammy U members come into our voting and associate membership classes after they graduate. And we’re starting to see some of those people enter into our elected leadership on our boards across the country. So what started out as a theory, that these students would find value in the program, turned into not only the students finding value, but the recording academy finding value in the next generation of music makers entering into the different categories of membership and even voting on the Grammys. They’re among the brightest stars in our membership. We connect to them at 18 and they’re continuing their membership after graduation, which is a great thing. These students who initially showed an interest in pursuing music as a career are in fact coming into the music business.

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Mike Storey

Do you remain passionately attached to hardware processors? Or, have you turned your old reverb units into door stoppers and with a pang of guilt perhaps, dived completely within your Pro Tools rig after railing against plug-ins for a decade or more? Either way, I bet you’ll find Mike Storey’s adventure of some interest.

A Brooklyn, NY resident with an interest in classic plate reverbs (the EMT-140 in particular) Storey spent the better part of a year researching and building one of his own. He contacted Jim Cunningham, who spent a lot of time building his own plate reverbs once EMT’s patent ran out in 1977. Storey purchased Cunningham’s blue prints, sought out parts, and went to work.

Storey readily admits that digital recreations of plate reverbs are highly effective and accurate. It’s the little things-dust in the unit itself, for example, that causes the odd audio hiccup hear and there-that impart character to the physical device that its digital counterpart lacks.

Check out the link below if you’re interested in hearing Mike Storey’s, well, story. If you like, he’ll run your audio file through his plate reverb for a small fee.

http://entertainment.slashdot.org/story/12/11/09/1837213/mike-storey-and-his-plate-reverb-video

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I WANT MY EMT-V!

Hi! Remember me??? Good! Who am I?

Looking back on this past year, I feel like I couldn’t possibly have done more. Invariably, just saying that is an automatic ‘hat throwing’ into next year’s ring…

This month’s reflection is about 2012′s projects that will find their way into 2013 articles…

But first, there’s one more column for the year coming up in December. It’s not officially labeled a ‘Part-1 in a series,’ but it is very likely to be just that. Not only does it represent one of my own life-long obsessions but the same applies to Greg Reierson of Rareform Mastering, the proud owner of a Neumann lathe!!!

If you grew up playing records as we did, then you will be very interested to follow our travelogue about bringing a seventies-era Neumann Lathe into this century. December’s article is mostly a ‘romance novelette’ about how we each got ‘the calling,’ a combined love of music and a fascination for the medium that delivered it.

What’s in store for 2013


I want My EMT-V!

Earlier in the year, my assistant and I rebuilt several tube preamps (including Demeter and Mastering Lab) as well an EMT Plate Reverb amplifier. Soon afterward, the client had my assistant install new pickups in the hopes it would improve the tone. They didn’t, but a few months later I discover the real problem during a ‘tuning session’ – the driver coil was rubbing against the magnet assembly. Once that was resolved, the preamps had to be retrofitted with high pass filters to compensate for the improved low frequency response of the new pickups.

I will be fleshing out the EMT-140 story with pix and calibration details after the January Issue.

Here’s a link to sound samples…

SERGE, the synth!

Yes indeed, earlier this year I had an assistant. Those were the daze. Now he works at Great River Electronics, a mere 15 minutes from here. My new assistant is ‘Tom Zos,’ I use that name in quotes because Tom is not his real name but his ‘slave name’ – his words not mine. His real name is very Greek, and I’d have no problem learning it if he would only go by one name! But, to try to make it more ‘user friendly’ he is constantly ‘remixing’ it…

That said, Tom is really into synths and a real asset to have in the shop. He’s learning a ton about basic electronics. We’ve already improved the sequencer’s ability to latch on to a wider frequency range of clock signals.

Pix and samples to come.
Happy Thanksgiving!

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Sequencers…

Checking the MOTU site to see if the highly anticipated (at least by me and, I’m sure, a number of other composers who rely heavily on MIDI) release of Digital Performer 8 for Windows is ready for prime time got me thinking. Dangerous, right, I understand! Still, there’s a question. What is your sequencer of choice? Furthermore, how well do you know the feature sets of the sequencers you’ve passed on?

Not long ago studio musicians, particularly those writing for film and television, used Pro Tools as a recorder with Logic or another sequencer functioning on the front end. Of course, Digidesign understood that it was limiting its market share and eventually integrated a well designed MIDI sequencer into Pro Tools. Steinberg, Apple (post their purchase of Logic), Ableton-you get the idea-have continued to release periodic updates of their sequencers, though some feel that MIDI architecture has been fully maxed out.

What sequencer do you use? Do you feel that any one of them yields a better (read: warmer, more analog) sound? Do you use any of the analog tape modeling plug-ins? When was the last time you visited a colleague’s studio, stopped into a music store, or tapped into YouTube to check out the competition’s feature sets?

I’d be quite interested to hear from you on this topic. Whenever you get a chance, please drop me a line.

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Take That, Frankenstorm!

At about 1:45 this morning power coursed through the veins of our home’s electrical system. Lights flashed! The television spoke! Last year we went without power for nearly a week, and this time, according to our town mayor, it would likely be longer. Hurricane Sandy, however, forced us to deal with candles and Kindle light for just two days. What a blessing (quiet, don’t awaken the grid gods-the system could collapse again)!

So many in our state of New Jersey suffered and continue to endure profound losses, including the deaths of loved ones. We’ll let the climate gurus argue about global warming and its possible effect on this catastrophic storm and the one we endured exactly a year ago. Of course, when spikes send us looping off in unexpected directions we tend to hold onto to the things that matter most. Family first… fortunately ours was ok.

Then,,, ah, music! I was rewriting the last movement of “Not Forgotten: Three Scenes For Violin and Piano” when Sandy struck on Monday. Like countless others, Jerri and I climbed into bed quite early that night,,,before 9 p.m. We read and were about to fall out when I grabbed a flashlight and headed down to the basement, where my studio is located. I sat at the upright piano and worked on the piece for another 45 minutes or so. What a pleasure!

It was easy to imagine Beethoven, who (according to legend) sat up in his death bed to shake his fist at a raging storm, doing the same thing.

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