Archive of the MixSounds Category

Telephone Rehearsals

In two weeks, Christopher Johnson ( and I are heading into Louis Brown’s studio on Ninth Avenue. Chris is a great pianist; at home with the flashy show stoppers (Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1), he’s also quite comfortable with more intimate pieces. His take on Gershwin is excellent-check out the audio files on his site when you have some time.

About a decade ago Chris was the featured artist on an album of my chamber music, “Many Streams, One River.” This time around he’ll be recording two solo piano works, “A Brief Dispatch On The Blues,” and “Soft As A Kiss (Emily’s Song).”

Johnson lives in Manhattan, and it only takes me about an hour to drive into town from my central New Jersey home. But our rehearsals have taken place over the telephone, and I’ve noticed a distinct advantage to working in this decidely low fi manner. Hearing Chris apply his fluid technique to my music in person is kind of like enjoying a perfect martini, or two. Why concentrate on the flaws of the writing? Sure, the bass line at letter C is somewhat lame, but who cares… it all sounds great!

We’ve all been through this. Back in the day, didn’t you listen to play backs on the Big Reds most of the time? Eventually you realized that your work had to stand up on the tiny Aurotone speakers that every professional studio owned, and you became a better producer. Sure, I could hear through the experience of listening to Chris play live, and detect the weaknesses in my writing, but I’ve really enjoyed working over the phone. Chris is in Montana right now visiting his girl friend, about 35 miles south of the Canadian border.

Time to hear how those changes at letter C sound!

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“White Christmas” Acapella

Santa may have headed back up north, but the ball hasn’t dropped yet (never will again for Dick Clark, RIP) so you still have time to imbibe a holiday blog along with your spiked egg nog… ouch, sorry for that, I’m in a hurry!

Have mentioned my good friend Ed Goldfarb ( on these virtual pages in the past. He’s a true multi-threat musician, the musical Willie Mays of his generation. Ed writes, plays, produces, and is a hell of a mixer. He’s also a teacher out in the Bay area where he lives. Several years ago, while teaching a music course at Foothill College in Los Altos Goldfarb became friends with one of his students, Ben Dixon ( An outstanding singer, Ed used him on several projects before Ben and his family moved to Nashville. They’ve stayed in touch, and a recent collaboration-a gorgeous a cappella version of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”-is available online at no cost. Check it out:

Gorgeous, right?! Ed wrote the arrangement, laid down a piano guide track, and sent the score and audio file to Ben, who tracked all the parts. I spoke with the two artists about this project a few days ago.

“I’m a big Clare Fischer fan,” says Goldfarb. “He was a great arranger, who worked as a jazz arranger and orchestrator before Prince, Paul McCartney, and Chaka Khan picked up his work and hired him. I was thinking of Clare when Ben asked me to arrange this piece for a Christmas project he’s working on.”

Many artists who take straight jobs to pay the rent keep that aspect of their work life hidden. Not Ben Dixon. “I work for a company called G Squared Wireless, a corporate telecom wireless company. We offer support for management who offer their employees cell phones, tablets, various pieces of technology. Being that this is Nashville, there are quite a few musicians working in this company, and several of us decided to put together a Christmas CD, which we plan on releasing next year. Ed’s arrangement of “White Christmas” will be on that disk.

“I pulled Ed’s piano parts into ProTools LE, which I run on a MacBook Pro. I recorded the parts using an Audio Technica 4062 microphone, through an API 512C lunchbox series mic pre. After the API my path takes me into one of Pete Montessi’s BAC-500 compressors. That’s it. I don’t use any effects while I’m singing, or pitch correction.

“To help me nail pitch I pan everything dead center while I’m recording. Each of the five parts was recorded three times, and having everything in the center lets me hear all the subtle nuances and discrepancies between the tracks. It makes it easy to get things ridiculously tight, and when they get panned in the mix the result is a nice wash.”

Goldfarb says that the vocals required little polish. “Ben’s singing across a wide vocal range, and there were a few places where I automated a syllable to goose things, but the intuitive decisions Ben made about how to inflect and phrase were perfect, and the tracks blended beautifully together.

“I created sub groups for each of the five parts, eq’d them individually, and did some dynamic panning. In a few spots I manipulated the spatial effect, using reverb to extend a note just a bit. It’s hard to avoid stinging some of the s’s in ‘Christmas,’ so I wrote volume dips in a few places. Ben is a terrific singer, and for the most part what you’re hearing is what he gave me.”

Great work, guys!

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Santa, Please Bring Me…

It may be strange for a Jewish guy to be talking about a Christmas list, but I’ve always loved this holiday. As musicians, of course, we’ve had to face facts for some time: when it comes to religious music the Goyim have been kicking our ass for centuries! Bach’s B Minor Mass/the Dreidel song, Handel’s Messiah/Chanukah, Oh Chanukah… I rest my case.

As for the wish list, mine is empty. I’ve got everything I need, particularly when it comes to the tools required to turn out the best music I’m capable of writing and recording. Been looking through some of the trades this month, watching for the winners in the usual end of year polls; best microphones, best DAW software, you know the drill. Everything anyone needs to immortalize an idea is there-a mic for $99, a free workstation, monitors at every price point, computers that cost far less than earlier models and deliver so much more bang for the buck.

Though they’ve struggled, and many have folded, there are, fortunately, still primo recording studios available for those projects that demand the highest quality. I just discovered one that’s new to me, LBrown Recording over on Ninth Ave., and will be going in there next month to record three projects.

Recording artists have the best of all worlds available, and that’s something to be grateful for.

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About six years ago I received a CD from Jonathan Wolfson Entertainment. Not surprising; I get lots of promotional recordings. The press release indicated that this disk, “Rappa Ternt Sanga,” was the work of a young rapper/singer named T-Pain. Track by track revealed an obvious truth: this was a talented kid. “I’m In Love Wit a Strippa” seemed like the logical single, but T-Pain’s vocal strength and production ability were the true stars on this disk.

Cher’s “Believe” introduced the world to the wonders of Auto-Tune (horrors, some would say) and the effect had been replicated by a mind numbing amount of singers and producers. T-Pain jumped on the band wagon, but there was something different about his use of the plug-in. As Eric Persing had done with sound design, and BT with a host of unusual effects in the trance universe, T-Pain managed to create a tonal pallet that used Auto-Tune but did not rely on it. For him, pitch correction was clearly a tool that could enhance his vocal phrasing; it wasn’t needed to correct technical flaws.

Since that time T-Pain has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity and success. He’s collaborated with many other prominent rap artists. Among these, “One More Drink,” tracked with Ludacris, is my favorite.

If you’re not familiar with T-Pain’s work and only have time to listen to one track, I’d suggest that you start out with “Bartender.” The writing is solidly in the R&B tradition, the production is terrific, and T-Pain’s vocal sounds great, during the verses where it’s naked, in the bridge where Auto-Tune is introduced, and the chorus were it’s used lightly. The flange applied to the electric piano and the “wiggle” synth line join the auto-tuned vocal to create an ensemble that sits nicely within the track.

I have to admit that I blanch somewhat when I see cuts with titles like “I Don’t Give a Fuk,” and listen to lyrics that explicitly lay out, well, how T-Pain is going to nail a female friend. Each generation has to define its own boundaries, though, and T-Pain’s message clearly resonates with his peers.

Like I said, a talented kid.

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“Cryin’ For Me”

Flipping through the channels last night I landed on the just released documentary, “The Wayman Tisdale Story.” If you don’t know the Tis’ tale, it’s quite remarkable. He was supremely blessed until, well, until he wasn’t.

Wayman grew up in the church-grew up is the operative term; at his maturity Tisdale was a 6’9” hunk of a guy with great hands, leaping ability, and a basket full of bball talent, enough to shepard him through an exceptional 12 year career in the NBA as a power forward-the enforcer position.

Tisdale was also a life long musician who grew up playing and singing in his father’s Oklahoma church. His electric bass playing had roots in 70’s soul, and his style fit neatly into the smooth jazz format that was popular when Motown Records released his first CD, “Power Forward” in 1995. In 2001, “Face To Face” reached the top of Billboard’s contemporary jazz charts.

Producers were smart enough to realize that Tisdale’s strength as a bassist lied in his ability to improvise in the instrument’s upper range, and generally paired him with another bass player (often the incomparable Marcus Miller) who would outline a tune’s harmonic structure and, along with drums and percussion, construct the groove.

Waymon Tisdale was also known as a truly good guy, and life was good for the big man until the day in 2007 when he found out that he had cancer in his knee. He sacrificed part of that leg in an attempt to beat it back, but cancer was an opponent Waymon Tisdale could not box out. On May 15, 2009, he passed, at the age of 44.

“The Wayman Tisdale Story” concludes with Toby Keith singing “Cryin’ For Me (Wayman’s Song).” It’s a beautiful track, check it out.

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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 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!

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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 ( 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:

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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.

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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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