Archive of the MixSounds Category

I Stumped Greg Ondo

…and I’m not happy about it. Kidding aside, Greg’s the resident guru at Yamaha who covers the Steinberg line, including Cubase, which I use, and so I called him up when I couldn’t figure out how to solve a problem. This is one of the weirdest midi issues I’ve run across. Although it happened to be an easy situation to work around, I’m wondering what the cause of the problem might have been. If any of you have any ideas, please let me know.

After spending the last four or five months playing the first three movements of my large orchestral work, “4,3,2,1” into my DAW and mixing these pieces with the help of my friend Ed Goldfarb-without any problems-I set to work on the last movement, a couple of days ago. My work flow is simple: I enter the score into Finale, print it out, and perform the parts into Cubase 5, generally starting from the double basses and working my way up. I have 8 gigs of memory on my Windows 7 machine, and that allows me to load up at least half a dozen instances of the Vienna Symphonic Library, Kontakt, or any of the other libraries I own. I track short sections, committing midi tracks to audio as I go along. As I move on I delete earlier audio tracks and re-record from bar 1.

Things were going smoothly this morning; I had the first section of the piece recorded, loaded up the celli and double basses, and performed them in. Wait… what the hell is causing the double basses to play back slightly flat? I was sure that I’d accidentally recorded some unwanted pitch bend data, but there was nothing on the track. Maybe some other controller is mucking things up, I thought, so I saved the piece under a different name and deleted all controller data. No luck. Perhaps the VSL double bass preset has been corrupted, I posited, so I loaded a different instrument-the bass trombone, but it played back flat as well. Then I had the double basses play the cello line transposed down an octave… no problem, the intonation was fine.

Something funky was clearly taking place within the double bass midi track. I called Greg. I sent him the midi file, but he couldn’t find anything that would cause the problem. So what do I do now, Greg? Well, he said, these things happen… start again! As I said, this was no problem, since I was reading from a score. If the part had come out of an improvisation that would have been a drag. In half an hour I had the midi track ready to drop to audio, and the process went smoothly.

Any thoughts on what could have caused this glitch?

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It’s 1965, your group is gifted with a talent for mimicry and wants to achieve commercial success-badly. You need to build a song around a sound that’s already captured the collective imagination of teens around the world. Let’s see… the Rolling Stones are big, James Brown is up on the good foot, the Temps, the Byrds, Sonny and Cher, they all have hits. So do The Animals, The Lovin’ Spoonful… jeez, Gary Lewis and The Playboys are a possibility! But above all others, the cherry on the cake, the sound most worth copping comes from Liverpool. Let’s step back for a moment.

The Knickerbockers were birthed in a Bergenfield, New Jersey basement in 1962 by brothers Beau and John Charles. Several years later these guys hooked up with singer/sax player Buddy Randell. The group migrated to LA and wrote the classic rock song, “Lies” in a half hour or so. The uncanny Beatles sound, which featured Randall’s Lennon-like lead vocal, a gnarly Harrison-ish guitar lick played by Beau Charles on a Rickenbacker guitar, and a series of whoops and shouts that recalled “You Can’t Do That,” “Twist and Shout,” and a number of other Beatles hits, caused quite a sensation. “Lies” peaked at number 20 on the pop charts and raised The Knickerbockers into one of the outer circles of pop celebrity.

Songwriter Jerry Fuller (“Traveling Man,” “Young Girl”) was an executive at Challenge Records when he saw The Knickerbockers perform in Albany, New York and brought them to Los Angeles. “Lies” was the group’s third single on the Challenge label. “We desperately tried to write something that sounded like the British Invasion,” said Beau Charles. “We wrote ‘Lies’ in less than an hour and recorded a demo in New York.”

The single version of “Lies” was tracked at Sunset Sound in LA with Bruce Botnick (who was about 20 years old at the time) at the desk. Fuller felt that the four track master was lacking something and so the group headed up to Leon Russell’s home in the Hollywood Hills and added Beau Charles’ signature guitar part using a Fender amplifier.

Structurally, “Lies” is unusual. It abandons the verse-chorus-bridge structure, as a number of Beatles songs do, and smashes the listener in the face with the central motif from the get go. The lyrics reflect Lennon’s caustic attitude towards relationships (“Some day you’re gonna be lonely, but you won’t find me around”) and Randall adroitly mimics the master’s inflection by omitting the r sound on the word girl.

Building a sound on another group’s may work for a moment, but it can’t sustain a career, as The Knickerbockers discovered. The group continued to record, and were a presence on the WABC television show “Where The Action Is” for several years, but “Lies” remains their lone recording success.

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I’m thrilled to report that ETHEL, the Manhattan based string quartet, will be recording “The Amazing X-Ray Machine,” a quartet I wrote several years ago with them in mind, next month. Our mutual friend Hal Winer, owner of BiCoastal Studios, where ETHEL tracked several selections from their most recent release, “Heavy,” (Innova Records) made the connection. The group also recorded at Kaleidoscope Sound, located in Union City, NJ.

I sent Ralph Farris, the group’s violist (and, along with cellist Dorothy Lawson, a founding member) a MIDI demo I recorded using the VSL Solo Strings collection a few weeks ago. Ralph liked it and asked me to send him a full score and parts. The group read through the piece on Monday. Two days later Ralph and I were sitting in an outdoor cafe across the street from the Minskoff Theater making a few changes to the score before the matinee performance of “The Lion King.” Ralph’s been in the pit for that show since it debuted on the Great White Way in 1997.

If you’re interested in learning more about ETHEL, or would like to listen to cuts from “Heavy,” head on over to the group’s website (

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I’ve blogged about Andrew Lubman before. A.L.’s one of those guys who travel the wedding circuit scene in NY; one of the special ones whose playing and singing make you take note instantly. He’s good—very good. When he’s not working as a Mac computer tech in a school district (his day job) or performing for the Glitterati, you might catch Andrew in a recording studio adding to his catalog of spot on Beatles re-recordings (the latest is “Birthday”). The videos can be found on YouTube (type in AllYouNeedIsLub) as well as his website ( (you can also listen to a number of Andrew’s original songs on this site). Besides nailing the vocal performances and playing all instruments himself using copies (or near copies) of those used on the original tracks, Lubman does a very good job of engineering and mixing these songs. I asked him to share his techniques with us.

Mix: What kind of research do you do before you track?

Andrew Lubman: “First and foremost I do a lot of critical listening to the original recordings. That means headphones, listening to the left and right channels individually (but fed into both ears), seeking out outtakes and alternate versions (live versions if applicable), and listening to the individual channels from surround mixes (“Anthology” DVDs, “Yellow Submarine” DVD, “Help!” DVD, “Love” surround mixes). Three books form a collective Beatles bible: “The Beatles: Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn, “Beatles Gear” by Andy Babiuk, and “Recording The Beatles” by Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan. That last one is on the more expensive side ($100), but worth every penny. Another indispensible source of knowledge is the web community at–a great bunch of gear-heads and Beatle-heads.”

Mix: Do you have a basic philosophy regarding recording songs from The Beatles catalogue”

AL: “I try to emulate microphone placement based on what I hear on the original recordings, and go with condenser or dynamic where appropriate (I don’t have an extensive/expensive mic collection). I try to use similar model guitars as what’s on the recording (or at least guitars with the same type of pickups). I don’t use sheet music, as I’ve found that what’s out there isn’t accurate (some of it isn’t bad, just not 100 percent). Besides, part of the fun is figuring out the parts for myself!”

“I lean on IK Multimedia’s “TRackS” plugin, Waves reverb (usually a plate reverb), and Native Instruments’ “Guitar Rig.” I decided not to use any MIDI/synthesized/sampled emulations. I want to be able to show what was used on the original recordings, as well as how it was used. For all of my videos, I feel there should be an educational component, perhaps uncovering a mystery along the way.”

Mix: What do you hope to achieve with this ongoing project?

AL: “These videos are a complete labor of love, and take a long time to create. This is due in part, to the time it takes to find some of the instruments and equipment to borrow or rent. Also, I have little free time, so the recording and editing process takes place over a long period of time, in little dribs and drabs. The positive feedback that I’ve received is very rewarding, so thank you to everyone who has taken time to comment on the videos. I have many more in the works. I would love it if something came of these, whether in the form of work, recognition from respected people in the music world, etc.”

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Using Finale’s play back engine

For the last several years Finale has shipped with a subset of the Gary Garritan sample library. A play back engine allows the user to select instruments and hear the score performed through the application. To be honest, I had a somewhat snooty attitude regarding this aspect of Finale, believing that since I own tons of samples and meticulously craft my midi demos to take advantage of every articulation I own, play back within Finale served no purpose for me.

What a mistake! I wrote a string quartet several years, “The Amazing X-Ray Machine,” and the midi demo I created just found its when into the hands of Ralph Farris, the violist who is a member of the wonderful quartet ETHEL. The group just released a new album, “HEAVY,” and the reviews are coming in strong… head up to their website,, and check them out.

Ralph liked “X-Ray” and e mailed me to say that the group is having a new music reading session in mid May and he’d like to have parts to hand out to the other members. I wanted to take another look at the score and make some slight revisions before sending, and this time, instead of performing the changes into Cubase, I simply let Finale read them down for me using the Garritan strings that ship with the app. It was great! Who cares that the pizzicato and harmonic sections are all played with the same legato patch? I got a real feel for how the new music works without having to go through the labor intensive process of key switching using my libraries. Plus, play back lets Finale act as an editor, finding wrong notes that you might have missed.

If you’ve had a superior attitude regarding playing back scores through Finale, lose it!

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Me and James Blunt

It makes no sense… me, my age, James Blunt, his; but not only do I love “You’re Beautiful;” I consider it my own personal property, and here’s why.

It must have been 1978. I was on the subway in Manhattan, saw a young woman-not classically beautiful, but a queen, a treasure I wanted to know… and I said nothing. I vowed that if I ever saw her again I’d approach her.

Unbelievably, it couldn’t have been more than a month later, I’m walking down 79th St. and Columbus Ave. and there she is, wearing sandals, a loose fitting dress (it was during the Summer), and looking beautiful… like an angel with a smile on her face. I made my move, told her my story, asked if I could call… of course she said no… maybe if I had a mandolin in my hand, or said that my life was brilliant…

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John Mayall

Culture wars… this belongs to you, that’s mine, you can’t have it…what a waste! Taken to the extreme of course, we end up with fanatics who take the game up a level-our rules obtain, obey them or die. The Taliban, sure, but let’s be fair, how about the orthodox fellas in Tel Aviv who believe they have a pipeline to Maimonides that no one who fails to keep kosher can tap into. Not wanting to start an argument, mind you; when my kids were Bar Mitzvahed I read the Torah from cover to cover-twice each time-searching this magical document for something that would spur a thought.

Jagger, McCartney, and many others, including the great bluesman John Mayall, don’t seem to possess the exclusionary gene. They imported the blues while young, took possession of it, and added their own spices to the stew. Mayall, now a ripe 78 years old, continues to plow the fields; if you’re a fan in Ottowa, Ontario, Buffalo, NY, Ridgefield, CT., or a host of other cities in North America head up to his website ( and check out the group’s summer touring schedule.

Bluesbreaker fans know that E.C. first gained international fame as a guitarist who combined breathtaking technique with a composer’s ability to pare away all but the essential in Mayall’s band while he was still a pup. The great Mick Taylor took Clapton’s seat a few years later, and the group suffered no decline of inventiveness when he did-go back and listen to Mick’s playing on “Snowy Wood” if you need confirmation. Over the years a number of fine musicians have worked their way through the Bluesbreaker line up.

Mayall auditioned retirement a few years ago, but it was a bad fit. A long time resident of L.A., it seems that Mayall still has rambling on his mind. If we’re keeping score, put John Mayall in my column-but feel free to count him as one of your own as well.

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BBB blow out

I don’t shill for products, but I’m a huge fan of Broadway Big Band. I just got an e mail blast saying that SONIVOX has dropped the price for the full product by $900, and taken $200 off the lite version.

If you’ve been thinking about popping for this product, now seems like a good time to pull the trigger.

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Authentic Guitar 2

Authentic Guitar 2
149 pounds (approximately $197 US dollars)
Authentic Guitar 2 Lite 79 pounds (app. $105 US dollars)
purchased through website ( via PayPal

Once upon a time I spent six hours a day practicing the “classical” guitar-a term that always sounded lame to me. The great Fred Hand was my teacher. Naturally, I tilt my head whenever someone mentions a nylon string plug-in. Authentic Guitar was released in 2008, but I just got around to checking it out. The Musesamples website doesn’t provide a lot of background info on the product or the company itself, which is located in The Netherlands

So, how good is this product? Very good. A multitude of samples have been well recorded on a high quality instrument, and produced by folks who clearly know the guitar literature. Hit this link ( and listen to the virtual performance of Tarrega’s “Lagrima.” A technically unchallenging piece, “Lagrima” is one of the first chestnuts that aspiring players dig their teeth into. Sounds amazing, right? Hector Berlioz said that the guitar was a miniature orchestra, based largely on the variety of colors that can be pulled from it. A good guitarist is constantly moving his or her hand away from the basic position over the sound hole to create different shadings. Ponticello (by the bridge) is the most important of these variants, and AG2’s “metallic” patch is a clear attempt at providing this functionality. Musesamples took the time to record separate ponticello patches and the effort goes a long way in enhancing the realism of this product. Tasto (near the fretboard) is presented, as are espressivo and “molto” espressivo patches. They sound good!

Downloading plug-ins from a manufacturer’s website can be a harrowing experience, but I had no problem installing Authentic Guitar 2. The product will run on a Mac running OSX 10.5.8 and beyond, or a Windows computer running XP, Vista, or 7. Windows 7 is my operating system, so I installed the 64 bit version of AG2.

The folder structure of this plug-in is straightforward. Nested within the main folders are four sub folders (Basic Patches, Advanced Use, Strokes & Rasgueados, Left Hand and Right Hand Sound). Within each bank switching between sounds can be handled by key switching or midi controllers. My only criticism of Authentic Guitar 2-and it’s a fairly substantial one-is that the user can’t create banks of his or her own that contain the samples needed to achieve a specific performance on one midi channel. Musesamples says that loading time is an issue, and they suggest that you call up three instances, on separate midi channels, to cover the bass, accompaniment and melody areas. We can adapt to this method of working, but it’s not ideal.

Notwithstanding this shortcoming, I give Authentic Guitar 2 very high marks. It’s well recorded and includes all the obvious articulations and many that only an experienced player would know about. If you’re looking to recruit a “classical” guitarist or want to play bossa solos in the style of Jobim, Authentic Guitar 2 will fit nicely into your studio. I strongly suggest that you hit their website and check out the demos… they’re convincing, right?

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Peter Alexander

In an era where the return on dollars pumped into the traditional university system has become questionable and the internet has made long distance learning easy and affordable, enter Peter Alexander. Actually, Peter, a seasoned music industry vet, has been working as an educator for some time. He invites you to visit his website,

When did you first become interested in teaching?

I don’t think I became interested in teaching per se, but rather in studying and how people learn, and out of that, developing materials that enhance and speed up the learning process.

The process started in college when I asked myself the question, “How did the great composers teach themselves?” I asked that question because I was frustrated with having a different teacher and a new set of “rules” every semester. As I began reading composer bios I discovered a set of results driven books. What started as a personal learning quest grew into Alexander Publishing.

At this point I had the books and a pattern of the learning styles of the great composers. What was surprising was that from Bach to Jerry Goldsmith nothing had changed. The learning styles patterns were rock solid consistent for how composers learned the craft. The top two skills that emerged were butt power and the developed skill of self-instruction.

Butt power means the ability to sit a desk doing focused work for hours at a time. Self-instruction is the art of being able to understand how to teach yourself and apply what you learn. These are the core critical skills for making it as a composer, even a film composer. The learner that develops these skills puts himself on the road to long term career success-in music, and in most any field.

What does the full progression of Alexander University training entail?

Alexander University is the corporate name, and Alexander Publishing is the publishing imprint for the books. Alexander Publishing has in development a complete self-directed training series in counterpoint, harmony, orchestration and recording.

We have enough texts published in our Professional Orchestration™ series so that a school can offer either a minor or major in orchestration. Volumes 1, 2A and 2B are the beginning vocabulary for orchestration. The advanced How Ravel Orchestrated: Mother Goose Suite and Professional Orchestration: A Practical Handbook Series is pretty much graduate level work. I also have enough harmony and counterpoint to cover two semesters each for those subjects plus Music 100.

If a person was interested in buying the vast materials offered on your site, what would you recommend they start out with?

If it’s orchestration, they can start with one of our home study bundles that includes the book (or books depending on the bundle), workbook, MIDI files/MP3s from the Vienna folks, and tons of audio. The entire package, which can be accessed via the link that follows, is less expensive than either of the other main orchestration texts.

Our Writing For Strings downloadable course with video instruction can be found here:–Expanded-Complete-Edition__AU-WFS-Home-spc-Study-Complete.aspx

For beginners, there’s the Applied Professional Harmony Series:

We’re just getting rolling on our revised Hit Sound Recording Course™.

Who was the first great orchestrator? Bernstein said that Beethoven was a poor orchestrator-was he right? What do you think of Mendelssohn as an orchestrator?

The French composers of the 1800s thought that Gluck and Weber were among the first. I think you have to keep in mind that every generation usually yields a great composer who pushes both composition and orchestration to the next steps. Bernstein’s comment makes for great press. But look at the giant leap from any Mozart symphony to Beethoven’s First then the Ninth, which Wagner, after hearing, got a copy of the score and copied note for note to learn from Beethoven. Beethoven’s 3rd and 5th overwhelmed Berlioz. Berlioz, rather than writing symphonies as we traditionally know them, writes programmatic works in a symphonic format like Symphonie Fantastique and Harold In Italy. From there we leap to Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky in Russia, later Mahler in Germany, then certainly Debussy and Ravel in France, and later Copland in America.

Each of these greats benefitted from both improved musicianship and better quality musical instruments, especially the standardization of the valve brass for trumpets and French horns.

Are the techniques required to capture the “Hollywood” sound different from orchestrating concert material in any way?

Are you talking about the Hollywood Sound derived from Beethoven, Berlioz, Bizet, Borodin, Britten, Copland, Debussy, Dukas, Mahler, Prokofiev, Puccini, Ravel, Resphigi, Rimsky-Korsakov, Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams, and Wagner?

Or are we talking about the recording/production answer for defining the Hollywood sound which includes Altiverb, Bricasti, Lexicon, TC Works and Waves?

Or are you talking about the new Hollywood sound derived from samples, melodic themes, percussion, and ambient textures?

The so-called Hollywood sound changes every generation, sometimes twice within a generation depending on the composer, and how each approaches dramatic scoring. An excellent overview for seeing this is Tony Thomas’ book, Music For The Movies.

Is there a “typical” profile to the students you attract?

I don’t really think of our customers as students since most are adults. We look them at as people who have a desire to learn, so it’s a broad age range.

What kind of interaction with you or another teacher do students get when they “enroll” in Alexander University?

There’s no enrolling. I have two online seminars we’ve tested for several years. My current approach is first you buy the seminar, which are now being populated with video classroom-like instruction materials. After that, if you want to study privately, I connect the learner with a composer. Over Skype and email they engage in a mentoring relationship. But the learner has to be able to read music and score read to take advantage of this.

What’s the difference between orchestration and instrumentation?

Instrumentation is first and it’s where you learn the range, mechanics, and coloristic issues within each instrument’s range break. Orchestration is the act of taking a completed work and translating it to orchestra. Instrumentation is learned by seeing how the technique was scored and from that building a list of scoring techniques.

Can today’s sample libraries be used to teach orchestration effectively?

Sample libraries are a great tool which is why we cover MIDI mock-up insights in our books and new Writing For Strings course. But it has to be balanced with attending live concerts, watching orchestral DVDs, and lots of listening.

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