Archive of the MixSounds Category

A Plea to software manufacturers

What software do you use on a regular basis in your music studio? For me, it’s Cubase 5 and Finale 2012. I may be neurotic, since a disk has never crashed on me during a session in all the years that I’ve been using music software, but I back up my files every 15 minutes or so to a drive on my system other than the one I’m currently saving to-just in case.

Cubase has an a Preference that lets you direct the application to make back ups while you work, but only to the folder that your project sits in. Finale has no automatic back up provision at all. What’s up with that?! I spend an annoying amount of time migrating between disks to execute saves in my back up folder. Ok, not a tragedy, I admit that, however…

It should be easy for developers to add in the option to save back ups to a drive you designate at the beginning of a session. Folks… please think about implementing this functionality!

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Baron and Big Nancy

The three of you who regularly read my posts (ok, maybe it’s just a pair!) have heard me mention Baron Raymonde on several occasions. Baron’s a monster alto player-check out his site, www.saxbaron.com. Wait, a link to “Dream Girl,” a track I wrote for him several years ago is right there, sitting on his home page.

Baron sent out an e mail blast a few weeks ago saying that he’d be playing with a blues harp player, Big Nancy, and her group, Supreme Court (don’t get me started) on March 30th at a club called Roxy and Duke’s in Dunellen, New Jersey. Hey, that’s only about three miles from my house-I had to go!

I’d never heard of Roxy and Duke’s, but it’s a very cool venue, put together by owners who clearly have a lot of love for soul music, rock, and the hallowed days of the Fillmore. Big Nancy, who hails from these parts, draws a big crowd. Check out her site (www.bignancy.com); Nancy has a sterling resume, she commands the stage, and she blows the hell out of the harp.

The band really tore into the blues/R&B book. But the best part was when a woman approached and asked me to dance. I couldn’t wait to come home and tell my wife Jerri about it-I knew she’d be proud of me!

Seriously, if you’re a blues fan, check out Big Nancy’s schedule. She’s got all the Little Walter licks down cold, plus more than a few of her own!

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Ozone 5, Part 1

I’m a big fan of continuing education, and the commitment iZotope (www.izotope.com) has shown to providing video tutorials on a continuing basis is impressive. The company just posted a series of new tutorials on RX2, and you’ll find links to them at the bottom of this blog.

Ozone 5, a mastering platform that holds eight separate tools, is a product that can seem daunting to the mere musician, but I’ve decided to dive in. Matt Hines, an iZotope tech guru, has graciously agreed to walk me through the process of mastering one of my own projects.

“4,3,2,1” is a four movement work for full orchestra; the conceit is that it’s a symphony written backwards. The first two movement are in the can-all realized with samples, mixed and mastered by my good friend Ed Goldfarb. Shoot me an e-mail if you’d like me to send them to you. When the work is completed I’ll post all four movements on my site.

I just finished “2.” My job as a mixer is to create rough mixes that let Ed know exactly what I’m hearing regarding balance and placement in the stereo field. I spend a great deal of time adjusting midi velocity levels to insure that individual instrument faders can be set and forgotten about to the greatest extent possible.

Ed doesn’t need me to master these rough mixes, but I thought I’d play around with Ozone 5 for the fun of it. The orchestral mastering preset did an amazing job out of the box, but I sent my stereo file (24 bit, 44.1kHz) to Matt to get his ideas. Matt sent me back a file with extensive notes on what was required and the steps he took to improve the quality. Of course, this is jumping the gun. Ed always looks at the large picture and carves out frequency ranges in individual instruments to achieve the greatest clarity and depth.

I’m going to study Matt’s notes, listen to his mastering job, and then take a stab at mastering this rough mix myself. It will be my mid-term paper! When it’s done I’ll post audio clips. Don’t feel bad if you have to fail me-someone has to sit at the bottom of the bell curve!

Check out these links when you get a chance:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1J32b9sigI

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A Second Look at Electri6ity

It’s rare that I point you, dear reader, back a second time to a product I’ve already posted a blog on-even rarer when I’m having problems accessing its complete feature set. Electric6ity, the outstanding electric guitar plug-in from Vir2 Instruments (www.vir2.com) is so good, and such a pleasure to play, that it’s worth the virtual ink.

I logged quite a bit of time playing rock and blues on my trusty 1963 Gibson SG back in the day. I piped this baby (which I’ve never been able to force myself to sell) through a Fender Deluxe Reverb which I bought from my junior high school pal Jon Pousette-Dart.

Head on up to the Vir2 site and check out the videos and tutorials. This is one of those plug-ins, however, that demands that you spend some time with the manual. Key switch combinations need to be studied and memorized if you plan to maximize its potential. Broadway Big Band, another favorite, is similar in this regard.

I’m finishing up the third movement of a four movement symphonic work, all executed within the computer. The first two movements of “4,3,2,1” are mixed; when all four are in the can I’ll post on my website and refer you to them. “3” has a detailed, written out guitar solo, a perfect test for Electri6ity. After auditioning several guitar/amp combinations (using Native Instruments Guitar Rig in place of the internal amps that ship with Electri6ity but are no way comparable to the high end amp modeling software that’s currently available) I settled on the sampled Lipstick guitar. I fed this track through Guitar Rig’s “Jeff at Ronnie’s,” tweaking the overdrive, and then double tracked the part using GR’s “Carlos in Europe” preset, a beautiful emulation of the clean Fender sound I grew up with.

A note of caution: if you aren’t a guitar player, please don’t go crazy with what you believe are the coolest whammy bar-like effects and endless hammer on riffs-they’re boring. Craft good lines and Electri6ity, coupled with a primo piece of modeled amp software, will transport you to guitar god heaven!

Now for the cautionary note. As I dug back into this software I noticed that some of the key switches weren’t functioning for me. For example, pinched harmonics are a great inclusion and accessing them should be a breeze. No go. I even uninstalled the software, reinstalled it from the original disks, and went to the Vir2 website to download the latest version of the plug-in, but I haven’t solved the problem yet. I just got a new set of disks and plan on installing them soon.

Bottom line: Electri6ity is one of those plug-ins that is addictive. It’s extremely well thought out, recorded to the highest standard, and a blast to play.

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James Brown

I just downloaded “The One: The Life of James Brown” (R.J. Smith) onto my Kindle, and preparing to delve into this biography has got me thinking. Our world is so different from the one that The Fabulous Flames and the young James Brown lived in. Segregation conferred a moral authority that gave men like James Brown and the incomparable Malcolm X the power to influence our culture in ways that seem to have evaporated.

Young people-white college kids at least, whose ranks I eventually joined-were amused by the theatrics of Abby Hoffman (though few actually read “Steal This Book”) and instinctively understood that the academic arguments of Tom Hayden and the rants of Paul Krassner revealed genuine fault lines in establishment thinking, but it was the anguish and rage that Malcolm, James Brown, Huey Newton, and other emergent black leaders brought that was, in many cases, the animus that caused these students to close down college campuses and change the course of a war.

What spiritual compass does the Occupy movement have? The right has brilliantly marginalized poor people. They simply do not exist in our culture. There is no rallying point, no locus of righteous anger around which to gather and sustain a counter culture movement. Sure, blacks and Latinos swell the ranks of the underclass disproportionately, but we have “Sanford and Son-” excuse me, got caught in the time machine for a moment, Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne.” How dare the left suggest that even a trace of bias exists in America today?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time working in prisons over the last several years. The course I developed uses music as a lamp that helps us mine for connections between cultures that on the surface might seem to have little in common. The recidivism rate in New Jersey is about 74%. That means that many of the guys I work with will be coming back into the system, as I jokingly tell them “to do graduate work.” Maybe-just maybe-if he buys into the idea that without Mozart’s “Don Giovani” there would be no “Scarface,” or comes to feel that Ado Annie, the second lead in “Oklahoma-” a good girl with a naughty streak-is, in a way, Rihanna’s grandma, one of them will feel comfortable seeking out broad horizons upon his release, a place where a good job can be found, perhaps. Along the way-if he comes to understand that Stravinsky and Shakur, artists from radically different times and backgrounds-were dealing with the same set of human emotions, he might change the world.

My studio is ringed with album covers from my youth. I’m looking up at a King release, “The Unbeatable James Brown and the fabulous flames.” Wow, the cover proclaims that the record is brought to us in VIVID SOUND! I can hear the opening cut, “Try Me,” in my mind. The track starts out with a splice of an MC introducing the band at a live event:

“Ladies and gentleman, without no doubt…. the-e-ese are the JBs!”

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Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec

Audio wars rage on. But is the conflict between the sublime (196khz!) and the crappy (96kbps) based on the state of mp3 files as they truly exist in 2012? Or have compression schemes advanced to the point where artists and connoisseurs can-if they’re willing to strip themselves of prejudice-appreciate the quality of programming that is delivered to a standard that’s inferior to the current CD specs? Don’t ask me-I’m just the piano player! But if you need to shuttle pint size audio around the internet and want to weigh the alternatives before you apply a compression scheme, the Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec plug-in (www.sonnoxplugins.com) is an absolute must have.

We’ll get into the details in another blog (it is almost 6 pm on a Friday night, and I’m looking forward to a martini!) but here’s my experience to date, in a nutshell. I loaded up about a dozen stereo files, from different eras, radically different styles and ensemble sizes, and spent about half a day listening in the sweet spot and on earphones. Without a doubt, the tracks dictated which compression scheme was most desirable. Sinatra’s gorgeous version of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” remained virtually intact at 128 kbps. Why? I don’t know, but it sounded to me like this recording, made in 1955, had a narrower stereo image than later recordings, and I noticed that (along with low end material) the collapsing of the stereo image was the most profound change that mp3 encoding introduced.

Audio that had many transient attacks-percussion based grooves, for example-was more resistant to encoding, but here’s the deal: I found no recording that suffered immense squashing when subjected to mp3 encoding of 320kbps. Sure, when I pressed the Diff(erence) button I could hear what had been removed. But listening over my Adam A4’s I had a very hard time detecting the original from the mp3 dropped at 320kbps, regardless of the material. And we haven’t even gotten into lossless schemes!

There are lots of cool features in this plug-in; one of them is the feature that lets you test yourself to see how often you’ve been able to distinguish the original from the cheap brand imitation. Off line encoding is another. If you need to critically balance file size and audio quality on a case by case basis, the Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec is a tool you must have.

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Tallest Tree

Sometimes it’s easy to be the tallest tree. Fortune smiles and you tower over everyone else. At other moments the simple act of rising from the ground is difficult.

Josh Thompson, a native of Orange, New Jersey, has an enviable record of accomplishments. A guitar virtuoso who recorded an album with George Benson in 2004 (“Irreplaceable”) and has penned 19 hit singles for top tier artists, including Aretha Franklin, Usher, Alicia Keyes, The Temptations,and Luther Vandross, Josh has an enviable list of accomplishments. To check out his complete discography, or learn more about the studio where he produces for the clients who believe that his touch will lift their game up, visit Josh’s website (www.tallesttreemusic.com).

Josh and his wife are also the proud parents of an 11 year girl and a 15 year old boy. According to dad, Avery evinced an ear for imitation early on. “At the age of one he was imitating Bugs Bunny. It was obvious that he had a good ear. He currently does between 40 and 50 impressions, including Jeremy Irons, Obama, John McCain, and Seth McFarland from “The Family Guy.”

Avery also developed a pretty fair talent for rapping and singing. “His impression of Sting is one of my favorites,” says Josh. My wife to him to New York to see Sting recently and he really enjoyed that.”

The kid isn’t shy about performing or competing either. A member of his high school freshman basketball team, which went 22-0 this season, Avery beat out about 10,000 other contestants and made it through several rounds of one of America’s premiere talent competitions. Things were looking pretty good for the Thompson family.

The ground started to shake on January 2, 2012. The diagnosis? Avery was suffering from t-cell leukemia. The basketball season, for this young man, was put on hold. So was the next round of the talent competition. It was time to battle the disease. The family held out hope that his young body would rise to the challenge and put itself into remission, but it hasn’t worked out that way-yet. Avery is currently receiving chemotherapy at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Manhattan.

The illness was discovered early on, and that’s good news for the Thompson family. Avery’s chances of making a full recovery are high- and, by the way, he beat out 10,000 contestants, what’s this one opponent got that he can’t handle?

Bills are mounting up. The Thompsons have insurance, but the co-pays in situations like this can be devastating. A fund has been set up to help defray the costs of Avery’s care. If you’d like to make a contribution, this link will take you where you want to go:(http://www.talbertfamilyfoundation.org/pages/AveryT.html).

CODA: Josh’s mom, who passed away last month at the age of 92, lived an interesting life. Her autobiography, “From One to Ninety-one: The Life of Margaret Thompson,” is available on Amazon.

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The Music of Randy Newman

Our ancestors divvied up tasks for a good reason: the practice of going out to club lions while the wife stays in the cave with the kiddies established a model that’s provided time apart to centuries of married couples. Survival of the species depended on it! There are examples of successful marriages that include a working relationship, however. Submitted for your approval, Roseanna Vitro and Paul Wickliffe.

Paul (www.skylinepro.com) is well known to Mix readers. The one time owner of Skyline Studios in Manhattan, Paul moved his production studio to his home in central New Jersey in the early days of the ADAT revolution. He’s continued to work from home as a mixer, mastering engineer and producer since that time. Paul and his partner, Eric Troyer, are the owners of Charleson Road Studio, a recording studio located a few miles down the road.

If you don’t know Roseanna, head over to her website (www.roseannavitro.com) and check her out immediately! Great eyes, right? The cognisanti have known for years that Roseanna is a supreme song stylist. With the Grammy nomination (Best Jazz Vocal Album of 2011) she received for her latest release, “The Music of Randy Newman,” (Motema Records, www.motemacom) her reputation is likely to grow.

Roseanna and Paul co-produced this venture. I spoke to Paul recently about the experience. “We pretty much co-produce all her records. Working with one’s spouse has its moments, as you can imagine, but it’s a great experience. We’ve been married nearly 30 years and have achieved a level of creative intimacy and honesty that goes well beyond the typical producer/artist relationship.  Passions can run high, but they are rooted in artistic conviction rather than a professional tug of war.

“Recording an album of Randy Newman songs was my idea; his work has been largely ignored by the jazz community and that gave us an opportunity to bring something fresh to this outstanding material. Roseanna’s Southern roots brought an authenticity to her performance.

“Generally speaking, my job is to make sure that her vision gets across to a broad group of listeners. I try to stay out of the way, but there are times when I’m compelled to let her know when something she’s doing isn’t right for a general audience.

“If I feel that she’s got a better performance in her then I have to push-and be willing to take the heat! Again, the commercial aspect is something I have to keep in mind regarding the performances of Roseanna and the other musicians. Each of them is intensely focused on their individual performances. Sometimes a musical line will get tossed in that’s a bit far afield, too hip for the room. Other musicians might love this stuff, but if you’re making records for musicians you’ll never make any money!

“Roseanna did an album of Ray Charles songs (“Catchin’ Some Rays: The Music of Ray Charles”) a couple of years ago that was pretty successful for her. We both love Randy Newman’s work, and she decided to record a CD of his material. As with the Ray album, our process was to have Roseanna focus on some of the lesser known material, songs that are just as powerful but haven’t received as much exposure. Randy’s a great story teller. Getting back to the point about corralling in the players, I wanted to make sure that his stories were never obscured by excessive filigree.

“Roseanna’s been working with Dean Johnson (bass) and Tim Horner (drums) for many years. She’s done a couple of records with our good friend Kenny Werner playing piano. Mark Soskin loves Randy Newman’s work, though, and so he seemed like a natural fit for this project. I worked on a record with Sara Caswell (violin) and Fred Hersch, and she’d been out here at the house, which is where Roseanna got exposed to her. Roseanna’s manager Jeff Levenson also thought that Sara might be good for this project.

“Sara’s a brilliant musician. She has an emotional depth that’s awesome, unparalleled in my view. We wanted to keep the band small, and using a violin in place of a horn made sense because Randy’s roots run through the South. The violin is a kind of a tip of the hat to that region, the country music aspect fit this project nicely.

“Everyone knows that the music industry has changed drastically over the last several years. For most artists CD’s serve as promotional material to bolster performance revenues. We thought about putting this record out ourselves, as many artists are doing. There are distinct advantages to being associated with a label, however, particularly in the area of promotion and distribution resources. Jana Herzen, the head of Motema, is a songwriter, and she’s been a client of mine. Jana expressed an interest in this project, and we were able to work out a p+d (press and distribution) deal with her. Motema’s great, and they’ve put together a rather massive catalog for a young label.

“The Grammy experience was quite interesting. Now that I finally understand how the nomination process works I have respect for it! Essentially there are two rounds of voting, with a review committee in between. For starters, everyone throws into the pre-nomination process. In our category, about 80 submissions were made. These are sent to the members of The Recording Academy, who winnow the pool down to 15. At that point a panel of NARAS board members pick the five they feel have the most merit. These five are then sent back out to the members to vote on. The top vote getter- Terri Lyne Carrington, in this case- is the winner.

“Our next project? We’re discussing that. Roseanna’s currently working on a concert series, “Ballads of Bird,” that will feature the music of Charlie Parker. That may turn into a record, but I can’t say for sure at this time. I do know that we’ll keep working, and both Roseanna and I appreciate all the support and attention that “The Music of Randy Newman” has received.

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iZotope RX2 tutorial

I’m a big fan of continuing education and I really like the products that iZotope (www.izotope.com) has been turning out. So do many of you, I would imagine, considering the market share gains that the company has been enjoying.

Izotope has a couple of videos on the ‘net that walk the user through examples that use the RX2 plug-in to rescue damaged audio. You can also download the actual before and after audio files that were worked on and a pdf that explains the procedures. You can even download a trial version of the product if you want to take it for a test ride prior to purchase.

I just spent about an hour replicating the processes that Matt, the tech support guru who cleans up background noise from a clip shot in a park, and the dreaded 60 cycle hum from a guitar track, performed.

Quick take: I was able to clean up the audio nicely, but I didn’t feel that at the end of the process I had gained a fundamental understanding of the concepts. Look, this particular blog is not for you Mix genius engineer-types… to you folks, this is elementary school stuff!

As high quality tools like the ones iZotope is turning out become less and less expensive they will become increasingly available to troglodytes like me. I’m going to keep working at this, and will let my fellow neophytes know how I’m doing- hopefully the teacher is grading on a curve!

Check out the video tutorials here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMrVgZeCXa8 (reducing unwanted background noise)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCkvnSXrHxY (rescuing noisy guitar)

Grab the files here:
 http://www.izotope.com/rx/tips

Let me know how you do!

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Apocalypse Percussion Ensemble

When did the fascination for ethnic percussion overwhelm the film scoring landscape? Maybe it was the day Eric Persing made a pilgrimage to the land of mystery and came back with a set of samples that he turned into the hugely successful “Heart of Africa” library. Today, no film composer worth his salt is without a mighty set of pounding drums that can convey a sense of power and awe at the flick of a key switch.

Given the fact that multiple libraries of this nature were already available, I wondered why Mike Peaslee decide to devote the time and energy that went into SOUNDIRON’s new release, Apocalypse Percussion Ensemble. Mike told me that Tonehammer (of which he was a co-owner) developed techniques for recording big drums that he was constantly striving to improve. Mike felt he had at least one more major release of this type in him.

Apocalypse Percussion Ensemble, available as a download from the SOUNDIRON website (http://www.soundiron.com/instruments/percussion/apocalypse/) is currently discounted to a price of $179, is the result of these efforts. Eventually, APEwill return to its list price of $199. The full version of the Native Instruments Kontakt 4 player is required.

What a gorgeous sounding library, and extremely well laid out to boot! SOUNDIRON went crazy with multiple mic placement combinations, and to be real it’s going to take me (you too!) some time to compare and contrast them all.

APE weighs in at a hefty 14+ GB, and many of the presets draw tons of CPU cycles, so SOUNDIRON followed the well established practice of offering several different versions of each. The lite ones have a limited number of samples (four) per round robin. They load the quickest (obviously) and I’d recommend that you use them to explore APE. Computers with less than 64 bit operating systems will most likely choke on this material, particularly if you use the heavier presets.

Download the manual from the SOUNDIRON site. It’s fairly clear, but I pointed out to Mike that there are some omissions. For example, the company has a very interesting arpeggiator they niftily name the Uberpeggiator. I get it; it has lots of controls. You can for example, instruct the plug-in to hold the note you’ve just struck, and then add other notes (the same drum sound with different pitches, perhaps, or different instruments) into the arpeggiation cycle. I couldn’t figure out why some notes were going in and out until Mike and Chris (the SOUNDIRON partner who added this feature) explained that if you hit a note a second time you remove it from the cycle- the manual didn’t tell me that!

The bigger presets contain round robin cycles of 12 samples per note. You can also hit the Shuffle button, which introduces a random factor to the note repeats. I can’t believe I’d ever hear the repeat in a round robin cycle of a dozen, but if your golden ears can, knock yourself out with this function.

May I riff here? That is, Riff, as in West Side Story! When you’re tapped to execute a midi version of this classic Broadway score, check out the solo bongos! Damn, they’re good!

As you’d expect, there are controls that allow you to re-pitch and play with filters and eq. SOUNDIRON has also provided some very useful convolution reverbs. These aren’t the Carnegie Hall type, but rather warehouse and garage type environments, plus a bunch of zingy sounding spaces that let you take the drums into some weird and very attractive places.

Multi-drum presets are included and so are some empty templates that you can use as starting points for the creation of your own. APE also ships with a set of Ambience presets that derive from the drums themselves, adding a tonal unity to the package. Of course, you probably own Omnisphere, in which case these sounds may simply become a pleasant diversion.

If you already own a healthy complement of mondo drums you may want to pass on Apocalypse Percussion Ensemble. If you’re in the market for this kind of product, however, APE is a must consider item. The drums are beautifully recorded, the effects are excellent, the interface is first rate… and the price is quite reasonable.

Highest rating.

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