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If you’re looking for a bunch of girls (who isn’t?)… wait, wait, I mean, if you need to add some back up vocals to your latest track and can’t afford to bring in the A team, head on up to and listen to the demos company main man Mike Greene has posted. Realivox is a sample library that features five excellent female vocalists. It uses the free Kontakt player and is easy to learn.

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Mics as filters, and whether having too much gear is a distraction

Since the end of the NAMM show a few weeks ago, I’ve had the opportunity to do a number of microphone comparisons on a variety of subjects (vocals, acoustic guitars, drums, amps, reeds, electronics, percussion), and I’m continually reminded that mics are, in fact, filters. In other words, transducers provide a seemingly endless way to alter sound (when you want them to, of course).

Last night’s session involved solo acoustic guitar—a Recording King RNJ-16—miked up with a Cloud JRS34 active ribbon mic, an Electro-Voice RE320 dynamic, an SE 2200a II large-diaphragm condenser, and a Grundig GDSM 200 stereo dynamic mic from the ‘60s. Much of it was sent through a Universal Audio 4-710d preamp/converter, which offers the ability to dial-in a mix of solid-state and tube preamp sounds for each channel. This setup offered seemingly endless tonal variety, which I would’ve explored if it weren’t for the time limits in getting the job done!

While I go into a bit more detail about the subject of mics-as-filters in the upcoming print version of the Robair Report in Mix magazine, I wanted to point you towards a few online examples worth considering.

First is a quintessential Led Zeppelin track, “Houses of the Holy,” which showcases a couple of unique guitar tones captured by Jimmy Page. You don’t have to be a fan to notice that the intro is one of the strangest guitar timbres ever recorded.

Is this the sound he reportedly recorded by lowering a mic into a bucket? I keep hearing that anecdote but I can’t find the source. Anyone know for sure?

The other link I want to share is of the American Mavericks interview with composer Pauline Oliveros, whose imaginative uses of sound in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s extended to mics as well as electronic music generators. Here she discusses how she used cardboard tubes with mics to filter sound, as well as using her bathtub to generate ambience.

I have yet to hear an impulse response of a bathtub, but I imagine someone has created one.

10,000 hours vs. 15 minutes

These days, with so many reverb and delay plug-ins available, adding ambience to your music is trivial. In fact, there is so much low-cost music-related gear, that it’s hard to find the time to really exploit it all. Meanwhile, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so in the software realm: As we’re forced to upgrade our platforms more frequently (annually for Apple users), some part of our system will become legacyware with each OS upgrade, whether it’s because a DAW or plug-in developer isn’t able to offer an update or because it has gone out of business.

So, there’s a lot of fun stuff to explore, but less time to do so. For example, iOS apps are often so inexpensive that it’s almost impossible to avoid downloading them. But is having access to an enormous amount of inexpensive stuff a distraction from actual music making? How many people do you know who buy new gear on a regular basis—soft synths, hardware processors, whatever—but don’t put in the 10,000 hours required for virtuosity on any of them? Is that model even viable anymore?

It wasn’t that long ago that pro-quality gear was prohibitively priced for non-professionals. Consequently, budding engineers and musicians built their own equipment or found creative ways to explore sound without spending much money (hence Oliveros’s method of filtering and obtaining reverberation). You designed or reworked something to fit your aesthetics, rather than purchased something built around someone else’s tastes, which you might share to some degree. Today, much of the DIY craze is a result of a market that is saturated with predictable and bland sound devices. And simply putting a chain of stomp boxes after a ROMpler or SM57 is not enough to create a unique sound. Circuit bending or hacking into the hardware, however, gives you a fighting chance to find something of your own.

Now imagine building an instrument from the ground up that sounds exactly the way you want it to and fully serves your musical imagination—for decades. How many guitarists can you think of that have played the same homemade instrument their entire career?

Where’s Eddie?

Despite my best intentions to blog every week, I have been neck deep in audio geeky-ness. In future columns and blogs I will begin sharing in detail what I have been working on. Here’s the condensed version…

My assistant and I have been tweaking his Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. Part-1 of the mods will hopefully appear in the January Issue, with Part-2 in the February issue. We are also interested in your mod requests.

January’s column also begins to address musical instrument speaker idiosyncrasies. What are YOUR faves?

We’ve also been working on mods for two sixties-era AKAI / Roberts vacuum tube tape recorder electronics – turning them into mic preamps, expanding upon an existing online idea… That might be revealed by the March Issue, unless…

Also on our plate is another sixties-era relic, an EMT-156 broadcast compressor-limiter-expander, bringing my experience with said beasties to 5! Repairing hardware dynamics processors and then using both hardware and software versions in recording and mixing adds great insights into how the designers intended them to be used. Do you have a preference for specific hardware? If so, why? If so, do you find hardware to be consistent? What are your fave software dynamics processors?

Our vacuum tube work has led us into the realm of what qualities to look for, what to expect and for how long. All of this ‘research’ is being applied in two ways, one being a solid-state vacuum tube emulator and the other being the type of technical analysis that best correlates what we hear with a measurement.

This from Kenneth Williams via Facebook…

“I really enjoyed your article Great Education Expectations – It’s what I found myself doing – searching out several sources and ways of explaining what I do intuitively while mixing. I just wanted to say great article and great advice.”

Meeting Readers on FB, not only is it great to get to know ‘who’s reading,’ especially when a message turns into a real-time chat.

Best Wishes to all!


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Studio DONE!

I’ve been following a studio build in LA as it has unfolded and it is a beauty. The previous blog posts, here and here, outlined the build from the walls in. All the finish work is done now and you can see the end product in a gallery here. Enjoy! And watch in January for a blow by blow description of the building of my own personal mixing space.

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A conversation with Tonehammer’s Mike Peaslee

Sure, the comparison is over the top, but during his inaugural address JFK said: “Let the word go forth… the torch has been passed to a new generation,” and you have to ask yourself if the old guard is today being nudged by a generation of sample developers who grew up staring across broader horizons then their forebears had. True dat, I say.

Mike Peaslee founded Tonehammer ( in the 4th quarter of 2008 with his partner, Troels Folmann. A California native, Peaslee (who now lives on a seven acre spread in Texas) met Folmann when both were working at Crystal Dynamics, a gaming company based in Menlo Park, CA. Interested in sound design from his early days, Peaslee knew that the boundaries of computer speed and memory were transient. His goal was to dream big.

Gary Eskow: Mike, you use the term “deep sampling,” a lot. What does it mean?

Mike Peaslee: “We massively sample an instrument, capturing lots of variations of sound and dynamics, in order to create a matrix that lets the user feel like he’s playing the real thing. We go very deep inside an instrument, and that’s where the term comes from. Our first product, Epic Toms 1 and 2 (now combined into a single release) consisted of nothing but tom hits.

“We’re probably one of the leading developers in this area. Whether it’s our 8,000 sample deep Bongo/Cajon library or the Solo Frame Drum library, which contains 3,000 samples, the concept is identical: capture everything down to the smallest possible detail so that we never have to go back and re-record.

“But we’re not just out to field impressive numbers. To really craft an expressive instrument – not just a collection of sound clips – you need to capture the fundamental dynamic range and natural fluidity that’s inherent in a real instrument. Sampling has historically been carried out in a somewhat conservative manner, in part due to hardware and software limitations. And perhaps some people didn’t think it was necessary to go deeper, or believed you should only present the purest, most flawless samples that an instrument or performer can produce. Thankfully, those physical limits and that incorrect thinking are obsolete now. Nothing is as passionless and uninspiring as over-perfection.”

GE: How did your partnership with Troels develop?

MP: “Back in the 2003-04 time period I was working in the music department at Crystal Dynamics. Troels, who was living in his native Denmark at the time, wrote the themes for a game of ours called Snow Blind that was quite successful. A vacancy came up as composer and department head and Troels was drafted for the position.

“We got along really well, and since we were both developing our own sample instruments using the Kontakt platform we began sharing ideas and material. After several years and four consecutive Tomb Raider titles we individually moved on to seek out fresh creative and professional outlets. A shared passion for instrument design and recording inevitably steered us toward a common path in Tonehammer.”

GE: It seems like your product line falls into two categories. There are libraries like the Lakeview Organ and Requiem that strive to faithfully recreate real world instruments, and others like Frendo that cross into the bizarre sound design area. Eric Persing was a pioneer in this latter sphere; you couldn’t turn on the television for several years without hearing Distorted Reality 1 and 2 samples. Was his work an influence?

MP: “Troels is a huge fan of Spectrasonics and definitely sees Eric Persing as one of the real captains of this industry. They do amazing work and the standard they’ve set is a huge part of our professional ethos.

“Oddly enough, I didn’t have any direct personal influences in the sampling world. Artists like Tom Waits, DJ Shadow, Nine Inch Nails, Amon Tobin and Soul Coughing probably had the greatest impact on my aesthetic sense later on, but for me sampling is more just a permanent state of awareness. I don’t always have a mic handy, but my mind always has that little red record light on. I have to breathe it in and our instruments are how I can breathe it back out again.”

GE: The Zen of Zampling?

MP: “Some of our instruments just flow out of instantaneous inspiration. We often stumble across an object or instrument and it just makes sense to capture it right there. We also tend to hoard odd flotsam and jetsam that feel like they might have some sort of sonic potential. Microhammer is where we let our weirder side flow, with ideas that aren’t quite mainstream enough on their own for a full Tonehammer library. Microhammer is more stream of consciousness, while Tonehammer is our deliberate and focused art.

“Products like Requiem and our soon to be released sampled children’s choir library, Liberis, take a lot of time and attention. But all of our products have to reach an identical bar in order to be released.”

GE: At $59, Lakeview Organ may be the best value I’ve ever come across in the sample library market. Can you tell me a little bit about this project, and how you came to price it?

MP: “Pipe organ was something that I’d wanted to capture for awhile, partly because it seemed beyond reach when we were first getting started. In an odd way, pipe and theater organs represent the true origin of on-demand ‘sample instruments’. That huge array of sounds at the push of a button or pull of a stop is not unlike what you’d get with a hard drive full of Tonehammer instruments. The main difference is that you used to need a 4-story building attached to your keyboard.

“As it turns out, my mother had worked with Donald Sears while she was a teacher in Hayward, CA. He taught music for the school district and was the musical director at the Lakeside Temple of Practical Christianity, a very welcoming non-denominational church in Oakland where the organ resides.

“Don gave me a full tour of the 850-pipe Rodgers Organ and I spent a few days studying and recording, with him at the keys. The library includes an extensive interview with Don [the interviews and demos that ship with most Tonehammer libraries are not to be overlooked. GE], including impromptu performances and demonstrations. It was important to share the whole spirit of the instrument, directly through the voice and hands of the man for whom it was built. That soul definitely carries through.

“We weren’t trying to cover every possible aspect of a church organ and that’s part of the reason why we priced it so inexpensively. It’s also a very niche sound. It’s specifically built around the five main pipe stops and is designed purely to deliver that classic pipe organ sound – from somber to warm, to bright, towering, all the way up to fantastically bone-shaking. We wanted the steel pipes and it had to be the best-sounding pipe organ you could get, bar none. We didn’t artificially try to remove the background sound of the bellows, so the sound quality remains rich, crisp, bright and most importantly, completely lifelike. We also captured some of the mechanical elements, as well as the mechanical struck bar chimes and bells.”

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Mix Nashville. It’s On!

We have dates! September 13-14, 2010, at the all-new and rebuilt Soundcheck Nashville. It took awhile to line up dates that would work for sponsors, attendees and, most importantly, the engineering community of Nashville. But we’re excited to be moving full-steam ahead with our favorite event of the year. Same great programming, a few added benefits, and  it’s FREE to all greater Nashville residents, and a mere $39 for earlybird registrants from outside Davidson County. Visit our Mix Nashville website today for all information and links to registration. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

Mix Nashville Postponed, Golf Benefit Still On

One of the reasons Mix Nashville takes place at the end of May each year is that it leads into two days of golf at Harpeth Hills. It’s a great tournament called Audio Masters that benefits the Nashville Engineer Relief Fund, a nonprofit established by the Nashville section of the AES. Because of the flooding in early May and the damage to our venue, Soundcheck Nashville, we are postponing Mix Nashville until early September. But the golf tournament is still slated for May 27-28, and we encourage all who haven’t signed up to contact Nicole Cochran and bring in a foursome, or toss in a sponsorship.
“Countless individuals in the region have had their homes and livelihood affected by this tragedy,” says NERF Board President Jim Kaiser.
“This is a perfect time to donate to NERF, knowing that the funds will go directly to our audio community,” adds Cochran, event coordinator of the Audio Masters. “We are so grateful and humbled by the many local businesses and national manufacturers that have for years generously donated to this fund. It’s more important than ever that we fill our coffers so that we can help those in need.”
The Audio Masters is the primary fundraiser for NERF, a 501(c)3 corporation that has been distributing assistance to the engineering community for more than a decade. Individuals and companies wishing to make a donation or sign up for the tournament can contact Nicole Cochran at 615-293-0260 or
Direct donations can be made to Nashville Engineer Relief Fund; 9 Music Square South #235; Nashville, TN 37203. Or via PayPal at Donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. The contribution tax ID number is 30-0066433.

ULN-8 Burns on Entry

Mango Rehearsal
Bluefields’ Living Legends: Putchie, Claudi Hodgson and Mango Ghost rehearsing/tracking for Mango’s upcoming record

If Murphy’s Law applies anywhere, it certainly applies in Bluefields, Nicaragua. Two days after landing on the coast, my brand new $6000.00 audio card burnt out. The ULN-8 was to serve as the centerpiece of my recording efforts down here and for future mobile recording projects. As a big fan of MH labs and a 5 year user of their products, I was fired up to finally get my hands on a ULN-8 before I came down. Hand carrying the unit on the plane, bus and panga cozied inside a custom Calzone case, I couldn’t have handled my single rack space dream machine more delicately on the way down.

The day after I arrived to the Bluefields Sound System compound, I plugged the ULN-8 into my Furman P-1800 AR voltage regulator/power conditioner and set up a little bass and guitar session through the ULN-8′s front side DI’s.

As Putchie ran me through some Maypole classics, I found the selectable pre character and conversion on the ULN among the best I’ve heard. It certainly stands up to the API 3124>Firecace 800 that I brought down. The amp modeling had some very nice presets and I found the HaloVerb, though very DSP intensive, sounds every bit as true as the UAD‘s I usually mix with back in New York.

Nonetheless, rehearsals sounded great through my sexy new ULN on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday, after finding out the brand new Cry Baby wah petal I got from Guitar Center for Putchie doesn’t wah, I powered up the ULN-8 it flickered, stuttered, shut down and wouldn’t power up. With voltage looking fine and all the other gear running problem free, I began trouble shooting and immediate got in touch with MH customer support who were very responsive.

ULN-8 burnt internal power supply

We quickly ruled out a problem with the external power supply. All signs pointed to a freak burn out with the internal power source. I took my injured ULN-8 to the local electrician/hole-in-the-wall-by-the-park and after removing the board, we quickly confirmed an internal power burn out. MH labs promptly sent out a replacement board. Normally this would mean a few days problem solved in most parts of the world. But this is Bluefields. There is no road from the Pacific. Addresses don’t exist. So we had the replacement board sent to Edwin’s PO box here in Bluefields and are optimistically hoping for a “quick reach” via the US Postal Service.

Still, the burn out hasn’t really set me back so far thanks to fact that I brought two audio cards. Rehearsals, bass and guitar tracking have sounded good with the API’s and the RME – as good as cheap Nica instruments can sound through premium pre’s and converters. All in all, I’ll be fine without the ULN-8 until the band gets back from a gig up in Puerto Cabeza and it’s time to track drums…that is, if the drums make it back with the musicians.

Brooklyn to Bluefields

The last day before any international recording venture, no matter how many weeks of preparation, always turns into a mad, crazy blitz to tie up all loose ends in NYC, pack, get to the airport and through security, eat something.  Breath.  I made it.

After checking one very heavy bag of cables, maximizing hand baggage allowance, I roll my custom Calzone 4 space rack, with a backpack full of mics, hard drive and Macbook  onto the plane.  From Brooklyn, I fly through Miami to Managua, Nicaragua on course back to Bluefields where for a good part of summer 2005, I spent seven weeks recording, filming, documenting and absorbing music along the Miskito Coast with my friends at the Bluefield Sound System, Edwin Reed-Sanchez and AlexZander Scott.

For the last five years, fellow midwesterners Edwin and Zander, transplanted themselves in Bluefields where though local outreach they have developed unique relationships with great musical talents from the coast, nurturing young talent and working to revive and preserve traditional music.    Since my last visit, they built Bluefields’ first recording studio and have been hard at work developing projects with musicians, producing concerts and holding cultural events.

The return mission is on: to record with Bluefields’ Living Legends of Maypole and Mento music, Sabu and Mango Ghost.  Fellow songsters, turned enemies reunified at an opportunity, through a modest cultural grant, to record for the first time in three decades and likely the last.

After reaching Managua at 1am,  I meet with Edwin at the airport.  We crash at Santos Mike Sound in the market Hospedaje, wake for some desayuno typico and hit the market the next day to buy some mic stands.    After stopping back at HECHO magazine where we stashed our gear for the afternoon, we board the Marcopolo bus for a six hour voyage east across the country until the road ends in the Indian village of Rama.    To reach Bluefields, we take the ponga along the Escondido where an engine stall and mid river boat swap only held us up a half hour.  Before 10am, we’re on the Caribbean coast. My Calzone still rolling strong off the docks loaded with an MH ULN-8, API 3124+, RME Fireface 800 and Furman P-1800 AR.    The air still heavy and the music swirling a dense collage in the streets, a quick taxi and we reach Bluefields Sound System Headquarters.

Enter Bluefields’ Living Legends:  Sabu,  Mango Ghost, Putchie and Claudio Hodgson


Mango Ghost and Claudio Hodgson “Quando Tú Me Quiera�

-performed in front of the construction site of Mango Ghost’s new house.   A building project initiated by the people of Bluefields to honor Mango’s life long contribution to music and culture in Nicaragua.

Mixing With Massy

Okay, we’ve let you know about this new Mix column, “Gear Stories With Sylvia Massy,” in newsletters, online, in print, through Facebook, as a Tweet…all the ways we reach out in the modern world. But it’s hard to do justice to what Sylvia has created up there in remote Northern California without a visit. So at the end of December, I packed up the car and drove the four hours up I-5 to Weed, California (insert joke here), to get a look at RadioStar, the old vaudeville theater turned recording space, with a classic Neve at the center. The video tour is forthcoming any day on
First off, Weed is out there, only really accessible from I-5. But it’s located in some of the most virgin and beautiful territory California has to offer, in the heart of the Siskiyous and literally at the foot of 14,800-foot Mount Shasta. It’s not likely that she’ll see Tool making the drive up, but what Massy and team have assembled is something she couldn’t have possibly done in L.A., or any other major market for that matter. She owns the theater, with its old-school, don’t-whisper-or-the-band-will-hear-you acoustics, and she owns the building next door with offices, a two-bedroom residence and another studio. They purchased a building a block away to put in a budget studio with a Trident board, and she and partner Greg Shivy just closed on the building across the street, where they will likely place their video-editing operation. It’s a mini-complex, with tons of vintage gear and vibe. And it’s all hers. Except maybe for the parts still haunted by the spirits that nearly all who have visited have felt…or seen…at some point.
I’m not saying that it’s a new model, but it is obvious from the first step inside the lobby that there is something fresh going on. On the day we visited, Northern Crowns of Las Cruces, N.M., was finishing up drum tracks on an EP, with plans for a return visit in the summer. They’re being co-produced by Massy and RadioStar intern-turned producer Lori Castro. The band is scheduled for a gig at the Whisky A-Go-Go in early February, where they are setting up for label interest. It is live recording, with overdubs next door, with video next to that, with solid songs. If they hit it big, RadioStar is their launchpad. And there are others in the same vein. Sort of like venture capital: If one out of ten hits, then RadioStar is in IPO territory. Like I say, not a new model, just one that requires that you own the means of production.
But it’s also about looking forward. And while Massy still (rightly) believes that a label and radio can kick-start a career, she has her fingers in a lot of new-media pies and is constantly looking at new ways to distribute, promote and push an act to the next level.
You’ll be reading a lot from Sylvia Massy over the coming months in Mix, mostly about classic pieces of gear with a story behind them. But you’ll also get insight into her unique personality that somehow fit right in when she was riding the wave in L.A. and feels equally at home on her 50-acre ranch just five minutes from RadioStar.
Look for the video interviews, both edited and in their entirety, on the Mix site. We want you to know our newest columnist. We think you’ll like her.


April 2014
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