“Fancy a movie”? “Hmmmmm, who’s the projectionist?”

Projectionist

A DJ phones his DJ friend up. “Fancy seeing a movie?” “Hmmmmm not sure, who’s the projectionist?”

This favourite joke of mine has an underlying message. We laugh at the guy who regards the projectionist as more important than the movie, being more focused on the movie’s delivery mechanism than on the acting, cinematography, photography or soundtrack – in other words, the ART contained within the piece. While this may sound absurd, this is actually the world we now live in! Believe it or not, people will often pay a lot of money to see someone putting on a recording on their favourite music rather than pay to see a live performance by the artist who originally wrote and performed it. Which is, of course, is the whole basis of the joke.

Online streaming is the latest delivery mechanism under scrutiny. The debate has been slowly gaining momentum amongst artists about companies like Spotify, Pandora, You Tube etc. This Finish artist has calculated  his income per play as 0.002 cents from Spotify and a recent article by David Byrne (see below) made some very frightening calculations about the future of income for artists if this latest form of music delivery is to become mainstream.

Here are some well informed and hard hitting articles on the subject:

Spotiwhy? a look at sustainability for content creators in light of the streaming model.

Defining and demanding a musician’s fair shake in the internet age

My song got played on Pandora 1 million times and all I got was $16:89, less than what I make from a single t-shirt sale

The internet will suck all creative content out of the world David Byrne’s excellent article in the Guardian

How much do artists earn online?

So how does anyone at Google, Spotify et al think this is going to play out? Lack of a fair balance between effort expended and income can only have one conclusion – that the most talented artists will go elsewhere to pay their living costs and the world will be deprived of the inspiration and joy brought to us by those artists. The only people who participate willingly in this ‘give-away’ culture are amateurs and musicians who have not received public attention because they are not ready. You have only to spend 10 minutes on You Tube etc to see how much low-grade content is clogging up the internet.

The only logical conclusion I can see is that content pedlars will collapse once there is no content of worth available. With lawmakers generally turning a deaf ear to content creators’ voices, the only way to fix this is through legislation, but of course, governments are only interested in the issues that are raised by the wealthiest lobbyists – in this case, Google, Spotify and many others. Many songwriters talk about the systematic rape of the world around us for short-term gain. Well I guess we finally hit a nerve, because now it’s us!

If you agree with this article and are concerned about its implications, please share it and help to spread awareness.

DIY Recording: Q and A

For more than 20 years now, colleagues & clients from all sides of the industry have been asking my advice with anything from recording, producing and mastering an entire project, to improving the sound of one aspect of their production, or simply being a second set of ears. I thought it might be worth sharing a recent chat in the form of a Q and A session:

Q Could you give me your opinion about RME or Apogee converters if you have had any experience with them and also your opinion about recording at higher sample rates?

GH I’ve heard them both in other studios, but there are so many variables as you know, that it’s hard to tell exactly how many individual elements combine to make the sound good. In terms of sample rates, if it’s REALLY exposed like solo sax or something, it might be worth taking the trouble to capture every nuance, but for every day general stuff  44100/24 bit is sufficient. If you’re doing very simple electronic production like dance music or pop and use ‘bit crusher‘ a lot, then anything more than 44100/16 bit would be a completely wasted exercise! Of course, if you’re going for HD mastering, you’ll need to use higher sample rates from the start of the project

Q I wanted to record sax at 192 and also piano to get the real fat. If it all gets mixed down to 44.1 is there any point of recording at these higher sample rates anyway though ?

GH Generally I would say no, but if I care more than usual about the quality of a recording, I will record at higher rates.

Q Do you use in-the-box plugins such as Waves or do you prefer outboard gear? Is the plugins thing like emulating an SSL 4000 desks analogue character just commercial hype, or are they getting closer to narrowing the disparity between ITB and outboard in your opinion?

GH I think it’s VERY close now, but personally I use a hybrid. I use in-the-box plugins all the way until the stereo bus, then feed out into my SSL mix compressor. I can hear way more clarity, definition, stereo width and even some tonal differences. Then I patch the SSL back into the DAW to print.

For ‘analogue character’ there are definitely some very good ITB plugins on the market. Personal favourites include the UAD Studer & Ampex plugins, the Waves NLS channel/bus and also the REDD emulations and the Soundtoys Decapitator.

Q Tony Maserati was on Dave Pensado‘s channel and said someone made him up a gold wired mike cable ..said the difference especially on the top end was like night and day. Says it radically transforms the sound. One of my colleagues is also obsessed with the power supply aspects.

GH Yeah I love those guys. My go to mastering guy is Andy Jackson www.tubemastering.com – he’s into expensive cabling and also swears by it. He uses quite a bit of Tim de Paravacini’s EAR gear too. I’d lay odds that he uses mains filters in his mastering suite, but if not, he DEFINITELY uses them at Dave Gilmour’s studio, which is where he works. I agree with a lot of these guys when they say, it’s not any ONE step that we take that greatly improves our sound, it’s a series of very small incremental steps culminating in a vastly improved end point. The same as mixing or mastering I guess! 😉

 

Bigger, Deeper, Wider – The Secret Of Mixing ‘In The Box’

VU MeterThis is an extremely short version of a MASSIVE thread on one of my favourite sites, Gearslutz. The original post is by Skip Burrows and soon evolves into an in depth discussion with Paul Frindle – ex SSL designer & general digital audio boffin. Since reading this thread and putting its various ideas into practice, the sound of my mixes has noticeably improved, so I thought it might be worth sharing with anyone who’s also looking to improve their sound. Of course, if you’re looking for the best results, then you’ll need to hire ME! 🙂

If you’ve been recording as long as I have (nope, you’ll have to guess!), you’ll have learned that the best way of recording onto tape with the best signal to noise ratio was by recording as hot as possible (as close to 0VU as possible). Even the early days of digital recording in 16 bit favoured this methodology, as the argument was that the hotter you recorded, the more of the original quality of the signal would be preserved in the conversion.

Nowadays, that’s all changed with 24 bit recording at 96 and 192khz with the increased dynamic range, plus DAWs are not calibrated the same way as most mixing desks. Long and short, recording at much lower levels is more ideal in the current scheme of things and is one step of many that will add clarity and definition to your mixes. On top of this, the 3rd party plug-ins we all love to use don’t operate at their best with a hot signal, most manufacturers assume that the track won’t be slamming the VUs as it passes through, so making sure that your signal goes in clean will get the best sound out of the plug-in.

One way that engineers are working this with hot audio tracks sent to them for mixing is to insert a trim plug-in first in the chain with a dB cut. There are divided opinions on how much gain to trim, but the thread mentions anywhere from -8 to -20dB. Quite a difference huh! Well, as with everything, I just used my ears and worked out over time what works best for me and eventually opted for anything from -8 to -12dB cuts, which often get made on the input stage of the UAD plug-ins. You’ll make up some gain anyway as tracks are processed and more plug-ins are added, but bottom line, careful gain-staging from start to finish is going to make an enormous difference to the overall sound and will make your mixes less squashed and narrow sounding.

“But what if I WANT it to sound distorted?” I hear someone ask. Good question. Distortion was originally obtained in the analog world by pushing 0dB, however, digital distortion over 0db is really nasty & crunchy – not a pleasant sound at all, what’s more it can adversely affect the CD pressing or even glitch on air, so is to be avoided at all costs**. The pleasing ‘analog’ distortion we’ve all come to know and love is more accurately referred to as ‘harmonic distortion’, being that it IS the adding of harmonic frequencies to the original signal. This is the domain of a whole new generation of harmonic distortion and saturation plug-ins, such as the Soundtoys Decapitator, iZotope Trash, UAD Studer a800, Waves NLS etc. This, then is how to add acceptable distortion (however nasty and trashy you want it) in the context of a carefully gain-staged mix.

Lastly, I tend to create groups, in the same way I used to on my mixing desk, so a drum bus, vocals, guitars, keys and maybe bass separately, depending on the style, complexity of my sound set etc. Having stereo subsections of my instruments gives me more flexibility on the final stage and let’s me pull things down a little if they get too hot. Alternatively if everything needs pushing a little to get the mix pumping, it’s still a much easier way to do it than going through hundreds of tracks adjusting them.

If you’ve enjoyed this article or found it helpful, please click on the Facebook links and like our page. Feel free to leave a comment if you have something to add or ask, it’s always great to hear from people with fresh ideas.

Don’t forget to check out the original post if you’re hungry for more technical info.

Thanks for reading!

** Any mastering engineer worth her salt will tell you there’s a further consideration when converting to mp3, as anything mastered too close to 0VU can take it over the top during the conversion process. This is why most mastering houses will set the output of their brick wall limiters anything from -0.1 to -0.3dB.

Trashmonk – Mona Lisa Overdrive

This is an album that from a short distance I watched evolve over a period of two or three years, picking up many valuable ideas along the way and even inheriting the Akai recorder it was started on.

Originally named ‘Downloaded’ (more from the perspective of the song ‘Brownstone Symphony’ than any prediction of developing technology at the time), I remember my good friend producer Simon Tyrell meticulously crafting Mona Lisa Overdrive with Nick – recorded just up the road from my studio, this album was waaaaaaay ahead of its time in terms of its philosophy and the way it was recorded. Bands like Frou Frou (producer Guy Sigsworth) and William Orbit quickly picked up the baton and sold the industry on the new filtered/distorted/generally f***ed up sound that marked our final escape from the predominantly clinical and sonically average sound of the 80s & 90s.

Mostly featuring Nick himself on voice and instruments, he used a small handful of musically and philosophically aligned people to supplement the overall sound and set of performances – Jon Carin (who, incidentally, clinched the decision to buy my first Kurzweil) and Ben Goldsmith on violin, (I can only remember these two – the album will have full credits, though sadly there’s no Wikipedia entry for it). According to Simon, the recording chain included an EQ and compressor from Tim Paravacini’s EAR (Esoteric Audio Research) company and there was never a Sansamp or Sherman Filter Bank very far away. Great use was made of unusual and boutique gear, including a fine collection of guitars and other stringed instruments, along with an electronic keyboard tuned to an arabic tuning, bought from a bazar somewhere along Nick’s travels.

Creation’s Alan McGee quickly jumped on the album & threw himself headlong into its development, block booking Dave Gilmour’s Astoria, where it was knocked into shape and George Schilling did a magnificent job of the final mixes. just after it was delivered, Creation went bust! I’m not entirely sure the two facts are disconnected LOL!

anyway, enough waffling, here’s one of my favourite tracks….

Polygamy

Trashmonk – Polygamy

My Top 5 Effects Plug Ins

It’s a bit of a minefield out there. So many companies are in our faces singing the praises of their latest software, so how can we work out what’s good & what isn’t? I find You Tube quite helpful at times when researching plug ins – especially the posts with HD links, as it helps enormously to hear sound at the best quality for evaluation, but also I look out for blogs from people who seem to know what they’re talking about. Of these, Olav Basoski and Dave Pensado come most immediately to mind. I also find some good helpful thoughts on Gearslutz, but often find it necessary to wade through a ton of crap, inflated egos and bitching to get to the good stuff.

FWIW I thought it might be worth putting my 5 favourite plug ins up here to help anyone browsing this site. Of course I have my preferences – I’ll admit right here that I’m a big fan of the UAD plugs, whereas I’ve found the Waves are a bit hit and miss, PLUS I find their pricing and updating policy more than a bit on the greedy side, so I’ve only bought a handful that I’ve found indispensable. This is just my personal view, I don’t expect you to have the same experience as I do and of course, I expect you to follow your own instincts as to your plug in choices.

1) Equalisation – UAD Neve 1081 or 1073. It’s almost inevitable that one of the first things I’ll put on a channel is one of these. 1073 is more for guitars or keyboard sounds that I’d like to cut through or be brash in some kind of way. the 1081 tends to be used for sounds that need more finesse or ‘carving out’.

2) Classic Compressors –  UAD 1176 and Teletronix collections. UAD have recently updated these compressors and what an improvement they are! imho they’re now undisputedly the best models of these particular compressors available. I use the 1176 rev E on most instruments and drum channels, whereas I’ve found the rev AE is a little more subtle for things like vocals. The 1176 collection compares favourably with the real life 1176 that sits in my rack and is WAY more convenient to use, as it saves patching it in etc. As for the Teletronix, I’ve recently used the new LA2A collection to great effect on brass, strings and backing vocals.

3) Tape Emulation – both the UAD Studer A800 and UAD Ampex ATR-102 have given great results both on individual channels and on my stereo buss. More usually the ATR 102 goes over the stereo buss, as I find it gives a bit more of a ‘sheen’ than the Studer, but it depends on the material too. For more retro sounding stuff I’ve used the Studer, as the presets in many cases cut some of the top end in a very pleasing retro way. I’d recommend experimenting with the overdrive features of both emulations.

4) Delays – I’ve had very pleasing results in studios who run the Soundtoys EchoBoy, but in my own studio I use either the UAD Roland Space Echo (I also own a real life Space Echo 501, which sometimes gets used in my signal path when recording to HD) or one of the generic delays from whatever DAW I’m working in, with perhaps some tape saturation across the delay channel. For short delays I love the ATR-102 and sometimes feed these into an ambient space to give more character to the delay.

5) Reverbs – these are a bit more hard to pin down, as there are so many good ones out there, but my main ‘go to’ verbs are the UAD EMT 250, UAD EMT 140 plus whatever generic impulse response plug in comes to hand. I have a massive collection of IRs, some of which are custom-made and there’s always one or 2 of these present in my mixes. Some studios have the Lexicon collection, which I’ve also found to be excellent. Of the impulse response sets, I recommend the Lexicon, Bricasti and TC5000 sets (a google search will offer a plethora of sites offering these) and there are some random oddball IRs that can come handy too!

If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ve found some valuable and/or interesting info here. Don’t forget to hit me up in the comments box with your thoughts and experiences, as I’m always fascinated to hear the theories and techniques of other tech heads out there!

GH