Thursday, December 2, 2010

Where have I been - Part 2

This is off subject for this blog - totally personal. If you want to read about engineering or mixing skip to another of my posts.

I'm sitting here looking at my blog with despair and dis-belief. I've tried to keep this going but have had such a hard time doing that this year. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my father was very ill for most of the spring and died in May. It was a very hard time for me and it took me a while to get back into the swing of things and actually start blogging again. Then, just as I was starting to post here again my mother died from an accidental drowning while in vacation in Florida. This just a little over 4 months after my father died. So again I'm knocked on my ass emotionally and have not been about doing any workshops or blogging about engineering / mixing.

But time heals and I do eventually get back around to things. I am planning some more workshops and have a couple of other cool things I'm working on. I just need to put something in here to mark the spot and differentiate between before and after.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Why is Chamillionaire Here?

This is something I came across today because I subscribe to the Lefsetz Letter.

It is a video of Chamillionaire speaking at a Tech Crunch conference. He's a really smart dude and had a lot of great things to say. Make sure to watch until about 12 minutes in where he is talking about his relationship with Universal Records.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The FG-X Virtual Mastering Processor - A Love Story

As a mixer I find myself an unwilling participant in the "loudness wars". I have been mixing since the late 70's and have spent most of those years being hesitant to even add more than a touch of compression to my mix buss. But as the times have changed and my work has moved more into the pop and urban world I've found myself having to make my mixes more competitive on the radio. My clients also have an expectation of the mixes having a certain loudness as they're checking their reference mixes. No amount of explaining to them that it will be louder after mastering makes any difference - they want it loud now! And I've come to accept that for most of my clients the mixes DO need to be loud. So I've started to incorporate more heavy handed limiting into my mixing process from the get go so that I can control the final results better. But so often I'm fighting against the limiter and it's shredding harsh sound. And I've been frustrated with the lack of flexibility of most of the limiter/compressors I've tried. How can I get my mixes loud with out destroying the detail and dynamics I've slaved to bring out?

Enter the Slate Digital - FG-X Virtual Mastering Processor. You will not believe this thing! The first time I tried it out I had the the same feeling I had the first time I tried out a Distressor or my Orange amp which was - "I'm going to use this everyday"! I thought that it sounded like my mix, but louder. And I was just trying out the presets! There is a 'constant gain monitoring' button which by-passes the auto gain function of the plugin and matches the plugins output gain to the gain before the plugin signal. This allows you to turn the plugin off and on with out affecting the volume, thus a enabling you to objectively hear what it is doing to your mix. That right there is what really sold me on the FG-X. It really preserves my mix while making it louder and punchier (remember to turn the 'constant gain monitoring' button back off of course).

There is a slider called ITP, which stands for "Intelligent Transient Preservation", which is the algorithm at the heart of this beast. It goes from a 'smooth' setting to a 'hard' setting. It is analyzing the incoming signal and making adjustments to how it is going to do it's thing to the signal. Which is what's very different about this plugin, it's not a static process. I can't explain all the technical details about how it works, but just be assured that moving that slider up and down allows you to fine tune the process. I find that I end up with it closer to the smooth side.

The metering is pretty awesome too. It's very easy to see what's going on with large VU style and bar graph meters.

I have always felt better about buying gear that had lots of knobs. My thinking has been that I'm getting more functionality for the price out of a piece of gear. Take my Avalon 737sp for instance - it has 16 knobs and 14 buttons. At $2,250 that works out to $140.62 per knob. However my Germanium, which goes for $1,138.50, and only has 2 knobs comes to $569.25 per knob (ok... different kinds of pre's, and I do like the Germanium, but I like to have options). Well the FG-X has plenty of knobs and buttons. 9 knobs and 15 buttons to be precise. That's $33.33per knob, not counting the buttons!!!! What a deal!

There is so much more I could write about the FG-X, but I really think you should head over to the website and download the demo and see for yourself. There is so much flexibility available that you will be able to get whatever you need. This is a must have for any in the box mixer or mastering engineer.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Where Have I Been?

Well, I obviously haven't been blogging. A lot has happened. I noticed the date of my last post and realized that it was about then that my Dad went into the hospital for surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. He was supposed to be out in 3 days and instead was in pretty much a coma for several days and eventually had to be moved to a nursing home.

Now I'm not going to go on a rant about doctors and their inability to communicate with each other regarding their patients, how you can feel pressured into following a procedure when it is not really necessary, how the doctor who is responsible for my Dad's condition wouldn't return phone calls or how next time I'm in a hospital for any reason I will be taking notes and pictures of every detail. But I will say it was the beginning of the end. My Dad was at a nursing home for a while before my Mom could take him home. She was able to care for him for a while but eventually it became impossible because he couldn't swallow anymore. We moved him to a hospice for several days where I stayed by his side until early one morning he took his last breath.

But this is not a blog post about sorrow or blame or anything like that. My Dad had Parkinson's disease (possibly triggered by exposure from agent orange in Vietnam). It was going to kill him eventually. The botched surgery just sped up the inevitable. What I wanted to write about is how my Dad's last days made me feel.

I do feel sorrow. But I can't say I've mourned yet because I've worked almost everyday since he died. My sister say's it will come. But for now I mostly feel grateful. My father was a great dad. He never gave me a hard time about anything (except my long hair) and tolerated all those band practices in the basement. I also felt lucky to be sitting at his side, alone, at the end. I can't really explain it. He was there when I was born. I held all my 3 boys when they were born and I was the first person my boys saw in this world. It seems fitting that I was with my Dad when he left this world.

The other thing I feel or think actually is that I should be following my dreams. Just before my Dad went into the hospital I was at his house and he walked out of the room to ask me to help him get home (he would get confused like that a lot). I walked him back into his room and explained to him that he was already home. He got really embarrassed, but it got him talking. He told me stories of his time in college, meeting my mother, being a dad. But mostly he talked about Vietnam. He told me things he had never told me before. And what I realized was that my Dad had done everything he had set out to do in his life. Not many people can say that. But he did it.

So now I have a different perspective as I move forward. I see things a little differently than before. And now that a little time has passed and I've gotten through a few challenging projects in the studio it's time to get back to the world.

Please stay in touch with your parents and loved ones.

Follow your dreams.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No Excuses

The only thing that matters is what comes out of the speakers.

Excuses don’t matter. The only thing that matters is what comes out of the speakers. You will not have a chance to explain to anyone why the mix, vocals, production, whatever doesn’t sound as good as it should. It doesn't matter that the drums were recorded badly, the singer's timing was bad or something was messed up with the Protools files that were delivered to you. No one cares. No excuses will matter later when they hear your work coming out of the speakers. If you have to go in and work a little harder by replacing drum sounds, editing the singer or fixing the crap that was sent to you, then you need to do it. Your reputation is on the line and your reputation is what comes out of the speakers.

If you are producing an act and the guitarist can’t play or the drummer has bad timing, it does you no good to complain and do a lame job producing them because THEY suck. No! You were hired to make a professional recording and if that means replaying the guitars yourself or getting someone else to do it then that's what you do. If it means getting another drummer to play the parts or spending the time editing the drums then you do it. Because no one who hears your work later will be able to hear you tell your story about how slack the band was. They’ll just hear the music and read the credits with your name in them.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Many years ago I was producing a band with a singer who was... a bit challenged, shall we say. She was kind of lazy too. She might come in and not be having a good night and just want to call it quits instead of moving on to other parts or seeing if she'll get warmed up. I started to get frustrated and impatient with the whole project and began rushing through the whole thing just to get it out the door. I figured that as mediocre as it was, and as lazy as the singer was, no one would ever hear it anyway.

After I got it done this singer suddenly seemed to get some fire under her butt and began hitting the local scene pretty hard. She also got some money together and opened a rehearsal facility which brought her into contact with a lot of bands in the scene. It wasn't long till word got back to me how she was bad mouthing me for the half-assed job I did. I wasn't able to go around and explain to everyone how bad of a singer she was, what a pain she was to work with, how she was lazy and how she seemed to be satisfied with the way the project sounded. Just because the client is satisfied doesn't always mean it's done! Well, word got around and it hurt me. I lost gigs and it damaged my reputation in that scene. But frankly I deserved it. When someone hires you you are obligated to do your best work. And besides, you never know who is going to hear it.

You will live and die by the quality of your work.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rockstar Success Myth VS Hip Hop Star Success Myth

I used to think that there was a conspiracy to keep good music off the radio.

Of course since my music wasn’t getting on the radio at that time, that meant my music was good. Right? Certainly it was better than the junk I kept hearing. But this simple, and in retrospect funny, belief was based on 2 fundamental misunderstandings.

#1 - That radio and record labels were actually interested in good music and that the ongoing quest of music, much like science and education, was to improve. It took me years to accept the fact that to most people, music is just entertainment. Music is my lifeblood. Back then I thought everyone felt this way, but in fact for many people entertainment is their blood. Like blood it must be cleansed and filtered, thus they must have fresh blood (content, music, entertainment) continuously. The masterpiece you might have created will only keep their attention and interest till the next youtube sensation overtakes it. I got into record production because of the album
Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd. That was my inspiration. It is a masterpiece. It is also an album that stayed on the charts longer than any other album in history (741 weeks - 14 years) and sold 45 million copies. But I think those days are gone on both the artistic side and the business side. We are now making candy for listeners to rapidly consume.

#2 - That the key to success was good music. Period. I thought if you had great music it would be recognized and valued on its quality alone. All I, and my peers at the time, concentrated on was our skills as writers and artists. But later when I got into producing and doing work with artists that were signed to major labels, especially hip hop artists, I started to see things from a different angle. What I saw was a different creed, a different attitude about how they believed they were going to become successful verses the attitude of my peers from the rock bands I’d been in. I think it is very instructive as to why (at least one reason why) Hip Hop has done so well over the past decade.

I call this the Success Myth. These are the stories you hear from kids in bands or young rappers when talking about the rock and hip hop stars and how they got where they are now. There are 2 kinds of myths I’ve heard.

The Rock & Roll Success Myth
There are these young guys, all good friends, who form a band and rehearse in their parents' basements. They write some songs and start gigging at local clubs. At one of the gigs they get discovered by an A&R guy or a well-connected manager. They quickly get signed, put with a famous producer and BAM! They’re rockstars!

It’s a Cinderella story. And though it is very unlikely to happen, it has happened just enough times for the legend to have spread and to cause bands to really think that this is how it is going to happen. Contrast this with the other myth I’ve heard- it goes something like this:

The Hip-Hop Success Myth
There are these two kids from the hood. One raps and the other makes beats. They need to buy some equipment to record their songs. They do this by selling weed, crack, hustling, whatever. They make their cd / mix tape and go out and promote the hell out of it. They sell their cds ‘out of the trunk of the car’. They raise a little money from this which they re-invest in their business to buy better gear, finance touring and promotion. They do another record. They go out and promote and sell their cds like they did last time, but this time with more success. They keep repeating this process till they have built a small empire that includes their own distribution system to mom and pop type shops, a small staff and a touring circuit. They also create partnership/alliances with DJs, radio programmers, concert promoters, etc. At this point they are being approached by major labels. They are in a position to negotiate very favorable terms and get not only a huge advance, but continue to own their own label as an imprint on a major. From there they are bound for the stars.

I like this story. It is based on a business plan and a recognition that hard work is required. It’s not based on luck, but proactive actions. It puts the power in the artists hands.

I could go on about this, but I think you see my point.

And it is what made me realize that there was no conspiracy. I realized that most people are in some way equal in the end. One person might be a genius at math or business but not be able to maintain his marriage. One person might be a great dad to his kids but can’t hold a job. And in music... usually the great singer has no head for business. Whereas the guitar player in that band that just got signed might be a crap player in a crap band, but they got some hustle and catchy songs. I lament the artists I’ve worked with who had ALL the talent, but zero social skills and no stage presence.

It’s about the hustle my friend. Provided you’ve got a slightly above average amount of talent, it is really just plain old hard work and organization that makes the difference.

Friday, January 22, 2010

That 1 Guy and His Magic Pipe - EPK

I did an album with That 1 Guy last fall. Really cool stuff, great album. Here is a video that Johnny St. Ours did about him. A lot of it was shot in my studio: