Thanks for stopping by. I will be posting about music, media, technology and other fun stuff. Please enjoy and post your comments.
Thanks for stopping by. I will be posting about music, media, technology and other fun stuff. Please enjoy and post your comments.
Yup, you read that correctly. And I know what your thinking. First, let me say that I don’t purposefully listen to Kenny G and have never purchased any of his music, so that probably disqualifies me from membership in the fan club. But, like just about everyone, I’ve heard plenty of his music over the years. As a saxophone player I feel a certain connection and understanding. Some might call it “sympathy”. It occurred to me today, while pondering the G, that there’s a double-standard in music and he may not have gotten a totally fair shake over the years.
One example of a double-standard that really sticks out is between guitars and just about every other instrument, but certainly between guitars and saxophones. Modifying the natural sound of a guitar is completely acceptable, even encouraged, while the same does not hold true for saxophones. I can’t remember the last time I played a gig with a guitarist who just plugged into his amp and played. Most of the guitarists I share a stage with construct a short but wide wall of effects pedals in front of them to get “their sound”. My favorite is the guitarist who shows you his vintage axe, brags about the year it came off the assembly line, the serial number, how it has that magic tone that you can’t get with today’s guitars… Then they proceed to completely bury the sound of the guitar with six effects pedals and an overdriven amplifier. How much did you pay for that guitar again?
Enter Kenny G. Kenny took a similar approach to his instrument in the 1980s and continues today. What I hear when I listen to Kenny is a lot of reverb, compression, maybe delay. Possibly some kind of harmonic exciter or enhancer effects. His sound does not have that raw tonal quality that we associate with players like Branford Marsalis, Jerry Bergonzi or Chris Potter. It doesn’t sound exactly like a saxophone would sound in a room. But when was the last time you really heard the sound of a guitar in it’s raw form?
A key component to guitarist worship is facility. People love to hear guitarists ripping up and down the fretboard playing fast. I can tell you as a saxophone player that Kenny G is an accomplished player with terrific facility on his instrument. Like his music or not, he’s a solid saxophonist. But when Kenny G plays fast sweeping phrases on his horn it doesn’t seem to elicit the same kind of appreciation, at least not from most of the people I know. Then again, most of the folks I talk about music with are musicians so maybe that’s where the issue lies.
Kenny G has sold millions of albums and will probably sell millions more, so there are obviously many people who do see him in the same light as the guitar-worship crowd sees guitarists. But the haters are strong (see Pat Metheny’s rant on Kenny G from several years ago). Here’s a large part of the problem and I believe that the general public and the record/retail industry are mostly to blame for this. Because Kenny G plays a saxophone he’s been housed in the “Jazz” sections of many record and online stores. This speaks to fact that Americans have lost their connection with one of the true American art forms and somehow any music played by a saxophone is now considered “Jazz”. That said, folks who have an appreciation for the history and progression of that art form, including many musicians, take strong exception to this categorical error. Does Kenny G consider himself a jazz musician? Not sure, but I would guess that he doesn’t.
In 1997 Kenny pulled together a publicity stunt where he played one note for 45 minutes making it into the Guinness Book of World records. He was using a technique called circular breathing which isn’t especially difficult on many wind instruments including the saxophone. What most people don’t know is that this technique has been around for ages and employed by many musicians in the East. This was a cheap stunt and I cringe at the fact that people are impressed by it and somehow equate holding a note for a long time with talent. Pat Metheny’s issue with Kenny G stemmed from the fact that his sax was overdubbed on top of an historic Louis Armstrong track. I didn’t personally find it offensive, just not very good. He did nothing to improve on the original. Nobody could. So if you’re going to get down on Kenny G, don’t do it because of how he plays a saxophone or his tone. There really isn’t that much of a difference between him and the flashy guitarist. His character, on the other hand…
The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80-20 rule and states that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. This principle is sited extensively in economics, for example, 80% of collective wealth is held by 20% of the population. 80% of sales revenues come from 20% of clients. It’s not an exact science, but remarkable how often it works. This got me thinking about audio production and the almost endless amounts of equipment available to us and the wide variations in their price. If one piece of gear costs three or four times as much as a similar piece, is it three or four times better? As far as I can tell, the answer is almost always no. In fact, by spending 20% of what a big budget studio spends on similar components, you just might be able to get results that are 80% as good. That is if you’ve got the skills.
The good news here is that almost anyone can make high quality professional recordings without breaking the bank or going into debt. Professional quality audio equipment can be had today for much less than in the past. Much of this price decrease in recent years can be attributed to the shrinking cost of production in Asian factories and increased demand. To be clear, I’m referring to sound quality not build quality. Build quality still has room to grow, but it is improving. There are also improvements to technologies and a bustling clone industry that puts out some surprisingly accurate copies of vintage components for a fraction of the price. So let’s take a look at a few examples of like pieces based on current prices.
Big Budget Studio buys a Lynx Aurora 16 $2,995
Little Guy’s Bedroom Productions buys a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 $499
Big Budget Studio buys a Neumann U87 for $3,199
LIttle Guy’s Bedroom Productions buys a Studio Projects C1 $249
Big Budget Studio buys a Neve 1073LB $995
Little Guy’s Bedroom Productions buys a Golden Age Pre73 $349
Big Budget Studio buys a pair of Genelec 8050A monitors $4,298
Little Guy’s Bedroom Productions buys a pair of Yamaha HS80M monitors $698
Software – DAW
Big Budget Studio buys Pro Tools 9 Native $599
Little Guy’s Bedroom Productions buys Reaper $40
The list could continue on and on… This will surely infuriate lots of folks, especially the ones who’ve gone all in on the top level products. But before you type that hate letter, understand that I’m not trying to say that a pair of Yamaha HS80Ms sound like a pair of Genelec 8050As. They don’t. What I am saying is that if you really get to know your monitors and you are listening in a decent environment, you can get results that are at least 80% as good on the Yamahas. A/D – D/A converter technology has gotten so good over the past few years that it would likely take an experienced audio professional to hear the difference between a Lynx Aurora and a Focusrite Saffire. A Studio Projects C1 doesn’t sound exactly like a Neumann U87, but if you’re working with a great vocalist and you know how to properly mic her, you will get at least 80% of the way there.
So the playing field has been leveled to some degree and the bar is higher than ever. For most of us it’s not worth paying three or four times more for a 10% – 20% gain, but if you can afford it there are compelling reasons to do it. Individually, one top level piece of gear is not going to make a noticeable improvement to your productions, but when you start adding many small gains together it can give you that 10% – 20% overall improvement and bring your productions to a higher level. Still, having all of the finest gear in the world won’t get you a top level sound if you don’t know how to use it properly and if you don’t put in the time to learn the craft. It’s people who produce great audio, not equipment. So don’t worry about the brand name on your equipment or think that you can’t get a professional sound because you didn’t max out your credit cards on gear. Put up some acoustic treatment in your listening area, learn good mic techniques, read up on signal flow and practice, practice, practice…
In order to take full control over your mixes and have quick access to individual tracks that are routed through busses or using sends, it’s necessary to use the solo safe function in Pro Tools. Activating solo safe on aux inputs (busses) keeps them active when you solo other tracks in your session.
The video below shows how to set that up.
If you’re new to Pro Tools or new to computer-based recording this video is the first in a series of Pro Tools basics and it will show you how to quickly setup and record an audio track. Just about all of the major DAWS (digital audio workstations) use similar conventions for basic setup and recording. On the way we will discuss the edit window view selector and the importance of naming your tracks before recording. The basic process goes:
1. Create a track to record on
2. Set the proper routing for the track (inputs and outputs)
3. Enable the track(s) to be recorded
*click the ” Youtube” button on the player to view the larger HD version.
It wasn’t very long ago when we would burn through spindles of CD-Rs in the process of a recording project. Most studios even factored in the time and cost of the CD-Rs for the session. Thankfully, cloud storage has nearly eliminated that step and streamlined the process in a big way.
Here are some of the benefits to using a cloud storage service:
No media to recycle or dispose of.
No time wasted on the CD burning process.
Cloud storage apps on smartphones gives everyone instant access from anywhere.
Cloud storage is secure.
One shared location means updated files are updated for everyone sharing the folder.
Others sharing the folder can add files as well.
My service of choice is Dropbox, although there are others out there including box.net. Dropbox gives you up to 2GB of storage free and subscription plans for additional space. Your Dropbox cloud directory mirrors one that you keep locally on your PCs or Macs. Some folks don’t want to keep a local copy and find this to be a limitation, but I prefer this method for two reasons. First, you have access to your files even if your Internet connection is down. Second, you can additionally sync your audio and video files to your computer’s media player software in house. I do this by creating a playlist in iTunes and adding the bounced song files to it. As long as you don’t change the name of the bounced file (the name of the song), the iTunes playlist will always include the latest version. You can change the MP3 tags which doesn’t affect the file in the playlist. Now if you’re streaming music throughout your house using something like a Slingbox, Roku or Apple TV, you can easily check your mixes in other rooms. I do this by streaming to my Apple TV in the living room and listening through my consumer stereo equipment. This is a great real world test of your mixes. Accessing Dropbox on smartphones means that you can check mixes in any car that has an external connection. Apps are now available for iPhone and Android which make the experience a little cleaner, but you can always just use a browser and access from the web.
Dropbox has also come in really handy when working with musicians who are recording tracks in their own studio. A keyboard player on a recent project wanted to record on his vintage gear at home and not drag it to my studio, so he recorded his tracks and uploaded them to our shared directory in Dropbox where I could retrieve them and drop them into the session. This was beyond anyone’s imagination twenty years ago.
PVC Pipe/Fittings ($20)
PVC Glue ($5)
Auralex Mineral Fiber ($20)
BUILDING THE PVC FRAME
First determine the size of the surface that you will be building for. In this case it was a 2′ x 4′ Auralex mineral fiber panel. This is being used mostly for recording vocals so I wanted it to sit higher up off the ground to block out room reflections.
The base of the legs use a “double tee” with two 90 degree elbows attached.
The base of the surface uses a “sanitary tee” which allows you to run the pipe across horizontally and continue running the pipe vertically to the top.
One more set of 90 degree fittings are used to complete the top corners.
Now that you have the structure built the tricky part is getting the mineral fiber to stay in place. I had good luck using a couple of light-load straps that I found for a few dollars each at the local home improvement store
CUTTING PIPE – I had access to a miter saw which made cutting the pipe lengths really easy. You can also use a Sawzall or similar. PVC cutting tools can also be found at your local hardware store. When measuring the pipe for your surface be sure to account for 3/4′ on each side where the pipe inserts into the fitting. For my two foot horizontal run I cut a length of pipe 25.5 inches. Also, be aware that PVC pipe is toxic when heated up so work in a ventilated room and use a mask.
GLUING – Make sure that your pipe ends and fittings are clean and be aware that PVC glue dries very quickly.
Finally, measure around the frame for the fabric then cut and sew it into a large pillow case. Slip it over the top and your gobo is complete.
* I was able to locate some Auralex mineral fiber panels for sale Craigslist which brought the cost of the panel down to around $5. As an alternative, you could try some other rigid insulation boards that can be found at a home improvement store. They may not be quite as effective but still do the job.
The amount of flexibility in the modern recording studio is nothing short of mind blowing. Although most engineers probably don’t welcome the phrase “we can fix it in the mix”, many will take full advantage of the tools at hand to make improvements after tracking when they are called for. One great way to improve the sound of a guitar or bass track or just to switch it up is by re-amping it. The concept is dead simple; take a recorded track in your project, play it back through a new signal chain and re-record the results onto a new track. The idea is not new, but re-amp devices made today are specially designed to convert the low impedance signal from your audio interface to a high impedance signal needed for properly interfacing with electric guitar or bass through effects pedals and amps. This is most effective when you start with a clean track. For that reason, I like to record a separate clean output track from the DI so that it can later be re-amped if desired. Here’s how it works.
On a recent recording date we recorded the bass direct through a DI and were satisfied with the sound. But when mixing we found that there just wasn’t enough to fill out the lower end of the mix. It was missing something. We tried different EQ and compression settings and virtual amps but they weren’t really doing the trick. We wanted to get some of that “pump” that happens when air is being pushed from a speaker and captured with a microphone. Re-amping was the answer. The direct track was played back through a Radial RMP-Pro re-amper into a Markbass CMD 121P bass amp and we used an AKG D112 microphone to record the amp.
Listen to the examples below.
Sometimes going direct only with the bass is sufficient. In this case we were wishing that we had also captured the sound of a bass cabinet with a microphone. Luckily we were able to do just that by re-amping. Another scenario might be if a guitarist decides later that he or she isn’t pleased with the sound that was captured from the amp on the original takes. No problem, it can be replaced. Maybe they would like to double the track with a slightly different amp sound. Or maybe there was a rattle or buzz in the guitar track that went undetected on the original recording. This can easily be remedied by re-amping.