Sharing some thoughts, ideas, and other stuff

Thanks for stopping by. I will be posting about music, media, technology and other fun stuff. Please enjoy and post your comments.

 

 

 

 

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Google Photos Review – iPhone

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My favorite app for 2015 was Google Photos. while our smartphones and service providers have made great strides over the past few years to bring us better cameras and much larger local storage capacity, cloud backup solutions have remained messy and expensive. Google is addressing this with an app and cloud storage/backup system that’s affordable and easy to maintain.

Here are a few key points to be aware of before jumping in with Google Photos on iPhone. For Android users I’ve read that these are generally the same, but haven’t tested them yet.

  • You’ll want to manage your photo library primarily through the Google Photos app on iPhone, and no longer through Apple’s Photos app. This includes 2-way sync with the option to delete photos and videos from both locations, or from your phone only in order to free up storage space. Either way, you will retain instant access to all of your photos and videos through Google’s cloud on the app.
  • For most users, Google offers a free plan with unlimited storage that will suit your needs, however it does compress photo and video files above a certain size and there could be some slight data/resolutions loss for very large files. I chose the 100 GB plan for $1.99.month which keeps all of my files in their original quality. I’m also using Google Photos to backup my DSLR developed photos from Lightroom.
  • Google photos syncs with your devices and with Google Photos online. Additionally, your library is accessible online through Google Drive which makes it a great way to share all of your photos and videos automatically with family, friends or colleagues.
  • Google’s Assistant feature will automatically create movies, stories, collages, panoramas, and animations from your library. You can choose to edit, save or delete them.
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Here is a look at the app running on iPhone

 

 

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Here is a look at the app running on a browser

To date, I’ve been able to backup all of my DSLR images going back to 2009. I’ve also got iPhone backup images on an external hard drive going back to 2008 and earlier that will also be uploaded. And the best part, all of these images will be accessible from any device going forward.

Google’s search engine leverages meta-data and facial recognition (optional) to help you quickly find and group images for certain dates, places and people.

It should be noted that iPhone users will need to perform an extra manual step to delete photos from the “Recently Deleted” album in Photos in order to completely free up local space, but it’s easy enough to do.

Google has done an excellent job out of the gate with Google photos. It’s well designed and the integration is really nice. There is also some peace of mind when hosting all of your current and future photo and video memories with Google and not a smaller service that may not be around in a few years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Editorial: The Pareto Principle In Your Studio

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.

Audio Interfaces
Big Budget Studio buys a Lynx Aurora 16 $2,995
Little Guy’s Bedroom Productions buys a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 $499

Microphones
Big Budget Studio buys a Neumann U87 for $3,199
LIttle Guy’s Bedroom Productions buys a Studio Projects C1 $249

Pre Amps
Big Budget Studio buys a Neve 1073LB $995
Little Guy’s Bedroom Productions buys a Golden Age Pre73 $349

Studio Monitors
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…

Posted in audio, Editorial, Studio | 1 Comment

Pro Tools Quick Tip: Solo Safe

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.

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Pro Tools Basics: Add audio tracks and record

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

4. Record

*click the ” Youtube” button on the player to view the larger HD version.

Posted in Pro Tools, Recording, Studio | 5 Comments

Studio Tip: Using the Cloud

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.

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DIY Gobos

Most home and project studios aren’t spacious enough to allow much distance or isolation for recording. And more importantly, a room with too many reflections and standing waves will not get you a great sounding recording even with the best equipment and performers. But using gobos are a great way to create some isolation and also to close in a space from reflections, much like what vocal booths are used for. Commercial gobos can be very expensive, especially if they are custom made to fit your studio, but with some common materials and a little bit of time you can save hundreds of dollars and build your own gobos to fit your space and your needs. I recently did just that and was surprised at how easy and inexpensive it was. This method uses PVC pipe so it’s  really flexible and you can customize something similar for your studio.The first unit I built stands about seven feet tall and the surface is two feet wide by four feet tall. The frame is PVC pipe, the panel is Auralex Mineral Fiber, and it’s finished off with some fabric I picked up in the bargain bin at a local fabric store.
SUPPLIES

PVC Pipe/Fittings ($20)
PVC Glue ($5)
Straps ($12)
Auralex Mineral Fiber ($20)
Fabric ($12)

Total $69

INSTRUCTIONS

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.

Posted in Recording, Studio | 1 Comment

Not happy with that sound? Try re-amping

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.

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Studio Design – No Mixing Console Required

In this blog post I will show a modern studio setup that doesn’t require a mixing console.

Building a studio from the ground up over the past couple of years not only gave me the opportunity create a custom design, but also to reconsider my equipment and ways to improve the layout. With a space smaller than a typical commercial studio, maximizing every inch was crucial. The studio we designed takes advantage of many great modern-day components including several that sit on the desk, along with the classic studio mainstays of analog equipment in the racks including pre-amps, compressors, interfaces, and effects processors. The one large piece to this design puzzle that didn’t fit was a mixing console. I had to have a mixing console, right? All studios require them, don’t they? The more I thought about this the more convinced I became that a mixer just wasn’t necessary. And besides, I didn’t want to give up the desk space. With a lot of head scratching and some research we came up with a plan that would use a combination of standard 1/4 inch TRS and XLR patch bays in the rack which would give us all of the routing flexibility we needed and an easy way to get around.

The key component I found to replace the mixing console was the the XLR patch bay. This was something that I hadn’t ever seen before, but was thrilled to learn that they exist. The unit I’m using is a Hosa PDR-369 . This takes the 12 XLR inputs from my snake one the back side and allows me to patch them through on the front to a Neutrik NYS-SPP-L 1/4 inch patch bay. I/O from the interface, pre-amps and effect processors are set up in the rear of the Neutrik patch bay so it’s just a matter of patching the correct channel from the snake to the pre-amp of choice and then to the interface input on the front. Patch bays require cables. Lots of them. I purchased mine in volume through monoprice.com. They are good quality cables and their prices are really low. An even better option would be to make your own cables.


The most difficult part of this arrangement was coming up with a sensible patch bay scheme. Here’s how it worked out;

This shows the basic setup of the patch bays. This allows complete flexibility to patch any input from the snake into any preamp and patch additional outboard processing into the chain.

This TRS patch bay is pre-configured in “half-normalled” mode with the normalled circuit in the back and a grey or white jack in the front that breaks the normallled connection when a plug is inserted. This turns it into “Isolated” or “Thru” mode.   Because this setup uses isolated mode by default it made more sense to flip the PCB boards for each channel. This means that inputs and outputs patched into the back would now be mirrored in the front with no “normal” circuits. This allows for the greatest amount of flexibility between components and safely eliminates the possibility of feedback loops that could damage equipment. Having complete control through front panel access is key to the flexibility of a setup like this one.

***There is one important precaution with this setup. Pulling live cables and mics can cause damage to microphones and equipment so it’s always best to turn off  phantom power and control room monitors when making patch changes.

 

Getting back to the desktop, I employ a few very useful components that I like to have within easy reach at all times. First is a Presonus Central Station. Using this Central Station with the CSR-1 Remote, I have instant access to levels, speaker switching, input switching and a talk back mic. The remote is about the size of my hand. I also keep a Frontier Design Tranzport on the desk for easy transport controls, scrolling etc… also about the size of my hand. In addition, there’s an Apogee Duet, Countour Design Shuttle Pro (for Final Cut Pro) and an M-Audio Axiom 49 keyboard controller all within inches. But most importantly, my computer keyboard and mouse are sitting squarely and ergonomically in front of me. Operating “in the box” and having the keyboard and mouse in a comfortable position makes the process run faster and smoother, especially over time.

So far this arrangement has worked out great. At some point we may need a second patch bay that operates in a more traditional fashion with normalled connections, but as of today this setup has really served us well.

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Mixing Techniques – Utilizing sends

Utilizing the sends in your DAW can really help you to achieve a great mix and take some of the pressure off of your CPU in the process. My favorite use of sends is for applying a single effect to a group of tracks. Drums or background vocals are great candidates for this. These track groups will generally have a similar sound and space within the mix so sending them all to one single instance of say a reverb or delay on a bus can help to glue together the overall sound of the track group, and save your CPU a lot of work.

The example below uses the drum tracks from a recent project. There were seven mics used on the kit including a matching stereo pair of overheads, hi hat, snare drum (top), bass drum and a room mic. Since I’m trying to give the drums their own space, I found just the right reverb setting and used the sends on each track to connect to the reverb bus. This also gives me a lot of control over the entire drum kit and easy access to make global adjustments. In this example we will add a reverb bus to a group of drum tracks and send the drums tracks to this bus. I’m using Logic Pro here but it works similarly in all DAWs.

First you’ll need use an existing bus or create a new one. In Logic, you need to activate the bus from the track send.

Let’s say you select “Bus 3”. It will now appear in the mixer view bus section. Rename that bus “Reverb” and it will now show up in the bus list as “Bus 3 (Reverb)”

Next we will patch in the Reverb on this bus. In most cases you will want to set up bus effects 100% wet and 0% dry. This way, you’re only picking up the effect and not duplicating the actual track signal through the bus.

Now send the rest of your drum tracks to the Reverb bus. You can adjust the level of each track using the knob just to the right of the send (see below). This will send more or less of your track to the Reverb bus. Also, you can make global adjustments to the overall reverb settings or amount on the Reverb bus.

That’s all there is to it. This works great for applying effects like reverbs, delays, chorus etc… You can also use this method for running parallel compression to enhance the overall sound (topic for another post).

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Ribbon vs. condenser mics on drum overheads – A comparison

There are so many microphone choices today and even more opinions on which types of mics work “best” for different applications. This post compares the sounds of a drum set recorded with ribbon and condenser overhead microphones.

The most common microphones we see on stage or in a studio are dynamic mics like the Shure SM57/SM58 or condenser mics like the AKG C 414. Less common are ribbon microphones. Ribbon microphones have a rich and fascinating history dating back to the 1920s and it seems that they have come back into fashion lately, especially among audio geeks. What I like most about them is their ability to capture a natural sound. Recently I purchased a pair of Apex 205 ribbon microphones. These are typical budget microphones manufactured in China. Modifying these microphones can greatly improve their sound so I purchased two high quality Ludhal transformers from K&K Audio to replace the stock transformers (more on that that process on a future post).  It was a kind of a scary procedure but ended in success. I’ve used these mics for different applications, and one that I especially liked was for drum overheads. It’s more common to see small diaphragm or large diaphragm condenser microphones in this role. Their ability to capture high frequencies well make them a great choice for grabbing the sizzle of cymbals and the snap of the sticks. With ribbon mics I find that there is less high frequency information and a roll off closer to what analog tape gives us. So I’ve been using ribbons and boosting high frequencies where needed instead of using condenser mics and pulling back higher frequencies. Both methods work great, so it’s just a matter of taste.

Below is a comparison of the modified Apex 205s vs. a pair of Nady CM90 small diaphragm condenser microphones. Disclaimer: I’m not a drummer so please excuse the sloppy drumming.

You will hear the ribbons first then the condensers. Four measures for each. EQ and compression added for the effects versions.

Here are the EQ and compression settings that I used. I used a convolution reverb on it’s own bus and settings did not change.

*The Apex 205, like most ribbon mics, picks up sound in a bi-directional figure 8 pattern, i.e. equally from both sides. The CM 90s pick up sound in a cardioid pattern, which rejects much of the sound from the back. Because of this, there will be a noticeable difference in the proximity between the two sets. I don’t believe that this makes it an uneven comparison, but we should keep it in mind.

Posted in audio, Microphones, Mixing, Recording | 5 Comments