Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas music loot!!

I got some pretty sweet Christmas loot this year, including some pretty sweet music-related stuff:
  1. Skullcandy Titan earbuds. Now, be a ridiculous audophile if you want and reject earbuds out of hand, but when you're always on the go - sans a car - like I am, then big, bulky studio cans, while higher in sound quality, are not practical. But in the realm of earbuds, I've gotta tell you, these things are swwwweeet! Let me count the ways:
    1. Unlike most earbuds that make up for their lack of true low frequency by over-abusing the proximity effect and thus making the low frequencies muddy and indiscernible, I was amazed by the clarity of the bass.
    2. The connections and plugs are solid, and the cable is soft and pliable.
    3. After you buy them, you can go to their website and register them, entitling you to a) Full replacement for life if anything happens with normal use of them, and b) Half the replacement cost if you do something stupid like hit it with a hammer or roll over it with your skateboard.
  1. A $25 iTunes giftcard. Oohoohoo, the possibilities!! This is better than cash to me, because it means it's guaranteed to be spent on music, and can’t be pilfered to buy our next gallon of milk.
  2. The coup de grace: The SE Electronics M1C Mini. If you read this blog even sporadically, you're probably sick of hearing me blather about this mic. Nonetheless, let me give the background of why this mic is so awesome: If you do any recording, you’re most likely familiar with the name Neumann. Needless to say, they’ve produced high quality microphones for the last 80 years which have become the industry standard (not to mention being the inventors of such things as the stereo microphone and 48V phantom power). In short, they’re gorgeous and they’re classy. I’ve lusted after the Neumann TLM103 for the last 4 years, since I first used one in a recording session. Then, about 2 years ago, I first heard about the SE Mini, and couldn't believe my ears. A Chinese microphone that was getting good reviews? No way. And they were making a TLM103 knockoff? Nothing about "Chinese Neumann knockoff" sounded plausible to my ears. But I reserved judgment and finally eventually got a chance to hear the TLM103 and Mini side by side. I almost pooped my pants to discover that on my particular voice, the Mini (priced at $169) sounded better than the Neumann (priced at $1,100)! That was it. I had to own one... but was poor as hell. Then about a month or so ago, I found out that they were discontinuing it (most likely a patent issue with Neumann), so I bumped it to the top of my list (after much deliberation), so, I now own one! Wheeee!

final synth project: 'Pick Up the Phone'

Here's my Christmas gift to you! Haha.

So for my synthesizer lessons, I had to create a pop-type song using the materials we had in the project studio on campus. I took that to heart and actually recorded most of the instruments live. I brought in my good buddy Tyler Nickl to play electric bass and acoustic guitar, and actually pulled out an old, crappy drumkit that was hidden in the back of the room. I had forgotten my DI box at home, so we had to record everything with the one mic they had set up. Luckily, it was the wonderful SE M1C Mini (discussed at length here), which I cherish and adore. We tracked each instrument separately, including doing a mono drum track I played which distorted like hell but sounded fun and funky nonetheless.

I had decided to do a mockup of a song that will be on my next album called "Pick Up the Phone." We recorded a verse and a chorus and then some more, but after that, it started falling apart like crazy. Since my "synthesizer lessons" focus mainly on production, I took the tracks home, to tweak them there. The mix went basically as follows:
  1. I spent some time manipulating the tempo to get things synced up.
  2. I went all the way through the first verse up to the end of the chorus and stretched everting so it grooved right on the beat. This mainly consisted of stretching the beginnings of certain measures and leaving the rest alone, though there were a couple measures where I did a lot more.
  3. I created a lowpass filter send to boost the kickdrum, and sidechained the lowest frequencies of that to the compressor on the bass guitar, so they wouldn't step on each others' feet. I also created a reverb send to gel the track a little more.
  4. I put Native Instruments "Guitar Rig" on the bass guitar and fiddled with the settings to give it a little more growl. I think that in the end I gave it a little too much "growl" and not enough "boom."
  5. I panned the keyboard and guitar off center, opposite from one another.
  6. I smashed the heck out of the background vocals, panned about 3/4 left and right, and put them on their own submix so I could manipulate them with onefader.
  7. I added a couple clap and latin percussion loops I had on my computer, dialed in fairly low, to just add a little more texture.
  8. I created a submix to which everything except the lead vocals were sent, to make the balance of melody to backing track a little easier to play with.
  9. I used the Izotope Ozone mastering plugin on my master bus.
That's about it. Not much to show for all that explanation. Here it is:

In case you're interested, here's a screen cap of the Arrangement View in Live (click to enlarge):

Friday, December 19, 2008

the best kind of dilemma

So, I hate to write two posts in a month's time on the subject of music gear, but I'm tackling a serious conundrum at the moment. As Tracy Morgan said on 30 Rock, "You've put me in quandary, Jack Donaghy... a quandary!" With great sadness, I learned that SE Electronics, the beneficiary of Communism's hatred toward patents and copyrights, discontinued their wonderful M1C Mini, the knockoff of the Neumann TLM103. I had tried the two of them side by side and had been surprised to discover that on my particular voice, the Mini actually sounded better. Considering that the TLM103 cost $1,100 and the Mini cost $169, it skyrocketed to the top of my google wish list.

Adding insult to injury, I found out that my Mom had ordered the Mini for me, only to discover after the fact that every site that sold it online was out of stock. Bollocks. The upside is that as a result of this misfortune, I get to select something(s) of relatively the same value to take its place. *Kid in a candy shop!*

My first window-shopping stop was FabFilter. I've been eyeballing their plugins for a long time, now and let's just say that there isn't one of their products that I wouldn't mind owning. They're gorgeous sounding and have a fantastic GUI. They have this amazing drag-and-drop modulation interface on most of their products that is cooler than all get out. In talking to my friend and mentor Aaron, I was made to realize that there are none of their products of which I don't already have at least a decent (and in many cases, stellar) equivalent. So, with one last saliva-swallowing look, I moved on.

What my rig has been missing, is a good channel-strip plugin. Yeah, I have Live's Saturator device, and I have some good compressors, not to mention a heavy-duty mastering plugin (Izotope Ozone), but I don't have a nice, all-in-one, warm channel strip. My first thought was of PSP Audio's Vintage Warmer. An exquisitely-crafted analog modeling compressor/limiter, that really is the king of analog/tube emulation. This has come highly recommended to me by friends and teachers. I've used a trial version of it before and love the fatness it added to drums and the overall thickness and warmth it added to mixes. One drawback however is that it's kind of niche plugin and would have very specified uses, perhaps limiting its frequency of use. Considering that I love vintage (I mean 1970s-style vintage) mix sounds, especially on drums, this would be an excellent addition to my rig.

The next contestant is Wave Arts' Track Plug. This has also come highly recommended to me, and on top of all of the praise I've heard heaped upon it, the thing that catches my eye most is its widely-celebrated CPU efficiency. It's system footprint so small, in fact, that it can be used on every track in a mix without much effort on the part of your computer. Now that is an important feature in a channel-strip plugin. Professional reviews have had minimal and insignifcant things to list in the "Cons" column, and heaps to say in the "Pros." Two compressors, a gate, EQ, "clean" and "warm" settings, sidechaining on all of the dynamics sections, and much, much more. Definitely a contender.

Then I got to thinking about my hardware. I had originally wanted that damn SE Mini, so I looked on eBay and found it there. Expecting to find it at some sort of terrible average between its original price and the price of the Neumann, I was pleasantly surprised to find it for $150. By this point, my head is swimming.

You know, I thought to myself, I am not a huge fan of the digital preamps built into my audio interface, and its phantom power is an enormous pain in the ass, so what about some kind of tube pre? I immediately began scouring the internet for tube pre's in my pricepoint. A well acclaimed audio hardware manufacturer, ART Electronics, makes a couple inexpensive ones. I found myself quite taken with their Tube MP Studio V3, and its two-channel equivalent. Having some nice, analog gear in the signal path between your performance and your mix is always a good thing. Especially considering that these both have output protection limiting and, of course, natural tube saturation. The only drawback for this is that I don't record audio as often as I mix, sequence and play with sound. It's just that when I do record, I'm always unsatisfied with the sound of my preamps. (I love my microphones. They are not the bottleneck here.)

So there you have my quandary.

Do I go with the Vintage Warmer, Track Plug, an ART tube preamp, or the microphone I originally asked for?

With this post, I introduce a new label: "your input please?" Anytime you see this, I'm requesting your advice, opinion and expertise. So.... give it to me.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

all is hip and funky in the MFJQ

Well after 6 years of prodigality, I have returned to my roots. Throughout jr. high and high school, I lived, ate and breathed jazz. I was in zero-hour jazz band, I was in numerous jazz combos (including one which took 1st place in the AAAA division at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival), and I spent an ungodly amount on concerts at Seattle's wonderful Jazz Alley. I have continued to be a consumer and lover of jazz ever since, but have had precious few opportunities to play. I have a ton of fun in the rock band I play for, but jazz is something that I've been missing for years now like some kind of precious, lost teddy bear. Enter my friend, Mat Foley.

Last week, I was working at my recording job at the Madsen Recital Hall and a buddy from one of my classes, Mat Foley, came up to me and asked - knowing that I was a drummer - how my jazz chops were. My ears immediately perked up, and I informed that jazz was my bread and butter. He then asked if I could sit in with his combo at a gig that Friday. I just about crapped my pants with excitement. I asked if it was cool to bring a friend, and when given the green light, I got my good and incredibly talented friend, Tyler Nickl in on the action.

I had heard Mat play rock, and had jammed with Tyler countless times, and on top of that, I found out that a sax player whom I had heard and been impressed by before was going to be playing with us. I couldn't have been more excited.

The gig was at FroYo, a new frozen yogurt place in Provo (yeah, that sentence was a mouthful). Friday rolled around and as we all showed up for the gig, it looked pretty sparse. I didn't give it much thought, because all I cared about was playing some stinkin' jazz. As the night progressed, however, more and more and more people continued to filter in, out and through the room. And it wasn't just a good turnout (quantitatively speaking), but the also a great audience (qualitatively speaking). They were attentive, interested, expressive and into it.

Tyler and I settled into the combo, which already played well together, as if we'd always played with them. It was so incredibly natural. It was like the locked-in groove that Ty and I have when we play together was designed to fit right into the Mat Foley Jazz Quintet. Also, much to my pleasure, we supplimented our jazz repretoire with a healthy dose of blues and funk. It was so incredibly fun. The audience members who had watched the MFJQ before seemed to take to me well and apparently the band did as well, because at the end of the night, they told me that if I wanted the position, I was their new drummer. I accepted, chomping at the bit.

We have a show next tuesday, December 16th, at Muse Music, and now have a standing, monthly gig at FroYo. Hope you all can come out and see us! I'll try to get some pictures and video up soon.