A producer's blog about music, recording, mixing, songwriting and gear! (I don't know everything, but what I know I'll gladly share!)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jazz great, Freddie Hubbard passes

Freddie Hubbard was a tremendous jazz musician. Actually, if I'm not mistaken my friend (and boss) Tony Guerrero gave him a trumpet lesson once ;) Right Tony? (It's a funny story... maybe he'll tell it on his blog.)

Anyway, since I'm a trumpet player who marvels at good jazz ('cause I'm not that good at it) I felt the need to mention Freddie's passing on my blog!

Here's a few links for you.



Monday, December 29, 2008

Hearing Loss

Hey guys. I thought I'd post this article I found. I have a great amount of hearing loss in my left ear. The high end is gone and my stereo image is off. It bothers me a great deal because I wish I had been more careful. So, I plead with you... turn down the monitors, get a sound pressure meter for your studio and protect your ears against loud noises.


Also, it's a good idea to invest in a good pair of molded in ear monitors if you are a performer (especially a drummer). 2 companies I recommend...


(I have the UE-7's with the ambient feature)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Keith Everette Smith and Timbaland

Hey guys. I just had a chuckle to myself. I've recently begun working with a company called Open Labs. These guys make fantastic keyboards! Their Meko and Neko series keyboards are actually fully functioning studios based around a powerful PC computer. Anyway, Saddleback used our new custom Neko during our Christmas special for the Fox Network. I was interviewed for their website.

I logged on to openlabs.com and this is what I saw... my face next to Timbaland!!!

Timbaland is writing hit after hit these days with artists like Justin Timberlake, One Republic, Madonna... the list goes on.

I just thought I'd share. Click here to read the entire article. I can't recommend these guys enough!

Monday, December 22, 2008

If I could only have 2 plug-in bundles!

I am a talker… especially when it comes to recording. I could go on for hours about new toys, techniques and music. What I don’t want to do is make you salivate over all the stuff you can’t afford. No one’s spouse likes us spending money we don’t have. BUT if you are mixing your own music there are a few plug-ins that I believe every musician should own. At this point, I literally could not mix a song without these tools. Take a look.

#1 WAVES SSL 4000 Bundle – These plug-ins are modeled after the famed SSL recording consoles. Before the industry got on board with in-the-box mixing, the vast majority of hit singles and platinum albums were mixed on these boards. Still today, tons of engineers won’t mix a record without one. They have a fantastic sound. The EQ is especially aggressive and has a very recognizable quality that it adds to the sound.
Waves’ did a great job of cloning this console. The SSL E-channel plug-in models a single channel of the E Series Console. It has EQ, compression/gating (dynamics) and all the other routing functions of the original E series console. The 4-band equalizer is similar to the EQ on the channel strip except it mimics the sound of the G series console, which sounds slightly different than the E series. The bus compressor is modeled after the master bus compressor of the console. This compressor is most often used on the entire mix, adding “glue” to the sound and giving everything a little aggressive edge.
OK, this bundle is a little expensive but well worth the price in my opinion. I literally think I could sell almost all my other plug-ins and mix exclusively. (Thus, the reason for this blog.) At this point, I wouldn’t think of mixing drums without it.

#2 WAVES MUSICIANS II Bundle – Another great bundle from WAVES. These plug-ins are not models. They are original plug-ins and they sound great. At a price point of a little over $200, this bundle is well worth the price.
R-Compressor – Is a really nice sounding compressor. It can handle standard compression or even venture into optical compression (useful on vocals, bass or anything else you’d want processed with transparency).
R-Vox – Here is a good reason to buy the musicians II bundle. R-Vox is a compressor limiter, expander specifically tailored for vocals. This thing is magic and adds presence and excitement to a vocal.
R-Axx – This is another compressor tailored for guitars. I really don’t know what it does but it does it well! Adds beef and excitement to guitar tracks.
R-EQ – I absolutely love this eq! It’s not particularly colorful but it allows you to easily pinpoint EQ points for adjustment. It treats the high end very nicely and things don’t get overly harsh.
SuperTap Delay – Another reason to buy this bundle. This delay does everything from U2-type delays, simple analog mono delays and lush reverb type complex delays. It’s a “do it all” delay unit.
Doubler – This plug comes in handy when you wanna create a pseudo-doubled vocal effect on the chorus or thicken background vocals to fill up a bit of the mix.

You know, I really didn’t mean for this to be a WAVES advertisement. I really don’t care who makes the plugs I use. I just care about the result. These bundles help me do my job. I use many other plugs but if I had to, I could do everything I need with these guys.

Other plug-ins I use regularly:
Massey CT4 Compressor, Massey TD5 Delay, TL Space, Digi ReVibe, Drawmer Dynamics, Massey L2000 limiter, SoundToys EchoBoy, Digi Echo Farm, Waves MaxxBass, McDSP Filter Bank Bank, BombFactory 1176

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Composers and Inspiration

I played a concert for the Presbyterian Church of the Master Sunday night. It was fun. It was pretty much a classical gig playing trumpet. I really miss classical music. That used to be most of what I did. I played in orchestras, concert bands and many brass ensembles growing up. Though my personality ultimately didn't fit in with this crowd, as a trumpet player, I am probably best at this style. For this reason, it's nice to play this music on occasion.

The conductor's name was John Elg. He was a FANTASTIC conductor and really had the church choir sounding fantastic. What I noticed about John was his inspiring personality. His gestures, smiles, and attitude begged you to play with the emotion that he was portraying. This got me thinking about record production. I consider myself a good producer in part because of the conductors I sat under through the years. I watched these men (and women) turn a bunch of individual musicians into a single unit, making beautiful music together. It was amazing.

One thing I remember is how 2 conductors specifically would use word pictures to describe the emotion for which a part should be performed. It was amazing how an emotion could be imparted on someone else and an emotional musical performance would result. I've tried to use this technique on several occasions in the studio. Correct notes has never been good enough for me. You MUST inspire me with the notes. With vocalists, I may say "Sing beyond the microphone, like you're singing at a rock concert in front of 50,000 people!" Or I might say, "Sing delicately as if you were whispering to a person you love." These things really work. When the mind is focused on the record button or the microphone in front of them, I'd venture to say that you will never received the most powerful performance possible.

All that to say, if you want to produce exciting, emotional music, head to your local college and watch a conductor interact with his ensemble. You'll learn very useful tips for inspiring the musicians you are producing!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pro Tools 8

Even though I'll wait a good long time before upgrading, I'm REALLY excited about this release. I actually may try out Sibelius because of this new version. We'll see :)

Check it out!


Thursday, November 27, 2008


OK people. Listen close. If you don't own plugins by MASSEY PLUGINS you are missing out! My goodness, this guy is amazing. His compressor is fantastic, his 3 band EQ is easy and colorful, his De:ESSER is genius and transparent, his analog Delay is PERFECT, his LIMITER is the industry standard, his Tape Head modeler glues my mixes together.... the list goes on.

The best part is that every plugin is well under $100!!

The reason I'm posting this blog is because Massey just introduced DTM, a drum to midi drum replacement plugin FOR FREE if you own any of Massey's other plugins. THIS THING IS HOT! Logic already has something like this and it's nice to have it within pro tools!

Speaking of Pro Tools. Pro Tools 8 comes out soon and has some AMAZING new features. If you had though about moving to Logic, think again!


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My blog, my opinions

Hey guys. I feel that this is important. It's important and it's my blog so I can do this. I think Christians (especially the non-crazy ones) need to voice their opions (so the world doesn't just see the crazy Christians).

I am a Christian. That is my world view. I believe that God the focus of everything. Jesus is my Savior. Jesus is everyone's Savior. If you don't know that, email me. It'll change your life... promise.

As a Christian I vote my convictions NOT my personal comfort in life. I feel this presidential race is being fought on the basis of everyone's comfort. I personally believe that America is long overdue for a wake up call about the way we live, the way we over-spend, the way we fight for self. We are not going to fix our economy the way it needs fixing if we are appealing to everyone's need to be comfortable. We need to plead for people to have dignity, respect for one-another, integrity, charity, patriotism, and for people do be the opposite of greedy.

I will be voting for McCain. I think Clinton and his de-regulation of banks got us into this mess and then the greed upheld by EVERYONE kept us there. Conservatism is necessary for getting out of debt. Small government and the trust of Americans to build a strong economy is key. Taxes are fair when they are even. Business owners should not be punished for building strong businesses that work. This is what keeps the economy going. It is good stewarship and good leadership to REWARD and ENCOURAGE people in this situation... not punish them by taxing them more. If you want to fuel the economy, encourage these people to give back on their own. This will do more for the economy. It's called delegation.

OK so I rambled a little bit... I'll be voting for McCain. I care about our country. I care about my children and my grandchildren and the country they will inherit. I think we need to guard our values, vote our convictions and get to the core of the problem, not focus on symptoms. Please vote McCain. Do your own research and get informed, but I'd encourage you to vote McCain.

It's my blog, that's my opinion.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Monitors and listening environment

Hey gang. I've been asked recently about my preference in monitors. GOOD QUESTION!

Your monitoring environment is extremely important. It's how you hear the music you create. You are taking a huge gamble when you produce/mix without good monitoring. Without good monitoring how will you know that what you are recording is accurate? How will you know if the bottom end of your mixes are punchy? Will your mixes translate? YOU WON'T KNOW.

OK, so I'm playing up the scenario a little bit for effect. The above is true, yes, but obviously what is MOST important is that you know your gear and how it sounds. Crummy speakers can be used to mix if you know how they respond. I'm sure you've heard someone tell you that your car is very important to your mixes (or your ipod in this modern day). The reason is that your car is most likely where you listen to the most music. Your ears recognize a good sounding mix in that environment. I heard of a mixer who actually owned a radio transmitter with a radio-type compressor set to the input. This engineer would play a song and transmit it to his car stereo... he felt that the best way to understand the way a mix would translate on the radio was to hear it on the radio! ha! Pretty crazy, huh?

Here's a little help for purchasing monitors...

1) go to a music store or local studio and try out some monitors!!! Use YOUR ears to find monitors that suite your personality. I don't like the same monitors that everyone else necessarily likes. Bring a few CDs that you know intimately. This will help you hear the differences in each monitors as it relates to music you know well.

2) get recommendations from other engineers... though using your own ear is most important, the experience of others can help you along the way. Russ Fowler recommended KRK V4 monitors to me a few years ago. He and Mike Clark (recently passed away... he was the owner of the famed "Southern Tracks Studio" in Atlanta) went to guitar center and both loved these. I eventually tried them and then purchased a pair and added a small 10" sub to add a touch of low end.

3) consider your style... R&B music can call for a different type of monitor than rock music. Rock music is rugged and midrang-y. R&B has lots of highs and extreme lows. If you are purchasing a monitor for R&B or electronic music you'll need monitors with a good low end and highs that don't fatigue. If you're buying for rock, something like NS-10's may be perfect for coming up with a raw edgy mix.

4) monitors should sound the same at all volume levels. Some monitors have a volume "sweet spot" where the drivers are activating the cones correctly on at certain volumes. The best monitors are ones that sound good at all volume levels.

5) good monitors should also have a decent sized stereo image "sweet spot." This will happen when the monitors are positioned correctly and if the monitors are built properly. You want to be able to move around your desk without having the sound change a ton.

6) good low end - I personally believe that mixing is best accomplished with a sub. It's only with a sub woofer that I can understand what is really going on down in the extreme low end of the mix. Mixes are done without subs, sure, but I believe the mixes with the best low end are done with monitors with good low end.

7) accurate mids - "hyped" monitors are not good monitors. Small speaker component surround-sound systems have taught us to hear music with highs and lows only. This is not a good thing for music mixing. The mid-range in your monitors should be present and accurate.

8) smooth high end - You'll likely spend hours upon hours in your studio. The worst thing you could do is fatigue your ears before you're tired of working. Make sure the high end of your monitors is smooth and even.

9) passive or active - It seems that most monitors these days are "active" meaning they have amplifiers built into the monitor. This is great! It insures that the amp is perfectly matched to give the right amount of power to each speaker. If you're looking for a passive speaker (like NS-10's) you'll need to purchase an amp too. An amp should have plenty of power to handle the speaker. Too little power and you can actually blow the speaker.


Mackie 824 Monitors attached to JBL 4300 sub
KRK V4 Monitors with Tapco 10" sub
Sharp Desktop Stereo (from John Carl.. thanks John)

not setup right now..

JBL 4300 Monitors with matching sub


Blue Sky
Yamaha NS10 with Bryston 4B amp
Barefoot (if you got too much money to spend)

TIP: do most of your instrument rides (especially vocals) on small monitors at lower volumes. It is easiest to hear balance issues at low volumes.

TIP: double check your low end (kick and bass in relation to the mix) on small speakers (this will let you know if you're gonna blow someone elses speakers with your mix).

TIP: put your mix up on the big speakers to WOW the client.

Have fun SHOPPING!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tutorials Coming Soon!

I just wanted to let you know that there's some great new things coming your way FROM ME! I'm working on a few video tutorials. I'm gonna start with some production tips. Auto-Tuning, Drum Editing, Replacing Drums with Samples, and more. I'll also be doing some tutorials on using Finale Music Notation Software! Keep checking back!

Also, I can't tell you the specifics but check back for info on some new software I'm developing! It's gonna be great!!

Thanks for reading!! Hope you're enjoying the blog.


Friday, September 19, 2008

I Dig

OK, so I'm starting a new segment called "I dig." I listen to a ton of music. Some of it inspires me, and some does not. I may mention some laughable songs here and there that I "do not dig" but in general I'll keep it positive.

It's been since Jonny Lang's "Turn Around" record that I've listened to an album day in and day out for long periods of time. A few weeks ago my wife Erin played Jason Mraz's new album for me. I'm hooked! The album is called "We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things" and it is probably my favorite album this year.

I love the record for a few reasons...

Reason #1 will always be THE SONGS! The songs are fantastic, original, vibey.. very fun.

The #2 reason is for the use of HORNS! I'm a trumpet player and I love horns sections, especially horn sections with bari sax. Lots of bari sax on this record.

My #3 reason for loving this record is the loose production. I say "loose" because there is room for real musicianship and real emotion to come through the record. Everything is tight but not super-duper edited. I also love the use of space. One of my favorite things about recordings is when you can hear the rooms the instruments were recorded in. It's why I have such a hard time being satisfied with recording in my vocal booth... it's soooo dead! I want to hear some character in the rooms. I want to hear different rooms! I would love to do a record where I could record each instrument in it's own unique space, using very little artificial reverbs... letting the rooms shine through.

So go check it out. What recordings are you loving these days? Seriously, I want to know! Reply to this post and let us know what you're loving and why!!!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Make up your mind already!

Here's a good one for you all. It's not a techie post at all. This one involves making decisions...

As a mixer, I get session files in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I receive them on a hard drive, on a DVD or as downloadable files over the internet. These sessions may be nicely edited, consolidated and color coded; they may be a jumbled up mess of files, extra takes and unfinished ideas; or somewhere in between. It goes without saying that it is easier to work with a producer that hands me a tidy, organized session file.

I remember playing in a brass band in high school. The conductor would stop in the middle of the song and shout (in his heavy british accent), "No! No! No! That's just not tidy! Not tidy at all!" I laughed every time.

As producers and engineers in a digital world we find it easy to procrastinate decision making and leave tons of options in our session. After all, I have a limitless number of tracks available to me, why not leave options. Why not? Because LIFE IS TOO SHORT!

Here's an example. A producer may use 3 microphones to record a guitar part (maybe an SM57, an ADK S-7 and a U47 as a room mic). It is totally easy to record these tracks separately and mix them later. By the time you've recorded every part and stacked the parts where needed, you could have 8-15 or so guitar parts. 15x3 is 45! You could use up 45 tracks in your session just for guitars! Really? This kind of recording can illustrate a total lack of confidence in the producer's own ability to make decisions about what he wants the mix to sound like later on.

The reason I began by talking about mix session files is because this is where I see the result of procrastinated decision making the most. I see it in the form of poorly labeled tracks, edits that have not been properly crossfaded, millions of tracking options that need verbally explained by the producer, etc... It is best for EVERYONE if a producer has properly consolidated files, bounced specific FX, meticulously edited and crossfaded audio files and labeled tracks in a simple manner.

I'm speaking to you from experience. This used to be me. I had no confidence in myself as a producer. I thought everyone knew better than I did and that I would make a decision that would alter the quality of the project to it's detriment. What I came to find out is that I knew what I wanted! My vision was the right one. I could trust my instincts.

Here are some ways you can make decisions on your next project....

1) While engineering your tracking sessions, go ahead and cross-fade all the punches. Stop for 2 minutes and check everything on the track. Then consolidate. That way you know that all your edits are done. Chances are everyone could use 2 minutes to rest before starting the recording of another part.

2) When editing, check that all cross-fades are accurate, then consolidate when you are finished. (Remember, your computer is doing math, don't consolidate too much but don't be afraid to either)

3) Make decisions about mic blending. Things like choirs, guitars, piano, B3... make decisions about the blend you prefer and then record to a single stereo track (for stereo instruments). One cool idea is to blend your direct mics but leave your room mics separate. This will leave some good options for the mixer. Even then, don't be afraid to blend your room mics. Trust your ears!

4) Print FX... if you came up with a great Delay, PRINT IT to a stereo track. Chances are your idea will work. That's better than hoping the mixer has a better idea. When he doesn't you'll be glad you printed.

These things will help you move through recording projects quicker and you'll learn to trust your instincts in the studio!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Disc Space and Backups!

One of the biggest problems with modern hard disk recording is the subject of disk storage. As a recording enthusiast your hard drives are your security, they protect your investment. Good hard drives that are properly backed up are what allow me to sleep at night! Think about it, if a hard drive crashes and it is not backed up, you (and the artists/labels you work for) could be out tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars! Believe me, there are horror stories. They all end with crying, gnashing of teeth, murder and broken friendships.

All that to say, it is VITALLY important that you...

1) purchase quality hard drives

The hard drives you purchase should run at 7200rpm (or higher) and have firewire jacks (firewire 800 is fastest). Western Digital Drives are fantastic drives.

TIP: purchase smaller drives (from 200-300gigs) rather than larger drives. Simply put, if a 300gig drive crashes you've only lost 300gigs and not 1000gigs. Got me?

2) back them up daily (if not more often)

When you purchase a new hard drive, you should purchase 2 identical drives. Mark one as a backup ONLY. Programs like Synchronize Pro X are helpful for backing files up. Synchronize pro will run backups on a schedule and it allows only updated info to be backed up. This allows the drives to spin less and thus lengthens a drives life span.

3) and archive to DVD.

Hard drives are not reliable for long term storage. Too many things can break. I recommend backing up sessions to DVD once a project is completed. Going through the process will take some time and you may need to consolidate your sessions and get rid of useless files. Don't perform this kind of operation without having a backup on hand.

Protect your investment, your reputation and your rear end by heeding my advice. When a drive crashes and you've not lost gigs and gigs of date you'll want to thank me by sending me a big check! ;0)

One other thing. I found a free program called Disk Inventory X. The program allows you to see graphically what files and folder are taking up the most space on your computer. This is very helpful when you find that your hard drive is full! Very handy... and it's FREE!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

DITHER!!!! What you need to know

OK, so here's the deal. I know many of you just want to make music and care very little for the hyper-technical side of recording. I think that's great! I think it's better to error on the side of musicianship that technician any day.

BUT there are some things you MUST know before you press record. In this case, this is something you must know before you bounce your audio.

DITHER is somewhat complicated. I struggle for words to explain it simply. I'll let Wikipedia handle the nitty-gritty. I'll say this...

- Dither allows audio being recorded that is lower than the bit rate allows to be recorded audibly.
- Dither is noise (that can't really be heard) that is added to the noise floor to "BUMP UP" audio into the recordable bit range.
- Dither is compensates for the rounding of numbers inside the digital world.
- when downward bit rate conversion is performed (AKA bouncing audio recorded from 24bit to 16bit), numbers are rounded and DITHER is required.
- Even when audio is not down-sampled, dither is required because AUDIO in most cases is processed in 24bit, 32bit or 48bit processing within your DAW.

OK OK OK... maybe you don't get it yet. That's fine. What I'm telling you is this, when you bounce audio from programs like Pro Tools you NEED TO PUT A DITHER PROGRAM ON YOUR MASTER BUS. This will ensure that the audio is smooth and crisp... it will otherwise be harsh and "chopped off."

Take a look at this page from Pro Tools' Reference Guide. It mentions the reason for needing DITHER on the master bus in pro tools.

SUMMARY (because I'm positive that 98% of you are lost, lost, lost) USE DITHER ON YOUR MASTER BUS WHEN BOUNCING AUDIO!!!!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I wanna hear it!

Hey guys and gals. Things are going great out here in California. I'm involved in several new projects. I'll be sure to post some mp3s for your enjoyment soon. One notable project was a sound-alike of Journey's "Any Way You Want It" for an animated movie. It was a lot of fun trying to recreate the sounds of the original recording... Julio Figueroa got out an old Rogers snare that sounded EXACTLY like the original (don't know what drum the original was... but this one sounded close), Gannin Arnold pulled out all his Journey licks on guitar, Matt Campbell did some great bass and Adam Lancaster (who named his newborn baby girl JOURNEY!) did 2 passes of B3. We found out about the B3 when I was researching about the song. I guess it pays to do your homework. I would have done more homework in high school if I were paid to do it!

Speaking of musical work, I want to hear your music! I would love to hear your albums, demo recordings... ANYTHING. I just want to hear what you all are doing. If you're interested in sending your work, you can send mp3s to producerkeith1@gmail.com.

I'll leave you with a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower...

"Whether you think you CAN or you think you CAN'T... YOU'RE RIGHT!"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What Mastering Does

Ah! (deep breath... slowly exhale). I just returned from a fantastic trip to Europe. Switzerland, Croatia, France and Italy. It was truly an amazing trip. If you'd like to see pictures, click on over to my wife's blog and check it all out. Lots of cows and goats :)

A few months ago I began work with a local Orange County rock band called "The Bolts." These guys are a lot of fun and put on a great show. We headed into the studio to cut a song called "Our Love Can Change The World." Mattie, the band's drummer, is a great videographer and he documented the event. I thought you might enjoy checking it out. The song was recorded at Sonikwire Studios in Irvine, California... they have lots of great gear including a great Neve Console full of 1073 mic pres, Pultec EQ's, LA-2a compressors... (check out the studio website for a list of all the gear.)

Check it out... and you can download the final version HERE (mixed by Shane D. Wilson, Mastered by Richard Dodd)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Gear Heads Don't Get It!

Jeremy Cowart is one of the most gifted commercial photographers around. I am not a photographer but I do have many friends who make their living at photography and graphic design. (My wife is a fine photographer/designer as well.) I do enjoy going to Jeremy's site to see who he's shot lately. It will most likely be the artist soaring at the top of the pop charts or the stars from ABC's newest hit show.

While looking through Jeremy's blog I was drawn to a title "GEAR HEADS DON'T GET IT." Automatically I am interested. I mean, I am a gear head after all.

You'll want to take a quick glance at this article as it is a simple explanation as to why creativity comes before gear.


I am still a gear head, though, I feel as though I'd recovering. I can admit that I have a problem and I am facing my addiction head on! I have a decent amount of gear... larger than most home studios and smaller than most commercial studios. I have plenty of gear to make my recordings. Gear is one thing.. A TOOL! If you are an engineer/producer you should know your gear inside and out for 2 reasons: #1 - so you know what each piece of gear is capable of and #2 so that you can use your gear quickly.. so you don't interrupt your creativity.

CREATIVITY! - I noticed something a few years ago. When I would ask another professional to critique my work, I never heard comments about the quality of my recordings. I heard critiques of the song itself or the vocal performance. Things like that. I also noticed that when listening to hit songs, the common denominator was not audio quality. The thing that every song had in common was that it was a great song that had character and life!

To quickly get to the point. I hope that all of you are seeking for hone your craft as a musician before crafting developing your craft as an engineer. Even engineers should consider themselves musicians first. Buy only the gear you HAVE to have and learn to create art within the creative walls of your current setup.

10 things you can do to fuel creativity/musicianship...

#10 - Don't compare your work critically to others
#9 - Create things that have nothing to do with your music
#8 - Take music lessons
#7 - Look at nature, don't move, breathe deep and stay a while
#6 - Create something truly unique... something only you may enjoy.
#5 - When being creative, don't compare your work to others' work.
#4 - Share your work with others... often! Share the bad stuff too!
#3 - Be willing to truly hear the opinions of other. You don't have to agree.
#2 - Don't be afraid to have your own taste and your own opinions.
#1 - Smile at your work!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Birthdays and Music That inspires

Yesterday was my birthday. It was a good birthday. I went up to LA and played in a reading band... it's a big band where musicians come sit in and play through music... jazz, funk, contemporary stuff mostly. It was a lot of fun and a good way to spend the 26th anniversary of my birth! Without going into details, the circumstances surrounding the rehearsal were a little difficult. It involved a union! Now you know how that can be... tense and frustrating. After spending a few hours in my car (without AC!) I was greeted by my wife, we had friends over and it was a great evening.

I mention this story because it illustrates something very powerful about music. That is this: music is much more about tension than it is about perfect harmony. You don't notice blissful moments without some tension to remind you that you are actually in a blissful state. Tension is the reason why I love cluster chords rather than simple triads, the reason why I love distortion, the reason why I love an emotive performance and the reason why perfection is the enemy.

Creating tension can be especially hard in Christian music. I mean, the end result is a Savior who loves us and would do anything for us. We have to look for creative ways to add tension to our music in order that it is something compelling. Christian music is BETTER than it was 20-30 years ago, not just different. Christian musicians, I believe, have become better artists and have found ways to add tension to music. Music in the 90's was GREAT at this. It was raw and edgy and bands like Audio Adrenaline, Jars of Clay and DC Talk were creating great music that included tension.

Here's the problem... digital editing has allowed us the "luxury" of releasing too much tension from our music. We can perfect every hit and tune every note until a very important part of our music is tension free. It is the element of human performance. The answer to this is to use your ears, not your eyes when editing. Musical tension does not happen with your eyes anyway, it happens with your ears. To use your eyes while editing is pretty ridiculous. When you listen, you will listen for actual mistakes and fix those instead of sucking the life out of your music.

Now, I will say that there are some times when you will say, "I'd like to tighten this up more." The feel is not flawed, but certain genres call for a tighter feel. Electronic and Pop music is pretty rigid these days... on purpose, though it can be very FRESH to infuse live performances unaltered within your electronic or pop songs. That's what many producers have done with R&B and Hip Hop. You'll hear a lot of groove on R&B albums these days. Very cool!

  • don't over-tune vocals
  • don't over-time align vocals
  • don't alter your groove too much
  • take the time to record GREAT performances
  • Never say "I can fix it in the mix"
  • Don't over-compress
  • DO over-compress sometimes
  • release the tension every now and then so you notice it when you've got it
  • make music that inspires you to sing along, bob your head and dance!

Check out Tristan Prettyman's song "Hello" for an example of a song that would have been utterly RUINED had it been auto-tuned to death. An amazing vocal performance!

I'm off to over-tune some vocals :)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Michael H. Brauer - Multi-Bus Compression

Ever wonder how some mixes just sound SOOOOOOO BIIIIIIIGGGG!!!?!?!?!?! Well, one way mixes sound big is by using something called the New York Compression Technique (also called Parallel Compression.) NY Compression involves taking an uncompressed audio source, duplicating it and then compressing the snot out of the duplicated track. THEN take the compressed track and tuck it underneath the uncompressed track. What this does is allow the instrument to have the dynamics of an uncompressed sound with the thickness of a compressed sound. Get it? The results can be incredible.

Michael H. Brauer is a stunning mixer. He's mixed for all kinds of artists of all styles and genres. I was rummaging through Michael's site and I noticed a wildly extensive Q&A section. I thought this could be a benefit to you all. Check it out and try grasp the ideas he presents about NY Compression.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mastering Audio: Bob Katz - A MUST READ!!

About a week before Saddleback's Worship Conference I stumbled upon a book called "Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science" by Bob Katz. Just recently I've been interested in how mastering works. I want to understand mastering so I can mix my records in a way that gets the most out of the mastering process.

Let me just say, "Mastering Audio" has changed the way I look at digital audio. Not only am I gaining an understanding of mastering, but I'm getting a better handle of how my DAW and Digital Converters are processing audio. Bob points out that Digital Recording has to be treated very differently than analog recording (I know this in basic principle, but not to this depth). There are things we must do to preserve audio once inside the computer. There are also things we can do to maximize fidelity and make our recordings sound BIG and VIBRANT!

In case you have not noticed, my opinion is that everyone should read this book! If you are serious about getting the most out of your recordings you owe it to yourself. WARNING: This is a very technical book. It is actually a text book. It is not a hard read but it is deep.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Tonight I'm up late making stem mixes for Nic Carvers project. My brother, Kyle, is going to lay down a few more guitar tracks to round out the album. Creating stem sessions can be a little time consuming. I make a new session file, bounce all the drums to a stereo mix, all keys to a stereo mix, mono bass, mono lead vocals and I'm giving him all of the guitar tracks that I did with Steve Marcia so he can easily work his stuff into the mix.

After I create all the stems, I copy all files to a new folder so that I can freely delete files without the fear of messing something up. Well it happened, I was not paying attention. I had not opened the newly created session, I started deleting files from the OLD ONE!!!! Pro Tools takes a while to boot up and the entire time I'm opening the new session (to see if the files had been copied) I am getting nervous. Luckily, my fail safe plan was actually fail safe. I messed up and because I took the proper precautions, everything worked out.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I love compression. I love the way it sounds, I love what it does to my mixes, I also love how different every unit sounds. To continue the topic of compressors, I'd like to share a short list of my favorite outboard and plugin compressors...


1) Empirical Labs Distressor
2) Universal Audio 1176
3) Universal Audio LA-2A
4) Tube Tech CL-1B
5) DBX 160 (old version6) SSL Master Bus Compressor


1) Bomb Factory 1176
2) Waves SSL Channel Strip Compression
3) Massey CT4 Compressor
4) Drawmer Dynamcis
5) Digidesign SMACK
6) Waves RCompressor

Compressor Wars

Compressors are perhaps the most mysterious of audio processors. You either admit that you don't know how to use them or you are always learning how to use them more efficiently and to every extent that they are capable. I guess what I'm trying to say is that compressors are deep.. WAY deep. There's a lot to learn. Even once you understand their concept there seems to be hundreds of ways to use them.

Different ways to use a compressor (there may be more... I'm still learning too)...

  • Control dynamics
  • Add "thickness" to an audio source
  • make something "punchy"
  • make something "pump"
  • control sibilance
  • control EQ of an audio source
  • add "color to an audio source
Like I said, there are more ways than this to use a compressor and within these functions there are plently of ways to achieve the same goal.

Honestly, the sound of modern recording is the sound of compression. I'm not just talking about a dynamically squashed sound (although this can be the result of the following) but compressors thicken and add color to anything it's applied too, especially in heavy doses. Rock music often adds compression generously, thus giving the listener the illusion that a mix is louder and thicker. Consoles like the SSL E Series console offer dynamic processing on every channel allowing mixers to use as much compression as was needed. Today, most mixes are performed inside of a DAW (digital audio workstation.) This offers the mixer even more control over dynamics.

I want to talk about the common controls that a compressor utilizes. We'll talk about the different ways to use a compressors and possible settings for different instruments later. For now, the basics.

INPUT - controls the amount of gain that enters the compressor.

THRESHOLD - the point when the compressor kicks in. i.e. If the threshold is set to -10bd then any audio louder that -10db that enters the compressor will be compressed. Anything under the threshold will be left alone (except "soft knee" compression... see below."

ATTACK - I like to rename this "attack speed" because I feel it accurately verbalizes what the attack setting does - Once an audio source rises over the threshold the compressor can kick in at different speeds. A fast attack would turn the compressor on very quickly (keeping harsh peaks at bay) where a slow attack would let the first transients (the first part of the audio source) pass through before the compressor reacts (this setting will let any percussive sounds keep their "punch"

RELEASE (or "release time") - The release setting determine how fast or slow a compressor shuts off after the source has gone below the threshold. The release time may be determined by the speed of the rhythmic-ness of the instrument. A release time that is slower that the next transient peak may sound lifeless and flat.

RATIO - Without a doubt the most complicated part of the compressor. The ratio decides by what ratio is an audio source reduced. You'lll see settings like 3:1, 4:1, 6:1. A 3:1 ratio means that an audio source will be allowed to raise 3db before 1db of compression is applied. This allows there to still be dynamics in audio even when the audio is being compressed. To complete this definition. A source that has risen 6db above the threshold and has a 3:1 ratio will be reduced by 2db. In the same manner, an audio source that has risen 12by above the thresh. and has a 4:1 ratio will be reduced 3db. It is actually very simple.

OUTPUT (or "make-up gain") - It's true, any time you add compression you are lowering the dynamic range of at least some part of the sound. The output knob simply adds gain where the compressor has taken it away. A good way to put it would be if you turned down the volume of your TIVO but turned up the TV to make up the volume loss. OR when your ipod is too loud in playing through your car stereo and it distorts... you turn the ipod down and turn up the car stereo to make up the difference.

SOFT-KNEE COMPRESSION - Soft knee compression basically makes it so the compressor is actually working a bit below the threshold. It gradually begins working harder as source nears the threshold. You might use this setting if you want the source colored in general, not just at the peaks.

HARD -KNEE COMPRESSION - this type of compression is the "normal" way of using a compressor... the compressor begins working only above the threshold. You would use this setting when you desire for only the peaks to be reduced.

That's it... the basics. I'll be touching more of compression soon. There is so much to cover. If I could offer one tip... when you're first starting to use compression, try using a LOT while you're messing around with your gear. Like any gear, take it to the limit. It is at this point where you find out what your compressors can do and what they sound like. When you learn the sound of a compressors extremes you will learn to hear when it is applied in small doses.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Imogen Heap!! Binaural Microphones

I am continually impressed with Imogen Heap and her music. I mean, "Hide and Seek" is perhaps one of the most unbelievable recordings I've ever heard. It's just so unique but SOOO listen-able. I know plenty of people who can record unique music that no one wants to hear. That's easy. I can even do that... but to make something that people want to hear and have it be "original." That to me is very cool!

Imogen Heap recently released a new song called "Not Now But Soon." The song was written, produced, performed, recorded and mixed by Emogen! Seriously????!!!!??? That's just amazing. I'm really not trying be sexist, but don't know many women who are doing this kind of stuff.

Another reason to download the song is that it includes a short video on the making of the song. While I was marveling at Emogen's use of walls, radiators and bricks to make her recording I noticed that she was wearing in-ear monitors AND what looked like a second set of headphones. "wierd," I thought. Then I heard her say something like, "I was recording my house using binaural microphones." Basically, there are headphones that have the polarity reversed, thus turning the headphones into microphones! There are a few companies who make legit binaural mics. I'm sure she's probably using one of these.

Binaural mics are basically trying to closely simulate human ears and the way our head picks up stereo images. I've even seen binaural mics that use an artificial head between the mics. The space between the mics recreates more accurately the way we hear directional sound.

I've been thinking about buying a small digital recorder. Edirol makes one that I've seen many people use. I hear that the stereo mics right on the device sound pretty good. I could even plug some binaural mics into it and walk around town recording people and nature in hopes of finding unique sounds to place in my recordings. Like all of you, budgets are tight so maybe I'll wait. I must admit, my wish list is quite long.

WARNING: HEAVY TECH TALK (in case you normal people wanna check out ;)

On that note, I just updated my digital converters from Digidesign 192 I/O's to Apogee Rosetta 800's. For real, everything is a good bit smoother and punchy. While at it I've been learning Logic. I must admit, Logic has a lot of really cool instruments. Programming goes down a lot smoother. Everything is pretty much geared towards electronic music. Drawback... the editing sucks compared to Pro Tools. You CAN edit in Logic but with much less precision.

Hopefully I'll be able to utilize both programs to my advantage. My arsenal... Pro Tools HD 7.4, Logic 8 Pro, Ableton Live 6, Finale Music.

Till next time...

Friday, July 18, 2008

How 'bout a new blog!

Hello world!!! Well, hello blogger! I've been blogging semi-regularly for a few years using Myspace. My wife has a very nice blog. It's funny, informative and mentions me a lot ;) Anyway, Erin thinks that myspace is lame so I've moved my blog here.

I love to teach! I especially love to teach about recording or anything music. I've decided that this blog should be at least partially devoted to recording tips, tricks and tutorials. I'll be posting articles, links and videos on all kinds of topics. I don't necessarily want to teach you all of the ways to record, but I do want to teach you the way I do it. You in? This should be fun!

Oh yeah, I also spend a lot of time arranging and composing. Guess what? I like to teach this too :) I hope to offer lots of resources for using Finale Music Notation Software too.

Aside from all the learning you'll be doing, you'll read about new happenings in my studio, fun facts and complete randomness.

Until next time...

About Me

My photo
I'm a producer, mixer, songwriter. I recently moved from Orange County, CA to Nashville,TN I love making music. It is my means for creative expression. I've been married to my wonderful wife Erin for 7 1/2 years and I have a dog named Dexter.