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

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)

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.