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Yeah, I know… but…

May 1, 2014 Leave a comment

Happy May Day! I’m trying to post more, so I thought this warranted a few words…

I’m not a fan of contradicting myself, especially publicly, and in writing, but I’m breaking my own self imposed moratorium on plugin purchases. Yes, I continue to live and exercise my “keep it simple” mantra, but hell, a sale is a sale.

Slate Digital dropped the price of their Virtual Buss Compressor to an obscenely low level – one that even I, Mr. “I don’t need any new plugins-high-horse-guy”, couldn’t avoid. After about a minute of justification, I hit the “Buy Now” button. After all, I got that mixing gig I posted about recently, so I have a legitimate reason.

That’s what I keep telling myself anyway…

Wow, is this plug-in stunning? (that was rhetorical). For the last few years, my buss compression mainstay has been Cytomic’s The Glue, but this thing is in a different league. Don’t get me wrong, The Glue is awesome for it’s price and capabilities (and it will continue to be, for those reasons), but the Slate stuff just has THAT sound. It’s a premium plug.

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I put it on the “audition mix” I just did, and yeah… Smile inducing, smooth, tight and round, yet simultaniously open are all words I’d use. Even though my buyers remorse is running wild, this was a good decision, and it’s never a bad decision if it’s used for paid work. At $99 bucks, this will pay for itself many times over.

Ok. I’m done. No more plug-ins. That’s it. I can do this…

until the next sale…

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Not Fearing the Reaper…

April 30, 2014 1 comment

Another post about keeping things simple. I guess it’s an on-going quest of mine.

Got a call last week about a mixing project (one album, with 2 more in the pipeline) and after a meeting with the artist management, I was given a Pro Tools session to do an “audition mix”. I began the process in Tools – cleaning up tracks, adding crossfades, etc – but after a few days, I realized I could work much faster in Reaper, so I consolidated and bounced everything out.

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Once I got all 43 tracks in Reaper, I color coded stuff, consolidated a few more parts and began mixing. It’s been awhile since I’ve had this much fun working. The music was already in stems, so I had to live with instrument elements that were printed during recording, but I was able to tame a few items with EQ, and live with what I couldn’t fix. Overall the music was mixed down well, so I didn’t have to fight too much with it.

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In keeping with my “keep it simple” theme, I only used a few effects: DMG’s Equilibrium is on just about everything, as is Rob Papen’s RP-Delay, Reaper’s ReaComp and Cytomic’s The Glue for compression, Valhalla’s Vintage Verb, NI’s Driver (for distortion vox effects) and Auto Tune.

Didn’t really want to use Auto Tune, but there were some tuning issues that threw things off in the pre-chorus – and – if used sparingly, it helps to blend (or glue) background vocals together.

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Finally, I used T-Racks for a quick and dirty mastering. That’s it. No need to agonize over it. In fact, recently, I cleaned out a ton of un-used plugins on both of my machines and dug into the ones that I really like. The result – in just a few hours, I had something that was ‘radio ready’, and hopefully, the client will like.

I was really impressed with Reaper’s performance. The final mix contained 92 effects and utilized 62% of my MBP’s processor – that’s right, I did the entire 36 track mix on my laptop. No need for my monstrosity of a Hackintosh. That’s how efficient Reaper is. I did most of the mix at a buffer rate of 64 (which I normally set for tracking virtual instruments), and only kicked it up to 1024 when I needed to add Auto Tune on 24 tracks.

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I’m not gonna bash Pro Tools, because it’s great at what it does. That said, I work faster and more efficiently in Reaper, and as we all know, time is money.

If I go on to mix the full album, I’ll use Tools to convert sessions over to Reaper and finish there.

A quick note on my latest purchase – the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 is a phenomenal piece of gear. My Apogee Duet has served me extremely well, but has seen better days and I simply needed more inputs. I was a bit hesitant about the purchase, as there are a number of reported problems with it on the PC side, but it’s been rock solid for me on the Mac. I took it out of the box, plugged it in, and after automatic firmware update, it hasn’t flinched. A solid performer and a great purchase.

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There’s nothing here that a good mix engineer doesn’t already know, but I’ll say that keeping it simple allowed me to work not only faster, but smarter. I followed my instincts and that’s always a good thing.

I’ll let you know if I get the gig….

Categories: Music, The Word

touchAble 2

November 23, 2013 6 comments

For some reason, I’ve rediscovered Ableton Live. It’s a fun program and it takes me back to my days of composing on old hardware (workstation) sequencers with independent track looping. When computers ushered in the “new era” of composition, I went linear (track based) and never looked back.

I picked up Ableton Live several years ago, and other than to help with the occasional bout of writers block, never really took to it. Loop composition is fun and inspiring, but I’m too analytical when it comes to the rest of the production process, and it’s a well known that Live isn’t (always) the best finishing program. In that regard, Logic, Pro-Tools and Reaper have served me well.

That said, the good news is the folks at Ableton have improved Live greatly, and with version 9, I find myself using it again. This newfound usage was bolstered by NI’s Maschine, which has me “performing” again (pushing buttons, twisting knobs and moving about) instead of mousing around the screen.

This weeks exercise was about getting Maschine and Live to work together. It’s a convoluted process, but once you get them talking, it makes for an awesome and creative working environment. However, this is not without it’s issues. Since Maschine is now functioning in a dual role (controller and performance tool), and it can only do one at a time, you have to switch this “hybrid” functionality back and forth, which can be a pain while working.

So, I got it all working on Thursday, and after patting myself on the back for my ingenuity, set in on Friday to work. However, overnight Live was upgraded to version 9.1, and after upgrading, the two no longer wanted to play well together. Not sure what happened there, and I lost a day troubleshooting, but whatever…

These new issues were rendered moot when I discovered touchAble 2. It’s an iPad app (natch) that effectively recreates Live’s user interface for the touch screen. Suddenly the need to get Maschine and Live talking again diminished rapidly.

The $24.99 download was quick to my iPad Mini, and after an even quicker download of the server control app for my MacPro (and MacBook Pro), the app was talking to Live.

Kudos to touchAble’s design team. The app is extremely intuitive. I was able (no pun intended) to figure most of it out without online help.  I won’t go into the specifics of it here. If you’re interested in it, please check out the app’s youtube page – it contains the full specs on the info tab.

I don’t usually get excited about this kind of tool, but great tactile control enhances the Live experience tenfold. Anything that keeps your hands off the mouse and on an instrument is great for composing.

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The Great American Stand-Off

July 1, 2012 Leave a comment

If there’s one constant that I can count on is my need for change. That, and my need for a good workspace. I’ve tried almost every configuration imaginable, but nothing has made me happy for any real length of time.

My last config was nice – until the headaches started. Most likely the result of sitting far too close to a 42″ LDC display. Talk about your space cadet glow (I felt warm a lot). Yep, it looked great, but was bad in practice.

This brings me to today’s entry. I was listening to NPR yesterday while on my way to a freelance gig, and the conversation headline was, “Is sitting too much killing us?”. Ok, I’m “King of the Sitters”, so they had my attention. The guest was a doctor that wrote at length about how we’ve become a sedentary society, and how that is killing us slowly. [Follow the link for a list of risk factors]. The story also featured anecdotal interviews with office folk that have transitioned to standing on the job.

I began to ponder this and realized that I sit 90% of the day. Most of my jobs involve monitors, computers and a chair. Given the fact that my freelance gig yesterday was field sound – the rare gig where one stands for a few hours with a field mixer and boom mic, it really brought the radio conversation home.

Combine all of that with my constant need to change my home setup, I found myself at it again. This time with the standing workstation concept in mind. I had my Mother’s high-top table in my garage, and it’s the perfect size to put my gear on and work while standing.

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I clam-shelled the MBP and put all of my drives on the bottom shelf. I’m now limited to one monitor, but I’ve found the high resolution screen of the Macbook was getting harder to read (even with glasses) – yes, it sucks getting older. I actually prefer the (lower resolution) single 22″ monitor. The Oxygen49 keyboard, FaderPort and trackball/mouse all fit perfectly.

Two hours later, I had everything cabled up and operational, and I’m currently typing this while standing. In fact, I’ve challenged myself to stand while working for the month of July.

Can I really go 30 days of standing?

Realizing that’s a tall order, the table is part of a set with two stools, so I can sit if I have to, but they’re not made for comfort, so I won’t sit on them for long periods.

We’ll see how I do this month, and more importantly, we’ll see how I feel and if standing makes a difference.

Categories: Music, Random, Video

Been a long time…

May 28, 2012 Leave a comment

December 23rd??? Really? That was my last entry here? 6 months ago?

Wow. What the hell?

Ok, seeing how it’s yet another holiday that I’m stuck at work, I guess I have time to play catch up. I’ve been super busy (to say the least) and freelance has been very, very good to me.

The highlights:

December/January:

– St. Oalf Choir Holiday Concert shoot for TPT

SNS goes HD!

– Recording sessions with Talia

– Xmas vacation out East (Happy Birthday to me)

February:

– Shot a music doc for local band

Fitness On Request shoot

– “Stay-cation” in town

March/April:

– “Bloom Where You’re Planted” doc/shoot

– Shot and cut “We Found Love – LIVE Arrangement” video

– Audio engineer @ TPT (trained in for pledge drive relief)

– Maryland/Florida vacation

May:

“Pete Hegseth for Senate 2012” promo video for GOP Convention

– Pre production for 2nd Fitness On Request shoot

– Home studio additions and upgrades

June:

– Fitness On Request

Darnell Davis Concert shoot.

– Lifetime Fitness shoot

Whew… One thing I’ve learned from the above list is that I vacation a lot, and I make no apologies for it. My motto is – work hard, play harder. My current work cycle is that the freelance funds the vacations, and that’s alright with me.

In fact, I’m currently working to fund the next big vacay as I type this, and next week promises to be no exception. I’ll be technical directing Fitness On Request shows during the day, while mixing TPT pledge at night.

Hell, the only reason I have the time to write this entry is that I brought the wrong hard drive with me to work and I can’t edit SNS. I’m almost 2 episodes ahead.

Tomorrow is more FOR pre-pro and a site survey for the upcoming concert shoot. I’m looking forward to that. It’s always a treat being around musicians with great chops (and those church boys have chops… yessiiiirrrr).

Anywho – I’ll post some pics from some of the above events so this place doesn’t seem so cold and empty.

Randomly selected six month review in photos –

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Categories: Music, The Word, Video

Thanks PreSonus…

November 5, 2011 2 comments

I’ve been DAW hopping for most of the year, and have written extensively about it. I’ve grown tired of Logic and it’s extremely slow development. It’s competition (Reaper, Cubase, etc) have all surpassed it with new features and workflow improvements. Add the colossal f–k up of the Final Cut X release, and my faith in Apple has been shaken. Logic users are now holding our collective breaths to see if Apple will butcher it in the same manner.

While waiting for Logic X to arrive, I began testing the waters of the competition, and I spent 6 solid months with Reaper during the Alpha and Beta test cycles. The truth? I like(d) it a lot. Reaper is a powerful program, but I find that, at times, it can get in the way of creativity, mostly because of it’s power and sheer number of choices. An oft written refrain on the Reaper forum is “I just want to make music and not code a program”.

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That brings me to Studio One. I was excited by it when it was released over a year ago. However, it was too limited at the time (no AU plug in support was huge for me), so I passed and took a “wait and see” position.

Thankfully, PreSonus dropped a bomb 2 weeks ago with version 2 of Studio One. The biggest selling point for me was the Melodyne integration. Melodyne is THE ultimate in pitch correction software. It will correct damn near anything without the dreaded T-Pain effect (unless, of course, that’s what you’re after).

I’ve been a Melodyne user for years, but I often reach for Auto Tune because, frankly, I’m lazy. Melodyne requires some work, and a small dose of music theory. In short, you can do more harm than good if you don’t know what you’re doing. The bigger Melodyne issue for me is with the plug-in itself. It runs “in tandem” with your DAW, making file management tricky. It’s easy to lose the pointers to your corrected files if you work with multiple drives.

To solve this issue, Celemony created the ARA protocol for Melodyne and partnered up with PreSonus. ARA provides internal two way communication between the plug in and the host. The bottom line is it’s now easier to use. If you’re not interested in S1, but want the Melodyne integration, fear not. The ARA protocol will appear in other hosts early next year. PreSonus is getting the head start.

As you can tell, I’m a bit excited about S1, and I’ve been test driving it a great deal. Yesterday, I decided to use it for voice over recording and audio sweetening on a commercial spot I shot recently. Let me say that the workflow for video post is well… awesome is the word I’d use… It’s much faster than Tools, Logic and Reaper.

In the screen shots above, I dropped a reference cut into S1. Imported the audio. Opened the Video window. Set a level on the FirePod and within seconds was recoding my VO. After some EQ and compression, I had it pushed back into Final Cut. I did the final mix in FCP, but next time I’ll mix the entire spot (music, VO, and sound effects) in S1 and print the final mix there.

It’s never been so easy… I haven’t even touched on the music aspects yet. I’m sold, and Apple had better bring the pain with Logic X, or I’m staying with S1.  I’ve already transferred some Logic songs to S1 to mix, and I like what I’m hearing.

As always, your mileage may vary…

Shakin’ Stuff…

November 4, 2011 2 comments

After months of concentrating on video production, as well as trying pick a new DAW, I’m happy to say that I’m making music again.

The song “Vampires” was born out of usual frustration with the people and things that suck the life out of others on a regular basis, and NOT the crappy movie types with bad skin and tons of hair gel that women in their 40’s fantasize about.

But I digress, and that’s another rant filled blog entry all it’s own…

I realized that my approach to writing and production hasn’t changed much in awhile. With the exception of guitars, I normally do everything “in the box” (drum programming, bass lines, keys, etc) and that gets old. Just because one has 2000 drum samples, doesn’t mean you have to use ’em all the time. And with that, the urge to stretch out and experiment with different mics and recording techniques took hold, and I figured the best place to start was with percussion.

There’s nothing like adding a little live percussion to a sterile programmed track, but the only percussion instrument I have is my Prince tambourine (and I’m not pulling that trophy off the wall), so I had to dig through my kitchen cabinet.

It’s amazing what you can do with a container of Sea Salt…

I’m now a believer. Playing it live (whatever it is) beats the hell out of programming it any day of the week. So grab something, put a microphone in front of it and shake it, strike it, or beat on it. Trust me…

BTW – Although Reaper is featured in the video, my DAW of the moment is Studio One by PreSonus – at least until Logic X comes out. 🙂 In all seriousness, Studio One is worth taking a look at. One of my heroes, Teddy Riley, gave it an extremely enthusiastic endorsement, and is largely why I picked it up. Teddy produced and mixed Michael Jackson’s posthumous album with it, and he likes it better than Pro Tools. That’s all I needed to hear. I’ll post my thoughts on S1 soon.

Now I have to get back to the business of slaying vampires…