December 7, 2008

If Apple Knew What Was Good For Them - What I Want For Christmas

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a... tablet-pc-laptop-kindle-eeePc-giant-iPhone-mashup!


This is just a quick drawing I made in inkscape though... if someone wants to redraw it the way those apple fanboys do with like clips from actual apple products so it looks like a real device, totally! do it!

Screen Setup:
Opens a window that lets you turn the screen (like how the iPhone turns it's contents when you torn the phone sideways).

This way you can use it from any view including wide-screen view, and left handed. I think the other buttons are pretty self explanatory :)

call it creative commons! or something like that. Attribution share-alike!

November 25, 2008

More DAW Real Estate!

Today I'm here to tell you that using two computer monitors is better than one. In fact, dual monitor setups are so very much better that I am going to spend an entire blog post telling you how.

I think the first order to business, however, is to admit that I have a bit of a monitor fettish...

My monitor craze is justified though! I'm not just an lcd nut, for example - if you use reason with rewire, you can keep you DAW open on the left screen, while the reason rack stays easily accessible on the right screen.

Since reason doesn't take up the whole screen, it even leaves some room for plug-in windows as well.

It also comes in handy when you want to open a browser window during a long tracking session, but need to keep an eye on the tracks. Same idea, DAW left, Firefox right.
"But jim," you say, "LCD computer monitors are expensive!"
All I have to say to that is,

What other piece of gear would be a better investment than $165 for a 22 inch widescreen monitor? You really can't get much for your studio for so little money.

Anyway, that's my rant for today! Next time I may try to tackle the compression issue again. This time more elegantly.

November 16, 2008

Being a synth guy and the wall of gear

While I was rehearsing with my band yesterday it occurred to me that guitar players tend to carry one guitar around and use pedals to change their sound.

And also, 'synth guys' always have a wall of gear - several midi controllers, a laptop, sustain pedals, possibly more... not to mention amps, and a mic/mic-stand if you're singing.

Here's the problem:
The wall of gear isn't exactly conducive to an awesome stage show.
Well, I'm one of those 'synth guys' these days (recently converted from guitarist), and I sorely regret the loss of mobility. And then I got to thinking: There must be some way to change patches using a foot pedal, just like the guitar.

That's when I came across this:
Roland FC-300
Aye, the Roland FC-300. It sounds like a the name of a spaceship from startrek, or some infomercial ripoff, but from what I gather it's a decent piece of gear. But for $350, is it really worth it? I'm not so sure. So I continued my quest... leading me to the much friendlier Rolls MP128.

I'm still not exactly sure how to get these things to do what I want, but I'll probably write up another post when I actually get one.

Here's how I would guess you do it:
  1. Hook up your keyboard to the midi in of the sound module/laptop, as you would expect.

  2. Then Hook up the pedal board to either
    A) The Midi In on your keyboard
    B) Another Midi In on your sound module/laptop (if it has one)

  3. Then you can change patches using the pedal board and have them go into action for input via the keyboard in real time
Step 3 is my personal goal here. Maybe I'm totally wrong about all this, though. If I am, somebody stop me before I drop $130 on the Rolls MP128!

November 3, 2008

5 Ways to get Top Dollar for Guitar Center Gear Trade-ins

For the past several years I've been using a Mackie 32 channel/8 bus analog mixer (the 32.8 one) in my studio. It's been great, I have many fond memories of projects created on that mixer from start to finish, but times change.

Unfortunately, as I accumulate more and more gear, space is at a premium and the mixer is one of the biggest things in the room. From time to time, I'd eye the mixer suspiciously, but then think better of it and reprimand myself for ever having such blasphemous thoughts; just like any good christian boy would.

yoga position

The time has come my friends. I do all my mixing the the box these days. I do say I want a revolution, and I don't give a damn who wants to change the world!

So I tried selling the mixer on craigslist. But as I suspected, very few people have that kind of money lying around in case they come across a beautifully gigantic analog mixing console on craigslist.

That's when it hit me: at some point in every musician's life, we realize that we need to get rid of some piece of gear and Guitar Center is probably the only place that will buy it.

Mackie 32.8 at Mixtake Recording Studio

I've had good trade-in experiences with the people at Guitar Center and I thought I'd share it with the world! Here are 5 ways to get top dollar on Guitar Center trade-ins:
  1. Get a general price point on the internet - My advice would be to search craigslist, and ebay to see what the general price is when the item is used. Then check the retail and list price on or musiciansfriend (which is owned by guitar center).
    As a general rule Guitar Center will pay about 25% of list price for gear trade-ins. This is something the manager of my local Guitar Center told me - of course, it assumes the gear is near perfect condition.
    You can sometimes get more if the item is in high demand (though in these cases you're usually better off selling on eBay or craigslist)

    note: If you're selling an instrument to Guitar Center, it may be a good idea to have it appraised by someone at that Guitar Center before you go about selling it to them. If you're happy with the appraisal it'll be a strong case for why you should get that price.

  2. Call up a different Guitar Center - This is the next step in your research on how much to ask when you go to actually make the sale. Once you ask your local Guitar Center how much they're willing to give you, that's it. You only get one chance so arm yourself with good info!

    This is a trial run. Pretend you're calling your local guitar center, tell them you're interested in selling the gear and describe it - just like you would to your local GC guys...

    You want to ask them two questions:
    • How much can they give you for it - in dollars, not goats ;)
    • What factors would influence how much they're willing to pay

    Make sure you mention and problems with the gear as well as any potential selling points, don't be afraid to ask for elaboration!


  3. Don't forget to mention you'll be spending money - If you're like me you're probably going to turn around and buy more gear anyway... so wait until you have a reasonably sizable purchase to make.

    Very often, if you mention that you're planning to spend a sizable chunk of the money they're giving you for the item during the same transaction (a trade rather than them just giving you cash), you can get more for the item. If you're nice and friendly about it they'll often times give you a discount on the gear you're buying as well!

    Which brings me to my next point...

  4. Know the names of the staff - to quote the famous Dale Carnegie,
    "Remember that a man's name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language."
    People really do appreciate it when you recognize then and remember their names. This is the first step toward a good relationship with the folks at Guitar Center, which can benefit you both greatly!

  5. Make sure the item looks good and works well - First impressions are very, very, super-extraordinarily important! Get that baby dust-free, polished, buffed, waxed, oiled, tuned, and whatever else needs to be done to make it seem as great as it really is.

    Someone is going to examine and test/play your item long before they commit to buy it, so make sure they're really impressed with how nice it is.

That's all folks, good luck and good night!

October 10, 2008

What I like about Britney Spears (Who could resist a title like that?)

The production!

That's right... if you're going to listen to nearly-tongue-in-cheek-crap-pop-bordering-on electronica... Damn does britney have a team of brilliant producers!

Then again... I'm a sucker for bit-crushing, filters, reversed samples, and vocoders. Especially when they all happen at the same time... for three minutes.

Dear Jive Records, I propose the following tag line,
"Learn to compress like the best, listen to Britney!"

For more britney spears fun...

About that Delay Calculator...

I learned a lot about the horrors of javascript when combined with blogging... Oh the horror! If you received any extraneous e-mails, updates, etc... oops, sorry :(

As it turns out, you can really only use the Delay Calculator in the blog post itself, or on the Delay Calculator's hosted location (don't worry about what that means... I kind of just now made up that term).

Other interesting discoveries:
  1. You can't use the spacebar for tap tempo on the blog post because it makes the page scroll down.
  2. Internet Exporer still sucks (get firefox!)
Well the second one isn't really a discovery so I guess that only leaves one.

I know what you're thinking...
What the heck Jim... why didn't you test this thing better before wasting my time on it?
Well... I don't know, I'm obviously a huge hypocrite but... I said I was sorry :(

At least now I get to check off one of the items from my, 'Make your own tools' Post. Hooray!

October 9, 2008

Pimped out with a Free Delay Calculator!

I made this... I hope it comes in handy for ya :) You can use it in a few different ways:
  1. Type a number in to the BPM (Beats per minute) textbox
  2. Click the "Tap Tempo!" button on the beats to generate BPM
  3. Click on the Delay Calculator (to select it) and Press any key - try the spacebar Enter Key - to generate BPM

note: The triplet delay times are for just one note... not all three triplets (despite the picture) ;)

October 4, 2008

Can you guess the song?

Comic: Confusing Your Parents

Another comic! Can you guess what song he's singing in the shower?

October 1, 2008

Things that make my day

Things that make my day: When life sounds sync up with my music

Blogger has support for built in comment forms! FINALLY!

Seriously, wordpress has been set up that way for ages. Anyway... Leave a comment. Feel the glory. =D

September 22, 2008

How do I get the 'Crowd' effect?

Today I was browsing the homeRecording forum and I came across this question:
Hey guys, im tryna record the typical hip hop sounding "ayy", which usually sounds like a crowd of people. I'm doin a few takes in different tones..somethings lacking.. any ideas?
What he's looking for is known as "Crowd vocals" or "Gang vocals".

I thought to myself... "I know how to do that!" So I answered it. Good story huh?

Then I thought, hmm I bet somebody else might want to know this too! So here's my answer, trimmed down and broken into steps:
  1. Get a few friends together - 4 or 5 is plenty.

  2. Record 6 to 10 tracks of the group all doing the parts you want to sound like crowd.

    Of course more tracks can work too, but I find that once you go beyond 35 voices or so the strong sounding low mids start to disappear. You can always mute tracks if you record too many though.

  3. Pan half of the tracks left and half of them right. Somewhere between 50% and 100%, depending on how close to the front of the mix you want the crowd to be.

    note: If you want the crowd to be really in front, pan a pair of the tracks left 10% and right 10% respectively. I try not to pan any of them center because the sound of a crowd surrounds you by it's nature.

  4. Make all the tracks about the same volume and send them to a group channel (or in protools, set the output bus of each track to the input bus of an aux channel).

  5. Apply any effects to the group/aux channel
This effect can be seen in action in all kinds of music, from hip-hop to punk, to big band. Here are a few examples:
Here's a comic for ya!

Crowd Vocals Comic

September 14, 2008

Clarity - Warm... or just Hot and Even?

If you've ever read a review for a piece of audio equipment you've probably come across the word 'warm'. You've also probably tried to find out what it means, and come up with a different answer for every person you asked.

What does 'WARM' even mean?

Well... I wish I could say I had the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, but I don't. The closest thing I've got is a collection of ideas about what warm means; hopefully I can bring a little clarity to the topic.

Despite the occasional likening of warmth in audio to the taste of vodka, the majority of answers I found revolve around 3 main ideas...

Warm means:
So... basically any result of analog gear. Specifically tube gear and tape saturation.

Tube Gear

Before we go on, lets look at the history of digital for a short bit. When digital recording first came out, engineers were enamored with the newly found high frequency response that their analog gear had been lacking. Pete Brunelli shared some wisdom about the advent of digital recording on
To me, that short period [at the advent of digital recording] created this analog/digital division, and the fascination with "warm". Warm really does exist. And a lot of the early digital recordings were anti-warm. IMO, digital got tagged with a "cold" or "sterile" tag because the technology was in its infancy and engineers weren't trying to make digital sound like tape. In an A/B situation I don't think that engineers were willing to knock back the highs on thdigital stuff at all. Also, a lot of digital "remasters" were, and continue to be, hack jobs that ruin the feel of the original recording. That didn't help the image of digital either.

So either digital gear isn't as cold/harsh/lifeless as we think and it's just an effect of engineers hyping the music in a certain way, OR what warm really means is 'sounds like analog.' If that's true... the only way for digital to accomplish 'warm' tone is to emulate analog gear... right?

Well, that's definitely has been a trend in plug-in development. Just to name a few:
Here's my take on it: If it sounds good in the room, and you've got decent gear... that's all the warmth you need... but don't just take my word for it experiment and find what works for you!

August 25, 2008

How to Get Kickin' Bass Drum Sounds

Kick/Bass drum is what drives rock music. It's what makes hip hop danceable. It's how jazz drummers push the band. Such a special drum needs special treatment, especially in the studio!

First and foremost... you need good source material. Sound on Sound interviewed several professional engineers and it was nearly unanimous.
As with recording any instrument, the choice of drum and the manner of its tuning and preparation can make a huge difference to the sound you capture, so this should always be the place to start.
So don't forget to tune the drums before you record - I wouldn't recommend the human-ear-sweet-spot positioning method though, unless you want to go deaf. Nile Rodgers goes so far as to say (in the SoS interview)
Even if the band uses one drum kit for the whole record, I want it tuned right for each song. We'll change the heads or tune it differently, all that kind of stuff. Sometimes we change the beaters... It all depends on how those frequencies are responding to the key of the music, to the pulse of the music. Every record is different, every song is different, every tape is different.
It's important to note that there are a wide variety of opinions on how to get the best kick drum sound even among sound engineers. These are only some of the possibilities.

Microphone Placement
Joe Chiccarelli likes the two mic approach, which is especially popular in rock music.
"In most situations I tend to use two mics: one inside to gather the impact, and one outside to capture the “tone” – the overall note and picture of the drum."

If the drummer doesn't have a hole cut in the front head, or doesn't want one, you can point a mic at the contact point of the beater on batter head. This will deliver a similar *click* sound to a mic inside the drum. Be careful of sound bleeding into this mic though, since it's not shielded from the other sounds by the shell of the drum, you'll need to be wary of phase problems.

Adjusting the distance of the outside mic(s) is the best way to deal with phase problems, but if you don't have the time to experiment until you have the two mics in phase with each other (maximizing the amount of bass they pick up) you can always add a few ms of delay to one of the mics to get them in phase later on.

Chiccarelli also shares one of his tricks on how to get a processed/low-fi drum sound.
Old cassette decks with built-in limiters can deliver quite a quirky picture of a drum. It instantly sounds like a processed drum loop.
He specifically mentions putting said cassette deck inside the bass drum, to get a squashed sound, as well as putting it in the room to pick up the whole kit.

I'm not the first to come up with this, and many other (much more knowledgeable people) have already written up how EQ affects the kick drum sound. Here it is as Laskow states in his Taxi FAQ:
If you need more bottom end, try boosting @ 60 or 100Hz. Try rolling off lower mids (300-700Hz) to get rid of a box-like sound. To add more attack, try boosting in the 1K to 3K range.
For bottom end there is no substitution for running a spectrum analyzer to find the fundamental frequency and boosting that specifically. Believe me it works 100 times better than just randomly boosting some random low frequency.

Also, Boosting between 600-900Hz will give you more punch. If necessary, you can try to reduce bleed from the cymbals by reducing above 3k with a LPF or a High Shelf.

Close mics (the ones you put inside the kick, or point at the contact point of the beater) These are for capturing the attack:

For the outside/distance mics, large diaphragm microphones work well to capture the low frequencies:

If you're only going to use one microphone on the kick, you're better off using the one that can capture the attack and using a triggering plugin or an exciter to get the low end.

Again, what really matters is that the drums fit the mood/atmosphere of the song, not just "objectively good" drum sounds.

Keep on kickin!

If you like this blog, please consider stumbling it or subscribing to the feed by RSS or E-Mail :)

August 19, 2008

Clarity - Hot

If you're talking to a musician and they mention the word hot, slap them in the face. Then proceed to politely ask for clarification.

hot comic

There you have it. Hot as in Loud, Hot as in 'hot damn', and Hot as in cool.

Now I just need to think of an excuse for that google image search for 'sexy bakini'. I really doubt my girlfriend is gonna buy the 'research for a blog post' one.

for real though, it wasn't cooperating with my more um... appropriate ones. Not to worry though, I used Moderate SafeSearch ;)

August 18, 2008

It's all about source

ehx holy grail reverb pedalSource material - the recording engineer's holy grail. If something doesn't sound good in real life... you're already screwed. Let me qualify that though, before the flames start flying.

<-- not that holy grail; though it is quite nice

Of course there are tools that can fix things about your recording: autotune, drumagog, beat detective, the list goes on. But even using these very powerful tools requires SOMETHING about the original track to already sound good.

With autotune and beat detective it's the actual tone and performance that stick around regardless of editing. Drumagog on the other hand helps the tone, but that's all.

It is possible to use a whole collection of tools on each track and 'fix' everything about it. But the fact of the matter is that if you do that... you may as well have just recorded it as midi and triggered samples, because what you'll end up with has basically nothing desirable left from the original performance anyway.

Let me take this opportunity to support my other favorite kind or source, open source: Ubuntu is awesome.
Well jim, that's all fine and good, but how do I capture great source material?
I'm glad you asked! You use your ears young padawan! If it sounds good in real life, in the real air, it usually sounds good when you get it to tape as well. Of course, that assumes you aren't shooting yourself in the foot somehow along the way, and that the songwriting is good, and also that you have a good mix, panned, eq'd and compressed for optimal clarity and definition.

It a long way to the promise land. Keep on...

August 17, 2008

Animals in the studio

Quick post while I'm back in detroit for a few days (back from nashville).

I know some people keep pets around their home studios. I wonder if they help the vibe. Do you keep pets around while you record?

Do they make noise and mess up takes from time to time?

I want answers!

August 13, 2008

Music for film?

So... I don't really know much about it but, from what I hear, getting your music used in film a fairly lucrative. The reason I'm sitting here writing about this is that cdbaby has added a way to make your music available to filmmakers. Has anyone had any experience working with filmmakers in this way?

If you don't know about cdbaby I highly recommend it, it's a nice easy way to get distribution online (iTunes, Rhapsody, and Amazon to name a few) with no crappy reoccurring fees.

I digress, as far as music for film goes. I think that the benefits from the increased exposure far outweighs the initial monetary benefit. For 3 reasons:
  1. You have someone else pouring money into promotion of the end product.
  2. The listeners are much less likely to get distracted and ignore your music.
  3. When someone buys the soundtrack, you get to be bundled in (see: more free exposure)
Then again... you do get paid every time the movie is sold. And money is good too :)

PS - does anyone know if there are musicians who specifically write songs on each album with film in mind?

August 11, 2008

Don't forget to backup!

If you don't yet backup your files, you should. I know you probably don't want to spend the money, but if you lost your files tomorrow, just think how much you'd be willing to spend in order to get them back.

That being said you have 2 options when it comes to backing up your hard work (both song/project files and other).
  1. Copy all your files to another location

    This is something you should always do, even if you use RAID. It's pretty simple to do though. Either (a) manually backup the files you think are important over to an external drive (or secondary external drive if the original files are already on an external drive). Or you can set up a program to automatically do it for you. I use rsync, but
    time machine is a good user friendly backup tool for mac, and according to lifehacker, syncBack is a good one for windows.

  2. Use RAID1 to automatically keep a duplicate copy at all times.

    You're probably wondering why anyone would do a backup using this method since they'd have to do one of the other backup methods anyway. Well here it is: When a drive fails, the computer doesn't act funny. It doesn't crash. It doesn't fail to boot. It works perfectly well, and continues to operate normally as long as you need it to.

    It just tells you that one of your disk drives has crashed and needs to be replaced. When you replace it, it just copies all the files over to the new drive so you have 2 copies of everything again.

    So why does this need to be combined with method 1? Well it doesn't really, but if something happens to your computer, like a fire or being dropped, and both drives are destroyed together, you're still screwed. And believe me dropping your computer will kill both of the drives. I speak from experience.

  3. Keep a remote copy

    This is really just a variation of number 1, but I separated it because the procedure of doing the backup is different. This one requires a remote server on the internet to store your files.

    You can do this automatically with rsync, or you can just do it manually by copying your files to an ftp server.

    WARNING: You should always use SSH when backing up files over the internet (also known as sftp, ftp over ssh, or scp) If you don't use ssh or some other encryption when you backup over the internet, anyone can see the data in your files. That is bad.

Losing your files sucks. Backup today.

August 5, 2008

Improved Wiki, imported Content

My posts will be a bit sporadic in the coming weeks... did I mention detroit is beautiful this time of year?

So here's the low down: I created a wiki, as a resource for whoever needs it.

To get the wiki started, Rane Corp has given me permission to merge in the existing information in their reference section, under the condition that they be cited as a reference wherever their info appears. Not bad at all.

If you look at Rane's pro-audio reference page, you'll notice there is a copious amount of information there. And by copious I mean A LOT.

So I wrote a quick script to convert all the HTML to WikiMedia formatting and got a lot of the work done, but there is still a lot of editing to be done. All the entries currently appear en masse in an all encompassing glossary page. So first of all, each 'word + definition pair' needs to be copy/pasted into it's own page. Not to mention all the places there are stray symbols due to mistakes in the html to wiki converstion.

I'm hoping to make this a resource for music and audio alike, but I need your help! Anyone may edit the wiki anonymously, but accounts are free and let you keep track of your contributions. Everything runs on the same software as the famous wikipedia, so if you help out over there, you should feel right at home.

If you'd like to contribute, the help will be appreciated very much, but more importantly...

Enjoy the wiki!

August 2, 2008

Delay compensation - what the heck digidesign?

So... Jon over at Audio Geek Zine has written about delay compensation in protools a few times this month, and if you're unfamiliar with the topic, you'll find them very helpful. But what I want to know is, why doesn't protools have this functionality built in?

Accoding to Sound Thinking, Digidesign's Protools family is by far the most popular recording software:
With Digidesign's 85% market share and more than 130,000 users world wide, it's not hard to see the huge advantage Pro Tools gives you over any other digital audio work station.
Well, I find it very troubling that the most popular DAW, and possibly (see: probably) the most popular all-around-music-production software, doesn't have such a basic feature built in.

Just about all their competitors have it now:
DAWDelay Compensation Built-in?
Steinberg CubaseYes
Steinberg NuendoYes
Ableton LiveYes
FL StudioYes
Motu Digital PerformerNo
Digidesign ProtoolsEdit: LE - No/HD - Yes
Adobe AuditionYes
Apple Logic(comes with some but it's not automatic)
Cakewalk SonarYes

How did this happen? Maybe digidesign has gone unchallenged in the pro-audio market too long?

Edit: One of the commenters has brought the fact that Pro-tools HD has Delay compensation to my attention.

As far as I'm concerned that's about as good as not having it, but that's subject matter for another post.

July 30, 2008

How Netflix is Killing Hollywood

Let's face it computing power is increasing exponentially. It used to take hours to rip a CD and encode it to mp3 (we're talkin 10 years ago), now you can rip and encode an album in about 5 minutes, and the bottleneck is the CD-Rom DRIVE. It can't read the CD fast enough to feed the processor. Now that's power.

Well now it takes a few hours to rip a movie from a DVD to your hard drive. I think you see where this is going. In 5 years the process I'm about to describe is going to kill hollywood the way it's already killing the RIAA. But unlike the RIAA, hollywood has a chance to fight back, at least for the foreseeable future. I'll get to that later

In order to make it super, extra easy to understand I'm breaking this down in to simple easy to understand (but not to ever ever follow) steps.

How a Pirate uses Netflix to Kill Hollywood
  1. They Download some DVD Ripping software

    Shiver me timbers, This may be illegal in your country! Then again, since when has that stopped a back stabbin' pirate like you?

    For Windows there's Magic DVD Ripper, it's not free but hey you can always pirate that too ;) there's plenty of torrents.

    For Macintosh, I know you would probably rather buy the movies from iTunes anyway, but just in case you're feeling a bit scurvy, or yeller-bellied, there's MacTheRipper to be had.

    For Linux, DVD::Rip is good and has lots of options to tweak. For a simpler approach, try AcidRip.

  2. They Rip all the DVD's they own

    Ye begins yer journey with soft, ambiguous piracy. Yes you're making a copy (on the computer), but it's for archival purposes, right? This is probably still legal.

    But now that you've got digital copies of all your DVD's, your pirate's hunger intensifies!

  3. Avast! Ye must go on account with Netflix

    For $16.99/month ye, the evil video-pirate, may acquire 3 DVD's at any given time. Which is convenient, because it takes about 3 days to get the next DVD from the time you mail one back. That means you can rip a new DVD every day and never miss a day. 30 Titles a month ain't bad (it's only about 50 cents per DVD).

  4. They share the bounty with their mates, in secret

    When ye use encryption the pirates code is safe (usually). It's not bullet proof but it really is an invasion of privacy if your ISP starts trying to hack the encryption on your internet traffic. Comcast is already being punished for similar offenses.

    Ye setup a filesharing server! Filezilla has a windows ssh server, which is easier to use. Otherwise there's the original OpenSSH server which runs on EVERYTHING.

    For yer mates, Filezilla offers ssh (a secure protocol) clients run on any platform. Then WinSCP for Windows, Fugu for Mac, and if they're a linux user, they'll have no problems.

While it takes hours to rip a DVD right now, you can rip the data to your hard drive in about 10 min and do the encoding overnight. In the next 5 years though, we're going to see this time cut down just like we did with music. Especially with the parallelize-able nature of video encoding.

Each time you double the number of processor cores, you effectively half the time it takes to encode video.


The only way the MPAA can fight back is by increasing the resolution of the video. Each time they double the height resolution of the video - which is approx the difference between dvd (480p) and blue ray (1080p) - you need 4 times as long to process it.

I think that when the time it takes to rip a movie is 10 minutes or less, is when people will start ripping and swapping video the way they do with music. The MPAA can only hold off the pirates a little longer... I'd say 5 years, 7 at most, and only if blueray catches on as a movie format.

July 29, 2008

Clarity - What's in (a) Cadence?

So my friend Matt and I argue about the meanings of words all the time, kind of like Richard Stallman and... well... just about everybody else. This is an unfortunate side effect of ambiguity in musical language.

So I'll be doing these little posts about conflicting definitions as I discover them. Hopefully someone will find them helpful.

Here's a bit of Clarity for the word Cadence:

This word has a strong tie to music, but there are several other meanings; Wikipedia's disambiguation page for 'cadence' has over 20 entries!

Here is the musician definition (if you're classically trained at least). From wikipedia:
In Western musical theory, a cadence (Latin cadentia, "a falling") is a particular series of intervals or chords that end a phrase, section, or piece of music. Cadences give phrases a distinctive ending, which can, for example, indicate to the listener whether the piece is to be continued or concluded. (read more...)
In other words, a cadence is how a phrase ends. It's what makes it feel like it's going to continue or that it's complete, and it's one of the first things you learn about in a music theory class.

The literary meaning of the word cadence is related, quite different. This can come up if you're working with a lyricist who knows a lot about writing, and literature. From the UWC writing center's website:
Cadence: the natural sound pattern created by the spoken word
I'd venture to say that the music theory definition is far more commonly known, especially as evidenced by the fact that wikipedia has only the following definition for the literary term, and an entire page dedicated to the musical term:
(speech) A fall in inflection of a speaker’s voice, such as at the end of a sentence.
A Google search for define: cadence returns similar results. Leave it to grammar-bot to know only the most obscure definition of a word! Damned higher education ;)

July 24, 2008

Online music collaboration

In my group of friends there is a bit of an inside joke about starting side projects. All of us are in at least 20 or 30 hypothetical side projects, but really only have one or two active musical endeavors at any given time (with tim as a notable exception).

So I was wondering what the state of online music collaboration websites is. Are there any good ones? Ok... so I realized I should google before I ask... just like you should think before you speak. is a very cool site.

Basically you just upload a song idea, and then either send it to a friend (or make it available to random users) to add to, and it keeps track of each new version of the song so you can go back.

Then I noticed a developer API. Hot damn! So I got to thinking I could start adding extensions... like adding an inaudible noise pattern to the audio files before the song starts as a homing beacon. Then when the song gets re-uploaded it can sync the two and remove the old track leaving just the stuff that was added. Then it would be like a community multi-track program.

I also noticed the site also doesn't have much support people who want to use it for writing songs among a consistant group of people (say a band *wink*). I could possibly hack together something that makes it more useful to bands for closed collaboration.

Another idea I had that I thought would be cool is if they linked up with the api and allowed you to import your music taste into your profile.

Anyway let me know what you think! Talk to me baby... I need your sweet, sexy ASCII text to facilitate communication between us so I can understand what you think about this topic which we are discussing!

July 22, 2008

Crooked Mixing...

Today is game day!

Harris left a comment on my last post asking if I could post the project files to my song Crooked, so could practice his de-noise powers on it. I thought to myself, What a wonderful idea! So today is game day.

The name of the game is Crooked Mixing, because you'll have to apply some pretty crooked mixing techniques to tame that noise!

Rules of Crooked Mixing:
  1. You have to use the noisy track.

    The noisy guitar mic (the Nady CM88) must be within 6dB of the volume of the other guitar mic. The easy solution - the solution you should use in a real life production situation - is to just mute the CM88 and use a digital reverb instead. That's just no fun.

  2. You have to tell us how you did it.

    You must provide the strategy, and a short description of the general path you took to get to the finished copy.

  3. You have to use the raw tracks.

    I included my processed tracks as well as the raw tracks. No cheating people.

That's all folks! Here are the raw tracks...

All files, Processed and raw: rar , zip
Just the Raw Files: zip

You can also just look at the individual files

Here's how I did the vocal processing:

The guitar processing was just EQ and a little haas effect.

Good luck everyone!


Just in case your faith in my nerdiness was faultering...

BANG! There it is! the way, that's my newly unwrapped copy of The Pragmatic Programmer. Fresh from amazon.

Also, here's a nice pic of the progress of my drum hack. I've got about an hour of work left. It doesn't look like you'll be able to use the midi functionality while you're playing the drums in-game though. Oh well.

The world just can't handle how cool I am. I'm expecting a comment from you >:-|

July 20, 2008

Noise vs. Air Conditioning

Today I was faced with an interesting dilemma; re-record a track, or deal with the noise I inadvertently picked up.

I think that if you do pickup a little noise during a take, you should consider the take as if the noise isn't there. Is it a great take? just ok? could you do it the same over again? better?

If you can do it better, or the same. Throw it out, eliminate the source of noise and just do it again.

But what if you can't do it again? You tried for half an hour and never nailed it just so again? I say keep the take with the noise. Of course there are degrees to how abrasive the noise is, so use your best judgment.

In the end, the recording I was working on just wasn't that important and I was pressed for time, so I kept the noisy takes. I was also going for an indie low-fi sound, and I considered adding some extra noises to the song as well to further the mood. If you're interested, you can check out the song.

July 11, 2008

Album-a-Day: Cooler than a daily fav-album

My buddy Tim brought the concept of Crap Art, and more specifically, the Album-a-day, to my attention. Man was I missing out...

I have to say, this is something everyone should do at least once - like driving until you run out of gas, or staying up all night to watch the sunrise.

Album-a-day is not a site where a favorite album is highlighted each day. No... it's something far more interesting than that. Album-a-day is when people write, and record an entire album in 24 hours. It's an exercise in creativity.

Here are the rules, right off the main site:
  1. It must be written, performed, recorded, post-produced, etc. all in one contiguous 24-hour period (preferably with no sleep break in there).
  2. It must be at least 20 minutes or 30 songs. (many short songs tend to work better than long songs which drag on forever, trust me.)
  3. Your band may have multiple participants, but they should not work on different songs simultaneously. (So just one song being worked on at a time.)
  4. No ideas from before the chosen day! This means covers or reinterpretations are not allowed.
  5. No out-takes! If you start a song, finish it and put it on the album.

I have a few qualms with the rules (who really wants to listen to 30 songs that are less than 45 seconds each?) , but it's still an awesome idea, and totally worth doing.

Plus, you can video tape the whole thing and add it to your parents' home video collection as a kind of cute prank. I know... I'm a little weird.

A few tips to make it go smoothly:
  1. Set up all your gear, and recording stuff the night before, so you can focus on writing during your precious 24 hours
  2. Get a friend to stop by a few times throughout the day with a video camera, and (regular) camera to help you document how awesome those 24 hours were. It is a home video right?
  3. Don't be too much of a perfectionist or you won't finish
  4. Try new things, make it interesting
  5. Have fun!

Ok, I know the 'have fun' part was a little campy, but it felt right.

So, do an album-a-day, let me know about it, and I'll totally drop you a link :) It's a good way to get some tracks up on the myspace too.

July 10, 2008

Rockband, delays, and comics

It's been busy around here! I've started modding a rock band drum kit to be a midi controller. The hack is almost done. Also- coming soon: backlit drum pads!

Here's a cute little comic to hold you until I finish this hack...

July 3, 2008

Don't Limit my Compression Man... It's Not Evil, Just Misunderstood

Everyone is talking about how horrible the compression fad is (yes... that's 10 different links).

Every mastering house has a rack full of limiters. compressors and exciters to make your songs as loud as humanly possible, and there's definitely a bit of mania to it. but...

I for one welcome our dynamics reducing overlords.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think we should squash every little clip of audio like a roach, there are definitely some things that deserve the high fidelity bestowed upon them by the audio gods - classical, folk, acoustic. Even indie rock can benefit from remaining in it's unadulterated form.

But in the age of surreal performances, artificial instruments, and the "Radio mix", I don't see a huge problem globing on the compression as just one more layer of distortion.

After all, if the end listeners like it, isn't that what we're really going for?

Even if that's not enough of an argument for you, the Mastering Engineer's job is to make your music sound as loud as possible without making it sound worse. After all it's a proven fact that the average person perceives a louder song as sounding better.

Of course you can argue that if you just turn it up, it sounds better without the compression, but I have personal experience that this is not necessarily the case...

Heavy, brick-wall limiting (compression on horse steroids), changes the tone of the music, not just the dynamics. After a lot of top 40 listening, many people grow familiar with this tone, and begin to expect it. Anything without that "hyper-squashed" tone doesn't sound professional to them.

I don't know about you, but I like to make a slick, professional first impression. Don't you?

edit: I would have left this as a comment but there are already about 30 comments, and I want to make sure people see it. So I learned 3 things today:
  1. Audiophiles hate compression as much as I thought they did.
  2. Sarcasm is in fact, dead on the internet ;)
  3. You really can get a bunch of blog traffic by pissing people off.
With that said, maybe I should start a feud that divides the internet using population in half... comments? ideas?

July 1, 2008

Making your own tools

You've probably heard about people making their own tools, and you've probably used a few of the more information-centric ones on the internet.

Well here's my question to you: What kind of tools would you like to see available on my website?

I've been itching for an interesting project to work on, so let me know what you'd like.

Here are a few ideas:
  • Delay calculator
  • File Converter
  • Midi-file to notation converter
let me know (or if you just like one of these ideas, say that)

June 30, 2008

It's getting Hot in Here - When to record hot, and when to pull back

I've been hearing a lot of people say that you should record as loud as you can as long as it doesn't clip, otherwise you're not using all the bits (and therefore not getting the highest quality possible).

It's true that if you record quieter, you're not using all the bits available... but it just doesn't matter.

Every additional bit added doubles to possible amplitude you can record, that is, it increases the dynamic range by 6 dB. I don't want to get to involved in the way people perceive sound, but if you're interested just leave a comment and I'll be happy to explain further.

Too hot!

Anyway, CD's are encoded in 16 bit. So if you're recording at 24 bit - and you should be - that means at least 24 dB of dynamic range are going to be dropped when you finally encode your music onto a CD. So don't worry about getting those input levels so hot, it opens the door for lots of other problems, like distorting plug-ins that aren't equipped to handle such hot input. Distorting plug-ins aren't usually the sound you're going for.

I don't want you to think I'm saying you should record really quiet either, just leave yourself 8 to 10 dB of headroom; you should be able to see the waveform whenever you hear sound, but on the other hand, it shouldn't ever look like it's in danger of touching the edges of the track (clipping).

If you want to be loud, you can always throw a mastering limiter on the output bus and boost the levels up to 0 dB there.

edit: I accidentally switched up 3dB and 6dB at the doubling of amplitude part of the post. A Doubling is power is 3db. A doubling in amplitude is 6dB... sorry about that. It's fixed now :)

correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is because doubling in amplitude doubles the size of the waveform in both directions (up and down from 0dB)

June 26, 2008

Makes music interesting

Music is only interesting when there's contrast. Here's a few ways you can create contrast in your music:
  • Dynamics
    Loud vs. soft

  • Sound vs Silence
    This is really just an extension of dynamics, but in practice it's quite different

  • Texture
    The tone and mix of all the instruments together

  • Timbre
    The way a specific instrument sounds

  • Arrangement
    Which instruments play which parts.

  • Rhythmic
    Pretty self explanatory. Use different rhythms, time signatures, etc.

  • Dissonance
    The difference between consonant and dissonant notes/chords

  • Envelope
    The volume of each note over time. For instance, a drum has a very fast attack (the pop) with a fast decay and a very quiet sustain that lasts a second or so. On the other hand, the human voice has a long attack that sounds almost like a fade in. You can vary the envelope using dynamics processors like compressors.

There are also a few ways to create additional contrast that you can add in post production.
  • Panning
    Moving the sound from left to right. This is a HUGE thing in mixing. One of the most common things amateur musicians do wrong when mixing their own music is leaving everything panned center, or very close to center.

  • Stereo Width
    How far the tracks are panned on average, from a plain mono sum of all the tracks, to an ultra-wide mix with nearly every track panned all the way to one side or the other.

  • EQ
    The balance of frequencies.

That all being said, keep in mind that repetition is what makes music memorable, and familiar. For a few ideas on how to create lots of contract and still have repetition just listen to your favorite song. If it didn't have both of those things, you wouldn't like it (I can't say for sure since I probably don't know you, but if you're like every single person I've ever met it's true *wink*)

All in all what makes music interesting is contrast and repetition. weird huh?

June 23, 2008

Make your own Stackable Gobos!

Hello everyone! As promised, Here is the article on how to make your own gobos (a gobo? what the heck is that?)

Well here's what we'll be building in a youtube video:

Recipie for 2 Gobos:
cost: about $40 per gobo

Each step covers what to do for one gobo. You need to do the instructions from step 3 - 12 twice to complete both gobos.

  • 16 feet of 1x12 lumber
  • 12 feet of 2x4 lumber
  • 2 - handles (I used cabinet handles)
  • Box of 2" wood screws
  • Fiberglass insulation
  • 2 - 2' x 2' pieces of 1/4" plywood
  • A cover for the absorptive side of the gobo

I used pegboard for my absorptive side. I evens out the frequency response a bit, if you're not sure what that means, my advice is to use pegboard. If you want your gobo to absorb lots of high frequencies the you can staple canvas around the open side of the gobo instead.

You can also make see through gobo's by removing the plywood, fiberglass, and absorptive side cover from the list. Use 2 - 2' x 2' pieces of plexiglas on both sides instead of plywood and an absorptive cover.

See through gobos are useful when you need several gobos to block the sound and you want to stack them without breaking the musician's eye contact.

  • Circular Saw
  • Drill (with a 3/32" bit; A screwdriver bit would also be useful)
  • Measuring Tape
  • Screwdrivers
  • Pencils
  • T - Square
  • Boxcutter

Step 1: Cut the pieces you'll need
I labeled the dimensions of each piece as I cut it:
  • (2x) 2x2 1/4" plywood
  • (2x) 2x2 pegboard
  • (4x) 2' long 1x12
  • (4x) 1' 9" long 1x12
  • (4x) 2' long 2x4
  • (4x) 8" long 2x4

Step 2: Mark the 2' long 1x12's 2.5" from each end. These marks show you where to drill later on.

Step 3: Set up the 4 sides of the box on a flat surface and tape them together. The 2' long sides are shown on the left and right in the picture, and the 1'9" sides are shown on the top and bottom in the picture below.

Step 4: Drill at the places you marked, and try to make sure that the you get the bit centered by the width of the 1'9" pieces. You should end up with 8 holes (2 on each corner). Put a screw in each hole.

The four pieces should make a perfect square with 90 degree corners. Use the T - Square to check this is the case as you go.

Step 5: Put the 2' x 2' piece of plywood over it (it should line up with the edges of the box you've built so far). I didn't need to drill holes before putting in these screws, but if you're worries about it, or using really fat/long screws, it may be a good idea.

Step 6: Now that the box is strong and stable, you can pull off the tape we put on in Step 3

Step 7: Attach the handle. You want to center the handle so that it'll fit nice later on. The end goal is to have it fit between the feet of the gobo above it so that they can be stacked easily.

In this picture, the long 2x4's on either side of the center row (the one with the handle and the shorter 2x4's) represent the positions of the feet of another gobo. Don't attach these long pieces, they're just to help you understand.

Before you attach the handle mark where the holes need to be drilled by putting the handle on it's side. Drill from top to bottom through the marks you just made. Then it's a piece of cake to attach the handle using the screws that come with it (all the handles at Loews came with screws)

Step 8: Cut the fiberglass insulation into 22" segments. If you used 15" wide RC-13 like me, you'll need six segments per gobo.

Cut 2 of the 6 segments in half (as pictured). Only cut 2 of them in half.

Here's what all your cut fiberglass should look like:

Step 9: Put the fiberglass segments in the gobo facing out (each layer facing out, though it doesn't matter a whole lot which way the individual pieces are facing).

Step 10: Attach your cover. I used pegboard because of it's flatter frequency response. You can use canvas if you'd like to tame those higher frequencies, or if you just want to block sound with minimal absorption just put plywood on this side as well.

note: there is no insulation in the picture. This is just because I'm dumb and took the picture at the wrong time ;). Don't take the fiberglass back out of the box.

Step 11: Attach the feet. The feet are necessary to make the gobo's stackable. Again, I didn't need to drill before putting in these screws. However I did need to put the screw in, take it out halfway, and put it in again (to get a tighter fit).

Whatever you do, just make sure you put the screws in far enough that they're somewhat inset into the 2x4. You don't want the screw sticking out, or else it'll be wobbly and also scratch wood and tile floors.

Keep in mind that these need to be all the way to the edges, because the handle and alignment 2x4's need to fit in between them.

Step 12: Attach the alignment 2x4's on the top.

Sorry to use the same picture twice, but this one is the best shot to illustrate the point. You want to attach these alignment 2x4's so that they're in line with the handle with space for the feet of the next gobo, which would be on top of it.

Steps 13 - 15: Admire your handiwork!

I hope you found this howto guide useful! I've also created an instructable of this guide.

© 2008 Jim Robert