All about producing and mastering audio for disc, the web and beyond

Saturday, November 27, 2010

OK here we go, Moore's law in action again?

Moore's law states that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits would doubled every year for the foreseeable future.

In subsequent years (since 1965), the pace slowed down a bit, but data density has doubled approximately every 18 months. Most experts, including Moore expect this to hold for at least another two decades.

So we probably want to hold on to out hats if not wallets as the next speed upgrades are inevitable. Could this be the next salvo:

Lightpeak would be a new protocol for interconnecting devices that would allow blazingly fast data transfer. What do we get from it? Higher resolution, more tracks? Probably both and with it comes larger capacity on our storage devices.

We should probably be prepared to upgrade our hardware, interfaces, cup's and storage every few years or so. Painful, but true....I hope the landfills can take it!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What mic and why?

In the course of my production work one of the issues that will invariably arise is in choosing microphones for the recording. I have had an opportunity to observe choices other engineers might make and to spec mic's myself.

There is a lot of 'mythology' and legend out there when talking about certain mics, some of it much deserved, but as with many things, just because a mic is 'legendary' doesn't mean it's good for everything. Take the Neumann U87 as an example. It is a fine fine microphone, and in certain cases (voice recording, recording sax) it can excel, but the architecture of the capsule imparts a midrange resonance that can color some voices or instruments in a most unpleasant way. IF someone says they do all their vocals through a U87 it's because they are not listening to the recording, but rather reading the press about the U87....or because they always record the same voice with the same mic and that works each time.

There are a few rules of thumb for choosing mics that bear keeping in mind:

- small diaphragm mics have a better transient response
- large diaphragm mics often sound more colored and 'warmer'
- directional microphones will color off axis pickup (room sound)
- directional microphones exhibit increase bass response as you get closer to the mic
- omni (all) direction mics will sound more open
- microphones that rely on a tube amplifier will sound colored and will have a higher noise floor

Not all rules apply all the time for all mics, and of course all of this goes out the window if the tensioning of the diaphragm is not sound. Age will also play a role. There are few microphones built more than 25 years ago that would sound good without re-tensioning and replacement of some of the parts within that become original U67 probably needs help.

If I were stuck on a desert island (with electricity!)and could only have a few mics with me they would probably be:

- Sennheiser mkh-8040 - double dual (small) diaphragm condenser with a remarkably open and relaxed sound. Can easily be deployed as a stereo pickup. (on a budget? Oktava mk12)
- Microtech Gefell U92.1 - Large diaphragm condenser with tube amplifier stage. Sounds warm and open all at once. Fantastic on bass or soprano. (on a budget? Shure KSM 44 or 32)
- Shure SM 57 - classic small diaphragm dynamic mic that can handle hi SPL.
- Shure beta 92 - cause someone will show up on the island with a kick drum at some point, I know it!
- Neumann TLM 103 - for anything the above won't suit....(budget? Oktava of Shure will cover this too.)

There are many other options of course for all the above instances. Happy recording!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Nice things again

Getting nice feedback from artists lies somewhere between PR and the reason we do this work in the first place. Mostly it just feels good to know an artist feels their vision is well served. So another chapter in our nice comments book, this time the feedback comes in the context of working on Jody Blackwell's new record. It's been years and she's long overdue. The record is recorded and produced with Brian Charles over at Zippah Studios in Brookline, MA....and I quote drummer Steve Chaggaris:

"I had the pleasure of listening to your reference CD of Jody Blackwell's forthcoming album, and it sounds fabulous. Great job (once again) on this! That record was a labor of love - and while i enjoyed drumming on her wonderful songs, I couldn't imagine at that early stage of tracking how fantastic the final mixes and master would sound.
I listened 3 ways: in my car, at home through really nice Sennheiser headphones, and on my home system (older NAD amp through PSB towers). It sounded well-balanced, even, smooth... full of "bloom" on all 3 systems!
Jody & I both have nothing but great things to say about you & your work. "

Monday, November 8, 2010

The latest production: "Welcome Home" by Matt Savage

The review below gives a small taste of what is inside this record. It's been thrilling to watch this young artist grow....and grow....and grow. This record is very satisfying, accessible and in some ways a throwback to the hey day of Dave Brubeck. By and large hit is 100% live music making by musicians that were a pleasure to work with in one big room, Systems Two in Brooklyn, NY. Our job....just don't mess it up!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It's a Man's, Man's, Man's Man's World?? (with apologies)

Something I have wondered about and wondered at over the years are, why is it that the field of technical music and especially recording/mixing and mastering is so dominated by men? On the surface it really makes no sense at all. Women are purported to have better hearing than men on average, and on average girls mathematical and scientific acuity is at least a match for their male counterpoints and quite possibly surpass it.

I have had the privilege to work on records by one of the foremost women rock engineers, Trina Shoemaker, and Joanna Nickrenz in NYC is at the top of our field recording classical music in NYC. Darcy Proper is a stellar mastering engineer and chief at Galaxy Studios in Belgium. Closer to home Lisa Nigris runs the audio dep't at New England Conservatory, Susan Rogers and Leanne Ungar are fantastic, accomplished engineers, and colleagues of mine at Berklee College of Music. I routinely have 3-4 female students per semester teaching at the brick and mortar college and online,
but unscientifically I would say they represent 1-2 percent of the engineers I encounter. I would be remiss if I didn't metnion RObin Coxe-Yeldham who was a fantastic engineer and my first business partner. She passed away about 15 years ago.

(maybe a companion question is how come so many engineers are bachelors....for another day)

This question was posed to me just recently by a musician and so I decided to jot down the possible explanations, not really putting a stake in any one of them.

- Women are smarter than men and wouldn't get involved in a job involving long hours and no pay!
- Society dissuades girls early in their school careers from becoming involved in technical endeavors
- Who would want to hang around with a bunch of unshaven, smelly, beer drinking guys?

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Analog everything

This week I am working to archive and renew the theme Music to the PBS Show "Frontline' composed by Mason Daring. It's a stalwart PBS newsy long form show and the theme was recorded in the early 80's. All analog. I am hearing mono and stereo versions, 15 IPS (inches per second) some encoded with Dolby A. Mostly Ampex 456...and it held up REALLY well! All analog musicians too. French Horn, Oboe, Trumpet, Strings, Timpani.

IT remarkable how well the music holds up. The performance is really quite excellent, mixed originally by Glen Berger at Blue Jay in Carlisle, MA. The sound holds up really well also.

What a blast!