Archive for the ‘abdurig’ Category

An Introduction to Psychoacoustics

Monday, January 28th, 2008

The purpose of this article is to introduce some of the basic concepts of psychoacoustics so that you can maximize their use in your music and mixes. The information contained herein comes from my personal experience as well as a variety of sources including Mix Magazine, Digital Music Magazine, Future Music Magazine, and much more.

As a guy whose been playing guitar for 35 years, I’m a relative noob when it comes to home recording (last 6 years). Simply put, I am newer to mixing music than to playing it. As a result, these days I spend more of my time studying, learning and practicing my recording and mixing techniques than I do practicing guitar. As my abilities evolve, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of something called psychoacoustics.

Pyschacoustics is the term used to describe the mind’s subjective interpretation of sound. It has also been described as the study of psychological correlates of the physical parameters of acoustics. I find that knowledge in this area can help you create dynamic, powerful mixes that listeners say they enjoy. And whether you are aware of it or not, professional mixing and mastering engineers know the topic well, and intelligently manipulate the psychoacoustics of the music you love to listen to.

Can you read the following paragraph?

“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”

Of course you can. As stated in the paragraph, your brain doesn’t need to have the perfect spelling of every word in order for it to read, relate to and understand what is written. Essentially, your mind fills in the blanks. There are numerous visual examples of how the brain fills in pieces of a picture or scene in order to create a complete story your mind can relate to and understand. The same is also true in the world of audio.

THE 4 STEPS OF LISTENING

Just as our minds fill in the missing parts of visual stimulus to create an image we can relate to and understand, so our mind fills in pieces of a sonic image in order to provide us with a more complete auditory experience. In essence, how the mind does this is what the field of psychoacoustics studies. And a deeper understanding of how the mind works with sonic images, can greatly improve your ability to create more impactful music and mixes that excite the listener and leaves them with a pleasant listening experience. But for people without a lot of recording or mixing experience, a good listening experience tends to begin and end with their monitors.

It seems as though we are always searching for the “perfect” pair of monitors. Monitors that are so reliable that if you know how to mix, and you mix on those magic monitors, you won’t be able to go wrong. And yet, even pros wrestle with getting the “right” mix that sounds good no matter where you are and regardless of what speakers you are listening to. Why is it that the sound of mixes can appear to change so much from one environment and set of monitors to another? The first and most obvious reason is the quality of the monitors. But mixes can even sound different on monitors of similar quality in similarly configured rooms. What’s up with that?

There are a number of factors that influence the creation of a universally good sounding mix. Monitors and room acoustics are two important factors for sure, but not the only ones. As important is the sonic perception of the listener and engineer. Even great engineers pass through a series of similar steps as they mix.

1.) First, a person sitting down to mix, has their initial listen of the music and naturally form a first opinion.

2.) Second, they start to become more familiar with the music as they work with it and their first opinion goes through some adaptation and change based on a deeper evaluation.

3.) Third, they really starts to hone in on very subtle aspects of the sound.

4.) Fourth, their ears can become “bored” with the sound and as a result, they can begin to have doubts about the precision of their choices, their ear, or their monitors.

These stages are natural, and we all go through them. You don’t have to be an engineer to experience them. And these stages can happen without being consciously aware that they are happening. So one thing great engineers know, are their own listening strengths and limits. They know how to take breaks so as to not get bored with the sound. They know that they are going to go through these stages, and they balance their choices in mixing accordingly.

So knowing the stages our brain goes through as we listen to music is an important step in learning how your mixes can impact the listener. As you develop your ear, learn the strengths and weaknesses of your hearing capabilities.

In an effort to maximize the freshness of your listening capabilities, it’s important to understand how playback levels and ear fatigue impact your work as well.

PLAYBACK LEVELS AND EAR FATIGUE

Playback level refers to the Sound Pressure Level (SPL) at which you are listening to music while you track, mix or master. Although every person is different, it’s worth learning what levels work for many professionals as well as what works best for your ears. Using the right playback levels for your ears will help you minimize ear fatigue, and maximize your ear’s ability to listen critically and discern subtleties.

It all begins with the first time you sit down to work on a session. Paul Elliott, Chief Mastering Engineer for Disc Makers’ Sound Lab says the following about setting the right playback levels, “When I’m first listening, I’m conservative and listen fairly low, around the mid- to low 80s, which is slightly above conversation level. This tends to point out anything that’s a major mix issue with the project, although obviously, with bass, you need to play back a little louder to hear what’s going on there.”

Adam Ayan, a Grammy Award winning resident of Gateway Mastering says, “I operate at a fixed level whenever I’m EQing, and it’s somewhere between 85- and 90dB SPL. That’s not really loud, but once I have my EQ set, I can give my ears a break.”

Other professionals such as Fred Kevorkian, owner and operator of New York City’s Avatar Studios, say, “I don’t know exactly what SPL I’m listening at, but it’s always the same. To me a softer listening level is best when I need to hear details, mix balances, et cetera. Listening for distortion and ticks are surprisingly more noticeable at low levels.”

Additionally, mixing and mastering engineers usually deploy certain practices when taking their first listening pass. Paul Elliot says, “It’s kind of like the 30,000-foot view, where you determine whether there’s anything that I’ll need to talk to the engineer or artist about. After that, I’m looking at the overall tonal character. Something ’soft’ in the top end or ‘big’ in the bass may lead to a discussion about how much of this you want to keep.”

Learn what playback levels work best for your ears. You may want to start by using playback levels between 85- and 90dB SPL. You may find you need to go a bit higher or a bit lower. Once you find your comfort zone, defined by what leaves you with little or now ear fatigue, stick to that playback level and be consistent.

BEYOND MONITORS AND ROOM ACOUSTICS

Think about it like this. Sound really only exists in the mind of the listener. It’s the age old question, if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, did it really make any sound? Well, scientifically speaking it is possible to measure the sound waves produced by that falling tree even if no one was there to see it occur. However, even though we can measure a sound wave, what we cannot guarantee, is what that sound will feel and sound like in the mind of the listener. Great studio monitors don’t change this fact. In fact, professional mixing engineers have confirmed that the way a mix sounds to them can have a lot to do with the mood they are in, and even how well they slept the night before.

One significant variable in how music sounds to us, has to do directly with how it’s arranged. Decades ago, professional studios employed professional arrangers, whose job it was to arrange the instrumentation and playing of the music in such a way so that each instrument sat within its frequency range. This made things sound clearer even before tracking began. For example, if you listen to many recordings by Dire Straits, they tend to always sound good no matter where they are being played. On a great home stereo, in a car, or on an elevator, their recordings sound really good. Much of this can be explained by their arrangement. They are very well balanced arrangements, whose instrumentation nicely fits across the frequency spectrum with a minimum of masking, even prior to recording and mixing.

And herein lies another interesting point. The cleaner the sound signal, the more likely it will sound good on a variety of platforms. Wherein the more distortion a signal has the harder it is to achieve consistency with regards to sound via a variety of different monitors and environments. This has been tested using sine waves and pink noise.

A sine wave is basically the simplest form a sound wave can take. It is a sound wave without any distortion. Scientists have tested sending sine waves via a variety of different monitors and tested the perceived sound that resulted from each monitor. The results where that listeners found very little difference between different monitors when listening to a mid frequency sine wave. However, when the same test is done using Pink Noise, a wide variety of responses were recorded from the listeners.

Pink Noise is a signal with a frequency spectrum such that the power spectral density is proportional to the reciprocal of the frequency. But what does that mean? Basically, it means that Pink Noise is a signal that contains all of the frequencies occurring at the same time. When the same test was done sending Pink Noise through a variety of different monitors, listeners had great variety in their reports of how things sounded to them. What this means in musical terms is that the closer a mix comes to having noisy signals, distortions etc. the greater the tendency that the mix will sound different when listened to on different monitors. Another way of stating this is to say that the more information that a mix contains, the more likely that listeners may hear small differences when listening to the same mix on different monitors. This is not a bad thing, just something to be understood by the person doing the mix.

Another issue that impacts the listening experience is familiarity. Sometimes, we become so familiar with a particular piece of music and its arrangement, that our brains lose their ability to stay objective and discerning. For this reason, professionals know when to take breaks, and the process of creating a modern music CD will often include different engineers for tracking, mixing and mastering.

Bernie Grundman a 42 year veteran of the music industry and owner of Hollywood-based Grundman Mastering says, “After hundreds of plays, mixers can get used to the song, thinking they’re hearing the lyrics louder and end up burying the vocal because they can her it and they can ‘fill in’ the word in their mind.”

Grundman says that similar psychoacoustic effects can occur with surround mixes. He says, “When I hear them I might think that the vocal is kind of low, but when you hear that same cut with the picture, it’s perfect because when you see the artist singing, your brain fills it in.”

A common application of psychoacoustic effects today can be found in how the perception of bottom end is created. Bass has become more and more prominent in contemporary music in recent years. Grundman explains that, “One problem with bottom is that it tends to be very resonant and rings a lot. It tends to cloud a whole mix. If you can get a sense of level out of the high end of the bass, essentially the higher-end transients, then you don’t need so much bottom. You’ll think it’s louder than it is if you can hear the punchy snap of the kick drum and the slap of the bass.”

SUMMARY

In summary, there are many factors that impact the quality of one’s mixes, not the least of which include your monitors and the acoustics of the room in which you are mixing. Our brain’s disposition is equally important in defining a quality sonic image. As a result, it’s best to track, mix and master at consistent playback levels, with a clear head, well rested and in an even tempered mood. Pay close attention to the natural arrangement of the music even prior to EQing, as that too impacts the sound quality going into the mixing and mastering process. Be aware that clear signals are easier to make consistent across different monitors than distorted signals. And don’t let your familiarity with a piece of work get in the way of discerning subtleties. Take frequent breaks, and use familiarity to your favor so as to create mixes that allow the listener to fill in portions of the sonic image without you having to actually have the sound added to your mix. And what about those monitors?

Often times, professional engineers will end up staying loyal to a certain pair of monitors. Not because they are the best, or most expensive, but because they are extremely familiar with their strengths and weaknesses, as well as with their own ears’ strengths and weaknesses. As a result they can consistently produce high quality mixes using the same monitors as opossed to changing monitors every time they notice a discrepancy.

All of this information, combined with the mixer’s knowledge of their own ears and monitors, play an equally important role in producing consistently high quality mixes.

See you around the Forum!

An Introduction to Gain Structure

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

What follows is an article I have put together based on research I have conducted, personal practice and experience, and some enormously valuable technical help from John Scrip, A.K.A. MASSIVE Mastering. Although I’ll talk about analog systems here, the majority of this article is written to help the digital home studio.

Eliminating unwanted noise is a fundamental task in any studio, be it a digital in-the-box set up, or a purely analog rig. But perhaps the most important point of understanding your gain structure, is its impact on headroom in your mixes. As John has pointed out to me, everything starts with having and protecting the right amount of headroom at every stage in the audio production process.

Building in the right amount of head room begins with having the right gain structure in your signal chain when you begin tracking. It’s widely understood that mastering too hot is not a good thing. Mixing too hot is even worse, as it will leave less headroom for the mastering stage. But tracking too hot is the worst thing you can do to a mix. Since it’s the first stage, it drives a domino effect of hot and hotter signals throughout the rest of the audio production process.

Digital recording systems that operate at 24 bit resolution are designed to capture a high quality sound while assuring the best signal to noise ratio and dynamic range possible. Having said this, dealing with noise and distortion are a frequent challenge for the home studio operator. In the majority of cases, your equipment is not the problem, but the gain structure of your signal chain may be.

STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY
Using the correct gain structure in either digital or analog studio scenarios assures that the final result utilizes all of the dynamic range available while minimizing background noise and without any undesired signal distortion. This may seem like an obvious and generic statement, but it’s very relevant when discussing gain structure as any added distortion to your signal in an early stage of your signal chain, cannot be later removed in subsequent stage. Independent of the function of any of the pieces of gear (hardware or software) in your signal chain, it’s important to guarantee that the level of the line out of each piece of gear is adequate for feeding into the input line of the next piece of gear in the chain. Every piece of your signal chain (hardware or software) should be adjusted so that each receives the appropriate input signal. As a consequence, all pieces of your signal chain are optimized within their dynamic range.

THE WEAKEST LINK
A good gain structure is based on having every piece of your signal chain operating within the appropriate range even though unwanted distortion in your signal can occur at any point in your signal chain. Preamps are especially susceptible to internal distortion, especially those that are built into lower end mixers. It is also possible that you microphone adds distortion, but it is more likely still that your preamp is creating the distortion. In this case, an accurate measurement can serve as a guide to solving the problem. Once distortion has been introduced into the signal, it cannot be resolved by lowering the volume of the channel. You first have to correctly adjust the gain of the preamp. Just make sure you do so without an EQ, as EQ can influence the signal being measured.

ANALOG VERSUS DIGITAL
The most critical moment to guarantee an optimal gain structure is during the tracking process. If you are working with analog equipment there will always be a certain dynamic margin (the amount of space available between a processor’s line level signal and the point in which distortion begins to occur) available before any distortion becomes evident. But keep in mind that depending on the converter and how its calibrated, analog signals can become distorted well before they will actually clip the digital converter, again assuming the converter is calibrated low enough.

But moving from the analog world to the digital world we eventually reach a point of no return wherein all of the bits are 1s and anything beyond that point corrupts the signal. Twenty four bit recording allows for much more dynamic range than we can ever achieve with analog gear, and it is important to not run an analog signal too hot (+12cBVU for example), so as to leave enough headroom. Smaller analog distortions can add up during a mix. For this reason, the importance of headroom (assuming a converter calibrated to -18dBFS = 0dBVU) is to allow healthy recording signals with lots of room for the occasional errant peak.

A possible solution is to adjust the sensitivity of the line in on your sound card. Instead of adjusting the line out of the mixing console to match the line in of the sound card, it’s possible to configure your sound card to a sensitivity of -10dBV. If the level of the signal of the line outs of the mixing console are +4dBu, you can achieve 0dBFS for the digital line in with a level of +4dB VU on the analog mixer. One tip is to insert a VU meter into your signal chain, wherein you can monitor that input levels are within reason. A -10dB signal at 0dBVU sent unbalanced is going to read 0dBVU. Just as a +4dBU signal at 0dBVU is going to read 0dBVU.

UTILIZING COMPRESSION
To obtain the maximum signal-to-noise ratio for a digital line in, it’s not always easy. With a 16 bit system for example, leaving 6dB of margin reduces the level of signal to noise to 90dB. Some argue to very lightly apply an analog compressor before going into the line in of the sound card. This can smoothen out the transitory peaks and raise the level of the weaker signals. However, others including John Scrip, (A.K.A. MassiveMastering), say a 90dB dynamic range is much better than nearly any input chain. A 6dB margin, even at 16 bits, is hotter than the desired input. Even if your input levels as low as -30dBFS in 24 bit (or around -15 to -12dBFS in 16 bit) that wouldn’t be leaving too much headroom.

DIGITAL DYNAMICS
In the digital world, a poor gain structure can have a much more catastrophic effect than in the analog world. If you saturate a virtual channel beyond 0dBFS you can damage the audio signal. The advantage of those virtual mixers is that the measurement can help you detect and resolve problems easily. All of your channels, busses or aux channels, groups or main outs, have a peak meter that gives you additional visual information about your audio signal. But if they are approaching Full Scale (0dB) the mix is too loud and all of the headroom required for mastering is being used up. Keep in mind, that in the digital world the signal is always controllable. If it’s too hot, you simply turn it down. However, in the analog world, any damage done to the signal on the way in is permanent.

And so I end this article where we began. Everything starts with having and protecting the right amount of headroom at ever stage in the audio production process. Building in the right amount of head room begins with having the right gain structure in your signal chain.

See you around the Forums!

Music Collaboration and the Internet

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Have you ever wanted to collaborate with other musicians online? The ubiquitous availability of broadband and the increasing familiarity musicians are experiencing with all things digital, are making this once out of reach fantasy, a reality as close as your computer.

There are many different ways to find other musicians, collaborate, jam, record, mix, master, distribute and even schmooze online. I’m going to talk a bit about each of these based on my own reading and online research, and then tell my own virtual collaboration story.

Find, Write, Jam and Record
Most new projects begin with the search for inspiration. If you want that inspiration to come from the juice that flows when you collaborate with other musicians, then www.digitalmusician.net may be just the thing for you. Digitalmusician is a community-based site, like many other musician collaboration sites and after registration and log in, you can take advantage of their Talent Scout feature and search for musicians by genre, location etc. Like most sites of this type, Digital Musician’s utilizes a proprietary session-hosting tool. The Digital Musician Link (DML) is a VST 2.0 or RTAS plug-in that you insert into one of your sequencer’s channels. From there, you log into the Digital Musician server. Through broadband connections, DML allows you to connect with other musicians and jam in real time with high-quality synchronized stereo audio (as high as 256 Kbps), as though you were in a studio together.

Another site I have come upon recently is www.ejamming.com wherein musicians use a proprietary software provided by the service that allows them to host live song writing and jamming sessions. This site is entirely MIDI controlled, so you and your collaborators will need to have MIDI controllers to play any and all instruments.

And if you’re looking for collaborating with pro musicians who make their talents available for a price, check out www.esession.com, where you can find the industry’s finest musicians, engineers and producers. Keep in mind that on this site you are working with professionals, so depending on the agreements you make with individual professionals, your cost could get pretty steep.

Other sites that specialize in hooking up musicians include www.musofinder.com and www.myvirtualband.com. I haven’t tried either of these sites, but came upon them in my reading.

Another similar site called www.sonomawireworks.com, utilizes RiffWorks software ($129; Mac/PC) an online jamming platform that allows you to create, collaborate and podcast your music in a seamless flow. Riffworks used to come bundled with Line6’s Guitar Port and is particularly geared towards the guitarist.

Another alternative is to us a plug-in such as Source-Connect 2.5. This plug-in allows musicians to collaborate online as long as both are using a hi-speed broadband connection. You can download Source-Connect 2.5 at www.source-elements.com.

Mix and Master It
Once you have found others with whom to collaborate and have worked out and recorded your creative ideas online, you may want to hire others to mix it down and ready your work for the mastering stage. That’s where www.themixingbox.com comes in. For a price, professional engineers will do everything from fix your drum tracks, to completely mix your song. Musicians submit projects created using any major DAW and receive high-quality mixes, vocal correction and drum editing by a professional team of Digidesign-certified mix engineers. Prices range from $225 US for fixing drum tracks to to $849US for full song mixing including vocal and drum fixes.

As with finding professionals online who will mix your music, there are many sites that provide professional mastering services. I couldn’t’ write this piece without mentioning Massive Mastering, one of Studio Forum’s top contributors. Massive Mastering provides artists an affordable, yet professional quality dedicated digital audio mastering alternative. You can find more out about their services by going to www.massivemastering.com.

One of the most highly touted mastering services on the web can be found at www.emasters.co.uk. Emasters provides top industry professionals Streaky and Kevin Metcalfe both of whom have mastered some of your favorite albums of all time. Some of the musicians they have mastered include Oasis, Bowie, U2, the Who, Sex Pistols, Orbital, Duran Duran ,OutKast, A Tribe Called Quest, Erasure, Depeche Mode, Fatboy Slim, the Stone Roses, Groove Armada and more. Fees for their services are extremely reasonable and run around $130 US dollars per track. That makes getting your music mastered by the pros whose work you have loved and grown up listening to, a real possibility.

Once you have your work ready, the sites where you can distribute your music, share it with others, sell it, and or receive reviews are numerous. Sites like MySpace and YouTube provide places for musicians to share their music and even set up their own websites. Other sites that specialize in musician and music sharing communities include www.soundclick.com and www.broadjam.com. For a small monthly fee, both of these sites allow musicians to upload music for free listening or paid downloads, as well as support for website creation and maintenance, blogs, reviews, contests, and submission to film and television calls.

Other sites like www.tunecore.com actually manage the distribution of your music to some of the web’s largest sales platforms including iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, e-music, and AmazonMP3. TuneCore has arrangements with leading digital music retailers. This lets them place your music in these online stores and you get 100% of the money that your music earns. Sounds to good to be true. It’s true. You pay a subscription service of $0.99 per track, $0.99 per store per album, and $19.98 per album per year storage and maintenance and Tunecore gives you 100% of all sales through these online venues.

And once you have written, jammed, recorded, mixed, mastered and distributed your music online, you may want to stay connected to the industry via www.nextcat.com. For musicians, Nextcat serves as an online publicist where you place your bio, photos, songs, professional and personal info and user comments. It’s not the most innovative concept as you could use MySpace, broadjam or soundclick to basically do the same thing. But Nextcat’s is betting that its all-encompassing talent pool and one-stop-shop for industry insiders to hook up and do business will make it a more attractive place for musicians looking for an industry inside track.

My Online Collaboration Experience
I’ve been collaborating with other musicians online for about two years. I have basically conducted two collaboration efforts. One with a friend from Sydney, Australia and the other with a wonderful musician and home recording enthusiast located in New Jersey.

My first introductory experience was with Alex Shay from Sydney, Australia. Alex has been a friend of mine for several years and a few years ago during a business trip to Sydney, I was visiting with him and we began to play around with Garageband on his Macbook Pro. Using loops, I would create foundations over which Alex would record vocals. We enjoyed the experience of creating electronic music together so much that we decided to continue collaborating online. Alex would use loops and samples to create tracks in Garageband. He would then bounce these down to .wav files and send them to me.

We looked at several different file sharing sites and chose www.box.net as the place we would upload and download each other’s contributions. The Box is an online storage and sharing service that gives you access to your files from anywhere. With the Box, you can upload music files from your desktop computer, laptop, or even mobile phone. Once you’ve uploaded your files to your online storage on Box, you can then share them with anyone.

Alex and I would share ideas via the Box and discuss them via phone. Once a song came into focus, I would move the files into Logic Pro and continue building further tracks, editing, processing and mixing. I would then send finished .wav files to Alex to add vocals. We named our collaboration project, “The Sand Men”. You can hear our collaboration on a site we created using Broadjam’s musician web site tool, called www.dasandmen.com. This site has all 10 songs we created on an online album we entitled “Dance of the Divine”. The recordings and mixes are somewhat raw, but we had a blast creating them. I learned a lot about working over the net on that project. It would come in handy when I began my second online collaboration project entitled “DNA”, an abbreviation for Dave ‘n Albert.

“DNA” is the name given to an ongoing collaboration project I have with Dave Wohlman from New Jersey. Dave and I met via Tweakheadz Studio Central’s online forum. After months of talking via e-mail, Dave and I had learned quite about each other. We were the same age, shared the same musical influences, and much more. Dave is a fabulous guitarist as well as a hell of a musician on several instruments including drums and keyboards. He also has a wonderful fully analog home studio. Look ma, no computers! As Dave and I began sharing our home recordings with each other, we were both impressed by each other’s set up. In fact, we had extremely complimentary rigs.

Dave’s rig is completely analog, built around a Soundtracs Topaz 32/8 going into an Alesis HD24XR MTR. Other outboard gear Dave uses include two DBX 266 Compressors, a Lexicon Alex and a Lexicon PCM91, a Behringer Mulitgate, an Alesis Midiverb 4, two Roland Digital Delays, an Alesis Quadraverb 4, and a Behringer Ultrafex. Dave mixes down to an Alesis Masterlink. He records guitars and basses through a Line6 Pod Pro XT, various Sansamp stomp boxes and through a Behringer Ultra DI. He uses a Roland JV1000 digital workstation and Roland A-90EX for his synthesizers and uses a JV1000, an Alesis SR-16 and a Roland TD-7 drum module with a complete set of pads to create all drum and percussion tracks. He uses two types of monitors; Alesis monitor 1’s (the original passive model) driven by a Samson Servo and Mackie HR824s.

My rig on the other hand is a mixerless almost totally digital in-the-box set up built around a Mac G5 Quad running Logic Pro with an RME Fireface 800, Mackie control surfaces, and MOTU midi interfaces. Like Dave, I also use a Pod Pro XT for guitar and bass. I use a T.C. Helicon VoiceWorks as well as a variety of software including Propellerhead Reason, NI Guitar Rig 2, NI Battery 3, BiasPeak, and more. Additionally, I also master down to an Alesis Masterlink and monitor with Mackie HR824s as well as a pair of KRK Rokit 5s that I control with a PreSonus Central Station.

So Dave is Mr. Analog to my Mr. Digital. Each one’s rig serves a specific purpose in our online collaboration process. Dave records short snippets (approximately 30 seconds in length) These snippets come fully tracked with drums, bass, rhythm and lead guitars. He posts .wav files on the Box (www.box.net) of the finished snippet as well as solo drum tracks of the same snippet, as well as other solo instrument tracks as we decide are necessary.

One hundred percent of our collaboration is via e-mail and the Box. Although Dave and I have become great friends, and have spent hundreds of hours together, we have never actually met in person, or even heard one another’s voice. A bit strange at first, but completely natural a year into our collaborations.

Dave’s snippets set the foundation for the final sound of the mixes. I take these snippets into Logic Pro and edit them, organize them into different arrangements, add instruments, other chord progressions etc. and return to Dave for feedback. To date, Dave and I have worked on several pieces together and have recently posted our favorites in an online album we call “DNA: Collaborations”. You can hear our songs on my site at www.albertvinasco.com by clicking on Albums. There you will find call “DNA: Collaborations” along with my other solo efforts under the name Albert Vinasco.

So all in all, my online collaboration experience has been technologically pretty simple. I use the Box to share files, and e-mail and chat to discuss work, and my home studio rig as well as other musician’s rigs to create the music. I use Broadjam and Soundclick to post and share my music, and I use TuneCore to distribute internationally. Although I have written about several online collaboration sites, I have yet to use most of them seriously (other than Broadjam, Soundclick, Box, and TuneCore), as I have found a way that works for me with the musicians with whom I am collaborating. And in the end, that is the key. Find a way to collaborate that works for you and your collaborating partners. There is no one right answer, only tons of fun no matter what method you find that works for you.

See you on the Forum!

My Favorite Guitars

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

As any guitar player will likely understand, I have a love affair with the instrument. Not just playing guitar, but the actual piece of art that each guitar can be. I have been playing guitar for more than 30 years now, and trying to build an electric guitar collection for only the past several years. Although by my count there have been more than 120 manufacturers of electric guitars, from Alembic to Charvel, Danelectro to Fender, Gibson to Ibanez, Jackson to Mosrite, PRS to Squier, and Vox to Zemaitis, just to name a few, I set my sites on building a collection of electric guitars that spans the spectrum of my favorite hard rock and metal sounds. This is no easy task, and I am sure I will always be leaving great guitars out of the discussion, as I can’t get to all of them. So what follows is a mix of some fact and lots of my own opinion. I would never expect everyone to agree with my choices. They merely represent a small glimpse into the instruments that make the sounds I love the most. I have left many great manufacturers and models out, as this is certainly no final list.
My favorite guitar manufacturers and models:

Gibson
Gibson, one of the oldest manufacturers and the one that started it all in my opinion, with their first electric guitar, the Electric Hawaiian E-150 cast aluminum steel guitar in 1935. But it was the Les Paul designed by the legendary guitar player of the same name, that does it for me. The 1952 introduction of the Les Paul, was Gibson’s first ever solidbody electric guitar. So many great guitarists have used this model, my favorites being Pete Townsend, Jimi Page, Martin Barre, Alex Lifeson and Slash. In my opinion it was Pete Townsend and Jimi Page that made the Les Paul a hard rock legend. Deep, gritty tone with sustain for days, and oh so beautiful to look at. My favorite model is the Les Paul Supreme.

Fender
Fender is widely perceived as having produced the first ever solidbody electric (even before the Les Paul) model known as the Broadcaster in 1950. The Broadcaster was the precursor to Fender’s Telecaster. A few years later, in 1954, Fender introduced the Stratocaster. That led to Strats which of course have been used by anyone and everyone. My favorites Strat/Stratocaster players being Jimi Hendrix, Richi Blackmore, Iron Maiden’s Dave Murray and many, many more. It’s the classic rock sound. Bright, crisp, round sound. Great for leads and super versatile for going from soft to hard, twang to crunch. Also a classic look that since the days of Buddy Holly have come to define the look of “electric”. My favorite model is the Olympic White 1967 Stratocaster.

Charvel
Founder Wayne Charvel opened his shop in 1974 supplying hardware replacement parts. Charvel had a custom shop division run by a designer named Grover Jackson. When Charvel ran into financial problems in 1977, Grover Jackson bought the brand and launched the Charvel brand in 1979. It was Eddie Van Halen that put Charvel on the map when he used a body and neck by Charvel to create his first signature guitar that can be seen on Van Halen’s 1978 debut album. That would be the white Strat like body style with the black lines running across it. Charvel continued to produce Fender-style guitars with bolt on necks and manufacturing moved then moved to Japan. Charvels became known as the original hot rod Guitar (although Ibanez had been customizing Gibson and Fenders for years before that). Grover Jackson divided the company into Charvel’s Fender-style guitars and Jackson, which were custom offset designs. I love Charvel’s for their innovative design changes to the Fender-style. Their use of Floyd Rose tremelos, and their use of a single bridge humbucker and two single-coils, that came to be identified with the emerging metal superstrats. My favorite model is the 1986 Model 5 Superstrat.

Jackson
If Charvels were one of the original hot rods, then Jackson is the hot rod of hot rods. Grover Jackson launched his own line of guitars under his name in 1980. It was in that year that one of rock and roll’s most important relationships (in my opinion) was formed when Grover Jackson met Randy Rhoads, then a 24 year old up and coming guitarist. Together they designed a custom guitar based on Gibson’s Flying V. They continued their collaborative design efforts and in 1981, the famous offset design was born. Jackson went on to create a number of important innovations that would impact the future of hard rock and metal music including more frets, deeper cutaways, and altered pickup layouts. Jackson also is known for its solid body through necks (all one piece) series. More expensive, but too cool. Since those early days, Jackson has become the guitar for a number of my favorite guitarists including the aforementioned Randy Rhoads, Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Vivian Campbell (Dio), George Lynch (Dokken), and Jeff Beck just to name a few. Jackson began a legacy that has now spanned 27 years of creating the greatest hot rods of the hot rods. Nothing crunches smoother than a Jackson. The necks although a bit wider than an Ibanez, are some of the hottest necks I’ve ever played. My favorite models are the Jackson Soloist and Dinky.
Ibanez
Ibanez has been around for 98 years and has long been the premier Japanese guitar manufacturer. Ibanez was actually the premier brand of Hoshino guitars founded in 1909 by Hoshino Gakki Ten in Nagoya, Japan. In the ’60s and ’70s they became famous for making Gibson design like guitars, and the “copy era” was born. They then moved into creating expensive custom Gibson and Fender guitars, by introducing maple fingerboards on Les Pauls, custom detail inlays etc. Ibanez began producing it’s own designs around 1975 with the introduction of the “Artist” used by Steve Miller, and the “Iceman” played by Paul Stanley of Kiss. Other Ibanez designs included the GB-10 played by George Benson, the Roadster played by Steve Miller and the Destroyer used by Phill Collen of Def Leppard. Since then, many other models became adopted by such great guitarists as Joe Petrucci of Dream Theatre, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai. It was Steve Vai that introduced Ibanez’s first 7 string electric, the “Universe” model, that was further adapted and commercialized by Korn’s James “Munky” Shaffer. In my mind, it’s hard to find a guitar that plays nicer than my Ibanez. Thin neck, super sleek body, light but dense, and just sweet to play. My favorite models is the Ibanez Radius 540 R model that became Satriani’s signature JS series and the Prestige.

So although there are tons of great guitars out there and I have left most of them out, I have chosen these 5 manufacturers and 6 models as best representing the sound I love the most in rock and metal. Today, my electric guitar collection includes a 1980 candy apple red Fender Strat, an Ibanez limited edition 2 jack tobacco sunburst Prestige, a 1986 Charvel broken glass Model 5 Super Strat, a 2004 Ibanez RG series 7 string, and a 2006 Jackson DK2M. That leaves getting a Gibson Les Paul Supreme. I can’t wait!

Note: much of the information contained in this blog came from “Electric Guitars, The Illustrated Encyclopedia” by Tony Bacon.

My Dream Studio: Part III

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

By the end of my last entry (Part II of this three part series), I had chosen my sequencer (Logic Pro 7.2), computer platform (Apple G5 Quad with two 20″ Cinema Display monitors), control surfaces (Mackie Universal Control, 3 Extenders and C4 Controller), audio interface (RME Fireface 800), MIDI interfaces (MOTU Timepiece AV and MOTU MIDI Express XT), guitar processors (Line6 Guitar Pod Pro XT and Bass Pod Pro XT) and studio monitors (pair of Mackie HR824).

I now had the core of what was sizing up to be my dream studio. And in fact, Tweak’s Guide talks about a similar Mac-based system and also refers to it as the “Dream Home Mixerless” studio. But there were still several other things to be done. Principally, I had to get the room I was going to use ready for installation, and I had to decide how to integrate other gear I wanted to use including hard disk storage.

GETTING THE SPACE READY

The space I was using was formerly a bedroom with a walk-in closet and private bathroom. I would really come to appreciate the private bathroom being so close during those late night sessions. No need to wake anyone else up when nature called. The room measures 8 1/2 feet by 11 1/2 feet, not including the walk in closet or the bathroom. Not a lot of space. I needed to maximize the use of this space.

This space in located in Buenos Aires, Argentina where the power system is based on 220, not 110 like the US. All of my equipment would be coming from the US and would be set up for using 110. So I installed a 7,500 watt transformer together with an electrical current stabalizer, and created special parallel 110 circuits that would run along side the 220 circuits. On one wall where I was going to put the control desk, I installed twenty four 110 outlets and twenty four 220 outlets. Now I had the electrical power that I would need, secure, stable and in the exact place I would need it. Oh yeah, and with plenty of room to grow in the future.

I additionally purchased two ETA rack mountable power distributors (one for left rack and one for right rack) to make the plugging in of equipment more efficient.

In Argentina, manual labor is less expensive than in the US. So I took advantage of this and hired a capenter to custom build my control room desk so that it would fit the wall space precisely. I designed the desk to fit on top of two fully contained racks with lockable glass front doors (I have small children so I wanted to keep them away from the gear). Pictures of the set up are available on the Forum if you are interested, or visit www.albertvinasco.com and click on the “Studio” button.

I put all of my guitars directly behind me so that I would have easy access to them as I recorded. I placed my drum machine (Boss DR-770) on the control desk top, and put my analog synthesizer (microKorg) which doubles as my MIDI controller for keyboards on a small pull out shelf just above the control surfaces and just underneath the two 20″ Cinema Display monitors.

OTHER GEAR

I also purchased a PreSonus Central Station as my studio-monitoring interface. The Central Station has 3 sets of stereo analog inputs to switch between input sources such as: DAW, mixer, CD/DAT/Tape player, or keyboards/samplers. Two stereo analog inputs feature TRS balanced and the 3rd stereo input features RCA inputs with trim control for level matching of input signals. I use this piece of gear constantly to hear playback between my Mackie HR824s, my KRK RP5s and my iPod set up. I am also converting the walk-in closet to a vocal booth, and will then use the talk-back features as well.

I also wanted a high quality hard disk recorder that I could use for post production and the burning of high resolution CDs. I chose the Alesis MasterLink for bouncing down my final mixes and masters to CDs. The Alesis MasterLink is a great piece of equipment for managing the post production process. With 40GB of self contained hard drive space as well as a great onboard computer for managing song lists, etc. I can arrange songs into playlists with precise control of fades and track start points. I can then record to CD using inexpensive CD-Rs, creating standard 16-bit Red Book CDs, or record as AIFF-compatible high-resolution discs up to 24-bit, 96kHz. I really love my MasterLink and use it a lot.

Additionally, I wanted to have lots of external hard drive storage space for programs, plug-ins, loops, song and project files etc. Previously with 250GB of storage, I found myself maxing out much quicker than I thought.

Glyphy storage systems seemed the way to go. With a Glyph GT 103, I had a rackmount 3-bay chassis that allowed me to hotswap firewire hard drives. I use 3 Glyph 250GB hard drives in the chassis. This brought my total studio storage to 1,040 GB. That’s just over one Terabyte of storage that allows me to back up, store, and organize my software, loops, samples, song and project files nicely. Oh yeah, and with room for growth into the future.

As previously mentioned, I also use a microKorg Analog Modeled Synthesizer. I love this unit. It’s small, compact, well made, and is extremely versatile. I use it all the time. The microKORG has the same dual-oscillator DSP synthesis engine found in Korg’s MS2000 and offers a wider selection of waveforms than almost any other modeled synth in its category. With 64 exclusive DWGS waveforms from Korg’s classic DW-8000 I can reproduce a broad collection of imitative sounds like bells, electric pianos, guitars, basses and more that are traditionally difficult reproduce on an analog synthesizer. The microKORG also includes an 8-band vocoder with many advanced features. I can capture and “freeze” the formants of a voice, and then play it across the keyboard, or shift the formant frequency to make the voice sound change. Plus it serves as my MIDI keyboard controller to control all the great instruments in Logic.

I use a Boss DR-770 drum machine to lay down simple rhythms and as one more percussion tool in my aresenal. In my experience drums are hard to program. So I use a combination of tools including my DR-770, Roland SPD-6 percussion pads, and drum software including Logic’s Ultrabeat and Drums From Hell Superior.

So that brings me to the end of my gear choices. Now a few words about the experience of purchasing, shipping and installation.

INSTALLATION

After months of research, I had drawn my conclusions and made my choices. It was now time to pull the trigger on what would be a very big investment for me. I was nervous, but felt quite sure about my choices. I had prepared the room for installation. I mapped out an installation plan regarding what I would install first, second etc. I felt ready to go.

I wanted to buy everything from on place. Since I live in Argentina, I needed to have one place put together the entire order and prepare it for pick up by freight forwarders for shipment to Buenos Aires. After speaking to several of the large online dealers, I selected my purchase point based on their availability, willingness to work with me on shipping preparation, customer service, and helpfulness throughout my final purchasing process.

I put in my final order, paid the bill and they prepared the order for shipping. One week later, my freight forwarder picked up a large crate with all my gear (software, computer equipment, monitors, interfaces, processors, etc.) included within. Four weeks later, it all arrived via Sea Shipment to the port in Buenos Aires. But before I could get my hands on all that gear, I had to deal with customs officials. They love to see all that fancy gear as it says “taxes and payoffs” to them. So I negotiated taxes on the equipment and got it down to quite a low sum considering the amount of equipment.

The equipment was delivered to my door 24 hours later. It’s hard to describe that day. It was like the biggest, best Christmas ever. I was in heaven. I went to work unpacking all of the gear and following my installation plan. Aside from a few driver issues, it all came together quite easily. Within 2 days and about 18 hours of work, the installation was complete. I learned a ton during the installation, as I had never installed so much gear in my life. It was a bit complex. Lots of gear to plug in, lots of Ins and Outs, signal flow, software set up, control surfaces, clocks etc. But after 2 days it was complete, up and running.

EPILOGUE

That was almost one year ago, and today, I can say that I enjoy my home studio immensely. I have and continue to grow into my gear nicely and love using Logic. I continue to learn new things all the time. If I had it to do all over again, there is not one thing I would do differently. That’s probably because I just don’t know any better. So my ignorance is bliss and I accept that until I know differently.

I have produced quite of bit of music over the past year for both of my main music production projects (Albert Vinasco at www.albertvinasco.com and The Sand Men at www.dasandmen.com). Although I have a ton to learn, my mixes and final outputs sound much better than any of my previous work. I am also learning much more about nuances of the recording and mixing process as a result of the equipment I use.

I started a new collaborative project with a vocalist in Sydney, Australia. The name of this project is The Sand Men. It is electronic dance music and is quite different from the guitar-based instrumental rock/metal I produce under the name of Albert Vinasco. My studio has proven to be a wonderful tool for expanding into other genres and working collaboratively with others. I hope in future entries to talk more about this Internet-based collaborative process.

What’s next? I would love to someday acquire an Eventide Harmonizer and some great pre-amps. Maybe something like the Focusrite Liquid Channel. But both items are quite expensive, and neither are an urgent need at this time, but much more of a “like to have”.

So this brings me to the end of this 3 part series regarding the process I went through to research, design and implement My Dream Studio. I hope you have found something of interest and value within this series and I look forward to writing future entries regarding different aspects of my home studio experience (composing, recording and mixing) as well as my music and inspirations.

Until then, see you on the Forum!

My Dream Studio: Part II

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

In my last entry, I had completed choosing my sequencer (Logic Pro 7.2), my computer platform (Apple G5 Quad), and control surfaces (Mackie). Up to this point, much of investigation and choices were being driven by my initial choice to go with Logic Pro. The above mentioned items are all made to work together, and provide for a smooth operating environment with almost endless flexibility.

Now it was time to select my audio interface, midi interfaces, guitar amp emulators and processors, and studio monitors.

In this entry, I will talk a bit about what choices I made and my reasoning behind them. I do this not so much with the intention of telling someone else what to choose, but instead to illustrate the specific factors that played into my decision making process, in the hopes that you find something of value or similarity that may serve you in a similar process.

AUDIO INTERFACE

As I had mentioned previously when discussing what I was looking for in a control surface, I specifically did not want an all-in-one package as was offered by M-Audio with their I/O Project Mix. Nothing wrong with that piece of equipment from what I have read, and in fact it has gotten very strong reviews. However, I wanted to choose my interface and preamps separately.

With this in mind, I was looking for at least 8 Ins and 8 Outs, as that covered my basic instrument input configuration. I put guitars on inputs 1 & 2, bass guitars on inputs 3 & 4, drums on inputs 5 & 6, and synthesizers on inputs 7 & 8. I could use more inputs in the future, but this was perfect for my current needs. Keep in mind, I don’t really do much with vocals.

My investigation brought me to the following top 3 list:

- Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) 828MKII 24/96 Audio Interface

- Apogee Ensemble

- RME Fireface 800 Firewire Audio Interface

According to the literature out there, reviews, manuals, etc., all three are fine pieces of gear. I was originally drawn to the Apogee Ensemble as it was made specifically to go with Macs. The Ensemble features 36 channels of simultaneous audio, including 8 channels of Apogee’s legendary A/D and D/A conversion, 4 transparent, digitally controlled 75db mic preamps, 8 channels of ADAT I/O, 2 channels of S/PDIF coax and optical I/O, and FireWire connectivity to and from the computer (yes I took some of this from their description). But when I was ready to buy one, I couldn’t find one anywhere. They had been launched at Namm a few months before, but they weren’t readily available at the time. I took that as a sign and decided to move on.

I also really liked the MOTU unit. It provides 20 inputs and 22 outputs, including 10 channels of 96kHz analog recording and playback, combined with 8 channels of ADAT digital I/O and stereo S/PDIF. And it’s easy to expand by connecting additional interfaces. I liked that about it.

But as I looked into the RME Fireface 800, everyone I spoke with and every review I could get my hands on said it was the highest sound quality, and most reliable construction. The RME had a few features that really sold me. I love the DSP-based Total Mix mixer, known from the Hammerfall DSP series, all inputs and outputs can be freely mixed, distributed and routed. Up to 14 completely independent stereo submixes are possible. Each of the mixer’s output channels can be recorded directly without the need of external cable loops. and the Total Mix can be MIDI controlled with any Mackie controller! More compatability with my previous choices up to this point.

Additionally, the FireFace 800’s Hi-Z instrument input offers what RME calls “unprecedented” fidelity and flexibility specifically for use with guitars and basses. It also has a soft-limiter that has been tuned especially for musical instruments and prevents overloads of the A/D converter. That was great for me who was primarily doing guitar-based instrumentals. So in the end, I chose the RME Fireface 800 even though it cost more than the MOTU.

With my audio up and running into the box, I now needed MIDI interfaces to manage my controllers, drum machines and keyboards.

MIDI INTERFACES

My research showed that when running multiple Mackie control surfaces, it was best to have a MIDI interface dedicated just to the Mackies. Other people’s experience shows that it is not wise to make the Mackies share their interface with other instruments and MIDI controllers. With this in mind, I knew I was going to be getting two MIDI interfaces. One for the Mackie control surfaces, and one for all other devices.

As I looked around, many of the MIDI Interfaces on the market also served as Audio interfaces such as the Digidesign MBox 2 Pro FireWire Audio/MIDI Interface or the Yamaha GO46 FireWire Audio/MIDI Interface. But I was looking for dedicated MIDI interfacing in rack format. That pointed me in the direction of MOTU.

MOTU offers 6 different MIDI only interfaces. I ended up choosing the MOTU MIDI Express XT 8X8 USB Interface for managing my Mackie control surfaces, and chose the MOTU Timepiece AV (also 8X8 USB) for managing all other MIDI devices.

I liked the Timepiece AV because of its advanced synchronization capabilities including video genlock, ADAT sync, and word clock sync. I hope to someday expand into video as well and the Timepiece will help take me there. Slave ADATs, or word-clock compatible devices to SMTPE and video. I would be able to drive my Alesis Masterlink from my sequencer as well as control everything from Mackies. That was cool. 

GUITAR PROCESSING

Now I had my Audio and MIdI under control (pun intended), and it was time to put in the guitars. Yeah, I love this part, and yet as a guitar junky, I didn’t do as much research when choosing my amp emulators and processors as you might think. Why? I had purchased a Line6 Pod when they first came out and I loved it. I’m not saying it was the best emulator with effects out there, but it worked great for me and I was also very used to its operations and features. It was a solid foundation for me. So I chose a Line6 Pod Pro XT and a Bass Pod Pro XT. Both 2U rack units.

I have found several people online that can’t believe I do not use actual amps and even think its a sin. I love live amps. I used to have lots of them and Marshalls are my favorite. But, I needed space, and ease of use. Plus with Logic plug-ins, working with EQ and software compressors, I am able to do a lot with the sound. I am very happy with both of these Line6 units.

By this time, my rig was coming along nicely. At least on paper. But even on paper, I still couldn’t hear anything. I needed just the right studio monitors.

STUDIO MONITORS 

I had a pair of KRK RP5 Rokit powered 2-way active monitors that I was going to use, but knew that they would provide a type of playback, but not the cleanest available. I always like to listen to my playbacks on various speakers, so having the KRKs around was fine. Additionally, I set things up so I could listen to all of my mixes back through an iPod as that is somewhat of an unofficial standard for listening to music these days. Kind of like the transistor radio was 40 years ago. Everyone uses an iPod these days. So I like to hear my mixes back over them and their little earphones as well.

But even with both of these playback capabilities, I didn’t have a really stellar sound picture. As I began to look around, the options were staggering. Yamaha, Behringer, Alesis, EMU, Genelec, Dynaudio etc., etc.

Here our friends at Tweak’s Guide and the Studio Central Forum, consistently rated Mackie’s HR824s as tops. Since my KRK RP5s were already 6″, I went with the 8″ Mackies which are the HR824s.

As I have been careful to point out on numerous occassions, I consider myself a noob for life, and really don’t have a lot of experience with equipment other than mine. And even less experience in the studio monitor department. After years of playing live, and much less time recording and mixing, my ears were essentially abused for the first 25 years of my playing history, and only recently in the past 5 years have I been working to develop them further, and to appreciate much more nuance. As a result, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and decided to trust reviews, Tweak’s guide, and people on the Forum. As far as I can tell, I did not make a mistake. My Mackie HR824s are made extremely well, and sound amazing to me. Light years ahead of my KRK RP5s for example. I can hear things I never knew was there before. Plus their Mackies, which I was a manufacturer I was growing to respect and appreciate for their very high quality of design and technology as well as their sturdy construction.

By now, I was really excited. I had been doing my homework and it appeared to all be coming together. But there was still much left to do. I needed to prepare the electrical wiring of the room I was going to use. I needed to consider how I would plug all of this gear in. It won’t just go into a simple wall outlet. And there were other pieces of gear that I had and wanted to have that needed to be integrated into my rig, such as drum machines, an analog synthesizer, and Mastering deck. I’ll cover these items and a few last details on how it all got set up in my next and final installment in this series coming up soon.

Until then, see you on the Forum!

 

My Dream Studio: Part I

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

I believe the story of my current home studio set up may be a bit unique. Why? Through most of my contact with other enthusiasts, I have noticed that most people have built up their home studios over time. They carefully chose equipment and made purchases along the way as their knowledge of the craft progressed. This was also true for me sometime ago.

I had been recording at home for about 5 years, also acquiring new pieces of gear along the way, advancing to new and more powerful sequencers etc. But as I mentioned in my last entry, my family and I made a decision to relocate from San Francisco, California to  Buenos Aires, Argentina. This provided me with an opportunity to completely design from scratch, purchase and install an entirely new home studio. I have seen this type of ¨from scratch¨ implementation before, but with more with large professional studios, not so much with smaller home studios.

Thus the story of my current studio set up unfolded in a very compressed period of time. Literally over about 6 months. Within that time frame I went from starting over with practically nothing, to researching, buying, shipping, and installing my current set up. (If interested, please see my equipment list and pics on the Forum).

DEFINING DESIGN REQUIREMENTS:

As I began the process of designing my dream home set up, I first set clear design requirements. As mentioned in my previous entry, I am primarily a guitar player. I also play bass, some keyboards, and drums. I write guitar-based instrumental rock and also write electronic dance music. That of course influenced the type of set up I wanted to create.

I essentially wanted to create a great high end control room. I did not need to acoustically treat different rooms, record bands, multiple people playing at once, etc. No need for lots of mics. Instead, I wanted power, excellence in quality of technology (both software and hardware), as direct a signal chain as possible, great processors and plug-ins, and a holistic set up that was easy of use and with an ability to expand in the future as I wanted.

With this in mind, my studio equipment needs divided into the following categories:

- Sequencer

- Computer Platform

- Control Surfaces

- Audio Interface

- Midi Interface

- Guitar Amp Emulators and Processors

- Monitors

- Midi Controller

- Drum and Percussion Programming

- Power Distribution

- Other Miscelaneous Items (this is no small category)

Now a few words on the decisions and choices I made in each of these categories.

In each case, I did a ton of reading. I read Tweak´s entire guide many times over until I could take the test and ace it. I read books. I read every magazine I could get my hands on. I read the manuals for every piece of gear in each category I will be discussing here. I then got my choices down to a ¨Top 3 pieces of gear¨list in each category. I then went deeper into studying the differences between those top 3 choices in each category and only then made my final decision in each category.

Since I didn´t have a lot of previous experience with lots of different equipment, I really needed to understand the technological capabilities of each as described in their manuals in order to make solid fact-based objective comparisons. I also then asked the opinions of many people to get a subjective feel for the value of each piece of gear in each category.

SEQUENCER:

I started the entire design process by choosing my sequencer. I knew that I wanted a highly visual experience with my music production as I had been using Cubase for the past several years. Additionally, I was usually only recording one person (me) at a time, so did not need a multi-track recorder. Instead I wanted to focus on being able to do state of the art editing, processing, and mixing, even if my capabilities lagged behind this state of the art. I would grow into it. So my sequencer choice became the corner stone around which I built my set up. Don´t know if that´s strange or not. Only know it´s the way I did it.

For me, sequencer options came down to Cubase, ProTools, Ableton Live, Nuendo, Sonar or Digital Performer. There are many more great sequencers out there (many more than I mention here), but I had to limit my search somehow. I chose these for their proven track record and reliability. It then became a question of which one of these best fit my music creation, recording and mixing needs.

Most of the options I looked into were PC based except for Logic and Digital Performer which are Mac based. So that would have an impact on what computer platform I would end up choosing. I can say, that it would be hard to make a mistake in this category. Any of them could be a solid platform on top of which to build a home studio. I chose Logic Pro 7.2. The list of reasons and features are far too many to state here. So I recommend visiting Logic´s site (http://www.apple.com/logicpro/) and reading and comparing for yourself. In my mind and for my needs, the choice was pretty easy.

Logic cost more ($999) than most (except maybe Nuendo), but comes with an amazing array of plug-ins and instruments. All very high quality and very well reviewed case after case. Logic is also one of those platforms that is more than just a sequencer, but actually impacts the music creation process. It´s flow and flexibility of set up and work parameters are second to none and was perfect for adapting to my way of composing, recording and mixing.

Logic Pro´s mixer is also amazing. With more than one way to view the mixer, Logic Pro also allows for super flexible signal routing from channels to busses, to aux sends etc. According to the literature out there, it´s mixer and signal routing capabilities are some of the best of any sequencer out there. I liked that a lot.

Additionally, because of Logic´s unique screen set templates and configuration, it is especially well suited for working in a dual screen environment. You can have many multiple windows open at once, all linked to one another, so that you see your arrange window, mixer, midi arrange, etc. all at the same time.

 And some say… ¨But all the big professional studios use ProTools!¨

Pretty much true, but a lot of professional studios also use Logic. And I can export my Logic work for easy use on any ProTools rig. So nothing lost there.

Logic has also been around quite a while and has evolved to fit Mackie and Macs like a glove. So once I had chosen my sequencer, that pretty much determined my computer platform. It would be Mac. But which one?

COMPUTER PLATFORM

Although there are several options when going with Apple, I wanted as much power and growth capability into the future as I could get. I reviewed all models at the time and went with a G5 Quad and put in 4GB of RAM to make sure it would handle OS X like butter, not have latency issues when I use a lot of processors etc. Note. My Mac is not Intel based. I decided to wait until the second generation Intel based Macs come around. But my G5 Quad runs great. Never crashes, never hangs, never freezes and no noticeable latency. It´s power to the max. I also got it with 250GB of hardrive. And because of Logic´s cool screen set templates, I went with two 20¨ Cinema Displays.

Now that I had chosen my sequencer and my computer platform, I was ready to move onto other gear. Because I had chosen to go mixerless, I didn´t need to buy a mixing board. I didn´t need to record live bands, or multiple musicians and channels at once. However, the ability to touch and feel all of the tracks as I mix was important to me. That meant, I need to consider a control surface.

CONTROL SURFACES

I looked back over my music from the past 5 years of home recording and noticed that I consistently produced songs that ranged from around 20 to 32 tracks. Of course, some were even more than 32 tracks, but that was not the norm. So I wanted to see how I could create the touch and feel of 32 tracks in front of me.

I looked into several control surfaces, and it came down to M-Audio´s I/O Project Mix or Mackie´s Control Universal. M-Audio´s surface came with built in pre-amps and a built in audio interface in addition to its controllers. But I wanted individual control over the quality of pre-amps, and audio interfaces. I didn´t want a ¨Combo¨ package.

The Mackie Control Universal is only a controller and one of the highest if not the highest quality controllers in the game. Super sturdy construction, motorized faders, and Mackie also offers extenders. Just what I needed to create a 32 channel control surface. Additionally, Mackie makes a product called the C4 Controller that works side by side with the other controllers and I use it exclusively to control all plug-ins.

It wasn´t the cheap option, and I could have bought a mixing board for the same price as buying the Mackie Universal Control unit, 3 Mackie Extenders (8 channels each) and the Mackie C4 Controller. But I didn´t need a mixer. Instead, I needed a great control surface to control the great and flexible mixer that comes with Logic Pro. Finally, Mackie´s control surfaces were built to go specifically with Logic. Although today, they work with any of the major sequencers, it is made to go with Logic and as Tweak says in the guide, ¨fits Logic like a glove¨. And that´s definately true in my experience. I can do it all with my controllers. There are still several things that can be done with it that I have yet to learn.

So by now, my home studio rig was starting to come together. It felt like my first choice of Logic Pro helped to drive my next choice of computer platform, and in turn helped to drive my choice of control surfaces. So far, my set up was Logic driven and I was liking it that way. But I still had so many more important pieces to choose. Those choices will take us to my next entry in this series.

And in my next entry in this series, I will describe the choices I made when it came to selecting my Audio Interface, my Midi Interfaces, Guitar Amp Emulators and Processors, and Studio Monitors.

Until then, see you on the Forum!

Following My Passion

Monday, February 12th, 2007

Hi, my name is Albert Durig and among the many things I am, including husband, father, management consultant, and private business owner, I am a passionate musician and home studio enthusiast. In fact, all these things serve as a means to feed this passion of mine. A passion that requires inspiration and content fueled by emotions, perspective, philosophies, worldviews, rational thought, life experiences and of course, heart and soul.

In a nutshell, this is what you can expect from my blog.

Here you will read about my personal experiences and learnings regarding a variety of topics including; the nitty gritty of setting up my home studio, composing music, Internet collaboration for making music, managing the recording and mixing process, integrating inspiration, my personal music making endeavors (www.albertvinasco.com and www.dasandmen.com) and connecting to one’s soul so that the music is a reflection of something bigger than myself.

At times my blog will be mundane and tactical with what I hope will be useful information regarding issues that surround recording music at home. At other times, my blog will be philisophical, theoretical, and even spiritual in content.

As a result I hope you stay tuned, and let me know your thoughts.

I thought that a good place to start would be a bit of personal history as to how I got into music and home recording. And with that, let’s get started…

I began playing bass guitar at the age of 12 (1976) when my older brother (guitarist) needed an emergency stand-in for his new band called “The Endtables”. I’ll never forget that first moment when we were all standing in the garage (roll up door open), amps fired up, smoke in the air, a warm summer’s breeze, all members in place, and my brother began a simple guitar intro in 4/4. At the end of a simple 4 count introduction, the drumer did a bass drum kick and snare flange, and we were off. As I began to play that first note, and feel the bottom of my bass guitar together with the drums, and guitar rocking on top, I knew I was in heaven. It was one of those moments that makes you who you are. The feeling of the sound in my chest and crotch. The unison of instruments. The rhythm of 4/4, and a rocking crunch. It all made for a magical moment that has helped to define who I am today. It was a feeling that was beyond my mind. Beyond just me. It was downright spiritual.

That band went on to pretty good local tri-state sucess (Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio). In fact, our debut EP launched in 1979, was just sold on eBay for $1500 US dollars between two collectors. I was thrilled. We weren’t famous, but made our own little contribution to the world of music. More important than fame and fortune for me, was the ability to create original music. I swore to uphold that noble goal and to this day 32 years later, I continue to pursue composing original music.

 After “The Endtables” (we stayed together for 4 years), came a few other bands including “Melusian” and “The Uninvited” where I had now moved to playing rhythm guitar and then lead guitar. In the summer of 1984 I was finishing my Bachelors Degree in communications and my band, “The Uninvited” was offered a chance to tour on the west coast. At the same time, I was offered a scholarship for graduate school to pursue a Masters Degree. I knew that although I loved playing with the Uninvited and we had played with many great bands including The Cro-mags, Agnostic Front, The Decendents, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, Soul Asylum, and Anthrax just to name a few, we were not good enough or disciplined enough to “make it” in the music business. Much to the chagrin of my band mates, I chose graduate school over “The Uninvited”. That too was a pivitol time for defining me as a person. I chose education and opportunity, over passion. Something I would struggle with throughout the years to come. I have since learned to heed the calling of my passions even when I cannot clearly see a financial payoff or the interest of others.

I then embarked on a career in Management Consulting that would take me to live in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Brazil, Miami, and San Francisco. All the while I continued playing guitar and writing music, but only by myself. I would rarely speak of my musical past or passion to others. Too caught up in the roller coaster of ambition, managing impressions, and sometimes being something I wasn’t. The upside is that I met a lot of great people, travelled the world, and learned a great deal about business. Oh yeah, I also made some money along the way. That would come in handy when my passion came back into full view and the digital revolution made pursuing my music at home a real possibility.

As the new millenium rolled around, I was working a lot in the high tech sector. I enjoyed what computers were making capable. I often perused the Games section of my favorite software stores. One day, I saw Magix Studio Deluxe, a $60 dollar toy sequencer. I thought, wow, that looks pretty neat. Perhaps I could record a couple of tracks at one time. I bought it. Although a toy, I learned a great deal from using it. It introduced me in a slow and easy way to what a sequencer was all about.

As a result, I began visiting the music stores again. My whole world was opened to the developments in audio technology. But it all seemed way above my capabilities at the time. I was musician, a composer, not an engineer. It had been years since I hung out and talked shop with other musicians. And during those years, much had changed. And much of what had changed came in the form or 1 and 0’s. The world had become digital. I was overwhelmed by it all. I decided I would not leave Magix Studio Deluxe until I had exhausted all of its capabilities.

That day eventually came. I needed more. I had been able to produce simple arrangements, and was only beginning to appreciate the limits of my sound. I bought an EMU 1212 sound card and Cubase SE. I also bought a drum machine and began recording more elaborate arrangements on this set up. It was great for practicing, for evolving my music writing craft, and for learning about new aspects of the recording process. So much so, that I eventually moved up to Cubase SX and various plug-ins. It was at this stage that I began to really see the difference great equipment could make. It was here that I began to learn enough about recording, processing and mixing that I could begin to imagine more and more possibilities. I worked with this set up and additional hardware and software add-ons (acquired an analog synthesizer, new plug-ins, etc.) for quite some time. Then it happened.

After 20 years of working in the corporate world and as president of a large multinational consulting firm, I had had it. I was tired of the business. Tired of the travel. Tired of pressures. My wife and I decided to move our family from San Francisco to her home country, Argentina. So we moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I knew that with this move, I would also be making a major upgrade to my home studio. I knew that my passion had been evolving over the years, and the business career although fun, with its financial purpose, and value, was not enough to be the center of my life. My life purpose was clear. All I wanted was to be the best Husband and Father possible, and to Rock like a “bleep’r”. That’s all that mattered to me after you stripped away all the material trimmings in my life. I wanted to love my family, and to express the music that stirred within me even if no one else would ever hear it. So with this clarity of purpose in mind, I began to design the upgrade of my home studio.

We bought a new home with a special room (formerly a bedroom with private bath and walk-in closet) that I would used solely for my home studio. I read everything I could get my hands on. I read about all the equipment in each category of gear that I needed i.e., converters, audio interfaces, midi interfaces, mixers, multi-track recorders, processors, etc. I read every review, every manual, every website I could get my hands on. And I joined Studio Central. Can’t say enough about the virtues of that site. Simply amazing.

I had a few imperatives in planning the design and function of my home studio. I record primarily by myself. I like to go direct from guitar to processor to interface to sequencer. I didn’t need lots of mics. I didn’t need lots of room or acoustic treatment. Instead, I wanted to create a great home version of a studio control room. I wanted great sound quality, and ease of use. So with that in mind, I began to focus on creating a mixerless studio built around Apple’s G5 Quad running Logic Pro 7.2. I had never used Macs before, but read about all the main sequencers. I found a few professionals online that had created a similar set up to mine and they also helped me make my decision. I fell in love, deeply in love with Logic and the mac platform.

Once I had decided what my DAW platform would be, it was time to design the rest. That meant having tons of questions and making lots of choices. What hardware would I need? What interface? Firewire or USB? What processors? Hardware or software? What other software? What about storage? What about energy usage? And much, much more. All the while, were were under construction with our new home and the architect and electrician were waiting for my direction. I wouldn’t let their pressure make me move before I was ready. I made them wait. Not long, but until I was finished with my research and choices.

So what were those choices? Well, that’s for my next entry. For now, I thank you for having read my first entry, and look forward to seeing from you on the forum!