Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Thriving Home Studio

 A Thriving Home Studio

A Home Studio should be releasing things, and I have just released my newest seven song album, "In Pursuit"! Already, I must say, that I feel a great burden lifted and a sense of accomplishment. I released an album last year as well entitled "Absolutes", but I can definitely tell that my skills as a musician and an audio engineer have improved.

So what about those songs of yesteryear? Do I go back and "fix" them? Nope. Those songs were acceptable at that time when I released them, and I still play them live the same way I always have, but they also set a benchmark for me and others, a point of reference for all to see my growth and to learn from those experiences.

Along those same lines, I want to cover some things that I would've done differently on this album if I decided to go back and change anything, however I will not. You see there also has to come a point and time where we are honest with ourselves and we say "Ok, I have got this mix as good as I can get it with my current skills and knowledge. It is time to learn more and move on."

But how does that help?

Well what if... What if we continually tried to improve on our best at that time and NEVER released a thing?! That would be POINTLESS! The world is full of stagnant Home Studios that never release anything but talk about a lot. They boast of all these amazing things they've learned but never share it. They brag about all the songs they're "working on" but never can show someone their work because they are... Scared. Yep, I said it. Scared that someone is going to shoot them down or say something negative, scared to be critiqued, and due to their fear they end up quitting without ever displaying those God given talents for everyone to hear. That is an effort in futility and no fun at all.

I would much rather deal with a few negative comments  from people I don't know than to let down those who do know me and believe in me. I would much rather have a Home Studio that churns out my best at that time then nothing at all, and I would definitely not want to let my God down by burying my talents and not being a good steward of the gifts He has given me. 

Whatever project you're working on right now that you are afraid to release, just release it! It will free up your creative palette and give your gifts room to grow. Welcome the critique, because not everyone is intending to be nasty, and it could be that you could learn something in the process that would help you on you next endeavor. Ok, I am climbing down off my soapbox now. Below I have listed some thing that I would've done differently with this album if I had to go back. (But I won't)

Some things I would've done differently, if I had to go back:

  • I would've put more automation on my tracks
  • I would've taken more time to arrange and produce
  • I would've taken more time on mic placement and tonality on the way in
  • I would've recorded at lower levels
  • I would've made sure I got better takes
  • I would've experimented with more than one microphone (now that I can)
  • I would've mic'd a few amps rather than just going DI all the time
There are other things I could write down here as well but you get the point. I am learning from the experience and applying what I know now to what I will do in the future! You can do the same thing! Inside you is locked away a ton of potential, you just need to release it!
 
I am here to help in anyway I can, just let me know if you need something. 

"In Pursuit"
Download for FREE or give what you want.


Friday, August 21, 2015

New Mixing Headphones

If you have been following me on my Home Studio journey, you know that I am an advocate of Mixing on headphones. Though many say it is impossible, if done with the right goals in mind it can be very rewarding and enjoyable. Recently, I bought me a set of semi-open backed headphones for just such a task. I wanted to let you know what I thought of them so that if you were thinking of buying a pair you could get an unbiased opinion.

The headphones in question are the AKG K 240 Semi-Open Studio Headphones. Now, upon first glance I thought "these things look cheap". However, their appearance and build are another thing all together. Though they do have a "cheapesh" look to them (yeah I made that word up), their build is pretty solid. They are very light weight and above all else... They sound amazing! No, not amazing like an average listener would find amazing. (Smiley face EQ curve, overly bassy, sparkly) On the contrary these are very reference like. I mixed a song on them in 30 minutes and it translated well! I went back and checked the same mix on my M-Audio BX5a's and there were only a few adjustments that needed to be made! This was a win for me! I picked these up at a great price and you can to, click the picture or the link above and get a great deal while also helping out a fellow engineer at no extra cost to you. Have an awesome day!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Mobile Mix Reference

If you are anything like me, (I will pray for you if you are) then you probably take your mixes with you due to time constraints. You wanna hear it in the car, you wanna check it on that Bluetooth stereo your buddy has, and so you put the printed mix (your latest revision) on your mobile device and take it with you.

I use my iPhone a lot! I even utilize the features that it has installed to help me make educated decisions when I get back to the studio. Let me explain that last statement in detail. There are features in the iPhone that aren't so well known that can help you out as a mixing engineer.

The first is the mono setting for your music. If you were unable to check for phase or proper EQ adjustments before you left, or maybe even forgot, this setting can really help out. However, it is kind of hidden in all the various menus, menus that most will never even go through. To utilize this setting as a mixing reference tool follow the instructions below

1) Click on the Settings button



2) Next click on the General option



3) Now click on the Accessibility menu
4) Scroll to the bottom now and you will see the Mono option



I recently just used this on a mix that I was in a hurry to get on the phone. I had not checked the phase, or even to mix itself in mono as of yet and was still in the "rough draft". I could hear the guitars in the headphones, but in the car they were gone. So I switched my phone to Mono and the guitars disappeared in the headphones! Immediately I knew the Phase was out on the guitars. Pretty cool that I was able to make that finding while at work and away from the mixing desk.

The next menu is a little more accessible and isn't as buried in a maze of other menus. I was surprised however by the number of people that did not know this menu existed. I am speaking of the EQ menu found under the Music app. To find that menu follow the instructions below.

 
1) Click on the Settings button


2) Scroll down to the Music menu
3) Scroll down to the bottom to find the EQ menu

4) Choose from a wide variety of EQ options

Ok, so now that we have found the EQ menu, we can use this to gain insight as to where our mix may be lacking or overdone. For instance, if you can only handle the Bass in your mix on the Bass Reducer setting, chances are you need to make some adjustments to your low end. Now, all this is subjective to the headphones you may be listening on as well.

I did a lot of research and even went as far as to get on the Apple website to find what exactly the EQ settings change in the frequency ranges. After a tiring search I turned up nothing. So, in the spirit of my Scottish heritage, I improvised. I downloaded a pink noise signal which is one of the flattest sound profiles you can get. I played it through my iPhone while the headphone jack was plugged into the microphone jack on my PC. Then I put the SPAN plug in on a track and therefore was able to view the EQ changes that were taking place by changing the settings in the iPhone. Below you will find screenshots of the various settings with labels to attribute. This information is no where else! 

Acoustic Setting
Bass Booster Setting


Bass Reducer Setting
Classical Setting
Dance Setting
Deep Setting
Electronic Setting
Flat Setting
Hip-Hop Setting
Jazz Setting
Late Night Setting
Latin Setting
Loudness Setting
Lounge Setting
Piano Setting
Pop Setting
R & B Setting
Rock Setting
Small Speakers Setting
Spoken Word Setting
Treble Booster Setting
Treble Reducer Setting
Vocal Booster Setting
Now, one thing to remember is that your car already has an EQ in place, so you need to set your EQ on your iPhone to off before listening in the car, otherwise it will sound all jacked up. I hope this was helpful, if nothing else it is at least interesting. If you would like a copy of the jpegs associated with the EQ settings (the same ones found above) you can download it here.




Friday, August 7, 2015

Review of the Boss-BR 800

My Boss Br-800 has been the single best investment to my Home Studio. I have used it extensively for over 4 years now. It has been my go to Audio Interface, an easy to use Controls Surface, and an excellent Effects Processor. So I thought I'd share my thoughts with you about this little gem!




The BR-800 is a compact and lightweight digital audio recorder designed for ultimate versatility and convenience. The BR-800 provides 4 tracks of simultaneous recording, and 8 tracks of simultaneous playback. It has an additional stereo track that's dedicated to the onboard drum machine, which also includes an editor. The built-in stereo condenser mics lets you record anytime, anywhere without the need for extra equipment. Your files are captured to widely-available SD/SDHC memory cards, supporting capacities up to 32GB. A 1GB card is included to get you started.

The BR-800 has an easy-to-use interface that's based on touch sensors, giving you precision control over all features. An onboard effects processor gives you a wealth of guitar, bass, and vocal effects, while a "Song Sketch" feature provides quick stereo WAV recording. A USB connector allows you to use the BR-800 as a USB audio interface with your Mac or PC, as well as use it as a control surface for DAW applications. Cakewalk SONAR 8.5 LE (Cakewalk Sonar Music Production Software) software is even included for computer-based audio manipulation. For terrific versatility, the BR-800 can operate on a set of 6 AA batteries, USB bus power, or the included AC adapter.



After doing some research I have posted the cheapest price I have found for a new unit. I paid $449 over 4 years ago and this thing has steadily remained within that price range. So when I found it for only $365, I was tempted to buy another one!

 

Pros:

  • Compact and portable design, ideal for musicians, journalists, and more
  • 4 tracks of simultaneous recording, and 8 tracks of simultaneous playback
  • Dedicated stereo track for the onboard drum machine, which also includes an editor function
  • Built-in stereo condenser mic lets you record anytime, anywhere without the need for extra equipment
  • Records to widely-available SD/SDHC memory cards, supporting capacities up to 32GB. A 1GB card is included to get you started
  • Easy-to-use interface is based on touch sensors, giving you precision control over all features
  • Onboard effects processor gives you a wealth of guitar, bass, and vocal effects
  • "Song Sketch" feature provides quick stereo WAV recording
  • USB connector allows you to use the BR-800 as a USB audio interface with your Mac or PC, as well as use it as a control surface for DAW applications
  • Cakewalk SONAR 8.5 LE software is included for computer-based audio manipulation
  • Operates on a set of 6 AA batteries, USB bus power, or the included AC adapter for terrific versatility
  • 4 XLR inputs on the back of the unit, 4 trs 1/8 inputs on the back as well, and 1 high z on the front
  • Headphone input on the front of the unit for zero latency monitoring or night time jam sessions
  • Line in for recording from various sources 

Cons:

  • The Guitar to Bass simulator can have some hiccups and is not able to pick up polyphonic Bass chords without low end garble
  • Most of the effects that include distortion are "overdone" in my opinion, but can be toned down and shaped into something more feasible 
  • The touch screen panel can be hard to get used to and if it gets oily fingerprints they will have to be cleaned before it will work properly again
  • 24 bit recording is only available on while plugged in via USB
  • Of the 4 XLR preamps on the back of the unit, only one of them has phantom power
  • When using the Loop Record feature, there is a delay in the changing of tracks that can cause a little drop out of audio (1 sec. tops, see video)

Specs:

Simultaneous Rec Tracks 4
Simultaneous Play Tracks 8
Sample Rate 44.1kHz
Bit Rate 24-bit
Effects Yes
Compression Track Compression, Multiband Mastering Compression
Phantom Power Yes (1 channel)
Number of Mic Preamps 4
Audio Interface Yes
Computer Connectivity USB
Built-in Mics 2
Analog Inputs 5 x 1/4", 4 x XLR, 1 x 1/8", 1 x 1/4" (Footswitch)
Analog Outputs 1 x stereo RCA, 1 x 1/4" (Headphones)
USB 1 x Type B
Storage SD (up to 32GB)
Faders 8
Fader Throw Compact (short-throw)
Power DC 9V Adapter (Sold Separately), 2 x AA Batteries, USB Bus
Height 2.31"
Depth 7.25"
Width 11.44"
Weight 2 lbs