Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving - Give Thanks for TUBE amps

WARNING: Guitar talk for a while, then recording talk later. you smell that? I think it's the smell of tone. Daniel just got his Tiny Terror Combo made by ORANGE. Awesome amp. We're both just so impressed by how loud that little amp can go. It's truly a work of art. Kudos, Orange, for making one heck of an amp.

The other day I went down to my favorite guitar store (Full Scale Guitar in Broken Arrow) and tried out some pedals. A lot of people have been raving about the Keeley Mod Blues Driver ever since its release, and so I grabbed that in addition to a few other boutique pedals they had there. Others included the Xotic BB Preamp, the Keeley TS9, and the Fulltone OCD. How do I put it simply...the Xotic BB Preamp beat them all by a long shot. .

The BB is a SUPER versatile pedal with only four knobs: volume, gain, bass, treble. While you might think the bass and treble controls are kind of strange, you have to consider, they are active, so if you turn down the bass and treble, it sounds like you're accentuating the mids, not simply rolling off low and high. Likewise, if you turn up the bass and treble, it sounds like the mids are a bit scooped-sounding. This bass control is INTENSE and should be used with honor!

I can't tell you how many pedals I've tried that are just TOO boomy. One of the better sounding distortion units around is the ZVEX Box of Rock. The pedal is SO sick for lead work, especially during recording, but playing chords is a nightmare. The pedal is just SO incredibly thick the chords are just mud at high gain. Now, a pedal opposite this is the Lovepedal Kanji Eternity. AMAZING sounding pedal with not much low end. However, paired with a compressor, this is one of the best sounding pedals I've ever heard and owned. Warm, creamy, great for lead and rhythm.

Anyway, so I've decided that the BB is my next choice for my pedalboard. I'm very picky about what pedals go on my board, and I've gone through a lot. Fulltone FullDrive 2, Hand build Keeley TS9 clone, Box of Rock, etc. I think the BB is just a great idea. If I'm using single coils, I can beef up the low end a bit, but if I'm using humbuckers, I can bring it back down. What a great concept, Xotic! What just have a tone knob when you can have true active EQ!

(Guitar talk is now over)

As for recording, I've had some interesting discoveries recently. Compression is something I use very carefully (as you might see in a former post about bus compression), as is EQ. I'll get to that in a second.

One thing I advise people to do is not listen too loud. I've seen some engineers listing to their songs fairly loud, and judging the mix that way. There are a few problems with that. First, it makes EVERYTHING sound good. When you turn music up, you feel it in your bones, your heart, and you're just enjoying the loudness. However, when you're listening quietly, you're really focusing to hear elements of the mix. THIS IS NOT TO SAY that you need to listen super quietly all the time. There are many benefits to listening quietly, however:

1. If your room is not treated well for mixing, listening quietly can help eliminate the room from the equation.

2. If you listen quietly, your ears are hardly being stressed, so you can mix for much longer.

3. If things still sound punchy at low volumes, they will certainly sound punchy at higher volumes. This is partly because compression is easier to spot and adjust when you're listening quietly, or at least quieter than what one might consider "loud."

There are a few drawbacks to listening quietly, but the main problem (and a big one) is the low end. When you listen quietly, the low end is somewhat masked, and so sometimes you can add WAY too much low end when listening quietly, and when you turn it up, you are blasted away by the kick and bass guitar. This is yet another reason to check your mix on different speakers at different volumes.

I like to set my EQs on these tiny computer speakers because they really are midrangey and they help me get all the low mids, mids, and high mids balanced out. There aren't many high or low frequencies pumping out of these things, so it helps me focus on JUST midrange. This is great for things like acoustic, electric, vocals, and drums. Most of the lows are comprised of kick and bass guitar, maybe some low end of electric. Highs are usually sibilance, cymbals, some snare, some acoustic "zing" sound, and maybe some electric. Other than that, about 90% of the music is contained in the mids (LM, M, HM), so make sure instruments aren't fighting each other!

Get a pair of computer speakers. It can do wonders for your mixing ears.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I sure hate computer problems. I need some back-story here.

Computer is a custom-built Intel Core2 Quad 2.4GHz PC, Three drives (System, Recording, Data) as well as hard drive docks for backing up files onto external drives / internal drives kept in storage. 4GB GSkill Pi RAM (not sure what I think about this yet...) and a MOTU 24io modded by Black Lion Audio. Running Nuendo in Windows XP. Pretty sick machine. I usually never have problems, but today I had a weird one. Not really that bad or anything, nothing was "lost," but still...very weird.

Recorded a HUGE session (roughly, the equivalent of 48 tracks being recorded at once for 4 minutes, or simply put, roughly 180 minutes of recording time). Afterward, Nuendo exited fine, it saved, nothing went weird. The session was over so I decided to defrag. Did that just fine, no problems. I forgot what exactly I clicked, but I believe I tried to open the MOTU Audio Interface control panel, and my computer "crashed" as they say, which really means it gave me the blue screen of death. DUN DUN DUN.

Needless to say, these are usually harmless if they occur at times that are few are far between. I don't think I've had one of these for handful of months. The problem is, they are usually just a glitch of some kind that is not only untraceable, it's really totally irrelevant. When you restart your computer, it works perfectly fine. SO, could be a RAM issue, or a million other things.

ANYWAY...why did I hate this so much? It erased a few of my plugins. Had to go back and install them again, which was a pain. Opened up a session and it said "missing plugins," and I was like what the heck? And really it didn't "delete" the plugs it just was being weird and not picking up that they were there. I reinstalled them into a fresh new folder and it works perfectly now.

The only upside to this is that Nuendo seems to load much quicker. I think over time I have deleted plugs, weeded out some I never use, and so it no longer loads them or searches for them. A nice fresh start, I suppose. Had to spent about an hour recovering my settings and whatnot, but it's back to normal in perfect working order ready for more sessions.

Sometimes I complain about my computer but I just remember...I could have had a V8! There's nothing harder than trying to record onto a tomato juice can.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Loudness War?

PODCAST UPDATE - We've got our ideas lined up for a few shows. Soon we will be doing some talk over my last few posts here. I mainly made them so I could have them on record, not just because I enjoy talking to myself. Regardless, the first episode should be ready in a week or two.


Man, I am sick of the loudness war***. Albums are just sounding louder and louder all the time, and they sound AWFUL. Absolutely horrible. There are so many people out there just dedicated to competing with volumes they forget about the music.

This whole's what I like to call "car marketing philosophy:" just because it [a car commercial] is loud and grabs your attention doesn't mean you will give a crap. I am sick of car commercials saying things like "we are currently OVERSTOCKED due to a 'shipping error' and everything must go!" They yell in your face as if to catch your attention, but really, it's just annoying.

The same theory is now applicable to modern music. Songs are louder than ever in an attempt to grab your attention. The problem is, songwriters are lazy and don't know how to write catchy lines or lyrics anymore, and their musicianship is so weak that it becomes uninteresting. Thus, to compensate for being a crappy songwriter, they have to make it loud. With the right songwriting and performance, your attention can be captivated immediately. Think Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" or John Denver's "Annie's Song." More recently, think Third Eye Blind's "Never Let You Go," U2's "With or Without You," and Wilco's "Either Way." All of these songs are well written, and they grab your attention just by being so.

Get it? YOU OWN THE VOLUME KNOB. Keep your mixes dynamic. (Hint...mute the drums and see how hot your mix is at this level. If it's around -2 or -1dBFS, you're WAY TOO LOUD (in my opinion).)

***for more information on what exactly the loudness war is, go to A while back a guy made this fantastic video which has had worldwide popularity. I really think the creator of this video deserves a standing ovation! Here it is:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bus Compression - 16 November 2009

So, I've decided that [for most rock] I like doing about 4-6dB total of bus compression. It sounds like a lot. Now let me explain.

Seeing as the consoles had headroom above 0.0dB and sometimes all the way up to something like +24dB, we have to consider a few things.

1) How hot are the tracks going into the master?
2) How much headroom are we leaving for the Mastering engineer?
3) What's my process? Why?
4) Why does it sound this way?

Let's address these in order.

1.) If you bypass all of your master fader plugs, your sound better not be clipping. Why? I'll tell you why. If your tracks set off the OVER (clip) meter, putting a limiter on the master doesn't mean it's not distorting digitally, it just means it's not triggering the meter. Digital busses aren't mind readers, they are mathematical devices only doing what they are told. If you trigger an OVER meter on ANY tracks, you are clipping. Just because you put a limiter on doesn't mean you're protecting the sound from clipping. HOWEVER...when it comes to a compressor, it's possible to elude this.

A compressor works by gain reduction, so, it's actually preventing clipping in a way. be honest, if your tracks are hot enough where they are even CLOSE to 0.0dB, you're not leaving yourself nearly enough headroom per track. If 65 tracks combine at -6dBFS, your master is going to be SMOKING loud. I'd go for about -12 to -18dBFS per track on a large production. A

2.) You need to make sure and leave a good 3-6dB for the mastering engineer to work with. The more the better. If you're the last link in the chain (like many project studio owners), you STILL Should be mixing at about -6 or -4dBFS. It'll allow you to control your mix better. Don't mix with a limiter on the bus!!!!!!!!

3.) So, we've got our tracks in, not mixed yet. What are the levels on the bus? If I've gain staged the thing correctly, my master seems to hit around -6dBFS on a good day. Usually what I do is add Tritone Digital's Colortone Pro (for saturation) in the first slot. After that, I add Waves RenComp doing at MOST 1.5 - 2dB of compression with a very fast attack and a medium release (200-300ms). This helps control some of the transients. To set this, I go to the loudest part of the song and adjust from that. After this, I add the Waves SSL bus compressor, which I love. In this, I set the attack just a bit slower, usually 3ms, and the release a bit slower, maybe even 600ms, and on this compressor I do a max of 4dB of compression in the loudest parts of the song. It actually ends up to be more like 3dB, sometimes even 2dB.

So why nearly 6dB of compression on the master? A few reasons.

1) It helps the mix come together quickly.
2) I don't have to do nearly as much automation.
3) I don't have to use so many compressors on individual tracks, and this is the main reason. Not only is it more DSP efficient, it also just SOUNDS better. If you let the tracks just be naturally dynamic, the bus compressor can take care of a lot.

4.) Stay with me on these comparisons...Analog consoles and and analog tape will compress more per input signal in dB/ratio increments, as in, the compression was NOT linear. For example, at 0.0dB, the console might be compressing something "like" 2dB at 2:1. However, at +6dB, the console might compress a bit harder, something "like" 5dB at 4:1. That is to say, the compression CHANGES in a nonlinear way as you get hotter and hotter. That's not to say that +24 is simply a limited signal, because usually, +24 didn't sound too great.

SO, this is one of the reasons why I use two separate compressors on the mix bus. One is to control the transients, (as you can imagine, things -6dB to 0dB on a console) and the other is to control more of the overall mix punch (0dB to +12dB on a console - just made up numbers, just trying to illustrate a point). So basically, it's like saying two heads are better than one.

You don't just want to compress 6dB with one compressor, because you have a fixed attack and release. Instead, you can compress with separate multi-stage compressors for different parts of the sound. You could use SIX compressors only doing 1dB of compression and you might get a great sound doing that. Set each one for different ratios or attack/release times for different parts. A very pulsating tune might need more compression on the attacks to control them, however, a sparse tune might call for some more mild compression.

Moral of the story...MIX WITH YOUR EARS, NOT WITH YOUR EYES!!!!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Recording News - 13 November 2009

PODCAST – 13 Nov 2009



Hey all. Before I start getting comments about how "it depends on the song" and "you can't say that because every mix is different," blah blah. I understand that. I'm speaking in GENERAL terms about MOST rock mixes with five piece bands (vocals, acoustic, electric x 2, bass, drums). Consider a mix with all of those plus some BGVs, piano lightly, and some tambourine. That's your basic rock mix sometimes, so let me elaborate.

Working more with the low end today. Trying to debunk certain myths within my mind about the low end, and trying to create new ways to understand the low end. The only truth I've found is that most of the time, kick and bass are the only things below 100 or so. May be a bit of guitar or perhaps a slight hint of fat snare in that region, but nothing else. I also understand that in the highs (6k-20k) there is not a whole lot going on other than cymbals, the top end of vocals, the top end of acoustic / perhaps piano, the top crunch of electric (sometimes) and aux percussion. Thus, most of the action goes down between 100-6k. That's nearly a given, right?

After that we've got the next simplest section, the mids. When I say mids, I guess I mean 500-1k. For me, there's a little bit of everything here, however, it seems like the only thing that is predominant here is vocal or lead instruments. For most rhythm, there seems to be a dip in the 1k region and the 500 region perhaps. This helps take out a lot of clutter for the vocal.

Now the hardest sections (for me at least) are the low mids (100-500) and the high mids (1k-6k). Here we are dealing with so many elements. In the low mids we're dealing with fundamentals and warmth, as well as boominess and honkiness, but in the high mids we're dealing with presence and attack, and logically, harshness and sharpness. These are just semantics, but you understand I know.

Obviously, the best mixes are going to come out of the best songs. Some of my favorite mixes are those done for the San Francisco Grammy award winning band TRAIN. The album version of "Drops of Jupiter" is just mind blowing. So much space and depth, and everything can be heard. Drums are punchy, guitars present, piano full, strings brilliant. I think the biggest part of WHY that mix is so good is the SONG and the BAND themselves. Train is a phenomenal band with lots of creative arrangements, and their singer is truly a pro. When the singer is good, you're not afraid to turn him up. If the singer is bad, sometimes you naturally turn them down in the mix. See how that applies to ANY instrument? If the guitar part is lame or too full-bodied or too thin, you might turn it down, but then the song sounds weak without guitar, so you turn it back up. It's this "give and take" part of mixing that is the most frustrating. low mids seem to get less predominant as I get better as an engineer / mixer, because most of that is taken up by the vocal fundamental. You’ve got some acoustic and bass low end, as well as drum warmth and punch, but a big portion of the 200-400 region seems to be taken up by vocals. However, vocals are also tending to have a lot less low end than they used to. Here I go again.

More low end notes soon.


WAVES released two plugins in the Post Production series.

Waves Noise Suppressor is a real-time multiband processor for fast and effective broadband noise suppression on dialog tracks. Suitable for both indoor and location recordings with constant or modulating environment noise, WNS delivers "superior sound quality with minimal artifacts", according to Waves. WNS offers all the flexibility, portability, power, and precision of software, like true Pro Tools integration, multiple simultaneous instances, and full automation.

$2800 MSRP

Waves LoAir – 12 November 2009. More than just a subharmonic generator, LoAir features adjustable frequency and low-pass filter controls to shape your ultra low-end. Plus, it lets you process polyphonic content, as well as create an LFE track from stereo or 5.0 sources. Similar to Waves MAXXBASS, but mind you, it’s more for post production.

$100 MSRP. Mac / Windows in all formats.

NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH WAVES…Wave Arts has announced the release of Tube Saturator, a new plug-in that represents Wave Arts' first step into the world of accurate real-time analog modeling.

Unlike other tube simulators which use radically simplified models, Wave Arts says that Tube Saturator "uses state-of-the-art circuit simulator technology to capture every nuance of an analog system". The actual schematic (consisting of resistors, capacitors, tubes, and so on) is precisely specified within the simulator and completely defines the signal processing - no approximations or short cuts. Technically, the plug-in is solving a set of mathematical equations, in real-time, to capture the non-linear and complex interactions of all the components in the system, with the intention of sounding exactly like the analog circuit.

Use Tube Saturator to add a bit of analog warmth to recordings, or increase the drive for some distortion. You can use it as a saturating peak limiter too. This new technology is CPU intensive, but brings you analog realism like never before, according to Wave Arts.

Features / specification:

  • Accurate tube preamp simulator using 64-bit circuit simulation technology.
  • Drive control for distortion adjustment.
  • FAT mode for increased punch.
  • Analog style metering.
  • No latency.
  • Up to 192 kHz sampling rate, depending on CPU speed.
  • Mono or stereo.

Pricing & Availability

Priced at $149.95, Tube Saturator runs as a plug-in within any host application that supports VST, Audio Unit, MAS, DX and RTAS plug-ins on Windows and Mac OS X.


Togu Audio Line. – Great free plugins of all different varieties. VST, Universal Binary, and AU. You can donate money via paypal, and

TAL-Filter (multi mode filter device)





TAL-Dub and Dub II (versatile delay units)

TAL-Tube (tube emulation)


MXL announced in October a year-end promotion called “Trade It Up.” Bring in your old MXL mic, dead or alive, and swap it for a $50 discount against the purchase of a new MXL Gold 35, V67i Tube, V69XM, V89, or MXL R77. If you have an old MXL mic you don’t use, heck, try trading it in for a newer one.These mics seem to be a big jump from old MXL stuff. Lots of producers like Benjamin Wright have been using these new mics. It’s about time.

K. Osborne
The Closet Studio