The Weight

I have spent most of my life playing “semi-weighted” keyboards, a family that sits between the plastic all in one “fun machines” that you find at Best Buy and the high end “weighted” keyboards that tip the scales both price and weight wise.

Once the dawn of the midi controller came to pass (ie. no sounds in the unit) , I couldn’t wait to turn my next keyboard’s numerous buttons, faders and switches into a Virtual Mega Synth, one to rule them all!

Of course, that never happened. Keyboard after keyboard let me down, each one with its own quirks and clunkiness. And every keyboard player who sat down to my “semi-weighted” controller had a terrible experience (and let me know it) with the “un-piano” feel. I chalked it up to “diva-ness” and a touch of snobbery on their part.

But I was working on a project recently where the artist asked me to play some piano and organ parts and we were recording into Pro Tools. Midi in Pro Tools is (for me) about as fun as doing my taxes so I recorded Audio Only. The studio had a beautiful weighted keyboard with great internal sounds and I was sold.

That was it for me.

My Studio Logic 73 Weighted Keyboard in combination with the Garritan CFX Grand Plug In has made me a convert.

Tune Up

It was time for another ProTools Update so I went for “2020” which wasn’t very different than “12”. The biggest change was the introduction of “Dark Mode” which makes it easier on the eyes if you’re working for long stretches (ie. always).

It also came with the bare bones version of Melodyne. The tuning of vocals (and instruments) is pretty much de facto in the day to day world of audio production and the two main players are Antares AutoTune and Celemony’s Melodyne. The two camps each have their followers and detractors but the general consensus seems to be:

AutoTune for Real Time and/or a more Processed Sound (T Pain, Cher, etc). Detractors claim that AT produces more artifacts than Melodyne.

Melodyne for more natural (but off line only) sound.

AT has a Graphic Mode like Melodyne and both require you to transfer the audio (in real time) into the plug in before you can start fooling around with it. They both offer advanced editing in terms of volume and timing as well.

After a frustrating run with the basic Melodyne in ProTools, I bit the bullet and upgraded to the more advanced version…and I love it. The sound DOES seem more natural, the GUI is much more appealing and it seems a LOT easier on my system; AT in graphic mode has had a tendency to crash my sessions.

I recently did a session in which I was asked to tune 64 vocal tracks and I was happy to have both plug ins at my disposal. Some especially tricky issues were better fixed by one than the other.

ARA Technology promises to make Melodyne a real time process (ie. no need to transfer audio first) but ProTools has not adopted it as yet. I think that Avid’s inclusion of Melodyne (however basic) in it’s newest upgrade seems to indicate that it’s right around the corner…and did I mention..Audio to Midi??

Greatest Hits

New toys are exciting at any age and the purchase of new audio plug ins is no exception. But after that initial rush (“THIS is the one that will make EVERYTHING amazing!!”), the true test is how often you’ll keep coming back to it.

I find value in almost all of the ones that I have, partially due to the “Demo Mode” that many manufacturers implement. This is a very smart move because it lets the user “try before you buy”.

There is an “embarrassment of riches” in the audio field these days, from hardware to software. Some of these were made to “fix” audio issues while others lean more to the creative “sound shaping” side. So let’s see who is standing the relative “test of time”.

PSP Infinistrip: Great Modular “Drag and Drop” 500 Series Layout. Pre Amp Models are great although I like the way the Slate ones go further over the top, distortion wise. This plug in features THE BEST Ducker that I have encountered, a serious DeEsser and great Eqs (musical ,not surgical) and analog sounding compressors. I recently used this plug in to record a D.I. bass part by Brandon Hodge and he was completely blown away by the sound.

Brainworx bx_console N: Incredibly smooth EQ and Compressor, very natural gate and nice console saturation. That Neve sound..what’s not to love?

Brainworx bx_digital V3: The Stereo Imager alone is worth the price of admission but the mid-side with auto solo makes this a serious addition to the Master Bus for mixes or mastering.

Fab Filter Pro Q3: It’s everything that they say it is…and the addition of Dynamic EQ has made it my “go to”.

Soundtoys 5: Indispensible..amazing delays and moving filters..but the killers for me are the “Devil-Loc Deluxe” and “Decapitator”.

Dune 3: Incredibly deep synth yet easy to get around on, once you understand the architecture. I start from scratch with the “initial” preset and end up with something worth saving every time.

To Infinistrip…..!!

PSP infinstrip

PSP Audio has long been one of my favorite audio plug in designers so I was really curious to see what they had cooked up with their newest offering. After a day with the trial version, I plunked down my hard earned duckets and I haven’t looked back.

The most obvious competition for this type of “Series 500” style plug in would be Slate and McDSP. I don’t have the McDSP Plug In so I can only reference the Slate.

First off, PSP has designed the modules based oof of their own concepts, unlike the Slate one, which brings in a mix of both their own as well as emulations of popular hardware units such as the API EQ, the SSL EQ and even a sanctioned Distressor. Both plug ins feature a “drag and drop” style of filling the rack and modules can be placed in whatever order you like. Neither one offers a truly “surgical” multi-band eq but all of them have their uses.

Aside from the sound, I was drawn in by the concept that you can try out different compressors/eqs in a slot while maintaining all of your settings. This is a quick way to audition different “flavors” without losing your changes. The preamp modules offer the sound of the 60’s,70’s 80’s and 90’s with a Drive and Noise amount. The gate is intuitive and easy to set up, as is the compressor. They have also included an amazing de-esser (pretty much worth the price of admission) and side chain capabilities (something sorely lacking in the Slate Strip).

All in all, an “amazing piece of kit”,as they say in England.

Fab Four???

Pro Q 3

No, it’s the Fab Filter EQ 3.

This equalizer is one of the most highly regarded EQs in the Plug In pantheon. I have lusted after it for ages, as an EQ that could be my “go to” for both Logic and Pro Tools. The GUI and navigation are fantastic and it offers many useful features such as “Match EQ”, mid/side capabilities and some interesting shapes (ie. “tilt” and “brickwall”).

The design and functionality has been shamelessly copied by Slate for their new Infinity EQ (which I also have). So what made me pull the trigger on the Fab Model? The tipping point was the inclusion of Dynamics, turning each band into a Compressor or Expander (if you so choose). Simple yet incredibly effective.

Other goodies include a very generous Preset Collection and Fab’s Help Tips (which are an education unto themselves). I am already using this EQ in my mixes and it’s easy to see what all the hype is about.

“Kandace Springs”-The Movie

Kandace is a force of nature…virtuoso pianist, soulful vocalist and an unaffected presence that commands every stage she steps out on. Plus, she’s hilarious and knows more about cars than Marisa Tomei’s character in “My Cousin Vinny”.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to be a part of this fantastic project, a documentary about Kandace and her latest collection “The Women Who Raised Me” on Blue Note Records. Part of the documentary was slated to be a “live in the studio” recording with her band, drummer and bg. vocalist Ms.Taylor Moore and bassist and bg. vocalist Aneesa Strings.

Her SRP producers Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers as well as the Film Production company agreed on Riverworks Recording for the tracking. It has a huge tracking room and a grand piano and I know the room inside out.

We set up three monitor mixes that each musician could control and an individual floor monitor for each. Micing was minimal…two for the piano, a mic and DI for the bass, one bass drum and 2 overheads for the drums and vocal mics for all. After a bit of trial and error, we settled on the Sennheiser MD421 for Kandace’s vocals. I’ve recorded her on everything from a Shure Beta 58 to a high end Neumann TLM 170 and she always sounds great so I wasn’t too worried.

It was a grueling 2 day shoot on one of the coldest days this winter. They wound up shooting about 5-6 takes of each song and I made rough mixes for Carl and Evan to review.

A few weeks later, we convened at their production area at The Loft in Bronxville to mix the songs. One other additional session for small tweaks and we were done. The record came out and debuted at #1 Jazz on iTunes and Billboard all over the world.

Strip Search

There are so many ways to mix but I have always been partial to the “channel strip” approach, where most of what you need is in one plug in. There are lots of great ones out there and some offer more bells and whistles than others. Most offer EQ, Compression,Filters and a Gate. The Eventide Ultra Channel adds a Stereo Delay and a Harmonizer as well as a recreation of their famous “Omnipressor”. The Scheps offers 2 (!) DeEssers as well as Saturation and the ability to move the modules around in any order. Slate takes the “500” Series Approach for up to 8 Modules. My “go to” is Metric Halo’s Channel Strip and I love how they update and add features (like a Real Time Analyzer).

But…I was intrigued when I first read about this one from Brainworx.

Back in the day, my friend Al Hemberger at The Loft Studios was looking for a high end Single Channel Mic Preamp and wound up with a rack of these:

Neve Prism Rack

So when I read that Brainworx had modeled an ENTIRE CONSOLE, CHANNEL BY CHANNEL, I had to try it out. The layout is easy to navigate in the plug in and it sounds..yes…I’m going to say it…”musical”. I haven’t had a chance to run it in full console mode but it’s great on individual channels and the gate is surprisingly effective and “unfiddly”.

Department of Corrections

It was time…end of year plus the need for some small home monitors. I had been thinking about the small Yamaha and JBL speakers but they still seemed too large for my desk area. These little guys from IK had been getting some great press and endorsements (both Lord Alges!!) and they featured a slimmed down version of their ARC technology.

What does that mean?…well.. the Holy Grail of ANY speaker is Truth and Translatability. No one likes that feeling of playing your recording/mix outside of your listening environment and being horrified at how it sounds on another system..lost vocals!! Screechy guitars!!No BASS!!too much BASS!!…let’s face it..it’s your worst nightmare.

The general culprit (assuming that it’s not you) is the combination of a bad set of monitors and a bad sounding room. IK has built a technology (ARC) into these speakers that allows you to plug a microphone (included) into the back of these speakers and press a button that runs an audio sweep and calibrates the speakers to your listening environment. The listening area (or “sweet spot”) is pretty narrow but seems to be pretty accurate.

I haven’t done enough listening/mixing on these to see how they stack up yet….more to come

Murphy’s Law

I got the alert…new music from Elliott Murphy!

I was a fan of Elliott’s from his first album and we covered his classic “Last Of The Rock Stars” in my band. So when I got the call from my publisher asking if I wanted to co write with him, I jumped at the chance. We met up at my studio on West 19th street and wrote and recoded 2 songs. Elliott sang and played acoustic guitar and harmonica while I played electric guitar, keyboards ,machine drums and sang backing vocals. Ernie Brooks, who had played with Elliott as well as the Modern Lovers, swung by the studio and added some great bass work. One song , “Hardcore” wound up (the demo version) on his “Beauregard” CD and was the title of Charles Pitter’s insightful Elliott bio.

The other song “Forgiveness” sat on the sidelines…until a few weeks ago when, much to my surprise, it showed up on his new collection “Ricochet”.

A.E.S

It’s that time of the year again…AES descended upon the west side of NYC at the mammoth Javits Center. The newly renovated “7” Subway line now stretches from Grand Central to Hudson Yards, just one block from Javits..no more freezing crosstown walks.

Despite my early registration for tickets on line, I was given a Kafka-esque run around by the staff who were in charge of admission…I just about gave up.

Inside, it felt a high tech craft fair, with booths and demos and gear that could make your head spin. Sadly, I was there on the final day and it seemed like many of the exhibitors were tired and just wanted to pack up and go home. Wandering around, several analog consoles by Neve, SSL and Trident caught my eye and Avid had a large presence with a multi part area of their own.

Lots of great boutique companies and I discovered an amazing software company called Accusonus. Their noise reduction and sonic restoration tools are sure to give iZotope a run for their money.

Next time, I’m going on day one…still, a great show.