The Circle of Progress

I checked out the software Oberheim OBX (Obxd) and it is pretty faithful to the original. But as I went through the preset sounds, I was reminded of what it was we really wanted out of a synth back then..to be able to recreate actual instruments (strings, horns,drums,bass,etc.). The race was on and the Yamaha DX7 emerged as an early winner for certain sounds such as Fender Rhodes and Electric Bass (“Seinfeld” Slap Bass, anyone?). The drawback was that you needed a Phd to operate the beast. Roland mega synths such as the Super JX tried to enter the “imitative” fray, sadly ignoring its actual strength as a very cool DCO synth. But Roland was working on a type of synthesis (“L.A”) that grafted the attack part with a sample (i.e.. a string bow or horn blast) onto a synth wave with their D-50. Korg, who’s Poly 61 was looked at as a “toy” synth, blindsided everyone with the relatively low cost “M1”, a synth that borrowed the D-50’s architecture.
So we now had the tools to create an entire production within one synth; the M1 (like the Ensoniq ESQ-1) had a built in sequencer that allowed the user to compose an entire track. Classic synths were relegated to the pawn shops as larger and larger “workstations” were brought to market with more sounds,more voices,more tracks. Companies started to market them in 19” rack modules; my own rig at that time was contained in 3 large flight cases and housed about 12 different modules.
But at the heart of every modern synth was a sound card and a small computer. As processing and memory dropped in price, it became possible to have it all within one computer. All you needed was a keyboard to control the sounds in there and voila!..your Mac (or PC) was your “all in one” synth and sequencer. Even the pristine quality of a fully sampled orchestra was at your fingertips..simply add the ability to record audio (Logic/Cubase/Digital Performer,etc)  and you’re looking at a “studio in a box”

At the same time, all the limitations and sonic drawbacks of those early synths started to become desirable again (think vinyl). People missed the “analog” sound and hands-on control of knobs that a mouse can’t give (yes,I know all about assigning midi controls to midi controllers..I just don’t think we’re there  with that yet).
All of this has been very positive for synths, both hardware and software. If a musician wants to go deep, there are software ones like Alchemy that do everything except pick up your laundry. For the less technical user, there are about 3,000 preset sounds in that one as well. Hardware synths by pioneers such as Roger Linn and Tom Oberheim continue to push the envelope while maintaining ties to their distinctly analog roots. And new comers such as Teenage Engineering are gaining fans among those who wish to explore sound creation/design from the ground up.

Freddy’s Dead

This has been a sad time for music. Aside from all of the high profile musicians that have passed away, we have also lost Fred McFarlane .

fred-mcfarlaneFred was one of the nicest and most talented musicians that I have ever known. I first met him at a small studio in NYC where he was part of a thriving studio/live scene. We wound up on the “D Train” live crew, Fred as one of the 4 keyboardists and myself as road manager/FOH and monitor mixer. As we started gigging, I wound up writing and producing a fairly big radio hit in NY  (for which I saw almost no money…that’s another post) and Fred made the joke at sound check “We’re the only band where the roadie has a bigger hit than the band”.

D Train was a band of top level musicians and Fred fit right in…in all of the performances, he never made a mistake..not even one. He had a great sense of humor and was incredibly generous. When I asked him to help out on a project of my own songs, he traveled down to D.C. and laid down tracks for 12 songs for free.

Fred later ended up playing keyboards on a few songs that I had written for other artists (including “I Think I’m In Trouble” by Expose, co-written with Kevin Calhoun and Shelly Peiken), and working with artists like Madonna.

He was also generous with his time and expertise. An early adopter of synthesizers, he knew his way around the Oberhiem synths backwards and forwards. I just found a free software version of the OBX and can’t wait to see if it does him justice.obx_d

 

 

The Voice (Over) of Experience

I recently did my first studio podcast production.mic The client wanted to know if I had ever done one before so I asked him if it was similar to the NPR series “Radio Lab”. He told me that the “Radio Lab” format was very similar to what he was looking to do and we started to go down the list of what elements would be needed to put his together:

1. Original Music Creation

2. Voice Over Recording/Editing

3. Mixing and Editing Of Field Sound Recordings (ie. interviews that he had done  on a Zoom Recorder)

4. Final Mix Of all Elements

We finished the project within the projected time and budget and it was a creative and fun session. Over the next week, I thought about how important it is to be open to learning new skills and to have an open mind in this “soup to nuts” economy. If I initially had no frame of reference (“Radio Lab”) with the client, his confidence in working with me would have been seriously undermined. And recording and editing/mixing VO (voiceover…the people on radio and TV who speak) for four years and writing and producing music for TV and radio while I was also writing and producing music for major labels….all of it gave me the experience and skills that come into play in producing the podcast.

Life is funny..you never know when you’re going to need to know what you didn’t think needed to know. (apologies to Yogi)

 

 

 

Clean Up Your Room…

chris gehinger In our recent conversation, Chris Gehringer  (Sterling Sound Mastering), one of the most sought after and respected mastering engineers on the planet, stressed the importance of an accurate and balanced listening environment (speakers and room design). I redid the cabling and monitor placement in my room at The Loft Studios in Bronxville, NY a few weeks ago and decided to bring in an expert to help get it as flat as possible…so I called Steve La Cerra.

phonicsreve lacerraArmed with his handy Phonic Room Analyzer, Steve ran the room through its paces as we identified audio “peaks and valleys” that were causing issues across the audio spectrum. It was fun, balancing the art and science of sound with Steve, as we adjusted the volume, EQ and crossover controls on the main speakers and sub woofer.

In addition to a flatter response (The Holy Grail of any control room), we also achieved a wider sweet spot…listeners in the back of the room are hearing pretty much what I am hearing in the mix position. Every one of the musicians that I worked with over the next week noticed the improvement. All I need now is a  Lava Lamp!

 

The Look of A Telecaster..

..with the sound of a Les Paul?

Red FenderI can’t wait to take this for a spin tomorrow (Click on the photo to see it in all its’ glory) .

Intonation and sustain up and down the neck seem to be fantastic (acoustically) and there is a push/pull knob that lets the rear pick up be either single or double coil.

 

Running it through an amp sim in Logic first but then through my Princeton Reverb later in the week…review to follow.

Me,me,me,me,me…….

Sheet MusicAdele recently stated that if she hasn’t lived the experience in her song, she can’t sing it. And so it follows that if she wouldn’t WRITE a songs without having experienced those events and feelings.

While I am a big fan of her singing and songwriting, I hope that beginner songwriters don’t take this path as the ONLY way to write a “real” song.

One of my favorite songs, “Angel From Montgomery”, was written by a young John Prine and the first line is “I am an old woman”. Warren Zevon is an undercover spy in Central America in “Lawyers,Guns and Money” and a suicidal junkie in “Carmelita”. John Lennon sang “I am the Walrus”. John Hiatt was behind bars in “Tennessee Plates”. And are we to believe that Johnny Cash really “shot a man in Reno just watch him die”?

Confessional, personal songwriting is nothing new…think of Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne. But they wrote lots of other kinds of songs as well. If you limit your songwriting to your own experiences and feelings, you had better be leading the life of Candide.

All I Want Is Everything….

 

Slate

…so I took the plunge..the yearly “Slate Digital Everything Bundle” subscription. It was a tough call, as I had already bought the Virtual Mix Rack and the Virtual Bus Compressors. But the Virtual Tape Machine, as well as the Virtual Console Collection were beckoning; when they threw in the Relab 480 (an emulation of the famed Lexicon Unit), I had to dive in.

Everything sounds great and they’re adding new plug ins all the time. I tried out the Virtual Neve Preamp to add some drive to a vocal track and it really did the trick. I’m looking forward to the release of the Amp Modeler soon and will keep you posted on how it stacks up against the usual suspects (Line 6,etc).

Omnipressor Days

WillowMill PicI found this studio in the Virginia Yellow Pages when I was looking to record some original songs with my band. Local (about 8 minutes away) and priced right, this somewhat haphazard choice set the stage for my entire career path.

The owner and engineer Gilbert Jullien was as close to a genius as I have met. He had been given an Eventide Omnipressor that was supposedly unfixable (he jokingly referred to his broken unit as the “OmniDepressor) but, within 10 minutes of speaking to their tech department on the phone, Gil had not only figured out how to get it working, he had been offered a job with them on the spot.

He taught me (in the words of John Burr) “Everything you know but not everything I know” about recording. After about 3 months, he came to me while I was still finding my way around his studio and handed me the keys, saying “If you can figure it out, you can run it”. Thus began the first of the 10,000 hours.

So when Eventide offered a special price on their Ultra Channel Strip that included not only a software version of the Omnipressor but also a stripped down Harmonizer, I had to bite. One of the best features is the ability to drag any component within the strip into any order. Great emulation,great plug in..but why not throw a reverb in??!!

Ultra Channel