Tag Archive for: music industry

Perfect Pitch

I needed to rebuild some of my plugin collection after migrating away from Windows to Mac. I do a significant amount of recording and mixing work “in-the-box” these days and I have a wide array of software-based audio processors.

One plugin that I use, reluctantly, is Auto Tune. When recording finish vocals it is not unusual to create composite tracks. The singer puts down somewhere between 3 and 30 takes of a vocal and the best portions of each take are selected and then combined into a composite track. I prefer to catch a great vocal performance and deal with any minor issues through overdubs. Having said that, I still take between 4 and 6 runs of vocals.

And then, there is Auto Tune.

I upgraded my Windows version to version 4.0 on Mac OSX.

Auto Tune is a brilliant piece of technology that seeks out notes that are out of pitch and automatically corrects pitch. You can work on just the section that is out of pitch or you can apply the pitch correction widely across the entire track. Some producers have used Auto Tune as an effect. The most widely recognized Auto Tune effect is one that was used on Cher’s hit song “Believe”. Many engineers now call this the “Cher Effect”.

Is it possible for singers to be pitch perfect in the studio? I have worked with some very talented singers who can make an exceptional performance happen but they might be a tad under or over in a few areas. I will reluctantly use Auto Tune to pitch correct those minor flaws and save an otherwise strong performance.

Om Pa Pa

I was back into tracking activities last week after a marathon month of mixing. I find mixing to be far more demanding from both a technical and creative perspective.

Last Saturday we had Paul Neufeld in the studio tracking keyboards. Paul is a Juno award-winning, Toronto-based composer, pianist, and tuba player working in a number of large and small band contexts. He co-leads and composes for Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra (NOJO). He did not bring his tuba out to the session but he managed to work through 11 songs and 50 tracks in one day. Fantastic musician.

From a technical perspective, tracking keyboards is very straightforward. I find it to be the easiest set of instruments to get a sound in the pocket.

During the session, I found myself thinking about the best way to get a great sound from a tuba.

I need a life 😉

Why Rent When You Can Buy

I was looking at the latest figures on unit sales in Canada for DVDs and CDs. Year to date 1,699,000 DVD units were shipped which is up 38% from last year (1,233,000 units). 22,562,000 CD units were shipped which is up 6% from last year (21,211,000 units).

There is a great deal of concern about the overall decline worldwide in the sale of CDs. Global music sales dropped 7.6 percent to $32 billion in 2003. This has been the fourth straight annual decline according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

CD units shipped in the U.S. increased by 9.6% percent in the first four months of the year leading to some cautious optimism that anti-piracy actions are having a positive impact.

Retail shipments of DVDs rose 52% in the first six months of 2004, while sales of DVD players rose 25%, according to the Digital Entertainment Group. On a unit basis, 649 million DVD titles were shipped to retail stores in the first six months of the year, while 13 million new DVD players were sold to play those discs.

Why rent when you can buy. Maybe it is time to get out of two-channel music production 😉

Getting Sirius

The CRTC made a request for applications for digital audio broadcasting (DAB) radio services in December of 2003. Canadian Satellite Radio (CSR), CBC and CHUM submitted proposals to the CRTC. Canadian Satellite Radio is a joint venture of former Toronto Raptors owner John Bitove Jr. and XM Satellite Radio Holdings. CBC is in partnership with Sirius Satellite Radio. CHUM is the only company to respond without an American partner.

The CSR and CBC proposals would leverage existing S-band (2320-2345 MHz) digital radio satellite services. In effect, this is the same infrastructure that XM and Sirius use in the U.S. although packaged for Canadian audiences with somewhat different channel lineups.

CSR would offer 101 channels, four of which would be produced in Canada, for a monthly fee of $12.99. CBC would offer 78 channels, with four produced by CBC, for a monthly fee of $12.95. Canadian-produced channels could also be offered to U.S. subscribers.

CHUM would use Eureka-147 terrestrial digital audio broadcasting for its service and its first offering would be 50 channels for a monthly fee of $9.95. All of CHUM’s content would be produced in Canada. Because of the broadcast technology, CHUM would be subject to the Canadian content requirements: 35% Canadian origin. The satellite services are not subject to this rule. CRTC is currently soliciting public comment regarding such policies for Canadian subscription radio.

CRTC closed the filing period for proposals and it will accept public comment until Sept. 15, 2004. It will hold a hearing on the subject Nov. 1, and may issue rules and license(s) in 2005.

Digital Radio will offer another channel for Canadian musicians to distribute their work. Long overdue.

A New Beginning

I delivered the third and final set of mix candidates for a project that I started tracking almost two years ago. The producer signed off on the finals and the project is now closed.

Funny thing though. I am a bit sad that the project has closed. When I work closely with people on a creative challenge I usually develop strong friendships. In a very real sense, the project and its contributors become part of my family. I will miss the artist and the producer from this project. They were wonderful people to work with and I hope that they are delighted with the outcome.

I am also sad because my oldest child is starting a new chapter in her life. My daughter starts her first year at university. I am thrilled for her and I know that she will have a wonderful experience. She came into my life over 18 years ago and she means everything to me.

I was able to hold back the tears today when we said good-bye. I wasn’t so controlled when I returned home. I will miss her very much.

Reference CDs

There are many times when I am mixing where I turn to a set of reference CDs to get my ears in tune. There are so many variables associated with creating good sounding mixes that can translate well to different playback devices that having a point of reference can be very helpful.

The following recordings represent signature efforts by highly accomplished and creative people. Even if you do not mix audio you should consider them for your own CD collection. Highly recommended.

Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
Mastered by Doug Sax. Engineered by Alan Parsons. Capitol Records, C2-46001 (several re-releases), (c)1973.

The Night Fly – Donald Fagen
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Roger Nichols and Eliot Scheiner. Warner Brothers, 923696-2, (c)1982.

Citizen – Steely Dan
Mastered by Glenn Meadows. Engineered by Roger Nichols, Elliot Scheiner, and Al Schmitt. MCA Records, 4-10-981, (c)1993.

In a Sentimental Mood – Dr. John with guest Ricky Lee Jones
Original master by Doug Sax. Produced by Tommy Lipuma. Engineered by Bill Schnee. Warner Brothers Records, 9 25889-2, (c)1989.

Innervisions – Stevie Wonder
Mastered by George Marino. Engineered by Dan Barbiero and Austin Godsey. Motown Records, 3746303262. (c)1973.

Joshua Judges Ruth – Lyle Lovett
Mastered by Doug Sax. Recorded by George Massenburg and Nathaniel Kunkel; mixed by George Massenburg. MCA Records, MCAD-10475. (c)1992.

Amused to Death – Roger Waters
Mastered by Doug Sax and Ron Lester, Recorded by Nick Griffiths, Engineered by James Guthrie. Columbia Records, CK47127, (c)1992.

Feeling Alright – Jerry Medina
Mastered by David Rodriguez. Engineered by Francisco Hurrado. RMM Records. RMD 82259, (c)1998.

The Gershwin Connection – Dave Grusin
Mastered by Wally Traugott. Engineered by Ed Rak. GRP Records, GRD-2005, (c)1991.

Luck of the Draw – Bonnie Raitt
Original Master by Doug Sax. Engineered by Ed Cherney. Produced by Don Was. Capitol Records, 07777-96111-2, (c)1991.

Sergeant Pepper – Beatles
Produced by George Martin. Engineered by Geoff Emmerick . Capitol, Apple Records, CDP746442-2, (c)1998.

You Won’t Forget Me – Shirley Horn
Mastered by Bob Ludwig, recorded and mixed by David Baker. Verve Records, 422-847482-2, (c)1990.

Forgiving Eden – A Triggering Myth
Mastered by Bob Katz. Engineered by Vic Stevens. Lasers Edge, LE1036, (c)2002.

Hourglass – James Taylor
Mastered by Ted Jensen. Engineered by Frank Filipetti. Columbia Records, CK67912, (c)1997.

New Favorite – Allison Krauss and Union Station
Mastered by Doug Sax. Engineered by Gary Paezosa on DSD. Rounder Records. 11661-0495-2, (c)2001.

Recycler – ZZ Top
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Terry Manning. Warner Brother Records, 926265-2, (c)1990.

Diamonds and Rust– Joan Baez
Mastered by Mike Reese. Engineered by Rick Ruggieri. A&M Records, D 3233, (c)1975.

Brand New Day – Sting
Mastered by Chris Blair. Engineered by Simon Osborne. A&M Records, 0694904432, (c)1999.

Every Single Day – Lucy Kaplansky
Mastered by David Glasser. Engineered by Ben Wisch. Red House Records, RHR CD156, (c)2001.

Pieces of the Sun – Tony Levin
Mastered by Trevor Sadler. Engineered by Kevin Killen. Narada, 72438-11626-2-0, (c)2002.

You’re the One – Paul Simon
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Andy Smith. Warner Brothers, 947844-2, (c)2000.

Toast With Jam

I have been having way too much fun with the Mac. My interaction with Windows had always been so pedestrian that I did not expect to enjoy using a computer. After all, it is just a tool and, in a studio setting, a stable and reliable computing platform is essential.

After three weeks of heavy lifting I have had nothing but flawless performance from the G5.

I had to backfill some applications on the Mac for casual CD dubs and editing two track audio files. I used Sony’s Sound Forge and CD Architect on the Windows platform. Now I use Bias Peak and Roxio’s Toast with Jam.

I am quite impressed with Jam’s ease of use. Drag audio files in. Burn CD. What a novel concept.

On to another item of interest. Microsoft has entered the online digital music business partly in response to the success of Apple’s iTunes store. Apple currently holds about 70% market share in the market. Today, about 2% of all purchased music comes through the Internet channel. Some analysts believe that the market may expand to about 12% over the next few years.

Even the major PC manufacturers have entered the fray. HP offers an iPod licensed from Apple. Perhaps Microsoft will need to introduce their own portable digital player… after all an X Box needs a Y box.

The Masters

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you just cannot win? I found myself in that position this past week.

I had one project that, for a number of reasons, suffered a series of delays. The project started tracking roughly two years ago and derailed about 9 months back. I received an email a few weeks back from the producer who, understandably, wanted to get the project completed and requested that the final work be finished by end of August.

End of August? Wow. Where would I find the time?

I gave up my vacation time. I logged over 70 hours on the project during my vacation and then used another 60 hours over the following two weeks to help the project meet this deadline.

I had to delay another project that had also expected to complete by end of August. The month of September will prove to be just as busy and then I start tracking on a new project mid-October.

Where I was not able to win was in preparing the mixes for mastering. I had released candidate mixes for the producer to review. There were change requests from the first set of candidates and I incorporated those changes and shipped a new set of release candidates last Monday. To meet the end of August deadline I had to dedicate Friday evening and Saturday to prep the mixes for mastering.

Session work on Saturday generally starts at 7am for me. I had received some very positive feedback from the artist on the last set of mixes however I had not heard anything back from the producer. On Friday evening I began the labour intensive work that is known as final mix.

To prepare mixes for mastering there are a number of necessary and mundane tasks: flattening all tracks in the various Pro Tools sessions, updating all documentation to reflect the current view of the mix, preparing file structures for backups. I did all of this work Friday evening so that I could focus Saturday on any mix changes.

Only Saturday morning there was no communication from the producer. And, at 6am on a Saturday, I did not think that it was prudent to call and confirm. I was in a time crunch and I thought sure the producer would have alerted me if further changes were required.

So I spent the next 5 hours preparing the mixes for mastering. The longest part of the job is cutting the finals on to CD at 1x. I use 1x burn rates to ensure minimum errors and I cut 2 copies. 1 copy is the primary and 1 copy is the backup. To get there, I needed to cut 24-bit 48KHz versions of each mix. So… all told, just to make copies of the final mixes can take about 6 hours without making a single revision to the original mix.

I came up for lunch at 11:30am and decided to check my email. At about 10:40am the producer had sent me an email outlining a number of changes across almost every song in the project.

And so I had to throw out all of the work that I had done. I spent another 14 hours making the requested changes and cutting new versions. I should have slept in that Saturday morning. More sleep, less stress 😉