Tag Archive for: music industry

More Mackie Muckie

I was wandering through the Mackie forum last night to see if there was any report on crosstalk issues with the SR consoles. I came across this post:

I ordered a Mackie desk, because of the reputation, and the fact it was assembled in the USA, thats why I was prepared to pay the high price. (I could have got a Chinese Behringer for half the price)

Imagine my surprise when it arrived and I found that it is ‘Designed by Mackoids in Woodinville, WA, USA – Manufactured in Malaysia’

I would imagine this is to ‘Reduce manufacturing costs’, so when I ordered my American desk at the agreed price was it priced at a loss due to the high costs in the USA or are Mackie ensuring higher returns by farming out their construction?

I have no problem with goods being assembled in different countries (except China, human rights doncha know), but I would like to be made aware of the fact – and pay accordingly.

You can read all the gory details of the business mess that is Loud Technologies (they have the Mackie brand now) here. Some interesting tidbits: accumulated deficit of $37 million, net sales decreased by 21% over last year, layoffs, reduction in research and development. More interesting perhaps is the closing of the manufacturing facility in Woodinville Washington to outsource manufacturing of products offshore. So… premium pricing and cheap manufacturing go hand in hand when a company is in this much difficulty. Quality? If you are concerned about quality best to look elsewhere.

Mackie Muckie

Little wonder Mackie has gone through such financial difficulties over the past few years. Mackie is a company that markets aggressively and convinces the novice that they can offer exceptional sonic quality at value prices. In reality, Mackie offers premium priced cheap products. At least Behringer aligns the price/quality curves. Cheap products sold for a cheap price.

I am whining about Mackie because I have to use one of their consoles every week for live sound. I do not expect the Mackie to sound as good as my Neve. I do not expect it to offer the same level of functionality. But I do expect some basic performance attributes for the price point. I would gladly use Allen & Heath or Soundcraft products over the Mackie at similar price points. I was not at the church when this purchase decision was made.

The board in question, an SR32-4, has significant crosstalk issues through the aux sends. I often have CDs or MP3s on constant rotation and simply mute the channel when I don’t require the background music. No latency in terms of pressing the play button and when the church service ends it adds a nice touch to have the music already cued and good to go. However, even though the channel is muted, a small amount of the signal is routed to the master aux sends even though no signal is being directed to the auxes from the channel. This means that a noticeable signal arrives to the monitors on stage. How irritating.

I also don’t like the 60mm faders. They have a terrible feel and a short throw. The paint on the scribble strip is easily removed by masking tape. The board only offers 6 aux sends. There is no direct out. The XLR main outs have a +6db boost. I had to use the alternate TRS outs to connect to a loudspeaker management system. The EQ is brittle to my ear.

I would never recommend a Mackie. Too many compromises on sonic quality for the price. Better sounding products are available at competitive price levels. As for Behringer… don’t get me started on that company 😉

Monitor This

Or that. I really do not care for cheaply manufactured audio products for either studio or live installation. I lead the technical ministries at my church and I invariably troubleshoot all of the problems with the sound system. For whatever reason the monitor system was set up with both passive and active feeds. We send two discrete feeds to the passive system and another two discrete feeds to the active system. The passive system takes advantage of high quality amplifiers and stage wedges. The actives use cheap Yorkville “mixer amps”. These wedges try to do way more than what is needed from a stage monitor.

There are multiple inputs and outputs: mic preamp, line in, RCA in, EFX send and return, instrument in. There are two channels. There is eq and parallel signal output. However, to meet a price point, everything about this wedge is cheap. Cheap pots, cheap components, cheap speakers. So… how does it sound? Terrible. And that is when it works.

One of the wedges has developed an intermittent short. I took it apart last week and I could find no break in the circuit however I now suspect that the problem must reside in the actual jack itself. The jack is manufactured using the highest possible quality of plastic and the absolute minimum of conductive metal to transfer signal. And, to ensure the widest possible appeal of the product, the inputs must handle balanced and unbalanced connections.

Throw ’em out is what I would like to do. However, we have limited funds to deal with the monitor system.

A List of Dubious Distinction

CCM Magazine had presented a list of the top 100 Contemporary Christian Music albums of all time a few years back. In case you missed the list I’ve reproduced the top twenty to give you some idea as to the content:

  1. Amy Grant, Lead Me On
  2. Larry Norman, Only Visiting This Planet
  3. Rich Mullins, A Liturgy, A Legacy & A Ragamuffin Band
  4. Mark Heard, Second Hand
  5. Keith Green, For Him Who Has Ears To Hear
  6. U2, The Joshua Tree
  7. Rich Mullins, The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume 1
  8. Leslie Phillips, The Turning
  9. dc Talk, Free At Last
  10. BeBe & CeCe Winans, Different Lifestyles
  11. Russ Taff, The Way Home
  12. Tonio K, Unchained Romeo
  13. Randy Stonehill, Welcome To Paradise
  14. dc Talk, Jesus Freak
  15. Charlie Peacock, Love Life
  16. Bob Dylan, Slow Train Coming
  17. Michael Omartian, White Horse
  18. Steve Taylor, Meltdown
  19. Sixpence None The Richer, Sixpence None The Richer
  20. Phil Keaggy, Crimson and Blue

I have only 3 of the top 20 albums on this list and only 15 of the top 100 despite an extensive collection in this genre. CCM is by and large run and operated by secular labels due to the popularity of this musical genre in the United States. There are some who write scathing reviews of CCM as a concept and a business segment. Consider the following comments from D. Marty Lasley of American Wasteland:

I loathe the very notion, the concept, the enterprise, that takes one of the creative arts–like music–and consciously dedicates itself to forming an exclusive club of artists bound by certain narrow, ridged parameters. After they’re bound and gagged, then they’re put to the grindstone by cruel, greedy taskmasters to prefab a product for a boneheaded, niche audience. That’s the formula for artistic mediocrity, and the road most traveled by the secular musical industry.

Alas, the recipe for mediocrity has also been enthusiastically embraced by the contemporary Christian music industry and sanctioned by their official sycophant–CCM. What makes the CCM industry more repulsive to me than the secular music industry is the fact that CCM follows in lock goose-step the trends and tastes of the secular industry. If a vocal group of four midget yodelers burst onto the scene and sold a million CDs for Columbia Records, bet the house that within six months Myrrh or Sparrow will have themselves an agape knockoff midget yodeling band. Mediocrity is tolerable, but copycatting mediocrity isn’t.

You can read his full article here. But be warned… he is not a fan of CCM. I have a different view in that much of the CCM content is very well produced and very competitive with the secular industry in terms of overall quality. The underlying business model is certainly a primary factor. At the end of the day CCM is in business to make money.

Ring… Ring…

Music week, a British trade publication, has started a top-20 ring tone chart due to the popularity of ring tones in England. The market for ring tones is estimated at roughly 70 million pounds. Royalties from ring tones were 3 million pounds. Beyonce Knowles sold more than half a million ring tones. I wonder how you go about preparing mixes for cellular phones?

Ethical Downloads

The Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) and Quebec-based Société du droit de reproduction des auteurs, compositeurs et éditeurs au Canada (SODRAC) filed a joint tariff application with the Copyright Board of Canada to determine a royalty rate for songwriters and music publishers for online digital music sales.

While an online royalty rate has not been established, CMRRA and SODRAC have already issued licences to online music services because they did not want to hold up the establishment of commercial services that would give Canadians access to legitimate music downloads.

I guess that’s another way of saying it is more important for the record companies to get some money in the pipeline first. After all, the artists can always get their money later. Assuming, of course, that artists get any money at all. The structure of payments to musicians has been relatively the same for over thirty years. Some say that it is fair, while others maintain that the system is out of date given the new resources of distribution and technology.

The most obvious source of revenue is by record album sales. In the case of these sales, artists receive a percentage of sales as described in their contracts. The current rate is 7.55 cents (U.S.) per track per album, making royalties from a record around ten percent of the wholesale cost. The requirement by the label to clear investment costs is usually paramount. It was tough for most artists to make a living when people actually purchased CDs. Most labels are trimming rosters to reflect the current market situation. Many artists just drop out.

Ethics and the Internet

You will find a very interesting discussion on ethics at the recording.org website. Apparently some of the site users decided to extract content from the discussion forums with the intent to repackage and redistribute the content elsewhere. Sound familiar? I often have debates with people about the ethics of downloading pirated MP3 files of commercial recordings. More often than not I hear the following defenses:

  • “I’m not stealing… I’m just downloading”
  • “Why should I pay for the cost of an entire CD when it only contains one good song”
  • “If I like the song then I’ll go buy the CD”

Thank heavens for iTunes. At least there is a credible alternative to stealing music.

What about taking content from postings on forums? Is it theft? Does it erode the notion of a business transaction based on a revenue model? Is the poster entitled to copyright protection?

The fact that people would go to an online site and extract massive amounts of content and repackage it without permission is interesting. However, in the recording.org case there is some controversy. The site used to contain the following footer on every page:

Logos and trademarks in this site are property of their respective owner. The comments are property of their posters, all the rest © 2004 by Recording.org.

The webmaster removed the footer immediately after he had uncovered the attempts to extract massive content from his site. Given that the comments are the property of their posters was the action to extract content criminal? Was the action ethical? Do posters have any intellectual property rights?

Welcome to the Wild, Wild West of the digital age.

Where is the Magic?

A number of musicians are crossing over into engineering and production these days partly due to the reduced barrier of entry into recording. There are some truly horrific outcomes when poorly developed musical talent meets poorly developed engineering and production skills. What happens, though, when good talent and good engineering and production skills fail to capture the magic of a musical performance?

I reviewed a CD project that a friend of mine had recently produced. The studio that was used in the production is fairly typical of more advanced project studios these days: good to excellent microphones, good to excellent preamps, good to excellent recording back-ends, good to excellent processors. The musicians were all first/second call calibre. The material covers top hits spanning pop and jazz standards. And yet, the presentation was surprisingly disappointing. The vocal performances were very flat and uninspired. The arrangements, although well executed, lacked energy. The concept of the project seemed lost as there was no original material and the cover songs were disconnected ranging from piano-centred jazz standards to guitar-oriented pop. The featured artist is female and yet, for some inexplicable reason, several of the songs use male vocal treatments exclusively.

I believe that it is way too easy these days to create technically perfect recordings and completely miss the essence of an inspired performance.

Backlog

Still struggling with backlog in the studio. I have two projects that need to get finished by end of August to make room for new projects coming online in the fall. It looks to me right now that I won’t have both projects done before September which means delaying new work. I do fall into that category of producer/engineer/musician and sometimes using all three facets of that category creates a huge demand on time. Being a perfectionist doesn’t help either.

Changes Afoot

I had been hosting this blog off the whisperwoodstudios.com domain and I recently broke down and set up a distinct domain for the blog at richardcleaver.com. I will be making some substantial design changes over the next few weeks and I will be putting more focus into content as well. The net impact is that I have not been as consistent on blogging. Too much time spent on site transfers and setups.

Second Neve Mainframe Arrives

I have been working over the past year on restoring a Neve console for use in my recording studio. You can review some pictures about the restoration activities here. Last night we received the second mainframe. We had already taken most of the parts from this second mainframe however there were a few critical parts that I needed to complete the restoration. These parts are contained within the relay bus network of the console. I checked them out last night and they are all in place.

I will strip the balance of parts from this second console and scrap the mainframe. I will tackle the balance of the restoration activities over the next year. These activities include recapping the board, upgrading certain components to ensure the best possible sonic performance and overall system testing. Sadly, I still lack the documentation that goes along with the board however Neve maintains the documentation and I can acquire the necessary schematics for the console directly from them.