Wednesday, October 26, 2011

FaderPort Blues

So I meet "Johnny" on a corner of 184th Street and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. He hands me a box with a Presonus Faderport and I hand him eighty bucks.
Then the cops came and we had to run and somebody started shooting and... oh wait, no, those things didn't happen.
What did happen was that I plugged in the FaderPort and it fired right up and works with Samplitude just fine and writes data and... and the only thing it doesn't do is make the mechanical fader actually follow Samplitude.
Which is very '80's if you have to know.
I look on the Internet. Turns out a gazillion people have this problem with the FaderPort.
So it communicates back and forth with the computer, but the computer doesn't run the motorized fader. Which is poopity. But all the lights work...
And it actually does what I need it to do. It would be better if the motor worked. Maybe it really is a bad unit? Probably not. It's probably just the drivers for it. But it would be so much cooler if the motorized fader worked.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Faderport Part I

So. I got this idea in my head that I want a PreSonus Faderport. Because, you know, I'd like a fader.
Now I'm perfectly well aware that physical objects don't make a person happy. At least not usually. I'd say that I do get joy out of my guitars and my amps though. But a USB fader? That's absurd.
I found one on Craig's List. Eighty bucks. That's a pretty reasonable price (I've been looking at them on EBay so I have an idea of how much they're going for used. I know they're only $130 new.

I call the guy.
He's in the Bronx. "Is it in good shape?" I ask (that's due diligence, right?)
"It's brand new."
OK then. Well, I should ask a follow-up question. "Did you just not like it?"
"It's my brother's actually. And he and his crew just got sent to jail so he's not going to be using it for a while."
That's not sketchy, right? I'm doing his brother a favor -- buying something that'll be way out of date by the time he gets out of prison. Right?
So I'll meet the guy at the 183rd stop on the 4 train tomorrow afternoon.
I'll tell you how that goes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


So we need a picture for our album cover. Right?
We need a table-covering like that. Perhaps one of us will have a guitar.
I figure we'll use a brick wall for our background. Probably the brick wall of the theater. And I like the "camera" down low like this.
We'll all be in costume, of course.


I've been experimenting with SynthFont in order to see if it will play this one particular Steinway Gigasample I have. It doesn't really work. Sigh. But SynthFont might be good for our other keyboard needs. Arie might play with it and decide.
Tim Dolbear is the Samplitude dude in North America. This is his setup.
So here's a story: an artist goes on a huge internationally syndicated radio program. The next day the artist gets 500,000 hits on the artist's website.
The sales the artist got?
No sales whatsoever.
Oh, and we managed to bust two three of our chargers and one two batteries over the time we've had our Sound Devices 702. But I didn't know what sort of charger we should get. So I wrote to Sound Devices and they wrote right back to tell me that the XL-WPH3 (which is the wall-power supply that came with the 702) will actually charge a battery in the 702. Derp. I didn't know that. But also we can blow $150 on an XL-Charge, which allows you to charge 2 Sony L-mounts. Which we will probably do this week.
(Note this is a cat from the Internet. I wouldn't put our little orange freak machine anywhere near my Les Paul.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Boxing Day

I've been doing a bunch of thinking about mixing in the box lately. Now, the fact is that I've been mixing "in the box" for many years. And all of our film work is done in Samplitude. The last time any signal hits an analog path is a microsecond after it hits the microphone and makes its way through the analog stage of the A/D converter. From there on out we're entirely digital.
For music, however, I'm extraordinarily prejudiced against mixing inside the computer. Prejudiced, not soullessly reactive.  Look -- I'm inclined to want to put signals through big, fat, expensive analog thingies (that's the technical term for parts of the analog audio chain.)
And, you know, by and large that works. Old, expensive (especially analog) stuff. With lots of iron in their design.
But there's always been the advantage that mixes you make using a digital audio workstation (DAW) are repeatable. That ain't too true with analog, no matter how much you try to reset everything the same way. You see -- frequently the biggest problem one has when mixing is that it's easy to lose your ability to hear what's going on after a few hours. So you spend a great deal of a mixing session not really knowing what's going on with the mix because you've forgotten what music sounds like. (Yes, there are a bunch of tricks to use to help alleviate this problem, still it's a problem.) What happens is that the next day you listen to the mix and all the problems are obvious. You're like "the guitars are too loud!" "The vocal in the second verse isn't loud enough!" et cetera and so forth.
Mixing in-the-box let's you go and turn down those guitars and not have to worry about re-creating the great drum sound (or whatever) you came up with the previous day. So that's a big advantage to the box.
The disadvantage is that for a long while nothing could beat some old built-like-a-tank EQ's and compressors from the olden days of multitrack recording. But. That was then. The dark times of early digital.
Now? Boy.
These plug-ins of analog gear are starting to sound really good.
I mean like "don't bother to turn on the 1176" good. Even if you have an 1176 sitting just as far away as the computer. We're living in the age where the engineer says "Just use the one in the software".
This is a big deal.
[Even more, the effects built into the DAWs, not even 3rd-party effects, can sound simply amazing.]
When mixing the Mouse record I was surprised at the times we put an 1176 plugin on a track (like, say, the bass track) rather than firing up one of the actual, vintage, in-great-shape 1176's there in the studio.
It's not to say that we weren't going through quite a nice analog signal chain. And the Neotek at Trax East is nothing to sneeze at. But...
But I'd say it's vastly more important to have great monitoring and to have an engineer who knows what's going on than to have another piece of fancy-pants analog gear from the 1960's lying around (or even a board as nice-sounding as the Neotek).
And the monitors Eric Rachel has are pretty stellar. They're the Focal Twin6-be monitors. They sound beautiful in his room.

For me, the most important thing about monitors is that I can hear what's going on. Frequently one will listen to a mix and you just can't tell what's wrong. But with really good monitors it becomes obvious. "The horns are too loud" or "The vocals have too much low end" or what have you.
With many monitors (meaning "speakers") you have to "learn" how the monitors sound. Certainly back in the day when idiots people used those Yamaha NS10's that's what was happening. Thank cats those days are gone when every mixing desk had those horrible little speakers on top. Ooh. It gives me shivers just to think about it.
You want monitors which are flat, in a quiet and acoustically controlled room. What you don't want are speakers which have a particular "sound" to them -- that sound just ends up "veiling" what's happening in the mix and makes it much easier to keep correcting and over-correcting with too many effects or EQ "fixes" because you can't really hear what's going on. You end up mixing junk because all you can hear is junk. Remember pop music in the late 80's? Exactly. NS-10's
That's why good monitors are so important. When you can hear what's going on the changes and fixes you feel you need to make are much more delicate and end up not hurting the signal as much. So says I.*
For me, the takeaway from all this is that although we didn't actually mix this album in-the-box, I'm convinced that even for a very old-fashioned-sounding band like us it's perfectly possible for us to mix in-the-box.
Now as far as having a whole bunch of analog gear lying around, though, for recording it's a must. Having sweet mic preamps is an expensive habit but makes everything else worthwhile. Right now we have 4 Neve 1272's (2 are mine and two belong to my friend Scott). We can do a lot with those.

*And I do love my Blue Sky Media Desk system.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Inputs and Outputs

If my last post wasn't esoteric and boring enough (you seriously have to be a mixer who does what I used to do to have any idea what I so inelegantly wrote about) I'm going to go one further and make an input list of the "acoustic" Tyrannosaurus Mouse.
This is a work in progress. I'm just trying to figure out where what goes how.
OK, so we're recording a version of the Mouseverture "reprise" and maybe a 3/4 or 6/8 instrumental version of chorus of Ice Maiden. And we're either doing it at Ethan's house, my apartment, or at Theatresource.
Input List Version A

  1. Piano L (Direct insert into MOTU UltraLite 1)
  2. Piano R (Direct insert into MOTU UltraLite 2)
  3. Kick (Oktava to Neve preamp to MOTU 3)
  4. Snare (Oktava to Neve preamp to MOTU 4)
  5. Overhead L (Rode NT1 to Neve preamp to MOTU 5)
  6. Overhead R (Rode NT1 to Neve preamp to MOTU 6)
  7. Acoustic guitar (AKG 460 to Apogee preamp/digital in 1)
  8. Acoustic bass (AKG C12a??  to Apogee preamp/digital in 2)

The key here is that the MOTU will be clocked by the Apogee. That makes everything about the MOTU sound vastly better. No really, I've A/B'ed it and there's a gianormous difference between the MOTU's internal clock and the (vastly more expensive) Apogee's internal clock.
Note that we're prioritizing the drums in the above list. But maybe the drum overheads and guitar and bass should get the Neves. Like this:

Input List Version B

  1. Piano L (Direct insert into MOTU UltraLite 1)
  2. Piano R (Direct insert into MOTU UltraLite 2)
  3. Acoustic guitar (AKG 460 to Neve preamp to MOTU 3)
  4. Acoustic bass (AKG C12a?? to Neve preamp to MOTU 4)
  5. Overhead L (Rode NT1 to Neve preamp to MOTU 5)
  6. Overhead R (Rode NT1 to Neve preamp to MOTU 6)
  7.  Kick (Oktava to Apogee preamp/digital in 1)
  8.  Snare (Oktava  to Apogee preamp/digital in 2)

Version B has some advantages in that we can put a bit of soft limiting on the kick and snare, which would likely sound pretty nice.
But maybe what we want to do is make the overheads the main mics for everything. Maybe the overheads are where the magic really happens?

Input List Version C

  1. Kick (Oktava to MOTU UltraLite 1 preamp)
  2. Snare (Oktava  into MOTU UltraLite 2 preamp)
  3. Acoustic guitar (AKG 460 to Neve preamp to MOTU 3)
  4. Acoustic bass (AKG C12a?? to Neve preamp to MOTU 4)
  5. Piano L (Direct insert into MOTU 5)
  6. Piano R (Direct insert  to MOTU 6)
  7. Overhead L (Rode NT1 to Neve preamp to  Apogee preamp/digital in 1)
  8. Overhead R (Rode NT1 to Neve preamp Apogee preamp/digital in 2)

The kick and snare get the short end of the stick in version C, but our overhead signal chain is as good as it gets. I don't know that I actually have enough mic stands for everyone. But I'm sure we can figure out something.
Maybe we want to use the AKG C12a as the mid in a M/S pair? And make that the overhead?
Do we want the C12a on the bass?
An AKG 460 would sound nice on the bass too. It would be a small diaphragm rather than a large diaphragm mic. But... maybe?
What do you think?

In the Box II

Live mixing "in the box" can be incredibly dangerous. You can get yourself in a whole bunch of trouble in no time at all. Of course, when those single-channel-interface consoles first came out, everyone was afraid of them too. And facing reality, you can get yourself into trouble on any kind of console if you don't have your gain structure well thought through in your mind. 
In some ways, having just one channel to look at can be better (ergonomically) than 56 channels of nonstop fun.
But I'm kind of fascinated by the fact that you can have a fairly massive "console" in a computer with a couple interfaces. Do you want a Harrison mixer? You can have one for $150. And the thing will run on Linux for crying out loud.
The Gamble EX56 was kind of the Rolls Royce of analog mixers back in the day. It pretty well does everything you want to do in a live sound console. There are 8 stereo aux sends, but if I recall correctly you can only select one subgroup on a given channel. 
On the planet I live on, outputs are frequently needed as much as inputs. Starting in theater, and then even more in broadcast, one finds oneself needing to send inputs to multiple outputs. 
The interesting thing is that most audio interfaces have about the same number of outputs as inputs. So if you have a pile of separate destinations to mix to, it's fairly straightforward.
The other advantage to mixing on a computer is that typically you can decide whether a send is an auxiliary or a submix. Basically that means you can decide whether each output is on a knob or a switch. Why you might decide to put something on a knob or a switch is up to you. But at least the option is open. 
Nowadays one doesn't see many matrix sends on live sound boards. In essence, if you have a suitable number of aux sends, you don't need one. And I've been mixing on aux sends for a long time now, so I don't miss going from a submaster to a matrix. 
Plus the other disadvantage to those huge analog boards was that in order to cram all those knobs into that little space the channel strips could become very difficult to read. Especially in low light. Is aux 7 on channel 42 set to pre- or post-fade? Who knows? Sometimes you could "lay hands" on the console and feel which knobs were "popped" up, in order to determine which ones were switched. But not all the time. It can be a pain.
Here's a fun fact. Dave Matthews actually uses a Digidesign Venue and gives the support act an EX56. Ha! If that isn't an endorsement for digital, I don't know what is.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Journey of Discovery

Or: "Live Sound Mixing in the Box".

So. It turns out that when you use ASIO drivers (and hybrid monitoring "on" in Samplitude) you can actually use the thing as a live sound mixer.
Mixing "in the box" is not an entirely new idea. SAC is built for it.
Now, facing the cold hard reality that a Yamaha 01V is only $2400, it might be tempting to say that getting a computer, some interfaces, and hoping they all work isn't really worth the trouble. The 01V has 12 microphone inputs and a bunch of outputs. You don't need a computer, you don't need a monitor, and the preamps are usable. You don't need to worry so much about it crashing (although I've had one fail 100% on me once -- had to go back to the rental house).
To use a completely in-the-box system you'd have to get at least one audio interface. Probably two. The MOTU UltraLite is about $550. Of course that's really only 8 inputs and 8 outputs. And only two of those inputs are mic preamps (and they're kinda meh but maybe no better or worse than the Yamahas).
If you happen to have an UltraLite and a computer (which I do) then you're maybe thinking this whole task is a tad more feasible.
Plus, in many cases we just don't care about microphone preamps. The preamps are going to be on the stage, sending us line-level signal up to the FOH position.
What I've used with success is a signal chain like this: mic preamps on stage going to an Aviom system which went down a Cat 5 cable to the FOH position. That's. Hmm... Oh, here are my notes. I imagine I was coming into the Yamaha board with one Aviom card from a master station, and then feeding the headphone stations directly with some channels and via a mix for other channels.
Note that Behringer makes a vastly cheaper (and that's probably in every meaning of the word "cheaper") version of the Aviom system. I do, however, like the user-side of the interface better. Even the master station is more readable.
What Behringer doesn't make now is a D/A box for its Powerplay system. They just make the A/D box. Now, if you could run one Cat5 and have inputs and outputs appear on both sides, life would be good. Even if we had to run a pair of Cat5's (one for each direction) I'd be fine.
So the whole point of this is that we can use our favorite effects (including, er, Autotune) while mixing live just with a computer and an interface or two.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Shouldn't I Have One of These?

The answer is "Yes. Yes, Drew. I'll buy it for you."
For $209 it looks to be a fairly cool control surface. The Behringer BCF2000 could be a drawbar controller for a virtual organ too (ahem.) It has 8 motorized faders. There are minimal deck controls but honestly I would never use a jog/shuttle wheel anyway.
It's not that I touch faders a whole lot or even that I have a fetish about touching them. It's just that this is a particularly inexpensive solution for those times when one might want a fader to control a DAW.
I'm sorta curious about what a completely in-the-box live sound mixing system would be like. You'd have to really know what you were doing as a mixer in order to keep yourself out of trouble. But couldn't you set up a live system with all your favorite effects and everything? I think there's a way to do that. It would be some number of dozens of milliseconds out of real-time however. Which for live is not necessarily bad though, because you tend to time-delay your stacks anyway.


This is why I love this band so much. All I have to do is show up with a section. I don't have any idea how this should go either after or before this section. But somebody will.
Dark Quartet

I'm limiting myself to sending my band one email per day. So I have to wait until midnight tonight to send them this.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chance Hill Zambri

Tyrannosaurus Mouse
Chance Shirley's notes on music.
Erin Hill was, I believe, the first sound designer of the Estrogenius Festival. And she's playing at the Bitter End:
Erin Hill & her Psychedelic Harp
Monday, October 10th 
at 7 PM
one set, 7:00 to 7:45 PM, $5 cover
The Bitter End 147 Bleecker St., NYC

Zambri is doing a vinyl release. I ordered mine!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Oh Mouse

BMI sends me stuff. In the article below they suggest (as tip #1) to "do one business thing each day." I suppose there's merit to that.
5 Things Songwriters Can Do To Move Their Careers Forward | Songwriter101 - Articles |

This E-mu Midi-to-USB interface is useful, simple, and cheap.

I need a guitar stand. I also need a guitar tech. Have I mentioned I need a guitar tech? I need a guitar tech.