Sunday, March 31, 2013

SNR Podcast #40 - 3/31/2013 - Gigs, Recording, Mastering

Hosts Jon Dayton and Anth Kosobucki are joined again by Brandon Kapral to talk sound. We covered gear maintenance, live mixing, and some new experiences from a first arena gig to a first dubstep mix. We even threw in a little lighting this week. Unfortunately a bum mic left us with a few drop outs, sorry for the inconvenience. As always you can check out the YouTube stream right here or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later.

  • SNR Podcast #40 - 3/31/2013 - New Gigs - Jon Dayton, Anth Kosobucki, and Brandon Kapral talk live mixing, gear maintenance, mastering and a little lighting.
Here's a link to the dubstep track that Jon worked on this week.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Book Week Pt. 5 - Mixing With Your Mind

We saved the best for last. Anth Kosobucki weighs in with his new favorite book about mixing.
This is a recent read for me. Recent to the point, that I am still reading it. The book is Mixing with your mind by Michael Paul Stavrou. The forward was written by George Martin. That should probably indicate to you, that the writer knows what he's talking about, pretty well. The entire concept of the book, is essentially laid out in the title. 

He explains quite wonderfully how much easier, and better sounding you can make a mix, by using some simple techniques, that simply require a little more brain power than a lot of engineers put in. I read fairly quickly, but have kept going back to the chapters I have already read, and kept re reading them. Hence why after a week and change, I'm not done with a 300 page book.

The only issue that I have with this book is that it isn't available. At least not conveniently. It isn't available in bookstores, at least not around here. It's not even available on Amazon. Every once in awhile some will show up, but there isn't an 'expected on' date listed there. The only way to get a hold of this thing, is to order it directly from the author, in Australia. If it's in stock. It costs about $75USD plus the international shipping. 

The book is easily worth double what you will pay for it. There are so many amazing ideas, and techniques, that you'll probably just leave it on your workstation permanently. The copy I have now is a loaner from a friend. I'll be ordering my own soon enough. It's far too useful to not have around.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Week: Part 4 - Words From Friends

Today we hear from our good friend Eike from Germany. When he heard we were doing Book Week he not only sent titles, he sent pictures! There's a couple duplicates of other titles you'll see mentioned this week. It's interesting to see what titles we've all read and which ones I haven't gotten to yet. 

Where to begin. There's the always educational The Daily Adventures of Mixerman. I was aware of his postings online but didn't realize he had a book out. Mixing With Your Mind which we'll get to tomorrow. Mastering Audio by Bob Katz which is considered by many to be the definitive title on the subject by many. (Surprised there aren't any Bobby O titles in there Eike. I know what should be on your Summer reading list this year). I'm also interested to see the Remixer's Bible in there. I'm not up on the practice but I'm going to look into it.

But that's not even all of them. I just got an email with a few titles he left out. Like Live Audio - The Art of Mixing A Show, The Live Sound Manual, and he mentioned Zen And the Art of Mixing as well. Looks like I spoke too soon, there's The Mixing Engineer's Handbook by Bobby O down toward the bottom.

It's a far too extensive library to talk about them all. I think the best thing might be to just link to as many as I can find on Amazon and let you poke around for yourself. I wonder how many of these are available in a digital format? Nothing like having some quality reading material on hand when you're stuck on a corporate gig. Have some links Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Many thanks to Brother Eike for sharing.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Week: Pt 3 - Live Sound

As book week rolls along I'd like to bring up my current favorite. I'm responsible for getting tech volunteers up to speed at the church where I work. It can be kind of like teaching your grandparents how to use a computer if they show up without any prior knowledge. This is the mouse, when you move it the pointer moves, this is the left button, you can click on things with it. Having to start out with the basics of physics, electronics, gear and technique can be a serious setback.

That's why I have a stack of Live Sound Fundamentals by Bill Evans on my desk and I hand them out liberally. It lets people easily skip over concepts that they already know, and delve into things they still need to learn. Although even as a 20+ year veteran I found I was able to pick up quite a few things. The section on decibels alone is worth the price of admission.

Having gotten through the book I can then get people involved actively. When we run up against something they didn't understand in the book we can stop and go over it, but for the most part the training becomes more of a lab practical. People are connecting the dots to what they've read and I'm working a few levels above the basics where I can really teach them something useful.

If you're interested in joining the ranks of the Brethren of the Knob and Fader - Live Sound Division, this is the book we'd recommend. Have you got others you'd like to see up here as a part of Book Week? Just drop us a line or find us on Facebook, we're taking submissions.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Week: Pt 2 - Bobby O

When audio is your occupation and your hobby you read a lot on the subject. If there's one author who stands head and shoulders above the rest in the audio world the vote could easily go to Bobby Owsinski. He's written an abundance of titles on all different areas of audio and music and we love them so much that we keep links to them all on Amazon right in the side bar. Just pick one.  There are sixteen (!) of them. You can't go wrong. 

It doesn't matter if you're interested in mixing, mastering, music business, studio building, guitar, drums, making your band better or nearly anything else that you can think of, there's a Bobby O title that covers it. Some of the material is shared between books, especially some of the interviews that have bearing on more than one topic so you may see the same bit in more than one place occasionally.

Bobby is also a prolific blogger. Honestly he's a good bit of our inspiration over here at SNR. Getting posts up every day of the week is a difficult feat as we found out when things started to sputter for us about nine months in. Both blogs are worth checking in on regularly. One is on music production and the other geared more to the music business. Here's the links.

We hope the Brethren of the Knob and Fader brought their reading glasses this week. What are your favorite dead tree reading materials? Send us your pics by email or on Facebook and we'll get them up later this week. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Week: Pt 1 - The Early Years

It gets asked a lot in the forums, "Can anyone recommend some good books on audio?" So I thought we'd devote a week of posts to the topic. Back in the dark days of the 1980s when I was getting my start print materials were all we had. True there were some forums on USENET but hardly anyone was connected in those days, especially high school students looking to learn about pro audio. So we relied on a few trusted tomes and the rest we picked up from propaganda advertisements from the manufacturers.

 The very first audio reading I ever did was the good ol' Radio Shack catalog. I wasn't much into comic books, so I'd hide under the covers with my flashlight poring over adapters and cables and whatnot. (I was a weird kid, but so were you so shut up.) Eventually I was at a point where I owned some gear and wanted to build speakers. That was when I got my first book, borrowed it from the library I think, about building small speaker projects. It really wasn't a huge help to me because it had a ton of math in it and I'm not the sort of sound guy who wants to bury himself in equations.

Shortly though a friend turned me on to the Yamaha Sound Reinforcement Handbook. It was a good deal over my head at the tender age of fourteen and that was a good thing. Nearly every chapter caused me to have to run to the dictionary or encyclopedia to get myself up to speed. I even had to hit up the physics teacher a couple of times.

There are many other books on the market these days but this one has hung on. I don't know what edition they're up to but it's been updated at least a couple of times since I first read it in about 1989. It does a good job getting you through the basics of things like sound waves moving through air, amplifiers, basic equipment and even some more advanced methods and techniques. While it's not the book I use to bring new volunteers into the fold, it's still a pretty good starting point even after all these years.
So Brethren of the Knob and Fader, what books have helped you with your understanding of the arcane world of audio? Send us your pics and we'll get them up later in the week.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

SNR Podcast #39 - 3/24/2013 - Patch Bays

This week hosts Jon Dayton and Anth Kosobucki start out with patch bays and then get in to how they played in to a weekend in the studio. As always you can check out the YouTube version right here or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later.

Friday, March 22, 2013

It's Dynamc Range Day

It's Dynamic Range Day again folks. And while it's starting to be thought that the Loudness War is drawing to a close, if not in fact over, it's still a good time to take a look at how dynamic our mixes are.  I'll let you click on over to the site to see what all there is to this but first just a couple words from SNR on the subject.

We're not big fans of hyper-compressed music over here. It just sounds bad. That's why we like the DRD Challenge that sets the bar at 8 dB. That means that the difference between the peak reading meters and RMS or average meters is 8 dB. We strive for eleven or twelve in our own mixes, a lot of the stuff you hear on the radio only has six.

There's some resources on this page that explain the concept and there's even a free plugin to help you with your own mixes. I'd encourage you to take a look, especially if you're feeling like the stuff you're making just isn't as exciting as you'd like it to be. The difference might not be adding more effects, it might just be easing off on the dynamic processing so that the music can breathe on its own.

Dynamics in the extreme are always interesting. Just think of any song that uses a dead stop followed by a big hit. Music, music, music, silence..... BAM! It doesn't have to be that hit-you-over-the-head to be effective. Leaving some transients in can do wonders for making a piece sound exciting. It doesn't matter if it's light jazz or EDM. It just works.

So check it out Brethren of the Knob and Fader. This is stuff worth knowing and it will definitely help you perfect your craft.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Patch Bays

Patch bays are one of the oft overlooked items in an audio rig. Either you have them and you know all about them or you've never seen one and they're terrifying when you encounter one. Chances are if you have them you also simultaneously love and hate them but more on that later. So let's get in to why people have them and the different ways to use them.

Patch bays started out in the telephone business. That's why the smaller size ones are often called TT which stands for "tiny telephone". They're also called "bantam". The most common though are the standard quarter inch variety. They make it easy to incorporate additional pieces of gear into the signal chain with just simple TRS 1/4" connectors. Over in the UK the smaller kind are called B gauge and 1/4" are called A gauge.

There's two versions, hard wired and fully patchable. TT bays tend to be hard wired. They save space in the studio and have the added benefit of being more secure. If all the connections on the back side are soldered in place, there's a few less things to go wrong. For the rest of us though, bays with jacks on both sides make more sense because it's easier to change things around should the need arise.

Before we go any farther there's a concept called normalling that we need to cover. Your garden variety patch bay will have two rows of jacks on the front and the back. The top row on the back is connected directly to the top row on the front and the same goes for the bottom row. Normalling is an internal connection that allows the top row on the back to go directly through to the bottom row if nothing is plugged in on the front side.

Let me lay it out like this. If the top row is inputs coming in from the stage or the live room and the bottom row is going out to the inputs on your console or DAW you want to use full normalled bays. They let those snake lines on the back top row go right to the inputs on the back bottom.  But then if you need to move snake input 7 to mic input 13, you just grab a short patch cable and make that connection on the front. If the bay was not normalled then you'd have to use a patch cable for every single connection.

Half normal bays are a little bit different. You can either buy a bay this way or some allow you to open them up and flip the cards around to half normal some or all of the channels. In this configuration you still get normalling through on the back side but when you plug into the front it doesn't interrupt the signal. You can use this function as a split to send signals to separate processing. You can also use it to monitor a signal. It can be an easy way to use a small analog mixer for zero latency monitoring in an otherwise all in-the-box studio. Just jack in to the channels you want to monitor, they still find their way into the DAW, but they can also be run to a small mixer to break out cue mixes. This is not done without penalty though. Ground loops are more easily created and there will be some slight signal loss.

With that said there's yet another way to send signal to multiple places. You can set up a series of channels as a "mult" by connecting them on the back side. Whatever you plug into one jack on a mult will be split out and show up on the rest of the jacks. These are typically set up to mimic a Y-split cable so you can use them as a one input, two output patch. Typically if there are any unused channels in a bay some of them will be set up as mults.

Now that we've got the basics down there are just a million things you can do with a bay. At the simplest you might set up a small home studio with just the snake and the DAW inputs but that type of routing is typically pretty easy to do right in the computer. So what about routing some of the hardware outputs to a bay so you can patch in outboard gear. That way when you bud loans you that sweet vintage mic pre you don't have to climb around behind everything. You can just patch it in to a vacant slot on the bay, jump from one of your outs to that slot and then jump it back in to an input as a return.

Patch bays aren't just for the studio though. Some installed systems have them. In my own setup at work I've got every line from the snake coming in, every input to the console, as well as every channel and group insert, the group and aux outputs and all the I/O from my outboard gear. When I need to strap a compressor across a channel or a group, all I have to do is bend down, insert a couple short patch cables and I'm done. No need to worry about what type or gender of cable, that was all sorted out at the time of installation. 
I've also added a bay or two to a live rig to avoid having to buy a split snake. With a couple short studio snakes that are XLR on one end and TRS on the other, you can bring snake inputs into a half normalled bay. Then you can route one to a monitor desk and one to front of house. Or in a space where there's only a desk at FOH you can use a similar setup to feed an Aviom type monitoring system. When you've got twenty-four or more channels coming in and only eight or sixteen available on the musician's mixes you've got some work to do to shrink it down. With a patch bay though you can have the direct outs from the console, as well as the aux and group outs on there and patch them in as needed. Stereo drum group, check. Lead guitar, check. Key group, check. Easy as pie, no crawling behind gear and simple to swap as things change from week to week.

You do need to take some care though, live or in the studio. It's easily possible to make connections that will create an unholy mess. Feedback loops are the least of your worries though. With all the connectors being the same type and size, you could easily connect a channel input with phantom power on it to the output of a piece of gear that absolutely does not want to see forty-eight volts DC coming at it. Or fry a ribbon mic. Or fry the phantom on the console by shorting the cable against something that's grounded. 

There's also the failure issue to consider. Up at the top of the post when I mentioned the love/hate relationship most people have with their bays, this is what I was referring to. A 1/4" connector can sit in a bay undisturbed for twenty years and work fine. Then one morning it'll just up and quit. Anyone who works with cables knows that they can be finicky beasts. So just keep in mind that everything you run into a bay has a potential point of failure at every jack and plug along the way.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tone Molecules

A few years ago I had a regular gig with a band that played in high schools. They were part of a character development program and they were either the kick off or the grand finale. We were always under the gun to get loaded in and be ready to go. We only started late once or twice out of a couple hundred shows but it often seemed like a close shave.

One guitarist had a Matchless Super Chief that had been modded into a head and he played that through a Marshall 4x12. He would flip the power on, plug in his pedal board, flip the stand by and let a chord ring out. "Matchless... you're a tough match." was the often uttered phrase.

The guitarist on the other side of the stage would load in a similar Marshall cab, plus a vintage Fender head, vintage Marshall head, custom impedance matching amp switcher, numerous guitars and other paraphernalia. But that was only the beginning. He would check the voltage coming out of the wall. He would clap and shout into the room. The tone-out process sometimes took forty-five minutes. It took so long to get up and running sometimes that we would kid him about asking us if his guitar sounded better with his hair parted on the left or the right. And all this was before he set up the sampler that he was also responsible for.

It was all worth it though. To this day I've only rarely heard better guitar tone.

Well one day he came in and was unwrapping some new cables. They were some custom, impedance matched, hand built, Mogami jobs that were probably built by celibate Japanese monks in a secret mountain top monastery. He started going on about the flow of electrons and I cut him off with a geek scientist voice, finishing his sentence, "... which in turn prevents my precious tone molecules from escaping!"

We had a good laugh and indeed many more at that guy's expense. He's still a phenomenal guitar player and Tone Molecules are still an inside joke in certain remote pockets of the local music scene. This isn't just sharing an inside joke though Brethren of the Knob and fader. It's a lesson in what counts. The end result. Here's to you Dave (and TJ). You really got results.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Taking Church to the Studio

This weekend we got a start on a pretty cool project. For the last couple years my boss has been steadily writing songs and introducing them to the church. We're at a point now where we have almost enough to make an album. One of the members of the church owns a pretty sweet little studio down the road and as long as we work around his schedule we can get it for a weekend at a time, for nothing.
Insert not at all shameless plug here: These guys run a tight ship, are super accommodating, and also utterly affordable. If you're in the Buffalo area you should for sure check them out as a place to work when you're getting ready to finally cut that album. They do video, post production, duplication, artwork and other media as well.

To get ready for the weekend the musicians have all had the original demo files made when the songs were written as well as recordings made during services. Last weekend we got the band together for a marathon rehearsal where the songs were gone over with a fine toothed comb to figure out if there was anything to change or any ways to make the songs better. When that was finished a final click track was made to reflect any form changes and everybody went back to the wood shed to get ready for the weekend.

I should stop and say what a gargantuan effort this is. Every person on the project has a day job. Only four of the fifteen people involved actually work for the church. Most of the musicians and the producer are all volunteers making time for this in their lives.

We scheduled three days in the studio, starting with a load in at 3:00 pm on Friday. We met with the owner and the studio tech who quickly got us settled and down to business. The main issue confronting us was that the place wasn't really set up to record a whole band, at least not one the size we brought. We were able to shoe horn the drums, guitar and bass players and keys into the live room, but the amps had to all occupy the vocal booth between the live room and control room. We used isolation cabinets and also took direct lines from the guitars so we can re-amp later.

The load in didn't take very long at all. In less than two hours everything was in place. Then the patching began. We quickly ran through the supply of mic cables. Fortunately I had mine from my live rig in my truck and we wound up using a few hundred feet of them. The inputs to Pro Tools consisted of three Focusrite Octopres, two of which were normaled through to the 192s and the third able to be patched through the bay. We added to the complexity by bringing along two channels of Neve pres, an 1173, two channels of Joe Meek pres, and a Toft that the studio had.

When all was said and done we only had to sacrifice one channel. The keys went in mono which we can easily remedy later. The process to get all those inputs into the computer was a tense one though. With many of the musicians sitting around champing at the bit, it was up to the producer who had mapped out the session and the two assistants (Myself and our own Anth Kosobucki) to sort out what input went to what pre and which input to the interfaces.  It was interesting to hear when we were loading out on Sunday night that the house tech wanted us to leave the patch bay alone so he could see what we did.

Eventually all the ground loop gremlins were mostly eliminated and the routing to get twenty-four inputs bussed down to eight monitor sends were figured out. We settled in to the massive couch, the producer and assistant engineer sat down at the helm and we started to get sounds dialed in. Drums and guitars both came relatively quickly. Despite having fourteen mics on the kit, including a figure eight over the drummer's head and a blumlein in addition to spaced pair overheads, the room just sounded great and eliminating phase issues took very few moves.

I have to say that working with a D-Command was kind of interesting. Kind of interesting in that we almost completely ignored it. While it did have a couple buttons that let us easily switch between the mains and a pair of NS-10s, we didn't use it for much else. Even the two assistants who do a lot of live mixing found it slower and more clunky than just working with the mouse.

From there on out my account of the events gets a little patchy. Day jobs and what not. I had to leave for hours at a stretch to do this. (Church services wait for no man.) But every time I came back I was met by smiling faces and found the band making excellent progress. The process was to track everyone all at once until nearly everything was tight together. Then if there were guitar parts to fix up we would go back and track those by themselves. We had enough time to add in additional guitar layers as well.
I suppose I'm leaving a lot out here. What mics and amps we used. That stuff is all interesting but the think I'd like to emphasize is how well this huge team worked together. Years ago when I was recording bands in my garage I don't know how many would nearly break up over the process. Some got in fist fights out on my lawn. Here we sat all weekend with a team three times the size of a normal rock outfit and there was nary a harsh word spoken. Everyone kept it in mind to always be constructive with their criticism. It lead a couple of our players to make quantum leaps in their technique. 

If there's any interest in specifics just hit us up in the comments. We've got tracking and mic sheets laying around that we could post to give you a better idea of what we were working with.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Mic Trick: Quiet Vocal - Loud Stage

Here's one that's been around forever but with better mics coming out all the time it gets used less and less. Still, it's not a bad one to have in your arsenal should the need arise.

If you've got a quiet singer on a loud stage, there's only so much you can do. Mics will only reject so much noise and there are limits to how much you can EQ the monitors. If you just can't get that quiet vocal to stand out loud and proud here's what you do.

Get a second, identical mic and put it on the same stand. Set them up exactly the same. Same trim, same EQ, same routing, same fader position. Then you flip polarity on one of them, and have them sing into the other. One mic has the singer plus all the bleed from the stage and the other one just has the bleed. By inverting the polarity, if everything is dialed in correctly the noise should cancel out and you're left with just the vocal.

Now you might think to just put a hypercardioid mic on the case, but not every singer is up to the task of staying right on mic. This gives you a little leeway. It also doesn't work if they're going to rock it hand held, but this issue crops up more with back up singers than the lead. Chances are you've got a pair of 58s in the box you could try it out with. All you need is a dual mount or a drum claw and you're off to the races.

Well Brethren of the Knob and Fader, that's is for this edition of Mic Trick Week. Get those requests in and when we've got another batch we'll do this again.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mic Trick: Piano

We're serving up one for the studio cats today. There are a million ways to mic up a piano, from a single mic to complicated (and expensive) setups with multiple mics. This isn't about those setups. If you're into that type of thing just get on Gearslutz or any other forum for that matter and scroll through the thousands of posts on the subject.

This trick is for when you've exhausted your mic locker and you just can't get that rich, resonant sound you want. It's dead simple too but you'll look like a rocket scientist when you pull it out so pay attention.

Just mic the underside of the piano. With anything. You'll get tons of resonance that you can blend in to taste and just get on with the session. You can mess with polarity if there's issues with your other mics. You can low pass if there's too much attack for the sound you want. That's it. The only way you can look any cooler when you pull this trick is to have a mechanic's creeper so you can roll under there like you're going to change the oil.

Well Brethren of the Knob and Fader, we're almost through with this edition of Mic Trick Week. Get your requests in quick or you'll have to wait till next time!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mic Trick: Accordion

It may happen some day that you will have to mic up an accordion. Stranger things have happened. I can tell you from experience that working a stage at an accordion festival isn't even close to the top of the list of strange things you'll have to stick a mic on. So with this little bit of knowledge in your back pocket you'll be up and running in no time and you can polka till dawn!

Accordions come in all sizes and shapes, form a little concertina to a huge six reed dance hall model. Only the smallest can be effectively captured with one mic though. While a large diaphragm condenser might work for a solo performance, an accordion in the midst of a larger ensemble will do better with the isolation you can get from dynamic mics. Luckily the choice is easy, just grab two of anything and put one on the keyboard side and the other on the chord side. Think of it as a soprano voice and a baritone. 

Blending the two mics together will really do the instrument some justice. Then again you might luck out and get a player with a pickup installed, or even one of those newfangled MIDI enabled accordions. (Yes... that's a thing.) You could even go so far as to throw some reverb on the keyboard side to make it sound a little more like an old polka record.

OK, I'll stop making fun of polka. The accordion can actually be found in lots of different musical styles, from Irish to Italian, and from Eastern Europe to Louisiana. Knowing how to treat one right will score you some points with the band.

Tune in tomorrow for another quick mic trick, and we'll be taking requests from the Brethren of the Knob and fader so get yours in.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mic Trick: Upright Bass

You never can be too well prepared. That's why you should always carry a little piece of foam in your mic box. You never know when someone toting an upright bass is going to show up at your stage and you need to be ready if they don't have a pickup installed.

The trick is to grab a good old SM 57, double the cable back up the side of the mic (like all the kids in the hardcore bands do), wrap the foam around it and jam it behind the bridge. Plenty of string sound, plenty of resonance. I once got a standing ovation from a stage crew at a festival for pulling this one out.

With the mic pointed straight up you can turn it up pretty far in the monitors which is something you're likely going to be asked to do. As long as you're careful about high passing your monitor sends or notching out the resonance of the instrument on the channel you should find you have plenty of gain before feedback. Just be careful you don't notch out too much or you wind up with a glorified acoustic guitar.

Tune in tomorrow Brethren of the Knob and Fader when we'll bring you more quick mic tricks. Send in your requests and we'll post em up.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mic Trick: Hand Drums

Everybody gets caught outside their comfort zone now and again. Here's a little trick that might save your bacon when you wind up mixing a band that has hand drums. That would be congas or a djembe, something of that sort. You can't just slap a mic on it and be done.

The trick here is that drums like these have two distinctive parts to their voices and you have to get them both or they won't sound right. Micing the top head will only get the attack. You need a second mic on the bottom to pic up the resonance that gives the drum its full voice.

Opinions are divided as to whether you need to flip polarity on the bottom mic. Try it both ways and see which one gives you the best results. On a tight stage you might have to flip it just to keep the monitors happy. A mic picking up a very resonant source that also happens to be close to a wedge can make you have a bad night. 

Stay tuned Brethren of the Knob and Fader. It's Mic Trick Week. Send in your tricky instruments and we'll post the tricks that will get you through the gig.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

SNR Podcast #38 - 3/10/2013 - Motivation, Mics, Riders

Hello all. Sorry for the lack of a podcast last week. We tried twice but were just too tired to pull it off. Fortunately we were able to get Brandon Kapral back in a mic and the three of us dug into the topic of motivation. Sometimes you just have to pull it together and give out the gold star service to people you just don't care about. Then we get into a few mics and some other stuff. As always you can stream the YouTube version right here or use the MP3 link below to stream or save for later. Enjoy!

  • SNR Podcast #38 - 3/10/2013 - Jon Dayton, Anth Kosobucki, and Brandon Kapral talk about motivation, customer service, mics and much more.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Compression, The Short Answer

There may not be any subject as talked about in audio as compression, yet many people have a hard time wrapping their minds around it. In a sea of discussions on the nuances it can be hard to find a basic definition to get over that first speed bump to understanding. Here's a quick couple of paragraphs that I wrote on a forum a while back. It is in no way a complete description but it's about what I'd say to someone trying to understand compression for the first time.

A compressor is a circuit that automatically lowers the volume of the signal going through it. You set a threshold and everything below that threshold goes straight though untouched. When the input is higher than the threshold the circuit turns itself down. You control how much by setting the ratio. 1:1 does nothing, 2:1 means that the input has to increase by 2 dB to see an increase at the output of 1 dB, 4:1 takes a 4 dB increase to get 1 more dB at the output. Ratios of 8:1 or 10:1 are generally considered limiting because their effect is pretty severe. Brick wall limiting will not allow an output higher than the threshold setting.

By setting the attack and release you can control how quickly the circuit acts. A fast attack might make drums sound mushy but relaxing it a little with let the first loud crack come through before it starts acting on the resonant sound. Release times can be changed to keep the sound from "pumping" or to make it pump on purpose. Longer releases are often used on vocals because the circuit lets go of the signal in a way that is less audible.

When all is said and done you start with a signal that has a given dynamic range, the distance to the highest peak, and get one with less dynamic range at the output. Essentially you lower all the highest peaks in the program. Then you can turn up the gain at the end to make up for the level you cut out. It has the effect of bringing up the quieter sounds in the signal.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dear Future Engineers

The forums are rife with young people interested in pursuing a career in audio. There are many ways to get into the business and many places to end up. There's the school route and the learn on the job route. The answers are as numerous as the questions. But this isn't a post about how to do it. This is a post about what it's like to do it. 

First off, you need to love what you are doing. Only the best of the best ever get rich. Realistically you need to be above the 70th percentile to make any kind of living from just doing audio. There are plenty of rewarding pursuits at lower income levels, but if you're going to make your bread solely doing audio stuff then that's how good you need to be. So it had better be about the love. I sweat it out as a weekend warrior for over a decade before I got there. I happily swung a hammer all week and then humped my gear into bars and halls to spend the weekend turning knobs and rocking out. It wasn't for the measly couple hundred bucks that I stayed out till five in the morning.

Secondly, the people around you need to understand that this isn't something you do, it's who you are. Any significant other that you plan on having be truly significant will have to get this about you or things will not end well. A spouse that thinks you're going to give up late nights finishing mixes or loading out gear to sit home and watch Netflix is going to be sorely disappointed.

That said, they should understand and be grateful that your day job is fulfilling. Lots of people slave away at jobs they hate. Even if you're not making great money, job satisfaction makes ramen noodles and cheap furniture seem a lot better. If your audio pursuits are of the weekend warrior type, your people should be grateful that you're not spending thousands on bass fishing equipment or season tickets. You're contributing to society and bring in money.

Know that you're going to miss out on special events. First steps. First words. Family reunions. Birthdays. Anniversaries. I miss those kinds of things all the time. But my family has adapted. There's not really any such thing as special events for us. We have Christmas the day after. We have birthday parties a week earlier. We have super fun together on Monday mornings because that's when Dad is home. It's no big deal and I for one find it much more satisfying than being tied up in a nine to five occupation.

You're also likely to have to work on a lot of stuff that you don't like. I'm a big metal head and yet I hardly ever get to mix metal shows. Instead I find myself booked year after year at the local accordion festival, or mixing musical theatre, or making records for the local awful emo bands in my garage. You have to be willing to find the good in a lot of stuff that's not up your alley so that you're not too bitter to miss the enjoyment when you finally get a good one.

Don't think of it as selling your soul or selling out though. I have a good friend that did an extended world tour with a famous female pop star. Most people would rather remove their own appendix with a soup spoon but he lived through it and now doesn't technically have to work for the next three years if he doesn't want to. Pretty sweet to stay home with your cute wife and baby and only take the occasional gig that interests you.

You will suffer for your art. Those close to you will also suffer for your art. You will hurt your back, either from hunching over a DAW or from pushing boxes on and off trucks. You will struggle financially. You will deal with hateful, diva performers and get screwed by shady promoters. You will not sleep well. You will not eat well. You will find yourself doubting your entire life at five in the morning. But if you really love it. You'll go after it anyway because none of that crap matters. You are the Brethren of the Knob and Fader.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fair Warning

It's apparently the busy season for us again. Not so much that it's coming up on Easter and we work at big churches but because for some reason this is when the everything happens. On my own plate in the next two weeks are half a dozen special events, rehearsals for special services, rehearsals for recording sessions and the sessions themselves.

Not that I'm complaining. This is what I love to do and it's good to be busy. There just might not be much time available for posts in the next little bit. Stay tuned though. If there's good stuff happening in the studio or interesting problems to be overcome on the stage I'll let you know. I also still do quite a bit of reading when I'm decompressing so I'll be sure to pass on any good links I come across.

For your part, if you've got anything you'd like to see a post on by all means send it in. Answering questions for the Brethren of the Knob and Fader is not only a pleasure but it saves us the trouble of coming up with topics. So please bear with us the next couple weeks. We'll do our best to keep the information flowing.

P.S. Sorry there was no podcast this week. We tried twice but we were just too tired. The good news is we heard from our German friends after a long silence and we should have some good stuff to talk about next time.