the emotional response

This is part II of the Zen Duder article “blah in a general way”, where we discussed the intent of music as being to generate an emotional response in the listener.

Here in part II, we will discuss elements in musical performances that generate the emotional response, and then finally in part III, we will discuss using studio tools to aid in the generation of, or punctuate that all important emotional response so that everyone is happy and smiling.

So as part of the duders research for this article, we were starting at ground zero to look at some of the most highly regarded tracks of all time, with the idea of attempting to figure what it is about them that is so captivating.

We are going to take this all with a large grain of salt, because we will be making a lot of assumptions about how people feel or the criteria used, but still, it is a worthwhile attempt to understand the various elements of music that can capture the listeners attention by generating an emotional response.

First we are going to take a look at pop music and judge the best work in terms of volume of units sold, but if we stopped there we would be doing ourselves a disservice.

The reason is that while by definition pop music will always lead the charts in terms of overall sales, there are some really great and important genres that may not have as broad of an appeal as pop music, but nonetheless have pleased listeners to no end and made very large contributions to musical history.

Even more than that, arguably the musical contributions around and outside of pop music are actually the contributors to define what pop music is, since “pop” is an instantaneous sort of measure. In other words, by definition what is popular is always changing and yet is very strongly influenced by things going on around it.

A good example of this, a perfect example actually, is the influence that jazz and simple 12 bar blues have had to create the genre we know as rock and roll music which is really mostly a pop music genre.

It may seem like there is a lot of separation between a poor old man with one string on his guitar sitting on the railroad tracks in Mississippi singing the blues and Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones on stage at Madison Square Garden with electrified guitars and 100,000 watts behind them, but when you dig into the situation, you will find there is actually very little separation musically between the two, and that importantly the former spawned the latter.

Black Snake Moan – Blind Lemon Jefferson (1927) – YouTube

Led Zeppelin – Since I’ve Been Loving You (July 1973) Madison Square Garden NYC

On top of that, the latter are the ones who made all the money and the other guy still has one string on his guitar but this is topic for a different essay.

So called “Jazz” music has never been a genre with as broad an appeal as pop music, and yet there aren’t many people on the planet who haven’t been entertained by Vince Guraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas whether they recoginze that they were listening to one of the greatest jazz artists of all time or not. Go figure.

So maybe it will also be worth our time in this article to understand what was so captivating about the relationship between Charles Schultz the Charlie Brown creator, and Vince Guraldi, who set the mood for the entire Charlie Brown series, one of the most popular syndications of all time, and had the world listening to jazz without even realizing it.

Vince Guaraldi Trio – Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental) – YouTube

So at this time we have to be really careful or else we are going to realize that the musical genres are all merely labels and when you start rooting around under the covers, these definitions are all really in a state of flux and it is not an entirely black and white thing, because you can’t put people or music in neat tidy boxes, and the duder doubts many baby boomers who listen to the charlie brown music in their heads every holiday season even know that they are listening to one of the greatest jazz artists of all time rather than pop music.

So it behooves everyone to see musical genres as shades of gray rather than black and white divisions, because they are not simple black and white divisions, they are merely a lame attempt to organize selections at a record shop.

So the duder would encourage everyone reading to stay away from labels. The worst thing you can do to yourself as a musician is to confine yourself to a box that someone else put you in. So Zen Duder sez, play the music. Let someone else figure out what genre you are playing in.

Related to this idea,  some of the best musical performances ever involved musicians taking chances…taking the risk that you might do something awful in persuit of something magical. Taking calculated risks however is what life and music are about.

So in a sense, the reverse of these are both musical tools. That is if you are willing to take chances and if you do not confine yourself to certain staid notions, you may find yourself in a new space as a composer or performer, and you may generate an emotional response in your listening audience.

Furthermore, among musicians themselves, jazz musicians get a lot of respect so this is a genre of particular importance because jazz is where you are just supposed to let it all hang out.

Jazz along with blues are the genres of improvisation. and musical improvisation itself since the beginning of recorded history is really at the roots of all music because improvisation integrates the human mind with the musical realm.

Improvisation produces at times an incredible emotional response in both the player and the listener.

It’s one of the few things left in music that cannot be duplicated by a computer.

The Allman Brothers were one of the most famous of the so called “jam bands”, where back in the day Duane Allman and Dicky Betts would trade improvisational solos and also play together in very memorable harmonic unison.

Playing live they could stretch a 5 minute song until someone cut the power off, and provide an excellent emotional response from the audience while doing it.

The Allman Brothers Band – Blue Sky (Eat A Peach, February 12,1972 …

So were they really rock, jazz, pop, or a jam band? The Duder is still working on that answer.

So when you begin to ask yourself, what is jazz and what is this and that and the other thing its pretty easy to get mixed up. Is it jazz only when a certain set of chords are used or scales are played?

In the duders mind he explains to himself the difference between blues and jazz as blues is improvisation with the soul and jazz is improvisation with the funk.

Rock and roll is 12 bar blues and jazz with only 2 or 3 of the chords.

Pop music can be anything with any roots it all depends on fashion please see part one for details on that.

When we start getting to modern genres and looking at subdivisions of trance or house or techno hip hop trip hop ambient, shoegaze drum and bass, dubstep, etc, it may be worthy not just to study the genres that may come and go, but to study what is behind the genre in terms of where does the emotional interest come from?

Before we get into that however, this came to the top of a search for the most popular songs ever, presumably due to the cleverly worded title.

Top 10 Most Popular Songs Ever – Biggest Hits of All Time – The Gazette Review
http://gazettereview.com/2016/12/top-10-most-popular-songs-of-all-time/

Speaking of a cleverly worded title, it’s always a good idea to have a cleverly worded title. Take a page from the marketing department. As in lyrics, all words matter. The title of a song conveys an emotional response in the prospective listener.

We could spend forever dissecting this list or any list or whether or not any song on the list is really worthy, but suffice to say that any track showing up on any top ten of all time list is remarkable. So on the list above, #1 is Bohemian Rhapsody from Queen. No judging, just noting and analyzing.

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (Official Video) – YouTube

The first thing the duder would like to note about Queen is that the lead guitarist Brian May built his own guitar.

Red Special – Wikipedia

The Red Special is the electric guitar designed and built by Queen‘s guitarist Brian May and his father, Harold, when Brian was a teenager in the early 1960s.[1][2] The Red Special is also sometimes referred to, by May and by others, as the Fireplace or the Old Lady.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Special

So the Old Lady has a very unique sound, and no other band really sounded quite like them.

It might be worthwhile for ZD to pause right here and note that succumbing to the marketers and trying to get a sound like someone else may not be the ticket my friends given that the #1 track we are discussing was at least in part due to individuality and unique sound, not parroting someone else’s vibe.

So right off the bat this is an interesting analysis because instead of trying to sound like someone else, Brian May was trying to sound completely different and ended up on the top of a list of the number one tracks of all time. Lesson learned. Trying to sound like someone else may not necessarily be the path to success and trying to sound unique and individual may capture the listeners ear.

Queen – We Will Rock You (Official Video) – YouTube

The lead guitarist had a unique sound. That is certainly notable. Following that, the Duder would note that this song above was played at every high school pep rally he ever attended as a teenager and then again a generation later at the kids high school.

So this element has obviously contributed to the popularity of the track. “WE” will “rock” “YOU”. There is a sort of emotional bonding going on there when the music plays and “WE” all start stomping our feet to the heavy tribal beat. You could go so far as to say the track capitalizes on the war like nature of the species and the emotional response is at a very primal sort of level. Are we going to rock you or kick your ass? The answer to that questions probably depends on which listener you talk to and whether or not you are at a pep rally.

So now lets continue to explore a few more tracks, just to get you in the mode of listening to a great track, and thinking to yourself, what is it, exactly, that is so compelling about this track? What is it, specifically, that captured hearts and minds and propelled this song.It may not always be possible. Sometimes you can’t exactly put your finger on it. It’s like trying to explain why your favorite color is green. Please note the extremely memorable lyrics and drum track.

NAOMI ( Curious ) – YouTube

Lets look at the billboard top 100 of all time.

Before we do that however we are going to note the reality that in many cases, popularity is driven somewhat by the hollywood hype machine behind a big record label.

In other words those who have attained the “big label” status, have a marketing machine behind them that can drive sales well beyond what a grass roots sort of effort would achieve. This is why we are taking any specific track we look at with a large grain of salt.

The point being that we are not necessarily associating “the best” with the most well known here. Instead, we are learning how to listen to music for the elements that have generated such an emotional response to the song, so that we may become more enlightened and thus better musicians.

So before we analyze more specific tracks, lets first talk about known musical elements which are used to generate interest and emotional response.

The favorite of the duder, as well as many others who don’t even realize it is the hook. The gift that keeps on giving.

Hook (music) – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hook_(music)

You Ask, We Answer: What’s A Hook? : The Record : NPR
http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2010/10/15/130588663/you-ask-we-answer-what-s-a-hook

The hook keeps you wanting more., the hook that makes you go ahhh when it is delivered to your ears like a drug.

In this track below we have downtempo/jazz [you figure out the genre duder is confused] artist Ulrich Schnauss delivering a fender rhodes riff hook with precision. This is an 8 minute track. The hook is not delivered until late in the song around 6:20. Once he hits you with it, you just want go go and play the song over again. This is a brilliant use of the musical hook in an instrumental by a brilliant and very indivudual artist.

Ulrich Schnauss – Gone Forever HQ – YouTube

So lets lets talk a little more about what a musical hook is and how it’s laid out in a different way than what you have read at wikipedia.

First of all, what is the hook? It really could be anything, but in general the hook is a short, repeated phrase. It could be vocal, it could be instrumental, or it could literally be anything. The point is that the hook is interesting, and it is delivered only after introducing it to you the listener, then making you want it. The more the musicians can make the listener want it before it is delivered, the more effective it is.

So in that sense, the musical hook gets back to that human nature thing about wanting something you can’t have. Your ears want the hook man. However, the musicians have the sole discretion to deliver the hook, and the listener can only want it.

Steeley Dan aka Dan Becker [RIP] and Donald Fagen were big users of studio musicians to create that extra little element of interest in the track, and in the process some of these musicians while taking chances created some of the most memorable hooks and musical moments of all time, such as the drum solo finishing up on Aja. Is it pop, jazz, or rock? Not sure.

Steely Dan – Aja – YouTube

The above link to aja also gets into another extremely useful and versatile technique, that of changing the rhythm, tempo or time signature during the track for a bridge, break or chorus or anywhere else for that matter. The listeners ear is sensitive to rhythm and tempo changes, so this is a very effective way for a musician to engage or re engage the listener dueing the track.

Another example of a technique used throughout the ages is the call/response technique where one voice or instrument calls, and the other responds. Anyone can call, and anyone can respond.

Call and response is a favorite of many genres, such as blues, jazz and even hip hop. This is music, there are no actual rules you have to go by.

Songfacts – Call-and-response Songs
http://www.songfacts.com/category-call-and-response_songs.php

Interestingly, this sort of behavior is also very common in nature [birds, wolves and so forth], so this call and response element of modern music has primeval roots, thus it taps in at a deep emotional level, and can be very effective in gaining an emotional response from the listener.

Call and response (music) – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Call_and_response_(music)

call and response demonstration – YouTube

Build Better Melodies by using Call and Response
http://edmprod.com/using-call-and-response/

Finally to finish up on call and response, did you know you can call and respond to yourself? So most people well versed in blues or jazz already know this and are yawning, but if this is a new idea to you, please try calling and responding to yourself it can be a lot of fun and generate a lot of emotional interest regardless of the genre.

Never could figure out what this one was below. Mr Beck calls and responds to himself all over the place in this jazz funk fusion classic, done by a blues based rock and roller go figure. This was at the time and still remains some of the most creative electric guitar work ever done.  It’s a goosebump giver and it generates an emotional response. Please as you listen, study this track and try to pick out the call/response element as well as the emotional interest elements. Finally please notice the bell bottoms. Could be pop.

Jeff Beck – Blow by Blow 1975 (Album) [Side A] – YouTube

Arguably the most compelling instrument of all is one we each carry around with us every day, that of the human voice. Given that everyone has a voice, human beings are extremely sensitive to every nuance a voice can make. It is the easiest instrument with which to engage your listening audience.

Nuance – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuance

Genres without vocals may have to work harder to engage the listener, whereas tracks with vocals have the advantage of directly communicating with the listener.

No discussion about vocals in music would be complete without noting the strong relationship to poetry, and that some of the best songwriters are actually poets [that genre thing again].

Rod McKuen – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_McKuen

This is why some of the best instrumentalists are known to speak through their instruments. In other words, the performance although instrumental, speaks to the listener in some way. The saxophone work of Stan Getz playing with Charlie Byrd is the example we will use, although there are many good examples.

Stan Getz – Samba Triste // JazzONLYJazz – YouTube

So after listening to this, the duder will note that it’s one thing to be a great player. The next step, the extra credit step, is talking to your audience with your instrument instead of playing it. This is in a nutshell what separates an excellent player from a goosebump giver.

For that, we will use another example, that of Stevie Ray Vaughn channeling Jimi Hendrix. If you watch his face carefully, he is in another world. He is drawing upon something else, something from within, and the music is channeling through him.

Not to get metaphysical on you but this below is what the duder refers to as a goosebump giver. If you are giving people goose bumps my friend, you are on the right path because goose bumps are a physical manifestation of an emotional response.

Stevie Ray Vaughan Voodoo Child Live From Austin Texas 1080P …

Next up, directly tapping into human emotions –

One of the most effective ways to engage a listener is merely to work with human nature. When people hear a sad song with sad lyrics, the human emotion of empathy comes into play. For a more upbeat track, you can tap into excitement. For a very lyrical song, you can use the element of drama.

So it turns out that a lot of research has been done into the area of human emotions, and 27 unique human emotions have been identified. Please feel free to go through this list, and understand how you might tap into these various emotions to get an emotional response from your audience.

The 27 human emotions

  • Admiration
    Adoration
    Aesthetic Appreciation
    Amusement
    Anxiety
    Awe
    Awkwardness
    Boredom
    Calmness
    Confusion
    Craving
    Disgust
    Empathetic pain
    Entrancement
    Envy
    Excitement
    Fear
    Horror
    Interest
    Joy
    Nostalgia
    Romance
    Sadness
    Satisfaction
    Sexual desire
    Sympathy
    Triumph

So within this list, there may be certain emotions that you don’t want to dabble in, such as disgust…that could be dangerous but it has been done. Ozzy Osborne was pretty good at probing the dark side and they were extremely successful in that endeavor. The duder watched his 8 track player eat at least 3 8 track tapes of paranoid as a teenager much to the delight of their label.

Black Sabbath – “War Pigs” Live Paris 1970 – YouTube

Following that, while not a human emotion, the subject of spirituality and music have long been intertwined and should be discussed and well understood.

The roots of music come from the continent of Africa, and in Africa, much of music is spiritual in nature…..tribal…lots of drums. Therefore, even if you are a musician who does not dwell in this arena, it is important to have an awareness of the huge significance of the close relationship between music and spirituality.

The duder is not suggesting that you put people into a trance, but it has been done. You have to ask yourself, how is african drumming and yoga related? It’s all about the emotional response.

African Journey & The Healing Drum – YouTube

As a matter of fact, there is an entire genre of music called trance and it is worth our time to note a few things about the genre in general.

The first is the significance of BPM. Theres is a little bit of magic around 136-140 bpm which is roughly twice the resting human heart rate. Without getting deep into the physiology, it has the striking effect of getting people’s feet on the floor as well as a trance like effect.

We will note that some genres of music depend heavily on bpm status, with house music being a good example. House music at 115 bpm is not house music, but add a bounce and you have hip hop. So add this to our list of emotional response generators….tempo.

Markus Schulz feat Carrie Skipper – Never Be The Same Again (Markus Schulz Coldharbour Club Mix) – YouTube

After listening to this track, you should now be proud to tell the Duder what the hook is beep beep. Killer hook, which propelled this track to trance stardom at twice the resting human heart rate. There are many elements in this track to study for their effect on emotional response generation attested to by the endless remixes of this track.

Now for your reading pleasure, a BPM guide to “Genres”.

  • Hip Hop is around 80-115 BPM
  • Triphop / Downtempo around 60-100 BPM
  • Concert marches are typically ~120 BPM.
  • House varies between 118 and 135 BPM
    • UK garage/2-step is usually between 130-135 BPM
    • UK funky is around 130 BPM
  • Techno 120-160 BPM
    • Generally around 120-135
    • Acid Techno 135-150
    • Schranz around 150
  • Dubstep is around 140 BPM 70’s to 100 (mostly 80-90)
    • Dubstep is not 140 BPM. I don’t know why that number gets thrown around, but most dubstep is from the 70’s to 100, with most falling in-between 80 and 90. In many songs it’s often for a double-time break to happen, at which point it will reach 140~200, respectively, but it shouldn’t be timed that way. – n_b
    • *Dubstep is 70 – 75 BPM, which is equivalent to 140 – 150 BPM depending on if you count the snare on the 2 and 4 or the 3 of the measure.
  • Trap is around 140 BPM
  • Screamers are usually 130-150 BPM
  • Hardstyle is around 150 BPM
  • Juke/Footwork is around 160 BPM
  • Drum and Bass averages a BPM of 160-180
    • Oldschool jungle is around 160-170
    • Drum & Bass and Drumstep and Neurofunk 170-180

Some of the basic tempo markings

  • Largo is 40-60 BPM
  • Larghetto is 60-66 BPM
  • Adagio is 66-76 BPM
  • Andante is 76-108 BPM
  • Moderato is 108-120 BPM
  • Allegro is 120-168 BPM
  • Presto is 168-200 BPM
  • Prestissimo is 200+ BPM

followed by some actual sampled quantatative results

Hip Hop
Songs sampled : 1477
Average BPM : 108.1097
Std. Deviation : 30.2689

Jazz
Songs sampled : 1339
Average BPM : 112.5774
Std. Deviation : 28.9311

R&B
Songs sampled : 1145
Average BPM : 115.2637
Std. Deviation : 28.0902

Reggae
Songs sampled : 1214
Average BPM : 120.7607
Std. Deviation : 32.9120

Disco
Songs sampled : 1328
Average BPM : 120.3921
Std. Deviation : 20.2962

code that generated this data available for free at:

https://github.com/nikhilunni/BPMFinder/

Lastly, lets look at a direct emotional response mechanism. Surprise ! So we are not talking about wearing a funny looking hat kind of surprise although there is no problem with that.

In fact there seems to be a high correlation between costume flamboyance and willingness to take chances in music. Think about it.

James Brown performs “Please Please Please” at the TAMI Show (Live) – YouTube

In 1968 Eric Clapton dressed like one of the Queen’s soldiers and was dosing out surprise after surprise on the electric guitar.  Something got him knighted.  Eric Clapton has stated in interviews that in fact one of the aims of Cream was to musically shock people and the costuming aided in that effect.  Shock is just a more extreme form of surprise.

 

https://i1.wp.com/vf-images.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/lonnie.png

Jazz Pioneer Lonnie Liston Smith of the Cosmic Echoes

The Zen Duder had the pleasure of listening to Lonnie live on many occasions, taking chances and generating emotional interest with cosmic funk and spiritual sounds. Much of what you have read here today is a result of simply listening. They called this “jazz” or jazz fusion and a bunch of other stuff but what was really, was just great music that generated an emotional response that had no exactly proper spot in the record store. This track featured below, “Expansions” is on a short list of ZD jazz music reference tracks for mixing and mastering. A fantastic job done here all the way around, and a great message tapping into all the right emotions. A jazz or something classic.

Lonnie Liston Smith – Expansions (Official Audio) – YouTube

The point being, the element of surprise can be used very effectively in music today particularly given what is possible in post production, but also in live playing. As an example maybe boom you bridge into a new track without missing a beat. Surprise is an arena where you are free to show off your mad skills. You are only limited by your ideas in this realm.

So this is an arena where you can be totally creative. As an excercise, get together with your players and think of ways to surprise your audience musically or whatever. Please never forget that as a musician, you are also an entertainer, and the element of surprise is used all over entertainment because it generates an emotional response.

So now that we have covered a lot of ground from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Jose Amnesia, as an exercise please take a look at the billboard all time top 100 songs, and listen for all of the various techniques used to engage the listener and generate an emotional response, now that you are tuned into the subject.

Hot 100 55th Anniversary: The All-Time Top 100 Songs | Billboard
http://www.billboard.com/articles/list/2155531/the-hot-100-all-time-top-songs

Finally in this rather long winded and winding essay, the duder would like to mention the “unsung heroes” of music.

By this we mean the enormous contributions of various musicians, often studio musicians, background vocalists, etc, whose contribution to the song can be a tremendous part of the emotional impact.

There are countless fabulous studio musicians, backup singers, etc. who are always making these kinds of musical contributions to a track however large or small, by creating music and vocal elements that adds emotional interest.

This helps the producers in the studio to create memorable performances, which is the subject of part III so please stay tuned.

Aditional Reading suggestions:

Review of the book “The Universal Sense: How hearing shapes the mind” (PDF Download Available)

Different sounds cause specific emotional responses

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275771840_Review_of_the_book_The_Universal_Sense_How_hearing_shapes_the_mind

Sincerely

The Zen Duder

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Posted in music | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

blah in a general way

What is the purpose of music?

Have you ever thought about that?

Players and songwriters know they have fun playing and making music, most people know they like to listen to music in one form or another, they know they like some music and may not like some other music and may not even be exactly sure why, but what is the purpose of music?

At it’s most basic level, throughout the ages and throughout the continents, the purpose of music has been to evoke an emotional response from the listener which often involves the complex behavior of dancing to the beat but not always.  The emotional response could involve a feeling of relaxation, a feeling of being charged up, a feeling of romance and seduction, a feeling of hope, a feeling of sadness, empathy or pain.This is also related to why the soundtrack is such a critical important component of a movie. The sound sets the stage for the emotional response along with the visual element.

Hopefully, this emotional response will be associated with the liking of the music, but that is strictly up to the listener.

So now at this point, ask yourself as a player or songwriter what your goals are. What is the emotional response you are going for? Are you looking to charge people up? Are you looking for people to empathize with your pain, are you looking for people to relax and unwind, etc.?

Furthermore, this can all get very complex because for example, why are minor keys associated with melancholy or sadness? the duder is not sure if anyone knows the answer to this question, but it is well known that they do. So maybe if you are seeking for others to feel your pain you will want to use a minor key, or maybe not.  This is all a very complex subject when you get to thinking about it, which is why it is being discussed here. So you can think about it.

So all that said, the most fundamental aspect of the emotional response is the music itself, but how the music is treated in the studio and thus perceived by the listener can also have a large bearing on the emotional response generated in the listener.

Whether or not the listener feels an emotional response is related to whether they listen or recommend the music, which is then related to how far and wide the music spreads. So while this subject may seem somewhat esoteric and ivory tower-ish, it really is not. It really strikes to the core of why people listen to music. They want to get an emotional response out of it. That’s what they really want. So in that sense, everything depends on it.

As an example, if you as a recording engineer and producer took a great performance and made it sound like it was recorded in a parking garage, that would evoke an emotional response, but maybe not the correct one.

Many of the most recognized and widely listened to tracks of all time feature some sort of captivating element which evokes some sort of emotional response in the listener.  It could be as simple as a “yeow” or a riff. Complexity is not necessarily the secret to an emotional response as some of the most famous riffs of all time have been 4 notes or less. One of the most famous rock and roll riffs of  all time that of Deep Purple’s “smoke on the water”, is a long one at 4 notes.

So as a producer, and engineer what really is your goal here and how are you going to achieve it?

First and foremost, let us notice that there have been very long term trends in the way music is mixed and mastered over time. It can vary depending on decade, depending on genre, depending on country of origin, and just like fashion, certain things about music go in and out of vogue. One year you have to have it, and the next year you wouldn’t be caught dead with it. That sort of thing. Ray Davies of the Kinks actually tackled this topic very well in a song, and in the process evoked the emotional response of smiling, empathy, agreement, laughing even.

The Kinks- Dedicated Follower Of Fashion – YouTube

At the height of the Beach Boys fame, a lot of people were using a lot of reverb in their mixes because the Beach Boys were very heavy on the reverb creating an entire genre of reverb heavy “surf music” which retrospectively has been some of the most widely listened to music of all time, and has stood the test of time.

The Lonely Sea- Beach Boys – YouTube

So as time marches on, the way music is handled in the studio depends on the gear that technology provides for musicians and studios to use, trends in music, genre, and a lot of other factors, but the one factor in common regardless of the process, venue or era is that the music is seeking to evoke an emotional response in the listener.

AWOLNATION – Knights of Shame (Audio) – YouTube

As a matter of fact, many successful and well known bands and musicians have exploited one technology or the other to get “their sound”, the Beach Boys above being a good example.

This leads us to the idea that in the studio, the engineer and producer should strive to work with the artist to focus on creating a track that is memorable. A track that will evoke an emotional response, one that compliments the music and seeks to emphasize the emotional response, and one that will stand the test of time.

Now on to the mechanics.

What tools are available in the studio to help the artist achieve his or her vision of a track that everyone falls in love with?

Bill Evans – The Creative Process and Self-Teaching – YouTube

Please stay tuned for the next blog posting titled “the emotional response” which will involve the mechanics of emotional response generation in the music and in the studio.

Sincerely,

the Zen Duder

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in music | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Going to the Mid-Side

By the Zen Duder

Mid-Side recording was devised by EMI engineer Alan Blumlein. He patented the technique in 1933. It has remained somewhat less popular than the standard X/Y or ORTF stereo techniques, and yet offers significant advantages. It is not complex, or difficult to understand.

https://i0.wp.com/www.uaudio.com/webzine/2005/december/graphics/04_Analog-Obsession/mid-side-diagram.gif

So there are two basic ways to do stereo recording.

The first way is to [typically] use 2 matched cardiod pattern microphones, arranged in an x/y or ORTF type configuration. The idea here is that the microphones are arranged similarly to your ears, thus when the sound is reproduced in stereo it sounds the way you heard it in real life.

The major disadvantage of this type of configuration is that it is inherently a stereo image, and if you attempt to make it mono, phasing issues can result.

The second way is “mid side” where you have a center cardoid microphone or omni mic [your mono channel], and a perpendicular figure 8 pattern [bi-directional] microphone such as a ribbon microphone or a dual condenser that allows a figure 8 pattern.

The track of the figure 8 microphone is then doubled, one channel with the phase inverted. So now you have three channels. You have your center mono channel, and two mid side channels that can be faded up or down to enhance or diminish the stereo image. When the balance is just right, it should sound exactly as you heard it in the room.

The general advantage of the mid side technique, is that you don’t have to even use the side channels if you don’t want to. So in this sense, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose [except that you need two channels instead of one] by tracking mid side versus a standard mono track.

Feel free to experiment. Try a cardioid center as you would in a normal mono setup, and then 2 cardiods adjacent pointed to the sides or at various angles. The advantage of using three channels is that you can hear what the mid side mix sounds like in real time, and this is the preferred technique of the Zen Duder using an omni center channel, and either 2 cardiods to the mid side or 2 ribbons.

Happy Tracking

Zen Duder

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A procedural guide for remote studio operations

A procedural guide for remote studio operations

By the Zen Duder

In this guide, we are attempting to solidify a process for working on a project remotely.

These days, technology affords us the ability to work together on projects at great distances. While this is certainly a great thing for many people, it presents many challenges as compared to all sitting in the same room together.

For example, are the people in the other location hearing the same thing you are hearing? Is their “reference system” really reference? Is yours? Given the effects of room acoustics and other things, the answer is possibly no. So one of the first orders of business for remote operations is having an apples to apples sound source. The most practical way to to this is to both have the same headphones, and even better the same active nearfield monitor system. In this way, both locations can be on the same page.

So we have already noted that remote operations can be challenging as compared to all sitting in the same room, and this guide attempts to define a process for this activity once we have an apples to apples comparison.

Raw Waves Folder

Step 1. As recordings are done, sonic integrity of recordings are verified and we all agree recordings are good, or not coming out of this step. Every track after “good” certification is then locked and backed up to an independent storage medium. It stays as it is forever and only copies of it can be made. It will always exist as part of the project, always in it’s original form.

We want absolutely raw recordings with little or no eq, little or no compression, the only effects are the ones picked up by the microphones or coming out of the instrument DI, maxing out on the meters at -10-12 DBFS. No line6 type stuff no offense to line6. DI is preferable to modeled sound of any kind at the recording stage but obviously this is not a hard and fast rule. High end mics high end preamps or high end DI. We are not aiming to fix it in the mix, this is the point in this step. We are aiming for the best possible sonic quality we can obtain. These waves are not normalized, they are not touched. The raw waves are stored in the raw waves locker dropbox folder and are read only.

 

Red Waves Folder

Step 2. Each primary wav is assembled locked and frozen into the completed dry wave locker. We may have for example 7 drum fragments that make a drum wave, so we render that as a t=0 wave. The only rule here is that each primary wav has no overlapping sounds. So we can make 10 effects waves [eg cuica] , that’s fine, but it needs to begin at t=0.

It’s not a red wave unless it begins at t=0 and lasts the duration of the track.

We cannot have a wav however for example that has 2 keyboards playing over each other or a keyboard with bells playing over it. Those need to be separate red waves.

The point being that each red wave must be able to accept isolated treatment in the following step.

So the red wav locker is a folder that contains a golden dry bass wav, dry rhythm wav, etc for every wav we need to mix. Each wav iin the dry wav locker s perfectly sequenced from the t=0 start.

So in our dry wav locker we always have a perfect set of dry wavs that when effected, assembled and mastered make the song. The dry wave locker is golden, and never altered.

The primary dry wavs will be referred to as the red wavs. The red waves folder is never touched. When completed these are our reference completed set of wavs. The song can always be re mixed and remastered in any way desired from the red waves locker/folder.

 

Green Waves Folder

Step 3. Wav pre effects. Each red wav is made ready sonically for mixing. This may involve adding eq, reverb, whatever subtle effects are needed on each wav before it is mixed. The effected wavs will be stored in the effected wav locker [folder]. Each dry wav will have a corresponding effected wav. The effected wav will be known as the green wav. For example the green bass wav is ready to be mixed with all the other green wavs. When this step is done we agree we are ready to mix the green waves. We may have multiple versions of green waves waiting on preview. If this is necessary, they are marked such as greenbass2.wav, greenbass3.wav. etc.

 

Red Mix

Step 3. Mixdown
We mix the green waves of the highest iteration. Coming out of this step we have a “dry” pre-pre master raw mixdown which we will refer to as the red mix. We get agreement before proceeding. This is our reference mix which will accept a lot of various final treatments.

In this step, several items are explicitly independently reviewed and checked off:

track sync

relative levels [must be close not necessarily end result]

panning

fault check [distortion/clips/errors/bleeps/pops/crackles/etc]

 

Green Mix

Step 4.
We take the red mix, and apply effects and whatever necessary to get it all glued together and into a pre master [green mix] state. We all get agreement at this step that we are ready to try for some masters on the green mix.

 

Golden Mix

Step 5.
Master the green wave in several flavors, get agreement on our favorite flavor, and produce the final result. We both preview the wav and not the mp3, and agree it is golden, or not.

Step 6.
Make the mp3 and agree it resembles the wav.

 

The Zen Duder

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What’s the frequency Kenneth ?

By the Zenned Duder

In this article we are going to discuss the sample rate at which you record, and we are going to do it in a common sense non technical manner so everyone can understand even if you don’t have an electrical engineering or math degree.

We are going to leave the subject of bit depth alone for now.

Typically today a recording engineer has 3 viable choices

44.1, 48  and 96Khz sample rates.

In other words, as a piece of recording hardware, you look at the incoming analog signal 44 thousand times a second, and each time you look you note the amplitude of the signal.

That’s how digital recording works in a nutshell. Now there are nitpickers out there and you can nitpick that statement if you want, but the bottom line is that we are working with an approximation, a poor one, of the real thing and we rely on our brain to put it all back together and make it sound ok. This is the field of psychoacoustics which we are not talking about today man.

The thing is, the analog wave has no points of approximation.

Tha analog wave is the real thing, but in all of our wisdom we have discarded the real thing for convenience.

If you are recording in 24 bit, you have a greater granularity as to where you mark the amplitude. Simple as all that. Sort of.

The first thing about all this the Duder would like to note is that from a purely technical standpoint, a 44.1 khz sample rate is woefully inadequate to accurately sample higher frequencies and in general digital recordings due to our technology today could be a lot better if we were a more advanced species or something.

The simple math on that is that at the top end of our hearing range the wave is only getting sampled 2 times per cycle or so which is awful. Hideous. We should all be ashamed. If aliens came to visit they would probably go haha thats funny.

This is in fact why digitally recorded cymbals actually sound more like white noise than cymbals. You can easily hear the difference if you A/B cymbals recorded on analog tape vs a digital recording. They are being poorly approximated and this can be very easily discerned by a trained ear listening through good reproduction equipment.

So that said, you might think the Zen Duder is going to come out swinging as a proponent of higher bit rate recording….. but hold on there partner.

The first point to realize is that if you are roughly doubling the sample rate, then you get 4 points instead of two still awful. So you have a less awful approximation.

If you could go from 44.1 to 440.1 or preferably to a 4.1Mhz sample rate, [2 orders of magnitude difference] this would be a meaningful difference but today you can’t.

Moreover, when you convert from 96 to 48 or 44.1 all sorts of nasty and undesirable things can happen depending on a lot of factors such as what was going on inside the head of the engineer who designed the hardware or software you are using to do the conversion.

So that is beyond the scope of what I’m writing here today and in fact beyond the scope of understanding for most recording engineers who have not undergone an engineering curriculum and intense study of this rather intricate subject.

There is a lot of room for screwing things up when you convert a sample rate, this is the point the duder is trying to make, and in his opinion it is an unnecessary burden that in the end will offer little if any sonic improvement and may end up causing sonic degradation.

The Duder offers a simple solution to all of your sample rate woes. Record at your destination sample rate.

Viola no headaches now go relax.

If your destination is a music CD or mp3, set up at 44.1 and stay that way doing no sample rate conversions throughout the entire process. That makes it easy. Foolproof. a no brainer.

Please do not worship the technology.

The nightfly was recorded in the 80’s on some of the first digital tape machines. These were 3m machines and the digital audio was recorded at 50kHz 16bits. That recording has set a benchmark up until this date so do some soul searching and ask yourself how complex you really want to make all of this process and how many headaches you want to give yourself.

The Duder likes to keep it as foolproof and simple as possible happy tracking.

So like, this is all just my opinion man.

Peace and Zen

The Zen Duder

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How to Successfully operate a Project Studio

By the Zen Duder

 

INTRO

 

In this article we will discuss the “project studio”.

Your guide for this tour will be the Zen Duder, who has been operating in the project studio space since the concept came into being, and even before that.

So the first thing that needs to be said is that the duder is not claiming to be the ultimate authority here, or even an authority, but rather as someone who has been around recording since vacuum tubes were the mainstay, and analog was the only choice.

Today that means before a lot of really great musicians, engineers, producers who are reading this were even born.

The duder has been observing carefully the whole time. Watching. Participating even.

As a matter of fact, back in the 70’s the duder was busy with a fist full of Paranoid or Katy Lied. Un-spagettification of an 8-track tape was a specialty, and the demand was very high for that activity at most high schools around the world. Just about every school had an 8-track fixer.

The concept of a “project studio” didn’t even exist back in the 70’s. the Duder had not even received his first issue of Sound on Sound magazine.

 

HISTORY

 

In the 60’s through the 70’s, all of the gear required to do a professional quality recording was so large, so bulky, and expensive, that it was only practical to be owned and operated in a place that did a lot of recording. Like Abbey Road.

Ordinary musicians and recording enthusiasts could only dream of having access to the kind of gear that was capable of producing a record.

So back in that era, the large label affiliated studio was the norm. The idea that you could go over to your friends house and do a professional quality recording was well, unthinkable.

If you were listening to music, you had either cassette with Dolby [high rollers], 8-track [everyone who had a car that didn’t cost a bizillion dollars] or you had vinyl which was the mainstay along with a bottle of anti static spray and a moonrock needle. Maybe a paper weight for your roller coaster records. Everyone had at least one.

There was no internet in the 70’s. No mp3’s or or ipods. If you loved music you hung around at the record store and came home with a headache from the patchouli. If you wanted to call someone you picked up the wired phone and did a rotary dial. If they weren’t home there was probably no answering machine, you just tried again in a day or two. Something like that man. The pace has now quickened a bit. If you weren’t there the duder would imagine that it’s almost hard to imagine.

So as the decades have passed, the technology has been miniaturized, the world has gone digital, and instead of a rather large reel of tape as your finished good, your final work rests on a chip the size of your thumbnail and is getting smaller all the time.

The duder has watched it happen. It has been incredible. It has changed everything.

The point being that now, and actually for a few decades, moores law keeps marching along making the required technology more compact and affordable, and it has become practical for a smaller operator to be able to offer professional quality recording services and even for musicians to record themselves.

DEFINITION/DISCUSSION

 

So the project studio concept is a consequence of moores law, which basically says that technology gets smaller, faster and more capable all the time and it all happens so fast it leaves your head spinning.

Along with the miniaturization of the gear, the idea of a “Project Studio” was born. The idea gathered momentum throughout the 80’s and continues to gather momentum over the years as more and more great artists today do not have large label affiliations, and are delivering their music to their fans digitally. The project studio is a bit part of the revolution in music delivery.

Wikipedia is behind the curve as far as the definition of what a project studio is, stiill defining it as “home recording” or a non commercial venture.

So that is a bit outdated. Across the world today there are plenty of warehouse spaces full of studio gear with a competent proprietor unlocking the doors for business at 9pm after the day job is over, with musicians happily paying for the service.

The capabilities of project studios are increasing all the time due to moores law, and there are plenty of very good project oriented studios capable of producing as good or better results than the biggest names today.

So until the official definitions catch up with what is really going on out there, maybe you should just call your project studio a recording studio. There is no sense in getting pidgeon holed by a definition.

In the duders mind, the “project” part of the project studio typically emphasizes that with the resources available, the project studio is focused and centered on only one project at a time, which is really great for the artist when you think about it. Meanwhile the duder is going to go and update the Wikipedia to better reflect our even changing reality when he gets around to it.

So for a musician today, the idea of using a project studio makes a lot of sense.

The idea that someone who knows what they are doing can work with them, record their music,, produce it, and deliver to them something that is pro quality and flattering at an affordable price or on their terms, this is very appealing.

Even for an artist or a band that has achieved a lot of success and have a record contract , they may opt for the relaxed boutique feel of a project studio environment where attention to quality and detail is high.

Musicians you may have worked with before they had a contract may want to stick with you rather than the labels default choice. So they might ask to bring their own producer and engineer with them. You should say yes. More on that later.

 

What’s the Point here Duder?

 

Anyway, what is the point going to be here? Don’t worry. We aren’t going to be spending all of our time discussing definitions and history. The duder recognizes that a lot of people are very busy. We are building up to some very important thoughts and ideas about running your studio, but it’s important to ease into it and to understand where we are coming from.

The main point we are going to delve into during this treatment of a project studio is that in the “old days” with a big label affiliated studio, they would have on staff professional recording engineers, producers, techs, aids, and every other facet of a business. It all made sense, like any other large operation.

You however today as a project studio owner have to wear all of these hats and wear them well all by yourself or usually with a fairly limited staff.

There are a lot of hats to wear. Even if you have a few people working with you, there are still a lot of bases that need to be covered to adequately meet the needs of your clients and make sure that all of your goals are reached.

So we are going to discuss hats, and how to wear them along with a laundry list of suggestions and good ideas to make your studio more successful and fun.

So lets attempt to itemize the list of hats, before we go into detail about wearing them.

 

The Hats of a Project Studio Operator

 

the first hat we will discuss will be that of technically competent recording engineer. A studio without a recording engineer is like a bbq shack with no bbq. There is no way around this hat.

 

Recording Engineer

 

The recording engineer would be the one who in the 60’s would have been groovin up slowly with a flattop, pocket protector and slide rule. A really smart guy. Probably with a degree in electrical engineering, and who also understood intimately how the gear actually works, and might even be called upon to fix it in a pinch.

So the role of the recording engineer today is still the same, which is to be technically competent, to understand how to work your gear and get a good sound, and importantly how to get the sound the band and the producer want you to get for them. Then you also to be able to do that over and over with no mistakes.

In many ways the old analog gear was more forgiving, but in many ways it took a lot more work in order to get a professional quality sound. It’s easy to romanticize the old days, but when you were struggling with tape hiss or preamp noise or a dozen other things that are not issues today, it was not all a bed of roses my friends. It was pretty easy to get a really lo fi crap-o-la record sound. The engineers who made names for themselves in that era knew how to work the gear to get the sound. That has not really changed. An engineers notebook is a really good aid for that and you should keep one. Call it your operational diary. Make notes in it every time you record.

 

Producer

 

the next hat that a project studio operator has to wear is the hat of the music producer.The one with the club tie, the firm handshake, the certain look in the eye and an easy smile. Interestingly, the stereotypical personality of a music producer is quite a bit different than that of a good recording engineer. Like almost the opposite.

A good producer is a people person. The “hi I’m Jim damn glad to meet you” guy. He says things like “trust me baby”. May wear a big gold chain. Could be an order barker.

The producer probably has a large network they can call upon for this, that or the other thing. They will hopefully have a vision for the band and be able to cause the band and the recording engineer both to get that vision tracked on tape.

So a good producer is a big picture person and also a manager. A motivator. He or she may not even be necessarily technically competent to work the gear, but they know the sound they want. They know the vibe they want.

A good producer may even know who to take the finished work to in order to get it played. They know they are responsible for taking the bands musical vision and being able to help them realize that.

The role is called producer because the job is to get the music produced, and in a way that will benefit everyone involved.

The point here being that when a band or artist walks in to record, they may or may not have a really good idea of exactly what they want to do or what sound they’re going for.

They may want and need some assistance in that arena, and they don’t want to talk to a recording engineer about decibels, they want to talk to a producer or someone who can talk creatively and with vision. Food for thought. This is an important hat.

 

Business Manager

 

The next hat will be that of business manager. We will not dwell on this here because the duder is not an expert on business affairs, but we will discuss some aspects of it because we need to.

As offensive as it is to mix the ideas of music and business together, the fact is that it takes money to operate a project studio and therefore in general, someone is going to need to pay to record there. This is how the duder works it out in his head anyway. One thing is for sure and the duder is 100% certain of, If you don’t pay the electric bill, they are going to turn the power off and then you are definitely in a poor situation for recording.

So you have to be able to think about how you are going to make ends meet. That’s your business hat. This is not the strong suit of a lot of people who are good at other aspects of what is required, but if you can’t make ends meet, and if you have to fund your studio operations with another day job, that is called a black hole studio.

The advertising hat.

How are you going to get your business in the first place, and keep it coming? The short answer is that you want to do quality work that people come back for, but the long answer is that people have to know you are there. Even if you already have a word of mouth reputation which is very important in this business, you have to have some sort of strategy that keeps business coming in, because maybe you have a great reputation among the circle you’re working with, but then maybe the band breaks up or something.

The sales hat.

There is always some salesmanship that goes along with selling any good or service. Once again, if you are really good at recording, you may be awful at sales and you may not even like doing it. This is the broad point. All of these hats do not necessarily fit on the same head, and it’s up to you to make them all fit as good as they can. If you are truly awful in any of these arenas, it may benefit you to hook up with someone who is really good where you are weak.

the tech hat.

Whether you are in or out of the box, things don’t always work the way they are supposed to. Cables and gear fail. Plug in’s give you errors. There are a million little things that can go wrong and you have to fix them all, unless you are able to have a tech on staff. This may sound like a trivial matter, but when the band is there ready to go, you also have to be ready to go.

procurement hat.

Chances are, your collection of gear will not be static. You will probably be buying and selling gear, and this is a constant ongoing process. It takes up time. You need to be able to offer your clients the gear that will get them the desired sound, and realistically speaking there is some mojo element involved as well. If an accomplished vocalist comes in who is stuck on singing through a studio staple model of microphone that they have used many times before, you really need to have one of those available. If you don’t, your credibility could come into question in their mind. Unfortunately this is just how the world works and is a direct side effect of the bombardment from the marketing departments who all told us that your vacuum tubes were now junk back in the early 70s go figure. So there is some gear you just have to have, and this aspect requires time, attention and a budget.

The human interface hat.

You are going to need to develop and maintain relationships with a lot of people with a lot of different personalities, including band management, potentially record labels, aides, assistants, band members, etc.

There are a lot of moving parts. Potentially a lot of people involved. So you have to be able to work effectively with all of them and in general things will go a lot more smoothly if they sincerely like you.

So you have to think about all of that. You have to develop an effective strategy to handle a band manager that doesn’t know what he’s talking about, you have to be able to handle an artist having a bad day, and none of this may be your strong suit or something that you really even want to deal with.

Manager hat.

Finally, you have to be able to effectively manage people and situations, because when it all comes down to it, you are the one in charge of the session and the recording process.

Being a good manager requires a lot of experience, or at least you have to put a lot of thought into it. There are right ways to say things, and wrong ways to say things. It’s easy to piss people off when you are acting as a manager.

“It is very important that we all work as a team, which means that you all do everything I say”. No. Management styles are a subject in itself and some very good books have been written on the subject if you lack management experience.

 

Bye for now

 

So we will discuss all of these roles in more detail in part II, including some ideas and powerful suggestions regarding things to do to improve and build your business while wearing these hats.

In the final segment we will tie it all together with some new ideas and fresh thinking for how to make your project studio venture a smashing success, while you have fun doing it.

Music is supposed to be fun, and the project studio can help put the fun back into the business of making music.

Peace

The Zen Duder

zenduder.com

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How to Fix Condenser Microphone Sputtering

By

The Zen Duder

Lets first distinguish two kinds of sputtering. The first kind is a process. Gold sputtering of a condenser microphone diaphram, for example. This is done to improve the performance.

The second kind of sputtering is a sound. A sputtering noise. This is what we will be discussing here.

Lets say you woke up this morning, plugged in your favorite condenser microphone, applied 48V phantom power, set your levels, and then put your headphones on.

As you are getting ready to record, you hear a mysterious low level sputtering sound. Fits and starts. Not hiss, but more like rumble. You swap things around and the sputtering sound stays with the microphone.

So lets troubleshoot.

The main causes of this issue are as follows in relative order of liklihood

  • moisture in the capsule
  • if a tube mic, a tube going bad
  • capacitor inside the mic in the preamp circuit going bad
  • bad cable

So the bad cable has already been ruled out as you swapped gear and the sound stayed with the mic.

So the first step in a repair would be to rule out the capsule, which is the most likely culprit. This requires disassembly of the microphone so we are going to skip a definitive ruling and rather try a non invasive, non destructive heat treatment.

Since moisture in the capsule is the most common cause, it makes sense to attempt to cure this. The way to treat a microphone with moisture in the capsule is to apply gentle heat over a long period of time to essentially bake the humidity out of the capsule.

A blow dryer is not a good idea. Ideally, you would want the case of the microphone to reach 120 degrees F or so. No wind or air. Not hot to the touch, but warm, even very warm.

The Duder uses a solar powered oil heater for this purpose. Set on low, the microphone is placed on top of the heater and monitored every 15 minutes or so to make sure it isn’t getting too hot. After a couple of hours on top of the heater, the microphone is placed standing upright in a dry location.

Other methods that might work would be placing the microphone in any location that is hot, AND dry. While we are on this subject, lets talk for a minute about humidity.

It is very important to have proper humidity control in your studio.

Museums shoot for 50% or so relative humidity. Everything ages more gracefully at 50%. The Duder has found that if the relative humidity in your studio is kept between 50% and 60%, everything stays happy.

Below 50 percent, wood instruments are more prone to cracking and issues relative to being too dry, and even people can start to have issues when the humidity nears 40 percent which is too low in the opinion of the duder.

When the humidity goes over 60 percent, then everything in your studio becomes succeptable to humidity damage, some of it not reversable. Over 70 percent can actually cause rust.

If you are measuring 70 percent or higher relative humidity in your studio, you should probably take remedial action such as a room de humidifier.

Back to your expensive microphone that is acting up, after it cools for a few hours, it’s then time to test your fix.

If the sputtering is still there, if it’s a socketed tube mic, replace the tube. Tube microphones however are much less succeptable to moisture in the capsule, because they get warm, even almost hot during normal operation, and this acts in the same way as treating the microphone with heat.

So if the sputtering still exists after heat treatment, try it again. If the sputtering still exists, it’s time for a professional to take a look at it, or to send it for warranty service.

The Zen Duder

P.S. Please be careful not to overheat your expensive microphone.

 

 

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