Demystifying the Basics of Recording, Mixing and Mastering

I’m writing a short article today to discuss the basics of the studio process which can be broken down into recording [usually called tracking], mixing, and mastering.

Recording is an art, and a science. Today, we are talking mostly about the science of recording. There are certain rules that you should never violate. This is a discussion of that.

Recording is the process of taking a live voice or instrument, and preserving that on magnetic tape or whatever the analog storage medium may be, or converting it to digital in real time and then storing it on a hard disk or memory chip.

Mixing is the process of taking multiple tracks of recorded material, and mixing [combining] them together to produce a stereo [or sometimes mono] wav. When you are finished mixing the wavs, you have a mono or stereo wav that is called the mixdown.

There is a lot of misinformation floating around surrounding the subject of what a mixdown should look like before it is sent to the mastering engineer.

You may read that 6db of headroom is needed or required, etc.  This is basically an oversimplification to say that a good mixdown is not overly compressed. compressors or limiters were used only to the degree necessary and that no wholesale effects have been applied to the mixdown.

If a mixdown is already “banged to the rails” [see discussion below], it is really not a mixdown but a poorly mastered mix and this can be extremely limiting to the mastering engineer.

Ideally, the mixdown has peaks that may approach 0DBFS, but the wav is relaxed and there are quiet and loud parts, and nothing has ever been clipped. There is a lot of dynamic range in a good mixdown. Supposedly, we are paying good money for expensive gear that is capable of a wide dyamic range.

A mastering engineer can do wonders with a wav like that and give it many distinctly different vibes depending on the sound you are looking for.

So what is mastering?

Mastering is the process of taking the mono or stereo wav produced during mixdown, and making that ready to put on the radio or whatever the final destination may be. In a nutshell, that’s what mastering is. Ideally, the mastered mix should sit well in the genre against work of other artists.  There are certain features or hallmarks of music in certain genres.

The mastering engineer will be using various subtle treatments including compression, EQ, echo and reverb or possibly a huge variety of other subtle effects such as warm tube tone or bright and hard, to give the mix the desired final sound.  The mastering engineer can make the bassline sound tuff. He can make the vocals airy. A good mastering engineer can take a good mixdown and  give it any sound you want. The stereo image of the mixdown can be manipulated, there are a lot of tools in the mastering engineers toolkit to manipulate the final sound.

In other words the mastering process is applied to the mixdown wave and produces the finished result ready for the consumer to listen to.

The Do’s and mostly the Don’t’s of recording/tracking follow.

in digital recording, the worst thing you can do is to clip a signal because it means information is lost forever and it cannot be reconstituted. This manifests itself as a “ratty” sounding distortion similar to blocking distortion in a tube amplifier or power transistor clipping and it sounds horrible.

Try intentionally clipping a signal while tracking and listen to it to see for yourself. Look at the waveform. Visually when looking at the waveform, clipping appears as flat spots where information was lost each time the input signal exceeded 0DBFS on any piece of gear in the input chain or to the ADC [Analog to Digital Converter] which puts the information to the storage medium.

Nearly every recording device there is has over level indicators that will flash red when a clip occurs and most have a peak hold function so if there have been any clips you will know it.

So when recording you shoot for -12DBFs peaks and you wiill probably never clip. If you do clip while tracking, it’s a do over. This is why you don’t shoot for 0db peaks, because if an artist does a great performance and then you tell him he has to do it over because you clipped him, that is not very good or professional. Since Decibels are a log scale, it takes more than ten times as much sound pressure to clip if you are peaking at -12dbfs and most sources can’t produce a delta of ten times as much pressure as “normal”, although some vocalists or a horn player, etc. may be able to do that, and then we have to talk about dynamic range compression while tracking, which is the subject for another article.

Then you when you move on to the mixdown, very importantly there can be no clips on the tracks or on the master bus. If there is it’s no good. During no step ever can there be a clip. Never see red. Never. If there is 6db of headroom that’s great, but if there isn’t that is ok too so long as the mixdown hasn’t been compressed or otherwise “banged to the rails”.

Then finally during mastering, during no mastering step should you ever produce a clip, and the final result should be normalized to somewhere between -0.1DBFS or -0.5DBfs.

“Banged to the Rails” I hope not. A super loud mix does not mean a super good mix.

Let me explain a little be about that because with good mastering plug ins being ubiquitous and good mastering engineers not so much…let me say that it is also possible while working “inside the box” using a software DAW and plug ins, or using ouotboard mastering gear to produce a mastered mix that is “banged to the rails” meaning that the mastering software makes whatever you select as the max, then brings the rest of the mix up to that level.

Call it the loudness wars. Isotope ozone for example would call that a “loudness maximizer” lever. Many inboard or outboard mastering compressors will also produce this effect if used incorrectly.  If you produce a mastered mix that is top to bottom all the way across, it probably is not a good mix and will be a mix that causes people to turn it down, and will cause listening fatigue in the consumer.  A good mix has quiet parts and loud parts and it is a worthwhile endeavor to study the wavs of mixes that you like.

I use -0.5 usually because -0.1 will clip on crappy gear then the mastering engineer gets blamed LOL. I have an iphone that clips at -.01.

If you steadfastly observe these rules and never ever violate them you are on your way to being a very good engineer. Never ever see red. Never during any step. If you see red something is very wrong. It’s time to analyze what is happening, fix it, and do it over.

Happy Tracking.

The Zen Duder

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Should I DIY?

 

In this post Zen Duder is discussing the subject of whether as an artist it would be best for you to attempt to do your own recording, or to hire a professional.

The technology is making it more feasible to record mix and master your own work, no doubt about it, and a very good professional quality recording can be made at home today.

But, like most things, it’s never quite as simple as it seems at first glance.

For example, assuming you are a professional musician, the cost of a poor recording is high to you personally. So if your DIY ego bias has you thinking you did some great work work when it’s not,  It could result in things not happening for you that would be happening if you had a great recording to upload or press into a CD, etc.

So at this point, if you are reading this, you may have already talked to some of your friends who are doing their own recordings and you may have asked them, “how difficult is it”? Their response may well have been like “pffft, piece of cake” and you may have taken that at face value.

So what you didn’t ask is how good is the result.

In other words, your mom could probably go out back and run a 50 yard dash and come back saying…”pffft piece of cake”, but then ask her how her result stacked up against a world class sprinter. Something to think about.

Related to this subject, on our links page at the studio website we have a long list of technical articles related to recording and update this section regularly. These links cover in depth, subjects you need to understand in order to make a good recording.  It is a good resource for those who are interested in recording themselves so please feel free to utilize that resource.

We do own a studio, so maybe there will be a bias in this discussion. Maybe, but you can judge for yourself the facts and tidbits we will present below.

The fact is that recording studios exist for a good reason. Even with modern state of the art technology, it takes an awful lot to put one together in terms of time, money, space and expertise, and the experience of doing it over and over is invaluable.

So when you book studio time, you are paying for the gear, the space, but most importantly for the experience and the trained ears of the people who are working the machines and are solely focused on getting you a great sound while you are solely focused on making great music to record. Something to think about.

So first ask yourself, “do I like buttons and knobs”?.

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Neve Mixing Console with buttons, knobs, faders, meters, and a big headache for you if this is not where your aptitude lies

Are you the one who programs the stereo remote or do you hand it to someone else? Do you hook up your stereo system or do you find all of that confusing? Have you ever spent a few hours in the audio section at bigbox futzing with their gear for fun? Were you asleep in geometry class? These are sort of acid test questions which determine if you have the aptitude and personality to attempt to record your own work, and the answer is that it depends.

Be forewarned, if you attempt this without the proper personality profile, it could give you a headache or cause your person to experience intense frustration.

If you are a solo artist or a duo, diy may work out, depending on many factors we discuss below and the acid aptitude test above. Everything is easier the fewer instruments and performing artists involved. For anything more than that however [like for a band], it is less likely to be a successful or economically feasible endeavor, at least beyond the early stages. This again however is not a blanket statement. Nickelback records in Chad Kroeger’s barn, because Kroeger himself is well versed in recording.

There are several factors we are going to discuss and consider

1.) Gear.

The gear you need to get a satisfactory result is fairly expensive, fairly complex, and in some cases requires quite an extensive background in order to truly use properly and get professional results. You need a fair amount of education to even know what gear you need ! [please visit our links page for various how to articles on gear and recording]. These are the sort of things we can help with as a consultant.

2.) Training.

The gear you will purchase not only requires time to learn to use it properly, there is the whole background of recording science and electronics which you need to understand in order to get a good professional result with any gear regardless of the cost. For example, iIf you attempt to record a great performance and clip it, that great performance is gone forever because a clipped digital waveform is no good.

As a matter of fact, the way it generally works is that with less expensive gear, it requires more work and fine tuning to get a good or even usable sound, and with more expensive gear it’s easier. That is supposedly why it’s more expensive in the first place. Supposedly. So that works against the DIY’er, because while it may be practical for a studio to outlay $ for an important and expensive piece of gear, it may not be so practical for a Diy’er.

So if you are a solo artist, you may be willing to make the investment in gear, in time to learn to use the gear, and in general some of the basic in’s and out’s of recording, mixing, mastering, etc. Since you are a solo artist, the cost of the gear you need is greatly reduced compared to that of a 4 pc band.

A point to note….

One advantage all musicians do have in terms of becoming a recording engineer and producer is that you possess the greatest microphone ever devised, and you have two of them built in. they are called your ears.

You probably can remember how your ears were when you first started out versus how trained they are now.

When your ear is trained to discern pitch or pick an instrument out of the mix to listen to, this is something that can’t really be taught in a classroom and it is invaluable for recording.

They can teach you techniques, but all those hours of practice for a musician give the benefit of a trained ear, and that trained ear is very valuable in the recording process. It’s really the most important thing because when you think about it, when all is said and done and you’re staring at a chip the size of your thumbnail with your finished work on it, it all comes down to “what does it sound like”? Right? So with good, trained ears you can judge for yourself how good a recording sounds or not. If it were only that simple however.

So this is one strong positive in favor of the do it yourself camp. You have a good ear. So now you have to buy the proper listening gear [studio quality headphones, amplifiers, etc cha ching$$$], then you can probably tell if what you recorded is good, or not, and in fact could use a completely trial and error approach until you find specifically what works for you. We don’t recommend that approach, but it could work.

That said, the Neumann U87Ai microphone which is generally regarded by sound engineers and producers as a very good vocal and general purpose recording mic, ubiqutious in studios around the world [Zen Duder has one], goes for $3,600 street price today without tax or any of that jazz.

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U87Ai at Zen Duder Studio and bright sunny day outside

So please don’t take this as snobbery, and we will refrain from using pejorative terms such as “budget”. There are much less expensive mics that are very good and will yield very professional results in the right hands, it’s just that in the studio, you have choices. Usually, a lot of them. There is never any one strictly right answer much of this involves personal preference and obtaining the sound you are looking for.

We can try out a lot of different things to get the sound we want. We might try 3 or 4 different really good mics and 2 or 3 different [expensive] preamps, baffles, etc. on a vocalist to get it sounding just the way we want it, and being able to do that involves a substantial expense that is generally not practical for the DIY artist.

You can attempt to model microphones today with software plug ins, many workstatations and hardware effects units also have it, and it may sound ok, but we are going for much better than ok. This is the point to take away. We say ok no way. Something like that.

No one wants to make a recording that when completed, people say it sounds ok. That’s a fail.  At Zen Duder we want it to sound spectacular.

So in your DIY efforts, maybe you just blew an almost $4k hole in your wallet for something as pictured above that doesn’t do anything except convert sound into electricity, you are scared to even touch the thing or breathe into it for fear of messing it up [which is actually quite possible not to make you paranoid], and that’s just for a microphone and you don’t even have anything to plug it into yet.

You can spend $100 on a microphone, but it isn’t going to sound like a studio grade microphone whose condenser element alone may run several hundred dollars wholesale. Trust us. You are going to have to spend some money for a microphone capable of giving professional grade results across voice, instruments, etc.

So the financial aspect is a big hurdle and a big commitment. It doesn’t end with the major components either, all the wigglin pins and wobblin shafts [good quality cables are expensive] add up. Trust us on that.

That said, if you buy good used gear , you can usually turn around and sell it for close to what you paid if you need to.

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API lunchbox, Canare Quad Star Cables and World Class set of preamps pictured here tracking in studio A

If you decide to DIY, you will probably churn through a fair amount of gear until you find what suits you and your music. The sheer volume of gear along with the marketing hype and everything else can be daunting and very confusing to the beginning DIY recording artist. We ourselves buy and sell gear in a constant process of being able to offer a broad spectrum of choices and sounds.

Depending on the route you take, you might be able to figure ~ $3k for a basic recording setup that is capable of producing good commercial quality results, if you buy used gear, are using it all properly, etc.

One thing of primary importance to remember is that unfortunately the way it works is that your final result will only be as good as the weakest link in your signal chain.

In other words, you could have spent a bizillion dollars on all the best gear, and if the third link in your signal chain is a crappy  cable, you are going to get a crappy end result.

You could have made a perfect recording, and then somehow jazzed it up from a bad connection…etc.

We have equipment here to test our signal chains such as signal generators and oscilloscopes. We can verify the performance of our signal chain at the studio, and this is one area that is probably beyond the reach of most DIY artists. We trust our ears, but at the same time we verify the performance of our equipment and keep it properly calibrated.

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Getting out some gear for a session. Tascam DAW, LA-610 Mk Ii preamp, ART Voice Channel Preamp, Peluso P28 Tube Microphone, Rudistor NX03 Headphone Amp

A good starting point would be a good but low cost general purpose condenser microphone . That said, maybe you play sax and you might prefer a ribbon mic. This is where all the education comes in.The choices out there in microphone land can be daunting. There are a lot of good microphones on the market. Everyone has an opinion and not everyone knows what they’re talking about. You have to deal with sophisticated marketing propaganda and hype.

So all that said, you want to get the best microphones you can afford, suited to your purpose, as the microphones are a primary determinant of your final sound.

At Zen Duder we have a Neumann U87ai that produces very good results. It’s like the McDonalds of studio microphones. Experienced artists know what to expect and know what they sound like on one. We also have an exquisite sounding Peluso P28 tube, a Neumann U67 tube clone, and the most accurate, articulate, precise, scientific mics in our locker are a hand matched pair of Neumann KM184’s that we like to use on acoustic instruments and field recordings.

That said we also have some very nice sounding ribbon mics. If you play brass you might be better off going that route. Unfortunately typically the diy’er has to pick only one or two whereas in the studio environment we have a lot of choices of very capable microphones.

So next you need something to hold the microphone. A microphone boom stand, a pop filter, and an isolation mount. In general you want to be able to orient the microphone to any x/y/z position as the angle and placement of the microphone, as well as the microphone pattern type, are critical factors in the recorded sound.

Next up, another critical signal chain item….a decent preamp/compressor/limiter/eq channel strip such as the LA-610 Mk II or the Avalon VT737SP.We have an LA-610 with hand selected vintage tubes that sounds sublime.

So the preamp connects the microphone to the recording device and allows you to fiddle with the low level signal until it sounds just right depending on what you are trying to do.

Next, a capable DAW such as the Yamaha AW1600 which is no longer in production and can be had on the used market for far less than it is worth ~$300 in 2017]. We hold that DAW in very high regard around here and have several. It is an affordable HQ pro piece of gear with very good built in effects as well, and that is compared to effecs units that cost way, way, more than the whole Yamaha DAW itself. Go figure. So whatever DAW you use, hopefully it faithfully converts the analog signals to digital and records the signals you produce on a hard disk or a chip the size of your thumb.

It all needs to be connected with high quality audiophile cables. This is another arena where there is a lot of confusing hype so resort to the specs. You want very low capacitance cables, very good shielding, and pure ofc copper or even silver plated copper conductors, and preferably gold plated low resistance connectors. You want to use balanced inputs and outputs wherever possible to minimize noise. We are switching over to color coded Canare cables in our studio based on our own trial testing which has run a few years now. We like Neutrik for connectors. We make a lot of our own cables, again, beyond the reach of most DIY’ers.

Also, importantly, you need to understand the A/D conversion process. In general you want as few conversions as possible, because each conversion in effect makes your “master”, a next generation copy. If you do that enough times it will sound like you are talking on a telephone because you are essentially creating a manual bit decimator.

We like to do as few as 1 conversions [you have to do at least 1 to make it digital] or as many as 3. Either A/D period the end, or A/D/A/D.  Therefore, we like to use digital coax or optical connections between all of our gear, or else into and out of each piece of digital gear you are doing an A/D/A conversion which is not generally regarded as a good idea.

Finally, you need a good reproduction system so you can hear a faithful rendition of what you have actually done [cha ching$$$]. The cheapest way to get true studio quality reproduction is with a good set of headphones and a studio quality headphone amplifier which will eat up a good chunk of your 3k overall budget.

If you want to do this with speakers, it’s going to cost a lot. Likely more than your whole 3k budget because good studio monitor grade speakers and amplifiers are very expensive. Just because they say they are studio monitor grade doesn’t mean they are. We won’t get into all that here but please check our links page.

So forthe critical task of listening to what you have recorded we suggest a good pair of studio monitor headphones and a high quality headphone amplifier which you can do for under 1k.There are a lot of them out there. We primarily use the ultrasone proline 650 and the AKG K702 or Tesla T1 headphones for this work, and we have several very capable very expensive audiophile quality [lab quality actually] reference grade studio headphone amplifiers. Email us about this. We can get you into one of the best headphone amplifiers in the world at an extremely affordable cost.

These are just basic suggestions to get you going. You have to do your own research and trust your ears. There is no one answer and no right answer for everyone. Even among the top pros, wildly differing methods are used and the gear really takes a back seat to the people operating the gear and the methods used with it. You have to trust your ears and for that your ears have to be good enough to trust. This is where you hopefully have a leg up if you are a musician.

If you are working in the realm of electronica, trance, house, trip hop, acid jazz, etc you may not actually need to record anything with a microphone, except maybe to take some samples. From that point on, everything can and should be done on a computer. So for these genres, the gear you may want might be things such as a Korg Kaoss pad,  maybe an AKAI MPC unit or some other type of groove box, a capable synthisizer, drum machine, etc. You may not even need a DAW depending on how you like to work. It all depends.

For a recording musician, a good mic, a good preamp, and a capable DAW plus some mastering headphones, cables and accessories. That will get you started in a meaningful way. That is a basic setup that when used properly could yield excellent, studio quality results in the right hands, or sound like crap in the wrong ones.

You could attempt to do your recording with a computer and some attachments like a lot of people are doing today, but BSOD in the middle of recording and wrecking a great take is very unprofessional, and something that can be easily avoided by using hardware specifically designed to record… and that is how we recommend to do it.

As a comparison to what is probably cost prohibitive for DIYer, the Zen Duder standard method is to record on hardware, then transfer all the recorded tracks to computer for post production using software, then run the mixdown through expensive mastering hardware [the same tools the big studios use] for a final master. The “Zen Duder Method” is outlined on the more info page.

So the calculation is that for just the cost of one microphone, you could get 12 tracks recorded at Zen Duder as a solo artist. For the cost of a complete setup, you could probably record everything you’re going to think up for the next few decades at Zen Duder without any hassles as described above, and with pro quality gear that is likely to yield a superior end result.

This is not meant to dissuade you, just to point out that the economic reality of getting set up properly is a hurdle for most people. Then there is the space. Do you live in an apartment with a lot of background noise, poor quality power, etc? If so this presents issues that may or may not be able to be managed [and more expenses]. Then there is also the impact on your life. What is your siginficant other or roomate going to think if you redecorate in mic stands and acoustical tiles? It may not go over that well.

To properly record a 4 pc band you need at least 8 simultaneous tracks [minimum some engineers like to use 9 mics on drums alone which means you are going to need at least 16 tracks], which means a capable mixer/DAW, 8 microphones, 8 preamps, cables, wigglin pins, wobblin shafts, etc. It all adds up very quickly.

Then there is the aptitude part. Many musicians don’t necessarily care for the technical end of things, and frankly some are not very good at it.

 

Please do not be offended. Recording is quite the opposite of making music in many regards, and it’s not where some people’s aptitude or interest lies. Everyone is good at something, and in general musicians are good at making music and engineers are good at recording it. Two different brain halves involved.

For example, Michelle has a great voice and is a talented artist, but if you were to ask Michelle to work the gear, she would probably say haha. She has no interest, at all, in learning to work the gear. It’s just not her cup of tea. That’s fine.

 

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Michelle pictured here at the resort wearing her bee keeping suit, which is fun for her. Working knobs on recording gear, is not fun for her.

So you have to be honest and ask yourself, do i want to immerse myself in all of this technobabble? Is this something I’m even interested in? Do I want to learn to be my own recording engineer and producer? Is it all worth my rather large investment in time, energy and money to attempt to go it alone? Am I going to suck at it or hate it after I spend all this time and money? Is it all going to distract me from being a musician? After all, you only have so much time in a given day.

These are all questions to ask yourself before you get started, and please refer back to the acid test questions at the beginning to help you answer.

The point above being, once you have mastered recording, then you have the whole subjects of mixing and mastering….to master.

At Zen Duder we have 40 years of recording experience. Craig has a 5 year engineering degree which required quite a bit of study as well as aptitude. He likes buttons and knobs. The more the better.

Do you know what an ohm or a milliamp or a sine wave is? How are you on resolving ground loops and EMC radiated electrical noise? Do you know the difference between Db and DBa?, what is headroom? do you completely understand the difference between a balanced and an unbalanced connection, etc.,etc. If not then you have a lot of background engineering work to learn in order to make a proper recording.

We have already learned from all the mistakes that you will make as you learn. Unfortunately the way it works is that you hear your mistakes in your finished work and they remain there forever.

So the answer is that it may be feasible, and it may not be. It depends on your personality, your aptitude, your interests, the time you have available, space, whether you have the cash to make the required investment, and a lot of other factors.

If you are a band it’s probably just not feasible due to the expense involved to get a proper recording setup. Then there’s the issue that you are supposed to be a band, but recording music almost certainly requires someone at the recording and mixing helm to record a band. Therefore whoever in the band is doing that work is not being a part of the band at that time.

So what do you do? Do you add a fifth member who is your recorder? You generally already have to be doing pretty well and have a record contract to keep an engineer and producer in tow, because their going rates are in the vicinity of $100/hr for each.

So there is a lot to think about in this rather rambling discussion above.

If you can’t wait to get started, then you probably should get started.

At Zen Duder Studio we offer consulting for artists who wish to become skilled in tracking, mixing and mastering and we do that at an extremely reasonable rate.

If after reading this you decide that you would like to give it a go, or are already giving it a go but hitting some stumbling blocks or need professional answers to your questions, just get in touch with us at noprism@hushmail.com or m.enterprises.m@gmail.com we are happy to help and there is no obligation. We do a fair amount of consulting work because the fact is that a lot of people are opting to do it themselves, and realize also they have questions and need answers they can rely on.

We are also offering a one day crash course in recording as well as a week long extended course. Please see our main “about Zen Duder” page at the studio website for details on that offer.

Happy Tracking.

Zen Duder

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I’m fixing a bass where the hum gets in [and stops my mind from wondering]

Apologies for a bit of a hiatus from blogging I have been extremely busy. Among other things I Zen Duder am now trademarked so no one can impersonate me haha, and I have launched a photography studio in the past year. Just google zen duder to see some of the photos. My favorite subject is Lake James. I am primarily selling through adobe stock and have several nice studio shots available, more coming all the time.

Today I wanted to tackle the topic of instrument noises, the kind you don’t want. This is something every musician has to deal with and being a musician, you may be able to tell a c from a c sharp in a heartbeat but troubleshooting conducted and radiated EMI may just not be your forte. So let me try to help and also to do it in a way that is understandable.

I just finished refurbishing one of our studio basses, a vintage 1998 precision bass type. It was already a quiet bass, but I did a few things to make it even quieter. In the process I found quite a bit of mis information on this topic which inspired me to write.

So lets talk about instrument shielding. First of all, should you do it or not?

If you are happy with your instrument and it isn’t causing any issues, Zen Duder recommends to observe the time tested rule of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

Simple idea, really, especially if you are not totally confident in what you are doing.

You could very easily make matters worse. I say this because there are various electrical subtleties [which you understandably may not understand] that if not strictly observed will cause problems and you could unintentionally undo something important that the manufacturer did for a good reason which was lost on you.

If your instrument is causing you grief however, there are many simple things just about anyone can do for remediation.

First of all a little primer from someone who did some time at the IBM EMC lab where we tested IBM products to make sure they did not emit or recieve various types of electrical interference so that we could get agency approvals, and then sell our products.

The lession here is that theoretically you can’t buy a product that hasn’t been approved, but practically speaking, you can. So what the UL or CSA or FCC logo should mean is that the device has been tested to be safe, and not to emit excessive conducted or radiated emmissions or in the case of the FCC on the proper frequencies.

The el cheapo thing from fly by night shanghai that you or your neighbor bought on ebay, is probably not approved or possibly the approval stickers are fake. Some of these type of items are so noisy they could double as an rf jammer.

What are the main types of interference we are talking about here? What do I mean when I say conducted and radiated emissions? Let me take my engineering hat off and explain it in an easily understandable way.

The first type of interference that can present a problem to all of your gear is called conducted EMI. This is basically electrical noise [usually transistor switching noise] that gets on to the powerlines then wreaks havoc with your gear.

One poorly designed power supply can send conducted [and radiated] EMI everywhere causing problems that are very difficult to eliminate [impossible if in close proximity]. This is in fact why agencies such as UL and CSA exist, so they can certify that a product is free from irritating and trouble causing electrical noise.

In many cases, the best solution is simply to turn the offending device off or replace it. For example, in our studio, the LED lights in the restroom are a source of conducted and radiated studio noise, so we just keep the lights off when we are recording. In fact we have a checklist of everything that needs to be turned off for a session whether is is mechanical or electrical noise.

Please note that in urban settings, you often share a utility power transformer with your neighbors, sometimes quite a few of them. So this means that if they bought something with a junky power supply guess what? They are spilling conducted EMI to everything you own as well.

So if they have noisy LED bathroom lights or a 50 year old washing machine, just politely ask them not to use their bathroom or do the laundry while you are recording. Haha. Seriously, now the complexity of the issue begins to sink in right? Now you know why at 7am you hear a whine in your headphones for 3 minutes.

So step one before you even get to the instrument is make sure you have proper electrical wiring. Make sure that your primary earth ground at your electrical service entrance is good. Make sure that there are no wiring faults and that your neutral is not grounded which is a hazard and an electrical code violation even though many older homes and appliances do not observe this rule.

We run everything in our studio off of one high power tripp lite double conversion true sinewave UPS, set to output 115vac which is also suitable for our vintage vacuum tube amps.

Everything in the studio is star grounded to that single UPS and as a result we have a super low noise setup, which only makes sense for us given the investment in super low noise preamps etc. Your signal chain is only as good as the weakest link, and that includes power. It’s pretty easy to have noise wreck an otherwise good recording, so this is an extremely important topic.

Keep in mind, we are a studio. Not everyone needs to go to these extreme lengths, but it’s worth mentioning if you are the type where that little buzz you have to noise gate drives you nuts. Noise gating is a band aid and we try not to use it. We almost never do. We try not to have the noise in the first place and go to great lengths to get rid of it.

So ultra clean buffered power is a good place to start. Low noise is not cheap but neither is good tone.

On top of that we are way out in the country at ZDS so we do not have to deal with the urban landscape of electrical and audible noise pollution, but it wasn’t always that way so we sympathize heavily for those with a neighbor who is a HAM radio enthusiast and your lights dim every time he keys the mic.

If that is your situation it might be best to work out a schedule where he transmits on certain hours and you play during other hours because no amount of shielding will remedy a situation such as that. The lession here is that it’s possible to drive yourself nuts trying to fix a problem that is not fixable by the means you are using to fix it.

Effective solutions for conducted EMI are whole house surge suppressors good quality point surge suppressors [I like tripp lite] , clamp on toroids that prevent high frequencies from traveling on power lines, and simply getting rid of offending devices.

In our studio we also have a toroid on every single power cable as well as in our main electrical load center panels [lots and lots or toroids] [do not use toriods on signal cables unless you hate treble]. You can buy a bag of clamp on toroids on ebay and they are not expensive.

If you are troubleshooting this type of issue [such as flourescent lights causing the noise, start with everything in the house off, and turn things on one at a time until you find the offender. Working at the breaker panel may be helpful.

Please remember however that if you are in an urban setting, you are on the same circuit as your neighbors, so their conducted EMI problems are yours too. So no recording while your neighbor is shaving in the morning and maybe you can go around the neighborhood to check that all appliances are UL / CSA approved. Lol.

The second type, radiated EMI is the biggie for istruments. There you are standing in a sea of invisible electronic noise pollution with not one but maybe even two or three super high gain magnetic pickups that want to hear it all. This is where most of the issues come from. If the noise you are hearing changes with your orientation of the neck from east to west, you are dealing with radiated emi, meaning that there is some sort of electromagnetic radiation at some frequency from one or more devices that your strings and pickups are receiving sort of like an antenna. Like a really crappy radio but a good instrument.

So lets look at some remedies as we get into the dark arts of hum and noise remediation.

First of all, should you shield your control cavity? Yes, if it is not already shielded, you should. It is easy, inexpensive and effective, and it presents no tonal or other downsides, and should increase the value of your instrument. In some cases this can help dramatically.

How do I proceed? Buy some copper tape , carefully remove the back cover, then unbolt the pots. When you have enough working room, just encase the cavity in copper tape and come up all the way to the screw holes. You should solder a wire from the copper tape to the instrument ground jack. Even though they should be touching you want a good connection to ground. Then to complete the faraday cage, do the same thing to the inside of the back cover plate. When the screws go through they will electrically mate both surfaces and viola, you have greatly enhanced your protection from radiated emi. Tell them you Zen Dudered it.

Along with this, an ideal control cavity has a soldered wire running from the instrument bridge directly to the jack ground, and soldered wires to all the potentiometer cases and switch cases back to the ground jack, as well as the main ground point for your shielded pickup cable being there. Most high quality instruments already have this unless they are quite old.

Should I shield my pickup cavity? This is not always the same answer. It depends on the instrument and issues or lack thereof. For something like a fender stratocaster type design where the whole plate and pickups come off as one piece, my answer is yes. We have a 72 Stratocaster with the pickup cavity shielded and the guitar is quiet as a mouse, and it was not quiet before… it was actually our noisest guitar in the studio. In our studied assesment, the treatment did not perceivably alter the tone of the fine vintage instrument, but it is now a pleasure rather than a PITA to record with.

That said for any bass or guitar with a shielded humbucking pickup in its own cavity, the answer is sometimes no because it can conceivably affect tone, and there is a low bang for the buck because the pickup is already shielded. A proper humbucking pickup has a soldered non ferrous metal shield, and the pickup ground is soldered to that shield coming off the pickup. All that said, sometimes for various reasons this can help so you can always try it then undo it if you are not satisfied with the result. Copper foil tape is as easy to remove as any other tape. Almost. Just don’t stick it down too hard until you are sure you want it.

What else is there to do? A long list, please stand by.

It is critical that your instrument bridge/tailpiece is properly grounded [usually the tailpiece is grounded this is the best approach unless it’s all one piece. It can even be a safety hazard if the strings are ungrounded, A properly grounded bridge has a wire going from the tailpiece to the ground on the instrument jack. So that is really step one for any instrument. If your instrument gets noisy when you touch the strings, you almost certainly have either a tailpiece grounding problem and / or else a pickup wired reverse phase. If the noise gets really bad when you touch the pickup cover, then it is probably phase reversed [hot lead is grounded and ground lead is hot].

It is also critical that your pickups use good quality shielded wire, and it is best if your control cavity also uses shielded wire, but if the cavity itself is shielded this is not as important.

Pickup covers, on or off? Well, I will not get into the sonic debate here, but I will say this. Pickup manufacturers solder covers on their pickups because noisy pickups do not sell well. That said we understand the mojo of a les paul without the pickup covers we have a few around here, and to be honest most les paul type instruments are still very quiet with the covers off.

If you have a portable transistor AM radio, you can use that to track down interference. It’s easier than carrying your instrument around on a long cord. Just tune to a null then walk around with it until you have found the offender.

Bass pickup guards. Ha ha. This can be a real gremlin I feel your pain. Did you know that sometimes your bass handrest /pickup guard can make hum worse? Yes it’s true. So without getting into an electrical engineering course, google eddy current. If the noise is worse with your handrest on, then by all means take it off if you want to and vice versa. Also, importantly, you may want to try a non ferrous [nonmagnetic] material such as nickel aluminum or nickel silver for the cover which should not increase the hum and may possiblly even reduce it if grounded. Conceivably, both ferrous and non ferrous guards can affect the tone one way or the other, so just please remember the zen duder motto.

“Everything affects everything”

Finally, a few do’s and don’ts. Star grounding is always best. This means that there is one single ground point with all grounds on the instrument leading to that point, which should be the instrument ground jack.

Try a better quality instrument cord if you are having hum and noise issues. You can even use rg85 rf coax we use that a lot around the studio for patch cables. In our studio we use almost exclusively canare quad star and rg85 coax cable, with soldered connections. There is a lot of hype in the cabling industry but the fact is that good quality cables matter.

That said, remember how Stevie Ray Vaughn [RIP] used a coiled radio shack el cheapo cord because he felt that a good quality cord “let too much electricity through”? What he probably meant to say is that he liked the treble rolloff inherent in a long length low quality high capacitance cable. He played a strat, strats can be ice picky on a dimed amp.

What you want to look for is a copper core and a high percent shielded copper braid, the higher the better. These cables are expensive but you only need one. If it’s too bright roll back the treble control on your instrument a little bit, that’s what it’s for.

You are usually the best ground. In other words, the shortest path to ground from your instrument, it through you. Therefore, in many cases, touching the strings makes the instrument quieter which should be considered normal and which works out nicely because you have to be touching the instrument to play it anyway. So it is normal for your instrument to be the quietest when you are touching it. If your instrument makes more hum or noise when you touch it, you certainly have a grounding problem. If your pickup covers make more noise when you touch them you probably have a pickup wired reverse phase.

Pedal boards….if you are having noise issues try a straight run to the amp. If your noise goes away, you have a pedal board problem which is not uncommon, so work on that rather than your instrument.

Finally, be careful. The Duder is old enough to remember when being in a band meant you touched the mic stand real fast at first to make sure it wasn’t going to smoke you while you were also holding on to your instrument and I can still remember well what a good jolt felt like. Works better than several cups of coffee but not recommended.

Things are a lot safer these days but one bad piece of gear can give you a pretty good jolt so investing in a multi meter and learning how to use it is not really a bad idea.

I Hope this helps. We do occasional hum / noise mitigation for pro players but we don’t work cheap, we usually work just for clients so it’s really best to build the skills to do it yourself or to build a good relationship with someone skilled in this area to keep your instrument performing it’s best. Your instrument, of course, is a reflection upon yourself.

Until next time…..

Peace. ZD

 

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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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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

 

 

 

 

 

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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://i2.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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