Archive for the ‘studio’ Category

Studio Construction Photos: Con-Fusion Entertainment

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Several months ago I was approached by two former students (Evan Schlosser and Robie Rowland) at the New England Institute of Art to help them to design a studio in a rented space in Allston.  They introduced me to their partner Arjun Ray and I started consulting with them.  The space was being converted into rehearsal  spaces and construction was already underway in the space to convert it from an office building into a rehearsal room.  We would convert that into a fully-functional professional studio.

After measuring the space and investigating the existing construction, I came up with a design that would isolate the studio from their 3 neighbors as much as possible and that would provide them with 2 large and functional live rooms and  a good sized and well proportioned control room.  My initial design follows but had to be altered some to address problems such as sprinkler and HVAC locations.

Original Studio Design

The Original Design for Con-Fusion Entertainment's Studio

One of the things that is very nice about the space is the two large windows allowing natural light into the studio’s control room.  I designed all of the spaces to avoid parallel wall to help prevent problems with standing waves and the accumulation of low frequencies in less-than-ideal locations.  The rectangular space is broken up in such a way that the control room gets larger the further away from the mix position.  Both the live rooms have site-lines to the control room as well.  The control room, where the most time will be spent, is the largest room and will allow for comfortable seating for producers, engineers and their clients.

Here are some of the early construction photos.  In the pictures are Arjun Ray, Robie Rowland and Evan Schlosser (The 3 partners of Con-Fusion Entertainment), and Mike, Rick and Robie the Elder.  I tried to create some order to the photos to create a narrative.  At this point, nearly all of the metal studs are in place and drywall is starting to be hung.

Looking at control room from inside the large live room

Looking at control room from inside the large live room

View out of the control room door

View out of the control room door

View into the corner of the control room

View into the corner of the control room

View out the main control room window

View out the main control room window

The wall makes a slight job at the studio entrance

The wall makes a slight job at the studio entrance

Exterior walls filled with 703 fiberglass insulation

Exterior walls filled with 703 fiberglass insulation

Detail of the double wall construction

Detail of the double wall construction

3 Layer studio window in progress

3 Layer studio window in progress

Detail of finished studio window

Detail of finished studio window

Cutting metal studs makes sparks!

Cutting metal studs makes sparks!

Placing the first piece of gypsum board

Placing the first piece of gypsum board (from the left: Evan, Robie and Arjun)

Arjun sealing the top edge of the drywall

Arjun sealing the top edge of the drywall

Signatures of the builders on the first drywall

Signatures of the builders on the first drywall

So those are some of the pictures of the progress.  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Building a New 20-Space Rack

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

I was really bummed when my 20-Space Raxxess mobile rack disintegrated on me with all of my most expensive gear in it.  The bottom collapsed and then the whole thing twisted breaking the sides as well.  I was not at all impressed with Raxxess’ design after looking at it closely.  The entire weight of both sides of the rack is held up by 6 metal pins in 3/4 inch particle board.  Not a good design.  So I called Raxxess and they agreed to send me the broken parts after they grilled me about how heavy my equipment was and what I was using it for.  It’s a rack and I put audio gear in it and it broke because the design is bad.  The guys on the phone were pretty snotty, but they did agree to send me the replacement parts and they did it pretty quickly.  Then I thought, “Do you want to put your favorite rack gear in a rack that previously disintegrated?”

Broken Raxxess Caster Plate

The broken pin holes on the bottom plate of the Raxxess rack

Detail of Broken Raxxess Rack

A detail of the broken particle board

So I decided to build a replacement instead.  The new version is MUCH stronger, better designed, has bigger casters and it is generally awesome.  I DIY.  It would have been faster and maybe cheaper just to buy a new crappy rack, but I wouldn’t be very proud of it!

Top Corner of New Rack

Top Corner of New Rack

Big Fucking Wheels

Big Fucking Wheels (For Off-Road Recordin')

Side View of New Rack

Side View of New Rack

Cable Tie Mounts

Cable Tie Mounts

Cable Tied Power Cables Down the Right Rear

Cable Tied Power Cables Down the Right Rear

Fully Wired Rack

Fully Wired Rack with Optional Squirrel's Nest

I would love to see other people homemade audio equipment racks!  This one is probably only going to be loved by me and the family of squirrels that made their home in the back!

Woody Giessmann of the Del Fuegos Talks about Working with Hendrik at Indecent Music

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Recording at Indecent Music with Hendrik

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

The following video is about my recording philosophy and the gear that I use at Indecent Music.  I record, mix, and master out of Indecent Music.  I also provide audio engineering training and private lessons so that song writers can learn to be more effective at making their own demos.

Before You Come to the Studio to Record an Album…

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Many potential clients ask me the same questions before they come into the studio to work on their albums or EPs:

What should I do to prepare myself to make a great recording?

Should I record a demo myself first?

I almost always answer the questions with more questions:

1.  Why do you want to make a recording?

Is it to get gigs?  Sell at gigs?  Try to get licensing for TV or movies? Is it to finally hear the music the way that you hear it in your head? Is it to document your songs accurately to the way you play them or is it to fully realize the full arrangements with drum, bass, strings, urdu?

2.  Who is the audience of the recording?

Record label executives  or your friends and fans?  Are you the audience for your own music or are you trying to sell this stuff?  Are you planning on giving it away as a promotional tool to help build your following?

3.  Are you ready to record in a studio now or do you want to demo the songs to figure out how they should be arranged and performed?

Usually demoing the songs yourself will help you figure out what you haven’t practiced enough, and force you to think about the dynamics and the tempos and the form in a way that you haven’t already.  I always want artists to know the tempos of the songs before they come to the studio.  If they can bring lyric sheet with chord changes that also really helpful as well.

If you have a way to record yourself, I would always do at least some recording yourself to help you figure out what you are trying to do.  The recording equipment can be very simple, like GarageBand, a 4-Track or 8-Track cassette or digital recorder, or something a little more sophisticated like a full-blown DAW like Sonar, Logic,  Cubase or ProTools.

After you have had a chance to record simple versions of the tunes with piano or guitar and voice, then you can think about adding other instruments in a much more concrete way.  Some music might start with a drum pattern or loop and build from there.

After you you have done all this pre-production, it will be time to start talking to a good producer or engineer to help really get the recording process planned and started.  As a engineer, it’s much easier for me to do my job when the music is more fully formed before I start my work.  As a producer, I like to be involved in the music process as early as possible so I can help to shape the form, dynamics and feel of the song while the song writing is in process.

How to Become a Hip Hop Producer

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Their is difference between someone who makes beats – meaning composing and performing (or programming) original instrumental music, someone who is really a producer, and a recording engineer that specializes in hip hop tracking and production.

The fastest way to learn to beat making is to make beats with whatever you have available. I have worked with a couple of heads who were complete geniuses with the Playstation software from MTV. Their music was simply amazing. Software that is highly under-rated is FL Studio or FruityLoops. The step sequencer is the easiest way to make music quickly. Read the manual! Watch videos online.  Start working with as many other beat makers that you can find on the net, in your home town. For me, competition made me write stuff that was much better than working by myself in a vacuum. The three big instruments to learn would be keys, drums, and bass. You did not need to work in a studio to do this kind of work. You need a computer, a decent audio interface (Not an M-Box), and a couple of nice monitors. If money is a factor, don’t get a Mac. You get a lot more computer in the PC world and there’s tons of software available.

A real producer puts the whole show together. They hire everyone, often write songs with the artists, choose the studio to work in, find live musicians to fill out the sound. Sometimes that means doing everything yourself. A lot of the time the producer FUNDS the project and gets the biggest share of the profit (if any).  A producer is a big picture person usually with an excellent understanding of the psychology of creative people, motivation, fear, competition and excellence. This is something that comes with lots of experience, a strong musical background, charisma and usually fame or money.

An engineer deals with the tiniest details of tracking and mixing. Moving a mic a half inch, rotating a mic off axis, how to attenuate the peaks of the kick to get it to sound bigger, without making it wimpy. Attack and Release time minutia for compressing drums, bass and vocals. How the sound stage can be used to the best advantage, how to either avoid masking or use it to create new timbres. You need to learn this either in a studio as an apprentice, in a good audio school that has great facilities (I teach at New England Institute of Art in Boston and at U. Mass Lowell both have great facilities) and then leverage that into getting good internships.

Sometimes there are people who really are all three. Sometimes you will find yourself in one role or the other depending on who you’re working with.

The best job to get to learn audio engineering is working for live sound companies as a grunt. You will carry the bass bins, mic stands and a 43 foot console. But you will get to watch the FOH and monitor guys throw down. Live is good because it forces you to learn to do things quickly and it puts you around dozens of musicians every weekend. Not wanting to be embarassed is a very powerful way to learn.  You are always on stage being watched from the time you load in, to the time you strike the stage.

(posted to GearSlutz 7-4-09)

TASCAM’s GigaStudio Kills Your DAW

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Prepare yourself.  This will be a rant.

Several years ago I purchased GigaStudio so that I could use Sonic Implants’ (now SoniVox) amazing sounding orchestral sample library.  The library cost about double what I paid for my first car in Bean-town. It was expensive and it was worth it.  GigaStudio however is a heaping pile of turds. When I installed GigaStudio 3 the first time, it prompted me to restart my computer at which point it destroyed the boot loader for the Windows XP operating system and prevents you from being able to boot using Safe Mode.  The drivers for TASCAM’s software are “special.”  Not WDM, not ASIO, just special.  I had to rip all of the PCI-based sound cards out of the machine, disconnect everything with a USB connector on it just to get it to boot.

Then I downloaded the updated version of their software.  I installed it and rebooted my computer again with a tremendous amount of anxiety. I then tried to start the software only to find that I would have to register it to get it to work for the first time.  I went to their horrid website and registered my software.  I then got a page that said that it would take 48 hours for them to send my registration code, but that GigaStudio would work for 10 days without registration. Not true. (You’re a lying sack of crap, You’re a lying, scheming, stinking, nasty sack of liquid crap! — Stephanie Miller)

So I basically gave up on the software and purchased GVI so that I could run the samples as a plugin.  It still really sucks. You can’t open the .GSP files that you saved your settings in with GVI. So I recently had to load up a bunch of old projects where I was using GigaStudio so I could remix a bunch of old hip-hop instrumentals. Sovivox, bless their hearts, does allow you to crossgrade you samples to Kontact 2 format for $500.  So you can fix the problem by throwing more money at the problem.

TASCAM’s GigaStudio and GVI really,  really suck and their support can bite me in the booty too.

Beware the GigaStudio…

Preparing Beats and Instrumentals for a Vocal Session

Friday, March 13th, 2009

I work with a bunch of hip-hop artists and a few R&B singers. Most of the time they bring their own instrumentals to the studio instead of having me write music for them. I usually charge $300 or so to write and produce instrumentals for artists and there are 3 zillion kids with FL Studio using the title producer that will put something together for free.

The problem with free beats is that most of the time the quality of the audio really sucks.  Most MC’s are downloading instrumentals off of the web or the beats are coming in over email.  These are always compressed files which lack accuracy and sound quality.  OGG Vorbis files, MP3’s, WMA’s and Apple’s M4P’s or AAC’s all can sound pretty bad.  If you are starting a recording project, you want to start with the best quality audio that’s possible.  The following guidelines are intended to help people avoid releasing crappy sounding music.  Mix down your instrumentals using the following suggestions as a guide.

  1. Use full-quality uncompressed digital audio like WAV or AIFF files.  At the very least, these files should be 16 bit 44.1Khz stereo files.  I prefer to work with 24 bit files at either 44.1 Khz or 88.2 Khz.  The quality of the audio is much better and is easier to manipulate.  Using uncompressed files is the best way of ensuring that your engineer will be able to make a great mix of your songs.
  2. If you must use a compressed file-format, use FLAC (the Free Lossless Audio Codec) <http://flac.sourceforge.net/>
    FLAC is great because it is lossless, which means that even though the files are smaller than uncompressed files, they sound just as good as uncompressed files.  By using additional processor power you can make FLAC files even smaller.  In a series of tests that I did with my colleague Connor Smith, we discovered that FLAC was capable of shrinking our test file of uncompressed audio at 5.3 MB down to 1.6 MB without loosing any audio quality at all. FLAC files are sometimes small enough for people to email if they are short.
  3. Give the engineer stems. Stems are separate stereo tracks for each of the instruments in the instrumental.  For instance, you would have separate files for the drums, the bass, the rhythm instruments, the keyboards, the samples.  When you give the engineer stems they are able to mix the different instruments with the vocals.  A lot of the time the instruments block out the vocals in a mix.  If you send stems, the engineer can lower the instruments without lowered the drums and the bass. If you don’t bring stems, the engineer can’t leave the drums loud if the instruments are getting in the way of the vocals.
  4. If you have to use compressed lossy files, use the best possible quality that you can get.  OGG Vorbis, MP3, WMA, and AAC/M4P all offer the option of making higher quality files that are larger in size or smaller files that sound bad.  Here’s the audio choices going from best sounding to worst sounding:Ogg Vorbis (.ogg) is Open Source, Free and Awesome <http://www.vorbis.com/>
    Microsoft’s Windows Media Audio (.wma) <http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/forpros/codecs/audio.aspx>
    Apple’s Advanced Audio Codec (.aac or .m4p) <http://www.apple.com/quicktime/technologies/aac/>
    Mp3 (.mp3) MPEG layer 3 (Motion Picture Engineering Group) <http://lame.sourceforge.net/>
  5. Use the highest bit rate that you can use with all of the above audio formats.  I recommend a minimum bit rate of 256 Kbps for Ogg, WMA and AAC, but a minimum of 320 Kbps for MP3 audio.  VBR or Variable Bit Rate can be a little squirrelly, so to be safe always choose the highest quality option available.
  6. Find out if the engineer has the same software that the beat was created in.  I have FL Studio XXL so I can get FruityLoops files with the loop bundle and mix the  instrumental with the vocals directly.  It’s very likely that your engineer has software that can work with your format.
  7. If the file was ever a compressed file, you can never make the quality better.  For instance, if a beat-maker emails you a beat as an MP3 and you then convert it to a 16bit 44.1 Khz WAV file, it will never sound better than the MP3 file.  Never try to burn a CD with MP3 versions of the music.  You are just making the problem worse.

Please don’t hesitate to ask questions about file formats.  I can also help you to get great mixes either with advice or you can send me your projects to work some magic.

For NEIA Students: Cheap Alesis HD24 Caddy Options

Saturday, January 24th, 2009
Alesis HD24 Hard Drive Caddy

Alesis HD24 Hard Drive Caddy

Most of my audio students at the NEIA (the New England Institute of Art) want to know the cheapest way to get an Alesis HD24 caddy for their Recording 1 and Recording 2 classes. Unfortunately you pay for convenience when you shop at the school store, but you can get it cheaper off the web. As per usual you can find the best deal at Amazon right here. At the time of this post, Amazon has it listed at $22.95 via Musician’s Friend. After you order this, you will also need a IDE/PATA drive to stick in it. You won’t need a very big disk for your classes at the Art Institute. Anything more than 80 GB will be fine.

Current Great Deal on Amazon:
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 – Hard drive – 160 GB – internal – 3.5 (currently $47.41)

Make sure to NOT buy anything that says SATA on it, or anything that says 2.5″.  What you want is a 3.5″ 7200 RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) (IDE or PATA or Ultra ATA) Hard Drive.  You can get one that is boxed or OEM, which is cheaper. Here’s a few inexpensive options:

If you are mobile or adventurous you can always go to Microcenter in Cambridge on Memorial Drive to buy your hard drive.  They have great deals and a convenient order-on-the-web and then pick-up at store feature. I really hope that this helps!

HDG XIX

Working in the Studio: BYO External Hard Disk

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

When I start working with a new studio client at Indecent Music, one of the things that I ask is that each client bring their own high-speed external hard disk.  This allows the artist to keep their own files with them, which gives them the security of a back-up copy should anything happen to their data at the recording studio.  Hard disk failure doesn’t happen very often, but discs are wear-items.  Drives can only keep spinning for so long before they’re going to wear out. The majority of the disk failures happen when a hard drive is spinning up from stationary or spinning down.  If a computer gets hit hard while the drive is spinning the platter (the part of the drive that spins with the data on it) can crash against the stationary parts of the drive. After this happens, the only people that can retrieve your data are pro’s that have a clean-room to work in.  It’s incredibly expensive to get your data at that point and sometimes it’s still impossible.

There are a bunch of manufacturers out there that make external drives, but most of them are not designed to deal with the kind of data transfer that audio (and video!) production requires.  The industries first big manufacturer is Glyph [http://www.glyphtech.com/], which makes hard drive especially for the audio and video industries.  There is no question that Glyph does make some of the best gear out there and they do have a great warranty which is for 3-years with a 1-year overnight replacement clause.  They also have a fantastic basic data recovery service for FREE for the first two years that you own your drive.  There are no guaranties that they will recover your data, of course, but this is better than what the competition offers by far.  Many Glyph hard drives have also been certified to work with Digidesign software which includes ProTools. The downside is that the drives sell for about double the cost of other comparable drives.  You are paying for the name and for the data recovery service.  The best versions of the Glyph drives are as follows:

Glyph PortaGig 320 GB External Hard Drive

Glyph PortaGig 320 GB External Hard Drive

Glyph Technologies

Glyph Technology 500GB Quad Desktop Hard Drive

All Glyph Technology Products

Glyph was the original for-audio drive manufacturer, but they are not the only game in town.  The major advantage to the Glyph systems is the Oxford chip which is the brains of the hard-drive enclosure.  Oxford is pretty much thought to be the best company for many chips that interface an external SATA hard disk to a computer via eSATA, Firewire 400/800 and USB 2.0.

Another company call Icy Dock also makes a fantastic hard drive enclosure line that allows you to put your own hard drives into the enclosure.  This means that you can buy the same drives that Glyph uses (Seagate Barracuda’s) and utilize an Oxford chip without paying a lot of extra dough.  To get a complete package, you simply buy an enclosure (like a Icy Dock MB559US-1S External Enclosure or a Icy Dock MB664US-1SB Screwless External Enclosure) and then you just buy a hard disk.

Icy Dock MB559US-1S External Hard Disk Enclosure

Icy Dock External Hard Disk Enclosure (MB559US-1S)

Icy Dock Screwless Hard drive enclosure (MB664US-1SB)

Icy Dock Screwless Hard drive enclosure (MB664US-1SB)

Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM 500GB SATA Internal Hard Drive

Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM 500GB SATA Internal Hard Drive

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These Seagate Barracuda drives are extremely quiet at 28 dB idle and 35 dB writing and they have fantastic shock resistance of 63 Gs while in operation. These are the same discs that Glyph uses, so they’re A-O.K.

If you have any questions about other types of drives, leave a comment and let me know!