Gino Robair is former editor of EM

Give Yourself Permission To Fail and Have Fun

[This blog was originally posted in April 2011, but it disappeared shortly thereafter. I've re-posted in preparation for the launching of Robair Report 2.0 in 2012.]
When I’m on the road, I’m quickly reminded that, instinctively, I embrace improvisation as a method of dealing with the uncertainties of life. Many of us do already, especially musicians and other creative types who have learned to pull information out of thin air. But there are times when it seems that there is not enough air to hold all of the info we need to grab in a given instant. While touring, for example.

I’ve been on the road in Germany and Sweden for about two weeks, concertizing and doing workshops on improvisation. The workshops, however, are not geared towards any particular level of musician, but designed for any person that has an interest in creative self-expression. While in Stockholm, for example, I did a residency at Fylkingen [www.fylkingen.se ] where, with two dozen people, I explored concepts such as support vs. opposition, solo vs. non-solo participation, and group listening (e.g., doing a specific task in a large ensemble, but being fully aware of everything that is happening around you). But the overall direction was in risk-taking.

Musicians, actors, and dancers who have improvised before are used to a certain level of challenge. But for people who have only been onstage in some fully directed or predetermined performance, it’s an incredibly frightening prospect—existentially so— particularly in front of your peers. And even some artists who have a lot of experience improvising in some form of idiomatic structure, such as jazz or rock, become very insecure when the framework of chord changes and rhythm is removed.

In this instance, we had a painter, dancers, singers, actors, and instrumentalists of every level, which meant we had to find some common ground in order to begin. It turns out the fear of failure is something we all share, so that’s where we began: we grant each other permission to fail.

In actuality, there is no failure, because this is a workshop and we’re here to explore. But at the end there will be a concert, which is one reason we need to agree that there is no wrong way to do things. That way, we can take risks based on our individual comfort level.

The focus is on free improvisation, although I use a variety of structures and game-like pieces to instigate things. For example, one activity is about differentiating between short and long events, grouping them into phrases, but paying attention to how your phrase-group fits with what else is happening in the room. The painter, for example, drew dots for short events, and let the paint drip or pour when she wanted to do a longer event. The dancers could move a part of their body quickly or slowly to perform their phrases.

But there are also moments of free improvisation, where we have seemingly unlimited possibilities. Moving between levels of structure and non-structure is what interests me the most in the workshops, because I learn a lot from the students as they find their own ways to deal with the concepts.

When I decided to try my hand improvising as a soloist about two decades ago, I came up with a list of conditions that I would periodically look at when I got uncomfortable—or when I got too comfortable. I brought this list with me on the tour and a number of people I worked with found parts of it to be useful, so I’ve decided to present it here in the blog. Some of these are based on personal experience (such as the part about the Ebow). Most of it is focused on music. The list was not created with pedagogy in mind, so bear with me. I think the conditions will be on interest to improvisers in any media.

12 Conditions for the Improviser:
1. Don’t be afraid of “failure.” In fact, dare to fail—go out on a limb. Focus on the process of improvisation and the long-term goals of developing your craft, rather than the immediate gratification of a “good gig.”

2. Don’t obsess about whether it was a good gig or a bad gig. Evaluate what worked and what didn’t, then move on.

3. Any player can play any instrument at any time in any manner they choose (as long as it’s not destructive to the instrument—unless it’s OK to damage the instrument).

4. Explore the “wrong” ways to play the instrument, and develop them into “techniques” that you can call up at any time. Example: forearm and fist rolls on the piano.

5. Music can be funny. When it happens, that’s OK. However, don’t force humor into music. Avoid trying to be funny.

6. A bow (violin, viola, cello, or bass) can be used on just about anything. Almost anything can be used as a bow, given enough rosin. Everyone should carry a bow with them at all times. Same goes for an Ebow.

7. Keep an eye out for things in the immediate environment that you can use musically. If you see something that you think cannot be used musically, take that as a challenge and make it work.

8. Test the extremes of the performance situation. Begin by not preparing for the gig (physically or mentally); just show up and play.

9. Allow yourself to be in the moment, without regard to past moments.

10. Avoid using anything that “worked” in a previous improvisation in the current situation. Chances are good that it will not work again if you are forcing it into this situation.

11. Avoid being self critical during the act of making music. Create music in the moment, then reflect on it when you’re done.

12. Enjoy yourself. Give yourself permission to have fun. You can create beautiful, deep, and passionate music while enjoying the process of improvisation.

A Moment Beyond Experimental Music

In many ways, the concept of complete musical freedom that electronic instruments promise is still far from being realized, despite what we see in ads for new products or read in research journals. One could argue that it will never be realized, because musicians and composers are continually pushing beyond the boundaries of instrument design. (Meanwhile, some of us are still grappling with the unexplored potential of acoustic instruments that traditional forms of music — classical, jazz, rock, folk — don’t have a vocabulary for.)

Certainly, there is no shortage of unusual electronic instruments or interfaces. Some people think that the trick is simply to find a way to make a new controller popular enough that it will catch on with a large population so that a performance practice can be developed over time. That seems reasonable, in one sense: After several hundred years, there’s a wealth of great string and wind music because orchestral instruments were standardized. These days, manufacturers who want to sell a ton of products choose a piano-style keyboard as an interface, or perhaps an Akai MPC-style pad-array, because they fit popular forms of music making.

Yet there’s a continuing trend of musicians and developers who aren’t necessarily interested in standardization. They’re busy trying to unleash the music they hear in their heads, which might not be possible using common tools.

A recent article in the New York Times briefly touched on the subject, using a handful of Bay Area sound artists as a reference point. Take David Wessel, the director at UC Berkeley’s CNMAT (Center for New Music and Audio Technologies). His 32-pad instrument, SLABs, can fire samples and do real-time synthesis, among other things. But more importantly, it is highly responsive to performance gestures; each pad responds to finger movement in three directions — x, y, and pressure, with a discrete output channel dedicated to each, resulting in 96 channels of data.

That all sounds geeky and trendy, but the proof is in the music. Hearing Wessel play the SLABs is a real treat. At some point during a recent concert of his, I forgot that he was playing electronics: I can only describe the sounds as organic, at times transcending the acoustic vs. electronic divide. You can get a small taste of it in the video link above.

A purely musical performance at that level is not easy to achieve, but I think it’s a goal that is often forgotten as people get tied up in the technology of an instrument or interface. And it’s important to note that Wessel’s instrument is the result of years of development and practice.

Beyond using technology for sound control and creation, however, there is another level of musical potential that computers offer, which is merely hinted at by high-tech gaming environments such as Rocksmith.

“We are trying to find ways of musical interaction that are not possible without technology, which might lead to new kinds of music, new kinds of improvisation.” That’s how Palle Dahlstadt of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, described his research interests during a 3-day workshop with Bay Area musicians at CNMAT this week. Together with fellow researcher Per Anders Nilsson, he is managing a 3-year project funded by the Swedish Research Council that will also explore new ways of using synthesis with gestural controllers. Another facet of the project involves interactive environments for the public: “Encouraging non-professional musicians,” Dahlstadt explains, “by capturing sounds from them and putting them together in real time for music, but keeping the identity of the material so that they feel that they have contributed. Because if the software is too intelligent, you lose the sense of participation.”

duopantomorf.png

Dahlstadt and Nilsson also perform as “duo pantoMorf“, creating fully improvised music using a pair of Nord Modular G2 synths and M-Audio pad controllers. The duo exhibits the same level of virtuosity that comes from playing the same instrument configuration (in this case, the G2) for years.

“There are two kinds of interactions that we are trying out,” Dahlstadt told me about the workshop. “One is on a timbral level, meaning a micro-time level that would not be possible to realize acoustically. For example, modulating each other’s timbres, playing on each other’s timbres, which creates links of dependencies between musicians that force you to think in a different way. And the other kind of interactions are where the rule systems are, perhaps, too complex to keep in your mind as a musician. For example, the computer might analyze what you’re playing, then make a simplified graphic or sonic representation of it and present that to another musician right after you’ve played it, who is then asked to respond in a certain way. This steers the musicians in directions they wouldn’t normally go. Because you can implement any kind of mapping between musicians, you can create very complex interactions that would not be possible in other ways”

This week’s workshop focused on a handful of such strategies to enhance and control musical interaction between players. One section, using trios and quartets, examined how one player can learn to control the playback of the sound of an adjacent player in order to create blended timbres as well as find new ways of approaching improvisation. To do this, the sound of each musician is constantly being sampled into a 2-second buffer, which is gated. One player can open the gate of another by playing their own instrument, so that you hear the real-time sound along with a portion of someone else’s sample. For example, each time I made a sound with my drums, it was sampled. But the sample was only heard when the bassist next to me played a note, at which point you’d hear both of our sounds: mine from the PA and hers from her bass.

All this sounds a bit trivial until you realize that by triggering someone else’s sound, you are also feeding a buffer that someone else controls. If you just play without thinking, it sounds like each person has a 2-second delay on them — immediately boring. But if you try to work within the system more creatively, you can tease out unusual sonorities that surpass a mere blend of two instrumental timbres. For example, I could wave my hand past my microphone to trigger a slice of the sampled sound, but without adding my own sounds to the mix. When I waved my hand quickly or in a random pattern, I could get stutter-edit effects.

However, that was just the first approach, which Dahlstadt referred to as amplitude modulation, referencing a common synthesis device. Later, a vocoder was introduced into the system in such a way that the sound you make would determine which partials are enhanced in the gated sample. For example, when I played low sounds on a drum, the sample I was triggering would consist of only high partials. When I played a high-frequency sound, you would only hear the low frequencies in the sample I triggered. That particular mapping was arbitrarily chosen, but proved to be musically satisfying because there was less likelihood that the player and sample would mask one another.

Once we figure out the technology of each structure, we practiced using it by improvising short pieces. Remarkably, by the end of the third day it felt like I was in a band and we had learned a new set of tunes, which we performed on the final evening. It was no longer a simple demonstration of computer music techniques. Rather, it was a series of musical environments that forced us to make music in ways we wouldn’t normally try if we were playing on our own. By the end of the concert, it felt like we had moved beyond so-called experimental music, and the results were satisfying for the performers as well as the audience.

Cool Links
Daphne Oram’s Synthesizer (video)

Echoes from the Sun

A Man Lost In Musical Time

Bounce to Disc

vinyle_master12.jpg

If you’ve poked around the indie music scene at all in recent years, you’ve no doubt seen an increase in music being delivered on archaic media such as cassettes and vinyl records. Although one well-known band tried using cassette tapes to foil illegal file-sharing, the majority of artists release records and cassettes for commercial or sonic reasons, or some combination of the two. Listeners I’ve spoken with think these vintage formats sound great, particularly because they’re inclined towards the audio artifacts each one presents: Anyone who has compared a song played on CD or MP3 to the same piece on one of the older formats can attest to the differences in audio quality.

In an earlier blog, I described how a cassette can be thought of as a non-linear filtering device, offering a timbral quality that is difficult to achieve with digital plug-ins alone. A few weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised to hear that records were also being used to
“process” a mix: Arcade Fire’s mastering engineer created a master lacquer for each of the 16 songs on the band’s recent Grammy-winning album, The Suburbs, and then re-digitized them for release on CD and digital distribution. Mind you, the materials used to make a master lacquer — an aluminum disc coated with a hardened, nail-polish-like substance — are different than a mass-produced vinyl disc. Yet, as records, the two types of materials have similar sound qualities as well as physical limitations.

For example, records don’t tolerate active panning in the lower frequencies, so mastering engineers will pan bass instruments to the center before committing the project to lacquer. By essentially making the low-end mono, you mitigate certain types of tracking problems for the stylus. Each mastering house chooses their own crossover frequency for centering the low-end, determined by their experience, the gear they have, and the projects they’ve done in the past.

But bass isn’t the only problematic frequency range. Exaggerated high frequencies, particularly from sibilants in the vocals or from over-compressing the mix, will likely cause distortion during playback. In addition, the quality of high-frequency reproduction gets progressively lower as the needle approaches the center of the disc, primarily because there is less surface area per rotation. As John Golden of Golden Mastering told me in “Mastering Vinyl”, “Most people don’t realize that the distance around the inside of a 12-inch record is about half the distance than around the outside. As the distance around each revolution decreases, the high frequencies become harder for a playback stylus to read.” And, as it turns out, progressively boosting the highs in a mix to try to compensate doesn’t fix the problem, but only increases the distortion.

Fire in the Groove
The Arcade Fire production team were able to work around these issues by giving each song its own master lacquer. For example, this allowed the band’s mastering engineer to use as much of the record’s surface as possible in order to maximize playback levels.

I asked the man who mixed the project, Craig Silvey, if he had to approach the album differently considering the unusual way they planned to master it.

How did you decide to use vinyl as a step in the mastering process?
We had discussed when we were mixing the record that we wanted to have an analog stage in it. But for time reasons, and because it was a gargantuan project collecting all the mixes together and making final decisions on things, it made sense for us to do the mix digitally, in stems, so that we could recall it later.

We realized that we needed another analog stage, and they wanted something very physical to represent the album. I remembered that George Marino at Sterling Sound, who I use regularly for mastering, had mentioned that he’d done this before; where you take the process of putting it to vinyl, basically, but each song gets its own lacquer and gets played once, back into the computer, to make the CD release or downloadable version. Each song gets maximum groove width, so you can get it nice and loud on the vinyl. The record is cut and played at 45 rpm, and the playback is, of course, on the lathe, so it’ll be a super-stable playback. It’s the best the vinyl could ever possibly sound.

After George suggested it to me, I mentioned it to the band as a possibility, but I’d never actually heard it, myself. And everyone was really skeptical. But when it came back, it was very noticeable, really: It really opened up the bottom end. It was well worth it.

Did you have to do anything to the mix itself to prepare it to be transferred to vinyl?
We made the mixes how we liked them. Because there are 16 songs, we decided to digitally master the whole album to get the EQ right first. The mastering took a period of a few days, where people were deciding that, oh, we should have an extra dB of 16 kHz or whatever.

We didn’t want to waste all these lacquers [during this step], so we mastered it digitally until we were all happy with it. And then in one broad stroke, George did the entire vinyl process for it. He says that you can get it pretty loud at the kind of groove width you get when you’re running 45. But you only have about 7 minutes that you can put on a 12-inch, at that maximum ability. There are some potential issues with stereo low-frequencies, but it didn’t ever really seem to be a problem.

The only problem was that two or three masters came back that had a bit of static or a little crackle or pop on it. So those had to be redone.

How long did it take you to mix the record?
With a few breaks, three months. Technically, it’s a double-album, so it was like mixing two albums. The mixes were done at 24-bit, 96 kHz.

Was the entire band at the mix session?
They tag-teamed me, two at a time. They’d go out and take a rest, and another two would come in. Of course, there are lots of parts, and everybody has a different angle on it. So we were trying to satisfy everybody.

Do people create different masters for compressed file formats or music destined for online distribution?
I don’t think so, no. We used the same master that we used for the CD.

You sometimes do a different master for a single for radio play. When the pluggers are trying to plug their songs to the radio, they have to play them something that sounds really loud. So there are a lot of times when you do singles where you hit them hard at mastering, but then the album isn’t [mastered] that way.

The records I’m generally working on are by people who are trying to resist the dynamic wars. For the album and for the downloads, it’ll be mastered pretty calm. Generally the way I mix is calm, as well. We’re always trying to preserve the dynamics.

The Vinyl Frontier
After my talk with Silvey, I contacted George Marino by email about the final steps in the mastering process. Starting with the 24-bit, 96kHz mixes from Silvey, Marino went through his “normal mastering processing” before creating a master digital file.

From that file he created a single lacquer master of the entire project, which was used to cut the commercial vinyl album that was released. Then he used the digital master to cut the individual master lacquers for each song. Each one was played back form the lathe and re-digitized at 16-bit, 44.1kHz resolution for CD release and digital distribution.

Cool Links
Fender Amps For Your Car?

Reef Noise As Guide for Floating Crustaceans

Audio From Global Seismic Activity

Hear Whales Sing Live

What Would Lomax Do?

A friend of mine just became an apprentice in lost-wax bronze casting, a technique that goes back a few millennia. The basic idea is that you create the shape in some form of soft media, which dissolves when you pour the bronze, leaving a metal sculpture. The chemical composition of the materials used in the process may have changed over the years, but the technique itself has remained pretty much unchanged. The same, of course, can be said about many visual arts.

In contrast, the recording arts are still in their infancy. Think of how much music technology has changed within the last couple of decades alone. It often feels like recording and delivery formats are being introduced with increasing frequency as entrepreneurs search for the next monetizable trend. Yet, nothing has been developed that would stand the test of time on the scale of bronze sculpture.

bookcover.jpg

I was reminded while reading John Szwed’s excellent bio Alan Lomax (Viking; 2010) that the speedy turnover of recording and reproduction technology isn’t a new thing. Almost from the dawn of commercial recording, there were competing playback formats, with manufacturers starting their own labels and distribution organizations to support their products. More recently, Sony took it further by having a hand in every aspect of music, from its mics and recorders, to its CD replication plants, to its playback devices and record label.

The Lomaxes — Alan and his father, John — began archiving audio on cylinders around 1933, just 78 years ago — a blink of an eye in the larger scheme of things. Think of it this way: personal computers have been around 30 of those years, and MIDI just over 25 years. Bob Moog took his first order for synth modules 47 years ago, and tape decks hit the commercial market just after World War II. If you consider the various tape formats, alone, a lot has happened in less than a human lifetime.

Recording technology itself has been around just over 150 years, if you count as the starting point the smoked-paper tracings from douard-Lon Scott de Martinville’s phonautograph in 1857-1860. (Even fewer years, if you begin with Thomas Edison’s invention in 1877.)

In his book, Szwed details the early equipment that Lomax and his father used for field recording, from their first “windup office Ediphone” that used cylinders to a disc-cutting machine, which was at the forefront of audio technology in the U.S. at the time. The disc-cutter weighed 315 lbs, and Lomax would schlep it wherever the action was. Their car was modified to hold the lathe and other components, creating perhaps the first mobile recording rig. The two men also hauled around a tube amplifier, a pair of batteries weighing 75 lbs, a battery charger, a microphone, a mixer, a speaker, spare parts, and, of course, blank media — aluminum and celluloid discs.

Imagine, for a moment, what a box of those discs must have weighed, each of which held only a few minutes of music. For those of you who own LP records, go grab 25 discs and carry them around for a few minutes. Now imagine those are fragile masters that you’ll be carrying in the back of the car for the next few weeks as you drive the dusty backroads of the South during the summer.

Smaller, Yet Bigger
The enormity of their endeavor really hit home when I read Tascam’s recent announcement about its new DP-05 portable digital recorder, which sells for $99 and fits in your pocket. The unit is capable of recording 24-bit, 96kHz WAV files, as well as MP3 files, and it can accept a 32GB microSDHC card for storage. If you were to capture audio at the resolution that the Lomax’s did using something like the DP-05, you could record for months before having to change cards.

So, in the amount of time it takes a married couple to reach their diamond anniversary, recording technology has improved such that the devices have been reduced to a tiny fraction in size, weight and price, while increasing in data storage by several orders of magnitude.

Not only do we take this for granted, it’s not good enough. In fact, it’s never good enough. Not now, and not then. Today’s pocket-sized digital recorders are simply an arbitrary point on a trend that will continue until — when?

Always the Point of No Return
Of course, once they began working with their first disc cutter, the Lomaxes figured out how to improve their recordings, which made them want to go back and re-record the singers they’d met in the preceding months. Most of us have felt that way at one time or another about something important we’ve recorded. Often we can’t go back or do a retake. But just as often, we’re lucky enough to capture a special event on whatever device is handy, despite less-than-optimal sound quality.

In an interview with WashingtonCityPaper.com, Szwed notes that Alan Lomax always used the best equipment he could and, as a result, his audio and visual material has lasted. Now it’s just a matter of sorting through it all.

But where and how will all the information we generate be stored and how long will it last? Although much of what we see and hear online seems expendable, trivial, and of dubious cultural value, no doubt some of it will be considered important in the future, just as the prison songs and field hollers that the Lomaxes recorded are valued today.

Of course we’re all trying to figure out what to do about our music in the long term, especially in this strange time of format transition and the reinvention of the record-business paradigm. Although it’s getting increasingly difficult to sell music, the trend might reverse itself depending on the next series of innovations.

What I find interesting is how earlier audio obsessives navigated the nascent world of music publishing while trying to gain wider distribution of the important sounds they were documenting. And it’s especially eye opening when you examine the choices made in terms of copyright and the developing concepts of authorship and ownership over the last century. (Check out Richard Carlin’s Worlds of Sound: The Story of Smithsonian Folkways [Collins; 2008], where it’s noted over and over again how label founder Moses Asch had no problem reissuing a record if the original label let it go out of print. Who needs permission?)

There is much debate about how fairly Alan Lomax dealt with the recording artists and everyday people he documented over the course of his career. Interestingly, one can sense parallels between the early recording industry and the issues that have come up today regarding the use of the media we upload to social networking sites, including YouTube; for example, we gladly let someone disseminate our ideas, but don’t necessarily share in the profit. That’s the history of the record biz in a nutshell.

Meanwhile, we hope that our creations will be around long enough for someone else to enjoy, even if commercial potential is not a consideration. Thankfully, storage space continues to drop in price, which makes it easy to re-archive our work as each new format is introduced. Hopefully, one day there will be a format that can stand the test of time as many of the visual arts do.

Cool Links
Mailable Cardboard Record Player

Cassette Tapes Get A West Coast Rewind

Our Studio Reflects How We Work

I’m always curious to hear about a person’s studio when I meet them, and in last month’s blog, I talked a bit about the creative spaces that Alessandro Cortini and Carmen Rizzo have. Their studios are in humble settings, yet both men are doing pro-level work. After all, what it comes down to is knowing your gear to such a degree that it doesn’t matter if you’re working in a state-of-the-art studio or in the only spare room of the house.

Since participating with Cortini and Rizzo in the NAMM panel “Maximum Output From your Home Studio,? I’ve had a number of conversations with pros about the topics of personal-studio workflow and design. Common issues that come up include finding the right tool for the job, even if it means investing in a high-ticket item, and avoiding distraction. With so many inexpensive products available, it is easy to amass a veritable warehouse of gadgetry, much of which can distract us from our work. So it’s always wonderful when I talk to artists or engineers who have refined their kit to the absolute essentials: If it doesn’t help them get the job done, they don’t keep it.

I got just such a response from Grammy-winning producer/engineer Jacquire King, who uses his basement studio for mixing. We found ourselves seated next to each other at a NAMM event and spent part of the time talking about all the cool stuff we’d seen at the show. At some point, I asked him about his mic collection, imagining that he’d have quite a collection of rarities by now. “I don’t have that many,? he replied. “Microphones are only useful for the first part of a project. I’d rather spend my money on something I can use for recording and mixing, such as a compressor.? Whoa. Laser focus.

For many of his projects, King brings home high-resolution digital multitrack sessions and bounces each track off of tape to give it a bit of coloration before sending it back into Pro Tools. When we spoke, he had just returned from a trip to New Zealand where he tracked Tim Finn’s new project.

With the NAMM panel discussion still fresh in my mind, I was eager to hear what studio treatments, if any, King added to his basement studio. He noted that, other than a couple of well-placed panels, there wasn’t much needed. He did mention that the window behind him opens to the outside and acts as a giant bass trap. Convenient! It was very important for him to find a way to isolate his work area from unwanted equipment noise, which he accomplished by placing all of the noisy bits in the storage closet next to the studio, leaving him a quiet space in which to work.

A week later, I had the opportunity to visit the personal studio of L.A.-based producer/mixer/songwriter Troy Johnson, aka RADIO, who has built a name for himself working with the likes of Will Smith, Chris Brown, the Backstreet Boys and, most recently, Jennifer Lopez. Immersed in recording technology at an early age—his father is guitarist George Johnson of the Brothers Johnson—he honed his skills at the legendary Boom Boom Room before setting up his own workspace at home, which he not only uses for songwriting and demo recording, but also for mixing (including a recent J-Lo track).

What I found fascinating is how spare Johnson’s setup is: a computer, a keyboard controller, a PreSonus FaderPort, a pair of Yamaha NS-10 monitors, and an analog summing station that includes an SSL X-Desk and X-Rack with eight EQ modules, and an SSL XLogic G Series compressor. It’s the summing gear that Johnson expertly uses to get the tough mixes for which he’s becoming known. After spending a couple of years exploring all of the technological options available, he settled on this high-end solution for his personal studio because it gives him the sound he wants in a small and surprisingly portable package.

Most importantly, Johnson’s tightly integrated studio allows him to move between songwriting, recording and mixing quickly and efficiently. And because it’s in his home, he can work whenever inspiration strikes. Taking a cue from the NAMM panel, I decided to run a few of the same questions by him to get an insight into his workflow.

How do you keep your home and work life separate?
Keeping them separate is not too difficult— I just close the door! [Laughs] Most of the time I work late at night into the early morning because it’s really quiet and peaceful. I feel really good energy when I work at home during those hours, but if I’m at a real studio, I prefer to work bankers’ hours.

Do you start a new project with a session template or do you begin each new project or song from scratch?
If I’m using Logic, I start with a template of my MPC 60 swings, but that’s all. I try to keep it very simple because I believe each song has its own personality, so I try to make each one from scratch. It’s comparable to making something by hand verses making something in a factory. Each product is going to be one of a kind. I find more excitement in the moment doing things from scratch.

You don’t have much gear, but you’re getting solid sounds. Is it all about the analog processing, or are there other things you’re doing to add “oomph” to your tracks?
The analog processing is a big part of getting the “big” sound, but combining it with some of the amazing plug-ins like the SPL Transient Designer or iZotope Stutter Edit give me infinite possibilities. 

Have you had any issues with doing mixes at home?

Yes, depending on the song. My room is not tuned. In fact, it’s not a “studio” room at all. It’s more like a setup on the go. But to fix that, I just use a pair of headphones that I really know or a pair of mini-speakers, and I usually get pretty close. But I always pay close attention to my music when I play it in different listening environments and take notes. The one advantage to working from home is that I can always change something at the last minute without a problem if I need to.

Cool Links
Bandcamp sets its sights on conquering music industry, MySpace

The Historical Accident of Artists Getting Paid…

Forget About Buying Music Online — People Don’t Even Want To STEAL Music

Free Music Can Pay As Well As Paid Music, Says YouTube

Sampled Room

A New Documentary on the Late Composer Milton Babbitt

Gino’s Big Adventure: Building a Personal Studio, Part 12

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

rr012711opener.JPG

If you can judge the health of the economy by the NAMM show, our industry seems to think we’re moving towards recovery. I base my own judgment on the schwag I get: In a good economy, the inside of my suitcase resembles a NASCAR when I come home, with tons of branded goodies that I pass along to my kids and students; When times are tough, I’m lucky to leave the show with a guitar pick.

This year, I flew home with a dozen T-shirts, several cloth bags, and, yes, a handful of plectrums. But looking at a more realistic set of measures, this year’s NAMM show was a biggie. Attendance was at an all-time high and there was no shortage of new product announcements. more…

Keep Your Date with the Muse

rrgraphic.jpg

Today is the first day of the 2011 Winter NAMM show, where hundreds of my colleagues are gathering to share information about the latest products for music making. Many of us get a bit of gear lust as we walk the aisles of the Anaheim Convention Center, geeking out over the new toys and then scrambling to get the info into our newsletters, blogs, and tweets. It’s a fun show, especially when there are surprises.

At the same time, the NAMM show has this odd way of reminding me of how little time I spend with the gear I already have and, more importantly, on my own music. As a freelancer, the clock is always running as I cycle through numerous projects for waiting clients. Consequently, it’s difficult to find quality time for myself and my music. Like many of my friends in the biz, I’ve been seduced into various behind-the-scenes jobs so I could work in the music industry while continuing to do the music I love. But over the years the balance has begun to tilt to the point where work often keeps me away from my real passion for long stretches of time. more…

Semper Caveat Emptor

rr_opener_1223.gif

As a music journalist, I’ve met a lot of interesting people at every level of the MI world, from engineers, designers, and coders to marketers, sales, and upper management. I also have a lot of close friends who are musicians that work in the industry.

Consequently, I hear stories. more…

Gino’s Big Adventure: Building a Personal Studio, Part 11

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

rropener.JPG

Tips from a Pro: Installing Tielines

My studio inched closer to completion around Thanksgiving when the tieline panels were wired up. Everything went smoothly, thanks to quite a bit of preplanning.

Before the structure was even framed, I consulted with Ann Dentel, a musician and composer who teaches at the Expression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville, CA (see Fig. 1). Ann has 15 years of experience installing wiring in studios, and I asked her early on in the remodel to help me figure out the best way to connect my studio with other parts of the house. more…

Gino’s Big Adventure: Building a Personal Studio, Part 10

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

rropener.JPG

Commence Tweaking

Balancing sound and functionality—that’s the trick when you build a personal studio. In my case, the room needs to be an inspiring place to rehearse, record, and compose, as well as serve as a comfortable place to write and hang out (hence, the windows, because I like natural light).

Windows take a bit more work than walls when it comes to sound isolation, but we overcame that hurdle. Now, I can watch the neighbor mow his law from my one-story perch and just barely hear the low-end sounds of the motor. It’s well below the ambient noise level for recording, and that makes me very happy. more…