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Archive of the The Robair Report Category

Check out the Robair Report in its New Home

Gino RobairWe’ve moved! Go to blog.emusician.com/robairreport to keep up with Gino’s twice-monthly columns.

The Robair Report: Today’s Studio: It’s in the bag!

Gino RobairThe following is the third installment of a brand-new blog in which former EM editor Gino Robair speaks out on issues relating to music technology. Read the first installment and the second installment.

robair-report-200.jpgMy job keeps me traveling, but I like to get a bit of work done while I’m sitting in an airport or train station. In the past few months, I have assembled a portable, yet highly flexible workstation that let’s me listen, edit, and mix recordings with high-quality effects, as if I was at home.

In this video, I unpack my portable studio to show you which components I bring with me (and how many things end up hanging off of my laptop).

Watch the video.

This week’s assignment:
Create a checklist of the things you would need to do your work while on the road. Mentally walk yourself through the various types of projects you do, and make note of each cable, dongle, power supply, and accessory you use. When an item is somewhat large—such as a USB keyboard controller—consider whether the one you use is small enough to travel with easily, or if there is some sort of workaround (such as using your ASCII keys to enter MIDI notes or trigger samples).

Cool Links:
Musicians hear better? Duh!

Ever wonder what happens when you digitally compress a song multiple times?

Can you imagine a sound?

The Robair Report: Running on Empty? Never!

Gino RobairThe following is the second installment of a brand-new blog in which former EM editor Gino Robair speaks out on issues relating to music technology. Read the first installment.

runningonempty.jpgDespite his incredible talent as a singer/songwriter, I don’t like Jackson Browne’s music. I’ve tried many times, even sitting through an 8-encore concert with his top-notch band. Not to get all Lefsetz on ya, but Jackson Browne just doesn’t do anything for me. When his music comes on the radio, my hand is on the dial in a nanosecond. That is, until yesterday, when, for some reason, I listened to Running on Empty in its entirety. And I liked it! What the hell happened?

In my July 2008 editors note “Listen and Learn,? I talked about turning off your iPod, removing your earbuds, and listening to whatever environment you happen to be, just to see if there was something you could learn from the experience. Whether you’re stuck in a noisy airport terminal, pinned between snoring campers, or trapped in an elevator with Muzak, there is usually some kind of auditory lesson you can take away from an initially uncomfortable or irritating situation.

Similarly, I often ask my students to listen to the music that they don’t like. Not just put it on in the background, but really hear it—analyze the foreground and background, scrutinize the production values, and visualize the overall gestalt of it. Many of my students, fresh out of high school, are acutely focused on some ultra-niche style of rap or metal and have little-to-no knowledge of other musical styles, despite the fact that they are bombarded by them on radio, TV, and the Internet.

Why waste your time listening to the music you hate? What does it teach you?

First, if you plan on making money with the craft of recording, it behooves you to understand how different musical genres sound because, at some point, you may get a chance to make a bit of money off of them. (An ex-student of mine who writes and records guitar-based rock has done well for himself tracking vocals for rappers in his garage with only a single condenser mic and a Pro Tools Mbox. And he’s not even out of high school yet!)

Second, even if you don’t plan to record anyone else, there is plenty to learn from nearly every form of recorded sound. Now’s your chance to borrow or steal the good parts and put them to work in your own music.

Third, being able to focus on the production values in a session is a great way to keep your sanity when you’re client is driving you nuts. Sometimes scrutinizing the mic placement on an acoustic guitar is enough to keep you from ripping the instrument out of their hands and chasing them around the room with it.

Which is exactly what I wanted to do back in the ‘80s when I was midway through the seventh encore of a Jackson Browne concert. But yesterday I didn’t have the urge to punch my car radio when Running on Empty came on. For some reason, I was captivated by the sound around his voice. Considering it’s a concert recording, it has an incredible three-dimensionality to it, blending nicely with the highly orchestrated rhythm track underneath. Even while driving 55, I could clearly hear his voice floating in the room. That was enough to set my imagination going, as I visualized the different ways to make such a thing work. Suddenly, I didn’t want the song to end!

This week’s assignment:
What’s the most intolerable song you can think of? Give it a listen and pay close attention to the production values, such as the overall mix, the drum sound, the room sound, or where the various instruments fit within the frequency spectrum. Consider how the lyrics (if any) and the production link up: does the mix take any cues from the words in the song?

Can you find three things in the song that surprised you or that you would want to use in your own music? Can you find three things that you would fix or change if you could? (Besides killing the band.)

After you’ve done the assignment, visit Mix magazine’s Web site and see if they’ve covered your most-hated song in one of their Classic Tracks columns. Even if they haven’t, you might find a song on the list that really pisses you off. (I did.) Give it a listen, analyze the recording qualities, then check out the column and see if the things you discovered are covered in the text.

Postscript
Avoid doing the assignment by listening to MP3s (or worse, to satellite radio). You’ll have a much better experience analyzing the mix of a song when it hasn’t been through some form of data compression. Better yet, if the song was originally released on vinyl, track it down on that format. If it was a big enough hit, you should be able to find it in the dollar bin somewhere.

Cool Link
In Mammals, a Complex Journey to the Middle Ear

The Robair Report: How Pitch Correction Has Helped Our Ears Evolve

Gino RobairThe following is the first installment of a brand-new blog in which former EM editor Gino Robair speaks out on issues relating to music technology.

For reasons that you can probably figure out, Antares Auto-Tune is one of the few pro-audio tools that nearly everyone knows about. As if to hammer home the fact, there’s even a version of it available for the iPhone.

Kids can hardly wait to add the much-maligned effect to their own voices! Although Auto-Tune is not the only pitch-correction product on the market, the name has already become synonymous with the technology, just as the name Xerox has come to mean photo-copying.

Antares Auto-TuneAs Nathaniel Kunkel noted in his March ’09 InSession column, Auto-Tune greatly simplified a chore that required at least two tape decks, a tuner, an Eventide H3000, and many hours to complete. Vocal tuning was already being done by the pros long before Cher’s production team used it so blatantly on “Believe?: Antares simply made the process more convenient, and as a result, more pervasive.

Musicians and listeners alike still treat this technology as the recording industry’s “dirty little secret,? primarily because it can turn someone who is musically challenged into a convincing singer with a mere press of a button. The only talent we need is behind the glass, rather than in front of it, right?

But as Kunkel and other engineers who use it suggest, pitch-correction technology is changing how we listen to music. For example, he notes that, after working with pitch correction for a while, it takes time for his ears to readjust to the idiosyncrasies in songs recorded before tuning technology existed.

I think the decidedly modern sound of quantized melodies has changed our perception for the better. First, pitch-correction technology reminds us how aesthetically satisfying subtle differences in intonation can be in a performance. That may seem like a no-brainer, but try to pitch correct an otherwise musical take without removing the essence of the performance. You’ll see right away how a vocal part has more going for it than a array of discrete pitches.

T-Pain AppSecond, the technology gives us an opportunity to hear what “perfectly in tune? actually sounds like, and the results are not always desirable. Done incorrectly, pitch correction can make the voice sound mechanical. Artists such as T-Pain and Akon take advantage of that aspect of the technology, figuring out exciting ways to misuse it for artistic purposes. But there’s no excuse when the tuning is unintentionally obvious on a pop-song vocal, and you can hear the algorithm working in the background.

And that’s why I think the far-reaching impact of pitch correction is ultimately good: These artifacts teach listeners to pay closer attention to the subtle intonation cues in music. And the greater an awareness they have of musical details, the more likely they’re going to see through the BS that is often being passed off as art. There is a whole lot more to a song than perfect intonation.

This week’s assignment:
Put yourself in the role of a producer who has access to all of today’s software tools. Pick a classic song from the ‘50s, ‘60s, or ‘70s, and listen carefully for any pitch discrepancies in the vocal part. Identify those places where the singer misses the mark, ever so slightly. Think about how you would fix these problems if you were handed this track to mix. What artifacts might you encounter? Work hard to imagine how you’d clean them up.

Once you have finished, step back for a moment and consider whether your pitch corrections would have increased the musicality and aesthetic value of the song? Would it have robbed anything from the artist or presentation? These are not meant to be rhetorical questions: I want to know what you think and discover.

(Note that, with a product such as Celemony Melodyne Editor, which lets you tune individual notes within a polyphonic recording, it is not inconceivable that content owners will go through their back catalogs and fix the pitch errors on their classic masters. What better way to get you to buy those records yet again?)

Postscript
For those of you who were horrified by stereo versions of Beatles albums that were originally mono, imagine what will happen if they decide to correct the slightly out of tune vocal parts in the next repackaged release. (You didn’t think the Beatles Industrial Complex was going to stop with the latest box set, did you? I guarantee that you will buy these recordings again, on whatever format wins out in the next decade, when the high-res versions they have in the vault hits the streets.)

Cool Link
Ignore the fact that this track has a corrected-vocal sound: Imagine the rehearsal that went into this excellent one-shot/no-edit video to Lipdub’s “I Gotta Feeling.?

Alfred Hitchcock and Alexander Sokurov would be proud.

About

The Bus, EM's editorial blog, features posts from all the EM editors on topics related to gear, recording techniques and much more. It's also home to posts from a selected group of guest bloggers.

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