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Anderton

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  1. by Craig Anderton (with Permission from Full Compass) Strings play an essential role in your playing, because they connect you directly with your instrument. They relate to the instrument’s sound, but also, to its “feel.” The wrong strings can make your guitar or bass a pain to play, while the right ones can make it a pleasure. Unfortunately, you can’t really evaluate strings without taking the time to string up your axe, and play for a while. The good news, though, is that aside from picks (which of course also influence the sound), strings are just about the most inexpensive guitar accessory available. You may even find that after experimenting with different types, you’ll want to use different kinds of strings on different guitars. Let’s start by talking about construction, then the importance of choosing the right gauge, and finally, a bit about specialty strings. Electric Guitar String Tone Unwound strings (the high E, B, and G) are made of steel, and have a similar tone. However, with wound strings, both the tone and string life are affected by the type of winding, and the core over which they’re wound. Steel cores can be round (which gives a vintage, fatter tone), but the more common hex core gives a brighter sound and slightly stiffer tension. As to the windings themselves, round-wound strings, where round wire wraps around the core, are the most common string type. Pure nickel strings, like Fender’s Original Bullet strings, have a characteristically warm sound (Fig. 1). This can make a good complement to the brighter sound of single-coil pickups. Figure 1: Fender’s Original Bullet strings are pure nickel, for a vintage tone. The gauges used in this set are considered “light,” but not overly so. Harder metals (like chrome and steel) produce a brighter tone, although the downside is that they may be a little tougher on frets. Some of the most popular strings are D’Addario’s EXL-series strings, which wrap nickel-plated steel around a hex core. All strings lose brightness as they age, but because nickel-wound strings start off less bright, the tone stays more consistent over time. Also, the coating on chrome and stainless steel wraps wears away more quickly than nickel, so maintaining their characteristic bright tone may require changing your strings more often. However, this can be mitigated because they last longer—i.e., they’re harder to break—and are more resistant to corrosion. Flatwound strings like D’Addario’s ECG25 strings, which are often the choice of jazz guitar players and use a somewhat heavier gauge (we’ll cover gauge later), wrap the strings with a flat wrap instead of a round one. This makes for a smoother string “feel” and a warm, mellow tone. Half-round strings start off as round-wound strings, but have the tops ground off for a smoother playing surface that’s more like flatwounds, but brighter. They’re great for slide guitar, but also, sets like the D’Addario ENR71 strings for bass split the tonal difference for bass between round-wound and flatwound strings. Bass players who prefer a mellower sound often choose flatwound strings, like the Ernie Ball P02804 Group II bass strings or GHS M3050 stainless steel, long-scale bass strings. Finally, coated strings (which are popular for acoustic guitars) have a polymer or enamel coating that resists oxidation and corrosion, so they last, and maintain their tone, longer than non-coated strings—corrosion is the enemy of both tone and string life. The tradeoff for coated strings is a higher initial cost, but if you change your strings often, coated strings could be more cost-effective in the long run. Elixir makes coated electric guitar strings in several gauges, and Ernie Ball’s P03123 strings are enamel-coated to minimize corrosion but also use titanium reinforcement winding. Another key to maintaining tone is to minimize the presence of oils and sweat from your hands. Wipe your strings down after playing, and wash your hands before playing. Bass strings are similar to guitar strings, but of course, are bigger and thicker. There are no unwound bass strings, and the lower strings can have two wraps (Fig. 2). Figure 2: This cross-section of a D’Addario EXP bass string shows the hex core, windings, and proprietary coating. Acoustic Guitar String Tone 80/20 bronze strings (so called because they use an 80% copper, 20% zinc alloy), like the D’Addario EJ12 (Fig. 3), are the brightest option for acoustic guitar, and are generally used with guitars that have a darker inherent sound, like dreadnoughts. However, they age more rapidly than other string types. Figure 3: Bronze strings are bright, so they’re a popular choice for darker-sounding acoustic guitars. Phosphor-bronze strings (like the Fender 60XL extra-light gauge strings) are somewhat warmer—which makes them a good choice for brighter guitars to round out the tone—and because of the added phosphor, resist corrosion more effectively. They are the most popular strings for acoustic guitar. Aluminum bronze is like phosphor bronze, but with more highs and stronger bass. As with electric guitar strings, coated versions are available. Cleartone makes coated 80/20 Bronze strings as well as coated Phospher Bronze strings for acoustic guitar. They are slightly warmer than uncoated strings, and of course, last longer. Nylon String Guitar Tone In this case, the tone mostly depends on the string tension. Unlike electric and acoustic guitars that are specified in terms of specific gauges (see next), nylon guitar strings can be classified according to gauge but also, according to tension—low, medium, or high (other terms are used, like light, normal, and hard but the characteristics are the same). Low tension strings, in addition to being easier to play, emphasize the note’s sustain more than the attack, but with less overall volume. However, lighter tension is more prone to fret buzzing. High tension strings are the opposite—harder to play, more emphasis on the attack than the sustain, more overall volume, and less tendency toward fret buzz. Medium tension strings, like Ernie Ball’s Ernesto Palla Nylon strings (Fig. 4), are a common choice because they’re a good compromise between low and high tension. Figure 4: Ernie Ball’s nylon strings are medium tension, which takes care of the majority of nylon-string guitar players. However, if you want a sweeter, more subdued sound, consider using light tension strings; for “harder” musical styles like flamenco, high tension strings are a better choice. (Also note that high tension strings put more strain on the neck. Experienced guitarists sometimes tune down high-tension strings a few semitones after playing so there’s less stress on the neck, particularly with delicate or antique guitars.) String Gauge String gauge (the string diameter) is primarily about action—how easy or difficult the guitar is to play. However, gauge also affects tone, and the characteristics are different for electric and acoustic guitars. String sets usually specify the gauge in thousands of an inch for the high E string—for example, a “.010” set means the high E is ten-thousandths of an inch in diameter, and the other strings are scaled to provide a complementary amount of tension. Shredders and those who want the lowest possible action often choose .009 or even .008 sets. Lighter-gauge strings tend to sound brighter, while heavier-gauge strings sound warmer. Electric guitars use lighter gauge strings than acoustic guitars because the pickups can provide volume, whereas acoustic guitars are dependent on the strings for volume because the strings vibrate the body directly—more energy leads to more volume. With electric guitars, lighter gauge strings are easier to play and bend more easily, but the tradeoff is they produce less volume and sustain, are more likely to lead to “fret buzz” (where the string hits against the fret, causing a buzz), and are more prone to breaking. Also, because they bend so easily, you need to press down exactly vertically on the string; pushing the string slightly to the side can make the pitch a bit sharp. Furthermore, strings take a while to settle down to pitch after being plucked. Because heavier-gauge strings are under more tension, they reach pitch faster. This can make the tuning seem more precise. So there are advantages to using heavy strings; however, because they’re nominally harder to play and harder to bend, they’re not a good choice for those starting out on guitar. Over time, as guitar players get stronger hands and become more accomplished with their playing, they’ll often “graduate” to heavier gauge strings—like going from .008 to .010 strings, or .010 to .012. Also consider that as your playing becomes more refined, you’ll find you can use a lighter touch on heavier gauge strings because they produce more output—a light touch with a heavy gauge string will produce as much output as a heavy touch with a light gauge string. In this respect, heavy gauge strings can be easier to play in some ways, although there’s no way you can get around them being harder to bend because of the tighter tension. Long-term, a lighter touch will benefit your finger joints as well. Note that some guitarists tune heavy gauge strings down a half-step to make them easier to play, but this also changes tension and tone. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing; as with any other changes relating to strings, there are inherent compromises. The bottom line is that if it works for you...do it! Switching Gauges Guitar manufacturers will optimize a guitar’s setup for a specific set of strings, and the guitar will ship with those strings. If you want to change the “default” strings, be aware that this requires adjustments. You’ll need to alter the bridge height and possibly, the saddles to tweak intonation, and over time, the truss rod may need an adjustment as well. For example, if you change to heavier-gauge strings, they’ll put more tension on the neck, which will increase the amount of relief (the curved space between the strings and fretboard). The way to compensate for this is with a truss rod adjustment. It may even be necessary to alter the nut, although this is something best left to a professional luthier. Evaluating String Tone It’s difficult to put on a set of strings, change to different strings, and then remember what the first set sounded like. The differences will be greater with wound strings, so one option is to buy several different string types, then take the wound D from each set, and string up the D, A, and low E strings with a different D string. Tune them to the correct pitch and make sure the pickup is equidistant from the strings. The intonation will be off and the action will not be as expected, but you’ll be able to evaluate tone on a (somewhat) level playing field. Specialty Strings You’ll find a variety of strings for special purposes, like DR’s strings that are coated in ultra-bight Neon colors (Fig. 5). Figure 5: Not only are these strings colorful and eye-catching, they look really cool under black light—just the thing for videos. There are also string sets with thick bottom strings for beefier chords, but lighter-gauge high strings for easier soloing and bending, like Ernie Ball’s P02215 skinny top/heavy bottom strings. And some strings combine multiple “specialty” qualities, like D’Addario’s EXP26 acoustic guitar strings. These light-gauge, phosphor-bronze strings are not only coated, they’re a hybrid set with light gauge lower strings and somewhat lighter higher strings for less tension and easy bending. They’re a good choice for electric guitar players who are just getting into acoustic guitar. For seven-string guitar players, D’Addario’s premium NYXL line offers a 7-string set, as does Dunlop. You can also get a coated 7-string set from DR Strings. Stringing Along Even in an article of this length, it’s possible only to scratch the surface...and we haven’t even gotten into ukulele strings! For example, Ernie Ball makes over 200 different types of guitar strings. So how do you choose the string that’s right for you? First, narrow down your choices to the strings types you don’t want. For example, if you yearn for a warm, vintage sound with minimum fret wear, then you’ll want pure nickel strings. If you have a dark-sounding acoustic guitar, then you’ll probably want the brightness of 80/20 bronze types. If you’re tired of changing strings all the time, then consider coated strings—they’re more expensive, but last four to five times as long as uncoated strings. Seeking a great jazz tone? Then you’ll be checking out flatwounds, which you’ll also do if you’re a bass player who wants a mellow tone (while being smoother to your fingers). Slide guitars are happy with half-round strings...and so on. After narrowing down to the string type you want, try different brands within those types. Although strings have more similarities than differences, the processes and manufacturing philosophies of different manufacturers can vary quite a bit. You might like one company’s light-gauge, chrome-plated strings more than another company’s version, even though they look the same and are described the same way. Also, don’t forget that you can buy individual strings. I break the high E string a lot due to bending, so I have quite a few D’Addario PL010 strings sitting around—why break a pack if you need to replace only one string? Also, once you’ve settled on a favorite string type, you can save a lot by buying in bulk. For example, 10 packs of light gauge (0.010) strings in SIT’s S1046 10-pack cost under $30. So the bottom line is simple: strings can make a major difference in tone, ease of playing, replacement cost, and the need to take your guitar to a luthier for a tune-up. Fortunately, it’s not hard to try out different strings, decide on the type you like best...and play on, happily every after. -HC- Adapted with permission from the Full Compass Live blog. For more articles, go to Full Compass. To receive the free Full Compass newsletter, and info on deals and specials, please create an account (your info is not shared with third parties, and you can opt out at any time). ___________________________________________
  2. by Craig Anderton (During a recent time machine experiment , I traveled back to the 1980s. Apparently I wrote this Craig’s List while I was there, because I just found the text today on a Mac 3.5” floppy disk when I was cleaning up.) 1 There are tons of computer options for music. Atari, Mac, Amiga, PC, Yamaha’s CX5M, and if you’re on a budget, even the Commodore-64 or Timex Sinclair 1000 will do the job. So don’t worry! You’re never going to be forced to choose solely between a boring PC, or an overpriced Mac. 2 Zero problems. Strings break, pianos always go out of tune, tape stretches, recorders need biasing—ugh. But computers are digital so they run on tidy little ones and zeroes, not prissy analog circuitry. Forget about maintenance: Boot your computer, open your program, and start recording—nothing can go wrong! 3 Software will cost next to nothing. Today’s unbreakable copy protection schemes will put a stop to the digital copying that plagued the early days of computers. Because software developers will be paid fairly for their efforts, they’ll be able to keep prices waaaay down and make your wallet happy happy happy. 4 Computers are great investments. Computers are extremely reliable, so when you buy a computer and software, they’ll keep doing what they do—just like a guitar. Ten years from now, you’ll still be able to run your favorite software on your favorite computer. Talk about value! 5 Computers are not dictators. We’re not talking about HAL—computers won’t change your drummer’s timing, re-tune your vocals into something weird and soulless, repeat the same sections of music over and over and over again, or kill your dynamics. Computers are your faithful servants, and will do exactly what you tell them to do. Hmmm...well actually, that could be a problem. ___________________________________________
  3. by Craig Anderton Photo Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images 1 - Vinyl is a word that just plain sounds cool. Don’t believe me? Then why do so many songs incorporate it—like Roxette (“God I know, it's final...decided to release my love on vinyl”), The Plain White T's (“Kiss me goodbye and I knew it was final, got in her daddy's car and she was gone like vinyl”), Public Enemy (“From a rebel, it's final on black vinyl”), Black Sheep (“Back in '86, first, foremost and final, rhyming on the corner, all I want to be's on vinyl”)? I mean, they could have chosen lyrics to rhyme with “spinal,” “rhinal,” or even “vaginal.” But they chose vinyl because obviously, it just plain sounds cool. I rest my case. 2 - Thankfully, cryogenics works! Unfortunately, all the people who knew how to master for vinyl died years ago. But there's good news: some were preserved cryogenically, and they’ve since been revived to teach a whole new generation of engineers that no, you really don’t want out-of-phase bass in the left and right channels. Score one for science! 3 - The Recording Industry Association of America needs something to do. Someone has to make sure the infamous RIAA curve stays nice and curvy so that all those phono preamps can go through insane amounts of EQ in an attempt to have vinyl not sound horrible. As Protectors of the Curve, the RIAA can branch out beyond their traditional role of making sure that the music industry remains behind the curve. The technology curve, that is. 4 - Ground post manufacturers have a powerful Washington lobby. Remember those ground posts on turntables with the screw terminals where you could attach a ground wire to keep hum at bay? Have you ever seen ground posts on anything else? Of course not! So when vinyl records started their decline, the Ground Post Manufacturers Trade Association saw the handwriting on the wall, bought themselves a few senators...and the rest is history. 5 - Fear of a music industry recession. Let’s face it, the band playing your local bar making $27.14 from the tip jar isn’t keeping the music industry going—it’s DJs getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to do big festivals and private parties held by giant multinational entities, like the Ground Post Manufacturers Trade Association. Take away the DJ’s vinyl? Not a good idea. ___________________________________________
  4. Yes, we’ve become dependent on our little pet brains called computers, and the operating system updates that keep them in tippy-top shape. What’s that? You don’t like those constant updates? Sad! There are tons of reasons to love operating system updates! 1 You’ll sharpen your search skills. Knowing how to work a search engine with the focus of an escort service at CES is a fundamental skill in today’s world—and operating system updates let you hone your skills. Who hasn’t searched on “does latest Mac OS work on my computer that’s more than a week old” and “how to re-install driver I forgot even existed after Windows update, assuming it’s still compatible maybe I hope”? 2 They add excitement to your life! Downloading an update and waiting nervously while some little beach ball goes spinning around like it mixed methedrine with the sun tan lotion is a lot like when you come home and find a package at your door. Is it that long-awaited horse head mask from Amazon, or a box of dog poop from your disgruntled and slightly unhinged ex? You’ll find out when the computer boots! Assuming it boots, of course. 3 They teach patience. When Windows says “just a moment,” does it mean a “moment” like going to the bathroom, or a “moment” like “now’s your chance to do dinner and movie, and maybe go bar crawling after that. Or take that Florida vacation you’ve always dreamed about.” 4 They increase your vocabulary. Seriously, how many of you knew what “deprecated” meant until you searched on “why does this update not include my favorite feature any more” and the search result tells you it’s been “deprecated” (Windows translation: it never really worked right anyway, no big deal). Or that something is “legacy,” which is a fancy high-tech word for “old crap” (Mac translation: Anything you haven’t bought in the last 90 days is “legacy”). 5 They keep software engineers employed. When authors write a book, at some point the book is done. When you record an album, eventually the album is finished. When a mechanic fixes car, the car runs and that’s the end of it. But software is the ideal gig...it’s never done! And in the process of doing more, you introduce new bugs that need to be fixed. Job security? Yeah, baby! ___________________________________________
  5. Anderton

    Top 10 Mixing Tips

    by Craig Anderton We all want a good mix where the instruments stick together like glue, with drama and clarity. Toward that end, it would be great to be able to say "add this amount of compression, this type of EQ on these instruments, and you're done!" But if it were that easy, every recording would sound great. Instead, we'll have to be more general. It's also important to remember that tips are not rules. For example, most producers say that mixes should have space, and I agree. But then there's the Stones' Exile on Main Street, whose cluttered, chaotic mixes are a thing of beauty. Which brings us to tip #1: 1 Let the music tell you what it wants. This is something engineer Bruce Swedien (Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, too many others to list!) emphasizes in his master classes. The music will tell you what it wants, but you have to listen. Rather than sound like something else, bring out what's unique in what you have. The fewer preconceived notions you bring to music of how it should sound, the better the odds of coming up with something innovative. 2 Pay attention to the details. Listen to every track, in isolation (and preferably on headphones), before you start mixing. With hard disk recording/editing, you can massage each track to eliminate any little pops, clicks, hisses, etc. Cut the spaces between phrases to eliminate any residual hiss or noise, add a fade-in to over-enthusiastic breath inhales on vocals, run the bass through Melodyne if there are tuning problems...all these little improvements will add up to make a big difference in the overall sound. 3 Always consider the context. A common mistake among newbie recordists is to solo a track and add EQ and effects to make it sound fantastic. Then they solo the next track and do the same thing. But there's only so much bandwidth and dynamic range: Mixing all these "rich" sounds together can result in a mess. Each track is a piece of the puzzle, and needs to fit with the other tracks. 4 Differentiate instruments with EQ, not just panning. I always start mixing with all tracks panned to center, then use EQ to carve out frequencies so tracks don't "step on" each other (Fig. 1). For example, in a dance mix where the kick should hit hard, I'll shave some low end off the bass while emphasizing its pick or filter attack. But with something that's more old school R&B, I'll keep the bass full, and instead accent the kick drum's mid and beater. Once you can clearly differentiate all the instruments in mono, then bring on the panning. Fig. 1: In this screen shot from PreSonus Studio One 4 , the bass (left fader) has a 2.4 dB shelf to fill out the low end. The drums (right fader) have a 4 dB boost, (with a fairly sharp Q) at 160 Hz to bring out the kick's lower-mid sound. This lets the bass have more low-end prominence, but the kick drum is still very present. 5 Be brutal when you edit. I'm ruthless about cutting out whole sections of songs if they don't work. Keep the pace moving, while of course respecting the dynamic flow. Recommended listening: "Shhh/Peaceful" from In a Silent Way, by Miles Davis. It was edited down from far more material to create a beautiful, concise listening experience. And don't fall in love with parts; if a part doesn't support the music as a whole, that's why the "delete" key was invented. 6 Automatable EQ is your friend. Drop some of the piano midrange during the vocals so they don't compete with the piano. Increase the upper mids a bit on the acoustic rhythm guitar part so it "cuts" through the mix, then drop it back when the part reverts to rhythm guitar. Even changes of one or two dB affect the overall sound, and most hosts allow EQ automation (Fig. 2). Fig. 2: Here's how to automate EQ in Cakewalk by BandLab. The acoustic rhythm guitar is about to open an automation lane for the High Mid Frequency EQ from the four-band, QuadCurve parametric EQ. You can then draw an envelope, vary controls with automation write selected, or create automation "moves" using a control surface. 7 Remember dynamics - ride the faders. When recording, there's a tendency to use the maximum available headroom. You can restore a sense of dynamics by playing the faders as you mix - subtle changes in dynamics can make a mix "breathe." And while mixing with a mouse is great for editing and touching up, it's lousy for performing. Spring the bucks for a hardware controller (Fig. 3) to add some human feel. Fig. 3: The FaderPort 8 from PreSonus is a cost-effective, ergonomic, Mackie Control-compatible fader box for adding real-time control to a mix. 8 Always be in "record automation" mode. As soon as you start mixing, enable automation recording. Sometimes your gut hears music better than your head, and your initial emotional reaction toward a song might be what the music wants. 9 Don't try to master while you mix. A lot of people will slap a multiband compressor across the final output bus and go "okay, it's mastered now!" Wrong. A good mastering engineer can make a good mix sound great, and a great mix sound transcendent. Although I'll switch in some compression on occasion to get a rough idea of how mastering will influence the sound, when it's time for the final rendering to stereo or surround, compression is outta there. Although not everyone agrees - and there can be valid reasons for mastering while you mix - to me, mastering is a different discipline than mixing. 10 Optimize your room acoustics. This is the foundation of a good mix: Mixing great music in a room with poor acoustics is like trying to make a great dinner in a cockroach-infested kitchen with a mis-calibrated food thermometer and mislabelled measuring cups. If your mixes sound great in your studio and not-so-great everywhere else, you definitely need an acoustics makeover. -HC- ___________________________________________
  6. Sound Effects with Guitar Think sound effects are solely the domain of keyboards? Think again by Craig Anderton Samplers and keyboards make it easy to come up with FX: load a file, punch up a preset, and hit a key. Yet electric guitar, in conjunction with a good multi effects processor or amp sim, can make sounds that are more organic and complex than what you can obtain from a bunch of canned samples. No, you can’t generate car crashes and door slams—but for ethereal pads, suspense music, industrial noises, alien backgrounds, and much more, consider using guitar as your instrument of choice. Why let keyboard players do all the cool sound effects? Here are my Top 10 tips for creating truly weird guitar sounds. Just remember Rule #1: extreme effects settings produce extreme sounds. Generally, you’re looking for the boundaries of what an effect can do; all those +99 and -99 settings you’ve been avoiding are fair game for producing truly novel effects. 1. Is everything in order? If you’re using hardware instead of amp sims, it’s essential to be able to change the order of effects by repatching individual effects boxes or using a multi effects with customizable algorithms. For example, a compressor generally goes early in the chain, with chorusing added later on so that the effect processes the compressed signal. However, suppose the chorus has a ton of resonance to create some really metallic sounds. This could produce such drastic peaks with some notes that in order to tame them, you would need the compressor later in the chain. 2. Industrial reverb For a really rude sound, play a power chord through a reverb set for a fairly long time delay, then add distortion after the reverb (Fig. 1). The resulting sound has the added bonus of being able to rid you of any unwanted house guests. Fig. 1: Following Guitar Rig’s Reflektor reverb with distortion produces a dreamy sound—assuming your dreams tend toward the nightmarish. 3. Wet is good It’s usually best to set the effects mix for wet sound only. Having any straight guitar sound can blow your cover because a guitar attack is such a distinctive sound. 4. Attack of the pedal pushers Add a pedal before your effects, not after (Fig. 2). You can cut off the guitar attack by fading in the pedal at the note’s beginning; with effects like long delays and reverbs, you can fade out the source signal while the “tail” continues on. Fig. 2: Choosing when effects will receive input can have a huge effect on the sound, especially with long delays and reverb. 5. Found sounds The guitar itself can generate noises other than those created by plucking strings—here are a few options. Hold a smartphone, calculator, or other portable microprocessor-controlled device up next to the pickups, and you’ll hear a bunch of science fiction sounds worthy of the bridge of the Enterprise. Feed a high-gain effect (such as compression or distortion) and tap the back of the neck with your fingertips. While your high-gain effect is set up, drag the edge of a metallic object (like a screwdriver or butter knife) along wound strings. Use extreme amounts of whammy, and transpose the strings down as low as they’ll go. Tap the guitar body smartly with your knuckles to create percussive effects. These will sound even more interesting through looooong reverb. 6. Turn up the heet The Heet Sound EBow (Fig. 3) is a very cool sustaining device for individual strings. Fig. 3: For many guitarists, the EBow is their “secret weapon” for sustaining single-note lines. This hand-held device picks up vibrations from the string, amplifies them, then drives the string with those vibrations to create a feedback loop. The EBow rests on the strings adjacent to the string being “e-bowed”; moving the EBow further away from, or closer to, the string can create all kinds of interesting harmonic effects. If you want to approximate that famous blissed-out “Frippertronics” tape loop sound, use the EBow to drive a delay set for long echoes (greater than 500 ms) with lots of feedback (more than 80%). 7. Shifty pitches Pitch shifters are a treasure trove of weird sounds. With hardware pitch shifters, add a mixer at the input, then split the pitch shifter’s output so one split feeds into the mixer through a delay (Fig. 4 shows how to patch stand-alone boxes to do this; with a multieffects, a pitch shifter will often include pre-delay and feedback parameters, which accomplish the same result). Fig, 4: How to patch a pitch shifter hardware effect for bizarre “bell tree” effects. Suppose there’s a 100ms delay and pitch shift is set to -1 semitone. The first time the input reaches the output, it comes out 1 semitone lower. It then travels back through the delay, hits the shifter input 100 ms later, and comes out transposed down another semitone. This then goes through the delay again, gets transposed down another semitone, etc. So, the sound spirals down in pitch (of course, with an upward transposition, it spirals up). With short delays, the pitch change sounds more or less continuous while with longer delays, there’s more of a stepped effect. The delay’s level control sets the amount of feedback; more feedback allows the spiraling to go on longer. However, if the delay level produces gain, then you could get nasty oscillations (which come to think of it, have their own uses). 8. Lord of the ring modulators Don’t have a ring modulator? If a tremolo or autopan rate extends into the audio range, the audio modulation “slices” the signal in a way similar to a ring modulator. 9. Fun with flangers Like pitch shifters, chorus/flangers are extremely versatile if you test their limits (Fig. 5). Fig. 5: Waves’ MetaFlanger is set up as described for a strange, morphing effect. Start off with the slowest possible LFO rate short of it being stopped, so that any pitch modulation is extremely slow. Then set the depth to a relatively low setting so there’s not a huge amount of modulation, and feedback to the maximum possible, short of distortion. Edit the output for wet signal only, and try a relatively long initial delay time (at least 20ms). You’ll get metallic, morphing sounds that sound like, for lack of a better description, ghost robots—an unearthly, mechanical effect. If I was doing effects for a movie and building tension for the part where the psycho killer is stalking his next victim, this sound would get first crack at the scene. 10. Parallel universe Some advanced multieffects let you put effects in parallel. One example of how to use this is to create ultra-resonant sounds. Most guitarists know that you can take a flanger, boost the resonance to max, turn the LFO speed to zero, and end up with a very metallic, zingy sound. But you can go one step further with parallel effects: patch a stereo delay in parallel with the flanger, set each channel for a short (but different) delay (e.g., 3 and 7ms), feedback for each channel to as high as possible short of uncontrolled feedback, and output to (of course!) wet only. You’ll now have three resonant peaks going on at the same time. And there are the 10 Tips. Until next time, may your computers never crash and your strings never break. ___________________________________________ Craig Anderton is a Senior Contributing Editor at Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  7. Anderton

    5 Mastering Tips

    5 Mastering Tips Getting into mastering? Then heed these five tips by Craig Anderton Save all of a song’s plug-in processor settings as presets. After listening to the mastered version for a while, if you decide to make “just one more” slight tweak—and the odds are you will—it will be a lot easier if you can return to where you left off (Fig. 1). For analog processors, take a photo of the panel knob positions. After all, that's why smart phones were invented. Fig. 1: Steinberg WaveLab has multiple ways to manage presets. If you use loudness maximizers, don’t set the maximum level to 0 dB. Some CD pressing plants will reject CDs if they consistently hit 0dB for more than a certain number of consecutive samples, as it’s assumed that indicates clipping. Furthermore, any additional editing—even just crossfading the song with another during the assembly process—could increase the level above 0. Don’t go above -0.1dB; -0.3dB is safer (Fig. 2). Fig. 2: Waves' L3 Multimaximizer has its output ceiling set to -0.3 dB. Halve that change. Even small changes can have a major impact—add one dB of boost to a stereo mix, and you’ve effectively added one dB of boost to every single track in that mix. If you’re fairly new to mastering, after making a change that sounds right, cut it in half. For example, if you boost 3 dB at 5 kHz, change it to 1.5 dB. Live with the setting for a while to determine if you actually need more. Bass management for the vinyl revival. With vinyl, low frequencies must be centered and mono. iZotope Ozone has a multiband image widener, but pulling the bass range width fully negative collapses it to mono (Fig. 3). Another option is to use a crossover to split off the bass range, convert it to mono, then mix it back with the other split. Fig. 3: Ozone's image widener can also narrow signals to mono with negative number settings for a band. The “magic” EQ frequencies. While there are no rules, problems involving the following frequencies crop up fairly regularly. Below 25 Hz: Cut it—subsonics live there, and virtually no consumer playback system can reproduce those frequencies anyway. 300-500 Hz: So many instruments have energy in this range that there can be a build-up; a slight, broad cut helps reduce potential “muddiness.” 3-5 kHz: A subtle lift increases definition and intelligibility. Be sparing, as the ear is very sensitive in this range. 15-18 kHz: A steep cut above these frequencies can impart a warmer, less “brittle” sound to digital recordings. -HC- ___________________________________________ Craig Anderton is a Senior Contributing Editor at Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  8. Using Color in the Studio Use color to improve your studio workflow by Craig Anderton In seminars, I’ve often mentioned the importance of staying in your “right” brain (the hemisphere that processes intuitive and artistic thinking) while recording. When your “left,” analytical brain gets involved, it diverts attention away from the creative process, and it’s hard to return to "right brain" mode. Ideally, you wouldn’t have to think at all while recording. It used to be this way: You had an engineer and producer to take care of the analytic tasks. But if you’re producing or engineering yourself, the best way to stay in creative mode is make your work flow as smooth and intuitive as possible. WHY COLOR MATTERS Your right brain parses non-verbal media (such as music and color) well. When dealing with words, your brain has to recognize the symbols first, then process the information. Color is like a “direct memory access” process that has a more direct pipeline into your “personal CPU.” Stoplights use colors rather than signs that say “Stop,” “Go,” and “Caution” because you react instantly to that red light. Here’s one example of using color: Check out a modern TV or DVR remote, and you’ll see that several of the buttons have different colors. Once you know what the colors mean, it’s a lot easier to see “red” or “blue” than parse the different labels on the keys. If you have remotes that don’t have colors, adding self-adhesive removable labels to buttons will make it a lot easier to pick out important buttons. VARIOUS APPLICATIONS Here are some tips about using color in the studio. For patch cords, buy a selection of enamel paints (model and craft supply shops are a good source) and put a dab on the same color on each end of a patch cord. Ideally, each cord would have a different color. This simplifies tracing a cable’s patching. If you use a hardware mixer, you likely have a “scribble strip” to write down which instruments are on which channels. But try taking this one step further; use some small, round or square colored labels to color-code certain types of tracks. For example, use red for all the drum channels, orange for percussion, etc. This “visual grouping” helps you locate instruments faster. The Mac makes it easy to color-code labels by letting you tag files with colored highlights (Fig. 1). For exmaple, with a sample library you can highlight different types of instruments or sounds (as well as favorites) with different colors, or assign different colors to different project folders. Fig. 1: The tags at the bottom of the context menu let you highlight file and folder names with various colors. SOFTWARE COLOR CUSTOMIZING Today’s software programs often let you tweak the UI colors. There are two, sometimes conflicting, goals: Choosing colors that minimize eyestrain, yet provide enough contrast to emphasize a program’s most important aspects. One issue is readability—yellow type on a black background is considered highly readable. But a black background can be less restful than muted gray or dark blue. As a result, consider using yellow-on-black for important graphic elements that don’t involve lots of background area. For program elements that are less important than others, choose a typeface color that doesn’t contrast as much with the background. Your eye will be drawn first to the important parameters, which have greater contrast. A PRACTICAL EXAMPLE SONAR allows significant color customization, and the Platinum version includes a Theme Editor for extensive customization. The default "Mercury" and "Tungsten" color themes tend toward the “restful on the eyes” philosophy, which makes sense for the greatest number of users. However, different work methods suggest different colorization. I tend to use the Console View for final mixing and fader automation, and the Track View for recording and editing. As a result, I need to see parameters fast and unambiguously in Track View. With the Console View, I’m more interested in something that I can stare at for hours on end. The upper half of Fig. 2 shows that the Track View name text was changed to yellow for tracks, while retaining blue for folders. Fig. 2: Cakewalk SONAR has had a couple color tweaks to make the interface better-suited to my preferences. This makes it very easy to see the track names and differentiate them from folders . The lower half shows colors in the console channel strings, but the meters have also been modified to more of a lime green to make them stand out, with a white instead of orange "you're about to hit red" zone. FUN WITH SATURATION I often have multiple tracks of the same instrument like lead and background vocals, harmony voices, lead and rhythm guitars, and the like. I not only color these the same, but will increase the saturation on the track that's the current focus of my attention. This makes it easy to pick out a specific track from a group of tracks. COLOR MY WORLD Once you become aware of color’s importance, try using it to improve your workflow. It will make a difference! -HC- ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  9. 10 Questions with Super Producer Michael Wagener The maven of metal talks tech by Craig Anderton Michael Wagener is the premier mixer/engineer/producer for metal, with a resumé of work that includes Metallica, Poison, Dokken, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Accept, Motley Crue, Great White, Plasmatics, X, Extreme, Megadeth, and many others—but his versatility also extends to artists like Janet Jackson and Muriel Anderson. We spent a relaxed afternoon in his WireWorld Studios, and after drooling over his recording gear and fabulous guitar collection, asked a few questions. Why are you selling some of your amps? I use the Kemper Profiler for almost everything. I have so many profiles…there are amps I haven’t turned on in over two years. I just don’t need them anymore. The main control room at WireWorld studios Do you get nostalgic for tape? Roger Nichols and I sat down once and recorded a kick with different adjustments for bias, azimuth, different tape types, and different tape machines. Nothing ever came back with the same punch as digital. Some people say digital stresses the body more, but I don’t know if that’s true. I wouldn't want to go back to tape. Do you think 96 kHz makes a difference on playback? Once I compared a variety of digital systems, and actually thought that 48 kHz sounded best for a sampling rate for the type of music I normally record. But that could have been due to converter design or some other factor. For playback, I don’t know anyone who can hear the difference consistently between 44.1 and 96 kHz. What about DSD? DSD really does sound better to me or let’s say: it feels better to me. There’s something special about it, but the problem is you can’t do any kind of editing—as soon as you want to edit, it has to go back to PCM. How has production changed over the years? Producers used to do just about everything—sometimes even figure out transportation and accommodations for a group, not just musical considerations. Now it can mean anything. Someone creating beats on a laptop by himself can call himself a producer. Oh, and record companies don't give advances to producers any more [laughs]. Because many of the acts Michael produces are international, he maintains an incredible collection of guitars so artists needn't have their instruments suffer at the hands of the airlines What’s your DAW of choice? Yamaha’s Nuendo. It feels right and makes sense to me. I use both Windows and Mac, but my recording is all done with a custom Windows machine running Windows 7. Why haven’t you upgraded to Windows 10? Everything’s working! My SSL AWS 900+ SE mixer talks to the computer, which talks to Nuendo, and everything talks to a bunch of devices in my patch bay. It’s all working, so I don’t see any need to change it. I suppose applying the security patches might be a good idea, but I connect only to sites I know, and only when needed. Has your background in electronics come in handy? Yes, I can do a lot of the maintenance on my analog gear. I really can’t do anything with digital, though. I also don't understand some decisions companies make, like soldering in batteries for memory backup [laughs]. Michael with a member of the Finnish metal band Lordi Are you a “leave your gear on” kinda guy? I leave the computer on so I don’t have to waste time booting up, and leave on the SSL and preamps but turn off most of the outboard equipment. Where do you see the record business going? Sessions in big studios continue to decrease. I think of all those schools turning out engineers…the jobs just won’t be there for most of them. Then again, there’s also a need for ongoing, continuing education for people who are engineers, or getting started in recording—that’s why I still do workshops for beginners and experts at my or their studio. That way people can benefit from what I’ve learned, without having to take the time to discover it for themselves. -HC- _____________________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  10. Craig’s List - Five Artist Contract Lines Explained Whooo-hooo! You got a record contract! And to celebrate, here are five translations of key contract lines—thanks to having, uh, “borrowed” a lawyer’s secret decoder ring. by Craig Anderton 1. “Subsequent to completion of the Recording, Company may assign its existing rights and obligations hereunder without the consent of Artist.” This is actually for your benefit - after all, didn’t you always want your music featured in a laxative commercial? Or a KKK recruitment video? Or the music bed behind the cable access TV spot for Honest Frankie’s Quality Used Yugo dealership in Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ? Exciting exposure opportunities await you when a record company president is highly motivated to pay off his gambling debts! Especially in New Jersey. 2. “In perpetuity and throughout the entire universe.” A bunch of lawyers were stinking drunk one night. “How about ‘throughout the world?’” “Nah, let’s do ‘throughout the solar system.’” [much laughter] “The galaxy!” [hearty guffaws] “The ENTIRE EFFING UNIVERSE!!” The lawyers all dissolved in gales of laughter and wrote “universe” into a contract as a lark—and the term stuck. (Although to be fair, some believe lawyers are spawned from the evil ice planet Blarf, so “universe” might actually be relevant.) 3. “Right of inspection of books with prior written notice of no less than seven (7) days.” Even accountants who move slower than Jabba the Hut can sub the funny money books for the real ones in less than seven days. And if you do inspect the books, expect to be locked in a small cubicle with a man who keeps referring to himself as “Thee Avenger,” has a really big teardop tattoo, and plays absent-mindedly with a knife he calls “my Precious.” Yessiree—you’re “livin’ the dream!” 4. “The recitals contained at the beginning of this agreement are incorporated herein by this reference.” No one has any idea what this means. No one ever has. No one ever will. In a brilliant move—given that lawyers bill by the hour—this line is inserted specifically so lawyers can argue about it for hours and hours. And hours. Even days and weeks, if needed. Ka-ching! 5. “Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: Company and Artist agree to perform their obligations under this Agreement, in every respect and at all times, in good faith.” Although contracts are allegedly nonfiction documents, a hallowed legal tradition is that every contract include at least one line that’s totally bogus. This replaces the clause used in older contracts, which was “Company and artist shall slay dragons, turn lead into gold, and cast magikal spells in the company of elves and fairies.” Spoiler alert: That didn’t happen either. ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  11. Recording FM Synthesizers It's not the technology's fault that FM was overused in the 80s - and it deserves a second chance by Craig Anderton When FM synths came on the scene in the mid ’80s, their bright, digital sound stood in stark contrast to their analog ancestors. Analog recording still reigned, and the DX7’s clarity was a fine complement to the warmth of analog tape (maybe it’s not a coincidence that analog synths made a comeback as the crossfade into digital recording occurred). If you’re getting back into FM, or re-discovering its joys for the first time, here are some tips on how to get the best recorded sound. Don’t have an FM synth? Maybe you do . . . we’ll also cover some popular soft synths that have enough FM capabilities to get you started. SPACE: THE FINAL FRONTIER FM synthesis was very popular in “new age” type recordings, often providing bell and Rhodes-type sounds in a track with acoustic guitar, percussion, etc. However, when recorded direct with instruments that had room ambience—even trace amounts—it sounded somehow “wrong” because its ambience didn’t match up. I like to insert four delay lines in the synth's audio track set to short, prime numbers (e.g., 17, 19, 23, and 29 ms) with no pre-delay to create a sense of room ambience, even if it’s going to feed “room” reverb through an aux bus. The emulated “room sound” helps the synth blend in better with acoustic tracks (or samples that were recorded with room ambience). DISTORTION? SAY WHAT? Want a really cutting “lead guitar” sound that will not just jump out of a track, but make guitar players green with envy? FM’s basic sound generator is the sine wave, which just happens to distort beautifully. This is because it has very few harmonics, so adding distortion doesn’t create the screeching highs that normally make listeners dive for their earplugs. However, sine waves by themselves are b-o-r-i-n-g, so most FM synth patches (with the possible exception of lame flute programs) add more operators to produce a more complex, interesting sound. We don’t want that. Fig. 1 shows a basic fun-with-distortion patch, using Native Instruments’ FM8. Fig. 1: This extremely simple FM7 patch works very well in conjunction with subsequent distortion. I stripped the FM8's Glassy E-Piano patch down to two operators, D and F (you could of course use any two operators). F is set to a frequency ratio of 1.0000, and D to 2.000. D’s output modulates operator F and also feeds the audio output (the latter is optional), but note that it uses an amplitude envelope to fade in . Both operators also receive a little LFO to simulate a guitar’s finger vibrato, controlled via mod wheel. When you press a key, operator F supplies the fundamental. Then the “feedback” octave higher component from operator D fades in over time—tasty! The output then goes through the distortion plug-in of your choice; I favor multi-band distortion, as described in the article The Guitarist's Guide to Multiband Distortion. FUN WITH PANNING Many FM synths offer interesting panning options. For example, the FM8 can pan each operator output anywhere in the stereo field. Yamaha’s ancient TX81Z (still wonderful if you can find one used) can pan notes in the stereo field based on note value (e.g., lower notes show up on the left, and higher notes on the right), velocity, or LFO frequency. These options help create more interesting stereo imaging. YOUR SECRET FM SYNTH Want to experiment with FM? You may already have some soft synths with FM capabilities. Usually this involves dual-oscillator architectures, where the output of one oscillator (the modulator) modulates the other oscillator (the carrier). You generally listen to the carrier output, and control the modulator’s level via envelope, mod wheel, etc. to adjust the amount of the FM effect. Synths I’ve used that allow for at least some form of FM include Arturia Moog Modular V, and Cakewalk's z3ta+ (as well as Cakewalk PSYNE). So what are you waiting for? Get ready for the FM synthesis revival! -HC- ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  12. Guitar Pickups – What You Need to Know Looking for a good pickup line? by Craig Anderton They’re just wire and magnets, right? Well…yes, but there’s a lot more to the story than that. A pickup change can give an entirely different sound and vibe, but you need to understand what goes into making pickups so you can choose the right solution for the sound you want. So, let’s examine what makes a pickup a pickup, and what these various elements mean to you. MAGNETS AND TONE Different magnets have different strengths, which interact differently with strings and therefore produce different tones. Alnico and ceramic are the two magnet types used in traditional pickups. Pickups with Alnico II magnets strike a balance between warmth and brightness. Their “vintage” sound has a sweet midrange, without high frequency brittleness. Alnico II was used in the original PAF pickups, which are best known for a smooth, “singing” tone when overdriven. Gibson's Burstbucker pickups use Alnico V magnets, which give a more "aggressive" sound than the "sweeter" Alnico II magnets used in PAF-type pickups. Alnico V magnets are stronger and have both more bass and treble than Alnico II types. This gives a somewhat edgier, more aggressive tone associated with metal and hard rock, as well as more clarity with high-gain amps. Ceramic magnets are generally the strongest magnet type, which leads to brighter pickups with a tight, instead of warm, low end. They retain clarity and articulation even with heavy distortion, and typically have high output levels. They are also less expensive to manufacture than metallic magnets. Most guitarists consider ceramic magnets less suitable for clean tones than Alnico magnets. OUTPUT LEVELS Some pickups are “hotter” than others. A hotter output will drive tube amps and some pedal inputs harder, thus giving more potential overdrive. Output levels are less relevant with amps, effects, and audio interfaces that have their own input gain controls. HUMBUCKER VS. SINGLE-COIL Humbucker pickups are known not just for their resistance to hum, but their warm, beefy sound. Single-coil pickups (so called because humbuckers have two pickup coils) have a bright, somewhat “glassier” sound and are more susceptible to hum. All Gibson pickups except the P90 are humbucker types. (Although the P90 is technically a single-coil pickup, it is more resistant to hum and has a fatter, more aggressive sound than conventional single-coil types.) The Mini-Humbucker has an interesting background - it was made specifically for guitarists who wanted to replace P90 single-coil pickups, which are smaller than standard humbuckers, with a pickup that had humbucking properties. However, by switching out one of the coils, a humbucker can give a single-coil sound. Guitars often include knobs with a switch that can change the humbucker sound to a single-coil sound. If a pickup is specified as using a “four-conductor cable,” that means that each coil can be wired separately, thus allowing for coil splitting. A humbucker with two-conductor cable means that you can’t convert it into a humbucker without breaking the connection between the two coils—doable for solderheads, but not necessarily fun. HUMBUCKER COILS While researching this article (translation: talking to people who know more about this stuff than I do), I found out several interesting aspects of Gibson pickups that relate to the coils used in humbuckers. The Gibson 490 pickup is available in the "zebra" color scheme that first appeared in the 60s. Note the four-conductor cable that allows the coils to be split for more of a single-coil sound. First, consider the “zebra” look where a pickup has one black and one cream-colored bobbin. There is no sonic significance to this; one day back in the 60s the Gibson factory ran low on black bobbins, and because the pickups had covers and the company figured no one would see the bobbins or care, they just alternated cream-colored ones with the black ones. Another is that back in the day, the pickup winding machines weren’t exactly precision devices, so sometimes coils would have more or less turns than others. This is why some people found particular pickups, even if they were the same model (in theory), to have “magical” properties. Gibson analyzed these and found that pickups people liked for being “hotter” were overwound (i.e., had more turns) compared to other pickups. The top coil is the “screws” coil, and the bottom oil is the “slugs” coil. The tape wrapped around the coils helps protect them, especially if you’re not using pickup covers. Also, if the coil surrounding the pole piece screws has fewer windings than the coil surrounding the slug, the pickup will more of a single-coil sound. So to get a balanced sound, it’s actually necessary to overwind the screws coil so that neither coil dominates. GOING TO POT One problem with early pickups was microphonic response, where sound from an amp would interact with the pickup’s windings to cause “squeals.” Potting the pickup with wax to fill in all the air gaps helps to minimize any kind of microphonic interaction. DC RESISTANCE DC resistance is a common pickup specification that correlates to the number of windings in a pickup coil. This affects output and frequency response somewhat, with higher resistances in theory meaning a little higher output and a slightly duller sound. However, in practice most DC resistance comparisons are meaningless because pickups use different manufacturing techniques that make much more of a difference than DC resistance. Where DC resistance does matter is with two pickups that are identical in all other aspect except the coil windings. PICKUP AND STRING INTERACTION Let’s close with the age-old question: How far should pickups be from the strings? Although the conventional wisdom is “closer to pickups = more level, further from pickups = less level,” there’s much more to the story than that…and there’s an entire article on the subject right here on Harmony Central, so check it out for the complete rundown. Pickups remain controversial, because they’re actually pretty complicated critters from a physics standpoint so they’re quite nuanced. Hopefully we’ve covered the important info that can help you better understand what pickups are all about. Note: All photos are courtesy Gibson Brands and used with permission. Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  13. Craig’s List - Music Deities of the Ancients Ancient astronauts? That’s soooo passé! Let’s set the wayback machine to ancient Greece and Rome, and discover the real roots of electronic music by Craig Anderton 1. Casio, the father of Casiopeia, displeased Zeus by cross-breeding a calculator with a musical instrument—and was forced to cross the river Styx (“Come Sail Away”) for banishment in the underworld. But there he befriended the demigod Synthesus, who taught Casio the true meaning of keyboards. Disguising himself as a calculator/watch, Casio eluded the guards, escaped, and in tribute to his master, vowed never again to create a synthesizer that could be useful while shopping for groceries. 2. Maximus was the Roman god of tastelessness, B-movies, and excessive noise levels. But the gods, tired of his yelling, wagered that Maximus could not create a sound louder than Heavius Metallus. If Maximus lost the wager, he would have to wed Minimus the Radio Shack loudspeaker—but the clever Maximus stole the secret of excessive multiband maximizing from Dynamicus. To this day, bad mastering on pop tunes reminds us that unfortunately, Maximus won the wager. 3. Chorus was the sister of Hydra but instead of having multiple heads, had a single head with multiple voices. She would have been but a footnote in mythology had the Sirens not tried to use the sweet sound of Chorus to ensnare Ulysses. Legend says Ulysses had himself tied to his ship’s mast to avoid the sirens’ lure, but according to contemporaneous accounts from Eudemus of Rhodes (not to be confused with Eudemus of Fender Rhodes), Chorus’s battery died at an inopportune moment. 4. Modulus, the nephew of Synthesus, was the most powerful of the ancient gods because of his ability to incorporate all the powers of the other gods. But he became boastful and incurred the wrath of Zeus—who punished Modulus by letting him keep his powers, but allowed them to be manifested only by untangling an infinitely huge collection of tangled patch cords. However, Modulus extracted his vengeance by marrying Medusa—whose hair, contrary to myth, consisted not of snakes but 1/4" cables. 5. Little is known about Tremulus, the first of the effects gods, who controlled the cycles of loudness and softness. To make matters worse he was often confused with his brother Vibratus, the god of the cycles of sharpness and flatness. Their constant bickering (along with getting Athena seriously plastered one night) caused the gods to curse them to forever being confused with each other. Even today, you still hear guitarists invoke the name of Tremulus when describing pitch-bending guitar tailpieces. ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  14. IK Multimedia iRig Pro I/O Universal Audio Interface Multi-platform mobile just got easier by Craig Anderton What? Another interface from IK Multimedia? Yes, but this costs more and does more, starting with Mac/Windows/iOS/Android compatibility, hardware MIDI I/O, and overcoming Apple’s Lightning interface limitations. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW A Neutrik combo connector handles 1/4” mono or XLR plugs. Separate MIDI in and out 1/8” stereo connectors patch to included adapter cables for use with 5-pin DIN MIDI devices. The 1/8” stereo output with associated volume control drives headphones or line inputs. You can use your fave analog headphones with an iOS Lightning device (!). There’s switchable +48V phantom power for the mic, and unlike some other interfaces I’ve tested, this really does deliver +48V so it can make any condenser mic happy. A DC in power jack for the optional iRig PSU 3A power supply ($39.99) lets you charge your Lightning-compatible iOS device and monitor audio through standard 1/8” headphones—so your recording time is not limited by the phone’s charge. Nor do you need Apple’s Lightning Dock (also $39.99), which does not exactly represent Apple’s finest hour (see the user reviews on Apple’s site). The audio quality is excellent. iRig Pro I/O uses a discrete-component preamp with “front-panel” gain control, 24-bit kHz conversion, and credible converters. A firmware update adds 96 kHz recording to the native 44.1/48 kHz native sample rates. Two LEDs change colors based on what’s happening; one indicates phantom power and MIDI activity, the other power and audio level. For example, the Power/Audio Level LED is dark blue when connected and on standby, bright blue when active, green when it senses signal level, orange for optimum signal level, and red for “turn the input gain down.” According to IK, the red phantom power LED blinks when the battery runs low. However, the batteries never got low enough during testing to verify this. The package consists of the unit itself, two batteries, the aforementioned MIDI cables, and cables that mate the unit’s multipin connector with USB or Lightning connectors (in other words, don’t lose the cables—you won’t find replacements at Best Buy). iRig Pro I/O is bus-powered with computers; the two AA batteries (included) are needed to pass audio with iOS and Android devices. For Android, your phone or tablet needs to be running Android OS 5 or later with USB digital audio capabilities, and you’ll also need an optional-at-extra-cost Micro-USB-OTG to Mini-DIN cable ($29.99). Like most IK products, registering gets you free software. For iPad/iPhone/iPod devices, there’s AmpliTube CS (with four additional amp models), VocaLive FREE, SampleTank CS (with 68 sounds total), and iGrand Piano FREE. All of these are expandable at extra cost. For the Mac and Windows, you get expandable versions of AmpliTube Metal with Custom Shop, SampleTank 3 SE, and T-RackS Classic mixing and mastering suite with four effects processors. Although iRig Pro I/O doesn’t support older 30-pin iOS devices, it’s compatible with iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone SE, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5, iPod touch 6th generation, iPod touch 5th generation, iPad Pro (12.9-inch), iPad mini 4, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3, iPad Air, iPad mini 2, iPad mini, and iPad 4th generation. iOS 6 or later is required. LIMITATIONS The input jack is mono XLR/TS only. The maximum preamp gain is 47 dB—not enough for ribbon mics that want 65 dB to 70 dB. If it’s crucial to use particular ribbon mics with iRig Pro I/O, try before you buy. IK recommends the ASIO4ALL driver with Windows, which sometimes works well, and sometimes not. Thankfully, I tried iRig Pro I/O with Cakewalk SONAR using Windows 10’s WASAPI Shared mode, and it worked fine—with latency very close (10 - 15 ms) to what you can obtain with ASIO4ALL when it’s working properly, so problem solved. However I couldn't get iRig Pro I/O working with WASAPI Exclusive mode, which gives around 7 ms latency. There's no free software for Android. CONCLUSIONS There’s no question iRig Pro I/O is a well-designed piece of gear from both an audio and compatibility standpoint. I love that it overcomes the limitation Apple imposed on the iPhone where everything has to be done through the Lightning connector—even though it will cost you another $39.99 for the power supply. With Windows, the lack of dedicated drivers means you’re stuck with installing ASIO4ALL—but the ability to work with WASAPI Shared mode is a more universal, Windows-friendly, and forwards-thinking solution. iRig Pro I/O has a lot going for it. The unit itself is light but rugged, with a slightly “rubberized” feel. It’s compact, reasonably priced, and solves several issues when you want high-quality, mobile interfacing. I’ve yet to see something this compact, at this price, that delivers true phantom power and hardware MIDI I/O. When you need to throw an audio interface into your backpack, iRig Pro I/O works as advertised, gets the job done, and is painless to set up—it’s a winner for mobile recording and playback. Resources iRig Pro I/O landing page iRig Pro I/O is available from: IK Multimedia B&H Guitar Center Musician's Friend IK Multimedia Introduction Video Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  15. Arranger Keyboards as Studio Tools? Are You Nuts? You might be surprised at what you can do with modern arranger keyboards by Craig Anderton I understand why you almost hit the back button on your browser: When I say “arranger keyboard,” you think “guy at the Holiday Inn doing a cover version of ‘You Light Up My Life’ by pressing a few buttons on the keyboard and singing over it.” And you’d be right…but you’d also be wrong. (You would also be lucky if you didn’t know the song to which I’m referring.) Arranger keyboards, like the Korg Pa series (Fig. 1), Yamaha’s PSR-series keyboards, Casio’s WK series (Fig. 2), and the like have evolved over the years by offering high quality sounds, more humanized sequencing, and a host of other features. Let’s see why this matters to you. Fig. 1: Korg’s Pa4X76 is a high-end arranger with over 500 styles, including some updated favorites from previous Korg arrangers. It also includes vocal processing from TC-Helicon, processing from Waves, a 7" touch display, and can save custom styles and setings. Fig. 2: Casio’s WK-7600 has 260 styles; however you can edit these or create your own 8-track rhythms with drums, percussion, bass, and five chord patterns, which you can save to the 100 available memory slots. There’s also a 17-track sequencer for recording. The street price is under $450. YOUR MUSIC PRODUCTION LIBRARY A virtually untapped arranger keyboard application is as a replacement for music libraries. When doing audio-for-video work, you’ll often need a few minutes of appropriate background music behind a scene; with the ability to turn out just about anything from bossa nova to heavy metal, an arranger keyboard can produce an instrumental “bed” within minutes. Given the cost of typical “construction kit” sample libraries, it doesn’t take too many of them to equal the cost of a decent arranger keyboard—which can be more flexible, too. However, even though the musicality of these keyboards has improved dramatically, you don’t want to sound like that Holiday Inn guy. This is where, as a musician, you have a huge advantage: Record a few overdubs with “real” musicians (e.g., some tasty hand percussion, piano, or guitar), and the overall sound belies the arranger-based origins. Although this takes a bit more effort compared to just pushing a preset button for a particular style and recording the results, you’ll save much time compared to recording from scratch. Of course, you needn’t use arranger keyboards solely to make full productions. If you’re writing a song, you can set up the chord progression on your arranger and play along with a complete rhythm section instead of just a metronome click. You don’t have to keep the scratch track—but if you want to, keep reading. TURNING DEMOS INTO PRODUCTIONS For songwriting, arranger keyboards are like having a robo-partner who can churn out phrase after phrase until you hear something you like. In fact, you might actually end up wanting to use the demo track. As an example, suppose you’re noodling around on your arranger, and come up with a great basis for a rock tune . . . but you want to replace some of the arranger’s sounds. Many arrangers let you save an arrangement as a Standard MIDI File, which you can then import into your DAW. If there are arranger sounds you like, that’s fine too—direct some tracks via your MIDI out to the arranger, and record the audio back into your DAW. Meanwhile, you can send the other MIDI tracks to a multi-timbral virtual instrument in your DAW for bigger ’n’ better sounds. Or you may not want to replace sounds, but do more sophisticated mixing or processing than the arranger allows. Fortunately, some arrangers can save songs to a storage medium (e.g., USB thumb drive). If you can solo a sound, or mute (or turn the volume down on) all sounds except one, you can save each sound as a separate file. Your next step would be to import each file into your host, line up the beginnings (they should all start at the same time if you saved from the beginning to the end of the song), then process, mix, automate, and overdub as desired. If there’s no option to save audio to some type of transportable media, you can instead solo an individual track, send it to the arranger’s audio output, and record the output into your host. Repeat for each track until the data you need lives in your host program. Lining up the recorded tracks may be a problem. But as your arranger will probably have some kind of count-in or intro, if you record that at the head of the track, then you can simply line up the metronome clicks for each track until they’re in sync. Another possibility is that if the host’s MIDI out patches to the arranger’s MIDI in, a start command from the host will cause the arranger to start playing. Simply go back to the beginning of the host’s sequence each time, solo a track, record it, go back, record the next track, and so on—and the sounds will be in sync with the host, too. TIME IS MONEY, THEY SAY . . . And a good arranger keyboard can save you time, whether it’s by generating tracks that kick off a song idea, provide complete music beds for audio-for-video, or generate patterns you can use in your own productions. And of course, when the session’s over, you can always pack up your arranging keyboard, plug in at the Holiday Inn, and do a fabulous cover version of “You Light Up My Life.” Or on second thought, maybe you should just keep it in the studio. -HC- ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  16. Multi-Tool for Guitar by Gibson It's a setup... by Craig Anderton Probably like many of you, I have a tool collection that includes hex keys, screwdrivers, socket wrenches, etc. - so when I need to set up a guitar to my liking, I’m covered. However, taking all these on the road is inconvenient, and having proper tools at my fingertips became more of an issue when Gibson introduced the zero-fret adjustable nut. I found that raising the nut up all the way could convert my guitar into a slide guitar in under a minute (and once the nut was raised, the G FORCE automatic tuning provided an appropriate open tuning for slide). But then one night, I lost the 0.05” hex key… I also do more more frequent pickup adjustments, because of amp sims. There’s a tradeoff between pickup height, output, sustain, and attack transients; with physical amps I prefer the pickups closer for more output and attack, but with amp sims, lowering the pickups reduces the initial transient and gives a more consistent average signal. So it was time for Gibson's Multi-Tool. It's very compact and fits in my guitar case (check out the quarter for comparison), so I can leave all the other tools back home at my workbench. The Multi-Tool has two groups of tools, which swivel out from each end. One group is: 5/16” truss rod socket wrench 4 mm slotted screwdriver 1/8”, 1/16”, and 0.05” hex keys Lever with engraved marks at 3/64” and 5/64” for checking action at the 12th fret. I didn’t realize how useful this was, but it speeds up setting action compared to “play and see if it’s better or not.” The second group is: 1.5 mm, 2 mm, 2.5 mm, and 3 mm hex keys #1 and #2 Phillips-head screwdrivers This takes care of my guitar needs, but I also found the Multi-Tool useful for prying reluctant battery covers loose from effects, and even opening up computer peripherals for cleaning. BUT WAIT…THERE’S MORE! Suitably inspired, I also looked around for a diagonal cutters that could fit in my case for quick string changes. Jewelrysupply.com has a mini diagonal cutter (item PL433) that’s only 3” long, but still has 1.2” jaws with a flush cutting edge, and costs under $5. Okay…I’m set! And my guitar is set up, too. RESOURCES The Gibson Multi-Tool retails in the Gibson Store for $19.99 + shipping. The Mini Side Cutters is available from JewelrySupply.com for $4.71 + shipping. ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  17. Restoring Pete Townshend's Double-Neck Guitar The inside story on returning this historic guitar to playability by Craig Anderton When I had my vintage Rickenbacker 360 12-string restored recently (expertly, I might add) by Gibson Repair & Restoration, I was fascinated to see rare guitars in various stages of restoration when I dropped off the Ric. I asked if there had been any particularly interesting instruments they’d restored lately, and the consensus among the luthiers was that restoring Pete Townshend’s double-neck was one of the most challenging and gratifying jobs they’d done. I asked what was involved…and thought it was pretty interesting, so here’s the story (props to Phil Crabtree at GR&R for sharing his photos). This guitar was gifted by the Who’s Peter Townshend to an individual who kept it on display in his living room because of its history and cool looks. A friend had admired the guitar for years, and lamented its condition. He convinced the owner to send it to GR&R to be restored, and here’s what it looked like when it arrived. However as you'll see in subsequent photos, a lot of the damage was more than just skin-deep. With an iconic guitar like this, judgement calls have to be made about how far to take a restoration. For example, GR&R will restore finishes if the customer wants it, but they advise against it because it reduces a vintage guitar’s value (and cachet) dramatically. Some repairs are more or less invisible—e.g., replacing wiring—while others are more obvious. Also, some repairs are essential, such as replacing frets that have been more or less destroyed from years of playing, while others are really up to the owner. FIRST STEPS The first step GR&R does with any guitar is document the instrument’s current condition upon arrival, accompanied by lots of photos. In this case, the guitar has historical significance to popular music, so as the guitar progressed it was important to keep a running record of the "before" and "after." Here’s the initial list of what needed to be done…including scary things like fixing “collapsing bridges.” I didn’t realize the extent to which restored guitars are taken down to the basics—all original parts (screws, pickups, bridges, tuners, electronics, etc.) were removed for cleaning, replacement, etc. Parts that have to be replaced are bagged up and returned to the owner. Here, the pickups and electronics (which didn’t work at all) have been removed; you can get an idea of the deterioration the guitar had endured. The tuners were a total loss, and the corrosion had not been kind to the wood where they were sitting. Although it's desirable to retain the original hardware, this isn't always possible and some of the original hardware had to be replaced because of wear and corrosion (most likely from heavy use, touring in so many different environments, and time). In addition to all tuners being replaced with historic replicas, both original ABR-1 bridges had to be replaced because they were corroded and fatigued in shape from years of heavy use. The original ABR-1 bridge posts were also replaced, because a few of them were bent. Also, the original bridge post mounting hole had to be dowelled, re-drilled, and mounted because of fatiguing wood. And here are all the parts after removal. The corrosion on the metal parts was off the hook. Also, lots of the inlays were loose. They had to be re-seated and glued in place. The nut was another total loss, but it was measured carefully so that the replacement nut could be cut correctly. Both the 6- and 12-string necks needed a lot of work just to be playable again. Over time, the frets on both necks had deteriorated from years of playing and being on tour. All the frets had to be replaced. Removing frets has to be done really carefully to avoid tearing up the fingerboard (as a side note that doesn't relate to this repair, Richlite necks are much more refretting-friendly). Next came planing and smoothing the fingerboards. After the frets are replaced, they’re tapped into place and dressed. Here’s what the headstocks looked like after being restored with period-correct Kluson tuners. The client agreed with GR&R not to restore the finish, but to have it retain the history/wear of being on the road with Townshend. As a result, the finish was cleaned only by hand to preserve the natural patina and wear, using 3M Finesse-it Protective Wax. The entire electronic assembly had to be removed and restored because it no longer functioned—time, humidity, and corrosion caused the electronics to fail. The original PAFs were the heart and soul of this Gibson's electrified sound, and there was some concern how well they had survived. Fortunately, all the PAF pickups were okay, so they were re-used after cleaning. Other parts were not so lucky. Original parts that could be salvaged were used, but tracking down historically accurate parts for original parts that had failed can be challenging. Again fortunately, it was possible to find equivalent replacements for the output jack and one of the Switchcraft toggle switches. The wiring harness is done outside the body, then threaded back in through the pickup cutouts. Note the Caig DeoxIT—my favorite contact cleaner, and apparently GR&R’s as well. I thought this method of pulling controls through their associated holes was really clever - threading one of the cut strings through the hole for the pot, then taping it to the pot shaft so the shaft can be pulled easily up through the hole. As some of the final steps, ColorTone Fretboard Finishing oil puts some life back into the fretboard; then comes string replacement and setup (adjusting both truss rods, setting the action, adjusting intonation, tuning, and ultimately, playing the guitar as a final reality check). Of course, the entire restoration involved more than what’s shown here; it took about 40 hours to restore Townshend’s double-neck. Here’s GR&R luthier Phil Crabtree, playing the guitar before it goes back…I guess that playing one of Pete Townshend's guitars is a perk of doing restoration I'd like to thank GR&R for being willing to share this story and these pictures with us. Let's close out with how this guitar looks now that it's been through the restoration process. -HC- ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  18. Hi-Fi - Same As It Ever Was? Our memory might be telling our ears what they want to hear... by Craig Anderton Dear Musician - They’re called fanatics—people who listen to their vinyl albums on vintage gear like Macintosh amplifiers, old KLH speakers, and turntables with Stanton cartridges. They swear it sounds better, which of course, can’t be true—right? After all, today’s gear is so much more accurate, whether you’re talking DSP to flatten speaker response, or distortion so low it almost can’t be measured. Granted, there’s appeal to having rare gear, restoring it, and doing the loving maintenance that keeps it humming decades after the companies making the gear went out of business. But maybe those fanatics aren’t so crazy after all, because the naysayers may be overlooking the most important point of all. Music has a proven relationship to memory (for more information, check out this thread). One of the more interesting experiments involved putting together a playlist of songs that were popular in someone's youth, and seeing patients with Alzheimer's or dementia light up. So it's understandable that people enjoy reliving what was wonderful in their past, and of course, pretty much anything that was ever recorded is accessible via the internet. However, maybe it's not only about the music itself, but the sound that plays with our memory. The music of the past was listened to on the equipment of the past, and was mixed and mastered on speakers and amps designed using the technology of that time. This was brought home to me recently in a very dramatic way, because I was one of the first people to hear the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s. I was gigging in a town near the Capitol Records pressing plant in Pennsylvania, and a fan of our band had smuggled out a copy. With no idea what to expect, suffice it to say I was blown away. I eventually bought the CD, but could never replicate what I heard half a century ago…until I was visiting a friend who had a lovingly restored stereo system from that era. Over that system, it sounded like I remembered it. So if you want to know what the world heard when a classic album like Are You Experienced? was released on an unsuspecting world, it's possible that the only way to truly hear what it was intended to sound like would be to listen on the playback equipment of that time. The speakers of that era didn’t benefit from computer-aided design, or the improvements in cone and magnet materials that have occurred over the years. Ribbon tweeters, although invented back in the 20s, have only become popular recently. Audio transformers and tubes added their own coloration, records were mixed and mastered to take the RIAA curve for vinyl into account, and back in the day, people listened to speakers moving air in an acoustical space rather than over headphones. Yes, it may be crazy to devote your life to listening over painstakingly maintained vintage gear…but it’s crazier to think that the way we listen to music in 2017 is the same way people listened to music half a century ago. And if you want the experience of listening to music in 1967 (and all that implies with respect to music's relationship to memory), then you probably need to listen on equipment made in 1967...that is, until technology perfects the digital emulation of vintage playback systems! ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  19. Craig’s List - 5 Symptoms that Your Gear Owns You Are you the proud owner of your music gear? Wake up—your gear may own you by Craig Anderton 1. You spend a lot of time on the phone with your Sweetwater sales engineer. As in, a lot. As in, Verizon is offering you attractive incentives to please switch to AT&T. Just a friendly heads-up: your sales engineer is looking into what’s involved in filing a restraining order. 2. When your buddy gets all effusive about his cool new GF, you think he means “Gear Fanatic.” Even more sadly, you think the terms “male” and “female” were invented to describe plugs and jacks, not the biological functionality of humanoid bipeds. (And FYI, "strip clubs" are not places were people get together to discuss channel strips.) 3. That Apple Mac IIci in the corner. . .seriously. 80MB hard drive, 25MHz processor, and it accepts only NuBus cards. Honest, you’ll never use it again. But if you really can’t bear to part with of it, then take out the motherboard, and it makes a divine planter! Convicted felon Martha Stewart recommends petunias. 4. You have a software update sitting on your computer, but you‘re terrified to install it because what you have works. Show some spine! Don’t let your software boss you around—it’s an update! What could possibly go wrong? 5. You really believe that you have to plug in cables in the “right” direction, so that the teeny-tiny little sentient electrons all march together in the same direction, goose-stepping their March of the Milliamps from one plug to another. And you’re really afraid that if you plug it in backwards, you may alter the ytilaer fo cirbaf. I mean, the fabric of reality. Hmmm . . . maybe you’re right. - HC - ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  20. Breaking Boundaries And the love of music gets all the credit by Craig Anderton People often talk in an abstract way about music crossing boundaries. But it’s a real phenomenon…as re-confirmed late on a Friday night in Houston. Three ladies were checking into a hotel where I was staying after a flight to Nashville had been canceled. I had come to the lobby to buy a late-night snack, and waited behind them as they went through some complicated maneuvers involving transferring from another hotel and using points. They were also asking about whether there were any dance clubs in the area, and I noticed that one of the ladies had “Soca Animal” on her cell phone. It was taking a long time, but I wasn’t in a hurry. Then one of them noticed I was standing there and said to the night clerk “I’m sorry, you can take care of this guy, he just wants to buy a bag of chips.” I replied, “Hey, take your time. Anyone into soca and dance clubs is okay with me.” That elicited a few chuckles, but then the lady with the cell phone said, “You know about soca?” with a look that could only be described as amazement. I said that yes, I love soca, and I’m also a big fan of zouk (another strain of dance-oriented Caribbean music). We talked for a while, and I mentioned my intro to the genre was the band Kassav. Well, the amazement turned to shock—she played her favorite Kassav tune on her cell phone ( ), and asked if I was familiar with it. Well, it’s one of their biggest hits, so I said sure and named the album. Upon hearing that, she blurted out, “I can’t believe I’m talking with a white person about soca!” which frankly, cracked me up. One of the other women was horrified I would interpret that as a racist comment, but I knew it wasn’t said in a racist way at all. We talked about Caribbean music some more, had some good laughs, and I gave them a list of some of my favorite Caribbean internet radio stations. What had started out as three black women and one white guy in a hotel lobby morphed effortlessly into four music fans. As I turned to go back to my room, the oldest of the three said, “I respect the Diety within you.” Now, I’m not really into organized religion, but I appreciated what she meant. For quite a while, we had bonded over music and enjoyed common ground that was far more relevant than skin color. Racism isn’t only about conflict: it’s about an artificial boundary that keeps people apart who shouldn’t be apart. That night, music poked some holes in that boundary. ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  21. Ikutaro Kakehashi: The MIDI Backstory Over three decades later, the path to MIDI seemed easy...but it wasn't by Craig Anderton Many people have commemorated Mr. Ikutaro Kakehashi’s contributions to the music industry. As the founder of Roland, the products he influenced literally changed the course of popular music—not just music technology. But arguably his biggest contribution has flown “under the radar,” and in honor of his life and his passing, I’d like to shine a light on it. First, though, let’s set the stage. I had the honor of knowing him and we often had discussions about music and technology. He never lost a little kid’s sense of wonder, and whenever he discovered a new interest—such as video—he always saw it from a perspective that was broad yet focused. And once he found merit in something, like MIDI guitar or greater expressiveness with keyboards, he would keep pushing until what he thought was possible became reality. The origins of MIDI are generally—and properly—credited to Dave Smith and Ikutaro Kakehashi. But that just scratches the surface. There had already been movement on the part of Roland, Oberheim (the “System”), and Sequential Circuits to find some way for the new generation of electronic synthesis devices to “talk” to each other. Dave Smith concentrated on keyboards with the Universal Synthesizer Interface, which was first presented in a white paper to the Audio Engineering Society. What Mr. Kakehashi brought to the party were (primarily) the timing and synchronization aspects that made MIDI relevant far beyond the stage, and established its importance in the studio. As no less a luminary that Alan Parsons opined, MIDI has become part of the DNA of modern music production. It’s everywhere, whether people know it’s there or not. "[DON'T] GIVE UP SO EASILY" But MIDI wasn’t just about technology. Initially, some companies resisted MIDI. Dave Rossum, the genius behind E-Mu Systems, saw Ethernet as a far more capable protocol. He was right, of course; but in reality, it would have been too expensive for consumer-oriented gear. Other companies simply didn’t see any value, or were reluctant to add a feature to their products that had no guarantee of success. In fact, Dave Smith said that at the first meeting about MIDI there was a lot of disagreement because some people wanted more expensive and faster hardware. Dave left the meeting thinking it wasn’t going to happen, but later that night an engineer from Roland showed up at Dave’s hotel room and said “I have been told by Kakehashi-san not to give up so easily.” Ultimately, one of the reasons MIDI caught on was because it was inexpensive enough that it could be part of something like a consumer-oriented Casio keyboard. Companies had little to lose by including MIDI…and if it took off, then they’d be poised to enjoy the benefits. IT TOOK TWO TO TANGO And then there was the 800 lb. gorilla in the room: The intense rivalry between Yamaha and Roland. For MIDI to be successful, it would have to be adopted universally. There was no room for the two industry giants to go in different directions, yet at the time Japanese corporate culture had a tendency toward insularity. Fortunately, Mr. Kakehashi did not take the position that since Roland made such a significant contribution, it could obtain a competitive advantage over its rival. As a believer in the power of music, he realized there was something bigger at stake than corporate politics. Equally fortunately, Yamaha jettisoned the “not invented here” syndrome, embraced MIDI, and made its own contributions to help make MIDI a practical reality. The adoption of the spec by Roland and Yamaha became an incredibly powerful statement that ensured the success of MIDI. The smaller companies were taken aback by such a show of unity from two powerful rivals, and adopted the attitude of “Well if Roland and Yamaha can join together for this, who are we not to participate?” Whether it was the force of Mr. Kakehashi’s personality or Yamaha’s keen foresight—or more likely, both—doesn’t really matter at this point because after Dave Smith and Kakehashi-san birthed MIDI (and earned a technical Grammy in the process), the rest of the industry raised the kid enthusiastically. BELIEVE IT... I’ll close with a story that showed just how revolutionary MIDI was. Having written the book “MIDI for Musicians,” which was the first mainstream book explaining MIDI, I was often asked for comment. One day a journalist called me and wanted details on the protocol. I gave him the lowdown on what MIDI did, how it worked, and why it was so great. After my rant, he said “Okay, but let’s give equal time to the other standards.” I told him there wasn’t another standard, the entire industry had adopted MIDI. He seemed puzzled and said “I understand it’s been adopted by the industry, but I want to know about the other standards, and how they fit in.” I explained that prior to MIDI there had been attempts to create something similar, but none of them gained traction, and had fallen by the wayside as MIDI took over. He remained unconvinced. After all, this was a world of Mac vs. PC and VHS vs. Beta. Exasperated, he tried one last time to get me to spill the beans on MIDI’s rivals, and again, I explained there simply weren’t any. He became upset, and essentially gave no credibility to anything I said because he was convinced I was an unprincipled shill for this MIDI thing. He didn’t quite hang up on me, but it was clear he felt he had wasted his time talking to someone so obviously biased. Looking back, I can understand his confusion. He didn’t realize people like Dave Smith and Ikutaro Kakehashi could exist, and that rivals like Yamaha and Roland could place the needs of musicians above their own potential agendas. I don’t know what that journalist is doing now, but the specification he dismissed endures. Dave Smith continues to make exceptional synthesizers. Yamaha, Korg, Casio, Kawai, and so many others keep innovating ever-cooler products. Roland carries forth Mr. Kakehashi’s vision of always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Yes, we lost a giant in this industry—but not before he left a mark on it that will endure after everyone reading this will have passed away. I can’t really be sad about Mr. Kakehashi’s passing…because it’s far outweighed by the happiness he helped bring to the world. To learn more about the life of Mr. Kakehashi, The MIDI Association (www.midi.org), which is exceptionally cool in its own right, has published an informative article https://www.midi.org/articles/ikutaro-kakehashi-passes-away-at-87 on his life. The following articles also describe the beginnings of MIDI…interesting stuff. And of course, the TMA has a ton of articles about MIDI techniques, basics, advanced topics, and the future of MIDI. https://www.midi.org/articles/midi-from-the-inside https://www.midi.org/articles/midi-history-chapter-6-midi-is-born-1980-1983 ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  22. 5 Ultra-Nifty Uses for CDs With the decline of physical media, what will we do with CDs? Here’s what! by Craig Anderton 1. Microwave awesomeness. Ever put a CD in a microwave oven on high for 5 seconds? Well, don’t! It could damage the oven and cause serious safety issues. So just take my word for it: It’s awesome. 2. Roofing tiles. I know someone who successfully re-tiled a roof using the CDs that AOL sent out every 2.756 minutes back in the 90s, and it’s still around today. The roof, I mean. 3. Personal defense. The bad guy is coming toward you! Quick—whip out your CD, and reflect light off it into your attacker’s eyes. While he’s temporarily blinded, make your escape! Well, unless it’s night. Or the sun isn’t behind him. But in that case, he still might die from laughter from someone trying to stop him with a CD. 4. Superlative cat toy. A CD makes a simply marvelous cat toy. Then again, I can’t think of anything that doesn’t make a marvelous cat toy. Except maybe for raccoons and swimming pools, but that’s about it. 5. Listen to music. I’ve been told you can download CDs from the internet! But when I do, all that happens is files get written to my hard drive. Maybe I need a 3D printer for this to work properly. ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  23. Anderton

    Rockin' the Boat

    Rockin' the Boat 2000+ people. Over a dozen musical acts. It’s the kind of thing that floats your boat by Craig Anderton I’m not really a cruise guy or even a fan of 70s rock, so it seems like I wouldn’t be the target demographic for the '70s Rock and Romance Cruise—to say the least. But when I saw the ads for this cruise pop up on Harmony Central, I was intrigued. That led to asking for and receiving an interview with the TimeLife people, sister company to StarVista LIVE who put these themed cruises together, and it was sufficiently interesting that I wrote an article about the backstory. What struck me was how the people behind these cruises are totally into music. These aren’t just attempts to cash in on peoples’ memories, but celebrations of the music associated with particular eras or genres—and as long as they produce revenue, they can keep doing more. There had already been Flower Power and Soul Train cruises this year, with a Southern Rock one slated for 2018. But while I may not be into cruises per se, I am an experience junkie. And I am a music guy to the core, and overdue for a vacation by about 18 years…so I boarded a plane to Fort Lauderdale to see what was in store. Spoiler alert: I had a really good time, both for the reasons you might think…but also for some reasons I was not expecting at all. Interestingly, before going on the cruise, an associate at Gibson had gone on a themed music cruise from a different company on a different cruise line. She got back a few days before I left, so I was hoping to hear “Yeah Craig, it was so cool, you’re gonna love it!” But she said the food was bad (although it sometimes reached below average), and she got seasick, so she had to take anti-motion sickness pills…which meant she couldn’t drink, and she’d paid in advance for a drink package (cheaper than buying a drink at a time). Her summary: “It was kind of like going to the dentist for oral surgery. I had a painful experience, and paid a lot of money for it. Although at least with a dentist, you end up better than when you went in.” Uh-oh. Fortunately, I have a friend who does maritime ship insurance so I asked him what he thought. He said “it’s all about the ship” and when he found it was the Celebrity Summit, said I had nothing to worry about. He was right. THE THEME The theme was 70s music, and really, it was more like a rock concert festival that just happened to be onboard a ship. The roster of artists was Peter Frampton, America, Little River Band, The Orchestra Starring Former Members of ELO, Christopher Cross, Ambrosia, Orleans, Stephen Bishop, Firefall, Player, Chuck Negron formerly of Three Dog Night and various tribute bands playing everywhere from side stages to lounges. One of the more popular tribute acts was a humorous but affectionate tribute to Elton John [photo courtesy StarVista LIVE] I had no idea the two guys in America had been together continuously for 47 years, or that the current lineup for the Little River Band—which had none of the founding members—had ironically been together much longer than the original lineup. It wasn’t just about the bands, though. When you got on the ship, all the music played onboard was from the 70s. There were 70s-related activities, like trivia games and such. But what impressed me the most was that the entire ship was populated by fans who love music. It’s interesting to be in an environment where there are over 2,000 people and if you happen to strike up a random conversation, it’s going to be about music. Even during the day, there were outside concerts. [photo courtesy StarVista LIVE] Even more telling: Each day there was a panel discussion with particular band members. I thought a bunch of fun-loving cruise folks would prefer to be sunning themselves or drinking a Mexican Firing Squad by the pool, but the panel discussions were packed—as in, good luck finding a seat in a venue that was second in size only to the theater. Nor were these about fluff or nostalgia. There were some really interesting insights, and frank talk about what it takes for a 70s artist to make it through to the year 2017. The moderator started out keeping it light, but fortunately, sensed both the direction the musicians were taking things and the crowd’s interest, and reacted accordingly. Members of America, the Little River Band, and Orleans on a panel about “Surviving Pop Music in the ‘70s” [photo courtesy StarVista LIVE] For example, Wayne Nelson of the Little River Band talked about how members leaving was traumatic. He said “it was driven by egos and money. You got money for having songs on an album, and everyone was competing to get their songs on it. It wasn’t about the art, but the money.” But the silver lining was that as people were replaced, they were replaced by more compatible members so in his estimation, with the personnel changes the band became better and more vital instead of having the same people trying to resurrect past glories. More on this shortly. THE FIRST NIGHT’S HEADLINE CONCERT Those on the cruise were divided into two groups. You could do early show/late dinner, or early dinner/late show. The headliners would do the early show one night and the late show the next night (or vice-versa), so everyone got to see them. First night for my group was the Little River Band. I was dimly aware of them (the 70s were when I was doing studio work in New York and establishing my career as a writer so it was kind of a lost decade). However I did know who their keyboard player was; Chris Marion had done some writing for Harmony Central. Chris Marion steps out with an actual Roland Keytar—that still works [photo courtesy StarVista LIVE] They hadn’t played in a while and initially, were somewhat stiff/hesitant. I started thinking I’d probably have more fun going back to my stateroom and making my own music in my little studio setup. Always have a studio at the ready! I didn’t have space for my 4” V-Series KRKs, but IK’s Micro-Monitors did a great job. But they kept gathering momentum. They have five vocalists, and the vocals were amazing—right on target, and no Auto-Tune. The dual guitar lines were equally impressive, and their drummer was tight and downright melodic in his approach. Chris added the necessary textures and stepped out front with a Keytar a few times. The crowd was digging it. Their front man, Wayne Nelson, is no kid but he’s a superbly tasteful and accomplished bass player and can sing his heart out. But what really flipped the switch was when they dared to do a new song. The popular wisdom is that people are there to see the hits and only the hits. The band was almost apologetic, saying “all the songs you’re going to hear over the next four days were new songs at one point.” The crowd loved it. From that song on, there was that unique kind of audience/band energy exchange that you know about if you’ve ever played live and had one of those nights. The band got looser socially and tighter musically, and you could tell they were having more and more fun as the evening went on. Each song had more energy, precision, and style than the previous one. I was very impressed by a band that I would never have guessed would impress me. Furthermore, the sound was great. As in, so good I sought out their front of house engineer because even though it was a theater with good acoustics (and packed with the ultimate sound absorbers/diffusers—people!), he managed to make the low end really tight, keep the mud out, and balanced five vocalists perfectly. Given that one of them played drums, I asked how he managed to keep the drums out of the mic. Simple: He ducked the mic with a notch at the snare drum frequency whenever it hit, and rolled off everything below about 125 Hz. He said that it was actually an advantage, because he needed to bring up the overheads on only three songs; the vocal mic picked up enough. I asked a bit about where the band was going next, and mentioned that I thought the fans accepting the new material was when the band really started cooking. He said some fans have seen 200 shows, and this loyal following is what keeps them playing—the audience is there. Well that’s enough about day 1… AMBROSIA, AMERICA, FIREFALL, AND SOME INSIDER BASEBALL Day 2 seemed like a good time to check out the ship and find out what was there. But it was also a chance to catch up with Chris Marion and Charlie Morgan (currently with Orleans and Richard Marx; he was also Elton John’s long-time drummer). Charlie Morgan, pounding away on the drums [photo courtesy StarVista LIVE] I mostly wanted to pick Chris’s brain on how, as one of the performers, he viewed the cruise. He’s a big fan of the themed cruises, because he confirmed what I suspected—the boat is packed 100% with people to whom music is an important, maybe even crucial, part of their lives. These weren’t mindless fans but people who could talk intelligently about music, careers of certain bands, and the like. They followed the band personnel twists and turns, and many even knew what I used to think was musician-only trivia, like who did the engineering and production. There was also a surprisingly large number of players. Chris also talked about how virtual instruments and such had changed the game. We ended up talking quite a bit about tech, and some of the complications in a themed cruise—for example, it wasn’t always possible to bring all your own gear. While we were talking, several fans of the band came up and complimented him on how great the set had been. They were respectful of his time, welcomed the opportunity to thank him personally, maybe mentioned a particular show they had caught, and moved on. Then I found Charlie Morgan, who I’d never met but we have mutual friends. It was a non-stop bunch of fun stories about studios, the old days of A&R, doing the Elton John tours, the current state of the music business, and swapping our respective George Martin stories. Interestingly, both Chris and Charlie live in Nashville, and the irony was not lost on me that after many “yeah, we should get together sometime” moments, we had to be on a boat somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico to finally hang out. Although in some ways I’m not super-gregarious, I was after all going to write up the experience, and engaged a lot of random people in conversations to take the pulse. Every conversation was about music. These are all people who spent a decent amount of money and took the time to go on a themed cruise, and they chose music over other ways to spend their time and money. Although I expected the cruise to be mostly couples reliving their past (the “romance”) part, quite a few people went with friends and there were also those who went not because they were part of the music at the time, but acquired a taste for it after the fact and wanted to see the performers. The headliner that night was America. I never really was a fan of the band, and although the crowd was happy, I couldn’t help but think there were some in-ear monitor issues. If you like America, you’d be pleased to see them after 47 years of playing together—still playing their music and still digging it. One of the best lines was when America said “If you’re looking for our web site, don’t Google ‘America’” (it’s venturahighway.com) [photo courtesy StarVista LIVE] There were several groups I didn’t get to see; there’s a lot going on during these cruises and while there aren’t too many overlapping events, sometimes I needed to prioritize eating or getting a decent night’s sleep over catching more concerts. But I did see part of Ambrosia’s and Orleans’ set, and both were crowd pleasers. Ambrosia took the liberty to stretch out a bit—which I always appreciate—and Orleans served up some tight, funky Louisiana gumbo that showed the band had more depth than just their “Still the One” hit. Good stuff. PETER FRAMPTON…AND MORE On Day 3, the boat was docked at Cozumel, Mexico and there were numerous offshore excursions. I chose to see the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza; here’s a photo of the main pyramid. El Castillo is the main pyramid at Chitzen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I find this kind of thing fascinating but this article isn’t about the excursions, so let’s move on to the evening’s headliner—Peter Frampton. I hadn’t seen Frampton in concert before, but if he wasn’t at the top of his form, I’d sure like to know what it would take to do better. This was everything a concert should be. His playing was as spot-on and lyrical as ever, the vocals were strong, and the band was clearly not just a bunch of “I-can-get-them-for-cheap” sidemen—they added a lot, and were clearly enjoying themselves. Peter Frampton was one of the cruise’s highlights, and delivered an outstanding, vibrant set [photo courtesy StarVista LIVE] But what I really noticed was that Frampton seemed to be having an absolutely fabulous time, and loving every minute of being up there. Granted, the audience was feeding back a lot of energy. But if he was faking it, he really should give up music ASAP and switch over to an acting career. The sound - like the sound for all the concerts - was excellent, as was the pacing of the songs (the second song was a version of Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”), the way he wrung real dynamics out of his multiple Gibson guitars…everything. There’s really not much else to say except that I was extremely impressed, and enjoyed myself both from a show standpoint and a “musician’s critical eye” standpoint. Later on, I caught Stephen Bishop at the behest of a friend. I’m not all that much into watching a singer-songwriter banging away on an acoustic guitar, but he was hilarious. With a loose and varied set, he had the audience in the palm of his hand (and you have to hear his impression of Bob Dylan hailing a taxi in New York). It was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. The playing was excellent, and the engaging personality in an intimate setting made me glad I went. Getting off music for a second, food on cruise ships is always controversial so I want to weigh in on that. There were specialty restaurants where the cost is not included in the cruise charge, and restaurants that are included: a buffet that seemed be offering something most of the time, some poolside eateries, and a main dining room for dinner. My sometimes-cynical brain assumed the “standard” eateries would be set up to encourage spending money on the premium dining, but that wasn’t the case. The food in the main dining room was sufficiently good and varied that I never did do the optional-at-extra-cost thing, and the buffet had enough variety (including some ethnic foods) so that I could always find something I wanted. Unless you’re a real food snob, the experience was definitely above average. Several people said the specialty restaurants were fabulous, but the fluidity of my schedule often meant I just didn’t have the time to sit down and indulge myself in a long dinner. YES IT’S A PACKAGE, BUT… Different cruise lines have different “freebies” as part of the package. Some do all-you-can-drink liquor or free spas, while others charge for those same things. On the cruise, there were plenty of optional-at-extra-cost options, and if you’re a drinker, the price could add up quickly so it was sometimes best to spend the bucks for the $45 or $65 (plus 18% gratuity) drink packages. I’m not into drinking that much, so it was more cost-effective to just buy a drink when desired. Internet access cost money as well—$149 for unlimited during the cruise, or around $25 an hour (and this was one of the less expensive lines; with some cruise ships you pay by the minute for the privilege of frequent disconnects). Actually, this was great because I had an excuse to disconnect from real life for five days. The bottom line is in this case, the cruise package price buys you access to every musical activity, food, excellent service (there are about half as many crew members as there are passengers), and various other goodies. So really, you can just go with the basics and travel economically, or spend as much as you want to upgrade the overall experience. For example, it was worth it to me to spend the $134 to go to Chichen Itza, and I don’t regret going there for a second. THE ORCHESTRA AND CHRISTOPHER CROSS The next headliners were The Orchestra Starring Former Members of ELO. Again, a real crowd-pleasing set, excellent musicianship, quality sound, and I really enjoyed myself. You could see all the performers got a jolt of energy from the crowd. No wonder Chris Marion mentioned how much he enjoyed these cruises—you can’t go wrong with a captive audience that’s totally into what you do. The Orchestra, with (l-r front row) violinist Mik Kaminski, bassist Glen Burtnik (formerly with Styx) playing the SG bass with a psychedelic paint job, and Parthenon Huxley on guitar [photo courtesy StarVista LIVE] Although they had to adapt a lush studio sound to a live performance context with seven musicians, they were skillful in that adaptation and were able to re-invent the music for the context while retaining the core. Tough to pull off, but they did. On the final night, Christopher Cross headlined. I wasn’t that aware of what he’s done recently; of course I heard “Sailin’” like everyone else, but he’d pretty much dropped off my radar. Yet I have to say he delivered a gorgeous set, emotionally deep, musically tight, and with a humility that made you forget you were in a theater…it felt like an intimate venue. With zero pretense and a hefty catalog of songs, Cross delivered big-time. I hope his career gets a second wind; he deserves it. Christopher Cross, ably aided by two backup singers from Nashville [photo courtesy StarVista LIVE] The next morning, the cruise was over. Embarkation and disembarkation can always be a scene of confusing chaos; maybe we just got lucky, but it was handled extremely well. Again, I asked several people what they thought. The answers were uniformly enthusiastic, with several people saying they had already signed up for next year’s cruise (somewhere around 60% of this year’s participants had signed up the year before). That’s a pretty phenomenal retention rate. CODA Life is full of surprises, and this cruise sure managed to surprise me. It was an experience to be surrounded by nothing but hardcore music lovers for five days, but also, it gave an opportunity for bands that were still vital and gigging, but no longer “in fashion,” to connect with their fans and continue their careers. I'm not sure who chose the bands, but none of them was just "going through the motions." They all immersed themselves in the music and the performance. Peter Beckett from Player [photo courtesy StarVista LIVE] StarVista LIVE’s plan is to continue to tweak and extend the concept…could an EDM cruise be far behind? A jazz cruise? Given the success of the panels, will there be more events that dig deeper into the music business? It will be interesting to see what the future brings, but for now, it was great to spend some time in an environment where live music reigned supreme. {Breaking news: Here are the details on next year's cruise. Confirmed artists are Styx, Michael McDonald, War, The Guess Who, B.J. Thomas, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Badfinger featuring Joey Molland, and Poco. The dates are March 3-8, 2018, and ports of call are Ft. Lauderdale, USA; Falmouth, Jamaica; and Georgetown, Grand Cayman. The ship is the same as this year, the Celebrity Summit.] ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  24. 5 Reasons Why Cassettes Were the Best Gosh Darn Playback Medium Ever! Let’s celebrate the technology whose sound quality was exceeded only by its mechanical perfection by Craig Anderton 1. Cassettes used tape. Everyone (yes, everyone) knows that suspending a bunch of teeny-tiny little magnets in plastic, blasting them with supersonic energy, then making them line up using a method that resembles herding drunken and disorderly cats is the surest way possible to create a peachy-keen sound. 2. Cassettes were designed for lo-fi dictation applications, not music. Being perversely contrary is in a musician’s DNA. So of course, upon first seeing the cassette, musicians realized immediately that this was clearly destined to be the playback medium of the future. Even better, cassettes distorted like crazy! 3. It was ahead of its time. The widespread adoption of low bit rate MP3 formats, played through 34¢ earbuds from China, proved that what people really wanted was not incremental, but excremental, changes in sound quality. The cassette delivered on that promise long before digital technology figured out how to take truly bad sound to a hitherto uncharted level of wretchedness. 4. Cassettes had little reels that rotated. Back in the 60s, if people had communed sufficiently with a mind-altering substance, they could be amused for hours watching the little reels go around—even if the music wasn’t any good. Decades later, music videos would exploit this very same principle by making elaborate videos for forgettable music. 5. They made spectacular road kill. When people got frustrated with cassettes jamming in their car stereo and threw them out the window, the tape would unravel like some strange kind of post-industrial intestine, literally spilling its guts all over the interstate. Can a CD do that? A download? Vinyl? No! Need I say more? ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  25. How to Fix Electronic Music Gear Repair or replace? Try repairing first… by Craig Anderton Your keyboard or multieffects is ailing. In many cases, you can be the doctor and fix what’s wrong—and save repair costs in the process. We won’t get deep into the weeds, but cover the essentials. FIRST, DO NO HARM The last thing you want to do is create new problems. In the medical world, this is called an iatrogenic illness—an illness caused by medical treatment. A slipped screwdriver while power is on, a broken connection, or destroying a circuit board trace could put an end to your gear. Repairs require care, patience, and being very deliberate in your actions. And did I mention patience? The cardinal rule is do the easy stuff first. Although that may not solve the problem, if it does you’ve saved yourself a lot of work. START WITH THE EXTERNALS Gather as much information as you can on symptoms. For example if there are no signs of life at all—no lights, no nothing—then it’s likely a power supply problem. If a keyboard has notes that don’t sound, it could be the keyboard itself, or the cables that connect to it. In either case, those are easier to check than trying to find out if an oscillator IC had died. Start by checking cables. I fixed a keyboard for a friend who had complained of intermittent operation. By checking cables first, I noticed that the IEC AC cord felt a little loose in its socket. I tried a tighter-fitting cable, and that solved the problem. Also look for signs of abuse, like chips or dents. That could mean something has become unseated. If there are external fuses, check them. Also check the power supply voltage switch, if present. One guitarist couldn’t understand why the Hughes & Kettner preamp he bought sounded so bad—until he realized the voltage switch was set for 240V in a 120V world. OPENING UP Always unplug the gear before opening it up. No exceptions. Place blankets, pillows, or something else that prevents the possibility of scratching your gear as you lay it on the operating table. Furthermore, thick pillows and the like can also “cradle” sections of the gear, like holding a panel at a 90 degree angle. Go online and try to find your gear's service manual. It will often include instructions for disassembly, and these can be worth their weight in gold—you definitely don’t want to loosen screws that shouldn’t be loosened. The service manual should also tell you if some case sections snap into place, which will imply how to unsnap them. Don’t discount YouTube videos from owners, either. Grab a cup, plastic food container, or whatever to hold any screws or other components you need to remove. Keep the top on when not in use! If you tip it over and screws go flying into a carpet, it’s not fun. Be aware that crucial screws for disassembly may be “hidden” under a “no user serviceable parts inside” sticker, a removable nameplate, or other sneaky location. Again, a service manual will identify these but if you don’t have a service manual and perform “unscrew while crossing fingers,” the last screw you need to undo might not be visible. If all screws you need to undo are the same type, great. But if not, draw a diagram of which screws came from where. Don’t think you’ll remember which screws go where. Often, panels can be separated from the main section of the gear. However the cables connecting them might not be very long, and pulling the panel away from the body may pull a cable out of its connector. When you first open a piece of gear, grab your smartphone or camera and take close-up pictures of the insides. They should be detailed enough so that if every cable was unplugged, you’d know where to plug them back in. Make sure any separated pieces are supported well. You don’t want a front panel falling over and ripping a few wires in the process. CHECK THE OBVIOUS Before touching anything, observe. If you see any leakage from a backup battery or crystals forming on the terminals, replace it immediately and hope any damage is minimal. In fact if the gear is more than a decade old and the battery has never been replaced, it’s cheap insurance to order and install a replacement. Look for any physical deformities in components, like swollen electrolytic capacitors, or discoloration in resistors (which may indicate heat damage). One of my more interesting cases was an OB-8 whose ICs and sockets used dissimilar metals, and conductive hairline crystals formed between the metals. I used a fine metal brush on the IC pins, and the OB-8 was fixed. However if you think a part may need replacing, don’t do anything yet; there may be no problem. But since you’re observing anyway, take notes. If you see any evidence of smoke or there’s a leftover “burning electronic part” smell, you probably won’t be able to do the repairs yourself. Check for internal fuses. If a fuse is blown, pay attention to how it was blown. If it simply opened up and there’s a gap between the fuse elements, it may just be old. But if there are little fuse particles inside the fuse, it might have blown violently from a sudden rush of excessive current. This warns you that there may be a serious relatively serious problem; when you power up to test later, be prepared to turn off the power switch as soon as you turn it on. THE FIX IS IN The first thing I do is disconnect connectors and then re-seat, one at a time, going through every connector at least once. Metals can corrode or oxidize, especially if you live in an environment with air pollution or salt water. I can’t tell you how many times simply re-seating connectors has solved problems, with no further attention required. For example, I had an Alesis Ion where three keys didn’t work. I thought maybe there were key contacts that needed cleaning (there weren’t), but it was simply that the connectors connecting the keyboard to the main circuit board needed re-seating. See all those ribbon connectors? Simply re-seating them can often solve problems. Not all connectors pull out cleanly. Some might have a little lip or latch to hold the connector in place, and you need to push on the latch gently to unseat the connector. Also, you want to be very careful not to bend any pins, as bending them back will weaken them. Pull connectors straight up; if possible, wedge a small screwdriver tip under each end so you can lift both ends of the connector evenly. Similarly, when re-seating make certain that all pins are in their respective holes before giving a final push into place. Many people who perform repairs worship at the alter of Caig Laboratories' contact cleaner and de-oxidation products. While the connectors are off, check the pins for corrosion or oxidation. If present, squirt a little metal-on-metal contact cleaner on a Q-tip, then use it to wipe down the pins. ICs in sockets can also cause problems. In this case, don’t take them out and re-seat them; it’s too easy to bend or break the fragile pins. It’s sufficient to use two screwdrivers as described above to raise the IC about 1/16th up from its socket (i.e., the pins don’t come out all the way), then push down again. This wiping action should be sufficient to clean the contacts. With pots that pass audio, a scratchy pot will be obvious when you listen. With pots used as encoders with digital circuitry, the results are less predictable—it may seem difficult to select presets, or a mod wheel might behave unpredictably. If the pot is a sealed type, replacement is your only option. If the pot has an opening and the resistive element is exposed to the air, contact cleaner is usually all you need. Be aware there are different types of contact cleaner; for most pots, you want the metal-on-plastic type. I have the full set of Caig contact cleaners for metal, plastics, gold-plated contacts, etc. Look over all soldered connections. While “cold” solder joints are unlikely in modern gear, especially on circuit boards, if wired connections are done by hand the possibility always exists. Another possibility is that the solder's flux did not burn off completely. If you’re handy with a soldering iron, touch up connections that look sketchy but be careful the heat doesn’t affect any plastic parts. ARE WE THERE YET? In my experience, most problems are mechanical. One of the weirdest fixes ever was when there was signal going to a synthesizer’s 1/4” output (as seen on an oscilloscope), but it never made it out of the synthesizer. A little investigation and a few choice swear words later, I found that the output jack had an internal short. Replacing it solved the problem. These days, many “repairs” don’t get to the component level, but do a board swap. It’s just too time-consuming to check individual components, unsolder them, and replace them. However if you can do the fixes yourself, you won't have to wait for some board to show up (if in fact you can even find one) and your gear will be happy again. The synth in the photos is my beloved Alesis Ion, which had three keys that didn't work and a sketchy mod wheel. 30 minutes later, it was back in active service - and better than ever. ______________________________________________ Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
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