Hey there my friends! It’s time the the 40th issue of Gear Stories! (I
know… I can hardly believe it myself!)
If you DON’T want to get gear stories, just hit reply and let me know.
I’ll take you off the list! But if you LIKE it and can’t get enough of it,
I have every singe issue archived on my web site here…
There are lots of cool promotions going on, since the holiday season is
bearing down on us, and rather than put a huge bunch of little notes here,
give me a call and I can help you find just the right thing for that gear
hound you are buying for (Even if that gear hound is YOU!)
Of course, I am completely ignoring the earth shaking release of Pro Tools
version 10! If you are interested, there is just too much to address in
Gear Stories… please give me a call and I will take all the time you need
in order to answer the questions you have!
Also, let it be noted that the recent flooding in Thailand has virtually
wiped out most of the world’s natural supply of hard drives. There will be
months going by when almost no hard drives are being manufactured at all.
Sweetwater was quick to respond to this crisis, and we have ordered large
advance stocks of hard drives… but supplies are bound to run out, and the
prices seem to change (in the upward direction) daily! If you anticipate
ANY need for a hard drive anywhere in the next six to eight months, I would
jump on one of these NOW!
One other Item I DID want to mention was the release of the new Roland V
Piano Grand. It is the next step in Roland V Piano technology, and
represents the acoustic piano in a way finer than any other has done with
technology. It is truly amazing – the amount of control and the overall
quality of sound… not just the flat piano sound, but even the acoustic
projection of a grand piano. It’s so true to life that the world renowned
classical pianist, Yana Reznik is introducing this piano to the world with
a concert tour! (Including a performance at the Sweetwater performance
theater!) Even if you can’t make it to any of those, you can see her and
the Roland V Piano Grand on this youtube video
ftp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDtx0-qPFv8&feature=related and if you want
more specs about that, here is another highly educational video…
In honor of the fact that Halloween just gone by, I have a fun little song
called “Bad Girls” by a fun little band called the “Hoochie Mama Get-Down”
It’s all about putting in elements of flavor in the song that are
unexpected, but make it fun to listen to! Enjoy this one! Here’s the
This issue of Gear Stories has probably the most educational article I have
ever included… not just about gear, but also about how and why you are
using it… So recording engineers pay heed! Now, let’s get down to the
Part 1, The DARK ART OF MASTERING (and the imminent release of ozone 5!)
I know a LOT of people with recording studios, from high end professional
studios, to one corner of the bedroom studios. Chances are, if you are
reading this, you are one of that lot of people! And the most mysterious
process in the entire realm of the recording arts is mastering! It should
not be approached lightly. A bad job of mastering an album can take a
great mix and turn it into mush. (On the other hand a GREAT job of
mastering can take a terrible mix and turn it into a… well… an
extremely loud terrible mix.)
I am often hired to master projects, and many of the people who hire me to
do so seem to really not understand what it is that mastering can do for
them… They know they need it, but they are not sure why.
Let’s start by debunking a basic misconception about mastering. Mastering
is NOT the same as mixing! You can’t give somebody a mixed down stereo
file from a multitrack session and say, “Turn the guitars up and turn the
vocals down.” Once you mix a song, the levels are set.
That being said, there are things mastering engineers can do to create the
illusion that they have tweaked the mix… It works to some degree, and
Ozone can help you do that… but first let me start by explaining what
mastering really IS, if it’s not mixing.
After a mixing engineer (and in many cases, that is the same person as the
recording engineer) has perfected the mix of a song to the best of his
ability, the mix SHOULD be uncompressed, unlimited, and have a peak ceiling
of less than digital zero. If that sentence confused you, let me explain
in greater depth.
The art of mixing is that of setting levels, equalization, and effects
(including compression) on the various elements of the arrangement of the
song. It is common to compress drums and bass guitar, as well as vocals,
and other elements of the instrumentation of a song that have wide dynamic
range. As you are working on the mix of a song, you set each individual
part the way you think it sounds best by itself, and then combine it with
the other things in the arrangement, and if some things seem to get in the
way of each other, you work with the stereo field (panning) and the
equalization and reverb to place each part in the mix where it will have
it’s own distinct place and be heard at a level that feels right to the
mixing engineer, so each part serves its purpose. This is, of course,
subjective to the tastes of the mixing engineer, and also the environment
in which the mixing engineer is hearing the mix… One thing we don’t
notice when we listen to music on the radio or a CD we bought is that it
sounds different in every environment you listen to it in. Some rooms or
stereo systems will have too much bass, some will have too much treble,
etc. but the mixing engineer has to take all that into account and try to
come up with a happy medium that will sound reasonably good in every
environment you listen to it on… That’s tough…
But the Mixing engineer should NEVER put a compressor/limiter on the master
output of the mix in order to make it louder. Of COURSE an unmastered mix
is not as loud as the Dr. Dre CD he just bought. It’s not supposed to be!
That is part of the mastering engineer’s job.
And of course, in an effort to make their unmastered mixes as loud as
mastered mixes, many non professional engineers will simply turn it up…
red lights be darned! That used to work (to a point), back in the days of
analog tape, but with digital, the moment you get into the red on your
master bus, you have clipping… and not the nice, warm analog tape
compression kind of clipping… no… NASTY awful staticky horrible
clipping noises that make music unlistenable…
The mix you deliver to a mastering engineer (even if that mastering
engineer is yourself) should allow the peaks to occur naturally, and NEVER
exceed digital zero… NEVER go into the red! And it should represent the
mix in the most perfect form you can make it. If you wanted the vocals
turned down and the guitars turned up… go back and do it yourself before
you give it to the mastering engineer!
NOW, I”M READY TO TALK ABOUT MASTERING!
What mastering entails is taking that lovingly mixed (and UNCOMPRESSED)
stereo audio file and first applying a gentle equalization to it. It is
handy is you have an equalizer that does spectral analysis and also handles
each change in frequency in a way that does not negatively effect the
frequencies around it… They call that “Phase Linear.” Having spectral
analysis allows you to see the frequencies as they are happening, so if you
see an unusually high spike in the area around 100 hz, for instance, you
can assume that’s why the mix sounds like it was recorded in a cardboard
box, and you can reduce the frequencies in that area and hopefully remedy
that situation. You can add or remove sparkle in the high end, and thump
in the low end.
(Which brings me to one more aside… If you are delivering a mix to a
mastering engineer and it has EVER been an mp3 file… go back, start
again… get it back to the state where it was a full resolution wave
file… mp3 files remove a LOT of data, and particularly in the high end.
I can spot a file that was once an mp3 a mile away… The EQ curve will
look fairly natural all the way up to around 2000 Hz, and then drop off
like it fell off a cliff! All that data up in the higher register of our
hearing range is gone… and if it’s just NOT THERE, there is nothing
anybody can do to bring it back! It’s going to sound flat and crappy, no
matter what you do!)
Can you tell I’ve done this a lot? I have some MAJOR peeves about mixes!
Unfortunately, mp3’s are an evil we have to deal with, but I don’t have to
After the equalization comes compression, of the multi-band variety… You
can compress the midrange and the treble completely differently than the
low frequencies, and you can also choose the speed of the attack and
release of those segments, as well as the frequencies where they start to
take effect This is also useful, since if there is a trouble spot in the
low mids, for example, you can often tame it down by carefully selecting
the frequency band you are compressing and apply different parameters to
the parts you want to emphasize.
After the compression comes some more selectively used portions of
mastering, such as stereo field manipulation, in case there are trouble
spots. If someone gives you a mix in which every track was panned front
and center, you might be able to do something with stereo field enhancement
in order to create the illusion of stereo,. Reverb is another tool used
occasionally… Sometimes you get a mix that was just downright dry as a
bone and sounds harsh and the client asks you to add reverb… it’s
uncommon, but there have been instances where I have had to do it. (It
makes me nervous though, because that will generally make everything sound
a little less clear… which is the opposite of what I am going for!)
At the end of this, is the gain into the limiter and dithering…
Typically, you get a mix in 24 bit resolution, and in order to make a CD
out of it, you have to create a 16 bit file. That is what dithering is
for, which is a complex digital algorithmic process that actually ADDS
noise in order to cancel out the noise created by cutting off bits of
resolution… so you only want to dither ONCE, and ONLY at the end!
I set a limiter with an output ceiling of -0.2 Db, so there’s a tiny bit of
room to breathe, and then I use a trim (or gain) plug in to measure the
amount of limiting I am using at the end.
Limiting is basically a brick wall through which the volume of a piece
cannot pass. (Kind of like the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy
Grail… only actually effective.) That is how you create the illusion of
a sound file being loud when it is not.
Some people think that CD’s today are louder than CD’s that were made back
when they first came out… Actually, that is not true… the maximum
volume is actually exactly the same, but the amount of level pushing into
the limiter is what has changed, which makes the average volume (which is
what our ears are more sensitive to) louder.
Imagine shooting a squirt gun at a stone wall… The water stops when it
hits the wall… now imagine a fire-hose blasting that stone wall full
bore… The water still stops at the same spot, but there is a lot more
water right at the wall. That is what sound is like into a limiter. You
may have a slight peak that hits the ceiling of the limiter, and it will
register, in my case as -0.2 dB. Then I could take the most brash,
bumping hip-hop track and slam it 16 dB into the limiter… It will also
measure -0.2 dB in volume! The hip hop record sounds SO much louder, but
technically, they are the same volume. (This actually came about in part
because of FCC rules about how loud radio and television stations are
allowed to broadcast at… They want to seem to have the strongest signal,
so the illusion of volume is created, but if you measure it, it’s the same
as the signal coming out of National Public Radio, which seems a lot
So now that I have laid all this info on you about how to do mastering…
There is actually a reason I did it.
You could approach things from an analog perspective and get a Manley
Backbone, and George Massenberg stereo mastering EQ, a Tubetech analog
multi-band compressor, and a Manley Slam mastering limiter, along with an
INCREDIBLE set of digital converters and an Antelope 10M atomic clock to do
all this, (Or you could buy a house in Beverly Hills California with the
same amount of money) If you bought this, you would have a WORLD CLASS
OR, you could get OZONE! The advertised price for that is only $199.95!!!
Ozone is actually a bit more versatile than the hardware I mentioned above,
since it allows you to do some very cool things that the Analog hardware
gear can’t do, like compressing and equalizing the center mono frequencies
separately from those on the outer edges, thus enhancing the stereo imaging
even more! You can also place the various modules in whatever order you
want to with the click of a mouse… (With the Manley backbone, you would
actually have to reach over and touch a button! But with Ozone, you don’t
have to have all those cables connecting all the heavy, hot gear filling up
a huge rack either!… and you don’t have to spend thirty thousand
For years, when I have mastered, I have been using a string of various plug
ins that come from various software developers, but I was truly amazed when
I saw the demonstration of Ozone… It does everything that I was doing
with all those various plug ins, all in one very easy to understand plug
One handy hint… it comes with presets, but only use them as a starting
point! Every mix is different, and needs different things.
With that, another GREAT bit of news! Ozone 5 is about to be released and
anyone who purchases Ozone now will get a FREE upgrade to version five! I
have seen some of the features in version five and they truly streamline
the process and make it even easier to use, and give you even greater
So take your studio skills to the next level and be able to deliver the
final product to your customers and fans!
Anyone who contacts me to get ozone before Christmas will get a $20
Part two… the Jupiter 80, the most intuitive live keyboard EVER!
Every once in a while, a keyboard comes along that changes the history of
electronic keyboards… I can think of the Fender Rhodes, the Farfisa and
the Hammond B3… then the Moog modular synthesizer… then the Mini Moog,
then the Prophet 5 and the DX7 and the D50 (My D50 is still an active
participant in my music production!) There was the Korg M1 and the Triton,
and the Kurzweil K2000! And way back in the early 80’s there was the
The Jupiter 8 was a beloved fully analog synth that had a whopping 8
voices, had a great arpeggiator and wonderful phat sounding analog filters
and modulation possibilities. It had an iconic sound that was largely
responsible for such recognizable musical tidbits as the Axel F. theme from
Beverly Hills Cop, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Paul Simon’s “Graceland,”
Madonna, Phil Collins, Hungry Like the Wolf, Don’t You Forget About Me,
etc. It created a virtual soundtrack for the 80’s!
Now, decades later, Roland has released the newest historical keyboard…
the Jupiter 80!
Originally, the scuttle was that people were angry that it was not a
continuation of the Jupiter 8, since it is more a Digital and Sample based
synth than an Analog synth… but carrying on the circuitry was not
Roland’s idea in naming it after the original Jupiter… It was carrying
on the ground breaking philosophy of innovation that was behind the Jupiter
8. It’s that spirit that makes this synth a Jupiter!
Now… different synthesizers exist for different reasons… You would not
buy a stage piano to create electronica at home, and you would not buy an
M-Audio Venom to go play a gig at a piano bar… The Jupiter 80 was built
for performing live. It has an amazing capacity to calculate what you MEAN
to play and the behavior of what acoustic instruments would do if playing
in that musical situation with what is referred to as “Super-Natural”
technology. For instance, if you are playing a lead line with a trumpet
sound, in the past, a synth would not do a very good job of recreating the
variation in articulation that would make the trumpet part sound like a
real trumpet… One could spend hours and days editing MIDI parts in a
sequence to try to get it to sound more natural, but with very limited
degrees of success… but this keyboard will anticipate where you are going
and make thousands of calculations per second to help you choose the
articulations that a real trumpet would pay, thus in the act of simply
paying a line, with no MIDI editing at all, you suddenly have a very
realistic trumpet sound. You can even do trumpet trills that sound
absolutely convincing! You could NEVER do that before live on a synth…
Another example of that is that if you do a pitch bend glissando on a
trumpet sound, it will actually put in breaks where a real trumpet would
have breaks in the harmonics. If you were listening to a recording and not
knowing it was a synth, you would not be able to tell the difference!
Of course, it can do more than trumpet sounds! Solo violin, cello, saxes,
full swing bands, and string sections… and the piano sounds great too…
But it also has a full compliment of electronic sounds from vintage
keyboards to phat and fully modern analog synth sounds, and all the vintage
and new digital synth sounds that you could imagine as well..
And best yet, there is the ability to combine the sounds with ease as you
are playing… You can very easily fade in and out layers within the
sounds. And of course, enough voices that you will never hear it steal
notes away from what you are sustaining.
It is my opinion that there has never been a synth for playing live that
sounded this good… But you don’t have to take MY word for it… check out
the videos on this web page!
Initially, the demand was so high for these keyboards that when they were
announced, people had pre-orders in for MONTHS before they could be
fulfilled… but now, we actually have a good supply of them in stock for
the holidays. I am here for you if you wish to ask further questions, and
of course, I will give you the best deal I can on one of these when you
I look forward to being of service.
Jon Gillespie, Sweetwater Sales Engineer
800 222 4700 x 1352
260 432 8176 x 1352 (outside the U.S.)
260 432 1758 FAX
Manage the way Sweetwater communicates with you here:
My own personal web site can be found here… http://www.dreamrodeo.com/
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