z Gear Stories episode 40

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

Gear Stories!



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!




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

like it!


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

mastering facility…


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



As always…


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

[email protected]


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My own personal web site can be found here…  http://www.dreamrodeo.com/


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