Friday, May 21, 2010

File Management (Part 2 of 2)

So the previous blog was background for how we used to do things. I should also add that musicians were not often their own engineers. There are, of course, exceptions to the rules. But, generally speaking, recording equipment was expensive and complicated. Musicians rarely let the technology get in the way of their creativity.

With today's recording systems becoming more accessible to the masses, musicians are finding it to be more cost-effective to record themselves. The technology is easier to use. In fact, one could argue the technology is helping inspire musicians and realize their ideas.

With all that inspiration, it's easy to amass large amounts of data quickly. When the creative bug bites, there's not enough time to setup the projects properly and plan the file structure. Most often, the Getting Started guide for the recording system sits on the shelve collecting dust never to be opened until a phone call to the manufacturer's technical support department reveals the reason they've been so frustrated for the past week is because they didn't check a preference setting that is mentioned on p.17 of said guide and critical to efficiency of the system. The same eagerness to jump right in with both feet is applicable to production and creating music.

I understand the sense of urgency. When the mood strikes, the creative mind needs to continue being artistic. Taking a little time to plan ahead is a road block and can derail the creative process. I would suggest two things: plan ahead before the mood strikes and take a little time when it does to prevent major derailments down the road.

One of the best things I learned after college while working in Hollywood, was to take a little extra time to get it done right the first time. If you don't, hastiness will come back to haunt you. I had a couple of great mentors there at Bernie Grundman Mastering. Karl Bischof and Beno May. Both demonstrated the necessity for proper planning. Studio construction and maintenance is a topic for another day. On to prep work.

Before I work with a band, we have a pre-production meeting to discuss everything from instrumentation to workflow to new strings on a guitars and new heads on drums a day or two in advance of the session. If you are a musician and are planning to record yourself, it would behoove you to have that meeting with yourself. A couple of ideas to ponder.

Firstly, it's a good idea to think about creating a template or two based on your workflow to have on hand before creativity bounces into the studio. That way you can be creative and still keep everything organized.

Secondly, if the templates are not there, take the extra thirty seconds to create a folder in the thoughtful location to house your project. Simply starting and creating a new project based on an old one and saving it willy-nilly on any drive, is a recipe for disaster.

In Pro Tools, there can be literally thousands of files for one session. The best practice is to have a dedicated drive for your audio. Some people might have multiple drives attached to their computers at any given time. This can be quite hard to manage down the road. Simplicity is the key. This is true for any DAW.

The second best piece of advice I learned from helping others correct their mistakes, is to have two backups of everything. Try to keep your backups incremental. There are programs out there that can help keep track of all that. SuperDuper! is one of them. This program can look at your source drive and your backup drive and look for the "newer" files and backup only those files. It sure beats comparing the dates of each file and cuts down on the number of duplicate files.

The reason for two backups is simple; if something happens to your master, your first backup becomes your master. If you have no other backups and something happens to your backup, you don't have another backup. It's also a good idea to keep the backups in two separate locations. Some might argue to archive your projects in different formats to retain the viability of retrieving the data later. This could be useful.

Hard disk maintenance is another key issue. It is recommended to reinitialize a hard disk every week if it is used to record media more than forty hours a week. Doing so and restoring from a backup is the best method of de-fragmentizing the data as well.

By following the steps I've outlined, I'm confident you'll have many happy years with your drives and the art that resides on them. I have a 2GB Seagate Barracuda that is still running to this day and never complains. I don't play with him much anymore because he's a little loud. He deserves the rest for all the work he's done for me the last 15 years.

Be kind to your data and it will be kind to you.

I'm interested to find out what interests you. I've had one suggestion already about "over-limiting" or "over-compression"; what it is, what it means and how does it affect us? Let me know!

Rock. Roll. Repeat.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

File Management (Part 1 of 2)

Okay. I know I said I'd talk about surround mixing. Next week. I promise. This post is of a little more critical matter. File management. There's so much material to cover, this will be a two part series. I hope I can keep straight which part is the first part. That reminds me of a Marx Brothers movie.

I love the right brain. Its creativity and knack for problem solving are unparalleled. The stories it can weave are so out there. Our musicality comes from there. The right brain can take us to new far away lands when we read. And yet, as far as it can take use, it can also dig us a deep hole.

I've been involved with a project intermittently for over two and a half years now. Before I was involved it had been dormant for over twenty. It had its challenges from the start. Thankfully, analog tape keeps everything in one nice neat package. Of course, in the days of yore (I've always wanted to say that), we all kept copious notes as to what was on the tape, how fast the tape ran, what the calibration level was, who worked on it, when and where. Right? Right.

Today's digital medium has the same challenges. With the cost of hard disks so low, we can afford to be file junkies and pack rats. Most of us now don't give a second thought to having a more than one copy of a picture or a song on our drive. It wasn't that long ago we were careful to minimize the duplicates. Let's take a trip back in time.

During the 1960's, multi-track tape was coming around. The Beatles started recording on four-track tape machines. They would use a method called "ping-ponging" to combine three tracks to one. For example, they would record drums on one track, bass on the second and perhaps a guitar on the third. They would mix those down onto the fourth track. This would free up the first three tracks for further recording of vocals and keyboards or strings and horns. One had to plan which tracks to record and in which order. One also had to commit the mix. Once the guitar, bass and drums we combined to track #4 and their original tracks recorded over, there wasn't any going back.

Tape machines became larger and added more tracks. The first machine I ever multi-tracked on was a 1" 8-track machine. The first Led Zepplin albums were recorded that way. I figured if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me. Soon after, I was blessed to have access to a 2" 16-track machine. I thought I was in heaven. There was no way I'd use all those tracks unless I had a guitar player who kept asking, "how many tracks are left"? You know who you are. I advanced to a 2"24-track machine and thought it was the bee's knees. I thought, "Bring it on guitar players!" Then, we were able to synchronize two 24-track machines together to get a ridiculous number of tracks. This was in case we wanted to have a mic for every other person in a Mahler orchestra (I really only need four mics for an orchestra)

The early days of digital were much like the early days of analog tape. Very simple, crude and yet huge advantages over the previous technology. The first digital audio workstations (DAWs) were basically two track editors. And, of course, they worked on the principles of analog tape. Hard disks were expensive then too. A 2G Barracuda would run $1,200. At the time, it would have taken a year to fill that up with audio. Now, a computer's operating system takes up more space than that.

Nowadays we don't take as many notes. As long as we keep our files organized in a decent manner, we're fine. But, how many of us keep our files organized? How much time have you spent looking for a file or an email?

In Part 2, we'll discuss how we can plan ahead and keep our digital files organized. I have developed a good method for backing up Pro Tools sessions and trimming the excess audio to save space.

Until then,

Rock. Roll. Repeat.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Studio Marketing in the Modern Music Biz

I recently had a discussion with a friend about studio marketing in today's economy. The discussion was about the viability of specific strategies. How does a studio promulgate its existence to potential clients?

One strategy is to let the engineers drive the business. This, in essence, is letting the engineers promote themselves concurrently with the studio. In my humble opinion, this does not necessarily facilitate loyalty to the studio. In my thinking, this does two things that are hindrances for a studio's growth.

Primarily, it puts an added burden on the engineers to drive their own success. This can be beneficial. However, it also forces them to spend more time finding work. Often times, if they are not well established, they will take a session at a reduced rate. This devalues their time and sets a precedent for future work.

Another obstacle to overcome by this method is locality. By that, I mean an engineer can only get clients locally and is subject to the local economy. Today's discipline of recording arts is saturated by the multitude of students graduating from trade schools and universities with advanced degrees. Some of these students are really talented and are trying to find work. I've heard stories out of L.A. where interns now pay to work at established facilities. This is a scary trend.

I guess it is really who you know. Not what you know.

This first method of marketing seems rather small-minded, in my opinion. If your aspiration is to have a home recording studio, congratulations! You've accomplished your goal.

Another strategy requires a little more vision and requires one to aspire to greater things. If you want to be a world-class facility, you have to think like a world-class facility. This isn't the Field of Dreams (it can be); they won't come just because you built it. You need to let the world know you exist. That's right, the WORLD.

What are some of the world-class facilities you know? Village Recording Studios, Record Plant, Airshow Mastering, Oceanway Recording Studios. While they are all established studios, they still take advantage of marketing. Clever marketing techniques lets you know about them without overtly advertising.

There are businesses like Glow Marketing that can help you develop plans and steer you in the right direction. Chandra Lynn is exceptional at her craft. She has some clever and modern thoughts on marketing. I like her tag line. It's simple and yet effective. Be Remembered.

I would agree that print ads are passé. They are hard to target your specific clientele. They may work for tangible products for the general public. But, let's face it, this is a fickle business and there's nothing general about it. And it appears to change daily.

My opinion? Studios need to take advantage of modern technology and social networking seems to be the current medium. Take a look at the most recent presidential elections. Whether or not you agree with President Obama's politics, he cleverly utilized social networking technologies to spread the word. I think this is how he was able to come from behind in the primaries.

And since the internet is worldwide, it is quite reasonable to reach outside your local market. Moreover, it's now more reasonable to be able to collaborate with anyone around the world.

So, whether you decide to hire someone or market yourself, thinking outside the box and utilizing modern technology seem to be the winning combination.

Next time - Mixing in surround; Thoughts from the sweet spot

Rock. Roll. Repeat.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Stem mixing

WhiteWater Ramble is a band I tracked and mixed a few months ago with producer Tim Carbone. It's a fusion of bluegrass and rock. Very cool in and of itself. Last week I received an email from the band requesting the audio files for a DJ friend of theirs (from here out shall be known as simply "DJ") who would like to do a remix of a couple of songs. I'm thinking this is gonna be fun. I'm anxious to hear the final results.

DJ does not use Pro Tools ™ (the DAW program I used to record the band), nor is his system capable of spotting the audio files to a time stamp. So, I was asked to provide him stems. No problem, right?

I mixed the band through an analog summing mixer and used various analog outboard gear. Thankfully, I kept notes on the settings (another blog for another day). The dilemma I was faced with was how to deal with effects and how discrete to make the stems. For example, do I include reverb and delay? Do I mix the kick and snare separately? Or do I mix them in with toms and cymbals?

Here's what I decided: Firstly, I left out all reverb and delay except for the delay that was used as a special effect. Secondly, I chose to bounce each instrument separately to its own stereo track; drums, cymbals, bass, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, lead vocals, and background vocals. The drums and cymbals were mixed that way per the request of DJ. Sometimes they prefer kick and snare separate from everything else.

In order to save DJ some time, each bounced file is precisely the same length from precisely the same start point. This way, DJ can align all the files to the beginning of his project and they will all line up.

Some other considerations to think about: What format does DJ want? What sample rate and bit depth? Thankfully, DJ asked for WAV files at my sample rate and bit depth of 88.2/24. Larger files sizes, but better resolution. Now, how do I get DJ the files?

The total size for the stems of two songs was 3.9GB. It will fit on a DVD-r. It will also fit on a flash/thumb drive. It's possible to send it over the internet, but that would take some time depending on upload speed. I could put it on an external hard disk if it were large enough. For this project, we chose to send a DVD-r via snail mail.

I'm excited to hear what DJ is going to do with the songs.

For next time, I'd like to open up the discussion to marketing in the music business. Is it possible to still make a living when the general public wants everything for free? Email me your thoughts and ideas. I'd love to hear them.