When we’re feeling stressed out by deadlines or simply need to boost our productivity, many of us reach for the headphones and whatever our particular flavor of mood music happens to be that day. But does music really help us concentrate? And if so, how? 

Feeling Better Means Working Better 

The first aspect is very simple: music makes us happy, and when we’re happy, we’re more productive. Specifically, listening to melodious sounds triggers the release of dopamine in our brains, which brings about feelings of contentment and tranquility. It’s the same as receiving a pleasant sensation from any one of our senses — like smelling a rose, eating a delicious pastry, or looking at a beautiful scene. 

Our memories are also quite powerfully linked to the music we love. Listening to songs that we connect with positive memories of loved ones or great experiences we’ve had creates a personal sense of happiness that helps bolster our mood while we work. Especially if what you’re working on is repetitive or uninteresting, it can keep the other parts of your brain busy so that you don’t focus on all the things you’d rather be doing. 

Blocking Distractions 

While some companies don’t permit using headphones at work because it’s considered a distraction, research indicates that the opposite is true. After all, no workplace on earth exists in perfect silence. You may not be distracted by your music, but you’ll almost certainly be distracted by someone else’s conversation on the phone, the noises of the copier or printer running, the gurgling of the coffee machine, horns honking on the street outside, the clacking of your coworkers’ keyboards, etc… 

These are the sounds that truly prevent us from focusing on our work, and some people are much more sensitive to these minor sonic distractions than others. Especially in an open office space with no barriers to block the spread of noise, listening to music can be a necessary escape from the hectic sonic landscape around us. Of course, it’s important to wear headphones and keep the volume controlled so that your music doesn’t become distracting to those around you! 

Choose the Right Tunes 

Music in and of itself isn’t a magic cure-all to all problems of focus, boredom, and straight-up laziness. And in some situations, listening to music won’t help at all. If your work requires your brain to be actively engaged or to be learning something new, listening to music that’s heavy on the lyrics or complex melodies will only inhibit your ability to focus. Getting lost in the lyrics can be great if you’re doing manual labor, but if you’re attempting to write an article or study new 

information, it won’t do you any favors to be splitting the focus of the language center in your brain. 

On the other hand, something mellow, with a low-key beat and ambient vocals, if any, can certainly set the mood you need to be creative and maintain your concentration. It also helps to listen to music that you already know and love. Research shows that when we listen to a song for the first time, our brains will struggle to predict what happens next in the melody or the beat; when it’s a familiar tune, though, we can relax and enjoy it. 

So go ahead and make yourself a playlist for your next big project — and, if necessary, make the case to your boss that it’s necessary for your concentration. Science is on your side! 

 

 

John Morabito is a recording artist and contributing author at Rivington Music, where he supplies the music blog with recording tips. When he’s not writing, John can usually be found jamming at the Rivington rehearsals studio or exploring his hometown of NYC.

Sue Basko, Lawyer for Music and Film, was kind enough to feature The Record Shop as part of her blog…

Sean Giovanni, Nashville Music Producer/ Balcony TV Nashville

by Sue Basko

The Record Shop is one of Nashville’s new creative, up-and-coming recording studios. Sean Giovanni is The Record Shop‘s owner/ music producer/ recording engineer.

Giovanni also runs Balcony TV NashvilleBalcony TV is an internet music show that brings in well-known musical acts to do one acoustic song apiece out on a balcony overlooking a scenic part of a city. Balcony TV was founded in 2006 in London and has since been franchised worldwide to Dublin, Hamburg, Poznan, Brighton, Auckland, Paris, Brisbane, Edmonton, Rennes, Prague, Toronto, and Mexico City. Nashville was the first U.S. city to have Balcony TV, and has been followed by New York and Austin. I love Balcony TV!

Sean Giovanni offers these insightful answers to my probing questions: Read The Full Interview Here……

Eric Normand, author of “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” and accomplished guitarist, teamed up with “For The Record”, to provide some insight on the downside of rocking a little too loud. Eric’s upcoming book, “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” provides a comprehensive reference of what it takes to persevere in the competitive Nashville music community.

You can learn more about Eric and his upcoming release at nashvillemusicianssurvivalmanual.com

Are you ever in complete silence? During the quietest moments of your life, lying in bed about to fall asleep or sitting alone in a quiet room, can you hear the sound of nothing? I wish I could say I can but I can’t. My ears ring constantly, every second of every day, and it’s been that way for over 10 years now. I have permanent nerve damage in my ears from the result of playing music too loudly for extended periods of time without ear protection. I have tinnitus.

“Tinnitus” is derived from the Latin word tinnire, which means to ring. As stated in Wikipedia, it can be caused by a variety of situations; ranging from exposure to excessive sound pressure levels for extended periods of time, ear infections, foreign objects in the ear, nose allergies that prevent or reduce fluid drain, or wax buildup. But sounds at excessive volume seem to be the most common cause. It is an extremely common condition, affecting as many as 50 million Americans (of which about 12 million have it severe enough to seek medical attention). And sadly, it is a condition for which there is no cure.

 

“You´re head is humming and it won´t go in case you don´t know…” – Robert Plant – Stairway to Heaven

That’s right, once you have it you will always have it, and it can progress if preventative measures (they’re called earplugs) aren’t taken.

“I have severe hearing damage. It’s manifested itself as tinnitus, ringing in the ears at frequencies that I play guitar. It hurts, it’s painful, and it’s frustrating.” says Pete Townshend. The excessive volume of The Who’s live performances combined with the deafening volume in which he (and John Entwhistle) listened to playbacks through studio headphones has resulted in tinnitus so severe that some reports have said he can’t even hear his phone ring. His affliction with tinnitus has caused him to abandon electric music performance more than once in recent years, rendering it only practical to play acoustic music live, as has also been the case with artists like Neil Young and Bob Dylan.

It’s not just caused by loud music either. It can be caused by any regular prolonged exposure to excessive volume. For instance, many members of our armed forces are exposed to everything from explosions to jet engines and gunfire to loud machinery, one recent article in the New Yorker estimating it affects nearly half the soldiers exposed to blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

How much volume can your ears handle?

How many times have you walked into a venue in which a band was playing and thought it was too loud? The human ear was simply not meant to withstand the sound pressure levels produced by megawatt PA systems, electric guitar amps, and even the acoustic, unamplified drum kit in close proximity (especially when played with some conviction). The following chart from the OSHA website shows what is considered permissible noise exposures:

Duration per day, in hours Sound level in dB* – Decibel level
8 90
6 92
4 95
3 97
2 100
1.5 102
1 105
0.5 110
0.25 or less 115

 

Your ears can be exposed to sound pressure levels of 90 dB for eight hours, after which point hearing damage can occur. This ratio is a sliding scale, so when the decibels are increased to 110 decibels (the volume of an average rock band), hearing damage can begin to occur in 30 minutes. The louder the SPLs become (sound pressure levels) the less duration your ears can handle.

Decibel Levels of Environmental Sounds (also from the OSHA website)

Source–Dangerous Level dBA SPL
Produces Pain 120-140
Jet Aircraft During Takeoff (at 20 meters) 130
Snowmobile
Tractor Without Cab
120
Rock Concert 110
Die Forging Hammer
Gas Weed-Whacker
Chain Saw
Pneumatic Drill
100-105
Home Lawn Mowers 95 to 100 dB
Semi-trailers (at 20 meters) 90

 

Source– dBA SPL
Discomfort Level Above 80
Heavy Traffic 80
Automobile  (at 20 meters) 70
Vacuum Cleaner 65
Conversational Speech (at 1 meter) 60
Quiet Business Office 50
Residential Area at Night 40
Whisper, Rustle of Leaves 20
Rustle of Leaves 10
Threshold of Audibility 0

 

 

Mitigation and Prevention

A friend of mine who lives in New England, one of my former guitar students, recently told me his ears have been ringing for about two years now. He plays in a popular regional jam band on the rise, Superfrog, a spirited group of young players making their mark across the Northeast. As did I in my earlier New England gigging days, they play with an energetic reckless abandon, and they, along with their loyal followers, are living in the magical moments of some of those roaring nightclub dance parties. When he first told me of the recent development of his tinnitus I don’t think he realized the true nature of this beast, how it can slowly progress over many years until it reaches the near unmanageable level of the Pete Townshend’s of the world. Upon discussing it with me he has now decided to invest in some custom musicians ear plugs, with his fellow bandmates also following suit. Some of the other guys in his band don’t have tinnitus yet, and adopting earplugs into their world may ensure they never do.

 

Living with Tinnitus

“Yes, it’s in my left ear. It’s excruciating…I mean, it’s the worst thing ’cause it’s not…It never…It does go away – it’s not true to say that it doesn’t but, uhh…It doesn’t…The doctors say it won’t…It isn’t actually going away – you’ve just gotta suppress…They try to come to terms with what it actually… Why some people fear it – that’s the psychology behind it. They know it’s there but why is it such a horrible sound? Well, you can say why is a guy scratching at a window with his nails such a horrible sound – I couldn’t put up with that! This is worse!” – Jeff Beck from an MTV interview in June 1993

The thing about tinnitus, and perhaps one of the reasons it’s hard to detect in its earliest stages, is that you don’t notice the ringing all the time, even though it’s always there. It depends on the threshold of the sound around you. If you are on the go from the moment you wake up till the moment you lay down to go to sleep at night, you likely won’t hear the ringing throughout your day, as many of the sounds of everyday life will mask it. It’s the quietest moments when it chooses to show itself. The concept of “masking” is quite useful, if not essential, for many tinnitus sufferers. I have a noise generator beside my bed that plays sounds of the ocean while I sleep. I set it on a volume that is just above the volume of my ringing, and this masks the ring enough for me to fall asleep. Some severely afflicted tinnitus sufferers use portable noise generators or play MP3s of soft music or different types of noise for most of their day, all in an effort to mask the relentless sounds in their head.

Some findings might suggest that avoiding or cutting back on alcohol, caffeine, and salt, among other substances, can help reduce the ringing. As tinnitus is considered partly a subjective condition, it becomes difficult to gauge how different variables affect the level of the ringing. I can’t say that I have personally had any success by adding or omitting any parts of my diet.

Stopping It Cold In Its Tracks

“Later in the evening as you lie awake in bed, with the echo from the amplifiers ringing in your head.” 
– Bob Seger – Turn the Page

You can’t get rid of it but you can stop its progression. The one thing that has become completely obvious to me is that earplugs during exposure to loud sounds are ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to prevent the ringing from escalating. I have been wearing custom molded musician’s earplugs, which can be acquired for about $150 with a visit to your local audiologist, for about 12 years now. I wear them not only when performing live with a band, but when mowing the lawn, vacuuming, operating a power saw, anything that causes excessive SPLs. When I’m sleeping on a tour bus, I sleep with foam earplugs to cut down on the rumble of the road. If I fly, I wear earplugs the whole time on the plane.

I’ve also learned how to turn down my music a bit. I’ve experimented with using less powerful guitar amps, speaker attenuators, and drummers that don’t “bash” quite so much. I’m cautious when recording with headphones as well, watching the volume and taking breaks often.

I urge everyone to heed this message. If you play loud music regularly, either live or in the studio, consider the earplugs option, it will be the best $150 you’ll ever spend on gear. And think about your audience too. Are you blowing them out of the room with your guitar amp, lead vocal, or snare drum? Is your band louder than it needs to be to get its point across? Are your ears ringing regularly from your construction job or your job at the airport? Are your kids listening to iPods on 11 all day long? If you think the answer might be yes to any of these, don’t wait until it’s too late to become proactive. Act now or you might wind up hearing the sound of a continual dog whistle for the rest of your life.

So when you have a quiet moment, ask yourself, your family, and your friends this one simple question –

Do you ever hear the sound of true silence?

Our friend Randy Brunson drops by to share the news on his new digital download widget available at yourmuzik.net

In 2007, I had just spent 3 years developing a piece of property in Spring Hill , Tennessee. Until then,……..thats what I did. Building and Development. But music was always a passion.  Coincidentally, by developing where I did, all the new friends I made were in the music business. My longtime friend and business partner, Jim Heaton, was involved at the time building a Nashville based spa business, with partners that were/are in the music business as well. His immediate partner is a great singer/songwriter, and her sister was well on her way to becoming a celebrity with Dancing With The Stars, and eventually a recording contract of her own.

Jim and I have always had our own passion for performing, but an equal passion for the creation of something that would outlast us. Our idea at the time was, in the aftermath of the collapse of Napster,   that someone needed to give independent artists a platform to perform and expose their talents at an affordable cost to them, to  build a facebook for musicians, and a digital download widget that would give independent artists, (as well as established) the ability to directly sell their music to the public digitally, but “RETAIN MOST OF THE MONEY”.

So came the birth of the initial concept for Yourmusik.net.   In 2009, we created a venue for independent artists to perform at  my farm in the Spring Hill, Tennessee area. Billed as “Howling at the Moon”, it was an instant success with over 20 acts, and 350 people attending an afternoon event that lasted for several hours into the night. We initially had hoped to launch Yourmusik.net at the second party, given this summer, but unfortunately had too many problems with the programming of the download widget.  We had another great day managing to bring in “Younger than Yesterday, Former Members of the BYRDS” as a headliner.  Three years later, thousands of dollars poorer, and beat up on by every software programmer that could get their hooks into us, we are finally at a crossroads with a piece of programming that actually works, and does just what we set out for, gives over 80% of the  proceeds of the sale of music back directly to the artist.

I say crossroads, because I feel even after all this, we still have a long way to go to establish everything we set out for.  The rest of our concept is to create a website that gives musicians a resource to turn to other musicians for camaraderie and support, and to the site itself for the least expensive resource for recording, equipment, vocal and instrument lessons, videos, and on line practice and recording, to name just a few things.

What I will say, is that we are proud to present the Yourmusik Download Widget to  independent artists of all genres, and are working constantly to improve the
speed and performance of this programming. We have built in all the necessary reporting/accounting details so that each artist can monitor the results of their sales with this widget.  We  are essentially licensing the use of this widget directly to each artist who would like to use it, to copy and paste to whatever site they wish, be it Facebook, Myspace, or independent.

Eric Normand, author of “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” and accomplished guitarist, teamed up with “For The Record”, to provide some insight on climbing the ranks as a musician in the Nashville music industry. Eric’s upcoming book, “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” provides a comprehensive reference of what it takes to persevere in the competitive Nashville music community.

You can learn more about Eric and his upcoming release at nashvillemusicianssurvivalmanual.com

Whether you are an obscure musician trying to get your music heard, a first-time author putting forth a new book, or an independent filmmaker introducing your first film, you all share something in common; a desire to introduce your art to a world that has yet to learn of it. How do you create an awareness of your project? These are tough times and the aforementioned endeavors are not easy ones. The list doesn’t stop there either. Photographers, artists, songwriters, and others are in the same boat.

The new global economy and a variety of other factors has created an extremely competitive dog eat dog world when it comes to business, and this means we all might have to take some alternative approaches to getting the word out. Without the proper publicity and promotion, no one will know about your great project, products or services. Traditional advertising is too expensive for most, and not necessarily that effective anymore. There is no right or wrong approach, but many believe that social media combined with Internet marketing are essential to most startup creative businesses at this point in time. If you’re ready to take the plunge, here’s how you can dive in.

  1. Build your social pool: Interact regularly on Facebook to slowly build a group of friends, fans, and followers on the Internet. With hundreds of millions of users, it shouldn’t be hard to find a couple hundred that are interested in you. Over time this can grow into thousands. Twittering can be productive as well.
  2. Start blogging: At this point in time, blogging is a powerful tool and can be used to promote literally any business. Create your own blog and write about your areas of expertise. The information you put forth should not only be directly or indirectly related to your products and services, it should also be useful to your targeted audience.
  3. Build a website: While a .com domain is optimum and will help to give your business a legitimate “face”, not everyone can afford one initially. There’s nothing wrong with starting out with a free WordPress (or similar) site. This will allow you to begin building your brand. Your blog should be built into this site or linked to it. This website/blog will serve as a central hub to all your Internet activity, with links to Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  4. Guest Blogging: It can take a while to create heavy traffic on your site. Blogging as a guest on a higher traffic site can help build your readership and drive more traffic to your site.
  5. Online Discussions: Find message boards with themes that relate to your project and interact with group discussions. Offer advice and perspective where pertinent and provide links to articles on your site.

There is a recent article regarding working in the new social media paradigm that offers some useful tip’s that I highly recommend reading – Top Seven Reasons Why Artists Strongly Resist Social Media by Ariel Hyatt.

The online social interaction approach to publicity is no secret, but it is still a new concept to many. Over time, if done correctly, you will build a “readership” that is genuinely interested in what you have to say, so always strive to provide useful information. By building a large group of readers, or “friends”, fans, and followers, you are connecting with an audience that will potentially come to your shows, buy your book, watch your film, and enjoy your art.

Is this easy to accomplish? No. Does this take time and effort? Absolutely, but then again so does any career. Without the proper promotion, nobody will ever hear about your project. If you think you have something good to offer the world, put it out there. Sometimes the best way to learn how to swim is to just dive in to the pool. You might sink and then again you might not, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Are you ready to take the plunge yet?

 

Barry Rudolph has teamed up with For The Record to share his reviews with the latest in recording products. Barry is a recording engineer/producer and contributing editor for MIX Magazine, ‘New Toys’ columnist for L.A.’s Music Connection Magazine, and writer for www.prosoundweb.com. He also is editor/writer of Gear Lust, his online special review section at www.barryrudolph.com

Ohm Force Ohmicide

 

Ohmicide is from the French company Ohm Force’s Melohman family of plug-ins. Ohmicide is a distortion plug-in that is completely malleable in nearly every way possible. It starts by splitting audio into four frequency bands each with six different processing modules. The modules are: M/S matrix, noise gate, dynamics, distortion, make-up gain, pan, and it finishes with an acoustic feedback path. I liked the dynamics processor with its Shape control (a low-level compressor) and Body (basically it acts like an expander or limiter of sorts).

The Distortion processor module has three variants, Standard, Xxx, and Odd of 37 distortion algorithms making a total of 111 Types of distortion. A distortion Type is further adjustable using a Gain control, a DC offset control called Bias that simulates the erratic behavior of broken audio gear, and the Alt knob changes the underlying algorithm of the Type. The main graphic at the top of the plug’s GUI is an audio oscilloscope that shows: input, output, or both together superimposed and a second bar chart below shows where the filters of each frequency band begin and end. Somewhat useful and cool looking, you get an idea of what is going on but, as always, my ears tell me what’s really going on–complete audio mayhem!

My main use for Ohmicide is in mixing where I want to “rough” up certain tracks so they cut better or they take on a particular character and prominence. With a plug-in this deep and rich, I start with a preset to get close to what I’m looking for. For sound designers Ohmicide represents a major new tool for endless experimentation–you’ll never leave your studio!

The factory presets come in folders of twelve called MegaPatches and are selected via a MIDI keyboard or by clicking on the GUI. They are designed, tested and named for specific applications. Cool! They are: BassXxxxx for electric bass; DrumBassXxxxx is for Bass+Drum mixes; DrumXxxxx (my favorite!) is super for drum kits or loops; GuitAmpXxxxx sounds like the worst guitar amps ever made on fire; MiscXxxx are for general purpose grunge; and PercXxxx presets are for singular drum kit pieces like snares and kicks.Ohm Force

Available in RTAS, AU and VST formats for PC and Macs, Ohm Force Ohmicide:Melohman sells for about $125US and is now my “go to” filth box. I have many guitar amp simulators and other garbage makers but none as totally variable at Ohmicide or comes with as many great starting presets. Order up some dirt at: www.ohmforce.com


Eric Normand, author of “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” and accomplished guitarist, teamed up with “For The Record”, to provide some insight on climbing the ranks as a musician in the Nashville music industry. Eric’s upcoming book, “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” provides a comprehensive reference of what it takes to persevere in the competitive Nashville music community.

You can learn more about Eric and his upcoming release at nashvillemusicianssurvivalmanual.com
So you just moved to Nashville, you’re a good solid player with a good attitude and excited to begin working. You don’t care about being a superstar, you just want to play music with others but you are quickly learning that this can be hard to do. You are having a hard time getting off the ground. What do you have to do to get started in this town?

Regardless of your talent level, the truth is simply that talent alone isn’t going to get you work. Nashville, like any major music Metropolis, attracts talented people by the masses. They literally flock to this place in droves. This creates a supply and demand problem that works against the musicians. Knowing and understanding this is crucial. Ultimately, the only way in is by slowly nurturing relationships that will lead to opportunities. The best place to build these relationships is in the nightclubs around town. There is no shortcut to this, it’s going to take some time so be patient.

A newcomer to Nashville recently told me his story. He moved to Nashville about a year ago with the goal of becoming a part of the country music scene here. He has been frequenting the clubs downtown with the intention of sitting in and getting to know some of the players. Even though he’s familiar with most of the standards that are being played, he’s having a hard time getting past the idea of hustling to sit in. He said that he views his reasons for networking as self-serving, and this prevents him from talking to musicians because he feels self-conscious about it – like he’s using them. The end result is that he just walks around watching bands, never talks to anybody, and then goes home.

I, as well as many others, can relate. When I first moved to Nashville I was in a similar situation. How does one introduce them self to all these total strangers and maneuver his or her way into sitting in without coming off to self-serving?

One thing that worked for me was seeking out groups of players and artists that I related to musically. This makes it much easier to form real relationships that can evolve over time. Try to find a group of players, or singer that you really connect with. Maybe you really dig their song list, or are inspired by the performances of one or more of the players in the band. If you can feel a real connection through the music, it should be easy to engage in some genuine conversations – the music is your common ground. Find out when they’re playing again and become a regular. Over time they’ll gradually get to know you and sitting in will be part of a natural progression. Maybe try to cultivate a handful of different situations like this. Also, try to find these kinds of inspiring groups that are playing either earlier shifts and/or at the less popular bars. Those situations will be more laid back and might make it more likely for them to take breaks. And that combined with a smaller crowd in general will make it easier to engage in conversation.

The key to gigging in Nashville is relationships. It’s hard to force friendships and relationships to happen, they need to naturally evolve. You need to regularly put yourself in different kinds of situations where this can happen. It just takes time, persistence, and patience. Most importantly, be a good person. Of course being proficient on your axe will help to.

There is no guarantee that this approach will allow you to achieve the kind of success you envision. But for that matter, there are no guarantees in the music business, or life in general. So just suck it up, be in it for the long haul, and get out there and start pounding the pavement. Be friendly and outgoing and put your best foot forward. Talk to people. Take an interest in their careers and lives. Try to find some common ground and build relationships with players that you relate to. If you have already tried this and haven’t yielded much results, try harder.

That’s what it takes to get started in Nashville.

Eric Conn of Independent Mastering drops by For The Record to share some insight on preparing for mastering. Eric has mastered records for a variety of artists. From Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, and John Prine, to Skid Row, Hank III, and Young Buck. Here at The Record Shop, Independent Mastering is our first choice to put the final touches on our records.

You can learn more about their work at Independentmastering.com 

1. Sequence Your Album

Preparing an album sequence before mastering is a must. You can play with the order in iTunes or in your DAW, then make a CD and take a listen! How does it flow? Anything jarring? Does the sequence take you on a journey or tell a story?

2. ISRC CODE

Many radio stations track music via an ISRC Code (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Standard_Recording_Code), and digital distribution company’s use this code to track purchases.  Check with your digital distribution company—they may assign a code to you, or you can purchase your own code. The ISRC Code can be imbedded in the TOC at mastering, or you can have it done later. The benefit to having it done at the time of mastering is that the code will be on your manufactured discs.

3. CD-TEXT

Do you want CD-TEXT on your disc? CD-TEXT allows your recording to be identified on some (but not all) CD players.  If you do, please type out: Artist, Album Title, and Name of Songs. Better yet, email it to the mastering house so they have it the way you want it before you arrive!

4. MEDIA

Labeling your mix media is a must, especially if your not attending the mastering session. Artist(s), song titles, sample rate and bit depth are a must when using digital media. Analog media needs reference tones and phase clicks, and leader tape in between the cuts. Other details should include: contact information for the artist, producer, and engineer, with both a phone number and email address. A sharpie with the artist’s name scribbled on the DVD does not count as labeling your media. If you want to be considered a professional, label your mixes. Hand a professional mastering engineer a CD/DVD/Tape with nothing written on it and even if he doesn’t say anything about it, he’s thinking “amateur”.

5. DECISIONS!

Do you like your mixes? Have you made decisions regarding alternate versions of the mixes? Vocal up? Vocal down? TV-Tracks? Instrumental-Tracks? Radio Edits? Being satisfied with your mix is the number one key to having a successful day at mastering. Coming in with all the versions you need to have EQ’d will save you time and money.

6. ATTENDANCE

Are you familiar with the mastering room? If not, bring a reference disc! The reference disc can be anything, but it should be something you are familiar with, something you like. Take 5 or 10 minutes to listen to your reference material in the mastering room before you start making critical EQ decisions in a room you might not be familiar with. Trust the mastering engineer. He / she works in the room every day and knows it. If you’re feeling unsure, take the time to make a reference disc of one or two songs that you can listen to in your car (or other system) before you go down the wrong path in a room you don’t know.

7. Getting What You Want

Sometimes you might not get what you want the first time around. Sometimes you will. Make sure you have a realistic attitude towards mastering and know the limitations of the craft by talking about it with the engineer. Miracles can and do happen in mastering! Or, it may be that you need to remix something. Communicate your needs!

8. Compression on the Mix Buss vs. Compression at Mastering

Get what you want out of your mix buss first. If you like it there, you’ll like it after mastering. If you’re pumping up your mix for your client via a digital limiter to make it “louder”, make sure your mastering engineer knows!

9. Your reference media VS. The mastering reference media

What have you been listening to? Did you mix to tape but all your reference versions have been digital copies bounced to disk? If that’s the case, you have no idea what your mix sounds like. Make your reference versions reflective of your mix media. Then bring the mastering house what you’ve been listening to.

10. Don’t be swayed by price.

Cheaper isn’t always better. Joe Blow in the bedroom charging you $50 bucks an hour after he gets home from his day job is a hobbyist at best. Twenty-seven hours later you’ll have spent $1350 and you might not be any closer to getting what you want than you were at the first hour. Use a professional, in a real studio, with real tools. In 3-5 hours you’ll get what you want and have the peace of mind that the master will be right. Good, Cheap, Quick: pick two.

Coming in prepared will save you money, and your project will go much smoother! These are some of the questions I like to ask my clients, and your mastering engineer may have more or less questions! If you take the time to communicate your needs and the desired outcomes you would like to achieve from the session, you will be much happier with your final master. Your mastering engineer will be happier too!

-Eric Conn (Independent Mastering) 

Barry has teamed up with For The Record to share his reviews with the latest in recording products. Barry is a recording engineer/producer and contributing editor for MIX Magazine, ‘New Toys’ columnist for L.A.’s Music Connection Magazine, and writer for www.prosoundweb.com. He also is editor/writer of Gear Lust, his online special review section at www.barryrudolph.com

I installed the 2009 version of Smith Micro’s Stuffit Utility into my G5 MAC and discovered Drop Stuff, the whole compression side of the seemingly lowly free utility we all used called Stuffit Expander. Drop Stuff is better than ever with a new interface and built-in AES 256-bit encryption.

First of all with Drop Stuff, with its patented 24-bit image compression, has TIFF, PNG, GIF, and BMP compressors and you can compress files by to 98% of their original size (depending what they are). Squash and optimize MP3s, PDFs and images to save hard drive space and time when sending them over the Internet. Even JPEG photo files (an already compressed format) can be reduced up to a further 30%. Drop Stuff creates Stuffit, Zip and TAR archives–you just drop your files and folders on the appropriate icon on the super simple GUI. I liked the Stuff & Burn mode where it stuffs and sends the file to the MAC’s CD/DVD burner in one operation. Sweet!Smith Micro Stuffit Deluxe 2009

Expander now expands 7-Zip archives and segmented Zip archives along with files using any of 30 different compression formats–even encrypted Zip archives. I like browsing my archive of files without waiting for expansion using the Stuffit Archive Manager. You can preview thumbnails, add, delete and change files and save searches with Stuffit Collections.

Other cool features you get are: upload directly to FTP, MobileMe, iDisk or multiple CDs or DVD-ROMS, and restore files to original locations Stuffit is Finder-aware so you can preview compressed archives inside MAC’s TimeMachine.Smith Micro Stuffit Deluxe 2009

Using Stuffit Deluxe 2009 for MACs is like doubling the size of your hard drive for storing pictures and music. You can put off buying another drive and the work transferring files by buying it for $79.99 as a download from: my.smithmicro.com/mac/stuffit/index.html

Barry has teamed up with For The Record to share his reviews with the latest in recording products. Barry is a recording engineer/producer and contributing editor for MIX Magazine, ‘New Toys’ columnist for L.A.’s Music Connection Magazine, and writer for www.prosoundweb.com. He also is editor/writer of Gear Lust, his online special review section at www.barryrudolph.com

The two-rack space Crane Song Egret is an eight-channel summing/mixer specifically designed for both straight ahead DAW mixing and composite mixing where both virtual instrument or other audio sources are mixed together with DAW audio tracks. To accomplish this, there is a lot of impeccably built technology packed behind the beak of this bird!

The ultimate aim for an audio equipment designer is purity of sound and to that end Egret works transparently–a pure system that adds no gain or ‘coloration’ to the overall sound. However to satisfy music producers/mixers who depend on their equipment for a certain “je ne sais quoi” quality, Egret also has a Color control knob for each of the eight inputs. It adds (or subtracts–depending on your perception) a certain analog softness to edgy audio sources.

Read Barry’s Mix Magazine Feature Article Called “Strictly Summing.”

Egret uses eight D/A converters just like those used in Crane Song’s Avocet mastering monitor controller. Supporting rates up to 192kHz, a Cirrus Logic 4398 D/A chip is used along with an 8421 SRC chip (sample rate converter used for input jitter reduction) surrounded by Analog Devices OP275 amplifiers for interfacing to the unit’s discrete Class-A summing and mixing bus circuitry.

There is a front panel switch to disable the SRC for cases where lower latency is required and the Source switch chooses the unit’s digital source between three inputs: AES/EBU (4) XLRS, ADAT Lightpipe, and a third ‘yet to be determined’. Currently the converters and the interface supports AES single wire to 192KHz, ADAT, and S/MUX to 96kHz and can be upgraded as the technology changes. The converters will also independently operate even at different sample rates if required.

Features And Front Panel

Each channel of Egret has a level control, a cue send, and pan control. Each channel also has an analog/digital source button where either the output of the eight-channel analog-to-digital converter or an alternate (eight rear panel TRS jacks) analog balanced line input can be selected. The alternate Analog Inputs could be used for virtual instruments running along with the mix or live sound sources such as in a DJ or FOH mixing application. You could also use them as returns from external processing gear.

To add external processing to any channel in Egret you would send to outboard gear from the direct out (eight rear panel XLRs) and return its output to the analog input. By switching between the digital (actually the output of the D/A converter) and Analog In you could A/B the inserted processing.

There are both solo-in-place and mute buttons on each channel’s line up and a built in Aux send bus with Master level control that works for either a cue system or as an effect send. The headphone monitor jack’s output follows the stereo bus output for a monitor mix when Egret is being used in multi-channel location recording.

Also borrowed from the Avocet’s design is the master bus level control. It’s a Grayhill rotary shaft encoder that drives a microprocessor-controlled bank of relays for super-accurate and repeatable 1dB stepped attenuation. An absolute necessity for recalling mixes, the stereo gain matching is better than 0.05dB.

Egret is built so that the stereo, and cue buses can be chained together to create a many input system. With a special cable, Egret’Äôs bus can be tied to a Crane Song Spider to sum additional analog inputs for complete DAW recording and mixing/interface system.

The Egret Flies

My first test was to reassign the outputs of an “in the box” Pro Tools mix I had already done. I reassigned it into four stereo stems. I wanted to keep my mix the same and compare my stereo mix with the Egret’s analog sum of the stems. I configured Pro Tools’ I/O to send ADAT Lightpipe digital audio out the 9 through 16 ADAT spigot of my Digidesign HD192 interface unit. I set up drums and bass to outputs 9-10, guitars to 11-12, keyboards to 13-14, and vocals plus all effect returns on 15-16. All four Pro Tools stereo master output faders were at 0dB positions (unity).

I ran all eight Egret channel level controls at full CW, appropriately pan odd/even channels let and right, and the Master level at one LED dot below 10. Again like my Avocet volume control knob there are green LEDs ringing the stereo level control to show levels in 1dB steps.

The stereo LED meter on the Egret shows peaks levels at about 2/3 of full scale–obviously Egret has tremendous dynamic range with substantial headroom to spare. I connected my Benchmark Media ADC-1 to convert the Egret mix to digital and sent an AES/EBU signal back to a new stereo mix track in Pro Tools via the AES Enclosure input. Also everything was clocked from the ADC-1.

Since I wanted to check for any differences between my ITB mix summed inside of PT with the Egret’s analog summing, I had to place the same stereo plug-in processing chain on the Egret summed mix back in PT.

The result was both mixes matched closer than I would ever imagine. So does this prove anything? Considering I’m doing two extra conversions: the D/A in the Egret and then the A/D in the Benchmark and applying the same stereo processing, I was surprise that the Egret was this transparent and that the eight channel inputs tracked each stem’s level so exactly. It is a testament to the quality and design of Egret, the quality of the converters used and lastly the accuracy of Pro Tools HD Accel.

So why go through this setup if it ends up sounding about the same? The answer is that you gain more mix control valuable when mastering or supplying stemmed mixes in post-production jobs.

Separate processing of mix stems goes back to George Martin and the Beatles when he would mix their mono singles to a ‘twin track’ (2-track) tape deck with vocals on one channel and the track on the other. In mastering he would compress and EQ the vocals and track differently and recombine them for maximum punch and loudness.

I Go Deeper

So my next test was to apply the same stereo bus processing I put on the entire stereo mix separately to each of the four stems. For this song I had: WAVES’ SSL Stereo Bus compressor followed by the Sonnox Stereo Limiter and followed that with Sonalksis’ SV-517 Stereo EQ. Of course in a big and powerful Pro Tools rig (like mine) this is all easy to do–no need to buy three more hardware stereo EQs, limiters, and compressors you’d need if we were working in Abbey Road studios circa 1965!

I put those plugs all set the same across each of the four stereo stem masters. Immediately the Egret’s stereo master had to come down 5dB with the increased average level jump of each of the stems. The mix was all wrong necessitating new vocal rides, drum sound changes and everything else.

For this to work I would have to start a new mix using this stem configuration. After a little work starting a new mix, I could hear that the vocals took on more clarity especially after readjusting EQ and compression and doing new gain rides. I tried compressing the drums and bass more without affecting the rest of the song’s instruments and vocals. Since my stem masters in PT are automatable, there are loads of creative opportunities with regard to remixing tricks and general mayhem.

I also had a chance to see what the Egret’s Color controls did. It is a very subtle effect most noticeable on electric guitars. It mellows out any abrasiveness in the sound without a big shift in loudness. Applied to all the stems, it is another sonic choice you cannot get in any other way I know of.

I’ll Take Four Please!

So my only wish is for at least four Egrets interconnected for 32 mix channels. I’d set them all the same at unity and all odd/even, left right for standardized recall. Like my Crane Song Avocet and Phoenix TDM plug-ins, the Egret is a big winner for me. All pro all the way, it is one of the most flexible, great-sounding summing/mixing systems I’ve used so far’Äîand I’ve tried a lot of them! It sells for $5,600 and for much more go to: www.cranesong.com/downloads/egret%20data.pdf