Mixing desk fadersAs a songwriter I’m (far too) familiar with writer’s block, and when my creative energy wanes, I’m not above using outside help to keep fresh ideas flowing.

In particular, I own and love Naomi Epel’s Observation Deck. If I sense a creative lull creeping on, I pull out a card and ponder its message (for example, “think in reverse,”) and invariably, almost like magic, my brain’s off and running again.

The Observation Deck isn’t free. But these 3 web sites, offering similar imagination exercises, are.

Mixer’s Block

It turns out that, along with helping writers, these tools are great for halting mixer’s block. Mixer’s block is exactly what it sounds like: The mixing engineer’s version of writer’s block. (more…)

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sm57For most home recordists, working with cheap microphones is a fact of life. “Amateur” and “budget-constrained” are practically synonymous in audio engineering.

But cheap doesn’t have to mean bad. With a little effort, even the most cost-conscious mic owner can capture great sounds.

To that end, here are 7 tips for getting the most from your cheap microphones.

1. Understand your mic’s shortcomings.
Correct use of a mic depends on knowing its characteristics, and cheaper mics tend to share some common traits. Cheap condensers can sound overly bright and tinny, where their dynamic counterparts tend toward (more…)

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Mixing DeskI’m amazed when I compare Glyn Johns’s early mixes of Let It Be with Phil Spector’s final release. The music and performances are the same, but the mixes couldn’t sound more different. Shouldn’t these men, both professionals practicing a time-honoured craft, have created similar mixes with the same material?

Of course, no two listeners hear music the same way – a truism easily proven by arguing with Linkin Park fans about what constitutes good rock – and mixing engineers themselves must contend with this subjectivity in our senses. But it often appears that music production lacks any rules; that mixing engineers (more…)

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Snare DrumFrom Gearslutz: How can I treat nasty snare drum ringing?

usually a “ring” isnt in one frequency…it’s a complex combination of frequencies. so you may need to eq out 2-3 different places. if you find a resonance, and eq it out, but still hear a ring, then repeat the process till all rings are gone. Then, give the snare a little boost in the mids to fatten it up, add a hint of distortion, send it to an aux with a plate verb…whatever it takes.

If you’ve never recorded outside your own home studio, you’ve likely found yourself wondering: How does the solo’d snare drum mic sound in a pro studio?

the mic picks up what you point it at. Your ears sit a good what.. 2-3 feet above the snare itself. When you hit a snare you hear a snare mic 3 feet below you and the rest of what you hear (a good portion) is how the room reflects the snare sound. When you have a mic an inch away from the snare itself..it’s picking up what your ears would hear an inch away from the same space. The snare sound you’re used to is compiled of the sounds from the top head, the bottom head, the walls, the ceilings…. and so on and so on

Tips for a fat, warm snare drum sound:

One thing that will help is a real consistent drummer. Grab some big sticks….. 2B Rock…. whatever. Tune the drum pretty loose with a little bit of muffling. If you’ve got a dynamic mic that is a little bottom heavy, try it out. I’ll use a ATM63HE, got the snap of a 57, with less honk and more balls. Light compression going in…. thats that….

And finally, some advice on reducing snare drum bleed on the kick mic

The drummer is hitting the snare really hard and the kick really quiet. Tell him to stop. Moving the mic back will help because it puts the shell of the kick between the mic and the snare. You might also be using too much compression on the kick.

… and reducing other stuff bleed in the snare mic:

Is whoever that’s playing the snare hitting it properly? They should be attacking the shit outta the snare, make that hooker pop. On the flip side tell whoever it is to settle down on the cymbals, no need to mash them. It may be their thing and thats fine, just tell them to tone down their thing just a bit for the good of the recording. Playing properly will cure most of your micing problems.

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inter sample clipping To play sound our ears and brain understand, a digital audio system must emit an analog signal. The switch from digital to analog is handled by the digital-to-analog converter, usually just called a DAC.

Under specific conditions, which I describe below, the DAC can produce an analog signal that momentarily exceeds the level of the digital signal from which it was converted. This is known as an inter-sample peak, and while it may at first seem just a curious side effect of the conversion process, these peaks have implications for anyone working with digital audio. And in particular, engineers who like “hot” mixes. (more…)


Des with guitarI apologize for the dearth of updates on Hometracked this month. I’ve been busy with a few things, and one in particular that bears mentioning.

A local radio station songwriting contest recently caught my attention, mostly because of the sizable cash prizes: $10,000 for the winner, and a total purse of over $26,000. (This is a huge package for a small-market radio station.) So I submitted I Meant To Remember. And my song garnered enough votes in the first round of the contest to land me in the finale, along with 4 other bands from around Ontario, performing live for a panel of judges who determined the grand prize winner.

The finale was Tuesday night, and my band finished in 3rd place, which thrilled me not least because it meant I won some money!

How this relates to Hometracked, however: I completely overlooked the revenue potential of songwriting and performance contests in my previous post on making money as an independent artist. So I thought I’d share some thoughts based on my experience the last few weeks, and in previous contests I’ve entered, on how to increase your chances of winning. (more…)


New York Times "T"Inspired by Jason Kottke’s awesome digging in the newly-opened NY Times archive, here are some items from the archive documenting music and recording history.

The first reference to Edison’s phonograph seems to be this satirical piece from November, 1877. At least, I hope it’s satirical:

There is good reason to believe that if the phonograph proves to be what its inventor claims that it is, both book making and reading will fall into disuse.

The politician, instead of howling himself hoarse on the platform, will have a pint of his best speech put in the hands of each one of his constituents.

I’m not sure I’d want a pint of anything offered by a politician.

The Times’ first description of Edison’s phonograph appears in March of the following year, recounting the demonstration to “an intelligent audience” of a six-tabled array of mysterious instruments.

A June, 1878 article discusses David Hughes invention of the carbon microphone, an “astonishing instrument or apparatus, which opens to our ears a universe of sounds hitherto inaudible.”

Berliner’s gramophone was first mentioned October 24th, 1890.

Jul 19, 1897 saw the earliest reference to Marconi’s “contrivance for wireless telegraphy.”

an electrical machine on a stick with an electric wire wrapped around it. Electric vibrations are transmitted to another stick attached to a receiver. An electric hammer records the dots and dashes.

There’s no reference to Fessenden’s invention of AM radio, nor his first “broadcast” on Christmas Eve, 1906. (Though we wouldn’t really expect one. Fessenden wasn’t recognized as the inventor of modern radio until much later.) However, the prevailing favour of Marconi’s approach is evidenced in this OpEd piece from December, 1907, championing Marconi’s accomplishments from across the pond: “Of ten dispatches from our correspondent in America, nine have been delivered correctly.” Apparently, the “can you hear me now” guy has historical precedent.

Finally, the earliest reference to a music industry I could find appeared February, 1921. Musical instrument manufacturers argued in favour of a uniform sales tax, and against excise and surplus income taxes. Draw your own conclusion from that one.

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Kick DrumReference tracks for better drum mixes” included a few drum-only passages captured from commercial recordings.

The ideal drum reference tracks feature few other instruments, as musical instruments tend to mask frequencies in the snare and kick drums. But since drums aren’t often featured solo in pop and rock recordings, it can be tricky to find usable passages.

So these raw tracks of Dave Grohl playing on QotSA’s Songs for the Deaf should save some time! In fact, they might be the best commercial modern rock drum reference I’ve heard, as they sound like final mix stems, essentially the same drum mix used in the released track.

And for a classic sound, check out raw John Bonham drum tracks, outtakes from Zepplin’s In Through The Out Door sessions. Unlike Grohl’s samples above, these are compressed more than in the final album mixes, but they still make a great reference for tones and overall kit balance.

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Tape reelBen Goldacre writes the fantastic column Bad Science, in which he takes journalists to task for reporting poorly researched conclusions. I wonder if he’d consider expanding his field to include bad audio technology writing. He might start with Lee Gomes’s article in the Wall Street Journal, Are Technology Limits In MP3s and iPods Ruining Pop Music?

The article rehashes so many clichés and myths, I’m surprised anyone took it seriously. Yet a quick look about the ‘Net shows popular sites like Coolfer and BoingBoing linking the article with no mention of its flaws. And its flaws bear discussing. Given the WSJ’s authority, their argument that MP3s and iPods are ruining pop music could affect thousands of independent artists who depend on the technologies for promotion.

Myths and Clichés

I’ll address a few of the article’s specific flaws before discussing their significance. First, this quote: (more…)

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musicmoney.gifLike most folk, I enjoyed the recent NY Times’ article on Rick Rubin and Columbia Records. And while the portrayal of Rubin as larger-than-life-messiah borders on caricature, the article still advances some sage thinking on Columbia’s woes:

Columbia didn’t want Rubin to punch a clock. It wanted him to save the company. And just maybe the record business… It is Columbia’s belief that Rubin will hear the answers in the music — that he will find the solution to its ever-increasing woes. The mighty music business is in free fall — it has lost control of radio; retail outlets like Tower Records have shut down; MTV rarely broadcasts music videos; and the once lucrative album market has been overshadowed by downloaded singles, which mainly benefits Apple.

The article, though, also skirts an important question, one that leads to a lesson for independent artists and labels: How can Rubin, and Columbia, possibly restore the industry’s grip on our perception of value? (more…)

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