cartes de visite

Brendan James

Archive for January, 2011


I spent most of today waiting for people to show up at the studio, and after 2 people cancelled (calling, or waiting for me to call them after our scheduled meeting time -what’s up with these people) I decided to take out my frustrations on my new mix project with o-zi. I LOve working on mixes that are already 80% there rough or brought in by the clientthe artist has already worked out the song and made the mix as best as they can by themselves. The ideas are there and I just have to come in and work on things like CLARITY and fidelity. You know, like actual engineering stuff. This is very pleasurable for me because 90% I’m just find myself fixing problems that the artist should of figured out themselves. Its about working with what you’ve got, again and again, getting it the best YOU can and then bringing it into the studio.

O-zi is typical hip-hop with a nice underground sampled stoner aesthetic. I really like working on this type of hip-hop because its all about fidelity. Taking the original files from logic I upsampled to 88.2k and did some basic compression / shaping techniques in the box before breaking out everything across the console. Because I was going for a very “analog” sound I was resolved to do as much out of the box as I could. I played around with the 20 or so tracks through the board shaping with the consoles eq and a couple outboard compressors on the vocals. Because I still wanted to do some serious sidechaing and digital subroutine and maximizing of which I only know how to do in the box I then re-tracked everything back into Cubase using the direct outs of the board. This froze all of my levels, and eq at 88k in the session so when I moved back it the box I could generally keep my fades at unity gain. I don’t have any technical reasoning for this, but I believe the less you manipulate a digital audio track in a DAW through gain eq and plugins, the better.

I did my subgrouping, bus compression and grouping in Cubase and the re-sent the groups back through the console where I mixed the 4 stems and printed the master back into the program, and viola! Hybrid 88.2k digital and anolog mixing! I’ll post the mix up here in a few days, listening back on the bus to New Paltz NY through Barbuds and I am VERY pleased.

Track of the day Raise The Roof by Lizzy Parks.

Today I took the opportunity to buy Lizzy Parks album of the same name “Raise the Roof” (2008).  I am used to Lizzy’s sound from the Tru thoughts Shapes series: and her style is HEAVY: light and lush vocal harmonies, brilliant horn and string arrangements, pristine production. In short: right up my ally; I love it!

This album is very pleasing on the ears, her voice is light and very present and the style drifts from laid back to downright banging through the use of a very live and natural recording and mix. Man they do Jazz right in the U.K!

When a female vocalist captivates me I fall in LOVE. Catch me listening through an entire album and the joy usually fades by the end, I don’t know, it’s just hard to listen to the same voice for 60 minutes you know? Lizzy’s voice is different, she’s calm, never overpowering, possessing a prowess that cuts through dense passages even at low volume. The album is paces brilliantly building and dissolving in waves of misty jazz euphoria, it is both dark and extremely positive. The strength of lizzy’s voice lies in the simple airiness of her note delivery, with just enough jazz chops and range to make it interesting.

Spotify: aka MP3′s PLAYERS ARE DEAD

First Impressions of the new music streaming service


So I downloaded Spotify today ( if you don’t know yet, spotify is one of a host of new music apps which allows streaming of a virtually unlimited online library of music -any artist, any album, any time instantly. Spotify is only available in a select countries outside of America but it should hit the United States soon. What does this mean? Since I got my first smartphone and got to stream pandora I have dreamed of storing all my music online and accessing it from anywhere. At the studio I have all my mp3’s on a computer that shares it’s itunes library over the network, so as long as it’s online I listen to the music from other computers. Now with services like Spotify in the equation it’s time to ask: why do I have to download and store the mp3’s in the first place?

Who Needs Storage When You Have the Internet?

In my lifetime I have witnessed the death of the cassette tape, I have witnessed the death of the CD, and I believe that with computing and storage moving towards an “in the cloud” model we see the death of the mp3 player soon. Why carry around hundreds of gigabytes of mp3’s (IPOD) when you can simply stream any song to your phone or computer? Spotify is not only an mp3 killer, it is an Itunes killer.. with far superior interface and social media capabilities which I’ll get into later.

In Action
In order to download spotify I had to trick their website into thinking I was from the UK. To do this I went through a secondary proxy server here: Upon registration I had to enter in a london zip code. I signed up for the free trial which gives you 20hrs of streaming for the month. After registering I downloaded the program downloaded and it installed fine. Upon installing the program it loaded up my itunes music library for reference. I was also asked to link to my facebook account so I could see the music libraries of my other friends that were on Spotify. Too bad I don’t have many friends in the UK!

Browsing through my library, and clicking on an artist name I could open up the artist’s spotify profile and listen to the artist’s entire discography including entire albums and compilations! Spotify also recommended related artists, and streams that shuffle all the available songs ala pandora. Playing unattended the program will simply move through the entire artist’s catalog, track-by-track. By now I’m pretty much like “whoah holy shit this is profound!” Music for hours, music for days! music for life!  Keep in mind this is all free at this point, the program gives you a counter reminding you how many hours you have left and the streams are interrupted occasionally by ads for in British English that I actually find pretty amusing. The Program gives the option to buy and download the tracks, but why would I want to buy when I can listen whenever I want?


If I could I would sign up for the spotify subscription service today. Advantages include no ads and unlimited streaming and its only £10 a month. There is also an app for android and iphones that syncs with your library and account so you can stream tunes on the go – no more storage space! Unfortunately in order to sign up for a subscription I need a UK based credit card or paypal account. Why isn’t this program available in this country? No doubt it’s based on record label relationships and probably has something do with apple and their hold on the digital music market in America peddling their terrible 128kbps mp3’s.

I am convinced Spotify represents the future of music with a distribution system that is centrally managed and streamed to portable devices through the internet. As bandwidth increases, we will see no need for any removable media (CD, DVD’s ect.) everything will just stream on-demand. The next question is what kind of cultural implications exist when a music consumer presented with the opportunity to listen to any song in history instantly and readily?
UPDATE 01/27:

Spotify, In Numbers: .00000000000.

Good little article here on direct artist compensation (or lack thereof) in regards to the spotify service

One of the engineer’s job in mixing is figuring out the identity of the track.

Through understanding of this general concept the mix engineer usually goes on to elaborate on this identity, exaggerating on the specific style sonically and stylistically. I’ve been having a particularly hard time the mix on this track, “Amathyst Rocks” and it’s overall musical concept in general. Is it hip-hop, soul, rock?

On first listen I would describe the essence of the this track as Hip-Hop with the live feel of rock, but with so much space to work with between two genres the direction of where to go with mix-wise remaind a little unclear. When I think and mix hip-hop I typically think of dry, punchy, kick heavy drums. I also usually think in terms of only a few elements: the drums, the sample or melodic content, the lyrics and the ad-libs. When approaching a mix from a rock perspective I usually think about ambiance a lot more, more compression, more room sounds, more distortion and overall aggressiveness. Part of the challenge with Amathyst is the various changes in the song, the verses are very hip-hop, with a heavy rimshot, almost reggae-ish back beat. The Choruses explode with the addition of the background vocals and horns.

Conceptually as I approached this mix I wanted to go from tight to wide and big in regards to the verse / chorus alternation. The main ingredient towards achieving this was the treatment of the drums in the mix. I am very familiar with mixing tight R&B and Gospel flavored drums, with a general inspiration being drawn from mid-seventies funk and pop recordings. (Steely dan, The Isley Brothers ect.) I usually accomplish my tight drum mixes by relying primarily on the direct mics on the kit ( kick, snare, hi-hat). In the mix I use expansion or transient shaping to bring out attacks on each of the individual drum elements and bus them together. I then lightly mix in the overheads and apply a heavy compression to the bus that incorporates the punchy combo of slow attack and fast release. Lately I’ve been working on better mixing drums with in the style 2000 era rock (incubus, the white stripes ect.) undoubtedly achieving this style depends largely on the idea of “variable ambiance” (direct / compressed room) and the use of various room microphone placement techniques that specifically exaggerate the ambiance of kit.

For the Amythyst track I began by first mixing two stems of the drums: one highly expanded and/or gated and dry, the other an exaggerated room track compiled by using the totally squashed ambient mics.

I had this vision of triggering and gating the ambiance with the direct mics in this way achieving a natural gated re verb which I could then mix back into the drum bus ala ‘variable ambience’. The side-chained gated idea turned out to be a little harsh, so I used a trasient shaper on the room mics and sloped the attack past the direct attack of the drums

With all this being said I still don’t think this mix nails it. I have definitely achieved the drum sound that I want, but problems still exist with the feel, immediately listening today (2 days after the mix) I am struck by a feeling of too much roominess and verb. Have I overcompensated for the dry elements apart from the drums by applying too much verb? Perhaps. I also have struggled in this mix with the placement of the vocals and keeping them on top of everything. As I did not record these vocals, I have been having a perticularly hard time with their quality. A good quality vocal will generally cut through a mix without much effort and, as is true with most things in the digital audio domain the more processing you add, the more clarity you loose. You can tell by my extensive use of FX / distortion on the vox that I am desperatly trying to get the vocals to cut artificially. They cut, but I the believe that the distortion and delay are having a general downing effect on the mix that is making the whole thing sound a little too lo-fi for my tastes.

Link: Spotify