AudioTechnology THE MAGAZINE FOR SOUND ENGINEERS & RECORDING MUSICIANS
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The 6/8/6 principle
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Text: Andy Stewart
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I have a theory… although I’m not sure I’d defend it with my life. It’s a song production theory that’s slowly evolved in my head over the last decade. For the purposes of this editorial I’ll call it the 6/8/6 principle. Let me run it up the flagpole and see if I can convince you (and I) of its validity.
so keen to get past the songwriting stage of an album, in fact, that they’ll do anything to avoid sitting down again and writing another song, or working to improve the ones they already have – switching their brain over to concerns about merchandising and album artwork the first chance they get:
It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve spent most of my adult life playing on, producing or engineering albums, mostly of the independent variety. In that time I’ve seen countless songs ‘worked up’ in the studio and released upon the unsuspecting world.
“Hey Andy, do you think putting this image on the inside sleeve of the recycled cardboard DigiPak works?” they’ll ask, while I’m still trying to work out where to pan the guitar in the first album mix…
What’s been interesting to discover during the accumulation of this experience is that while the two basic aspects of record making – song writing and song production – are invariably woven together to form the final product, in hindsight and in the vast majority of cases, only one of these processes seems to have a significant impact on the final artistic outcome – the song writing process. There, I’ve said it. Hmm, but now that I’m seeing it written down I’m already finding this statement a little hard to stomach. It looks like bollocks on several levels and I can already think of examples of where a song’s production values have made it a hit… or can I? Let me backtrack a little and make two more sweeping statements if I may. Like almost everyone I know in this game, when I’m involved in a song’s production – whether that be through songwriting, performing, engineering, producing or mixing – I generally have a vibe for it pretty quickly. The song either elicits an emotional response in me – whether that be nostalgia, an overwhelming sadness, or an urge to drive fast down the Hume Highway – or it doesn’t. Simply put, I rate the song in my heart right at the outset. Then, of course, the work begins (or continues) on the production of the song. Problem is, this work rarely then continues to include sustained efforts towards improving the song structure, arrangement or lyrical content, almost as if the songwriting process has been quarantined from the production process. Most albums, whether they’re constricted by budget, time or talent, skip forward into the ‘production process’ faster that you can say “12-inch remix”, leaving the songwriting behind like a busted thong. As weird as it may seem, many artists are almost disinterested in the songwriting process once the lure of the studio draws them in. Far too many drop this crucial aspect of an album’s production like a hot potato once the seductive qualities of shiny microphones and valve preamps come into view. Some are
“Um, dunno, maybe we can worry about that in six months, eh?” For a producer this is the most frustrating part of any album process, for without good songs there’s little point recording the album in the first place. But this is where most people simply can’t help themselves. When a solo artist or band arrives at the studio with their carload of gear, they immediately dive headlong into the task of tracking and overdubbing, cooking up new sounds, adding new parts and sprinkling production fairy dust all over things… all valid artistic pursuits, of course. Unfortunately, the elephant in the room undermining all this artistic endeavour is the lack of refinement of the songs themselves. Whether you’re recording at a mate’s house around the corner or ‘Hitland Studios’ in your capital city – the simple act of embarking on the album production does not, by osmosis, photosynthesis or peristalsis, somehow fix that dodgy lyric or that poorly conceived delivery. The success of an album is made or broken outside the studio, not in it. I know it’s tempting at this point to dredge up examples of all the songs made famous by a classic hook some producer supposedly added to Track X on the last day of the production, but this doesn’t refute the claims of 10,000 other examples where this approach failed miserably. In my experience, if a song starts off scoring an arbitrary six out of 10 in your mind when you first encounter it, by the time you’ve finished working on it you might score it a seven or even an eight. The process of pouring your own artistic skills into the song generally improves the score you give it… but then something curious happens. Three months down the track you hear the song again, and what score do you give it then? A six. The production: that great reverb, that amazing tabla overdub, that beautiful backing vocal in the chorus, all lose their scoring prowess and what you’re left with is the song – and a six. The point being, if you write a song and rate it a six, be aware that unless you work to improve it at the songwriting level, it will almost always remain a six.
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28 ENTER SOUNDMAN
12 YOUR WORD
When he started working with Metallica 26 years ago he was known as ‘Little Mick’. Today, ‘Big Mick’ is the most recognisable FOH guy in the business – all that hair, and all that. Working with Metallica has taken him to every corner of the planet and his perspective on big shows is as fascinating as it is unique.
36 AFTER MIDNIGHT
72 WHAT’S ON
For more than three decades Jim Moginie has been one of Australia’s great performers and songwriters. Nowadays, post Midnight Oil, Jim works on both sides of the glass.
News and new product information, including our Integrate wrap – we promise we’ll shut up about it after this issue. 44 HOME GROWN
Brad Watts heads back to Sydney’s inner south-west.
Studio roundup featuring Mononest and Panoramix Studio. 76 PC & MAC AUDIO
Martin Walker lights the way forward for PC users looking to replace their old hard drives with newer, faster and bigger ones, while Brad Watts tries to salvage your dead ones.
95 PAIRING UP TO SLAY THE MAINTENANCE BEAST
Rick urges us to follow his lead and buy replacement valves... by the kilo!
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SEE PAGE 94
TUTORIALS 50 STAV’S WORD
Weave some magic and get those faders moving. Stav shows us how to add clarity and focus to our mix with some crafty moves that help grab the listener’s attention.
REVIEWS 80 TURBOSOUND MILAN M15
84 NAGRA LB
We ask the simple question: who needs a producer?
62 ROOM PENETRATIONS: TREATMENTS & MANAGEMENT
This issue we go behind the walls, under the f loor and into the roof cavity of your average studio, to see what’s involved in achieving good sound isolation. 68 SOFTWARE TIPS & TRICKS: FXpansion BFD2
So what if you can’t co-ordinate your left foot with your right hand… BFD2 solves that problem, right? But getting lost in drumkit choices is also a ‘big frustrating digression’ many of us would prefer to avoid. Graeme Hague has a few solutions.
88 VIOLET DESIGN WEDGE & BLACK KNIGHT
56 HIT (& MISS) RECORD
Portable Digital Recorder
86 DIGICO SD8 - USER REPORT
52 BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE
Foldback engineering is an art. It’s also a role involving applied psychology… Graeme Hague offers some hot tips on getting the most out of your foldback system, and the band.
90 AVID AUDIO HEAT
ProTools HD software option
92 ADAM AUDIO S2X
AT WORLD TAKES OFF AT World went off like a rocket. Hundreds of AT readers came along to the Integrate exhibition in Sydney to get involved in three days of seminars, workshops, panel discussions and giveaways. It was great fun, with plenty to be learned and shared. If you weren’t at AT World then… where the bloody hell were you? Just kidding. It’s not easy to leave work, family or the pub, get on a plane or into the car and head along to something like this, but fear not, we’re going to be doing it all again next year. Check out what you missed, hopefully it’ll get your juices flowing and we’ll see you next time. 2010 HIGHLIGHTS There were some real high points to the AT World program. As soon as I saw Rick O’Neil wheeling in his collection of vintage tape machines – including a 350kg Studer A800 that nearly tipped the forklift – I knew AT World was destined for a great three days.
The standout moment for many was seeing Richard Lush taking to the AT stage for our recording and production panel discussion. Richard started his career at Abbey Road Studios and was assistant on The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album, amongst countless others. More recently, Richard has been quite unwell, so we really appreciated his extra effort to be with us. The ensuing discussion saw Jim Moginie (who you’ll read more about later this issue) talk
about different producers he’s worked with, and the irony that his favourite Midnight Oil album, Place Without a Postcard, was the one where he had the most disagreements with the producer! Integrate’s guest of honour, Bruce Jackson (Elvis), was joined by Bruce Johnston (Oasis) along with Mark Woods (Tina Turner) and Glenn Helmot (Bachelor Girl) for a cracking live sound discussion – covering how some of the latest technological advancements have impacted the industry as well as the art and craft of live sound mixing. Bruce Johnston spoke about his rediscovered love of analogue consoles while Bruce Jackson spoke about everything from the birth of foldback engineering with Elvis to managing the sound for Olympic Games. The Mastering Summit was another hugely popular session that saw Rick O’Neil, Leon Zervos, David Briggs and Matthew Gray defining and discussing the mastering process in priceless detail, while AT editor Andy Stewart kept the guys from throttling one another and adding his own perspective on the process. Great questions came from the audience, and like so many of the discussions at AT World, no-one could stop it once the ball started rolling and the forum went well over time! The Tech Forum was another winner. Rick O’Neil
chaired a high-voltage panel of tech heads including Bruce Jackson, AEA’s Wes Dooley, Joe Malone and Alastair Reynolds. No subject was deemed too tweaky as the panel soldered on for more than 90 minutes of stimulating tech talk. It was good to see Greg Simmons treading the boards of AT World, expounding his much-lauded approach to improving your band’s sound in small venues. Equally, Brendan Gallagher’s open tuning workshop was much appreciated, as it is around the world. Other highlights saw Stav taking part in a more informal Q&A session and Ross Bencina talking about his innovative, Australian made, audio software, AudioMulch. Ben Clark conducted a fascinating Smaart 7 workshop, Brent Heber expanded our ProTools HD mix automation horizon, Wes Dooley talked about ribbon mics, and Quest’s Guillaume Boda spoke insightfully about speaker cabinet design. As mentioned, a big thanks goes to Turtlerock supremo and AT mainstay, Rick O’Neil, for making his ‘heavy metal’ display of vintage gear available, and three cheers from us all to AT Editor Andy Stewart for pulling such a fascinating program together. – Christopher Holder.
Simmo spent Day 2 of Integrate holed up in the Greenroom preaching the Studio Fundamentals gospel to a packed room of eager audio acolytes. He also concluded the day with an audio tour of his subcontinental sojourns – armed with some mics and a location recorder. Stav’s Session was as popular as ever, with nearly 150 people hanging on his every word and every flourish. He really is the David Blaine of sound – spectacular stuff. Devotees of ProTools, Ableton Live and Logic were treated to a program of workshops. While, at AFTRS, Chris McKeith conducted a lengthy surround sound mixing masterclass at the school’s well-equipped mix theatre. Hundreds of church techs flocked to the Technology for Worship pavillion to hone their skills on Yamaha and Digico consoles, and take in a bunch of seminars geared to the demands of the church sector. Again, thanks to all those who took part; those who gave of their time and expertise, and we look forward to next year when we can do it all again! See you then. Integrate: www.integrate-expo.com 30 Aug – 1 Sept 2011 Hordern Pavilion & Royal Hall of Industries, Moore Park, Sydney
THE MAGAZINE FOR SOUND ENGINEERS & RECORDING MUSICIANS
AT World played host to some great sessions but elsewhere at Integrate there was plenty to hold an AT aficionado’s attention. Guest of honour, Bruce Jackson, teamed with AT Editor Andy Stewart for a truly fascinating trip down audio lane, from his early days starting Jands some 40 years ago through to his work as Audio Director on World Expo this year, with Elvis, Babs, The Boss, Apogee, Fairlight and Lake along the way.
OTHER INTEGRATE HIGHLIGHTS
MIDNIGHT He’s one of the greatest songwriting talents and performers this country has produced. Now, post Midnight Oil, Jim Moginie has been turned onto life on the other side of the glass. Text: Andy Stewart
ians in Jim Moginie is one of the most iconic music his years 25 For rock. alian Austr the history of cal consciousness musical contribution to the globa l politi riter for songw and r as lead guita rist, keyboard playe in the thick e squar and fair him d place Midnight Oil has globe has ever the s action cal politi st gutsie the of some of on new witnessed. The phrase ‘oils ain’t oils’ took illa-style gig guerr a d playe band the ing morn meaning the s of Exxon office the e on the back of a flatbed truck outsid the spill oil an Alask the sting in New York City, prote g away with. gettin be to world the all for d looke any comp page and The gig put the disaster back on the front liability, and tting admi y finall any comp the contributed to ultimately chang ing its ways.
Jim has done As a linchpin member of Midnight Oil, environment and the , ment move s right more for the land around Australia various other political and socia l causes e the band. outsid ian music than just about any other most epic, the of some on d playe and ritten He’s co-w of rock ‘n’ roll politically charged albums in the history selves, but also and his legac y is not only the songs them alian socia l Austr an of gence emer the to n ibutio his contr conscience. and a solo These days Jim combines his love of music He’s got more gear. audio – on passi other his with r caree o than most stuff lying around on the floor of his studi tion – or is it ambi his and es lifetim five in people acquire renting out ess a pipe dream? – is to start up a hire busin s. band ing spect esoteric instru ments to unsu is long and The equipment list in his Sydney studio envy. The class-A enough to turn most green(ie) with a semiof rised comp are s walls of the track ing room glass – and stone rs, timbe led recyc of tion random collec the wall on up r timbe t each with its own story to tell: “Tha to “used g ceilin the into up ing point there,” Jim recounts, l.” Hote r Antle l Roya old the of floor be the he preaches, but There’s no doubting Jim pract ices what political with chair a off leg the he’s not one to chew and one hell of thetic empa n, spoke softly He’s be. diatri o, Ocea nic, a guita rist. I caught up with him at his studi
audio to continue our recent conversation about production… GOO D COP BAD COP the Production Andy Stewart: Jim, we spoke recently on ight Oil Midn ioned ment you e wher d Worl AT at Panel . years the over cers had had a few run-ins with produ cing produ when Guy Nice Mr e you’r mean Does that now s? other You can’t Jim Moginie: In the end it’s about honesty. g someone tellin en betwe line fine a ’s There always be nice. them, rting what you think and at the same time suppo ss, proce ing ongo an It’s s. especially with younger artist an is ’ ction produ d ‘recor do now I what and calling term. To me a interesting and perhaps slight ly inaccurate o, chooses studi the s book who guy record producer is the out of ces rman perfo the gets ally basic and the songs e very blurred people. That’s about it. That line’s becom is, if you’re cers produ ing budd to e lately and my advic d and call yourself recor one’s some in ved invol get to going avoid becoming ‘the producer’, you’d better be caref ul to gets the blame who n perso the or ich sandw the the meat in cer so we produ a get if things go pear-shaped. “Hey, let’s some with but mad, s sound that can blame him!” I know that. like bit a it’s cts, proje
ion this People often forget it’s a high-pressure situat especially ure, press r unde is artist The recording business. was that thing some up follow to g tryin e if they’r the music and you successful, but I think once you get into quick ly. pretty lve disso to tends all start playing, it that pressure AS: So do you try and take advantage of prefer to make you do or when you’re recording someone, ed? an artist feel relax just enjoy JM: I try and make them feel relaxed and themselves. PLAC E WITH OUT A POST CARD doesn’t sound like AS: Being relaxed and enjoy ing yourself producer Glyn with ing work had once you ience exper the that? about bit a us Johns years ago. Can you tell
JM: I was about 23 when Midnight Oil made
Without a Postcard, and at that early stage I’d never even been outside Australia. Suddenly we were invited by Glyn to his farm in Sussex to make a record and every day you’d be eating breakfast and looking up at all these gold records from bands like The Small Faces, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Joan Armatrading, The Eagles, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, you name it… gold records everywhere… and you’d be sitting there having your Crunchy Wheat thinking, “How the hell are we going to get up there?” But there was something about the band that Glyn recognised – essentially it was our capacity for live performance. Personally, I couldn’t see it at that time but he thought we were a really great live band and just wanted to capture that. I remember thinking maybe we should make a record that was a bit more experimental like the other records being released at the time – you do get influenced by what’s successfully being released around you… and I was a young pup you see. Anyway, we went in there and made a very, very live-sounding album and Place Without a Postcard was the result. I remember Glyn was a very opinionated, very forceful guy. He didn’t want you to play guitar in the room if he wasn’t recording it, didn’t want anyone near the studio if you weren’t recording, and loved the first take. He’d have a red light that he’d switch on if a take wasn’t going well, so when the light came on you’d have to just stop and start again. No words were exchanged; you just had to go from the top. It wasn’t much fun at the time, but listening back to the record now I think it’s one of the best things we ever did. It was simply the band playing at its best, without any bullshit going on: no machines, no click tracks… It’s got a real rawness to it, a raw honesty that at the time just seemed a bit daggy to me… but Glyn was like: “That’s good enough. That’s what you are. Go with it. Trust it.” AS: So you didn’t enjoy making that record at all? JM: No, I personally didn’t enjoy making that record at all. AS: Not even when you were in the middle of a take? JM: Well, obviously you enjoy that part of it, but Glyn was quite an intimidating guy. He was constantly saying things like, “When I recorded Let It Be, every time Lennon walked into the room he’d make some wisecrack… he was a funny guy you know.” We were intimidated that’s for sure. But he got some great vocal performances out of Peter. There was one incident where things weren’t going very well and he just said, “Right, okay, stop the machine. Peter and I are going to have some time…” He went into the overdub booth… and well… I don’t know what he said to Peter but he came back after about an hour and a half and said, “I’ve got it.” He pressed record and Pete nailed the vocal in the first take. Lucky Country was the song. It was all about Australia and I think he must have talked to Peter about his family… and that came out in that take. It’s an extraordinary vocal performance that Glyn drew out of Peter, and he did it with psychology, and knowing the difference between someone merely singing along – la, la, la – and someone actually feeling it from the gut; actually living it. That’s why I think when you comp things up with DAWs it doesn’t have the same effect at all. It might be ‘perfect’ and the singer might prefer it ’cause it makes them sound like they can sing in tune, but it’s cannibalism. It’s much better to have a verse that says it all, get focused and get it on tape – preferably live while the band’s playing. That will give it a sense of realism. It mightn’t be perfect but the feeling will be there. It’s that feeling that’s all too often
lost when you comp a vocal. The problem with DAWs is that because they allow you to fiddle with performance, you invariably do. To me the crucial thing is to listen to what you’re doing as a performer, and put down a heart-felt raw take. That’s always going to be more happening, and a punter who listens to a record – even though he or she won’t necessarily know the difference – will go: “I prefer that one… don’t know why. It just feels better.” Everybody wants to be perfect these days and when technology feeds that mania you’ve got problems. When people are cool enough to leave things alone you usually get a much better result. I wouldn’t say it’s the case across the board but you’ll definitely get something that feels more human, and people will relate to that because it is human.
Discovering what they don’t want to put on their record is sometimes more important than what they do want
THE LIBERATION OF LIMITATION
AS: Implicit in this observation is presumably the ability to play instruments. But then again, the charm with some albums is the ‘inability’ as it were of the players. Would you agree? JM: Yeah, and for me I’m just liking being around all of it. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a punk band or a pop thing with high production values, as long as I’m working with musicians and around that energy. I love that feeling of starting with a clean slate – where you don’t know what you’re going to do, yet somehow it all falls into place – for me, that’s what it’s all about. I think the longer I do this, the more I’m convinced you have to get as much down live as you can. In fact, the more you can record things where people are being captured almost without them even knowing it, the better it is. And part of the charm of my new recording space is that when people walk in here they pick up some strange instrument and before they know it they’re playing music. To me that’s how production begins. From there you can easily embark on a conversation with the artist, where they might then say: “Oh well, I don’t really like electric guitar but I really like nylon string guitar” or “I really like upright pianos but not grand pianos.” Being surrounded by instruments naturally provokes those conversations – that’s how I like to start to formulate an idea of what the artist likes – discovering what they don’t want to put on their record is sometimes more important than what they do want. Making some rules – and sure, rules are made to be broken – can make your life a lot easier. As a record develops, having a palette of predetermined colours that you’ve chosen beforehand rather than being open to literally everything makes things move forward quickly. There’s nothing like a well-chosen limitation.
GUITARIST BECOMES PRODUCER AS: Can you tell me how you made the transition from Midnight Oil guitarist to producer? Was it any more complicated than Midnight Oil simply breaking up?
JM: I fell into it somewhat after I did a bit of work with Silverchair… some B-sides that we recorded in only a few hours. They sounded fantastic and it all snowballed from there. Silverchair was doing some music with Nick Launay – Nick and I are great friends and go way back. Nick’s a brilliant producer: part mad Spaniard, part analytical Englishman. Anyway, he actually said something like – and Daniel Johns was quite ill at that stage – “Oh I just thought Daniel might like to meet someone like you...” and I said, “Someone like me? What does that mean?” “Someone who likes to fiddle around with gear and quite enjoys getting weird sounds out of it!” And he’s right of course – I do. I played keyboards on a couple of Silverchair’s albums after that, and then just started working with other people – Neil Murray, The Fauves, Neil Finn, Sarah Blasko – and played on their albums too. That’s really how it is with all the albums I ‘produce’ these days – I’m usually playing on them somewhere. I can’t help myself. I get enthusiastic and think, ‘Oh, what about this?’ and ‘What about that?’ to which the band either responds: ‘Yeah, yeah!’ or ‘No, no. Please don’t!’ I must admit, I do get carried away sometimes – I want to be out there with the band. AS: But you don’t want to literally be in the band, I assume? JM: No, I certainly don’t want to be in the Tarago with them fighting about the tambourine overdub we did 18 months ago. Sometimes I have to back off ’cause I know what it’s like to experience producer interference from a band perspective. We made an album once with Malcolm Burn – who’s done some work with Daniel Lanois – where Malcolm ended up playing a lot of the instruments on the record, and even though it was kind of interesting, it did make me think, ‘What if he’s wrong? What if we could have played them better?’ I mean, it’s our record after all. AS: I think it’s kind of weird when a producer starts to live vicariously through another band like that – impinge on the band’s right to perform their own music… JM: Yeah you’ve got to be respectful. You’ve got to understand the chemistry of the band and sometimes you’ve got to get right out of the way. Other times it’s necessary. A band might need another musical colour: somebody to pick up an acoustic guitar, even somebody to just hit something to get them in the mood. With a great band, like The Living End for instance, who were in here at Oceanic a few weeks ago, you don’t need to do anything much. I’d never dream, for instance, of jumping in and grabbing the guitar off Chris Cheney and playing it. In that circumstance my philosophy is simple: it’s the band’s record and they have to live with it. They’re going to be the ones out there on the road after all, and they’ve got to know it’s them playing it. You don’t want a Milli Vanilli situation arising… The worst kind of producer is the one that goes: “To get a hit record you’ve got to a) make sure it’s less than three minutes so it gets played on the radio; b) make sure the guitar solos are no more than 10 seconds long; c) get this guy to mix it; and d) that guy to master it.” My attitude is more like, “You know what guys? Radio isn’t going to play you anyway, so you’re free to do whatever you like.” And they go, “Oh, okay then. We’re free to be who we are?” “Yes, you’re free to be who you are. That’s fine with me.” People come in here sometimes thinking ‘Jim’s going to give us a good record because he’s had so many hits himself’ blah, blah, blah… but really, I’ve got about as much clue as the next bloke. If it’s exciting to listen to, that’s great. If the band feels like they’re excited then that comes through in the performance. If there are some interesting sonic ingredients in there then that’s great too. But the most important thing is the song. First and foremost, the song must be there. SELF-DISCOVERY AS: Is it important for an artist to ‘discover themselves’ do you think – have the guts to be themselves, as it were?
JM: Psychologically that’s sometimes very hard because when people do that and find there’s nothing there, it’s terrifying for them – no-one wants to discover that! When there is something there and they can unlock it, it’s wonderful. But of course not everyone is a songwriter and there’s no harm in singing someone else’s song. I did a recording in here with Sarah Blasko last year – a bonus disc of songs for a record she’d done in Sweden with Bjorn Yttling. We were playing songs from musicals like The Sound of Music, Fame… we even did a version of Xanadu! I know it sounds daggy but it was just beautiful. Those songs could be played in a rainstorm busking in a tube station and they’d still work! There’s something completely bulletproof about those songs. She was in that corner over there singing [Jim points to where the drumkit is currently set up] and I was playing piano over here, and I swear there were moments where the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I thought: ‘This is why I’m in this business. This is so beautiful’.
A song recorded with hundreds of indecisive overdubs... that’s my version of an unholy nightmare from Danté’s Inferno
So whether it’s your song or someone else’s, if the person in the spotlight is at all doubtful about what they’re doing, it’s going to be obvious to the audience. A vocal performance has to be sincere and compelling – it’s gotta be intense. It can’t just be half-arsed and you definitely can’t go into a recording session thinking: ‘We’ll put it together in ProTools and make it sound nice later’. That’s folly. In the old days – and I do hate talking about the old days – in the ’50s the singer had one shot at a take… and then more recently one or two tracks of a 24-track tape machine. You had to step up at that moment and find something in yourself. What annoys me now is that things can take so long – people, musicians can be terribly indecisive. I mean I’m a musician and I can be indecisive – more than most other people – but I know musicians can prevaricate and the technology allows them to. It’s a sin! You’ve gotta control it! A song recorded with hundreds of indecisive overdubs? That’s my version of an unholy nightmare from Danté’s Inferno. GEAR LUST AS: How did you end up becoming a ‘gear guy’ Jim?
JM: I’ve always loved gear and I guess in some ways it’s an addiction. But as you of all people must know, it’s also a fascination. When I was in Midnight Oil we’d always be in studios in England or The States where there would invariably be an instrument lying around and we’d be like: ‘What’s that? That’s great! Gotta use that’. When we did 10 to 1 with Nick Launay I got the number of this guy called Maurice Plaquet, who had a gear hire company in London. We were always getting marimbas and Hammond organs off Maurice, and the day I walked into his warehouse was when it all started. There were all kinds of instruments: harpsichords, theremins… some quite esoteric stuff. It looked incredible. When The Oils split I started to hoard instruments and hire a bit of the gear out, which was actually a lot of fun. It’s still in the back of my mind somewhere to take it a bit further and develop a warehouse collection of hire gear like Maurice, but I think with the state of studios and budgets in Australia being the way they are, I’m not sure it would work out! There are a lot of people recording but they don’t have the budgets to hire instruments. Budgets have just been killed. REIGNING IN A MIX AS: Now that you’re a producer of bands like The Fauves and The Break, I assume you take the mixing reins sometimes?
JM: I do and I’d say I’m okay at it. I can get everything balanced quickly, but mixing is something best left to other people sometimes. I like to get the performances right, and get some exotic sounds hopefully – I’m always learning. But you can’t do everything: produce the song, be the engineer, be the mixer – it
CSIRO TESTS OILS JM: I actually came from a science background. Believe it or not, I was doing a degree in architectural acoustics when the band first took off. Needless to say I didn’t quite finish it, but that’s where I was heading. I worked at the CSIRO for a while working with building materials: testing their transmission loss etc. A guy would bring in two sheets of glass or something and we’d test them and give them a rating. I remember we designed the windows for the High Court building in Canberra – the judges wanted to sit in silence but they also wanted to look through glass at the lake. AS: Did you enjoy the job? JM: Yeah, I really enjoyed it, but I enjoyed the band more! So I guess you could say there are two sides to my brain: a science-based side, which is quite nerdy and obsessed about gear, and the other side which is just my wild artist persona that’s a bit of a nut. (laughs)
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turns you into a control freak I reckon. You’ve got to look around and think to yourself: ‘I should be doing this, he should be doing that’. If you can achieve that as a producer it helps you avoid that awful sense of dragging the album around like a ball and chain. Any company boss knows about delegating – producers should too. THE ART SCHOOL APPROACH AS: I know you’re a great musician with a powerful imagination. How do you manage to produce albums with people and avoid racking up hundreds of experimental overdubs?
JM: I’m like everyone else: I like to discover new things on an album after repeated listens, but ironically this is one of the things that leads some people to recording 300 tracks on one song. Going down all the possible roads to make sure nothing’s been left out is a distraction, and recording 10 versions of every part is just plain criminal. Then of course some poor bastard has to mix it all! Personally, I think musicians that work like that should be taken out and shot! There’s a certain momentum in a session, a certain energy, and you’ve got to know when that’s run out. You just can’t keep texturalising a song forever.
Adding countless overdubs or layered sounds quickly erodes intimacy and the ability to draw the listener in
I like to take the art school approach. With sculpture, for example, as with music, there are tools at your disposal: you’ve got chisels to carve with, hammers to beat things into shape with and saws to cut with. Instruments are like that too. Things can be made rough, things can be made smooth, and there’s a perception of depth and negative space where shapes are created by a hole. This enterprise utilises the same part of the brain that perceives three-dimensional space and it’s exactly the same in music: taking away things can be so much more powerful than piling more stuff on. Adding countless overdubs or layered sounds quickly erodes intimacy and the ability to draw the listener in. It’s like going to a party where there’s a thousand people yelling their heads off: you tend to just switch off, turn around and go home – or at least I do! If it’s smaller and there’s not as much noise going on you feel like you’ve been invited in. It’s more meaningful. AS: Although, you must have wanted to put lots of layers on top of a performance to physically create that sort of scale before, surely? JM: To me, overdubbing the same thing several times just smoothes things off too much, like sanding something back – you end up with a very shiny surface. It may be pleasing to some to create that mirror finish, but it’s not an aesthetic I like. I particularly dislike hearing a double-tracked vocal where the singer is using the word “I”. I take the attitude that when you’re recording vocals and someone says “I”, you don’t double-track it. If it’s “we” then okay you can have as many voices as you want. But if the lyric is: “I like the sound of surf crashing on the beach” then I want there to be only one person saying it. Again, to me it’s like sculpting – I’m hearing things much more in those terms than I used to. Having embarked on a bit of a career as a sculptor recently I actually really like that idea of it just being pretty bony – not too slicked up. I think sometimes when you overdub a couple of backing vocals, those can sound good. But once you get three on there it’s a whole other world and now we’re starting to smooth it. Record four or five and suddenly all bets are off – it becomes too polished, or conversely, turns to mush. I prefer sounds being sharp and rough. Having said all that I’ll probably triple-track the next thing I do! (laughs).
Go to: www.jimmoginie.com for more info on Jim Moginie’s solo albums and extra curricular activities.
LIVE RECORDING IN CANS JM: Recording with headphones can sometimes really cripple a recording. They can make musicians become very critical of their own performance and then they start to collapse. The air comes out of the song like a balloon and they fall on the floor. They become nit-picky and a pain in the arse. Sometimes it’s much better to record with everyone playing live at the same time. Music is about energy, not just clarity. When I record in here with The Break [A surf band Jim plays guitar in with Rob Hirst, Martin Rotsey and Brian Ritchie] I just put up a few perspex screens to get a modicum of separation and then we just go for it. Bass blasts straight into the kick, and guitars are in the room. It’s just a quicker way to get to the heart of it. And really good surf music is all about the energy anyway. Put the reverb up really high… that big moving sound is much bigger than the thought of the song. The sound of the song is what gives birth to the song
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HIT (& MISS) RECORD
Some people need one; others think they don’t. But what is a producer anyway? Text: Greg Walker
In the creative life of a band or singer/songwriter there will almost inevitably come a time when the question is asked: do we need a producer? Creative cul-de-sacs, an over-abundance of ideas, the benevolent (or sinister) concerns of managers and record labels and the simple desire to embark on an exciting collaboration are just some of the reasons why a producer may be called in. If and when this call is made then it immediately begs another question – who? In this article I’m going to try and demystify what it is that a producer actually does, and along the way provide some rough guidelines for when and why you might need one, as well as how you might actually choose the producer that’s appropriate to your needs. Indeed, while writing this I realised that the critical decision to employ a producer gives rise to many questions about the artist’s needs and wants, so I’ve also included many of these questions below to spark the readers’ thoughts and to help examine the various issues that can arise. WHAT IS A PRODUCER? The job of ‘Producer’ is one of the most ambiguous and oft misunderstood jobs in the world of music recording. While some records will sell largely on the basis of the producer’s credit (these people are usually the creative genius behind the record as opposed to the singer), the word can also conjure up images of major label-imposed cookie cutters sending shivers up the spines of helpless artists, old-time cigar smokers in suits poring over sheet music arrangements, not to mention the more modern phenomenon of young bands getting a bloke from their favourite, more established band to come in and ‘produce’ (i.e. drink beer) for them. There are people like Steve Albini who have built fantastic reputations as producers by effectively not producing bands (or more accurately not overproducing them) and then there’s people like Stock, Aitken and Waterman who churned out cloying hit after hit during the ’80s with formulaic precision where songwriters and singers were almost entirely interchangeable.
Most producers fall somewhere in between these two extremes and the more skilful ones will be able to quickly assess and adapt to the needs of a band or solo artist in order to develop the best possible working methods and produce
the best outcomes. Bands also produce themselves of course, sometimes with amazing results, but alas, not always. In cases where the artist is very focused and competent in a wide range of musical skills, the producer may be little more than a taste filter, extra set of ears and witness to the recording process. In other cases the producer will be required to utilise every skill he or she has (and even learn some new ones along the way) in order to realise the potential of the project. NAVIGATIONAL AID The two classic scenarios for enlisting the help of a producer are early in an artist’s career when they need help to navigate the strange new landscape of recording studios, label budgets and popular taste, and in mid-career when things need a bit of a shove from outside to propel the artist into a new creative phase. Some bands self-produce well but then feel the need to step up a gear when they become more successful. Others need a new producer for each successive album and are always on the lookout for fresh production aesthetics to keep the band’s sound developing. There are plenty of studio-savvy musicians out there quite capable of engineering themselves, not to mention a great many gifted engineers. One trigger for calling in a producer is when good material somehow isn’t translating into great recordings; songs feel only just the sum of their parts and good recordings still feel somehow unfinished and no-one really seems to be able to pull the whole thing together and make it sing. Bringing in a producer often means a fresh approach to song selection, arrangement, keys, tempos, structures, parts and sounds, and sometimes even basic instrumentation and recording personnel as well. The artist or band must be ready to give away a little of themselves in order to give the producer the space to be creative with what they are generating, and the ideal recording process with a producer on board is one of collaborative creativity in which good ideas are magnified and bad ones quickly considered and discarded. DECISION TIME Choosing to bring in a producer is a huge decision for bands, managers and record labels; increasingly so since recording budgets have shrunk dramatically in recent years and many artists will be either self-funded or have painfully finite external funds to draw on.
There are a number of very good reasons to involve a producer, however, and if the choice is a good one then the benefits can be dramatic. There are various types of producers out there who offer different qualities and abilities that we’ll look into in greater detail in a moment. To my mind however, the first and foremost criterion for choosing a producer is that they should be able to draw out great performances from the artist. This aspect of the producer/artist relationship requires a certain level of personal trust and musical alignment to really blossom and gets easily overlooked in midst of studio bookings, logistical and technical details and band/manager/label politics. One of the best strategies is to try out a producer for a day or two on one song and just see if you gel, if it’s awkward and the results not what you’d hoped for then you move on to someone else. If the vocalist can’t hit their stride or the creative genius disappears into his shell then you’ve only got a day or two to endure. This avoids the most horrible of situations where you’ve got a band/producer mismatch that just goes on and on because of time limitations and financial commitments – a recipe to be avoided at all costs! KEEP THE WHOLE THING GOING BABY… The first port of call when choosing a producer is to look at their body of previous work – you’d be crazy not to check out what records they’ve produced and whether their production style and aesthetic suits your music. Indeed, most producers get the nod because someone in the band or management likes something they have previously worked on.
Another important consideration is how much momentum they can add to a project. Can they smooth out the odd bit of friction between band members? Can they get you into studio ‘X’ at a discounted rate because they’ve worked there a lot and know the owners? Do they come up with great
arrangement ideas that keep a recording on the boil and keep everyone excited? Are they the more technically minded producer who can engineer and produce at the same time and save you one person’s wages, or are they more the intuitive non-technical type that can sit in the back of the room and chime in with the occasional brilliant observation that sets both the artist and the engineer on the right path? Can they play a couple of instruments and
a producer should be able to draw out great performances from the artist
chime in with some great parts when everyone else is stuck? Can they help tune the drum kit and fix the buzz in the mic and correct the shitty intonation on the old bass that you just bought off ebay? Do you like their aesthetic when it comes to guitar, drum and vocal sounds? Can they pull you up with an honest critical comment about the crap lyric in the really good song when everyone else is too scared or lazy to mention it? Have they got their own set-up where you can do overdubs cheaply? Other questions that may influence your decision can be both more and less technical: can they
write and read music and arrange string and horn parts? Do they have a good knowledge of the type of music you want to make and the bands that influence you? Are they easy to talk to and confide in? Do they know when to shut up and listen? Are they more comfortable with full band sessions or do they shine working one-on-one with a singer/ songwriter? Jeez, I could go on for days here but these are the kind of questions you should be asking yourself and anyone else who has had experience working with them. The Australian music scene is fundamentally a small one, or a series of small ones, so word gets around pretty quickly if someone is consistently producing dud records or coming up through the ranks with something new to offer. Listen to some local recordings and ask around and you’ll soon get a shortlist of names. While there’s a handful of great Australian producers whose names are synonymous with good quality and regular commercial success, there’s also scads of capable, often brilliant people around who have the capacity to be great producers for the right record. Some definitely shine on certain types of music and may have a trademark sound. Others can be chameleons who pride themselves on becoming the right producer for whatever they work on and try to leave few if any sonic fingerprints on their records. A hip-hop producer will need to be well versed in the touchy aesthetics of sampled snare and kick sounds while a hard rock producer needs to be able to create a widescreen sound with amps, guitars and volume as his or her main tools. Some people produce 10 albums a year while others might only do one every couple of years in between other projects. Do your research and get a good feel for the kind of person you’re going to be dealing with. Finding the right producer usually comes down to a combination of musical taste, availability, personal compatibility and budget.
WHO ARE YOU THIS TIME? There’s another aspect of the producer scenario that deserves mention here too, and again, it’s different for every project but here’s the fundamental question: what do you want the producer to do? Do you want them to be at the heart of every creative decision throughout the entire project or do you just need them to come in now and again and help sift the wheat from the chaff?
If you’re a competent player and home recordist with a good ear and lots of ideas you might just need someone to come in now and again and give you some honest comments and advice, and engage an engineer when required instead. If you’re the poetic, fully-committed-lifestyle type artist you might need a producer who can literally drag you out of bed or the pub and transport you physically into a recording environment and organise everything including your drug supply. Do you need a producer to stay up till dawn with you and hold your hand while you plunder your soul and your voice for every last drop of emotion on the ‘big’ song? Do you need them to stand by your side looking grimly determined while you sack the drummer? Do you need them to take charge of booking in players and studio time to free you up to play the creative role without distractions? Do you just need a producer to help nail the beds in a pro studio and then you’ll take it off into a distant bedroom to finish and (maybe) bring it back for mixing? Do you just need a producer to help you knock it into shape and finish off a project once the majority of the tracking has been done? Regardless of which one of these scenarios comes closest to describing your situation, if you find a producer you like and trust you should definitely clarify as much as possible what you want them to do, and who you want them to be, for your project. Try to decide roughly where the power will actually lie and be upfront about it – will the final say lie with the artist or the producer? Or is it the label manager or A&R person who will make
final judgement calls on the tracks? After weeks or months of creative slog everyone will have some kind of ownership of the project and if you can agree on a way of resolving gridlocks with some sort of clarity everyone will stay focused on the bigger picture. Give the producer too much power and the artist may start to feel disenfranchised; give the producer too little power and basically money is being spent to hire someone who isn’t being allowed to do their job. IT’S ABOUT THE SONGS STUPID! Some may disagree, but I think the most useful thing producers do is help choose which songs will comprise the album. The more I produce the more I see the pre-production process and track choice as the two most essential steps in the whole enterprise, and I think most artists benefit from an honest opinion and a fresh set of ears when assessing which songs will work best before embarking on a new record. It’s not always a popular thing to do but sometimes the best thing a producer can do for an artist who’s about to spend 10 grand plus on an album is to tell them to go away for three months and come back with 10 new songs. Going into the studio with no songs and prodigious talent can be successful on occasion, but going into the studio with 12 mediocre songs is a recipe for disaster!
Bring your best asset, which is good material, and you give yourself every chance of success. Always go in with at least a few extra songs to record too as it’s amazing how ugly duckling songs can sometimes turn into swans in the studio, and swans can occasionally morph into scrub turkeys! I’ve been in many situations where an album ends up one song short of greatness, and no songwriter shines when they’re under pressure to write the hit song of their life after a gruelling four-week recording block. Once you’ve made the call on the songs, a lot of production is to do with little decisions: do we like that guitar part?; is that the
right tempo?; should the middle-eight be twice as long?; is that the best take?; was it better when you sang it louder/softer? After days of tracking these decisions really do pile up and you need to find ways of making them quickly and decisively while keeping everyone involved. A good producer will be able to speed you on your way through these and other decisions while keeping the bigger picture firmly in focus. THE PRODUCER’S OFF RESERVATION! Of course you have to go into the process with good intentions and an open mind but there are some things to look out for, and some definite telltale signs when your project is heading south. The most telling of these is when the producer starts to work on the tracks on his own, without consultation or your blessing and annoying amounts of dubious keyboard overdubs start appearing on your hitherto sparse and Nebraskaish folk songs. An alternate version of this nightmare is when most of the idiosyncratic but quite cool drum sounds on the record mysteriously get replaced by ‘industry standard’ kick and snare samples, again without any discussion. Other dangers include the tendency of some producers to get lost in ProTools edit-land while the band stands around waiting to actually play something, or they start taking endless phone calls during the sessions, or call in some offsider to take over and promptly disappear for two weeks. Then there’s the infamous ‘producer is more of an artist than the artist’ syndrome, where the producer will drink, smoke, snort and cavort with far more enthusiasm than the rest of the band put together (this can also dovetail into ‘producer is breaking up with wife’ syndrome), which further saps morale and tends to make for testy interactions over the headphone sends. The producer should be oiling the wheels of the fantastical machine that is your album, not steering it into a ditch or stalling it in the middle of the road!
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THE ARTIST’S OFF RESERVATION! Having said all that, artists too have their responsibilities to the producer and the project. Getting to the studio on time with a clear head and a bunch of great songs will endear you to just about everyone involved and keeps morale high. Arriving late with a posse of drunken friends can create a vibe too, but is less likely to result in timeless musical magic being captured for posterity – depends on the project and the talent though! Telltale warning signs the producer should be aware of are as follows: the artist changes their mind about what kind of record they want to make on a daily basis and there’s an unnerving lack of actual songs; the band spend most of their time glaring at each other and communicating via the producer; everyone always wants more of themselves in the headphone mix; the artist has an incredible string of ‘bad-luck’ experiences rendering them unable to pay (very bad for producer morale); the artist is so intent on getting each element of the recording perfectly in time and in tune that all life is slowly squeezed out of the recordings and everyone – including the artist – eventually loses interest in finishing the thing; the artist has had a bad relationship break-up and insists on recording a turgid flow of cathartic heartbreak songs even though the band is renowned for their high energy live shows. I could go on forever here too… you can’t make up some of the stuff that actually happens in the studio, so be alert but not alarmed.
As a producer one of the most important words I’ve had to learn is the word ‘no’. If you aren’t the right person for the job you may know this before the band does, and you owe it to them to be straight up about it. In my experience nothing good comes of taking on a project either for financial gain or because it looks good on your CV. Producers should be into the music they work on, able to work with the artist and throw real enthusiasm into the mix. Otherwise it inevitably shows somewhere down the line. Even when working on albums they love, producers are frequently stretched close to breaking strain. There are some great albums made under duress by people who have the shits with each other, and others are made by neurotic geniuses who need ridiculous amounts of ‘people management’ just to make it through. Producers are regularly asked to perform minor miracles on songs either by making something big out of something fundamentally slight or by amplifying the creative processes such that musical ideas have more emotional impact than they perhaps originally had any right to. Be kind to your producer and try not to wear them out at the get-go by keeping them going 16 hours a day for weeks on end. Treat them well, allow them some sleep and decent food, and they will provide weeks and months of trouble free service to you and your art. ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL If the producer/band alignment is good, the producer can help take the band to the next level in terms of their performance, their songs and arrangements and the realisation of their ideas into great sounds. They might even help sell some records too, but as always it comes back to the raw material and the intentions involved. A really great producer will bring something new to the table and energise the artist to produce their best work. This might involve sitting for hours at a computer editing MIDI notes or just being the silent witness to an awesome live take once all the pieces are in place – or pretty much anything in between. The producers that really earn their salt are the true all-rounders who can work on both sides of the glass and chip in with technical, artistic, musical or personnel management ideas and solutions that keep everyone focused on the music, not all the stuff that goes on around it.
In today’s environment the majority of producers will have technical and engineering skills they can bring to the table as well as a collection of mics, preamps and other bits and pieces to throw into the mix. If they don’t have their own premises they will almost certainly be able to offer a range of possible recording locations where they know the gear and the rooms. They will also have a mental list of phone numbers if you need an appropriate red-hot guitarist, cellist or singing saw player for a critical overdub. In more traditional cases they can also choose the songs, the players, book the studio and prop you and your martini glass up for five minutes in front of a microphone if that’s what you need, and the final mastered mix will arrive the following week by courier. Great records are made by people in a room together bringing the best out of each other. There are many technical aspects to it of course but it’s fundamentally about harnessing human energy and ideas. If your songs are good but coming out sounding a bit flat and lifeless or it’s time for a change of direction but you’re not quite sure how to effect that change, you may be in need of a producer. If you get that choice right, great things can happen.
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HOLE TRUTH ROOM PENETRATIONS: THEIR TREATMENT & MANAGEMENT
Every studio needs them, but how do we stop room penetration points – doors, windows and air-conditioning ducts etc – from destroying the isolation integrity of our studios? Text: Greg Tailby
If you’re one of those AT readers who’s lucky enough to be preparing to embark on your own studio design and construction soon, whether it be at home or elsewhere, it’s critical to understand the two fundamental aspects involved in designing a decent acoustic enclosure. One of these is ‘isolation’ of the space from the surrounding environment, the other is its ‘sound field’ aspect: how it sounds inside that enclosure.
It’s a tricky undertaking building a studio space. There’s so much we need to ferry in and out of a studio – people, air, power, light, heating and cooling – that by the time it’s all said and done, a badly designed studio space can often look more like Swiss cheese than an acoustic enclosure, and being full of holes isn’t exactly conducive to good sound isolation. So how do we solve this conundrum?
The overall design of your new space must combine an understanding of these two fundamentals, not just one or the other – a common mistake many people make. Your new space can’t simply be built like a bomb shelter; be great at preventing sound from escaping or penetrating the space, but sound truly awful on the inside. Nor can your new space be fantastic sounding on the inside and yet hopeless at keeping sounds in and out. Understanding how these two requirements of your studio knit together to create a productive and inviting workspace is the real trick. So let’s explore these two concepts further shall we?
INSANE IN THE MEMBRANE There are umpteen products and techniques that can be used to address the issues involved in providing the actual sound barrier (membrane) to the enclosure, depending on your budget and sound transmission loss (STL) requirements. However, once you put a hole through this membrane – no matter how small – the vast majority of your isolation is lost… The key to a successful outcome is to plan ahead and incorporate these necessary elements into the overall design. If you don’t – if you turn a blind eye to them and forge ahead without a plan – you’re going to come unstuck.
IT TAKES TWO I generally refer to the two aforementioned fundamentals of acoustic enclosure design as the ‘sound treatment’ and ‘isolation treatment’. If you like, they’re the Yin and Yang of any good studio design. The sound treatment is all about what we need to do to the inside of the room to make it sound good, while the isolation treatment refers to what we need to do to stop the room from leaking sound into the outside environment, or having it leak in.
The isolation treatment (for sound loss through a ‘penetration point’ in your membrane) is based on the understanding of some basic facts about sound. Firstly, sound doesn’t travel well around corners. Secondly, and perhaps most fundamentally, sound loses energy over distance and through friction if exposed to fibrous material. (Fibres vibrating against each other convert sound energy to heat). Making a penetration point airtight is arguably the most effective method to employ… but also the most theoretical. In practice, it’s actually very
difficult to achieve an airtight seal on something designed to open and close umpteen times a day. What’s worse, until your enclosure is finished it’s hard to test for its success or failure and – if there’s an issue – it can be expensive and sometimes impossible to treat. These basic principles inform our approach to treating the problems involved in building a successful acoustic enclosure. THE GREAT ESCAPE The most effective way of dealing with escaping sound is to position a penetration point at a location where there’s a large cavity or corridor behind it that can act as a backstop – think of it like the wicketkeeper behind a fast bowler. Commonly referred to as an ‘airlock’ or ‘sound lock’, this cavity is then treated with fibrous material on its surfaces to absorb the sound. Rather than trying to prevent the sound escaping through the penetration point in the first place – a practical impossibility in most cases anyway – it’s far more effective to manage the escaping sound energy by dissipating it within this extra space – ramming the soundwave into all that absorbent material and guiding it through all that air. But as you may have already surmised, this treatment option often takes up far more space than if we’d simply stopped the sound more effectively back at the penetration point, so you’re probably already asking yourself: ‘ what other less spaceconsuming options are available to me that I can incorporate into my design?’ FLOATING FLOORS If your enclosure is to have a ‘floating’ floor (one that’s decoupled from the enclosure) – and it should – this is an excellent point at which to make a penetration for cabling. Apart from the fact that it minimises clutter by bringing the cables up through the floor only where you
Fig. 1: Cross section of a double-layer floor sitting on timber batons decoupled from a concrete slab on neoprene pads (floating floor). Sound travels through the penetration and reflects between the slab and floating floor, passing through the absorption material at each reflection, thus losing sound energy.
want them, it’s inherently far more soundproof provided the sub-floor is sound insulated, as Fig. 1 demonstrates. In this diagram above, sound goes through the hole in our floor and into the absorptive material below, which immediately soaks up some of the energy. The remaining energy is then reflected back up off the concrete slab and into the underside of the floating floor, whereupon it’s reflected back down into the absorption layer once again, absorbing yet more energy.
This happens repeatedly until the soundwave is eventually killed off – converted almost entirely into heat energy. Below is a diagram of the audio and data cabling layout at Nut and Butter Studios in Marrickville, Sydney (see Fig. 2). These penetrations are far enough from the walls to allow the absorption below the floor to reduce noise energy before it reaches the wall cavity. Because the cable pathways don’t have much in the way of absorptive material inside them, if they were straight they’d simply provide an escape tunnel for the sound. Not good. To combat this we’ve introduced bends and turns into the cable pathways, to create a longer, more complex passageway that soundwaves find difficult to navigate their way through, and thus dissipate into heat energy before they can escape. This is all quite straightforward to design, but of course laying cables isn’t and this technique also demands that you use more cable. The trick is to balance the need for short cable runs with the demands for sound isolation. Cables also need to be laid flat and parallel to each other whenever possible, and be relieved of tension so they stay where they’re laid and not crossed over each other. You need to take your time with this procedure as it’s easy to accidentally couple your floating floor to the sub-floor via a tightly fitted cable installation, which can ruin the isolation you’ve fought hard to achieve. The following photo (Fig. 3) shows cables properly laid and intersecting at the point where they will come up through the floor.
Fig. 2: Floor plan of two enclosures within a room showing floor penetrations and cable layout. Notice the use of bends and turns in the cable pathway, taking advantage of the fact that sound doesn’t travel around corners well and dissipates over distance.
BAFFLED A more involved penetration is typically the one you drive through a wall. Fig. 4 (below) shows plan and elevation drawings for a baffled penetration point that uses the wall studs and noggins as the frame of the box itself.
In this example, the cabling comes up from under the floor, into the baffle at the lower left corner, winds around the box and out through the membrane of the adjoining room. Notice the ‘in’ and ‘out’ points are situated on different planes – meaning the sound is made to work hard to find its way out through the maze of twists and turns inside the box, rather than being given a direct line-of-sight path through the wall. And, of course, the harder the sound has to work to get through, the weaker the sound wave will ultimately be. Curiously, it’s more effective to only partially fill the box with absorbent material by only covering one face of each parallel surface with absorbency. This allows more surface area of absorption rather than creating a tunnel through the baffle. SPLIT-SYSTEM AIR-CONDITIONING Isolation of penetration points for split-system air-conditioning is another common concern for studio owners – one that basically involves the same issues we’ve just dealt with in relation to cabling. There are, however, a few extra issues to consider, one of which has a simple and somewhat surprising solution. Air-conditioning units have a waste pipe for condensation, which
Fig. 3: You must take care that your cabling is laid correctly to avoid coupling your floating floor to the sub-floor.
Fig. 4: Plan and elevation drawings for a wall penetration baffle utilising the wall sub-frame. As with our floor penetrations, use a complex pathway for the cable. Access is obviously critical and emphasizes the importance of thorough planning. AT 21
Doorways are definitely the most vulnerable element in your studio and perhaps the best example of why solutions for these penetration points are best described as ‘treatments’ rather than ‘cures’
through it. This can be overcome, however – to a reasonable degree at least – by putting a p-trap in the line (just like the one in your toilet that stops bad smells from coming back up the pipe). This blocks the airflow through the tube but still allows the water to drain away. The pipe is quite narrow so we’re not talking low frequency transmission here, but there are still some higher frequencies to contend with. If the isolation is insufficient, the waste pipe should terminate in a cavity, such as a bathroom for instance, which has fibrous material fitted to opposing surfaces, as discussed earlier. The other important consideration is the transmission of vibrations through the coolant pipelines. It might seem insubstantial, but if hard-fixed to your room, or if they make contact with your isolation box, coolant pipes will set up a mechanical resonance loop that will be sympathetic to a room frequency and this will ultimately boost the level of that frequency in your room. Finally, there’s also the small issue of maintenance, inspection for leaks and the ability to fit the fan unit to the tubing. Most designs or air-conditioning systems in studios fail to incorporate the basic ability to inspect the system once it’s installed, and this can cause untold problems in the future. Fig. 5 shows a sketch of the isolation units we designed for Nut and Butter Studios that incorporates access ‘lids’ into the design, allowing for future access. Basically the only difference is that the lids for the back of the box are sealed in place with neoprene gaskets rather than sealant. This enables the lids to be screwed on and off whenever the air-conditioning needs to be inspected for whatever reason. FRESH AIR SYSTEM Fig. 6 (left) shows the layout for a fresh air system in the roof space of Nut and Butter Studios. Here the system is comprised of the air intake/filter box, which sucks air in from outside the building. This is ducted to an in-line fan which then splits off to our vent-in baffled boxes (shown in Fig. 7, 8 and 9) via as much acoustic ducting as we could fit into the space in a snaking pattern. The vent-out boxes are placed as far away from the intakes as possible to maximise the ventilation of the rooms and these vent out into the treated roof cavity. They’re also far enough away from the aircon that the cooled/heated air doesn’t go straight out into the roof cavity. It’s very important that your air-conditioned air flows through the room to cool it before it finds its way out again, otherwise all you’ll end up with is a poorly air-conditioned room and an enormous power bill.
Fig. 6: A very basic fresh air system installation utilising the cavity of a gable roof. Its simplicity is enabled by the fact that the cavity is above the enclosures and that they share the cavity. The air intake therefore doesn’t require isolation treatment and the two enclosures can utilise the one system.
DOORWAYS Doorways are definitely the most vulnerable element in your studio and perhaps the best example of why solutions for these penetration points are best described as ‘treatments’ rather than ‘cures’. It’s not just about having a sound proof door. There are many issues involved: the rigidity of the door, door frame and wall; having such a big hole in it; whether you need a window; the floor at the doorway; the door catch and light switch.
There are many types of door construction and door seal systems around these days, but a great system I use repeatedly is one that was designed by BBC engineers and used in their studios all over the world. This system utilises a door with an absorbent edge that reduces sound energy as it passes between the door and the door frame. Most other systems attempt an airtight seal, which, from experience, fails as soon as there’s any movement in your room or door. If you were relying on these seals you’d have to adjust them every time you needed maximum isolation. Nothing I’ve seen can tolerate that frequency of adjustment and it’s a difficult (not to mention time consuming) activity. Fig. 10 shows a photo of the sub structure of the ‘BBC doors’ concept. The timber is just rough sawn 4x2, set back 70mm from the door edge. This creates a space to fit the absorbent material when the other door skin is fitted, as shown in Fig. 11. All the sub frame timber must be sealed against the door skins and at all the joins, so it can be filled with kiln-dried sand once the door is hung. This adds mass to the door, which increases its sound transmission loss (STL). Fig. 10 also shows the hinge blocks, which are housed into the back of the 18mm ply faces for maximum strength to cope with the weight. We also use a drop seal at the bottom of the door instead of the absorbent edge, because a): it tolerates a lot of door/room movement and b): it’s airtight, so if we find we need extra isolation, we can add the airtight perimeter seals later, without having to take the door off again to complete the seal. Fig. 12 shows the finished hanging door with perforated edge trim and bottom seal fitted. The construction of the doorway opening is shown in Fig. 13. Double wall studs are used on each side of the door opening to compensate for the loss of structure in the wall from making such a big hole. The room membrane then continues around to form the door frame. Where the sheets butt together, we leave a 5mm gap, which we then fill with a sealant. This is copying the actual room membrane technique. The reason for a gap of this size is that the sealant will retain its integrity with movement of 20% either way. That is, it will stay sealed if the gap shrinks or expands by 1mm. That seems to be enough from my experience. It’s a lot of material, which is why the gap is only 5mm, You could of course have a wider join, but this will invariably cost more in terms of sealant. At Blackfoot Sound in St Peters, Sydney, I think we spent around $2000 on sealant alone, so it’s no exaggeration to say that every extra millimetre you incorporate into the design becomes pricey. BUT WAIT, THERE’S A CATCH Unless you’re intending to design a ‘Star Trek’ type door that slides open and shuts with a hiss of hydraulic seals you’re also going to need some sort of door catch. In my opinion, electromagnetic fire door catches are definitely the way to go for studios and work well with this particular door construction. The beauty of magnetic catches is that there’s no penetration point through the door itself, and the magnetic catch is on the outside of the frame, so the power cable penetration is outside also. There’s a push button opener both inside and outside the room
It’s probably not necessary to use absorptive material on both side walls as shown – the pathway for the airflow is so complex the tunnelling effect doesn’t exist and it adds slightly more surface area absorption. Although the vent-in and vent-out boxes are the same design and the installed vent-out box shown in picture is with the fronts fitted, the vent-in boxes require a simple sheet metal cowling/adaptor to connect to the type of acoustic ducting you decide to use.
Fig. 10: The ‘absorbent edge’ door substructure, ready to fit the other door skin: All the joins must be caulked with sealant to contain the sand that fills the cavities once the door is hung.
Fig. 11: It’s undesirable to use fasteners on the edge of a door as it’s prone to some damage, so machine a rebate to house the edge trim and glue it in place.
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Fig. 7,8 & 9: The side view of the interior of the vent box baffles shows the 300 x 50mm pathway through the box with the absorption placed in a way that doesn’t defy gravity. It’s still glued because it will eventually come unstuck if placed in a hanging position.
Fig. 5: Plan and elevation drawings for a ‘split system air-conditioning’ baffle. The diagrams above show condenser pipes only for simplicity, but your electrical cabling and waste pipe would also follow this pathway. You must allow enough clearance through the baffle to ensure the pipe doesn’t touch the box to avoid mechanical resonance. Notice also that there is ‘fall’ on the pathway to allow the waste to drain, which must be at least 50mm per metre of pipe.
A badly designed studio space can often look more like Swiss cheese than an acoustic enclosure
with only the inside one requiring isolation treatment.
Fig. 12: The completed hung door: Here the doorway floor is actually part of the wall structure and is isolated from the rest of the floor so that when the bottom seal drops down to seal, it doesn’t couple the wall to the floating floor.
Fig. 13: Doorway opening construction technique with cable penetration baffle for light and door catch switch cabling: Here leave 5mm gaps at all joins, which are then filled with flexible sealant to ensure an airtight seal.
Fig. 14: Penetration for a window using two panes of sealed, floating glass. The two panes must be at least 100mm apart, with absorptive material in the cavity to be effective.
Fig. 13 also shows the treatment for the door and light switch penetrations. The same principles apply here as with our wall penetration discussed earlier in Fig. 4. The only difference being that we drill the hole diagonally through the membrane, continuing through the sub frame of the doorway and into the area between the studs and noggins. As with all your isolation boxes, lids, and the second layer of board on your boxes, we maintain the room membrane technique of allowing gaps and filling them. Run the cable into this box and out through the noggin at the top and up to the roof cavity (ie, on a different plane) as far from the entry point as possible. I like to seal these penetration points as well, by routing a channel in some board – about 10mm deep – and fitting it over the back of the hole with the cable running along the channel and out at the end. Fix this by using heaps of sealant and screws so it oozes out everywhere. Then treat the inside of the box with absorption and fit a lid. The lid should be 5mm undersized all around, and be bedded to the internal frame with sealant, screwed and then caulked. It all seems pretty over-the-top, but what we’re actually doing here is effectively adding an extension to the room. The only point where we want leakage is where we want it to leak! POWER THROUGH THE PEEPHOLE Typically when I build a studio for a client there’s a roof cavity to work with, and in my experience the roof is the obvious place to lay all the power cables for the studio. It’s neat, allows future access and is quick because there’s very little in the way of fixing required. It also keeps your power away from your data and audio cable where it might otherwise cause interference. The vent-out boxes are a good place to run the light power if you’re using them, otherwise, I generally build boxes within the rafters like the wall iso boxes. As the rafters are invariably deeper than the wall stud, you end up with bigger boxes, which is a bonus. The bigger the box, the better the absorption. We only need one penetration per room for the power as we run it in a chain around the inside of the room in conduit below the sound treatment equipment. Most rooms require some form of corner treatment unit anyway, and this provides a convenient and inconspicuous installation for power from the roof to the chain.
WINDOWS Windows in your studio should essentially be built in the same manner as the doorways. My favourite approach is to fit two panes of floating glass within this opening creating an air-tight seal (see Fig. 14). I prefer to use neoprene housings as opposed to silicon because you risk either a big mess or failure if you don’t use precisely the right amount. There are lots of factors and opinions regarding what glass thickness to use, how far apart the panes should be and whether they should be parallel or skewed, but in terms of isolation, the model illustrated here will provide sound insulation of almost 50dB by using a 6mm pane and an 8mm pane, provided it’s carefully built.
The distance between the two panes of glass must be at least 100mm to work, and distances of up to about 200mm will give you even more isolation. The absorption between the glass, around the inside of the frame discourages resonance in the air space between the two panes and contributes significantly to its efficiency. Just remember to clean the glass thoroughly before you install it – there’s nothing more frustrating than a conspicuous smudge on the inside of the glass! BASICS OUTLINED So far I’ve only outlined the basic principles for the sound isolation of penetrations. There is, of course, far more to it, and more specific examples of some of the principles introduced here will be explored in greater detail in forthcoming issues of AT.
The techniques discussed and examples given here have been done so with the specific intention of providing the home studio enthusiast or professional with the basic information required to achieve a successful outcome. Gaining a greater insight into what goes on behind (and between) the walls, floors and roofs of a studio is vitally important if you’re intending to embark on this sort of construction yourself. It’s sometimes easy to forget that power, data, aircon, fresh air, doors and windows all need access in and out of a studio space. Without these needs built into your design from the outset, you’re likely to be disappointed with the final outcome. The variations on these examples are infinite, of course, but having the right approach will enable you to overcome any isolation issues that you would normally encounter. Stay tuned for more on this in future issues of AT. Until then, good luck with your design!
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PC AUDIO Are your hard drives crammed to the gills? Are you dreading the day when you have to replace them and install everything all over again? Fear not, and read some practical advice on an easier way forward. Text: Martin Walker
However big your hard drives are, sooner or later they will become full, and when that happens you face three alternatives. Firstly, you can buy a new PC, which isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds, since you may have been using your current computer for several years before you finally ran out of space, and now might be the perfect time to investigate a machine featuring a more powerful processor, more RAM, and so on. Second, and the easiest option, would be to buy and install one or more additional hard drives. All you need to do in this scenario is power down, attach suitable power and data cables to the new drives after bolting them into their appropriate internal drive bays, and reboot your PC. The new drive(s) should be automatically recognised, and you can then format and partition them to your heart’s content using one of the many partition manager utilities (for instance, Easeus Partition Master offers a free Home Edition, downloadable from www.partition-tool.com). I decided to go with the third option: replacing my two existing drives with two new and larger models. Although this approach takes a little more work, since you’ll need to get your Windows install up and running on the new drives, by sticking with two drives you’ll keep acoustic noise levels to a minimum, and your all-important data will end up on a new drive rather than remain on an elderly one that’s more than likely to go belly-up at some stage. I bought Western Digital Caviar Blue drives of 640GB capacity; they’re reliable, provide slightly better performance than the Green models but cost significantly less than the Black ones. When replacing existing drives you can of course start afresh and format/partition them to provide a fresh and empty canvas, then re-install Windows and all your applications from scratch, finally transferring over your personal data from backups. This is ideal if you need a good cleanout, and especially if you tend to install loads of stuff over the years that gradually clogs up your system and lowers its performance. It’s also the
perfect opportunity to install Windows 7 if you haven’t already done so, although don’t expect any earth-shattering performance improvements over Windows XP (still the musician’s favourite).
old data drive and leave the new one in place. Although you do have to be methodical, this approach can save several days of re-installing everything from scratch.
I’m rather more selective about what I install, and employ regular housekeeping on my Windows PC. Because of this I’m still running a Windows XP system that I first installed nearly four years ago, yet which still runs smoothly and reliably. So, I was perfectly happy to avoid the extra hassle of starting from scratch, instead coping everything over intact and ready to run from my previous drives – Windows, applications, data, the lot. Using a drive imaging utility such as the aforementioned Easeus Partition Master, or Acronis True Image or Norton Ghost (among others), you just need to temporarily plug in the new drive destined for Windows+Applications, power up and partition it to suit your latest requirements, and then restore the latest image file taken of your existing Windows partition to a partition on the new drive.
Personally, I think the most important thing is to take your time to decide on a suitable partitioning scheme for your new drives before you actually plug them in and start transferring any data across. I know loads of people just format their new drives as one vast partition, but to me this is asking for trouble in the future, since this makes it more difficult to keep everything backed up than having your data on partitions separate from your Windows+Applications.
Once you’ve copied over all the required data from any other partitions on your old Windows+Applications drive, power down again, remove it and use its power and data cables to plug in your new Windows+Applications drive. Then when you reboot you should find yourself back on your old familiar desktop, but running on a fresh, new and shiny hard drive with lots more space for expansion. The only fly in the ointment may be that a few copy-protected applications may smell a rat when they discover themselves installed on a different hard drive, and demand to be re-activated, thinking they have been cloned onto a new PC. Thankfully the vast majority of my dongle and serial number protected audio software survived intact, leaving only a handful of items with challenge/response protection that needed re-authorising. It’s even easier for additional non-Windows data drives – just copy the data across to the new data drive, partition by partition, then unplug the
Generally, with a twin-drive system, it’s sensible to split the first drive into an outer partition housing Windows and your software applications, and then partition the remaining space for your personal data and possibly for storage of streaming sample libraries. The second drive generally gets devoted to audio recording/playback, but why not also have a partition on it for Windows backups, so you can laugh in the face of adversity if your PC ever crashes, knowing that even if the Windows drive fails you have a recent image file on the other drive that can be restored within a few minutes of replacing the faulty drive? I find the easiest way to decide how to split each drive is to write down your current partition sizes and splits, increase them all by at least 50%, and then think long and hard about any improvements you can make to the current regime. For instance, I decided to create a new vstplugins partition on my second drive, again for easier backup of my own plug-in and softsynth presets and libraries, but also because so many VST synths now have vast libraries. Mine already has 20GB of data on it that I’d prefer not to be bloating my Windows partition and making its backups so much bigger and less manageable. Partitioning may ultimately be a boring task, but it doesn’t half make your life easier in the long run!
MAC AUDIO Got problems with a frozen hard drive? Time to break out the iCepick. Text: Brad Watts
It’s always good to have a few cold ones in the fridge, and in some cases that includes your hard drive. It doesn’t seem to matter where I live in Australia, people always manage to dig out my mobile number and call me in a frantic state when a hard drive ceases to function. In many cases it’s a system drive that’s curled up its toes, which in the case of audio-related Macs, isn’t that great a tragedy. Typically, a studio oriented machine only keeps an operating system and a bunch of applications on the system drive, so all that’s required is erasing the drive and reinstalling a system and the required applications. Theoretically, your sample libraries should be on separate drives too. At worst, the drive could be damaged and require replacement before embarking on reinstalling a system. Where a drive failure becomes a gut wrenching experience is when that drive is storing months of audio projects – nobody enjoys the sinking feeling when they realise six months worth of data is no longer accessible. Paying (or indeed non-paying) clients could rightfully ask for their money back if you lost a week of tracking, not to mention the rumours that would inevitably infiltrate the population at large about your sloppy data management. Of course, the best way to avoid this happening is to keep a consolidated backup regime, but drives do fail, and sometimes recovery is the only option. RESUSCITATION So where to begin with a drive that will no longer mount on your desktop? I’ll outline a couple of applications I find do the best job in these situations, along with some tips that can help the recovery process. First up, if the reprobate hard drive is installed in an external Firewire enclosure, remove it from the enclosure and install it in your main tower immediately – be that a MacPro, G5 or G4. You may have a mismatch here, as your external Firewire drive may be a PATA drive rather than SATA. If this is the case I’d suggest picking up an old G4 for these situations. (An old G4 should either be free by now or close to it – I regularly see them secondhand for $75). The reason for this is I find a drive connected via Firewire stands far less chance of a safe recovery, as there are various diagnostic features that simply don’t function via Firewire, or indeed, USB.
Firstly, always have SMARTreporter installed: www.corecode.at/smartreporter This free application will keep tabs on your drives and let you know if they’re about to fail – just remember it will only work with internal drives as Firewire can’t relay this information. Next up, get yourself a copy of Alsoft’s DiskWarrior. This application has done a better job of recovering drives than anything else
I’ve used, and for $99 it’s possibly the best drive insurance money can buy. You see, what often happens with hard drives (especially those connected using external Firewire enclosures) is the directory information becomes damaged. This could be due a number of scenarios, from inadvertently disconnecting a Firewire drive while it’s still mounted on the desktop, through to actual mechanical failure of the drive mechanism. It’s very likely your precious files are all intact, but if the directory information is lost, there’s no way to pinpoint where on the drive those files exist. From the outside it looks as if everything is lost – but technically it’s not so. Once your ailing drive is connected internally to your MacPro/ G5/G4, run DiskWarrior. This can take a while so sit tight while it does its work. Make sure you have yet another drive connected to your tower to copy any recovered files to – this can be connected via Firewire, USB, or indeed in the tower itself. DiskWarrior will trawl though the damaged drive, looking for and fixing anything it finds wrong with master directory blocks and alternate master directory blocks, volume headers and alternate volume headers (HFS Plus), volume bitmaps, catalog trees, and extents trees. Once the application has ‘learnt’ this information, it can rebuild a ‘Master Directory Block’ to replace the damaged one. In this case the drive will be back on the desktop and you can backup from there. In the case of mechanical damage to the drive, DiskWarrior may not be able to rewrite that Master Directory Block back to the same (damaged) drive. It’s in this situation that you’ll need to copy the recovered information over to a spare drive, or indeed, a drive with the space to save all that data. DiskWarrior will create an image file on the desktop of your damaged drive, and it’s the data within this image that you’ll be copying to your backup drive. You’re back in business! Now here’s my other tip for recovering a drive that’s damaged – so damaged that it’s making horrible repeating clicking noises as it attempts to read the data. I know this sounds like an urban myth but it can work. Remove the drive from wherever it resides, and pop it into the freezer. I know that sounds stupid, but this can contract certain physical components enough to put them into a functional state long enough to read that data off to another drive. I’ve used this method a few times with success, and a few times without any. Put the drive in a ziplock bag, and throw a spare bag of silica gel in there to combat any condensation. Leave the drive overnight, then, as quickly as possible, install the drive in your tower and get DiskWarrior doing its work. With a bit of luck the drive will function just long enough to recover your data. Good luck!
TURBOSOUND MILAN M15
Everything designed in Milan seems to boast fantastic style credentials these days… even PAs. Text: Mark Woods
UK audio company Turbosound is no slouch when it comes to quality sound reinforcement. It’s been manufacturing high quality large-scale touring PA systems since the 1980s. When I was recently asked by AT to investigate the new Milan M15 – Turbosound’s first foray into the crocodile infested waters of the portable powered speaker market – my hope was that the company might bring some big-show expertise to the small-show market. Having spent quite some time now with a pair of these M15s I’m happy to report that my confidence was justified. The Milan M15s sound remarkable. What I didn’t expect, however, was that they’d offer so much in the way of visual style. Named after the Italian city famous for its fashion and classic architecture, the Milan M15 is a real stunner. CUT OF THE JIB Lots of contemporary powered speakers have annoying angles and ugly horns – I don’t like them. Others are more discreet with hidden components and simple straight lines – I normally prefer these. The Milan M15 meanwhile seems to hail from neither of these camps. Visually the speaker combines a balanced mix of both functional and decorative elements to create a look that is both serious and attractive. The dark blue/grey trapezoid cabinet is made from gas-injected rigidised polypropylene that feels harder and looks better than the regular polypropylene designs common amongst rival companies. The front section of the rounded sides has moulded ribbing running the full height of the cabinet. Behind that, on both sides, are thick silver aluminium strips with recesses in the centre for the handles. The rounded perforated steel grille itself is grey and relatively transparent, meaning that you can clearly see the components beneath, the most obvious of which is the custom-made reflexloaded 15-inch neodymium woofer. This looks normal enough but not so the ports above it. These are distinctively shaped and the converging elliptical waveguide on the one-inch highfrequency compression driver is a thing of some beauty. The Turbosound name and logo in relief on the sleek silver handle on the top of the cabinet and the Turbosound badge at the bottom of the grille provides the introductory credentials. INJECTING NEW LIFE INTO LIVE SOUND Designed to maximise the low-frequency response, the 60-litre
trapezoidal cabinet is considerably larger than it needs to be to fit the enclosed components. The gas-injected manufacturing technique forces gas into the moulding so the cabinet can be quite large while remaining very strong. The result is a cabinet that feels solid and resonance-free without being too heavy to lift. Towards the rear of this enclosure are two flat sections designed for laying the cabinet on the floor at the standard 43º angle for floor monitor duties, with the horn able to be positioned either on the left or the right side. The top and bottom of the cabinet also feature a handy rubberised-strip foot to protect the cabinet and provide stability when the speakers are placed on flat surfaces. The bottom of the cabinet has two holes for pole mounting, either vertically or angled down at a fairly steep 12.5°. The only areas where style may have taken precedence over function are the side handles. Located in the centre of the aluminium strips on either side of the cabinet they look sleek and integrated but possess sharp plastic edges where the ends of the handles meet the body of the cabinet. I still haven’t been able to use them without having to allow for these edges digging into my hands. If you grip the handles tightly and right in the centre it’s possible to lift them and remain pain free but if they slip down through your hands… ouch. That’s my only complaint although it’s by no means a deal breaker. HEAVYWEIGHTS The Milan M15s are not that heavy but they’re certainly bulky, and moving them requires more thought than normal. On the ground the easiest way to move them short distances is to pick them up using the handle on the top and sort of shuffle them along against your leg. To get them in and out of the back seat of a car I became accustomed to carrying them with one hand in the top handle and the other in the pole-hole on the bottom. It’s possible to lift them onto stands on your own but at 22kg it’s easier with two people. For more permanent installations, M10 rigging points are located on the top and bottom of the cabinet for vertical or horizontal rigging and an optional pole bracket enables adjustable wall mounting.
Control and connection options are conveniently located at the top of the recessed rear panel, and while not as comprehensive as
some brands, all the essentials are laid out in a simple and spacious manner. There are two combo balanced XLR/Jack inputs with level knobs and one XLR output/ link socket. Bass and treble EQ knobs provide shelving cut or boost at 200Hz and 4kHz respectively. There’s a switch to select between ‘Bass Mode A’ (flat) or ‘B’ (bass cut) and LED lights indicate power on, –6dB and limit. Under both input sockets there’s a raised switch to select mic or line level. As is the case with all powered speakers that possess this facility, these switches are dynamite if you accidentally go from ‘line’ to ‘mic’ while the speaker is on. While they’re clearly labelled on the M15 it’s often dark behind speakers and it would be fairly easy to knock one while feeling for the volume knob, for instance. Sunken or highly resistant switches would reduce the chance of getting an instant earful of nearly 30dB of extra gain. STUDIO MONITORS? Firing up the Milan M15s as ‘alternate’ monitors in my control room created two initial impressions. Firstly, they go low. The frequency response is quoted at –3dB at 36Hz and –10dB at a floor-rattling 23Hz, and even though they’re quite a big box, there was more (and deeper) bass than I’d anticipated. Secondly, they sound great. I often try powered speakers in the control room and typically get sick of them within minutes, but the Milan 15s proved to be handy alternate speakers. They have a distinctive voicing that’s full in the lows and low-mids, warm across the high-mids, and open, revealing and pleasantly detailed in the highs. I was also very pleased to see that Turbosound had provided a frequency response graph with the speakers – something most other companies are loath to do. The frequency response of most audio gear is quite flat, but not speakers. I suspect many speaker manufacturers deliberately avoid response graphs for fear of the inaccuracies they may reveal. However, the Milan M15 graph is, for a speaker at least, quite flat. They’re about 6dB up at 100Hz but from 200 – 10kHz they’re within a few dB of flat with the lowest point centered around the potentially nasty 3kHz.
Cranking them up outdoors with a microphone reinforced the perception that they’ve been tuned with almost an anti-presence peak with normal vocal mics (an SM58 for instance) sounding relatively uncoloured between 3 – 5kHz. If the level keeps getting raised they start to get edgy around 1.6kHz but the overall voicing and stability are very good. The proximity effect generated by using cardioid mics up close did cause some muddiness but this could be easily controlled with the bass EQ knob. High-level music playback seemed effortless and these would make great ‘disco’ speakers. The strong bottom end is full and thick, the mids resist harshness and the horn is as smooth and detailed as I’ve heard from this type of powered speaker. The coverage pattern is conservatively quoted at 90º (H) x 60º (V) but in the field remains useful until well off to the
THE MAGAZINE FOR SOUND ENGINEERS & RECORDING MUSICIANS
The Milan M15s sound remarkable. What I didn’t expect, however, was that they’d offer so much in the way of visual style
The M15s are designed to lay on the floor at a standard 43º angle for floor monitor duties, with the horn able to be positioned either on the left or the right side.
NEED TO KNOW Price $2199 each. Contact Hills SVL (02) 9647 1411 www.hillssvl.com.au Pros Great sound quality. Good Looks. Credible pedigree. Cons Sharp side handles. Summary It may be new to the portable PA speaker market but Turbosound is hardly new to PA. The new Milan M15 cabinets bring added sound quality and expertise to the highly competitive yet often inferior sounding portable PA marketplace. They’re competitively priced and worth every cent. Specs of Note Portable two-way powered speaker. 450W Class-D amp + DSP. Symmetrical wedge angle. Dual-angle pole mount. Two mic/line inputs, mix/ link out. Auto-sensing power supply.
side of the cabinet, whereupon most of the body of the horn is attenuated but the bass and some of the very high frequencies remain audible. The M15s are rated at 450 Watts continuous at 8Ω and differ from most of their competitors in that they have only one amp in each cabinet. This means the horn is passively crossed over and while the benefits of actively crossed systems have been widely trumpeted, Turbosound has instead gone with simplicity and efficiency. Because the drivers are physically aligned there is no need for any delay in the phase-coherent passive crossover. Cost is also minimised by using only one amp, and component protection is provided by on-board 48k DSP limiting and dynamic EQ. ROYAL PERFORMANCE Time for some live shows. First off was Shane Howard and band at the Theatre Royal in Castlemaine, where I set the Milan M15s on stage under the centre mic position. As expected all you have to do is plug them into a send and apply volume. Part of me misses the process of EQ’ing the foldback but what’s the point of plug-and-play powered speakers if you need outboard EQ? Anyway, the M15s sounded terrific with the voicing well suited to standard live vocal mics. With the Bass Mode set to ‘A’ they were somewhat boomy for vocals right on the mic but the ‘B’ setting sorted that out in quick time. Nothing else required. The vocal range was very natural and distinctly un-harsh while the detailed high end was great on Shane’s D.I.’d acoustic guitar.
After I’d set the foldback I wandered out to the front of house, turned around and couldn’t help but notice the silver stripes. When used vertically the stripes are towards the rear of the cabinet and out of sight, but on stage and horizontally aligned, the near stripe is clearly visible and puts on its own visual show as it catches the stage lights. The speakers also look big on stage – they may not do so on particularly large stages but on your average small to mid-sized stage they take up their fair share of room. To be positive they’re very stable and more like the foldback of years past. It’s even possible to sit on them – as Shane did during one part of his show – but between the size of the cabinet and the flashy stripes it must be said; these do not make discreet wedges. Next was a beautiful show in a small wooden hall out the back of the Guildford Hotel. The bluegrass band, Midnight From Memphis, was, despite the name, all the way from Nashville, Tennessee, and they were clearly enjoying the opportunity to play in what was, to them, an ‘exotic’ location. When a dog wandered on stage during a song I knew they would remember the valley people of Guildford on their return home, but I digress… Using a pair of powered speakers and a condenser mic in a
hall is not as easy as it may seem and in this configuration gain before feedback will always be tested. The Guildford Hall only holds around 100 people so I used the Milan M15s as front-ofhouse speakers on stands and the band performed around a single condenser microphone… and for 45 minutes everything seemed right with the world. The Milan M15s had a transparent quality that seemed to blend into the room sound, keeping everything clear and warm. They were reluctant to feed back and there was enough deep bass to fill the bottom end of the admittedly small room – most powered speakers do not have enough useable bass. Needless to say I was very impressed. I even received a positive reaction from the audience… which doesn’t happen that often. TURBO BOOSTERS The other instructive gig was a rock ‘n’ roll band at the Coburg Town Hall in Melbourne. Not my normal sort of show but I’d recently recorded an album by the band, Sweetrock, and they asked me to do this show as they’d previously had trouble with the sound at this venue, mostly because their powered speaker system hadn’t cut it. The Coburg Town Hall is big and boomy; one of those rooms where speech is hard to understand from more than three metres away. The Milan M15s ended up being employed as the whole front of house system for a band that features six vocals, drums, bass and two guitars. Despite being way underpowered by any normal standard the Milan M15s did surprisingly well. They were up full, the limit lights were flashing on peaks, but the vocals were clear and quite meaty, and there was a fair amount of drums and band in there as well. I could hear the limiting but it was subtle and the speakers remained distortion free. These are the only powered boxes I recall using where I’ve been able to get the limit light to come on before unpleasant distortion. Usually they start to sound bad well before the limiting kicks in, and even up full you can stand quite close to the Milans without having your ears assaulted by harshness.
This is new territory for Turbosound and success will ensure the name is known by a much wider range of potential customers than its touring systems, corporate AV or installation speakers. The portable powered speaker market is already overcrowded in many respects, but there’s still opportunity for new products that offer something new or better sounding. The Milan M15s are competitively priced in the middle of the range and should appeal to a wide range of acts, hire companies and DJs with their distinctive sound, looks and pedigree. The M15 is the first product in Turbosound’s Milan range and is soon to be joined by the matching M18 sub, with rumours of a smaller version sometime in the future. I want a pair.
AudioTechnology THE MAGAZINE FOR SOUND ENGINEERS & RECORDING MUSICIANS
Full magazine out now
AVID AUDIO HEAT
What else can you do to a cold digital recording? Apply some heat of course! Text: Brent Heber
NEED TO KNOW Price $653 (new HD systems get HEAT free) Contact Avid Australia 1300 734 454 www.avid.com Pros Integrated workflow; not many controls required. Dead simple to implement. Low DSP usage. Sounds good. Cons ProTools HD platform only. Can’t be inserted on non-audio tracks. Can’t be automated – it’s set and forget. Summary Avid Audio has done its best to add a subtle sonic flair to its ProTools HD mix engine. HEAT is much easier and faster to use than complex plug-in arrays or summing buses – which, given the state of the industry (low budgets, quick turnaround times), feels like a solid piece of innovation for the working engineer.
Avid Audio recently announced ProTools HD version 8.1 and with this release came support for its new interfaces, upgraded I/O hardware and the David Hill designed HEAT option – the subject of this review. HEAT is an acronym for ‘Harmonically Enhanced Algorithm Technology’. David Hill, the man behind this new ProTools option, is a bit of a legend in the audio industry, well known for his early work as founder of Summit Audio, and in more recent years, Crane Song. Crane Song in particular is renowned for its unique perspective on converter technology and analogue ‘warmth’ in the digital domain, most notably the innovative HEDD A/D – D/A that mastering houses the world over have latched onto in droves. Dave Hill is as passionate about innovation as he is about avoiding replication – creating “clones of clones of clones” as he puts it – and many of his products have been specifically designed to “make digital sound better.” Who better then for Avid to turn to for adding ‘warmth’ to its HD mix engine? WHAT IS HEAT? First and foremost, it’s important to make one thing abundantly clear: HEAT is not a plug-in. It’s not something you insert onto individual channels and apply in varying degrees across different tracks at your discretion. HEAT is a new fixture (albeit optional) in the HD Mix window that’s designed to add a unifying colour and tone right across your mix – ‘glue and warmth’ some might simplistically call it.
The controls for HEAT appear across the top of the mix window on each individual audio channel as a simple two-button set, featuring ‘Pre’ (pre & post insert) and ‘Bypass’ controls, with an interesting horizontal meter that looks a bit like a cross between a valve lighting up and a Cylon’s eye, which displays how much ‘heat’ is being added to that track. These controls are made visible in the Mix window above ‘Inserts A-E’ (more on this in a moment). A master control set on the right-hand side of the Mix window then determines the nature of the saturation model you’re applying across all channels. Think of it like this: the buttons on the individual audio channels of HEAT represent
the characteristic effects of individual channels on a multitrack tape machine, and the master control determines the brand and model of machine you’re recording to. HEAT runs on the DSP chips of a ProTools HD Accel system within the mix engine itself. Using it across 60 mono tracks at 48k, for instance, will eat up two Accel chips. Not an insignificant portion of DSP, and this grows larger as more tracks are added to the fire. NOT A SUMMING DEVICE The cool thing about HEAT (if you’ll pardon the pun) is its nonlinear nature; its behaviour is both volume and tone dependent. Better still this treatment is applied individually on a per-channel basis, as opposed to acting globally like, say, a sub-master bus compressor across an entire mix. The distinction to be made here is that, although HEAT’s master control determines the type of harmonic distortion you’re applying – call it a ‘global tendency’ if you like – the individual channels themselves don’t sum to the master controller first and then have HEAT applied subsequently to the premixed sound. Each channel gets its own individual treatment in the same way as a snare might when it’s recorded hard onto Channel 2 of a tape machine independently of the guitar solo, which might be striped to Channel 16. Sure, the two have been recorded onto the same tape machine – which has its own characteristic sound – but the individual recordings themselves don’t directly affect one another.
Moreover, it’s not only the gain structure of each track but also the frequency content that determines what processing happens on that individual piece of audio. So, for example, HEAT will affect bass guitar differently to hi-hats, differently to vocals, differently to piano, as they all inevitably possess different tonal characteristics and dynamic content. And to press this point further, the Tone control on the HEAT master section is not merely some sort of post processing EQ. Rather, it’s an emphasis (or de-emphasis) to the harmonic distortion being applied to each track, adding yet another layer of complexity to the treatment.
HEAT can add two flavours of subtle low-midrange distortion. One is based on tape saturation alone, the other based on combining tape saturation with further analogue circuitry distortion, including tube saturation. HOW IT WORKS There are two knobs on the master control: Drive and Tone. That’s essentially all that defines the subtle sound being added to your tracks.
To restate an earlier point, HEAT can only be applied to Audio Tracks – not Auxes, Master Faders or MIDI/Instrument tracks. HEAT is inserted either pre or post inserts onto your audio being played off your hard drives. Consequently, it can’t be used on aux sub masters etc. Apparently, Avid chose not to implement it on other ProTools tracks to minimise the chance of double processing and eating up DSP. The Drive and Tone master controls are hidden by default, and revealed on the right-hand side of the Mix window in much the same way as the Track and Group lists are on the left. The controls default to 12 o’clock on the pot – ‘midday’ is neutral: nothing added. From there you can take five steps in either direction on the Drive pot and three either way on the Tone pot. Turning the Drive to the left adds Tape saturation modelling: warmth, odd-harmonic excitement in increasing levels as you approach the fifth most extreme setting. Turning it to the right gives you tape saturation in addition to further tube saturation modelling, adding both odd and even harmonic excitement that produces a crunchier, livelier, gutsier feel as you crank it all the way. This can cause the loss of perceptual top end on the tape side, as might occur on a real tape machine at extreme level settings, and this can be compensated for with the Tone control if you need to brighten things up a little. Conversely, too much tube goodness can make for a crunchy, bitey feel and you may find this tone needs to be backed off to soften the top end. Either way the Tone control is not simply an EQ-added post process or some sort of exciter. Rather, it inherently changes the character of the distortion model being used and consequently – as with the Drive control – your gain structure and frequency content will dictate the results on individual tracks.
WHY NOT A PLUG-IN? Bobby Lombardi, long-time Product Manager at Avid Audio had this to say about HEAT when I caught up with him recently... Bobby Lombardi: Avid and Dave Hill have been chatting about a project like HEAT for about five years on and off! We had huge respect for Dave’s work on the Crane Song Phoenix plug-in and started talking to him about what might follow it up shortly after its release. We were both interested in this idea of adding a sound to the mixer. Dave was chasing the concept of what it sounds like to add subtle
SO HOW DOES IT SOUND? First impressions: warm and gooey on the ‘Tape’ side; crunchy on the ‘Tube’ side. But again, it all comes down to gain structure and the nature of your recordings. Like real analogue circuitry, the outcome isn’t completely predictable and getting the sound you want involves trial and error, listening and experimentation. I’ve tried adding HEAT to existing mixes with limited results, yet by contrast, turning it on and mixing with it from the get-go can produce totally different outcomes – gobsmacking, lovely, warm sounds... the top-end of the faders just seem to push against a molasses of goodness that you quickly miss when it’s bypassed.
The HEAT process defaults to post-fader mode, which tends to produce subtler results, particularly when various other dynamic controls have been applied to individual channels first. In Pre-fader mode, however, HEAT can be quite temperamental, as you might expect. Hitting it hard with dynamic, transient material yields almost instant, easily discernable distortion no matter how soft you drive it.
harmonics across an entire mix and when Avid investigated the idea further with a select group of experts they noticed a common workflow evolving, where rather than using individual controls, plug-ins of this type were being instantiated across a whole mix before pulling faders up – Andrew Scheps (Metallica, RHCP, Weezer) even goes so far as to create a mix group with the plug-in insert controls ganged across the mix, so effecting one effects all. Brent Heber: Why does HEAT have to be limited to audio playback tracks – why can’t auxes and sub masters for instance be ‘HEAT
processed’ as well? BL: We wanted to reduce the chance of double-processing affecting a channel twice if it was also going through a sub master. We also wanted to avoid unnecessary DSP usage. A large mix can use between two and three DSP chips. Subtlety is the key thing we were striving for; that cumulative effect across the whole mix. If an engineer is looking for something more there’s always the Crane Song Phoenix as a plug-in option. The character is quite different between the two; HEAT is a lot subtler whereas Phoenix is more of an audible harmonic distortion.
THE HEAT IS ON Acoustic piano and guitar seem to show HEAT at its best. The complex harmonic content of these instruments really allow the maths to highlight all those third-order harmonics. It’s not always obvious what’s going on until you bypass the effect and your mix drops back, sounding lifeless and flat by comparison – particularly in the low mids.
By its very nature, HEAT is designed to effect different sounds in different ways. There’s no simple description of what it will do to your music and craft. Yes it will add some ‘body’ in the low end but is that desirable? I’ve always been an advocate for the clarity of mixing ITB and my go-to plug-ins have always had that natural tendency (avoiding THD wherever possible) but I’ve got an album coming up that I cannot wait to start tracking and mixing with HEAT on the whole time. It sounds great to my ears. HEAT is indeed something quite apart from everything else on the market. It’s subtle, it’s clearly been designed by David Hill with the workflow of mixing in mind, and once you start using it it’s doubtful you’ll want to bypass it. Unfortunately, the masses of LE and M-Powered users out there may never get a chance to fall in love with it due to its proprietary HD 48-bit DSP architecture. According to Avid there are no plans for it to be made available to LE users any time soon, but whether that will change in the future only time will tell. As an LE user at home, and an HD user at work, I do miss it after hours but – and at the risk of putting some people offside here – as an HD facility owner I’m gratified to have something unique to offer my clients. If you’re running a ProTools HD system, HEAT is definitely worth trying out for 30 days courtesy of the free trial at www.avid.com.