New Gear

i treated myself to an early birthday present today: M-Audio Torq Connectiv. now i've got the hardware i need to hook my turntables up to my computer and utilize DVS's like Ms. Pinky and Deckadance. it came with Torq, which from the youtube videos i've seen, doesn't look half bad. i guess some people have had stability issues, but i trust M-Audio to work on this.

at this point i should be able to easily record vinyl to digital audio. i'm not sure if Torq has any Live plugins, but i'll be able to utilize it from Live. i plan on spending the Gorge Games gig learning the new software and learning where it fits in. i love the idea of not having to lug crates and crates of records for a gig like this where i'll need lots of music over many days. i'll still be playing vinyl, though.

not sure i mentioned the Gorge Games. this was a bit of luck/who you know. i got a gig being the Entertainment for the Athlete's Village. i'll be in charge of music and videos in the tent where the athlete's relax and hang out.

Decisions, Decisions

my birthday is in a few days and i think i'm going to treat myself to some gear. there are a few things i'm looking for to add to my arsenal. first i would like a DVS (Digital Vinyl System). i want to get back into dj'ing live and it's time i was able to bring my computer into the mix. the other piece of hardware i'd like to get is a small control surface for Live/live applications such as when playing and practicing with the acoustic band.

i think i've narrowed my DVS setup down based on my limited understanding and experience but after lots of poking around. i plan on picking up the Ms. Pinky system with the included M-Audio Conectiv interface. it's the most generic system, seems to be widely supported by other software, and i like the hackability of it. it'll play well with Ableton Live for more options, it's got an SDK, so if it doesn't support acting as a controller already, someone will write the software at some point.

the midi control surface is a little harder for me to decide on. i want something portable, but i don't want redundant gear. i need to start a list of my requirements and keep in mind the gear i already have. the Akai MPD24 looks like a great solution, but i have an M-Audio Axiom 25 that has the velocity sensitive pads and infiniti knobs. the M-Audio trigger finger looks good but doesn't have transport. and the Novation Nocturn is nice and small and seems to have some special midi mapping capabilities that would make it work with more software. i think this piece of gear would also serve duty during DJ sets. it could act as a controller for queing in the DVS software and also triggering samples from Live.

Desired specs with rating:
- crossfader, should/nice
- infinite knobs, must
- programmable buttons, must (velocity-sensitive, nice)
- transport, should
- faders, nice, but knobs would substitute
- portable, must (nice to fit in laptop backpack)

it might be a good idea to get used to the DSV software before making a final deciscion here to find out how i'll be using it.

Digital Vinyl Systems and Turntable MIDI control

i've got to write about this week's class, but at the moment my mind is on something else. i've been trying to figure out what direction i want to take with music creation. after seeing a few videos on youtube i started thinking about utilizing my turntables as a MIDI controller. it would be great for live stuff and for in the studio. i've been doing some research but i can't find any coherent comparisons of all the different packages out there that will make the setup work.

a few of the products (called DVS's -- Digital Vinyl System):

- Serato -- not MIDI, though, purely controlling its own proprietary software
- Ms. Pinky?
- Final Scratch?
- Torq?
- Virtual DJ
- Mixvibes

obviously i need to do some more research, but if anyone has any input on this i'd be glad to hear it.

After doing more research today i've sort of compiled a list of gear i now want on the right. it seems to do this generically you just need an audio interface to sit between tables and mix/cpu. then you can choose the software you want to use and the timecoded vinyl of choice. ms. pinky seems most flexible, but there's something compelling about Deckadance also. i think with this hardware and sofware you might be able to control midi with your turntable. maybe need ammobox or roll my own with the ms. pinky SDK.

and after last night's band practice, thinking i would like to get a little portable control surface. need something with sliders and nobs and triggers. the Akai looks dope but is a little big. the novation is a great size but those buttons probably aren't velocity sensitive...


today was the second class. we met at MS and had an hour discussion on a variety of production and recording topics.

signal path: from microphone to record (digital or tape). microphone picks up sound waves and passes those as electrons to a pre-amp which amplifies signal (more electrons) and these are sent to the recording device.

some of the things that can go wrong in the signal path:
-microphone SPL (Sound Pressure Level). can the microphone withstand the rigors of the application? a booming bass cabinet will need a strong mic so the mechanism isn't just locked up with pressure.
- overloaded pre-amp. if signal from mic is too much for pre-amp, check if the mic has a pad.
- remember that gain knob may be too much and might use pad from board and then tweak gain
- effects adding too much gain.

"gain structure"

all the combined effects and amplifications add to gain. gotta make sure none are overpowering mix.

we talked about the philosphy of a studio producer. maybe the most important aspect is too find a lot of information before getting in the studio and recording. what does the band want? are they rehearsed? ask them "why" they are recording.

a practice/rehearsal session with the engineer/producer a good idea so they can suss out the dynamics of songs and decide on recording gear and song order. must keep the band interested and playing their best.

a mention that many devices were coming with their own channel strip features, meaning that there's gain, eq, sends, etc. say, on a drum mic pre-amp.

we talked a little guitar mic'ing philosophy. no substitute for a real amp cabinet. those little pedals that model diff. cabs are useless at the recording level. would rather get a mini amp, put it in a small room and mic it. aim to get right TONE.

distortion is a sound that guitar is going for. distortion means the speaker cone is being a little overpowered. some large amps would have to be screaming before they get that sound a guitarist wants and this can overpower the room. something to think about. that totally rang a bell. i could picture us playing in geoff's and the drums, even unmic'd would force guitarists to turn up to hear themselves which would force the mics to be turned up so high we got feedback. not even sure how equipment would have helped. maybe more baffling.

then we headed over to Revolver Studios. they're in a little (possibly oldest on east side) house a block from Rontoms. Nalin, the studio producer, was a knowledgeable and friendly guy. Jonathon went on a beer run for us. Revolver has a main "tracking" room and a few sound booths and a control room. this place uses old 2inch tape machines to get the sound they like.

1st, 2nd, 3rd reflections bad. after that they've lost enough strength that they're ok. go on internet and research sound baffling, "bass trap."

the place was full of cool instruments. i wondered if many studios provided equipment or if bands preferred to bring their own. this equipment is called the "backline."

we did some overdubbing using a normal mixing board with pre-amps and into the pro tools file we'd recorded the week before. Jonathan was adding some electric guitar takes, 2. he got some goofy feedback and Nalin, in an example of how to keep theings funny, said over the talk-thru: "okay, i think the whales heard that and are on the way." good stuff.

Nalin talked about reference monitors and how it's a personal choice when picking them. "reference" meaning they're just a point of reference. you want to take your mix and play it on a lousy boombox, in your car, etc.. and then you can start to learn how your reference monitors play and what it will become.

when someone asked a technical question Graham pulled Yamaha's Sound Reinforcement Handbook off the shelf. everyone agreed it's the technical bible. i remember when i bought that years ago and was trying to read it front to back. that was probably when i first knew i wanted to be involved on the music production side. that was kind of a cool moment.

another great class.


it's only been one class and i'm already really excited about it. i've never taken a class that is so focussed on something i'm really interested in. i wish college had been like this. i wish i had known what i wanted to do in college! had i been smart i would have double majored in computer science and music production. hindsight. but learning is awesome always and this class has major potential.

all the students in class were invited to help out with a private show that 2 of the Death Cab for Cutie guys were going to do for a local music station at Lola's Room. i showed up and Jonathon was the recording engineer for the session. it felt special being invited to help out. we didn't get to do much, but i still learned a lot from the session. the setup was a bit different from the studio recording we'd done the night before. here we were recording a live band that was playing to a house. so the mics (one pencil, one DI for each guitar, one vocal mic each, and a house mic) were sent to the board for house sound. the board had a direct out that was pre-fader (post gain/pad, pre everything else on the channel). these were plugged into the mobile recording unit the MS guys had brought. basically a pro tools rig (HD3? Digi 003?). i think there was a rack of pre-amps in between.

it was informative to talk to McMenamin's house sound guy. he gave us some good pointers. Ben and Chris had their own sound guy (who actually rang Ben's headphones accidentally!).

access to all the studios and venues and seeing all this done in real time is an eye opener. i don't know if it's portland, but everyone involved is really good people. they're willing to share and friendly. they talk about horror stories of working with asshole sound guys and musicians, but so far i've been impressed with everyone i've met.

Everything Must Go!

i went on a selling spree on craigslist and ebay. mostly old computer electronics. but right when i started doing the studio experiment i think i went a bit overboard and bought too much stuff. so i offloaded the Alesis Micron. i was so excited to get that piece of equipment. but it just sat around. i definitely want to learn how to play the piano, but that wasn't the right object for it. and i don't really want to learn how to use a synthesizer, i can play with that kind of tweaking ITB with Reason or Live.

i did keep one external mixer in case i need more inputs for recording. but that may go at some point, too. i need to learn more about what i'll be doing and what equipment i'll need.

it seems that everyone of these studios is using Pro Tools still, something i thought was sort of going out of style, but not in a pro studio situation.

while doing some online research about Ableton Live i came across some excellent YouTube videos of people doing wild live shit combining turntables and the computer. i think that's a path i would like to pursue since that's one way i can still perform live. i'll be looking into serrato and other stuff like that. i want to be able to basically use my turntables as midi controllers.

Class Act

well, i finally started taking a class like i've been meaning too. i first noticed that Portland Community College was offering a "Production and Recording" (non-credit, extended learning) class in the winter semester and i signed up. i was excited because it listed the teacher as Jim Brunberg and the location as Mississippi Studios. real, hands-on from a local pro. it was such a let-down when they cancelled the class.

i kept checking for the new class schedule for summer and it was listed again so i signed up. then i started reading about how the IRS was going after Jim and that the space was closing for remodelling. i figured that meant the game was up. but i never got a note about cancellation so i showed up to the first night of class.

the people in the cafe side of the building guided us back to the under construction studio space where a bunch of us waited for Jim to show up. when he finally did he quickly put everyone at ease with his laid back demeanor.

i wasn't sure what to expect from the class, the description in the course catalog was pretty generic and terse. he told us we'd be going around to different studios in the city and learning each aspect of production and recording along the way. sounds awesome!

some of the things we discussed:

an engineer vs. producer. engineer is the technical guy who sets up the equipment, runs cables, makes it possible to record but tries to stay out of the way and doesn't make creative decisions per se. the producer is the guy who's trying to get the best performance out of the musicians. a little more creative input here. but paramount is making sure the musicians play their best.

we talked about the move from analog tape to pure digital recording. especially for beginners, not worrying about maintaining a tape machine is probably beneficial. the advances in the technology make this possible.

summing vs. mixing. a confusing subject. mixing is basically getting levels, eqs, etc.. whereas summing is the combining of the audio signals. there are outboard was of sending the signal to add warmth and get a more analog feeling. In Box vs. Out of Box (ITB/OTB, in the computer, out of the computer).

Graham is one of Jim's peers who is a very technical and knowledgeable engineer who does recording and live music. smart guy with a lot of insight. he, and others, agreed that a good philosophy on recording is to get as close to raw an input as possible. "baby steps" on adding any effects such as eq or compression. save that for later. get something good to work with by good mic placement and good pre-amps.

sound technical:


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the transition at the top is important. this is very important in mic'ing say a snare, probably anything.

"scratch tracks": first-time tracks used for getting the feel down and often thrown away but not always.

the first night we went to the space where Mississippi Studios is now recording. i believe it's an old Masonic Temple. it's up by the Florida Room off Killingsworth. the place is desserted and boarded up, it doesn't look like anything's inside.

inside is a cavernous space with a temporary recording studio set up. the building is amazing. not only is it incredibly unique and warm and interesting but the acoustics aren't too bad.

there was a standard drum kit set up in one corner, a cirus-like funky little drum kit set up in the far center and cords running everywhere. at least that's what it looked like to the untrained eye.

Jonathan Newsome of Miraflores was there, as was a drummer Scott. they were going to lay down a song that we would later use for editing, etc.. a quick introduction to the folks and the equipment and we were each given a job to do. i was tasked with setting up a DI box (direct input) for the acoustic guitar. this is where the built-in pickup will be captured from. we ran our cables to boxes at the end of snakes that connected back to the recording rig. when we were done the drums, guitar and vocals were set for recording.

this is probably really fucking boring, so maybe i ought to just jot down some stuff that i learned that seems applicable.

Mic'ing -- much of this is general best practices with some of Jim's specific style thrown in

- the snare was mic'd top and bottom (i wish i had noted all the mic names). i believe the top was a Shure 57, the bottom was a pencil (condenser). the important thing here was to set up the mics so they're at a 90 degree angle to each other to limit any phase issues (more on phase later).
- toms were mic'd so the mic head was at a 45 to the head and closer than some people prefer. about 1/2" off the surface inside the rim.
- the kick was mic'd on the outside with a kick mic and the batter was mic'd seperately.
- two overheads. not crossed, pointing straight down. you start them at even height. you try to get them about equi-distant from the snare (timekeeper). then adjust heights if necessary by monitoring.
- a room mic was set up out front of the drums. there was a lot of mention on the importance of this mic. lots of drum kits have been mic'd with this mic alone!

peter gabriel came up a lot. and his penchant for 57's for everything. lots of good tangents on past successful recording techniques were bandied about that i can't recall offhand.

acoustic guitar -- this one was very enlightening.

- 2 condenser mics pointed at the body of the guitar. jim tapped the body to find the best resonating high and low. notice how the body of an acoustic usually has one smaller and one bigger cavity. basically, the best (loudest?) spots on each were mic'd. the mics were adjusted so they were about 90 degrees to each other and also slightly pointed down because Jonathon would also be singing at the same time. don't usually mic the hole. or the bridge! also try to get fretboard for that sound.
- the DI box as mentioned earlier.

the vocal mic had the wind screen you often see -- a pop filter. and there's talk of the "P" because that's the consonant that cracks the most.

back at the recording setup. each mic was routed to a preferred pre-amp. there were about 4 different kinds of pre-amps used that i can't remember off-hand. pro tools on a mac was the DAW. tracks were set up for each mic. as the musicians played we adjusted levels on the pre-amps. the mix was routed to two sets of headphones for the artists. we didn't have a talk-back mic on hand for this session, but one would usually be used.

time was short but we recorded one pass on the song which we'll use later.

i learned a lot from just seeing it all happen first-hand.

after class we were outside the temple and i accidentally knocked over my scooter in front of Jonathan and felt really fucking stupid.