BillyRadd Music

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Replacing the Weakest Link

The Next Piece of the Puzzle

First, let me say that I have already owned my fair share of professional microphones over the years, mostly for use as location mics in my film business.  Shotguns, wireless lavalieres, condensers and dynamic, from makers like Sony, Shure, Sennheiser, ElectroVoice and even a cheapie Logitec desktop model with a pretty green light on it that cost all of $18.  And, ever since I have used GarageBand on my assorted Macs I have tried to get by with using these sturdy "sound acquisition tools" to record music in less-than-perfect studio conditions that I was able to "kluge" together in the various offices, kitchens, and rec rooms in homes where my wife and I have cohabited with blankets on the floor and hung around the room waiting to roll audio between trucks and ATVs storming up and down our neighborhood's roads, with lawnmowers, dogs barking, etc.

Well, enough already.

I finally went into Musician's Workshop music store here in Asheville a few days ago and bought a real studio mic made for recording the human voice AND musical instruments: a Samson C01U USB Studio Condenser Microphone.  It was only about $150 with the optional SP01 Spider Shock Mount.  It sounds great with a flat frequency response of 50 Hz - 20KHz, a cardioid pickup pattern, and includes a desktop mic stand, mic clip, USB cable and carry pouch.  Unbelievably it appears to be made mostly out of metal.  You remember metal don't you?  That really hard, sturdy stuff most quality functional things used to be made of.  

Conveniently, when using a Mac with GarageBand, the C01U is truly plug-n-play.  If you still are in the Neanderthal world of computer audio recording using a PC, you will have to load some extra drivers and other software stuff from the Samson Cakewalk Sonar LE disc included in the box.

Note:  Just a bit of sage advise from Uncle Billy here.  If you are into any kind of media production, or anything else for that matter, get smart and get a Mac.  If you already have one, you know what I mean.  If you don't, go ahead and continue living in the dark DOS past.  Us Mac users will wave bye-bye as we continue to fly away from you into the bright Mac-Future.

My friend, singer-songwriter Neil Laurence and I used the C01U mic today with GarageBand to record a demo for Neil and it performed just as advertised producing a great vocal from Neil here in the privacy of my basement studio.  (I looked for BasementBand audio recording software but it doesn't exist as yet).

Of course, now I have no excuse and must keep working on writing, performing, recording and producing music for fun and, maybe someday, even profit.

Oh, one more thing of passing interest.  I have examined the mic from stem to stern but I don't see an engraving or decal that states that it is made in China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Japan or Germany.  Could it be manufactured in the Good Old US of A?  The included instruction manual has the Samson Technologies Corp address in Syosset, New York.  Is this possible?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Finding the Groove

Aligning with The Vibe

I just discovered the great contemporary bassist, four-time Grammy Award winner, and artistic guru, Victor Wooten, last summer after I bought my Fender Deluxe Active Precision Bass Special.

Searching around a great book store in Salt Lake City called Golden Braid Books I found Wooten's book called The Music Lesson.  After my self-styled 40 years hiatus from bass playing, just from reading the liner notes, I thought it might start me off on the right foot in taking up the instrument again.
And, oh brother, was I correct.
"Victa's" book is all about finding and sticking to "the groove".  Written as a novel in the mode of a Carlos Castaneda mind expanding epic journey, The Music Lesson chronicles the story of a young bass player desperately in need of improving his skills who awakens one morning to find a strange man in his house who becomes his personal music teacher.
The Music Lesson not only relates one lesson but many, and is not merely for bass players, but for any musician playing any instrument, including vocalists. 
Most musicians approach music mostly from the perspective of notes, melody, timing, and chords.  But, in the The Music Lesson, Wooten points out that music theory is but one element of music and not the most important one. He points out that how we learn and teach music is very different than how we learn a spoken language (like English). When we first learn English, we are not instructed to first learn all the letters of the alphabet, then, put them together to form words.  Instead as children, we just speak, we listen to others speaking and do as they do while, at first, making mistakes without correction. It is only after that we learn to speak a language that we are able to learn the letters, make words, and thus improve on our language skills.
Wooten’s thesis is that we need to approach learning music in the same way.  Instead of learning all the notes first, then understanding chords, we need to be free in the beginning to practice the language of music and make mistakes. 
Wooten’s Book also admonishes musicians to “never lose the groove in order to find a note!” This invaluable lesson alone is worth the price of the book and makes all the difference between becoming a musical artist or merely a player of notes.
The The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music by Victor Wooten demonstrates an appealing, Zen-like approach to making music and is a “must read” for any aspiring musician. It’s available in both novel and audiobook format.

Check out a short video sample of "Victa" finding his groove at the bottom of this blog page.
Picture Credit:  Anita Gayle

Friday, April 1, 2011

My GarageBand Band

The Legacy of the Sound Mix

Somewhere along the line I acquired a skill for sound mixing.  I can't remember the minute it happened or who mentored me on this skill, but I have an idea it happened over a long period with the coaching of many conspirators.

There were the many hours spend recording my brother Bruce and myself singing and screwing around in our bedroom with my Revere T-2000 reel to reel tape recorder, a real classic icon that, unbelievably, still works (if you let it "warm up" for 15 or 20 minutes).  It boasted a very cool, small orange recording lamp that flashed to the sound of our happy music and glowed solidly when we were too loud and over modulated.  It also had a kind of brake that allowed us to stop or begin a recording at a particular spot on a tape giving us a primitive but effective method of editing our efforts at audio recording.

From there, when I went to film school in LA, I and my fellow film geeks learned to edit audio tracks in a film "gang synchronizer" as it was called.  All the separate audio tracks, usually consisting of sync sound, music, sound effects, and even room ambiance, were transferred to rather expensive 16mm or 35mm iron oxide magnetic film, carefully edited to the picture in the editing room, and then mixed at a mixing studio consisting of a large room containing many linked Magnasync players and recorder, a film projector and a mixing console.  Of course, back then, the person who did the actual mixing was a master craftsperson.  My roll as producer, director and/or editor of the material being mixed was to bring a detailed log of the various elements to be mixed and direct the mixer as he/she laid down mixed tracks to the workprint film being projected.

After that phase of my career, I moved more into TV production and editing video.  Since the audio on video tracks was already in sync and recorded on iron oxide video tape, the audio editing evolved into more of a recording studio experience since putting together finished video projects generally happened in a video editing suite.  Much of the technique was the same as film making, but it became more of a kind of linear group effort, with me, an editor, an audio tech and a video tech AND, thus, more expense per hour as well.

After that, the personal computer began to emerge as the next big thing in audio recording as well as desktop everything: publishing, graphics, word processing, 3D animation, and video editing. Telemetry crunching brought to us by NASA had finally trickled down to us working stiffs and the rest is history.  It seems like only yesterday that I got my first Atari 48K computer with its pixilated graphic fonts and got into typefaces, a subject I never thought I would ever know anything about.

Then, out of the rainbow-colored Apple skies tumbled my iMacs that came equipped with Garageband software already installed - almost like free!  I gingerly explored its intuitive backroads and familiar alley ways to happily discover a real production tool that I could use to make my own music.

So, out came the little old Duo Sonic Fender guitar, tambourine, Casio Tone Bank keyboard, and EV 635 mic.

Check out some of my music compositions and jams on the sideboard of this Blog called Music by Billy Radd.  I recorded it all myself in my own GarageBand studio at home.  Cool.  The best part is that I didn't have to call anyone to schedule a recording session.  The only downside is that, besides being the recording engineer, I am also the studio receptionist and janitor.

But, oh well.  Technological advances do have a cost.