Archives
some of my favourite songs:

Archive for the ‘music production’ Category

New song Persecution for Baha’is in Iran

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Artist Elika Mahony has made a special release of a song we worked on called ‘Persecution’ dedicated to Baha’is in Iran who have been persecuted for their Faith despite posing zero threat to the government, or showing any signs of aggression in any way towards anyone.

You can find out more about it, and listen/download it on Elika’s blog post about it here.

It was a rushed production, so not as refined or elaborate as usual, but Elika wanted to get it out without delay to help spread awareness… The amazing thing about this kind of web release though is that within 24 hours of mixing the song, we were getting feedback from hundreds of people who had listened to it and downloaded the song! It was also impressive to see the web activity of people sharing the song online. Immediate feedback, rather than months later was very exciting.

Head of Baha\'i administration in Iran recently arrestedLeaders of the Baha’i Faith in Iran, recently arrested for their beliefs

The plight of the Baha’is in Iran is a truly sad one, many have been martyred, including Elika’s own great uncle, and the current head of the Baha’i administration in Iran were recently arrested soley for their beliefs, although the Iranian government makes up all kinds of other reasons for detaining them. Information from a friend who knows a relative of one of the prisoners who was finally able to talk to them said they use psychological torture on the prisoners, such as keeping them in a white room, in white clothes, with white food for weeks on end without beds or chairs. This is apparently so there are no signs of physical torture. The ultimate objective is to get them to recant their beliefs, as the fundamentalist clergy in Iran feel the Baha’is are a threat to Islam.

The bizarre thing is that Iran feels that by disrupting and eradicating the Baha’i Faith there, they will somehow affect the Faith in a concrete way, despite the fact that there are Baha’is in over 220 other countries and territories around the world! But perhaps the most interesting thing is the backlash that is happening in Iran and worldwide as a result of these recent arrests. Many Iranians who know Baha’is personally know this is an unjust and cruel act on the part of the government, and is causing an uprising against the government giving them more trouble than they could have every imagined.

Music production in Beijing

Monday, March 9th, 2009

I just got back last week from another trip to Beijing, my longest one yet as I had 3 projects to work on and a number of meetings…

I was working with artist Elika Mahony as usual, she has just released a new album on the theme of Love, ‘Birds of Love’ that we were consulting about the promotion for, and developing a limited edition version of. We were also recording new material for an upcoming new age style progressive pop album as well as her instrumental album.

Those alone were very exciting projects and it was amazing to work in person with Elika, she accomplished what I feel are her best vocal performances yet on this trip… But I was also working on a Chinese spiritual CD with some local Chinese artists including Chinese pop music legend, Cheng Lin that I will talk more about in the future.

A new project I was working on there, and one of my most unique and culturally diverse was an ambient instrumental relaxation album for Green T. Living owner, Jin R, who is also a very talented artist and performer of the beautiful Yang Qin, which I think is my new favorite instrument.
There are so many talented artists in China playing traditional instruments in new ways, You can have all the experience in the world, or a degree from a music production school, but finding and working with undiscovered talent like this is one of the most rewarding things for a producer.

Jin R had quite an ambitious and creative concept for her new album, one that would provide a soundtrack for guests of her new bath house. The concept was ‘A journey with a cup of tea’, one that you would take without leaving the relaxing confines of the bath house, so I helped her develop the album so that it went from traditional ancient Chinese roots using such ancient instruments as the Gu Qin (over 2000 years old, to the Yang Qin, to the flute and synthesizer with various sound ambiances and real world elements.

I used a Rode NT-4 stereo mic to capture the natural ambience of some of these instruments.
It’s really quite something, you may have to take a trip to Beijing to get a copy though…

For the first time, brought the mobile equivalent of my entire studio setup to work on these projects, but ran into a few challenges when I forgot that China is on 220 power! Luckily, some of my equipment such as an external hard drive with all my sound libraries, and USB hub with all my software licenses were able to run on 220 without a converter. A very good thing, as I plugged them in without thinking about it in my excitement… Not a good thing for the preamp I wanted to add to Elika’s studio. We got it fixed very quickly there, but it never quite sounded the same.

www.flickr.com/photos/jaromematthew/sets/72157615008213764/

More about the music industry related aspects of my trip are on the Pro Soul Alliance blog.

Producer as artist manager

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

I’ve been so busy lately that it’s been very hard to blog, not only because of the time issue, but because I have so much to blog about it’s hard to know what to choose…
Right now I’m in Beijing working on 3 different music projects and doing some other music business meetings.
As I’m working here not only as a music producer, but artist manager through my record label, Pro Soul Alliance, I’ve been thinking about this dual role I play.

In the past, it was considered a conflict of interest to be a music producer and artist manager, but it has always made sense to me because you would naturally want to see success for something you worked on and are invested in. With more and more artists taking the ‘Do It Yourself’ method, a traditional manager may not only be unnecessary, but also impractical for many artists.

I think in the internet age of the new music industry, more than ever, with the right person, this is a practical solution for artists.

More thoughts on this can be found in the article here:
www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2008/08/the-producer-as.html

I’ve launched a new video on ProSoul.com featuring myself talking about what were doing for artists, but given my schedule, it still needs a lot of work…

My latest production: Birds Of Love

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

On this occasion of Valentines day, I would like to express my eternal love for my dear wife Felisha.I would also like to share my latest production, the befitting new CD and book gift set by talented artist, Elika Mahony, Birds Of Love!

Birds of Love is a treasury of uplifting words and spiritually inspiring songs specially created for weddings, anniversaries and for loved ones. I’ve been working on it for over a year with Elika, and it is a truly diverse collection. I also assisted with the development and design of the book of quotes.

The response to Birds of Love so far has been overwhelming. So many people have expressed how it is lovely to have music and a book on quotes on the theme of love and marriage, and what a unique and useful gift it is for their friends getting married.  There is also special limited edition option which comes autographed with a handmade card, I was just in the silk market in Beijing assisting in the selection of some exquisite metallic gold fabric with blue highlights for this book, and it must be seen!

You can hear samples and see photos of the product on Elika’s new website which was developed by Pro Soul, who is also assisting in the promotion and release of the product.

Much Music VMA TV broadcast screw up

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Felisha was watching the MTV Video Music Awards yesterday, broadcast in Canada by Much Music, who censored a lot of dumb things, like the song ‘I kissed a girl‘, and the word ‘balls’. She called me for help because she was getting some weird audio problems…

I avoid awards shows and other such drivel like the plauge, and the VMA’s are no exception, it’s just one big ad for the dying MTV channel, and artists with a ton of money behind them to compensate for their minimal talent. Do you know that they don’t show a single video during the ‘Video Music Awards’? What a joke.

Anyway, I went to investigate and found there were two audio tracks playing when Felisha was watching the show. She had recorded it with our PVR, a digital video recorder that is also a DVD player with an optical 6 channel cable feeding into a surround amplifier. Boring technical mumbo jumbo aside, I found out that when the Amp dvd input was in auto rather than analog, it was getting TWO audio feeds from the TV station, and one of them wasn’t supposed to be broadcast, and had nothing to do with the show we were watching!
Here’s a sample of what we heard in the left speaker:

[Audio:Much_Music_secret_broadcast.mp3]

We found out that this was a behind the scenes feed from a video shoot in progress at the Much Music studios during the airing of the VMA’s for a show called ‘Fashion File’, according to Felisha. It was complete with personal comments of the event film crew, cussing and all, and this was being broadcast with the regular cable signal! We have also had the same thing happen with other TV stations like CTV. Seems kind of careless and unprofessional that this stuff gets broadcast to the public, but not so surprising  from a slowly dying medium, a lot like the blunders we’re seeing in the music industry…

Death Of TV

Poor Quality Sound: Now Standard!

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

In my last post I talked about how the quality and natural dynamics of music is being destroyed through digital software technology that allows unnatural processing of audio.

But there is a much greater threat to the quality of audio that has been the subject of my thoughts for some time now: The way we listen to sound.

Back in the 1970’s the quality of sound recording technology, production techniques and playback systems reached a pinnacle with some of the most incredible music and sound humanity had ever known, and this became further fine tuned in the 1980’s. Brilliant, rich full spectrum sound that went beyond the range of human hearing, but influenced the richness of the sound through frequency harmonics that enhanced what we could hear with our ears.
Two things initiated the downward spiral that has led us to where we are today: The Walkman and the CD.
Very briefly, the walkman influenced music lovers to listen to music on crappy little earphones, and the CD chopped off audio at 20kHz without researching the influence of harmonics above that hearing range on sound we do hear. This is why vinyl records really are better sounding than CD’s in many ways.
From there, the convenience of sound gave way to clarity, and quality until we come to the present day world, of massively widespread use by the majority of music and audio listeners of terrible sounding MP3’s played on the worst possible sound producing devices humanity has ever experienced: earbud iPod headphones, computer laptop speakers, and cel phones! And this doesn’t even begin to cover the music and production tools and techniques prevalent with the trend of do it yourself computer production.

To a producer like myself who has spent over a decade mastering the subtle art of trying to perfect music and sound, this trend is devastating to say the least. And if you ever compared how music sounds on a really nice hi fi stereo system (you know like the ones they used in the 70’s) with a computer laptop speaker, it would make you nauseous. You lose something like 80% of the sound! But that introduces another problem- people don’t really know what sounds good and what doesn’t, maybe because they have become so used to listening to terribly reproduced sound, in my humble opinion and experience.
(Just as a benchmark, and cost is by no means an accurate measure, if your speakers cost less than $500, they are probably cheap garbage that sounds terrible!)

This has brought up all kinds of questions for me with regard to what I do as a profession… Why create great sounding 24 bit 96kHz audio if it is going to end up at 80% of what you created? For the 20% of people that like good sound?
My only answer is to become more involved in the film industry side of audio production as a sound designer, since at least sound is formatted and reproduced in higher fidelity than with music. So that is what I have gradually been doing. A film I worked on last year is hitting the theatres in September here…

I truly feel for the future of music in an environment where it is so under appreciated. It makes me wonder what the future holds for someone in a profession like myself and wether or not there will even be the need for professional producers and engineers if no one can really appreciate or notice their efforts.

For those of you reading this who don’t really know what I’m talking about, you don’t know what your missing!

The way audio was meant to be heard...

The Loudness Dilemma

Friday, August 15th, 2008

For some time now there has been a debate about how modern audio mastering techniques have created music that is louder than it usually would be at the expense of the normal dynamics of the music.
Andrew Dubber blogged about it here with a video that demonstrates the issue:

The process of making tracks louder than they usually would be without them distorting is called ‘Limiting‘.

This is something, as an audio engineer that also does mastering, that I have wrestled with for many years. I like music loud, and it bothers me when something sounds too quiet when listened to with other music. But as a producer and sound mixer, I also love dynamics in music. When others have mastered songs I’ve mixed using standard ompression, it has really ruined the song. But you don’t want the music to seem quiet compared to other music, and you want it to sound good on the lousy stereo systems most people listen to music on! Hence the Dilemma.

I think that in many ways, Dubbers argument may be pointless really. The majority of people in the world wouldn’t know good sound if their life depended on it! Even many of the talented artists I work with for whom music is their life struggle with this, and my production students certainly do as well.

I blogged more about this major issue of the poor quality audio so prevalent in the world here.

Alan Wilder of Recoil and formerly Depeche Mode wrote an excellent article about it and about other industry changes as well here

.

A pro stops by the studio…

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Yesterday, I got a long overdue visit from a friend and professional musician Darryl Kromm from 80’s band Strange Advance who I worked with on Past Becomes Future and many other brilliant songs he has written that have not been released (yet). He came in to discuss future projects and Heather Dore’s current songs that I am working on. I wanted some background vocals for one of her songs, and despite not hearing the song much or knowing the words, he threw down an almost flawless recording in 15 minutes, as he has always done. When I asked him about it, he said “when your singing professionally for paid gigs, you can’t fool around, and that’s where I started”. Early in his career he performed/recorded with Bryan Adams, Bob Rock and Paul Dean of Loverboy, and released a number of hit recordings.

It was a great experience to work with such a pro in the studio and get such strong results so quickly. Looking forward to more of that Darryl!

[audio:http://www.prosoul.com/tracks/pbf/fame.mp3]
Darryl sings his rework of Bowie’s ‘Fame’ from the Past Becomes Future CD.

Dusting off the 80’s synths

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Actually I never dust off my old hardware synthesizers, there’s something about an old electronic thing like that with dust on it that is appealing… It isn’t so good for the hardware thought, the dust gets in the pots and sliders and you get all kind of crackles and noise when you turn the knobs and use it.

What I mean is I am working on a new 80’s inspired pop album for artist Heather Dore. She’s a real sweetie, she even wrote a blog entry about me without even knowing how much I love being appreciated.
The interesting thing about Heather coming along and requesting I rejuvenate her music career by helping her create her favorite kind of music is that I have spent the last decade telling myself “the 80’s are over, things have to sound modern now, 21st century” (which is interesting as a producer in a way, because the production values and attention to detail on a record in the 80’s have never been equalled).
And now that I have finally almost mastered that, I have to go back to my roots that I love and forget discipline from using dated sounds for Heather’s 80’s inspired music. But we will be combining modern elements too, so stay tuned for that, it will be very interesting.

Anyway, it is cool to fire up this old hardware for her music because I have really been into virtual instruments lately in the computer because they save so much time. They aren’t better, they just save time and money. But the old synths have all kinds of crackles and buzzes and stuff that keeps things interesting (and technically challenging from the spoiled computer use). Today one old synth, the Roland MKS-50 that I used (which is a keyless Alpha Juno) started outputting this weird low frequency feedback drone noise which would come and go by itself when I wasn’t using it. Not surprising when using a device that is creating sound using real current generated oscillations. That’s the beauty of old analog hardware, it’s alive.
Now I just have to get these old beasts to behave long enough to capture their essence.

Dusty Old Synthesizer
ahhhh, dusty old synths…

Obsession with musical perfection

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

I wasn’t sure if after working very hard on a number of musical projects this year I would actually have any new completed CD’s this to speak of. But at least there will be one, as I recently finished Elika Mahony’s new CD, Fire And Gold which I will talk about in a later post when it is released.
(I haven’t linked to her site as it isn’t working yet.)

When I am completing an album, I become somewhat obsessed with making sure it sounds as good as possible within a reasonable time frame, and since I am not only producing, but mixing, engineering and mastering, there is no shortage of things that need to be monitored in that last chance to make final changes.
Many correctly argue that a producer or engineer should never master a CD, but so many projects I have worked on have been ruined by improper mastering, I often end up doing it myself, at the request of artists that trust me more than anyone else, because of how important the music becomes to me after spending so much time composing for, producing and mixing. I am still searching for the right mastering engineer.

There are so many things that can go wrong at the final stages, just mixing so that everything sounds great on ANY stereo system is a challenge on it’s own even when you’ve been doing it for over 17 years.
I’ll leave the technical details to that to keep things from getting boring here… I get into some of the pre mixing issues that can come up in this post.
I start to obsess about little things in the music when it’s my last chance to make changes, in my attempt to make sure everything is perfect. Of course it never is, but the majority of listeners will never know.
It may seem overly revealing for a professional to divulge that, but any producer who says their music is indeed perfect is a liar, because I hear the problems and mistakes in their music that no one else does, and that’s ok. But I do find it shocking that famous producers with 10 times the budget that I have for a production would release music with major oversights like out of tune notes and piercing frequencies. So that makes me feel a little better about any issues that escape me (and I emphasize the word little, as I said, I get obsessed)

Then again, you could argue that if someone is going to listen to the music at one tenth of the resolution as an mp3 with ear bud headphones coming from a mini jack, the worst quality audio connector on the planet, what is the point? But this is a blog not an essay, so we’ll leave it at ‘because otherwise I couldn’t live with it’