Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
The most wonderful time of the year is upon us… or the most annoying time of the year, depending on your holiday spirit. Regardless of how you feel about the holidays, most of us still need to succumb to the gift-giving traditions passed down by our great ancestors. I mean, what better way is there to show someone that you love them than spending money on them?
Finding gifts for your loved ones can be a horribly daunting task. The truth is the best gifts aren’t the most expensive. It’s the thought that counts! The perfect gift is something the recipient needs and can use, with bonus points added if they normally wouldn’t buy it for themselves. The purpose of giving a gift is to show the person that we care about them.
If one of your loved ones is an audio engineer or music producer, the good news is that I’ve put together this comprehensive guide that will take all of the thinking out of it. These are all gifts that every single recording musician would be glad to receive this holiday season! You can’t miss!
I separated this list into different categories based on how they would improve the recipient’s life, and I tried to keep the cost below $100 with some exceptions.
Here is my list of the best gifts to get for music producers in 2019.
Improve their room
These cool Edison bulb lamps aren’t just for hip coffee shops. Spice up any studio with a few of these and help give the room a more rustic industrial look that’s sure to impress anyone from Brooklyn.
These LED lights have become a staple in studios around the world because they are an extremely cheap and easy way to add interesting accent lighting to any room. These come as adhesive strips, making it easy to run along the studio’s edges and corners. They also include a remote, so you have the ability to change colors based on your mood.
It’s an 8 inch LED ball. Buy a few and spread them around your room for those futuristic vibes.
What’s sexier than an analog synthesizer with wood trim panels? Nothing. The answer is nothing.
Spending long amounts of time locked in a studio can make the air smell a little funky. With an essential oil diffuser, they can start recording with the sweet scent of peppermint and eucalyptus wafting in the air.
Improve their health
Like I said, a recording studio can get funky! Make sure the air their breathing is so fresh and so clean.
The desk chair is the heart of the studio. We spend the majority of our time sitting on it! I see many engineers posting pictures using expensive pieces of outboard gear while they sit on a hand me down desk chair that’s falling apart. The MARKUS from Ikea isn’t cheap, but with a 10-year warranty, it should last those long nights and obese clients.
Protect their ears with a pair of these Eargasm earplugs for musicians.
Improve their workflow
$5 a month for unlimited cloud storage! That’s right! $5 for one computer and as many files as they can throw at it. The desktop application automatically backs up their drives and stores them in the cloud. They’ll never lose another session.
I can’t say enough good things about Sonarworks Reference 4. It’s an absolute game-changer, and I honestly wouldn’t be able to work without it. For $300, you can make a drastic improvement to the monitoring situation of any studio. This gift will make you a hero to any music producer.
Shortcuts are a pain in the ass to learn, but these keyboard covers from KBCovers.com make it a lot easier. They have covers for every DAW and MacBook keyboard style; just make sure you buy the correct one.
Improve their productions
This little calculator looking device is really a super-powerful sampler that includes a built-in microphone with sound quality that’s good enough to use in your productions. These are really fun to play with but are also legitimate musical instruments to create with.
Invented in 1967, this stylus-based analog synth is a fun time for the whole family! Okay… Maybe not for the whole family, but they definitely are a fun, cheap toy that can actually be used as a real instrument.
Considered to be the portable version of the famous Yamaha DX7, you can really get some tasty synth sounds with this thing. The Volca series has a bunch of exciting synthesizers, but for me, the FM is the standout and something that every studio could benefit from having around.
This subscription service gives you monthly credits that allow you to download samples. The desktop application makes it easy to search for new samples to download and drag and drop on to your sessions.
Take them to school
Mix With The Masters is such an incredibly valuable resource for engineers and producers of all skill levels. For the first time, we get to sit in with the industry leaders and see how they think and the techniques they use to create the songs we know and love.
This is the only book on mixing anyone needs and the only one I would recommend gifting. Bobby Owinski nails it.
Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Audio engineers and music producers are often after a very direct sound. This is the reason microphones are typically placed very close to the source. This captures the source with a lot of detail but also takes out most of the natural ambiance of the room. Most producers usually prefer to use emulated spaces that are exaggerated. The ability to use multiple types of reverb with different tonalities helps give the production depth, contrast, and keep things interesting. It also helps engineers deliberately place certain sounds in a mix. For instance, I may want to drench the pad synth to make it sit further back in the mix so it doesn’t interfere with the lead synth line.
Panning gives us the ability to move sounds left and right, and time-based effects give us the ability to move sounds forward and back.
What is reverb?
Reverberation, more commonly referred to just as reverb, is the sound created when sound waves are being reflected and interacting with the world around us. The time it takes these reflections to dissipate or be absorbed into other objects is decay time.
When a sound is made in a room, what we are hearing is not just the sound directly from the source but also the waves reflecting off all the surfaces in the room that are then bouncing back into our ears. For instance, if someone yells at you, you’re not just hearing the waves coming directly from the person’s mouth but also how it is interacting with the physical surfaces and walls of the room you’re in.
I have a very early memory of asking why it sounded better when I sang in the shower. The highly reflective tile in most bathrooms creates a natural reverb that helps with your pitch, making it more fun to sing into. I always recommend when recording a vocalist to make sure they are monitoring their vocals with effects like reverb to create the best sound possible. If the artist sounds good in their headphones, it will yield a better performance than if they were monitoring only their dry vocals straight from the microphone.
The history of reverb
Artificial reverb, or reverb that isn’t the natural ambiance of the room you’re recording in, was first used in a musical production by Bill Putnum and Robert Fine in 1974. Both of these pioneering audio engineers separately came up with the idea to put a speaker in another room, record it with a microphone, and then mixed it back in with the original dry sound. Decay times were adjusted by changing the room acoustics or by moving the microphones. The problem is these require an entire room for just a single reverb, something we can do today with a free plugin.
Hammond started putting reverbs in their organs in 1940, and Fender began to put them in their amps in the late 1950s. Still, it wasn’t until 1957, when EMT released the 140 plate reverb, that studios were finally able to ditch the chambers that took up an entire room for something a little more practical. The 140 plate was the first artificial reverb that studios adopted because it had an incredible sound that could measure up to the finely tuned chambers that were found in the elite studios of the time. The 140 plate was an enormous success, and its sound is so coveted that developers continue to try and replicate the gorgeous sound. In 1976, the EMT 250 was released, the first-ever digital reverb, which opened the doors to seemingly limitless possibilities.
There are three ways an artificial reverb is commonly created. The first type of reverb available to recording studios required a physical or real element, such as an entire room or a humongous steel plate.
The next two types, algorithmic and convolution, are digitally based. With greater computer processing power came the ability to develop convolution reverbs, which use impulse response or IR samples recorded in real physical space by sending a burst of white noise into the room and recording the decay. This gives engineers the ability to capture and reproduce the sound of any room or their favorite plate or spring reverb. These impulse responses are designed to mimic the decay that was initially recorded, which makes them useful when trying to replicate a specific type of ambiance. This makes them extremely useful in post-production when you need to rerecord audio that was recorded somewhere else. An impulse response taken in the original location would allow the mix engineer to add in the same sound of the room when rerecording.
The second way digital reverb is created is through the use of algorithms. The EMT 250 is the first digital reverb ever made and was algorithmic based. I had the honor of talking with Bill Blesser, the original designer. You can view the entire article here. Algorithmic reverbs are created using a mathematical formula that is calculated and rendered by the processor in the hardware or your computer if its a plugin and then spit back out your speakers.
These are the 6 most important types of reverb you’ll need to know about.
You know what a room is, right?
Room reverbs to create the response of a… you guessed it… a room. Usually, a small room, as these reverbs, most commonly have a short decay time, typically under 1 second. This reverb can give the sound life and put it in a space that’s familiar to our ears. Because of this familiarity, it adds a pleasing effect to our ears and aids in getting sounds to fit together in a mix. I commonly find myself using room reverbs on drums, especially snares, percussion, and other acoustic instruments that are a bit too dry but don’t need a longer reverb with an audible decay. Because the decay time is so short, the reverb is usually felt rather than heard when putting it in a mix.
Plate reverb, like the aforementioned legendary EMT 140, consists of an 8 x 4 x 1-foot wood box with a sheet of steel hanging inside. A transducer then sends the signal into the sheet of metal, which causes it to vibrate; the result is then picked up via another transducer and mixed back into the dry signal. The length of the decay is adjusted via a damping mechanism, which can also be controlled via a remote. When I interned at Trout Recording in Brooklyn, New York, owner Bryce Goggin had just purchased a 140 plate, but it didn’t have a remote. I fondly remember being assigned to go down to the basement to adjust the decay time whenever necessary.
Plate reverbs have a very pleasing sound and work well on pretty much everything. Sound waves travel faster in the metal plate than they do in the air, which gives them a higher density, smoother tail, and ultimately a very desirable sound that engineers and producers all over the world have grown to know and love.
This type of reverb simulates a finely tuned concert hall. Concert halls are auditoriums that are designed with acoustics being the main priority. These halls are meticulously tuned to remove any negative artifacts that can be detrimental to the sound, such as rings, standing waves, and uneven tonal response. These are a classic artificial reverb that became popular with the rise of digital time-based effect units. Since these rooms are designed for optimal acoustics, it’s no surprise that they are often emulated. Halls can be used on just about anything with successful results. One of the most popular hall reverbs is the Lexicon 480L which can be found at many of the most esteemed studios around the world.
Chamber reverb is usually a small to a medium-sized room made up of different types of reflective surfaces strategically placed at different angles. A send and return are set up using speakers and microphones. Chambers offer a thick, dense and lush reverb without being overpowering. These are most commonly found on vocals and acoustic instruments but are great for any source that needs some character.
Like a plate reverb, except instead of a sheet of metal, these use an actual spring. Spring reverbs most commonly have a short or medium decay time and is used on guitars and keyboards because they are small enough to fit into amplifiers. Don’t let that fool you; spring reverb can sound good on many different sources, including vocals, synths, piano, and of course, guitars. The sound can be described as metallic, like a plate but more lively, with less depth.
They are most popular for the sproingy sound they make when you physically shake the reverb tank causing the springs to jostle around. Using a ton of spring reverb is a requirement when playing surf rock or producing dub music. In the late 1960s, AKG released the BX series of spring reverb units that became popular with recording studios.
These are extremely short reverbs, with reflections happening between half a second and shorter. This type of reverb is mostly used to add tone since the decay time is so fast, they are more likely to be felt rather than heard. Adding an ambient reverb return and sending multiple sources to it can have a nice gluing effect.
If you got this far, you finally know enough about reverb, maybe too much. Now it’s time to get out there and start reverbing!!! Put a reverb there. Put one over there. Put some reverb everywhere!
Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
One of the most common questions I hear young engineers and producers asking is, “how do I get clients?” They should really be asking how they keep the ones they already have. It’s way easier to keep a client than it is to gain a new one!
Win over the client, win more clients.– Russel Crowe’s character in Gladiator I think
Make sure the client knows what to expect
It took me a while to learn that one of the more difficult parts of this job is managing the client’s expectations. This is especially important when you’re working with someone that has never been in a recording studio. Before every session, I like to have a short exchange with all of my clients either via email or phone, to get an idea of what they are trying to accomplish in the upcoming session. This allows me to effectively plan how I’d like to run the session. I can also answer any questions that the client may have.
Clients can be overwhelmed by the whole experience. Recording can be extremely intimidating for any artist. Easing their worries is only going to make things go smoother and make the session more enjoyable for everyone. A common misunderstanding I see clients making is underestimating how much time they will need. It’s important to make sure they are aware of how long things like setting up, breaks, and exporting and transferring files can take. On large sessions, setting up may take a few hours. It’s crucial to make sure that everyone involved is aware of this and to make sure they are comfortable while they are waiting. This is where having a nice lounge area in your studio comes into play. Everyone will appreciate having access to a TV, video games, and other time-consuming entertainment to help keep them occupied. There is nothing worse than having five band members standing in the control room talking while you’re trying to dial in sounds.
Be prepared, have a plan
You know what they say… If you don’t plan, you plan to fail! Everything’s better when you have a plan.
Writing out a plan forces you to think of possible scenarios and what you might need to prepare for them. During my initial conversation with the client, I like to ask questions to get a better idea of what we will be recording and what they are trying to accomplish. How many people are going to be recording, what instruments, and what type of music? What would they like to leave with? In most cases, I’ll already have everything I need ready to go, but there will be those times when I don’t. Making sure you have all the tools you need for your session will save you a lot of stress.
I’ll also ask the client if they have any particular preferences on how things should be done. Are they recording completely live? Are they using a backing track? Do they need a specific guitar sound? What kind of kit does the drummer usually play?
Then I will map out the physical setup and where I’d like to place things in the room. I’ll also write out a rough itinerary with a schedule to help me manage time more effectively. I want to make sure the client walks out with exactly what they expected to, and hopefully even more.
Lastly, when things go wrong (and they will), try to remember that nothing ever goes exactly as planned. The ability to adapt to any situation is a skill that every great audio engineer must possess.
Have water, coffee, tea, snacks, and other necessities available
This one is pretty self-explanatory. One of the most important parts of a studio’s job is to make sure their clients are as comfortable as possible. This means making sure they are well hydrated and have something in their stomach. If you’re working a long session, it’s surprisingly easy to forget to eat or drink. A good way to mitigate this is to always have some basic refreshments readily available; this way, at least, everyone isn’t completely starving or dehydrated. It also shows the client that you are putting in extra effort to make their experience better.
And coffee. You always need coffee. You can’t record without copious amounts of coffee.
Manage time efficiently
It’s important to keep the session flowing smoothly. Clients are artists, and they can be hard on themselves (and sometimes even delusional). There are times when someone you’re working with might want to spend hours doing something that’s not working and is only bringing everyone’s morale down. Fostering positive momentum is extremely important when creating; getting stuck on something for too long can have a detrimental effect on everyone’s mood.
You should’ve already made a plan and figured out how you’d like to manage your time. If you have 10 songs to record in one day and you’ve spent 4 hours on 1 song… That’s probably not good. Whoever is running the session needs to make sure they’re always aware of the clock and make sure things are getting completed in a relatively timely fashion. In the past, I had been way too passive and let the client dictate how their time would be spent. I’d find myself working on a guitar solo for 10 hours when I knew, in the end, it wasn’t going to make any difference. There are certain times when it might be right to work on something for that long or however long, but usually, it’s best to just move on. You can always come back to it later.
Set the mood
I feel a lot of studios fail to emphasize how important the actual physical environment is to a recording session. Creating a good vibe in the workspace will not only make you and your clients feel better while working but it will invoke different emotions and feelings that wouldn’t be there in a sterile, harshly lit, plain white room. One of the first studios to realize this is Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland Studios in New York City. John Storyk, the original designer, made sure the bright, colorful, relaxing environment catered to the vibe of the studio and invited all that entered to create.
Luckily today, we have Home Depot and Amazon, which have a ton of options for new ways to spice up your studio on a budget. A good place to start is the lighting. String lights and LED lightbulbs and strips are easy and effective.
Don’t forget about the smells! Our sense of smell is extremely powerful, and we studio rats sometimes have a tendency to disregard it. There’s also always the classic lava lamp or what I consider to be the modern lava lamp, the Himalayan Salt Lamp.
Yes, this is a business transaction, but it’s much more than that. You’re helping someone create their art, which can, and probably should be, a very personal and intimate experience. The easiest way to get clients to come back is to get personal– be friendly, talk to them about their past, their history, what they like, what they don’t like, and why. Everyone wants to work with their friends. The more a client becomes a friend, the more likely they are to want to keep working with you. That doesn’t mean fake it, although at times you might have to, it does mean opening up to be more personal with everyone that walks through your studio’s doors.
Control the session without being controlling
There’s an art to being able to direct a session effectively while also being able to keep it fun. Sometimes you’ll need to tell someone when something isn’t that good or that the best course of action is to move on to the next thing. Artists can be extremely insecure and difficult to work with, especially when they are creating something personal to them. Sometimes they are just looking for approval or someone to tell them what to do. Or sometimes, they want the complete opposite. The skill there is learning how to read the situation so you can lead the session while making sure the client is happy and producing a good product.
Do something the client wasn’t expecting
Bring out a cool guitar amp they’ve never seen, add real tube distortion to the lead vocal, add an instrument the band has never heard of, splice in a dropout, and completely edit the arrangement. Enhance their music with impressive production tricks. Make a point to emphasize your special touch (whatever that may be). This helps leave a lasting impression, and they’ll know who they need to come back to next time in order to get that same badass production.
Exceed their expectations, make the client sound better than they do
Exceeding the client’s expectations is the most surefire way to get a repeat client. The client will go into the session with an idea of what they want and what they hope the final product will sound like. If you’re able to exceed these expectations and produce a product even better than they had originally imagined, they’ll likely want to return so they can experience the same thing. Now the client isn’t just booking a recording studio. They are booking you because they know you’ll make them sound good.
This is how you form a team and partnership with your clients that can turn into a long term working relationship. If you ask any successful engineer, they will tell you that these types of relationships are paramount to sustaining a career in this field. Your loyal clients are not only valuable because of their direct business– they’re also going to be putting your name out there, spreading the word, and ultimately bringing you more clients. Word of mouth advertising is by far the most form of marketing for any engineer or producer.
If you haven’t already, check out the first part of this series, “5 things they don’t teach you in audio school.”
I don’t know the curriculum for every audio program, but I do know there are required skills needed to be successful in the recording industry that can’t be learned in a classroom setting. These skills need to be learned the old fashioned way, by doing it and making mistakes. These mistakes are a right of passage. The truth is that not everyone that goes to school to learn how to be an audio engineer or music producer is going to have what it takes to turn their passion into a lifelong full-time career. It’s important to remember that music production is an art form that’s entirely creative based as well as extremely technical. Like most great art, you can’t just learn a set of procedures and become a master. One thing that every great producer must start with that can’t be learned is good taste. Because of this, going to school for audio and production does not guarantee you’ll come out with the ability to produce high quality recorded music. It’s more likely that you won’t. On top of that, even if you’re a technical wizard, make the hardest beats, and have the best mixes, none of that matters if you’re not likable and you don’t meet the right people. After graduation, clients aren’t going to be knocking on your door because you have a degree.
You need to have characteristics and skills that go beyond just turning knobs and making things sound good. Now I’m sure some schools with music production programs will touch on some of the things that I am going to mention, but touching on the subject and emphasizing it, are not the same thing. From my experience and what I know about audio programs are that many tend to be very focused on the technical side of things. This is likely due to the large majority of the students being very new to recording and production. The thought process there is before you do anything creative, you have to know how to use the equipment. The other issue is a lot of these programs are run like for-profit businesses, and there’s a lot of money in selling a dream of working in a recording studio alongside your favorite musicians that you hear on the radio. This is where it starts to taste a little sour for me. When schools focus on selling the dream without giving their students the right knowledge and tools to be successful in this industry.
If you’re trying to decide if studying music production is right for you, read my article “Should you go to audio engineering school?” where I explain things you should consider before making any decisions.
Things can go wrong. And they often do. It’s extremely difficult to be able to remain calm and think clearly when there’s a catastrophic problem, time is money, and important people are staring at you, waiting for you to get things going.
An often underappreciated skill is the ability to troubleshoot constructively and effectively. Troubleshooting is the process of figuring out the source of an issue so you can fix it. In order to do this, you must start at the beginning of the signal chain and remove variables that could possibly be at fault one by one.
For instance, if you have a microphone connected to a console that has a preamp, you can first try to switch which channel you’re using on the console. If the microphone doesn’t work on the second channel, then we know it’s most likely not the console and more likely something with a microphone or cable. This type of guess and check work is essential in order to solve issues in the field.
The next time you find yourself in a situation where there’s a problem, use it as an opportunity to practice troubleshooting. Fixing a problem gives you a great sense of accomplishment.
Working under pressure and making decisions on the fly
We discussed troubleshooting in the previous section, but I didn’t talk enough about how much more difficult it is when you’re working under pressure. If you’re the sound guy and the wireless mic goes out, everyone is looking at you to fix it. All eyes will immediately turn to you and give you the “what the f*ck happened?” look. Trying to fix something while hundreds of people are staring at you while you scurry around a stage chasing cables. My point is this job can be stressful. When working in the studio, broadcast, or live environment, we are responsible for capturing events that are happening in real time. If we mess up, it’s a mistake that can never be corrected. You can never get that performance back.
There’s no class in the world that’s going to teach you how to work well under pressure. You need to be fed to the wolves, you need to make mistakes, and you need to fail. Then, after you’re embarrassed, humiliated, and humbled, you can start to learn from your failures and actually become decent at this job. It’s okay to make mistakes. I’d say it’s necessary to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. It’s also helpful to try and remember that mistakes are part of the process and to keep moving forward.
Working under pressure causes stress. The circle of life. Isn’t it beautiful? A lot of gigs in this field require working long hours for long stretches. It’s not uncommon to have a project that lasts multiple weeks and requires 12 hour days. It’s easy to disregard your health and fall into the habit of not eating or sleeping well. It’s going to be extremely difficult to keep up with what can be a strenuous lifestyle if you’re not taking care of yourself. Make sure you make time to relax and enjoy yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the grind. It’s okay to take a break sometimes.
Managing yourself as a freelancer and business
When I started school way back in the year 2007, I mistakenly thought that there were still opportunities for full time jobs. I thought I could start as an intern, work my way up the ladder, and in a few years, I’d be tracking Kanye and Drake. I soon realized that wasn’t going to be the case and that full time jobs at recording studios weren’t quite as readily available as they used to be. And by not quite as readily available… I mean pretty much non-existent.
It was years after I graduated that I finally realized that if I wanted to make a go at this thing, I was going to need to make myself the business. I needed to find a way to set myself up to get my own gigs and be my own boss. It turns out it’s easier than I thought. If you think of yourself as a business, you can start treating everything you do as such. If you keep working at it consistently, eventually, you’ll start seeing results. Going to school didn’t help me find this path, and that’s not so much the school’s fault. You can’t teach someone how to make good life decisions. The audio industry has been changing so drastically in the last 10-20 years. Today, it’s the wild west, and audio professionals are finding new ways to make a living. You need to be creative in how you market yourself, what services you offer and how you’re offering them. There’s a lot of money to be made in music production, but it isn’t all in recording the actual music. Try to find a path that makes sense, is sustainable, is relatively future proof and gets you excited. Then start running down that path as fast as possible.
Now that I have my own business, how do I… um… do work? I know what it’s like to go to a 9 to 5 desk job, clock in, do the task I am assigned for the day, and then clock out and go home. Now I have to make my own schedule!? Hold myself accountable and make sure the quality is held to a standard. That takes a completely different set of skills that are not new to me, and I’ll be honest, I am terrible at it. The first step is recognizing that I am terrible at it and then working towards correcting these bad habits. I never cared much about schoolwork, so I never developed a good work ethic. Finding ways to manage your time is crucial when you’re trying to build a business, especially when you have other things going on in your life. I find it helps to focus on setting a schedule for myself. I’ll figure out what I want to accomplish each week/month and then map out what I should do every day in order to achieve that goal. It’s also really helpful to write down specific times you want to do things so you can hold yourself accountable.
We’ve all seen them. Those black units at the top of just about every single rack of gear. Sometimes they even have cool lights that pop out and an outlet on the front so your buddy can easily charge his e-cig. But what do power conditioners really do and when is it worth it or beneficial for you to buy one for your studio?
The goal of a power conditioner is to filter, clean and stabilize incoming AC power. This, in theory, should preserve your equipment as well as improve performance. There’s an overwhelming amount of varying opinions on what exactly a good power conditioner is. A common sentiment on internet forums and messages boards is that most cheaper and more commonly used power conditioners are nothing more than an expensive box with a surge protector in it. A surge protector is used to prevent a power surge from causing damage to your electronic devices where a power conditioner is used to prevent noise and voltage fluctuations from causing issues.
Even an opinion piece on a supposedly reputable website like Computerworld.com, in which the author attest to the benefits of using a power conditioner, still come with no definitive proof. Just reading the author’s choice of words exude uncertainty, like he’s not even sure what the truth is.
“I can’t say with certainty that it [power conditioner] has improved the service life of my electronics, but I haven’t suffered a power related failure in the past 15 years”
Not exactly the best commercial for Team Power Conditioner. In fact, if I was making a commercial for a power conditioner and that was one of the customer testimonials, I’d probably leave that one out.
The author then goes on to cite a specific instance when he heard a hum through his guitar amplifier and his power conditioner was able to instantly remove it, claiming this as proof of the magic powers of his power conditioner. The only problem with that is that hum is usually caused by a ground loop and a power conditioner doesn’t have anything to do with that.
So what’s the truth? Are the thousands upon thousands of audio professionals using the base model Furman power conditioners stupid for wasting their money? That seems unlikely but it was still hard to find a clear definitive answer because the internet is littered with contradicting information and opinions. There seem to be four different schools of thought on how to properly power professional audio gear. I’ll explain each way and then I recommend you make your own educated decision depending on your situation.
The first school consists of people that believe in using a power conditioner. These people believe a conditioner is an effective and necessary tool that allows you to get the most out of your gear as well as preserve its components by providing the unit with consistent, stable, and clean power. They believe it reduces stress on their gear from things like brownouts and voltage sag.
The second school is made up of people that don’t believe anyone in the first school. They believe that any power conditioner within a few hundred dollars is not really conditioning anything and is nothing more than a rack mountable surge protector. Because of this, they choose to buy a $10 surge protector power strip or a $30 rack mountable power strip and call it a day.
The third school believes in using a pure sine wave UPS (they almost always include a built in a surge protector). It is important that you look for a UPS that puts out a pure sine wave, as many of the lower priced units use a simulated sine wave, which can cause some power supplies to buzz and is not recommended for professional use.
The last school believes you really need to use a voltage regulator. Voltage regulators, which are also made by Furman, can run you well over $1,000. It seems that many people believe their power conditioners are regulating the voltage when that’s not actually the case. The Furman P-1800 AR Advanced Level Voltage Regulator/Power Conditioner claims to offer “True RMS Voltage Regulation delivers a stable 120 volts of AC power to protect equipment from problems caused by AC line voltage irregularities.”
There are obviously some other ways of going about powering your audio gear, and you can certainly combine all three schools of thought for the ultimate peace of mind, but these three are definitely the most common.
As for proof of what inexpensive power conditioners are really doing and if they work? Sorry, I can’t help you with that. That will continue to be debated by audio nerds for decades to come, right alongside “Do cables make an audible difference?”
What the f*ck is 32 bit floating?
20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions
5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon
We all hate drummers. Well, now we don’t need them anymore! You can buy this silly robot for the low, low price of $3,865. That’s all it takes to rid yourself of drummers forever! Small price to pay, if you ask me. #drummerjokes #drummersarestupid
If you asked me last week what a 12-Bit DIY Arcade Sampler was, I would have given you a blank stare. Well, not this week! This week I can tell you exactly what a 12-Bit DIY Arcade sampler is. But you know what? I’ll just show you this video instead, w
I’ve always wanted a real outboard spring reverb unit. In plugin land, we have access to thousands of reverb algorithms and impulse responses. What we don’t have is real genuine physical reverb, waves bouncing against a spring, plate, or room and fed back into your mix buss. Real is exactly what you get with a spring reverb unit. The Endless Summer Deluxe Reverb not only sounds great but is also very reasonably priced. I wanted to build my own at one point, but for this price, there’s no way I’d be able to build anything of this quality for the same price.
This one isn’t as much a professional tool as it is something that’s fun to play with and would be an interesting talking point. This little device converts a Theremin’s data into MIDI. Have hours of fun waving your arms and controlling whatever you want in your DAW! I haven’t bought my own yet, but when I do, I’ll report back on whether it’s possible to pretend you’re conducting an orchestra while also adjusting the levels of faders.
Who doesn’t want a sunflower sound diffuser in their control room!? Alright, so maybe sunflowers aren’t your thing, well, you can find a ton of different options on Etsy for cool looking wall art diffusers that will spice up your studio. There are funky ones like the sunflower, but also others that are more suitable for non-sunflower lovers.
You can put a guitar pedal in anything these days, and that’s exactly what Indianola Labs is doing. Find fun guitar pedals in all types of things, like a band-aid container, an E.T. lunchbox, or a doll head.
I just want one of these so I can have a Furby and Buzz Lightyear phone in my studio.
If you’re like me, then you’ve dreamed of bringing a suitcase to work every day. Now we can! If you show up to the studio with a beautiful wooden suitcase full of
This fuzzy pedal looks like that fiberglass insulation in walls that you’re not supposed to touch, but hey, it sounds cool and will definitely draw some attention.
Turn a can of Hunt’s Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce into a unique lo-fi microphone. The mic comes attached to a top that fits just about every tin can you have in your pantry. You can listen to a vocalist using it at a live show here.
Build your own instrument kits. I don’t have anything funny to say about these.
Hang up your guitars in style! Why put your guitar on some stupid old guitar stand or wall mount when you can gently place it into a copper hand or tree stump? Come on now, this isn’t rocket science!
Etsy was made for Cigar Box Guitars, or CBGs, as the kids call them. There’s a whole community of people that love these things. They sound horrible, but I guess there’s something interesting about them, if you like that type of thing or if you’re on a farm and there’s no way you can get to a Guitar Center, and Sweetwater or Amazon won’t deliver to you.
It’s a pillow that looks like a synth. Pretty cool, right?
It’s not cheap, but this lamp made out of a Telefunken Magnetophone 201TS tape machine is a great way to light up any control room!
Your studio doesn’t have enough audio engineer bobbleheads, trust me, you need this. Some even claim it makes their mixes sound fuller.
You don’t want to lose your iLok… Trust me. I had the wonderful experience of misplacing my iLok a little while ago and had to email all of the developers I had purchased plugins from to ask if they could resend authorizations to my new account. Some companies even charge you for this. This nifty aluminum box adds some weight to that valuable USB stick and also looks pretty damn badass.
Quick tip 41
On a vocal try using one compressor with a fast attack to control the peaks and a second with a slower attack for tone and character.
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Try closing your eyes and listening to your mix every once and awhile. We mix with our ears
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Try using a
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Learn how to troubleshoot! Don’t expect other people to solve your problems for you.
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The higher the mic preamp gain, the more sensitive the microphone will be.
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Use delays, vocal effects, and other ear candy to fill in the empty spaces of a song. This keeps the production
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If frequencies are clashing and panning isn’t enough, try using a stereo width plugin to spread out a track even further.
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Try using a high pass filter on the sidechain input of your compressor to let the bass frequencies pass through
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Start to maintain a favorite samples folder. After you finish a song, take your favorite sounds and export them to a
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You have to try a lot of things that won’t work before you can know what things will work.
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Finishing the project should always be your number one goal. It doesn’t matter how good it sounds if you never finished it.
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Mastering is always better left to a professional mastering engineer that has a fresh set of trained ears in a finely tuned room.
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Try lightly tucking a quarter note delay into a lead vocal to thicken it up.
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Track vocalists with compression, reverb, and delay to help
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Try not to spend too long working on a single instrument, remember to
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Don’t be afraid to stack multiple plugins and don’t be afraid to leave a sound untouched.
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You really don’t need that piece of gear! Spend more time learning about the gear you have and actually using it.
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Louder always sounds better. Make sure when A/Bing two signals that both are being played back at
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Every DAW offers
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Set aside time for experimentation where you try new processors, effects,
Classic recording consoles are extremely sought after for their hands-on workflow and larger than life sound quality. There’s nothing like riding the volume of a vocal, having your fingers on a real fader while being able to easily reach an immaculate sounding equalizer and compressor on every channel. With all good comes some bad, and using a console has its fair share of cons. For starters, they are huge. It requires a lot of space, energy, and patience to run and maintain such an enormous piece of gear properly. Still, the ability to touch a console with your fingers and express your sonic desires physically, moving faders, twisting knobs, and pushing buttons, cannot be emulated with a computer or touch screen.
Everything started with analog gear and recording consoles, and today’s DAWs take direct influence from the past. Large format consoles have thousands of switches, transistors, capacitors, relays, and other components that make the elaborate device work. These large intricate, and complicated tools are true marvels of electrical engineering. Today it’s easy to take for granted just how remarkable consoles are. Techniques previously only accomplished with a console, tape machine, and meticulous editing are now easily done within a computer.
I’m not here to debate if analog or digital is better, I’ll leave that to Gearslutz and Facebook groups (spoiler alert: it doesn’t matter, and you should use whatever works for you), but I am here to honor the great recording consoles that paved the way for modern recording techniques. I made a list of some classic consoles that have been heard on countless hit records (and even more that weren’t hits) and decided to write about their history and what makes them unique. Some people like to experience the nostalgia of classic cars, clothing, toys, or art; well, I like consoles and audio gear.
Solid State Logic, better known as SSL, was founded in 1969 by Colin Sanders. The company’s first products were switching systems for pipe organs that used FET switches to communicate between the keyboard and the electromechanics of the pipes. These switches replaced older unreliable relays, solenoids, and thick interconnecting cables.
Colin began designing and making consoles for his studio in his home village of Stonesfield, Oxfordshire, England. The first console he made was called the “A” series, and it was continually improved upon until he decided to build six to sell to other studios and institutions. These became the 4000 B series, and he eventually sold them to studios around the world, including Townhouse Studios in London, where it was used to record the famous drum fill (and the rest of the song) for Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight. The B Series was the first desk to integrate a studio computer system with a console.
They continued to revise the 4000 series and, in 1979, changed the game with the breakthrough 4000 E series, which was unlike anything the industry had seen before. It was the first console to have a dedicated dynamics section, which added a compressor/gate/expander on every channel. It also included the company’s famous fully parametric equalizer, which allowed engineers to boost and cut frequencies with incredible detail and accuracy. These two things, coupled with the console’s flexible routing, were the catalyst for what I consider a renaissance in the art of mixing during the ’80s. These feature-packed consoles allowed engineers to explore new creative techniques to hone in on more modern, polished sounding productions. Gated toms, reverbs, scooped mids, a ton of compression, and layering were all new techniques that were only possible because of the SSL console’s new features. This flexibility gave access to a whole new palette of colors for engineers to paint with and changed the way music would be heard forever.
In 1987, the company introduced the 4000 G Series console, which had a slightly different EQ section. The G Series equalizer used steeper filter slopes and incorporated a variable proportional-Q design, which automatically adjusts the Q value as you boost or cut.
In this video, Tony
Over the years, the company has gone through multiple owners and now resides as part of the Audiotonix Group along with Digico, Calrec, Allen & Heath, and Digigrid brands. They continue to make consoles, although they have put more effort into live and smaller hybrid analog/digital consoles.
Very few people have had as great of an impact on music technology as Rupert Neve. Every single recording studio has some form of Neve clone, plugin, or original preamp or compressor. The name alone has become synonymous with high quality, extremely musical sounding pieces of recording gear. Their consoles have something unique about them. Whatever the magic is, there’s no arguing that Rupert Neve had an incredible ear and genius for designing audio gear. Preamps, equalizers, and compressors designed by him have lasted the test of time and are still extremely sought after.
Rupert Neve learned how to build and sell radios from a very early age. During WWII, while serving with the Royal Signals, he was able to hone his skills in building radios and pa systems further. He went on to build a mobile recording studio in a US Army Dodge ambulance where he was able to record hours of opera concerts, music festivals, and public events directly to 78 RPM lacquer discs.
After working for a few small radio and transformer manufacturers, he started making bookshelf loudspeakers and selling them. In the mid-1950s, he was commissioned to build a console for Desmond Leslie, a professional composer of Musique Concrete. This new experimental style of music required the use of multiple tape recorders that were playing loops with different pre-recorded sound effects. Leslie needed a way to mix his tape machines, thus giving a reason to commission the first-ever Neve console.
In the 1970’s Sir Rupert Neve entered his golden years when he was designing and producing some of his finest consoles. The 80’s series consoles are what most consider when referencing a vintage Neve console. There were many iterations of 80 series consoles through the 1970s and 1980s; each console was custom made to order, specifically for their buyer.
The majority of the 80 series consoles included entirely class A mic preamps; the 8028 included the famous 1073b, while the 8058 and 8068 included 31102 mic/pre EQ modules, which are very similar to the 1073 with a few design differences and some additional hi-frequency EQ points. Many of these consoles included the very sought after 32264a compressor/limiter. Like all Neve compressors, these use a diode bridge circuit based design, which outputs a very desirable thick, warm, smacking tone.
The 8058 and 8068 are almost the same except for an additional four channels on the latter. Another key feature that sets these desks apart from earlier consoles the company made is the eight aux sends, allowing for more flexible routing. These consoles were staples of some of the best studios in the 70s and 80s.
1978 saw the first 8078, which was their first large format console and featured up to 72 channels. The 8078 is the last hand-wired analog console to be produced in the 80’s Series. These consoles usually come loaded with varying numbers of 31105 microphone/line preamp and EQ modules.
If you want that Neve sound and don’t have $5,000 to shell out for a single channel of the original, you can buy one of the bazillion clones that vary drastically in price and quality. If the price is not an issue, the BAE 1073’s are some of the best around. If you’re on a little bit of a smaller budget, check out the Vintech X73i. And if you’re on an even smaller budget and have a Universal Audio interface, check out the UAD unison plugin version.
REDD.17, REDD.37, and REDD.51
The Record Engineering Development Department (REDD) was established in 1955 by Abbey Road Studios’ technical engineer Lenn Page. Within a year, they had produced the REDD.1 console, which was their first dedicated stereo mixing system. At the time, EMI/Abbey Road made just about everything in house. Mass-produced consoles didn’t exist yet, so everything was designed and built for their specific needs.
The REDD.17 console was developed in 1958 and was one of the first modern-style consoles. Interestingly, this was also around the same time that Tom Dowd was in America at Atlantic Records, wiring up his first modern style recording desk. It’s up for debate as to which one came first, but the consensus is they both created these desks around the same time independently. Therefore, both should be credited.
The REDD.17 was designed by Peter Burkotwitz, who was based in EMI Electrola in Germany. This console was created in sections and pioneered modular designed systems that just about all large format consoles use today. The entire console could be broken down and shipped in five individual pieces.
The REDD 37 was the second version of the console, and only two were ever made. This new model added outputs needed to accommodate the studio’s new four-track tape machines. There were 8 inputs, 4 outputs, and treble and bass EQ adjustments on each channel.
All REDD consoles are vacuum tube-based, and the 17 and 37 models used Siemens V72S preamps. The V72S is a tube preamp with a fixed gain level of 40 dB. Suppose you need less gain, then you’ll have to move the microphone or use an attenuator. The REDD 37 is commonly known as the Beatles board; however, it was only used until 1964 and then again on their Let It Be album (when Magic Alex conned the band into commissioning him to build a console that was never completed).
EMI originally wanted eight of these desks built, but only three were actually completed. One console wound up as a prototype and found a home at Kingsway Hall, another EMI recording facility. The other two were slightly upgraded models of the prototype and became actual production models. They both landed at Abbey Road in Studio One and Two.
In January of 1964, EMI replaced the REDD.37 console in Studio Two with the brand new REDD.51. The main difference between the 51 and previous models is the amps used; instead of using the V72s like the 17 and 37, this console used REDD 47 amps. These new amps were built in house and offered lower distortion and more headroom than the V72s. Only four REDD.51 desks were made, and they were eventually phased out in the late ’60s for the transistor-based TG series. Today there is only one known REDD.51 in existence, and it is located at British Grove Studios in London.
Both the 37 and 51 featured 14
Also found on the console are dedicated echo sends and returns, different styles of pan pots, and a unique spreader control, which allows for adjustment of the stereo image.