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Archive for the ‘Audio Myths’ Category

Is Beat Detective Killing The Magic?

Posted by Keith Freund On March - 13 - 20092 COMMENTS

Note: Though this article refers to live drum performances, all information below can be applied to MIDI sequencing and quantization.

The music blogosphere is abuzz this month with talk of an informal survey which compares tempo deviations on drum performances of popular rock groups. The following graph shows tempo deviations in the drum performance by John Bonham* on Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”:


The tempo graphs show little deviation for pop acts like Nickelback, Britney Spears, and late-era Green Day. Some say this exactness contributes to a rigid or lifeless quality of radio rock. On the other end of the spectrum, the tempos of iconic rock bands like the Beatles, Metallica, and Weezer deviate considerably within songs.

The above plays into the notion that the 60s and 70s were the golden age of music—the “what ever happened to all the great rock n’ roll bands???” mentality—the idea that musicianship has been replaced by convenience, the increasingly poor work ethic of each new generation and especially all that new fangled technology.

The article’s author must not be an engineer because he attributes this phenomenon to click tracks which is, to put it bluntly, just plain wrong. Nickelback couldn’t play this closely to a metronome if they wanted to; these tempo deviation graphs cannot tell us whether the band played to a click track or not. The real culprit is editing to The Grid a.k.a. a tempo map, either by hand or using a software add-on like Beat Detective or Elastic Audio. To take it one step further, you could attribute this sound to the advent of the computer. After all, editing work at this level of precision was simply not possible before Protools and other computer-based DAWs in the early 90s.

And yet the argument against technology still standsit is often the human imperfections that make a record great.

One of my favorite examples of desirable “feel” is the performance by legendary bassist Pino Pallidino on D’Angelo’s Voodoo. He drags behind the rest of the band, almost as if the bass itself is hesitating, holding back great emotion or desire until just the right moment, much like people sometimes do in the throes of passion.

On the other hand, going completely au naturale can be dangerous. There are two factors working in favor of editing to a tempo map:

1) You’re not killing the magic if there was no magic there to begin with. Sometimes “feel” is just an optimistic way of saying poor chops.

2) As Phil once posited to me, our ears are so accustomed to music that is perfectly in tune and aligned that to leave out this step could make one’s music sound dated or unprofessional, even to the untrained ear.

As a mix engineer, these are the sorts of nuanced philosophical choices I must concern myself with when it comes time to take a project from good to great. Ethical implications aside, it is possible to quantize or edit live drum tracks in a way which does not kill all of the feel. Phil and I call this Musical Editing (on our Services page).


If the performer has a unique style or feel that I think is worth holding on to, I simply align each downbeat and leave breathing room for all the notes in between (as opposed to editing to every 8th or 16th note). I also depend on references: mention late-era Green Day in your Project Info Submission Form and you can expect your drums to be perfectly on the grid down to the sixteenth note. Mention the Pixies, on the other hand, and your drums may be left untouched.

Call it rigid, call it lifeless, I actually sometimes prefer the sound of aligned and sample-replaced drums. It is sometimes necessary to sacrifice the human element for the clarity and power of perfect drums. On the other hand I do think some bands could benefit from more organic, natural-sounding drum performances (Snow Patrol comes to mind).

What do you think? Are tempo grids killing music?


*From the look of things, I think we may have to make it a requirement to mention John Bonham in every single post from now on.

External Hard Drive Myths

Posted by Keith Freund On March - 11 - 20091 COMMENT

You’ve probably heard someone say, “don’t buy [insert hard drive brand]… mine crashed on me and I lost everything.” You may have heard that LaCie drives do not fail.

But you’re still not sure, so you do a little research.

You check out some reviews online, do a search on… maybe you’ll go to Guitar Center and have Joe Shred* tell you what he likes to use, next thing you know you’re leaving confused, half-naked with a bunch of $3,000 Monster cables…

Or you ask me and I’ll tell you to pick whatever has cool-looking lights on the front. And I’ll insist that you buy three of them.

But we’ll get back to that in a minute. As far as deliverables** go, LaCie is the industry standard. Like Apple and Pro Tools, many people won’t take you seriously if you’re using anything but LaCie. While I was working for Avatar in NYC, we used exclusively LaCie drives for data storage and deliverables (unless requested otherwise).

So I used to believe they didn’t crash too. That is, until my D2 Quadra crashed after 3 weeks for no apparent reason. At that point I decided to do some research of my own:


That’s right, the hard disk itself isn’t made by LaCie at all. Turns out, this is true for most external hard drive manufacturers.

You can get flashy. Avastor and Glyph drives use more expensive components and are often considered the best by those in the know. Personally, I put spinners on my Glyph 050Q:

Glyph Spinners
Now that’s class.

But even Glyph uses Seagate disks*** (they have found Seagate to be the most reliable). In other words:

No matter how much money you spend, your drive will fail. You will lose data. And you will be pissed.

So what does all of this mean? Buy anything and pray?

Yes! …well no, but when you’re picking out an external hard drive you can pretty much remove reliability from the equation (barring any widely-reported glitches). I went with Glyph for three reasons:

  1. Excellent warranty and replacement policy
  2. High-quality components, including the bridging chip (bridging is supposedly the second most common source of external hard drive failures , although I could find no official study to confirm this)
  3. Good tech support

The moral of the story is this: the only real way to be safe is to have at least three copies of everything, one of which should be in another location to account for physical damage or theft. I back up sessions to several hard drives as well as data DVDs, which I mail out of state bi-weekly. That means even if Fix Your Mix HQ gets nuked, your session is in Atlanta somewhere…

FixYourMix Headquarters
(FYM Headquarters… right, Phil?)

To be fair:

  • LaCie customer service was very good to me and tech support was moderately prompt. I would not hesitate to use a LaCie in the future. I’m just saying that I also wouldn’t hesitate to use anything else.
  • My Glyph 050Q fan was clicking and whirring within a week, but tech support told me a temporary fix (stick a paper clip in between the fan blades during boot up) and sent me a replacement fan, free of charge.

Have your own hard drive horror story? Share it in the comments section.

*Okay, okay. Not all Guitar Center sales reps are evil, soul-sucking capitalist pigs. But you know who you are.

**A deliverable is exactly what it sounds like: an item, product or artifact which must be created and then delivered as part of an obligation. In the audio industry that may mean hard drives, data DVDs, CD masters, session recall notes, et al.


Boss Hogg Outlawz

Now listening to:

Living Without” by Slim Thug Presents Boss Hogg Outlawz


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