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Saturday, August 30, 2014

REVIEW: BOSS NS-2 NOISE SUPPRESSOR


Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to review a classic stompbox, present in the live and studio rig (mostly live, though) of many famous artists, such as Slipknot, Machine Head, Mastodon, Killswitch Engage and Linkin Park, basically the major league of modern heavy metal: the Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor.

Compared to other modern noise suppression stompboxes the Boss NS-2 today may not result the first of the class in terms of transparency, especially on a head to head comparison with an Isp Decimator; the pedal nonetheless has been the first choice by many professional musicians due to its reliability, and due to the fact that Boss stompboxes are really built like a tank, made for the tour life with the highest level of reliability.
Plus it's cheap and gets the job done fairly well. 
The unit features a dual input and dual output: the first input and the first output are made to stay at the top of the guitar effect chain, while the second input and output are made to go in the send and return of the amplifier (the effect loop), or if there are other effects, from the return of the amplifier to the input of the first effect: this way with the first input and output we clean the sound of our guitar from the pickup hum and unwanted feedbacks, and with the second one we polish the sound even more before going through any modulation effect (e.g. a Delay), to make sure that no noise gets effected. 
Just make sure that the NS-2 it's always on the top of the chain, because for example if we'd set it after a Delay, the noise gate would cut the repetitions. 

My overall judgement on this unit it's very positive, and it's a great bang for the buck, but at the same time I think that a Noise Suppressor should be used only when really necessary, for example playing heavy metal or other hi-gain genres, otherwise, if the signal-to-noise ratio it's bearable, I wouldn't suggest to use it, it would only reduce the sustain of our guitar without a real upside.

Specs taken from the Boss Website:


Input Impedance 1 M ohms

Output Impedance 10 k ohms or greater

Equivalent Input Noise Level -110 dBu or less (IHF-A, Typ.)

Connectors INPUT Jack, OUTPUT Jack, RETURN Jack, SEND Jack, DC In, Out

Power Supply DC 9 V: Dry Battery 9 V type (6F22/9 V), AC Adaptor

Current Draw 20 mA (DC 9 V)

Accessories Dry Battery 9 V type (6F22/9 V)

Option AC Adaptor (PSA-Series)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

THE 5 WORST MIXING AND MASTERING MISTAKES TO AVOID! (Part 2/2)



CLICK HERE FOR PART 1/2


2) MESSING UP THE GAIN STAGING: moving on to the top 2 mistakes to avoid when mixing and mastering we find the gain staging. This is a topic often overlooked when mixing, but I assure you that is the basic thing to learn if you want to create a great sounding song.
Gain staging means setting the input level of all the processors of each single source before getting into the DAW, then finding the right mixing level so that when we export the track for mastering there is enough headroom to work.
In the analog domain going over 0db means saturation, which is not bad, but In the digital domain, it means clipping, which means that the song will be ruined, and this is a mistake that we need to avoid as much as we can.
Assuming we're working on a 24bit project, thing that I recommend, we don't need to use all the headroom possible, with the risk that the strongest hits will peak and clip: the ideal is to enter in the audio interface with a level of -8/-6 db, and from there to record the signal in the DAW at a level of -12/-10 db, without touching the master buss fader. That way we will have enough signal to mix without problems and without worrying of peaks, at at the same time we will have, when exporting the song, a track that will have around -10 decibels of peak level, which will leave us more than enough room to do a nice Mastering and to have a powerful final track.


1) OVERCOMPRESSING/OVERLIMITING: this point is linked to the previous one, but in my opinion it's the single mistake that can completely screw up the whole castle of cards that is a well balanced mix.
This is a topic we've already covered in some other article, especially in the loudness war one, but it's very important: if we overcompress (during mixing) or overlimit (during mastering) we will lose part of the transient, which is, simplifying to the extreme, the snap of the snare, the body of vocals and guitars.
Compression is important but each istrument should be compressed the right amount before losing its snap, and the right amount of compression is obtained when you lower the threshold until you start hearing the transient disappearing, and then back it up a little bit, so that you have the maximum level of transparent compression available before affecting negatively the sound.
Once in the mastering phase, instead, with limiting we should be even more cautious, since the damages we can produce to our song are even bigger, therefore I suggest you to read our basic limiting guide, but the rule of thumb is to never surpass 3 or 4db of gain reduction: if you limit more, the amount of transient loss will really screw up everything.


CLICK HERE FOR PART 1/2



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Saturday, August 16, 2014

THE 5 WORST MIXING AND MASTERING MISTAKES TO AVOID! (Part 1/2)



Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're talking about the 5 worst mistakes that we can make when mixing and mastering! If you find you're stumbling upon one of these, make sure to fix the problem before moving on with your project!

5) Arranging: This is a fundamental problem, that maybe can be properly solved only with some experience. The song may be too crowded at some points, for example we may find on the same guitar+bass+drums riff 3 vocals that sings different lines, a line of piano, a whole orchestra section, a dubstep-like synth and a sampler that shoots drum n'bass loops to give "that modern vibe".
Cut that stuff away.
Jack White of White Stripes (among the other projects) once said that there shouldn't be more that 3 things playing at the same time on a song in order to make it really enjoyable;
I think that there is a way in between: the arranger, that often is the songwriter himself, should be wise enough to know where the listener's attention is going to go, and to drive him the way he intends his song to be enjoyed.
For example if there are too many different lines playing different things at the same time, the focus of the listener may wander to the useless details and miss the important thing we wanted to say.
Take a listen to the radio hits of today and you will discover a return to the essential, for example the Miley Cyrus hit Wreckin'Ball, where for most of the song there are only low lines of synth and some piano.
The more the sound stage is crowded, the more the single instruments will sound thin and tend to hide each other, so we must become wise when arranging in taking away the unnecessary and give weight to the important elements of the mix, making it crowded only when essential, not all the time.
Another mistake when arranging that can really turn any song into crap is drum programming.
If you can't record a true drummer or just prefer to use sampled drums there are no problems, just make it write to a real drummer if you have no idea of how to play drums, since one of the worst things that can happen, especially to a rock or metal song, is to have a "virtual drummer" that does unnatural things, things that a real drummer wouldn't do. If you're in doubt, always choose the most simple, normal, boring drum fill, otherwise the song will result automatically in a ridicolous mess.


4) Panning: Moving on in our gallery of horrors let's talk about panning, which is the disposition of the instruments on the stereo field and that we have already covered in a dedicated article, but that may cause problems if taken too lightly.
The idea is to stack as fewer elements as possible in the same exact place, to avoid overcrowding a particular area. This happens especially at the center: it's the place where lead vocals, snare, kick and bass guitar usually lays, (and often piano and lead guitars too), so it's suggested to move the other instruments around a little bit, for example even just off centering a lead synth of just 5% left or right will leave the middle area of the mix much clearer.
Everything should have its place as if we're hearing the band from the front of the stage or like we're hearing it from the drummer's perspective, just avoid overcrowding the center of the soundscape and the extremes: instruments placed 100% left or right tend sometimens to disappear or sound a bit too far with some device, for example some car stereo, so it's a good rule to use 95% left or right as a maximum panning distance.


3) Boosting: passing to the lower step of the podium we meet this tricky topic, boosting.
Using an equalizer to boost some frequency of an instrument it's not a mistake by itself, since eq is a tone shaping tool by definition, the mistake arrives when boosting before the compression on the single channel (since the compression will lower the boost, the rule of thumb is to use subtractive eq, then compress, then use the additive eq).
Besides that, if we need to add like 10db on the top end of our snare or guitar, maybe we should consider it recording it again changing something, like the microphones used or their position, since twisting an original sound in such an extreme way usually results in having unpleasant, digital sounds, that will kill the performance itself.


CLICK HERE FOR PART 2/2



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Saturday, August 9, 2014

INTERVIEW: CRISTIANO TRIONFERA OF FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE TALKS ABOUT GUITARS, LIVE RIG AND EVERYTHING ELSE


Fleshgod Apocalypse is one of the most creative, technical and all around quality bands in today's extreme metal, and without any doubt they are the most unique looking ones too.
I reached my friend Cristiano Trionfera (actually I'm friend with all of them from before the band started) to ask him some juicy guitar question, here are his answers:

GuitarNerdingBlog: Hi Cristiano! Introduce yourself to our readers, tell us your story!

CristianoTrionfera: Hi there! It's Cristiano, lead guitarist of the band Fleshgod Apocalypse. I started playing guitar at the age of 11, 21 years ago, and since then it has been probably the most important aspect of my personal and professional life. It took a long time to find the right conditions to develop professionally the musical career, also because I'm italian and my country is not exactly what you would describe as an easy environment.

GNB: Tell us about your career. We know you've worked in many projects in the last few years, and the two most important ones are obviously Fleshgod Apocalypse and Promaetheus Unbound.
Which are the moments that you consider your career highlights? Which are the artists that influenced you the most? Is there still some collaboration that you'd wish to do?

CT: I've been playing with bands for many years, but I could never really say things were concretely taking their way into the pro world before Fleshgod. Promaetheus Unbound has been my childwood (musically) and my school, other than what I consider a great experience made with some of the best friends I have had and have. I can probably consider as career highlights the first moment I started writing music with an actual lineup that could play more complex stuff, with Promaetheus back in the days. That moment when you realize you feel the urge to push yourself and the others further and beyond your ability and knowledge; then the moment when we started Fleshgod and we had a meeting where we decided what we wanted to do and how we wanted to make it; the day we changed lineup with Fleshgod, taking Tommaso at the vocals and putting Francesco Paoli at the drums; then there are moments that I remember, like signing a record deal, playing Manhattan for the first time, going to places I would have always wanted to go, but as a musician: America, Japan, China, South Africa, Australia and so on.
The influences have been many and from a lot of different aspects, I can randomly point at some like Rammstein, Morbid Angel, Dimmu Borgir, Behemoth, At The Gates, Megadeth, the Beatles, Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler, Rossini, Verdi and Vivaldi, Michael Jackson and John Williams.

GNB
: You're a very talented guitar player; tell us about your love for this instrument, how did you learn to play it and your favourite models!

CT: I've always been fascinated by music since when I can recall. My father is a musician too, so I had the chance to have instruments around the house since when I was a baby. I started studying classic guitar at the middle school for 3 years. During that period I discovered the love for the electric guitar, rock and punk music. Once started the highschool I left the classic studies and started focusing on my own music. It all took a little while, also having guitar classes for 3 years, studying different styles and taking me where I am now pretty much.
My favourites models are my Overload Guitars custom Raijin signature, Les Paul custom wine red, PRS santana III.

GNB: What do you think about the state of the music business? What are your thoughts about today's underground and mainstream music scene?

CT: Everybody knows the music industry is living a big crisis. Every day we face difficulties that most of the times depend on the lack of financial support for the whole system. The problem is that 20 years ago, the people that worked into this business could count on sales that disappeared today and most of them have no idea how to deal with it. The thing to do now is to adapt and be smart to be able to survive. Unfortunately it is true that most of the business going on in this industry is not about the music, but it's normal if you consider the fact that the fans and the audience in general treat the product as something free and of public domain, which I'm not necessarily against as a concept, but as a musician I suffer this situation greatly as well. The thing is: I don't complain for this, but try to find my way of making a decent living out of it anyways using all the possibilities.
People sometimes complain about the live shows, the merchandise, the fund-raising campains (wich I totally disagree with), but they just don't take in consideration that things have changed and sometimes the passion for the music is unfortunately not enought to bring it on. This applies to both the underground and the mainstream scenes, obvioisly with due proportions and with the basic thought that all this being said, without the music (the quality one) not even a point of this discussion would happen, so even if it's tough today, we still need to refer back to the music as the main thing here.

                             
       


GNB: What do you think about the digital music distribution? And what about the file sharing? How do you think the music business will evolve in the future?

CT: As I just said, things have changed and it's not that easy to say if for the best or for the worst. The digital distribution is probably the only way the industry has to fight the file sharing and the download, but of course you're still offering people to buy your product while they can have it for free, to a certain extend it will never really work. I think that the internet has been the biggest revolution in the modern world. I'm not one of those who say that downloading the music is a bad thing by itself, but I do believe it should be right to buy not only the music, but what an artist has to offer. It's like recycling: you know you should do it and if everybody would do it, the world would surely be better. Well if even half of the people that download music would support the artists, then art would be much safer. Don't come to me complaining cause I'm offering you to buy my t-shirt or hat or wine or sunglasses, as you won't buy my music. That being said, I think that a lot of artists you can find around nowadays wouldn't be there without internet and file sharing, so it is definitely also a good thing and I would be an hipocrite if I said just the opposite.

GNB:  Let's talk about live music! Which have been the best gigs you have ever played? Do you consider yourself more a live musician or a studio one?

CT: It's really difficult to say what's the best gig I've ever played. There are some shows we have played that have been so much fun for us and the crowd and I think those ones can be considered the best ones, since having fun and enjoying your time is in my opinion the point of it. Playing places like Costa Rica, Mexico, Japan or Australia with a lot of people coming for you and having a blast are for sure to put into that category. Montreal is another example of a place where you can have a great time. The super big festivals are great too: Wacken is probably the best example; although I remember as the most emotional ones the first time we played Manhattan at the Gramercy Theater in 2010, the Fillmour in San Francisco and the first time in West Hollywood at The Wiskey a GoGo because of the vibe of the places and the importance historically. Playing on the same stages where the bands you grew up with and who made the history of music is definitely someting.
I think I consider myself more a live musician nowadays and that's probably because the live part is so important in the actual scenario.

GNB:  Tell us some funny story: which one has been your best/funniest experience as a musician? And your worst one?

CT: One of the experiences I remember has been most fun is when we found ourselves, the whole band, in a cage into a safari in South Africa with baby tigers and we have been able to play with them and pet them. Another good one is when we had to play for the first time in front of important people which could help us in our carreer, the stage was weird and we were nervous, so obviously as soon as we walked on stage in the most epic way possible, Tommaso fell cause of a hole on the stage. Fortunately he wasn't hurt. The worst one, on the other hand, is probably something that happened to us some years ago in Russia, when the bad organization of the tour put us in a situation where we've been practically arrested because they thought we wanted to import our equipment in their country, so after crazy situations (believe me, pretty crazy) we had basically to get out of the country as fast as possible and find safety back in the EU.

GNB: Since many readers or our blog are interested mainly in the tecnical side of the guitar world, can you tell us your studio and live equipment? Can you tell us about the recordings of your latest album?

CT: We recently changed our live equipment in order to be able to carry it with us all the time and have our same sound everywhere. We used to use peavey 5150's on Vintage Cabs (V30s) and I used to boost and wet the solo sound with a Boss ME70 in the head fx loop. Now I use a POD HD pro and that's it.
In the studio we obviously use simulations for the preproductions and usually Peavey 5150 on V30 cones Cabs on the actual albums. Except for Oracles, which was Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, all our records have been recorded using Peavey 5150, always boosted with a Tubescreamer.

GNB: Is there any advice that you'd like to tell to our fellow guitar players?

CT: Well nowadays you have so many choices, it's difficult to find your own sound. I very much believe it's not about the guitarist anymore, at least not only, but mostly about the music and ensemble, so choose keeping in mind that you have to sound not only good, but right on what you are doing.

GNB: What does the lyrics of your songs talk about? Do you think that on a song it's most important the lyrical side or the musical one?

CT: We put out concept albums and every time we pick up a story, we try to read the reality we live in and analyse the fears and troubles of men throughout the developement of the concept itself.
In the genre we play, the extreme metal in general, most of the times it's the musical part more important than the lyrical part, but the fact that a song or an album, if not a band, can be recognizable from what they talk about is very important and the more you get in touch with a larger fan base, the more you realize people understand the message you wanted to send with your music and lurics together. I think the two parts are equally important.

GNB: The interview is over! Tell us about your latest album, projects and tours! Thank you very much and we hope to see you soon live!

CT; We're still working on the promotion of our latest record Labyrinth and we'll soon start to work on new material. We'll be touring still untill pretty much the end of the year. We have an italian run finally in October and we can't wait to perform our show in our home country, then we'll head up to europe with Insomnium.
Thank you very much for the interview. It's been a pleasure. See you very soon!
Cheers






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Saturday, August 2, 2014

MIXING WITH HEADPHONES vs MIXING WITH MONITORS



Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article! This time I wanted to share my thoughts about the output devices that we use when recording, mixing and mastering.

Ideally we should use the right tool for the job: isolating headphones when the drummer records the acoustic drums, so that there is no metronome spill on the drum microphones, a good set of monitors when mixing to assure a neutral response, and in the mastering phase a long testing and debugging session with the car stereo, ipod headphones, laptop speakers, and any other device we think that our audience will use.

Since this is a blog about home recording, we assume that not everyone has a full featured studio, so usually bedroom producers choose one device and stick with that: a decent pair of headphones if he/she lives in a flat and cannot produce excessive noise, or a decent pair of monitors if noise it's not a problem.
First off let's define what DECENT means: it means that both headphones and monitors should be meant to be used for mixing, so they should tend to have a "realistic response", which means that the sound should tend to be not too different when translated to a car stereo or into a pair of cheap headphones.
The more this sound gets translated without being totally modified in terms of equalization etc, the more our device is liable, and the more it will cost.

If we want to start mixing or mastering we should choose a device that assures at least a minimum of realism, otherwise our work will be totally useless, we will be like a blind man that tries to paint a picture.
About mixing headphones, I'd suggest only devices from a certain quality level up, for example Akg, Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic (being these last ones probably the best, and most expensive, for mixing purposes).
Speaking of studio monitors, instead, my advice is to avoid the 200€ / $ per pair, since probably the cheapest ones that has some utility in a mixing environment are probably the Yamaha, in their 350/400€ / $ per pair range; going up with the price the quality gets even better, and a very good quality - to price ratio is represented by Genelec, and Adam brand.
Avoid the cheap ones and the small speaker ones (anything smaller than 5"), since if you mix with them, the song that will sound well with them will sound awful and unbalanced with any other device, and you will have wasted your time.

PROS and CONS of using headphones:

+ you will not bother the ones around you
+ you will have a clearer idea of the stereo field disposition of the instruments
+ you will notice more details when tracking or editing
+ on an average, they are cheaper than a pair of monitors

- they don't represent well the low range, and sometimes they just hide it
- they don't represent well the frequency masking
- working with them is more ear-fatiguing
- in the mastering phase they are really close to being useless

PROS and CONS of using monitors:

+ the sound will be usually more realistic and the spectrum will be represented better
+ it's clearer to find the single frequences where to intervene surgically
+ it's clearer to point out phase cancelling and frequency masking
+ they are good also for mastering, to check out the overall loudness

- they are usually more expensive
- to be used at their best they need a certain placement in the room
- they can bother those around you :)
- the room may need some acoustic treatment


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