Thursday 30 May 2013

The RP round table at the Church Studios with 7 leading producers

We recently recorded a discussion with seven leading British producers about how the industry has changed and how they have evolved to stay busy and in-demand.  Many other topics are discussed in the video that runs for 1 hour.

CLICK HERE to watch the video.

Sunday 28 April 2013

How Music Works - Eccentric's observations

How Music Works

Well, it’s spring and that means snow…oh, and the return of Pop Pornography in the shape of prime time Karaoke, The Voice.

As (both) my regular readers will know, I made my views on this glitzy garbage known first time round and I have little to add now.

I’ve just started reading an extraordinary book by David Byrne called ‘How Music Works’. And when I say extraordinary, I mean it.

I can’t recommend this collection of essays highly enough to all of you – all of us – involved in the creative process. Although it’s an easy read – the ten chapters are really stand-alone essays covering different aspects of music – the content is so thought provoking that the ideas stay with you, feed your mind and plant seeds that grow and grow and grow. This truly is ‘baby bio’ for any musician’s brain.

Whether you like Byrne and/or Talking Heads or not, the man is a great communicator and paints such a graphic picture about music, technology, the creative process and the music business that everyone involved in our industry, from absolute beginners to grizzled old cynics like me, can learn a huge amount.

For those involved in recording and production, chapters such as…

Technology Shapes Music; Analogue
Technology Shapes Music; Digital
In The Recording Studio
And Business and Finances

Should be essential reading,. Indeed, the thousands of music technology and recording courses up and down the country should put How Music Works on the curriculum immediately. They won’t because most don’t know their recording arse from their musical elbow… but therein lies another bugbear of mine.

The contrast between the creativity of Byrne and the bland manufactured vacuum that is ‘The Voice’ could not be starker; it is the difference between a musician and a mimic. Although not a biographical work, Byrne’s enthusiasm for all forms of music shines through as he describes his lifelong love of and search for emotion through sound from every continent and culture. And his explanation of his personal creative process is enlightening. Never satisfied with a conventional approach to writing – music or lyrics – recording or even releasing his work, Byrne strives constantly to push his art to the limit, to find new ways of expressing himself and explore the possibilities of technology. Standing in front of a microphone and singing has as much to do with his music as lacing up boots has for a mountaineer; both are essential but tiny parts of a larger process.

Although only part way into the book, I’ve already learned a lot. For example, like most of you I assumed that the classic Talking Heads albums were children of their time (the late 1970s/early 1980s), recorded at huge cost over months in top class studios. Not a bit of it. Indeed, Byrne, his fellow band members and Brian Eno, the producer, worked in a way that anticipated many of today’s artists, demoing material on Tascam portastudios or Teac four track machines, then rehearsing and laying down backing tracks in bass player Tina Weymouth’s loft apartment before mixing in the studio. Even where the band did record in a conventional studio, they worked quickly and, at Brian Eno’s suggestion, played together in the live room rather than relying upon acoustic separation, isolation and overdubs as was the production vogue back then. But there was more…

Talking Heads ‘Remain In Light’ changed the way I heard and made music. It was, and is, a quite extraordinary album that shattered convention when it was released. It was the first rock album I heard that relied upon groove to define the songs in a way that even the great Funk projects of the time didn’t quite manage. I guess I’d always taken the album for granted, as a natural progression from a talented and adventurous band. But Byrne’s description of the process that led to the tracks has made me reassess my assumptions.

The band set out quite deliberately to redefine song structure and work in a unique way, starting with a collection of rhythmic grooves without chord changes or conventional structures and then adding textures and finally Byrne’s incredible melodies and lyrics. What is of relevance to my present waffle is the fact that these songs could not have existed without recording technology – the songs relied upon tracking and overdubbing , chopping and editing (on tape of course – it’s easier now) and then sophisticated texturing and mixing in the studio. But this was not an expensive process. As I said earlier, the grooves were cut in the bass player’s loft apartment, Byrne then worked with a stereo recording to experiment with melodies, structures, textures and lyrics and modest studio costs only really kicked in during the later stages of dubbing and mixing. The greatness of what is, to me, one of the seminal albums of the last thirty years lay in the talent and creativity of those involved, not big budgets and glitzy production values.

If I’m trying to make a point, it’s that today’s musicians, producers and record companies appear to have lost the desire to experiment and push creative boundaries. We seem to live in an age where the ‘artist’ requires (or demands?) expensive equipment, production teams and sophisticated technology to express him or herself. It is almost as if there is an assumption that without such trappings, recordings cannot exist. And the result? A decade of bland recorded sterility, lacking or maybe even overwhelming the creative spirit.

Are The Voice and X Factor a cause or a symptom of the stifling of talent? Well, maybe both. Because firstly they present ‘music’ as a soulless, homogenised product – the result of a carefully contrived and expensive production manipulated by show business spivs - and secondly they promise a short cut to popular acclaim. These shows suggest that the route to making a recording career can be from warbling in the bath via a television talent show to massive budget recording sessions and international promotion over the course of a few months – your milkman can easily become the next Elvis Presley overnight.

Do we get what we deserve? Maybe. Maybe we don’t search hard enough for that rare, true talent that still exists and if we glimpse it, perhaps we don’t appreciate it sufficiently and support it through the trials and tribulations of the early years of development. Indeed, we offer loud and usually false praise for every vague talent that comes along rather than allowing it to mature and develop a unique identity before shivering in the spotlight of critical appraisal. Everybody wants to cash in quick – ‘Money, money, money’ (to quote one of the ‘mentors’ on The Voice) – rather than nurture and allow the creative buds to slowly bloom.

But all is not doom and gloom. It never is. There will always be truly talented musicians ploughing an individual furrow in bedrooms, private studios, backroom bars or sweaty gigs around the country. I know many young engineers and producers pushing their limited technology to unexpected limits and digging new furrows in the tired fields of our industry. But what do they do with the results? Again, Byrne offers answers by examining different ways to release and distribute music, and invaluable advice about retaining rights and licensing where appropriate.

Look – if you haven’t ever bought or read a book in your life, break the habit and pick up a copy of ‘How Music Works’ by David Byrne. If you are in any way involved with recording, writing or making music, you’ll not merely enjoy it, but you’ll learn so much; this book will stay with you forever. And for the cost of a couple of takeaway Pizzas, you can feed your soul for years.

Oh, and if possible, please order it from your local bookshop rather than those tax-dodging scumbags at Amazon.

David Byrne – How Music Works…published by McSweeney’s

The Eccentric Blog… reproduced in conjunction with

Friday 12 April 2013

Fairlight CMI Demo in London 17-19th April

Funky Junk in conjunction with Peter Vogel Instruments and SNAP! Studios will be showing the CMI-30Afor the first time ever in the UK at Snap! Studios this April.  Industry professionals will have an opportunity to book an extended one-on-one demonstration session with the spiritual successor of one of the most influential electronic musical instruments of all time.

PVI General Manager, Graeme Renaud, will be conducting the sessions and will demonstrate all aspects of the system, from the classic retro inspired Page R sequencer, through the revolutionary Soundry with its convolution and additive harmonic synthesis, to the amazing CMI sample libraries.

There will be four, 2-hour sessions per day, running between 9am and 6pm from Wednesday the 17th to Friday the 19th of April.  Book now to avoid disappointment as the schedule is filling up fast.
Attendance is open to all by appointment so contact Funky Junk now to book a slot.
Please follow the details in the email body and delete as appropriate.

Also on display will be the NEW Mellotron M4000D digital version of the classic Mellotron.

SNAP! Studios is located in North London close to Manor House tube station.

Off street garage parking with direct private access to the studio is available by request and yummy refreshments and endless fresh tea and coffee will be laid on.

Funky Junk LtdUnit 10, 407-409 Hornsey Road - London - UK
telephone: +44 (0)207 281 4478

Sunday 31 March 2013

Romesh Dodangoda - New video interview

Longwave Romesh is one of the hottest metal and rock producers out there and we are delighted to feature an exclusive 30 minute interview shot at his studio in Cardiff with ace interviewer George Shilling asking the questions.

Click here to watch the video!

Romesh Dodangoda

Saturday 23 March 2013

Grosvenor Road Studios

Our latest music studio video tour is of Birmingham's very 'off the radar' SSL studio: Grosvenor Road Studios.  We had recording engineer Mikey Godfrey take us around to check out this amazing 60 year old recording studio!

Mikey Godfrey at the SSL - Grosvenor Road Studios

Saturday 9 March 2013

Fran Ashcroft Waxes Lyrical

Waxing Lyrical

By Fran Ashcroft

It's been coming for a while - yes folks, as predicted in these very pages, vinyl is back. Not in a mainstream way, but an interesting one, and an international phenomenon at that.

The surge really got underway last year, with new indie micro labels springing up all over the place, issuing  releases as vinyl only, limited editions; and selling out fast. It's a perfect alternative to our digital, disposable, corporatised industry; imbued with a punk, DIY ethic, it's a gift to the burgeoning underground from the dept. of the bleeding obvious. 

There's always been an appeal to the physicality of vinyl, from taking the record from its sleeve to putting the needle onto the grooves, which makes it a participatory, ritualised kind of experience. There's something that goes far beyond the sonic - and I don't mean coloured vinyl or gatefold sleeves - and a sense of ownership that remains special and unique. I think perhaps vinyl captures the memories that music evokes in a more permanent way than any other storage device, and that's part of the magic.

Most of the releases I worked on last year went out on vinyl, yet the majority of the tracks were digitally recorded - and some would actually have come off better if kept in the digital domain. But that isn't the point. The vinyl comeback is to do with trying to put a sense of value and meaning back into music, and you can't argue with that. 

Of course, there's no money in it - manufacturing costs are high, and on typically short run releases, the margins are paper thin. But it has cred for the bands, adds brand loyalty for a label, and promises to build a dedicated, loyal fan base for both. So much so that a smattering of past their sell by date pop stars are falling over each other and jumping on the bandwagon as fast as they can to start their own vanity vinyl operations, and some of the smarter industry guys are sniffing around to see what the next trend might be to come out of it all (don't hold your breath for the next big thing 'garage psych blues' band to be touted and tarted up by a major). 

You might think this amounts to nothing more than harking back to the days of selling records out of the back of a pick up truck. But with a bit of luck, this little vinyl renaissance will foster a new generation of indie labels and artists - so don't throw away your Dansette just yet.

Fran Ashcroft on

Friday 8 March 2013

International Women's Day

We were invited to film and photograph the recording of this excellent song by Graham Lyle and others at Livingston Studios, London.  Legendary engineer and producer Jerry Boys was at the controls.  It was huge fun to be a part of this and wish the song every success!

Launching on International Women's Day, 8 March 2013, the song is a rallying cry that inspires listeners to join the drive for women's rights and gender equality. "One Woman" was written for UN Women, the global champion for women and girls worldwide, to celebrate its mission and work to improve women's lives around the world.
Producer jerry boys at the mixing desk at livingston studios
Jerry Boys at the controls at Livingston Studios.  Photo Copyright Mike Banks /

This year, International Women’s Day focuses on ending violence against women — a gross human rights violation that affects up to 7 in 10 women and a top priority for UN Women. As commemorations are underway in all corners of the globe, "One Woman" reminds us that together, we can overcome violence and discrimination: "We Shall Shine!" Join us to help spread the word and enjoy this musical celebration of women worldwide.

Sunday 3 March 2013

Emergency Ward 10


Emergency Ward 10

So, who's up for turning an old ambulance into a mobile studio? There are still plenty of casualties out there. Anyone up for a crash course in recording?

"Ring 999 right away if you're dying to do an overdub". I could see that. 

"Is there a producer in the house?" 

"Yes, but he's hiding in a cupboard, can't stand the sight of blood". 

We might be the first to have an engineer on a drip. I've worked with one or two who could use one.

This may sound frivolous, but I did have an artist who bought an old prison van, put a bed, his instruments and recording gear into it and took off for China. Last I heard he was touring around doing impromptu gigs - and making a living, which is no small feat for an artist anymore. Full marks for ingenuity, commitment, and bars on the windows.

It's all got a bit comfortable for musicians, hasn't it? Gear is cheap, recording is cheap, you can put out your own records for much on a plate, and I wonder if there is as much fire and ambition as there was? We're all a bit more affluent than we used to be, and perhaps it's not as pressing to use music as your escape route...or maybe it just isn't as inspiring or important as it was?  No, I don't believe that. There are just more people having a go because it's easy, and the really gifted, committed ones are hidden somewhere in a morass of mediocrity. 

So, fellow recordists, you have to seek them out! 

(cue Scarlet Pimpernel mode, analogy of guillotine vs editing tape with a BiB splicer...oh, it's Friday, I'm off!)

API 500 series …what’s that all about, then?

Eccentric's Blog

API 500 series …what’s that all about, then?

Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s (here I go again…) just about every major studio had a rack of SCAMP modules in their control rooms. Made by the excellent Audio and Design company (best known for their F760 ‘Compex’ dual/stereo compressor limiter) these were slim processing modules designed to slot into a 19” ‘mother’ rack or lunchbox, capable of taking a dozen or four units respectively.

Modules included an excellent compressor (based on the Compex), a couple of pretty useless gates and some very useable deesser, panners (based on the ‘Panscan’), phasers, flangers and miscellaneous goodies.  And the concept was very logical; in that much of the cost of a piece of outboard comprised the power supply and metalwork, driving multiple units from a single power supply and sharing a single rack bought down costs, reduced space and offered a mass of processing in a relatively compact space.

For a decade or more, the Scamp Rack rules the roost and then, almost overnight, fashions changed and the system seemed to become redundant. Which is actually a real shame, as I think a whole generation of recordists would be delighted to rediscover the quality, variety and astonishing value to be had by ferreting out, dusting down and resuscitating a long forgotten Scamp rack. After all, they could probably pick up four or six top class compressors, a panner, deesser and other goodies for less than a grand. The trouble is, fashions have changed and their ignorant, elitist friends on Gearslutz would not be impressed.

Audio and Design were not alone in promoting the mother rack/sub-unit concept. In the UK, a company called Rebis made a budget version and in the States DBX offered their excellent 900 series modules, now best known for the 902 deesser, although the 903 compressor is a well-kept secret (and original 160X in subrack format). Other proponents included the original Inwards Vac Rac, now highly collectable, and…API.

API offered subrack systems pretty much by default. Like the early Neves, API console design incorporated separate eq and compressor modules into a ‘building block’ design (API mic pres tended to be built into the routing modules, so were never available as stand-alone modules). Fans of API consoles started to demand these modules for  processing purposes apart from the consoles, so a basic ‘lunchbox’ was produced to house two or four modules (the lunchbox was so called as it resembled the compact sandwich-boxes builders and others took to  work). As well as API modules, these would accept compatible ‘thumbnail’ eq’s made by related companies (APSI, Angus etc) and some small volume eq’s from a few bespoke manufacturers. So the API lunchbox format came into life by default, in order to provide a convenient home for existing modules, rather than by design as did Scamp and others.

When API was taken over by the current owners in the mid 1990’s, the company was a shadow of its former self. Indeed, Funky Junk were the first pro audio company to become involved with distributing and promoting the range, either here or the States, and grew API sales from a pathetic £8,000 turnover in Europe in 1996 to over £250,000 by the time that we surrendered distribution for personal reasons in the early 2000’s. Along the way, we persuaded API to open an account with my friend Mike Nehra at Vintage King, who has since gone on to become the world’s largest API dealer.

So API became a market leader in the outboard eq, mic pre and compressor market, with the 500 (lunchbox) series leading the way. A few other companies had always made compatible modules, particularly Brent Averill (now BAE), who’s 312 mic pre was closely based upon the original API design. And then, about five years ago, a few companies realised the potential of offering their own designs to fill the thousands of empty slots in existing API lunchboxes and racks around the world. API finally agreed to ‘approve’ 500 series modules from other manufacturers (an academic exercise really, as no approval was needed – the format had no copyright or patent) and the floodgates opened. Now, barely five years on, there are countless 500 series modules available, a veritable sweetie shop of confusing choices for the bedazzled buyer.

I have no intention of reviewing the options here. Maybe I’ll do a comparison one day when I have a spare millennium on hand. The main purpose of this examination is a simple examination of why the 500 series has merit, why for some it may have no merit and generally what to look for when choosing suitable units.

As we saw earlier, the economics of subrack systems make sense. Sure, entry level costs are quite high, in that a rack and power supply (or powered rack/lunchbox) are required before any modules can be used, but costs have come down a lot over the last decade (partly at our suggestion. When we distributed API throughout Europe we suggested a dramatic reduction in lunchbox prices as an incentive for customers to buy into the platform).  However, once a rack has been acquired, a variety of relatively low cost modules can be fitted, and the more purchased, the greater the economy of scale becomes.

But is this a logical way to go? Here my feeling are mixed.

The original imperative for 500 racks was that by and large, the superb API eq and mic pre could ONLY be purchased in a 500 series format. Of course, API do now do four channel mic preamps (3124+) and two channel rack mount eq (5500) but by and large, API remain committed to marketing their products in 500 series format. So if you want a selection of API eq’s and mic pres (and the odd compressor), then the only realistic choice is a lunchbox or 500 rack. But with many other choices, the logic is less clear cut.
In my experience, most professional engineers require ‘one box, one job’. So if, for example, they want A-Designs (Quad 8) mic preamps, most would buy a Pacifica 2 way rack mount unit.  However, there’s no doubt that the 500 series offers a bewildering degree of choice for those who want more variety.

Personally, I’m a bit ‘old school’ and subscribe to a growing body of opinion that the glue that gave so many classic albums of old such a well-balanced sound was the fact that all the mic preamps and much of the eq was consistent – the engineer used the desk preamps and equalisers for pretty much everything, giving the finished result a unity and consistency of sound that knitted everything together in the mix. So whereas I’d be happy with a 500 rack of, say, ten API 550 512 preamps or ten 550A (or B) equalisers, I’d become frustrated with half a dozen different preamps or eqs competing and giving  different flavours on a recording.  Going back to the classic Scamp racks, for example, I think it’s no coincidence that most we see are fully loaded with largely compressors and gates. In the pre SSL and Neve VR days (manufacturers who incorporated gates and compressors into their later desk channels), the need for an outboard rack of compressors and/or gates was obvious and this is where the Audio Design units came into their own.

Having said this, we’re now seeing some excellent modules designed for 500 series racks that are not available in stand-alone format. The Retro Double Wide, for example, or the new BAE Neve style 1073 offer compact format quality processing in an easy size that can add real muscle to the audio armoury. Similarly, like good chefs, all audio engineers have their own recipe for sound, so the option now exists for either mixing and matching a variety of processors in a compact space or for multiple compressors, eqs or processors on a cost effective basis. Once upon a time, if you wanted (say) ten good compressors in your rack, this might occupy 20U and cost £15000. Now a ten way 500 rack will cost less  than half that at occupy three U, a very important consideration in today’s scaled-down control room. But there are compromises. Firstly, some 500 racks won’t offer sufficient power to deliver juice to the more sophisticated units, which is why BAE and other produce racks with external power supplies. Secondly, accessing side chains, direct outs, links etc can be limited and thirdly, some units are scaled down or electronically compromised, despite the manufacturers claims.

I’ve been very unimpressed with a number of the Gearslutz blather about some 500 modules, and wonder whether those posting glowing reviews have ever actually used the units (or alternatively, whether they’ve got much experience of decent pro outboard).  As with every bandwagon, many of those hurtling onto the gravy train are destined for a short life as the true wheat is gradually sorted from a plethora of chaff. And finally, please be aware that build quality and serviceability are crucial with audio equipment. A broken module is no more use than an empty slot. Some 500 series modules are too miniaturised, lack decent transformers and try to pack too many components into too small a space.

Hopefully, this overview helps to explain the history of the current fad for 500 series modules. In the coming weeks and months I’ll put a bunch of modules through their paces up at SNAP! Studio and jot down my own opinions and comparative reviews.

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