January 23rd, 2015

mosaic quartet: bugs ep

Here are 6 songs I recorded with The Mosaic Quartet over the last year or so, collected as an EP and released today. Great material.

January 13th, 2015

sound different

Full disclosure: I have an adventurous and wide-ranging sonic palate, as a producer and also as a listener. It’s probably a product of when I grew up. Every song on the radio when I was a kid sounded pretty wildly different from every other song. This was thrilling to ten-year-old me; I spent hundreds of hours transfixed in front of the radio, wondering exactly how each otherworldly combination of sounds had been achieved. It was mind-blowing. Every song – and, by extension, every artist – had a distinct and unique personality, as expressed via its sonic imprint.

That’s a bit of context for today’s observation: I see a phenomenon constantly with up-and-coming artists, wherein they are very concerned with emulating very precisely a particular style or sound or textural palette (or, worst of all, a specific artist). I think a lot of really talented songwriters are doing themselves a huge disservice by taking this approach, and so I want to use my space today to encourage songwriters to embrace a spirit of sonic adventuresomeness, both in their live show and, particularly, in their recordings. Here’s why:

If other people are achieving success with a certain sound, that means that you have less chance of succeeding with that same sound, not more.

I was at a party a couple weeks ago, and I found myself sitting in a group of 5 female singer-songwriters. This can happen in LA. Anyway, I went around and asked everyone what their sound was. Every answer was some variation on “acoustic something or other.”

And you know what? Most likely none of their recordings will be listened to by anyone outside of their small core group of supporters, because a) they’re all making similar-sounding recordings, which b) are going to sound like a bunch of other recordings that are already in the marketplace. Tons of people are making acoustic-based recordings right now; acoustic-based music has been really popular for the last few years. Which means that the marketplace is becoming saturated with recordings that all have essentially the same sound.

This observation is by no means limited to acoustic music. There will always be a market for acoustic music. The point is that when you go to a show and all four artists sound basically the same, they’re cannibalizing each other’s markets. Why would I buy each artist’s EP, if they all sound basically the same? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m always looking for the thing that sets itself apart from the pack. I don’t need a record that sounds like another record I already own.

Or, to put it another way: if an artist says to me “My sound is like Matt Nathanson,” my first thought is, “Oh, I should listen to that new Matt Nathanson record!” Because why would I want to listen to a cheap knockoff of an already-popular artist, when I could just go straight to the source?

Or to put it yet another way: the world doesn’t need another Matt Nathanson. The world already has Matt Nathanson. What the world needs is your unique voice.

I was working with a band last year, and we went through this interesting period where they were trying to insist that they wanted some very specific EDM production flourishes in their recordings – drops and so on – because “that’s what’s on the radio right now.” And I understand the impulse. But if something’s on the radio right now, here’s the thing: it’s already yesterday’s news. Audiences don’t want more of the same – they want what’s next. As an artist, you want to be like a wide receiver. You don’t want to be where the ball is now; you want to be where the ball is going to be. If you’re making a record right now, it will be 3 months minimum before those recordings hits the streets, right? Potentially much longer. And by then all those of-the-moment sounds that you put in your recording will sound badly behind the times. And you don’t want to sound dated, do you?

Also, industry doesn’t want more of what it’s already got. No one at a record label is going to sign someone who sounds exactly like an artist they already have – because they already have the original, and they don’t want to cannibalize their profits.

If you’re thinking of your career like a small business – and you should be – you should be constantly thinking about how to differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace. What makes your music stand out? A good song isn’t enough. Everyone has a good song or two. What’s going to make people prick up their ears? What’s going to call attention to what you’re doing?

So that’s my thought for the week: I want to encourage you to figure out a way to differentiate yourself sonically in the marketplace. Get a new guitar pedal and figure out a new dimension to your personal sonic landscape. Hell, get a drum machine. There aren’t any rules! Experiment with some synthesizer sounds in GarageBand. Listen to some dub. Expand your horizons. Making electronic music? Experiment with some acoustic textures. It goes both ways. The point is to push your boundaries. Make something interesting and forward-looking and unique.

You probably have a couple of fantastic songs that deserve to be heard on a wider basis – but if your recordings sound the same as a thousand others, they’re not going to stand out. And you want to stand out. Right?

{ originally published at Pyragraph }

December 19th, 2014

merry diss-mas

Here’s a Christmas song featuring Fabolous that I did additional production on and mixed. Funny shit.

December 12th, 2014

plugins i like: klanghelm dc8c

klanghelm dc8cHere’s an outrageous statement: the most full-featured compressor I own cost me less than a decent lunch. Here’s another: it also happens to have my favorite saturator built into it. It’s by a one-man shop in Germany called Klanghelm, and it’s called DC8C. Here’s what I like about this plugin:

klanghelm dc8c saturation- The saturation is GODLY. The “SAT” button might as well be labeled “good” – when it’s engaged, everything just sounds better. I literally do not mix a single song any more without this plugin on the master bus, with this button set to yellow. (It also does red, for more extreme saturation, which I tend not to find myself using.) Even if I’m not using any of the compression features, this still adds some undefinable magic to a mix.

I always make sure to thoroughly A/B master bus treatments, given that they affect everything, and when I’m A/Bing this it’s always like “Why does everything sound so flat and lifeless?” when I bypass it. Then when I click it back on it’s “Ahhhh, there it is.” It makes the whole mix come forward a little bit, and it makes the soundstage wider. And it generally just makes everything a little better, in a way that nothing else I have does.

If you have a vocal that you want to add a little grit and strain to, you can back off the last couple of dB on whatever compressor you’re using and push the signal correspondingly into the DC8C saturation (again, I typically use yellow mode for this). The saturation has a compression characteristic that will take care of those last couple of dB, and it’ll crunch up a bit as it does it. Instant vibe.

klanghelm dc8c tilt eq- Tilt EQ in the sidechain. Or, to put it in English, there’s a knob you can turn either left or right to make the compressor respond more to the highs or the lows. Got a vocal that’s a little piercing at times? Turn the knob to the right, and the highs will trigger the compressor more. Got a bass guitar that gets a little bottom-heavy at times? Turn the knob to the left. It’s so simple, and so effective.

klanghelm dc8c ch sep- Channel separation control in the detection circuit. Normally stereo compressors average out what’s happening on the left side and the right side and base the compression on that. This knob allows you to unlink the left and right channels, or to link them in any percentage from 0-100. Unlinking the left and right channels tends to make the stereo image more expansive, but sometimes at the expense of the center image starting to feel a little unstable and drifty. Most compressors that have a stereo detector control limit it to “linked” versus “unlinked.” Being able to dial in this behavior precisely anywhere in between fully off and fully on allows you to get to just the right place where your stereo signal will breathe more while still retaining a focused center.

klanghelm dc8c range limit- Range limit. What this means is that you can make the compressor stop compressing after it’s compressed a specified number of dB. So, say that you love the aggressive crack of the stick on the snare drum when you compress it 10dB – but it makes the tail end of the drum sound too small. Try setting this knob to somewhere between 2dB and 5dB. You’ll get all that great energy from the beginning of the compression curve – but it won’t suck the life out of the body of the drum.

klanghelm dc8c bypass- Coolest bypass button ever. Click anywhere on the VU meter and it bypasses the plugin – and the meter goes dark. Silly but very fun. Also, on a practical note, the huge target area makes it easy to look away from the screen when doing A/B testing.

There are about 10 other cool features I could get into, and which you should get into – but you get the idea.

Price: €20. A ridiculously good deal. http://klanghelm.com/DC8C.php

{ originally published at Pyragraph }

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December 12th, 2014

Murder & Imagination

“If rejection of life is the hallmark of murder, it is also the hallmark of art.” A gorgeously written meditation from a Pulitzer-winning writer on the connection between serial killers and artists.


from Oxford American

November 19th, 2014

new daytrotter session

shannon curtis daytrotter 2

Shannon and I stopped by Daytrotter in August to record some experimental live versions of some of her new material. Listen here.

October 4th, 2014

plugins i like: hornet sw34

I just found an amazing EQ plugin the other day that costs less than $25. It’s made by this little Italian company called Hornet, and it’s called SW34. It’s an analog modeling emulation of the EQ section of some early 80s console – I can’t remember which one offhand, although I know it says on their website if you’re curious.

There are a bunch of things I like about this already. In no particular order:

- Saturation. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of saturation, for all sorts of reasons hornet sw34 in the red- compression artifacts, non-linear EQ-related effects, general sonic enhancement and/or degradation. The trick with the saturation on this, as far as I can tell, is to run the input solidly into the red. Like, park it in the red.The channel in question will girth right up. It’s a solid state sort of vibe – more chunky than gooey.

- The upper midrange. I was doing an informal master on something for a friend the other day, and I was having a bit of trouble getting the vocal to pop without sounding overbalanced or aggressive. I went through a bunch of EQs, and nothing felt good. hornet sw34 2500HzThen I put this on the mix, put the upper mid frequency at like 2.5KHz, set the Q to wide, and just nudged the upper mid gain clockwise ever so slightly. I thought I was going to need to go way further than I did. Just a touch of it and the vocal opened up, but without any sort of associated stridency. Just this wonderful presence. I couldn’t have used more than half a dB. I’m not even certain you’re supposed to be putting this on the master bus. It sounded great though.

- Independent in/out buttons for engaging or defeating the saturation emulation – and also the hiss emulation! So many plugins would benefit from this. I get that in order to make a complete and honest emulation, it’s important to include the hiss. I also think that more manufacturers should acknowledge that we don’t always want our mixes covered in hiss, hornet sw34 hiss + sator to have to do hiss mitigation, in service to their 100% accurate emulations. Being able to defeat the hiss and still have the saturation is genius. Or, alternately, being able to have that nice friendly hiss drifting away up there while maintaining the non-saturated integrity of your signal path. All kinds of good options.

- The low end is really tight. Again on that mastering-type situation, I found myself putting the low shelf at like 45Hz and cranking it. The mix I had in front of me was a little skimpy on the low end; no more. But it didn’t get boomy or woofy. Just big.

- Unique highpass filter. 18dB/oct at I think 45Hz? Just high enough to affect only the very bottom end, just tight enough not to have undesirable reciprocal effects in the low mids.

Did I mention it’s €18? So worth it.


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July 24th, 2014

video debut: tremor low “give blood”

Apparently it’s video week over here. Here’s another video for a song I produced … debuting on Esquire, of all places. Killer video.


July 21st, 2014

video debut: mosaic quartet “seasons of silence”

Here’s a brand-new video for a song I produced. Beautifully shot piece, great song.

June 17th, 2014

Metaforma is out today

Today marks the release of Shannon’s new record. We’re very proud of it, and we hope you like it. Headphones recommended.