Mastering Audio Through Adult Education

Yes you can teach an old dog new “tracks”. These days many if not most independent engineers and producers are self taught. We learn to mix by accident, mostly. We buy exotic gear, trendy plugins for our DAW’s (“Digital Audio Workstations”), haunt the music and gear forums looking for tips and tricks.

20 or 30 years ago an aspiring audio engineer interned for a local music studio, making coffee, cleaning toilets, and maybe after a few months got to mount tape, set up mics, or push a few faders on the console. Eventually that (young) person was asked to record an entire session, often with a critical senior engineer watching and listening. If you did a good job you got to work with major talent, maybe even get some credits on an album.

Well those days are mostly gone. Yes it still happens but you need to be willing to put in the time for free or low pay and earn your bones. Woof! Not my style.

So how does an old dog continue to hone his chops? One way is through on-line audio education. Another is through workshops and recording “boot camps”. I have done both. So far the most rigorous and rewarding school has been the Audio Master Class courses offered by David Mellor (Oxford School of Audio) out of Thame, England. I have completed the professional courses in Mixing and Equalization, and am currently working through the course on Compression.

These are certificate-track courses that take a minimum of 6 months to complete. You download professionally recorded tracks with the assignment to make them sound a certain way. One recent assignment in the EQ class was to remove hum, buzz, and broadband noise using just EQ filters (no fancy noise removal plugins allowed). This is the hard way, but it is a great learning experience.

So far I am doing quite well, and will continue taking these “adult education” courses because I am serious about improving my skills. Next up will be courses in reverb and mastering. Of course, I already “knew” how to apply EQ, compression, and reverb, but there is always more to learn, often those unexpected things you did not know you did not know.

The feedback I get from Mr. Mellor is the next best thing to “being there” in the role of intern. Highly recommended, if you are interested check out www.audiomasterclass.com.

New music video: Event Horizon

This started out as a spacey electronic audio work that imagines a lost space probe encountering a black hole. Then coinciding with the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, I added footage from NASA and some visualization to spice it up as a video. As a child I built lots of space ship models and still read lots of Sci-Fi. Think of this music video as a requiem for our abandoned space program.

Event Horizon from Jim Hewitt on Vimeo.

Prairie River plays at Peagreen

I recently hooked up with Len Willey and the Prairie River Band as their lead fiddler and mandolin player. This is a fine group of acoustic musicians, playing old timey songs with a dash of Celtic and bluegrass. Our first gig is coming up at the end of April. Peagreen is an old fashioned grange hall located out in the farm and ranch country southwest of Delta, Colorado. At these Saturday night concerts the place is packed. Hope you can come out for great music and food.

Here is the word from Len:

“It’s time for another evening of old-time and bluegrass music at our
Pea Green Saturday Night concert series, and you all are invited. The
event will be held at the Pea Green Community Center from 7-9:30 pm
on April 26. This month will feature The McCoys, the Prairie River
Band, and Colorado Divide, all for only half a sawbuck ($5) at the
door.

The event is held between the villages of Delta and Olathe at the
crossroads of Hwy. 348 and Banner Rd. Some folks bring a snack to
share, and so can you if you want to. Seating is limited. For more
information call Len Willey at 970-874-8879. “

New Studio Completed

Barn Jazz Productions is proud to announce that our new recording studio is open for business! All the hard work of wiring, construction, acoustic treatment, and configuration of gear took some time but the wait was worth it. Here is a photo of the new space. We now have room for an entire band, a luxury that we did not have in our prior space. If you would like to book some time please send me a message using our Contact Page and I will get back to you promptly. Here are some before and after photos.
StudioBefore
FinishedStudio3-s

New Studio Space

Work is progressing on our new studio space in Grand Junction, Colorado. We have acquired a house with a large, walkout basement are fitting it with acoustic treatment and sound isolation for the doors and windows.  The new studio does not have a name yet, but we are excited.  The space is twice as large as the previous Double Diamond Studio in Oracle, AZ.

tritraps_sSo far this year we have produced two CD projects for local singers and bands. There is a lot of acoustic music happening in the Grand Valley,  and I am excited to be a part of it.  Here is a shot of the far end of the room with some initial acoustic treatment in place, TriTraps (bass traps) from GIK Acoustics.

The Bone Tree CD was recorded in our temporary facilities in a rental house in GJ, so it looks a bit crowded. The new space will be a welcome change.  Bone Tree is from Whitewater, CO nearby.  Here is Bob Eakle of Bone Tree. Bob and Lisa made a great debut CD that is available from them at http://bonetreeblog.wordpress.com/

Bob and Mando

Pea Green Concert 2012

Just completed my first live performance with Way Down Yonder, a long-time Grand Junction bluegrass band, at Pea Green on Dec 22, 2012. Yes you heard that right, Pea Green is a performance hall located out in the fields and farms of Delta, Colorado, and a nicer and more appreciative crowd cannot found. We had a great, and opened along with the McCoys for my favorite local band, Stray Grass, one of the Western Slopes best known outfits.

Way Down Yonder consists of myself on fiddle, Joe “Que” Quesenberry on mandolin, Dennis Costlow on banjo and lead vocals, Carol Quarrels on guitar and vocals, and Big Dog Kyle on acoustic bass.

Way Down Yonder

Joe “Que” Quesenberry on mandolin

Barn Jazz Vol 2 – The Night of the Dancing Vegetables

My latest CD is complete! Started work on it in 2005, received the final master back from Bob Speer at CD Mastering Services in April, got the first 100 pressings from Discmakers last week. Sounds really good, and great feedback from the first few people to get a copy.

It is available on CD Baby for physical purchase or digital download at
http://cdbaby.com/cd/diamondjimhewitt

cover art

Cover art courtesy of John Medley, Oracle AZ, from his collection of vintage vegetable crate designs.

By the way if you go to CD Baby you can preview some of the tracks to get an idea of what this barn jazz stuff is all about. I would really appreciate a review if you find the music worth the time.

Current and completed projects – Things are hopping!

“danielRize” original indie-folk CD project for a 25 year old singer-songwriter (aka Phillip Levenson) from Fort Worth, TX, really an amazing CD with heartfelt, poetic imagery and fine playing. CD’s will be ready by April 1.

Renee Arner, “Banish Misfortune”, traditional and original Celtic harp tunes, we’ve been working on this for the better part of a year and its finished, ready for manuf. Features a guest performance from Aneko Arika (“March Forth Kenya Kids”) from Kenya, on African drum on the song “Spirit Man”.

Projects currently underway:

Phil Maffetone, original folk CD with wife, Coralee Thompson and additional instrumental overdubs from yours truly. Phil and Coralee are local Oracle physicans and musicians who have made numerous cd’s with help of luminaries in Nashville and LA (including legendary Rick Ruben). Phil’s CD has all original songs that are very well written and played. Should be out sometime later this year. No title yet. (n.b. it came out in 2012 as “Living on a Dead End Road”).

Ready to record a new client, Broken Chair Ranch band for a marathon two days this coming weekend (Mar 26, 27, 2011).

Have done several tape transfers for Jerry Aman from Saddlebrooke, including a 25 year old 1/4″ reel-to-reel piano recital from his son, Mark, that came out very well, as well as a 1955 1/4″ of his wedding.

Working on a small video project for Stone Age (Butcher, Coven) compiling a nice podcast for him from an old 1985 clip of Coven playing at a party.

Award for CCEDC Pod-cast

Oct. 26, 2010. Barnjazz and HCE won an Impact Award from the Public Relations Society of America, Southern Arizona chapter, for its podcast, Discover the Copper Corridor. The video and audio production features narrative and visuals for the towns that make up the Copper Corridor region of southeast Arizona, with an emphasis on eco-tourism, history, and natural environment. The video was created for the Copper Corridor Economic Development Coalition, located in southeast Arizona.

You you may view at Vimeo, or open the Media page on this site.

Plundering the Chicago Store

Sometimes you live right. The Chicago Store in downtown Tucson, on E. Congress street, had a store-wide clearance this weekend, and I could not resist. I had not been in there for years, even though I spend a lot of time working downtown. I remember going inside on a whim, maybe 10 years ago, looking over the selection of violins and mandolins, and having Joe “Chicago” try to talk me into a purchase. Now old Joe and his brother, Phil, have sadly gone on to the hereafter. Their son, Mark, owns and runs the shop.

The downtown Chicago Music Store, Tucson, Arizona

Many a famous player who has passed through Tucson, including Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, has had the privilege of perusing the “attic” section, normally off limits to civilians. According to a newspaper article, musicians would point out this and that instrument or piece of gear, and have the items shipped out. It sounds like an old tale where a sailor stumbles upon the lost plunder of a pirate ship.

Well this time the “attic” (the old dusty roped off upstairs area) was open to the public for the first time. So I went in right after opening time, 9 AM, not too many musicians in sight this early. After a short recon, up the stairs I go, in great anticipation.

OK, its not a pirate hoard, but a Sargasso Sea of old live sound and DJ gear, neglected guitar amps in various conditions of old age and disrepair, nothing much of interest here, except maybe that old Crate vintage amp…..

On to the next level, up the creaky old wooden stairs with all kinds of warning signs saying “Keep Out!”. Surely this is where all the old string instruments go to die. I stare at maybe several thousand cases for violins, violas, cellos, some instruments lying around out of the case, some hidden inside. Hopeless! I am beginning to feel like Indiana Jones…

After a few minutes of poking around, I find that most of the cases are empty, or contain badly maimed and broken old instruments. I am not a luthier, so I get ready to leave, but no… One last time, I ask the universe, “is there anything here I need to see?”.

Having faith (if not a touch of mental illness), I find myself staring at what turns out to be a very old rectangular, tan Roth violin case. I open it up, and behold, just about what I expected, an old beat up violin. She has a dark brown to black finish (“ox blood” according to my friend Tom B.), maybe something that the devil would play when going up against Charlie Daniels.

But hey, its playable, and I am looking for something to rent to my students, or maybe use for a different flavor while recording. I pluck the out of tune strings, thinking, “this one sounds pretty good!”

I put it back in its drab looking case, walk away, and start poking into a few more of the cases stashed like old coffins in the corner. Nothing. An old fellow is now up there as well, looking at a cheap Chinese violin that he found in one of these cases. I show him that its not very good, and a 1/2 size anyway.

He then goes over to where the old Roth case sits, and I say to myself, “Hey buddy, not today”. I go over and pick it up again. I look around and find Mike, an affable salesman for the store, showing another guy an enormous old bass fiddle in the next aisle over.

Mike looks at the violin I am holding, and agrees that it needs some work, and has no maker’s tag (the store tag says “no name, German, $400”). I am thinking maybe $200 tops?

So he says, “how about $75?”. I reply, “I think I can do that!”

So back downstairs, I lug down the old Crate amp that they wanted $39.00 for as is. Mike plugs it in, it does not turn on. Fuse is good. OK, so he says the speaker alone is worth at least that, maybe more. He is right, its a great old vintage Crate with the old style wooden crate box covering the sides. So it does not work – Mike has the name of a great local Crate amp tech. $20 – sold! (n.b. I later replaced the fuse holder, and now it works!)

About now I am feeling pretty good about this plundering of the old attic. On the way out I ask Mike, do you have any great old Mandolins? He says not really, except maybe that old Martin over there. Originally marked at $1500, on clearance for $500.

I pick it up. Its an old Martin turtle back, tag says its vintage 1898 – 1910. Mother of pearl inlay, and it does look very old, but in fair condition. It is not really playable due to a warp in the neck, but it sounds pretty good from what I can tell. Its not exactly the kind of mandolin I normally play. But 1898?

I say, “well can’t really afford $500, I have a limit today.” Mike comes back with, “well this weekend I could do $400…you come come back, the sale runs through Sunday”. Here we are, then, the spirit of old Joe, channeled through Mike, who obviously has been around long enough to know the drill. So I counter with “$300”, but I feel pretty bad about that, I know its probably worth at least $1000 or more in the collector market, but hey, its me mano-a-mando with Joe-Mike, and its worth a try. But Mike is not budging, and in fact I think he’s having second thoughts about the $400.

So I go up to pay for the amp and violin, and then that old voice clicks on inside my head, “don’t be an idiot, get the thing!”.

I turn to Mike and say, “go ahead and bring it over, let’s ring her up”. Some of the other sales guys are now aware of the action, and ask Mike, “who’s getting the Martin? How much did you sell it for?”. I am now feeling pretty good about this.

“$400 it is, and worth every penny!” (so says the ghost of Joe “Chicago” who by now is smiling. I can feel it).