Adventures in Mixing

Two months ago I decided I needed a new DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) for my music production. This began a long process, starting with ordering a new hotrod system from Chris Ludwig at FundamentalAV.com. I had worked with Chris 5 years ago when he was with ADK Pro Audio in Kentucky. The new DAW is amazing, incredibly fast, with SSD drives, 11th-gen iCore7 processor, 32 meg. ram, and the most up to date Windows 10 Pro. That was a start.

After another several weeks and considerable labor, I had reinstalled the latest versions of my many audio applications including Cubase 11, Wavelab 10, hundreds of plugins and a raft of virtual instruments. Everything worked perfectly, well mostly everything.

Not being satisfied, naturally, I considered upgrading my monitor speakers. I still have a decent set of Meyer HD-1 main monitors but wanted something more precise for close in, near-field monitoring. I was looking at the higher-end Genelec SAM DSP-powered monitors with room correction, but could not justify the $5000+ cost. Instead I read great reviews for the inexpensive KALI IN-8 MKII studio monitors, at under $900 for the pair! Now these are installed and provide excellent point source imaging and detail. The Meyer’s are aimed more into the room behind my mix position, mainly for clients. The Kali’s I now use for mix decisions and run these at lower volumes. Happiness, until….

I began remixing Less Than Nobody, a song I wrote to support my wife Lynn’s new novel, Measured Time (which mentions a movie titled Less Than Nobody, about the angst of a Vietnam-era vet in a coffee shop, another story for another day). The original version of LTN sounded pretty good but several critical listeners pointed out that, as a rock song, the tempo was not consistent and this got in the way of their enjoyment of the groove. Being mostly an acoustic, free-form player, I had to agree, as I did not record this to a click track. In fact when I sent the song off to a drummer who, for $100, would record a great drum part, he declined after listening to it, saying, “was this not recorded to a click? I can’t work with this…” – Well, phooey!

Listening with my newly acquired precision monitors, I had to agree that if I am going to do a rock song, a consistent tempo would be a necessity. I pulled up the Cubase project from a year ago, and began re-recording the guitar and bass parts, while listening to a click track in the headphones. I added more consistent drum grooves using BFD3. It was sounding more like a proper rock song, except for….. what’s that? Distortion? No matter how I adjusted the mix, the newly recorded tracks exhibited mild to annoying levels of nasty distortion, mainly when the bass or vocal tracks were playing. The wave forms did not look clipped, and in fact I had used conservative levels when recording the mic’d up amp.

I started to think I had made a mistake with the Kali’s, because being so inexpensive, could they be faulty? Could they not handle the levels (not very loud) that I was sending. Or was there an issue with room resonance? Or my recording technique? This bugged me for several weeks. Friends who came over to listen noticed the problem as well, not only in this but in other songs. Bummer!

Finally I stopped thinking about all of the new gear and what might be wrong with it, and thought about my signal chain. I knew from past experience that good sound was all about gain staging, making sure nothing was overly loud or even clipping. What I was hearing did sound like digital clipping. Fortunately I have some really nice Dorrough analog loudness meters that show the level that is actually going to the monitors, as opposed to the digital level meters in Cubase, which showed nominal levels. What could I have overlooked?

Max Headroom! – Or rather, NO HEADROOM. I opened the Lynx mixer application that stands between the output of Cubase and the input to my digital to analog convertors, part of the signal chain the feeds the speakers. All of the faders in this innocuous, mostly out of sight application, were set to max! Yikes, no wonder the Dorroughs were pegging into the red! How could I have overlooked them?

Maybe because I was focusing on the metering and waveforms in the DAW’s UI and not the entire signal chain. Maybe because I was having second thoughts on the recent purchases, or the several grand spent on a new computer. I fact, I was missing the most obvious and fundamental part of my setup – the gain staging of the entire signal chain.

Turning down the faders on the Lynx Mixer by 10 dB restored the headroom that I used to have before I embarked on setting up this new system.

LESSON LEARNED – Less Than Nobody (V.2) is finally sounding like something somebody will want to hear! Stay tuned for a new Soundcloud link.

Live at Swallow Hill 2019

3-Legged Dog (LIVE) on Vimeo

Playing at Swallow Hill with Scupanon, performing Rob Roper’s Three Legged Dog. Denver, 11/14/2019

New Stoughton Studio

Barn Jazz Studio has relocated to Stoughton, Wisconsin and is up and ready for business. We specialize in mixing and demo mastering for your audio projects.

Less Than Nobody

New track supporting my wife, Lynn’s, upcoming novel “Measured Time – The Traveler”. In the story a Viet Nam veteran returns to states, only to find himself grappling with fitting in, finding love, and ending up in a “lonely cafe” they call “All Ground Up”. In fact this is about a movie within a story, the movie made in the 1970’s, called “Less Than Nobody”. So maybe someday we can make a movie with this as part of the soundtrack, a movie about a movie with a soundtrack in a book. Whew!

Rivers of the Land CD

Rivers of the Land CD Cover
Rivers of the Land CD Cover

Latest from Diamond Jim. Meander down the rivers of the world, your companion, original instrumental electronica and acoustic music. Find yourself relaxing, meditating and imagining.

This is the second release in the “Rivers” series, following up on Rivers of the Sky. You can buy the album or listen to selected tracks here:


https://diamondjim.hearnow.com/rivers-of-the-land

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/jamesmichaelhewitt2

Here is a review from one of my long-time fans, Dawn Weiss of Oracle, Arizona.

“I have loved Jim Hewitt’s music since the first time I heard him play in person almost two decades ago.  Each time he has released a new CD, I have marveled about how he can top the one before. His newest CD, “Rivers of the Land” is truly  no exception, and is my favorite one yet.  From “Riverland” to “Fishin Blues”, each track takes me on a journey of audible delights.  The variety of music on this album ranges from rhythms that make me want to dance to those that bring introspection and relaxation. My personal favorites are “River of the Ibis,”  “Mist” and “Los Alamos-the Cottonwoods” as they are so peacefully enchanting.” (Email)

Maffetone Revisited

Singer-songwriter Phil Maffetone, former physician to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and an artist with whom I have worked in the past (Livin’ on a Dead End Road, recorded in Oracle Arizona) asked me to remaster some of his on-line offerings. I recently completed work on The Best of Phil Maffetone, and now I am working on songs from his Nashville Bootleg, released in 2012. The process I used for remastering was different from the way I normally work.

This was an unusual request because he asked me to work with mp3’s downloaded from his website, https://maffetonemusic.com. I prefer to work with original or mastered .wav files, however they were not available, being the work of various other mastering engineers, including some high caliber folks.

The one exception was Wizard Shoes, one of my favorite Phil songs. Since no one had touched it since we originally recorded it (back in, 2008, I believe it was), I was able to work with the original 24-bit .wav file, because I keep everything that I have worked on in my archives. After running it through my great analog chain, which includes a Rupert Neve Designs Master Bus processor and A-Designs Hammer EQ, the song ended up sounding better than ever.

But back to those mp3’s… Originally, I balked at the idea of using mp3’s in a mastering context, and if you know anything about the biases of mastering engineers, this is not considered a best practice. Fortunately, the songs were well recorded, and then encoded at the highest bit rate available, 384 KBPS. The results sounded very good. Since Phil is located on the east coast these days, I used my Dropbox account to send him previews. That was made easier by the smaller size of the mp3’s.

You might ask, why bother? Weren’t they already mastered? Well these songs were all recorded over a period of several years. They were all over the place in terms of average level, varying from about -14 dB (average RMS) to some really smashed rocking numbers, at around -6 dB. Some sounded better than others, but there was no consistency. The task at hand was to make them all sound good but at more or less the same average RMS level, so that they could be downloaded as a set. Given that some were very loud, and Phil’s fans seemed to like them that way, I decided on a target level of around -12 dB, similar to many pop tunes.

I ran the songs through my high-quality analog chain, after doing some level processing in Wavelab, and then reencoded to mp3 format at 384 KBPS as the final step. The results still sounded great, but more cohesive as a set of songs, and Phil agreed.

So, for me the lesson was to put aside my biases, and get creative. There are always ways to make the music sound better, provided you have the right gear and know-how.

New Rivers of the Land CD nearing completion

I have a new CD project, Rivers of the Land, that is not quite ready for duplication, but I have put up a couple of track samples below, One-Eyed Riverboat Gambler and  River of the Ibis. This 8 month effort incorporates a mix of electronica and acoustic music for meditation, relaxation, and just plain enjoyment. Imagine yourself on a river cruise in the jungles of Central America, taking a ride on the Ibis steamer, while the sounds of the river life stream past. Its about imagination, feeling, taking a trip in your mind to other places and times. At least that is how I approach these tunes. I hope you will take the time to enjoy them.

The CD should be available for purchase on CD Baby after the first of the year, in 2019, in the meantime take a listen and look out for that bird cry near the end of Ibis. Its an actual field recording. More on that later.

Hidden Gems in Hidden Canyon

Just completed a new CD for Grand Junction singer/songwriter Tammie Martin, titled Hidden Canyon (samples below). Tammie’s original songs are evocative of the mysterious expanses and loneliness of the red canyon country around Moab and points east and west.

Her vocal style transports me to the backwoods of Kentucky or West Virginia, delivered fresh and uninhibited, while the live in the studio instrumentation is strictly down home, laid back bluegrass. The songs are backed up by local players Bob Eakle (mandolin and dobro), Lisa Eakle (banjo), with Jessica Cooper on violin, and yours truly adding some overdubs on fiddle, viola, mandola, harmonica, and electric bass.

The basic tracks were recorded by live sound engineer, Chris Bollman, at the unique public recording studio located in the Mesa County Public Library in Junction. I was pleased to be able to mix and master the tracks and produce the final CD. Hidden Canyon is available directly from Tammie, but if you are unable to catch her performances in the area, you can contact Barn Jazz and we can arrange for you to get a copy.

Back in the saddle

Our new studio in Littleton, CO is up and running and ready for recording projects, mixing, and demo mastering. More to come.

Barn Jazz Vol. 3 Released

Just in time for the holidays, my latest CD project, Barn Jazz Vol. 3, “High Fiddility”, is now available for purchase on CD Baby. You can buy individual tunes or the entire album, as well as audition clips of each of the tracks.
This collection of original fiddle tunes and songs completes the Barn Jazz trilogy, which began back in 2001 in my original Oracle, Arizona studio. Given the recent political seismic shift, think of this as a metaphorical “high” to help put it all aside while we endure the next 4 years. The photos were taken at over 11,000 feet at Boreas Pass, near Breckinridge, Colorado.
boreas-pass-signjim-at-road-fencejim-fiddle-mountainpanorama

Album Notes

I believe music, particularly instrumental music, should be all about imagery and imagination. High Fiddility is a collection of mostly original instrumental tunes and a few quirky songs guaranteed to take you into the highlands of your imagination. This is the third in the “Barn Jazz” series of albums, beginning with Barn Jazz Vol. 1, in 2003, Barn Jazz Vol. 2, The Night of the Dancing Vegetables in 2012, and finally Vol. 3, High Fiddility.

“Barn Jazz” is my term for bluegrass in a tuxedo, or jazz in hip boots played at night when the cows have gone to bed. In essence this music knows no firm boundaries, has no walls, and requires only that you listen again and again for the details, for the sounds of the crossing the high country, or marching along the Grand Valley canals of Grand Junction. You may remember lost friends like Banjo Joe, and others who are no longer with you, while you wonder where they have gone. Maybe you had a first waltz, when you awkwardly held that young lady or gentleman, or shuffled off to the stars in sidereal time. Please enjoy this music when you work, when you play or travel, or when the lights are down low and the music is turned up. Please let me know what you think, I am always curious to find out if any of these tunes touch you in certain ways.