Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review: Beyerdynamic DT-880 Pro

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This week we're going to review an exceptional headphone set designed for mixing and tracking instruments: Beyerdynamic DT-880.
Beyerdynamic is a German manufacturer specialized in high end microphones and headphones, and in this case we have tried one of the top tier models for tracking, mixing and mastering.

Here are the 3 different models, each one made for a different purpose:

DT 770 PRO – Closed back (studio, stage)
DT 880 PRO – Semi-open back (reference monitoring, mixing, mastering)
DT 990 PRO – Fully open back (critical listening)

I have always said in my articles that a decent pair of monitors is fundamental for mixing and mastering, but since this is a home recording-oriented blog we are fully aware that most of our followers are bedroom producers, that maybe mix by night or with someone else in the room, therefore there are some situations in which using a pair of headphones is unavoidable.
Starting from the point that no headphones will give us an exact representation of the full frequency spectrum (especially the low end is not fully reproduced), there are some manufacturers that are trying to produce specific headphones for mixing and mastering use, and these brands are Beyerdynamic, Akg and Sennheiser, among the others.
Probably Beyerdynamic is one of the highest quality (and most expensive) manufacturers in the market, and actually I have mixed more than one demotape with these headphones; obviously you can't rely only on them, and as always I have, especially in the Mastering phase, made a lot of corrections using other sources, such as the car stereo, the Ipod headphones and the computer speakers, to point-out details that did not emerge using these headphones.

Anyway these are probably the best recording and tracking headphones I've ever tried so far, and I can surely suggest them to any bedroom producer that cannot use a pair of reference monitors.

Specs taken from the Beyerdynamic website:

- Semi-open diffuse-field studio headphone
- 250 ohms
- Analytical Sound
- Comfortable fit due to rugged, adjustable, soft padded headband construction
- Robust, easy serviceable construction as all parts are replaceable
- Velour, circumaural and replaceable ear pads
- 3.0 m (9.8 ft.) coiled cable (single sided)
- Including drawstring bag
- Transmission type:   Wired
- Headphone design (operating principle):   Semi-open
- Headphone impedance:   250 ohms
- Headphone frequency response:   5 - 35.000 Hz
- Nominal sound pressure level:   96 dB

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Presets and why you should not use them

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today I would like to share my thoughts about presets, since lately I've been asked to share some of my to-go presets for mixing and mastering.
It's not that I don't want to share my presents, it's just that I don't have actually any of them.
First because moving on with the years my plugin chains are getting more and more minimal and my attenction is switching on how to capture a sound that needs less processing to sound good (a good starting sound is really 60% of the total work), second because presets are always "caricatural" and created for a project that is different from ours.

In the mixing phase presets can be useful to understand how a certain plugin works: for example if we load a "lead vocal" preset on the Compressor plugin we can see that the attack usually is pretty fast, that the usual ratio is set on a certain way etc., but then we should reset it and then apply the same principles to OUR specific vocal track, because each project has its own gain staging, and using the preset of a compressor, for example, will mess with our gain staging or not affecting the track enough or affecting it too much, either way ruining it.

Working only with presets will make the song sound unprofessional and bad, then happens that some douchebag asks me "why does my song sounds like a trainwreck? I have applied the signal chain you suggested, loading the presets for the tracks on each plugin!".
The answers are 2
1) I always list ALL the plugins that can be used usually for a single instrument, but then you have to choose only the ones that you really need for your specific track.
2) You don't have to use presets on each track, and if you have no idea on how to use a plugin study it, don't load on the host some piece of software that you have no idea of what it does and wait for some magic, because it will only screw up your project more.

If working without a clue of what we're doing and just relying on presets can screw up our mix, using presets in the Mastering phase can really destroy anything good that's left of our track, since in this case damages are much bigger because they affect all the single tracks together.
Using a mastering suite like Ozone or T-Racks it's not a bad choice, but we should understand exactly what each module does and keep open only the modules that we really need, if we have a processor on and we don't hear any benefit keeping it open or bypassed, we should remove it, and we must also remember that understandind the gain staging and making it work properly is the single most important thing to make a master track sound right.
So turn off all the modules of Ozone, and start turning them on and tweaking one at the time, and see if they are really making our track sound better or not: if they're not essential, we don't need them.

Start trusting your own ears more!

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Interview: Bloodthruth (Stefano Rossi Ciucci) shares their secrets! (live rig, studio gear, touring...)

Bloodtruth is another great death metal band that comes from Italy, a country that is recently seeing a second reinassance in its metal scene, giving birth to bands capable to rule the international scene (e.g. Fleshgod Apocalypse) through working ethic and professionality.
This band is now promoting its debut album, Obedience, which is being reviewed positively everywhere, and it's just returned from an European tour; here's our chat with the guitarist, Stefano Rossi Ciucci.

GuitarNerdingBlog: Hello Stefano and welcome to Guitar Nerding Blog! Introduce yourself to our readers, tell us your story!

StefanoRossiCiucci: Hi everyone and thank you Atoragon for this awesome opportunity. I am Stefano Rossi Ciucci, I’m 37, but just until the next month. I still keep on playing death metal, anyway I lead a very normal life as a thermal plants engineer and as a father. I started learning how to play a guitar when I was 16 exploring different genres, from hard rock to brutal death metal. Since the beginning, I was even working together with Grind Promotion and Distribution in order to support the local metal scene organising several shows.

GNB: Tell us about your career. We know you worked in many projects during the last 20 years, and the two most important ones are obviously Bloodtruth and Devouring Hatred.
Which are your career highlights? Which are the artists that influenced you the most? Is it there still some collaboration that you wish you would do?

SRC: Yeah, that’s right. I worked in many projects during these years but I have only three career highlights:

1) (1996/1997) the first love, a local band called Affliction, in which I was playing bass guitar during 6 years, the band who allowed me to play death metal. I was a guitar player but I accepted to play bass just to be in the death metal world. I was a huge fan of the band before I could get in it, that’s why I will keep good memories of it in my mind.

2) I entered the brutal death metal world thanks to Devouring Hatred. Great friends, great musicians and awesome music.

3) Last Bloodtruth European tour. Something that I was dreaming about since forever, along with my dream band.

About influences, my all-time favourite guitarists are Doug Cerrito (Suffocation), Trey Azagthoth (Morbid Angel), Joe Satriani, Steve Vai. My favourite death metal band is Cannibal Corpse, the first DM band I ever listened. Still love them after so many years tho. About collaborations, it’s a hard question, although I tried to get in touch with many musicians around the world. I still remember in 2003/2004 when I was writing on the Derek Roddy forum searching for some members about an international studio death metal band, I was in touch with George Kollias (Nile) just few months before he joined Nile. Actually, I would love to start a collaboration with some italian musicians that I really admire in order to create a studio album: never talked to them about it but for the future, who knows?

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

SRC: I am a self-taught guitar player that started to learn some Guns & Roses songs (incredible huh?). In a little while I started to take some lessons with a gifted guitar player, Francesco D’Oronzo, but I never loved to study music theory, I always preferred to play along some tracks or learning them from the tablatures. About my favourite guitar models, last year I started a collaboration with Overload Custom Guitar and Basses that built me a tremendous guitar. Sometime I still play my first and beloved Gibson Les Paul Standard wine red glo equipped with EMG pickups.

GNB: What do you think about the actual music business? What are your thoughts about underground and mainstream music scene nowadays?

SRC: It’s a really strange period for the music business. During the last years people stopped to buy CDs, downloading music from the net. Instead, during the last years, a lot of labels started back to print vinyl platters and some special bundles with posters, stickers, etc. In my honest opinion, it could mean that people love to buy something different from a simple record and that they still have some money for it.

I think it could work for the underground business too.

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

SRC: I want to be honest with you. I download music and love to listen to albums in streaming, just because I rather better to listen before I buy something. I usually purchase 2 or 3 records per month but I definitely need to listen to them before: there’s a lot of crap around the music world. Who knows, maybe if labels could make people listen to complete albums in streaming at least during the pre-orders, they will sell more. If you really like the record, you need to have the original stuff in your hands, because you want to listen to it in a better quality and you want to read lyrics, special thanks, see pictures, etc.

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?

SRC: The best live experiences were at Neurotic Deathfest this year and the last Brutality Over Europe show in Milan. Neurotic DF was the first fest with kinda professional taste I participated, exclusive minibar, hotels included, four stage assistants one each member. Just to mention, I met Gene Hoglan and Pestilence members in the backstage, our dressing room was next-door to Misery Index and Grave dressing rooms. Unbelievable! I love to play live and to record tracks in my personal studio either.

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

SRC: That’s the hardest question for this interview because… my memory started to fail (laughs…). Let’s start with “the worst” one: many years ago I was playing in a dancing local band (just to be able to pay the bills), it was 1998. We had a show in front of 1000 people in Milan, I was simulating playing bass and the general playback machine began to stutter in the middle of a song so that the attendance started to laugh out loud. The funniest experience I can remember was during the last tour, in Holland, when I traded a shirt with a local band. I did not check, I just traded it, that’s my lifestyle, but the problem is that the shirt was showing the image of a girl giving a hard blowjob …. So we made a bet, Damiano (Devangelic bass player) wore it and went to some girls asking a lighter. I still can remember, they were having such faces!

GNB: Since many readers of our blog are mainly interested in the technical 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?

SRC: I usually record and edit myself all the guitar parts in my home studio. I prefer it instead of the studios because I can take all the time that I need to play any guitar part without thinking about the time running and about the money I should pay to the studio. I recorded “Obedience” with a Radial J48 DI and Stefano Morabito at 16th Cellar Studios re-amped it with an Engl Fireball and an Ibanez TS808. On stage, I am actually using an Overload Custom guitar built according to my technical specifications, with a Warpig Bare Knuckle Pickup, Spectraflex cables and Intune custom guitar picks. I use two stomps, a chromatic tuner and a Boss NS2, then going directly into our sound card through Cubase, using a custom overdrive VST and an amp simulator called Emissary, both from Ignite Amps. In the Cubase project I’ve got all the automations about delay and pitch shifter VSTs for solos, then the sound goes through an Engl E840 Finale and a Mesa Boogie 2x12” Cabinet. I chose this system because I love to keep less equipment on tour and I love to use more technology as possible. Having an automate solos sound on stage was my dream, finally realized (special thanks to you, Stefano, for your big help about).

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

SRC: Take music seriously, take it as a job. Everytime, every stage, every situation. Don’t forget that if you want to reach a goal, you’ve to work hard and be driven.

GNB: What does the lyrics of your songs talk about? What do you think is most important in a song, the lyrical side or the musical one?

SRC: The singer of the band Luigi wrote all of the “Obedience” lyrics, except for Suppurating of Deception that I wrote myself. We don’t like to be one-way against christianity but we prefer to list all damages religion caused during the centuries. Lyrics are very important in a song, because together with the music, they create a peculiar atmosphere, giving a tasteful sense to what you want to express with the music.

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!

SRC: “Obedience” was a hard task to accomplish. It took me two months only to record the whole guitar parts! That’s how our hard work and training pays off. By the way, soon we will start working on the new stuff for the second full-length. Now we are working hard searching for some shows/tours. See you next Thursday, we’ll have the first Obedience release party here in Italy supporting Fleshgod Apocalypse, I know you’ll be there Atoragon (note by AtoragoN: I'm going to be the metal dj on that venue for that night)! Thank you very much for the interview! Cheers.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

My Favourite 10 Vst Plugins for Mixing (with free and Paid Vst plugins)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today I would like to share with you the list of my favourite plugins for the mixing phase, those are the plugins I use most of the time on the various busses, and so far they've never let me down.
My philosophy is to give continuity to the various sounds of a record, the way the great mix engineers of the past used to do with hardware processors, therefore I like to choose as fewer sound plugins as I can (1 good compressor, 1 equalizer and so on..) and to learn how to use 'em in depth, instead of experimenting 10 different types of equalizers in the same song, for example.
Getting familiar with few processors makes you use them with more awareness (even the ones that comes bundled with the Daw are often more than enough), and using for example the same type of compressor, although tuned differently, for each track of our project will give to the song a sort of "timbric continuity" that eventually will make the record sound more professional.

I have included a list of freeware ones and paid ones, according to your needs, and if you click on the category it will bring you to a dedicated page with even more free plugins to try.

1) Compressor: Antress Seventh Sign for the free ones. T-Racks Black 76 for the paid ones. If i need more controls to make some surgical adjustment, Waves c1 is a great alternative.

2) Equalizer: Equilibre for the free ones, Fabfilter pro Q 2 for the paid: this one features also a very handy built-in frequency analizer.

3) Reverb: I often use the reverb built into the DAW, if it sounds good enough, but when I need to use a third party one, I go for Smartelectronix Ambience (which is donationware).

4) Delay: I like the way the Variety of Sound Nasty Dla colors the sound, plus it's freeware.

5) Autotune: on this ground, Antares Autotune in graphic mode just can't be beaten.

6) Harmonic Exciter: for the free ones I'd suggest Harmonic Enhancer Vst, while among the paid ones, the best is probably the one Built inside the Izotope Ozone suite.

7) Gate: in this field I've noticed that often the bundled plugins are not so good. If you need one, Fabfilter Pro-G is probably the best gate money can buy.

8) Bass preamp: virtual bass preamps are very handy nowadays, and among them I'd suggest Ignite Amps SHB-1 for the free ones, and Overloud Mark Studio for the paid ones.

9) Multiband Compressor: Gmulti, a good freeware multiband comp that I use mainly to tame the lows of electric guitar and bass. For the paid ones the preference probably goes to the Waves C6.

10) Chorus: About chorus I like to keep it very simple: if the one bundled iside the Daw doesn't satisfy me, I usually go for the classic Orange Chorus, which is free.

Let me know what do you think about this list and which are your 10 favourite mixing plugins!

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