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Friday, April 27, 2007

Product Review: Samson C-que 8

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

Samson C-que 8
4 Channel Headphone Amp


Four channel headphone amplifier with individual controls for each channel.
Ideal for digital-audio workstations or studios.

Dual headphone outputs, front and rear. Plus one front panel output per channel, allowing for a total of eight headphones at one time.

Separate Left and Right line inputs for master stereo bus.

2-channel / Stereo mode switch.

Samson C-que 8

This versatile little headphone amp
, one of Samson’s C Class Signal Processors, delivers as promised. Indeed, the C-que 8 is ideal for small studios, addressing many of the problems associated with typical inferior headphone mixes.

A bad headphone mix is as inexcusable as it is predictable. How in the name of Marilyn Manson can anyone expect to lay down strong basic tracks if you can’t hear what the other musicians are doing? The same holds true for the overdub process. A musician is only as good as his (or her) ears. If the sound in your cans doesn’t rock, your not apt to perform at your best.

With a retail price of around $149.00, the Samson 4 C-que 8 is a safe and affordable solution. It fits nicely on the desk or console, and my unit has yet to throw me any curves. This is a quality device with no apparent drawbacks. I would recommend the Samson 4 C-que 8 to anyone serious about their workstation or studio headphone mixes.

Learning to Avoid Damage to Your Voice

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

The human voice is a unique and complex musical instrument. It is my principle instrument, and one I have spent years learning to master. Although I play many instruments, it was always my voice people wanted hear. Try as I might to establish myself as a respectable instrumentalist, there was always someone with better guitar chops, but a strong vocalist was and remains a rare commodity.

I love to sing. I cannot calculate how many hours I have spent singing. I sing on stage, I sing in the studio, rehearsal and yes, sometimes I sing in the shower. (try that with your electric guitar). It seems obvious then that I would want to learn everything available about my instrument and my craft, don't you agree?

Sadly, many young singers overlook the value of learning more about themselves. Many singers, especially those in the rock or punk genres, fear such information will somehow taint the authenticity of their art form. Oh contraire, ye of bruised larynx. In the event your new snare drum should take a nasty fall down a flight of stairs, it can usually be replaced with little difficulty. Your voice, on the other hand, cannot be replaced so easily.
Damage your throat and you risk your dream.

Don't think I'm not aware of the nerd quotient. I realize how ridiculous those ads look, the ones touting vocal technique. I get queasy every time I see one. Here's my advise get over it.

Mozart took piano lessons and Michelangelo took drawing lessons. There are no good reasons why a singer shouldn't seek out professional vocal training. I can't stress how important this is to anyone considering a career as a singer.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Submitting Your Demo to a Record Company or Producer

Sound and Recording

B. Thomas Cooper

It's the dream of every aspiring musician. Whether one is a member of the hardest working club band in town or the next fresh face on American Idol, rest assured they long for a crack at that mythical pot of gold, the recording contract.

But what exactly is a recording contract? If you just shrugged your shoulders you answered correctly. You see, there are as many types of recording contracts as the mind can imagine.

As a staff producer for Power Station Records, one of my duties was finding and developing new talent for the label. In the music industry this is usually referred to as A&R, or Artist Development. The larger record labels may have several persons working A&R. None of them think alike and thus each may specialize in a specific genre. Furthermore, just because one guy in the office hates your new demo doesn't mean everyone else in the room feels the same.

A motivated musician learns quickly to become a resourceful musician. The old clich that one gets but a single chance in this business was not true twenty years ago and it's not true now. If you really want it bad enough, you will do whatever is necessary to bring your talent to the attention of the industry.

Although some might wish you to believe otherwise, record companies are not magical entities controlled by super-humans. They may sometimes appear larger than life but behind the curtain the man pushing the buttons needs you as bad as you need him. Believe me; if records companies thought they could make their millions without developing new talent, they would have attempted it long ago. Without you, the talent, the entire faade that is the music business, would crash to the ground.

Try not to feel intimidated by the scope of your endeavor. Surround yourself with equally talented people and learn everything you can about your craft. When approaching a record company or a producer with your demo be confident and be prepared. No-one expects you to hand them a finished record, but if you don't take your craft seriously, why would you think these individuals would take you seriously? Be sure you present yourself in a professional manner. Hire a reputable photographer and be prepared to hate every single photo. Like it or not, repeat the afore-mentioned process until the desired results are obtained. Having a friend or family member shoot your photos is generally not a good idea, unless of course this person happens to be a photographer.

Find some-one to write a bio that doesn't read like a bad book report. You really only need three or four paragraphs. Go light on the clichs, stuff like talent shows and battles of the bands. Be sure to have your contact information at the top of the page and be absolutely certain your contact number appears on the actual cd itself, as it is not uncommon for the cd to become separated from the jewel case.

Here comes the fun part.

Once you have your package organized and ready for presentation, I want you to pay a visit to your neighborhood office supply. Ask an employee to escort you over to the 91/2 X 121/2 clasp envelopes.
Select the most brilliant solid color available, like bright green or orange.

You see, somewhere within three point range of the A&R persons desk is a large cardboard box or plastic bin filled to the brim with demo packages, many which get neglected for no better reason than because it's lost in the pile. I always recommend you contact the person you are sending the package to, and let some-one know it's on the way. You should always follow up with a phone call as well. E-mail is nifty, but in this instance, it's apt to be ineffectual. Don't ever assume anyone on the receiving end will have any idea where your package went. This is where the large, brightly colored envelope pays off in spades. It's infinitely easier to pick out of the pile.

It is true that many of the larger record companies don't accept 'unsolicited materiel' but what does that mean, really? Truthfully, it makes good business sense for these behemoth companies to adapt such policies, as it limits possible copyright disputes. Don't let this minor little speed-bump deter you. Fear not, brave heart, there are limitless avenues one can pursue. Once again, I implore you to take yourself and your craft seriously. The best advice I can offer is to do your homework and do it well. Don't focus your energy on landing a record deal. Instead, I suggest you prepare yourself to be ready when opportunity comes knocking.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Banding Together - Networking With Other Bands

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

Some bands are good at it
, some are not. Some musicians understand how important it is, others don’t. Frankly, some people are simply too concerned about they’re own egos to do the right thing. What is the “right thing”?. Banding together, of course! Networking, so to speak.

Far too many young musicians think the club scene is some kind of ‘dog eat dog’ scenario, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Nowhere has the pressure been greater than on the Sunset strip in Hollywood during the ‘Big Hair’ era, and yet my band, based in Phoenix nearly four hundred miles eastward, played alongside Guns & Roses, Poison, and other future legends without getting sucked down by personal egos. We were always supportive of the bands on the scene, and it paid off for us in big ways.

Of course, there are ways to be helpful and self serving at the same time. I would urge my guys to help the other bands strike the stage, for example. After all, the sooner the stage is clear, the sooner my band can set up. Doesn’t this just make good sense?

Ultimately it’s up to you, but having personally booked literally hundreds of gigs at dozens of clubs, I can assure you that a band with a bad reputation is far less apt to be offered the choice gigs, no matter how cool they may think they are. On the other hand, if you can’t network on the local level, what ever gives you the idea you’ll be ready to work with the big boys?

Get out there and get it done! Making excuses is not going to get you where you want to go. Don’t be shy to show your meddle and remember, networking is your friend. Now that’s what I call ‘sound reasoning’.

Monday, April 16, 2007

How To Copyright Your Songs

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

For some inexplicable reason, many musicians are anxious about copyrighting their musical compositions. Anxiety is fear of the unknown, and indeed, it's amazing how little the average musician knows about the subject. Here's the low-down, my friends it's really not that scary.

Copyright forms can be obtained free of charge from the US Copyright Office, located in the Library of Congress. Needless to say, but I will anyway, they also have a website, and the last I knew the forms could be downloaded for free. You don't need to write out the notes or any of that tedious stuff. That went out way back in the seventies. Now all you do is fill out a simple form identifying the song and the composer(s), place a cd of the song into an envelope along with the form, and mail it to the Copyright Office. Oh, and there is a nominal application fee of $45.00 (payable to the copyright office), but don't let that stop you. It's worthy every penny.


Now I know none of you really want to hear this, but I strongly suggest you not rely on the so-called poor man's copyright', as it turns out to be more folklore than fact. Having worked on the inside of the industry for many years, I am not aware of a single example of where a poor man's copyright held up in a court of law. It is generally just a myth. Furthermore, I doubt very seriously you are so poor you can't afford a few bucks to protect your writing.

Send your package to:
Library of Congress
Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

Here is the website address for the US Copyright Office:

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Building a Respectable Home Studio

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

Once upon a time, not too long ago, mind you, building a respectable home studio' required a rather substantial investment in time and money. Back in the day, so to speak, we were still recording in analog, and a decent eight track tape machine cost a few thousand dollars at a minimum. Then there was the console (desk, mixer, etc.) consisting of perhaps twenty-four channels, which cost another couple grand. Of course, no home studio was complete without at least a couple racks of outboard gear. We had doozles and raddoids and multiple compressors and delay devices, each guaranteed to muddy up the mix. All of this was then routed together with cables and wires and strewn about in disarray. Getting it all to sound good was never an easy task.

These days things are little different. The advent of digital technology has changed much about how we record sound and music. Oh, we still have our share of doozles and raddoids, but now they are called add-ons' and they are included in the recording software. Most of the clumsy cables have long been chucked into the trash. We like to run a clean shop around here.

Over the years, I have designed and overseen the construction of countless studios. It's one of those things I do. From coast to coast, from sea to shining sea. Big rooms, little rooms they are all the same. The trick is to create an environment conducive to the recording process. The best advice I can give is learn to keep your sound pressure levels under control. Deafening volume levels are not a good idea in small enclosures. When in doubt turn it down.

There are numerous companies offering digital recording software at reasonable prices. Take your choice. For beginners, I would recommend Sonar for the initial recording and SoundForge for the mastering process. It's really not as hard as it sounds, and these days even a caveman like me can afford it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Product Review - Sony MDR-V600 Dynamic Stereo Headphones

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

Product Review

SONY MDR-V600 Dynamic Stereo Headphones

This is a fine offering by Sony, a sturdy set of headphones, with firm, comfortable ear pieces and a warm, desirable frequency response. In simple words… a good investment for anyone looking for a reliable set of headphones.


I purchased my first pair of few years ago, and have really appreciated their durability and sound quality. After unconscionable abuse, the material on the ear pieces was beginning to wear thin, so I went in search of a new set, not really expecting to settle on another pair of Sony V600’s. However, once I’d listened to about two dozen different sets, I found myself eager to lay down the very reasonable ninety-nine dollar retail price. I suppose I could have saved myself some time and money by ordering the MDR-V600’s online, but hey, it was well worth getting out there and hearing for myself what was available. The result is that I now own two pair of MDR-V600‘s. I rate the product very highly.

Driver (40mm Aura-Normic Designed Driver)
Impedance (45ohms)
Frequency Response (5Hz to 30,000Hz)
Rated Power (500mW) *1/2 watt*
Max Power (1,000mW) *1 watt* (not recommended)
Cord Length (9.8 feet)

Monday, April 9, 2007

Sound and Recording - Achieving a Brighter Vocal

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

Let me guess,
Your lead singer doesn't seem bright enough. Chances are, he isn't.

Don't be too hard on him. It may be no fault of his own. Try as he might, his vocals simply won't cut through the dense fog rolling from the rhythm section. It's a common problem, and one I'll attempt to address, although I'll readily admit a little trepidation.

Much is dependent on the sound pressure levels in respect to the timber and projection abilities of the vocalist. Obviously, a live performance presents a considerably different set of variables than that of a studio recording. The two are as different as they are the same.

A brighter' vocal sound can be achieved a number of ways. Start by choosing an appropriate microphone. Unfortunately, what may seem the right mic tonight may not seem right tomorrow. When changes occur, even subtle ones, it often becomes necessary to switch microphones. An aware engineer may even determine to swap microphones from one song to the next.

Good microphone technique and proper singing habits will profoundly effect your vocal performance. A mic can only capture what you produce. Once the performance has been captured, it can be enhanced through various means, including reverbs, compression, etc. but all the reverb in the world will not drown out a bad performance.

A bright' vocal will tend to cut through the mix, like a megaphone, or the p.a. system at the racetrack. However, it is worth noting that a bright' vocal risks becoming strident, or worse a shrill distraction, plagued by incessant feedback. Sound familiar?

The cure requires patience and practice. Learn all you can about your craft,
and don't assume you know all the answers. Just keep plugging away, and before you know it, you'll be performing to sold out crowds of adoring fans, at which point you may conclude your vocalist seems a little brighter than usual.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Choosing the Right Microphone

When choosing the right microphone for a particular application, an array of external variables come into play, including room acoustics, microphone placement, frequency response, sound pressure, etc. For this reason, different types of microphones are designed to address different sonic properties.

A microphone works by converting acoustic energy into corresponding electrical voltages, through a process known as transduction. There are various methods by which this process can be accomplished, however, the two most common types of microphones used in recording are the dynamic and the condenser.

With a dynamic microphone, a moving conductor cuts the magnetic field of force to produce electricity, or signal. There are two basic types of dynamic microphones, the ribbon mic, and the more popular, moving coil dynamic, in which a coil of wire is suspended within a magnetic field. Sound-waves strike the diaphragm, causing it to vibrate. This in turn causes the coil to vibrate, generating the desired signal. With a ribbon microphone, a thin strip of metal foil (the ribbon) is suspended within the magnetic field. Again, sound waves cause the ribbon to vibrate within the field, resulting in transduction.

There are dozens of companies who manufacture dependable, reasonably priced studio microphones. So many in fact, it would be nearly impossible to discuss all of them in this article. Therefore I will limit my suggestions to a handful of the more popular microphones
readily available at an affordable price.

Shure Bros
. SM-57 & SM-58

Manufactured by Shure Bros. for decades without ever undergoing any notable changes.,
these two dynamic microphones have been the foundation of countless legendary recordings. Every studio, no matter how large or small, should seriously consider keeping a couple of these little workhorses around.

The SM-57 produces a unidirectional pattern, limiting unwanted noise, while capturing a warm, fat response. This mic is great for recording loud guitar amplifiers, horns, vocals, etc. and can usually be purchased new for around $100.00

The Shure SM-58 produces an omni-directional pattern, and is great for lead vocals. I have used this microphone for nearly every imaginable recording at one time or another. When all else fails, the SM-58 can always be depended upon for a clear, even response. Like the SM-57, this mic is also available new for around a hundred dollars, and is worth every dime.

The Electrovoice RE-20, another workhorse of the industry, and found in nearly every major studio in the country. Created especially for critical recording, broadcast and sound re-inforcement, the RE-20 produces a flat but fat response over an unusually wide frequency range. This is the microphone most often associated with radio broadcast (disc Jockeys, etc) and is ideal for applications involving sound pressure in excess of 160 dB.
The RE-20 can be purchased for around $400.00.

I would also recommend the AKG C-414. With five polar patterns, this is indeed a versatile microphone, although some may find it a little pricey, as it usually sells for just under a $1,000.00 This microphone is ideal for vocals, brass and woodwinds, and is often a favorite for film scoring.

Predictably, as you become more familiar with the recording process, you’re microphone collection will grow accordingly. Don’t be afraid to experiment with whatever mics you may have available, as there are no hard and fast rules. Information on the subject is vast and easily obtainable, but nothing beats good old hands on experience. Recording should be fun.
Take your time, and enjoy the experience.

B. Thomas Cooper

Welcome to Sound & Recording

Welcome to Sound & Recording

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