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Friday, May 18, 2007

Choosing the Right Microphone

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

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

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Taking Song Lyrics Literally

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

Other than love, music may be the closest thing to real magic
most people will ever experience. A song can lift us up or bring us down, inspire us, or maybe just help us fall to sleep at night. Music can be a very personal experience, or shared by thousands.

As a professional musician and songwriter, I find that my opinion often falls from the fray, as I neither adhere to, nor do I encourage reliance on a formulaic approach to lyrics. Instead, I prefer to concentrate on the essence of my song-craft with the understanding that the lyrics are an integral aspect.

Cryptic messages or entendre hidden within song lyrics are certainly nothing new. For centuries, many found this to be the safest way to express political or religious dissent. The Mother Goose Rhymes are a classic example. Some lyrics rely on the nonsensical turn of a phrase. A particular rhyme scheme should be guided by the muse, and little else.

Of course, each song should be approached individually. If your goal is to write a hit song, the rules begin to get slippery. Obviously, the lyrics for a dance number should reflect the spirit of the mood. One can't be afraid to "get down and boogie oogie oogie" when that is what the song calls for. By the same token, one shouldn't ignore the value behind lyrics like the overtly pedantic "The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald".

When writing for myself, I always write what I feel, and for me, the little twists and turns are all part of the puzzle. This of course, explains why you have probably never heard my records. Legendary record producer Tony Bongiovi likes to describe hit songs as "Cheeseburger Music", easy to identify with, and easy to digest. The more twists and turns you throw in, the less your chance of connecting on a grand scale.

Still, where would we be without lyrics like "I am the Walrus" or "Gabba Gabba Hey"? Both, although seriously stilted, represent delicious song-craft. There are no rules that can't be broken. Don't be afraid to challenge yourself.

I am by no means suggesting you find a way to excuse bad ideas. Settling for less than your best will not bring lasting satisfaction. Push those lyrics hard, and then push them a little harder. Be brave and be diligent. Make those words count.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

So You Want To Play Guitar

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

So your want to play the guitar?

I don't blame you, really. The guitar has been one of the most popular musical instruments for nearly a half a century, and was a major factor in the development of modern music. While players like Duane Eddy and Carl Perkins defined the guitar sound of 1950's pop culture, innovators like Les Paul and Dan Armstrong were pushing the technical limitations. As the quality of the instrument improved its reputation grew exponentially, until no self respecting teenager would be caught without one. Where would Rock' music be today without the advent of the electric guitar?

There are many styles of guitar available for purchase, each with a specific purpose in mind. In this article we shall attempt to cover the basics without boggling the mind.

It al began with the Classical' guitar, an acoustic instrument strung with genuine cat-gut' strings. These days however, most classical players prefer nylon strings, plucked or strummed with the fingers. By the onset of the US civil war, C.F. Martin had ventured into guitar production, manufacturing guitars that had much in common with the violin. Soon the acoustic Dreadnaught' became the guitar of choice.

Unfortunately, the guitar remained a rather personal instrument, not loud enough for an ensemble setting, relegated primarily for use by folk musicians of the era. Around 1945 that all changed with electrical amplification. Within a decade, pop music as we know it would change forever. Songs like "How Much Is That Doggy in the Window" vanished from the airwaves, overwhelmed by the new sound coming from groups like The Ventures. Already it was becoming apparent the electrified version of the guitar was far more versatile that it's acoustic counterpart.

Even now, the guitar continues it's domination over other musical instruments. Guitars are readily available, and relatively easy to learn. Still, and you may quote me on this no two guitars are exactly alike.

When choosing the right guitar, one should never be afraid to ask questions. Although the purchase price will almost certainly be higher at your local guitar dealer, I strongly suggest you begin your search with the experts. Unless you really understand what your needs are, I encourage you to steer away from the pawn shops, as they seldom have your best interest in mind. Whenever possible, take a friend along, preferably one with knowledge of guitars. Don't hesitate to think twice. Take your time and choose your instrument wisely. As your playing improves your taste in guitars will become more discriminating.

Learning to play the guitar can be fun and rewarding, but the wrong guitar will only cause you grief. Ultimately your choice of instrument will be determined by your personal taste and experience. The decision is yours.




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