Fix It in the Mix: A Seven Nation Army of Me

September 2021

This month in “Fix It in the Mix,” I’ll focus on recording music, like modern pop and electronica, that’s primarily non-acoustic but may have one or a few acoustic instruments thrown in (including vocals, the original acoustic instrument).

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Fix It in the Mix: All About Mike(s)

July 2021

Last time in “Fix It in the Mix,” I talked a lot about planning a recording session. I’ll talk a bit more about that here, but this installment is mostly about the process of recording itself. I don’t focus too much on precisely where to place the microphone(s) for any given instrument—there are countless sources for the best way to mike, for example, a drum kit or an acoustic guitar (all of which are both right and wrong). This series is more about giving you the most basic tools for translating what you hear in your head into something playable on a stereo. And in this installment I talk about how microphones “hear,” and give you some basic techniques for getting them to give you the sound you want.

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Fix It in the Mix: The Plan

May 2021

In March, I detailed one way you could set up a fully functional home recording studio for a total cost of under $5000 USD. This month’s column is the first installment in a companion series about how to effectively plan and use such a low-cost home studio. While I made sure the products recommended in my original article were of good quality, and refer to them again here, that piece was more a proof of concept than a shopping list.

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The Gear You'll Need to Set Up Your Own Recording Studio

March 2021

Hi—I’m glad you’re back. In this month’s column I share the results of the thought experiment I teased you about last month.

Not very long ago, the cost of the gear needed to effectively record a band or any kind of small music group would be prohibitive without your having to take out a loan. But with today’s powerful computers and the increasing sophistication of hardware modeling, working entirely “in the box”—that is, not using a traditional mixing console and such analog processing hardware as compressors and equalizers, but their software equivalents—is not only feasible but is increasingly the norm.

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Mark Phillips: Audiophile, Recording Engineer, and Now SoundStage! Contributor

February 2021

Hi, and welcome to SoundStage! Xperience. My name’s Mark Phillips, and I’ve had a lifelong love affair with music and audio. I suspect that’s true for y’all, too. My path here to the SoundStage! family of websites may be unusual, but then, there’s no established career path for audio reviewing. Being a good writer isn’t enough—just as important are years of critical listening. I liken it to the training a sommelier goes through, but refining the sense of hearing instead of smell and taste. My training in critical listening came from being a recording engineer, first for classical and jazz recitals at a large university, and later, mostly rock in my own studio and independently. I left the field not long before the digital audio workstation (DAW) revolutionized recording.

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Dire Straits on MoFi Vinyl

March 2020

In 1978, when Dire Straits released their first album, Dire Straits, punk and new wave were rising, and disco’s days were numbered. A glance at the albums released that year, however, shows that there was still interest in the roots-based music that was Dire Straits’ specialty. Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits’ songwriter and lead singer, wrote songs that took in jazz, folk, blues, and more, and his lead-guitar playing was imaginative and elegant. Guitar heroes by then were unfashionable, but Knopfler’s emphasis on melody over flash and his skills as a composer made his band -- younger brother and rhythm guitarist David Knopfler, bassist John Illsley, and drummer Pick Withers -- stand out from the pack.

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Best of the Decade in Jazz

December 2019

My first best-of-the-decade list was a defensive reaction to the frequently revived notion that jazz is dying, or worse. Those kinds of negative notions were swirling again in 2009, so I decided to look back at the recordings that had caught my ear over the previous ten years.

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Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea Reissued in Blue Note's Tone Poet Series

This year is the 80th anniversary of Blue Note Records, the venerable jazz label established by Alfred Lion and Max Margulis in 1939. While other record companies played important roles in documenting jazz, Blue Note’s presence in the marketplace overshadows them. It’s doubtful that any other jazz label is better known, or has more recordings currently available in various formats -- the number of Blue Note titles in circulation on CD, as downloads, or on recent vinyl pressings is staggering. Blue Note is also a favorite of audiophile reissue labels, several of which have licensed albums from its catalog to release as new LPs.

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Bernie Grundman Remasters Frank Zappa

November 2018

Twenty-five years after Frank Zappa’s death from prostate cancer at age 52, it’s still difficult to assess his career, in part because it was so multifaceted. Composer, guitarist, satirist, free-speech activist -- Zappa had many sides, and while they often overlapped, it’s easier to appreciate each of them separately: he was almost compulsively prolific. In his last 27 years he released 64 albums, many of them multi-disc sets, and since then the Zappa Family Trust has released an additional 49 albums, bringing the total of available Zappa releases to 111.

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Two I Missed the First Time Around: Judee Sill and Murray Head

July 2018

By the early 1970s, rock music was firmly established as a cultural force, and the influx of cash from increased album sales gave record companies incentive to try new things. It was a time when musicians beyond category, such as Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, could have recording contracts with a major label. The ambition of bands both famous and obscure over the previous five years had opened the minds of listeners to all kinds of possibilities, and that willingness to permit and encourage experimentation extended to pop music of all genres. Stevie Wonder, to choose just one example, released some of his most ambitious and groundbreaking recordings in the early ’70s.

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