Making Records: Blue Sprocket Pressing Plant Tour

January 2023

Harrisonburg, Virginia, is a city of 52,000 in the Shenandoah Valley, about two hours from Washington, DC. Roughly an hour from Charlottesville, Virginia, where you can visit Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and another Jeffersonian attraction, the University of Virginia, Harrisonburg itself is home to two well-established colleges: James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University. James Madison is a public university of over 21,000 students, while EMU is private and has about 1200 students.

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What I Heard: 2022

December 2022

It was the year live music was supposed to be back. And it was, in some senses—although pandemic-related restrictions continued to play havoc with musicians’ travel and festival schedules, and artists continued to reflect on the theme of “What the hell just happened?”

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Fix It in the Mix: Mixing

September 2022

Woo-hoo! You made it through the recording process, but your work’s not done yet. Now you have to take all those separate tracks and turn them into something other people can listen to—and, ideally, something they want to hear. This process is called mixing or mixing down. The mixdown stage can seem daunting at first, especially when you have many tracks to mix. However, with practice, it’s not that big a deal on a modern digital audio workstation (DAW). It’s easier if you’re also the person who did the recording—you’re already familiar with the tracks, and you were probably working on the mix during the recording. But that’s not essential, and for this column I’ll be assuming that someone else recorded the tracks. The same principles apply to both situations.

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Fix It in the Mix: Recording a Rock Band

December 2021

Last time, I talked about recording solo artists and duets and offered some general advice about recording. This time I’m going to focus on recording a standard rock band: drums, bass guitar, guitar(s), keyboard, and vocals. Working with a band requires more experimentation, and it will challenge you to come up with more creative solutions than recording and mixing smaller acts. But in my book, that’s part of the fun. So this time, I’ll concentrate mainly on process and production tips to help make the final product (your music) better; they may also save you some time and a few headaches. I’ve already covered some basics on microphones and how they “hear” in prior articles, so if you haven’t read those articles, now’s a good time to catch up.

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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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