21 April 2015 by Mike on music

Mainstream success is super imminent

Life since the move is mostly an endless series of boxes, but I have managed to get myself embroiled in one of the weirdest artistic situations of my almost 20 years of playing music.

I'd seen the Make-A-Band posters around town but hadn't really given much thought to what it even was. Erika saw an ad in the Eugene Weekly and convinced me that I was sufficiently musical and lacking in dignity to do it. So what is it? Basically, a bunch of musicians audition for 6 producers, who pick them to form 6 bands. The bands then perform in a competition.

Make-A-Band Poster

The producers are local studio owners, record engineers, and (in the case of the ones who picked me) people in the business of video game scoring. The auditions are 3 minutes. And the competition is downtown, outdoors, for the whole damn ass world to see.

Even with Sharks, I don't feel like I ever took traditional, above-ground routes to musical performance and networking. It was always the DIY, punk rock thing — which of course in Austin is the only way anybody manages because it's a "who you know" situation and I've rarely known anything or anybody. But regardless of how this thing turns out, I've met some like-minded people and many of the folks making the Eugene music scene tick.

So here's the band, Gravity Nocturne. We're doing a jazzy, updated take on trip-hop. We're also all like 21, except me.

Gravity Nocturne

Don't worry, I'll be back to playing for nobody soon.

17 April 2015 by Mike on front-end

Smashing runs down Style Guide tools

Pretty good overview here.

At D&B we started with the PHP-based Style Guide Boilerplate tool but ended up maintaining the most low-impact (but highly manual) system possible. It was a single web page. Comments in the HTML told developers where to grab pieces of markup. Not high-tech, and it required a lot of manual maintenance. But it was easy to keep it looking just like the PSD version.

At PAS I implemented StyleDocco using Grunt-StyleDocco. Display leaves a lot to be desired so I ended up diving into the source to modify it. I can now change the template (which is a simple Jade file) and style if necessary.

Why StyleDocco? Short answer: it shows the CSS code. This was important to our developers. StyleDocco creates a new page for every Less file, splits it up by the <h1> elements in the comments, and shows those pieces alongside the HTML and samples.

08 April 2015 by Mike

RIP to Stan Freberg

I'll be honest, I wasn't sure that Stan Freberg was still alive when I heard the news he'd died yesterday (from Weird Al Yankovic's Instagram). But I spent a great deal of my childhood listening to him, thanks to my parents' taste for vintage comedy.

Of all the things that played in our house — like Paul Simon or Dave Brubeck or Louis Armstrong — Spike Jones and Stan Freberg stand out. Simon's inscrutable lyrics are not something a kid can identify with. But if you're even remotely aware of Dragnet, then Freberg's "St. George and the Dragonet" is a hoot.

So maybe I get just a little extra sad thinking about Stan Freberg than the average celebrity death. My mind free-associates his voices and sketches with my mother. But at the end of the day, his work is funny. It's clean, but not cheesy. It references pop culture of its time, but feels timeless.

Check out the entirety of his radio show on the Internet Archive.

07 April 2015 by Mike on pro tools | audio | plugins

My favorite recent mixing plugins

The plugins I've been using lately have changed dramatically from when I started mixing. Sometimes I'm guilty of buying into hype, but I've started to discover what I like. And I'm always waiting for it to go on special...

Criteria

So what makes a good plugin? For me, it's less is more: less options, less possibilities to twiddle, and less graphical EQ curves. Sight is a strong sense, and it can fool even an experienced ear.

EQ

PSP Audioware McQ - This 4-band plus high/low filters isn't a true analog modeler, it's a hybrid. But it sounds great, is easy to use, and doesn't hit your processor hard. So really, it's safe to put on just about everything. Its bands are hard to read (Why is it ".10kHz" instead of "100Hz"?), but they're highly controllable. So you can do both broad strokes and somewhat detailed surgery.

PSP McQ

Waves API 560 - Under ideal cirumstances I'd have the whole Waves API 500 series bundle, but this one went on sale. It's fun to have a graphic EQ sometimes, especially one with only a few bands. It sounds great on a wide variety of sources too.

Waves Scheps 76 - Another modeler, this one after a console. The gimmick is the integrated preamp. The bands aren't fixed on this EQ but the knobs have huge steps so you can only dial in a few possible frequencies each. The Qs are not variable. It sounds great on drums, especially kicks. Given those few bands, it's easy to crank the 60Hz and then throw one on the bass and drop the 60Hz there so they don't fight. The preamp section can add smooth overdrive to the bass as well.

Maag EQ4 - An incredible EQ. It's got four fixed bands, a fixed Q, and some frankly weird frequency choices. But those bands were supposedly picked to cause the least amount of phase effects. It sounds absolutely magical. It's possible I bought into the hype with this one, but I got a deal and I can't say I feel any regret. I do feel almost guilty using it though; it requires barely any thought to make vocals, acoustic guitars, and even some drums sound amazing.

Maag EQ4

Nomad Factory PulseTec - Nomad Factory is the Rodney Dangerfield of plugin companies. I'm not sure if this thing sounds remotely like a real Pultec but it goes on all my master busses. It was completely bonkers to me at first to be able to simultaneously boost and cut the same frequencies, but man it does the trick. Not great on the top end (the Maag can handle that), but it thickens and tightens mids and low-mids.

Tokyo Dawn Labs SlickEQ - Another super transparent phase-free EQ, but this one is geared toward the master buss and costs nothing.

Dynamics

Waves CLA-76 - I waited a great long while for this to go on sale. I've always wanted an 1176 that wasn't the Bomb Factory BF76 that comes with Pro Tools. It's everything I wanted it to be and I use it everywhere — primarily drums but it'll tame a problematic source quickly and with character. At its full price, it probably still wouldn't be bad.

Waves CLA-76

Waves Renaissance Axx - I wonder how many people use this thing. I mean, everyone's got the Native Power Pack, right? But Renaissance Axx is one of those tools that feels like cheating. Just slide the threshold down and watch it magically even out guitars and basses. It uses so little processor I get pretty generous slapping it on guitar tracks. I've heard a few pros cop to using this thing and why the hell not?

T-Racks Opto Compressor - IK Multimedia is another company that gets a lot of poop from people. But I've had their opto compressor for a long time and it's one of my favorite tools for vocals. It can open up a weak track by an inexperienced vocalist who's all over the place or who didn't project. You can get miles of compression out of the thing with much more transparency than an 1176. Sometimes I'll double a difficult vocalist's track, overdrive it, crank the mids and highs with a smooth EQ like the Maag, and then flatten it out with this compressor. Mixing in a little bit of that adds presence and is probably a super old trick not worth mentioning. But this is a good comp to do it with.

Tokyo Dawn Labs Kotelnikov - I'm still learning this feedback compressor, but it's smooth and transparent. You almost have to watch the meters to see that it's compressing, but it can make the master buss sound great. And though you can spring for the "Gentlemen's Edition" (?), the basic version is super great and costs zero dollars.

DDMF The Strip - This is actually a full channel strip so it's both and EQ and compressor, in switchable order. It has a Neve look and that's the starting point for the modeling. But this amazing plug goes a little farther into original territory than most models. DDMF is one of the few developers who can get away with charging next to nothing for plugins yet still get respect from GearSlutz. I got it for $30 as a launch special and I'm crazy impressed. Even the knob motion reveals just how much thought went into this. The developer is also a mixer, and it shows.

Flux Bittersweet - Sometimes you need simple transient shaping that'll get the job done without interfering with other dynamics processing. How's one knob? How's free? It sounds nice too.

Other Stuff

Blue Cat Patchwork - The Blue Cat folks make some great stuff. This is a simple but flexible plugin chainer that gives me solid performance loading VSTs or AU plugins into Pro Tools. DDMF's Metaplugin would also do the trick, probably very nicely as well.

Blue Cat FreqAnalyst and IK T-Racks Meters - With these two free metering tools, I can monitor what my sound "looks like" for the low cost of free.

31 March 2015 by Mike on software | links | markdown | mac

Thanks, Byword

David Sparks still loves Byword and by golly I do too. I write most everything that's longer than this post in it, although lately I've been running things through Hemingway as well.

I struggle with the hype that inevitably surrounds each new and shiny Markdown or RTF editor that costs $40. Most do literally nothing that Byword hasn't been doing for years now for five bucks.