I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the AES Automotive Conference in San Francisco with my colleague, and Man Made’s Creative Director, VR and Technology, Joel Douek. We were there to talk about the challenges we faced on a recent project: creating an iconic sound for an electric vehicle that also satisfied a forthcoming global regulation.

The electric vehicle (EV) regulation is being implemented in multiple countries to warn passengers about approaching electric cars. Since they have no internal combustion engine, they tend to be almost silent. Ironically, many in the automotive field have worked toward this silent operation; their utopia is a world without sonic pollution from millions of combustible engines. The reality however, is that a silent vehicle would have real negative implications for people with accessibility issues, such as vision imparement. Hence the regulation was born, and EVs will require sound when idle, in drive and reverse.

Our presentation was given in a workshop format, so industry professionals had the opportunity to ask questions and comment. It was fascinating to learn how much of a challenge this regulation was to everyone in the industry!

In automotive development, car design and manufacture is usually locked years before the consumer sees the car. In this case, the auto manufacturers had to retrofit existing designs with playback systems (speakers, amplifiers) to cover this regulation. One immediate factor is cost. Adding just a few dollars for a tiny, weatherproof speaker would result in millions of dollars spent across the fleet of vehicles.

Another challenge was the regulation spec itself. Our task was to create a regulation sound, that is distinct, iconic and branded. This would allow consumers and pedestrians to identify the vehicle’s make and model. We use musicality as the basis of creation, which provides a cohesive set of elements to work with, plus adds an identity and sense of emotion to the sound. Based on the sound of an internal combustion engine, the regulation lent itself towards non-tonal sound (white noise).

We heard from several manufacturers who had the same issue. Since the regulation requires that the sound increase in pitch, speed, and volume, it meant that any sound would get increasingly shrill as the car accelerated. That might be good for alerting pedestrians, but it’s not particularly pleasant. Taking this a step further, with thousands of EVs on the roads, all emitting a shrill sound, you could imagine the potential for sonic trash!

We feel we succeeded in creating an iconic, branded sound for this particular car maker that also meets the regulation. What remains to be seen (and heard) is what happens when every EV (and even some hybrids) emits its own custom sound.

After hearing so many of our frustrations shared back to us over the course of our AES workshop, our hope is that the regulation will eventually be re-evaluated. Once all of these cars hit the road, other future technologies may help keep us all from a cacophony of vehicle sounds: cars will become more intelligent and may start having a unified communication protocol. Whereas cars right now (for lack of a better term) are “dumb,” blindly sending out sound to alert us. Future communications could allow cars to be more intelligent when they need to emit sound, perhaps using proximity detection, and only using a very directional sound on the side where a warning is needed.

We’ll see what the future holds, perhaps we’ll end up back in that silent utopia, with cars warning us only when needed.

I want to offer a simple Public Service Announcement about keeping your technology working for you:

Restart your computer. Right now. And while it’s restarting, close all the apps on your phone and power it off and back on again. It’s ok, do it right now, I’ll wait…

Welcome back, and that wasn’t too hard, right? And why would I ask you to do that? Because, I kid you not, I solve 98% of tech-related issues this way (in addition to being a Producer/Creative Director, I’m also the Director of Studio and Office Technology at Man Made).

Staff members often approach me with issues like “Hey, my email isn’t working” or “my calendar isn’t syncing” and my first response is always “when’s the last time you restarted?” If you have to think about it – it’s been too long.

This is the simplest way I know to eliminate troubleshooting steps. Technology continues developing to be always-on and ubiquitous, so we rarely consider that we need to shut things off. If I may make a flawed physical analogy, how well would you function if you hadn’t slept for 2-3 months straight and you were doing multiple tasks 8-12 hours a day? You’d need a break too!

Even if you’re not having issues, restarting your computer and phone each day will help them run more efficiently (i.e., faster) and eliminate potential situations that might drain your battery. Think of it like starting the day with a refreshing shower, you’re likely to be more productive because of it.

It’s easy to build into a daily routine (I restart mine every morning when I get to the studio). Any of you who work with Pro Tools, Logic, etc. on a daily basis know how helpful this can be. We’re always restarting before any big recording session, and often several times throughout the day as the production team is opening and closing lots of different projects.

The postscript to this is that there are absolutely things that can’t be solved with restarting. Physical hardware problems like your logic board, graphics card or display failing are not going to be solved from restarting. And applications can have issues that will persist even if you do restart (corrupt files, no more disk space, etc.). If you happen to use a virtual machine on your computer (running Windows via Parallels on a Mac for example), you’re going to need to restart the virtual machine and your Mac.

In conclusion, if you can’t connect to the internet or network, an application is frozen, or your device is simply running slowly please do every tech person a favor and restart first. If the issue persists then let’s get in there and find out what’s going on!

Now I’m gonna restart, see you in a minute.

Brian Scherman is a Producer / Creative Director at Man Made Music. After restarting, talk to him on Twitter @brianscherman.

Image courtesy of Unit Audio

This blog post is about commitment. Not the type my mother is always harping about, but commitment to a sound. Just like in life, if we leave ourselves infinite possibilities, we’re left floating with indecision, and miss opportunities to create something truly great. This idea came up recently as I move from tracking to the mixing phase with the fantastic hard rock band I’ve been working with called Dangerhole.

When I pulled up a song from the record, I found myself scrolling through lots of tracks. It’s typical to have multiple microphones capturing one source (for example, a mic on the inside of the bass drum to capture the click of the beater, and a mic outside to capture the low end sustain of the resonant head), but this means that recording a three-piece band can end up being thirty-plus tracks. In modern production this could even be considered spartan!

I knew that to have the best chance at a great mix, I had to get my head out of the details and into the bigger “picture” of how the track would sound as a whole. This would mean simplifying the session so that when I wanted the kick drum louder, I would be turning up one track called “Kick,” versus balancing an inside/outside mic. This would allow me to flow easier through the mix process and focus on what’s really important: How does the song feel? Does it have enough impact? Etc.

Though I could have used the features in my DAW to print these tracks together, I wanted to take advantage of our studio’s great selection of outboard analog equipment, so I turned to a process known as analog summing. The basics of analog summing are that you send audio out from the computer into a box that “sums” it all together, then re-record that summed audio back into the computer.

This basic idea is a decades-old process for mixing music. Traditionally mixing a record meant sending tracks from analog tape through a console, and all of these tracks were summed by the console then re-recorded. Tape got replaced by digital recorders and computers, and in more recent decades, many have turned to mixing entirely inside the computer (“inside the box” is common parlance).The purpose of this post is not to argue at all which process is “better” as many fantastic records have been made both on only analog equipment and created entirely inside a computer. Each is a tool with its own sets of benefits and challenges.

The beauty of analog summing is that it allows one to take advantage of both processes, using the computer for what it’s excellent at (editing, recall, unlimited tracks) and using analog equipment for what it’s best at (immediacy, tone, headroom). There are many excellent boxes on the market for summing audio, but I turned to Unit Audio’s New Unit.

Unit Audio is a small company run by Terry Auger out in Nashville, TN. I chose their New Unit, which allows for sixteen inputs of audio, and the first two can be switched from left-and-right to center. This is a great feature, because without it, if I sent my kick to input one and my snare to input two, the kick would come out the left speaker and the snare out the right speaker. Flip two switches on the front panel of the box and they both land in the center.

Unit Audio’s summing boxes are passive, meaning that when you send a bunch of tracks to the box, they get summed together but are much quieter than when they started. You use a microphone preamp to bring these back up to an appropriate level when you’re recording the result back into your session. An advantage of this, is that one can use different preamps to “flavor” their mix, since all preamps inherently have a color based on their components. Man Made has several high quality preamps, and after some experimentation I settled on our pair of Avalon 737s. They have a fantastic sound to them which I would describe as “classy.” Might seem counterintuitive for a hard rock record, but to my ears this allows all of the distorted guitars and hard hitting drums to be heard clearly and distinctly.

So after connecting all of the components, I set about mixing down my tracks, and started printing stems (a stem for kick, snare, toms, etc), and now my thirty-plus track session has become sixteen. Besides the benefits of freeing up CPU power, it’s also just so much easier to see all the elements of these songs at a glance, and now I can commit to what’s really important: mixing a great song.

Image courtesy of Eventide

I’ve been working for the last few months with a great up and coming Soulful Hard Rock band called Dangerhole (amazing name). One piece of gear that keeps proving it’s usefulness during the creative tracking process is the Eventide Mixing Link.

The name “Mixing Link” is very apt name for this versatile piece of gear, as it can operate as a clean and very capable preamp (including phantom power) but also has the added benefit of allowing you to connect stomp boxes to the signal chain. In the past, I would have needed several pieces of gear if I had wanted to say connect a distortion stomp box to a high quality condenser microphone (try sticking that in front of a kick drum!). Not only does the Mixing Link make this effortless, it also has a host of additional features that make it even more useful, notably offering a mix knob to the amount of signal coming from the stomp box. So if your distorted kick drum is a bit too bombastic, you can mix the distortion with the clean signal to find just the right balance.

When tracking drums for Dangerhole, we started out with a basic drum setup that sounded great, but was missing grit to tie it in with the heavy distorted guitars. I placed a Placid Audio Copperphone (a very cool sounding lo-fi mic made from vintage AM radio and telephone components) between the snare and kick, then routed to the Mixing Link. I then connected a Fulltone Full-Drive 2 pedal to the FX loop and we were immediately greeted with a dirty, lo-fi channel that added terrific edge to the kick and snare.

While recording guitar overdubs, one of the tracks was calling out for some kind of eerie pad, so we connected the guitarist to a ’50s era Silvertone amp, then parked our trusty Placid Audio Copperphone about three feet from the amp. I then routed the Copperphone into the Mixing Link, then connected a Boss TE-2 Tera Echo and Electroharmonix Holy Grail Reverb pedal (set to spring) to the FX loop. The Tera Echo is a very interesting delay and ambience pedal. Boss doesn’t divulge much about how it works, but to my ears it sounds like a filtered delay that at higher feedback settings moves into delay/reverb territory, and the Holy Grail is a fantastic sounding reverb pedal. When doubling the main riff, this new sound was almost reminiscent of church bells which perfectly complemented the brooding feel of the track, and with the mix knob we were able to get just the right balance of dry and effected signals.

Beyond the capabilities of connecting effects pedals, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the preamp in the Mixing Link. It is clean and noticeably quiet even at very high gain settings. Speaking of gain, it has both a low and high gain switch, and it had no problem providing ample volume to several dynamics I’ve tried (which often need a lot of gain to get them to a useable level). I would have no qualms using this as a standalone preamp if my other options were in use.

One final feature I haven’t had the chance to try is connecting to an amplifier by means of the dedicated Amp Output, which I could see a very useful to create a second FX loop for a guitar or easily connecting an acoustic instrument to an amp with the bonus of a blendable effects chain. Back in my experimental electronic days I used to connect my saxophone through several pedals and I wish this had been available at the time.

In summary, Eventide should be commended for making a terrific sounding, quality piece of gear that has tons of creative uses in the studio. Now go connect some pedals and get tracking!

Dangerhole will be releasing their EP in the Spring of 2015. For more info please visit dangerhole.com

We’re often called upon here at Man Made to craft iconic and ownable sounds for Brands and Networks. To that end, I was looking to add a tool to our arsenal that would help us record unique sounds at the source, and with a little research I stumbled upon the Placid Audio Copperphone. We purchased and added it to our mic locker about 9 months ago, and soon after it found its way into numerous recordings where it’s shown itself to be a very valuable asset.

The Placid Audio Copperphone is a dynamic microphone housed in a beautiful copper exterior, and is built with vintage telecommunications components. Besides its beautiful appearance, the shape of the microphone causes a mechanical filtering effect and a resonant chamber, so what you end up with is a limited bandwidth sound not dissimilar to AM radio or telephone filtering. This has proven useful in a variety of situations:

We recently completed a sonic branding package for a fast-casual Mexican restaurant, and part of the creative inspiration were the works of Ennio Morricone (known for his sweeping western scores), as well as the type of soundtrack you would hear in a Quentin Tarantino film. The copper phone was perfect for this. On its own it shined for a distinct whistle melody, as well as a final strummed guitar chord (adding an instant “vintage” quality), and also worked terrifically when blended with other microphones. We tracked an accordion with a spaced pair of Neumann KM184’s and the copper phone acting as a “mid” mic. It filled out the midrange wonderfully, and the added grittiness was perfect for the tone of the track.

The microphone can handle exceptionally high sound pressure levels (SPL), so I’ve also had great success using it as a kit mic directly in front of a drum kit, hitting it hard with a Universal Audio 6176, blending that with other microphones for a “sampled” sounding 90s breakbeat. It’s also worked well in conjunction with a Royer 122 Ribbon mic on a Bari Sax for some vintage tone that still cut through the mix.

I’ve never had the opportunity to use it live, but it has excellent feedback rejection, and could be a great tool to switch between verse and chorus tones, or just for that extra bit of nuance on a particular word or phrase. It has been used by the Black Keys, Norah Jones, and apparently as crowd mics for Rush live tours.

So If you’re in the market for instant vibe, I recommend you pick up a Placid Audio Copperphone.