A New Setup For 2017

UPDATE FOR JULY 2017:

StudioVJuly2017.png

My fifth home studio setup, thus Studio V.  After years of analog PortaStudio’s and a bit of time with desktop DAW’s, the iOS platform is now my chosen Music Production vehicle. An iPad with iOS DAW Auria Pro, it’s Fab Filter plugins and the scores of synth, guitar & drum apps available is just as powerful as a MacBook with ProTools was three or four years ago.

 

I try to avoid being political in an overt way, prefer to let my lyrics and songs do the communicating. But as a life long Democrat, unashamed to be called a liberal (or even socialist for that matter), I feel I have to say this as the country spins into a regressive minefield with a sociopathic fraud at the helm:

2017 is more volitile, divisive and uncertain than 1967 was. We need the healing power of music now more than ever.

In the face of adversity, creativity is vital. I don’t just love to play music, or want to write music…I have to play music, I need to write music. I hope musicians young and old begin to use music as a vehicle for change again. I hope the microphone becomes a microscope aimed at the ills of our society. We must use the greatest form of art there is to do more than just sell soda and pound away endlessly at a party.

All the best in 2017, be safe, be creative…

Original setup in new room Jan. 2017:

Studio V Session

A session I did before the old desk came back. For a solo musician doing the engineering too, this set up is very cool. Guitar, bass, vocal overdubs, synths, etc can all be added from the sweet spot. Luckily the room sounds pretty decent.

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Neil Young’s “No More” on SNL 1989

On the night of Saturday, 30 September 1989, I was watching SNL and getting sleepy. It was midway through the show,  (I remember it not being a particularly funny episode) and Neil Young was the musical guest. I was watching for him really.

He was touring in support of his new LP, “Freedom”, and the hit off that record, “Keep On Rocking In The Free World”, was played first. An ‘encore’ post 12:30AM late segment was him doing “Needle And The Damage Done”. But the performance that shook my soul was his second performance, where he played another song off the new album, called “No More”. 

The dozey, half asleep state I was in vanished as the opening chords played through my little CRT TV’s speaker. I sat up, covers thrown off, listening to this incredible song be masterfully performed by Neil and his band, mostly Crazy Horse members.

I can’t stress enough how much this one performance, on an SNL show no less, affected me. I had not yet started playing guitar, that was a few years off, but I played drums in the marching & jazz band at school and had my first drum set for about a year. The Beatles, CCR, Clapton and so many other bands and musicians I grew up on were already deeply rooted in me. The music my Dad turned me on to, constantly played around the house and in the car, was the soundtrack to my life, as cornball as it sounds. Music was omnipresent.

But this Neil song really touched a nerve. Along with the music I had sponged via osmosis all throughout my life, and then later with the Who (especially Quadrophenia) at 20 years old, this moment was key in my decision, and really my realization, that music was to be my life’s purpose.

I added a comment to the YouTube video that says some of this, just a quick paragraph, but I needed to get this down and in linking the video hopefully turn others on to this lost gem of Neil’s catalog. Big fans know of it of course, but it is virtually unknown to the general rock fan who knows him for “Heart of Gold”, “Old Man”, “Ohio” and maybe “Harvest Moon”.

I am glad I found it again. I had it, or another upload of it, on a favorites playlist but it erased or something when I changed some settings on the YouTube app a long time back. I always kept an eye out for it on Comedy Central SNL reruns and it was on some greatest music performance show they had years ago, that was the last time I saw it on TV.

Give it a listen and check out the studio version to compare. When looking up some of the stuff on the “Freedom” album last night I read where some critics have cited this version of “No More” as the definitive take on it. Mentions of Neil’s general concert performances from the period also site this song as a show highlight and how it showed Young at the top of his mid-career game. I agree, he was fierce in this era, when the then newly minted Bush Sr. was continuing Reagan’s pro-rich, pro-gun, anti-social program/fuck the poor elitist agenda. 

The more things change…yep, the more they stay the same.

Check it out and be cool…

JohnStevensonMusic.com & Studio V Are Up And Running…

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The JohnStevensonMusic.com site is up and running and will feature all the links and information to my new music streams, downloads and general updates. The site is merged with my  old blog so some older stuff will be up as well. I’ve updated the featured article Studio Stories with some information on my current gear and plans for new material. My newest home recording setup, Studio V, is working out great and is detailed in the Studio Stories section. Be cool…

The Death of Audio Fidelity

I just started another semester at the College of Southern Nevada and because this very blog was started as an assignment from one of my classes, I’ve decided to post an editorial I had to write for my PHIL 102 (Philosophy) class. It’s about the death of audio fidelity, or how people just don’t give a shit how their music sounds anymore. Enjoy!

Audio fidelity, the sound quality of music or recordings, evolved through time becoming valuable to consumers and not just audio purists, the “audiophiles”. But over the past 15 to 20 years audio fidelity has all but evaporated in the consumer realm and the public seems to not care at all. Coming from Edison’s cylinder, 78 RPM Victrolla’s, 33 1/3 Long Play vinyl records through to cassette’s and then Compact Disc’s, audio fidelity improved as each new technology took hold. Music lovers used to the scratchy and tinny sound of 78’s of the 1930’s & ’40’s rejoiced when the Long Play vinyl record brought with it improved sound quality, longer selections and a more durable format. Similarly, the listeners of the 1980’s stood gobsmacked when they heard the seemingly miraculous improvement CD’s were over LP’s; lifelike, digital sound was available on a shiny disc with instant, random access. For many fans CD recordings are the best they’ve ever heard their favorite music sound. CD’s sounded great to most and held strong through to the end of the 20th century.

Something strange happened as the new millenium dawned. CD’s receeded as a format to, for the first time ever, technologies that provided lesser sound quality than the format before it. MP3’s, Windows Media Files, Apple’s iTunes format and other digital file scheme’s have decreased audio fidelity with compression algorithms and other techniques that smash as much information into the smallest file space. In turn, for the sake of convienence and quantity, audio fidelity has evaporated. While some, including myself, bemoan the loss of quality and availability of music that “sounds good”, the majority of people don’t seem to mind-especially the younger, record buying public. They’ve been raised to not know any better, getting their first taste of music through an iPod or other device that inherently will never have good audio fidelity. In addition, cheaply made earbuds that have extremely low quality drivers and sound quality are the main monitoring devices being used. Some even use their cellphone’s ‘speaker phone’ speaker as their main way of listening to music!

The problem for music lovers who love their audio fidelity too is that more and more artists are just releasing their music via MP3’s and other file formats only. Having a choice of CD or special issue vinyl helped us who loved great sounding recordings for a time but as the record labels fade into obsolescence they’ve ceased putting out multiple formats of an artists music. If you don’t use iTunes or something of that ilk, you won’t be listening to that song that’s bored itself into your head on anything that has great audio fidelity. The majority of people have become used to it. But many like myself are truly mourning the death of audio fidelity. It does not need to be audiophile quality, just with all of the great technology at our disposal today the fact that sound quality is actually decreasing is insane to me. Another culprit is the mastering being done to records in the recent past where all dynamics are squashed by extreme compression and limiting. It is supposedly done to make CD’s, MP3’s, etc. louder to cut through extreme radio and TV compression. Also it’s the old “louder sounds better” and if a digital master can be manipulated to stay right below “digital zero”, the 0db limit of digital recording, why not do it, right? No, wrong, it sounds like shit, whatever the reason.

Together with the “Loudness War” phenomenon of the past 10 to 15 years and the turn to digital formats and streaming, maybe expecting good audio fidelity is a moot point. It is now what it is going to be. The shame is that it’s just not new music that is affected, it is also the historic catalogs of the greats from the previous century who with constant reissues and remastering are equally robbed of their former sound quality. Some remastered albums are done very well, where a small level increase from a previous analog vinyl era mastered CD is very welcomed. Also minimal EQing and subtle noise reduction in older material can work wonders, done tastefully in small amounts. The difference between George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” releases come to mind in this regard. The original CD release was from a safety copy of the original master, again made in and for the vinyl age. Stylus jumps, distortion and EQ curves were all worries and considerations of a labels mastering house. The mastering engineer and disc cutters for vinyl pressing were mastering for the only mass market delivery system that mattered for decades, vinyl.

The new millennium version of “All Things Must Pass” was much different. Being sourced from the original analog mixes, it was truly digitally remastered with slight level increase and noise reduction. It would be heard on a variety of formats, files, CD’s and yes even a vinyl reissue. But the digital formats sounded great, not jacked up and robbed of dynamics and air. Some remasters aren’t so lucky and suffer from current mastering trap of loudness for loudness sake, remasters from Pink Floyd’s catalog to Dylan’s being victims. An article that goes into much greater detail is on the Sound On Sound site at this link.

Recording technology is so advanced now that any laptop with a USB audio interface and one of many DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) programs is as powerful as any professional studio was just a few years ago. Aside from the acoustics of the studio, excellent microphone and vintage gear selection and an assistant engineer, the tools are now available to every musicians who wants it. My recording history is written about in the Features section but I will say that the four track cassette Tascam 424 PortaStudio I began on in the early 1990’s was NOT the state of the art, current or past states! But I could work to make the recordings sound the best I could and not let the technology or lack thereof stop me from recording demos of my songster best I could. I continue that same attitude now recording digitally now, years later. I hope that artists and producers get hep to the fact that the false loudness and autotune take away from the humanity of the recordings…humans make mistakes and sometimes they feel and sound good. I also hope that the tech companies and public strive for better listening experiences and fidelity, even if the tech is made just for a perceived smaller consumer base. Neil Young is attempting it with the Pono Player without a lot of success but it’s a start. If this is just the way audio fidelity is going to stay and we’re all going to be listening to music on our smartphones can at least the speakers start getting better?

Just one cats opinion….be cool.

JRSIV’s uLoops Studio

uLoops Logo

If you’ve ever read this blog or spent five minutes discussing music and/or technology with me then you know how much I love uLoops (www.uloops.net). And I love the Android phones that run the uLoops app, especially my beloved Fender MyTouch 3G. In a previous post I detailed how my Fender MT3G was totally ruined by the Android 2.2 “Froyo” update sent “over the air” by T-Mobile a few months back. Going from a fun, functional, awesome little phone to a slow, buggy, aggravating plastic paperweight really pissed me off and T-Mo’s customer care got a healthy dose of my vitriol; and I got a MyTouch 4G upgrade for my trouble…

While I love my new MT4G, I missed my Fender phone for uLoops. It’s size was perfect; not too big, not too small. Not to mention it looks great, come on it’s a FENDER logo’d phone that just screams music and “I’m badass”. Moreover, (love that word), after some experimentation I kinda preferred the mic and speaker in the Fender MT3G over the 4G’s (even though you don’t really use the speaker to listen to uLoops stuff it’s good for quick listens) . So after the last few months of poking around the many Android forums and asking techie friends for ideas,  I finally found a way to get my Fender MT3G back to Android 1.6 and I am happy to report it works great.

If your Fender or 32A 3.5mm jack myTouch 3G didn’t take kindly to the OTA Froyo update you can use the method described here in this thread at the Android Forums of Phandroid.com to go back to the Android 1.6 “Donut” version that came with the phone originally. The xda developers forums also has info on getting back to 1.6 but this method doesn’t require rooting the phone and was really easy to pull off.

So my ‘uloops studio’ phone is back in action, along with the badass Bose IE2 earphones I use as my ‘monitors’. These in-ear cans are absolutely brilliant. They reproduce all frequencies without ‘hyping’ any segment of the frequency spectrum.  I tried several different earbuds and headphones to use in conjunction with uloops but none felt right. My old Sony MDR7506’s were too bulky to use with the portable recording format that uloops provides and the several cheaper earbuds ($20 to $40 range) were well…cheap. I also don’t like the isolation style earplug ends most in-ear buds have. Just too uncomfortable for long term use and if not precisely inserted they can distort the stereo image as well as bass response (it’s true Junior!).

The closest I came to the Bose set was Dr.Dre’s ibeats, but they were extremely bass heavy to me. I paid $100 for the ibeats and was able to exchange them for the Bose IE2’s, also near $100, and was blown away. Perfect highs, lows and a great fit; they don’t “plug” into the ear like most isolation buds, rather they sit in the ear canal providing some isolation but outside noise can still come in. If you’re into uloops or just love music you should really try the Bose IE2 headphones (Bose should hire me, no?).

It will never cease to amaze me that a little plastic device the size of a box of Chiclet’s can produce music that rivals stuff done in a full blown studio. Me and my brothers in our uLoops music co-op The Collective have no monetary interest in uLoops, but I can speak for them that we will do anything we can to spread the word and make it as successful an endeavor as possible. The apps membership just broke over 50,000 members. If you’re not one and you have an interest in music production, have some musical talent and own an Android phone then you NEED to become involved with uLoops. End of story. Now, some pics of my ‘studio’…

uLoops Studio 1

My Fender myTouch 3G and Bose IE2 headphones undercover.

uLoops Studio 2

The sunburst finish on the Fender MT3G

uLoops Studio 3

BabyJ’s uLoops Studio in effect….

Oh...

Be cool…JRSIV 

RIP Nate Dogg

Nate Dogg (ne’ Nathaniel Hale) passed away on March 15, 2011. The rap superstar had been battling health issues after suffering two strokes a few years back. Nate was by far my favorite rap artist and was the greatest singer in hip-hop/rap. He had such an individual style; a mix of Lou Rawls, Cali-Gospel and GrandMaster Flash. He possessed such a natural melodic sense. The man could sing such beautiful lines with awesome rhythm all the while keeping a straight face delivering the often funny lyrics he wrote.

I’m really upset about his passing. I knew he had been ill, but for a cat like that to go so young (just 41!) it just seems criminal. While he was associated with West Coast Gansta Rap and sang some brutal lyrics, every interview I’ve ever read and every story from  his friends painted a portrait of  a guy who loved music, family and his homies. He sang on so many classic songs over the years! Getting the complete Nate Dogg discography will be difficult because Nate worked unselfishly with so many artists. He never tried to take the spotlight, but when he sang a songs hook, to me at least, it was his track! When he worked with Fabolous on “Can’t Deny It” it was Nate who made that song! No disrespect to Fabolous but…Nate was just so good. His solo records, the “G-Funk Classics” double album and “Music and Me” in particular, are full of songs teeming with melody and excellent singing. Some of the tracks don’t even feature a traditional “rap” guest or a rap verse. Just Nate singing great melodies in his inimitable way.

I encourage anyone who isn’t familiar with Nate’s work to listen to his music. Really listen. You’ll be amazed by his voice and talent, even if you don’t dig rap or hip-hop. When I first played some Nate for my wife she couldn’t get past the gangsta lyrics he was singing which can be highly profane and sometimes misogynistic. But once she stopped judging every word and really listened to Nate’s voice, his singing style, his talent…man, she was fan. Instantly. We joke around and sing his last line from “Next Episode” all the time: “Hey-ey-yay-ey! Smoke weed everyday.” It’s part funny, part braggadocios, but what a hook. Just thrown on the end piece, and no one else could do anything like it.

All the best to his family and friends in the LBC. G-Funk Forever!

Mind blowing fun with uLoops

Apps for smartphones are so varied and wide ranging anyone can find something they like. Plus, the technology of today is so amazing, (especially coming from someone who remembers the Commodore 64 and Beta tapes), these apps offer a dizzying amount of features and incredible visuals.

For a musician like myself there are some great apps for iPhones and Androids (like my smartphone, the Fender MyTouch3G). Most are music players (mp3, WAV files, etc.) the remaining a mix of guitar tuners, monophonic “pianos” and ringtone makers. The real drool worthy apps though are the ones that allow the user to create new music. iPhone’s iTune App Store has had a few step sequencers and even a four track recorder application, but the late blooming Android AppMarket , with a few exceptions, has been pretty limited to drum machines.

Until the excellent uLoops app was released in January of this year, I didn’t see much hope for a legitimate music “studio in a phone” app. Happily, with a year full of updates and improvements under it’s belt, uLoops fits the bill and is easily my favorite Android app. Period.

The mixer section of the uLoops App for Android.

A step sequencer with the ability to record vocals and other instruments through the phone’s mic, this little powerhouse can turn out kickin’  jams with some talent and a few recording skills. I recorded my first song on it in 30 minutes or less (listen to “Livin’ It Up at http://uloops.net/bank/4461029). The uLoops website is also home to an online community that shares their tracks and loops while giving each other advice on the program. It’s so cool to have other musicians to bounce ideas off of and have help when stumped with the App’s many features.

I can’t think of anything better than to build up drum grooves or even song demos while waiting in line somewhere, in an office waiting room or stuck in traffic, etc.  Just to be able to chill on the couch and turn out a funky rhythm is cool! Download this App if you’re a musician and even if you’re not. You might be suprised how much time has flown by why you were mixing a new track…all on a cellphone.  Be cool…JRSIV