Monday, May 30, 2022

Why are we doing 'IS IT SHIT?'

Between us, myself and Dan have over 50 years experiece of working in professional sound engineering. From recording and mixing in commercial studios to large arena tours with major artists...we've pretty much done it all.

Plug-ins and studio gear in general is a real cash-sucking habit for a lot of people, especially those who have never had the opportunity to work on the real deal and often rely on online reviews to steer them in the right direction. you can often tell, a lot of online reviews are not much more than ads for the products. Also, there are a lot of video reviews that really go into the fine detail of each and every function of this stuff. That's great...but i found myself Googling for gear reviews which just got to the point... in other words - IS IT SHIT?

So that's how this strarted... just me and Dan chatting completely frankly about this stuff with no agenda whatsoever. 

If it's shit, we'll say so...

Do we know what we\re talking about? Yep... i've worked on SSLs, Neves, APIs, MCIs and pretty much every other desk at some point. Countless recording and mixing credits over the years. I've regularly used real 1176s, LA2As, GML EQs, Valley People De-Essers, PYE Compressors and even real analogue tape... i started as a i even remember how to align an Otari MTR-90. (only really old gits will know what that is). Dan's been working in studios since a little after the tape era and has many many remix credits to his name. We also both teach at a University when we're not in the studio...we're full time in the music production world... we're not bedroom producers with a YouTube channel.

What else are we going to review? Well, we might look at some hardware in the future...affordable stuff that might tempt you from spending all your cash on plug-ins... :)

More 'IS IT SHIT?'

Check out the YouTube link on the right to see all these reviews... 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

New YouTube Videos...

Me and Dan Peters have a new YouTube project..... Is It Shit? Check it out...

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

EQ - A Tutorial for beginners


New to sound engineering? This time i explain EQ - what it is, how it works and a tutorial showing you how to do it yourself.

Monday, January 18, 2021

YouTube Channel Re-Launch

 It's been a while, but i'm back on YouTube....posting helpful videos and tutorials about Music Production, Film and Video Production, Music and Film Business advice and comment. Here's some of the new posts...

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Audio Snobbery - When did that happen?

I've been looking at online reviews and comments about some gear i'm thinking about getting for my studio rig. I'll admit that i've been pretty shocked and confused by most of what i've read. On sites like Gearslutz, people are really giving some gear a bashing and pour praise on other gear, often with nothing to back it up other than 'i really like it and wouldn't use anything else' kind of comments.

I probably have quite a different background to most of the people who post on these sites. Like a lot of people into making music in the late 80s and early 90s, i started with a cassette-based 4-Track recorder. I added a compressor, a reverb unit and some other effects before i made a massive leap. In 1990 i started working at a top London recording studio. I was using an SSL E-Series, an SSL G-Series and all the usual outboard popular at the time - 1176, LA2A, Pultec, GML and of course, the ubiquitous Lexicon reverbs and ever present Larc controller. These 'professional'  tools were my everyday workhorses. They were a world away from the 4-Track studio i was used to, but they were also very similar, in that i had to learn how to get the best out of them.  Back in those days, the SSL Bus compressor was often bypassed for something else... strange to think of it now, but we would often look for something 'better'. The SSL EQ was also was considered very harsh sounding by a lot of the older engineers who were used to vintage Neves or Trident consoles. Young engineers like myself loved the SSL as it sounded like the records made at the time. Having compressors and gates on every channel was still a treat (most studios didn't have dozens of compressors) and the recall, although very tedious and hit and miss, was a godsend for the record labels who could now send you back to tweak a mix without fear of never getting the same mix back. To be honest, the scribbled notes about the outboard settings meant that mixes always sounded a bit different, but they were closer than was possible before recall. Then there was that really changed mixing. Being able to do multiple passes, tweaking EQ and effects throughout the mix was a big deal.

I eventually went back to working in a smaller studio and spent 5 years working on 8-Track Reel-to-Reels, 16-Tracks and eventually digital tape systems before moving to PCs and then Macs.

Fast forward to 2017 and after spending the last 27 years slowly moving between in-the-box production and sticking to using real studios for recording drum sessions and sometimes final mix sessions on a trusty SSL E-Series, i think i'm in a good position to make some observations on the current trend for bashing anything which isn't an esoteric piece of expensive hardware.

First of all, there is a huge obsession with convertors. Some convertors have specs which far out-perform others, but that doesn't always translate into a better sound. I used an M-Audio PCI soundcard for years and did many mixes which were released and no one ever questioned the quality...and yes, i did record vocals into the card and mix within the box.  Would an Apogee or Avid soundcard have made my mixes better? I don't think so.  I have A/B'd several current soundcards and yes, some sound nicer than others, but i don't hear anything so awful that someone who really knows how to mix won't be able to work with it. It's less of an issue than a lot of people would have you believe. Still, the advice is, buy the best you can afford that has the features you need and just get on with making music.

What about fancy compressors like the UREI 1176? I love them...  nothing sounds better on vocals in my opinion. But... some of the software versions sound so close (i would struggle to choose correctly in a blind test) that i think spending nearly two grand on a real one is crazy unless you really have that kind of spare cash lying around... in that case - why not? They will hold their value. Interestingly, i had a conversation about this exact subject the other day and me and the other engineer came to the same conclusion: The reason studios didn't and don't have more than a few 1176's in their racks is because you can't use them on everything! All those subtle distortion harmonics add together to create a really nasty mush which will ruin any mix. Use one on your lead vocal, maybe a guitar or two and possibly the drum overheads... but that's enough. So, bearing this in mind, maybe it's better to buy a real one rather than a plug-in if you can afford it? Food for thought....

I've been looking at buying a bus compressor. Having just mixed an album on an old SSL E-Series, i kind of fell in love all over again with the bus compressor. The software versions i have are not quite as good. I can make them sound very very close by inserting something like the NLS Bus in front of them and adjusting the input level and then inserting a stereo width expander and adding a tiny bit of widening to the signal.... it's definitely very close. But, i have been testing modern copies of the SSL Bus compressor and i've found a couple which i prefer. They aren't the same... none of the copies are... but they sound great in their own right, and that's what i'm looking for.

Finally, what would the engineers and producers i worked with back in 1990 make of mixing in the box with plug-ins and totally accurate automation and recall? They would drop their analogue consoles and run for the Macs and PCs without a doubt. Everyone conveniently forgets the noisy patchbays, the earth hums, the scratchy pots and the sheer amount of hiss generated by all that analogue gear with the expensive racks of Dolby processors to try and deal with it....

Anyway, stop listening to studio snobbery and learn to mix. A great mix can be done on really basic plug-ins and it can absolutely be good enough to be released... don't let anyone tell you any different.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

New Challenges...

I'm getting pretty bad at this... no posts in ages - sorry.  I appreciate the continued support and number of you who visit the blog. Hopefully, i'll find more time over the next few months to post something you might actually want to read.

So - last time i talked about a new career change and a new film project... i guess i should talk a bit about that.

The new film project is really exciting to me. I've spent a long time writing various feature screenplays recently and one of those is moving forwards (albeit, quite slowly), but the project i'm shooting in April is really quite different.

There's not much in the way of a script. The idea has come from mashing various real-life experiences i've been through together and then making them happen to someone that isn't me. In fact the protagonist isn't much like me....apart from deep on the subconscious level.  Because there's very little dialogue, i've just used scene descriptions and visual cues to outline what we need to shoot. There's 4 specific conversations in the film which i have scripted, but everything else will be worked out on location.  The cast is basically one person....with 2 very small other roles.  The most exciting thing to me is that we're totally not making any plans for it. There's no distributor involved, there's no investors apart from us and there's no real need for it to be a feature.... if it works better as a long-ish short, then that's what it will be.  I have a feeling all this freedom combined with the very real stories it is based on will make it quite special.  We're shooting in April.

In my last post i also mentioned my new company. I have started an artiste management company. As many of you know, for the last 27 years i have been a sound engineer working for various music artistes and for the last 16 years i have been working for the awesome Kim Wilde. Well, at the end of 2016, Kim's manager decided to retire from the business.  I've been looking for a new direction for my music career and this immediately seemed like the perfect opportunity for me. Luckily for me, Kim believed that i could do this and now i'm her manager. So far it's been really good. It's definitely challenging, but i'm loving it. Hopefully it will continue this way and i'll develop my skills in management alongside my filmmaking.

That's about it for now. I've got some new filmmaking toys coming soon for the new project, so i might do some video reviews....


Saturday, December 3, 2016

2017... Changes are coming...

It's been a while since i've posted any updates on my various projects, so i thought i'd just do a quick catch-up post.

I've had an interesting year touring in the USA, Australia and Holland and making a few music videos while working on several screenplays. Taking a year to write always looks like you've dropped off the planet, but i've actually written a feature, got halfway through another and done a re-write on a screenplay i wrote some time ago.

2017 is all about change for me. Things have been moving pretty nicely for the last few years, with the occasional hiccup but now it's time to change things up - a lot.

Firstly, i'm cutting down on my sound engineering work. Touring is loads of fun and i've been doing it for 20 years...but it's quite damaging to home life and i need to scale it back a bit. Secondly, i'm stopping my magazine work with Digital FilmMaker Magazine. I've loved doing it, but it takes up quite a bit of time and i need to concentrate on other things now. Thirdly... we're shooting a new feature. Early in 2017.... it's a completely new project. Really looking forward to this one. More details soon.

Lastly - I'm starting a new company. It's a departure for me, but a really exciting one. I can't wait to tell you all more.

For now.... enjoy Xmas and i'll be back with more details soon.


Friday, October 28, 2016

New Apple Macbook Pro

Ok, i'm going to just say it.... I'm confused by the new Macbook Pro. This isn't a review... i haven't seen one in the flesh.

The touchbar - I'm just not convinced. The DJ using it in the demo yesterday was awkward... who wants to see that? Still, it impressed the front row of the Apple delegates.  Yes, it looks like it might work to speed up workflow in some apps, but most people are going to end up using it to add emojis or scroll through movies. It just seems like a novelty thing to me. A bigger, stand-alone version that works with any Mac running Sierra? Much better idea.... but still a bit un-necessary.

The lack of a mag-safe port - What? The mag-safe power connector has saved my Mac from hitting the floor countless times and it's genuinely one of Apple's better ideas...  but now, we have to choose which USB-C port we want to lose, and then use that to charge from.

The lack of traditional USB ports - Yes, i's what Apple does - push the boundaries and help the rest of us leave old tech behind.... but, USB is far from dead. We'll all need loads of adapters to connect anything until USB-C really takes off.

The Headphone socket - Didn't Apple say this was a 'dinosaur' at the iPhone 7 launch? Isn't it old technology? Make your minds up...  I like that it's there...but it's weird.

The lack of glowing Apple on the lid - Ok, a minor thing....but i liked it. Seems like a step back to me.

Well, at least it's not too expensive.... oh no, wait, yes it is.... For a fully spec'ed up 15 inch model, it's over £4000. Yes.... pounds, not dollars.

Funniest bit of the launch? Jonny Ive's 'film'. Didn't it just repeat everything they had already showed us? His voice-overs are starting to sound a bit comedy now.... reminded me of a 'Fast Show' sketch.

What's the new Apple TV App called again?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Stunning Drone control...

My good friend and drone pilot Neil Jones isn't always putting the cinematography first... sometimes (quite a lot) he flies his drones for the pure fun of it. This video just shows how incredibly manoeuvrable drones are these days but also how talented Neil is at piloting them. Enjoy...

Monday, September 19, 2016

SmallRig Atomos Shogun/Ninja Assassin Cage Video Review

The SmallRig Shogun/Ninja Assassin Cage is very useful if you'd like to add more mounting points and some protection to your Atomos device.

  • Nato Military style mounting rail on the bottom edge
  • 2 x 15mm rod clamps on the top corners
  • A unique HDD securing latch
  • Wide recesses for the cables/plugs
  • Light-weight
  • Optional handles for use as a Director's monitor

$134.10 Exc. VAT

Check-out the video review for full details...  

Friday, June 17, 2016

DFM Mag's Ask The FilmMaker Video #2

As seen on

Send questions to the mag via Facebook or email...or even via this blog if you like.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sony A7S vs Lumix GH4

You might think this 'head to head' is out of date... but with the prices you can pick these cameras up for now - i don't think so.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ask The FilmMaker

As many of you know, i write the 'Ask The FilmMaker' column for Digital FilmMaker magazine. Well, now the DFM website has launched, I'm doing the column as a video too... so checkout the website and send me your filmmaking related questions...

Monday, April 25, 2016

Online 'Agencies' like Genero and Radar... good or bad for the industry?

A few months ago i thought i'd join Genero and Radar to see if there was any interesting jobs worth pitching for to cover the down time between other jobs. They are both similar in that they list jobs which you then pitch on. Radar only deals with music videos and associated jobs like EPKs and behind the scenes stuff for videos and recording sessions, whereas Genero does everything from music videos and TV commercials to sponsorship bumpers and corporate jobs. Radar gives you the brief and the budget and you are invited to pitch. Genero does the same for most of the jobs, but some are run more like a competition, where you are invited to make the piece of finished work and submit it for the client to pick the winner....and then only the winner gets paid. All well and good.

Or is it?

First of all, let me be clear about my experiences, so that none of this is viewed as sour grapes. I pitched on about 20 music videos on Radar and only got 1 of them...although i actually got the job outside of Radar as i knew the artist already... so the Radar involvement didn't do anything other than alert me to the fact that someone i knew was looking for a director. The other 19 jobs went to other directors. Why? Who knows... i've no idea how many people pitched... but i guess it was quite a few as this is an international service.

On Genero, i pitched on about 6 jobs and did one of the 'competitions'. Things got complicated with Genero when i was selected as the filmmaker for a commercial for a well known insurance company. 24 hours later, (after several useful and positive emails and phone calls with the actual client) i was sent a message saying i was no longer required for the job. What? Yep... fired before i'd even got as far as the first production meeting. Why? Well, this particular job involved being able to deliver some specific performers and i had told the clients (and Genero) in the conversations on the website prior to being hired that this was not only not possible, but also the general plan for the commercial would cost more than they were offering to do safely and legally. When i got the job (for an increased budget), i figured that they liked that i was doing things properly and not skimping on the law and health and safety. Anyway, it turns out they hadn't read the messages and when they found out that my pitch was a slight variation to get around the problem (rather than putting performers and crew in harm's way), i got dropped.... hardly my fault that they didn't read their email.

Annnywayyyy.....  whatever. Genero apologised a lot to me for the rubbish treatment and we all moved on.

So...why did both Radar and Genero get on my nerves? Mainly... drifting deadlines and lack of communication. On every single Genero job, there is a deadline for the pitch and there is also a date when the finished film/video is due for delivery. Now, if i pitch on job, but by the time the delivery deadline is less than a week away and i still haven't heard anything -  i think that stinks. How are directors supposed to manage their diaries if people don't let us know what is going on? Genero (when asked) said that the delivery date was always just a guide and they would always talk to the filmmaker about this when they were in contention. Great... but they do all this before telling the hundreds of other pitchers that they aren't in contention anymore... So people just wait... not knowing if they should pitch on other jobs or if, in fact, they are about to be asked to complete a previous job that is now running weeks over it's own deadline. It happened on every single job on Genero that i pitched on. All of them...all the time.

Radar is very similar. You pitch and you wait.... sometimes you get feedback from the band/client...but it's nearly always a generic 'We liked another idea more'. I even got this when i had pitched to make a video that the band had already come up with the story/brief... they just wanted people to shoot it.. weird.

In Radar's defence - They contacted me when i closed my account to ask why and i told them. They then said they were going  to implement new rules which would let the filmmakers know within 7 days of a job closing whether they had the job or not. Much better. Well done Radar.

I suppose if you are a student filmmaker or you haven't got anything else going on, then waiting to find out about jobs might be ok, but for anyone with a bunch of work spread throughout the year trying to plug the gaps with these services... it's just not worth the hassle....or the money.  Radar's subscription is one thing.... but the hours you need to spend on pitches for both Genero and Radar costs time, and time is money. It makes not getting any communication even more frustrating. No agency would ever treat you like that if they wanted you to work with them again.

But, all the timing issues and lack of communication aside, there is a bigger issue here. The fees offered are set by the clients and not the websites..that much is clear.  However, some of them (not all) are really taking the piss. Now, of course, it's up to you to avoid those ones if you don't like it, but the effect on the industry is that clients WILL find someone, somewhere who will make them a music video for £200 or a web commercial for £1000...  good for them... but it's knock-on effect is far reaching. I've had bands who are signed and earning thousands per gig offer less than a grand for a music video.  This is the video that will help sell their new single and promote their gigs that earn them their living.... and yet i'm not going to clear enough to pay an assistant and cover my own costs... and i've got no long term residual payments coming from it... but they have... that's where this goes wrong. Even a simple music video takes more time than bands and clients realise. Let's take a look...

A video i shot recently for bottom dollar took this amount of time:

Day before the shoot. Prep two camera rigs - clean lenses, format drives, pack flightcases and get all equipment ready to pack into the vehicle in the morning. Approx 5 hours.

Also - Prep playback system and prepare audio files for slowmotion work as well as adding count-in markers. 2 hours.

Day of the shoot. Pack vehicle. Drive to location. Unpack, set-up production base. Rig lighting and cameras for first set up etc etc... 8 hours on set.

Evening of the shoot. Drive home, unpack, de-rig and then ingest all the footage and check. 4 hours.

Day after the shoot. Checking footage, arranging and labelling files. Start to edit. 8 hours.

2nd Edit day. Editing, multi-cam tweaking, colour grading, audio mix. Upload first rough edit. 6 hours.

3rd Edit day. Tweaks to edit. Colour re-work. Upload 2nd version. 4 hours.

4th Edit day. Tweaks to edit. More colour and FX tweaks. Upload 3rd Version. 4 hours.

Final day. Add bars and tones and generate masters for broadcast, web and mobile & upload. 3 hours.

As you can see... that's a lot of work for a simple job. As far as the band are concerned, i turned up, did some filming and 3 days later i sent them the video.  In actual fact, i spent about 6 days (where i didn't have time to do any other jobs) totally working for them.  It's the same with commercial jobs.

It's hard to say any of this without sound like i'm moaning...(i am a bit), but it's up to us, the filmmakers, to make sure we walk away before we accept a fee that isn't enough to make it worthwhile. Every time we take a stupidly low fee, we're making things worse for the future.

As for Genero and Radar? I'm out... for now... Radar seem to be making the right noises to improve things and maybe Genero will get there eventually.