All posts by Colby Johnson

Colby Johnson Audio Internship

This past week has been fairly hectic at the studio. Being that its the end of the semester, I have noticed that the studio is almost completely booked every day for 24 hours a day. I have made a special effort to check in on the studio more often that usual, as more people are going in and out of it. I have tried to keep the cables as wrapped as possible but the high amount of foot traffic has kept this very difficult. I am planning to go down to the studio for my last session on Sunday to make sure everything is straightened up for the holiday break. I also took the time to make an extra trip to the studio to help a student finish up their final project for Audio Production 1. He was asking for advice on how to mix vocals so I showed him the process I take for such a task. Among topics discussed were gain staging and how to build a mix around one particular element, in his case, it was the kick drum. I explained to him how starting the mixing process at the busiest part of the song was often the best method. After this, I told him that he could use the elements in the busiest part of the song as a way to gauge where the rest of the instruments in the song should go. I gave him a very brief explanation on effects routing and how to apply reverb to vocals, telling him to be very cautious when using reverb as it can quickly make the song sound muddy.

Colby Johnson Audio Internship

This week I had a chance to work with proclaimed noise artist Mikey Holmes, this was a very fun experience as it allowed me to work with a well-known artist and get great feedback from someone with more experience than I. I also got to work together in a group with other electronic music artists within the digital arts program. We were able to bounce ideas off of each other and form new relationships amongst ourselves. I also planned along with other students on projects we could work on together for the future, discussing how our various styles could work together. After the practice session we had in preparation for our performance, I had to get ready to actually perform. Dr. Pras asked me to create a list of all the cables we had in the studio so she knew what was available for the show. After doing so I emailed her the list and began preparing for the upcoming performance. This week I also had another meeting with a student from Dr. Pras class. This time we discussed creative ideas to move his project forward. His song featured the use of a low cello type arpeggio, and he asked me how to go about replacing it. After listening to the song I explained to him that I think it would be best for the strings to stay, as they worked really well within the context of the mix. Instead, I offered him some assistance to layering another instrument with the strings to give it more of a body. I created a bass patch for him in just a couple of minutes, and it really brought the strings to life. I also showed him a trick Dr. Pras showed me previously in the year. It works by taking an original signal and sending it to two separate tracks, panning one hard left and the other hard right and then delaying one of the channels by 8-10 milliseconds. The effect creates a very large and wide sounding instrument and keeps the stereo field from becoming too stale.

Colby Johnson Audio Internship

This past week it was my duty to go through all of the rack effects in the back of the studio to see which ones work and which ones don’t. I tested 3 different effect units, the T.C. Electronic M2000 Studio Effects Processor, the Lexicon A |ex Digital effects processor, and the DigiTech TSR- 24 True Stereo Reverb/ Multi- Effects Processor. While none of the units worked I learned just how tedious studio equipment can be. With the M2000 for example, the display on the face of the unit is not displaying any text, I checked to see if this is the result of a setting. I didn’t find anything that would help the display issue so I moved onto sound, without anything plugged into the unit, the db meters were going all over the place and it kept showing “overload” as if the signal coming in was so hot it couldn’t handle it. With the lexicon, I wasn’t even able to test it, I searched all around the studio trying to find a power adapter that fit and none of them seemed to fit. I will most likely do some research on my own time to see if one can be ordered, however it would be a shame to order it to find out the device does not even function. Lastly, the TSR-24 was the only device that worked even a little bit. It, along with the DX7, seem to suffer from similar issues. Its display would come on, however the text glitches and I am unable to read it. This is most likely the result of a dead internal battery, what is most likely happening is that the battery keeps the memory from being erased and when it dies the device fails to be able to call up the necessary data to get the unit to function properly.

Colby Johnson Audio Internship

This week Dr. Pras asked me to spend our scheduled meeting time to help a fellow student with a project she was working on for a competition. She had created a vest that was covered in sensors that interacted with a program she wrote that created various sounds as the sensors were adjusted. She had explained to me that she needed to record the output from her self-created device and wanted to know how to do so. I told her all of the various ways to record what she needed to do. The most obvious method and in my opinion the most effective was to create a direct line in from her laptop to the studio patch bay. I told her using an 8th inch headphone jack to a split quarter inch cable would be the most effective. I then proceeded to show her how to set up logic to record her output. I told her all about signal flow and how to trouble shoot if something were to go wrong, explaining to her to try to record at a max volume of -12 to -6 db to avoid the possibility of peaking and distorting the recording. We then discussed possible real world applications for her device, such as a track jacket with motion sensors that a DJ could wear to switch and navigate between tracks, adjust eq settings, trigger effects or speed up and slow down the song. Overall, this has been one of the more creative weeks of the internship, as it allowed me to share ideas with another student.

Colby Johnson Audio Internship

This week Dr. Pras has brought to my attention that my speaker placement was negatively effecting her ability to do class hearings. I was instructed to put the speakers back into their original positions and to make markings on the floor using tape to show the two different listening positions. I’m assuming the original placement of the speakers was mean for class listening, and It was up to the student to move the monitors where they were needed. This week I also met up with one of the students to work with them on how to mix songs. I taught him mainly about using an equalizing plugin, and how attenuating frequencies was often more effective than boosting them. I taught him the importance of listening to his tracks in mono, and mixing the majority of the time in mono. I think this was a helpful thing to teach him as its helped me for two reasons. The first reason I think it’s helpful is that it makes all the instruments collapse on each other, it’s the most effective way to show frequency masking among various instruments within the same octave. The second reason being that the stereo field can be very misleading for the mix engineer, it can make instruments sound like they have more room than they actually do. I always mix my songs in mono, it is one of many small tricks I have learned from other engineers that has helped me get to the level I am currently at.

Colby Johnson Audio Internship

Dr. Pras notified me that she would be out of town for an Audio Conference this past week and it was my duty to cover her class for her. She asked that I cover the topics of how to use the DX7 and how the midi routing worked inside of the studio. So to prepare, I went down to the studio and gathered any information I might need and created a lesson plan. I wrote down any important discussion topics and key points I thought was important for teaching these two things. Within my lesson plan I created spacing within various topics, to allow students who were interested to come forth and try the DX7 for themselves. I decided this was the most effective thing to do as for me personally, I typically learn better if its hands on. Among the class of around 15 or so I had 6 or 7 who seemed really interested in what I had to say and teach, this for me was a very rewarding feeling as the knowledge I had spent so much time acquiring became of practical use and had a positive impact on others. After I had taught the class I stayed for around half an hour to an hour late to help with any questions the students might have had. I exchanged numbers and emails with a couple of students and offered them my time outside of class to help them with their projects if my schedule allowed it.

Colby Johnson Audio Internship

At this point of the internship, Dr. Pras and I discussed doing a video tutorial on the DX7 and that became my additional task for the week. I spent some extra time with the device and created a miniature version of a lesson plan surrounding the device. I taught myself all of its features in an effort to become as familiar with the device as possible. After this, I rented a camera from the library and started filming, I did multiple takes of all the scenes so I would have more footage to work with during the post production phase. It took me about 4 hours in total to create the tutorial and upload it to YouTube, not including the time it took to research the DX7. I learned a lot from making this tutorial, I became extremely familiar with the DX7, learning how to program my own patches, using the on board effects to further manipulate them and make them my own. I also learned about the various features within the DX7 that could change its play-ability, such as the Keyboard split where one half of the keys can play a patch while the other half could play a different one. Filming the tutorial also taught me the importance of multiple takes, the creative use of lighting and how to properly prepare the camera for recording. It has also come to my knowledge that the list of required tools previously compiled by Dr. Pras and I has been ordered and should be in by next week.

Colby Johnson Audio Internship

The studio maintenance has been going very smoothly so far. After having a discussion with Dr. Pras, we realized that it would be in the best interest of the studio if we compiled a list of general tools and items that would be helpful in maintaining the integrity of the studio. Among such items on the list were screws, a set of various screw drivers and pliers, a drill, and the batteries required to fix the DX7. I had also been doing outside research on the best placement for the speakers inside the lab. After reading “The Studio SOS Book: Solutions and Techniques for the Project Recording Studio” By Paul White, I decided that the best route for me to go was to move the desk further off of the wall as this could create a more accurate stereo field for the listener. The way it is currently set up, the user would have to move back several feet to be able to hear what he or she was doing and of course this can be very counterproductive. Based on my outside research, I concluded that the best option for solving this issue was to assemble the speakers in a classic equilateral triangle configuration. This would help my fellow students on two accounts, one being by providing a more accurate and realistic stereo field for the user to work with, and the second being as it would be set up more like a real world studio, preparing the student for post college studio work.

Colby Johnson Audio Internship

Our second meeting I was assigned more tasks, I was to go through all of the synthesizers in the studio and see which ones work and which ones did not. Among the synthesizers I worked on I found the Yamaha DX7 to be the most interesting. However, this synthesizer had several issues that needed to be addressed before the students could use it. The first issue was that of no audio output from the device. After doing some research online I found that the issue was easily solved, it was just a matter of going through the menu and finding the setting called “Note on/off” and making sure it was on. This would need to be done any time the DX7 was unplugged then rebooted. If it stayed plugged in then it wouldn’t need to be done. This brings me to the second issue with the DX7, that of a dead internal battery. After notifying Amandine it was my duty to get the synthesizer back in working order. I did some more online research and found that the batteries that go in the device are very inexpensive and could be ordered through the school. The next issue came with how to replace the battery, we would have to unscrew the entire device and remove the housing and re-solder it back on with the new battery. The decision was to order the batteries the following week and once they arrived, to enlist the help of Dr. Roberts to help solder the battery back in the device.

Colby Johnson Audio Internship

My first meeting with Dr. Pras was very insightful in regards to what it was that I would be doing this semester. We discussed the best options for how to accomplish certain tasks and also decided on set days for me to go down to the studio to clean up and organize misplaced items. It was decided that I would go down to the studio at least 3 times a week to perform my basic duties as an intern. I decided that Sunday, Tuesday and Saturday would be the best given my work schedule. During these weekly sessions, it was my responsibility to make sure that no equipment had been accidentally misplaced or stolen, to gather any lose microphones and cables and put them in the right place, and to make sure the desktop of the studio computer stayed clean. The way I was told to clean the computer was to create a separate folder on the desktop and name it with the date I was cleaning, and to move any of the unorganized files on the desktop to that folder. After a week, if those files were still present in that folder I was to delete the files as they were taking up disk space. I was also assigned the duty of finding a better placement for the speakers. Amandine and I discussed several different options for going about doing this, and it was decided that I should do some outside research to find out the best way for the speakers to be set up. We also scheduled to meet every Wednesday at noon.