Archive for the ‘studio’ Category

that was a lot of fun

Hooo, that was a lot of fun! Thanks to the Dread Captain Marcos, our guest villain last night, and Jeri Lynn Cornish, our hostage du jour, and most of all, The Cosmic Ray Show for having us all on!

The show is already archived, by the way. Click on the link above and you’ll find it. We’re the final guests, so about 15 minutes before the end of the show, if you want to skip ahead. Or if you’re into space exploration – like Curiosity Rover and all that? Watch the whole show.

I haven’t talked much about DIY day lately, but setting up for this appearance gave me a great chance to use my art degree in a set-lighting environment, and it’s led to a DIY opportunity!

Here are two pictures. One is four days ago; the other was today. The physical setup of the room is unchanged – the angle of the camera is a little different, but not that much.

Basic front lighting

Improved front lighting

According to everyone who has seen both today, the bottom shot is better; I of course agree. It has more depth to it – it’s less flat, more 3D – there’s better presence, and what you can’t see here is that performers pop off that second backdrop WAY better – there’s no fading into the background here.

What do you think the difference is? If you guessed less light, that’s not it. If you guess a lot more light, actually, that’s not it either. Total lighting amount is unchanged; no fixtures were replaced. Camera settings? Also unchanged.

Two things are different. One, I have a glare shield around the webcam. I made it with white cardstock. It keeps ambient light from the side of the camera from affecting the image, and by doing so, boosts contrast:

The 5¢ Anti-Glare Shield

The second is that I warmed the light in the foreground by putting sheets of gold paper behind the light sources, and specifically cooled the light in the background by putting sheets of blue paper behind those light sources, all off camera. The primary line-of-light is not tinted at all, but the first and brightest sets of reflected light is all warmer (in front) or cooler (in back). This also increases visual contrast.

Just as importantly, this also creates an optic architectural layer; it divides the space into two spaces, a bit, in your brain, which makes the more distance space be processed as further away in your head. This is how architectural layering works in physical objects, too; a small room can be made to feel larger by putting a divider into it, one that you can see around – say, a stub wall coming down from the ceiling, or a bar, or an archway. Your brain will see two spaces instead of one; it will treat the second as further away, making the whole stage feels larger.

And since there’s actually more light, the people in front (once there) really pop forward. Again; bright foreground, darker background, more depth.

It still doesn’t look like a huge environment, but it looks a lot less cramped, and gave the video compression software a better chance not to do horrible things. Having looked at the stream a bit, compression still did some weird things, but the result is far better than tests we ran against the original lighting setup. The lighting shift didn’t change the visual world of the shot; it improved it, in subtle but meaningful ways.

And that’s basically just 12 sheets of creatively-placed coloured paper. Lighting is fun!

a mess with a purpose

My studio is currently a total disaster zone. Cables everywhere, stuff piled up in strange places (but not on top of each other, at least not in bad ways) – really, it looks like this:

That’s all to make this illusion, out the camera atop the laptop screen:

…which is, in turn, what you’ll see on The Cosmic Ray Show on Tuesday, March 19th, when we’re performing.

Of course, people will be involved, so you’ll have folks standing behind those microphones, such as, you know, me. Also Jeri Lynn Cornish and Marcos Duran, both doing guest appearances on backup vocals. So it’ll be all populated and stuff.

But yeah, I set it up in “TV studio mode” yesterday, for tech rehearsal. It’s the most complicated in-studio live setup I’ve ever arranged and I’m just going to rehearse and practice in this mode until then, so I don’t have to screw with it and get it wrong later. Everybody has earbud monitors, everybody has mics, we’ll get a recording out of it as it’s webcast live, straight off the interface into my Zoom. We made a couple of minor adjustments during the dry run last night, but things went well.

Assuming it works as well as it has in testing (yeek), this should be pretty cool. I hope it doesn’t look too cramped. This was as visually large as I could make it without having to rip out the desk and my entire recording structure, which, yeah, let’s not.

It’s supposed to look like my studio and informal. But I have to tell you, this much ordinary day-to-day naturalistic setup is a whole hell of a lot of work to fake. I’m not the first to make that observation, but after five hours of futzing yesterday, I have the right ot say it again.

See you Tuesday, right? 8pm Cascadian/Pacific, 11pm Eastern, 12:30am Newfoundland.

supervillain sound

I’ve been thinking for a while that Criminal Studios wasn’t quite the right name for the Lair’s recording environment, and that Supervillain Studios might be better. But while a heat ray is pretty damn neat, I haven’t been entirely convinced it’s enough to merit exactly that much better.

But now that I have the Rainmaker, and other villains showing up in the Lair? I think it’s time for an upgrade. Criminality is fine, but Supervillainy? That’s awesome.

I do worry a little bit about the whole name recognition thing (“What happened to Criminal Studios?” “I dunno. Bumped off, I guess.”). But at my scale I think it’s safe not to think too much about that.

More importantly, there’s a videogame company in California called Supervillain Studios. Do I need to care about that?

Maybe Supervillain Sound. That seems to solve it, while still being significantly sibilant. Also, touches on the Puget part of the Salish Sea.

We don’t have a logo, tho’. Should I make a logo?

does this even exist

Over the last few days, I’ve realised there’s a studio toy I really want, but can’t quite find. If I can’t find it, maybe I can build it – or maybe that should be the other way ’round, eh? Regardless, maybe some of you guys can help.

One of the many cool things about midi is how you can have arbitrary controllers in variety of functionalities. You can, for example, buy banks of knobs and sliders. And all they do is send MIDI signals. This is great, because then you can assign them in whatever software you’re controlling to any function you want controlled. There are also banks of buttons, and so on. More commonly, you get mixed devices.

drool pad not included… or needed, really, but I would like this one or this one

I want that, but USB (or wireless-to-USB), and sending user-settable keyboard character combinations. I want a small remote pad that I can set up to have one button send a space, another button to send Shift-R, another button to send HOME, another to send END, and so on. Ideally, it should be able to send any button combination from a 101-key keyboard.

There are two reasons I want this.

One: If you’re surrounded by drums and mics (just for example) in my studio and you want to enable record and start the virtual transport, it’s difficult to do so in time to sync up with the pre-existing tracks you might be working against. Not that this was driving me crazy over the weekend or anything.

Two: Ardour is FULL of keyboard shortcuts. No, I mean full, like every goddamn key on the keyboard does some damn thing. If you’re reaching over something to get to some key or other (say, SHIFT-R, to enable master record), or in the wrong mode (which this mostly won’t fix), it is really easy to either hit the wrong key(s), or hit the right keys, but have them do different things, because not only are they loaded, they’re overloaded.

overconfidence not included

Basically I want a control panel that isn’t so overloaded, and I want it to go anywhere in the room.

I’ve thought about getting a minikeyboard, maybe a wireless minikeyboard, and hax0ring it. I may well do this, because I don’t want to build a USB interface and I don’t want to build a keyboard interface for that USB interface, and besides, I might want to add some more buttons later. But I worry about how easy (or difficult) it might be to send numeric keypad keys specifically, and how reliable soldering to surface pads will be, since I want to move this thing around a bit and it will get knocked about.

Now, there are some gamepads out there that might be good. The cheaper one I found doesn’t actually let you reprogramme what keys the pads send, and as annoying as I can find Ardour’s spaghetti of hotkeys, I don’t want to change them. I might want to use someone else’s workstation at some point. The ones which do let you reprogramme the pad’s keys are a bit spendier, and tend to be large and/or weird. But more importantly, they appear to require external software. This may just be for the purpose of changing key assignments, so I could run it once on a different machine and forget about it – but the data pages don’t make that entirely clear. If someone knows for sure, tell me?

Also I’d need to take a hacksaw to parts of it because of all the do-not-want.

Really, do I need to go all Arduino for this? I don’t want to. Anybody got ideas?

proving ground

Today I get to do something new: mic a violin.

A lot of people out there have posted techniques on micing violins in the studio, and you can read a lot of ideas a lot of different places, but most of them come down to variations on the several shown at this Michigan Tech page. I don’t have a $2000 microphone shown in the photos to do this with, but I have some decent mics. That’s not the scary part.

The scary part is that most of these mic placements are quite a bit more distant from instrument than I’m used to using. Only one of them is really what I think of as close-micing; there’s a little to a lot of distance in every other one, which means there’s a little bit more of the room in every one. The space is going to be involved, as part of the instrument recording.

Now, as regular readers of this blog know, I’ve spent a lot of time working on this studio. You might remember this 360° turnaround video I posted, showing sound baffles I’ve made and placed; but click on the DIY category to see lots more. The goal has been to make the room better in every respect – evening its reflectiveness out, quietening it, blocking more outside noise, all that – but it’s also been about making it at least theoretically possible to do medium-distance micing.

Not this distant. But I may have a new project.

You see, for Dick Tracy Must Die, I couldn’t distance mic anything. I tried; a little of the distance-miced bamboo percussion stayed in (mostly in “When You Leave“), but almost all of that album was either close-micing or direct input. For Cracksman Betty, I had a little more breathing space – but not much. Only recently have I been able to put more distance between instrument and microphone.

Today’s the day I find out whether that all that work actually pays off. Can I really distance mic in here?

I sure hope so, because I need to. Let’s find out.

ps: I’ve been thinking of renaming this Supervillain Studios, instead of Criminal. I think it sounds cooler. Also, hey, I don’t just have a heat ray anymore, I have the Rainmaker, and multimonitor setups with mecha arms are pretty awesome – it may finally be worthy of the name Supervillain. Whaddya think, Minions?

have some presents

It’s really weird when you’re done with your holidays but the big mass-culture one hasn’t quite happened yet because it’s on a kinda dumb calendar so everyone else is still in ramp-up mode and all the ads are going liek woah.

Except for Rite-Aid, which seems to be filling shelves with Valentine’s Day candy. Who knew?

Next week will be a huge recording week – I’ve been booked from the 26th through the 30th, by Leannan Sidhe, with backup time going to Bards of a Feather as available. I actually find I get a lot of things done that week, partly because nobody else is doing anything and therefore gets in your way. <3

Anyway, faithful minions who are reading these even now, have some fun links:

Have fun, everybody, and if I don’t say it before the first – happy new year!

that monitor and mouse look

Fourteen hours in the studio yesterday. A bunch more the day before. I’m swamped, but it’s kind of awesome. I was up later than intended last night because I found this thing I can’t talk about in a mix for someone else’s song and it’s pretty awesome but I can’t talk about it.


So instead, let’s see that dual-monitor setup! A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how old 4:3 monitors are basically free right now, and about what you need to set everything up. A couple of weeks in, I can report it works great, my workflow is tremendously improved, and I freed up SO much important desk space.

Enjoy some configuration photos:

Single-screen Windows, inside setup

For some reason, Windows XP only wants to use one of these cards at a time. If I boot up on the motherboard Intel video, it can see the Rage PCI card, but says it’s broken and can’t be used. If I boot up on the Rage PCI, it can’t see the motherboard card at all. I have no idea why, but since I don’t use XP for much, I don’t care enough to pursue it.

Single-screen Windows, inside setup

I’ll probably never use this configuration, but you never know.

Real work 1: inside setup, Ubuntu+Ardour

SO much real estate. I love it. I’ve played with it some more since I took this photo and for Ardour I’m actually separating the monitors a bit, and have editor view in one and mixer view in the other. This gets left monitor back to pretty much directly in front, which makes this a good editing arrangement.

Real work 2, outside setup, Ubuntu+Ardour

Good for recording other people. This is where I’ve been the last two days, pretty much nonstop. Again, pulling the monitors more apart a bit gives you better angles, and I’ve found myself doing that.

Here, I can look at performers and levels at the same time, and have full access to the control board. I angle the keyboard so it’s kind of between the two monitors, it’s awesome. I’ve found that I slide the audio interface forward for better access to the hardware controls, and that’s actually easier too because nothing’s in the way anymore.

Real work 3: self-recording

The instant I set this up, I reflexively tried using the screens as touchscreens, and was disappointed on some level when it didn’t work. If you have the dosh, do this with touchscreens – if they treat fingers as mice that’s good enough. I want this. I want it good.

The closest I’ve found to a downside is that this monitor stand holds altitude through friction and when you rotate the screen arms on the central post, it tends to sink a little. It doesn’t do this while stable, so once you set it, it’s good.

Anyway, no rest for the wicked. Ja ne!

an inflection point in monitor technologies

Criminal Studios’ workstation desk has had a usability problem.

Ardour, my digital audio workstation (DAW) software, has an editor view and a mixer view. Both are really useful for different things, and Ardour will happily display both at once. But both want lots of screen space, making you toggle between them, which is a pain in the ass. Avoiding that requires huge tracts of land, and those big monitors are spendy.

Last week, I realised I could cheat. First, Linux, Windows, and OS X all support multimonitor/multicard displays. Second, for the last year or so, everybody’s been dumping 4:3-ratio LCDs, even newish ones in good shape; nobody wants them. Pretty good ones go for $20ish; I spent $16. Third, old-school 4:3 ATI Rage cards are $15, new in box.

Combine these facts, and $31 buys you:

Huge Tracts of Land

The blue field on the left display is part of the background graphic, made by modifying a standard Ubuntu Studio desktop. There’s no actual special functionality; it’s organisational notation. “Files left here need sorted.”

2560×1024, aw yeah

(Click on either to enlarge.)

By themselves, neither display is good, by any modern definition. I mean, lol 17″ 4:3 LCDs. Would you want to play games on this? Hell to the no. FPS would be wretched, you have this screen divisor bar where the monitors meet…

…but that’s totally irrelevant.

All you need for a DAW is to match screen resolutions and have enough oomph to draw sound level metres moving. That’s about the same graphics power as you need for something like, oh, Word. Getting that functionality cost, I repeat, thirty-one dollars.

It’d’ve been $16 if the old graphics card sitting in the parts box hadn’t been the wrong slot type. Do you have an old PCI graphics card sitting around? Thought so.

After all of two days in this configuration, the usability difference is tremendous and obvious. Being able to have all this extra data in view at the same time is really useful when recording other people, and there’s actually a lot less mousing even as I do more things, because I’m not having to change views and move windows around to get to tools.

It’s so useful, I’ve decided to shell out another $44 for a cheap dual-monitor bracket. But you don’t need that; you can just sit the monitors on boxes to get them to the right height. But I need screen mobility.

See, the studio desk is double-sided. I set things up on the outer side when I’m recording myself or rehearsing. It’s for best access to the DAW controls from the recording floor:

Note location of chair and keyboard; recording floor is to the right.

When recording others, I set up on the opposite, further side, so I’m out of the way, and can see everything they’re doing:

Flipped about

Needing to move the monitors every couple of days? That’s worth a pair of monitor arms. If you don’t have that, don’t bother.

This situation won’t be last forever, because all the good old 4:3 monitors will go away, or get old, or become rare enough to be more expensive. But for the time being, it’s pretty cool. And dirt cheap, so you can spend your money on things that matter.

Like microphones.

we run a very polite lair

Studio washroom:

no, really – the sewer rats are radioactive

Also, the Rainmaker 68000 is working great. Of course, the Lair is in a mountain in a rain forest, so it’s easier here. Still: very promising! I’m looking forward to the field testing – have you ever seen Vegas in a rainstorm? Hilarious.

i needed an on-the-air sign

So with the heavy recording schedule I have going on right now – such as this new Leannan Sidhe live-in-studio song, recorded yesterday – I needed to make a remote-controlled ON-AIR sign for downstairs, below the studio. I’d tried to make one before out of a digital picture frame I got free somewhere but it didn’t work out for various reasons. I wanted something that was explicit and changed display from OFF AIR to ON AIR, at very least – not just a lamp or something.

And then I had an idea, and put it together Friday night in about three hours. The idea part was just paper and transparencies; the rest just kind of fell out from that. Simple and quick to do, a fun evening project. Enjoy!

Off Air, printed on yellow

On Air, printed on clear, flipped over and aligned

held up to the light

The rest pretty much wires itself! Glue the plastic and paper together with any glue that dries clear. Then…

Take one old cassette case (or any similarly-sized box, really)

Trim, fold, insert

Now build a circuit! I used an old 3v ARCHER power supply that I’d had sitting around in the parts bin since, um, a previous century. But it works fine and (like many of these old things) actually puts out higher voltage than stated (within a tolerance) and all I needed inside was a simple LED lighting circuit.

I added a third LED later

said third LED was stolen from old broken garden lamp

Wire in parallel, not series!

Plug in to a RF-controlled power outlet box – you can buy these at hardware stores, Radio Shack, places like that. Or you could get all fancy with X.10 hardware and the like, but really there’s no need. Use whatever you have on hand.

Plugged in, Off

Plugged in, On

Installed, Off

Installed, On

A cassette case seemed fitting, being for a recording studio – but really, any container which has at least one clear side will do just fine. If you want to make your own, go ahead – here are PDFs for the paper and transparencies, both formatted for 8.5×11 Letter but you can resize them however you like as long as they both end up the same size:

Off-air PDF
On-air PDF

Whatever paper you use should be pretty light so that the blank areas of the transparency light up well held up to the light.

I also ended up changing the straight-in power plug for an angled power plug so it doesn’t stick out like that anymore, because that was annoying.

How’s that for a 20th Century solution? All made from parts I just had sitting around. Is there a word for modernist-punk, or have we wrapped all the way back around from “steam” to just “punk” again? Regardless, there y’go. If you make one, post pictures. ^_^


This post is part of The DIY Studio Buildout Series, on building out a home recording studio.

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