Wednesday, June 25, 2014
10 Signs You’re An A/V Geek
In the interest of full disclosure, I am not an A/V geek. I have only spent my entire career in or on the periphery of the A/V industry.
I mean, A/V geeks push the cart around the school. They wear bifocals with tape around the nose and they are very susceptible to bullies’ wedgies.
However, over the years I have gotten to know a lot about A/V. This tiny industry is chock full of acronyms, slang and terminology that nobody would know if they’re not around it every day.
Does knowing these terms make you an A/V guy (gal)? Here are 10 A/V terms and concepts that only an A/V geek would know.
RGB/RGBS/RGBHV - Even if someone was to know what they mean, they don’t have a clue what “Sync” is.
DSP - Only A/V folks know it, and most of us still don’t really get it.
1080i vs. 1080p - My favorite pastime is going to Best Buy and asking the associate what the real differences are between 1080i and 1080p. Turns out they only look like A/V geeks.
YUV vs. YPrPb vs. Component - Yep, they are all the same. I’m sure we set it up that way to confuse people.
RS 232/422/485 - Perhaps some early computer/IT folks know it, but only A/V professionals are still using it.
A/D & D/A - Is this an attention disorder?
Matrix Switcher - Is that a movie mash up featuring Keanu Reeves?
VTC/VC/UC - Although no one has successfully defined “unified communications,” we surely all have an opinion of what it is.
Keystone - Isn’t that a really bad beer?
Crestron/Extron/AMX - We commercial integrators may think these are big companies, but if you aren’t in this industry you have no idea what these companies are and what they do.
The list of nerdisms could go on, but the point is simple: If you know more than five of these, then you are an A/V geek. (Although, the fact that you are reading this magazine is already a dead giveaway).
So I guess I am an A/V geek after all. In actuality, minus the wedgies, I’m OK with that.
Daniel L. Newman currently serves as CEO of EOS, a new company focused on offering cloud-based management solutions for IT and A/V integrators. He has spent his entire career in various integration industry roles. Most recently, Newman was CEO of United Visual where he led all day to day operations for the 60-plus-year-old integrator.
Go to Commercial Integrator for more content on A/V, installed and commercial systems.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Sincopa Turns To Optocore For Timberlake And Stones In Tel Aviv
Sincopa Sound & Light has recently used the newly acquired Optocore digital returns racks to service major concerts by Justin Timberlake and the Rolling Stones.
Sincopa Sound & Light, one of the largest PA companies in Isreal, has recently used the newly acquired Optocore digital returns racks to service major concerts by Justin Timberlake and the Rolling Stones. Both concerts were held in Tel Aviv’s giant Park HaYarkon for up to 50,000 fans.
For the Timberlake concert they deployed Optocore’s sophisticated fiber distribution system comprising four XR6-FX interfaces at the FOH, stage and delay tower ends. One device was configured 8AE/8MI and the other three 8AE/8LO.
Transmission to the L-Acoustics PA and delay towers was via Optocore AES, analog and Ethernet on a redundant loop, with two AES lines from the Digico SD-7, through a routing/summing Lake LM-44 to a total of five AES lines on the Optocore rack. These were configured for AES and analog, while an analog line was connected for backup.
The two Optocore stage racks ran AES Out/Analog Out and AES In/Analog In, respectively. The other AES/Analog Outs were assigned to the two delay towers.
A compliment of L-Acoustics K1, K2, VDosc and Kara, optimized by dedicated L-Acoustics LA8 amplified controllers in 21 LARacks, covered a total distance of 210 meters, with 152 meters to the furthest delay point.
“Optocore supplied extremely close technical support and dealt immediately with any issues we encountered,” said Assa Efrat, the Sincopa technical manager who configured the system. “I can now see this being part of our permanent audio deployment and it will be used again and again.”
“The support from Optocore was amazing,” agrees Amos Bokobza, CEO of Sincopa Sound & Light. “We were able to choose such a huge project on which to debut the Optocore system only because of the great technical support; this enabled us to remain calm during set-up and show days.”
Other technical crew for the Timberlake show included Eran Pereldik (project manager), and system engineers, Eran Pereldik and Efrat himself. The Optocore solution more than met their requirements and was promptly redeployed when the Rolling Stones appeared at the same venue on June 4.
Studio Musician, Producer And Songwriter Adds Daking FET III
Accomplished bass player and multi-instrumentalist Seth Glassman also writes and produces music with the help of his Daking preamps and compressors.
Like many musicians who have a knack and interest in the technical side of things, Seth Glassman branched out into songwriting and production decades ago. He maintains a well-equipped project studio in his New York City home that includes his go-to Daking Audio preamps and compressors, which were recently supplemented by a borrowed Daking FET III compressor to mix a forthcoming album by all-girl power trio New Myths.
Glassman is an accomplished bass player and multi-instrumentalist whose thirty-plus year career has included work and performances with dozens of industry luminaries including James Brown, Paul McCartney, Diana Ross, and Elvis Costello. He is currently the musical director and band leader for 1960s icon Darlene Love.
“Although I started out strictly as a musician and continue to play that role, I always had an interest in producing and writing songs,” Glassman said. “Being a studio musician put me in the privileged position of watching some of the best songwriters, producers and engineers in the world work their magic.
“Early on, I made a conscious effort to be a sponge – to pay attention and soak up all of their knowledge, perspectives and techniques. As I got older, I deliberately moved into songwriting and production and put everything I learned into action.”
Glassman grew to know Geoff Daking, maker of Daking gear, as they repeatedly crossed paths in NYC studio sessions: Glassman on bass and Daking behind the console.
“I really respect that Geoff is a musician [he played in the 1960s platinum-selling band Blues Magoos], a sound engineer, and an electrical engineer,” said Glassman. “He knows what good music sounds like, and he understands the entire path, from the instruments, through the gear, to the final product.
“That obviously had – and continues to have – a huge influence on how he designs gear. For example, he selected the center frequencies on his EQs based on his decades of experience behind the console. Those are the frequencies that would be most useful for him if he were using the gear.”
Glassman has also learned that the best preamp for vocals will always be his Dakings, which stands head and shoulders above his other big name preamps.
“Geoff’s preamps have a body and clarity that’s unmatched,” he said. “His preamps sound better on more instruments and with more microphones than any other preamp I’ve ever used. It’s a totally different situation from the mics, where I always have to try them all out. Geoff’s preamps always sound the best.”
In fact, Glassman seldom goes to any other preamp unless he has too many inputs to use just his Dakings. He also has early model Daking FET limiters that he uses as an insert on his stereo bus whenever he mixes with his Pro Tools HD system, citing its transparent but effective dynamics control, provided he doesn’t push it too far (“It’s easy to get an affected sound by driving it, which is exactly what you want for some other uses,” he clarified).
Glassman’s work with New Myths is in his blood. His daughter, Rosie Slater, plays drums with the band in the space between her live and studio work with other artists.
“It’s a very textually sophisticated album,” he said, “and getting the drums to fit within that tonally and dynamically was challenging and critical. With my Daking compressor on the mix bus, I tried all of the other tools in my arsenal to get the drums where I wanted them to be, but to no avail.”
Glassman called in a favor and got a loaner Daking FET III Stereo Compressor from Geoff via Daking’s U.S. distributor, TransAudio Group.
“The FET III gave me the sound I was after. The drums had control but they weren’t noticeably squashed-sounding. After some early criticisms of the drum sound, Rosie loved how things came together with the Daking FET III.”
Posted by Julie Clark on 06/23 at 02:52 PM
Monday, June 09, 2014
Understanding Analog & Digital In Terms Of Audio
Analog? Digital? Both? In professional audio, many choices exist, but there’s not enough time to make the wrong ones. We regularly hear claims floating about, often skewed by particular opinions and interests that tend to color underlying simple truths.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the noun “analog” as being something that is analogous (similar or related) to something else. For example, an analog can be a food product that represents another, such as inexpensive whitefish “krab” intended to replicate more expensive (real) crab meat, or, for you vegetarians, soybeans processed to look and taste like beef.
If you’ve experienced either of these examples, you know that some products are more successful than others in recreating the essence of the original. The audio world is really no different.
But a fundamental difference between processed food and audio, of course, is that a foodstuff analog can only ever be exactly that - analog. In contrast, audio can be reproduced as an analog OR as a digital representation of the original.
When something makes a sound, such as a musical instrument or a human voice, the vibrations produced travel through the air as an analog of that sound. So, we start with an analog of the original, a close representation of the sound source.
If we’re able to accurately preserve the subtleties and nuances of the original movement of the air throughout the audio system, then we have done our job. But how best to do that?
It isn’t just a question of whether it’s better to put together an entirely analog or entirely digital signal path to capture and convey the original sound source.
Both methods offer advantages and disadvantages, and a variety of factors, including circuit design and component choice, can affect how accurately the equipment reproduces the source.
But for all the advances that have brought high-resolution digital audio products to the marketplace, the debate still rages over which sounds “better.” The crux of the matter is how close current digital audio technology, even at high sampling rates and bit depths, can come in replicating full-bandwidth analog audio gear.
Audio—sounds that are within the average human range of hearing generally accepted to cover the frequency range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz - moves through the natural world as an analog signal that is continuous in time and amplitude.
It always starts with analog, such as the lovely voices of Norah Jones (left) and Dolly Parton.
In a digital audio system, a natural sound traveling through the air must be converted after being captured by a microphone.
An analog microphone translates the movements of air on its diaphragm into an electrical signal. That electrical signal must then be converted into a digital signal, a string of zeroes and ones, in order to be transported by, operated on, or stored by the digital audio system that follows.
This is achieved through an analog-to-digital converter, utilizing sampling and quantization.
How You Slice It
Sampling and quantization is like looking at the speedometer of your car. If you don’t keep a regular eye on your speed, your car might be going faster or slower than you realize.
Audio sampling is simply taking regular measurements of a varying analog voltage or current. Because the audio voltage or current is constantly changing, we have to pick moments in time to freeze the audio as a non-varying number.
We must make measurements in a quick enough succession that we don’t miss important changes between measurements. And we must measure with enough resolution that we capture as much detail as we desire.
Theory tells us that the rate at which the signal is sampled must be at least twice that of the highest frequency that we wish to reproduce. The Nyquist Theorum, therefore, means that, to faithfully capture an analog audio signal that extends to the accepted upper threshold of 20 kHz, it must be sampled at 40 kHz, or 40,000 samples per second.
As an aside, the reason that the compact disc Red Book standard dictates a sampling frequency of 44.1 kHz is based on the early developers, Philips and Sony, wishing to cover the generally accepted audio spectrum of human hearing while also fitting the resulting digital information onto videotape.
By fitting three samples into each active line in the video field, at 50 Hz or 60 Hz, the developers were able to sample 44,100 times per second and save the data onto videotape, which was the digital audio storage and mastering precursor to the compact disc.
These days, we understand that the higher the sample rate, the better. Extending the sampling frequency well beyond the minimum 40 kHz allows digital processing tools to operate on the signal without compromise and to reduce alias signals.
Alias signals are basically components of the audio signal above the upper limit of the sampling frequency that are essentially folded back into the signal, creating an unpleasant distortion.
Someone once gave a good example of aliasing. A guy living in a cave was waiting for daylight. He stuck his head outside about every 25 hours. Starting at 8 o’clock at night (8 pm), he next looked outside 25 hours later when, unbeknownst to him, it was 9 pm and still dark.
Poke your head out of a cave once every 25 hours or so, and you’re going to get an incorrect sampling of day-to-night ratio. So it goes with digital sampling.
Looking outside his pitch black cave every 25 hours he encountered night 10 times in a row, leading him to believe that the night was 10 times longer than it really was.
That is what aliasing is all about. It’s a false reality, created by not sampling the signal of interest frequently enough. If the knucklehead had looked every hour he would have seen the true length of night.
The same goes for audio sampling. If we don’t make enough measurements within a period of time, we miss important audio information and end up with incorrect sounds, harmonically unrelated to what we really wanted to capture.
Zeroes & Ones
Simply, the numerical representation of a slice of audio frozen in time could be either above or below a threshold. There are just two choices: on or off. The resulting one-bit audio would sound like a nasty guitar fuzz box.
Greater precision in measurement leads to more faithful reproduction of the sound we wish to preserve. We could choose to record sound as a stream of numbers using our familiar decimal system, based on our 10 fingers.
But digital electronic circuits are much more comfortable with the binary system of counting, where instead of 10 different levels there are only two, represented by zero and one.
The string of numbers flip by like the frames of a cartoon to create the illusion of a continuously variable analog of the original sound. The faster the pictures flip by every second and the better the picture quality the more realistic the illusion of movement in the cartoon, and so it is in audio, where a higher sampling rate and longer word length results in better quality digital audio.
When we put up a microphone and create an audio signal chain between the natural sound and what comes out the other end, we are putting our faith in the equipment manufacturers.
Just as we have a palette of choices in creating that signal chain, manufacturers have a broad palette of components to choose from when creating the piece of equipment that we choose to run our sound through.
While the equipment designer is picking just the right resistor, capacitor, or digital signal processor, he has to keep in mind a slew of constraints placed on him, such as reliability, end cost to the customer, support, appearance, and so on.
Regardless of using resistors (analog) or chips (digital), the designer still has a slew of constraints of which to be aware.
So a lot of the talent a designer brings to a product is the ability to make the right balance of compromises to deliver a cost-effective solution for the customer. And this is what makes one product or technology a better choice than another. So where do they go right and what are the traps?
Playing The Numbers
More is better, right? In our society, we tend to be impressed by bigger numbers. If 16-bit audio sounds better than 8-bit audio, then 24-bit audio must sound even better.
Manufacturers wow us with science. They tell us that their analog to digital converters have 24-bit performance.
A simple engineering rule of thumb says that we get about 6 dB of signal-to-noise improvement with every bit we add. This means that 24-bit audio has a dynamic range of six times 24, or 144 dB.
Yet when we read the specs, we’re lucky to see 118 dB out of a so-called 24-bit converter. So the difference between the claim of 24 and the reality of not even 20 is called “marketing bits.” They are in there to make you and I believe we are getting something more.
Dynamic range is just one measure of performance. Other measurements, such as distortion, similarly fall short of the claimed number of bits.
So our 24-bit converters are really 20-bit converters. But 20 bits is still impressively good when you consider dynamic range—the difference between the loudest sound and the noise floor.
But these are just measurements. Unfortunately, measurements aren’t always a true indicator of how something is going to sound.
Often we find that a piece of gear sounds great even though its specs leave something to be desired. The key is clean conversion in and out, and numeric precision once inside the box. Once digital equipment designers have transferred the analogue audio into their digital world, they use math to manipulate the sound.
Functions such as EQ involve repetitive processing of numbers. If the digital circuits don’t maintain enough precision, noise and distortion can creep into the pristine digital audio.
It’s like balancing your checkbook. If you only paid attention to the dollars and ignored the cents, your balance would be off by more and more each month. The rounding-off to the nearest dollar causes a bigger and bigger problem the more you do it.
Whether it’s the digital signal processor in your digital console or the Pentium in your laptop, care has to be taken not to allow the small rounding errors to creep up on you and cause noise and nasty distortion.
And here’s where we encounter a fundamental difference between analog and digital audio: There’s good distortion and there’s bad distortion.
Good & Bad
What sounds “good” depends upon whom you ask. That is, it’s a subjective matter to a great extent. Those firmly in the analog audio camp point to an indefinable emotional impact inherent in non-digital sound.
The common observation: vinyl is “warm” and CD is “cold.” But is this accurate?
Audiophiles and purists still prefer the open and natural sound of recordings on vinyl, for example, when compared to what they consider the harsh, cold, or unemotional sound on compact discs.
But what is the accepted norm also plays into the equation.
The audio world is transitioning to digital at a rapid pace. In post-production and music recording, two areas that were among the first to make the digital transition, the entire process, from ingestion of the source material to outputting the finished product, can take place entirely within the digital domain.
The television and radio broadcast industries have also been busy making the transition to fully digital operation over the last few years.
The last bastion of analog audio is live sound. But there, too, over the last few years, the tools have begun to emerge that have allowed engineers to set up systems that, except for the transducers at either end of the signal path, are wholly digital.
Arguably, beginning with the widespread availability of CDs during the 1980s, there has been a widespread acceptance of digitally delivered music as being perfectly satisfactory, even preferable to analogue methods.
Yet analog in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s seemed somehow more pure, within the limits of the available technology.
But in the recording process today, you have almost no choice regarding staying in the analog domain if you plan to release the project commercially. At some point in the process you must convert into the digital domain, if only for the release format, if you hope to have any kind of financial success.
But even the benchmark set by CD has been lowered with the current downloading revolution. The very nature of an MP3 file dictates that the listener is missing something. MPEG compression is a ‘lossy’ method; that is, it throws away what it considers to be insignificant content when compressing the file size.
But perhaps it’s throwing away that indefinable something that analog aficionados cherish.
Perhaps more significantly, the MP3 revolution may be leading to a generation that has no concept of distortion. A few years ago, an engineering acquaintance related how he had to sit his son down and explain distortion to him.
At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, kids today are used to hearing “crunchy” audio. Younger people who have only lived during this digital era are largely unaware of ‘good’ distortion, the acceptable harmonic distortion of analog audio.
To them, what we consider bad digital distortion is simply a part of the music that they listen to daily. Trading poorly “ripped” MP3s (regardless of legality), they have become so used to the crunchy sound quality of the format that, as some readers who have discussed the matter with their own children may attest, they may find it not only acceptable but even preferable to CDs.
The crunch of digital distortion, which is not limited to MP3s, of course, but can just as easily find its way into the digital recording process and onto disc or into the live sound arena, is unpleasant.
The pops, clicks, and surface noises of the vinyl beloved of audiophiles pale by comparison to the harsh distortion of digital audio, compressed or uncompressed.
Right & Wrong?
With digital audio, noise and distortion tends to be inharmonic and unrelated to the original sound, whereas analog distortion is harmonically related and may be pleasant or, in extreme cases, tolerable. Analog distortion can add a hard-to-define “warmth” to a sound.
Is wrong always wrong? Analogue distortion can even be a major component of a sound, such as an electric guitar, and therefore desirable.
If you run audio through a tube device, you are doing it to add flavor, not to reproduce something exactly or realistically. In such cases, the audio process may not be accurately recreating the original source, but it is at least adding partials that are music-related, and therefore relatively harmonious.
There’s a reason why old mixing consoles, such as those designed and built by Rupert Neve, for example, are so sought after. The “warmth” controls on Mr. Neve’s contemporary updates of his old designs actually introduce a modicum of distortion.
This was something that was inherent in many of his original designs, albeit at low levels, yet which could impart an emotional response to the music produced through the equipment that made it attractive to the listener.
In the analog world, distortion is usually related to the original sound. The transistors, op amps, resistors, capacitors, and inductors can add even or odd harmonics. These unwanted extra harmonics are related to the original sounds in evenly spaced octaves.
If the distortion is in even multiples, taking the example of a bass note of 100 Hz, adding distortion at two times or four times the original and so on, the harmonics at 200 Hz, 400 Hz, and up tend to sound warm and on the organic side.
Odd harmonics, such as those at three, five, and seven times the original, tend to sound hard and edgy. But whether even or odd, they are generally somewhat ‘musical.’
The types of distortion picked up in a digital signal path are often unrelated harmonically to our pristine audio. Those unwanted aliases in the analog to digital conversion are inharmonic and sound just plain awful. And once they are in there, there is no getting rid of them.
But there are many different types of distortion—harmonic, intermodulation, frequency, phase, time, and so on, that are frequently present simultaneously and therefore interrelated. And not all are pleasant.
Ultimately, the goal in any audio system, analog or digital, is to maintain the lowest overall distortion.
Modeling In Digital
Byproducts of a compressor moving too fast in the digital domain can splatter grunge all across our good sound. Done with care, the same process can sound pleasant, like the analog equivalents.
Using a compressor as an example, it’s often hard to model what goes on in an analogue compressor in the digital world.
Analog designers often choose a simple gain control element that consists of a module with a light shining on a light dependant resistor. As the light comes on, it reduces the level of the audio flowing through the resistor.
But the resistor is slow to respond to the light. If a loud passage comes along and the light brightens to reduce the level, some of the loud stuff sneaks through while the sluggish control element changes.
It is also slow to come back to where it started after the loud passage has passed. Additionally, it adds subtle even order harmonics.
Going back to our food analogy, modeling the nice sounding analog compressor digitally is like trying to capture all the subtlety of the vanilla bean. Artificial vanilla has the same basic chemical composition as the real thing, but tends to lack the many subtle additional flavors and aromas that make real vanilla what it is.
Manufacturers offer compressors using inexpensive light dependent resistors for many thousands of dollars. When we run analog audio through digital equivalent, we want the designer to capture all the subtle nuances of our funky analog unit.
Digital designers claim to accurately model the analog world, but just like our lowly vanilla bean, it’s not that easy. What digital audio equipment most certainly offers is precise control and repeatability. Extensive recall of presets is technically much easier in digital.
Yet some users will still pick analog equipment because quality of sound outweighs the easy life of presets.
In equipment like digital mixing consoles, dynamic and snapshot automation allows the near instantaneous reset of console-wide, complex setups. That can be a particularly useful feature when the front-of-house console is handling multiple acts in quick succession, to offer just one example.
Similarly, on a major tour that is using in-ear monitor systems, which are not greatly affected by the nightly change of venue acoustics, setup times can be drastically reduced. Digital consoles such as those made by DiGiCo, Yamaha and Digidesign offer varying levels of features and price.
Digital processors let you do things that are otherwise impossible in the analog domain, such as impossibly steep-sided filters and multiple EQ curves stacked one on top of the other. Alternatively, there is the hybrid approach, digital control of analog circuitry, which several console manufacturers experimented with in the early ‘80s.
The late Bruce Jackson was involved with several leading audio companies and mixed Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and Bruce Springsteen, among many others, over the course of his illustrious career. Steve Harvey is a widely published professional audio journalist.
Friday, June 06, 2014
The Freq Zone Studio In Jacksonville Adds API’s THE BOX
Owner Nathan Hamiel seeking a classic sound from an all-inclusive small-format package
The final steps are being taken in constructing The Freq Zone, a new recording studio in Jacksonville, FL. amd to fit the needs of his new recording and mixing space, studio owner Nathan Hamiel has commissioned THE BOX console from API to provide a classic sound from an all-inclusive small-format package.
“I love THE BOX. It provides the sonic character of a large format console in a smaller footprint,” says Hamiel, who was guided through the decision process by Craig Calistro of Calistro Music. “The sound is everything you’d expect from API – big and punchy. I also like the fact I can have it be the centerpiece and augment it with outboard gear of my choice, creating my own personal sound.”
The studio is undergoing final preparations, including a new mix/master/production room, as well as a custom desk, which will be completed in June.
Posted by Keith Clark on 06/06 at 11:54 AM
Thursday, June 05, 2014
RE/P Files: An Interview With Noted Engineer/Producer Val Garay
From the archives of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, enjoy this in-depth discussion with engineer/ producer Val Garay, conducted by Robert Carr. This article dates back to the October 1983 issue.
As a natural extension to his career as a musician during the early Sixties, Val Garay’s love for music lead him to pursue the art and science of audio engineering. Starting in 1969, he apprenticed at the Sound Factory, Hollywood, under rock-recording legend Dave Hassinger (Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Seals and Crofts).
After turning independent, Garay formed an alliance with another ex-musician, Britisher Peter Asher. The association produced monster hits for Asher’s clients Linda Ronstadt (Heart Like a Wheel, Prisoner in Disguise, Hasten Down the Wind, Simple Dreams, Living in the USA, Mad Love) and James Taylor (J.T., Flag, Dad Loves His Work).
Garay eventually became dissatisfied at the Sound Factory, and the inconsistencies attendant with moving from one studio to another, at which point he decided the best course of action was to open his own facility, Record One, located in Sherman Oaks, just north of Los Angeles, and which now serves as his recording home.
The following interview took place among the dozens of Gold and Platinum albums lining the walls in Garay’s private office. After a few words on his recent accomplishments as producer/engineer with Kim Carnes (Mistaken Identity; 1981 “Record of the Year” Grammy Winner for “Bette Davis Eyes”), Randy Meisner (One More Song), Joan Armatrading (The Key), and the Motels (All Four One), a band that Garay also manages, the conversation turned to the opportunities and advantages to an engineer/producer owning one’s own personal-use studio.
Robert Carr: It must be particularly convenient to have your own studio, which enables you to take the time to perfect each project you work on?
Val Garay: It is and it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass, because you have to deal with the business end of owning a studio, which I’m not terribly fond of. I don’t like to sit there with calculators and figure out the plus and minus side of the operation. I like to make records, which is a lot more creative, and pretty soon I’ll start making a film. [A feature film based in part on Motels’ lead singer Martha Davis’ life currently is in its development stages.]
Owning your own facility is kind of a necessary evil in the sense that if you subject yourself to a commercially rented studio, you subject yourself to someone else’s tastes—not only in terms of equipment and design, but also maintenance and other things. I was fortunate to spend the first eight or nine years of my engineering career in one recording studio [Record Factory in Hollywood] and the rest of the time here [Record One]. I wasn’t subjected to going from one studio to another. It’s too unsettling for me.
RC: Is stability of that nature necessary for you to make a good product?
VG: I think you perform better when you have familiar surroundings and equipment that you’re used to working with. If you were a “body-and-fender” man, to put it on a mundane level, and you were wondering around the streets doing your work every day using tools in different areas, I’m sure you wouldn’t be as proficient as if you had your own body shop. It’s basically the same thing here.
The only problem is that this is a two-million-dollar operation, so it requires a lot of attention. And I’m not the only one who uses this studio. We rent the studio to a lot of clients, and I’m constantly having to book around other people. In all fairness, if I decided to work tomorrow, I couldn’t bump Toto out of the studio. I’m basically a customer here, too; that can be frustrating at times.
RC: Couldn’t you divest yourself of the day-to-day running of the studio, and put someone else in charge?
VG: No, I can’t. It’s the same way that I make records. I have to concern myself with every fragment, or something starts to dissipate or disintegrate. If you’re not in contact with what’s going on, you can’t catch it before it gets too bad.
RC: I assume that kind of philosophy is what motivated you to become involved with both engineering and producing the projects you take on?
VG: I’ve been working this way for 15 years. I just wasn’t successful as [only] a producer. But it’s very difficult to try and hire somebody to engineer records when, in my mind, and I don’t mean this egotistically, I’m one of the best engineers I know. How could I hire somebody else? All the really good up and coming engineers that I know are people I taught. And you know that you teach them everything they know, not everything you know.
Greg Ladanyi won a Grammy last year for the Toto IV record, and I taught him. I was just reading an article in Re/p on Gabe Veltri [April 1983 issue Ed.]. When I got perturbed at the Sound Factory at one time in my career and went over to Richard’s [Perry] studio for about a year and worked, Gabe was my go-fer. Now I see him in his sweater and tinted glasses behind the console.
It would be very difficult for me to hire someone as my engineer, unless I worked with someone in my peer group. I could work with [Bill] Schnee, because we came out of the same school in the same time frame. But when you have somebody else to deal with, you have another personality, another X-Factor in the formula. That tends to dilute the process sometimes. Whereas right now, I don’t have a whole lot of conversation with my engineer about how I want to do something, because he knows how I want to do it, since he is me.
RC: A lot of producers don’t like to handle both functions for the same project, because they feel they’ll be missing some production aspect while they’re working with the equipment, or vice versa.
VG: It can be hard. But here’s how I do it, which is actually pretty easy, because I’ve figured out a method that works. I spend an immense amount of time rehearsing, which is why I built a rehearsal studio in here [Record One]. That’s when I sort out the musical part of the record-making process—the instrumentation; the arrangements; the basic architecture of the song [see accompanying sidebar].
The ratio of rehearsal-to-recording time is about two-to-one. If we spent eight months making a record, two-thirds of that was rehearsing, and the other third recording. We figure everything out in absolute detail and make cassettes at each juncture as we go along. I could play you cassettes of the Motels’ album [All Four One] that shows one song passing through four stages of arrangement.
Sometimes we’ll get into the studio, cut the tracks, not get it, come back to rehearsal, and work on the arrangement even more. By the time we get to the studio, I’m thoroughly familiar with the song. There are so few changes made while we’re recording that I can become an engineer and get a sound that I like.
Once I’ve accomplished that, there’s really nothing more to laying it down than cutting a vocal, and I can do that without even thinking about it; my hands respond unconsciously to how my ear wants to hear the vocal track. I don’t even look at VU meters anymore. I’m totally conscious of the music when it’s going down, and I can tell a great take from a bad one instantly.
I also make notes. I keep a loose-leaf notebook for every group I work with. Here’s the Motels’; this book represents the last album we did. [Holds up a black binder and opens to a page about halfway into the book.] If you look at “Only the Lonely,” for example: this is the lyric sheet [flips page]; I have the date on the top of each sheet. These are the fixes we did on the vocal; the numbers of the takes with little one- and two-word descriptions after each one.
As the track is going down I make notes: “CT” equals complete take; “FS” equals false start, etc. [Sample comments: “bad sax”; “good take”; “the run-through was good in spots”; “still some mistakes”; “end is not tight”; “magnificent from solo on”; “the last hit was perfect.”] Here is my star system, actually stolen from Peter Asher: two or more stars means that the take was really good.
I keep pretty accurate notes of everything that I’ve done on every record. Sometimes the notes get more excessive or less depending on how hard it is to cut.
Here’s Kim’s album, Mistaken Identity. [Garay pulls out another binder from the pile, and opens to a page.] “Bette Davis Eyes”—that was the first complete take. Then in the back is usually the songs that didn’t make it. “The Lover” didn’t make it, obviously. Neither did “New Orleans Ladies,” “Here Comes the Bad One,” “Good Friend,” “Games,” “If You Don’t Want My Love”; these are songs that never made it as we were working on the album.
RC: Did you spend time pre-producing all these songs that didn’t make it?
VG: We rehearsed them. The ratio I’ve found in the past is usually three or four to one, meaning 30 to 40 songs to get 10 finished ones. For every three or four songs, you’ll get one that not only suits the artist, but is also strong enough to use on the album.
RC: Do you keep those rejected songs for use in the future?
VG: It’s a nice idea, but unfortunately it never works. If they are not good enough for this album, usually they won’t be strong enough for anyone.
RC: You’re really playing the numbers. You start with a lot of songs, and slowly weed them out until the good ones turn up?
VG: Not necessarily. When I started the new Motels’ album in January 1983, we had three songs. Three became one; one became none. Then we started over again. We have all 10 songs now [July 1983].
RC: If you do spend six to eight months or a year on an album, is it cost-effective to do everything yourself, assuming that your time is worth quite a bit of money?
VG: Hiring someone else to do those things would not change the time frame at all. We’d have to rehearse just as long, and it wouldn’t change the engineering. I originally did all the pre-production out of fear of not being prepared in the studio, and not being able to make things sound good. But, in reality, that kind of time is required to do a good job, regardless of whether you’re engineering or not. One sort of facilitates the other anyway.
I make most of my records live with very few overdubs. I think that records are better that way, especially if you’re working with great singers, which I have had the great fortune to do.
Yet certain singers thrive on the overdubbing process. I’ve never seen a great singer, who overdubs his vocal, sing a part from top to bottom, and use 98 percent of it. The minute they get into the overdub design of doing vocals, they’ll do eight takes and comp (compile or combine) eight to one track, and then do eight more and comp them. Basically what they do is use their ear as a singer to pick what they sing best, and sort of assemble the finished vocal track mechanically. In the end, it usually sounds like they sang it from top to bottom.
Don Henley does that very well—although I don’t know why he does it, because he’s a great singer. In fact, all the Eagles did it that way for years. Jackson Browne does it the same way. They go as far as comping syllables. “Well, the t-h-e of that word is a little flat.” So they’ll switch at that point to another vocal track that has that syllable a little more in tune. The layman can’t really hear all these comps. I did that with Randy Meisner’s album; there were a million switches in that.
With the Eagles, (Meisner) was used to singing in only one register, which was really high. But for a solo record, where you’re the lead singer, you have to cover all the areas. His lower ranges were a little more tentative, and he would sing out of tune more often. In order to get it in tune, we had to do the vocal tracks that way.
But when you have a singer like Martha (Davis, of the Motels), Kim Carnes, Linda Ronstadt, or James Taylor, those people are great singers. They have great intonation. The best vocal performances I ever recorded with Linda were the live ones with a few fixes—you fix one word here, and one word there. “Blue Bayou” was live; “Ooh, Baby Baby” was live. In fact, that whole record was. Also, “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim was totally live.
RC: I remember reading a couple of reviews about Linda Ronstadt’s album to the effect that, because the recording sounded so perfect, the critics thought it had been “produced to death.” How do you react to such comments.?
VG: The pre-production was really good. The interesting thing is that Linda never learned the songs until she got in the studio. She would sort of sluff her way through the rehearsals. The band would learn the songs, but she wouldn’t even know the lyrics most of the time—she’d be reading from a sheet! But she’s such a great singer that she can evoke emotions that sound like she’s torn. She’d usually learn the lyrics in a couple of run-downs in the studio.
Martha (Davis) is a great singer. When you have someone that sings as well as she does, and a band that’s got the tune down—and they’re interacting in a live-performance situation, even on a record—it’s much more real and emotional, and more moving, when it’s all going down at once, and one person is playing off the other. If you have a strong drummer that doesn’t move if the singer rushes or drags, then the track stays steady; the singer is singing and the band is following the singer, instead of a singer following a music track that’s [already] laid. It’s a whole different method. That’s why Elvis Presley records made in the Fifties still hold up; they were done Iive.
RC: You work with these artists for such a long time during pre-production and recording. It must be inevitable that you develop a close friendship with them after a while. In a way, doesn’t it become harder to be critical of their work?
VG: It becomes easier, the more familiar you get with them, because the barriers and defenses go down. It’s easier for me to be frank with Martha three years later, than it was the first month, because: A, I was afraid of hurting her feelings; and, B, afraid of what she was going to think of me. Is she going to think I’m a tyrant?
No, the more familiar you become, the more open the lines of communication. You’re more comfortable with the person, and there is less and less need for dialog. She knows what I want from her as a performer; I know, hopefully, what she wants, and we get to the point a lot quicker.
RC: I would also think that it provides you with an insight into knowing when to kick them forward, and when to dangle the carrot in front to get them going.
VG: Absolutely. I’ve known her so long that I know when to say it’s over; go home. Sometimes it’s five o’clock at night; sometimes it’s three o’clock in the morning. I know when the productivity level has peaked. That’s when I go, “Good night. See you tomorrow.”
RC: I noticed that you tend to rely on the same session players for most of your dates. Does that stem from the same sort of philosophy . . . that you know them so well there’s an extra efficiency?
VG: Sort of, but I think it has to do with more than that—a love affair with a great player. I’m sure that just as directors fall in love with actors and actresses, producers fall in love with musicians. I don’t mean in a sexual connotation, but on an emotional level. When I first heard Russ Kunkel play drums, I was in awe.
And he was a young man just starting out. But he had that thing that when you hear a great drummer, whether it’s in the early raw form, or the finished polished form, you just know when you hear it. At least I do. So I worked with basically the same 10 musicians for 10 years.
When it came time for me to make a break with [producer] Peter[Asher], and start producing on my own, I knew it was imperative that I build my own little group of musicians, as opposed to using his. His were used to his method of operation. Although I learned a lot from the man, I wasn’t going to do it the same way. That’s when I started looking for the guys I wanted to use.
It’s hard, too, because when you’ve dealt with the Waddy Wachtels, and the Leland Sklars and Russ Kunkels of rock and roll, you’ve set a standard that is pretty hard to duplicate. But I did, although I still go back and use Waddy from time to time.
RC: What do you look for when selecting musicians for a session?
VG: I guess my own taste in musicianship. I know very few musicians who are feverish readers—playing noted parts that are written out. They can read their way through a rough chart, because most of the stuff we write out is just chord charts to give the people a guide to follow. I look basically for the feel they have for playing.
RC: Many producers and engineers prefer not to work with the same people most of the time, because they feel that they reach a certain point in their careers where it’s difficult to remain creative.
VG: That happened with the old group of musicians I worked with when I was with Peter Asher all those years. But [deciding] when it happens is not that clear cut. It’s not that suddenly they don’t become creative anymore, because their wonderful talent doesn’t go away.
It’s just that you fall into a rut. It’s like Steve Garvey playing for the [LA] Dodgers all those years, and last year he wasn’t playing that well. Then he goes to San Diego, and he’s killing them.
The same thing happens with musicians—familiarity breeds contempt. The temptation is to start getting lackadaisical. I know I can get a good drum sound on Russ Kunkel without turning up the speakers. I could leave them shut off, EQ them, balance them on VU meters, and know it would sound great, because I’ve worked with him that long. When you get to that point, you lose the fear.
When I make records, I operate under a fear premise that this project won’t sound good enough, won’t feel good enough, won’t something good enough. It’s fear. If I sit there and kick back, knowing I can get a great sound on these guys, because they’re all going to play great, I’ve lost that hungry, street-level edge that got me here. That’s what becomes difficult in terms of creativity.
Here’s the difference; you’ve got the Phoenix Sun Devils and the New York Yankees. I’m sure there are days when the New York Yankees do not feel like playing baseball, but they do, because they’re professionals. The same thing holds true in this business. When you’re a professional, and you’re good, you’re respected, and you’ve reached a certain level of proficiency, you then have to figure out how to motivate yourself day after day. I have trouble with it.
I’ve been sitting in a control room for 15 years looking at a pair of speakers. It’s hard for me sometimes to go in there when I would rather be out in the sun sailing to Catalina, or playing gold at Riviera. I have other interests. But I have to get that fear of, “Is this going to be a hit record?” Well, it’s not going to be a hit record if I don’t work on it. And it’s not going to be a hit record if I don’t put into it what I put into the last one.
You have to motivate yourself. That’s how I do it—with fear. There’s that guy right behind me; he’s right on my heels. Until I decide to move into another area, I have to keep motivated. I have to keep up with the technology; keep my ears and eyes open all the time.
RC: Other than the fear, are there other little games that you play to persuade yourself to look at the project a little bit differently, and to uncover new avenues?
VG: Yes. There’s pressure…
RC: Under pressure, wouldn’t you fall back on the proven techniques and tricks you know work to get the job done?
VG: No. Well, there is a certain formula that is ingrained in all of that—what I call the basic foundation—that I live with. I never get rid of that. When my foundation was assembled in terms of making records, it was concrete—it was solid. I know what works. I also know the key to any record is a song. So if l do my homework in the song department, I can produce it in terms of the “production.”
Maybe not as well as the last record; I can sluff off in terms of the arrangement. But if it’s “Every Breath You Take,” I don’t care if you cut it on a cassette machine in a phone booth in Tahiti; it’s a hit. So most of the work I do is basically in the song line-up.
For the rest of the job, I’m fortunate. I learned from a great teacher how to make records; I know how to make them sound great. I can do R&B; I can do rock and roll; I can do country music ... pop music. I’ve done all of them successftdly. I’ve had a well-rounded career doing acts like that, so it’s just a matter of finding things that I’m comfortable with.
RC: Up until now, we’ve been discussing primarily rock projects. Do you feel you’ve become something of a rock specialist?
VG: I think that was done out of self-defense. By the time I was done with eight or nine years of Linda and James, I was stamped as the engineer for country-pop—the “California, surfboards, and tuna-fish” engineer. Oddly enough, my roots were always in rock and roll long before I ever did anything with Linda and James. So, out of self defense, I went after projects with more of a raw, rock and-roll edge to them, to prove to people that I could do that type of music. That’s sort of where I’ve been for a while.
RC: Do you really feel that you’ve gotten stuck there?
VG: No. Not at all. I like it. I like to take acts that are slightly off-center - not mainstream pop acts, but slightly off-center, rock-and-roll acts—and make them mass-appealable. All the acts I’ve worked with since I started as a producer had not turned the corner and become big, successful recording acts before I worked with them. They were all a little bit off in terms of their style, or their singing, or their sound, or whatever. I figured out a way to make them acceptable to the masses.
Kim Carnes had made six albums before I started working with her. She had gone from the beautiful, southern California singer/songwriter, to the woman with the raspy “Rod Stewart” voice doing a song called “Bette Davis Eyes,” which is about as off the wall as anything you can ever write.
Martha [Davis] had made two albums before I worked with her—neither were successful. Everybody knew she had the potential. She was sort of the “Los Angeles, New-Wave hope.” People had assigned her the slot of heir apparent to the throne of the female, LA, rock and roll star. It hadn’t happened. Again, I think I helped figure out a way to make it work.
RC: Of all the albums I listened to, Kim Carnes’ Mistaken Identity sounded the most commercial. It had a Top-40 sound to the album, whereas the others—the Motels, Joan Armatrading, and Randy Meisner—didn’t.
VG: Joan’s record is pretty avant garde. I only did two tracks on that [album], and those two were probably the most commercial. The Motels’ album sounds really commercial to me, and considering how well it did sales-wise ... “Only the Lonely” is, to me, the classic cheek-to-cheek tune. I don’t really know what you mean. “Mission of Mercy” was a great AOR rock tune.
RC: I can describe it more in terms of colors. Mistaken Identity had a very light color to it, in the sense that you might hear it on a middle-of-the-road station. The other material comprised darker shades of colors.
VG: Right. Martha is a very dark writer. Kim has a lighter side to her that is really pleasing. To me, her real strength as a singer lies in the fact that she has this wonderful sensitivity. A song like “Mistaken Identity,” or “Bette Davis Eyes,” is amazingly captivating, because she can evoke both of those emotions out of you. Whereas, you listen to a song like “Break the Rules Tonight,” which is her screaming her ass off, and the guitars going “gggrrrk, ggrrk, ggrrk,” that’s good, but it’s not as believable to me as the other side of her.
RC: So part of your job is to establish a direction and identity for the artist, and have them remain credible within that identity?
VG: Absolutely. The toughest part of the job is to have them not lose credibility in their minds and, at the same time, be accessible to the masses. You don’t want them to feel like you are selling them out. You have to show them you’re on their side and, at the same time, strike a happy medium between the absolute avant garde side and the mainstream, pop medium, which sometimes tends to be a little bland.
Critics talk about an artist selling out when they rthe artists] get successful. The reason that all the avant garde, hard-core people think you are selling out, is because you appeal to the masses.
RC: You’re no longer something that they discovered?
VG: Right. I watched Hoyt Axton completely berate and belittle Linda for selling out when she made “Heart Like a Wheel,” because he was this hard-core country singer. She worked her ass off thinking that she was making a sound, artistic endeavor. Because it sold 2 1/2 million records does not mean she sold out. But, to him it did, because she was no longer his discovery.
RC: Is there a process that you go through to define an artist’s personality, or is that a difficult concept to put into words?
VG: It’s not that nebulous; it’s pretty real. The quickest and most efficient way of doing it is through songs. If the artist is a writer, they write great songs, and not as great songs. But they are not always the best judge of which ones are the great ones! My job is to find the great ones.
It’s a funny kind of “push-and-pull” process where I’ll listen to five tunes and say, “This is a good song; these four aren’t.” They’ll go, “Well, I really love this one, too.” And I tell them it’s not really that good, but we’ll work on it. Then we work on it, and it’s still not good, and I say, “Forget it. Let’s off it.” And they come back with, “No I really love it. We have to keep working on it!”
So we keep working on it. Sometimes you keep going over and over and over and finally you have to say, “Forget it! It stinks! Next tune!” Or you may get it. Suddenly it all comes together. We had a tune like that on this album with Martha. We started cutting in February and finally got it in . . . [flips through notebook of Motels’ sessions].
That’s a good note, huh? [Garay points to a qualitative note about a take on one of the pages.]
RC: Horrible! [Laughter] Do you show the artists this book as you go along?
VG: It sits in the control room next to me. They always come in and look to see what I said. That’s the first thing they do to find out if they got a take or not. [Continues to flip through pages.] Here you go. We started it 4/14/83. This is the first time we cut the song, so we know they’ve been rehearsing it for a week or two weeks in front of this. And we cut it on the 15th [flips through pages]. That version sat around for a while, and then we realized that it wasn’t right.
Then, the 24th of May: a new version. That didn’t fly. We changed the arrangement and we cut it again on 6/6/83. Then 617/83; that’s when we got it. The eighth take. Figure that’s almost two months on that one song to get a recorded version we liked.
RC: Did the song change that much during those eight weeks?
VG: Drastically. Four completely different versions. I still have them on cassettes.
RC: Would you say that a lot of artists really don’t know who they are? Or don’t have a really clear picture of themselves?
RC: So the whole idea during production is to cut through the illusion of who the artist thinks they are, and find the real self?
VG: I don’t tell them anything. I just help them find what they feel comfortable with, and what I think is an acceptable mode to the general masses, as opposed to a select few. The Motels were successful previously on an underground basis, because they made albums that were an avant garde kind of collector’s item. That’s about all they were. They had some great songs on there, but they just didn’t come out.
RC: There’s only a finite number of things you can do with a song…
VG: ... it’s endless. To give you an example: you have 10 songs on an album. When you go to sequence that album, what are the multiple number of ways that you can arrange those songs? Millions; about 3,856,000 and change. Yet if you gave me 10 songs and asked me to sequence them, after I became familiar enough with them I would say that every time I would get that sequence into four or five logical combinations.
RC: The songs tell you where they want to go?
VG: Kind of, but you also have an endless supply of options. And you never get to a point where you have exact figures. The technology changes so fast; the styles of music change so fast. Basically we’re looking at the parameters of tone and time. Time based on ... this year it’s more of a mechanical sound with mechanical drummers; synthesizers synchronized to the mechanical drummers with sequencers. Five years ago it was something else.
And song form has changed, too. It’s no longer verse-chorus-verse-chorus. That’s changed drastically, based on the boredom of familiarity. I can see Martha’s writing style change from the way John Phillips would write a song for the Mamas and Papas, which is classic Gershwin or Hammerstein kind of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-etc.
RC: What about putting the arrangement together? Let’s say on a chorus, where the harmony comes in for the first line, solo voice for the second line, harmony again on the third line…
VG: Well, that’s pretty much not going to change a lot, because that’s basic song architecture. You want the beginning to be intriguing, and draw you in, but you want it to get bigger as it goes down the road.
Now there are a lot of “no music solos,” which five years ago you didn’t hear. I think I produced the first big hit with the first no·music solo in “Bette Davis Eyes.” That had no noted music in the solo; it was just a riff rolling over and over. That’s happening a lot. The Police record [“Every Breath You Take”] has almost no solo in it. A couple of tunes on Martha’s new album have no solos.
RC: Obviously there’s a constant striving to throw at least one new thing in every song?
VG: I think that happens by itself. Every time I’ve ever said, “Okay, this time we’re going to come up with the great new sound,” it turns out to be junk. The Synare [drum machine] that I used on “Bette Davis Eyes” and everybody copies now, is a good example. It was a complete accident on my part.; these are songs that never made it as we were working on the album.
Nobody went, “Let’s come up with this great sound that everybody will copy.”
[Drummer] Craig Krampf went out and bought one of these little things that you hit and it goes [Garay does a Synare impression with his mouth]. He’s sitting there trying to put it in every song we rehearsed for two weeks. Finally I told him, “Will you throw that thing away?
It sounds like a garbage can lid.” Then we started working on “Bette Davis Eyes,” and he played it in that. I went, “Wait a minute! That works!” You’ve got to be ready to try things.
I worked on the Summer Breeze album with Seals and Crofts and [engineer] David [Hassinger] at the Sound Factory. About eight months later they did a live show where the actual live take of “Summer Breeze” wasn’t that good. Louis Shelton said, “Why don’t we cut to the down beat ofthe studio 24-track, and to the last beat of the live tape? That way we’ll be using the original 24-track for the song.” I said, “No way. It’ll never work in a million years. Forget it. You can’t do that.” “Try it,” he said. “No!” “Try it!” “Okay!” Cut. Perfect. Worked great.
Never say never—you have to try everything. I can say no after I’ve tried it. But all the time I’m in the studio I’ll say, “Why don’t you try this thing?” and I’ll get resistance. Working with an artist is the hardest thing to do. It’s like raising children. I don’t have any, but I’ve been around enough of them in my lifetime to know that when you’re a parent, the hardest thing to do is not to impart your values and your personal judgment on the child, who is very impressionable and wants to learn.
You want them to be themselves a little bit. You don’t want to keep saying, “No. You can’t put your pants on that way. No, don’t sit that way on the couch.” Pretty soon, they become a puppet to you, and your feelings and values. But when you let them be themselves, they are amazingly honest. That’s because they aren’t inhibited; they have their own method of thinking and operating.
It’s the same thing with an artist. They are lovable little children in a lot of ways—that’s what makes them so vulnerable. So the hardest thing is to try and help them out of the womb, but not smother them. You’ve got to let them grow on their own, and it’s hard; it’s painful a lot of times. I put a lot of work into an artist and a project and a career and, as they grow and become less and less dependent on me, it hurts. I’ve nurtured them, held their hand, put the band-aids on their knees ... all the things you go through as a parent.
When they become independent, it becomes difficult. But at the same time, there is the satisfaction of being the proud parent standing there at graduation when they’re accepting their cum laude award. It’s mixed emotion.
RC: If one of your artists came to you, expressing the wish to work with another producer, how would you react?
VG: Actually, that sort of happened with Kim. I made a really good record with her that sold [in] unbelieveable amounts, and she decided after we made the second record—which didn’t sell in unbelievable amounts—that she would rather work with someone else. I have absolutely no animosity whatsoever.
RC: We talked about Kim Carnes’ sensitivity before. She seems to have a delicate voice, because of the raspiness. Is that difficult to mike, and get it to cut through the track?
VG: No. If an artist’s voice doesn’t cut through the track, it’s the arrangement that’s crowded. That’s usually the case.
RC: Is there a procedure you go through for selecting a mike for a particular vocalist?
VG: No. I’ve used pretty much the same mike for the last 15 years: a Neumann U-67 tube.
RC: Does the U-67 have a special sound for you?
VG: Not really; they’re just a great microphone for singers, and I’ve gotten really good vocal sounds on all the vocalists I’ve ever worked with. You can get things that will sound different—have more edge to it or harshness, or whatever—but you won’t get anything that sounds better. In some cases I might want something that sounds different than that, and then I’ve used other microphones. But for the most part, I stick with the Neumann.
RC: So you’re going for the accurate representation of the source?
VG: Usually. I use hardly any EQ at all on the vocalist. I must be getting pretty close to the way they sound, because they’ve never complained that it didn’t sound like them when they heard the record!
RC: Which brings up an interesting point about Joan Armatrading. Her voice has a cutting edge to it. Is that the quality of her voice, or was the mike chosen to enhance that edge?
VG: I only did two songs. I used a U-67 for those two tracks. There was no attempt to tone down her voice, or make it more cutting. [Steve Lillywhite produced the remaining nine songs on The Key.]
RC: Why did you re-cut those two tracks?
VG: I didn’t re-cut them; they didn’t exist before I did them. It was like her sixth or seventh album, and A&M felt there wasn’t a single on it for the United States. They approached me and asked if I would be interested in cutting a couple of tracks with her for the purpose of making a more commercial release for America. I had enough time to do just a couple of tracks, so I said, “Sure.” She’s really a fabulously good artist.
RC: Did you pick those two songs, or were they already worked out?
VG: She played me three or four tunes, and we picked those two [“What Do Boys Dream,” and “(I Love It When You) Call Me Names”]. We worked on the arrangements a lot. She wasn’t used to that. The person she worked with before, Steve Lillywhite, was terribly
uninvolved in the musical aspect of her record. He didn’t discuss arrangement changes, key changes, or bar changes. I was a musician long before anything else, so I have to be involved in that.
I have opinions and feelings; you don’t have to use them, or listen to them. But to not allow me to say them is sort of cheating oneself, because I have good ideas. Obviously, that’s been proven. Peter [Asher] listened to my ideas for enough years, so I figure if he’s as smart as he is, somebody else should listen, too!
RC: Speaking of Peter Asher, he brought you Linda’s last album to mix, didn’t he?
VG: No. Not actually, I was contracted to do that album based on the kind of deals we made in years previous. I started recording that album about two years ago. We cut five or six tunes. Then I got in the middle of another album - I can’t remember who it was at the time—and Linda got into the Broadway play [Pirates of Penzance], then into the movie. Before we knew it, a year had gone by.
At that point, I was unavailable, and they needed to finish the album. So we all talked about it when they got back to LA. They came up with the idea of doing it with [engineer] George [Massenburg], who is a very close friend of mine, and a marvelous engineer.
RC: So you were familiar with the album when the time came for you to mix it?
VG: No. They spent another seven or eight months recording more material and, out of the five or six tracks that I recorded, I think they kept three. When it came time to mix the record, George, having worked with Earth, Wind and Fire for all those years, had his style of mixing with those people, and Peter and Linda had gotten very used to my style of mixing.
They started mixing with George, and weren’t happy with the results—I believe based mainly on the fact that Peter liked my style of mixing. Not because I’m a better mixer, because I think George is every bit as good as I am as a mixer. They then approached me on the basis of: “We’re old friends; would you do us a favor?” I was right in the middle of another project. “Just give us five days of your time, and try to mix some of this album for us.” So I said, “Sure.”
I mixed about five or six tracks, and they played them for George so he could get his bearings, because I mixed some of the things that he’d recorded. Now, when you’re a good engineer, you hear things—balance, levels, EQ, etc.—a certain way. And when somebody else changes that, it’s instantly apparent what they’ve changed.
So, when I mixed a couple of his tunes he became aware of what Peter and Linda were looking for, and remixed again the tracks that I had mixed. The tracks were even more to their [Peter and Linda’s] liking. George ended up mixing better than half the album, and I did the rest.
RC: Can you define what was different about your two mixing styles?
VG: Of his initial mixes that I heard, I used more vocal and drums than [George] did. The rest of it is all subtleties. But when you get somebody as good as George is, the subtleties are equally good either way. Do you like Chocolate or Vanilla ice cream? They’re both ice cream; it’s that sort of thing.
RC: Just one final fact that I was curious about. Capitol chose the Motels’ last album, All Four One, as the first cassette tape to release using its XDR system, which is supposed to improve the quality of pre-recorded cassettes. What do you think of the system?
VG: I think cassettes are virtually headed for the land of doom, and I’m glad. I think the next realistic avenue is the Compact Disc.
RC: But you can’t record on CD.
VG: That’s what is realistic about it. Piracy is the only problem we have, and it drives me crazy. I understand on one level, and I don’t on another. My 14- and 15-year-old nephews—my sister has eight children—were over at my house one day, and we’re talking about music.
They asked me if I like so and so, and I go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And Kenny, the next to the oldest says, “Well, I always go over to my friend’s house and tape the albums.” And I said, “Don’t you know that’s piracy. You’re stealing from me, your Uncle, who you love dearly.”
Copy a tape, go to prison!
And they go, “Yeah, but the quality of the cassettes in the stores is terrible.” And they’re right. The cassettes are horrible. Because they are high-speed duplicated, the reproduction is [lousy)—the top·end disappears; the transparency disappears. But the tape duplicators have no choice; that’s the only way they can make them. If they made one-to-one copies at normal speed, they’d be there forever, and have to charge $20 to $40 a cassette. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.
And we [the people who derive their living from records] are losing billions of dollars a year to illegal taping. The Compact Disc will eliminate that. The reproduction is phenomenal. It’s small, easy to use; you can drive over the disk with your car; punch a hole in it up to
1 mm and it still plays fine, because it’s a laser disk. It’s almost completely idiot proof.
Albums will eventually become Compact Discs, because the vinyl disk, as we know it, is an antiquated piece of junk. They were designed to operate at 78 RPM. You have to deal with warped records, groove noise, dust, needles. The Compact Disc is the answer. Good-bye to piracy! It will take years, but that’s where it will be.
Editor’s Note: This is a series of articles from Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, which began publishing in 1970 under the direction of Publisher/Editor Martin Gallay. After a great run, RE/P ceased publishing in the early 1990s, yet its content is still much revered in the professional audio community. RE/P also published the first issues of Live Sound International magazine as a quarterly supplement, beginning in the late 1980s, and LSI has grown to a monthly publication that continues to thrive to this day.
Take the PSW Photo Gallery Tour of audio equipment ads appearing in RE/P magazine, circa 1970.
Our sincere thanks to Mark Gander of JBL Professional for his considerable support on this archive project.
The Transition From Pre-Production To Studio Sessions
“Pre-production starts with the set-up.” Garay considers. “I let the band choose whatever makes them comfortable Their rehearsal arrangement doesn’t necessarily have to duplicate their normal stage or recording studio locations. As a rule of thumb, the drummer usually sets up in the center of the room, because everybody is listening to him. Then the bass player puts his amp near the drummer, so they can play easy, together. From there it’s pretty much up to the band members. A semi-circle seems to work, but the rehearsal room is small, so we could put anybody anywhere.
“As (ar as levels go, the band pretty much figures that out (or themselves too, because there’s an instant relationship among the members of a professional band. To hear each other in the room, there has to be a balance. If the guitar player is six times too loud, then all you hear is guitar and the other players tell him to turn down. But once you get the balance, you can stick one mike in there, open it up, and you’re ready to make a work tape.
“I like to make recordings of each arrangement as we go along. I use just one little cassette machine, with one little microphone. I could play you work cassettes of almost every song on every record I’ve made so far. You’d be amazed at how much you can hear on those tapes. It’s very close to the actual recordmg in the studio.
“The cassette tells you whether an arrangement works or not, because you can listen to it over and over. It tells you whether parts, rhythms, and everything else are the way they should be. The great test is how the song wears, and for that you have to keep listening to it over and over. The old adage is: ‘If it has legs, It will walk.’ What they mean by that is if everything about the song is comfortable, It will keep going If not, it starts to grate. And it’s either the arrangement or the song that grates on you. Once that happens, you have queries. And once you have queries, you start delving back into the song to find out why. I say that either the arrangement goes away immediately, or the song goes away in a period of time.
“When we go into the studio, I like to cut live—everything at once. I mike everything close for isolation, and also put very loud instruments, like distortion guitar parts, in separate rooms. (Record One features three acoustically treated recording areas—a main
studio, and two smaller adjacent rooms—as well as the control booth, and various live rooms throughout the complex that are pressed into service when needed.] To make the separate tracks blend back together, I run feeds to two PA speakers in the rehearsal studio, I have two Neumann U·67s that I can move anywhere in the room, or right next to the cabinets, for any desired effect. I just open the microphones up, and add them to the original sound at the board.
“I don’t really use a lot of effects other than the natural room ambiance, when I want to change something. I like to get nice, big, warm, fat, punchy sounds. If you want an effect, you can warp anything with outboard gear, but you can’t make anything sound big, fat, warm and punchy if it doesn’t start that way,
“I guess you could say I’m a purist, but don’t confuse that with traditionalism; a traditionalist I’m not. If there’s a sound out there in the studio, that’s the sound I want to get on tape. I would prefer to play with the guitar player’s amp and get the sound al his station, rather than attempt to manufacture what’s needed in the control room. All I try to do is capture what he’s got. In essence, the secret is that the studio and all the equipment must remain transparent to the overall process of recording.
“When we go into the studio, I like to cut live—everything at once. I mike everything close for isolation, and also put very loud instruments, like distortion guitar parts, in separate rooms. (Record One features three acoustically treated recording areas—a main studio, and two smaller adjacent rooms—as well as the control booth, and various live rooms throughout the complex that are pressed into service when needed.) To make the separate tracks blend back together, I run feeds to two PA speakers in the rehearsal studio, I have two Neumann U-67s that I can move anywhere in the room, or right next to the cabinets, for any desired effect. I just open the microphones up, and add them to the original sound at the board.
Tuesday, June 03, 2014
Cool Pony Media In Dallas Steps Up To THE BOX From API
Team now uses THE BOX console on a daily basis for writing, tracking, creating stems, and mixing
Located outside Dallas, Cool Pony Media is a record label and artist development company that works with various music genres, as well as score-to-picture work. Brothers and co-founders, Mark and Mike Stitts, recently did an upgrade in part of their studio with help from API, and as a result, the team now uses THE BOX console on a daily basis for writing, tracking, creating stems, and mixing.
“We’re amazed,” says Mark Stitts. “We have quite a bit of other API outboard gear, EQs, compressors, channel strips, and summing. THE BOX integrates seamlessly. I often wonder—mustn’t there be elves inside creating some kind of magic here?”
The duo was looking to upgrade their composing room when they first heard about the new small-format console from API. “It was really a no-brainer. The sound and flexibility of a full-fledged API console, with that footprint? We must be dreaming, right? BOOM! This thing is a complete home run!”
The brothers have been creating and recording professionally since the 1980s, and say that not much has changed other than the technology. Their careers have included production work for labels, children’s albums, independent artists, and beyond. The experience they’ve had so far with THE BOX stacks up well with their previous experience with the brand. “We’ve always been API fans. The sound is just so fantastic and unique. I remember the first time we ran audio through anything API. It was so dramatic. The punch, depth, clarity, presence – it was almost like removing wool blankets from in front of the speakers. THE BOX is more of the same.”
Cool Pony purchased the gear earlier this year, and appreciated the support they received during commissioning. “The packaging was impeccable, and the support is off the chain. These guys really are the Apple of the recording console industry. We couldn’t recommend API or THE BOX more highly.”
Friday, May 30, 2014
Chandler Limited Debuts TG2-500 Preamp For 500 Series Racks
Delivers the classic sound of the EMI TG12428 preamp used in EMI/Abbey Road recording and mastering consoles
Chandler Limited has released the new TG2-500 preamp for 500 series racks, building upon the company’s TG2 preamp/DI to deliver the classic sound of the EMI TG12428 preamp used in EMI/Abbey Road recording and mastering consoles in the late 60s and early 70s.
Using the identical TG2 circuit, transistors, and transformers, the new TG2-500 delivers 10 – 60 dB of gain and uses a coarse gain control and a fine gain control as found on EMI consoles. The unit provides 300 and 1200 Ohm input impedance as on the TG2.
The TG2-500 delivers frequency response identical to the TG2. Additionally, it has the same high frequency bump and mid forward tone of the TG2, along with the warmth inducing distortion which contributes to its sound. The result is a creamy, smooth tone with an open, clear top end.
Chandler Limited owner and chief product designer Wade Goeke states, “The TG2-500 is a product that customers have urged us to develop for several years. In the past, I always commented that I had not yet found the right way to engineer this unit in the 500 series form factor.
“I’m now pleased to report that, after working on this project for quite some time and attempting a number of different methods in the process, I’ve made everything work to my satisfaction. I’m glad I was patient because I genuinely believe our users will be pleasantly surprised and very pleased with the results.”
Mirek Stiles, head of audio products at Abbey Road Studios, adds, “Over the years Abbey Road Studios has hugely enjoyed working with Chandler Limited. Wade’s hardware designs, based on the classic TG technology, are a great way of ensuring this part of the Abbey Road legacy lives on.
“We are delighted that the TG2 pre amp has now been redesigned to work in the popular 500 series format, enabling a new generation of recording engineers to fall in love with the unique TG sound.”
Posted by Keith Clark on 05/30 at 12:15 PM
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
XILS-lab Breathes Life Into Prototyped EMS VCS4 Analog Matrix Modular Synthesizer
Music software company XILS-lab is proud to announce availability of XILS 4.
Music software company XILS-lab is proud to announce availability of XILS 4 — an authentic software emulation of the legendary VCS4, a ‘dual VCS3’ analogue matrix modular synthesizer prototyped by EMS back in 1969, but never commercially released.
EMS (Electronic Music Studios), a British company founded by the pioneering Peter Zinovieff, made musical history in 1969 with its introduction of the VCS3, the first portable synthesizer commercially available anywhere in the world.
Its innovative modular matrix-based patch-board dispensed with the telephone exchange-like cabling of other (much larger) modular systems in favor of making connections with (removable) colored pins, so it could be comfortably housed in a small wooden (solid afrormosia) cabinet.
The history of the EMS VCS3 is well documented with XILS-lab later playing its part in resurrecting its still-sought-after sound with its cost-conscious and award-winning XILS 3 software emulation for Mac (OS X 10.4 and above) and PC (Windows 7, Vista, and XP) proving popular with both first-time buyers and also seasoned synth explorers including Richard Devine, Tim Blake (Hawkwind), and even Peter Zinovieff.
The 1969-vintage VCS4 was EMS designer David Cockerell’s so-called ‘Live Performance Module’, comprising two VCS3s side by side, together with a five-octave keyboard, a mixer, and a signal-processing unit, all housed in a single wooden cabinet. Only one prototype was ever produced.
By being based on two intricate and interacting VCS3 (‘Synthi’) cores — XILS-lab’s XILS 4 favourably emulates EMS’ VCS4. Indeed, those two cores can be set to work side by side or operate in serial (with one feeding the other).
Each and every module on one side can be used to modulate or feed anything on the other side with stunning sound possibilities plus weird and wonderful effects readily available in abundance as a direct result.
That said, XILS 4 shows its true 21st Century colors by also allowing amount settings to be individually applied to each patch ‘pin’. Providing patch-board power par excellence to an already special soft synth shows that there is clearly so much more to XILS 4 than solely emulating vintage hardware — rare as the vintage hardware in question clearly is.
Little wonder, then, that XILS 4 is billed by its creator as being the ultimate analog matrix modular synthesizer.
XILS-lab has sought to take things several steps further still by coupling those cores with the SEQUENCER 256 module, inspired by EMS’ trailblazing Synthi Sequencer 256 namesake.
Needless to say, this three-layer sequencer with analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters to enable digital processing of control voltages to drive multiple analogue synthesizers or multiple parameters with storage of up to 256 ‘events’ was well ahead of its time when released in 1971.
Here in the virtual world, XILS-lab has well and truly transported it to the present day with three independent layers, slew rates, and recording modes, together with added abilities like sequencer layers acting as modulation sources in a dedicated SEQ MATRIX — matchless, even by today’s most sophisticated DAW standards!
The addition of a second ‘pin matrix’, two additional envelopes, an LFO, comprehensive SAMPLE AND HOLD module, and VOLTAGE PROCESSOR, plus several new input modules — including GATE, ENVELOPE FOLLOWER, and PITCH TRACKER — means that there are hundreds of additional connections available to the discerning synthesist set on exploring XILS 4 to the full.
The fact that there are over 1,140 possible connections per patch makes for a literal lifetime of programming possibilities that will surely far outlast the host computer concerned, though those in need of a helping hand have easy access to almost 700 professionally-programmed presets from world-renowned sound designers, including the complete XILS 3 factory library and over 350 presets specifically designed for XILS 4.
A selection of tutorial-style patches are also available to help users seeking to take their first tentative steps towards scaling the heady heights of this mountainous modular monster of a soft synth.
Simply put, with a whole host of modules and associated far-reaching functionality — for starters, 12 aliasing-free oscillators, grouped in six pairs with wave-shaping and hard sync — yesteryear’s impossibilities have become today’s possibilities with XILS 4… a great step forward for modular synthesis software.
XILS 4 is available to purchase as an eLicenser or iLok copy-protected virtual instrument and effects plug-in for an introductory discounted price of €149.00 EUR (rising to €179.00 EUR on June 17, 2014) from the XILS-lab web store. Note that this time-limited offer also includes the XILISTICS sound bank with 160-plus presets worth €25.00 EUR, plus a free USB-eLicenser copy-protection dongle.
XILS 3 owners can upgrade to XILS 4 for an introductory price of €29.00 EUR (rising to €49.00 EUR on June 17, 2014).
XILS 4 can be directly downloaded as a 32- and 64-bit-compatible virtual instrument and effects plug-in for Mac (AAX, AU, RTAS, VST) and Windows (AAX, RTAS, VST) from here: http://www.xils-lab.com/pages/XILS4_Download.html
Check out several informative XILS 4 tutorial videos at http://www.xils-lab.com/pages/XILS4_Videos.html.
Posted by Julie Clark on 05/27 at 01:07 PM
Audient’s New Distributor Helps Boost Brand In BeNeLux
British manufacturer, Audient appoints M Works as Benelux distributor for Audient.
British manufacturer, Audient appoints M Works as Benelux distributor for Audient.
With immediate effect, dealers in the Benelux territory can get the full range of Audient products from M Works, from the flagship ASP8024 right through to the latest additions to the range: USB interface - iD22 and 8-channel mic pre and ADC - ASP880.
Sales Manager Okke van Dijk is very pleased at the agreement. “Audient is a great brand with passion for designing excellent sounding products. With their expertise and deep understanding of demands in the pro audio market, the people at Audient know how to create the right quality and product mix,” he says.
“High quality comes as standard,” confirms Luke Baldry, Sales and Marketing Director at Audient, highlighting the fact that “…all products feature the renowned console mic pres designed by the company’s co-founder David Dearden.” He adds, “I’m delighted that we have Okke and the M Works team on board to ensure Audient quality reaches this important market.”
Celebrating its 10 year anniversary this year, M Works is one of the leading independent distribution companies in the Benelux, making it easier than ever for engineers, producers and musicians to get hold of Audient products, focus on the music and enhance their creativity. “We at M Works are very excited to welcome Audient to our portfolio, as it is complementary to our current line-up of products and we are looking forward to a long-term business adventure with Audient,” comments van Dijk.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Clear Path: Keyboards In The Electronic Realm
Electronic keyboards, the start of it all. Right from the beginning of modern concert sound, DI boxes have played an essential role in getting the sound from the stage to the PA system.
Probably the most iconic “direct” instrument of all was the Fender Rhodes. Harold Rhodes started developing the idea as far back as the 1950s, but it was in 1970 that the Rhodes Stage piano took the concert stage bringing the first “portable” keyboard to market.
The original Rhodes piano tone was created by a piano-like hammer striking a “tine” that would vibrate up and down in front of a magnet to create the tone—very much the same way an electric guitar string vibrates atop a magnetic pickup. One would adjust the tone by changing the “tine-to-magnet” relationship.
And like an electric guitar, the output from the suitcase was not amplified (or buffered) in any way. So the output from the piano was generally sent to a guitar amp where it was mic’d.
Some years later, the first active DI boxes came round. They didn’t load the Rhodes pickups, which made it practical to send the “direct” sound to the PA system and monitors.
But something happened. That something was Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman, and the Moog synthesizer, which found its way out of the electronic music department to the stage. These guys no longer had one or two keyboards—they had racks of them!
An early Fender Rhodes, the one that started it all.
The Arp 2600 and String Ensemble, Oberheim, Korg, the venerable Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 - it was an analog explosion. Everyone had a Rhodes (or Wurlitzer) and a bunch of synths.
Fast forward to 1981, and Yamaha introduced the DX7, which would go on to become one of the most successful keyboards ever. It brought along something totally new: frequency modulated digital technology. Now you could get a bell-like Rhodes sound without the weight.
The world then changed again with the E-MU and the Akai S900 digital sampler. All of a sudden, we had complete orchestration, real sounding piano samples, and digitally sampled drum tracks were everywhere. There was no going back.
Today, pretty much all keyboards and drum machines are digital, and can basically be thought of as keyboard controlled CD players. And like a CD player, the output from a digital synthesizer is relatively powerful when compared to an electric guitar or an old Rhodes piano.
Because they’re so “loud,” they needed headroom to operate, meaning that the old active DI box that may have been a boon to the low-output Rhodes piano can no longer keep up.
The headroom is limited by the internal battery or limited by the low current afforded by phantom power. To make matters worse, unlike a CD that is processed and compressed before it is mass produced, digital samplers are raw. They can generate huge transients that will overload most active DI boxes, and end up distorting horribly.
The problem is further exacerbated with digital pianos. These full-range devices are not only very dynamic, they have a frequency range that starts way down low and goes up forever.
To handle modern keyboards, there are two choices:
1) Send the keyboards into a mixing console where the internal rail voltage is sufficiently ample that it is able to handle the range.
2) Send the signal to a passive direct box where the headroom is not limited by the current afforded to them. Passive DI boxes are different- they use transformers.
Phantom Of The Power
Replace the diesel engine inside a dump truck with a 4-cylinder car engine and fill the truck with gravel. What will happen? Nothing. The engine will be unable to handle the load.
The same applies to phantom power. Folks tend to “believe” that if it’s active, it must be good. But the truth is, phantom power was never designed to power direct boxes.
As noted here, phantom was invented by Mr. Neumann as a means to charge the capsules on his microphones. He needed a lot of voltage (48 volts) and very little current (5 milliamps).
A quality preamp requires +/- 16 volts (32-volt swing) and about 50 milliamps of current. With 1/10th the current, it’s like trying to run a dump truck with a motorcycle engine.
Passive direct boxes are not power limited. They’re old-fashioned devices that basically combine a couple rolls of wire (coils) with a chunk of metal (the core).
A DI has the task of converting a high-impedance signal to a low-impedance balanced signal where it can be managed by the mic splitter and mixing console’s preamp.
With keyboards, current enters the transformer where the conversion occurs. But instead of overloading. like an active circuit, transformers distort gradually. More precisely, they don’t so much distort as saturate.
We often say that transformers sound “vintage” or have a limiting quality about them. This is because good quality transformers generate warm sounding even order harmonics, or what is commonly known as a warm Bessel Curve.
Thus the reason highly dynamic buffered signals like digital keyboards sound great when they are used with a passive direct box.
Mono, stereo or multichannel - which DI is best? It depends upon your point of view.
If audience members are sitting right in front of the left PA loudspeaker, they will be unable to hear what is coming out of the right PA loudspeaker. Will they benefit from stereo? Probably not.
Stereo may sound great in the practice room or be invigorating on stage, but in most live venues, it is rarely enjoyed by all. The advantage that a stereo DI brings is capturing the stereo sample without having to reprogram the synth.
And if you do decide to have a stereo rig on stage, a stereo DI allows the house engineer to mix both channels and pan them stereo (if beneficial).
A stereo DI is often used at the output of a keyboard mixer. Here’s why: on a stage, all of the microphones go to a mic splitter before the signal is sent to the house mix position. Mic splitters are designed to handle mic levels, typically around -50 dB. A keyboard produces a -10 dB signal while a mixer can produce +4 dB or more.
A look at one reason why a passive DI can be a better choice for electronic keyboards. Courtesy of Radial Engineering.
This excessive level will cause the mic splitter to overload. The pad on a direct box lowers the output so that it matches that of a microphone and protects the mic splitter from being overloaded by the mixer. Multichannel direct boxes bring forth the added advantage of independent control over each instrument.
Here’s the deal: when you mix the sound so that it is comfortable on stage, it may in fact not be ideal for front of house. In other words, you may find that you need extra jam to hear your piano on stage, and have the string synth pushed back in the mix.
But in the arena, the piano-to-string volume ratio may not sit well with the rest of the band. What happens? The keyboard mix gets pushed back.
When you have the luxury of sending independent keyboard signals to front of house, the mix engineer is allowed to orchestrate. With more control, the engineer can decide how much piano fits and if the strings are too loud, can simply back them off.
Who would have ever thought that a DI would have so many twists and turns, especially after being around for 40 years!
Peter Janis is president of Radial Engineering. In 1982, he was hired by CBS Fender as new product director for what would eventually become Fender Canada, and spent time at the ARP factory in Massachusetts learning to program the advanced Chroma polyphonic synthesizers. He met Harold Rhodes and spent several years servicing Rhodes pianos before they were eventually discontinued, and during that time, also added the Akai product range to the Fender sales portfolio and developed many of the Akai’s early samples.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Multi-Plantinum Rock Group Live Chooses SSL Duality
Think Loud studios installs SSL Duality analog console.
Founding members of the multi-platinum band LIVE recently established Think Loud Studios in their hometown of York, Pa.
When it came time to install a console in the world-class facility’s expansive Studio A, they opted for a 48-channel Solid State Logic Duality analog console/controller.
The extensive experience that the group and their engineers have with classic SSL analog consoles led them directly to Duality.
Known for classic albums including Throwing Copper, Secret Samadhi and The Distance to Here, the members of LIVE have returned to the community in which they grew up and launched the studio.
In addition to the band’s own projects, Think Loud Studios serves the artists on its record label, Think Loud Entertainment, and friends of the group, including the band Everclear.
The vaulted ceilings and abundant natural light of the 53,000-square-foot building’s fourth floor made it a natural setting for Think Loud, which was designed by Horacio Malvicino, says bassist Patrick Dahlheimer.
“This is inspirational,” he remembers thinking. “This is going to be the studio that we always wanted to build and is driven to be songwriter and musician friendly.”
“Part of the LIVE ‘signature sound’ is the sound of SSL,” says guitarist Chad Taylor, noting that Tom Lord-Alge, who has mixed the majority of the band’s recordings, works exclusively on an SSL 4000 G Series console. After Taylor and Lord-Alge spent a day evaluating Duality, the decision was easy.
“There’s a convenience factor and a history of the SSL that exists through Duality. In the studio, I’m predominantly focused on the performance of the musicians and the arrangement of the song, and less on the technical aspect of the engineering.
“I found that those worlds got married very conveniently through the Duality.”
“My immediate reaction was that there’s a dimension and a spatial factor to the Duality,” Dahlheimer adds of SSL’s SuperAnalogue sound. “Perceptively, it was really very clear.
“There’s definitely a punch and a clarity, especially to the drum tracks. One of the other qualities is the bus compressor. Once you are in it, there’s cohesiveness to the songs that jumps out.”
Duality’s unparalleled sonic characteristics, analogue/DAW hybrid approach and historic lineage made it the only choice for Think Loud Studios, say its principals.
“It has a front-end signature, in particular with the mic pres and the EQs, that really plays into that soundscape,” says Dahlheimer. “That definitely helps our creative process.”
The console’s hybrid approach, combining a traditional analogue path and processing with DAW control in a single hardware surface, allows the creative process to flourish as it did in the pre-DAW era, Taylor says.
“One thing we took into consideration was that we still like to work in analogue,” he adds “With the convenient flexibility of Duality, we are able to switch very fast back-and-forth between our analogue and the digital workstations.
“Working with Duality pulls my brain from looking at music on a computer screen to actually interfacing with the console, like we did 20 years ago. The concentration is on ‘listening’ again, and not ‘seeing’ the music so much. That’s an important characteristic to the creative flow.”
The choice of Duality has paid immediate dividends as LIVE went to work recording its forthcoming album.
“We had a bunch of tracks in a rehearsal state that had been recorded through various preamps,” Dahlheimer says. “We got a very polished sound through the Duality very fast. I was thrilled with that. Duality helps outboard equipment shine, but we found ourselves using a lot of the onboard preamps in tracking.
“In fact, we recently re-recorded existing drum tracks to take advantage of Duality’s sonic signature. There was definitely clarity, presence and dimension to the new tracks.”
Taylor also recalls having previously owned an SSL G+ console.
“The format and feel of the Duality remind me of the G,” he says. “While it simultaneously moves into a new-world environment of, essentially, Pro Tools control and interface, but one that still has the markings of a traditional analog console. I’m glad we stayed in the SSL family.”
Solid State Logic
Posted by Julie Clark on 05/20 at 02:12 PM
Friday, May 16, 2014
Focusrite Announces Saffire PRO 26 FireWire/Thunderbolt Compatible Audio Interface (Includes Video)
Record at 24-bit/96kHz with four Focusrite preamps, 18 in/8 out, using FireWire or Thunderbolt
Focusrite announces Saffire PRO 26, the latest addition to the Saffire PRO range of FireWire/Thunderbolt compatible audio interfaces for expanding recording and live system capabilities, housed in a portable, desktop-sized chassis.
Saffire PRO 26 provides an extensive selection of professional analog and digital I/O options —a total of 18 inputs and eight outputs includes four preamps, two instrument inputs, two headphone outputs, six line outputs, and ADAT and S/PDIF connectivity.
Saffire PRO 26 connects to a Thunderbolt port via a FireWire to Thunderbolt adaptor (not included) or directly to a FireWire 800 port with the cable provided. Its dual-protocol compatibility (Firewire and Thunderbolt) means it will work seamlessly for years to come with the next generation of computers.
The four Focusrite preamps provide a great deal of recording flexibility while also ensuring low noise and distortion with plenty of headroom to capture the full dynamic range of even a loud drum kit or guitar amp. Precision 24-bit/96-kHz digital conversion and JetPLL jitter-elimination technology maintain pristine audio quality in both analog and digital domains.
Saffire Mix Control, a control software application that runs on the host computer is particularly useful for live situations. The low-latency 26 x 8 DSP mixer/router provides flexible output routing and monitoring for custom monitor mixes as well as intuitive one-click presets to help in setting up sessions as quickly as possible, whether tracking, mixing or monitoring.
Although Thunderbolt provides some advantages, it’s only available on the very latest computers. An audio interface fitted with FireWire can be used on both older computers and Thunderbolt-equipped computers via an inexpensive adaptor.
ADAT optical input allows extensive input expansion of up to eight additional preamps or line inputs. Pair Saffire PRO 26 with Focusrite’s OctoPre MkII eight-channel preamp and instantly transform it into a 12 preamp unit.
Included is a free DAW in the form of Ableton Live Lite, Focusrite’s professional Midnight and Scarlett plug-in suites, Novation BassStation virtual synthesizer and 1 GB of Loopmasters sample content.
Monday, April 28, 2014
Czech Violinist, Composer and Singer Chooses Audient
A compact analog mixing console was what Czech violinist, composer and singer Karel Holas was after for his Prague studio -- which he accomplished with the purchase of an Audient ASP4816.
A compact analog mixing console was what Czech violinist, composer and singer Karel Holas was after for his Prague studio.
“From the wide variety of quality studio consoles available, I found only one complying with all my requests and wishes: Audient ASP4816,” he explains, having done his research.
“Excellent microphone preamps, great and very easy routing options, precise EQ sections together with optimal ergonomics for studio usage,” he says, outlining some of the features on his wish list.
Holas opened his studio earlier this year, and describes his impression when the Audient desk first arrived.
“I must say I was really amazed when the console was plugged in. The sound quality and the whole potential of the console was confirmation that I had made the right choice with the ASP4816.”
A popular choice for small music production studios looking for all the features of a large console in a compact, ergonomic format, at an affordable price, the ASP4816 is an analogue desk with fully-featured inline architecture. This particular desk was supplied and delivered by Czech Audient distributor, MusicData.
Currently a member of Cechomor, a Czech traditional music band playing songs in rock arrangements, Holas has collaborated with many international artists such as Suzanne Vega, Tony Levin, Celtic harp musician and singer Alan Stivell and many others.
Posted by Julie Clark on 04/28 at 12:37 PM
Friday, April 25, 2014
Multiple Consoles For Live? Top Engineers Weigh In
The where, when, why and how, with problems and solutions differing.
A few years ago, my company developed a prototype of a console switcher that would enable an engineer to quickly switch to a backup should the main desk go down, or quickly switch between multiple consoles at events such as festivals.
But when we showed it to various engineers, the response was all over the place. Some thought it was a great idea, others felt that with modern processors, the need was no longer there, and some suggested fixes such as increasing the size to accommodate larger systems.
We decided to table the idea, but I thought it would be interesting to reach out to some of the same engineers to get their take on using multiple consoles and the concerns they encounter.
And just as above, the problems and solutions differ. The cast includes James Warren (Radiohead), Sean Quakenbush (Robert Randolph), Dave Natale (Rolling Stones), Brad Madix (Rush) and David Morgan (James Taylor).
The most common situation where multiple consoles are used together, of course, is connecting a support band to the main system. Other uses include festivals where multiple bands share the same PA, corporate shows, TV shows, and performances where large orchestras increase the channel count.
According to Natale: “When subbing one mixer into the other, the main console will usually act as the master. We also see many situations where a matrix switcher is used to feed the PA.”
Subbing consoles together is done using the sub-group inputs, channel strips, or sometimes even using the mic inputs. Madix: “If bringing one mixer sub or mains out into sub ins, there’s usually not any problem. If bringing into line-ins, there might be issues with matching gains as line ins tend to have less adjustment range level-wise.
“Coming into mic inputs can present challenges from impedance matching to level mismatches where mic preamps might not have the range to handle the levels, even with pads inserted. It’s something to steer away from, for sure, but sometimes the only option.”
Quankenbush: “We sometimes encounter noise from different power systems such as generators and there are often gain issues between some analog consoles and the digital boards. For instance, one console’s 0 dB may not be the same on another desk. I’ve found that some digital consoles do not ‘play well together’ due to gain stage issues where one may be so hot that it overloads the other.”
Natale: “Hum, buzz and level discrepancies can pose problems. I usually have transformers in hand to solve noise problems.”
There are other ways to switch and combine consoles such as using a matrix switcher or an audio processor. And with today’s digital desks, even more options come into play.
Warren: “When combining consoles, since most bands are now using digital desks, we usually connect the sub support console into ours via an AES connection. We give a festival either analog or AES from our system processor. In both cases, we will often be giving a separate sub feed.”
Quankenbush: “Most festivals have switching systems for the left, right and sub fills, but you do still see some festivals where they want you to drive in to the main console with stereo. The big problem is you will load in early, EQ and sound check for your band with their EQ bypassed or flat.
“Eight hours later, the house system engineer or other mixers will have hacked the EQ to all hell and all of the sudden your show sounds way different than your sound check earlier in the day. My preference is to bypass all of that by connecting directly to the audio processor and then save my own page.”
As noted earlier, noise problems do arise, and the most common problem solver is inserting an isolation transformer into the signal path.
A transformer is a magnetic bridge that converts the audio signal into a magnetic field at the primary winding, employs a core made from laminated nickel, steel or a combination as a conduit for the magnetic field and then this excites a secondary winding which in turn generates current.
The beauty of a transformer is that the input and output are completely separate. This stops tray DC current from traveling between the input and output which helps eliminate the hum and buzz caused by so-called ground loops.
Morgan: “For years, Yamaha and Midas consoles did not like to be combined. One often needed to lift the AC ground on one of the desks and rely on audio ground only.
“As long as the consoles share the same AC and audio ground, transformer isolation is not usually necessary. If I’m unsure of the system AC ground, or if there is too much going on electronically at FOH, I do prefer inserting transformers.”
Madix: “I’ve had to use transformers occasionally when feeding to lawn delays and the system for the hearing impaired. For this, we use a box with two transformers, plus ground lifts.”
Both Warren and Natale note that they always carry transformers in their kits. Quakenbush adds: “Back in the day, I was the lawn guy for a large amphitheatre and always had pockets full of isolation transformers. I still have tons of in-line transformers in my workbox. They don’t come out a much as they use to, but I still use them for delay towers or sometimes when I sub another desk into mine.”
One of the most common concerns that folks have with digital technology is the stability of the console’s internal computer. Thus, adding a second console would seem to be a natural solution.
Interestingly enough, this no longer seems to be as prevalent as it once was. I was recently at a Bob Dylan concert and front of house engineer Jim Homan was working with a new digital console that was having some software conflicts. I asked him if he had a backup, and he said that he didn’t, but if he had to, he could quickly patch in the support band’s mixer and be up and running fairly quickly.
Warren echoes this approach: “In a touring situation, I would refuse to use a console that I felt needed a permanent instant backup option. On Radiohead at the moment, I have the opening act’s console loaded with my show and plug-ins in case of catastrophe, but it’s not online or standing by during the show.”
Morgan: “We carry a backup computer for the console, but I haven’t needed it in over six years.” Madix replied with the same sentiment. However, Natale had a different take: “I generally go analog for just that reason. I’m not prone to nearly as much instance of console failure as my much more daring counterparts that use digital consoles. When I do TV, I have to use a digital console and the only fail-safe (ha, ha) device is a UPS on the console.”
All of this to say…there are many ways to connect consoles together or to share the PA system. Most engineers carry line level isolation boxes in case noise is encountered, and today’s digital desks seem to be less problematic than they were just a few years ago.
Peter Janis is president of Radial Engineering, and has worked in professional audio for more than 30 years.