As a four-time Grammy award-winning mixing engineer, MM’s goal with his Waves Signature collaboration was to “create a set of high-quality professional plugins that were innovative, effective and easy to use.” The Manny Marroquin Signature Series Collection includes six plugins total – some typically unseen in a Waves collaboration. And there is only one way to find out how innovative they truly are…
Download the Collection today for a special introductory price of $299 ($500 MSRP) currently only available in a Native bundle (RTAS, VST, AU). Here is what Waves says about their new Signature Series:
“Four-time GRAMMY award-winning mixing engineer Manny Marroquin takes the Waves Signature Series to a new level with six hybrid plugins that bring his unique workflow to your studio. Alongside his personalized versions of tried-and-true favorites like EQ, reverb, delay and distortion, Manny introduces the innovative new Tone Shaper and Triple D plugins which are destined to become mixing essentials as well.
Combining inspiration from his impressive collection of unique and boutique hardware, together with the fruits of his imagination, the Manny Marroquin Signature Series gives you direct access to the same tools Manny uses to mix hit after hit after hit.”
Van Gelder is credited with engineering thousands of jazz recordings from his Englewood Cliffs, NJ studio. Although many labels have been blessed by his talents, the Blue Note Label is synonymous with his career, as are records from the best of jazz’ best: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Grant Green, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, and many many more.
The Recording Academy’s annual Trustees Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the industry in a nonperforming capacity. Van Gelder was honored with a 2012 Trustees Award along with Dave Bartholomew and Steve Jobs.
Read Jeff Lorber’s apt ode to a New Jersey recording giant here.
Zeitgeist senior engineer/owner James Cruz mastered Puerto Rican alternative rap duo Calle 13’s Entren Los Que Quieran, which has been nominated for an unprecedented nine Latin Grammys, including the coveted “Album of the Year” award.
Previously, Cruz captured the “Album of the Year” Latin Grammy in 2009, for mastering Los De Atras Conmigo.
The 12th Annual Latin Grammy Awards will be held in November 10, 2011 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
After starting out as a runner at Battery Studios and apprenticing at Morgan Studios and Trident Studios in London, Flood has built up a huge portfolio of notable engineering production credits, including: New Order, Cabaret Voltaire, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Nine Inch Nails, U2 (The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, Pop, and the GRAMMY Award Winner for “Best Album”, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb), PJ Harvey, Nitzer Ebb, Smashing Pumpkins, The Killers, Goldfrapp, Sigur Rós, Glasvegas and many more.
Anyone interested in posting questions to Flood can go to http://forum.eventide.com/cs/forums/ and create an account (if they haven’t already).
MOUNT KISCO, NY: In lands near and not so very far away something sonic has been brewing. Boutique audio gear manufacturers – from cables to compressors — are proliferating at a nice pace in the New York Metro area, and monitors are no exception.
For multiple GRAMMY-winning mixer Mick Guzauski (Madonna, Michael Jackson, Henry Mancini, Quincy Jones, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera) and studio designer Larry Swist (Tainted Blue Studios, Quad Recording Studios, Eargasm Studios, Cloud 9 Mixing Stages), a near-lifelong musical partnership has led to an ambitious system for critical listening.
This particular brainchild is Guzauski-Swist Audio Systems, producing stereo, 2.1 and 5.1 Surround monitoring systems created expressly to satisfy their own exacting standards. Based upstate in bucolic Mount Kisco, their main offering is the GS-3a active 3-way speaker, which sports an intriguingly flexible design with high performance for both tracking and mixing.
At $12,000/pair (with G-S amp) it’s a more serious investment, but with installs in NYC, Nashville and Rochester, their expectations of an appreciative audience in the market have been validated. Larry Swist explained how the pair’s passion for audio and massive mutual respect made the G-S project – and the daunting challenges of boutique manufacturing — a calling he couldn’t refuse.
What first got you thinking about creating the G-S speakers?
It started with a phone call from Mick. He and I have known each other since we were in our late teens, and back then we were building PA systems and speakers. Mick was doing recording in his basement, and I thought, “This guy’s a savant, I gotta learn what he does and put my bass down.” I fell in love with sound for the first time.
We’ve been working together since then, but we also got our own careers going. I got involved with Spyro Gyra and jazz. He mixed every chick ballad in the world and sold a gazillion copies. But he called me a while back and said, “Are you still into speaker design? I’ve been using the Tannoys, I can’t get them reconed, and they’re running out of gas on me. Are you into it?”
And the answer was, “Yes!” I take it?
It started as a science project. We looked at design philosophies, thinking back over the years, and what were the best speakers we ever heard — boxes, three-way systems – and we came out with a goal of what kind of performance we wanted.
We spent about 18 months trying drivers, amplification processes, DSP, and then we came up with something Mick was willing to put into his control room and put his mixes on. We kind of fell in love with it. It was our child, but the big thing was it sounded great, and everyone’s reaction to it was incredibly enthusiastic.
So we said, “Maybe we can produce these. We’re two audio geeks that have been mixing records and designing studios. We can really do this.” So we’re in that stage of being a company, producing our flagship model the GS-3, and we’ve now got Chris Bubacz involved as a third partner. He’s been in the industry a bunch of years also and brings the organizational structure and business mind to the company.
I’m excited about this company, and I get that way again every time I listen to these speakers. That’s why I got into audio. It had gotten to the point where everything I was hearing was not dynamic enough, or ran out of gas too fast.
Another aspect of that is that Mick mixes in them. They had to have accuracy so they translated, but they also have a robustness so you can also track on them. In a smaller studio, this is the only speaker you’d need – they’re a Swiss Army knife, because they enhance the sound, but you still get all the accuracy out of a speaker that you need to mix on.
As you’ve built up the company, what are you finding out not just about speaker design, but about being a manufacturer?
We learned not to be satisfied. You have to be very uncompromising. You want to be able to say, “OK, let’s just do this the best we can and go on to the next stage.” But you can’t do that. It can be tempting to say, “Let’s use that component, or this one, because it’ll be cheaper,” but Mick’s hearing is a big factor in preventing those decisions. He’s a savant when it comes to that, and I trust him when he says we have to take a certain path to maintain the sound quality.
Of course, Money is always a big issue. Mick and I do other things that bring income in, and then the monitors are what we invest in: buying parts and doing R&D. The frustration comes when you try and market something. Getting something out there when you have the Genelecs of the world to compete with – it’s hard to have the budgets to do that.
We’ve had shootouts with very small groups of people up to this point. It’s gratifying when we do have these demonstrations and they win, but then people need to have the money to buy them. That said, they are a reasonably-priced speaker system compared to Genelecs or ATCs, for example.
How would you characterize the current monitor market that you’re competing in?
There’s the home/project studio that’s always going to have real budget constraints. People get great amps, great mics, great gear, and then listen through something substandard, so they can’t really benefit from all that other equipment. That’s unfortunate, in my opinion, because after the room, the monitors are the most important thing you’re hearing. Keeping this in mind, we believe people will stretch their budgets slightly once they hear our speakers.
I do think there is a market of commercial and high-end personal studio facilities that do a lot of tracking and writing, and are a little more endowed, and these hit that market perfectly. We’re also going after THX certification for the post world. We have all the dynamic and level requirements for good mixing of film and video, especially 5.1.
It seems to me that getting people to switch their main monitors is a pretty big proposition. How do you get people to consider such a drastic change in their setup?
I think you’re absolutely right. Any pro or serious amateur will get to know their monitors after a time, and they adjust their mixing habits accordingly. For example, they’ll know their monitors are down in the low range and so they’ll compensate for that.
When one top engineer heard these monitors in Nashville, he said to us, “I’ve been using ‘X’ monitors and I really understand them, but it would be nice to have monitors like this so that when I go into mastering, I wouldn’t have to hear all the things that I missed!” So for someone who listens on a constant basis, they’d be willing to say, “OK, here’s something that could make my work easier or better.”
I do think that takes a little bit of courage to say, “I’m going to leap from my current monitors to these new ones, especially after having had success with the first ones.” But I think the Guzauski-Swist speakers are enough of a jump above what people are using that they would be willing to make that change.
As you pointed out, you and Mick have been a team for a long time. How would you characterize the chemistry that the two of you have developed?
Mick and I bring slightly different abilities to the table. Mick’s ears are his greatest asset, and he’s respected across the board by his colleagues. But I bring stuff that Mick can’t do: I bring the mechanical end together. I construct prototypes and build very solid working enclosures that are acoustically a jump from something that Mick might not have thought of.
So the respect is back and forth. I’ll refer to what he’s hearing, but he may be looking too closely at something. So the combination is really about mutual respect, his ears and my mechanical abilities.
Does being an NYC area-based manufacturer help and/or hurt your efforts in any significant way?
NYC has a broad range of our potential users. The way we’re marketing these now is to have listening demos in studios, or with anybody who wants to check them out. Just get on our Website and email us, and we’ll arrange a demo.
That’s a big factor in helping these to sell, initially — the sheer amount of people and population here. We’re doing it in L.A., too, but we live here. This is our town. We feel we’re part of the community.
I talk to people all the time who want to take the plunge, and produce the “better mousetrap” that they’ve built – whether it’s cables, limiters, compressors, etc… What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into boutique manufacturing for audio?
The first thing I would do is make sure you have something better than anything else out there. Do something that sounds better, so the music benefits from your efforts. Then it’s worth the agony of what you’re trying to get out there – because you really believe in it.
– David Weiss
The wins are:
– Best Choral Performance: Again, Tom Lazarus (Engineer/Mixer) and David Frost (Producer) are credited on the 2009 Recording of Verdi’s “Requiem”. Stadium Red is also credited.
– Producer Of The Year, Classical: David Frost (Producer) is Classical Producer Of The Year. Four of the five projects that were associated with the award credited team member Tom Lazarus (Engineer/Mixer) and Stadium Red.
LONG ISLAND CITY, QUEENS: Scratch below the surface of any of today’s independent masring engineers, and most likely you’ll find a team player there. There are a lot of one-person shops dotting the NYC landscape, but these individual practitioners weren’t always flying solo.
Case in point: James Cruz, founder and sole proprietor of Zeitgiest Sound Studios in Long Island City. In another dimension – circa 2004 – Cruz was a young addition to a mastering dream team operating within the dearly departed Sony Studios. His collaborators there were some of the heaviest hitters – then and now – in the industry: Vic Anesini, Vlado Meller, Joseph M. Palmaccio, Darcy Proper, and Mark Wilder. The late, great technical genius Dave Smith, VP of Sony Music Engineering, oversaw it all.
Change being the constant that it is, in 2007, Sony Studios closed to make way for something else deemed more useful. The All Stars are now scattered across the planet, but Cruz, a longtime resident of Astoria, made it just across the river to Long Island City to found scenic Zeitgeist. Since settling in, his credits have included the last three Calle 13 albums (winners of a total of seven Latin GRAMMYS and two GRAMMYS), Mary Mary, Cee Lo, Three-6 Mafia, Natasha Bedingfield, and more.
Here, Cruz cues us in on many things mastering – why he stays in the box, how artists can make the most of their session, and the beauty of being your own boss.
Tell us about the “signal path” that got you into mastering.
Ha! If you want me to start at the top…Just about out of college I sent resumes all over town — I wanted to be a record or mix engineer. Troy Germano at the Hit Factory called me for an interview and hired me as a GA (General Assistant) in the mastering department. At the time I had never heard of mastering and knew nothing about it, but he said to give it a try and eventually I can move over to “the other side.”
This was at the time The Hit Factory was at its peak: The engineering staff consisted of Herb Powers, Tom Coyne, Chris Gehringer and Roger Talkov. At the time Roger was one of the few people in New York with a new workstation called Sonic Solutions, and he was betting on it being “the future of the business.” Roger needed to move on, I decided that I would learn the system, and I was literally learning trial-by-fire style doing sessions for Celine Dion and Jim Steinman two days later.
Soon after that Tom went over to Sterling Sound so I picked up the computer, put it in his room and said “mine.” I was doing Toni Braxton sessions with LA Reid the next week. All while still making coffee and running the library. Then I learned how to cut records from Herbie – one of the best vinyl cutters ever and learned my EQ chops from Gehringer. It was a pretty special time. I liked it so much that here I am 20 years later. I never went to “the other side.”
That sounds a little like how I got started writing about pro audio! Your mastering career led you to a nice distinction – one of the final group that made up Sony Mastering: What do you feel was special about the people that were there? And the facility, for that matter, at the time that it got shut down in 2007?
Sony was amazing. The Hit Factory was great for many reasons but Sony was amazing. It was one of the most underappreciated and under-used facilities ever. Never again will there be a place like it: You could walk in with nothing, book a production room, record, mix, master and duplicate your album. Then you could go down the hall and shoot and edit your video and do artwork, and even do a live broadcast from the soundstage.
Another thing about it was the technical staff. By far the best in the business. I could ask them for the most bizarre setups you could think of and it would be done in 30 minutes, without ever having to rent gear. The mic locker was epic.
Then there were the engineers. Of course everyone knows the juggernaut that is Vlado Meller, but on top of that was Mark Wilder, a pair of golden ears if there ever was one, and Vic Anesini who did fantastic work. It was a place where we all worked on making each other better and it was always great to have these guys to give an opinion on an EQ or compressor setting. I feel like The Hit Factory was a long training session and Sony is really where I came into myself as an engineer.
I always wondered why it was so quiet every time I was at Sony. After that, why did you decide to go solo and set up Zeitgeist, rather than joining another mastering facility?
Honestly, Sony shut down and I had no interest in working for someone else anymore. I couldn’t really see myself at Sterling or Masterdisk so I didn’t even pursue it. I figured I had already worked in two of the best spots ever and now it was time to do my own thing. I also like the idea of being completely responsible for myself and not having to answer to anyone.
So how would you describe what you’ve created in Zeitgeist – what were your objectives for the room? How did you set it up?
The most important thing for me was the vibe. Even though I’ve worked in these amazing studios, all the rooms always felt very cold and sterile – there’s really only so much you can do with a black couch and lava lamps. So first and foremost I wanted sunlight.
I also went in the complete opposite direction of the “modern mastering room” and went back to what it was originally intended to be, and that’s the best-sounding living room stereo in the world. So I did just that: I built a giant living room with tons of comfort and a front window that’s 20’ long by 8 ½’ high — I barely even need to use electric lighting anymore.
Zeitgeist is the Comfort Zone. You also mentioned to me that you master virtually 100% in the box. Why is it that?
Pristine signal flow — mastering rule Number One. When I started everything was on tape. It came in on ½” (sometimes DAT) and ended up on lacquer and/or UMatic. There was always a physical medium so there was always multiple pieces of gear, a bunch of feet of wire, patch bays etc…
Even though everything was as high quality as possible, it always imparted a sound. Sometimes it was good, sometimes it was bad. Along the way I noticed everything started to go all-digital — started with DAT then recordable CD. So I started to back off on the analog gear. I didn’t want to convert to analog, go through a bunch of stuff, then have to go back to digital. Eventually it went to all WAV files so I found no reason to ever leave the box.
I’m using very high quality mastering grade plug-ins and my signal flow is as short as possible. Do I miss analog stuff? Yes. Very much. I would much prefer to turn a knob then adjust a trackball! There are definitely some advantages to doing it this way, though, besides the signal flow. It allows me to work much faster, which benefits the client in the end. I also have a lot more flexibility than I ever had with analog stuff.
There’s always a tradeoff, in either direction. How is your workstation configured?
My workstation is the Sequoia by Magix and my main EQ is the Orange Linear Phase by Algorithmix. I can’t live without them. It runs on Windows XP and the computer was custom built by Sony’s computer genius Jim Yates.
It’s a powerhouse of a system and extremely stable. It’s so over-engineered I have seen no reason to update it yet, to be very honest. My next batch of plug-ins will probably be the Sonnox Oxford stuff – it’s not new but it is some great-sounding stuff. Universal Audio is also doing some very cool stuff with all their emulations.
Turning around to what’s coming into your system, what would you say are the trends you’re seeing in terms of the recording techniques and audio quality of the music you’re getting? How are projects evolving, and how is that affecting the way you approach your job?
Let me start here, and this is as diplomatic as possible: owning Pro Tools doesn’t make you a recording engineer, in the same way that owning a frying pan doesn’t make you a chef. That being said there are more and more projects being done in smaller project studios and fewer people are actually involved in the process. There is actually a very good article in a current magazine about the engineer becoming a loner, where in the days of the larger studios there were always other people around to give opinions and push you to be better.
That’s a major change that’s affecting the way things are done. As far as audio quality, it’s always been hit or miss. There have always been bad engineers and great engineers. As technology gets cheaper there do seem to be more and more engineers though.
On that topic, you said that client education is something you’re a big proponent of. What’s an example of a correctable mistake you often hear on the projects you get – something that people could easily fix so that you can deliver a better master?
I love for new clients to call me before the session and ask as many questions as they want. I am a big believer in one-on-one communication with the client. It benefits everybody.
The biggest mistakes I get are too much compression/limiting – see “level wars” discussions in every audio publication and message board written in the last 10 years — and the tops and tails of the tracks not being right. If your mix engineer is adding a limiter on the two-mix just to make it loud, tell him to remove it before sending it to mastering. Your mastering engineer should be able to make your track loud without wrecking all the wonderful dynamic range that makes music connect on an emotional level.
It’s also helpful to leave a second or two of air before your song. Don’t start your WAV right on the music, let it breathe a bit. Your mastering person can trim it for you. And lastly, that applies to the end of the track too: Leave some air at the end so your mastering engineer has some room to work, especially when sequencing an album. The worst, and costly, mistake is not being prepared. Call your engineer before the session and get in detail the way that things should be done, if you have any questions.
That’s some super-solid advice! Things are pretty competitive here in the NYC mastering scene, right? How are things evolving for you and your competition?
I think the smaller guys are making a pretty serious play. To be very honest, and I mean this with the utmost of respect, I don’t really see how the giant muti-room places can survive with that business model much longer. The overhead is just too high. As budgets continue to shrink and the web continues to shut down labels it’s going to be the boutique studios that will be able to keep up.
On another tip, who are some music innovators that have inspired you – be they engineers, artists, business people, chefs…?
Wow. Good one — there are so many. In no particular order: Jimmy Page, Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Pete Townsend, Geoff Emerick, George Martin, Brendan O’ Brien, Jim Thirwell, Jon Brion, Joe Strummer, The Talking Heads and XTC. Just to name a few.
That’s a heady mix! Finally, when you sit down to master a record – whether it’s an indie artist or major label hit – what’s the big payoff?
I love doing an attended session and playing the before-and-after for a client and seeing their face light up. That’s a lot of fun for me. When everything is complete, the client sits down and listens to the complete product, and says “YES!” that makes me very happy.
File under “What a Feeeeeeeling!” Anything else to add?
I need a vacation. It’s been way too long.
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The Senator has an an MSRP of $2500 and is available now at www.originpointaudio.com.
FASHION DISTRICT, MANHATTAN: If you could burrow inside the mind of Bob Power, chances are it would sound mighty good in there. For this softly-spoken but hugely influential member of the New York City production scene, music is always the message.
Certainly, just the track record of this multi-multi-platinum GRAMMY-nominated, Emmy-winning producer/mixer/engineer composer/professor/Yoda would be enough to warrant an interview: dig on D’Angelo, Chaka Khan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Ozomatli (2002 Grammy “Best Alternative Latin Album”), De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Miles Davis, the Roots, Macy Gray, Curtis Mayfield, David Byrne, Spike Lee, The Brand New Heavies, Maceo Parker, Pat Metheny, KRS 1, Run DMC, PBS, Coca Cola, Mercedes, AT&T, and the hundreds more people and things that grace his client list.
But the impetus to reach out, and have a pow-wow in his cozy downtown mix suite is bigger than that. Even a shallow investigation into the NYC music and sound creation landscape will uncover a Disciple of Bob. What top audio pros can name him as a mentor, motivator or friend? It’s easier to count the ones who can’t.
The longer I talk to music pros around NYC – producers, engineers, mixers – the more I hear, “Bob Power taught me this. Bob Power was my mentor and he said that.” So many roads seem to lead to Bob Power. Why is this?
I very humbly respond that it’s often difficult for me to say, “I know best.” My way of doing things is only one way of doing things. What you’re hearing is partly due to longevity. I’ve been doing this for long enough, and I try to be supportive of people coming up. Still, I’m amazed by the fact that you say that.
It’s odd to look up and realize that you’ve been doing this — recording and producing music — for 40 years. I started out playing, and I played for a living for 20 years with guitar as my primary instrument. I scored TV for seven years on the West Coast, then came back to New York here where I got heavily into industrials and jingles – then from the late ‘80s and 90’s, almost exclusively records. I was trying to do both for a while — big records and scoring for big clients like AT&T and BMW, but it was killing me.
If there’s a thread that runs through all this stuff, it’s that I have seen audio production from all of these different angles. Many of them are musical — purely musical – and many of them are technical. Both are fascinating for me: I grew up as a musician, and I have two degrees in music. A dirty secret is that I’ve never taken an engineering course in my life.
Nonetheless I’ve learned a great deal about music engineering and music recording. One thing I’ve realized teaching music and recoding is that you have to think of it as music first. I often get asked, “Wow, I love your kick drum sound. How do you record it?” But music is a moving target, and people forget about that. So when people get into electronics and physics, they forget that every day is something different. A C9 is never the same twice.
I’ve come to a place with producing, recording and mixing music that is very music-oriented. At the same time, I happen to love things where the sound itself is as interesting as the music is. But the music always has to come first.
What’s the opposite of that? If the music isn’t coming first, then what is?
Engineers on the way up sometimes put themselves and their engineering into the process too visibly, and it can get in the way of people’s creativity. I can only say that because I did that a lot, myself. Now, it’s more important to me to make the recording process as transparent as possible.
It’s all about understanding the part of the process you’re in at any given moment..When I’m writing, I have to force myself not to perfect my parts. I do a lot of programming and sequencing, and not perfecting is a very conscious decision. It reminds me of what I have to do with someone who’s in creative mode. I keep things moving forward.
Momentum – creative, musical, and productivity – are key. The only time you’ll see me getting steamed is when people are on the studio floor (during a session) and some piece of gear isn’t working, because the creative energy of those players is the most important thing at that time. It’s the same as asking someone to play something too many times – the spark, the vitality goes out of it.
We don’t listen to records to hear the right things in the right place. That’s nice, but with the mechanics of records – taking soundwaves into the transducer of a mic, storing it onto an analog or digital medium, and then doing the reverse trip to listen back – being able to hear any emotion in that is a modern miracle. That’s the thing that’s kept so many of us recording geeks so amazingly fascinated for so long.
Turning off that “perfect” button is definitely something I have a hard time doing. How do you manage to do it?
I have learned that perfect is not always good. As musicians, when we come up and try to get our chops together, we lose sight of the inner push that makes the music come alive. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some real genre-bending, genre-creating artists, and realizing that they were right about a lot of things they pushed me toward. They didn’t want it perfect — perfect was too 1987!
All the musical experience one has contributes to who you are as a music practitioner, whether it’s as a recordist or a player. As a kid, I beat the guitar with some guts. It may not have been in tune, but my primary impetus at the time was feel. You do something for enough years, all that stuff coalesces.
Another thing is that my taste in what I like to listen to has veered from perfect. Perfect is nice – I grew up listening to and loving Steely Dan like many people – but what I try to do now as a music producer is to make music breathe. Among other things, I’m really into dynamics, which is not to say I don’t like compression: I may master things loud. It has to be competitive, for what it’s worth. But what I’m talking about is musical dynamics; how an arrangement unfolds.
There needs to be an inner dynamic to a song where it’s allowed to rage and sit back, rage and sit back, An example is the contrast between the chorus and verse; it’s part of the drama of music.
Another big issue – the expression I use- is, “I don’t hear any blood on those tracks,” — it’s a nod to the Dylan metaphor. The most compelling music I hear has the blood. It doesn’t even have to be screaming; it can be soft. It can be Kate Bush. But you need to hear the emotion, the blood behind it.
That’s a vivid way of putting it. Can you point to a project that you’re currently involved in that’s calling that out?
Every gig is about that. #1, as a producer, I don’t take gigs unless I think someone has something special to say. If I do, I expend all my energy going where they live. One long-standing relationship I have on a musician and human level is Meshell Ndegeocello, who’s influenced me tremendously as a person and a musician. There are certain things she does that she doesn’t necessarily try to do, but like any great artist, that’s just what and how they do.
All the people I’ve worked with – D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, COPE – their music has taught me lessons about things, and not always verbal lessons. In my relationship with Meshell, certainly what she does musically and what I do as a mixer work together very well. If you listen to (the 2003 album) Comfort Woman, that’s a good example of that. In general, we have a great mutual respect for what the other does. For most of her music making, I stay out of the way and let her do her thing.
She knows what my proclivities are as a mixer, and lets me get it to a certain point. What I say to most of my clients is, “Let me work with it for a while, then get it to a point of departure,” like “This is what I meant to do.” Then pick up from there.
I think it’s debilitating for an artist to hear a kick drum for an hour – and I don’t do that anymore either. Now, I tend to work in concentric circles. I used to say, “Gotta get the kick perfect. Gotta get the snare perfect.” But I’d say the results and process are so much more rewarding if you get to a state of niceness, do a circle around, then circle around again.
That’s an important theory of creativity for me. It allows us to:
#1 – stay fresh,
#2 – not lose sight of the big picture, and
#3 – the next time you come back around, it’s as if you’re hearing it for the first time. That allows you a much greater degree of objectivity. It allows one to be spontaneous where that is called for, and clinical where that is called for.
Has there been an evolution in your tools – or the way that you’re applying them — to get there?
Whether you use a shovel or an EQ, if you do something for 40 years, you change the way you do things. For me, without a doubt, the biggest evolution is digital – which is not to say that I’ve given up on analog.
My viewpoint on digital mixing is that the tools are there, and our biggest job as practitioners is to stop complaining that “it doesn’t sound like analog.” It never will! And there are some things that digital does better.
I made a commitment to digital three or four years ago, although today I don’t mix entirely in the box. I have an expensive two-buss chain with Pendulum, Tube Tech, API, Prism gear. But if I’m mixing in my studio, I don’t use analog inserts on individual things. I may, if something is very poorly recorded – which is more often than not these days – send that out and record it through an analog chain of my own. I’ve found that with the tradeoff of what one gains through the fattening-up process of one pass in, one pass out – there’s no contest versus not doing it.
A big issue is that because the tools have become available to the Average Joe and Joan, and the user interfaces have been refined, there’s almost no such thing as a tracking engineer anymore. Thus the things that come to me for mixing are often not really easy to deal with sonically. The people are very well meaning, but as you know, things don’t always come out the way one intended. When you boil it down, here are three things that you need to pay attention to in recording, and everything will come out pretty well.
Please remind us!
#1 – the instrument and the player. No one can do that much about the player – people are at the stage of evolution that they’re at, and that’s fine. But people don’t do enough to prepare an instrument for recording. Intonation, consistency of timbre, tonal uniformity across the dynamic range of the instrument are all big pluses in the recording.
The instrument is so often overlooked in the recording process. The band comes in, and everyone is unhappy and depressed because the guitars are out of tune. The drums don’t sound so good, the bass doesn’t sound so good. But more often than not, if you prepare the instruments you’re home.
When I worked with session musicians, I thought I was a great engineer, but then I realized these people’s instruments were chosen because they sound really good in the studio. My own guitar collection is 15 or so, for example, but there’s only five or six of them that I use in the studio.
#2 — the mic preamp. Everyone thinks it’s the mic, but I can make a really good record with a great preamp and the Shure SM57, my desert island mic. The Telefunken 251 is right on the heels of that.
#3 – mic placement. This is a longer story than we have time for right now.
A lot of people reading this probably agree, but wonder how this pertains to them if they’re using synths, soft synths – any manner of virtual instruments…
As one who did scoring for years and had racks of MIDI instruments that I had to reload, I know that virtual instruments are a huge factor in music – you turn on your computer, hit the space bar, and everything comes out.
The way in which virtual instruments fit into the above equation is about the intent in the choice of which ones you choose. You start to get to know the character of all the packages, modules, manufacturers – they’re all instruments of their own. There are four or five different Minimoog emulations, for example, and they all sound a little different.
But anyone who does a lot of recording knows that what specific instrument you pick for a given application is huge. I teach recording and arranging at NYU, and my students often grumble about the fact that I make them work with in-the-box instruments; and expect them to sound really good. The real lesson is that, just as an orchestrator or an arranger with real musicians doesn’t write them something that would be awkward – like certain notes for clarinet or tones for cello – you have to take the same attitude with virtual instruments. That’s where you say, “Wow, that patch didn’t sound good for fast runs, so I’ll use it for pads.”
It’s the same with digital sound processing tools. Even though the McDSP is my go-to EQ, the Waves packages have different characteristics that may, at a given time, be more appropriate. Just like guitars – there are things that I may go to more often because I know that they are very adaptable, other times because they have a very specific character. By now I know the character of my digital tools as well as the analog tools that I’ve used for a long time.
I’ve noticed that you bring up your post at NYU a lot, in this conversation and others we’ve had.
First of all, I consider myself very fortunate to be part of a higher education system. The Clive Davis Department, to a person, is full of fantastic human beings,and tremendously experienced practitioners who really care about the students first. But as with anything when you teach, you really learn as much as your students; You have to create succinct, understandable terms for complex processes that you may have been doing intuitively.
I really think it’s important for teachers to break things down into simple components. For example, I love the astrophysicist who teaches you about the universe with a paper cup. I’m into that same type of immaculate simplicity.
It’s also nice to be able to interact with so many talented people and help them along the way. Teaching has informed my humanism, which, as I get older, becomes the really important goal as a human being. Fifteen guitars are nice. GRAMMY awards are nice. Stature is nice. But it’s really about helping people, and that informs everything I do now.
As an instructor, what are you observing about the next gen of music people that are coming up? Are we going to be in good hands?
I can only speak for the people at NYU. I can say that their musicianship and studio skills are off the charts. They know so much more about what it takes to make a good record than where I was at that age.
Things are so much open now. When I was growing up there were only four or five genres and a precise way of producing them. They are much, much broader in their visions than I am, and you just can’t believe the cool things they do.
So here’s the $500 question for Bob Power: Is this the best of times or the worst of times in music?
It’s a time of great, great change. With the consolidation of the majors, everyone is ruing the downfall of the record business. The main thing that’s really changed is the economic underpinnings of it. But out of changes, there’s always a new way that comes. In regard to the business of recorded music, I say to my students at NYU, “I can’t tell you how it’s going to be. You’ll be the ones to invent that.”
This is the best of times and the worst of times. Financially, the cash flow and throughput of the recorded music business has been decimated, literally by powers of 10. At the same time, there is a new order that’s forming. What is the revenue stream of recorded music is really the crux of that whole issue. On the creative side, though, because the tools are more affordable and the user interfaces are better, there’s a huge breadth of creativity that we wouldn’t have seen ten years ago from people making music.
On the dissemination end, the Web has leveled the playing field, because there are no filters out there anymore. That’s good and bad. No longer is it that only things in the mainstream system get through, but it’s bad because…where do you start in your search for your music? But that’s evolving as we talk. It’s as exciting as it is terrifying.
It really boils down to revenue streams for recorded music; that filters all the way down to bands and solo artists. If bands can’t sell their music online, and the idea is that one gives away their music which brings people to shows – that’s great, but who will they pay to record their music? If you want to involve people who are really good, that costs money.
Here we sit in one of the music centers of the galaxy, discussing all of this. Where does New York City fit into The Big Picture, in 2011?
What can you say? NYC is the most fascinating, alive, multi-faceted organism that I know. Just on that level alone, the music that comes out of here is going to be pretty interesting.
Even with the retrenchment of the major label business, I think that the New York/Nashville/LA markets will always support healthy industries in music. But being in those locations is less important than it was. Thanks to digital communications, I mix and master a lot of music for people I never see. And boy are they making some cool music! It’s unfettered. It’s not affected by the winds of trend. It’s a very pure thing. People are making music because they have to, they love to, and they want to so much – rather than because they want to be rich and famous.
That’s where we all started — and that whole concept is very important to the way I approach my relationships with my clients. No matter how tired you are, no matter how many times you’re required to do the same things over and over, you have to remember how great it was the first time you recorded music. How exciting it felt. We all need to remember that.
– David Weiss
Waves Audio has learned that it will be presented with a Technical GRAMMY® Award during the GRAMMY Week celebration in February 2011.
The news was made public as part of The Recording Academy® announcement of its Special Merit Awards recipients, with Waves Audio as a Technical GRAMMY Award® honoree. A special invitation-only ceremony will be held during GRAMMY Week on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011, and a formal acknowledgment will be made during the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards telecast, which will be held at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011.
With this presentation of the Technical GRAMMY®, Waves joins a previous recipients which includes such well-known names as Apple Computer, Inc., Sony/Philips, Shure Incorporated and Yamaha Corporation.
This Special Merit GRAMMY is awarded by vote of the Producers & Engineers Wing Advisory Council and Producers & Engineers Wing Chapter Committees and ratification by The Recording Academy’s National Trustees to companies that have made outstanding contributions of technical significance to the recording field.