No Artificial Reverb Allowed! The Tracking and Mixing Challenge of La Dispute’s “Wildlife”

October 11, 2011 by  

HARLEM, MANHATTAN: You don’t have to imagine what’s like to be in the head of La Dispute. Everything about this intensely emotional rock band – their lyrics, their message, their music, and even the way it’s recorded – is about removing the mystery.

"Wildlife" by La Dispute has something extra-natural about it.

It’s all obvious from the moment that you hear the band’s singer, Jordan Dreyer, pushing it out in “a Departure,” the opening track from their arresting new album Wildlife. Don’t wait around for the raw energy of this Michigan five-piece to let up either, because the artfully charging guitars, rhythmic explorations, and intimate space of their post-hardcore screamo/progressive rock songs just keep on coming at you.

The recording team of producer Andrew Everding (Thursday) and engineer Joe Pedulla (Swizz Beatz, Thurday, Patent Pending) arrived at an early self-imposed challenge while working with this uniquely inspired group: no artificial reverb allowed. Whether it was plates or Lexicon PCMs, all ambience not imposed by the band’s actual surroundings was banished on Wildlife – instead, only the natural sound of the rooms at NYC’s Stadium Red and Chicago’s Drasik Studios were allowed to influence the sonic sense of space.

Like many feats of engineering, the “no reverb” rule came not by design but as a matter of natural course, starting at the initial sessions in Chicago. “We had miked the drums in the live room, and the room mics that were in there were set up for talkback,” Pedulla recalls. “Then the guitarist was in there to be next to his amp, and we started realizing, ‘This sounds cool.’ The parts needed this ambience, and sounded really good with that sound that you don’t get from close mics.

“So we started printing more and more room mics,” Pedulla continues, “and we realized early on the importance of that way of working. Collectively, we started printing everything by having a ribbon mic in the center of the room. Midway through the record, we made it official: Shoot for no digital reverb, and bash away in a way that you can’t do in a basement studio. Obviously, it’s a digital album to begin with, recorded entirely into Pro Tools, so we did what we could from there to remain in the natural era of recording. It was a fun science experiment for us to do.”

AMPED UP WITHOUT REVERB

Space to breathe: Jordan Dreyer belts it out at Stadium Red. (Photo Credit: David Summers)

After recording six of Wildlife’s 14 songs in Chicago (without vocals), the scene shifted to NYC, where the rest of the album was tracked in the spacious complex of Stadium Red uptown. As Everding, Pedulla, and La Dispute — Dreyer, drummer Brad Vanger Lugt, guitarists Chad Sterenburg and Kevin Whittemore, and bassist Adam Vass – progressed, they got an increasing feel for the appeal of the real reverb that they were cultivating.

“We were just trying to capture what it would be like for an audience member sitting and listening to a guitar in a room,” says Pedulla. “There was something natural about it — no one ever listens to a guitar with their ear right against the speaker. Whenever someone is in their bedroom or basement playing guitar there’s a natural ambience to it, so we wanted to put that down and get the big parts to sound really big, and really ambient.

“The singer, Jordan Dreyer, has this crazy dynamic range – a 20dB swing from how loud and quiet he gets. So there are some vocal parts with no resonance at all, where he’s speaking/singing softly, the room is not echoing, and he sounds close and in-your-face. Then the dynamic swing happens, and we would see how big it can get.”

SPATIAL RELATIONS

At Stadium Red, where Pedulla frequently works, the team took full advantage of the versatile, 1,000 sq. ft. Studio A. “I love that room for its flexibility,” Pedulla says. “It’s got gobos and a throw rug to emulate the size of different rooms, and with the small (300 sq. ft.) drum room, leaving the door full or partially open makes a difference. You can really have everything sound intimate with close mics, or you can open your room mics and get the long throw on it.”

To record the drums at Stadium Red, Pedulla first put a combination of close mics and boundary mics on the kit. Leaving the drum room’s sliding door open, he then miked the large live room purely to pick up the drums’ resonance. “We did a couple of different setups,” says the engineer. “We had a Royer 121 as our mono room mic, and a pair of AKG 414’s as the stereo-pair room mics, or two of the Audio Technica3060 tube condenser mics, which they don’t make anymore.

Watch the sliding doors -- opening it up from the iso booths. (Photo Credit: David Summers)

“There was another mono room mic from the ‘50’s or ‘60’s, the STC 4021 that I know as a ‘ball and basket.’ It’s a really cool, dark-sounding ribbon mic. Ribbon mics on rooms are king, and that’s what we used for our vocal room mic as well — there’s something about the way a ribbon mic chops off the top end, and makes it kind of smooth. Using a ribbon for the room on drums you don’t get too much of a cymbal bang, it’s not harsh, with a really solid top end and it gives you the mid range you need to capture that natural, resonating snare reverb.”

Dreyer’s close vocal mic was the Bock Audio 151 tube microphone, going into an Amek 9098 preamp, then tamed by an Empirical Labs Distressor. “We printed room mics on the vocals as well the whole album through, except for one song because of scheduling we had to record in Stadium Red’s C room,” Pedulla notes. “So for that, while I was mixing I took a Genelec 1031 speaker and placed it in the vocal booth in the exact spot that Jordan was standing. Then I placed the STC 4012 ribbon mic in the center of the live room and ‘reamped’ the vocals.”

When miking guitars, Pedulla looked to a Shure SM57 and a Royer 121 for close mikes, and a Neumann TLM 103 for the room. “There’s something cool about that, from 6’ to 25’ back from the amp. You can put it right in front of the amp and still get the ambience, or put it all the way at the end and really have it sounding big.”

Those listening even semi-carefully will hear some artificial wash on the guitar part for the song “a Poem.” “We used an analog spring reverb, the Sound Workshop 262 Stereo Spring Reverb, on one guitar part there on input,” concedes Pedulla.  “The guitarist, Chad insisted on using it — he used it sort of as you would a pedal into his guitar amp. We were using it as an effect, by picking up and actually dropping the 2U box. Rest assured, this was accompanied by a room mic for more reverb.”

StadiumRed’s SSL G+also helped shape and tame the sound. “We had a 26” kick drum, and that went straight into the SSL,” Pedulla says. “Those drums were so big, and there was something about the kick that I hated at first, but Andrew and I reduced 15 dB at 120Hz – that solved the problem of the kick drum, getting rid of the low-mid garbage we didn’t need. The flexibility of that EQ and that one cut alone saved the drum kit – to me, cutting is just as important as boosting, if not more.”

La Dispute glued it all together with the Stadium Red SSL G+. (Photo Credit: David Summers)

MAKING IT WORK IN THE MIX

Knowing that Studio A and the SSL G+ were booked up, Pedulla executed the Wildlife mix in the box. “I really liked using HEAT in Pro Tools|HD on this album,” he notes. “For a raw-sounding rock band like La Dispute are, I really liked overcompressing at times and then hearing the harmonic character of the HEAT distortion. I summed through the SSL, with two faders up to unity gain – the SSL 2-buss compressor combined with HEAT was really important to the glue of the mix.”

While temptation ran rampant, Pedulla was able to keep his hands off any and all reverb – hardware or plugins. “It was always in the back of my mind, but I was on this mission to make the record happen without it,” states Pedulla. “Even if it was sounding weird, and the room mic wasn’t able to give me what I wanted to throw in the mix, I just did what I could to make it work. We agreed on it, that’s what it is, and we accepted that fact. Even if it was a little bizarre or not quite perfect, that’s what it was going to be, regardless of the character.”

BEAR-HUGGING THE LIMITATIONS

For Pedulla, Everding, and the brave souls of La Dispute, the self-imposed restrictions of Wildlife were well worth the pain. “You kind of get painted into a corner sometimes, and you need to know how to dig yourself out,” Pedulla says. “The limitations are fun. It’s the challenge of engineering. Some days you’ll say, ‘I have to focus on compression and making this sit well,’ realizing the dynamic and importance of it for the band.

“One of the big lessons I learned from this project is the importance of room mics, and that I shouldn’t neglect them when recording. Even if the fader is at -25 dB, there’s still a little ambience in there, so it can sit in the mix a bit better. And now I know there are some things you can do with room mics that you can’t do with digital reverb — that’s for damn sure!”

– David Weiss

Wildlife is available now on No Sleep Records. Stream the album and purchase at www.ladisputemusic.com.

 

4 GRAMMY Award Wins Connect to Stadium Red in Rap, Classical, Choral Categories

February 18, 2011 by  

Stadiumred Studios in NYC announced that four of the Grammy nominations that the facility participated in were winners at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards, held Sunday, Feb. 13th in Los Angeles.

Stadium Red-related people and projects won four GRAMMY Awards on Sunday.

The wins are:

Best Rap Album: Stadium Red team member Just Blaze (Producer) is credited on Eminem’s Recovery for his work on the album. Stadium Red is also credited.

Best Classical Album: Team members Tom Lazarus (Engineer/Mixer) and David Frost (Producer) are credited on the 2009 Recording of Verdi’s “Requiem”. Stadium Red is also credited.

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.

Recording Wynton Marsalis and Vitoria Suite: A Jazz Journey from Basque Country to Manhattan Valley

January 5, 2011 by  

HARLEM, MANHATTAN: Who are the lighthouse keepers for New York City’s brilliant musical beacon? The giant of jazz known as Wynton Marsalis surely stands as one such sentry, an adventurist and nine-time GRAMMY winner radiating original sound experiences from our musical epicenter out to the world.

Jeff Jones (seated) and Wynton Marsalis were on a musical mission with the making of "Vitoria Suite" (photo credit: JoanneLeveyPhotography.com)

The master capped off 2010 with the release of Vitoria Suite, an epic 12-part sound voyage recorded over three days in June, 2009 with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and a world-class roster of guests — including virtuoso flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía – at the Jesus Gundi Conservatory in Vitoria, Spain. A tribute to the city and its storied jazz festival headed by Inaki Anua, Vitoria Suite is a nonstop sonic odyssey – from its fiery takeoff to the dizzying climax, the opener “Mvt. I: Big 12” takes listeners to such a breathtaking place, one can only imagine what lies ahead.

Richness and musical dimensions of every color, shape and size define Vitoria Suite, a record that represents a true journey for the listener, musicians, and – naturally – its impassioned producer/engineer/mixer/editor. The latter is Jeff Jones (thejedimaster@mac.com), the self-proclaimed “Jedi Master” whose versatile discography includes Public Enemy, Talking Heads, Slick Rick, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones and scores more. The Jedi Master takes recording very, very seriously, as we shall soon see.

Motivated to match and build on the legendary recording contributions of Rudy Van Gelder, the Harlem-based Jones watched over every detail of Marsalis’ years-in-the-writing masterpiece, while allowing its warmth and excitement of discovery to come shining through. For Vitoria Suite’s mind-blowing meld of jazz, blues, Basque music, and flamenco, our talk with Jones confirmed that nothing less than an obsession with perfection would do.

You’ve said that you want to be the “Rudy Van Gelder of tomorrow”. That’s a bold statement. What do you mean by that?
I have been studying records and record-making — and film-making — since I was a kid. I always checked out articles, books, documentaries…anything I could get my hands on. When mixing I explore each style of music, learn its stylistic center and way of being recorded. Since I’ve been studying, apprenticing under Wynton Marsalis and veteran producer Todd Barkan I’ve gotten a deeper understanding about the center of jazz music.

If you study jazz, you have to study Rudy.  He developed his own unique sound partly by taking control of the process from recording through mastering at a time when very few people did that sort of thing. He built his own studio and bought a lathe to cut masters. As a result his sonic vision was consistent because he did everything himself.  I’ve taken on wearing all the hats now from recording through mastering. You have to do that to make the artistic vision consistent.

Dr. John called me the next Tom Dowd — both Tom and Rudy were inventors. You have to be a bit of a scientist to come up with new stuff when melding such deeply complex worlds as music and recording technology. Those two guy just did so many records that are now considered classics: It’s impossible to be a music listener and not hear their work. Their records have stood up to the test of time. That’s the kind of records I make also.

Vitoria: The heart of Basque Country and a source of inspiration for Wynton Marsalis (photo credit: JoanneLeveyPhotography.com)

Nothing half-way about that philosophy! So how do you go about actually accomplishing your approach, in actually practice?
I’m looking to bridge the core elements of historic recordings with new techniques, used with today’s technology to make something new and unique.

Doing something that’s never been done before is really, really difficult. It requires a lot of shedding and a lot of thought. The questions I ask myself are, “Conceptually how do I bridge the gap from the old to the new?  What was the old? What equipment?  How was that equipment used then? Who manufactured that equipment and how was it built? What were the limitations? And how did they work around them? What were the mediums used? How do they differ from the mediums used today? What are the strengths and weaknesses of yesterday’s mediums and the same for today’s? In total how do I make something new with today’s tools, that is grounded in the history of all recorded mediums that existed before now?”

With such deep musical thinking, it’s little wonder that you and Wynton Marsalis would eventually work together. How did you and Wynton first meet, and what made you really connect as artist/producer?
I first met Wynton when I recorded him at a small Lower East Side benefit concert at the House of Tribes. I was asked to make the recording by the producers of the concert — I suggested we also bring video cameras. I had seen a short amateur clip from the previous year’s concert, and I knew the music would be outstanding.

I made an eight track recording and asked my friend Chuck Fishbein to bring his cameras. After the concert I spent the next five months editing, color-correcting, mixing and mastering to make an hour-long pilot which I hoped at the time would eventually become a television show. The audio from that recording was released on Blue Note and nominated for a GRAMMY and the video played on BET Jazz — you can find clips from that original concert on YouTube.

I think Wynton Marsalis and I pair well because we’re both all about making history and classic purists. He demands excellence from anyone that he works with, and he totally respects the art. My background has both classical and jazz in it — that also makes us a good match.

Fast forward to Vitoria Suite – the origins of this project are pretty interesting…

The JLCO had room to maneuver in the Jesus Gundi Conservatory. (photo credit: JoanneLeveyPhotography.com)

The head of the Vitoria Jazz Festival asked Wynton to write a piece of music for him, and  Wynton ended up writing a twelve-movement piece that took him 10 years to complete. Wynton started the project long before I met him. The recording, editing and mixing process took a full year to complete.

Vitoria Suite was recorded in a music Conservatory theater in northern Spain. The Pro Tools recording equipment package came out of Madrid — I knew that we couldn’t record at 96/24  because the equipment supplier didn’t  have enough AES inputs, so the master session was recorded at 48 kHz/24-bit.

My basic approach was to ultra mic everything. The reed players alternately picked up flutes and clarinets so they had double mics top and bottom. In some movements there was extra percussion and a flamenco dancer, plus the arrangement called for the band to add handclaps. I figured I would pick through the mics and use the best combinations in the mix.

Before the recording sessions I saw portions of this twelve-movement piece performed at a jazz festival in Canada, I realized there was no way to separate any of the band members acoustically. Wynton usually records without using headphones anyway, so I set up the risers on the stage to facilitate the normal live setup of the band. It’s a challenge to record so many instruments in an acoustically live room. I recorded 50 channels of individual microphones plus a live stereo reference mix simultaneously.

Why do a live mix? That seems like a stresfful undertaking on top of an already huge undertaking.
I like the energy of a live mix — it’s a kind of Holy Grail that you never get back at any other point during a project. The live mix serves as a template for doing the massive amount of editing needed on Wynton’s projects. I do all my editing on the two-track before editing the multitrack, and each of the 12 movements in Vitoria has at least 15 edits across a 50-track multitrack. There’s no such thing as isolation of the instruments because it’s all played in one room.

In some cases, takes were time-stretched to three different lengths to tempo match. All this kind of work is calculated first with the live mix before executing it with the multitrack. Then once the edit decisions are finalized, I use the edited live mix like a cookie-cutter to edit the multitrack.

That’s a meticulous method, but I can see how, ultimately, it would be the more efficient approach. When it came time to mix, where did you mix and on what system? What was your approach there? You indicated that Wynton had a lot of detailed communication with you on that phase as well.

Jeff Jones and the JLCO listen back. (photo credit: JoanneLeveyPhotography.com)

I edited, mixed and mastered the record in my studio in a Harlem brownstone, in an area known as Manhattan Valley, where I use an Intel Mac Pro with four monitors and a combination of programs including Digital Performer, Pro Tools, and Peak. My signal path has analog summing through a Neve 8816, Apogee and Mytek A/D filters. My system is set up so that I monitor a 44/16 signal, no matter what the frequency rate of the master session. I’m a Mac Geek: I have four towers of different vintages and three laptops, and I use them all in conjunction depending on what’s needed at any given time.

Mostly, I started the mix process by doing a lot of listening. All kinds of records, all styles — even the Bose demo CD you get when you purchase one of their CD players. I like to stop mixing at times and listen to other artists’ records. It gives me a sense of perspective

I received 250 pages of music score for Vitoria Suite, where Wynton communicated with me in musical terms, bar numbers and musical sections. All my session markers were bar numbers or letters as related to the score — there is no other way to communicate about a piece of music which may be eight minutes long with no lyrics or singer, without working directly from the conductor score. Wynton and I communicate about the raw takes first in minutes and seconds based on the track time of the reference CDs. Then, after we assemble the master, our communication with musical score is in bar numbers, beats and so on.

Complex, but the attention to detail definitely shows in the final product. You said that while Wynton is bridging cultures, you are bridging the old and new technically speaking. Can you expand on those parallels?

Vitoria Suite: a musical journey.

Wynton is all about family, education, the art, hard work and integrity. He bridges cultures with that message at each show. He always combines other cultures and styles of music with American Jazz with the intent to bring people, their families, their tribes together. He bridged classical and Jazz early on, being the only cat in history to win GRAMMYS in both categories in one year. The first record I produced after “Live at the House of Tribes” was “Two Men with the Blues“. He and Willie Nelson bridged country and jazz on that one.

Since recording Vitoria which bridges flamenco and Jazz he has done shows overseas with the Berlin Philharmonic mixing classical and Jazz, to Havana, Cuba melding Afro-Cuban and Jazz. He is the Jazz ambassador of the United States.

The place where Wynton and I connect is that we are both willing to go “all the way” to make history. He instructs the musicians in his band to think of ways to play something that no one else has ever played….that, my friend, is a deep, deep statement! That is exactly the kind of recordings I have been looking to make: Recordings where not only are the musicians playing in ways that no one ever did before, but also where the recording is unique and timeless.

– David Weiss

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH7JeQK5hvE

Stadium Red Expands: Just Blaze and the Science of NYC Studios

December 15, 2010 by  

HARLEM, MANHATTAN: As artistic as the purpose of New York City recording studios may be, it’s fair to compare these houses of sound to modern-day warriors. Every one goes into battle with the belief that they’re invincible. Many fall – but some grow stronger.

A legendary SSL G+ and Augspurgers are just the beginning of the Stadium Red expansion.

Uptown, the facility known as Stadium Red became convinced that there was only one sure strategy for thriving in the battle-scarred landscape of NYC: expand, and you’ll be in demand. Marking steady gains since its inception in 2007, when Stadium Red owner Claude Zdanow took over the highly respected but troubled former studio of jazz legend Ornette Coleman at 125th and Park, 2010 sees Stadium Red placing a bold bet that bigger really is better – even when paying NYC prices for your real estate.

The result is a recently completed 2,500 sq. ft. Frank Comentale-designed expansion that sees big names and powerful new capabilities added to the facility. A focused new B-Room is home to hip hop super producer Just Blaze (Jay-Z, Eminem, Saigon, Fabolous, Jamie Foxx, Talib Kweil, Kanye West) and an SSL AWS 900, Augspurger mains, and a digital/analog hybrid production/mix approach. A world-class mastering suite has also been added to house Herb Powers-protégé Ricardo Gutierrez (Justin Timberlake, Usher, John Legend, Jill Scott).

Meanwhile, Stadium Red’s accommodating A-room has gotten its own facelift, swapping in the classic SSL G+ board from Baseline Studios (RIP). Another pair of Augspurger mains with dual 18” subs, a custom Dangerous designed 7.1 surround monitoring system, 24-track tape machine and more are all in there. Mix engineer Tom Lazarus (Ray Charles, Bjork, Yo-Yo Ma, Chicago Symphony), mix engineer Ariel Borujow (T.I., Black Eyed Peas, Puffy, Kanye West), engineer Joseph Pedulla (Thursday, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Mos Def, Kid Cudi) and producer Sid “Omen” Brown (Ludacris, Mya, Drake, Fabolus) also maintain their respective residencies throughout the studio. A host of old skool elite amenities – from upgraded lounge to private chef/spa services – are in the mix for good measure.

Claude Zdnaow's got a secret: How to successfully navigate NYC's intense studio scene.

While the idea of an all-encompassing studio environment of writing/tracking/mixing/mastering is not new, Zdanow believes that it’s the rare human resources he’s gathered – and what they’re on board to do – that will make the Stadium Red expansion stand out. “The idea is that more heads are better than one,” he says. “In studios it can become a stale environment, where the engineer is just a button pusher. What we take pride in is something the artists and labels don’t offer anymore, which is artist development.

“Artists come in here, and when they walk out our brand is attached to them. It’s about letting them know that all these ears are around, whether it’s Yo-Yo Ma, Eminem, or the emerging people we work with. We want to make records here that matter, and the idea is to bring back that creative community — we’re a growing team of NYC engineers and producers that care about NYC and the music scene.”

Zdanow’s energy – driven equally by his spirit of adventure and copious amounts of caffeine – was enough to convince Just Blaze to relocate to Stadium Red after closing his beloved Baseline. “I had known Ariel from before, and he said, ‘You should come look at this space and have a conversation with Claude,’” Blaze relates. “Claude explained his vision, what he wanted to build, and I said, ‘Maybe we can make something work.’ It made sense: The overall vision of the place and the appeal is that it’s a one-stop, end-to-end solution, from recording to mixing to mastering, even doing surround 5.1-7.1.

“So he physically expanded the space, and we combined our resources. It’s a win/win I get a little bit of the stress off my shoulders from running the day-to-day. That allows me to be more creative, but at the same time I have my own space.”

Whether for intensive writing sessions or serious mixing, the new B-room that Just Blaze inhabits was designed to be distinctively accommodating. “It’s gotta be something special — if it’s going to be this meeting of the minds, then it’s got to be something worthwhile,” he emphasizes. “It can’t just be a Pro Tools setup. The way I work, I need all the resources available all the time – I couldn’t go from a G+ to a writing room. And if we’re talking about partnering up and joining our resources to build a business, there’s no point in building something that’s just a production room. That’s something people can put in their houses these days. So you’ve got to take a step further and make it a destination.

Just Blaze made the move uptown to the ferocious Studio B.

“My room is the best of both worlds. If you want to walk in and get down to business in the box, you can do so: We have every plug-in, plus Augspurgers and other monitors. But if you’re a little more old school, you have the SSL and all the gear to go out of the box. Or you can go the third route, in that the AWS can go in and out of the digital world.

“By keeping it smaller we could keep it more affordable. Clients have the SSL, a full suite of plug-ins, Augspurgers – everything that would usually cost you $2500 or more a day, at the fraction of the cost. I think we really hit that sweet spot in terms of sizing. Sometimes you just need a room for production, with a controller or a laptop, but if you’re in this big huge room that’s a waste of money. Or it’s the other way around, and you’re feeling cramped. This place is small enough to feel like a production room, but big enough to feel like a room you can mix comfortably in.”

Arguably, the Stadium Red formula was working already: The studio and its personnel had a part in ten 2010 GRAMMY-nominated projects including Eminem’s Recovery (Album of the Year, Best Rap Album), Drake’s Thank Me Later, (Best Rap Album, Best New Artist), and Steven Mackey’s Dreamhouse (Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, and Best Engineered Album, Classical).

A good year, all right, but that’s already in the past. Although he’s young – still just in his early 20’s – Zdanow understands that part of moving forward is understanding what didn’t work before, and making adjustments. In that regard, the difficult decision to swap out the A-room’s ICON for the SSL G+ dovetailed with the concept of adding new faces, spaces and capabilities at Stadium Red.

Just Blaze: He is officially on board.

“We’re in an ever-changing industry,” he observes. “When we started out I had a very strong opinion about being versatile and trying to do it all in one room. People appreciated the ICON, but over time we weren’t doing anything as good as we could have been doing it.

“By adding these two rooms, we’ve come to critical mass. People want a lot of options. The ‘A’ room has a big live room where people can track through the console, and mix with tons of outboard gear. Just Blaze’s ‘B’ room is its own environment for production, with the SSL AWS. If you want a powerful controller-based system, you have that in the ‘C4’ room where Ariel Borujow works. So what we realized was that it wasn’t just about one room. There are certain things that need to be in place to do everything — and do it well.”

– David Weiss

Stadium Red Expands II: Mastering Completes the Picture

December 15, 2010 by  

HARLEM, MANHATTAN: Everything old is new again for Ricardo Gutierrez, the Chief Mastering Engineer at Stadium Red’s new mastering facility. A disciple of the legendary Herb Powers, Gutierrez honed his ears and technical chops at The Hit Factory, where mastering studios and recording facilities worked harmoniously together under one roof.

Ricardo Gutierrez has two plasma screens, but just one mastering suite.

Now he’s back into that classic workflow, where a record can get tracked, mixed and mastered without leaving the floor. Doing his listening in a new 5.1-ready room designed by Frank Comentale (The Hit Factory, Chung King, Daddy’s House), Gutierrez is more than down with the comprehensive Stadium Red scenario.

“I had been looking for opportunities to set up a studio, but it never felt like the right situation,” he says. “When Claude asked me if I wanted to be on board, I knew the energy was right. We were all of like mind about how we want the music to sound, and how we defined our jobs. The concept is for Stadium Red to be a destination. This is a creative place you can come to and enjoy, but you can also come here and you don’t have to leave. Someone like Just Blaze or Omen can produce here, then record with Tom Lazarus or Ariel Borujow in the live room, and finally master here as well.”

According to Gutierrez, security and enhanced efficiency are solid arguments for having mastering in the house. “A lot of people, especially high-profile artists, don’t want to have to send a file over the Internet, because leaks still happen. People feel 100% more confident in having it mastered in the same place, and we’re not ‘mastering’ in the B-room with plug-ins. We have a dedicated room with an experienced mastering engineer, and that appeals to our clients.

“Another scenario that happens is that an artist starts it in their personal studio, and then they bring it to us for us mixing. Or they record their music in the A-room and mix it at Stadium Red. Now they’re saying, ‘You guys already have the music there, why don’t you master it?’ It’s the end piece of the puzzle.”

Tech heads will take notice of Gutierrez’ uncommon center of operations: a Sony DMX-R100 “Baby Oxford” console that feeds a pair of Legacy Audio speakers and his tight collection of digital/analog processors. “That’s actually what Herb uses,” he says of the classic Sony board. “At first he used a Neve DTC console, 20-bit, but when went back to the Hit Factory, he needed a new digital console and went with a Baby Oxford. As a result, I knew it inside out. It gives me some workflow advantages, and when we switch the room to Surround I’m set up for it.”

The super sweet pro shot of Stadium Red mastering.

The Stadium Red setup is ideal for a mastering engineer who wants to be involved in the creative process, and not just the last stop on the way to iTunes. “The mentality of a typical mastering studio is, ‘These are our hours. We’re opened and closed then, and we don’t go beyond that,’” notes Gutierrez. “But I’m already here in the studio with the mindset that you’re there as late as you need to be. We need to be here so we can listen in on a project in any of the environments here, hear the master back where it’s mixed, and then decide what needs to be tweaked next, if anything.”

– David Weiss

Studio Sweet Spot: Brownstone Recording Studio

November 10, 2010 by  

Facility Name: Brownstone Recording Studio

Brownstone is small but mighty!

Website: www.warrenhenry.net

Location: Harlem, Manhattan

Neighborhood Advantages: Near every train line in New York City

Date of Birth: April 1988

Facility Focus: composition, mixing, audio post and tracking

Mission Statement: “We always jump with two parachutes”

Clients/Credits: Jennifer Hudson, VH1, Warren Henry Project, Daryl Doleman, Deloris Bowman, Barry D, Chapter 2

Key Personnel: Warren Henry, Michele McCants, Omar Nurse, Nathaniel Johnson Jr.

System Highlights: Pro Tools HD2, Focusrite preamps, Tascam M2600 mixing console for summing and mastering.

Distinguishing Characteristics: The vibe is our most distinguishing characteristic. Many people find it nice to record in an environment that doesn’t rival the typical commercial studio — that helps in the creative process.

The building is on fire, you only have time to grab ONE thing to save, what is it? My G5 with my Pro Tools HD2 system.

(l-r) Warren Henry welcomed trumpet stylist Michael C Lewis.

Rave Reviews: The cozyness that reminds people of home.

Most Memorable Session Ever: Mixing footage of Jennifer Hudson for VH1 and Mixing my CD Signs

Session You’d Like to Forget: Thank God, haven’t had any of those in the last 10 years!

Dream Session: Myself on drums with Jeff Lorber on keys and Marcus Miller on bass doing trio Avante-Garde Jazz.

Party Pics! Stadiumred Celebrates Expansion in Style

October 1, 2010 by  

The multi-room expansion of uptown sound complex Stadiumred became official on Thursday night. The studio welcomed super producer Just Blaze and mastering engineer Ricardo Gutierrez to the fold, joining an already strong cast of players including recording and mixing engineers, Ariel Borujow, Tom Lazarus, and Joseph Pedulla, as well as producer Sid “Omen” Brown.

Stadiumred founder Claude Zdanow (in vest) hosted a slammin' Thursday soiree.

An upbeat and glamorous crowd was on hand to take in the famed SSL G+ Console from Baseline in the A-Room, paired with a custom Augspurger monitoring system, as well as the SSL AW900/Augspurger-equipped mix/production room and new mastering suite. Studio designer Frank Comentale oversaw the designs for the 2000 sq. ft. expansion, bringing Stadiumred up to a full 6,000 sq. ft.

Music Unites: Inspiration and Music Education in Motion Across NYC

June 27, 2010 by  

MIDTOWN, MANHATTAN: Charged up is a good way to describe the onset of Music Unites. A non-profit focused on bringing music education to underprivileged children in underfunded inner city school systems, Music Unites is one of many emerging organizations with an ambitious agenda.

A classically-trained pianist, Michelle Edgar launched Music Unites in mid-2009, after looking extensively for a charity that she would be thrilled to donate $1000 to. But lacking a match, she moved fast to start her own philanthropic program. Just a year later, Music Unites has made itself heard quickly by hosting innovative events, then following up with a star-powered style of community outreach that appears to be resonating.

The founder filled us in on the eve of two notable events in one week. First they’re teaming with Rolling Stone to present InTune with the Fiery Furnaces and DJ Alexandra Richards downtown on Tuesday, 6/29. The next day, Wednesday 6/30, Music Unites will be the sole charitable beneficiary of an anticipated Culture Project production, the performance of “Twin Spirits” with Sting and Trudie Styler at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Why did you kick off Music Unites?

I wanted to create a community that supported emerging and established musicians across all genres of music, and broke down traditional barriers between classical, rock, hip hop and jazz—bringing that music to underserved communities and funding music education programs.

I also wanted to give artists a chance to develop and build a philanthropic outreach program tailored to what they’re passionate about. We work closely with the artists and their teams to develop long-term initiatives, and fundraise on the artists’ behalf to make their initiatives and programs come to life, so they’re proud of their initiatives which are personally tailored to what they stand for.

The community of artists and the showcases are meant to inspire artists of different genres to collaborate with one another, and expose people to new types of music across all genres that they traditionally might not be used to.

This seems to be a concept that’s gaining steady steam, city-wide. Why do you think the focus of Music Unites — bringing music education to underprivileged children in inner city school systems – seems to have such a sense of urgency?

An investment in music education is an investment in both our children and in our society: Our mission is to foster and nurture the next generation of young artists.

Michelle Edgar and Jaicko (far right): in on the outreach

Regardless of age, race, gender, or ethnicity, music has the ability to transcend barriers between people and effect positive social change. Music provides children with a creative outlet that promotes the development of self-discipline, self-esteem, cross-cultural understanding, teamwork, critical thinking, and problem solving skills. In adults, music can help strengthen the connection to our local community and society at large.

It’s well documented that the skills learned through musical training and education are critical to both scholastic and future workforce success. Music Unites strives to build a platform for emerging artists – one that connects with under-privileged youths to engage them in music education.

That’s a big mission to take on. So tell us about the approach you take to accomplishing your goals: How are you spreading the Music Unites message and helping it to take effect?

Started only one year ago, Music Unites has garnered much acclaim by raising $55,000 to support our first major initiative — The Music Unites Youth Choir, an inner city choir bringing together under-privileged children from the five boroughs of New York City together with our partners from the Young Audiences of New York.

Launched in fall 2009, this free after-school program allows young people to develop their musical, vocal and performance skills under the guidance of professional vocalists, musicians and theater artists, while exploring a variety of musical styles. The kids made their debut at Carnegie Hall in a Who tribute back in March and we’ve brought our artists, including John Forte and Jaicko, to do workshops and speak to the children. Back in May, we also brought the kids into a studio to record their first song they wrote.

On the educational outreach front, we’ve brought our services to inner city schools in Harlem and Brooklyn by doing programs with our artists where they go into the schools and share and inspire the children through their stories on how they got where they are today—teaching them the right lessons as well as their struggles and challenges along the way.

You do a lot of public events as well, including a dynamite duo this week: first InTune with the Fiery Furnaces and DJ Alexandra Richards on Tuesday, followed by benefitting from a a production of “Twin Spirits” with Sting and Trudie at JILC. Wow.

The charity continues to grow in leaps and bounds as we’ve produced successful events and gotten a diverse community of artists to support our cause from Sting, Joshua Bell, Lang Lang, Melanie Fiona, and Peter Bjorn and John, Fiery Furnaces to Alexandra Richards and more. Through these events and many others, we’ve worked with prestigious venues including Lincoln Center, the U.N. and Carnegie Hall which has helped us garner a certain level of respect in the industry, being such a young grassroots organization.

We are currently at a pivotal point in our organization’s growth to help support of our music education initiatives, which include a nationwide instrument drive and the creation of an all-scholarship-based Music Unites Summer Camp, similar to that of Tanglewood but for children who would traditionally not have the opportunity to go to such a camp.

Those are some fast achievements, and tantalizing possibilities. But what differentiates Music Unites from other non profits out there?

We’ve built a dynamic and culturally diverse community of artists that are committed to our mission, and we give our artists an opportunity to create their own programs tailored to their passions — so they can feel strongly for what they represent and stand for.

There’s consistency and regularity with our artist showcases which happen on a monthly basis. We’ve created a community where musicians across genres come and support one another

In less then a year, we’ve been able to partner with major companies like OK magazine, Rolling Stone and Lancome which has been tremendously exciting to such a young charity.

What’s rewarding about working with a musical non profit? Let us in on a memorable moment or two.

There are so many—it’s hard because they’re all very special for different reasons and a labor of love. I would have to say the UN peacekeeping concert with the UN, Lincoln Center Fall Masquerade with the Young Patrons, The Who Tribute at Carnegie Hall where the kids made their debut and the HIGHLIGHT- our December event with Sting and Trudie premiering their Twin Sprits project, a classical music project which I really think speaks to what we stand for.

Trudie Styler and Sting screened Twin Spirits with Music Unites in December. They're back on Wednesday with a live performance at JILC.

And now, being involved with the live production of the music on the 30th at Lincoln Center with our Music Unites artists including Joshua Bell and Natasha. Sting and Trudie’s Rainforest Foundation gala was the inspiration of Music Unites and it has been such a true privilege and honor to work with them.

Those are some serious privileges. On the flipside, what makes this initiative a bigger challenge than you expected?

The desperate need for this kind of thing. With budgets being cut every single day we need to raise significant funds to service the schools and communities, to keep music alive. We have the artists who are willing to do whatever it takes: Now the focus is on fundraising and helping take this organization to the next level.

We all need mentors. Who are people that have been inspiring you along the way?

Gustavo Dudamel, Conductor of the LA Philharmonic, Julie Greenwald, Atlantic Records President, and Sylvia Rhone, the President of Universal Motown. I’ve been inspired with the work Gustavo has done tied to El Sistema orchestras and want to be part of the work he is doing here in the US with building these orchestras. Also, he works hard in bridging the gap and looks to do things out of the box by pushing the envelope. This is needed, especially right now to attract new audiences to classical music.

Julie and Sylvia are women I look up to. They are leaders and innovators in the music business who inspire the next generation. If I can do half of what they’ve contributed to the music community over my lifespan, I’d be content with myself.

If people or companies want to get involved with Music  Unites, what are the different ways they can help?

We’re always looking for strategic partnerships and are always open to new ideas across a multitude of industries from music, fashion, technologic, entertainment. We build platforms and look to 360 marketing integrations that are mutually beneficial for the organization since they help raise money, in addition to being mutually beneficial for the brand and company.

The Music Unites Youth Choir debuted at Carnegie Hall with a Who tribute. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)

Finally, we say: Why must you be in NYC?

We were born here and NY will always be home. It’s the melting pot—uniting people and music!

– David Weiss