Author Archives: Steve Harvey

Sweetwater Revenues Roll Past $1 Billion

Chuck Surack, founder and CEO of Sweetwater.
Chuck Surack, founder and CEO of Sweetwater.

Fort Wayne, IN (February 17, 2021)—The past year was one for the record books in the U.S., and not in a good way, thanks to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet there was a silver lining for some, including pro audio equipment and music instrument retailer Sweetwater, which set its own record in 2020.

With professionals gearing up to work from home during lockdown, individuals and organizations implementing new video streaming and podcasting solutions, and a good chunk of the population looking to further its musical ambitions, Sweetwater served more than 1.5 million customers last year. That proved to be a significant increase from 2019, and 2020 ultimately drove the company’s annual revenues past the $1 billion milestone in for the first time in Sweetwater’s 42-year history.

Caring customer engagement has been key, according to CEO Chuck Surack, who famously started Sweetwater Sound as a mobile recording studio in the back of his VW microbus in 1979. Initially working from home, the company’s sales engineers struggled with how to best contact and communicate with customers, he reports. “I advised them to follow suit with our company’s mission, which is to simply ‘do the right thing’ and call just to ask them how they’re doing. No hidden agendas or sneaky ways to try and push or sell products.”

Noting that 82% of calls with customers are outgoing, Surack adds, “We’re continuing with this frequency and form of communication as it’s been preferred by our customers.” Most of Sweetwater’s 500-plus sales engineers have returned to the company’s campus during the pandemic, where they are following CDC and local government guidelines.

Sweetwater's new 480,000-square-foot distribution center
Sweetwater’s new 480,000-square-foot distribution center

That campus is ever-growing, too. Just prior to the pandemic, Sweetwater opened a new 480,000-square-foot distribution center—four times the size of the previous building—that added 50,000 more square feet for inventory. The company also added 400 new jobs last year, a 30% bump in the total workforce, which now numbers around 2,000.

“We built a brand-new sales floor in November that can house around 1,100 sales engineers,” says Surack, who plans to hire up to 130 new sales engineers. “We also have some expansion plans in the works for our on-campus music store. It will be double the size of the current store and should open late this spring.”

Sweetwater’s annual summer GearFest attracted more than 18,000 people to the campus in 2019. In 2020, in response to the pandemic, the company took the event online. More than 125,000 people participated worldwide, tuning in for 16-plus hours of livestreamed panel sessions and interviews, educational content and, of course, deals and giveaways, during the two-day event.

“We’ll plan to continue offering a virtual component so that we can meet our customers and fans of music where they are,” says Surack. “While there’s nothing like having nearly 20,000 people in-person at our campus in Fort Wayne from all around the world, we still want to allow the opportunity for people to experience GearFest from the comfort of their home if they can’t make it to us. With Covid-19 still a concern, we’re working out the plans and logistics for GearFest 2021; however, we look forward to the future where we can offer both experiences.”

Surack founded Sweetwater Sound in the back of his VW microbus in 1979.
Surack founded Sweetwater Sound in the back of his Volkswagon microbus in 1979.

There has been one constant during the pandemic, says Surack, a former touring sax and keyboard player. “Despite how much of the way we live, work and gather has changed over the last year, especially for the audio community, one thing has remained consistent—music. While many stadiums and concert venues have been empty and will likely stay that way for some time, people will continue to play and make music virtually or from a distance. In 2020, we experienced skyrocketing sales for gear like audio interfaces, microphones, preamps and other devices that allow you to pre-record and put things on YouTube or use for Zoom and live broadcasts. We anticipate that this will remain consistent as more people take up an interest in making music remotely, perhaps for the long haul.”

Hopefully, that love of music will see us through to whatever comes next. “While the industry has definitely not remained unscathed by the pandemic,” he says, “I am confident that music will continue to prevail until the community is able to return to a sense of normalcy.”

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Centralization May Be Post Audio’s Gambit

 The Queen’s Gambit.
Supervising sound editor and sound designer Wylie Stateman oversaw four teams working on the recent Netflix hit The Queen’s Gambit. Charlie Gray/Netflix

Los Angeles, CA (February 12, 2021)—A recent online panel discussion hosted by Mix magazine considered the unification of picture and sound in the evolution of post production. Ideally, those post production processes might be becoming more centralized, yet the global proliferation of talent and resources is pushing in the opposite direction.

“I think what we’re looking at is the decentralization of post production,” said veteran supervising sound editor and sound designer Wylie Stateman. The webcast also included editor Billy Fox and Adobe audio product manager Durin Gleaves. Mix content director Tom Kenny moderated.

 Wylie Stateman
Wylie Stateman

“While it would be nice for us all to move in together, we really need to take advantage of talent and resources on a global level,” said Stateman, whose team works out of his 247SND facility in Topanga Canyon, CA. “We just did [Netflix series] The Queen’s Gambit, where we had a team in New York, another in Los Angeles, a team in Miami and another team in upstate New York.” The Queen’s Gambit was shot in Germany, with Berlin standing in for Kentucky.

In the past, a sound team would essentially start over with a weeks-long mix once picture was locked. Now, the mix is a continuous process beginning far sooner, focusing on frequent previews. “What used to take 12 weeks, we now break down into bite-sized pieces with approvals that take place earlier and in parallel with the picture cut. It’s a constantly rolling learning experience,” said Stateman.

To ensure consistency as the mix is passed between the sound and picture departments, he said, “We calibrate everything at 79 dB. Working at 85 dB [the industry standard] all day long is painful and ear fatiguing.”

Also important is the mix template or mix desk, he said. “You can begin with the first track that’s laid and go all the way through the final mix and the deliverables,” with the entire sound team—dialog, sound effects, Foley—working in the same mix desk.

Stateman’s team uses the Resilio and Aspera peer-to-peer platforms as well as Zoom to connect and share with global collaborators. “Source Connect is a great tool for sending a 5.1 mix and timecode, with local picture on systems wherever they are,” he said.

“I feel like a lot of us are doing the best work of our careers right now,” said Stateman. “It’s thanks to the kinds of tools available to us, and also to the global push of talent, trying to tell stories in more novel and innovative ways.”

Roland Winke on Capturing The Queen’s Gambit

Fox, who was editor and co-producer on HBO’s Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody Award-winning Band of Brothers mini-series, noted at least one unresolved minor drawback, to the back-and-forth of a rolling cut. When a preview mix comes back to him from the dub stage, “It sounds a lot better, but now [if] I need to go back to the dailies to add a line I had cut out, I put the two lines together and they don’t sound anything close. I have to figure out what was done so it sounds the same. It’s a labor-intensive pain in the butt.”

Stateman suggested one potential solution: “By having standard templates, and staying in automation and not rendering, we can quickly copy whatever automation we did to the bulk of the scene and attack those lines.”

In the case of The Queen’s Gambit, there was no big dub stage; the re-recording was done at 247SND by Eric Hoehn, said Stateman. “I find the dubbing stage I have, which is about 25 by 30 [feet] with Meyer speakers in the front, JBLs for surrounds and a 32-fader Avid S6 console, gives us a tremendous amount of horsepower.”

Again noting that talent can be located and contributing from anywhere, he said, “We’re looking at a process that is about best practices derived from almost any place in the world. I find that really exciting.”

“As a product guy,” said Adobe’s Gleaves, “I love designing and building tools. But we can’t always fix what we can’t identify, so from the working side, I’m excited by the new growth of participation. The new perspectives are helping everybody. I’m energized by the growth of women and minorities who are coming in and bringing new perspectives and new methods and telling us, ‘I would love it if it worked this way.’ And finding out that’s better for everybody.”

Adobe •

247SND •

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Recording Live to Vinyl to Zoom at Welcome to 1979

As part of Welcome to 1979’s annual recording summit, Margaret Luthar (shown) mastered the project live to vinyl.
As part of Welcome to 1979’s annual recording summit, Margaret Luthar (shown) mastered the project live to vinyl. Charlie Kasar

Nashville, TN (February 5, 2021)—Necessity was the mother of reinvention when Nashville recording and mastering facility Welcome to 1979’s yearly recording summit rolled around in November. Faced with canceling the twelfth annual event in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the organizers elected to move everything online.

The three-day event typically maxes out at 60 in-person attendees, according to co-owner Chris Mara, who opened the facility with his wife, Yoli, in 2008. “What’s said here stays here; we don’t record any of it,” he says, other than the first night’s direct-to-vinyl live recording session. In past years, guest artists have included Old Crow Medicine Show and Jason Isbell.

Mara, his wife and a third partner, Lori Hines, who runs the company’s electroplating business, started researching online alternatives in June and discovered the Whova virtual event management platform. In combination with Zoom videoconferencing, the platform allowed them to retain the all-important recording session, enabled panelists who might otherwise not have been available to travel to simply log in and participate, and put a new spin on the presentations.

Jeremy Bernstein mixed Blackberry Smoke direct to vinyl—and on to Zoom—at Welcome To 1979 studios in Nashville.
Jeremy Bernstein mixed Blackberry Smoke direct to vinyl—and on to Zoom—at Welcome To 1979 studios in Nashville. Charlie Kasar

For example, says Mara, they had originally planned to showcase different miking techniques with multiple drummers and their kits in Welcome to 1979’s studio. The virtual event “allowed Butch Walker, Chris Garges and Ryan Freeland to Zoom in and show us their drum setups from different parts of the country; it was fantastic,” he says.

“We had a lot of technical rehearsals ahead of time,” Mara also reports. “There isn’t a lot of accurate information out there about how to do this, and we had to make everything bulletproof.”

Review: Mara Machines MCI JH-110C 1/4-Inch 2-Track Recorder

The traditional Friday night session transitioned to a live-to-vinyl-to-Zoom event featuring Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke, augmented to an 11-piece, recording four Rolling Stones covers per side. “It went from our console to our lathe. We took a lathe output to two Pro Tools tracks, open on input, that fed audio to Zoom. For cameras, we had four iPhones on Zoom,” he says.

Jeremy Bernstein mixed the session, assisted by Nick Molino. Margaret Luthar mastered the project live to vinyl with assistance from Anna Clark.

Margaret Luthar (rear) mastered the project live to vinyl with assistance from Anna Clark (foreground).
Margaret Luthar (rear) mastered the project live to vinyl with assistance from Anna Clark (foreground). Charlie Kasar

Whova enables virtual meetups, mimicking the annual event’s after-hours hangs. At the wrap-up hang, says Mara, “I was prepared for attendees to demand their money back.” Instead, he says, everyone was enthusiastic about incorporating some of the new features into future summits.

“Now we know how to do this online,” says Mara. “After we wrapped up, I said, ‘No matter what 2021 brings, we’re ready.’”

In researching how best to host the event virtually, Mara says, he came across a lot of bad advice that would have detracted from the summit’s usual appeal. “We did plant some stakes in the ground. We weren’t going to give up our Friday night party. So we said, ‘We’re going to keep the price the same, limit it to 60 people still, and we’re going to do eight hours a day’—and we sold out.”

Panelists included a who’s who of recording and mastering engineers, including Andrew Sheps, Eric Valentine, Larry Crane, Kim Rosen, Jessica Thompson, J.J. Blair, Pete Lyman and Jason Orris. “How Records Are Made: Top to Bottom,” following the process from vinyl mastering and electroplating in Nashville to Hand Drawn Pressing in Dallas, TX, featured each presenter virtually handing over the lacquer to the next person. “Halfway through, we said, ‘We should be recording this,’” says Mara.

Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke augmented to an 11-piece to record four Rolling Stones covers per side.
Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke augmented to an 11-piece to record four Rolling Stones covers per side. Charlie Kasar

Welcome to 1979, with a total floor area of about 13,000 square feet, was able to easily accommodate Blackberry Smoke’s expanded lineup. Drums, percussion, bass, guitars and keyboards were in the main room, with lead vocalist/guitarist Charlie Starr in an iso booth. “I tracked a record last year where the band had a percussionist and I found that the closer they were to the drum kit, the better they sounded. Almost everyone was physically in the same room with their amps in amp rooms,” says Mara.

“We put the two backgrounds singers in the entryway between the singer and the band, visually. The two horns were in a 1970s dead room that we have right behind the drums, so they could see everyone, too. It was a really good vibe.”

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Sound Rebels Builds Its Own Fort

Sound Rebels’ Victory stage sports a 19-foot ceiling to meet Dolby’s Atmos specifications, an Avid S6 mix system and a 9.1.6 speaker configuration with JBL components.
Sound Rebels’ Victory stage sports a 19-foot ceiling to meet Dolby’s Atmos specifications, an Avid S6 mix system and a 9.1.6 speaker configuration with JBL components.

Burbank, CA (February 1, 2021)—After spending years working at major post houses in the area, award-winning re-recording mixer D.J. Lynch and supervising sound editor Rob McIntyre have opened their own Sound Rebels facility in Burbank’s media district.

“We’re all freelance journeyman editors and mixers,” says Lynch, a nine-time Emmy and six-time Golden Reel Award winner who mixes shows such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “We got to a point where we needed to get everyone under one roof and do this for ourselves.” Everyone on the team has been working in animation for about 15 years, he says.

The Sound Rebels facility houses two Dolby Atmos mix stages and two sound design suites, one of which is occupied by co-founder McIntyre, himself a 10-time Emmy and three-time Golden Reel Award winner. McIntyre is currently working on Teen Titans Go! for Warner Bros. while managing projects like Camp Cretaceous and Fast & Furious Spy Racers for DreamWorks.

“We do a ton of business with Nickelodeon,” whose headquarters is only steps away from Sound Rebels’ new facility, says Lynch. Indeed, the building was once used by Nickelodeon as office space.

Sound Rebels called in acoustician and speaker designer Ken Goerres of Exakte Recording Studio Design to design and build the rooms after Lynch worked in one of his rooms at a nearby facility. “So I asked the owner for the name of the guy who designed it.”

The layout maximizes the floor area of the two stages, dubbed Victory and Triumph, within the available space. The square-footage of the rooms dictated a 19-foot ceiling to meet Dolby’s Atmos specifications. “So we cut out the attic floor to raise the ceiling,” says Lynch.

Jim Pace and his Audio Intervisual Design (AID) team provided technical design and integration, and supplied the equipment, which includes an Avid S6 mix systems on both stages. “The two sound design rooms have Pro Tools systems with a little mixer and near field speakers,” Lynch reports. “We’ve got two Foley teams that we work with. We don’t have facilities here; we rent facilities right around the corner from us.”

Roland Winke on Capturing The Queen’s Gambit

Victory, the larger mix stage, features a 9.1.6 speaker configuration, with two subs, that includes various JBL components, including 3-way ScreenArrays at the front. The smaller stage, Triumph, features a slightly smaller JBL setup in a 7.1.4 configuration.

To optimize and control the speaker systems in both rooms, says Lynch, “AID recommended the DAD-MOM [Digital Audio Denmark monitor operating module], which I had never used before. And we have BSS London BLU-806DA signal processers.”

Sound Rebels put a lot of time and effort into making the rooms comfortable, says Lynch, but clients haven’t visited for months because of the pandemic, of course. Only one member of the Sound Rebels team continues to work in each room. “Most of our staff are sound effects or dialog editors who work from home, because they’ve got their own systems.”

Luckily, the pandemic has barely affected the flow of projects, he says. “Ninety percent of the business we’ve been doing is animation for television or streaming, with a little bit of reality and some independent movies. Most of our clients—Nickelodeon, Dreamworks, Warner Bros.—needed just a little bit of time to adapt to the work-at-home scenario, but they have so many shows in the pipeline that we have been able to keep working.”

During the pandemic, Sound Rebels has been sending Quicktime videos to one client for reviews and notes, he says. Others prefer Source Elements’ Source-Live platform, which streams real-time audio from the DAW to a web browser and supports HD video and multi-client chat.

“It’s a back and forth, real-time interactive process, so we needed a solution,” says Lynch. “With SpongeBob SquarePants, everyone signs into Source-Live and we watch the show. We’re done in an hour or two at most. We operated that way all year and probably will for a good chunk of this coming year.”

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The Lost Treasure of Joe Meek’s Tea Chest Tapes

Alan Wilson, project mastering engineer (left); Cliff Cooper, founder of Orange Amplification and former tape owner (center); and Iain McNay, chairman of Cherry Red, discuss Joe Meek’s Tea Chest Tapes.
Alan Wilson, project mastering engineer (left); Cliff Cooper, founder of Orange Amplification and former tape owner (center); and Iain McNay, chairman of Cherry Red, discuss Joe Meek’s Tea Chest Tapes. Rupert Truman

Bristol, UK (January 29, 2021)—In September 2020, U.K. reissue label Cherry Red acquired the “Tea Chest Tapes,” a fabled trove of nearly 1,900 quarter-inch tapes recorded by legendary London-based producer and engineer Joe Meek, featuring some of the biggest names in classic rock. Eyeing an eventual release, Cherry Red is now digitizing the tapes, a herculean task that has fortuitously fallen into the lap of the label’s longtime mastering engineer, Alan Wilson, a Meek aficionado.

“I’m a lifelong Joe Meek fanatic, an analog tape specialist, a studio engineer and I’ve recorded and produced albums for as many of the Joe Meek artists as is possible,” says Wilson, including Mike Berry, Clem Cattini, Ray Fenwick, Chas Hodges and John Leyton. “I’ve also personally recorded three Joe Meek tribute albums over the years.” Wilson, whose psychobilly band The Sharks signed to Cherry Red in 1992, has owned and operated Western Star Studio in Bristol since 1999 and his own record label since 2003.

Discoveries among the tea chest tapes was the master for Gene Vincent’s “Temptation Baby,” which Meek wrote and produced for the artist. A handful of tapes suffered water damage at some point, but the music was safely preserved.
Discoveries among the Tea Chest tapes was the master for Gene Vincent’s “Temptation Baby,” which Meek wrote and produced for the artist. A handful of tapes suffered water damage at some point, but the music was safely preserved.

Meek is renowned as the first-ever independent record producer. His professional career, which lasted just 12 years, ending with his suicide on Feb. 3, 1967, was as prolific as it was successful. “Telstar,” by The Tornados, which he wrote and produced in 1962, was the first British rock record to top the U.S. singles charts, selling more than five million copies.

Meek was innovative, too, pioneering studio techniques such as close miking, aggressive compression and flanging. A gifted electronics designer, he made his own “black boxes,” including what is thought to be the first spring reverb. His designs have lived on, initially manufactured by his former studio assistant Ted Fletcher; today, Joemeek brand gear is now available from Alan Hyatt’s PMI Audio Group.

After the producer’s death in 1967, Cliff Cooper, bass player with Meek band The Millionaires, aspiring studio engineer and founder of then-fledgling Orange Amps, went to the estate sale in hopes of purchasing audio equipment. While he got there too late to buy gear, Cooper was offered 67 wooden tea chests full of tapes and figured he could listen to them to learn the production secrets held within; the cache changed hands for £300.

Little did he know that in time, the tapes would prove to be a musical bonanza, as a who’s who of future rock and pop royalty had passed through Meek’s studio flat at 304 Holloway Road in North London. David Bowie’s first recording, with The Konrads, was made there with Meek. Ritchie Blackmore was the producer’s go-to session guitarist for three years. Steve Howe, future Yes guitarist, brought his first band, The Syndicats, to the studio. Ray Davies of The Kinks wrote songs for The Honeycombs, for whom Meek produced several hits, including “Have I the Right.” The tape collection is said to also include material by Marc Bolan (age 15), Steve Marriott (age 16), Gene Vincent, Billy Fury, Georgie Fame, Alvin Lee, Jonathan King and three songs by an early line-up of the band that became Status Quo. All of it sat locked away in a temperature- and humidity-controlled vault, rarely played for more than 50 years.

Cooper stored nearly 1,900 tapes in a temperature-controlled facility for 50 years before selling them to Cherry Red.
Cooper stored nearly 1,900 tapes in a temperature-controlled facility for 50 years before selling them to Cherry Red.

Adding to the mystery surrounding the Tea Chest Tapes, the writing scrawled on the tape boxes didn’t necessarily reflect the contents; as a result, many years ago, Cooper had a Meek authority identify and catalog everything. Nonetheless, as Wilson discovered when he began to digitize the reels, there are still tracks to be documented. Tapes may be full-width mono or stereo, says Wilson, who is transferring them at a rate of 100 reels per month, “but you don’t know until you play them.”

As it turns out, the trove of tapes had some additional hidden treasure in it—lost music hidden within entirely different songs, a surprising situation caused by Meek’s tendency to reuse work tapes without blanking them first.

Saving the Bob Dylan Archive from Adhesion Syndrome

When Meek took old mono work tapes and reused them to record in stereo, the space between the left and right channels was never recorded over. As a result, when Wilson ran the first few tapes across a mono head, he says, “I could hear something else going on. I put them on an Otari MTR-12 4-track machine and just listened to the center two tracks. I was astonished to hear a completely different track than was on the left and right stereo, ‘beneath’ the tracks. It’s not much wider than a cassette tape track, but at 15 i.p.s., that’s a good piece of tape. The guy who cataloged everything 30 years ago wouldn’t have heard that on a stereo machine.” As a result, there’s potentially a lot of extra material if many other tapes have those underlying tracks, Wilson says.

As it stands, the tapes largely comprise masters of releases, alternate takes or track builds. “We’re finding a reel of tape that, say, is the backing track of someone like The Outlaws [Meek’s house band], but no vocal. We’ll find another tape and there’s vocals. And another, with added backing vocals. He was building things, bouncing from one machine to another to another.”

Wilson is now transferring the entire library of tapes, cleaning and baking them as needed, at a rate of 100 tapes a month.
Wilson is now transferring the entire library of tapes, cleaning and baking them as needed, at a rate of 100 tapes a month.

By and large, the tapes are in very good condition, he says. “We’re taking everything off with great care, using Otari machines, cleaning and baking where necessary.” As for the content, says Wilson, “The quality is quite stunning, even flat transfers, before we restore and master. It makes me realize how good Joe Meek was.”

For now, Cherry Red say it has no plans to release anything until every tape is digitized, a process that will take many more months. For a lifelong fan of Meek’s work, it will essentially be a labor of love.

“As you can imagine, this is the dream job,” says Wilson. “I’m very lucky to be working on this.”

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Nu Deco Ensemble’s New Shows

Miami’s Nu Deco Ensemble returned to playing live shows in October, with precautions ranging from masks to Plexiglas to social distancing all in place.
Miami’s Nu Deco Ensemble returned to playing live shows in October, with precautions ranging from masks to Plexiglas to social distancing all in place.

Miami, FL (January 27, 2021)—The Nu Deco Ensemble demonstrated its flexibility when the coronavirus pandemic brought the genre-bending orchestra’s sixth season to a premature end in March 2020. Six months later, after several months of engaging their audience over digital platforms, it was back to live outdoor performances.

Founders and creative directors Sam Hyken and Jacomo Bairos formed Nu Deco in 2015 with the aim of reimagining the chamber orchestra for the modern age. The hybrid ensemble, which combines traditional and modern instruments, has carved a niche for itself with new arrangements of music by the likes of Daft Punk and Queen, and special commissions of orchestral works by contemporary artists, including Kishi Bashi, Robert Glasper and Pascal La Boeuf.

Nu Deco has retained the same independent audio team since its inception, says Hyken. “Amplification is a crucial part, as we’re deliberately trying to create a futuristic sound, a new version of what an orchestra should sound like in a concert hall and beyond. We consider the audio team almost as members of the orchestra, because what they do for live sound and the recording component is so critical. We recently have come to an agreement with a video team on the same level.”

UK Music Report Aims to Revive Live Music Industry

Every performance is captured to the highest quality audio and video formats, but Nu Deco’s concerts, which are now being streamed, are live, not pre-recorded. “One of the things that made us who we were in the beginning was playing in intimate venues,” says Bairos. “We asked ourselves how we could capture that intimacy in all the music we do but also have some pizazz. We decided to have a live shoot; it’s a live show.”

The first concert since the pandemic hit, with guest artist José James at Miami’s North Beach Bandshell in late October, had all the hallmarks of a Nu Deco show—just no audience, and with masks and Plexiglas screens visible on stage. Since the repertoire is all custom, says Hyken, they can easily scale the size of the ensemble to meet social distancing requirements.

“We’ve been working with Baptist Medical, one of the best hospitals here, to check all our protocols,” he says. “Anyone coming from out of town, like Jose James, is rapid-tested every day. We follow the CDC and local recommendations to the letter.”

The ensemble also benefits from Florida being a right-to-work state and with no union agreements restricting live performances, says Bairos. “So we’re one of the few orchestras still playing.”

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Studio Spotlight: Noise Nest Invests in the Future

Noise NestHollywood, CA (January 20, 2021)—Nick Gross, drummer, producer and entrepreneur, is a busy man, recording and performing with a variety of bands while also overseeing Gross Labs, his growing entertainment, media and investment company. Amidst all that action, Gross found the time over the past year to expand his Noise Nest production complex in Hollywood.

Now spanning an entire block in the heart of Hollywood’s media district, Noise Nest began more modestly under another name about eight years ago. “We leased the smaller space for the first three years for a production team that I had at the time; we used it as a songwriting facility,” says Gross. “We later built it out to be more of a recording studio facility where other managers, publishers and labels could use the space.”

When his neighbor’s larger building became available, Gross snapped it up, gutting the structure and calling in Peter Grueneisen’s nonzero\architecture to design a three-room complex with lounges, kitchen and other amenities. He then had designer and acoustician Chris Owens of F.C. Owens revamp the two production rooms in the original, smaller building.

Noise Nest's Studio A is centered around a split API 1608 console and a Slate Raven system.
Noise Nest’s Studio A is centered around a split API 1608 console and a Slate Raven system.

“It started as this sort of punk-rock, grungy little studio and it’s turned into a multi-purpose, multi-use content factory,” Gross says. His vision for Noise Nest was inspired by pro skateboarder Rob Dyrdek’s now-defunct Fantasy Factory in downtown L.A., which he calls “a cool and creative way to think outside of the box.”

The initial two rooms catered to outside clients while Gross was growing his business, but Noise Nest now focuses on in-house content creation. “I host a lot of our internal publishing and label clients; they each get to use the space for free,” he says. “We’re doing all kinds of things: music production, live streaming, gaming. It’s an epic live event space; we built two basketball courts.”

The Gross Labs umbrella company, launched in 2018, encompasses record label and music publisher Big Noise Music Group, Noise Nest Animation, e-sports organization Team Rogue, and philanthropic education and self-discovery platform Find Your Grind. Gross co-founded Big Noise with Vagrant Records co-founders Jon Cohen and John “Feldy” Feldmann, the man behind SoCal ska-punk band Goldfinger; signings include The Used, Ashley Tisdale and The Wrecks. Gross still sometimes plays with Goldfinger, as well as his own bands, Half the Animal and girlfriends. His many investments range from consumer products to new tech ventures.

Studio B sports an SSL Nucleus.
Studio B sports an SSL Nucleus.

A common thread throughout Noise Nest is PMC speakers. “The choice of PMC was a no-brainer,” says Gross, who first heard the monitors at the studios of his friend, producer and songwriter Dr. Luke. “They’re incredible. We’re super stoked to have them.” Studio A features PMC’s flagship QB1-A in-wall main monitors, while various IB1S-A, twotwo.6 and twotwo.8 models provide near field coverage there and in the other rooms.

There is a consistent aesthetic between rooms. The largest space, A, is dominated by a massive console supporting a split analog API 1608, with the main desk to the left and 16 more channels to the right, plus a Slate Raven system. “It’s a one-of-a-kind desk that I wanted to build out with a cool mixture of analog and digital. The outboard gear that sits behind it is pretty special as well,” he says, and includes SSL and Neve mic preamps.

The live room in Studio A has ample space for artists.
The live room in Studio A has ample space for artists.

The tracking space is just the right size, he says: “It gets the job done. We wanted to be smart with the space and be as effective as we could, knowing that we wanted to build three studios in a 4,500-square-foot building,” he says.

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The B room, equipped with an SSL Matrix2 and soffited Genelec 1238A SAM main monitors, transforms into an indoor/outdoor space. “People can be playing basketball outside and see what’s going on inside the room at the same time,” he says. The console in Studio C, the smallest room, overlooks a small booth and houses an industry-standard vocal chain—Neve 1073 preamp and Tube-Tech CL 1B compressor—with ATC SCM25A Pro monitors and a rack of additional outboard gear.

Studio C adjoins a small vocal booth
Studio C adjoins a small vocal booth

“All three studios have their own vibe. I wanted to take the feeling of old recording studios, whether that was old brick or old wood or analog gear, and give it that high-end, digital, 2020s modern vibe. So we have white brick everywhere and polished concrete for all the floors,” says Gross. “It’s just a fun hang and a good vibe. You don’t want to leave.”

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Goldfinger Gets Nostalgic with Never Look Back

John “Feldy” Feldmann likes to stay busy. Over a three-decade career, he’s done just that, fronting bands, holding down A&R positions, co-founding a record label, and producing and writing for a list of artists as long as your arm.

Then came the pandemic. Feldmann, Grammy-nominated for his work with Blink-182 and Fever 333, got down to business in the studio at his home in Calabasas, CA, re-recreating back catalog hits by Goldfinger, his seminal California ska-punk band. The other far-flung band members contributed their tracks, with video, and Goldfinger’s Quarantine Video series was born.

Inspired, Feldmann sat down to write and produce a new Goldfinger album, the band’s ninth studio full-length since forming in 1994. Never Look Back was released Dec. 4 on his label, Big Noise.

Over Zoom, Feldmann gave PSN a virtual tour of his studio, where he’s currently working with Avril Lavigne, and talked about his pandemic productions.

On the Quarantine Videos:

The idea came out of me knowing my own brain and knowing that an idle mind is the devil’s playground. I have got to be busy, and at the time, we didn’t know what COVID-19 was, or if it was a straight killer. I came up with this idea to record my parts and see if the guys could do their own parts in their respective houses.

The first song was “Here in Your Bedroom,” which was apropos. I just ripped it off YouTube and put it in a Pro Tools session. We set up a click template and I sang and played along to the original. All these videos are one take of me playing guitar and singing. Everyone else would send me their takes and I’d put them in the session. I wanted it to sound like a live show, so our live mix engineer, Jon Graber, mixed all of them.

On Producing Never Look Back:

I wrote most of it in quarantine by myself. The whole album was recorded in quarantine. It’s a fun, nostalgic Goldfinger album. We’ve got ska, punk, reggae—all the flavors.

Mike Herrera, our bass player, lives in Bremerton, WA, and did all his parts at his studio. Moon [Valjean], the guitar player, lives in St. Louis; he did all his stuff on a little Pro Tools “light” system. Jon Graber has a studio and recorded [guitarist] Charlie Paulson there. Everything else was done here.

A lot of people want to sing their lead vocals to the vibe and hear the finished music to get the energy of the song, but I couldn’t do it that way. I would record my final vocals, all the doubles and all the harmonies, and all my guitars. I’m definitely a fan of Rupert Neve; I have the Brent Averil 1073s, the Vintech 1073s, I use the Slate Dragon as my 1176 modeler—I love that thing.

I sent everyone my finished parts with a click track. A lot of times I would program the drums; EZ Drummer has all my samples in their Pop Punk EZX. Travis Barker [of Blink-182] played a lot of the drums on the record; he lives in Calabasas. Nick Gross [Big Noise co-founder] also played some of the drums. I’ve got a great drum room and a great drum kit, so we cut all of the drums at my studio. They were one of the last things I did on this album.

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On Remote Production:

I had Mike [Herrera] sing a bunch of stuff. He’d write a verse, send me the lyrics, and I’d say yes or no: “Maybe you can give it another shot.”

Monique Powell from Save Ferris sang on one song. I said, “Could you give me more ad libs? I don’t feel your presence.” She did four different takes. She was in an apartment in London on a laptop, screaming into an SM58, so I used [Antares] Mic Mod [software] and changed it to a Manley Reference Gold.

Every album I’ve ever made, I’m in the room with the musicians and I’m saying, “Let’s try that again.” But this time, I got the parts and had to make use of whatever they sent me. Thank God I’ve got such great musicians!

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Coast Mastering Digs In for New Facility

Coast Mastering - before
Michael Romanowski literally undermined his house to create the new home of Coast Mastering, excavating 10 feet beneath the edifice to create space for a mastering facility and accompanying live room.

Berkeley, CA (December 23, 2020)—It took 18 months for Michael Romanowski to build the latest iteration of Coast Mastering under his Bay Area house, during which time he and his wife were without heat. “The furnace was the first thing to go; it was like camping,” he says.

Berkeley-based Pancoast Construction dug down 10 feet below the house, which is on a slope, to accommodate Romanowski’s plans for a mastering room that supports today’s leading immersive formats. Acoustical consultant Bob Hodas tuned the room and devised an ingenious bass trap that makes use of a three-foot cavity above the 11-foot ceiling. Studio design consultant Bob Levy was also involved from the start of the project.

Coast Mastering
Michael Romanowski in his finished mastering space.

The finished room is outfitted with a 9.1.6 monitoring setup for Dolby Atmos Music work (Romanowski consulted with Dolby’s Ceri Thomas from the get-go) and can additionally accommodate Auro-3D. With the addition of two front floor-level speakers, the room can also handle Sony 360 Reality Audio projects.

Three Focal Scala Utopia EM speakers deliver the LCR channels with six Focal Utopia Diablo Evo speakers providing side and rear zone coverage. “I found I was drawn to the sound of the inverted beryllium dome tweeter—it’s very natural—and how Focal handle their drivers seamlessly across octaves,” he says. A Meyer Sound sub provides LFE.

Romanowski’s quest to replace his aging Pacific Microsonics Model Two converters led him to Bricasti. “The pairing of the Focals and the Bricastis has worked out great,” he says. For overheads, he installed Neumann KH 310 speakers, on tracks, to allow repositioning. “I like how their high frequency dispersion works with the Focals. It gives me a nice fullness from the ceiling without any compromises.”

There is no mastering console. Instead, Romanowski’s gear is within easy reach, with just a workstation screen and keyboard in front of him, where he uses Steinberg’s WaveLab. “It uses the same engine as Nuendo,” he notes. Nuendo, it turns out, is what he uses for tracking, mixing and now immersive mastering since it can handle ADM files within Dolby Atmos. The new facility includes a tracking room, and he’s been mixing Sony 360 Reality Audio projects for Sonic Studio’s Jon Reichbach and his Streamsoft Artist Connection music service.

Literally undermining his house was no simple task, but it was worth it, says Romanowski: “Immersive music is ripe for so many problems—phase issues, presentation issues. If we’re going to get it right, we need rooms like this to keep the bar high.”

Coast Mastering •

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Saving the Bob Dylan Archive from Adhesion Syndrome

Iron Mountain's Kelly Pribble saved more than 60 Bob Dylan master tapes from Adhesion Syndrome.
Iron Mountain’s Kelly Pribble saved more than 60 Bob Dylan master tapes from Adhesion Syndrome.

New York, NY (December 22, 2020)—Many are familiar with sticky-shed syndrome, which can cause the magnetized coating on certain recording tapes to separate from the backing due to the deterioration of the binder—the glue—holding them together. Now, one archivist is drawing attention to a new issue that can render some old tapes unplayable.

In  “Forever Young: Preserving the Archive of Bob Dylan,” a panel hosted by the Recording Academy, Kelly Pribble, principal studio engineer/preservation specialist, Iron Mountain Entertainment Services (IMES), discussed what he called “Adhesion Syndrome,” which affected the masters for two Dylan albums. “The edges are bound together, and as you unwind the tape, it rips the tape,” said Pribble. The condition can pull the oxide from the backing, creating pinholes.

Adhesion syndrome leaves pinholes on affected tapes.
Adhesion syndrome leaves pinholes on affected tapes.

IMES began working with The Bob Dylan Archive a few years ago, and the projects affected by Adhesion Syndrome were the Empire Burlesque album, released in 1985, and 1986’s Knocked Out Loaded album. The tapes were initially being digitized by another archivist who recognized that they required special treatment. “Kelly was the person to do it,” said Dr. Mark Davidson, archives director of the American Song Archives, also on the presentation panel.

“Broadly, we’ve been working through Dylan’s session tapes chronologically,” said Davidson, who collaborates with a number of vendors for film and audio preservation. “When we started working on these tapes in the last year and a half, we were up to the mid-’80s and it was the first time we had experienced this sort of problem.”

“All together, there were 63 two-inch masters from Bob’s two records that we were able to safely unbind and transfer successfully,” said Pribble. “We were extremely proud to have the opportunity to be a part of Bob Dylan’s legacy, to be able to pull these out, recover them, transfer them and provide the files to the organization.”

The collection’s digitized assets, which span Dylan’s entire career beginning in high school in the mid-1950s, are being made available to researchers via Starchive, a cloud-based digital asset management software.

“I didn’t have to do much once we were unbound and transferred. The audio was pretty good,” said Pribble of the affected master tapes. That was largely due to the way these Dylan sessions were conducted, it seems. Adhesion Syndrome is worst where the pressure is greatest, close to the reel hub, he said. “I learned that they would let tape roll for a minute or two before they recorded anything. That was very helpful with this collection. If it had started right at the beginning of the tape, I probably would have had more problems with it.”

Pribble enjoyed the fly-on-the-wall experience of listening to the sessions, he said. “Bob would just start playing a lick on guitar, everybody would join in and it was a song. That was amazing to listen to. There’s banter back and forth, and starts and stops. I felt like I was in the studio the day they recorded it.”

Discovering—and Preserving—the Earliest Known Stereo Recordings

He captures analog audio assets through Prism Sound ADA-8XR converters at 192 kHz, 24 bits. “I use those Prism units because I just love them. They don’t color the sound; as an archivist, I don’t want to color what’s on the tape when I make a digital file. If it’s digital, I go bit-for-bit so there’s no loss.”

In his work, said Pribble, he has encountered a number of tape issues, but Adhesion Syndrome is relatively new. “We hadn’t seen this except for South America, until the last year or so. If a tape has this condition, it’s pretty serious.”

Another issue, observed by other archivists, is a loss of lubricant, which leaches out of the tape and can eat away at the tape heads. “For a long time, we didn’t realize what this was,” Pribble said. After he had the residue tested, he sent the lab results to a tape manufacturer which confirmed it was a match for the lubricant included in tape recipes between roughly 1970 and 1990. “This is kind of a horror story,” he said. “This is the end of the lifecycle of a tape. Archivists are seeing this around the world.”

The mid-1970s tape recipe used by Ampex is now also causing the binder to disintegrate. “It no longer binds the magnetic particles and the lubricant to the back carrier—whole sections fall off,” he said. He is not seeing this as much as issues associated with a loss of lubricant, he said, but he has come across several examples.

For the last 10 years, Pribble has been using a tape recovery and preservation process that he created, but with his dedication to saving tapes like those in the Dylan archives, he’s still working to improve the process. “I’ve been going to school at nighttime to study mechanical engineering,” he said, “just to be able to build machines to do what I need to be able to recover tapes!”

Link: Iron Mountain Entertainment Services •

Bob Dylan Center •

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