Natick, MA (June 9, 2021)—Grammy-winning mastering engineer Gavin Lurssen has made Genelec’s 8341A monitors a centerpiece of his portable reference setup, which he uses to do much of his preliminary work.
Lurssen, whose credits include Queens of the Stone Age, Ben Harper and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, notes, “I started in the early ‘90s working for the late Doug Sax at The Mastering Lab, and recording engineer George Massenburg was a regular client of Doug’s for lots of his projects; through him, I was first exposed to their 1031A and 1030A monitors. I was particularly taken with the 1030As after hearing them in a mix room at what was then Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood, so Doug surprised me with my own pair, which I still own.”
In fact, says Lurssen, “[A]fter all these miles, I just had them re-coned and the amps rec-capped, but kept the original bulletproof tweeters. Like most mastering engineers, I own multiple sets of monitors, but the Genelec 1030As have been an important reference for me over the years, especially when it comes to a mobile environment.”
Fast-forward to a few years ago, before the pandemic: “I enjoyed going to these weekly lunches and meetups in Burbank with professionals in the audio industry; it’s a great way to see friends and colleagues and to stay on top of the latest tools and trends as well. I usually interact with the manufacturer reps that are there, and so it’s no surprise that I gravitated toward the new technology from Genelec! So that began my journey with the 8341A Smart Active Monitor,” he says.
He notes, “There are various ways in which a near-field monitor can be useful to a mastering engineer, and one of the most useful things is to be able to go mobile, while still being able to listen to and evaluate mixes and give feedback to clients with confidence, no matter where I am set up. Accuracy is the name of the game. The Genelec 8341As provide me with very, very accurate playback, even if I’m in a compromised environment.
“When you have something like 8341s, if you put them in the road case and take some computer gear with you, you can actually set up a pretty accurate listening environment. You can travel around and evaluate things that way—so if I’m traveling, I can take them with me.”
Mastering is one of those corners of pro audio that everyone knows about, but doesn’t necessarily know what it truly entails. Shedding some light on the subject is Evren Göknar’s new book, Major Label Mastering: Professional Mastering Process (Focal Press/Routledge; $42.95), which breaks the topic down into understandable concepts and actionable steps that can be grasped by everyone, whether they’re students, musicians or fellow pros.
Göknar knows from whence he speaks—a Grammy winner, he’s worked more than 25 years in the mastering field, spending much of that time at Capitol Studios where he mastered everyone from Mariah Carey to the Beastie Boys in addition to putting his talents to work for TV shows like The Voice. During that time, Göknar developed the centerpiece of his book, The Five Step Mastering Process—a thorough system of considerations and procedures for crafting and implementing a mastering game plan will best serve the music. Readily acknowledging that there can be as many subjective assessments to be made (“Does this approach fit the genre?”) as there are technical ones, Göknar finds ways to help readers determine what’s necessary and bring quantifiable logic to more nebulous parts of the process.
That said, there’s plenty of straight-forward ‘how-to’ content, from best practices for documentation, to equipment sequencing, to a go-to section on advanced mastering chain tools and techniques. The book is also filled with cool gear photos, informative screenshots, useful illustrations, documentation examples and more, providing additional clarity and insight. Whether a budding engineer or a seasoned pro, readers will come away from Major Label Mastering with far greater understanding and appreciation for the newly demystified process of mastering.
Los Angeles, CA (April 27, 2021) — Al Schmitt, arguably the most successful recording engineer ever, died Monday, April 26, at the age of 91. Over the course of a 70-plus-year career, Schmitt worked with multiple generations of music superstars, capturing some of the best-known songs and albums of his lifetime. The recipient of 20 Grammy Awards, Schmitt also won two Latin Grammys and a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (the first ever for an engineer), and had more than 160 Gold and Platinum recordings to his credit. Just some of the artists Schmitt worked with included Frank Sinatra, Henry Mancini, Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, Dr. Dre, Lady Gaga, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Toto, Diana Krall, Steely Dan, Luis Miguel, Norah Jones, George Benson, Natalie Cole, Quincy Jones, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Tony Bennett, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters and Jefferson Airplane.
Born in New York City, Schmitt grew up around recording, often visiting his uncle’s facility in Manhattan, Harry Smith Recording, as a child. With that influence, it was unsurprising that after serving in the US Navy, he became apprentice engineer at 19, working under producer Tom Dowd at Apex Recording in NYC. Learning on the job, Schmitt was only entrusted with recording the occasional demo acetate until Duke Ellington and his big band—which included greats like Billy Strayhorn and Johnny Hodges—showed up unexpectedly to record on a quiet weekend in 1949. As the only engineer on hand, Schmitt tried to make the most of the eight inputs available, setting up mics using sketchy placement diagrams he’d hastily drawn while assisting on other sessions. He told Ellington “I’m not qualified” so often that eventually the jazz great had to calmly reassure him that he could do it.
After moving around New York studios for nearly a decade, Schmitt headed west to Los Angeles in 1958, initially working at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, where he first collaborated with Henry Mancini, recording small combo tracks on the composer’s 1959 The Music from Peter Gunn soundtrack. It was the start of a fruitful working relationship, as Schmitt went on to record numerous Mancini soundtracks, including Mr. Lucky, Charade, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (for which he got a Grammy nomination) and Hatari, which landed Schmitt his first Grammy Award.
Schmitt moved to RCA as a staff engineer in 1963 and was soon promoted to staff producer. While there, he produced the likes of Sam Cooke, Eddie Fisher, Ann-Margaret and Jefferson Airplane among others, but the endless 16-hour days and lack of support from upper management led to him quitting in 1966 to go independent. Over the next few years, he continued to produce Jefferson Airplane and added Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Al Jarreau and others to his discography, but found he missed engineering, as union rules of the era forbade producers from touching the console. As the 1970s wore on, he returned to mostly engineering, which he greatly preferred.
It wasn’t a bad career decision—during the 1970s and 80s, Schmitt won a slew of Grammys for his work engineering George Benson’s Breezin’; Steely Dan’s staple Aja and stand-alone single “FM (No Static At All)”; and Toto’s comeback album, Toto IV. In the decades that followed, he would take home Grammys for work on multiple Diana Krall albums; Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable…with Love; albums with Quincy Jones, Luis Miguel, Chick Corea and Dee Dee Bridgewater; a pair of Grammys for Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom; and a jaw-dropping five trophies for Ray Charles’s 2004 album, Genius Loves Company.
In 2014, Schmitt was honored by the Hollywood Walk of Fame with his own star, located outside the iconic Capitol Records building—home to Capitol Studios, where he spent countless hours recording over the decades. In the mid-2000s, Schmitt was a founding member of METAlliance, a group of top engineers who regularly hold recording workshops around the globe; Schmitt often shared his insights and knowledge with Pro Sound News readers through the METAlliance’s recurring column.
In 2018, he teamed with Maureen Droney, managing director of the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing, to write his autobiography, Al Schmitt On the Record: The Magic Behind the Music, which shared not only much of his technical knowledge and wild recording session tales, but also career advice on what’s required on a personal level to stay at the top of one’s game for decades. Earlier this year, he collaborated with software company Leapwing to release a signature Leapwing Al Schmitt Signature plug-in.
At press time, the cause of Schmitt’s death is undisclosed, but a Facebook memorial page has been created in his name. His family released a statement April 27, noting,
“Al Schmitt’s wife Lisa, his five children, eight grandchildren, and five great grandchildren would like his friends and extended recording industry family to know that he passed away Monday afternoon, April 26. The world has lost a much loved and respected extraordinary individual, who led an extraordinary life. The most honored and awarded recording producer/engineer of all time, his parting words at any speaking engagement were, “Please be kind to all living things.”
Loved and admired by his recording colleagues, and by the countless artists he worked with, from Jefferson Airplane, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, Diana Krall, Dr. John, Natalie Cole and Jackson Browne to Bob Dylan—and so many more—Al will be sorely missed. He was a man who loved deeply, and the friendships, love and admiration he received in return enriched his life and truly mattered to him. A light has dimmed in the world, but we all learned so much from him in his time on earth, and are so very grateful to have known him.
Nashville, TN (April 26, 2021)—Michael Wagener, the ears behind some of the biggest albums in metal history, announced his retirement Sunday, April 25—his 70th birthday. More than 90 million albums sold feature his name in the credits, as he worked with the biggest names in hard rock and heavy metal, including Metallica, Poison, Megadeth, Ozzy Osbourne, Skid Row, X, Mötley Crüe, Great White, Plasmatics, White Lion, Alice Cooper, Extreme, Dokken, Stryper, W.A.S.P., Overkill, .45 Grave, Accept, Testament, Helloween, Keel and more, as well as artists in other genres such as Janet Jackson and Muriel Anderson.
I have now been active in the music business for over 50 years and I think it’s time to retire and get out and catch up on some vacations. I have sold the studio and Double Trouble Productions does no longer exist as an official company.
I had an amazing time and met a ton of wonderful people and I am thankful for having been able to work with such great musicians and create such wonderful music.
Now it’s time to see some more of the world.
This site will eventually disappear. No more mixes, productions and workshops. The studio has been sold and except for some guitars, amps and minimal studio gear there is not much left here.
I want to thank you all for allowing me to live a great life and to do what I love. I am looking at a future of lots of traveling; it has been a great trip so far.
As a teenager in Germany, Wagener was the first guitarist for the band that would eventually become Accept, but had to quit when he was drafted into the army at 18. In 1972, he began working for a Hamburg, Germany company called Stramp that produced equipment for studios and stage use; during that time, he earned a degree in electronics engineering. By the late 1970s, he had built a 16-track studio in Hamburg, Tennessee Tonstudio, where he learned studio production and maintenance. While there, he met American guitarist Don Dokken, who was touring Germany at the time, and the two became fast friends. When the self-named group Dokken was signed two years later, Wagener produced its first album, Breaking The Chains, which went gold in the U.S.
With that success, Wagener became busy over the next few years primarily as an engineer and mix engineer, as the then-burgeoning metal movement exploded. He teamed with lifelong friend and leader of Accept, Udo Dirkschneider, to form a production company, Double Trouble Productions, and during that time, also mixed debut albums for Mötley Crüe and Great White. With the U.S. hungry for metal, Wagener moved to Los Angeles in 1984, soon producing X’s Ain’t Love Grand and Stryper’s Soliders Under Command.
Over the ensuing years, he mixed noted albums like Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Megadeth’s So Far, So Good…So What, Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tears and Poison’s debut, Look What The Cat Dragged In. Meanwhile, he took on the producer mantel for Skid Row’s triple-platinum self-titled debut, Alice Cooper’s Raise Your Fist and Yell, Extreme’s commercial breakthrough Pornograffitti, Warrant’s Dog Eat Dog and others, while also netting a top-10 single with Janet Jackson’s pop-metal track, “Black Cat.”
While continuing to work with hard rock and metal acts throughout his career, Wagener moved to Nashville in 1996 and built his own digital recording facility, WireWorld Studio, which evolved to become a fully digital 5.1 surround production facility.
At PSN, we’re always looking for new trends in pro audio, but one of the most surprising new ones is that audio pros are evil. Not you, of course (unless you happen to be evil). Rather, we’re talking about the ongoing trend in movies and TV where characters who are audio pros tend to be terrible, often violent people. The latest example can be found in a new indie horror flick, Sound of Violence, about an engineer over the edge.
Hitting theaters and On Demand on May 21, 2021, the film uses the audio aspect in a novel way, as indicated in the trailer’s synopsis on YouTube:
Alexis, a sound engineer, helps an aspiring musician, Josh, win the drum machine of his dreams in a competition at a mall. She mentors him and helps him find his groove to compose the winning beat. Once he submits his creation, it triggers a chain reaction revealing the competition booth to be a gruesome contraption. Through Josh’s beat and a horrific death, Alexis’ creative design comes to fruition, directing the macabre music she envisioned.
A film about killer sound design? Sure! Here’s a ‘more to the point’ Sound of Violence synopsis from the 2021 SXSW Film Festival:
A young girl recovers her hearing and gains synesthetic abilities during the brutal murder of her family. Finding solace in the sounds of bodily harm, as an adult, she pursues a career in music, composing her masterpiece through gruesome murders.
If that whets your appetite for more sound professionals doing terrible things, here’s some additional selections to cue up for your own personal audio-related horror festival:
• Shudder Network’s 2018 microseries Deadwax follows a vinyl collector tracking down an evil mastering engineer who created a record that kills anyone who listens to it.
• The creepy 2013 Scandinavian film, LFO, centers around a widowed amateur scientist who discovers that his experimental solution for tinnitus gives him total control over his neighbors.
• Also worthy of cuing up is 2012’s Berberian Sound Studio, starring Toby Jones as a horror film audio post engineer who can’t tell what’s real and what’s on the screen.
• And if you’d prefer a film where you can root for your fellow sound pro, you can always turn to Brian DePalma’s underrated 1981 thriller, Blow Out, where noble soundman John Travolta is on the run after he accidentally records evidence that a tragic car accident was in fact no accident at all.
New York, NY (February 10, 2021)—Legendary producer/engineer Elliot Mazer died of a heart attack in his San Francisco home on Sunday, February 7, 2021, after suffering from dementia in recent years, according to Rolling Stone. Mazer was a lifelong audio pro and inventor/entrepreneur whose interests—and their influential results—ranged well beyond the recording studio, though he remained best-known for his career-defining work with Neil Young, The Band and others. He was 79.
A producer/engineer for more than 50 years, Mazer worked with a broad cross-section of artists across a variety of genres, including Linda Ronstadt, Chubby Checker, The Dream Syndicate, Dead Kennedys, William Ackerman, Michael Hedges, Janis Joplin, Gordon Lightfoot, The Byrds, The Tubes, Y&T, David Soul, Bob Dylan, Juice Newton, Rufus Thomas, Maynard Ferguson and many more.
Born in New York City on September 5, 1941, Mazer was raised in nearby Teaneck, NJ, and got his first taste of the music business working in retail for the then-burgeoning Sam Goody record store chain. In 1962, he became acquainted with Bob Weinstock, a customer who also happened to be the founder of Prestige Records, and soon Weinstock offered the 21-year-old Mazer a runner position, tracking tapes and delivering music to radio stations. In the course of his work in Prestige’s tape library, Mazer discovered forgotten, unreleased John Coltrane tracks from a 1958 session at the famed Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, NJ. In the intervening years, Coltrane had left the Prestige label and gone on to growing acclaim, so Mazer compiled the four tracks, which were released without the artist’s input, as the album Standard Coltrane. Soon after, the first producer credit of Elliot Mazer appeared on Dave Pike’s Bossa Nova Carnival.
Throughout the early Sixties, Mazer worked with a variety of artists at Cameo-Parkway, from co-writing hits for Chubby Checker (“Hooka Tooka”) to recording the likes of Rufus Thomas and Maynard Ferguson, before moving on to work independently later in the decade. During that time, he hit the studio with the likes of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Gordon Lightfoot, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ian & Sylvia and others. His knack for recording live shows emerged during that era as well; throughout his career, Mazer would go on to capture seminal concerts by Bob Dylan, Michael Bloomfield, Lightfoot, Janis Joplin and Big Brother, It’s A Beautiful Day, Leonard Bernstein, Young and most notably, The Band’s iconic The Last Waltz.
Mazer moved to Nashville around the turn of the Seventies, where he quickly made a name for himself applying engineering techniques he had picked up recording different genres in New York City, thus offering something different from the region’s pros who had come up solely through country music. He established Quadrafonic Studios (a joke name, as it didn’t have quad capabilities), which in turn was put on the map when it became the musical birthplace of Neil Young’s landmark Harvest album.
The two met at a dinner party while Young was in town to appear on The Johnny Cash Show, and by the end of the evening, they’d arranged to track some songs the next day. Mazer called up some top session players—many of whom would go on to play with Young regularly through his career—and they went on to record the majority of the album at Quadrafonic. The resulting record, packed with classic rock radio staples like “Heart of Gold,” “Old Man” and “The Needle and the Damage Done,” became the biggest hit of Young’s career, going quadruple-platinum in the U.S. and becoming the top-selling album of 1972. Mazer and Young would collaborate on 10 more albums over the next 40 years.
Mazer produced and engineered throughout his career, going on to found another recording facility, His Master’s Wheels, in San Francisco, but his audio pursuits took him outside the confines of the studio as well. In the mid-Seventies, he co-developed the D-Zap, a simple device used by live sound pros to detect gear that wasn’t properly grounded, thus preventing artists and crew members from receiving dangerous, potentially fatal electric shocks.
In the late Seventies and early Eighties, Mazer was a consultant to Stanford University’s Computer Center for Research in Music and Acoustics—the team that built the first all-digital recording studio. While there, he also developed an interest in early AI technology, leading to his co-founding Artificial Intelligence Resources Inc. in the late ’80s to create AirCheck, an automated system for tracking songs’ radio airplay. Selling the company to Radio Computing Services in the Nineties, he continued AirCheck’s development through 2005. In 2011, Mazer joined the faculty of Elon University as a Visiting Distinguished Scholar in Music Technology, where he offered a series of master classes to students.
Mazer’s family has requested that all donations in his memory be given to the Recording Academy’s charity, MusiCares.
As a music producer, Rick Rubin is known for stripping away the clutter and guiding artists to focus on what they do best, whether it’s Johnny Cash’s deep baritone voice, the primal energy of Danzig’s guitar riffs or Run DMC’s iconic breakbeats. Broken Record, a podcast that fosters conversations between musicians and their audiences in the way album liner notes once did, follows the same premise by keeping the setup simple.
“The main focus of Broken Record is the conversation,” says Leah Rose, producer of the Pushkin Industries podcast. “Because the conversations go so deep, when you do hear the music, you hear it in an entirely new context. You might hear things that you didn’t hear before, and learning about the artist’s motivation or the backstory really adds a lot to their music.”
Producing Broken Record, which bills itself as “liner notes for the digital age,” is a bicoastal endeavor led by Rubin, co-interviewer Malcolm Gladwell and host Justin Richmond, from Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, California and Pushkin Industries’ studio in Hudson, New York. The podcast’s guest list has included Industry veterans like Bruce Springsteen and Don Was, as well as newer artists like FKA Twigs, and conversations are free-format affairs that can include playbacks of recorded music and even live, off-the-cuff performances.
In a recent episode, Rubin and artist James Blake dissected Blake’s recording and creative process, and how he often records a single vocal phrase, then stacks it and manipulates the pitch while playing along on the piano. “He lays out that entire process while he’s tinkering around on a piano during the interview, which is just really special and incredible when you hear it,” she says. “It’s like all of a sudden you have this new information to hear the song with, and it makes for an incredible experience.”
Face-to-face interviews like the one used for the Blake episode, which was recorded at Shangri-La on Neumann U87s using Neve 1073 mic preamps into an API console, are typically the most productive. [Rose says Rubin has a doctor onsite who does rapid COVID testing.] The raw audio from the Blake session clocked in at two and a half hours, giving Rose plenty of material to use when building toward the final edit.
“With Rick, nothing is linear,” she says. “As an editor, my job is to look at the entire thing as a puzzle and figure out how the pieces fit together, [to] take something that could be completely non-linear and make it linear.”
As the main facilitator and producer, Rose is on standby via Zoom during recording sessions to cue up recordings for the host and guest. Many of the episodes released in the last year were recorded with the guest at home, with mixed results. Sometimes they get lucky and the artist has a world-class studio at their disposal—as was the case with Springsteen—but often Rose works directly with the guests to ensure their recording setup will be up to standards. She’s even shipped gear to some guests.
After the interview is done, Rose compiles the audio files into an edit that gets reviewed by Richmond and Mia Lobel, executive producer at Pushkin Industries. Once the edit is locked in, she sends it to engineers Jason Gambrell and Martin Gonzalez for mastering.
Producing audio on behalf of one of the most successful and enigmatic producers of his generation might intimidate some, but Rose says Rubin is hands-off for most of the process. “He trusts us,” she explains. “We take the finished product, the conversation, once it’s done and then it’s really up to us to figure out the best way to present it.”
West Hollywood, CA (December 2, 2020)—The Grammy nominations came out last week, and with the announcement that Post Malone’s “Circles” was up for Record of the Year, Louis Bell added yet another Grammy nod to his growing collection of industry plaudits.
In 2019, Bell had more number-one singles than any other producer or songwriter, with Post Malone’s “Wow” and “Sunflower,” Halsey’s “Without Me” and the Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker.” He produced eight Top-10 hits, staying atop the Hot 100 Producers chart for weeks. In September, he equaled Taylor Swift’s record for the most production credits—18—in a single week on the Billboard Hot 100 this century. Oh, and Variety also crowned Louis Bell producer of the year.
The basic tools of Bell’s trade could practically fit into a briefcase: a Sony C-800G microphone, a Universal Audio Apollo Twin Duo interface and a laptop PC running FL (formerly Fruity Loops) Studio and Pro Tools. “I’ll create a really nice loop or different loops in Fruity Loops based on the chord progression, then export it into Pro Tools, which is where I do my arranging and mixing,” says Bell.
“Once we have the song laid down, I’ll spend hours dialing in certain sounds, maybe swapping out drum sounds or layering different things, on my own time. I’ll always try to push things further than they need to go and then dial them back.”
Bell adopted Fruity Loops in 2002. “I was in the generation just after SSL and API boards were the standard if you wanted a specific sound to compete on a commercial level,” he says. “It was an economic decision. I wanted something that, if I really learned this one piece of gear, would help me long-term. I wanted to be more flexible and dynamic, and I felt like in-the-box would allow me to have an infinite number of possibilities.”
He hopes he’s setting an example. “It’s good to feel like I could have some positive influence on producers of the next generation and make them realize how much they can do with so little equipment, to help them economically when they’re starting out and not feel that it’s too much of a financial burden.”
While he grew up in Boston, MA, he came to L.A. in 2012 to work with hip-hop artist Mike Stud, who introduced him to his manager, Austin Rosen, founder of Electric Feel Entertainment. Bell signed to the management company and works out of Electric Feel Studios in West Hollywood.
Bell acquired a pair of Genelec 8351B nearfield monitors to supplement the room’s soffited 1035A mains earlier this year. “I’ve been using the 1035As in the A room for the last seven years to mix every record I’ve worked on,” he says. “I honestly don’t feel confident sending off a song until I’ve done this. The mids and vocals are crystal-clear; the high-end is tastefully tamed.” The speakers give the kick drum a chest-thumping punch that cuts through the low-end in every mix, he says.
Since hooking up with Post Malone in 2015, Bell has been his right-hand man ever since. “When I met him, he was 19, I was 33. It’s been an amazing journey, and a pleasure to watch him grow and learn and evolve as a musician and an artist. I feel like he’s taught me more about myself as a producer than I’ve learned from anyone else,” he says.
“I thought I knew who I was and what I was trying to do musically, but it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. It gets harder and harder the older you get, so you have to change your approach every time just to remind yourself that there are no rules and there are no bounds.”
Hollywood’s Bleeding, Post Malone’s third album, was Bell’s highlight of last year, he says. “Any time I get to work on an entire project and oversee it and executive produce it, and make sure that there’s a story being told and it’s being unveiled the right way, and then being able to get the right features on there, that’s a satisfying experience.” Featured artists include DaBaby, Future, Halsey, Lil Baby, Meek Mill, Ozzy Osbourne, Swae Lee, SZA, Travis Scott and Young Thug. Ozzy had never done a feature before, says Bell: “His voice sounds amazing still. He lived up to the hype.”
For our industry, here’s the sliding scale of what the new normal looks like: You were previously working on some aspect of streaming and now you’re busier than you’ve ever been before. Or you successfully pivoted and you are now working harder than ever, doing more with less. Or you’re stuck in a holding pattern.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, giving yourself some breathing room will help provide clarity. It’s been hurry up and wait for over eight months and now it’s time to recalibrate.
The first thing to do is admit that this unsettled period is going to last longer that you want it to, which means that it’s time to have some difficult discussions and make some challenging decisions. It also means that it’s time to lean on your friends and extended social network.
If you’re in a good position and you’re gainfully employed at a company that has successfully navigated today’s economic challenges, don’t take it for granted. This is the time to stay put and double down. Work even harder and add even more value. Make the rounds and personally thank all the people responsible for successfully shepherding you and your colleagues to safety. I guarantee it was not luck. There were plenty of sleepless nights on management’s watch where painful decisions were made and programs were cut. Take the time to acknowledge that and give credit where credit is due. If you lost peers as a result of those changes, it is part of your job to check in on them and look after them. Take the initiative and open up your network to help make sure they land softly. If you’re successful, then be helpful.
If you’re able, now is the time to give generously. There are plenty of organizations set up to help ensure that those in need find support. If you cannot donate monetarily, then overcompensate with your time. Be available whenever someone calls. Take the lead and check in on friends and acquaintances across the world.
For those of you who lost your main source of income but picked up something stable in the meantime, keep both feet planted firmly where you are right now. You’re ahead of the game! You might not like it, you might be miserable, but that’s irrelevant and beside the point. You are employed and you are meeting your responsibilities and keeping things afloat. That’s your primary focus—so run circles around everyone else and go all in; nail the work with your eyes closed. Just don’t get too comfortable, and be open to shifting depending on opportunity.
Since need is not pressing, you have time to plan and think about the larger picture. Be thoughtful and meticulous about what you pursue. Make a point to call on your entire network. You don’t need an excuse to call. Simply pick up the phone and say this: “I was thinking of you and wanted to see how you are doing.” Those 13 words cut across space and time; they open up dialogue and endless possibilities. No matter how things were left before, that phrase is a reset button. Share what you are doing and why. Then tell them specifically what you are looking for and directly ask for help. That old saying really is true: you get what you ask for.
Which brings us to hoping and waiting—two of my least favorite words. If you’re out there looking but not getting anywhere, you’ve lost your flow. I know how you feel. When all this uncertainty first started, I relived every bad decision I ever made, each choice leading me right back to nothing. It’s not a good place to be.
If that sounds familiar, then take any work just to break the cycle—because ironically, if you are in that dark place, it is impossible to do the one thing that can get you out. Do you really think you can make calls and ask for help from there? Nope. Never. That’s the cul-de-sac of networking. You’re at that bummer dead end, just spinning in circles. Take any job or project just to get out of your head. Buy some time to plan for that next right move—and realize that you have an entire audio community at your back available to help. If you don’t know where to turn first, then start with me.
There’s nothing quite like the sound of a nasty cool guitar amp or cabinet. The fiery attitude, grit, edge and sometimes extra volume is truly something to behold—and to be heard! But how do you get that huge sound to translate to small speakers, including the ones that go in your ears? Let’s look at a few mic techniques to help make that happen, and we’ll also get some guitar miking tips from Grammy-winning producer/engineer/mixer Neil Dorfsman (Dire Straits, Paul McCartney, Sting, Kiss, Bruce Springsteen, Oasis) and engineer/mixer extraordinaire Richard Chycki (Rush, Dream Theater, Aerosmith).
Don’t Forget The Basics
There’s a reason I’m going to say “start with a Shure SM57.” That’s simply because it works and we’ve all heard it on countless hit records. Stick one of these trusty desert island gems a few inches from the outside cone of a speaker and turn up the preamp. Boom—instant damn good guitar sound.
There are plenty of other mics that can get the job done on their own. For a smoother sound, I’ve used ribbon mics like the Beyerdynamic M 160 and Royer R-121. An AKG C414 large-diaphragm condenser mic covers a lot of ground on its own and features the ability to record multiple polar patterns. For a bigger, thicker sound, the Sennheiser MD-421 II cardioid dynamic mic is one of my favorites, along with a Neumann U 87 (or 67 tube mic if available). Each of these has their own ‘frequency sweet spot,’ so use to taste.
Don’t be afraid to move the mic around the cone area, experimenting with what part of the speaker sounds best, or for that matter, which speaker on the amp sounds best. Also, experiment with the distance of the mic on the speaker. For example, when I’ve recorded guitar great Ace Frehley, he always likes to put the mic right up against the grill of his 4X12 Marshall cabs. This helps deliver a nice thick tone due to the extra bass from the proximity effect of the mic being so close. Ever since, I’ve pretty much done the same thing, maybe moving it back a few inches on occasion, but I’ve found that for the most part, keeping the mic in tight usually delivers the right attitude.
The More Mics, The Merrier
The real fun starts when you introduce several mics (and amps) into the picture. Reaching out to my good friend Neil Dorfsman, he had a few ideas on the topic. “While I’m not necessarily of the opinion that ‘if using one mic is good, using two is better,’ I tend to try and capture multiple representations of electric guitars sounds,” he notes. “For me, there’s so much complex harmonic content that I find one or two mics just don’t do the trick.”
Dorfsman uses a number of setups, but there’s one he turns to the most. “When I mic an electric guitar cabinet, I’ll normally set up two ‘midrange / punchy’ mics—usually a Shure SM57 or Sennheiser MD-421—with one on-axis and one angled about 30 degrees off-axis,” he said. “Then one smooth, less ‘peaky’ mic (usually a ribbon such as a Royer, AEA, RCA 77-DX or Beyer M 160) and one ‘hi-fi’ representation (usually a -20 dB padded AKG C451), and possibly also a ‘full-sounding’ large diaphragm condenser (Neumann U 67, U 47 and so on). In addition, I’ll do a slightly distant ambient pair of large diaphragm condensers, such as U 87s.
“That is a lot of mics and requires some ‘time and phase alignment’ to make it work,” he continued. “Depending on the sound I’m trying to capture, the diaphragm will be anywhere from 1 to 4 inches away from the cone. The mics are placed in various and different positions, depending on their sonic character and the speaker’s sound. I submix them as I am recording—keeping only the ‘ambient mics’ separate for mixing later. I’ve found it helpful to always also take a DI [from the amp] as well, which can later be re-amped or processed with an amp simulator plug-in while mixing.”
Checking In with Chycki
Richard Chycki takes a variety of approaches, too, when it comes to miking a guitar, ensuring that he has lots of possibilities to work with when it comes time to mix.
“I split the guitar signal, usually with a Radial JD7 for larger setups or a Radial X-Amp 500 for a two-amp split,” he notes. “I always record a guitar DI for both re-amping possibilities and editing, as distorted guitars usually look like an audio sausage [in a DAW, making it] a bit difficult to find transients for editing.”
“For Alex Lifeson from Rush, we set up a string of amps, cabinets and mics and create tone presets on the console as we work,” he said. “The main amp is miked with a Royer R-121, a Mojave Audio MA-301fet and a Shure 57. I don’t EQ the mics individually but use placement and balance between the three mics, submixing to a buss where I have a Pultec EQP-1A EQ and a Urei LA-3A leveling amplifier, and then go to the DAW.
“We do prefer Celestion G12M or Vintage 30 guitar speakers and larger 4×12 cabinets, like Marshall TV or Mesa Boogie Rectifier cabs,” he noted. “For a session as complex as Rush, we had an assortment of other amps connected, including a Mesa Boogie Mark V, a version of a Lerxst Omega [Lifeson’s signature model guitar amp], an Orange OR-120, a 20-watt Hi-Watt, and a Bogner Uberschall. We also used a Roland JC-120 [Jazz Chorus Stereo Combo] processed separately and miked in stereo to capture the full chorus width. All of the amps were miked with combinations of Shure SM57, Royer R-121, Sennheiser MD-409, Shure SM7, Neumann U 47 fet and, of course, the triad of mics mentioned earlier.”
Room ambience is a crucial seasoning for your sound that your mics can provide, depending on your tone and taste. Sometimes you want it, and sometimes you don’t. As Chycki explained, for recording Lifeson, “A pair of Royer R-121s set up using Blumlein Pair technique, and Earthworks SR30s set up X-Y are always on hand for room ambience, if needed. However, for recording John Petrucci’s guitar for Dream Theater, we used the ‘guitar condom.’ The GC is a hut made from bales of Roxul rock wool insulation that encapsulate the guitar cabinet and microphones, completely removing any room sound from the close microphones.”
Capturing big guitar sounds can be as simple as placing a single mic in front of an amp to creating complex setups with DIs and a myriad of sonic options. Take the time to move the mic(s) around, check your phase, check the speaker and experiment. Subtle changes can make a big difference in the final product. Just remember—if it sounds right, it is right, no matter what the setup.