New South Wales, Australia (November 24, 2020)—Damien Gerard Studios became Australia’s first client for the new Solid State Logic Origin after relocating to West Gosford in New South Wales.
“Once we had completed the move into the new larger facility, the old Soundcraft 2400 series console was probably our weak link compared to the quality we had elsewhere in our outboard and mic inventory, which had upgraded considerably with the move,” explains studio manager Marshall Cullen. “My new business partner Jason Stenning and I began looking at vintage consoles that might be available — including Sylvia Massy’s old Neve in the USA — but the economics of it didn’t stack up.”
Cullen had reportedly heard good things about the Origin, and was swayed by the advantages of buying a new console, including a warranty and a modern power supply design. Local AV distributor Amber Technology organized the testing and delivery of the new desk. Since the day Damien Gerard’s new control room came online, the studio has been busy with tracking, mixing and mastering, as well as hosting solo artists and voiceover sessions.
The studio’s large live room, which can accommodate 20 or more musicians, has recently done a number of sessions with people live streaming or recording and filming live for post production. “Having the workflow of the console with 64 faders in front of you, the split paths and being able to fly different ins and outs where it’s needed has really helped those sessions,” says Cullen. “Also having an engineer on the left-hand side of masters and plenty more faders for a producer or assistant on the right-hand side has been a great boon.”
Hollywood, CA (November 23, 2020)—Native Instruments recently teamed up with drummer/producer Butch Vig at United Recording to record a variety of kits and one-shots for Butch Vig Drums, the first in a new line of artist-created Play Series instruments.
Butch Vig Drums were recorded at United Recording’s Studio A in Hollywood just before Los Angeles issued its Safer at Home order. Vig was joined by engineer Billy Bush, United staff engineer Wesley Seidman and drummer Mike Fasano. Also on hand were Native Instruments product owner Dino Vallianatos and The Loop Loft founder Ryan Gruss.
“When Butch and I decided to partner on this project, we discussed our options for studios, and United’s iconic Studio A quickly became our #1 choice,” said Gruss. “We knew it would allow us to capture a more ‘wide open’ sound by placing the drums out in the middle of the live room and also a ‘dry and tight sound’ by utilizing the various vocal booths. In addition to that flexibility, the acoustics in that particular studio are unparalleled. Original owner/designer Bill Putman was a sonic genius and the results you get when recording at United speak for themselves.”
The United Recording sounds were further processed through a bespoke selection of analog and digital preamps, compressors, stomp boxes and more at Vig’s home studio, GrungeIsDead. The result is Butch Vig Drums, which includes 21 individual drum kits, each with 16 one-shots created using Vig’s distinctive approach to percussive sound design. Each kit also comes with 16 preset MIDI patterns, which can be triggered using a MIDI controller or edited within any DAW using drag and drop technology.
Vig is best known as a co-founding member of the alternative rock band Garbage and the producer of seminal albums such as Nirvana’s Nevermind, Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream and Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown.
Santa Cruz, CA (November 23, 2020))—Art & Science Of Sound Recording (ASSR) has launched ASSR-Online—a new recording course, taken exclusively online, led by producer, engineer, and artist Alan Parsons. Rooted in Parsons’ Art & Science Of Sound Recording DVD series, the new course offers 26 video-based lesson modules with new and updated content, and leads to industry certification awarded upon course completion.
The ASSR-Online course comprises almost 11 hours of online video training spanning 26 lesson modules that are intended to be completed at a pace of one module a week. They cover the fundamentals of music production, each made up of a main video lesson module; a specific (printable) ‘keywords’ glossary; additional supporting audio, video, or image files; and a specific assignment related to the lesson. Each lesson module also offers a forum engine for communication between fellow students, and each lesson module concludes with a 10-point quiz specific to the lesson — complete the quiz to move on to the next lesson.
Students enrolled onto ASSR-Online are provided with a professionally-recorded 62-track raw multitrack (5.12GB .WAV) session file of a complex rock song with a ton of vocal harmonies — namely, the Alan Parsons-penned-and-produced ‘All Our Yesterdays’ (featuring session bassist Nathan East, Foo Fighters keyboardist Rami Jaffee, The Alan Parsons Live Project vocalist P. J. Olsson, session guitarist Tim Pierce, and drummer Simon Phillips) to remix and interact with at 24-bit / 88.2 kHz recording resolution on their own DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
Students are also provided with three additional raw multitrack session files for use during the course, including a multi-miked grand piano recording by ASSR’s Julian Colbeck (with which they can access different microphone positions and mixes), a choir recording (with which they can create their own mix of an MS — Mid/Side — miking arrangement, shown in the Recording A Choir lesson module), and the full multitrack of a track from a recent Colombian concert by The Alan Parsons Live Project (performing with a symphony orchestra).
GRAMMY Award-winning producer and engineer Alan Parsons started out as an assistant engineer at Abbey Road Studios in London, where he worked with The Beatles (on 1969’s Abbey Road and 1970’s Let It Be) and engineered Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon album in 1973. He has since had a multi-decade-spanning, multi-platinum career as a producer and as an artist with The Alan Parsons Project.
Listed lesson modules are: A Brief History of Recording; Studio Acoustics – a guide to how sound behaves in rooms; DAWs and Current Equipment Choices in 2020; Microphones; Consoles and Controllers; Digital Audio and Computers – a guide to the technology; Monitoring – from loudspeakers to ear buds; MIDI; EQ (Equalization); Compressors and Limiters; Noise Gates; Reverbs; Delays; A Band Tracking Session; Making Beats; Vocals; Internet Recording; Recording Drums; Recording Keyboards; Recording Bass; Recording Guitar; Recording Guitar With Vocal; Recording A Choir; Live Recording – an introduction; Mixing; and, last but by no means least, Dealing With Disasters. Duly completed, students are awarded an ASSR-Online certification in The Fundamentals of Recording & Music Production.
The ASSR-Online course is $395.00 USD which can be paid at once or in four installments.
Hollywood, CA (November 20, 2020)—Bernie Grundman has remastered all 11 LPs in the new eight-album VMP Anthology: The Story of Herbie Hancock, which was curated by Vinyl Me, Please and Herbie Hancock.
The anthology celebrates Hancock’s 80th birthday and his more than 60 years of altering the landscape of jazz. Grundman cut the lacquers from the original masters. Takin’ Off, Maiden Voyage, Head Hunters, The Piano and Future Shock were cut AAA from analog tapes. The River: The Joni Letters and1+1, which were recorded digitally, and Live Under the Sky, which has been re-sequenced at Hancock’s request, come from master digital audio.
Grundman originally mastered a number of the original releases, including 1973’s breakthrough Head Hunters and the 2008 Grammy Album of the Year, River: The Joni Letters. Recalling the original Head Hunters mastering sessions, he says, “When they brought that in, I was working at A&M at the time, running their mastering department. Well, that record was shockingly different from what I expected a Herbie Hancock album to be. His approach was different from just about anything I had heard before. Herbie modernized jazz pop music and because of the mentality that he has and that he put into that, it makes it even more interesting. It had a lot more depth than most records I had heard up to that time. It stood out as being really unique. It wasn’t derivative, or copying what was out at the time. He did something that could communicate with a much broader listening public.”
The new box set includes albums from every major era of Hancock’s career, from his early albums as a bandleader to his later fusions of jazz with funk and hip-hop, and his Grammy-winning work from the ’00s. As with past VMP anthologies, the set comes packaged with access to an exclusive podcast series featuring interviews with Hancock, his collaborators and those he inspired, and Grundman.
The LPs are pressed on high-quality 180g black vinyl and housed in heavyweight tip-on jackets. A first edition heavyweight two-piece slip and slash box with original design by Clay Conder is hand-numbered and limited to 1500.
Berkeley, CA (November 19, 2020)—Mastering engineer Michael Romanowski recently completed a new facility at Coast Mastering that is outfitted to handle projects up to Dolby Atmos 9.1.6.
The new mastering room was designed by Romanowski along with acoustical consultant Bob Hodas, who also tuned the room. California-based audio engineer and studio design consultant Bob Levy worked closely with the build-team from the beginning of the project.
Coast Mastering features equipment chosen over Romanowski’s 30 years as a recording, mixing, and mastering engineer, both in Nashville and the San Francisco Bay Area. On the audio software side, Romanowski has been mastering immersive audio projects using the Steinberg Nuendo software for many years.
A main feature of the new studio are the Focal Scala Utopia EM speakers for left, right, and center channels which tower at almost six feet tall, and Focal Utopia Diablo Evo speakers for the six surrounds, which are all paired with Bricasti amplifiers and converters, and Wireworld cables. The subwoofer is by Meyer Sound, while the six height speakers are by Neumann. Stillpoint Aperture acoustic treatment was used throughout the new studio.
“As a music fan, I have really been enjoying the variety of styles of music that I have mastered in Atmos, with Alicia Keys, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, The U.S. Army Field Band, Fantastic Negrito, The Devil in California, and a local Bay Area Latin fusion band, Vibrason, among many other projects,” said Romanowski.
“I built my first mastering room in 2000 for 5.1 surround with Paul Stubblebine, then moved to immersive sound adding height speakers in 2018. My new mastering room was built specifically for immersive formats including Dolby Atmos. It’s such a joy to work in and to really hear the music as it is, so I can make the best decisions for my clients.”
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably noticed the rise in popularity of modular synths over the past few years. I got into it about seven or eight years ago, and I fear I am living proof of just how addictive they can be. I realize I could be accused of a certain amount of self-justification in this article, but trust me, they really are a useful tool for mix engineers.
First, a quick overview for the uninitiated. There are two common set ups, of which the one referred to as “East Coast” style is the more traditional. This is so-called because Moog synths were built on the east coast of the USA, as opposed to the slightly more esoteric Buchla synths which originated on the west coast at about the same time (‘west coast’ style, although hopefully you’d worked that out). The pros and cons of each method can cause some pretty heated debates in the world of synth-heads—debates in which neither Bob Moog nor Don Buchla were remotely interested.
Anyway, I digress.
There are few basic parts that are common to the traditional setup. You start with a voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO). This permanently generates a wave form—sine, triangle, saw and square are generally your choices—the pitch of which is decided by the control voltage (CV) that you send it from your keyboard or DAW. Normally you mix two or three of these VCOs together and then feed them into a resonant filter which shapes the sound by taking away harmonics, which gives us the term ‘subtractive synthesis.’ You’ve still got a permanent tone, so next in the chain is a voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA), which you normally turn down to silent so it can be turned up again by modules called envelope generators (often ADSR-style, if you’re familiar with hardware synths) which fire whenever they receive a ‘gate’ signal—which is triggered when a key on your keyboard is pressed (or, again, from your DAW).
That’s the basics, but modular synthesis gets more interesting when you introduce different sources of modulation. Pretty much everything you can think of can be modulated by everything else, with low-frequency oscillators (LFOs), ring modulators and various styles of envelope generator all being part of the arsenal, but that’s another article.
“But,” I hear you wearily ask, “how is this useful to mix engineers?” Well…
Better synth sounds. If you find yourself being handed less-than awesome synth sounds to mix, then you’ve got a simple solution to that. Remember that a new filter can cost you less than £100, and each new filter opens up a whole raft of different tonal possibilities, so even a modest modular system can give you a wide palette of great analogue synth sounds. Ask for the MIDI along with the audio and you can quickly create sounds that not only lift the track but also make the mix easier.
Better filters. I know this sounds like it goes with the previous paragraph, but I mean something different here. In this application, you’re using the filters in your modular system like the filters on an EQ—because if you want to take the top off your bass track, you can obviously do it quickly with a nice clean plug-in, but with an extra minute of effort and a Moog low-pass filter, you’ve added some real character to your mix as well.
Extremely tweakable analogue effects. Although you can do everything in the box these days if you want to, sometimes you don’t. For these out-of-the-box moments, modular synths offer a lot of really fun, tweakable and fantastic-sounding effects, from simple spring reverbs (with up to three tank sizes that you can flick between) to deep granular delays. There are amazing sounding phasers, and tube VCAs that give you incredible distortion effects. If you think that you—or your clients—might enjoy manually playing effects instead of automating a plug-in, then a small Eurorack (3U modular synths) set-up might be right up your street. It’s just like building a small collection of guitar pedals, but one to which you only need to add an oscillator and you’ve got yourself an analogue synth.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to start recommending specific modules (feel free to contact me at themixconsultancy.com if you want advice on this—I can talk modular for days!) but perhaps you will now see a modular synth is not just a hipster’s plaything (although it is also that), or a synth-head’s money-pit (yeah, it’s definitely that, too), but also a useful weapon in the arsenal of a mix engineer.
Modular synths are becoming a useful weapon in the arsenal of a mix engineer.
“Some microphones sound fantastic on one singer and don’t sound fantastic on a similar singer,” says recording, mixing and mastering engineer and producer Ronan Chris Murphy. “That’s just because of a particular resonance in the voice of one singer compared to the other.”
Murphy can generally predict which microphones will work on a singer after hearing them sing or listening to previous recordings. He’s worked with a wide range of artists, including Gwar, King Crimson, Terry Bozzio, Steve Morse, Pete Teo and Jamie Walters, as well as on video games titles such as Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Mafia III, so he has experience across multiple music genres. Even so, he says, “There are times where, because of various factors, predictions can be wrong.”
To zero in on the best choice from among the available alternatives, Murphy, who is also founder of Recording Boot Camp, a recording education business, will have the vocalist try as many as six microphones. “I always try my best to set up double-blind tests,” he says, because the eyes can deceive the ears. “You’re absolutely going to think the fancy Neumann sounds better—but in reality, that’s not always the case.”
None of the mics would be optimally positioned in an array of six, so Murphy tests two at a time through a matched pair of mic preamps. Eliminate one mic, replace it with the next choice, set up the double-blind again and continue the process. “You can get though six mics in under half an hour,” he says. “Especially if you’ve got somebody to help you.”
However, the quality and performance of a particular microphone is only part of the equation. There are two more important things to also keep in mind, he says: First, does the sound of the microphone suit the record that is being made? And, equally and perhaps even more importantly, he says, “Will this particular microphone get a better performance out of the singer?”
There are two sides to the performance issue, too. A singer may have spent the last several years handholding a dynamic mic playing live with a band before they cut their first record. “Now you’re going to try and capture on record that amazing thing they do. A lot of times, you put somebody in front of the big, shiny mic with headphones on and they’re out of their comfort zone,” says Murphy.
Conversely, a high-end mic can elevate a singer’s performance. He recalls a project where the shootout ended in a dead heat between a vintage Neumann he had rented and a Shure condenser. The singer had talked excitedly all week about using the Neumann. “So we spent a little extra money so that he could step up in front of that big, shiny microphone like he’d seen his idols do. It was worth it to get a better performance out of the artist.”
Check the microphones throughout the singer’s dynamic range, he also urges. Worse case, he says, “If I find somebody is great on one mic in the choruses and great on another in the verses, I’ll put up two mics, track both, then cut between the two in the mix.”
Even Murphy has been surprised by the results of shootouts, and advises checking any preconceptions at the door. “People are surprised that moving coil dynamics can beat out large diaphragm condensers or that an inexpensive condenser might beat out a more expensive one. There are times when a $100 microphone can sound significantly better than a $10,000 microphone. The great thing about double-blind testing is that it removes all that bias.”
Montreal, Canada (November 17, 2020)—Brian D’Oliveira, founder and creative director at La Hacienda Creative in Montreal, Canada, uses more than 900 one-of-a-kind instruments to produce award-winning work for films, TV and video games, capturing the new and often otherworldly sounds with his matched pair of Sanken CUX-100K microphones.
“When I heard about the new CUX-100K, I thought this might be the dream microphone,” says D’Oliveira, “and they’ve become my main mics, recording all kinds of material. To my surprise, it’s become pretty much the go-to mic and I’m recording about 90% of everything that I do now with this mic. I own two CUX-100Ks, and I got them especially because of my previous experience with my Sanken CO-100Ks. What’s great about them is that they are completely neutral and grab exactly what I hear with my ears. To me it’s the closest microphone to normal human hearing that exists.”
The high-resolution response of the mics enables D’Oliveira to manipulate the audio after recording. “I use the CUX-100K as audio putty, you could say, because sounds become a lot more workable. I do a lot of re-pitching and if I go down four octaves, I’m able to do all kinds of magical mangling. You would never be able to do this type of sonic transformation with any other microphone in the market right now.”
D’Oliveira has also been experimenting with the traditional recording of a wide variety of instruments. “To my surprise, using the CUX-100Ks produced a much bigger and massive cinematic sound out of the bass drums and our collection of rare percussion that we regularly use in our soundtrack production work. This is the original RCA Victor room from the 1940s and I use this room as an instrument in itself. The acoustics here are naturally beautiful and when I got the CUX-100K, it was the cherry on the cake because it was able to capture the full resonance and space better than any other microphone. It has become the perfect system for me to record what I do as a creator, as a composer and as a sound designer.”
New York, NY (November 17, 2020)—A giant among recording engineers, Bruce Swedien died peacefully November 16 at the age of 86. Over the course of a 65-year career in engineering and production, Swedien was nominated for 13 Grammy Awards and received five, including for his work with Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones on 1982’s Thriller, the top-selling album of all-time with an estimated 66 million copies sold.
Jackson and Jones were far from the only major names that Swedien recorded, however. That list, reading like a Who’s Who of 20th Century popular music, includes—to name only a few—Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole, Paul McCartney, Curtis Mayfield, Sergio Mendes, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, George Benson, Dinah Washington, Tommy Dorsey, Herb Alpert, Roberta Flack, Rufus & Chaka Kahn, LL Kool J, the Smothers Brothers, Andrew Previn, James Ingram, Eydie Gorme, Joe Williams, Jennifer Lopez, Mick Jagger, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Herbie Hancock, Lionel Hampton, Lena Horne, Missing Persons, Jimmy Reed, Patti Austin, Sarah Vaughn, Donna Summer, David Hasselhoff and many others.
Swedien’s recording philosophy was simple, as he told Pro Sound News in 2014: “The top thing is: Music first. Everybody thinks that you listen, that you learn how to make records by listening to records, but you don’t. You have to go out and hear live music in a good acoustic situation, and from there, you build a benchmark for your ear…. You can’t learn how to make records by listening to other people’s records, because then you’ll never be able to express yourself. You’ll always have that other thing; it will be too much of an influence.”
While Swedien had his own influences and mentors in the studio, he found his own way over the course of a considerable career. Born in Minneapolis, MN on April 19, 1934, Swedien began working in local basement studios while still in high school, and married his life-long companion, Beatrice Anderson, not long after graduation. Although he started his own recording studio at age 19 by converting a former movie theater into a facility, he moved with his wife and three kids in 1957 to Chicago to work at RCA Victor recording studios, before joining Bill Putnam’s legendary Universal Recording the following year as a staff engineer.
It was during that time that he truly came into his own as an engineer, he told PSN: “My mentor was Bill Putnam in Chicago. He was marvelous. [Soon] I was recording all the big bands at that point in time: Stan Kenton, Count Basie, Duke Ellington—yeah, everybody.” During his time there, in 1962, Swedien garnered his first Grammy nomination, for engineering Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ evergreen single, “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”
It was also during that time that he befriended Jones while the latter was the president of Mercury Records; it was the start of a working and personal friendship that would last the rest of his life. After going independent in 1969, Swedien found himself usually engineering in New York or Los Angeles, and eventually moved to L.A. in 1975. When Jones took on the role of music supervisor for the 1978 movie adaptation of the Broadway musical The Wiz, he recruited Swedien to record the soundtrack with him, marking the first time the pair worked with Michael Jackson, who starred in the film. While the picture flopped, the three soon reunited to record Jackson’s 1979 hit album, Off The Wall, which had four top-10 hits and ultimately sold over 20 million copies. They would go on to create 1982’s Thriller, 1987’s Bad and 1992’s Dangerous, and Swedien won engineering Grammys for all three albums. He additionally nabbed Grammys for his work on two of Jones’ own projects—1990’s Back on the Block and 1996’s Q’s Jook Joint.
Swedien moved to New York in 1994, and then later to Florida. In the 2000s, he wrote three books that extensively detailed his working methods and philosophy behind recording—2004’s Make Mine Music; 2009’s In the Studio with Michael Jackson; and 2013’s The Bruce Swedien Recording Method—and also began teaching master classes around the world with his “In the Studio with Bruce Swedien” workshops. During his career, he was additionally awarded 10 Grammy certificates and two ASCAP Composer Awards, and was also nominated for five TEC Awards. His passing on November 16, 2020 was announced on Facebook by his daughter Roberta, who paid tribute to her father as having had “A long life full of love, great music, big boats and a beautiful marriage. We will celebrate that life. He was loved by everyone.”