Spent about 6 hours yesterday doing mindless drum edits on a couple of songs. All the while I was thinking that I need to hire an assistant to do this kind of work. I still do not forget the days of tapes and razors but I also do not think we were quite as fussy about timing back then. I often spin pop CDs against the click and I am amazed at how many producers are working in bullet time. In some cases the drums are absolutely and totally locked. Which, of course, is not humanly possible. Oh the power of Pro Tools.
Young Talent These Days
We had a young player in the studio recently who demonstrated a certain level of arrogance. I suspect this is due to the prevalence of computer-based multitrack software. Armed with Cakewalk and a Shure SM-58 and anyone can become a fully qualified and experienced audio engineer. This made me think back to the many years I have spent trying to learn this craft. Over 25 years now and what strikes me more so today than ever before is the overwhelming body of knowledge much of which I still have to learn. Perhaps that is the difference as we age. We begin to understand that experience and wisdom really matters. I reassured this young player that I had a pretty good idea as to which microphones to use and where to point them. He played reasonably well.
I picked up Michael McDonald’s Motown CD. This project was produced by Simon Climie and recorded and mixed entirely within the Pro Tools HD environment. I was quite impressed with the overall sound of the album particularly the bass tracks. What was also very interesting was the number of credits given to Pro Tools on this album. Even the Sony Oxford Plug-ins were given an honorable mention. Here is an excerpt from Simon’s take on the project:
Simon recently produced Michael McDonald’s latest album, ‘Motown’, which was released in the UK in May this year. “This was the first album I recorded using Pro Tools HD,” says Simon. “Michael’s vocals are amazing! The album sounds incredible in 5.1 too and it’s selling like hot cakes in America – it’s through ‘gold’ already. All the reviews say that his vocals sound amazing – thanks to HD! We also worked with new arrangements of some great Motown material. The record company wanted Michael to duet with the original artists, so within the hour, we had time-stretched Marvin Gaye’s original vocal into the new Michael MacDonald version and sent off an MP3 file for approval via DigiDelivery. They were amazed.”
Simon believes that the Pro Tools HD system enhances creativity. “It gives me much more of an active involvement and affects the recording process in a big way,” he comments. “We do a lot of editing of the structure of the song as we go, such as making a double length intro or lengthening the guitar section, and I can even arrange the master track while I’m recording something else. I can go through the session and mute things without it stopping or crashing – I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this in Logic, by the way! Traditionally, with a recording session, the band would go away while something was tried out but, with Pro Tools, you can do this on the fly. If we had to go back to the old way of working now and do an SSL-style recall, everyone would be so impatient and angry and you’d lose the moment completely. Pro Tools, a great engineer and the vibe of a big studio with a good live room, is the perfect combination and can only enhance the performance of the musicians. There’s no multitrack tape to worry about – I can just get on and manage the production. It’s pretty limitless.”
Simon continues, “You can almost be at mix status before you finish recording.”
The week-end was full of activity and I was unable to post until today. Session work on Saturday went well. I did live sound Sunday morning and then a performance at a contemporary worship service Sunday evening. The performance was great although I am still fighting the noise issue with my guitar rig. I did not get a chance to use a power conditioner to see if that would have an impact. I’m not even sure that my guitars are appropriately shielded and that may have an impact as well. I’ll try the power conditioner first as it is cheaper and less work then shielding a guitar.
Studio Design Website
This site is a good resource for anyone looking for help in building a recording studio. Our construction work took almost six months from concept to finished product. I cannot recall how many rolls of Roxul Safe and Sound insulation we used for the rooms but I do know that two people spent almost three days stuffing cavities with this material. Floating walls, floating floors, bass traps, staggered double stud wall, dual drywall panels, acoustic sealants, conduits, precision framing… so many details to consider when building a decent recording and monitoring space. John’s site has some great examples of studio projects. Worth a look.
Pro Tools 6.4 was successfully deployed. I had to upgrade the primary DAW to XP Service Pack 1 first. I run 9 computers on the network and the primary DAW is the only machine that has not been patched with SP1. This was a deliberate strategy on my part to ensure a stable platform for Pro Tools. The Service Pack installed successfully and I did some tests of the DAW to ensure that everything worked before moving on to the next stage. I downloaded 6.4 from the Digidesign site. 55MB download in 2 minutes. Really have to love high speed internet access. I also needed to download some updated plugins. Did the 6.4 install and firmware upgrades for the recorders. Everything worked fine except that I had to rediscover the Control 24 ethernet controller. All in all this was a painless experience. Years ago this was not the same story.
We are fortunate to work with a number of very talented musicians in the Toronto area. I am quite excited to have Fergus Marsh coming in to record at the studio. Fergus has an impressive discography which includes:
- BRUCE COCKBURN: Stealing Fire, World of Wonders, Big Circumstance, Live
- STEVE BELL: Romantics & Mystics, Live In Concert, Waiting For Aidan
- BIG FAITH: Grounded, Undertow
- HUGH MARSH: The Bear Walks, Shaking The Pumpkin
- LISA DALBELLO: She
- THE SIDEMEN: Dig In
- GLEN SODERHOLM: By Faint degrees
- MERYN CADELL: 6 Blocks
- YODECA: Yodeca
- MARK HEARD: Dry Bones dance, Satellite Sky
- MARY-KATHRYN: One Spirit
- BILLY BATSTONE: A Little Broken Bread
- LAYTON HOWERTON: Boxing God
Fergus Marsh is a bass and Chapman Stick player who has contributed to over 50 CDs. His work involves local gigs, television commercials, CDs and touring. He moves fluidly between both the Christian and secular arenas. Most recently he has just finished a tour with Peter Murphy of Bauhaus fame, and a worship CD with Ruth Fazal. Fergus is internationally recognized as one of the best players of the Chapman Stick. Fergus lives in Ontario with his wife Lynn and their son Luke. Fergus will be helping Cliff Cline on his current project. More information about Cliff Cline’s project can be found here.
Time for yet another upgrade. I am at the point where I think I need to beef up the primary Studio DAW. The primary will then become the secondary for MIDI, GigaSampler, etc. At one time I used to enjoy the constant upgrading but now I find I am far more concerned about introducing change and impacting stability. A tough decision. With Pro Tools I usually stay pretty current. Here is a list of improvements in 6.4:
- Support for ICON with D-Control* — Support for large format mixing and production
- Support for the new Command|8** — A compact, affordable, yet full-featured control surface
- AVoption|V10 support† — For interoperating with the latest Avid video formats
- Automatic Delay Compensation* — Allows you to take advantage of mixer configurations that were previously only possible with analog consoles, or with digital consoles many times the price of a Pro Tools environment
- TrackPunch* — Allows Pro Tools to be used as a recorder on film stages, rather than only an editing/playback device. For music, TrackPunch enhances current QuickPunch capabilities for music recording by allowing the user to arm tracks on the fly. Operators can punch in and out of tracks by using individual track record buttons instead of one global command. Combined with TrackInput*, TrackPunch allows workflows similar to traditional tape-based multi-track recorders
- 23.976 fps support** — Enables post customers who work with high-definition video to use a new frame rate specific to the medium, facilitating proper synchronization to the source. Pro Tools now offers complete recall of all editing, processing, mixing console and machine control parameters while working entirely within the new 24 and 23.976 frame rates required for high-definition video production (DV Toolkit required for Pro Tools LE)
- +12 dB fader gain — The new +12 dB** range above 0 dB in the fader section of the Pro Tools mixer gives you more latitude while mixing than the previous +6 dB (over 0 dBfs), particularly when balancing with recordings made at lower levels. With a new taper, the faders have a more familiar “console” feel
- RecordLock* — Loading audio with discontiguous (“broken”) time code means that an assistant no longer has to continually re-arm Pro Tools when loading in different takes from film shoots. This also prevents missed record takes on shooting stages, where the distributed time code stops and starts between takes
- Hierarchical plug-in menus** — Group plug-ins by process type, keeping mousing and searching for the right plug-in to a minimum
- Track Position Numbers** — Gives each track a fixed sequential number, enabling operators to better organize sessions, as well as to quickly locate the GUI and control surfaces to a selected track
- Improved Feet+Frames timeline display** — Allows film users to set the “zero feet+frames” point anywhere in the session; and, with multiple feet+frame rates, allows the feet+frames timeline to remain in sync with all workflow variations (DV Toolkit required for Pro Tools LE)
- New Clip Meter Features — Plug-in clipping is now displayed on the D-Control worksurface and on the GUI send labels* for easy diagnosis of gain structure level problems while mixing. Plus, a new “clear clip” key command and a new “clip hold” preference provide additional display enhancements**
- Foley record “Input Mute” feature* — Prevents unwanted loud noises during foley record sessions
Last night I did live sound for part of the Steve Bell concert that was held in Newmarket (just north of Toronto). I mixed the Jody Cross opening act and watched the console feed from Steve Bell’s setup come through the main house. Not much pressure so I could really sit back and enjoy Steve’s music and ministry. Dave Zeglinski, Steve’s manager and sound person, did all the hard work. We used both the house system and Steve’s local system for the audience and it worked out really well.
Steve and Dave came over to my studio today to see our work and to talk about the Christian music scene in Canada. I have been a big fan of Steve for many years and we know many people in common. We traded a number of stories about our mutual friends and talked a lot about sharing faith through music and the quest to pursue excellence in our respective ministries. I must tell you that I was very impressed with Steve’s character and his open and friendly nature. I was so pleased that he came by. We went through the studio, the equipment and I brought up some of the projects that we have worked on over the years. My youngest boy is also a big fan and he now has some great memories of a worthy hero.
I have noticed an interesting trend taking shape. More manufacturers are introducing analog + control surface consoles. Digidesign has offered this type of technology for some time now but the high penetration of DAWs into all types of recording venues has increased market demand. I also think that the summing controversy still rages on… more on that topic another day.
Solid State Logic has introduced an $85,000 analog + control surface console for a number of different DAW platforms (e.g., Pro Tools, Nuendo). I could not find any information about the console on the ssl site however I did find a few posts strewn through the usual suspect recording forums. Charles Dye appeared to be the first one out with the information based on a note he received from a Guitar Center rep somewhere in the USofA. Here is the information that I have on the unit:
The AWS 900: An SSL Console
The AWS 900 is a compact SSL console, with all of the audio quality, robustness and advanced ergonomics that this implies. AWS 900 offers no-compromise audio performance, equivalent to SSL’s celebrated XL 9000 K Series mixing console which is a feature of major studios the world over.
The AWS 900 provides:
- Legendary SSL sound quality
- Identical SuperAnalogue technology to SSL’s flagship XL 9000 K Series console
- Greater bandwidth than 192kHz recorders
- 24 ultra low-noise dual impedance mic amps
- 24 channels with twin curve SSL E and G Series 4-band parametric equalisation
- Assignable SSL dynamics sections with gate, expander and compressor/limiter
- G Series Stereo main mix buss compressor
- Comprehensive 5.1 monitoring and Bass management
- Complete tools for running zero latency tracking sessions
- Highly flexible Cue/FX sends system with EFX reassign
- Flexible ordering of channel processing
- Balanced circuitry throughout
- Metering on all console channels and main outputs
Integral DAW Control
DAW’s provide the power and convenience of recording and editing your audio, but a PC/Mac is not the most intuitive way to access these functions. AWS 900 provides an integrated solution by combining an outstanding console with SSL’s famed control surface ergonomics. The result is the first DAW control interface designed by SSL.
The AWS 900 provides:
- Direct access to all major DAW mixing, editing and automation parameters
- Direct control of Plug-In settings
- Dedicated control CPU to maximise performance
- Integral colour TFT display with dedicated control keys
- User-definable controls on every channel
- High quality motorised faders to write/replay level moves in your DAW
- Simple switching between console and DAW control layer
- Full remote control implementation
- Operation independent of platform and works with ProTools, Nuendo, Logic Audio and many more
The studio environment is misleading. There is such tight control over sound that the notion of errant noise in the form of buzzing and humming is unthinkable. Such noise does occur when musicians bring in their instruments. Amplifiers, drumkits, pickups can all present challenges with noise.
I spent a great deal of time improving my guitar rig. I have a number of stage guitars that I use but more often than not it is the Paul Reed Smith Custom 22 or the American Fat Strat that gets called into duty. The stage backline is usually a Mesa Boogie F-50 1×12 combo. The pedalboard contains an Ernie Ball volume pedal, Analog Man Juicer, Analog Man modified TS-9 Tube Screamer, Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor and Boss DD-6 Digital Delay. I carry a Shure SM-57 for the stage and I close mic the cabinet usually at the centre cone position.
This rig is very quiet in the studio. But some venues are very frustrating. Yesterday I was on a stage where the incessant buzzing was driving me crazy. I found a useful website on guitar noise just to see whether I was missing something obvious: why was the rig whisper quiet in the studio and buzzing like crazy on stage?
I suspect that part of the issue is the power supply and part of the issue is airborne. This stage has a large lighting rig where the power source is being shared with the stage outlets. I am looking seriously at power conditioning as a way to reduce the harsh buzzing sound.
The quest for tone never ends.