I was elected to the Board of Govenors of the Texas chapter of the Grammys a couple of months ago and the first big event I participated in was yesterday - a salute to audio legend and Texas resident Rupert Neve. Rupert's contribution to the audio world cannot be overstated. If you were Claude Monet then Rupert would be the man who invented blue paint.
Also in attendance were two other engineering legends - Alan Parsons and Geoff Emerick. Amongst other albums Alan is most well known for recording and mixing Dark Side of the Moon. If that were the only thing he did he would still be cemented in audio history.
Geoff Emerick of course was the recording engineer for the Beatles. He started out as an assistant in their early days and at the ripe old age of twenty became their chief engineer. On the first day in this new position he recorded "Tomorrow Never Knows". Let that sink in for a moment.
It was an incredible afternoon. I met him briefly and was only able to ask him for the opportunity to take a picture. I was completely star struck to say the least.
Oh yeah. It was Rupert's 91st birthday and they baked him a cake that was shaped like a 5088 console. As he cut into it he said "this is quite possibly the sweetest console I've seen".
I mixed this a while back. If you're a Weezer fan, you're welcome…
(Scroll Down in the widow below for the Soundcloud links)
I did an interview for my buddies John Agnello and Stewart Lerman for their Gear Club podcast. Loads of Dylan, Weezer, and studio stories (some names have been named!)
Please go check it out…
This plugin works miracles on vocals with annoying hi freq resonances (and I'm not talking about de-essing). No more automating notch EQs. I wish I got it before I started mixing the project I'm on now instead of getting it in time for the last mix.
Trust me. Demo it. Buy it here.
Thank me later.
"While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the President of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.
An' though the rules of the road have been lodged
It's only people's games that you got to dodge
And it's alright, Ma, I can make it."
Been testing iZotope's new Neutron plugin.
It's pretty amazing. The track assistant calculates a preset based on the audio passing through (EQ, compression, transient shaper, and exciter). More times than not it gets you within striking distance of a final sound.
It also allows you to EQ two tracks at the same time while showing you a histogram of common frequencies between them. Throw in dynamic EQs, multi-band compression, and a ridiculous side-chaining matrix and you can do some amazing things.
It's a winner
OK. So I'm going to hawk some software…
I've been beta testing FX and processing plugins for Native instruments for a couple of years now. This latest offering is really cool. Replika XT is a very intuitive delay with a lot of processing options. My favorite is the diffusion setting. It's a cross between delay and reverb and it I've been using it extensively for the past month or so. It's incredible on keys and vocals. There's also a lot of modulation and post processing. I authored a few presets for it as well.
If you downloaded the free, non-XT version they gave away last year then the upgrade is only $49. Well worth it. Try the demo if you don't believe me…
Get it here
Scroll down the page and see my mug (or not…)
I wanted to post this a few weeks ago. When I heard the devastating news of Phife (a Tribe Called Quest) passing away, I immediately thought about playing with him on MTV UnPlugged. There’s a book that documents all of the episodes and I discovered that he passed a few days from the 25th anniversary of the taping of MTV Yo! UnPlugged Rap. I wanted to post about it but I was too busy. So I waited until today, the 25th anniversary of the show’s airing. It’s a bit long but as I started writing a lot of memories came back that I just wanted to document.
I was mixing a record for a band called Pop’s Cool Love (on Elektra, I believe) when they got the call from MTV. They were starting the next season of their UnPlugged series and wanted to do a Hip Hop episode. Would they be interested in being the backup band? We were in the studio at the time so I started asking them which acts were performing and which songs they’d be doing.
“Tribe will be doing Can I Kick It”
“Oh that’s “Walk on the Wild Side””
LL will be doing “Jingling Baby and Momma Said Knock you Out”
I named the samples that were used (right now off the top of my head I don’t remember what they were - it’s been a while…)
So after talking about it with the band for a while I said “Man, that’s sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun. See if you can get me into the taping.”
Pop asks me if I had an acoustic guitar he could borrow which I did. “Good, I’ll see if I can snag you a bass”.
“For you to play.”
“But, um, I’m a guitar player.”
“Same difference. You have a day to learn the songs. We’re rehearsing at SIR the day after tomorrow”.
After furiously learning the songs on an Ovation acoustic bass that was strung with with what seemed like suspension bridge cables, I showed up at SIR (with a profoundly bigger set of calluses on my fingers) along with drummer Tal Bergman (Billy Idol), pianistJerry Cohen (he wrote “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now”), Pop, and his guitar player Mike Tyler. After setting up for thirty minutes or so everybody else showed up - Tribe, MC Lite, and De La Soul. LL Called and said he’d show up a few hours later.
No one seemed happy.
It was pretty obvious that people were not happy with the fact that the band backing them up did not have a single black musician. It wasn’t a big deal but it was mentioned a few times. The director, Alex Colletti, smoothed things over really quickly. Pop’s Cool Love was a new act on Elektra and the label wanted them on this show to promote them - which was mostly true (only two of the musicians were officially in the band).
We ran through each song few times with each act. It was good but felt perfunctory. Afterwards the artists left and we sat around waiting for LL. He showed up twenty minutes later and we proceeded to rehearse his songs. After two run-throughs he had questions…
“This is all good but what can we do to make this sound more exciting? Can we change things up a little? Let’s start Jingling Baby like a jazz lounge thing and build it up from there. How about a breakdown in the middle of Mamma said knock you out? Maybe a James brown kinda thing?”
We rehearsed for another forty five minutes or so and punched up his set quite a bit.
The next day we all met up at Pop’s apartment before the taping. Pop loaned me a colorful hoodie to wear (I was flying a lot of flannel back then, I’d stick out like a sore thumb on stage otherwise). We went to find a cab and somehow managed to hail a stretch limo - we were only going ten blocks. We got there at the same time as Tribe and De La - they did a double take when they saw us getting out of a big white stretch.
We ran through the set for the cameras and sound - Tribe, MC Lite, De La. Same as SIR - perfunctory, stiff. (As a side note - UnPlugged was recorded directly to stereo - no multi-tracks, no remixing. That changed after this day of taping). LL was the headliner so he was last and his run through was great. When rehearsal was over I approached Alex and told him I had a problem: I was sitting so far to the left that I couldn’t see Tal’s hands or hi hat; as a bass player how was I going to be able to play in the pocket with him?
“Well we just blocked all of the shots and camera angles and they’re about to load in the audience - we’re kinda locked in…”
“Look, just move me four feet closer to the drum set and everything will be cool with me.”
We walked onto the stage and he picked up my stool and moved it over. “Is this cool? Anywhere else and you won’t have any light and no one will see you. In fact I can’t guarantee that you’ll be in any shot at all.”
“I’m fine with that”. In fact it was more than fine. He pretty much put me in line with every camera - I wound up in almost every shot!
Meanwhile, back in the dressing room, one by one each act came by while they started loading in the audience.
“Hey, why does LL get the dope arrangement and not us?!?”
“Well, you didn’t seem like you were too into it. Besides, it was LL’s idea to change it up. We’d have worked with you too if you wanted.”
This was not going to go well…
The audience was filled with young college students and high school kids. As we walked on stage I was sweating bullets. I hadn’t played on a stage in at least five years and here I was pretending to be a bass player - a funky one at that.
Alex came out and spoke to the audience and told them who was playing - apparently no one had any idea and everyone started to get excited. We sat there on stage for what seemed like an eternity waiting for the guys in the control room to tell us to start. A hundred or so people just staring at us blankly.
Alex shouted "We're rolling!" and I started the all too familiar bass line to Walk on the Wild Side while Q-Tip walked on stage from behind me - the place just exploded. Everyone was on their feet cheering, Tip looked sideways at me as if to say “W.T.F?” We plowed through the first verse of “Can I Kick It?” when we were suddenly stopped by Alex. “I’m so sorry folks. We had a glitch with the audio. We need to start over but please, please be just as enthusiastic as you were before”.
-[Cue sad trumpet]-
The rest of the taping went incredibly well. LL absolutely killed it. You’ll notice throughout the set that I’ve got the biggest shit-eating grin on my face.This was the reason why I got into music in the first place. I wanted to play for people. Somehow I stumbled into recording and let my playing take a bit of a back seat.
After the taping everyone was buzzing backstage; a complete reversal of the mood at SIR. I was talking to Q-Tip for a bit.
“Man that was fun! I don’t know; I’m kinda thinking that when we go on tour for our new album that I should take a real band out with us. Yo, would you want tour with Tribe? Play bass?”
I just laughed. “I’d love too but I’m really guitar player. Besides I’m too busy being an engineer these days. I got roped into this because I was mixing Pop’s record”
“What studio you work at?”
“Greene Street Recording. I do a lot of work with Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad there.”
“Cool, let’s do a couple of tracks. I’ll book some time”.
As we left, they were loading in REM for their taping. Talk about contrasting vibes…
A few days later, Tribe Called Quest came to Greene Street and we recorded “Jazz (We Got)” and “Check the Rhime”; arguably two of the best songs from Low End Theory - widely considered to be one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. The weight of this fact and the random way that led me to working on it does not escape me.
After the show’s airing, MTV took LL’s performance of Mamma Said Knock You Out and put it into heavy rotation. I’d get stopped on the street in NYC from people recognizing me. It was a bit surreal. It’s one of the highlights of my life.
Sometime last week was International Backup day. If you're anything like me you're pretty religious about backing up all of your session data but do you know which backup disk holds the data for that session you did three years ago?
I don't like to hawk software in general but this program has been a lifesaver. NeoFinder (formerly known as CDFinder) catalogs every file on every disk you throw at at it - including network drives. It sits on your menu bar and you can search for any file on any disk you have whether it's mounted or not (as long as you've cataloged it of course). The other thing I like about it is that it will also catalog the contents of ZIP and DMG files; very handy when searching for an installer for an old plugin that you're looking for.
NeoFinder has been pretty invaluable for me. I'm constantly shuffling around ProTools sessions from my current work, backup, and archive drives. Before deleting anything I always do a search in NeoFinder to make sure that it is backed up on at least two other drives. Cataloging a drive is easy. Once installed you can select a drive from within NeoFinder itself or you can right click the drive and under "Services…" select "Catalog Folder with NeoFinder". The cataloging process only takes a minute or two. If you want, it can also catalog all of your CDs and DVDs. I'm only scratching the surface of what this program can do.
The downsides: The initial cataloging of all your disks will take a while. You also have to remember to periodically catalog all your drives to keep up with and changes you've made. If you have a lot of "deep" storage drives this shouldn't be an issue as you probably never change their contents but updating all of your drives periodically is a good idea because you should always spin up and mount your drives to keep them from locking up from long periods of inactivity. It's also a bit pricey - $39.99 for a single private license. But if it saves you ten or so minutes every time you go looking for a file it will pay for itself in lost billable time pretty quickly. If you catalog a client's drive before sending it back to them you 'll come across as a genius when they call you looking for a file and you tell them exactly which folder on their drive it's located.
Do yourself a favor and just get it.
A giant of music both behind and in front of the glass has left us us.
I won’t go on about how he influenced me and others but I’d like to share a short story.
I was working at AIR Studios Lyndhurst a while back with Guillemots. One afternoon our assistant got off the phone and said that George would like to show someone the studio and would we mind a short interruption. Coincidentally, moments before, we stumbled upon a dry erase board that was used on the Paul McCartney record that had just finished recording a few weeks prior.
Sir George walked in the room and introduced himself to everyone with that large distinctive voice of his, shaking everyone’s hand. The assistant introduced me to him and he said “Ah yes, Chris, I’ve heard your work.” (In my head I was thinking “no, you haven’t, NO. YOU. HAVE. NOT!) Outside I was projecting as calm a demeanor as possible given the fact that I was meeting one of my biggest influences.
He proceeded to show a couple of people the control room and walked them into the live room and after about two minutes he pardoned himself for the interruption and left. The band was besides themselves and after a few moments they looked at me and said “How could you be so calm after that?” I asked the assistant “Do me a favor, go outside in the hallway and let me know if George is close by”. “No, he went back upstairs to his office”. Me: “Good…………… HOLY SHIT THAT WAS GEORGE MARTIN!!!!!”
Hey there. Check out Nada Surf's new single from their upcoming album "You Know Who You Are". Mixed by the guy who writes this blog… Love these guys. They're about to go on tour soon so do yourself a favor and go see them (after buying their record of course).
Dean Ween called me this past weekend to mix EODM's "I Love You All the Time" as a benefit for the victims of the recent Paris attacks. It was a lot of fun and for a great cause. He was also kind enough to mention me in his press release…
You can read it and watch the video here at Brooklyn Vegan. Give it a listen and ratchet up the view counter!
This came out this week. There's a few quotes in there from me from an interview I did a month or two ago for this issue…
Like this one…
Check out this EP I mixed for my friends Baby Spiders. Tony and Rob are former members of Lotion. This is a cool little EP. You can buy it (pay what you want but please pay something).
I really like how Summer Triangle came out. Lots of grindy organ sounds via a gtr running through a POG.
Thanks too Stephen Ceresia at Stonyfield Mastering for the great mastering job!
Electric Lady Celebrates it's 40th anniversary this year. In this WSJ article the first Weezer album that I recorded and mixed is featured as one of the records made there.
Electric Lady will always be a special place for me. I made a lot of records there. Former studio manager Mary Campbell introduced me to Ric Ocasek which was a significant turn of events for my career. Lee Foster the current manager is doing a great job keep the studio current and on the top of the list of great studios. Can't wait to return…
I wrote the draft for this a last year when the imminent release of Neil Young's HiRes PONO player was all over the interwebs. I didn't want to throw more fuel on the fire that was raging about the importance of HiRes Audio so I sat on it for a bit. This is just my two cents on the matter.
Lest you come away thinking that I don't think fidelity matters, rest assured I do; I am a recording engineer after all.
Quite a few friends of mine are champions of high sample rate playback: MP3s are verboten, 16 bit / 44.1k files are the barely acceptable, and Neil Young's PONO player is going to save music quality. Being an audio professional this should be no surprise - that is our job: to produce high quality recordings for the artist who hire us. Unfortunately, once we deliver the finished masters to our clients we relinquish all control of the final delivery format. An artist wants to reach as wide an audience as possible and to that end the lowly MP3 winds up being the de facto digital delivery medium. Yes, the physical CD has a better quality bit/sample rate but for the past few years the MP3 has vastly outpaced the CD (I won't even bother delving into the mysteries of streaming services since most of them obfuscate the quality of the stream you are listening to).
I've had hundreds of conversations with my audio peers on this subject (both on and offline) and while we bemoan the death of audio fidelity and how it seemingly negates all of the painstaking work we do to make great sounding records I increasingly feel like we are missing the greater point: the average music fan doesn't care. And this is where I sometimes break ranks with my audio friends.
You can point to studies regarding the dynamic range and frequency response of any format and argue their merits but in the long run I have always felt that the focus should always be about the music, not the medium. The incredible thing about music (and most forms of artistic expression) is how it strikes an emotional chord with the listener. Much like internet hashtags, every major moment in my life - my first kiss, the death of a loved one, etc - has a song associated with it (In this example, embarrassingly enough, The Fixx's "Red Skies" and Rush's "Subdivisions"). Whenever I hear these songs I'm transported to these moments from my past with an almost technicolor vividness. I'm in my parents house, my hand fumbling clumsily over my girlfriend's shirt, in my bedroom sobbing after hearing a beloved cousin has passed away. When I hear these songs as MP3s am I thinking "man, where has the top end gone?" (maybe), or "wow, could the mixer really limit that mix any harder?" (perhaps), or more importantly "I'm gonna interrupt reliving this memory right now so I can find a better format to listen to because that will make this experience *that* much better"? (most definitely not).
Sweet nothings from a loved one will resonate with you if it was written as an email, a handwritten note, whispered in your ear, or sent as smoke signals from a mountain five miles away. When a young child scrawls "I LUV YOU DADY" with crayon on piece of brown paper torn from a grocery bag are you going to criticize her penmanship, lack of spelling capabilities, and poor choice of stationary? Of course not. If a consumer is moved by a song she heard on Spotify hasn't the artist's intent been realized? It'd be hard to say no.
In an odd way, audio imperfections have been an integral part of my musical / emotional life. I got a copy of the Beatles' White Album in the late 70s when most major labels were pressing LPs on cheap, thin vinyl. The spindle hole was cut slight off center on the first disk and everything had this slow, fluctuating pitch to it. What I remember most was that the last chorus of "Julia" had a skip - "so I sing this song of love for Juuu - tick - uuuuu- tick - uuuuu- tick - uuuuu- tick - lia". To this day I can't hear that song without that skip and a visualization of me walking up to my Dad's turntable to gently tap the side to get past it. When I got my first tape recorder I used to make mix tapes by playing records (with the mono button engaged on the receiver) and putting a mic in front of the speaker. So many songs of the 70s in my head are peppered with various ambient sounds from around the house that spilled into the mic; my sister talking, doorbells, phone rings. More recently, when Rage Against the Machine released their covers album "Renegades" a friend gave me a copy on a CD-R. I ripped it to my iPod and had it on heavy rotation for a few months as I commuted on the subway. I was seriously impressed with Rich Costy's mixes - they were powerful and just full of grit and saturation. Bold. Crunchy. Raw. Come to find out that my friend had gotten the record from a torrent (128kb no less), then ripped it to a CD-R which I then unwittingly re-ripped to mp3. (I'm sure a few friends have just spit their coffee reading that). I've since bought an official label release but deep down I still prefer my extreme lo-fi version.
So I guess this is the point in the conversation where audio purists (sorry to use such a generic, condescending sounding term) will chime in with their argument: "but shouldn't a listener's first experience with a song be at the greatest fidelity possible so that they hear the artists true intention"? I wholeheartedly agree but unfortunately it is rarely possible given how hard it is to obtain Hi-Res files let alone getting people to pay for them. Should a person's first experience with Van Gogh's "Starry Night" be only at MoMA where it now hangs? I don't thinks so. I saw it in countless books and magazines growing up until I finally gazed on it in person. I almost cried when I did. It was beautiful. But it was surprisingly smaller than I imagined. In my head it is a huge landscape the edges of which you can't see if you're two feet in front of it. That sense of size and proportion was conveyed even in grainy pictures in magazines and textbooks. Even though those pictures were horrible the beauty of the painting was staggeringly obvious. Would you rather have people not be allowed to see it unless they made the journey to New York to see it at MoMA? How unenriched peoples lives would be if that were the case. Fortunately after seeing a beautiful piece of art in a poorly rendered photograph people will almost always want to see it in person and most likely the experience will be greater than what they expected.
Much like fine art, a musician can't completely control how an audience will first encounter his or her's work. You might hear a song for the first time on the radio, streaming service, in a scene of a movie or television show all of which compared to studio or Hi-Res playback are substandard conditions; yet the listener will make a connection to the music in some way or another and assign some kind value to it - audio fidelity is almost inconsequential. Play a song to an average person on a great audio system and they will be blown away by how good it sounds but that is not what will make them buy the record. The song itself is what sticks. The auditory experience is something completely different. As a kid my dad's music system was a mono HeathKit pre amp and amplifier connected to a JBL cabinet with Klipsh components (I'd kill to have that in my possession now) but he replaced it with a stereo system made by Lafayette (the precursor to RadioShack) after hearing his first stereo playback of "Listen to the Music" by the Doobie Brothers. The first guitar starts in the right speaker followed a bar later with another in the left. A bar later the drums execute a tom fill that pans from one speaker to the other and the band comes in in glorious stereo. In 1972, to a person who listened to jazz in mono all his life this was truly amazing. My dad played that record for days on end to anyone who'd listen but it wasn't until a couple of days later that he realized he wasn't that impressed with the song. With a shrug of his shoulders he'd say "but it's pretty cool sounding, listen to that !". I feel the same way about most CGI driven movies I see today - all style and no substance.
So in a roundabout way that's how I feel about Hi-Res recording ; unless there's substance to the song, the recording is of no consequence. I've never heard anyone gush about a technically great recording of a bad song or performance. A great recording falls flat without a great song/performance but a great performance/song trumps a bad recording every time. Most of the world's most beloved songs were recorded with technically substandard equipment but that never invalidated the performance. As a producer / engineer / mixer capturing the performance is all that really matters. I'll always use the best gear I can find to do it with and take as much time as possible to set up and make adjustments to achieve this end but I will always stop short of getting in the way of the magic that happens when gifted musicians breathe the same air and play together in a common space. As audio professionals we relish getting compliments from our peers for the work we do but it should never be the only reason why we do what we do. Our sole job is to capture the artist at his best - sample rates and bit depth be damned. On the consumer level we should try as hard as we can to expose high quality audio to as many people as possible but it won't make everyone run out and buy a PONO. They'll be impressed and nod their head in agreement "wow, that sounds great!" but most people will be happy with an MP3. People just want to hear the song they want to be transported emotionally to another place; the vehicle that gets them there is secondary. A Porche is a great car but if all you want is a car to commute with then it's a bit overkill.
So let's ease people into the concept that the music they are listening to can sound better without having to fork over hundreds of dollars on a new playback system. How about at least convincing people to try simple uncompressed 16 bit audio? Music players have much more capacity now then they did 10 years ago. You can easily fit 20 or so records on an iPod this way and the bandwidth is in place to deliver music in this format on a large scale. The problem I have with Hi-Res enthusiasts is this "all the way or nothing", "96k or bust" attitude. Consider that this is is also coming from a generation of people who grew up in their formative, taste making years listening to music on cassettes and Walkmen; the standard for portable music listening and copying at the time. Compared to cassettes, MP3s arguably sound like reference masters (I'll duck behind this table now until the smoke clears from saying this). I'd argue that the kids today have it better than we ever did.
I did this remix for King 810 and the video was just released.
The original mix was very sparse so I added quite a bit to it: keys, drums, loops, gtrs, kitchen sink. Most of the comments on the YouTube page are from people who think this is better than the album version. I'm pretty happy with the way it came out.
Let me know what you think…
I did a couple of phone interviews with Tim Grierson for this book last year. It was published a couple of weeks ago and I just got my copy today. I was pretty surprised at how much material from those interviews he used.
It's pretty tricky doing things like this because quotes can be taken out of context in order to sound more provocative than they really are in order to fit an author's agenda. Fortunately, Tim did a good job here which was a huge relief. I have nothing but respect and love for these guys and I owe much of my career to my association with them.
Overall, this is a good read and I'd recommend it…