Remote Recording | Shifting Gears

Feb 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Sarah Jones



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The Value of Experience

In the remote world, just like in the studio world, mere access to equipment simply isn't enough; talent and expertise matter most. “Generally speaking, people who hire us aren't interested in the gear; they hire us for us,” says Dan Childers, an engineer at Austin's MediaTech, who has worked many Austin City Limits festivals and engineered live recordings for the likes of the Allman Brothers, the Black Crowes and Buddy Guy. “It may be that we've lost some work to some cheaper flight-pack guys, but people know what we do, and we do a good job: Everything's organized, everything runs smooth from their perspective. And that's what we sell; we don't really sell cheap prices.”

Adds Singer: “Equipment doesn't make you a remote facility — people make you a remote facility. You could put a $600 console in front of my guys, and it would be totally different than putting $1 million console in front of another guy,” Singer continues. “It's that old Eddie Van Halen thing: Just because you pick up Eddie's guitar doesn't mean you play like Van Halen. He can pick up your guitar and still be Van Halen.”

And like studio projects, remote productions are collaborative efforts. “There's a saying on the road that ‘the show is that little inconvenience between the load-in and the load-out,” says Hewitt. “There is so much more to a successful live recording than just showing up and moving faders. The pre-production and logistics can be very daunting: Communicating and interfacing with sound reinforcement, touring production, video production and venue production are all vital. In this era of staff and budget cuts, this work is often left undone and the whole production suffers for it.”

Beyond Capture

Remote facilities are re-evaluating their role in the production model, and adapting workflow to smaller budgets at every level, from operating additional trucks in different regions down to sending one fewer tech to a local gig.

“The M3 truck was built for large-scale teleproductions but with high-quality audio in mind,” says Singer. “We've adapted with smaller systems and flight pack systems, and things that are more cost-effective for straight capture where [clients] know that they need to save money on the front end so that they can spend more on mixing.” Singer says that's where workflow comes in. “I'll give you an example: Jay and John were doing the Rock Hall concerts at Madison Square Garden and we needed to record the Foo Fighters at Sony Studios in L.A., so we took our M3 West truck there. I captured it for Jay, and I used the Jay plug-ins and the Jay method of doing things, and dialed it up for the live cut that night, brought it back to Jay and it was 70 percent done. Jay edited it, and it saved a day-and-a-half or two days of what might have been the final mixing, which saved on the budget for them.”

Analog Sound, Digital Functionality

The Design FX truck, which generally handles music gigs, gets regular calls for its vintage API console. “Broadcast has kind of turned into a whole other field of remote recording, especially when it comes to shows like the Grammys, Billboard Music Awards, these multiband shows,” says Peets. “With digital consoles, you can set them up, do your soundcheck and store them, so when you've got 13 bands in a show, you're not dialing up your EQs and preamps manually — just hit a button and recall. That's the advantage of a digital console, whereas having an API, it's more of a sonic quality that you're going for.”

At Remote Recording, the original “Silver” Neve-based truck is called into service as often as its newer “Polar Express” truck, which is based around Yamaha DM2000s. “I still have a good share of clients who want analog front end,” says Brinton. “For something that's a one-artist show, I think that's very appropriate. We still record to Pro Tools or Nuendo or whatever their format of choice is, but they like having it go in analog.”

McAllister, who expanded business with a compact all-digital truck in 2007, had the opposite experience. “My API truck went out four times last year,” he says. “My thought was I would [use] my classic analog truck for people where quality really mattered. The bottom line is, that doesn't really matter these days. My digital [DM2000-based] truck is the truck that's working all of the time now. Especially for multiple acts, you need the recall capability.”

Dan Childers of MediaTech works for music clients 
including the annual Austin City Limits festival.

Dan Childers of MediaTech works for music clients including the annual Austin City Limits festival.

Childers says he's pushing the limits of MediaTech's Dallas Sound Lab remote truck. “It's got an old Soundcraft board that sounds great, but it's a little bit long in the tooth; it can't really keep up with the technological demands,” he says. “People want instant recallability, super-fast turnover from one band to another.” Childers adds that speed of delivery is a challenge. “Like with Hank Neuberger's Third Wave Productions, where an audience can go see a festival, see a band, and maybe by the time they get home download the show.”

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