David Paich's ATS

Jul 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By Gary Eskow



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You grow up in Los Angeles the son of a widely respected jazz piano player and successful arranger, start grabbing for the keyboard before you're even tall enough to look down on it and join a band with some high school classmates. Soon, you're in one of the most popular rock groups in the world. Not a bad bio, but for David Paich, a principal architect of the Toto sound, it's not quite enough. Paich, who wrote or co-wrote many of the band's hits, including “Rosanna,” “Hold the Line” and “Africa,” has partnered with Boz Scaggs (he co-wrote the classic “Lowdown”) and played on sessions for other artists, including Bryan Adams (“Please Forgive Me”) and Cheryl Lynn (“Got to be Real”). These days, he is spending a lot of time in his recording studio in Calabasas, Calif.

David Paich

Much of the pre-production on Toto's new self-produced album, Falling In Between, took place at ATS, the project studio that is across the street from Paich's home. “In 1998, I converted what had been a five-car garage into a studio,” says Paich. “I wanted to have a place to write songs and record overdubs for Toto.”

Paich hired studio designer Frank Latouf to help put his room together. “Frank's one of the best in L.A. He worked on Lion's Share, Babyface's studio, and lots of other rooms,” Paich says. A 16×16 Pro Tools HD system feeding three 24-bit Yamaha 02R boards comprise the mix room's backbone. “The 02Rs have been great, but I'll probably move over to a ProControl at some time. Obviously, more and more is taking place inside the computer.”

Rick Ruggiero tuned the studio, which features Doug Sax's Mastering Labs monitors and a pair of Tannoy Big Reds. “I still have some great hardware processors — Fairchild and API are among those that I lean on the most — but I'm a real fan of plug-ins,” says Paich. “The Sony Oxford compressor/limiter is amazing. I was really influenced by something George Massenburg said: Analog likes to marry with digital. If you record digital, make sure you get some analog processing into the chain and vice versa. At least that's what I think he was saying!”

John Jessel has been Paich's personal engineer and studio manager for nearly two decades, and has worked the desk when some of Toto's biggest hits were being mixed. “Dave has me on salary to take care of and manage his studio,” says Jessel. “I make sure that all of his computers are in shape and that his software — including Cubase SX 3, his DAW — is up to date. Dave records all audio and MIDI into Cubase, but he also has a Pro Tools rig.” Jessel adds that he's very interested in the new Vienna Symphonic Library platform. “Dave does a lot of orchestral composing, and the new interface looks like a major improvement.

“Dave wanted his current room to have a look and feel similar to The Manor, his old studio in Sherman Oaks [Calif.] that was flattened in the '94 earthquake,” adds Jessel. “Afterward, when we went back inside, we found that his 5,000-pound API console had been displaced to the other side of the room. Fortunately, we were able to salvage some equipment from the old studio, including Dave's old Mastering Lab 605 and Big Red monitors. All of the mixes we do here translate effectively into other environments. We set the Big Reds flush into the front of his studio, which is all rock. We didn't do anything intense to treat this beautiful teak wood room, just a bit of padding here and there.”

The team built one huge patchbay that includes all of the studio's computers, Pro Tools rigs and MOTU MTP AV-4 MIDI interface. “Dave also has kept a bunch of classic keyboards because he likes the way these older pieces act as controllers,” says Jessel. “We also set up a pair of Mackie speakers close to his main keyboard controller — Dave recently switched from an old Yamaha KX88 to the Yamaha PF200 — to create a stereo field he can reference as he's playing. We monitor through a variety of speakers while we're mixing, including NS-10s, some small KRKs and a pair of Genelecs. Everything goes through a pair of Fairchild 1011s. The Fairchilds warm things up with that old-fashioned tube sound, but we use just a smidge of them — you can't overdo it!

“We're going to be moving over to the Digidesign ICON platform,” he continues. “Dave likes me to set up a series of palettes that he can call up easily; stereo brass will be on two faders, percussion on several others, for example. From there, Dave can mix by himself. Everyone who comes here loves the vibe. The place is very warm and inviting, and the studio is low-key but technically state of the art. It's a great place for people to hang out and write in.”

Gary Eskow is a contributing editor to Mix.

Check out how David Paich recorded the latest Toto album

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