L.A. Grapevine

Jun 1, 2001 12:00 PM, by Maureen Droney


Education Guide

Mix is gearing up to present its longstanding annual Audio Education Guide in its November 2014 issue. Want to have your school listed in the directory, or do you need to update your current directory listing? Add an image, program description, or a logo to your listing! Get your school in the Mix Education Guide 2014.

Over at Future Disc Systems, they've found that cutting across the spectrum can be a successful business strategy. Chief mastering engineer Steve Hall continues to work on stereo hits for artists such as Sisqo, Babyface, Lionel Richie, Jill Sobule and Green Day (whose Platinum HDCD Nimrod was mastered by Hall), while also venturing seriously into surround, with projects under his belt for the prestigious Pioneer Classics Series, as well as for Earth, Wind & Fire, Deep Purple's classic Machine Head DVD-A reissue, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Rhino's Brain Salad Surgery DVD-A). Down the hall, in response to client demand, a DVD authoring suite staffed by Dave Conrad has been set up for audio and video encoding. Meanwhile, Future Disc's vinyl department has been going non-stop, with vinyl expert Kevin Gray working his custom Class-A Neumann/Zuma disc cutter for both audiophile reissues by artists such as The Eagles, Al Green and Elvis Presley and 12-inch club mixes for Madonna, Cher, Ricky Martin and William Orbit.

There's more. Mastering engineer Kris Solem has kept busy with projects such as Master P and Enrique Iglesias, and engineer Pete Thomas has been specializing in edits, both clean and radio, for artists from Mötley Crüe to Snoop Dogg.

Hall, whose highly customized suite is set up for 5.1 surround, is staring to become known for helping make surround mixes sound natural. His tools include a custom Class-A console, Manley and GML EQs, Pacific Microsonics HDCD converters, a Weiss digital console and Sonic Solutions.

He's particularly proud of the work he did on the surround re-mastering of Earth, Wind & Fire's Gratitude. The project, which was remixed by Paul Klingberg, looks to be one of Sony's first DVD-Audio releases. “Paul mixed from baked original 24-track tapes at Kalimba Studios with [EWF leader] Maurice White,” he explains. “One reason it was great to work on it is that Paul has become a genius at the center channel and how it should be used. So many people don't use it, but the way Paul does has made me a believer in it, because it totally anchors the front image.”

Once the EWF masters arrived at Future Disc, Hall did some fine-tuning and enhancing, mainly using a TC Electronic 6000 and cutting 88k, 24-bit, 6-channel. “We panned the back to the front sides a little bit to make it feel more like you were in the audience,” he notes. “A lot of the guys that started going from 2-channel to surround make a division between the front and the back. But the idea that the space is really circular is something that people are starting to experiment with, and in this case, it worked really well. We also used a ‘concrete parking garage’ program that's in the TC's surround environment, which was great, because it gave us a more cohesive environment and opened it up into an arena. The result is a really great concert experience.”

Another surround project that's been ongoing at Future Disc is mastering and authoring for a classical series recorded in premier European acoustic environments and released on the Pioneer Classics label in association with the production company Media Hyperium.

“I believe they were recorded for the BBC originally, some of them 10 or 15 years ago,” Hall comments. “They come to us on Digibeta, we clean them up and de-noise, then we blow them out to 5.1. It's been very effective, and we've gotten some very gratifying reviews.”

Some of Hall's tools for stereo to 5.1 expansion are made by AMG. He also makes heavy use of TC Electronic's TC 5000 and 6000.

“I went to the AMG world Website and read up on ambisonic recordings,” he says, “then got one of AMG's boxes. It creates a phenomenal center channel where, basically, the sweet spot is as wide as your left and right speakers. You don't have to be right dead center to hear the whole front image.

“Working in surround has definitely been a challenge,” he states a bit ruefully, “because the tools to do this aren't all intact. It's like bits and pieces of equipment that you have to try to get to work together. I'm hoping things progress rapidly and new technology comes out that makes life easier for multichannel mastering.”

Studio 7, the DVD authoring suite, came into being because of client requests. “The DVD process is complex,” Hall notes. “When a project gets loaded and/or modified by several engineers in facilities with different systems, it can cause errors and degradation. Preparation of a final DVD master should really be done at the mastering level, where they can retain the best possible quality.”

About DVD-Audio in general, Hall comments: “It's starting to take off. It's been a slow start, partly because the labels really have to commit to it for it to succeed. And with all the new media transitions going on — all these formats and technologies coming at the same time — they've had their hands full. But it's obvious to anyone who has heard good surround mixes that it's going to happen. There's just no going back.”

Downtown on North Main Street, in the artists' loft community known as The Brewery, three enterprising young engineer/musicians have set up a “weekend-run” recording facility dubbed Blue Ribbon Studios.

Partners Kent Verderico, Nathan Smith and Jeff Champlin, who met while studying recording at USC, took over the 1,800-square-foot live/workspace a year ago. The trio then proceeded to lie out some major sweat equity enlarging the control room to over twice the original size and improving the existing tracking space.

Downtown is not the first place most Angelenos in the music business think of for a recording studio location. But USC is downtown-close, so the partners were familiar with the area. And, during their hunt for studio space, they found the price at The Brewery to be right. Actually, getting into a space there was a stroke of luck, because, in consideration of the graphic artists who dominate the building's population, only five of the lofts are designated to be recording studios.

“It was pretty seedy when we moved in,” comments Verderico, while taking a break from setting up for the weekend's session. “There had been this kind of gothic, punk band living here and rehearsing, and there was a small studio. We took over and worked every weekend for nine months to build it out.”

Now, Blue Ribbon is equipped with a DDA AMR-24 console that was previously housed at Santa Monica's busy AdMusic, where Verderico spends weekdays working as an assistant engineer and studio tech. (All three partners have industry-related “day” jobs, hence the description “weekend-run” studio.)

“It's a British board that's had a lot of modifications done on it by AdMusic,” he says. “It has a custom Class-A API stereo bus, and it's retrofitted with Uptown moving fader automation.”

Blue Ribbon offers a Pro Tools 5.1 system, as well as 24 tracks of hard disk recording using three E-mu Darwins, which clients can transfer to ADAT or Pro Tools if necessary. Verderico, who spent some time working for E-mu, is a fan of the rather esoteric Darwins. “These came out in '95, and were totally state-of-the-art,” he explains. “They basically had then what Mackie and Tascam have just come out with. They were so cutting edge then, and, personally, I think they still are. The sound quality and the craftsmanship were really well done.”

For those who must have analog, there is also a Soundcraft 24-track 760 recorder. “If nothing else, it looks cool,” laughs Verderico.

Smith, meanwhile, is a Pro Tools fan, as well as a computer maven, and has modified his Macintosh G4 laptop with a Magma CB2 expansion bay that allows him to run up to 32 tracks of Pro Tools on it. “Digidesign doesn't officially support Pro Tools for laptops,” he notes. “But this has been pretty reliable. And it's very cool, because if I record a band at the studio and then need to grab a vocal or a guitar track somewhere else, I can do it with just my laptop. The ideal is, if you're on a trip and you want to mix on the airplane, you can do that too.

“Another reason I like using the laptop for live recordings in different locations,” he continues, “is that, besides convenience and the use of multiple inputs, with Pro Tools, there are plug-ins with great analyzers such as Spectra Foo and Waves. I can go into a hall where I'm going to work and do a whole room analysis from each microphone — reverb time, phase, frequency response and just about anything else I could ask for.”

That kind of creative approach to equipment is one of Blue Ribbon's strong points. Another is the goal of taking a very personal approach with each client. To that end, Champlin and Verderico, who have worked together on several albums as well as soundtracks and demos, often find themselves serving as an in-house production team for Blue Ribbon projects.

“We're just getting started,” Verderico comments, “working with bands doing demos or making their own CDs and doing voice-overs. We've also done some commercials and independent film score work; we have picture and SMPTE capability, so we can do things that require locking picture and sound. We're into pretty much whatever comes along.”

Monitoring at Blue Ribbon is on Tannoys and NHT M10s with custom Thomas “Beno” May passive crossovers. Outboard gear includes Alesis, Lexicon and Yamaha effects, a Demeter tube mic pre and Apogee Rosetta 24-bit A/D conversion. Instrument-wise, Blue Ribbon's recording space is home to a Hammond T-200 organ with a built-in Leslie, a Hohner Clavinet D6, a Fender Rhodes 88 and various guitar amps.

A plus to recording at a studio in what has been called the largest artists' community in the country? Barbara's, The Brewery's hip, on-site restaurant, featuring 12 different beers on tap and the potential for a David Hockney or other artist-type celebrity sighting. Hey, it's L.A. — you never know.

Send your L.A. news to Msmdk@aol.com.

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