L.A. GRAPEVINE

Mar 1, 2002 12:00 PM, by Maureen Droney

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Friends in one room, The Drew Carey Show in another: It's a typical busy afternoon at Merelyn Davis Music, the award-winning, North Hollywood-based editorial house. In business for nine years, the boutique operation has handled music editing for Friends since the show's debut in 1994, Drew Carey since '96, and, along the way, has also managed to fit in seasons of Veronica's Closet, Norm and Jesse, among other shows.

Editors Merelyn Davis, Gerry Rothschild and Sue Eller, along with office manager/clearance specialist Renee Bartlett, are a close-knit bunch. Together since '94, they've developed the kind of rapport and shorthand communication skills that enable them to cheerfully turn out high volume on a tight schedule. With 24 new episodes of Friends per year, 22 of Drew Carey, plus re-edited home video versions of current and past seasons of Friends, MDM is definitely into maximizing efficiency, a fact that's immediately apparent from the company's offices' organized, no-nonsense look.

Although all three editors are familiar with and work on each show, the labor is basically divided up with Davis on Drew and Rothschild on the current season of Friends. Eller, meanwhile, is deep into Friends of seasons past; on the day I stopped in, she was reconforming season three for home video and DVD: re-editing music to match the enhanced versions of each episode, which have commercials removed and footage added.

Friends and Drew each use a single composer (Michael Skloff on Friends and W. G. “Snuffy” Walden on Drew) who records cues with a regular complement of musicians. Both shows are also dubbed by the same mixer, Charlie McDaniel, on Dub 8 at the nearby Warner Bros. lot. And on both of these long-running hits, instead of writing specifically for an episode, the composers turn out batches of variously styled music, from which MDM tracks each show.

“We tell them what we need, sort of like a Christmas wish list,” says Davis with a laugh. “And then we get four or five big library sessions a year from them — a big ‘glurp’ of cues — which we'll put into Pro Tools. Of course, for Friends, after eight years we've amassed a large library. But the style of the show changes, and that limits what we can use from the library in any given season. For example, the style now is that cues have been getting shorter and shorter, and they're using less exteriors.”

All three editors have music degrees, and Davis and Rothschild both have a background in scoring from library music — notably on HBO's groundbreaking quirky Dream On, which was nominated twice for an MPSE (Motion Picture Sound Editors) award. “That was a challenge,” Davis comments. “Except for the main title by Michael Skloff, there was no music written for the show at all. We used our libraries, and it was hard work.”

MDM's main editing room is fitted with a Mackie 24-channel, 8-bus console, Pro Tools 5.0.1 running on a Power Mac G4 with a MOTU Micro Express interface, and IBM Ultrastar 9.1GB hard drives. Monitoring is on KRK Rokits for near-field, and — perhaps surprisingly — UREI Model 829 Time-Aligns for mains. “We love the UREIs,” says Rothschild. “You can hear things on them that you cannot hear on close monitoring. We use them to check each show, because you definitely don't want to be caught on the stage hearing something for the first time.”

While most music now arrives at MDM on CD, multiple formats still show up, from DA-88, ADAT and DAT, to hard drives with a wide array of software incarnations. “It's the plight of the music editor right now,” says Davis. “It's tricky with software and systems and formats all over the place.”

For dubbing, Rothschild and Davis carry a hard drive to the stage with the current episode's, music on it, along with — just in case — the entire music library of each show. (Isn't digital wonderful?) The number of tracks delivered to the stage varies. On Friends, the dubbing stage has eight tracks dedicated to music, but for certain episodes, Rothschild might go 25 tracks wide, making for some muting and unmuting at his onstage Pro Tools station. And, according to Davis, for this year's Drew Carey season opener, music was 30 tracks wide.

“Drew is famous now for his musical numbers,” Davis comments. “The season premiere had five music video-type segments, with guest artists recorded live on the stage at Warner. We got DA-88s with multiple tracks and multiple takes. The picture editor did his thing, then we ended up doing — virtually — music video, synching everything in post. You're cutting between four takes, but it has to look like one, and some cuts might be as small as a second long. It was quite a production.

“In general,” she continues, “we deal in half seconds to three seconds. People don't realize what you can do in that amount of time. Each bit has to have a mood; some of them even change from one side to the other — say if a scene goes out laughing and then comes back solemn. There are all kinds of things you can do in a second!

“All three of us are musicians with degrees in music and that helps us understand and speak the language. We can talk ‘dominant’ and ‘subdominant’ or say ‘less on the tonic’ when we need to. I describe us as the people who translate back and forth between the producer, the composer and what we hear on the stage.”

“When it comes to music editing,” concludes Eller, “no news is good news. If people can hear what we did, then we didn't do it right. If you've done your job well, it's very low-key and no one notices. It's when they say, ‘I hate that piece, what else do you have?’ that you have to spring into action.”

“Onward and upward” is the motto over at Ameraycan/Paramount where owners Adam Beilenson and Michael Kerns just keep on truckin'. Latest developments at the dual-location facility include a total redo of Ameraycan's Studio B, including the installation of an 80-input SSL G plus console.

Ameraycan, on Lankershim Boulevard in the NoHo Arts District, is the Valley branch of the business (Paramount is in Hollywood at Santa Monica and Vine), purchased by Beilenson and Kerns last year from its original owner, artist/producer Ray Parker, Jr.

“We redid the room as a first-year anniversary present to ourselves,” explains Kerns. “We didn't think it was a good financial move to renovate right when we moved in, but 2001 — at least up until September — was a good year, so we decided to go for it.”

The remodel was extensive, with the room first stripped to its soundproof shell, then rebuilt to a design by Waterland's Vincent Van Haaff. In an unusual move, acoustician and room-tuning specialist Steve “Coco” Brandon was called in from the get-go to consult along with Van Haaff.

“It was something different for them,” says Beilenson. “Vincent is great, from his design to his cost and his willingness to listen. We've always admired his rooms. Coco has been tuning this room since it was built in 1979; he knows everything about it. It was great to have the two points of view, and I think they got a kick from working with each other.”

Studio B's new look is clean, simple and ergonomical, featuring granite flooring and an extensive use of maple — both on the walls and in the custom studio furniture built by Larry Jackson. “One of the things we liked about this facility originally was its solid construction,” notes Beilenson. “That's a tribute to Jack Edwards, the original designer. The structure itself was very sound; what we did was enhance it.”

The 4080 G Plus SSL, with E Series EQ and Ultimation, came from Miami's Hit Factory/Criteria Studios, where it was most recently used by engineer/producer Bruce Swedien to record Michael Jackson.

“Obviously, the console was a difficult decision,” says Beilenson. “We talked to a lot of people, from producer/engineers like Rob Chiarelli, Darryl Swann and Rick Will, to producer/managers. At first we were asking if we had to get a J Series SSL, because, although that will probably be our next step, it's a big one. But later, when we asked people if we should take the step to a G Plus first, the answer was a resounding ‘yes.’”

During construction, the control room's front wall was reinforced. It now houses George Augspurger mains fitted with TAD drivers, Emilar horns and JBL Super Tweeters, along with two JBL subwoofers. Cosmetic upgrades, including new lighting, were made to B's recording area, and space for a private, skylit lounge was carved out of what had originally been Ameraycan's large lobby. A separate machine room was built to house Studio B's two Studer A827 multitracks, which complement a Pro Tools MIXplus 24 system.

“Some studios are eliminating their analog multitracks,” says Kerns, “but that may be premature. We still get a lot of people using them for some part of the project. Technology is only one part of the music-recording business; the other part is about what appeals to the ear, like vintage mics and analog tape. You need both right now. That's tough for studios, to have techs who can keep both technologies going. It's the same with microphones and outboard gear; you have to have vintage and new.”

Gear recently added to Studio B's already extensive list includes Distressors, Pultecs and Avalon compression and EQ. Also new in the room is an innovation designed by Paramount/Ameraycan chief engineer Tom Doty: a custom SSL/Pro Tools transport interface that permits an SSL G Series computer to control Pro Tools transport functions during mixdown. Dubbed the “G-Link,” the one-rackspace device is, according to Doty, “quite transparent” in operation, allowing for “rewind” speeds comparable to those of a hard disk. (As G users know, without adaptation they must run an analog machine in tandem with Pro Tools to have transport, even if the analog isn't being used. Can you spell S-L-O-W?)

Cosmetic refurbishing has also gone on in the rest of the Ameraycan facility. Studio A, which houses a 56-input SSL G console (soon to become a 72-in with the addition of 16 modules left over from Studio B's installation) and a second G-Link interface, now also boasts a newly decorated and more private lounge. New gear added to A includes Distressors, more LA-2As, a Manley Variable Mu Stereo compressor and two pairs of dbx 160VUs.

Got L.A. news? E-mail MsMDK@aol.com.






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