Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Death Of High Fidelity

The Death of High Fidelity
Appeared on Rolling Stone issue 1042/1043 (Dec. 27, 2007 - Jan. 10, 2008), the following is an article I agree with completely.

The Death of High Fidelity
In the age of MP3s, sound quality is worse than ever
By Robert Levine
David Bendeth, a producer who works with rock bands like Hawthorne Heights and Paramore, knows that the albums he makes are often played through tiny computer speakers by fans who are busy surfing the Internet. So he’s not surprised when record labels ask the mastering engineers who work on his CDs to crank up the sound levels so high that even the soft parts sound loud.
Over the past decade and a half, a revolution in recording technology has changed the way albums are produced, mixed and mastered -almost always for the worse. “They make it loud to get [listeners’] attention,” Bendeth says. Engineers do that by applying dynamic range compression, which reduces the difference between the loudest and softest sounds in a song. Like many of his peers, Bendeth believes that relying too much on this effect can obscure sonic detail, rob music of its emotional power and leave listeners with what engineers call ear fatigue.
“I think most everything is mastered a little too loud,” Bendeth says. “The industry decided that it’s a volume contest.” Producers and engineers call this “the loudness war,” and it has changed the way almost every new pop and rock album sounds. But volume isn’t the only issue. Computer programs like Pro Tools, which let audio engineers manipulate sound the way a word processor edits text, make musicians sound unnaturally perfect. And today’s listeners consume an increasing amount of music on MP3, which eliminates much of the data from the original CD file and can leave music sounding tinny or hollow. “With all the technical innovation, music sounds worse,” says Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, who has made what are considered some of the best-sounding records of all time. “God is in the details. But there are no details anymore.”
The idea that engineers make albums louder might seem strange: Isn’t volume controlled by that knob on the stereo? Yes, but every setting on that dial delivers a range of loudness, from a hushed vocal to a kick drum - and pushing sounds toward the top of that range makes music seem louder. It’s the same technique used to make television commercials stand out from shows. And it does grab listeners’ attention - but at a price. Last year, Bob Dylan told ROLLING STONE that modern albums “have sound all over them. There’s no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like - static.” In 2004, Jeff Buckley’s mom, Mary Guibert, listened to the original 3/4″ tape of her son’s recordings as she was preparing the tenth-anniversary reissue of Grace. “We were hearing instruments you’ve never heard on that album, like finger cymbals and the sound of viola strings being plucked,” she remembers. “It blew me away because it was exactly what he heard in the studio.”
To Guibert’s disappointment, the remastered 2004 version failed to capture these details. So last year, when Guibert assembled the best-of collection So Real: Songs From Jeff Buckley, she insisted on an independent A&R consultant to oversee the reissue process and a mastering engineer who would reproduce the sound Buckley made in the studio. “You can hear the distinct instruments and the sound of the room,” she says of the new release. “Compression smudges things together.” Too much compression can be heard as musical clutter; on the Arctic Monkeys’ debut, the band never seems to pause to catch its breath. By maintaining constant intensity, the album flattens out the emotional peaks that usually stand out in a song. “You lose the power of the chorus, because it’s not louder than the verses,” Bendeth says. “You lose emotion.” The inner ear automatically compresses blasts of high volume to protect itself, so we associate compression with loudness, says Daniel Levitin, a professor of music and neuroscience at McGill University and author of ‘This Is Your Brain on Music: ‘The Science of a Human Obsession. Human brains have evolved to pay particular attention to loud nQises, so compressed sounds initially seem more exciting. But the effect doesn’t last. “The excitement in music comes from variation in rhythm, timbre, pitch and loudness,” Levitin says. “If you hold one of those constant, it can seem monotonous.” After a few minutes, research shows, constant loudness grows fatiguing to the brain. Though few listeners realize this consciously, many feel an urge to skip to another song. “If you limit range, it’s just an assault on the body,” says Tom Coyne, a mastering engineer who has worked with Mary J. Blige and Nas. “When you’re fifteen, it’s the greatest thing - you’re being hammered. But do you want that on a whole album?”
To an average listener, a wide dynamic range creates a sense of spaciousness and makes it easier to pick out individual instruments - as you can hear on recent albums such as Dylan’s Modern Times and Norah Jones’ Not Too Late. “When people have the courage and the vision to do a record that way, it sets them apart,” says Joe Boyd, who produced albums by Richard Thompson and R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction. “It sounds warm, it sounds three-dimensional, it sounds different. Analog sound to me is more emotionally affecting.”
Rock and Pop producers have always used compression to balance the sounds of different instruments and to make music sound more exciting, and radio stations apply compression for technical reasons. In the days of vinyl records, there was a physical limit to how high the bass levels could go before the needle skipped a groove. CDs can handle higher levels of loudness, although they, too, have a limit that engineers call “digital zero dB,” above which sounds begin to distort. Pop albums rarely got close to the zero-dB mark until the mid- 1990’s, when digital compressors and limiters, which cut off the peaks of sound waves, made it easier to manipulate loudness levels. Intensely compressed albums like Oasis’ 1995 (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? set a new bar for loudness; the songs were well-suited for bars, cars and other noisy environments. “In the Seventies and Eighties, you were expected to pay attention,” says Matt Serletic, the former chief executive of Virgin Records USA, who also produced albums by Matchbox Twenty and Collective Soul. “Modern music should be able to get your attention.” Adds Rob Cavallo, who produced Green Day’s American Idiot and My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, “It’s a style that started post-grunge, to get that intensity. The idea was to slam someone’s face against the wall. You can set your CD to stun.” It’s not just new music that’s too loud. Many remastered recordings suffer the same problem as engineers apply compression to bring them into line with modern tastes. The new Led Zeppelin collection, Mothership, is louder than the band’s original albums, and Bendeth, who mixed Elvis Presley’s 30 #1 Hits, says that the album was mastered too loud for his taste. “A lot of audiophiles hate that record,” he says, “but people can play it in the car and it’s competitive with the new Foo Fighters record.”
Just as CDs supplanted vinyl and cassettes, MP3 and other digital music formats are quickly replacing CDs as the most popular way to listen to music. That means more convenience but worse sound. To create an MP3, a computer samples the music on a CD and compresses it into a smaller file by excluding the musical information that the human ear is less likely to notice.
Much of the information left out is at the very high and low ends, which is why some MP3s sound flat. Cavallo says that MP3s don’t reproduce reverb well, and the lack of high-end detail makes them sound brittle. Without enough low end, he says, “you don’t get the punch anymore. It decreases the punch of the kick drum and how the speaker gets pushed when the guitarist plays a power chord.” But not all digital music files are created equal. Levitin says that most people find MP3s ripped at a rate above 224 kbps virtually indistinguishable from CDs. (iTunes sells music as either 128 or 256 kbps AAC files -AAC is slightly superior to MP3 at an equivalent bit rate. Amazon sells MP3s at 256 kbps.) Still, “it’s like going to the Louvre and instead of the Mona Lisa there’s a 10 megapixel image of it,” he says. “I always want to listen to music the way the artists wanted me to hear it. I wouldn’t look at a Kandinsky painting with sunglasses on.” Producers also now alter the way they mix albums to compensate for the limitations of MP3 sound. “You have to be aware of how people will hear music, and pretty much everyone is listening to MP3,” says producer Butch Vig, a member of Garbage and the producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind. “Some of the effects get lost. So you sometimes have to over-exaggerate things.”
Other producers believe that intensely compressed CDs make for better MP3s, since the loudness of the music will compensate for the flatness of the digital format. As technological shifts have changed the way sounds are recorded, they have encouraged an artificial perfection in music itself. Analog tape has been replaced in most studios by Pro Tools, making edits that once required splicing tape together easily done with the click of a mouse. Programs like Auto-Tune can make weak singers sound pitch-perfect, and Beat Detective does the same thing for wobbly drummers. “You can make anyone sound professional,” says Mitchell Froom, a producer who’s worked with Elvis Costello and Los Lobos, among others. “But the problem is that you have something that’s professional, but it’s not distinctive. I was talking to a session drummer, and I said, ‘When’s the last time you could tell who the drummer is?’ You can tell Keith Moon or John Bonham, but now they all sound the same.”
So is music doomed to keep sounding worse? Awareness of the problem is growing. The South by Southwest music festival recently featured a panel titled “Why Does Today’s Music Sound Like Shit?” In August, a group of producers and engineers founded an organization called Turn Me Up!, which proposes to put stickers on CDs that meet high sonic standards. But even most CD listeners have lost interest in high-end stereos as surround-sound home theater systems have become more popular, and superior-quality disc formats like DVD-Audio and SACD flopped. Bendeth and other producers worry that young listeners have grown so used to dynamically compressed music and the thin sound of MP3s that the battle has already been lost. “CDs sound better, but no one’s buying them,” he says. “The age of the audiophile is over.”
Get the Most of your iPod.
1. Increase the bit rate: Higher bit rates = better sound. Set your iTunes to rip at 192 kbps, or better - we recommend jacking it all the way to 320. (AustinVegas recommends always 320 for MP3 but you can always rip straight to WMA)
2. Ditch the white earbuds: For an upgrade. try higher-end earphones from Shure. Ultimate Ears or Etymotic. Bonus; fewer muggings! (AV says true that on the muggings!)
3. Don’t re-rip!!! Morality aside, it’s a bad idea to re-rip a CD burned from MP3s - the sound will be noticeably worse. (AV says: Did you ever make a copy of someone elses copy of a cassette tape? Yeah with this is the same concept)
4. Upgrade from MP3: Use iTunes’ AAC format or windows Media Audio . (AV says SKIP! the AAC, it’s proprietary and if you don’t plan on using iPod for life, don’t get stuck with this format, use WMA instead).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fall 2007

Holy Smokes! Another long wait for a blog entry! I've been pretty busy. I have been working lately with Sophia and Emily from Glass Of Water working on a wonderful folk A Capella CD. There women can sing! Producer Rich DePaolo was in a bunch working with local Tamar Haviv working on vocals for a CD that includes Jerry Marotta on drums and Sara Lee and Tony Levin on bass! I'm continuing work with Joe Crookston on what is turning pout to be an amazing collection of fine songs. Joe invited to of my favorite local players Molly MacMillian and Doug Robinson to track piano and bass on a few tracks.
I have also been out on the road with the Sim Redmond Band opening for Donna The Buffalo and having big fun!!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

This Weekend

Hi all,

This weekend should be fun. I work today recording piano and vocals with Tamar Haviv, then it's off to Castaways for an evening with The HorseFlies!

Tomorrow I will work with Joe Crookston tracking new songs with Molly MacMillian on piano and Doug Robinson on bass!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Heading Into Fall

Hey there,
It's monday morning and I'm reflecting on my past week. I've started on a new project with songwriter Joe Crookston. Joe was voted as one of the top three showcase artists at this summer's Falconridge Folk Festival and I'm excited to be working with him. I met him a while ago when he was interviewed at Wilburland by Tracey Craig for the Rootabaga Roadhouse radio program and was impressed by his playing and singing and thoughtful lyrics. This CD should be wonderful if our first sessions are any indication.

This weekend I worked with a wonderful A Capella duo named Glass Of Water. Sophia Smith-Savedoff and Emily Hurst are 2 cornell students who discovered each other about 4 years ago and have been singing together ever since. We had a fun weekend full recording about 15 songs. There is something so pure about a cappella voice...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mixing punk with The Berettas!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the day with The Berettas, a fine punk band from Trumansburg, NY. This trio have been together for three years and have apparently been practicing because the tracks that they brought to me to mix were tight and well played. Like many bands these days, The Berettas saved some money and did the recording at a cheaper studio with a young engineer, and then turned to me and my experience to sort it all out in the mix. The young engineer at the other studio did an admirable job as most tracks sounded pretty good. The only issue was that there was more snare in the kick drum mic than kick drum, but, whatever, I made it work anyway.
For these mixes I decided to build a virtual analog console using Waves' fine API Collection console plugins, in particular, the API 550b equalizer. I put this plugin on every track and even without using the eq the tracks seem to glue together like a real analog console. These eqs also have a well deserved reputation for their sweet musical sound and their sonic signature lent itself well to this punk band. We mixed and mastered 5 songs in 7 hours and it sounds pretty great!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Digidesign, Boynton Pro Audio, and Wilburland

Last night Wilburland was host to a Digidesign/BoyntonProAudio sales presentation. Regional Digidesign rep Brian Doser gave a short presentation of the ProTools product line and Bill Scranton from Boynton Pro Audio presented the Digidesign's new PMC designed RM2 powered monitors and the Digidesign D-Command control surface. While I didn't have the opportunity to A/B test the new monitors against my trusted Genelec 1031As, I can say thet these new RM2s sound pretty detailed and have an extended and tight low end response. A few folks in the room asked me If I had my sub on. As for the D-Command, I'm pretty impressed in first contact and look forward to kickin it's tires in the next week.

Today I look forward to doing mix touchups and mastering on Jay Mankita's upcoming CD. Who knows, maybe I'll listen to the new RM2s and touch up with the D-Command!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Catching up

Whoa. Over a month since my last blog! Well, I have apparently been busy!

So, uh, let's see. In the middle of August I was busy mixing tunes for the upcoming HorseFlies CD! Then me and the family went to Dance New England dance camp in Poland Springs, Maine for 2 weeks. A well needed vacation!

I arrived home after labor day and hit the ground running with more HorseFlies mixing and mixing for Zion Fellowship. These projects present totally different challenges. With the HorseFlies, we are trying to blend the ideas of alt rock and old time together, sweating tiny balances and paying focused attention to rhythm and "feel". It's all about the groove. With the Zion Fellowship project, I am managing a bunch of midi based virtual instruments provided by Native Instruments Miroslav Philharmonik and SampleTank2, as well as Propellorheads Reason. Here the challenges are presenting this "inspirational instrumental" music with sampled sounds that hopefully sound realistic. I have discovered that a lot of the secret of making sampled sound work is tweaking attack and release parameters to make up for the fact that trumpet or string sounds are being played with a keyboard.

Both of these mixing projects are benefiting from the use of some new plugins from Waves. I have recently aquired the Waves V Series, API and SSL console bundles. For the first time I can now set up ProTools with plugins that actually sound and respond like a true analog console. These new plugins have met with high praise from industry veterans who have spent years working on the "real thing". All I know is that I can now totally emulate analog recording and mixing within the digital realm with no compromise. Finally!!!!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

My life in a busy studio

Wow. My last post was 2 weeks ago! Oops! So, let's see, what has Will been up to? Well, last Wed and Thurs evening I had the pleasure ow working with a talented young man named Abe Roberts, who came on to record a collections of his songs on piano and voice. When folks call up for sessions like this you never know who will walk in the door. Abe turned out to have a bunch or very nice songs that he played well and sang to beautifully. Abe has a voice that will make young girls swoon and think about marriage, and his heartfelt performance and sensitive lyrics only make it worse! I suspect he'll be back...

Last week I also had the wonderful opportunity to work with one of my favorite singer/songwriters Jay Mankita. For a long time I have admired Jay's songwriting and delivery, blending sharp humor with a a keen insight to life as a human. We worked together on a mixing a song for a compilation of kids's music relating to good nutrition and health. Jay made the topic fun and intersting in his music. Looks like Jay will be back in the fall to mix his upcoming CD with me. Yay!

Over the weekend I worked again with an amazing modern percussion duo called the Marassa Duo. Jim Armstrong and Nick Papadour rolled in once again with marimba, vibes, bata drums, pans and congas. We spent the weekend recording and mixing a 12 minute piece called Marassa 2. For this session we rolled up the carpets in the big room to make a more reverberant environment to create more of an "event in a space" feel. I love working with these guys not only because they are great guys but also because the compositions are interesting and the recording is a fun challenge. Most of the time for me percussion is something you add to an existing track, rather than the entire focus of the project, so I have to think about the instruments differently.

So that's all I have time to write this morning. I'm off to Wilburland to mix the upcoming HorseFlies CD!!!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mamadou Diabate

Some days I am simply a service provider, and some days I am part of a truly amazing musical experience. On Monday night I had the supreme pleasure of working again with kora master Mamadou Diabate here at Wilburland. He recorded all 12 songs for his upcoming solo CD in a single evening! Mamadou and I form a good team; he is comfortable with my energy and advice and I can deliver him the best kora sound he has heard. I in turn get to be in the presence of a true master musician. Who knows, maybe this one will win a Grammy! (Mamadou's last solo cd was nominated for one)

For you recording geeks out there, I record Mamadou primarily with 2 Earthworks QTC1 mics on a Jecklin Disk right above the instrument, with a Neumann U87 1 ft above the sound hole for shaping the bass notes. The recordings have no reverb added and very little eq.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Fingerlakes Grassroots Festival

It's been a busy time for me and I've been negligent in my blogging! Well, anyone local knows that this past weekend was the annual Fingerlakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance, held just north of Ithaca in Trumansburg, NY. This massive festival has 80 bands on 4 stages for 4 days and is just amazing! The vibe is positive and the music that you can see and hear is jaw dropping.

Like the Great Blue Heron festival, I work for Calf Audio at Grassroots, who supplies the systems in the Dance Tent and the Grandstand stage. I was the primary FOH (front of house) engineer for the weekend and got to mix regular favorites like The HorseFlies, Sim Redmond Band, Samite of Uganda as well as my new friends The Greencards. In my opinion the Grandstand stage is the best sounding stage, and it is a fun privilege to be able to mix there. The only band I mixed that was not on the grandstand Stage was another favorite band, SloMo, who I fired out of the Cabaret Hall like a cannon. This band hails from Philly and truly needs to be experienced to be believed. They totally deserve a bigger stage.

So now I am very tired, but still smiling!

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Greencards at the Chapter House

Ok. I'm just back from a gig at the Chapter House in Ithaca with The Greencards. I had heard about them and knew that they were a good band, but I totally did not expect to be completely blown away. This band is incredible! They are a bluegrass trio at the core, and tonight were joined by a great guitarist who rounded out the sound perfectly. The band are smokin players and wonderful singers, not to mention just plain great people. They played a terrific set of covers and originals to a far too sparse crowd considering their talent. And as if tonight wasn't cool enough, I get to mix them at the Grassroots Festival next weekend!
They are playing at Friday at 9:15pm on the grandstand stage. Don't miss this!!!!!!

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Great Blue Heron music festival


In addition to studio recording I do live sound, mostly for The HorseFlies and the Sim Redmond Band. This weekend I worked at the Great Blue Heron music festival in Sherman, NY, near Jamestown in western NY. I was mixing front of house sound on the main stage for the entire weekend, which involved mixing every band that played on that stage except 3, who brought their own engineer. The sound system was provided by the wonderful Calf Audio located here in Ithaca. Their sound systems and crew are a pure pleasure to work with, and both people and gear make my job pretty easy.

Festival sound is different than doing sound in night clubs. First of all, music festivals are usually outside, so you rarely need to deal with a bad sounding room. You also have far less time to setup and soundcheck, so you have to hustle and get a good mix going as you line check. I often start with a kick/snare/hihat groove with the drummer, then invite bass and rhythm instruments as I balance the mix. often, by the time the band is ready to start their set, I already have a pretty good mix up and so they they sound good right out of the gate.

Here are the bands I mixed:

That's a lot of bands!!

Now I sleep as much as possible and get ready to do it all again at the Grassroots Festival!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

More mixing fun with Lana Losey

Well the recording is all done and now we move on to the mixing portion of The upcoming Jana Losey CD called Blocks! I may have mentioned before that I've been excited about this project since I initially heard song demos awhile ago. I'm happy to report that the songs have held up and the mixes are coming together really nicely!

Jana's partner Melanie Peters has a lot to do with why all these songs sound so good. Mel not only played bass, guitar and synth on most of the tracks but has also been the producer and arranger for the project. This CD lake most CDs done at Wilburland these days is a combination of studio and home recording. Mel has been crafting alot of the parts at home with a Apple PowerBook G4 and a Digidesign MBox running ProToolsLE software. All of the piano tracks were recorded as MIDI and then we used the amazing new Reason Pianos samples for the actual piano sound. Mel brought these songs kind of premixed, and my job is to take the mix concept that she presents and "do what I do" and use my expertise and experience to present a proper mix. We're having fun and the results are wonderful!

Friday, June 29, 2007

A week with Alizé

Good morning,

Again it's been too long since I blogged but man have I been busy! I spent this week immersed in French traditional music with a local trio called Alizé. They are Laurie Hart on fiddle, nyckelharpa and hurdy gurdy, Julia Lapp on guitar and Gordon Bonnet on flutes and whistles. These guys have done all their work on this project here at Wilburland. We have Laurie and Gordon in cubbies in the big room and Julia in the control room with me for isolation. We have almost completed all the recording it its all sounding really good!

I love recording music that I have not heard before, especially when it involves cool and interesting instruments like the nyckelharpa and hurdy gurdy!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My weekend with the HorseFlies

Well, well, well, I have so much to tell you! As if my week with Jana Losey and Melanie Peters wasn't enough fun, on Friday I started setting up for a weekend of recording with my all time favorite band The HorseFlies!

The Flies have been together for several decades, starting as a quirky old time fiddle band, and evolving through and alt rock sound, releasing records on major labels and touring with the likes of 10,000 Maniacs. The core of the HorseFlies are fiddler Judy Hyman, banjo player Richie Stearns, banjo/uke man Jeff Claus and rhythm meister Taki Masuko on percussion. They are currently rounded out by Plastic Nebraska's Rick Hansen and Jay Olsa on accordion/keys and bass. There music is indescribable, though many have tried...

The HorseFlies music is all about pocket and groove, and so recording as an ensemble is a natural way to approach the capture of basic tracks. They also like to experiment with sounds alot so isolation between the instruments is critical as well. The secret to achieving this balance at Wilburland (with no isolation booths) is all about mic placement and baffles. The environment around each instrument is carefully treated to avoid reflecting unwanted sounds into the mics. Each mic is positioned not only to capture the desired instrument but also to reject unwanted sounds. Amplifiers are placed downstairs and special cables and line amps are used to drive the instrument signals downstairs without signal loss. The two devices we use were the Little Labs Mercenary Audio STD and a Pendulum Audio MDP1 mic preamp/DI. The Pendulum was especially crucial in dealing with the hi impedance needs of the piezo doorbell that Richie used for a banjo pickup! Judy setup in the control room with me to get the needed isolation for the fiddle.

Once setup was complete and sounds were crafted, the band did what they do, running through takes and and then assessing the performances. Again, the focus was often on the groove and movement of the music. Did it sound too weighty? Did it float? How did it move? How did the backbeat feel? Intense discussion of rhythm, pocket and tempo. It was an amazing process to be part of, and the result of the weekend was 4 more amazing sounding basic tracks.

All this goes back the The Gray House, Jeff and Judy's home studio for overdubbing and premixing. They have a really nice ProTools HD system and a sweet collection of select mics and preamps that deliver the sounds they like.

We plan to mix at Wilburland in August. I can't wait! This will be an awesome CD folks. Well worth the wait.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Jana Losey

Hi There!

It's been a busy week and I haven't been able to sit down and write in this blog. Here is what I've been up to.
On Monday I finished up mixes for singer/songwriter Burt Myers. On Tuesday I did mix touchups for a fun band called The Talk To Mes, which features Gregor Sayet-Bone on guitar and vocals, and Sim Redmond from SRB on bass. These guys did their recording in various places and brought the tracks here to Wilburland to mix. Sound familiar? On Wednesday I did mixes for a nice a Capella group from Elmira College called the Chiclettes, who recorded all live here at Wilburland and sound terrific. Thursday I did final mastering for a band called Hadlock who have done almost all of their recording here at Wilburland except some electric guitar. You can definitely hear the difference when most or all of the tracks were recorded here.

Today, and for alot of this month I'll me working with songstress Jana Losey and her partner Melanie Peters. Jana has a lot of experience out there in the music world, having been in a cool group called Squonk Opera for many years, which included a long run on Broadway. She has involved me and Wilburland from the beginning of this project and it shows. She and Mel brought in their band and did basic tracks live here, utilizing the my great sounding room, many great microphones, individual headphone mixers, not to mention, well, me! We got a a bunch of sweet sounding tracks, that sound like a great band because they were! Jana and Mel consulted with me about a ProTools setup, came in for a few ProTools 101 tutoring classes, and then they were able to take the tracks home and decide which takes were best and figure out what piece we wanted to edit together without the pressure of the clock ticking away.

Once the basic tracks were assembled we got together again and I helped them set up their ProTools sessions to record midi tracks of the piano parts for the project. This they could easily do at home and they took their time getting the piano performances just right. Then we can play their midi tracks through Reason Pianos here at Wilburland and have the flexibility of choosing just the right piano sound for each song as we mix.

Today we will do lead vocals and maybe harmonies. Over the next few weeks we will overdub move vocals, perhaps some guitar and percussion, and then settle down to mix. It will be a good few weeks for sure!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Ithaca Festival Weekend!

Well good morning to you all! This weekend is a very busy weekend for me as a live sound guy. Most of my mixing efforts will center around the 2 night performance of The Sim Redmond Band, for whom I've been mixing live for over 5 years! They have also brought their last few recordings to Wilburland to mix, and I personally did the last one, Each New Day. If you have never heard the band, I have often described their gentle percolating sound and lush harmonies and "a big warm hug from a dear friend". These 2 shows are a CD release party for their new live CD recorded at the Grassroots Festival. They are playing at Castaways in Ithaca, with 2 other local bands that are no strangers to Wilburland, IY on Friday and Five2 on Saturday, featuring former SRB member Uniit! The Castaways shows start at 10pm.

As if that wasn't enough, I will also be mixing for my friend Boy With A Fish on the Ithaca Commons at 7:30, featuring Jeff Claus and Judy Hyman from the HorseFlies, Rick Hansen and Jay Olsa from Plastic Nebraska and Ryan Cady on drums. Guaranteed to be a great show.

So come on out and see some great Ithaca music this weekend!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mixing tracks for Burt Myers

Today I will be mixing tracks for Binghamton's Burt Myers. Burt came to me on the recommendation of my friend Mark Dann, who owns Mark Dann Recording in NYC and also has a smaller studio in Woodstock. Burt has recorded and edited a bunch of songs in a home studio and has brought them to Wilburland for me to mix.

I am going to set up some rules for myself for these mixes. First, Burt has limited funds to get these mixes done so I will try to spend only 1 hour per song. Second, I am going to set up ProTools like an analog mixing console, with Digidesign's new Reel Tape plugin, then a URS N series EQ and a Massey CT4 compressor on each track. All of the plugins will be the same, just like mixing on a large scale console with built in eq and dynamics. My reverb will most likely be the amazing Altiverb. I'm also going to try to mix through McDSP's AC1 analog channel on the mix buss.

I find that setting up rules like this can be very freeing, partly because you eliminate the "which plugin" debate which is confusing and time consuming. I can just get into the headset of "these are my tools, now do the mix" and this works for me.

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, mixing folks' home recorded tracks is something I do more and more, and it presents a fun and interesting new challenge for me. When I record the tracks here at Wilburland, the sounds and shape of the songs are already there at mix time. I know the songs, I know the emotion that the artist wants to convey, and the mix comes easily. When people bring me stuff that they recorded at home, I get to play with the tracks until the song presents itself, and this discovery process is challenging and exciting to me.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Working with Judy Hyman

Yesterday I was at Wilburland mastering a number of film scores for composer/fiddler Judy Hyman. Judy is perhaps best know as the fiddler in The HorseFlies and Boy With A Fish, but has also been very busy the last few years composing and performing soundtracks and winning awards for documentaries including "John James Audubon: Drawn From Nature", "Through Deaf Eyes" both for award winning film producer Lawrence Hott, and "The Cultivated Life: Thomas Jefferson and Wine" and "Dream Anatomy" for Madison Films.

Judy has also embraced the new recording paradigm by composing all the work at home in Digital Performer. Then I come to her house to engineer the recording of some real instruments on her own home ProTools system which I helped them design and install. Then either she or I can do composite edits of the best performances. When all the tracks are recorded it all come back to me at Wilburland for the final mix.

Technically speaking, my objective in this mastering was to bring the levels up to "pro standards" for film soundtracks without changing the essential sound and dynamics of the original mixes. I feel that limiters can be best suited to this task as compressors tend to impart their own sound. After auditioning all the limiter plugins I have the one I choose was the Massey L2007 Mastering Limiter. This $79 plugin allowed me to make the program much louder without the usual sonic penalty of some other limiters. I was able to push pretty deep into this limiter before I started hearing it crunch up. You can download a free demo it it here.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Mac Benford and the new recording paradigm

Good morning! It looks like mornings are when I'll be writing most of these blogs. Looks like a beautiful one out there!

Today I'm doing some mixing for Mac Benford and John Hoffman, currently in an oldtime band called UpSouth. Mac is legendary in the the american oldtime music scene, having been a founding member of the infamous Highwoods String Band back in the 70s. The Highwoods helped revive the oldtime scene, and were the first act signed to Rounder Records. Mac did a CD at Wilburland called Willow with The Woodshed Allstars about 10 years ago, with Pete Sutherland, John Rossbach, John Kirk, Doug Henrie and of course the lovely Marie Burns. Mac's musical influence can be heard in many younger bands around here, helping form what we know as the "Ithaca sound"

So anyway, Mac and John have approached the making of this upcoming CD in a way typical of the new recording paradigm, where advances in recording technology have democratized the recording world. Wilburland was there to help them through the complete process. First off, they consulted with me when they were first thinking about putting together a small home based ProTools LE with an MBox2 setup. I was able to save them money on the actual purchase of the equipment and I helped them navigate through the crowded home recording gear market to purchase good quality microphones etc that would work well for their needs.

When they got the equipment and kicked the tires a bit, Mac contacted Wilburland for my ProTools 101 tutorial. Mac was able to start making good recording a lot faster and with less frustration. He came back several times for lessons/consulting as he gained proficiency.

Mac and John then recorded their basic tracks at home, saving studio recording costs. They did preliminary editing to make composite best takes. They did some very good work, not to mention stunning performances! Then they brought their tracks to me at Wilburland to mix in the tuned mixing room, with an endless list of great ProTools plugins.

The end result will be a great sounding CD with Mac and John effectively using their home recording rig.

This is the future folks, and it looks cool.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


It's another totally beautiful day here in Mythaca NY. Hard to get in the car and go to work, but then again, I have the anti-job!