Monday, January 31, 2005


Last night we finally had the chance to run our standard drummer (Rob Machold, PhD) through the board. This was the first REAL calibration, since it was a chance to record a drummer we've worked with dozens of times... if there's one thing we know, it's how Rob hits his drums.

They sounded great. The board has more punch, and the drums were ready to go without any EQ in Performer. George did some EQing on the drum mics themselves, mostly rolling out midrange (one of the tricks for recording drums-the mids ten to build up and smear each other). It was also Rob's first opportunity to try out the "new" live room, which offers far more space and better organization. In a few minutes were we ready to go, minus a couple of switches on the board farting out. I really need to pull the whole thing apart and clean every contact. Maybe today.

Rob seemed very happy with his drum sound, but he's always been happy with the sounds we've gotten. As for me, I certainly felt an improvement, in the sound as well as the overall workflow. I have to change a jumper in the master section of the console; right now the talkback system is routed to the group outputs, so any instructions to the performers are going to tape. Nice for slating, not so good when calling out cues as Rob played. Get out the screwdriver!

The ultimate irony is that in a week I'm starting a full time job as a print broker (anyone need anything printed?), just as Ted will have a month off. He'll be coming back off the road and I'll be going straight to a straight job. That leaves me 7 days to finish whatever major work I want to do at the studio. Why do I feel like it's back to school time?

Thursday, January 27, 2005


I wrote a big huge post yesterday, all about recording drums-tips, tricks, personal preferences, but I somehow lost it before it was published.

I will try again.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Did some work last night with Grand Ultimate, a live hip hop combo from down the hall at 11 Hope Street. Built bass loops to a click using their Line 6 Echo Farm, laid down a guitar loop the same way, then the band performed live drums/vocals to the track. George called the drum sound "the best we've ever gotten," although absolutely no cymbals or toms were used.

A quick mix through the board, and everyone was happy... except for our upstairs neighbor, who was concerned with the lateness of the hour and the heaviness of the mix.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


I was reminded last night that our new console came from the old Limelight club here in New York. I was told this when we first looked at the board, but had completely forgotten it. It was used to mix live music at the (now closed, or has it reopened?) church turned dance club owned by maven Peter Gatien. So our Soundcraft was once owned by the eyepatched Gatien himself! Imagine the tales it could tell.... and what might be hiding at the bottom of its enclosure. I once heard a story about a synthesizer owned by a certain funk keyboardist in the 70's that was purchased by another player, opened up, and found to contain a fair amount of cocaine. With our console, I guess it would be ecstasy.

When the Limelight was closed, due to Gatien's mounting legal problems and drug busts, the console was sold to Glauco, the studio owner from which we bought it. Glauco was the sound man at Limelight, and the console ended up in his studio, where it mixed music for a few years before being replaced by a HUGE Amek Angela, a real Jaguar of mixing boards (original price-around $60,000). Thus, the Soundcraft ended up at Smoke and Mirrors, where we can only hope it isn't bored after its younger club days.

Maybe, late at night, if you listen real close, you'll be able to hear it whisper stories about those heady times in the mid 90's, before the club kids became speed freaks, back when the X was good and good for you. Or is that just noise from the studio next door?

Friday, January 21, 2005


Did my first mixes through the new console last night-three songs for Viv Savage's demo, which they hope will get them some live gigs. I think they're ready to play live, although they've only been together since late November, they're pretty tight and their songs are pretty good. Their demo is far better than the one we had for Happy Boy, the old band Ted and I were in; Happy Boy inflicted plenty of out of tune rock and roll on our friends back in the day, and our recordings were always a bit weak.

Mixing through the board was fun. No automation, so i actually performed the mix, something which happens less and less often these days. Alan Parsons says this is one of the things we've lost in modern production, and of course he's always right. It also means that clients need to decide if its worth doing another mix, as it's not just a question of fixing one level and reprinting the entire thing (although, with automation on Digital Performer, it could be). I think I'll end up using automation in DP for complex things and still ride some faders. It's organic and makes me feel like each mix is a performance, which is a good thing.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


I took the Soundcraft out for a spin last night... ran our first session with a band. Actually, it was more a rehearsal, for them and me; a chance for them to run through their songs and work on arrangements, and a chance for me to see how this new console works. It was truly trial by fire, as we were working with an untested foldback and talkback system, as well as all new preamps.

They played their songs while I tried to give them usable levels through their headphones, and I tracked everything live to two track (essentially a board mix to check how I was doing). Only used one compressor, on the bass, with 4 mics on drums, a vocal, and a direct guitar.

The console sounds great. It has a nice natural compression as you start to drive it hard, and the EQ was very usable. There are still some dirty switches and a few modules need to have their input sensitivity adjusted. It's remarkable how the standards for audio levels are so misunderstood; doing research online as to the meaning of "-10" versus "+4" operating levels revealed an amazing amount of contradiction. These levels have different units (dBm or dBv), but people treat them as if they were the same unit, and there seems to be no standard as to what digital levels mean and how much headroom a system has. If we were working to tape it wouldn't be nearly as difficult, as you always have headroom on tape and you can push a console nice and hard when tracking to analog, but digital hits 0 and stops dead. Now Quantegy has declared bankruptcy, so there is currently NO TAPE being maufactured anywhere. ANYWHERE. More about that later.

George Vitray is to be commended for his 120 solder points, all but one of which worked first time. All that solder he inhaled saved us several hundred dollars, and probably only knocked a year or two off his life.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Our new board here at Smoke and Mirrors is a Soundcraft Series 600. I remember an ad for this console in a Keyboard magazine I had back in 1988. OK, I still have the magazine. The one with Howard Jones and Keith Emerson on the cover, you remember it. Anyhow, the ad's tagline was "No Hiss. No Hum. No Half Measures."

Soundcraft is a British company; I told Ted he can now refuse to mix on anything that doesn't have "British EQ." Our console has "British EQ," in that it's British and has EQ. Perhaps we shall call it Nigel.

It is very quiet, and we're testing everything out. I've pulled about 10 modules from the frame already, as there are lots of little jumpers that need to be moved around to change all of the interface levels.... yawn....

I could go on and on, but for now let's say we've got a 32 channel console, fully modular, with 8 groups and 16 tape returns. (that would be 56 channels on input on mixdown). Next step-mor outs from the computer (we're at 8 so we'll mix with subgroups). The studio looks and feels very different, and the console sounds pretty good. Definitely better.


..beacause it's 2am.

I'm in the studio, it's 2a,. and i can blog 'cause Keith loaned us his airport card to try out his wireless network. Very cool.

The new board is in and sounds great. Ted's the man, and for George it's Solderday.

Saturday, January 15, 2005


The new computer is in, up, and running. It's a very sassy G4, 800mHz, Quicksilver. We're calling it "Elvis," as in "Elvis has left the building," the code Pat Phillips used to let us know it was on it's way.

It took about an hour to get it operational in OSX with DP4 running smoothly. I moved two of our high capacity drives from the old G3, and had projects playing in no time. The installs of DP, the PCI card for our 2408 (audio interface) and all of the MIDI was nice and smooth. I guess moving from the old G3 to the old G4, back to the G3, and now over to a new G4, has taught me exactly what needs to be done. Anyone need to set up a Pro Audio system? Gimme a call. I'm getting good at it. Even getting the dual monitors to run properly (something which gave us major headaches when we first went to the G4) was a breeze. It's a lean, mean, silver colored music making (and mixing, and mastering) machine. No superfluous software, not even a screen saver (which can royally screw up DP). As Napoloen Dynamite once said, "Sweet!"

I used it to finish the third (hopefully final) master of "The Wall." If this master is accepted by the Smoke and Mirrors Technical Advisory Board, it'll be ready for release, probably early February. That's only a little bit late, but hey, we've been rebuilding a studio.

I can tell you the next record the Smoke and Mirrors band covers will be shorter and far more organized. I'm really leaning toward "Moving Pictures" and have started demos to see if it can be done. Any input from the Smoke and Mirrors Cover Records Advisory Board (you know who you are) is appreciated. And there is absolutely no way this one will take over a year. I'm thinking more of a late spring release.

Those are the updates. Tomorrow is a session with Viv Savage, not the actual Spinal Tap keyboardist but a band that shares the same name (what are the chances of that?). We will start with one song and go from there, a good way to record.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


OVIEDO, Fla. (Associated Press)- A Presbyterian minister collapsed and died in mid-sentence of a sermon after saying "And when I go to heaven ...," his colleague said Monday.


I'd like to take this time to talk a bit about all the great stuff the island nation of New Zealand has done for the world of rock and roll.

While most people think of New Zealand as the place where they filmed the "Lord of the Rings," (which I'm sure has been the biggest influence on NZ's economy in, well, forever) I prefer to think of it as the homeland of Dean Wareham and Justin Harwood.

Harwood was in a great Kiwi band called The Chills, who are still around (in terms of personel changes, the Chills are the Kiwi Spinal Tap, or maybe Yes) after 17 years of being NZ's coolest group. He'd been in Big Sideways and Coconut Rough, and if you've heard of those bands, you might be from New Zealand. In December 1986 the then current Chills lineup released `I Love My Leather Jacket', which reached No. 4 in the New Zealand charts and No. 3 on the NME alternative charts. The band took off, played Glastonbury, toured the States, and recorded for John Peel. Eventually they'd relocate to London (got to believe the airfare is cheaper from England to the US), and in 1990 Justin Harwood left to join Dean Wareham's newly formed Luna. After several years, he left Luna to return to New Zealand to start a family, taking his big bald head and bass with him.

Wareham was born in New Zealand; he moved to Australia and then to New York while in his teens. With a few Harvard buddies (ie, Damon and Naomi) he formed Galaxie 500, one of the greatest post punk/neo Velvet bands ever. On the verge of a major recording contract, Dean left Galaxie 500 and formed Luna with Harwood and ex Feelies drummer Stan Demeski (not from New Zealand). Now Luna is breaking up, as I'm sure all of you know, though they will play one final show at Bowey Ballroom in late February, and you can be sure I'll be there.

The latest NZ exports to register on the cool meter here in the States is the Datsuns, named after those little Japanese cars and light trucks we all loved in the 80's. The Datsuns have toured the US and Canada with the Pixies and the Donnas. Influenced by AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Deep Purple, and T. Rex, they've refiltered the 70's through their Kiwiness and emerged one of the big winners of the last year or so. To paraphrase the Splendid e-zine interview, if you're a fan of "Live at Budokan," you might like the Datsuns. Either way, the people in the record industry think they're pretty hip. Plus, they're from a town about a half hour away from where the Bagginsess lived.

Now, the New Zealanders everyone knows are, of course, the Finn brothers. Tim Finn first formed Split Enz and then Crowded House with his younger brother Neil. Crowded House is certainly the Biggest Band of Kiwis Ever (not counting the Hobbits, who, we are told, are fictional), complete with hit songs, MTV airplay, etc. Neil Finn is still very much around (DirecTV had one of his shows on "Freeview" a few months ago, and while I coulnd't make it through it, apparantly someone can).

Another well-known Kiwi contribution to the world of pop/rock is the Rocky Horror Show, written by Kiwi Richard O'Brien, and first performed on stage in London, mid-1973. There are lots of other NZ bands that made some kind of impact in the last three decades or so, although few of them are well known outside of their home-bands like the Bats, the Verlaines, Tall Dwarfs, and the D4.

For a country with a population of just over 4 million, that ain't so bad.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


ABC News has crowned bloggers their "People of the Year."

This means that there are now thousands of blogs that begin with "ABC News has crowned bloggers their 'People of the Year.'"

Time Magazine crowned George W. Bush their "Person of the Year." Probably not as many bloggers happy about that, but hey, at least we can be comforted by the fact that more people get their news from ABC news than from any other news source (a tagline, by the way, not actual fact), and that there're a lot more bloggers than George W.'s.

Of course, it only takes one President to run a country, and even millions of bloggers can't change that.

On the other hand, blogging is probably the closest thing to the democracy in action the internet was originally promised to be, even though there are undoubtedly as many blogs concerned with "celebrity boobs" as with "politicians who are boobs." Go ahead, google 'em and see if I'm wrong.

Maybe "google" should be the verb of the year. For me, "Masterverb" is my 'verb of the year (note the apostrophe), mostly because it's affordable and doesn't take up a lot of processing power.

My free plug in of the year is Elemental Audio Systems' Inspector, a really nice spectral analyzer and level meter that lets you know why the bass sounds so screwed up on your walkman headphones.

My record of the year is "Sorrow" by the Defense Department Chamber Orchestra, the only thing I've ever had a hand in that got played on the radio. It's funny, you can write lines for Jon Stewart, meet Bob Dole and John McCain, stand on the floor at the Republican National Convention (the Philly one, that is, back in 2000), and chill with an insult comic dog, but the highlight of your career can still be listening to NPR in a bar.

My X of the year is Mac OSX, and you can see the blogs below to find out why.

Monday, January 03, 2005


Since I've been doing some work on "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," the Darrell Scott song (see the blogs below), I went online and found an mp3 of his as well as Brad Paisley's versions. Couldn't get Patty Loveless' yet, but I'll keep trying.

Essentially, I like Pat Phillips' version (our version) a lot better. There's a way Pat interpreted the chord progression that's different from either Scott or Paisley's version (both of which sound so alike that it almost seems like portions of the same backing track were used). Pat's chords are much more straightforward and sweet; they seem to head right for the notes that the other versions are dancing around or just implying. In my opinion, the version we have up here is far more emotional; the others feel flat in comparison. And I like Pat's voice better than either Darrell or Brad's. (I'm not just sucking up because Pat helped get us the G4. Really!)

I played it for KIDD, who's just discovering his love for country music, and he loved the hook. I know what he means. In fact, I felt that the original arrangement, with the chorus happening only twice (two verses and a solo between), left me wanting more. So I took the liberty of second guessing Darrell Scott, Patty Loveless, Brad Paisley, and a host of successful Nashville producers and put another chorus in, right before the solo. This may be completely off base, but I like it; obviously Pat's will be the final word.


Thanks to Pat Phillips (aka Tony Alva) and Ted, we'll be gettin' our new G4 any day now. Although I've loved working with the old blue and white G3, it'll be nice to have that speed back. And we'll be able to record more than one track at once! Good old eBay. Good old Tony and Ted.

Put the G3 through a nice long, hard session yesterday. It yelped a few times, but I sweet talked it and we made it through. The session was with KIDD, more work for his record, which is shaping up. We've given him a few hip hop beats with live drums, guitars, and bass, and they're all hits. Even the simplest, most subtle drum and bass lines seem sublime compared to some of the beats we've been working with (many of which have come premixed on CD, not the best way to record). Once again its the live breathing, the space you get when you put a few mics up, that makes all the difference, at least to my ears.

Saturday, January 01, 2005


A few weeks back Ted Wilson and Pat Phillips spent some time working on "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," a folk tune about coal miners in Kentucky. I'd never heard the song, and Ted's blog refered to it as "an old folk tune." Pat does a great job with the vocals; this man was born to sing songs about coal miners in Kentucky, where "the sun comes up, about ten in the morning, and the sun goes down, about three in the day." I worked on the mix and the arrangement for a bit last night and fell in love with the tune, so I did me some research.

Surprise! Turns out it's not an old folk tune at all, not unless 1997 was the olden days (I guess it was, in many ways, what with the nation's sweet naivete during the Clinton administration). It was written by Darrell Scott, who researched his family history and found inspiration in his great-grandfather, a coal miner; it appeared on Scott's "Aloha from Nashville" record. Well, Patty Loveless heard the song (her family were all coal miners) and covered it for her 2001 record "Mountain Soul." The same year Brad Paisley covered it. The Dixie Chicks and Travis Tritt have done Darrell Scott's songs as well.

It feels exactly like an old folk tune feels. When Pat Phillips sings about the man from the Northeast (they're always from the Northeast) coming to town with his hundred dollar bills, saying "I'll pay yah for yer minralz," you figure this was certainly written in the late 19th century. The Folksmen might have put in on one of their 60's releases, or maybe the Main Street Singers. That's the direction I started to go in last night when I was inspired to add backing vocals to those great lines in the chorus. "The sun comes up... the sun goes down... and you fill your cup..." I hope Pat likes it. And Darrell, and his great grandfather, too.


Oh, sweet OSX.

We're currently running the studio off of our elderly G3, a blue and white model somewhere in the 300MHz range. For those of you who aren't computer geeks, this means it's pretty slow.

But once again, OSX has shown us all why it is hands down the greatest operating system ever created, the future of all things computer. The G3 had been sputtering along with an old version of OSX, probably developed in the late 70's, and we weren't able to get much done. Digital clocking errors while recording (even at lowly 16 bits), slow response, lots of quirky shit.

Well, an update to OS10.3 ("Panther," I believe) has changed all that. We were using 10.3 on the recently departed G4, and it was pretty good... no major issues. But sticking it in the G3 has been like getting a whole new computer. Think of swapping out that VW engine in your bug with a Porsche engine and you get the idea. Suddenly everything is far faster, no problems playing back huge DP projects (at 24 bit!), recording has been generally trouble free. And it's a damn blue and white G3! People practically give 'em away. No self respecting geek would even use it for email.

So once again we're greatly indebted to the good people at Apple for seeing this thing through. There was lots of grumbling when OSX first appeared, but everyone who used it was impressed; now it's proven its worth in a very real way. The difference is nothing short of miraculous, and it's made this whole crazy computer juggling thing a lot less painful.

So get out there and buy that OSX! Support those crazy ex hippies in the Northwest (I think that's where they are) and let's make sure they keep this sweet little system running.