We arrive at Headgear Studios at noon to begin mixing "Hugo Magnolia" for House of Blondes. The first step is loading the project onto the studio's Mac; fairly easy.
Next is calibrating the 2 track tape machine. Not so easy.
Calibration involves sending test tones to the machine, recording them on tape, and playing them back. If the machine is calibrated correctly, the tones will come back at the same volume they were recorded. They don't. That's OK, since the machine has controls that allow it to be adjusted. So the assistant adjusts and we try again. Still no good. The high test tone (at 10000hz) is coming back louder.
Calibrate again. Still no improvement. Problems with the recording card? Call the tech...
He suggests adjusting the bias. Fine, done, run the calibration again. Still no good. Suggestion from the assistant that we may need to cancel the session. He claims the machine calibrated fine the night before.
Ugh. Calibrate again from scratch. No improvement. This process should take about a half hour, maybe 45 minutes, and now it's been 2 hours. More calls to the tech.
Finally we decide to try and calibrate the machine at 30 inches per second (ie with the tape moving across the record heads twice as quickly; we'd been calibrating at 15ips, the standard for rock n' roll). At 30ips the machine lines up. OK. Back down to 15ips to try again, still no good.
The decision is made to mix to the tape at 30ips. Re-calibrate the machine at 30ips, lay down the test tones, and move to the ProTools project. 3 1/2 hours gone.
Now we're playing back the project and I'm hearing distortion on drums. We check everything, start bringing up other tracks, and realize the audio is not playing back at the correct speed. So we have digital clocking problems.
Start trying to diagnose the clock. No one seems to know how the clock is set up in this studio, but it's obvious the project is not playing back correctly. We disconnect one synch box, try synching to another. Without proper synch digital is worthless.
Call the tech. It's 4:30, and we haven't gotten very far...
John from House of Blondes (singer, writer, guy paying for session) arrives. He and I go out to get beer and chips. When we come back things haven't improved. I suggest opening the session setup (I don't know much about ProTools but I know it's possible for different sessions to have different preferences). We get the tech on the phone and start going through the switches...
At some point the clock resolves and the audio starts playing normally. I don't remember when or how (things are getting hazy). It's now something like 6:30 or 7 and we're hearing our tracks back through the board for the first time. I get a quick lesson on the board's automation from the assistant, who has to leave at 8 for a gig in Hoboken. Flying faders are cool. So is DOS, the OS running the program that moves the faders...
By around 8 we're building a rough mix. Now we get to play with the toys! Geoff Daking EQ's and compressors, Manley compressors, Eventide harmonizers, a Distressor, and of course the EMT plate (about as big as a queen sized bed) start making their presence heard. The plate sounds amazing. The compressors are damed good. The Trident's EQ's are pretty nice as well. Mixing with moving faders is a dream, super quick. There are 3(!) echoplexes in the room but we don't use any of them. There isn't enough time.
We get the automation running, record the faders for the rough mix, and start playing back the track and making adjustments. In analog everyone can hear you scream. John does some vocal rides and says the moving faders "feel like there's a ghost moving them". They twitch under my fingers, or are my fingers twitching?
We need to be printing to 2 track tape by midnight; our session is over at 1am (we've been graciously given an extra hour to make up for the 4 we lost earlier). We'll have time and tape to run maybe 4-5 mixes. After number 2 or 3 the tape breaks during rewind. George pulls out a razor blade and cuts out the fucked up portion. Run the mix again. Again.
By 1:15 it's all over. We listen to playback while recording the 2 track mixes into ProTools so we can hear them back at our studios and make a rough master for House of Blondes. We're back at Skyway studio by about 2, listening to the mix, which sounds fucking great. The vocal may be pushing the tape into distortion at times, but the sense of space and depth is notably different. We compare the new mix to the ProTools mixes George has been working on and there's no comparison.
We'll be back, I think. We definitely left a part of ourselves there.