I have spent most of my life playing “semi-weighted” keyboards, a family that sits between the plastic all in one “fun machines” that you find at Best Buy and the high end “weighted” keyboards that tip the scales both price and weight wise.
Once the dawn of the midi controller came to pass (ie. no sounds in the unit) , I couldn’t wait to turn my next keyboard’s numerous buttons, faders and switches into a Virtual Mega Synth, one to rule them all!
Of course, that never happened. Keyboard after keyboard let me down, each one with its own quirks and clunkiness. And every keyboard player who sat down to my “semi-weighted” controller had a terrible experience (and let me know it) with the “un-piano” feel. I chalked it up to “diva-ness” and a touch of snobbery on their part.
But I was working on a project recently where the artist asked me to play some piano and organ parts and we were recording into Pro Tools. Midi in Pro Tools is (for me) about as fun as doing my taxes so I recorded Audio Only. The studio had a beautiful weighted keyboard with great internal sounds and I was sold.
That was it for me.
My Studio Logic 73 Weighted Keyboard in combination with the Garritan CFX Grand Plug In has made me a convert.
It was time for another ProTools Update so I went for “2020” which wasn’t very different than “12”. The biggest change was the introduction of “Dark Mode” which makes it easier on the eyes if you’re working for long stretches (ie. always).
It also came with the bare bones version of Melodyne. The tuning of vocals (and instruments) is pretty much de facto in the day to day world of audio production and the two main players are Antares AutoTune and Celemony’s Melodyne. The two camps each have their followers and detractors but the general consensus seems to be:
AutoTune for Real Time and/or a more Processed Sound (T Pain, Cher, etc). Detractors claim that AT produces more artifacts than Melodyne.
Melodyne for more natural (but off line only) sound.
AT has a Graphic Mode like Melodyne and both require you to transfer the audio (in real time) into the plug in before you can start fooling around with it. They both offer advanced editing in terms of volume and timing as well.
After a frustrating run with the basic Melodyne in ProTools, I bit the bullet and upgraded to the more advanced version…and I love it. The sound DOES seem more natural, the GUI is much more appealing and it seems a LOT easier on my system; AT in graphic mode has had a tendency to crash my sessions.
I recently did a session in which I was asked to tune 64 vocal tracks and I was happy to have both plug ins at my disposal. Some especially tricky issues were better fixed by one than the other.
ARA Technology promises to make Melodyne a real time process (ie. no need to transfer audio first) but ProTools has not adopted it as yet. I think that Avid’s inclusion of Melodyne (however basic) in it’s newest upgrade seems to indicate that it’s right around the corner…and did I mention..Audio to Midi??
Kandace is a force of nature…virtuoso pianist, soulful vocalist and an unaffected presence that commands every stage she steps out on. Plus, she’s hilarious and knows more about cars than Marisa Tomei’s character in “My Cousin Vinny”.
Earlier this year, I was fortunate to be a part of this fantastic project, a documentary about Kandace and her latest collection “The Women Who Raised Me” on Blue Note Records. Part of the documentary was slated to be a “live in the studio” recording with her band, drummer and bg. vocalist Ms.Taylor Moore and bassist and bg. vocalist Aneesa Strings.
Her SRP producers Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers as well as the Film Production company agreed on Riverworks Recording for the tracking. It has a huge tracking room and a grand piano and I know the room inside out.
We set up three monitor mixes that each musician could control and an individual floor monitor for each. Micing was minimal…two for the piano, a mic and DI for the bass, one bass drum and 2 overheads for the drums and vocal mics for all. After a bit of trial and error, we settled on the Sennheiser MD421 for Kandace’s vocals. I’ve recorded her on everything from a Shure Beta 58 to a high end Neumann TLM 170 and she always sounds great so I wasn’t too worried.
It was a grueling 2 day shoot on one of the coldest days this winter. They wound up shooting about 5-6 takes of each song and I made rough mixes for Carl and Evan to review.
A few weeks later, we convened at their production area at The Loft in Bronxville to mix the songs. One other additional session for small tweaks and we were done. The record came out and debuted at #1 Jazz on iTunes and Billboard all over the world.
There are so many ways to mix but I have always been partial to the “channel strip” approach, where most of what you need is in one plug in. There are lots of great ones out there and some offer more bells and whistles than others. Most offer EQ, Compression,Filters and a Gate. The Eventide Ultra Channel adds a Stereo Delay and a Harmonizer as well as a recreation of their famous “Omnipressor”. The Scheps offers 2 (!) DeEssers as well as Saturation and the ability to move the modules around in any order. Slate takes the “500” Series Approach for up to 8 Modules. My “go to” is Metric Halo’s Channel Strip and I love how they update and add features (like a Real Time Analyzer).
But…I was intrigued when I first read about this one from Brainworx.
Back in the day, my friend Al Hemberger at The Loft Studios was looking for a high end Single Channel Mic Preamp and wound up with a rack of these:
So when I read that Brainworx had modeled an ENTIRE CONSOLE, CHANNEL BY CHANNEL, I had to try it out. The layout is easy to navigate in the plug in and it sounds..yes…I’m going to say it…”musical”. I haven’t had a chance to run it in full console mode but it’s great on individual channels and the gate is surprisingly effective and “unfiddly”.
It was time…end of year plus the need for some small home monitors. I had been thinking about the small Yamaha and JBL speakers but they still seemed too large for my desk area. These little guys from IK had been getting some great press and endorsements (both Lord Alges!!) and they featured a slimmed down version of their ARC technology.
What does that mean?…well.. the Holy Grail of ANY speaker is Truth and Translatability. No one likes that feeling of playing your recording/mix outside of your listening environment and being horrified at how it sounds on another system..lost vocals!! Screechy guitars!!No BASS!!too much BASS!!…let’s face it..it’s your worst nightmare.
The general culprit (assuming that it’s not you) is the combination of a bad set of monitors and a bad sounding room. IK has built a technology (ARC) into these speakers that allows you to plug a microphone (included) into the back of these speakers and press a button that runs an audio sweep and calibrates the speakers to your listening environment. The listening area (or “sweet spot”) is pretty narrow but seems to be pretty accurate.
I haven’t done enough listening/mixing on these to see how they stack up yet….more to come
A new release is always a thrill and this one has been a long time coming. I had the pleasure of working with Keith on this collection, co- writing and producing 2 of the songs here.
“Trial Of The Century” features one of my favorite singer songwriters, Chris Merola. Chris has been active in the NY Americana scene since the beginning and he continues to record and perform with his band Tumbleweed Mile.
Jeff Young sings “Bank Of Worry” with the soulfulness that he is well known for and, like Chris, is great to hang out with in the studio.
I also had the opportunity to mix some of the songs with Keith and was completely blown away by the vocals of Maya Saxell.
The eclectic nature of this album is an anomaly in today’s musical landscape…which I like.
So back in the day, when I was an aspiring musician/songwriter, I looked for the closest recording studio to where I lived..and it was almost walking distance..Willowmill Recording.
It was in a converted garage of Gilbert Jullien’s house and it was outfitted the remnants of the Track Recording’s studio (API/Ampex) . I was so green at the time that I had no idea of even what those names meant. The asking price there for 8 track 1 Inch recording at the time was $ 25 an hour so I booked the session and brought my brother Rob and our drummer in to record a song. When I inquired whether Gilbert might have some better mics (like a Teac or Tascam..not these WWII looking mics)..he said that all he had were these 5 Neumann U 47 Tube Mics for Vocals.
When I asked Gil for his opinion on our performance, he responded with a chuckle “Compared to what..?”. I was naturally incensed and I vowed two things then and there..
1. I am learning how to do this, it can’t be that hard..
2. I am NEVER paying for this again.
Two months later, Gilbert wound up turning the studio over to me to run and wound up being a great mentor and friend…and one of the people that I can truly call a Genius…as well as introducing me to Franco Falsini.
In our recent conversation, Chris Gehringer (Sterling Sound Mastering), one of the most sought after and respected mastering engineers on the planet, stressed the importance of an accurate and balanced listening environment (speakers and room design). I redid the cabling and monitor placement in my room at The Loft Studios in Bronxville, NY a few weeks ago and decided to bring in an expert to help get it as flat as possible…so I called Steve La Cerra.
Armed with his handy Phonic Room Analyzer, Steve ran the room through its paces as we identified audio “peaks and valleys” that were causing issues across the audio spectrum. It was fun, balancing the art and science of sound with Steve, as we adjusted the volume, EQ and crossover controls on the main speakers and sub woofer.
In addition to a flatter response (The Holy Grail of any control room), we also achieved a wider sweet spot…listeners in the back of the room are hearing pretty much what I am hearing in the mix position. Every one of the musicians that I worked with over the next week noticed the improvement. All I need now is a Lava Lamp!