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The Industry and the Engineer

There is a long tradition of artist-industry collaboration in professional audio, and it comes in many, many forms

There is a long tradition of artist-industry collaboration in professional audio, and it comes in many, many forms—the artist, in our case, being the engineer and producer—from the simple product endorsement in a print ad, to exclusive mics in a Grammy broadcast, to a name plug-in collection for sale. In some way, shape or form, every product manufacturer, software or hardware, works with engineers and artists, either on product development or product promotion. It’s a feedback mechanism that works.

The cynic often sees this type of relationship as negative, the implication being that the artist has sold out and the greedy manufacturer is only in it for the money. In some cases, that is no doubt true. But it’s rare. And it’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about an interplay that stimulates technological advances and promotes quality throughout the process.

The relationship between art and industry goes back to the very roots of pro audio, when Les Paul began chatting with the engineering team at Ampex, and before that in his work with Gibson on the solid-body electric guitar. Bill Putnam became the engineer and the artist all in one. Many more have followed, from Tom Dowd on consoles to Al Schmitt on tape and Bruce Swedien on microphones—they all worked with manufacturers in product development. Jack Joseph Puig today works with both Waves and Intel. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are developing surround on headphones with DTS. Yes, there will be money involved. This is capitalism. But there will also be technological and/or artistic leaps forward, most likely a combination of both.

In this month’s cover story are three very talented people who epitomize the strengths of industry-artist collaboration. The shot was taken in late September, onstage during a break in rehearsals for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra recording Beethoven’s ‘Ninth’ in 5.1. (Yes, a disc and stream will be available soon, in hi-res and otherwise.)

To the left is Wolfgang Fraissinet, president of Neumann worldwide, a lover of orchestral music and a co-producer on the recording. He is both a musician and a businessman, and he is intent on developing and, yes, selling, the best in digital microphone technology, for both the engineer and the first violins, or tympani, or French horns. He helped fund the project to learn more about his microphones’ performance. He is The Industry.

In the middle is Leslie Ann Jones, co-producer on the recording and director of music recording and scoring at Skywalker Sound. Before that she tracked and mixed at Capitol. And before that, she grew up at the legendary Automatt in San Francisco under the tutelage of David Rubinson. She has worked with Neumann many times over the years, in seminars and workshops and behind the scenes. Leslie knows the orchestra and she knows about quality—in food, wine, art, performance and, especially, audio. She is The Artist.

(Full disclosure: Leslie is a dear friend here in Oakland; my daughters call her Stranger, because 16 years ago when we unknowingly moved in two doors down from her, she approached us as we unloaded the U-Haul, smiled, and said, “Well, hello stranger!”)

And engineer/audio consultant Mike Pappas, who might at this point be considered both Artist and Industry. He’s an audio consultant, in the best sense of the word. He’s a Denver engineer/producer with worldwide reach. He understands systems and music and technology. He’s been doing pioneering surround and broadcast work with the CSO since the 1990s. He’s the one who had the initial conversations with Fraissinet. He’s the one who recommended Jones. He was the glue that brought it all together. He also took the cover shot, along with the stellar photographs in this month’s cover story.

What happens now? Well, Leslie Ann Jones is finishing the mix as I write this, and we can be sure that Neumann gathered real-world objective and subjective date on their digital mics’ performance. Pappas, no doubt, is busy on some live performance, educational or recording project. And, ultimately, we will all reap the benefits of their week in Colorado. That represents the best in collaboration.

Tom Kenny, Editor, Mix