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‘Guilty Pleasures’ Done on SSL

Barbra Streisand’s Guilty Pleasures, which debuted at Number 5 on the Billboard 200 album chart, paired Streisand with producer Barry Gibb. Engineer and producer John Merchant relied on an SSL AWS 900 Analogue Workstation System, especially during Streisand’s vocal overdubs and mixing.

Engineer/producer John Merchant

Photo: Gary Ladinsky

Basic tracks for the album were recorded through the SSL 9000 J Series console in Studio A at the Hit Factory/Criteria in Miami, with overdubs recorded to Pro Tools at the Bee Gees’ Middle Ear Studios, where Merchant served as chief engineer for more than 10 years.

“Barbra really wanted to do her vocals at home,” says Merchant. “She gave us this beautiful cottage with sweeping views of the cliffs of Malibu, looking out at the mighty Pacific. But we needed to create a studio, so we rented an AWS 900 from Advanced Audio and Pro Tools rigs from Design FX.

“I’d had a demo on the AWS 900 at GC Pro and really liked it,” Merchant continues. “It’s very intuitive. We sat down, pushed up the faders and everything sounded great; surprisingly great. Within an hour, after seven or eight takes, Barbra came out and said, ‘That sounds fantastic.’ She said that from the first day to the last.”

Back at Middle Ear, mixing on the studio’s console was proving a frustrating experience. “Usually, I’d spend a day on the mix and then Barry would come in,” Merchant explains. “But I kept telling him I wasn’t ready yet. After three days, he finally came in and listened, and I could tell he was holding something back. I finally said, ‘It’s just not the same, is it?’ and he said, ‘It really isn’t, it’s not what we got used to.’”

Merchant contacted Advanced Audio, and the same AWS 900 used for vocal overdubs was shipped to Miami. “Because of its size and portability,” Merchant concludes, “it went in a flight case and was here the next day. We set it up, and there was that great sound we had gotten used to for three weeks in California. So the album was mixed on the AWS 900, too.”

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