Special Focus: Audio Education
Acts accompanied by 150 artist performances over four days at the annual show
It’s been 12 years since the AES hosted its annual U.S. convention in Los Angeles, so we decided a few months back to put together an All-L.A. Issue to celebrate the return. Our apologies to New York, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, Nashville and all the other big cities and small towns where great music is made and stellar audio is produced. But this month it’s all about the City of Angels, La-La Land, Tinseltown, the Entertainment Capital of the World.
Mix is gearing up to present its long-standing, annual Audio Education Guide in its November 2014 issue.
On August 1, Clair Bros. Audio Systems Inc. in Manheim, Penn., announced a new trade name and logo for its audio, video and lighting integration division: Clair Solutions, which now serves as the company’s sole representation in the A/V/L integration industry. Clair Brothers manufacturing will continue to concentrate on sales and distribution of professional loudspeaker systems both domestically and worldwide.
For the past few months at Mix, we have been completely immersed in Immersive Sound. If you haven’t been out to a high-end, refurbished theater lately to see a big film, Immersive Sound is the blanket term for “surround on steroids,” a more spherical approach to mix and playback that includes height channels, five across the screen, ceiling speakers, object-based audio, zones and beds and metadata, and seemingly unlimited creative possibilities.
I remember the first time I heard the term “mobile apps.” It was 2005, in the pre-smartphone era when Mix editor Tom Kenny asked me to hunt down some candidates for a feature. After much searching, and trying to imagine the potential for portable audio companion apps that in large part hadn’t yet been defined, I found there wasn’t much that was useful or mobile. Now, I don’t go a day without using one or more as a helpmate for engineering, writing, teaching or just living life.
We sacrifice a lot to be in the entertainment industry. At some point, most of us have weathered strained relationships with friends and lovers, gone for long periods of time with irregular sleep, and missed entire weeks of sunlight as if we were living at McMurdo Station in June.
This month’s cover represents quite a departure for Mix, and it’s pretty striking. Half a face, black and white, no console or room. One person. One profile. We are not trying to be Esquire or Men’s Health, or change our mission, and next month there will be a big Harrison console in a big room at Sony Pictures Studios. But there are a few reasons we did what we did on this cover.
I have a thing for heroes, and I love a good story. I can read for months and talk for days on the likes of Ernest Shackleton, John Wesley Powell, or Lewis and Clark. I recognize the genius in Michelangelo, Gauguin and Banksy, or Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Michael Jackson. Don’t get me started on Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan.
It has been a lot of fun talking about Chicago this past month while putting together our Regional pages. The weekly editorial meetings were peppered with stories from Blair Jackson, who located and contacted Liz Phair for this month’s Classic Track, along with references to Brad Wood, Brian Deck, Veruca Salt and the late great Idful Studios; from managing editor Lori Kennedy, who wrote up Sessions & Studio News from the likes of CRC and Pressure Point, both longtime Mix friends; from contributing editor Barbara Schultz, a Chicago native and diehard Bulls and Cubs fan, who, though tied up producing our Class of 2014 cover feature, still had time for a few Chicago stories.
Everyone knows the Chinese blessing/curse, “May you live in interesting times.” For me, the polarity-flipped blessing would be, “May you always be surrounded by those smarter than yourself.” For most of my life I’ve either gotten to hang with smart people for free, or I paid for it. When I was young and on the road as a guitar player, whether I was in L.A., Kansas City or Kankakee, I’d get a lesson with the resident monster. You just had to ask around and a name or two would pop up. The local gurus were happy to give a lesson and make some extra bucks, and I was happy to pick their brains.
I’ve been at Mix for 25 years, and last month I went on my first real junket. I have no moral objection to journalists accepting trips from sources or advertisers. None at all. I know that travel writers stay in Bali for free, that fashion writers are flown to Paris, that tech writers don’t foot their own bill for retreats in Aspen. It’s all part of the dance, at every level of the media, especially the trade press.
A two-day visit to Sonic Ranch in West Texas, on the dry open lands of the Rio Grande Valley, got me thinking about source. There’s lots of time to think out there, amid the 2,000 acres of pecan trees, horse farm and star-loaded skies. It’s a completely turnkey production facility, what foodies might call farm-to-table but what we call source-to-distribution. But what exactly is “source”?
We got into the audio biz because we enjoy certain aspects of the job. It might have been the creative parts, the joys of problem solving or perhaps the glamor of working with famous and talented people and the opportunity to travel. Whatever it was that led us to this career, at times it feels more like fun than work.
While the four mastering engineers pictured on this month’s cover are certainly deserving, each with an extensive and stellar body of work, I admit, as I did to them, that I had my reservations. What about Ludwig and Grundman and Sax and Marino? What about Stubblebine, Jensen, Wilder, Meller and Brian “Big Bass” Gardener? All of them Hall of Fame-level mastering engineers, all very active, but none has ever been on a Mix cover. So why these guys?
All through high school and years beyond, I played in bands. I made my living that way. When I first moved to L.A. after a year of college, it was to study with great guitar players and interact with a better pool of musicians. Los Angeles was and is a hub for musicians, much like Austin is now—a place where live music is everywhere and live recordings capture the moment.
The best thing about being editor of Mix is that I get to meet such a wide variety of creative, smart, interesting, technical, curious, articulate, well-rounded, passionate and simply fascinating people—from all types of backgrounds, from all walks of life. There are mad scientists who know more about electricity, physics or acoustics than anyone I will likely ever meet, and there are high school dropouts who have a creative bent for mixing chart-topping music. They all have a story.
John Meyer is smart. Everyone who meets him comes away with that. And he can talk about an endless variety of subjects, learned and articulate in them all, with a rare ability to break down complex technical concepts into simple, often visual, analogies. He’s scientist smart, and at the same time infinitely accessible, often displaying a dry wit or drifting off into his passion for cameras and lenses and the visual arts. But his lifelong passion has been sound, sound reproduction in particular. Linear sound reproduction systems to be even more particular.
Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about how the data our brains reference affects the outcomes of anything we do or think about. For example, those who saw Michael Jordan, Magic, or Kareem play their best have a better appreciation of Kobe and LeBron. It’s also the reason audio engineers bring their own speakers to gigs, love the mics, consoles and outboard they do, and have their favorite sample rate—it’s all about the reference. I’ll never say no to a good reference, even if I know I’ll never hear or see it again.
In Zen they say: If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try if for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all but very interesting.”—John Cage, “Indeterminacy”
Back when my younger daughter Jesse was 11 or 12, she used to love the VH1 nostalgia shows. Behind the Music, I Love the ’80s, that sort of thing. She’s a hard worker, a determined and forward-thinking young woman, and a recent UC Berkeley graduate headed to graduate school in museum studies. But back then, she used to revel in vegging out on the couch for long stretches at a time, taking a break from the sometimes crazy pressure put on teenagers today and soaking up the culture as seen through on-demand television. She still does, when she can, just like her dad.
My first exposure to audio tech was as a guitar player. My band had a Shure VA-302-C Vocal Master, and I played my Gibson 335 through a gigantic Acoustic amp with two 15-inch speakers and a blue horn for HF. For me that was the tops. When I moved into recording, I started with a TASCAM Portastudio, then onto a ½-inch reel-to-reel 8-track recorder with an M-216 mixer. I got pretty good at bouncing to take full advantage of the real estate. Fast forward to now, and I have a portable Pro Tools rig on a laptop that provides me plenty of UAD-2 powered plug-ins, to go with stellar I/O via Benchmark. I can fit it all in a backpack. Tons of power and capability.