In the Studio With the Lovin' Spoonful
I just finished reading Gary Eskow's Lovin' Spoonful article in Mix (“Classic Tracks: The Lovin' Spoonful's ‘Do You Believe in Magic,’” August 2008), and had to tell you that John Sebastian told him the truth. I was [engineer] Harry Yarmark's BP (affectionately known as “button-pushers” because there were no remote starts on the tape machines) at Bell Sound in the '60s and wound up on a lot of the Spoonful dates.
At that time, I was a jazz piano player and just got off the road with Lesley Gore. I got a job at Bell to meet all the musicians and to try to get into the studio scene. So working for two hours to get a drum sound wasn't my favorite thing, and as hard as I tried Harry wouldn't let me off the Spoonful dates. Looking back, though, it was a lot of fun and I remember that Zally [Yanovsky] was nuts (good nuts) and John was serious.
All this to say thank you for bringing back great memories.
Radical Mixing Tales
In keeping with the theme of the feature “Mixing Outside the Lines,” which appeared in the August Mix, we asked readers to tell us about their own radical mixing techniques.
I am mixing an album for a Turkish/Swiss producer involving three European singers (Italian, Spanish and Turkish). The album is currently called Aventia Crooners and is a “Three Tenors” type of album with songs from movies from the past 50 years.
The tracks were recorded in Switzerland and then fully orchestrated and overdubbed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (103 musicians). Pretty normal, except that this huge project started at an SSL studio (Studio Relief in Belfaux, Switzerland) and is being mixed at my home studio using a Pro Tools HD3 system running at 96 kHz and feeding 30 outputs into Inward Connections analog summing mixers. The signal is then converted back to digital and fed into the digital input of my audio computer.
So far, this is not so radical, except for the fact that we are mixing “live” while being about 6,215 miles apart. The mix arrives as a 48k MP3 stream at 320KB/sec, high-quality settings via Rogue Amoeba Nicecast software (which I reviewed for Mix in the November 2007 issue). I put “live” in quotes because there is at least a two-second delay between hitting Play in Los Angeles and hearing music in Switzerland.
Here's the “radical” part: I use Apple's iChat video conferencing on my laptop to connect with the producer in Switzerland. I then use screen-sharing to take over his computer from my laptop. Once I have control of his laptop, I navigate on his computer to open screen-sharing and then connect his laptop to my audio computer running Pro Tools. (I do it this way so that I can input the password to my audio computer without him knowing what it is.) He can now see my mix screen from my audio computer on his laptop. I close the screen-sharing between our laptops and then re-establish a video iChat between us.
Three computer events happen simultaneously: He sees and hears me using iChat; he sees my Pro Tools screen from my audio computer on his laptop; and he hears the mix sent via Internet broadcast (Nicecast) and monitored by opening an Internet stream in iTunes on his laptop.
Total cost (assuming you already have all the computers and hardware): $40 (Nicecast, from Rogue Amoeba).
Although the project was coming out well, there had been a lot of tension about the budget and the tracking had taken longer than planned. Then, during the mix I discovered — to my horror — that on one song the snare track ended about a minute before the song did. There had been a glitch and the rest of the file was gone. I was working on a Roland VS-2480 [workstation], and this had never happened before (or since). I knew that even if I could get the drummer back in to track it again, it would take all day to reproduce the setup to match the other songs and I would have to eat the cost (and it would put the project even further behind schedule).
I still had the track with the bottom mic so I tried to work with it but just couldn't get a believable sound — it might have worked if [the music] wasn't heavy metal, but this snare had to cut hard. I pulled the top and bottom snare tracks into [Syntrillium] Cool Edit Pro and carefully replaced the missing snare hits using the first half of the song for source material and matching the timing with the bottom track. After several hours of tedious work, I transferred the tracks back to the VS-2480, but the last part of the song still sounded different. I tightened the gate and compressed until I could no longer hear the transition, and then EQ'd and added ambience until I thought it was acceptable. (I didn't actually like the snare sound but I felt I had done the best I could.)
When the band heard the mixes, they sent me an e-mail with some minor changes and noted how much they liked the snare sound on this song and asked me to make all the others sound the same. I wasn't expecting that.
Michael Wagener mastered the project. He immediately picked up the odd snare sound and said he thought it was sampled. Well, not exactly, but what great ears. I guess that's why he is where he is.
Jim (The Reverb King) Brown
Next month, we focus on education programs for all aspects of audio production. Mix wants to know: How did you break into the business? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.