L.A. Grapevine

There was more going on than what first met the eye when I stopped in at Record Plant's Studio 2 to visit with producer/engineer Toby Wright.

There was more going on than what first met the eye when I stoppedin at Record Plant's Studio 2 to visit with producer/engineer TobyWright. Along with engineer Elliott Blakey, Wright was deep in mixesfor soulful rockers Tantric, who were finishing up their sophomoreMaverick release. When he took a break to talk about the new album, Ialso discovered that Wright is such an avid surround sound maven thathe's come up with software designed to simplify the task of setting up5.1 mixes.

Wright's been a fan of Tantric's lineup since their previousincarnation as members of Days of the New. He also produced their firstCD, having hooked up with the band when it turned out that they were oneach other's “people I'd like to work with” list. That CD,with its 2001 single “Breakdown” (Number 4 onBillboard's Modern Rock chart), was also mixed at Record Plant,where Wright is a longtime client. “I've mixed 15 or 20 recordshere,” he says. “I like the console [a 96-input SSL G Plus]and I trust what I hear. One of the reasons I'm comfortable here isthat I feel confident about what I'm getting.”

This time around, tracking sessions were done at “TheSanctuary,” Ocean Way Nashville's Studio A, another Wrightfavorite that also happens to be near home for the Kentucky-basedband.

Wright is an experimental kind of guy: For one Nashville session, heplaced the drum kit in an unused alcove about 20 feet above the controlroom. “Studio A was originally part of an old church,” henotes. “The control room sticks out in such a way that there'sabout 10 feet between the ceiling's outer shell and the actual buildingceiling. I was looking for a tighter drum sound for one of the songs;up there, the ceilings were at 45-degree angles with pads on them,which worked out great.”

Recording with surround mixes in mind, Wright added elements such asguitars and vocals that don't appear in the 2-track mixes. That bringsus to Mixlab, the software product he and partner Scott Blumco-developed. “It came about around an Alice In Chains DVD,called Music Bank: The Videos, that I mixed,” Wrightexplains. “After researching a lot of DVDs while doing thatproject, I felt that much better use could be made of the surroundfield.

“Most of the music I heard used ‘front loading,’where three speakers are considered the front; most of the music comesout of those. The back speakers are used mostly for effects andambience. What we've created uses that other space so that when you sitdown and close your eyes, the speakers literally disappear.”

By using a project's multitrack material, Mixlab focuses on settingpanning at its optimal positioning. “We've used wave analysis andother techniques to create a method that's very fast,” Wrightcomments. “As a mixer, when you're setting up a surround mix,most of your time is spent on panning. There are so many options thatyou can lose perspective.”

Based on the instrumentation, Mixlab chooses between approximately2½ million possible mix combinations and provides what itconsiders the best-possible starting point. “You can keepstepping through [the mixes] if you want,” Wright notes,“but we find the first one is usually really good.”

Wright and Blum plan to offer Mixlab as a service, where thesoftware and gear for a surround mix will be set up for the client.Once set with the basic panning and levels, an engineer or producer isfree to get creative with the mix. The system works with any kind ofmultitrack music, including film scores.

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Meanwhile, on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, engineer andco-producer (with Bob Ezrin of Alice Cooper, KISS and Pink Floyd fame)Brian Virtue was at Scream Studios wrapping up mixes for a new Jane'sAddiction CD. Yes, it's true folks: Original Jane's members PerryFarrell, drummer Stephen Perkins and guitarist Dave Navarro havereunited and are striking sparks, helped out by the addition of bassistChris Chaney. With a CD summer release, titled Hypersonic, and a2003 Lollapalooza fest gearing up, fans are expecting the return ofsome funky rock 'n' roll fireworks.

Virtue, who has previously worked with Korn, Coal Chamber and CrazyTown (including on their Number One pop and rock song“Butterfly”), among others, had been behind the desk— and the Pro Tools — while the group, which hadn'trecorded a full album together since the 1990 Ritual de loHabitual, sorted out how to get their grooves back on. Camped outat L.A.'s Henson Recording in-between tours to Asia and Europe, theywere jamming, writing, recording and refining for over a year.

“We were trying to keep everybody occupied and excited,”says Virtue, “so we had to keep a lot of things going on at once.Perry would have his system set up and be writing songs in one room.I'd be working in the control room, and the band would be out in thestudio with a separate headphone mix rehearsing other songs. Theassistants had their work cut out for them: cordoning off differentsections of the console and changing gear around all of thetime.”

Working mostly in Henson's Studio B, Virtue relied on its outboardAPI and Neve preamps to record the basics to analog tape, tending tobypass the console for tracking the band, who cut live with twoguitars, bass and drums. I'd expected walls of guitar parts, butinstead, Virtue says, parts got simpler and simpler as the process wenton.

Mixing was on Scream's SSL 9000 J Series, which Virtue still keptset up for “tracking and overdubs at any time.” He wasalso, seemingly, working with a speaker shootout. On the day I stoppedin, there were five systems set up: his own Dynaudio B15s, TannoySystem 8 NSM2s, Yamaha NS-10s and a mono Auratone, and a pair of NHTswith dual subwoofers that Ezrin was trying out.

Virtue left his rack at home, except for his PYE limiter and someextra Valley People Dynamites, which he uses for drum compression.

I kept wondering what method Virtue used to archive the longproject. “You mean the wall of hard drives?” he asks,smiling. “I would just continually buy new ones. I used the ProTools function ‘Save a Session Copy,’ which saveseverything you're currently using in a song. ‘Save a SessionCopy’ copies only the audio files that are being used at thattime, in that mix. I'd keep the old hard drives in case we needed to goback to them, but continually move the current mixes to a new harddrive. The drives are just numbered consecutively. Since they're mostly120-gig FireWires, each one holds the whole record [as it was at thattime].”

Other projects recently at Scream, which is celebrating its 15thyear in business, have included producer David Kahne with engineerMichael Brauer mixing Sugar Ray (whose previous three albums were alsomixed by Kahne at Scream), Kahne and Brauer mixing a live version of“Hey Jude” for Paul McCartney, and Tim Palmer mixing newElektra group Burn Season.

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