THE FRANK I REMEMBER
My name is Michael Braunstein, and it was with amusement that I read the Chris Michie piece on Frank Zappa in the January 2003 issue of Mix. I began working as Frank's recording engineer on January 3, 1975, when Kerry McNab (arguably the best engineer Frank ever had) began his slow withdrawal from the scene and subsequently from engineering entirely. Because of a contractual obligation to Kerry, Marty Perellis (Frank's then-manager) insisted on listing me as “recordist” on the One Size Fits All LP, though I did much of the actual engineering. I went on to engineer all or part of six or so albums with Frank.
Later, during the spring of 1975, I was engineering for Frank, and Davey Moire was the front desk receptionist. He was such a Zappa fan — so eager to get into the studio — that I asked to have him be my assistant. He even ended up doing some vocals and playing harp on a couple of tunes.
Davey is correct in describing Frank's memory. Would that Davey's were as good! (For example, I used the Pignose in the Bosendorfer in Studio B at the old RPLA on the Rufusized LP in October of 1974; concocted it with Gary Olazabal.)
The most eloquent part of the story for me was the small photo of coffee, Winston cigarettes and Frank's hand on the VCA groupers on the old API in Studio B. That defines the every-night location of where Frank sat as we worked. Frank and I spent months in that room. Frank never drove; I would drive him home every morning to the Woodrow Wilson house. I also lived in Laurel Cyn.
I am forwarding a unique photo that was snapped one night while I was mixing the Grand Funk album that I coaxed Frank into producing. It's in the old Studio A at RPLA on another API that I think went into the DesignFX remote truck, if I recall. It's kind of a rare photo of one of Frank's rare production gigs.
Frank was always fighting with record labels. At the time we worked together, he was trying to get out of his Warner Bros. contract. We were cramming to finish a bunch of albums to deliver to them. At 7 a.m., on the last day the material was due, Frank grabbed a legal pad and hand-wrote a letter to Mo Ostin to accompany the masters we were sending over to Burbank, Calif. One of my favorite artifacts is a copy of that three-page demand for “payment by the end of business day today.”
There have been many events Mix has written about that I have been part of during the 20 years I spent in L.A. engineering or producing. This is the first time I have commented on any of them. It's because Frank and I worked together for a long time — over three years — and I saw a lot of people come and go. We got to know each other pretty well, and I have a real spot in my heart for him.
EAR Q? SAY IT ISN'T SO!
Several years ago, I was discussing music, mixing and hearing with a good friend who's a veteran mixing engineer. He had critically damaged his hearing by mixing at high sound levels, and he noted that a hearing self-test system could have saved his career by giving him timely information. I suggested that such a self-test system could probably be developed for a personal computer, and that it could readily be adapted to a DAW environment to provide musicians and engineers with instant, accurate and confidential information about their hearing. I liked the idea so much that I developed and patented the technology, added Suggested EQ Settings to help engineers equalize their personal monitoring systems (rather than the final mix) to compensate for their tested hearing curve, and then began marketing the system as the Ear Q Hearing Analyzer.
Unfortunately, in spite of its apparent utility and in spite of consistently favorable press, Ear Q has not yet met with much market acceptance. Therefore, I regret to report that due to extremely slow sales, Ear Q Technologies has been forced to temporarily suspend shipping all versions of its Hearing Analyzer product line. We apologize to those few of you who have recently tried to order a system from us — we only wish that there were hundreds more like you so that we could remain in production. Perhaps Ear Q needs to wait until hearing conservation becomes a key concern in the audio world, just as workplace safety became of critical importance in all other industries. Then we'll pick up again.
I'd like to thank the Mix editorial staff for its enthusiastic support and for the clear and comprehensive product review the magazine published this past January.
President, Ear Q Technologies Inc.
WHO SAID IT HAS TO BE LOUD?
I have nothing but admiration for Stephen St.Croix's excellent article “I Sing the Body Electric” (Mix, November 2002), and I wholly believe that technology, and our belief in its necessity, is sucking the very soul out of music.
I've heard and read a lot of mastering engineers talk about the “loudness wars” that they're forced to be a part of, regardless of their personal beliefs. And I've also heard them comment that, particularly in pop radio today, you simply have to have the loudest single out there in order to be competitive; that some stations “won't even play a single that's not slamming zero.”
But it's also true that these radio stations compete to be the loudest station on the dial; they spend a fortune on custom multiband compressors so that everything that goes over the air is squashed to hell and back. Every song gets the same treatment so that a Creed cut can be played right alongside an AC/DC album from 1977, with no discernable loudness difference.
Mastering engineers and producers say they “have to squash it or they won't be competitive,” yet a Beatles song will be exactly as loud, on the radio, as a Linkin Park song.
The same holds true for club DJs. With a Finalizer in every rack today, Michael Jackson's “Beat It” has more punch and low end on the dancefloor than anything produced during the past 10 years; with “Beat It,” Bernie Grundman left enough loudness energy for the low end to move some booty.
Why are you using this flimsham excuse to destroy dynamics and balance in music? If every cut ends up being the exact same loudness as the “competition,” why does it matter how loud you master it?
Take a stand. And stop whining that the big bad wolf made you do it.
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