In the 1982 sci-fi movie classic
Tron, a tech-head is sucked into a computer and must battle to return to the real world. Sound familiar? In a way, there's a little Kevin Flynn (Tron's hacker hero) in all of us, but fortunately, we can always reshape the physical environment that surrounds our DAW to increase our level of productivity.
Nowhere is the ability to effectively manage your space, and therefore your creativity, more important than in New York City, where space is at a premium and potential distractions are rampant. For New York-based megamixer Bob Power (www.bobpower.com), whose expert tweaking skills have graced the likes of The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, Ozomatli, NAS and many more, managing creativity is a form of audio-based feng shui that is central to who he is.
Producer/mixer Bob Power
Photo: David Weiss
“As both a mixer and a producer, I try to not have a ‘sound,’” explains the often philosophical Power. “Your sound should be the sound of the artist, and everything you do should be steered to making their vision come alive. That said, after 25 years of working, you start to notice things about yourself, and my tendencies are toward warm, fat and present. The way I mix is what I call ‘tall,’ where everything is represented from the lows to the airy highs. It's not just about volume, EQ, pan or ambience, but how all those things work together.”
For ears as active as Power's, you'd assume that every inch of his working space is meticulously engineered — and you'd be wrong. Instead, Power's approach to molding the 250-square-foot room on Broadway and 27th that he took over a little more than a year ago reflects a combined reliance on luck, intuition, science, ergonomics and seat-of-the-pants engineering that adds up to a very productive space for both him and his clients.
Forced to move when his previous space was converted into condos (a frequent New York City business hazard), Power and his co-tenant, Steve Addabbo of Shelter Island Sound, located a former audio post facility ripe for the taking. “My raw room was great because it was odd-shaped, with no parallel walls. But until you get your gear in there, you never know,” he comments. “My feeling with a facility like that is to do as little as you have to: Get your gear in there and live with it for a little while, and then you find out what the room really needs. I brought my powered speakers in with my iPod, moved them around the room pointed in different directions and found which area sounded the best.”
As a low-end specialist, Power considers his confidence in those frequencies crucial to maximizing his practice. “My Genelec S30 monitors only go down to about 70 or 80 Hz, so I put in a sub, which I had generally not liked to work with,” says Power. “The Blue Sky sub is there, so I don't have to worry. I have to be able to question, ‘Will this be too loose at 40 Hz or is it just as it should be?’ I put a footswitch on the sub with a light, so I can kick it in and out.”
Although Power's room bristles with choice gear such as Neve 1095 preamps, Pendulum Vari-Mu compressors, Empirical Lab Distressors and an original-issue SPL Vitalizer, low-tech solutions are given equal weight. For example, each of his Genelecs rests on a $7 lazy Susan that he uses to spin the monitors from his own sweet spot to one that faces the client couch opposite his mix position in the small room. In another instance, Power couldn't put his trusted Apogee AD-8000SE converter where he could view it, but a strategically placed mirror changed all that in a flash. “The metering is phenomenal, but I couldn't see it from my mix position,” he explains, “so I put a mirror up on my wall out of the soundfield. The meters are backward, but I can see them!”
The next level of enlightenment he advises other creative managers to reach is knowing when to skip technical excellence and when to ‘Use the force, Luke.’ “I have a flat wall behind me painted eggshell,” says Power. “I said, ‘I have to take some high end off this shiny paint on the back wall.’ So I got these diffusors, put them up and although technically it may have been the right thing to do, the tonal balance didn't feel comfortable to me. So remember to search your feelings after doing ‘the right thing.’ Use your ears and use your brain. People talk about having good ears, but everyone has the same ears — it's just what your brain does with that information.”
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