Virtually all music that's made with an intent to distribute gets to the Internet today, but an arguably much smaller percentage is produced with cyberspace as the main stage.
The Orchard (www.theorchard.com) is a name already well-known to many in the music community. A leading digital distributor, The Orchard represents thousands of artists and music labels, globally supplying songs and albums to iTunes, eMusic, MSN, Rhapsody and a host of other download marketplaces. While the company sees itself mainly as a marketing service and global developer, its mission is also to build up value-added services for labels and artists — such as go-anywhere recording with its new “small but mighty” mobile production studio.
The Orchard’s chief engineer Jeff Hoffman
Photo: David Weiss
The singularly focused Real Magic TV (www.realmagictv.com) is a Web video site that presents interviews between recording artists and a top magician, RMTV executive producer Jonathan Krackehl. Founded in 2001 to support the Twin Towers Fund, RMTV evolved from documenting Krackehl's travels across New York for a show — first on college television, and then on the Web — that offered viewers a combination of magic, backstage interviews and musical performances. After dozens of shows featuring the likes of Black Eyed Peas, Maroon 5 and Queens of the Stone Age, and an accompanying for-hire video production company, RMTV has gone from a college side-project to a full-time media venture.
According to chief engineer Jeff Hoffman, The Orchard's philosophy is reflected in its mobile rig, which is centered around a 24-channel Tonelux console, RADAR 24-track recorder with high-quality Nyquist converters and an array of distinguished microphones highlighted by the Korby Audio Technologies Convertible with four different interchangeable capsules.
“In part because everything we're doing here is ending up in the digital domain, and in part because [Orchard president/CEO] Greg Scholl and myself are kind of analog guys, we wanted to have that flavor to it,” Hoffman says. “The Tonelux console is emblematic of a lot of new manufacturing that's designed for people that don't have room for a big console but want that classic sound. It's comparable to an API — the EQs sound really great, the racks are 16 modules per rack and you can outfit it however you want.
“The RADAR is a great machine that we selected for its quality and reliability,” he continues. “Soundwise, it's as good as you can get for a digital machine, and in terms of a hard disk recorder, there's nothing out there that's better. The Korby mics are very versatile and give the flavor of vintage tube mics without their issues. The whole thinking behind the equipment is to be as analog as you can get without being analog.”
When the RMTV crew, which also includes audio engineer Ed Massenay and talent booker/artist relations Sheehan Perera, shows up to record a live show, the goal is to travel light: Typically, they arrive armed with an array of Shure and MXL microphones, and a pair of PreSonus DigiMAX 8-channel mic preamps feeding an Alesis ADAT HD24 digital recorder recording at 44.1 kHz.
Although Massenay considers the Web a unique medium, he stresses that there should be no difference in the way engineers record for it — the highest-possible quality should always be the objective. However, he says, there are significant differences in the way they should produce for it, especially as they plan for the mix phase.
“The thing that I found [for the Web] is to try and avoid extra sounds and get as much separation as possible,” Massenay explains. “Things that ultimately go to CD or DVD that can create lush, soundscape environments turn, a lot of the time, to mud on the Web. I'll also use a little less reverb on things for the Web than for CD or DVD. Overall, I find the Web tends to flatten the sound — so avoid mud because something that sounds lush originally can be muddy if it gets flattened.”
As most of Hoffman's recordings for Orchard artists are destined to be encoded and released in a number of formats (the final distribution format being dependant on the individual preferences of the artists' record companies after The Orchard delivers it at 16-bit/44.1kHz), he has to approach his projects with more general goals. “I'm just trying to get the highest-possible quality signal to disk, regardless of whether it's going to the Web or not,” he says. “I just think the better the first stop in the chain is, the better it will sound when it goes to MP3.
“If anything, you're less worried about the high or low frequencies because that's all going to get cut off. To me, the most noticeable differences in MP3 is in the high- frequency range: If you listen to cymbals on a 44.1- or 96kHz recording, you'll hear a smeariness that happens. But again, if it sounds good in the original recording, it should sound good as an MP3. I don't necessarily approach it [thinking], ‘I need to get rid of anything below 80 Hz or it will screw up the MP3.’”
Because Massenay knows for a fact that his Web audio mix will go out on MPEG-4 (it is married to video), he can plan specifically for that format. Mixing on a Dell PC server with dual M-Audio 1010 soundcards and Cakewalk SONAR Producer Edition, he does critical listening primarily on off-the-shelf headphones and inexpensive computer speakers.
“Producing for the Web forces me to focus on playback systems,” he notes. “I try to EQ for them when I master the source. Before compressing, I'll drop everything below 35 Hz and I roll-off pretty hard above 17.5 kHz, as well, because the compression codecs generally lose most of what's up there anyway, and rolling off the high end also helps reduce artifact creation in that range. The reason for dropping the low end is I want to get as much playback volume as possible, and lots of the energy in the low-end stuff doesn't come across on the Web because of the playback systems that people are using.”
As the RMTV crew points out, the sweetest sound of Web audio actually isn't the music they put out, but, “It's the feedback we get from our fans — the Internet is an amazing tool for that,” says Krackehl. “They actually suggest 100 percent of the acts we feature, and the Web allows them to be such a part of what we do that they're directors in their own right. As much as we can, we have them interact.”
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