The last time we checked in with Bob Sadin, he was putting the final touches on Gershwin's World, the Herbie Hancock record that would pull down several Grammys in 1999, including Best Jazz Record of the Year. As producer, Sadin found himself in the enviable position of sifting through offers. For his next project he chose to work with Wayne Shorter on the fabled horn player's current album.
Although much of the fundamental work that falls to Sadin as producer remains the same, his recent purchase of a Pro Tools|24 MIXPlus system has radically changed the way he tracks and edits. "Gershwin's World was the apotheosis of the old way of using technology; that's how it strikes me," states Sadin. "We recorded to a Sony 3348, which is a great machine, but tape slowed us down. Understand, when you're working with artists on the level of Herbie and Wayne, they don't have to punch in very often to fix a mistake. They use the overdub process to hunt down their best ideas. Sometimes they'll play something that's so good right away that you say, `That's it, we're done.' Other times, they'll be happy to play for an hour and develop the material."
Tracking to even a 48-track recorder imposed a significant limitation on the Hancock project, because half of those tracks were usually taken up with the rhythm section, and Sadin insisted on recording Hancock's piano with four mics pointing to discrete tracks. Six takes down the road, you're done. "We had engineers scurrying around to create slave reels, rolling extra tape machines into the control room," Sadin says. "Now that I'm tracking directly to Pro Tools, we can easily allow Wayne the freedom to play continually, until he's satisfied with the result."
Swappable drives are the rage these days, but Sadin is taking a more cautious approach. "The hot swaps are great," he says, "but I prefer greater quality control, so I generally take my G4 with me to the studio. We're tracking at Avatar here in New York, and at Cello Studios when we're in L.A. Clark Germain is the principal engineer for the project. (Germain did the great tracking of Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder with Herbie on Gershwin's World.)
"Clark lives in L.A. and has his own Pro Tools rig, so when we work out there he brings his system. In New York, I work a lot with Dave Darlington and Jim Janik, both outstanding Pro Tools-based engineers. They have done additional engineering on the album, and we use their systems as well."
Having worked in the best rooms with the best talent (Bruce Swedien mixed the Hancock record at Sony Music Studios) and equipment, Sadin is perfectly positioned to critique the sound quality of Pro Tools. "Very good," he states, "that's my take, with room for improvement in two areas. Plug-ins offer a lot of functionality, but they still don't quite stack up to stand-alone hardware.
"There's a far more critical area, though, and that involves the limitation of all the hard disk recording systems, including Sonic Solutions, regarding dynamics. That's the Achilles heel of all of these programs, in my opinion. The computation required to change a fader level is very complex; you're just not going to end up with the same waveform you had. When friends tell me they have a problem with a record mixed on Pro Tools sounding small, that's what they're hearing. One day this problem will be solved by all of the manufacturers, but that day hasn't arrived yet."
Sadin's solution is to track all his material into Pro Tools, come back to his Brooklyn home and edit all parameters, including dynamic changes, and come up with mixes that he and his team deem satisfactory. "By the way," he adds, "I find the Apogee AD 8000 critically important. They help the sound enormously." Rough mixes go out of Pro Tools into Sadin's Panasonic 3700 DAT machine.
When it comes time to execute final mixes, Sadin takes his G4 directly into a mix room that sports either a Neve or Sony Oxford console. Setting all Pro Tools tracks to unity gain, he will then consult the notes he's made regarding level changes and have all of the dynamics adjustments made on the console.
So digital editing is cool, regardless of the artist. What about working it with Wayne Shorter? "Wayne Shorter is an artist who is always searching," Sadin observes. "The repertoire of the new album will range from original material to a 12th-century carol, to a Welsh folk song. Wayne reminds me of the composers in the European classical tradition in that there is a great outpouring of music in the early years, and as time goes on there is a distillation and a sense of event to each new work."
Walking down 19th Street, I found myself in front of the building that's been home to Smythe & Company since 1989, so I stopped in for a brief visit.
Formed in 1987 by current company president and owner Janis Smythe and her late husband Tony, Smythe & Co. was initially a commercial music production company, with a ton of national spots ("What would you do for a Klondike bar?") and a fair amount of TV theme and record projects in the can by the time the business started changing in the early '90s. Here in New York, many jingle companies that had been self-sustaining had to restructure their marketing plans to include outside session work. On the day we stopped by, staff engineer/producer Stefane Guyot was setting up for a Jose Feliciano tracking session that was to take place that evening.
"By the time Tony died in 1995, the business was in the midst of a great change," says Janis Smythe. "The band concept that had driven jingle work was gone in favor of synth scores, and singing had become fairly obsolete. Around that time, licensed music became more popular as well.
"Fortunately, we'd always done work outside of the jingle industry, including the NFL Today theme and a variety of sports packages for network use. We made the decision to branch out, and we started a film division. Our first success was the score for a Columbia Tri-Star children's film, Buster and Chauncey's Silent Night, which starred Tom Arnold, Marie Osmond and Phil Hartman."
Recently, my old pal John Van Eps wrote the score, and Smythe & Co. handled music supervision tasks for an independent film called Under Hellgate Bridge, which will be released this fall. Van Eps also produced Chicago veteran Robert Lamm's latest album, In My Head, out of his space at the company, and veteran Freddie Cole recorded a wonderful collection of jazz standards there.
Studio A features an Otari Status 18R console, with Otari's Eagle Mix Automation. Compatability with the outside world is paramount, and so standard gear includes 32 tracks of ADAT, a single Tascam DA-88, plus analog multitrack. Digital capabilities are rounded out with the Pro Tools|24 MIXPlus system that resides in Studio B.