Developing multiple skill sets can help musicians remain financially stable in the extremely competitive metropolitan music market. This month, we visited with a pair of artists who combine extensive digital workstation chops with impressive writing and performing skills.
Andy Snitzer must have been listening when his parents told him he needed a career to fall back on in case music didn't pan out. The Philadelphia native took an MBA from NYU and a broker's position at JP Morgan after receiving his degree in the late '80s. "The way I got my break in the recording business is actually a very funny story," he says. "I was trading at JP Morgan one day when the phone rang. It wasn't a client - Arif Mardin was on the line! He was calling on a recommendation, and he asked me to show up at the old Atlantic Studios facility a half-hour later to play a solo on the Boy Meets Girl single "Waiting for a Star to Fall." I just happened to have my tenor sax with me and so I rushed over to the studio wearing my Brooks Brothers suit!"
The success of that record led to a succession of recording and performing gigs. Highlights of Snitzer's performing career include tours with the Rolling Stones in '94 and '97. This fall he will be heading out for a second time with Paul Simon. "I'm really looking forward to touring with Paul again. The level of the band and the artist is so high, and the material is deep and challenging. Michael Brecker did the gig for a long time, and so there are a lot of great sax moments in the book that became mine."
Back in '93, Digidesign was looking for a horn player to blow into a mic as part of a Pro Tools demo at the AES convention in New York. The company was offering a grand or a Pro Tools 4-track system. Snitzer opted for the gear. Eventually, his mastery of feel and function would lead to some high-profile editing gigs, including the current Bon Jovi album, Crush.
"Pro Tools can be used in different ways, depending on a project's budget. I recorded and mixed my last CD on Countdown Records, Some Quiet Place, entirely within Pro Tools. Would it have sounded better if I spent 40 grand tracking and mixing in A room. Sure it would. But the benefits of being able to tweak a budget album on Pro Tools far outweigh the sonic limitations."
Bon Jovi tracked to 2-inch tape six days a week for four months at Jon Bon Jovi's South Jersey home. Snitzer's associate Graham Hawthorne was on hand at each session to transfer selected cuts into a Pro Tools rig that stayed in the studio. These takes were offloaded to DDS3 tapes and FedEx'd to Snitzer's Manhattan project studio. "I served as a time and feel policeman, making sure everything sat in the groove as perfectly as possible," he says. "These days there are two ways to make a great record. You can sweat out overdubs until every element of a live performance is perfect, or use the technology as your friend. Bon Jovi got performances that have great vibes. Tiko Torres is a very good drummer, and Richie's a great guitarist. If the fill going into the third chorus wasn't perfect, I'd correct the time. I listen and decide if various elements are contributing to the groove or conflicting with it, and then massage things around in time until things are killing. One tip to musicians who are just getting into editing live performances - you can't cut music by sight! Simply lining waveforms up with the kick drum doesn't make it. You have to use your ears."
Although he handled no final mixing chores, Snitzer needed to set up his project studio mixes in a way that was sonically pleasing: "Editing is totally psychoacoustic. How you're listening to affects, how you edit in time. I use the Waves Gold Bundle regularly. Applying the C4 compressor across the main mix sets things nicely in place, and the Renaissance Compressor is fantastic."
Snitzer mixes entirely within Pro Tools with no mixer. "I have a pair of 1622 line-level input boxes that lets me route 32 channels of MIDI gear directly into my system," he says. "I monitor on Genelec 2029A near fields, using the 1091 subwoofer that goes with them. When I got my mixes where I wanted them, I'd bring in Phil Magnotti to come in and finish them. I'd send these mixes back down to Jon's studio, and they'd critique them. Bob Clearmountain ended up mixing the record."
Operating out of his project studio in the Flatiron district, Michael Bramon (aka Eddie Bastard to fans of his new group, City of Freaks) recently co-scored and contributed a pair of songs to the Courtney Love/Ben Affleck film 200 Cigarettes. He also mixed his band's current R.E.D./Sony CD, De-Programming the Masses, at his facility, the DMZ Entertainment Group.
Back in the early '90s Bramon's band, originally Pleasure Head and then re-named Crush, sold over a million units of their self-titled Atlantic Records CD (yes, it really is a coincidence that we're speaking of two albums with the same name in one column). Using a combination of Pro Tools and Cubase, Bramon mixes all of his productions in-house: "I tracked drums and bass at Daydream Multimedia over in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but mixed everything here."
Switching between Pro Tools and Cubase involves both, esthetic and practical considerations. "Cubase is warmer," he says. "Pro Tools has that crunchy, intense sound. If I'm working on guitars, keyboards or some of my vocals I'll process in Pro Tools. Cubase handles the rest. It's like the Neve/SSL comparison, very much so."
For practical reasons, if Bramon is importing multiple tracks of drums or guitars into his system, he'll go directly into Pro Tools using a Digidesign 1622 interface. However, once tracks are inside his system, he runs all hardware and software on a Power Tower Pro 250; they freely move back and forth between the two platforms he favors.
"Plug-ins play an important role in my decision where to work," Bramon says. "I love the Pluggo VST plug-ins. The way they maximize native memory is extremely intelligent - multiple effects cascade together. So, if I've ported tracks recorded elsewhere into Pro Tools and want to access these effects, I'll open up the Pro Tools tracks in SDII format within Cubase, line up the waveforms manually and proceed.
"Speaking of plug-ins, the WAVES package is extraordinary. Most of the sonic onslaught on my record [which he describes as a combination of trip-rock and electronica] comes from the way we used and abused the L1 to push bit levels up to and past the max. We went back and forth between the L1 and Spectral Design's Magneto, which is an amazing VST tube simulator. I also used the WAVES L2 as a front end for all of the recording I did here at my studio. The A to D's in the L2 are superlative. It's a fantastic front end for older DAT decks like the Panasonic 3700."
Besides singing, writing, engineering and producing his group (which features guitarist Glampire) and working in film, Bramon produces outside talent. He currently is working with singer Razzberry Nixon.