Archive of the MixSounds Category
All you tennis fans know that in the last decade the Netherlands have turned out some great players- Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters in particular. Ok, I know, Justine and Kim are from Belgium and the two countries are distinct political entities. But they were one back in 1830!
ProjectSAM (www.projectsam.com) is the brain child of three composers- Maarten Spruijt, Vincent Beijer, and Marco Deegenaars- born and raised in the Netherlands. SAM Horns, their first commercially released sample library, put the company on the map nearly a decade ago. ProjectSAM has continued to release libraries that many composers- particularly those working in the film industry- have found indispensable. You can develop software anywhere, obviously, and the tools- a computer, microphone, quality instruments and players, a good engineer and room- are universal. But what’s it like to live and work in the Netherlands? I recently conducted an e-mail interview with Maarten Spruijt to try and find out.
Gary Eskow: “Maarten, what’s life in the Netherlands like?”
Maarten Spruijt: “I live in an apartment in the old city center of Utrecht, a small city of around 300,000 people in the middle of The Netherlands, with my girlfriend and two dogs. It’s a wonderful area with many old buildings, canals and parks. Almost everything I need is at a walking distance. My studio is at a three minute walk from my apartment. I love how I can do almost everything by foot and bicycle. This is one of the bigger contrasts with, for example, California, where you have to take the car everywhere.”
GE: “What styles of music attracted you as a child?”
MS: ”My mother is a classical pianist, my father was a classical guitarist. As a child I was surrounded by orchestral music: Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Bernstein as well as the Beatles and Paul Simon. When I was about 12 I developed an interest in computers and quickly discovered I could use them to create music. My first experiments were done in the tracker Octamed on a Commodore Amiga 500. What’s very cool is that I had a module connected to the Amiga that could hack into any running programs, allowing me to save the samples used in any Amiga game to a floppy disk and use them in Octamed. This way I could experiment with many different genres, from orchestral to electronic. In this period I also experimented with programming simple games in AMOS.”
GE: “How did you become involved in ProjectSAM? Are you still actively involved with the company?”
MS: ”Around 2002, during our Music Technology studies, Vincent Beijer, Marco Deegenaars and I teamed up to test our ideas on sampling brass instruments in a concert hall. We had specific ideas about the type of articulations to sample in order to program typical thematic brass lines and phrases. Thomas Bergersen and Simon Ravn also contributed to these ideas. The resulting Trumpet Section library was released as a free download to the online community. People seemed to really like the concept and we decided to expand our ideas and develop our first commercial sample library. This became SAM Horns. The core team -Vincent, Marco and me- is still the same, even though we have more help now. Next year we will be celebrating our 10 year anniversary!”
GE: “You’re very active as a film score composer in your country. Assuming you have a home studio, what equipment is in it, and how much of your scoring work do you complete in this studio? Do you work in large recording studios as well?”
MS: “My studio is a few streets from my home, but let’s call it a ‘home studio’ anyway, because it feels like one! Over the years, the setup has become simpler and smaller, but more powerful. Three or four years ago I was using a Mac Pro DAW with four Gigastudio slave machines. Now, I do almost all of my projects on a single Mac Pro. The Giga machines are gone and I have a second Mac Pro in case I need more performance. It hasn’t been turned on for months, though. This is also due to the fact that I do less full-blown orchestral projects than I did a few years ago. My monitors are Dynaudio BM6A’s with a BM9 subwoofer. My DAW is running Logic Pro. All my writing and most solo recordings are done in this studio. This means that I can finish most projects right here.”
GE: “Do you engineer your own recordings or have someone else mix your scores?”
MS: “Larger projects or projects that involve many live recordings I have mixed by others. I see myself primarily as a composer/sound designer, and while I’m able to create a good sounding mix I fully realize that there are people who create better ones, especially when it concerns a surround mix.”
GE: “Do you compose music other than the work you do providing sound tracks for films?”
MS: “The last six months or so I have been abandoning the orchestral style. I was experiencing an orchestral overdose last year, doing nothing but full-blown orchestral projects as well as developing orchestral sample libraries with ProjectSAM. I was suddenly asking myself the question: “am I writing orchestral music because it’s my favorite writing style, or because it is what people ask me to write?” I felt a very strong urge to explore new grounds. The past few months I have been working on electronic, ambient and alternative tracks, written just for myself, not for clients. My goal is now to focus on getting music projects that fit these new musical grounds. I’m not saying that I won’t write any orchestral music anymore, but at the moment, I would choose a project needing a “Social Network” style score over one that needs an orchestral adventure score.”
GE: “How would you describe your style as a composer?”
MS: “A lot of my music has a strong rhythmical basis, because of my percussion background. I like working by intuition and surprising myself. A complex chord in my music is sooner the result of other choices that I made, rather than a conscious choice on its own. I enjoy working pattern-based (my tracker roots?), looping patterns with varying lengths and making subtle, evolving changes. I can be both a very fast writer and a control freak, writing four minutes in a day or spending one hour on two bars.”
GE: “What are your goals for the future?”
MS: “When I just finished my Music Technology studies in 2003, my dream was, like many, to score big-budget US film productions. There have been moments where I was seriously considering a film composer career in the US. Slowly though, other interests and priorities have entered my life. Also, I simply like Europe too much to consider leaving any time soon. I am enthusiastic about the new musical freedom and creativity I’ve found recently and am looking forward to discovering where it will take me!”
Manufacturer: Vir2 Instruments
To trap Eric Clapton, John Mayer, that guy from The Ventures, and Dave Mustaine inside your computer and be able to summon this or that one whenever you- keyboardist and arranger extraordinaire- need a kick ass guitar part, wouldn’t that be a dream come true? Of course, high quality sampled guitar libraries have been on the market for several years and you do have to supply the parts yourself. Still, the hunger to own a bunch of classic electric guitars and all the articulations you need to create convincing performances is an itch waiting to be scratched. Vir2 claims that Electri6ity sports a feature set and interface that set this plug-in apart from its competitors. Are they right?
Before we take a look at the surfeit of samples and the multitude of controllers that are the heart of Electri6ity, let’s discuss the first major decision that Vir2 had to make- which guitars to sample. A thankless task, for sure, since no one, including me, is ever going to be 100% satisfied with the choices. Strat, Tele? No brainers; we can all agree that these two classics had to be included. Same for the Les Paul, though featuring two of them (a Les Paul P90 along with the standard), while justifiable, did come at the expense of other worthy contenders.
The line of Gibson ES335 champions stretches all the way back to B.B. King. Equally at home in jazz, blues and pop settings, the ES335 was a logical choice. Another Gibson guitar, the L4, awaits you. A great guitar, but if asked to choose between the L4 and say, the Gibson SG, what would your call be?
The Danelectro Lipstick was an inspired choice. You’ll use this baby to take your listeners to the beach the next time you need to invoke the classic surf sound of the ‘60’s. Selecting a Rickenbacker was also a good idea- you’ll note that these instruments were associated with the Beatles back in the day. I might have chosen a Rickenbacker 12 string model, however, to expand the overall sound set. My wish list would also include a Gibson Flying V… and that reminds me of the V’s greatest exponent, Albert King. Wouldn’t it be cool to sample a left-handed guitarist playing a right-handed instrument the way Albert and Jimi did?
Electri6ity is a Kontakt format library; the Kontakt player is free and can be downloaded from the Native Instruments website. I own Kontakt 4, and all the demos I created were performed using it and Cubase 5. Standard operating procedures apply regarding setting up Electri6ity with your DAW, or as a standalone application.
Although tons of functionality lies under the hood, the Electri6ity interface itself is straightforward and easy to work with. Notice the three tabs at the bottom. We’ll get to the Fretboard in a few minutes. It’s important that you understand that the Performance and Settings pages are interactive. Using your mouse, play around with the three Vibrato settings (Type, Strength, Speed) on the Performance page.
Hit the Settings tab and select “Vibrato” from the Settings menu. Adjust the Maximum Strength setting to 4 semi-tones and strike any key within the guitar’s playable range. Hear that whacky sound? Roll back the vibrato range to 2 semi-tones and notice the difference.
Now go back to the Performance page. Altering some parameters on this page bring obvious changes- the pickup selection, for example. Manipulate other parameters and the effect on the sound ranges from subtle to negligible; give them all a spin and you’ve begun personalizing the instrument you’re working with.
Do you see the first two columns on the left, the ones labeled Morph AMT and Morph VMT? Articulation and Velocity Morphing Technology are at the root of what separates Electri6ity from other similar products. Vir2 tapped into Kontakt’s AET feature, which lets developers morph their products seamlessly between velocity layers. I don’t know the science, but my guess is that some algorithmic fudging around is taking place that blurs the gap between velocity layers. Other companies are working with the same concept but to my knowledge Electri6ity is the first guitar library to implement it and the result is a heightened sense of realism. If you’re playing a patch that’s tagged AMT velocity lets you morph between different attacks, mute to sustain for example. All you have to do is strike the B0 key between phrases, with a hard attack to play the notes that follow with sustain, or a soft attack for half-mute attacks. You can set the velocity cross point to suit your individual playing style.
The keyswitch/velocity concept is carried over to other playing techniques, including full mutes to sustain, muted to half-muted, and sustain to harmonics. This will be a staple in your Electri6ity technique.
Electri6ity defaults to a polyphonic state, but you can also place the plug-in in Solo mode by depressing the G#0 key, or Legato mode (a variant) by hitting the A#0 key. Legato mode actually comes in two flavors: hit A#0 softly and you’ll be playing in Legato Muted mode. To return to full polyphony, strike the F#0 key. Not surprisingly, Electri6ity’s multitude of articulations can eat up CPU cycles. My quad core i7 computer had no problem, but watch out- latency and clicks and pops can creep in, particularly on older computers.
For non-players, voicing guitar chords in ways that are characteristic to the instrument is often a mystery. MusicLab’s RealGuitar was, to the best of my knowledge, the first guitar plug-in to offer chord detection, and Electri6ity has this capability as well. Play a chord as you’re used to doing on the keyboard, and when you’re in detection mode Electri6ity will voice it as a guitarist would; the plug-in will also give you multiple voicings depending on the register you’re in. Once again, be advised that it takes time for Electri6ity to make these calculations and latency may be an issue to consider.
You can load up individual instruments, or multis that contain pairs of the same instrument. If you’ve called up two Strats, for example, you can set one of them to voice chords in first position and another in an upper position. The effect is that you have two guitarists playing harmonies in different ranges. Vir2 also utilized a facet of Kontakt 4’s scripting capability that allows for different samples to be called up randomly by each instance, which further enhances the sense that two different players are at work.
You can apply lots of changes to the basic Electri6ity settings- the speed of trills, the sympathetic resonance of strings other than the one you just played, and even the angle at which the plectrum strikes the strings. Yeah, I know: most of you will just load up a preset and get down to business, but Electri6ity really is an instrument, and taking the time to tweak the presets is an investment you should consider making if you want to fully reap its benefits.
Some of Electri6ity’s key switches- the aforementioned F#0, G#0 and A#0, for example- remain active until another is selected. Others- single keys in some cases, or combinations of pairs- are inline only as long as they’re held down.
You keyboard players can play block chords; guitarists who play with a plectrum (pick) can’t. But every guitarist varies the speed of his strum so that it relates to the tempo of the song he or she is playing. Vir2 understood this and gave you the ability to use a controller to affect the strum speed in real time, or as an afterthought by drawing speed changes into your MIDI editor. Using the strum settings on Electri6ity to match the tempo of your song and the effect you want simply sounds more “guitaristic” than rolling chords on a midi controller.
Electri6ity comes with a serviceable set of effects, but most users will rely on one of the outstanding guitar effects packages currently on the market. All of the effects in my demos were built using Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 4.
As I said, there are many more aspects of this plug-in worth checking out (I’ve still got a ways to go). It’s also true that many, if not most Electri6ity owners will simply fire up a multi, add a screaming guitar cabinet and some blistering effects, and howl the night away. This is fine, but at the end of the day your best Yngwie Malmsteen solo may end up sounding alarmingly like everyone else’s. Electri6ity users, who understand the guitar and know that the best players, from Buddy Guy to Julian Bream, explore its tones and techniques, will be most inclined to get the most interesting results.
I’m hoping that the market supports this outstanding product to a degree that will allow for its continued development. Along with an expansion of the instruments offered, it would be great- given the number of players who rely on them (think Jack Johnson)- to include a script that produces open tuning chords.
But that’s just a thought. Electri6ity is a brilliantly conceived and well- executed product. Highest recommendations!
Garth Hjelte, President of Chicken Systems, Inc, Rubber Chicken Software Co. (http://www.chickensys.com) was living in Seattle in the1980′s, playing in in a band called Advent and rubbing shoulders with several other bands who were destined to achieve superstar status. Today he’s known throughout the industry as an expert in inter file format conversion. We spoke with Garth recently about his own history, the state of computer based music production, and the developments he foresees in this area of the industry.
Gary Eskow: “Garth, your products- particular Translator- have helped computer based musicians move between platforms for almost two decades. How did you get into this line of work?”
Garth Hjelte: “Back in the days when I was playing in bands part of the way we defined success was being able to cut yourself off from your day job. I programmed sounds for my band and had some ability as a programmer, so I was able to sell sampled sounds for the Ensoniq EPS. Bands come and go, but during the 80′s and 90′s the company- known as Rubber Chicken Software- became expert in all things Ensoniq.
“In the mid-90′s it became increasingly evident that the computer was going to become increasingly involved in music production, so the company focused on software that could port a variety of formats over to the Ensoniq platform. That work eventually evolved into the Chicken Systems Translator product. [editor’s note: Ensoniq was one of the first low cost alternatives to the Synclavier and Fairlight systems that only the super rich could afford.]
“At the same time, Gigasampler broke into the industry and Translator became very popular because it could convert into the Giga format as well. Chicken Systems changed from being a ‘one product, one manufacturer’ company to one that served the whole musical spectrum.”
GE: “How has the company grown over the years?”
GH: “Chicken Systems now licenses the conversion engine that powers Translator to various other companies, including Native Instruments. We also leverage that technology in new products – Constructor (an Instrument builder), Instrument Manager (a database/manager for software/hardware Instruments), and the Creation series for Motif, Fantom, Fusion, Triton/M3 (creates sample-based Porgrams/Voices for workstations).
GE: “Has a degree of uniformity come into the sample format industry, or are there at least fewer formats to translate? How has the industry changed in the 20 years you’ve been in business?”
GH: “In the beginning Akai was the uniform format. Giga then took that spot over. Giga was “de facto” for years. When Giga broke into the industry, it stirred up many new innovative sample developers and there were .gig files all over the place. As the Giga sun set during the last decade, there were less and less .gig files being made, and currently people have successfully completed the task of, or are working on, getting their sounds out of Giga format and into one that is usable.
“Currently there is no ‘uniform format’, but there are a couple that people naturally turn to. Kontakt’s .nki is the dominant format in the industry, and most people use it. SFZ has become popular for people wanting to write their own files simply in text format. SoundFont still hangs on, as many minor sample-playback engines simply choose to load SoundFonts because the format is public and they can design their playback engine around it.
“What’s important to people is the ability to download free sounds from the Internet and be able to use them. Translator is still critical because there are many sample playback engines that do not load all of the required formats. We project that this will be the case for some time.
“The other end of it (and the big change in the business) is the amount of libraries that are not part of a “player” package, where the sounds are copy-protected. Many top libraries are released in that form, and fortunately Kontakt is so good that not many people complain about using the sounds elsewhere. Some want to integrate those libraries into EXS24 just for organizational purposes, but using Kontakt in Logic is transparent enough.
“Of all the changes that the industry has seen over the last decade or so I’d say the “player” concept is perhaps the major one. Software has trumped hardware, but people still feel more comfortable with hardware workstations (Motif, et al.) when playing live. Even that’s changing with Mainstage and MacBook Pro innovations. And, the trend of downloading sould libraries has begun to eliminate the bunches of CD/DVD’s that companies have had to deliver. People are realy used to getting a two to four GB download, whereas five years ago people would choke at the idea.
“Lastly, there’s a sound glut. But that’s in the eyes of the developers, not the users. Users should feel very happy that they can do and afford just about anything. I hope developers continue to innovate; those who don’t will be weeded out.”
GE: “Has Kontakt established itself as the de facto sample playback platform?”
GH: “It really has. In the old days the cheap hardware samplers cost $1,500 and the expensive ones about $6,000. Now, Kontakt hangs around the $300-$400 range, and inexpensive playback engines are either free or obtainable for $100 or so. Kontakt can do what any other playback engine does, so I think what people think is ‘it’s within my reach, might as well get the best’.
“But things aren’t so cut and dry. Many other playback engines have their own niche appeal; for example Reason integrates their NN-XT sampler very well into their platform. Same with EXS24 and Logic. Some users have light needs, so they use a free player like the Alchemy Player and compose their own SFZ files. Others are company-loyal, so MOTU Digital Performer users use MachFive, and ProTools adherents use Structure.
“Touring bands (pro or semi-pro) still aren’t completely sold on bringing a computer along. I just consulted with a very well-known rock band and their hardware samplers are so rock-solid that even though they want to take a step forward in technology, they aren’t sold on the robustness of a computer system, whether it be Receptor or OpenLabs or even a MacBookPro laptop. So many use hardware, and even the new workstations like the Motif or Fantom have multisample-playback ability that lets them convert their studio stuff into
workstation format (using Translator!) and tour with that.
“So there’s always a place for a wide range of sample-playback engines. Still, Native Instruments continuous development of Kontakt over the years, with broad and unique features (such as scripting), has clearly paid off because it is clearly now the dominant player in this market.”
GE: “What are the main challenges you face these days?”
GH: “A lack of time! Sometimes I wish time could stand still so my partners and I could finish everything we conceptualize.
“Another challenge as a business is the fact that M.I. computer technology is starting to plateau. Maybe it already has. If, hypothetically, all innovation stopped today for 10 years, people would have plenty to work through to make
fantastic music with very little financial outlay. The revolution that started about15 years ago has been wildly successful. The sequencer/sample developer and virtual instrument plugins interface and features have expanded significantly over the years. Although there’s plenty to innovate on, the problem is that all the innovative features are not essential for many musician out there. They really need much less then they used to, so all companies are taking a hit, not just because of the economy, but because many end users don’t need the latest version.
“For the soundware and software developers this is a challenge because without funding the incentive to continue to design and create software decreases. Now, I’m not saying this is a unjust thing, because that’s just how markets work. It seems like more of a challenge, because perhaps 10 years ago you could put out ANY product and you’d get a respectable amount of sales. Not anymore.”
GE: “What developments in computer technology do you see coming down the pipeline in the next several years, and how will they affect sample based music production.”
GH: “I want to be frank and honest here, because the rage right now is iOS apps for iPad things etc., and I want to be the first to say that I just want to puke about it all! I really do think all the iOS stuff that’s being put out there now is a fad conspiracy and only a few things will really catch on long-term… there, I said it!
“That being said, clearly portability is becoming very important to people. I suspect that the appeal of these devices is the interactive interfaces that do not require a mouse to function. The industry will find a way to integrate this properly.
“Portability also tells us that people have contracting needs, not expanding ones. In other words, they are NOT looking for power – they’ve already got it. They are looking for usability improvements, better workflow design. I was talking to some very high-level LA industry pros the other day, and they still think the software programs generally ‘speak geek’ and do not really line up to how musicians think and relate. Maybe this is the avenue that iOS/Android things will take.”
GE: “And the name…”
GH: “In the ‘day job’ I mentioned earlier I was a mail clerk for the phone company. I would walk around aimlessly all day and drop company envelopes in small cubbyholes. Your mind wanders… I remember when I thought of it – ‘Rubber Chicken Software, featuring No Joke Samples!’ Well, as they say, all you need is a name, so really that’s what started it all. I even remember where I was when I thought of it. In those days, that was the thing; call your company something informal and casual because who in the heck really cares. One company I remember at the time was Starfish Software. I mean, what do starfish have to do with software? And remember, I grew up in Redmond, WA and half my graduating class went to work for Microsoft, where all pop is free and complimentary on campus (and still is, I think, though for health reasons that seems awfully ‘non-PC’ (pardon the pun!).
“When Translator was conceived and ready to launch, my current business partner and I knew it was going to be big and needed to be attractive to high-end clients, so we unanimously ‘chickened out’ and changed the name to something a little more palatable; hence, the current company name ‘Chicken Systems’.”
MSRP: 50 pounds
I’d heard a lot of good things about sonokinetic, and saw that H.I.P.P. (Highly Intuitive Performance Percussion), their new tom tom library, was getting a favorable response, so I decided to check it out. A download from the company site, this is yet another example of a sample library designed to fit into a specific corner. What is H.I.P.P. and how well does it do its job?
The folks at sonokinetic camped out in a studio for about two weeks with a drummer and had him perform a ton of grooves on a dozen toms in various time signatures. For good measure, they sampled a number of fills.
H.I.P.P. uses the free version of NI’s Kontakt 4. You’ll see two possible instrument choices. The BRG (Basic rhythm groupings) and PRF (Performance) presets are similar; the Performance preset has a number of layers pre-loaded.
Anyone familiar with laying samples across a keyboard will easily understand that when you choose a pattern- 16th note triplets in 4/4, for example, using tom 5- the software spreads out a series of patterns that fit this description across the next available octave range on the included virtual keyboard. The manual says that 12 toms were recorded so I was surprised to see as many as 15 possible tom choices in some rhythms.
The performances are very musical, with lots of ghost notes that are hard to program into a drum module. You can also “quantise” (their spelling) patterns, which in this case means stringing them together to create sequences up to a maximum length of 12 patterns synced to your host’s tempo.
The recordings were conducted with both close and overhead microphones, and you can adjust their volumes to suit your preference. A quite serviceable convolution reverb is also included, and the effects package (eq, compressor, delay, limiter and stereo imager) allows you to tailor your settings and save them as presets. If you want to use the patterns to create sound design effects you can easily load a sample into an open K4 slot and use Kontakt’s own effects and others you may have to mangle the sample.
Film scorers looking to lay down rhythm beds will find H.I.P.P. quite attractive. Song writers looking for authentic fills and rolls will also find this product useful.
Bottom line: Excellent value.
Ilio (http://www.ilio.com/) has long been considered one of the premium sample library distributors in the business. Founded in the mid 1990’s by Mark and Shelley Hiskey, the California based company represents Spectrasonics, Vienna Symphonic Library, Synthogy and several other highly regarded sample library developers. Mark and I sat down recently and discussed the company and the continuing evolution of sampled instruments.
Gary Eskow: “Mark, what early training did you have as a musician?”
Mark Hiskey: “As a young kid I remember sitting in front of anything with black and white keys and playing lots of really badly out of tune pianos at old relatives homes. One great aunt who used to babysit me had a huge theater organ that probably made her job pretty easy; that’s where I discovered my love for making music. My parents finally got a piano and I started taking lessons at 11.”
GE: “When did you become interested in sampled instruments, and how?”
MH: “In college. My first memory of the existence of samplers was when I listened to Kate Bush’s “Never For Ever” in a friend’s car, and he told me about this thing called a Fairlight she used. I was blown away with the idea of being able to capture recordings and manipulate them on a keyboard to make new music- what a wild concept! That really got me interested in music technology. This was also the time when CDs first hit the market and MIDI was invented. So that was an exciting, formative time for me.”
GE: “How and when did Ilio come into existance, and what’s up with the name?”
MH: “After college I worked for several years writing music for a production company, where I used a lot of samplers and synths. Then after a short stint at another sample company my wife and I started ILIO in 1994. We were able to license all the sounds that came bundled with Synclavier systems and reprogrammed them for use in Akai, Roland, Kurzweil and other samplers. That was our first series of products and they did pretty well because a lot of musicians wanted access to the Synclavier sounds but were unable to afford the six-figure price tag it took to get a Synclavier. This way they could purchase those sounds and load them into their $2,000 samplers. Shortly after we set up shop several other new sampling companies, most notably Spectrasonics, asked us to distribute their products. We’ve been working together ever since.
“By the way, the name story isn’t that interesting… ILIO was chosen at random from looking at a map of Hawaii.”
GE: “Is there a philosophy behind the company?”
MH: “Internally we abide by the mantra that we’ll never waste a musician’s time or money. Every aspect of every product we represent has to have that “it” quality, where as soon as the musician lays his hands on a sound, it’s like, wow, that was money well spent. We’re also big on picking up the phone when customers call in. It’s all about interaction and making sure we don’t alienate or ignore people, which makes the whole experience of using our products that much better.”
GE: “What criteria do you use when choosing the libraries that you represent?”
MH: “It’s not too complicated. I’ve always used this little acronym (NEED) to guide myself when an opportunity comes up, which stands for new, extraordinary, exclusive, and different. Our products should be new to market, extraordinarily good, exclusive to us, and different from other products in our catalog. That’s the formula that has worked for us all these years, and we do everything we can to stick to it. It also means we don’t sign up a lot of new producers, which is fine since our emphasis is on delivering the best-in-class.”
GE: “Do you get involved with production? If so, under what circumstances?”
MH: “We used to be much more involved with production than we are now. At this point our producer partners have such highly developed production processes that we’re rarely involved at all in creating products. Our job is to take what they do and present it to the market in a way that befits all their amazing efforts.”
GE: “How has the industry evolved since Ilio has been a player in it?”
MH: “The only constant is change. The good thing is that our little industry is much more grown up than it use to be, in that the level of technology imbedded in the products is now much more developed and sophisticated. Since our main producers- Spectrasonics, Vienna Symphonic Library, and Synthogy- all have their own synth and sampling technologies, they have much more control over the whole experience of making music with their products. They can integrate samples into their instruments in a much more holistic way so that musicians don’t have to wrestle with the limitations of traditional sampling to make something musical. They can use these products like real instruments that have character and life and breath—they can just be more musical, which is the whole point. That’s what’s really exciting about where we are now. Our customers talk more about ways to contour a phrase or lay back on a groove now, whereas before it was always about RAM and latency and such things.”
GE: “Where do you see the music production business going in the next five or ten years?”
MH: “I think that trend will continue. The producers who succeed will be the ones focused on improving the experience of making music, which means developing their technologies to the point where the technology becomes more and more invisible, and the instruments become more tangible. There’s a lot of potential in developing more evolved controllers, and of course the iPad is a game changer, both as a controller and an instrument. That’s going to be really interesting to follow over the next few years.”
You dig a deep groove, I know that. Ergo, you’re a fan of Bashiri Johnson, right? Since 1986, when he was tapped to add percussion tracks to Madonna’s “Holiday,” Bashiri, who grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, has been on the top of everyone’s list. I’ve known Bash for over 20 years and have been fortunate enough to have his talent on a number of my own recordings. We caught up by phone the other day.
Gary Eskow: “Bash, for those who aren’t familiar with your background, could you sketch in a few details of your early training as a musician?”
Bashiri Johnson: “I grew up in Bed-Stuy and was bused to a school in Bay Ridge. That experience turned out to be quite beneficial to me in terms of my musical development. It was a nice, bi-cultural way to learn. In my neighborhood I’d hear Sly and James Brown, and over in Bay Ridge I was exposed to The Who, Hendrix, and the Beatles.”
GE: “What instruments did you initially learn to play?”
BJ: “I played some flute and recorder in school, took some piano lessons as well, but I really got serious when I took up the conga drums.”
GE: “What players influenced you early on?”
BJ: “As far as drumming, Max Roach and Tony Williams. I met Tony once and it was great! On the percussion side, Ralph MacDonald and Olatunji were big influences. I had two important mentors, Big Black and Mtume.”
GE: “Your work with Madonna led to a break out period for you. Could you tell us a bit about this time in your career?”
BJ: “After “Holiday” I played at the first Live Aid concert in 1986. In short order I worked on Luther Vandross’ first album, “Never Too Much,” and Whitney Houston’s first, “You Give Good Love.” Word got out about this young percussionist, and the calls started to come in.”
GE: “What’s the most essential aspect of the groove?”
BJ: “Your connection to yourself, I’d say. To be able to express yourself through an instrument- any instrument- you have to have that.”
GE: “What’s the biggest mistake that project studio producers make with regard to drums and percussion?”
BJ: “Not checking in with someone who does this stuff every day. Loops and sample libraries are great; I’ve made some of them myself [“Ethno Techno,” http://www.ilio.com/products/ilio-samplelibrary/, “Liquid Grooves,” http://www.ilio.com/products/spectrasonics-samplelibrary/liquidgroovesgc/). But you can’t simply rely on loops- you need a second opinion from someone who has an expertise in that field if you want to end up with percussion parts that are perfectly tailord to a song. If I’m producing a track in my studio I may have an idea for a guitar part. I’ll put something down on a keyboard but I’ll always look for a player to flesh it out. Everyone needs a second opinion, and I think that’s especially true in the area of rhythm.”
GE: “You’ve worked in many of the major studios and have had your own project studio for years. What’s your take on the state of the industry, and where does the majority of your work come from these days?”
BJ: “Most of my work takes place right here in my own room. People will send me files over the internet, or drop off DVD’s and drives. I’m still working in studios around town as well. In fact, I just finished working on Ja Rule’s new record up at Daddy’s House, Diddy’s room in midtown Manhattan. I get calls from producers who work in Avatar and other studios, and lots of private facilities as well.
“I think there’s still room for growth in the large room environment. The challenge for them is to show value to the coroporate interests that control the business.
We all know how inexpensive it is to make a record using someone who builds a beat on a drum machine and have a few tracks added on top of it, then release the record as an mp3 file. There’s nothing wrong with that. The music business should be a mix of everything; the mad scientist should be able to crank out fine work at a computer, but there should also be room for Phil Ramone to produce a large orchestral track in a big room.”
GE: “What are you tracking to these days in your studio?”
BJ: “I’m running ProTools 8 and will soon upgrade to 9. I still use a Yamaha O2R as a front end. We’ve got lots of great mics and we record everything through a Neve 1073 mic-pre that I love. I’ve got lots of midi gear here, and everything other than percussion and vocals I engineer myself. When I need an engineer I like to call on Darren Moore, Carlos “Storm” Martinez, or Sheldon Goode.”
GE: “Bash, I know you were working with Michael Jackson at the time of his death. What can you tell us about him, and that moment in your career?”
BJ: “Looking back on that bubble moment, it almost seems out of time and space for me. When I look at the film “This Is It,” and the pictures I took during rehearsals, it’s like a dream. I was working with one of the kindest, gentlest, and most talented artists I’ve ever come across. Michael was the most humble guy I’ve ever seen, thankful to everyone he came across; the rigger, the fire department, the dancers, band, the lighting director, you name it, he made sure they all knew they were appreciated.
“When he got on stage and went to work, that was the highest standard of excellence I’ve ever been around. He made you rise above your normal level, and if you didn’t Michael would notice and mention it to the individual, or share them with the musical director or choreographer. He made his opinions known in a loving way. You’d make your adjustments and try to measure up to his standards.”
GE: “People looking to add your talents to their tracks can reach you through your website, http://www.bashirijohnson.com. What advice can you give to midi composers who are trying to develop their skills in the percussion area?”
BJ: “Do some research. Wade through YouTube and iTunes and use these sources to study the masters of percussion. Don’t settle for the four or five percussion samples that happen to be in the box you’re using. Discover the sounds that are right for the particular piece you’re working on.”
GE: “And stay in touch with yourself, right?”
A number of reputable companies build digital audio workstations, and ADK Pro Audio (www.adkproaudio.com) is one of them. I’ve purchased several DAW’s from ADK, based largely on the relationship I developed with Chris Ludwig when he worked at the East Coast Music Mall in Connecticut. Chris knows a lot about computers, music software, and industry trends. We recently spent some time talking about the state of the industry.
Gary Eskow: Chris, can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Chris Ludwig: “I’m originally from Connecticut and have been a musician of questionable skill since I was in high school! I’ve been using computers for music- mostly Ataris and PC’s- since about 1993. PC’s let you do a lot more tinkering, so I’ve spent a lot of time under the hood with them, usually by learning the hard way! I’ve also been using Cubase since it was on the Atari platform, and have never really found a viable alternative to it.”
GE: How did you get into the retail music business?
CL: “I started working at the East Coast Music Mall in the late 1990’s. While there, Morgan Pettinato, one of the owners, had me design and build custom DAWs. We built many, many systems for the awesome but doomed Ensoniq/EMU Paris system. Testing and configuring the large multi-PCI card configurations for Paris under Windows 98 and XP was a test of fire!
“I left ECMM in 2005 for ADK Pro Audio. ADK is large and more centered around building DAWs; it’s not a music store than happens to build DAWs. I’d like to think that since I’ve come to ADK I’ve had something to do with developing the company’s reputation as a builder of custom DAWs, and I’m pretty sure at this point we have become the largest in overall sales volume of any of the dedicated DAW builders. We’ve accomplished this while expanding and improving our support and service, rather than cutting back in these areas, which seems to be the norm now in the industry.
GE: Where are we right now in term of computer speed, compared to where you expect the industry to be in the next four or five years?
CL: “I think the biggest changes coming in the couple years will be Intel’s Light Peak/Thunder Bolt technology. It’s already starting it show up on some Macs and will be popping up on PC systems towards the end of the year.
“This technology holds a lot of potential for high bandwidth devices such as multi-drive raid arrays and large I/O high definition audio and video devices. You probably won’t see any major devices until 2012, though. There will also be a replacement for the current i7/x58 chipset that should offer a 30% or more jump in speed. “
GE: Will native DAW’s ever completely eliminate the need for external hardware, other than audio interfaces?
CL: “They are getting pretty close to the reliability and capability of digital mixers, providing you’ve got the right combination of audio hardware and software. With the right system set up the round trip latency is very close to that of a digital mixer, but this will be the case with the higher audio interfaces only.”
GE: What is the most obvious mistake that most people- even folks who have had them in the past- make when it comes to purchasing a digital audio workstation?
CL: “Something that I run across a lot is having to talk someone out of making the decision to purchase a system that’s overkill for their needs and then skimp on the audio hardware sound quality and performance; this is especially important in the case of a user who’s only doing audio recording and wants to improve the quality of their productions. The vast majority of the time they will get far more satisfying results buying a mid-priced/powered system and applying the rest of their budget towards a better audio interface, and the highest quality AD/DA, and mic-pres they can afford.
GE: Does any plug-in on the market do a really good job emulating analog tape saturation?
CL: “The Universal Audio Studer a800 plug-in is the best thing I’ve heard other than Endless Audio’s Clasp which is technically a hardware/computer tape machine hybrid.
GE: Has NI’s Kontakt 4 become the de facto sample playback app? Do you think it will be challenged in the near or long term?
CL: “K4 certainly seems to be the winner in this area. There are not really any competing workstation sampler programs out there that compare to it in terms of features and compatibility.
“Halion 4 looks interesting but most of its features seem designed for Cubase and Nuendo users- which is fine since I am one!- but that decision by Steinberg may limit the product’s user base and the number of manufacturers who will choose to develop libraries for it.
“I disliked all the previous version of Halion so it will be a hard sell for me. I do like the new Halionsonic a bunch which is based on Halion 4, so there is hope.”
GE: Where do things stand now in terms of the Mac/PC debate?
CL: “At this point Apple and PC’s are using virtually the same hardware. The differences are coming down more to the OS and BIOs/EFI with respect to the question of one platform performing better than the other. Your readers can find more details and see benchmark results on this site: http://www.dawbench.com/win7-v-osx-1.htm.”
“Die-hard Apple users will always be getting a faster system whenever they buy a new model, so for them it doesn’t really matter if the PC is faster, just as stable, and half the price; you will not talk them out of the Mac no matter how much data you give them showing PCs working better; they want what they want!
“I rarely get those calls though. We get a lot of calls from Mac users wanting to switch to PC at this point, especially those who are doing a lot of virtual instrument work. With regard to 64 bit application and development, PC technology has had a four year head start on Apple.”
GE: Has 64 bit edged out 32 bit at this point? Are developers still releasing product in 32 bit format?
CL: “We have only sold Windows 7 64 bit since Windows 7 was released and the majority of the Windows Vista systems we did were 64 bit. Virtually all of the audio hardware manufacturers have fully functional 64 bit drivers available. Legacy hardware devices from companies that no longer exist do present problems and we’re sometimes unable to provide 64 bit drivers for their products. There are only a couple software plug-in manufacturers at this point that do not either have full 64 bit versions or 32 bit versions that work in 64 bit host; companies that do not have 64 bit host compatible plug-in at this point IMHO just plain look foolish and out of touch.
“Universal Audio would be a good example of a company that does the right thing and makes sure their products works with all current programs both 32 bit and 64 bit. Waves would be an example of a company that does none of the above and seem completely resistant to developing 64 bit.”
GE: Are cheap microphones from China and elsewhere giving the high priced mics a real challenge these days? Are they gaining market share?
CL: “The glut of Chinese-made mics is probably doing more to negatively affect the sales of Chinese mics than anything else! Most of the high end microphone manufacturers seemed to have gotten used to and adapted to this new reality. Some of the more well-known Chinese mic companies are actually starting to focus on the quality a bit more, and as a result people are getting more accepting of them.
GE: What software, or companies, do you find most interesting these days?
CL: “Vienna Instruments, Native Instruments, Universal Audio, Steinberg, Voxengo, and Celemony currently top my list. There’s also a bunch of other smaller shareware and freeware plug-in people who are doing cool stuff- too many to mention.”
GE: Anything else you’d care to comment on?
CL: “The tech support, teaching and training possibilities are totally being neglected by audio/video software manufacturers. Every single one of the software developers need to work on their quality of support. The best support you will get from any of the companies just plan sucks and is getting worse! [please Chris, tell it like you see it!] I would rather see them focus on generating revenue on from quality support, teaching and training.
“There’s the desire to release a new version each year so people will think the manufacturer has made something new, when all they’ve done is change the color scheme and add a couple features that half the time are broken at launch- and the product developers still haven’t fixed major bugs in the previous version!
“As part of our support here at ADK we act as a first level support for any of the products we sell. We do everything from showing the customer how to install and set up some piece of software or hardware all the way up to teaching them how to integrate a remote desktop between multiple systems. We’ll even help our customers with things like sorting out grounding issues and digital clock configurations; we deal with every technical issue that our clients are likely to encounter.
“Many calls we get are from desperate users who have reached a dead end with a software company. They call us up to sort things out, which in most cases we do either by spending the time that the software support company did not provide to isolate the issue and resolve it either though a fix or work around. If they are already an ADK customer this service is already covered under the life time tech support that comes with all of our systems. In most cases people would never receive anything more than a generic response from the company and no technical support.
“The next most common call we get is from customers who are trying to figure out how to do something in the software that was either poorly documented or not documented at all. Many of these people are more than happy to pay for this teaching and I really think it should be the software company using this as a revenue source and not pawning it off on some third party company that either over charges or just does a plain crappy job of it.
“In many cases these companies could easily improve the quality they provide at a minimal cost, simply by making a better use of web resources. The actual support staff should be manning forums and blogs, providing more than a general administrator or marketing rep is capable of, which is all that most of them seem to offer at this point.
“Still, that gives ADK Pro Audio the opportunity to step in and show all of the services that we can provide, and we’re happy to do so!”
Back in junior high school there were plenty of reasons to dislike Jon Pousette-Dart. Tall, blessed with Prince Valiant good looks, he had a gilded tenor and a smooth hand on the guitar. But he was confident, not arrogant, and when we rehearsed the theme to “Peter Gunn,” or Santo and Johnny’s “Sleep Walk,” he flashed a winning smile. So we gave him a pass!
After graduating from high school Jon spent a year at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He met John Troy, formed a band, and by 1975 was riding the country rock wave. “What Can I Say?,” the single from the Pousette-Dart Band’s first LP was all over the airwaves that year, and “Fall On Me,” the single from the follow up album, “Amnesia,” got a lot of play as well. Still…
“We all felt that the title track (“Amnesia”) would have pushed the band all the way through,” says P-D. “But Richard Torrance had the up tempo slot in that quarter so our label released “Fall On Me,” instead. It was a mistake, but what can you do?”
P-D’s maintained a loyal following throughout the years, still tours regularly, and just released his newest album, “Anti Gravity,” which can be purchased through his website, http://www.pousette-dart.com. Several years ago Jon, who lives with his wife Dawn on the upper west side of Manhattan, set up shop in his parents’ old home just north of the city. Richard Pousette-Dart is widely recongized as one of the 20th century’s most prolific and gifted painters, with a reputation that continues to grow several decades after his death. His large studio makes a perfect space for a studio.
“I knew I wanted to build a studio here, and when I was ready to move I contacted a company in Alanta- honestly, I forget their name- and sent them down a set of measurements and photographs of the space. They sussed out what we needed and designed acoustic tiles and flooring. We put a layer of Dynamat under plywood, and I was going to put own another hard wood floor, but I was impatient and liked the way things were sounding so we just put rugs over the plywood.
“An artist and carpenter, Peter Artin, and I did all of the duct and climate control work. Neil Davidson helped design the entire studio and did all of the wiring and power supply work. His company is NEM Audio, and I recommend them highly.”
A Pro Tools HD9 workstation running on a Mac Quad Pro, with a Pro Control surface, lies at the heart of Jon’s studio. “I’m pretty adept at getting the sound I want when I’m laying down my guitar and vocals. I might track my guitar parts to a click and have Eric (Parker) add drum parts later on on. Most of the time, though, I prefer to record the entire band live, and under those circumstances I’ll always bring in an engineer.”
The current Pousette-Dart Band- Eric Parker on drums, Paul Socolow on bass, and Jim Chapdelaine on guitar, has been together for about a decade. “It’s hard to compare the early band with this one,” says P-D. “Back then we lived together for such a long time, it was like a marriage. We spent so much time on the road, it was very deep rooted. But we ran into difficult times because of some poor decisions by our label, and it affected our ability to stay together.
“This band is amazing. Paul Socolow’s played with many great artists, particularly in the jazz area. Eric Parker is a drummer that everyone familiar with the field knows about, and what can I say about Jim Chapdelaine? You know Jim, he’s amazing, right?”
Hartford, Connecticut native Jim Chapdelaine is a multi-threat all right. “Jim’s one of those rare people you meet who have the heart, soul, depth and intelligence that allows them to hit the mark over and over again. He’s equally proficient as a musician, producer, and mixing and mastering engineer. He wears all those hats without any of the roles becoming obscured or unfocused.”
The current album was recorded at P-D’s place, in Jim Chapdelaine’s studio, and in Nashville. “Gary Nicholson produced several tracks, so we cut them at his studio in Nashville. Everything was mixed and mastered at Jim’s place.”
He made his name in the age of vinyl, but Jon Pousette-Dart has had no problem adapting to the changing tides. “The mechanics of selling music has changed dramatically, everyone knows that. Downloading has changed the profile not only of how music is bought and sold, but the way that it’s listened to as well. People don’t have the patience to sit down and absorb an entire album at one sitting. They buy individual tracks. That puts the burden on artists to come up with good material. You can’t release a few strong cuts and put filler songs around them, and we’ve avoided that trap, I think, on this album.”
Taking the prettiest girl in the 8th grade for a ride might be a prize beyond reach at this point, but Jon Pousette-Dart has plenty of fuel in the tank, and dreams to spare. “I want to keep doing what I love doing! My main goal is to keep performing live. That’s what keeps me connected, it teaches me what’s right and wrong with my writing. We’ve been getting a very positive response to the material from the new album, and I’m grateful for that, and to be playing with such a great band.”
Aspiring engineers look for the project that will put them on the map, and Tom Durack (www.tomdurack.net) found it in 1989 when he mixed the B-52’s smash single “Love Shack.” A native of Livonia, Michigan, a Detroit suburb, Durack played some guitar in high school, but his keen interest in hi-fi equipent led him to take an entry level recording class at a local studio. “I was thunderstruck the first time I walked into the control room,” says Durack. “Between the console, the big speakers, the 2″ tape machines, the aroma of the Scotch 250 … to me it felt like a cross between being on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise and at the controls of the most badass stereo system I’d ever seen. I felt like I’d found my element in a way I hadn’t before, even if I had no idea how anything in that room worked.”
Durack interned for several local engineers and when one of them, Rick Kerr, moved to New York he called Tom to let him know that if he was serious about pursuing a career in the recording business he would help him secure a position at Planet Sound in Manhattan. “It was an incredible opportunity and I took it. This was in 1984. I worked at Planet for six or seven months as an assistant engineer and then with engineer Jack Nuber’s help moved to Skyline Studios on 37th Street, where I worked for the next five years. There I continued to learn my craft at the sides of more great engineers, among them Paul Wickliffe (Skyline’s owner), and James Farber, who was Nile Rodgers’ engineer when Nile moved his base of operations from what was then The Power Station (now Avatar) to Skyline.”
Tom became Rodgers’ first call engineer during the period when Nile was tapped to produce half of the B-52’s “Cosmic Thing,” album (Don Was produced the other half). ”I recorded and mixed Nile’s material (including the single “Roam”) and then was asked by the band’s management if I would be interested in remixing Don’s half as well, in order to lend more cohesion to the sound of the album overall. Among the tracks I mixed on that half of the album was “Love Shack”.
Gary Eskow: “What impact did “Love Shack” have on your career?”
Tom Durack: “The success of that single and albumgave me a lot of exposure and launched my career as an independent engineer. I spent the following 10 years traveling and working extensively overseas, particularly in Japan where I recorded and mixed dozens of projects for Masahide Sakuma, one of that country’s most prolific and respected producers.
“But the combination of the internet file-sharing phenomenon, the ascent of affordable digital audio hardware and software, plus the events of 9/11 all helped bring that chapter of my career to a close. In 2002 I put together my own first Pro Tools system and started mixing projects from my first home studio. A few years later one mix client asked if I couldn’t also master his album, and it went well enough that word of mouth began to bring mastering inquiries from other indie artists too, and before long I was mastering more projects than I was mixing. This is the business that I’ve been growing ever since – mixing and mastering via the internet for clients (primarily independent artists) around the world.”
GE: “What percentage of your work involves mixing, and what percentage is taken up with mastering?”
TD: “Currently the split between mixing and mastering is about 50/50.”
GE: “Please describe your project studio set up.”
TD: “In my personal studio I work 100% in the box. Pro Tools is my platform of choice for mixing and for the editing, EQ, and whatever compression might be involved in the mastering process. The plug-ins I reach for most often are from SoundToys, PSP, Massey, and URS, among others. For mastering project assembly and final delivery of DDP filesets I use Sonic Studios’ PreMaster CD. Dynaudio monitors, Sennheiser headphones, and my ears complete the equation.”
GE: “What percentage of your work is done in your studio, and how much is conducted in the field or in outside studios?”
TD: “All of my mastering work is done in my studio, as is the vast majority of the mixing I do. For recording projects my favorite studios in the area currently are Hal Winer’s BiCoastal up in Ossining NY, and The Magic Shop and Patrick Dillett’s room here in Manhattan. But since so much of what I do these days is either mixing or mastering and because my own room is so tailored to my tastes, I don’t get out to other studios as often as I might like anymore.”
GE: “Where do you stand on the analog vs. digital issue, and when you are working in the digital domain, what sampling rate do you generally use?”
TD: “The decision to work in the analog or digital domain depends somewhat upon the project, but generally I prefer to record basic tracks to analog tape when possible, particularly for rock projects. It’s not a question of fidelity, though – I do it for the character of tape. This isn’t a unique point of view at all, but for me the way that good tape on a well-calibrated machine behaves when you hit it hard with drums, percussion, rhythm guitars … the non-linearity, the compression characteristics of tape still sound like rock to my ears in a way that digital does not.
“As to digital, whether I’m starting a project from scratch in Pro Tools or transferring analog tracks for further overdubs and mixing I like to work at either 88.2 or 96kHz. To my ears these are the sample rates at which the fidelity differences between good digital and good analog effectively disappear. 192kHz is, for most of the work I do, overkill.”
GE: “The project studio revolution- which began with MIDI composers using ADAT machines to record basic tracks that would then be mixed in a “real” studio- continues to expand. The mastering studio has historically been seen as the last bastion. Bob Ludwig, a fan of yours, once told me that he spent a fortune on his floor alone- I think it was 100k. Can a guy working in a project studio environment ever compete with a facility like that?”
TD: “Well, as a mixer I’m lucky enough to have been Bob Ludwig’s client on several occasions over the years. His room at Gateway is without question the finest monitoring environment I’ve ever been in, and I know quite a few other people who feel the same way. Bob’s room design and equipment choices combine as a single system in a way I’ve not seen or heard anywhere else. The experience of listening there – especially to music you’ve worked on, spent a lot of time with, and know well – is a revelation.
“That said, I think what’s necessary for good work is being able to listen within a firm and trustworthy frame of reference. Bob’s space at Gateway is a wonderful complement and testament to his amazing ears and talent. But a simple yet crucial ingredient in his recipe for great work, I think, is the fact that he’s spent thousands and thousands of hours listening in that room and knows exactly what he’s hearing, just as I imagine he must have done in his earlier room at Masterdisk. Compared to either of those operations my own is extremely modest to say the very least, but the combination of my room and signal chain is one I’ve grown to know intimately through years of critical listening. Just as Bob does his, I’m able to rely upon my own frame of reference here to allow me to shape my work in a way that translates well to the outside world.”
GE: “How have the changes in recording technology changed the way you work over the last five or ten years?”
TD: “The evolution of applications like Pro Tools combined with the reach of the internet enables me to mix and master music for clients all over the world from the comfort and familiarity of my own workspace. Likewise my clients are able to evaluate the work in the familiarity of their own spaces, be it their studio, their home, car … wherever they’re comfortable listening and trust what they’re hearing. My client and I may be listening in different environments and on different equipment, but again, if they are reliable frames of reference for each of us – if we each know and trust what we’re hearing – the combination makes for a very enjoyable – and very efficient – way of working. And of course using the internet means we can trade mixes, masters, notes, and feedback across the planet more or less instantly, all with very low overhead and no jetlag for anyone involved.
“What I mostly anticipate in the near future, at least for the technology I use, is just further refinement. Faster processors, 64-bit versions of applications like Pro Tools and the plugs-ins I use will all bring improved performance, as will solid-state drive technology as it matures and becomes more cost-effective.”
GE: “Finally, Tom, we all know that the music industry has been going through some significant changes. What’s your take on the state of things in our business today?
TD: “We’re in a state of flux for sure, musically, technologically, business-wise … no news there. It’s hard to say where the industry going but I’m excited to find out and hope I can continue to adapt to the inevitable changes. For now my tiny corner of it appears to be thriving, and I’m grateful for that. I have a wonderful and growing clientele and feel luckier than I can say to be able to contribute something of my own to the making of so much good music.”
Mike Reagan is a member of the first generation of commercial music composers who began their careers knowing that this field represented a viable option. A native of the San Fernando Valley, Reagan grew up playing guitar and piano, and spent time at the Dick Grove Music School before heading east to the Berklee College of Music.
Scott Gershin, of Soundelux Media Labs, which later became Soundelux DMG, gave Reagan his first major opportunity. “I started out doing sound design- effects mostly- for video games, which was a new division for the company at that time. From there I went into designing sound effects for feature films, then got the opportunity to compose music for games.
“Back then- the mid 1990’s- I was working with a simple set of tools. Opcode Studio Vision was my work station, SampleCell my sampler, and my keyboard controller was a Kurzweill K2500. It’s amazing to think of what you could turn out with those basic pieces of equipment if you worked hard enough!”
These days Mike works out of his home, which sports two mirrored studios, each with three Mac Pro’s. “One runs Logic 9 and a combination of Vienna Instruments and Bidule, another spits out samples only, and a third runs ProTools 8.”
Reagan left Soundelux in 1999 to strike out on his own, just after writing an original song for the Jim Henson/Sony Pictures feature film “Elmo in Grouchland,” supervised by music supervisor Andy Hill. “That score won a Grammy in the category of Best Children’s soundtrack album.”
Mike’s mixed his own tracks for years, but has recently reached out to LA mixer John Rodd to mix his music. “John is a talented recordist and mixer who has worked on hundreds of records, films, video games, and television projects. He is a joy to work with and it’s great to have his ears on my projects.”
Although he works with live players whenever possible, Reagan marvels at the constantly escalating quality of sample libraries. “Last year I flew to Skywalker Ranch a few times, to record the “God Of War III” and “Darksiders” scores, and you hear things from these great musicians playing in a great room that you’ll never hear from samples and synths.
“But it’s amazing what the technology is giving us these days. I mocked up some demos recently using LASS (LA Scoring Strings) and then went into a studio to replace them with live string players. The samples sounded so good on one of the cues that we kept them in!
“I’m a huge Spectrasonics freak, and a big fan of Tonehammer, Cinesamples, Sonivox, Andrew Keresztes at Audio Bro, Yuval Shrem at Fable Sounds and Eduardo Tarilonte at samplelibraries.com. Forest Kingdom, LASS and Broadway Big Band are some of my all time favorite sample libraries. On the plug-in side, I have all of the Waves stuff, and everything that Sound Toys puts out is great.
“I have two mirrored studios, and Adam 3A’s are my main stereo speakers in both rooms. I love them. I also regularly use Bock Audio microphones- David Bock was the inventor behind Soundelux microphones which I don’t think are available anymore, but he continues to make beautiful sounding mics under his own company (bockaudiodesigns.com) and they sound better than ever!”
These days Mike Reagan spends about two thirds of his time writing music for games. The rest of the time he’s scoring television shows, and he recently scored his first feature film. So, what changes has he seen in the audio for video game industry over the last 15 years plus?
“People expect- rightly- that music will sound great regardless of the playback system a user has. We’re used to providing that quality. My first game was on the Super Nintendo platform. We had to learn how to make stuff sound awesome coming out of tiny speakers, and we did!
“I’m really excited about our new company, Redvolt Audio. Redvolt will be targeting mobile entertainment, and we’re working with some of the premier mobile game designers and publishers.”
More about Redvolt Audio and Mike’s career can be found on his website, http://www.mikereaganmusic.com.
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