Analog Tape Dr. AIX's POSTS — 23 May 2013

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I own a beautiful studio full of wonderful analog and digital equipment. I have a large mixing room with both B&W 800 Matrix III speakers in full 5.1 surround AND a JBL/Crowne powered THX certified film system. There is a retractable 146″ “sonically transparent” Stewart Filmscreen in front and Runco HD projector in the machine room in the rear. Through the double panes of sound proof glass on the left is an “isolation booth” for recording drums, vocals or just about anything else. I have acquired a nice collection of microphones over the years including mikes from Neumann, B&K, Sony and AEA. My outboard rack is not full of expensive signal processors but then again I use mostly digital equipment…including a 128 input all digital 96 kHz/24-bit Euphonix System 5 console.

So with all of this wonderful capability in house, why do I choose to spend money renting a live performance space in downtown Los Angeles to do my own recordings? Why do I load up a truck and haul all of the required equipment 15 miles from the west side to downtown LA? Why not use the studio I have to capture the tracks?

Yesterday, a very fine jazz pianist and his lovely wife came to the studio to check out the “piano” sound that I get. He is looking to do a solo record of his own tunes. He’s considering hiring me to do the project and I suggested that he come by and listen to a few of my recordings to see if my piano sound was to his liking. It turns out that he’s planning on recording in the same venue that I have used all these years (Zipper Auditorium at the Colburn School for Performing Arts) and using the Steinway Model D 9-foot grand piano. It’s a beautiful hall! There’s lots of wonderful live ambiance and it’s very comfortable to play in.

This project will be his 5th album but his first solo project. A mutual musician friend suggested that he contact me because he doesn’t want to record in a small studio as he has done before. He’s unhappy with the traditional way of recording in isolated, acoustically dead rooms and communicating with the other musicians through headphones. He told me many times they can’t even see each other! The musicians experience is diminished so that the technology can benefit.

There are reasons that engineers like to record this way. It allows each recorded track to have only a single instrument or voice without any “bleed” from other microphones. This means that during the mixing phase of the project, the mixing engineer can place individual instruments in the mix without phasing or leakage. It also means the vocals and other overdubs can be added to the basic tracks without problems. Those are all pluses for certain pop and rock records but they are the only way of doing things.

Classical and jazz recordings don’t rely on overdubbing and isolated tracks to get a proper blend and overall sound. They want the engineer to capture the sound of the ensemble as accurately as possible and preserve the actual sound of the music through all of the postproduction stages.

So my new client has decided to record in a large live performance venue and heard that I’m experienced at this type of recording. He knows that I won’t have to add artificial reverberation to the sound…it already exists in the hall. There is the question of how many microphones I’ll use during the session and where I will place them. I explained my philosophy of recording, the reason I use stereo pairs of microphones and the reasons that I place 2 stereo pairs close to the harp of the instrument.

In the end, all that mattered with the recordings that I played for him. I played selections from the Blu-rays that I produced and engineered of pianists Terry Trotter and Bryan Pezzone. I switched between the stereo and two 5.1 surround mixes and he was completely enthralled. The sound he heard sounded like a “real” piano. It was right there in the room with us just 6-8 feet away.

He has his own label and will release the project on a variety of formats including a standard CD. He wants to make sure that his fans can play his new release AND that the local radio stations won’t have any problems with it either. But we also talked about releasing HD-Audio files (even 5.1 surround files) through iTrax.com and downconverted versions through iTunes. His wife expressed interest in pressing vinyl LPS of the recording, which made me think of my recently refurbished Nagra IV reel-to-reel machine. I told them that I could split the mic feeds and record to both analog tape AND HD PCM. We could use the analog tape for the vinyl master and the HD digital version for the CD and HD downloads.

So the meeting went very well. He loved my piano sound and the plans. We’ll be in Zipper Hall later this summer capturing his 12-14 new compositions on analog tape and HD PCM. It should be very interesting.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(2) Readers Comments

  1. Hi Mark,

    This post really interests me a lot. I am trying to learn as much as I can about recording and especially stereo microphone techniques. I am however really interested in your philosophy behind mixing the stereo pairs of microphones that you mentioned above. I’m also curious about the distances you chose and the microphones that you use. As placing microphones is much a question of taste and allows for certain freedom to experiment, I believe experience is key, so I’m wondering where your recording experience has taken you when it comes to the microphones you chose when recording a piano, etc, the distance in relation to the instrument, walls, etc.?

    If I’m asking to know alittle too much about the artist’s secrets, just let me know 😉

    Cheers

    • I have no secrets…just look at the videos of my recordings and you’ll see everything. I think I’ve written about my philosophy of recording in a post or two. But I will definitely be discussing it more in the book I’m writing on High-End production.

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