Thursday, September 29, 2016

All Star Album Production

AES 2016: All Star Album Production

Terri Winston, Women's Audio Mission - San Francisco, CA, USA
Marcella Araica, Recording & Mix engineer (Britney Spears, Madonna, Pink) - Miami, FL, USA; Los Angeles, CA, USA
Laura Escudé, Alluxe/Electronic Creatives - Los Angeles, CA, USA
Piper Payne, Coast Mastering - San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Laura Sisk, Recording Engineer - Los Angeles, CA, USA

Laura Escudé: (Alluxe)  (Kanye West, Jay-Z, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Herbie Hancock) Produces beats, music programming.
Laura Sisk: (Taylor Swift, Shakira) Recording Engineer and vocal producer.
Marcella Araica (Grammy-winning recording and mixing engineer for Beyoncé, Pink) Owner of Dream Asylum studio.
Piper Payne: Mastering Engineer (Beautiful Machines, Madame Ghandi, Psychic Twin, Sioux City Kid, Fritz Montana) in Berklee, CA.

Q: What environment do you work in?
Laura S: Everything is in the box because we move around so much. One project lasts only for a week. At a commercial studio you are limited by the number of inputs. So it’s important to have everything ready to go. Being able to record ANYTHING at the very moment someone has an idea is important. So the studio she set up for Jack Atinoff was important to have the extra gear ready to go.
Laura E: Lot of hotel rooms and rehearsal spaces. She sets up her rig wherever she is - she doesn’t have a dedicated space. She has had to pare down the amount of gear she takes - as she traveled to Europe she found it was difficult to get through the airport. A lot of times it will be a hotel room with KRK speakers. She uses Ableton Live for everything; she has a lot of controllers: Push, Ohm, Wii, which can all translate to a live show. MOTU interfaces, a switcher, UA Apollos.
Q: What are your favorite tools, gear and workflows?
A: Marcella: SSL 9000J is her go-to piece of gear (she has two actually). C01B compressor is a must for vocals; sometimes guitar and bass. Neve 33 609 stereo compressor. She calls herself a young dinosaur because she has an old school mentality about using analog: but she likes Waves and UAD plug ins. UAD 660, LA3A (there’s so many) Waves H-EQ and signature line.
Piper: Long Live Analog! Everything she has is outboard analog real time. RX, Renovator, her DAW is Sequoia; Radar and ultra nyquist convertors. Tape machine for when client demands or when a master comes in on tape. Vinyl production. Transfer: maselec mTC1. Gota brand new Manley Slam; GL EQ and the new SPL Iron. Speakers FIkaskel Utopia (a really resolute tweeter) VTL 450 fast tube amplifiers to help counteract brightness.
Laura S: U47 with 1073 CL1B is her favorite vocal chain. Switch up compressor for background vocals. The more you layer stuff it sounds phasey. She wants to minimize “the choir effect” Blackface 776. Melodyne (loves time stretching) and AutoTune. Contraband pedal by walrus pedal: has an extreme limiter the limiter shuts down fast and opens up giving a tremolo effect.
Laura E: Uses Autotune/Melodyne. Sometimes used as an effect. Wants a plug-in for Live and agrees about the time stretching. If it sounds too perfect she plays around with making stuff sound a little out of tune.

Q: How did you get established?
A: Marcella: before social media she worked very hard and built her reputation. She never said no; she made sacrifices by missing holidays with family. She owned up to her mistakes. Over time she started taking on new clients.
Piper: You have to take the opportunities when they are given to you. Go to AES and network. Be prepared to work your butt off. (Follow up Q: How do you know which opportunities?) Get a mentor!
Laura S: John Hill was my mentor; didn’t go freelance until she had a lot of clients.
Piper: Your mentor will listen to your mixes that no one else will. You also need to be feerless in getting feedback.

Terri: A rare opportunity: a client needed someone to interview Mary J Blige and Hillary Clinton and contacted WAM.

Laura S: She got a call to do a record in Logic. And she took it on although she never worked in Logic before. So she spent a week getting Logic under her belt.
Laura E: She was a violin player and then she fell in love with electronic music. Someone asked her to teach a Pro Tools class, so she taught herself Pro Tools. She also did tech support at M-Audio
Marcella: She is about energy  - she needs cool people in the room with her.
Piper: Was told she was too social to be a mastering engineer!

Q (from the audience): Do artists have a preference of tools?
A: Laura S: Some artists have a DAW they prefer.
Marcella: Some artists have a specific vocal chain, some have no idea what the engineer is doing. Most artists prefer a specific mic they prefer.

Q (from the audience): Production / mixing / mastering: how do you know when you’re done?
A: Deadlines.
It’s hard to have an end point.
Piper: It’s like over-biasing: when you go over and then go back … you know you’re done when you have even frequencies and no over compression.

Q (from the audience): How do you make your own (signature) sound?
Marcella: Avoid presets
Piper: There are so many people who “put their sound on the artist”.
Laura Sisk: Tries to be invisible. But tuning is not binary (some people say it’s either IN tune or OUT of tune.) But sometimes making tuning choices can make something seem uplifted (slightly sharp) or sad (slightly flat) - it can make the vocal track more compelling.

Q (from the audience): Multiband vs multistage compression. Choose multistage compression. Choose dynamic eq not a multiband compressor.


This is a fantastic panel and if you want to know more you should join the AES to have access to conference recordings and more!

AES 2016 Keynote Speaker: Ron Jones
Credits include many scores from the London Sympony Soundtrack to “Family Guy”

A video precedes his keynote:
Star Trek intro
Family Guy
“We only live to kiss your ass” (Family Guy)
Scoring session for Star Trek The Next Generation
Romulan Starfleet
Shows mixing console
A Family Guy episode where the baby attacks the mother
A scene from an animated feature

From Ron's Speech:
“Los Angeles is really a series of taco stands with freeways to take you between taco stands.
They say GW Griffin was trying to get to Phoenix but he overslept on his journey and decided LA was “good enough”. But Hollywood is really everywhere.”
He went to the Dick Grove school of music. He is thankful for the AES and stands in awe of the people who preceded him on the podium to receive their awards. Also acknowledges Steve Turnidge who is active in the Northwest section. He worked at Sony (MGM), Warner Bros., Evergreen, Ocean Way. But he was always concerned about the score and didn’t think about the engineers. Now he acknowledges them.
In television, all the budgets have been reduced to a guy with Pro Tools, and that’s called “scoring” now. But he had 75-piece orchestras and no virtual tracks. “Family Guy” spent $50,000 on bagels but Ron would advocate for more cellos. “If you can spend 50 grand on cellos you can get me three more cellos! You can’t hear bagels!”
He says as you try to sort out what the AES conference is about (VR? maybe): Keep in mind that everything we do is based on a human receptor.
One day Seth (Family Guy) called Ron to his office and said “my attorneys are negotiating with Fox for my next deal. What would really piss of Fox? You should know, you’re an expert”. Ron said, “They have always hated violists. Put in the contract that you have to get 10 more violas each year. We’ll call it the viola clause”. He could have called it a “tuba clause”. But the point was to get a producer that appreciates things.
He gave Seth a book called “Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy”. He did one of the first books on how music affects the brain. For a long time he didn’t hear about it but the next season and says “the book’s right, we’re going to do it!” Seth knew that the 2D connects to the frontal lobe, but the music is what differentiates the animation from other types of media, and that music matters.
Ron likes to use paper and jokes that the TSA thought it was strange - this guy with no laptop. He says that without a complete equation with all the integers you will have an error. For example in 1999 NASA launched the Mars probes up; as it accelerates it smashed into Mars with such a velocity it may have embedded itself 2 miles down into the planet. The reason the error happened is that the two teams were using different units: one was using feet and the other was using meters. The point is that as we move into new territory, he insists on knowing “the equation”. He is lobbying for the human receptor.
How do we take in sound? How do we take in visuals? We have two eyes and our brain is making calculations.
With all of the channels out there (broadcast, youtube, etc.), you have fractions of a second to grab your audience.
Why hasn’t hollywood capitalized on the other senses? What about “swallowing a movie” and feeling like we’ve had a nice chicken alfredo?
He uses the “human receptor” and “humanology”. It’s all required: being a person and understanding how we operate is not required on a resume.
When you are dubbing a film it’s like a masterwork of reception. VR and game producers now have to create software that creates in real-time what would take movie studio a month to do.
Music connect with the emotions more than sound does. If you hear a train coming, there is no emotion - it’s just “get out of the way”. But music and sound are designed to do appeal to the emotions. The whole brain lights up. Little receptors pop out when the brain senses sound (a train? A phone ringing?) but inside that receptor is another one that knows the difference between noise and music. Even neanderthals had flutes, so we have somehow evolved. Mics have been placed in the womb to detect what babies hear.

When we are trying to communicate we need to understand that.

Ron also talks about how the brain prioritizes: “main thing” and “other thing”. We as audio producers have to deliver that “main thing”.
He tells students (especially who are used to work with music samples) so sit in the room with the violins and violas - before they’re allowed in the studio. They can then hear the air moving. They remark that it’s “light and airy”.

Human consumers of games need to have their receptors “light up”. Sales are driven by the human factor.


When he’s up in Seattle, he gets the kids from community colleges and trains them. He trains them so they can work at Fox - they’re really an LA studio. But when they get out they’re not equipped for the 21st century - the limitation is TIME. You can’t make a kid work enough errors. We need to create jobs - they only reason he wants to keep it going is so kids can CREATE AUDIO. It’s so much fun to record a grand piano. Let them play with it. Bring in a string quartet. They’ll say “the sounds ‘up here’ the sounds not ‘down here’!” It’s a revelation for them.

Find ways to teach kids what communicates. Otherwise we are making robots, we are making androids, we are making machines. What happens to the musicians? The trombone players? We can find a future for them! All it takes is a will, and a regard for them. This will be relevant 500-1,000 years from now. It’s ALWAYS. We want to have those kids be the old guys in the room in 30-40 years. Mentor them. Bring in the kids and show them. We need to populate the world with humans that “Get it” so that we can tell stories, so we can change the world.