IN THIS ISSUE:
- An Audio Holiday wish from the President
- Interview with Dan Scalpone of Guitar Center Pro (and fellow EARS Member)
- Re-cap of 5.1 Surround Workshop at Chicago Recording Company
- And more...
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Editors:
Fran
(The LJETPRO) Allen-Leake
and
Danny (The URBAN G) Leake


Volume 25, Number 12 • December, 2010

President – Blaise Barton
Vice President – Reid Hyams
Secretary – Bob Vodick
Treasurer – Eric Roth


DECEMBER MEETING

24th Annual Jeff Hamilton Memorial HOLIDAY PARTY
GREEK ISLANDS RESTAURANT, 200 S. Halsted St., CHICAGO
TUESDAY DECEMBER 28 • 8 PM



Hola, Fellow EARS Members and Fans,

An Audio Holiday Wish......

From the bottom of our limitations of the audible frequency spectrum, EARS wishes you a very dynamic and well balanced Holiday season. As you enjoy the placement of elements around the Holiday table and the mix of loved ones in your proximity, we sincerely hope the auxiliary effect transcends you to a feeling of solid state. Of course, when it comes to family, sometimes you feel like you want to dropout to avoid the wow and flutter and constant shedding from out-of-phase Family Members… especially Aunt Cathode. This is very typical in a feedback loop of family dynamics, one which tends to distort the true binaural image of the Holiday.

When this happens, you may feel the urge to equalize the situation with an excessive amount of capstan cleaner. All we can say is that you need to monitor your input level...... You know it's time to find a pair of designated drivers to get you home when your azimuth is 180 degrees in the wrong quadrant. The next morning you will likely experience a lot of overhead compression and head wear.

If you wish to maintain unity gain, our best advice to you is to filter your streaming and quantize everything below the Nyquist frequency. Now, if you are on the download, you have a whole 'nother set of obstacles, brother. Your Uncle Germanium is an over-biased, anti-aliasing, anti-downloading piece of vintage gear. Your best action is to NOT be the conductor of his hysteresis and self oscillating warble. Your resistance is the best defense against his parasitic inductance.

While you are hanging out with your GRAMMY, hip her to your favorite ROCK BAND(S) and GUITAR HERO(S).... She likes music more than you know.

And finally, as you are A-weighing your 24-bit resolutions for the New Year, know that after spending 1K on holiday gifts, 3K could have hurt much worse.

Have a head full of ear candy this season!

Your President and Humble Servant,
Blaise Barton

P.S. -- See you at Greek Islands! More Hi-Jinx on the horizon! If you're thinking of not going.... well .......you should just go!






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REWIND: EARS @ CRC

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Master Class: Mixing in 5.1 Surround
A Hands-On Workshop hosted by Chris Shepard and Chris Steinmetz
With special guest Paul Stewart from GENELEC


Chris Steinmetz, Chris Shepard, and Paul Stewart
(1-3) Chris Steinmetz, Chris Shepard, and Genelec’s Paul Stewart at the Master Class Workshop @ CRC on November 30th

I was watching a 50’s documentary on Hugh Hefner and Playboy when the camera panned down Ohio Street. I recognized some of the buildings that were still there when Hugh Hefner came bounding out of a building with his “Smoking Jacket” and his pipe….that building was 232 E. Ohio, the present home of The Chicago Recording Company (CRC Studios)…..Yes, CRC was the home of the original Playboy Club. There is even an “Urban Legend” about secrets hidden in the studio of the wild times that happened there in the past. It is at this historic bastion of Sexual Freedom (or Promiscuity depending on your outlook) that EARS had its November meeting which was actually a Masterclass for 5.1 Surround mixing. Studio 5 was outfitted with a Genelec DSP Autocal 5.1 Surround Monitoring system that was setup by Genelec’s Paul Stewart using the GLM (Genelec Loudspeaker Management) software. The meeting started off with a greeting from our Illustrious Prez Blaise Barton and, in that great EARS tradition, gave attendees the opportunity to introduce themselves. After that everyone moved into the control room of Studio 5 where Paul went into a detail demonstration of using the GLM software to tune the room. The Genelec DSP Autocals are advanced digitally-controlled monitors (LAN) that are tri-amped with a sub and with the GLM Software can be adjusted to negate most of the negative acoustic anomalies you might find in some control rooms. The Protools HD playback system was controlled using a Euphonix MC Mix 8 fader controller.

As interesting as that was, it was only an appetizer for the “pièce de résistance” of the night: a discussion and demonstration of surround techniques by Chris Shepard and Chris Steinmetz. The interesting thing was the two very different aspects of the craft that were represented.

Chris Steinmetz, the first presenter, discussed the aspects of mixing a 5.1 surround studio project. He described working with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead on a project at Chicago Trax Studios which, by the way, he did the surround design for. It was one of the first surround projects and they got very creative in how things were place in the surround soundfield. Placing things in the back surrounds did not feel as strange as they would have on a regular live recording. I was in the “sweet spot” for the playback and to hear percussion riffs coming from left and right behind my head was pretty amazing.

Chris Shepard’s aspect was a little different coming from the Live recording arena: He tends to use his “rears” to focus his audience; to bring an accurate presentation of the Live experience to his recordings. By coming up with a balance between his front audience mikes and the “Back of the House” mikes Chris is able to come up with a depth of realism that transcends a regular 2 track Stereo Live recording. Chris records live concerts using his American Mobile™ location recording truck. One of his demonstration projects was a surround recording of Sir Paul McCartney recorded at the Coachella Festival that year and it was amazing. Chris showed how much it changed when the surrounds were shut off. Individual EAR members were given the opportunity to realtime mix the six stereo subgroups using the Euphonix MC Mix.

November meeting pictures
(1) EARS Members partake of the Master Class Session, (2) Blaise Barton addressing the group, (3) Video playback at the Master Class.

Both Chris’s discussed some of the problems in mixing surround: Mixing on Full range systems when a lot of the home systems are smaller satellite systems; Systems that are not set up properly thereby changing the presentation of the mix, The problems of dealing with the center channel on a Music session as opposed to a Film session. (ED Note: Some engineers tend to depend more on the “Phantom” Center rather than the center channel speaker on Music sessions.)

This was a VERY informative meeting. One of the things I learned was to be very careful of what happens when your surround mix is folded to stereo because that is what most Video projects will use. The discrete Stereo mix is almost never used so if your surround mix folds down “Funny”, you need to fix it as that’s the stereo mix everyone will hear.

It was a very successful Masterclass reminding me of some of the wonderful AES Mastersessions I’ve attended in the past.

EARS would like to thank Chris Shepard, Chris Steinmetz, CRC and Paul Stewart for making this one of the stellar meetings of the year.

Danny Leake
Co-Editor




ears book club

Last month I was watching an episode of the A&E show “Hoarders. It’s a show about people who collect tons of junk and won’t throw anything away because of mental illness. (“Oh I could NEVER throw that away!”) I looked around my office at the piles and piles of magazines, old AES equipment flyers, and old newspapers when I picked up an old Pro Sound News and thought, “I could NEVER throw that away!”….Oh NOOOOOOOO!!! Four Hefty Flex garbage bags later my area was clear. One of the ways I had accumulated all that junk was my habit at the AES Conventions of grabbing up anything interesting, throwing it in a bag and vowing to read it later……sometimes it happened and sometimes it didn’t. In this instance it didn’t. I found a book that I hadn’t read but understood immediately why I had grabbed it up: “Studio Stories”, How The Great New York Records were made: From Miles to Madonna, Sinatra to The Ramones by David Simons; Backbeat Books, 2004. (Yes, it sat around six years in “purgatory” before I found it again.) This book concentrates on the New York studios, the engineers, producers, and the hits they made. I’m talking about at least 28 studios. Some of the artists examined includes The Who, Van Morrison, Cream, The 4 Seasons, Sly & The Family Stone, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Tony Bennett, Led Zeppelin, Neil Diamond and The Brill Building Songwriting Crew (I didn’t know Paul Simon was in a group with Carole King), Bing Crosby, The Loving Spoonful, The Monkees, Simon and Garfunkel, James Brown, Bill Haley and The Comets, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Weezer, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen ….I could go on for another six pages. There is great history on how technical changes moved the industry; there are great interviews of engineers like Ed Stasium (The Ramones), Roy Halee (Simon and Garfunkel), Phil Ramone (EVERYONE!); the techniques and mikes used, etc. I’m used to reading books where they concentrate, for instance, on the British Sound, their studios, and their engineers but what a lot of people didn’t realize was that a lot of the British engineers were trying to “cop” that elusive “New York” sound back then. According to EMI engineer Malcolm Addey, the engineers working on the Beatles were trying to get the sound of Columbia Studios 30th Street studio. Some of my favorite recordings from the 50’s through the New Millennia are included here; some of which I was surprised to find were recorded in New York. (The Who’s “I Can See For Miles and Miles”?, James Brown’s “It's A Man’s, Man’s World”?) The book also talks about the studios “in the area” like Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound (Philadelphia), Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Studios (NY), and Rudy Van Gelder’s Van Gelder Recording Studio (New Jersey). This was an excellent read and I can’t believe it took me six years to find it again. I highly recommend this book. Someone needs to write one on the Chicago R&B, Punk, Rock and House/Dance scenes and the studios that helped nourish them.

Danny Leake
Co-Editor




One-on-One with Chicago’s “Go-To Guy” –

GC Pro’s Dan Scalpone

Dan Scalpone
Last month, I was producing a live showcase for Veterans and was in need of a specific guitar – a Taylor acoustic – for one of the out of town performers. Like many of my colleagues, I immediately called longtime EARS member and my “Go-To Guy,” Dan Scalpone at Guitar Center Pro. I found Dan’s job quite interesting and asked if he could spare a few moments for an interview. Following is a capsule of our informal “chat.” – Fran Allen-Leake

Hi Dan! Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to sit down with me and EARS! First up: How long have you been with Guitar Center and the GC Pro Family?

I’ve been with GC Professional for 6 years; with Guitar Center for 11 years.

How did you get in this?

Well, I needed a Job! I started a small recording studio with my partner, Alex Gross. I was taking classes and working at Chicago Trax here and there and I was just obsessed with gear. So, I came to Guitar Center and got a job here. It was great. I could be around gear all the time. Meet a lot of really interesting people; it was just a great experience.

Did you begin like a lot of us do – as a Musician?

Yeah, I started as a musician; I’ve played in numerous bands. Did midi production for a couple of different bands on the Chicago scene; played bass guitar, sang a little bit …a little bit of everything. And just kept playing in bands for gosh, about 10 years -- until a 3-4 few years ago.

So, you’re not doing that anymore?

Not the band thing. The band thing is like, too much “schlepping”. I still do songwriting. I did a record last year, and am working on a record this year. I really love the recording process and the songwriting process, but playing live? I don’t think I’ll be doing that for awhile.

So, you’re a Studio Geek, right?

A Studio Rat!

Tell me about GC Pro? Your role, what you do, and what you hope to do.

GC Pro…the idea is that we’re a liaison for professionals who need a higher level of service; they need somebody they can go to: a face. They can call somebody and get something right away because time is money. They need that immediate connection. For whatever they may need: a piece of gear, a referral for somebody to do tech work; they may need an engineer. So yes, we sell gear…but it’s a little more than that. I sometimes feel like a concierge. If you need somebody who’s been in the music scene for several years, working in the same area…somebody who knows ‘who’s doing what’ and can get stuff on a moment’s notice…I’m your guy. So yeah, it’s a higher level of service…as far as where we’re going…having more gear for people; as well as increasing our connection with the music community and more service.

Do you find that there are differences between what you’re doing now than 5 years ago?

Definitely! And, especially in the sense that technology has really taken over. Everyone knows that DAW recording and computers have killed 2-inch and the traditional recording studio. Now more than ever, the emphasis on knowing what is compatible with what and putting together a system that really meets the needs of modern recording … having hard drives, the right plug-ins, being able to get a certain effect that somebody heard on a certain song. Those are the conversations we’re having now that we didn’t necessarily have 5 years ago. Certainly auto tune was around 5 years ago, but now we have Melodyne, now we have Waves Tune, now we have Auto Tune EVO, the Vocal Suite. The way that recording and, to a larger extent, the live sound production—just the effect of technology really controlling the production and integrating with the production has evolved exponentially and at a much faster pace than I would have ever imagined.

You’re a recording engineer: How do you feel that this impacts on the final product? Say, as opposed to, a couple of decades ago?

On the one hand, you see a lot of interesting ways that tech is implemented with recordings and a lot of different sonic landscapes…in the sense of recording, you see traditional synthesizers mixed with modern synthesizers, and being able of access models of vintage synthesizers like a CS 80 or a Moog at a moment’s notice. So, I think that the work flow has been sped up to a tremendous rate. The producer can now wear 5 hats at one time; the engineer can be the producer, can be the musician, or the songwriter. So you’re seeing a tremendous power that the creator has. On the dark side of that, I think that some of the organic quality of music – not so much in the live sense, but on the when it comes to the recording process – to my ears I hear less of an organic “culturing” of ideas because stuff can be pushed out so quickly. I think that artistically speaking…you know, working on a project for over a year? Let’s just say that I don’t necessarily see Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours being made again. You have a kind of “industrial” quality to a lot of modern music. And, for better or worse, it’s here to stay.

As a producer, I tend to go into the studio with an idea towards eventual album sequencing. Lately though, I’m hearing a lot of product with seemingly little or no thought of concept sequencing. What are your thoughts on this?

As someone who grew up listening to albums, the Album was the product; the comprehensive idea was what the band (artist) was selling. The big jacket, the songs: all towards a thematic goal. Now, music is very much an accessorized component of the movie or whatever…it’s a piece of a piece of what the artist is all about. So, has some of the conceptualization been lost in the name of over- stimulated celebrity culture? Maybe. I think there are still some artists out there who think “album- focused.” But yes, it is different now. If it’s just a 3-minute single, it’s less memorable than say, listening to an old Rolling Stones record. But one song can be extremely profitable and can define a career. As for sequencing, you look at old Pink Floyd records…that was the height of sequencing.

I believe that true “concept’ sequencing began with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”

Well yes, you look at What’s Going On and the dynamic of the whole record – emotionally, you can almost envision it onstage as a theatrical production. This is something – for better or worse – you don’t see too much of now. And maybe the actual presentation of the music (thematically-speaking) is a lost art.

What about gear? The future of it as it applies especially to young people and what they’re learning?

First off, here at GC Pro we have a program that works with several different educational institutions in town, where students can receive a discount. We try to make it easy for students to purchase gear and to buy their course supplies. And, I actually do get a chance to meet a lot of the kids and see what they’re up to. It’s exciting and really interesting to see how the whole DJ culture has influenced how people appreciate music. I-Tunes has been a real influence on this culture…it’s your own virtual DJ…most everyone listens to I-Tunes in shuffle mode, so I think a lot of the kids have a similar perspective on how they approach the music. You’re seeing a lot of synergy from different genres ad different styles. But the DJ culture and electronic music has been profoundly influenced by technology.

So, this isn’t over is it?

No, this is just the beginning. You’ll see more synchronization between video and audio and visuals will become more woven into performances with DJs and to a certain extent, bands, too.

What about the future of “gear?” Is there anything that stands out?

Recording studios will continue to get smaller. And you’re going to see less gear, period. There will be a day in age, where the only outboard gear you have will be speakers, maybe an interface for your computer, and maybe a few other boxes at the most. The days of racks and racks of outboard gear are long gone. Also, for Live as well…you can get almost all of your outboard processing in a single processor. As DSP processing continues to grow, you’ll see smaller and better. Great for the live engineer or producer; bad for the Roadie!

When I had my first opportunity to sit in the First Chair, I was totally thrilled. All those years of hard work had paid off. Now, I see these kids with little training who are doing production out of their bedrooms. Would you care to comment?

I think that when you were learning (as a studio intern for example) there was a community of other artists, engineers, producers, etc., and you went through a sort of “Right of Passage.” The passing down of knowledge, techniques, and wisdom from veterans who had 20 or more years of experience. That community is becoming de-centralized now. There are forums etc., but it’s not the same as when we had a studio community where the wisdom would be passed down.

I think that that is one of the EARS goals … to try to some extent, by passing along – mentoring, and bringing a lot of young people into the organization.

Yes, and Blaise and everyone at EARS have done a fantastic job in opening up the possibilities and showing the tremendous history we have in Chicago and the Midwest in recording and production. I think it’s really fabulous and so important for everyone to continue to support the community. A very invaluable asset: knowing what the past is and going forward into the future.

Dan, I have a couple of final questions: what’s on the horizon in terms of microphones?

Well, certainly one of the more exciting aspects is less expensive ribbon technology. Certainly, ten or 15 years ago there were very few ribbon mics on the market; now, there are tons of them and they are becoming less expensive now. Why? I think it’s because of the economics of production. You have a market for it now and companies like Royer who have taken over ten years of making some of the best ribbon mics out there…they have the technology now to manufacture this very fickle element and make it better and stronger because they’ve really put the technological research into it.

In your opinion, do you think that this new ribbon mic technology stands up to the old? An old RCA ribbon mic, for example?

RCA certainly has its own character, but they are much more delicate than a lot of the modern ribbon mics coming out now. I think it’s exciting that you can use these mics without having to worry about, “will this be the last time I use this mic?”

As far as tube mics go, we’re seeing some interesting tube mics being able to model different sounds. For example, convertible mics like Corby and Blue offer you the ability to buy one mic and get different capsules that can be a dead ringer for a U67 or U47. This is a wonderful thing; you can get the sound without having buy a U47 for $10,000.

Also, digital mic technology hasn’t really caught on yet, but Neumann Solution D is very interesting. The technology’s been around about 10 years now. You can essentially just take one cable out of the microphone; plug it straight into your computer and record. There’s no pre-amp involved – just a single solution. As a result, your noise floor is significantly lower than it would be if you were using a traditional pre-amp. Some of the best classical recordings I’ve heard have used the Solution D technology…I think you’re going to continue to see that as it slowly catches on. It simplifies live recording. It’s just tremendous.



Editor’s Note: In addition to being one of the most knowledgeable, Dan Scalpone is one of the most easily accessible and gracious and guys around. I can’t thank him enough for taking time out of his hectic schedule to talk with me. And what of that borrowed Taylor? Yep, it eventually wound up under my Christmas tree as a present for some sound engineer I know.

Fran Allen-Leake
Co-Editor




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What have you been working on lately (and with whom?!) Do you have an idea for an article in an upcoming EARDRUM? Do you have a tech tip? How about an idea for an EARS event? Don’t be shy… contact us:

Fran Allen-Leake, LJet Productons – 312.405.4335 or e-mail eardrum.editor@ears-chicago.org

Danny Leake, Urban Guerrilla Engineers –312.310.0475 or e-mail eardrum.editor@ears- chicago.org

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