Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Helpful Hints from Mastering Engineer, Fred Kevorkian (Part II)

Here is a guest post by Fred Kevorkian as the second in the series of helpful hints for mastering.

***

QUESTION: How do you get the best mixes out of a project studio?
ANSWER:

As technology gets better and more affordable every day, it is unfortunate that the overall standard for sound quality is going down.

Today everyone has the ability to create music. Anyone can be an artist... just like anyone can be a sound engineer! And that is our problem here.

Software companies are telling kids that their latest programs can turn their computers into world-class recording studios... and they can become audio engineers overnight!

Yes, home studios have evolved quite a bit since the famous 4-track cassette "Portastudio" days. It is also true that digital audio has come a long way since it's debut in the 80's. Combined with today’s modern computing speed and power, there is without a doubt some very impressive tools are available. (Even analog products have become more affordable, e.g. microphones, speakers, outboard gear...etc.)

At this point, technology cannot be blamed for poor quality audio. To me, it is simply “operator error.” The lack of experience, engineering knowledge and acoustical environment issues are the main causes.

I must say, once in while I get some amazing stuff coming from a "laptop studio." There are some incredibly talented young engineers out there working with practically nothing! They just have a great feel for the music and know their room so well that they can come up with some amazing mixes! Sometimes, I am very impressed but I don’t see (or rather hear) it every day.

Remember, you cannot buy or substitute experience but you can avoid making some basic mistakes. Here are a few suggestions I hope will help clients get the best possible mixes while working within a limited budget.

First, make sure that you are working in the best acoustical environment you can afford. You really need to feel comfortable with the space you are going to spend most of your time in. It all comes down to how good your room translates to the real world. If you need help from a professional to make some adjustments, this is the best place to spend your money.

Then comes the monitoring system. This process can be very complex and confusing. Most engineers rely on small, powered near-field systems. I think it is a wise choice because at moderate levels they take most of the room coloration out of the picture. But there are so many options to choose from. I would suggest you stick with what is popular in most recording studios. Try a few of these speakers and pick the one that works best in your space. I wouldn't experiment too much anymore with the NS-10s with tissue in front of the tweeters! There is only one Clearmountain, and it is time to move on! A subwoofer can be a nice addition but make sure it’s calibrated right.

Once the room feels comfortable, listen to all the records you're familiar with. Listen to them over and over. Get yourself to feel "at home" and make some more adjustments until you're happy with the results. Again no one has a perfect room. The key is to learn the room’s imperfections and work around them.

Next step is dealing with the metering system. Digital peak meters seem to be a problem in the wrong hands. Besides showing “overs”, they are useless and misleading unless you can monitor the average level of the program at the same time. Most software will give you that option but you might have to look for it. You can always get a nice pair of analog VU-meters. They always tell the "truth". (Nobody cares about what's going on at -90dB unless you're measuring noise)

Another important thing is when you start mixing, always reference your work to similar types of recordings you are familiar with. You can check the overall tonal balance, the vocal levels, and the dynamics.... anything that will tell you that you are going in the right direction. You will also become more familiar with your monitoring system as you go along. I am shocked to hear some of the mixes that I have to work with. I sometimes need to add 9dB here and cut 12dB there... how can someone be so off?

If you're going to mix in digital, try to use a high-resolution format like 24/96 or 24/88.2. The most important thing is to use all the bits available. I rather have masters with a few light overs than mixes that only peak at -18db or so!

Print multiple versions of the mixes (memory is cheap) - Main mix, Vx up, Vx dn, …etc. But please do not ask the mastering engineer to listen and choose from 8 different mixes. Pick the best one and save the alternates for emergency purposes!

Stems are great for recalling mixes in a flash but I don't think they belong in a mastering session. There are exceptions when they can be helpful but most of the time they are annoying and distracting. Keep the stems to yourself in case you need to recall a mix.

If you are going analog, make sure the tape machine is properly maintained and aligned to the desired calibration. Print tones and document them properly. Too many times I had to use the digital mixes instead because all 27 reels of 1/2" tape were unusable. What a shame and a waste of money!

As far as the equipment goes, choose what you like and what works for you. In terms of plug-ins, hardware … try to get a few good ones and learn them inside out. Avoid changing equipment all the time.

As you can see, this is not rocket science. You just need some common sense, determination, a bit of talent and of course a lot of passion!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Helpful Hints from Mastering Engineer, Fred Kevorkian (Part I)

It is very convenient to have mastering services located within the premises. In the past, our clients were able to master multiple tracks or a single from the album while mixing the rest of the album literally down the hall. After the initial mastering, the client was able to make fine adjustments in the mix and take it straight back to mastering without delay. It works out great if you have a deadline you must meet.

It also allows us to create a package deal where projects can be tracked, mixed and mastered in the same location. The first project we worked on this way was John Patitucci's solo album, Line by Line.

What we find useful sometimes is talk shop when we are all taking a break. Fred Kevorkian, who operates Kevorkian Mastering on the 3rd floor of our recording complex, is very easy going and extremely knowledgeable person we like to shoot the breeze with. He give us valuable insights from a mastering perspective on how we could do things better while tracking or mixing. We sat down with Fred to see if he could provide some helpful hints for this blog. (While we were having our discussion, the latest Mix Magazine, which covered mastering issues, just came out). This is Part I of that discussion.

QUESTION: In this multimedia world we live in, tracks are now repurposed for many different formats and media outlets – e.g. vinyl, iTunes, MySpace, ringtones, …etc. From a mastering perspective, what are your suggestions on how to process a track for these different purposes?
ANSWER:

Of course having a dedicated type of mastering for each specific application would ensure the best possible playback. Mastering for CD implies that the final master should be at 16-bit / 44.1 kHz. Most commercial CDs are overly compressed to compete for loudness. In the case of vinyl it could be a little different. There is no limitation for the bit rate or the sample rate of the master. Either or both could be a lot higher to provide better audio quality. Because LPs have more of an appeal for audiophiles and purists, brick-wall limiting is often left out of the chain for vinyl masters.

For radio I am often asked to provide the "vocal up" version and control the low end more aggressively. Mastering for the Internet and downloads are fairly new to me. I don't get many requests in that area. I think a lot of people are still trying to figure out what the best approach is.

"Multiple mastering" makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately most of my clients are small labels or independent artists and they cannot afford that luxury.

Within the past few years I have seen a trend moving towards the “one mastering fits all” approach. It is indeed a very cost effective solution, but it is also very destructive. How is it achieved? Well as we know poor quality playback systems and noisy environment don't go well with high dynamic range content. By making things louder and louder, the overall dynamic range is reduced dramatically. The market has forced popular formats to become more similar.

The result is that you can listen to music on the go (extremely popular) without loosing too much information. In general audio quality and musicality have long been traded for portability and convenience. The consumer did not seem to mind the loss of quality as evidenced by the huge success of MP3s and iPods. This "trend" seems to be taking hold. The good news is that the market for LPs seems to be growing and I hope we will see less and less 16-bit PMCDs used as vinyl masters, which is the case right now.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Files On The Go

QUESTION: How do I electronically send large files to and from recording / mastering studios?
ANSWER:

The quick answer is that we prefer to use our own ftp (file transfer protocol) server and provide temporary user accounts to clients who need access. The drawback to this approach is that not everyone is familiar with using ftp and some handholding (explaining ftp client software, dealing with settings & addresses, assigning username / password) is required on the client side and some IT administrative effort is required on the studio side.

As an alternative, there is a myriad of file transfer services online. A quick search for the top online file storage / transfer services yielded over 50 services with the ability to deal with file sizes ranging from 50 MB to 2 GB and having a "file life" of 7 days to unlimited time before the files get wiped. Based on our direct experience with clients, we have been requested to use swapdrive, ibackup and yousendit in the past. Fred Kevorkian, who has a mastering room at Avatar, has been using our FTP server extensively for most of his work. Once in a while he receives a request to use iDisk (service offered by Apple) or yousendit. Having looked through some user forums, other services mentioned includes megaupload and DigiDelivery. By no means is this an endorsement of these services. Consider them just a sampling of what is used out there.

It is surprising that we have not seen a dominant industrial strength online file transfer service in the audio industry. The most often talked about service was DigiDelivery. Introduced in August 2002 by Rocket Network and Digidesign, DigiDelivery was an easy to use secure digital asset transfer service. The service requires the sender, recipient or third party in the data chain to have a network appliance to facilitate the transfer. Rocket Network was later acquired by Avid (parent company of Digidesign). In the last few years, we have used DigiDelivery maybe once or twice so we cannot honestly provide any comments. In September 2007, Avid sold DigiDelivery to Aspera, who now maintains the service today. I am sure there are other services out there used by the film and post industries. We just have not come in direct contact with them.

Whichever service you use, security is the most important consideration. There is no way to be 100% sure, but you should talk to the service provider to see what precautions they are taking to insure that files cannot be accessed by unauthorized users including the administrators. Being diligent about wiping the files once you have confirmed that the recipient got the files is also very important.

If any readers know of services that they like or use often, please let us know. We're open to evaluating services that will make our clients' lives (and ours as well) easier. Until then, I think we'll stick with ftp. For large volumes of data, shipping drives is still the proven method, even if it is so 20th Century.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Producing an Audio Podcast

QUESTION: How do I create a professional sounding audio podcast?
ANSWER:

We started dabbling in podcasts in April 2005 when we started producing our own show called Avatar Studios Presents. It dealt primarily with jazz music and always featured an interview with an artist we were highlighting. We had a receptionist who had a great voice, so we utilized his talents and he became the host of the show. We did a total of 19 shows and they can still be found on iTunes. The show remains popular in Japan and according to one listener, people were listening to the show as a way to learn and study English.

So many of the podcasts that we listened to at the time were very amateurish since the medium was still emerging. I remember one music show host fumbling around to find his music playlist while wondering out aloud where he put it "on the air." It took more than five minutes for the host to play the first tune and it was a music show. We wanted to experiment with this new medium and apply our expertise in producing a professionally sounding podcast. This was even before podcasts were listed and available on iTunes and you had to use online directories such as PodcastAlley and others. With the advent of iTunes 4.9, the medium exploded because of the the podcast directory included in the software that made podcasts easy to find and access. It seems such a long time ago.

Today, there are many excellent podcasts on any subject you can think of. They serve as a great learning tool. However, I still get irritated by some of the podcasts that are out there. For example, I listen to a marketing podcast that has fantastic content, but the volume levels of the talking heads are so vastly different that it is virtually impossible to listen to on a subway or a bus. (Many commuters in New York listen to things on their iPods and other portable players). Because of the ambient noise, I have to turn up the volume to hear the speaker talking softly but then the other speaker that is talking loudly becomes too deafening to listen to. I realize the people producing them may not be audio professionals, but don't they listen to their own podcasts? Doing a little volume balancing would greatly enhance the listening experience.

Making these podcasts gave me a real appreciation for people who do voiceover work and radio shows. We found that editing the content into what we thought was a quality product takes a lot more time than what you would expect. Besides getting a good recording and taking out ambient noise, you get into tweeking speech patterns, speech cadence / rhythm and spacing between content in the editing process.

A typical process would go something like this. First, we would take out some of the lip smacks, throat clearings and "uhms." We were not using professional voiceover talent, so sometimes, this could be a real chore. Then, we would try to space the speech out by taking out pauses so it had a pleasant rhythm, a flow to it without sounding too mechanical. We also tried to get to the featured content without a lot of unnecessary delay at the start and keep the talking brief in between the music. We had to grab the attention of listeners right away, if we were lucky enough to get it at all, with thousands of podcasts out there. We also had to assume that listeners had itchy fingers and very little patience for slow speech and long pauses.

The other issue we dealt with, where honestly we fell short, was the frequency in which we released these shows. All this work took a lot of time. We had other jobs to do and we were not exactly generating revenues from this work. The dilemma between our commitment to quality (and depth of content) versus frequency is also common to writing blogs as well. The desire to publish well thought out or well produced content versus putting content out at the rate you think the audience expects or demands it is something I struggle with while working on this blog. You try to settle into a realistic schedule and keep to it.

The work of creating a podcast is tedious and requires a certain kind of conscientiousness. We used to test an intern or production assistant by giving them the task of editing a spoken track for the podcast. We would instruct that person with some guidelines and past examples. It is always interesting to see the wide variation in quality of what we get back from these exercises. It really shows what notion of quality that person has. The work is not as easy or as trivial as one would think, especially someone starting out in audio engineering.

There are now new amazing tools to make this process go faster. One such tool is iZotope RX, which is excellent for isolating and taking out background noises. The software shows you a graphical representation of a recorded track on a frequency versus time plot and the acoustical characteristics are displayed by density of color. Noise can be found in regions where it is mostly devoid of color with slight scattering of color. By deleting these regions and listening back to confirm, hard to take out noise can easily eliminated. It uses the same technology that takes out the sound of page turns out of string session recordings. With these new tools, the only limitation is the time you want to spend and where you draw the line to achieve results to get acceptable / listenable / enjoyable audio quality.

Speaking of podcasts and how much time it takes to produce one, we started a new one. It is called Oral Studio History. It is a podcast that documents and presents spoken personal history of recording and studios as told by seasoned music industry professionals. I have always enjoyed listening to stories told by artists, engineers and producers who come to the studio and wanted to preserve some of them and be able to share them with those who have an interest in what happens at recording studios. The first installment features Malcolm Addey and his years at Abbey Road Studios, Bell Sound Recording and A&R Studios. And if there is someone willing to sponsor the podcast, we'll gladly do more shows. Anyone?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Recording in a Recession

QUESTION: How should I conduct a recording session in these trying financial times?
ANSWER:

We realize these are difficult economic times and you are trying to stretch your recording dollars. Here are some suggestions on how to get as much out of your session as possible. Needless to say, planning and organization are two key elements in this effort.

Booking:
Being able to do things last minute in an unbooked room will save you some money. If that is an option for you logistically, then you just have to be that much prepared to be able to pull it off, which means planning everything out and being able to execute at a moment's notice. Let the studio manager know that you are interested in such an arrangement (ask to be contacted whenever something opens up) and keep in touch. A little bit of patience and perseverance might save you some dough.

Whether you book the last minute or not, you still want to discuss your need in detail with the studio manager. Ask for suggestions on how to make efficient use of your time. If you know that the schedule is going to be very tight, let the studio manager know. When the studio knows that you need to work fast, they can make arrangements to do so. However, you want to make sure you are well prepared and not be the bottleneck.

Prepping:
Rehearse or gig heavily before entering the studio. If needed, have charts written out, copied, collated and ready to go. You don't want musicians waiting for copies to be made on your dime. Even better, give a copy to the musicians beforehand, if possible.

Organizing Your Time:
In order to maximize your time in the studio, plan out the logistics of your session. Come up with a rough schedule and think about the order of the tracks, the personnel / instrumentation needed, the difficulty level of the song (do it earlier in the day), when to break for meals (and when to order them). If you need help on the day of the session, hire someone or bring along a friend who is really good at organizing and coordinating stuff in the background. Be ready to make decisions on when to move on to the next song. Think about bringing someone, perhaps a producer friend, whose decision you trust to help you.

When scheduling, make sure you leave yourself some wiggle room. You might want to designate a timekeeper to track progress and to make sure you know when you have gone over your allotted time. In a lockout situation, you want to avoid overtime.

Hiring Talent:
Hire good talent, whether it is musicians or engineers, who can work fast and save you time, but still maintain quality. If you need recommendations, ask around - ask the studio manager, the engineer, ask for names of people you can ask. One alternative might be to ask the studio for in-house talent who can engineer the session for you.

Involving Those That Can Help You:
At various stages of preparation, consult with the studio manager, (especially) your producer and engineer and get their input. Pick their brains and involve them iteratively in the planning process. Make sure they understand what you are trying to do and achieve.

Quality Control:
Quality of a performance is very subjective, but try to fix things on the spot as much as possible instead of fixing it later. It might not be obvious at this stage, but most of the time, doing things right will save you time and effort later on when you edit or mix.

Notes / Documentation:
Make sure you take or ask for detailed notes on what you have recorded. The time you take to do this will save you many painful hours later when you have to find what you want to edit or mix. A little organization goes a long way.

Meals:
This topic was discussed in detail in an earlier post. To save costs, try a potluck for your meals. Recruit your spouses, friends, fans, ...etc. The meals and the experience might turn out better.

Some of the topics may have been covered before in previous postings, but I thought it would be useful to have them here in one place. By the way, everything mentioned above is applicable even when we are not in a recession.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Vinyl and CD in one Disc

We sometimes receive a copy of the finished CD, the result of our recording, mixing and/or mastering efforts, from the record label or artist who is nice enough to remember and send us one. It is gratifying to see what we worked on become a real commercial product. The artwork and packaging is an aspect that we do not get involved with, but it is always interesting to see what choices the labels or artists made to market their work.

Fred Kevorkian, a mastering engineer who runs a mastering operation at Avatar, came to show us a CD from an artist in Finland that he worked with. The artist is Underwater Sleeping Society and their album entitled The Dead Vegas was just released on October 15th.

The CD dubbed "VinylCD" is a double-sided disc with a full-length CD on one side and vinyl on the other with a single from the album. The vinyl actually wraps around the CD, encapsulating it. In order for the VinylCD to play on your turntable, the package includes a little foam adapter to fit on the spindle. We've never seen anything like this before and thought it was worth a mention. Fred played the vinyl on a turntable and it seemed to work and sound fine.

The Finnish press did not seem too impressed with it. We think it is a little gimmicky, but there is something to be said about a product that enhances the tangibility of a product and make the work stand out amongst the thousands of CDs that get released every year. I don't think it is the future of CDs, but it is a nod toward the suddenly surging popularity of vinyl and the artist should get kudos for trying something different.

Update:
Apparently, the VinylDisc format was introduced at Popkomm 2007. It was developed by Optimal Media, a manufacturing company based in Germany. Other bands that may have released VinylCDs include Nick Cave and the Hellacopters.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Recording Unusual Instruments

QUESTION: How do you prepare for and record unusual instruments?
ANSWER:

Here at Avatar Studios, we like a challenge. If there is something unusual to record, we want to do it for the sake of testing what we know and to learn from the experience to further our recording know-how. We'll work with the client and their circumstance, especially if we are allowed a little experimentation. We have recorded unusual instruments before such as Tibetan long horns (Radongs) and Japanese Taiko drums with great success.

We recently worked with a steel drum band called Steel Sensation. The band consisted of five steel drums (two tenors, a double-second, cello and bass) and regular drums. It is not everyday we work with a band like this. We thought it was such an interesting case study that we decided to document our efforts by taking photos and shooting video footage without really thinking about what we would do with the material.


Capturing the Sound of Steel Drums from Kirk Imamura on Vimeo.

Roy Hendrickson was the engineer on the session. Our first step was to talk to the client and ask them a few questions such as how they normally played together, whether it was loud or quiet, what is important about their sound and what was not as important, did they encounter any problems recording in the past, ...etc. In this case, the band wanted to be able to play together and since the arrangements were intricate and interdependent, it was important for the band members to see and hear each other. The band had difficulty in the past with getting good recordings at other studios. Some of the problems included getting too much overtones and not being able to capture the feel of the group playing together nor the tone of the bass steel drum sound.

The next step was to figure out a recording strategy that matched how they played and made them feel comfortable while playing. We thought Studio C would be best suited for this. Studio C provided a large space, often used for large ensembles, with good line of sight. We isolated the drums in one of five booths available in the live room to separate it from the steel drum sound. All the steel drums were placed in the main live room so everyone can hear and see each other. Not knowing what to expect, Roy wanted to leave some flexibility to make adjustments after he heard the band play. When played, steel drums are quite loud. Neumann U-87 microphones were used on each steel drum. A Decca tree with AKG C414 mics was used to capture the overall sound since we got great results in other similar situations. The recordings came out great and the band was very happy.

Rough mixes from the session was sent back to Trinidad where the arranger resides. Some of the tracks were played on the radio there and the response from the tracks was overwhelmingly positive. People were amazed at how great the band sounded, even as rough mixes.




Steel Sensation wanted to come back and record more songs. Even with the good results we got in Studio C, we wanted to make improvements, particularly with the bass steel drums sound. Studio A was selected because of the larger space. The natural reverb of the room complemented the steel drum sound. This time, Roy wanted to isolate the bass steel drums in its own isolation booth. The drums were isolated once again and the rest of the band was placed in the middle. Gobos were placed in between the cello and double second steel drums for better isolation. Once again, U-87s were used on all the steel drums. This time, instead of the Decca tree, two overhead mics placed high was used to capture the sound as it reverberated off the dome ceiling. The recordings were even better with the bass steel drums coming through clear and well defined. Isolating the bass steel drums was the key for this success.

From the footage and photos that we took, we put together a short video featurette to illustrate what we did to capture the sound of steel drums. The video is available above.

If you have unusual instrumentation or any unusual recording requirements, bring it on! We'll be waiting for your call.

About the Band:
Led by Ian Japsi, Steel Sensation is a 5-piece band. The members of the band either descend or are descendents of Trinidad and Tobago, where steel pan originated. Pan music was an early influence in their lives. They have individually played with different steel pan groups in Trinidad and U.S. All music is arranged by Amrit Samaroo, son of the world famous arranger, Jit Samaroo. Ian is Jit's nephew and Amrit's cousin. Amrit resides in Trinidad. The concept of the band was to have a small steel drum ensemble that played unique arrangements of songs from diverse genres. The other members of the band are very young. They were already playing the steel drums when they met Ian and Amrit. The band is currently playing at Tavern on the Green.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gear: Quantity or Quality

This post is a guest editorial by one of our top engineering staff member.

***

QUESTION: Which is more important with studio gear - quantity or quality?
ANSWER:

What's the use in having piles of gear in a room if half of it doesn't work? A recent excursion to the Battery Studios auction, and some stories we've heard about other studios broken gear, really drive the point home. A well-maintained, modestly equipped studio is way more valuable than a well appointed, poorly maintained one. The frustration and potential for failure during recording are not worth the glam and glitter of hundreds of blinking lights and shiny knobs.

We have never been known as a studio on the cutting edge (even going back to Power Station's heyday). We've always been behind the curve with having the latest groovy toys (and lots of them). Take for instance the AMS DMX1580S. Back in the 80's this box was probably the hottest thing since sliced bread (maybe even hotter!!!). Not only was it a high quality digital delay and pitch shifter, but it also allowed the engineer to sample as well (not just in mono...but in STEREO!!!). This doesn't seem too impressive today with our 96 input, 192 track Pro Tools rigs, but back then this was simply amazing. This allowed a new level of creativity and actually saved enormous amounts of time by providing a way to "fly" parts around in a song. By this I mean sampling one section of music (perhaps a large bed of stereo background vocal parts) from one part of the tape and triggering it to record at another section of tape. Remember, back then, there were no workstations. Tape is a linear based storage medium.

So there we were, in the 80's, with the introduction of a piece of gear that every pop/rock producer wants access to (if for no other reason than to brag that they are at a studio that has one). As you might imagine, demand for such an item would be high and it was certainly priced to match (I think they probably originally sold for close to $10,000). The fact that 15-year-old units are still routinely selling for over $2,500, tells you something. At the time, Power Station bought just one unit. This unit was floated and shared among the 3 or 4 rooms in the facility. Other studios may have owned one for each of their rooms whereas Power Station only owned one unit for four rooms. The point being, that at least that one unit was kept in working order and was available to any session in the building. People shared and reserved in advance. As opposed to a studio having one bolted into each room where only 2 out of 4 or 5 units may be working at any given time.

Many people enter our control rooms and wonder where all the outboard gear is. Our in-room gear list is fairly lean (with the exception of Pultecs) when compared to most other world-class rooms (and yes, we have directly compared ourselves to many). What they aren't always aware of is the selection of complementary outboard we have on the second floor. Need to have a dbx 902 de-esser? We don't have one available in the room, but we can have one added to our gear complement in about 3 minutes.

We engineers are an opinionated lot. What one engineer loves, the next thinks is a piece of junk. There are only a few, select pieces of gear that most of us can agree on. Al Schmitt might scratch his head and wonder why you would ever want to use something aggressive like a Pye limiter. Someone like Jason Corsaro might think that same Pye limiter is his favorite piece of gear in the room!!! It's hard to please everyone. Our in-room outboard gear selection is just enough to keep you out of trouble. Would it be nice to have six 1176's, two LA-2A's, four LA-3A's, four dbx 160VU's, two 33609's and a Fairchild 670 in every room? Sure, but with all that sonic infrastructure comes the responsibility maintaining it all (and that's just the compressor selection!!!). How many sessions will use that much outboard during tracking? The answer is possibly less than fifty percent, perhaps slightly more during mixing. Even still, a younger engineer might come in to the studio hoping to find a Distressor. Maybe he's just comfortable using that and feels that it would be the best choice for the task rather than one of those old classics. Perhaps, the singer has an enormous dynamic range and he made that choice due to noise figures. A Distressor would certainly have a much lower noise floor than any of these classic designs. Choice is key.

Again, you can't please everybody. Having a few classic, bread and butter pieces will cover most situations. For the guy who comes in and wants 8 channels of Neve compressors.... we have floating Neve compressors. We CAN make that happen. It's kind of like building your own customized outboard rack, based on the needs and preferences of a session. Are you mixing and need access to some wacky or unique effects? Try adding some MXR flanger/phasers, the Quantec QRS, or the Accessit Spring reverb to your outboard complement. Need a ginormous reverb sound for your thunderous tom overdubs, try pulling the Sony DRE-S777 out and load up the St. John the Divine preset or even the Grand Canyon preset. Better yet, send it through one of our 2 live echo chambers first. You never know, you might stumble across something unique and new.

So, while we may not have huge piles of outboard immediately visible, with a little extra setup time and advance knowledge, you too can achieve the ultimate pile of WORKING gear for your next rock session. Just a thought.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Saying Goodbye to a Mythical Pool

Recording studios are highly specialized spaces that require a lot of raw space to begin with to carve out rooms that sound decent. There are some noteworthy studios that adapted available spaces to suit their needs. Some examples are Columbia 30th Street Studios which was an old Armenian church, Village Studios in West Los Angeles a Masonic Temple, and Mediasound an old Baptist church. Aside from the fascinating things that happen inside studios, sometimes the building that houses studios have interesting past lives of their own.

The building that Avatar Studios is in is over 100 years old. Before Avatar Studios, it was The Power Station and before that, it was a television studio called LewRon Television where the gameshow Let's Make A Deal with Monty Hall was taped. Before that, the building served as a Consolidated Edison substation (thus the name Power Station), which supplied DC power to the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. We've had Consolidated Edison engineers / historians come visit to tell us where the generators were and how the power lines fed through and out of the building. Being in this kind of environment, you cannot help but wonder about all the things that transpired here throughout the years.

Sony BMG Music Studios, which was located next door to us at West 54th Street and Tenth Avenue, was another building with a long and interesting history. The studio closed at the end of August 2007 and was just recently demolished to make way for another condominium. Before Sony purchased the building in 1993, it was Camera Mart where you could purchase or rent photographic and film gear. Before that, it was Ceco Studios (where reportedly many of the interior scenes for The Exorcist were shot) and before that, it housed Fox Movietone Studios - a movie studio that was in business from the 1910's.

New York used to be the center of film production up until the 1920’s. The building on West 54th and Tenth was used as a production space, initially for silent films and then with the advent of Movietone sound system, for sound feature films. The facility may have been one of the first major soundstages in the U.S. that was built specifically for motion pictures. According to Wikipedia, the "Movietone sound system is a sound-on-film method of recording sound for motion pictures which guarantees synchronisation between the sound and the picture. ... All of Fox's sound feature films were made using the Movietone system until 1931, while Fox Movietone News used the system until 1939." The building served as a center where Movietone newsreel footage was edited and archived. When Sony purchased the building, the Movietone library was still being stored on the fourth floor of the building. Shortly thereafter, the library was moved to a location in New Jersey.

During the 1930’s, the facility was used as a broadcasting studio in front of a live audience for such programs as the popular radio show Your Hit Parade. John Williams, the film composer, fondly remembers being taken to the studio by his father, who played for the house band, to meet Frank Sinatra there.

Because they were adjacent to our building, we were witness to the painstaking demolition progressing slowly day after day. It was sad watching the building slowly disappear floor by floor and by July 2008, it was pretty much gone. We always heard about how there used to be a pool buried underneath Sony’s soundstage, once the site of popular music programs like Sessions at West 54th (PBS), MTV Unplugged and Hard Rock Live (VH-1). In preparation for the foundation work, excavation of the grounds began where the soundstage stood and on the morning of August 29, the pool reappeared again for one brief moment in the sun.

The pool was used at Fox Movietone Studios primarily for underwater camera shots and Esther Williams was reportedly filmed in the pool for some of her films. The pool that resurfaced was 20 feet by 10 feet and roughly 6 feet deep. The surface of concrete had a blue coating on it that rubbed off when you ran your fingers over it. On the east end along the short side, there was a 4 feet by 4 feet “protrusion.” After observing a 2-inch by 2-inch brass L-shaped bar along the edge between the main pool and this protrusion and hearing accounts about how filming took place, we concluded that the protrusion was where the camera and operator was situated. The camera space was separated from the pool, and thus the water, by two glass panels, which allowed the camera to look directly into the water.

After they purchased the building, Sony covered over the pool with a layer of concrete to better utilize the space. It remained hidden there until last August. Once uncovered, the pool was broken up, but not before we had a chance to take pictures and take a closer look. We saved a few fragments of the pool, but the rest of it was quickly hauled away and was gone without a trace that afternoon. It seemed important to us that this information was documented somewhere for posterity.

Acknowledgements:
I’d like to thank Bob Belden and Marc Kirkeby for sharing historical information about Sony Music Studios.

Additional References:
WiredNewYork.com
For people who are interested in disappearing New York Cityscapes and culture:
Jeremiah's Vanishing New York

Friday, August 22, 2008

FireWire Fine Print

QUESTION: What kind of back up drive for Pro Tools should I use?
ANSWER:

In this installment, I will talk about the wonderful world of back up drives for Pro Tools, which can get very convoluted. Recently, we had a couple of incidents (all within a week) where clients came in with drives that were either not formatted properly or were unusable. As a disclaimer, I urge you to examine the documents listed at the end of this article as your final reference to make sure you have the information that applies to your particular situation.

In the labyrinthian Digidesign Web site, there are several Web pages and PDF documents that spell out in mind-numbing detail what you can and cannot use with Pro Tools. I’d like to mention a few items from these documents that you may not be aware of. Most of our discussion will be limited to Pro Tools|HD and Pro Tools|HD Accel Systems (with Pro Tools 6.9.2 or higher). We use Apple computers as our Pro Tools platform as do many people in our industry.

The popular back up medium of choice today is external FireWire drives. USB drives may be okay as a file transfer or storage medium, but they are not supported for record and playback in Pro Tools. With the proliferation of many cheap drives, you have to be mindful of the quality and reliability of the drives you select as well as some basic specifications. When looking for a FireWire drive, here are some things you should look for.

  • We recommend you get a FireWire 800 drive for faster data transfer speed (vs. FireWire 400). Most drives today support both interfaces.
  • Does the drive (either FireWire 800 or FireWire 400) use the Oxford 912 or 924 chipset interface? This may be difficult to find out, but that is what Digidesign specifies.
  • Does it have a cache size of 8MB or larger? That would be the preferred drive cache to get the best performance from the drive mechanism.
  • Does the drive spin at 7200 rpm or faster? Again, this is for better performance.
  • Is it a RAID drive? Pro Tools does not support RAID technology.

Here are other tips you should follow / know:

  • Drives must be dedicated for audio.
  • FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 drives should not be combined. We haven’t tried it to see what happens, but Digidesign used bold font emphasizing this point, so it can’t be good.

The brand of drives used by some of our clients includes Glyph, Lacie and Avastor. It is customary for clients to purchase back up media from the studio. The primary reason for this is so that you will be using a brand that we are familiar with and have used many times. No drive is obviously crash proof, but we try to provide you with a drive that has a pretty good track record throughout our sessions.

If you have to format your FireWire drive for your session, make sure you use Mac OS Extended (HFS+, Journaled). In addition, the "Install Mac OS 9 Disk Driver" option should be selected when formatting the drive. This will ensure extended backward compatibility with older Mac operating systems. There is no performance or compatibility penalty for choosing this option. One of the problems we saw recently was that a client had formatted their drive using the NTSF format. The client came in with data on their drive. Luckily, we were able to read the data and transfer the data, but we had to reformat their drive since you cannot record and play back in Pro Tools under that format. We will format the FireWire drive that we supply so you don’t have to worry about it.

On a session where you will be using Pro Tools, we will typically set it up so that your session files will be on one of our hot-swappable, high performance SCSI drives. The reason for this is for data performance, particularly if you are using high sample rates and/or large number of tracks. Yes, we have done sessions accessing files directly on the FireWire drive, but we prefer to optimize for maximum responsiveness so you don’t lose anything during the session, especially if it is a tracking session. This means that at the end of your session, files will have to transferred from our SCSI drive to your FireWire drive so make sure you account for that time.

On a final note, a FireWire drive, like any hard drive, has a limited lifespan. A common measure as given by manufacturers is MTBF or mean time between failures. A good discussion about MTBF and other hard drive specifications is presented at the StorageReview.com Web site. It will not be duplicated here. Sometimes, it is not very easy to find MTBF and other product specs in the manufacturers’ literature. It is best that you treat the drive as if it has a limited life expectancy (especially if you drop it). This means you should make a safety copy, preferably on a different type of medium (e.g. AIT-tape) and store copies in separate locations. We talked about how safeties can save your hide previously.

Here are some of the resources referenced in this article:
Digidesign: FireWire Drive Requirements on Mac Systems
Digidesign: Pro Tools Storage Guide
Digidesign: How do I move sessions between Mac and PC
StorageReview.com: Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF)
StorageReview.com: Service Life

Friday, August 8, 2008

Who is this Assistant?

QUESTION: What qualifications does the assistant engineer on my session have?
ANSWER:

You booked a session and you come to the studio. You might meet a complete stranger who is introduced to you as the assistant engineer assigned to your session. You wonder if that person knows what he or she is doing?

To answer this question, it might help to know a little bit about how that person got there.

The life of an assistant starts at our studio with an unpaid internship that lasts for three months. We typically accept candidates as interns who have gone through an audio recording curriculum so they already have some basic knowledge. We also like people who have some experience working at a recording studio. Referrals from our trusted clients, engineers and producers that we know counts for a lot. Many of our current and past assistants are from Berklee School of Music. We’ve also had graduates from the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at NYU, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, University of Miami, Peabody Institute of the John Hopkins University, Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences and other schools.

We rarely hire anyone who has not been through our internship, even if they are experienced. This is because we have a certain way of doing things and people need to become accustomed to our systems. The internship also serves as a trial period where we closely monitor and critically observe people's attitudes and character. Some of the most important attributes that we look for in a potential employee is someone who has great attention to detail, is responsible (e.g. does not forget what was asked and follows through on a task), loves to learn and can multi-task, yet be able to keep priorities straight.

Once we feel the interns are worth retaining and there is an open spot, they are hired as a production assistants (aka PA or runner). Knowing that an audio engineering career is a long and tough road, we only want the people who truly love what they do and would rather do nothing else.

On the average, people spend at least a couple of years working as production assistants. During this time, they are expected to learn the workings of all our rooms and are encouraged to practice on their off-hours when the rooms are open. From time to time, we may have them sit in sessions with a seasoned assistant engineer to observe and learn. When we feel comfortable that a PA has the knowledge and the right disposition, we may assign that person as a second assistant on a session with an experienced assistant engineer. If they continue to be dependable, then the wait to be promoted to the assistant engineer position begins, which only ends when there is turnover at the assistant engineering ranks.

The reason for this rigorous selection process is not only because we want to make sure we can entrust our clients to assistants, but assistant engineers are guaranteed at least a 40-hour work week. We want to make sure that an assistant is available to us when we have sessions and the assistant's priority is our clients. Typically, we will keep the same assistant on a session once it starts. For long term sessions, that assistant will stay with the client to maintain continuity and session efficiency by knowing how the client works.

Based on historical observation, less than a third of the people hired as PAs become assistant engineers at Avatar. Once they reach that position, people usually stay for several more years as they decide and prepare for their next steps in their careers. Many of our assistant engineers are capable of engineering sessions on their own and they do so successfully when given the opportunity.

Now that you know, we don't expect you to go easy on the assistant engineer. The assistant has earned that right.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Safety First

QUESTION: How important is it to have safeties?
ANSWER:
You just backed up your session files. A suggestion is made to make safeties of the backed up session. You think about it but don’t want to spend the time or money. Besides, nothing will happen to your back ups, right?

Wrong. In today’s busy and complex world, Murphy’s law rules. Even, if you do everything right and follow all the suggested NARAS guidelines and best practices, stuff seems to happen unpredictably.

Here is a real life example. The names have been omitted to protect the well-prepared. A well-known band had done extensive recording sessions at our studio over a period of several months. They had the good sense and foresight to also create safeties in the form of AIT data backup tapes besides the Firewire backup drive. They sent their main backup Firewire drive to their archivist, which is what they normally do. They went on tour for a while and recorded some additional material at multiple studios. Soon it was time to submit all their tracks to the label. Unfortunately, the archivist suddenly passed away before the back up drive was returned to the band. The drive could not be located at the archivist’s residence or workplace. No one knew where the drive was. Panic ensued at the management company because thousands of dollars worth of recordings was at stake. That is when we received a phone call. Luckily, we had kept the safeties for the band and they were returned to them. Nothing was lost and the album came out without a hitch. Thankfully, this is a story with a happy ending.

However, there are many things we take for granted that can potentially result in a not-so-happy endings. In this age where overnight delivery is the norm, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that FedEx is not infallible. They are almost always reliable, but if an oversize road case can disappear without a trace, a backup drive could get lost as well. Worst yet, if it is not packaged properly, the drive might get to the destination, but the data may not. You may not be able to avoid it, but you definitely do not want to send important items during the year-end holiday season if you can help it.

Even if you do what other Fortune 500 companies do in safeguarding data, nothing is completely foolproof. In 2005, it was reported in the news that Iron Mountain, the firm that specializes in off-site data protection and electronic vaulting services, lost computer back up tapes of Time Warner and City National Bank, supposedly in transit.

The unthinkable could happen as well. On June 1, 2008, part of the Universal Studios backlot went up in flames, which included the film vault building. A statement from Universal indicated that nothing irreplaceable had been lost, since the studio still had the negatives of its library safe and secure in a Philadelphia vault. However, nearly 100% of the archival prints (circulating high-quality decades-old 35-millimeter theatrical prints) were destroyed in this fire. While not original masters, these are the copies made for screenings at repertory theaters, art museum retrospectives, film festivals and film school classrooms. Making new film prints can cost $5,000 or more each and take months to produce. Given the cost, many of these oldies will never be reproduced again in print, especially for less popular titles. They are lost forever on celluloid and will now only exist on DVDs. It wasn’t just films that were lost. The fire claimed about 5% of Universal Music Group's recordings, primarily big band and jazz recordings on the Decca label that was just being stored there.

This tells you how important it is to store multiple copies in multiple formats at multiple locations. Are you in good hands?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tribal Knowledge

QUESTION: Besides the space, why record at a professional studio that's been around?
ANSWER:
Last time, I talked about room rates. Let's examine what you get for the dollars you pay.

I've heard many people say that a studio has a soul and I have to agree. I know that our studio was built with the following - dreams of riches, technical ambition, swagger, maybe a pinch of defiance. However, it was sustained through the years by a lot of sweat, perseverance and care. Every person who toiled at the studio contributed something along the way. It is a truly a temple where a lot of people aspired to practice the art of making and preserving music.

If a studio has a heart and soul, it also has a brain. A studio becomes a rich depository of knowledge through years of trial and error. What worked gets tucked away in people's minds for future reference and what didn't get passed on as stories that never die, unfortunately for the protagonists. From countless numbers of recording sessions, various "systems" are established for repeatability, efficiency and mistake avoidance. This information is called institutional knowledge, but I prefer the term tribal knowledge as used by engineer Niko Bolas.

Studios with long histories, such as Abbey Road and Capitol Studios, have lots of tribal knowledge. Our own knowledge heritage is from Power Station, Media Sound and Motown Studios where Tony Bongiovi worked. This knowledge gets passed down through generations of staff as the information gets further refined. New members get trained as they get acclimated to how things are done. Some of this information have been written down, but most of the transfer happens verbally through human interactions. With the heavier emphasis on digital audio these days, the act of transferring analog knowledge invokes in my mind a scene from the movie Fahrenheit 451 where people pass on contents of books verbally because books are forbidden.

As an aside, I have to say that training requires constant and concerted effort. Training a staff of twenty is a little bit harder than one-on-one mentoring. After we go through a few generations of runners and assistants, some of the information becomes "modified." It is like playing the game of telephone. We have to periodically conduct refresher courses for a reset. My point here is that we have to work at maintaining a level of consistent quality, even if we have a solid foundation in our history.

Same thing can be said about maintenance. Let me illustrate with an example. Anyone can buy an analog tape machine and install it in their studio. Of course, before they do, someone has to check it out to make sure it works. If it does not work properly, it has to be fixed. Then it has to be interfaced with whatever gear is in the studio and the audio signal chain as well as sync has to be checked out. Once the machine is in working order and it is properly connected, someone has to know how to adjust the settings and what to adjust it to, e.g. bias. Knowing how to use it under normal conditions is a given - which includes the art of splicing tape. (Tony Bongiovi was a master at it and he could do it flawlessly without looking while engaging you in a heavy discussion about aerodynamics. Fortunately, he taught Roy Hendrickson and others well and passed on the skill. It may not seem like a big deal to older engineers, but you should see the reaction of younger staff members when it is demonstrated.) If there is a hiccup or a part fails, someone has to go through and troubleshoot it. If a component is "bad", a replacement part has to be located, then replaced. The machine will have to be tuned again for operations. I just listed a few steps that require an enormous amount of background information and knowledge. And that is just one machine! For us, it is worth the effort because the quality recording you get from a Studer A800 is priceless.

Studios are not just a bunch of rooms with lots of gear. There is a lot going on in the background where accumulated knowledge in the form of systems, training and maintenance is being employed. So, next time you grumble about the cost of a session, keep in mind, the benefits of our tribal knowledge is included in the package free of charge. And to all those with tribal knowledge, keep passing it on to future generations!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Let's Make A Deal

QUESTION: What is the best way to negotiate room rates?
ANSWER:
The building where Avatar Studios is situated used to be a television studio before it became The Power Station. Operating under the name LewRon Television, episodes of the game show Let’s Make A Deal with Monty Hall was taped here. This seems very fitting for the topic I want to talk about today – room rates.

Discussing studio room rates has always been a touchy subject. I think it is worth going over some background information concerning this topic for better overall understanding and to set up a good foundation for a productive discussion when you call about rates.

Unlike other items for sale, room rates do not quite follow the supply and demand curve. Prices may drop if demand is low, but the reality is, it is difficult to raise prices when demand is up. This is because people have many options on how and where to record, depending on what they’re trying to do and the level of quality they are looking to achieve.

Historically speaking, at least in our case, studio rates have changed very little over the last decade or so. I've looked at an old copy of card rates from the early '90s used during the Power Station days. The rates have changed very little. In fact, they may have gone down slightly. If the rates were to keep up with the rate of inflation, figuring an average annual inflation rate of 4% over the last 20 years, rates should have doubled. The reality is that it certainly has not. We don’t sell quite the same quantities of analog tape as we used to either. Based on this data, the recording quality you are getting is a great bargain.

Let’s look at room rates from another perspective. In the overall production budget, the studio costs are small compared to all the other costs involved. If you are hiring musicians for your sessions, the percentage of studio costs quickly becomes a minor portion of the session costs. If you are coming in as a band, that percentage may be slightly higher. If you are smart and efficient with your time in the studio, these costs can be managed.

If you want to look at it from the overall project budget, which includes promotion and marketing, studio costs become almost negligible. Yes, with today’s lower budgets, cuts are being made at every level. However, if you are looking to have a decent sounding recording, skimping on the recording process may not necessarily be where you want to make cuts, especially if the difference is not all that much. Even if you are looking for the "lo-fi" thing, listeners should not have to listen to a really bad recording.

There is a saying, “You get what you pay for.” There is a lot of truth in that statement. You have to look at the price versus the value of what you are getting. More importantly, you have to look at the TOTAL cost of recording. We get a good number of clients who come to us after recording in a low cost studio, having to redo what they did because the recordings did not sound good or the equipment was not working properly. These clients were not able to get things done in a timely fashion or could not get it done at all. Looking at room rates at face value may not be a true comparison, especially if it takes you twice as long (or longer) and not get the sound you like, not to mention the frustration you have to endure. (The frustration might show up in the performance). You may end up not saving money at all. This does not even take into account the hidden costs and time of having to “fix” tracks before mixing. You have to ask yourself what value are you getting for the price you are paying.

Here are some suggestions for you to consider when you are ready to discuss rates:

We receive many calls from people who are simply shopping for rates. Don’t just call, ask for rates and then hang up. Let the studio know what you’re trying to do and pick their brains. Find out what additional services are offered or if bundled services will get you a better deal. We can suggest ways to mix and match the services we offer to stay within your budget. Ask about alternative ways the recording might be achieved. Take your time evaluating the value of what you would be getting after receiving a quote.

Negotiate the total cost before the session. We provide booking confirmations with everything spelled out. Make sure you leave some wiggle room for things such as CD copies, back up drives, batteries and other incidental costs.

Know and control your food budget (see my first post).

Make sure your band is prepared and well rehearsed. You don’t have to rush, but you shouldn’t waste time either. Try to get the performance right. Suppress the urge to fix it later.

If you are on a very tight budget and you have some flexibility in scheduling your session, ask about last minute booking possibilities. You may be able to book a room at discounted prices, similar to getting theater tickets at TKTS (this is NYC after all).

Ask around and check the reputation of the studio from multiple sources. Did they have a good experience? If not, why? Did the gear work? Was the staff competent? Were they able to work at a good pace?

We look forward to your call.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Food For Thought

I am starting this blog primarily as a way to pass on some hints on how to have a better recording session at our studio based on our collective experience with countless number of clients. At the same time, I would like to share our thinking on why we operate the way we do and how we think we bring value to the whole recording process. By doing so, I hope to start a dialog with clients, colleagues and people from the industry to ultimately improve what happens in recording sessions. I welcome any comments you might have. If you have any topics you would like us to cover, feel free to drop us a line at blog@avatarstudios.net. Hope to hear from you.

***

QUESTION: What is the best way to handle meal breaks?
ANSWER:
I want to start with a mundane but very essential topic about food as it relates to a recording session. An old Power Station staff member used to say to a new recruit, “Never mess with people’s food.” That is because one hitch with a food order can result in an emotional ordeal that can ruin the best of moods and the most robust of sessions. This is why you want to have a food strategy.

In preparation for a recording session, you have planned out the order of tracks, worked out the instrumentation and written out the charts, hired an engineer and figured out who will make artistic and production related decisions. The last thing you want to worry about is what to have for meals and when to have them. No, you cannot plan out everything in advance, but you may find that you’ll have a better session if the eating part of it goes smoothly.

There are several reasons for this. First, it is important to maintain energy and enthusiasm throughout the session. When your blood sugar starts running low, the performance will start to suffer. You definitely want to eat before that happens. Second, if you can time the lunch breaks just right, you’ll be more efficient with your time and end up being more productive.

Our suggestion is to find out what people want for lunch / dinner before the session starts, give the order list to the receptionist or assistant and have them call in the order 30-45 minutes before when you think a meal break should be taken. If things happen as planned, the musicians will walk into the lounge with their meals waiting for them.

Catering is another painless solution. It can be an inexpensive option as long as you choose your caterer wisely. Better yet, order multiple portions of food directly from the restaurant your band likes. You might be able to get a good deal from the restaurant. They could use the business. Asking assistants at the studio for restaurant suggestions ahead of time will help you make a tastier choice.

I have seen many sessions where people waste a lot of time deciding what to order. When they do, they end up waiting anxiously for their food to show up another 30-45 minutes later. By this time, people are pretty hungry and a little grumpy.

We are certainly not the ones who came up with this idea. Many experienced producers use this strategy. The responsibility of executing this strategy usually fell on coordinators when there was such a thing. After doing a few sessions, it becomes pretty clear that employing this type of approach makes a big difference.

Going back to the blood sugar issue, it might be good to have snacks to munch on in between takes just to keep energy levels up. Organic unsalted almonds might be a good snack for this purpose. Almonds are packed with protein and are a good source of vitamin E, fiber, magnesium and antioxidants. They will help lower "bad" cholesterol levels and help reduce risk of heart disease to boot. A champion chess master by the name of Josh Waitzkin mentions in his book, The Art of Learning, that he eats five almonds every forty-five minutes during a long drawn out chess game, to stay in a steady state of alertness and maintain his energy level.

On occasion, food has been used as a carrot to coax performance out of musicians. This may not necessarily be the best of strategies. It is the quickest way to lose focus with the thought of food permeating in their heads. Depending on the degree of hunger, the drive to take the shortest path to food will take over. You won’t get too many good takes in this kind of situation. It is just human nature.

One last thing – please don’t forget to give the poor engineer / assistant engineer a brief lunch break or even a restroom break. Don’t laugh, it happens. Same thing that can be said about musicians can be said about the production staff. I understand studio time is not cheap and time is money, but they are also part of the productivity equation. They’ll thank you for it with their attentiveness and energy level, which can only help your session.