Monday, June 29, 2009

Masters of Thriller

We stared in awe at the contents of the opened box that was just delivered. In the box were several masters of Michael Jackson's Thriller. They were sent here for us to do digital transfers from 2” tape as preparation for the remixes for the 25th Anniversary edition of Thriller.

The client in charge of the process was verifying that the transfers were done properly in our Studio B when we checked in with him. He asked if we would want to hear some of it. Who would say no? He played us the track "Beat It." He soloed the famous Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, then just the lead vocal (which was fantastic!) followed by a lot of other individual tracks giving us an idea of how intricately layered the song was with a lot of different types of sounds and instruments. It was a song we have heard a thousand times, but the experience was still eye-opening and hearing how meticulously crafted it was.

I am always intrigued when a hit song is deconstructed as sometimes demonstrated in the video series, Classic Albums. It would be great to see one for Thriller. Each show has the artist and/or producer & engineer replay tracks from the hit album with running commentary on how much care and craft that went into the playing, shaping and mixing of each song. Showing more of this process would certainly raise the amount of appreciation people have for what professionals do in the studio. Think of the PR value that would have.

When I get the chance, I always ask engineers who have worked on hit songs / albums whether they knew at the time they were working on something special. (If you ask the producers, they'll always say yes). Most of the time, the answer I get is that they knew the music was good or the performance special, but most of the time, they were too busy making sure that everything was being recorded properly and the clients were happy. How can you foresee that the project you are working on will become a mega-Platinum hit? Sure, if the artist is currently hot and their career is on an upswing, you can predict that it will do pretty good, but for the songs on the album to become a sound track to the lives of thousands worldwide and become a cultural phenomenon, that is a little bit harder. That is why you have to treat every session like it will be a hit, because it just might become one. You never know.

Despite the splintering of attention and overabundance of content to consume, it is really encouraging to see that the experience of music can be ubiquitous. This certainly has a lot to do with the genius performer that Michael Jackson was. The sad thing is that people do not realize how important a part of life music is until an unfortunate event such as this occurs. It is a sign that with the right music and performer, there is still value in music and its impact can be powerful. Many people are saying that this phenomenon - the magnitude of talent, the mass appeal and worldwide reach, the record sales, the timing in history - can never be repeated. I would like to believe otherwise. You never know which masters in a box will change the world, again.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cell Phone Etiquette

Besides the nuisance of phones ringing during takes or the distraction that texting and message checking can cause, there is another reason for requiring everybody involved in a recording session to actually turn off their cell phones. Switching cell phones to vibrate mode will not help in this case.

It is bad enough that studios have to contend with all sorts of RF in the air that show up on microphones and other recording gear. It certainly does not help matters if the RF sources are cell phones of the players in the session.

Every cell phone emits a "homing" signal to the nearest cell tower on a regular basis to let the tower know that it is still within range. When this happens, the cell phone will boost its RF output power up to 1W to make the connection. Normally, the output power is much lower at around 1mW.

If the cell phone is in close proximity to a microphone, it will result in noise. If the cell phone is left on top of or near the recording console, it might show up as noise on one of its channels. Cell phones have been known to interfere with outboard gear as well.

The last thing you need is somebody's cell phone ruining a perfect take. We understand that people want to be accessible so they do not lose a gig, especially in this economy. You can always retrieve and reply to messages during breaks. Most of the time, cell phone reception can be spotty anyway, e.g. in a building like ours that used to be a Con Edison power substation.

As a business that provides room and service, we cannot force people to turn off their cell phones. Unlike smoking, it is not against the law. We can only recommend that they do so. Enforcement will have to come from the producer or someone who is in charge of the session. Don't say we did not warn you.