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02/08/2010

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Dianna Agron

What an excellent blog! Any vocalist who has ever tried and failed at getting an engineer to add a compressor, reverb, and a delay line to their headphone mix knows what I'm talking about. The lab coats are still lurking.

Mark Pettigrew

Your description of Russ Taff as "amazingly soulful" was right on! I loved his records back in the day.

Regarding ways in which studios can be "musician friendly," I'd like to observe from personal experience that one of the biggest hindrances to artistic creativity in the studio is the high hourly rate and the ticking clock. The pressure of producing THE performance which will forever go down as your best version of a particular tune you've written, all within extremely limiting budget constraints, can be enormous. It can make it very difficult to even get a decent take, to say nothing of the definitive take.

As a keyboardist, I think that one of the greatest things about MIDI sequencing is that it pretty much eliminates the hourly studio rate as a major factor in one's actual performance, because the act of sequencing the performance (in the privacy of one's own home) and the act of recording that sequence as an audio file later in the studio can be two entirely separate things. Creating a good sequence, prior to taking that MIDI file to the studio, isn't dependent on the acoustics in which the sequence is created; in fact, it isn't even completely dependent on the instrument with which it's recorded, since one can switch from one patch or keyboard or sound sample to another after creating the sequence. Want to create a sequence with a sampled digital piano and then re-record it with a Yamaha (MIDI-equipped) Disklavier grand, captured with ridiculously expensive Neumann mics (or the Earthworks PianoMic system)? No problem. But of course, that presupposes that the studio is MIDI-savvy, which might include knowing how to remap velocities (if necessary) in order to get the best performance out of that Disklavier. (At least I think that's possible; correct me if I'm wrong, Charlie.) Since the performance is already permanently a part of the MIDI file, one can try out different mic positions, effects settings and other variations in order to get the best possible sound (or sounds) for that particular recording.

Obviously none of this is applicable to vocals or other instruments which can't be sequenced. But inasmuch as that method offers enormous benefits for keyboardists, electronic drummers and so forth, it seems to me that any decent pro studio these days should be well versed in the art of taking MIDI tracks from musicians and converting them into the best possible audio recordings, thereby helping their clients to reduce costs and performance anxiety-related problems as much as possible. That includes being equipped with the best equipment (such as the aforementioned Disklavier grand piano) for that job. That might also include offering classes to musicians who know about MIDI but lack knowledge about how to make the most of the benefits of MIDI sequencing.

Admittedly, the audio quality of home DAWs and DAW software is getting better and better all the time, and the benefits of extremely small data files are less important than they once were, now that we have file storage options with capacities rated in the gigabytes and even the terabytes, but MIDI sequencing still has a very valid place in the creative process. In terms of editing functions (such as changing the key of the tune without any degradation in the sound quality), MIDI sequencing offers a lot more flexibility than most audio DAWs offer via their audio components, which is why sequencing is still a significant part of Pro Tools. Sonar and other DAW apps.

Bruce

Insightful as usual, Chuck. But you didn't mention where you thought your studio fit on that scale.

BabyBloomr

Russ' cover of your song is one of my most favorite things he ever did.

Brian Steckler

Great post as usual.

I did a record a couple years ago where we went in with the same mindset, at least for the basics sessions. We had a couple drumkits miced up and ready, as well as the piano, and bass rig. It was sure fun to finish one drum take and have the freedom to say "ooh, what if we went with the "lo-fi" kit for the second verse? Let's try it now!"

And of course, any MIDI programmer worth his salt has any number of Logic or PT templates set up and ready to dive in with all his favorite patches loaded ready to rock.

I'm a fan of the "always in mix mode" too. Especially now with the DAW technology, it's so easy to develop the mix's sound as you go. The mixes for the record I'm finishing this week are taking me only a couple hours at most because I've already got it sounding like I want as we finish tracking each part.

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