Zen of Recording

The NAMM Slam

The rain was coming in sideways at this point. It was as if the rain wasn’t just pouring down on us, but rushing to meet us head on; its aqueous needles angrily stabbing at us like some sort of Lilliputian revolt. I expected waves to crash over the bow of the Mustang convertible that fellow Troubadour writer Charlie Loach and I were traveling in at any moment, but least we were moving. Those poor folks travelling southbound on Interstate 15 were not quite so lucky. Their side of the freeway looked more like the merging of a parking lot and a water park.

“I’m gonna go up to the 78 and try to bypass all that stuff.” said Charlie after ruefully surveying their plight.

I looked up and down the multi-laned regatta of regret to our left and exhaled long and slow. “I’m all for that!” I quickly agreed.

We continued our northward voyage to Anaheim, chatting about a broad range of subjects, from memory triggers to circuit boards. As we approached Highway 78’s east-west overpasses, we could clearly see that ours was the only path moving, whatsoever.

Charlie shook his head in very small movements. “Screw that. We’re going all the way up to the 55.”

And so our scheduled timeline began to ambiguously stretch out before us like this highway’s vanishing point upon the distant horizon…

I checked my phone. “Oh, hey. The presidential inauguration is happening right now.” I said and queued up a live stream.

As the car’s cabin filled with words that echoed all the way from the National Mall, I wondered about all the inauguration speeches given 100 to 200 years ago.  What was said and how it differed. How much of their full text was disseminated to those who lived in our country’s farthest reaches and how were those words greeted? With hopeful hearts or discouraged disdain?

Those last couple of things are something that any goer or shower at NAMM must surely know a little something about. Every year brings expectation. Another opportunity for innovation to shine. Or products to improve. For the tools we use to create art to get that much better. Sometimes, that happens. Other times, not so much. Mostly, we end up with some new things to learn and some time-honored knowledge to lean on.

Three and a half hours into our planned 90-minute journey, we arrive in Anaheim.

“I’m gonna park as close as I can to the Convention Center,” says Charlie.
“I’m pretty sure that only exhibitors are allowed to park there.” I countered. “Everybody else has to park at Angels Stadium and board a shuttle!”

“Well…” says Charlie, “I have a hotel room that’s not far away. If they let me check-in early, we can take a quick cab ride from there.”

“Sounds good to me. Let’s try that.” I said.

After being checked in and stowing the luggage, we returned to the front of the hotel to hail a cab. I look at my watch.

“Holy crap! I have my first meeting in 10 minutes!” I exclaimed as I tried to keep the rain off of me. This was, of course, a perfect day to wear a velour blazer, I thought to myself.

A half hour later, I arrived 23 minutes late (and still a little bit damp) at the PreSonus (www.presonus.com) booth to speak with audio guru Steve Oppenheimer. Fortunately, I was able to piggy-back onto his meeting with Electronic Musician’s Geary Yelton as he showed us the Baton Rouge-based company’s new line of AR mixers, which were smarter; had smaller footprints; and were packed to the gills with even more inputs, outputs, and functionality. The latest version of StudioOne (version 3.3) uses Console Shaping to emulate the effect that various recording consoles have upon their signal. The new CTC-1 plug extends this further with new models that capture “the character and personality of legendary analog consoles that are otherwise out of reach for most musicians, producers and engineers.” This makes even more vintage analog vibe available to their users. Always good.

Walking past the Waves Audio (www.waves.com) booth, I noticed that producer Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Green Day) from the band Garbage was demonstrating and talking about his modestly named Butch Vig Vocals processing plugin. It’s trippy, steam punk-inspired art-designed interface and powerful array of recording and mixing tools were really impressive, but I was more interested in what he said about how he approaches a mix and the different techniques he employs. Plus: Nirvana studio stories! What more could a recording geek like me ask for? I stood and listened to him intently for a full hour.

Slate Digital (http://slatedigital.com) was showing off the latest small diaphragm condenser mics in their VMS Virtual Microphone System line of products. These are digital modeling mics that are programmed to sound like specific vintage or boutique microphones that can cost tens of thousands of dollars more than these “authentic” sounding reproductions.

DrumCore 4 from Sonoma Wire Works (www.sonomawireworks.com) appears to be an incredibly handy tool for songwriters and producers alike, with a deep catalog of full song performances performed by a bevy of first-call and legendary drummers (Alan White, Sly Dunbar, Terry Bozzio), sliced into loops and placed into a plug-in that provides both sonic and visual interaction for arranging songs quickly and intuitively.

Austin, Texas’ Warm Audio (www.warmaudio.com) are sporting a truly impressive gallery of great sounding sound-alikes of iconic processors, microphones and preamps, like the WA76 Discrete Compressor, the WA2A Tube Opto Compressor, and the EQP-WA Pultec Style Tube EQ. The killer sound of their impressive TB12 “Tone Beast” Mic Pre even warmed my rain-soaked face into a smile!

I cabbed with Charlie and dropped him back at his hotel, then continued on to the Amtrak train station. I arrived just minutes after my train departed and then missed the next one, so I had some time to consider the day and what I’d seen and heard. All in all, things look robust and optimistic in the world of audio recording products. Please stay tuned throughout the year to hear more about them. And bring an umbrella, just in case.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, mastering engineer, and audio consultant. www.kaspro.com

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