UNI T Y
MARTIN GARRIX & BEBE REXHA CO-HEADLINERS FOR EUROPE’S LARGEST FREE MUSIC FESTIVAL AL SCHMITT 23-TIME GRAMMY WINNER REMEMBERS SINATRA & ELVIS
ISSUE 30 | £3.95 UK/$6.95 USA/$7.95 CANADA
MASSIVE ATTACK BACKSTAGE ON THE MEZZANINE TOUR
DANNY BOYLE FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BRAVE CHECK OUT HEADLINER MAGAZINE ONLINE | HEADLINERMAGAZINE.NET
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Contents #30 Cover Story
P30 / Danny Boyle 08
Our friends in Ibiza chat to multi-cultural artist, Anahide, about finding her musical feet in Ibiza.
We explore the new Coda Audio installation at Penn’s Peak Auditorium in Pennsylvania.
SONIC VISTA INSIGHTS
This talented composer chats about his recent projects, including scoring Les Mis using Spitfire strings.
A chat with Enter Shikari’s Rob Rolfe and The Zipheads’ Ray Waters about the danger Brexit poses on touring.
FREEDOM & MUSIC
We chat to this revered Belgian DJ and producer about his love of vinyl, remixing, and his impressive studio.
We chat to Ride, frontman, Mark Gardener, at his Ox4 Sound studio.
It’s off to Bristol for the Massive Attack homecoming live show, a truly immersive experience.
Backstage with one of Britain’s finest tenors, whose eclectic career fuses live touring, West End, and Broadway.
The world’s number one DJ talks Isle of MTV Malta, new music, and collaborating with Macklemore.
This Brooklyn-born artist talks about her live show, and co-headlining Isle of MTV Malta with Martin Garrix.
RIDING THE WAVE 54
Be it Netflix’s horror anthology or a KFC commercial, Kally is a seriously smart production sound recordist.
Miloco’s chief engineer talks online mixing and mastering services.
THE CELESTION MINDSET An insight into the workings of this British brand whose legacy was built on MI, and is now two-thirds pro.
This go-to metal producer tells tales of Black Sabbath and Cradle of Filth.
A true powerhouse composer who’s also worked with Bowie & Lou Reed.
The acclaimed producer talks studio techniques, and recording Emeli Sandé’s album around an open fire.
COVER STORY: DANNY BOYLE
Iconic, Oscar-winning film director chats about his new movie, Yesterday, and creating movie soundscapes with partner in crime, Glenn Freemantle.
We chat The Mix Consultancy, and making music with Amy Winehouse.
We chat to the band about their extraordinary live production values.
We sit down in L.A. with two of Shure’s product managers to discuss spectrum bandwidth and new mics.
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
We talk to this record-breaking Grammy-winning engineer and producer about his amazing career.
TUSKS & BRETT COX
Emily Underhill chats about overcoming OCD, and making the latest Tusks record with Brett Cox.
We invite two jazz musicians into the studio to record trumpet and trombone using a Merging Anubis.
HEADLINER | ISSUE #30
A conversation with Kevin O’Toole, founder of this British dance act.
SILENT DISCO KING
We’re educated in the art of silent disco by SDK founder, Paul Gillies.
Piles of distortion, spreadsheets, and ping pong balls in the studio.
THE 27: HENRY PARKER
We talk to The 27 frontman about classic analogue kit, and new music.
STAGE TO STUDIO
Headliner and Sound On Sound are joining forces to put on a live band event at this year’s PLASA show.
THE NEXT STAGE IN SOUND.
Through sweat, noise, and heavy wear, the TwinPlex™ subminiature lavalier stands up to the toughest conditions to make every word a clear statement of quality. shure.co.uk/twinplex ©2019 Shure Incorporated. See shure.com/trademarks.
#30 From the Editor
“They're an organic mix, stories; they change all the time, even now, when they're finished, which is the biggest mystery of all...”
Welcome to our landmark 30th edition of Headliner, which we are celebrating with not one, but two cover stars: Danny Boyle, arguably the greatest movie director of this generation, talks to us about creating soundscapes in films, and his latest project, Yesterday, which was his first collaboration with legendary scriptwriter, Richard Curtis; and Brooklyn-born songstress, Bebe Rexha, chats about co-headlining Isle of MTV Malta, Europe’s biggest free festival, and writing The Monster with Rihanna and Eminem in New York City. In the studio, we’re in L.A. with 23-time Grammy-winning engineer and producer, Al Schmitt, talking about Elvis and Sinatra; in London, we’re with Jake Gordon talking about recording vocals at Miloco’s Angelic Studios with Emeli Sandé around a bonfire. On the road, we chat to The Hunna about their amazing lighting show, and their upcoming US tour with Barns Courtney; we go backstage at Massive Attack’s homecoming show in Bristol; and we talk audio tech with Alfie Boe’s touring team. We also chat to Emily Underhill of Tusks about battling OCD, and making amazing new music with her production partner in crime, MPG Award-winning producer, Brett Cox; and we talk to uber-DJ, Martin Garrix, about working with Bebe Rexha at Isle of MTV, and collaborating with Macklemore. Thanks to all our readers for the valued support. Here’s to the next 30 issues! Paul Watson Editor
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HEADLINER | ISSUE #30
Art Director Rae Clara Gray
Contributors Adam Protz, Will Hawkins, Henry Sarmiento, Jon Tessier, Yerosha, Rhona Lavis
Santa Fe Opera Asolo Repertory Theater Stratford Festival
Paramour Frozen Moulin Rouge Waitress Kinky Boots St. Lous Municpal Opera Theater Lion King The Wild Party Once On This Island Beetlejuice Benedum Center
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Sonic Vista Insights
10 MINUTES WITH ANAHIDE Anahide is a multicultural artist that will leave you with dreamy melodies and ethereal sensations. The Swiss-Hispano-Armenian artist is a wonderful songwriter, composer, and producer from Geneva who’s been making hits at Sonic Vista Studios through Henry Sarmiento’s Berklee mentorship program. So young, and already having achieved so much, Anahide has scored movies in L.A., written and produced songs for herself (and Francesca Crowley), and toured the USA with her indie-folk band, Honey, as well as her solo project, Anahide. Her latest single, Call, co-written with electronic producer, Vino, is out now. Words Henry Sarmiento & Jon Tessier What inspired you to get into music? My first memories of singing are from Disney musicals, before I could even read. I knew all the words to the French versions of all the Disney classics, and loved singing along to the soundtracks. In parallel, I was introduced to French classics, from Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf to Serge Gainsbourg, Joe Dassin, Michel Berger, and Nino Ferrer to name a few, by my grandfather. I remember driving from school to all my extracurricular activities while listening to French music as well as classical and jazz songs that he loved. I started piano lessons at five years old, and singing lessons at 16. I always dreamed of being a singer, and being on stage was the only place where I felt I could truly be myself without being judged by others.
How did you end up at Sonic Vista? After a year in Los Angeles, when it was time for me to head back to Europe to work on my artist visa, I came across a post for an internship in Ibiza at Sonic Vista Studios on the Berklee job page. I am half Spanish, from my mother’s side, and have spent a lot of time in this country, falling in love with every inch of it. I hadn’t had the pleasure to visit Ibiza yet, but knew it to be a very creative place, with a one-of-a-kind energy. The idea of an internship in such a unique setting really appealed to me, but unfortunately I couldn’t apply for it, as I wasn’t a student any longer. So I found an associate of the studio on LinkedIn, and messaged him. He put me in touch with Henry, and our visions were similar, so it was meant to be, really!
Tell us about your L.A. journey... After completing my studies at Berklee College of Music, I moved to Los Angeles in February 2018. While at Berklee, I realised I enjoyed writing, and I was fascinated by the symbiosis between music and images. I can’t tell you how many artists I’ve discovered while watching movies and TV series, and how a song or cue has permanently marked me because of the particular scene it supported. It made me want to pursue film scoring as well as songwriting, so that I could place songs in TV, film, and advertising. It wasn’t particularly my intention to move to Los Angeles, but while interning for Spanish film composer, Lucas Vidal, in the summer of 2017, I fell in love with the City of Angels and its creative energy, and picked it as my next destination.
Sonic Vista Insights
“We want our music to convey a feel-good emotion...” What inspired you to be a producer? When I decided to pursue music, I thought I would be a performer. When I started songwriting, I thought I would be a writer! At the end of my first semester at Berklee, when it became time to pick a major, I decided on Contemporary Writing and Production, as it would teach me about songwriting, composing, and arranging, as well as recording, producing and mixing. I wanted to be able to communicate and understand the work of engineers, producers, writers, and orchestrators. I started producing my own songs at school, first for school projects, and eventually, for my debut single, Even If, my second single, Call, and now my upcoming EP, as well as songs for Honey. I really like the magic that happens in the studio, and how a song evolves from a few words into a fully-fledged, wholesome piece of art. Much like a puzzle, of which I was very fond of while growing up, the pieces that by themselves don’t have much meaning and seem to not go together, constitute a whole once assembled in a unique way. Music is most powerful when every element perfectly aligns with the other, and is not simply added at random, but thought through in detail; the words with a particular note, supported by a harmony from a specific instrument combined with another instrument, processed in a way that makes a statement. I particularly like vocal production,
using voice as a complex instrument, layering and processing it in interesting ways that elicit a deep emotion from the listener. How did Honey come about? In September 2018, Fracesca Crowley and I officially became Honey - a name that came from our common love for ABBA. Our vision for the music is to give an honest depiction of our journey through young adulthood while always keeping an optimistic view on life. We want our music to convey a feel-good kind of emotion, even when the topics can be painful, and we use live instruments to give it a more organic feel; we use our vocal harmonies to blend in with the sounds, creating an atmosphere. Tell us why you’re a Pro Tools fan... Before I knew anything about music tech, I started recording and editing music in GarageBand, and I still didn’t fully understand the software. During my first semester at Berklee, I was introduced to new DAWs. The first year, I mostly used Reason and Logic; the second year, I was introduced to Ableton and Pro Tools. Some of my teachers pushed us to use Pro Tools, so I got accustomed to it, and it became my DAW of choice. Once you get used to working with a particular software, you don’t want to change. When it comes to working with audio, I believe Pro Tools is the
best way to go; its layout and key commands make it a smooth and efficient process, with excellent, professional sounding results. There’s also something about the aesthetic of the software that makes it look very high-end and professional to me, while still being accessible, and not overly complex. And you’re a Focusrite user, also... Yeah, my first recording gear was a Focusrite package I ordered online when I was 18. It came with a mic, a stand, an xlr, a pop filter, an isolation shield, and the 2i4 interface. It has been my setup ever since, and has gone through countless recordings from school projects to demos. It has always been very easy to set up and manoeuvre, and totally reliable. And what’s next for you, musically? Well, starting in mid-August, Honey will reunite for a mini tour in the UK, Switzerland, and Paris to celebrate the release of our first single, Before I Drown, which will be followed by three more singles. A big thanks as ever to our friends at Sonic Vista Studios in Ibiza for another very cool Q&A with an inspiring young artist. www.sonicvistastudios.com
Murphy’s Law of Sound
MURPHY’S LAW OF SOUND At the absolute height of his career, Liverpudlian composer, John Murphy, had to walk away from it all. While easily becoming one of the top guns for hire in the film scoring world following work on 28 Days Later and Sunshine, he also worked himself to the bone, culminating in him taking on the blockbuster superhero smash-hit, Kick-Ass. In the case of director Matthew Vaughn and the Big Daddy Kills scene, the placeholder temp-track used was Murphy’s own, best known piece, In the House, in a Heartbeat from 28 Days Later. There’s always a danger that the director will become overly attached to a temp track, and Vaughn decided to keep the song in the film, despite Murphy’s pleas to use something new and not make him repeat himself. It turned out to be the last straw; Murphy took an eight-year career hiatus. But now he’s back, having recently scored the BBC’s take on Les Misérables. “I got into this when I was quite young, around 25,” Murphy says, who has recently returned to his house in California after a trip to his native Liverpool. “From that point on, I did something like 40 movies back to back. I was feeling burned out, like the love had gone, and I wasn’t getting excited by it anymore. It’s not a good way to do anything creative. I’d always said to myself that if I got to a point
where I just felt like I was going through the motions, then I’d stop. So I did!” As you can imagine, besides his personal exhaustion, Murphy’s family life was also affected by working on so many films. “I was missing being with the kids,” he says. “Movies can really hijack your life, and it was tough going from project to project while they were growing up.” With Kick-Ass, John had even attempted to turn the work down. “Matthew [Vaughn] had approached me, and I told him that I needed to take some time off,” he explains. “I’d done Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch with Matt before. In the end, I agreed, and when I got started, they had the bits from 28 Days Later and Sunshine temped in. “It was testing well, but I said, ‘just let me write something else.’ But when Matthew knows what he wants, you have to fight him. He’s an adamant director. In the end, he let
me rework those cues a little, and it worked. But a lot of people were upset about that, and I truly understand. But a lot of people loved it, too. You can never please everyone. It was a very frustrating, and creatively restricting process for me, though.” Back to Basics A big benefit for Murphy during his eightyear break was that he actually listened to music again. “When you’re working non-stop, you don’t have time to watch movies, or listen to music,” he says. “You’re just in this bubble of your own head. Whatever creative discipline you’re in, you need something else to excite you, and get you thinking about how you can incorporate different things. It was very claustrophobic. So being able to go and see lots of movies, and listen to lots of different music, that really got my soul going again.” You can hear some of the music Murphy
Murphy’s Law of Sound
“The Spitfire Hans Zimmer strings are what you hear in the show; especially the slow articulations, which are great...” wrote purely for writing music’s sake on his Spotify profile during his time out. He did also work on some film trailers. But his vow was to not fully return to composing for film until a project that relit his fire became available. And that turned out to be the BBC’s novel-adaptation, Les Misérables, starring Olivia Colman, Lily Collins, and Dominic West. “I got a call asking if I’d be interested in doing the music for Les Misérables,” Murphy recalls. “I cracked up because I thought they meant the musical! ‘Are you sure it’s me they want?’ But then I realised it was the book, which I read in my early 20s. One of the greatest European novels, in my mind. Tom [Shankland, director] was very open minded when it came to the music, and was very receptive to my ideas. I got to experiment with a lot of period instruments, and he was even open to me mixing up a hurdy-gurdy with a Moog Sub Phatty! We made a lot of discoveries along the way.” Which reminds me that with Murphy’s penchant for experimentation, I have to ask him about some of the gear he’s been working with lately and on the show. He has
been working with the orchestral samples from Spitfire Audio. “I got my first Spitfire stuff for Les Mis,” John says. “Starting with the Hans Zimmer Strings, which are just phenomenal. I knew a lot of Les Mis was going to be atmospheric, and we didn’t have the budget for a full orchestra. I needed something better than the Vienna Symphonic Library that I had. “We also tried out some of the Albion Strings, which are brilliant for some of the soft, muted strings. We used that and the Hans Zimmer almost exclusively — it’s phenomenal quality, and I don’t mind saying I was really smitten with the Spitfire stuff.” I make sure to clarify with Murphy that he was so pleased with the Spitfire string sounds, that they made it into the final recordings for Les Misérables. “It’s what you hear in the show! Especially the slow articulations. It worked out great.” And as for his speakers, he opts for Genelec, or his ‘Gennies’ as he lovingly calls them. “I’ve had Genelecs since I came to LA, about 20 years ago,” he says. “They have a nice sound, and they’re great for playback
because they have such a full frequency range. I’ve got the 1031s. We have a set in the mixing room, and another in the programming room. I also have the smaller 1030s for my analogue work station, which are fantastic. Tyler, my engineer, has the Yamaha NS10s, but our workhorses are all Genelecs. I just know them so well now and how to mix with them — they never seem to blow, or anything.” We at Headliner are very grateful to have John Murphy back, and it will be exciting to see what he does next. “For now, it’s about keeping that balance of doing things I want to do creatively, and keeping the movies going,” Murphy says. “Maybe two films per year, interspersed with the other projects I want to do. That should keep both sides of my head happy.” Les Misérables is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now, as is the excellent John Murphy soundtrack. www.spitfireaudio.com www.johnmurphyofficial.com
Showing His Hand
THE MAGICIAN: SHOWING HIS HAND
After cutting his teeth on wildfire remixes for Lykke Li, Clean Bandit, and Years & Years, Belgian DJ/producer, The Magician, unleashed Ready To Love on his cult-like following in March. After so much worldwide touring and chart success, it was high time for us to speak to the mysterious Magician about his music, love of vinyl, and his impressive studio. Words Adam Protz What’s new with you, Magician? 2019 didn’t start very well! A thief forced open my flat door, my Range Rover was stolen, and then recently, my USB stick wasn’t working at Printworks London in front of 3,000 people, so I had to stop the show early. But, I faced this all with a positive attitude because, at the same time, I had the best two weeks writing studio sessions with amazing people. On top of that, my brand new home studio and DJ mixing area has been in construction for three months, and it’s finally done! I now have to classify 10,000 vinyls before starting a new mixtape series. Talking deadlines, I have two tracks and three remixes that all need to be finished for next week! Tell us about Ready To Love... It’s been going well! The radio edit version was released recently, and we’ve had some plays on radio shows all around the world, which has been amazing. We’ve had good feedback from other DJs, too, which is great. Whenever I’ve played it at shows, it’s had a really good reaction. We have a new package
coming soon with an extended club mix by me, and three remixes with big names. How did you write the song? I wrote it in the studio with the singer. We wanted to keep the lyrics simple for my fans who aren’t English speakers. For the chords and melody, I’ve been inspired by the ‘90s French touch, but I kept the real piano as the main instrument. The beat is a classic house beat. You shared a photo recently of your setup, where you are just using vinyl no CDJ! I cut my teeth in DJing with vinyl. I have about 10,000 vinyls bought between 1993 and 2008. I then bought vinyls from time to time, but not often, until around three months ago when I started to buy them a lot again, because I enjoy it, and want to do live streamed sets from my room, and start a new mixtape series. On tour, I still travel with USBs rather than a record bag. Buy maybe one day I’ll do exclusive vinyl sets again.
What’s your preferred DAW? For production, I work mainly on Logic, and sometimes Ableton or Pro Tools. I chose Logic because everybody was on it back in 2010. I use Ableton for edits, mixes, and pitches - and Pro Tools to record vocals, because it’s often the program a big studio engineer uses. What are your favourite plugins? I use a lot of Omnisphere, Trilian, Diva, Keyscape, VocalSynth, and Serum. On Ready to Love, the soft piano and the main piano are a real Yamaha piano. The synth chords come from Diva, and the bass from Trilian. The arpeggio is from Omnisphere. I use a lot of Universal Audio plugins as well as Soundtoys. And what’s next on the agenda? I’ll be in Europe for the summer with shows including Tomorrowland and SW4 amongst others. I can’t wait! www.the-magician.com
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BRINGING MEZZANINE HOME A 14,000-capacity purpose-built arena on a runway, technically in Gloucestershire, we are told – but close enough to Bristol to make this epic Massive Attack spectacular a true homecoming performance. We all remember the album, Mezzanine – one of the iconic records of the last two decades; and it’s that body of work, with a twist or two, that Robert Del Naja and co. have been touring across Europe, and now the UK, in celebration of the album’s 20th anniversary last year. Massive Attack’s homecoming show was always going to be one to remember. Words Paul Watson
n arrival at the venue, which is a pretty unbelievable structure to behold in itself, you can’t help but wonder just how tough it’ll be to get the sonics right – a challenge, to say the least. Essentially, this is a giant – albeit mightily impressive – tent with a very high, shiny ceiling, and various other reflective issues to be dealt with. Where do you begin? “That’s certainly one caveat,” smiles front of house engineer, Rob Allan, as we make our way to his console. “In a bespoke venue like this, normally you would try to simplify the music down to its core, and project that into the audience, but it’s not possible on this tour, as it’s massively complex. We have 10 musicians on stage, and 100 channels of audio, so I can’t do the classic ‘strip it down to stadium rock’, as there’s a 10-second reverb at the bottom end, so I address as best as I can the acoustic in the room.” Which we’ll get to in a second. The other interesting thing from an audio perspective is that for this tour, there is not just one Massive Attack ‘sound’. Mezzanine is such a diverse record to begin with if you consider the stylistic differences between Teardrop and Angel, for example, but on top of that, there are several cover versions that the band perform during the set – tracks that they sampled to make Mezzanine the first time around. And that makes for an even more meticulous approach. “The design brief was to make Mezzanine sound as much like Mezzanine as possible, but make the original tracks they were covering as authentic as possible,” Allan explains. So no kick drum will sound the same, then? “Yeah, kind of. For example, an old reggae track they play – it was clearly done on an old four-track, as you can hear it’s been bounced and bounced, and it’s distorted and tape compressed - so I tried to replicate that by grouping all the channels into an amp, and compressing in a distorted way, so it was going out front sounding pretty dirty. Just for authenticity.” Allan goes as far as to say that each song is almost a multimedia installation. “Each track is a little piece in itself, so they don’t have to relate to each other: on this tour, none of the songs sound
like each other, so there is no starting mix position for any of them; so depending on what we are trying to achieve from any of the tracks, we always start from a clean slate.” There are 150 snapshots for the show, all triggered by LTC. Allan multi-tracks to Pro Tools every night, and uses the previous night’s show to soundcheck the next one. He says it’s produced in the way you might expect of a West End musical. “I don’t use Steely Dan, or anything like that, for reference,” he smiles. “I just use the mix from the night before to get me where I need to be for the following show. For me, I am trying to produce an album, and take that album on the road with me every day - in fact, it’s not even an album, it’s like an album, but with a mixtape thrown in!”
The PA for this tour is d&b’s SL-Series, and was specced out personally by Allan. There were a few criteria the system needed to meet: “The SL-Series seemed right for this tour for the rejection behind it – it’s very quiet, and also very musical behind the box, so it has a full range rather than that woody mid sound out the back; it’s worked out great for the musicians, and for what we have been trying to achieve from the audio at all the venues we’ve played so far.” There are two main hangs of 18 d&b GSL, with a centre cluster of six KSL, and a L/R setup of eight KSL as outfills. Low end reinforcement comes courtesy of 18 d&b SL subs on the floor, positioned in front of the middle of the stage. “A lot of the drive behind the audio design of this show is that a couple of the vocals on the tour are very quiet; Liz Fraser has a beautiful voice, but a very quiet one, so the centre cluster means I can fill the space in front of the stage, and push the main PA out a little bit,” Allan says. “It’s all about managing the room sound on stage, really – and it’s a silent stage, as well. The band are all on in-ears, so there’s no guitar or bass amp, you only get the noise of the acoustic drum kits and the pads from the electronic kits. It makes my job a little easier as a result.” What’s also unique about this show is the way Allan
Headliner 02 15 Headliner
“I am no longer working with the broader brush strokes I used to in the ‘80s, barking point source speakers up an arena, as speaker technology has evolved in such a big way...” achieves his sound: he describes it as ‘kind of back to front’. “I’ve sat working on this live mix for months in my studio [in Spain], and it’s now nailed down, so as I walk in with my mix, I push the L/R fader, and I want it to sound how it sounds in my studio. Of course, it doesn’t every day, but at least as close as we can get to it,” he explains. “So I am not adjusting the mix every night, I am adjusting the speaker system to suit the acoustic, so the speaker system fits my mix, if that makes sense? “And the d&b system translates it very well; I am no longer working with the broader brush strokes I used to in the ‘80s, barking point source boxes up an arena, as speaker technology has evolved in such a big way. So with the caveat that we’re in a bloody car park tonight, with a plastic roof, we should still get a great sound! [laughs] Seriously though, at the end of every night, [system engineer] Michael Gazdziak and I will nod at each other and say, ‘yes, that’s what we wanted to achieve’, so we’re both happy.” As soundcheck comes to an end, it’s time to catch up with Icarus Wilson-Wright, the visual designer and programmer for the tour, who’s been working with the band full-time since 2002. That’s some dedication to the cause. “[smiles] Yeah, but they were already established even then. I joined 13 years in from Blue Line – an incredible album, which I had, 16 Headliner
of course, though I never thought I’d end up working with them,” he laughs. “And even now, they’re still evolving – still making new music in the studio, and so involved in their live show.” It’s often said that artists today struggle to find a voice – but this has never been the case with Massive Attack, and tonight, they will have a lot to say through the medium of film and music. “Yeah, they always have something to say, and there is always something current going on,” Wilson-Wright says. “This is the most narrative-driven show we have done, designed by [band member] 3D and [Massive Attack collaborator and revered documentary maker] Adam Curtis, with our help – it’s not that we’re super close, it’s that it needs to be a small team to deliver the idea – it’s just how it works. The band have a real vision; they are very articulate, and everything is considered: if it doesn’t fit, it won’t get in; if it might fit, it won’t get in; if it fits, it gets in! [laughs] So the editing process can be brutal!”
Universal Pixels has provided all the video and camera kit for this tour – it’s a company whose founders Wilson-Wright had a long-standing relationship with, and plenty of respect for. They’ve also been pivotal in helping design this Massive Attack production. LED upstage screens for this show are
Leyard CLM 10mm, with a central section (8m wide x 6m high), and two outer sections (3.5m wide x 6m high). And for downstage, a ROE Vanish 18mm, two screens 4.8m wide x 6m high. The front of house IMAG screen is also Leyard CLM 10mm, 5m wide x 6m high. There are a range of cameras deployed for this Bristol show: Sony HDC-4300s, Agile ARC Lite robocams, Marshall CV345 minicams, and a UP 3G block camera. “Ever since Universal Pixels started out [in late 2016], I’ve had a continuous strong relationship with them; they have always provided excellent service and backup, and they’re fantastic people,” he says. “Historically, we’ve always had a directive from the band developing certain looks that gave the characteristics for a Massive Attack show; but this one has been highly narrative-driven with video, and not just any video – video put together and directed by Adam Curtis. “It’s a large part of the show, so the format had to change, as did the configuration of the screens; and we wanted a direction from the artist, as well, to have some transparency to it, so we could integrate the lights properly into the video, and we could make the screens disappear, almost. We’ve used transparency before, so it’s part of the Massive Attack vocabulary, so that is the tech we went for on this tour.” According to Wilson-Wright, these video products really deliver, and have so many
“It’s Mezzanine with a welcome twist: a soulful, dynamic show fusing hip hop, trip hop, reggae, electronica, and dance, with some ambient moments, where the band let the video do the talking...” benefits: wind loading, and weight, to name a few. He is running a fibre system to front of house with two Disguise gx 2 media servers. “The back wall is a high resolution, 10mm Leyard product with high transparency, very lightweight, and punchy; and the [ROE] Vanish 18 down the front is awesome – such a great product. And the tech integration between the two screens is brilliant: they’re two separate products, but it looks like one! Then we have a great camera system for tonight’s show, as this venue demands it.” So the band have continued to evolve as creatives, then? “Yeah, I would say so,” reflects WilsonWright. “Their taste has evolved; and politically, artistically, and creatively, this show is so dynamic. 3D is a visual artist in his own right, and it’s been properly directed and designed by him, so he’s very hands-on. I have seen all aspects evolve: from album covers, to videos, to their live shows – Massive Attack has such a taste palette that is recognisable, and identifiable, and it’s got a lot of quality to it, as well, which is always nice!”
As the lights go down, the show begins. The backlit video wall runs an intense narrative throughout: thought-provoking, entertaining, political, and at times, harrowing content, which somehow leaves you wanting more.
We are ultimately invited to ponder the shape of our society today: moon landings and fake flags; the conspiracy behind conspiracies; Mary Poppins and her umbrella, and Dorothy and her yellow brick road; nodding off into dream-like states, and put-a-smile-on-yourface freestyling; government scaremongering, government warmongering; rising up, and unifying the people; Tony Blair’s awkward guitar technique; our relationship with the dead; and a wonderfully universal ‘boo’ when Trump’s rotund, orange face inevitably fills the screen. It is amazingly engaging, making the awe inspiring, 90-minute set feel like half as long. The musicianship is similarly spectacular all round, and it’s a thunderously good sound out front: smooth lows, sparkling highs, and staggeringly loud without a hint of brutality. Rarely do you hear the intricate work of a percussionist over such a huge band, but you can here; and the stereo image from this rig feels as wide as the video wall, as audio is pinged around the venue with remarkable precision. Although it’s difficult to find a stand-out moment amongst so much quality, the glorious, spine-tingling Teardrop, delivered beautifully by Liz Fraser, is a moment to behold. And those epic cover versions that Rob Allan warned me of, including set opener, I Found a Reason, by The Velvet Underground; and 10:15 Saturday Night by The Cure, are a real highlight, where some rock and roll guitar work is thrown into
the mix, heightening the live experience further. And that’s what this show is: an experience. It’s Mezzanine with a welcome twist: a soulful, dynamic show fusing hip hop, trip hop, reggae, electronica, and dance, with some chill-out ambient moments, where the band let the video content do the talking. Massive Attack have not only stood the test of time, they’ve evolved with it: their groove is still iconic, and unbeatable; and their two drummers provide the ultimate backbone for their infectious beats. I hope I’ll see Massive Attack live again – you always hope there’ll be more to come from the artist when you witness something of this quality. But even if there isn’t, what I do know is, I am remarkably fortunate to have seen them perform to this standard in their own back yard. And as the bedazzled crowd spills out, it’s clear they share my sentiment. www.dbaudio.com www.unipix.tv www.massiveattack.co.uk
On the Road
ON THE ROAD WITH ALFIE BOE Alfie Boe is an English tenor and actor, perhaps best known for his outstanding portrayal of Jean Valjean on the 25th Anniversary edition of Les Misérables at the O2 in 2010, which earned him a five-month run in the West End production at the Queen’s Theatre the following year. However, he’s also sold more than one million albums in the UK. Having recently completed a tour spanning the UK, Europe, and Japan, we talk to Boe’s engineers, Mark ‘Joey’ Jowitt, and Steve Bunting, about what’s happening on the road. Alfie Boe’s success as a solo artist was kind of inevitable - not only due to his extraordinary tenor tones, but his two recent duet albums with Michael Ball, Together, and Together Again, which went platinum and double platinum respectively, both hitting the number one spot. His latest 2018 solo record, As Time Goes By, made it into the top 10. “Alfie is a very personable and easy-going guy, and he’s very appreciative of the job everyone does,” says Steve Bunting, who has worked with Boe for several years, including his time touring with Michael Ball. “We have a great team on this tour – not just on audio, but across the whole crew and band... And we still get on! The support we have had from Andy at Major Tom has also been great – and the schedule hasn’t been too tough; we never do more than two shows in a row, and it’s done good business.” The main production tour took place in
and around the UK, mainly in the north, and finished in the Royal Albert Hall in London. After that, Boe took a smaller, five-piece setup to Ireland, Holland, and Japan with local production. Bunting has been a DiGiCo user for eight years; he says there is always a DiGiCo option to fit whatever gig he’s doing, big or small. “They sound great, they’re really powerful, and the workflow really suits the way I work, letting me arrange the console whichever way I want, and route myself into oblivion if I really want to,” he explains. “I like having the MADI feeds available, which allows me to record every show, and with the firmware upgrades, they just keep getting better.” Bunting was originally going to use an an SD10 for monitors, though during rehearsals, the show file grew to a point where it would no longer fit, hence the jump to the flagship SD7 console.
“There’s quite a lot going on, with 16 mixes - including techs and spares - as well as FX sends and sub-groups for Alfie,” Bunting explains. “The SD7 also really helps my workflow, having the meter bridge and master screen always accessible, and having the extra bank of small faders in the centre is a real bonus.” In the Mix Boe’s mix is run from a mixture of sub-groups and VCAs, which are controlled from the centre section of the SD7, with the mix sends accessed from the small faders. “This way, I can access the band inputs from the left bank, and the right bank mostly stays on Alfie’s bank, so I always have eyes on his channel meter. Also, his percussion channel, which can come out of nowhere! On monitors, I don’t have to do much other than a bit of channel EQ to smooth it out and give
On the Road
“The DiGiCo consoles sound great; they’re really powerful, and the workflow really suits the way I work, letting me route myself into oblivion, if I really want to...” it a bit more presence. And obviously reverb; I use a mix of plate and hall. He has great vocal control, so he doesn’t want to hear any compression in his IEMs. It does mean that I have to split it to two channels, though, so the band don’t get the full force of that dynamic range. He can really belt it out! “By the end of rehearsals, I had actually ended up with 16 FX, including drums, acoustics, horns, and BVs. I use a few multiband compressors here and there, mostly on the sub-groups, but on the whole, I like to avoid compression as much as possible, relying more on fader changes. I don’t even use any gates. I do really like using the DiGiTubes on the basses and acoustic guitars, though.” Both consoles and a single SD Rack are on a single Optocore loop, with monitors controlling gain and front of house tracking. “We have a good working relationship, and Joey is happy with the gain levels I set, and once on tour, the gains rarely changed more than a couple of dB here and there,” explains Bunting. “We also ran our shout system down the Conn Send/Return which made it very simple to patch everyday, and for me to control the shout system with macros. It also made it easy for me to take a copy of the
front of house mix and record it alongside a multitrack as reference. And none of those mysterious shout system buzzes that always seem to crop up! “Obviously, another big advantage is that we do not have to carry a whole extra SD Rack and stage box splitter! Some days it was tough fitting an SD7 and everything else onto stage left as it was. While having two SD Racks might be better in terms of redundancy, they are so reliable and so easy to get hold of in the event of failure, in the UK at least, that it was not an issue.” Monitor World Mark ‘Joey’ Jowitt started working with Boe back in 2005, and has maintained a strong relationship ever since. “The UK tour has been a great success, and fun to do, with such a diverse range of music, and Alfie’s infectious humour,” Jowitt says. “His voice has such an array of textures: he is able to move from his operatically-trained voice into a number of different musical styles including rock, soul, and country. However, such power has to be nurtured, so I use the onboard multi-band compressor on the SD10 plus an inserted Avalon 737. I also use a TC
6000 on his vocal, but I augment this with the internal DiGiCo reverbs.” Jowitt has been a DiGiCo fan since the D5 and D1 consoles, and says it has been a natural progression to move on with the series. “It seems like the rest of the world are agreeing! They are readily available globally now, and the console file conversion software has been very useful,” he says. “The SD10 has all the DSP I need for this show; I just add an overview screen to keep a constant visual on major inputs and group outs. “I use snapshots, as there’s a lot going on with level and FX changes - but mainly for mutes. I mix a fair bit off control groups, but keep the vocal, FX, and master band groups on recall safe mode. I use nine FX internally – I’m a real fan of the Large Hall [reverb] – then the usual gates and compressors where I need them, plus the DiGitubes on piano and acoustic guitars.” www.digico.biz www.optocore.com
We chat to the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s number one DJ about co-headlining Europeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s largest free music festival, and collaborating with a string of A-list artists including Ed Sheeran, Macklemore, and Patrick Stump. Words Adam Protz
artin Garrix has been the world’s number one DJ (as voted for by DJ Mag) for three years on the spin - and he only just turned 23. Spending his teens teaching himself music production, he was already releasing singles on Musical Freedom, the label of his hero, Tiësto, at 17, which makes him way more than a regular DJ today. His record production skills are out of the top drawer, and have led to a string of superstar collaborations: Usher, Ed Sheeran, and most recently, Macklemore and Patrick Stump. 2013’s Animals proved to be his breakthrough success. Hitting number one in the UK and in other territories, the single was a game-changer as it showed a huge, floor thumping dance track could make it big in the mainstream. Since setting up STMPD RCRDS, he assisted Dua Lipa in her breakthrough with Scared to Be Lonely, and released So Far Away with David Guetta. As he continues to conquer the musical landscape, Garrix has become a regular at the biggest festivals on the planet, including Coachella, Tomorrowland, and Ultra Music Festival. He’s also just performed a co-headline show at Isle of MTV Malta with New York-based singer-songwriter, Bebe Rexha. “At the moment, I’m obviously recovering from my ankle surgery, but I’ve been super excited to get back on stage again,” Garrix reveals. “Isle of MTV really is an amazing event, and it seems like they’re doing new things every year; what I ultimately love the most is the incredible atmosphere that you get there.” I ask Garrix about his work with Patrick Stump and Macklemore on Summer Days. It must have been a fantastic experience working with them.
“Oh, absolutely! I’ve been wanting to work with both of them for quite some time, so I was super happy that they were excited about the track,” Garrix enthuses. And what about the creative process? “Well, I had a demo for the track, which I sent to both Patrick and Macklemore, asking whether they wanted to join. Both their musical styles differ a lot from mine, which makes this track so diverse. We really wanted to create a track that you listen to on a hot summer day. Preferably in a car with the windows down!” And of course, there are plenty more shows and festivals coming up. I ask Garrix if there are any personal favourite festivals on the list? “That’s a difficult one,” he admits. “Because I’m excited for all of them. My residency at Ushuaïa in Ibiza is super special, of course; and I’m also really looking forward to Tomorrowland and Lollapalooza Paris and Berlin.” And what about this recording studio we’ve heard so much about in Holland? “Yeah, we have the STMPD recording studios in Amsterdam, which is where I spend most of my time,” Garrix explains. “We have the most amazingly equipped studios there, so that basically has everything I need. However, I do also spend a lot of time on the road, which means a lot of my tracks have started out as demos on my laptop.” Nice to hear. And finally, when can we expect more music from Martin Garrix? “Very soon,” he smiles. “I’m always working on new music, so there will be a new release coming - keep an eye out for it!” We will, indeed.
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Brooklyn-Born Bebe Rexha has worked extremely hard to get to where she is today. She signed to Warner Bros in 2013, and fittingly, it was in her New York City where she got her first big break - a writing credit on Rihanna and Eminem’s The Monster record. From there, she just kept writing songs – and after a series of extended play releases, her 2018 debut album, Expectations, reached number 13 on the Billboard 200 chart, with the success of lead single, I’m a Mess, earning her two Grammy nominations, one as Best New Artist. She’s also honing her craft on stage, evolving her live approach to a full band setup, and it’s clearly working out: she just co-headlined Isle of MTV, Europe’s largest free music festival, with Martin Garrix. We sit down to find out more about her fascinating musical journey. Words Floyd Mason
BORN & BRED IN BROOKLYN
s soon as Bebe Rexha begins talking, it’s evident that she is an artist with zero ego, and bundles of energy. She’s pretty excited right now, as after this interview finishes, she’s heading straight into the studio to work on her new album. She’s also just co-headlined Isle of MTV in Malta, of course, alongside probably the most well known DJ on the planet in Martin Garrix. The pair have worked together previously, and Rexha says that special live energy on stage is something that the audience can really feel. “These MTV shows are just incredible! I performed before Martin, so my job was to get the crowd as lit as possible, because I know that by the time he starts his set, it’s gonna be over! [smiles] It’s really just about enjoying that moment, and being on that stage.” Rexha flew her band out of Philadelphia for the show, and they’ve got an energy all of their own. “They all grew up in a church environment, so they sound very gospel, and they add this unique vibe,” Rexha says. “I perform a lot of dance songs, and they bring the cool element, which means we get this incredible layer of extra energy on top of the tracks.” Creating such a spectacle on stage didn’t happen overnight, of course. It’s been a lot of hard work. In her early days, Rexha’s live setup was really stripped back. “When I first started out, I could only afford a DJ; and then I had a DJ and a drummer; and then with the drummer, I was like, ‘oh my god, the energy’, even just on a drum pad, you know? “Then I added a guitar here and there; and now there’s a bass player, and a piano player. It’s just the way that a live band feels that you can’t replace. My set was interesting, too; it started off with Me, Myself & I, which brings everyone
back to the first moment they knew me; and then it took the audience on a journey through my songs. Then it went into a dance moment, and then it ended with Meant to Be. I put some new stuff in there, too, which was really special.”
SOUND CHOICES ON STAGE
To ensure she gets everything she needs out of her stage sound, Rexha is an advocate of in-ear monitors. She recently made the switch to JH Audio. “I was using another brand before, and then my audio guy was like ‘I really think you should move to JH’,” Rexha says. “And I just think they’re amazing. They sound really strong, and they also look really dope. And I love the sound you can get using them. For example, I like more treble, and to hear more crispy sounds, and you can hear everything in these ears. “Also, where a lot of people like their mix to have reverb, I listen to everything super dry. So I know that if it sounds good dry, then it’ll sound better when all the effects are on. It can be really hard when you hear the crowd booming in the mic, and with reverb, it just makes it sound dirtier. This way my vocals sit really well on top of the beat - especially with the tone of the JH. They’re just great, basically!” Conversation turns to New York, and how Rexha got started in the music business. “A lot of the labels were so good to me. When I met [Fall Out Boy bassist] Pete Wentz, they brought me over to Island [Def Jam], and we were working on a project together, and the industry was thriving at that point. You had the Benny Blancos there, and Stargate was still there, and you had all the major producers there, and a lot of up and coming talent, so the energy was really amazing,” she recalls. “I grew up in Staten Island, and I would take the ferry or the train and the bus into the city, and it was fun
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“I just want to help other artists and musicians and songwriters, really, even if it’s just giving them confidence, because that’s the thing I feel I always lacked, especially at the beginning...” going to publishers offices and using the studios, meeting other people at their studios. “The vibe was so different, and that was really inspiring, because the hustle and bustle of New York City you just can’t find anywhere. And I just found myself writing songs, and everything kind of happened very organically – just by hustle, you could really get far on your own by just working hard. So yeah, it was fun starting out in New York.” I ask Rexha how she thinks the US and UK music scenes differ. Does she have a favourite? “I definitely think they’re different; and I think that there are moments where artists have crossed over to the US, and artists have crossed over to the UK, and it’s like... magical. And then there are moments where we don’t really understand each other, but I think that’s the beauty of music,” she reflects. “I think it’s awesome, because when I first came to the UK and turned on the radio, it sounded so different to how it did in the US, you know? So it’s cool to me, and it’s inspiring. Anywhere around the world, I’ll turn the radio on, because I want to hear what people are listening to in different territories - and it’s all cool. I know this is weird, but I found this Japanese trap playlist, and it sounds crazy - the way they use samples is sick!” 24 Headliner
A MONSTER SUCCESS
Rexha was also credited as co-writer of The Monster, performed by Eminem and Rihanna – and that came through a twist of fate, also. “My mum actually met this lady at EMI, and she was like ‘oh, I’m gonna put you in the studio with this guy, and it’s gonna be awesome’, so I’m like... cool! So I get in the studio with this producer - Frequency - and I’m like, ‘yeah, cool, let’s write together!’ “So we just got in the studio, and were just fucking around, and it was another one of those days where I had to get to the city from Staten Island, and I remember it was a really cold day, and we went to the studio, and we finished at 1am, and I think it was snowing... [pauses]And it all just kind of fell into place, you know? “I remember that day like it was yesterday; I remember walking back to the train just smiling ear to ear. I couldn’t believe what we’d just created, and I knew it was so special.” It’s incredible listening to Rexha describe a mood or a situation - you feel like you’re right there with her. She has also recently accepted a role as a judge for The Voice in the US, so I ask her if she is going to be playing good cop or bad cop? “[laughs] Well, I just finished shooting with
them, and I just want to help other artists and songwriters and musicians, really, even if it’s just giving them confidence, because that’s the thing I always feel like I lacked, especially at the beginning. I was so insecure and nervous,” she says, very matter of fact. “My main thing is that I’m always honest with people, and when people come through for opinions, and stuff like that, I just try and tell them what I truly believe and think, even if it might hurt a little bit, because I want them to be the best version of themselves. You know what I mean? I’m very hard, but it comes out of true, true love.” I do know what she means, and I can tell she means it. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to Bebe Rexha about her fascinating musical journey which, you get the impression has only really just got started. The future is bright for this New York City powerhouse.
@beberexha www.beberexha.com www.jhaudio.com
Mix Engineer, Jake Gordon, has had a fantastic couple of years, and has established himself as the go-to for UK urban music. Not only was he nominated at 2018’s MPG awards for Breakthrough Engineer, he was the mixer for Mercury Award-nominated album, Common Sense, by J Hus, and Skepta’s Mercury Award-winning album, Konnichiwa. He’s also mixed records for Emeli Sandé, Not3s, Lethal Bizzle, and Burna Boy, to name but a few. Although a drummer from a very early age, and attending a secondary school that had a very active music department, Gordon only started really getting into music in his mid-teens. I sit down with him to find out more about his journey so far. Words Yerosha
IN THE MIX
loved garage music, then discovered drum and bass, then jungle,” Jake Gordon recalls. “I wanted to be a DJ, so I saved up money from my weekend job at a garden centre to get a pair of Technics 1210s when I was 14. Me and my mates would go down to Black Market Records in Soho and buy loads of records.” Gordon and a friend landed a gig on a pirate radio station hosting a jungle set on a Sunday night. “I loved dance music - I remember getting a fake ID so I could go and see Ratpack at Raindance. I got really into UK hip hop for a while, as well, really into Jehst and Braintax. I remember Dizzee’s Boy in the Corner - it was insane, because it sounded like nothing else.” When he was 16, Gordon got a runner job at a studio in Finsbury Park in London. The studio mainly recorded indie bands, but Gordon was into hip hop and dance music. When the owner asked what bands he liked, it posed a bit of a problem: “I was like, shit! All I could think of was Busted! [laughs] But it was cool. He phoned me a couple days later, and I got a job as the assistant, doing a couple of days a week.” It is a hard industry to get into, and part of that is having the patience to keep at it. “All I did was clean at the beginning. The manager there was uncompromising when it came to professionalism, but totally in a good way. I’m so glad I went there first because the guys there really took the time to give me the training; also, as it was only bands, I had an entire setup to do at least a couple of times each week, so I got to learn all the basics, the mic placements, and so on. It was just that grounding. Not to say that that’s the only way into the industry, or even the right way, but it gave me that experience. Annoyingly, you kind of can’t cheat it, it is all about experience.”
From there, Gordon started work in the bigger studios: firstly Fortress Studios, then to Miloco Studios, then he went freelance. In the ever-changing landscape that is the music industry, it’s interesting to reflect on what the differences are in the generations. “What’s really interesting is that no-one really wants to be back room anymore; everyone needs to be a brand,” Gordon explains. “There are plenty of engineers and producers who haven’t got any online presence, and are
doing perfectly well. I think I’m pretty bad at social media; I’ve had conversations about upping my online profile, and there can be this pressure to do what x person does to get your followers up. But I am just like ‘why?’ I think it works for some people, and less so for others. Maybe one day I’ll be better at it, and will therefore get more out of it.” But does it bring in more work? “The work I’ve got is because I’ve done other work, and because I’ve met people,” Gordon says. “The reason I started working with Dizzee is because I did a session with KDA, and he brought Dizzee in, and we got on. Emeli, because I had worked a lot with Dappy, and two of the producers I met on those sessions, Mac & Phil, were working on the Emeli record, and asked me to get involved; Skepta, at the time, I was in-house at Miloco, and they thought we would be a good match; and J Hus came about because the producer, Jae5, looks at credits, and searched who mixed the Skepta album. Really, social media has played no part in my progression.” The role of producer has shifted and morphed since home studios started becoming the norm, and it can in some instances now encompass songwriting as well as mixing. I ask what Gordon makes of it all. “It’s definitely changed, although it also depends on the type of music. I worked with loads of amazing producers when I was an assistant, and the role was very different. I remember, I did a session once - only one - but with Stephen Street, a fantastic producer; and it was a great learning experience. “We went in, we set up everything, and he just sat with the band, and they just played through it for five or six hours. It was produced in the room - him coming up with ideas like ‘in the verses, you do that, and the drum beat comes in there’. I think then we only recorded four takes. Done. They were flawless takes, and we were out the door at 8pm because they’d been playing it for six hours. “But I think there’s a larger grey area now: on one project, a producer could just mean that they’ve made the beat; on another, the producer comes in and arranges the song, and takes no publishing; and on another, the producer writes the song, records the vocals, mixes, and masters it. Again, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think it allows a whole group of people the opportunity to make great music that might not otherwise. I like production, but predominantly I mix.
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“On Emeli Sandé’s song, Happen, the last part is recorded outside next to a bonfire on a Shure SM7, so there’s the real sound of the fire...” Sometimes at the start of a project I will be asked to do some additional production if needed. Otherwise, I’m not going to start changing the track.” Are there any concerns for the future of the role of the mix engineer? “That’s a hard one,” Gordon ponders, “But I think there’s always going to be room for the next level. I think a lot of people like the idea of there being another set of ears on a song, or a new perspective; and sometimes it works out better just to get the producer to do it, especially if they have a very specific vision. I think there is space for everyone. “In the past, I’ve recorded projects where they had big names to mix it, and have still gone with the producer’s mix. That’s not to say the mixes were in any way bad, but music is very personal, and completely subjective, so I always try and get the artist to come in to the studio. It is their song, and I will try and talk to the producer and the artist, and find out what they want, because for me, I’m stepping in right at the last second. It’s not my baby, and what I really want is to get their vibe that I’ll just enhance - but I want it to be theirs.” Now that music is being created by those that perhaps haven’t come up the traditional route, I ask Gordon if that makes any difference to his process. “You get new and cool artists now doing great music that possibly wouldn’t have been created if you had to come up through the way I did - and I think it’s a good thing,” he declares. “A top 10 single made on an iPhone - I mean, why not? Absolutely why not, because it enables people who are creative who don’t technically 28 Headliner
play anything to make music - and what is bad about that? And that’s when you have to be really open minded, to be able to know that you know nothing, and to say ‘actually, that was sick’.”
RECORDING BY THE FIRE
I ask Gordon what the trickiest part of his workflow is. “You’re always battling with the rough mix,” he says. ”There’s not much you can do about it, really; people have listened to the rough over and over again, and have gotten used to it. It’s like the band going in to the rehearsal studio, and playing it for the first time, and keeping it as a single they haven’t tried things out, and played around. Though I know the argument against it, which is that you also get the really cool rawness about it. That’s why, where possible, I like to get input from the producer or artist when finishing a mix. If they absolutely love the vocal sound from the rough, then okay, great - let’s go with that. There’s really no right or wrong; it’s just about knowing the options. Literally, every mix is different.” So what are Gordon’s go-to bits of gear? “The Shure SM7 microphone is great. I remember we used it a lot on Emeli Sandé’s album - we recorded a whole bunch of stuff with it. On her song, Happen, the last part is recorded outside next to a bonfire on an SM7, so there’s the real sound of the fire.” That’s a beautiful element in the recording process - how did that come about? “Because we had time! We had six weeks at Angelic Studios (Miloco’s stunning residential studio in Oxford), and we just tried a whole bunch of things. It’s a beautiful recording. From two thirds in, it’s recorded outside. We made
a bonfire in the middle of this field. She’s all about the vibes, and so this whole album we were just able to try things. That was one of the best albums I’ve ever been a part of in terms of creative fun. “The other bits of kit I like, well, pretty much all of the Waves stuff is great! I use the R-Compressor all the time; it’s really versatile. Also, the R-Vox - a lot of the time that goes at the end of a vocal chain. Apart from compressing, I’m not sure what it does, but it adds something that I really like. “The Waves SSL E Channel strip is on every channel; generally, that’s how I start a mix. I also love the UAD stuff, especially the Culture Vulture. I used to use the hardware version a lot, and really like the emulation. A lot of the time, that will go on a drum parallel, absolutely smashing them, and then mixed back in to add a bit of dirt. I also use it a lot on bass; you can really bring out the top end and harmonics with it. Again, I tend to have it on a parallel, distortion type P1 with the overdrive in, and then just mix it back in. “On my mix buss, I always have the same thing: a UAD Chandler Curve Bender into the Waves SSL compressor. I’ll start every mix with both of them in. The curve bender pushing up 4dB at 12kHz, and the SSL compressor at attack 1, release 1, and ratio 2. These settings might change throughout the mix, or I might automate the buss compressor for different sections, but ultimately, that’s how I work with every mix.”
@jakegordo www.waves.com www.shure.com
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One of the greatest film directors of all time, and one of the most revered sound designers in the business. Danny Boyle and Glenn Freemantle have been friends and colleagues for years, working on soundscapes for an extraordinary array of movies including Slumdog Millionaire, Sunshine, Trainspotting 2, and most recently, the brilliant Yesterday, in which the pair teamed up with iconic screenwriter, Richard Curtis, for a twist of Beatlemania. We chat about that alliance, standout career moments, and how the spaces within the soundscape are so often the most important parts. Words Paul Watson | Photos Betty Oxlade Martin
& GLENN FREEMANTLE
s soon as I read the script, I knew I’d make the film,” opens Danny Boyle, with a smile. “It felt like a simple, extraordinary, wonderful idea that knocked you off your equilibrium a little bit in a heartwarming and funny way.” He’s talking about Yesterday, of course – his latest movie, which tells the story of a struggling singer-songwriter who, after the world blacks out for several seconds, gets hit by a bus and wakes up in hospital with a few less teeth, but as the sole human on Planet Earth who remembers the songs of The Beatles. It’s extremely amusing, touching, and beautifully put together. “You go through so many sins and nightmares along the way, but the key to making any film work is to keep it as close as possible to that original freshness you felt when you first read the story,” Boyle smiles, as two coffees are planted in front of he and his long-time sound designer, Glenn Freemantle. We’re sat in the foyer of the fabulous Odeon flagship cinema in London’s Leicester Square, recently refurbished to a stupendous level, now boasting a Dolby Atmos system to die for, incorporating 450 speakers. I remain coffee-less. “That’s what one of your responsibilities is as a director: to try and use the technical brilliance of people towards delivering something that doesn’t look technical, but looks like a story; the essence of a communal experience is delivering the freshness of the story to them.” The screenplay was written by Richard Curtis of Notting Hill and Love Actually fame, to name just a couple. Glenn Freemantle worked on both those films as sound designer, but this is Boyle’s first time working with Curtis, and his first foray into the rom-com genre. “It’s an interesting dynamic,” Boyle declares. “Richard spent his whole career dedicated to romance and comedy, really. Where I tend to jump around, and try to change the genre I work in, and present as many challenges to myself as I can, Richard has very much honed his talents trying to perfect this corridor he’s in. “So to drop into that corridor with him is fascinating, especially because the clarity of dialogue has to be absolutely pukka; he comes up with some lovely, lovely gags, but you can ruin gags if you can’t hear them. And that’s the importance of sound - it’s that whole ‘without sound, there is no light’ thing, and if you can’t hear the setup of a gag, you’ll just be lost. Also, more importantly, if you hear some people get it, and you don’t, you go ‘what did he say?’ And that’s a big problem, as cinema is a wide space, and you’re trying to deliver a similar experience to everyone in that
space; so with this kind of writing, it’s crucial that the clarity of the dialogue is delivered above anything else, really.”
THE SPACE BETWEEN
On Yesterday, it was quite literally a case of creating space within the soundscape to accommodate these spoken dynamics. “After a great gag, you realise there will be a big laugh – and sometimes a very important line follows a big gag, so if you play it in the natural rhythm of the editing room or the mixing room, you’re fine, as you’re used to it, but when there are 800 people laughing at the same line in a cinema, you’re deaf for the next line, and you have to literally build a gap for it,” Boyle reveals. “It’s a weird thing, and people will miss something crucial; and that process of frustration, once you trigger it, is very dangerous. And that’s our responsibility as technicians: to deliver a smooth process.” Which is where Freemantle comes in, of course. “I see it all the time, and it taints people’s viewing of a film,” he says. “I always find when we’re mixing that all of a sudden, it’s a rush to the end; we’ve suddenly only got 10 days to do one of the most important parts of this two-year process! [laughs] So what we try and do is get a pass of the film quite quick, so we can run it, because of the ups and downs and curves within it. We work in 20-minute sections over a day, or day and a half; and those 20 minutes can go, and you might feel something isn’t right, but you only know how to fix it when you run it - and you need that time to run it.” So sound designers should always ensure they’re building that into their allocated time slot? “Yeah, because you make tiny changes, but those changes can make a big difference,” Freemantle continues. “It’s a sum of all the little parts you do. It’s a bit like moving cushions... You’ll think you’ve done a good job, then go back to the sofa, and your wife has moved them, and you go ‘wow’ as it’s made such a positive difference! [smiles] “We get to know the script inside out, and we’re picking up lines right to the end [of the film]; we were lucky with Yesterday, as we had a little time in between to go back and forth, and I wish that happened with every film. Ordinarily, when we get schedules, all we ever hear is ‘we’ve got to get this quicker!’, which is a bit crazy when you’re doing the final part of the film - the bit that’s going to go out to the world!” Conversation turns to lead actor, Himesh Patel, who does a fantastic job throughout, from his delivery of gags to performing the songs. I ask Boyle about his audition.
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“If the sound is poor, you’re lost, no matter how beautiful it looks; it’s your umbilical cord, but it’s an invisible one; that’s its magic...” “It was interesting, as a lot of people came in and sang, and were very good – and then you think ‘but would I listen to this guy for more than one or two songs?’ And the answer is mostly no, as it was more of a karaoke moment,” Boyle says. “But when Himesh came in, there was something about him – he seemed to have a connection with the songs that we never saw with anyone else. He came in, played Yesterday, and then Back In the USSR, and we thought ‘it’s him, let’s cast him’. I was dancing, and I can tell you, it’s not very often I’ll start dancing during auditions... [laughs]” Ed Sheeran, who plays more than a cameo in the movie, and at one point suggests Hey Jude should actually be titled ‘Hey Dude’, says Patel ‘just has soul’, and I’d have to agree. He helps underline just how great these tracks are, as well as introducing so many of them to a new generation – exactly like Patel’s character [ Jack] had to do in the film. “Exactly, as he has to recover them, and rebirth them from his memory - if he can remember the lyrics, which, of course, he can’t, some of the time,” Boyle smiles. “And outside of the film, some of the songs Himesh did have to learn from scratch, as he’d never heard them before; he’s only in his 20s, so wasn’t around during Beatlemania. But he still has a real connection with the songs.”
IT MIGHT GET LOUD
I mention to Boyle that I’d heard him quoted as saying that 75% of a film is the music and the sound. It certainly rings true here – but what about in general? “Oh it is bizarre, the bias towards cinematographic,” Boyle says, raising his hands. “It’s understandable, as it’s something you can 32 Headliner
quantify in a mag, or you can have looks or pictures - and it’s wonderful. But when you work inside the business, you realise if the sound is poor, you’re lost, no matter how beautiful it looks; and the audience will disconnect. It’s your umbilical cord, but it’s an invisible one; and that’s its magic and its power, as it’s working in a way you don’t know. Its power when it’s used truly and properly is the immense part of the impact of cinema.” Boyle credits producer and long-time collaborator, Andrew Macdonald, on opening his eyes to the importance of audio in film. “When we started working together in the mid-90s, Andrew was convinced that the reason the constant question ‘why do American movies seem bigger and better than ours?’ cropped up was because they ring-fenced money for sound,” he says. “Because one of the problems for sound is, you’re last in the pecking order, as money for a film is gobbled up by cinematographers, actors, and every bit of indulgence or overtime you do when you try and finish the film, really. So he ring-fenced it for the sound to make sure we had the time to deliver. “We made films before I met Glenn such as Trainspotting and Shallow Grave with budgets of one and two million; they had a bit of effort put into the sound, and when you do that, you see the impact and power of it. It’s magical, really, and you can’t retain it, or capture it in a photograph, as it’s sound.” I put it to Boyle and Freemantle that through picture and sound, they seem to be able to take a film full circle: look at Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, which are both harrowing, emotional rollercoasters, yet they’re entirely uplifting at the
same time. That’s talent, right there. “It all comes from an idea,” Freemantle says, with a smile. “Danny gives you an essence of what it’s going to be, but never tells you what to do – but also, the films are very clever in the way they are shot, the way they look, and the way they’re edited. All those bits that have worked brilliantly that we have done together are a mix of all this craft coming together at one point - one will lead the other, and one will then take over. And working with Danny, the sound takes over a lot.” And the process gets more personal, still. “One of the most important things to do is understand what people internally feel like, or how they hear in different situations,” Freemantle insists. “When [in Slumdog] the lead character sees his mum laying dead in the water, that is a dramatic point; then the realism of what has happened comes to light, and it’s all noise, noise, noise. But that doesn’t work in normal life; you have to find those moments, and they have to be true. That first moment was taking the boy from his mum, the water was the tool, and the extreme violence of the next part was the tool to bring it out. “Then you’ll drive the music, and then for the next part, bring some of the crowd in, then take them out again. So with Slumdog, because of the colour, the sound would counterpoint that, so you’re both not trying to do the same things at the same time. Because the writing itself would be frenetic, and if you’re trying to hit everything in a scene, you basically hit nothing. But that’s one of my favourite scenes ever, and how we got from A to B to C is heartbreaking.” According to Freemantle, not many filmmakers are as brave as Boyle:
“They’re an organic mix, stories; they change all the time - even now, when they’re finished, which is the biggest mystery of all...” “We’ll start to do something, and people will ask ‘you’re really gonna go that loud?’ But that is the same thing as what life is - you’re only replicating feelings. Get that moment, then that’s it,” he says, eyes widening. “When we were doing 28 Days Later, I had been chased through a village on my moped by people who took umbradge on me as I wasn’t from that village. I was scared, hid in a corner, and knew they were coming; I heard my own breathing, and felt really uncomfortable. “When we get in those situations, we are all human, so we have those emotions in us; and if you can trigger that feeling with sound, that’s a big deal. I look at everything like that: what makes you feel, or makes the heart go; you get it right when you feel that. Danny is fully focused on this, and when you get to a point – be it on Slumdog, 28 Days Later, or even 127 Hours, all hugely dynamic in themselves, and people ask ‘how did you get there?’, we say ‘we got to a point where we broke it, and we knew we’d broken it, so we came back a bit’. Because there are no hard or fast rules.” It’s becoming clear that there is a kind of unwritten formula between these two creatives. “One of the principles I have is that you want your heads of department - or what I call minidirectors,” smiles Boyle. “I expect them to direct their take on the film, but it’s not just technical speciality - these people are artists, and you want their response to subject matter, rushes, script, and the idea of the story to be presented to you. You are looking for that magic, and the worst thing you can do – not that you could, with someone like Glenn – is to intimidate people out of wanting to produce their work for you.”
“And you have that freedom,” says Freemantle, with a smile and a fist-pump. “You know you’re not gonna get shouted at for doing something stupid – because we all go too far sometimes. When we did 127 Hours, at the moment he is going to cut his arm off, I knew straight away that we’d over-designed it. As an individual thing it sounded great, but I remember Danny saying ‘that’s great, but perhaps not for this film’ [laughs] But he was right! We took a bit out, making it more about the visuals, and then it worked.”
THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM
We go back to Yesterday – and the nods to The Beatles within the score, not just the sound design. These are courtesy of composer, Daniel Pemberton, who’s excelled, as far as I can tell. I ask Boyle and Freemantle how much of a brief you can give someone when asking them to do justice to the biggest band the world’s ever seen. “Talk about giving him rope to hang himself,” Boyle laughs. “I remember he said, ‘hold on, so you want me to write the incidental music between 15 of the greatest songs ever written?’ And then he said ‘Even if it’s any good, what I do, no-one will ever notice!’ But he did a very selfless job, and he did it beautifully – he took, as you were saying, those nods towards The Beatles, as you can’t ignore that the soundscape is The Beatles. He dug out the original piano they recorded Hey Jude on, so he would use the soundscape that existed in those analogue days, even though the digital soundscape is limitless now; but he went back, and the film benefits from that enormously.” Yesterday is certainly a departure for Boyle, but it’s such a fine movie, and it certainly has his
mark upon it. Would he agree? “Yeah, you try and service a story, really - and obviously as you take the principle of trying to change genre, and find something different to tell, you are very lucky if you can do that, as the studio system tends to favour that they want you to do the same thing again and again, especially if it’s been a success,” Boyle says, with a hint of reflection. “But you’re looking to find something that stimulates you in a different way, so you take it to your heads of department, and you hope that they will then be refreshed and invigorated by what they’re being asked to do this time. So it’s not a horror movie, it’s not an adventure story that ends up in an incredibly tight canyon; this is The Beatles’ landscape, and also a kind of English countryside landscape, as well. “They’re an organic mix, stories, and they change all the time - and they change even now, when they’re finished, which is the biggest mystery of all, because a film can be repositioned by something that happens in the real world, and the way that people walk into it is a contribution to the film – that they are looking at it differently. “The biggest example of that is 28 Days Later, where we set out to make a film about social intolerance - road rage, as it was called at the time - and 9/11 happened as we were shooting it, and the film - especially the opening sequence – became about the vulnerability of cities, which seem so powerful, but an event like that can turn them into an incredibly fragile and delicate, terrifying place. So they change all the time. I love change, and bringing the change with collaborators you work with, like Glenn.” www.yesterdaymovie.com 33 Headliner
Ahead of the Curve
AHEAD OF THE CURVE We sit down in Los Angeles with two of Shure’s product managers, Nick Wood and John Born, to discuss new trends in wired and wireless technology, the manufacturer’s ethos in terms of product development, and the new TwinPlex series of microphones. “I think we see wired and wireless as complementary – to us, it’s part of an ecosystem, and really a solution as opposed to a collection of products,” opens Nick Wood, Shure’s category director for wireless. “One thing I like about wireless is the aesthetic that it enables, and show business wouldn’t look the same or sound as immersive if you couldn’t put tiny mics right next to the talent to capture the audio.” True enough. I can’t imagine a Lady Gaga or Beyoncé show having quite the same effect if said artists couldn’t go wireless. “Yeah, wireless mics and our PSM systems,” adds John Born, Shure’s senior product manager for microphones. “We pioneered the PSM in the 600MHz and 700MHz market; it’s clean and consistent, and the trend of an artist being able to go out on a thrust in the middle of a stadium wouldn’t be possible
without it. So being able to do that in a consistent and reliable fashion - the brand has really resonated with that.” Shure’s PSM systems have a strong reputation, though like any manufacturer, the team wants the products to continue to evolve and improve. How do they do that? “It’s always good motivation for us, as it forces innovation; our goal is to find out what is working well, and how we can keep it working well under the channel changes,” explains Wood. “For example, if the spectrum is reduced, how do we keep the same quality and efficiency? So it’s a kind of calling card of ours, really.” Supply & Demand In terms of Generation Z, where do they stand in terms of wired versus wireless – and what is it they want? It seems kit aesthetics is
often as critical as the sonic quality of the product. “One of our big focuses is on spectrum: being able to let shows grow each year, and become more and more immersive and visceral, because audio kit for the most part needs to disappear; front line mics are part of the aesthetic, too, as many artists want bespoke mic designs and different coloured microphones; but a lot of the other stuff should be heard but not seen,” Wood reveals. “So it’s about minimisation, and digital technology allows for the sound quality that is equivalent to a wire, while keeping the reliability of the link over the air, so you can traverse these distances over the air, and have it never drop out. Our Axient digital was all built around that. Also, the adoption of IEMs has changed over the years; it’s way more prevalent now, whereas it was cutting
Ahead of the Curve
“We continue to work on providing an end-to-end solution for the market, and that includes new innovations in wired microphone technology...” edge earlier in my career. So I would say that is more essential now in music - and in broadcast, actually.” The previous generation of Axient was analogue, of course – but where are we with analogue versus digital? “Erm... digital! [laughs],” says Wood. “It’s interesting, as there is a mix out there, but our last Axient was indeed analogue, and was the best analogue system we could make. And that allowed us to create a lot of the technology into the digital generation, such as rechargeable batteries and the [ShowLink] remote control, where the transmitter could be many, many yards away in a football stadium, for example, but you have the confidence to make a change to that transmitter right there in the moment. So we carried those technologies over, and they’re necessary. It was a little ironic, as we were addressing an industry that maybe had some issues with rechargeable batteries in terms of past issues, so that forced us to innovate –but these feature sets require power, so we had to find
out what all these issues were, and address them. We found out more information than we’d ever done before about the rechargeable batteries, right down to hours and minutes: how long will this thing actually run for? And now that technology runs throughout our product catalogue.” “The last building block to fill in that gap was interference, avoidance, and detection – so the ability to change channels and frequencies on the fly, and be totally transparent to the artist,” adds Born. “And those blocks were necessary for us to move the industry into a digital age with Axient Digital now.” Moving Forwards Shure has several marketing groups as such, which allows the team to do a lot of listening, concept testing, and 3D printing within its product research. “That has allowed us to re-think the way we front-end our projects in terms of re-defining what we have to do; it makes process a lot smoother when you’re developing
the product,” explains Born. “For 300 dollars, you can get a wireless SM58 which sounds extremely similar to a wired version, which is around 100 dollars, so it’s meant we can capitalise on the wireless market, as people see that as good value, and very convenient to have the wireless option.” Wireless technology is clearly developing at a fast pace; are there any similar developments still taking place in wired? “Absolutely,” Born continues. “We continue to work on providing an end-to-end solution for the market, and that includes new innovations in wired microphone technology. The most recent example is our new TwinPlex range of microphones. Shure is widely recognised for its microphones and wireless systems, but we had not addressed the premium lav and headset market as thoroughly as our other portfolios. To make that happen, we focused on three goals: sound quality, cable durability, and sweat protection. To get the big sound we were after, Shure engineers proposed a dual
Ahead of the Curve
“No doubt about it, subminiature lavs are subjected to a tremendous amount of abuse, so any solution we put forward had to stand up to market expectations...” diaphragm design – literally two parallel elements. This gives us twice the surface area of other competing microphones. The result is a subminiature lav with an impressive wide frequency response and superior off-axis performance.” Shure didn’t stop at revolutionising the diaphragm design; every aspect of the microphone seems to push boundaries. “There’s no denying it - subminiature lavs are subjected to a tremendous amount of abuse. Any solution we put forward had to stand up to market expectations, and so we really went to town on the durability of these microphones. “From the medical grade cable, with its dual-redundant ground design, to the rigorous testing procedures conducted at our lab, these mics can take a real beating,” Born says. “The medical cable was an interesting development. We knew these microphones needed to match or better the competition if we were going to make a considerable push into this market. Since cables are usually the first components
in lavs and headsets to fail, we worked as hard on the cable construction as we did on the cartridge. The cable has a unique construction used in medical devices. The durability is extraordinary thanks to a non-traditional approach. “There are two tinsels wrapped inside the shield that function as redundant grounds. We wrapped the unique cable in a paintable jacket that resists drying out and cracking, and takes paint very well, a requirement for theatre work.” Listen Up According to both product managers, there is just something special about working at Shure. “People don’t tend to leave Shure... I’m a newbie, and I’ve been here 13 years! [smiles] So despite the degree of difficulty, it’s actually fun, and exhilarating to see something come from an idea to fruition,” says Wood. “So we have the support of the company’s leadership; and Shure’s attitude towards innovation and
customer focus is the same all the time, so I feel blessed to work among the talent that is there.” “Yeah, we get to work in an amazing industry, and talk to amazing customers and users; and we also get to work with amazing engineering teams; the best RF and acoustical and mechanical engineers,” Born declares. “And most of our job is sitting on teams, hashing it out with engineering, and making sure they execute exactly what we need. It’s a great process. “On my teams, it’s ‘let’s figure out how to do a brand new condenser microphone that’s tiny’, or ‘let’s figure out how to do a digital diaphragm that’s dynamic’. “And these things that the engineers have on their bench are ultimately napkin sketches that bloom into totally amazing products.” www.shure.com
I sit down with 23-time Grammy Award-winning recording engineer and record producer, Al Schmitt, who shares his memories of working 12 hours straight with Elvis, supplying Sinatra with Tootsie Rolls, having dinner with the Mafia, and what he credits with saving his life. Words Will Hawkins
ON THE RECORD
remember as a kid at my uncle’s studio being around all these celebrities, so when I got older, and was around celebrities, it wasn’t really a big deal,” Schmitt begins, humbly. “They were just like normal people to me. And as a kid, they were all messing my hair and joking with me. People like Orson Welles would want to know if I believed in martians, so I was never really impressed by anybody. Not even Elvis, when I worked with him. I treated them like normal human beings, not like they were up on some pedestal. And I think that makes a big difference, because I act as if I’m on par with them, and they feel the same way.” You know that anyone who casually drops the names Orson Welles and Elvis into a few short sentences has some cool stories, and boy, Al does not disappoint. Aged 88, the Brooklyn-born engineer has lost no love for the craft he has been honing since his teenage years, and can still be found energetically working on new projects within the legendary Capitol Studios in California. So where to start a conversation with a man with five decades worth of Grammy hits under his belt? A personal connection seems fitting. Back in 1994, I was in my early 20s, and working as an engineer’s assistant for Dave Grusin at GRP Records. After he retired and sold the label, MCA brought in legendary producer, Tommy LiPuma, to run the place; and I got to hang around him while he made records with his friends, who also happened to be the best in the business. I don’t have nearly as many names to drop as the man before me today, but people like Claus Ogerman, David Foster, Johnny Mandel, George Benson, and Dr. John each had a profound effect on me. However, my fondest memories are of one of the kindest, generous, and most talented engineers in the business - the very person I have come to interview today. As an aspiring sound engineer myself, working with Tommy and Al was an absolute dream. Not only did I learn how to make records the right way, I also learned how to treat people. No matter if you were the highest paid musician in the room, the receptionist, or me - the guy getting coffee, and wrapping up cables. These great men made you feel a part of what they were doing, and that you were an integral part of getting it done. To this day, Al still treats everybody on the job with the same kindness.
“My assistants are a very big part of what I do,” he nods. “We talk about sessions beforehand, drawing up diagrams, discussing the mics we’re gonna use and how we’re gonna use them. Then we make sure we get to the studio threeto-four hours beforehand to set up and check all the phasing on the mics, and all the other equipment out. I get a special pride when assistants who’ve worked for me are now outstanding engineers making big records and are considered top of the line professionals. And knowing that a lot of the things they do are things that I taught them.”
GRAMMYS & OTHER STORIES
Schmitt’s achievements and the stories he tells (fresh in the mind as if they happened yesterday, by the way) could fill a book. Very convenient, as he recently released his autobiography, Al Schmitt On the Record: The Magic Behind the Music - a precious time capsule of memories, meetings, and highs and lows of his illustrious career so far - and a trip through music history. A highlight from the book is a chapter that looks back at his first ever Grammy win - Best Engineering Contribution – Other Than Novelty and Other Than Classical - for 1962 film, Hartari!, starring John Wayne. Reflecting on attempting to record an entire orchestra all at once with no overdubs, Schmitt was quoted as saying: “Was it tough? Damn right it was tough. That’s why I won the Grammy!” Laughing, Al shakes his head at the memory: “Ha! Did I say that? Things changed for me then because more people got to know my work, and the phone started ringing. From that moment, I started working my ass off.” And it paid off. Awards and recognition aside, artists he has worked with include Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Paul McCartney, Duke Ellington, Sam Cooke, Diana Krall, Henry Mancini, Norah Jones, Quincy Jones, and Toto - to name but a few. Add to that the fact that Schmitt is reported to have won more Grammys than any other engineer in the history of music. Meanwhile, the music speaks for itself: the albums he’s worked on have sold over a billion copies worldwide. Despite his success, Schmitt will never forget the moment that put things in perspective for him after that very first Grammy win. “My grandson asked me to come and speak to his classmates at his elementary school, and bring the Grammy
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“At the head of the table was Frank [Sinatra], and nobody else said a word - just the Mafia don and Frank, who told stories all night...” to do a ‘show and tell’. So I get there, and before me is this big fireman telling his story about putting out fires and saving lives, and I’m thinking, ‘how am I gonna follow him,’ right? “Anyway, I start telling my story, and the kids are passing around the trophy. And then some kid in the back says to me, ‘My dad has one of those, too!’ And I’m thinking, wow, that’s pretty cool, another guy in my grandkid’s class is in the business, too. So I ask him what his dad won it for and the kid says, ‘Bowling!’ [smiles] So yeah, it put it all right in perspective for me. His dad’s bowling trophy was just as important to his family as my Grammy was to mine.” Even after winning 23 of the things, Schmitt is as grateful and humble to receive each Grammy Award as the one preceding it, keeping all of them on a (assumingly fairly cluttered, by now) shelf in his office. “I have five of the original Grammys, which were the smaller ones they gave out, made out of cast iron,” he explains. “They wanted me to turn them in, and give me new ones, and I wouldn’t do it. There is one that is really special to me; getting that Lifetime Achievement Award from the academy was pretty incredible.” I have to ask: what was it like when Elvis first walked into the room? “It was really cool. He had just got out of the service,” Schmitt remembers. “I had that one day with him; he got there early, and we worked 12 straight hours, which I had never done before. It was always three hours, and then you set up for the next thing, and then another three hours with a different artist. And everybody was there - his entourage, and such. I remember he had a topaz bracelet - really beautiful - and my assistant, 40 Headliner
who collected topaz, said to Elvis: ‘Man, that’s a beautiful bracelet’, and Elvis said: ‘You think so? Here, man, you can have it.’ Elvis was just a really good guy, and was an amazing presence.”
SINATRA & TOOTSIE ROLLS
During his career, Schmitt has been witness to moments of music history; however, none come to mind more than his time spent with Frank Sinatra (although by the casual way he tosses out his name, you’d think he were speaking about his accountant). His admiration for the crooner goes way back, with Schmitt sneaking out of school to go and see him at the Paramount Theater. “The first time he walked into the studio, he put his arm around me and we took a picture, and I gotta say, that was the only time in my career I was in awe. I mean, Paul McCartney I love, and there was Dylan, and, of course, Elvis, but there was only one Frank Sinatra - and he was very special. And you know what? Frank was cool! And so much fun to work with.” His time with Frank wasn’t just confined to the studio, though; they often dined at Hollywood restaurant, La Dolce Vita, together. “There were six guys with us. Hank Cattaneo, who was Frank’s right-hand man; Pat Williams, his arranger; producer, Phil Ramone; me, and a Mafia don (that will go nameless). And at the head of the table was Frank. And no-one else said a word. Just the Mafia don and Frank, who told stories all night. We just sat there listening, with our jaws open.” Much like the readers of his autobiography, if these stories are anything to go by. Back in the studio, Frank also knew what he liked. “We built a little sound booth for him at the
studio, and put a new bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a carton of Camel cigarettes, and a bunch of Tootsie Rolls in there for him,” Schmitt smiles. “Man, he loved Tootsie Rolls. But Frank wouldn’t go in the booth; he had to be with the band! “He asked me: ‘So where do you want me?’ And I told him that Phil Ramone had built that little booth for him. Frank just looked at me and said: ‘Uhh yeah, I’m not going in there.’ It wasn’t my problem! I said fine, and looked over at Phil, and he just shrugged his shoulders. So Frank stood in front of the brass section and said ‘I’ll be here’. And right in front of the band is where he sang for the whole session.” Ever set on having it his way (couldn’t resist), Frank didn’t want to use his normal mic, preferring a hand-held one. “We got a wireless microphone out and gave it to him, and that was it,” says Schmitt. “He stood right in front of the band, and Frank did Frank.” Another famous studio frequented by Schmitt is London’s Abbey Road’s Studio Two, the home of landmark recordings from artists such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Oasis, and Adele. “Working with Paul [McCartney] was great. He told us a lot of stories about what happened there. He told me that when he first started working at Abbey Road, they wouldn’t let him in the front door. He had to use the door around the back because The Beatles were told they looked too shabby to be seen coming through the front door!” There hasn’t ever been a time that Schmitt doubted that this was the career he always wanted. However, there was a time when this decision was taken out of his hands. “I thought my career was over. I lost my
“I spend a lot of time with Neil Young, and we talk about the planet a lot; we just need to be good to each other, and show kindness...” hearing in one ear for a while after an accident, and I stopped engineering for almost three years. Mo Ostin was really kind to me, and he hooked me up with Dino De Laurentiis, and I started working on films. And on [the movie] Dune, I was the liaison between Toto and the producer and director. That’s when I really missed engineering. Then I woke up one morning, and the nerves healed themselves, just like the doctor said they would. I walked outside to get the paper, and all of a sudden, I heard the birds and everything. It was such a relief!” After struggling with drink and drugs for years, he credits his sobriety with saving his life. “I’ve been sober for 31 years. I’ve been married a few times. My first wife passed away, my second and third wives I divorced - all because I was drunk all the time. At that time in my life, I didn’t want to work on things. If I didn’t like the way things were going, I was like, ‘fuck it, I’m out of here!’ Which was not a good way to be. “So I quit the drugs and alcohol, and I started to go to meetings, and doing the Twelve Steps; that changed my life, and the way I think about things. I’m married 26 years now to my wife, Lisa, and we have our moments, but now I take responsibility for things I used to put on someone else. And I no longer wake up and say ‘what the hell did I do?’ My sobriety is probably the most important thing in my life.” Animals and environmental issues are also important to Schmitt who, together with Lisa, is involved in several non-profit organisations close to his heart. “If people see animals being abused, they need to speak up. These animals don’t have a voice, so we are their voice. Maybe this has developed
from my meditation, but I think that every living thing has feelings. I say this all the time: we’ve gotta be kind to all living things. It’s so much easier to be kind than to be an asshole.” And while he’s on the subject: “I honestly believe that humans are the cancer of this earth,” he adds. “We are destroying this planet. When you look and see what’s been going on in the oceans, and the fact that people can’t get drinking water that’s clean. The average guy doesn’t seem to care, and leaves it to someone else to worry about it. What are we gonna leave our kids and our grandkids? I spend a lot of time with Neil Young, and we talk a lot about that. We just need to be good to each other, and show kindness to each other.” Throughout Schmitt’s career, he has witnessed many changes in technology and recording techniques. I ask what changed the game for him. “The biggest advance is probably Pro Tools. Going from tape to Pro Tools allowed greater flexibility with the editing process, cutting and pasting voices and guitar parts,” he says. “Now you can do all that in two minutes, whereas before that, you would have to splice tape! When you have to do that on tape, you gotta mark the tape, cut the tape, tape the tape. And you’ve got people sitting around and costing more and more money as the clock is ticking.” Schmitt must miss something about the old school way of recording, though? “The thing I miss the most is when you had some time to rest while rewinding tape. With Pro Tools, you just hit a button, and it goes back to the spot. With that, there’s never a break, and we’re just working all the time. Me and other engineers talk about that all the time. We miss
that welcome pause that rewinding tape gave you to take a breath and relax.” With new technology now comes new ways to listen to music. Where once we listed to records through receivers and big speakers, now people are listening to music on small speakers on their computer, or compressed via headphones from their smartphones. Does Schmitt take any of that into account during production? “No, I really don’t. I try to make the best sounding record I can make, so that it sounds good on anything. And once in a while, I’ll listen on little speakers, or on an iPhone, just to see what’s going on. But it doesn’t much change what I do. I just try to make a great sounding record, and let it go.” Next up for Schmitt is a recording project with Melody Gardot at Capitol Studios, a person he is excited to work with again: “Melody is an amazing talent. She’s a great singer, and she writes great songs.” And if he could go back and do one last session with any of the artists he has worked with over the years, who would it be? “That’s a tough one,” he pauses. “As I mentioned, I love Frank Sinatra, so one would definitely be him. But I also loved Dr. John... Mac and I were good friends. There were so many others, so it’s really not fair for me to pick favourites… But I just did! [laughs]” With such an impressive musical legacy, how does Schmitt want to be remembered? “As someone who gave his best, and was kind to everyone,” he declares. Kudos.
Channelling OCD into Music
TUSKS: CHANNELLING OCD INTO MUSIC I’m sat with Emily Underhill in a bar in Shoreditch, London’s creative capital, on a warm afternoon in the city. She’s drinking a pint of craft beer as we chat about what’s new with Tusks. She’s completely down to earth, and easy to chat to, despite the fact we’ll soon be discussing her recently overcoming a crippling case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and her aim to get people talking about sexism, still a problem that all too many women face. “Tusks started with me as the kind of solo, bedroom producer,” Emily tells me, when I let her know I find it interesting that the Tusks project has a fairly band-centric sound, when it is very much the moniker of this talented, young musician. “But the new album (Avalanche, which dropped on June 14th via One Little Indian Records) probably has the strongest band sound so far. I’ve been working up to this ever since I started learning guitar, but my first EP (the excellent Ink) definitely has that solo-producer sound to it.” The influences that helped Emily find her way to the washed-out, indie sound that Tusks employs to great effect are: “Sigur Rós, Explosions In the Sky, that kind of huge, epic sound,” she says. “But each release has a different set of influences.
Smashing my elbow up to the point where I almost wouldn’t be able to play guitar again made me realise how much I love playing guitar. I was listening to a lot of Jamie T and Wolf Alice, particularly female-led bands - that grungey sound with a female voice inspired me a lot.” Not only will Avalanche boast a more direct sound, but it’s also a more direct prospect lyrically than Emily’s earlier output. “With Dissolve, I made that mistake of writing about a relationship I’d been in and out of,” she says. “But I was also way less confident, and didn’t want to be as open - natural things that you go through when you’re in your 20s. So it was all very ambiguous and colluded.” She then says she’s not sure if colluded is
the right word, which is interesting, as the dictionary meaning is to gain an unlawful advantage over others in a secretive way. But collusion is something Emily is deeply against, as the more up-front songs about sexism in society clearly show. However, her own worst case of collusion was the grip that OCD placed on her life. “My main thing with OCD is becoming scared that I could potentially harm someone else,” she explains. “Sometimes I’ll be driving and start thinking ‘oh my god, what if I hit someone?’ It sounds stupid to people that don’t have it. A lot of people think OCD is obsessively cleaning, and things like that, but for me, it was this fear of accidentally hurting people.” And although her OCD was having a
Channelling OCD into Music
“A lot of the drum mapping was done using Oliver Waton’s Spitfire LABS drums, who is actually a friend of mine...” hugely unsettling effect on her day to day life, Emily tells me that, weirdly enough, it doesn’t stop her making music. “The main thing is, it makes me worried about repercussions for the future. But when I’m touring, or writing music, the things I love the most, I’m very present with those,” she reveals. “If I’m waiting around for a tour to start in a month, that’s when the thoughts of ‘what if the tour never happens?’ start creeping in. But with OCD and anxiety, it’s all energy, and I’ve found that I can channel it into my music. If anything, it’s elevated my musicmaking.” In a Good Place Emily is now in a good place after finding the ‘right medication’, and undergoing Cognitive Behavioural and Exposure Response Prevention therapy. Avalanche, the title track on her new record, was written when she was at her lowest OCD-ebb. Another topic tackled on Avalanche is sexism, with Peachy Keen in particular being about MP Christopher Chope blocking the
up-skirting bill in Parliament. I ask Emily about her own experiences. “I do feel like it’s getting better in the music industry,” she admits. “But even at uni, once I passed a test, and my lecturer’s feedback was ‘you’ve done well for a girl.’ Or after gigs, guys would approach the guys in my band and say ‘nice production!’ when it’s by me! Within the industry, maybe nothing quite on the #MeToo kind of level, just comments from creepy older guys type of thing.” I ask if she finds some of what she experiences more of an unconscious-level sexism rather than brazen wolf whistles. “Yeah, there’s definitely an unconscious bias. One example is when I go into a guitar shop to look at pedals, and I’ll be stood there waiting to be served, and I’ll just get blanked.” Like you’re waiting for your boyfriend? “Exactly! Because once I went in with my boyfriend at the time, and they instantly spoke to him!” For Emily, a key part of making the new record, and crafting it, was using Spitfire Audio.
“I’m pretty sure I just used Spitfire’s LABS stuff for this one,” she says. Take note: Spitfire LABS is completely and utterly free to download. “I got a bit obsessed with their Soft Piano, the felt piano sound that I’ve been using for ages now. A lot of the drum mapping was using the Oliver Waton’s LABS Drums, who’s actually a friend of mine, and ended up recording these drums for Spitfire. “I actually came across Spitfire because my friend Harry is an engineer with them, and I’ve been using their felt piano products since the last album. I’ve always been really impressed with them, and also having so many producer friends that use them, too.” Emily has to get herself to North London to see her bandmate play in his own band at The Lexington, so we call it there. Check out Avalanche, her unique combination of washed-out ambience, indie-guitar rock and biting lyricism. www.spitfireaudio.com www.tusks.eu
BRETT COX: PRODUCING TUSKS
Brett Cox - winner of the MPG Award for Breakthrough Engineer in 2016 - was co-producer and engineer on the recent Tusks album, Avalanche, which we speak to Emily Underhill about in our previous spread. He has worked with Alt-J, Marika Hackman, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. We chat through some of the lovely toys employed on the album. Words Adam Protz “I love RME products because they make real workhorse units,” opens Cox. “I use an RME UFX because I find other similar interfaces lack clarity, and can sound a bit flat to me. I think it is probably in the conversion; the RME top-end feels very intact, and I find the result more real, and less smudged when recording with it. “The UFX also has AES which lets me print mixes through an AES loop; this used to sound better than bouncing internally in older versions of Pro Tools, and has become part of my process. I find recording the mix back in helps me listen with a different set of ears. I get to zoom out a little, but feel the pressure of a live mix going down, and can make adjustments on the fly while I print. The TotalMix software is also great: super stable, easy to set up - and the talk-back and speaker switching without the need for any extra hardware.” I very much got the sense from speaking to Emily that plugins were going to be key for her. Cox fills me in: “Crystallizer really needs an honourable mention for this record. We used it a lot! For Mind, I even put it over the mix buss, printed a fully wet version of the first chorus and
then edited it into the track; the rhythmic breathing nature of the pitched delay gave a weird alien breath to the drum beat, pushing the beat like a shaker.” And if you’ve listened to Tusks before, you’ll know reverb is huge. “Getting the reverb right is really key to a Tusks arrangement,” Brett says. “I mostly used either Valhalla VintageVerb, UAD 140 Plate or Little Plate as well as a rusty spring tank I pulled from an old guitar amp. The plates are really nice sounding and simple to use for a quick sound. I use VVV when I want longer reverb lengths - I think the tail feels really believable. It’s where most digital reverbs fall short for me; longer settings can quickly feel fake and lack depth. “Another big thing across this record and my productions, in general, is saturation. SoundToys Radiator and Decapitator are amazing, Kush plugins are great here, too. I also use guitar pedals: especially Audio Kitchen’s The Big Trees, which is probably my favourite piece of gear. Each have a unique sound and emphasise different parts of the source so it’s about experimenting and finding which one suits the sound best. Radiator is my go-to on bass; you can just get the harmonics
to subtly bring it forward without driving the sound too hard.” Brett’s not done with plugins yet: “I love Goodhertz plugins. The thought behind each plugin is really apparent when you use them. You can automate any parameter, and still process the audio without weird digital spits even when bypassing, giving a great analogue feel to match the sound. They also integrate stereo field into lots of their plugins: Panpot is a great tool for realistic panning and the LoHi filter sounds sick. I fell in love with their Wow Control plugin, too; I think they are an ace company.” “UAD plugins are excellent, too. I use the 1176AE, 33609 and the 140 plate whenever I can get my hands on them. They also have some crazy effects that are great once you find them hidden in the list. The H910 provided an amazing uncontrollable pitchy texture to bring the synths to life in Bleach and open Bermuda on something other than guitars with your speakers turned down!” www.rme-audio.de
â&#x20AC;&#x153;I explored every option, but time and again found myself pulled back towards the sound of the Horusâ&#x20AC;? Jack Ruston, MPG Breakthrough Engineer Nominee
Horus and Hapi converters you deserve merging.com
Recording a Brass Section
RECORDING A BRASS SECTION WITH ANUBIS We invite two accomplished jazz musicians into The Hub Studio to record brass parts over some songs we’ve been working on recently, using Merging Technologies’ impressive new Anubis desktop audio interface. Much noise was made. Much fun was had. Choosing an audio interface can be quite a personal thing – but in basic terms, in a small, in the box space, which is what we’re working in today, there are a few simple boxes that need to be ticked: low (if possible, no) latency, a nice simple user interface, the unit should be plug and play, have quality preamps, and decent A-D conversion. Plenty of respected audio manufacturers have been making quality offerings in the portable/USB market for some time – and we’ve had experience working with several, mainly around the £500-600 price range, all of which have done the job well, some surprisingly well, in fact. One company which hasn’t – until now – delved into this market is high-res audio specialist, Merging Technologies – so when we heard that Anubis had arrived, we were keen to get out hands on one. In the last issue of Headliner, we went into detail about what Anubis was, how powerful it was, and the string of applications it could cater for, all in a very small footprint. Today, we’ll find out for ourselves.
We’d heard a lot about the headphone amplifier in this box – Merging claims it’s the best they’ve ever designed. And my word, they weren’t kidding. After listening to favourite tracks through various favourite pairs of cans (A-T M70 and M50, and AKG Q701), we are blown away by the clarity, stereo imagery, and depth of sound. And when it comes to monitoring with an artist in the room – which is our only option in this space – having two separate headphone mixes is very handy, indeed. There is also a built in mic and talkback button, which is equally convenient, especially in this environment. What’s also excellent about Anubis is its touch screen, which allows you to scroll through your essentials nice and easily: from tweaking preamp gains, to summing various signals together. Sonic Boom We decide to track trumpet and trombone individually, for more control – also, we’ll likely be double tracking in places. So we set
up our Vanguard V13 tube mic, get our cans on, set our headphone mixes of the track via talkback, and start to get a signal. There is something extraordinary about the A-D conversion on the Anubis, and the sound of the pre. It doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise, but when you hear a quality musician through a great mic, through this interface, it’s quite bewildering. Ordinarily, we’ll have an external pre setup optically through an interface, and although admittedly there isn’t an optical option on Anubis, there is equally now no need for the external pre – this thing has blown any previously recorded material out of the water – and we can’t highlight this enough. It may be two to three times the price of what we were using previously, but it’s already pretty obvious why. As we move from trumpet to trombone, making slight adjustments along the way, we realise that we’re also working more efficiently. After getting quickly to grips with the user interface, we find ourselves flying through pages, tweaking as we go. We’re on Reaper, so to achieve absolutely zero latency, all we’re
Recording a Brass Section
“There is something extraordinary about the A-D conversion of the Anubis, and the quality of the preamp...” doing is summing the signal from the DAW with our brass track, and it’s working perfectly – no mix software, as yet, is onboard Anubis, but it really doesn’t matter. We hear there will be regular software updates to the device, and more bells and whistles to follow, which you’d expect with anything this new, though from where we’re sitting, there is nothing to fix. Preaching to the Converters Once we’ve got our trumpet and trombone, we remove the cans, and bring up the mix on our Genelec 8341s. What we weren’t necessarily expecting was such a change in the overall sonic experience – but it’s extraordinary, in that we’re hearing more frequencies than ever before, and find ourselves ‘fixing’ bits of our mix that literally weren’t audible while using our previous interface. So it’s pretty clear the hardware will need zero updates. Staggering. As the project moves along, and we move from song to song, the same thing is happening with the mixes – tweak, change, delete that bit, bring that bit up, etc. and they’re improving all the time. It’s great to know that when you put headphones on to ‘check’ anything, you know that it’s going to be as accurate as your room. A real game-changer in that respect alone.
A few hours later, and we’ve got some great results. So great, in fact, that we decide to cut a lead vocal again, to see how much of a difference Anubis makes. We’re glad we did. Again, no external pre in the chain, mic direct into Anubis, and into the DAW – on playback, it sits on top of the track effortlessly, and that’s without compression or EQ/ dynamics – nothing on the channel. Same with the brass, really – we end up grouping them, and adding a touch of parallel compression and reverb via the Waves H-Comp and H-Reverb respectively, but that’s it. And with the vocals, it’s a very similar story – what you’re getting naturally with the mic and Anubis combo is nigh on perfect. And as for guitars... when we miked up our Fender amp with our V13 mic, straight into the Anubis, there really was nothing more to do. We added a little compression, literally a tickle, but otherwise just leaving it exactly as it was going in. Phenomenal depth, and sparkling highs. With Anubis, when you pull up a virtual fader on your DAW to monitor what you’ve recorded, it feels like you’re working on an expensive mixing desk, just totally analogue – and as cliché as that may sound, it’s ultimately the result of an excellent preamp and totally
outstanding conversion. We’ve heard nothing like it on an interface of this size and type, and although it may leave a greater dent in your wallet than most of the competition, nothing that we have experienced will come close. www.merging.com
Penn’s Peak Auditorium
PENN’S PEAK GETS AN AUDIO MAKEOVER Penn’s Peak is a unique 1800-capacity venue in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania - but really, that’s only half the story. Set on top of a mountain, the venue boasts stunning views, and is home to a spectacular auditorium, complete with wooden balcony structures and vaulted ceiling. Penn’s Peak plays host to a wide range of international artists spanning all genres, and a recent audio overhaul has taken it to even greater heights. Headliner investigates... The production team at Penn’s Peak recently decided to install a brand new sound system into its auditorium. The system is centred around a Coda Audio AiRAY system, which was supplied by Pennsylvania-based Saturn Systems. Essentially, the previous system at the venue was undersized and underpowered for what is a large, open, acoustically challenging space. Penn’s Peak’s predominantly wooden interior means the acoustics alter drastically when the hall is empty at soundchecks, and full at showtime; and the areas under the balconies on either side of the hall also created issues. “As well as overcoming the inherent challenges presented by the acoustics, we also needed to take into account the very wide
range of artists and genres that come through the venue,” says Chris Chalfin, audio lead at the venue. “We needed a system that was clean, clear, and in your face, with incredible vocal intelligibility. My experience as a touring engineer of using Coda Audio on the road led me to the conclusion that it would be the perfect fit for Penn’s Peak. I’ve been convinced for a while that the brand will be the next major player in the audio industry – so much so, in fact, that I was the first owner of a Coda system in the USA. When the team at Penn’s Peak had agreed that we needed to upgrade, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to put the venue ahead of the audio curve.” Coda Audio USA arranged a series of on-site demonstrations which confirmed
Chalfin’s confidence in the system was well placed; and technical director, Michael Creason, worked closely with Chalfin and his team to help design and optimise the system, addressing their key concerns around improving clarity and headroom, low frequency definition, and overall coverage. All Systems Go As the AiRAY system is so light, it is able to deliver a serious amount of headroom, which provides real flexibility, regardless of scale. Quite often, in fact, a system delivering this kind of power would be too big and expensive for the space. To control the low frequency reverberation, and keep the stage area clean, Creason and the
Penn’s Peak Auditorium
“The Coda system brings the show right to you - as if you have a pair of studio monitors sitting three feet away...” team decided on a splayed end-fire subwoofer configuration that dramatically reduced interaction with the venue surfaces, while reducing the deep nulls normally caused by spaced left/right sub arrays. Since all Coda elements share the same sonic signature and fidelity, the team was able to overcome the issue of uneven coverage by employing HOPS8 boxes in the areas under the balconies, ensuring that audience members in these areas shared the exact same experience of those in unobstructed seats. “The previous system was not only underpowered, but it felt disembodied,” admits Chalfin. “The Coda system brings the show right to you – as if you have a pair of studio monitors sitting three feet away. It works as a cohesive unit, and provides extremely even coverage through the entire venue; that’s never been achieved here before.” The system breakdown is the following: 10 AiRAY per side; eight SCP-F subs configured
in (two) end-fire arrays under the stage, supplemented by six HOPS8 across the front of the stage for lip fill; eight HOPS8 for under-balcony fills and 2 HOPS8 for VIP suite fills; and a monitor system comprising 10 CUE TWO wedges, two APS over two APS SUBs as sidefills, and an additional two APS SUBs as drum fills. Everything is powered by a combination of Coda’s LINUS14D and LINUS10C amplifiers. The reaction of visiting engineers and beyond sums up its impact, Chalfin insists: “We’ve had nothing but stellar reviews from visiting engineers, as well as from audience members who are familiar with the venue. Many patrons go out of their way to comment on how radically the quality of the sound has improved since the system was installed. “Most of the visiting crews and engineers have never heard of Coda before, and by the end of the night, they are just blown away by the system. The most common reaction we’ve
heard from visiting engineers has been ‘I’d put this system up there with the best I’ve ever mixed on’. From my point of view, it’s gratifying to see engineers having that same ‘wow! experience that I enjoyed when I first heard a Coda system.” Penn’s Peak production manager, Dustin Rehrig, adds: “The recent install of the Coda AiRAY system in our venue has been a great addition. The sound quality is like no other. Our venue is not the easiest room to cover but Coda stands tall with flying colours! The clarity, warmth, and thickness of the system is superb, and loved by all the visiting engineers. Clearly the best investment we’ve made for our company.” www.codaaudio.com
FREEDOM & MUSIC Believe it or not, music is still a vital part of the British economy, contributing £4.5 billion per year. Why put that at risk? It’s yet another unanswered question staring in the face of Brexit. As it stands, a band can jump in a van and freely drive around Europe, playing shows and getting their name out there. If Brexit goes through, touring Europe could become a red tape nightmare for musicians, especially unsigned artists. I chat to Enter Shikari’s Rob Rolfe, and The Zipheads frontman, Ray Waters, two English musicians for whom Europe has been a vital part of their success. Words Adam Protz
e’ve just got back from Strasbourg,” Rob Rolfe says. He and Ray Waters are both drinking pints of the Dutch lager, Amstel - not to make a point, as far as I’m aware. “Which is where the official seat of the European Parliament is. And we were out in Europe on the date that the UK was meant to have left [the EU].” It’s the uncertainty in the extreme that has musicians scratching their heads, and struggling to plan for the future. “No-one actually knows what’s going to happen,” Waters says. “Everything is guesswork. I was talking to some older musician friends before the EU was the EU in its current state, and it was a case of getting visas to play in Europe. But right now, you can just get in a van and get down the Eurotunnel. All we do know is that it will be harder.” So just how important for The Zipheads and Shikari is mainland Europe in terms of promotion, band income, and everything else? “Massively,” Rolfe says, succinctly. “Our second biggest territory outside of the UK is Germany, followed by America; but America is so vast, touring out there is a massive pain in the arse! Europe is on our doorstep. As much as it is easier now to get your music out there with streaming, the best way to get our music to people is through touring. Coupled with the fact that streaming doesn’t really bring in much money.” Then arises the dreaded ‘c’ word — the tour carnet, a legal document which declares all the shows and equipment for a tour. The cost is £320 if completed by the artist themselves, £500 through a third party company. These costs could be the difference between some acts going to Europe or not. And European musicians, for whom London is often the biggest date on their tour posters, will be equally affected. “Think about orchestras,” Rolfe points out. “Imagine if every single member is now needing a visa and a carnet for their instruments and equipment. I can’t imagine they’re being paid Jay-Z kind of figures that easily covers all that, so the classical world is going to take a big hit, too. This all means ticket prices will go up, which affects the fans, so ultimately, less fans can afford to even go to gigs.” Enter Shikari have won numerous awards for their incredible live
experience. The thought that goes into their production, light show, and pioneering use of quadrophonic sound have helped add so much value for their fans. “If the expenses are higher, and the ticket prices are higher, but less people are buying the tickets, and the shows are smaller, then we certainly wouldn’t be able to take as much production with us,” Rolfe says. “The idea is to keep music as available as possible to everyone trying to keep our ticket prices as low as possible, but giving as good a show as possible. Which would be a lot more difficult if the expenses shoot up. It’s the reason our shows in the States are a lot smaller.” Waters decides to drop a clanger into the interview: “I should probably add that I’m going to get an Irish passport, so a lot of this won’t even affect me! [smiles]” British people with Irish parents or grandparents are entitled to apply for an Irish passport, and with Ireland still being a country within the European Union, the passport would allow them free movement across EU countries. Tom Waters, Ray’s bandmate and cousin, is also applying for an Irish passport, while drummer, Will Bennett, is not eligible. “Will is as English as the day is long,” Waters confirms. “So, assuming there is some kind of visa system in place, it would just be Will needing a visa rather than all three of us.” There has to be positives, right? These kinds of situations always inspire good art and music, at the very least. “Well, it’ll be good for punk,” Waters says. “Punk always thrives on having something to whine about. Music will always have freedom of movement! [laughs]” “Suffering creates great art,” Rolfe says, with a wry smile. Enter Shikari and The Zipheads are nonetheless going full steam ahead. There’s a new Shikari single on the way, and their new book, Dear Future Historians, was released on May 28th. Meanwhile, The Zipheads are about to play a big show at one of their favourite haunts, The Black Heart, in Camden, London. Most admirable, indeed, that neither Waters or Rolfe intend to let any of this prevent them from sharing their gifts with those that need them. This much we know. Brexit? More a case of who knows - it’s time for the creative community to come together and state its case.
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Riding the Wave
MARK GARDENER: RIDING THE WAVE Mark Gardener is frontman and guitarist for Ride – a band who made a big splash during the ‘shoegazing’ period of British alt/rock during the late 1980s, and reformed in 2014 for a second crack of the whip. In the interim, Gardener developed a strong interest in all things recording and studio production, and just a couple of months before Ride release a brand new record, he has opened OX4 Sound, a stunning new multi-room facility in Oxfordshire. Ride formed in 1988, and by the early ‘90s, had made two top five albums. The band split up in 1996, and after a 21-year hiatus, released their first album in 21 years, Weather Diaries, in 1997, which gained critical acclaim, and made it to number 11 in the UK Albums Chart. And they’ve just kept going. Today, their material is regularly playlisted on BBC 6 Music; and another new record, This Is Not a Safe Place, is due for release in August. “It constantly surprises me, the Ride phenomenon; we did a big thing the first time around, but now we are playing bigger shows than we ever did back in the day,” opens Gardener. “But I always thought one day it would level off, so in the interim, I got heavily into recording, trying to demystify the process of being in the studio. It’s always
been my thing, really.” Gardener was fortunate to receive some amazing studio education along the way, working from greats such as John Leckie and Jack Rieley, the latter of whom became a guru to him. He found himself working a lot in the box, which, although convenient for many applications, he was taking a long time to create, and find the sort of space and depth he needed in his mixes. Gardener had always lived with SSL consoles working with Ride at various studios, so it became a bit of a no-brainer to at least have the conversation with SSL, and see what might be doable. “I love that mixing today, you can get something to a point, walk away, and come back with fresh ears. Also, bands won’t get
back to you in an hour; any requests for changes in a mix will come in a few days, so you need to be able to reset and refresh,” he smiles. “So I’d started using a summing mixer at home, and suddenly, the width and depth helped speed up my mixing process – but it got me thinking that I wanted a console, something I could be fully hands-on with, and wouldn’t have to work my way through the layers of. That’s what first drew me to SSL.” After a meeting at SSL HQ, Gardener was pretty blown away with what the AWS range of consoles were capable of, and before he knew it, he’d invested in an AWS 948. “I realised that SSL had totally nailed it in terms of understanding how people work now; in five minutes, you’ve got a full recall on this desk, which is phenomenal,” he says. “And
Riding the Wave
“I love the old SSL boards, of course, and a lot of Ride stuff was mixed on old SSLs, but the AWS console is so much more efficient, and the DAW integration is brilliant...” I am back to using channels – so the whole space and width thing is right there. Plus, it’s way more fun when you can be tactile; I love how you can flick between the E and G EQs instantly, and it makes perfect sense, as before I got the console, I was using plugin versions of the SSL E and G channels - now I have the real thing!” OX4 Sound has a great live room – easily big enough for a full live band, and perfect for recording drums – and there are plans to expand further in the coming months. The control room is also beautifully put together. “The footprint of the SSL is just perfect for this space,” Gardener continues. “I am also astounded by its preamps: I have a lot of cool outboard kit, but recording direct into the SSL is amazing, as it’s just an incredible sounding console. “I love the old boards, of course, and a lot of Ride stuff was mixed on old SSLs, but the AWS is so much more efficient than an older console, and the DAW integration is also brilliant; I’ve got my console keys set up
for Logic, and I’ve got all my transport stuff right there at the push of a button, which is fantastic.” Forward-Thinking As a result of having the AWS, Gardener is getting more and more hands-on with the console, and is getting better results than ever before. “Just the familiarity of the EQ – having it literally there, rather than going into the layers, I just love. And as I work more and more with the SSL, I am happier with the patching, and I’m definitely coming out of the box more, which I find great, personally – though ultimately, I am also integrated with my DAW. It’s basically a best of both worlds situation. I’ve found that my mixes are improving dramatically as a result of having the SSL, too – and having the G Buss as my final buss compressor is fantastic; I really love what it does.” Sessions are now underway at OX4 Sound: singer-songwriter, Suzie Stapleton,
was first through the doors, accompanied by The Jim Jones Revue’s Gavin Jay, and The Stranglers’ drummer, Jet Black; and Gardener has even turned his hand to some mastering for the Soft Cavalry, Rachel Goswell and Steve Clarke’s latest project. “I have always been open to mastering at some point, but this opportunity came in way before I thought about it,” admits Gardener. “I did an analogue pass with a 1081, and used plugins, as well, and it came out really good – and that all went through the SSL, of course - so it’s an area I would be hopeful to get into, as well. “I think with a room like this, being able to hear things so perfectly, it would be crazy not to get into mastering.” www.ox4sound.co.uk www.solidstatelogic.com
KALLY WILLIAMS ON WIRELESS TECH Production sound recordist, Kally Williams’ story is the kind that draws everyone from aspiring actors to gaffers towards Los Angeles with celluloid dreams: work hard, perfect your trade, and the dream can come true. Her mixing credits range from the YouTube show, Hello Hunnay with Jeannie Mai to the Netflix horror anthology, to a recent KFC commercial. She now enjoys a coveted spot on the first call list when films, TV series, and documentaries of all kinds need expert sound mixing on location under any conditions. “A lot of production sound people come into it from music, but I always wanted to be a filmmaker,” says Williams. “My twin sister and I were always making YouTube videos - even in high school - and at age 20, we moved from South Carolina to L.A. Of course, I wanted to direct, and started volunteering on projects. “Instead of just being a production assistant, I found myself very drawn to the audio department because everyone’s passion for their gear is so strong in the L.A. community. When I first got the chance to work with experienced mixers, they were all using Lectrosonics wireless gear.”
Today, Williams rarely leaves home without her Lectrosonics Digital Hybrid Wireless gear, including SRc dual-channel slot mount receivers paired with the compact SMQV and micro-sized SSM belt-pack transmitters. She worked with another wireless brand in her formative years, which didn’t cut the mustard when compared to Lectrosonics, she says – besides, it was all about that personal touch: “When I finally had enough money to buy something really pro for my own rig, I happened to meet the Lectrosonics folks at an NAB [National Association of Broadcasters] convention, and they were such a supportive, knowledgeable, and downright nice bunch
of people,” Williams explains. “Plus, since they make everything here in the USA, I felt that in the event anything ever went wrong, it would be easy to get repaired.” Horror Show Location recording often means dirt, dust, extremes of temperature, and even hazards from the production effects themselves. Williams recalls many incidents where her kit was tested to its limits, though it’s never dropped out or failed in any way. One memory sticks firmly in her mind: “It was a horror shoot, and we had SMQV on the talent,” she recalls. “There was a scene
“I’m really impressed at how tight and well-sealed the Lectrosonics SMQV is in particular; you can drive a truck over it, and still use it..!” where fake blood was supposed to explode all over the place - and it did. “The SMQV came back to me just soaked in the stuff, like it had been pulled from inside a body, or maybe was bleeding itself! I thought it was toast, but after cleaning it off with rubbing alcohol, it kept working fine, and does to this day. I’m really impressed with how tight and well-sealed the SMQV is in particular. You can drive a truck over it, and still use it!” Not that we necessarily recommend you do that, of course. In L.A., the airwaves can be as full of pitfalls as the set – but this doesn’t get in the way of her Lectrosonics kit, Williams points out: “The SmartTune feature really works out for me, and I really like the wideband of all my receivers,” she says. “So many crews are using the same blocks of frequencies, and there are a lot of us! But there’s always something in the
three blocks available on the SRcs that they’ll lock onto. On the rare occasion where I might get unwanted signal on a channel because of this crowded spectrum, I just rescan, and the SmartTune will pick up a clear frequency.” Of late, the SSM, which is the most compact transmitter Lectrosonics offers, has become a go-to for Williams. “You can hide that on anyone, no matter how petite, and not ever see it in the shot,” she insists. “I used them recently on a documentary where they only had one camera. They’re going from wide to close-up and back again - and constantly reconfiguring. That’s not a friendly situation for a boom mic. So, we put SSMs on the talent. “I think it’s also important that the SSM is so light the talent forgets it’s there. It doesn’t distract them from their performance, which can mean fewer takes. When I first
show the SSM to actors, they think it’s the coolest thing ever!” And does Williams have any advice for aspiring filmmakers ready to up their audio game? “If you have to get just one receiver, get the SRc. You get two channels, they mount in standard slots for camera rigs and audio bags, and I think they might be the best value in Lectrosonics’ product line,” she declares. “For transmitters, again, I’m loving the SSM because it has great range and sound quality - and it just disappears. Unless you want to make horror movies... Then, get the SMQV! [laughs]” For more information on Lectrosonics products, check out the link below. www.lectrosonics.com
The [Studio] Wizard of Oz
THE [STUDIO] WIZARD OF OZ Miloco Studios is truly worldwide, and well known for offering some of the most epic recording and studio experiences imaginable. There’s even a Miloco place on the Greek island of Santorini, so you have the option of booking a session on your hols. With 41 studios in London alone, we catch up with Simon Todkill, Miloco’s Australian-born Chief Engineer in the Big Smoke, to chat about his career, and Miloco’s online mixing and mastering service. Simon Todkill and I quickly get chatting about the changing face of the music industry, and the overwhelming prominence of selftaught bedroom producers. “This is half of the reason why we’ve set up our online mixing and mastering services at Miloco,” he says, with a strong hint of Aussie still in his accent. “You get so many people who either did everything in their bedroom, or a band who spent the whole budget on recording, or even a friend did it for them. Or it can be for people who just want to see if someone else with solid experience can have a go at it.” The reality is, many musicians simply can’t afford to hire out rooms for mixing or mastering of their tracks, but with Miloco’s online version of these services, there is now
a more affordable and convenient option. You simply upload your files to the website, and have the song mixed and/or mastered at some of the best studios in the world. “Back when I was working in Sydney, about 70% of a mastering engineer’s work was being sent to them online,” Todkill recalls. “I suppose hardly anyone actually attends a mastering session anymore! So we’re very excited to have the online mastering up and running.” Mastermind I suggest that an artist doing their own mixing is one thing, but attempting their own mastering is a different ball game entirely. “A big part of mastering is that great engineers can bring out another layer of
musicality out of a song,” Todkill says. “Especially when bedroom producers, or people who haven’t been involved in a studio setting, might not understand the technical aspect of mastering. It really can go over people’s heads. Especially with streaming and YouTube, you have to master music differently for those services.” Having worked with such a breadth of people from Elton John to Skepta, picking out favourite projects from Todkill’s discography is a tricky one: “You’re always so excited about your current project! [laughs] I still get asked about my work with Matt Corby. But even recently, working a lot with the guys from HONNE, which is great electronic-acoustic hybrid music — they’re great guys, and that’s
The [Studio] Wizard of Oz
“When I was working in Sydney, about 70% of a mastering engineer’s work was being sent to them online, so we’re excited to have the online mastering up and running...” something I look back on, and I’m really happy with.” Indeed, HONNE’s Love Me / Love Me Not album of last year is certainly something for the ears to behold. Favourite Kit Knowing that he has some incredible toys at his disposal in the Miloco London complex, I grill Todkill on the gear he’s been working with of late. In terms of sound cards, he’s a Universal Audio advocate. “So often now, clients will bring in some work they were doing before coming into the studio, and quite a few of them work with a Universal Audio sound card also. So it definitely makes my life easier. I don’t really know a studio which doesn’t have one anymore!” When the conversation turns to plugins, the first name to come up is the ever-popular FabFilter.
“I’ve just got the FabFilter Pro-Q 3,” he says. “The Pro-Q has been my go-to EQ for years now, and the Pro-Q 3 just takes it a little bit further. Then there’s the Sonnox Inflator, which I love! That thing has been a staple of mine for years. I don’t know what it does [laughs], but I just know that the default setting I’ve built into it sounds amazing - it makes everything sound good. “I’ve been using the Inflator for at least six years. I just came across it working in a studio, put it across a drum buss, and my mind was blown immediately. I love using it to add a bit of colour, particularly when I’m working in the box, and I’m missing that console harmonic distortion. “I’ve got the Waves SSL bundle. I always go to the SSL Compressor, which I’m a big fan of. I think most people have had Waves for a while, and I’ve been using them for at least 10 years. I’m so familiar with the SSL G and the SSL K consoles, so just having the ability to
throw on a channel strip and have dynamics, filters, expanders, EQ, and compressors... Everything is there. “Across the mix, I can have that standard [Waves] SSL G Channel strip across most channels for a bit of colour. For me, it’s all about colour, so I don’t deviate from that too much unless I really need to change the sound up. Having that same hub brings a unifying colour to the mix, which is key for me.” If you’re someone who thinks an audio genius like Simon could mix or master your tracks to perfection at Miloco Studios, head to the Miloco website to see their online services. Even bedroom producers need to accept help, sometimes. www.simontodkill.com www.milocostudios.com www.waves.com www.sonnox.com
Celestion has been making speakers for guitars and the MI industry for decades, yet today, pro-audio makes up two-thirds of its business. We take a look at the fascinating musical journey that this British powerhouse firm has enjoyed since its inception almost 100 years ago. Words Paul Watson
elestion was formed in 1924, and in the early days, business consisted mainly of making speakers in old radiograms above a shop in West London, eventually graduating to public address in the 1940s, producing large-scale systems for factories during WWII. Celestion also patented one of the earliest moving coil loudspeakers, and was an early supplier for the then fledgling BBC. It was in the late ‘50s that Celestion’s G12 permanent magnet speaker was adapted for use in a guitar amplifier – the world’s first ever purpose-built guitar speaker was born, and thanks to a string of British rock and rollers taking the musical world by storm across the next decade and beyond, Celestion literally went global. First the Blue, and then the Greenback became the go-to speakers for guitarists everywhere. From here, it was onwards and upwards: in the ‘80s, many iconic guitar speakers were created for the rock and roll industry, which saw an increase in the popularity of powerful amplifiers such as the G12T-75 and the Vintage 30; and by the ‘90s, high-volume production had been moved to China to meet increased customer demand. At the start of the noughties, focus shifted to pro-audio transducers and guitar speakers, and by 2016, Celestion was officially the number one supplier of branded compression drivers and coaxial speakers, while continuing to dominate the guitar speaker market. Skip to present day, and Celestion now boasts the world’s largest loudspeaker design team, based out of their UK head office in Ipswich, home to more than 50 employees. “With most of the cabinet brands, we will be packing a Celestion High Frequency device within the box; it’s something we have carved out a niche in doing,” Celestion’s John Paice tells Headliner. “Very high quality, affordable devices with small moving parts, and very reliable also. And this isn’t just for the high-end line array systems, we work with a lot of the two-way box brands who specialise in
boxes on sticks.” The company added to this niche by working on its own coaxial drivers, Paice explains: “We make LF and HF drivers which are part of the same device - two drivers in one. So what happens is, they fire to the same point, which provides a big advantage in terms of signal coherence. If you picture a standard monitor cabinet with HF on top, and LF below, it’s two frequency signals from different points in space. We merge the HF and LF, which gives us less of a delay, which is important when you’re dealing with critical listening. It also means you can make smaller, more lightweight boxes. Low profile monitor wedges are very good applications for these coaxial drivers, as are cinema speakers where there is Dolby Atmos, as they make the sound come from different points in space.”
SETTING THE BAR HIGH
Celestion, Paice says, is a company which finds the things that are really difficult to do and aims to become an expert at those things. You don’t make it easy for yourselves, then? “Well, no! [laughs] But a good example of this is our AXI driver, which we mounted on a big red horn at the Prolight + Sound exhibition in Frankfurt a few months back; it’s a natural evolution of our HF compression driver,” Paice reveals. “We produced one that could come down to the mid range frequency area because it provides a lot of advantages with signal coherence, provided the horn is big enough, as you don’t have to compromise in the business part of the audio signal. Again, it’s really good for cinema applications and notification systems, where dialogue is crucial. If you need clear, detailed sound with no phasing issues, the AXI driver is the one.” Celestion has always had a large production facility in the UK, and unlike a lot of manufacturers, R&D happens here also. The sizeable R&D team are fastidious in their pursuit for quality: they focus on mathematical modelling before they consider building any prototypes. “We come up with a design idea and model it
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“We merge the LF and the HF drivers, which gives us less of a delay, which is important when you’re dealing with critical listening...” mathematically using in-house developed software,” Paice explains. “From magnetic to electrical mechanical, our sophisticated software can predict what will happen; we are the only audio company who model in terms of mechanical movement and acoustical output. “We then lay those predictions into something physical, go downstairs, add cones, compare to the modelling, and engineer a physicallproduct from there. There is always a production line, too - mainly hand-built guitar speakers – which are low-run, high-value items. “Our AXI driver is expensive, but will ship in smaller quantities, as it’s a high-value, lowvolume item which requires more TLC; and as we develop the production line in the offices here in the UK, we also have a big factory in China – owned by our parent company, Gold Peak - so there is no leakage of intellectual property. High-volume items like compression drivers or very popular guitar drivers are all produced by the 1,000 in China.”
One of Celestion’s most popular guitar drivers is the Vintage 30, which has been going for more than 25 years. The company has manufactured
a staggering amount of them: more than one million units. Celestion also has an impressive endorsee programme with more than 200 artists advocating their guitar and bass speakers. On that note, I ask Paice if there has been any noticeable drop off in terms of guitar product demand as so many musicians are going digital, and working in the amp modelling domain. “On the MI side, we are finding that people aren’t buying 4 x 12s like they used to, as they’re big and heavy; older guys don’t want to do it, so they have small combos with higher power,” Paice says. “So we are producing high-power guitar speakers: rather than 4 x 60w, you may want 2 x 100w speakers in your combo.” Which makes sense. The younger guys and girls are more into the Class D amps and digital modelling, Paice says, though that doesn’t mean Celestion doesn’t benefit. “They’re still into tones, but they’re arriving at them through different means,” he explains. “Guitar speakers are not going away, but the profile of that market is changing.” We’re talking about analogue versus digital here, presumably? “Yes, and there is a lot to be said for how playing an analogue system feels; you get a
tactile feedback that you wouldn’t get from a digital system, and tonally, we are working with companies like Fractal and other digital modelling experts as we produce digital versions of guitar tone,” Paice explains. Sounds pretty cool. “It is... And, of course, it’s not 100% the same, but we feel it’s closer than anyone else has been able to achieve. So innovation is going on in that regard to make it sound and feel better. We’re working with digital impulse responses to provide that tactile feel of a guitar speaker, but also give it the full range – 60Hz to 20kHz – because it should feel more like you’re playing through a speaker, which you miss through a front of house system.” So plenty of exciting things are happening at Celestion, as the company continues to grow. Turnover has tripled in the last 15 years, and a forward-thinking mindset and reputation for quality, with expansion planned for 2020, can only mean that its future is very bright, indeed. www.celestion.com
THE Fibre Network for the Pro Audio Industry
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The Chaos Engineer
MIKE EXETER: THE CHAOS ENGINEER As you glance through his credits, it’s clear that Mike Exeter has carved out an eye-watering career: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Cradle of Filth; he’s certainly something of a legend in the heavy metal scene. Having said that, he’s also done a big old share of mixing, mastering, and engineering for less heavy acts such as UB40 and The Specials. Headliner dives in... “I’m mixing a very old Black Sabbath album from 1995,” opens Mike Exeter. UK-born, he’s based in Warwick these days. “It was supposed to be the final Sabbath album, until they reunited with Ozzie [Osbourne] in the late ‘90s. For years, Tony [Iommi, Black Sabbath guitarist] wanted to revisit it, and it had a lot of criticism in the past. But we deemed that it deserved a remix rather than just a remaster.” I ask Exeter how he got into the audio engineering game, and became the go-to guy for those of the headbanging persuasion. “After I left school, I knew I wanted to be in the music business,” he says. “Certainly in recording, but I didn’t know how to get there. So I got to work in electronics and programming, which included robotics and machine tools. I went on a short recording course and loved it. I ended up going to work
in Florida for what turned out to be the biggest recording school in the world at the time, and did a degree there. “I just ended up loving being around bands and studios. I went straight from that to working with Disney, moved up to New York State, and saw my visa out. Then I went back to the UK!” And did he always intend on mostly working with metal bands? “I’ve always liked heavy-ish stuff,” Exeter admits. “But more on the prog side. Genesis and Pink Floyd were about as heavy as it got for me. Although my favourite Pink Floyd album is Animals, which is pretty visceral! I’m a keyboard player, so anything with lots of space and width is fantastic for me. Opus are the band who are really killing it for me, at the moment.” Exeter remembers the moment he felt his
career was going ‘stratospheric’: “It was when I did the album with Heaven & Hell (the supergroup that was comprised of Black Sabbath and Dio members), The Devil You Know. That was only 11 years ago, and I’ve been at this for 27 years! But it took that amount of time to get rid of the imposter syndrome. When you’ve been doing it that long, and haven’t been fired, you must be doing something right!” I can’t resist fishing for some stories from Exeter — he must have seen a whiskey bottle or two launched across a room in his time? “The thing is, everyone is really focused on the creative process once you’re in the studio,” he says. “But the humour is ridiculous. There are certain members of certain bands who are real practical jokers. Tony Iommi is known for it. There becomes a hierarchy of who’s on top that day, and it’s just really funny.
The Chaos Engineer
“Cradle of Filth guitarist, Stuart Anstis, politely asked if he could go to a padded room to throw things around, which I thought was really nice of him, actually...” “Stuart [Anstis], who was the guitarist in Cradle of Filth when I worked with them, actually politely asked if he could go to a padded room to throw things around, because he didn’t want to fuck the studio up... I thought that was really nice of him, actually! Bands are normally really, really respectful. It can be a creative maelstrom at times, so part of the gig is not getting to a point where someone wants to cause damage.” Plugin & Play As conversation turns to the technological side of this powerhouse engineer, it becomes clear that a key ally for Exeter in his career has been his Sonnox plugins. “I’ve been using Sonnox since they came out,” he says. “When the Sony Oxford Console came out in the ‘90s, there was a real paradigm shift in the way people were approaching digital technology. Some of the brands are like wallpapering the hallway through a letterbox. Just horrendous. But then you had this piece of technology that was like a console. The sounds of the EQs and the compressors on there were amazing. So when the Sonnox plugins came out, I thought ‘this is amazing.’
“There’s something about the way that dynamic and active EQs have been developing over the years. They do something totally different to multiband limiters and compressors. I’m all about moving faders around in a mix, and it’s all about automation for me. So to have something actively responding to a problem enables you to creatively shape the sounds while the problems are taken care of. The algorithms they use are brilliant; it feels like you’re using a console. Sonnox user interfaces are amazing.” A huge plus for Exeter was the collaboration between Sonnox and industry legend, George Massenburg. “He’s outspoken, but he deserves to be, because he’s an absolute hero. I find any product that has involved him has been absolutely top notch. I didn’t actually need to buy a Sonnox EQ, because I had a Massenburg. But as soon as they brought out the Dynamic EQ, that was me shifted. Since using them more and more, they are my goto limiter and compressor. And the Oxford Reverb is one of my choice reverbs. Really impressed with them.” I ask Exeter if he could give some more insight into how he uses Sonnox in his work.
“I use the Dynamic EQ quite a lot on vocal stuff to basically pull out frequencies that may get too harsh or too boomy due to proximity effect or volume,” he says. “The ability to be threshold-based on what you’re attacking is great. Dialling in that frequency is so useful. You can add in proximity, too. It’s also got the solo isolator feature, so you can really hear what each band is doing when you’re finding those frequencies. I use the R3 EQ because of the Massenburg curves, which I try out on everything first. Anything that feels like it needs a bit less brute force, I’ll head straight for an R3 or Dynamic EQ.” And what’s next on the horizon? “It’s looking alright! I’ve got a few things in the diary, some tracking projects. I seem to be mixing mainly at the moment! You quickly realise you need some human contact [laughs]. There’s always someone wanting to make music, but not always someone willing to pay for it — but we’re beginning to break down those barriers!” www.mikeexeter.com www.sonnox.com @mikeexeter
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HENRIK LINDSTRAND: NOCTURNAL NOCTURNES Going from working with David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Tony Visconti in a successful rock and roll band to independently releasing solo piano music might seem like something of a fall - but that would only be correct in a context in which you haven’t listened to the sublime compositions of Swedish composer, Henrik Lindstrand. “I thought I’d be releasing this record alone again, but [record label] One Little Indian got in touch,” Swedish composer, Henrik Lindstrand says. We’re sat on the top floor of a building in the Television Centre complex, West London, once the headquarters of the BBC. Later in the evening, this luxurious room will see the artist perform an intimate showcase, to celebrate the release of his second album, Nattresan. Not that this will only be the second album Lindstrand has been involved in. He joined Danish alternative rock band, Kashmir, in 2001. Currently on hiatus, they have a seven album-strong discography. 2005’s No Balance Presence sees Lou Reed reciting a poem by bandmate, Kasper Eistrup, David Bowie joining Eistrup for a duet, and the whole thing was produced by Bowie’s long-term collaborator, Tony Visconti.
But all these years of touring, and subsequently working as a film composer, has seen Lindstrand seek music making as an outlet for escaping his often frantic life. Certainly not because his music bears some sonic similarities to contemporaries such as Nils Frahm. “I had no idea there was a whole scene of this style of music,” Lindstrand says, in his soothing Scandinavian accent. “I was slightly aware of Ólafur Arnalds, but that was only through his film scoring for Broadchurch.” While fellow composer, Joep Beving, told Headliner he used piano as a means of escape from a life and career he felt fully disconnected from, Lindstrand was seeking meditative solace in the instrument during a hugely hectic moment in his composing career. “About three years ago, I had a really
stressful period,” he explains. “Lots of deadlines, two back-to-back TV series, and a lot of music for adverts. I reached a point where I just became fed up. I know I’m very privileged to have a career in music, but I had to take a break. “Then that Christmas, I went to stay at my parents’ with my family, where they have the old piano from my grandfather. I sat down and started playing, and it resonated with me in such a way - I felt I had to return to where it all started for me, on this old piano. So a lot of nostalgia, but also an epiphany that my solo album would only be piano, and nobody could tell me how they thought it should be.” Which led to Lindstrand’s charming and stunningly organic first solo LP, 2017’s Leken. And clearly that longing wasn’t fully met, as here we are two years later, with Nattresan. For Lindstrand, this second solo project was about
“In terms of the more interesting colouring, the Waves MondoMod has been a favourite of mine for many years...” “Creating for myself a free space mentally; to meditate and do whatever I want. Meditation for me is being 100% focused on something, and being in the now - and that is what I am getting out of playing this music.” In a Good Place Perhaps the one thing that shaped this record the most, however, is the fact that Lindstrand composed all the music in the night hours. “I have three kids, and my film work got busy again. I simply couldn’t find any time in the day to work on this. So after my kids were asleep, I would go to my studio and work for a couple of hours, and then get up early in the morning again. But it didn’t feel like a burden at all; it was driven by passion - otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it.” Being Scandinavian seems to have some special benefit to writing this kind of music - perhaps it’s the icy temperatures, limited daylight, and the natural world that is so unique to Northern Europe. But while the felt-piano heavy, neo-classical music scene is inevitably becoming slightly bloated, Lindstrand’s new record easily stands out; the tracks trade between his grand and upright
pianos, and the acoustic and processed elements interweave in a state of symbiosis. This is largely thanks to the fact that every single sound you hear on Nattresan is sourced from one of his pianos — Lindstrand even created his own sample libraries using them for this project. Besides his acoustic instruments, two big allies for him have been plugins maestros, Waves and Soundtoys. “I bought the Waves Mercury Bundle 10 years ago,” he says. “We used it back with Kashmir, and then I bought it for my work in film. For this, I used the Waves API compressor, and the L3 Ultramaximizer Multiband. In terms of the more interesting colouring, there was the Waves MondoMod, which creates this electro-style sound, which has been a favourite of mine for many years. There are many subtle movements in the sound that I’ve grown fond of!” When I ask why Lindstrand has stuck with Waves all these years, he says: “It wasn’t originally a case of me being a picky engineer, I just needed a big selection of plugins to use. But since then, they’ve always been the fundamentals for me, and ones I like because they just sound so good.”
Soundtoys is another long-term prospect for Henrik: “I’ve not used them as long as I have Waves, but not far off! I absolutely love the Soundtoys Crystallizer, which can be heard on the album. It’s a plugin I’ve been working with for a long time. I usually use it before a big reverb, for example, because it’s very significant, and people can often recognise it! But I think it’s a magical plugin if you treat it right.” After tonight’s album launch showcase at Television Centre, Lindstrand is off to Germany and Denmark to perform a number of solo shows. And with a couple of video games coming up to provide a score for, let’s hope he can quickly reenter that sacred space of calm he has created with his solo music. A space he invites us all to enjoy with him, now that Nattresan is released and available to listen to. Because who doesn’t need a bit more calm, and piano, in their life? www.waves.com www.henriklindstrand.com
DOM MORLEY: FORWARD THINKING Amy Winehouse, Mark Ronson, Adele, Nick Cave — I could go on, but as you may have already guessed, I’m letting you know that producer and mixer Dom Morley has worked with some of the very biggest names out there, including engineering on Amy Winehouse’s legendary, Grammy-winning Back to Black album. We chat to him about some of his discography, and his new venture, The Mix Consultancy. “I’m right in the middle of working with a French quarter-tone trumpet player,” Morley says as he talks me through what he’s been up to, referring to Ibrahim Maalouf, an artist and film composer. “I mixed three projects for him last year, and I’m doing his next album right now. I’m in a mix frenzy, as I’ve got the whole album to do in a couple of weeks. But it’s great, not something you get to do every day.” Morley recently launched The Mix Consultancy, a very special project that helps those who either wish to do their own mixes, or don’t have the budget to hire a professional mixer (let’s face it, that’s most of us these days). Now, artists can send their tracks to a Grammy-award winning mixer (Dom), who will give the mix a critical listen and then give detailed feedback on how to get it sounding as great and professional sounding as possible.
The way the idea came about was “a combination of things. One half of it is the way the industry has been going, with many, many studios closing down over the last twenty years. The knock on effect has been people not learning their studio craft from the experts. There’s less mentoring. I do applaud the DIY nature of things, and people making albums in their bedrooms with minimal equipment. It is better for music. “But one drawback is a lot of music being made by people who don’t know how to make it sound good. I wanted to find a way that I could help people who weren’t able to find a job in a studio, or any sort of formal education in sound. So I thought that maybe I could plug a gap a little bit - if people might want to hear from someone who has 20 years more experience than them, they can drop
their stuff over to me, and I can tell them everything that I think would be useful to them.” Mix Consultancy Morley is quite right - with all the changes in the music industry of late, the emergence of the bedroom producer has been one of the most significant shifts. It is, of course, a wonderful and organic thing, and while such music has an undeniable charm, the DIY artist’s first releases often do have dodgy mixes, simply because they’re having to learn the art of mixing themselves. An affordable service like The Mix Consultancy is a big step in the right direction. With his mouth-watering discography, I ask him which projects he would pick out as highlights.
“I genuinely believe talent is another word for practice; but with Amy Winehouse, she couldn’t have practiced enough to be as good as she was by her mid-twenties...” “I suppose the most obvious one was Back to Black with Amy Winehouse,” Morley says, with no pause to think. “Because it was so successful, and we got the Grammy for it. But it was also rewarding because I’ve worked on so many records and thought they deserved to get out there, but they don’t find the audience. But with Amy, that album deserved to get a good audience, and it did.” Around that time, he got to spend ‘a bit’ of time with Amy Winehouse: “I was Mark Ronson’s London engineer at the time,” he says. “Mark produced half of Back to Black - it sometimes gets missed that Salaam Remi produced the other half. We did about six songs, and I recorded one of the lead vocals, so Amy was around for that. But most of what I did was all the orchestral stuff. “She’d come in now and then to see how things were going, but she wasn’t the sort of artist who’d pore over every single note the strings would play. And she was in perfectly good health at the time. Obviously what happened after was horrendous. But during
that period, she was great to be around. And just a shockingly good singer. I’m generally a believer that talent is another word for practice; but with Amy, she couldn’t have practised enough to be as good as she was by her mid-twenties. The only other people I’d worked with at her kind of level were the likes of Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Roger Daltrey, who’d all been doing it 40 years longer than her.” Key Bits of Kit Working out of his beautiful Flint Barn studio in Oxfordshire (the directions on his website read: ‘just drive up the M40 until it all gets green, then take a left.’), we then chat about the music tech that’s been key for him recently, with plugins maestros Sonnox coming up the most prominently. “I do vaguely know the Sonnox guys, and I’ve been using their stuff for a long time now,” Morley reveals. “Their Dynamic EQ is very good, I’ve been using that a lot. Their Limiter is really nice as well. I’ve been using both of those for a while now. When
I shared a studio with Chris Potter, he had one of the old Sony desks, which I believe are the same EQs and compressors as the Sonnox stuff, which is fantastic.” Another set of plugins that he relies on are from Soundtoys. “EchoBoy and Decapitator get used on everything,” he says. “There’s not a mix that goes by that doesn’t use those. I quite like their pitch shifters, too - the MicroShift and AlterBoy which are quite weird and out there, but it’s done very, very well. I’ve been working with Soundtoys for six or seven years - buying EchoBoy, and then upgrading to the full set.” And on that note, Morley is off to see his osteopath about a literal pain in the neck something I’m sure a lot of studio engineers can relate to. Beyond reading this, if you have a song that needs mixing, don’t miss the unbelievable chance to get some stellar advice via The Mix Consultancy. www.sonnox.com www.dommorley.com
On the Road
ON TOUR WITH THE HUNNA The Hunna are a four-piece from Hertfordshire who take their inspiration from an eclectic roster of bands ranging from Foals and The 1975 to You Me At Six and even Queen. The band performed at both Reading and Leeds’ BBC Introducing Stage in 2016 - and this year, they’re a main stage headliner, which gives you some idea as to how far they’ve come. We sit down with drummer, Jack Metcalfe, and production designer, Tom Campbell, to discuss the band’s live show, and their upcoming tour of the US with Barns Courtney. The Hunna released their 16-track debut album, 100, in 2016, which made it to number three on the UK Indie Chart, number 13 on the Official UK Albums Chart, and raised more than an eyebrow stateside, peaking at number 36 on the Heatseekers chart. Lead single, You & Me, made it to US alternative radio. The 100 tour got underway in January 2017; and later that year, a second 100 tour was announced, which would include dates in the UK, Europe, Australia, and the USA. It also included two huge nights at Brixton Academy in January 2018. Album two, Dare, arrived in July 2018, with another tour straight off the back of it – and in November 2018, they hit new heights, headlining the
epic Alexandra Palace. What a journey so far..! “Yeah, it really has been,” says The Hunna’s drummer, Jack Metcalfe. “But I don’t think our approach or attitude has changed along the way. Even when we weren’t signed, we were interacting with people on social media who took an interest in us, even on the London circuit; we’ve just stayed the same, but obviously it’s taken a lot of hard work, and it’s grown and grown organically. Social media is obviously key these days, and certainly helped us to grow a fanbase quickly.” And it’s still growing, of course. The band are just back from playing three festivals on the spin which, Metcalfe admits, always feels like a full tour. The Hunna’s recent UK run was mainly
O2 Academy theatres, and the band’s production designer, Tom Campbell, used multiples of GLP lighting kit: Impression X4 Bar 20s, as well as the new FR1 compact automated light, and KNV Cubes. Campbell went for a totally different scenography from that used when The Hunna last played Brixton Academy in January 2018. “We started from scratch this time,” he says. “We wanted to drive video content, but without using a video wall or projection instead, doing something a bit more obscure.” His solution was to light the back wall with 48 of the X4 Bar 20s, pixel-mapped into an Avolites Ai Q3 video server. “This enabled us to run various lo-res content, such as autumn leaves, to create
On the Road
“It’s very important to us to have lighting that not only suits the songs, but is really pushing the bar...” different textures, and produce some varied and interesting colours.” In addition, he added 20 of GLP’s innovative KNV Cubes, and 14 active FR1 pencil beams, used as key lights - situated on the downstage edge, and within the drum kit and backline on stage. “It was not first time I had used them on the road - that was with Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes - so I already knew it was a fantastic piece of kit,” Campbell reveals. “The FR1 is extremely punchy for such a tiny fixture, with good dimmer curve, lovely CTO emulation, and producing a super parallel beam. For an LED light, the texture is fantastic.” As for the modular KNV Cubes, a solid line was set on the rear truss. “We could produce some great pixel FX, and we also used them as crowd blinders as a big block of strobes. They had nice CTO, and produced a lovely dimming curve, allowing me to use them in a traditional crowd blinder role. We had to restrict them to 40% because they are so bright! When we first turned them on, everyone in the venue was amazed.” “Everyone, including the band themselves, absolutely loved the GLP FR1 and KNVs.
They had seen the Bars when we used them in early 2018, and they requested them again this time around. In fact, the X4 Bar 20s are starting to get a name for themselves among artists.” Staying Focused Jack Metcalfe concurs, and suggests that the new lighting setup has been a game-changer: “The looks and visuals are more key than ever, as in the early days, we had a few house lights, and no back banner – but over the last few years, the shows have just got a lot bigger, almost to the point where it’s come out of nowhere that it’s now the full package, really,” Metcalfe explains. “It’s very important to us – crucial, in fact - to have lighting that not only suits the moods of the songs, but that is pushing the bar; it’s so much more professional than it was before, and it all goes into putting on a really great show.” This summer’s shows sound pretty epic, too: “We have Reading and Leeds main stage, which is one of those dream slots to do; and then Boardmasters, which we have never done before,” Metcalfe continues. “And then we have a support tour with Barns Courtney in America, which will be great.”
So what’s the secret ingredient, then? “[smiles] We just do what we do, and it connects - and we’ve worked extremely hard on just nailing our sound and being tight as a unit on stage, and that really shows. We’re the real deal, no matter what is said about us, and the live show proves that!” And how does America treat The Hunna? “Very well - but it’s so different,” Metcalfe admits. “Rock is absolutely massive out there, but you have to cover so many places to even get a slight buzz going. But we love it there, and the Americans definitely get our sound. And we’re not just a throwback, we bring something different. I wonder if there is ever any downtime... “Not much! Touring is hard and tiring, but at the same time, we’re doing what we love, so we can’t complain... But being British, we do complain, of course!” www.glp.de www.thehunna.com
The Freedom Setting
N-TRANCE: THE FREEDOM SETTING
Kevin O’Toole, one of the founders of long-established British dance act, N-Trance, has found the key to longevity. Originally the partnership of himself and former member, Dale Longworth, N-Trance is now an in-demand live act. O’Toole and Longworth achieved huge success with breakthrough single, Set You Free, in 1995, still to be heard on many a dance floor today. However, with Longworth’s departure in ‘99, O’Toole began looking into a way to keep N-Trance alive, while phasing himself into being behind the scenes as songwriter and producer. Now, we have the N-Trance band, who have a busy summer of festival slots upcoming. It’s a wise piece of entrepreneurialism on the part of O’Toole, who is writing and recording for their next record. “We’ve got three DJ sets this weekend,” he tells me. Based south of Manchester, the Mancunian accent is unmistakeable. Besides vocalists, Lynsey Jane-Barrow, and MC B, O’Toole also has Junior K handling DJ duties, which covers both the live performances and DJ sets. Junior K has been involved for some time, appearing in a few early music videos. I ask O’Toole why he felt it was important to get the band together, particularly when many dance acts are happy to turn up and just wave their hands in the air and pretend to fiddle with their DJ equipment. “It’s the best way to promote your band,” he says. “If you just stay in the studio, and don’t have people performing your music, you won’t last very long. In the old days, we didn’t need much radio because we were playing at so many clubs. I’m not a DJ, I’m a piano player but people don’t want to see you play piano in a nightclub!”
And how about the new music? “We’ve all got to that stage where we’ve settled down and had kids,” O’Toole says. “I’m the only one who does this full-time. Lynsey, the lead singer, is actually a full-time lawyer! And she’s got her little two-year-old to see on the weekend now, and she’s down in London. Luckily, she’s moving closer to us soon, which should help with the recording.” We revisit Set You Free, which I hadn’t realised only became N-Trance’s breakthrough single after three releases. Besides reaching number two in the UK charts, it was also a hit throughout Europe, and in Australia. “I think it was actually released four times! When we first released it with Pete Waterman, it was just as a promo with 500 copies,” he says. “Once we were touring it globally, our label re-released it, and it got to number 81 [in the UK charts], which was an absolute disaster. When it got to number 39, that was the most excited I’d ever been about a record; and then on the last attempt, it got to number two!” Conversation turns to his impressive studio. “I’ve got my two pianos,” he says. “I used
to own 22 synthesisers, but I do it all through the computer now. I’m still using an older version of Cubase, which has lasted about 10 years. The problem is, when you update operating systems, things stop working! “My Genelec 1037Bs are absolutely amazing sounding speakers - it’s like having two washing machines in the wall! I’ve been using Genelecs ever since we recorded at The Bunker. If it sounded brilliant in that room, you know it sounded good anywhere. And whenever we recorded at other studios, it would always be on Genelecs. And they never break — I’ve whacked them on full blast by accident and overloaded them a few times, but they’ve never blown!” 2019 is looking promising for the band. “I can’t complain, having all these gigs nearly 30 years on,” O’Toole says. “But it would be good to have a couple of weekends to finish the album! I’ve got about three quarters of it done, and I know we can finish it quite quickly now.” www.n-trance.co.uk www.genelec.com
Silent Disco King
THE SILENT DISCO KING EVOLUTION You’ve probably all heard of a silent disco: punters in a pub with wireless headphones on, bopping away to what seems like nothingness, probably somewhere in Soho. Great fun. But actually, there is a lot more to the concept than that. Silent Disco King is a perfect example. With repeat customers including mega-festivals such as Glastonbury, Isle of Wight, and Bestival, and the deployment of tens of thousands of pairs of headphones for just one silent disco event, we decide to find out more from company founder, Paul Gillies. “You did see silent discos in festivals, but at first, it was this kind of theatrical, crazy idea – I think it was Glastonbury that first embraced the idea to maybe 100 people,” opens Paul Gillies. “Then it took a life of its own, as it became obvious that half of the people at a big festival want to sleep at night, and the other half want to party – so it’s the perfect solution for that, and it’s still the way they use it on a lot of festivals.” According to Gillies, his company, Silent Disco King, just keeps on evolving: “We will soon be doing the world’s biggest ever silent disco with over 30,000 pairs of headphones, and we’re now finding that festivals are opening a day early to accommodate it. They didn’t used to be able to do that due to noise restrictions, but now
they can, by having a day of silent disco: get in early, get your tents set up, and go – and some festivals are making an extra million euros by doing so.” Ultimate Bandwidth What’s screaming at me is ‘how on earth do you cater for the RF?’ I ask Gillies what the score is there, exactly. “First off, it isn’t Bluetooth – I mean, look how fiddly it is connecting one phone! [laughs] But the easiest way of understanding how it works is to think of us as a mini radio station broadcasting to loads of cars across London,” Gillies says. Okay... “It doesn’t matter how many cars there are, they’re all going to pick it up – as long as people are within a certain distance.”
So it’s limitless, rock solid wireless? “Well, there are more than 200 stages at Glastonbury, and god knows how many RF channels are in use, but we’ve managed the last 10 years there without any issues at all,” Gillies smiles. “A very cool thing at Glastonbury this year is Cineramageddon; it cost three million quid, and is the world’s biggest drive-in cinema, except all of the cars are installed! But there is a premiere happening for a film called Ibiza – it’s a film with only music, and after that ends, Fatboy Slim is doing a live gig on the silent disco. “It’ll only be a couple of thousand people, and it’s on the Wednesday, so we’re expecting a pretty spectacular few days there this year. And Fatboy Slim likes to have fun; you think of him as a serious, credible DJ, which he
Silent Disco King
“The technology continues to evolve; we have the prototype of next year’s headphone ready, so we’re always working towards tomorrow...” is, but he likes entertaining people and just having fun, as well!” A Scalable Solution It’s not just the huge events where Silent Disco King has a presence, though. “Two weeks after Glastonbury, we do 2000trees festival; we’ve been there eight or nine years now, and it’s a great contrast, as we are tiny at Glasto, whereas at 2000trees, we are more like a headliner,” Gillies explains. “Everyone has headphones on after 11pm on the Friday and Saturday night; we have bands playing live, all sorts – so it’s very nice to see it in all sorts of different places.” Silent Disco King has recently developed a relationship with Singa. Singa’s ‘lead singer’, Felix Lawrie, says his firm are always searching for new and exciting ways to lure people in to the world of singing, and when he heard Silent Disco King was looking to do something different at Isle of Wight Festival, the idea of silent karaoke was born. “And it was born legendary,” he enthuses. “We wanted to see how it worked at Isle of Wight Festival first, and it worked like a
charm. Karaoke adds a whole new dimension to the silent disco experience, and creates a singing party like no other. It’s hard to explain, you have to come and witness it yourself.” Lawrie goes on to explain that karaoke is not quite what it used to be: “We know from our experience in seeing how people use the Singa app at home, karaoke venues, and events, that karaoke culture is changing. There’s a whole new singing generation coming up. For them, streaming services are the norm, and when you offer them a fresh experience like we did with Silent Disco King, they go crazy. And that’s just what they did at Isle of Wight.” Gillies says that Silent Disco King is always looking for ways that it can keep people interested, and sometimes he likes to ‘chuck a hand grenade in, and see what goes off ’. “Everyone knows karaoke, and we know that traditionally at silent discos, people like to sing along; but having someone with a microphone who isn’t necessarily a professional singer is a bit of a different ask - and we didn’t know what would happen,” he explains. “So with the democracy of the
headphones, where you have two or three different channels [to choose from] - people will vote for what they want to listen to. We thought it might be a bit awkward if no-one chose karaoke, but actually, it went the other way: 98 percent of people chose to listen to karaoke rather than the DJs or playback music that was available. People just love it!” So what happens next? “Well we’re now in the heart of festival season, and we’ve opened five new offices around the world: as well as the UK, we’re now in the US, Australia, Germany, and Austria,” Gillies reveals. “The UK is ahead of other territories in many ways – for example, the biggest silent disco in the US is just 4,000 people at the moment. But we’re hoping to be doing events of 10-20,000 people there as time goes on. And also, the technology continues to evolve; we have the prototype of next year’s headphone ready, so we’re always working towards tomorrow.” www.silentdiscoking.com www.singa.com
INTRODUCING THE WESONATOR Originally working towards an ambition to study serial killers, Belgian engineer and mixer, Wes Maebe, wound up working with the likes of UB40, Celine Dion, and Ellie Goulding, amidst an extensive and incredible discography. Maebe talks us through his peculiar way into the music industry, some of his favourite projects in a varied career, and his studio setup. Despite some of the huge talent I listed above, today is an unavoidable admin day for Wes Maebe. “I’m writing some spreadsheets,” he says. “Putting together all the information of what people did on an album, so everybody gets their fair royalties. If I don’t do it, nobody will do it! [laughs] I’ve also been in the studio with James Arthur, and then finishing up an avant-garde, experimental piano album with Tania Chen, in which the shortest track is half an hour! “The last record that came out was with Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth — we ended up putting his guitar in the piano, and every time she hit the low strings, the guitar levitated and went through a pile of
distortion! As you do… Whilst throwing ping pong balls across the studio!” Besides enjoying the fact that Maebe punctuates each sentence with a warm laugh, I quickly get an idea of the mad amount of musical variety he welcomes into his life. I’m curious to know how it all came about. “My mum was a ballerina for the Belgian Royal Ballet,” he says. “My dad used to wake me up from the age of four with [Pink Floyd’s] Dark Side of the Moon; that was my alarm clock! Which quickly led to me staying in bed, as I enjoyed listening to it. Then at boarding school, friends would introduce me to people like Eric Clapton, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai - all the guitar gods.” However, music wasn’t always a path that
Maebe saw himself taking professionally. “Long story short, I got in a fight with my university,” he says. “They didn’t think I was catholic enough! I was studying psychology, and wanted to become a sort of serial killer profiler! [laughs] They threw me out, and I went home and said ‘what the hell do I do now?’ And my dad said ‘well, how about sound engineering?’ And I replied, ‘what the hell is that?’ Next thing you know, I’m in London studying it.” In terms of favourite projects throughout his glittering discography, “That would have to be UB40 still,” Maebe declares. “It’s always a lot of fun working with those guys. Celine Dion was a weird one because I didn’t meet the artist. She was in Vegas, so we
“I got in a fight with my university; they didn’t think I was Catholic enough! They threw me out, I went home, and my dad suggested sound engineering. I replied ‘what the hell is that?’ Next thing you know, I’m in London studying it...” recorded the drums while she was out there. James Arthur, most recently, has been a great experience.” The Digital Age I ask Maebe how often he finds himself not actually meeting the artist he’s working with, or in this context, for, in this digital age. “It’s really varied,” he says. “With UB40, they’re all always there in the studio. The first time I worked with them, we were all together for five days, and got everything done. Ali produces everything, so he’s always there. I do prefer when the artist is there, and I’m not there by myself and second guessing everything. Always nice to have someone sitting next to you saying ‘ooh, could you make that a bit more purple?’” Maebe, who also goes by ‘Wesonator’, talks me through his ‘little mixing room here in Shepherd’s Bush’:
“I have a lot of analogue stuff. I am a big fan of API, so I have a lot of their kit; and I’ve got two sets of speakers, one of which are by PSI from Sweden, and my other pair are my very old mark one Genelec 1031As, which my uncle donated to me when I started studying. I haven’t gotten rid of them, I love them!” I’m acutely aware of how lucky Maebe is to own such a legendary pair of speakers from Genelec. “I’ve had them for about 21 years,” he says. “Still going! I’ve only had to re-tone them once. And the guy who did it for me went weak at the knees and said ‘you do realise what you’ve got? This is a mark one! Never get rid of them!’ They’re like a microscope - if something sounds like shit, the Genelecs will tell you! [laughs] Very open, clean, and clear.” Plugin-wise, Maebe is heavy on Sonnox, and uses a lot of the manufacturer’s kit. “I’ve been a beta tester for Sonnox, so I
use their plugins all the time. I’ve actually been using Sonnox products since about 1998,” Maebe explains. “They’re nice, clean, and transparent tools. As I like to use some analogue gear for character, I like plugins that don’t mess with that. I’m also a big user of Universal Audio plugins for the same reason.” Before I let Maebe shoot off to London’s Soho district to do front of house at the well-renowned Palladium, he tells me that otherwise, his work is the usual feast or famine: “I tend to find out about projects two days or so before, so we’ll see,” he smiles - and as that sentence also ends with a laugh, I sense that he’s in a very good place, indeed. www.wesmaebe.com www.genelec.com www.sonnox.com
Rock & Roll in the Age of Instagram
ROCK & ROLL IN THE AGE OF INSTAGRAM Despite rubbing shoulders with Beyoncé at a recording studio in Los Angeles, Henry Parker, lead singer of The 27, identifies as ‘a strange sort of chap’. Apparently because he’s much happier actually writing and playing music than carefully crafting a glossy Instagram post about it. In fact, he’d much rather be soldering his analogue equipment collection than partaking in any of that social media stuff. Well, if that makes him strange, then sign me up for the weirdos. It is an interesting and seemingly unavoidable part of the music industry, or even life, nowadays. Oxford-outfit, The 27 (completed by Tom Michell, David Page, and Alex Tschaikowsky) write rock music with a strong ‘60s tinge, not dissimilar to The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash. The 27’s latest single, Run (which has racked up 40,000 views on YouTube thus far), muses on Parker’s struggles with how he should or shouldn’t be approaching adulthood. I’m very happy to allow him to get these things off his chest. You might think that meeting Beyoncé in Los Angeles, having Vinnie Jones star in their music video for Tell Me, and the sharp ascendancy of their views would be the keys to contentment. “It’s just trying to figure out what it’s all
about, what we’re supposed to do,” Parker says. “You get sent to school, you have to do well in your exams at the end of the year, or you can’t get the job that you want. It’s like being hit by this freight train of stuff that you have to do. I was lucky to become an unqualified musician at the first opportunity. But sometimes you take a step back, and wonder what the hell you’re supposed to be doing.” A Changing Industry I wonder if it’s society’s (continued) tendency to sneer at people trying to create a career from their creativity rather than work a 9 to 5. That is up until the moment they ‘make it’, which is when the applause suddenly begins. “I find it difficult to find role models,” Parker says. “A lot of the people I look up
to, like Neil Young, are in their 60s now. My situation doesn’t really apply - he was massively successful around the age of 23, but the industry doesn’t work like that anymore. You can get really depressed, comparing yourself to that sort of artist.” The stereotype of rock bands is a group of (typically) men, who identify as rebels, brazenly against the mainstream. It’s refreshing that Parker is a little more contemplative about things, rather than just sticking his middle finger up to ‘the man’. “I just love playing music, and playing it in front of people. My goal has always just been to become a better musician. Not to say that I’d change the lifestyle - I have become rather partial to it! At the end of the day, it’s always been about writing, playing, and not having to
Rock & Roll in the Age Of Instagram
“I just love playing music in front of people; my goal has always been to become a better musician...” work behind a desk. “What it unfortunately comes down to is, I have to somehow make a living out of music. That’s where it gets difficult. You have to do the corporate stuff; I used to play at a lot of weddings. I’m so glad we’ve drawn a line under that. I don’t want to be singing Don’t You Want Me Baby as some drunk person falls into me, and knocks the microphone over! It’s very hard to make money from selling records these days, so you have to play live. So it’s basically a case of shifting the tickets.” He’s not wrong. The wealthiest musicians on the planet, whether they be U2 or Taylor Swift, earn the most millions from their gargantuan shows, while the sales and streams of their music, and even the merchandise, make up a much smaller percentage of their income. “Record labels seem to be more interested
in your Instagram page than your music these days,” Parker adds. “I honestly think you could get a group together, spend some time making the photos really nice, get the profile up to a million followers, and they’d get signed without releasing any music!” As soon as I mention Parker’s love for analogue equipment, he replies: “It depends how long you’ve got,” which certainly makes sense, for a person who values authenticity and organic music making. “Just yesterday, some old Neve preamps arrived; they were damaged in the post, so I spent most of yesterday rebuilding them. I know my way around a soldering iron! “We’ve never used autotune or anything like that, and personally, I’d always prefer to run everything through tape. But it’s not always cost effective. But it’s not just some quirky thing - even a Rihanna record will be made using old Neumann microphones. Much of
the analogue stuff has yet to be improved on digitally.” “The rest of 2019 is mostly consisting of just finishing the album, then we can put together a schedule for playing these songs. I’m also playing around with some solo tracks, which are a very different thing from The 27. It’s pretty busy. But we don’t want anything to come between us and completing the album.” www.the27band.com
Stage To Studio
Headliner is proud to be partnering with our friends at Sound On Sound magazine to put on ‘Stage To Studio: Recording a Live Band’ at this year’s PLASA Show in London in September.
Ever wondered how to get the best recording of a live performance? Well, here’s your answer! This year’s PLASA (Professional Lighting and Sound Association) Show, at Olympia, on the 15th, 16th and 17th September will include a unique live recording seminar event, staged jointly with Headliner and Sound On Sound magazines. With a real band performing, and in front of a live audience, ‘Stage to Studio: Recording a Live Band’ will demonstrate techniques and tricks for capturing high-quality sound from the stage, and making the most of live multitrack recordings when mixing. Entry to the PLASA show is free and just requires advance registration [www. plasashow.com], giving you access to both the live recording event, and all exhibits. The live seminar will be taking place at 3pm on both Sunday 15th, and Monday 16th. The recording stage event will be hosted by
Miloco Studios’ chief engineer, Simon Todkill, who will describe his microphone choices and placements, and his subsequent mix decisions with a running commentary to the audience. The engineer’s DAW, displayed on the big screen above the stage during the mix process, will offer a unique insight into the decision making processes involved in crafting a successful live recording. After the show, the audio files will be made available for you to create your own mixes, and you’ll also be able to enter them into a competition, with the best mix winning a prize, as well as a day at Miloco Studios London. More details to follow nearer the show. The live recording stage will also host a ‘Tony Moore Showcase’ of talented acts performing a live acoustic set every hour on Sunday and Monday - a great opportunity to grab a drink at the adjacent PLASA bar and
enjoy some fine music! Tony Moore is not only a great singer-songwriter and compere, he is director of music at award-winning venue, The Bedford, in Balham. Also at PLASA, you can check out new live performance technologies from the many exhibitors at the UK’s flagship show for live entertainment technology. There are many free-to-attend, expert-led seminars, talks, and panels, as well as practical workshops and immersive demos. Come and find out why PLASA Show is the destination of choice for entertainment technology practitioners from the UK and around the world. www.headlinermagazine.net www.soundonsound.com www.milocostudios.com www.plasashow.com