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Welcome to this special MPG Awards edition of Headliner.
t’s our pleasure to bring you this special edition of Headliner Magazine, dedicated to tonight’s MPG Awards and the people it represents - the creative community of engineers, producers, and behind the scenes talent that make all the records we love to spin, download, and stream. Our cover story is an exclusive with tonight’s Inspiration Award winner, Roni Size. The Mercury Prize winning artist and producer has managed to stay relevant for over two decades, moving with the times in the ever changing face of the music industry seamlessly; he’s all for new technologies, yet when
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needs must, he’s happy to dive back into his box of tricks to seek out a go-to piece of kit from 10 years ago! Roni is a winner in every sense of the word, and talks to us about his creative projects, his goals for 2017, and taking a new, compact show out on the road. We can’t wait for his live performance tonight - it’s going to be epic! Also inside, we chat to Jack Ruston, Breakthrough Engineer of the Year nominee; his meticulous approach to the recording process has earned him several notable credits in 2016, and he offers his thoughts on the evolution of music consumpion and delivery, and the world of Virtual Reality - some interesting
thoughts there, for sure. We also chat to the one and only Tony Visconti - Bowie’s right hand man, and the deserved winner of the 2017 Outstanding Contribution to UK Music Award. His CV speaks for itself, but getting an insight into this guy’s remarkable career was something to behold. A true legend. So, enough from me, and on with the awards! We’d like to wish all the nominees the best of luck, and offer a special thanks to the MPG for sticking with us once again as Media Partner. It’s an honour, and a privelege. Paul Watson Editor
CONTACT Paul Watson firstname.lastname@example.org +44(0)7952-839296
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Art Director Eimear O’Connor
Contributors Jade Perry Jordan Young Jonathan Tessier Louis Henry Sarmiento II Shaun Lowe
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Contents MPG Awards Special
IN THE STUDIO
PRISM SOUND: 30 YEARS ON
A full rundown of this year’s categories and nominees.
10 SWIVEL ON THIS
DJ Swivel looks at the latest technological breakthroughs in the industry, including AI.
Acclaimed producer, Shaun Lowe, puts RME’s Fireface UFX+ to the test.
20 RONI SIZE
We have a chat with tonight’s MPG Innovation Award winner about his many musical projects.
We talk production with this talented music maker, who’s also up for an award tonight.
14 DIGIGRID DESKTOP We take a good look at the latest portable audio interfaces from DiGiGrid.
17 INSIDE ABBEY ROAD
These guys are building two new studios dedicated to the next generation of creatives.
It’s a milestone year for this British company. We speak to the man at the top about its audio evolution.
It’s songwriting - but not as we know it! Great fun in Brighton.
He made T. Rex and Bowie’s greatest albums, and is this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to UK Music Award.
MIXING IT UP
When these guys aren’t spinning records, they’re making them in their state of the art studio.
28 PLANES, TRAINS & ROMAN REMAINS
We try to mix a track on a commuter train using just a set of A-T headphones and a Waves Nx Head Tracker..!
H E A D L I N E R | M P G AWA R D S S P E C I A L 2 0 1 7
We do some experimental referencing with some top line in-ear monitors.
It’s off to Holland to speak with one of Europe’s leading recording studio designers.
HELPING TO CREATE THE WORLDâ€™S GREATEST MUSIC FOR 30 YEARS
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MPG Awards 2017 Shortlist UK PRODUCER OF THE YEAR (sponsored by Prism Sound)
RECORDING ENGINEER OF THE YEAR (sponsored by AMS Neve)
Paul Epworth Nigel Godrich Fraser T. Smith
Guy Massey Mark Rankin Richard Woodcraft
INTERNATIONAL PRODUCER OF THE YEAR (sponsored by British Grove Studios)
BREAKTHROUGH ENGINEER OF THE YEAR (sponsored by Genelec)
Josh Homme Garret ‘Jacknife’ Lee Tony Visconti BREAKTHROUGH PRODUCER OF THE YEAR (sponsored by Novation) Brett Cox Andrew Hunt Joel Laslett Pott SELF PRODUCING ARTIST OF THE YEAR (sponsored by Spitfire Audio) James Blake Jeff Lynne Tarek Musa (Spring King)
Manon Grandjean Andrew Hunt Jack Ruston MASTERING ENGINEER OF THE YEAR Barry Grint John Davis Mandy Parnell MIX ENGINEER OF THE YEAR (sponsored by SSL) Tom Elmhirst Mark ‘Spike’ Stent Cenzo Townshend
RE-MIXER OF THE YEAR Disclosure Matthew Herbert Wideboys UK ALBUM OF THE YEAR Blackstar, David Bowie Love and Hate, Michael Kiwanuka A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead UK SINGLE SONG RELEASE OF THE YEAR (sponsored by Shure) This Is What You Came For (C. Harris) Burn the Witch (Radiohead) Pillowtalk (ZAYN) STUDIO OF THE YEAR Abbey Road Studios British Grove Studios RAK Studios A&R OF THE YEAR Toby L & Tim Dellow (Transgressive) Bart McDonagh (Domino Records) Nigel Reeve (Warner Music Int’l)
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Comment DJ Swivel
Swivel on this One of my favourite movies growing up was The Matrix. It introduced this brand new idea to the masses, that not everything is as it seems. It allowed for our imaginations to run wild with the possibilities of technology, especially AI - and nowadays, we’re not so far off. AI and machine learning technologies are incorporated into our daily lives more and more. One of the brilliant technologies introduced in that film was the idea that information could be downloaded directly to a person in the matrix. I still remember the infamous line from Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo, “I know kung fu?” Well, we’re nearly there. We now have the cumulative knowledge of the human race at our fingertips. We’ve even started to see technology creep beyond users simply downloading information, to technology augmenting and assisting human output in new and exciting ways. One of these ways is with music. A year ago, I was introduced to a company called jukedeck. jukedeck is an interesting technology that will write original music based on style, mood, and duration inputs the user gives. For example, I can choose to create a melancholic piano song, that is exactly 1m 43s long, and with one click and a short wait, I’m given exactly that. And if I use the exact same inputs over and over, jukedeck will output a new original song each time. The shocking part is that the songs sound pretty good! More recently, we’ve also seen IBM’s Watson team up with Grammy-winning producer Alex da Kid (Eminem, Imagine Dragons, Rihanna) to create an original song for X Ambassadors. Watson scoured the internet for millions of unstructured data points looking for patterns in language, and melodies from thousands of hit songs. Using that data, Watson then helped compose a song, with Alex da Kid tying it all together. And just this week, I learned about what Adobe is doing around sound manipulation. With their new ‘Project VoCo’ software, Adobe is able to analyse recorded speech, convert it to text, and allow you to actually modify the text, which HEADLINER 10
is then converted back to audio. All of these technologies are in their infancy, but connect them together, and we now have an AI capable of creating full songs with lyrics, melody, and even great production. So it’s no secret that this is the direction we’re heading, a world where machines are beginning to learn creativity, something once thought to be a uniquely human trait. Which begs the question, is this where we should be heading? What are the implications of computers writing and creating our art? Art has always been an outlet for the underrepresented - those with the quietest voice. If technology starts pulling from the ‘consensus’, we’ll get content that simply appeases the masses, and questions nothing. We saw examples of this with Facebook’s news algorithms this election season; there were almost two completely different versions, depending on which side of the political fence you stood on. This led to complacency from younger demographics, who use Facebook more frequently, and who predominantly lean with the Democrats - and we all know how that ended. Bringing it back to music, this is a disaster for artistic expression. But this has even larger implications. Automation has already taken over many of the world’s manufacturing jobs, and will continue to do so. Cars are right on the brink of complete autonomy which will impact millions of people who earn their living driving. It’s difficult to look at nearly any profession and not envision a world where machines or AI begin to take over. Creative expression is one of the last areas that humans truly controlled. But where does that leave us? If there are more humans than jobs available, what’s sort of impact does that have on society? Will a universal basic income be introduced? How will governments accommodate this ever changing landscape? I don’t think any one person has all the answers, so rather than impart my own opinion, let’s open it up to a discussion: Tweet me @djswivel with the hashtag #swivelonthis, and let’s talk about it.
“All of these technologies are in their infancy, but connect them together, and we now have an AI capable of creating full songs with lyrics, melody, and even great production.”
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JACK RUSTON: MUSICALITY When Jack Ruston left school, he enrolled in a course at the Musicians Institute in LA. He saw himself as ‘a hired-gun guitarist with a made-upname and feathered earrings,’ but by 18, he was wandering around Hollywood in a pair of extremely tight trousers. He’d ditched the course to join a bigger band, but it all collapsed, as these things often do. It was an amazing learning experience, however, which led to his discovery that gigging wasn’t half as much fun as recording. Today, Ruston is an acclaimed producer, mixer, songwriter, and engineer. We catch up with him at his studio.
“Over the years, I’ve bought and sold quite a lot of gear, but I buy far less equipment these days, as I have a clearer idea of what I need, and exactly what I expect it to achieve,” says Ruston, adding that he is primarily concerned with ‘the source.’ “The recording path is really critical to me; I want things going in sounding right. I do the vast majority of my tracking work elsewhere, so I have no need for a desk or piles of mic amps. I need things to be portable, within reason; certain items I want to be able to pull out at a session to get a particular result.” These include his Telefunken V76 mic amp, and a selection of guitar pedals that he finds endlessly useful, including his Audio Kitchen Big Trees and his Tubescreamer. “I like those sorts of curious little devices that do something a bit different,” he smiles. “Like this GigRig Z Cable, which allows you to restore the relationship between the amp and the pickup coil at the end of a pedal run.” It’s the same mind-set when tracking drums; he’s obsessive about tuning: “I wake up in the night thinking about it,” he admits. Seriously? “Yep, I like to tune to the key of a track a lot, and when you work that way, it’s easier if you have a drum that’s very stable. The head is well-seated, and it’s always kept tuned in some way, and then moved up or down in increments. “I often find that people want that ‘60s super-classic sort of sound, which
doesn’t benefit from the sort of tuning that you might do with a modern kit. Older drums don’t produce defined pitches in the same way - they have a narrower spot where they sound good, so the benefits of keeping my own toms all nicely pitched are outweighed by the practicality of space in the back of the car!” When it comes to mixing, Ruston is back in his own studio, which is now totally ‘in the box.’ “It’s not just a question of practicality, it’s that people need all kinds of different versions or changes made later down the line; that’s where people’s expectations sit now,” he explains. “It’s easy to get caught in this funny middle ground with hybrid hardware setups, where you’re not quite able to take full advantage of either approach, so it’s practical to be in the box . But there are other advantages. For me, there’s a big question of headspace. I don’t want things to distract me from the creative process.” Ruston admits he struggles with control surfaces - they seem to be the worst of both worlds for him. “You don’t have the muscle memory advantage, because the faders aren’t always the same thing, and you have the acoustic disadvantage of a big flat surface right in front of the speaker,” Ruston says. I can see his point. “I think the future of this stuff is probably going to be VR. I thought it was going to be
“I like those curious little devices that do something a bit different.” touch screens, but for me, they’re not really there yet. VR is an interesting area.” Ruston is still gear-dependent, however, and there are some very particular elements within his setup that he relies heavily on: “Firstly, the monitoring is absolutely crucial; I like to work quite quietly, quite close, in a controlled space with no big reflective surfaces causing problems. I use Amphion One18s with an Amphion Amp 100, and they do everything a small mixing speaker should do. “The other side of that equation is the sound of the converter. My requirements meant that I wanted something which would be as good as the best two-channel units, but with the scope for multichannel use, both for surround, but also on the A-D side for tracking. “I didn’t want to have a completely separate rig - I wanted something I could hook up to a laptop and record a vocal one day, and mix a record the next, with the highest possible quality. I went through a long and quite frustrating process of trying more or less everything. It can be very difficult to find the balance between sonics and functionality in these things.” Ruston opted for a Merging Technologies Horus - in his opinion, the Horus DA-P card provides the best sounding D-A there is. “There’s a total lack of anything
irritating, or grating. It’s a very good match for my monitors, too, in that you don’t hear either of them! It was surprising to me that this difference has actually affected the way I equalise things. I find it far easier to zero in on the exact frequencies I’m after. “It’s really quite a profound difference, and while I very nearly bought the DAD unit, which has a bit more to it functionally - it would have given me ‘in the box’ monitor control as well - in the end, I found the Horus won, in terms of sound. Every time I went back to it, it just felt right. “I then use a Drawmer MC2.1 for monitor control, which is absolutely transparent, and has a nice party trick in letting me do completely analogue cue mixes when I’m tracking vocals in my own room. “The Horus also has extremely good quality clean mic amps, for times when I need those. I’m connecting it over Ethernet via Ravenna. You never have to open anything up or restart a network. So that chain has been a significant step in terms of equipment; it’s the removal of things that push you off course, so you end up back with the balance, but with things moving faster.” In terms of software, Ruston admits he’s had a bit of a seismic shift: “I’ve used Pro Tools my whole career, but I wanted to learn a different DAW in addition, and I’ve started to work more seriously with Reaper. It’s like an
unfinished bit of software when you start off with it, and over time, you develop a huge catalogue of custom actions and scripts that can do almost anything you want. “I took the plunge earlier this year on the last Judas Priest Battle Cry Live mixing project, and did the whole thing in Reaper. It’s a quirky application, but it’s extremely clever, and saved me quite a lot of time in the end. I now do all my mixing in Reaper, but I still use Pro Tools for multi-tracking. I’m using a custom PC, as well as a little MacBook Pro, so I can just connect the Horus via Ethernet to either system.” In addition to the Judas Priest album, Ruston has been noticed for his work on the latest Walking On Cars record, Everything This Way. It’s earned him a ‘Breakthrough Engineer of the Year’ nomination at the 2017 MPG Awards. “The way music is delivered and consumed has evolved, and with that, the nature of our job on the production side,” Ruston says. “The MPG not only highlights and celebrates our achievements, it acts as a forum for discussion on how these changes affect us all – it’s a collective voice for our community, speaking up for us as we try to maintain a fair slice of an ever smaller pie.” @jackruston www.merging.com
DIGIGRID DESKTOP UNCOVERED
The collaboration known as DiGiGrid, between DiGiCo and Waves, has been a whirlwind romance, resulting in some great sounding audio kit. Headliner takes a look at the firm’s new Desktop series – a portable, cool, and rather more sprucey offering than your average audio box, which promises to spread Audio over Ethernet (AoE) seamlessly into the studio space stratosphere. Included in the 24-bit/96kHzcompatible desktop range are the DiGiGrid [D], [M], [Q], and [S]. While the [D] looks like a standard cool four-in, six-out tabletop interface, the remaining three are housed within extremely solid nine centimetre minimalist metal cubes. All four units have rubberised bases, but the cubes have an optional fluted base bracket, which will fit onto any mic stand.
ubiquitous as Audinate’s Dante, it has been taken in by multiple manufacturers; and considering DiGiGrid has already established a range of MADI and analogue I/Owielding DigiLink interfaces, the hardware options are potentially endless. Even Avid advise using SoundGrid via MADI to plumb Waves plug-ins into its flagship S6L live console.
The aesthetics and uniqueness of this option had our creative juices flowing straight away; and DiGiGrid’s underlying protocol, Waves’ SoundGrid, is powerful in an individual way amongst the AoE crowd in that, in addition to routing AoE, it can also share DSP resources.
Whatever the case, these DiGiGrid units encourage a major shift towards portable, modular networked audio.
Although SoundGrid may not be as 14 HEADLINER
Switching Over After installing the modules, which is easy enough, the SoundGrid Studio (SGS) application configures the attached devices, channel routings,
and driver settings. A single device can either be connected directly to your computer’s Gigabit Ethernet port, or an appropriate network switch can be used to link multiple devices. Enter the DiGiGrid [S], a Gigabit switch featuring a single upstream port (connected to the host computer or another switch) and four Power over Ethernet (PoE)-enabled downstream ports for SoundGrid devices. So, no surfing the web for compatible devices; everything is already there. [S] comes complete with its own 48V DC power supply, featuring a smart yet simple twist-lock connector, but is subsequently able to power all of the other compact DiGiGrid modules over cable runs extending to 75m
“[Q] is without question a fantastic audio utility for any studio.”
(Waves provides a short list of approved third-party non-PoE switches, all of which are available locally for around £100). Once everything’s connected, an automated wizard can be selected from within SGS to create a generic configuration. The Network When adding to an existing SoundGrid network, setup is a breeze. But if you’re new to the SGS game, most of the action takes place on the ‘Setup > Setting’ page and the ‘Device To Device’ page of the Patch tab. When it comes to patching, it’s just a matter of checking the appropriate boxes — but while you can send one source to multiple destinations, the patcher won’t buss multiple sources to a single output. [D]esktop [D] offers two phantom-powered mic inputs on XLR, two TRS line/instrument DI inputs, four TRS outputs, and a headphone amplifier (with its own‘bigknob’ volume control for gain and control room, including metering). Ultimately, it’s a one stop shop for all your basic recording requirements. A low cut
and polarity inversion switch on the mic channels round out the standard features, and the Master channel LED meters are configured pre-fader, differing from both the [M], [Q], and the [D]’s own headphone metering. [D] and [M] jointly offer a mix button on all input channels, redirecting the preamp outputs into the master mix return, and monitoring while recording is very straightforward. Finally, the [Q] is a multi-input headphone amplifier (presumably with cue mixes in mind) with both 1⁄4-inch and mini-jack outputs on the front panel. On the rear are three of the four input connections (AES/EBU on XLR, analogue RCAs, and the Ethernet port) with Bluetooth rounding out the source options. Going places with input selection is a case of pressing the Master knob with the otherwise-hidden selection labels backlit by coloured LEDs. [Q] is without question a fantastic audio utility for any studio, irrespective of the level of SoundGrid investment, and is suitable for all pro audio applications.
All headphone outputs are amply powered, and although in isolation, these units may lack the full flexibility and software features of comparably priced audio interfaces, within a broader SoundGrid network, they’ll stand level with most other devices you’re ever likely to connect; and it’s the only AES/ EBU high powered headphone amplifier - perfect for in-ear monitor mixes on the live stage, and for keyboard players and drummers alike. The Verdict These Desktop boxes are an exciting complement and expansion of an existing audio network platform founded upon a strong reputation in DSP. If you’re looking for an AoE system that also distributes DSP, there’s no other game in town. As standalone units, they offer a lot to many, and for those already immersed in SoundGrid, even more. So all in all, this is excellent stuff – and be warned, once you buy one, you might not stop there. www.digigrid.net
“Once you buy one, you might not stop there.”
RECORDING REAL-TIME AoIP I/O PLUGIN NETWORK INTERFACE PROCESSING CONNECTED
www.digigrid.net/ios DiGiGrid Posterise IOS Headliner.indd 1
Inside Abbey Road Getting Creative
INSIDE ABBEY ROAD Abbey Road Studios is about to embark on its most notable creative expansion in a very long time, which will have every aspiring new artist in the UK and beyond raising a proverbial eyebrow (or two!) The studios manager, Fiona Gillott, talks us through Abbey Road’s two brand new purpose built contemporary studios which will allow new and emerging talent to create their own unique Abbey Road experiences at an affordable price.
So Abbey Road is really about to open two bespoke, affordable new recording studios? Indeed we are. But make no mistake, although they may be cost effective, and targeted at the next generation of creatives, we’re not compromising on the kit. These hightech, smart studios will offer an exciting, modern way of working, and will integrate seamlessly with all other Abbey Road studios to allow for full recording flexibility. They’re multi-purpose, too, with full audio, visual, and streaming capabilities – a nice bonus for record labels who want to create original content on site. First up, there’s the very spacious Gatehouse, which offers tracking with a multi-surfaced live space, with a nod to our other premium studios. Then we have the Front Room, which is ideal for the creative development of artists: vocal production, songwriting, editing, and in the box mixing. It also benefits from much more than your average vocal booth: it’s not just suited for the recording of vocals and solo instruments; you could probably fit a string quartet in there at a push. We also have an exclusive option to enhance the recording experience, by upgrading to use our vintage package; this means artists will be able to get their hands on some of our rare and sought after microphones and outboard collection, bringing that vintage Abbey Road feel to their sharp, modern recordings. We realise that the recording process has
evolved: artists are way less likely to work for months on end in the same studio; they prefer to work in multiple facilities with a host of engineers and producers. These new studios highlight Abbey Road’s forward thinking mindset, and complement the improvements we’ve already made to our larger spaces - the new booths in Studio Two have, for example, have brought
“These high-tech, smart studios will offer an exciting, modern way of working...”
a new creative element to an already epic room; and Studio Three is all singing, all dancing. And more than this - everything is compatible: no matter which room you’re working in, you can move your project through the different spaces to add unique sounds and elements to your tracks. This became even more apparent whilst speaking with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder about how he is constantly recording, no matter where he is in the world, on all manner of devices, and finding his ‘creative home’ in studios in each city during his travels. Our new offering allows us to accommodate this way of working. And when MPG Awards 2016 Producer of the Year, Charlie Andrew, recently did
a session in Studio Two, he was quickly reminded of what an unbelievable recording institution Abbey Road is: “The staff know exactly what they are doing, and you just know that in those rooms your recording is going to sound superb effortlessly. While there, it was clear to see the investment they have put in to keep improving. The new booths in Studio Two have revolutionised it and added a whole new level of versatility [to the studio] which is very exciting. Also, the new studios that are opening soon sound perfect for a multi-purpose creative and tracking space. I can’t wait to start using them!” One of our established engineers, Chris Bolster, who has worked on sessions with Paul McCartney, Kate Bush, and Foo Fighters, feels the same way as Andrews: “It’s an exciting time for the engineers at the studios, with the introduction of these newer and smaller facilities to Abbey Road’s current offering. It means we can open the doors and welcome sessions with more modest production requirements. The new rooms offer everything a top class tracking and production facility deserves, but they also complement and mirror the current high end recording equipment and experience already on offer at Abbey Road. We’re bolstering the service we already offer, and adding a stepping stone for those wishing to try our unique recording experience.” www.abbeyroad.com
Review RME Fireface UFX+
“I notice that the outputs are as clean as you could ever wish for - no noise detected here whatsoever.”
IN THE STUDIO Shaun Lowe has produced and engineered over 400 albums in his career; and his facility, Prism Studios, is one of the finest and most unique in the UK - housed in an old WWII bunker, it fuses the best of analogue and digital kit, and caters for a wide range of genres. Today, he’s trying out the RME Fireface UFX+ audio interface, to see if it cuts the mustard.
First impressions can be everything, and the first thing I thought when unboxing this unit is how good it looks! I think it’s actually quite important when you’re sitting looking at equipment over many hours and days. Also, I notice that the build quality is outstanding: very solid, nothing is loose and wobbly, which I’m afraid is quite common these days with new hardware units. So, I’m going to try and get this unit up and running without referring to the manual to see how easy it is to do. First things first, I need to install the drivers - I’m pleased to say, no problems there; it takes all of 30 seconds! Now I’m going to connect the unit. After rebooting, the host light is shining straight away, which is a good sign that everything is connected and talking. I’m encouraged to see an impressive on-screen mixer - RME Total Mix - appear once the unit has found its connection. It looks like there is everything you would need and more on this software mixer, and again, it’s good looking, too. I load up a jazz track I’ve just mixed, so I can have a listen to the outputs first of all, and I’m glad to say that my ears are not
wagging with disappointment; it sounds really great, and it stands up to my normal choice of interface without any problems. On stopping the track, I notice that the outputs are as clean as you could ever wish for - no noise detected here whatsoever. So let’s try and record something. I’ve miked up my acoustic piano with some lovely old vintage valve mics, recording at 96kHz, 32-bit. I have to say it sounds superb; very detailed, very open, and very quiet mix pres. Obviously the important thing with an audio interface is the quality of the ins and the outs, and once again, the UFX+ doesn’t let me down. I’m very impressed with this unit, and it also has a hell of a lot more going for it, like the built-in MIDI interface, and a crazy amount of different interface options, so on an audio level, I have to give it top marks. Having only been using the Fireface UFX+ for a couple of hours, it just feels very solid, and it’s very simple to get to grips with. Absolutely love it. @prismstudios www.rme-audio.com
Matters This year’s Inspiration MPG Awardwinner, Roni Size, sits down with Headliner to discuss his 20-year musical journey, and the projects that help keep him relevant today. It’s onwards, upwards, and beyond for this highly respected producer, artist, and label owner. Get this Bristolian a hat-rack! “Everyone loves Bristol, mate,” opens Roni, as we begin to skirt briefly over the numerous highs in his 20-year career which all began in that south westerly part of the UK. Roni won a Mercury Prize for his first record, New Forms, back in 1997, and two decades on, he’s receiving the ultimate accolade from his musical peers. “When I first found out about [the MPG Award for Inspiration] I have to confess I didn’t know that much about it; I am in a bit of a bubble myself, you see, and I don’t do this job to receive accolades,” Roni explains. “However, I am slightly overwhelmed when I look at the company I am now in – some of the previous winners are unbelievable! “I guess I have committed the majority of my life to my passion, to what I do today; I have stayed true to who I am - to my roots – and when I think back to ‘97, there were a lot of opportunities; and as an artist and producer, you have to make sure you pick and choose what you want to do, and you have to have a sense of pride about your work – or be able to turn stuff down, as you don’t think it’s right for the scene, you know? “But I can honestly look in the mirror and know who I am, and it’s hugely gratifying that an organisation such as the MPG has noticed that I have had an impact. The MPG Awards is the gathering of a great bunch of people, and I look forward to not only getting reacquainted with some old friends, but to making some new ones, too. I’m hoping to do some kind of performance, too, which would be cool.” It would indeed. Roni is clearly a humble guy, so I choose not to pursue my
personal thoughts on just how big an impact he has made on the biz over the last two decades. Instead, I ask him how he manages to stay relevant in a somewhat crowded space. It’s all down to adapting, and not forgetting your roots, it seems. “I have always embraced change, especially with technology,” Roni says. “I remember I carried crates of vinyl, which is one of the reasons i’m so fit now, lugging around all the rerords! [laughs] We were turntable warriors, but nowadays it’s a bit easier; but the romance has disappeared from collecting records. All that joining forces to go to a record shop, where there’d be five promos, and you’d be looking to get one. “You’d hang out and meet people, and a lot of that has been lost. Throughout the last 20 years, the bells and whistles may have changed, but the game is still the same: you still have to go out and make people dance, you still have to play the room and put a set together. And if it makes it easier today, I am all for that, but it’s still about entertaining people.” Roni has brought music out regularly since he started out: EPs, singles, and so on; how difficult is it to keep a tab on all facets within the scene today? “Firstly it’s very important to be up with what’s going on, but I am also very fortunate to have a 20 plus year history of technology, so I have a catalogue of equipment and music; if I ever become disillusioned with where my sound is at, I can tap into the technology I used back in the day. My Roland 760 sampler or my AKAI, to recreate exactly what I had back then. “But you have to know your stuff; you have to know your numbers and your music if you want to be sonically correct, then you have to learn your arts and crafts. These days there are a lot more colleges and schools teaching music, whereas back in the day there were not that many; now
you can go and do a degree in Roni Size and pass with flying colours! [laughs]” And that’s how it should be, Roni adds. He says he looks at his job as if he was on University Challenge: “What would be your specialist subject?” he asks me. Before I have a chance to answer (if, in fact, it was a question), he continues: “Any individual needs to learn their way, and back in the day, there were only two or three ways to learn; now there are one million and one ways, and I embrace that.” I come to the conclusion my subject would probably be something on The Beatles, or Leyton Orient Football Club. But I keep that to myself. Instead, we move onto some of Roni’s current pastimes, one of which is collaborating with the production/songwriting collective, Pro7ect (pronounced ‘Project Seven’). “I just signed up with those guys, and I like the ethos - that’s the way songwriting should be: yes, it’s great sometimes being on your own in a room, like when I first heard about MIDI - the fascination then was that you didn’t need to have an orchestra to create an orchestral sound but now I believe it’s about being able to look across the other side of a room and nod in appreciation that you’re all on the same page; that’s a beautiful thing,” Roni says. “And I think one of the reasons why I signed up to Pro7ect was that I learned that I did have something to bring to the table – and that felt fantasic. “I tend to look at things a little bit left and definitely if you see something one way, I guarantee I will see it another way. It’s not me trying to be different, it’s just the way I think. You might think it’s red, but it’s more rouge to me! [smiles] “I think I will learn a lot from Pro7ect, too; and as soon as I knew about the MPG Award and Pro7ect, I purposely took myself off of the social media realm, as I wanted to have no preconceptions, and be reminded of what life was like back in 21 HEADLINER
“Any individual needs to learn their way, and back in the day, there were only two or three ways to learn; now, there are one million and one ways, and I embrace that.”
1997. I feel social media can set you back, so it’s a Roni human experimental test to see if I really do need to be on social media to keep up my enthusiasm at this time.” Another of Roni’s collaborations is with B-Side Project. He’s been on their judging panel for a year, and recently pledged a further 12 months’ support. This remixing project must be right up his alley... “Oh, definitely, man – it’s a good company with great people involved. Yvette [Chivers] is fantastic, and everyone at Prism Sound, too. It’s got a really good, fun vibe about it. It’s also great to get into something that’s annual, so you know what to expect,” Roni reveals. For the record, B-Side Project is for upcoming mixers and producers: a remix comes in, Roni and co. will listen to it, absorb it, and then give direct feedback to the remixer. Pretty cool. “Oh, very much so. And the remixes you get involved in – the guys really appreciate the involvement. You have one on one time with them, and for them, there is no other environment where they can stand shoulder to shoulder with someone whose music they grew up on, and who has kind of been there and done it.” B-Side Project is heavily attached to Metropolis Studios, a place Roni is proud to call his musical home: “Yeah, I have a lot of love for that building, and I hope to work there for the rest of my life,” he says. “And you have to trust your instincts sometimes; just speaking to you now tells me I made the right decision to do B-Side Project and Pro7ect.” Good to hear! Currently, Roni is in the studio quite a lot, though January is a quiet time for musicians, he assures me – “they’re either on holiday or getting a studio sun tan.” In the box, he’s a big Pro Tools fan, yet still embraces some old school kit. “I love Pro Tools, and I use a lot of outboard – I like my Tube Techs in particular. I am a geek at heart, and I just love making music,” Roni smiles. “I still use my old Roland 760 sampler - every day, in fact! It’s a classic, and it just does something to the sound; it uniforms the sound, which nowadays is quite hard to do unless it’s been processed and processed and processed, but for some reason, I put something in the 760, it comes out, and I’m like, ‘hello!’ [laughs]” Currently, Roni is putting together a standalone show, just him and some nice kit on stage: it will feature his trusted Pioneer kit (he confesses he has ‘a 24-7 love affair’ with the company), his 22 HEADLINER
MacBook, a couple of keyboards, and a Prism Sound Titan, his preferred USB audio interface. “I really like the [Prism Sound] Titan – I use it for my outputs on stage, and then I have a couple of Native Instruments keyboards, playing my back catalogue of New Forms, In The Mode, and some remixes I’ve done. It’s Roni Music, Roni Shows, no MCs no vocalists; just me by myself doing what I do as a DJ, but focusing on my music. That’s the plan, anyway! “I’m also going to use the Titan for mastering, unless Prism Sound decide to give me one of their big boy units, which I love! But the Titan really is a great unit; the sound quality is superb, and I’m trying to set up a mastering suite at home at the moment, you see... That’s my next goal.” For his new setup, it’s all about getting the right sonics, Roni tells me, and his Prism Sound Titan allows him to remaster at 192kHz, which he says is a necessity in today’s game: “I need to be able to make stuff in the studio, take it out, and put it into the master chain without messing with the sample rate; and when you start to master at 16- or 24-bit, sometimes you need to come out of the session, into 192kHz, and then you start to get those highs, man,” Roni enthuses. “Mastering and mixing are two different volcanoes, and the Titan allows me to just take my laptop, a GML, a couple of compressors, and create a really powerful, great sounding mastering chain without being at all complicated. Just so I can get +8, +12 on a soft clip... I thought the loudness wars were over, but apparently not! And when you’re talking about soundcards in that upper realm, the Prism Sound stuff is pretty much the top of the range.” A Roni Size day in the life is a pretty complex thing, but his motivation and focus has never been stronger: “I have always had a team around me, but it’s now disbanded, so I am currently in the process of creating a brand new team people that are engaged and want to move forwards. I also have three record labels, so I put as much time as possible into those; but there are sacrifices along the way, mine being not being in the studio as much as I would like to be. But I want to put consistent music out, as that’s what I am about: I am a producer/ musician, trying to make sure now I can put this performance together and take it out on the road. Let’s hope it can happen!” @ronisizebristol www.prismsound.com
TONY VISCONTI: BOLAN, BOWIE & BEYOND Tonight’s MPG Award winner for Outstanding Contribution to UK Music needs very little introduction – but just in case... Tony Visconti is one of the ultimate record producers of the last 50 years. His credits are long and distinguished, but his ability to play and compose music at such a high level from such a young age has been the ultimate key to his studio success. We sit down with the man himself to find out more about a truly breathtaking career so far.
“I am in more demand in London and LA than I am in New York these days, because there’s no music biz in New York anymore,” opens Visconti. “There are no bands, no venues; and the venues that are there feature bands from out of town, so the local scene has really died.” All the studios turned into condominiums in Manhattan, Visconti says, so today, he works out of his own private studio in the city, which he uses for mixing and overdubbing. “I still have microphones dating back to the ‘70s – my Neumanns still work beautifully, and I also have a lot of vintage instruments; I loan them to the people I work with, and they end up doing a whole bunch on my stuff [laughs]. I have some beauties, like the [Fender] P Bass I played on [David Bowie’s] The Man Who Sold The World.” Today, Visconti works in the box; there’s no room for a big analogue desk in his place. However, he kind of likes it that way: “It’s still lovely to go to another place and track; I worked in [London’s] British Grove which is a beautiful room, and in LA I worked in Westlake and The Village. Those rooms are so wonderful, but they cost millions of dollars to build and maintain, and I don’t want to get back into that rut again. I love having a small studio to do all my concentrated work: my mixing and editing.” Conversation turns to technology, which Visconti has a clear knack for – however, it’s not all about the audio: “I even treat Pro Tools like it’s an old console! I do the same channel routing
and triggering. It’s down to technique and experience, not so much the gear. “I am still active today because I know so much about music, not audio. Audio doesn’t have the same depth of education as music does. It’s kind of technical, and some engineers are great, like Geoff Emerick, who I worship - but to be a great record producer, you have to come from the musical side first. Look at George Martin – he and Beethoven are my idols!” Visconti was rejected as a songwriter in 1966 by his publisher, who loved his demos more than his songs. So he became an in-house producer: “I liked working with other people’s material, and I was already a pro musician at 13, so working the both together was great. Then I met Denny Cordell (Procol Harum, The Move). I did a quick job for him, and he asked me to come to England to be his assistant. That sealed my fate!” Indeed. Visconti’s production credits are staggering, but before we get to Bowie, it’s worth noting the importance of his work with Marc Bolan and T. Rex. “Marc [Bolan] and I cut our teeth in the studio together, and I have to mention Malcolm Toft – he was our inspiration and teacher. We went to him with a handful of ideas, and no idea how to get them. He taught the both of us more about the studio than I learned from anyone else, so by the time we got up to [T. Rex album] Electric Warrior, I was a full fledged engineer. I was writing the string arrangements, and we both knew what we were doing. I then made four great sounding T. Rex
“To be a great record producer, you have to come from the musical side first...” albums after that.” As Bolan and co. were on tour at the time, Visconti made Electric Warrior by following the band around the globe. “We did Hot Love at Air Studios, then on to California to do Get It On and Planet Queen, and then back to New York to do Cheapster. Of course, none of these exist anymore,” Visconti smiles. “Then it was back to Trident and Advision Studios in London to do the remaining tracks. We mixed it at Trident, then ended up doing the next three T. Rex albums in the same manner. It sharpened my skills at how to get my sound in any studio I worked in.” With Bowie, it was a very similar story – Visconti and he hardly used the same studio twice. The pair’s 45-year friendship began when Visconti’s boss, David Platt (Denny Cordell’s partner) called him in for a meeting to discuss ‘this new, weird artist’. “He said, ‘you’ve just recorded Mark Bolan, so you seem to be an expert with these weird artists’, and he played me three tracks. The only weirdness I noticed about Bowie was that the three songs were all completely different genres. He asked if I would like to meet Bowie, I said yes, but he was already in the next room waiting for me... It was a set up! That meeting ended up lasting six hours, followed by a trip to the cinema! Their mutual love of Frank Zappa, The Fugs, and a voice actor called Ken Nordine provided a real springboard. “So from the first day I met David Bowie, we were literally friends for life.
Everything stemmed from that meeting.” And a year or so later, Visconti had cut the seminal The Man Who Sold The World. “The reason that record sounds better than Space Oddity is that we decided to live together in this big flat in Beckenham, Kent, where we converted a disused wine cellar into a rehearsal studio,” he explains. “Mick Ronson and Woody Woodmansey lived with us, and we practiced for weeks. That’s why it’s special; it’s sonically not the best I created, but I had a triple role as producer, bass player, and arranger. I mixed the album, too. We used so many different studios back then because the studio business was so great; we just booked time where we could get it.” Visconti and Bowie both always acknowledged that the record was very experimental, and that it was really the only heavy rock album they made: “The Man Who Sold The World literally defined what we were looking for; I would say the creative music vocabulary of that, Scary Monsters, and The Berlin Trilogy (Low, Heroes, and Lodger), we never lost.” And many years later, on Bowie’s exquisite swan song, Blackstar, the pair took yet another leap into the unknown: “Blackstar was truly a wonderful thing to do in the Autumnal years of your life - to create something entirely new,” Visconti says, proudly. “And David surprised me, he really did; his voice [on Blackstar] was as strong as if he was on a tour. I don’t know where he got it from, but it was a real example of mind over matter; he was
so into it, I think sometimes he even forgot himself that he was ill. And when he would sing really loud, it was hard to stand next to him because it was so deafening! I’d often have to scoot back a few feet!” There are so many other great records in Visconti’s back catalogue: albums from The Seahorses, Kaiser Chiefs, Manic Street Preachers, Morrissey – the list is as varied as it is extraordinary. So it’s fitting that he will receive this special MPG accolade this evening. I ask him how that feels. “People say awards don’t matter, but they really do; they are milestones that celebrate something in your life. The MPG means a lot to me because I am a founding member. I remember sitting in the room with 10 scraggly record producers back in the ‘70s! So from being there at the beginning all those years ago, to this happening now is a great honour. It’s so personal, it genuinely means more to me than winning a Grammy.” Visconti is a gentleman, and a proud honorary Brit, too; it was home for 22 years, and it’s where he made all his great records. And in March, he will return with supergroup Holy Holy – himself, Woody Woodmansey, and an all-star band, performing Bowie’s music from ‘69-’73. “It started out as a bit of fun, but we’re in demand, so we’re doing 10 shows,” Visconti reveals. “David also heard us perform, and totally approved [smiles].” Well then, enough said. Congrats, Tony. @tonuspomus
BLASTERJAXX Since 2013, this talented DJ-producer duo have been doing their thing all over the globe, and have cemented themselves in the top tier of the DJ Mag Top 100 list. As impressive as that is in such a short time, they remain humble in their approach to their art: “To be honest, we find it unbelievable that we’re really doing this, making our living by doing what we love more than anything,” says Thom Jongkind. We dig a little deeper, chatting music, studios, and giant speakers.
“Touring is great, but it has its pros and cons, something a lot of people underestimate,” Thom Jongkind reminds Headliner. “And no kidding, but we really do love all the venues and all the crowds. Each one tends to have its own unique charm.” Blasterjaxx describe their sound as powerful, melodic rave music – and when they’re not out on the road, they meet up every morning around 10am in the studio to begin work. And there’s us thinking all these big DJs sleep in until mid-afternoon... “[smiles] Yep, we meet each other in the morning, and either start something from scratch, or continue working on existing material. It’s just the two of us in our ‘workplace’, breathing music until 5pm! Back in the day, we did a lot of night sessions, but we feel more confident with a more normal routine. “On the road, it mostly starts with a
quick room service breakfast, re-packing of the suitcase, a drive to the airport, a quick bite at the airport, take a plane, drive to the hotel, eat again, work out, nap, prepare for the set, play the show, head back to the hotel... [takes a breath] And the next day we do it all over again!” I ask Jongkind what he feels their live shows offer that stands them out from the crowd, so to speak. “The shock effect!” is the quick response. Do divulge... “We try to give the crowd tracks they would never expect us to play, or even hear at a dance festival. Take Daddy Yankee - Gasolina, Eminem - Lose Yourself, Edward Maya - Stereo Love, just to name a few, which we bootlegged and made an experience for the people in the crowd,” explains Jongkind. “Other than that, we do play a lot of stuff which never will be released; it could be our
own music, or some of the boys we love to support. And last but not least, we use a lot of tools: BPM drops, crazy build-ups, and moments to interact with the crowd. We would go nuts by ‘just’ playing a 128bpm set, believe it or not!” GAME-CHANGER Blasterjaxx recently upgraded their studio facility with the help of renowned Dutch studio designer (and excellent wine drinker), Jan Morel. We know him well at Headliner, as he’s been pivotal in so many studio designs for the likes of Hardwell, David Guetta, and the current world number one DJ, Martin Garrix. So you were in good hands, then? “Oh yeah! We went from a small studio to a medium sized one; after two years, we needed to go bigger, and we are now the proud owners of a 35 sq. metre studio, completely designed by Jan for producing electronic music. We couldn’t be happier with it!” And a brand new set of fantastic monitors, too? “Yeah! We are currently using the
“The Genelec 1234s are so powerful, and crystal clear...”
Genelec 1234s. Man, those things are so powerful - and crystal clear! In the beginning, it took us a while to get used to working with them – you know, it’s a whole new environment, big-ass speakers, and a new acoustic to work in. But Hardwell has the same ones, so we kinda used him as a reference to purchase our own pair. And they are seriously incredible.” “The guys gave me a call when they were making a new studio two years ago,” Jan Morel recalls. “They’d had some problems, and asked me to come over... Just in time! We changed the whole thing into a more functional and professional studio, and started creating a much bigger place. They were very curious about the big Genelec 1234 speakers, and at that time, they’d started to make a lot of money, but not spend a lot of money. The new car comes
first, then the speakers! [smiles] So we had this huge control room, and the speakers they already had just didn’t have the power or the dynamic at all. There was just no low end.” Morel had already recommended Genelec 8030 nearfields, which replaced their previous monitors, but holes had already been made in the studio walls to accommodate something much bigger. It was at this stage that Morel brought in the Genelec 1234s, along with the Genelec 7073 subwoofers. “They had never heard anything like them before, of course; and I demonstrated some different types of music through them to one of the guys: some very nicely recorded Marcus Miller stuff, and then some Knife Party – really good EDM sounds. Blasterjaxx were then very keen to have a listen to their own stuff through the Genelecs, but because those speakers don’t have any mercy, they were pretty devastated! ‘Switch back to Knife Party,’ they said. [laughs] So then, next month, I came back to do a few tweaks, and they had a very different outlook: ‘We changed our old songs! You can’t imagine what it sounds like now!’ And I have to say,
it was a big improvement. You often find when young DJs move to serious monitors, their mixes suddenly get much better.” Blasterjaxx believe that electronic music is now being recognised on a more global scale - the pop/dance crossover has certainly done the genre no harm. But Jongkind does have one particular bugbear: “We don’t want to sound old school, but when we started out, you had to find all the samples and sounds yourself, and by collaborating with other artists, you could learn new tricks to use in your own tracks afterwards. Today, kids rebuild a song in a 12-minute online tutorial, and sometimes the track isn’t even released!” Okay, and what about leaving us with one stand out memory so far? “Probably our meeting with Tiësto in his hometown of Breda back in 2013. To us, he’s the god of this scene, and opened so many doors - including ours - to the big wide world. We are still very thankful for all his support.” www.genelec.com www.morelmuziek.nl
Mixing On Location
PLANES, TRAINS & ROMAN REMAINS 28 HEADLINER
There are plenty of clever bits of kit out there today, but one that really appealed was the new Nx Head Tracker from Waves, which I’ve crowbarred into part two of this mixing series. It’s said to improve the whole experience of mixing on headphones. I board my train to North Yorkshire (en route to a brewery tasting) armed with the Nx, and my ATH-M70x headphones.
The Nx is a small, battery-operated wireless Bluetooth sensor, which is said to transform the whole experience of mixing while wearing cans. In this series, we’re trying to work out whether or not it’s at all feasible to mix a master on headphones while on the go, or in a particularly tricky environment, and I’m hoping this little device will lend me a helping hand. Firstly, you can attach the Waves Nx to any set of headphones (I tried this with several pairs before boarding the train, and it’s very easy to do), and it then tracks your head movements, sends information nice and quickly to the Head Tracker plugin, and will track in 360 degrees. To make sure
it works properly, you need to attach it to the top centre of your headphones – just make sure you know your left and right! I’m using the Nx with Reaper – my preferred DAW – and as I bring up the Nx plugin, it automatically sets the Head Tracker as the active tracking sensor. Clever stuff. I’m sure your results using Nx will depend on your choice of headphones, but the theory is, it essentially replicates a mix room with monitors; and when I pulled on my Audio-Technica ATH-M70xs, I quickly got the idea. Personally, I feel that ‘less is more’ when you’re tweaking your ‘Room Ambience’ setting on the Nx. Much like you would a reverb, you can decide how ‘wet’ you want it to sound, and depending on the level, it’ll offer various virtual reflections, which will impact on your pair of virtual speakers (or handful, if you’re mixing a surround session). On The Train When it comes to speaker position, you can have a lot of fun with this little device. It’s remarkably accurate, too; when I move my head left, right, up, down (which people are already finding odd on the train, I notice) I can see Nx tracking my head movements, at almost twice the speed that a camera can manage (Nx allows for camera tracking also, but if you’re on a Mac, you need to move into low light mode to get the right rate, so I stick to no camera). Two ‘Speaker Position’ dials allow you to
Mixing On Location
“If you know your headphones well, the Nx can provide a true sense of space in your mix, allowing for real feel; and tweaking the stereo image is very addictive!” widen or narrow your image from mono all the way to 90-degrees each side, and it does genuinely capture that feeling I remember when I used to close my eyes and position my head as central to my old studio monitors as possible some years ago. Hilariously, I find myself sinking into my seat, lowering my head, eyes closed (we’re now passing Doncaster, by the way) as if these virtual speakers are in fact real, and I’m suddenly back in that old barn with my Soundcraft Ghost console in front of me. But I guess that’s the whole idea? I find my optimal sweet spot (the Nx allows you to set your own, and lock it in), and unlock it again, several times over. I decide I prefer not to be locked in - it just feels ‘spacier’ not being restricted to one mix position, as mad as that might sound, when you consider I’m not in a control room at all..! In The Mix The mix I am working on is, as in part one in this series, from our recent Headliner Helps show. Last month, it was Mark Sullivan, this time, talented Hertfordshire trio, ARC. I’ve got two ambient mics that I’ve decided to hard pan L/R, and when I physically turn my head left or right, it freaks me out a little, as the audience voices move with me. It must be insane when working in surround! The mix perspective default is 60degrees – one I use regularly - and it feels about right, though I am tempted to go that bit wider, and I find myself starting
to play with effects and techniques more than I normally would: panning vocal harmonies 30 to 40 degrees rather than five to 10. Maybe that’s just because I can? I guess with something as cool as this, the temptation of going OTT will always be there – I mean, the graphic of the head moving in time with your own almost feels like a video game in itself, so there is a definite fun factor to it, as well. But ultimately, the technology on show here is staggering. And at $79, it’s already feeling like a no-brainer. I’m approaching Leeds, some two hours into my journey, and I must say there have been barely any distractions on this train. I was concerned about volume, but it really isn’t an issue with these headphones - plenty of headroom, despite having no interface with me - and I’m really getting the hang of Nx. At the beginning, I found myself hammering every setting under the sun – but as soon as I got used to the ‘feel’, I began using speaker placements that I used to in the old analogue domain; and probably because my old room was pretty ‘dead’ when I had my studio, I didn’t go crazy with the ‘Room Ambience’, just kept it at default, at a few percent, which did add a little life to the sound. You can even rotate the speakers a complete 360 on Nx - something for surround mixing, perhaps? Something else well worth a mention - I’m mixing using a ‘default’ head size, but if you have the time, I’d recommend following Waves’ instructions, and measure the circumference and inter-aural
arc of your own head (which I did postmix) for an even more accurate tracking. It does makes a difference. However, just by playing with the settings until it ‘feels’ right still does a very good job. The Verdict! This is a plugin I will happily keep on my mix buss, and keep going back to - half to experiment, half to reference. I don’t know if it’s the right or wrong thing to do, mixing with Nx dialled in the whole time, but after a while, I have to confess I found it more alien when it wasn’t dialled in than when it was. The key is to make sure you know your headphones. The fact I had gotten used to all the sonics and the nuances of my ATH-M70xs over the last month or so really helped me along the way; and Nx genuinely made mixing on these headphones a fun experience. For me - someone who uses headphones a lot, Nx provided a sense of true space in my mix; and thinking about it, it also freed me up to mix with more feel. I found myself trying new things, playing with new techniques - and tweaking the stereo image, especially in these cans, is very addictive! So as long as you keep your discipline, the Nx comes highly recommended, and is a very welcome addition to any plugin collection. www.waves.com www.audio-technica.co.uk
30 YEARS OF GOLDEN EARS Since Prism Sound was founded in October 1987, major advancements in DSP technology, a forward-thinking mindset, and a smart, ever-evolving product linehas led to a string of major successes. But there’s more to the firm than that.Co-founder, Graham Boswell, is a serious audio fanatic, and we can’t help thinking that if that wasn’t the case, Prism Sound wouldn’t be where it is today (or tomorrow, for that matter). It was a fortunate break at Neve during the mid-80s that put Graham Boswell on the right path to building an audio business: he spearheaded a project involving the creation of a digital mastering console. Although he admits it was a great learning experience, he didn’t take well to authority structures: “I can be an unruly sod, so I didn’t feel like hanging around,” he says, with a smile, adding that he was soon talking to a pal of his, John Westbrook, about setting up a consultancy business (which would become Prism Sound). “We did some work for Neve, and Ian Dennis, also working at Neve at the time; Ian is incredibly talented and productive, so John and I asked him to do some further work on the mastering project. After a year of working together, we persuaded him to come on as a full partner. John disappeared very shortly after – running a firm wasn’t for him - so Ian and I have been the sole partners for almost 30 years.” When Boswell and Dennis came out of Neve, they knew there were two problems with digital audio: the converters were shit; the DSP was shit..! “[smiles] It was obvious that the
silicon was going to get better very quickly due to the rate of progress of computers and digital technology at the time, but what wasn’t so obvious was how the converters would develop and evolve,” Boswell explains. “In the early days, we designed measurement equipment that covered the AES/ EBU interface very comprehensively, and today that’s more or less a legacy format. We made a handheld AES analyser (the DAS-1) that came out in ‘93, which could not only look at channel status, but the electrical signal properties as well, because there was concern about jitter and signal propagation down long lines. But one of our real interests was improving the converters.” BOX CLEVER Shortly after, Neve asked Prism Sound to work with them on a project to develop a high performance converter product. It didn’t go quite to plan. “Neve wouldn’t let go of the analogue part, they just wanted us to do the digital element, which was frustrating for us,” Boswell admits. “They’d retained much the same technology used in their
earlier converters, and the problem was, that technology was all changing very quickly. We did the project, but as far as I know, it wasn’t very successful..!” At this time, Prism Sound had its own ideas, and decided to build some prototypes using new technology and new parts. The build was motivated by the requirements in German broadcast at the time; they wanted A-D and D-A conversion that they could put on the end of digital distribution, and hook up to analogue machines and consoles. “This was just before racks of 3U converters became very common in broadcast - so about 25 years ago,” Boswell recalls. “But while we were building the prototype for this, I had been busy talking to some people in the mastering industry, saying we needed to make it all a bit more flexible. The Germans needed a fixed function converter with switches on the back with some level of performance, but that wouldn’t be good enough for other customers, who needed more flexibility. “So we came up with a product that used two converter chips at different gain ranges – it had an enormous dynamic range; and at the time, classical
“I realise Layla is allowing my mixes to take on a whole new personality...”
Metropolis Studio E E music recording was very popular, and people were doing a lot of this direct to two-track digital recorders.” So in the late ‘90s, Prism Sound was really discovering itself, and this was the foundation of the business: understanding that they needed to improve the performance of converters, and to quite a dramatic extent. “When you look at live to stereo recording, if you want to do that properly, you don’t want to have to compromise by putting compressors on the stereo record feed; you want to capture it, and then do your post production,” Boswell insists. “So we came up with the idea of using this dual conversion architecture that the [Prism Sound] AD-1 used (the unit that first established Prism Sound as a serious player), and refined the idea to create the AD-2. That took us to the next level, and is still going strong today.” AUDIO ENTHUSIASTS The Prism Sound ethos has always been about building good gear, and that’s ultimately because these guys are enthusiasts. The kit’s not cheap, mind, but it wouldn’t be, would it? “If we were real business people and wanted to make a lot of money, the last thing we’d want to go into would be audio! [laughs] For us, it’s always been a bit of a hobby,” says Boswell. “I enjoy audio too much to leave it; it’s my passion subject, and Ian is the same. We are both engineers, and we both still have a passion for the products, and to continue to evolve the products.” When the ADA-8 came along in 2001,
Prism Sound had a very clear idea how and why the industry was changing. “The ADA-8 actually started off as a converter, but then people began referring to it as an interface, and we built a firewire card for it; that’s when we saw the writing on the wall,” says Boswell. “Everything was moving towards musicians and bedroom producers, so we realised we needed a more affordable product for that market. It spawned the obvious product, which was the forerunner of the current Lyra and Titan line.” Orpheus arrived in late 2007 – the first offering from Prism Sound in the home studio and desktop audio market - and in April 2008, Prism Sound made its first ever acquisition in SADiE, one of the very first audio workstations. And Prism Sound’s audio evolution has continued ever since, most recently into the USB audio interface market (Titan/ Lyra/Atlas), and a step into hi-fi world with Callia, a DAC based on Lyra, but for the consumer; they lost the controller App with its complex mixer, making it even easier to use: “We are enthusiasts, so we wanted to play back in the same way we record; and it was nice to offer something in the home market with the same converter technology that the producers use.” So what might the next 20 years hold for Prism Sound, then? “Well, the audio industry will be unrecognisable to people today,” Boswell insists. “Look at the fashion for WiFi and Bluetooth speakers – and
how speakers are getting DSP. Phase correction is an interesting development, too, isn’t it? The electronics will go into the box; it’ll become part of the speaker; and the distinction between pro and consumer becomes even smaller as the technology is converging. “One of the things I often remind people of is that when I joined Neve to work on digital audio, there was no such thing as a mobile phone – you could have a radio telephone in your Rolls Royce, maybe, but that was about it; and it was all analogue too, of course... Oh, and there was no Internet, either!” Boswell predicts further changes in the audio measurement world, too: “When we built the AD-1 in ‘93, we knew we needed to measure A-D conversion in the digital domain, and we saw an opportunity – we’d built an AES analyser and monitor card as a bit of an experiment, but we realised we could run the audio into a computer rather than a DSP card, and just use the AES interface card to get signals in and out. We’d always harboured an ambition to graft some analogue front and back ends onto it and make it a proper measuring system, but we had to develop smart electronics and measurement software that went beyond what we were doing for music. It took many years to do that. “So there is a huge array of technology coming through, and we still do it for the love of it as much as anything. It is nuts, but I have to say, it’s been a good living, a lot of fun, and a great privilege, really.” www.prismsound.com 31 HEADLINER
Pro7ect Hotel Pelirocco
PRO7ECT: SONGWRITING WITH A TWIST
I head down to Brighton's very rock and roll Hotel Pelirocco, the host each year to Project Seven (Pro7ect): a forwardthinking songwriting and music production group, spearheaded by songwriter, Lisa Fitzgibbon, which brings professional songwriters and producers together to make sweet music. Today, I'll be getting my own Pro7ect experience - but with a twist - the task set is to write, produce, mix, and master a song in a day, with a group of strangers, half of whom can't hold a tune in a bucket. WTF? Exactly. Photographs Ian Wallman
Having been a songwriter and producer of sorts since, well, forever, the idea of being locked in a room with a bunch of strangers trying to make a record in a single afternoon didn't sound entirely feasible. First, I have only ever written alone; second, half the group literally can't hold a musical note (and that's all part of the plan); and third, too many cooks and all that. However, collaboration is a major buzz word in the songwriting industry today, so I am intrigued, if not a touch sceptical, to give it a go. First, a little about Pro7ect. Now in its fourth year, this is a very cool retreat set in the fabulous quirky Hotel Pelirocco that gives songwriters and artists the opportunity to work with the creme de la creme of producers to compose and cut their own tracks; and we're talking about the likes of Liam Howe (Lana Del Ray/Ellie Goulding), Stew Jackson (Massive Attack), 2017 MPG Innovation Award winner, Roni Size, and last year's MPG Outstanding Contribution to UK Music winner, Youth (The Verve, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney), all of whom have some serious music industry chops. For the duration of Pro7ect,
four pop-up recording studios are installed at various locations around the hotel, each of which is equipped with the latest recording technology from renowned kit manufacturers such as Audio-Technica, PMC, Focusrite/Novation, and Roland; and participants work in teams led by a producer, and write a track per day for four days. The teams are changed each day, and the songs are either written for one of the artists in the room, or to spec, using tip sheets supplied by Pro7ect. Every evening, there is a feedback session where teams play the result of their dayâ€™s work to the entire group. Also, there's a great bar (just saying). Okay, so let me set the scene: after meeting the team and being lightly fed and watered, we're led by Pro7ect's affable creative director, Lisa Fitzgibbon, into a nice little project studio which has been set up this morning, and will be packed down later today. There's a full-size digital piano, a Taylor acoustic guitar, and some A-T microphones. At the production helm is Pro Tools whizz, Ian Wallman, sat at a desk with a Mac and MIDI keyboard, alongside songwriter, Georgia Train, who's currently kneeling down tweaking
Pro7ect Hotel Pelirocco
draft lyrics with a marker pen on a white board. Also in the room we have Sue, William, and Samantha, all of whom will be contributing to this radio smash we're apparently due to churn out in a few hours. As Lisa talks us through what's going to be our 'writing' process – how essentially there are no rules, and everyone's opinion counts - we have a listen to the guide track that Georgia and Ian have already put together: it's a couple of drum loops, some ambient pads, and a bit of piano, and Georgia casually sings the melody, seated. Firstly, her voice is ridiculous. Great tone, effortless. Secondly, this song is actually quite good already. There are some great vocal spikes in the bridge (I'm humming it as I type, in fact), and from a songwriting perspective, I see the potential right away. Lyrically? Jury's out. What's really interesting here is, the first of us to dive in and get creative are those with the least (as in, zero) songwriting experience. William in particular is all over changing X lyric for Y, and Y for Z, and actually, he has a point in a few places; what's a bit of a headfuck is, he's immediately expecting the lyrics to make sense, and tell a story – as a consumer of music does, I guess? But honing lyrics can take hours, days, or sometimes way longer, from my experience.
Then I get it - this is what it's all about; Lisa wants us to think outside the box. For now, I remain quiet, soaking it all up - as she predicted, in fact: “You'll often find the guys and girls with the real songwriting experience don't get involved for a while in these situations,” she said, before we started. Yep, point well made. About an hour later, after Georgia's laid down a seamless guide vocal to tape (well, disk), and we've played the track back over and over, offering small lyrical changes as we go, I decide, 'sod it, I'll pick up the guitar.' I can feel a chord change coming – we need to repeat that section, and so on. Georgia agrees, and she drops in the piano parts. And it works. Great. We're all getting involved now, and we've only been going a couple of hours. Ian is clearly adept at making beats, but more importantly, he is lightning quick. This simply wouldn't work without him.
After a very satisfying late lunch, and a quick tour of the hotel (the rooms all have amazing themes, and little do I realise that come midnight, I'll be rolling into the Diana Dors suite myself – but that's another story), we're all raring to go again, and the track is really taking shape. The process is beginning to feel way less alien - in fact, it's proper teamwork. Confidence is definitely growing in the room, and an energy is certainly building.
Then comes the most remarkable part of the day; we are very close to deadline. Deadline? Apparently, a group of people will soon arrive, cocktails in hand, to give their critique on our completed song. Jesus Christ. Georgia and Ian up the ante here, and what follows is nothing short of ludicrous. The vocal performance is the real wow factor: Georgia delivers a pitch perfect lead and a string of BVs, all doubled, tight as a drum, in a matter of minutes. She even has time for a couple of vibey one-take ad-libs, which involve her hitting notes several octaves higher than I can scream, let alone sing. I also note Ian's staggering ability to keep up with the pace. He can drop in and go again in milliseconds. Before we know it, the track is complete, and when the audience arrives, it's received very nicely indeed. So what can I take from this? It was a lot of fun, and quite brilliantly run. I can imagine how buzzing this place will be at the 2017 Pro7ect retreat in March, with heaps of pro talent dashing from room to room. Any songwriters that want to get better, or to learn more, could do worse than get involved with these guys. www.pro7ect.com
Mixing It Up
MIXING IT UP When it comes to referencing, it’s so often down to personal choice: favourite sounding monitors, those headphones that you know so well, you can check a mix is right on the money in a heartbeat, and so on. But at the crux of it, it’s about sonics – making sure you’re getting a true and fair representation of what you’re listening to. So what if we opened the door to a set of in-ears?
Before you all start shouting me down, hear me out: these are super high-end, custom fit ear pieces with quad drivers inside. Quad drivers? Yes. And it’s this kind of revolutionary IEM technology, pioneered by Jerry Harvey (Ultimate Ears founder and now owner of JH Audio), that’s knocking it out the park on the live scene. There are other firms doing good things, sure, but Harvey and co. lead the way right now, and the proof is in the pudding. Their impressions can be found treating the ear canals of a string of international superstars including Rihanna, Beyoncé, Drake, Maroon 5, Ariana Grande, Van Halen – the list is long, eclectic, and impressive. Yes, I’m well aware that live and studio applications are as different as Obama and Trump’s administrations, but again, bear with me. It was actually fellow Headliner
contributor [and Grammy-winning producer] DJ Swivel that first tried out these pieces of JH kit in the studio in 2015. He had his own set of Roxanne fitted in New York - still one of the leading JH line - and aside from the fact that everything sounded better than ever before in his ears (obviously), he discovered that he could quite comfortably use them for referencing in his home studio. Bearing in mind this is a guy used to using top-end Genelec systems, and working out of some of the leading studios on the planet (Jungle City, NYC, for example), it’s quite a statement; and although his Genelecs are now a way of life, when it comes to mixing using a laptop and audio interface, or just on the go, Roxanne is never too far away. Swivel told me once he was ‘literally at a loss for words’ when he first heard
Roxanne. However, I asked him to try. And here’s what he said: “Not only is the sound phenomenal, but there are 12 drivers [in each ear], and all are phase corrected to make sure every wave hits your ear at the perfect moment. But even more than that is the experience of having something that fits your ear that perfectly. It’s like a little secret between you and your headphones that the rest of the world isn’t aware of, and your ear unlocks this experience. It’s an interesting feeling to have a piece of technology that is almost a part of you. I personally can’t see myself ever going back to traditional headphones for mixing on the go. “Roxanne has potentiometers for the low frequencies on each ear, which means I have the freedom to push them when I want, and dial them back if I need. Not only that, but they also have such emphasised punchlines in the low-mid frequencies somewhere between 250-500Hz. When I’m mixing, I need a rounder bottom, and some nice punchy bass, and Roxanne has that in abundance; it gives me the flexibility I
need, and all the right qualities I want.” So you can see why I was intrigued..! OK, I don’t yet have a Grammy (believe me, I’m as dumbfounded as you are
“I realise Layla is allowing my mixes to take on a whole new personality...” about it), but I do have a pretty decent ear for music, and have mixed a few records in my time, plus I do tend to use headphones for mixing, as I don’t have a lot of room for big speakers. So I decided to have a crack at this myself. I recently got fitted with Layla, the new flagship from JH Audio, and apparently the ‘flattest’ line to date. So in theory, it should be easier to mix on these bad boys than Roxanne... No pressure, then! I pull up a couple of basic mixes I’ve done with a singer-songwriter fairly recently – we’re talking acoustic guitars, bass, and vocals; and piano, bass, and vocals, with a little percussion thrown in. So nothing too complex. The first thing that strikes me is the clarity I’m getting right away– and I’m definitely getting that whole mixing ‘experience’ Swivel talks about with regard to the custom fit. Of course I already know how my favourite records sound through Layla, but I am yet to reference on them – and I am already beginning to ask myself why that is. In mix one (guitar/vocal), I can
immediately sense a muddiness of sorts that needs exploring. I remedy this quickly with a little EQing. Then, something starts bugging me with the vocal at the same point of every listen through; I solo it, and am shocked to hear a digital clip that hadn’t been apparent to me beforehand. ‘Schoolboy error!’ I hear you cry, but I assure you I never record too hot, and it isn’t visibly clipping on the DAW. I clearly hadn’t noticed it in my go-to cans or my monitors, and I quickly realise that Layla take no prisoners! It’s on track two (piano/vocal) that I realise Layla is allowing my mixes to take on a whole new personality. And boy, do I have to tweak this one! I apply some much needed sparkle to the right side piano with a couple of EQ adjustments, and I find myself way more at home than usual working with the low end. I drop a little low-mid off the left side piano, and pull the bass guitar back, as it’s too overpowering. Suddenly the track is sounding a whole lot better. That’s about 20 minutes work. Controlling the bass has always been a nightmare when mixing at home – the room isn’t fully treated, so it’s less than ideal, and there are bass traps, hence the need for headphones as reference. But I just find Layla makes it a lot easier to work with the low end. And my Layla has the same potentiometers that Swivel has on his Roxanne, which, as he says, is a really useful feature. Something else Swivel mentions is his need to mix on the go. He once finished
Mixing It Up
off a Beyoncé mix on a plane (as you do), and although I don’t know what (if any) audio interface he had with him up at 40,000 feet, I have to say, I wouldn’t have worried either way, because headroom is zero issue direct into a Mac Book: Layla is Loud! And if you do have the luxury of a nice audio interface, well, even better. So now for the car test (yep, I still do that). I export a WAV file out of Reaper onto my iPhone (I know, hardly audiophile stuff here, guys), and get into the motor. It’s a nice Bang & Olufsen system in the car, so I always know if I’ve got it vaguely ‘there’ within 10 seconds or so. To my surprise and glee, I really have – I can’t bear to hear the first track anymore, because of that bloody clipping, but the piano/vocal track is really working. I’ve achieved a fuller low-end, a better, richer vocal sound, and a reverb that sits in the mix rather than drowns it. Everything is just... Better! So there you have it. In this instance, using Layla has genuinely improved my mixes. OK, I’m not working on The Chainsmokers’ latest smash hit like Swivel with a gazillion and one frequencies to deal with, but I can say I’ve never heard audio coming direct into my ears like this before when referencing, and been able to correct my mistakes so easily. Not sure what that says about my recording technique, but hey ho! Now I’m off to dig out all my old band recordings, and see how easily Layla tears those apart, too..! www.jhaudio.com 35 HEADLINER
JAN MOREL: VISIONARY 36 HEADLINER
“Changing your life or lifestyle is a goal you have to follow with your heart, which is kind of what I’m all about,” Jan Morel tells us. And when you look at the Dutchman’s career, you’ll understand why. Morel is one of the world’s leading recording studio designers, and in the words of Sinatra (almost): he did it his way. Currently working with the biggest names in Electronic Dance Music - David Guetta, Hardwell, Nicky Romero, Martin Garrix, to name a few – it’s been an interesting evolution. Morel started out as a classical guitarist, then ended up selling guitars, pianos, drums... and then drum machines, samplers, speakers and consoles, moving seamlessly into the pro-audio sector. Then came the studios, but this is not design in the most conventional manner: Morel’s success is down to his relationships, and common sense: a great pair of ears helps, “but that’s only after you’ve seen the problems,” he reminds us, with a smile. We flew out to see Morel ourselves at his beautiful new HQ, an hour out of Amsterdam, to find out more about the man behind the music.
“At a low level, Genelecs will give you the whole sonic image, which does not happen with many speakers.”
On arrival at Morel’s stunning facility: an open plan converted barn, technology oozing out of its pores, I spy an acoustic guitar on the wall, a long table full of guests and snacks, and what seems like a fully licensed bar, complete with waitress. It’s difficult not to smile. Impossible, in fact. This makes sense: he’s a gent, he’s generous, perhaps a little lavish (his car has 700 horse power), and his world is about building – and keeping – relationships. Seconds later, I’m handed champagne, quickly followed by fine red wine, and I find myself sat in the corner of the property, chatting about the décor with the man himself. “I started out playing classical guitar – that one on the wall is brand new, but just for show,” Morel smiles, explaining that he grew up in a city with his parents working in a shop. “I was connected to selling products even in school; and I ended up in a shop selling guitars and other musical instruments – everything, really. That was when I was 17, and I worked there for eight or nine years.” Morel did consider a life of teaching, spending a year after high school in the sullubrious Conservatory of Utrecht, but he soon realised it wasn’t for him: “I discovered I didn’t want to be a teacher, because I loved the personal
relationships with people: to advise them, and to create something was special to me, even before I did studio design,” Morel reflects. “I started my own shop in ‘85 with classical guitars, drum kits, pianos – traditional stuff – and then the switch came when [music company] Roland entered my shop and asked me to sell their synthesizers and drum computers. I thought, ‘who needs a drum computer, we have drummers, idiot!’ [laughs] But I started to sell them, at €1,000 a go, and it was very easy, I can tell you! “Every day, we would sell a drum computer, not a drum kit, so I fell in love with them! Next to them was synthesizers, which I couldn’t demo, because I can’t play one. However, I could tell people how to use them. If you have a nice resonant sweep, and the customer can press the key and feel he is making that beautiful sound, that’s much better than the organ sellers who play all their favourite songs to you! So I would look into their eyes and say, ‘what do you think of this sound?’ It’s so much more of a personal touch.” This was a great foundation, Morel insists, for the work to come a few years on with some of the great DJs and producers he now cites as not just colleagues, but close friends. “You need to know the person, and what they’re all about; after all these years, you can still make the same mistake picking the wrong face, as they will give you shit and start complaining,” Morel laughs, a little tongue-in-cheek. “But for me, it’s always a challenge to be
there, and to fix it, so it’s very important to work for a person you like, as you have to share a lot. That’s just personalities.” After the Roland introduction – and Morel’s bizarre love affair with drum computers – the first set of very successful producers started walking into his life, but at the time they only focused on equipment, not studio design. This was during the early ‘90s. “We were selling some big consoles at this point: Soundtracs consoles, tape recorders, high-end samplers, all that kind of stuff. We had Vengaboys, and we did a lot for 2 Unlimited, as well. Recording was where it was at,” Morel recalls, fondly. “It was a really nice time, because everyone was spending money on nice equipment, and all the kit was sensational. It’s funny how things change: back in the day, we’d order 10 Roland D50 synths and it wouldn’t be enough, but now you order one, and it’s more than enough.” Morel is no doubt referring to hardware versus today’s affordable MIDI synths, virtual instruments, plugins, and so on. So when did the transition to studio design occur, then? “It started with DJs; they came to me and said they needed a better sound, and we were selling very expensive equipment, but just putting carpet on walls at that time for acoustic treatment. It was very much, ‘oh, that will do’,” Morel smiles. “I looked around, saw brands selling foam, wooden panels, and so on, then we started with [Hard Techno DJ duo] Showtek – that was our first project, seven years ago; and from there, it’s been a bit of a domino effect, and there is big budget for it.” 37 HEADLINER
Morel isn’t your textbook acoustician: his designs and audio analysis “comes from somewhere in my head,” he explains, with a chuckle. “I really didn’t learn about acoustics, I just did what I thought was right, and kept it simple... And it works!” Evidently so! Morel is close knit with many of the world’s top DJs, most of which want deluxe recording spaces, which Morel not only designs and builds for them, he sets up the audio feeds, too. “It’s basically happenend through word of mouth,” Morel admits. “I remember Hardwell gave me a call, and I was sitting on a terrace with my friend. I said to him, ‘OK, I’ll call you back, I’m drinking wine right now,’ and then my kid said, ‘Hardwell? Dad that’s the number six DJ in the world!’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’d better make him number one in the world, then!’ [laughs] So I called him back... This was three or four years ago. And the rest is history.” Morel has designed many outstanding studios for Hardwell (who did make it to number one, by the way!), the most recent of which may be his most audacious yet: “We put Wooden Wing (a console designed by Morel, to avoid hard surface reflections that occur in producer rooms around the desk) into a new studio in Ibiza for Hardwell; he was there from July to October last year,” Morel explains. “After I did my design, I brought in natural wood colours for the Spanish Ibiza style, then basement diffusers with black bamboo. It looks and sounds fucking amazing.” We both pause for a second, then laugh in unison. It’s a ludicrous job this man’s got, I decide. Conversation quickly turns back to 38 HEADLINER
technology: if there’s one thing Morel does know inside out, it’s audio kit; and the starting point – once the acoustics are sorted - in making any studio facility worth its weight in Gold (or bamboo) is the perfect studio monitors. “I have a very close contact with the Genelec distributor [in Holland], and I was selling a lot of the 8000 Series Genelecs, and then I got Hardwell on the 1000 Series Genelecs, and it was the start of an explosion,” Morel enthuses. “Genelec hadn’t sold the huge [Genelec 7073] subwoofer before in Holland, so that was a big thing. And those big Genelecs, I had no previous experience with at the time. So I was talking to Hardwell, and he had a deal with another leading loudspeaker brand, and could have had a set for free, but I showed him the Genelecs, and there was no question in his or my mind; we started it rolling right there. “It’s not only low fatigue you get with Genelecs; any Genelec monitors can go soft, but provide you with full dynamics. At a low level, they will give you the whole sonic image, which does not happen with many speakers. But for this kind of [EDM] setup, you need the power; if you have the 80 series, you have high definition, of course, but the 12 series gives you the power, too. So that’s what we went for.” When it comes to speccing a room, it starts with the eyes, then the voice, Morel says. What about the ears..? “[laughs] Well, you see things first, so that’s the fastest way to work out if something might cause a problem, so you start with your eyes,” Morel explains, widening his glare at me. We both laugh (again). “So you can physically see the problems already, and then you start talking; and when you have a low voice like I do, you
can demonstrate where the issues are without doing any measurements: our eyes and ears are much faster than any measurement tool, you see. So if you walk around, you do those tests, then you do a measurement, as customers want to see a calibration microphone, but doing this in an empty room isn’t so helpful, because the program doesn’t tell you what to do about it: ‘OK, it’s shit, and if we do nothing, it’ll still be shit! So there is no ‘solution’, as such. “So from there - and it all depends on the style of the property – you see what you can do that fits the customer’s needs and the building, and then put everything together. The next step is to make simple drawings, and make sure the contractors you use understand what you’re doing. You start with the ceiling and the inner shell, as it often needs reshaping, and then you go from there.” Morel makes it sound pretty simple, but clearly this is a fine art. It is also evident, however, that he’s got to where he has through sheer love and determination: eyes, voice, ears, and a lot of heart, right, Jan? “[smiles] I just do it, I guess, so yes, that is right,” he says, softly. On that note, we head to the bar – his bar – and as his musical guests continue to drink wine and be merry, while occasionally changing his Spotify playlist which is blaring out of one of his pairs of Genelecs, you can only admire what this man has achieved. Be thankful, any fan of EDM music, because without Mr. Morel, the sound of many of those records wouldn’t be quite the same. www.morelmuziek.nl www.genelec.com
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