On the 1st of July, 2015, my peers and I entered the Neve studio at SAE QANTM to record Bart Stenhouse and his band he had put together for his latest production, a Flamenco/Jazz/Fusion project with compositions written especially for the day. In this post I would like to talk about my role in the recording and the pre-production phase, so I won’t go into too much detail about the style of music or how well the band performed or even mic set-ups and technical considerations, instead I would like to offer feedback to how the group, including myself, performed and give an insight to the extensive amount of work that went into preparing for such an occasion.
The Calm Before the Storm
In the weeks leading up to our recording I felt like a cast member from the old classic movie, Top Gun. We talked about the Neve Console like it was an aircraft we were about to take into the skies, and discussed Pro Tools like it was the brain of a mechanical beast we were going to control. I jotted down any piece of advice that was related to the task (I knew I would forget otherwise, sorry what’s your name again?) and have come away from the session with pages and pages of notes, everything from preparation to observations of the day itself.
Here is a brief example of some notes from the week before the session, focusing on the technical considerations.
- Check hard-drive (enough room)
- Clocking and Disk allocation – Apogee
- Converters need to be synched
- Buffer – as low as possible for plug-ins
- How many mic inputs? 20 ins in the Neve, 3 ins from the Raven, 23 total
- Session – 96kHz @ 24 bit
- Create session template, record-arm all tracks and check the System usage window, OK?
- Get rid of “angry man”, the conductor function in Pro Tools
- Output click to audio track, knock off the top end because of bleed
- Have clearly/well labeled session. Mics, comments, what distance?
- Go into preferences, make sure auto save is on
- Always record a two-track version on the fly (WIP mix)
- Monitor problem with channels four and 19, channel nine – no phantom
Some of the points above may seem very obvious and fundamental, but failing to prepare is preparing to fail!
The Wheels Start To Spin
A week before the recording, we decided to start using Slack for all communications between the group. Slack is a communication tool for group work and to see more on how it actually works check out my earlier, dedicated blog HERE.
Slack was one of the best platforms we could have used for communication and almost everyone in the group took to it like ducks to water. Admittedly, there were a few who could not see the benefit of using Slack and as you can imagine, were left somewhat in the dark when it came to what was happening within our group. Most of us even formed relationships with Slackbot, an AI program that responds to key words.
Having Slackbot respond to conversations kept things light-hearted and kept team morale high, so thank you Slackbot!
The stats above give you an example of the amount of communication between the group in one week of using Slack. I was tasked with setting up the Slack-team for AUS 230, because of my knowledge on how it works from using it with the games-guys when we make games. It’s free and isn’t hard at all to set up, the only hard thing is getting people to use it! lol.
Morning Of The Carnival
With the pre-production phase over and having communicated throughout the week on Slack, it was time to perform! Myself and my counterpart, Alexander Nasteski were tasked with the roles of Project Managers and as you can imagine, “with great power, comes great responsibility”. Personally, a large amount of my duties were in the pre-production phase and when we were all in the studio one of the things I did most was getting people not to talk when it wasn’t needed! It’s amazing how much difficulty some people have keeping quiet, so unfortunately your humble-blogging-host felt like a real nagger on the day. Being assigned Project Manager came with its fair share of ups and downs, I take any role I do very seriously and expect others to as well. This way of thinking worked both for and against me, on the upside people had a rock, an anchor, a go-to-guy willing to get things done and help when needed. On the downside, they had project-manager!
There is an old saying that “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” and it couldn’t be more accurate. My seriousness led members of the group to think I was being a bit over the top when it came to studio etiquette. This in turn led to some moments that could have been handled better and I hope that when all is said and done, we are all still friends. It must be hard for people in management roles, knowing that they may not be the most popular person all the time but doing what must be done for the project’s success. Being a student isn’t the best for having authority when it comes to situations like this but it is a very good lesson to learn, a lesson about how to deal with people, human beings with emotions and feelings.
One of the most important traits to have as an engineer or anyone working in the studio business is discretion, and let’s face it, discretion is the better part of valour. Learning to think about our actions before we perform them is a life lesson that I doubt anyone alive has truly mastered and through foresight and experience we can learn to be less offensive and have less regrets. I’m sure that everyone who reads this blog has, at some point, laid in bed at night thinking, “doh! I can’t believe I said that!”.
Working within a team for an extended period of time was challenging and rewarding. I witnessed the true nature of many of my peers and was surprised at how well we handled ourselves, in the battle conditions. The musicians were humble and some of the nicest people I have worked with and our producer, Guy Gray, was an inspiration to watch in action. The way Guy handles situations is something that everyone can learn from and comes from years of experience in in big-name studios and years of working with people. I would also like to thank Akshay Kalawar for organising such an event for us, it was a first for SAE QANTM, having a band of such calibre performing on two separate levels of the building simultaneously and was an experience that many of us will never forget!
In the coming weeks we will be mixing and mastering the album so stay tuned for updates! See you next time 🙂