After several years of searching, I finally stumbled upon one of the first pro audio jobs I ever did. Below is an aircheck tape from WCBD, 1986. I started there around ’84, and it took awhile for me to move up to the audio chair. And after I survived the “practical joke*” by the commercial switchers, I managed to hold onto the position for several years.
*The way it worked at Channel 2 (most stations, probably) is we’d have an on-air switcher in Master Control… his job was to make sure all the commercials aired according to the schedule. A few minutes before the newscast, we would ask for “control,” where the Production Dept would get audio and video control of the signal, and the little red On Air light on the console would illuminate, and I’d punch the audio on the ADM audio console, and Tim Coghill (Director) would switch the video on a Grass Valley video switcher in the booth next door. They would take back control during the commercial breaks, then throw it to us just before we went on.
I remember having meeting with the news director where he would ask “Why is the audio bad?” I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then one night in the middle of the newscast, I happened to notice that the little red light wasn’t on. I said in the intercom, “I don’t have control… why don’t I have control?” and the little red light suddenly blinked on.
What was happening was that Chuck (Mikell) and the other switcher (Earl, I think) thought it would be funny to take audio control and screw around with the volume. I was brand new, and it was all I could do to keep up with the script, so I never thought to look at the on-air light. I think Chuck got a few days off, and the mysterious complaints from the news director stopped.
Chuck was a lot less curt towards me after that, and we became good friends after I went to a reggae show downtown one night. I think I went either by myself, or maybe with Kyle Meadows… but at any rate I was practically the only white person in the place. Chuck was there, and found it hilarious ( “Oh, SHIT… skinny white sound guy diggin’ de reggae…”) he nicknamed me “Rasta” from then on.
Sadly, Big Chuck Mikell died of a heart attack when he was only 49.
Here’s a trailer for a feature that I worked on last spring. I just filled in as a relief mixer on the second unit, but still, it’s a feature… in theaters now. It was a last-minute call… their main mixer woke up one morning with carpal tunnel so bad that he couldn’t move his arm! But after a night off, he was back to work. They called me for another scene, but I was scheduled for something else, unfortunately.
The location for the party scene- a house near Franklin TN
I first met Claire Lynch when she was the lead vocalist for the Front Porch String Band, when I recorded the band on location for an undergraduate project. This would have been around 1981. (Unfortunately, the tapes were lost long ago.) Jump ahead 35 years, Claire has her own band and has won the IBMA’s Best Female Vocalist Award… twice… so it goes without saying that she’s a pretty amazing singer and songwriter. (Don’t take my word for it… listen to one of her songs.) And she’s coming to Barking Legs in Chattanooga, 8pm this Friday night. Claire’s website is here.
Barking legs is a SUPER venue for this concert. If you’ve never been there, it’s a small performance space. The most it’ll hold is maybe 150-175 people, and the furthest seat back is 4 rows away. The only way you’ll get a better seat is to have her play at your house.
I normally try to do a location recording when she comes to town, but won’t get the chance this time… I’m in the middle of a 3-day shoot for TLC. I should be able to just make the concert, though.
She doesn’t play here very often, so if you’re into progressive bluegrass at all, don’t miss this chance to hear her play– show starts at 8pm. Tickets are $21 in advance, available on the Barking Legs website (shortcut)
As I’ve said before, Harrison’s Mixbus is my DAW of choice. Sure, I’ve used ProTools like everybody else. And it works fine, but I don’t exactly love it for a number of reasons. I discovered Mixbus at a Nashville AES event, and was an immediate fan & early adopter. It’s been through a number of versions, the most recent being Mixbus 3.4. I used it to mix a recent live music project. Here’s the workflow:
Since I don’t have a studio anymore, I rarely use Mixbus for tracking. Instead I like to use a dedicated recorder. First choice would be an Otari MX80 or MTR90 2″ 24-track, but I haven’t had access to one of those in a long time… and at about 350 pounds, it isn’t exactly practical for location work. So instead, I used my Sound Devices 664. It can record up to 12 channels, but I did this recording before I got my new CL-12 controller, so six channels is easier… six faders and six XLR inputs. As this was a three-person band, six tracks would work. Track assignments on most tracks were three vocals, bass, kick, and accordion. There were other instruments as well– most notably percussion consisting of a washboard played with toilet brushes and a tambourine that was played by Rachel’s left foot while her right foot played the kick– but these were picked up with the main vocal mic, the Watts Polyribbon , as well as the instrument mics. The other two mics were headworn earwires via a Lectrosonics wireless. Most of my instrument mics were handbuilt large-diaphragm condensers, except for the mandolin and guitar, when I brought out my Oktavia 012.
“Spinsters” location recording session in a burned-out house, summer 2016 in Chattanooga, TN
The final output will be a music video, but it was to be shot in one continuous take. So everything needed to be captured live… no overdubs or punch-ins, just individual track sweetening and mixing. We recorded in a burned-out house, which gave an interesting room sound. It was kind of reflective, but not in the usual sense. No soft surfaces anywhere, since most of them burned, but there were lots of irregular surfaces to break up standing waves. A fairly short reverb time, not a huge space, but nice high ceilings. Hard to describe, other than to say it was an interesting, nice space.
Once the capture was complete, I brought it home to mix. My preference is to do all the editing in the box, then use a multi channel interface to output the individual tracks to my rebuilt Soundcraft 800. But again the practicalities of space and weight rear their heads… the mixer is up in Nashville and all my other gear is in storage, so for simplicity’s sake I’ll mix this on my desktop. My audio computer consists of a Mac Mini with a 3TB thunderbolt external drive for the audio. I have a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface that I use as a monitor controller and a dongle for my UA plugins (you have to have some kind of Universal Audio hardware connected in order to get the plugins to work.) UA plugins are somewhat expensive, but they work well and are far cheaper than their hardware equivalents… I like them a lot. My main reverb is the EMT140 plate, though I’ve got the Lexicon 224 plugin on my watchlist… I’m waiting for a good sale!
The mixbus screenshot for “mule.” This one was a pretty simple mix since there are only four tracks… two vocals, guitar and bass.
The reason I’m such a Mixbus fan is that it looks and feels like an analog mixer. Each input channel has a full EQ section and an onboard compressor, just as Harrison’s analog mixers had. I can import individual WAV files from the 664 and it opens up an 8 channel mix surface in Mixbus. (Update: Just this morning I purchased Harrison’s new Mixbus 32C, which is their newest version of Mixbus. It functions in a similar manner to the standard Mixbus, but features an exact emulation of the Harrison X32 console, with expanded EQ, filtering, and compression options. Watch for a review once I’ve had a chance to thouroughly test it out.)
“Mule” was a pretty simple song to mix, as there were only two vocal mics (my handbuilt LDCs), a guitar mic (Oktavia 012), and an upright bass (Watts Polyribbon), The first two tracks in the screenshot are muted– these are the field mixes from the 664, not used in the final mix. Rachel Vox is a harmony track, Amelia sings lead on this song. I added a little brightness to her vocal and guitar using Harrison’s EQ, then smoothed out the levels a bit with some compression. The only plugin I used was the EMT140 plate, which I tried not to overdo… remember, this is for video, and it might look weird to have lots of post effects in the mix. But this is a slow ballad, so I felt it needed little more ‘verb than the other songs.
Izotope RX5 Advanced screenshot. While some of these tools are available as plugins, I bought the standalone version, which has more capabilities. I’m hooked on the de-noise and de-plosive modules, which fixed problems that were unfixable in the past.
This song has some quiet passages, and noise from outside the house was more noticeable. Windows were broken in the fire, the house is on a fairly busy street, and nearby AC units all added together to give us more background noise than I’d have liked. RX5 Advanced is the answer to this problem, so I exported the mix as a FLAC and opened this in RX5.
I bought this program for noise reduction and sweetening of voice narration, but it works great in this application as well. I used the spectral de-noise module to learn a short sample of the ambient noise at the end of the track, and applied this profile to the entire song. It worked like a charm. Every time I use this program, I’m amazed at the results. It has lots of other functions and capabilities, but I left most of this alone, as I didn’t want to overprocess the song. I exported this as a WAV file.
To finalize the track, I opened it in Adobe Soundbooth CS5. Adobe abandoned this program when they went to CS6, but I’ve always found it great to use, especially for cleanup, editing, etc. I trimmed the head and the tail, added fade in and fade out, and saved as an MP3 (which Izotope can’t do). Job done… here’s the audio track:
I’ll post the video as soon as it becomes available.
Here’s a recent project that I worked on for Seftel/Smartypants Pictures. This was a one-day shoot with two crews, and included footage for two web spots. Location sound was provided by myself and Atlanta mixer Jay Ticer.