Thursday, January 18, 2007


Greetings party people! This post is to announce a new venture - a Pro Tools training facility, MediaLab/Seattle. We've been working on this idea for over a year, and we're finally ready to debut! We'll be teaching Pro Tools 101 and 110 from the fantastic Digidesign curriculum. Please tell everyone you know, whether they own a Pro Tools rig or are thinking of buying one soon. Our Students get a pretty substantial discount on LE hardware/software as well.

Bring on the learners!



Saturday, December 30, 2006

Archiving for Dummies

OK, it's been an interesting Winter, weather-wise, but we're back with a vengeance! Here then is the proposed set of guidelines for backing up your audio data in 2007 (aka - archiving). Enjoy, and happy storage to you!


Archiving audio data, (backing up or copying a project’s audio data onto some medium in addition to the original hard drive that it was recorded on) is critically important to preserve the work of our creative community for the future. It is important, not only just to have the ability to play back the audio in five or ten years, but also for future monetization. To that end, the Producers & Engineers Wing has created suggested archiving guidelines that can apply to various levels of professional recording activity.

Here is the four-tiered structure for achieving an effective archival program:

Tier 1 – Professional Studios, State of the Art Archival techniques
Tier 2 – Professional Studios
Tier 3 – Project Studios
Tier 4 – Individuals

We urge you to strive for the highest level of data protection possible, taking into consideration your budget and the volume of work you do.


• First, make sure that your materials are in order. Meaning, all data in multi-track sessions should be properly labeled (like “Lead Vocal”, and not just “Audio 1”). Put all of the audio AND sequence data in one master folder so you don’t have to hunt across 3 disks to re-create the session. Name revised mixes sequentially, like “SongMix01”, “SongMix02”, etc. See the Session Guidelines document created by the P&E Wing for more information. (
• Consolidate or render individual tracks in a final mix with plug-ins to avoid problems playing back on future DAWs or on systems without the same plug-ins originally used in the mix.


Archival philosophy: back up to something! There are currently no perfect solutions, so we suggest backing up to more than one format. Here are some options:

a) External hard drives are relatively inexpensive. Made to last up to 3 years if used regularly, they provide a reasonably safe place to back up your work for the short to medium term.

b) NAS (Network Attached Storage) drives can provide a bit of added convenience by making it much easier to transfer data. There are many "one touch" back up systems on the market, and prices are dropping as media costs become more affordable. Again, this method uses drives with an estimated 1-3 year lifespan.

c) CDR or DVD-R disks are affordable and easily stored. At less than a dollar per disk, you should make a data DVD backup of every song or project you work on. Remember to LABEL all disks. CDRs and DVD-Rs are projected to last for more than 10 years. Actual mileage may vary. Buy the best you can afford.

d) Online subscription-based backup services (for example: .MAC and SPARE) give you the option to store your data offsite. These backups can be scheduled to take place automatically at regular intervals and might be a good supplement to your archival plan. BEWARE: If you stop paying for this service your data will be GONE. It is not suggested that you use this as your only backup plan.

In scenarios a-c above, use a backup utility (for example: Retrospect for MAC or Roxio's Backup My PC) to automate the archival process and create a searchable database for your backups.


At this level, it may be cost-prohibitive to invest in multi-thousand dollar Enterprise-quality digital tape backup systems, but it’s still necessary to protect your work and the work of others using your facility. In addition to the TIER 4 recommendations, add the following:

a) Dedicate a separate hard drive (not a separate partition on your internal drive) to backups. Don’t forget to label it, for example: "2006 Backup Drive 01."

b) At least once per week, copy EVERYTHING from your work drive(s) to this dedicated backup drive.

c) When you finish a project, copy everything into a folder labeled "Project xxx FINAL", and transfer that data to your dedicated backup drive.

d) When your Backup Drive gets full, take a screenshot of the contents of the drive, print it out and tape it to the top of the drive. Label it carefully and store it in a safe, clean, dry and temperature controlled place.

e) Replace your Backup Drive with a new drive named, for example, "2006 Backup Drive 02.”

f) Spin up your Backup Drives at least once every 3 months to ensure that they will continue to function.

Longevity: Remember, hard drives are only made to last for approximately 3 years, and only if they are regularly exercised (spun).


Pro studios need to maintain backups of everything they do, for their clients' peace of mind, and to avoid liability issues. Data should exist in more than one form, and in more than one place.

In addition to the TIER 3 & 4 recommendations, add the following:

a) Once a month, copy all of your data from the Backup Drive to DVD-R or CDR disks, or to a tape drive (like AIT, DLT, or LTO), label the media carefully and store them somewhere safe, clean, dry and temperature controlled.

b) Either use a backup utility (like Retrospect for MACs or Roxio's Backup My PC) or create a database listing the contents of every project, folder, and file on every backup, regardless of medium.

c) Professional studios are typically required to turn over all media generated in a major-label session. Make sure that your backups conform to the standards of the individual or company paying the bill. Ascertain deliverables BEFORE the session.

d) If you offer backup service to clients, make sure they understand that storage of their data beyond the completion of a project is done as a courtesy, and that the studio assumes no liability for loss of data over and above the replacement cost of raw media. If you charge for this service, it may be necessary to create a statement of terms outlining liability limits.

e) If applicable, keep a safety copy of all mixed masters at the mix facility until the mastering session has been completed.

f) Create a database or inventory of all materials related to each project. This will be necessary to make sure everything has been backed up properly, stored properly, and delivered properly on completion.

Longevity: Dependent on media. An archival plan should take into account the re-archival (migrating) of material at regular intervals in order to remain current with technology and operating media. Currently, migrating all material at 3-5 year intervals is suggested.


Archival philosophy: The enterprise (big business) model for archival states that data isn't data until it exists in three places.

In addition to the TIER 2-4 recommendations, refer to the P&E Master Delivery Recommendations document. This and other helpful reference documents can be found online at this link:
Happy archiving!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How do I store my music?

I write music. I also record and produce other people’s music. A lot of the time it’s really good music and it would be nice if it were around beyond the life of a CD. What would happen if the only CD copy of your music got scratched or lost? What happens 10 years from now when we’re no longer using shiny plastic discs to store music or video, and manufacturers no longer make the hardware on which to play them? Could be a bummer. Now multiply that bummer by all of the other musicians, studios, Engineers, Producers, project studios, game producers, video production companies, TV stations, etc. using digital data to produce content, and you begin to see exactly how big a bummer this is going to be.

Up until a couple of years ago, everyone agreed that analog tape was the best long-term storage medium for audio. You can pull a tape from the 1940’s and still play it back, and it sounds pretty darn good! Then came the closure of the Ampex plant in Opelika, and reality came crashing in on our comfy world. Sure, there are still makers of analog tape, but try to name 3 current manufacturers of tape recorders? Let’s see, Studer, Otari, um… and I don’t see a bunch of folks entering that market in the near future. How many machines did you see at AES this year? If you have an analog 1/4” machine and plan on keeping it in good working order, that’s cool, you’re covered. But what about multitrack tape machines? 1/4”-4 and 8 track, 1/2”-4, 8, and 16 track, 1”-8 and 16 track, 2”-8, 16, 24, and 40 track? Unless you live near the Smithsonian, this is already a problem. Here in the Northwest we have an e-newsgroup called nwstudios, and nearly every week someone is looking for an obscure multitrack format machine to remix some ancient project. And we haven’t even started talking about digital multitrack – SONY 3324/48, Mitsubishi, DA88, ADAT, Mackie HDR, RADAR, yada yada, etc. See where this is headed?

Here’s an interesting challenge – try to name a current digital storage medium that will still be around in ten years. Will it be CDR or DVD-R? FireWire hard drive? Data tape, like DLT, AIT, or LTO? Maybe Flash drives? (Remember SCSI?) Think about that for a bit, I’ll be back next time to look at solutions.



Friday, November 03, 2006

After the dilemma

Happy Friday!

I figured this week's topic would spawn some interesting discussion. There have been a number of folks on either side of the equation emailing me with possible solutions.

Additional notes -

• It was pointed out that a modern digital summing bus has the capacity for 1500dB of dynamic range. I'm on the hunt to find out how that impacts track count, stay tuned.

• I like mixing in the box for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are repeatability, ease of revision, and the ability to archive ALL of my work. There are some very cool plug-ins in my virtual rack, and I'm generally pretty happy with the palette of tonal colors available. Making hi-res and lo-res copies is pretty simple, and versioning is easy-breezy.

• Mixing on a console has its own attraction; I get to use all of the cool outboard gear that has been accumulating in my physical rack over the years. There's something about grabbing a handful of faders or EQ knobs and just mixing by feel that is very satisfying. Not that you can't do that with a control surface, it just takes a half-hour to set it up. Plus, I have metering when and where I want it, and the ability to trim down the input to each channel to avoid the aforementioned bus overload.

Here's the interesting discovery in this experiment: working in a hybrid mixing world (DAW as an editor and playback medium, final mix through a console) gives me the best of all possible options as mentioned above, plus the ability to quickly compare the sound of a mix-in-the-box session with the analog version simply by routing channels to multiple outs in Pro Tools. Try it, you'll like it!

Next up - either Logic automation or data archival, I haven't decided yet.



Thursday, November 02, 2006

Dilemma - Mixing In The Box part 3

Welcome to November! It's raining like... well, it's raining like everyone thinks it does in Seattle. That's OK, I work in a nice warm room with tube gear and no windows.

To briefly recap - mixing within Pro Tools wasn't working for me, so I bussed out into an analog console and that sounded better. Why did it sound better? This is the subject of much debate and more than a few well written treatises by knowledgeable folk. Here, then, are my findings. (Which, when combined with $5, will get you a cuppa coffee at Starbuck's.)

One could assume that the Pro Tools hardware just gets overloaded and sounds "bad". We all know that that's not true, the HD192 I/O is a great sounding interface. One might think that the internal summing bus in Pro Tools can't handle the amount of information that needs to be processed when mixing >64 channels down into 2. But that's not true, since the Pro Tools stereo summing bus is a 48 bit bus and has the capacity to sum many more channels than 64 without screwing up the output. As Roger Nichols points out in Sound On Sound, at that point in the process digital summing is just math. From that standpoint, Pro Tools hardware does the math pretty efficiently via proprietary DSP cards. Certainly faster than many host-based systems. But even those do the math correctly, it just takes a bit longer.

So what's the deal, you might ask? Here's the deal, and it's not flattering, because it points to basic engineering skills (or a lack of attention to same).

Part 1. In recording to Pro Tools or any DAW, we feel compelled to seek the highest possible input levels. Maybe it's a throwback to 16 bit recording days, when a -20dB input level yielded a 12 bit recording (Eeewwww!). In a 24 bit world, a -20 input still results in >20 bits. Whatever the reason, we record into our DAWs really hot. Hotter than we ever did to analog tape. This results (in my case) in >64 channels each tracked at the analog equivalent of +14dB VU. That's a lot of signal, even for an analog mixer! That in itself is not a bad thing, as long as you plan to manage that kind of level. The problem is...

Part 2. Metering on a DAW. Let's look at the metering on the Pro Tools stereo master fader. You immediately notice that it's post-insert. Meaning that you're only metering after that secret combo of Fairchild/1176/and L1 plug-ins that we all use. What's happening with gain? Who the heck knows! Why can't we meter a) at the input, b) at each gain stage, and c) post-insert? (DAW makers, please read this...) With >64 faders, all up near the top of their throw, the input to the stereo summing bus is pretty formidable. How do most of us fix it? Pull down the master fader to -30dB. What's wrong with that? (Remember your basic unity gain theory and how to structure gain in a console?) I hear distortion in Pro Tools because I'm slamming the bejeezus out of the summing bus. Duh. Same goes for the aux busses. 20 channels of high-transient drums recorded at 99% modulation means a ton of signal at the input of the aux master. Ergo: distortion, lack of headroom, lack of dynamic range, bad sounding mix.

How do we fix it? I wish it were easy, but it requires that you actually look at the meters on the DAW to check levels pre-insert. Don't know about you, but I'm kinda lazy and loath those extra keystrokes required to engage and disengage plug-ins. Also, there typically aren't enough insert slots in PT to insert 3 meters per channel, and you can't view them all even if you could. The obvious solution is to pull down the individual track faders when setting up your mix. Same as we used to do on an analog console. Help the summing bus do its work by leaving some headroom. Trust your ears to tell you if there's something wrong, but use your eyes to double check the meters. We can't calibrate if we don't know what the levels are! Simple stuff.

In the meantime, maybe we can lobby the DAW manufacturers to include more metering options, or low-latency metering plugs, or more insert slots on each channel, or the ability to look at more than one plug at a time, so we can really do our jobs properly. And make better music in the process.

QED. Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dilemma - Mixing In The Box part 2

The solution to yesterday's dilemma came forth during dinner at AES in San Francisco with a renowned LA studio owner/engineer (whom I shall refer to as AS). We were discussing Pro Tools and the various controllers available for same, which evolved into the subject of mixing in the box. AS related that he had not had great luck doing it, and that he split out all his tracks into a vintage Neve console for mixing. Makes sense - I know a lot of folks who break out their mixes, but, sonically speaking, is there really a difference? He claimed that even if you route all your tracks out of an 8 channel Pro Tools I/O and run it into a little Mackie mixer it will sound better. Unbelievable! But he insisted it was true, and challenged me to try it next time I had a "problem" mix. This was the ideal opportunity to test his theory.

OK, I got rid of all the Pro Tools auxes, submasters, and the master bus, and routed all of my tracks to the 8 outs of a single HD192 so that I had stereo drums, stereo GTRs, stereo keys, mono bass, mono Vox, and ran them into a Tascam M3700 analog console. Voila! Lo and behold, the drums suddenly came alive; the vocals were clear and had dynamics, even the murky bass track had definition.

What was the deal? Why did the relatively pedestrian Tascam console yield a better sounding mix than the fully blown Pro Tools rig with all of the expensive plug-ins? Give up? Check back tomorrow and I'll relate the rest of the story. It's scary! And it'll scare all the Nuendo, Logic, DP, etc. users, too.

Happy Halloween!


Monday, October 30, 2006

Dilemma - Mixing In The Box

So, I'm in the middle of mixing an album for a AAA artist, and we're stuck on one song in particular. It's a full-band Rock track, and we're combining two different takes (done at different times with different players) together to make a "best of" take that really rocks. We have two sets of everything, including drums (20 tracks of drums!). Though we're not using everything all the time, there are sections that cut back and forth between the different drum takes. Individually, the drums sound pretty rockin', but when you start to add everything together the definition gets more and more hazy with each additional track, and pretty soon it sounds like I'm mixing on an old cassette 4 track. Worse, actually!

How do I get out of this one?

Here's a bit of back story - the tracks were all recorded professionally by professional engineers in reputable studios with quality gear. The players are all pro's and the songwriting is quite good. No excuses, right? Let's go a step further: this entire project was done in Pro Tools (24 bit, 48kHz WAV) and we're mixing on an HD3 rig (G5 dual 2 gig with 4 gigs of RAM) and not really pushing the limit of the DSP. This song is being mixed "in the box" (without any outboard mixer or processing) with a track count of 64, many of which are stereo tracks.

Here are the big questions:
1) Why does the mix sound like dookie when the individual (and even small group) tracks sound great?
2) Why does it get worse when I submix the drums or the vocals?
3) How do I fix the problem before the artist wigs out? Or before I yank my hair out?

And, oh by the way, the artist wants this done and mastered by the end of the week.

Clues? Hints? Suggestions? Send 'em on in! But tune in tomorrow and I'll tell you how I fixed the problem and beat the reaper, and how you can, too!

Au demain,