Me in Studio B

Me in Studio B
If you were googling Undertone Audio and found my blog here, well...welcome! You should visit the official website, undertoneaudio.com, but here you can follow my adventures as the crew and I build these mixing consoles, EQs and other oddities. Some, most or all of my work wouldn't be very interesting to a lot of people, but for recording junkies who get excited about vintage German tube mics, cool, eccentric compressors, studio history and some of the fun ins and outs of studio life, this could be for you. Hey, make it your home page and impress chicks! I can be reached at mw@undertoneaudio.com

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Shark Attack


Years ago, there was a big saltwater tank right in the entryway of the studio. There were four sharks –two leopards (one of them was named Def), a grey nurse and some other kind, maybe a dogfish shark. An eel lived in a little cave-like hole and one colorful, reef fish somehow survived for a long time, although there had been numerous attempts on its life. The sharks were generally pretty peaceful, but the grey nurse would lay at the bottom, sort of up on its two front fins like a dog would sit. It could see outside of the tank and would look at you as you walked by…its head would follow your movement. That shark seemed a little mean.

At one point, the tank maintenance guy was there and put a skate in with the sharks. That day when I arrived, I walked in and the first thing I saw was the nurse shark with the skate in its mouth, thrashing its head around. I yelled, “Shark attack!” the other guys came running in and the maintenance guy took the skate away from the shark and tossed the thing into a bucket below. In the months following, the fish and the eel were finally done in.

I remember having a dream that I was in the entryway and the tank shattered, but the sharks didn’t pour to the floor with the water and flip around, they swam gracefully down the hallway though the air. I hid in the lounge behind a big road case and they came in there, swimming in circles as I tried to come up with a plan to get out. I don’t remember what happened next, since it was a dream, I was probably all of a sudden at the airport while my kindergarten teacher carved turkey.

I missed the final days of the tank, but I heard that the grey nurse went on a killing spree, attacking and mutilating the three others, one by one. Sometimes the violence was witnessed, other times Eric would come in to find another victim. He got rid of the whole set up and that grumpy shark was relocated to a tank in a Thai food restaurant.




Happy New Year...we're going to have fun and cause some trouble in 2011,


MW

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ding mix is done! Ding mix is done! Ding mix is done!

This past week we had The Wombats back for more vocals in Studio B on Sunday, Taking Back Sunday continued with guitars and vocals all week and Dave Hecht, who I hadn't seen in a long time, came over to work on one of the 2"machines. It was fun hanging out with him, talking shop and trading stories.

I continued along with more switches and pots, replaced the input jack on an old Sears amp (there was a time when Sears sold their own brand of guitars and amps through a catalog -I'm too young to appreciate that enough) and we got a Christmas gift basket of treats from our friends at G&J Manufacturing, who we love, and a fruit thing that looked like an edible flower arrangement from the lads in Taking Back Sunday, who we also love. Almost every last consumable thing from any of it was devoured in short time, leaving the lounge in a mess of wrappings and crumbs. The Christmas gift for the band was a coffee machine and some coffee (the same kind of machine that we have in the studio that they are enamored with), wrapped in 2" analog tape.

The highlights of this week's eating were the good old Larchmont Wine & Cheese shop (I forgot to take a picture again) and a late night visit to Pattaya on Vermont for some Thai food, where we enjoy listening to this cute Thai lady sing "Hopelessly Devoted to you" from the Grease soundtrack on their karaoke set up. One night I got up and did a duet of that song with her, another time we did "Unforgettable." I hit In & Out Burger on Monday.

Studio B is going to get a pair of Barefoot Studio Monitors. The folks over there are our new friends and we had a pair of their small monitors on the console at our AES booth and Eric has been experimenting on Studio A's UREIs. We have been working on wrapping up our parts inventory and going over details of the rackmount EQ/mic pres. One hurdle to get over is the artwork on faceplates, major progress has been made lately and we're still messing around with a mod. In mid January, when Eric and Cian wrap up mixing, all focus will be UTA. The goal is to get this batch of stuff moving.

Happy Holidays,
MW

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More on the Crystal Recording era

Here are a couple of videos that have great shots of Studio A during the Crystal Recording days. This first one is Jon Anderson along with a roster of others -Look out for Elliot Easton, Trevor Rabin, Trevor Horn, Frankie Banelli and Roy Thomas Baker. There were so many musicians in the room. Studio A is huge, but they crammed an orchestra and a choir in with a whole band of rock folks. Great shots of one of the Crystal consoles and a cool time lapse thing as they set up the session.




Here is one of the 80's band Cinderella. This one features Andy Johns in Studio A. Interestingly enough, the live room was not Crystal, it was filmed on a set somewhere else.



If anyone else has pictures or more videos, by all means, please get in touch
mw@undertoneaudio.com

Cheers,
MW

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Answers to FAQs

Where do you build the consoles?
We build them in the studio, but if we get orders for more big ones, we may rent a warehouse and build the frames there while we continue doing the wiring, testing of modules and such at Barefoot.

Does anything get assembled overseas?
No. We can proudly say that they are built in California.

Is Barefoot Recording really located in a bunker with a tunnel that connects it to Area 51?
No. The studio is in sunny Hollywood, but that rumor stems from a belief that Larry reverse engineered alien technology for the EQs.

Is it true that there is a tunnel connecting the studio with a strip club directly across the street?
No, that was A&M. Legend had it that a tunnel connected it with Crazy Girls. Anyone who worked there could tell you that it was just a joke, but I like to believe it's true.

What happens if someone spills a drink into the porous metal surface?
It will go right through it, short out the circuitry inside and be expensive to fix. We'll make Roger fix it.
You shouldn't have liquids near any kind of mixing console, ever. There are lots of horror stories from different studios about that.

Who makes the large wood control room level knob?
Roger does, he has his own company called THG knobs. That stands for Tree Hugger Guitars and it's a little ironic since all of his products are made from wood.

Why are the numbers on the knobs and not on the faceplates?
That's so you can see the numbers while sitting, instead of having to loom over the console, hurting your back. Also, the knobs are aluminum, anodized and then laser etched so the numbers won't wear off.

Are the consoles made from frame parts of other consoles?
No, they are made completely from scratch.

Why aren't there any mic pres on the consoles?
People get really bent out of shape on this one, but there are good reasons for it; first, it's better to have your mic pres close to the mics and run through the walls at line level.
Second, unless a session is huge, it's rare to use more than 15 or 20 mic pres at one time. It is an absolute waste of money to have 48 to 72 channels with mic pres sitting in front of an engineer that aren't being used.
Third, most engineers and studios have an arsenal of mic pres to choose from already. If they want, they can get a couple of channels of UTA ones or even a whole bunch of them, but that's a choice, not a feature forced on them.

What about recall?
Break out the camera!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday's mixing

I was in Studio B today assisting a mix -it's rock, so it's extra fun. It's always a blast when someone else comes in and tries out one of the rooms.

We didn't have time this morning to play around more with the mains in Studio B, which was too bad, so we put a pair a Genelecs up in addition to the NS-10s. There is a sub on the outputs with the NS-10s, but not the Genelecs, so there was a significant change in low end when switching. But it's not a big issue.

One thing, though, we should try to dig deeper into the Flying Faders software and get rid of the Neve logo.

Today's lunch was sandwiches from Larchmont Wine & Cheese shop -a staple part of our diet here. I probably never would have known about it, one of Trevor's recommendations awhile ago. Some of the best sandwiches I've ever had...seriously. I should have taken a picture of that too...I should regularly photograph my food. Meanwhile, there were more guitar parts being recorded in Studio A.

I'll close with this, look at this picture of Roger Fearing, he looked exactly like Ozzy at that moment.
So click on it, stare at his face and imagine,"Sharon!!!!!!"

I'm heading out, I want to try to get to bed earlier.

MW

AES Publicity

Here are links to some of the publicity regarding our presence at the AES show.

Here is pre-convention lead up:

http://mixonline.com/aes_2010/undertone_audio_consoles/

http://www.eqmag.com/article/eric-valentine-to/October-2010/122377

and some after show press:

http://broadcastengineering.com/products/undertoneaudio-debuts-ultimate-analog-console-aes-20101114/

http://mixonline.com/aes_2010/product_picks/

http://www.gearwire.com/under-tone-audio-custom-analog-mixing-console-129aes.html

MW

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Barefoot Recording History and the start of Undertone Audio

Decades ago, the building was a post office. Then it was a sound stage and home to a TV show called Seahunt. Andrew Berliner and his gang turned it into a recording studio, called Crystal Recording and had a hot era of amazing artists there. Jimi Hendrix recorded with Jim Morrison, Supertramp's, "Breakfast in America" was mixed in Studio B, Stevie Wonder recorded "Song's in the Key of Life" there...it goes on and on. The piano that Stevie played on that record is still in the studio.

During the late 60s or early 70s, the Crystal crew designed and built their own custom consoles for Studio A and B. This was a little more common back in those days, especially earlier when there were no mixing console manufacturers -studios had to build their own or buy one that someone else made. By the early seventies, there were a number of companies building them, Quad 8 and Neve, for example.

The studio eventually fell into disrepair and it would seem that doom was its fate. Producer Matt Hyde took residency there and recorded Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros. Finally, Eric bought it in 2000, renamed it Barefoot Recording and settled in. Consoles came and went from the control rooms. When I first started working at Barefoot (in 2003), we were installing an EMI TGI series console in Studio B and there was a Neve 88R in Studio A. The EMI left about six months after the install as its owner moved on and Eric sold the 88R. This began a long period of the studio running with no mixing consoles at all, despite the fact that there was a lot of analog tape being used.

It was during the EMI install that Eric mentioned designing a custom EQ with Larry. I didn't think too much of it...people say that kind of stuff all the time. But they did and about three or so years later, I returned to Barefoot and Eric, Larry and I built a prototype. The results were amazing and we went ahead, building four more prototypes and plans went into action to design a mixing console with the intent of building and installing two at Barefoot in Studio A and B (just like decades before) and Undertone Audio was founded.

In early 2009, Eric started production on Slash's solo record. He needed a console, so we borrowed another EMI TGI from Jon Brion and set it up in Studio A. Mid 2009, it was time to start building consoles (Slash's sessions went on during this time, until December and Eric had to go back and forth between that and designs). We built a prototype input module, placing every component into position in solder paste with a pair of tweezers and proceeded to bake it. It caught on fire...a day's work ruined. So we assembled two more and tried again. This time we succeeded. We got a crew together and started putting together PC boards, wiring, etc. as we built the two big consoles in tandem. We focused on Studio A in January 2010, finishing the install in February.

                                   Me on the floor under the console wiring audio

                           What a mess, it was frustrating looking for screw drivers

                                             Putting modules into the frame

At that time, Slash came back and recorded one more song for the record, "Back From Cali", which is the first major release recorded and mixed on an Undertone LC console. Then we finished building and installing Studio B's console in August or September.

                                       Almost finished, just needed more coffee

While Studio B was still being put together, we started in on a third, 24 channel console to take to San Francisco for the AES show.

                             Frame on its back, wire and components everywhere

Now we're working on rackmount EQs, a compressor or two, mic pres, stereo I/P modules for the consoles and eventually, other goodies.

MW

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A little background on me...

I started out working at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco in...uh...1992. I didn't know the difference between a tape machine and a patchbay at the time, but I learned quickly, fell in love with studio life and was in the deep end working sessions as an assistant engineer pretty fast. I was lucky that I got to experience a time when everything was tracked to two inch and computers were only used in mix automation. That studio in particular was a special place for me because the history is so rich and it was there that I was introduced to recording in a very cool way...they have a Neve 8048 that had every 1081 modded to be completely class A. The console was paired with an Ampex ATR124, an arsenal of great mics and a bunch of other cool stuff. Matt, Michael, Tom, Ross and Larry were profound influences on me and had huge parts in shaping the foundation for my career.

As much as I loved Hyde Street, I wanted to move to Los Angeles. LA, as a major recording hub, especially in 1994 when there was a studio, mastering place or some other recording related entity on just about every block, would have far more opportunities for me. I worked on staff at a couple of big studios (Conway and Westlake), but eventually moved into a more technical direction. The techs at Conway taught me how to solder and eventually I worked for Brent Averill for awhile.

I started doing studio installs with Bruce Millett, then Paul J. Cox, I was on staff at a couple of other studios (Alpha and The Village), worked at Yale Electronics (where I met people who would be important influences on me later on), Soundelux Microphones (now Bock), Boutique Audio and Inward Connections, Stephen Paul Audio (more microphones), did more studio installs, working frequently with Audrey Wiechman and finally, Barefoot Recording and Undertone Audio with Eric Valentine and Larry Jasper. Somewhere in there I did a little more freelance stuff.

I went back to school while working and finally graduated from Cal State LA with a BA in Spanish in 2009.

If you worked at any of the above with me or any other time, please drop me a line, I'd love to hear from you.

Cheers,
MW

Hot salsa, limón and solder fumes

Everyone around here knows that I take lunch very seriously. I don't mess around...today I got a carne asada burrito from Cactus. Now I'm fed so it's finally time to start working (I'll finish the blog first).

Today in Studio A, guitars are being tracked and some editing going on in Studio B. The tech shop is right between the two, next to a real echo chamber. Sometimes there are mics in there, so we have to be quiet, but most of the crew is out working somewhere else, so I'll be alone in the shop.

Today I'm installing switches on PC boards and I expect a visit or two from Elsie (Eric's dog).

Since the AES show in early November, we have been visited by folks who may want to buy consoles or at least a rack mount EQ or two. We have another guest on Friday. The console (gold face, 48 channel in Studio B) and the room are in great shape, but I'll just have to clean up some of the tech shop messes before company arrives.

We also have a compressor that is very similar to a Fairchild that we lent to Capitol last week. We went over and were treated to a tour. I had been over there a number of times in the past, but never before into the rooms, very cool.

I'm ready for another blast of caffeine and I do need to get working.

And here is a shot of my comfy bench, deep in the bowels of the building. I wish I had taken a picture of my burrito.

Rock n' Roll,
MW