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

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Taking a Couple of Days Off

It's Christmas eve, I was going to work today, but I slept in until about noon, did laundry, did the last of my Christmas shopping and went to Roger and Tammy's house for dinner. I'll be back at work soon enough and my schedule for the next five weeks is going to be relentless. There's a whole bunch of things happening at once, but my first priority above anything else, is Greg Wells' console. Second is Studio A at Capitol. I have to keep doing my part for the rackmount EQs and Unfairchilds, but those are mainly in the hands of Larry, Eric and Garen for awhile.

The first step in building a console is sorting out the configuration. We have built three consoles and each one is a little different and this fourth one is very different. Everybody has their own work flow and when somebody wants us to build a console, it's custom from the ground up. Greg didn't want every feature, so it is easy to eliminate aux sends, group outputs and other odds and ends, but he needs sixteen channels of unity gain summing that ultimately feeds into the stereo buss, so he gets the first of this kind of set up and we will probably offer it as a product in the future.

We are able to consolidate features into parts of the console that would have been used for other purposes on the LC series (the first three consoles are LC, that stands for Large Console, but more importantly, it is a phonetic spelling of Elsie... very cute), so that means that Larry has been cleverly redesigning circuit boards specifically for this console. Soon we'll give more detailed information about his configuration and if you want a console and prefer that style, you can get the GW model/series.

The next step is ordering parts, I've mentioned this before. A lot of the parts we use are custom -they have to be made for us from scratch. Fortunately, Southern California is an extremely resourceful place; there are so many friendly, family owned businesses, some of which have been around since World War II, that offer metalwork, machining, painting and engraving. Many of these companies make parts for air and spacecraft as Boeing, Hughes and Nasa are here among others, so, when it comes to building mixing consoles, we are able to get almost everything we need nearby.

Good examples of custom parts and the steps that go into making them are knobs. First, they are machined out of aluminum by a local machine shop. We just got them in last week:


Then we take them to the anodizers where they use a proprietary two tone anodizing technique to get more than one color, for example, red or green on top, the rest of it black. Then we get the numbers laser etched through the anodizing. Each step takes a lot of time, ultimately taking about two months to get finished products to put on the consoles.

Finished knobs for rackmount EQs
While the knobs are going on in the background, other custom parts such as transformers, PC boards and our porous bronze faceplates are being made. The first PCBs came in and I started putting components in.

Putting in the first components into the tube inverter stage
We have rarely ever had any meetings, certainly not formal, scheduled ones... until recently. As we are growing into a more serious company (almost everything we have built has been strictly for Eric/Barefoot Recording, Greg Wells is our first client) we have meetings once a week to discuss parts ordering, scheduling and designs. I'm handling much of the wiring and component soldering, Roger is handling the mechanical aspects, including the frame and master section and Dre is responsible for the power supplies.

Dre and Larry going over power supply details
Meanwhile, over at Capitol... The install has begun, happening concurrently with the construction, acoustics and electrical in Studio A. The console arrived last Monday:

Neve 88R in crates
Would it have been possible to send it to the wrong address?
John Musgrave and I ordered parts on Thursday, starting with 1000 feet of cable and 12,000 Elco pins. It's a ton of work, but we're managing to have some fun.

Gutted control room, the legendary live room will not change
Tim O'Sullivan finally losing it
Patchbays and that's not even all of them
This is the first time in about twenty years that Capitol's most famous room has been taken down to go through such radical changes. Believe it or not, the control room used to be in the northeast corner of the live room and at some point it was moved to its current location in the southeast corner. We have a long way to go and not a lot of time, but we can do it.

For much of November and December at Barefoot, Slash, Todd Kerns (bass), Brent Fitz (drums) and Myles Kennedy (vocals and rhythm guitar) rehearsed in Studio A. They didn't need isolation of the amps, they just set everything up as if it were a show and ran through about fourteen songs over and over for about eight hours a day, more or less everyday. The only thing separating the tech shop from the live room is the echo chamber, which wasn't being used... I have been listening to the band play live together while I work on Greg's console and what a special treat that has been. The band is already tight from touring a year and a half together and after this extensive rehearsal/preproduction period, they are so prepared. Remember, this record is being recorded in a manner that is a little rare these days... playing live as a band, straight to analog tape. No digital. Eric is editing the old fashioned way -taking a razor blade to the 2" master tape.

During the recording, it has been necessary to isolate the amps. Barefoot is a big studio, but at these volumes (Slash plays with his amps almost completely wide open, which is extremely loud) the amps need to be far from each other while the band is in the room together. Slash's Marshall cabs are in the downstairs lounge, one bass cabinet is in the office, another bass amp is in the machine room and Myles' amp is in the Studio A iso booth. The chamber is being used now in addition to the front hallway being miked. It's tolerable in the tech shop and studio B, but you can hear the guitar and bass outside... it's that loud.

Bock Ellfet7 on Ampeg bass amp
Anyone who is a Slash fan is in for a blast and will not be disappointed... this is a real, serious rock record and the production is astounding. Slash regularly posts about the recording process on his Twitter account, including pictures, you can follow him here http://twitter.com/Slash. Todd Kerns has a blog on his website, which is fun http://www.toddkerns.com/ and the sessions are being filmed for a behind the scenes documentary.

On Thursday night, Trevor, Roger, Tim and I went to Rich Costey's studio to pick up the 24 channel console. It spent an extended period of time with Rich as he mixed The Shins' new record. We set it back up in the Studio B tracking room and I began going through it last night... just a check up. We are going to keep it there for awhile.

Now I'm tired, time to sign off.

Happy Holidays,
MW


Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Blog is One Year Old

Can you believe it? It's been a year since I started this blog and I've been loving it. It is so fun to write about the people, places and events around me. It's an outlet for me and it also serves as a journal to look at older posts. Looking back, 2011 has been amazing for me... the people I have been reunited with, new friendships and a diverse and interesting variety of work. From Barefoot and UTA to Bock Audio, Jon Brion and Capitol to the amazing musicians and music surrounding me. As a person who is in love with recording studios, I am so lucky to be where I am. The past two years have been the highest points in my career. Things have been exciting and it's not slowing down. So, the second year of my blog has begun and 2012 is going to be a blast.

Mauricio has been working hard to get the Spanish version of the blog up to date and he has done an amazing job. Check it out http://lasaventurasdemikedeundertoneaudio.blogspot.com/. Thanks again, Mauricio, I appreciate everything you have been doing so much and I hope you will be able to visit us next year.

Recently, Roger and I visited Niko Bolas at Sunset Sound. He was tracking a band in Studio 1. Sunset Sound is one of the greats -there is so much history there from The Doors, Van Halen's early records to Led Zeppelin http://www.sunsetsound.com/home.html.

Niko, me and Professor Ding Dong
Last week I finished off a bunch of work for Bock Audio and I'm focusing now on UTA. Right now it's mainly ordering parts and the first PC board came in for Greg Wells' console. I'm probably going to be spending a lot of time at Capitol as they took the Neve VR out and are getting an 88R, but I haven't had any involvement with that yet, right now it's mainly acoustics and electrical. I did survive the EMI Capitol Christmas party last Thursday night. I didn't stay too long though, just had some food, said hello to people and left.

I've been doing more work on Jon's live rig. He got a rackmount effects pedal controller as we are trying to clear up the floor... there are about fifteen pedals in the set up. As I was putting the rack together, I left my phone sitting on a rack behind me. Bret Rausch grabbed my phone and called Eric Caudieux and hands it to me -I heard Eric saying, "Don't hang up, don't hang up on me!" I hung up on him. So what I did next was pretty naive, I put the phone right back down on the rack, behind my back with Bret. After about a minute, I turned around and caught him crafting a text message to Eric saying naught things, he was so close to pushing send, but I managed to wrestle my phone away from him. Never leave your Facebook logged in and with those guys, you can't even leave your phone or computer unsupervised... evil things will happen! Bret and Eric C (AKA French Eric) are both masters at messing with people and working around them you have no choice but to get involved. French Eric, by the way, has his own products- cooking spices. Check out his website, it's good stuff http://www.frencheric.com/.

Speaking of spices, Brent Fitz brought in a bottle of extremely vicious hot sauce to Barefoot. Now, I love hot sauce, I love it blazing hot, but this stuff was pretty scary. I put a drop of it on my burrito and it bit me hard. Eric V put a tiny bit on his pinky, just to get a little taste... that was enough, but he didn't wash his hands and a few minutes later he rubbed an eye -he pretty much pepper sprayed himself. Later the same day, Slash did the same thing and Brent overdosed on it. He said it overcame him and he had to lay down as he felt like it was taking over his veins.

On Friday morning, just a few blocks away, a man with a gun went on a shooting rampage at the intersection of Sunset Blvd and Vine Street. He randomly shot at people and cars, he did shoot one person, sadly that victim is in critical condition and police killed the suspect at the scene. They closed the intersection down for the investigation, which caused major traffic jams in Hollywood. That day I got an email from Capitol's archiving department asking if I could put together wiring for them. I got it done quickly, but before I could leave, I had to interrupt a meeting in Studio A to get someone to move their car and Roger had just called to warn me that traffic was a mess. Going to Capitol takes about five minutes, this time it was treachery, navigating side streets overflowing with cars. When I got there I discovered that in the chaos of car moving and everything else... I left my bag, with the cables in it, back at Barefoot. I was in a pretty sour mood by the end of that. Things can get a little strange in this city. I once overheard someone saying that they live in LA just to see what will happen next. Los Angeles has had its share of car chases and violence in the street. I just don't get it.

On a brighter note, enjoy these holiday videos sent from Roger.
One for me
One for Roger
And finally, one for Larry

Happy Holidays and thanks for all the views,
MW