A few years ago I opened a recording studio called Quantum Sound. I spent a couple of years on Broadway & Dunbar in Vancouver, followed by a one year tryout in Richmond, B.C., before moving it home. The biggest challenge in moving was the team it took to move the 9" concert grand piano . It had to be disassembled and then put back together. By moving my studio home, I have been able to focus on prujects that I really liked as opposed to having to work to pay the rent. It also means I can show up "for work" in my p.j.s, if I'm the only one there (not a pretty sight!).
In this section I will try to describe some of the technical details involved in the making of "It's About Time" for those of you who might be interested. The equipment specs section is for hard-core audiophiles and techies so I won't be insulted if you retreat from this article.
To start with, I want it known that at no time was Autotune used on my lead vocals. Virtually all lead vocals were done in only two takes. Years ago when recording a vocal with Randy Bachman he called me into the control room to listen to what I had just sung. I protested that my voice had cracked and that I might just as well stay in the recording room and do another take. He insisted I come in and listen. When I sat down and listened, as soon as we got to the place where my voice had cracked I said, "See, I have to do it again". He said, "Your'e not listening. It sounds like your heart is breaking". I listened again and he was absolutely right! This was a valuable lesson for me as I realized that the emotion is more important than 100% technical accuracy. I would like to think that the "It's About Time" lead vocals strike the balance between accuracy and getting the emotion across.
The Richmond Studio.
Console: After many happy years with my semi-automated 32 channel Allen & Heath board (above middle), I decided to go with the Yamaha O2R96 (above left) after seeing too many pictures of major studios with this board sitting on top of giant top-of-the-line boards. The large boards look cool but the O2R96 clearly has the goods even to this day. What you can't tell looking at it is that it has multi-layers which means it has 48 channels in groups of 16. I chose Hamerfal soundcards for their clean analog to digital conversion. In addition to the digital links to my computer, they also offer fibre-optic connections which allowed me to get my information off old projects recorded on Adat recorders which had been my standby for many years. This proved important in my getting the tracks for a couple of the older songs on "It's About Time"
Recording Platform: Nuendo - while a majority of studios use ProTools, I was most impressed by the fact that Nuendo could adapt to changes in operating systems as they came down the pike. Having bought MediaSuite Pro for video editing, I discovered that it was left in the dust as computers evolved. I didn't want to get caught again....I still find it logical in the way it functions and very powerful. When you use a plug-in, it functions just like the original analog circuitry and as such, is intuitive.
9' Kawai Concert Grand: this piano was purchased in Japan (it was over 30 years old) and refurbished in Canada. As with the difference between German Steinways and those built for international markets, this is better than the local pianos. The only technician I allow to tune and work on it is George Klassen...Thanks, George!
Midi Keyboard Controller: Yamaha KX88..interestingly, when I use my Roland U220 sound module, it sounds more real than when other controllers are used. I think because the action is heavier and has greater range, that it is a better match even than the best Roland keyboards (although I think they are quite fine)...don't know if he still has one,, but the only other keyboardist that I know of owning one is David Foster.
Hammond B3: -has been with me since the early Trooper days. What makes my studio setup a bit unique is that I use the regular Leslie 145 for recording the upper horn but use an old solid-state Leslie Rotosonic 600, which looks like an old stereo, for the bottom end. I always leave the solid-state Leslie on "chorale" because when put a Leslie on fast tremulo, the horn sound great but the baffle makes a horrible wuh, wuh, wuh, sound. The 145 handles all the changes from chorale to full speed. I can also turn them off. I also have an input on the B3 with which I can plug a guitar etc...like the digital plug-ins only "old-school." Sidestory: I rented my B3 & Leslies to the BB King Band initially for their Vancouver, Victoria and Kamploops shows. They liked it so much they asked to continue to take it through the Prairies. I got concerned when they decided to hang on to it and took it across the border for shows there. I was mostly concerned that it might be used (one here's rumours) to store something "herbal" which if it was seized, then I'd never see it again. Thanks to their road manager at the time, he protected it and ensured it finally came back to me even though he resigned from their employ perhaps over this issue. Back to the present, I have just had the B3 serviced which involved replacing the starter motor*, replacing some contacts and bringing the percussion back to life. As with the piano, I only allow one person to work on it. Thanks to Jack Ellis! * In the Trooper years, the road crew would have to put Par cans (2000 watt lights) on the back of the B3 to thaw out the oil when we toured the Prairies in the winter. Turns out, the starter motor was running just under normal speed all those years. I now have one which runs a semi-tone higher - correctly, so finally that issue is resolved..I always believed it was a problem with the oil. My apologies for all the suffering I caused the crew who had enough to deal with just on the weight of the B3, especially when in it's road case.
Wurlitzer Piano: like the one Ray Charles played in the early days and in The Blues Brothers, it's got the old "dirt" in the sound.
Virtual & Analog Sound Modules: Prophet...identical to the Prophet 5 which I used in the Ironhorse days, except that it stays in tune...hurrah!...VST Roland Sound Canvas 24-bit version of the SC33 & SC88. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound as good as the SC88 which is only 16 bit...so I use it for writing and quick productions, but for more serious stuff, I run the data out through my SC88 and back into the board. Still have my Yamaha TX with 2 modules. This allows me to have one detuned 6 cents for that great DX7 sound. I have a number of other VST synths, but I don't often use them. The same is true of the Proteus module. I recently dug out my 80's KX5 remote midi keyboard and changed the battery module to a single 9 volt battery rather than the 6 large 1.5 volt batteries designed to go inside the end of the keyboard but which had long since broken. If I ever get to tour again, I think I'll utilize it for the odd song.
Sony C48: My main workhorses..I have 2 setup on the piano at all times so that their placement is consistent. In my previous studios, the paino was so resonant it would rattle the lights etc. so I would have to have the mics close to the strings, but now, with a cedar ceiling, and solid fixtures, I'm able to have the mics further away from the strings which allows for a nice amount of natural ambience. For the "live off the floor" artsongs, I place sleeping bags over the "hood" opening to give better separation despite having the singer in the same room for a more natural performance. I also put the singer behind a plexiglass sheet to assist with separation. A bigger studio would have separate rooms, but I'm quite happy with how the musicians get to interact better this way. Another C48 mic is also my main vocal mic as well as finding use for acoustic guitar. With the combination of the piano and these mics, I rarely need any eq and virtually no reverb. The sound is huge!
more to follow:
DRUMS: 70'S Ludwig kit (what else?) - mics are all in place so that drummers can just walk into the drum room and be ready to go. Of course many will bring their own snare and cymbals and sometimes a bass drum pedal they are used to....but I've often regretted using other snare drums. see microphones for mic selection.
Ovation Electro-Acoustic - a real mainstay for my childrens' songs...I usually use a Sony C48 mic as well as direct in.
Fender Stratocaster (U.S. manufactured)..usually through my Fender FM212 DSP digital amp which has multi-amp simulation (miced and out the direct out of the amp which allows for the onboard preamps etc. ..plus a direct input which I can then treat with the onboard digital effects, either within Nuendo, or within the O2R96.
Fender Telecaster (U.S. manufactured) - amplified as per Strat.
70's Fender Precision Bass...I run it direct in to the board with no eq. It's fat enough just like that.