GearFest 2017


Arrival 10:30

After quick trip to the restroom, I took a glance at the weekend’s deals but didn’t see anything that stood out to me. There were good deals but nothing that I felt I really need. So, I headed over to get a Catfish Po Boy from a food truck for lunch. After a quick bite, I walked through the vendors in both of the ProAudio tents outside.

I took a gander at:

- Dynamount; microphone mounts that are motorized and controlled with an app

- Aston Microphones; they were recommended by my friend John Verdico in Los Angeles; they sounded amazing, and now I’m in the market to get three of their microphones

- Focal Monitors; my favorite monitors but are out of my price range; I absolutely love the way that they sound

- Coleman Audio; I’ve been looking for some monitor controlling gear, and they make some of the simplest, most straight-forward equipment

- Manley; just so I could admire their beautiful outboard gear that I’ll hopefully be able to afford some day 

Then I went inside to the first event on my schedule.

AVID S6 Control Surface Ozzie Sutherland and Jeff Komar  12:30 - 1:30 

The AVID S6 Control Surface is a modular, networked console that is beautiful, dynamic, and made by one of my favorite companies in the industry. The modular aspect is huge; it allows you to put the console together in any way that you’d like, whatever works best for your workflow. The customization is off the charts with this thing. They are all connected via the network using RJ45 (ethernet), which is pretty sweet, and powered by low voltage. It’d be neat if you could daisy-chain power, though.  

If I ever get the space and large enough projects to work on, I’d love to have this. For now, I’m going to just try to the iPad app (PT Control) and consider investing in an AVID S3 or Artist Mix.

Recording Acoustic Instruments Nathan Heironimus  1:30-3:00

The next workshop that I attended was on recording acoustic instruments: acoustic guitar and upright bass, in this case.

The Room
The first, and most important thing, is knowing how the instrument sounds in the room. Have the musician play his or her instrument in the room that you are recording in so that you understand how it reacts and how it feels. This will help you determine which microphone you will use and whether or not that is a good room in which to record that particular instrument. 

Mic Choice
It’s vital to match the microphone to the instrument. For instance, in terms of acoustic guitars, Gibsons are compressed-sounding, Martins are dark and warm, and Taylors are bright. Know what mic is going to balance and work best with that instrument.

Mic Placement
One issue that tends to pop up is the musician moving away from the sweet spot. As an engineer, your placement of the mic is intentional and important. You must know what the instrument sounds like in different spots and at different distances, keeping the proximity effect in mind. Remind the musician to keep a steady relationship to mic; not to turn or move a lot. Also, little details like buttons on shirts, fingernails against the body, and tapping your foot will be picked up on the mic.

Recording In Stereo
When recording in stereo, try to keep the input from both microphones at the same level so that you keep a nice stereo image. One interesting technique I learned involves creating a stereo double track. Simply record two guitar takes in stereo, then mute the left channel on one take and mute the right channel on the other take. So you’re using one mic from each take, panned, and you get a natural, wide, doubled, stereo guitar sound.

I had to leave before they got into recording the upright bass, because I didn’t want to miss anything from the session I was headed to next that dealt with mastering. 

Demystifying Mastering Jonathon Wyner 2:15-3:15

Sometimes, as a mastering engineer, you have to gain stage the mix and create balance between the arrangement as a whole. For example, maybe the intro shouldn't be as loud as the rest of the song. This isn’t something the mastering engineer should have to do, but sometimes the responsibility falls upon him or her.

Jonathon pointed something out that I’ve been doing this whole time. He discussed multi-band compression/EQ and how it tends to punch holes in the track where the crossovers land. Multi-band creates differences that aren’t always good. However, just like many other things, it has its purpose when the time arises.

One of the best things I picked up here had to do with levels for final versions that will be distributed. Compact Disc, iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube...they all have their own level that works best, and you don’t want their own codecs, compression, and conversions to create artifacts and distortion in your track. Overall it’s good to leave your master with an RMS level of -0.3dB and peak of -0.1, but the real important thing is the LKFS (Loudness, K-weighted, relative to Full Scale). Instead of bouncing a master for each destination, you can put your master between -12 and -14 LKFS, which should translate well to every place you send it. At this point someone asked where he likes to receive his mix, to which he replied: “around -16 LKFS is a good place for a mix.”  

Booths, Flea Market, AKAI, Food, and Dweezil Zappa - 3:15-5:30

After the mastering lesson, I went out to scout the booths. I took a quick stroll through the Acoustic Guitars tent to gander at my favorite brand, Taylor. (Pic of Taylors) Then I walked through the Flea Market tent to see if anyone was selling something that I could really use. I saw a couple kick drum mics for a good price, but decided I’d wait until the next day to make that decision. I saw a really awesome 5-string Fender Jazz Bass that I had to twist my arm not to get. Then, I visited the Electronic Music tent to check out the Moog setup, where I saw a pretty sweet theremin. (Pic of Theremin). I glanced at KORG’s booth to look at their synths and samplers. I eventually made my way over to the AKAI tent where I started fiddling around with their MPCX (Pic of MPCX). I ended up standing there for about 35 minutes getting familiar with the product and making a beat. By this time, I was pretty hungry, so I went to the food trucks to grab a burger while watching Dweezil Zappa play the music of his father. After a long day, I was ready to head back home and get some rest before Day 2.

Smart Boy Studios - Sweetwater GearFest - Theramin - Moog.JPG



Arrival - 10:30

I got there about the same time as Friday, but didn’t have to go through registration, so I got a great parking spot. I was super hungry so quickly grabbed a shrimp po boy from the Cajun food truck. Then I headed directly to the first workshop to eat it in the room before it started.

Making Your Recorded Vocals Sound At Least Twice As Good
Craig Anderton  11:15-12:15

This was brought up on Friday, but Craig reiterated how important mic choice is in the recording process. You want the mic you choose to work well with the voice sonically and fit the dynamics and levels of the voice. He then explained a bunch of mic basics, and it was at this point that I realized I had attended the same talk last year or the year before. However, there were still things that I must have forgotten or that he’s added since last time. For instance, recording at a low CPU setting will prevent fans on the computer from kicking on, which reduces background noise. 

In terms of pop filters, none of them seem to work very well at all. There’s only one that he has ever used that truly works and actually prevents plosives well, and that is Pauly Pop filter (which runs about $300...but he said it’s worth it in the long run, since you don’t have to spend the time removes clicks and pops in the recording). 

Mic technique was mentioned once again. Craig prefers a limiter over a compressor, because it will reduce the peaks without changing the rest of the dynamics. This gives the vocal more dynamic range, which makes it sound more natural. He recommended using an expander to get rid of room noise and noise gates for removing serious problems like a loud, low hum or headphone bleed.

There’s always a debate on whether EQ should come before or after a compressor. If you EQ pre-dynamics, then you’re going to push those frequencies which means they will hit the compressor harder. Placing EQ after a compressor will have a greater overall effect. Like everything else in this field, it really all depends on your desired outcome.

When it comes to doing any type of treatment, it’s good to practice the “Rule of Half,” which is basically: make the change you thing you want, then bring it back halfway. For instance, if you need a brighter sound from your vocal and you boost the highs by 4dB, bring it back down 2dB. Your perception of the brighter vocal with a 4dB boost at 8kHz is basically an overcorrection. Therefore bringing that boost back down to 2dB will fit better. Otherwise, after a few minutes you’ll think the vocal is lacking low end and give a boost down at 300 Hz, and you end up in a vicious cycle.

One of the most important tricks learned from this lecture (I learned it last year, but want to share it with you) is Manual Compression. You’ll basically normalize individual phrases and words by hand. You use clip effects to create an average level across a vocal. Melodyne has this ability as well. You basically cut the phrases of the vocal recording up and increase the gain/volume on the quieter ones to match the louder ones. Another method is using clip envelopes to automate the volume. [If you don’t really know what this means, or you’d like more information about Manual Compression, feel free to Contact Us]

I left a little early to get a good seat for Fab Dupont’s workshop. 

Mixing Tips With Fab DuPont Fab Dupont  12:00-1:00

Fab is a French engineer who has worked with J Lo and Shakira and has 3 Grammys. His rig consists of all Dangerous Music gear:


Dangerous Music Rig:

Computer (Mac)
to CONVERT 8 (Eight Channel D to A Converter)
to 2BUS+ (Analog Summer)
to LIASON (Analog Patching)
to CONVERT AD+ (A to D Converter)

to CONVERT 2 (Two Channel D to A Converter)
to Monitor ST (Monitor Controller)


So part of this lecture was about mixing outside the box with analog summing and all the incredible features of his Dangerous Music gear. But a good portion dealt with mixing with standard plug-ins, setting up the session, and overall tips on how to really make some things sound great. He started with putting a little EQ and compression on the master bus, which means he would be mixing into a processed master. This is something you don’t see suggested very often. One thing that he does that seems unordinary is adding space as he goes along. He started with the vocal and got it sounding better, then added his reverb and delay before moving on to the first instrument. From there he moved to bass, then kick, snare, and drums. Now if you don’t use parallel compression for your drums, that is something you should definitely be doing. [If you need information on parallel compression, Contact Us]. However, he did something that I found strange, which was not only adding the bass to the parallel drum bus, but the vocal as well. His reason for doing this was to help the vocal cut through a little better, and it worked incredibly. He mixed the entire song in about an hour and took it from an okay recording to a wonderful mix. Sidenote: Fab is a huge fan of Hi-Pass filtering and claims that it really lets the bottom get fat and juicy. 

I left when the Q&A started to go hear about heavy guitar tones.

Tales From The Hard Side: Heavy Guitar Tones, Tips and Tricks
Nick Bowcott  1:00-2:00 

I came in about halfway through due to Fab’s workshop.

The overall lesson here was to experiment, know your source (who is giving you the tips and ideas), and if you want a certain sound that someone has...find out what they’re using, how they’re using it, and why they’re using it. Also, amazing tone comes from the hands and the heart first and foremost. Something I learned here was the difference in guitar cabs. Angled cabs are great for live because the speakers send some high end upwards to your ears and can help fill up a small club. Big boxes have a lower resonant frequency so they have a lot of “umph!” Also, the speakers in a cab are very important to the sound and are a big reason why people choose certain cabs. 

Producers Panel 2:00-3:00
Fab Dupont, Mitch Gallagher, Neal Cappellino,
Chuck Ainlay, Chris Lord-Alge, and Al Schmitt

This was a great opportunity to hear from the masters and their different mindsets and opinions about commercial studios vs. home studios and in-the-box vs. out-of-the-box mixing. The question was asked about home studios and if you can get a quality track out of them. They pretty much all agree that hits can be made at home, but a couple preferred not to have a home studio. They all agreed, though, that a good room and good ears are the most important thing, regardless of whether the studio is in a house or in a commercial facility.

Another topic was whether or not young engineers today could develop the type of career that these experts have and what method is best for reaching that level. Fab started out by mixing in his basement for $100 and kept at it, building his clientele, until one day it paid off and he ended up working on a J Lo record. Between his experience and the lack of commercial studios, he believed it’s possible but that the best method is grassroots. Al Schmitt (who is 87 years old) totally disagreed and pointed out how getting access to the experts, equipment, and clients in a commercial studio are priceless and will put you in a way better position. The other panelists were somewhere in the middle, seeing both sides.

One of the things that I was very interested in was their conversation on the relationship between the artist and the label (seeing as engineering is a service job). Knowing how to treat them and gain trust as well as making them comfortable is very important. However there is this strange aspect where the client is paying you, but you should be the one calling the shots because you know what’s best (as long as it fits the artist’s creative vision).

The panel was asked what bad mixing techniques they see often. They all agreed that people use too many plug-ins and that they should put away the compressor. They all agreed that people compress the hell of things and squeeze the life out of the mix. Al Schmitt doesn’t even use EQ on his mixes (how crazy is that?) and he has 23 Grammys and over 150 gold and platinum records. They talked about how it is important not to let the “toys” block your vision of the music. The cool gear is cool...but don’t let it take you away from the goal: creating a great mix. Another qualm they seemed to have was the use of presets (mainly with virtual amps), although they agreed that they can be a good starting point. It was also important to note that the arrangement can dictate a lot of a mix, and sometimes as the engineer you have to know what needs to be taken out or added to really help with the emotion of the track.

I left at the Q and A to go learn how to bring out more emotion in a mix.

Maximizing the Emotional Impact of Your Mixes: Tech and Music Tips to Make Your Tracks Pop  Enrique Gonzalez Muller  2:15-3:15 

I came in about halfway through, but caught some good stuff. First of all, one tip that I will definitely being using is putting ProTools Solo Mode into XOR mode. This allows you to toggle between soloed tracks. For example, say you have a reference track and you want to check your mix against the reference with ease. You can put all of your tracks into a group, toggle XOR mode, then when you have the group selected and solo a track it solo's your whole mix. Then, if you hit “Solo” on the reference track, it gets soloed but your mix gets muted. [If you need clarification on this, please Contact Us]

The overall goal of this workshop was to explain how to balance all of your tracks/instruments in the frequency spectrum of the mix. However, the balance isn’t between their volume but between their energy, or amount of pressure between them, as well as the energy between the instruments in the stereo image. One important thing here is to recognize which instruments bear the burden of representing the ends of the spectrum. For instance, in an EDM track or maybe Rap track, the kick drum is going to represent the bottom of the low end. Therefore, it needs to be clean and clear, so you shouldn’t do anything wonky or weird to it, and it should stay in that spot, representing the low end well. On the other end, your cymbals are going to represent the high end, so they should be bright and clear and represent the high end well. Everything else in between needs to balance, but since they don’t have to represent an end of the spectrum, you can do more interesting things with them sonically.

Smart Boy Studios - Learning ProTools Tips and Tricks.jpg

 When messing with a track to put it in its place in regards to the other sounds around it, you must first define the sound that you want (especially when doing weird things). Once you have the sound in your mind, it’s all about using the right tools to make that happen. In this particular workshop, Enrique used Izotope’s Neutron (which has a really cool Masking EQ visual that impressed me), Nectar (which intrigued me with how much it can do), and Trash (which you’d want if you like to do really noisy/weird/distorted effects). 

At this time I had some coffee, started writing up a list of gear that I’m interested in getting, talking to a few people about what we do and what we’ve seen at GearFest, uploading Instagram pics, and doing some Biz-Dev from my phone.

The Next Level-Upgrading Your Studio  Mitch Gallagher  4:00-5:00

This was a workshop that I was extremely excited about. I am getting to the point where upgrades are starting to get expensive, and I’m not exactly sure what to get next.

First, have a target. Know your purpose and where you're going. Do you want to focus on recording live instruments? Do you strictly just want to do mixing? Do you want to be a vocal studio? You sort of have to know your end goal in order to evaluate your direction in terms of gear upgrades. Since this workshop is about equipment upgrade, Mitch wanted to point out that great musicians/vocalists make great sounds. He basically wanted to note that you can have amazing gear, but the sound starts at the source, and that is the most important thing to remember. He also wanted to caution us about where you get your information. You want to listen to people that actually know what they’re talking about: people that have actually used the equipment and have the experience and knowledge to know when to recommend it. 

The point of upgrading is to remove technical excuses. The goal is to remove the “if only” of gear: “If only I had a bigger interface, I could record drums”, “If only I had better mics, my recordings would sound better”, etc. Look for those things holding you back first and remove them. You must find the weakest link - what is holding you back? - and remove it by replacing it and making it the strongest link. Don’t just get the next step up, upgrade to something that’s going to set you for the long run. If not, then you’ll make other upgrades and eventually your old weakest link becomes your weakest link again, making you spend even more money.

The Big Three

- Acoustics
Find the room that works best, or find the issues with the room you’re using. Acoustic treatment should be Number One. Knock out your early reflections (including the ceiling), diffuse reflections from your back wall, and USE BASS TRAPS.

- Monitoring
Good monitors give you an accurate picture. You want a monitoring setup that gives you full range (20-20kHZ); this may be bigger speakers, or smaller speakers with subwoofer.  You want a monitor controller that is going to be transparent and not color the sound of your speakers. Also, it’s a good idea to have multiple pairs of monitors to use for reference so you can make sure your mix translates well. 

- Microphones

“The key to capturing great sound is at the source.”

For the third time at GearFest, mic choice was discussed. Also important are mic placement, and the settings if a mic has them (pads, polar patterns, hi-pass filters).

The Next Three

- Preamps
Preamps are critical to the quality of your audio source. They can be transparent or add a certain flavor. Regardless, having a good preamp can dramatically help the sound of your recording.

- Converters/Interface
This really deals with the “If Only” thing. The main aspect is connectivity (I/O count, preamps inside, control, things that are more than just audio quality). There’s a price curve on upgrading this, meaning upgrading costs a lot of money for little quality increase.

- Processing
In regards to hardware or software, this is for expanding your palette (creating options). Bundled plug-ins that come with your DAW are pretty dang good. However, if you feel like you want/need to increase your options and tool set, this may be something to look into.

Final Touches

- Computer
As long as it's not holding you back, upgrading your computer shouldn’t be too necessary. Mitch recommends: plenty of RAM (16GB, if you can) and plenty of HDD space. Having a good backup system is important, because there’s nothing worse than losing a ton of sessions.

- Cabling
Really good cables are for peace of mind. More expensive cables just last longer and hold up over time, otherwise they all work the same out of the box.

Unthinking Interface

Operate without thinking. One thing that is overlooked is the aspect of time management. Sometimes the weakest link in your studio is ergonomics. Take the time to create templates and setup your hardware in a manner that let’s you go from 0 to “Ready to Record” in under 5 minutes. From session templates that have I/O setup, your basic track layout, even plug-ins that you often use on those having your hardware configured in a way that allows to plug a couple things in and you’re ready to hit record.

Open Box Items and Other Booths  5:00-6:00

After that, I took a trip outside and went to the Open Box tent, which was full of open-box Sweetwater gear. I saw a control surface for $150, some incredible outboard gear (TubeTech, Avalon Stereo Channel Strip, and much more), a bunch of new cymbals, some monitors and microphones, keyboards….eventually I understood that anything that I wanted to buy was just too much money to spend right now. So I left and walked around the ProAudio booths again before heading to Roland booth. This is where I got to fool around and play on a Roland keyboard, some DJ equipment, and an electronic drum set for like about 20 minutes. I ended up fooling around for so long that I missed Eric Johnson’s performance. I wasn’t too upset about it, though. Then it was time to head home to digest all the information and start planning upgrades for the studio!

For more pictures, follow me on Instagram @SmartBoyStudios