Well, first off, Happy New Year 2012 to everyone, and if you’re reading this, that means we both made it out of 2011 intact.

I’m also happy to report that as I write this (at about 5 a.m. in the wee first hours of 2012), both halves of the DSO concert are being uploaded to the WRTI server, in time for the 2 p.m. broadcast today. If you’re in the Delaware Valley area, near any of the dozen or so WRTI translator stations, you can pick up the broadcast on your FM radio; 90.1 in Phila., 107.1 in Wilmington, DE, and many other similar stations around the area.

If you do go online to hear it (at WRTI.ORG), just know that it’s still being sent out in lowly mono. (ugh! I’m trying to get them to change that, but it’s going to take time, and more listeners need to let them know it’s important.)

The concert & recording went off without a hitch (well, one air-cannon in the second half went off a bit too soon, surprising everyone with a shower of confetti), and the orchestra was in fine shape throughout. Maestro David Amado really gave a sterling performance, but not only that; he’s downright funny in his onstage chats with the audience between works. I really enjoyed his easygoing, subtle jokes. It’s no wonder he’s so successful; the man really knows his audience, and they loved him in return.

The audience’s participation (during the intermission segment as you’ll hear) was a hoot, literally. All those noisemakers, a little bubbly, and some mischievous horn players, and well, you have to hear it to understand.

The concert ended at 9:45 or so, and the crew at the Grand helped me get out and on my way back to home base in just under an hour. I started file transfers almost as soon as I got in the door (stopping only to hug & kiss my wife & pet the dogs!). With a brief stop to ring in the new year at Midnight – again with my lovely, understanding and wonderful wife – I was back to mixing & editing, working from the same template as Thursday’s dress rehearsal.

Fortunately, there were only a few (minor) blips and bobbles to clean up, but I had plenty of good alternate takes from the Thursday dress, and editing was minimal; we could have almost aired everything exactly as they played; DSO is a great group of very talented musicians.

I’ll have more to report on the tech side of things, but for now, it’s all done (say Hallelujah, somebody!) and I’m off to bed.

Hope you get to hear this one, it was really a lot of fun pulling it all together, and this is my last late-night burn the candle at both ends gig for (hopefully) a long time!   I’ll have pictures to share as well; just don’t want to tie up my internet connection while the broadcast is still uploading.  I’m a bit supersitious about that sort of thing.  😉

Cheers!

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Well, Happy New Year, and here’s to a data-safe 2012!

As lots of folks take this moment as a good opportunity to finalize their bank accounts, receipts and tax information, it’s also a good time to check on your data, be it music, videos, personal and professional files, documents, and so on. Far too often, folks find out all too late that they’ve not kept their data in a safe place (or two).  And when it’s lost….look out; the pain starts.  Big time.

If you haven’t heard it yet, here’s one simple truth that anyone who works in the digital data world (which at this point is 99% of us!) knows:  Data isn’t safe until it exists in three places.  (That’s right; THREE places.)    The master copy, the backup copy, and the safety/second backup copy.  And if you think it’s expensive, what price would you put on all your data if it just goes POOF and disappears?

If you haven’t set up a data backup plan yet, now is a good time to start.

You may have only a few gigs for your personal stuff: calendar, address book, photos, emails and documents, or you may be well on the way into the ‘Terrabyte” world, esp if you’ve been archiving movies, music, online books, etc.   Over time, it does all add up! If you don’t need all THAT much space, you may want to just get some USB thumb drives, or SD chips that hold 8, 16, 32 or even 64 gigs of data.  The bigger ones aren’t all that cost effective (yet), but they have no moving parts, and in theory at least, should last a long time.  The most important issue beyond the media itself is the backup.  Always the backup!

Another quick and somewhat easy way is to just buy an off-the-shelf, self-contained hard drive by one of the big manufacturers like Western Digital, Seagate, LaCie, etc.   They’re sold everywhere now, online and in stores, in all kinds of sizes and configurations, and it’s never been cheaper, faster and easier now to just hook the drive up to your main computer via a USB cable and copy all of your critical files in one easy move.  Most come with software that will walk you through this and it’s great if you just want to let it work that way for you, or you can simply do it yourself manually.   The really good thing about dedicated storage drives is that they’re not being used over and over again (like the “C” drive in most people’s computers), so they’re often used only a few times to simply store and occasionally retrieve data.  That’s a big difference in the longevity of a device like this.

After you’ve made copies of everything from 2011 and before, you now have one of two choices:  Unplug the drive (or SD card, USB stick, etc.) and put it away until the next time you want to back it up; say every other month or so.  Or, simply keep it connected, and use the timed backup software that came with the drive and let it do it automatically behind the scenes.  (Every Sunday night at2-3 a.m.for example, is often a good time and a good way to start your week.) If you do keep your main storage drive connected and powered up, consider an uninterruptable power supply for it, as well as a surge protector for those inevitable lightning strikes and power outages.  They wreak havoc on storage systems.

If you’re like me, you may want to go that extra mile or two with a second backup system, just to be safe.   I may be extreme, but of course my business depends on it, so whenever I finish a project for a client (specifically, once I’ve been paid and the check clears the bank), I make sure there are three (and sometimes four) copies of a project in existence somewhere. The client gets their copies, the dupe copy lives on in my duplication system’s hard drive, and the masters – audio & video files as well as mix/editing templates, bounced stereo files and final renders for CD or DVD – are off on a hard drive, in a dedicated folder, with the client’s name, project and date, so I can easily retrieve the project from long-term storage to update, repair or simply re-copy it for another duplication run.

Before cheap SD & Hard Drives there was Tape and Optical….

Once upon a time, people used tape for data storage, and then came CDrs/CD-ROMs.

I’ve found over the years that tape (data tapes, that is, not necessarily analog audio tape) isn’t a very reliable way to save data.  (I’m so glad I never took the excabyte route that many colleagues swore by in the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s.  Yuck!)  Old DAT (data and audio) tape retrieval/restore can also be a white-knuckle experience.  Was the machine that made it in good shape in the first place?  Will the DAT play on my current machine?  It’s always a roll of the dice… Mangled, chewed up DATs will never play properly; and unlike analog audio tapes, you can’t get “just a little” out of them; it’s all or nothing.

Early burns of CDr’s from the 90’s are pretty scary, too. Although I have to say I’ve had pretty good luck with media burned from the late 90’s and onward.   Early, first-generation CDs (early/mid 90’s era) have proven to be pretty unreliable, but I’ve recently had to re-master a holiday project from 1996, with all files retrieved from the only mixed/edited masters I had, on CDr’s and CD-ROMS.  Happy to say, thanks to good media available of the day, I had zero problems retrieving them.  (You bet I put this latest version away on a hard drive, too!)

Backup, Backup, Backup

All that said, whatever media you prefer, take some time today to figure out what you need to backup personally and professionally, and how you’re going to do it. The same goes for old movies, tapes and other treasures.   If you’re not sure you can do it properly, get them to a professional to back them up, make digital copies, etc.  10, 20 or more years from now, you, your kids and your clients will be glad you did.

Have a great 2012, and remember to back it all up for the next New Year, too.

Well, all good news to report so far.   Yesterday’s setup and final dress rehearsal recording went perfectly.   The crew at the Grand are total pro’s – Steve Manocchio and his assistant Stacey, specifically – and got me and my gear loaded into the theater via the backstage lift in short order, giving us about 2.5 hrs to get mics set and a good spot for my “control room”.    We worked quickly and without a hitch; everything I needed, they got for me, and couldn’t have been more helpful.  I can’t tell you how much something like this helps, right off the bat; we’re in, we’re set up, and things are cooking!

In all, we’re using 23 mics/line feeds for this recording.  (2 mics on the audience for ambience, applause & new year noise-makers, 2 mics on a stereo bar as the main pair for the orchestra, spot mics on all principal players, an M/S ribbon configuration on the winds, 3 on the percussion, as well as piano, celeste and harp.    Last but not least, we’ve got a hand-held mic feed from the house PA, where Maestro Amado will announce various pieces, as well as introduce the orchestra and various segments throughout the performance.

I did a last minute mic placement check onstage around 7:15 and got to say hello to a lot of the musicians, many I know well from their work in and around the area.   I was happy to see concertmaster Luigi Mazzochi on the stand; I’d almost forgotten he was with DSO!   Next I had a brief chat with Music Director David Amado, and we discussed the order of the works he’d be taking in rehearsal, and how we’d compare notes after the real performance.   Another positive sign was how prepared the orchestra was; having been alerted that we planned to record everything “just in case”.   In my experience, this gives everyone a little breathing room; they give a little extra at the dress rehearsal, knowing it’s being recorded, and also lets them kick it out a little bit more at the performance; they can concentrate on their art, and not worry about little mistakes here or there.

I quickly set levels throughout the tuneup and first few pieces, but otherwise we were well on our way.   All tracks were captured flawlessly on my JoeCo “Blackbox” 24 track hard disc recording system, with an SD chip (stereo) backup, and just for redundancy, a CD copy as well.   I had a nice cozy setup backstage, in the connecting space between the Grand and the “Baby Grand” theater right next door.  Sweet!

My 'control room' - backstage at the Grand

By 10 p.m., we were done and quickly struck just the mics, leaving everything else in place for Saturday. (Fortunately, nothing else going on in the theater means everything stays set up and in place for Saturday’s performance.)

Today (Friday), as planned, I transferred all tracks from the rehearsal into my main Sequoia workstation and began working on the overall mix.   Happily, everything came through as planned; I don’t expect to change much at all during the re-set on Saturday.   The orchestra really played well, in top form, even for a dress rehearsal, and I’m more than happy with what we’ve captured.   The strings are solid and lush, and the percussion (esp the huge bass drum) really spice up the sound.  I’m glad I used so many mics!  Lots of control over such nuannced performances.

I’m rendering a temp stereo mix of both halves of the rehearsal as I type this, and will have these ready for “dropping in” bits or pieces here or there, as needed.

Overall, I’m feeling pretty excited about everything at this point, although the big, challenging moments are still to come… We all know things can change quite a bit betwee I’m holding my breath just a little bit longer, until we’ve got it all in the can, sometime around 9:30-10 p.m. tomorrow night – December 31st.

Once again, stay tuned; I’ll have more to share soon!

Well, things are moving along nicely on the project, and excitment is buildng.   As mentioned before, the mid-show interview with Music Director/Conductor David Amado is completed, save for some editing based on what happens at the concert itselft.

On Tuesday, the script I wrote for the voice-over was approved by DSO, and sent to Jack Moore to read on Wednesday.   Jack (ever the pro!) turned it right around and did a great read, with a few extra touches that really make the production shine (and my job a little easier).    I’ve since tweaked it a bit and put it on the timeline in my editing software (Samplitude/Sequioa) for the broadcast template.

So now, we’ve got all the talking we need for the broadcast: a beginning, a middle and an end. We just need some music!  😉

This afternoon, I’ll be leaving with all my recording gear and heading over to the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, for a 4:30 load in.   The plan is to be set up and ready for a 7:30 start of tonight’s final dress rehearsal.   Then the REAL work begins. We’ll be using most of the available 24 tracks to capture the entire orchestra, the audience, and whatever else needs to be recorded.

The goal for today is to capture everything and bring it back here for a preliminary mix – for backup and possible repairs, depending on how everything goes at the concert itself.  (I’ll spend most of Friday, Dec. 30th working on this. )  This also helps for the final mix in that we’ll have overall levels set, tracks and effects assigned, etc.   The more time we can save on the back end, the better.

So that’s the latest from here.   If I have internet access, I’ll update again from the rehearsal tonight.

Thanks for following along!

I’m excited to announce we’re recording the Delaware Symphony Orchestra LIVE at their New Year’s Eve Gala this Saturday, December 31st at the Wilmington Grand at 7:30 p.m. and turning it around overnight for a 2 p.m. broadcast on WRTI on NEW YEAR’S DAY, January 1st.  (The countdown begins when the music stops around 10 p.m.  That’s roughly 16 hrs to get it completed and on the air.  No pressure!)

I hope you’ll follow along with me here as I update our pre-production progress, recording the dress rehearsal, and then the concert itself at 7:30 on New Year’s Eve.  The VO script is now written for the broadcast, (hosted by WRTI’s Jack Moore) and Music Director/Conductor David Amadao has already sat down for an intermission interview at WRTI’s studios.   (That’s already “In the can” and ready to go for the middle of the broadcast.)

You can read more about the concert here:  http://www.delawaresymphony.org/specials.htm

I’ll be checking in again soon with more updates during the week, so stay tuned for what happens next….

A recent article/blog by composer Nico Muhly started me to think a little more about my own line of work: Recording live Classical, Jazz and World Music. More specifically, the recording of new compositions, usually commissioned by an orchestral, choral, operatic or theatrical group.

If you’re a composer of modern classical music, or if you play in an orchestra that presents world premieres of new music, take a moment and read this link before going any further here. It’s a good read and well worth your time:

http://nicomuhly.com/news/2011/i-want-to-get-specific/

My take on it:

I was just a little surprised at the state of affairs Muhly describes for getting one’s work recorded, even just for archival use. I see things a little differently on my side of the “virtual” studio glass. I was under the perhaps naive opinion that most new works do get recorded, at least for posterity, study & and future reference. (I guess that’s obvious for me, isn’t it? I’m only hired after permission/funds have been granted to record.) These days, only a hermit living in a cave for the last twenty-odd years would believe these recordings are done for profit or monetary gain. The music world has seen quite a few changes in the last two decades, and we all know that very few recordings turn any kind of profit. It’s now more of a promotional tool or cultural artifact than a profit generating device.

Long before I became a full time producer/engineer, I also worked as a musician and occasional composer for hire. Nothing very serious, or in a professional orchestra, but in some areas that my work could (and sometimes did) be used for commercial purposes. (This was back long before anything but cassettes and the nascent CD would start to change things forever…) To this day, I totally and completely understand the feeling of loss (and sometimes even outrage) when someone takes one’s work without permission. Believe me, I’m still not really over this whole “download for free” stuff that most under-30’s think is perfectly fine today. I doubt I ever will be, but it’s a fact of life these days, and I have made an uneasy truce with it.

For the last 24 years or so, I’ve made my living primarily as a recording engineer/producer, and have had the honor of recording traditional music as well as hundreds of new commissioned world (and local) premieres. I can’t speak for other recording engineers in this business, but my philosophy has always been (with the permission of the artists, orchestra/management, etc. of course) to provide the composer(s) with copies of their work. Heck, it’s just good business to say hello and introduce myself early in the process, trade contact info, and make sure the composer gets to hear their work (and mine!) The cost of a blank CD is nothing compared to the good will and camaraderie that goes with this sort of thing. (And, I have never, ever, put static noise or silence into a work every 20-30 seconds to render it unplayable, nor has anyone ever asked me to do so.  What is up with THAT? Seriously!?)

After reading Muhly’s take on the situation, I’d like to add my own .02 about getting a work recorded.

Firstly, one should be aware that there are in general three kinds of groups that perform commissioned works, and each have their own rules about recordings:

1. Professional (ie: unionized) Orchestras, Choral Groups and ensembles, performing in halls with professional (also union) staff.
2. Mixed professional and semi-professional ensembles with top-level musicians working without a contract per se, in non-union halls, churches and auditoriums.
3. Community or school-based, non-paid and/or non-auditioned groups, often with additional pickup or select professionals for day-hire.

In all cases, with all three groups, the best (and most respectful to the musicians) way to insure your work will be recorded is to specify everything ahead of time in the contract you sign with the parties commissioning your work.

You’ll find out right at the start what is allowed and what is not, what is affordable and what is out of the question. You may even find miscommunication within the group as things go along, but an early documented conversation with all parties is your best insurance should things get sticky.

For example, Group 1 – the professional orchestra (and its management up top) – may be recording their performances anyway, often in a negotiated contractual agreement with everyone (musicians, staff, etc,) and will likely be making an archival-use-only recording of the work. Copies will be limited, so it’s always best to check on this early; often a simple email to the engineer handling the work can get you right to the heart of the matter. You may have to pay for the raw media (blank CD, USB stick, etc.) and you’ll probably have to sign a release form, but you’ll know long before going into the situation what is and what isn’t going to happen. You may also have to wait for artistic approval from the music director and/or soloists for copies to be released. The better your working relationship with these folks, the better your chances for archival copies, at least.

Tip: Asking about a recording the day of the final dress rehearsal – or worse: after the concert is over – will likely get you nowhere fast. Plan ahead! I can tell you from experience; it’s one thing to make an authorized copy for you as it’s happening or immediately thereafter; it’s quite another to be fielding requests for copies of events that happened months ago. Most busy orchestra staffers – and their engineers – have their hands full with current projects and aren’t always caught up on back archives.

If there’s no budget for recording – and you’ve not put it in your contract – then chances are slim to none that a Group 1 type professional orchestra will allow you to even put up a portable two-track hand-held recorder under any circumstances. It’s simply not allowed, and one has to know this ahead of time. It’s only fair to the labor agreements with all parties involved, regardless of one’s views of the value of the recording. You just can’t do it that way. It’s a fact of life in today’s professional musical world.

Moving on to Group 2 – more is possible in this scenario if everything is handled properly. In a perfect world, again, the musicians must be informed ahead of time that one (or all) of the works on the program will be recorded; perhaps just the concert itself, or perhaps including the final dress rehearsal as well. Depending on the arrangement with the musicians, there may be an additional fee. We all know these things can end up as commercial recordings, broadcasts and even soundtracks. It is at this point that anyone not comfortable with the arrangement may opt out and turn down the booking. Once again, last-minute recordings foisted on the musicians are just not fair, and it’s up to the management (or whoever’s signed your contract) to make sure everyone on the stand is aware and ok with the fact that the performance is being recorded before they accept the gig.

I’ve occasionally faced upset or angry musicians who are surprised to see me setting up mic’s and stands before a concert or rehearsal. They clearly were never told there was a recording being made of their performance, or they missed the memo, and naturally many bristle (while some are thrilled) to find out a permanent record is about to made of their efforts. I’ve even seen votes taken right then and there to allow the recording to happen at all. (My batting average is about .500 on this one!)

I try to be understanding, and I have a few stock responses, including “Sorry, but I’m not the one you should be angry with.” Or, “Please discuss this with the person who contracted you”. It’s a difficult spot to be in, and I don’t like it, but let’s be honest; do they really think I’m there just to ruin their day? There’s a hundred other things I could be doing, but an irate few seem to think I’ve decided to arbitrarily lug all my gear there just to annoy them. When I’m hired to make a recording, I too assume my client has sorted everything out on their end as well.

For all three types of groups, it really does come down to planning ahead, and everyone should know ahead of time what’s going on. Again, it’s only fair to all (including ME.)

Why record anyway?

For the validity of making recordings, there are many reasons to do so beyond simple vanity. In addition to the historic value of a world premiere, (what do you think Beethoven or Mozart would have done with today’s technology when they premiered their works? Wouldn’t you like to have heard one?) everyone benefits artistically by having at least an archival recording made of the event: the people who commissioned the work, the orchestra themselves, the composer, the conductor, and on and on. I’m not talking cash money benefits of course; I don’t know any artist that at some point who doesn’t want to hear the results of their work captured for posterity or study – provided it’s not costing them future work or income.

Another fact of life with most performing arts groups is that ticket sales don’t cover the annual operating costs. Most groups depend on grants and gifts from a varied group of benefactors.

For many commissioned works, the parties paying the cold hard cash for the work often request a copy of the work, if only to preserve for posterity what their dollars have wrought. (Seems smart to me…) On the other side of the footlights, many performing groups must record works this year for grant submissions next year and beyond. It’s just simply good business sense to have a variety of recordings in their archives for the stylistically varied selections that are often required when applying for a grant. This is something that’s rarely brought out in the open by upper level orchestra management, mostly for competitive reasons (e.g.: orchestra A is competing with orchestras B and C for the same grant, which are all submitted in confidence to the same charitable organization that ultimately decides who gets the award.) In many cases, therefore, the musicians themselves don’t realize their income for seasons two or three years down the road can and often does depend on a good recording to include in a five or six-figure grant submission. Missed recording opportunities can easily turn into costly incomplete grant applications. This can make or break an entire season of performances for some lesser-endowed groups, and I’ve seen it happen first-hand. I’ve had an entire season of work lost when a struggling group didn’t get the grant they were counting on, and thus folded for the season.

We’ve all heard it, and let’s get it right out in the open now, if only for the sake of this discussion: orchestral recordings don’t make money anymore. Don’t believe me, check out what Klaus Heyman, the head of NAXOS, has to say about big ensemble recordings vs. smaller solo & duo recordings. Mr. Heyman has a fascinating and very honest opinion about how things work today. (Read it all the way through, esp for the sales numbers he talks about.)

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/the-classical-beat/2010/07/the_future_of_the_recording_in.html

Years ago, there were cash advances from the record companies, even for orchestral recordings. Many got paid right up front, when the album was released. It was often part of a major orchestra’s annual income. A quarter-million dollar investment on another Beethoven 5th recording could recoup its money within a few years, minimal risk. Its old news now: with the advent of digital recording, the CD, and now downloading, it all went away. But don’t feel bad; we’re not alone in our corner of this business. It’s happened all across the genres as well; not just classical, and unless your name is Bieber (Justin, that is) Gaga or Beyonce’, chances are you’re not making anything from your CDs other than promotional and archival use. (And neither of those is a bad thing!) Yes, downloads are doing well, but again, nothing to sustain the bottom line of any serious performing arts organization.

It’s a hard and bitter pill to swallow for recording musicians who remember firsthand the good old days; they’ve spent their entire lives and careers perfecting a craft that only a seemingly few now truly appreciate. The world has changed, and the methods of capture, storage and delivery have diminished the perceived value of the recordings, possibly forever. In that light, I’m still surprised here in 2011 when this reason – “monetary gain” – is hauled out as an excuse to ban a recording. Sorry, but it just doesn’t wash anymore. Aside from the necessary ethical correctness of alerting a hired musician about the recording of your performance, trust me, no one is making a profit from the sales of physical recordings.

But there is an upside. What it has done in many ways is returned the focus to live performance. That’s a big fundamental change that’s happened in the last 15-20 years. People can get the recording anywhere, often for free, but it’s the real thing – live, with no net, no fakery, no props and no gimmicks – that brings people back to the concert hall.

Think of it this way: a recording is similar to (but more honest than) a movie trailer. Like what you hear? Want to experience how it’s done LIVE?

As I mentioned earlier, I fully understand the feelings of being ripped off or manipulated when an unauthorized recording occurs. That’s wrong in any scenario. But what people would be wise to consider going forward in the digital, on-demand world is that everything important should be recorded, especially now, with today’s more advanced and affordable technology. As long as everyone is informed, fees paid, waived or negotiated; the recordings should be as indispensible as program notes or restrooms for intermission.

Control of distribution of recorded material is of course paramount. Archival means archival.  No YouTube uploads without permission, no iTunes sales without a contract, no cell phones, hidden 2-track Zoom recorders or what have you.   But honestly, and I say this with love and respect to every hostile musician who still thinks the presence of a microphone or recorder is going to take money out of their wallet:  when done properly, it can mean the very survival and health of  live music. Recordings are preserving your legacy, they are helping put butts in the seats in the very halls you play, thus creating more opportunities for you to continue to work and play such great music, in a live setting.

Unauthorized recordings aside, can we really afford NOT to record?

I had a real sonic treat this morning, courtesy of WRTI, in my car at 107.7 FM, down here in Wilmington, DE.

My first music of the day was a good one: Gustav Holst’s “Brook Green Suite”.

What a nice trip back in time for me, hearing this lovely work again. Not only is this a fine work for string orchestra, it’s one of the first pieces of classical music I professionally recorded, as part of the live remote crew with “Magnetik Productions”. At the time, (it was probably mid-’84, ’85?) and we were recording the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, although back then they were called: “Concerto Soloists”).

It was a remote recording at Lang Memorial Auditorium at Swarthmore College, with the gorgeous spring/summer view of trees and flowers, through the 3-story glass wall in the back, and the works for those recording sessions included Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho Suite” and Gustav Holst’s “Brook Green Suite”.

Although I was classically trained on the piano, and had been to many concerts by then, it was still a revelation for me; hearing such an amazing chamber ensemble playing such beautiful music up close, setting up the mics, running cables, then hearing it all in the control room. What a revelation!

All in glorious analog technology, too: straight to 15 IPS analog Ampex 456 tape, Neotek Elite console, MCI-JH-110 2-track machines, no noise reduction, and no digital converters, either.

Isn’t it amazing how a piece of music can transport you anywhere in space or time?