My world is changing a bit. I’m starting to get drawn by the powers of hardware into a world that costs a whole bunch of cash and time. I’m in a bit of a dilemma as to what to do about it.
With my big plans of building my “superstudio”, I’ve found myself gearing up to provide a whole new level of service to my future clients. The idea of a big fancy analog console is something I can’t get out of my head, even though I’m well aware of the number of hits mixed in the box. I find myself being drawn more to analog this and hardware that.
With that said, in this blog I’m thinking twice before I spend the kids college fund to get me a “real studio” from 1995. I’m seeing the “painful truth” of the old ways and I thought this would be a great place for us to duke it out.
This Whole Superstudio Thing
I’ve had plans of getting a real facility since the day I learned why a small room sucks to record in. It looks like the dream of great sounding rooms isn’t too far away. As I move into that mindset, I keep thinking that I need to tap into a market that I’ve totally ignored. In my hometown there are the “affluent” who gladly take the 4-hour drive to Nashville to make their recordings on a regular basis because there are no big dog studios here. We are talking studios that cost as much as $100 per hour. My home studio is what it is, but these customers demand a REAL environment (regardless of the results we want get in my current not-so-ideal facility. I don’t blame them. I’ve wanted a REAL environment for a long time.
So what is this “real” thing? The short answer: It’s the kind of thing that makes your band choose Studio A over Studio B even though Studio A costs more assuming that both studios are cranking out excellent sounding work.
The Big Analog Console
Since I’ve taken this “real” approach to planning my studio, I find myself coming up with some mega functional ideas and some turbo-ridiculous ideas just for the sake of being “real” (but also to shake up my current view of the recording world to see if there is a better way.) The first one that comes to mind is a big analog console. I’ve said many times that almost no one needs a mixer for home recording. I still stand by that claim. For all practical purposes, few pro studios really NEED a mixer for pro recording. With fancy analog gear used on the way in and summing used on the way out, the needs for an old school console get dramatically reduced. (We’ve all already debated the impact of fancy pres and summing as well.)
My motivations for getting a console were to cover all my preamp and analog EQ needs on the way in, offer summing on the way out, and look cool. As much as I’m hoping for the usual 1% benefit for spending huge dollars, I want a console because it looks cool. Yeah, you heard me. I’m the world’s least interested in aesthetics, but in my old age of 30 I’ve come to the conclusion that me and the other guy who feel this way are a bit outnumbered. As my brand new old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em, exploit ‘em.”
The greatest benefit of the console is it immediately allows me to increase rates. I could buy 3 API 3124s and no one would pay a dime extra to record at my place. The 12 preamps and 3 rack spaces don’t add direct value that they can SEE to the client. The console does. For the record, I’m not talking about Mackie boards here. I’m thinking something like a Amek or Trident console.
The Dark Side Of The Analog Console
Another aspect of girls I’ve graduated high school with becoming “cougars” is I’m start to think a hair more like my grandpa (Not my parents!). You know that kind of advice you get where you say, “Sure old man! Whatever!”? Now I realize that after I don’t listen, I end up giving the same advice to the younger dudes after learning my lesson the hard way.
In short, I’m hearing countless warnings about the upkeep and massive time and headaches spent maintaining an analog console. I’m hearing it enough to believe that I’m pretty much making a deal with the devil if I buy a not-so-great console. It appears the same logic that goes into buying an 8 year old American car goes into buying a console. For those of you who maintained your American pride after ‘Nam and ‘Nam 2.0, this analogy basically means you can expect to spend the price of the console keeping the damn thing going.
This may be a hair on the pessimist side…..or it may even be a hair optimist.
The Ass Pain Factor Of The Devil’s Hardware
When I decide to use analog EQ or compression from my rack in a mix, it’s not as simple as firing up a plugin and compressing away. I have to create an external effect bus in Cubase, patch the gadget in, cuss because I goofed something up for usually 10 seconds, and then start tweaking.
–Sometimes when plugins can’t get a job done, the hardware can
–Sometimes I spend 30 minutes playing (because knobs are more fun) and I never really get anything done.
–Sometimes I listen and don’t hear the superiority that was so obvious to me on another session and another situation.
–Whenever I bother to use the analog gear, I have to re-record it into Cubase 5 so I can actually maintain the ability to instantly recall (which is absolutely huge to me). So I always need to spend an extra 5 minutes on a mix for each track I want to run through analog stuff. This time can add up.
What Set This Off?
So why am I suddenly questioning all this hardware stuff when I’ve been drooling over the idea of my Superstudio for so long?
I was in need of a hardware reverb strictly for zero latency vocal headphone mixes. I decided to take my advice from How To Waste $10,000 On Recording Gear You Don’t Like and go all out and get a piece of gear I’ve always wanted. I bought an Eventide H3000 – D/SE – Harmonizer. The idea was I would have its reverb for use in the headphones and then when I mixed, I’d have an awesome little effects processor. I remember coming back from Nashville after hearing it in use and not being able to scrape up anything as half as good with my plugins.
Well, today it came in. The unit is a dud. The Ebay seller won’t take returns although I’m going to try anyway. The unit hangs constantly after “Loading Program….”. When I do get it to work, the pitch shift and reverb presets have more noise than your average Big Muff guitar sound. Currently, it’s entirely unusable. Just getting the manual for the thing is $35 and I have no idea if there is some magic button I can press that can fix it or not. It may be some kind of electronic issue that I don’t have the ability to solve.
So right now I have a $1,000 doorstop. I’m not a big enough prick (but I am growing!) to sell this thing on Ebay like this asshole did before me. I can pay to have it fixed for a minimum of $350, but it may end up being dramatically more. The word on the street is these things NEED maintenance every 4 years. Ouch! I didn’t plan on paying $100 per year on this thing. That totally shoots down the whole idea of using it for free until I eventually sell it.
How Do I Fix It?
When a plugin doesn’t load, I can usually cuss for 10 minutes and figure out what went wrong. Even if the computer is totally dead, I can swap out a power supply in 3 minutes. Even if the computer is fried by lightening I can spend $300 on Newegg, have a 4x faster computer and be good to go in a matter of days. I feel totally confident about my ability to solve computer problems (at least most of the time). At worst, getting money back for software can be easier (not always) because there is rarely a tangible exchange.
I now own my Eventide H3000 whether it works or not. I physically “have” it. Yuck! I have no idea how to fix it. I had no plans of NEEDING to fix it when I bought it. I’m used to my setup working day in and day out. Hell, I was aggressive about ditching my Presonus Firestudio and I’ve got a feeling that it’s 100x more reliable than a console or an Eventide product. This is a HUGE point and something I need to think about.
Maybe a big, fancy studio with an analog console does give an aura of magic that pulls in the doctors, lawyers, and wallets. However, it also may be the equivalent of pulling out my intestines. I’m a busy dude and if the thing ain’t working, I’m not working! To quote Bill Murray in Scrooged, “If I can’t work late, I……CAN’T……..WORK……LATE!!!!!”. That’s bad! Really bad.
Even if I do get this Eventide H3000 to start functioning for an additional $350, I still have all the analog ass pains to go through and my workflow will suffer, although I’m still positive from a “vocal sound” standpoint, I’m about to gain a quantum leap. How does it compare to the Eventide plugins now available? I’m guessing there’s a difference, but there ain’t THAT big of difference.
As Mixerman, author of this stupid thing (which looks AWESOME btw) pointed out to me in an email, the mic preamps in the Trident 80b console are nothing to scream about, but they aren’t going to get in the way of a great record. I like this “get in the way” concept. I’m sure the UAD version of the Eventide plugins wouldn’t get in the way of me doing my thing. My Eventide H3000 sure is getting in my way right now!!
So right now I need to balance the mojo of the old days with the knowledge that when my grandpa wanted to talk to somebody across the globe, he had to use a pen, paper, and stamps. Yuck! There may be something to this modern appreciation for old stuff that is little more than a trap. It’s hard to say. It appears I’m gonna have to drink someone’s kool aid. I just can’t decide on the flavor.