Tag Archive for 'Indiana'

Weekend at Sweetwater’s Gearfest 2014

A couple of weekends ago, I ventured back to my roots—music. I went to Gearfest 2014 at Sweetwater Music Inc. in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. I went there for no particular reason other than to be around music gear, musicians, and just force myself to get closer to the music industry as I’ve been away from it for way too long. Little did I know what I was walking into. I didn’t really look at that much gear, but across the two days I spent there, I certainly swept across any of the gear that might have interested me. Instead of gear touching, I tried to attend as many seminars as possible. I filled up the days completely. On the second day, I attend the marquee of this Gearfest, which was a panel of mixing engineers. Among the eight or so engineers was Bruce Swedien, the man who mixed Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It was amazing to hear him talk about working in the studio with Michael, and the other most amazing thing was that each of the persons in the panel would arrive at the basically the same answers but independently to questions the M.C. asked. The questions were rather simple but philosophical in nature, questions like, “what is the best advice for up and coming producers,” or “what is the most important gear that a home producer could invest in,” to which the unanimously was, “acoustical treatment [and none of that sexy gear].” And when the questions circled around how to make a good mix, all of the answers rounded back to simply to music itself. Especially Bruce would say, “it’s about the music. Do you understand what I’m saying?” Even if you’re mixing rock music or electronic music, you should still attend classical and acoustical concerts to understand how acoustical music works because that is still the reference for electroaccoustic. Since I went alone, it was easy for me to find seats up close. I could easily find single empty seats the people in the audience left between each other, and so I sat in the second row from all of these rock stars making eye contact with all of them.

At the end of the first day, I sat in at a presentation of drummer Kenny Aronoff who told us the story of his big break when he composed the famous fill for John Melloncamp’s song Jack and Diane. He said it was the first time he decided not to overplay as many young drummers do when they’re still trying to prove something. It saved and made his career because the keyboardist and bassist were already fired earlier during that session. I was impressed with how much preparation he said it takes to play what seems like simple groves, such as when he performed the song Something with Paul McCartney. What seems like a simple introductory fill actually requires a great deal of focus to hit the two first notes at exactly the right time apart. “Beat, time, grove, and creativity,” is what you have to play with as a drummer.

Afterwards, I attended a presentation by Mick Guzauski who shared with us stories behind some of the most famous mixes he did for Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, Eric Clapton, and the latest Daft Punk album that took home all of those Grammys, Random Access Memories. Those Daft Punk boys paid for that entire album themselves upfront and later sold it to Sony, so that means no accountants stood over the project with a stopwatch. After it was all recorded (all rhythm sections were acoustic, something unusual for an electronic band), they rented another studio for the entire summer of 2012 that had one of those amazing $200k+ analog consoles that cost $45k/yr to maintain, and they mixed one song at a time, leaving the song up on the board for many days until they were happy with the mix. Typically, a song gets mixed in less than a day. On those analog boards, you can’t recall an old song after you’ve zeroed the board and moved on to the next song. You can try to get it close again, but it won’t be the same. So, I respect them more now because they took an uneconomical path to get as close to perfection as technologically possible, not to mention the best craftsmen of the industry were selected.

Another cool presentation was by a young guy named Mad Zach who leveraged analog Moog gear to basically “destroy” the sounds he was using and mangled them into something really futurist and cool and almost evil sounding drum beats. He probably had the best combination between being educational and entertaining of all of the seminars I attended.

I also finally met the sale engineer with whom I’ve been doing business over the phone for over eleven years. He sold me my first real synthesize, the Access Virus Rack. I still have it, and you can hear it on pretty much all of my best work. It was really nice finally putting a face to the voice because I can’t imagine a better sales guy who sells the stuff I need. He will straight up tell you “you don’t need that” if you come with a bad proposal to a solution you need. He’ll listen to your needs, and figure out how to best get you there within your budget. I met the CEO of Sweetwater, and he was at a loss of words to describe Jason Koons besides that he’s one of their best out of over 250 people in their sales force. I told the CEO Jason deserves a raise to which he replied that he gets a raise every time sells more stuff, referring to commission.

During the last few hours of the festival, I talked to some of the engineers from the panel. I kept Ed Cherney company while he unpopularly smoked a cigarette next to a trash can. I told him that after attending the panel, I concluded that all of those disciplines take so much dedication that out of all of them (mixing, recording, mastering, composing), I will focus even more on composing and less on the others ones because composing is the only one on which I am willing to make sacrifices like that. To this Ed practically snapped back at me, and this is the kicker of the entire visit. He said, “Composition is where it’s all at. Nothing else here would fucking exist…” pointing to the entire store, manufacturers, festival, and industry, “if it weren’t for the compositions.” We didn’t talk much after that, but that was all of the unexpected validation I needed to finally let go of the desire, despite my utmost respect, for developing good mixing skills, and just focusing on writing. This ties back an earlier comment I heard about mixing from yet another presentation earlier was that if the music is orchestrated correctly and the overtones don’t fight each other, then it makes the mixing process way easier. Otherwise, the mixing engineer has to try to work around those problems. I will focus more on learning orchestration techniques because that’s one thing I’ve always respected but deferred because I thought that was for writing for an orchestra. However, it’s actually about dealing with overtones regardless of the music style, and I remember my orchestration professors in college lecturing on that.

At the very end of the festival, I talked up the producer Fab Dupont and his girlfriend. His daughter kept sliding down the two story slide they have a Sweetwater. She counted thirty slides in all. His girlfriend was intrigued why a non-musician would go to Gearfest, but she later understood my struggle and why I was trying to be around musicians. There was a nice French-Polish connection going there between Fab, his girlfriend, and me. After about a nice thirty minute conversation Fab gave me his card, and I walked the family to the parking lot.

It was a great trip and was well worth it. See the press release about the producers panel.