SeisMic Shake Up In Music City

NASHVILLE, TN—The mid-Nineties saw a significant number of music production professionals migrate from Los Angeles to Nashville, hastened by a literal shake up—the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
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Johnny Zvolensky (left) and Tom Davis at the Avid S6 recently installed at SeisMic Sound. NASHVILLE, TN—The mid-Nineties saw a significant number of music production professionals migrate from Los Angeles to Nashville, hastened by a literal shake up—the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Tom Davis, a post production audio specialist with award-winning stints at Post Logic Studios and 525 Post Production, joined that migration, bringing his talents to a town where post production audio was a minor part of the overall production scene.

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Armed with his technical prowess, an affable nature and calm confidence, Davis has become a big fish in the small pool of Nashville post pros, shaking up the market with his facility, SeisMic Sound. As a post production facility in a market known for music production, it’s hardly a surprise that much of the facility’s work is music-related, often tackling television events (CMA Awards, CMT Awards, CMT’s Crossroads and broadcast music specials) and concert DVDs. That live productions are a major part of Davis’ expertise was most recently evidenced by his spending most of November in New York working on NBC’s Peter Pan Live broadcast.

SeisMic Sound, located in the NorthStar Studios complex, was originally built around a Euphonix CS2000 digitally controlled analog console, with a 24-track Fairlight hard disk system. Late last year, the CS2000 was retired, an Avid S6 taking its place.

When I came here, my vision was to be a post guy. I’d done a little bit of everything in Hollywood, but the last probably 8-10 years of my life was primarily video-oriented post-production. I started to find that, despite how many studios and engineers there were here making records, there were very few, if any, that understood the post side—mixing to picture, locking to picture, dealing with offsets and more clocks. With some of my clients, I said, ‘I know how to do this. Why don’t you let me start doing the music side, too?’”

Armed with observations from performances and rehearsals, Davis says, “We can do the music mix—and repairs, because we’re both musicians, so we understand that side of it. And fix-up vocals and make the call if somebody needs to re-play or re-sing something. We can do it all; that was kind of new for this town.”

The “we” in SeisMic Sound for most of the past 17 years has been the team of Davis and Johnny Zvolensky, the latter an MTSU grad who interned with Davis, then returned as a full team member. “Johnny came along and he’s become a huge asset to what we do and he takes care of stuff that I don’t even want to think about,” says Davis, adding that “He has become a damn good remix engineer as well.” While Davis was in NYC working on Peter Pan Live, Zvolensky did the remix for the CMA Country Christmas and a Crossroads episode featuring Bob Seger and Jason Aldean.

Most typically, Davis works as the audio producer for SeisMic’s broadcast production work. “I will get involved up front and start making some of the initial plans on how it’s going to go.” For remix work of live performances, the original mix is not where SeisMic’s sound begins. “We’re just going to start over,” Davis says. “We always start with the audience. That’s one of our little secret sauces. Put the audience mics up, pan them out and tweak them, make that sound nice. Not only is that important because it’s part of the vibe you’re creating, but it also starts to get your sensibilities into ‘What’s the size of this?’”

SeisMic uses two multichannel monitor systems. There are JBL 6300s in the front wall with companion JBLs as rears; the second system uses five Behringer Truth nearfields.

There’s not a lot of outboard in use at SeisMic. “We’re doing all plugs,” says Davis. “Recall is a huge thing in this business,” something facilitated by reliance on plug-ins and automation. Seismic runs Waves, Altiverb, iZotope, Slate, Avid and Fab Filter plug-ins on Avid’s Pro Tools 11 on a tricked out HDX system, controlled by the S6.

The HDX system solves another issue that SeisMic was facing with its analog desk: “We were running out of room on the Euphonix; didn’t have the bussing that we needed,” says Davis. He adds that delivery stem counts have gotten large—networks want additional mixes that include a two-channel music mix, two-channel effects only, separate dialog, separate voiceover mixes and “promos, a lot of promos. It’s a 12- to 15-track delivery.”

The S6 footprint is about the same as that of the CS2000 it replaced. Zvolensky says that the physical size of SeisMic’s scalable, modular S6 implementation was chosen in part to yield ample metering and 32 faders, with some room for future expansion, but also in part based on perception, the S6 offering a substantial presence when clients visit. “This desk is the best of both worlds,” says Davis.

Davis confesses that he likes “the immediacy and the energy of live. In a live project, you’re capturing a performance, you’re interpreting it. It’s all about energy. I can’t tell you how many record guys would be horrified when they soloed a vocal mic and they hear all the drums in it.”

Zvolensky adds that the bleed “becomes part of the drum sound.” Davis offers an example, where one might say, “that snare drum’s really dull; it needs work.” A push on the vocal mic and, “Oh, there it is! I know that’s going to happen there before before I get there.” The SeisMic approach is to “put some life in it and don’t make the performance too perfect.” Making a live production sound live is the goal, concludes Zvolensky: “We have a lot of pride in tuning or editing and not going overboard.”

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