At METAlliance’s “In Session with the Guys” inside Avatar Studios, were (L-R): Frank Filipetti; Elliot Scheiner; George Massenburg; Al Schmitt; artist Kat Edmonson; Phil Ramone; Chuck Ainlay; artist Robby Sinclair of Lazer Cake; and Ed Cherney. Photo by Guillaume Chadalliac.
By Clive Young.
President’s Day Weekend is usually a time to kick back and relax, but for attendees of this year’s METAlliance “In Session with the Guys” event at Avatar Studios in New York City, it was an opportunity to learn the craft of recording from some of the biggest names in the business.
The event, now in its second year, brought together all seven members of METAlliance—George Massenburg, Al Schmitt, Ed Cherney, Elliot Scheiner, Phil Ramone, Frank Filipetti and Chuck Ainlay—to spend two days teaching, discussing, dissecting and revealing the art of recording music. Absorbing it all were 21 attendees, some having traveled from as far away as South America, and others simply in from Brooklyn.
Divided into groups, attendees rotated through a quartet of four-hour sessions, each held in a different studio. Frank Filipetti explained, “Having all of us together provides a format for people to get a lot of information they couldn’t normally get at a panel. This is actual hands-on experience with tracking, mixing, setting up--the whole gamut of recording--with hopefully some of the top people in the business.”
Covering all the bases, Al Schmitt and Phil Ramone’s session was a tracking date with jazz vocalist Kat Edmonson and her combo, while Elliot Scheiner and Ed Cherney tackled another recording session, working with indie rock act Lazer Cake. Chuck Ainlay took students through a mixing date on an analog console, and bringing things into a framework some attendees might be more familiar with, George Massenburg and Frank Filipetti explained how to make the most of mixing in-the-box in a home studio-style set up.
Producer Phil Ramone with artist Kat EdmonsonWhile observing the sessions was an unusual opportunity for the attendees, it was likewise uncommon for the presenters as well. “Typically, you don’t get a chance to have someone as a guest in your room; artists usually don’t like it, “ said Ramone. “Here, they’re seeing the interaction between Al and me—him engineering and myself producing—and they see the process for a few hours. We encourage people to really talk about it in-between takes, figuring out why we talk to people the way we do, what determines the take, what doesn’t and so on.”
Schmitt relished the opportunity to share, “because I can look in their eyes and see that they’re learning something. We get tons of questions—and we encourage it! In the first session, I was trying to explain some microphone techniques, how we place mics and how much sound changes when you move the mic just a tiny bit. I don’t use any EQ or compression when I record, so I was trying to show how I do that. We’re trying to impart on them how important overall recording is--the whole package rather than just an individual sound--and how important the feel is of the song. We’re getting live vocals and tracks, we did two songs and they’re done; all they have to do is be mixed at this point--and everybody enjoys listening back to what it’s supposed to sound like. This guy said to me, ‘Gosh, it sounds just like a record!’ I said, ‘Well, it’s supposed to!’”
While the instructors were excited to pass along their hard-earned knowledge, the attendees were just as eager hear it. “It’s been pretty great,” said Alina Freiman, a first-year grad student at New York University’s Steinhardt School Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions. “In Studio B, they were talking about the home mixing environment, different plug-ins and tricks. I feel right at home here because I used to work at Chicago Recording Company, where I did some tracking and a lot of mixing. It’s nice to keep myself updated with everything that’s going on, and great to hear them talk.”
While the opportunity to learn and experience working in a top-shelf recording facility was appreciated by all who attended, the reality of today’s music industry is that many of them were going to finish the weekend returning to home- or project studio environments that don’t provide much peer interaction or varied recording experience.
“When there were a lot of commercial studios,” said Jim Pace, METAlliance’s director of business affairs, “you apprenticed, worked around professionals and you learned how to listen and do what you’re here to do. There is no place for that anymore. There’s a lot of schools out there [but this event] fleshes out what the art form is--the idea and the real science behind how to work and create an environment where the artist can excel and make those magic moments that we once knew. That’s not a natural education now for anybody.”
The METAlliance members were all too aware of this, and while they tried to ensure the information taught could be applied at all levels, they also saw the event as a chance to provide not only tips and techniques but a baseline of experience as well.
Ed Cherney explained, “Sitting behind guys who have done this for 30-40 years and hearing what comes off the floor through all the gear gives you an idea of what great music should sound and feel like. There’s no way to get that if you’re sitting with a laptop by yourself in a little room. Today, they’re going to gain a sonic perspective of things: This is what a bass should sound like, an ensemble, a piano, a rock band playing in a room together. Hopefully that becomes part of your DNA and you’ll reference that to everything else you’re doing. People will stop making thin, loud, nasty-sounding MP3s--or thinking that’s what music sounds like. Hopefully it ups everybody’s game.”