You know that you’ve been away on an island when the pilot for the return flight home says, “We’re first in line for takeoff, but there will be a wait. The air traffic controller went out for lunch and is caught in traffic.” Then there’s the email—accompanied by a photo—about the large scorpion sent back in the return box of some of the gear we used (sorry, Genelec). With that in mind, the 4th annual St John, USVI recording retreat was a blast and, as usual, much was learned. The returning musical gang consisted of Clubhouse Studios of Rhinebeck, NY’s owner and engineer Paul Antonell (Natalie Merchant, Spyro Gyra, Rusted Root), Clubhouse engineer Mike Dwyer (Shawn Mendez, Bob Weir, The Lumineers), producer/vocalist Scott E Moore, drummer/percussionist Ray Levier, bassist (and St. John villa owner) Hank Skalka, and me.
Whoops! A scorpion, from St. John, US Virgin Islands, that hitched a ride to Genelec USA HQ in Rich Tozzoli’s return shipment of its 8320A pair for review.
This year as a top priority, we decided to keep everything very small yet as powerful as possible. We focused on one main production studio setup in the guest cottage, which has a high-beamed wooden roof and expansive views of the Caribbean from the mix position. My MacBook Pro was running Pro Tools 12.7.1 and we used a new Universal Audio Apollo Twin mkII Quad as our main interface. As a backup—since you always need backups when going mobile—we had a silver UA Apollo Twin, which we could chain to the mkII Quad via Thunderbolt, if needed.
Following the Pro Tools/UA centerpiece was a Genelec SAM monitoring system featuring a pair of 8320A SAM 4-inch powered monitors and a companion 7350A SAM subwoofer. To the right of the laptop sat our PreSonus FaderPort 8 DAW control surface for fully USB-enabled Pro Tools control, and to the left of that was my M-Audio Keystation 49 USB MIDI controller, with an AKAI MPK Mini mkII 25-key serving as second controller.
Early on, we decided to record with only one microphone at a time. We opted for the new Lewitt Audio LCT 640 TS Dual Output Large Diaphragm Multipattern Condenser, which uniquely allows users to change the polar pattern after the recording. Headphones for monitoring were a mix of Sennheiser, Sony and beyerdynamic models.
Aside of Pro Tools 12.7.1, in the world of software, we had a full complement of UA plug-ins, plus ones from Sonnox, Eventide (my beloved Black Hole), SoundToys, Waves, Altiverb and a nice newcomer, the Valhalla Plate. Since I had a lot of composing to do, Spectrasonics Keyscape, Omnisphere 2 and Trilogy virtual instrument plug-ins were along for the ride. Before leaving home, the one thing I checked about 10 times was that I had my iLok with me. Without that, I would literally be just stranded on an island.
Besides recording during the days, we were also down there to play some live shows. Keeping with the tradition of small and powerful, we put the compact QSC TouchMix-8 digital touchscreen mixer to the test in some hot, sweaty environments. Making a return appearance on the mic front was the Shure KSM9HS dual pattern/dual-diaphragm handheld vocal microphone and the Earthworks SR40V handheld condenser, assuring us of tight, crisp vocal sounds.
There’s one clear thing I was reminded of while working on the island this year: Limitations can be your greatest asset. Limitations allow you to shake up your creative environment and learn to make do with what’s in front of you. Fewer choices mean you have to dig deeper and explore your familiar and unfamiliar gear, pulling out of it whatever you can in order to get the job done. And while limitations are challenging, I find them infinitely fun.
...and here's Rich's reviews of the gear he took on holiday: