Franklin, TN—“The fact of the matter is, if you’re not feeding the social media channel, you just about don’t exist as an artist,” says Scott Dupre, chief audio engineer at ManAlive Studios, which recently opened just outside Nashville. The facility, which offers DSD audio capture and a six-camera 4K video workflow, was built by the Annie Moses Band for its own use and to provide affordable content production and web streaming capabilities to independent artists.
YouTube’s algorithms are, first and foremost, designed to benefit YouTube, Dupre says, and if you don’t generate enough content or enough views, you will find yourself falling down the site’s recommended list. The answer, he says, is to keep feeding the machine. “You really want to work with YouTube—or any social site, for that matter—to try to get your content in a favorable position by offering regular, high-quality content.”
The Annie Moses Band, made up of six members of the Wolaver family, has been around about 15 years, playing a multi-genre style of music that combines classical (several band members are Juilliard-trained), pop and Americana. The band has released a dozen albums and a handful of live DVDs, tours worldwide and mentors young musicians through its Fine Arts Summer Academy and Conservatory of Annie Moses.
“Over time, the band has gone through all the struggles that every other independent musician has been through in the changing landscape of the recording industry,” says Dupre, who is married to lead vocalist and violinist Annie Wolaver (the band takes its name from her great-grandmother) and is also the FOH mixer and technical director. “The band found that they needed an outlet that would allow them to create great content in a much shorter time span.” Since the musicians perform together all the time, he says, “We need to really have the whole group playing together and maintain that energy.”
The original plan was to build a recording studio on some land the band had purchased. Then they found a 4,000 sq. ft. former TV production studio in Franklin, a city that describes itself as “14 miles and 100 years from Nashville.” In addition to recording or livestreaming audio at ManAlive, he says, “At the same time, you can grab great video as well. You can be releasing live video footage along with the music, and it still allows you to post-mix and you can post-process the video.”
The facility was virtually move-in ready, requiring simply the application of some acoustic treatment in the control room and live space and the addition of sound isolation on the outside walls. The band had an effective home studio setup, but Dupre and Alex Wolaver, band member and studio manager, went looking for additional audio equipment plus all-new lighting, camera and web streaming gear from the likes of AJA, ARRI, Blackmagic, Canon and Panasonic.
The band’s project studio didn’t include a console, so ManAlive features a 24-channel Solid State Logic SSL 924 AWS desk. While the studio includes a Pro Tools|HDX rig, the primary DAW is a Merging Technologies Pyramix DSD/DXD workstation with a pair of Ravenna/AES67-networked Merging Technologies Horus Premium mic preamps and converters, which operate at a sample rate of 11.2 MHz (256 times that of CD).
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“I spent a long time talking to Fraser Jones and Dennis Gaines at Independent Audio, the Merging distributor, about how it might work,” he says. “The thing that we found working in DSD is that these Merging preamps sound incredible; they are so enveloping and holographic. When I listen to Annie singing, if I close my eyes, it feels like she’s right there,” he reports.
Dupre typically puts her on a Beyer 160 mic. “It’s just got a really beautiful, airy top end with this warmth to it. And because it’s hyper-cardioid, you can still get a nice close sound on her, even with a band in the room. It’s a very organic, natural, true sound, but it’s not sterile. When I play the DSD mixes, it just sounds like they’re washing over me. I expected it to be great, but I don’t know if I expected it to be that great.”
A 32-out/8-in Horus lives in the control room. The racked 32-in/8-out Horus in the live room doubles as a mobile recording rig: “It’s as easy as running a Cat 6 cable from the unit to a computer.”
The units feed Pro Tools as an HDX device. “But I can also run it into Pro Tools as a Core Audio device, which gives me more channels than through the HDX card,” says Dupre. Merging system settings can be saved as presets. “It allows me to flip between Pro Tools and Pyramix, and all those settings—all the patching and interconnects—are saved to the preset.”
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The monitoring setup is essentially stereo, although Dupre can reference 5.1 mixes. “The SSL AWS is not really friendly for 5.1 mixing, but it allows us to use the PMC twotwo.8 monitors as a front pair with the JBL LSR305s in the rear, just for a reference,” he says, noting that his focus is on ambisonics, which can be easily delivered over the web.
“Much of what I listen to on any day is on headphones or earbuds; I think most people are that way. So I don’t think there’s a reason why I shouldn’t be providing binaural mixes,” he says. He’s still moving toward implementing a binaural workflow, and the mic locker includes a Sennheiser ambisonic microphone, but ultimately, he says, “I’d like to be able to offer, in one go, a stereo mix, binaural mix and 5.1 mix, so however your fans want to access it, it’s available.”
The mic collection also includes choice models by Audio-Technica, Coles, DPA, Earthworks, Neumann, Oktava, Schoeps, Sennheiser, Shure and Upton. “We wanted a core selection that would work in concert with the Merging equipment,” he says, noting that almost any additional items can be rented easily in Nashville.
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The live space accommodates an audience and features a KV2 Audio point source PA speaker system. Serendipitously, says Dupre, the Horus converters have an analog post-preamp direct out and feed a Midas M32 console at line level. “We’re bypassing the first stage of the Midas preamp and keeping the high-quality sound through to front-of-house,” he says.
ManAlive offers artists a three-tier subscription service based on hours per month of content creation or streaming. “The studio opens up a lot of options for artists, particularly independent artists who maybe don’t have the financial backing of a big label and can’t put together big video shoots. You’ve got to get all the crew, the gear, find the location; each of those things has a cost associated with it,” says Dupre. “What we can do is bundle it all together and keep the quality really, really high—in fact, as high as you can possibly go.”
Merging Technologies • merging.com