Working With A Technically Savvy Artist

On his Continuing Adventures In Software, Rich Tozzoli takes a few minutes to talk shop with a new friend and client.
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On his Continuing Adventures In Software, Rich Tozzoli takes a few minutes to talk shop with a new friend and client.

Recently, I finished up a recording and mixing project with drummer/producer/ composer Omar Hakim. Well-known for his work with such greats as Sting, Weather Report, Miles Davis and the recent Grammy-winning Daft Punk release, he’s also highly knowledgeable about home recording and studio production. Working in his comfortable, well-equipped studio, he crafted a great new release called We Are One, where aside from world-class guests, he also played guitar, bass, keys, vocals and percussion. We sat down to talk about how he got bit by the studio bug and where it’s taken him.

How did you get to this depth of understanding about how to use a home studio?

Well, the story actually starts when I was 15 years old. I was in a onehit- wonder band as a kid that was on Arista Records. We went into the studio and cut a song called “I Need You” under the name Harlem River Drive that was a number one R&B hit for Arista in 1976. The studio was The Hit Factory in NYC; the chief engineer was a guy named Ed Sprigg. I would sit under Ed, who was a super- talented engineer, and even after the Harlem River Drive thing fell apart, I would call him after school, head down to the The Hit Factory and watch him work. For some reason, he liked me and he would answer all of my questions. It was remarkable to just hang out; that sort of kick-started my interest in recording. Another thing that happened was, a very dear friend of mine who I grew up with in Queens, NY named Fountain Jones, (now an Emmy-winning technical director for CBS) was a friend to the local bands. When we were getting instruments from our parents, his parents were getting him microphones and tape decks. He would come to our gigs and record all of our shows. I really have him to thank and blame for getting into this home studio thing.

I went through all of the iterations of what was available from reel-toreel, to 4- to 8-tracks, to Tascams, then ADAT. I sold off my ADAT system in like ’96 or ’97 when I met David Charles, who was at the time working for Digidesign. He would come by my studio and hear my stuff, and he would say, “Omar, you are a prime candidate for ProTools.” So I invested in my first ProTools 24 system when that came out.

Fast-forward to 2012, I upgraded my ProTools HD to a ProTools HDX system. I traded in my original Pro-Control for a D-Command ES. I’m using the new Avid HD interfaces. I have a 32-input system with a collection of things I’ve sort of collected over the past 15 years, which include an API 3124, a Focusrite ISA428, two Mindprint DTCs, PreSonus ADL600, a Trident S40 and an Amek System 9098. And I also have two of the original 8-channel Digi PREs.

I’ve been an ADAM speaker user for a long time. I used the ADAM A8Xs for the recording and mixing. I’m also using Chris Pelonis Model 42 cubes, just when I need to reference a small speaker…kind of get a realworld vibe going.

Let’s talk about what’s in the box.

Plug-in wise, I’m using a variety of products. I love the McDSP stuff; I used the 4030 Retro Compressor quite a bit. I also dig using SoundToys EchoBoy, FilterFreak, Tremolator and PanMan. I’ve got the Waves Platinum collection, and my latest addition is the Sonnox Elite Bundle, which is a really amazing tool box of sonic loveliness. I used a lot of things like the Limiter, TransMod, EQ and Reverb. Also, iZotope RX3 helped me out a lot.

That lets you do a lot of production on your own.

And knowing all the software, it just gives me the freedom to kind of do whatever it is I need to do. I can do my own comps.

Luckily, you do have that knowledge.

Exactly. I had a lot of fun with a song like “Walk the Walk,” where I was really constructing a drum solo. It was a song that started off on V-Drums, just because I like to experiment. With that song, I realized that even though the V-Drums sounded pretty cool, this is one of those songs where I needed air moving around some acoustic drums. That’s when I came to you.

An outside engineer such as myself comes into your home and your space. How about the give-and-take on how you work with an audio engineer–since you can do a lot yourself?

Being a professional drummer for a number of years and making tons of records, I find my best acoustic drum set recordings have always been a collaboration between a knowledgeable engineer and myself. When I’m a drummer, I’m a drummer. I need somebody in there that I trust to collaborate with me on how to get a great sound and to capture the performance.