Sunday, November 29, 2009

Flashback-Meeting Richard Factor

While ushering at Carnegie Hall I started interviewing for a job in a recording studio . At that time there were dozens of facilities in Manhattan.  One of my first interviews was at Richard Factors "Sound Exchange" on 54th street.

As a founder of Eventide Clockworks, Richard Factor is one of the founding fathers of modern recording, with the likes of Bill Putnam and George Massenburg.  Eventide designed and built some of the first commercially available digital audio equipment, which included the 1745 DDL , and the first Harmonizer, the  H910.
This is an amazing accomplishment, considering in 1971 they were the only company doing this type of work . (Aside from a few prototype units being built by Lexicon and sold through Gotham Audio) They designed their own processors as well as audio analog to digital, and digital to analog converters.

Mr. Factor would later guide Eventide into avionics, designing the first affordable moving map displays.
He is also the founder of The SETI League, which privatized a NASA project (which was dropped due to budget cuts in 1993) to use Radio Astronomy to search for extraterrestrial intelligence.  (Jodie Foster was a Radio Astronomer in the movie Contact.)
Factor is currently working on the PriUPS project, which enables owners of the Toyota Prius to use their hybrid vehicle as a battery backup and emergency generator for their home. You can check out Richard's blog here.
He's an interesting man, I wish I knew him. My only meeting with him was this brief job interview at Sound Exchange.

I walked into his office during a lunch break at Carnegie Hall with my friend Chris.
The ground floor of the building was a small factory where the digital delays were built, the recording studio was on the second floor.  Richard came out of the shop to interview me. "You always show up for a job interview with a friend?"
At that moment he was called away to the phone.  I was left standing there. Embarrassed, I asked Chris to leave.  Richard returned and asked what happened to my friend.  Now I felt twice as foolish.  He sat me down.
“Listen, you are going to go on a lot of job interviews and these people are going to act like they're your friend.  They'll tell you they will try to help you out. They're not really your friends, but I am because I'm going to tell you the truth.  You won't make much money, and you won't have any social life.  So don't get a job in a studio.”
I was dumbstruck and didn't know what to say.  And that pretty much ended the interview. In hindsight, he was clever.  If I had said at that moment, those things weren't important to me, that I still wanted to become a recording engineer, I now wonder if the interview would have continued.

Was he right?  In general, yes.
Did I have a social life?  No, not a very good one for the first 10 years or so, but some of that was me, I wasn't as good with people as I was with electronics.  Did I make money?  Yes, I did pretty good, better than most actually, but I didn't get rich.

Maybe I should start all job interviews at the studio with, "When you go on interviews people will act like they're your friend, .................. "

© 2009 Bradshaw Leigh

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Flashback- 1st " Music Biz " Job

When I was in high school I got a job as an usher at Carnegie Hall. Working every night did nothing for my grades but the music was amazing.
I worked at the hall about 2-1/2 years so I would guess in that time I saw more than 250 concerts. This is where I decided I wanted to become a recording engineer.

My first show was a rough night. It was the jazz/soul group The Crusaders. When the lights went down everybody lit up. My job was to run up and down the steep balcony stairs with the flashlight telling people to put it out. I was only 17 and had a baby face. With only two or three security guards in a 5 level concert hall, backup was hard to find. This was not a good start. The job was usually easy though. I worked the balcony most nights and up there you just pointed the patron to the seat. The lights went down and it was your choice to either stay inside and listen or chill out in the hallway. After intermission we took turns going down to the bar for a break.  Most of the ushers were music students at Julliard or studying at The Art Students League. We were young, loved the music and got some pocket cash. It was a good deal. The hall has since gone union so I'd guess much has changed. I'm also sure current ushers get more than the $15 a night we were paid.

The music. Oh my god the music. All the premier orchestras, soloists and Opera singers made Carnegie Hall their New York stop. At that time Avery Fisher still had poor acoustics, and for this reason RCA Records would do many classical recordings at Carnegie. I remember watching from outside the room where they would setup their remote system.
The system was huge and impressive. A Neve console, each bucket was separate and rolled in on wheels so they could get the console through a standard door. The Tape machines were Ampex MM-1000's. Two of these beasts. The MM1000 were about 2 feet by 4 feet, 5 feet tall. I would guess they weighed over 500 lbs.
Many of the pop, rock or folk acts were recorded by the radio show " The King Biscut Flour Hour "
I liked this setup even better. A hippy school bus converted to a remote recording truck.
Always dimly lit and fitted with Tascam gear in a day when Tascam and Tapco were the only companies making Semipro recording equipment. It looked cozy. I wanted to live in that bus.

A young Bonnie Raitt, Keith Jarett and Chick Corea, Gill Scott Heron doing " Whitey on The Moon ". These concerts stand out in my mind.
The greatest moment I witnessed at Carnegie Hall was billed " The Concert Of The Century ". This concert was to raise money for Carnegie Hall, which had been scheduled for demolition before being saved by Isaac Stern. The Lineup was truly a once in a Life time experience.
The Orchestra was The New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein with Vladimir Horowitz piano,  Mstislav Rostropovich cello, Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern violin.

On June 3rd I was ushering another concert. I didn't know the act, it was Billy Joel (I had confused him with Joel Grey). There was much I didn't know that night. I didn't know Phil Ramone was in the audience. It was the night he heard Billy Live and decided to keep Billy's band for all future recordings and not use studio musicians. In a month from that night Phil and Billy would go into the studio and produce Billy's classic album The Stranger. In a year and a half I would meet them again working at A & R recording. I would become Phil's engineer and work with him for close to 10 years. I would also work on every Billy Joel pop Album in some capacity from that point on (except Storm Front produced by Mick Jones).  As I handed out programs on that June 3rd night I didn't know some 30 years later I would listen as my friends Phil Ramone and Frank Filipetti were remixing that concert at a studio where I would become Chief engineer.
Small world.
To be continued.......
© 2009 Bradshaw Leigh

Tech Tip- LA2a Problems

In this blog I want to talk about recording studio history, What is going
on at MSR Studios currently, and provide some tech tips.

Today's Tip involves the classic LA2A.


I have seen many LA2As with odd and hard to track down problems.
Blowing fuses, working with front panel open but not closed, and
internal snapping sounds are the most common.
We found two units in the shop left over from the Right Track days
that were gutted in an attempt to track down the problems.
My trusty sidekick Ian Kagey ( A tech at MSR Studios ) had the patience
and bravery to go at these units. Risking life and limb to get these
units operational. I'm sure the prior tech thought the problem
was a shorted power transformer or filter cap as I first did.

The problem turned out to be the most common issue with LA2A.
The LA2A contains point to point wiring. The terminal strip to which
the components are attached is screwed tightly to the metal chassis.
The chassis is grounded and is only insulated from the High Voltage
( 300V! ) terminal strip with a thin piece of insulation. This strip
deteriorates over the years and the high voltage shorts to ground
or arcs intermittently causing all kinds of symptoms.
Placing small insulated spacers under the terminal strip cured the issue.
Ian was happy he had one more LA2a to use when mixing his project that night.
Score Ian 1 - gear 0.
© 2009 Bradshaw Leigh

Career Choice? I Love music, I Love Gadgets, I Hate Going To Bed.

I started working in recording Studios more years ago then I am willing to admit. As a kid growing up in New York I had two loves. Taking apart anything electrical or mechanical to see how it worked, and Music. When I was little my four older sisters kept a constant flow of new records in the house. First The Monkees, then the Beatles, Stones, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Doors, and Tim Hardin to name a few. My mother and father loved 30's and 40's jazz  Pee Wee Russel, Ben Webster, Billy Holiday,and Sidney Bechet. At night I hated going to bed so I would stay up late listening to FM radio . Vin Scelsa, or Alison Steele the " Night Bird "  who would speak in a soft bedroom voice as she played the latest progressive music.

While in High School i got a job as an usher at Carnegie Hall. School days, and Music nights. Weekends were drinking beer and listening to music at a friends house. (Any friend whose parents were away). We drank and listened to music. That was it. No TV, internet, cell phones or video games. Most of my friends also played an instrument. I took trumpet in Junior high and tried guitar but was never very good at either. After graduating Brooklyn Technical High School I tried college. I Lasted one semester. I quit school and got my first job in a studio. Chelsea Sound studios on 14th street.  The first time I heard a kick drum coming through those  Big Red  Altec monitors I was in heaven.
I spent about a year at Chelsea Sound then moved to A&R recording. I was a tech for a year and that's where I met Jim Boyer and Phil Ramone. I became Jim's assistant engineer first then assisted Phil. After a year with Phil I became his recording / mix engineer. We spent about 8 amazing years together before I went off on my own.
I've been very lucky. I've worked on dozens of Gold and Platinum albums. I've engineered Rock, Pop, Film Scores, and Broadway soundtracks. About 12 years ago I became Chief Technical engineer at Dave Amlen's Sound on Sound Recording which merged with Right Track Recording and became first Legacy Recording and now it's  called MSR Studios. I am currently Chief Engineer and Director of Operations at MSR .
© 2009 Bradshaw Leigh