Hands-On Review:Dr. Digital's Home Studios of the Pros


spacerspacerspacer

Dr. Digital's

Home Studios of the Pros

 

Background / Studio Setup / Tips / Favorite Gear

 

Producer, Mixer and Live Sound Engineer Brett Eliason

 

Selected Projects
Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees, Neil Young's Mirrorball, Protein

 

Current Projects
I recorded and mixed every show from this year's Pearl Jam Binaural tour, and I am currently working on surround mixes for a possible DVD release of highlights from two legs of Pearl Jam's last US tour. The first 25 shows from the European leg were released in August of last year, and the two US legs were released this month.

I have also been working with local Seattle bands Windowpane and Honeytongue, doing demos of several songs and shopping them around. I hope to help them get deals so we can make records next year.

 

Recording Background
I did an internship for Steve Lawson Productions in 1985 at Bad Animals. Bad Animals still exists, although it is a production house now. The two beautiful API rooms there are gone, and the SSL room became its own entity, and is now call Studio X. I was hired on full-time in the fall of 1986. I got my start in the live audio world with Pearl Jam and have been with them for 10 years.

 

Professionally, I've been making a living for about 15 years. I have produced, mixed, and or engineered records for:

 

  • Pearl Jam (Live On Two Legs, Merkinball, Last Kiss, many B sides)
  • Mad Season (Above)
  • Neil Young (Mirrorball)
  • Three Fish (The Quiet Table)
  • Brad (Shame)
  • Pete Droge (Beautiful Girl soundtrack, other singles)
  • Screaming Trees (Dust)
  • Protein (Ever Since I Was A Kid)
  • Soul Circle (to be released on Time Bomb Records)
  • Critters Buggin' (Host)
  • New American Shame (New American Shame)

I've done live sound for several of the above bands as well.


Gear

Computer

  • Apple Macintosh 9600 with a G3 500Mhz Processor in a Marathon rackmount chassis Apple Studio Display flat screen monitors (2)
  • 32-fader Digidesign Pro Control control surface
  • Pro Tools TDM Mix Plus system
  • Mix Farm cards (3)
  • 888(4) and (2) ADAT Bridges
  • 9-gig drives (4)
  • 18-gig drives (2)
  • Apogee PSX-100 A/D Converter
  • Digidesign Universal Serial Driver (for synchronization)


Monitors

  • Audix Nile X
  • KRK Expos· E8
  • Tannoy series 600 with Subwoofer


Outboard Gear

  • Neve 33609B Compressor
  • Crane Song Trakkers, Flamingo, and STC8 [David Hill, who used to design for Summit Audio, builds these pieces out in Wisconsin. The trakkers are linkable mono compressors, the Flamingo is a 2-channel mic preamp, and the STC8 is a wonderful stereo compressor]
  • Manley Vox Box
  • Aphex Tube Expressors
  • AKG BX10/II Spring Verb


Setting Up the Studio

I installed my studio in March of 1999. Primarily, I worked with Jack Weaver, whom I've purchased gear from for many years. We had a great question-and-answer session as to how I wanted to use my studio and how much flexibility I needed, and Jack put together an equipment list from the conversation.


Thoughts on Home Studios

My home studio is set up primarily for mixing, and I have done the majority of my mixing and editing over the past year and a half there. I can also do light overdubbing, but I prefer to track at a conventional studio. An acoustically designed recording space truly does make a big difference because you are afforded better isolation, smoother room response and often more flexibility, not to mention things like gear selection, support staff, lounges for band members and guests, etcetera. Where I take the project from there is largely dependent upon the client's needs and wishes, and the scope of the project.


However, I love to mix and edit at home, since I am afforded more time and freedom to try things that may or may not work out. I can work when I am inspired, any time of the day or night. There is nothing quite like pouring coffee in your own kitchen and then walking downstairs to work.

My studio is built to be mobile, and I have taken it in to other studios to augment what is available there. I even built it into a tour bus this summer to record and mix Pearl Jam shows. It is a flexible and creative tool that I have used both for editing and mixing major label, independent and developmental projects


On Building Home Studios

First, you should decide on a budget; studio equipment can get very expensive very quickly. Decide on what you want to be able to do in your room, and don't forget the expense of construction and acoustical treatment. Can you accomplish these tasks inside of the budget that you have set? Keep in mind the possible disruption to your household, and make sure that partners and roommates are well aware of the impact that this will have on your living environment. Keep it flexible, since it's inevitable that you will buy more gear.


Analog vs. Digital

I worked on 2" machines for a lot of years, and I've learned that you get to know the feel of the machine and what you can and can't get away with. Personally, I adore the Studer A827.

 

However, in the computer domain you have so much more flexibility and much more editing power. I like to track analog and then dump the material into the digital domain, since it gives me the best of both worlds. You then also have the safety of analog tape, just in case the computer decides that you didn't need last week's work.


I have built several home studios, both for myself as well as for other clients, and I have always recommended going digital. It is less maintenance intensive, takes less storage, and can be more modular. You can easily send a card or a machine out to be repaired, and it is easy to get a rental or borrowed unit to keep you up and going. It is also less expensive to have spares around so you won't be crippled by a down component. In my opinion, the advances in digital technology have closed the gap in sound quality between analog and digital. There is still a difference, of course, but is it really a matter of better or worse? Or just preference?