R.A.P. Interview: Ty Ford (1993)

R.A.P.: What's in the final chapter, "Symbiosis and Synergy in the Studio?"
Ty: This chapter is my favorite chapter in the book. We interview two gentlemen, Nelson Funk and Louis Mills. Nelson is in Washington at Rodel Audio and is probably in his early sixties now. He was around doing multi-track recordings before there were three track machines, and he now continues to own and operate Rodel Audio in Georgetown. They do audio for National Geographic and wonderful, wonderful programs, the sound of which originates on film stock sometimes as well as audio tape, and they're now into digital audio workstations.

Lou Mills is here in Baltimore. Lou's probably about eight or ten years younger but has come along pretty much the same way. There's kind of a condensed biography of each person at the beginning to explain where they're coming from. These guys have seen it all. They've done it. They continue to do it, and they make spots for a living. That's a lot of what they do. There probably hasn't been a spot made that they haven't done in one way or another. So I came up with about thirty questions for both of them, and I did each interview separately. I then combined their answers as if they were in the same room.

I was very gratified to hear back from both of them that they were very happy with the chapter as well as the rest of the book because it offers information directly to the person who's doing it without causing them to have to use the engineering or academic filter.

R.A.P.: It sounds like you covered the spectrum pretty well in this book.
Ty: Well, as I read it now, I see chapters or paragraphs where I could have blown things out a little farther. But I guess that's what revisions and second editions are for. I'm very happy with what's in there. I'm very gratified by comments from folks such as yourself and others that I have heard from this early out of the box.

I was very scared that the engineering people, and they still may, would go, "There's a formula for that. Why didn't you tell them?" And the academic people, some of them may say, "It's a nice little handbook thing, but not really the text that we feel appropriate for our people." Those were my fears, but I think I'm okay because, from what I've been given to understand by a number of people, a lot of practical knowledge is not taught. You have to develop your chops. You can't read about it in a book and then go do it right the first time. It doesn't work that way. It's a craft.

R.A.P.: What are some of your thoughts on the many digital workstations available today?
Ty: I believe that the least amount of technology between the audio production person and the audio, the better. For example, I don't like digital audio workstations that only allow you to change levels by using a mouse because that's not the way it's done. It's the way the computer does it, but there's too much stuff going on in the average mix for you to spend the time to go back and re-figure a channel, or pairs of channels at a time, with a mouse. There are too many changes. If you don't have dedicated controls, all of that wonderful time that the digital system theoretically has saved you has been wasted.

All of the systems out there now that I think have a shot at it have dedicated controls. The AKG DSE-7000 is tops for doing radio spots. The Korg SoundLink -- it's a little funky, although they're getting better with the editing. I like the Roland DM80, but I hate it for micro-editing. They need a big RAM buffer. I don't need to see a waveform; I don't want to see it. There are times when seeing it can come in very handy, don't get me wrong, but that little thing on the DM80 where it either loops to the edit point or away from the edit point...I'm like stuck in "CD loop land" there, you know? I find it really difficult to tell what the hell's going on with that. It's a case of spending a little more money to have somebody design a RAM buffer where you can stick a section of audio in there, scroll it, and hear where the hell you are. This is how we do our work. I don't care to see the sample of that particular piece of audio. However, I do like seeing eight-tracks of audio move. I was doing a spot today, a car dealer spot for "Hawaiian Day." So I've got a piece of Hawaiian music, waves rolling in and out, and a voice track. I've got the waves on two tracks of the eight. I can see the waveform where they peak and froth, literally, and I'm trying to keep them from covering up the voice track. Yet, when they go down, they get lost behind the music. As I'm watching the tracks come across the screen, I can see well in advance exactly how loud or how soft that wave is going to be, and I can adjust my gain as I'm doing the mix to keep it in an appropriate place against the music bed. Now, if I didn't have that visual reference, I'd be guessing whether it was going to go up or down.

R.A.P.: You must be talking about work you're doing at your home studio.
Ty: That's right.

R.A.P.: You mentioned seeing tracks on a screen. What digital workstation are you using?
Ty: I use the AKG DSE-7000. I looked at a bunch of them, and if you're doing radio spots...well, I guess I should back up and say this: as happens most of the time with computers, the one you learn on makes the most sense to you. If you learn a word processing program, you can usually use another one, but somehow the one you learned on, unless it's really a bad one, is probably the one you're going to be most comfortable with.

My significant other uses DOS computers. I use Macs. I tried to do some writing on her DOS laptop the other day when I was out at a gig because my laptop was in the shop. It impeded my ability to write. She said, "I feel the same way about the Mac. These icons and this mouse -- what's that all about?" And I said, "Yeah, I get it. I understand. It's what you learn on."

The AKG isn't necessarily the box you want for doing audio for video. You're not going to make an album on it, although I'm sure somebody probably could, especially with the amount of RAM they've got available for it now. You could do it one song at a time if you only needed eight tracks. It has dedicated controls. You don't need to see the waveform to do the edits -- the scrub is so smooth and so locked that you know exactly where you are. That's a function of the RAM that it uses.

Some of the hard drive systems are getting better, like the Pacific Recorders system which works off of a variation in the DAWN software. The Digital Audio Workstation Nucleus software was out a couple of years ago and has a pretty good RAM buffer in it. It's not as smooth as the AKG, but it's a lot smoother than most of the other ones I've tweaked.

R.A.P.: What other toys do you have in your studio?
Ty: I use a Mackie 1604 mixer. In the rack I've got a Panasonic SV3900 DAT machine, the Ultra-Harmonizer with 95 seconds of sampling, a Yamaha REV 7, and a Compellor and a Studio Dominator from Aphex. I also have a CRL DX2 two-channel single-ended noise reduction system, which is great for pulling hiss off of bad stuff that comes in and also for quieting down MIDI, synth output and stuff. I've got a graphic equalizer and an Aural Exciter, and I use a pair of Revox PR 99s for running dubs.

R.A.P.: What tips can you offer on selecting a microphone?
Ty: If you're looking for a new microphone, and you're lucky, you go someplace where you can get the four microphones you're interested in in the same room. You talk into them, or you have somebody else talk into them, or both. You record them on, if you're lucky, DAT, and then, if you're lucky, you play that back over monitors that you're really used to. And you make your decision based on what you recorded and what you heard. If the kind of work that you're doing involves voice over music, then you really ought to do your comparisons by using that microphone in a voice track over a piece of music. If you don't, then you're missing something.

R.A.P.: Are you doing a lot of production daily?
Ty: It varies day to day. Today I did three spots for radio.

R.A.P.: Is the majority of your income commercial writing and production?
Ty: Yeah. Spots and corporate industrial narration.

R.A.P.: What kinds of rates are you able to get for your work?
Ty: I'm an AFTRA person. Voice talent for a radio spot in the Baltimore/Washington area is about $172 for a radio spot. It's $340 for a TV voice-over. An hour in the studio doing corporate industrial narration off camera is $285, and it's like $80 for every additional half hour after that -- most narration jobs are done in an hour.

R.A.P.: What are some thoughts on being an AFTRA member?
Ty: People say, "Wouldn't you make more money in the long run if you didn't charge so much?" Well, no. Number one, you never have to negotiate -- they already know what they're going to pay you when they hire you. Number two, you've got a great health, dental and pension plan that goes along with it. You get paid typically within thirty days, and, as I learned this year, when you cut a radio or TV spot, the spot's good for thirteen weeks. If they want to use it again for another thirteen weeks, you get paid again. In May, I had a crummy month relative to April, but I got five residual checks. I said, "Well, there's another damn good reason to be with the union."

I do other stuff, too. I joined AFTRA to do all the radio stuff in the union shops, and I had that going for me when I left and started to do voice work. Some of the voice work was for projects which were shot on film. That's Screen Actors Guild territory, so I had to join that. Now, if you want a picture of the nation's capital in your movie, you've got to come to Washington. So, a lot of movies are shot in the Washington/Baltimore area. Being an extra doesn't pay all that well. It pays basically $99 bucks for an eight-hour day, and they feed you. But most of the time, it goes long. I worked on JFK from a quarter to six in the morning until seven-thirty at night on a Sunday and made about $450 for the day and got fed twice. That's a good day as far as I'm concerned. It's a damned good day.

R.A.P.: In many of your articles, you refer to radio's "production rats." Where did this term come from?
Ty: I coined the term years ago, and I applied it to myself. Some production people have a tendency to be a bit reclusive. I went through that stage and, quite honestly, I can see why an Account Executive would rather I not go meet his client to find out what that piece of copy should really be about because I was not very slick looking. That was back in the hippie days. Things were different everywhere, but the point is, I don't know whether people end up in production because they want to be isolated from the rest of the world or vice versa. I do think it's important to be in contact with other human beings, even if it means you have to take a real hard look at yourself in the mirror and say, "Jeez, I gotta be me, but other people have to look at this, too."

So, that's where production rat came from. I thought, "You know, you look like you live under a turntable stand. You're down there with the McDonald's french fries bag and the crumpled up straw papers. You stay in there. The sales department throws copy through the door at you, and they're gone." This is all from an article I wrote about five years ago.

R.A.P.: Any parting words to our readers?
Ty: I'd only say God bless you for the work you're doing. It's a tough job.

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