RAP: A lot of people doing home studios are looking at the software based systems they can plug into their PC or Mac. Are you familiar with any of the audio software that's available?
Jay: I'm much more familiar with the Mac than the PC, and I have just about every piece of Mac software for sound that exists because I write about it. I have Deck, DigiTracks, Premiere, Sound Designer. I don't have ProTools. I can't talk too much about that except to say to make sure that it's a system that does all you need when you need to do it, not just something that has a good spec sheet or looked good in the demo video.
Obviously, I'm committed to the Orban DSE-7000. The reason I'm committed to that system is that it lets me do what I need to do quickly and with a minimum of hassle. When I have an ad agency guy here and he asks for something, I've usually got it edited before he's finished with the question. "Can you take that syllable and put it over here in the middle of this word?" "Sure." And that's important to creativity--to mine...to heck with his. If I think of an idea, I want to be able to try it immediately. Now, granted, a lot of people setting up in their homes cannot afford a twenty thousand dollar workstation. I'm also amazed at how many people setting up in their homes have afforded a twenty thousand dollar workstation. I made my choice based on the speed and the power. I know what's out there on the Mac, and there are some wonderful, wonderful things you can do with a Macintosh for five hundred bucks. With a current Power Mac, the audio in/out capability is certainly as good as an analog deck of ten or fifteen years ago. I wouldn't say it was a full sixteen bits worth of CD quality audio, but it's at least fourteen bits worth. And a program like DigiTracks or Deck can let you do some amazing production work in a hurry. It's just nowhere near the kind of speed you need for modern production.
What else is important is to make sure you've got some real effects, not just the echo or tone controls some anonymous programmer put in. You need good compression and EQ. Compression and equalization are the primary things you have to do in radio. That's the effect you're going to use on every element, and it's got to be stuff that you can hear in real time. And it's got to be absolutely clean. I had a whole rack of Orban compressors and equalizers long before I ever started working with the company, along with some Gain Brains and some Ureis and a whole bunch of other gadgets. What else? Good monitors. So much stuff that you hear on the air is obviously mixed on a bad monitor. I monitor with a pair of 4410s in the near field, a pair of hi-fi style speakers, plus a pair of Auratones. They're all in the near field, which is real important in a home studio because you're not going to have an acoustically tuned room, a room that's flat, and you don't want to equalize the speakers. A little bit of tweaking in a music studio, yes, but if you're concerned with distortion, why do you want to add distortion to the monitor speakers? I can sit at the Orban workstation, in the center line of the room of my studio, and pop between the Auratones, the 4410s, the hi-fi speakers and even the little three-inch speakers in my TV monitor, and the only thing that changes is the quality. The sound field doesn't change, and the level doesn't change. You hear an awful lot of stuff that is mixed on bad monitors, and you can tell when you hear it on the air. There's a missing mid-range, usually, because the monitors are slightly honky. Or the monitors have this hi-fi brightness and everything that comes out of the monitors is sparkly; and you put it on the air and it's all muffled.
RAP: Anyone who has ever carted up agency dubs will tell you that the EQ, mixes, and other processing will vary greatly from one set of agency spots to another. Would you say poor monitors is to blame for a lot of that?
Jay: I wouldn't know what to blame for it. I worked real hard when I was running the downtown studio to keep a consistent sound. We put pink noise on every master and ran it through the high speed duplicator so that we could pull dubs at random and make sure the entire duplication chain was flat. A lot of the time you've got two different studios on the same block of a big city with two different monitoring philosophies. One of them is a music studio. It's big with loud monitors that are going to knock you over. They think, "Who cares about the mid-range? That's not important for the music!" Then you have another studio where maybe they're mixing on Auratones and they have no idea what's going on at the top and bottom of the range. Then you have an ad agency producer who has no concept of acoustics who says, "Gee, that sounds good here; I guess it's done." And I've been guilty of it. When I first started working at the mega facility, there was a brand new 24-track room that had been designed by one of the top name guys. I went in there and started mixing and it sounded fine. I had no way of knowing that he had beamed the high end right at the engineer's mix position. So I did a mix that sounded good, and we put it on the air and there were no highs. One thing you've got to do is listen to your stuff on the radio as much as possible on as many different radios as possible. If it's not going on your own air, find out where it is going and listen to it. Don't just listen on an air monitor in your production room, but tune in your stuff while you're driving around. If it's on different stations, listen to it on all those stations if you can. And learn what you're listening to.
RAP: What are some of your favorite microphones for voice-work?
Jay: In my situation, I am very much partial to the AKG 451 CK8 series short shotgun, because in a less than perfect room I can point the microphone and do some wonderful things about ignoring the room acoustics. I don't believe that a microphone has to be warm and boomy and all that in a piece of production work. It's more important that you get a very accurate sound, that you get a very clean sound that's full range.
RAP: You have an appealing and informative Home Page on the Internet. What value do you see with the Internet now and in the future with regards to our industry?
Jay: Well, the first thing people usually ask me is how much work have I got after having such a great Home Page, and the answer is zip. I've gotten one inquiry that didn't develop into anything. However, I got at least five dozen demo tapes from other people. Not people who I'm likely to use, but they found me there so they sent me a voice tape.
At present, I think the value of the Internet, the value of the World Wide Web is just that it's out there, and we're still figuring out what it does. In another year or so people will probably turn to it as a steady resource. I use the Web when I'm researching stuff--how a particular compression algorithm works or what the copyright implications of a piece of music are. It's useful information, it's all out there, and it's free. Likewise, when people want to find out where they can send an MPEG Layer II signal, they look at my Home Page.
There's another part of the Internet, though, that's very, very useful, and that is the news groups. I learn a lot and I get to share a lot in the rec.radio.broadcasting news group and in the rec.audio.pro. Now that the commercial services all have news group access--quick, before the government shuts the whole thing down--take advantage of it.
RAP: What about transferring audio files on the Internet? Do you do very much of that?
Jay: I do very little of that. It just isn't fast enough. High quality audio needs a heck of a lot of compression. I transfer magazine articles and photographs. The Internet is terrific for that.
RAP: What's your "production philosophy?" What is it that you do that you feel makes you successful?
Jay: I think it's enjoying my work. I love what I'm doing, because playfulness is a part of creativity, and we're in a creative business. You can't get up in the morning and say, "Oh, God, I've got to crank out ten spots today," because they'll sound cranked out. So I keep on playing. I play with different sounds. When the client thinks it's good enough, I'll say, "Hey, let me just try something here." Half the time I'm way off base and I've wasted three or four minutes of his time, and half the time he'll say, "Hey, that's a good idea."
I used to think you could never be satisfied with a project. I had a film producer tell me that no film is ever finished, it's just taken away from you. I used to think that about the mixes, but then I realized no, no. On a lot of stuff, I know when it's done and it satisfies me. What's great about the stuff I'm doing now or have been doing for the past ten years is that I can take a tape off the shelf from ten years ago and listen to it, and it's still good. On the other hand, the closest equivalent to doing real radio in the advertising world is politicals. We've got very little production time to get something together to get a message across that somebody had very little time to write that has to respond to a problem immediately and has to get on the air in four hours. I listen to politicals I have done that I thought were real good at the time, and they're not. They're a clever idea, period.
The other piece of philosophy I've got is "polish." That's where the Orban is such a godsend. Any system can let you record a voice over a piece of music. With the DSE I can go in and in two or three minutes take out all the breaths and totally change the pacing. In a minute I can stretch how he reads the signature line. I can do the mix and then go back and mix from the third second to the fifth second only.