NUGEN Audio Q&A with Acclaimed Record Producer, Music Director and Music Supervisor
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: I’m originally from Ohio, where I owned a commercial room 50 miles south of Cleveland for nearly 20 years, but I’ve been in New York for over a decade now. I grew up playing piano. I had a piano teacher who was also a recording artist and he always brought me into sessions, and I was lucky enough to be working professionally in high school. I really cut my teeth in studios at that time, orchestrating, arranging and playing. Ultimately, I found my home in the theater – as a music director. I put myself through college doing that, and I continue to do it to this day. I also wear many other hats and seem to continually add even more!
Q: What kind of work do you do?
A: I’m kind of an oddity when it comes to the type of work that I do. I’m a music person who has now found myself squarely in-between music production and mixing dialogue for broadcast because so many live events have now gone virtual during the pandemic. Pre-COVID, my life was largely focused on music supervision/direction for solo artists and producing albums in the Broadway genre.
Then, the other half of my life has been making records. I typically work out of the five big rooms in town, but I also have my own home mixing studio, and then I do my tracking in spaces all over the city. I am typically hired to orchestrate and record an album, but then I’ll also play on a few tracks as a pianist – and then I get to mix the record too, which is fun. I have found myself in studios with 20 singers/musicians, 20 singers for Broadway cast albums, which are kind of the last bastion of huge, live isolation tracking that exists right now – and I love it. So much of production now is insular and I love when I get to work with actual live humans.
Over the past five or six years, I have also been doing a lot of live recording and capture with some super-high channel counts, and I really enjoy that. It’s been fun, but obviously that’s on hiatus right now, so we’re finding new ways to produce live events. In everything that I do, I am lucky to have a great team. I have five engineers who I work with full-time, always. I’ve worked with three of them for 15-plus years, we’ve done this together for a long time.
Q: With COVID-19 putting a damper on live events and the ability to have large groups gather indoors, what have you been working on most recently?
A: Since the pandemic started, I’ve found myself right in the center of these online concerts and live streamed benefits. I’ve been the music supervisor and audio producer for a lot of the big ones. Many times, I’m the one-person audio department doing music production, music mixes, cleaning/leveling all of the dailies and then ultimately creating the final masters on the broadcast mix. I do a lot of the audio production for these events, which are being delivered to the networks, cable and streaming services.
We worked on the UNICEF “Won’t Stop” concert on NBC, as well as Stonewall, AIDS Walk New York and AIDS Walk San Francisco. I also worked on “Saturday Night Seder,” which was one of the first virtual events. Several Hollywood people came together to create this beautiful, 90-minute virtual Seder with tons of stars. I coordinated all the music and dialogue editing, mixing and deliverables. Since then, I’ve probably done at least 30 more.
We recently finished music production for the “Carousel of Hope Ball” for People TV/People magazine. Robert de Niro and Oprah are the executive producers, and it was a 90-minute “who’s who” of legendary talent – everyone from Andrea Bocelli and Jordin Sparks to Adam Lambert and Sam Smith.
Q: What has it been like to work through the pandemic?
A: It has required a lot of reaching out to performers and recording engineers, to see what equipment they have available, and how we can make their forthcoming performances ideal. Sometimes, we receive beautiful takes that were recorded on exceptional microphones in people’s home studios. Other times, we receive a video recorded on their iPhone, where they literally just put an earphone in their ear, play some background audio and sing in an untreated room – and we have to do a lot to clean the audio. So, it really runs the gamut. We do our best with what we receive, and many times we receive tracks that are not ideal. That’s usually where NUGEN comes in.
Q: You run the gamut when it comes to NUGEN software, what do you use most often?
A: I use SEQ-S, VisLM and ISL on everything, but Monofilter has also made its way into my tool kit on most of my modern music stuff. I also use LM-Correct when I’m doing dialogue work – which is constantly these days, and I use MasterCheck quite a bit as well. I also recently started working with Stereoizer and Halo Upmix, but I really haven’t scratched the surface on those just yet. I wasn’t as familiar with ISL and LM-Correct, but I reached out to the company at the onset of the pandemic to see how I could incorporate its broadcast solutions into the new style I was adapting. NUGEN has proved itself integral in the more difficult audio scenarios.
Q: Which NUGEN plug-ins have helped you most through your newly adapted work-from-home life?
A: SEQ-S is the best – it’s also the only match EQ I’ve ever used that has produced results I can use. I found the perfect home for it in my toolkit when I was trying to match up all the random vocal takes from different people and places, and bring them into a unified space. It gives me the ability to capture a sound print off my best sounding mic or my most flat sounding mic, and then use that to guide EQ choices on all of the other, less-than-ideal recordings. It helps me get closer to one cohesive sound.
SEQ-S is a great way for me to mix in a somewhat automated way. The match EQ function is very helpful. I can see what edits the software suggests making in order to match a lower quality take to one recorded with a better sounding mic. I use it on pianos quite a bit, too – especially now, in the midst of the pandemic. Like vocals, the piano is such a broad-spectrum instrument, especially since I’m not in the room to place the mics. You’re never going to achieve true fidelity from phone recordings, so it’s all about trying to meet in the middle. That’s where SEQ-S has been super helpful. It really sped up that process and lets me get to more creative things quicker.
Q: How do you incorporate the other NUGEN plug-ins into your workflow?
A: In my music production process (where SEQ-S usually lives), I will incorporate Monofilter on different tracks. Monofilter is really cool; the ability to ground the low frequency, get everything out of the sides and then just kind of funnel it into the middle is all awesome. I was doing something similar with another plug-in and it was a super convoluted process that included needing additional software, running multiple instances of the same track and then manually adjusting the phase correlation. Sometimes I’ll use the plug-in on all of my music busses and sometimes I’ll put it right on my two bus – it really just depends on the genre and source material. I’ve loaded it into my template, and it lives on the vast majority of my mixes at this point.
The ISL limiter has also made its way into my mix bus template, it lives on my two bus. Sometimes I use it to have a look at how far off I am, other times I use it to check the dynamic range and see if I need to use it or not. The look ahead limiter is perfection, I love the metering on it, I can see exactly what it’s doing and it’s super transparent. Plus, it gives me that little extra bit of control.
VisLM is also always on my stereo bus. I have a hardware meter off to the side on my desk, but I’m not really glancing at it so much anymore because VisLM is just so great. I like that I can adjust it according to what I’m working on. You can really customize the entire plug-in; the templates and presets are great, and it’s just super easy to use. I always keep it up on my second monitor because it’s great to be able to glance over at it and see where we are on things.
I originally started using LM-Correct for a multi-delivery benefit concert, which later got repurposed for streaming and then again for network broadcast on MSNBC. I had to deliver completely different loudness specs on a tight timeline and budget. The concert featured major super stars like Cher, Jordin Sparks and the Eurythmics, so it was especially important that it was a high-caliber production. The ability to analyze, spot check and correct at the click of a button was super helpful; it’s awesome.
Q: You recently started using NUGEN’s brand new Paragon software. What do you think of the features?
A: Paragon is super new to me, but I can tell you from just the little bit I’ve used it so far that the interface is fantastic. I don’t think I’ve found another reverb software with the amount of control that I get with Paragon. I also specifically like the ability to EQ the actual impulse Response, that feature is very cool. I don’t know if this feature is the first in its class, but the ability to change the IR by simply adjusting your parameters is also great. I can’t get deep into specifics just yet, since it is still so new to me, but there are a lot of controls on there. I’ve already had enough results to be able to say this is something I will keep in my toolkit.
Q: Have you incorporated Paragon on any projects as of yet?
A: Since adding Paragon to my toolkit, I’ve been using it to match ambience across the different user submitted dialogues that come in for the broadcast and online live streams that we’re producing. I used it on a roundtable discussion that was part of a big charity event we did. Some of the people had beautiful, dry vocal booth rooms and other people, you could hear everything. Paragon was a good tool to say, “okay, this space sounds like what we’re going for,” and then we were able to adjust the impulse until each person sounded relatively in the same room. That was very helpful, and it was very easy. I will be working on a big, live virtual concert that’s essentially a long-form, high-channel count music to video production. I think that the reverbs could be a really good candidate for the big arena where it’s being shot.
Q: Anything else to add?
A: The NUGEN tools all play off of one another, so I can use them in different parts of my process. For instance, I can use them to check my dynamic range, variance and loudness compliance. They all let me work with them like a paintbrush, not like a sledgehammer – which makes it possible to be very nuanced in my work. I’m using many of these plug-ins regularly now. NUGEN is definitely a household name for everyone I know who’s in dialogue and TV, but it’s still a really nice, well-kept secret on the music side. I’m excited to see what’s next from NUGEN Audio.