Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Fathom This, Baby!


I CD I poured my heart and soul in to engineering/mixing and co-producing was recently released. "Fathom This!" is the first release in nearly a decade by Boston's Daddies of Surf Instro music, The Fathoms. I had worked with them back in '95 or '96; then we started this in '05 -- 10 years later. It took a while to get it done and even longer for the label -- Cali's MuSick Records -- to release it. But it's out and I hope everybody likes it as much as I do. I listen to it in my car regularly. It's great driving music. Twang guitar God Frankie Blandino and company have created much more than a Surf LP. "Fathom This" ranges from Surf, Spy Jazz, Western film and TV themes to, I guess you'd call it '60's Brit-influenced Beat music. There's even a "Bike-Sploitation" track, ala Davie Allan and the 60's drive-in biker-bash vibe. Sax-master Dave Scholl and Mariachi Trumpeter Tom Halter make wonderful cameo appearances.
We recorded it at my Altitude Studios and then mixed it at my house in the Flying Scotsman room.
Go to Amazon, order "Fathom This!" and ride a reverb-splashed wave!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wake Up, It's The Arcade Fire!


Photo: FLAME ON! Arcade Fire in-concert.

Another new musical discovery! From Montreal come the wonderful Arcade Fire, an eight piece amalgamation of talent led by Win Butler and wife Regine Chassagne. They play anthemic, lush and dramatic pop. It's flowery and often dark at the same time, creating a sound reminiscent of The Cure and Dream Academy. Yes, 80's influenced to be sure. But instead of synths, these guys (and gals) use accordion, mandolins, hurdy gurdy, pipe organ, violins and percussion. They've realeased two full length LP's, 2004's "Funeral" and the newly issued "Neon Bible". Highlight songs are "Wake Up" and "Tunnels" from the first CD, and "Black Mirror" from the second, a tune that conjures Bowie's "Heroes" era. And if the cathedral organ chords at the beginning of Neon Bible's "Intervention" don't raise the hair on the back of your neck, I'd question whether you actually have a soul.

In April of 2005 they appeared on the cover of Time Magazine's Canadian edition, with the headline "Canada's Most Intriguing Band."

Saw them on Austin City Limits over the weekend and both I and the wife were blown away. These kids, all multi-instrumentalists, put on an energetic show, with Butler the very charismatic front-man. No big histrionics on his part, but no shoe-staring either. Very solid, and a huge cut above the average emo-alt pablum of this generation.

Get ignited with The Arcade Fire!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dwight Sings Buck!

Every once in a while a record comes along that reminds you why you love an artist or genre. It revives the feeling that started you on a musical path, as a listener and even as a player. Dwight Yoakam's new album, "Dwight Sings Buck", is one of those records for me.



I grew up as a rock kid, but even then I liked the Eagles, Linda Rondstadt and Jackson Browne -- that Cali-Country rock thing. I liked Southern Rock like the Allmans and Lynyrd Skynyrd. By the time I was in my early 20's, even rootsier American music caught my attention. A friend turned me on to Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. Hippie Country.

I've been a Dwight Yoakam fan since day one. In 1988, right after I bought my first CD player (a Denon for $750 that I still have and still works great), one of the very first CDs I bought was "Hillbilly Deluxe". I have performed one of the songs from that LP, "Johnson's Love" for years. I have many of Dwight's CDs: "This Time"; "Guitars and Cadillacs"; "Gone", as well as many CDs that he guests on. "Partners" by Flaco Jimenez stands out. On it, Dwight's version of "Carmelita" may be my favorite rendition of the Warren Zevon classic. Speaking of Zevon, his bittersweet final LP, "The Wind", features some great backup singing by Dwight.

But of all the great work he's done, and Dwight Yoakam's contribution to American Music is significant,"Dwight Sings Buck" may be his best ever. Obviously Dwight owes his career to Buck Owens and the Bakersfield Sound. But to his credit, he did not make clones or direct soundalikes of Buck's best. Instead, he lovingly crafted each song to have it's own fresh personality. The tracks have one boot in Owens, and one in Yoakam.

Here's a message I sent to Dwight:

We all love Buck, and I really appreciate how you did fresh interpretations of his classics. I have been playing it non-stop in my car--love the lean production and so many great tunes. "Corner of Love" and "Under Your Spell Again" are awesome. But I think the last five songs are my favorites of all. What a groovy new version on "Close Up The Honky Tonks" -- love the latin percussion and the B-3 solo. "Tender Loving Care" is priceless, with the weeping steel, low-twang Tele and the '60's Nashville reverb. But man, you saved the best for last. Of the many versions of "Together Again" that have ever been made, I think you topped them all (except the original, of course). The twinkly piano alone is worth the price of admission. Floyd would be proud.

Heck, Buck must be proud!

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Worst of the Worst!

Blender 'Zine's 50 worst songs ever.

They missed a couple.

Years ago Bernadette and I came up with The Elephant Gun Awards. Songs that were so annoying that the only way to put us and everybody out of our misery was to blast the song with an Elephant gun. And I ain't talkin' tranquilizer dart here. It's a song that more than irritates; it infuriates.

The runner up for the all-time EG award is Natalie Merchant for her insipid rendition of the great Springsteen-penned Patty Smith hit, "Because the Night". Whereas the original was stirring, fiery and soulful; indeed one of the great singles of its era, Merchant's remake was as limp and lifeless as a washed-up Cape Cod flounder. And as smelly. Some records are so great as to be untouchable, and that's one of them. Merchant brought nothing to the table on the remake. Except, as I said, a stinky dead fish.

KABOOM!

And to think I liked the early 10,000 Maniacs. The gum on Patty Smith's shoe has more soul...

The number one hall-of-fame EG award goes to Supertramp. Not rock. Not even a local call from Rock. I don't even know the name of the song because I've never tolerated it long enough to hear it. It starts, "Take a look at my girlfriend, she's the only one I got...KABOOOOOOM!!!!

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Wonderful Sony C37A

A while back, I had a Sony C37A mic. It sounded great, especially on my voice. Along around 2000, I sold it for like, $1200. This is one of my biggest gear regrets (of many). In the last few years they have become increasingly rare, sought-after, and pricey. A good one goes for three grand now.



Investigating the mic in recent months, I'm seeing that it really became an industry standard in the early and mid 1960's, especially in LA studios. In my recent interview with legendary LA producer Bones Howe (to be published in Tape Op at some time in the future), he mentions the C37A a couple of times. When micing drums, he used one or two for overheads, and a Telefunken U47 out front of the kick. It was a favorite vocal condenser in studios like United Western, Radio Recorders, Wally Heider, and others. Apparently even Frank Sinatra preferred it to the U47.

I'm convinced the reason the C37A is now so scarce and desirable is Daniel Lanois' religious dedication to the mic. He uses it on every singer he works with .. Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Bono, Willie Nelson...I have a video of him producing Emmylou, and that mic is everywhere. She has guest singers coming in like Neil Young and Steve Earl and yep, same mic goes up on eveybody; the Sony C37A.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

More on Magnecord


So, I started cracking open these boxes with these old tape-machine elctroncs heads in them. It's like opening a time-capsule. I just opened a box dated Oct 1957. Do the math. That's exactly 50 years ago. This freakin' thing has been in the sealed factory box since 1957. Ike was president and Elvis was all the rage. I started doing some web-searching and (after I got the spelling right) I found some cool stuff about the company. Magnecord and it's "Magnecorder" began in Chicago right after WWII. These GIs came back, and if I read the archives correctly, their start-up funding came from Armour. Yeah, the meat-packing company. They started making wire recorders, but by '49 they had switched over to tape. Seems like they did really well, really fast, grabbing a big market share right off the bat. Like, $90,000/month. In 1949! That's a decent month for me NOW in 2007.

Here's a link to one of the many broadcst history sites which has the story of Magnecord.

Cool, eh?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Me Likey!

Here's what I'm listening to this week: Eisley.

They are these kids, all siblings, from Texas. Tyler, Texas. Yup! If you don't know about Tyler, there's only a few things you need to know. First, it's in East Texas. Second, it's the Rose capital of the world (sorry Pasadena), and third, it's where the first three ZZ Top albums were recorded all those years ago. Back then it was home to Robin-Hood Studio, and the colorful engineer Robin "Hood" Bryan. I met him back in the early '80s, and he had some great stories.

But, as always, I digress.

Now Tyler is also the home of the DuPree kids. Why is the band called "Eisley" and not "DuPree"? No freakin' clue.

So check 'em out. The stuff is dark and dreamy, yet alluringly poppy. Sort of Evanescence meets The Corrs meets Belly. Neat stuff. My song of the week is "Invasion"

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Magnitude...Magnacord!

OK this is a weird one. We have a bunch of NEW OLD STOCK Magnacord mono tape electronics heads. Yeah.

What is a Magnacord, you ask? Well, here's a pic:



These all-tube tape-machine electronics chassis' were put in a box at the factory in April of 1960 (My mom was seven months pregnant with you-know-who), and have been waiting all these years to come to life. Seriously. 47 Years ago. It was like they were buried in a time capsule. They look absolutely mint! Brand new!

So why is this so great? Well, inside these boxes are all-tube mic preamps. You can plug a microphone right in the back, and there's a line-out, a tape-head out, and an on-board speaker (which makes the thing a stand-alone amplifier!).

Plugged in first an SM57, then an RCA 77dx. Both sounded really tubey and euphonic through the M-Cord. Fluffy! I joked that it made the 57 sound like a 67! And you can easily overdrive this baby in to really cool sounding tube distortion. We turned up the speaker and it sounded like a bad overloaded PA. Awesome! You could put a mic on that! Or maybe play a harmonica through it.

Hell, the NOS RCA tubes that are in it are worth hundreds!

We're sellin' em for $1100 each.

I want one!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wowza!

This is one of the most exciting things to come down the pro-audio pike in years! I'm so excited I might wet myself. API, who makes my favorite recording gear, is introducing (or should I say RE-introducing) the 1608 16-channel all-discrete analog mixing desk. In the 70's API made the popular 1604 broadcast console. We have a vintage one here at Sonic Circus that is pristine. (I admire it on a daily basis). Modern recordists love having these as control-room side-cars. Well, after years of super-secret development, API is unveiling the new 1608 console, based on the 1604 but with bouble the bussing (obviously) and a host of modern features. Here's a sneek-peek at the gorgeous 1608. Ain't she sexy? I'm in analog heaven right now.



Um, so who can loan me $50 grand?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ribbon Candy: The Royer Mic and Great Guitar Tone

Over the last decade, Royer Lab's R121 Velocity Ribbon microphone has changed the lives of guitar-recordists like me. I've always quested for great guitar tone, both live and in the studio. Even in the '80's people asked how I was getting my studio guitar sounds, and my secret weapon then was the Beyer M500 large ribbon. So, I had already discovered ribbons at a time when I literally knew of NO other engineer that was using them for electric guitar. For my lead solos I was using typically a Fender 1966 Super Reverb or a Mesa Boogie MKII through a 2 X 12 Fender Bassman cab (old cream colored one), with an M500 on each 12", through API 512B mic pre-amps, through Urei LA-3A compressors direct to tape. This was usually with my '61 Strat, so as you can imagine, the tone was pretty freakin' good.

The problem with ribbons is they can't handle loud levels, so of course, I ended up blowing out the ribbons in the Beyers. Then in 1998, along comes David Royer with the R121 mic, and bang! A ribbon mic that can handle high SPL. I bought one immediately. Mine is from the first 150 ever made, and I still have it. Changed my life and everyone else's because by then people had started talking about using ribbons for guitar. Producer Steve Albini, who was working with the biggest bands in alternative and Grunge was a vocal proponent of ribbons. The Beyer M160 and the Coles 4038 (both of which I had) were old designs that were getting popular again. The Royer gave me a tone that was dark, velvety and downright chocolatey. I got a Bogner Shiva amp in Y2K that was already really "brown" sounding, so that coupled with the Royer was as thick and syrupy as it gets! I had also started a resurgent love-affair with Gibson guitars, and was revelling in the fat humbucker tone that I had loved as a kid. Woman-tone ala early Clapton, Peter Green, The Allmans and Santana. Oh and lest I forget Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, was my Numero Uno Guitar-God (or should I say Diablo?) when I was a kid. Needless to say, my guitar tones of the past half-decade, using a couple different LPs and a screamin' SG have been, um, high-calorie. Greasy. Buttery. Cream-filled. Gumbo-esque.

I'm getting hungry...

Here's a taste: Listen to the song "She's The Devil" which, as I recall, is mostly my SG Standard through either my Bogner or my Top Hat Emplexador. Pretty sure it's the Bogner with it's own 12 double-mic'd. Mics are Royer R121 and Shure SM7 (that's right, SM7, not 57) pres are API 512C (hey, don't fix what ain't broke!) and there was no compression while printing. I'm especially fond of the dual harmony lead guitar solos. Notice how both main guitars go to lead, leaving just the rolling bass and drums beneath (no extra rhythm gtr).



The Wonderful 121

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Recording FAQ: J. From PA asks,


I just acquired a near-mint pair of dbx 165's. I have heard they sound a lot like the Urei 1176. How are they similar or different? Also, the Urei comps, 1176, 1178, LA-3, LA-4, etc, all seem like different versions of the same thing. Am I right about that?

Hey J,

Are those 165's or 165A's? The "A" goes for about $150 more typically. The only reason is that the "A" has the peak-stop limiter which nobody uses anyway (ugly clipping). The non-A does not have that, but who cares?

There are many differences between the Urei comps. The LA-types, LA-2A, LA-3A and LA-4 are opto (optical) comps. They have a electro-optical attenuator in there that creates the compression. The 1176, 1176LN and the 1178 are non-opto FET comps. So, they are a completely different circuit principle, and have far more parametric control (attack, release, ratio). For one thing, an 1176 is much faster than any LA. The LA's have a softer knee and a smoother dynamic response, so they are great for tracking things like vocals, but they sort of do one thing really well. The 1176 is far more versatile and controllable, so you can use it on a lot of things. In my opnion, the best REISSUE 1176LN is the Purple Audio MC77, which we sell for $1640, and it sounds more like the original blackface LN from the mid 1960s than the UA reissue. "LN" stands for "Less Noise" BTW. The silver ones are less expensive and less desirable than the black, because the black ones have a UTC output transformer that people love the sound of. When they went to the silver-face later on, they went to (as I recall but I might be wrong) an op-amp for the output, which changed the sound. They still sound good, but most engineers prefer the black ones.

I know and love the dbx's well, and in my whole 24-year career, I've found that any serious studio has both dbx and Urei comps because they are both good for different applications. The only dbx that might get used on a vocal WOULD be the 165, and if set correctly CAN be used on many sources. (The "auto" attack/release on there is your friend!) However, the dbx comp uses a VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) for dynamic control, yet ANOTHER circuit principle. dbx stands for David Blackmer Electronics, and David Blackmer revolutionized audio by inventing the VCA back in 1970(?). So the dbx's are great, but they sound very different than any Urei. They shine on drums and percussion, and are what gives you the famous snare-crack and kick-drum pop or punch. In general, though, a VCA comp tends to be harder-sounding than other types.

You can certainly get away with a lot with those 165's, but a nice pair of optos, LA-4s, or my personal desert-island comp, the LA-3A, is gonna give you a whole 'nother flavor.

Any questions? I can be reached at Sonic, 802-365-9190 or drew@soniccircus.com

More info on VCAs

More info on Urei 1176 and LA-2A

More on opto compression


Photo: THE famous blackface 1176LN, a studio standard for 40 years.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Drewcifer runs away and joins The Circus!

WoooHooo!




Back in the saddle. Drewcifer is now on staff at Sonic Circus, and we have moved the homestead to Vermont. Here's Sonic's site. This place has everything! New used vintage. We got a 40,000 square-foot old furniture factory just jammed full of gear gear gear. Attention gear-slutz!! I will enable your audio addiction and satisfy that jones!




I have joined The Circus!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Check out these mixes

I've just finished mixing a great American roots-rock project by Mike G. and Associates. It's school of Tom Petty, Neil Young...that type of good song-driven, guitar-driven rock. It was tracked by a great engineer, Sean McLaughlin, and mixed by me. Check out a couple of the mixes on Mike's page, here: Mike G

Happy 4th!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

June Recording Tip...Passive EQ!

Anyone who has spent more than two hours in recording has heard of “passive EQ”, but what is a passive equalizer, and why is its sublime quality so desirable? There are two ways to explain passive equalization: First, one can describe the circuit as a series of passive filters made up of resistors and inductors, followed by a make-up amplifier on the output which restores the amplitude lost by inserting the filters. OR, we can use the much more fun one-word description: “Pultec”! Yep, those old, three-rack-space mono monsters are passive EQs with a honkin’ tube amp on their back-end to make up gain. This is a different principle than “active” EQs like the famous Neves, which have a more aggressive sound. The magic of a good passive EQ is that it is subtle but VERY musical, enabling many db of boost without sounding artificial. For instance, the low-boost on the famous Pultec EQP-1A has been the BIG knob for kick-drum for decades. When you dial in that Pultec 60hz for the first time, you immediately recognize it from major recordings. Of course, Big Blue's treble-boost is famous for giving air and presence to vocals. You can floor it at 16K and it still sounds natural. Manley’s Massive Passive is a brilliant modern rendition of the passive EQ, and one of my absolute favorite devices ever made. (And forget those plug-ins, they don’t cut it! If you want the sound of real passive EQ, analog hardware is a must!)

Drew’s favorite passive EQs: THE Pultec EQP-1A, EQP-1A3, EQP-1S, EQH2, MEQ-5; The Manley Massive Passive; The Manley/Langevin Mini-Massive; The Chandler EMI Channel MKII; The Pendulum Quartet/Quartet II; The Amtec PEQ-1A

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Story of 213 Howard Street on Cushing Corner, Rockland, MA


Our house at 213 Howard Street was once part of the old Cushing Homestead, a property which included 213 and 214 Howard Street, as well as the main family house and barn at 131 East Water Street. “Cushing Corner”, as it is known, was designated as a Rockland Landmark in 1981, and is marked as such with a granite plaque, right near the intersection of Howard and East Water.

The Cushings were an industrious, prosperous and well-respected family in Rockland, having settled in the town in the early 19th Century. The family’s history on the South Shore of Massachusetts can be traced all the way back to 1639, when Matthew Cushing of Hingham England and his wife traversed the Atlantic to Boston, settling in, appropriately, Hingham, Mass. Matthew became a town father in Hingham, cutting the template for generations of Cushings to come. Over the next 150 years, the Cushings proliferated around the South Shore. From Hingham to Halifax they were town clerks, teachers, ministers and masons. One of those Cushings, Thomas, became the lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, and is buried in the old Granary Burying Ground in Boston. The family history says that anyone with the surname Cushing in North America is a descendant of Matthew’s. To this day, there is much evidence of the Cushing name on the South Shore, in place names and street names. (It is doubtful that the well-known Richard Cardinal Cushing, one time Archbishop of Boston, is part of this same Cushing Clan, as the Hingham Cushings were English Methodists, not Irish Catholic as was the Cardinal).

One member of the original generation of Cushings to settle in East Abington, later re-named Rockland, was William S, born in 1827, who resided at the family homestead at East Water and Howard Street. He was one of nine Cushing siblings, and the oldest male. The main family business before the Civil War was trunk-making and wood-working. The youngest of the nine was Henry Jacob, born in 1843, who served in the Union Army in the Civil War. In later years, he often participated in Civil War memorial events, parading in Union Square in full uniform.

At some point after the war, the family business turned to meat and ice, two endeavors that went hand-in-hand in those days. There was an ice-house near the house on East Water, whose purpose was to both refrigerate meat and provide ice to Rockland residents. The Cushings operated a meat-wagon (lettered “Vermont Hams”), and an ice wagon; both horse-drawn, of course. They harvested the ice at Cushing’s Pond, now long gone. (What remains is Cushing’s Brook, which crosses East Water just a couple of blocks east of Cushing Corner). During the summer months, Henry Waldo Cushing (son of Henry J. and known as Waldo), sold home-made ice cream from a cart.

Having met his future bride, the lovely Julia Lane (the Lanes were another prominent Rockland family), Waldo set about to build a house for the young couple. He did so right on the Cushing property, just south of the barn, facing Howard Street. The address was 213. It is not clear exactly when construction began, but it had to be sometime in the early to mid 1880’s. (Documents dating the house to1850 are incorrect). On March 7, 1888, Waldo and Julia were married, and he carried his brand new bride across the threshold of their brand new home. A local news article from 1938 reports the Cushing’s Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration, which included an open-house reception at their 213 Howard Street residence.


Within three years, the Waldo Cushings of 213 Howard added two new residents to Rockland; sons Lester (b. 1889) and Burton (b. 1891). Lester went on to graduate from Harvard and became a professor at Lowell Technical Institute. The athletic fields at the college still bear his name.

After early years spent helping his father Waldo with the family business, Burton graduated from M.I.T. and became a teacher at East Boston High-school. He authored a text-book, “Fundamentals of Machines”, published in 1943. Burton built and lived his entire life in the house across the street, 214 Howard Street, and was a highly respected civic leader in Rockland. He was a life-long member of the Chamber of Commerce, The Kiwanis Club, and occasionally submitted op-ed views to the Rockland Standard newspaper. Not bad for a kid who started out selling ice-cream from a horse-drawn cart!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Review of the ADAM P22A 2-Way Active Studio Monitor


This review appears in the current issue of Tape-Op, a 'zine I ocassionally write for. It's a great publication geared toward the DIY musician, engineer and producer:

I love great-sounding speakers. I guess you could call me a monitor guy. Ever since I blew up the studio’s last pair of NS-10s in 1990, I’ve been on a quest for the perfect tracking and mixing monitor, one which exhibits the rare balance between musicality and accuracy. It’s not an easy thing to find, as I’m sure all you Tape-Op readers know. I am also a true-believer that an excellent pair of monitors, well-matched to the room, should be at the very top of any gear wish-list when assembling a project studio. Really, how can you get any work done if you aren’t hearing the full spectrum of sound?

My own quest started seventeen years ago, when I experienced Genelec S-30 ribbon monitors for the first time. They were the most realistic speaker I had heard up until then. I couldn’t quite get them rocking loud enough for my tastes, but they sure sounded good. At this point I realized there was no going back to the Yamahas. By ’92 I was using Meyer HD-1; the first popular self-powered console-top monitor. By ’94 it was the first generation KRKs, and then it was on to the Genelec 1031A in ’97. In 1998, I first encountered the Dynaudio BM15A, a discovery which changed my life. Never before had I heard a speaker so dynamic, so three-dimensional and detailed, so punchy, and so versatile. I’ve used it for tracking, overdubbing, mixing, you name it, without getting fatigued. The bass is deep enough even to track drums and bass. I thought I’d found the perfect studio monitor, and to this day, I love that speaker. Since then, not much else has grabbed my attention…until now.

I recently became hip to the
ADAM P22A, and wow, I am lovin’ that monitor! And I thought I hated ADAMs! All I had heard before was the ADAM S3A, which some people swear-by but which I have never been able to get a handle on. I guess they are a, “Can you handle the awful truth?” kind of speaker. And at five grand a pair? Fuggedaboudit! I’ll take my Dyns any day, thank you.

Then one day not too long ago ADAM’s Dave Bryce informed me that ADAM makes monitors in every size shape and price-range, so just because I disliked the S3A didn’t mean I should condemn all of the ADAM range. He asked me some questions about the type of speakers I like, and then suggested the P22A. I’m very glad he did. Thanks, Dave. For one thing, I'm a fan of vertically aligned two-way monitors (like a BM15A). So the P22A is a good match for a guy like me. (Even when I used the old NaSty-10s back in the day, I never laid them on their sides. Do people listening at home put their speakers on their sides?). I found the P22A to have tight yet deep bass, high SPL, fast, supple mids, and highs that are sparkly but never harsh. There are many things about the P22A I really like. First, they have a very wide and solid sweet-spot. Sometimes ribbon monitors bother me because the off-axis response gets phasey and weird, and you have to lock your head in to one tiny little mix position to get a clear image. This is not the case with the P22A at all; they have nice dispersion. Second, you CANNOT hear the crossover. It's absolutely transparent -- no odd valleys or peaks, which is a very desirable trait. Smooth from bottom to top. Even my beloved Dynaudio 15As get a little fussy at the crossover-points. Third, the speed of the folded ribbon gives the P22 really nice dynamics, detail, and three-dimensionality. This enables fine sculpting because you can really hear your EQ, compression and effects.

Fourth, they’re LOUD, rating 109db in the SPL column. You rock and hip-hop guys can get them cranking, which again is a trait not typical of classic ribbons.

Fifth, the P22A has deep bass, going down to 38hz, so you can feel the bottom octave, but it’s a tight, defined low-end, never boomy or rumbly. For many applications, this avoids the need for a subwoofer. But what I like the best is that the P22A is a very musical monitor. The silky highs, supple mids and punchy lows make it a pleasure to work on all day long. Most importantly, they translate AMAZINGLY! I usually have to mix and remix a song a couple of times to get the frequency balance right. My very first mix on the P22A was perfect. One and Done! (One song on a ten-song CD was mixed on the P22A, and I liked it so much I told the mastering engineer to use that track as the model to match all the others to). It's a rare speaker that is both musical AND accurate. Usually real "happy" speakers don't reference well, and super-accurate speakers are boring and no fun to work on. I can count the monitors that do both on one hand. The P22A is in that rare group. At half the price of the S3A, it lands at the same $2500.00/pair price-point as the Dynaudio BM15A.

Yep. I think the ADAM P22A just knocked my Dyns off the console.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sad Day

Well, our house went on the market last week. This is yet another big chunk of fallout from my firing back in February. We moved to our home here in Rockland on Feb 1, 2001, and over the next six years poured every bit of heart soul blood sweat and money in to our little scrap of the American Dream. Never did we think we'd see a "for sale" sign--one placed there due to duress--in our front yard. And this is NOT a good time to sell. It's a beautiful house, but in a buyer's market where in this town alone there are 150 houses for sale. I'm most sad over losing the baby's sweet little nursery, which I spent all winter making ready.

I look forward to the day when "He Who Shall Not Be Named" gets his come-uppance. Oh and what a come-uppance it will be!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Viva Zaragoza! Drewcifer's Cinco de Mayo Margaritas!


In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I’m gonna give you not one, but TWO of my secret special ‘rita recipes. Well, actually, I’ll give one of my established recipes, and then I’m going to concoct an all new “Cinco-rita” for the occasion.

1) The Silver Armadillo: This is a really simple and delicious “white” ’rita which has a refreshing, silky smooth taste. It should have very little green or yellow color, thus the name “Silver”.



Put lots of ice in a cocktail glass or jigger
Put a splash of Rose’s Lime Juice on the ice
Squeeze a little real fresh lime juice on the ice
Pinch a dash of margarita salt (aka kosher salt) on the ice
Big shot of blanco (aka silver) tequila (see suggested tequilas below)
½ shot of Triple Sec
Top off with Collins Mix (I usually use Polar)
Mix well
Wedge of lime and salt the rim to taste
Serve on the rocks or strain in to a martini-type glass for a chilled “straight-up” ‘rita.

Recommended Tequilas
Good: El Jimador Blanco
Better: Herradura Silver
Los Mejores: Espolon Blanco, Corazon Blanco, Corralejo
Blanco, Patron Silver

2) The Margarita Cinco-Cinco: I figure since its May 5 (5-5), let’s make one with five main ingredients.

Uno: Good Reposado Tequila
Dos: Presidente Mexican Brandy
Tres: Gran Gala Liquer
Quatro: Orange Juice
Cinco: Grenadine
(This is sort of a cross between a Presidente Margarita and a Tequila Sunrise)

Put lots of ice in a cocktail glass or jigger
Put a splash of Rose’s Lime Juice on the ice
Squeeze a little real fresh lime juice on the ice
Pinch a dash of margarita salt (aka kosher salt) on the ice
Big shot of Reposado
¼ Shot of Presidente Brandy
¼ Shot of Gran Gala
Top off with Orange Juice (or Polar Orange Dry)
*Dribble a little Grenadine in for color – “Montezuma’s blood” (don’t use too much because it will make the drink overly sweet)
*Mix well and pour in to appropriate glass BEFORE adding Grenadine
Garnish with a wedge or slice of orange


Recommended Tequilas
Good: Sauza Conmemorativo, El Jimador Reposado
Better: Chinaco Reposado, Cazadores Reposado, Herradura Reposado
Los Mejores: Centenario Reposado, Corralejo Reposado, Patron Reposado


Viva Zaragoza!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Grand Theft Parsons


Just saw a funny but soulful indy film on IFC (Independent Film Channel): "Grand Theft Parsons"(2004), the true story of how Gram Parson's road manager, Phil Kaufman, stole Gram's body and cremated it in the Joshua Tree desert. Got a little misty at the end. It's a great story, told here with humor and heart. It was not well-reviewed, apparently, but being a huge Gram fan, I liked it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Theft_Parsons
http://www.gramparsons.com/
PS: Here's a good account of the actual events: http://ebni.com/byrds/memgrp6.html#Lgods

Lila Downs, Mexican-American Diva.


As summer slowly begins to warm away the cold shadows here in the northeast, one’s thoughts may turn to good summer listening. Being that it's almost Cinco de Mayo, let’s choose Lila Down’s “La Cantina” (2006). This CD will get the car-stereo pumping while you make those windows-rolled-down summer road trips.

It was The “Frida” Soundtrack that first brought Mexican-American singer Lila Downs to my attention, followed by her subsequent stellar performance on The Oscars in 2003. Her voice soars through the film’s songs, “Burn it Blue”, and “The Floating Bed”. She also appears in the movie, as the breathless gypsy singer in the smoldering tango scene between Salma Hayek and Ashley Judd. Lila’s alluring sound caught my ear, big-time.

Lila Downs’ story is an interesting one; being the offspring of an American father and Native-Mexican mother of Mixteca heritage, she grew up bouncing between Mexico, Los Angeles, and Minnesota. Her dad was a college professor whose academic studies brought him to Oaxaca in the 1960s, where he met and married Lila’s mother. As a small child, la “chiquitita” Lila sang the popular mariachi and ranchera songs of southern Mexico. After her parents split up, Lila spent a good portion of her childhood in the US with her dad, eventually attending the University of Minnesota (how much farther from Oaxaca can a body get?). Naturally she became somewhat Americanized, developing a love of classical and jazz, as well as rock and roll. Hippie Lila dropped out of U of M and even became a Grateful Dead-Head for a time, following the band from show-to-show in a VW bus and making her way by selling jewelry.

As she grew in to a young woman, the Oaxacan blood in Lila began to stir, then to pulse, then to pound. For one thing, Lila looks strikingly Mexican. Her jet-black hair and sculpted Indian features remind one of Frida Kahlo herself. Other similarities are not entirely accidental, as Lila has often referred to Frida as an inspiration and muse. Her tightly braided mane and colorful Mexican frocks summon the iconic image of Frida, to be sure. In the ‘90s, Lila answered the call, moving back to Oaxaca. There, while singing in clubs, she met American ex-patriot and jazz saxophonist, Paul Cohen. Their artistic collaboration (and romantic partnership) has resulted in some of the most eclectic folk-rooted music being made today. As “All Music Guide” puts it, “She has created a very individual strain of song that has indigenous Mexican roots and North American sonorities.”

The first fruits of the Cohen-Downs collaboration were a couple of cassette-only releases which leaned more to the jazzy/world-music side of the fence. By the late 90’s a more deep and folkloric style began to emerge in the music. In ’97 came the first CD, “La Sandunga”, whose standout track is a heart-wrenching rendition of the Chavela Vargas tragic ballad, “La Llorona” (the pioneering and legendary ranchera queen Vargas is another great influence on Lila). By the time she released “Tree of Life” in 2000, the lyrics of which were derived from the religious codices of the Zapotec and Mixteca tribes, Lila had found her voice. The result is an exotic sound, richly infused with layers of Euro-Spanish, Latin, and native Mexican music. Lila delivers the songs like a torch-singer; like a Diva, using her voice’s incredible range of pitch and tone to express the emotions of each piece. Against a black-velvet backdrop of Spanish guitar and native percussion, she conveys a jazzy sense of world-weary sophistication on songs like “Xquenda” and “Luna”.
2001 saw the release of “Border (La Linea)”, followed by the Latin Grammy award-winning “Una Sangre (One Blood)” in 2004. Both of these LPs weave an increasingly colorful cultural tapestry, incorporating traditional songs and instruments. Lila explores styles like norteno/Tejano, ranchera, mariachi, and even reggae on these releases. The “Border” LP is especially compelling, telling the story, occasionally with English lyrics, of the immigrant crossing the border from Mexico for the dream of a better life in the USA.

Lila’s latest work, “La Cantina”, pays homage to canciones rancheras; traditional, tequila-soaked ballads of the Mexican cantina bar. Cantina culture is central to small town life in rural Mexico, having given rise to cantina singers and table dancers, and a wealth of popular, heartbroken songs.

An excerpt of Billboard.com's review of “La Cantina” says this: Downs' dark, smoky voice is the perfect vehicle for these (ranchera) songs, which juxtapose the deep emotion of fado and mariachi music with norteno and tejano influences (notable especially on those songs that feature the legendary Texas accordionist Flaco Jimenez). Everywhere you turn there are deeper complexities lurking beneath the already complicated surfaces of the songs: the quietly wailing clarinet that follows the distorted guitar solo on "Agua de Rosas"; the ska-funk inflections that are constantly hovering around the edges of "Tu Recuerdo y Yo"; the dubwise phase-shifting effects on "Cumbia del Mole" (a song that explains how to make one of the more popular Mexican sauces, and which is helpfully performed in both Spanish and English versions). Very highly recommended. ~ Rick Anderson

The LP’s opening track, “La Cumbia del Mole” has instantly become one of my favorite tunes of all time. While spending some formative years growing up in Texas, I fell in love with certain Tex-Mex styles, especially the cumbia, an infectious Afro-Latin dance rhythm with origins in Colombia. The Tex-Mex or Norteno version of cumbia, typically played by small border bands called “Conjuntos”, adds melody to the rhythm with accordion and an almost klezmer-like snake-charmer clarinet (picture a guy in a fez). Yes, that’s right, Mexican and Tex-Mex music has German, Bavarian, Polish and Czech influences. Weird but true. Listen to the trumpets in a good Mariachi band. If they were a little more sober, slightly less slurred, they could pass for those of the German beer hall. The classic “Arboles de la Barranca,” covered by Lila on La Cantina, is a great example of the strong Germanic influence in Mexican music, with its anthemic trumpets and oompah-pah brass. I have seen and danced to great Texas bands like Brave Combo, performing polkas and cumbias. My favorite Tex-Mex artist is the almighty king of accordion, Flaco Jimenez, who appears as a special guest on "La Cantina". I have had the great pleasure of enjoying Flaco and his Conjunto on several occasions. If you can remain seated during a good cumbia, well, either you need another shot of tequila, or you have had one-too-many, and have passed out. (I also love a good mole sauce -“mole” meaning “the grind” or “ground”- a notoriously hard thing to make, because it typically involves dozens of ingredients. Why do most Mexican restaurants in the U.S. NOT have mole on the menu? Simple; it’s too complex and time-consuming to make!)

Like a delicious mole, Lila’s voice is dark, chocolaty and full of rich, smoky spice. La Cantina’s second track, “El Corrido de Tacha” is an example of the Tejano/norteno style at its best. The song tells the story of a country girl, still a teenager, who catches the bus to Mexico City to become a table dancer and singer in the cantina. Flaco’s accordion does some deft dancing of its own on this track. Next up is the soulful “Agua de Rosas”, a journey of healing, showing Lila’s more delicate side. The instrumental breakdown features a very Santana-styled guitar solo over a Cubanesque minor-key mambo. “La Cama de Piedra” and “Penas del Alma” are examples of the slow, weeping waltzes which are as much sobbed as they are sung. Their message: “Entre copa y copa” (from one glass of mescal to the next) we drown our sorrows and count our miseries. On a brighter note, the delightful “El Relampago” (The Lightning Bolt) is a refreshing treatment of a Mariachi classic. The lyrical violins and famous “ly ly ly's” make this one of our favorite warm-weather, top-down tunes. “La Tequilera” is another Tex-Mex number about a cantina “regular”; the female tequila-lush. Accompanied again by Flaco’s irresistible accordion, Lila sings the song with hiccups, sighs and “oys”, as if soused herself! (Apparently Ms. Downs is no stranger to the joys of agave!) Throughout the album, Lila adds unexpected modern production treatments, yet remains extremely loyal to the source material. Wonderful!

"La Cantina" makes you want to quit the daily grind, buy a casita in somewhere south of the border, and live a tequila-splashed life full of fiesta, music and mucho mole!

NOTE: This LP should be listened to while enjoying ONLY top-shelf, 100% blue-agave Tequila. My recommendation (if you can find it) Corralejo Reposado! Salud!

http://www.liladowns.com/index_en.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tejano_music
http://www.flacojimenezmusic.com/
http://www.tequilacorralejo.com/

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Drewcifer’s Recording 101 Primer

Spring Mixing Tip: Pre-delaying the Reverb

You don’t hear a lot of heavy or obvious reverb on modern pop recordings. The vocals tend to be very up-front and dry. But are they really dry? Is it possible to add depth and dimensionality to vocals using reverb that is extremely subtle? Absolutely! It’s done all the time. One way to accomplish this is to pre-delay the ‘verb. That’s why that “pre-delay” parameter is a feature on most modern reverbs, be they plug-ins or outboard. It wasn’t always so easy: Back in the days of the analog pioneers, the mixing guy would send the vocal-signal through a delay unit, usually a tape delay, which was daisy-chained in-front of a plate reverb. This delayed the onset of the reverb by 50ms to 100ms or more. The gap between the dry vocal and the reverb makes the vocal stand forward more, sound “drier”, and not be “swamped” by the ‘verb. In the end result, the reverb may not be obvious at all, but if it was removed you’d definitely notice something was missing.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

WHY IS THIS BABY SMILING?


Because his daddy has prevailed in getting unemployment benefits, even though the man at daddy's old job was fighting it! Yay daddy! You're my hero! Now go get me some new clothes and MORE dipeys!

So, let's do one final recap here; the "Reader's Digest" condensed version.

Let it be known that this was a personal blog, just a practice-run of a blog that had only been in existence for three weeks at the time I was sacked. It never mentioned Mercenary or was linked to Mercenary. Any references to pro audio or recording were drawn on my 24 years as an engineer, musician and producer (I had only been at Merc for a year). It was solely my intellectual property. Only one of the five blogs was about studio-recording. The others were rants about social issues, and the announcement of the birth of my baby boy; the posting that got me sacked.

1) I was fired for blogging. That was the reason given to me at the time, in no uncertain terms.
2) I was fired without any prior warning whatsoever. (I had worked there 13 months)
3) I was fired over the phone on voice-mail. It was the day we got home from the hospital with our new baby, and also my wife's birthday.
4) I was not given any second chance, and was cut off on that very day without a penny of severance.
5) In an attempt to save face, Fletcher created a laundry-list of additional reasons for firing me.
6) "Excessive absences": a) There was no company policy in-place until after I was fired. b) My absences were due to very legitimate issues like a high blood-pressure spike (180 over 110), migraine, and primarily my wife's very difficult pregnancy. c) According to Mercenary's own newly written policy, one is allowed 5 vacation days, 4 sick days and 2 personal days. That's 11 total. d) Going by Mercenary's own numbers, I used 4 sick days, 4.5 personal days, and only 2 vacation days. That's 10.5. So, how excessive was that actually?
7) "Failure to sufficiently participate in Mercenary's 'educational' program": a) I am already a veteran engineer with more experience than anyone at Mercenary, with 24 years, including six recording projects in the last 18 months, four of them being full-length CDs. As such, I have a very good knowledge-base in all things pro-audio. b) I have a wonderful home studio in which to test gear, which is far more convenient for me than staying after hours at work (for which no additional pay was offered). c) Using my home studio, I brought home and tested at least 26 pieces of gear during the time I was at Mercenary. d) I did four recording projects at the Mercenary studio, during which I tried and learned dozens more pieces of gear. e) Fletcher said I failed to do the 4 hours-per-week required in the Mercenary studio. Well, so did everyone else. There is not a member of the sales staff that came close to filling that "requirement", yet others were not fired. Like them, I was busy answering the phone and talking to customers.
8) I worked on my blog during "company time": a) I worked on the blog during breaks in my work-day, and at home. b) There is rampant non-work related activity going on there with regard to computer and internet use. All day, every day, employees are surfing places which have nothing to do with their work. Why were they not fired? At least my blog could be considered a supportive companion-piece to my day-job at Mercenary.

Lastly, I really wanted the blog to be a positive part of Mercenary. I hoped that in the future it could be tied-in as a feature of Mercenary's web-site and the company's marketing efforts on the internet. Clearly, blogging and the blog-o-sphere itself is a growing phenomenon on the web, and can certainly be used as a tool to draw interest and draw traffic to a certain issue, or in this case, a certain sales agenda. Good marketing right? Not anti-Mercenary! PRO-Mercenary! What if in my blog I talked about this great new microphone I just tried and really love, and in that posting I embedded a link to a place where you can learn more about, and PURCHASE, that mic? A place like....um... Mercenary? Hello!

I believe Fletcher lost his temper, became enraged, and did something out of impulse and anger. His firing me may have been legal (maybe, barely!), but from the standpoint of moral righteousness, it was utterly wrong; a horrific decision, and personally damaging to me and my family. In a word, it was viscous. I absolutely have punitive grounds to stand on. I'm sure the deed hasn't been good for Mercenary either. Not only has it generated bad press for the company, but they lost a top-performer in sales, and one who was popular with and respected by the customers.

The next place I work, and yes, there is plenty of interest out there, will respect my talents and embrace my blog.

In the meantime, Drew the Fourth is screaming for hs bottle. Gotta go!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Chili's Original Texas Red Chili Recipe (by popular demand)

I've had a number of requests for the recipe for Chili's original "Texas Red" chili, now no longer available at Chili's restaurants (see my outrage here: http://drewciferstonezone.blogspot.com/2007/02/chilis-red-is-dead-long-live-red.html)

So here it is, as provided by their "guest relations" people. It is very similar to Drewcifer's own, only I add diced green chilis, and sometimes chopped red bell pepper.

Chili
Ingredient Measure
Chili Meat 4 lbs.
Water 3 ¼ cups
Tomato Sauce 1 pound
Chili Spice ¾ cup (recipe attached)
Onions, Yellow, Diced 1 ½ pounds
Water 1 cup
Masa Harina 2 ½ ounces

Procedure:
1. Preheat a 6 quart stock pot over medium high heat.
2. Place the meat in the stock pot and cook to medium rare.
3. In a small bowl, combine the 3 ¼ cups water, tomato sauce, and chili spice.
4. Using a wire whip, mix well to make sure chili spice is evenly distributed.
5. Add the water, tomato sauce and chili spice mixture to the stock pot and bring to a slight boil.
6. In a separate saute pan, cook diced onions until they are transparent and lightly browned, and transfer to stock pot when cooked.
7. Cook at medium setting for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
8. In a separate bowl, mix 1 cup water with masa harina. Mix well with wire whip. Add to the stock pot and cook an additional 10 minutes, and serve.

Chili Spice
Chili Powder ½ cup
Salt ⅛ cup
Ground Cumin ⅛ cup
Paprika 1 tablespoon
Black Pepper 1 teaspoon
Granulated Garlic 1 teaspoon
Cayenne Pepper To taste

Procedure:

In appropriate container, combine all ingredients until thoroughly mixed.

Yield: ¾ cup


Enjoy!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fired for Blogging: Drew's Side of The Story

I have never been fired from anything in my life, which made this blindsiding even more of a blow to our system. This has created a sudden and unexpected hardship for me and my family. Financially we find ourselves in the very difficult position of having a brand new baby, and an income that has dropped to only my wife's small maternity-leave pay.

I certainly had no intention of doing anything that would harm, compete with, damage or detract from Mercenary Audio in any way. On the contrary, I originally wished to create something that was a benefit to Mercenary.

With the benefit of three weeks to compose an official reason for my dismissal (required by Mass so he can stop me from collecting my unemployment benefits), Mr. Fletcher has made his case. Now I will make mine. Keep in mind I had no warning of any kind, written or otherwise, that I was in danger of being sacked. There was no performance review after my first year, or anything of that nature. Fletcher never indicated in writing to me there was a problem. And never was I given any kind of witten policy guideline or list of "do's and don'ts"


2007 began business-as-usual at Mercenary, with me as part of the team. When I left work on the 15th to go have our baby, everybody said, “See ya when you get back! Bring cigars!”

A POINT SO OBVIOUS I HAD OVERLOOKED IT: At no time did Mercenary give me the option of deleting the blog and saving my job. They never said: "The blog or your job, you choose" At that point, only a small handful of people had seen this little practice blog. Not the case now, obviously...

Fletcher has published: Mr. Townson was dismissed for a variety of reason, the blog "Drewcifer's Tone Zone" http://drewciferstonezone.blogspot.com was merely the straw that broke the camel's back. I will give you the broad strokes in this blog entry.Mr. Townson was dismissed for excessive absenteeism, failure to meet the continuing educational requirements we expect and demand from our staff, misuse of company time and resources, attempting to create divisiveness among the staff, and finally, the insubordination of creating a blog that references "professional audio tools and techniques" [which is in direct conflict to the goals of the company].

Never, not once, was there any official sit-down with me to discuss any of these issues. Had Fletcher communicated his concerns, making clear my job was at risk, I could have addressed them.

Our company is unique in that it requires our key staff, especially the sales staff, to be up to date on the tools and technology involved in the recording of music. To this end we have built a well equipped audio recording control room so our staff can use the tools they discuss in sales matters. The idea behind this control room is to have our sales staff be educated about the tools they discuss from an applications perspective. Hence the studio is called "The Methods and Applications Laboratory". Our sales staff is mandated to spend a minimum of four [4] hours per week working in this area, those four hours may be spent during "company time" though most choose to spend their time in that room "after hours". Mr. Townson spent less than 4 hours per month expanding his education in this room.

For Fletcher to imply I was not “up to date on the tools and technology involved in the recording of music” is absurd and borders on defamatory. It was well-known to all at Mercenary that I have my own home studio. I am a partner in a commercial studio as well. I have the ability to test gear –and really put it through its paces—at home. No one else that works there, including Fletcher, could claim having a studio at home. This was one of the many upsides to hiring me in the first place. Through this method, and over the course of my tenure there, I regularly tested a LOT of gear for Mercenary; arguably more than any of the other sales staff. I have a good ability to translate my findings both by speaking and writing. I wrote reviews which appeared on Merc’s web-site (like this one: http://www.mercenary.com/weco.html), and told all my customers about the cool sounds I got with the new “widget X34”. This led to me selling plenty of “widget X34s” for Mercenary. So, I spent many more hours than four a week using my own studio, educating myself and keeping up to speed. I also DID use the Mercenary studio for two ACTUAL sessions. Not play-dates or guinea-pig trials, but real sessions for an upcoming release. And finally, hello people, I’ve been doing recording for 24 years, I’m not a rookie! It’s not just my job, it’s been my life and career for decades. I have a deep knowledge-base, I have a keen ear, and I know how this stuff works. Indeed, I even taught Fletcher how to use the studio’s Nuendo DAW system. As an acknowledgment of my abilities, Fletcher asked me on a number of occasions to suggest improvements to mixes he was working on.

Mercenary Audio never had a "sick day/time off" policy prior to the hiring of Mr. Townson. However, it seemed that as soon as Mr. Townson was hired there was a parade of "sick days", and personal days, which caused the management to begin a log of his days not in the office. Prior to the creation of this log our policy had been "if you need time off, take it", until Mr. Townson abused that policy.

First off, I contest that I took more days out than anybody else there. When I did, the reasons were entirely valid, and I always called in, always checked (and answered) my Mercenary email from home. When I joined Mercenary, I was told, “This is the only place you can call in hungover.” I replied, “Well, that’s good to know, but it’s more likely that I will call in with a migraine”. This was understood by Mercenary at the time of my hiring: I have suffered from migraine, diagnosed, since age 13. Ask anybody who knows me. I have had to leave sessions in the middle of a mix. I have been to emergency rooms where double-doses of intravenous toradol and demoral didn’t make a dent. Lucky for me, I currently can control the headaches pretty well. I tend to wake up with one at about 5 or 6 am, take a dose, lie back down and by around 9 or 10 I’m good to go. So, yes, I’m late, but in the past that would have been a full sick-day. As far as “abusing a policy”, there was no policy to abuse that I was aware of.

Then in May we got pregnant, and it was an unusually difficult pregnancy; horrible, to be honest. My poor wife was 96 lbs before carrying a (very big) baby, and she's in her mid 30’s. We had at least half-a-dozen trips to the hospital, as well as weekly doc appts, sonograms, etc. She had multiple and very painful UT infections, a kidney stone, noro-virus, and other problems, like hormone-induced depression. (The petit 5' 0" woman gained over 50lbs of pregnancy weight, and felt absolutely misrerable the whole time). She was not allowed to drive, for instance. I had to call in sick a couple times after I had rushed her to hospital at 2 am or 4 am and she ended up being there all day. One day, I actually left her at the hospital and went to work for six hours, because the Doctor needed to keep her there till 4 pm. During this time, the comments I was getting from Fletcher and Jay Fitz were, “Family comes first’” and “Do what ya gotta do,” and “We got your back.” I repeatedly and strongly expressed to Mercenary that after the baby was born, things should smooth out in this area. I never got the chance to prove it.

Mr. Townson was informed prior to joining the company that travel would be mandatory for trade shows, client demonstrations, and further education. This requirement extends to every employee at Mercenary Audio who is directly involved with the equipment we sell, be they in the marketing department, sales department or management. When assigned to attend a trade show and educational event in September, 2006; Mr. Townson declined to attend, leaving the company with a staffing shortage at this show, which required us to not only scramble to rearrange who would stay at the office and who would travel to San Francisco, but also damaged our ability to meet with various manufacturers, expand our relationships with those manufacturers, and discover new companies whose ethos was on par with Mercenary's goals.

I don’t know about damaging Mercenary, but it is true I declined to go to that AES convention. I told them right from the gitgo, like in March or April, that I could ABSOLUTELY not go to the San Fran AES show DUE TO PERSONAL FAMILY REASONS; previously scheduled. It was a timing-related issue, requiring me to remain in the Boston area over that weekend -- AES extended through that same weekend. Then, in maybe July, they asked me again to attend AES, adding more pressure and making me feel even more uncomfortable about it. Again, my answer was no, and I said that it would not change, and begged them not ask me again. Incredibly, in September, they asked me a third time. I was so stressed out and full of anxiety that I literally puked a couple of times. I said, “Ok, if you’re going to fire me for not going, then fire me, because I’m not going, and this is a deal-breaker. While the rest were in SF, I was part of a tiny skeleton-crew, myself handling the work of three guys (including taking all incoming sales calls). I came in early and left late. We were a lean mean machine, cranking out the work. We got it all done, seamlessly and flawlessly. It was good. I was proud. Not a beat was missed as far as the customers were concerned. Discouragingly, Fletcher reprimanded me for not posting enough on the Gearslutz forum over those days. Wow. Silly me, I thought handling in-coming orders came first, leaving no time for forum-fishing.

It was never about refusing to travel for the job or not pitching in to do my share as Fletcher states. I told them I was willing to and WANTED to go to the Tape Op Con in June, but they denied my request. I told Fletcher and Jay that it was highly likely that I’d have no problem attending the NY AES convention in ’07.

*As an interesting footnote here, when Jay and the others came back from SF, I expected a whole AES roundup meeting, discussing what was seen, who was met-with, what was new and exciting, etc. Nothing of the kind happened. When I asked about the show I got a shrug and a, “Ugh. Nothin’ really good this year.” That’s it? Yep, that was it, a non-event.

We did take umbrage to Mr. Townson's blog for the following reasons. At one point Mr. Townson asked Mr. Fitz [Mercenary's C.O.O.] if he could start an educational blog about professional audio. Mr. Fitz said he may not start such a blog. He then asked me [Mercenary's C.E.O.] if he could start such a blog ["going over Mr. Fitz's head"], I too responded in the negative. Yet if you look at the blog, the very first line at the top of the page says: "Mics, Drums, and Rock & Roll: A Music Recording Blog!" That says "conflict of interest" to me, what does it say to you?

WHAT?! I asked if I could start a blog that linked to Mercenary, potentially to drive traffic and sales its way. I had the best interests of Mercenary in mind. Mercenary said no. When I started my personal blog, in part to post photos of my kid, I never had any inkling that I needed permission. Indeed, as Fletcher himself admits, other employees (who still have jobs at Mercenary) blog. , Given this backdrop, it is unimaginable that they meant no blog, whatsoever, period.

My personal blog (prior to my firing) doesn’t mention Mercenary anywhere. Why? Because when Mercenary said no blog linked to Mercenary. I took it to mean, and who wouldn’t, that I could do no blog linked in any way to Mercenary. That’s why I was not only careful to not use Mercenary’s name, but I even decided to post NON-audio related content to get started, just to get my chops honed. Nothing on the blog could have possibly adversely affected Mercenary or its business. We're talkin' five posts people. One about chili. Five little posts! My intellectual property. Does that say “conflict of interest” to you? And, by the way, I did not use my real name anywhere on there either.

What does my anonymous blog say? It says: this is the blog of a guy who has had a two decade history as a recordist, musician, published writer, and pro audio consultant who just became a father. Is Mercenary claiming it owns phrases like “pro audio” “recording” “rock and roll” or “microphone?”

The majority of the time stamps on the blog entries were posted during company hours

This was not the reason given to me for my dismissal. There was actually confusion on the time stamps. They originally defaulted to either GMT or PST, and I later changed that setting to EST. But first let me say, if the boss is going to fire people for doing non work-related stuff on their computers, then I’m the least of his worries. He’d have to fire everyone, and then he’d have to fire himself. One guy’s got his IM window open, chatting with a buddy all day. Another guy’s surfing MySpace. And there was worse. I would mostly go to sports web-sites like Dallas Cowboys or Boston Red Sox. At this job there was no set schedule during the work day, and you didn’t leave for lunch (a runner was sent out).

Is it not true that labor law requires that people have a minimum half-hour lunch break and a couple of 15 minute breaks daily? And that that break-time is legally considered personal, NON-company time? Obviously, no-one can work a straight 8-hours without a break. It was typical for me to take a couple of 10-minute brain-breathers throughout the day. I would do personal stuff during lunch time, like pay a bill or listen to an internet radio station. In the late afternoon, I’d take another ten minute “brain-breather”, and go get a cup of coffee or walk around the warehouse or call my wife. Talking gear all day can get monotonous, especially when you end up answering the very same questions day after day, so the mind can wander. Let he whose mind does NOT wander cast the first stone. As such, I never wrote any posts on Mercenary time.

Our "shop" is open from 10a Eastern Time to 6p [18:00] eastern time. During that time we are somewhat flexible as to what may be done with the time. Playing with the equipment in "The Methods and Applications Laboratory" is encouraged. Researching other audio related websites is encouraged. Viewing sites like CNN's, and "Boston.com" is tolerated. Mr. Townson also used that time to create the beginnings of a children's clothing line, which was also tolerated. The creation of an 'outlaw recording tools and technique' site was intolerable.

I did not create “the beginnings of a children’s clothing line.” I came to Fletcher with an e-commerce idea for children’s t-shirts. (Mercenary sells T-shirts, including children’s shirts). I showed him the idea one-day at work. He wasn’t interested. That was all there was to the “clothing line.” I had several other ideas which were brushed off like dandruff. I created an idea for a new Mercenary product, which was not shot down so much as it was ignored. So much for the “somewhat flexible” work environment that allegedly tolerates creativity. My ideas and comments to Fletcher were often met with the reply, "I don't have any bandwidth for this!" Even more often his responses were alarmingly disrespectful, but that I can't get in to now.

Further to that, Mr. Townson told several members of the Mercenary Audio staff about the existence of the blog, with strict instructions not to let either Mr. Fitz or myself about the existence of the blog, creating an air of divisiveness among the staff.

This is utterly not true. Who knew and didn’t know about the blog was random coincidence. If anything, the ones who knew were the other bloggers, and the ones who didn’t were not blogging. Simple as that. No conspiracy. No strict instructions.
(I'd like to know if Fletcher was aware of the other blogs. If so, then it makes me look all the more singled-out, and if not, has he accused the other bloggers --who were not fired-- of conspiricay to keep secret their blogs?)
FURTHERMORE, a blog is public. It goes out to the world. Why would I think I could keep it secret? Even so, it's MY PERSONAL BLOG, never mentioning Mercenary at all. It's not their business anyway!

They capitulated, but because we have a "family atmosphere" at Mercenary forgot the request when the picture of the child was posted on the blog. This was how Mr. Fitz came to learn of the blog. He held onto this information for several days before showing me the blog. Upon seeing the blog I sat with it for a day or two to let my temper cool before acting. It was at that point that Mr. Fitz, myself, and our Human Resources person met to decide a course of action.

Sat for a day or two? That’s an interesting statement because on the voicemail left by Fletcher he says that something had come to his attention “within the last few hours, so you’re fired.”

Did the timing of his dismissal absolutely suck? Yes, it most certainly did.

We are in agreement here. It should be noted that no severance was offered; my pay was immediately cut off as of the day of the call. Also there was no ability for me to come in and clear my desk or settle my affairs. Within three hours of the call, a courier was at my house delivering all of my personal effects from Mercenary – the contents of my desk and some audio gear. Three hours...

Had Mr. Townson's son not arrived only days earlier there would have been no "cooling off" period and he would have been instantly dismissed upon the discovery of "the blog".

Again, a highly dubious claim. The proof is in the voicemail which refers to a matter of hours, not days.

Yes, I dismissed Mr. Townson via telephone. No, he was not home when I called, so yes, he was fired on a voicemail. We discussed the matter later in the day when Mr. Townson called the office later to determine if this was "a joke" or not [it wasn't], and while we did not discuss the other matters at length. A proper letter of termination was subsequently drafted and sent to Mr. Townson.

I have yet to receive that letter. I’m guessing it’s a requirement by Massachusetts in order for Mercenary to fight me collecting my unemployment, which, unfortunately, is the course they’ve chosen to take.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that, if you have any class at all, you sit down with the employee, in-person, mano-a-mano, and you say, “This is a problem. This isn’t working.” And maybe you say, “We’ve made our decision, and it’s final. You are being let go.” And then you give the fired guy a chance to gather his stuff, clean out his desk, maybe delete some personal stuff from the computer (Oh yeah, they went through that with a fine-tooth comb, too), and maybe you give the guy a little parting money for his newborn kid. And maybe you don’t fight him claiming unemployment benefits, because, yeah, there’s that new screaming boy and formula is $24 a can. That’s fair, right?

That’s what you do if you have any decency at all.

What you don’t do is leave a voice-message on the day the couple’s first baby comes home from the hospital.

Not fair.

At the end of the day, I did a good job at Mercenary where it counts: I helped customers; steered ‘em the right direction, helped ‘em make the right choices. I’d say I have a 100% happy-client satisfaction rating, with nothing but praise for my valuable contributions. I talked, advised, answered Emails (sometimes wrote Harry Potter-length replies), posted on forums, tested and reviewed gear, taught those around me what I knew, and generally contributed in a positive way. There’s a reason why I have made many friends and am universally liked by the people that know me in the music, recording and pro audio scene. It’s because I do right by them.

I have been heartened by the great show of support I have received during this crisis. Turns out a LOT of people are on my side.

Bottom line: My actions and my little blog certainly did no harm to C.N.Fletcher or his company (or his family). Contrarily, he MOST CERTAINLY has harmed me, my wife, and my new baby. By firing me the way he did, he not only threw our lives in to crisis, he stripped me of the joy of being a new, first-time dad. And now he's continuing the cruelty by fighting me on getting my unemployment money. WHO IS HURTING WHO?

* the mud may continue to fly, but I am not going to engage in it. This is a huge and exhausting distraction, and my efforts need to be focused on getting a new job (opportunities are presenting themselves, and anyone who is interested can contact me through here), and looking after my wife and new baby. And maybe, just maybe, getting a little sleep.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mr. Townson's Dismissal

Mr Townson, that's me, Drew Townson, was dismissed by his employer, Mercenary Audio on February 22, over the phone, via voicemail, on the day we got home from the hospital with our new baby. It was also my wife's birthday. The reason given at the time was my blog. This blog. Now, the blogosphere has erupted with posts weighing in on the issue. My former employer, Mr. C.N. Fletcher, has carefully crafted his full side of the story, saying that the blog was the final straw among other issues. I am also carefully crafting my counterpoint to this, and after it is reviewed by my attorney, I will be posting it up here....soon. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Hi Gang..well, it's been a few weeks since my last post. Hard to believe little Drew-bear is already a month old today! He's a noisy (and hungry) little devil. A lot has happened to the Von Tone family in the last month, some of it great, some of it not so great at all. The day we got back from the hospital with the little guy, also my wife's birthday, Drewcifer (me), was fired from my job, suddenly and unexpectedly. Even worse, the deed was done in an utterly classless way; over the phone, via voice-mail. And us with a brand new mouth to feed! The reason given by my (to remain nameless) employer? This blog. Yep. This little, insignificant practice blog of mine. Legal advice has recommended I not blog or speak about this in detail, so that's all I can say about it at this time...

Sucks, don't it?

Maybe not. Maybe a blessing. Vows of support and job possibilities are rolling in from every direction now. Thank you for your votes of confidence.

'Nuff said about that.

In the meantime, let me add a couple quick items. First, and this is timely, I have become aware of a soon-to-be-published book called, "Speechless: The Erosion of Free Expression in the American Workplace," by Bruce Barry. In it, Barry explores the question: "Is it legal to fire people for engaging in free speech that makes employers uncomfortable, even if the speech has little or nothing to do with job or workplace? For most American workers, the alarming answer is yes." http://www.speechlessthebook.com/

Secondly, Loreena McKennett (see blog below) performs tonight on Boston's WGBH Channel 2 on "Great Performances: Loreena McKennitt, Nights from the Alhambra". The show is running on PBS stations all month long. Set your Tivos for that one; I know I will. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/shows/mckennitt/

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Drewcifer is proud to announce the arrival of Drew the Fourth, aka Drew-Bear, born Friday Feb 16th at 11 am, weighing-in at a very bear-like 8lbs, 12oz! Mama and baby doing great!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Drew’s Reviews:
Occasionally I will review a CD, film, guitar or piece of audio gear. Here’s a review on a CD I am currently addicted to; Loreena McKennitt’s “The Book of Secrets”.


UNDER LOREENA’S SPELL:

The Book of Secrets, 1997 Quinlan Road Records
By Drewcifer Von Tone



Take a musical journey through an exotic, alluring world with Canadian singer/multi-instrumentalist Loreena McKennitt; a world where east harmonizes soulfully with west.


I am a late-comer to McKennitt's music, but what a wonderful find she has been! "The Book of Secrets" is a musical masterwork, conjuring magical imagery and dreamscapes of rich color. The 1997 release is, like all her albums, on her own Quinlan Road label. Being a fan of Clannad, and to a lesser extent of Enya, I find McKennitt's music to be more haunting, more imaginative and more aurally textural than either of the other two.

There are many enchanting tales inside "The Book of Secrets", but none more stirring than the 1997 hit single, "The Mummer's Dance", a positively addicting blend of Arabic percussion, hypnotic drones, and soaring vocal melody. I consider myself much more a Celtic music fan than a New-Ager, but this song is a genre-buster; cutting a wide appeal across World, Celtic, New Age, Folk, and even Pop. The more traditionally Celtic "Skellig" paints the lonely picture of a Medieval Irish Monk and Scribe, living in devout solitude in the harsh Skellig Islands. The instrumental "Marco Polo" transports us to the smoky late-night Bazaars of Persia, where mystery, danger and romance await around every darkened corner; behind every silken veil. You can almost smell the opium on the night air. And perhaps my favorite is "The Highwayman", a tragic love story whose lyrics are adapted from the famous poem by Alfred Noyes. McKennitt is obviously a life-long student of classic poetry, and her own lyric-writing reads like it. These songs resonate. These songs intoxicate.

McKennitt's musical quest has set her on a pan-continental journey from the misty moors of Ireland to the mysterious markets of Marrakech. Atop it all, her ringing soprano stirs the very soul of the ancient traveler, the lover; the dreamer. You wouldn't imagine that an artist could weave Celtic and Arabic styles so seamlessly in to one tapestry, but not only does McKennitt do just that, she does it so beautifully that it makes one realize that these ancient sounds are not so diverse after all. She has found, at the core of it, that eastern and western music share a common and radiant soul.

RECORDING NOTES: From a production standpoint, “The Book of Secrets” is immaculate. The project was tracked and mixed at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio in Wiltshire England, and was mastered stateside by Bob Ludwig at Gateway in Maine. Producer credits go to McKennitt and Brian Hughes, with engineers Stuart Bruce and the famous Kevin Killen (U2, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello). It was an all analog recording, recorded in 1996 and ’97 using multiple Studer machines and Gabriel’s wrap-around SSL 4000. The challenge of blending no less than fifty different instruments of every era and timbre must have been incredibly daunting. Heck, just getting them in tune was a project, so I’m told. McKennitt blends traditional European instruments (piano, harp, pipes, strings) with Arabic drums and drones, while also incorporating ancient devices like hurdy-gurdy, viola da gamba and Victorian guitar. Add to that McKennitt’s resonant operatic soprano, and the result is the most eclectic and exotic sonic-texture I have experienced, maybe ever.

Loreena’s web-site
http://www.quinlanroad.com/homepage/index.asp
Look for Loreena’s PBS TV special, “Nights from the Alhambra” coming in March.
http://www.quinlanroad.com/newsandviews/currentupdates.asp?id=553

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Part 2: Chili's Red is Dead! Long Live The Red!


You've heard the expression, "Don't Mess With Texas". Well, there's a lesser-known version of that saying that goes, "Don't Mess With a Man's Texas Chili!" This is what Chili's restaurant has done; another indication of the further dumbing-down and homogenization of America. Local color and authentic flavor are dying faster than Lindsey Lohan's brain-cells!

Before I explain what Chili's has done, let's get some back-story: Chili's started in Dallas in the late '70s. I'm sure it's goal was to be a national chain right from the git-go. Dallas is the home of national food chains such as Friday's and Bennigans. I lived in Dallas back then, and I was fond of lunching at one of the first Chili's on Belt-Line Road in Carrolton. Why were we drawn to Chili's? Shoot, for the chili, silly! Yeah, way before the "Baby Back Ribs" jingle, the place was known for its "Texas Red". There was a big sign over the door which read, "Eat More Chili". And yeah, the name of the freakin' restaurant is Chili's...hello! We were under the impression, correct or not, that this was an award-winning Texas Red recipe, as indicated by all the photos on the wall from the famous Terlingua, Texas Chili cook-off. This event takes place every year with hundreds of contestants and chooses the supreme Chili of Texas...no small feat! And what is "Texas Red", the non-Texan might ask? It is a BEAN-FREE, all meat version of Chili native to Texas, characterized by its red-chili-pepper induced heat and masa-flour thickness. That's right. No beans! Never had 'em, never will. That would be a sin. Or worse; that would be yankee chili!

In later years, I found it funny when we'd go to Chili's here in Boston or elsewhere and find people who had never had Chili's chili. That'd be like going to The Lobster Pot and having a hamburger. As Chili's "national" brand identity evolved, we found that even the waitresses thought of the chili as a side-dish, an appetizer, or on-occasion were not aware of it at all, especially if you asked for "Texas Red". To me and my wife, the Red was the heart and soul of the menu and almost the only reason we went there. You could go to any Chili's anywhere and get it, even if it wasn't on the menu (which for a while was the case), and it was always the same good recipe. Our "bowl o' Red".

Now chili snobs are going to say, "Drewcifer, this is really COMMERCIAL chili!" Bunk, says I! Sure, there's better chili being slopped up at some little road-side shack south of Austin. I make an incredible bowl of Red about twice a year myself, but it's time-consuming and messy. Chili's Red was very good, and very reliable and very consistent. It would vary in heat from visit-to-visit, but we saw that as a sign of its authenticity. Yes, Chili's is a huge chain, but the chili WAS authentic. Especially by the poor standards here in New England, this was the best bowl around. That includes the offerings of very well-intentioned small restaurants attempting to make the real deal. Too bad, but true. We have been to some Chili contests here in the area and have not tasted anything as good. If Chili's entered those contests, their Red would win the blue ribbon.

So, back to the present. About a week ago, as we do on a regular basis, we call in our pickup order: Two bowls of chili, a bag of chips, and side of guac. When I get there to pick up, and after a quick Presidente margarita, the girl tells me that the chili has been changed, somehow knowing that this was important to me. What?! No!! You're joking, right? No joke, the Texas Red has been discontinued. Aaargh! This is not happening! Go to my happy place...go to my happy place...Don't tell me it has beans. Oh God please don't let it have beans! Yes, it has beans! NIGHTMARE!!! I am seeing white. The room is spinning. I am disoriented as my reality falls away. It feels like the floor has dropped out from under me. What, just at this location? No, all of Chili's. I have fainted dead away.

OK I didn't really faint. But I was apoplectic to the point she called the manager over, who was very apologetic and offered to comp us the order. He explained to me that Chili's makes these decisions based on "national tastes", and only in Texas do people demand bean-less Chili. Right! So, the fact the company is Texas-based and loosely Texas-themed no longer has a bearing on the classic, authentic Texas chili. "People expect beans," he explained. So I sampled the new stuff: Thin, soupy, beany and a bit less spicy. And clearly lacking the masa-harina corn flour ingredient. So, what makes this any different than what Uno's or Friday's offers? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

This is just another indication that we are heading in the direction of a world where nothing's original, nothing's authentic, nothing's unique. All must appeal to a larger and increasingly LOWER common denominator. The dumbing-down of everything. More Wal-Marts, more Targets, more Ikeas and Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts and Burger Kings and malls with all the same stores as every other mall. Is there ONE of anything anymore? My kid's being born in to an America very different from the one I had.

On top of my anger at Chili's, I am just sad. Christ! I really LIKED that chili. I'm going to miss it. Of course I sent an outraged email to their corporate headquarters expressing my displeasure and requesting the recipe for the Red. To their credit, they actually responded and, surprisingly, DID give me the recipe. (It's astonishingly similar to mine, only without the diced tomatoes and green chilis that I use).

CHILI'S TEXAS RED, RIP 1978 - 2007

It's All About The Tone, Baby!