Clark Media Productions

Clark Media Productions is a place for me to share my love of audio production, music, trombone, and music technology. Subscribe to my email list for late breaking blog posts, videos, and educational content!

Filtering by Category: Recording

I give thanks... for tape transfers! (Students of Neill Humfeld, you will want to read... ;)

I have many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.  A wonderful, healthy family, colleagues that are the absolute best to work with, and a job that I love.  However, on the music front, one thing stands out to me this November that I didn’t see coming, even a month ago.

I have previously written about my teacher, Dr. Neill Humfeld, and his influence on me, and a little about his musicianship and teaching.  When Dr. Humfeld passed, my dad and I came into possession of a couple boxes of analog tape (the reel to reel kind) containing all kinds of recordings of Dr. H from many years of recitals and concerts.  It has been one of those things that  I look at and say, “man, we really gotta get that transferred so we can listen to it!”  I never knew what that entailed, or how you would even go about doing it, until recently...

Fast forward to the past year, where my own interest in audio, especially in producing and preserving live performances, has come into play.  This fall, coincidentally, I have been taking a course online through Berklee College of Music called Audio Mastering, taught by an expert engineer, Marc Dieter-Einstmann (check out Marc’s mastering studio HERE).  Mastering is the final step in the production process for any audio recording.  A recording gets made (live or in studio), and then gets mixed.  In the mixing stage, the mix engineer takes all the audio that was recorded (sometimes as many as 100 tracks or more), and essentially places all those voices in the stereo field (where you locate that sound when you hear the recording) and gives the recording it’s tonal shape, and many other musical variables that make a certain record sound unique.  In mastering, the engineer takes the fully mixed recording and puts the finishing touches on it.  These can be musical or tonal adjustments (maybe something the mix engineer missed or didn’t hear), technical corrections (bad edits, noise removal), and general quality control.  Finally, a mastering engineer will set the loudness level of the recording, and produce a “master” containing all the tracks of the album, in the correct order, and with great care to ensure there are no functional errors.  

Another function of many mastering engineers is to transfer analog tape to the digital realm. Analog tape machines are hard to come by.  Well cared for and functional analog tape machines are even harder to come by!  So, when I said I hadn’t thought much about this project until a month ago, it was because I hadn’t put 2 and 2 together.  The U.S. Marine Band has, in its audio lab, a Studer 820 analog tape console.  Console is an apt description, because this thing is a beast!  All the tapes I have of Dr. Humfeld are 1/4” 2-track stereo tapes, and that is the exact tape this machine is built to play back.  With the permission of our recording chief, and some amazing help from the swiss army knife of audio in my world, Mike Ducassoux, I had a total master class in operating one of these unbelievable pieces of analog technology.  

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To hear these performances come back to life, after over 50 years for some of them, is truly a delight.  To hear Dr. Humfeld’s sound, in performances I’ve never heard before, is truly something to be thankful for.  

So, what to do with these?  Well, after speaking with Dr. Humfeld’s daughter, Nancy Jo Humfeld, I would like to continue to transfer more of these recitals and create a “BEST OF” album of Dr. Humfeld’s recitals over the years.  On many of these tapes, he speaks at length to the audience about the music he performs, and many of the recordings reflect his warm sense of humor that many of us came to love from knowing him.  

Stay tuned, there is much more to come.  I plan to make this project a major focus of my 2019.  

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.  May you all be blessed to love, make music, and enjoy the people in our lives that are important to us!



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American Conical Ensemble records James Curnow

There’s a new brass group on the block! This summer, at the Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville, Kentucky, a new “super group” of brass musicians took the stage. Trumpeters Chris Martin (New York Philharmonic), Mark Ridenour (Chicago Symphony), and Matthew Harding (U.S. Marine Band), were joined by alto horn virtuoso Nathan Miller (Asbury University), Hiram Diaz (U.S. Marine Band) on euphonium, and Christopher Tiedeman (U.S Marine Band) on tuba.

Long time brass band supporter and world renowned composer and arranger, James Curnow, arranged a new piece for this virtuoso ensemble, which they premiered at GABBF. The group returned from Kentucky and really wanted a chance to record Jim’s wonderful arrangement of Appalachian fiddle music.

This recording features Amy McCabe and Anthony Bellino on trumpet (both members of the U.S. Marine Band), as well as Matthew Harding on piccolo trumpet, Nathan Miller, Hiram Diaz, and Chris Tiedeman.

Another George Hamilton Green rag arranged by the amazing Jonathan Bisesi!

Hi friends,

Whew!!! Summer is in full swing, and you know what that means?!?!?!?!  THE KIDS ARE OUT OF SCHOOL!!!  Seriously, what it means around the Clark household is a lot of fun pool and beach time, and a lot of bike rides as well.  The boys are getting older and able to ride longer and/or on their own, so we are having super fun just biking everywhere we have the chance.  Combine that with some recent bike commuting for me, beach rides, and even recharging some bike mechanic skills, and the summer is just ROLLING.  Love it.

One other thing I've done is to complete a few projects that were begun in the spring.  One of my favorites of this year was the brass quintet and xylophone arrangements my good friend and Marine Band colleague, Jon Bisesi.  We recorded four of his arrangements in the spring, and you can hear Jovial Jasper over on Youtube.  I'm going to introduce another one here below, Chromatic Fox Trot.  

For my audio folks out there, if you haven't ever recorded solo xylophone, I highly recommend it! It is a challenge, due to the nature of the instrument (think snare-like transients, but pitched and moving in the stereo field like marimba, or even piano.   Separating that from the brass players, and allowing them to both see and hear each other enough to play as one ensemble, is quite challenging.  I had some help from my good friend, Will Samson, and I think the final recording turned out great.  

Jon is a master of the xylophone, and his improvisations over these rags in this particular style are so natural and fun to listen to.  Thanks for reading, and thanks for listening!

New recording: Tuba and 12

I am constantly amazed at the colleagues I have a chance to regularly make music with here in Washington, DC.  Since I started recording and working in audio over the past few years, the chance to record my colleagues in the Marine Band is always a treat.  Today, I’d like to share a recording I made recently for composer Anne McGinty, of her piece called Tuba and 12.  Anne composed the piece for solo tuba, piccolo, flute, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, 2 trumpets, 2 horns, and 2 trombones.  You can find the music for purchase at Anne’s website, McGinty Music. 

Here are Anne’s notes about the piece:

Tuba & 12 was inspired by a Bedouin proverb that states: “While the words are yet unspoken, you are master of them; when once they are spoken, they are master of you.”

Proverbs, in general, state a general piece of advice. This piece assumed that words were spoken, resulting in tension and an apology. Relationships, the first movement, has brass vs. woodwinds, tonality vs. dissonance, duples vs. triplets, et al. as well as the synergy and cooperation among all. Unspoken Words is the second movement and the dissonant opening theme in the piccolo and flute is presented three times. The third movement is Resolution. Over a constant low pedal G, the horn ostinato adds tranquility as all the themes from the first two movements return in fragmented form, before all is finally resolved.

Although tuba has top billing in the title, each instrument is equally important.

Many thanks to Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church for the use of their beautiful space to make this recording, and to Ryan Nowlin for his conducting and fantastic producer’s ear.

Personnel on this recording are:

Tuba - John Cradler

Piccolo - Courtney Morton

Flute - Beth Plunk

Clarinets - Tracey Paddock, Bill Bernier

Bass clarinet - Barbara Haney

Alto Sax - Steve Temme

Trumpets - Matt Harding, Michael Mergen

French horns - Hilary Harding, Mark Questad

Trombones - Bryan Bourne, Tim Dugan

Conductor and Producer - Ryan Nowlin

Producer, engineer, mixing - Chris Clark

Mastering - Michael Ducassoux, Red Room Productions



Thanks for listening! 

Economics of Audio Recording (or why you should pay good money to record your performance!)

 

A couple of years ago, I was interested in applying for a college teaching job near me, and I started combing through recent recordings I had of recitals I had done while I was a DMA student at Catholic University in Washington, DC.  I did five recitals as part of my degree program, and I felt like I had played quite well on most of them.  To my surprise and disappointment, I discovered that I had one pretty good recording of one recital, a very mediocre quality recording of another recital (that was also missing a couple of pieces), and a terrible quality (audio AND video) recording of my lecture recital.  To be fair, I had attempted to hire someone to record one of the recitals, but he never showed up!   Sigh.   

It’s no surprise that a recording engineer and producer would want to sell you on RECORDING.  I mean, that is, after all, how we afford all these cool microphones and all the other stuff that audio people drag around everywhere with them….!  However, I feel pretty passionate about WHY we make recordings, and especially when I relate it to my own experiences as a performing musician.  I mean, music is built on live performance, for better or worse.  The recording arts has given us so many different versions of performance, through all the “magic” that engineers can work, and the way that contemporary music is recorded and assembled.  But, what does that mean for you as a musician?  

Why spend hundreds of dollars recording a live recital?  I mean, if you’re like me, you don’t have money to burn, especially for something that doesn’t always seem critical to our growth and musical career.  Well, I’m here to tell you, you’re missing out! 

I’m sure you’ve heard about the “gig economy” until you’re blue in the face.  I know I have.  I get it.  But, one thing classical musicians haven’t done, at least not to a large extent, is to build a portfolio, at least one that is easily visible to the general public.  Portfolios are for visual artists, photographers, and graphic designers, right?  I would say that most classical musicians would even sneer or make derisive comments if you admitted you were putting together a “portfolio” of your best work.  I would also guess that those same musicians have little or nothing to show for their best performances, other than a nice memory. 

So, we can address the obvious question of why assemble a portfolio, or RECORDED HISTORY of you as an artist.  But, I think if you are reading this, you are already far enough ahead to know the many reasons that can be important.  So, let’s talk about what I think of when I think of hiring someone to record an important live performance….

A guy or girl with a Zoom recorder!  Yay!  That’s all I need!  

Well, OK, maybe that will suffice for you.  The above-mentioned recordings of my own recitals?  All recorded on a Zoom.  Now, I’m not knocking the venerable Zoom recorder.  These devices have a prominent place in the toolbox of many musicians and recording engineers. They serve a great purpose, and they have some amazing capabilities for such a small package.  But, after all the hard work, sweat, and tears you have shed over your instrument, don’t you want something worthy of sharing with the public, something that will still sound great 10 (or 50) years from now, and something that you can really use to show yourself in the very best light?  I know I do.  

"But Chris, I don’t have 300, 400, 600 dollars, or more to spend on a recital recording!!!"

Well, let me ask you a few questions:

How much did you pay your accompanist?

How many hours did you practice JUST for this one recital?

How much are you spending to get that crazy expensive degree from that amazing school?

How much do you stand to earn, OVER THE COURSE OF A CAREER, from getting hired for that tenure-track teaching gig, or getting invited to that audition, or winning that life-changing competition?  

Often times, recordings are the key to the gate.  The very first barrier to entry you come across.  Want to get invited to interview on campus?  Send a tape.  Want to get invited to that audition?  Send a tape. Want to get a spot at that prestigious summer festival?  Send a tape.  I’ve judged a number of high level competitions via recorded entries, and let me tell you, a quality recording puts you at a SIGNIFICANT advantage!

Here’s the basics that I offer when I record a live performance, and what I consider the best way to make FULL USE of the tremendous amount of work you have done:

  • High quality equipment.  That goes without saying.  Microphones that are complementary to the type of music and the instrument that you play.  You don’t have to know microphones yourself, but ask the prospective engineer about their sound concept when they record your instrument.  They should have a well articulated concept about how to begin, and be willing to have a dialogue with you about what you desire to hear from a recording.

  • Knowledgeable placement of those microphones!  Where should they go?  What kind of space are you performing in?  What are its limitations?  Should we try multiple things so that we have sonic options in post production?

  • An engineer that has a musical ear, and can also act as your producer.  

  • An engineer that shows up on time, without fail, and is set up long before you are ready to play.

  • A backup recording system...in case Murphy’s law strikes, your performance WILL be recorded, no matter what.

  • Reference video of your performance, recorded in a high quality format, with the final audio synced to the video

  • Recent examples of completed work for other clients, easily accessible for you to judge for yourself

  • Can the engineer remove excessive crowd noise, or HVAC system noise?  We’ve all had the person with the hacking cough or crinkley plastic bag making noise through the whole concert....

Those are just the basics.  Let’s talk about some other ways you can get the most out of your recording…

One excellent option to consider is to spend the extra money on a dress rehearsal recording.  While adding to the cost, this can have significant benefits.  First of all, this gives you flexibility to have both an un-edited live album or your performance, as well as a second edited performance using material from both the dress and the performance.  Most of us feel way more comfortable at our dress rehearsal than we do at the actual performance, and I find that many artists can have some quality backup material to use for their edited album, all recorded in the same space, with the same piano, and at the same level of preparation.  Again, you’re spending more up front, but in the end, you have more material and much more flexibility with what you can create from the one live performance.

Now, that takes care of the audio!  What about video?!  You know as well as I do, that video is THE medium for social media and internet presence.  If you are developing a Youtube channel, website, or Instagram stories, or you simply just want to send grandma a video of her precious baby to watch, you ought to consider video capture as well.  With high quality video gear, we’ve reached the point that you can pull still photos from the video footage, making it even more valuable.  

So, with audio recording, video recording, and recording the dress rehearsal, we’ve reached a fairly high price point, no?  Yes, we have!  But, consider all the time and energy you’ve put in to making a recital program performance ready, especially if we’re talking about the culminating performances of a degree program.  You may not be in this kind of shape, or have an opportunity to play a recital again for some time.  Take advantage of all that you can, and get the most out of your hard work and musicianship.  I guarantee you will create something that you can look back on with pride for years to come.  

 

 

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