Digital Discourse: Gary Paczosa Says It's About Listening to the Instruments (Pt. 1)
As child of the sixties, and teenager of the 70's, the first contemporary music I was seriously exposed to was first my older brother's Beatles, and later Led Zeppelin collection. The movement that was mine when I started buying records was Punk and New Wave, and I embraced it and absorbed it with a passion. Nowadays I listen to many styles, and still buy CDs like a demon. But the one genre I can't embrace is country. I like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, but contemporary country? No Way.
Grammer Winner Gary Paczosa
Much to my surprise, I heard Landslide by the Dixie Chicks in the car on 'Modern Rock' radio and loved it. I picked up the album, found myself singing along to their beautiful harmonies. Perhaps I'm being too close-minded about what types of music I think I like. Maybe great music is great music. Maybe, it's incredible songwriting, powerful vocals, great musicians and good recording that makes it. This theory was confirmed when I had the chance to interview the masterful engineer behind this record.
Working in different studios all the time you never know what characteristics a particular piece of gear will have or whether or not you have a great 1176. But with the plug-in, consistency is guaranteed.
Gary Paczosa's work on the Dixie Chicks Home
won him a Grammy for Best Country Record and garnered him a nomination for Best Engineered Album Non- Classical. I ran into him at the Surround conference in Beverly Hills in December 2003 where he won a Surround Award for engineering and mixing Alison Kraus and Union Station Live
. So I decided to give Alison Kraus a listen...and what an outstanding talent, so amazingly genuine.
Gary Paczosa grew up in Colorado and went to the Colorado University in the early years of its Recording and Sound Reinforcement Program. He also spent a year at the prestigious Eastman School of Music, interning as an engineer on classical and jazz recordings. Then he moved to Nashville. Why Nashville I wondered?
"I knew I was going to starve somewhere for about four or five years. I didn't want to do it on the freeway. I didn't want to do it on the subway. And you know, I really did not care for country music, so it wasn't an easy choice."
Wait a minute...Gary dislikes country music?
"Yeah, still do, for the most part. I love great traditional country, but it seems to me that most of what I hear on country radio is bad pop music. Fortunately, I get to work more with the contemporary folk, bluegrass, the Nickel Creek stuff."
Ahh, here I am labeling anything that comes out of Nashville as country...maybe that's why I like this stuff he does.
But I noticed, Gary seems to have a way with the ladies...
"I work a lot with women, it's probably 90% female artists. I guess they hear Alison or Dolly and see that I've got a sense of how a female vocalist should lay into a track. And if they talked to Alison, ...It comes down to confidence. It's about how confident you can make someone feel. It's a really difficult thing to sing, to perform a song that you've never sung before and try to make it the best it's ever been sung. Working with Alison, she really made me aware that these records are forever. And the records that we keep putting out, the really great ones, which we try and make, they get played twenty years later. Most of the records we work on have nothing to do with radio, so that's not a limitation. With Nickel Creek, even with the Dixie Chicks on Home
, they're not thinking about airplay. That's just something they wanted to do. When you don't have to compete with radio, I think that you can make timeless records."
Gary has won Grammys for his work with Nickel Creek, Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks. He has also received two for his work with Alison Krauss and has engineered her last six records.
"She's over the top. As a song person, she just really finds great songs. A lot of people just start listening to songs when it's time to make a record, but she's collecting songs all the time. It never stops. There are drawers and drawers of songs for future records, for records for other artists. She's an amazing fiddle player, you rarely get to see that, but that's what she started out doing. She's an amazing player, and producer. She's got it all. And in the studio, the priorities are right. It's never about radio or whether or not somebody else will like it. We just want to walk away from a record loving it. If the record company likes it, or the public likes it, that's never a concern. If we're all proud of it, that's good enough."
Besides being one of the most sought after engineers, Gary has been a pioneer in Nashville, being one of first old school trained engineers to make the move to digital recording and editing. He started using Steinberg's Nuendo digital audio software program about three years ago and added the Universal Audio UAD-1 to his arsenal shortly thereafter, and built a duplicate Nuendo/UAD system for Alison at her house.
Of the UAD-1 he says, "I used it on Alison's live record, on Nickel Creek's This Side
, I'm currently using it on John Prine's new record."
"I really like the UAD-1. It makes my job easier because I know exactly what I'm going to get when I pull up any of the plug-ins. I had a pair of 1176s but sold them. Of course once I sold them I started missing them like crazy. But now, to have it as a plug-in where it really does respond in the same way that the old 1176 operated is great; same thing with the LA-2A. Working in different studios all the time you never know what characteristics a particular piece of gear will have or whether or not you have a great 1176. But with the plug-in, consistency is guaranteed. I like consistency, being able to pull something up and know exactly what I'm going to get."
"For the most part, I don't do that much processing. I like minimal compression and try to stay light on the EQ. It's more about microphone choices and mic placement. I have it made working here in Nashville, where some of the best acoustic instruments in the world are, not to mention the incredible players I work with. Also, knowing that I am going to be mainly doing acoustic records, I have sought out and purchased great microphones and pre amps that work best on mandolin, upright bass etc. Once I have it to the hard drive, I stay digital all the way up until mastering, so plug-ins become vital."
To be continued next month in Analog Dialog when Gary talks about his new 6176s...
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