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Volume 2, Number 9, October/November (AES) 2004
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Digital Minds: Loquat and Brian Foraker Mastering with the UAD-1

We have changed the names of Marsha Vdovin's two interview columns from 'Analog Dialog' and 'Digital Discourse' to the much more palatable 'Analog Ears' and 'Digital Minds', which sounds nicer and creates a clever tie to Universal Audio's slogan.  [-Ed.]

My friend Kylee Swenson is awesome. She fronts my current favorite band Loquat, co-writing and producing the recordings as well. I love Loquat. I'm not very good at describing music. It's a dreamy girl voice with unusual phrasing, hauntingly layered with guitar and keyboards. I guess the thing I can describe well is the way the music makes me feel. The lyrics pull on memories. They take me back to childhood, to school, to certain relationships. They leave an imprint of both my images and theirs. "Swingset Chain" is one of my top ten songs of all time. It makes me sad and happy and sentimental and upbeat, all at the same time. Loquat draws me in the way that a great novel does; and stays with me.

And Kylee is no slacker either. She holds a hefty day job as Features Editor of Remix Magazine - interviews with the likes of Bjork, Missy Elliot and Outkast; not too shabby. How she holds it all together...I'll never know. Kylee put a 'shout out' several months ago looking for a mastering engineer willing to work on a small budget. I was able to hook Loquat up with Brian Foraker and it turned out to be a perfect fit. Especially since Brian uses the UAD-1.

Kylee and her musical partner, Earl Otsuka, took their time waiting until they really felt that their first full length album 'It's Yours to Keep" was complete.
"It took us a long time to record it, as we're still moving up the learning curve as producers/mixing engineers. We started out in June 2003 recording drums. The room was great, but we didn't get the sound quite right. The snare sounded like a piece of paper. The second time we went in to record more drums was a few months later and we got that session down a little bit better. All other instruments-including electronic drums and vocals were recorded in our home studio. Earl built a really nice vocal booth, which was very helpful considering that the neighbors were often having loud parties while we were recording. After we finally got the entire recording done, Earl and I worked on two different stations cutting up parts and mixing down the songs. We finally finished the album at the beginning of August 2004."

"When I first picked up the UAD-1, I knew I would use it for mixing but I wasn't really sure about using the UAD-1 plug-ins for mastering. But when I heard them...wow!"

In this era of the home studio and the small budget, I think that too many people are mixing and mastering their own albums. Mastering is a fine art that requires great ears, special equipment and years of experience. Most musicians are way to close too their own tunes at the end of the process to really do a good job. I asked Kylee why they decided that they needed to have their album professionally mastered.

Loquat playing live.
"To be honest, I'm not sure we'd even want to mix our own album again. It's difficult having only the band members' ears - and much of the time, just Earl's and my ears on the songs. And I think it's really important to have someone who isn't in the band working on the album at some point. If we could have afforded more outside help, we would have taken it. At the very least, we felt it was imperative to have a professional mastering engineer. We felt extremely fortunate to have Brian Foraker working on it. After all, he's been recording, mixing and mastering professionally released music (including Heart, which we like a lot) for years. And we felt extremely lucky to get his help."

But was Loquat pleased with the results?
"For sure. It's hard to say, once you've been hearing your own album for months and months in various stages, whether you really love it. I have gone back and forth about it. And of course, with the deadline looming over our heads for our release of the album in Spain and Portugal (on Dearstereofan records- October 1st), there are things we didn't have time to get just right; a drum sound here, a guitar sound there, a balance of vocals versus bass on another song. But when we got the master back, we were very relieved. Brian was able to smooth out the edges and create some separation in the overall sound."

"It's Yours To Keep" from Loquat is out on the Spanish label, Dearstereofan. For purchasing information and tour schedule visit the Loquat website.

The next portion of this piece is an interview with Brian Foraker, who gives us a little background on himself and his process in his work with Loquat.

Engineer Brian Foraker with a few of his gold records
"I grew up in Ohio where I worked with local bands from my early teens. I did the live sound and also did some recording for these bands. In 1976 I meet a new and upcoming group called Heart at a local club where I worked sometimes. They offered me a 2-week trial job as a keyboard tech (roadie) and as they say 'the rest is history.' I continued working with them in various jobs over the next 10 years. Their producer at the time, Mike Flicker, was really supportive and allowed me to hang around the studio and eventually let me do some basic engineering. I worked my way up to doing the live sound mix for them and also eventually engineering and mixing some of their records."

"In 1980 I had a chance to work in the studio with Jimmy Iovine and the amazing engineers, Shelly Yakus and Dave Thoener. There is nothing like learning from some of the best in the business. In 1982 we did a record with producer Keith Olsen and my duties in the studio were growing. Keith and I worked really well together and a strong friendship was formed. In 1984/1985 my education continued while we did the record Heart with producer Ron Nevison and engineer Mike Clink. The studio bug had really bit me at this point and by chance Keith Olsen called as we where finishing the Heart record offering me a position as his engineer in Los Angeles. I moved to Los Angeles in 1985 to continue my education. In the next 10 years Keith and I worked on records, which included 38, Special, Whitesnake, Bad Company, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Rick Springfield, Night Ranger, Lou Gramm and Starship among many others. I started doing other projects around 1987, which included records with John Paul Jones, whom I did other projects with, including a live Heart album. I also worked with Yes, Johnny Van Zant, Tom Cochrane, Alannah Myles and many others. I have been very lucky over the years to have worked with such a high caliber of producers and artists."

Many recording engineers make the transition to mastering. For Brian that transition and decision had a lot to do with becoming a dad.
"I had moved to Nashville from Los Angeles for my wife's job. I was still commuting to LA and London to work a lot but then we had a son and that kind of changed everything. I couldn't really be in England for three months at a time. I started looking for a way to still be in the business and be more control of my schedule. Mastering was something I'd always been interested in. It seemed like a way that I could control the sessions because obliviously I couldn't take a break from a recording session to go pick up my son at school. So I built a small room here at the house. I do mixing and mastering out of here. But it has been mainly mastering for the last two years."

Brian Foraker in his studio with the UAD-1 software onscreen
Brian's main set up is a Sadie Mastering system, Steinberg Nuendo and Soundscape for playback, mixing and processing. His outboard gear includes several Avalon pieces and the UAD-1. He has several sets of monitors including Dynaudio M1s, Bag End M6s, a Bag End Infra Sub and Mackie 626s (he's hoping to add more 626s for a complete 5.1 set up soon.) Mastering rooms are often intricately designed and Brian put a lot of effort into getting the right sound in his room.
"I had Auralex Acoustic come in and shoot the room, looking at what was right about it and what was wrong. They came to town; we tried different approaches and found something that isolates my little monitoring area from the rest of the room. It's really nothing fancy but it works, it translates well. That's all I care about."

A Mastering engineer must have good ears and recording engineers need to have good chemistry with the artist but a mastering engineer also needs to have some emotional distance from the project.
"I think it's important for a Mastering Engineer to be true to the music you are working on. You have to just look into that particular piece of music and see what works best for it. Not what works best for you but really what works best for the music."

I thought that Brian would be really good for the Loquat album because he had so much experience with Heart. He really knows how to work with female voices layered with guitars.
"There is definitely an art to working with the female voice for sure. I got spoiled really early in my career working with great singers like the Wilson sisters. They set the bar so high!"

"With Loquat the main thing was that I wanted to have a big open sounding record without hyper compression that seems to be going on way too much these days. People don't get it that when you make these records so loud and people play them back on consumer CD players it comes out distorted because the electronics in the consumer CD players can't handle the amplitude. And then wherever it goes from there to the amplifier, it gets distorted again so it's getting distorted 2 or 3 times and it wears people out."

"Gear-wise what I used were the UAD- plug-ins. The Fairchild and the Pultec Pro along with an Avalon 747 were the pieces I used. Loquat was looking for an open sound. It's not the kind of music that needs to be really compressed. It needs the dynamics, so when the chorus comes in, you really feel it lift. I was able to dial that in really well with the UAD -1 Fairchild. A lot of records today have no dynamic range at all; it starts loud and stays loud. That's the one thing the band talked to me about. They gave me some records that they were interested in; that they liked the sound of. It all came together nicely, it's a beautiful album."

"When I first picked up the UAD-1, I knew I would use it for mixing but I wasn't really sure about using the UAD-1 plug-ins for mastering. But when I heard them...wow! They sound so good. Out of habit, I tend to go out to analog gear quite a bit. But now I really prefer the Cambridge EQ. It is so smooth sounding. It doesn't sound digital at all.

Of course one the main goals of these interviews is to get people to reveal their signature secrets or techniques. Brian didn't need much pushing...
"One of my favorite techniques is running a mix thru the Fairchild with no gain, no gain reduction and setting it almost on the null point. Just that in itself is an amazing little thing. It gives it a punch, a sound that is so pleasing to the ear."

"I set up a tone and I make sure that it is doing absolutely nothing to the signal, then I start from there and add subtle changes. There are a couple of sessions that I used it on recently. For Billy Ray Cyrus, on 9 out of his 13 songs, I didn't use any of the compression on the Fairchild; I just ran the signal thru it. Just that alone was a big plus."

"The main three processors that I use are the Fairchild, the Cambridge and the Pultec Pro. If I have to do some fine-tuning, then I use the Cambridge. There is so much depth to these tools. I think people should spend some time with them and learn them because they are so deep, you can really get a lot of variety from them."

"I love the boost and attenuation on the Pultec, using those together can create some unique sounds. Attenuating at 5k and boosting at 10k, is a trick I used to use on Analog consoles and now the UAD Pultec. It is a great thing for guitar sounds. It just gives a type of distortion that is really pleasing to the ear. I'm still learning the best way to use them. The Cambridge alone has so many different curves available."

I also like to ask people about their career highlights. Some people answer right away and some, like Brian, are more hesitant in their response.
"I feel lucky to have been in this business as long as I have. I'm fortunate to have worked so long and still have a growing career. To work with and become friends with so many talented artists is my prize."

"Budgets these days are so small for records. The budget ten to fifteen years ago used to be $200k for a record and the average budget now is $20-25K. That seems to be the magic number. I've tried to develop a price range and a niche that is affordable. I have older clients who were big stars but don't have big deals anymore, that are still coming to me because they want quality work and trust me. I'm also getting lots of newer up and coming bands with small budgets that want quality as well. The trick is finding the right price and niche."

Universal Audio's new Precision Limiter Tool didn't come out in time for Brian to use it on the Loquat project, but he has since been able to spend some time with it.
"I have spent a little more time with the Precision Limiter and it's amazing. In a direct comparison with the Waves L2 plug-in, the UA Precision Limiter has more depth. It doesn't make the sound narrow, as does the L2. It has better bottom end - by a big margin! A tighter punch and is much more musical sounding. Not only do you get a fantastic limiter but you also get a plug-in that can be used for excellent [K-weighted] meters as well. I'll be using it all the time."

-Marsha Vdovin

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