Universal Audio WebZine
Volume 4, Number 6, August 2006
[UA Universe] [Ask the Doctors] [Artist Interview] [Analog Obsession]
[Support Report] [The Channel] [Plug-In Power] [Playback] [Featured Promotion]
[Graphic-Rich WebZine]
[Back Issues] [UA Home]

Analog Obsession: TapeOpCon 2006 – "Camp TapeOp"
By Will Shanks

There is something really special about TapeOp magazine. The attitude, format, and layout are instantly appealing to pros and do-it-yourselfers alike, and the contributing writers and editors seem to effortlessly retain the joy of making music. Larry Crane's bimonthly manifesto for democratized audio production has now been in existence for over ten years, and it just keeps getting better.

TapeOpCon is a natural outgrowth of the grass-roots recording magazine, and is now entering its sixth year. TapeOpCon brings the magazine's readers and contributors together in a three-day weekend that may best be described as "summer camp for audio geeks" and retains the same spirit as the magazine. The conference gives participants that same mountaintop experience that lifts and inspires "campers" to return to the studio with a fresh perspective, and perhaps a few new recording tips. TapeOpCon also comes with many of the same perks as summer camp, such as bus rides and field trips, "crafts" and lots of free food. Outdoor activities are roughly represented by fantastic bowling parties and dunk tanks-even the phenomenon of "camp romance" is increased, as the ratio of women to men is much higher than at most audio conferences!

Where It's At

The Hilton El Conquistador

TapeOpCon 2006 in Tucson, Arizona, was the fifth annual conference. Previous conventions were held in Sacramento, Portland, and twice in New Orleans. Sadly, the New Orleans Fairmont Hotel and Orpheum Theater that hosted the third and fourth conventions were still not ready for operation at the time of this year's event, having sustained extensive damage during the 2005 hurricane season.

This year, TapeOpCon frontman and founder Craig Schumacher hosted the event in his own backyard of Tucson, undoubtedly making preparations easier following the upheaval that was Katrina. In general, I believe New Orleans has become the true home to the event; however, I appreciate all the unique qualities that hosting the event in Arizona brought. Home base and lodging for TapeOpCon was the Hilton El Conquistador on the edge of town, while offsite events and entertainment were held downtown at the Fox Theatre and at Club Congress, respectively. Conference participants were bussed at no charge to and from the events each night, adding to the camaraderie and camp feel. I really enjoyed the 30-minute rides, which gave me an opportunity to get to know other attendees, or just take a nap.

What to Do
Events such as "Treat Your 2.0 Room" and "Treat Your 5.1 Room" with studio-design guru Russ Berger gave expert advice for updating your mix environment for stereo and surround. I attended both. The "Build Your Own EQ" workshops were highly informative and just plain fun. Each participant received a kit that by the end of the workshop, hopefully, became a working equalizer. (Craft time, anyone?)

Other more cerebral panels that seemed to invigorate the blood of many an overworked engineer were "My Favorite Mix Moments" and "Records That Made Me Want to Record," each of which had humorous and touching moments throughout. Moderator Mark Rubel's ruminations on Ray Charles and the "voice that changed [his] life" made hearing the original version of Charles' "Georgia" afterward unavoidably moving. As the years go by, TapeOpCon's panel and workshop roster is evolving and focusing; the result is a better experience for everyone involved.

UA Represents

Will Shanks set up the booth in a flash
Mix in the Box workshop

In addition to the regular sponsor booth managed by Joseph Lemmer and Erica McDaniel, Dr. Dave Berners shared territory with Dave Amels (Bomb Factory) and Tom Erbe (Soundhack) in the workshop titled "Plug-In Programming with C++," which presented the audience with a crash course in "rolling your own" DSP tools. In addition, Will Shanks rubbed shoulders with Ross Hogarth (Holly Brook, Melissa Etheridge, R.E.M.), John Paterno (Los Lobos, Robbie Williams, Bonnie Raitt) and Fabrice "Fab" DuPont on "Mixing in the Box," where the team collectively dismantled the myth that a great mix can't be made in a DAW.


Hootenanny-inside stage
American Music Club-outside stage.

Going to see the bands TapeOpCon hosts is always a highlight of the weekend for me. Craig always brings in top-shelf artists, and the cover charge for the shows is always a minimum. TapeOpCon perhaps favors the Indie scene a bit, and this is right up my alley. In addition, there was a Hootenanny, where conference participants swapped songs from the stage. Club Congress is a fantastic venue-a destination for any tour band rolling through Arizona. The club is on the ground floor of the Hotel Congress, a beautiful old hotel with a ton of history. At least four bars served up drinks all night while two stages were operating, the main stage being outside-remember, this is right downtown! This year's lineup included the Bay Area's American Music Club, who put on a fantastic show and were the confirmed show-stealers of the two full nights of entertainment. Not to be outdone, Cracker closed out the Saturday evening lineup, of course invoking a shouting match among the crowd on the last number with their anthemic hit, "Low" (Like Being Stoned).

Chicago Store

A pile of Souszaphones in the basement
A mile of guitars in the attic

Before the music began on Saturday, all TapeOpCon participants were invited to a private, after-hours opening of all three floors of the Chicago Store (usually the attic and basement are off-limits storage areas). What is the Chicago Store? I overheard one attendee say, "It's like a bomb going off in a Guitar Center warehouse in 1965." I don't believe GC existed back then, but I think the analogy works. The Chicago Store is a historical music and instrument store right across from the Hotel Congress that you must see to believe, especially if you are a vintage gear nut like me.

Pool Party

Ross Hogarth and Larry Crane enjoying the night. 
Of course! Zep shorts-spotted at the booth and the pool party.

Of course the Hilton El Conquistador made after-hours mingling a pleasure, with plenty of late-night, warm-weather poolside toasts and sing-alongs, an incredible views of the stars, and endless conversations on the making of records. The final evening proved to be the climax, with a wild dunk-tank fundraiser. Notable dunkees were JB and Hillary of TapeOp, EveAnna Manley and Fletcher of Mercenary Audio.

Going home after TapeOpCon is always tough. It is such a pleasure spending so much time with folks who have become like family and sharing the experiences that make our lives so similar. I'm already looking forward to next year!

UA TapeOpCon Interview
While at the conference, Dave and Will also participated in an impromptu audio interview with Doug Edge of AudioMIDI.com, which focuses on UA's latest hardware offerings and reveals some new information regarding the making of UA's incredible DSP tools. Look for the 7/17/06 podcast!

Questions or comments on this article?