Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pheaturing Bob Ludwig

Hello, and welcome to the Phile, continuing the Most Phantastic Summer Ever. How are you? So, did you have a good July 4th? People always ask where I was for my first Fourth of July and I say, “at home, in diapers.” We don’t really have the Fourth of July in Britain, it goes straight from the third to the fifth. I did hear July 4 in Boston is nuts. It’s basically like Saint Patrick’s Day with explosives. Economists say that a college degree may not be necessary to succeed in life. I didn’t have a degree and here I am, working for a Mouse for 20 plus years. Seriously, kids, go to college. BP executives are saying that Hurricane Alex has rendered their clean-up efforts completely useless. In other words, nothing has changed. Larry King announced his retirement. In my eyes, Larry King really is a king. But I also think Wolf Blitzer is a wolf. So, last week Logan and I went to see The Last Airbender movie and I couldn't believe they were selling inspirational posters about it. Take a look...

With the World Cup going on still, I was thinking the other day what would make the World Cup more interesting... or British football more interesting. And then I came up with it. Check it out.

As I mentioned just now, my son Logan and I went to see The Last Airbender last week. So, here is another movie review.

In a fantasy world consisting of four nations: Earth, Air, Fire and Water, only the Fire people are really doing well. And that's because they set everyone on fire. And the Avatar, who's the only guy who can "bend" and control all the elements, has gone missing for a hundred years. But then, boom, he's back, in the form of a worried-face kid, understandable, since it's sort of his fault that the whole world's gone to hell in his absence, with a tattooed forehead who is also the last person who can bend air, which he does via a kind of silly slow-motion disco tai chi. He has also somehow resurrected that giant horned otter/dog thing from The NeverEnding Story to ride around on too, which was kind of him. So, this is a kid's movie that doesn't seem to realize that it's a kid's movie. It moves slowly and solemnly and only comes alive in the way that kids enjoy in fits and starts. The last bit of this movie is sort of rousing, which will make its target demo happy enough to say they enjoyed themselves. Only later in life will all the little kids in the theater I was at today re-watch this on TV and think, "I used to like this crap?"
How it's different from that other movie M. Night Shyamalan made about air? In this one the air isn't chasing people and killing them, it's just making them doze off. I did. Twice. Thankfully I had Logan to elbow me back into wakefulness. And about that post-racial casting... On the one hand, the original animated TV show is set in a fantasy world where everything is sort of Asian-y yet non-specific, so you might attempt to argue that anyone or any race could be in the movie. On the other hand, they specifically chose white people to be in this and they deserve to be called out for it, even if Shyamalan himself isn't Caucasian. We saw it in 3 D but should of just saw in it 2D as it didn't have any cool effects. And I'm tired of 3D movies. Logan loved it because he's a big fan of the cartoon and me? I hope they don't make a sequel. I give it a 5 out of 10, and won't be getting it on DVD on blu-ray but I bet Logan will get it when it comes out.

Tod Browning's groundbreaking horror movie Freaks, featuring genuine carnival sideshow performers, premieres at the Rialto theater in New York. The film opens to critical outrage, and is later banned by the British government for 30 years.
Former President Richard M. Nixon is disbarred by the New York Bar Association. Nixon attempted to resign voluntarily, as he had from the California and U.S. Supreme Court bars, but New York refused to accept his resignation unless he acknowledged that he had obstructed justice during the Watergate coverup.
Kitty Dukakis, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Governor Michael Dukakis, reveals that she was formerly addicted to amphetamines. Kitty waits until after the November election to acknowledge her raging alcoholism, however.
Michael Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, publicly apologizes to his children's babysitter, with whom he had a five year relationship starting when she was age 14. The local district attorney declines to press charges, but Kennedy winds up dead in an apparent skiing accident five months later.

This is the 10th book in the Peverett Phile Book Club. It's available at and Mark Mekkes will be a guest on the Phile in a few weeks.

Today's guest is an American mastering engineer who is a well known and respected figure within the music industry. His craftsmanship is appreciated within the music profession, as testified by his extensive credits and demand for his work. His name is credited on the covers of albums released across the world, and he has won numerous awards. I gather he has worked on over 2000 albums. This is a huge honor, please welcome to the Phile... Mr. Bob Ludwig.

Me: Hello, Bob, welcome to the Phile. As I mentioned you must have worked on thousands of albums. Do you know how many you have worked on and do you actually get to meet the artists whose albums you mastered?

Bob: I usually do an album a day (plus singles, TV tracks, Instrumental tracks etc.) and I would say that one or two days a week are attended on average. Usually it is the producer or engineer who comes, so when an album is produced or co-produced by the artist, they often come. Bruce Springsteen has attended every album he has ever done while some artists never attend, it all depends. When I opened Gateway Mastering Studios in 1993 my business plan called for half the artists who attended in New York coming to Portland, Maine, but up until 9-11 we had many more artists attend then in New York. Since the recession and the collapse of the record industry there isn’t as much money for the travel budget as there used to be.

Me: For the Phile readers who don't know, can you explain what mastering is?

Bob: There are no musicians or microphones at our facility. Mastering is the final step in the record making chain. We determine the final sound of the CD or download you buy. The purpose of mastering is to maximize the musicality inherent in the mix we are given from the mix engineer. The non-classical albums are recorded with many tracks, it is mixed down to 2 or 6 for surround, then the question is asked, does it sound as good as it can possibly sound. Lucky for us there is usually something (or an awful lot) that can be done to add the final touch to the performance. Also, the mastering stage is often the place the editing for the final sequence of songs, the removal of unwanted noises or hiss, final fades determined plus other tasks. Once everything is artistically done and approved we remove our creative hat and put on our technician’s hat for quality controlling what was done and creating the master that will be sent in for CD replication or sent to iTunes for downloads. It is where the barcode and ISRC #s are put on and it is all very exacting.

Me: How did you first become an engineer? Was it something you wanted to do as a kid?

Bob: Ever since I was 8 I had a tape recorder, no biggie today, but unusual when I was young! I always loved pushing the record button, I still love it today. When I was in high school I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go into engineering or music. We had a supurb music program in our school (thank you Sonia, Allan and Walter!). Mr. Bramson, one of my teachers talked me into trying to get into the Eastman School of Music to continue my Trumpet playing and learn to be a music teacher. Of course, as soon as it was allowed I got a gig in the school’s recording department and recorded countless student and faculty recitals

Me: Do you actually play any instruments yourself?

Bob: I don’t think non-musicians should be mastering engineers. I was certainly not the best trumpet player at Eastman, but I did get a job as the Principle Trumpet for the Utica Symphony Orchestra. I accomplished a dream I had for a long time which was to play the high piccolo trumpet part on the incredible Bach B minor Mass. While at the Utica Symphony, the job came up and we played a few performances of it, it was even broadcast on the radio. After I completed my goal I was ready to move into engineering as a career.

Me: Are their any albums you mastered that you thought you couldn't wait for the job to be over? And on the flip side are there any records that you really loved working on?

Bob: Usually the music I work on is of very high quality and I can always admire a great performance or great production values. Of course there is some music I don’t like but I always give those projects 120% so I am positive I haven’t short-changed anyone. Our company slogan is “perfect is good enough”. So I seldom have a problem mastering a record, but there are some projects I have done with about 14 sets of revisions where one wishes the artist and producer would just get organized and make up their minds!! A project like that they just keep changing their minds and it costs them way more than it should have if they were origanized and willing to commit to a decision. I love a big selection of records I work on, I am extremely privileged. Who couldn’t love, Peter Wolf, The Band, Led Zeppelin, Steve Reich, Jimi Hendrix, Hall & Oates, Rush, The Rolling Stones, it goes on and on!

Me: Did you ever turn down a project?

Bob: I’ve turned down a lot of projects simply because my schedule is so full I’m working on weekends already which is a crime in the summertime in Maine.

Me: You're originally from New York, right? Where abouts and do you live there still?

Bob: I was born in Savannah, Georgia but grew up on a lake in beautiful Westchester County north of NY City. When I was an employee at A&R Recording, Sterling Sound and Masterdisk I lived in Riverdale, NY, then Englewood, NJ for a long time, then near Lincoln Center, then near the Ed Sullivan Theater and finally in Mount Vernon, NY before I moved to Portland, Maine. I visit NY whenever I need to go to the opera or some other great performance only found in New York City (as Boston has it’s own amazing symphony and other great concerts).

Me: My dad passed away when mp3's started to come out, so he never got to see iTunes. What do you think of the music industry now where CD's are hard to come by, and most people can just download music?

Bob: Of course CDs are still easy to come by especially when ordered on the net. We have Bullmoose Music in Portland and in other Maine cities. It is a fantastic independent music store that carries lots of music at often better than internet prices (and no shipping charges!) As someone who enjoys very contemporary classical music, the internet has been a fantastic boon, for the first time in my life I can order almost anything I want to hear. Having mastered most all of the original Foghat catalog as well as being a one time co-owner of the ill fated “Boogie Hotel” studio in Long Island that Foghat used to own, I miss your dad. Definitely a one-of-a-kind artist. I am sorry that culturally it became acceptable to steal, mostly through ignorance. However, now I don’t think there are many people who think it is legal to do it. People don’t realize that it is almost impossible to make a living as a producer, engineer or as an artist who does not tour. Even touring is hard to make money for most artists. In short, it is difficult for most artists to make a living in music which is a shame. Records used to have $250,000 budgets, now it is more like $50,000 if that. The days of the incredibly produced million dollar Steely Dan records is gone.

Me: You co-owned Boogie Motel Studios? Did you co-own it with Foghat? Did you go there often? The last time I was there was in '04 and it was some sort of museum or something.

Bob: In 1980-ish Ron, Don, Steve, Jeff and I bought Boogie Hotel in Port Jeff from Foghat and Tony Outeda. I was doing producing at the time as well as mastering and I did this fabulous Long Island Group named Vōg. They were signed to Radmus Productions which was part of radio Luxembourg and their album came out on RCA in Germany. I listen to live tapes of them today and I am still amazed especially by their bass player, Rennie Xosa (a true maniac)... in a good way!!! We were on a limited budget and I thought it might be a good idea to be part of
a studio where I could work for a long while with them fairly cheaply. I found out that owning a business where one is, not only just a partner, but not there 95% of the time and not in any sort of control is a very bad idea. I am the sole owner of Gateway Mastering Studios partially as a result of that!

Me: I know you're a very busy man, and I promised I wouldn't ask you a lot of questions, sir. Before I let you go are you currently working on anything at the moment?

Bob: I’m ALWAYS working on tons of stuff, I’m very lucky. The recent Peter Wolf and Natalie Merchant albums I did and the to-be-released Brian Wilson “Reimagines Gershwin” album are all not to be missed. Mastering engineers are the keepers of artists and record companies secrets. Often we get caught in between the two! So generally, unlike many studios, it isn’t wise for me to talk about unannounced and unreleased material.

Me: Do you have a website or anything you would like to plug?

Bob: is our site. Also check out the Producers and Engineers Wing of The Recording Academy:
Anybody who has been professionally involved with making records should join the Academy. Not only to vote on the Grammy Awards, but they do lots of philanthropic activities and they are VERY concerned with education. A wonderful organization. I confess I was co-chair of the P&E Wing for 5 years!

Me: Any advice you can give to a Phile reader who would love to get into recording?

Bob: Find a local band and find out how to get them to agree you let you record them. Interning at a studio is wonderful if you can find it. At Gateway we can’t allow interns or job shadowing due to security reasons. There are LOTS of BAD recording schools. Find a really good one like the Department of Recording Industry at Middle Tennessee State University, Berklee College, Boston, NESCOM, Bangor, Maine, McGill University, Montreal, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA, University of Miami, just to name a FEW,

Me: Thanks so much, I hope you enjoyed doing this, and thanks for all the hard work you have done. Bob, take care, and I hope to have you on the Phile again one day.

Bob: Thank you, I hope to come back!!

There you go, another entry of the Phile. I will be on vacation next week, I am going to New York City to see Squeeze and Cheap Trick at Radio City Music Hall, so the next entry of the Phile will be in two weeks on July 22nd with film maker Mark Edlitz who has a new documentary out called Jedi Junkies. Then in August we continue the Most Phantastic Summer Ever with the second annual Alumni Month. The first Alumni coming back to the Phile is the one and only Graham Parker. Wait, Graham is here. Graham, do you have anything to plug?

Graham: I guess I'll plug my next gig on July 11th, an open air event in Middletown, NY. It's a benefit for Mental Health. This was booked earlier in the year and despite knowing by then that the World Cup was to begin in June, I did not look down the line a bit to see when the final was. It is of course on July 11th! I'm supposed to be onstage at 5PM, which means I'll be driving to the venue in Orange County Park, Middletown as the final is being played. What a fucking idiot! Despite trying to get the horror of this concept over to my agent nothing seems to have been done and I may well take the stage to one clueless family and a mentally challenge Native American woman who will chant throughout my performance. Come to think of it, last time I played this benefit that was what my audience consisted of, so it's pretty much the same thing except I'll be missing the BLOODY WORLD CUP!!! GRRRRR! So, if you don't care about football, please come and cheers this idiot on.

Um, thanks, Graham. Well, that about wraps it up for another week. Like I said, the Phile will be back in two weeks. Thanks to Bob Ludwig for a great interview, Wikipedia, and of course Graham Parker. Spread the word, not the turd, don't like alligators and snakes bite you. Bye love you, bye.

1 comment:

california recording schools said...

A career as an audio engineer also requires mechanical skill, as engineers are often called upon to install and troubleshoot equipment in the recording studio. Technical knowledge with computers and computer software will be helpful, as well, since many studios rely on this technology for sound mixing and basic office administration tasks. california recording schools