For singer/songwriter Jackson Browne, the 1977 live album "Running On Empty" represented a watershed. Known formally as a creator of haunting, evocative ballads recorded by other artists, "Running On Empty" allowed Browne to showcase his own talents, by creating a sonic tapestry of a barren life on the road. Browne's musical story of a road tour featured not only live arena recordings, but also intimate hotel room and lounge sessions - 10 songs of all-new material.
For recording and remix engineer Greg Ladanyi, the album "marked a pivotal point in my career." Eventually, he was involved as engineer/co-producer on two of the artist's albums - "Hold Out" and "Lawyers In Love" - as well as working later with Los De Abajo, Jaguares, Warren Zevon, Fleetwood Mac, Asia, Don Henley, Toto, and REO Speedwagon. (He won a Grammy for Best Engineered Album for "Toto IV".)
This past spring Ladanyi returned to the 24-year old tapes to prepare a 5.1-channel DVD-Audio mix of those classic tracks. Working at his private LA studio, Tidal Wave Entertainment, the producer/engineer brought in Rob Hill from Steinberg North America to co-engineer the session and oversee the use of a fully-loaded Steinberg Nuendo surround-sound workstation that handled inload, assembly and remixing of the 24/96 material. This project marked the first time Ladanyi had mixed in 5.1. "The album is a patchwork of various live performances," he offers, "with a loose, rough-edged feel. Working in 5.1 brings the listener into the total experience of the hotel rooms, the bus and lounges, putting them inside the music with Jackson and the band."
How were the tracks for "Running On Empty" recorded on the road?
Greg Ladanyi: The majority of the live dates were recorded to a Studer A80 24-track 2-inch at 30 ips, non-Dolby. Normally, we just took a line-level feed from the stage directly to each track, with not much control over levels. Jackson still owns that same [Studer] machine, so we went to his private studio, Groove Masters, to transfer the tracks directly into Nuendo at 24/96. We had around 150 reels of tape.
The concept for the "Running On Empty" live album was that it would be all-new original material - most of songs were being rehearsed the night before. At the beginning of "Running On Empty," for example, you can hear Jackson faintly having a conversion with Danny [Kortchmar, guitar player]. He sings the first line of the first verse to let him know what was going on, and then counts "one, two, three, four" into the song. You get to hear that on the DVD-A version. It's very special.
The hotel tracks [notably "The Road," recorded in Room #301 at the Cross Keys Inn, Columbia. MA, plus "Cocaine" and "Shaky Town," recorded in Room #124 at the Edwardsville, IL, Holiday Inn] were recorded with the Record Plan truck at 15 ips, non-Dolby. And "Nothing But Time" [tracked on a Continental Silver Eagle bus "somewhere in New Jersey"] was recorded on a Revox two-track because there was no room on the bus! It was a simple mix of Jackson and Danny [Kortchmar] on guitars, and Craig [Doerge] on Wurlitzer; we overdubbed bass drum - Russ [Kunkel] playing a cardboard box - and other percussion after bouncing the two tracks onto the Studer 24. But the lead vocals and guitars were all live.
At Groove Masters we used the studio's Neve 8078 console to give us a nice "warm" sound. We tested the signal path with and without the Neve and found that it warmed up vocals and guitar very nicely - added a little harmonic distortion. We used the Nuendo's A-to-D converters because we didn't have any others that sampled at 96 kHz; but they sound great!
Any problems with those vintage 24-track masters?
No, we just had to re-lube them; no baking of the tapes - it wasn't necessary.
All track assembly, editing, processing and mixing was performed within Nuendo?
Yes. It is a fully live recording. We broke out different elements to give us around 60 tracks. For example, we needed a guitar ride at a certain point, so we just copied that section to a spare track, processed it and wrote separate fader moves - it's a different way of making records.
We took some of the longer intros from the master tapes, and used some of it as ambience. The audience was miked with just two shotguns, so we didn't have too many options.
Aside from some outros and little conversations we picked up from the multitask masters, we followed the original running order and song lengths. No other songs were added. But we have material that is more audible on 5.1-channel DVD-A, because you have more discreet locations. On "Cocaine," "Shady Town," "Rosie" and " Nothing But Time" there are conversations amongst the band that you would not hear on the stereo versions, without it being really obvious.
Nuendo's automation is tremendous - the ability to create parts or passages by pasting and copying, setting and printing EQs and reverbs. All this is more exhausting on an analog console.
How did you set up for the 5.1-channel mix? What was sent where?
Our original idea for the album was to surround the listener with sound and to make it appear as if you were actually inside the experience - which means that the DVD-A can take full advantage of 5.1-channel playback. We mixed on Westlake monitors powered by Hafler amps. The LCR and surrounds are BBSM-5s, while the LFE is an Lc8.1 subwoofer.
For the live concerts we wanted to put the listener inside the audience - with the band coming from the front speakers, just as they would at the concert - while for the tracks recorded in hotel rooms [and on the bus] we wanted to duplicate the musicians' positions around the microphone, with the listener in the very center of room.
In terms of panning positions, we split the room in half horizontally. The front is not just the three [left, center and right] speakers, but it is now the front and halfway to the middle of the room. We can produce not just a linear mix with discrete speakers; now we can bring instruments into the room through delays and panning. We now have a 360-degree sound field, with full depth in any direction. We pan elements or create an ambiance to add size or impact. We can go way back in the front mix and way back in the rear; they are very separated.
There were creative challenges while treating the transitions from song to song, and even within songs. "The Road" begins in a hotel room, then mid-way it crossfades to the arena. You can feel the audience come up from underneath you, as the vocals move to the front speakers. It's a very dynamic record.
I don't like vocals just in the center and band left and right - it end up sounding odd, like a film mix. The center channel in not one of my favorite speaker positions. It creates an illusion of vocals and drums that makes them sound like they have these "spikes" on them that I don't particularly enjoy - it takes away from the track. For example, on drums I prefer to use my overheads as the main pickup, and then I will open up the mix on the snare and toms as I need them to make that hit be the attack and give presence. Vocals that I want to be in the center are first in the left and right, and then I open up the center to where it becomes clear and it doesn't have those "points."
What signal processing did you use? EQ, reverb and compression?
We had to clean up some buzzes on the bass track, for example, using tight EQ notches - you would not hear them in the stereo mix, but here with six channels you cannot hide them anymore. So we needed to do a little cleaning up.
I like to use compression as an "enhancer" of an overall performance. Particularly on vocals, bass and guitars, where it can bring up the bottom-end. I prefer to use compression rather than have to ride a track - it sounds more natural if you let the musicians balance the track rather than using the faders.
We used a lot of Steinberg reverb and ambiances, plus WAVES and TC Electronics plug-ins. The quantity of [all-digital] compressors available on Nuendo is amazing. For [the track] "Running On Empty" we had 58 tracks of 24/96 audio running with 16 compressors, 10 EQs, three reverbs plus a bunch of delays.
We used different mix techniques, capturing early reflections from the recording environment and placed them in the mix to add a reality around the audience. The TC Electronics and WAVE plug-ins gave is a palette of ambiences.
We also used an [outboard] TC M6000 processor. You can select the point of origin for the reverb [in the surround -sound environment], and then create separate early reflections from one position and late reflections from another. The M6000's eight busses let us move the reverb sends anywhere into the sound field and then, using mixes of early and late reflections, control where - and how - the reverb leaves it. You have full control over the reverb pattern, with dynamic pan. The delay patterns we created for the drum fill on "Running On Empty" sound great.
You honored the positions the band took on stage?
Yes, but in live arena the sound becomes a mono wash in the sound system - the brain sorts out the directions from visual cues. But we needed to create a definite sense of direction since you are not looking at the band. We retained that placement consistently form track to track. Danny is always over here, Leland over there - that was very important.
But for the live hotel recordings we had the musicians in a circle. During "Shaky Town" the drums come out of the rear speakers, because that was the layout [consults vintage black & white photograph from the date]. Danny is playing acoustic guitar in the front and Jackson is sitting off on side of room. We wanted to replicate that room layout.
On "The Road," we start backstage in an intimate rehearsal room and then move seamlessly into [The Saratoga Performing Arts Center]. Originally, Jackson is in the front and David Lindley is in the back - so the audience is enveloped in guitar, sitting between these guys. And then we come to the cross fade, where you feel the audience come up from underneath you and drum fill takes you into the remainder of the song. The position of each musician transitions through the listener to their respective locations on-stage. Which we could not do without the Nuendo's multi-channel panning and the TC Electronics reverb. We also shifted audience mics in time to correct the delay and give us the ambience we were after.
For consistency, we retained the same basic reverb patterns with minor differences when we needed them as added "flavors." But each song was recorded at a different arena, so why make them all sound the same?
What made you choose the Steinberg Nuendo for mixing and processing?
I met with the Steinberg Team last January at the NAMM show in Anaheim. Jackson was talking about re-releasing the album in surround sound. I knew about the Nuendo because Roy Kaplan from DTS had clued me in. I needed a full-on 24/96 workstation - Pro Tools couldn't handle 96, and I not familiar with SADiE. Nuendo has all the connectivity; all the plug-ins. It has powerful editing and all the surround-sound functionality we needed - I didn't want to use an external console for any mixing.
Nuendo is very easy to operate. You can change system parameters and plug-in settings in real-time while a song is running, and hear [the results of] what you are changing - the is no stopping, just like in the analog world. And its offers unlimited undo and a history-process window - you just go back to the beginning of project, all while Nuendo is running. [Ladanyi mixed "Running On Empty" using a dual-Pentium III/1 GHz PC outfitted with 512 MB of RAM. The configuration included three Nuendo 8-I/0 24-bit AD/DA, and two Nuendo 9652 PCI Audio Cards with a full complement of plug-ins.]
Did you prepare a separate stereo mix for the DVD-Audio? Or just let the down-mix parameters take care of that?
We made a separate stereo mix rather that letting [the DVD-A player] do the down-mix, because we found it was a compromise. Balances do not have the same relationship if they are mixed by numbers. So we did a separate balance with virtually identical EQ. With Nuendo, you can have both the 5.1 and stereo projects open simultaneously and then A-B between them.
We compared the original and new stereo mixes, and they matched pretty well. Which was our intention. But the running times are slightly different, because some songs were slightly longer on the DVD-A - but not by a lot. We extended some of the conversations - for instance we added some things on "Nothing But Time" - but nothing dangerous.
What about the LFE or "0.1" bass channel?
It is my belief that all playback speakers must be able to handle full bandwidth; the subwoofer is there for embellishments. Not all of the playback audience will have the 0.1 channel - I needed to make sure that the mix carries the low energy in the other five speakers. Our LFE was fed from a Nuendo auxiliary send and connected via a 120 Hz low pass filter.
I also use the subwoofer as an effect - on a lot of the endings for this album I will make that last hit come as a massive push from the subwoofer. It create the rumble of the loud crowd.
If you could have gone back to 1977 and tracked more elements for this DVD-A, what extras would you have recorded?
Six to eight mics in the audience for ambience pickup. My room miking in the hotel would have been different. The rooms were pretty small with everybody sitting opposite one another. I used two overhead mics; I would like to have used probably four bussed to separate tracks.
For drums, the miking probably would not have changed, because I like to keep it simple. And we had to close-mike everything to reduce leakage from the stage. But one reason the record sounds so good was because we used small amplifiers and kept the sound on the stage as low as possible. But still letting the band play at a good level so that they were making a live record and not just playing in a "live" studio.
Since the stage and monitor levels were not out of control, we could get good vocal, drum and instrument sounds. We used mono magnetic pickups on the piano that we could have replaced, but in general the sound was tight and realistic.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on a new Pat Green album currently in production for release on Universal Records, and we are awaiting the new Yes album for a DVD-A remix in 5.1.