I recently returned from attending the 147th AES Convention Oct-16th – 18th at the Javitts Center in New York. It was incredible! I haven’t felt this kind of excitement about my field in years! No one’s eyes glaze over at the topic of audio because EVERYONE was talking audio. Plug-ins, mics, DAWs, field solutions, workarounds. They’d lean in if you mentioned a tool that would be useful or a solution you hadn’t been able to crack. People were flinging out techniques and there wasn’t really room for anyone to try to dominate anything because there were thousands and thousands of people skilled in all different areas. What a high. This right here is why you put brainpower together.
I really can’t thank GCAC, the Greater Columbus Arts Council, enough for awarding me a Professional Development Grant this year. At first I was I was aiming to work with Eddie Kramer for a week at Studios La Fabrique in the Mix With The Masters program. They approved me then I saw the grand total bill. As a freelancer in the Midwest, if I had $4,000 laying around, I would use it on audio gear. I opted for the convention for a few reasons including professional development but also checking out if this was the solution to a lack of affiliation for professionals here. It’s whole situation I’ll post about if the end goal turns out to be a thing. I use to go to conventions regularly when I lived in Chicago. I still attend any and all industry-related events here but there just are not that many. It’s depressing if I think about it too long. I should have continued these jaunts once I got my footing here years ago. Anyway, workshops first:
“Opening Ceremonies / Awards / Keynote Speech” presented by AES President Agnieszka Roginska (New York University), Valerie Tyler (College of San Mateo), Jonathan Wyner (M Works Studios/iZotope/Berklee College of Music) and Keynote Speaker Grandmaster Flash. Awards to those who made outstanding contributions to the industry in areas of research and invention. Grandmaster Flash, an original voice of the hip-hop industry, shared some of his beat looping secrets and spoke of the changing face of music innovation and audio education.
“Evolution of Album Production from Started to Finish” with Gloria Kaba (engineer), Heba Kadry (mastering engineer), and Simone Toress (vocal producer), moderated by Terri Winston of Women’s Audio Mission. Of course I attended the female-led workshops because my career grew in an environment that was 2% female. It is now at a whopping 5% females in the industry. This panel discussed workflow, tracking, mixing, and the production process.
“Recording and Producing in Non-studio Spaces” presented by Keith Killen who engineered U2’s Unforgettable Fire album in a castle and Peter Gabriel’s So album in a converted cattle shed.This was moderated by Alex Case of the University of Massachusetts.
“For the Record: Engineering Prince” moderated by Leslie Ann Jones of Skywalker Sound with Presenters Lisa Chamblee, Sylvia Massy, Peggy McCreary, and Susan Rogers. This panel discussion was organized by Women’s Audio Mission and, to my delight, featured the female engineers who worked on Prince’s records throughout his career.
“The Loudness War is Over (If You Want It)” moderated by George Massenburg (Schulich School of Music, McGill University, Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology) and featuring panelists Serban Ghenea, Gimel “Guru” Keaton, Bob Ludwig (Gateway Mastering Studios, Inc.), Thomas Lund (Genelec), and Ann Mincieli (Jungle City Studios). This session covered the new face of the Loudness Wars, where engineers and producers hyper-compressed music so that it would play back louder than competing tracks. But with today’s streaming platforms, all music is normalized to standardized loudness levels. Unfortunately, the platforms (YouTube, Spotify, Bandcamp, Netflix, etc) have not agreed to a standard between one another but the specs are not too wide and hopefully AES can guide the industry to land on the same page and spare mastering engineers the time spent mastering for different platforms and save the musicians those costs.
There were over 350 brands represented on the exhibit floor and I walk through each booth, trying out the products and speaking with the reps. It was especially interesting to considered how these tools might help music hobbyists, professional musicians, engineers, or schools. Most of the buzz this year was around Dante. Dante is a network protocol that isn’t new but more brands are incorporating the protocol into their products and therein lies the buzz. And of course Virtual Reality mixing held as a strong future trend.
There were great products across the floor. I was really impressed with the ambisonic mics by Zylia which allows you to capture 360 degree audio. It’s actually 19 little digital mics in one unit. Access Analogue had an incredible idea and product where you can stream audio from your computer where it is processed and sent back in real time. And by processed, I mean run through expensive outboard audio gear controlled with robotic gears. So it’s cloud-based hardware for those who can’t afford $20,000 in outboard gear for $10 an hour. Genius. I could on about the products but basically there was a lot to learn.
I spent some time at the Audio Builders Workshop which grew out of a Boston AES section of engineers. They design DIY kits with downloadable lesson plans for classroom and workshop groups to learn to build audio equipment. I think this is a smart tool for learning curriculums.
Offsite, I attended the Island Records Anniversary 60th anniversary popup gathering at Dolby Atmos in SoHo. Here they showcased albums remastered in Dolby Atmos playing over 32 speakers. And later, a colleague gave us a tour of Sony where they actually calibrated my ears to listen to their 13.3 surround technology reproduced in headphones.
The entire experience was a wonderful opportunity and I am very grateful for GCAC affording me the opportunity to reconnect with the professional community on a larger level. I did not realize how much I missed taking in this amount of collective knowledge and have since been planning to make AES convention and/or NAMM a regular annual event. I also took away renewed energy in regards to my own mixes which were at a good place but not necessarily influenced toward improvement. I feel like nothing beats awareness of what others in the arena are achieving. Reminds me of certain plants that will only grow as big as the container they are planted in.