by Steve Levine
For almost three years I have been involved with “The Record Producers,” an ongoing BBC Radio 2 and 6 music documentary series.
The program features interviews with a range of hit-making producers including Hugh Padgham (Sting, XTC, Phil Collins); Trevor Horn (Seal, Pet Shop Boys), Tony Visconti (David Bowie, The Moody Blues) and Jam & Lewis (Michael Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Usher).
Brian Wilson, left, with Steve Levine following the recording of a segment for the BBC Radio 2 & 6 series ‘The Record Producers.’ Photo by Hank Linderman Just recently, I completed the 13th episode, an in-depth interview with Brian Wilson, a dear friend with whom I have worked with on a number of recording projects over the years.
To ensure optimum sound quality for these interviews, I have been working with a variety of Sonnox Oxford Plug-Ins, which have proved valuable in improving the sound quality and intelligibility of our interviews. Early this year Sonnox introduced the SuprEsser, to “clean up extraneous sibilance.” I have found that tool particularly helpful in many instances.
For those unfamiliar with Sonnox, it was formerly a part of Sony. Based in Oxford, England and known as Sony Oxford, it was responsible for the development of a number of digital audio products, including the legendary Sony OXF-R3 “Oxford” digital console. In April of 2007 Sonnox was spun off from Sony and became independent (retaining a number of key personnel and engineering talent).
The essential element of my production process is to capture my location recordings as cleanly and as dry as possible using a Korg MR-1000 mobile recorder. Consequently, in editing the interviews, there are several opportunities to engage the plug-ins.
Steve Levine. Photo by Rosie Levine For basic edits I focus on the Oxford EQ. This is a five-band fully parametric EQ with LF and HF filters. It includes four different sounding EQ types; fully expanded HF response; a novel coefficient generation and intelligent processing design which surpasses analog EQ in sound quality and artistic freedom. I use it primarily to make minor adjustments, e.g. when the interview subject moves closer to or farther from the mic.
If I discover a more complex problem, I engage the Oxford Dynamics plug-in, or other methods for “acoustic surgery.” For example, if the original recording location was compromised by background noise, I try to reduce as much of that intrusive sound as possible. I find Dynamics greatly benefits my edits and final mix. If the background noise changes over an edit, it can distract the listener from the subjects point. I use a few methods for this process, starting with the Oxford Expander, to try to push the background noise down a little bit.
Occasionally I use the sidechain in the Dynamics compressor to reduce a specific background noise. For example, if the room is boomy, I can boost that frequency in the same way I would de-ess, and the compressor can pull it back. It is really a great tool for that.
Once I am satisfied with the basic sound, I will use the EQ for a touch of brightness and midrange. Also, with interviews, I tend to roll out a bit of the low end as well, for the rumble. I rate EQ extremely high on my list of editing tools.
The Oxford SuprEsser plug-in available in RTAS, AU and VST iterations; it is a highly-featured professional de-esser and a dynamic EQ. It offers a basic mode for quick fixes, and an advanced mode for increased functionality and fine-tuning. I learned about it soon after it was introduced, and have found a number of ways of working with it.
A good illustration is a problem we encountered at the beginning of an interview on a recent show. The subject started chatting to me straight away, while the main recording rig was being set up. Luckily, we were running a little handheld recorder that captured the first few moments of the interview.
RescuedSonnox SuprEssor Plug-in
- Powerful processing engine for glitch-free performance
- GUI allows for precise work
- Available in several popular plug-in formats
Interestingly, there were some great comments in those first few seconds, so I needed to keep those. The SuprEsser was fantastic for getting rid of the horrible room sound that the microphone had picked up, since it was one of those built-in recorders with the mic on top. Because the SuprEsser has a graphic display, I could really narrow in on the problematic frequency.
We resolved the problem efficiently just by boosting the room frequency (around 400 Hz) to find where it was, then literally sucking it out.
I have been using SuprEsser quite a bit. It is powerful; it’s also helpful in that it allows you to listen to either the full mix, the “inside” output of the band-pass filter alone or the “outside” output of the band-reject filter. It allows me to really hear exactly what the SuprEsser is doing to my audio, and at which frequencies.
In music production I tend to A/B between the four EQ types but I am partial to Type 1. Of the four, it has the most flexible control ranges. I particularly like the fact that the cut and boost curves are exactly the same. The Oxford is an extremely powerful EQ, and I use it on many different things because each type has unique characteristics. If I have a really broad curve they can easily emulate the “aggressive” tone of an API or Neve. Actually, the curve responses on the Type 1 EQ are very much like those of an SSL 4000 E console.
The EQ can also be used for a subtle high-fidelity enhancement similar to the sound of the GML 8200 equalizer. The analogy of a painter selecting a range of colors from his palette and a sound engineer working with a variety of technical options to enhance the nuances of his audio is valid.
I have found a considerable difference in my overall plug-in approach between my music production and radio work. When I’m working with bands, I run in traditional multitrack mixer form, with 64 discrete digital outputs going into 64 of the 96 digital inputs on my Yamaha DM 2000 console. However, when I am doing my radio program, I mix internally because I am dealing with a smaller number of sources. Sonnox Oxford plug-ins have made my editorial work considerably easier. And, they have greatly improved the sound of the material that goes on air. The SuprEsser in particular is something of a miracle tool.
Steve Levine is a Grammy Award-winning pop music and radio program producer. He was one of the first producers to buy a digital multitrack. His credits include The Beach Boys, Ziggy Marley, Stevie Wonder and three multi-platinum records for Culture Club.