Last autumn we were contacted by a young music student, Will Getz. He was asking all kinds of details about technology behind Mixanalog, sounding almost like a tech spy. ;) However, he was just a very curious and eager audio engineer learning about new music tech and writing his final graduation thesis.
I talked to Will a day after his graduation. He shared many interesting thoughts about the learning process, research and his view on audio engineering.
I really enjoyed reading the thesis and interestingly it’s quite technical for an arts school. Can you tell me more about the program that you just finished?
It's a sound engineering arts program at William Paterson University, New Jersey. It's a 4 year program for a bachelor’s degree - a bachelor of music. In a program you either study classical or jazz music for the first two years. There it’s all about the fundamentals of music, music theory and ear training, music history, taking lessons in classical or jazz and playing in ensembles.
Then towards the end of the second year you start getting into all of the recording techniques. There’s 4 levels of sound engineering where you learn everything from setting up the stage or a room, recording, mixing and mastering. Then in the final year you have to complete a project where you have to research a new technology in the audio industry and present it to the other students.
That’s a very fine combination of both musical and engineering worlds.
Yes, they connected it very well. I love the program so much and it doesn't even matter what track you are on (classical or jazz). You get an opportunity to record all types of genres. I'm really into rock music, so I got to record so many rock bands, jazz ensembles, just a whole bunch of different groups. It’s really great.
Did you do any recording or mixing before going to university?
I had a little experience before school. I had my Macbook and a Digidesign interface but I didn’t really know anything. It was just in my basement, I would have my friends come over and plug in some mics. Nothing really too great ever came out of it but it’s kinda how I got into that stuff. I knew I wanted to do recording but to think of how much I learned in the last 4 years it’s just such a difference in where I’ve gotten to.
I’m guessing that going to school wasn’t just the upgrade in knowledge. What kind of equipment could you use at school?
We have the opportunity to work with both hardware and plugins. We have two really great control rooms. When you are a sophomore (second year student) you start in a control room B. That room is all outboard gear, there is no console. So, it’s all 500 series preamps, EQs, compressors and then a couple racks of delays and reverbs and things like that.
Then when you are a junior (third year student) you get into control room A which has an SSL Duality which is like… yea, it’s a great console! And we have a lot of outboard gear there too. What comes to mind is Distressors, Neve compressors, some TC Electronics reverbs and then we have a 24 track Atari tape machine in there so the first project you do as a junior is on a tape.
They also have a lot of plugins at school too, all the Waves stuff and Fabfilter and Soundtoys… lots of great stuff. But I was always mostly patching into analog gear.
You know the studios in and out.
Haha, yes. It’s a combination of two things really. I was elected to be the president of the sound engineering officers - students who work with the advisor of the program to oversee and manage the studio. And I was living there on the campus so anytime the studio was free I would be able to go over and use it. It was really great.
Sounds like you didn’t really need Mixanalog?
Well… I engineered an album for part of my senior project with a rock band and we did it all with the Atari and SSL and then I got to master it with your stuff (Mixanalog). All together it's really cool.
From your perspective, why would someone use plugins when they have access to analog gear?
It’s an interesting question. I think maybe just… either for convenience and not being ready to commit to something or sometimes there’s just a plugin that doesn’t really exist as hardware, or at least for us.
For example, on the SSL I would always get my EQ and compression on the way in. I love to do that. But then there would always be some things that I wasn’t sure about. In that case I would use the plugin EQ so I could take the files, bring them onto my laptop and then when I’m in my apartment I can make adjustments if I’m not sure about something. And there are some plugins out there that are really great, that do something different than the outboard gear. It's really great to use both of them.
What would you say was for you the most important takeaway from your research and thesis?
I guess the fact that I was able to do it, haha. Just finding something to write about was really daunting but once I found the company and once all that great information Bojan (founder) shared with me I really felt confident that I was gonna be able to turn it into a paper.
But I think the biggest takeaway was not so much knowing how the technology worked but seeing the difference in how the real hardware responds when you run an audio through it. And then I did a small survey with some engineers and some non engineers and that kinda proved that there is a big difference. I mean, I heard it for myself but I wasn’t sure if that would translate to other people and it did.
When you say “seeing the difference” - are you referring to seeing graphs in an analytics tool or hearing it?
I mean both. With Fabfilter I compared your Mixanalog Fairchild hardware to the Waves Puigchild plugin. I could definitely hear the difference but I wanted to use a visual EQ to support that idea that I did hear a difference and you could definitely see it on the graph. All the low end was so much higher with the real hardware. I used a word “character” to describe this and a lot of people I surveyed would use the same word. They would say “oh, it sounds thicker” or “it has more character” or “it sounds real”.
Is there any advice you would give to other engineers about Mixanalog?
Try Mixanalog for yourself and if you like outboard gear in general more than plugins I think you would definitely like it. My advice would be: try it and don’t be afraid to use analog gear even if you haven’t used it before. Because I think Mixanalog makes it really accessible to engineers like me who don’t own outboard gear. You know, not everyone has a Fairchild.
You used the word “afraid”. Why do you think people get afraid of analog gear?
I think a lot of modern engineers that just have a home studio and an interface don’t have experience using analog gear. And if they were in a studio they might not know how to use it, how to patch into different gear, what to do with a tape machine and all that. You always need someone in a studio to show you how it’s all wired together and how to do things. If you’re on your own that can be challenging and a lot of people would just rather load a plugin then.
So I think the fact that you guys have made… i don’t know what to call it… but it’s almost like using a plugin when you are using Mixanalog because of the way that you use the mouse to turn the knobs. But it’s not a plugin! It’s real gear without the disadvantage of owning the real gear. So I think engineers and producers should go for it to hear the sound difference.
What are your plans now that you graduated?
Well, for right now I’m just hoping this pandemic ends so that I can get back out and back doing what I love.
I’d love to find a studio to work at. I’m really into live stuff as well, so I would love to work for a venue. I was already working as a stage hand but I’d love to become a mix engineer at the venue for concerts and events.
And then eventually I would love to build my own studio and build my clientele.
Do you prefer studio or live engineering?
Well, I want to do more studio stuff but I just don’t know if I’ll be able to make a living out of it. It is definitely harder to get paying work in a studio than it is in a concert scene right now.
I’m more of a studio guy than a live guy I think. I like the studio environment more because you’re creating something. Even if you are not performing, the engineer has such an impact on how the music sounds. Live is... Once it’s over it’s over. But a recording is timeless.
Is your wish to stay in your area and build a studio there or to move somewhere else?
The studio scene in northern New Jersey is really big, there’s a lot of studios. But a lot of them are run by older adults and so there’s really a desire for younger engineers. There’s a market for them because there’s a lot of young bands that want to work with someone their age. So I really see an opportunity to open something in that area.
I wish you all the best with that! For someone so young you show a lot of knowledge and wisdom. It will be exciting to see your career develop.
The whole thesis is available here. If you have a studio that is looking for a young aspiring engineer we would love to put you in contact with Will!