- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

Sound engineer Bob Dawson spends up to 60 hours a week turning knobs and pressing buttons in the recording studio he runs in Springfield. He listens to performers and their recorded material, and then he listens some more.
His attention to detail allows him to work with some of the best local and national musicians, such as country singer Mary Chapin Carpenter.
"I remember when she recorded the tune 'I am a Town' for the CD 'Come On, Come On,'" the producer says. "It was about an eight-hour session. The whole band played. We recorded it live. When it was done, I told her that it was more vivid than a movie. Her voice has accessibility. You can connect with it."
Sound is big business. The international recording industry makes about $40 billion each year, the Recording Industry Association of America reports. Before disc jockeys play songs such as Miss Carpenter's on the radio, music-industry professionals produce and engineer them. They capture the music in the perfect acoustic setting with the best instruments and microphones available. Needless to say, it's not as simple as it sounds.
Mr. Dawson, president of Bias Recording in Springfield, says his ability to help musicians reach their goals in the recording studio comes from years of experience. The Washington Area Music Association has recognized him five times as best recording engineer and one time as best producer. The Grammy Foundation, which honors excellence in the recording arts and sciences, nominated him five times for Grammy Awards as producer of best children's musical recording.
"Producing and engineering are not like playing an instrument, where you go warm up and then go do it," he says. "It's something you bring to the table whenever you're in there."

Strictly speaking, an engineer pushes buttons and leaves the value judgments to the producer, Mr. Dawson says. A producer steers clear of the recording console but tells the engineer and others in the studio exactly what to do.
"But neither of those two extremes usually happen," says Mr. Dawson, who has combined the responsibilities while working with musicians.
One constant: During a nearly 30-year career, Mr. Dawson has never had a view of the great outdoors. Windows are forbidden in recording studios because they let in too much noise.
"You could come into work, and it would be a beautiful day, and you'd go out and there could be six inches of snow, and you'd never know it," he says.
Not only does Mr. Dawson's studio lack windows, it also eschews parallel surfaces, which allow sounds to bounce back and forth from wall to wall.
"The frequency response in these rooms is smooth, without peaks or valleys, which is what makes the room accurate," he says. "What you are hearing is really what's there. Nothing will be emphasized. Without the special design, it would sound like a living room, with sounds bouncing everywhere."
Mr. Dawson says internationally renowned designer Tom Hidley, who specializes in acoustic architecture, designed Bias' two-studio operation. Each studio is self-contained, with separate floors, walls and ceilings for each room. Each studio also has its own air-conditioning system. Separate structures provide the sound isolation needed for recording. Different power transformers for the studios reduce the chance of outside interference. Each studio features a ceiling made of five layers of drywall, chipboard and Celotex, which is used as an insulation product.
"You could scoop the whole room of either studio out of the larger building," Mr. Dawson says. "The heat has never been turned on in either of the rooms. Since we leave the equipment on all the time, the heat from it is enough to keep the room warm. The air conditioning runs all year round. There is also no common ductwork from room to room. Each lined duct takes three 90-degree bends before it comes into the rooms so sound isn't bounced through the duct."

Studio A holds a Yamaha conservatory grand piano, a Hammond C-3 organ, a Yamaha custom drum kit and a Fender Rhodes piano. Studio B contains a Yamaha grand piano and a Slingerland drum kit.
Each studio features an Automated Processes Inc. console, which is the central control panel. Both use 24-track analog recorders with noise reduction and up to 32-track digital recorders. Digital recording stores sound as data, while analog recording converts it into electrical signals and stores it in its entirety. A byproduct of analog recording is tape hiss, which is removed through noise reduction.
"To me, analog captures more of the reality of the performance than digital does," Mr. Dawson says. "It's warmer. It's sweeter. To me, digital is grainy and brittle, but it's improving. The tapes for digital also are cheaper."
Jim Robeson, Bias Recording engineer and producer, says the edgy sound of digital can be improved by recording to analog first. He uses a digital audio workstation called Digital Performer through the Macintosh G4 computer. It offers one of the most precise methods to record in the professional recording world, using a broad dynamic range.
Mr. Robeson occasionally uses Musical Instrument Digital Interface to connect keyboards to one another and to his computer. This allows for greater musical choices.
"Ninety percent of my job is on the computer," he says while watching sound waves go across the screen. "I fight real hard to keep it human when using digital."

Lynn Morris of Winchester, Va., a client of Bias Recording, says that when she comes to the studio to record, she doesn't want to think about the technical aspects of the job. She is the bandleader of a bluegrass group, the Lynn Morris Band, which records on Rounder Records.
"I have experience running live sound systems on shows, but this is so much more sophisticated," she says while working on her fifth CD with Mr. Robeson. "Each time I go into the studio, I try to do a better job than the last time. Recording is nothing you take lightly. You get a lot of sleep before you come in."
Miss Morris says performing onstage feels completely different from recording in a studio.
"It used to be that you go to a studio and record performances, but now you go in the studio and perform recordings," she says. "A mistake onstage is just a moment. Unless you make a big deal about it, the audience won't know. The standard for recorded work has risen to a phenomenal level."
Mike Griffith, engineer at Bias Recording, says personal communication with clients is as important as any technical know-how. "Good people skills are part of what it takes to do this work," he says. "An artist has a particular vision. You need to provide the best service possible."
Mr. Griffith says he loves being paid to help create something with a performer.
"You're not the artist, but you're part of the process," he says. "The palette of what you can do with sound is incredible. It's become more and more like painting a picture. The learning curve with the technology is pretty steep. It's a whole new language."
In the studio, industry professionals toss around terms such as "reverb unit," "delay unit," "compressor" and "limiter," Mr. Griffith says. Reverb units create different ambient environments in a recording, such as making a piano recorded in a small room sound as if engineers recorded it in a large hall. Delay units slow a sound signal to create the impression of an echo. Compressors squeeze its dynamic range, while limiters control its peak.
Despite all the bells and whistles a recording studio provides, Mr. Griffith says if performers lack the ability to sing or play well, sound engineers can't hide their flaws that much.
"There's nothing to substitute for good players and good tones," he says, "but a commercial studio does need sound-manipulation devices."
Sound engineers and producers also cannot rely completely on the comforts of a recording studio. Mr. Griffith says they must train themselves to discern every little noise that sneaks through the studio speakers.
"After all is said and done, it still comes down to your ears," he says. "If you don't have the ears, the technology is not going to help."

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