Universal Audio plug-ins, and some notes on DAWs

This is a boring post, but I had to write some quick quips about them, and ended up writing more. They may use some of this in Mix Magazine, I’m not sure.

Universal Audio is an awesome company, by the way, and they are in Santa Cruz. I’ve used their hardware in studios for years and years, and in the past couple of years starting using their plug ins in ProTools* (my DAW of choice for 23+ years now, ever since first using Sound Designer II)

Let me see if I can recall all of the UA plugins I have used. It’s daunting because there are so many that are so good. The UA system has replaced so many other things that I used too use in ProTools, and in Bias-Inc’s Peak (yes I know Peak is done. I’m still sad. Find me another good stereo mastering editor!)

For tracks, I have been really happy with the Neve 1073, and the Neve 88RS Channel Strip, partially because it’s funny to me to go back to using these things that we used as hardware all those years ago and then tried to compensate for for years in the digital realm. But, let me be clear, these and many of the EQs in this collection can be pretty extreme—and that’s exactly what I want. I like the presets that UA supplies as well, they are easily understood by name and offer great starting places to learn their plugins. The Pultec Pro EQ is another that emulates exactly its hardware counterpart, and can be more subtle than the Neves.

For compression, I’ve always liked the LA-2A and LA-3A, and the UA plugin versions are no exception here. It’s somewhat astounding to have these as accurate digital plugins, and also the Fairchild. I know a lot of plug in makers have been trying for great compression for digital for years, and we have always kept tracking with our old hardware. I don’t have the Apollo system, just the UAD-2 system, so I’ve been tracking very literally and then using the UA plugins to “fix” things. You can hear this (maybe. Actually, I hope you don’t notice!) on any overdubs on the recent Camper Van Beethoven album “La Costa Perdida.”

Some other things we’ve discovered have been worked with in the rough mix and demos for this album, and other things we’ve been working on. Some of the demos are actually going to be B-Sides.

Anyway, here’s some fun things. The EMT plate reverbs are nearly perfect, as is the Roland Space Echo. But in mixing, something that we’ve been doing is *not* using them as an aux buss, but putting them directly on the tracks. As in, multiple instances of plates or tape echoes at different depths or speeds. Yeah! In roughs I’ve used the Little Labs Voice of God on both bass and kick drum, and actually printed processed tracks of some of these for use in mixes. We liked the Cooper Time Cube so much, that we used an actual hardware one on vocals in the mixing of some of the tracks.

Now, outside of CVB, when I was tracking at Decibelle in San Francisco way back in 2010 (I think?) for my last album “All Attractions” (we also tracked all of “Apricot Jam” that same weekend) the engineer J.J. Wiesler was using the UA Studer A800 multichannel tape deck on the drums to monitor them. Wow! I had never heard anything like it, we were going for a very 70s drum sound and that just took it over the top. That was initially when I decided I needed the UA stuff. Needless to say much of All Attractions and Apricot Jam (the bonus disc – all jamming…) benefitted from the UAD-2 in overdub tracking and then in mixing at Chris Xefos’ Governor’s Mansion Studio in San Francisco.

I also do a lot of music for dance companies (and some for film) and I end up mixing and mastering it myself (which I know isn’t great, but it’s a financial thing. And I admit I’m not the greatest mastering ears – though I think my mixing is good…) Anyway, in these situations, I do try to scope out what sort of room the music would be played in, but in all cases, I have ended up using the Ampex ATR-102 and the UA Precision Mastering Bundle. You can hear this in several things on the music.jsegel.com page, including The Space Between Stars.

The Precision Mastering bundle has been a real help to me, again the presets provide completely comprehensible starting points, and quality of the EQ, compression and limiting is outstanding. I am certainly not looking for maximum loudness, especially with music for modern dance, I want maximum listenability, which for me means hearing all the parts and having the overall mix sound smooth and present in all frequency areas. I have been getting close to achieving this using this suite.

* re: Pro Tools.

I know, I know, it’s owned by Avid and may die, or whatever, and many people like many other things. I’ve tried Logic. Can’t get into it, can’t see how to edit audio properly. And it is too much like Garageband, which I absolutely hate the sight and sound of, but with maybe too many layers. I’ve tried Cubase, similarly can’t get into it. Both of these seem to be extremely geared toward MIDI and/or looping, which to me is getting more and more away from making music. I used to use Ableton Live, and I still do occasionally, but not for editing or mixing music. The whole Garageband idea of making music from other people’s prerecorded loops just makes me sick these days. I used to think that it would be cool to make music from samples, but now whenever I hear music made out of other music and looped, it sounds fake and plastic to me. Very fast-food type of nutrition, if you can pardon the analogy. So I’m not interested.

I have used Ardour in Linux. It was, well, OK. Still, for me, nothing comes close to what I can do in ProTools. I started on the path of sequencers way back in the 1980s with Digital Composer & Performer and Vision. Vision was an amazing MIDI sequencer. I really wish that had not been killed when Opcode was bought (by Gibson?) And I have so many chamber music scores lost in the file-type that Digital Composer used, unreadable now even by the later MOTU software.

So I do use MIDI and virtual instruments, of course. And I’m happy with the way ProTools has stepped up and made this better lately. One thing to note, however, is that I map our songs to what the drummer played! We don’t map the drums to the set grid. So I make a bar-by-bar grid for every song, even if it’s just to see the tempo shifts.

musician. real person. that's my real name, go ahead, look me up.

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