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Letters from Our Readers
At the risk of sounding like I'm promoting a vested interest, I'll request that you devote a bit more attention to the engineers who work in the genre in which I mostly dwell: jazz. Even though jazz and classical combined only make up about five percent of the U.S. music market, there are some highly skilled folks doing quality work, often with the challenges of tight budgets and - at least in my region (NYC) - real estate prices squeezing studio spaces. I bet many Tape Op readers who work in other genres can relate. The traditional aesthetic values of much jazz recording - fidelity to the timbres and dynamics of acoustic instruments, capturing real-time musician interaction, limited or no overdubs - may also be of interest. There's also a fair amount of on-location recording in clubs and concert venues occurring, as artists try to cope with the turbulent model changes of the business. I'd love to read interviews with some of the "been there, done that" folks, like James Farber and Joe Ferla, as well as people like Jon Rosenberg and Jimmy Katz (also an accomplished photographer) who have done a lot of work in challenging on-location settings.
I really love your magazine articles. I have been in the biz full-time for almost 50 years. Because I am not a musician, I sometimes have a hard time relating to the very fickle and flaky minds of most musicians. This past May, guitar player and producer Deke Dickerson brought in the original Minnesota group The Trashmen ("Surfin' Bird" fame 1963). We tracked 11 live surf-type, songs including a new version of "Surfin' Bird." The previous year they'd tracked eight songs in my studio for the album, to be released soon. I felt very privileged. Thanks for making such a great magazine. I have every copy. Even after several years I still find great information when I read them again.
Congratulations on Vijith Assar's great article on Playing for Change [Tape Op #96]. That's the kind of long-form, let's-talk- about-all-aspects-of-this-thing interview that the other American magazines can't run anymore because they've gotten so small and have to cram so many topics into so few pages. Assar is an asset - I've enjoyed his work in the past, but this is one to be proud of.
I've been reading Tape Op like a junkie the last few issues and I'm slowly realizing I want to give producing live music a shot. I have been producing music electronically for a couple of years and I really enjoy it, but I feel a much greater attraction to the analog/human side of music. I'm just trying to wrap my head around all the changes in my workflow I'd have to make, what gear to buy, and what kind of setting to place myself into.
That's a tall order for a letters section of a magazine. I'd say read more (books, mags, and online). Get out and see if you can sit in on a few sessions at a studio where this very thing is happening. You'll know soon enough if this world is calling you!
I was stoked to read that Jeff Powell [Tape Op #95] reincarnated the cutting lathe at Ardent Studios in Memphis. Larry Nix mastered and cut two efforts for my band, Calculated X, in 1980-81. Reading more about cutting in the article made me aware of what we discussed back then about our 3-song, 12-inch EP. I believe Larry's comment was that the grooves were so far apart that the bass was greatly enhanced. If I'm not mistaken he said he cut them deeper than most? This is where it becomes vague in my understanding of the process. I look forward to my copy of Tape Op every month. The adverts are educational as well - freakin' gear heaven!
I have been reading your magazine ever since I bought a copy of the Tape Op, Vol.1 book. It's always entertaining and informative, and definitely guides me in some of the purchases I make for my modest studio setup. It makes me a better musician too. Hope you are doing well and continue publishing for many years to come.
As Tropical Storm Andrea dumps a bunch of rain on us, I got to thinking about how to go about insuring a recording studio. An Internet search returns several results from companies I've never heard of. Any recommendations? Who do you and your studio-owning associates trust?
At Welcome to 1979, we have always had our insurance through Joe Montarello's Recording Studio Insurance Program. As someone with experience in the music industry, Joe understands the unique coverage needs of a studio and has developed an insurance plan catered specifically to studios. You can learn more about this insurance program here: <www.capitalbauer.com/studio.aspx>.
They will all promise that they can insure a studio, but don't believe them. Unless the program is explicitly written for a recording studio, run away. We had a policy that promised to cover us. It was a major carrier, but when our production Pro Tools computer was damaged from a water problem, the adjuster claimed it was just "an Excel machine" and that the depreciated value was $300. Never mind that it was a top end Mac (in its day) loaded with RAM, HD Cards, and hard drives. Our new carrier views our production computer (or our 2-inch machine) as the heart of our studio. If something happens, we get a replacement that is the current equivalent of our machine - total replacement coverage (less any deductible, of course). They also understand that we might have remote jobs, clients who have equipment temporarily on site, and vintage microphones. Every policy is different, but someone who REALLY understands our business is a major deal, should you ever have to file a claim.
I trust the agents and companies that have performed well in the past for me. Catch-22, but there it is. Some facts: The kinds of insurance available in your area will vary. Replacement? Loss of business? Present value? The types of insurance from each company will vary. Agents can be a) Independent, or b) Associated with one company. Neither is better or worse. Talk to any and all agents you can, and learn as much as possible. An insurance claim hinges on details, so read all about what they offer and restrict. I really wish there was an easy answer to your question, but there isn't. It's all about research and gathering facts. Have all your figures and values at hand - you will be asked, since this will affect your premium.
I am guessing my answer will be the same as many here: Joe Montarello at the Studio Insurance Program. Recording studios are specialized businesses and require someone who understands their particular requirements. If something like an expensive vintage console is damaged or ruined, we don't want an insurance company to offer to replace it with a cheap modern mixer! Joe's program also can include insurance to cover lost business, the cost of relocation and build-out, etc. Here's hoping none of us ever need those services!
My one piece of advice is to make sure you get business interruption insurance. It's bad enough to lose gear, but fixing and rebuilding costs a lot. You can't work while doing those things, and neither can anyone you may have on staff. When Stratosphere Sound had a fire in our first location in 1999, we were a mere week away from having this insurance. Things would have turned out far better for the two of us who were left jobless. The studio ended up being closed for the better part of two years and I, as the only staff engineer, was on my own until the studio started rebuilding almost a year and a half later (opening just in time for September 11th). Here's to hoping you never need to use the insurance though!
Most insurance companies have no understanding of what goes into building and outfitting a recording studio, especially when it comes to vintage gear and software. A couple of years ago I switched to the Recording Studio Insurance Program at Capital Bauer (recently acquired by Arthur J Gallagher and Co.) for my studio. The premium is comparable to what I had been paying, but the coverage was a drastic improvement. Joe Montarello is the agent in charge of the program and he has a deep understanding of the recording industry.
We have been using The Hartford, via a local agent, for 16 years. They offer reasonable rates and good coverage. We have never filed a claim, however. I look forward to hearing from other respondents who have had to put their insurance company to the test.
For years I insured my studio with Clarion. They mainly provide insurance for classical musicians. Since Strange Weather was mainly mobile for a long time, it seemed like a good match; however I never needed to file a claim during that period. After hearing about a few poor experiences with their claims department from other musicians, I ended up moving over to Joe Montarello at Capital Bauer. He also works primarily with recording studios, but was able to consolidate my other insurance policies (home, liability). The only claim I've filed was for some RPG fractal diffusors that were damaged on our construction site by Hurricane Irene. The process was pretty simple, and they ended up replacing them with a new set. The only caveat I can add is that if you're worried about storms, make sure your policy will cover water damage. The diffusors were covered because the damage was due to them being on the construction site, rather than being in a flood. In my experience most studio insurance plans will not cover flood damage, and my attempts to sign up for a policy that will have led me to believe it would be extremely expensive.
I went to a local agent and discussed my business and my needs. I wanted to make sure that both my gear and the gear of my clients were covered. They went on to also make sure that a certain dollar amount was covered for my stuff, $10,000 worth of other people's gear and I believe $12 to $15,000 of gear that I took out of the studio for any reason. I was originally with The Hartford and have since switched to Allied. One thing I like about Allied is that they bill on a ten month cycle, so for two months in the summer a bill doesn't show up, even though I'm still covered.
I called my insurance agent. He handles my homeowner and auto insurance, as well as my studio's insurance. His first advice was to contact an agent that you find trustworthy and meet with them face to face. He did not endorse using online or 800-number insurance brokers, because they won't find you the type of insurance that fits your needs. Studio insurance isn't a common item like homeowner's insurance. A knowledgeable agent can find you a policy - usually through a specialty broker - that fits your needs. I like my working relationship with my agent; I'm able to call him on the phone and ask hypothetical questions about my insurance. And it's an easy phone call to find out if I need to adjust the policy due to changes at the studio.
I have been a Tape Op subscriber for many years and I enjoy every issue. How about an in-depth article on transferring cassettes? I toured many years with a famous jazz pianist and have numerous live cassette recordings (made before the digital revolution) that I would like to produce. I have his estate's permission to release these, but would like some input as to methods and processes.
I have worked as an archivist for the family of Elliott Smith for many years now, so I'll tell you what I do: if the cassette is not being considered for release I do the transfers myself, from an old 4-track cassette recorder with discrete track outputs. I take the unbalanced outputs and run the signal into a Hamptone tube preamp, through the DI inputs, and into my best converters. I check pitch via a tuner and adjust the variable speed to 440 Hz, if needed. (Hint: try the tail- end of a song for a clean bass note.) But if the cassette is of the value that I'm assuming yours are, then I would get them to a professional transfer place that does this sort of work on a regular basis. For many years I've used Mr. Toad's in San Francisco for tape transfers; the quality they can pull off cassette tapes is a step up compared to my attempts.
[Regarding Tape Op's new online "Questions" forum.] You guys are awesome. I use Stack Overflow a ton in my day-to-day (especially for those "How do I Python?" moments I have every other month), and it's a great model for finding the right answer quickly. I hope this takes off! You guys have an awesome community and it's cool to see it grow into a support network as well!
First off, I have been reading the magazine for so long now that I can't remember when I started. So my only comment here is this: regarding Ken Caillat's comment about Geordie Hormel, "Hormel Hams - he was a trust-fund baby." Having worked everyday, for hours on end, for Geordie at his home studio in Paradise Valley, Arizona, from 2003 until his death in 2006, there are a lot of things that I might say about him, but never would I imply that he was that sort of man. Eccentric and private as he was to most, I got to know him quite well. I will keep his secrets secret, but he was always willing to help progress the world of audio recording into new technology, and that should be one of his legacies. The Village Recorder, now owned by Jeff Greenberg, was, and is, one of the world's top facilities: great gear, great atmosphere, and great personnel. Geordie was an amazing pianist, self taught from a very young age; and he achieved his goal of a recording contract, but walked away from it. Instead he found himself starting a recording studio. I am saying this not to dispute any other comment or fact that Ken Caillat had stated in his interview; I just feel a very strong connection still with Geordie and his family. And yes, that man was born with a silver spoon, as they say, but the difference is in what he gave back.
Thank you for introducing me to Playing for Change [Tape Op #96]. First of all, I feel like I've regained a little of my humanity, and maybe a little of my hope for our future. Second, it's so seldom I can share anything I find in Tape Op with friends and family (even the musicians I know don't pay attention). I've been spreading the word about Playing for Change and may have already gotten a few people hooked. What they're doing is really beautiful.
I'm a longtime reader of Tape Op, and now owner/founder of Bedrock.LA in the Tri-Hipster [Echo Park] area of L.A. We proudly cut out articles and put them on the wall of the urinals in our bathroom. Most recently, 2500 people a week read the Stuart Sullivan article as part of our Urination Education Programme. Thanks for all the great interviews. and keep them coming!