Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics has continued his deft music producing over the years pulling together top talent on all sides of his projects. His staff programmer and engineer, Ned Douglas, at Stewart’s “Weapons of Mass Entertainment” studio in Hollywood, recently installed a Dangerous D-Box as the new center of the computer-based productions. The studio is a creative hub for all Stewart’s projects, which cover a wide swath of musical styles and collaborations from the recently finished Steve Nicks solo project, and the new score for the musical stage version of the Oscar-winning movie “Ghost,” to Annie Lennox, Katy Perry and many others. On the “Ghost” score, Stewart is working with his long-time collaborator, musician and producer Glen Ballard. Another recent major project at the studio is a ‘supergroup’ — called “Super Heavy” — featuring the musical talents and singing of Stewart, Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Damian Marley, and film composer AR Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire). Jagger was in the studio recently recording vocals, listening through the Dangerous D-Box for headphone monitoring as Douglas recorded his tracks.
On the ‘super group’ project, Douglas commented, “They all draw on their own influences to create the music. We’ve been recording it all over the world for the last couple of years, but for the last couple months we’ve been doing vocals with Mick and Joss in the studio here, monitoring through the D-Box.”
Douglas helms the gear as various luminaries pass through under Stewart’s watchful eyes and keen ears. The engineer designed a new version of the studio equipment as it moved last year to its new larger space; Douglas wanted to create a more connected and easy to use setup without their analog mixer, while retaining the Mac computer as the central recording source. Enter Dangerous D-Box, a multi-faceted single rack-space monitor controller, with an 8-channel analog summing mixer, on-board D-to-A, talkback, dual headphone connection and simultaneous input monitoring. Douglas says that, “Dave is pleased with the sound and simplicity of the D-Box,” and how it integrates the studio.
“The single for Stevie Nick’s album was done at Stewart’s studio using the D-Box,” says Douglas. The studio also has an integrated video studio and on-staff crew, which allows easy documentation of recording sessions, while keeping the comfort level relaxed for artists. But the studio also serves for MTV style music video creation as well, which was done for the Stevie Nicks project. “Because she got to know the people at the studio, they got access they wouldn’t have otherwise,” notes Douglas.
“The whole idea of getting the Dangerous D-Box was born out of the idea of losing the 32-channel analog console, it used to sit at unity gain and not do anything,” recalls Douglas. “It took up so much room in the studio. When we moved, I thought it would be a much better idea to dispense with that, since most of the mixing happens in the computer. But I did miss the idea of not having an analog stage in there at all.”
“I was very used to mixing 8 outputs: drums 1 and 2, guitars 3 and 4, keys 5 and 6 and vocals 7 and 8,” Douglas explains. “So I was used to mixing in pairs like that and just having master faders, for example to just pull the drums down a bit. I didn’t want to just mix out of two channels, it felt like that would be a bit limiting, and there’d be no analog stage in there. That was kind of what turned me on to the D-Box, this idea of being able to still get my 8 inputs all going through an analog stage and mixed together was really cool.”
“I really like having that analog stage in the D-Box, it adds something good sonically to the sound. Obviously I’m running the Sum output of the D-Box back into the computer system so I can record mixes. That’s the other connection I have in the setup,” adds Douglas.
The D-Box functions for rough mixes and getting things balanced for vocal overdubs and more. “This is primarily a recording and ideas studio, we often take it elsewhere to do final mixes,” states Douglas. “Chris Lord Alge is mixing the super group project with AR Rahman and Mick and everyone, and mixed the Stevie Nicks project as well.”
“The D-Box allowed me to do more than I thought it was going to allow me to do. When we’re doing vocals in the studio I have a ‘zero latency’ patch coming out of my MOTU gear. And I have that coming in on the D-Box Analog Input, so I just put on the Analog Input as well as the Sum Input, then I’m monitoring vocals and the backing track. And because there’s a Sum Output level control, I can easily turn the backing track up and down. That’s brilliant! It makes it quite simple to work like that, which I really like. And the D-Box is right next to my keyboard within easy reach which is really cool.”
Since the D-Box is situated right on his desktop it’s also convenient for using the ‘talkback’ says Douglas, “One set of headphones is in the vocal booth and the other set is for me when I want to use them. I use the talkback on the D-Box all the time. And the headphone amp in the D-Box sounds great.”
The stereo stems for the live musical production of “Ghost” — opening in London’s West End in the summer of 2011 — were recorded and mixed at Stewart’s studio. For the stage productions, live musicians integrate with the computer playing back audio files from Ableton Live while singers on stage are mixed in. “It’s been interesting for me to see how the live stage world works. A lot of it is programmed on the computer, there’s quite a lot of backing tracks in the show. Ghost is going to do very well I think and every production around the world is going to use our song files. It’s nice to think that the things we do here at the studio will end up on stage for years to come in these productions — worldwide!”
For more information on Dave Stewart, Ned Douglas and Weapons Of Mass Entertainment visit the website at: http://davestewart.com/