Seva Ball on The Three Rules of Audio and The Virtues of Experimentation
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Self-described “Doer of Wizardry” in all things audio, Recording Connection mentor Seva Ball (Dolly Parton, Metallica, David Bowie) of Sequoyah Studios has been a recording engineer since the mid-seventies, a mixing engineer since the nineties. He also taught audio at the college level for 17 years, prior to mentoring for Recording Connection. Seva is also the associate founder of Waves, the now-famous plugins maker which was awarded at Technical Grammy in 2011.
We recently spoke with Seva at his home base in Knoxville, TN, and had the pleasure of discussing his three rules on audio, the virtues of experimentation, and more!
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Alright, we’re all ears. What are the 3 Rules of Audio?
“The first one is: Put the right mic in the right place. Understand it’ll take some time. The second rule is: Turn the knobs until you say, ‘Wow.’
As soon as you hit wow, rule three kicks in, which is, Stop.”
Your three rules of audio come out of your own educational experience at Belmont College where you went to audio school with fellow greats Bil VornDick, Chuck Ainlay, David Cherry, and Kerry Kopp just to name a few. What can you tell us about that experience?
“We were being taught by the guys who had come up in Nashville from its very beginning. They had the old techniques firmly in their minds, and they truly understood what they were doing.
For example, we came to class and the [instructor] got out a microphone and said, ‘All right, we’re going to mic the kick drum. ‘Put it in this place and we’re going to play eight beats, and we’re going to slate it. We’re going to say where the mic is, what mic it is, how far away from the head.’ Then he said, ‘All right, let’s move the mic. Hit it again.’ And we went through 128 different places to put the microphone on the kick drum. And he said, ‘All right, now for the next step.’ And we thought, ‘Oh, goodie. Now we get to play with the board.’ And he said, ‘Go get a different mic.’ And we looked at each other like, ‘Oh my G_d.’
And yeah, that’s what we did. We went through the second mic, the same 128 places. Then he said, ‘Okay, now for the next part,’ and we thought, ‘Good, we get to play with the board.’ He said, ‘Go get a different mic.’
We got about four positions into the third mic and he stopped and he said, ‘Do you get my point?’ And boy did we get it. Because when he put on the tape and played it, it was like listening to 256 different kick drums, and all we did was put the mic in a different place.”
Nowadays it’s really common for so many of us to get into audio and think we know exactly what we want to do. Yet you stress the importance of experimentation and discovery.
“I think that trying stuff out and experimenting is very important. When you’ve got downtime, you need to be doing something with it…Get out microphones and find a trumpet player, clarinet player or saxophone, whatever, and mess around with it, see what kind of stuff you get. Look it up in the books and see what people have said…and just try out what you find. Don’t be complacent. When you think you know a lot and you don’t have much left to learn, that’s when someone’s going to pass you up.
The great thing about RRFC is it allows me to teach these extra things that I’ve learned from the great people and say, ‘Look, this is all good. You got the technology, you understand that this goes into here, goes out of there, goes into, goes out of there.’ You know what, that’s great, but now let’s listen and let’s see if we can train our hearing to be better…
If you can figure out how you can go through failure and success and looking through a lot of stuff and not get tired of that, not being worn out by the experimenting process, then the best is yet to come.
If you get tired [and say], ‘I don’t want to look at books and I’m tired of looking this stuff up,’ then you’re never going to get to that point where you can get a big aha moment. And those big aha moments and the lightbulb, and that rush that you get when your hair stands up on your arms is because you go ahead and push through all the sh_t…Man, when it starts getting difficult, then that’s good work. When you start feeling like, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ that’s great. I think some anxiety about stuff is great. I think people should be thrown into the swimming pool, over their heads now and then.”
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