An Interview with Steve Steckler, Founder of Big Sound Studio
By Steven Digman
A studying multi-instrumentalist since the age of ten (Guitar, Bass, and Keyboards), Steve Steckler in 1989 founded the very big sound of Big Sound Studio. Having composed original scores for "National Geographic Explorer." "MTV," "The Discovery Channel," he is currently writing new music cues for the library of Fox TV's "America's Most Wanted."
Steve Steckler has worked throughout his career with bands, musicians, with those who can sing, and those who cannot... and on the business side, (which can be even more difficult) - Corporate America. Winner of the "Baltimore Film Festival" and with multiple spots on "Cablevision/Optimum Online," Steckler is certainly a Multi-Task Engineering Multi-Instrumentalist Composer!
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[Steven Digman] To begin with would explain (in 'lay-readers' terms) the 'Musical Mystery (Studio) Differences' between recording a song, producing a song, editing a song, and mixing a song?
Steve Steckler Producing is looking at the big picture, the holistic task of examining and overseeing all of the musical elements in a project. Some artists want the producer involved with all of the musical decisions associated with a song or album - Lyrical content, chords and melodies, arrangement, and interacting with musicians - the building blocks. Others prefer the producer to focus more on the studio experience, helping them sort through the powerful, but sometimes daunting variety of tools available. There are many types of producers with different skills, and many ways that songwriters and producers can interact. Recording, mixing and editing is usually the job of the engineer, (although in many cases there is overlap between the two jobs).
Recording - getting the tracks on tape with the desired basic tone. Editing - cutting and pasting different takes to arrive at the final version for mixing. Mixing - taking all the tracks and balancing levels, working with eq, compression, reverb, etc to get the song sounding as good as possible.
And finally Mastering - compiling the finished songs together usually, by a new set of ears, and (hopefully) really high-end gear and listening environment. Mastering ensures the album is sonically cohesive from beginning to end, and translates well to various listening environments.
[Steven Digman] When recording (or editing) how important is the interplay between the played music, and the use of digital effects?
Steve Steckler If you're tracking with effects, it's critical, especially if the effect is time-based such as a digital delay that interacts with the rhythm section. What you hear affects the way you play since you're responding with how it changes the sound. In this case the effects are permanent so there's no going back. I like recording this way since it creates a sense of urgency with the playing.
[Steven Digman] Could you elaborate (again in 'lay-readers' terms) how you control (maintain) the relative home position of sound during a stereo field (or surround sound) mixdown?
Steve Steckler Balance is very important within the stereo field to glue things together and make them gel. If you've got too much high or low end coming out of one of your speakers - things are going to feel lopsided (especially with headphones!). Even in early stereo recordings, where instruments were panned hard left and right due to track limitations, engineers were very conscience of maintaining that balance.
[Steven Digman] From a recording perspective, how does a good engineer go about pushing the musical "envelope" (For the reader: Envelope is the characteristic change in amplitude of sound throughout time)?
Steve Steckler We're always limited by the dynamic range appropriate for the style of music we're creating. Pop music has become much more compressed dynamically, due to the common use of "brick-wall" limiters, creating loudness wars. This is the desire for your song to be as loud as its neighbor on the radio. The trick is to make things seem bigger and smaller at different sections, knowing that your actual dynamic range will be squashed in the end. A great song and arrangement gets you most of the way there.
[Steven Digman] Is it still possible to obtain a "natural frequency feel" of any analog quality when using digital recording equipment?
Steve Steckler That's a big debate for some. Lots of producers are hard-core with their loyalty to analog tape, insisting that nothing in digital sounds as warm, rich and creamy. It requires a lot of time and money maintaining the machines and keeping them stocked with 2-inch analog tape. Digital has come a long way since it's harsh, crispy beginning, with higher bits and sample rates, and better sounding converters. And there's tons of cool tube gear to put character in your signal path.
[Steven Digman] What is you favorite (basic) recording equipment?
Steve Steckler I love my Manley VoxBox for a front-end. It makes everything you plug into it sound big and musical. I also have an Amek 9098 dual-pre that has a clear transparent sound, when that's needed. I have a Lawson tub mic that's killer on most vocals and many instruments. I also like my Audio Technica 4050 for a bright sound, and Neumann TLM-193 and KM-84s for drums and acoustic guitar. I use Pro-Tools for multi-tracking, and Sonic Foundry (now Sony) software for 2-track editing. Recent hardware faves are the Korg Microkorg keyboard - a nasty little beast, and a Pod XT - DI guitar box. I also have a Matchless DC-30 amp that always makes me smile.
[Steven Digman] Following up on that question, what is the worst recording equipment you have purchased?
Steve Steckler Almost anything has a purpose in the right situation. That old crappy off-brand guitar that only plays one chord in tune might be perfect for a certain sound. But if I have to go there, I'd say my Roland GR-33 guitar synth. I never can seem to make that thing track right.
[Steven Digman] During a recording session, what is the one rule (or rules) that you like to break?
Steve Steckler Sometimes I'll record a live vocal or amped guitar right in the control room with the monitors on. I think it's better to catch the moment when it hits even if the recording environment is not ideal.
[Steven Digman] And finally, do you have any suggested reading (or listening) for the beginning home recording enthusiast?
Steve Steckler Listen to a lot of music through your system, and see how pro-engineers compare with your mixes - where are the problem areas? I try to read a couple of industry mags every month, like EQ and Keyboard, to keep up with new gear and trends."