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RSR056 – Ben Loftis – Harrison Consoles, MixBus 32C, Designing MixBus Plugins

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR056 - Ben Loftis - Harrison Consoles,
MixBus 32C, Designing MixBus Plugins

My guest today is Ben Loftis the product manager for the Harrison’s workstation products. He is also an all-around developer, and partner in the company. From its Nashville, Tennessee facilities, Harrison designs, manufactures and markets large-format, professional audio mixing consoles for international film and television production, post-production, broadcasting, sound reinforcement and music recording markets.

Harrison also makes a unique digital audio workstation, The MixBus32C, following an analog paradigm that embodies form, function, and sound. Where other DAWs might use a computer paradigm, MIXBUS grows from Harrisonʼs distinguished 40-year heritage of platinum records, such as Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Paul Simon’s Graceland, and the blockbuster film Spider-Man to name a few. MIXBUS is the first full-featured DAW with true analog style mixing.

Ben has been at Harrison for over 15 years, which puts him right in the middle of the Harrison family with some of the employees having been with the company since the very beginning in 1975. During that time he's been part of many product launches, both large and small.

Before Harrison, Ben worked at a commercial audio company called IED, where he developed custom audio software for clients as varied as NASA, Fort Knox, and Caesar's Palace.

I am super excited to be joining you from right here at the Harrison Console Factory in Nashville TN. I can’t wait to learn more about MixBus and how it can help you make your best record ever.

“People get introduced to this industry because they like the sound of things. Sometimes you like the music, and the music is obviously important, but there are people like us that get into the sound of that music, which is a completely different thing. I mean anybody can appreciate music, but it does take a little bit of education to appreciate what good sound is.”

Ben Loftis

History of Harrison Consoles

I came in relatively late in the Harrison company. I’ve been here about 15-16 years, which is a long time to work somewhere but short in the scheme of things. Dave Harrison was collaborating with Geoff Harnett and they were building MCI consoles. Harrison was the designer for some of later MCI console models. He also had a company called Studio Supply and he would go build studios and install these MCI consoles and tape machines. He had a really cool idea for mixing consoles that would make things go faster and smoother in the studio, it was intended to be made up of the new syncable machines you’d have not just 16 but 24-32 tracks recording at a time, so he developed the Harrison 32 Series console (he actually took the idea to Geoff Harnett). Geoff decided not to manufacture that and that irritated Dave enough that he wanted to go make it himself. He kicked off his own company, took a prototype around the world and pitched the idea in the 70’s. He really did solve a lot of problems. Harrison came up with this concept called an inline console, the basic idea being instead of having a fader for the microphone which feeds into a tape machine and comes back through another mix board, he decided you could save space and do a lot of cool tricks, share a lot of electronics, and get dual use out of your console. The inline console is basically the tape machine inserted into the middle of the console path and you can either monitor the playback from the tape machine or you can monitor the microphone in the room. You’re taking the same piece of gear and with a button push using it twice.

I can tell you from some of the better documented ones that a lot of the Queen stuff, Another One Bites the Dust, Sade’s Sweetest Taboo Album, Michael Jackson stuff, Thriller and Bad, and then you’ve got AC/DC’s Back in Black. I listen to all those records and I hear a sound. They say it’s all about the recording and it is, it’s all about the musician of course that’s more important than the gear you use, and when I listen to that selection of things, I really do hear a sound to that.

“It’s important to build up a workflow so that things move along smoothly” - Ben Loftis

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MixBus 32C

We launched a product called MixBus about 5 years ago and that was a workstation that allows you to cut, copy, paste, import and export, it has all those things in it and we customized the mixer to have our channel strip. A simplified EQ and compressor and we made and introductory level audio workstation that has all the features that you could want but it also has a Harrison mixer in it. When we came out with that it was a huge success, but there were people who said well cool, but I have to have the harrison 32C sound. People knew about that 32C EQ and wanted it to be in MixBus. We also had some longtime customers who had the 32 series console and the knew exactly where you were supposed to turn those knobs to make it happen, they kept asking us to make that 32 series EQ. We held off for several years, and now we have launched MixBus 32C and it has a modeled software emulation of that original Harrison EQ. I’m not an analog guy and don’t want to give away too many secrets, but the recreation of that EQ goes beyond the range of the knobs that these people cross. You have to think, the guys that work here went through a process that arguably no one else in this whole industry has gone through. We used to make analog consoles, and then we made a product which was a digitally controlled analog console.

Unique to the MixBus32 DAW

It is a DAW unquestionably. It is a complete workstation with midi tracks and virtual instruments and editing, importing, exporting, all those things. You can look at a DAW and realize what each DAW makes the focus, what they give the most screen space to. When you open up MixBus32 each channel module has things on it other DAWs don’t have like a phase button. You have an EQ on every channel which was intended for the purpose of mixing. When you sit down to mix, most of what you’re doing is “I need a little more thwack from the beater and I need more body on the snare.” The process of mixing is working with bringing the multiple parts together so you need to see them all at the same time. With the typical DAW you have to double click and pop open the window of an EQ plugin and then if you want to see 4 channels in a row you have to open 4 windows and it quickly starts to get really inconvenient. We’ve got compressors and gain reduction also in every channel so that you can scan your eyes across the console and see what all the compressors are doing and that saves you so much effort. We also do a little trick where if you turn one of the knobs on the EQ, it turns the EQ on and then you can click the bypass with or without the EQ.

Check Out MixBus Plugins Here!! 

“This guy sat me down, pulled out a Pink Floyd record, put it on these killer speakers, and it blew my mind. That’s when I became an audio file nut” - Ben Loftis

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Jam Session 

Q- What was holding you back at the start?
A -Most of my career is programming and working on these products, I’m not a recording engineer, but I have done a lot of recording with my friends. We’ve recently gone into a studio and one of the things we found is if we want to work on something collaboratively, it can be a real pain because some guys are on macs, some on windows, this guy has these plugins, this guy doesn't have anything, etc. So one of the things I focused on when I was working on MixBus .. A lot of guys go back and forth sending recordings around. Being a computer guy, I get called on to be the IT guy and I’ve got to go over and say, “Oh they sent you this kind of file, they didn’t line it all up together..etc.” I’ll help people get through that process. I’ve really focused on making that really easy so MixBus works from Windows XP all the way up to Windows 10 and it also works from Mac 1068 all the way up to the current 1012. So pretty much no matter what computer you’ve got, it’s going to work on there.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?
A - We went in to record with this band, the guy that runs the studio shared it was real important to him to have us all in there playing at the same time. I know that sounds obvious, but after I just spent 10 min talking about people collaborating a whole lot, there really is a magic with playing together. I would say my favorite piece of advice is to capture the moment. We’re probably not going to be famous rock n roll stars, so what I really don’t want to do is listen to this record in 15 years and say, “Oh man, that’s awesome. I’m the bass player and I’m singing some harmonies. But that’s not really me, they auto tuned the vocal and somebody pasted over the parts I couldn’t play very well.” We’re leaving in most of the mistakes trying to capture this part in time, I think there’s honesty and integrity in that.

“There are some 32 series consoles that have been maintained from the beginning that are still in operation” -Ben Loftis

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Q - Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
 I think I would have to say layer those guitars, man. Give it a couple of different tones, layer it on! You’ll never get exactly those same notes in a row and it gives it a nice big, fat sound that you can pan left and right. Although we try to recreate ourselves, it’s really him! (Just 8 times over)

Q -Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
 My first thought was don’t forget to bring the rug for your drummer. But we also just came out with something really cool, that is a 32CS. Continuing the trend with the 32 series consoles, we’ve relaunched the channel strip out of that console as a rack mount box. This box gives you a mic preamp, really awesome sound. It has the high and low pass filters, a 4 band EQ, and we have 2 new cool innovations in there. There’s an insert point that you can patch a piece of gear into your channel strip and it’s moveable! You can either put it before the filters or after, it gives you a lot of tone and sculpting kind of stuff. The other cool feature we have in that box is it has a little bitty monitoring section that has a stereo input on the back so that you can blend.

Q -Share a favorite software tool for the studio
Oh man, I have tons of favorite software tools. Not only are they good tools, but I use them because I’m always on Mac and Windows. Although Apple makes some great tools they have a great email program that I can’t use anywhere else. When I’m swapping from computer to computer to computer all the time we use Google stuff like crazy.

“Dave Harrison was always really pushing the limits of technology” - Ben Loftis

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Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - We use a payment processor called FastSpring, and they’ll take credit cards and have all types of coupons that make all that safe and secure so we don’t have to worry about having people’s credit card numbers here. It’s important to build up a workflow so that things move along smoothly. The other tool that we picked up fairly recently that we really love is called Help Scout, and this is a tool we use in our customer service department so that when somebody emails us, it shows up in a list that all of us can look at. When I start to answer an email, everybody else knows that I’m answering it and we won’t end up answering it together at the same time.


Big Thanks to Tyler Cuidon & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!