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RSR017 - Mark Rubel - Blackbird Academy
My guest is Mark Rubel, the Co-Director of Education and Instructor at The Blackbird Academy, which is an intensive recording school at famed Blackbird Studios in Nashville, TN. Since 1980, Mark has made about a zillion recordings at his Pogo Studio in Champaign IL (currently reopening in Nashville), including such artists as Alison Krauss, Jay Bennett, Ludacris, Hum, Adrian Belew, Melanie, Fall Out Boy, Duke Special, and many others.
Mark has taught audio, music business and other subjects at the college level since 1985, and presents audio panels and workshops for various schools and professional organizations around North America. He writes occasionally for recording magazines, including his Tape Op interviews with Les Paul and Terry Manning. Mark also works as an audio consultant and legal expert witness. His band Captain Rat and the Blind Rivets has been rocking East Central Illinois and beyond for 35 years and counting. Mark continues to cultivate students, cats, songs and friendships in The New Center of the Universe (Nashville), along with his saintly wife Nancy and their intrepid guinea pig, Huckleberry.
We conducted the interview in the truly unique Blackbird Studio C designed by George Massenburg. With walls made of infinitely random lengths of wooden sticks it makes for an ideal space for an interview. All sound is perfectly diffuse.
Mark also told us about some really cool recordings that were recorded or mixed in Blackbird Studio C:
A video of Dawn (daughter of Anne Murray) recording live in C, a great example of what it was made to do:
Mixed in C, a record that I use to check monitor systems and rooms, produced by Alison Krauss, recorded with an A-team and mixed by Gary Paczosa:
“I want to support musicians and what they do because I think it makes the world a better place…” - Mark Rubel @blackbirdpro
“Recording is as much of an art as poetry or painting and i think that great recordings will be something that will nourish people in the future” - Mark Rubel @blackbirdpro
The unretainable nature of the present creates in Man a desire to capture the moment. Our fears of extinction compel us to record to recreate the ritual ceremony. From the first hand-print cave painting to the most modern computer art, it is the human condition to seek immortality. Life is fleeting. Art is long. A record is a totem, a document of an unique, unrepeatable event worthy of preservation and able to sustain historic life. The essence of the event is its soul. Record production is a subtle, covert activity. The producer is an invisible man. His role remains a mystery. During the recording process there is an energy field present in the studio to manipulate and to maximize that presence to focus on the peculiar "harmony of the moment" is the job of the producer. Music has a spirit beyond the notes and rhythm. To foster that spirit and to cause it to flourish to capture it at its peak is the producer's task.
“Let the musicians be in control of the music. Capture it well.” Mark Rubel @blackbirdpro
“Fix it before the mix!” Lij Shaw coining a new Rubel’s Law @blackbirdpro
The Jam Session:
Q: What was holding you back when you started recording?
A :Uncertainty and over thinking things. I tried to be too practical thinking, “Oh I love recording and being in a studio, but I could never do that.” I’m glad I’ve overcome it.
“If you have your eye on the star that you are following you can derive all those other decisions from that point” - Mark Rubel @blackbirdpro
Q: What was some of the best advice that you remember receiving?
A: The advice my father gave my sister. My sister is an artist and he was a theoretical mathematician. He said to her, "The important thing about painting, is painting."
“The important thing about painting is painting…” Mark Rubel on recording music @blackbirdpro
Q: Share a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A: I can’t believe I’m about to give you a ProTools tip, but this is a fun and hidden trick… When you’re working on a particular place in a song, you can create a moving marker for what you're working on and it is marker number 999. You’re at the place where you’re about to record and you hit period on the numeric keypad, zero, and enter twice. Marker 999 will appear on the marker strip from then on whenever you want to go to the place you’re working now, you hit period, zero, period and it will always take you there.
“Headphones I say are the enemy of music…” Mark Rubel on recording musicians without headphones @blackbirdpro
Q: Tell us about a favorite hardware tool for the studio.
A: There are so many, but let me mention a few affordable things, Akai made little microphones that go with reel to reel tape decks they start with ADM 9, 11, and 13. They average about $10, they make good drum mics. There's another one I recommend, a remarkable good mic Nady StarPower series, SP5 & SP9 cost me $9.95. They will outdo much more expensive microphones.
“There are some things you can’t do without. Good monitors and a good listening environment” - Mark Rubel @blackbirdpro
“If you don’t commit to a sound early on then you’re building the rest of the song on shifting quicksan!” Mark Rubel @blackbirdpro
Q: What is a favorite software tool?
A: I like the emulations of the transient designer, the SPL plug-ins. That’s a highly useful thing for getting drums to speak. A transient designer is an interesting device that has two knobs, attack and release and it actually changes the attack and release times of things.
“How do you make a great sounding recording? You make a great sound and you record it well!” Rubel’s Law @blackbirdpro
Q: What business advice do you have?
A: A guy named Joe Montarello, he has a company called Studio Insurance Program. Something we don’t think about but is a great resource for a studio of any size. His program is excellent and allows for things like new room treatments or backup hard drives if an unfortunate event would occur. He backs up Blackbird and my own personal studio.
“Invest in capability” Mark Rubel on what recording equipment to buy @blackbirdpro
Q: If you were dropped into a strange land and could only take a simple setup to record. What would you take? How would you find people to record? And how would you make ends meet to start out?
A: As far as equipment, whatever was at hand. I could be very happy with an Apollo and a laptop and a number of reasonably good mics. I would go to where the artists go to congregate, and making ends meet... That’s difficult to say maybe I would teach. If you can edit well, especially drums, and you know how to tune vocals, I think there’s work in that sort of thing.
“You can have all the best equipment in the world, but if you can’t hear what you’re doing then you’re just groping in the dark!” Mark Rubel @blackbirdpro
Q: What is the single more important thing to do to become a Rockstar of the recording studio?
A: I would say to be alert and alive, to be engaged and curious, and to always be listening and always paying attention to every kind of art: music, literature, poetry, film. To be completely engaged and passionately devoted to what you do. Always have a quest to learn more.
“Making music is one of the best things that a person can do” - Mark Rubel @blackbirdpro
Find out more about Mark Rubel and Blackbird below:
If you have any or questions about recording you would like me to answer on the show or suggestions for the show please email me:
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Credits: Thanks so much to Merissa Marx and Hunter Hansen for assisting with editing audio and show notes. You guys totally rock!