Studio Insider--January 2013
Studio Insider #177 January, 2013

Off into the wild grey and rainy

I woke up fully a minute before my iPhone alarm announced that it was 4:45. There would be time for an orderly but relaxed loading of the car for our drive to the San Jose airport, where my wife Marty Kendall (bass and fiddle) and I would catch our flight to Denver. Our daughter Katie, between tours at her home in southern California, was probably doing the same. How cool it is to have her meeting us for a gig later today in Colorado. All those fiddle and guitar lessons, and four years with a touring band, have prepared her well.

As our plane approaches the deserts of Nevada and the craggy, snowy Rockies, I remember the many drives I made across these stretches when I was a young musician playing on the road. Nevada was eight hours, no matter which way you drove it. Hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Our vehicles, always old and cranky, were drafty, noisy, and stuffed with gear and instruments. Now we sit comfortably while Southwest does the work of jetting us there. We’ll pick up a new, reliable rental van in Denver, and the adventure will begin when we aim it up towards Breckenridge, where snow and sub-zero temperatures await us. I remember the old days with some nostalgia, but I look forward to the rest of the day with an expectation of comfort – and the same pleasure of making music at the end of the road.

Sending files around the world

Back in the studio, Bay Area singer Renee Hayes, of the a cappella vocal group The Irrationals, is working on an album, using both my studio and a Nashville studio run by her friends and co-producers Susan Anders and Tom Manche. For one tune, we needed a jazzy, melodic harmonica solo to compliment the beautiful guitar work of Brazilian-American Ricardo Peixoto. Ricardo recommended Damien Masterson, who plays both great sax and wonderful chromatic harmonica. However, Damien is living in Senegal at the moment. He said he has a good studio set up there and would be happy to work on the track at his own place and send it to us via the internet, so we sent him a high-resolution mix for him to load into his Pro Tools system. I reflected that this is happening more and more, as Internet access improves, and more professional musicians build and learn to operate studios. I’ll let you know in a future column how this process works out with Damien. We’ve done this before, but never with an overdubbing musician in Africa!

In fact, I’m sending another track of my own to another harmonica player, this time in New York. I met Will Gallison when we were both teaching at California Coast Music Camp a couple of years ago. We share a love for Brazilian music, and enjoyed playing fiddle/harmonica duets on some old Brazilian choro tunes. Will is a virtuoso harmonica player who can play complex melodic lines and read music. And, he enjoys musical challenges. Oh, yes, he’s quite a guitar player, too. I’m sending a track to Will for a harmonica overdub, and he’ll do the part in – you guessed it – his own studio.

High-resolution audio? Over the Internet??

High-resolution audio files come in many forms. I like to use 88.2 KHz/24-bit files in my own projects. So what do those numbers mean, anyway? 88.2 KHz means the real-world (analog) audio is measured, or sampled, 88,200 times per second in order to convert it into digital format. This is twice the rate of a compact disk, which samples at 44.1 K (44,100 times per second). The “24-bit” part of our geek-speak phrase refers to the microscopic levels of volume measurement that the digital conversion uses. Compact disks and consumer video cameras and devices use a 16-bit conversion, which provides an enormous dynamic range, several times larger than what vinyl records allowed. (Dynamic range is the spread between the softest and the loudest possible sounds that a technology can reproduce.) The 24-bit technology that we use in recording studios provides a dynamic range that is many times greater even than the CD standard. We like to work in these super high quality formats because everything in our production remains as close as possible to its theoretical state of perfection throughout the production process. We convert our files to compact disk format only when we prepare the final master for duplication.

So what’s the down side?

High-resolution audio files are much larger than compact disk standard files. Some recording studios even like to work at double the sampling rate I just mentioned, going up to a 192 KHz sampling rate (192,000 measurements per second). In my experience, working at that rate is cumbersome and glitchy, as many of the plug-ins and other devices we use in the studio struggle to keep up, or aren’t capable of that resolution. I haven’t noticed any audible benefit of working at that rate, so I use the above-mentioned 88.2/24-bit technology. Stereo audio files in the CD format of 44.1/16 bit are around 10 megabytes per minute. So a four-minute stereo audio track is around 40 megs. That’s too big for most email work, so we usually use an FTP service like YouSendIt or to send these files. The same song in a high-resolution format is over 120 megabytes. So when I sent the files to Damien for his work in Senegal, I used YouSendIt and sent him two channels separately; each was over 63 megs.

I’ll let you know in future columns how all these bytes of data combine when they hit my ear in the studio. I’m looking forward to listening to the harmonica tracks from both these great players, and feel confident that this new way of working will help all of us put things together in ways that we couldn’t just a few years ago.

We’ll be in Denver soon! Time to close up the computer.

Joe Weed records acoustic music at his Highland Studios near Los Gatos, California. He has released six albums of his own, produced many projects for independent artists and labels, and does sound tracks for film, TV and museums. Joe’s composition “Hymn to the Big Sky” was heard in “The Dust Bowl,” a film by Ken Burns, which premiered November 18 and 19, 2012 (8:00–10:00 p.m. ET on PBS). Joe recently produced “Pa’s Fiddle,” a collection of 19th-century American music played by “Pa” Charles Ingalls, father of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the “Little House on the Prairie” book series. Reach Joe by calling (408) 353-3353, by email at, or by visiting

Posted By:  Rick Cornish

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