Our proSESSIONS Series Continues with Vance Powell and Burl Audio!
At Westlake Pro, our proSESSIONS series bring some of our top brands together with GRAMMY, Oscar, and Emmy award-winning producers, engineers, and sound designers. Our customers are invited to spend an evening with some of the biggest names in the industry to ask questions, learn recording techniques, and gain insight on the latest new gear. Guests such as Butch Walker (Taylor Swift, Pink, Fall Out Boy), Sylvia Massy (Prince, Johnny Cash, Tool), Brian Vibberts (Lauryn Hill, Green Day, Mariah Carey), and Al Schmitt (Frank Sinatra, Quincey Jones, Miles Davis) have captivated attendees with their stories and techniques gained from decades of recording experience. Recently, we had the pleasure of hosting Burl Audio and six-time GRAMMY Winner Vance Powell to talk about the clarity, realism, and depth of analog tape, and how he uses the Burl Audio Mothership to capture his award-winning sounds.
Vance Powell Meets Burl Audio
Vance Powell is no stranger to great sound and analog recording. He came up during the years of tape and has maintained his analog ways into the 21st century. He started the event off by describing a time in his life around 2010, when he was working with Jack White almost every day, cutting to 2-inch tape, and also working on a digital AVID rig at Blackbird Studios. When he transferred the recordings he was working on to digital, he found it lacked the realism, detail, and separation of the analog recording. He tried higher sample rates, but nothing could compare to the hi-fi sound of tape. When a Westlake Pro Sales Consultant invited Powell to a Burl Audio demo event, Vance decided to go (mostly for the bbq and beer). What he didn’t count on was the blind A/B test they had set up. He preferred the sound of the Burl every time and has never looked back since. Vance Powell now uses a Mothership unit from Burl Audio on every record he cuts.
Analog Sound in the Digital Age
We are all familiar with the idea that analog recording somehow sounds “better,” but many of us who came up in the digital age don’t understand why, or exactly what the difference is. Vance Powell explained that the chaos of mechanical analog tape machines is pleasing to our ears, helping create a sound that feels high-resolution and natural. He went on to say that the Burl Audio Mothership gives audio that same quality, enriching the sound while maintaining incredible detail and separation. Back in the analog days, Powell used to love overloading tape to get colossal kick drum sounds with pleasing saturation. He finds he can overload his Burl Audio Mothership in the same way, without getting any of the harshness or digital clipping.
Burl Audio’s Founder Rich Williams Explains the Technical Side
Vance’s “from-the-trenches” wisdom was complemented nicely by Burl Audio’s owner and chief designer Rich Williams, who gave easy to follow technical explanations of what makes Burl units sound so great. He says it comes down to the high-quality analog components they use. Every Burl Audio unit uses fully discrete class-A circuitry, which allows the signal to pass through unchanged by any crossover distortion found in other systems. Rich says he learned the importance of high quality, discrete class A circuitry during his time designing the famed 2192 converters at Universal Audio. Ever since designing the 2192, he dreamed of building a larger version with 24+ channels. When it became clear that Universal Audio wasn’t moving in that direction, Rich Williams started Burl Audio and made this dream a reality. His explanation of why tape provides much higher resolution than digital was an eye-opener to many in the audience, and he quickly put to rest the rumor that transformers add unwanted color to audio.
Using Grammy-Winning Recording Secrets With Chris Stapleton
For many, one of the most exciting moments of the event was hearing Vance Powell talk about making Grammy-winning albums with country star Chris Stapleton. Powell raved about Stapleton’s voice and musicianship in a way that makes even people who don’t like country music want to go buy his record. He talks about how he recorded Stapleton’s albums “From A Room Vol. 1 & 2” and “Traveller” using a Burl Audio Mothership and a minimal amount of channels. He also gives the specifics of how he records Stapleton’s voice and acoustic guitar at the same time (a challenge that many engineers can relate too). His solution is sure to have our audience members trying his technique immediately!
Vance Powell’s GRAMMY Winning Advice: Keep it Simple
Vance Powell also made a strong case for keeping things simple and making decisions early in the recording process. In one of the funniest moments of the night, Powell talked about a session he recently mixed for a pop singer that had hundreds of tracks, including 14 stereo kick drum tracks. He hilariously recounts going through 32 tracks of “glitches and sweeps,” along with a drony sitar, wondering what they were adding to the song. After muting dozens of tracks, he was finally able to hear the core of the song, which allowed him to get the best mix possible. Even in the rock world, Powell says he’s receiving sessions with over 35 mics on the drum kit. This style of production allows you to add as many tracks as you want without ever having to make a decision, which forces the mix engineer to make decisions for them. This ends up distracting from what’s really important – the song and the performance. At this point, Rich Williams chimed in to remind us that with every track you add, your entire mix loses resolution. By simplifying your mix, you have enough room to make each element as big as it can be without sonic compromise.
A Great Time All Around
It’s safe to say that everyone at the event had a good time, enjoyed some delicious snacks, and learned a lot about how Burl Audio is bringing analog clarity, resolution, and warmth to the digital age. Attendees were thrilled to have the opportunity to meet Vance Powell and ask him questions about his Grammy-winning recording techniques. On top of that, Burl Audio came equipped with an A/B test setup that allowed attendees to hear the Burl Audio difference for themselves!