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In 2021, Oklahoma State University unveiled the Michael and Anne Greenwood School of Music building with the state-of-the-art Dick & Malinda Berry Fischer Recording Studio. Dr. Mark E. Perry, Associate Professor and Director of the Music Industry Program considers the studio “one of the jewels of the program.”
We spoke to Dr. Perry about working with Vintage King to build out the studio around a Rupert Neve Designs 5088 console, his goals for the students at the Greenwood School of Music and the gear that enables the students to prepare for a future in the music industry.
Tell us a bit about the recording program at Oklahoma State and your involvement in it.
We offer a Bachelor of Science in Music Industry and one component of that degree is recording. It is a holistic program, in the sense that students learn different aspects of the music industry. Some of my students want to have careers that are associated with the recording industry and some of them do not, but it's important that they have a basic understanding of it. We also have a songwriting program that I think we excel at and students can now record high-quality demos in the studio. So it's a holistic program and it runs the whole gamut from the novice to students that are quite capable at production.
This program is relatively young, so it was always my plan that we have a high-quality recording studio and then it just happened to coincide with this new building being constructed which made it happen a lot earlier than I had planned.
What was it like working with Vintage King to build out the studio?
To give you some background, I designed the studio about three or four years ago and Vintage King won the bid to integrate the studio. One of the reasons why I was very happy and excited that Vintage King won the bid is because my friends in the industry that have recording studios have worked with Vintage King and they had nothing but praise for them. I do believe that Vintage King is probably one of the best – if not the best – recording studio integrators in the world and so I'm very pleased that I had them do the integration.
Frank and Cedric from Vintage King were the ones that came on site and did the integration and they were quite accommodating because there are some decisions that have to be made on site. It’s hard to plan certain things and they were great with offering solutions when there were some potential problems. So we worked out good solutions and oftentimes what we ended up doing made it better than my original plan.
What was your vision for the studio?
This is a recording studio within what is a research university and a land-grant university, so I wanted it to serve two purposes – to be a working recording studio and also to be a studio that students can learn in. A lot of times, students would not otherwise have access to the outboard gear that we have, to a console like ours or to a mic locker like the one we have. I wanted my students to get an opportunity to work with equipment that they might not have access to in the early stages.
I wanted to have a lot of analog gear because what my students encounter otherwise is largely plug-ins. It's also a lot easier to study signal chain on analog gear than it is on digital. We have so much music that is now produced in the box and because of our analog gear we can have a happy mix between the analog world and the digital world and I think our recordings sound better because of that.
What drew you to the Rupert Neve Designs 5088 console?
I really think that the Rupert Neve Designs 5088 is a superior piece of gear. One thing I like about it is that it's built to last. I also really like the workflow that it provides. I think that the RND 5088 is very intuitive and it does what I needed it to do. So I think its history, design, quality and workflow are the reasons why I chose it, with the advice of most of the people that I talked to from the industry.
Let’s talk about the Avid S4 controller – what drew you to that?
It integrated really well into the Dolby Atmos system that we have set up. When I did the initial designs for the studio, Dolby Atmos was around but it wasn't clear that Dolby Atmos was going to be as important as it is today. I wanted to make sure that I had the capabilities to mix in Dolby Atmos and the Avid S4 Controller allows me to do that. Also, I wanted my students to be familiar with it because it's a key piece of gear if you’re working with Pro Tools.
What inspired you to make the upgrade to Dolby Atmos?
Last summer, I went to visit an alumnus of Oklahoma State University who is a leading music executive in Nashville, and I was talking to him about how I would like my students to learn how to use Dolby Atmos. He told me that he thinks that Dolby Atmos is going to potentially be the future. We’ve gone from mono to stereo and now we're moving on to Dolby Atmos; so I wanted to make sure that I prepare my students for the future.
Right now it's very expensive, as an individual, to have a Dolby Atmos system to mix with.
You know, I have colleagues that have converted their studios to Atmos but it's still in the early stages. I wanted to be at the forefront of it – not me personally – but OSU and the Music Industry Program. In this transition to Dolby Atmos, I wanted to make sure that my students are prepared for the future.
What do you like most about the Barefoot MicroMain monitors?
I think the Barefoot MicroMain is one of the best reference monitors out there. At my studio at home, I use Barefoot monitors and they are what I'm familiar with so it’s a good point of reference for me to listen to it in this studio. We actually have three monitors here. We have the Avantone MixCube which is important to listen to what a lot of end users are going to listen to. A lot of people are going to be using their laptops and their cell phones to listen to music so it's nice to mix with the Avantone Cube for that reason. We also have Dutch & Dutch monitors that a lot of my colleagues in the industry recommended. That was not a monitor that I was really familiar with, but I'm really pleased with it. Coming back to Barefoot, it’s just a fabulous product and I'm hoping that my students like it as much as I do.
How are you utilizing the Focusrite Pro REDNET gear?
One of the things that this studio utilizes quite a lot is the Dante protocol, so that's what we use them for. For example, our interface is controlled through Dante and if I have a connection to a Cat6 cable I'm able to record throughout the building, not just in the recording studio. So Dante is what we use the Focusrite for, basically.
Tell us about the Burl Audio converters that you use.
We have the Burl Mothership, which I think interfaces really well with analog gear and there’s the Class A circuitry that is impeccable. With the RND 5088, we have one of the best consoles made today and Burl integrates really well with it. I've been able to make some, in my opinion, beautiful digital recordings now because of the Burl converters.
So it's about all these pieces of gear coming together to build an ecosystem?
Yes! One of the things that I'm very appreciative of, with Oklahoma State University, is that they understood when I explained to them that in the sound chain you can have the highest quality gear but if you have one piece of gear that is not of the same quality, that's the weakest link.
OSU was very generous in allowing me to purchase some of the highest quality gear that's available. So the Burl and the RND 5088 is a perfect combination. Also, Burl integrates really well with Dante, so it works really well for us.
Do you have any favorite pieces of outboard gear?
That’s a tough question because I'm still exploring my wish list. The one that I've been using lately is the Chandler TG2 preamp and I'm really pleased with that. In addition to it being a great mic preamp, I’ve been using it as a DI box while recording bass. I also like the Millennia preamps. My own work, and a lot of my students' work, tends to be in commercial music but we are a school of music, and there's a lot of classical music here. I think the Millennias are the perfect preamp for that because they don’t color the audio like, say, the Chandler does. So it allows me to record classical music and then when I want to do other music, I have lots of other options but the Millennias are perfect for classical music.
How do you feel about plug-ins? Do you have any that are a part of your workflow?
We have a large selection of different plug-ins and I want my students to be familiar with them so they have an option to explore. Then when they graduate and have their own studio, they will already have experience with certain plug-ins; they will know what works well and what doesn’t. It allows my students to sort of test the waters of all the different plug-ins.
I'm always exploring but I really like the entire suite of FabFilter plug-ins that we use here. What I’m hoping to use soon, that I haven't used yet, is the SynchroArts Vocalign plug-in. I’m looking forward to using it on vocals, but as of now, FabFilter is the one I'm trying to get students to use as a first try and hopefully, for many, it’ll be their primary suite of plug-ins.
What microphones do you find yourself using most often?
We have several Neumanns now but oddly enough my favorite microphone to actually use is a clone of a Neumann – the Flea Microphones 47 SuperFET. That has been my sort of go-to mic for vocals and I haven't had anybody – male or female – that doesn’t like the outcome of that microphone. I use it whenever I need to use a large diaphragm condenser microphone. That’s been my go-to, even though I do have Neumanns, I'm not sure why. Eventually I think I'll probably integrate the Neumanns a little bit more into the system. I've also been really pleased with our Soyuz SU-013-B pencil condenser microphones. Whenever I need to use a matched pair or even one by itself, I use those. For the small condenser microphone, that’s the one I've been most pleased with. And then lastly, I’d say the Coles 4038 ribbon microphone is one that I really like. We have a large collection of microphones and this summer we’re sort of testing them all out.
What guides your choice of microphone?
I think part of it is: rule of thumb. I think I always start off with what is the conventional way of recording something. I mean, as a professor teaching students, you kind of have to tell them, “Okay, this is the traditional way.” And then after that, every so often somebody will say, “Hey, have you tried this?” So I do experiment as well.
I think I'm lucky in the sense that it's not a traditional recording studio where I have clients. We have a lot more flexibility to experiment and research. So part of it is starting off the traditional way and then exploring new ways to record as well.
Do you have a go-to signal chain while recording or do you use something different every time?
Because the studio is so new, I'm always trying something different. I'm still exploring and we do all kinds of music – it's not just rock or country, or just rap or classical. We do all kinds of music and I think there isn’t any one way to do things.
So there's no typical day in the studio for you?
Yeah, so far there hasn't been a very typical day. Right now we're making recordings but also a lot of it is still about testing things. We're sort of in the early days. When the semester starts this fall, it's going to be used a lot more. I'm making it available not just for students who are producers but also students who are songwriters and bands.
That’s useful because when you step into a studio it’s a different headspace and if you haven't been in that environment very often it affects your ability to perform.
Yeah, I've noticed that. I've noticed what my students have the most difficulty with is playing with a click track. So it's been a great learning experience for many of them. I also have students that are interested in being session musicians, so this has also been a pretty good experience for them to actually sort of do the job of a session musician.
Are you working on any projects that you're able to talk about?
We just finished an EP by a student who is one of our very talented songwriters. It turns out she's also a great singer. When we started, I didn't know she was a great singer until I heard something that she did. That EP is what we just worked on – one of the tracks is in Dolby Atmos but the rest are in traditional stereo.
Is there anything else that you'd like to highlight about the studio?
I’ve already said it, but I’ll say it again – I was very excited and pleased when Vintage King won the bid to integrate our studio because for my colleagues in the professional world, the non-academic world, they were their go-to to integrate their studios. So I felt very lucky with the gear that we were able to purchase, but also to have it integrated and done right. You know, Frank is a fabulous person to work with. I would always ask him lots of questions and he was patient with me, not trying to impose what's the easiest solution but what is the best solution. I was very pleased with that.
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