Megatrax chief engineer, producer and composer Eddie King
By Randy Alberts
“I love the way SONAR sounds,” says producer, engineer and composer Eddie King. “Particularly in the bottom end which is tight, fat and well defined. It’s my subjective opinion that SONAR’s 64-bit processing makes a huge difference.”
Given his aural perspective comes from multiple vantage points, it can be said King’s subjective opinion distills closer to objectivity with every SONAR mix he finishes. A Mac-based Pro Tools engineer/producer by day at Megatrax-a premier production music library and recording studio for film, t.v., advertising and multimedia-and a talented home-based composer and arranger by night with SONAR on his screaming-fast PC server farm, Eddie’s bi-platform, dual DAW audio opinion carries just a bit more weight than most others’ do.
“Once I saw that SONAR runs solidly, has good functionality and then, the big one, that SONAR is the only DAW running at 64-bit,” says King, “that’s when I thought, ‘Well, hello!’ It makes sense that better resolution means things are going to sound better, too. Again, this is subjective, but I have to say that SONAR’s 64-bit resolution does, in fact, make a big difference. I know Cakewalk has done more objective, blind listening tests about this, but at least I know for sure that SONAR makes a big difference for my sound and my mixes.”
Both Sides of the Building: Mega Tracks & King’s Sound
Eddie King’s audio credentials began years before the founding of Megatrax. In 1980 he opened and for years seriously upgraded his old Neve 3 and vintage analog gear racks at Kingsound in North Hollywood, his own commercial studio wherein Megatrax-one of his clients there-first began building their respected, comprehensive music library. Fifteen years later, in 1995, he sold Kingsound to them, Megatrax made Eddie their chief engineer and the two have been a very busy team ever since.
Next door to the company’s large office staff, involved with the sales and music licensing side of the business, King spends his days in Megatrax’s three production rooms. Studio A houses a large control room, several ISO booths and a tracking room big enough to host 30-piece and larger orchestras.
Another room handles MIDI, overdub and mix sessions while a third, a compilation room and perhaps the busiest, goes around the clock editing and boiling everything down to the 30-second versions that populate literally, hundreds of CDs in the Megatrax catalogs. Their clients include major television, film and radio networks looking for just the right musical passages the new sitcoms, summer blockbusters and station IDs need to bring on the masses. It’s the audio side of the building, where Eddie and his production staff sit, that keeps the Megatrax sales and licensing team so busy.
“The business side of Megatrax is constantly in touch with our clients to see exactly what they need,” says King. “The bulk of music we do is for the library catalog, but we also get a lot of custom requests, as well, especially from our radio clients. We get many calls like, ‘OK, the music on the MX147 disc is good but can you mix us cut 28 without the trumpet in it?’ I had a special request a week ago for a 5-piece jazz group with trumpet, sax, piano, bass and drums that’d already been mixed. The client wanted it without the sax. Luckily, I’d recorded with enough isolation to make that work for them. They were thrilled, absolutely ecstatic. It’s that kind of custom service that keeps us very busy on both sides of the building.”
For years, Megatrax has been well known for their potent, effective promo music. Folks like ABC, NBC, major film studios and radio stations always look to the ever-expanding Megatrax catalog to promote their latest shows and movies. If the last movie trailer you saw swayed you to go see it, then you likely have one or more tracks from one of the hundreds of Megatrax discs to thank for that.
“It’s crazy, because sometimes they’ll just use five seconds of a particular session we’ve provided, and they’ll edit three, four or five different pieces together into one show promo piece together, too. It’s mind boggling how they do it, because often it’s almost totally incongruous musical styles they’re piecing together to make up just one 15-second promo to really kick their audiences in the butt. A lot of those music segments are taken from sessions we’ve worked on here for hours and hours to get ‘em sounding just right. So, from an artistic point of view, that can be a little disheartening, but it’s also good knowing that’s exactly how they put our music to the best use: To bring their customers back for more.”
When it comes to somehow finding the perfect 5-second musical passage out of literally thousands of hours worth of library catalog discs-King estimates there’s somewhere between 400 and 1,000 discs in the entire library-Megatrax has just the right music supervisors for the job.
“One of them here has somehow packed the entire catalog into her brain!” King says with a laugh. “She’ll tell a client, ‘OK, cut #67 on this disc is perfect for what you need,’ and it is absolutely perfect every time. It’s mind-boggling, and she’s constantly listening to all the new CDs, as well, tucking those all away into memory. One of the owners here is like that, as well. I hope they both don’t mind my saying, but in some ways they’re so knowledgeable about every single segment of music we offer that it’s like they’re idiot savants! [laughs.] But that’s exactly what makes them really, really good at what they do for our clients.”
Rapture & Dimension Pro For Home & Office
When Eddie King isn’t engineering, producing or mixing new Megatrax tracks by day, he’s composing new music for the catalog in his well-equipped Sherman Oaks home studio each night. Lots of great mics and guitars, vintage preamps and compressors, an old Arp Odyssey, and he controls his 8-core PC rig (two quad-core Exion platforms) with Frontier’s Alpha Track, a DAW controller he says interfaces perfectly with SONAR. An 88-note Yamaha controller does equally well with Rapture, Dimension Pro, and a long pull-down menu of other VST and RTAS soft synths, including those built into SONAR.
“The synths in SONAR are great, too,” he says. “I use Rapture and Dimension Pro as VST synths within SONAR, as well as using them on my Mac system every day at Megatrax. I use a lot of synths, but I especially like using Rapture and Dimension Pro when I need to rework things compositionally, or to layer the sounds of those two behind some real strings.”
The latter pursuit is the subject of a video tutorial King has contributed to the Cakewalk website. He says one of Megatrax’s specialties, what many t.v. and movie studios come to them for, is just the right combination of real and synthesized strings. That’s what makes the hairs stand up on the back of our necks every time we see and hear those irresistible movie trailers.
“One of the things we’re noted for here at Megatrax is a hybrid real orchestral and synthesized sound. Especially in the trailers where the movie studios want that huge, powerfully edgy rock alternative style within an orchestral setting. Live, real strings alone by themselves just aren’t quite the sort of powerful sound they’re looking for. That’s what really brings people into the theaters.”
King adds just the right, subtle touches of synth to live orchestral strings. Check out his tutorial Cakewalk video to know it’s not as simple as it sounds, that it takes years of making radio and t.v. promos and movie trailers stand out above the rest to know best how to make just the right subtle moves. And, if the original score itself needs just a little more compositional or arrangement massage before the mix at Megatrax, it’s nice when the engineer can handle that job, as well.
“With Rapture, for instance, I’ll take one of those really fat bass sounds, add a bit of edge to it and double the low bass string parts, the cellos, just to give a lot of beef to the original real string sounds. I place the Rapture stuff just a bit behind the original because I want that sense the strings bring, but with the edge and beef of Rapture behind it supporting and strengthening the original score’s intent. I’ll either use the composer’s MIDI to generate the Rapture parts, I’m laying behind the strings, or I’ll just play in the part quickly here with my own MIDI controller to duplicate the part. That gives me that extra low-end fatness to the sound we’re very well known for here.”
“Rapture is just such a great fat synth,” King continues. “I’m using it primarily as the Uber-synth, the end-all-be-all kind of ultimate synthesizer. Having six completely separate engines in it available for control, too, is what really gives us that incredibly huge sound in the trailers I’m talking about. Rapture is perfect if the original score just needs that little bit of extra edge to really push it over the top in terms of power. I can have an entirely independent ADSR envelope for each of those extra parts, too. It’s like having six independent Raptures for every part in a score. The results are always very cool with Rapture.”
Leveling Playing Fields 64 Bits At A Time
King spends a lot of time inside SONAR mixing and remixing the compositions he creates in his home studio for the Megatrax catalog. The monitors and amp he’s using there each night don’t equal the mutilple “very expensive, ultra tweaked up” monitoring systems he uses by day at Megatrax with Pro Tools HD. But, Eddie thinks that Cakewalk’s 64-bit processing makes up for the difference, if not more.
“The sound quality of the pieces I’m producing at home is least as good, if not better, than the mixes I’m doing here in the studio. I don’t notice it as much with just one track or part going, but I sure do once I have more and more tracks piling up in a mix. Those miniscule differences per track really begin to add up.”
Without blind listening tests or symmetrically equal monitors, amps and studio room configurations in both locations, any comparison of disparate mixes is, by default, subjective. But when you’ve been composing, performing, engineering, editing, mixing and mastering music in a number of studios and listening environments for almost 30 years there are certain audio watermarks-namely, your own two ears-that one begins to trust more than anyone else’s opinion.
“With SONAR processing at 64-bit,” Eddie says, “the quality you’re now able to get on a home system is no longer a limiting factor to music production values. I can say that for certain. In fact, I’ll bring a CD mix of what I’ve composed and mixed at home, do a 44.1/16-bit bounce of that and throw it up here on our huge monitors in Studio A and more often than not, the result sounds really, really good. Its left me many times wondering why can’t I get the projects I’m doing here at Megatrax, to sound as good as the projects I’m recording and mixing at home! Really, I’d say that I’m getting at least as good quality at home on my mixes as I am here.”
Maybe it’s simply that engineers are more comfortable mixing in their home environments. Or, is it possible that the more relaxed we are the more positively the human ear responds to the hundreds of minute moves in a complex audio mix?
“Yeah, or maybe it’s just that I’ve got better tasting coffee at home!” laughs King. “Who knows, maybe I’m also just getting better mixes because I like my own compositions better than the ones I’m mixing at Megatrax every day. A good way to sum up the whole 64-bit question is this: With SONAR, I no longer feel any quality limitation with what I’m recording, mixing and mastering in my home studio. Period.”
Eddie King: Rapture Video