When it comes to SONAR, many of us often just think of recording and creating music for one medium, but there are many people out there using it in other ways. Pristine Productions is a company based out of Philadelphia that has been using SONAR for many years to record Major Label artists; only not in the traditional sense…
Week-in and week-out, Ron Cote and his crew are found working with some of the biggest names in the business such as Shinedown, Disturbed, Stone Sour, Staind, Avenged Sevenfold and most recently, the undeniable Adrenaline Mob who are currently making a huge mark in the rock world. When I say “working with” I am talking about a platform beyond recorded music that extends into the depths of capturing the whole “concert experience” on video. Ron is hired by Major Labels and directly by bands to go into the trenches and capture those moments that give us all goose-bumps; those moments where a guitar solo just sounds way better than it did on the studio version of the song; or those moments where the lead singer delivered an inspirational melody he/she should have put on the studio record.
What a dream-job right? Well if you ask Ron, his answer is yes and no. YES, because it is an absolute thrill to be working with all these bands in this capacity – NO, because the pressure and details that go along with these productions are enough to make your life-years turn into dog-years. If you really think about it, every night that Ron has a production his reputation is riding on the fact that he can satisfy the demands of a manager, a label (usually,) and a top-notch band that most likely has a few colorful personalities to it. And, in this “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” day-in-age that we live in, it would only take one catastrophe for major clients to start looking in other directions for their video needs; but Ron is not worried about all that, he and his crew have their process down like clockwork.
According to Ron, Pristine production’s recipe for success is layered into a few factors involving both human and technical elements. The human element involves Ron’s ability to identify what his clients are looking for; and then in an organized fashion, pulling it all together for execution. The technical element involves what Ron claims to be his anchor, which is SONAR X1c. “If I didn’t have the stability of SONAR X1c I would be dead in the water,” Ron told us. “I have never had an audio issue recording any of these shows and that is huge for me. The pressure is ridiculous sometimes, and knowing that my audio is going to work and sound amazing is one thing less that I have to worry about.”
On a typical show, Ron and his crew prepare for days ahead on coordinating all the logistics. They are talking to the label to find out what they are looking for; they are talking to the management and the band to find out what their vision is, and then everything lands somewhere in the middle in terms of the final product where everyone is happy with the outcome. After loading in all the gear, Ron’s microphones are strategically placed (in addition to the front-of-house mics that are already there) around the artist and crowd, and they all feed directly into Ron’s SONAR rig. Usually somewhere around 50 inputs are fed to the laptop, but Pristine has the capability of much larger setups if needed. After everything is setup, a sound-check ensues for the video shoot after the front-of-house sound-check takes place. All the levels are set and all the lines are triple checked to make sure every single cable is working properly. “It pretty much never fails when the band starts in that I end up bringing down the overall gain of each channel from where it was at sound check,” Ron states with a bit of a smirk. “It’s like the adrenaline kicks in immediately so I really have to be on my game especially for the first few songs. Unlike a front-of-house mix, these audio tracks coming in are keepers that will be listened to over and over again, and sometimes the band even starts the show with the song they really want to capture, so there’s very little wiggle room for error right from the starting gun.”
Once everything is captured onto the solid state drives, the audio is then brought into Ron’s studio in Philadelphia where he begins the normal tasks of cleaning and mixing the tracks. Unlike mixing for radio, Ron has to keep in mind that he is mixing a live show which yields a bit of a different approach. Unlike squashing everything with a lot of compression, Ron likes to keep his mixes a bit more open to give it an authentic type sound. He doesn’t do any sound replacing but instead relies on SONAR’s sound engine along with his preamps to deliver him great sounding tracks. “X1(c) has been a great jump for us from SONAR 8.5. In my world I have to weigh time-efficiency into the project as a whole because we have multiple projects going at the same time in different stages. SONAR X1 has saved me a ton of time with features such as the Effects Chains. Now that I have organized a lot of my favorite Effects Chains, I can just drag-and-drop them into the tracks without having to go through multiple menus, multiple times. This came in huge for me recently mixing the Adrenaline Mob as I was on a deadline and had to have the song delivered in 2 days; there’s no way I would have made it without the new tools in SONAR X1 (c).”
“I have worked w Ron now with 7 different bands (Adrenaline Mob, Avenged Sevenfold, Neal Morse, Liquid Tension Experiment, Yellow Matter Custard, Amazing Journey and Hail) and he has always been a pleasure to deal with. He is one of the most thorough and detailed engineers I have ever worked with and that is very important.” ~MIKE PORTNOY
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CW-AR: Can you give me a quick but specific run-down of the process when a band hires Pristine Productions to shoot video?
RC: Most of our business is word of mouth and repeat customers. Many of the bands/artists/record labels have used us 5, 6, 7 times in the past… we guess they really love our work if they keep coming back… The preproduction process starts with us obtaining a stage plot and input list from the bands Tour Manager or Production Manager. The scope and costs of each production is dependent upon this information. Many of the bands we work with are hard-rock groups. All of their input lists consist of 30-60 separate “tracks.” We have designed custom base Track Templates in Sonar X1(c) that we use for these shows. The last show with Adrenaline Mob (www.adrenalinemob.com) had 38 inputs just for the band. We also always use 4-6 extra live microphones for the audience to capture the room’s ambience.
The video part of these productions adds another whole level of complexity. Most of the bands require at least a 6 camera shoot to make the video come off half decent. Over the past couple of years, this has been a limitation due to the economy and the state of the Music Industry. It seems to have changed a little this year though. The last couple of projects we have done so far this year have had as many as 12 cameras. All of the guys that work for me are musicians… we’ve all played in bands together over the years and that really helps us be on the same page on the day of a show. We can all kind of read off of each other and really get things done in pressure situations.
CW-AR: You have worked with a lot of top-notch rock acts, what were some of your favorite projects?
RC: I think my favorite so far is the Liquid Tension Experiment Anniversary shows we produced. Those guys are all monster musicians as well as awesome-genuine, down to earth people. Adrenaline Mob, the current project we have been focusing on the past two months, is another one of my favorite projects. While these are all stellar musicians in their own right, when they come together and play live it’s like something I haven’t seen in the past 10-15 years. The amount of energy and vibe they give off during their live performances gives you goose bumps. It really comes across in the live video we produced for them during their debut show at the Hiro Ballroom in NYC on June 24th of this year.
CW-AR: How does everything sync up when you are running 12 different camera angles?
RC: It’s not too-too bad once you get started. I usually pick a specific audio spot in the footage and mark that in each of the camera’s footage. Then they USUALLY all drop in place. The video editing takes us at least twice as long as the audio mixing/mastering.
CW-AR: What are some specific features in X1 that are getting you to another level opposed to SONAR 8.5?
RC: The new Smart Tools and Edit Filters make my editing-mixing work so much quicker. Going back to that Adrenaline Mob show on June 24th… the show was on a Friday night. I was able to use Sonar X1 to get the one song completely edited and mixed using these new tools in Sonar X1 in one day! The second day was devoted entirely to the video of the song. I was able to edit all 12 cameras together in a separate program and then bring the footage back into Sonar X1 to use the “Audio for Video” tools. Using the Audio for Video option in X1 allowed me to tighten up the mix to the video and even master the audio. I never would have been able to get this done as quickly in SONAR 8.5 like I can now in SONAR X1. The band and their management were blow away by the turnaround time and the sound quality. Even their fans were commenting on how quickly and how awesome the audio came out!
CW-AR: Why do you choose SONAR over other DAWs for your line of work?
RC: In the past we have tried other DAW’s. They were ok… just ok. Cakewalk has always cared about their users. It shows in the products they deliver. They really listen to their customers and stand behind their products with updates and cutting edge features. The 64BIT audio engine in Sonar has always sounded much richer and been so much more stable than anything else I have ever used. The stability and reliability of SONAR has always been one of the main reasons I stick with Cakewalk. We do MANY high-profile productions every year. I wouldn’t dare trust another DAW in these live situations. I haven’t seen or heard of any other DAW that can record over 40 live inputs for three plus hours straight… without a hic-up! That is what Cakewalk and Sonar has done for us year after year!
CW-AR: Is there a different head-space as a mix engineer for “live music” opposed to recording for a studio demo?
RC: I think it is more about the vibe and the energy of the mix when producing “live music.” The band and their fans want their stage presence to come through the speakers. If you can keep that in mind while still making it sound “Pristine” (Pun Intended… LOL)… that is always my goal.
CW-AR: In terms of the actual tracking, what are a few of the key elements to capturing the sound going into SONAR?
RC: Always try to plan enough head room during sound check. The bands never really play or sing as hard during sound checks. For drums, I ALWAYS like to mic the top and bottom of the snares, as well as two microphones in the kick drums. Mic up the Ride cymbals and ALWAYS use two over heads. Many bands on the road don’t use these extra microphones when playing out live but it makes a big difference in the final recording.
CW-AR: What separates Pristine Productions from other video companies competing in the space?
RC: I think our attention to every little detail; our actual production experience and the final products we deliver really separate us. As I said earlier, everyone that works for us is a musician with years of playing experience. We learn the music before the shows so we can anticipate how to capture the energy of the performance. Over the years I have learned from some of the world’s greatest and most respected musicians on how to approach this business. There were some growing pains over the years, but these experiences have made us one of the most reputable and reliable production companies out there. All of our clients love how we can adapt to any setting/venue and still make them shine!
CW-AR: Living in the craziness of this rock n roll scene, you must have seen some “crazy” stuff yourself from capturing all these concerts; anything come to mind [that you can offer up]?
OMG.. there are so many! (Laugh) The behind the scenes stories are the best! One story that comes to mind happened during an actual performance. I can’t remember if it was in Vegas or Tennessee but I was set up with my DAW over by the monitor-world. This venue had this huge ceiling, like 200 feet high or something like that. They had all these different levels and balconies. About ¾ of the way through the show, some cables and ropes in front of me started moving and shaking. The monitor engineer and I look up and there is this drunken guy who just jumped from the one high balcony to one of the ropes! He tried to climb down the rope to get on the stage; but he lost his grip and slid all the way down the rope at top-speed. I’m telling you he slid like 30 feet down this rope and SLAMMM; right on to the stage! He actually got up and limped over to the guitar player when security tackled him!
So as you can see, there are many ingredients that go into the secret successful recipe of Pristine Productions. They are obviously doing things right and the proof is lies in the fact that they continue to get hired back over and over again by high-profile repeat customers. We at Cakewalk are proud to have products working at the core of Pristine Productions and we wish Ron and his crew all the continued success they deserve. I think it’s fair to say that Cakewalk and Pristine Productions both share a similar synergy when it comes to detail, dedication and work ethic.