Pro Techniques 7.1.2002


Pro Techniques from Baraka

By Randy Alberts

One of the best audio doctors in the business lives on a two-acre farm outside Los Angeles. Two Guys from the Valley (San Fernando, that is) is a nifty dual Pro Tools|HD-based studio where engineer, producer, and guitarist Baraka records and edits between his many house calls to Ocean Way, Cello, and other high-profile L.A. studios. Sting recorded Demolition Man there, and Baraka has just begun producing the soundtrack of Destiny, a rock 'n' roll biker movie starring Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper and featuring music from the Eagles, ZZ Top, and some new artists.

"Surgery is definitely the right word for what I do," says Baraka of his frequent L.A. trips to edit some of the most important drum, vocal, and guitar tracks the industry has to offer. "I get called in all the time to do Pro Tools surgery for people with problems that only Pro Tools can cure."

New York native Baraka has just finished Chris Isaak's new album with Mark Needham, and in addition to producing the Destiny soundtrack, he's also been recording the band Orco, which just signed a $3.6 million contract — the largest record deal ever made with a rock band by Sony Music. Baraka has also performed major invasive audio surgery on Weezer's quadruple platinum "green" album, namely on the "Hash Pipe" single.

"They came up with a new 8-bar section in the middle of that song long after it was totally mixed and done," Baraka recalls. "With the magic of Pro Tools, I cut it right in half, separated the two sections, and because the original was done on a 2-inch machine, I made a grid based on the tempo of the tune. Then we miked up drums, guitar, and bass and punched in to those eight bars live. It was an odd thing to do, especially trying to match the tone of the original 2-inch analog recording, but we used compressors, EQs, and plug-ins and ultimately sent the song along to Tom Lord-Alge to tweak the mix and marry the sections together. It's seamless; you can't tell the difference between the 2-inch and the Pro Tools sections."


Pro Technique 1 —
Combing drums with Beat Detective

One of Baraka's house specialties is performing surgery on drum tracks, particularly with Beat Detective. His keen ability to recognize the subtle difference between a drummer's feel and simply being off-tempo has made him trusted by many major producers.

"Sometimes I like to first strip a drum track of its natural feel and then apply between 2% and 5% swing back into it," says Baraka. "A small percentage of swing like that works nicely to put some feel back into a track if I've had to apply excessive quantizing to it. I also experiment with Beat Detective's Strength control to retain just the right amount of a player's feel while making a track tighter and tighter until it's just right. The 90% range is a good starting place in finding where Beat Detective can do its best work."

Baraka also suggests analyzing fewer original drum tracks with Beat Detective to hone in on just the right attack transients for a part. Often, he'll analyze just the kick, snare, and hi-hat tracks and then apply those transients to the rest of a drum track.

"That works nicely for me," he continues. "Beat Detective gives you the choice of analyzing all the drum tracks and chopping it all up based on every transient on every drum track, or you can pick specific drum tracks and then apply the transients of that single drum track to the remaining drum tracks. Beat Detective allows you to separate the tracks based on the transients you've analyzed, so if you analyze just the kick and snare track you might end up with better defined transients than if you analyze all the tracks. Once you've made those choices, then you shift-click onto the other tracks and apply the same dividing points to those tracks. It's especially good to work this way with Beat Detective when you're first starting out, too, because it also happens to simplify the Beat Detective learning curve."


Pro Technique 2 —
Manual vocal corrections using Antares Auto-Tune

Once he gets the drums feeling just right on a song, Baraka is often called on to do the same for the vocals. Not many artists and producers enjoy admitting to using creative edit tools like the popular Antares Auto-Tune plug-in, but no one denies the worth of a good Pro Tools engineer who really knows how to use it.

"I work with Auto-Tune in the Graphical mode," concludes Baraka. "I don't like to use it in Automatic mode because it doesn't cut it for the kind of detailed work I like to do, and it tends to make every vocalist sound like Cher's I Believe when it's used to tune entire tracks. Graphical mode lets you manually correct a track line by line, or word by word if necessary. Sometimes I'll use a feature in it called 'Make Auto' to see what Auto-Tune would do if it was in Automatic mode. This way I can listen to a line and see what it does without actually being in Automatic mode. The Automatic mode works nicely in certain cases, which is why I like to work in Graphical mode and occasionally use 'Make Auto' to see how Auto-Tune would handle certain notes or phrases."