I didn’t realise quite how right I was…
The idea came from Dynamic Range Day supporter and AES member Norberto Cuevas, who runs Azul Studios in Xalapa, Mexico. I knew Norberto a little because he has hosted DRD events at Azul for the last couple of years, and posted the photos on our Facebook wall.
AES Mexico liked the idea, and asked me if I’d like to go and speak. Initially I said I didn’t think I could – right after DRD, I usually have a backlog of work, and this year was no exception, especially since I’m finishing up my Home Mastering EQ videos, beta-testing the new Perception plugin and running the third ever Home Mastering Masterclass course (!)
But Norberto and Valeria from the AES were gently persistent, and when SAE Mexico asked me to go and do a workshop for them as well, I decided it would be worth the effort to make the trip happen.
So, exactly 7 days ago, I set off for Mexico City with nothing but a case of clothes, a sprawling mind-map on my iPad and a copy of Keynote – plus the firm intention of finalising my talk during the eleven-hour plane journey.
Which I did ! The flight went smoothly (apart from security searching my bag and confiscating my larger-than-permitted 100ml tube of toothpaste) and after a somewhat mind-numbing two-hour wait to get through security at the other end, I was ferried across town, dropped at my hotel and was soon having dinner with various members of the AES team, plus Ross Hogarth and none other than Steve Lillywhite !
They were all great company, and next day I enjoyed exploring more of the Sound:Check Expo exhibition with them, in the impressive World Trade Center building. I was even spotted by students from VYA Training, who had celebrated Dynamic Range Day with Norberto the month before.
The afternoon ended watching Thomas Dolby perform, followed by Steve’s witty, amusing and often insightful presentation. He’s a natural storyteller with a seemingly endless supply of great anecdotes, and a real knack for weaving in some serious inspiration and advice for aspiring producers and artists along the way.
(Although he didn’t include my favourite anecdote in his talk – who else could look Bono straight in the eye and tell him U2’s work with Danger Mouse sounded like Boney M ?!?)
That evening the whole team took us for the most delicious taco meal I’ve ever eaten – but by this point I was trying not to talk too much, because of a nagging suspicion at the back of my mind…
…and the next morning my worst fears were confirmed. I’d lost my voice !
Well not completely, but certainly to the point that I was sure if I went to do my workshop at SAE as planned, I’d have nothing at all left for my AES presentation on Tuesday. Lying jet-lag-alert awake in my hotel room at 3am, I emailed SAE to explain that I needed to postpone my visit until Wednesday, or possibly cancel completely – and resolved to stop talking completely for the next 36 hours.
Too late, I also decided to switch off the air-conditioning and turned the shower on full-blast to try and get some soothing moisture back into my inflamed vocal chords…
Steve urged me to see a doctor, but I was convinced things would improve if I kept quiet, and dug my head into Pro Tools to prepare my demo of the Percetion beta that would be the conclusion of my talk the next day.
In the afternoon I caught most of Ross’s excellent talk on microphone techniques and production methods – you’d be crazy not to, considering the remarkable range of musicians he’s worked with, from Fleetwood Mac to Van Halen, Ziggy Marley to John Mellencamp.
(The best moment though, was when Ross strode out to speak to the students playing a demo drum kit at full volume in the room next door – especially given that his headset mic was still on, broadcasting the imortal line “Seriously – what the f**k ?!?” loud and clear to the conference room, followed by a huge round of applause from the audience !)
But when I tried to ask Ross a quesion a few minutes later, all that came out was a strangled squawk – and suddenly I was really worried, and headed off to bed for an early night. By this point I was getting deeply frustrated – the thought of travelling halfway round the world to give a talk and then lose my voice at the last minute… aargh !
Next morning arrived – today was the day, and not much had changed. At 6:30 that evening I was supposed to go onstage for the final two-hour presentation of the convention, and at breakfast with Steve I could barely raise a murmur.
Time for emergency measures. I finally took Steve’s advice and asked Angel to call me a doctor. Meanwhile I set to work feverishly expanding my Keynote slides with extra detail, partly so I could speak less if necessary, and partly so I could ask fellow speaker and mastering engineer Michael Romanowski to take over for me if I simply couldn’t speak. Luckily we share very similar opinions and methods so at least this was a realistic fall-back plan.
The doctor came and pronounced me free of infections or virus – my vocal chords were inflamed, possibly because of Mexico City’s high levels of air-pollution, probably made worse by talking loudly after coming straight off a long flight and sleeping with the air-conditioning on… hindsight is a wonderful thing.
He prescibed some medicine, followed by a glass of warm milk with two spoons of honey and another of melted butter – I have no idea how much this drink really helped, but it tasted delicious ! Finally he warned me that I must not talk AT ALL until my presentation in the evening, and left me to my slide-wrangling.
I regretfully decided to skip Skywalker Sound’s Lesley Ann Jones‘ talk (and the rest of Michael’s) and tried to take a quiet afternoon, with only limited success. I then headed over to the World Trade Center, and on the way met the AES director, Jorge, in the elevator. He asked me how I was and I waggled my hand uncertainly – then took pity at the look on his face and said huskily – “it’ll be fine !”.
The fact that my voice sounded a little stronger when I said this was comforting, but I couldn’t help wondering – would it last the full two hours ?
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. My voice lasted OK, despite sounding distictly gravelly, and my talk went down well. The title was “Lust For Level – audio perception and the battle for great sound” – hopefully I’ll be able to post the video for you to check out at a future point.
Everyone seemed pleased – the AES team told me there were many broadcast professionals there since there is currently no loudness regulation at all in Mexico’s media, and the topic is a pretty hot potato. And everyone seemed to “get” the subject, so – a great result, in the end !
I was especially pleased that both Ross and Michael jumped in at a couple of points to add their voices in support of my message that “loudness is pointless” – it was great to get some extra weight added to the argument.
After a final meal and goodbyes, I packed and grabbed some sleep. My final day in Mexico was a whirlwind of last-minute site-seeing with Norberto and his lovely family, the delayed workshop at SAE, a dash to the airport, the return flight (which I slept through in it’s entirety) and finally the drive home… what a final 24 hours !
It was a fantastic trip – unexpectedly challenging but ultimately very positive. All the speakers I met got on well together and I really hope to stay in touch with several of them – and the range and quality of presentations was excellent.
My overiding impression was how dedicated, friendly and supportive the AES Mexico staff were – they’re all volunteers, and organising an event like this must be a huge challenge and commitment, but they all went out of their way to make us feel as comfortable and looked-after as possible.
Thanks again to Jorge, Valeria, Jaime, Angel, Humberto and Mintel – both for giving me the opportunity to make the trip in the first place, and making us all feel so welcome while we were there.
And if you were there and came to say Hello afterwards, thanks – and maybe I’ll see you again another time !
[Update – you can watch a video of my talk here]