Since the beginning of time, (okay LOL!), since I can’t remember when, I’ve been aching to go to a Beach Road Studios workshop. After stalking/befriending JUNO award winning producer Siegfried Meier for many years on Facebook, the timing suddenly became RIGHT earlier this year. He announced he would be running the final ever Beach Road workshop this autumn and I knew, this was it! It was like the stars had alligned for me as it was happening on my week off! Within minutes (yes, I made the decision that fast) I had flights and accomodation booked, Canada, here I come!!!!
But how does a random audio girl from a sleepy, Irish countryside Nowhereness, find out about a mega, award winning, from Germany but living in Canada most of his life, music producer and his private, super-amazing-awesome studio?
When Kittie blasted onto Irish TV screens via the kick-ass medium that was (still is? is it? I don’t know!) MTV2 with the even more bad-ass video for their second single, “Charlotte” in 2000, I was hooked. Four kick-ass girls my age absolutely knocking it out of the park with a savage tune, how could I resist? Back then it was actually pretty hard to find out much about anything, even though we had electricity (LOL, Internet was dial-up and I wasn’t really allowed use it), I did my best to find magazine clippings about the girls. Metal Edge was the only place I could find anything about them and even then, I only ever got my hands on like, 2 copies, cos Nowhereness is in the middle of Nowhere, you know?! I got my hands on their debut Spit (produced by Garth “GGGarth” Richardson, 2000) when I went stateside that summer and it didn’t seem too long after that, their 2nd album Oracle (also produced by GGGarth, 2001) was released. That I did buy here in Ireland. The band developed and progressed over the years and while I kept an eye on them, Facebook brought them back into my world in 2010 and that’s when I discovered Siegfried Meier.
So Siegfried worked on their Oracle album back in the day (credited in the album notes as Siegfried “Private Dancer” Meier!) as an assistant in Emac Studios (London, Ontario) and then became their producer for their 5th In the Black (2009) and their 6th, I’ve Failed You (2011), producing the band in his Beach Road Studios . Cue a new style, sound and sonic force of awesomeness for the band. Kittie has been a highly creative and unique metal band from the get-go but the Sig albums are f**king HUUUUGE.
Their 2018 Origins/Evolutions 20th anniversary release, which documented the band’s career, cemented my personal opinion that Siegfried was one seriously cool guy (I could discern from the Internet that he’s a musician, producer, songwriter, audio engineer, mastering engineer, cat lover, and all-round super dude). But the footage on that documentary simply blew my mind and I ached for the chance to visit. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to wait too long!!
Fast forward a few months and I find myself driving an automatic VW Golf (black, shiny and sexy as hell!) on a 5-lane highway in Toronto, on the opposite side of the road. Huge trucks zooming by me and the setting sun in my eyes, my heart races with trepidation, I’M HERE CANADA! Immediately charmed by the picture perfect towns I drive through, hours out of busy Toronto, I just knew, this was a slice of Heaven right here and this was exactly where I needed to be (you know, you do kind of doubt yourself- am I mad to go to Canada for a couple of days?! How will I handle driving in another country? Will my Irish awkwardness ruin the vibe?! Am I still rock n roll enough to handle this?!).
I need not have worried. I may have been shaking in my runners driving down the magical road to the studio, parking the car after confirming I had indeed found the location and not some random persons house (imagine if I did that though LOL!), spotting drums through a window but the very second I opened the door and let myself inside (let’s face it, I still don’t even let myself into my fiances house 14 years on! I have to ring the doorbell and text prior to my arrival- that’s my own awkwardness, not their house rules!), I felt this absolute WAVE of love. Everyone smiled at me (walking into a room of 10 guys is a little bit scary!) and I was enveloped in Siegfried’s welcoming arms instantly. I actually didn’t feel shy!!! From the get-go I felt like I knew Sig forever and that it wasn’t my first time meeting him. It struck me it was a special connection and all my suspicions about him were confirmed- this guy IS the coolest person EVER! Larger than life itself, his warmth, genuineness, humourous wit, easy-going, relaxed, bubbly, passionate and humble personality shone like a white light. Just being around him made me feel an excitement and joy I haven’t felt in years. I probably looked goofy and starry-eyed as I openly gazed at him but that wasn’t for his incredible awe-inspiring career, it was for him as a human being. He’s the kind of person that you only find once or twice in your life and you recognise instantly he’s making the world a better place by just being in it.
Walking into his control room, my breath left me. What a beautiful room! Surrounded with a mix of vintage and modern equipment, yet with a vibe of home, I can see why musicians come to make music here. His welcoming personality is mirrored by his creative space. If I was a musician in a band, I would be extremely excited about making records there!
After a short introduction where everyone (Sig, the students and the rock band, Breaching Vista) got up and said a little something about who they were and confirmed they were indeed cat-lovers also, Sig dived into audio theory and concepts to ensure everyone was on a similar level. Notes were passed around and we were invited to jot down as much as we like. Standing on a footstool behind his amazing rare Amek/TAC Magnum console, Siegfried explained higher level educational audio concepts in a logical and exciting format. Hanging onto every word he said, my mind raced to keep up.
After coffee breaks and lunch, the fun really kicked off. The importance of preproduction was explained and a guide track was loaded into Pro Tools. Track tempo was discussed and experimented with and yes, I even learned a new thing. Sig gave us a golden nugget concerning click track headphone bleed (I admit I actually made that f**k up on my own most recent recording and even kicked myself afterwards for not paying enough attention). Drummer Micheal Sferrazza (also a talented pilot, no less) was invited to take up his sticks and we all ushered into Sig’s, huge live room. I momentarily got starstruck as I recognised the wall of guitars and the placement of the drums, for I had seen this room on Kittie documentaries and photographs before (imagine being starstruck by a room! NERD!). My jaw dropped at the sheer size of the converted barn (Sig built and designed the entire studio in 2006, with the help of his colleague Lee While, acoustics professor from Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology), again, huge but welcoming! The room was chock-full of equipment, instruments, consoles, computers, microphones, amps, cables and more. I do believe in that moment that I died and went to Heaven.
There we experimented with a dedicated Pro Tools 6 rig and Sig explained the importance of gain structure, what exact signal flow he was implementing and set up the Glyn Johns drum recording method. A method I’ve read about and listened to all about since the beginning of my audio schooling, but one I’ve never actually witnessed for myself. Well wasn’t my mind blown?! A great kit in a great room played by a great drummer with only 3 (also great) mikes equalled MAGIC. Hell, that was a drum sound I would killed to have gotten in my production projects in college.
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Showing some interested cats a lesson in economics – tracking drums using a 32io Pro Tools TDM6.4.1 rig running on OSX 10.3.9 with a dual G4 1.42g processor and maxed out at 2gb of ram. The entire rig is clocked by an @apogeedigital Rosetta AD which also serves as the main 1/2 inputs and can be put together for literally the cost of a boutique guitar pedal. Some more stuff doesn’t head to the landfill, and you literally make your investment on equipment back after your first 2 sessions with a client – everything after that is profit. 👌
After that the room was set up for the actual recording of the single for Breaching Vista. 20+ mikes were set up- close mikes, room mikes and even bulls***t mikes. Each mike was explained in fine detail and I got to meet many of which I had only read about in my studies and some of course, I had never even heard of before. Jet-lagged like never before, I think I was probably swaying standing up, I wondered was anyone noticing I was ready to start sleep walking! But that wasn’t going to last for long because before I knew it, we were back in the control room, listening to the sounds of the drums and setting up appropriate levels. Snapped awake by the exciting sounds, my heart raced as Sig explained what he was going to do next: track the drums in the digital domain AND on analogue 2 inch tape! WOW! Tape!! I remember I was asked in an interview in Derry in 2014 which I preferred, analogue or digital? and I fobbed off a bulls**t answer. How could I answer such a question when I had basically zero experience of analogue? I think I said I liked the idea of analogue but really all I knew was digital and therefore I liked the good things it had to offer. Maybe that wasn’t a bulls**t answer afterall, but I always thought about it afterwards, feeling like a twat that I couldn’t actually REALLY give an opinion about that subject. Sig gave us a highly detailed history and informative block of information which detailed tape anomalies, machine care, and so much more. Brand new stuff for me. Please let my brain absorb all of this!!!
A very small (surprisingly small- there have been sessions where I pushed 12 takes out of my drummer, the poor unfortunate soul) number of takes later, along with the band for guides, the drums were recorded. It was already getting close to midnight and Sig bounced the analogue drums back into Pro Tools, using the Studer tape machine as an audio processor to get a very different sonic character. There we ajorned for the night, for tomorrow there would be more- drum editing, bass recording, guitar recording, vocal recording, editing, mixing and mastering. I left Sigs close to 1am and drove back to his local town, my mind racing and my heart bursting. I fell into my bed thinking I’d probably never sleep but boom, I was out like a light.
Feeling surprisingly refreshed, the next morning there was a beautiful spread in my B&B. The sun was shining and with a spring in my step, I drove to Beach Road, feeling confident about driving on the correct side of the road and feeling like a local because I knew the roads already. I practically skipped in the studio door, proclaiming I was not jet-lagged and took my seat behind Sig’s racks. He kicked off swiftly, explaining he was up since crazy AM, editing last nights drums and showed us swiftly exactly what he did and how he did it. We A/B-ed the Pro Tools, digital drums with the tape, analogue drums, understanding the sonic differences between the two and the benefits/downfalls of both.
With the drums edited, it was time to get really serious. Bass guitar (Mike Chhangur) was up and there, Sig explained that he was not going to use just one mike on his bass amp (hang on, you can use more than one?) but four AND run more sources (okay this bit went a little bit over my head, studio routing is not an easy thing to get initially) but there, the audio concepts discussed yesterday came back into play and yes, it made sense. The importance of using the same tuner for the entire band (the very same tuner, not the same brand, but the same actual device) was explained and boom, we were away! Again, a few takes later, we had a phenomenal bass track recorded and edited.
Next up were guitars, rhythm (John Maksym) and lead (Al Malnar), I’m not going to go into any sort of detail but it was more mind blowing stuffs! Definitely the kind of stuffs this guitar girl loved. Again, epic players using using gear in an epic room, produced by epic ears. More editing tricks, beautiful recording methods and tactics, next up it was vocals. Vox were a sheer delight to watch. Using a mike I actually own myself but never ever use, I was enthralled. Sig’s vocal chain was delicious. I’ve never been so gear hungry in my life! After editing and comping and a host of processing, I was delighted to be affirmed that what I do myself is actually correct and I learned a few little extra things too.
Shortly after that, dinner was up and can I say right here, that Sig’s wife Rachel is the most talented cook I’ve ever met, as well as a fantastic studio momma and all round lovely, lovely person?! Her food was out of this world and she looked after all of us like her own. Her presence added more love, light and sparkle to an already sparkly, beautiful, heavenly place. I didn’t realise so much joy was possible in one space and I was sent to pick up my fiance who was invited for the party. Brotherly “I know you!”s were exchanged as I watched the love of my life meet the inspiration of my life, and Sig swept him up into his world, a world he knows just enough about to be floored by what he saw. That’s when I saw Sig has a huge salt lamp upstairs near his mastering suite, of course! Good energy huh!!! After all of that, the class resumed and the final touches of the workshop were completed, mixing and mastering to quarter inch analogue tape- SHREDDER!
We partied until an absolutely crazy hour, how Sig wasn’t totally crashing out (for he was up at the crack of dawn to edit drums, remember?) I’ll never know. Maybe it was the amazing maple syrup we ate raw from a dessert spoon?! Or the giant bag of those peanut butter M&Ms John brought and we all devoured?! The sheer joy of 14 like-minded people in the same room, simply enjoying each others company, exchanging thoughts, ideas, stories and culture, I suspect is what kept us all on Cloud 9.
My experience at Beach Road studios was simply second to none. I left Ireland thinking I might learn a little thing or two but instead I learned a brick tonne, felt joy and love like never before, got swept off my feet and felt a whole-ness I never felt before. I’ve definitely left a piece of my heart in Canada for I can never bear to say goodbye. Poor Sig had to get Rachel to pull me off his leg as I wept “Don’t make me go home!” I’m kidding of course but inside I was dying.
What an honour it was that I was allowed into Sig’s very special creative space, into the amazing building he built on a foundation of pure love and light. No wonder Beach Road has housed amazing musicians from so many genres, it’s the kind of place you gravitate towards and it wraps you up in a big cuddly blanket of passion for music. How lucky I am to have walked around those famous rooms and to have studied under the most passionate, intelligent, talented, skilled, witty, loveable and humble human I’ve ever met in my life. I’m so very grateful. Siegfried Meier is the producer I aspire to become one day. I can see why he makes brilliant records. Brilliant artists, brilliant gear, brilliant rooms, brilliant ears, brilliant skills, brilliant home. I haven’t even remotely touched on his history as a music producer- I urge you to visit his website Siegfried Meier and to pop his name into a Google search, you’ll be blown away by what you read and understand why I literally jumped onto a plane to visit a country I’ve never been to before, a journey of 5366kms each way. I’d do it again in a heartbeat and I hope I see my friends Sig and Rach and the rest of the class group again in the near future.
I believe if everyone met Siegfried Meier, even for just 5 minutes, the world would be a much better place.