A day-by-day account of recording and mixing Sting’s Sacred Love DVD.

Up the Pacific Coast Highway, past surfers paradise and through the security gated entrance, on a foggy morning in June, Nathaniel Kunkel and his Studio Without Walls crew are loading into Sting’s Malibu home to record the DVD-V Inside. “So what,” you might say, “people record in their homes every day.” True, but not many do it in a home that has no studio much less, in surround sound over the course of five days (and when did you become so cynical?). Thus was the undertaking when Kunkel received the call from Sting’s producer/keyboardist Kipper. “We met during the Chris Botti (Sting’s Trumpeter) solo album. We got along fantastically and I was indescribably happy when he asked me if I was available to record and mix Sting’s DVD-V. The surround audio side of the project came out better than we could ever have hoped,” Kunkel humbly says.

Here, Surround Professionalpresents a look into Nathaniel Kunkel’s personal journal of his experiences at Sting’s house.

When I met with Richard Frankel, the producer of the video, he explained that Studio Without Walls was needed to record three days of rehearsals at Sting’s house in Malibu, then two days of performances at the Mayan Theater. Everything that was played was to be recorded, and there would be a video crew filming everything the band did during rehearsals as well. There was a deadline, of course, so the location for surround mixing was discussed as well. More on
that later.
Setup Week – West L.A. home of Nathaniel Kunkel
My duties have fallen into place: figure out a system configuration, record the rehearsals, record the shows, and mix a multichannel of the approved takes to picture. No problem: I need a team. Three people, I figured. That would do it. This is a Sting gig. I can’t look like I need a lot of help, but this gig doesn’t have a lot of margin for error. I need the best location-recording tech I know, and since John Hurst holds that illustrious title he is my first phone call. I need another engineer to log and cover levels. How about Duane Sekykora — perfect. Noah Lebenzon can handle the remote assistant engineer needs; he knows where everything in my shop is as well.
So there we are: John, Duane, Noah, and myself. A motley bunch, but assembled. We are in charge of everything that has to do with audio for the entire five day Sting video shoot. Wow.
“Perhaps we should have a plan?” said John. I noticed everyone was soon looking at me.

Technical Addition: The Studio Without Walls System
I should take a moment and speak about this system we are using. Once I started using my own gear for projects, whether in a studio or at my home, I found myself reconfiguring it all the time. Either that, or I was looking for somewhere to plug in for power. All in all, I was always looking for a cable or somewhere to plug it in. So when I built a system from scratch, I focused a tremendous amount on infrastructure. I tried to have everything plug in with one kind of genderless, bi-directional 8-channel cable. That way I could have all these racks, building blocks if you will, each having several 8-channel I/O connectors, which could be attached to another rack, patchbay (there are five of them), console, or a break out box/snake. Just pick the building blocks you need for a certain job and connect them in the way that makes the most sense for the task at hand.
Each rack also includes a power inlet and through connector. This, along with extensive power distribution within each of the racks, make setup/tear down a snap. It also makes reconfiguring the system fast and easy. On this project alone it will go from a small remote recording system, to a large remote recording system, to a multichannel mixing system with no down time. It’s completely scalable.

Technical Addition:
System Augmentation
We recorded everything onto Digidesign’s Pro Tools HD. The product was to be a DVD-V, so the format of 48 kHz/24-bit was chosen. My HD system is only populated with digital I/O (my whole studio is digital), but this would obviously require some 48 analog inputs. Doug Botnick to the rescue. Doug Botnick is to converters what Stephen Jarvis is to GML mic preamps. Doug provided us with 48 channels of Lavry converters and Jarvis contributed with his rack of 48 GML mic pres.

Setup Week — Continued
The plan we arrived at was quite simple really. The PA Company was Clair Brothers. We speculated that they would provide us with the other end of a transformer split. Tam Fairgrieve, Sting’s stage manager, quickly confirmed that via e-mail. So our plan was to plug the outputs of the splitter into the 48 channels of GML mic pre, then plug that into our gorgeous rack of blue (Lavry) converters that fed Pro Tools. The two lead vocals would each receive a GML 2020 mic pre/EQ/limiter combo in lieu of a lone mic pre. The Sony DMX-R100 digital console would come along and I would mix the live feed on headphones for the video [TASCAM] DA-88, while Duane logged everything that everyone does and John kept any fires from actually being noticed.
We checked everything…twice. We phase checked every line. We test recorded for hours and hours at a time. We built up a spare everything, then we checked it all again. Then we tore it all down, put the covers on the racks, the cables in the trunks, and helped Mike and Dave from Soundline load it all into a cartage truck. Then we watched the truck drive away.

Load In (Malibu) — Day 1
We’re at Sting’s house by 9 AM. Our gear is outside and there are plenty of hands. Everyone is nice. Richard Frankel is there, along with Jim Gable, the director. We meet a nice bloke named Richard Sol who is the architect as well as the caretaker of the house when the man is gone. He helps us find a place to set up and warns us of the antiquities to avoid. Tam is here along with at least 35 other people (band gear, catering, wardrobe, and, oh yeah, a full documentary film crew). John returns from talking with Frank Lopes, the Clair Brothers’ house engineer. We now have power and the location of the audio split drop box. It is right next to us. That was easy. Noah and Duane plug in our audio split. John and I set up the Sony and converters. When that is done John drifts off into video land and Duane and I start to scope out the microphone situation unfolding on stage.
What are those? Is that an AT4055? YES, YES! My favorite live vocal mic is already out there. A quick talk with Frank and some B&K 4011’s make their way onto the percussion overheads. Everything else is already first class. Kipper’s rig is up and running, valve built and sounds great. The guitar and bass rigs are rung out and sound fantastic. So everything is set up, the computer is running and passing audio of the mics that are ready. We are ready for line check but the band gear still isn’t set fully set up. What shall we do? Oh I know. Go look at the ocean and eat a fantastic catered meal by Joe Sponzo. Kipper shows up. Big hugs. Sting arrives. Hello. This all seems to be going well. So everything seems to be working, and we’re at this gorgeous beach house experiencing the most unpretentious hospitality we have ever known.
We need to look busier.
Line check anyone? Some of the lines prove to already be at line level. We bypass the respective mic pres. Kipper and Sting want to listen to a CD of some new mastering of the album. Our control dining room finds yet another function as the day comes to a close.

Rehearsal (Malibu) — Day 2
They meant that 9 AM thing. We arrive at 8:40 AM. I know, I know. We’re in record by 8:55 AM and Sting is singing by 9 AM. The headphones sound pretty good. Compression on the vocals is sorted in five minutes or so…Duane is logging. Noah splits. We’re covered for now. There is a buzz in the keyboard rig. Hopps fixes it. Originally we were going to head back to my place in West L.A. after the Mayan gig and mix there. Kipper, however, presents a much better idea over lunch: Bring all the gear back to Sting’s house and set it up in the guesthouse. That way Sting could be around for the first couple of days of mixing. It added no expense and we were all quite happy to stay in paradise a bit longer. Great, the plan is made. We will mix in Malibu. I try to contain my joy.
Back to rehearsal. More great music. During a break we all get to see the motorized glass roof of the living room close and open. Cool. Dinner is, again, amazing. After the meal, AOL does a filming of Sting and some core band performing out on the patio. The Clair Brothers guys set up the mics. Same lines. Three takes. That goes well. Kipper hears a playback of the day’s rehearsal and some performance tweaks ensue. All are happy, and we go home again, reluctantly.

Rehearsal (Malibu) — Day 3
We were early this time. Ready to go by 8:30 AM. Quiet on the set at 9 AM sharp. Roll everything. Sting starts to speak quietly in the silence. One of his best friends and long-time manager Kim Turner had died the night before. Sting did a moving dedication in which he asked all the music played today to be for him. All goes well, but the day is very thoughtful. The band is playing very well and the arrangements are falling into place. We all seem to appreciate each other a bit more now, and so I remember the two meals full of a lot of laughter and enjoyment. Dinner was the closing act of the night for us.

Out — Day 4
Day 4 is a short day and runs like clockwork. The band only rehearses until about 5 PM, and then we start to load out. Tam arranged for the SWW system to travel with the band gear, so after packing up we try to lend as much help as possible, but for the most part we were just whisked away by Sting’s exemplary crew with plans to reconvene at the Mayan in the morning.

There’s more to come, but you’ll have to wait until next issue! Check in next time for the 5.1 recording of Sting’s Scared Love DVD-V at the Mayan Theater in downtown L.A.

Surround Professional Magazine