Fleetwood Mac has brought the world some of the most celebrated music of all time, and their latest effort, Say You Will, continues the sonic perfection weve come to expect from them. With Lindsey Buckingham handling the majority of the production chores (Rob Cavallo lends his production skills on a couple tracks) and the sonic wizardry of Mark Needham, Say You Will became the first DVD-Audio disc to gain a simultaneous release with its corresponding CD. I think 5.1 is absolutely something thats here to stay and will eventually be in all the automobiles, states Mick Fleetwood, the ever-charismatic founder and backbone of Fleetwood Mac. I believe its going to become a very normal way to listen to music, and the next thing would obviously be to go into the studio with the intention of recording a surround sound album.
When SP caught up with Fleetwood Mac they were already full stride into their tour schedule. Despite the hectic demands the road claims on the superstar, Fleetwood still found time to share his viewpoints on the past, present, and future of surround sound.
My first experience was strangely enough listening to something that really wasnt able to be pure surround. It was an old BBC stereo master of Fleetwood Mac that Ken Caillat had done some rough experiments segregating sonically the different tones off the 2-track and had taken the bass out, putting it somewhere else, and it actually worked fairly well. I thought it was really quite impressive, he remembers. But truly the first time myself and the band had a real experience with surround sound was with the redoing of the Rumours package a few years back.
Say You Will in Review
Say You Will is Fleetwood Mac’s first album with Lindsay Buckingham since 1987’s Tango in the Night. In the meantime, children were born who are now reaching college, the Internet ate the world, and Fleetwood Mac released three albums you never heard (they actually weren’t too shabby…). Say You Will is the progeny of seven years of Lindsay’s work on a solo project, and Stevie and Lindsay’s increased space for CD-pit real estate (after Christine McVie decided to not dive into the soap opera again).
I have only listened to this music on the DVD-Audio version, released day and date with CD and a deluxe Enhanced Limited Edition CD. The surround mix, by Mark Needham, sounds, well, like Fleetwood Mac. Some have commented on how the mix on this release lacks a little air, but listen to Tango or Mirage (or back to Kiln House, even), and you will be reminded that FM has always been presented as dense pop music. The drums, I will agree, have a little less bounce than on the DVD-A 5.1 remix of Rumours.
The surround mix is very effective. Lead vocals make significant use of center channel, with some support from phantom left and right; this results in a consistent presentation of the vocal to a wide range of seating choices. Stevie’s title song and Lindsay’s “Steal Your Heart Away” are particularly well served by this presentation. The surrounds hold wraparound backing vocals, odd percussion instruments, and ambience; some of Lindsay’s edgier songs like “Murrow Turning Over in his Grave” make great use of 5.1’s capabilities, including some obvious use of the LFE to smack you with bass elements.
The songs and performances are, in my opinion, on-par with Mirage- and Tango-era FM. Not as if time hadn’t passed, but with renewed energy and a band that’s been through the ringer and came out better for it. “Bleed to Love Her” and “Peacekeeper” are classic pop, “Everybody Finds Out” and “Silver Girl” are as good as the best on some of Stevie’s solo albums. With little evidence of keyboards, Lindsay’s guitar gets to shine as it never was allowed on previous FM albums, and Mick Fleetwood and John McVie play drums and bass like no one else. I don’t know what Britney’s audience might make of this, but perfect, passionate pop as delivered here might be just what this world needs. —Doug Osbourne
Caillat had been at the helm of the 1977 mega-selling stereo album and was a natural to bring back for the 5.1 mixes. I love it, I think its great, Fleetwood muses about surround. With anything, when you get a new experience so to speak, it can be misused. Especially with some of the older material, which is now, of course, being taken over to 5.1. The reality is some of those musical pieces are so well known that you have to just quietly have some form of respect for what people have been so used to hearing, and yet I think with the right approach you can make it a new listening experience. And we had some fun certainly on the Rumors album putting in things that were not on the stereo mix. So Im an advocate of surround sound. I think once youve experienced surround its truly hard to go back.
Fleetwood Mac enlisted the talents of engineer Mark Needham to handle the stereo and multichannel mixing on Say You Will. Needhams credits also include engineering several records for Chris Isaak as well as creating the sound for the HBO hit The Chris Isaak Show, which is broadcasted in 5.1. Lindsey (Buckingham) and I are incredibly trusting of Marks work, says Fleetwood. One of the reasons we came to Mark as a band (Lindsey worked with him some few years back), having worked now with him for quite some time, is that hes incredibly open to influences from the band. By the time we got to the surround mixes of this album, Lindsey and the band had a level of comfort with Mark where we trusted him almost implicitly.
As far as the mixing process is concerned Lindsey was very involved, as the producer of the album, in the basic mixes, and next in line most certainly would be me. We really enjoy working together. Its a good functioning setup because I have a very layman-type approach to it where I always am looking at things from a feel. Lindsey has a vision of how things are and hell always hand off to me and say, I know its sounding great, but is the vibe good. So Im sort of the vibe master of that process and it works great.
On this Fleetwood Mac album I spent more time doing percussion than on any other album. I think that when a piece of music gets translated to surround, theres no doubt that having a lot of cool percussion parts that are appropriate for that track is incredibly well suited to surround manipulation and placement.
Surrounding The Mix
Needham explains how he took the stereo percussion tracks into surround: At Cornerstone Studios we set up a system out in the live room and used sends to position the drums and percussion in the 5.1 field. I used a Soundfield 5.1 mic and returned it to my aux console. I was looking for the 5.1 ambience on the percussion and drums, the other instruments were using different effects to achieve 5.1 placement. Needham employed a litany of gear supplied by Transamerica Audio for the 5.1 mixes, which include the Drawmer 1969 on background vocals as well as some of Buckinghams guitar and the Drawmer Six-pack 6-channel compressor/limiter, which he also used on guitar and keyboard tracks. Also in the mix were the GML EQs and a 6-channel Z systems compressor. I used DMT customized dB Technologies converters to a Z system comp, then to the DMT Gold DVD-Audio 5.1 recording system, which is dB Technologies AD 122 96 MKII 24-bit/96 kHz A/D converters and two Genex GX500 24-bit/192 kHz optical disc recorders for the 5.1 mixes.
(l-r) Transamericas Brad Lunde, Mark Needham, and engineer Les Camacho. A lot of gear that Transamerica distributes was used on Say You Will.
(l-r)Transamerica’s Brad Lunde, Mark Needham, and engineer Les Camacho. A lot of gear that Transamerica distributes was used on Say You Will.
I did reference my stereo mixes and tried to keep their feel in the 5.1 mix. Lindsey and the band pretty much let me have my own way here. I tried to keep Mick pretty much in front with a medium-sized room reflection to the rear. I split some of the percussion to the rear on choruses to really make them jump out. I basically approach it like I do any of my other mixes, except with four more speakers. I still like to keep the essence of the stereo mixes in the front three speakers or the whole thing gets too diffuse to me. I think 5.1 allows a person to hear a lot of the layers and parts of music that you dont normally hear on a stereo mix, and that can be a good thing or a bad thing. Thats why I still try to keep the essence of the stereo mix going.
Once Needham, Buckingham, and Fleetwood wrapped up the 5.1 mixes, they headed into Hollywood to Bernie Grundman Mastering where Grundman added the final touches. We used analog EQ and compression because we still find there is less coloration than processing digitally, states Needham. Its not that we never use digital processing, but in this case we wanted neutrality. I might add that there are some things that digital can do better than analog and vice versa. Many times we use a combination of the two.
With a nationwide tour as well as the successful release of a CD and DVD-A, what could the talented auteur possibly be up to next? Ive been producing a piece of work for my production company with Mark on a great friend of mine, Todd Wood, says Fleetwood. Hes a great musician and a crazy percussionist, so to speak. I had a lot of free reign playing on it as well. I enjoy making new music. I still enjoy the process. The same thing that inspired me as a young chap is pretty much the same thing that drives me now. Its something I know how to do. Im hoping that Todd and my production company will be doing other projects with Mark because hes such a great guy to work with.