by bobby owinski
While there are many rental companies offering high-tech audio gear, few of them actually have either the inventory of truly audiophile devices or the expertise to make them work in demanding, high-pressure situations. Doug Botnick’s Digital Music Technologies (DMT) Rentals not only serves this specialized product niche, but has become “the” place to go if you need to rent the finest quality digital gear and converters. Long a staple of the film industry, DMT has recently been discovered by the record industry as well in supplying converters for Pro Tools rigs and Sony 3348’s for the likes of Neil Young, Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Matchbox Twenty. As you’ll see, Doug’s music and engineering background is an essential element in providing his clients not only with the highest in audio quality, but also with second-to-none service.
SP: I know that your background had a big influence on the DMT concept. You were a musician before you became an engineer, right?
Doug Botnick: I really got started in the business by following my dad to the studios because he was one of the top violists in the heyday of the big orchestra and worked regularly with Frank Sinatra and Alfred Newman. In fact, I remember going to one of his recording dates, sitting behind Bill Putnam in studio A of United Recorders (now Ocean Way), and watching David Rose conduct and having Fred Astaire dance in front of the orchestra. So that really got me hooked.
And, of course I always wanted to emulate a lot of what my brother (famed engineer Bruce Botnick) was doing. He was interested in recording and we were always a very musical family. But, to answer your question, I studied the French horn and was actually a professional opera singer for many years and sang as a soloist with the San Francisco Opera and L.A. Philharmonic.
Then in the late ’60s and early ’70s I was fortunate to work with many wonderful recording artists as an engineer. I did albums for Earth, Wind & Fire, Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, Arlo Guthrie, and Van Dyke Parks among others. But the record industry had gotten very segmented to the point where most of what we were doing were overdubs and what I wanted to do was record live music all at once. So I went into the television industry and worked at CBS Television City for seven years doing variety shows. I did the Lawrence Welk show for several years, and it was great experience in that it got me to work fast in a live situation. I became friends with Shawn Murphy at the time, since we were both on staff there. We used to do the American Film Institute awards together; I would mix the orchestra and he would mix everything else.
Little by little I got interested in the film industry, and eventually went on staff at Warner Brothers for a few years re-recording and scoring. Then I went out on my own and started DMT, which was originally called Digital Music Transfer, which did high-quality mag transfers for a great many major films. Our clients were my brother Bruce with his Jerry Goldsmith scores, Shawn Murphy, and a lot of the really top people. Music editors wanted to use us because we were very reliable and paid a lot of attention to detail, so, therefore, the quality was high.
Then the mag world disappeared as Pro Tools and Sonic Solutions became very popular. I was looking for something to do with the business and just at that point dB Technologies came out with their brilliant A/D converters. Along with the PrismSound bit-splitter and some clever interfacing, we discovered that we could record 20- or 24-bit on any existing 16-bit recorder, because there weren’t any 24-bit recorders at the time. I went to my friends and explained the concept, and they all said, “Go for it, because we need quality.”
So I changed the name of the company to Digital Music Technologies to better indicate what we do. And thanks to the major scoring mixers, and a lot of the younger mixers as well, DMT has become the standard for most of the major movies. When you go to the theater, a great percentage of the time you’re hearing music recorded with DMT systems, which is basically very high-quality analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters, largely by dB Technologies, sandwiched around a Genex or RADAR digital recorder. We also have Pacific Microsonics, PrismSound, and Apogee converters as well, and now we provide Genex, RADAR, or the new TASCAM MX-2424 or MMR-8 recorders.
How much of your business is in film?
The film side of the business is probably at least 50 percent, although more and more we’re moving into the record world. We recently did Cast Away, The Matrix, American Beauty, and the upcoming A.I. and Harry Potter films, among many others.
In music, we’ve been doing more and more 5.1 sessions like the Mettalica “black” album with Bob Rock, Sting’s Nothing Like the Sun and Brand New Day with David Tickle, Don Henley’s End of the Innocence with Rob Jacobs, Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now with Alan Sides, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers with Jim Scott. Rory Kaplan at DTS uses our gear on a regular basis for their surround projects as well.
More and more rock musicians are hearing the difference that these converters can make. There’s a perception that just because some music doesn’t have the dynamic range of a symphony orchestra it wouldn’t benefit from high bit, high sample rate conversion, but more and more of our clients who are indeed in the rock field just won’t work without this stuff any more.
We also have a lot of the mastering guys like Doug Sax, Tom Baker, Dave Collins, and Bernie Grundman calling us either for high-quality converters or for other high-quality DSP boxes like the TC Electronic System 6000,Weiss EQs, compressors, and de-essers, or the dB Technologies 3000 sampling rate converter. And we are literally the only people in the world who are renting DSD recorders and converters.
Sample-rate conversion has suddenly become a hot thing after years of people staying away from it.
Yeah, the whole up-sampling thing is quite amazing in itself. Anyone that’s heard it has said, “We don’t understand why, but it makes everything sound better.” Take a 44.1 or 48k signal and up-sample it to 96 or 192k, and it takes on a whole new life, especially if you’re doing DSP at those frequencies. It’s an amazing change. I think part of it is that you get all the artifacts from the anti-aliasing filter out of the audible range, so when you go and reach for some 22k in the digital domain, that’s what you get, not all the other garbage with it.
Your service goes above and beyond that of a normal rental company.
Service is everything. It’s one of the things that I’m most proud of. I have wonderful people working for me who work above and beyond the call of duty. These are people who have a high ethic in the sense of quality and responsibility. We are all trying to raise the bar as high as we can. Instead of just dropping a piece off, we hold a client’s hand and walk them through the entire process before we leave. For example, we just got the Star Trek Voyager show to change over from recording multichannel analog to TASCAM MX-2424. They’re running two recorders. One in place and one recording every single take. In the beginning we literally sat there with the recordist at Paramount just to make sure that he was comfortable. When they introduced the second machine, we ran it for them on the first couple of shows so he could observe it in a different mode.
What’s most in demand these days?
Still to this day, the film guys use dB Tech converters and a Genex and RADARs at 48k, although there is now a move to 96k. For the record people, it’s high bit, high sample rate recording because people can hear it. That’s the kind of thing that’s just starting to happen in the record industry that’s been pretty standard in the film industry for some time.
Do you rent all types of digital recorders?
An area that we stay away from is the large format recorders like the 3348’s or computer workstations. What we do is make those machines sound amazing, though. One of the things that we’re trying to do is supply more of the dB Tech Blue series, the mid-line ones, wrapped around a 3348 or Pro Tools for record projects. The dB Tech’s D/As are all up-sampling converters, so if you give it 48k from the 3348, it gets up-sampled to 96k and then converted to analog. So when you have a 24-bit up-sampling converter either on the input or output of the machine, you never knew that those machines could sound so good.
What’s the biggest rental you’ve done?
There’ve been some enormous ones. One of the biggest was Mulan for Disney with two systems each consisting of 24 channels of dB Tech Gold converters and a half-dozen Genex recorders for both the scoring dates and the songs that were being recorded simultaneously at different facilities.
It’s become pretty standard to provide at least 16 channels of these high-quality systems for the film industry. Shawn Murphy, Dennis Sands, Bobby Fernandez, and Steve Kempster are always using at least 16 channels — sometimes as many as 24 channels, depending upon the requirements of the show.
Do you ever have someone question the value of using these converters?
One rental that pops into my mind is back during the last of the Alien movies where we were renting 20-bit converters because it was the state-of-the-art at the time. I had a number of editors say that they didn’t think they could hear the difference coming from speakers behind a screen with holes in it. So one night the editors where working alone on the dubbing stage and they decided to switch back and forth between 16- and 20-bit. I got a call the next day saying, “I had no idea how much difference this would make.” Even in a big reverberant theater, where the sound is coming through holes in the screen, people could hear the difference that this technology can provide. And when you get up to 24-bit, it’s another difference still.
DMT Rentals can be reached at 818-559-2272 or at www.dmtrentals.com.