Interview with Steve Levine: Studio move, work with Culture Club, Technology in Music, Mac Pro upgrade & more
We very recently had the honour of upgrading a 2009 Mac Pro for the absolutely iconic Steve Levine. The prolific record producer was kind enough to take part in our Q&A interview series, we talked about how technology has changed, his work with Culture Club, recent studio move, and of course his Mac Pro 5,1.
Check out Steve Levine’s insightful answers below:
A few years ago, you moved your studio to Liverpool. Such a move presents an opportunity to re-arrange a space that is often very difficult to change. Was there anything you did differently with your equipment, be that routing or just placement, in Liverpool compared to London? If so, why?
I relocated my studio from SW London to Liverpool in early 2013. The studio is housed in an area of Liverpool known as the Baltic Creative Campus. This is a new area dedicated to creative industries. Building the room took about 6 months from start to finish. I’m really thrilled with the new space, I’ve now got a recording space capable of tracking a full band easily. I’ve also got a much larger control room. Equipment wise, I’m re-using about 90% of my original recording gear and I’ve added an acoustic piano, acoustic drum kit and a few larger guitar amps to take advantage of my larger space. I’ve always had a great microphone collection so I’m now very happy that I can use more of them!
You’ve witnessed the transition from 16 track analogue to 24 track analogue, as well as to digital tape and then digital stored on computer hard drives. Can you talk a little about the impact of each innovation? Do you have any thoughts on whether the increase in technology’s capabilities has caused certain modern producers & musicians to become lazy when recording & mixing?
When I started in 1975 as a tea boy 16 track 2″ analogue was the industry standard with a few studios starting to move to 24 track. By 1977 24 track became the norm, with additional tracks came more production opportunities. Mixing became more complicated and we saw the start of automated mixing become more common. Remember that in those days the automation systems meant losing two tracks for the computer data!
Digital recording opened up many new creative possibilities – especially digital editing – and then the ADAT format brought high quality recording to the masses for the first time. Computer recording initially was fraught with problems, but with faster drives and loads of RAM these problems are becoming much more rare. Today’s sessions with unlimited tracks create their own problems.
Capturing multi-microphone sources is sonically very creative, mixing, however, is getting harder as the producer has so many options available. Making good creative decisions is the new skill to have.
Some of your most historic work has been the iconic albums that you produced for Culture Club. Can you talk a little about your creative process with the band when in the studio?
I started with working Culture Club in January 1982. At that time the band didn’t have a record deal – the demos I recorded with them ultimately lead to the deal with Virgin. We had a great run of success and I have remained very good friends with them all to this day. The sessions and the tracks I produced with culture club (and other artistes) really are a snapshot & time line of 80’s recording technology. We started on 24 track analog – then 48 track analog (two machines synced together) and mixed with early digital two track systems. Next digital multitrack and sampling technology became available, and of course automated mixing. At the same time synthesiser and sequencing became the force that it is today. I’m very proud of those sessions
You created and co-presented a radio show entitled The Record Producers. The show looked back at monumental records/discographies from the producers point of view. Can you tell us a little more about the show?
The remit of the show was as producer to producer – so everyone I’ve interviewed is someone who I have admired over the years. It’s an exploration of the craft of music production. The show has been very successful and continues to be a very popular series. We have recently taken the show on the road creating a live format.
What spec Mac Pro did you go for? Why did you choose this spec, and was it a big upgrade from your previous system?
I’ve had the Mac Pro (2009 Intel from day 1) and its served me very well, my previous system was the last of the power PC models.
I’ve got a lot of hardware invested in that Intel system so I can’t easily change to the new Mac pros – the create pro CPU upgrade was the perfect solution – I upgraded to the 12 core 3.46GHz CPU (and soon I’ll upgrade the RAM and the hard drives). This propels my machine forward allowing me to continue using it for a few more years without having to resort to external chassis for my audio and plug in hardware.
What do you use your Mac Pro for? Which software do you run & how does the system handle it?
I run Logic X, Ableton live and Pro Tools (native) as well as lots of other audio editing programmes such as Isotope Rx4. It all works very well.
How integral is your system/software to your workflow? Do you see your reliance on your Mac/software increasing in the future?
It’s the core of my whole system, so it’s essential that it’s as fast and as reliable as possible.
Do you use any additional hardware in your workflow? What impact does this have on how you use your Mac Pro/software?
I use the RME MADI PCI-e card this gives me 64 separate outs into my DM 2000 mixing console. I also have a PCI-e UAD quad-core card to run my UAD plugins.
Are you currently working on any projects using the Mac Pro? How does your workstation fit in with this project specifically?
Latest/current project is Xam Volo: http://www.bidolito.co.uk/category/tags/xamvolo
How important is your system’s performance to you? Does not having to worry about what you workstation can handle help you spend more time focussing on the quality of your work?
The system needs to be as efficient and reliable as possible and it’s really important to have a great backup hard drive system – just in case!
Can I also add that the service you provide is superb and the swap out and return of CPU/SSD/RAM is the perfect solution for busy recording professionals allowing you to continue to work without any serious downtime.
We would like to thank Steve Levine for taking part in our interview series. For more on Steve Levine, check out the links below:
Xam Volo’s new single ‘Rescue Me’ will be released late December, so keep a look out.