Q&A With Bruce Botnick
Credit: Photo: Kelly Fajack/WPN
SAM BERKOW: You built your studio primarily as a surround-capable mix room. Can you talk a bit about how you use this room? How much of your work is surround?
BRUCE BOTNICK: I use the room mostly for mixing in stereo, as the surround business has become somewhat mute. However for music scores for films, 5.1 is the format.
BERKOW: Your work spans TV, film, and music, mixing and tracking. In an age of specialization how do you see your job?
BOTNICK: In my early days, I was considered a engineer—at least that's what the credits said. Later on after recording everything under the sun—commercials, children's albums, musicals, classical, jazz, rock, and, my two favorites, country and western—I moved into producing, recording, mixing, and dubbing music for motion pictures.
The landscape has broadened greatly, and I have many job titles, but “music maker” sums it up. Be it 5.1, stereo, mono, analog, vinyl, or digital, the bottom line is that we're still making music and the format is nothing but a vehicle. With time, everything is new and everything is the same—just the toys change.
BERKOW: You brought us, SIA Acoustics, in to help address low-frequency issues in your room. At what point did the low-end problems become disturbing enough for you to take corrective action?
BOTNICK: From the beginning I noticed that the low frequencies weren't up to snuff and I was always guessing as to what the bottom really was. Since I completed the room in early 2004, I'd been on a quest to find the low-frequency holy grail. At every opportunity I'd plea with anyone who would listen to direct me to someone who truly understood the art of acoustics.
BERKOW: When we first met in your space, we spent some time listening to the low end in various locations. How important were those listening sessions?
BOTNICK: Listening is everything. Some of what I hear is in my imagination and I'm able to translate that into something concrete. The listening tests were great because in a very short time we were able to confirm what I wasn't hearing and translate that into a meaningful solution. I'm so happy that I can now hear the bottom anywhere in the room.
BERKOW: We've talked about how to achieve a consistent, tight, accurate low end. What tricks do you use for placing subwoofers when you work in rooms other than your own?
BOTNICK: When I work at other studios and use my own loudspeaker system, the first thing that I do is ask the A2/2nd engineer where the best place in the control room is to put the LFE [low-frequency effects]. The second thing I do is to place the LFE at the mix position, play a repeating sweep from 40 Hz to 100 Hz, and walk around the room listening, with my trusty Radio Shack sound pressure meter in hand. When I find the sweet spot, that's where I place the LFE.
Most of the time it coincides with what others before me have found; other times not. I've also found the best way to overcome blockage and erroneous reflections from the LFE blowing into the back of a console is to have it on its back, blowing straight up towards the ceiling. That seems to get the best and most accurate dispersion.