Community News Metric Halo’s ChannelStrip – Recording’s Swiss Army Knife
Metric Halo’s ChannelStrip – Recording’s Swiss Army Knife Print E-mail

Carl_James_375Musician, producer and engineer, Carl James – Metric Halo Channel Strip user since 2001.

HOPEWELL JUNCTION, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 2008: Respected musician, producer, and engineer, Carl James is equally comfortable in the diverse realms of Rock, Jazz, Pop, R&B, Reggae and World music, a fact reflected in his infectious, joyful manner. A native of Jamaica, Carl’s confidence is well earned. He cut his teeth in the mid 1980s playing bass with Lenny White, legendary drummer with Return to Forever, then rock band, Living Colour, before playing with what seems like every big name across the jazz to pop spectrum. This included the likes of Steve Windwood, Mariah Carey, Wayne Shorter and many more. As his aptitude for harnessing pro audio gear in the service of an unerring musical intuition became obvious to those who worked with him, Carl expanded his contributions to include engineering and then production. With a perpetually over-booked calendar, Carl has come to rely on the efficient workflow of a laptop-based Pro Tools LE system and his favorite plug-in – a Metric Halo ChannelStrip.

It was 2001 when Carl was first turned onto ChannelStrip. “I was working with another engineer on Latin singer Marta Sanchez’ record,” he recalled. “We were trading tips and talking about gear as engineers do, and he said, ‘man, you have to try ChannelStrip!’ Well, I tried it, and it’s been with me ever since!”

ChannelStrip represents a unique approach to digital signal processing by incorporating all of the traditional functions found on a large-format console: expansion/gating, compression, and equalization. In addition, it includes delay for time-aligning tracks and fully parametric side-chains for expansion and compression. All of the functions operate with visual feedback that precisely describes the processing and is unmatched by any other plug-in in existence. But most importantly, ChannelStrip is built from the ground up with exquisitely musical algorithms that, like revered analog gear of the past, seems to improve any sound that runs through it.

Carl described its functionality with an analogy: “Say you’re walking through your neighborhood. You love the houses… you love the landscaping… you love the kids playing. But there’s some trash and the sidewalk is all messed up. With ChannelStrip, it’s like you make a few adjustments and the trash is gone and the sidewalk is fixed – all without affecting any of the things you love. Your neighborhood shines!”

More concretely (pun intended), he said, “With other processors, it seem impossible to remove the bits you don’t want without also cutting into the bits you want. But even without using the gate, which I avoid on principle, I can strip away everything around a sound that detracts from what I really want to hear. Where every other processor is a chainsaw, ChannelStrip is a precise and musical scalpel.”

As Carl delicately balances work on four concurrent projects, ChannelStrip is with him at every step. For Marta Sanchez forthcoming record (Universal/Spain), he is using ChannelStrip to clean up some of the vocal quirks that, while easy to ignore in a live setting, are glaring in a recording. “Like most Latin singers, she rolls a lot and lets a lot of energy build up,” he said. “With the combination of the compressor and the EQ I can remove that misplaced energy and keep the low-end away from the drums and bass. The result is totally natural and exactly the part of her voice that we want to hear.” He’s using a similar combination to keep the soulful but pop-inspired voice of R&B songstress Ariska (Warner Brothers/Amsterdam) pleasantly balanced with everything else in the mix.

R&B/Hip-Hop Grammy nominee Ciara is also set to work with Carl on a new album (TBA). Ciara has a lighter voice,” he said, “so the low-end is no challenge. The trick is making her voice clear before it hits the mastering studio. I find that the bandwidth control on the ChannelStrip makes it easy to dial in appropriate high-end without continually guessing about the exact frequency.”

Carl likens the voice of reggae’s rising star Etana (VP/Universal/North America) to Lauren Hill: “It’s warm and sultry. With ChannelStrip, I can roll off the lows and pull a little bit out near 1.2kHz while maintaining the integrity of her tone. With appropriate processing, her beautiful qualities come shining through and yet everything fits between the kick and highest shimmer of the crashes.”

Of course, Carl started his career on the bass and he continues in that capacity. “In my formative years working in the studio with Steve Windwood and Living Colour, I learned that the legendary engineers achieved great bass sounds with a few Neve and Pultec EQs and compressors run in series. Not surprisingly, I find that I can achieve the same effect with the compressor and EQ in ChannelStrip. It has all the functionality, combined with the indescribable tone of those old units.”

With all that he has going on, Carl summarized his reliance on ChannelStrip by copping the old advert, “I don’t leave home without it!”