Parsonics Master Class February 2023

Fun and Games at the 'New Song' Masterclass
Two days, two songs, two singers under the guidance of Alan Parsons at his renown Dolby Atmos studio in Santa Barbara

ParSonics Studios
Date: March 3/4 2023
Country: USA
Venue: ParSonics Studios
Event: MCTS Level 3
Producer: Alan Parsons
Artist: Steffie Antony Tjandra, and Jeff Morris
Engineer: Noah Bruskin
Media: Charlie Steves

Search For A Song

All ASSR Master Classes are unique because the blend of people is different. But there seemed to be a general consensus of opinion that this event was a classic. It had everything - some drama before the class event started thanks to the freakish rain that had been drenching California for the past month. But either side of the avalanches of water that had been soaking the state and causing havoc, we were fortunate to have two dry -- albeit chilly - days with plenty of sun and fun.

At the heart of any recording lies the song. Mindful of having lost the great Burt Bacharach in February this year we decided to scour the horizon and see what level of songwriting talent is still out there today. There's lots of song contests and frankly most seem to be convoluted affairs where there's either a fee to enter or a commitment to the organizing body. We didn't want that. How about just 'upload a link to your song' and the one we like the most we'll record?

That nearly worked. But of course we liked 'two' songs the best; one from a female writer and requiring a female singer, the other male. Suffice it to say that selections were made without preconception or prejudice.

From no less than 84 submissions, the chosen songs (selected by Team ASSR) were the quirk-rock Chocolate Fuel Dreams from Dallas IT whizz, songwriter and MCTS and online course alum, Jeff Morris, and an R&B number I Don't Want To Fall from 19 yr old Full Sail music production student Steffie Antony Tjandra.

Alan felt that Jeff's song would be 'fun to record,' while Steffie's emotional ballad simply said 'hit' from the get-go.

Of the remaining 82 submissions none were like 'what were they thinking?' and many were outstanding. Honorable mentions go to Ale Garofalo's Giant Hopes, Peter May's (indeed, the best-selling author!) Seratonin Blues, Jarian's Better, and Trey Snow's What's Your Name? The last were both Full Sail students too. Clearly FS is not just about Music Production. The school might well have been using the ASSR video series for many years now but we can make no claims to assisting in their songwriting guidance. Impressive.

Nitty & Gritty

Musicians on the session comprised members of the Alan Parsons Live Project band: GRAMMY winning keyboardist and arranger Tom Brooks, producer and bassist Guy Erez, the highly groovy Alessando Mercado (drums) and guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Kollman.

This session initially focussed on the nitty gritty of recording: song and arrangement. First we listened to Jeff Morris' quirky Chocolate Fuel Dreams (the name actually became 'Fuelled' over the course of the recording), with stops and starts and a lot room for experimentation.

Once the song structure was settled (Guy Erez made a key and universally applauded modification to the foundational bass riff), Alan and his trusted second engineer Noah Bruskin set mics; primarily for the drums but also for the guitar (in an iso booth). Bass and keys were DI-ed.

Alan has long been a fan of sub kicks (students of the ASSR videos will note that Simon Phillips was using a custom made device made from Yamaha NS10 loudspeakers more than a decade ago), and on this session he was using a new model, the from new company Soloman Mics. It performed well too and is admirably compact and inexpensive (around $200).

The key aspect of a live tracking session such as this is that the musicians can see and hear other sufficiently well to interact and create a unique basic feel for the track. This 'classic recording' technique pays dividends. And so it did here. Within and hour or run-throughs a take was selected and, with only the odd repair made subsequently, it was soon time to move onto some guitar and keyboard overdubs. Big thanks to James Durbin here, who sang a guide vocal with his customary panache on every take - a wonderful way to keep the energy of the session at 10.

ParSonics Studios

A Change Of Vibe

From the freneticism of Chocolate Fueled Dreams to the slinky groove of I Don't Want To Fall. The band was the epitome of taste and reserve, the trick on a cut like this being to create and maintain the vibe using as few notes as humanly possible. Jeff seemed to be channeling the recently late great Jeff Beck, while Alex and Guy sat firmly in the pocket, leaving Tom Brooks to provide the momentum on a classy Kronos piano backed by shimmering synth. As with the earlier track, singer Brandi Rose provided guide vocals throughout this tracking session too. We were concerned that she'd blow her voice but were assured that she 'could keep going all night.' Indeed so it proved. James and Brandi belong to a new breed of singer who combine soul with endless stamina. Wow.

Once Alan felt the band had got a take there was some unfinished business to attend to in clarifying some discrepancies between the chords and the vocal in the bridge before Brandi tackled the lead vocal afresh. And so a 'round the (acoustic) piano' session ensued with input from all concerned.

This was another invaluable lesson in the value of gathering around an acoustic instrument, off-mics, in order to really hear and decide upon not only the lead vocal line but also harmonies. It was decided to ask James to join Brandi in the chorus. Tricky harmonies but great move.

ParSonics Studios

With the vocals for this song set and then recorded truly beautifully by Brandi Rose, it was back to Chocolate Fueled Dreams and James to record his lead vocal at what was by now an evening session!

A Little Crazy And A Lot Creative On Day 2

With so much action on Day 1, Day 2 could have been almost a let down but any thoughts of that were immediately dispelled by Brandi Rose's incredible lead vocal on I Don't Want To Fall sung at 10 in the morning having been singing non-stop all the previous afternoon and evening and with a live gig in town after the session!

Alan recently took delivery of a Rode SF-1 Ambisonic mic and we wanted to see what it could add to the Dolby Atmos mix coming down the pike. ASSR co-founder Julian Colbeck wondered if some spacey 'massed' backing vocals on Chocolate Fueled Dreams could be interesting but Alan quickly came up with a much more interesting concept comprising the fifteen attendees, encircling the (four capsule) mic, recording a series of vocalizing and percussive 'effects' to create a sort of dream sequence in the middle section. "OK, everyone laugh. Now talk excitedly. Pick up and play a percussion instrument..." Alan orchestrated, and, literally, conducted. The effect was brilliant.

As if this was not enough, one attendee builds hydrophones that he uses to record whales and dolphins in the ocean. He wondered if, by submerging the mic in a large ice-chest filled with water and so creating a reasonable amount of surface area to pick up the audio, we could create some additional 'other worldly' vocal effects. Again, indeed we could. But it's not often you see 30 gallons of water being hauled into a recording studio!

ParSonics Studios

Multi Mix

Eventually, on Day 2, Alan and Noah got to the mixes. Two tracks, and in stereo, Surround and Dolby Atmos formats.

To get everyone in the mood, Alan played some finished Surround and Atmos tracks so everyone could both hear the difference between the 'flat plane' Surround and the 360 degree 'immersive' Dolby Atmos. Elton John's Rocket Man blew everyone's minds as a real show-stopper with Atmos. No wonder Dolby uses it as their official demo!

ParSonics is now a fully equipped (though not to theater levels) Dolby Atmos studio. Alan uses B&Ws, now supplemented by side and ceiling mounted speakers. New formats are still constantly evolving and one couldn't be in better hands than Alan Parsons, who has long championed multi-format mixes from the early days of Quad (on Dark Side Of The Moon), through ambisonics, Surround (for which Alan won the Best Immersive Album GRAMMY in 2019), and now Dolby Atmos, and Noah Bruskin, who's grasp of these new sonic adventures is both detailed and deeply practical.

At the end of Day 2, which itself slid into having an early evening session like on Day 1, there was an informal reception with drinks and light snacks Chez Alan and Lisa Parsons with certificates duly signed and the days' almost mind-blowing level of activity discussed and dissected.

Mixing With Alan Parsons

Mixing used to be something of a team sport. Band members would end up with their paws on the faders; invariably, the ones relating to their own instrument! No prizes for guessing in which direction they'd progressively creep as the session wore on. As Alan recounted with a sigh in the Art & Science Of Sound Recording video series: “Chaos.”

Although Alan uses an analog Neve 5088, over which several pairs of hands could certainly hover and on which you will definitely get to hear the true value of analog summing, this will still be a fully integrated mix recorded in ProTools using plug-ins and automation. That said, Alan always encourages attendees who are willing and interested to balance the track at various stages along the way. There's nothing quite like sitting at the controls of a Neve board mixing an Alan Parsons record with Alan offering words of encouragement and wisdom over your shoulder.

As discussed above, the mix day not only looked at stereo, but also Surround and Dolby Atmos; including the order in which different mix formats should be created. Katie and Alan

The Venue

ParSonics studio is situated on Alan Parsons' at his Tres Vientos Ranch in the hills above Santa Barbara. This state-of-the-art facility has a 32-channel Neve 5088 analog console, 5.1 monitoring through B&W 802 Diamond Loudspesakers, Dolby Atmos, and a selection of microphones collected by Alan over his 40+ year long career such as his Neumann U47 FET (Field-Effect Transistor) and British Coles 4038 ribbon mics as well as interesting newer items like the Neve RNR1 ribbon mic, personally given to Alan by Rupert Neve. Talk about bragging rights! The control room looks through to a generous sized tracking room with adjoining iso booths. The facility has its own luxurious green room and catering area; a spacious patio area overlooks the Pacific Ocean and can accommodate both dining and outside seminars. ParSonics was completed in 2018 and was used in the recording of Alan Parsons' album The Secret, released in 2019 and From The New World, released July 2022, both on the Frontiers label.

The Producer/Mixer

Alan Parsons was trained at Abbey Road Studios in London, working under the direction of Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick and Beatles producer George Martin. After working with The Beatles on Let It Be and Abbey Road Alan started working as a full-fledged engineer with Paul McCartney, Wings, George Harrison, and countless other artists who came to Abbey Road studios.

In 1972 Alan became the sole engineer working with Pink Floyd on Dark Side Of The Moon, a record which would go on to sell more than 45m copies. (Alan's legendary 'Quad' mix of Dark Side Of The Moon was finally included on the Immersion Edition 6 CD Boxed Set.)

Alan went on to become one of the most successful producers of the 1970s and 1980s, producing a string of hits with artists such as Pilot, Al Stewart, Ambrosia, Cockney Rebel, John Miles and of course The Alan Parsons Project, a concept created by himself and Eric Woolfson.

Post 'Project' Alan Parsons has continued to work as an independent producer with such artists as Jake Shimabukuro, Steven Wilson and Yes. Alan runs a highly successful touring band (The Alan Parsons Live Project).

July 15th 2022 Alan released his sixth solo album From The New World, much of which was recorded and all of which was mixed at ParSonics Studio. The new album features the track Give 'Em My Love, which was recorded at the Aug 2021 ASSR Master Class. The track, co-written by ASSR founding partner Julian Colbeck, features vocals by James Durbin and guitar solo by Joe Bonamassa.

Recommended Hotels:

  • Ritz-Carlton Bacara 8301 Hollister Ave, Goleta, CA 93117-2474 • (844) 631-0595 Upscale resort with fine dining. Very expensive!
  • Hilton Garden Inn Santa Barbara/Goleta 6878 Hollister Ave, Goleta, CA 93117 • (805) 562-5996. Very pleasant facility a short drive from the studio.
  • Pacifica Suites 5490 Hollister Ave, Santa Barbara (805) 683-6722 Professional mid price option.
  • Motel 6 5897 Calle Real, Goleta, CA (805) 964-3596 Only a 2-star but clean and perfectly acceptable.


Friday March 3rd, 2023

  • 09.30–10.00 Welcome, Registration. Coffee and pastries.
  • 10.00–11.00 Playback of song / demo with group discussion on arrangement
  • 11.00–12.00 Miking drums and guitar, setting up other instruments for the tracking session
  • 12.00–12.30 Tracking session
  • 12.30–1.30 Catered lunch with Alan and team on the patio
  • 1.30–2.30 Vocals
  • 2.30–4.30 Instrumental overdubs
  • 4.30–4.45 Tea break!
  • 4.45–6.30 Final overdubs
  • Saturday March 4th, 2023

    • 09.30–10.00 Vocal Recording
    • 10.00–10.45 Overdubs
    • 10.45–12.45 Overdubs
    • 12.45–1.45 Lunch with Alan and the team.
    • 1.45.00–2.15 Mixing in Stereo
    • 2.15–4.15 Mixing in Dolby Atmos
    • 4.15–6.30 Mixing In Dolby Atmos
    • 6.30–7.30 Drinks with Alan in the Green Room. Certificates.

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