Teaching Audio Engineering while on the road with Ozzy

Teaching audio engineering while on the road with Ozzy
by Jim Dalrymple, Macworld.com Jul 24, 2008 5:00 pm

Greg Price doesn’t mince words when it comes to giving career advice to aspiring audio engineers who want to rise to the top of their field.

“There are two prerequisites to becoming a great audio engineer,” said Price. “First, you have to play an instrument and second, you have to use a Mac.”

Sound engineer Greg Price holds court with students from The Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology.

Playing an instrument is important, explains Price, a long-time sound engineer, because when anyone setting up a mix for the band should know how to communicate with the musicians in a language that they both understand. It doesn’t matter what you play, Price adds, just as long as you have an understanding of an instrument.

And using a Mac? “You just have to know an Apple computer,” Price said. “There is only one computer to use when making music and that’s a Mac. Even GarageBand is an essential piece of software. It can help these students learn so much.”

Price should know. He’s been around the music business as an engineer for 33 years, working with artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne and Zakk Wylde, and bands ranging from Steely Dan to Lamb of God. He has worked with every piece of gear you can think of, but he always makes sure he has a Mac nearby.

And that was one of the points Price brought up in a recent talk to 100 audio engineering students and faculty from the The Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology in Toronto. Price was in town with Ozzy Osbourne’s Black Rain tour as the sound engineer, but took some time to offer some insight to the students on what’s involved in setting up a production the size of an Ozzy show.

Along with his Digidesign Venue system, Price has always been an avid Mac user. When it comes to making music, using a Mac isn’t something you should do, Price emphasized, it’s a must.

The students at Price’s Toronto talk seemed to pick up on that message. Price said he conducted an informal poll of the students and found that 75 percent had a Mac.

Price spent a full day with the students and taught them everything from loading in the gear to setting it up, going through sound check and then doing the actual concert. He described the day as “audio engineering 101.”

Sharing the knowledge
Price has been around the industry long enough to be able to talk to students about analog and digital, pointing out how technology has changed things over the years. But not everyone is as free with information as he has been—in most cases, engineering knowledge is not readily shared. Whether it’s fear of losing the next big gig or wanting to hold on to trade secrets, many audio engineers will not share their years of experience with anyone. However, for Price, there are no real secrets.

“There have been closely guarded secrets, but technology has melted that away,” Price said. “I’m not giving up anything, I’m sharing. Now that we know these things, shouldn’t we share?”

Greg Price with his Venue console and Mac Pro

Bob Breen, the career management instructor and industry liaison officer at The Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology, agreed, calling Price’s talk a great experience for the students.
“Greg really went over and above the call of duty,” Breen said. “It was exciting for them [the students]. It was very illustrated in the sense that we got a good idea of how people work together to make things happen.”

Breen also knows a thing or two about being an engineer. He worked as an engineer and studio manager at Ocean Studios in Burbank, Calif., for six years. While there, he worked with Evanescence, Sum 41, Jimmy Eat World, Avril Lavigne and two Black Label Society albums with Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde, among others.

Breen said the Ontario school has seven studios on site, giving the students a split between class time and hands-on time in the studio. But seeing how the pros do it in a real live setting was something else for the students.

“There was quite a few that walked away saying ,’That’s what I to do,’ and that’s really good,” Breen said..

For Price, the experience was all about sharing his knowledge with the next generation of audio professionals. “I got a great deal of enjoyment from teaching these kids,” he said. “We need new generations of engineers, so why not help them start off on the right foot.”

Extending the boundaries

This Mac Pro and Digidesign gear helps Greg Price make it sound like Ozzy Osbourne is standing right next to you during one of his concerts.

Price points out that there is much more to his career than the knowledge he’s sharing with the students. Of course, you still need the talent to put it all together.

Concert goers these days are a sophisticated bunch that expect a lot from the experience. That puts more pressure on engineers to make the concert sound as good as it possibly can.

“We are always looking for a better concert going experience that lets people feel like they are standing right next to Ozzy,” Price said.

Price said he would never trade his Mac Pro and Digidesign Venue system for anything. Using that gear Osbourne was able to release three live songs from the Black Rain CD, while he was still on the road.

“With the Mac, Pro Tools and the Venue, the only boundaries are the boundaries in our minds,” Price said. “That’s how powerful this stuff is.”

Price has insisted on using his Mac and Venue for every show, no matter where the concert was taking place. Osbourne’s world tour started in May 2007 in Russia, moved to North America, on to Australia and ended in South America this past spring.

“That Apple computer has been in a container sailing across the Atlantic, in the back of a truck, it’s been freezing and in extreme heat,” Price said. “Not one failure. Not one.”

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