Avid Pro Tools and the Pro Tools | S6 control surface are front and center in a new documentary, Grand Designs: The Music of Carl Verheyen. The 58-minute video chronicles the recording of The Grand Design, the new solo album from Verheyen, a top L.A. session guitarist. The album was tracked and mixed on Pro Tools at the state-of-the-art Sweetwater Studios in Ft. Wayne, Ind.
A veteran of 40-plus years on the music scene, Verheyen has played on countless records and movie soundtracks, and has been a regular member of the band Supertramp since 1985. Considered a “guitarists’ guitarist,” his solo career has hit new heights recently with the near-simultaneous release of the album, the documentary and a cover story in Guitar Player magazine.
The documentary was directed by award-winning filmmaker Nigel Dick, who has more than 400 music videos to his credit (including those of Britney Spears, Guns ’N Roses and Elton John) as well as more than 25 documentaries and feature films. It deftly intertwines footage from the recording sessions for the album with interviews featuring Verheyen, producer Mark Hornsby and a host of Verheyen’s musician peers, such as slide-guitar great Sonny Landreth (who also played on the album), John Jorgenson, Albert Lee, Simon Phillips and John Helliwell of Supertramp.
I spoke with Hornsby, who is the director of operations and senior producer/engineer at Sweetwater Studios, to find out more about the documentary and recording the album. “Being Sweetwater,” Hornsby said, “we thought it would be cool to do a documentary that talks about how the album was created from a musical and a technical perspective, while also talking about Carl’s massive career.”
Many of the in-studio segments focus on the recording of Verheyen’s electric guitar parts. Not only were they played with extreme skill and feeling, but they were exquisitely recorded by Hornsby, who used multiple mics and multiple tracks to capture Verheyen’s warm and fat tones.
“There is a definite shout out in the documentary where we say, ‘The only way we can pull off an album with this many guitar tracks and having this much flexibility is because of Pro Tools,” said Hornsby, “There’s a section in the documentary where I say, ‘OK, let’s break down the instrumentation of one of these songs,’ and I’m doing it on the S6.” The familiar sight of the Pro Tools Edit window appears in many of the studio scenes.
Sweetwater’s audio facilities encompass more than just the flagship “Studio A” where Verheyen recorded. “There are three Russ Berger designed recording studios. A 250-seat Russ Berger designed theater that is all Avid Venue front of house,” Hornsby said, “and all three recording studios are Pro Tools HDX. These rooms contain 5.5 million dollars of technology.”
One of the highlights of the facility is its unique, hybrid console. “Studio A, the big tracking room features the Avid S6 — a 24-fader control surface, with a Rupert Neve Designs Shelford module front end. Half the desk is Neve, half the desk is the control surface,” Hornsby said.
Sweetwater Studios’ success comes from more than just great gear. “It’s a combination of the room and the team that makes this place unique,” Hornsby said. “My staff is about a dozen people and includes award-winning producers, engineers and musicians that we’ve brought in from all over the United States. We’ve got our own ‘Wrecking Crew’ here. We’ve got a drummer on staff, guitar player on staff, keyboard player on staff, bass player on staff, and several producers and engineers — all people with major credits.”
Hornsby and staff were certainly impressed with Verheyen. “When you get players of that caliber,” Hornsby said, “that’s a luxurious thing to have. To go one step further, if you’ve ever seen Carl in an interview or ever talked to him, he’s totally genuine. You watch him and you go, ‘He looks like he’s a really nice guy.’ He’s not faking it. As you probably know, when you’re working on records, half of it is who can you sit in a room with for 15 hours. And Carl’s got great stories, and great perspective — the musicality thing is so ingrained in him.”
The documentary is available free on YouTube. The album is offered not only in standard 16-bit/44.1 kHz format, but as a 24-bit 96 kHz high-res version that comes with an extensive gear list and the multitrack Pro Tools sessions from four of the album’s songs.