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A New Venture
by Bill Schnee - December 2010

My name is Bill Schnee. I’ve been in the music business for 40 years as a musician, producer, and engineer. If you put my name in you will see a good representation of the artists I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I’ve had a fabulous career and consider myself a very blessed man.

I was very fortunate at the beginning of my career to have Doug Sax of The Mastering Lab recommended to me for mastering. He came into the music business from the world of hifi, and co-founded Sheffield Lab Records that produced Direct-to-Disc LP records. If you’re not familiar with these recordings, they are credited as being some of the best sounding vinyl records ever made, and were found in every hifi store in the country (actually, the world), as they were the best source to demonstrate all types of audio equipment. Several of my Best Engineered Album Grammy nominations are for albums done for Sheffield in the 70s and 80s that I produced and/or engineered. To this day, those are some of the most challenging but rewarding sessions I have ever done.

I opened my recording studio (Schnee Studio) in 1981 in Universal City, California. With the help of two incredible electronic design engineers, we built a discrete recording console from scratch using tube microphone preamps and a tube stereo output amp. It offers a degree of resolution in sound that I don’t believe exists in many other studios. I also have a very large collection of vintage tube microphones, thought by most professionals to be the best mics ever made.

As you can probably tell, great sound has always been very important to me. Since it’s inception in the early 80s, I was never very happy with the sound of the compact disc compared to the vinyl LP. As a delivery medium, the CD promised to cure the ills of the LP - no surface noise, a huge dynamic range, a media that could go from the house to the car, and no inner groove distortion - all very true. Sadly though, to me it didn’t sound as good as the LP (at least with the LP under ideal conditions). In roughly the last 20 years, because of the industry pushing for more and more level on them, the sound of CDs has only gotten worse (see about our delivery). And now, the mp3 with it’s own digitally compressed sound, has sadly become the standard for recorded music. What sense does it make that we have HD televisions in our homes, but LD music in our ears? This downhill slide is very depressing to someone who has spent their professional life vying for great sound in music.

In the studio, when digital multitrack recording came in, I wasn’t a fan of it either. Early 16/44.1 digital recording didn’t sound nearly as good as analog tape to me. I feel I know the ills of analog tape as well as anyone. There’s noise, distortions, tape compression, retentivity (how well the tape holds [or doesn’t hold] the recorded signal - especially after being played for weeks of overdubbing), tape shedding, lack of consistency in tape from reel to reel, and so on. But I chose to continue dealing with those ills rather than record on the early digital tape recorders - for the sake of sound. Then came the digital workstations. I finally had to succumb to digital recording when I saw the production value of ProTools HD, and it does record at 96 and even 192 khz.

A few years ago I needed to find a replacement medium on which to print my final stereo mixes from ProTools. The inconsistency of analog tape from the two remaining tape manufacturing plants became a real problem. So I enlisted the services of a brilliant young audio design engineer, Josh Florian of JCF Audio, who had custom built the D/A converters I use for ProTools. I commisioned him to build an A/D converter specifically for 24/192KHz. When Doug Sax mastered the first album I mixed using the new converter, he was extremely impressed. He suggested I try some experiments with it recording live to two track, since live music in the studio offers the highest degree of resolution you can get. I took a band into the studio and for the first time, with the high degree of resolution I have in my studio, I could not hear the difference between the live musicians ‘coming through the glass’ and the digital storage. I have to say that Josh’s converter makes the most natural analog to digital conversion I’ve ever heard by far. At this high bit and sampling rate, I hear none of the artifacts I hear in other digital, even at 96k. I subsequently recorded a couple of more artists - also as ‘experiments’ and found the results equally thrilling. These early recordings were played at the AES Show and the CES High End Audio Show to great accolades.

The incredible response of the audiophiles at the CES Show made me decide that a label for great music recorded live in the studio was something that I should do for two reasons:

1. Talented people playing together live can give something very special to the listener - something many modern recordings do not have.

2. These hi res live recordings fill the void the audiophile community is feeling from not having enough high resolution product in the marketplace.

What’s really exciting about this second point is that with current digital technology, I can now deliver the consumer a 24/192 WAV file that’s indistinguishable from the original master. It’s a dream of mine realized to think that you at home can hear what I’ve been hearing in the control room of my studio for 30 years.

But there’s certainly a downside to digital technology. Digital has allowed the poor quality Mp3 to become the new standard for music. It’s the Mp3 that has allowed people to easily steal produced music, a product that takes many talented people to create. That theft has crippled the professional music business - from the record companies to producers, musicians, engineers, studios, and all the various support people. When Napster first took hold, I could see the future and became very concerned for everyone in the music industry, and actually for music itself. Record companies, with whatever faults they may have, do provide a lot of benefits for artists and artist development. Their downturn is already being felt in the greatly reduced number of new artists being signed and developed.

I’m starting Bravura Records to try, in some small way, to ‘right some of the wrongs’ that exist today which I’ve just elaborated on. I hope to offer music lovers life enriching listening experiences while providing really talented singers and musicians a top notch outlet for their artistry. I love creativity. I think creativity is very close to the heart of God, since I believe we’re all a part of His creation. I love creating music in the studio. I can honestly say I love it as much today as I did when I started over four decades ago. I’ve told my wife for years that when my time comes, I hope to drop over on the console!

As I begin this journey I’m thrilled that several important elements are converging in the creation of Bravura Records. Old friends and new friends are joining me, all with the same purpose of heart. I’m hoping you will also become a friend of Bravura Records and spread the word to all who love music. There’s something new and different coming … and it’s Bravura!


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