ANYWHERE, USA: Although fluid in its details, SongCraft Presents is solid in its premise: partners Ben Arthur, Mike Crehore, Al Houghton, Matthew Hendershot, and Rob Reinhart work with an established singer-songwriter to compose and record a great song in the span of just three short hours. More often than not, the all-consuming dominance of that time constraint naturally inspires the artist in collaboration with Ben Arthur – an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right – to create something fresh and unencumbered. Matthew Hendershot captures the entire process, which is later edited to highlight the occasional frustration and frequent magic of the creative process under pressure. The recordings find outlets on the Internet and on Acoustic Café, a weekly two-hour radio program hosted by Rob Reinhart that reaches nearly three million listeners on over ninety stations around the country and on Voice of America.
Although sometimes recorded at Houghton’s Dubway Studios in New York City, most SongCraft Presents sessions take place on location, using front porches or living rooms as makeshift studios. For those sessions, co-producers and engineers Crehore and Houghton rely on the transcendent sound and bulletproof operation of Metric Halo ULN-8 and ULN-2 interfaces, which handle all of the microphone pre-amplification, conversion, and front-end processing for the sessions.
“Ben is a fantastic singer-songwriter, and he has an amazing knack for inspiring other artists to not only write something great, but to finish something great,” said Crehore. “That’s obviously very important for SongCraft Presents! Ben and the artist usually start with the lyric, get that right, and then build the song to serve the lyric. While they’re writing, Al and I are working on the fly to get a sound that will complement the song. If it’s a band, such as a recent session we did with Britain’s Turin Brakes, we want to make a recording that will be consistent with that band’s established sound. If it’s a solo artist, such as Ben Ottewell (from Gomez), we’re trying to get as intimate and honest a sound as we can.”
Several years ago, Crehore and Arthur were both in need of a good interface for their home studios. Since they were starting SongCraft Presents around the same time, the pair killed two birds with one stone (or perhaps they killed one large bird with two small stones?) by each purchasing a Metric Halo ULN-2. Thus, each partner would have two boutique preamps and converters for their home use that could be combined (via Metric Halo’s free MIO Console software control) to give them four preamps and converters for SongCraft Presents sessions. And during the back and forth of collaboration it helps to have identical systems.
“I’ve been in this business long enough to remember when analog tape was the only option available,” Crehore said. “Over the years, I’ve heard the advance of digital technology and have worked with all of the latest-generation converters and preamps from all the well-known manufacturers. Things have gotten a lot better, and most of the options out there these days qualify as ‘good.’ But in my opinion, Metric Halo’s sound is at the top of the heap. It’s simply beautiful, and I can hear details I can’t hear with other converters. In addition, Metric Halo’s headroom on the front end is a pleasure to work with.” After working with the ULN-2 for a while, Crehore lusted after more channels and eventually bought Metric Halo’s flagship ULN-8, which incorporates eight channels of the company’s latest-generation preamp, conversion, and DSP technology.
He continued, “the other critical virtue of Metric Halo’s converters that make them ideal for SongCraft Presents is their rock-solid reliability. I can set things up at home and store my setup for instant recall from the front panel. And of course, the whole concept of SongCraft Presents – that everything happens inside of three hours – depends on the flawless performance of all our gear on the record end. The Metric Halo converters never disappoint. Moreover, in a pinch I can always record with the Metric Halo record software, which is also completely stable and reliable.”
Citing his early years, when decisions once committed to tape could never be undone, Crehore likes to get his sound correct in the moment and then commit that sound in the recording. All Metric Halo interfaces incorporate optional “character” modeling software that subtly imbues a signal with different signal path tonalities. Crehore’s favorite is “Soft Sat,” which does an impressive job of modeling the soft saturation characteristics of ‘60s and ‘70s vintage recording gear. Crehore commits Soft Sat to every track that he records for SongCraft Presents, and he also commits front-end equalization and compression made available in MIO Console’s DSP (which use the same algorithms that have made Metric Halo’s ChannelStrip plug-in the go-to favorite of innumerable Grammy-winning mix engineers). Indeed, after mixing down each SongCraft Presents session, Crehore again runs it through the ULN-8 unit utilizing its Soft Sat character, then printing back to Pro Tools.
Although he now has all the channels he needs for SongCraft Presents, Crehore is again lusting after more Metric Halo channels. “With one more ULN-8, I’d be able to take my band, “the balboans,” up to my buddy’s cottage in upstate New York for tracking sessions,” he said, adding, with a smile in his voice, “I think I’m ready.”
ABOUT METRIC HALO
Based on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Metric Halo provides the world with award-winning software and hardware recording, processing, metering and analysis solutions.
Most recent video of Ben Ottewell from Gomez working with us at SXSW 2015: www.youtu.be/FI4tLn0_Aas
To enjoy other SongCraft Presents recordings visit: www.songcraftpresents.com
Mike Crehore’s band, the balboans, website: www.thebalboans.com
(PHOTO CAPTIONS) Image 1: Mike Crehore and Metric Halo at work during a SongCraft Presents remote recording session at a home in Austin during the 2015 SXSW Music Festival. Image 2: SongCraft Presents remote recording session of Ben Ottewell at a home in Austin during the 2015 SXSW Music Festival.