Nashville-based multi-Grammy winning producer Tony Brown is, for many people, Mr. Country. A musician from his early teens, Brown played with the Oak Ridge Boys and Emmylou Harris’ legendary Hot Band, and was Elvis Presley’s touring piano player during the final years of the singer’s life. He went on to work at RCA and then MCA Nashville, where, as the label’s president, he helped build country music into the force that it is today, working with artists such as George Strait, Reba Mcentire, Vince Gill, Steve Earle, The Mavericks, Lyle Lovette, Wynonna, Jimmy Buffett, and Brooks and Dunn.

Having been in the music business for over three decades Brown grew up with analog audio, but switched to digital audio production five years ago. “I fought it for so long; everyone in Nashville loved analog. Jimmy Bowen is the one who brought the digital age into Nashville, and being as I worked for him, he convinced me about that.”

But now, says Brown, “I could never go back. Pro Tools|HD sounds so good. All the folks used to say digital was cold—that’s a bunch of BS; there’s nothing you can’t do on computers any more. It makes recording so much easier. Things that used to take forever you can accomplish quickly now.”

Brown, who has won numerous awards and racked up something like 150 gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums plus myriad Top 100 singles, has now established TBE—Tony Brown Enterprises—and has acquired an Intel-based Apple Macbook Pro 15-inch Duo-Core 2 laptop as a mobile recording solution. “I have so many songwriters that work at home on Pro Tools,” he reports. “I’m anxious to loan my laptop out to those folks.”

Brown is working with engineer/producer Jeff Balding, who also boasts an impressive resume: Faith Hill, Trace Adkins, LeAnn Rimes, Trisha Yearwood, John Mellencamp, Carrie Underwood and Megadeth have all benefited from his expertise. “I’m not a knob turner,” acknowledges Brown, “but I’m so creative I’ve learned to surround myself with great musicians and great engineers. I’ve always been attracted to engineers on the front, as opposed to the back, of the curve. That’s why I’m hanging out with Jeff Balding; he’s always been one of the guys in town at the front of the curve.”

Balding was an early adopter of digital audio technology, he reports. “I started with Pro Tools back in the mid-90s.” He, too, has adopted Intel multi-core processing power. “Just as Tony chooses engineers and musicians, you surround yourself from a technical standpoint with the tools that you know will do a certain thing.” Balding’s main setup includes a Mac Pro with two 3.0GHz dual core Intel Xeon Processors hosting a Magma expansion chassis which houses a five-card Pro Tools HD system supporting 24 inputs and 48 outputs. For editing and mix down he uses a Macbook Pro 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and a Digidesign 002: “The processing demands I encountered during the mixing of some tracks for the new Carrie Underwood Target release, I found the Macbook Pro was a perfect fit.”

Balding is enjoying the power of the Intel multi-core processing, he says. “The great thing that I’ve noticed with Intel chips is they’re amazingly fast, just another step up in speed and stability, which allows you to get more done. And you can work in an environment that you feel secure about. You don’t want things going wrong and the computer going sideways on you, crashing or whatever.”

Yet nothing benefits an engineer working in a digital environment more than an appreciation of analog audio, and an awareness of it’s limitations, he continues. “What makes computer recording great is it captures and retains exactly what you record into it. It doesn’t change a week later, three months or even a year later. Once you get a sound tweaked exactly like you want it, you can rest assured that it will stay that way. And with the right computer you can be extremely effective with the speed that you accomplish your ideas in the studio. Effects and production ideas that used to take hours in the analog days, can now be done in minutes. It’s truly one of the biggest technological advancements we’ve seen in our industry.”

As Balding notes, for all their power, convenience and stability, digital audio tools are simply there to enable—and capture—creativity, allowing him to forget about the technical side and focus on the artistic side. “Recording is a true art, and I hope that the artistic side of making records—what producers and engineers and artists bring to the table—doesn’t get lost, especially in the technical side of things. There is an art to choosing a mic, choosing a preamp that complements the mic and loads it right, that goes into an EQ that does what you’re hearing in your head, then capturing that in a pure environment—as you can through computer recording with high quality interfaces. Hopefully that will be passed on and retained in the generations coming up; that’s what’s so important right now, teaching and mentoring that.”

As for his favorite plug-ins, he says, he uses them all: “Pick one, it’s in there.” But when pressed, he admits, “Some of my favorite plug-ins are the UAD plug-ins. Those are just the most precise, great sounding plug-ins around.”

Universal Audio’s hardware is also at the top of his list. “My new favorite toy is their AD/DA converter [2192 Master Audio Interface]. That thing sounds incredible. I can put that converter onto the laptop, come out of my five-card mixing rig into that, and record straight to the laptop through the converter. It’s amazing sounding,” says Balding.

Based on his considerable experience, Balding says that he is only too happy to recommend Intel-based systems to anyone thinking of getting into recording or planning to bring their audio tools up to the next level. Why? “The speed that it has and the access that it give you,” says. “As software manufacturers tap into the power of it, it makes the job easier and lets you focus on the music.”

Photo File: Tony_Brown.JPG
Photo File: Jeff_Balding.JPG

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Dan Snyder
PR Manager, Intel Corporation
(408) 765-6398