Sunday, July 3, 2016

PAS drops the ball.

July 3, 2016

First, I'd like to congratulate the 2016 International Percussion Ensemble Competition winners--
friends and terrific musicians with great ensembles who deserve to be recognized. Winning this
competition is one of the defining events in the history of a percussion program.

Second, I will outline how those groups--totally without their knowledge--competed against only 75% of the entries. Granted, that 75% was still comprised of some of the best ensembles in the
country-- but the fact that it was 75% versus 100% is worthy of exploration.

Let's start from the beginning.

For the first time, PAS, without consulting the Percussion Ensemble Committee, launched an online
application for the competition, which had the contestants upload Dropbox links through a portal.
This was in mid-April.

Both the College and High School groups each have six judges, whose names are confidential for
obvious reasons. I've judged the College version twice, and was selected to judge High School this

As I judged the High School entries, I noticed that at least two non-consecutive groups had
recordings so full of white noise (static) that I couldn't tell what was on the submission.

Here's an analogy: Imagine watching a speech--you can see the mouth move, but there's no
audio--nothing but static--so that you can't tell what's being said.  We'll come back to that.

I thought it was just recording naiveté on the part of the directors, so I gave the groups a zero
because I couldn't hear anything but static.

Weeks go by, and finally the announcements came last Tuesday, and I saw two first-time winners, as
well as one now three-time winner in the College category, as well as two fabulous High School
programs and a terrific Middle School in their respective divisions.

But later that day I heard from five college directors that their scores were downgraded because of
poor audio quality across all of their submission entries--with judges’ comments to confirm it! I
couldn't believe it. Scott Herring from the University of South Carolina (a Committee Chair and a
former IPEC winner) forwarded his recordings to Eric Willie, Chair of the PE Committee and Judge,
who listened and told Scott that these submissions were totally different from what he judged. Read
that part again.  That happened to eight groups total (three high school groups included).

So what happened? Eric, Scott, Paul Buyer (Executive Committee member), and I talked about the
situation through emails, texts, and phone calls.  Scott and I were told that PAS would redo
the contest with new judges. That was Tuesday night.

In the meantime, I heard one of the winning submissions (I heard USC's, Furman's, and a few others
before the application deadline--directors often send their submissions to others before making
application) and am positive they would have won regardless of how many times the competition was run. I felt horrible for the announced winners, most of whom had already told their students and
administration about the results--and then had to walk that backwards when they found out that the
wins could be vacated.

Then, the Executive Committee of PAS, of which I was a member for three years (as Second Vice
President and President-Elect) got involved. Eric send a questionnaire to the judges asking us
whether or not the audio quality of the submissions affected our judgment--remember this part.

I know.  Read that last sentence again.  This was on Wednesday.

I responded with two letters.

Hello, all,

Absolutely it would change my judging. I had two HS groups with what we now know was the same
problem (excessive white noise), and the audio was so bad I couldn't tell what they were playing. I
placed both groups last as a result, as I figured the directors just didn't know how to record.
Obviously that wouldn't have happened if the recordings hadn't somehow been compromised.

But I can tell you that as rough as it is on the announced winners, the PR damage PAS would incur
for knowingly allowing unfair results to stand would be pretty incredible.

Feel free to contact me anytime, and thank you to all of the judges who spent so much time going
through the submissions.


Then this one.

Hello, all--sorry, I just have to write one more thing.

The fact that we decide whether or not recording quality affected (or would have affected) our
judgment is immaterial. As of now, there are at least five college ensembles with documented
differences between the quality of the recordings they uploaded and the recordings that were
experienced by judges.

That's one third of the university applicants.

Truly, the only way for this to be corrected is to have another jury of 12 judges listen to the
applicants again--using CDs or something more reliable than the online system (that was never
tested by PAS--even the PE committee didn't know it was being utilized until the applications

That's the only fair way to declare a real winner. I know it's hard, and I know it's tough on the
people who were announced, and it takes extra time--but this is on PAS. It was their system, and it
clearly didn't work.

To do anything other than a complete re-do would be to compromise the integrity of this
competition, the PE committee, and PAS.  And that's no joke--that's as serious as it gets.

I already admitted that I probably put two HS groups in last place because of it, and one college
judge actually commented to a group that the recording quality (which was one of the corrupted
files) affected his score.

That's not right, it's not fair, and there's only one way to fix it. Sorry, I just had to.


Thursday. Even with documented evidence of inequality and unfairness, the Executive Committee and PE Committee decided to leave the results as they were, effectively ignoring 25% of the total
applicants--which included four IPEC winners.

Their rationale? As it turns out, there was a line in the new application PDF--and I should say, an
application that Eric Willie, (Percussion Ensemble Chair), had not seen until this week--that said
all recordings had to be submitted as .mp3 files.

So instead of contacting eight directors who all clearly missed that detail--including Brian Zator,
a member of the Executive Committee and past IPEC winner--PAS had someone in the
office attempt to convert the files without any director's knowledge or consideration--and clearly
with the wrong encoding algorithm. The recordings ended up being impossible to compare to the
others--remember that analogy about a speech? Well, most of the converted recordings were full of
white noise.

I know this because I heard examples as a judge. The email from Eric included a little caveat about
how instead of disqualifying the eight groups who clearly missed this part of the application, they
converted the files themselves and didn't contact the directors.

But here's something else you should know. When applying for the competition you have to prove that every person in the ensemble is a paid member of the Society, including the director--you do this
by entering names and ID numbers to make sure that everyone is current.  Your application cannot be
processed with it.

PAS personally contacted several directors to let them know that a member or two were not paid up
on their memberships after the application deadline.  But not to alert them about the.mp3 requirement.

Do I downgrade poor recordings when I judge? Yes. Absolutely. If you don't care enough to record
with the same quality of your performance, I have no patience for you. That's why I take such great
care with our live recordings and four critically-acclaimed CDs.

Here's my next letter. Friday.

Dear Eric,

You, the Committee and the EC had all the facts you needed to make a fair decision--the right
decision--and you ignored them. My letter to the judges from Wednesday night is below, since some
of you haven't read it. I was one of the judges who graded at least two ensembles at zero because
of what we now know was file corruption from some PAS staffer trying to convert HD audio files to
.mp3 with improper transcoding, adding so much white noise to the audio that it was impossible to
know what was being played.

To that end, it's especially odd that eight people missed that little tidbit about .mp3
submission in the application materials--including Zator, who's on the EC and a former winner-- as
well as three other multiple winners and four other respected directors--and also funny that even
you didn't see or know about that requirement until yesterday. There's no reason to convert the
files to a lossier format, as the .wav or .aiff files would stream just fine, and if it was
absolutely mission critical that this conversion take place, PAS should have alerted the groups (as
Mark noticed--they were quick to alert when a membership lapsed) and given them a chance to convert them--and finally PAS never tested the new system, which is typical thinking back to the thousands of issues we've had with our website and other connected technologies not being Beta tested--in fact, the PE committee didn't even know the new system was being used until after applications opened!

In other words, you chose the most absurd reason possible for ignoring the facts laid out in my
letter, which I wrote when it started to feel like PAS was going to back-walk from their
original solution of redoing the entire competition (from Paul's email to Scott Herring on Tuesday
night and my communication with you).

Many of the members believe that there's little integrity left in what the EC and PAS does, and if
left alone this will definitely cause major waves in that respect once it gets out.

I find it difficult to believe that an organization that (at least in this respect) places so
little importance on fairness and transparency is willing to make decisions based upon upsetting
the smallest number of people rather than what's right. The only way to correct this is to run the
contest again with new judges, and let the winners compete with all of the candidates, not just 75%
of them.


Several of us held out some hope that the EC, which makes all final decisions for PAS, would
examine the facts and reboot the competition.  But they did not.

So this was my note to them.

Hey Julie, Paul, and Brian (that's Julie Hill, Paul Buyer, and Brian Zator),

By now you have seen all that I've written about the IPEC, including two letters to judges, and a
letter to the PE Committee and others this morning (on the back of Mark Ford's letter). So I'm sure
I don't need to remind you of how I feel about the decision--it's been thoroughly detailed with all
of your points addressed.

But here is what I want you to know.

Just a few short years ago, I remember being constantly frustrated by the decisions we made on the
EC--many of them widely considered unfair--all under complete secrecy, so that the Board of
Directors and Membership never knew how or why we made them. I eventually let the near- constant
backlash, drama, and clean-up affect me so strongly that I became compromised, which of course led
to my resignation.  I just couldn't take it anymore, and I broke down.

And I know that my actions shifted a great deal of unwanted responsibility, especially onto Julie
and Brian--I'm not stupid, after all. But I was never worried about your ability to adapt and make
things work, especially considering the shape I was in after I got out of the hospital.

Even with my EC experiences, I still believed in the organization and decided to give being a
regular member another try after a hiatus, only to run into this IPEC disaster.

Even after leaving the EC, I find myself defending your decisions to members all over the country.
Many of the members believe there's little integrity left in what the EC and PAS do, especially
this year considering other decisions you have made concerning PASIC 2016.

But the IPEC decision is literally the worst one that you've made. You worked harder to find a way
to justify the flawed results than to address what made the contest fail. And that is unacceptable.

The only way to make this right would be to have everyone compete against everyone, not just 75% of the field, especially when the missing 25% includes four past winners; one of them multiple


Saturday. No one wrote back to me, but they responded to Mark's letter with this (I was copied on

Brian and I were on the phone when your message came through.
The EC had an emergency conference call earlier this week regarding the IPEC (Zator removed himself
from the discussion because his group entered the competition).
The email that was sent by Eric was done with the full support/vote of the EC.
I know this is not the decision you and others hoped for, but I also appreciate your support in
moving forward.
Very best, Julie

Now here's the thing. I have no ill will towards anyone in this entire affair. And I fear that all
of this discussion with a fairly large group of people has somehow cheapened the winning of the
contest for those who were selected. I would apologize for that, only it's not my fault--it's PAS's
fault, and more sharply, the Executive Committee's fault.

And if the story about disqualification is true, we should have been told we were
disqualified. Or given the chance to submit the correct file type.  Or, there shouldn't have been a 
letter to the judges asking whether or not audio quality affected our judgment if the .mp3 
requirement was going to be the pivotal factor in letting the results stand.

They had a chance to do the right thing, but as I said in my letter, they worked harder to find a
reason to discount our applications than they did to correct the failure of the process.

In fact, I'm so concerned about the unfairness of this competition that I've announced that I'll 
withdraw FSU's application if the EC agrees to run the competition again.

Will I stay a PAS member? Probably not. Will I continue to require all of my students to be
members, as I have for a decade and a half? No. Has the organization, leadership, PE committee and
the IPEC lost integrity? Yes. Will we apply for future competitions? I doubt it, because now that
I've published all of this stuff PAS will never invite me to present anything or win anything ever

And that's OK, because I have one of the best jobs on the planet at one of the highest-ranking
institutions of learning--especially when it comes to music--period. I'm a Full Professor, which
means I don't have to have activities to fill up my resume anymore. My students are among the
absolute best in the world, and our alums are out there changing the nature of our musical
landscape in ways that makes me so proud that I don't know what to do with myself.

But as PAS members you have to ask yourself--is this the way you want your leadership to operate?
It is my hope that members hold the EC and other governing bodies within PAS to a standard of
transparency which currently does not exist. And this kind of thing happens all the time--I know,
because I was there. Translate that into almost any other kind of organization and heads would

This particular incident--no matter what anyone says--is a stain upon the Society that nothing
will wash out quickly. And those of you who don't know much about how the organization does
business--you need to know about this.

You can find email addresses for the Executive Committee and Committee Chairs on if you want to let them know what you think, or you can try to contact the Board of Directors or the Board of Advisors. Or you can write me anytime if you have anything you'd like to say either way: I'm always open and transparent about my thoughts and dealings, although I no longer have any official position with PAS (other than being a member). But you should know that nothing is going to change.

For my friends who were recognized as the winners--I am very happy for you, and hope you
play the concerts of your lives in November.   I really do--and I hope to hear all about it, too.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Facebook Questions and Answers 12-6

Hey everyone!  Here are our answers to the Facebook poll from last week--enjoy, and if you have any other questions just drop me an email at

Q: Have you found there to be "perfect" default mic placements (your go-to placements) for marimba, snare drum, timpani, etc.?  Or do you find that each environment, mic models, and instruments offer different challenges and do not allow for standard placements?  --Brandon Arvay

A: That's a great question--for most single instruments and/or groups of instruments, I use a 20" custom stereo bar and a pair of DPA 4006-TL omnis in an A/B configuration (and panning the omnis hard L and R).  When recording in our room I know about where to place everything from years of recording those instruments, but to tell the truth it's about how the instrument sounds at various distances and heights--and don't forget distances between microphones.  You can find several different stereo bars online; AEA, Grace, and DPA make really nice ones (that are really expensive); I was lucky to have one of our former house engineers make one for me modeled off the DPA bar. You can make one yourself pretty easily, or of course you can use a separate stand for each microphone.

Before I came up with our "standards," I tried a lot of different set-ups--both with my ears and the mics.  For example, when recording marimba I would stand in front of the area to be played, and have the marimbist play while I moved myself (and my ears) backwards, upwards, downwards, etc. until I found what I wanted the image to sound like (imaging is how long or short the instrument sounds from right to left, or where notes are in space, how far away or how close the instrument is during tracking).  Then I placed the array in that position at that height. I also used several different pairs of mics before we got the DPAs (Earthworks, AKG 414, etc.).  I tried XY, ORTF, NOS, etc., but found that straight-up A-B stereo was the best for our room.

I use omnis as overheads on virtually everything, no matter how many other mics I use as spots. Snare drum and other "narrow" instruments like tambourine, triangle, cymbals--you don't have to worry about what they sound like left to right; you just want the mic array pointing straight at them from whatever distance you feel sounds best--based on ears.  Same with glock because it's so narrow; xylophone--you want to figure out the top note and bottom note of what's to be played, then stick the array in the middle of it from a distance that sounds best.

Same for marimba--if you're playing a Bach cello suite and you point the array at middle C, the whole thing is going to live on the right side of the image, rather than having symmetry.  So I'll have the player put their mallets on the highest and lowest notes, then put the array in the middle of that, rather than the middle of the instrument.

For ensemble recording, I have the DPAs on a stereo bar up pretty high, then use spots throughout the ensemble--and that changes depending on what instruments are being recorded.

Q: What is your method for mastering to insure consistent sound quality across all device platforms?  For instance, do you do any rough mixing on sub-par playback systems or do you rely primarily on quality reference monitors?  Especially marimba!  It's such a rich sounding instrument, it easily distorts computer speakers.  --David Newton

A: Great question! I have a set of Genelec 8040 nearfield monitors in my office/studio control room that are FABULOUS.  That's where I do all my critical mixing and mastering.  However, I also have a set of KRKs with Primacoustic decouplers at home, plus two pairs of cans--Sennheiser HD600 and Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro Reference, and at various points I will use all four to zero in on my mastering settings.  The "Truth" for me is typically what comes out of the Genelecs--if it sounds great there, it sounds great on virtually anything.  We also have a set of Bowers and Wilkins Nautilus speakers with dual Macintosh preamps, but the room they're in isn't acoustically treated so I rarely use them (they're over in the recording suite of our largest concert hall).  Using all four of these sources over time has allowed me to make accurate extrapolations from what I hear over each one--it takes a while to develop that kind of familiarity with your gear, but it's time well-spent.

To be honest, I don't check out what things will sound like on general computer speakers or on Apple earbuds, Bose headphones, Beats, or even my own IEMs etc. because I trust that people who listen to what I'm working on will have something good enough to enjoy the full high-definition audio experience when listening to our recordings.  Often it's too much reverb in combination with the low end of the marimba that distorts small speakers with limited frequency response.

Maybe in the future we can discuss the mastering workflow for most of the percussion music we record!

Q: When mixing/mastering on headphones, do you prefer open-back, closed-back or "partially" open?  --Nathaniel Compton

A: Another great question: My Sennheiser HD600 cans are open; the DT-770s are closed.  To be honest, I haven't found many headphones that image as accurately and cleanly as the Sennheisers, and if you're in a quiet space the openness of the headphones doesn't matter, at least not to me (you can also go up another hundred dollars to the HD650s, but most of the online chatter doesn't lead me to believe that the difference is truly that great between the models).  It should be said that I mix and master with a combination of monitors and cans--if I get things sounding great on the Genelecs in my office, then they'll sound great on virtually anything.

Q: How do you eliminate hum in a daisy-chain of pedals going to a Fender amp?  --David Wright

A:  Most of the time--I say most--hum is a result of unclean and inconsistent power (or a bad ground).  I'd suggest getting a quality power conditioner (Monster and Furman make several excellent models at a variety of price points), and then recheck your connections.  Hum can also come from a power cord coming in contact with a mic or instrument cable, so you want to make sure that everything is "clean."  I spent an incredible amount of time in the back of my largest hardware rack, taking plastic zip ties to keep audio cables and power cables separate after my system developed a hum--that cleaned things up immediately.

Thank you to everyone for the questions, and we'll do it again soon!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

More Q and A with Garnet House

Today's question:  Reverb.  What do you use, and how do you apply it?

Another great question!  In the world of classical recording, reverb is a must, as we experience classical music in concert halls (mostly), or at least resonant spaces that allow sounds to be warmer and wetter than say, a super-dry space.  Of course, if you record in a dry space you can make it sound like a concert hall using today's reverb VST plug-ins like Altiverb or the Waves bundles.

I use Altiverb for all of my reverb generation and/or enhancement of existing spaces.  You can find out more about the software by visiting  The staff at AE have developed software that allows them to sample spaces and develop signatures based on microphone location and source projection.  For example, everyone has probably walked into a space and clapped their hands to deduce what kind of reverb tail a room has.  That's basically what AE did, but they erased the hand clap, leaving only the signature of the space.  Pretty cool, yes?

Most of the recording that Garnet House does is percussion, and a good deal of it is recorded at Florida State in our percussion studio.  This is a pretty dry space, but it's very accurate--it doesn't color any source signals with false bass or weird responses from corners--it's very clean and predictable.  So I can record in this space and have a great idea of how the Altiverb halls will take that source and translate it into where and how I hear the source on stage.

When I first started, I used a LOT of reverb, because it was just so cool-sounding.  Who doesn't love a great reverb on a source?  But as I've gained more experience I find myself using it more judiciously--and probably less of it percentage-wise--than when I started.

For me, the real trick is finding a room or space to place your source, say a solo marimba--that enhances the natural tendencies of the instrument and the player, as well as the style of the music being recorded.  The spaces will naturally EQ the source (which makes sense if you think about it; a wooden stage and room will sound different than one of stone), and then you just have to figure out the position from which you listen (closer or farther away), and determine how much of the signal comes out wet or dry (determined by a wet-dry adjustment--wet is more reverb, dry is less).  These, along with the size and shape of the room, determine the reverb signature.

The other question involves the whole album--most orchestral recordings or solo recordings will use one reverb signature for the whole record.  Sometimes that's definitely the way to go, but sometimes with percussion you might like different spaces for different pieces.  For example, on Blake Tyson's Firefish we used the same space for every piece except the multiple percussion piece called "Inside the Shining Stone."  Turns out it was written to be performed in a very old stone castle--so that's exactly where we put it using Altiverb.

Ultimately, reverb is like icing on a cake--you don't want to be overwhelmed by it; too much can definitely be too much!  But in the right measure it can add a great deal of seasoning to your recording and make a super sound source sound absolutely magical.  So keep experimenting and remember that some hosted VST reverbs will lower your amplitude when applied--so keep your ears nice and sharp when in post production!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Client Q and A with GHP

Excited to get our first question from the Facebook post on Wednesday!  The question is:  "
What is compression, and how do you use it in your recordings?"

This is a great question.  Compression has two basic meanings; One, when you reduce the size of an audio file for ease of transmission--say compressing a .wav file to an .mp3.  This is something you can do within most DAWs, but to be honest I never do it.  I always record to a minimum of 24-bit/44.1 and never use a container like .mp3.

The .mp3 container is popular for streaming, and it's what iTunes does to your CD tracks in order to host more of them on a device or stream them more easily.  Back when I first started recording in 2007, I would occasionally save versions of things as .mp3 files to cut down on file size--so that I could email them.  But with the advent of Dropbox and similar services (clouds, file-sharing services like WeTranfer), there's no reason to do so.  Not for me, anyway. And when I go running and listen to streaming music on Pandora, for example, I just have to get over how bad highly compressed audio files sound.

The second meaning is called Dynamic Range Compression, or DRC.  When you compress something using a plug-in algorithm, you are narrowing the dynamic range of the file.  In other words, it brings down the louds, and brings up the lows.  This can also add a lot of punch to a mix if used correctly.

Do I use DRC compression?  Yes.  But only under certain circumstances.  Some pieces need it--say the Silverman commissions on our SoundCloud page--Sparklefrog has a light "classical" compression setting determined by the VST plug-in Am-munition in Samplitude, while Quick Blood has a stronger setting.  The Trevino, however, has no compression whatsoever, and that's largely due to the way we recorded it (keyboards first, percussion on a second pass, close mics on everything with a healthy gain structure).

For drum set, definitely.  I will usually run compression on the snare drum and kick; sometimes the toms, depending on what I'm after.

The trick is to think about how your tracks are likely to be experienced--if it's pop music, you'll find LOTS of compression, as the normal listening levels of music today are way higher than those of the past decades.  If classical, it really depends on the dynamic range of the project.

But mostly, I think my job is just to make things sound the best they can, and sometimes compression can add some power--but the key is to use it judiciously, and not as a fallback in your workflow.

Jeff, I hope that answers your question!  Send more to us on Facebook, and look for more answers soon!

Monday, February 16, 2015

New Website Reveal!

We are VERY excited about our new website design, and also about the "official" launch of Garnet House Productions as a Limited Liability Company!  This is something that we've been working towards for many years, and only through our amazing clients and support staff have we been able to take the plunge.

While this blog used to be mostly for pictures, it will now be a real blog, complete with project discussions, hints, reviews, and other information that our clients--and new clients--might enjoy.  So please keep us bookmarked and let us know if there is any topic you'd like for us to deal with as part of the blog.

Check out and enjoy!

The Garnet House Production Team