[The Nicks Fix]

Sound and Vision

February/March 2001
The conversion of the Fleetwood Mac Rumours album to DVD is covered in the following article. The article appeared in Sound and Vision Magazine.


5.1 in the Making


How the 5.1 Entertainment Group is helping define the new format


by Doug Newcomb


A nondescript stucco building in a light-industrial strip of West Los Angeles seems like an unlikely home for one of the key players in the DVD-Audio launch. Barely a mile away, on Santa Monica’s trendier Colorado Avenue, are the fashionable offices of such industry titans as the Universal Music Group and MTV. But some of the most radical advances in recorded music are taking place at the outwardly modest digs of the 5.1 Entertainment Group.


This little-known company is betting big time on the success of the audio offshoot of the popular DVD-Video format. While other recording studios are still gearing up for multichannel sound, 5.1 Entertainment has already made a commitment to DVD-Audio by building a state-of-the-art studio – a move that’s caused the top record labels to come calling. The company now divides its time between remixing major-label catalog material and producing surround sound discs on its own Silverline, Immergent, and Electromatrix labels.


Recently, 5.1 Entertainment licensed a variety of music from Capitol and other labels under the EMI umbrella for DVD-Audio compilations on Silverline, and it’s also working with contemporary artists to create new recordings. Silverline was the first label to have DVD-Audio discs in stores last fall, with the Big Phat Band’s Swinging for the Fences and Aaron Neville’s Devotion, and it has releases planned in categories ranging from pop, rock, and jazz to New Age, country, and surf.


Never Going Back Again

“Our mission is to produce the best 5.1-channel surround sound music,” says Ken Caillat, president of 5.1 Entertainment’s production services. “Stereo is really a big compromise. It’s better than mono, but you can’t recreate what happens inside a recording studio or on a stage with just two speakers.” As co-producer of one of the biggest-selling records in history – Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours – and with 30 years’ experience as a recording engineer for the likes of Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson, Caillat certainly knows what things sound like both in the studio and on stage. “When I’m in the studio, I stand out there in the room, and the band is all around me,” he says. “When I walk back into the control room and hear all the microphones I’ve set up being funneled into two speakers, it sounds wrong.”


Now that millions of people have bought home entertainment systems with more than two speakers to enjoy the multichannel soundtracks of DVD movies, Caillat isn’t alone in feeling that two-channel music is missing a dimension. He and his colleagues are wagering that many of these same people will embrace DVD-Audio as well. While multichannel DTS CDs and DVD-Video music discs with compressed 5.1-channel Dolby Digital or DTS soundtracks are already available, Caillat predicts that once people hear music with six channels and 96-kHz/24-bit resolution, they won’t want to go back to two-channel, 16-bit CDs. At the same time, the company is hedging its bet by including 5.1-channel Dolby Digital and DTS mixes as well as a stereo mix on all its DVD-Audio discs to ensure that they’ll play on current DVD-Video gear.


SecondHand News

5.1 Entertainment’s highest-profile project to date saw Caillat team up again with Fleetwood Mac – along with his co-producer and fellow 5.1 owner Richard Dashut – to transfer the classic Rumours to DVD-Audio for Warner Bros. “Obviously Rumours was great to do a second time,” Caillat remarks. “For me, it was a personal challenge – I was competing against myself.”


Other DVD-Audio projects include remixing two classic Alice Cooper albums (Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome to My Nightmare) for Rhino and putting together three compilations (two country and one R&B) for BMG. Planned for January release were Silverline compilations from the EMI vaults including Classic Crooners, with Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, and Mel Torme; Classic Rock, with Pat Benatar, Billy Idol, Joe Cocker, and the J. Geils Band; and Surf’s Up!, with the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, and the Ventures. The company’s two other labels, Immergent and Electromatrix, plan to release titles in the CD, DVD-Video, and DVD-Audio formats, with Immergent featuring pop and rock artists and Electromatrix focusing on dance and techno music.


According to senior vice president Leo Rossi, 5.1 Entertainment has more than 30 titles almost ready to go but has run into the same problems with software “authoring” that have prevented other labels from offering more DVD-Audio discs. The facilities for authoring – a process in which the audio, video, text, and menu elements of a disc are brought together – are limited industry-wide, so all that the labels can do is patiently wait in line for their titles to be completed. “The situation is difficult at the moment,” Rossi admits, “but it’s getting better every day.”


Go Your Own Way

Being at the forefront of the DVD-Audio launch has put 5.1 Entertainment in a position to help define the aesthetic for the new music format. “It’s all about taste,” Caillat says. “I can’t say there are any rules. What I know for sure is that I’ve got a 24-bit recording, so it’s going to sound a hell of a lot better than a 16-bit CD. And I have a subwoofer, so I know I can get a better bottom end. The kick drum, for instance, is going to be true to what a kick drum sounds like. And I’ve got surround speakers, so even at my most conservative I can use sounds like echoes and other effects to place the listener within the sound field.”


There has been a major debate in surround sound mixing circles over whether vocals should be placed in the center speaker, which is where dialogue winds up in movie soundtracks on DVD-Video. Music producers and mixers who have for years mixed for a “phantom” center between a stereo pair of speakers are especially reluctant to isolate vocals in the center.


“Generally, I will not put a lead vocal in a center speaker ‘unprotected,’ ” Caillat explains. “I’ll add a cushion of echo to it, because you never want the listener to be able to isolate the vocalist in the center without the accompaniment. Sometimes I’ll listen to the vocal with the backing tracks, and it will sound great. But then I’ll listen to the vocal by itself, and it will have an edge to it.” But there are exceptions, he allows.


“I was mixing something by Nat King Cole the other day,” Caillat says. “It was a three-track recording, and it was spectacular. Cole’s voice was impeccable. So I thought if I put it in a phantom center no one is going to hear its brilliance. But if I put it right down the center, you could, if you wanted to, hear Nat King Cole by himself. So for that particular track, I snuck a little bit of Cole into the left and right front channels, but I basically put him 95% in the center. Right after that I did a Dean Martin track, and I thought I’d use the same approach, but I couldn’t do it. I’d embarrass his heirs.”


As an example of a difference approach to multichannel mixing, Caillat points to the 5.1-channel DTS CD mix of Boyz II Men. “Each of the guys in the group was in his own speaker. I thought that was kind of cool. I tried doing it with the Beach Boys, and it was terrible. You can’t do that with them because their blends are so locked together that you can’t pull them apart. So it really is about taste and what feels right.”


Regardless, having six speakers (including a subwoofer to carry the bass) instead of two gives musicians a much broader palette, Caillat believes. “It’s great to give all your instruments their own space,” he says. “Like when I did the Rumours remix – there are too many tracks and too many instruments to squeeze into a stereo pair of speakers, but if I use five speakers, each instrument gets to have its own space and come up a little louder. Everything sounds bigger. If I play the original Rumours against the DVD-Audio mix, the new version sounds huge. Part of it is the 24-bit resolution, and part of it is that you have five speakers and a subwoofer carrying the energy that two speakers used to have to put out.”


“We want to get the listeners inside the music, to surround them in the music,” Caillat concludes. “The thrill of it all is getting to hear some of this great stuff that I’ve heard all my life sounding better than I’ve ever heard it before.”



As the launch of DVD-Audio kicks into gear, so will the demand for more titles. And 5.1 Entertainment is in a prime position to help meet that demand. In fact, the company has expanded so rapidly in recent months that it’s already outgrowing the new facility it moved into just a year ago. The plan is to keep the studios in the present location and move the business offices to another address – maybe even down the road to Colorado Avenue. S&V






Mick Fleetwood

True Rumours


Photo of Mick

As Mick Fleetwood and I (shown below) sit in Studio A at 5.1 Entertainment Group’s facilities, I tell him the story of how the painter Pierre Bonnard allegedly altered one of his works while it hung in the Louvre because he felt it wasn’t entirely finished. “Oh, no!” gasps the long-limbed drummer and co-founder of the chart-topping 1970s group Fleetwood Mac, “I’ve never heard that one.” Yet some big Mac fans might feel the same way about what Fleetwood and I have just heard: the DVD-Audio remix of the group’s landmark Rumours, one of the most popular records ever.


“If you’re a fan of Rumours,” Fleetwood says, “I’m very confident you will really enjoy this. But the DVD-Audio version will definitely live a separate life from the original album. It’s been painted differently, but the same colors are all there.”


As Fleetwood and I listen to the new mixes of such burned-into-our-collective-unconscious classics as “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way,” I find the music at once strange and familiar. The songs sound very different, much more detailed. I wonder whether the millions of people worldwide who’ve bought Rumours on LP, cassette, and CD will be equally enamored of the DVD-Audio version.


“People are always looking for new ways to listen to things and improve them,” Fleetwood contends. Like most proponents of DVD-Audio, he reasons that many people have already gotten a taste for surround sound via their home theater systems, and he expects they’ll want to listen to music that way as well.


“DVD-Video has taken on a life of its own,” says Fleetwood. “Since it’s now become affordable, it’s not just the audiophile types who are digging into this stuff. But I think that visuals will always be part of DVD.”


Speaking of visuals, one of the incentives for buying into DVD-Audio, as it is with DVD-Video, is the “extras,” which can include things like artist commentary, song lyrics, videos, and bios. At press time, the content of the DVD-Audio version of Rumours, scheduled for release in late January on Warner Bros., hadn’t been finalized. But Fleetwood says it will include the band members commenting on the music and the making of the original album. “It’s not the usual ‘I love you, you love me’ stuff,” says Fleetwood. “It’s all about the recording experience. There might be some conflicting memories of how it happened, but I find that interesting.”


But it will be the surround sound mix, and not the extras, that the disc will ultimately be judged by. “The biggest difference between the versions is that you can clearly hear the parts within the parts on the DVD-Audio version and yet have it still feel like a whole,” says Fleetwood. “You’re more aware of certain dynamics, and of why we did what we did when we made the album. I won’t say that Rumours was subtle, but I do feel it was really well put together. And it’s translated so well to DVD-Audio that you can’t help but believe it’s really suited for this format. I mean, ‘Never Going Back Again’ is stunning in this version. It opens up. You’re there.”


Fleetwood says he’s equally excited about the possibility of hearing other artists’ work in the new format – “I want to hear Bob Dylan like this,” he grins – and he’s taken on the unofficial role of ambassador of DVD-Audio to enlighten his peers in the music business. “It’s something I enjoy doing. I have a promoter-type mentality anyhow. I enjoy talking to other musicians and saying, ‘You ought to really go and have your mind blown.’ ” – D.N.








This article was sent to the Nicks Fix by Brad Lerschen and typed by Sylvia Cooper.
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