Rehearsals started on Monday, September 15. Everyone came in with instruments: Joe had already set up his drums, and the film had rented a B3 and Leslie for Bernie. Rick the Bass Player had one of his Laklands, Rick Springfield had his Gibson SG, and Meryl had a Fender Telecaster. We had backup instruments, as well, and Danelectro sent us a couple of guitars (more on those later).
Neil, Mark, and I made several trips to the 14th St. Guitar Center to get pedals for Rick Springfield’s setup, and Line 6 sent us a guitar wireless system for Meryl. The premise is that Ricki (Meryl) is trying for stardom and is currently slugging it out in clubs in the San Fernando Valley, playing every Tuesday night at the Salt Well.
Gary Goetzman is the producer of the film, and he led the rehearsals, with assistance from Neil and Mark.
We started with a basic line check; the kick drum was miked with an ATM 250. All the other drums were triggered. Joe has triggers built into his custom Drum Workshop kit, and we just plugged out of the trigger module into my Radial DI boxes. We needed to make sure we had signal; one great thing about recording with PreSonus® Capture™ is that the send is pre-fader, so the fader position on the StudioLive AI console is irrelevant; the recording software uses the input gain level you set on the head amp actuators (trim knobs). It’s a really nifty design because it allows the house mixer to change the fader levels for the live house mix without affecting the recording.
Along the same lines, once we had the guitar amp levels where we wanted them with the Radial JDX boxes, we also took a “clean” feed, plugging the guitars directly into my Radial ProDI boxes before the amplifier, in case Neil and Mark wanted to “re-amp” the guitars during mixdown.
A quick aside: I’ll bring it up again later but I want to stress that Gary and director Jonathan Demme wanted authenticity, and they got it. Every note you hear is what was played by the musicians; there are no overdubs of instruments in this movie. There were a few extra band takes for vocals because of bleed but all of what you experience in the movie is Ricki and the Flash performing as you watch.
It was a treat to watch these professionals at work. Gary took five people who had never played together in this configuration and turned them into a band. Each song got a workout. Gary kept the band focused; they worked on one song at a time until they felt they had it down. From where I sat, it really paid off; by the end of rehearsals, I felt like I was mixing a band, not a loose knit group of musicians jamming, but a real, tight band.
When we started rehearsals for Ricki and the Flash, we discovered that some things had to be changed. Part of what we faced was the reality of working with musicians who were used to the big stage in a club environment.
A brief review of our cast:
Drums and backing vocals: Joe Vitale. Joe has drummed for, among others, Joe Walsh (he co-wrote “Rocky Mountain Way” with Joe); Stills-Young Band; The Eagles; Crosby, Stills and Nash; and the re-formed Buffalo Springfield. Joe has written a book about his life as a musician called Backstage Pass.
Bass: Rick Rosas, aka Rick The Bass Player. Rick played most recently with Neil Young in Crazy Horse. He was also part of the Buffalo Springfield reunion. Rick passed away a few weeks after finishing the band scenes, and we miss him very much.
Keys: Bernie Worrell. Bernie was a member of Parliament/Funkadelic and joined Talking Heads for a number of albums. He’s in Jonathan Demme’s concert classic film Stop Making Sense and has played on countless sessions with artists as diverse as Keith Richards, Jack Bruce, Dee Lite, and Bootsy’s Rubber Band.
Lead guitar and backing vocals: Rick Springfield. Rick has been on the big stage since the late 1960s, first with Zoot, and then as a solo artist. For a time, Rick starred in the soap opera General Hospital, and he has many hit records, including “Speak to the Sky,” “Jessie’s Girl,” and “I’ve Done Everything for You.”
Rhythm guitar and lead vocals: Meryl Streep. One of the most well regarded actresses in the world, Meryl learned to play guitar for this movie. Meryl had never played in a band before but she has sung in many films, including Mama Mia and the recent Into the Woods, so she adapted quickly to the role of Ricki.
I have been “pushing faders” as a front-of-house (and sometimes monitor) engineer since 1979. I’ve mixed in wretched bars with “thrift-store” PA systems, and I’ve mixed bands at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. My background is live sound; working on a movie required some adjustment in my approach to mixing.
Music coordinator Mark Wolfson and Neil Citron, the music wrangler, have worked together for many years. Among other projects, they worked on the film That Thing You Do (also with Ricki director Jonathan Demme and producer Gary Goetzman). On this film, I worked with Mark and Neil to create an authentic club band feel.
One thing that we encountered from the get-go was a reluctance to show microphones on camera. This created some interesting challenges, as we had to find a way to capture the sound without showing any microphones beyond the vocal mics. Some solutions were simple: We could take a DI off of the bass, and we used triggers on the drums and then used drum samples that we sampled from Joe’s Drum Workshop kit. We hid the hi-hat and overhead mics as best we could.
Thanks to Audio-Technica, we had excellent condensers: an ATM 450 on the hi-hat and an ATM 4050 on the overheads. We were able to hide the ATM 650 dynamic on the Leslie high side and the ATM 250 dynamic on the Leslie low side.
The guitar amps presented a problem, though. We needed to capture an authentic sound without showing mics. Trying to mic the back of the amps proved unwieldy at best. It also didn’t sound so great.
Neil and I put our heads together and decided to call our friend Peter Janis at Radial Engineering. Peter sent us two JDX active speaker-simulator direct boxes. We were able to plug out of Meryl’s Fender 65 Deluxe reissue and Rick’s Fender Bassman 410. The Bassman reissue proved tricky because the speaker output has an RCA connector; we had to make two ¼”-to-RCA custom connectors. At the time, the JDX required an external supply, as well; now it’s available with the option to run on 48V phantom power.
We also used two of the new Audio-Technica AT 4080 active ribbon mics for room/ambience miking. These mics sound glorious, and they really helped Neil and Mark re-create the room sound when they did the mixing later.
With the system tuned, we were ready to watch five musician/actors become a band.
All of the inputs were routed into a StudioLive™ 32.4.2AI console. Besides doing the live mix, the other half of my job was to ensure that every note was “Captured” during both rehearsals and filming.
Here’s how we did it:
Neil Citron, Mark Wolfson, and I wired the stage and then set up two recording systems. The first was set up on my MacBook Pro, running Mac OS X 10.8.5 and connected to the console using FireWire. I was running Universal Control-AI (with Virtual StudioLive-AI control software) and recording with Capture 2.0.
We connected the DB25 outputs of the 32.4.2AI to a Tascam X48 recorder because we needed to track SMPTE time code. This way, we also had two copies of each recording; as anyone who has ever lost a file knows, you need to back up, back up, back up.
The great thing about recording with Capture™ is it is literally effortless. Once my FireWire connection was secure and I knew the computer and console were talking to each other, all I had to do was open Capture and make one mouse click, and we were rolling! Of course, it helps to have the drive path set and the files named. I find that, given the option, it helps to set this up in advance, although the only really crucial setting is the file path.
We noticed that, according to the X48’s meters, the DB25 analog output was 6 dB lower than the digital signal coming into Capture. I’m not sure why the levels were different but comparing the WAV files in Studio One confirmed the difference.
Jeff Pullman, C.A.S, was the Production Sound mixer for the film and was a pleasure to work with. He also was very helpful in getting some sound isolation products so we could have a cleaner recording.
We did some test tracks with Neil playing so we could make sure the rig was running; then we started rehearsals.
The five musicians that make up the band Ricki and the Flash are all top shelf players. Their credits are the stuff of legends; you hear them on the radio every day. Of the five, only bass player Rick Rosas and drummer Joe Vitale had played together before, as the rhythm section of the reunion tour for the legendary Buffalo Springfield (no relation to Rick Springfield).
Bernie Worrell is a visionary funk keyboardist and a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. His credits include Parliament/Funkadelic and Talking Heads. Rick Springfield is a fantastic guitarist who also played Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital.
Meryl Streep, of course, is one of the most renowned actresses in the world.
To get them to be Ricki and the Flash, we set up in the World Famous Rodeo Bar in the Murray Hill district of Manhattan. The Rodeo Bar is a long, narrow room with a brick wall behind the band. We were in a small space, and they were very LOUD.
We set up the band in an authentic club configuration and laid out the monitors for them. We used three StudioLive™ 312AI cabinets for the vocalists and keyboard position and a StudioLive 315AI for the drum wedge.
When we first set up the wedges, we decided to just use them in the standard DSP configuration. The speakers use Dave Gunness’ TQ™ (Temporal Equalization) settings to correct for the acoustical issues that arise in a coaxial design. In addition, each box has DSP settings designed to assist the user in different acoustic situations. There are four settings on the back of the speaker, accessed by a small button. The settings are: Normal (full range for front-of-house), LBR Source (for low-bit-rate digital audio, such as MP3 playback), Floor Monitor (for stage wedge), and a custom User preset.
Neil Citron is a long-time studio engineer, guitarist, and all around great guy. He ran the Mothership for Steve Vai for 15 years and is a member of the Sapphire Group, a bunch of audiophiles in Los Angeles. Neil has incredible ears and was brought in to teach Meryl guitar, be the music director, and record the performances.
Neil and I set up the wedges, supervised by Mark Wolfson, and we ran some program material through them. We really liked the sound of the default Normal setting, so we left it. As soon as the band showed up, we quickly realized that the stage mix just wasn’t “there.” A quick button-push, and the boxes were in Stage Monitor mode; they sat perfectly in the mix, with no additional EQ required.
We used one StudioLive 312AI plus one StudioLive 18sAI subwoofer per side of the “house” PA. We put the top boxes on using the SP1BK subwoofer pole; this also allowed us to steer the top box to reduce reflections off of the brick walls.
Thanks to Brad Graham, Rapco generously provided us with microphone cable and snakes to wire the stage. We wired the guitars using Radial JDX DIs to get the sound of the amplifier, not the guitar. We used Radial JDIs on the bass and keys. Thanks to Roxanne Ricks of Audio-Technica, we had A-T mics on the Leslie and hi-hat. We also used the fantastic A-T ribbons for ambient room miking. We had triggers on the drum kit; more about that later.
Here were the basic challenges:
I’ll get into the recording aspect in the next part.
I need to give major props to Gary Goetzman, the producer, who took five musicians who had not played together before (with the exception of the rhythm section) and turned them into a real band in two weeks. Everyone was at the top of their game, and the professionalism of the band and producer really shone through.
Hello everyone, I’m Phil Garfinkel, the Special Projects Liaison for PreSonus® Audio Electronics. I’m writing about the shooting of a new movie, Ricki and the Flash, discussing the PreSonus products that we used and how we used them.
First, a little about the film: Ricki and the Flash stars Meryl Streep as Ricki, an aspiring rock star who leaves the Midwest to “make it” in California. Her band, The Flash, features the talents of Rick Springfield on guitar, Bernie Worrell on keyboards, Joe Vitale on drums, and Rick Rosas on bass.
We set up the band in an authentic club configuration, with plenty of PreSonus equipment to reinforce their sound. We recorded with Capture™ and used Studio One® to create reference recordings. I was on site as the PreSonus tech, mixing the live show.
Here is a quick overview of what we used from PreSonus:
The movie is directed by Jonathan Demme and produced by Gary Goetzman and Marc Platt, all Oscar winning veterans. Jonathan and Gary wanted the band to play, not just pretend to play along to tracks; I was brought in to mix front-of-house and monitors and to take a 32-track feed to capture the music as it happened.
We faced some unusual challenges. Thanks to teamwork and a mutual obsession for excellence (and some pretty great gear), Mark, Neil, and I worked through it to help Jonathan and Gary make an excellent soundtrack for the film.
Special thanks to Roxanne Ricks at Audio-Technica for helping us get high quality microphones and wireless systems, Peter Janis at Radial Engineering for getting us some fantastic Direct Boxes, and Brad Graham at Rapco-Horizon for helping with cable needs.
Thanks also to my cohorts in audio-land, Mark Wolfson and Neil Citron, who led the charge for this journey. Also Jeff Pullman, C.A.S, the film’s Production Sound Mixer, who worked with us.
Ricky and the Flash opens in theaters everywhere on August 7.