It seems hard to believe that master shredder Dave Sheldon has only been playing in bands for the past ten years. But, the Exes For Eyes guitarist insists, "I didn't start playing guitar until I was about 15, and I joined my first real band the year after I graduated high school. It wasn't until my first year out of high school that I played my first show." Since that first show, the Ajax, Ontario-based musician and engineer has operated a vintage studio for international vintage-guitar dealer Ed McDonald, played guitar in popular thrash/metal band Man With Target, and toured as the bass player for the legendary Annihilator.
Today, Sheldon owns and operates a recording studio in Ajax, a suburb of Toronto, where he records everything from demos to albums for national touring acts. He also performs and records with his band Exes For Eyes, which recently released a new CD, The Amsler Grid (Year of the Sun). Sheldon offers this disclaimer: "Any face melting that may occur during the listening to, or enjoyment of, The Amsler Grid is purely coincidental. No faces were intended be melted." With all due respect, this is utter nonsense. Of course he and vocalist Big James intended to melt faces with this smokin' new CD. Therefore, we recommend applying ice packs to your face when listening to the excerpt from the song "A Life so Unfulfilling" (see the link)!
Working in a studio that mostly used vintage processing was cool but it didn't exactly keep Sheldon informed about modern studio gear. "When it was time to start building my own setup, I wanted great gear but I had no idea how saturated the market was with brands that were all claiming the same thing. It seemed like if I wanted one piece of gear, I needed to buy a bunch of other things just to get that first piece to work. I wasn't into that. Then I came across the PreSonus FirePod. A FireWire-based interface with 8 quality mic pre's for around $500? Awesome!"
Sheldon worked with the FirePod for about a year and loved it but he needed to expand his I/O. By then he had a digital mixer with ADAT input and wanted to get an 8-channel mic pre that had ADAT output, so he bought a PreSonus DigiMax FS. " I've used the DigiMax units for the smallest guitar amp, the largest drum kit, and everything in between," he states. "I use them for TV music scoring and to record Foley effects for productions. Everything I've recorded for the past five years has been recorded with PreSonus gear.
"One of my favorite features in the DigiMax is the Instrument inputs on the first two channels," he continues. "I record a lot of metal bands, and a big thing is reamping, where you record a direct guitar signal, edit it, and send it back through a 'reverse DI' to be amplified, or 'reamped.' You can record a full record's worth of guitars or bass direct; when you're happy with the takes, you can decide which amps and mics you want to use. With the Instrument inputs on the DigiMax, you can utilize its DI-like capabilities for direct recording! No need to go out and buy a fancy DI or reamp box; it's right there!"
There was one problem, though. Sheldon was recording bands with full drum kits that required a lot of mics. "It became pretty clear, pretty quickly, that I was going to need more inputs," he says, "so I grabbed one more DigiMax unit, and the rest is history! I've since added a PreSonus TubePRE into the setup for more sonic textures. It's a great mic pre!"
Although he tours a lot, Sheldon's bands have tried to put on as many shows in the Ajax/Toronto area as possible in order to share their music with friends. "Sometimes we record the audio from the shows and release live records, or we shoot video of the show and sync the audio with the video," he explains. "The DigiMax direct outputs make it very easy to record to the computer and mix live simultaneously. It basically splits the signal for me; I can have the computer recording the ADAT optical output and send the direct output to the console to be mixed for the P.A. It's great! I also do some video production, and I use the same technique there: For instructional videos or product demos, I'll record the ADAT output from the DigiMax to the computer, and I'll use the direct output to send the same signal to the camera as a failsafe!"
We asked Sheldon if he had any tips for using the DigiMax, and he told us a tale of woe that will be familiar to studio denizens everywhere—and the story has a moral. "One time I was recording my drummer, Aaron Spink, who was playing a session gig for a local artist," Sheldon begins. "We were 8 hours into a 12-hour session when I noticed the drums weren't sounding right. I should have noticed sooner, but my ears were toast from the days leading up to the session. Somewhere around the 4-hour mark, someone knocked the front of the unit—I don't know how it happened—and that changed the sample rate from 48 kHz to 96 kHz. This kicked the DigiMax into Dual SMUX mode, so tracks 1 and 2 carried the same signal, tracks 3 and 4 were also paired, and so on. It was close to 1 a.m., and I had only been tracking half of the kit for the last 4 hours. Fortunately, Aaron muscled through it and re-tracked everything in two hours." The moral of the story? "Check your sample rate and word clock constantly," Sheldon instructs, "even if it's your studio and nobody else is around. Things get nudged and bumped, and you don't want to lose a session's worth of tracks."
We'll add a second moral: take regular breaks and give your ears sufficient rest so they won't fatigue. Then you're more likely to hear problems as soon as they arise.
Sheldon has a new, less conventional project in mind that involves his TubePRE preamp. "I find them super versatile," he begins, "and I plan on using my TubePRE for a new chapter in my recording career: Electronic Voice Phenomena, or EVPs!" EVPs? Okay, Dave, you win; we had to look that up. We thought EVP was an Ensoniq synth. (Nope. The synth was the EXP.) It turns out that EVPs are electronically generated noises that resemble speech but that are not the result of intentional voice recordings. Typically, they are heard when recordings are played back and heavily amplified. Some people who study paranormal phenomena claim that these sounds are the speech of ghosts or spirits. More mundane explanations include static, stray radio transmissions, background noise, equipment artifacts, and so on.
"Call me crazy," invites Sheldon, "but if I can saturate an audio signal with a ton of front-end tube gain, I should be able to achieve an ample amount of signal to hear even the most faint EVP! Check back with me soon; I might have some spooooooky stories!" We'll leave it to others to decide whether Dave is crazy and whether he will capture voices from beyond the veil or just very saturated background noise. But we'll concede that he has come up with one heck of a creative and unusual use for a TubePRE!