Pro Audio Files

VLOG #3: Building Credit + Interview with Eric Racy

Hey folks, Matthew Weiss here. Welcome to the Friday show. We’ve got some really cool stuff coming up. The big thing is going to be Eric Racy, the designer of the HG-2 Black Box, every million names that it has that I’ve been showing you for the week. He’s going to be here with an interview, and that’s going to be awesome. The guy’s a brilliant mixer, recordist, and also a brilliant manufacturer, so it’s going to be great to pick his brain.

But before we get into that, first we’re going to talk about credit and credit scores.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why the heck is Matt talking about credit? This is a music production channel. Well, here’s the thing. I want you to be successful in your endeavors, and while that primarily focuses inside the music, it has to include all of the things that are not inside of the music as well.

When I got to LA, I had a credit score of 580, which is not the worst, but definitely not the best, and it meant that even as a man in his 30’s, I still had to get mommy to co-sign my lease in order to get my apartment. Credit is going to influence things like that. If you want to open a business line of credit later in life, if you want to take out loans to open a new studio, or get some equipment together, if you want to get a car and you want to pay the lowest interest possible, credit score is going to directly influence that.

Now, this is primarily aimed at people in their, say, late late teens, 18-19, to maybe about 28. The getting your shit together years.

It’s really not that hard to build up a good credit score if you start early on. If you start early on, you don’t have as many expenses, you don’t have quite as many responsibilities, and so you can do it over a broader period of time, and get a higher credit score.

Here’s what you do. If you have a bank account, and you have, say, even as much as two grand, you walk into the bank account and say, “Hey, I would like to open a secured line of credit.”

What that means is that the bank account is going to take a chunk of the money that you have in your checking account or savings account, and they are going to use that as a safety net to give you credit. My suggestion is to just go with the lowest amount they’re going to let you get away with, because you’re not opening up your credit account in order to buy things, you’re opening your credit account in order to buy things later and have a better credit score to do it with.

See, the reason I had such a lousy credit score wasn’t because I burnt myself into debt, it’s because I had never opened up a credit card before. I had never borrowed money. I was taught that you should buy things that you can afford and not borrow money to do it, so while I didn’t have any debt, I also didn’t have any credit record, and that’s why I had a lousy score. So if you are on the younger side, go in there, get that secured line of credit, think the words, “I am going to get a secured line of credit,” and then speak them out loud, “I am going to go into my bank and open a secured credit line,” and if you say it out loud, you’ll do it.

Once you’ve got that card, all you have to do is make small purchases on it, and then pay them off immediately. So go online, make sure that with your credit card, you have a one-click kind of pay system setup, so your name is already in there, password is saved, you can just go to the website, click it, click make payment, and make that payment. Any time you go out to like, the movies with friends, put it on your card and then pay it off right when you get back.

If you do this over a number of years, you’re going to find that when it counts, you’re going to take a look at your credit score, and you’re going to see something that’s in the upper 800s, you’re going to be like, “Wow, my credit is great and I didn’t even know why or how, but I’m really glad that it is now.”

But now I’d like to turn it over to you guys. I’m sure I’m not the only person here who has had trouble with their credit score, so if you’ve had trouble with your credit score and managed to dig yourself back up to something pretty good, I want you to drop that in the comments section. Explain how you got there, explain what you did to fix the problem, or if you’ve never had a problem with that and you’ve always had a good credit score, by all means, lead by example. Drop something in the comments section detailing how you’ve managed to keep a really good credit score going.

So we’ve been talking about the Black Box Analog Design HG-2 all week. Well, today I’ve got a special treat for you. I’m here with Eric Racy, one half of the company’s ownership, designer, Robert Wayne Scott is the partner. What’s Robert’s — he’s the electrician, he’s the nerd, right?

Eric: Rob and I really split everything we do kind of down the middle, so there’s no —

Matt: Gotcha. So you were getting into a very saturated market. [laughs]

Eric: Round of applause, internet.

Matt: When you decided to get into it, so what was the inspiration behind the HG-2, and what do you feel it’s bringing to the market that other things aren’t?

Eric: I found myself sometimes putting a ton of gear, so you might have expensive compressors on your mix buss, but not compressing. Just hitting it for the transformers, or I might have Pultecs and only hitting them just for the gain staging, and just for the circuitry, but not actually using them for what they’re for, so you’d end up with $35,000 worth of stuff on your mix buss. You’re not actually using any of it for what it’s designed to do, and you don’t have direct control still over the different characteristics. So I thought, “That’s kind of crazy, there’s got to be something better,” but at the time, there really wasn’t a lot that did that.

In fact, every single day while we worked on this, in my mind, I kept thinking, somebody who has was more knowledge and way more resources is going to come and do this first, because it seems like such a no brainer, and for some reason, nobody did, I think because at the time, everybody was really caught up in the summing mixer craze.

Matt: I have a theory. I have a theory about why nobody else did. A lot of design isn’t done by people who are actually mixing and recording. You are a very accomplished mixer and recordist, and I think that’s the reason why the HG-2 is translating so well, because it’s something you use on major label records, and on indie records all the time.

Eric: Yeah, and it’s something that when we got into it, it wasn’t — we never thought, “Okay, we’re going to make a company, we’re going to sell gear.” That was never in a million years where we thought we’d be, and so we didn’t come at it from the perspective of, “Okay, we have to come up with a product and hit a price point,” it was really we needed to do something specific. There are a million things inside that box that are technically the long way to do things, and that’s really how we ended up there is just by letting our ears guide us, rather than a set idea of what the circuit should look like.

So I think that did — in a way, that helped us.

Matt: Well, so let’s talk about the mixing process, because I got this question a few times, both on Facebook and on YouTube. The one area up until recently where I was having a little trouble getting the HG-2 to get what I wanted it to do — because I’ve already demonstrated it on low end, amazing, piano sample was amazing, but vocals was the one that was tripping me up, and I think is maybe tripping some other people up.

Now, I’ve got a technique, but I’m going to make you share first, so I can pretend like I already knew it, but do you use the HG-2 on vocals ever, and if so, how?

Eric: I do. And I mean, it’s hard to talk about anything in audio without saying, “It depends,” but I’ll try.

So for me, the HG-2 can do a few different things. When I — for vocals, one thing I might use it for is just to give some lift with the air. But that’s kind of the — I mean, that’s just one function of it. So that’s a super easy and subtle way to use it, but a lot of times, if I’m using it to give body, texture, or some weight for a vocal, I’ll actually use it in parallel, and with the hardware, I end up having to create a parallel chain. Is that where you’re going with it?

And the plugin now, we have a wet/dry knob, so that obviously helps, and what I’ll do is the same thing I do with a lot of parallel processing, is if I’m wanting to hit it really hard, I’ll use the emphasis with either the EQ, or I’ll use a de-esser before it, so I take a lot of that out really aggressively, so I can bring it up without letting any of that harsh resonance, or the esses, or the tees, or any of that sibilance be increased by bringing that in, so I let that come from the natural track, and then I can hit that a lot harder and bring it in underneath.

Matt: So that’s pretty similar. On the plugin, and let me just check — yeah, okay, so it’s on the hardware as well — so there’s these three knobs: there’s the low, there’s the flat, and the high, and it puts the emphasis on a different — a corresponding part of the frequency spectrum.

Eric: Right. In the parallel saturation spectrum.

Matt: Right. So when I flip it to high, I notice that I lose a lot of low, but I gain a lot of crispness, right on the top, but it’s maybe too much, so what I’ve found using the plugin is that if — especially with the triode, it’s really great with the triode to pump into it, because it’s got that kind of glossier kind of character — if I want to excite a vocal, I can shift it over to high, I can lean into the triode, and I can turn up that density knob so that it stays, and I get this kind of film thing that starts to show up, for lack of a better word, and from there, it sounds terrible until I start blending it in using that mix knob, and then it’s like the vocal, instead of the vocal sitting flat, it kind of does that thing that I think a lot of people struggle to get, where suddenly it steps out of the speaker a little. That’s a very cool effect, and so I’m pretty sure I can find other great ways to use it on vocals, but that’s the one that jumped to me immediately.

Eric: Absolutely. And you know, I think with this box, or any type of saturation box, I think they tend to work better when you don’t already have saturation on it. So if you already have something that’s saturated, adding more saturation doesn’t tend to give you the same kind of euphonic result. It gives you more fuzz or gives you more harshness, so if I have a vocal that’s already got some harsh areas in it, I’ll tend to clean it up before, and pretty aggressively before going into this and adding it back in.

Matt: So the original idea behind the HG-2 is actually as a mix buss processor.

Eric: Yes.

Matt: So tell me in general how you approach the mix buss, and also specifically, how you do it using the HG-2. I know that’s a general thing, but.

Eric: Yeah, I mean, for me — and yeah, originally, so when Black Box started forming, Robert was kind of doing the mic pre thing. That was his baby, and mine was this, because I was mixing and he was recording, so for me, I tend to like to mix into things, and I don’t mean heavy compression or limiting, but I like things that can add natural peak control in all the different characteristics that you get when you hit — not necessarily tape, but transformers or tubes, and so again, I was kind of putting together chains of different things while I was mixing and thinking, “There’s got to be a better way to have control over that,” with the ability to shave off transients and saturate the different tubes, one of the ways that we leverage that with the HG-2 is to have stages in series.

What that lets us do is run into one stage, saturate it slightly, and then when that gets to the next stage, and that’s also saturated, and you’re taming some of those transients, just the way compressors in series, the ratio becomes multiplied rather than an additive thing, it’s the same thing here, so you can end up very, very transparently shaving off transients to get more RMS, more energy in your mix, without actually losing the punch, and in fact, it actually sounds punchier.

So that was really one of the main driving forces behind it, and one of the things I look for on my mix buss, because I don’t want to be hitting my limiter hard, I don’t want to be having to rely on a compressor.

Matt: Okay, so I’ve got one more question, because I know it’s going to be on people’s mind. Your company’s name is Black Box Analog Designs.

Eric: Yes.

Matt: You know where this is going. Here we are with the plugin. So why, and what’s the — are there differences? What would you say are the differences?

Eric: For me, it was really exciting and a little bit nerve racking, because I was about to find out how good is modeling right now? Because it’s modeling the exact unit that I’ve been using, and the unit that I have sitting in front of me. What brainworx did, which is incredible, is they actually model it from a component level from a schematic, and the reason being is that that’s really the only way to get the behavior and the interaction, so we actually went through and had the schematic, and we said, “Okay, this resistor is not just this value, but it’s a carbon comp, and it’s got these characteristics, and this capacitor, and this transformer.”

So each piece was modeled, the schematic was put together, and then that was in all different settings and different points of the circuit was measured against the real unit to see how close it was, and then make adjustments to see how close the theoretical was to the… The reason we wanted to do a plugin, I want to put them on everything, because it’s — you know, again, as someone who loves gentle, layer after layer of saturation, I want many of them, but I can’t have 30 of them, it just doesn’t make any sense.

So along with giving people a version of it that’s obviously a lot less expensive and be able to have multiple instances, it’s a great way for people to be able to try the unit and see if it fits with their workflow, and if it’s what they’re looking for. So that’s another reason.

They did an incredible job, and it really, really does behave like the actual HG-2. In addition to what’s here, we added a mix knob, which is super useful, a density knob, which is right here, and we did things like the calibration right here. You have dark, normal, and bright, which is the overall calibration.

On this unit, that’s something that’s done internally, so there are little adjustments internally, and you can set it how you like it, but you have to open the thing up.

Matt: Alright, Eric man, that was a ton of great information. If you want to check out the Black Box Analog Design HG-2, you can check out the links in the description. You’re going to see a link for both the hardware and the company itself, and you’re also going to see a link for the software as well. I’ve been loving it, I really encourage you guys to check it out.

Eric, thank you very much.

Eric: Thanks for coming by, man.

Matt: Alright guys, that’s our Friday show. Apologies for the costume change. No apologies for the costume change! Don’t forget that this show is powered by you, which means you make more of them happen whenever you hit that like button, and also if you want to catch them, it’s really helpful if you hit that subscribe button. Hint hint.

Alright guys, I’ll catch you next time.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch:

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