A quarter of a century after his death, Elvis is topping the charts once again. The re-mixed greatest hits package “Elvis: 30 #1 Hits” has gone triple-platinum in America on CD, with sales of nearly nine million worldwide, and the DVD-Audio release tops the charts for the 5.1 surround audio format.
The enviable task of re-mixing the classic Elvis Presley tracks fell into the hands of David Bendeth and veteran mixing/recording engineer Ray Bardani.
Canadian producer/engineer David Bendeth has worn many hats in the recording industry. As a guitarist, he toured with the legendary drummers Billy Cobham and Lenny White. Bendeth’s songs have been recorded by a host of major artists, including Joe Cocker and Jeff Beck.
He’s also comfortable sitting in a businessman’s chair. Up until recently, Bendeth was senior vice president of A&R for RCA Records. He recently produced and engineered Bruce Hornsby’s new album, “Big Swing Face.”
“It was when I was producing the Bruce Hornsby project that I met Ray Bardani,” says Mr. Bendeth. “I asked Troy Germano, who owns The Hit Factory in New York, to recommend an engineer, and he mentioned Ray. We got along quite well, one thing led to another, and we ended up working on ‘Elvis: 30 #1 Hits’ together. My title on the Elvis project is compilation producer and mixer. Bardani is listed as mixer and engineer.”
Bendeth and Bardani spent a little more than three months at The Hit Factory assembling and re-mixing tracks for both stereo and DVD release. What kind of shape were the original masters in?
“Interestingly enough, all of the masters were in good shape except for ‘Way Down,’ which was the very last hit Elvis had. That song was recorded in 1977 and was the only piece of material that came to us on two-inch tape. We needed to bake that one as the oxide was falling off!”
Over the course of his career, Elvis was tracked with many different technologies. Now, it was up to Bendeth and Bardani to create a seamless whole out of material that was originally recorded in a variety of ways.
“The first thirteen tracks on this package were originally recorded in mono, so there was nothing we could do to them but master as artfully as possible: that was handled by Ten Jensen of Sterling Sound. George Marino, also of Sterling Sound, did a superior job of matching top, bottom and mid-range levels with the stereo mixes that comprise the remainder of the record.”
“Around the time of the release of Elvis’ ‘In The Ghetto,’ engineers began tracking him to 8 and 16-track recorders. In fact, one of those tracks, ‘A Little Less Conversation,’ was a worldwide number-one hit for the remix artist JXL last year. This cut came to us on Pro Tools and we mixed it in 5.1.”
“We had to have just about every recording platform you could think of in the studio, along with the original recordings. We even had to borrow an old RCA three-track tape machine from a museum to make the transfers! Fortunately, Elvis was an RCA artist, and this project was released on that label, so we were able to get our hands on the original masters, which was a big help. Believe me, when they arrived at the studio people were lining up to get a look at them!”
Bendeth chose to work at The Hit Factory for several reasons. The mix environment of all of the studio’s rooms is pristine, for one thing.
“I love the SSL J9000 console they have as well. Choosing the right equipment for this project was absolutely essential. You’d think that remixing a master tape that had only three tracks would be simple, but we actually spent as much time riding the vocals and EQ’ing the tracks as we normally take mixing a large multi-track session.”
How do you take a three-track source and remix it to give a convincing 5.1 sound field?
“We actually worked with both the three and four-track masters in a way that had never been done before. We set up a Tannoy speaker in a very large room at The Hit Factory. In front of the speaker we placed a SoundField ST250 Microphone System. In back of the speaker we placed a variety of vintage ribbon mics. The idea was to recreate the space and feel of Elvis’ band, and then place him at the heart of the group.”
“The SoundField technology is really amazing. Although, to tell you the truth, it’s so revolutionary, that I still don’t quite understand how it works its magic! The microphone takes a single point signal and tracks it to multiple tracks. We split it to five different tracks of a Sony 3348 digital recorder. Somehow the signal, which doesn’t sound that different until you output the various tracks to the SoundField SP451 Surround Processor, is interpolated by the system. When you incorporate the processor into the picture, you end up with a signal that’s separated into five different spatial dimensions, six if you include the sub-woofer information that it also outputs. It was really incredible.”
“Ideally, the system works best when you feed the ST250 microphone information from eight or nine different directions. That way, the SP451 Surround Processor can accurately represent the real image in 5.1. However, we didn’t have that luxury when working with the mono, and three and four-track masters. We were learning on the fly! That’s why in the mono mode, we set up the SoundField microphones behind the speaker, to help create more ambience for the surround field we were creating.”
“The final results are really exceptional. We’re proud of the fact that we were able to create one continuous sound field, across an entire CD, that started out with tracks recorded over many years and in many different formats. There’s no way that we could have achieved the results that we got without this revolutionary new SoundField technology.”