THE AUDIO INTERVIEW: Grusin & Rosen of GRP, The Musician's Label (Mar. 1988)

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It's been a busy dozen years for the men who gave GRP Records their names-Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen. It all started back in 1976 when the duo founded Grusin/Rosen Productions, after meeting and becoming friends while playing in Andy Williams' hand. Originally, the partners acted as independent record producers, doing work for Columbia, RCA, Blue Note, and other labels. Their albums with vocalist Patti Austin and guitarist Earl Kiugh soon caught the attention of Arista Records' Clive Davis, and he contracted with the pair to seek out and record new artists under the Arista/GRP label.

Among the artists with whom Rosen and Grusin worked during this period were Angela Bofill and Dave Valentin.

When GRP's contract with Arista expired in 1982, Grusin and Rosen threw the dice and started their own record company, GRP Re cords. The cooperation of independent distributors, coupled with the reputation the partners had already acquired, helped them get off the ground, and financial success was quick to follow: From $800,000 in sales in its first year, GRP Records' sales grew to $10 million in 1986, and $15 million is projected for fiscal 1988. There was artistic success too: In 1986, GRP garnered 10 Grammy nominations and took home one award.

Clearly, a key to GRP's success is the considerable talent the partners bring to the company.

Grusin is a keyboardist, composer, and arranger who has written music for-by his count 40 to 50 movies, including Tootsie and On Golden Pond, as well as the theme music for Baretta, St. Elsewhere, and other television shows. In 1985 he won a Grammy for best instrumental arrangement (for a cut on Honiequin, his collaboration with Lee Ritenour).

Rosen, a drummer, copped four Clio awards--an important advertising industry honor--before turning to records.

There may be no pair of producers more committed to digital technology than are Rosen and Grusin. They did their first digital recording in 1979, for Arista, and were immediately hooked by the sound quality. But recording on Thomas Stockham's Soundstream machine added some $7,500 to $10,000 per title to be company's costs, so the partners were ordered back to the analog domain. They returned to digital with their first GRP Records title in 1983, and remain dedicated to it--so much so that they vowed GRP would be among the first companies to release pre-recorded DAT cassettes in the United States. Indeed, as this issue went to press, GRP announced the release of seven titles.



above: Grusin with Lee Ritenour, GRP guitarist. FOR ME, IT WAS PAINFUL to record direct-to-disc. Our music didn't require the things you do with symphony orchestras.

-Dave Grusin

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You both come from the music side of the business, yet from the first, GRP has been synonymous with high technology and sonic excellence.

Larry Rosen: We've always been interested in sound quality, even when we were recording solely on analog, be cause it is a big aspect of what our music is about. You're creating a picture here. Are you going to put it in a fuzzy context, or are you going to put it in as clear a light as you can? That's really what it comes down to.

Did digital recording appeal to you from the start?

L.R.: We were always aware of new technologies as they were emerging.

We heard about the Soundstream sys tem and knew of some people who were using it. It was something we figured we ought to experiment with, so we got involved with Soundstream when we recorded Dave's record, Mountain Dance. Of course, it was only a two-track format, and that was limiting, in some ways, because all our records were multi-track.

Larry, you've mentioned an incident that occurred in the studio and made you a digital convert in one fell swoop. It was in 1979, I believe.

L.R.: It was when we were recording Mountain Dance, as a matter of fact.

When you're in the studio as an engineer and you're recording multi-track analog, when you press that button to play back, there's something--as good as the quality is--there's some way that you realize what's a playback and what's live. With Mountain Dance, we got down the first take to the point where Dave said, "Let's hear it back." Everybody came into the studio and the system engineer pressed "Play back." Before the music started, there was conversation on the tape, and somebody said, "Hey, Larry...." I turned around. I thought it was really happening. I mean, this was the real test. It was so real. Everything about it was an exact duplication of what happened live. When we heard the first playbacks, we were just convinced that digital recording was definitely the medium of the future.

Dave, you did one of the earliest recordings with Doug Sax and Lincoln Mayorga of Sheffield Lab. How did that come about?

Dave Grusin: I've known Lincoln for years. I knew him as a very good pianist. I knew Doug too, but it was Lincoln who came and asked me if I'd do that recording, Discovered Again.

What were your feelings about recording direct-to-disc?

D.G.: It drove me crazy to make the record, frankly. I didn't see any reason, from a musical standpoint, to do a whole side like a program, one thing after another with a studio band, when I knew if we stopped and worked on each tune we could really nail it. But the game was, of course, to do it top to bottom, because they didn't want to have any electronics between the music and the vinyl. Doug built a board that had nothing in it. It was just a path for everything to get to the [cutting] stylus, and all the electronics--all the equalization and everything--was in the microphones. I mean, that's their trip. For me it was painful, because the kind or music we were playing didn't require the kind of thing you might do with a symphony orchestra with all that wonderful equipment, where you really take advantage of a big acoustic hall and you get all the ambience and all the harmonic overtones-which they did; they went on to do that, of course, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I had Ron Carter, for instance, my bass player. Ron Carter had spent his life up to that point making the bottom notes of a bass ring. In that session, he made them ring for about half an hour; his left hand was amazing. And they didn't understand the concept of Ron's playing. They rolled all the bottom off and pushed the top. They wanted to make him sound like Ray Brown. So things like that were really in conflict. Now, when I hear the record, it sounds pretty good to me; it sounds okay. It wasn't that difficult doing the side, going from one tune to the next, but you had no control over how it was being recorded. You couldn't cue it back and say, "No, we could do that better if we did this." And digital allowed us to do that, to have our cake and eat it too, I guess.

Yet diehard analog fans are still griping about edgy, brittle highs, lack of ambience, and related sonic problems with digital.

D.G.: The real, true analog fans, I think, are used to a certain amount of distortion. No matter how quiet it is, tape running over a head just makes a certain amount of noise. They miss it when it's gone. Before digital, we fell in love with this Neve board that's all computerized-the first generation of those boards-mostly because you could mute everything except what was playing. What you did was cut down the tape noise by the number of tracks that were muted so there was nothing open that wasn't playing. It was like noise gates. That made everything much quieter. And we did that as soon as this stuff was available. And we still do it manually. It's getting tricky now, be cause if you have a digital recording I'm just finishing one now-from digital multi-track, if you start to shut the room down to keep the noise level down, you really hear the difference. You can hear it shut. And so you can't get away with that anymore. There has to be a certain amount of ambience there all the time.

L.R.: When we recorded with Sheffield, Soundstream's two-track format had a higher sampling rate than anything we deal with today. Today when you talk about recording direct to two-track, you're talking about a 44.1-kHz record frequency for digital. And there's a tendency toward harshness on the high end because it cuts off so distinctly at 20,000 cycles, whereas analog drifts off beyond that area.

D.G.: Or under it. The curve starts earlier than that, so you don't notice the cutoff.

But at least as far as editing goes, the Soundstream process wasn't very practical, was it?

L.R.: To edit Mountain Dance, we had to go to Salt Lake City and sit in this place with these hard disks, and it was really an involved process. I can't see studios all over the place with hard disk drives; it's just an impractical situation. But the sound quality of that first digital recording we made was exceptional. I don't think we have other systems now that equal that first Soundstream system.

Sonically speaking, how close to the Soundstream master was the CD of Mountain Dance?

D.G.: It was really close. For instance, Paramount licensed the title tune for a film called Falling in Love. I just took one of our CDs over to Paramount, and that was it; that was our source. That was the cleanest source we could have had. It was perfect. After rendering it monophonic, they just put it right onto film . .. and it was as clean as anything I've ever heard in a film.

Of the multi-track digital recorders you've used, do you have a preference?

D.G.: Well, the Mitsubishi's really comfortable; there are no dropouts, and everything has worked. I've had some great experiences with the Sony multi track, and I've had some disastrous ones, where things were actually lost.

Phil Ramone and I did some stuff for Streisand on the Yentl soundtrack al bum and recorded four singles, essentially, from those tunes. And one day in the process of checking something out, we found that a piece of it was gone.

What did you do?

D.G.: We called a synthesizer player and replaced the string section. Luckily it was an ending; it was after the vocal was done .... I mean, nothing is guaranteed.

Have you noticed any sonic differences among multi-track machines?

D.G.: I've never done a direct comparison of multi-track machines. I've never really sat them down next to each other. The one we're using here [Mitsubishi 850] is fast; the fast forward and rewind are fast. Most of the Mitsubishis I've used are very slow. The engineer in London figured out that the old machines ran at 43 kilometers an hour in rewind and fast forward. So you really sit there and wait for a while-longer than you're used to with analog tape.

Is analog dead in pro recording?

D.G.: No, we do a lot of things on analog multi-track. I'd like to try a project where some elements are recorded on analog and other, sweetening elements are recorded on digital, just to see what it is we're hearing.

You were the first company to make prerecorded Digital Audio Tapes avail able to the industry. What have you done to date in that format?

L.R.: Two years ago, we selected five titles out of our catalog and put them on DAT. We did it so there would be DAT cassettes to use for experimentation, for demonstrating DAT playback, and for our own A/B comparisons, to see what the format really sounded like.

---above: Flautist Dave Valentin (standing) and friend.

[WHEN WE HEARD OUR first digital recording, we were convinced digital was the medium of the future. -Larry Rosen]

And how does it sound?

L.R.: It sounds wonderful. Over in Japan, I sat in JVC's studio with the JVC DAT recorder and a CD player and made some comparisons. And I have to say, the DAT and the CD sounded identical. I was really curious to see what it was going to be like to take the CD through the analog output stage, go back and record onto DAT, and make an NB comparison. I was sitting with a whole bunch of Japanese engineers, and they asked, "What do you think?" I said, "I can't hear any difference," and they said, "Well, we feel the same way. We've learned that, going through the analog electronics, we're going to lose about 5 dB in dynamic range." So from 95-dB dynamic range we're talking about 90-dB dynamic range. I don't think there's an ear that's going to hear that difference.

What's the procedure for duplication?

L.R.: The high-speed duplicating systems, which are going to be needed for the mass production of software, are really in the R&D stages right now.

The DATs that we made were done on a one-to-one basis in real time.

Will listeners be able to access various points on your tapes?

L.R.: Absolutely. It's all encoded, and the hardware has the memory system.

You can program it any way you want.

It takes like two seconds to get from song number one to song number five.

--Chick Corea's Light Years is now on DAT.

[TRUE ANALOG FANS ARE used to some distortion. No matter how quiet, tape running over a head makes a certain amount of noise.

-Dave Grusin]

The longest rewind time on a two-hour DAT, I think, is 20 seconds-from the end of the tape all the way back to the beginning. Of course, anything pre-recorded is not going to be in the two hour format anyway. At most, it's probably only going to be the same length as a CD, 60 minutes or 74, whatever.

Do you have any idea what these tapes are going to cost initially?

L.R.: Real-time manufacturing costs are totally different from [the cost of] high-speed duplication. That's going to be a 300-to-1 process, so the cost for the time involved in duplicating DAT cassettes [for the mass market] is going to be cut down by a factor of 300.

That'll have a tremendous impact on the actual retail cost.

And you've committed to making pre recorded cassettes available in this country at the time DAT hardware is introduced.

L.R.: As soon as the hardware be comes available, we're going to have our software on the market. [Editor's Note: At press time, GRP's list of DAT cassettes announced for release to the public included: Harlequin by Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour; GRP Live in Session; Light Years by the Chick Corea Elektric Band; Grusin's Cinemagic; Digital Duke by the Duke Ellington Orchestra; GRP's New Magic Sampler, and Diane Schuur and the Count Basle Orchestra.] Some people feel that DAT will replace CDs, render them obsolete. Others say the two formats will coexist in the marketplace. What's your prediction?

D.G.: I think it'll be exactly the same as cassettes and vinyl records. The collectability factor is interesting: People like to have something to collect in the disc format, whether it's 12 inches or the size of a CD. For your Walkman-type player or your car player, you'll use DAT. I think DAT and CD will co-exist nicely.

The other night I turned on my television; the credits for St. Elsewhere were rolling by, and I noticed that Dave did the theme. I began to wonder how in the world you conceive a theme for a TV show. Dave, did you get to see any episodes of the show before you started composing?

D.G.: As a matter of fact, I did. They had two episodes in the can, I think. I don't know if they were totally edited, but I got to see something. Normally, that doesn't happen. By the time you're ready to write, and write to time, you usually see what it is, but if you're talking about or thinking about what a theme will be, no.

Doesn't that make things difficult?

D.G.: It's really hard for me, because most of my motivation is what a show looks like, not the subject matter. It's weird, film and music. I don't think they have much to do with each other most of the time, except by association.

We've just gotten used to it. But once in a while, there are images that really suggest some kind of sonic response. For me, those are the best moments.

Do you usually get to see a movie before you sit down to compose?

D.G.: Yeah. There's frequently not very much time. What usually happens is that I get to see it early on in the editing stage, before they actually give it up and turn it over. And then, when they've finally got it down to time or close to time, I have an average of four to six weeks to actually do the writing.

The time between your seeing the first edited version and the last, that's thinking time?

D.G.: Thinking time, that's right. It varies from a number of weeks to a number of months. It just depends on when they're willing to give it up. Now, what I like to do, way before they're ready, is just get whatever they have in whatever rough form and get it on a cassette so I can start looking at it in terms of placement, where we're going to play.

The lengths of those times wilt all change, but maybe the concept won't be so foreign by the time I get a finished cut.

How much music goes into a film score?

D.G.: I have an average, about 45 minutes. It could be an hour and a half, sometimes 30 minutes. On Golden Pond had hardly enough music to make an album, so we ended up using dialog tracks to space it.

How long does it take you to write 45 minutes of music for a film?

D.G.: I usually do the actual writing in a couple of weeks.

Where do you work?

D.G.: It's hard to work here [in New York]. There's so much else going on.

If I'm in New York, there's a copyist who has an extra room in his place over on 48th Street, so I'll go hide in there. In Los Angeles, I have a little rental house that I use.

When you worked with Andy Williams, you were his arranger. Where did you work when you were on the road with him?

D.G.: I seldom did any writing on the road. I did the writing before going out.

He wasn't a road rat. He went out usually in the summertime. Normally he had a television show in the winter sea son, so he'd go out and do fair dates and concerts and things three months of the year.

L.R.: Andy's situation wasn't like a band doing one-nighters with a bus.

With Andy, first of all, you flew in a plane and stayed in real nice hotels.

And the gig was for a week or five days in a real nice nightclub, in one place. I had one friend with Slide Hampton's band. I went over to see him in this hotel. His room had a wire hanging from the ceiling with a bulb on it, and I was staying in a suite. I was embarrassed to even tell the guy to come over. With Andy it was kind of travelling first class. Of course, you weren't playing jazz. I mean, it was on a high musical level, I imagine... .

What do you mean, you imagine (laughter]?

L.R.: Well, it wasn't like playing in Count Basie's band. That would have been my choice. But it was still on a high musical level. It was better than a bar mitzvah, if you have to make comparisons.

How do you divide your responsibilities at GRP Records? I notice each of you has the title co-president, which is very egalitarian.

D.G.: Larry does everything, and I do these interviews [laughter].

L.R.: Dave's the spirit for the whole thing.

D.G.: I guess if we had an A&R department, that's where I'd be-but we don't have one. I get Larry to come in and hear mixes occasionally, but mostly he's involved on a day-to-day basis with a thousand decisions. It's lucky for me-it's probably lucky for him too that he has the temperament he has.

He really gets immersed in it, from an enjoyment standpoint as well as a business standpoint. I really think he likes the chase, probably even likes the problems, because it presents another challenge to him, another thing to solve.

You took GRP Records from ground zero to a $10-million company in only three years. Business Week even did a story on you. How did you get so far in so short a time?

L.R.: There isn't another company marketing the same way, as far as real brand-image marketing. That, and having the individual artists as strong as they are.

Isn't the absence of strong artists the problem with many audiophile or boutique labels?

L.R.: There are all different kinds of boutique labels. Blue Note Records, at one point, had an image. They focused on a certain type of music, and their artists had a lot of longevity and a lot of substance. I feel we're a contemporary-type version of that. This isn't Be bop Records, where you go in and try to re-create what happened at the Village Vanguard; we don't just bring a group in and have them play all day long, then create an album where we're trying to take a snapshot of what happened in a club. We're looking to build a catalog here, and we market it as a total brand image, which gives us much stronger presence in the market place.

Wasn't a more or less timeless catalog a key element of your marketing plan from the beginning? L.R.: Absolutely. Our musical interest is a big part of that, and economics is the other part. The flip side of the coin is the pop marketplace--going out and trying to find the new Michael Jackson or the new Madonna. For us to compete head-to-head with the major companies, that would be ludicrous. We couldn't afford to do it, because you could spend a million dollars before you even sold one single. Our records are constant sellers. That Glenn Miller record, for instance, will sell forever.

Dave Grusin sells forever. That's a very strong base for this company. Now that we've come to a level where we have true cash flow for the company and greater exposure in the marketplace on a worldwide basis, we're shifting.

We're trying to look for those artists, those productions that are going to help us stay somewhat in the same musical areas-we're still not looking for purple hair-but that are going to break through on the pop level. That would be the cream on top of what we're really creating here.

---- Diane Schuur is one of GRP's latest finds.

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