Todd Urban Interview

Part 1:"There's one person that I would like to do a record with now, and that's Sade..."

In the second part of the interview with Al Schmitt we will once again return to the times when there was no digital. We will also talk about today's music, full of compression and lack of dynamics. We will talk about his path to the Grammy Awards, the art of catching the "right moment" in the studio, we will also meet those who unfortunately are no longer among us.... Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis and the king, Elvis Presley....

If you read the first part of this interview (link here), you will surely know how unusual the mood was created during this conversation. When you have the opportunity to have a moment of contact with a man with such an amazing life, when you have the opportunity to listen about so many wonderful moments that shaped the music... in the air something extraordinary is produced... spoken words turn into images and when the author of these words is Al Schmitt, these images are additionally filled with music, which awakened by the memories of Al starts to play, tearing down barriers between you...

 

This is an extraordinary moment, which will certainly not be repeated in the same form ever again... Perhaps that's why I've been looking for words to the introduction of this and the first part of this interview for so long...

 

For many, he is the best translator between the inspiration of the musician and what moves us later when we approach the speakers... Ladies and gentlemen, for the second and I hope not the last time, Al Schmitt....

Adrian Lucas Witaszczyk: Hi Todd, it's great to finally meet you! Thank you for your time and that you agreed to talk!

Todd Urban: Oh thank you Adrian, my pleasure!

Who is responsible for developing Fader? Is it still the work of people behind the concept and design of Console 1? From what I remember, the author of the project was probably Niklas Odelholm but I may be wrong....

Yes, Niklas is definitely one of the top people involved with Fader. But Fader was obviously a little more complex in terms of hardware design, because, now we're incorporating a powered unit with moving faders. So there was a large team involved.

I would say almost the entire company was involved to some extent whether it was through testing the software or working on the idea of how to conceptualize the product in terms of how many faders? Where do we place them? How do we make it the same size as Console 1 so that they fit together? And a few other things that needed to be worked out. But to get back to the subject. Yes, Niklas is probably the primary person involved. But it was definitely a team effort to take it from beginning to end.

I have to admit that for a long time I was wondering what you'd do next. How, and if you decide to develop the hardware side of Console 1 at all. It was interesting because you couldn't really afford to update the original Console 1 concept. The appearance of, let's say, Console 2 would complicate many things, also in terms of production costs and marketing. Besides, it could have confused a lot of current users. You know, the feeling when your beloved controller is already outdated and the new one has just appeared, more modern and probably (although not necessarily) better.... It always hurts! So, Fader seems to be a logical, and clever development of the concept....

Yeah, so, the real reason that Fader is a separate product instead of being a new version of Console 1 is that there really is not much to change on Console 1. It seems to be considered to be a perfect product by most people and there's very little that people want to change on it. So, instead of trying to change the original product, it seemed better to come out with a new product that allowed people to determine how they wanted to use the product and whether they wanted to use both products or just Fader on its own. You can even use more than one Fader, if you want 20 faders, you could do that.

So when we came up with Fader, one of the most important things were that it must sounded great. And we don't usually think of faders having great sound, right? But with Console 1 Fader you do have a sound. Which is that you have the ability to control the drive and the character, which is the distortion characteristics of an analog board. So we wanted to make sure there was really great sound. And then it should be also easy to work with and enjoyable.

The faders are Alps faders, which are considered as top of the line faders in the industry. They are 100 millimeter faders. So they're full size. They're touch sensitive, so you can touch them and it knows when you're touching them. So if you're writing automation, that's good. And we spent a lot of time on the resolution, so the idea that when you take your hand and move them, they feel like a real analog fader. That was really important. So basically to answer your question shortly.... Sound quality, great feel, and it should also be fun and easy.

 

I understand that this is largely the result of requests and comments from your users? Many of them from a long time have wanted at least one fader to accompany C1 controller....

Oh, you noticed that! Right, so the thing is, a lot of people expected there to just be a new Console 1 with one fader on it.

But it seemed to make more sense to give people more faders. And the reason why we went with 10 of them is because the original Console 1 went from 1 to 20. So 10 faders makes more sense than 8 faders. Plus, people think better in groups of 10s. People understand the math and this concept seems to be right. So it was important to really think about how to make it work properly.

What among the first sketches and concepts did you manage to realize and what did you have to give up?

Well, the 10 fader thing was one of the first most important parts, that it was 10 faders, not 8. In terms of what did we have to give up? Good question, well, I don't know if we gave anything up. We wanted this to be the same size as Console 1. And the reason for that is that it should be not only portable, but It should also be able to be next to Console 1 or above it.

I keep mine top and bottom, but some people go left, right. So we wanted them to match. We didn't want Fader to be a bigger product. I guess we didn't have to sacrifice anything. But we definitely thought about how much can we fit into this size. Obviously, if we had something twice the size, we could put additional features, but we had to figure out what was the most important things to make the product work and it took a lot of time. And man, I've seen it taken apart. That entire unit is completely packed with hardware and it's really impressive!

 

Is it a new concept or did you plan such an extension already during the development of the original Console 1?

Oh wow, I don't know the answer to that. But I think the answer is that Console 1 since it originally, was a hardware controller for the SSL 4000 console plugin that it came with. I don't think faders were originally a long term vision for that. I think Console 1 was kind of its own product initially, and it worked well. The thing is as we started allowing things such as DAW control, for instance, on Console 1, the volume controls, the fader of the DAW and it behave this way on many DAW's now. Then people started wanting faders to. So I think it was kind of a natural evolution of the product. Not a plan.

 

How should we treat Console 1 Fader? Who is this product for? Is it something that will only be useful for Console 1 owners, or is it a full-fledged, full-size, independent product?

Oh it depend, I personally think it works best with Console 1, but some people like it only as Fader on its own.

A lot of people like using it because it's the only product that controls Universal Audio Apollo when you're tracking, so you can actually control the faders on the Apollo. So there are some people that only use Fader, but as for me, I use Console 1, the
original one every single day. So, to have Fader on its own, I would feel like I was missing something! 
I really want to have both together.

I'm asking this question because it seems that the faders in Console 1 Fader do not work directly with the faders of DAW's internal mixer? Although the exception here is probably Studio One. Besides it, Fader works internally, right?

It works with Studio One, Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo. Also in Reaper and Cakewalk, which, as you know, was called Sonar before. it works with Ableton Live. So really the only two DAWs that we're still waiting on for full integration is Pro Tools and Logic and we are working hard to make that happen.

Tell me more about its functions and how you use it, of course, besides obviously balancing the mix with faders. In short, convince me to this gear....

So as I said before, the biggest difference is that there is a sound to the product, because you can press a button and control the drive or you can press a button and control the character, which is the sound that an original analog console would have. So it's that sound quality that makes it different. But, you could also control things such as sends, so you have three sends to reverbs, or delays or anything else. You also have the ability to use the faders to do high and low cut filters.

You can't do EQ In a traditional sense, but you can cut out the lows or cut out the highs to do your basic cleanup of tracks.

 

And then there are some other functions such as width tool, which lets you decide how wide or narrow you want a track to
sound.
That's it. I mean, most of it is about the workflow. There's not too much in terms of additional features. But the biggest difference is that driving character, that's a really great feature! That drive section is what makes the sound different.

This gives you really great results. It helps to get the depth and separation of the tracks, and sounds really great and analogue!
 

Any other unique features and possibilities? Something that's different from other motorized fader controllers on the market? I know it comes with dedicated software that seems to be a kind of console emulation....

 

Yeah, it comes with a discrete mode and a tube mode. And those two modes each have different low and high cut filter. 

They also have different distortion characteristics. So that's what you're talking about with that. The only other thing that I haven't mentioned is there's a layer mode. And the layer mode lets you make groups that are permanent groups, so that you can quickly edit many tracks at once. So if I wanted to do all my drums on one fader, I could press layer mode, and then with one fader control the volume of all my drums or even EQ all my drums as one group. So that's really nice. If you have a giant session, for example, if you have 50 tracks or 100 tracks, you can make those hundred tracks just 10 tracks by just making different layers.

I understand that this software is something like a non-linear summing? Is it another saturation - similar to the C1 drive feature, or is it a more advanced algorithm to emulate all the wires and guts of a console?

No, I would say it's very similar to the Console 1 Drive section. The only thing different is, it doesn't have the shape, compression or EQ. It's just going to have the drive, character and the filters. Of course when you have C1 with Fader you get these two new desks characters.

 

Do you have any knowledge about how it correlates to stereo tracks? I'm asking about this little analog thing, when you know, both tracks are a little different in terms of nonlinearities....

So, one of the things that's interesting, and I actually made a video about it that you can find on the Softube website, is that you can set your character and drive slightly different on each channel. So if you're doing something such as working on a stereo track, you can make the left and the right side a little different. That will affect the harmonics differently and that will
make it feel a little more like a real desk, because that's what happens on a real hardware console in the real world.

So we let you customize how much you want to do that. You can make it very straight forward and very simple and just make everything sounds the same, or you can go in and customize every little channel as much as you like which will give you a
more analogue results. If you setup something like a drum bus, the drive and character start to give you characteristics that are extremely similar to analog summing. This is amazing since you get all that sound quality while staying in the box.

And what happens when we work on a track we already have in stereo? You know, not on two, but on one stereo instance. Is it then possible to get such differences in the stereo field? How does Console 1 software affect this kind of tracks? Does the Console 1 plugin recognizes stereo and mono track differences?

When it comes to tracking in mono vs stereo, Console 1 recognizes what is plugged in and treats the L/R of the stereo track the same way. So it does not split the L and R separately.

To what extent does this new software work with the software known from C1? Is this something that extends the capabilities of the original Console 1?

Oh yes, definitely. If you have Console 1 and you own the SSL 9K, or the British Class A, or American Class A, you can load all those drive sections from Fader. You can also load things such as Tape and Harmonics, and some of our other plugins like the Saturation Knob. So Fader also allows you to add some additional drive that wasn't originally featured on Console 1.

 

You were talking about the so-called layer mode and it looks like a real GEM of this unit, but there is also this width feature, which is probably an exclusive add on for Console 1 Fader users, right?

 

Yeah, the width is similar to a mid side tool. You know what it does, right? On a stereo track, it lets you widen the stereo sides. But what's interesting is, when you go counterclockwise, when you go to the left with the knob, you can select the frequency that you want to collapse to mono. So I personally like to use it on something such as a piano. I always want the piano to sound very big and wide. But in a full mix scenario, sometimes we want the bottom part of the piano, the left hand on the piano, to sound mono because it'll sound a little stronger. So I'll take something such as the left hand on the piano and at

150 hertz and lower make that mono. So you can use that width tool to do that.

Oh that's great! Looks like a real game changer of these units!

I know that after the first wave of admiration, there were some criticisms. Some people complain about the price....

We really considered the price. We wanted the price to be as affordable as possible so that we can have many people using it. The problem with making a product of this quality, to fit a low price, is that many components, for example, the faders, are expensive. And when you look at Fader since it has 10 faders, when you compare it with the fact that it has high quality Alps faders in it, you will see it's actually the cheapest product in the market in terms of what you get for the price, because you are paying less than 100 US dollars for a single fader when you do cost per fader. And no other product does that with the same quality faders. So we really worked hard to make it affordable for people. That was a huge concern. And I think we did that.

You know, I think we came up with a price that gives you really the best value for the money.

If we're on the subject of costs....

 

Console 1 was first hand-made in Sweden. Some time ago you managed to start its production on a larger, more massive scale and thus you managed to reduce the cost of its production and thus its price. This is how the Console 1 Mk2 was born. The question is how this optimization has affected the quality of the product itself and what quality can the owner of the first original Console 1 expect from Fader?

Well, Console 1, both, the original and Mk2 are basically the same product. There's very little that changed. Most of the changes were additional features that were added. And so, we changed the silk screening, we also changed the location of manufacturing. The manufacturing quality is still extremely high, it could even possibly be better in some ways because it's being made by hardware manufacturers. And then the other thing we changed was the lights on it. We made the lights a little brighter and easier to see. So nothing in the quality of the product change from the original to where we are now.

 

I can easily say they're equally as good quality. So I think there's no difference with Fader. I think people will know what to expect. It feels very similar. It still has that metal design. It's not plastic. And it's got a nice heavy feel. So it feels like hardware.

The issue of quality is more and more important today. More and more users report that this is one of the most important factors when choosing equipment. You know, nobody likes complaints. So, can you tell me a little more about the evolution of the Console 1/ Console 1 Mk2/Fader line? What exactly influenced the current price difference?

The components are the same. It's the same hardware underneath. The price difference was, as I said with Fader, we try to give the best value to our users. And when we were able to manufacture Console 1 Mk2 at a cheaper cost. We didn't keep the price the same. We look the price so that our users could benefit from that.

As the owner of the original Console 1, I have to admit that my item is extremely well made. I never had any problems with it. It's already quite old and still looks and behaves like it was just taken out of the box. Can we expect the same from Fader? You know, over the years I've found out that Made In Sweden is not just an empty slogan....

Yeah, I think you can. I think that's why we went with Alps faders. That's why we went with expensive ones instead of cheap, you know, the low budget ones. We made this decision in order to make sure that they always work and that they can be serviced if there was ever a problem, for example, if somebody ever dropped it or something. So I think the quality should be just as good. We really spent a lot of time making sure that quality was a top priority. You know Fader is supposed to be an extension of Console 1 so we had to make sure he didn't have a different reputation from the one Console 1 has had for several years.
 

Returning to Fader....

 

What about the integration of both softwares? Do they work together? Do both plugins have to be inserted at the same time, or in case when we use both C1 and Fader we have to place one version of software and the other component is detected automatically?

Exactly, I mean, there's only one plugin. That one plugin recognizes what you connect. So, for example, if you're in the middle of mixing, and you unplug Console 1 hardware controller, it will know that you unplugged it, and it'll change the screen to show you a different view. The interesting thing is that your session won't crash. It'll keep running. The plugin knows what's going on. It just changes what's connected and keeps going. So, since we designed everything from the software to the hardware,

it all works together and knows how many units are connected and what's plugged in at all times.

 

Since we're on the subject of cooperation between Console 1 and Fader, I can't help asking why you didn't decide to make both devices connect with only one and the same USB cable? If I'm wrong, correct me please, but from what I know, for both devices to work you need two usb inputs. In laptops this can be quite a nuisance. I understand that this was necessary?

Yeah, I use a USB hub. And I connect with one cable to the laptop, so I connect the devices to the hub and then the hub to my laptop. I don't know the exact answer as to why we didn't make them connect to each other. But I know one of the answers is that it takes more space on the unit to make that work. So that was one consideration.

 

Another consideration is that since the software recognizes whether you have only Fader or only Console 1 or Console 1 and two Faders, you can choose how many devices you connect. And if you had something where they connected to each other,

I think that may limit how many of them you want to use and how you decide to use it. So you may use the product differently than I do. And so instead of us telling you how to use it, you decide how to use it by deciding what you connect to the hub.

 

Now a tough question. I've got Console 1 and some additional Softube plugins. I appreciate the workflow that C1 gives me, but, I want to use two different Softube equalizers and two different Softube compressors on one track, meanwhile, inside C1 software we can use only one eq and only one compressor. Is there any way to use more instances of eq and compressor inside Console 1?

Not inside I think. Most of the time I find that Console 1 software does everything I need, but sometimes I do decide that I want to use a different plugin that isn't supported. And if that's the case, then you can put that plugin before or after the Console 1 plugin and still use it just like you used to use plugins before you purchased Console 1. So nothing stops you from using what you're used to use. This just helps you add additional functionality.

I have to tell you, that it looks like it's actually possible. I was looking for such a possibility and it turned out that when you put for example two instances of Console 1 plugin into your DAW, when you select the track number on your controller, when you press it twice then the screen shows the second instance of Console 1 plugin. So, by
quickly pressing it two times you have the possibility to select which one of C1 plugin instances you want to see on your screen, and then you have one more equalizer and one more compressor, and one more drive and character!

 

While using one of the additional channel strips, is there a way to change the Low Pass and High Pass filter sections to use filters from other channel strip?
 

Yes, but you would have to switch out the channel strip for that. If you only want to change the filters, you would have to pick a different channel strip. You can do that, and it's very simple but that's the only way to make this happen.

 

What about more detailed DAW work (i.e. track editing, moving, cutting, etc), can you do that with the Console 1 hardware and software, or it's necessary to switch over to other hardware controller?

 

Well, for cutting and moving, no, we don't do any of that with these two products, maybe sometime in the future.

These products are really not meant to be about controlling DAW so much. They're meant to be more about adjusting the sound of the audio. So I don't know if that will be in the future. Of course, it's possible, but it seems a little different than the
primary point of what we're trying to do, which is really about adjusting the sound, not the editing of the regions.

Those are kind of two different concepts.

 

What about Virtual Instrument parameter control?

Yeah, maybe in the future. Currently this is more about mixing the sound. To me that sounds like maybe that would be a different product. Obviously if you have a virtual instrument you can put the Console 1 plugin and adjust the EQ and volume and drive of a virtual instrument but in terms of doing something like adjusting a synthesizers LFO or something like that,

it doesn't do that right now. I really think that it can be great concept and as I said earlier maybe that's a different product to and maybe we should have you design products?

Don't tempt me Todd or I'll agree, haha!

Okay, and how does the issue of opening the C1 controller to support third-party plugins look like today?

I know that C1 has never been planned as a universal controller and has no such purpose, but this is a topic that does not go silent on forums. Do you take this into account?

Yeah of course. We think about that. Right now it's still Softube and Universal Audio plugins, or UAD 2 plugins.

The reason why we select to work with Universal Audio is we've developed a long term partnership with them. And we feel that their products are of high quality, just like Softube products. So we want to make sure that if we were to ever work with supporting a plugin, that it's a long term relationship with a company that we have tons of respect for, so that can take a long time to happen. And I'm not saying that we wouldn't ever add additional plugins, but it if would, I don't think it's something that's in the plans just yet.

 

Is it possible to change the factory channel strip in Console 1 without the hardware controller connected to the computer?

No, it is not. You cannot change the channel strip without the controller. And that's because it's a software and hardware product. It's really meant to be a hardware product. The software is basically there so that the hardware can work.

But the reason why we allow the software to work without the hardware, to some extent, is if you couldn't take the hardware
with you, if you were going on a trip, it allows you to still play the session without the hardware connected.

 

So we don't give you the functionality of changing channel strips without the hardware but it will keep the changes you made when the hardware was connecting.

 

It's been a while since Console 1 was launched, correct me if I'm wrong but its release was probably in 2014,

so I think it's safe to say that it has revolutionized the market and in the box mixing. Never before, nor ever after has

a product been developed that would have such a strong impact on the speed and work culture.

 

Since we mentioned that plugins are getting older, can we count on the fact that you will systematically try to update and remodel the software and additional channel strips cooperating with C1?

Yeah, well, I think we've proved that we are continuing to support it and develop it. So it's been around for about seven years now. As you know, It started off as just a SSL 4000 E channel strip, and since then we allow different additional channel strips and we've now incorporated some really useful features like DAW Control and added UAD plugins.

 

So, you've seen us continue to develop the software support but keep the hardware the same. And that's something we're really proud of to make sure that it has new features and we continue to look at what we can do to make the product better so that people aren't buying new hardware every year. They're keeping the same purchase and they're getting updates that make them happy to have invested in this hardware.

Yeah, you know, the competition doesn't sleep. New channel stripes appear on the market, including SSL emulations, which promise better sound, greater realism, benefit from the latest modelling techniques including samples, impulses, etc... You're surely watching it closely, so....

Okay, so, growing number of additional channel strips, deep integration with several DAWs, cooperation with UAD plugins via Apollo Central, recent release of Fader.... How else can the Console 1/Fader system be improved?

Is it possible to improve the software so that both controllers give even more possibilities?

Well, obviously yeah! Fader was the next step. And so now the question becomes, how can we continue to improve Fader and Console 1 together? And we will continue to look at what people's requests are and see if we can find ways to improve on the workflow so that it gives more opportunities and options to people and makes their mixing more fun and more real and just better sonic results. I don't know what the next change will be but I'm sure at some point we'll add some new additional features.

Have you ever thought about expanding your cooperation with Universal Audio and releasing another hardware controller which would have a DSP to run UAD plugins? Since a large number of these plugins can be operated with C1/F, such a step would seem logical....

Well, if we had talked about that we wouldn't be able to talk about it publically. Right now I think with Universal Audio, the best answer to that is, these are the two controllers that control the Console 2.0 software with Apollo's and we see a lot of people using them while tracking within Apollo. And that's been really nice.