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SHIRKing a Mixing Masterclass with Recording Studio Rockstars

Mixing console with Recording Studio Rockstars

OWC hosted an audio mixing masterclass at SHIRK Studios in Chicago this past weekend. Volunteers were needed to showcase a few OWC products, and not wanting to shirk any responsibility (pun intended), I begrudgingly agreed to give up my day off and work on a Saturday. 😩

Okay, that’s simply a big fat lie. Having been a bit of a “Studio Rat” in days past, I was all but jumping up and down with my hand raised, “Pick me! Pick me!” Sitting in on a mixing session surrounded by tons of killer gear, and absorbing the tricks, tips, and recording philosophies of more than one accomplished audio engineer sounded like pure heaven! Don’t tell my boss…

Like many of the best rooms in town, SHIRK Studios started as a personal project for Owner/Operator Stephen Shirk. Traveling around and working in other people’s recording studios gives every budding audio engineer the necessary experience and education to refine their craft. It’s an important part of the process. But something is inviting about eventually settling down, collecting a bunch of your own really cool gear, and opening a studio you can call home. Once you catch the bug, it’s hard to let it go! And as such, so too was SHIRK Studios born.

Photo of Lij Shaw and Anthony Gravino at the soundboard in Shirk Studio, Chicago, IL
Lij Shaw (left) and Anthony Gravino (right)

Moderating the Mixing Masterclass was Grammy Award-winning Engineer/Producer and Recording Studio Rockstars host Lij Shaw – making the eight-hour journey by car from Nashville due to powerful storms that forced the cancellation of every flight to the Windy City. Behind the board was Anthony Gravino (Davy Knowles, Stu Mindeman, Bunny Patootie), armed with a song by Hood Smoke that he recently recorded and mixed called “Lone Lorraine.”

Anthony Gravino working a recording console

Though the event was free of charge, space was limited to 16 lucky participants because we were going to be crammed into a relatively small control room. And crammed we were, like wild-eyed sardines staring at an overhead display of a Pro Tools session, hungry to learn. Folks trekked in from all around the central US, and one international traveler braved a 12-hour bus ride from Toronto.

After introductions, the rest of morning was spent dissecting the song that Anthony had brought along. Track-by-track we looked at everything from instrumentation and what mics and amps were used, to what EQs and effects were or were not printed for certain parts and why. And because every engineer has a unique set of recording philosophies and techniques, it was fascinating to hear why Anthony did what he did and then listen to how it impacted the final product.

Lj Shaw speaks at Mixing Masterclass

Lij did a fantastic job of keeping the conversation on track while providing his ears and expertise to what he was hearing as well. We cramped little fishies had questions o’ plenty and were so engrossed in the discussion that we blew right through lunch and had to adjust a bit.

The participants had been invited to bring their music and/or mixes to receive feedback, and this was how the bulk of the afternoon was spent. I give a lot of credit to those who had the guts to share their work – I know how nerve-racking it can be to have your artistic creations critiqued by a fellow professional. Been there. Lij put it quite well… because music is so incredibly personal and intimate, willingly asking someone to evaluate your project is like asking them to kiss your wife. Kinda creepy, but eerily accurate.

There was a lot of “gear talk” throughout the day as well, and it wasn’t just about the shiny front-facing fun stuff like microphones, pre-amps, consoles, software, and plugins. There was plenty of discussion surrounding the unglamorous world of the behind-the-scenes hardware that is critical to creativity and workflow. This is obviously where OWC shines!

Round table showcasing several OWC products including Envoy Pro EX, Thunderbolt 3 Dock, Envoy Pro Mini and OWC Travel Dock

Apart from the OWC gear that already graced SHIRK Studios, we brought along several items that made many a jaw drop. SSDs, external drives with internal speeds, connectivity solutions and high-capacity portable storage devices to name a few. We often say that there are two types of DIY computer users out there – those who love OWC, and those who have never heard of OWC. That adage proved to be true with this group as well. And considering that the few “uninitiated” were drooling all over the docks and drives just like everyone else… Well, I think there may have been several happy converts. (Shameless plug.)

Being that the group was filled with audio recording junkies, it was no surprise to find out that virtually everyone was a Mac user. What was surprising is that most of their Macs are 8 to 10 years old! That is certainly music to our OWC ears because an important part of our mission is to help people extend the life of their technologies. No need to ditch that older Mac quite yet because there are likely plenty of upgrade options to help it keep up with the ever-increasing intensity of recording studio operations. Not to mention that an upgraded Mac is a Mac that stays out of the landfill longer. And as we all know, being green is good for people. And fish.

Image of an OWC Data Doubler overlaying a MacBook Pro

Of course, OWC’s products are made to last a very long time as well. Studio owner Stephen Shirk mentioned that he has several OWC drives that are 15 years old or more – still doing their job, happily spinning away. And that’s pretty important when you are dealing with crucial tasks like data archiving. And Lij couldn’t be happier with the life-extending OWC Data Doubler he installed in his 2012 MacBook Pro. In addition to dramatically expanding his storage capacity, the drive speed increased so substantially that he could begin effectively doing session work and editing with the computer. Such a great example of getting every inch (and penny) out of an older system!

Now for all of you audio nerds out there who may be interested in amping up your system a bit, here are some of the storage and connectivity items (pictured on the table above) that we brought along to show off:

Envoy Pro EX – Thunderbolt 3

  • Rugged, compact, bus-powered, high-performance storage for demanding applications with integrated Thunderbolt 3 cable.

Envoy Pro EX – USB-C

  • Perfect NVMe M.2 SSD Solution. Pro-level speeds up to 980MB/s. Pocket-sized, bus-powered storage. IP67 Rating against dust & water.

Envoy Pro Mini

  • Delivers desktop-class performance in a tiny thumb drive form-factor. Tier 1, premium-grade NAND flash.

Thunderbolt 3 Dock

  • Features 14 Ports of connectivity: USB 3.1 Gen 2 / Gen 1 + Thunderbolt 3 + microSD Reader + SD Reader + mini DisplayPort + Gigabit Ethernet + S/PDIF + Combo Audio I/O.

USB-C Travel Dock

  • With 5 essential ports, up to 100W of pass-through charging, and just 1 cable, you’re ready to display, charge, connect, and import while on the move.

OWC Envoy Pro Mini

My personal favorite from the list? Definitely the Envoy Pro Mini! Up to 1TB of capacity, wickedly fast, incredibly affordable, and it fits right in your pocket or gig-bag as easily as a flash drive. Load up all your sessions, samples, libraries, loops, plugins, impulse files – whatever you may need for that next gig or session – and go!

What we didn’t bring along on Saturday were several other essential recording-system-beefing-up-items like OWC’s high-capacity internal storage drives and blazingly fast memory, mainly because that would just be weird. And they aren’t very fun to play with.

All in all, it was a fantastic day! And though the quarters were a bit cramped, we didn’t really feel like sardines. We felt more like eager students sitting at the feet of our inspirational recording gurus. So, many thanks to Lij, Anthony, and Stephen for sharing their time and talent with us!

This certainly won’t be the last time OWC will host a Mixing Masterclass with the Recording Studio Rockstars team, so if you are interested, we encourage you to keep your ears tuned into the RSR podcast and keep your eyes focused on the Rocket Yard blog – we’ll keep you posted!

Shirk Studios Mixing Masterclass Partcipants sponsored by OWC
A Happy Class of Mixmasters

Are You Interested in Recording?
Make sure to check out Rocket Yard’s series of Pro Audio articles by recording engineer Josh Sularski. This series is designed with an emphasis on helping you build a home recording studio. Whether you are a beginner who has never recorded before or more advanced with years of experience, we think you’ll end up with some great takeaways!

OWC Mark C
the authorOWC Mark C
Content Marketing Manager
A creative by nature, Mark is a writer, programmer, web developer, musician, culinary craftsman, and interpersonal artisan. He loves the outdoors because greenspace is to the soul as whitespace is to the written word. He does not like Diophantine geometry or mosquitos. Most everything else is okay. Oh yeah, he is also the managing editor of the Rocket Yard blog.
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  • “…it was no surprise to find out that virtually everyone was a Mac user. What was surprising is that most of their Macs are 8 to 10 years old!”

    Where I come from OS 10.9.5 is quite popular, as are the 2012 (with a decent hard drive cable) and 2014 (with the hard to find heat-sunk SSD) MacBook Pro computers. Once I have something working I like to just enjoy using it (as opposed to the Linux-like hobby of continually hassling problems with updates).

    I have OWC SSDs and RAM in my 2012 models, and am quite happy with them. Boots in less than 10 seconds, heh..