For the 15th album in a long and storied career, superstar guitar god Joe Satriani decided it was time to stop mixing for everyone but himself. “This time around, I said, ‘You know what? I want the fans to hear what we hear in the studio. Forget about TV, laptops, elevators, and what radio stations are telling you — who cares?’’’ Satch (as he’s also known) told me recently about his sonic goals for Shockwave Supernova while we sat together in a midtown Manhattan hotel lounge. “We felt like, with this being record #15, are we really competing with somebody on the radio? We made a record where fans can listen to it quietly, and as they turn it up, it gets better and better and better. No matter how loud they turn it up, it never hurts.”
Satch and his co-producer/engineer John Cuniberti were on a full-dynamic-range mission while they were working on Shockwave. “One of the things John could count on saying while he was mixing was, ‘I’m going to make this part a little bit louder,’” Satriani notes. “Ten years ago, if you said that, people would say, ‘Oh no, we can’t do that! You’ve only got 1 dB to work with!’ John had done my ‘Chrome Dome’ box [the 15-disc collection The Complete Studio Recordings, in 2014], and we had kind of wrestled back the dynamic range from all the years of competitive mastering. Shockwave Supernova is the perfect record, because it needed all of the drama the dynamics could give you.”
Here’s what Satch had to say about hi-res recording, streaming, and hi-res audio.
Mettler: From the artist’s point of view, do you feel high resolution is the best way to listen to music these days?
Satriani: We’re in the studio 8 hours a day — in the old days, it would have been 12 hours a day; we’ve learned a few things over the years (laughs). We’re listening to high-powered performances, but it’s not fatiguing because things are dynamic.
At home, I’m recording the guitars DI [direct input], and I’m monitoring with Sansamp [bass drivers], or I’m simultaneously listening to one of my amps going DI out or into an old Marshall SE100 [attenuator/speaker emulator]. When John gets the files and we’re with the band, we clean up a guitar that’s too distorted, or if it’s not aggressive enough because the band is playing more aggressive, we can tweak it on the fly. Once we get everyone’s performances, we can go, “Now, should that be an old Fender Harvard [vacuum-tube guitar amp], or should that be a Marshall turned up to 4?” Since John invented the Reamp [guitar amp/tape recorder interface], we can Reamp everything and create what we think is the best sonic picture. Some of the songs have lots of guitar —and if you’re gonna have six guitars, it’s kinda neat to have six different amps that will compliment each other.
Mettler: We live in a streaming universe now. How do you feel about that?
Satriani: My thought is just… share. Share as a musician. The things I worry about as a current entertainer in the business have almost no connection with what the kid at home needs to be continually inspired. It’s almost beyond me to know what they’re looking at and what they’re listening to. It might be the fact that they go, “Wow, look at those high tops he’s wearing! He’s playing that thing on the neck pickup, and he doesn’t seem to be caring about anything! It’s like nothing he’s ever played on any record before!” They study every little thing, and they take it in in such a different way than the way I’m giving it.
Sometimes I think, if we had a cassette of Beethoven working on Moonlight Sonata, we wouldn’t care how it was recorded. You’d just be all over that thing. It’s like listening to recordings of Bird [legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker] — we don’t not listen to it because of the fidelity. We go, “Oh my God, you’ve got a recording of Bird, playing that solo!” And if someone said, “Hey look, I’ve got an old film of Jimi Hendrix being asked some questions, just playing a guitar through any old amp.” I’d be like, “Please, can I hear it? I don’t care!”
At the same time, we are dedicated to delivering the best-sounding product, and we’re not exactly sure where technology is going. We don’t know what’s happening tomorrow, but John and I have done everything with the entire catalog to bring it up to the highest resolution with the most amount of dynamics. So if the technology of streaming advances to where it’s going to be 96k, we’re ready.
Read more of my interview with Satch (which includes our discussion about his experiences with Tidal) on Digital Trends.