But You Can’t Do Both … (The Life & Story of DMH)
The Early Years
According to family lore, the third word that I ever said was “record”. This totally makes sense, as my earliest recollections revolved around them. I sort of remember throwing my sisters records at her as Frisbees in order to get back at her, and accidentally (I hope) sitting on them in the front seat of the car. A far bigger recollection, though is of being asked to pick out a song out of a pile of records, before I know how to read. I remember one 45 record in particular. It was called “My Baby Loves the Western Movies“. It must have been on the carousel label, as it was bright pink and of course had a carousel on it. I proudly associated he label with the music, picked it out and handed it over.
I also remember having a wind-up Victrola. Of course, I was way too young to have it, as the first task at hand was to take it apart. My Dad wasn’t to mechanically minded, so it stayed broken (not the first or last time, I’m sure). But the biggie came when my brother showed me his new reel-to-reel recorder that had super-small 1″ reels. I think it was meant to imitate a spy-type tape recorder. Well, after that I was hooked … I had to have one with 3″ reels, then 5″ then 7″ stereo … well, you get the idea.
The other thing that was going on with me was the fact that I was pretty outta control as a kid. I was a hard one to say “NO” to (one of my bigger regrets was being a difficult kid). I must have also been very unhappy … as I gained a lot of weight early on. Seriously, by the time I was 11, I weighed 255 lbs … not good at all!
So, here’s my take on where I was at that time in my early life. Quite simply, I call it “laser-braining”. To me, this means that nothing worked in my life, and I mean “nothing” – except recording. It was all I had! Of course, it was super unhealthy, but this was my reality. My grades hardly rose above being a D- (really bad). This was of course due to teachers that weren’t that great, but mostly because of the fact that I was studying subjects that meant nothing to me. I has a few teachers that shined through it all, but most were pretty average, and I simply didn’t care. However, I knew who and what I was going to become … I was going to be a recording engineer. Of course, that this was before the internet, recording schools … all of the stuff that we now take for granted. So, at the age of 11, I had written off to all of manufacturers at the time and requested there catalogs, which allowed me to create my own library of recording technology – which I promptly memorized.
Before I move on, I wanted to share a very funny story about how I never made to being a boy scout. My parents were never very religious (yeah), but for a year, we decided to give it a try. Every week in the church basement, the cub scouts met and so, I decided to join. One event was the “Rocket Race”. These were balsa wood rockets with propellers that were to be hung on strings and raced across a long room. Although my dad was a very srong, pysical (and quite sweet man), he was never very mechanically inclined. When it came time for the race, it was obvious taht all of the dads helped with their rockets. I, of course, made my own … I had so many rubber bands in that sucker that it had to be structurally reinforced, so as not to explode under its own tension. Then came the race! One by one, the boys would race their rockets and lil’ Johnny would win, then the next … my time came. I put it on the string track and let it go … it stormed across the room so fast that it crashed into the wall and exploded into pieces. They disqualified me, so I stormed out and quit. Such was my short brush with organized groups … I’ve never been too much of an organization guy since.
Another story refers to one of my fears and how I (pretty much) got over it, It all started with my mother’s fear of snakes and how she passed that onto me. When I was about 12, there was a pet store in the neighborhood that had lots of snakes. Right … so I walked in and told the owner that I had this fear of snakes and would he take me around and help me get over the phobia. We started with a 3″ little guy and i noticed how cool they felt and how they didn’t feel slimy at all, but felt smooth and silky, but very strong. After about an hour, I was handling his biggest constrictor. It was a great experience, that gave me a new-found respect for these “cool” creatures and how to confront my illogical demons.
One of my biggest moments, though, came when my brother showed me list latest new thing. It was a tape recorder, not just any recorder, but a super-portable one that literally had 1″ reels. It was straight out of a James Bond film, with hidden lapel mic and all. I was hooked! Soon after, I got my own portable recorder that had 3″ reels, then I slowly moved up to 5″, then 7″ then (Oh my god!) a 7″ stereo reel-to-reel recorder. I felt exactly like the little boy in “The Christmas Story”. I was in heaven! I’d record albums to tape and make my own mix reels (no-one knew what a mix reel was). Since my bedroom was really large(after inheriting it from my older brother and sisters), I put the stereo speakers as wide as I could in the room (about 30 feet) and added two color organs at each end to pulse to the music. I wasn’t popular at school with the kids, but who cared, I had my own amazing world … just for myself!
Soon, I started writing off to professional companies (like Neumann, AKG and Ampex to get the literature on their pro equipment at the age of 11. Soon, I built what was surely the only recording library in my home town (or a much wider area).
At the age of 14, I went off to The Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY to study recording at a 2 week Summer recording workshop. At the time there were very few educational classes or courses being offered about recording in the world, and Eastman was probably the most respected. They had a beginners class and an advanced class … and at 14, I (of course) took the advanced course. Turns out, I was right! I learned so much from folks like Don Poluse (who at the time was head of Columbia Recording [a very big deal], is still active in the biz and is now a friend). I was literally studying and doing hands-on production with new guys 3 times my age.
I definitely remember my first time at a recording console (actually, it was a mixer … a revered Neve side console) and a 3M tape 8tk machine. It was a jazz piece and I was in heaven. I was also over EQing and had no idea what I was or should be doing (as to be expected on the first try) … still, I was truly hooked.
I remember going with my parents to a major concert in Indianapolis to see Odetta. She was an imposing black woman, who was playing that night on stage with the Cincinnati Orchestra and two full black church choirs. To say that it was a powerful evening is an understatement! She was on the stage, seated in a large ratan chair on a riser with the orchestra in front and the choirs to both sides. I noticed a bunch of microphones and decided to go sneak backstage before the concert to see what was up. It turns out the Jack Gilfoy and his team wad been contracted to record the show. I basically begged them to ask if I could stay and watch the session with them. I remember Mark Hood (Jack’s main engineer) asking later, who in the hell is this kid?
After the show, I found out that jack not only had a studio in Bloomington, Indiana, but he also had a two month recording workshop that he held. I was still living at home … so each week thereafter, I took a bus trip from home to Indianapolis, then to Bloomington for the class, and then took the bus back to “Indy”, stayed in a hotel and took the bus back home the next day. It was a lot for a young kid.
At the age of 19, my mom died. Obviously, this had a major effect om my life by making me realize that I was not ready for life … at least the life that those around me were starting to settle down into. The only way out that I could see at the time was college, but as a kid with a D- grade average, no school would look at me. At it was affordable, has a world-class music school and was in my home state, I looked to go to Indiana University. They of course laughed at me … well, you might remember that I don’t take kindly to “NO”, so I kept after them. “What would it take for you to say yes?” After a few more NOs, they finally said … “If you go to local extension schools and give us 21 credits with a 3-point grade average (basically a B average), then you can come to IU. Well, I gave them a 4 point average (straight A’s). So, off to college I went.
I set about designing my own degree (this was WELL before any recording production degrees were offered). In fact, I have one of the first degrees in music production from the US that one could have. Since my buddy Jack Gilfoy (Drummer for Henry Mancini, Nancy Wilson, Johnny Mathis, etc) had a studio in town, I set about to be a studio apprentices for college credit. This wa possible, but I had to white a thesis about how I was qualified and why should they choose me. I stated writing and I would send a copy to Jack and he would always get back to me with the written words “You can write a better proposal than this!”. Damn … so, I’d rewrite it and always get the same response. It took 4 times before Jack acepted my proposal and let me into the program.
At this time, I knew my department’s counselor very well. One day she sat me down and said … “We need to talk!” Dave, I’ve been thinking and I think that you can be in the recording industry, or you can be a gay man … But you can’t be in the industry and be a gay man … You simply CAN’T BE BOTH! I just raised my eyebrows and walked out … “yeah right … I’ll show them!”
The first year in college, I learned about the University of Surrey Recording “Tonmeister” program. At the time, it was the best in the world. Since they accepted 20 students from the whole world each year, upon writing, they of course turned me down. However, after keeping at them … it took 2 years of counter negotiations, but I finally spent my 3rd year and a bit more at Surrey. I was the first Tonmeister that was ever accepted from the USA.
Time at Surrey was a real trip! I was totally out of my league academically, as al the other students had tons of math and physics under their belts … but I knew how to record. We all had a great time, but it wasn’t easy for me. The head of the program was an excellent Scotsman named John Borwick … He was known throughout the country even outside the industry, as he has a show in London on the subject of music every Sunday morning.
One of my teachers was particularly nuts, as he was one of the world’s top-most theoreticians on light-wave propagation. His job was to teach us acoustics. The first few days, he would walk up to the board and start writing complex equations, and since the other blokes knew math they would ask questions and he would answer by writing more equations … soon, we all learned just to sit there and be bored. He was probably the worst teacher I’ve ever had .
During school breaks, we had a flat in London in South Kensington. It was a posh multi-storied building that was about a block fro the Victoria & Albert Museum … prime real-estate. As I’d sent about 50 resumes to studios, asking for work during break, I got two offers and ended up working at De Lane Lea (aka The Music Centre) in Wembley. It was a huge complex that had England’s 2nd largest studio room, second only to Abbey’s Studio 1. I ended u setting u sessions for the LSO and various groups … it was a dream come true … except for the usual thing – the hours were too long and the stress too high. I ended up going home, hitting the pillow and in my dreams hitting the play button … it just wouldn’t end.
Getting back to school, during my last semester I had my final exam. In England, this exam is not just a part of your grade … it’s about 40% or so. Screw the finals (OWLs from harry Potter come to mind) and you’ve screwed the entire year up. We’ll the night before I already knew I was screwed, so I had a recording session that went till 4AM and simply didn’t study … Just screw it! My exam for the acoustics class came up and I know I had no chance in hell of even passing. It was multiple choice and an essay … “Please redesign an acoustic space and give your reasonings for your choices”. I choose my high school auditorium (an expensive room that looked good, but had cancellation nodes that wouldn’t quit). Miraculously, I got a B for my design!
Finally, the time came to go back home to Indiana. I took up working with a studio that was in the woods, surrounded by underground caves. My biggest recollection, was recording the first demo for John Cougar Mellencamp (then Johnny Cougar) … what a talent and what an asshole! I got stiffed for the session!
It was during my time behind the console in Indiana and then Seattle that I made a huge self-discovery … I spent my entire life really, really, REALLY wanting to be a recording engineer and now, I was one and I HATED it.Turns out that what I hated was sitting behind a console recording other people’s music. I was a musician … and didn’t really know it. I needed to make my own music and record/produce it.
Move to Seattle
At this time in my life, while still being in England, I was trying to decide where to live. The choices at that time came down to Seattle or Berlin. Since the wall was up and those were much different times (I’m writing this in Berlin right now), I chose Seattle … I did it because, at the time, Seattle was trying hard to be a recording center. So, with $1000 in my back pocket, I moved west and immediately fell in love with the Northwest. The problem was, this was the early 80s, when the economy totally talked and so did Seattle’s dreams of being a recording center. But having tons of fun as a gay guy in the west, I decided to stick it out. First off, I ended up working for a Christian recording studio (that didn’t go over well). I didn’t give a crap and taught in full leather, the works. It was fun. Come to find out that decades later, I was actially working for who is now a dear buddy in NY (oh the irony).
Moving to Seattle was an amazing experience for me. As a gay guy, newly moved to the West Coast, I was in heaven. Making new friends and a new life. Recording in Seattle wasn’t for me, as I’m not much of a rocker. The grunge scene was getting under way, and although I know a fir number of folks who were influential, I’m just not a rocker. So, I lived in Seattle and travel to other places to get things done (still do).
This starts what is almost certainly the biggest chapter (all puns intended) in my life. About a year after I moved to Seattle, I started to write a booklet called “A Musician’s Guide to the Recording Studio”. Sounds logical, right? Except this was 1982 and about 12 years before anyone was writing books with this title … it was short, but it was WAY ahead of its time (something that I’m rather prone to doing).
Before Christmas, my US family called and said “you’re coming home for Christmas!” … I kept saying, no, but they just wouldn’t take that for an answer. So, I went back to Indiana for the Holidays. I wanted to call a major (the biggest) publisher in the music tech industry (at that time, they had the name of Howard Sams), to ask if they’d be interested in the book. So I called 2 days before Christmas and got the acquisitions editor on the phone. I said, I have this booklet, would you be interested in publishing it? They immediately said No, but that they had this book called Modern Recording Techniques (which was even at that time, the world standard book). They said the original author had quit the industry, and that they needed a new author and that they needed to make a decision THAT DAY! Mr. Huber, could you do it? … Well, after picking myself up off the floor in shock, I said YES! I’d spent practically my entire life preparing for that and I was indeed able to do it. I totally knew at the time that they were handing me an entirely new life … and multiple decades later, I’m still the author of what is the industry’s standard text. What an amazing opportunity and a really fun ride! The funny part is that about 40 years later, I should be totally tired of it, but the truth is that I’m still having a blast writing, drawing figures and putting my best foot forward for the industry. How many people get to teach and introduce hundreds of thousands of interested recording people to this industry … That’s the real blessing!
Really coming out
In 1981, I ran into a lady who was really into recording and she took me over to a big house where I met Phil and Vivian Williams. Phil and I hit it off right off the bat and that began a lifelong connection that lasted until his death in 2017 (see his obituary here).
– LS3/5A and Ampex
During my earliest times in Seattle I saved up a great deal of money to buy the best speakers that I could. For me, this meant buying a pair of Chartwell LS3/5A‘s. These speakers, now, go for over $3000 a pair and were designed by the BBC in England for on-location recording purposes. They were small, but they sounded incredible … far ahead of any speaker of their time. In addition to “my babies”, I also acquired an Ampex Tube AG350 stereo tape recorder. Tube playback through the LS3/5A’s was one of the best sounds that I’ve ever heard. To this day, I’m totally in love with the “English Loudspeaker sound” and am a huge fan of PMC Speakers … Many years later at a party at Capitol Records in LA, I was talking with Peter (the owner of PMC) and it turns out that he was one of the principle designers of the LS3/5A. Once he said that, everything immediately made sense.
Move to Vancouver
Teaching (hated it, well much of it)
Vancouver (hated it)
My history with Dan (my partner and husband) started off is a very interesting way. I met Dan at a Christmas party a week before Brucy-Baby died, on the night that my favorite cat (Jack) died. I was at this party, but most of the time I was upstairs on the phone to doctors and the hospital. I remember sitting down with this extremely handsome man (as you can see from the pics) and telling him what was going on in my life. He totally understood, as he had previously lost two partners. We exchanged numbers, as he said “If you need to talk to someone, give me a call” … typical helpful Dan.
For the next few weeks, I was in and out of the hospital until Bruce died and then me and the entire family went off to Mexico to have family time and to remember Bruce in fun times (an awesome family). Upon returning from Mexico, I went from never having seen Dan before to running into him practically everywhere. He swears that we met somewhere before, but I don’t see how I could’ve forgotten him. Well … we started to date a bit and before you know it, I fell for this 6’5″ dude. 1 month later, we moved in together.
I’ll simply say here that he was entirely different than Bruce (aren’t all relationships different?) and the first 2 years were (to say the least, hard) … but I fell for him and we both talked about the importance of commitment. Now, after decades together and many years of marriage, we have an awesome partnership and friendship … It’s really nice.
– Welcome to a whole new life
– Building “my” studio
– 5.1 Surround
NARAS (The Grammys)
I remember going to so many conventions and seeing all of the Golden Boys (Frank Filipetti, Elliott Scheiner, Al Schmidt, Eddie Cherney, etc.). To me, they were larger than life and I couldn’t even talk to them. Years later, a good Seattle friend invited me to a special event that allowed me to become friends with most of them and to hang out, learn and even contribute my voice to the mix. Now, most of these folks are god friends and I have 4 Grammy nominations to my name.
At this point, I’d like to share a story that might help to save your ears in the future. Not too long ago, I got a new interface that had two sets of outs, marked line out and monitor out. Being a self-respecting audio kid (and we’re all “kids” in our heart when it comes to our toys), I plugged my powered speakers into the line out and pressed play. $^%$^$^%^%###@!!!!!!!!!!! It was playing full blast, with no ability to control the volume or mute control from the interface at all. After about 3 sec of EXTREME loudness, I managed to unplug the jacks. My right ear rang for about 20 minutes. After that, my hearing returned to normal.
Four days later, I got on a plane to a special Grammy event. During the flight, a cold began to come on and by the end of the flight, I had a full-blown cold. Upon getting to the hotel, my head was stuffed up and my right ear was giving out. Soon after, my right ear began to ring and kept on ringing loudly for almost a month. After going to an urgent care place and the doctor said that I have Eustachian Tube Dysfunction … and that the inner ear drain tube has been blocked (most likely by the pressure in the plane). After time, antibiotics and a steroid nasal spray, my hearing returned to normal.
Later, I was reading Phil Collin’s autobiography (Not Dead Yet) and found that basically the same thing happened to him. He walked into a major LA studio, put on the headphones and had his left ear blown out. He wasn’t so fortunate, as his hearing never really returned to normal.
The moral of this story is to watch your levels when testing out a new piece of gear and when putting on headphones (particularly if you don’t have control over the volume). Don’t put them on until after the initial play button has been pushed … then, you can put them on and gauge if the volume is too high or not. The ears you save, just might be your own.
Berlin & Europe
My Euro story started with my own ancestry and the fact that I have a son who lives in central Europe. However, my Berlin story really started with a facebook message. Someone from Galaxy Studios in Belgium wrote me to see if we could have a skype conversation. We got on skype and she said that she was calling from Berlin. I said that I’ll be in Berlin in a few weeks. She asked “where will you be staying”? I said Charlottenburg … she asked “where in Charlottenburg”? Turns out she was calling from just a few blocks from there. We met, I got to do tons of fun stuff at Galaxy and she and her husband are now dear friends of mine.