Anyone with a Master’s degree in Interactive Telecommunications who studied music theory at Juilliard and has worked on projects for Sting, U2, King Crimson, and Shawn Colvin is well qualified to comment on the state of music technology. That’s Gina Fant-Saez. After ten years in New York City’s jingle, film, and multimedia houses and eight years in Blue World Music, her respected Austin recording studio, she has plenty to say about the benefits and hazards of using computers for music.

Gina and SSL Console Gina Fant-Saez during her previous life as a large-format mixing console owner. Laptop computers have shrunken—and expanded—her studio drastically.

Fant-Saez has recorded and mixed projects for Jimmie Vaughan, Nelly Furtado, Walt Disney Pictures, and Chris Vrenna (Nine Inch Nails, Tweaker) and has remixed U2’s smash “Elevation.” Many of today’s best session and touring musicians, including Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, Seal), Mark Egan (Sting, Joan Osborne), Gerry Leonard (David Bowie, Suzanne Vega), and Jerry Marotta (Gabriel, Tears For Fears) respect her technical savvy so much that they’ve become friends. Countless others call her first with every digital audio and MIDI query they encounter. She’s currently writing a book called Pro Tools for Musicians & Songwriters and collaborating with German producer Oliver Adolph on the second album of her project, Rumacea.

Collaboration is a theme with Fant-Saez, who was an early advocate of the groundbreaking Rocket Network, which enabled musicians to trade overdubs online to build up finished pieces. In fact, she’s building a new online collaboration system on Rocket’s ashes. We called her to get the details.

Tell us about your new approach to online musical collaboration.

The whole experience with Rocket inspired my new company, eSession. It is similar in concept but differs from Rocket in many ways. First, there’s a database of all these great session players, Grammy-winning engineers, producers, and mixers: the best of the best. Anyone producing music—labels, artists, bands, producers, songwriters—can log on to the database and say, ‘Okay, I want a great guitar part from the session guitarist in David Bowie’s band for this song.’ They pay $20 to send him an audition of their song over eSession; if he likes it, he’ll say yes, and [then] we handle all the file transfers between the client and the session player for the final product.

Why do you think eSession will work?

First, there’s been no solution to bring professional people together to trade files back and forth since Rocket went away. Also, there are so many musicians I know trying to work from home like this. All my friends who are famous musicians are in their 40s now and getting married and wanting to be around their kids more instead of flying all over the world to make a living. What I’m trying to do is find a way where we all can stay home and still get lots of session work right from our home studios—or accomplish the same goals when we’re on the road.

What are you doing that’s different from what Rocket Network was trying to accomplish?

Rocket Network was a proprietary software built into only [Emagic] Logic and [Steinberg] Cubase and, very briefly, [Digidesign] Pro Tools. Rocket was built so the masses could collaborate together. It was a brilliant technology, but the operation and the pricing were just too complicated and expensive for the common musician. You never knew what kind of parts you would get back [from collaborators], yet you had to pay for it regardless. Also, the Rocket user could only work with someone using their exact same software [i.e., Logic users could collaborate only with other Logic users], and if the user didn’t have the same hardware and plug-ins as well, it was very difficult to work.

eSession is not software but a web site that will provide a database of the best professional session players and a means to work with them. eSession is a technology with a specific purpose, which is to allow anyone, professional or amateur, the ability to have world-class musicians play on their music. It is perhaps geared more towards the professional because it does cost a few hundred dollars or more to get someone like Tony Levin playing on your song.

New Blue Studio Fant-Saez and Oliver Adolph work on Rumacea 2 in the newly re-designed Blue World Music studio.

Other companies besides Rocket failed to make online collaboration work. Why do you remain excited?

Ultimately, I feel that the web is like a pipeline into everyone’s home. Why not use it to record music? How many great session players are in smaller towns? Is it really worth the extra expense to fly in a player, put him up in a hotel, and hire a studio? Why not try a new way of working that costs less while giving you a much wider base of musicians to choose from? That’s my thought behind eSession. Sometimes I, and many writers I know, will get a call from a company that needs a two-minute theme for a TV show or a last-minute jingle; hiring players for last minute projects is sometimes impossible. eSession will be invaluable for situations like that.

I’m also hoping to help take demos, final masters, and songwriting production, in general, to a higher standard. I’ve heard thousands of demos of good songs that don’t work as well as they could because the songwriter is trying to sing every part and play every instrument on it. That’s one of my goals with eSession: that songwriters with a great song idea will end up with higher quality parts on their demos and final products.

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Describe the genesis of your journey from Rocket evangelista to eSession entrepreneur.

I’ve been working with session musicians via the Internet for about five years now; I just never understood why more people didn’t. I’ve been working with computers for so long that networking and using FTP apps have become second nature. I sometimes don’t realize that [dealing with] all the steps it takes to send a song, receive the new tracks, and import the new tracks is just too overwhelming for most people. So, I got the idea: What if I could create a Web site that would do exactly that but would also provide the musicians and engineers?

So a few months ago, I started looking for Web designers and came across this one site that blew me away. I contacted them and asked who designed their site, and now I’m working with a New York City company called Coolbirth. They’re an extremely cool, cutting-edge team and they believe as strongly as I do in this idea.

Right now we have the temporary site up explaining what eSession is and how it will work. We’re hoping to have the fully functional site up and running in early 2005.

In the meantime, I’m experimenting with ways to record in real time using the Internet. I recently invented a way to use an Apple G5, which has digital [audio] ports, in conjunction with iChat [instant messaging] to record realtime music directly into any DAW [digital audio workstation]. It’s not very complicated. iChat uses MP4 compression, so it’s not full resolution, but it works.

My dream is for eSession to provide realtime, full-resolution recording via the Internet without any external hardware or software. So far, MP4 is the best I can come up with in regards to file size and sound quality, but we’ll see....

How does the MP4 format sound to you?

It sounds good. I did a live voiceover session for a post-production studio final in San Francisco directly via iChat, and it was great for them. For most people, it’s good enough, at least for auditions. So, for instance, say you’ve got a song—maybe it’s just a demo you’re working on—and MP4 sounds okay to you. You can record the musician live over iChat directly into your Pro Tools session, and you’re done. It’s really cool.

How many players will be accessible via your database?

We’re starting out with about 100, the best of the best, and for now, it’s mostly guitarists, bass players, and drummers. But eventually, we’ll be adding horn players, vocalists, keyboardists, voiceover talent, and others. The hard thing is going to be the average guitarist in his garage who, via eSession, will envision himself becoming a big session player when perhaps he’s not that good. The players are going to have to have some sort of major-label discography or substantial existing session credits to be listed on the database.

Could it be said that eSession is a virtual booking agency?

Sort of, though I don’t like calling it that. Recording budgets have dropped almost 70 percent the past five years, so this is a great and less costly way for the labels to find and record the talent they need. It’s too expensive to fly someone in to a studio to play one great guitar track. eSession is perfectly geared for those situations.

Gina's poolside studio Fant-Saez demonstrates her portable music rig.

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