MILLVILLE, NJ — With his very first product, a modification on the Empirical Labs’ Fatso, Gregory Scott, aka UBK, has tapped into something that’s eluded many pro audio manufacturers for years. Instead of targeting one type of customer, the “pro” who understands gear inside and out or the self-recordist who records as a means of artistic expression, UBK is focusing on where these two markets converge.
“I’ve got my feet in both of those worlds, and I realized that they’re not entirely incompatible,” notes Scott. “In fact, I think everyone tends to prefer simplicity and ease of use in most situations.”
The UBK mod of the Fatso embodies Scott’s point-of-view, turning this sophisticated analog tape-simulating device into a multi-flavor compressor that anyone can use. Its design encourages experimentation among pro users and introduces a fail-safe compression pallet to the relative novice. Call up one or any combination of UBK’s compression presets — “Splat,” “Smooth” and “Glue” — or any of the classic Fatso processing options, and simply dial up or down to taste.
Online and word-of-mouth buzz has pushed this product quick since its April ’09 launch, via Scott’s company, KuSh Audio, which has been working around the clock to accommodate every order. “I’m like the Carroll Shelby of pro audio,” Scott quips. “Shelby hot-rodded Ford Mustangs to be true high-performance sports cars. Eventually, his model got so popular that he signed a deal with Ford and they started doing the mods right at the factory.” Indeed, next month, Empirical Labs will begin partial assembly of the UBK Fatso at its factory (and eventually, complete assembly), lightening Kush’s workload, and freeing Scott up to focus on his next product. Intrigued by his seeming burst onto the scene, we wondered how this independent audio pro tapped into the sonic zeitgeist to deliver such a winner:
Q: How did you first get involved with Empirical Labs and mod’ing audio gear?
A: I was living in NYC and I’d pretty much had it with mixing other people’s music and, really, the whole music business. I went to a Gearslutz party in Brooklyn and met Gil Griffith, the head of Wave Distribution [distributors of Empirical Labs, Focal, Burl Audio and other “high-end toys for audio processing and effects.”] We hit it off, and I eventually began working with him. I started shooting these guerilla-style videos at trade shows, posting them in real-time on Gearslutz. These threads would get like thousands of hits in a day.
I was also demo’ing the Fatso at trade shows, which I realized was a deeply misunderstood piece of gear by the world at large. I had some ideas for modifications that might help people use it to its potential and shared them with Gil. He brought me to lunch with [Empirical Labs founder] Dave Derr, and I told him what I had in mind. He mulled it over and he came back a week later with all the design documents and basically showed me everything I would need to do in order to make it behave the way I wanted it to.
Gil set me up with the equipment that I’d need to make the modifications. I went home and worked for 6 solid months, pouring through thousands of sounds recorded in my own studio and other studios, and fine-tuned this machine to be everything that I thought it could be.
What do you mean the Fatso was misunderstood?
The two markets within the recording world — the professionals and the self-recordists — misunderstand the Fatso in different ways: the self-recordist thinks of it as a stripped-down distressor and the pros look at it purely as a compressor that doesn’t compress very well. Dave intended the Fatso (Full Analog Tape Simulator and Optimizer) to be a dead-on replacement for analog tape, and compression is just one of four parts of that circuit and it interplays with the other parts in a very specific way. If you don’t use the rest of the box in its intended fashion, the compressors are going to come up short.
There’s a very small community of Fatso users out there — George Massenburg among them — who use it exactly the way it was intended. When you understand how to stage the gains inside that unit, it really does an amazing job of simulating analog tape. But most people want more out of a piece of gear than that. So, they lose patience with it.
Essentially, with the UBK Fatso, I feel like I came in and gave a super model the right haircut. I’m not really an equipment designer, but I knew how to present it to the world.
Lots of people may have ideas about what they’d like their gear to do, but you actually followed through! How did you take it from concept to reality?
I am a really instinctive person and I go by my gut. I pay strong attention to everything that’s going on in my life — both inside my body and in the world around me. And I find that if I just stay aware and keep my own pre-conceived ideas as much off the table as possible, life is generally very clearly telling me at all points in time what I need to be doing, where I need to be putting my focus.
When I follow my radar like that, I end up in all these crazy unexpected places that I don’t think on my best day, I could have engineered a plan for.
I feel like a contestant in a really interesting game show rather than an equipment architect. Dave pointed me in the right direction and I actually followed through. I really believe that the most important thing in life is simply the doing. There are so many talented people and so many great ideas out there but you never achieve anything without actually trying to do it!
So, right now, how does someone purchase a UBK Fatso?
It’s available through all the standard Empirical Labs dealerships, though they’re not all carrying stock at this point. Right now, when people order a new UBK Fatso, the order comes through my company, Kush Audio. I order a stock Fatso from Empirical, modify it and ship it onto the customer. You can also send me the Fatso you already own, and I’ll modify that.
We’re about a month away from Empirical Labs assembling these right at the factory and then my job will be reduced to QC and eventually, I’ll be completely hands off in the process so I can shift my focus onto my next product.