The Professional Voice
The victory of the DAW, and corresponding decimation of the cost of pro audio equipment was one of the main factors behind the collapse of the commercial studio industry. This whirlwind of closing studios, lowering recording budgets, improving digital audio sound quality and endless options and effects at the press of a button, turned the worlds of all engineers, mixers and producers upside down. Throughout this issue, Paul Tingen asks nine of the world’s leading studio practitioners to elaborate on what has changed for them since 1998, homing in on the pieces of gear they consider to have been game changers, and the working methods they use today, which they didn’t in 1998.
Adele, Amy Winehouse, The Black Keys, Cee Lo Green, Ellie Goulding, Florence & The Machine, Arcade Fire, Mark Ronson, Jonsi, U2, Peter Gabriel, Rufus Wainwright, and Goldfrapp.
Four-time Grammy award winner, Elmhirst, is a British mix engineer who works in Electric Lady Studio C, using his own Neve VR72 console, an extensive collection of outboard, ATC SCM50 and Auratone monitors, and, of course, ProTools.
Elmhirst: “15 years ago I was still working as a tracking engineer for producers like Trevor Horn and Steven Fitzmaurice. I gradually moved into mixing, working in Metropolis Studio C and The Pierce Rooms (both in London, and both Neve rooms) before moving to Electric Lady in 2012. For me the process of making and mixing records hasn’t changed that much: people still write and record songs the same way, though mixing techniques have changed. When I started out I was still working on analogue tape, but now with ProTools you have so much more control. The 24-track tape machine which is the main photo on my web site (tomelmhirst.com) is just there for the romance of it. It rarely gets used these days. Everything comes in as ProTools sessions now, though I have to say that the sessions that had analogue tape involved during tracking generally sound better. This is mainly because of the aesthetics of the people involved in making it, rather than the gear that’s used. It’s true that there’s something that tape does that makes what comes back from it sound sympathetic and that you have to try harder to get emotions out of ProTools. But I get many straight-to-ProTools sessions in that sound amazing.”
“Without a doubt the biggest changes in the last 15 years have been the developments in computer technology and the abilities of ProTools. ProTools is so powerful now. I already worked on it when I started, and have a very good knowledge of it. Also growing up in the era of large format console mixing, I found that I could get that combination to work. For me it is about marrying the best of the old and the best of the new. I just could not mix in-the-box, I would not enjoy that in the same way. I could not live without faders and outboard gear. But I could also not live without ProTools. In the end, you find a way to get the tools you have at your disposal to work and to be productive. It’s not about the gear. People ask me things like: ‘What’s your go-to compressor?’ I don’t really think like that. With mixing, experience is everything. If you look at the top mixers in the world at the moment, they are not young cats, they are mostly in their 40s and older [Elmhirst is 42]. The main change in my mixing approach over the last 10 years is that I have become much quicker. Things that would have taken me six or seven hours at the time, now take me 20 minutes. The more experienced you are as a mixer, the less you waste time. After 20 minutes I’m still fresh, but if it had taken me six hours to get to the same point, my ears would be tired and I’d need to take a break. So the ability to get a mix balance going very quickly is the biggest change for me.”
The main change in my mixing approach over the last 10 years is that I have become much quicker
The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Coldplay, John Mayer, Ash, My Morning Jacket, Ben Folds, Eric Clapton, Prefab Sprout, Leonard Cohen, Pet Shop Boys, Dream Theater, Aretha Franklin.
Brauer, four-time Grammy winner, is based in Electric Lady studio B in New York, which sports an SSL 9000 J-series desk, as well as a mind-boggling amount of outboard gear (see www.mbrauer.com/soundtowers2.asp). The outboard is at the heart of an approach to using compression and EQ that is so elaborate he’s given it a trademarked name. ‘Brauerizing’ is parallel, multi-channel, multi-bus post-fader send/return sonic treatments that are about “mixing into compression”, allowing Brauer to ride instruments, vocals, and also his entire mix “into the sweet spot.”
He bankrolled this hopeless bunch of kids and gave us the keys to a very expensive, well-kitted out studio, and told us to go for it
Brauer: “1998 marked the last throes of multitrack analogue tape. I was also using Radar at the time, and was starting to get more and more mixes in as ProTools sessions. Radar was a great sound recording and playback machine, and at the time I was using ProTools in the same way. I didn’t consider using plug-ins, because they sounded awful to me. They did not even come close to sounding as good as the hardware that they were trying to mimic. This has changed dramatically over the last 15 years. My mixing methods have remained the same — I still go through a desk and use the Brauerize process with my four towers with different compressors, EQs and summing amps — but the big difference is that I now use plug-ins all the time, and maybe even more than hardware. I love the UAD plug-ins, and the Softube ones, and I use the Waves Chris Lord-Alge, Manny Marroquin and Tony Maserati plug-ins on a daily basis. Plug-ins also offer you many things you can never get from hardware, like great de-essers and other great tools for fixing things. The advances in digital technology has led to me building two additional rooms in which my assistants will be mixing lower budget projects, supervised by me. One room is almost finished and is a hybrid studio, with two Euphonix 8-channel desks and a stripped down version of what I have in terms of hardware. The other studio will be for entirely in-the-box mixing.”
& THE ANTELOPE CLOCK
“ProTools has changed everything over the last 15 years. There are young engineers now who grew up on it and don’t know any other approach! The tools that ProTools offered were revolutionary. Suddenly you didn’t need a desk, you didn’t need any outboard, you could do everything inside. But going from analogue tape to ProTools initially was a serious shock from a sonic point of view. We were all used to hearing endless top end that just went up and up, and it was the same with the bottom end going down. Then with ProTools there suddenly was a ceiling that you couldn’t get beyond, and when you got close to that ceiling, things started to sound weird. I didn’t know what was going on from a technical point of view, but while working in analogue felt like being in a cathedral, at the time working with digital felt like being in a room with a 7-foot ceiling. As ProTools became more and more high definition that ceiling got higher and higher. Digital improved to the point that those old analogue versus digital arguments discussed in panels 15 years ago have become irrelevant. Whether I use analogue or digital doesn’t matter to me anymore. I don’t distinguish between them anymore. I simply use what’s best for the job. Another piece of gear that came out at the time, or perhaps just before, that has been absolutely huge is the Distressor. It was the next generation of compressor that offers so many versatile sounds and options. It was really instrumental in how the sounds of records were changing. And finally the Antelope 10M digital clock really upped the game. I did not really know the importance of digital clocking until I first heard it. It was so detailed, I could hear how the sound came together.”
U2, Foals, New Order, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, P J Harvey, Sigur Rós, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Killers.
Together with Alan Moulder, British producer/mixer Flood (aka Mark Ellis) co-owns Assault & Battery Studios in north-west London. Flood, who has won one Grammy Award, mostly works from Assault & Battery Studio B, which is one of London’s prime tracking studios, sporting a Neve VR60, ProTools HD3 Accel, Quested and ProAc Studio 100 monitors, as well as tons of outboard gear and musical instruments. Studio A is most frequently used by Moulder, and built around an SSL G+ SL4000 and stacks of outboard.
Flood: “One of the biggest changes since 1998 is that recording studios are so in decline, and with that, the opportunities for people to train as engineers. One of the most important things Alan and I have done at Assault & Battery is to make sure that we have a training program. Many people go to college and learn some techniques and off they go, and then do everything in-the-box, often working alone. This works for some things, but it’s not the same as having obtained a full grounding in all aspects of recording and mixing while working in a studio. It takes total dedication to become a good engineer or producer, and there’s no substitute for experience and having worked in loads of different types of sessions and with different media. I also think human interaction and instant reactions to what’s happening in the studio are important. I really like to have the band in the room when I’m mixing, but because many people work on their own now and send files via the internet, this is starting to get lost.”
PROAC STUDIO 100,
“The changes in my own approach over the last 15 years depend on whether I’m recording or mixing. 15 years ago I would have used analogue tape as a first port of call when recording, even though I also carried a small ProTools rig. HD did change a lot of things, and now pretty much everything is recorded straight to ProTools. Having said that, we have two 24-track tape machines at the studio [Otari MTR 90 MkII and Studer A800 Mk3], and I try to use them as much as I can, and then dump everything into ProTools. In 1998 I would also only have used hardware effects when recording, and then for a long period I was trying out plug-ins, and now I’m almost back to where I started, almost only using outboard. But when mixing, in 99 out of a 100 cases I’m using ProTools, though ideally I still like to lay everything out over the board. I also still like using hardware effects when mixing, but this is not always possible, and there are quite a few albums that I have mixed in the box.
“Another huge change for me is that I never use the NS10 monitors anymore. I always used them, because they were great workhorses. You could thrash them all day long. But unless you had a really good pair and a great amp and a good-sounding room they were bass light and pushed the upper mids. I really like the ProAcs, and I think they’re also suited to the fact that the way people listen to music now has changed. In 1998 most people listened to hi-fi speakers and in the car, but today it’s often either headphones or laptop speakers. So you need to mix on monitors on which you can tailor your mixes to all those playback formats.
“Another development that has opened up a whole new way of recording for me are the new microphones that have been released by a whole slew of new manufacturers, like Sontronics, AEA, and Blue Microphones. For example, I always used to use one mic on a guitar cabinet, but will now use a Shure SM58 and a ribbon, like the Sontronics Sigma or Delta or the AEA R84. Finally, mixing in stems is definitely one of the most important new mix developments. Computer savvy artists can then work with your stems and do their version of your mix, and the end result can be a very different type of mix. I also use parallel compression a lot more than in the past, though I find that compression is over-used these days as a quick fix. I shy away from heavy compression and also limiting. I’ve asked mastering engineers to back it off to make sure a bit of headroom remains. A lot of stuff released today sounds impenetrable, because it’s over-limited, and also because of over-use of soft synths and stereo plug-ins during the mix. If you use one or two soft synths or plug-ins they can sound great, but if you put loads of them together everything starts to sound the same.”
Human interaction and instant reactions to what’s happening in the studio are important
Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel, Pearl Jam, Tom Waits, Sheryl Crow, T-Bone Burnett, Travis, Crowded House, The Pretenders, Los Lobos, Suzanne Vega, Bonnie Raitt, Al Green, Tracy Chapman, The Black Keys.
Blake, a five-time Grammy winner, likes to use and abuse all manner of analogue gear and real-life objects in unorthodox ways. Given Blake was the archetypal analogue mixer, his decision a few years ago to operate almost entirely in-the-box was most surprising. Blake is an American, but currently resides in Wales in the UK, where he works in his home studio, called Full Mongrel. Full Mongrel’s gear list gives a good indication of where he’s at, and the analogue gear he still finds irreplaceable: ProTools HD 3 V8.0, Linn 328A powered monitors, Daniel Audio Labs NF12 powered monitors, ICON D Control, Eventide H3000SE, Tech21 Classic SansAmp, Empirical Labs Distressor EL6, SpectroSonics 610 compressors, Shure Level Loc compressors, Hughes SRS AK100, Little Labs HQS REV2 mic preamp, Aguilar DB 900 DI, Studio Projects B1, Shure SM57, AKG C414, Apogee MIC, lots of guitar pedals, and too many plug-ins to list.
Tech 21 changed my life in the early ’90s with the SansAmp and did it all over again with the SansAmp PSA-1 plug-in
Blake: “Many of my clients could no longer afford proper studio rates and I was losing work because of that. I now have an affordable mix room at home. It’s amazing. I’m 99.8% in-the-box, as opposed to mixing off tape through a vintage API console at The Sound Factory or the very large SSL at Real World Studios [in 1998]. The 0.2% represents instruments I add or pedal-style effects I use. Not that plug-ins aren’t good enough, I just like to change things up a little, alter the body language.
TECH 21 SANSAMP,
“First of all there’s ProTools HD. It was the first ProTools I liked the sound of. Tech 21 changed my life in the early ’90s with the SansAmp and did it all over again with the SansAmp PSA-1 plug-in. It’s in every mix I do. Finally, the Linn 328A speakers fit me like a glove. The Linns allow me to monitor at quiet to medium (45-75dB), almost conversational levels, without any low or sub frequency loss; and they reproduce subs without a dedicated sub woofer. They’re also the most low maintenance monitors I’ve ever encountered.
“As for new mixing techniques I’ve learned in the past 15 years, I usually keep levels low within the box and don’t overdrive plug-ins. One example would be my stereo bus comp/limit set up. Instead of using one ‘unit’ to smash I have four to five very different compressor/saturation-style plug-ins all doing a little bit. To my ear, when one unit is pushed hard to get the sound I’m looking for, it accentuates artifacts I find undesirable, like harsh, mid-range jagged waveforms. Using different plug-ins pushed in different amounts spreads the undesirables out frequency wise, so they’re not a problem for me. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. Plug-ins just don’t overdrive like analogue, but I can still get what I want with a bit of experimenting and mix ’n’ match. Finally, I love manual de-essing using DAW automation.”
Public Image Ltd, Gang of Four, Killing Joke, Arcade Fire, Nick Cave, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Birthday Party, Kate Bush, Talking Heads, David Byrne, INXS, Silverchair, Midnight Oil, Grinderman, Lou Reed, The Cribs, Supergrass, The Living End.
Engineer, mixer, and producer Nick Launay was born in the UK and spent the first part of his career in London, but has since branched out to work regularly in Australia and the US. He currently resides in Los Angeles, working out of John Kuker’s Seedy Underbelly studio, which he proudly calls a “hybrid facility. I use analogue and digital absolutely 50-50, and I am very happy with that.”
Launay: “My mix setups of 15 years ago and today are pretty similar. At the time I would have deliberately rented studios that had an API or Neve desk. Luckily for me, Seedy Underbelly has a 48-channel API Legacy desk and 16 Neve 1081 modules. The difference is that back in the day I would have been doing everything on analogue tape, mixing from two 24-track analogue machines down to half-inch 2-track tape at 30ips. I didn’t like the sound of ProTools at the time, but eight years ago it improved and I began using analogue and ProTools in conjunction. I’d record the band to 24-track analogue tape, did all tape edits with a razor blade, then, when satisfied with the arrangement, striped one track with code, loaded everything into ProTools, and recorded all the overdubs there, using all the advantages like endless tracks and effortless vocal comping. I’d then do the final mix with the original 24-track tape and ProTools synced up, laying it down to half-inch 2-track.
“I changed again when I worked on the first Grinderman record (2007), in that I did not go back to the original analogue 24-track or to 2-inch tape anymore for the final mix. ProTools sounded much better by then; the A/D converters had improved, the plug-ins had become amazing, and it was also much cheaper to only use ProTools, which had become important with budgets getting smaller and smaller. I’m satisfied with the sound of ProTools now, but I still don’t mix in-the-box. I will do the intricate balancing in ProTools, using many plug-ins as well, but I will still output all channels through the API/Neve desk and then go back into ProTools again through a great A to D converter like a Lavry, and also through EAR compressors on my stereo bus.
ADAM P22 MONITORS,
EAR BUS COMPRESSORS
“ProTools going 24-bit and 96k was a game-changer for me. Especially when I heard what a really good clock source does for the sound of ProTools. I use the Lavry Stereo AD-122-96, and it makes ProTools sound much more like analogue. Until then digital would sound brittle and annoying. The other game changer is that many plug-ins became really good and creative. The Decapitator is one of the main ones that really impressed me. I also find Clip Gain really useful. It’s a wonderful thing that really speeds things up. Plug-in EQs are more detailed, and very useful as notch filters, something I never used to use.
“Other pieces of gear I rely on enormously are analogue tape delays, like the Echoplex, and Roland Space Echo and Chorus Echo. I would not do a mix without them. And I really love the Adam P22 monitors. I find them much easier to mix with than Yamaha NS10s, because I always felt I didn’t know what was going on in the low end with them, and they have this sort of mid-range hump that causes problems you’d need to correct during mastering. But if I get things right on the P22s, the mastering engineer hardly has to do a thing. I now own a pair of Adam P22 monitors in three different countries!
“The new techniques I use are mainly tricks to get things to sound as warm and analogue as possible. For example, when recording I’ll send the kick signal through a gate, and then through a Sansamp. I’ll keep the original kick sound, and I will pair that with the Sansamp-overloaded sound, and play around with both so they complement each other and give me an incredible low end. I’ll also send the snare signal to a gate, and then to an EQ and an Empirical Labs Distressor, and will add lots of low end, finding a note in the snare sound I like, and I again pair the compressed snare sound with the original. Doing this makes for a very thick and warm sound. It’s a very deliberate squashing of certain frequencies that allows me to achieve a sound that to my ears is very much like what I got during the analogue days. Analogue distorts and compresses the sound in a nice way. I also use the Decapitator to achieve that. It’s more drastic than analogue tape, but it gives me the same feeling. I like the SoundToys Devil-Loc for similar reasons. Overall I have to say that my mixing methods haven’t really changed that much over the decades. It’s just that what I’m doing today is all about listening and remembering how things sounded when they were 100% analogue, and applying that to working with digital. It’s all down to how I hear things, the tone and the way I EQ things to create a mood or feeling. It could be said that I’m very modern in my old-school approach, ha!”
Analogue distorts and compresses the sound in a nice way, and I use the Decapitator to achieve that
Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Adele, Weezer, Black Sabbath, Audioslave, Linkin Park, Green Day, U2, Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson, Neil Diamond, Iggy Pop.
Scheps works from his own facility in Los Angeles, Punkerpad West, which is an audiophile’s dream, filled to the brim with an astonishing amount of analogue gear, including two Neve 8068 desks, and a Neve BCM-10 sidecar with 1073 preamps. Scheps’ journey has been unusual in that he worked mainly with digital technology in the ’90s and early 2000s, then to a large degree moved back into the analogue domain, and only very recently went back in-the-box again.
Scheps: “In 1998 I was transitioning to going fully in-the-box. Then, when I was working with the Chili Peppers on Stadium Arcadium during 2005 we decided to record and mix entirely on analogue using a Neve. This informed my decision to buy a Neve 8068 console and to return to mixing outside the box. But last summer I went back to working in-the-box. The reason was that I was offered a project to mix just after I had done one of the Mix With The Masters seminars at La Fabrique studios in the south of France. I was still in France, and had the choice of hiring a studio or doing the mixes on my laptop, using the UAD box. I did the first mix on speakers I borrowed from La Fabrique, but I then mixed the rest on headphones, I think they were the Sony MDR7506s. So it wasn’t a sonic decision, but I rediscovered I actually really like working in-the-box. It’s really cool from a creative point of view. It’s great to be able to work on three or four songs at the same time, and also, even when people say they understand what it means to mix on a console, they’ll still call me a week later and will ask for detailed mix changes. So I thought I’d work in-the-box or on my desk depending on the project.
PRO TOOLS IMPROVEMENTS,
EURORACK MODULAR FORMAT
The Eurorack modular format… has rekindled my interest in exploring sound for sound’s sake
“I actually spent some time talking with Tchad Blake about working in-the-box, and realised that if he, the ultimate analogue effects guy, can do it, then I don’t have any excuses. I have in recent months mixed many albums in-the-box, including by Ziggy Marley and Rodrigo y Gabriela, and I think they sound amazing. The good part is they sound like I mixed them. I’m setting up my in-the-box mixes to emulate the way I used to do them on the console. I am sometimes exactly recreating my hardware chains with plug-ins. It’s really stupid: all the faders on my desks are down, and the laptop is just sitting on top. I still have a bunch of outboard patched into my Avid HD I/O, most importantly a pair of Universal Audio 1176s, the Aphex 204, and the Moog Analogue Series 500 delay, but mostly on stuff I don’t need to do recalls on. I only use a single-fader controller, the Frontier Designs Alpha Track, because I don’t like the new controllers, I can’t tell quickly enough what tracks I’m looking at. I use that one fader for all my rides because I don’t like using a mouse for the automation. I still like to ride each instrument as a performance, as I used to do on the desk. But for the rest it’s all keyboard and mouse. I thought it’d be a difficult transition, but it turns out that it wasn’t.
“Regarding the three most important new developments in gear, the progression of ProTools has to be one of them. I can’t point to one particular revision that really made the difference. It’s just continually been getting better and more powerful. The Aphex 204 Aural Exciter and Big Bottom came out 10 or so years ago, and it’s absolute magic, particularly on the toms. Nothing else comes even close and the plug-ins that are supposed to do the same thing don’t sound anything like it. It does this one really specific, weird thing. The Eurorack modular format is also really great, because so many companies are making so many crazy processing devices for it that I now have a 30 space rack full of modules that allow me to do anything I want to do, manual phasing, wave folding, crazy filters, whatever. It has rekindled my interest in exploring sound for sound’s sake. As for new working methods, I have gone much further with parallel mixing than I did in 1998. Today parallel compression is at the core of almost everything I do. I almost never use an insert anymore, except for basic EQ. I add excitement in a mix by using lots of different combinations of parallel compression.”
Kanye West, Rihanna, Eminem, John Mayer, Imagine Dragons, The Rolling Stones, Linkin Park, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift, Christina Aguilera, Usher, Flo Rida, John Legend, Cher, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton.
It sometimes appears as if Manny Marroquin and Serban Ghenea carve up more than half of all the world’s top 10 pop mixes between them, though Marroquin has also branched out into other genres. Marroquin has won five Grammys and works in Larrabee Sound Studio 2 in Los Angeles, where pride of place goes to an 80-input SSL XL 9000K console, surrounded by an extensive collection of outboard.
Marroquin: “15 years ago I was still using tape, and making the transition from analogue to digital, via ADAT and the Sony 3348 and the Tascam DA88. Making that transition took a while. At the time, my effects were 100% outboard, but today I’d say that I’m 50-50 between outboard and plug-ins. 15 years ago a recall could take four to six hours and would cost money, so people had to think twice before asking to have that kick a little louder. But we now live in a world of updates, with things continually being tweaked. This is where stems are incredibly important for me, because I still far prefer to work on a desk. It means that I can grab several different buttons at the same time, whereas I can only do one thing at a time in-the-box. This means that mixing on a desk is still a lot quicker than mixing in-the-box.
BRICASTI M7 REVERB,
THERMIONIC CULTURE VULTURE
As for specific new toys that really inspire me, the Waves L2 has changed the way we do and listen to music. It’s not just a matter of things being louder, it also has a sound. The Bricasti is my favourite reverb. There were digital reverbs before, but there’s nothing like it, and it’s very inspiring to work with. The Thermionic Culture Vulture also has been a real inspiration in terms of adding grit to the digital gloss.
“I find that in mixing today, less is more. Even though I have many more tools, I need less of them. The reason is the producer now has the same tools at his disposal as I do, so that delay or particular reverb he’s looking for is often already added during the rough mix. I get rough mixes that the producers will have spent a lot of time on and sound really good, and this makes my life trickier, because I still have to find a way to make it better! In the past I might also have spent more time arranging the music, for example creating a drop in the drums just before the chorus. Nowadays it’s more about the art of EQ and balancing, and compressing things in the right way. So I do less, but still have to do enough to make sure the song is better. The line between what the producers do and what I do has become more blurred.
“It’s the same with mastering. I now have the ability to premaster what we’re doing, which is better for the artist, because they can get a much better impression of the final product as well. I did not have these tools before, whether it’s a plug-in, a brickwall limiter, or a multiband compressor, but they’re now at my fingertips. It allows me to go for a final product, so there’s less guessing and less room for error. Now 95% of what I hear on the radio is what I intended, for better or worse! 15 years ago it was maybe not even 50%.
The tools we have to make music with have become so much better. I have so many tools in my arsenal now, it is incredible. Sadly, consumer media has not improved, so that’s what we need to work on in the industry.”
The line between what the producers do and what I do has become more blurred
Tom Waits, Modest Mouse, Buddy Guy, Norah Jones, Kings of Leon, Of Monsters and Men, Josh Ritter, Melissa Etheridge, Dawes.
After several years of working in his own facility, King currently works out of Studio G at Blackbird Studios in Nashville. The three-time Grammy winner has a hybrid analogue/in-the-box approach, using an Avid ProControl with his Quad Eight analogue console to patch in his extensive outboard collection.
King: “15 years ago I recorded everything to a multi-track analogue tape machine, going into a console for a mix that featured all outboard effects, and printing to a two-track tape machine. I sometimes had a ProTools rig locked up to the multi-track. In the last 10 years I’ve been working with a hybrid set-up, sometimes recording to analogue tape, and sometimes directly to ProTools, and in general using lots of plug-ins and automation in the computer. During the mix I stem things out and sum them in the analogue domain again. I recently recorded an Editors album to analogue tape, but unless there is a very specific discussion with the artist that results in us wanting to record on analogue, I don’t use tape very much anymore. Tape simulation plug-ins have become so good, that this is not really necessary anymore. I now record directly to ProTools most of the time, and I add hardware effects, like plate reverbs or delay like the Cooper Time Cube, during tracking. While mixing, almost all the effects are plug-ins, I love the UA plug-ins. I have mixed some things entirely in-the-box, but I have never been totally happy with that because of my traditional upbringing in making records, so I still send stems out to the Quad Eight, and use some external analogue compression or EQ and sum things on the console.
PROTOOLS DELAY COMPENSATION,
MASSENBURG DESIGNWORKS EQ5,
EMPIRICAL LABS DISTRESSOR
15 years ago even the best and biggest studio in the world wouldn’t have had what you can now with a good arsenal of plug-ins
“The biggest game changer has been that delay compensation works well enough so that computers can be used for mixing, and are more than just a convenient recording and editing medium. 24-bit has given us higher fidelity, I think the increased bit depth is more important than higher sampling rate, though in the end the most important thing is the quality of the converter. I still use my Apogee PSX100 A/D converters; the analogue components that were put in those things were of very high quality. I also think the Distressor is probably the greatest modern compressor made, and the Massenburg EQ5 is the only EQ plug-in I use.
I think in general the amount of gear that we now all have available to us is making a big difference. 15 years ago even the best and biggest studio in the world wouldn’t have had what you can now with a good arsenal of plug-ins. As for specific new mixing methods, I use parallel compression a lot more than I did in the past, similar to what Michael Brauer does, with different parallel bus compression paths combined. Stems are another big development. You can record many more tracks and make your blends later in the computer, which means that you can delay your decisions. It’s convenient and gives you a lot of flexibility, but the downfall can be that you’re not making decisions as you go. It’s a trade-off.”
The White Stripes, The Strokes, U2, Boy & Bear, Jason Mraz, My Morning Jacket, Counting Crows, Elton John, Rufus Wainwright, Beck, Etta James, Jamie Cullum, Tori Amos, Frank Zappa, Alanis Morissette
Chiccarelli is a 10-time Grammy-winning engineer, mixer, and producer based in Los Angeles. A long-time friend of AudioTechnology, Chiccarelli’s work has featured on the cover of AudioTechnology three times.
Chiccarelli: “I still mix in similar ways as I did in 1998: on high-quality analogue consoles by API, Neve, or Sunset Sound’s custom API-De Mideo console. The main difference is that back then 99% of my work was on analogue, whereas now it’s only 2%. This past year I did projects for Spoon and Divine Fits on analogue, but everything else was ProTools-based, though I still mix through a desk and down to 1-inch analogue tape when the budget allows. I only mix totally in-the-box when the budget is so low that it’s all the client can afford. Obviously, today many projects have very big track counts, making it difficult to do everything on the console. You can also do more sophisticated things inside of the box than in the analogue domain. API and Neve desks and outboard gear offer broader brush strokes in terms of colours, whereas you can go into infinite detail in workstations. There are some really good plug-in reverbs that allow you to do things you can’t do with analogue reverbs, but at the same time there’s still no replacement for a real EMT 140 or AMS reverb. I’m aware of all those things, and make choices based on what I need and what the client can afford.
SHADOW HILLS COMPRESSOR,
CHANDLER CURVE BENDER,
KUSH AUDIO CLARIPHONIC EQ
“ProTools has gradually come of age and is still getting better. It means that analogue versus digital is no longer a worthwhile conversation. It’s just a choice. It’s like, why do you pick up a Stratocaster instead of a Les Paul? One isn’t better than the other, they are just different colours. It’s important to stress that the switch from ProTools being used purely as a tape recorder to it becoming a creative mix environment also has a lot to do with the needs of the music. Pop music has become more complex, and contains more layers and loops and more complex rhythm sections, all things that can’t easily be created in an analogue environment. In this situation the DAW becomes crucial. At the same time, if we didn’t have this kind of technology, music wouldn’t have developed in this direction.
“Another important piece of gear for me is my UAD Satellite Quad, because the quality of the plug-ins is the best. I use the vintage emulations as well as the more unique plug-ins in all of my mixes. Plus I can’t live without my Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, Chandler Curve Bender and Kush Audio Clariphonic Equaliser on my stereo bus.
“As for mixing techniques that I didn’t use 15 years ago, I certainly use parallel compression a lot more. I’ve been aware of parallel compression since my mentor Shelly Yakus showed me how to use it in the late 1980s, but over the last decade or so the loudness wars and the need for music to be more aggressive and forward sounding has pushed mixing engineers to come up with ways to bring every sound to the forefront. Parallel compression, done tastefully, can be a way to obtain a louder sounding mix without compromising the original dynamics too much. So whereas I used parallel compression perhaps only on the lead vocal and drums in the past, I now have several buses set aside for parallel compression on guitars, background vocals, drums, and so on. I also do a lot more pre-mixing in the box, with automated EQ and treating guitars, keys, background vocals and so on with effects and then sending these out to stereo feeds on the console. In this way the console is more and more becoming a very expensive summing device.”