The Quick Mix — James Newhouse
With James Newhouse.
Interview: Neil Gray
Who are you currently touring with/mixing?
The last few years have been heavily studio focused however, I’ve just come off Telethon in WA which is a live broadcast fund-raising show. This is my favourite style of gig — combining both live and studio as a live to air, on the fly broadcast mix for over 24 hours straight.
What are some other acts/bands that you have worked with?
Outside of systems engineering my main touring has been with John Butler, San Cisco, The Waifs, Birds Of Tokyo, Operator Please, Van She, Ash Grunwald, Kasey Chambers, Clare Bowditch, Mama Kin Spender, Mavis Staples, and Lior.
How long have you been doing live sound and what was your path to a career in audio engineering?
Next year will be 20 years for me working full time in audio. I started with a year at SAE and then quickly found work with local bands and venues. I began mixing bands 7 nights a week in a West Australian pub and from that gig met many artists, who I still work with today. Whilst touring I also built up my studio experience and now work mainly as a producer/engineer in the studio based just south of Bunbury. I spent a few years as a systems engineer training and learning the d&b systems with Audio Technik.
During my early days (I think I was 19) I met Lior who I then went on to tour with for a few years in various rolls (audio/TM/tech). During these tours I connected with many of the bands as listed above.
What is your favourite console and why?
Hands down Avid S6L. Great workflow and it sounds awesome! Once set up, it’s very simple to navigate and mix on the fly. I’ve never bonded with Digico for some reason. I would always take Avid or Yamaha as my first option.
Favourite microphone or any other piece of kit?
Austrian Audio OC818 condenser mic. Designed by the early AKG staff, it’s similar to the 414 but more natural and more versatile. I’ve been using it on grand pianos, drum overheads, and on John Butler’s very loud Marshall cab. I also have a Calrec CB20 that I love on snare, and a D12 for kick.
Most memorable gig or career highlight?
Many great memories from shows over the years — these include the ARIAs, Nannup Music Festival (my favourite annual), and Perth International Festival ‘HOME’ — this featured some classic WA acts including John Butler, The Waifs, The Drones, and The Triffids. It was a memorable gig, mixing all of these iconic acts back to back. It may have also been the 42hr shift we worked to have the show operational.
The orchestra was spread out over a six storey staff tower and I can remember the sun coming up over the Perth foreshore as we ran out headphone systems and mics. Mixing Lior’s performance with the Dalai Lama also sticks in my mind for obvious reasons.
What are three mixing techniques you regularly employ.
I almost always use this on drum busses. The Empirical Labs Arousor is generally my go to on S6L. I have a clean drum bus, and then parallel busses for kick, snare, and toms.
I often use this over EQ and compression. If I want to control dynamics or accentuate frequencies I’ll use subtle saturation to colour and control, often using the saturator in the Arousor, or Crane Song’ Phoenix.
I enjoy the broad brush strokes of grouping similar sound sources (ie. instrument group, choir group, vocal group, etc), and processing the whole group rather than individual sources. This helps with pulling a mix together very quickly, and assists in creating space. For example, sometimes a wide parametric EQ on the high-mids removes some frequencies from the instrument group, creating space for the vocals. Or, a quick EQ on the whole drum group can make the drums shine whilst also making them sound like one instrument.
What are three pieces of gear or features that have been game changers for you?
I think most touring engineers have jumped on board with the use of multi band compression and dynamic eq. The ability to tame problem frequencies without losing the natural tone and possible gain is a winner.
Lexicon PCM96’s Random Hall, and Liquidsonics’ Seventh Heaven Reverbs.
I’ve always struggled to find decent reverbs in digital consoles. I carry a laptop dedicated to running these reverbs either via analogue, or AES. Having one decent deep and lush reverb makes all the difference to mixing for me.
The ability to save a show.
Learning and growing up mixing entirely on analogue equipment was a different ball game completely. I was recently reflecting on making up a console and ‘saving’ setting on pieces of white tape. This was replaced when phones started to come with cameras, enabling me to take phots of desk settings. The fact that we can save a show and recall it the same ‘most of the time’ at the next show is a huge game changer.
Can I add a fourth? Virtual Soundcheck on a console.
I’m not a fan of long soundchecks with a band on stage as I think it generally tires the artist and kills the mood. However I do like to finesse small details. Virtual Soundcheck has been a game changer — being able to work on the finer things and try different processing options. It also means there’s more time to walk the venue and see how the mix translates.
How have your working methods changed since you began live sound mixing?
I started mixing completely analogue. The challenges of different equipment and the reliability of that equipment used to take up a lot of the soundcheck time. I think now I work faster and trust my intuition when mixing a band. Gear is no longer an excuse for a poor mix because the standard of PA and consoles is now so high.
Some things haven’t changed. I’ve always been very fussy with drum tuning and unless the drummer nails it I will tune them myself. The choice of drum tuning and cymbal selection has to be appropriate to the artist and venue. Often this comes down to developing a strong relationship with the band, and discussing options that might suit the show.
I use less mics than I would have 15 years ago. A show that I was Systems Tech’ing for still sticks in my mind. It was The Whitlams with the amazing Tim Millikan mixing. He had 14 channels covering the whole band and it sounded stunning. I think that that gig was a good reminder of how keeping things simple — and using your ears — is key.
Any tips/words of wisdom for someone starting out?
Work hard, and get as much varied experience with as many people as possible. I’ve learnt so much from so many different engineers over the years. I think that having experience setting systems up for an audio company is just as important as having experience mixing bands.
Mix appropriately. Too often I hear other engineers working on the worlds hugest snare sound and then trying to fit it into a light folk act. Whilst this is all very subjective, our job as audio engineers is to mix appropriately — for both the artist and the audience. I love to mix loud but sometimes it’s not fitting for the audience or venue — and other times it sure is!
Work neatly. Develop good relationships with the artist. Looking back I know the biggest asset to me has been building relationships with artists. It’s those relationships that have brought me more work.
Lastly, be a nice person. We’re not in the business of saving lives, so don’t take yourself too seriously!