Connection Between speakers

The recording community of today has the most superior equipment, studios and processing power. Almost everyone now has access to pieces that
were once only accessible to those who were lucky and talented enough to
work in the great rooms around the world such as Abbey Road, Olympic,
United Western or Sunset Sound, to name just a few. Anyone can load a
$20k Fairchild 660 to every single channel of the DAW. While I believe the
digital emulations are somewhat ‘apples and oranges’ compared to their
analog counterparts, I do somehow prefer the consistency and reliability
of digital plugins.
So, I ask myself, are we then creating, recording and mixing history’s
most epic records? We should be, and I think we are for the most part!
However, I believe other mixers can become sidetracked by the latest piece
of gear, plugin or update. They sometimes appear to be some holy carrot
hung before us. It’s so tempting to endlessly research all the facts and
figures, including the gear used on so many great records, and for me the
result is that I’m buried in a referential foundation. I too am a victim of
these distractions and they do frustrate me. I believe in a healthy embrace
of the past but with a strong ear towards the future. Depending on the project, I value a blend of past and present. I’d rather be forging into the future
and not wasting energy.
There is no question about it, we have a bounty of resources, and
I believe in knowing recording history. However, that only gets one a
hair closer to completing a mix from beginning to end. Once we place
ourselves between the speakers, the ultimate goal is to make the speakers move and elicit an emotional response. That’s where I want to be,
‘between speakers’. Ideally, the mix should be a journey that wraps
around each ear, through the eardrum to the inner ear and thus setting
off emotional neurons. I’d like to share a few tips to make this journey
from speaker to ear happen with speed and efficiency, and find the ceiling while embracing the liberation of limitation in the areas of tones and
textures. I’ll share some of my mixing staples. I’ll explain my fondness
for the woolliness of my blue sweater, i.e., the classic Neve with loads of
iron-wrapped transformers, and how I establish a bold creative point of
view while serving the song and production

Each of the aspects that will be examined include both the technical and
artistic side of mixing. Additionally, while keeping the practical in mind,
areas such as time and budgetary constraints in the realm of prepping,
working from presets and templates from the beginning to finishing a mix
will also be considered. The digital world provides the ability to work with
amazing speed and efficiency, thus allowing for stellar records to be made
for a budget that would have been considered a demo budget twenty years
ago. I began in the industry at the end of the 1990s/2000, during what
I would say was a sea change of the dominant analog recordings to the
digital world, with Pro Tools being the leader in DAWs. This allowed me
a great vantage point of the two worlds of analog and digital. There are
many positive workflow and efficiency aspects to DAWs, but I do encounter how easy it is to overdo it due to the unlimited ability of recalls, which
can jeopardize the end result by overprocessing sonically. I’ve learned the
beauty of chance and happy accidents provided by the analog world when
mixing. I have found further delaying decisions can be counterproductive.
The mixer oftentimes can wait for the next day and the mood has changed,
and a vicious cycle is entered of unlimited recalls and a never-ending mix.
The way I’ve learned to circumvent infinite possibilities is with limitations. Limitations for me are a way to direct and harness my full potential
of creativity. In the coming pages, I will explore the virtues of narrowing
down the playing field in the area of workflow, which includes session
preparation of routing and layout, to the beginning and end of the mix.
While I’m not suggesting that new plugins shouldn’t be tried, I do find
boundaries are a helpful place to start. Just because we can eat food from
across the globe doesn’t mean we can throw together a mixture of ingredients on a plate with a hodgepodge of spices. As a mixer, you’re trying
to obtain a balance of flavors. My spice cabinet is a blend of tubes, transformers and transistors. A way to manage these choices and to reach for
the appropriate sound is to know to which group the EQ or compressor
belongs. As I stated, there is no shortage of gear and equipment choices
today, which means that knowing how and where to start can be daunting.
As with cooking, you become handy with certain methods, for example,
sautéing, frying and developing a competency and dexterity with certain
knives: paring, boning and chef’s knives. When mixing, we can use a compressor for controlling dynamics and elevating and embellishing the feel,
but we can also establish the mood based on the type of compressor: tube,
transformer or transistor. Having these go-to staples creates a familiar
landscape for you to work within. These are the pigments of your palette,
your familiar tones, and the compass to use throughout your mix.
Before I start with pre-mixing details, let me give my thoughts on what
I think of the role of a mixer. First, I definitely never elevate my role as a
mixer above the producer, band or, most importantly, the song. My job is to
serve the song and the production. I believe I’m hired for the outsider perspective and as a second set of ears. I believe it can become even more of a
challenge if you also recorded the record. Sometimes it becomes apparent
that you can’t see the forest through the trees. The goal is taking what’s
there and highlighting and magnifying all of the beautiful moments. At

times, it can be the last 25% which may be felt and not heard. That’s what
I believe mixing to be in a nutshell.
I remember, when I was just starting out, how intrigued I was by how
people made their way into the mixing bowl, so I share my brief route.
My path came by way of a recording school called the Ontario Institute
of Audio Recording Technology in London, Ontario, Canada. After graduation, I got an offer via a past grad at the school to be a tech at a studio
in Burbank, California. After a week-long cross-country drive from North
Carolina, I met with the studio owner and we quickly surmised that the
tech position was not for me. I was terrible at soldering. However, the
current assistant was looking to move on, which meant that there was
the chance at assisting, but I’d have to start out as a runner, learn the room
and get thrown into a couple sessions to see if I sank or swam. I definitely
swam, although the gracefulness can be questioned. The studio was Ocean
Recording, and when I started in June 2001, they had recently installed
and refurbished two old 80 series Neves. They essentially wired the two
together for a higher channel count. But, while the place was amazing for
tracking, there was no automation, which meant not too much mixing.
They did eventually install Flying Faders sometime after I left. The great
thing about starting off in a tracking studio with a healthy amount of classic mics, outboard gear and vintage Neves is that it allowed me to have a
strong reference point of understanding the most sonically bare state that
a record could be. Enter ear training 101. I think the biggest instruments
I got to know were the drums in their raw state. The industry was starting
to feel the early effects of file sharing and Napster, thus the loss of record
sales. In turn, the budgets were being cut, which meant the majority of
bands were coming in to track drums or beds and then moved on to cheaper
studios for overdubs. So, I got to hear some of the finest drummers and kits
(vintage and modern) in Los Angeles, as well as top-notch engineers and
their various approaches to miking. This was amazing ear training for me,
as drums typically play a large part in the mix foundation. After a couple
years, I felt I had a pretty good grasp on the foundational side of tracking,
for example, the placement of the musicians in the room and mic and compressor choices, as well as basic EQ’ing approaches. After bands finished
up their sessions, I would often visit them when they moved onto other
studios for mixing. What I heard at the mixing point seemed miles beyond
the tracking stage. In the early 2000s, mixing in the box was still in its
infancy, mainly due to processing power and, more specific to Pro Tools,
the lack of delay compensation. Mixing as you go had not yet reached its
stride. I decided to move on from Ocean and ended up at a studio called
Chalice, where there was a decent amount of mixing going on. The cool
thing about Chalice was the mixture of various genres of music from rock,
urban, RnB and hip hop. It was great to see the different approaches based
on genre. I think the reason they catered to the variety was that they had an
SSL 9000J and a Neve 88R. My time there was a bit short-lived, as Chalice was just getting going, and when the bookings slowed down around
Christmas, the owner freaked out and fired most of the staff. Eventually,
I ended up at Ocean Way, which has now been changed back to the original

name of United Recording Studios. I was assigned to Studio A where Jack
Joseph Puig had been in residence for over eight years. I started out as the
standard assistant and by the time I left, I was working more in the role as
engineer. When I was on the job hunt, my goal was to be in a place where
I could experience more mixing and possibly a mentor-type role.
Lastly, before moving on, I’d like to mention the importance of the
undervalued but incredibly beneficial role of mentoring. Mentoring provides the environment for some consistency, i.e., with the console, gear
and room. I believe when one is developing their ear, having constants
such as the same mixer’s method, gear and room allows the ear to be more
perceptive to changes in a particular area. Similarly, when one is A/Bing mics, you keep the position and distance, along with the mic pre the
same then substitute out the mic. Once you have a mic you like, then you
move on to various pre’s and then compressors. Essentially, you change
one element at a time. In the assistant role with Jack, there was a controlled
environment of the studio, console and gear, and the variables were the
incoming mixes by various bands/producers and engineers. What I’ve realized is that seeing the record-making process from various vantage points
has provided particular valuable insights. From the tracking side of things,
I was able to see all of the mic choices, drum placement and instruments
in the tracking room. As a result, I felt I had a strong understanding of how
a well-tracked record should sound upon arrival to the final mixing stage.
When I get a session to mix now, for example, I can rate the quality of the
song from a mixing standpoint. I analyze it and determine if I have some
fixing or polishing to do, or a combination of both. When you are at the
mixing stage, one gets the vantage point of hearing all types of tracking
and production jobs/styles from solid to moderate to subpar. Once you
completely move out on your own, you don’t get as much of that special
window into all of the different tracking and production styles.
After five years with Jack, I moved on to work with Beck as his house
engineer and mixer for about two years. As with Jack, the consistency of
working with the same person was a fruitful environment for my cultivation as a mixer. Eventually, though, you move on and try to stand on your
own, and that’s where I’m at now