Originally Posted by johnny_catfish
Thanks for being so open with your answers on this forum, your work is an inspiration to many people.
I wanted to ask you about your mixing work on the "Memory man" album by Aqualung.
Back in 2007 I was covering the bass player's paternity leave and did a fair chunk of touring to promote that record so I know it very well, and badgered Matt for any mixing details!
I also heard some of the raw tracks that they'd recorded in London before sending it over to you to mix in LA and am very curious about how you managed to put your (amazing) sonic stamp on it.
• Use of EQ., Matt mentioned that you were very fond of using quite large EQ boosts but with a very narrow Q., Is this how you manage to get such amazing separation and definition in very dense mixes?
I think doing very specific aggressive EQing can really make a huge difference in trying to get a particular instrument to have presence in a very limited part of the frequency spectrum. It started for me when I first discovered the Orban 672A equalizers. That was the first time I was able to really do razor sharp EQ adjustments to a sound and it changed everything for me.
There are 2 contexts where I believe that type of really surgical EQ is really effective. The first is when the source material has some sort of ringy overtone that is the artifact of some phasing anomaly in the sound source. It is usually caused by some reflection off of a wall or surface that is in close proximity to the sound source. Sometimes it is inherent in the instrument itself. These phasey spiky overtones make it very difficult to get things to blend or find an appropriate level against other elements in the mix without sticking out in some way. I use very narrow parametric EQs to try and correct these anomalies. I do it a lot on amplified guitar and bass or certain crash cymbals or back ground vocals. These are all sounds where one weird overtone can overpower the fundamental pitch or all of the other overtones. I first discovered this issue when back in the 80s basically every person that walked through the front door of my studio wanted Eddie Van Halen's guitar sound. I studied the shit out of that guitar sound. It is extraordinary. Incredibly bright and present, but not harsh. I finally discovered what was unique about it. There is this beautifully flat shelf of high end in the sound from about 2k-5k. It showed up perfectly on my Gold Line Spectrum Analyzer (which I still use today). When I compared my guitar sounds they had some weird frequency consistently sticking out in that range and they just sounded harsh and awkward. I started using the Orban EQ to even things out in that range, sometimes using very narrow Qs as tight as the Orban would go (A Q of about 10). This was a huge discovery for me. I finally felt like I had control over the actual timbre of instruments and could make them as smooth or aggressive as I wanted. When you get the over tones of an instrument in balance it just sounds natural and effortless. It sounds good by itself and it sounds good against other instruments.
The other context where I use these very narrow EQ moves is to manufacture a resonant fundamental tone in an instrument. The best example is on Kick and Snare. On the snare I will typically do a very narrow boost to emphasize the fundamental body of the sound (Usually around 200hz a Q of about 7 or 8). It adds weight to the sound that will cut through a mix without taking up too much space. The same thing with kick drums. I never use a shelf EQ on a kick drum. I want the kick drum to own a very specific part of the freq range and leave lots of room for the bass guitar. the more specific you can get it the clearer and punchier the low end will be. A really good example is Mutt Lange's kick sounds on the Def Leppard stuff. They are so economized. There is a specific peak in the low end and a specific peak in the high end and very little of anything else. Tons of room left for the 500 synth bass overdubs he loves to do
• How different was it mixing something that you hadn't had a hand in the tracking and did it take a lot of wrangling to get it into shape e.g Re-amping etc...
I enjoy both types of mixing… stuff I have recorded or stuff recorded by others. The Aqualung record was really fun because it was already a great record before it was brought to me. I have had situations where i am given something that has some pretty glaring problems that make it difficult to achieve that moment of satisfaction at the end of the process. Even in those situations I try to get into the challenge of trying to achieve the greatest degree of improvement. I think the advantage of working on my own stuff is that I start with a pretty clear notion of where I want to end up. I will probably have already done several rough mixes along the way and have some settings in mind that I know I liked on the roughs. The interesting thing about mixing a recording I have had no hand in is the hyper objectivity. I am not married to anything in the recording and have no pre conceived notion of what the particular parts were trying to do. I wasn't there when someone may have struggled for half a day trying to get some magical sound out of a chapman stick through six guitar pedals and a leslie speaker. I can just listen to the end result and make a judgment on how musical it is regardless of how much energy was invested in it. I wouldn't think twice about suggesting muting the 8 hour magical stick sound if it just ain't working.
• At the time you had stopped using a console and were using a hybrid workflow but mainly mixing ITB.
Can you share how you were incorporating the outboard into your workflow? Were you running them as inserts or recording the processed signals back into your DAW for further tweaking?
Through the couple years of mixing without a console I did a lot of experimenting. I was never really able to settle on one approach that really stood out for me. On the Aqualung record I was doing the H/W insert style. I was using a handful of outboard compressors to supplement the plug ins to get it feel more familiar for me. I was using 4 distressors, 2 1176s, Alan Smart C2, DCL-200 and the Crane Song STC8. I was able to document each mix by writing down what the insert was in the 'notes' in the Pro Tools session for each track and then take digital pictures of the outboard gear. A recall would take about 10 minutes. I committed to using the Alan Smart C2 for any mix buss compression because we were planning on using Bernie Grundmans for mastering and they have an Alart Smart type compressor in their setup. I didn't want to have the final mix suffer an unnecessary A/D->D/A conversion just for that final bit of compression. I printed all the mixes as bounce to disk stereo files and documented the Alan Smart settings for each tune. I recalled the settings on the compressor at Bernie's as part of the mastering process.
• In an earlier post about drum tracking you touched on your process of combining the compressed close drum mics with the uncompressed room mics/overheads and about how important it is to get the relationship right between them
Could you expand a bit more on your drum workflow please and also, do you send any verbs through the same (parallel) compression chain as the drum bus to gel everything together?
The compression for me is this game of getting things to be held in place and stay in focus without sounding strangled. At a certain point I realized that I was tending to compress the kick and snare more than the other elements and I figured why not just leave the individual compression off of the elements that don't need as much and get that from the drum mix compression. The kick and snare get compressed twice and the other elements get compressed once all together. It is just an economized approach that can have a faster work flow and I think can leave things sounding a little bigger. I also realized that sometimes when I was compressing everything individually, I couldn't get the drum mix compression to be gluey enough without things getting strangled.
I do like sending reverb to the compression buss. I think the reverb becomes more connected to the sound source. On snares I really like using a mono spring reverb. It creates a very identifiable space around the snare drum that sets it apart from the rest of the instruments.
• Could you talk about your use of verbs/delays/ambiences to help get the pin sharp separation in your mixes.
I have always had the best luck with organic ambiences (room mics, chambers, plates, spring reverbs). There are a few digital reverbs I use but it is somewhat rare. I find the organic ambiences do a better job of creating a unique environment for a particular part to live in. The ambience and the dry sound become more of a single homogenous sound that owns its spot in the mix. I own a bunch of spring reverbs (BX20, Bi-amp MR/140, Quad Eight RV10, Fairchild 659, Orban 111B, MultiVox analog delay w/verb thing, and about 4 Roland SRE-555 chorus echos in various states of functionality). I also have an EMT plate and a chamber setup at my place. I like to enhance natural ambiences with digital delays. A digital delay that has some modulation on it can be a great way to thicken up a plate or chamber sound. It adds some pitch movement to the decay and keeps it from sounding stale as it trails off. I always reach for those types of things first. For digital stuff i have 2 H3000s, an Ursa Major Space Station and a Lexicon 200. The H3000s get the most use. There is one particular patch I created a long time ago in the H3000 that ended up being called "Bigness" that has been used a lot over the years. It is based on the "Swept Reverb" Algorithm. That algorithm is essentially a 6 tap delay with adjustable feedback and modulation. It is all over the now 20 year old T-Ride record (god damn I'm old) and the first 3EB record. I still use it these days. It is the one patch that I have found that can be put on an existing room sound that makes it sound bigger and deeper without sounding like a digital reverb. It is on the guitar noises that float around in the verses on El Paso (1st song on the TBS record). It is on the opening breath and guitar bend at the beginning of Heroes and Villans (last song on the T-Ride record). It is on the choruses of the song "The Background" on the 3EB record as a part of the swimmey ambience. Actually the swimmey ambience on the chorus of "The Background" is a bit of an H3000 extravaganza. The chorus for that song was just not opening up quite enough. I didn't want to add more parts to the song. It needed a dreamy sort of organ pad to just fill out the chorus a bit. I created the pad by sending kevin's clean guitar to H3000#1 with a patch called "String Modeler". String modeler is kind of incredible. It grabs on to pitches from the incoming signal and sustains them out in a way that sounds like an organ. I took that signal and sent it to a leslie speaker, mic'd it and then sent that signal to the "Bigness" patch on H3000#2 via aux send & return on the console. On the 3rd Smash Mouth record the end of the song "Force Field" submerges completely into the H3000 "Bigness" patch.