Not many engineers have a sonic signature so identifiable that they actually have a technique named for them (“Brauerizing!”) - so we were very pleased when Michael agreed to share his methods and stories with us in a community Q&A back in the very early days of GS (2005, to be specific!) Michael’s career arc could be likened to a Hollywood film script, and he talked freely about that in our time with him. Just as it looked like things were going the wrong way, suddenly he found himself with three Grammy® awards, and albums with John Mayer, Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Aerosmith, Jeff Buckley, David Byrne, Tony Bennett, Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Ben Folds, Pet Shop Boys, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, KT Tunstall, Martha Wainwright & many more, Michael is one of the top mixers in the business today and is as entertaining a conversationalist as he is a talented engineer - enjoy revisiting his story/stories!

[top]On heavier stuff that you mix do you use any reverbs or delays to help the guitars gel? - Not_so_new

Generally, I don't add reverb on hard rock records. Delays, yes, very short ones and a variation of short and long for vocals.

[top]How important do you think the gear used in the studio is to making a great record vs. the knowledge and ability of the engineer who is using the gear? - nek

Put a monkey in my room with my gear and see what happens. If he mixes better than me, I’m gonna be pissed.

Put me in a room with whatever is available, and I'm going to deliver you a great mix. No excuses for lack of toys or different formats such as mixing in the box. Mixing is mixing, You're either a mixer or you're a monkey. Simple.

[top]How do you define the space for the music in a song? I felt that you are the right person to ask this because in many of your mixes I've felt a strong sense of space that perfectly supports the message or the lyrics of the song thus accentuating the feelings of the listener and making it a deeply felt experience. - karl phaser

Well, I asked for it, now I have to come up with the goods. As I began writing, it occurred to me that I’m not actually thinking about what I do, I just do it. I’m reacting to the song. The best way to approach this question is to ‘reverse engineer’ it a bit.

I get some of my clues from listening to the rough mix and asking questions to the artist. Some like their music dry, some hate delay, some love reverb and delay…a lot. So if, for example, the song is moody and sad, that’s what I’m going for. Are her lyrics going to be believable if I bury her in reverb? It’s not going to sound very intimate, is that good or is that bad? Should it have some reverb that sounds lonely? Does it make me feel the loneliness or does it make her too pop and she hates pop. Maybe at the chorus it would be good to open her voice up because the lyrics dictate it and then for the next verse, I’d go dry. I can use very subtle delays and small room reverbs to enlarge her image without drawing attention to the efx.

Prior to playback mix comments, all decisions made during the mixing process are based on what makes ME feel good. If I convince myself, I’ll convince the listener. Later I’ll address the comments, but not while I’m alone in my own world. Second guessing is of no use to me, I have to trust my instinct and my gut. I’m dead in the water if I doubt my thoughts. Hundreds of questions pop up as I’m mixing. (Does this idea suck? Do I suck? Am I going overboard? Is this angry enough? Is this transition working for me? She hates delays, yah, but this is a good one, I’ll risk it, nothing to lose.) There’s lots of talking going on upstairs.

Everything that is going on, as I’m mixing, is spontaneous and is triggered by recent or past memories of records that have made an impression on me. I want a certain feel, I bring up the appropriate sounds to match that feel. The performance will inspire me to create the soundscape. Over years of mixing, images come up in my mind when I begin to mix and I just follow my thoughts. If a bridge reminds me of a Hall & Oates song, I use it for inspiration. Was it the melody and the arrangement around it that reminded me of them? What elements stand out? (Is it the chord structure, the delays on the guitar, the delay on the piano, the reverb on the piano, the phase on the Rhodes?) What is it about the feel that I am remembering when I’m mixing this section? I analyze it and then apply it to the mix. A good example of this is in “You get what you give” from New Radicals. Every section reminded me of another song.

A lot of ideas come from artists. They push me in directions that I wouldn’t have thought of. That information gets stored away in my memory to be recalled the next time the same type of feel is required.

When I’m at home, I listen to old records including ones from Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Perry Como. Would you like to learn how to get a warm close vocal that just makes you feel good all over? Listen to the old recordings of great singers, you’ll see where I got my vocal presence ideas. Learn from the classics.

[top]In a perfect world (your perfect world anyway) if a guitarist uses lots of Space Echo, Boss DM-2, etc do you mind if those effects are printed on the guitar tracks, or would you rather have the flexibility to add them yourself? - writethis

If that's the guitar sound you like, print it! I'm just a mixer. Print everything that you've been living with in the course of making a record. Efx's, delays, reverbs, they all are part of the sound you've created. Don't make me try and recreate it. Yes, having the option of a dry and wet sound is good. My thoughts on this have changed over the years. I used to say,give me a dry guitar sound, now I say, give me your sound.

[top]Royalty points for mixing… How does that work? Every job? Some jobs? - Jules

You don't really get to pick and choose. It takes a long time before artists are willing to give away their points. Sometimes, it's not worth spending the money to have a contract for getting a point on a radio or promo single. It'll never recoup. If it makes the album, then it's worth the effort because if the record sells a couple million, you'll get enough money, when all is said and done, to take a bus to work.

[top]What is your opinion for mixing with a sub bass speaker in addition to nearfield monitors? - Tom Sigmond

Does your mix sound better in the club when you do or don't use a sub? That's your answer.

Federal AM-864 Compressor/Limiter

[top]It looks as if you had your Federal Compressor modded. I was wondering if you could recommend who to go to. - Decobred

It's been modded a couple of times. That extra knob is just the threshold adjustment moved from the back to the front. I found a matching knob, and did a print copy of the indicator ring. The input needs to be padded down a lot.

I would recommend Steve Firlotte for anything and everything. He didn't modify mine but, had I known him back when I modded it, I'd have used him.

[top]I was wondering, if you use your sends to send to the compressor(s), it must be pre pre-fader right? Because if it's post-fader, then your level of send will be unequal every time you move the main fader?Hope that I'm making sense here...I suppose that your reverb/delay sends are pre fader also,meaning that you use uncompressed signal feeding the reverb ? - lesique

Logic says yes, I should be in pre fader because in post fader it will change as I ride the fader, but in practice, no. It's all good my friend, just let the fader ride, let it ride. I've been doing it this way for years and maybe, I'm doing something magical where my brilliant brain is automatically compensating for the change in compression and blah blah blah techitechitechifart...yawn. Somebody call for pizza, yah, I'll tell you how I want mine ok?

[top]So if you hardly ever listen to anything soloed, how do you begin a mix? Do you EQ sounds as they are sitting in the mix? Do you listen to certain groups of sounds by themselves? Do you compress individual sounds while hearing everything? - Decobred

If I build my mix up starting with just an acoustic guitar, I'll eq, compress, process, balance and blend, as I'm building up the mix. Every new instrument I add to the mix gets molded to the existing blend.

Yes, if I have a large string, horn or windwood section, I may very well cut my other subgroups so that I can memorize what is being played as I'm getting a good balance between the different sections. That works for me. Once I put the other tracks back in, I'll then tweak the compression, EQ and reverb to make it fit in nice.

I don't generally EQ or compress in the solo mode because I think that's working in a vacuum. So what if you get a nice sound on it's own? Nice in solo doesn't make it necessarily nice when it's playing with all 40 other tracks. Other instruments may cancel out the clarity of what you've done, or vice versa. But if soloing works for you and the song sounds great, that's all that matters.

[top]What do you think about the ADL 670? How does it compare to the original? - Batcave

I love the ADL. I've had mine modded (of course), but I think it sounds very close to the original. I'm not a true judge on that because we didn't have Fairchilds at Mediasound, but I have spoken to one engineer who I consider the king of Fairchilds and he gave it the thumbs up. Anyway, it doesn't matter because he only made 5 and four are sold.

[top]In a perfect world do you feel that you prefer to have each individual track coming out onto your console for mixing or do you like to have certain elements or instruments stemmed to one or two tacks for convenience and ease of you feel stemming is compromising in any way sonically during the mixing process? - ron florentine

I would be a happy mixer if I only had 8 tracks to mix, but I only get that if I'm mixing for David Kahne. The rest of the time I want to keep it down to 46 tracks. That magic number is because the rest of the desk is allocated to all types of toys and returns of samples etc.

I don't think there is any sonic compromise to making stems that I can hear. When I make a stem it might be submixing stereo harmony vocals, kicks, snares, guitars that have a couple amps or ambience. I have my assistant make the stems and then I'll listen to them for approval.

[top]Could you speak to the issue of how you achieve movement in a mix (or your philosophy about movement in a mix). I read in one of your other posts of how you rode a pad in one of the Coldplay mixes. Do you generally ride all instruments/sources... or are there some sources that remain rather static and others sources that your regularly "move." If you can't give a general opinion, perhaps you can comment on your philosophy in mixing with movement in mind. With the large amount of dynamics processing that today's mixes go through, how important is movement in a mix when the song is going to get pulverized to 5 - 6 dB of dynamic range anyway? - Exmun

The song will dictate everything that needs to happen. Not gear, not technique, not the “go to” button. It’s about the song and nothing but the song.

Dynamics are going to play a major role in giving the chorus the payoff it needs. I’m not necessarily referring to riding the stereo track up. I mean internal rides going into the chorus like riding the drums up on the last bar or riding up the first chord of the guitars. These are just tiny basic examples to get you started.

I’m riding a whole lotta faders during the course of a mix. I’m riding the vocal to drive the song, riding the bass, toms, cymbals…well pretty much anything that helps make the song come alive. I’m making the mix as animated as possible to get the message of the song across to the listener. Imagine you’re watching an action cartoon and that will be a good starting point for how dynamics work.

Of course, not all songs are going ballistic. I probably do more rides on a ballad than I might on a rocker. It’s the accumulation of many subtle rides that add up to an emotional mix. You can probably set a good level of a compressed string section in a chorus and just let it rip. I prefer to do internal rides within those strings and overall small crescendos of the group to accentuate the passage. I may very well compress them, but that may not be enough to do the section justice. The point is to add movement to the song in order to make it seem to come alive. You’ve got to ask yourself one question “Do I feel lucky?, Well do ya punk?”...oops sorry, I mean, What rides can help a great hook?…punk.

There are no set rules for what stays static or doesn’t because every song is different, the recording is different, the parts are different, basically, everything is different. The point is to use dynamics to bring out the best a song has to offer. What can be done to make the story and the hook of a song burn into your brain forever.

Rides are an essential part of mixing a song to it’s full potential regardless of the amount of compression the mix is going to get hit with by the time it goes to radio. An emotional mix will help the song survive the squash. It’s all about the song. Repeat after me, it’s all about the song.

[top]Just wondering how many tracks songs are averaging these days? It seems like (because of Protools) producers are using more and more tracks. Do high track count sessions pose a problem, or can you still get the mix done in the same time? Do you always use every given track? - Dopamine

It's not bad. The average is about 48. It varies from 10 to 120. But when i sit down to mix, it's miraculously down to 46. I don't want more and my assistant makes sure I don't see more. Meaning, alot of internal mixing might be taking place to accomplish this. I'll listen to all the tracks before determining if I want to use a track or not, not to mention running it by the artist or producer if they are in the picture.

[top]I have read your tape op article and any related post, thread, comment anywhere else I could find it on your multi buss compressor techniques. It's all very wonderful and informative, however I am still confused on a few aspects of it that I can't find an answer to that I can understand. I have only worked on ProTools HD with no controller and will be making a big jump to an SSL 4000 in the next few months. So - being a little lost, here are my questions:

a) When you set it up - are your comps on inserts across A,B,C,and/or D? If not - then I'm still lost on the routing of the comps.

b) When you are getting your stereo busses to all read at zero, you mention you send a 1k tone (or 100 or 10) to the comp and then set everything to read zero. This tone - is it just something in that frequency range like a guitar or do you boost a frequency on an eq to set the compression? - Decobred

a) When you set it up - are your comps on inserts across A,B,C,and/or D? Yes

b) When you are getting your stereo busses to all read at zero, you mention you send a 1k tone (or 100 or 10) - It's an Oscillator or Tone generator that provides several frequency settings. Many consoles have them installed in the center section.

[top]We spoke once a year or two back. You mixed a song I produced for Racheal Yamagata called "Collide".

I LOVE what you do with vocals. Amy Mann "Lost in Space" is the best vocal mix I've ever heard.

Do you use:

1. Just a little compression and eq on the insert for starters?
2. Buss the vocal through a squasher comp - if so which on Amy M.??
3. Ever use Dolby A or any kind of exciter?
4. Another post said you liked the DRE 777, on vocals? any other verbs you like for vocals?
5. Do you ever mix stems and blend them later, perhaps at mastering?
6. Where in the chain do you place de -essers? are they 902s?? - Gravity8058

I loved "Collide". I thought it was the best song she did and the production was perfect for bringing out the haunting feel of that song. Nice one.

1. I floated her voice to two channels and processed the two differently. I'd switch it up between verse and chorus. I changed compressors on every song.

2. I remember putting the dept of commerce on some of the quieter ones. It was the way she sang that made the feel amazing. My toys just enhanced it a bit.

3. Not on her but yes, I know those tricks. I have a set of custom made dolby cards that have all the bands bypassed except for the top end to give me the air without the pump. I have an Aphex B that I fire up on occasion.

4. Not really.

5. No.

6. On the channel that is being floated. I use the SPL De-eesser.

Sony DRE-S777 Sampling Digital Reverb

[top]You've said you're a fan of leaving stereo compressors unlinked. Don't you worry at all about a shifting center image using this method? - Improv

I don't.

[top]I'm don't use them unlinked? Or you don't care what it does to the center image? - Improv

I don't have a problem with it, I don't have my image shift. I've never noticed it in all the years I've been mixing that way.

[top]You said you use delayed plates. Do you mean plates with a pre delay, or do you have a plate return that then gets sent to a delay? If it's plate getting sent to a delay, is it 100% of the signal getting delayed (insert) or just some of it getting sent to a delay? - sgladm

On every Digital Plate you have a predelay option, that's what i'm referring to. But since you bring up the delayed plate question ,it reminds me of a cool idea we did at Mediasound back in the day. For those who have real EMT plates, this one's a beauty. You can hear what I'm talking about by listening to Luther's first two records and Aretha's "Jump to it' and "get it right" records I recorded and mixed.

Take the output of the left side of a stereo cue and go into a delay( set at 125ms for example).

Take the output of the delay and go into a mult.

Take the output of the Right side of a stereo cue and go into the same mult.

Go out of the mult and into the input of the EMT plate.

Now you control the amount of delay by using the pan. You can have the guitar sending to the plate without delay. For the vocal, you can pan the stereo cue to the center and have a little delay along with the direct signal going to the plate.

[top]Given mixing is your mainstay now, how do you deal with the mix in terms of creating and realising a mix that you and the artist are happy with?

Do you mix for like 3-4 hours then get the song fleshed out, then invite them in for final words? Or are they there with you from the get go?

Do you often have people asking you to chase the 'vibe' of a demo, and how do you counter it from your perspective when you are hired to put a different slant on things?

How do you both come to compromises and how do you explain where you are going sonically if they can't envisage it?

Have you ever had clients go "No...that is totally wrong?"

How have you dealt with conflicting opinions between 'artist', band members (more me!), producers and A&R? - Wiggy Neve Slut

I tried answering a question very much like this one and as I wrote I got frustrated and quit. You listen closely to what the artists, producer and A&R want, then you sit down to mix. You ignore the ideas you don't like and keep the ones that work. If you want to defend your idea, show them the one they preferred, if it doesn't work, they'll notice it and it won't linger in the back of their mind. If they come in and say it's wrong, I listen to their reasons, say "ooh ok, I get it '', come back in 30 minutes. I make it right, they come in happier than a pig in sh*t. If the band members are fighting among themselves or against A&R or Producer or any combination of the three, I SHUT UP. I don't say a thing and I don't interfere. When they turn to me to ask my opinion I simply say, "You heard my opinion when I played you the mix. I am not getting in the middle of this. Make up your mind and I'll make the change or I'll give you two versions and you guys can fight it out later". That tends to work like a charm.

Yes, of course I've had mixes rejected. We all have, except for the big fibbers of the world.

[top]Knowing what you know now, if you were an A&R guy hiring someone to mix an album, what level of detail would you want/expect them to take it to? - Mike Caffrey

I would expect the song to sound great. If the mix sucks, you did a bad job. If I, as A&R, love the mix then I'm happy and the day is a success. Mixing 6 songs in one day and making them all sound ok with an asterisk doesn't go far. I, A&R, will find someone who CAN mix all six well in one day.

[top]What percentage of the tracks you get have fundamental flaws? What kind of flaws do you see - distortion on the vocal, inverted phase/polarity on the drums? meters hitting the red in ProTools, bad edits? - Mike Caffrey

Ooh boy, an easy answer! Not much, I'd say less than 10%. Our biggest problem is too many tracks, 4 kicks, 4 snares, MS gtrs, MS acs. Too many tracks and not enough voices in Pro Tools (although, i'm getting a new rig soon). Bad edits on vocals isn't uncommon. Files imported from Logic or Nuendo lose their cross fades sometimes if they aren't consolidated.

[top]Did you decide not to smoke dope/weed for professional reasons or because you have seen any conflict between being stoned and hearing a mix in the cold light of day? Are you happy to have assistants who smoke? What happens if some artist is a heavy smoker and wants to sit right next to you with a spliff? - Scruffydog

I am really glad you asked that question. It’s an important one. I stopped smoking everything when I graduated college and went on the road with my band. I was the drummer and managed the business. In my mind it was a business and I had to be serious about it so there was no room for weed and I quit smoking butts at the same time. I never did drugs in the studio…not that I aaah ever did drugs mind you. That leads to a dead end and I knew it by simply watching those around me abuse it.

What my assistants do on their own time is fine with me as long as it’s limited to weed and alcohol…aah not that they smoke weed mind you. But I did walk into the studio one morning and knew my assistant had just smoked a joint. He had been up all night getting my session finished and was taking the edge off. I explained the importance of him not relying on drugs to make it through the day. Learn to work through the exhaustion with willpower. He got the message.

The control room is my room. In my room, you don’t smoke weed and you don’t smoke cigarettes. The lounge is the client’s room, you can smoke, fart, blow or sleep, I don’t care.

I’ve had “famous” people insist on smoking in the control room and I say "no" in a nice way. I had one person that insisted on smoking just in the doorway and blew the smoke away from the control room. I still got high from it, and I looked at him at one point and said “ok, You just got me high, so here’s the deal, if you see me laughing at you when you make a comment, you can’t get mad. I warned you not to smoke around me so, if what you say sounds funny to me, I’m laughing”. About ten minutes later, he’s sitting next to me and he says something about the mix. I look at him, pause, start laughing my ass off, shake my head, wipe a tear and say “I don’t think so”. On the next comment I did the Jerky boys “yah sure I will”. That’s how the rest of the day went and he couldn’t get angry. After years of holding back, it was like a genie giving me one of three wishes. Needless to say, for the rest of the week he smoked in the lounge. F*ck 'em.

[top]In the previous post you say of your assistant: "He had been up all night getting my session finished..."

How much prep time by your assistant goes into sessions that you mix? I'm sure it's variable, but what are the variables and how do you factor them in? Do you bill his time as well, or is it an all in fee for your mix? - Robdarling

Generally, he spends an hour setting up the session. This doesn't include setting up the room from scratch with all my gear. That takes place when I go away for a week or so. That set up takes about 3hours. There are times when he discovers a major problem with the files the night before and he'll spend as much time as necessary so that I can sit down at 9am and begin mixing. The boy is dedicated!

[top]What general approaches that a recording engineer might have to enable you as the mixer to achieve a fantastic result? - Rick at Sequis

I just want the recording to compliment the song. DO that and I'm happy.

[top]There is something I really can't figure out regarding your multibus technique and vocal rides:

How do you do those rides? I figure you don't ride the channel fader because it would affect compression on the buss it is sent to... Neither should you ride the returns as they would contain other tracks...

Do you then only ride a send to the stereo buss? - iode131

I am riding the levels to the compressors. I'm not always sending my vocals to ABC or D, sometimes it's to a group of different comps that together make a nice tone.

[top]How do you handle the lowest bottom? Do you choose between the kick and bass as to who gets the sub-basement, or do you think they can coexist down there? Do you ever side chain a bass comp with the kick? And how low do you feel you need to get? 40? 30? - PRobb

The song dictates the bottom end. What is driving the song? Is it the bass line, the drums, the gtr, the keys, the vocals? What? It depends on the song. If the bottom end needs a low bottom to the kick with a point on it so you hear the beater, the bass doesn't need to go lower.You fit the bass into the kick. If the bass is playing 16th notes, putting too much bottom will blur it. Adding too much kick or low bottom end may take away from the punch and clarity of the notes. So the answer is, there is no correct answer to that question, because it's something that changes on every song and every style of music. If it was jazz, the kick might be only felt, the song might very well be driven by the hi hat for example.

How should I anchor the bottom end of a song? That's more important to know. Same answer. My old friend and great mastering engineer, Greg Calbi, called me today. He says, "I loved two of your mixes but the third one had way too much bass on it, I just wanted to call you to ask what you had in mind because it doesn't fit the others and I don't usually have to dig into your mixes". I explained myself and said, "make it right, do what you suggested, take out some bottom and add some mids, it'll be right for the song".

What he was saying was, your bottom end is drawing focus away from the song, you've got too much, it needs to chill a little and by adding some midrange to the song, it'll put the focus back on the vocal. That's the way a mastering engineer should hear and that's why I love his work.

SSL 4000 E Series

[top]Have you had any experience with SSL4000E orange EQs? Do you like the orange EQs? - lawrence_o

I don't remember much about the colors anymore. I think I remember liking the brown ones for the bottom end. Black seemed better for the mids and orange for the top. It was a long time ago so I wouldn't stake much on my memory of colors. I know there's a joke in here somewhere but I'm going to resist because I'm not here to be a comedian...or am I?...nah. Okay, I can't pass up a Forat thread. Hell, I just had my truck washed at Bruce's bro's place.

[top]Forat drum triggering - Do you use it in realtime? Nudge things back to tighten the trigger time up? How are you using it? Only adding one sample, or using multiple thresholds with different samples, different outputs, etc? How is your Forat unit set up? (drive type, mem, remote?, etc) - e-cue

I have a pre trigger that goes into a delay and then I just tweak the sample until it's nice and solid. Triggers are fast but I still prefer doing it this way. I usually have two kicks and three snares that I mold around the existing sounds IF they need help, otherwise I don't use them. I don't use the thresholds, it's full level.

[top]Is there anything you hear in other people's mixes that just drives you up the wall and makes you say "Egad! How can anybody DO THAT to a piece of music and get away with it!"? I'm thinking of overused cliches, basic 'mistakes', etc... - Timtoonz

There have been a couple times where the snare was so out of place or the sound so wrong for the music that I was too distracted to listen to the record. Otherwise, the only time that happens is when I'm listening to something that I've been hired to remix and I hear obvious problems but that doesn't really count.

[top]Pultec EQs are attracting high prices these days. When you are mixing, what do you find them useful for?? - DrC:Drive

You're right, they are expensive now, it's legendary status is overtaking it's real time value. When I only mixed through the stereo buss, I put my mix through a Neve 33609 and then my Pultecs.

Now, I use them across my A buss and I tend to have backing vocals, keyboards and some reverbs sending to them.

It is true, Pultecs are great in that they offer a natural sounding EQ with an open top end but there are no replacement parts and, in my opinion, they don't sound better with age if left unmaintained. They become dark in sound from the tubes dying and the caps, etc growing old and leaking.

[top]Does multibus compression work on everything? - Jules

No, it doesn't work on everything. I developed this approach because I was frustrated by the limitations I kept running into with just a stereo compressor. I didn't know how else to get a big dynamic mix with a counter pumping action so that’s what I came up with. It certainly hasn't been a problem for other mixers to get great mixes in the stereo compression mode because they addressed limitations from a different angle.

Neve 33609
Sometimes, I prefer just sending my stereo to the Neve's/Pultecs chain. There have been times when the multi buss approach was too open and I didn't want all that freedom going on within the mix. So I just sent everything to my A buss, I was back to the classic mode and the mix sounded just right.

Does my way work better than somebody else’s way? Who cares? Try everything. There is no wrong way as long as the song sounds great.

Does Andy Wallace need multi buss compression to make his mixes sound better? Yah right. He hardly uses any outboard…bastard. Life is less complicated and so are the recalls. I've been in situations where I mixed a record with just a few toys, like the Ben Folds record. I still managed to incorporate some of my ideas and I had a blast! I mixed it as well as if I’d had access to all my toys, because I knew what I wanted to hear, and just did it.

Once again, toys are nice, multi buss compression is nice but they’re just tools to get your ideas out.

[top]I was listening to Amanda Marshall's debut album, I love the way "Let It Rain" and "Dark Horse" sound, wonderful mixes with nothing standing in the way of the songs. You've spoken at length in the other threads about bringing your best to the table, not cutting corners and feeling at the end of the day that you've done your best. My question has to do with where that passion comes from - is it professional pride in being good at what you do, or is it a chasing of your "muse" that fuels it? How much of that passion comes from things completely outside of the music and your "work"? - DrC:Drive

Man, these questions I’ve been getting this month make me think hard. Unfortunately for me, it’s not a quick answer. Grab a beer or skip to another thread, there’s a little bit of a setup to get to my point.

I loved being a musician and being a drummer. I also loved the feeling I got from performing in front of an audience and how special it was when the band was having a good night. It became clear to me, after being on the road for a year, depending on five other people for my success was not in the cards. I wanted to be responsible for my own success or failure. The hardest part of leaving the band was my love playing music and the addictive high of an audience applauding after a song. The easiest part of leaving was the road life and the dead end I was heading in.

I had been recording my band’s rehearsals and club dates on a two track for a year or so and I got pretty good at getting a balance the other members didn’t bitch about. When I broke the band up, I considered pursuing engineering. But my greatest fear was giving up that addictive high from playing an instrument and performing.

I got a job at Mediasound, a recording studio in New York City. Once I was there, it didn’t take long to figure out that I could still achieve the feeling of performing when mixing a song, the only problem being the lack of an audience to provide me the instant gratification. So, instead of being the musician, I could be the puppeteer playing the faders with each one or group representing a musician. I could be a conductor and interpret the dynamics and feel of a written piece of music. I could make it a performance, enjoy the moment and get the gratification by feeling like I was playing the song. The audience's approval was no longer necessary. I just needed to get the console to feel like second nature, like an instrument. It had to be an easier instrument than learning drums since it only took two hands to play. So that was my mindset as I began my new career, transferring my addiction from one instrument to another.

As it turned out, recording and mixing wasn’t as easy as learning to play drums. Let me put it this way, I wasn’t the brightest bulb in the house. There were concepts and missing links that escaped me for a long, long time.

Inspiration was another motivator for me. I think growing up at Mediasound and assisting guys like Bongovi, Christie, Clearmountain, Delugg, Diamond, Goldberg and Jorgensen inspired me a lot. I mention them in particular because I learned great things from each of them, not all being technical.

Pride of being a Mediasound engineer goes a long way. I remember doing my first session outside of Media. It was in California and I was mixing ODYSSEY. I remember feeling the tremendous pride representing the studio and I just knew I would do a great job. The attitude never wavered.

My dad was an industrial designer. Watching him do tediously detailed work at the drafting table, with incredible focus for hours on end, came into use years later when I was able to mix 14 to 16 hours nonstop. He designed logos, annual reports and packaging for Winchester, among others. He often asked me to pick which one I thought, of the three designs he was presenting, would be chosen. He also loved to paint watercolors, so overall he was a really creative guy.

I grew up hearing stories from my mother and grandmother about my great, great Uncle, Jules Verne. He was a famous French novelist and storyteller that predicted future inventions in his stories. Not bad to have in my bloodline, might come in handy.

So what drove me to do my very best? It all came down to one thing, fear of failure. Fear of not being able to be as good as those I respected around me, not coming up with something that showed I was a descendent of a very inventive family member. Maybe it was all that but why I cared in the first place, I’ll never know.

[top]These days, how much (if at all) do you reference mixes outside of your room? Are you taking anything home and casually listening in the background? Listening to your car system? Is there anything that calls for CD-R reference? - chriscoleman

I personally don't take mixes home to check out, I go home to live my other life. Between my Proacs, Genelecs, Yamahas and my almighty radio, I have all the references I need. And my car isn't an option because that's pre booked for Willy Wonka, chitti chitti bangbang, elmo sings aretha and other inspiring music my kids prefer.

[top]I know how much effort you went to to scour the earth for those compressors...What are your main uses for them and were they modified to be more 'useful'. I tried, begged, bartered with someone back in OZ when I lived there to let me buy 2 of his 8 (!!!) that he has sitting in his workshop. Unfortunately he knows the uses and value of them too much...and before you ask no he has no black Fairchild model...I already checked! Btw, only 29 of them were made apparently! I am keen to get an AWA clone from a person I know who says he is reverse engineering them. - Wiggy Neve Slut

Please write to me when he comes out with the clone. But which clone? I have two and they are both different animals. I am happy that the Fairchild version exists. I've been speaking with Mick from Mixmasters in Australia and he says it's a myth. I use them just on vocals. The green one has a sound that is stunning. They were both modified to give me more control over attack and release and speed of decay. I need to find one of the 29. I thought it was out of my blood by now but thanks to you, you got me on the hunt again.

[top]What is your policy on tuning lead vocals when mixing? If you do tune them, is that something you do regularly and is it solely at your discretion? - Football

I pitch correct if I feel it improves the performance. I do it at my discretion but I also inform the artist of the correction. He may reject the idea.

Antares Auto-Tune

[top]Can you talk a little about your theories and use of pitch correction for vocals and if you are an Auto Tune person or if you are digging Melodyne more, or something else completely? - Theom

Keith, my assistant, does the actual pitch correction. If something bothers me, he'll fix it but he knows not to go perfect with it. Just make it feel natural. He doesn't use the Melodyne as much because he says it takes extra time to have to re import every fix. He uses Antares Auto Tune and Pitch ‘n Time.

[top]Considering the extensive number of compressors/limiters you have in your arsenal, I was curious if there are any units you leave at or around the same settings most or all of the time from project to project. In other words, are some units set to a basic sweet spot that doesn't change much, and that you tend to run the same types of sounds through for those respective units? - bd1be4f

I leave most of the ones that are in the back of the rack static. In fact I've gotten to try and leave everything static lately. Eq's change of course, but with so many choices for sounds if one doesn't work I just plug it into another. I may tweak the threshold but that's about it. yes, each one is already set to it's sweetspot. My assistants love the idea, it makes recalls a a degree.

[top]MichaelI've always been curious about what the record company wants as a deliverable for your services? Are you called on just to mix a stereo master... vocal up/vocal down, stems. Does the deliverable change with a band like Coldplay that has a wider appeal (dare I say "pop"?)? Enquiring minds want to know. - Exmun

If I understand you correctly, what other versions does the record company expect to have delivered in addition to the master?

Vocal up, vocal down, TV (no lead vocal), Instrumental and Acapella.

The band, producer or A&R may also want an alternate version. For example; one pass without delays on the vocals in the chorus, or more guitars in the vamp or one with me singing, yah know, stuff like that.

On rock records I tend to do a version with bass up.

There is also a good chance the single will need to be edited down to 3:30, so I include a radio edit.

[top]1. How far do you think the mixing principles and techniques you describe ie multi-buss compression etc can successfully be applied/transferred to a small project studio ie computer-based with say a UAD-1 card and 1 or 2 each hardware compressors and fx units, or even taken to the extreme let's say 'in the box'?

2. Can you highlight any possible ways i.e. configuration- or usage-wise you think that the growing number of computer-centric users might better take advantage of their equipment, be it physical or software? Or again would that just be a software emulation of the hardware setups you prefer? - Sanchez

You bring up a very good question.

The reality is that some of us, like some of my peers I’ve spoken with on the forum over the past couple weeks, are in the minority. We have it good with the latest computers, access to any gear, and the clout to call our own shots. The majority of you are sitting in your own place that you’ve financed and you are slowly building a collection of dream gear. Everyday, many of you work just as hard and just as long on a smaller scale.

One of the reasons you haven’t seen me discussing gear much is because it’s more important that I share concepts of how I formulate the idea. Then it becomes easier to apply the idea to your own surroundings. Why I choose reverb instead of delay or chorus on a vocal is more important than what kind I used.

I think many of the mixing principles and techniques that I’ve shared on this forum can be applied to the small studio environment.

I am in the process of developing a template for ProTools. It’s going to take me a little time but when it’s done, you will be able to adapt my ideas to mixing in the box.

[top]How do you get a nice fat bass to sit right in a mix without having boomy resonant notes? - keep it reel

I've run into that problem many times. Sucks doesn't it? This is how I deal with it; I always bring the bass amp and direct on two channels, float them to two busses and bring the two busses back on two channels. One channel has a 737 across it and the other has a dbx on it. The function of the 737 is to be the anchor and hold down the bottom end. I'll eq and compress it so that it sounds warm and fat, no top. I take the dbx and squeeze the tits out of it. I'll eq out (sharp Q) any notes that jump out and I'll take out a lot of the bottom. So now I have my bottom end from the 747 and my mid range and clarity from the dbx. Then I put a crank call in to the guy that recorded it and I'm ready to mix.

Avalon VT-747SP
The 747/dbx combination is just an example. take any two comps that represent a good bottom and good mid. I would stay away from the La4 for a while until you get the hang of it with something else. The La will find it's way back into the mix but it's not great for addressing this problem.

If you have only one direct as the source signal, just bring that back up on two channels. I always check the phase between the two basses to see how it sounds. There have been times where those annoying notes completely disappeared by switching phase. That bright bass sound I had on all the records I recorded for Luther, Aretha, and many other R&B records were done by putting the amp and DI of phase to each other. Marcus, the bass player, had a music man with the preamp in the bass and it sounded killer when I put it out of phase to the bass amp which was an Ampex, the “Porta Flex” model that has the removable head that stores in the speaker unit.

[top]In your experience, the majority of the time, who actually attends the mix sessions? Is the producer always present? What about bands? Is it usually all the members, or is it typically 1-2 of the key members of the group? - GlassPrisoner79

All the above. I request if they own an idiot, leave him home.

[top]How difficult is it for you to get in the right mindset at the very start of a project? Do you start and never look back? Or do you sometimes feel like you're growing in the project, in the album, getting better results three our four days into the session? Would that be a reason four you to leave the mixing of potential singles for the middle or end of the session? - Local 47

I like to mix all the singles and the most complex mixes right out of the gate. I'm prepared to recall it later if it looks like I've landed on something later that would improve the first song. But, by mixing the singles first, people have time to live with it. I prefer recalling a song during the scheduled mix session than trying to fit it in a month later in the middle of mixing another record. I'm pretty good at getting the template of the album on the first song, but I'm open to the idea that it might take two days to nail it.

[top]Your Coldplay mixes are very radio, yet so vintage-y at the same time.

Have you ever had mixes that were rejected and remixed by someone else? How do you deal with that kind of thing? Any advice on maintaining a balanced ego? - audiomichael

Thank you, I'm proud of that record.

Yes, rejection happens to us all. It's part of life. It does not happen often, because if it did, I wouldn't be working very much. I'm the guy that's hired to do the remixing so if my mixes don't fly, know the ending.

I know in my heart that when a mix is completed and turned in to the record company, I did the very best job possible. No excuses are acceptable. I didn't get lazy at any point in the process, I didn't cut corners, I didn't leave certain tasks or ideas unfinished. I took it all the way home. If they reject the mix and feel like someone else has a better take on the song, well, that's their right because it's their record. I'm going to sleep ok because I know I did my best. In fact, maybe I'll learn something from it. Maybe my take on it was wrong. Maybe I made it a bit too slick and the original mix just had a raw power that, with all its faults, still felt better than mine. So next time, maybe I'll pay closer attention to other elements of a song. I don't like making the same mistake twice.

It doesn't really matter if I listen to my mix against the one that was chosen and think wow, my was way better. In fact, I wouldn't waste my time. There are a lot of other reasons why a mix is rejected that has nothing to do with you. There is the real world of politics or name recognition that can help sell a product to a radio station.

Yah it hurts, for minute, that my mix isn't always the best thing since sliced bread but I get over it. I have to because I'm usually in the middle of mixing another one and I don't want it to put a damper on the task at hand.

BTW, That mind set did not come naturally. I've been doing it for a long enough time that I've come to peace with it. Rejection happens, do what you can to learn from it. Turn it around.

[top]I feel silly because I don't know how to pronounce your last name. Ok, now I feel really silly. - Prickstein

Thanks for asking. It's pronounced “brower”, like the brow above your eyes...unless it's preceded by the words "that fu*king guy, Brauer" in which case it's pronounced braaaayer, like the sound an ass might make.

Dytronics FS-1 Cyclosonic Spatial Panner

[top]Do you usually use all four outputs on your FS-1? Any tips for it's usage as it seems to get outahand and real phasey on some settings. I guess it's better used subtly. I remember you used it on a track that you mixed for us on M. Been's solo album on Qwest there at Quad in '94. It was lotsa fun hangin' with you! Got any new jokes!!!??? - Alnico

Ooh man, how fun was that mix session? I don't think I've laughed that hard since you had your bag stolen while waiting for a cab, or when you left your wallet in the cab and he's driving away you're running after him with your arms flailing screaming "habib, habib, come back". It was Michael Been that taught me how to tell a joke. Please email me his phone number. Do I have more jokes? One snake say's to the other, "hay are we poisonous?, the other says "no, I don't think so, why?" The first one answers, "because i think I just bit my tongue!" Ok, enough, back to work.

My two stereo outputs are grouped together by the switch on the back. I'll send an instrument to it and turn the depth way down so that it doesn't phase out when it's in the circular mode. You gotta just play with it and send unexpected stuff to it for a good laugh.

Actually, they are totally useless, they can ruin a mix by just putting the slightest little amount into the track. It causes some type of cosmic phase dust that seems impossible to master. They're worth nothing. Hay, if anyone has them sitting around, put them in a box and throw them away or better yet, send them to me and I'll throw them away for you.

[top]I read that you use delays a lot more than reverbs but on the few records that I own that you mixed I never really noticed much in the way of delays. They are used very subtly. Do you favour certain types of delays (tape/digital etc...) for their transparency and what is it in general that you prefer about delays over reverbs? - Joninc

I don’t know what records you are referring to, but my guess is you’re right, it’s subtle because any more than that would be distracting to the song. Some records are meant to be dry and some wet. What does the song call for?

A record like Grandaddy “Sumday” has little or no reverb or delay from my end. I’m using a lot of different sounding compressors to give the record depth and to bring out the natural room reverbs of the instruments. Some records, like the one I’m mixing right now for a band called “The Open”, have all my analog delays firing along with spring reverbs, plate reverbs, room reverbs, it’s got it all. It’s fun time.

Sometimes the point of using these delays or reverbs is to help add depth in a very subtle way. There might be reverbs and delays going on, but they are to be felt, not heard. I assume that is the case on the kind of records you like that I’ve mixed.

[top]I noticed on your discography that your mixes range from new/current albums to re-mixing vintage older releases, like the Dylan catalog. I was wondering if and how you change your approach when mixing a "classic" album which carries so much history and baggage? Do you reference the original mix? Or go on your own instinct alone? - Paul Vnuk Jr.

I have a strong opinion about touching a classic. I don't want my memories of a song messed with. My memories are attached to it and the way it sounded is just as much a part of that feeling as the melody. I know how it made me feel at the time and that’s the way I want to feel now. If you change the feel on me, I’m going to hate it. Leave my baggage alone.

When I'm asked to remix a classic in stereo or 5.1, I look at it as if I am restoring a lost mono or stereo mix. That actually is the situation in many cases because the masters were lost or destroyed. I am going to match the original stereo and maintain the integrity of the sound to the best of my ability. I'll have a digital copy of a vinyl made that I sync up to a digital copy of the existing 3 or 4 track master. Then, for the next few hours, I match back and forth. I’ll go four layers deep. Meaning, first I get the balances the same, then I get the Eq's matching, then the reverbs. Now I have my foundation, but the spirit of it is still lacking. It still sounds like a documentary of the event. It hasn’t touched me yet. So I listen deeper into the mix and I find the subtleties. It shows up in the way a particular verb dies out, or the way the instruments blend in the background, or how a distortion is poking out. It’s what’s going on in the back that brings the song alive. Once I’ve tweaked those little gems, the mix is matched both sonically and emotionally. I’ve maintained the integrity of a classic and my memories are intact. Is it matched perfectly? No, what seems to be the case for me is that it sounds and feels just like the original but the image is bigger and I like the result. My job was to restore a master, not reinvent it.

The exception to this is when I remixed Dylan’s “Street Legal”. Don Devito, the producer on the record, asked me to remix it because what was released were just board mixes. For whatever reason there was no time spent on doing a proper job of mixing it, they were just quick roughs. He felt ,since the record was being re-released in SACD, the mixes could be improved. In this case, I remixed the songs as I would have in that time period. Except for the new desk, I used just a couple of plate sounds from that time period. I captured the feel of each song and enhanced it by improving the mix but still maintaining the integrity of the original feel.

I’ve just recently remixed some music for a Martin Scorsese Documentary of Bob Dylan “Do Direction Home”. Some of it was from old mono tracks that had a fair amount of distortion and it was hard to hear the band. I turned them into stereo and brought out the sound of the band as much as I could. There’s not much I could do to rid myself of the distortion but I managed to lessen it a bit. I used all my trickery for this one and it sounds pretty good compared with what I started with.

It’s amazing how toys come into my room the very day that I need something to address a problem. That was the case for these mixes. David Derr (Distressor), sent me a prototype EQ called the “little Freq”. I was able, with this unit, to dig into each mono track and extract the band. The advantage I had using this parametric EQ was not only because of its warmth but also because I have a de-esser and HF limiter setting in the chain. Of all the toys I have, none could help me dig in like this one and I had just taken it out of the box the day before the session.

[top]When you mix live shows, are you generally creating spaces digitally, or are you using the room mics that are recorded to get that space? I understand that every recording that you get is going to be different and you may or may not have the option to use the room recorded, but do you find yourself leaning to one method or another? - David Lee

I use a lot of the audience mics and I use a lot of the two halls from the Sony DRE777. Most of it would be on the vocal. I go about live music a bit differently in the sense that I spend a lot of time on the first song setting up the template for how the rest of the show will sound. Once I'm happy with the image, not much changes. I think the challenges are the same. Some shows are easier to mix than others. I love mixing live shows in surround.

[top]One of the raging questions here at GS is "use the same pre for the whole record" (like a traditional tracking studio console) vs. "use a different pre for each track." (like a collection of mic pre's in a 'pro / home' studio) As you can probably guess the "same pre for the whole recording" camp says that by having the same sonic signature on a whole mix things tend to gel better like all the cool 60's, 70's and 80's records we all seem to point to as great sounding. The "a different pre for each track" camp says that by picking a pre for a track you can get it to "EQ" in a way because the sonic signature of the track is affected by the preamp.

A) do you ever know what the tracks were recorded with at all? what board or external pres were used and

B) if you do know, do you notice a certain type of mix come together easier than another? say all one pre vs. a bunch of different pres - not_so_new

I’ve begun answering your question five times and stopped each time. They all come to the same conclusion. I just don’t think it matters. A great engineer records the sounds to match the song and if he’s great, and the performance is great and the song is great, the sounds will be great. Give him all the same pre’s or put a hundred different ones in front of him and I guarantee he’ll experiment. And when the recording is done, it’ll sound great whether it was recorded with one or 10 different pre’s, because he’s using them to mold the sound to what is great for the song. If you’re going to hear one instrument sound out of place, it’s either intentional or because the engineer didn’t get it right, not because of a pre of any kind.

Would Led Zeppelin or the Stones have sounded any better if Andy or Glyn Johns had twenty pre’s to play with back in the day? No. They get an instrument or vocal sounding great because of a combination of factors; right performance, right mic, right positioning, right tuning, right compressor, right pre, right EQ etc. Throw the Pre’s into the mix if you want, it doesn’t change the overall picture.

I would be surprised if, in retrospect, guys like AL Schmidt, Phil Ramone, Andy and Glen Johns, Hugh Padgham, Tony Bongovi or any of these top level engineer/producers would have felt they could have made better sounding records with the addition of a multitude of pre’s. I think the focus seems to be misplaced on the toy instead of on the guy behind the toy.

To address your final question, when I mix a song that sounds great, it’s because it was well recorded and the choice of sounds on the instruments are perfect for the song. That’s all that matters to me.

I’ve mixed songs recorded in a house that blew away tracks recorded in great studios by crap engineers.

When I get tracks recorded by George Massenburg or Jay Messina, I’m a happy guy. I know for a fact they’ll do the right thing and record it in a way that suits the song.

[top]Do you ever think….”I BET that vocal was a U67 into a LA2A!” or “That's an API pre on the snare” etc - Jules

Funny you should ask. A couple months ago, I was mixing a record for Dashboard Confessional that Daniel Lanois produced. On one particular song I was just doing a MAI (stands for match and improve, pronounced "may I" clever aren't I?, please.) and I couldn't get the vocal matched. So after a bit of listening I heard the sound of the 1176. I put it in the chain and voila. I called his engineer, Adam, and he confirmed that it was mixed with an 1176 with the same settings I had. That's about it for that kind of stuff. I've been away from recording for so long that I wouldn't have a clue what's being used anymore.

[top]Do you ever get songs to mix that have way too much going on and the decisions are left to you during the mix? Do you like having the option to shape parts? - 84K

Ok, this one should be easy. I think by defining my role as mixer, it should help answer your question. I’m hired to present a completed mix to the artist/producer/ record company. When they sit down to listen back to my mix, they should be 100% happy or close to it. The “close to it” part might take an hour of tweaking to move it up in the 100% range. How many tracks I use, what choices, what direction, arrangement changes are all decisions that are expected for me to make. That’s what I’m being hired to do. If it needs it, I do it. If it doesn’t need rearranging, I’m a happy guy and I just mix the song as is. My title may not say producer, but at this point in the process, I’m wearing that hat as well as engineer and mixer. Hold on, don’t jump the gun, the exceptions are fast and furious. Before I begin the mix process, I ask a lot of questions about the song to whomever is attending the mix so I get a good sense of what they want…unless I’m being hired to remix a single and of course the rules change. Ok, answering this question is going to make me crazy I can already tell, BUT…If the producer attends the mix, he’ll have comments about what I’ve just mixed and so we’ll address those and if the ideas work, good, if not, they go, well they’re supposed to go. If the artist and producer both attend the mix, they’ll both have comments and I make the changes as long as it’s good for the song. If the artist and producer don’t agree, I shut up. Then, if A&R walks in and likes what I did but the producer and artist don’t like the guy, I shut up some more. Then when they all come to an agreement….aah what am I saying, assuming they all agree I try the new and better improved ideas, or they try to force me to try every idea they disagree on and then they might want two versions printed and, of course we’re still on the intro. If that happens, then at this point I take charge and say, “ Sorry guys, but this mix is starting to sound like sh*t, there’s no more focus to this song, I want to listen to the mix I printed. If I prefer it, I’ll hope they’re up for just doing an alternate. Well it doesn’t always pan out like that because… Ok, that’s it, I'm not answering this question. In an ideal world I put up the tracks, it’ self-mixed, they love it, I go home. End of story, end of this question. Let somebody else answer it next month, I quit.

[top]1) Any advice for placing vocals loud in a mix but still having them seem part of the song? Perhaps echo that’s barely audible? Any particular reverb types, settings, units that are good for gelling the vocal with the music? Is it about the balance/frequency of the backing track instruments?

2) What's your attitude towards cleaning up vocals? i.e. sibilance, pops, breaths etc. Do you ever leave a vocal sibilant because it works...?

3) How can I get rid of excessive sibilance without giving the artist a lisp from over de-essing and losing the air around a vocal? - matt f

I’m not sure I can explain this one in a technical way, but I can give you a kind of guide that may help.

If you make a vocal loud, the tendency is that it will sound like a vocal up mix. The vocal sounds like it’s sitting above the track and not connected. Yet, I get them loud and they feel like they’re driving the song. The answer is that you need to have little threads attached to the vocal connecting itself back to the band. I know it sounds a bit too ethereal but that’s the vision I have of it. It’s a combination of compression on the vocal, small delays, delayed plates, short plates and riding it. But it’s more than that, when you mix the vocal, imagine it’s a cork bopping on top of the water. It has to stay on top of the wave at all times. The lower the cork is floating on top of the wave, the more into the mix it feels. Giving you delay settings, and reverbs won’t do you any good so I’m not going to waste the time. It’s the image you have to get in your head as you’re mixing the vocal.

Michael Delugg taught me that image when I assisted him at Mediasound. He did all the Barry Manilow records. The first time he had me ride a vocal (no automation so it had to be just right every pass) I was lost. I couldn’t keep the vocal driving the song. I kept riding him out of the mix or getting swamped by it. So Mike had me close my eyes and imagine the vocal was just a cork floating on top of a wave. The wave being the mix, of course. It was hard, my finger would cramp and have little indentation marks on the tip from pushing on top of the fader so hard. In time, I relaxed and I could feel the place where the fader always wanted to be and I just followed the moves instead of fighting it. It doesn’t happen overnight, nothing does, but without the image in my head, no amount of mix notes on what he was using would have gotten the correct result.

I clean up vocals if they need it. I keep a certain amount of sibilance but I de-ess when it becomes a distraction. There are several ways to deal with removing sibilance. The DBX 902’s don’t work for me. If you hit it too hard it gets the lisp going. I have an SPL De-Esser. It’s automatic, just pick one of two settings and the amount. It cancels out the S as you hit it harder without giving you a lisp…most of the time. On some vocals, it just doesn’t work well enough. I avoid any compressors that will enhance the problem. I might attenuate a sharp Q on a high mid frequency to help the problem. I have an Electrodyne compressor that has three different levels of de-essing in the unit that can work great on some vocals. I have David Derr’s new Lil Freq EQ that has a de-esser in the chain. You can put it at the front or the end of the EQ. That also works well. If I don’t have success with one approach, I try another and another until something gives. There are many more options that I’m sure other engineers can offer on It’s an old age problem that we all have to deal with.

Empirical Labs Lil FrEQ

[top]How much do you tune into your own body's clues, responses, when mixing? Do you remain alert for toe-tapping, goosebumps etc..

Do you tend to sit while mixing or move around, dance even? Do you let yourself cry? - Renie

Ok, I know what's going on, somebody's seen me in the folds video right? When I saw that of me mixing in Nashville, I laughed my ass off and then turned to my assistant and asked " hey, do I look like a moron?" Too late now. But yah, that's me when there's a great groove, I'm having a good time. I don't care about anything going on around me. I don't look at the faders, it's kind of like playing the piano. I never write anything down on the console so there's no point looking at them. I've memorized what's on all the faders. So I guess the answer is yes to some of the questions and I won't admit anything to others. I'm glad I'm not a celebrity, I could see my ass being impersonated on Saturday night live looking like a white Ray Charles at the console. yah, yah, I know, I’ll beat you to it. I'm no Ray Charles!

[top]Say some new piece of gear makes its way into the studio - how much time/effort is involved with learning itseeing where the sweet spot is, what instruments or applications you feel its best for? Or at this point is it just like a sixth sense? - Ttauri

when I get a toy sent to me to try out, I hope I don't like it, my assistants pray I don't like it, but it's not always the case. As in The Culture Vulture. I just play with it for a week or two and if I find no use for it or it's similar to something else, I return it. When it comes to efxs boxes, I have enough so I don't really look for more. But when it comes to compressors...

[top]Can you please comment on how you deal with the issue of points in a record. Also, when did you start receiving royalties and how did you go about asking? - Supersonic

my manager deals with that. But points are not freely given. There's a point where the successes add up and, because of the demand on your time, you gain bargaining power. You can always ask and they can always say no.

Crane Song Phoenix

[top]In one of your posts you mention you use Phoenix, Autotune, EchoFarm and sans amp for your plugin's in the mix. What other software FX do you find yourself using? - Beatzz

That's it for now. If you've found anything that sounds great, let me know by writing to me at my site.

[top]About the Phoenix plug in. Do you use it all the time, on every session, every track ? Which is the one you use the most between the 5 different types ? - Ambroise

I use it as a default if the tracks weren't originally recorded on tape. My favorite setting is luster sapphire set at -7.5. ....well there you have it, my big secret to all my sounds and success is out now.....just kidding.

[top]In one of your interviews / articles, you mention that you attach devices that record the g-force exerted on your gear by courier firms - would it be possible to supply some information as to where one can obtain these devices? - Thermionic

Mine is very old. This is a newer version of the Shock watch Mag3500 that I had.

[top]Do you often use sidechain compression? If so, when do you use it? - Epicentre

I have had my ADL 670's modified with a 90Hz sidechain so that I can let the bottom end go through without triggering the compression. But that's about it.

[top]How do you set up the outputs of your PT rig? Are they all calibrated to 0 on the software faders?

How do you feel the 9000J loads up to the PT interfaces (assuming they are digi ones?) and do you have to mess around with the desk gain structure much to get it to 'sit' nicely where you can make your own mix gain structure work well?

Do you do many 'rides or mutes' in PT or strictly old school style on the SSL? - Wiggy Neve Slut

Well, this one's for my trusty second assistant who also doubles as a comedian which comes in handy at 14 hours into a day. Will, answer these tech questions for me since I have no idea about it.

Hi, this is Will, Michael's second assistant, I'm 6'3" 170, I like long walks on the beach, cosmic bowling, rum and...wait I thought this was a dating service. Uhhh...PT rig...I think I took that before linear algebra.

Real answer:

We have a PT I/O setup which we import with every stereo session and another one with every 5.1 session made by the lovely and talented Keith Gary. The ProTools outputs all come up on their corresponding track on the console.

To calibrate our ProTools rig we have all 48 analog outputs generating a -18dB (full scale) 1k tone coming up on the SSL and meter the inputs.

Sometimes we get sessions where an additional 8 or 16 channels are needed and that involves some trickery, but that's another bag of spaghetti. We get all the meters to read 0dB on the SSL by tweaking the back of the ProTools I/O. Then to cal the inputs of ProTools (for printing back our passes or fx...) we hand patch 1k @ 0dB tone one at a time from the oscillator of the SSL into the tape machine inputs. While watching the ProTools input meters in calibration mode we cal all the inputs to -18 dB. We also check 10k and 100Hz. There is no way to change the calibration of different frequencies on a ProTools I/O but this will tell us if an a/d or d/a in ProTools is bad (which has happened and makes recalls...interesting).

[top]1. Do your recalls sound exactly the same when you come back to them?

2. How many times will you recall a track (band/a&r wants to make changes) before you get pissed off?

3. Do you do 'mix stems' (parts not cells)? - mac black

My recalls come back exactly. I have a safety pass through input(not off tape) that I use to A/B the recall. I train my guys to listen to many things and take amazing notes so that I am assured an exact recall.

I only recall once. Very rarely do I need a second recall. I don't get pissed, it's not my record.

I don't do stems except for the instrumental and Acapella. There's no point in it. IT takes longer to do stems than it doesn't to recall it.

[top]A few quickie questions from a fellow J series user in Paris, France...

1. Do you like to use the console "E" EQ curve often, and if so, for what instruments? Is there a general pattern to it for you, or more a question of toggling the "E" switch on and off and going with what feels better at the moment?

2. Do you tend to switch in the console channel compressors on most of the individual channels (in addition to your outboard compression on the A B C D stereo busses)?

3. Do you prefer the sound of bypassing the J series master fader and patching directly to the mixdown machine? (I seem to recall that you don't compress the overall mix with the SSL J quad comp.)

4. Do you do rides on many tracks? Or is it more like a few rides here and there or just on the vocals?

5. When your mix is in the sweet spot, are the console's main Left-Right bar graphs often fairly well pegged in the "over" region? - monrock halo

I’ve seen that little button that says E, sometimes I push it but I don’t really hear anything different so I leave it alone.

Sometimes, if the track needs it.

No, because I have to fade the song. I sometimes use the quad compressor, again it depends if it sounds better with it in or out.

There are hundreds of moves during a mix. Transitions from intro to verse; building into choruses; peaking for the bridge; vocal and background rides; drum rides; bass rides; riding rides. It makes for a very dynamic mix....and fun to watch.

I have a custom fader across the pre-vca insert built by Steve Firlotte (Inward connections/vacrac limiter). When the levels get hot on the meter, and if I don’t want to pull down the subgroups(not the ABCD substereos), I turn the level down at the box. It has a sound I like. Also, when I’m not using the quad compressor, I avoid putting the master fader into VCA mode which occurs when you turn the trim or master fader down.

[top]If one of your assistants is getting ready to 'leave the nest,' what would be a typical scenario & strategy?

A)Would he/she already have management in place? If so, did your contacts and/or credibility provide the groundwork for solid management? Is it typical for your assistants to go with your management, for instance?

B)Do your assistants typically leave with "apprenticed with Michael Brauer" their calling card at first? I would be interested to know how your former assistants take their credits, experience, and credibility and utilize them to develop a solid career. - Gregg Sartiano

Oh, I wish it were that easy for them. Managers usually go after someone that is already established with existing clients.

My assistants establish relationships with my clients over the two-year period they are working for me. I’ll encourage some of them to hire my guys as engineers. I think using my name will help them “get in the door” yes, but it’s rough out there as many of you know.

What I teach them during their two-year apprenticeship transcends the world of audio. The communication skills and pursuit of excellence former assistants developed while working for me have helped them get ahead in life. It’s not just about music or mixing. It’s about striving to be the best at anything they pursue whether it’s music or business. Some have gone on to win Grammy’s. Others have left music to pursue other careers. There are no guarantees after they go out on their own, but I do prepare them for the real world and that is invaluable.

[top]What type of sessions were going on at MEDIA SOUND, NYC when you worked there?I always wondered about the MEDIA SOUND/POWER STATION connection, any insights? - Audioez

There was pretty much everything going on at Media Sound when I was there from 1976 to 1984.
During the day we recorded commercials for all the big advertising firms. We did Purina, Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds etc. It was incredibly high pressure. We’d do two different commercials with full orchestra between 9am and 5pm. We mixed to mono, 4 track and full stripe film all running at the same time. Then from 6pm to 2am we recorded artists.

Mediasound was the house of R&B and Pop although we did have bands like “The Dead” “The Ramones” “Aerosmith” and some other great rock bands come through. Some of the pop and R&B included; Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, Joe Jackson, Velvet Underground, Barbara Streisand, Stevie Wonder, Aretha, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Luther Vandross, Change, Maynard Ferguson, Bob James, Earl klugh, Kenny Loggins, Ian Hunter, Steve Kahn, Larry Coryell, John Phillips,Tom Waits, Duke Ellington, Mel Lewis. The list goes on for days.

The staff engineers included; Michael Barbiero, Carl Beatty,Tony Bongovi, Fred Christie, Bob Clearmountain, Michael Delugg, Godfrey Diamond, Doug Epstein, Joe Jorgenson, Harvey Goldberg, Jeffery Lesser, Ron Saint Germain, Ed Stasium, Bill Stein, Alan Varner, Don Wershba, myself and a few others I can’t think of right now.

Tony Bongovi left Media Sound to open up the Powerstation in 1977. He took Clearmountain with him.

Additional noteI forgot to mention my old friend Lincoln Clapp, forgive me. Great engineer and great guy. Also I didn't mention the owners of that great house of music. Originally, Harry Hirsh, then it was John Roberts, Joel Rosenman and Bob Walters. These were exceptional people to work for. John Roberts died not long ago. He was the kindest, most caring man I have ever had the honor to know, he was a great advisor and leader. may he rest in peace.

[top]I noticed you credit "mixed by for MHB Productions Inc." What exactly is the difference compared to (I assume) your earlier work or the work of others? Is it because you have set up a Corporation, or is there more involved? - Drumsound

That is just a corporate thing. I work for MHB Prods. inc. My contracts have me employed by that company. The credit reads ....for mhb prods. but it doesn't mean squat. It's just me mixing.

[top]On your website, you're sitting in front of a console. I can't make out your speaker monitors. - Dean Landon

Those are my babies- ProAc 100's. I've been mixing on those for many many years. I even set up my surround sound with those along with the Proac sub.

[top]I also use ProAc Studio 100 speakers and was just wondering what power amp(s) you were using with them. Are you Bi-wiring them? Normal 12 gauge speaker cable? - De chromium cob

Ok, well I have to admit in this respect I AM A TECH HEAD AND I"M PROUD DAMMIT!!! AMP - Chord SPM 1200C. Cable - Musicwave Ultra Transparent Cable, bi-wired.

[top]Are you on the Digi Delivery system for FTP transfers? Are you sending mixes out via ftp, mp3 etc? - Cajonezzz

No, I don't use the Digi delivery system.

I try to avoid FTP sites to send mixes if I can, just because there's no guarantee that the download isn't done to iTunes and then imported as an MP3 before being sent to someone who then imports IT as an MP3, then calls me about the compression problem they're having...really it's happened.

If I do a mix to FTP, I find out all the details about how it's being downloaded and sometimes I ask them to send it back to the site after they've burned a CD. You'd be amazed as to what I get back.

Basically, I try to have anyone that has a say in the mix be present. When that's not possible I go FTP. But, I won't do the MP3 route, not for a mix, it's just asking for trouble.

[top]I was wondering if you have any tips for making mixes more portable. I've been having a hard time with some material that is distortion-heavy in the mid and high-end, but when the mix is listened to in a car/home stereo/etc, the kick is far too loud. I'm using the same monitoring environment I always used (successfully, and on similar material), but somewhere along the line there is a deficiency that I'm not finding. Any cues on how to be a better listener? - Panopticon

Do exactly that, get yourself a radio or have your car sitting outside the studio, burn a CD and play it in the car, or make yourself an MP3 and go to your car or radio.

If you have more kick than you heard in the studio, something is wrong with your monitors or with your room. Have some Yamahas sitting around and see how it's coming back on those. I have Proacs, NS10’s, Genelecs and and radio. My radio, though, is my most important monitor.

[top]I've seen a few questions about how you use reverb, but I've also heard mixes you've done that had none, but didn't sound dry. I've tried experimenting with that a bit, but I've always ended up with at least one or two going.

Can you describe how you use delays when you're mixing without reverb? When you do that, are you exclusively using your tape delays? What about repeats and feedback and the panning of the returns?

Can you suggest a set up to use as a string point for a mid tempo slightly ambient rock tune? For instance, how many delays and what combinations of times and feedback?

I remember hearing you solo the return of one on the snare that sounded like it was 50-60ms with 6-8 repeats.
Also, do you usually have the high end rolled off Obviously the tapes are a little darker. Maybe the better question is are frequent times when you keep the return bright? - Mike Caffrey

I love mixing with only delays when it’s appropriate.
I can see that I’m going to start getting on people’s nerves here with this answer but, you’re asking me to give you details about something that I don’t think about. I’m not thinking about times or amount of repeats or feedback levels. I just tweak until I like what I’m hearing and of course every song is different so there is no starting point. Anything I give you could sound like total B.S. because it doesn’t apply to your song. That snare delay just happened because I was missing something in the feel so I started adding a delay and that’s what I ended up with. I probably haven’t done that since because nothing else has come along that needed the help.

There is simply no science to mixing. It’s all spontaneous and I rarely remember how I get a sound because it’s unimportant to me in the big picture. The same applies to EQ’ing of tape delays; If it sounds right , I leave it alone, if it sounds better with some midrange, up goes the midrange.

I’m not a technician. I play the desk how someone plays an instrument and I don’t think much about the technique in getting the mix sounding right. I may have great technique but it’s only because I’m good at getting my ideas across. I hope this makes some sense.

[top]Do you ever intentionally add distortion to a track or subgroup when mixing? If yes, can you give some examples of how and why? - Mike Caffrey

I add distortion to a track anytime that I need to make a gtr, bass, vocal, keyboard, drums…well pretty much anything more aggressive or meaner sounding. I don’t do it to the subgroup, but you can if it works for you. There are certainly no rules except for the rule “don’t make it suck”.

There are a lot of hardware toys out there but the one that is the most versatile in terms of amounts of tube distortion is the Thermionic Culture Vulture. You get everything from a warm harmonic edge to the broken speaker effect. But software plugins like amp farm, sans amp can all do a fine job too.

  • If the drums sound tame and you want more attitude, add distortion
  • If the gtrs don’t pop out enough in the chorus and seem safe, add distortion
  • If the vocals sound weaker than the backing track, add distortion
  • If the bass is sounding to clean when the rest of the track is jumping mad, add distortion
  • If you have no say in the matter of getting your mixes mastered by an engineer that distorts everything, well distort it now and get it out of the way….no,no,no.

Thermionic Culture Vulture

[top]I've noticed your discography includes remixing Dylan's Love Sick for Victoria's Secret commercial. "Time Out of Mind" is a record I can't stop listening to since it was released about 8 years ago, and I'm trying to collect as much info as I can about how it was recorded etc...
I heard once that most of what we hear (on the original release) is leakage of the band's instruments into Dylan's mic, with a little boost from the instrument's own mic's.
Can you confirm this? How was it to work on this title? - Papiel

No, that is not the case at all. His mic was close mic'ed. There is some leakage but no more than usual. I needed a lot of EQ and compressors to get the drums and bass to pop out because they were played so lightly. Otherwise it was a great time mixing.

[top]Do you find yourself going to certain verbs/delays on vocals?.....what about guitars? Take Coldplay's yellow for example... the vocals sound affected, but yet still dry... Any advice on getting good fx on pop/rock records? - Rush909

I use a simple delayed plate type reverb and an analog delay set to 1/8 or 1/4 note. I keep it simple.

[top]What radio do you mix on? (brand / model number) - D.F.

there are none available, trust me I looked for years and ended up getting two more from the engineer that gave me the first one. He had them in his garage. It's a Sony and was made only in Japan 10 years ago. It's a Sony CCCR ZS 6.

[top]Could you describe your involvement in the mastering process? - andy_simpson

When it's with one of my guys like Chris Athens, Greg Calbi, George Marino or Ted Jenson, there's no real need to attend the session. They know how to make it great. They send me a CD Ref and I listen to it in the studio. I A/B it against my unmastered versions by turning down their level so that it matches mine. If I don't like something, I'll ask them for changes but generally, it's all great.

[top]You say you leave some headroom on your mixes (v cool!) but are you worried that back at their hotel or managers office the unmastered mix won't be quite as loud as a finished CD they might compare it to?

Do you send clients out with a 'hot' DIY mastered version - perhaps a lil L2 squash so it's the same ballpark level.. ?

Do you coach them 'this is unmastered so might not be as loud as CD's you compare it to"?

A friend from NY was saying that it's got to the stage that NY A&R can't make a decision unless it has gone through the mastering process.. So they indulge in this luxury.. Are you finding that to be true..? - Jules

I have one of two prototype hot boxes. no others will be made,it was an experiment. It's great. All CD's of the master mixes are put through the box at about +7. It maintains it's clarity and balance. The bottom isn't squashed or spongy like what the L2 or some other boxes can at times do.

Yes, it's just part of life. I must have my mixes as loud as a released CD even though it hasn't been mastered yet. But also, my mixes are so close to being mastered that generally, mastering engineers do very little EQing and no compression.

It's a waste to tell them (clients) it's not going to be as loud. If you make it low they'll tell you it doesn't sound as good as the rough. The rough was printed at +15or something crazy. It's very frustrating but my hot box changed all that.

[top]When you're mixing off a ProTools session say 24/48k. How loud are the preferred signals recorded? I ask because I've heard lots of conflicting advice as to what is best. I'm sure you usually get pretty uniformly recorded material from the engineers/producers, so what do you usually expect? Do you ever get 'over cooked' Pro Tools files where all the levels are as close to zero as possible, perhaps someone using a soft limit / peak limiter on everything?) - gb-jazz

Most sessions I get are at hot levels. They are pinning on the console. I bring the line trims down so that I'm not overloading the channels. I don't know what is a good level. I have no comparisons when I get files. Anyway, I have no choice so I just mix what I have. Sometimes the engineer did a really bad job recording and then on top of that made the files slamming. I just do my best. I don't get pissed off anymore, it isn't going to get the mix any better.

[top]You may or may not want to talk about this but what is your setup instructions to your assistant at the start of the mix concerning console setup and outboard FX? - clip6

It's really too long a manual to disclose but it's specific to how I like to see the console set up when I sit down to mix. I doubt it would be of any interest to anyone else because so much of it just applies to me.

No outboard effects are preset for me. I decide the sounds when I begin to mix.

[top]I think for everyone there's days when your ears feel fatigued, and maybe you can't make the best decisions for the mix. How do you deal with this? Take breaks? How do you keep yourself fresh? - Unknown soldier

I monitor loud for short periods of time. For the rest of the session, I'm medium to low volume or mixing off the radio behind me. I don't work weekends.

I don't notice the ear fatigue, it's my brain that gets fatigued after 14 hour sessions. I'm able to focus for really long stretches of time and since the volume is low, it's no different than being at home listening to a stereo except the thing is stuck looping one song over and over.

[top]In another post you said you occasionally mix to digital medium....I was wondering what device you mix to (MASTERLINK, etc) and what A/D do you trust you mixes to? - Ckevperry

I haven't gone crazy doing a taste test of the best converters because I'm still using analog as my main mixdown format. But at Dreamtheater, I went to MASTERLINK 96k and PT 96k using HD converters and PT won.

[top]I love the way you used the buss structure of the 6K for mixing. It's a technique that I've found success experimenting with so far. At what point (what album or year) did you switch from mixing on SSL 6k's to 9k's? What are some of the things you miss about the 6k's and if any, what are some of the things you do to make up for them on the 9k? - EngineEars

I mentioned a lot of this in the post "SSL 9J for mixing rock" so I don't want to bore everyone with the same stuff.

But regarding the question if I miss the 6k? No, not a bit. In the SSL post I mentioned that in between the 6k and the 9J was the 8k. I don't miss that one either.

I used the 6k from '91 to '99. I think Fishbone was one of the first records I did on the 6K. I began using the 8k around '94 (I couldn't always get into the 8k room at sony studios) when I mixed a single for Dionne Farris" I know".

I think it was in 2000 that I moved to the 9J and have stayed there ever since. I'm hoping to get a 9K someday.

[top]As a dedicated "Mixer" that is not doing any recording these days...

What percentage of your mixing services are:
Pre planned BEFORE the project is started?
Decided on 'mid project'?
A 'takeover' or a 'remix' from a producer who hasn't managed to deliver?
Or another scenario....?
Any insights on when you come to the forefront of A&R / Management & artists final decision?
As far as you can tell....when do you usually "get the gig"? - Jules

It’s a bit of everything really. Sometimes I put time on hold to mix a record that hasn’t yet been recorded, but most of the time I get a call as the project is finishing. I do a lot of work remixing radio singles (more for London than here) which generally takes place after the album is out and they are deciding what’s going to radio and for what format.

I also do a large amount of work remixing albums. The record is turned in and they don’t like the direction, sonics or it’s not sounding current etc. They may reproduce some of it and then bring it to me to remix. I don’t do additional production. I can, but I don’t want to. I just want to mix. I’m pretty good at refocusing the direction of a song with what I have to work with. These last minute calls come in the form of a controlled panic that sounds like this; “I need it mixed next week, ppppleease! And ooh by the way, we blew our budget mixing the first time around”….”gee I’m sorry to hear that…do I know you?”.

Much of my work is mixing on the first go around. I get the call about a month before completion. The call comes to my manager a lot of the time. But, often it’s also from Producers or A&R that I’ve been working with for a long time and have become friends. I prefer they call me first, and my manager encourages it. When they feel free to call me, it establishes a much more direct line of communication. Too many times in the past, I find out I missed a cool project because they were told I was too busy for them or some million other reasons.

As to why they come up with my name over someone else? I offer to pay them to mix instead of the other way,no,no. (I can see this quote being taken out of context someday). Actually, what happens more now than ever, is it’ll be a “shootout” mix meaning they’ll give the same song to three different mixers. The one that sounds most like the direction they want, gets the gig. All three mixes can be great, it just depends on which one the band wants to sound like, which leads me back to my highly paid group of thugs that visit the band…no,no,no froggy.

So, I guess the answer is I’m happy to get the calls before, during or after the project is finished, just call me.

[top]Nowadays, what formats do you get..?

2" 24 track?
2" 16 track?
2" 48 track (or more)?
PT (obviously)?
Ever get Drums on tape & 'the rest' on PT?
Or is it ALL PT these days?

Can you spot the drums recorded to tape? (does that make your job easier?)

How many outputs does the PT rig feeding you console have?

Does any one call up to ask 'how you want it" BEFORE they start a production?

Thanks in advance! - Jules

I rarely see 2” tape anymore, in fact, they took the Studers out sometime last year and sold all but two.
Almost everything I get now is on PT. I love the sound of the radar but that is also rare to see.

I can spot when drums have been transferred to PT...hiss is the general give away.

I don't get 24 track with PT.

To ensure that my session gets the right files, I put together an "MHB prep sheet". Every project gets this sheet and it must be followed or I get mean. It describes exactly how I want the files prepared step by step. It's been great. I have very few cancellations since I insisted on people following this procedure. I update it every few months. You wanna see it? Look below. I believe this fulfills my techi obligations for the week.

For every mix we request a reference mix in an uncompressed format (44.1k 16bit minimum). A Redbook audio CD delivered with the mix files is preferred. (No MP3s)

The following steps need to be done to each song:
  • 1- All ProTools sessions should be version 6.9 or earlier.
  • 2- Making alternate playlists with necessary plug-ins/fx printed is a good idea.
  • 3- All audio files should be in AIFF, WAV (BWF), or SDII format.
  • 4- If the session is in Logic, Cubase, Nuendo or some other digital media, you should export all of the audio files from the exact same starting point. Example; Bar one Beat one or 1:00:00.00 smpte. By doing this, one can import the files into any digital medium, drag them to the start of the session, and not worry about syncing problems.
  • 5- In ProTools, save the session as “(Name of the song) – mix prep”. This way the original session file will be available if needed.
  • 6- Delete any unused playlists that aren’t needed for the session.
  • 7- Remove any unused audio files from the session.
  • 8- Use the “SAVE SESSION COPY IN” function. Be sure to check the box labeled “COPY ALL AUDIO FILES” (There is no need to copy fade files.) DO NOT SELECT “ENFORCE MAC/PC COMPATIBILITY”
  • 9- Save the session in a new folder named “MHB PREP SESSIONS”.
  • 10- There should now be a folder named “MHB PREP SESSIONS” containing copies of each song in the MHB Prep session format (including the session file along with all the associated audio files for each session.) This will avoid any confusion about which session should be used in the mix, and it also saves time by not loading in unnecessary audio files that aren’t used in the session. There should also be the original session with all of its associated audio files in its original folder in case we need it for any reason.
The following steps need to be done if you can only provide us with Data CD’s or DVD’s(Data CD’s and DVD’s are more likely to have corrupted files on them.)

1- See the above steps 1-10.
2- Put all original data on one set of CD’s or DVD’s.
3- Put all MHB Prep Data on a separate set of CD’s or DVD’s.
4- Identify each CD with song title(s) and “Original Data” or “MHB prep”.

Please note that Lacie D2 drives are least problematic. The Lacie Porsche drives have loading issues.

[top]Do you mix unsigned artists? - Superburtm

Uh-oh, that's a loaded question. I'm afraid to answer that one. I can hear my wife saying, "Honey (actually she calls me "Hay You") I have a friend that was wondering..."

So how about I say that sometimes I do and it first goes to Erik, my manager. How about I say that because my schedule is so heavy that, even if I do mix an unsigned artist, it sits on a back burner until I can fit it in.

My manager's address is...aaah gee I forgot...or maybe to aaah...

Digidesign (Avid) 192 I/O

[top]Just a quick gear question. Which D/A convertors are you using? (for outputs from Pro Tools) Have you auditioned a bunch of different ones etc. or just found one that worked and went with it? - T-rex

(At the time of writing) We are using the stock 192 Digidesign D/A converters.

I haven't done an A/B test. Don't want to. Why? because, do I look like I need to be tempted with more gear? Would I buy it if it sounded just a bit better and was cooler looking....yes, so I like the Digi converters just fine.

[top]You have mentioned on that you had gone through some tough times so I was curious to know, what kept you going when times were tough and what did you do while going through that in order to break out of that rut or overcome? For example the 3 years being a "C" list, what were the things you did during that time that you felt helped you get back up to the "A" list? - Kestral

I know these are more "inner game" questions rather than gear but I think getting these things worked out is just as important as getting together a nice collection of studio toys.

Anybody got a couch I can lay down on?

This is a hard question but it needs to be addressed. I’ll answer it by keeping it simple. Just keep in mind it did not go as smoothly as I describe it. The whole process was slow and filled with lots of ups and downs. It was hard on everyone around me.

I love mixing good music. It makes me feel unlike anything else. That’s what kept me going and that’s why I didn’t want to give it up.

There were several contributing factors all coming together at once that triggered my situation to get out of my control. Any single factor on it’s own could have been overcome, but that’s not the way it worked this time. I’ll just touch on the one that escalated it all.

Nirvana triggered the beginning of my little journey. Until “grunge” hit the charts, I had been mixing primarily pop/rock and pop/R&B music and I was having a lot of success at it. But my manager was not putting me up for “garage”, “lo-fi”, “grunge” type music early on, so when the genre became popular, it was the guys that had already been involved that benefited most from it’s popularity. It had a completely different sound. It didn’t have the polished, delay and reverb driven sound of pop mixes that I was associated with. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t break into it. Other peers of mine made the transition well but for me, the calls didn’t come for that type of music. And of course, pop/rock music began to slip away from the music chart’s radar.

I still had some loyal friends in the business that stuck by my side through all this but the workload decreased dramatically. My discography hints at it by the lack of lo fi music but it doesn’t really paint a true picture of what was happening to me. I began to feel the effects of it in 1992 and it continued on until 1997. No fun.

The quality of my work didn’t change but it was scary not to be in the studio for three months at a clip and then walk in and have to deliver a current sounding mix.

In my darkest moment I had to face reality and make a decision. I couldn’t continue this downward trend mentally and financially. Get out or get back. I had to look within myself to find the answer. No one could give it to me. I had great support and advice from my wife and close friends.

I’m a very competitive person. I had my own bike racing team for ten years and I loved racing. I like to win. Even though I never won a race, my team won all the time so I knew the feeling well. I love the adrenaline high, the teamwork, the tactics and most of all, the challenge. I felt like I had been dropped out of the music race and I wasn’t ready to go down. No f**king way Jack. I couldn’t fail at something I loved so much.

Ok, go with me on this one. Because of ego, there is only perceived reality. And my reality was very clear; no way it was my fault and things will turn around soon. That bit of denial took a good couple of years to come to grips with. After that it took about six months to understand how it happened, how I lost it, face it, visualize how to get it back and decide on a plan of action. Ooh how simple this all sounds…it ain’t.

The process to get back broke down like this:

Reality check, I was responsible for the position I got myself into. Therefore I said to myself; no more bitching, moaning and blaming others. I put myself there, deal with it, and get myself out.

Next, I wrote down a list of everything that was connected to my business and personal life. I drew a line down the page and decided which of them was good and which of them was bad. I got rid of the bad.

I went back to listen to some early records of mine and found a spark that I might have lost along the way. It was the hunger, pride and fear of failure all rolled up into every mix. It was now more real than ever.

I chose the business people around me with a whole new approach on life. I had a direction and I made my intentions clear to those I hired. If their focus on me waned or I realized they were a bad business choice, it was my fault for hiring them. I’d alert them to the fact that I wasn’t happy and they needed to sharpen up or if need be, make necessary changes immediately. It made life so much easier in that respect because I was following my instinct again.

Next, I visualized being back on top. I imagined getting the kind of phone call that would make me happy. It’s what I used to do during my successful years. It used to come naturally. Things were going so well for a while that I just abandoned that way of thinking…. What a brilliant decision that was.

Last of all, and probably most important, once I was back on top I had to make sure I maintained affluence. No more taking it easy or taking anything for granted. This was the time to work the hardest to take advantage of being in demand. It’s hard to hustle work when you look desperate.

It’s important to note during the tough times, I was healthy, clear of mind and my family life was solid. I didn’t do drugs or abuse alcohol to help numb the pain. I wasn’t destitute. So all in all I had it pretty good. Many others don’t have it that lucky and it makes the road back all that more difficult.

So now it’s many years later and here I am writing about it. I just had a # 1 hit album in the world, and I’m on top of the UK charts with the #1 and #2 singles, so I guess I did good by not quitting.

Hmmm, got some of you thinking now don’t I?

[top]Michael, ol buddy, ol pal.

Three groups of questions here, hopefully needing verrrrry short answers, like YES, NO etc:

1) I know you use Proacs, do you also have a little mono 3" speaker type thing you listen on, for raw balances etc? What is it?
2) How loud do you listen to monitors?
3) What would you use Headphones for?

References - IE CD's you listen to between mixing to reset your hearing.
1) Do you clear your ears often by listening to another CD or mix by another engineer?
2) What CDs or references do you use, if I may impose?
3) Any favorite mixdown engineers that help you reference and clean ears? Why are they your favorites?

Mixdown Decks
1) What's your favorite deck to mix to? (I'm betting Studer A820 or Ampex ATR102)
2) What tape do you like?
3) Do you hit the tape really hard?
4) Any special alignment for your mixdown deck
5) Was any of your favorite past work mixed to digital?

PS. I told you I'd harass and harangue you. But I figured I'd get all or most of my questions out at once, instead of needling you dribs and drabs! - Dave Derr

Hi Dave,

This should go fast, thanks for the question.


1- I’ve used Proacs 100’s for many years and I love them. Some clients don’t like them so I always have some Jams or Genelecs in the room for a second reference. BUT, most of my mixing time is spent on my little Sony boombox that I got in Japan in the early 90’s. It sits behind me on top of the Soundtowers Rack. Once I have my balances, panning and bottom end tweaked on the Proacs, I monitor through the radio behind me for the remainder of the time. I get a good vocal balance using the radio and it magnifies anything wrong with the mix.

2- I monitor pretty loud for a while through the Proacs, until I get the vibe feeling good, and then the volume drops to low. It’s easier to hear what’s going on at that level. Later, after I’ve finished with the radio monitoring, I go back to a loud level on the Proacs for any final tweaks.
3- I rarely use Headphones. But sometimes, Keith, my assistant , might want me to listen to the Headphones because he hears something I should check out that we don’t notice on the speakers.


1-3 I don’t reference anyone including myself. I listen to the rough and get the lay of the land that way. It doesn’t matter to me that the day before or even that morning I was mixing something with a completely different feel. I’m into the new feel and new song now and if it’s a ‘no reverb type song’ or whatever, I adapt right away.

Mixdown machine:

1-Yes, you have it right, it’s the STUDER A820. I love the bottom end and the air on top that I don’t get from an ATR.

2- It doesn’t matter what tape I like because there aren’t any companies that make tape anymore (unless one opened back up while I was on vacation). But of the stock that I have left it’s the Quantegy 456.

3,4- I align my tape at +4 and I keep my levels no louder than +2. Unless a mix, like yesterday, just wasn’t gluing together for me, so I smashed the tape and voila, one gluey mix.

5- I only mix to digital if it’s for film or video because my mix has to lock to video. Or, if the music has really long songs and it’s not worth my running tape. The last record I did, which I was very happy with, that went digital (back to protocols and Masterlink) was Dreamtheater “Octavarium” and the last mix for video was Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends Tour”

And David, since you were so concise and organized with your question to me I have a new joke for you, call me.

[top]I noticed in the TapeOp interview, you mentioned how you typically use EQ post compression. Could you elaborate on your views on the effects of using the EQ after compression, and why it's better than using EQ before compression? Are there instances where you put the EQ before the compression? - Curve Dominant

Ahhh, an easy question to answer, thank you. EQ triggers the compressors. If you want a load of bottom end on your mix and you EQ before your compressor, you're going to have the compressors going crazy and you won't be able to get the most out of them. So by putting the compressors first in the chain and getting the mix just the way you like it, you can then add the bottom end with a much better result.

If you wanted to get a tight sound by controlling the peaks or transients of the EQ, you'd put it first in the chain, get the sound you like, and then compress to your liking.

Makes sense right?

[top]With records being mastered louder and louder these days, do you find yourself compensating for the sonic changes the massive amounts of "brickwall limiting" may make to your mix? If so, what are some effective general mixing strategies that can better insulate the sonic properties of a mix from the effects of extreme 'maximisation' at mastering? - Drzayuss

It’s simple, Justin, I don't abide by it. I insist on choosing the mastering engineer. My choices (Chris Athens, Greg Calbi, Ted Jenson, George Marino) are all at Sterling Sound or I use Ludwig. They'll get it loud but keep it musical.

I really hate the fact it's ok now for a mastering engineer to dictate to me how a mix should sound. I'm noticing there's now an “acceptable” amount of digital distortion allowed. What the fu*k Tony? The guys at Sterling all do my mix justice. It's not ok to turn my mix into what is essentially the dynamics of steady tone.

I had to vent, I feel good now.

Ok, that’s not all. Let me get back to your question. The advantage of Multi buss compression is that it helps give you a perceived increase in dynamic level. About all we have left now is about three db of dynamic level to play with but I can get it to seem like more. Did I say three db?, hah!! on a good day, if nobody’s paying attention!

So, if you want to insulate yourself from becoming a steady tone, don’t make your mixes overly dynamic. Ten db isn’t going to fly very well. That much dynamic range sounds terrible on the radio by the way. Let’s say you have a mix that has a really quiet verse and it goes into a stupid loud chorus and you’ve got at least a 10 db. dynamic change from verse to chorus. What happens on the radio is the compressors will bring up the level of the verse so that it’s reading “0”. Then, when the chorus comes in, the compressors kick it back down 10 db to keep it at “0” and you're left with a teeny weenie little sounding rock mix on the radio. And you're gonna get teeny weenie little compliments from it.

[top]There's ton's of posts in recording forums regarding sample rates, i.e. if 192khz does sound better than 96khz etc...Do you get to mix records that are done on 44.1 or 48khz? What is your stand on this subject, do you prefer 192khz on 96khz? - Papiel

I can say without hesitation that 192khz sounds better and I prefer it. I mostly get 48/96. But when I get 192 the sound is so much more open and natural. I wish it were the standard.

[top]How often do you refer to rough mixes as you are mixing? - paterno

I always sync up the rough mix or master CD to the multi. Depending on the circumstances I will A/B the mixes when I think I have something feeling great. It helps on many levels but I think the most important one being on harmony vocals. It's an easy way to see how the artist has been blending the voices. Also it helps for arrangement. They may not have the guitar in the first chorus so the rough helps to compare for mutes or general vibe they were going after. Of course, if it's the wrong direction and they're coming to you for something different, you use it to compare the difference.

[top]I'm into dance (house) music. For some people an ugly word, I hope not for you. Some people think it's easy but it's not. There's so much going on in such a piece of music and especially the bass/kick is a hard one.
They have to be tight, punchy, have body and loudness. And the rest of the mix still has to have enough space to be there too!

I get everything as I want it but the bass and kick still is more a lucky shot than knowledge. In a good piece of house muziek with a tight, loud and punchy low end, it seems like the low end is very short and chops of so the mix doesn't get into blurb. I'm curious how to achieve that becausse the low end is a slow traveler frequencie and although I use a short sound, it seems to sound a bit longer.

If I make it too short, the low end is disappearing. If I put a compressor on it, the fatness of the low end disappears. If I use a compressor with the low frequency switch so the low end say 100hz< doesn't triggers the compressor, I don't get this tight low end sound either. It's then more compressing the presence of the kick and bass.

I've tried multiband compression on the end mix but it didn't cut it. I mostly screwed up my mix by trying this.
You know the trick(s) for this?

I have a Pair of Distressors (with britisch mode) and an Alan Smart C2 if you know some settings on those to try out. (Also have a Focusrite Green 4 and Valley 610 but don't think they cut it. Have to say the Valley is something special with its very fast attack. Thanks in advance, - Tom Sigmond

I first listened to house music in London before it came to NY. It was in its earliest form and the tempo was crazy fast. I loved it.

It is hard to mix house. I think it becomes way easier once you crack the code to getting a chest kicking punch to the kick. The few things I did that came close to it were more radio mixes than club so I’m no authority. What I have noticed is that when I play a record that was slamming in a club and then play it in the studio, the Kick seems way smaller. It's pretty tight but loud and hard in the 200-300 Hz range. It doesn't have the extreme low end. I think it's because the club system makes up the difference. So if you mix the bottom of it the way you like to hear it in a club, you're probably going to overload the house system.

I know a friend that always mults his kick to two channels. He puts one through a DBX and squeezes it senseless so it's hard and punchy and then adds in the uncompressed kick. But he's doing R&B and it's intended for home and cars with the mega subs. Maybe that's an idea to try….or not.

[top]I've been enjoying the wonderful articles and interviews available through your site - you are so generous with your experiences and the techniques that create such beautiful results.

Can you recount the period where your own mixes started to feel like the recordings you admired (or better)? Was it gradual? Was it like turning a corner?
Thank you for your time here. - proxy

You're welcome.

I think it felt good to me from the beginning, meaning I was able to capture the vibe almost from the start. But, it didn't sound like a record until a couple of years later when I recorded and mixed my first complete album for Luther Vandross titled “Never too Much”.

I didn't listen to other records for a long time. Fear. My influences were from assisting the engineers at MediaSound. I’d hear their work and figured if I was even half as good I’d be able to have a career. I didn’t want to be a clone of anyone so I picked sounds I liked from each and made my own sound.

I didn’t listen to other records outside of MediaSound from 1976 until 1981 when Phil Collins came out with “face value”. My buddy and mentor at the time, Harvey Goldberg, played it to me and my other buddy Don Wershba. We all worked at Mediasound and we always hung out together when we weren't in the studio. I didn’t want to hear the record at first but he insisted “listen, this record is incredible, check out the drum sound, it’s going to change everything.” That was it. I was never the same after that. So I guess it’s fair to say Hugh Padgham was my first outside influence.

[top]I'd like to know what's your position on the Home studio revolution and the slow disappearance of the major studios? Do you think that with talent, it's possible to achieve greatness in a hybrid, but mostly digital environment? (also, do you ever mix stuff that wasn't done in a 'big studio' - like artists own 'project studios' and if so how does that go...) - joaquin

The home studio revolution was just a matter of time and I think it's a great thing. Not everyone is blessed with hungry record companies having a bidding war on how money they can buy you for. You do it in your own time, on your own budget without the pressure, and you can save a lot of money if you have a good budget from a record label.

I'm not happy that some of the great studios like Hit Factory and Cello are disappearing. Record companies have squeezed budgets and they want the studio to do likewise but it's not possible so they close. Hit factory shutting down was an eye opener.

For me, it's a blessing in a way. Anyone can record their record, but when it's time to mix it, little 'ol me is waiting for you.

I've mixed many records that were recorded in the artist's home. Some of them were truly incredible recordings.

[top]I'd like to discuss a problem that I came to many times: I get a song to mix with a grand piano playing with a band. The problem is that the piano was recorded with spaced miking which makes it way too wide for the mix but the moment I try to narrow it, its collapses and it sounds muddy (phase problems). Do you have any tip for mixing a piano like this? - Lowswing

I have a few suggestions. I'm assuming you already tried hitting the phase switch without any success.

1-If it's playing within a band and not the focus, just use one side that sounds best in the mix and EQ it, to make up for the low or high side.

2-The other thought is to purchase the partial reverse phase box from little labs. Instead of having a limited choice of in phase or 180°, you can dial in the amount. It's also great for bass when you have a direct amp to combine.

3-Try a variation of my disco piano sound mentioned in another answer in this Q&A. The combination of compression and mid eq's might bring the "in Phase'' sonics out to the front.

[top]New Radicals “you get what you give” single. That song has SO much positive 'up' vibe… Did it 'get to you' - was that fun to mix? Did you zip out of the control room every now and then to leap on the studio managers desk to play air guitar and pull faces? The meandering bass is totally's like a solo instrument...It's a 'sport' to follow it's progress though the song...Amazing…"Hold tight, You've got the music in you, Don't let go, You've got the music in you" - Jules

That was a crazy day mixing “You get what you give” but it was worth the effort. It was a long, long day. He produces at the mix, meaning he’ll have printed 10 guitars, untold backing vocal parts, keys etc.and he'll figure it out later. He’s brilliant. Then, come the mix, I’ll put together what makes me feel good, and then we begin. I think we spent five hours just on the intro up to the verse. I mixed the song thinking of Hall & Oates in the verses and Nazz Nazz for the bridge. The piano is my disco piano sound. He liked it so much he got rid of most of the guitars. I must have done 8 million versions. Each change had vocal ups, down, tv etc.

I love that song. It’s so happy. I’d been mixing nothing but dry “grungy” no depth, no width, no nothing for way too long when Greg called me. He says to me “I want that thing you do with reverbs and delays on the vocals like on luther. I have a great pop song and I want delays, depth, width, bottom end and excitement”. I tell him, “yah I wish for that too, I miss those days, I haven’t turned on a delay or a reverb in two years, you want it I’ll give it to you.” A few months later I’m sitting in the studio mixing it and he says “hay, give me more delay on my vocal, give me more reverb, more of everything” I was in heaven. Even if I wouldn’t be touching another delay for the rest of the year, it was worth a day of depth.

I first heard it in a store when it came out on the radio and I knew I had a hit on my hands. After five hard struggling years, I’m standing in the middle of a shopping aisle and I can’t stop moving while listening to that song. It’s a great pop song.

I was listening to the song as I was answering the questions to remind me of anything else I could add. Man, I love that song. But, I couldn’t think of anything else technical except the story!

[top]How many hours a week do you work on average? What is a typical day, hour wise? This is the thing that has been a challenge to me. Balancing my audio life with sleep. I am curious to learn what a big time guy like yourself does to keep himself sane. - Superburtm

Haha, that’s funny, sleep? Audio life is a good description because there “ain’t no other life” when you’re working your way up or when you get there. And you can’t think about much else if you find yourself on the way down.

I didn’t take much time off for the first ten years. I had no idea what it felt like to wake up late on a Sunday. My situation was special. I wasn’t married so I had no family to take care of. I had decided early on that I was priority or rather music was priority. Everything else came second. Girlfriends didn’t tend to cater to that kind of thinking. I was not the type of person that could dedicate himself equally to both home and work. One or both would suffer. I knew the life of being an apprentice required my full devotion and I welcomed it. There are many in this business that had a family when they started their career and they were able to juggle it all and become successful. For those people, I have total respect and awe. I can’t even begin to imagine or relate to that struggle.

Skipping to many years later, I now have a life and a family and am able to dictate my schedule. I don’t work weekends…most of the time. That is reserved for private time. So during the week I begin the day at 9am and don’t leave until…well sometimes 9 or 12 or 2am. I don’t take much of a break during the day. Enough time to eat and stuff but I’m just thinking about the song or songs I’m mixing. I’m fast, so I end up doing a couple a day, or more. I play it by ear when it comes to the speed of the mix process. If I know we have ten days to mix an album and do recalls I’ll work accordingly. If I have 5 days to mix twelve songs I break it down like this; I mix 2 on Monday, 3 on Tuesday, 2 on Wednesday, 3 on Thursday and 2 on Friday. I never rush, I just focus more.

I woke up late this Sunday and I gotta felt really good.

[top]I love this Synth Pad Sound in Coldplay's "Speed of sound" (when Chris sings).How do you create a good Pad Layer and maybe you can say what you did in this song. - Echopark

I didn't do much. They have some great synths. The main one was called "liquifier" I think. If it's wrong I'll edit the post. If they are getting in the way of other instruments, I EQ it above or below the problem. But generally these sounds are left alone and I bring ride them alot to help transitions from Vs to Chorus or Bridges.

[top]Something that I feel when I listen to your mixes is a sense that you are generally inspired quite strongly by the music that you mix. I know for me, personally, when I have the opportunity to mix something that inspires me, I'll often make dramatic changes to the arrangement, completely leaving out instruments or re-editing the song to keep that inspired feeling moving forward throughout.

Most of the time, my clients like the results of this, but recently, I've started working with someone who has a hard time judging his own music (he literally never seems to know what sounds good or bad, can't tell his vocal takes apart, etc) and seems to have trouble accepting change. Do you have any advice about how to pitch the new mix to him? The rest of his band likes it, everyone around me likes it, but he is the decision maker. - dokushoka

Yes, you are very observant. I am genuinely inspired by good music. I want to become part of the song. I want it to touch me. I do whatever arrangement or sonic changes are needed in pursuit of that goal. I trust my instinct and I trust my interpretation of the song will be the right one. If it isn’t then I’ll change it and make it right. If you only knew how many years it took for me to come to that simple conclusion. Why? Ego.

Now, here comes the hard part of being that open and vulnerable with your feelings. You run the risk of becoming attached and precious to the mix. The song now belongs to you and it’s become your precious little creation. Any attempt to change the feel becomes an attack on your whole being. How can they not get it, it’s perfect! Well, for openers, it’s not your song, it’s the artist’s song and your contribution to the process is to make it his vision. I have been round and round with this one over the years and I’ve visited both extremes. When I was too passionate and precious with the mix, I’d bitch and moan if the artist wanted to make changes because I believed my way was the only vision to consider. I didn’t get it. So I headed towards the other extreme to protect myself. Now, I’d mix a song and not let myself get caught up in the passion of the process. I’d anticipate rejection and just do what they wanted but I was like an open book so again the result was the same. I just didn’t get it. Mind you, it’s not as if this happened everyday. Most times there was no question that I nailed it. The problem was how I acted when the artist didn’t like it. You can have a great attitude all day long and have ten songs go well but it’s the one tough song along with the tension you project on it that stays with artist.

I eventually settled on a balance of the two and found the path that worked best for me. Go with what inspires me and be open to the possibility of other approaches. Don’t be so precious to anything. Trust the artist’s vision. Go with what is best for the song. There is no right or wrong way, most of the time. It’s more about which approach appeals to the artist in balance with the record company. If they don’t know what is the best direction, guide them. That’s part of your job. You want to be a mixer or a button pusher?

You must first earn their trust. Let them feel you are there for them, not for anyone else. Sit down with the artist and take a little time to talk about the song. They’ve been on a very long journey to get to this point. They are nervous because it’s time to let the song go and many resist. This is not the time to blow them off. Get as much information as possible about their vision of the song. It may not be the same as the band or anyone else. Is it the right direction? Well, you’ll have to figure that out. I ask what the story is about. I ask many questions. The more I have in my arsenal the better chance I have of nailing it.

Next, I play the rough mix and ask questions about it. What do they want to retain from the rough, what don’t they like about it. Does it just need to be matched and improved? (I refer to it as MAI pronounced ‘may I’). I always sync up the rough or reference cd to the multi. When I think I’ve got a bad ass mix I A/B. Sometimes bad ass it ain’t! It’s more like bad with no ass. Sometimes (although it doesn’t happen often) I say “there is nothing wrong with your mix. It’s perfect. I can give you an alternate feeling and you can decide if you prefer it but I don’t think I’m going to give you a better version of this one”. Honesty goes a long way.

The next step in the process is to ask the artist to let me mix alone until I’m ready for them. I want them to walk in with fresh ears. I don’t want them to adapt to my mix by hanging around and listening to the process. I mix the song my way and print it. I don’t ever go over it unless the changes are very minor. When they walk into the room for a playback, they’ll have that most important thing going for them, The first impression. I ask them to listen to the mix twice before commenting. The first time I play it on my mid fields and the second time I play it on my boom box that sits on top of the rack behind me. If they have major changes then we discuss it. I’m ready to try their idea to fruition. Sometimes it may take an hour or more to go down that path but it’s worth it. If it’s a dead end, you turn around. You’ll both know it if the idea works or doesn’t. If you disagree, ask to play your original mix to compare. If your idea works better, the artist will generally be the first to admit it. If not, well you have your work cut out for you. You may suggest to put down two versions and they can decide on it later. That works like a charm. Just don’t ever lose control of the session. Stay calm. If you put him on the defensive, he’ll resist change.

What about the times when I have to get two or more songs mixed in one day and I don’t have the luxury of experimenting for hours on end? That brings up a whole other set of dynamics that contradicts or overrides some of my previous advice.

So many scenarios and exceptions to everything I just wrote came to mind as I began answering your question that I felt like I was playing a game of chess in my head. “If he (the artist) says this, I say that, but if he says that, I’ll do this unless he says this but his eyebrows say different” There is no one sure fire approach because the conditions change by the minute and very often I get my cue more from body language than words.

But at the end of the day, I want the artist and record company to walk away happy. I want it to be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. I want them to remember me in the future.

[top]When you work with someone like Beth Orton, who has a solid discography, do you give a listen to past releases with an ear for the mix (sort of like the way a talk-show host does has some background prepared for a guest), or do you just focus on the tracks in front of you? - Ttauri

I'm already a fan of hers so I knew her style. But to answer your question, No, I wouldn't do research because, unlike a talk show host interviewing a guest, an artist doesn't want to hear or talk about the past. They're always moving forward to new ground, letting go of old ideas, rediscovering themselves, experiencing new avenues. So if I were to listen to their old records and use some of the past mix approaches, that might very well put the record in the wrong direction. The past is gone, they're coming to me to mix the present. They are not interested in reliving those old feelings....for the most part. So I, unlike a talk show host, am only interested about today.

[top]I’m just wondering how far you go when dealing with phase on drums, or do you even fiddle with it if they've been well tracked? - raal

I almost always check the phase on drum tracks. I first get a nice balance. Then I listen to see what happens if I reverse the phase on the BD or the snare or the stereo toms. It doesn’t matter how well recorded the drums are, I’m listening to see if reversing one thing will make something else sound better. It only takes a minute for the whole process. If something like the stereo cymbals are out of phase with each other it’s obvious that I need to correct it but most of the time I’m just curious to see what tonal changes occur.

[top]When you get a project to mix and start pulling up faders do you notice any benefit or detriment to various different sonic signatures on the tracks? Do you notice any benefit or detriment from a project all tracked with the same sonic signature?

I was just wondering if this might make things easier or harder to get a good mix or is it something you don't notice/worry about? - T-rex

I don’t labor over how it was recorded. It won’t change the fact that I have to mix it so why worry about it. I just deal with it. I've been mixing other engineer's work for so long that when I recognize problems I immediately know what to do to undo the engineering and remold it to my taste. I start searching for the vibe and then EQ accordingly simultaneously as I remold the sound. I can tell if it’s old school engineering or if it’s recorded by someone that hasn’t a clue about anything acoustic.

Recording everything through the same preamp, EQ and compressor chain when done by old school engineers is no problem. They use mic technique, good placement, room ambience, proper tuning of the instrument, in other words, they use their ear to make each sound compliment the others instruments and the song. Those without that experience tend to have everything EQ’d in the same range, compressed the same etc. and it all sounds alike so the result is I can’t hear a thing when I put all the tracks up and of course the sounds have little to do with the song.

Therefore, I don't look at sounds as sonic signatures. Either the sounds work for the song or they don’t. If they don’t, I dig in and change it. If they do work, I don’t touch a thing. Mixing records by Jay Messina is a perfect example. I don’t need to see his name to know it’s his work. You can get a good mix by taking the length of a pencil to pull up all the faders to ‘0’. I barely touch the EQ’s and if I want to put a different take on the mix, the sounds are easy to mold to my liking. I’ll look down the length of the console when the mix is complete and it’s the same every time with Jay’s work, all the faders are lined up in a straight line. That is the way we learned to record at Mediasound. We’d put all the monitor returns to ‘0’ and panned accordingly. All rides and levels were done in the recording process. At a later date, when it was time for overdubs, you or another engineer just needed to put all the faders up to ‘0’ and you had back the exact feel of the song in ten seconds. There was no pressure or surprises of trying to get that great rough back to how it sounded on the tracking date. It also made mixing a breeze.

[top]Do you take the time to go through the tracks, muting them by automation on the desk when no signal is present? I saw others do it. Do you think it is worth the Effort? - Pan

Aaaah finally, a question that i can answer in one word. NO. It's not worth the time. Who cares if you mute silence, what's it gonna do, get more silent?


[top]My question is concerning your FMR Audio RNC. Among an array of compressors in your racks, this Gearspace favorite sticks out as almost a surprise considering it's company. Then again, this thing never ceases to amaze me. What do you like to use the RNC for? Do you have any favorite applications? Any dislikes? - guitarbth

That thing sat in my rack unused for almost two years, then one day I was looking for something that could help some muddy indistinct stereo backing vocals pop out of the mix so as to be clear and present. My eyes went to RNC and voila! Now it's my answer to that problem.

[top]I'm sure you get asked this everyday at least 300 times. But how did you get that guitar sound on Yellow (Coldplay-if you don't remember ). btw I love both the e-git and the a-git - but the acoustic is a landmark for me. - Studjo

you're right, I think I could retire just on that one sound....but what if I find something better? I did that six years ago and I barely remember how I mixed today's song for Beth Orton. I'll have to go back to my site in the Q&A to find the answer to that one. Just a sec. Phew, I couldn't find it at first. It figures it was the first question asked and it was at the bottom of the list. Here was my answer and it sounds about right.

"In regards to your acoustic gtr sound question, I can probably answer that one since I mixed the Coldplay record. First, the gtr was well recorded. Second, I put the acoustic across an API compressor into an API 5502 EQ. I took out a little 300 Hz and added a little 1.5 K. I kept tweaking the Eq's until the gtr found a nice place in the track. I also sent the acoustic to a stereo pair of 1176's that had all the ratios in. I added a little hall from the Sony DRE777 and that was about it. BTW, a good way to address extra noisy finger slides is to put the SPL De-Esser across the acoustic."

[top]Do your assistant/engineers do all the "PT stuff"? - Jules

(At the time of writing) Keith does all the editing, pitching and bussing out of ProTools files. Anything to do with PT, he does. That’s why his credit reads “Mix assistant and ProTools engineer”.

[top]Do you have any special takes on how to get the vocals really convincing? Of course you sometimes get tracks where just pulling up the fader is enough but surely you sometimes might get pretty poor vocal tracks, poorly performed and/or tracked. What's your first-aid to a bad vocal track to make it sound better than it actually is? - Gainreduction

Some of you on this forum are just starting your career and others are seasoned pros or dreaming to be one. Forgive me if I seem to answer in simple terms sometimes but I don’t want to leave anyone behind ok?

Focus on the singer, not the band. Seems obvious but it isn’t that simple. The more you focus on making everything heard, the less the listener can stay focused on the singer. Anytime, your mind starts wandering unintentionally to something other than the singer, you’ve lost the message and the mix. Take whatever distracts you and turn it down or turn it off. It’s not just about what toys I put on the vocal, it’s about how I keep your attention to the story being sung. Having access to all my greatest toys and compressors will not do you any good if the listener’s attention is diverted to how cool the bass is in the middle of a passionate cry for a lost love.

The rule of my thumb, and others throughout the history of great songs that are embedded in your mind, is there’s never more than two or three things coming at you at any one time. Think of your favorite song and ask yourself what instrument was playing along with the singer. It’ll be the singer plus one or two things, tops. If nobody’s crowding the singer, it makes it easier to get the message across. The production on those classic songs are great because they compliment the singer and bring out the message. The words and melody are simple to follow from the first bar to the last. I, as a mixer, like to take the listener’s hand and guide it from beginning to end. I want to make the experience of listening to the song an easy and memorable one.

Now if all the above suggestions are in place, and the singer needs help, there are tricks to help him/her. There is software available to change the timbre, phrasing, tone and anything else alienistic. But that’s for a producer to address.

For me, depending on the feeling you’re trying to get, you can have them change the attitude to sound more urgent, stronger, sadder, lonely, angrier, vulnerable, mean, nasty and my favorite, phoning the part attitude. More urgent and intense? Use an 1176 and put all the ratios in and have that meter smashing to the left. Stronger? Send the vocal to a few different sounding compressors returning on faders and combine to make it tougher. Sadder? Ride the vocal to pop out a bit more were the emotion is strongest and stay away from reverbs. Lonely? Find a plate that sounds a bit hollow, along with different single delays or multi head delays until you get a haunting feel. Angrier? Add a lightly amped vocal to the original and eq it so that only the part of the mids poke out to help the emotion. Vulnerable? Hire Chris Martin. Mean, nasty? Send the vocal to a SansAmp and play with it until it gets gritty to distorted. Phoning it in? Find a phone patch in the millions of boxes out there. Of course you understand these are all just starting points to get you going in some familiar direction, and you’ll get better at it as the hundreds of hours click by.

Yes, I also use pitch correction software when the vocal needs it.

[top]How do you treat the center channel when mixing music surround? Do you spread out the lead vocals thru out L-C-R, or just keep it dead center or L-R? - Lindell

Hmmm, good question because it makes me think why I use the center speaker. I add the vocal to all 5 speakers at different levels. The reason for my using the center speaker is to bring the singer forward (imagewise), and up in height a bit. How do I make it go up? I'm not sure, but I keep tweaking until I get that impression.

[top]A while ago, I was listening to Luther's “The Glow Of Love” and was struck by that sharp-attack, glossy disco piano - appears on a lot of disco records and I wondered how that sound was achieved. I asked here and got some likely theories, but as you're here Michael, maybe I can get the full story on how that sound was achieved Lacquered hammers on the piano? Dolby A off on playback? Effects? - Ttauri

Oooh good question. I loved that song. That was an amazing session. Remember the early Elton John records? Remember how his piano shimmered? At mediasound we loved that sound so a lot of us were always playing around with getting different versions of it. No lacquered hammers, no Dolby A off, just a combination of compression and EQ.

I only recorded Luther's voice, may he rest in peace, on that song along with "searching" and then mixed both. Luther was on a whole other level of singers. He walked into that session and listened to the song in the control room once, then he walked out into the studio with the lyric sheet in his hand. What you hear on"Glow of Love" and "Searching" it is his first rundown reading the lyrics from a yellow pad. No punches.

The piano sound you’re referring to is probably the same one that I did for Vandross on the “Never too much” song.

UREI/Universal Audio LA-3A
Ok, this is how you do it. First insert an LA3A or LA2A (depending on the version of sound you’re going after) across the stereo piano tracks. Bang those meters and out of the compressor go into a couple of pultecs and push up..way up the 3 or 5 k on the low end and the 8 or 10 k on the high end. Don’t be safe. Now go to the desk EQ and start clearing out some of the muddiness and EQ up the remaining mids so that it just shimmers like a baby. When it’s done right, you can hear the harmonics riding up during each sustain. The LA2A is good if the song is slow and the chords are quarter notes. The LA3A is good if the chords are faster with a harder attack like in “never too much”. I remember hearing that song on the radio and man that piano was making me feel good all over. Sounds pretty simple when you know how to do it right?

I remember a story of a session I was doing in LA and it was late in the night..of course. We were overdubbing some piano and the guy was tired like the rest of us. I did my usual piano process and put the 24 track into record. Man, he hits the first chord and then just played an incredible performance. When the tape stopped, he ran in all excited and screamed “what the hell was that piano sound, it was unbelievable, it woke me right up, thanks man that was great, how’d you do that?”

[top]I noticed you have no Q&A for Dream Theater yet on your site so maybe this can get it started

*Did you have to do any particular EQ cuts for Petrucci's tracks..because he likes to blend amps.

*Was the record tracked to Tape or was a simulation used because I have noticed DT mixes can be a little muddy--although this CD is more open than the last few mixed by Kevin

Anything else you can say on techniques used on this record would be great and cheers on that Sacrifice Sons mix--especially the solo(mixed with synths) - Absolute

That was a trip to mix. I had so much fun. I only had PT files to mix from but I believe it was originally recorded to 24track 2inch and then transferred to PT…or not. I don’t remember much about how the guitar tracks came up although it might very well have been a combination of amps . That was a nine day blurr.

Kevin Shirley is a good friend of mine. He gave me some pointers on what kind of sound Jon likes to hear and how to get it. How cool was that? He suggested I use a stereo processor called a Peavey Kosmos and a Drawmer 1961 EQ…so I did. I did my version of it and Jon loved it.

Only Mike and Jon attended the mix session and these guys were a lot of fun to hang with. We all laughed a lot. I gotta say though, I was a bit curious why they called me to mix their record since I didn’t really have proof in my discography that I could mix the hard stuff. So I asked them because honestly, I didn’t want to find out two days into the mix that they mixed my name up with someone else’s. So I asked what records of mine they liked and they mentioned Coldplay so I figured they had the right guy.

Once I heard the roughs of the songs I was to mix, it made sense. Some of the material had the depth and arrangement of Coldplay and some songs had the Andy Wallace “in your face” type sound of Chevelle but with piano and strings added to the mix. It was going to be a fun challenge and I was up for it.

[top]You are one of the few guys I know of mixing rock on a 9000J. The majority mix rock on E's/G's and G+'s. Did you come to that choice because you needed the extra mixbusses,automation and recall or are their sonic benefits for you as well? Did you consider any others or was it a slam dunk choice? - hethrillfactor

Neve 8068
I grew up at MediaSound using a Custom Neve 8068. When I went independent in 1984 and was forced to go to SSL in other studios, I freaked. Aside from the first reliable computer to come out, which I didn't need at the time, the EQ's were just awful and the sound compared to the Neve was tiny and crunchy. As SSL improved their Desks, I began enjoying the sound better but still missed the low end and mids of the Neve.

I first began developing my multibuss compression idea when the 6000 came out using three sub stereos. I was able to get the sound I was looking for in the 6000 so I didn't miss moving away from the 4k series. Then the 8000 came out with four sub stereos and I gravitated towards that one since my approach had developed to the level of needing more sub stereos. Still, I was using alot of Neve outboard to give me the bottom end I missed in the SSL.

While in France mixing a record on a 6000, I went to their recording room that had the new 9000J series. The engineer was recording an orchestra. When the tympanis came in I was floored by the sound of the bottom end. I couldn't believe how beautiful the top end air of The orchestra came across. Finally, I had found a desk that had the bottom and open top end that I had been missing from my sound.

The down side of this amazing new desk was finding the sweet spot and dealing with the computer software glitches. It didn't take long for me to find the desk's faults. First let me explain for some of you what this “sweetspot” thing is. We like to drive the desk to it's limit in order to get a desired sound. This is achieved by how far up we ride the faders when mixing. Somewhere on each desk there’s a sweet spot where the desk comes alive. It's a fine line that we ride between saturation and distortion. These desks have a lot of headroom and as you get closer to the rails (out of headroom) you begin to go into a gradual distortion. On the Neve, the saturation gave us even harmonics. The result being a nice warm musical sound. On the SSL, the saturation gave us odd harmonics. The result being a crunch type sound. The closer you got to the rails the more the desk's sound became apparent. It was hard to make a desk break up so we felt safe in the fact the sweet spot had such a large window to play in without going into bad distortion.

All that changed with the release of the SSL 9000 series. They completely changed all the critical components of the signal path by redesigning the circuit boards. The design was now based on a direct coupled circuit meaning they removed the coupling capacitors within the signal path. No more transformers, no more caps. The result was great bandwidth and a large dynamic range but it didn’t go into a gradual distortion. When you hit the rails, you knew it. It sounded like digital crap out. That nice place where my faders always ended up for so many years was no longer the sweet spot. It was a place where your mix hit the third rail on the subway . My mix would be feeling great and then suddenly guitars or anything transient would touch that “third rail” and an ugly digital glitch sound would fly by my ears. The sound of your mix frying with no place to go but down in smoke. You know what it means to have to take the faders down to another level? The sound of the mix changes drastically. Of course, it was in the process of finding out why the problem was occurring that I learned about the redesign. So I realized now the sweet spot on this desk was lower down on the fader. After a few months I settled on around –20. The desk opened up in ways I’ve never heard before. But still, there would be the occasional vocal or percussion that might hit the rail for a micro second. I found an easy solution. I put the channel strip compressor into the chain on the offending track, pull up the threshold button for quick attack and pull up the ratio button for peak. I keep the threshold at 1 so it’s not active. This simple solution would be enough to keep the transients from touching the rail without working the compressor. Problem solved.

The other discovery I made to avoid overloading the channel input is to bring down the individual channel line trim so each track is reading around "0" on the VU meter. It's easier and I think sounds better than bringing down the output of the tracks in ProTools.

When I mixed on the 4k series I was always in vca mode, so when the computer was on, the faders never moved. I didn’t like the option of motors in Ultimation. The Neve was also VCA controlled. I knew the sound very well. When I first began mixing in the 9k I stayed in VCA mode but over time I realized the sound was more open using the motors and of course I got used to seeing the faders move. The downside of the motors was the bottom end not sounding as tight but that was an easy fix since the motors bottom end was so open. The computer was a hundred times better once the software glitches were resolved.

A couple years ago they came out with the 9000K. I recalled stems that I had mixed on a 9000J. The desk was sonically impressive. The overall sound is about 5-10% better. It also addressed the two limitations I have on the 9000J, one being the foldown to stereo mixing for 5.1 in the center section and two being the ability to send both small and large faders to A-D busses. The computer is also way faster.

[top]When you mix a 'classic' album for 5.1 (Like Bob Dylan) how much do you reference the stereo mix and how much do you feel you can deviate from what people are used to hearing? I would think some people are expecting 'stereo plus'...or do you feel you can re-think the mix from the ground up? - max cooper

When it comes to turning classic records into surround, I insist on maintaining the integrity and balances of the original mix. It's the sound and balances that we all associate with a particular song. It's what brings back the memories. I have no interest in getting clever and putting my take on it. I'd rather be clever and recreate the feel as exactly as possible. That is a lot harder to do in my opinion. I remixed Blonde on Blonde about ten years ago. They were releasing the SACD version of it. Steve Berkowitz, the A&R person heading the project noticed the mix was different than on his vinyl record. It turns out the original stereo masters had been lost years ago and for years all the CD releases were from a remix of the 4 track done by a Columbia engineer. He didn't try to match the original mixes. So I was hired to go in and recreate the original mixes from that record for the SACD release. Steve brought over the best stereo vinyl recording(a mono mix was also available) and I transferred it to a Radar 24, along with the original 4 track, which was not in great condition. I synced up each song to the vinyl and began the process of matching. The result was amazing. It felt and sounded like the original but the image seemed bigger. I had to keep in mind that I was matching the sound of vinyl and the EQ mastering but anything else would not have been faithful to the way we all originally heard the record. Years later, I was asked to do the 5.1 of the record. I did not want to go down the novelty quad path of placing instruments in the back channel that had no business being there. So I came up with a panoramic approach. You don't really notice the rear speakers (except one track) . The result is 3d with great depth, dimension, extreme width and a natural feeling of being at the session. You get the impression that some of the musicians are 6 feet back and others are just a couple feet away. Dylan sounds like he's standing in front of you. But, at no time are the balances different from the original mix. Keep in mind, this approach was appropriate for Dylan. I would not use this imaging for Pink Floyd. First, I'd search my dresser for an old forgotten joint from years past, smoke it, and then think of a way to use all 6 speakers to scare myself while mixing their record.

Watkins Copicat

[top]I am curious as to the type of reverbs you used on X&Y to achieve that highly unique sound? - djui5

I used mostly reverbs from my Sony DRE777 on vocals. I haven't used anything else since I bought that thing when it first came out. In particular, the two plates available. Then depending on the song, I'd use the European Halls like Concertgebouw, St. vincente or american spaces like St.John the Devine. I also use a tape echo and the cheap version Copicat set on Binson mode. Charlie Watkins just sent me his new Copicat that I look forward to using.

Sometimes the gtr sound comes from my Binson or my Miazzi but most of the time Johnnie is using a Copicat and printing it.

I rarely remember how I mix anything I do. Thank goodness for having a great system in place for getting recalls perfect. I'll listen to a song I've mixed when the record comes out and wonder how I did it and then worry that I'll probably never be able to get that sound again. I think though that what it comes down to is being inspired by the song I'm mixing. The better the song the more the ideas flow.

[top]Do you have a typical default send effects set up that you use? - Shan

I have 28 buss sends assigned to effects, reverbs, delays, compressors, and panners. I have my sends going to the same type stuff. It’s all there ready to use when I want without waiting for my assistant to patch it. If I want to try an idea, it takes only a moment to hear it and either use it or discard it. Generally, my L/R sends are going to 1176’s, send 1 to the LEXICON 200, send 2 to a distortion unit, 3/4 change all the time, 5/6 to the two engines of the Dre 777.

The rest of the sends and busses go to most of the gear behind me and on the wall. Some of my gear is normalled to a mixer that returns on two channels. In all, I use about 24 channel line in’s and 16 tape returns.

[top]1) What are the Pros and Cons that we should look out for in the event that we are approaching or being approached by a Producer/Engineer Manager? Huge rosters, high percentages, Big gold chains, leisure suits, etc, etc.?

2) Were there any particular pitfalls or successes that you've experienced that we could learn from?

3) Also when you first started working with a manager did your clients ever feel like they couldn't talk to you directly anymore. If they did, how did you handle the situation?

4) How do you draw the line between friendships and business in the studio? I understand that you naturally refer clients and potential clients to your manager now, but was there ever an awkward transitional time where people still insisted on negotiating with you directly?

5) And finally, How difficult was it for you to give up control to someone else. Or better yet what level of control do you maintain? Do you consider it a complete partnership or more of an Employer (you) & Employee (manager) type of relationship or vice versa? - JFK Chopper

This was the big question I was waiting for, and it’s appropriate that we save the best for last. The questions are well written, thank you.

I’m going to tell you the way it is. It’s my opinion, my time on this forum and one topic where I’m not holding back any punches.

At some point many of you will be or are already spending most of your waking hours working on projects. How do you find the time to invoice and follow up on bill collection? How do you keep business separate from music when you’re negotiating with the very people that will be in the studio with you? How do you keep business out of the studio if you are still negotiating the deal during a project. Most deal memos are agreed upon prior to the start of a session but some get very intense and fighting over clauses continues throughout the course of the recording process. How do you find the time to pursue projects and how do you put yourself in the mix when other managers are working hard to get the project for their client? How do you deal with problems during the course of a project that are non-music related? If none of these questions pose a big problem for you, then you don’t really need a manager.

I’d been through so many managers, until a few years ago, that I might very well be in the Guiness book of world records. Were they all bad? Is it their fault? No, it’s my fault for picking managers that weren’t right for me. It took me a painfully long time to realize how they could best work for me. Once I owned up to it, I realized that I had to be running the show and be responsible for the direction I wanted them to head in.

So we begin. First of all, let’s look at what draws a manager to you. My guess is, the quality of your work and the projects you’ve completed recently have drawn attention to the fact that you are good, professional and can handle the pressures of making a project successful. You probably have some established clients that are a steady source of income and are loyal to you. Being busy and having a repeating clientele will attract a manager. It’s a no-brainer. The foundation work has already been set for them.

What can a manager offer you?
Ideally, a change for the good. They will have your best interest in mind when representing you. They will use their years of experience and contacts to bring you new clients, high-level projects and attempt to keep you busy with the goal of you becoming in great demand. They will also negotiate better deals for you that will translate to increased income and, depending on your value, royalty points on records. They will take care of invoicing, collection and chasing down outstanding receivables. They’ll check your royalty statements for accuracy. In return for this service, they’ll demand 15%-25% from all your income related to whatever your expertise is. That is what they can offer you in an ideal world.

Now, welcome to the real world. They promise you all this but they will never say they guarantee to keep you busy. The only guarantee is, you will be paying them a commission on everything that comes to you. They have every incentive to get you work, that’s the business they’re in and, unless you’re just one of several business they have, no work for you mean’s no money for them.

What do you look for in a manager?
Start with the basics, human nature. Can you trust them to have your best interest in mind? This person has to give you the feeling they are genuine and can be trusted. You want to feel you can relate to them easily. Go with your gut instinct on this. It’s no different than meeting someone in a non-business related situation. You get a vibe from this person or you don’t. Watch their body language. They will give you plenty of nonverbal clues about themselves. You must be confident this is the person you want representing you. If you’re not comfortable with the way they dress or their arrogance is overbearing, notate it. If too many things just don’t feel right, walk away.
Do your research. You need to answer some questions about this person. It’s an important decision that must not be rushed. How do A&R react to him and how well known is he among the record companies. (A&R assistants know all the regulars) What is his reputation like on the street? Is he a deal breaker? What do his own clients think of him? Do you need them to be traveling to bring in work? Is your source of work, local or International. Where does he live? Are you on one coast he on another? Should that be a concern for you? Is he cheap or too greedy on deals? Is he fair and flexible? A&R can answer that one. Hang out in the clubs they frequent, you can find out everything you need to know over a beer.

You want a manager to build a relationship between you and the record company. It’s about your future, not his or his relationship with them. An insecure manager isn’t going to allow that. He’s going to be the middleman and keep you out of the loop. If they have their way, you’ll never have a phone conversation with the record company. It’s not healthy, because this approach is not in your best interest in the long term.

Of course, a manager should be doing all the negotiating for you. But you should be completely informed on every deal and you have the final say on everything. Do not discuss business with producers or record companies, refer them to your manager, that’s what you pay them to do. Just talk music. You are the good guy, always. Nothing is a problem for you. You just want to make a good record. There are instances where someone might try to get you to sidestep your manager and negotiate you down. Bad move on your part. It’s not your place to negotiate. But, it must be clearly driven home to your manager that when you want to do a project, they must work within the budget. It may come down to, do you want the project or not?

Managers can kill a deal without you ever knowing about it. I’ve run into someone at a club and I’ll jokingly ask how come they don’t love me anymore and their answer is “I wanted you for a project, you were perfect for it, I sent you the music but your manager said you were too busy and didn’t really like the music and pushed one of his other guys on me.” I’m standing there like an idiot with no knowledge of any of this having taken place. That would not have happened if he knew he could just pick up the phone and talk to me directly about a project he had in mind.

Sometimes they forget that it’s supposed to be fun. It’s about music and together you can go further than if they try to control you. It’s really about keeping it creative and not making it like a rent gig or obligation.

Should you go with a manager that has a phone book for a roster or someone that has just a few select clients?

I’ve had both and frankly, it doesn’t matter. They both have their faults and they both have their assets. They can both work to your advantage if you take a firm stance on who’s the boss. You are the boss, and you’re paying them a handsome commission, so make them work for you. Take control of what and how you want your goals achieved. Set small goals for them that must be met on a timely basis. Acknowledge their hard work. Who wants to work for someone that is unappreciative and bitches at every detail? If a manager is getting lazy, nip it in the bud. Keep them focused on your mission and objectives. Don’t lose track of the goals you’ve set for them or yourself. Don’t be intimidated by their reputation or their BS, it’s your career you’re dealing with here. If something doesn’t feel good, address your concern and resolve it. Don’t complain and whine later when your career is spiraling down and suddenly “it’s all their fault”. No, it’s your fault for letting it get this far and continuing to put your trust in someone that no longer has your best interests at stake.

Some managers love the hunt for the sake of the prize. Once they have it, they’ll go gangbusters for about three, maybe six months and then they lose interest. You’re another horse in the stable. Soon, they’re back out hunting again.

Most large management companies will include both engineers and producers in their roster. Say, that’s pretty cool. In fact, that can be great because they’ll just put their engineers together with their producers and everybody is working and all life is good. Hmm, wait a minute. Isn’t there a potential for a conflict of interests? Are you sure they’re going to be able to have you're best interest in mind when they represent both parties? Double dipping and keeping it incestuous seems more like what is best in their interest to me. Say you’ve been given a huge advance and you fall out with the producer in the middle of the project. Is your manager going to side with you or with the producer? Are they going to demand you give all your money back? Feeling very alone are you? Do they also represent A&R? Wow, that’s great, now the record company calls the producer that calls you to record and mix the project. Life is good… but wait, what if you end up having a big problem on a project and the company is pissed, who’s side is the manager going to take? IF, he takes the company’s side, you are going to be left all alone to deal with the situation and you already know how the producer fits into this little scenario. It’s no fun. It’s complicated and there’s a potential for someone to come out a loser. What happened to having your best interest in mind? Does anger and betrayal come to mind as you are writing them that commission check they’re entitled to? Even if you were the screw up and you were totally in the wrong on a project, your manager must stand by your side. Once it’s resolved, they have every right to drop you as a client or kick the sense out of you, but they can not leave you hanging in a time of need.

So, it’s time for a breakfast meeting with your future manager. What happens at a meeting? I laugh when I think back to those times. It seems like every one of them was, word for word, identical. The same phrases, the same promises and the same feeling of euphoria… or not, as they walk off to an important meeting. It has to come out of a manual titled “how to land a client with these simple-to-use phrases”. It has to.

Look, they’re going to tell you what they can offer you, that’s fine. But many go overboard, and they’ll make promises they have no intention on ever keeping and you will eventually find out, when it’s too late. Some are genuine, some aren’t. The trick is to know how to differentiate between the two. My flag goes up if they tell me they could have had me mix, insert hottest project going, if I had been their client. Or my favorite, “all my guys are always working”. I love that one. It’s pure bullsh*t and it’s got an asterisk attached to it that says in hidden thoughts “WHEN I have work for them, my guys are always working.” Another classic favorite, “You’re getting paid HOW MUCH for your work? I can’t believe it, you’re worth twice that, wow!” ooh, it’s just like it was yesterday. And of course the clincher “That guy that’s getting all the work, (insert name), is so overrated!, you should be doing those gigs and I can make that happen!? Whammo, down to one nail. Now it’s time to exit, stage left. Ooh wait, one small little detail before he runs off, it’s a matter of commission and contracts. What’s their deal?

After much thought, you’ve decided on a manager. It’s time to talk business. There are a lot of considerations to keep in mind when you decide to negotiate a deal with a manager. They have their standard deal, but all deals are negotiable depending on what you bring to the table. How much do you need them and how much do they need you? Are they going to gain more by representing you or is it the other way around?

Let’s say you have a successful business going with a few steady clients. The deals, fees and contracts are always the same. You have always negotiated directly with them and it’s a healthy relationship. Enter a new manager. Should you just hand over a full commission to a manager that has had nothing to do with acquiring this client? Should they take over the deals and attempt to up the price. No, I wouldn’t, not unless you want to take a risk and say bye bye to that client forever. I’d start by identifying the specific clients and exclude them from a commission. It’s not going to go over big but keep in mind, you’re the one that busted your ass getting and keeping this client. He’s yours, fair and square. Let them work to get you new clients.

Be open to the possibility of negotiating a reduced commission for pre-existing clients or offer a 50% commission after a period of time that shows good faith on both sides. It depends on the situation, but be firm. Talk to your client and discuss the new manager’s role in your relationship. Make sure your client understands nothing is going to change between the two of you. The deals remain the same, just the paperwork changes hands. If any problems arise, they must inform you, and you’ll take care of it.

Should you sign a contract? I’ve done it both ways. There are two sides to this story and I’m not going to side with either. If you don’t sign a contract, I hope you’re both honorable people and you’ll honor your agreements and your loyalty to each other. If things don’t work out, you’ll do the right thing to make the business transition fair for both.

If you decide to sign a contract, make sure your interests are also included. Find a lawyer that can look over the contract and make any necessary changes that seem excessive.

When do you expect to see your career go ballistic with the phone ringing off the hook and you’re begging for a week off in Aruba with your babe? Not anytime soon. Slap yourself awake and look around you.

A manager needs time to build a person’s career. It doesn’t come overnight and you are not doing them justice if you start bitching three months into it. You must go into a relationship trusting them. You’re going to need to give them a good six months. During that time they will have plenty of A&R meetings set up with their best connections. You should be receiving CD’s of potential projects you’re being considered for. It’s going to take teamwork. Communication between the two of you must be on a regular basis. When he gets you a job, you deliver. Every time you deliver, you make his job of selling you a bit easier. The client has to not only like the quality of your work, but more importantly, have loved the experience working with you. If you’re a moody, bitchy and negative person, Aruba is probably not in your near future.

If you are already well established and your name is well respected, you should expect to see new clients coming your way within a few months of employing them. One of the reasons you’ve chosen them is for their contacts.

If you were once well respected and have fallen from grace or whatever there is to fall from, it’s going to take time. Be patient. It’s more challenging for a manager because they may have to reinvent you or change people’s perception of you. But they wouldn’t have taken you on if they didn’t think it was going to work out fine for everyone.

Ok, after all that effort and time you’ve put into this new venture, it’s not working out and you want out. If you have a signed contract, it’s time to refresh your memory on the conditions of termination. This may be the time when you wished you’d hired that lawyer I suggested. Like, what’s with this Sunset clause?? What happened to all that warm and fuzzy feeling we had for each other when I signed this contract in good faith?

This is a good one. I had a former assistant, now successful engineer, call me to ask my opinion on a contract he was given to sign. His concern was the “Sunset clause”. It lasts 5 years, starting from the time he terminates his manager. So for five years, on a sliding scale, his X-manager would be entitled to a commission on everything he does alone or with new management. What new manager is going to be interested in working with him knowing that there is an additional commission taken right off the top that is owed to the x- manager? Needless to say, my friend didn’t sign anything. I’ve personally never had a Sunset clause included in a contract by any manager.

What is fair for both parties if you decide to terminate your relationship and you have no contract?

First you should give them notice. From the time of termination, they should be entitled to full commission for three to six months. They too may have been busting their ass building up your career. They might have a lot of years invested in you. You might think they’ve done a lousy job in the last year or so but that’s irrelevant. If they were responsible for getting you a major record that went on to become a hit, the indirect work that comes from that is substantial and credit must be given to them for the direct as well as the indirect work. It’s not fair to say, “well you only got me this one gig, and the rest were just taking the calls.” Hay, how did those calls start in the first place? But, if it’s a case where they were totally incompetent managing you, they have not stood up to their part of the deal and they should be dealt with appropriately.

So there you have it. Soup to nuts. Good luck.