In 2007 we were joined by multiple-Grammy® award-winning Russell Elevado, one of the most in-demand contemporary R&B recording & mixing engineers in the business. With a discography that includes Alicia Keys, The Roots, Roy Hargrove, Saul Williams, D’Angelo, Blackalicious, Angélique Kidjo, Erykah Badu, Jay-Z, Dandy Warhols, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Dru Hill and many more, there was lots to talk about and Russell was very generous with both his time and knowledge. Read on to get some terrific insights into the cutting edge of some of the best modern R&B records of the millennium!

[top]Saul Williams, Amethyst Rock Star - I find this record to be as dense as some of the Bitches Brew era Miles. Do you have any thoughts or recollections of this record? How hands on/in the studio was Rick Rubin? - recall

This is the first full record I did after Voodoo. Remember, I was on Voodoo for 3 years and I hadn't worked with anyone else since we started the album. Rick Rubin heard "Devil's pie" when it was released and just loved it! (this was before we were finished with the full album) Rick was in New York and stopped by the studio with Chris Rock in tow. He expressed how much he loved Devils Pie and D and I were both bursting with excitement! He asked if we could play him any other songs that were mixed. We played him "Playa" (which I played off the desk as I was in the middle of mixing it), "One mo gin", "The root" and "Untitled". Can you imagine how we felt having Rick Rubin listening to the songs, sitting right in front of us and watching him bopping his head? That was a great moment for us.

D kicked off the Voodoo tour at the house of blues in LA and I was there to record all 5 shows. I got a voicemail message from Rick saying he knew I was in town and wanted to meet with me! I was shocked. I met him at his house (which was like walking into a dark museum that reeked of good incense). His "puli's" (a breed of dogs with long hair like dreadlocks) greeted me at the door. he guided me to his library where he does all his listening. He played me the demos of Saul's music and I thought, wow, this is some intense sh*t! After we listened I immediately agreed to do the project.

He explained to me that it was a small budget and he needed me to not only mix the album, but also get some of the wrinkles out and tighten up the songs. Saul had recorded most of the tracks on his own in smaller studios and honestly, they were not recorded very well. So I re-recorded some of the drums and replaced some of the bad sounds with more beefy drums and generally tightened up the rhythm section and did guitar, bass or keyboard o/d's to support some of the samples he had. We got Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers in to do drums on "Omniamerican". I think I did the best job with what I had to work with and what Rick wanted. Overall I'm happy with it but I think, had there been a bigger budget to work a bit longer on it, it would have been much more focused.

I would basically start getting the track happening and Rick would leave us alone for a good part of the day and he'd come in to listen to the progress. (Rick listens loud...I thought the NS-10's and pro acs were going to blow up!) he would write his comments down as he listened which were usually lots of detailed things like, "Saul can come up on the last line of verse 3", "the guitar should ride up real loud in the choruses", etc. then he'd be off and we were left to get all his requests accomplished by the time he came back for another listen. It was like, I better get this right before he gets back or I'm dead! To me it was like a real passive aggressive way of producing. I don't normally get star struck but Rick has been such an influence for me and the whole music industry that it was hard not to feel like you had to give more than ever before. He's got an aura about him that's intense and passive at the same time.

Saul he is an intense cat but also very cool. He's really an amazing poet and very socially aware. He knows music and he's a huge hip hop fan. We got along really well and had a lot of fun working on that album. It literally took me about a week after we finished to completely absorb the things he was saying. as I was working on it, I was conscious of his lyrics but the depth of them didn't hit me until after. And musically it was a big fusion of styles. To me, it was very original and possibly ahead of it's time. It's definitely not an album that's easy to listen to so some people will just not get it. He's rapping but he can be so abstract that most people can't equate this as being hip hop. I'm hoping we'll get together soon for another album.

This was an amazing experience for me. fresh off the success of Voodoo, working with Rick Rubin (he absolutely loves the way Voodoo sounds) and having another totally original artist like Saul to work with and my whole career wide open in front of me. This for me, was like finally being free from Voodoo and I could finally apply some of the things I learned to another project. I remember the incredible energy I felt during that whole time in my life...

[top]Do The Roots (Ahmir) use a click track when recording? - D'Andrew

I'd say 90% of the time ahmir will play to a click or he'll play to a beat he creates in the mpc. and sometimes he's playing to a loop that we're trying to recreate. I think it's perfectly okay to record the drummer last. It depends on the drummer and how able he is to play to a click. Some drummers can play better without a click and others can play right on it. If the drummer is playing a constant pattern and he's not doing a lot of improvising and fills, then recording him before or after doesn't make a huge difference. but there is the interaction between the musicians that can bring nice surprises in their performances if they all play together.

Teletronix LA-2A

[top]Do you ever process the lead vocal with a crossover and compressors per band (a la Multiband compressor)? If not, do you have a special technique that you may use sometimes that can be interesting? - AMIEL

I use all types of processing for vocals and try different things for different vocalists. though sometimes i'll get an initial sound and the vocalist will walk in and love it and won't want me to change it. The LA2A has always been one of my favorite vocal compressors and will always give me a good sound and good level control without sounding too compressed. Most of D'angelo's vocals were tracked through an LA2A. but i've used all kinds of compressors at one time or another for vocals including the SSL 9K channel compressors. I do like the 1178, Fairman tsc and 670 on backgrounds. I don't really get too deep to go as far as using a multiband compressor unless I'm going for an effect or fixing a bad vocal sound.

As far as eq's, I like Neves, Focusrite ISA110's, HELIOS TYPE 69 and Pultec EQP or EQH. I don't have a real technique, but I do a lot of vocal riding of both lead and backgrounds. I kind of just keep tweaking and riding until the vocals are vibin...

[top]Blazing Arrow is one of my favorite albums - such a diverse assortment of guest artists and musical styles, and yet it's all glued together into one really cohesive, organic sound. Any comments on the making of this album, working with Gift of Gab, Chief Xcel, and all the guest artists? How much input did you have and what was the creative workflow between you and Blackalicious like? Also, it sounds like both live musicians and samples were used equally, but they blend together so well. Any tips on achieving this? - Middy

Thanks for mentioning Blackalicious. I was introduced to blackalicious through Ahmir. He played me their "nia '' record and I thought it was really good. and then a few months later they contacted me to mix their next record. I was thrilled to get that call because I knew I'd have a lot of fun mixing for them. Their songs have so much room for creative mixing. chief xcel and Gab are so committed to their art and it reflects in their music. not to mention that they're 2 of the coolest people on the planet!

From the start X told me to just go for it. do whatever I felt and take things to the extreme. Both X and Gab are into my style of mixing so it was a great collaboration. X would describe the sound he wanted for the overall mix in terms of colors. He also would say things like, can you make it sound like gab's under water or can you make the drums sound like it's pitching down? my main input was in the mix. I wasn't part of much of the tracking and o'd's. X gave me full creative control in the mixing stage. He gave me as much time to get as creative as possible. He did have definite concepts for certain songs but left me to it once I understood his vision. It's a similar synergy to working with the roots and ahmir.

I think it all works mostly because of Xcel's meticulous ways of sampling and choice of sounds. on the mixing angle; i just tried to keep a concept of everyone playing as a band. so i treated every element like it was played entirely together or live. I think this concept applies to most things I do.

[top]I would like to hear the three main points you would say to your kid like, "okay kid, these three things you should remember while doing this job!" - doog

If you really want to do this, then you have to commit yourself and live it, breathe it. you have to sacrifice and give everything for your craft. This is the only way to become a master and a true original. set your goals and do it. believe in yourself and strive to be the best...

Train your ears and educate yourself. listen to as much music as you can. record and mix as much as possible. I used to stay at the studio for 4 days at a time and sleep 3 hours and sometimes not at all, between gigs just to work on my own stuff. I was absolutely consumed with engineering and music (I still am!). listen to your favorite albums and study them. look for other music and listen to how it's recorded. listen to the room sound on the drums or the subtle breath of the vocalist before they sing. listen to the ambience of a room or a hall in your everyday life. You can train your ears to hear different ambience and natural reverb and apply it when you're working. listen...

Experiment your ass off! I remember when was about 21 years old, I did my first recording. I was only an intern at the time and I had sat in on some recording sessions but I still had no clue to getting a sound. I brought my 2 friends in one night and just had a blast being in a professional studio recording my friends. It was drums and bass and I played guitar. I later put in weird sounds from a moog and some more guitar parts. That was the only song I had to work on for months so I must have mixed that song over 30 times. my drums sounded like crap but who cared at the time! I tried so many different approaches and used all kinds of gear and just experimented like crazy. and I remember how much of a treat it was to have a new song to work on. Even if you're mixing for a client, try to set aside some time to experiment. try something completely different everyday or even a few times a week. remember that there are no rules and that's the beauty of music production. everyday can be a total surprise and you can learn something new just by trying reverb on the hi hat or distortion on the horns, etc. you hear different textures and also the nature of a particular instrument when you process it in different ways. twist the knobs until it sounds good to you. use your imagination and have fun.

Never give up. keep going for what you're hearing. it's possible to achieve it, if you keep at it. If you're frustrated with something, leave it alone for a while, but revisit it and attack it again. you'll eventually get it or come up with something better. at the very least you'd have tried it and you can use what you've learned and apply it another time. that information gets stored in your brain and it comes back to you at the right moments.

Understand the song. see what the song is saying and what kind of vibe it's trying to be. What emotion does it have? What can you do to enhance it and give it more emotion or convey an emotion? don't lose sight of the key elements in the song. What is driving the song? vocals or the lead instrument have the spotlight, then there's the rhythm and then the arrangement. The rest is colors and backdrop. all elements are important but each one plays a different role for the song.

[top]Corneille's 1st record in English. Could you talk a little bit about the working process and your involvement- producing and or engineering?/ what was your goal as far as "soundwise" and to present him as an artist to a new audience/ how did you work on it/ what was the recording chain for his vocals... any info you could dig up would be great! - sonnyblack2000

Yes, I just finished mixing and mastering his upcoming album last month. another album I tracked and mixed entirely off tape. From the start he said he wanted a big, warm sound and he gave me full autonomy in the sonic department and was adamant that I don't compromise anything related to how I would normally do a project, namely the use of analog tape and gear. but this was a slightly different genre for me. Besides Alicia keys, it's probably the most "pop" album I've done.

When we did the first round of tracking, it wasn't clear to me how the songs were going to turn out. I didn't have any vocals for me to hear the melody as he wanted to do the vocals himself in Montreal. The music was very simplistic and the band seemed to just keep the performances very straight with not too much improvising or straying too far from the chords. but when we went back in to track more songs and finish the overdubs, it became clear that this simple approach was a definite tactic for Corneille. My instincts kept telling me that they could stretch out a bit more but I kept my suggestions to a minimum. and his influences became evident after spending more time with him and once I started to mix his songs. It was also clear that he chooses the notes in his melodies and chords very carefully.

I asked him how far to take this album in the mix. It was tracked really well and I had a nice palette to work from and I could have gone in any direction. He told me to go for what I felt (in fact he left me alone for the majority of the mixes). but in general he wanted an edgy and raw sound similar to what I did with Erykah, D and Keziah. He wanted the contrast of his songs with big drums and bottom. so I did my usual treatments and vibes, but just tamed it down just a little. it would have been a little strange to go completely psychedelic with lots of effects. but I feel the songs were given a nice lift with a more aggressive approach versus someone else giving it a slick, pop sound. I'm very happy with the way it turned out and it sounds really big and phat, I must say . and there's enough of my subtle and not so subtle treatments to keep things interesting sonically.

Corneille's project was a real pleasure to work on. There's some really nice songwriting and lyrics on his album. His band is really tight and a bunch of really cool people. and Corneille is one of the nicest and truest people i've ever met. I know that this is just the beginning of our relationship together and I'm pleased that he reached out to me to help him attain his vision.

Avid Pro Tools

[top]Pro Tools. Do you like it at all or is it satanic? - bionic brown

I've been avoiding this question because I know how much typing it's going to involve. First, for the record, I don't really hate Pro Tools as an editing tool, but I don't like the headaches it creates in my work environment. most of the time, it has not made anything more efficient for me. I don't like the way it sounds and I don't like the ergonomics. There's more...

Tracks: it used to be, you walk in the session and there were 48 tracks you had to deal with. there might have been times when the tape was crammed with instruments on every available space of tape. (eg: the sax track would be sharing the track with the bridge guitar and a tambo in the chorus.) But that was the worst case scenario. When Pro Tools started creeping it's claws in, the amount of tracks just kept getting more and more. It went from 48 tracks to 80 tracks in one year! It's getting back under control a bit now, but I think when it first came out, people just went mad and kept opening tracks just 'cause they could!

Flow: tell me if this sounds familiar. you get the files, you open the session, and suddenly "ERROR, blah, blah, blah!" or you open the session, BOOM, your computer crashes! or you open the session and..."MISSING FILES...blah, blah blah." shall i go on..? No you get the point.

Also everyone has their own way of organizing their tracks within Pro Tools. So if you've got 80 tracks or more, if the last engineer who worked on the session was not very organized, you could be spending a few hours just organizing the session.

Latency: have you ever reamped something out of Pro Tools and recorded it back in? sure you have. but then you decide you want to blend in some of the original sound with the new reamped sound. what happens? they start to phase! so you zoom in, and holy ****, the reamped track is playing slightly behind the original.

[top]Are you discussing an HD rig or a rig from before there was delay compensation? (OF course delay compensation is not perfect though ) - no ssl yet

I'm talking about Pro Tools HD (HD for: Heavy Downtime or Huge Disappointment heh)

I don't know about other DAW's because Pro Tools has the market cornered in the "pro" world as well. And Digidesign doesn't always make it easy to be compatible with other formats. So studios only invest in HD rigs and don't bother with other DAW's. And I won't invest my money in a "better" DAW. Then I have the worries of converting the session, etc, so i don't know what experiences other people have outside of the Pro Tools world.

Why doesn't Digidesign ever address this issue though? and I'm not talking about latency from a plug-in. It should automatically shift it for you in the same position as the

I never had to worry about a variable that is so crucial, such as that, with tape...if you have a good tape machine with the proper alignment, then what you put in, is exactly what will be put out. and it's physically there on the tape! I believe that in 5 years we might have the processing/storage thing figured and we could have better sounding convertors and clocking. But even then, it won't be able to capture the quality of tape. That's it, isn't it? it's the's the texture and depth.

Okay, I sound like a snob, right? In the end you can get a good mix with whatever tools you have at your disposal. "it doesn't matter how you get there", is the saying...right? The Digital Revolution has affected (or infected) all forms of art, film, photography, etc. and there's amazing things I've heard and seen. heck, I can get a good mix going if I wanted but we all have our preference. (yes, i have to change my preferences every time I pull up a new Pro Tools session).

[top]Is there anything you do specific when "making ProTools work" that you wouldn't normally do with tape? - no ssl yet

What I'll be talking about is mixing from Pro Tools with the outputs coming up on the SSL, not mixing ITB. This scenario I'm about to describe has happened to me a few times. okay, so about 75% of the time i'm mixing off tape right? and let's say I just finished an album project using only tape for the past 2 months. Then someone books me to mix a song and for one reason or another, I have to mix from Pro Tools. When I first put up the faders, everything is so brittle and harsh sounding to my ears. So much so that sometimes I'll check to make sure my speakers are okay or see if it's some other problem. until something like this happens to you or you don't have a reference to compare, then you won't realize just how much depth and warmth you lose in the digital domain. and I'm not talking about a bass track that doesn't have any bottom. It's things like vocals, cymbals, tambs, things like that which stand out and make it hard for me to listen. your ears and brain have their own way of tuning themselves to your environment. It's like a loud fan in the room that you get used to hearing and you tune it out after a while. then when you turn it off, you're like, wow that was friggin loud!

So with that said, i don't know if there's anything specific. I'm trying to get warmth and take the harshness out. so i'll try and eq that brightness out with Pultecs or any other high quality eq's. I find I'm rolling off anywhere from 7k and above (depending on the source) for most of the brighter tracks and it does help calm the top down a bit. Also warming up the tracks with some of my tube compressors helps. running through high quality transformers and tubes makes a big difference. Pro Tools or any DAW can't possibly give you the warmth and depth of analog circuits as it's really the nature of the beast. DAW's are only as good as your converters and your clocking. and it's a simulation of the original sound instead of a sound that's physically on tape. so that's really it, I try to give it more character by running it through my analog stuff. It does make a difference. use your ears and A/B things with each other. you won't know if you have no reference. but it's also perception, huh? I could perceive something to be overly bright and another person will think it's fine.

[top]OK so what are your "workarounds" when you are on ProTools. IS there anything specific you do to make it work (other than splitting out to a console)? - no ssl yet:

The stage is set:

Intro: (bustling in the thinking aloud)
I wonder if anyone from Digidesign has been reading any of my posts. I really hope I'm not pissing anybody off. I realized this when I was writing my last post which is why I wrote the "disclaimer". I must be coming off as a total hater. But like i said, it's only a matter of preference and I'm only expressing why...

Act l: (men in white coats bustling about)

Normally, clients will ask me how I want the Pro Tools sessions organized. I tell them to turn off all automation, put all faders to "0" and take all plug-ins off. I usually like to start with a clean palette. The exceptions are if there's a plug-in effect that I can't recreate and the artist is "married" to the sound. most of the time i can recreate it and make it better with one of my effects. So yes, I do avoid plug-ins because my ears are so used to the quality of the analog version.

Interlude: (man in tattered clothing, rantings)

I don't like the sound of digital. my references don't come from the digital world and it doesn't sound natural. so if I have the resources to make it better, to my ears, I will. I don't cut corners when I'm mixing. I'm very meticulous when I'm tweaking an effect. It has to sound just right to me, otherwise it sounds like a gimmick. I spend time with it and make it alive.

Act ll: (dark, smokey room, man with scruffy beard and half crazed look turning knobs and pushing buttons)

So with that said: I spend time warming up tracks with tube gear and good eq's. Sometimes just filtering the top will help take the harshness out. I'll spend time eq'ing the tracks that are the most bright or brittle. So going back to early postings, I'll group all the percs, for example, to a pair of Pultecs in stereo and warm them up as a whole group. and within that group I might also be eq'ing some of them individually. Of course digital harshness comes in varying degrees and varies from session to session, and I can tell straight away when the recording has been done on quality equipment or if it's been done with cheap equipment.

Act lll: (old equipment scattered about...smoke everywhere)

This brings me to my point: before Pro Tools, there was a "standard" of quality in recording. There was a method that's been tried and true. something passed on. you had to know how to get a good sound and get it to tape and you were careful with the alignment, and you check and double check your levels. You check which tracks you have in record, your assistant had a hundred things he was responsible for. Your clients are paying good money for the studio, you had one chance to get it had to be good! The quality of recordings have gone way down. Where has the standard gone? instead of getting a tape that had the proper tones and the tracks were all laid out and organized and done in a proper studio with proper gear and technicians, you get a hard drive that came from someone's house, who had an engineer who hadn't come up in a studio and doesn't know what the "standard" is. He has no reference to compare. I'm not saying you can't get a great sound in your bedroom, but the majority can't. It's a sub-standard and below standard should not belong in the professional world. you would think that as more time passed in my career the better the sounds would be that I had to mix. Well it's been moving backwards. And that's my point...learn your craft. If you're serious and want to make this your career, then you have to pay your dues. There's no substitute for experience.

Monologue: (old man with cane, smoking a pipe, speaking to himself)

I'm speaking purely from my opinion and you should do what you can to make better sounds with whatever means you can. I realize some people's options are limited, I'm just here to give advice, not to discourage.

[top]Keziah Jones - Black Orpheus was never released* in the U.S., which is a shame because I think it's every bit an accomplishment as "Voodoo." (Which I adore, in the interest of disclosure.)

After listening for the first time I concluded that it was a sort of "sister" album to "Voodoo." Tight rhythm section, lyrics that at times are almost inaudible (for different reasons of course), Keziah's ever-present Nigerian influences to D's "Africa," etc. Most important--his funkiest album to date.

Would you care to share your experiences working on this album? Also, would it be fair to say he sought you out after digging the sonics of "Voodoo"? - godunique

*Editor's note: Keziah Jones' discography is now available on all major music distribution or streaming services.

Yes, I too am a big fan of Keziah's. he's a sick guitar player as well. it's interesting that you relate it to Voodoo. The producer for that album, Kevin Armstrong, is a fan of Voodoo, and played it for Keziah and that pretty much sold him on me. and I hadn't heard Keziah's music either. But when they sent me the rough's and his previous albums, I thought, wow, what interesting music this is. so there was no hesitation for me to agree to mix his album, not to mention they wanted to do it in Paris!

From the start Kevin and Keziah gave me full autonomy on the mixes. I definitely had a vision right away with the album. He can be really abstract at times and then very beautiful at other times. I knew a psychedelic and edgy approach would be just right for him. Also, I heard Frank Zappa in his music as well as the obvious influences. So after I finished the 1st song (which I can't remember) they knew what I was capable of doing with his songs and just let me go for it. So I had a lot of fun working on that and the creativity was flowing like know being in Paris, working with amazing people, excellent vibes at the studio, the expresso, etc. all the right chemistry for making an incredible album. wait til you to hear his next one…I'll be back with some more later.

I just wanted to talk about Keziah jones' next album. We've taken a break from recording for a few months while Keziah is writing more songs. He's been all over the globe these past few months getting inspirations and such in Lagos, Spain, London and Paris. Black Orpheus was such a blast to mix, but this time around I'll be helping Keziah with the production as well. We cut around 18 tracks so far. and we've got some amazing players on it. We've got Roy Hargrove doing the horn arrangements (genius). We have Doug Wimbush (bass) and Will Calhoun (drums) from Living Color. Also on drums we got Jason Thomas (JT) from Roy's RH factor band (who's really killin it on the polyrhythmic ****) and he is teamed up with Adam Blackstone who plays bass in Gil Scott's band. And James Poyser is helping with his keyboard talents. Amp Fiddler is playing keys as well.

All of it is being tracked to 2" running 15ips with Dolby SR. The songs are sounding amazing so far and we've only just begun. I think overall, this album will be more edgy and funky, sonically and musically. And he's doing quite a bit of experimenting with his voice. I've not heard him sing like this before. And the players have been just nailing the songs. It's been about 5 years since that album and we've both grown since then, so it should be very keep your eye out for it on "Because Records" and there will be a release in the US this time...

[top]I always wondered how D'Angelo approaches his songs. How does he build up his arrangements and how big is your influence on fading in/muting instruments? Do you use ProTools to work out the mutes/breaks or are they done real-time by the session musicians? Does the decision making happen prior to tracking? - Rassy

D will usually have a demo version of a song done in his ASR10 and he'll play this for the musicians and they re-play it live with D. And some songs come from them jamming out in the studio. There's a bunch of unfinished songs from voodoo that came from jams. D does the main song arrangement and his vocal arrangements on his own (obviously) and the band improvises here and there. I guess half of the mutes/breaks are the musicians and the other times it's me. And I do all the muting at the console in the mix, but a loose answer to your question is it's a mix of both planned and spontaneous between us all. eg: all the fade ins and things happening in "Playa" was me. The breaks on "Chicken grease" and "Devil's pie" was me and D together. "The root" come from a jam and the whole arrangement for "Africa'' was all done beforehand with the musicians, like the intro and outro (but all the reverse guitars was all me )

For other artists I do almost all the breaks and mutes as I hear them. Sometimes I'll just hear a good break in my head as I'm mixing and know it will sound right in a particular section. So i just go ahead and do it and usually people will like it. But it has to be just right, because it's easy to fill up the whole song with breaks. The ones that are the best are ones where you don't expect it.

Check out "Voodoo mixologies..." for more.

[top]Where can we contact you for availability on mixing songs for my label? I"ve just caught this thread now, I was on vacation so forgive me if this has been covered. - Eskay

You can just click on my name here on and it will take you to my profile and allow you to email me. You can also visit my website. it's under construction right now, but it's got my manager's and my contact info at the bottom of the page.

Lexicon 480L

[top]How do you as an engineer achieve good depth? What are some of your tricks? This seems to be one of the hardest things to achieve in a mix. Any thoughts are welcomed. - EeK

I've been asked many times how I get depth in my mixes and I really don't have a straight answer for that. I don't have a technique for it that I can explain. It's not something I'm conscious of when I'm mixing. I don't keep that thought in my head, it's just the way my mixes turn out. maybe it's naturally how I like things to sound. There's also the fact that I mix off tape for most of my stuff and print to tape for ALL my mixes. I'm using a lot of vintage analog gear as well which might be a big factor. but i believe that one of the main differences with DAW's and tape IS the depth. track for track, when you compare the two, that's the difference i hear...depth, texture, truth. could this be another digital vs analog comparison again?

The times when the project doesn't originate on tape or I can't transfer the Pro Tools files to tape, I'm still putting up all the tracks from Pro Tools on individual faders and inserting my outboard gear for any processing I do. The only digital gear I use would be effects like the Lexicons PCM 42/41, 300, 480L and 960L and that's about it. I don't use any digital eq's or compressors. Well I don't know if this helps or if it's a real answer, but that's all I can really say...

[top]I wondered if you also did production work as opposed to exclusively mixing projects.
I know there is some overlap between tracking/engineering and production but am interested to hear your thoughts. - recall

Yes, there is an "overlap" especially if the mixer/engineer is adding that much in the creative process. I'll sometimes ask for a co-production credit for some projects and most people feel it's fair.
I am trying to make my move more into the production side of things. I've been producing Keziah Jones' next record with him (which is going to be great) and also producing an unsigned artist named Krystle warren. I will supervise the tracking (obviously) and mix all of the things I produce. It's the natural progression for me and I have a lot of things I want to do to expand on my concepts and move into my next phase. I still want to continue mixing as my passion for it has not been quenched. The difficult part is now finding the artists to produce who will fit my musical personality...someone who knows my style...Is anyone looking for an amazing producer ???

For anyone interested check "what's moving you now..." as i'll be talking about keziah and krystle there.

[top]How are these two statuses seen or treated in the music industry overall:

A) Music Producer (not an executive producer)
B) Beat Maker

Because all of the time I get to meet Beat Makers that do Great Beats or some just not there yet (but we all know it's a matter of practicing to make it perfect) that take themselves or give themselves the Status of "Music producer". And I know that a lot of people have or make their own STATUS. So i would love to hear from "You" who've worked with the BEST out there from Beatmaker and Music producer, HOW do they or would you DEFINE the JOB of Each of them in your own WORDS and POINT OF VIEW?

So finally, what normally is the JOB of the or A Music Producer and the Beatmaker? And we all know that most of the time the Music producer is a lot of things starting from the guy who can do BEATS right? - Solar

This is an interesting subject. The role or definition of a producer today is not the same as it was pre-1980. today, I think it has mostly to do with the genre of music. In hip hop, and in most of the r&b world, the "beat maker" or "song writer" is considered the producer. But now that I think about it, hip hop/r&b (some pop stuff) are the ONLY genres where the producer's role is not separate from the songwriter's role. In other genres, like rock for instance, the artist is usually writing the songs and the producer is giving suggestions on arrangement or getting the best performance from the band/artist. This is more of what I would be doing as a producer. getting the best performance from everyone, making sure the session is running smoothly, getting the right people together, getting the vision or concept of the project materialized. This is the traditional producer role, like Tom Dowd or George Martin, etc.

These days there might be 5 different producers and 5 engineers on one album. IMHO this makes for an album which is more "single" driven and unfocused. and the role of the artist is more or less a puppet and is just told what to do. This is fine for some artists but also frustrating for other artists. There are a lot of talented singer/songwriters out there but are not given the opportunity because the market is saturated (by the labels) with the one hit wonders. The labels are not so concerned with having a career artist like they did in the past. The labels used to give more attention to their artists like Aretha Franklin or Stevie Wonder who helped to develop their careers. Now it's, more than ever, about the disposable artist...but there's hope. I think the industry is shifting a little toward the singer/songwriter, especially with the successes of the independent labels. Let's try and help the shift further.

[top]Sonically what do you consider your best work? - Syra

Man this is another hard one to answer. all the albums that I've done have special meanings for me and are like timestamps in my life. After I've mixed something, I'm usually very happy with the mixes and experience. But I'll listen to it again a couple more times after mastering and then I may not listen to it again for years (unless someone else has it on). When I do listen to it again, it's like seeing a picture or a movie of something that is a part of me. weird right? and I'll hear all these little things I did and sometimes forget I did them (and I won't remember how I did them) and it just puts a big smile on my face. It's always a deep experience for me mixing an album or song so I can remember the emotions I felt when I was doing it. so i have a special attachment to most of the stuff i've done.

Okay that's a total cop out...right? I just don't want anybody to come to me and say, "hey Russ, why didn't you mention my album?"

Well, I think voodoo and all the Roy Hargrove records are at the top as I recorded and mixed them entirely. The Roots, Keziah Jones, Erykah, Nikka Costa and Blackalicious are all special to me. Of course there are songs that stand out. the epic ones I've mentioned before like, The Roots "Water", D's "Playa", Nikka's "so have I for you", Blackalicious' Release", Erykah's "Green Eyes", Common's "Time Travelin", Keziah's "72 kilos". Songs like that were especially challenging because there was a lot of time spent on crafting the effects, getting all the different sounds and transitions, etc. very creative mixing IMHO...

[top]I've been experimenting with digital recordings by zooming right in and aligning say snare and overheads so that the snare and O/H transients line up. This is making the mix tighter and cleaner but I have a feeling it is losing some character. Do or have you ever tried anything like this or how do you approach this when on tape? Is it all down to mic placement at tracking?, and being extremely thorough. -[email protected]

I've never tried to align any drum tracks when working with Pro Tools unless there was an obvious shift on one of the tracks for some mysterious reason that only the digital gods know the answers to. My biggest phase problems with Pro Tools comes from the latency when reamping where the reamped track is slightly behind the original. you don't have to worry about any latency whatsoever or tracks shifting when using tape. Once you record your track and your alignment is correct, then playback will be exactly what you recorded. PERIOD! you should check the phase between the mics when recording drums. good luck with the tape machine. make sure you've got the proper alignment and keep the heads clean. you might find some useful tips in the thread "drum talk".

[top]I'm curious about D'Angelo's new album (James River?) for it's mentioned as an upcoming release in your Discography and there's hardly any word on what to expect (and when to expect it). Could you tell me anything about this project and, more specifically, how you are contributing? - betelgeuse

Unfortunately, I can't go into too much detail about the new album. i can however, give you a little background:

We have been working on it (on and off) since 2002. and I don't have any idea when the exact release date is but hopefully this year, the latest 2008. but it has been in progress (slow as that may be). We were in the studio last November doing some o/d's and rough mixes on about 5 new songs that we could play for the label. but besides that, D has not worked on the album for about 2 years or so. We do have plans to head into the studio in may to finish mixes on some live material from the voodoo tour and that's all I can say about the live stuff for now...

I turned him onto Jimi Hendrix just before we started voodoo (hence the album title) and he just went crazy. It was like a revelation for him. He realized (for the first time) that a lot of his heroes were greatly influenced by Hendrix, including Prince, Sly, George Clinton...everyone! and I got him hooked on the Beatles as well. so it's opened up a few doors for him.

It will be a different album than voodoo, that much is definite. to me it's leaning more in a rock direction. like funkadelic meets the beatles or something. He hasn't given up his soul roots by any means, but he is growing and exploring a new genre. He's writing quite a bit of music on guitar rather than the keyboard this time as well.

It will have a different sonic quality as well. we'll have to see how it will turn out as the vision has not revealed itself fully yet. His songs are varied and he's gone through much experimentation. my contributions will be (more than ever) in the old school production techniques and style. but this time it will come from a slightly more rock perspective...slightly. and heavier.

The song you're speaking of is actually called "1000 deaths" and I don't hear the Earth Wind & Fire influence. It's more like a heavy rock/funk vibe. It would be hard for me to rate as it's every bit of a good D'angelo song than any of his others but it's also different. There's some really nice guitar work from him on that song also.

[top]Thanks again Russell Elevado, for taking the time to talk to us fans. A while back, Questlove had posted this Okayplaye about the new D' album:

Here's the deal: 11 songs are done. Most need lyrics. Most are in the 7-9 minute range. All are epic as ****. Most need a haircut. **** I love. But **** I know the marketplace ain't even ready for. If "Untitled" video is what got him over on the idiot side of things, he is gonna have to get his physical game back and come with some strong ass imagining to make up for the fact that there will be no radio friendly single--newbies I'm warning you now, if you want to "understand" this record--you must purchase and study the following[Funkadelic's] Maggot Brain, America Eats Its Young, Cosmic Slop, Standing on the Verge of Getting It On, Let's Take it to the Stage, Tales of Kidd Funkadelic,[Sly & The Family Stone's] There's a Riot Going On,[Miles Davis'] On the Corner,[Shuggie Otis'] Inspiration Information,[Brian Wilson's] Smile,[the Beatles'] Abbey Road, Revolver,[Jimi Hendrix's] Electric Ladyland,[the Sex Pistol's] Nevermind the Bullocks Here's the Sex Pistols,[Prince's] Dirty Mind,[Tony Williams'] Ego and Emergency!. Study and absorb and research this **** now. Memorize it. Understand why the albums I mentioned were important in their historical context. Lower your expectations. This will throw you for a loop.

Is this still the case as far as influences go with this album? Would you say that these are probably the albums we should be studying now in order to "understand" D's new album? - Kidd Funkadelic

Yeah I read that post some time ago and (chuckling) to myself and I thought it was very good. I think he posted that years ago, no? well, not that it matters anyway 'cause all the songs are still the same. yeah, it's definitely going to make (some) people's heads turn first I would include 2 more on the list of required albums: Hendrix - Band of Gypsys and Beatles - white album. He liked the Frank Zappa I turned him onto, but i think he's lost the discs...

[top]How do you follow an epic like Voodoo? It seems like one of the scariest things imaginable. You have this incredible groundbreaking album with no "hit" single and around 2,000,000 albums sold purley because 2,000,000 recognized how brilliant it was. Is anyone scared of a flop? This new album, from it's description, sounds like every label's nightmare. Are they giving you guys a hard time about creative direction? How do you get them off your back long enough to spend 7 years on an album? I just can't see any label putting up with this reckless abandon and willful creativity... What is the secret? - Paul David

Yes it is scary but thankfully I don't have to worry about trying to sell the album once my part is done! I can't really speak for them but I'm sure everyone at the label is concerned if it will flop or not, but I think the possibilities of a success outweighs that. The thing with D'angelo is that there is no one else that can do what he's doing. He paved the way for the neo soul movement and now he will be forging a new path. I've been working with D since 1994 and there's never been an A&R person giving any direction. D does what he wants in the studio and never compromises on anything. I'm not sure what the secret is. But I do know that there is a lot of faith in D'angelo's talents and his music.

[top]I am interested in your methods of preparing for mastering (alternate mixes/ stems etc) and any advice for us out here who have to master our own stuff. - recall

All my mixes are mastered off 1/2" tape so I don't know how many people will be able to relate to this. I don't like printing stems nor do I like using them in mastering. a lot of people might disagree with me on this. but to me, there should be the fewest options by the time it gets to the mastering stage. A lot of people are now coming in with Pro Tools files and it's all stems and they re-do the mix. "Let's bring the drums down" or "turn the vocals down on the bridge", etc. there should not be a "mixing" session when you go to the mastering facility. I like to really commit to the mix at the end of the session. I'll print a louder and lower vocal and every so often a drum or bass up pass or something, then the standard instrumental mix, no lead vocal mix, and an acapella.

I spend a good deal of time making sure my mix is as perfect as I can get it. so when I go to the mastering, it will usually just be a slight tweak on the top or bottom and usually not more than 1 db or so. sure there maybe a mix or two that needs a little more tweaking than others, but 90% of it needs only a minute boost or cut. Essentially the sound is there so I don't want anyone to mess with it. if your mix isn't good, then you can save it in mastering, but if it's good why fix it?

Chris Gehringer at sterling sound in NY does the majority of my mastering. and i'll sit in the room with him and we master it together. I've been mastering with him since 2000 and he knows how particular I am. but Chris always listens first before he tweaks anything. so we go song by song and I let him do what he hears. then I'll sit down and I'll A/B to the original. I'll bypass his chain, I'll try turning the top down one click, or boost the bottom from where he had it, or change the frequency that he had, etc. and I'll ask him "what do you think if we changed the top boost from 12k to 8k?" or "let's try it without boosting the bottom" and come to a combined decision.

I add the slightest analog compression to my mixes in mastering. I don't care that my CD is not as loud as Dr Dre's. I just turn the knob on my stereo that says "volume". when you turn this knob to the right, the song gets louder. Hello, anyone with me on this???

What's up with this L2 plug-in that everyone is using. what a piece of crap. I've just spent 2 months recording and mixing an album. I've carefully selected the best mics and mic pre's and placed everything just right. I mixed it with all sorts of incredible gear. then you want to put a $200 digital plug-in to compress all those wonderful dynamics and depth that I toiled over. this just doesn't seem right to me. loud doesn't equal good! turn the f*ckin volume up!

For the ITB users: I hope you know by now that I've never implied that people who are staying in the digital domain are not good engineers.

I've been very impressed with some mixes that were done by ITB. i just can't relate to that world, just the same as some of you may not be able to relate to my world. If you're staying digital then an L2 or other digital limiter might work great for you. It depends on your preference for sound. In fact there have been times when I couldn't match a certain punch of a rough mix done originally by ITB. so i guess we could say we're incompatible with each other sometimes...

I'll be back to talk about bus compression...

[top]These level wars have reached a point of total nonsense. It's great to read big time pros like you complain about it and make a stand. Do you print your mixes hot on the 1/2"? Cheers! - Tom VDH

Can I get an AMEN! yes I do print fairly hot with a +6/185 alignment. but most of the time, i'm not looking for any crunch from printing. with a +6 alignment, you can get away with pretty hot levels before distortion. but for some hip hop stuff i print hotter than I normally would.

Turn up the volume please

I've never given my equipment list out before and some of my friends are like, "really, you don't want to keep it private"? I must admit it makes me a little nervous. you know, like I'm being exposed or something. I've thought about it though and I don't see anything wrong with showing people what I have. but there might be a piece or two that I've missed...

Here's my list of eq/pre's and compressors for now and i'll come back later with the rest.

Gates STA-Level
  • Gates SA-39B
  • Gates STA-Level
  • LA2A
  • Altec 438c (2)
  • Altec 436c (2)
  • Fairman TSC (opto stereo tube compressor)
  • Civil aeronautics limiter-1529
  • Urei 1178
  • Telefunken U373a (2)
  • Collins 26W
  • HELIOS F760 (2)
  • CBS Audimax lll
  • CBS ll
  • UA 175b
  • Dynax (Olivier Bolling design)

Telefunken V676a
Mic Pre's and EQ's:
  • Telefunken V676a (10)
  • Focusrite (2)
  • HELIOS TYPE 69 "Strawberry" (2)
  • Helios type 79 (green) (8)
  • Neve 33115 (4)
  • Telefunken W395a (2)
  • Filtek MK5b (4)
  • Siemens W295b (2)
  • Neumann OEV (2)
  • Neumann V476 (2)
  • Altec 9470A (10)
  • RCA- BA31 (2)
  • WSW tube mic pre (2)
  • Urei 565T

[top]That really is a lot of vintage and esoteric gear, even by standards. I notice that at least half of the equipment on the list is tube-based. Do you tend to find a preference for tube-gear? I also notice that in spite of the extensive list of compressors, as far as I'm aware, not a single one of them is VCA-based. That's quite unusual! - Steamy Williams

Thanks man, it's good to be here and Jules has been awesome in the filtering process. yes I do love tube gear but not necessarily as a preference. I like the way vintage tubes and opto compressors sound and behave. I haven't found (or tried) many VCA based compressors that I like. maybe what I favor is a vintage sound and most VCA comps are too modern sounding. I don't mainly use compressors to control the level (exceptions again). I go for the actual sound of a particular compressor. and I don't consciously shy away from VCA's. I do like the TubeTech LCA 2B...

Sweet list of toys, man. Would you care to shed some light on what you've found works best in your setup? I'd love to cop some of that insight- specifically, what you use those Altecs for example.
- makeitwork[/H]

This is a hard question and I could use up an entire page of different scenarios. and as I've said in other posts, I don't stick to a particular formula. I try different things everyday. and I'll use gear for subtle results as well as maximum results. I like the sound of the signal running through the transformers. all of the gear I favor, I have tried in all combinations and therefore i can make them work for whatever scenario I have. Even for an entire album, I won't always have the same compressor for drums on every song even if it's the same kit/micing/drummer. I like variations...I can give you some quick thoughts however...

The LA2A is a sure shot if you're looking for compression to track through. they have a subtle sound even at high compression. So if you're looking to tame some transients in the bass or horns but still want to maintain a natural sound, the LA2A at lower threshold settings is awesome.

The LA2A, 1176 and 1178 are great for lots of things. I've used them on practically every instrument. vocals, guitars, bass, keys, pianos, name it. so they're like the workhorse of the industry.

I like the Altecs on guitars, keys, vocals and drums. you just have to bring the incoming signal down as it's got some crazy gain. but I like the texture of it.

I like the Fairman TSC on vocals, strings and drums, but again, it's great on a lot of things...

Fairman TSC

[top]When I posted that last post I was being a bonehead and assuming the application was mixing, not recording (it's been a while since I've recorded anything), so if that changes anything, feel free to go there. - makeitwork

No you're right, I was mostly talking about mixing. I do change it up quite a bit. I could use any piece I have and make it work on most things. This keeps me fresh on a project. I've always been in that mindset. My assistants are awesome and they develop a system when they work with me. All my racks are on DL's and they come right up on the patchbay.

I will print the really intricate effects that I know won't be recallable. and they WILL remind me to print. I don't patch up a bunch of things and have them ready to go. eg: i won't patch up ALL my pedals and bring them up on faders. I'll only patch when I need it. most of the time these days I'm printing the effect and then using the printed track in the mix and I can unplug the effect after that or use it again for something else. This will also make recalls a little more accurate.

Speaking of recalls... I'll be venting about it soon.

[top]Fader riding, if there is such a thing. Can you elaborate on how you do this? - Crabtwins

I do a lot of riding. but I ride as I go along. and it really depends on how dense the song is. there's no real technique besides just making room for things by riding down or bringing things up. but I do rely on riding for the final shaping especially in the vocals. To me, it's the only way to really get a dynamic mix going. The mix will just sound very linear without rides. and you can shift the focus on different instruments by making something lower or louder. and everything IS relative to one another, so a lot of times you'll have to revisit something you rode previously. minute changes will affect the whole mix. you have to really listen. it's really based on how your mix is translating to your ears. so I keep riding things until the mix is really jelling to my ears. you can read a little more about it on the thread "analog automation: techniques".

[top]Do you use gates when mixing drums ? - Ambroise

It depends on what I'm going for. for a song like "chicken grease" on voodoo, I gated everything to get that tight "drum machine" type of sound out of the whole kit. but a song like "the seed" on the roots "phrenology", I probably didn't gate anything to get a real open sound.

But I'll use gates for overall control over the sound as well and not just for tight gating. Gates really help me to fine tune once I get the main sound going, especially the snare and kick mics. I'll use them sometimes to get rid of unwanted bleeding, noise or undesirable frequencies. eg: toms ringing out and making a tone which is clashing with some notes on the guitar. The SSL 9k gates work really well for me in conjunction with the eq/side chain filters. I like the Drawmer gates as well, but as with any processing, I won't use them unless necessary.

AL.SO Dynax

[top]My question is regarding the Dynax. I was really lucky to win the Dynax at the last AES convention by taking part in the Great Treasure Hunt. And I love it to death on vocals and bass. Would you mind sharing what you use it on? - adrianex

Wow, that's great luck winning the Dynax...congrats . I hope you're having fun with it like I am. originally, my next post was going to be a list of other cool gear that I use but don't own. I was going to talk about new gear that I'm excited about but since the Dynax was mentioned in 2 posts back to back, I guess I'll have to go there...

I love the Dynax! In my opinion, it's one of the most original designs to come out in a long while. it's a little hard to describe unless you've used one. it's like how the company describes it; a sound shaper...

Actually Olivier Bolling, the man who designed this axe, and I are acquainted. We met at "plus xxx" studios in Paris when I was mixing Keziah's Black Orpheus. At that time he was the chief tech there and also designed their studios. I shipped some of my gear over for the mixing and Olivier recognized some of the pieces I had. He is a big fan of vintage and boutique gear. So we had that connection straight away. He told me he was in the process of designing his own gear and wanted to keep in touch.

He contacted me about a year ago and asked if I was interested in demoing a new opto compressor he designed. and he also said that i'm probably going to dig it. so of course I said, "ship it out straight away!". He sent me a prototype and well, I've been using it all the time since I got it. It's one of the most versatile compressors I've ever used. you can use it on just about anything. I get great results on vocals, bass, drums, guitars, you name it. It takes a minute to get used to what it does. In fact, I'm still learning little nuances about it.

You can go very subtle or very aggressive with four compression settings. The last setting which he calls "antidyna" is very fun to use indeed. it gives you some extreme limiting where you can achieve reverse cymbal effects very easily, for example. This really rounds out my collection quite nicely. and I really couldn't compare it with any one compressor. This is my latest favorite toy and I tell everyone about it. I'm waiting for some of the new things he's designing. He's just finishing up his final tweaks on his mic pre design which should be ready in the next few months. He's got some other things cooking which he just hinted at but didn't go into details. if they're anything like the Dynax, then i'm sure they'll have a unique way of processing your sound as well....

Bravo Olivier for designing an outstanding and unique compressor!

[top]Do you have any recommendations to any colleges good with music production?

PS: Any tips on getting started in the business? (Internships, etc...) - Gaa700

I can only offer you suggestions on schools if you're looking to major in audio engineering. The best thing to do is to make sure the school has a fully functioning "professional" studio equipped with gear that mirrors other studios in the real world. The school should have a large format console like an SSL G or J series or a Neve VR or 88R.

My best advice, school or no school, is to go and try to get internships at major studios. This is the best way to learn about engineering. If you're really thinking about making it your career, then interning is a great start. Most studios don't require you to have a degree or certificate in recording or music. studios will frequently contact the schools when searching for interns but anyone off the street can get an internship based on their personality and their goals. so basically if your interview goes well with the studio manager, then you're in. you just have to call studios in your area (or wherever), and see if they're looking for interns. lots of times they will ask you to submit a resume or something, but they know that most people looking for an internship will not have the most comprehensive resume with tons of experience. so you shouldn't get discouraged if you don't think your resume looks very impressive. Your vibe or personality is usually what gets you in the door.

I started interning 3 months into school and it was the best thing I could have ever done. They didn't teach me much in school about what I would be doing as an assistant. and it also gave me a taste of what the lifestyle was going to be like as well as being able to talk to the assistants and some of the engineers about how it was to have a career in recording. you don't get hired as an assistant fresh out of school. you have to start at the bottom and pay your dues and you learn how to become an assistant engineer. it's not for everyone and it's a tough ladder to climb, but if it's your passion then go for it with all your heart...

Check the thread "your roots" for a little more of how I started. Best of luck!

The better the tools, the easier it is to get from point A to point B. but you have to be practical and not get too carried away with gear. It depends on your goal. It's the difference between having an amazing sounding record or a good sounding record. But it's purely subjective as well. though when it's right, it's undeniable. you can make anything sound great with gear X or Y because ultimately it's the user that brings the sound out. As I've said before here, try to stay away from the pro-sumer stuff. I know it's hard when you're in the music store and you can buy 5 pieces of gear for the price of one really good mic but I would go for quality over quantity. it's fine to buy some lower end stuff when you're starting out and learning what things can do, but when you're ready to get serious, you need good equipment. so it's a double edged sword, the gear is an extension of your art once you've learned the craft.

Yamaha NS-10M

[top]I think many visitors to this forum will be very interested in your approach to monitoring. - recall

I really rely on my NS10's and Auratones. I'm probably on the NS10's about 75% of the time, monitoring at various volumes through the session. I try and stay conscious of monitoring very loud for long periods of time but sometimes you just can't help turning it up. I do want to save as much of my hearing as possible. but I've gotten into the habit of monitoring at low volumes and when you get used to it, it's a good way of checking things at the end of the mix. I checked my bottom on the KRK E8's and Dynaudio BM15a's. I check things in mono on the Aurotone and listen at medium volumes. For me, after listening to all sorts of frequencies for a long period and my ears are feeling tired, the Auratone will just put everything flat and my ears kind of just recalibrate that weird?

I also like using the little speakers that are part of the meter bridge on the Studer A80 or A820 2 trks. If I'm going for a specific sound overall in the mix and it's aggressive in its frequency responses and there's lots of information going on, I'll try and listen to every speaker that's available to me.

If I'm mixing at a studio for the first time, I'll try and listen to as many different systems as I can find (cars, boom boxes, computers, etc), just so I can get a feel for how it's translating in the "real world". This is good practice in general.

[top]Do you ever use subwoofers? - Joemamma

Nope, I don't use subwoofers. I tried a couple of times and I ended up turning it off halfway through the session.

[top]How can you not use subwoofers? I have always read that one of the main advantages of the big/proper mastering rooms is the accurate low end. How can you get that without subs? - crabtwins

I swear I don't use subs. it's a component that was not around when i was coming up. The BM15a's that I use go down to 30Hz so I can hear what's happening on the bottom. but it's not always about the sub frequencies when you're going for a nice low end. frequencies are unpredictable, they phase, they can mask each other, they can play tricks on you. Pulling out low frequencies doesn't mean you'll get less bottom in the overall mix. Subtractive eq'ing works well and is a good technique. You have to make room sometimes. You can't just keep adding frequencies and expect it to get bigger and better. That's when things get muddy.

[top]Can you give us an example of a song that has the drums pushed to be full on dirty like that.. and how you might have achieved that.. (outboard comps./guitar pedals, or plugs etc..?). -

I don't really remember an exact incident. I can't emphasize enough how many different ways I've processed his drums and other tracks.

I remember the song "boom" on "tipping point", took quite a bit of tweaking before Ahmir was satisfied with the drum sound. Actually, I'd say that 75% of the session was spent on the drums to get just the right sound and texture for that one. I can't remember exact details of what we ended up using for the final sound. I would say I probably tried 3 or 4 different things for that. i might have used a compressor for the whole kit and then into another compressor. and then the kick and snare, on top of the processing i just described, i might have tried to go through a guitar amp and then through another compressor and mixed it in with the rest of the kit. It's really hard for me to remember exact information but these are things that I might try to go for a really unique or old or dirty or whatever you want to call it, sound. with Ahmir, more than anyone else I've worked with, I just go into overdrive mode, turbo, maximum creativity...!

if you listen to "star" on the 'tipping point', in the outro section where the tempo changes and it gets really trippy. then the drums and the whole track starts to "morph" (that's how Ahmir describes it, "make it morph") and gets really distorted and indistinguishable, and then right into "Pointro" the Monologue. I listen to that and think wow, that sounds cool, how did I do that? I can hear that there's filtering, and reverb and I know I did that manually, but the details escapes me. Like I've said, I'm in the zone and ideas are flying and I'm trying this and scrapping that and suddenly...the sound is there. (no plug-ins used)

[top]There has been a lot of talk on D'angelo, but i wondered if you could talk a bit about the recording and mixing of The Roots' "Phrenology".

I also think the highlight (for me) of the album is the song "water". Such a groove!!! The percussive part seems really complex, could you decrypt it for us? (I hear claps a lot, snare punctuation, a jazzy hi hat...)

And of course, i wanted to talk to you about the finish, after 4'. Could you tell us more about how it was generated? What was the original idea? I LOVE THAT PART! And i think it is brilliant! All those sounds are great. - teleric

Yeah "water" was a real trip to mix. (thanks for the comps heh) I'll try my best to remember what I can. Ahmir wanted to go for a sort of heavy, dark mood that would evoke the way a person would feel if one is going through a battle with drugs. If I remember correctly, we mixed that song in 2 stages and edited them together. and we probably took about a day for the first half and 3 days for the 2nd half. Ahmir had the whole idea/concept in his head and it was a great experience to try and capture what was in his mind. We recorded all those sounds and drums in one day and Amir did most of the sounds. He laid down a few different drum patterns throughout that whole trippy section. and I processed each one of them a few different ways. so i had a few drum palettes to choose from. so I would fade those sounds out of the mix.

This is a perfect example of trying the craziest things you could think of and making it work. I listened to it while I was writing and I did some really psychedelic stuff in there! I couldn't possibly begin to tell you how I did some of those things, mostly because I don't remember! I can hear that I did crossfades on the drums to make them go from one effect to another. eg:drums would be phased and it would morph into a clean sound with reverb. and for delays i using mostly PCM 42's, pcm 41's and a maestro tape echo. and I do know that i didn't use any plug-ins and i mixed it off tape.

[top]I love to see the big pile of guitar-pedals on your list. Does your patchbay have some kind of re-amp circuits? Do you notice big differences (setup/re-amping-wise) between different pedals, or did you modify them for line-use? - tomdarude

I use the Radial X-Amp and JD48 (DI) for my pedals. To me the radial stuff is top notch and the best I've heard so far. Each pedal does have it's own gain structure so to speak, but I use the X-Amp going in and the JD48 on the output. The SSL 9K does have a hi Z input which I use sometimes as well. Also some of my eq/pre's have passive DI inputs built in. I also like the Demeter tube DI's. and love all the Mooger pedals .

Maestro Echoplex EP-3

[top]I'm very curious about what analog delays you used for Roy Hargrove's trumpet, there are a couple that really stick out in my mind. The first is the second track on Hard Groove, at the very end, stereo delays. The second is on the first track of strength, during Roy's solo. Was this done in real time, or after the fact? It seems like he plays off the delays, but that could just be your artful mastery. Gorgeous either way! - Over-man

For delays I use PCM 42's, PCM 41's, Maestro Tube Echoplex, and Fulltone Tube Tape Echo. the tape echo's can't do long delays in which case I'll turn to the pcm units. for "common freestyle'' on "hardgroove", that's just one delay and I panned it from L to R. for 'rich man's welfare" on "strength" I put the delays in the mix and just timed it that way.

Yes, for about 90% of the effects I use, I do bring them up on faders and often ride them in places or turn them on and off. I treat delays like they're another instrument. they have to be seamless in the mix and as i've said before, they shouldn't sound like a gimmick, it should sound like they belong there.

[top]I'm wondering, what's in heavy rotation in your iPod or changer,or whatever you use ? - neilio

In my cd player in my car I've got Hendrix "Jimi plays Berkeley", and, right now as i'm writing, I'm listening to Galt MacDermot's LP "woman is sweeter" on my computer. Believe it or not, I just bought my 1st ipod a couple of weeks ago. (I confess to playing a lot of ms. pac man on it ).

I bought a new car radio recently and it came with an aux input. I was against the ipod for a while, as they don't sound good to me and I don't really listen to music with Headphones anymore. but i couldn't resist using that damn aux input staring at me all the time! it was like, "I HAVE to use that input!'' I got the 30GB ipod and I keep the files in aif. I'm surprised how many songs fit even as aif files. anyway...

I don't really have things in constant rotation. I listen to different things all the time. So this is what I've listened to in the last 2 weeks: some in its entirety, some not and no particular order...
  • The roots "phrenology", "game theory"
  • "Voodoo" (being here on gearslutz made me listen to's been some time)
  • Funkadelic "hardcore jollies" and "standing on the verge of getting it on"
  • Donald Byrd "ethiopian knights"
  • The mars volta "de loused in the crematorium"
  • Tv on the radio "Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes"
  • EPMD "strictly business"
  • De la soul "de la soul is dead"
  • Red hot and riot (fela tribute w/various artists)
  • Amy winehouse "back to black"
  • Beck "odelay"
  • The meters "uptown rulers" live

This is a tough question man. I've got so many influences. the easiest for me would be to do top artists. Could I edit the list on a daily basis ?
  • Hendrix
  • Beatles
  • Prince
  • James Brown
  • Bob Marley
  • Frank Zappa
  • Pink Floyd
  • parliament/funkadelic
  • Miles Davis
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Sly Stone (and the family)
Sorry i cheated...this is really hard because there's so many other big influences to mention.

My main references these days are albums I've worked on for obvious reasons. and luckily, I'm a big fan of (myself ....just kidding heh) the albums I've done! but I used to reference some of the old classic stuff like the artists mentioned above. but this is a good topic to expand on in the Voodoo mixologies thread. We studied all the old classics like we were in school or something.

[top]I'd like to ask your take on recording solo acoustic guitar, and how you'd apply your sound and techniques to that process. - bellssurfer

For acoustic guitars i like using these mics: neumann KM84, KM86, U64, KM54, U47, U67. and definitely go for a high quality mic pre like neve or telefunkens. with any acoustic instrument, you really have to get in there and listen to it. I mean, literally bring your ear close to the source. (obviously, be very careful!). use one ear and kind of move around the instrument and listen for the "sweet spots". placing a mic directly in front of the sound hole will not always sound good and will always depend on the mic you're using. so find the sweet spots and place the mic there. Typically a mic just off the edge of the sound hole on an angle about 4 inches (10.5cm) away will get you started in the right direction for the bottom. and another mic further up the neck for more of the highs. but again, use your ears! and i would only use the room sound if the room has nice acoustics.

[top]You don't record it with an XY or blumlein configuration ? Cheers - Ambroise

Yes, this is a good point and good techniques heh! though I'm not fond of a stereo sound from a solo guitar you might like it for your application "bellssurfer". XY in cardioid at 90 degrees of each other will give you a decent stereo effect.

XY in mid/side (M&S) is very effective, if done correctly, for a focused mono sound but still capturing the room ambience in stereo. both mics should be closely matched. one mic in cardioid faces the source and the other mic in figure 8 placed underneath the other mic but facing 90 degrees to the cardioid mic. This captures the ambience. but you have to split the figure 8 mic's signal to 2 faders and "flip" the phase of one channel and pan them LR of each other. then you can adjust the amount of width and ambience combined with the mono mic.

I don't do too much stereo micing other than piano or a percussion stereo thing as I like a mono sound and I will usually pan things to one side or another. but this is great advice Ambroise, if you're recording solo instruments and you can really hear the focused stereo signal. IMO it's not as useful in a typical song with a whole band as the stereo impact is not as effective.

I've not tried the blumlein technique. I'm sure if you search google you can find pictures and a more in depth description of these techniques.

[top]I am a big fan of your work, but I hadn't realized that you'd worked with Vikter Duplaix. He has a really smooth voice, and I particularly like the programming and synth sounds on his records. Would you care to tell us what it was like working with him? He seems like a bit of an unusual character. - Steamy Williams

Wow, that's cool that you know vikter's music. yeah his music's got a good blend of electronic and organic. I had a good time mixing his album (I only worked on his 1st one). James Poyser was definitely a big influence on that one. he's got all the cool keyboards anyone could want. I don't have much to offer as far as anything insightful for you though, sorry. i was only part of the mix. Victor's really cool to work with and very laid back. He knows what he wants as far as the song goes but likes experimenting with sounds and textures.

[top]I read over your discography of work and noticed you worked on commons "like water for chocolate". This being my favorite Common album as well as my favorite work of the late Jay Dee, I was wondering if you had any interactions with this brilliant man that you would like to share as well as any techniques he used that stood out to you. - linndrum9000

Hello, R.I.P Jay Dilla! Wow what a major loss for us! I remember first hearing about Jay Dilla when D came in one day and he was all excited about this cassette Dilla gave to him. He had spoken about him before but I hadn't met him yet. The cassette (back then, CDR had not made its way to many studios or homes) was The "Slum Village" demos, his original demos. I flipped out when I heard it. It was like he was doing exactly what we were doing, but on the hip hop side. D and Dilla were the same but each leaning on the opposite side.

I remember he had a vibe about him that was just positive and humble. he would always tell me how good i made things sound and we had many conversations about techniques, music, life... he was very inquisitive and asked me lots of questions about engineering. he just absorbed everything we did on the voodoo and common sessions. and he could pick up any instrument and get something happening with it.

A lot of the stuff we recorded were beats that Dilla came in with and we just recreated it and rearranged them with live instruments. He had amazing skills on the mpc and would just come up with crazy things. He could make like 3 crazy beats in one hour. I don't really have anything I could tell you of any techniques that Dilla used...sorry. He just did his thing and it just sounded good, natural!

ps: I mixed the song "can't stop this" on the roots "game theory" album. I mixed part ll of the song that's a big tribute to Dilla. ahmir had everyone leave messages on his voicemail and he sampled different excerpts from those voicemails and we inserted them in various parts of that section. It's pretty trippy...

Thanks for remembering dilla!

[top]What are you listening to right now? I read through your influences but was just wondering if there were any recent releases that you were enjoying. - J Epic

I just finished up mixes for talib kweli. I've always wanted to work with him and this album is really strong. songs I worked on were done by hi-tek, mad lib and co production and playing by eric krasno from the group "soulive".

Another exciting one for me was mixing a couple songs on angelique kidjo's next album. I got a chance to work with 2 living legends, Angelique and producer Tony Visconti. also one of the songs I mixed featured a duet with Peter Gabriel. I'm a big fan of Gabriel's so it was a real honor for me to "get sounds" on his voice. it gave me goosebumps while I was eq'ing his voice and thinking of something cool to do with him. and also thinking, wow he's gonna hear this when I'm done! The other featured artist, equally exciting, was Alicia Keys. She sounds better than ever!

Also just finished another full album (recorded and mixed) for "Corneille" an artist from Canada (originally from Rwanda). another one that's full analog, from start to finish. It's more of a pop album and a slightly different departure for me. but he came to me as an artist who is a fan of albums like voodoo, Keziah, Erykah, etc. so he wanted my analog sound from the beginning and I'm very happy with the album. look for him coming to the US sometime at the end of the year. This will be his first English speaking album.

I've been cutting basic tracks on and off for a year for living legend Al Green. and helping with the songwriting and production is Ahmir and James Poyser! This is going to have a great sound and songs.

Another living legend, Roberta Flack, will be blessing my gear again with her voice coming up in the next couple of months with producer/bass player Jerry Barnes whom I worked with on her last album. I'll be back to talk about stuff I've been producing for "Krystle Warren & the faculty" and Keziah Jones.

[top]How did/do you capture the snaps and hand claps on the album or when you record? What mic’ing techniques, polar patterns, signal chain, etc....did you use? - Agno

If my memory is correct, I used mostly tube mics like a U67 and U47 through Neve pre's. expensive clap tracks huh? for the snaps i had them each about a foot (30.5cm) away and the claps about 2 feet. I remember they played them all live and we didn't loop it. and in the mix, i believe i used the console compressor without much eq, if at all. I do think recording to tape was a factor as well as D and Ahmir having the loudest snaps and claps I've ever heard anyone play.

[top]With "blends" do you mean like a group? For instance, all background vocals, drums, guitars, etc? Which would you then put a stereo compressor on? So you'd have a stereo vocal blend, drum blend, guitar blend, etc? - Joemamma

I'll take all my background vocals, for example, and group them all to a stereo compressor and eq. and I'll blend the harmonies in that group. mostly, when I group things that will have the same processing on them, it will be of the same instruments. so separate groups for guitars, vocals, etc. there are times when I will group a bunch of different things together and go for an overall compression or processing.

Pro Tools was not even an option at all for me when I was tracking, although it was available. so no, we didn't have Pro Tools running simultaneously with tape. In fact, I didn't even want to see a Pro Tools rig in my sight. As I've stated, we edited in Pro Tools as a last resort as we wanted to use the performance of the live take but it was transferred after the fact. everything was recorded to tape initially.

there's a different vibe and INTENSITY in the studio when all you're using is tape. Everyone is that much more concentrated as there is no "undo" feature on the tape machine. punching on a track is final, no going back once you've punched onto the track. so you either play it right or risk losing it.

[top]I'm wondering about reverbs used for general ambience..were you also in a 2 EMP plate (LR) period then? or was that a little later? and did the rawness of the drums then affect the way the backing vocals were tracked? e.g. more natural room ambience on tape or was that developed more in the mixing stage of the project? - ninjaneer

Yes, I was already doing 2 plates in LR back then. that gives them their own type of movement on either speaker rather than an imposed stereo.

A lot of people mention the intimacy on the album and ask how I achieved it. and I sit here and think, yeah, how did that happen? I think it sort of happened on its own. I wasn't keeping that thought in my mind at any part of the process. which is why it's hard to answer sometimes. I've come up with a few insightful things throughout this forum but I think there are two I have taken for granted.

First, we should not forget D'angelo. he gave us the vibes and we went with it. it was there when we first started. it's his energy and his music and we helped bring it to life. but it starts with him.

Second, everything is played or sung live throughout the album. D'angelo sang every last lick of every verse and every chorus. There's only one, maybe two songs where I "pasted" his vocals (the old school term would be "fly-in"). D likes to sing his choruses live for each chorus. so no two choruses are the same. and we didn't loop or copy any of the players parts either. all of the instruments are "live". I think if you add this up with all the other equations I've mentioned in this forum, it would equal...chemistry.

[top]What's up Russ? So glad to see you're getting the cool Gearspace treatment man. Ya rock dude keep up the killer work you do. Are you still using those Semiens units ya got from me years ago? - Jay Doucet

Hello Jay!!!

wow, nice to hear from you again and thanks ! that was actually an original rack of Telefunken v676a's you sold me. That was one of the best deals I ever got as well as one of the first real "pro" pieces I ever bought and of course I still use them to this day heh. I've gotten more modules since then as they're one of my favorite types of pre's so I would never part with that rack.

I believe the last time we spoke, you had a song you wrote that was getting some interest, no? Anyway, I called you about a piece on your site and you mentioned something like this. Well, I hope you're doing great! stay in touch...

[top]How do you set up your environment for mixing, your ergonomics, lights, Incense, track order in the console etc.

Can you tell us how do you start your mixes, (drums, Vocals etc)? Do you have any hour of preference to start working on a mix? And how many hours did you work in your longest mix? - AMIEL

I usually start my day at 1pm or 2pm and I'll work for about 10 to 12 hours. For an album project, I like to get the first song up and and take my time getting the sound for the album. I'll try to pick a song that best represents an example of the album as a whole. I'll leave and get some rest then finish my tweaks the next day and print, then start all over again. As I've said, I try to pace myself as you need to stay as fresh and open as possible. When I was younger, I could go for 14 to 16 hours without a problem. Now I know when it's time to go. you get to a point when your creativity is burnt and you start going backwards.

I try to make my environment comfortable, relaxed and fun for me and the artist. if you're spending all this time in one place, it has to feel like your home. I like having inspiration around, so I'll have concert/music/artist dvd's around, CD's, books related to music/art, little gadgets, incense, candles, art, xbox, etc. you know, anything that can take you away from the song for a bit. and of course, it's good to have a nice meal with everyone. I do try to eat well for good energy.

Essentially I make the environment a place to play not to work. it's all about having fun... we work in a field where the mundane can hamper your creativity so you should do what you can to keep the creativity flowing. Nothing is too out of the ordinary when it comes to art. D likes to have his xbox, dvd's and plenty of water, Erykah likes her candles, incense and vegetarian food, Keziah likes having his books and journal ?uestlove is constantly on his mac so he can talk to the 50 people he has on his ichat.

I gotta go for now, but I'll come back to answer your other questions and about setting up my mixes.

[top]Do you have any way to refresh your ears? Do you take breaks often? Do you have a time limit in front of the speakers during mixing?? - AMIEL

Yes, I do take breaks quite often. I can tell when my ears or my brain is getting tired. If it's a dense song, and there's lots of frequencies going on, I'll do 20 minutes, then take a 20 minute or more break. on a difficult song, you can be more productive with more breaks. In the earlier part of my career, I would just pound away and I could be working for like 4 or more hours straight (with only a few 5 or 10 min breaks to take a call or something). but these days the most I'll do in one sitting is about 2 hours. but if i'm really vibin, it could be longer. It's definitely good to pace yourself and know that you're not wasting time when you're taking a rest.

Also, you can get too focused on the details when you're working for a long stretch. Once you take a nice break, you can come back and are more able to look at the overall picture. and sometimes, that thing that you keep tweaking and can't seem to get right (at that moment) will sound just fine or you're able to see how to resolve it after you come back from an hour break. Also, just as important, stay conscious of how loud you're monitoring.

[top]How long would you say your average mix took on the Erykah Badu stuff. Are you usually under a strict deadline or when it's ready? - by syra

I know that "green eyes" took about 3 to 4 solid days to mix. all the songs I did were tracked and mixed off tape. I'd say the average for each song was 1.5 days. I am usually on a deadline to finish, but you're absolutely right, when it's done it's done. the artist will let me go as long as I want once they hear what i'm doing. deadlines, I try to keep in my subconscious as they can really mess with my creativity. but there's always one or two songs that might take longer than the others. So I'll try and make up some time with some of the simpler songs (if it's possible) and then other times, I simply have to add more time to the project.

My "loose" goal is to go for a song a day. the more creative the mix, the more time it requires (obviously). I really like the challenge of mixing what I call "epic" songs. you know, the 8 minute song with different sections that have different sonics and effects going on. songs like The roots' "Water", D's "playa", Nikka's "so have I for you", blackalicious' "release", and erykah's "green eyes" are some good examples.

[top]Do you tend to reduce gain on some frequencies during the mix or increase the same? (Are you a frequency cut man or a frequency boost man? - Jules) - frankreverbo

I use both techniques when I'm mixing. If there are frequencies fighting, I'll try and subtract first then I'll try the reverse and boost something else and see which one is most effective. So essentially, I'll try and look at it (or hear) from a few different angles and see which one will work best. Sometimes I hear a track and think, for example, it needs just a touch more brightness, so I would just boost the top.

[top]How do you deal with receiving and sending digital audio files? Do you get a hard drive in the mail, do you have clients send files on an FTP site? - walth

Most of my clients bring or send me hard drives or dvd's of the sessions. there are cases when we'll use an FTP site, which takes forever. I have gotten missing files sent via ichat as well and I've never used digidelivery. but I guess the standard in the industry is getting a firewire hard drive.

[top]I am curious to know what kind of monitors you like to make decisions on, both for tracking and mix. Have your preferences changed over the years or do you stick to some ol' trusty? - emir_macaroni

I don't know what I'd do without NS-10's! It's safe to say that 90% of the engineers I worked with when I was assisting used NS-10's, so that's what I'm used to. When I first started engineering, I had NS-10's and I tried a bunch of different larger nearfields that could handle the bottom. I mixed for a bit with the tannoy PBM-8's, DMT-12, Pro acs, genelecs, but none impressed me too much. I was mixing Nikka's record (2000) and demoed the KRK E8's. I liked their low end so I bought a pair and about 2 years ago, I bought a pair of dynaudio BM15a's, but you should check out my post here.

[top]I'd like a little insight into how you approach dealing with lo-fi samples (kinda like you touched on with the Talib/Madlib/Primo thread)...

Have there been any instances where there has been a Sample/loop that after EQ/filtering/compression...still didn't gel, but you had to make work...are there any other things you have used as glue (throughout your experimentation process), that did the trick... - babyface_finsta

When I have to deal with samples (lofi or hifi) i first see how it's supposed to sit and gel with everything else in the song. is it the main thing, is it just for support, does it play in conjunction with live instruments or with other samples, etc? you can't lose sight of the song. So I play around with different EQ'ing and compression and really try and find which are the sweet frequencies and which are making things sound weird. one of the tricks with getting a sound with samples, is you have to get your sound with all the other tracks playing with it. In other words, you shouldn't eq/compress it in solo mode. because things could sound great in solo, but it doesn't have all the other frequencies competing with it.

If I still can't get it to sound right, then I'll try using some subtle effect on it. So if I put a slight chorus on it the frequencies might smooth out a little bit or it will add a texture that might be more suitable than before. Another trick is to split up the sample 2 or 3 times and have different processing on each one (eg: one is for low's and the other high's). but once again, just keep attacking it until something happens....

[top]Is there ever a time when you prefer using the onboard compression on the SSL, or do you nearly always use the more boutique outboard compressors? Do you ever use a little on the board before hitting the outboard? - Buchman

Most of the time I do go for the outboard gear. but I do really like the onboard compressors on the channels. they're really useful and add a nice punch to things. and yes sometimes, on the kick for instance, I will use a little onboard before I hit the outboard. or towards the end of the mix and everything is sitting right, and the automation is happening, there might be that one thing that might need a slight push or tuck, in which case i'll go for the onboard.

Teletronix/UREI LA-3A

[top]The Rhodes electric piano plays a key role in some of the most popular productions you've worked on. What's your favorite way of capturing it, as far as preferred DIs/amps/mics/placement/pres/compression? Any tips or tricks you can share in mixing? How do you like to place the sound in the stereo image? any unusual sounds or effects chains you can share? - dissolva

The rhodes at electric lady definitely sounds awesome. and believe it or not, I only used the DI signal going through Neve pre's for the rhodes on voodoo. I've only mic'd a Rhodes cabinet a handful of times in my entire career. The majority of the Rhodes I've come across don't have cabinets that sound very good to me.
I do eq it and use compression, but there's nothing I do as a standard thing regarding the processing when recording or mixing. I like the 1176, 1178 or LA3A for the rhodes and I've used all types of eq's from Neve's to Helios'. for voodoo it was that particular rhodes that had a great sound. and I believe it is the same one that Stevie Wonder used on the albums he did there but I don't recall whether it's a mark l or ll.

[top]Nikka Costa's "Everybody..." is one of my favorite and most inspiring albums ever. I would like to know your thoughts on mixing this album. And if possible, a couple specific areas:

1) Nikka's vocals definitely have a lot of color to them and a lot of harmonic distortion, even on otherwise relatively natural sounding parts. I'm wondering how much of her vocal sound was tracked that way, and how much of it was processing you did during mix time - and in such case, the approach you took to generate the vocal sound.

2) This album represents some of the best blending of samples/electronic instruments and retro live instrumentation I've ever heard. The feel is consistent whether computer or live generated. I'm wondering if there are any special insights you might be able to provide with respect to how you treated the two categories of instruments during mixdown to achieve that blend. - chris carter

I love that album as well. I had great fun working with her. Nikka's influences are pretty much the same as mine from Led Zep to sly stone the beatles to Aretha Franklin. so she didn't really fight me on any of the creative decisions in the mix. I immediately knew how this record should be sonically.

Her vocals on "like a feather" were recorded that way. Justin Stanley, the producer, had an old ribbon mic that he found. I don't remember what it was, but it was really lo-fi sounding on vocals and that's what was used in the mix. For the rest of the vocals I used all kinds of different compression to give her a more edgy quality. I did some re-amping of her vocals as well. I really don't remember much details of those sessions though so I can't really get too specific...sorry.

I recorded a lot of the drums and basic tracks on that album so that was a head start in that direction. Producer "Mark Ronson" had a big hand in selecting the drum samples and loops. He's really good with using samples but in a very musical way. The only other thing I can say about it is that we knew what we were going for and we just went for it. But in general, I try to make things blend so you don't know what might be played live and what isn't. it's a habit I developed dealing with programmed drums in my early career. I always tried to go for a natural sound so that it would feel more like a drummer rather than a machine. I'm really sure if I could describe a technique for it. it is still all about experimenting and going for the sound or vision you hear...EXPERIMENT.

[top]Nikka’s "So Have I For You" is such a dense sounding mix. How long did that take to mix and was there a lot of automation? Also, there is a lot of use of delays throughout the record. Are there any models you favor?? - Brightbird

If I recall, "so have I for you" took 2.5 days to mix. Yes, I really like how that one came out. Pino and Ahmir rocked that song out! and yes there was quite a bit of automation. We used a maestro tube Echoplex for a lot of the delays for that album. also used a PCM 42 and PCM 41. I still favor them to this day. The Mooger delay is a really nice delay unit as well...

[top]Do you try to get a lot of tape compression going on or not? Or only on certain things (drums, bass, vocals, etc.)? Does your method vary from song to song? I'm also asking because, in some cases you have had to transfer songs to ProTools and then back to tape. How do you go about these songs not getting too "tapey"? If there is such a thing! - Joemamma

It depends mostly on the instrument but sometimes I'll print extra hot for that "hot" sound. not really going for tape compression per say. I print all the sharp, brighter stuff like hi hat, tamb, clave, things like that fairly low, as these will be the tracks that are most susceptible to bleeding on adjacent tracks. and tracks like bass and kick, I'll print fairly hot. so midrange stuff, I print at medium levels. printing hotter definitely gives it a certain character. That was part of the "vintage" sound in the late 60's early 70's. but you have to use it carefully.

Tape compression is (more or less) harmonic distortion which occurs when you're overloading the amplifiers of the tape machine. These harmonics are essentially the product of the signal getting "squared off" or "clipping" at the output amplifier. So most of the time, it's adding harmonics that we all know and love. but too much and depending on the machine, it will just sound distorted. I had some great conversations with Tony Visconti when I did the angelique kidjo stuff. One of the things I asked him was how hot they printed back then. He told me they printed quite hot with a +3/185 alignment. tape is fairly forgiving so you can get pretty hot without hearing "bad" distortion.

I don't think (in my book) there's such a thing as too "tapey". The thing that happens is a generation loss which also introduces more tape hiss with each bounce. I don't mind the sound of one or two generations down but that's purely subjective...

[top]What 3 pieces of outboard gear... including pre amps, converters, compressors, EQ etc.... would you recommend to someone, like myself, who only record and mix In The Box, but would like to send/ bus the signal out to warm the sound up as much as possible?As I mentioned I am digital... so here's your chance to sway me towards the analog light at the end of the tunnel!!!! - Krumbz

I don't know if I could name just 3 pieces.

Apogee converters with a Big Ben clock would be a good start if you're staying ITB.

LA2A- the reissues sound really good if you can't find a good vintage one.

Neve eq/pre.- pretty much any model will give you a great sound.

Pultec EQP or EQH- this will definitely fatten up your sounds.

[top]What tape formula do you prefer to use, ie on Voodoo? What do you align to? Have you tried any of the new brands out there? - Blackbox

For voodoo I used mostly Ampex 499 with a +9/185 alignment. I do favor Emtec 900 but it wasn't available when we started Voodoo. And these days I'm back to a +6/185 alignment. I haven't tried the ATR tape yet, but I plan on trying it when it becomes available. who knows, ATR could be the only supplier of tape in a few years. (I hope not!!!)

[top]Man I'd like to know what you find yourself interested in outside of music. What do you enjoy when you aren't in the cave with 2" tapes and consoles? - no ssl yet

Thanks for asking man. I'm fairly consumed with my career most of the time, so even in my off time I could be reading on something related to music. but you have to find a balance...right?

I love riding my motorcycles, this is good therapy for me. traveling is also something I try to do as much as possible. there's so many places and cultures to discover and I come back with such a refreshed feeling. (I'm talking about travelling outside of the US as I don't consider it "traveling" within the US.) and of course, I love women!

I must admit, I do have a little bit of an addiction to my xbox 360 and playstation . but that's sort of like spurts or binges. It's a big time waster, but I can't help it sometimes. I'm really into movies too and I have a pretty decent 5.1 home theater system in my house with a huge HDTV.

I love concerts as I have since I was old enough to go to one. So I'll try and see a good show if someone good is in town.

Not really into politics but I'm a sucker for documentaries and reading people's biographies, and New York is a great town for museums. I love a good night of food, drinks, good friends and conversation. This is good therapy for me as well.

[top]I’m interested in how you began your career, did you learn your trade with another engineer/producer,also where and what field did you start out in? (how has your career evolved)

I think it would be an interesting answer seeing that your credits are amongst the world best and I'm sure a lot of people like me on this forum would love a little more insight into your start in the bis. - DannyDiggs

In 1986, when I was 20, I went to "the institute of audio research" located in Greenwich village, nyc. While still in school, I got an internship at a studio called "shakedown studios" which was owned by producer arthur baker. walking in the control room was like a huge awakening for me. I thought to myself, wow, I've got a lot to learn. Their main room had an SSL 4000E and tons of outboard. My school had all this rickety outdated equipment (vintage but not very well maintained) and we spent most of the time in a classroom rather than the control room. six months into my internship at shakedown, I also got a gig at "Soundtrack" which had 3 SSL rooms. So I split my time between both studios and eventually I quit shakedown when I became an assistant at Soundtrack. I was literally thrown into the fire when an assistant went MIA for a session for kool and the gang. The manager saw me and asked me if I could handle the session and that was my 1st assisting gig, with kool and the gang!

After working my ass off at Soundtrack and basically burning myself out, I took some time to decide whether I wanted to continue this path. It took me 6 months to realize how much I was missing it and decided to get my resume out there and really go for it again. I worked briefly at "skyline studios", then "Quad studios" hired me and there I stayed until I went freelance.

While at quad, I had the luxury of using their facilities to work on personal projects when there was downtime. They had 3 SSL rooms at the time. I would just live in the studio and wouldn't go home for days. I'd do my assisting gig, then I put up my own tape and do my thing. I'd get 3 hours of sleep before my next session, then do it all over again. I'd invite friends over and record as much as possible. and with those tapes, I would just keep mixing them over and over experimenting with different approaches and training my ears. Lou Gonzales, who was the owner, was very generous indeed and I owe him a lot! THANKS LOU!

I started engineering for "David Morales" and "Frankie knuckles", a production team known for house remixes. So I did quite a bit of house music mixing in my early career. And Quad had a wide variety of clients from hip hop, r&b, jazz, rock, you name it. and so i engineered for a lot of different music and people. I did a mix for a hip hop remix called "Every Little Step you Take" by Christopher Williams produced by DJ Clark kent. It was a huge hit and I started getting a lot of calls from the r&b world after that. That was around 1991...

there's a little more history on this post if you're interested. All the best!

[top]Hi I'm interested in the work you did with Eryka Badu, particularly the vocal sound and the Low end of the tracks they are some of my favorite recorded works. What mics/Pres did you use and how did you go about getting the vocals down. Also can you give any tips for mixing the low end? I mean how do you get a track that fat and know that it will go off in a club and also sound great on my mums hi fi? - krisstoff

I approached erykah's stuff pretty much the same as voodoo. but everyone seems to be asking me how I get the low end on my mixes. I just like a nice low end on most of the things I do and I think it comes naturally to me. I can get a good balance between the kick against the bass fairly quickly. but one of the things i do is to check on an Aurotone to see if I can hear both the kick and bass on a small speaker at a medium volume. and I'll tweak the drums and bass at the same time and add maybe the main guitar or a keyboard with it and keep eq'ing until that sh*t is pumpin! Then I'll start mixing in other elements. but I constantly tweak and fine tune the drums and bass throughout the mix session. Once you start mixing in the other elements, the original sound you had can get lost, 'cause now you have frequencies fighting for more room. So I try to stay conscious of my drum/bass level. and stay in the habit of tweaking a track without using solo. Also, don't be afraid to pull out some bass. you can make room by pulling out some sub frequencies. Sometimes there's too much bass so you have to take some out.

EXPERIMENT. There are no rules…

You might be interested in these threads:
monitoring with the "dragon" ?
and "voodoo mixologies". "scroll down to take 3"
Voodoo mixologies...

[top]What are your thoughts on the ability to get a solid mix from tunes concepted and born of a home studio, specifically a laptop based solution? - DJAnyStyle

From my experience, separating (as many of) your tracks and bringing them up on an analog mixer/console always sounds better than just coming from a stereo out of your DAW. I give people a lot of credit if they can get a great mix from staying "in the box". The budget always plays a big role in the end. but if you're on a tight budget you have to make the best of it. Mixing or working in the box has never been an ideal situation for me, so I don't do it. I can't get things to work for me like I normally can. Everything about it is different from what I do. I don't want to stare at a computer screen to make music. I like physical contact with faders and knobs. not to mention the brittleness and coldness of the sound. I haven't worked on any digital consoles, so I can't speak about that.

So with that your money and buy some high end gear. I'm very spoiled as I've always had nice equipment to work with so it's easy for me to say this. but instead of buying 7 prosumer things with $1000, buy 1 or 2 pro things. The gear does make a huge difference. DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE! In audio, cheap means cheap. There's a reason why a 1073 Never module is $4000 versus an entire Universal Audio plug-in bundle which seems like such a great deal. Do you really think that the $300 plugin version of the LA2A is really going to sound like the real thing? Don't waste your money on fancy "brand name" plug-ins. DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE! Even mixing on a Mackie analog 24 X 8 console is going to sound better than staying in the box.

Scenario: So let's say you have a Mackie 24x8 (ebay $1300). you've got 56 tracks you need to mix. I would start by comping things. bring up all the vocals separated out on the Mackie. Now you can group all of them (or parts) to a stereo compressor and eq. get your blends happening (automate them if you want in your DAW) and do your compression and eq. get them to sound real good, then record them back in. do this with as many things as you can. now you've got a bunch of eq'd stereo tracks (or mono) of all your elements pre-mixed. now bring them all back up on the console.
eg: you saved 8 channels for your drums to stay separated, you have the background vocals on 2 sets of stereo tracks, ld voc on a single track, bass on it's own track, guitars in stereo, keys in stereo, perc in stereo, etc. now you can finish your mix from there.

I've only had experience with this using Pro Tools. there might be a difference with other DAWs. I know the Radar blows away Pro Tools in the sound department!
The trick is to eliminate summing of tracks within your DAW. Try this experiment. take all the vocal tracks and sum them to a stereo track within your DAW and record it. Now take those same vocals and put them out on individual outputs and bring them up on an analog console and get the same blend as you did within your DAW. Now compare it with the summed stereo track and listen to the difference!

I'll be talking more about DAW's in the thread called "what's your thoughts on Pro Tools?"
What are your thoughts on Pro Tools?

[top]What EQ did you use for vocals? There's also phasing on “The Root”. How did you get that effect? I understand if the phasing effect is one of your trademark secrets. LOL. - walth

Btw, the root is one of my favorites on voodoo. I create phasing with anything from an MXR blue phaser/flanger, a Leslie speaker, Lovetone flanger, Mutron, etc. I'm just not sure what I used for the vocals on that particular song and I only used it on a few words. In fact, if you listen closely, there's about 4 different types of phasing (one right after the other) on the one line "my blood is cold and I can't feel my legs". though one hint is I'll blend in the original sound with the flanged. varying the difference of the two gives you different phasing. I love flanging and phasing things. you have to use it the right way though. I haven't heard of a plug-in flanger/phaser that sounds better than an analog one.

For eq's I used anything from a focusrite ISA110, NEVE 1081, 1073 and Pultec EQP1A. Many thanks for the huge compliment ! heh wow, if I had half the talents of George Martin...! Is that true that I've influenced a lot of the young people coming up? That’s really cool man. It's important that we don't lose our roots....and that's what I think you can hear in my work.

Pulse Techniques (Pultec) EQP-1A

[top]I'd like to hear about your approach (or approaches) to Roy Hargrove's trumpet on the various records he's played on. For instance, on D'angelo's "Voodoo" the trumpet sound is particularly warm and diffuse, while on the R.H. Factor's "Hard Groove" his sound is much more forward and focused. I understand that on Voodoo he's much more of a sideman, how does this affect your tracking/mixing technique? From the quality of the high end I assume you were using ribbon mics. I often find it difficult to fit open trumpet sounds into dense layers of arrangement and wanted to hear your perspective on this. - JazzyMark

For Roy on voodoo I used an RCA 44BX, 77DX, U67 and U47 (not all at the same time...heh). I went through a Neve and an La2a to tape, using medium compression. And I don't think I did too much to him eq and compression wise in the mix. Except when I was really going for an effect.

The secret to Roy's sound is him. That's really all his tone, nice and warm. I just try to get a nice blend on his harmonies and the rest is all Roy!

I definitely approached Roy's horn sounds on the RH Factor albums differently than other albums he's on. I didn't do anything different recording him. But I was definitely more aggressive in the processing when I started mixing it. You are correct in that on Voodoo he was a sideman rather than the band leader. As well, he was playing more aggressively.

Sometimes trumpets can get shrill and overpowering even with Roy. I like to filter out anywhere from 7k and up, if needed. and using a good compressor will tame it up as well. You can get away with quite a bit of limiting with trumpets and still sound natural. I love La2a's and 1176's on trumpets (actually, I love them on a lot of things!). But sometimes it's a matter of where you sit in the mix.

I'm going to write more about my mixing concepts very soon, so I'll expand more on things...

[top]I've heard Roy play a few times and you really captured how I remember him sounding (I haven't heard him harmonize himself live, of course heh). Do you generally mic him with close mics and room mics and blend them during mixing? - JazzyMark

Indeed, "source is king"! and he is an amazing performer. I can't say enough about Roy's genius! I've only close mic'd him...

[top]So rare to talk about trumpet miking! What is the distance between the trumpet and the mike? - OBO

Trumpet is a little tricky, huh? Usually with a tube mic, I'll place the trumpet 12" (30.5cm) away from the mic and the player will naturally come closer another 2 or 3 inches. but with the old ribbons, they all have a different "sweet spot" so move it around until you find it. and usually I'll get a little closer, like 7" (18cm). you'll be surprised with any instrument how much a slight tilt or move will do to the sound...

[top]What are your favourite studios to work in ? Do you have your own place as well? - gainreduction

In New York, where I still reside and do the majority of my work, you can usually find me at Avatar studios which used to be the "Powerstation" which Tony Bongiovi built in the 80's. They've got an amazing staff and lots of cool gear and mics (including a 670 and 660). They have an SSL 9000J, SSL G+, Neve VR and a Neve 8068. Their techs are seasoned guys (and girls) who have grown up in studios and keep all the old analog gear and tape machines in tip top shape (they look after my gear from time to time as well...yes ). Tino Passante, studio manager, runs things very smoothly for his clients! They have like 5 studer A800's, 6 emt plates and 2 natural chambers and a collection of vintage instruments. definitely an old school vibe that suits me very well. I'll be doing some of the new D'Angelo there. But who else would let me park my motorcycle in the building?
Avatar Studios: a recording studio at 441 W53rd St. NY 10019

I really like SF Soundworks in San Francisco as well and I've been trying to find a project that will go to San Francisco so I can work there again. I mixed 3 full albums there: the last blackalicious album "the craft", Goapele (bay area based soul singer) and hargrove's rh factor's last album "Distractions". talk about lots of toys. I think Tony Espinoza, the owner, has every cool toy (and usually more than one) known to man, from vintage to the new boutique stuff. (hmmm, I wonder if his kid has a lot of toys?) His main room has a 72 input 9000J and a smaller mix room with a 56 input 9K. Tony, who's also a producer/engineer, caters to the independent artist and creative producer/engineers, like himself. You can get his smaller mix room for like $600/day and he'll fill the room up with great gear! he's passionate about engineering and he is definitely a Gearspace-r. I have great fun working there.

I also like Quad studios, which was the last studio I was staff at before I went freelance. I was there for about 4 or 5 years. I noticed Michael Brauer here on the guest spot and he does all his work there. They have 2 SSL 9000J's. Roz, the studio manager, is the oldest friend I have in the industry. He'll take real good care of you there!

Other favorite studios:

Conway studios in Los Angeles has a great vibe. I did nikka costa, saul williams, and blackalicious there.
The Studio (Philly) where I mixed some of the roots stuff and the Tye Tribbett album. and the roots/ahmir and james Poyser have their private studios on the same floor. It's owned by old school string arranger Larry Gold, who is one of the original string arrangers from the whole philly sound era.

Also The Plant (sausalito, CA), Right Track (NYC), Electric Lady (NYC) and the Record Plant (LA).

[top]With those two records, was the emotional aspect in your mixes already present in the demo material and did you extend that vibe or did the artists hire you for your specific emotional input and give you a free hand with it? Do you sometimes refer to classic recordings (i.e. old jazz records) when you mix? - Boody

I worked with "the margarets" awhile back on their last record. do you know any of them? They were all such nice people!

I love nikka and erykah and I'm glad you mentioned them.

With artists as intense as Erykah and Nikka, they really have their own vibe, but i guess artists like them come to me to enhance and perhaps to keep intact the initial vibe or even to understand what they're all about. I definitely get in their heads and find out what they're all about. and we talk about our influences and they get to trust me and give me a lot of freedom with their music. When I mix, i really get into the crux of the song as well and yes, I try to get some sort of emotion out of it. There have been times where I've connected so deeply while I'm mixing that I get choked up!

Most of the time when i mix, I won't be ready to print it until i get a certain feeling. everyone else could be loving it but if i don't get that feeling when i close my eyes, then it's not ready. and I won't give up until I've achieved it. Persistence is another key element. just keep going for it until you've exhausted all of your resources.

Yes, I will listen to different albums throughout the project. In fact, I've been known to send people out and get particular albums for me when I mix. one reason is for inspiration. Another is for putting a particular vibe in my head (ears) but I'm not really trying to copy anything (although sometimes I do try and get close to an effect that I've heard someone else do), I'm mostly going for vibes. I try and hear different sounds and frequencies from other sources and vibrate them in the control room. sort of like constantly cleansing the palate. This may not work for everyone though.

I'll come back with some more on Nikka and Erykah soon. you might be interested in my post on the thread "sound vision".

[top]Could you please talk a little bit about how you automate your mixes? - Joemamma

A brief history...

Growing up in NYC, there were not many Neve rooms. New York has always been mostly SSL's. Most of the neve's were in LA. Right track was the 1st studio in New York and Quad the 2nd to install the SSL 9000J. I was among the first engineers to sort of "test drive" and give feedback on the 1st generation consoles. It was mostly the computer and the master section that we had issues with. Quad completely rebuilt their Studio A before the 9K installation. Once installed, they asked me to do 5 days of tracking and mixing sessions to troubleshoot the room and find the bugs in the console/computer. SSL re-vamped the whole master section and tweaked the automation after listening to our comments and suggestions.

So I've been mixing (almost primarily) on the 9K ever since. Had the NEVE 88R come out at the same time as the 9K, I might have favored that, but Neve was a little slow in that race and there were none in New York until 2001 or 2002. The 88R and 9K are the last of the "state of the art" analog consoles ever built and unfortunately, they are the final peak of analog console design. they're going to become like one of those rare vintage F1 ferrari race cars one day...

Automatic transmission:

Yes i use "flying faders", I don't work with VCA fader automation anymore. Yes, I use quite a bit of automation. Obviously I automate those crazy transitions or breaks you hear in my mixes. but most of my automation is riding the instruments and vocals. To me, this is crucial for making dynamic mixes. For a dense mix, most instruments are automated. I spend about 50 to 70% of my time getting sounds and effects together and the rest is automation. and generally, I don't turn on the automation until I'm satisfied with the overall sound. and since automation has always been available to me, I've developed a way of mixing where now I'm relying on automation for the final shaping of the mix.

Of course exceptions are ever present and it really depends on the song. but most of the roots mixes or blackalicious mixes etc, had some complicated automation going on.

Manual transmission:

For the past 6 or 7 years, I've been printing a lot of my effects. and yes I do manual automated moves on effects that are impossible to recreate exactly the same way. and since I still like to mix off of tape and i'm transferring 48+ tracks of Pro Tools to tape, I'm ending up comping things (like vocals or perc) down to stereo (or mono) tracks complete with eq/compression so everything can fit on 48 tracks of tape. and I'll do the comps from a rough mix from the board that I've prepared ahead of time. So in effect, I'm narrowing down my decision making in the earlier stages of the mix. it's rare for me to get songs under 48 tracks these days...what happened to 8 tracks? Can you imagine if you only had 4 tracks? hmmmmmm....maybe i'll try that?

Neumann U47 FET

[top]The bottom end on Voodoo is amazing!
Anything you'd care to share about the recording of the bass on "How Does it Feel" or "Back & Forth"? - paultools

For amps we used an Ampeg B15, B18 and an old solid state amp in a big cabinet that's at Electric Lady studios NYC. I can't remember what the name of it was, but it had a dirty sound to it. Mics were FET47, U47, M49. and usually a NEVE 1081 pre or Focusrite ISA115.

I guess 75% of the time I used an LA2A (vintage) in the chain with just slight compression to take care of some of the transients.

Everything went to tape and no DI's whatsoever on the album.

Pino mostly used his favorite bass, which is a 1961 Fender Precision. It's also how Pino plays his bass. He has an amazing touch and he'll use his palm to get a "deader" sound or just barely pluck it. He tunes his e string down sometimes as well.

"Untitled" is actually Raphael Saadiq playing bass on D'Angelo's ESP active bass (incidentally, that bass was stolen).

[top]Can you talk about your approach to setting and mixing delays? - Jaguar

Do you know the artist "jaguar" that I've worked with? "Black thought's" delays have become sort of his trademark sound but generally I like the delay to be unobtrusive unless the delay is the focus (obviously). I don't want it to become too gimmicky. I like to use delays like it's another element in the mix, it's own entity. so i don't normally turn on any delays until I've got my main sound and vibes going. For me, delays get in the way when I'm getting my sounds. So once I'm digging the way things are sitting in the mix, I'll start putting the delays on the things I want. I will apply other effects like phasing or flanging etc, while I'm getting sounds as they are part of their main sound.

I'll let you know when I write about my roots mixing concepts.

[top]I'm curious how you choose what projects to work on? How do you know if it's a good fit? With a resume like yours, you must be in ridiculous demand. - PinkHumpy

I know that I keep saying this, but I'm a lucky man. The projects sort of have a way of finding me. I'm really flying by the seat of my pants half the time (sound familiar to anyone?). This year is 21 years in the business and I'm still going. I have no plans of slowing down either. and i haven't really pursued anyone who is established to work with them. I'm fortunate that the people who want to work with me are almost usually people I can connect with. Therefore, the majority of the work that comes in, I'm really into the music and are perfect projects for me to be on. There are a lot of artists that I'd love to work with though...

As far as unsigned artists: I'm currently in the middle of producing a project with an "unsigned" artist called Krystle Warren & the faculty. She was introduced to me by my friend and assistant Ben Kane, so i've been trying to finish her album to try to get her music out there. All major engineer/producers are always looking for new and fresh talent. Most budding artists are broke and need a break as well and can't finance their recordings. Are you any good?

[top]Hi Russ, where does 'The Dragon' come from ? - Ambroise

Dominique Trenier, D's manager at the time, gave me that nickname. I have a couple of dragon tattoos and he started calling me the dragon and D loved it when he heard it. so they kept calling me that. Dom said that I should put that in the credits. When it came time to hand in the credits, I told them I just wanted my full name with no dragon. but they put it in anyway! At first I was a little bit annoyed because I just wanted it to be, you know...just proper. But it sort of stuck and I do like it. So when people ask me if I want the dragon or not as part of my credit, I tell them it's up to them...

[top]Is there a very subtle flange going on at the lead vocal on "Spanish Joint"? The vocal seems to be all over the place and float above the mix in a very special way... - esVee TC

Yes there is a slight flanger or chorus on the lead. I'm not exactly sure what I used though. it could have been an MXR (blue) phaser or a good ol' SPX90 chorusing!

Yamaha SPX90

[top]What do you think about ISO boths for amps & Leslie in an “altogether” session? Do you use them or you prefer to avoid them and use regular rooms? Please, could you describe your usual set up approach for an “all together” session? - Blueman

In most tracking situations with multiple players, I will try to get as much isolation as possible. So I prefer to have a booth for the drums or if there is no booth I'll try to build a booth with gobos (movable sound isolation screens) including a ceiling. Do what you have to do to isolate those drums! With Roy I had almost every available gobo in the facility. Every little bit counts. There are times when there's simply not enough gobos and booths so you have to make the best of it.

You should plan it out beforehand as you don't want to get stuck not having the means to isolate something that really needs it. so give yourself and your crew plenty of time to set up.

With a large ensemble, I'll start with the loudest instruments (drums, perc, horns) and find isolation for them. If there's a vocalist singing at the same time, you would want to reserve a separate booth for him/her. On the first two RH Factor albums I only had a booth for the drums and the rest were gobos. Try to use the corners of the room to your advantage, using the 2 walls as gobos. I had everyone in their own grouping. Horns were in the center, 2 percs in a corner, piano another corner with the keyboards, guitar amp and bass amp another corner in little gobo iso's, and everything was gobo'd off as much as possible. Everyone had a view of at least 2 people in the room. Roy having eye contact with just about everyone, this makes for an intimate scenario for everyone.

The most important thing is capturing the performance. better to have it and have a crappy sound than not!

[top]I would like to know if you use some subgroup compression techniques (like to compress drums with bass for instance). - Julien Apruzzese

Normally, and not as a rule, I don't subgroup the drums and bass together. certain frequencies that the bass might make the compressor react to may not be desirable for the drums and vice versa. I like to subgroup the drums to its own compressor. I've done things like taking a bunch of elements like drums, bass, and guitars (for example) and then sending it all to an amp or compressor and trying to make them seem like they're all the same texture.

[top]Devil's Pie has been one of my favourite DJ Premier songs...What was the deal with this track? Did Premier come by the studio and lay down the beat or was it a beat that D had and wrote to? I'm guessing that the bass line is a live bass? - Recall

No, the bass line was a sample. Premier came in with a bunch of beats, and when D heard the Devil's pie beat...that was it for him. All of the sounds came from premier which were all separated tracks.

[top]I sometimes get people giving me 2 track instrumentals to record to, which is fine sometimes but I wish I had the multitrack to properly mix the track.
How often does this happen with the Hip Hop sessions you work on? - Recall

Fortunately that doesn't happen too much to me, but from other engineers I talk with, it happens quite a frustrating from a creative standpoint! I just mixed a song for Talib Kweli last week where most of the kick drum sound and the rest of the instruments were coming from a loop that mad lib came up with. I had live instruments that were just for color and a rimshot to mix in with the loop. so i had to blend in the live tracks and make it sound like it was part of one record. So i had 3 different processes for the sample. the original eq'd for the highs, a compressed track eq'd for bass and mids, and another with a flanger on it to give depth in certain sections. I will usually keep at it until I can find something that makes me happy. EXPERIMENT.

[top]Do you come up with your vision of sound when you first hear a demo or is it your longtime personal vision, something you feel and that you want to share in the projects you mix? - beingmf

Most of the time when I first hear the roughs or a demo, I first look to see if this is going to move me enough where I can give it a real vibe. If I don't connect to it in some way, I won't be able to enjoy it enough to give it my all. Of course there's been times when I wasn't completely into a song I was mixing. But I'll try an effect on something or try to place a breakdown section and suddenly, I'm liking it more and this will usually give me some inspiration to put a vibe on it. I'm a huge fan of 90% of the projects I work on and I want to extend my deepest appreciation to all the artists that have trusted me in their art...

Somehow I've been so lucky to have these incredibly talented artists come to me for a special reason and they are looking to me to give their project a character or sound, vibe or whatever you want to call it. This is what I started realizing about my sound. I really do have a sound. but also I realized that I give the album (or song) a character, it's own personality. which is what I try to keep in my original, imaginative and true. You can't fake a great mix or recording. It's either great or not. It can be alright, but why not be great!

[top]The Seed by The Roots. You guys somehow managed to achieve both a vintage rock sound and at the same time create a banging hip hop track, that's amazing. My question is how did you do it? Did you listen to both genres as a reference or did it just turn out like this? - Tom H

This song was written by Cody Chestnut. one of the few songs that I mixed for the roots where I didn't personally record the drums. The credits on the album say that I recorded it but actually it was recorded by a good friend of mine. "Tony Rambo" did an amazing job tracking it. He didn't get his credit on the album so I want to set the record straight here. He assisted me on a few albums when I was doing a lot of work in LA and is a great engineer. So the kick was tuned really open without much stuffing inside. Ahmir told me that he wanted this to sound like a garage band but yet he wanted it to sound huge as well. So i just kept that in my head as i mixed. I was thinking of John Bonham/Eddie Kramer style drums with lots of compression and lots of room. there's distortion from re-amping, heavy compression and slap in combination with the original dry signal. It was a little tricky getting just the right balance of lo-fi and hi-fi.

I think I used a Mooger Fooger low pass filter on the bass, but i can't remember how I treated the guitars but i do remember i was thinking kind of rock-a-billy. We were definitely going for the marriage of the two genres.

I'm gonna write up "the roots mixologies..."

[top]Regarding D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” bass. How did you guys approach it? Did you just have Pino have a go at it, or was there a plan to the madness? - Matej

All of the bass lines were created by D. and Pino would do his signature fills here and there. D is very particular with his bass lines. He would usually have a bass line sequenced and Pino would learn it and D would tell him how much or little to improvise. But Pino is such a groove master he just keeps the groove and suddenly, BAM, he'll play something you wouldn't expect right in a spot you wouldn't expect either!
Pino mostly used his '61 P bass through a B15 or B18. fet47, U47 or M49 1081 mic pre and la2a.
Story: (1995)

We first met Pino when BB King asked D to come and do a duet with him. Pino was playing bass on the sessions with steve jordan, hugh McKraken and some other big session players. While we waited for BB to arrive, they started jammin with D. They were jammin on old soul covers and the band was obviously being blown away by D's effortless mimicking of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Prince (as well as his piano playing).
But D was having his own discovery being blown away with Pino playing James Jamerson bass lines verbatim! After the jam we formally introduced ourselves and it turned out Pino was a huge D'angelo fan! We had just started sessions for voodoo at that time and we asked him to come and play...TALK ABOUT PERFECT TIMING...Fate?

[top]I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about the mix on the drums for the hidden track on Tipping Point. The other part is... I love the sound of the bass. Do you recall what kind of things were going on in the mix(and tracking if you know) as far as the bass went? - rudalicious

That hidden track is edited from 3 different songs. I mixed the last 2. the one with dave chappelle and din da da.

din da da was all done in 1 day, tracked in about 3 hours and mixed the same day. I don't remember what we used on the bass though. I know it was some sort of synth, like a moog or something. I had a lot of fun mixing that one.

All the reverbs you hear are EMT plates. I used 2, one on the left and right. I think for the flanging I used a love tone flanger called "?" or one of the mxr rack mount flangers. I really tried to go for that really big drum reverb like you hear on the old records. I was thinking of Eddie Kramer. I panned the toms on one side and the rest of the kit on the other and had different compression, eq and fx for each. This gave a huge stereo effect.

And the drums on the slower part for the very end was another completely different processing. I really don't recall what I did with the drums as far as compression but I can hear my mxr phaser (rack mount) on the drums.

I'll be writing on mixing for Ahmir and the roots. I'll give you a heads up when I do.

[top]I would like to know how you approach eq and compression for drums and bass. I am particularly interested in your technique for the Voodoo album. - bionic brown

I put your questions onto the thread I started called "voodoo mixologies...".Voodoo mixologies...

[top]D'Angelo's Voodoo album - The kick drum on "Chicken Grease" is the coolest kick drum sound EVER!!! I was wondering how much of the sound on the drums is the real/unprocessed acoustic sound, and how much is processed (filters, gates, transient designer, comp, etc)? - Joemamma

Please check the latest thread I started called "drum talk".

"Chicken grease" in particular was heavy eq'ing and filters. No envelope filtering on that one. For Voodoo the only processing of the drums were eq/compression.
Exceptions are the "Booty" drums and "The root" in sections. Those drums went through a guitar amp, most likely a mesa boogie 1x12 tube. I don't recall the model number though.

[top]Can you tell us about your de-essing technique? - George Necola

Before I resort to a de-esser, I'll try to get it out with eq. Normally sibilance is right around the 3k to 4k range. if there's still too much i'll put a DBX 902 on it. It degrades the sound slightly which I make up for with eq and compression at the end of the chain. Instances where you've put on enough de-essing and there's still sibilance here and there, I'll automate another eq/filter on the trouble spots. Also sometimes I'll try to do a quick fader ride and half the time it works.

SSL 9000J

[top]On the album Game Theory, the drums on all the tracks are mono (in the middle) and the other stuff was panned around the drums. Was that decided from the start or in the mixing process ?? And on what kind of console was the album track'd and mixed?? Because it sounds superb. - Ravian

Mono drums was not really a decision we all discussed prior to starting a mix. ?uestlove uses a minimal kit. Kick, snare, hi hat, floor tom and 2 or 3 cymbals. I'm a big fan of a mono overhead, and for ?uests drums, the room mics are usually not placed for a stereo image. So when I record and mix his drums I'm going for a big sound trying to capture all the frequencies (including the air) around his entire kit. But I might, in the end, use only the kick mics, and the overhead mic into a mono compressor. Or all mics are used in combination where I might be pulling more from the immediate ambience coming from the room mics like some ringing toms and the snare rattle when the kick drum hits. And the close mics will be blended in for more snap here or more oomph there.

So in this example with ?uest, the approach doesn't compliment a stereo sound. Rather it's more like an omnipresent sound rather than super detailed. So when I mix the rest of the music, instruments have a nice support to anchor on.

The drums that I recorded on that album were all tracked through mostly my own collection of mics and mic pre's. And the mixing console (which for the tracking was for monitoring purposes only) was an SSL 9000J.

[top]I noticed on the Voodoo recording that on some of the tracks, the drums are panned slightly left and the bass is panned slightly right. I figured that this might have to do with you recording the drums in mono, therefore giving each instrument its own space in the mix, like it was done back in the day. Am I correct in this assumption? - bionic brown

Nice one darryl!!! Thanks so much man heh. You know, only a few people have made that comment about the panning on the drums and bass. you're absolutely correct in your assumption! I was definitely thinking "back in the day" including the mono drum thing and you get a feeling of people in a room. When you listen to those records back then, each individual instrument had its own different processing and space. bravo

FYI, I purposely made it subtle. I didn't want to freak some people out in their cars thinking something's wrong with their system. and if it gets played in the clubs some dj's may not know how to deal with it. Most people these days who are listening to r&b and hip hop are used to the in-your face, all consuming, bombastic drums and bass. we knew we were doing something different than anything that was out at that time and we were both, near the completion, wondering how it all would be perceived. so I put in a taste of it to sort of introduce it back...somehow. I do it all the time when I mix, it's just in varying degrees and depending on the artist.

[top]I was wondering if you could speak about your drum micing methods. I love the drum sounds you get. - Brightbird

Ahmir plays his part live all the time. I'd say only about 10 to 15 percent of the time he'll loop his drums. Quest is like a human drum machine. it may sound like he's looped because he is so tight.

I've never used a sound replacer on Ahmir.

I'll usually go for a FET47 and either a U87, RE20 or D12 on the kick. We alternate with the skin on and off depending on what sound we're going for. and I don't usually get too far in the shell on either mic.

Drum talk...


My main influences: (no particular order)

The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa, Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, The Meters, Funkadelic, Aretha Franklin, D'angelo, Sly Stone, Traffic, John McLaughlin, Steely Dan, KRS, The Roots, D'Angelo, Beastie Boys, Pat Martino, King Crimson, Portishead, Prince, James Brown, Jaco Pastorious, Curtis Mayfield, Herbie Hancock, David Bowie…

I remember when I was 8 years old a cousin gave me The Beatles Abbey Road and Chicago's greatest hits for X'mas. And every year after that they would give me records on birthdays and x'mas. Mostly classic rock and soul stuff. I've always loved music as a child and I started playing guitar when I was 11 and completely absorbed with music.

So by junior high school (1977 to 1980) my main influences were Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Pink Floyd, Hendrix (of course)...and embarrassingly, I loved Kiss back then and it was my 1st concert when I was 12.

High school was one big mix of various musical studies. I searched for as much music as I could find. As a budding guitar player a lot of it was guitar based music. I discovered Miles Davis' Bitches Brew which led me to John Mclaughlin's mahavishnu orchestra and stuff like Return to forever, Billy Cobham, Al DiMeola, you know, really progressive stuff. Just prior to Miles though, I was listening to a lot of Yes and ELP, King Crimson.
And Stevie Wonder and Prince were huge for me!

Growing up in New York, I was definitely influenced by early hip hop as well. You couldn't help it, it was all over the place and break dancing, the whole culture. I used to go see groups play all the time, like Grandmaster Flash, Dougie Fresh, run dmc, public enemy.

[top]What was your approach (choice of room/ mics/ mic’ing techniques/ gear of choice) to tracking and mixing the band on Roy Hargrove's "Hard Groove" and "The Strength" e.p? - Tom VDH

Thanks for the compliments. There are certain artists who I have a deeper connection with personally, musically and sonically than others. He gives me the freedom to be me and trusts me and in turn I give him the same. I always have a lot of fun working with Roy Hargrove. He's a true original and musical genius (no kidding)! To me, he is the Miles Davis of our time. I only hope we can do more records together that can be heard by more people so he can get the recognition he deserves from a broader audience outside of the jazz world.

I approached this album like I would have done a D'Angelo tracking session, except with Roy it's 8 or 10 people playing live at the same time. Both of those albums were tracked at Electric Lady and the 1st album was mixed there as well but Strength was mixed at Quad Studios.

Hardgroove was tracked and mixed all analog in about 25 or 26 days total. Strength came from the Hardgroove sessions and I took a song a day to mix. All of it live performances with the exception of additional horn arrangements (he'd add a different variation of the horn arrangement in combination with the one originally played live) and vocal overdubs. Otherwise those are complete takes with no editing. Editing was done at mastering if we had to cut a song shorter or join two songs together on an off beat or something.

I'll be general for now and come back another time with more specifics as I want to get to a couple more people today.

I wanted a vintage and natural sound for the most part, so I used a lot of old tube and ribbon mics. And all mic pre's were Neve, Helios, or Telefunken. The Focusrite board was already gone from Studio A when I tracked this album, otherwise I would've used the pre's on that as well. I also try not to eq to tape, I'd rather move mics around until I find their sweet spots. And I patch straight to the tape machine, no bussing unless I'm combining signals to stereo or single tracks. For me, as a rule, the shortest path possible to your recording machine, the better.

Stay tuned and I'll get to the mixing part and a few more specifics.
But I might combine some of my answers with other questions from other people as a lot of the time they will relate to each other.

[top]How much musical creative input did you have during the production of D'Angelo's "Voodoo"? -

My musical input came more once we got into the overdubs and when I started mixing. But for the initial recording sessions, they would just be locked into each other, jamming and grooving so hard so I was concentrating on making sure I was capturing it and keeping them inspired by doing manual effects and tweaking sounds in the control room and making sure tape was rolling. Musicians play differently when they're being inspired by how their sound is being projected.

And I would suggest different production techniques as we were recording (mostly recreating old school techniques or sounds). But musically, D, ?uest, Pino, Poyser, etc are at a different level than I and I would be surely kidding myself if i thought otherwise. So I kept my input to a minimum. Sure there were moments of inspiration when I knew a certain musical idea would fit and I would suggest it, but those moments were only a handful of times. Most creative ideas were in the form of techniques and sonics.

That was and still is the best rhythm section to come in a long time, and I feel privileged to have been the man responsible for capturing it.

During the mixing phase, production came in the form of creating dynamics in the arrangements or changing arrangements slightly by coming up with psychedelic passages or moody breaks.
eg: Adding the reverse guitars in Africa or creating the intro and outro for Playa.

My main objective throughout Voodoo was to establish my sound and impress it to listeners and the industry. I knew this would be my vehicle for doing what I always wanted to do when I started forming my own concepts for sound. I knew I was coming to my own and that I was going to distance myself from certain types of artists. So my main concentration was on the sound and feel of the album.

Drum talk

Since everyone's been asking me about how I record drums, I decided it would be best to write more about it. Some of this might look familiar to some of the regulars. Some of this is compiled from my previous answers and I've just expanded on it.

For bass drum micing I like using a FET47 with either an RE20, D12, U87 or 421, and normally both mics are outside the shell.

For snares I usually go for an SM57 and an AKG 451. I would alternate them from top to bottom depending on the snare. Sometimes I'll choose a KM86 to replace the 451. check your phase! 421's are still my favorite mics for toms, but I have used Km84's and U87's which have good results. Hihat's I go for a Km84, km54, or MV692.

You should always check your phase when using multiple mics on an instrument and 60% to 75% of the time they will be out of phase from each other. It's good practice to check the phase between different combinations of mics. eg: overheads with the kick or room with the overheads etc.

Sometimes it will already sound full and you flip the phase on something and suddenly it's even better. A large part of the overall sound comes from the overhead and other mics that I put around the kit that captures the sound as a whole. So I would maybe put an old ribbon in front, a U47 overhead and maybe another ribbon or condenser behind the kit. And all this I'll combine together (in the mix) with some nice compression to create the overall sound. Ribbon mics I like are the RCA 44BX, 77Dx, STC 4033, Coles 4038.

I do like the minimal approach as well. so sometimes what you hear in the final mix might be 3 maybe even just 2 mics blended with compression and eq. EXPERIMENT!

I tracked 90% of the drums (as well as the rest of the band) on a Focusrite console which was custom built for Electric Lady Studios. And I also had some NEVE 1081's I ran through as well. There were only 3 or 4 of those consoles ever built. It had amazing sounding EQ's and pre's (slightly more open than the rack mount isa110'a and 115's). I didn't EQ anything to tape, just mic placement and the pre's which is my normal practice. It's worth the investment to buy some high quality pre's. And of course, all of it was tracked and mixed off of 2" analog tape using Studer A800's running 30 ips.

Then there's the tuning. We had around 5 to 7 snares we would select from during the recordings. But ?uestlove would tighten up those snare pretty high and we'd just keep tweaking until we had what we wanted. and that snare sound is pretty original to ?uestlove because i've never heard that sound from anyone else before.

We had a huge DW 26", Ludwig 28" and a Yamaha 24". again we'd just tweak until we had what we wanted. varying how much padding on the outside, skin or no skin, etc. Ahmir's foot is very dynamic and lots of control which adds to his sound. (lighter hits will deepen the sound)

Use your ears, literally. you should listen closely to your sound source. If you're in doubt, put your ear close to the sound source and move around the area until you hear the "sweet" spot. (obviously, BE CAREFUL)


For close micing drums, a lot of the sound is coming just off the edge of the rim

Mixologies take 1

There have been similar questions about mixing approaches and concepts for voodoo so I thought I'd try and tie some of them together here.

I've been thinking how to start my answer to this without getting drawn out…

First, I'd again like to thank you all for listening and recognizing what I do and I wish you all the best in your own quests!

I think there was something magical about the chemistry of everyone involved in making that record. We were all in the same frame of mind and goals. We all knew our roles and what each of us needed to contribute and it all came from the love of music and the belief in D'Angelo's talents and vision. I believe this to be an intangible reason as to why the record sounds like that.

I had a definite goal from the onset of this album. I've said before that I wanted to make records like the way my heroes made records. Not necessarily imitate, but take what I've learned from them and try to apply it to my own craft and hopefully I could attain the next level. But i hadn't met anyone whom I could realize this with.

So when I met D and we realized we could help each other in our quest, I just kept my goals in front of me and went in with a determined attitude. Okay that mushy, cosmic stuff is out of the way.

Let's get (a little) technical.

I have gone through much experimenting since voodoo. We started recording around November 1995, so that's over 10 years ago. So I was still learning (as I still am today) and experimenting a lot. I knew I got some great sounds on tape though. I remember doing rough mixes with everything flat, no eq or compression or reverb and thinking how good everything sounded...just like that...raw and gritty sounding.

Mixologies take 2

I really loved the sound like that and found it hard to go in any other direction than what the original sounds were like, especially the drums and bass. There were times when I knew I wanted to twist something around with some sort of effect or processing but overall I felt the way to go was simple and raw and in your face.

So my concept was to use the eq's and compressors more for the sound quality of the signal running through the tubes or the transformers rather than extreme eq'ing or compression. Obviously there were exceptions, as there always are, but that was my concept when I was mixing. I spent some time getting the blends just right to get the compressor to move things more outward than inward....essentially.

Mixologies take 3

I just want to point out that this below is only for Voodoo mixing concepts. I try to have different approaches for every artist/album I do. My point is that not all the things I say below applies to every project I work on.

I've always liked a full bass sound even from an early age. I would always turn the bass up on everyone's stereos in their cars or in their home. I was always the one adjusting everyone's eq's. So once I was behind the controls, I made sure the track had plenty of bottom. The records done in the late 60's and early 70's had bottom but in a different way, which I liked, but I like it more full sounding. And now we have the bandwidth to go a little further...

I don't think I really did anything out of the ordinary when I mixed voodoo. i just had a sound in my head (or should I say "on tape") and I went for it. but i think if you have good tracking skills, great gear and the right band when you're doing the initial tracking helps immensely. Other than the obvious flanging, phasing, hard compression, etc, on certain instruments, the sounds are what I recorded. like I said in the last post, I put up the faders and that was basically the sound. so i didn't do too much eq'ing. I experimented a lot as I had lots of time and freedom to do so, but ended up going with the raw sound most of the time. but the experimenting was not in vain because I learned so much during that time. a lot of the things i came up with i ended up doing with The Roots and Nikka Costa, etc. in fact I couldn't wait to try out my new ideas and tricks with other artists.

I started blending the drums and bass first, this I do in general to start a mix. iblend them at the same time. I know I used an La2a when I tracked the bass and I probably used an La2a and 1176 for the mix. back then i didn't have half the gear i own today (which might have been a good thing).

Also a couple of people have pointed out that I slightly panned the drums and bass opposite from each other. Not only for more separation, but I like when things are panned 'cause it makes you feel like there's people in different parts of the room. It feels natural to me because of all my old school influences. and let's not forget that i recorded it to tape, that is definitely a big contributor to the warmth.

By now, everyone knows but let me reiterate: voodoo was tracked and mixed analog. Yes the entire process was analog, including mastering off 1/2".

3 songs (unfortunately) went into Pro Tools for editing purposes. but I transferred them back to 2" and mixed off tape. We did try and re-do the songs but couldn't get the same feel as the original performances so we just edited the mistakes out. We had over 100 reels when we finally finished. At that time Pro Tools was not the standard yet. But it was on its way. I did A/B testing with it and i just couldn't believe how awful it sounded. The Digidesign 888's used some of the cheapest convertors you could find. the Adat's and DA-88's sounded way better. Apogee's were much better, but still not as good as the original analog tape source.