Three years before he had a “Place” of his own, stupendously talented (and Grammy® award-winning) hip-hop/R&B & pop mixer Dave Pensado did a most excellent Q&A with us here on the Gearspace forum. His discography is almost too vast to even pick highlights from - it’s a who’s who of R&B A-listers, from Christina Aguilera to Kelly Clarkson to Beyonce to Boyz II Men and everything in between - it would be hard to go a day in one’s life without hearing some of his work somewhere. Notably, Dave is a big fan of “in the box” mixing and loves his plugins - so that was of course just one of many hot topics during Dave’s time with us. Sit back and read on for some very interesting stuff from a super humble guy at the top of his game.

[top]If you were mixing your average Hip hop or RnB gig ITB is there any outboard u consider a minimal requirement? - no ssl yet

I would say in the analog world:
  • 1176LN
  • Neve 1073 with Pre
  • Avalon 737 (a great all in one)
  • Distressor
  • API550A and 560A
  • Eventide 2016 reverb
  • Eventide H3000
  • Lexicon 480/960
  • TC2290 delay
  • Pultec EQP1A
  • DBX160X
In the digital world:
  • Waves Platinum Bundle
  • McDSP FilterBank and CompressorBank
  • Bomb factory stuff
  • Eventide stuff
If you can't make a great record with this stuff, you suck!

And when I play poker, I want to be able to use all 52 cards, not just some "analog" or "digital", but the entire deck. Yeah, I know this is a stupid analogy, but it works. This is the stuff I USE 75% of the time.

[top]Has there been a time you wish you could have invented something to help with the job? What would that be? - Savernake

Yeah, most mixers and engineers always want "more". I love spatial stuff. I love to have things wider than the speakers. I use Impulse Responses almost exclusively, and would love to see that technology expanded. It also seems someone could invent a spectral analyzer or RTA for the beginning engineer that would help with ear training and how sound works.

[top]What piece of gear (plugin or outboard) that doesn't exist would you like to see created and Why? - IM WHO YOU THINK

To answer your question let's review a bit of musical history. When synthesizers first came out they tried to sound like violins, guitars, pianos, etc. They only wanted to synthesize what existed in the real world (of course there are numerous exceptions to this but just follow along). Then as time progressed we got synthesizers like the Roland D50, Korg M1, Prophet 5, etc that were proud to make sounds that had never existed before. Right now with plugins we are at the stage where they are trying to emulate things in the outboard gear world. They even look like the gear. Soon some genius will invent a plugin that is proud to do something so radical that it will open the flood gates. That's when we get plugins that allow us to pan up and down, and to do all sorts of things. I can't wait until I can put on a helmet and "think" my mix into a computer. No knobs, gear, plugins, just my imagination!

[top]Do you have any advice, or experiences, you'd like to share with us with regards to keeping the musicians happy (and trusting) while being bluntly honest about their performances/arrangements/etc? - 96k p/h

Musicians seem to respect musicians, but all engineers are not musicians. I would take a cue from your dentist. You don't know this guy, but you trust him to grind, put needles in your mouth, and generally ruin your day. If he walked in with a wife beater and some flip-flops, you probably would run out. Everything in his office is designed to give you confidence in him and relax you. The way he dresses and talks gives you confidence. Except for a couple of well placed copies of his diplomas, we don't even know for sure he is a dentist! Think about this and the applications to our profession should be obvious.

[top]Which is your way to go when inserting EQ and compressor? What would be your rule of thumb? - Aquarius

1st ask if you wanna EQ the compressor, or compress the EQ. Think about this for a minute. Say you have a fat lo-endy kick. You don't want all that 60-80 triggering the compressor. So compress it first to bring out the knock, and EQ the lo end back in. On a guitar you might want to EQ it to get all the strings to sound, or to bring out a certain frequency, then compress it a tad to keep it in a certain dynamic range, or to bring out the attack. Remember, if you put the EQ 1st, then you have to reset the compressor every time you make an EQ change. But always remember, there are no rules, just what sounds good to you. Experiment.

[top]What is the biggest problem you encounter on a day to day basis and how do you deal with it? - Bhang

From a career standpoint, balancing the mix time with the phone/email time. Creatively I wish the sessions were tracked better. I usually spend about 4 hours fixing things before I can mix. Then there is the problem that you never actually finish a mix anymore. With stems, the client can call as much as they want to make changes.

[top]Could you outline some of the 'prep' work your assistant might do for you before you start to mix? or during for that matter. - Ninjaneer

have been blessed with some of the best assistants in the world. I am helpless without them. I like to have the ProTools session spread out on the console. Nothing unusual, drums and instruments to left, vocals and extra instruments to the right. The more I need to move the faders on a track, the closer to the center I want them. (I hate doing levels at the extreme ends of the console. I do about 1/2 the rides in ProTools, and 1/2 on the console. There are a couple of outboard chains they hook up. I like my vocals at the top of PT, and then drums, then instruments. It changes sometimes.

I constantly ask my guys if they like this or that. I use them for creative input, and discuss the mix with them. They get quite involved. I like them to be vocal about things I do well, and things that suck.

I use them to print the stems and passes. We print every track as a stem.

Keeping track of all the hard drives and sessions and sending out copies and sending to mastering is in itself a full time job. I someone wants a word up here or there I let them do that also

[top]I noticed you listed the DP4+ as a favorite piece of gear. Is there anything in particular you like to use it for? Favorite presets? - BenJah

I use BIG ACOUSTIC GUITAR a lot. A lot! I also like most of the presets that combine 4 different efx.

Ensoniq DP/4+

[top]How often are you taking ear breaks on these all-night mix sessions? - BEN6732

I probably take more breaks than most. Over the years I found that for me, if I take a 5 minute break every hour and a half or so, I don't redo as many things. So it actually takes me less time if I take breaks.

[top]RE: Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”. Could you tell me about the headphone bleed in the vocal and how you went about doing whatever you did with it? - lwr

The song was about being beautiful and honest in EVERY way. That bleed is honest. It was one of the most honest vocal performances I had EVER heard. It was actually the scratch vocal. Christina still had the lyrics in her hand. She truly has THE GIFT. So I tried to make the mix (with Linda's guidance) as honest as I knew how. I studied "Imagine" by John Lennon and used that as a guide. To me the bleed at the end was HONEST. When I took it out, I missed it. It sounded too clean and contrived. Linda Perry (writer/producer is a real genius), and records her tracks kinda by feel, and has NO regard for traditional engineering techniques. That is what makes her so special. When I heard the bleed, I thought it would send a message to all the big time engineers (especially the older ones) that it's about the music and song, and not US. I REALLY love it, 'cause most engineers would have removed it, and taken some of the personality away. Damn I'm arrogant. Sorry, but you asked.

[top]1) How do you react when people want changes? How many changes will you do for them without charging them extra? Especially interested in those requests that are totally unnecessary but the client wants to hear it because they know it is possible.

2) Did people request more changes when you were less famous?

3) You do not have to answer this one, but if it is ok with you I would really love to know what the rate is for mixing one song in your league. How much do you charge for a major label mix, an indie mix etc...fell free not to answer this as it is pretty personal business stuff!

4) How did you become a "go-to" guy for the top acts? I know it takes more than skills alone. Establishing a good relationship with the decision makers at the labels might be as important as skills. Am I on the right track with this? - WunderBro Flo

1. With ProTools and stems, changes are a part of mixing now. I usually do all the changes people ask for. Sometimes the changes take more time than the mix. Just think that the more services you provide the more your clients are gonna always come to you. It does get on my nerves, but NOT mixing gets on my nerves even more. If I know I have a client that makes a lot of changes, I try to involve him in the mix process much sooner. I also might not finish every detail until we pull up the stems and do his changes. BTW we print every track as it's own stem, and print efx on their own stem.

2. Not really, because back then if you had changes, you had to pay for a recall. This is one instance where technology has made it worse for us engineers.

3. Most guys at my level try to get $4k a mix. Some of the top in the box guys get $5-$6k all in (all in means the engineer is responsible for studio costs). On some indie and lower budget projects, the rate can go down to 2k. If I have a good client that needs a favor, I will mix for free. On average, I would say most of the time the top guys are getting between 3k-5k and would be happy to get any amount in that range. Nowadays flexibility is very necessary to keep your clients.

4. We are a service industry, just like a barber. Start your relationships with people before they become famous. Do cheap or free mixes for them. Help them any way you can. Also provide good services, like nice labels on CDs, helping them get gigs and placements, introducing your best clients to established artists, anything that helps your clients grow. Get people around your area talking about you. Give people the best haircut they have ever had.

[top]Did you ever have a customer who always was discontented? If that happened to you in the past, how was your reaction to it? - 99dc753

It happens to everyone. As my career progressed and people became familiar with what I did, then it started happening less and less. Now it might happen one out of every 200 mixes. Once, I was working with an artist on A&M named Andy Vargas. He is one of the best vocalists I have ever worked with. There were 2 producers. (One was a former artist I listed in my most influential records answer), so I was stoked! His partner had a producing partnership with an engineer who is amazing. So the entire 1st day this guy watches me like a hawk, saying why did you do that, I hate that, why did you eq this. Well after 12 hours of this I went to the producer I liked and politely said that it was me or the asswipe. I would not finish the record if he was involved. I called the label and they were 100% on my side. The cool producer said he felt he should stick by his guy, so the asshole got his engineer to do the record. You can't please everyone. People have different agendas. Some people think they want what I do, but when I do it for them it scares them. I always look at it like it is their project, their creativity, their life and career. I am like a guest in their creative house. I try my best to respect their house. If they just trust me a little, I can deliver a great product. VanGogh said "Never trust the time one is without difficulties"

[top]What is the basic routine you use to put your mixes together? - demel

I try to determine from the ruff the elements that form the foundation of the mix. A Lot of times this can be the drums, it can be the guitars, or any number of things. Let's say it is a rock song, i would probably start with the guitars, then leads and backs, then drums, then go back and work on vocals some more, then put in all the little candy parts. On a pop or hip hop record I would start on drums and bass, then put in pads, and foundational keys and guitars, the vocals, then finish up. If I only have two or three hours for the mix, I always start with the vocals. I always study the ruff mix. Nowadays people spend a lot of time on them and they can tell you a lot of information. If you are the guy doing the ruff, then follow the music in your head. It is kinda like building a house. you don't start with the roof, you start with the foundation!

[top]Do you have to care about the song’s lyrics or message to mix it? - Jules

I have mixed in some foreign languages, and it is surprisingly similar to English. I always try to pick out important words to echo, (in the foreign language) and the client usually gets a laugh out of it. Most of the time I get it right! It is easier to mix a song when you like the lyrics, such as "Beautiful", but if I like the track, the client just got laid, or had chemical enhancement (kidding...retired), it can still be fun. I am more influenced by my surroundings than I am the lyrics. I love to mix, and am arrogant enough to think I can turn any piece of crap into a good song. I even enjoy the challenge of that. You can't polish a turd, but you can always spray paint it GOLD! I once asked for a second engineer to change his shirt, because it was so bright (hockey jersey) I couldn't concentrate. I can usually find something to inspire me in the track. (More on this as we progress into some of the mechanics of mixing…)

[top]Is there anything you wish you had not said - or anything that's come back to haunt you in ways you didn't intend - so far? - Soulstudios

Sure, it seems like on a daily basis I upset somebody. The engineers I tease are the ones I owe it all to. Without their shoulders to stand on, we would be mighty low to the ground. I have actually studied and spent 1000's of hours listening to their records. There are hundreds of CD's I have worn out, trying to steal ideas, and make myself a better engineer. But I'm just a skeptic and smart-ass at heart. I truly love our profession, and give all those in it respect. But I still enjoy pointing out ego, arrogance, and an unwillingness to accept any music that is new.

[top]You are on record that you never liked compression and that you really like dynamics in a mix, does that mean that you use little compression or maybe none at all? Do you use fader rides instead of compressors or something like that? What is your approach? - Oroz

I probably should have said I don't like the "overuse" of compression. I honestly still can't seem to get a handle on 2-buss compression. I try it, then bypass it and like that better. I have been studying some Chris Lord Alge mixes lately and am amazed at what he does with compression. He is truly a master. I played in a lot of live bands, and quickly learned that dynamics were a major tool in entertaining an audience. I also learned from Ron Fair and Christina that when a singer gets loud, let them be loud! That is still hard for me to accept sometimes. If you check around I have outlined my division of compression into 3 categories before. Wanna guess? (I know, I know this isn't grade school, but I'm wiped. 2 all niters this week.)

[top]Do big time mixers have tinnitus? They know it but never tell anyone about it? - AIRChoco

Last time I had my hearing checked, about 10 years ago the doctor said it was "perfect". I think the reason live bands did not do any damage is I HATE the sound of cymbals. I usually bury (or Mute them!) in my mixes when I can. I always stayed a long way away from the drummer, and even put toilet paper in my ear facing the drums. I think there is a big difference between the damage 120dB of noise can do and 120dB of music. I read where most of the hearing loss tests were from industrial noise, and never music. Supposedly the sine wave (or other periodic waves like square and saw) push and pull your eardrum much like a speaker going in and out in a smooth fashion. Hence the damage is a LOT less than Noise that just vibrates very randomly and the ear doesn't have time to "rebound".

I love to monitor loud, but it isn't very good at telling you much except for what your mix sounds like loud! I like to mix it up. I think I already explained this in another post. Remember I talked about the 3" speaker in the Studer 2 track. I use Ausberger dual 15's with TAD components tuned by Bob Hodas. I put them medium loud for judging some levels, and mostly low end. I use old NS10's at various levels, and also try to listen off axis. My background vocals sometimes seem correct when monitoring in the center, but sound low when off-center, so I turn em up. I NEVER monitor at the same level for more than 20-30 minutes. I think mixing it up shows the flaws better. Also check out my answer about checking your low end on little speakers.

There is nothing more satisfying than really blasting a mix when you are done. You don't learn anything, but you feel GOOD hearing it that loud. I keep some lites in the room (hippie type stuff) just for such an occasion.

Yamaha NS-10M

[top]What bigs do you like? What smalls do you use? What is your average listening level? Do you listen much in mono? Anything else interesting we should know about your monitoring? - jazzius II

Bigs: Ausberger Tad system tuned by Bob Hodas. I tune them like big NS10's.

Smalls: Old tweeter NS10's.

I also use the 3" speaker (mono) on the Studer 2track, as well as Auratones.

I try to monitor at varying levels during the day. I also like to move around the room some. I also change the lighting a lot during the day.

I use a lot of CD's that I like the vibe (not the sound) of. For example, there are some songs I like where the snare is placed in the mix, so I play that. Some songs I like the hi end on the vocal, some the lo end on the backgrounds, so I play them while I'm initially starting the mix. Once I get into the mix, I don't like to hear anything else. I never reference with my own mixes.
I do listen in mono. One thing I like to do is listen for bottom on little speakers. That keeps you honest.

[top]1. Do you always use the same mix template?
2. When is it too late to try something new? - Syra

I almost never start with the drums first on an a capella song! Always remember that. I like to have some of my things preset up for me, and I like to redo some things every mix as it relates to templates. I usually go a month or two with similar efx sends and returns, and then change it all up. I have a 104 input console, so I can leave quite a few things up, and only use them once in every 20-30 mixes. We all use templates to some extent, and when time is a factor, they are real timesavers. You just have to be careful that you chose THAT verb because it was the best, and not because it was THERE. I know this is obvious, but think about it multiplied 30 times, and you can see how you can get an "of the shelf" mix, instead of a "taylored" mix.

When I say I don't use buss compression, I should have said I don't use it all the time. I used it today, because I thought it made my mix sound better.

I usually start with the sound that excites me the most. Sometimes it's the vocals, sometimes it's the drums, sometimes the guitar, sometimes a cowbell. I NEVER start a mix until I can hear the finished product in my head. I will play the ruff, play different tracks, play with myself, until I have the VISION. Sometimes this might take 3 or 4 hours. An interesting thing with ecue, he used to basically do an amazing mix before I came in. It used to throw me off because I liked his so much, I could not think of anything to do myself, because I had his mix in my head.

Another very important factor is confidence. That comes with time. Before I had that, I would second guess myself all the time. Like we said in another thread, your 1st impression is usually the best.

I actually will change gear on a sound until it sounds like I hear it. On the new Christina "Car Wash" song I started with an old Gates StaLevel on her vocal. I just knew it would be sucked. So we tried a fairchild...nope. Then a Neve 33609...not quite. Finally we tried an 1176LN which I have NEVER used on Christina, and it was perfect. How do you know when to change a piece of gear, unless you know what you are looking for? It is never too late to try and make it better. Just don't let the client see you doing it too much.

An interesting question I have never been asked is if I redid a mix from scratch a month later, would it sound basically the same. NO NO NO. When I do a recall, I can't stand to hear what I did, and pretty much make an effort to make it "better". "Better" is where my head is at NOW. I would change it completely, but my clients would freak completely out. I'm not sure I COULD make it sound the same, because I wouldn't have the patience to do it. That would be an engineering exercise, not a MIX. Hum, something to ponder.

[top]Just curious if you ever had a good streak of mixing in your earlier years...Only to have a session come out horrible right in the middle of it all? Say you do 3 albums that sound incredible...then mix this one song that just came out hellacious...then mixed another 30 great albums? - Djui5

EVERYONE'S mixes ALWAYS sound better to me than my own. I usually always think the rough is better. Of the thousands of mixes I have done, I can only listen to maybe 10, and still be proud, and not break out into a cold sweat. Before you starting yelling Prima Donna (?) bull ****, let me explain something to you. A magician can NEVER see his own trick like the audience can. We see the girl actually cut in half, he sees the trick. I hear the flaws, the manipulations, the things I missed due to time or money, and my taste changing every few months.

I don't think we should judge mixers by their best mix, BUT JUDGE THEM BY THEIR WORST MIX. Let me say that again, because it is incredibly important. Don't judge a mixer by his (her) best mix, but by his worst. We can all (and sometimes do) get lucky and get a well tracked session and look like Andy Wallace. But, luck ain't gonna bail you out on a ****ty session. I actually take a lot of pride in the fact that I spend more time and effort on the bad ones. Nothing, I said NOTHING leaves my studio unless it is at least mixed pretty good. I might have to replay every track, or I might have to tell the producer to go back and try again, but it is gonna leave her sounding pretty good. I once did a mix for Paula Abdul with a 105 degree temperature, and a trash can that I puked in every hour. We had to finish it, no way around it. That is the only mix to fall below my standards. If you want to humiliate me, go listen to it. It sucks. I know this sounds arrogant, but I can name several other mixers who are the same way. I can tell, because we are on the same albums sometimes, and got the same crap. The mixers that don't have it just do what they can and don't sound good. But the guys with this attitude always amaze me. I guess it's just that corny saying, "If it's worth doing..."

So, I would say, some of my mixes are better than others, but if I am having an off day, I stop and go home, and come in early the next day. I will find a way to make it good. Period.

I am prepared to take flak for this, so let me have it. But I am very sincere about this, ask any of my assistants, I drill this in their heads. This ain't no HOBBY, it's the pros.

There ARE some days when I feel like I am not very creative, so I focus on the technical things, like pans, etc. and wait for the creative flow to hit me. It usually shows up eventually. Kinda like when Jordan had an off shooting day, he made up for it with defense until the shot came back. I ain't no Jordan, but I can DREAM!

I just found a flaw in my own logic. How in the hell can I know if I have ever had two bad mixes in a row if I never listen to them again!!!! Uh OH, never mind...

[top]Do you still use the Roland SDE-330 and if yes, what kind of presets on which material? Also, do you still use the Behringer Edison, or is there any Plugin which does the same or similar things? - Shapemod

I still use the 330 a lot. I like most of the presets that have a spread to them. The one I use the most is "LITTLE SPREAD". I also use the Edison a lot as well as the DualFex II. I have an old Spatializer that Dexter Simmons gave me that I love, and I also use the Dytronics CycloPanner a lot. In ProTools I use Qsound, Waves S1, and that plugin from the Spanish company* (their name escapes me, as I haven't used it in a year due to OSX upgrade). *Editor's note: the Spanish company is called DUY.

Roland SDE-330

[top]How does Brian Mcknight/Destiny Child/Justin etc etc stack their vocals?

Ps what is Brian's mic/micpre/compression chain and anybody else you care to mention. - Bravestar

Thanks for being patient. I am actually finishing up a Beyonce mix now, and just finished Brian's new album a couple of weeks ago. They both have THE GIFT. One thing she and Brian have in common is speed. Both are incredibly fast. Brian probably did all the vocals to "Anytime" in 20 minutes. What you see with him and Beyonce is the tip of the iceberg. Let me start with Brian. Brian rarely flys his vocals. He almost always gives me 4 stereo tracks of backing vocals (backs). In the tape days it was always tracks 17-24 for backs, and 16 was the lead. Always. The 1st three are usually a basic chord, and the 4th one moves all over the place, but basically gets higher from 1st to 2nd to 3rd chorus. He blends himself in the ‘phones while he is singing, so I basically put all 4 pairs at the same volume and I'm done. Like one of the other threads, he moves a lot of air, so they need very little from me. His engineer, CWOOD, is excellent. Just as an aside, Brian has one of the best "ears" I have ever seen. Play a chord, and he can call out the notes as fast as you can play them. His brother Claude (lead in Take Six) is amazing also. Brian is so amazing he pisses you off. Just when you think you are a pretty good musician, he humbles you. For example, a few years ago he decided to play guitar. In 1 month he was playing on his record. I asked him who the new hot dog guitar player was and could not believe it was HIM! By the way, I am a guitar player also (retired).

Beyonce just hears those harmonies in her head. She was born with them. Her dad, Matthew is quite a good singer, and I believe Tina sings also. She usually starts off with the tonic, and builds from there. She does a little experimentation, and then blends them herself with the engineer. I love her timing. She has no regard for the beat, but it always sounds right. I don't think I have ever seen anyone work harder than Beyonce (maybe Mya). I've seen her fly in from Europe, come to the studio, do vocals for 4 hours, fly to NY for a concert, go directly to the airport for 2 shows in Japan, and on and on. No sleep for days, and just keep going and loving every minute of it. Mya is like that also. I get tired just TYPING about it!

As far as EQ and all that stuff, it doesn't matter. They sing to what they hear in their phones, and it always comes out sounding like "them", no matter what mic or chain. It is truly an amazing gift.

[top]I was wondering how these great drum sounds in today's RnB music were created. On "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child, for example, the drum samples have this dryly clipped punchyness while lacking the hardness inevitably introduced by clipping. How is it done (if it's not top secret, of course :-))?

Also, in a more general way, how have all of those great sounding snare samples been made, e.g. on "Stripped"? Do you layer various snare samples to achieve this? Is there a certain trick to them? - living sounds

What I have seen is the MPC3000, or 2000 is the machine of choice. Most guys just pick samples from anywhere. I keep samples that I like the sound of, and give them to my good clients. Most of the producers seem to have a DJ background, so they have quite a record collection (those 12" round black things), and they usually have some favorite records that they sample from. I am constantly amazed at how they can remember every detail of every record in their collections. I have never seen a producer that I work with do much to the samples except layer them. They get one they like, then add another for punch, another for low end, etc. Most if not all of the processing takes place in the mix. The above describes Rockwilder, Kanye, Storch, Rodney and Damon E.

A lot of guys ask me to re-sample their drums after the mix, and then reuse them. Most guys only have 4 or 5 samples that they use a lot, but have thousands that they have never used.

[top]What can I do to make RnB snares shine? Is there any special gear you use, any compressor settings etc.? I love the snare sounds on Christina Aguilera's album 'Stripped'.

Also, do you have any advise on how to get the bass (the instrument) right, making it sound huge and tight yet not boomy?

Is there much tube/tape/solidstate distortion involved in creating this kind of music? - living sounds

One of the more disappointing days in my life was when I finally saw one of my engineering heroes work. I heard these awful drum and vocal sounds he was given, then I blinked and they sounded amazing. I looked to see what gear was blinking so I could figure out what he had done (without being obvious), and I couldn't figure it out. I finally asked him, and he wasn't doing anything special, he just did some basic compression and a little EQ. I was pissed. I realized it was TALENT and NOT gear! This meant I had to go work even harder, instead of finding the magic equipment chain that would make me sound like him. Yeah, yeah, I know I am starting to sound like a broken record, but I can't impress on you enough that it is the person's taste and determination, combined with experience that determines the sound. NOT GEAR.

OK. Whew, now that we have established that, let's discuss some gear which is better than others at certain tasks. On Christina's album I added some samples to the snares and kicks. I tried to be respectful of the original sound, but added a hi end thin snare or stick to get the pop or shine. If there wasn't enough bottom, I would add an old reworked Clearmountain snare I pinched from an old (Springsteen I think) album. The stick sound I used I made about 15 years ago by taking a 1/2" steel rod and using it like a regular drum stick by hitting the snare head and rim at the same time. I did the mult thing. I put the EXACT same snare (I was given) through: 1) chan 1-board EQ, and comp. 2) chan 2-a 160xt (see other posts for settings) and out of that to a tube EQ, either Pultec or VacRack. 3) chan 3-any compressor that has attack/release and ratio control ( I used a Lacy Thompson CLX) but any newer compressor will work). That's pretty much it. Check out some of the mixes by Jean Marie Horvatz. He does pretty much the same thing, as he showed me some of these tricks (along with learning some from the AMAZING Bob Power).

For the Bass I used the 120XDS by DBX sometimes, also an old Roland Dimension D, along with a MOOG parametric EQ. I also like preset 35 on the Sony M7. Every once in a while I will use Tile Room from the PCM70 on a ballad.

[top]What part of your work do you love the most? What helps keep you fresh and lively? - Renie

At some point you start thinking, man, I can actually do this, and wow, I am really pretty good at it. Then you go through a phase where you try to only work on cool things. Then you buy a few things and get some debt, and suddenly you have to take on projects whether you like them or not, just to pay bills. Then you have some success, and you find yourself at a POORLY marked crossroads. You can go for the money or you can go for the things that got you into music in the 1st place. It is ALWAYS a decision you have to be constantly making. For me, I didn't need much, so it was easier to go for the fun. Not always, I have had a few years where I had to backtrack, and down size (translation, go to the pawnshop).

So for me, I enjoy working with talented people, with young cats who are trying to make a difference, meeting a legend, and finding out they are as cool as you hoped, or doing a mix where you feel you really contributed something. I try to choose projects based on the music, but sometimes a friend might ask you to mix something that isn't great. I try my best to make it great, and in the process, its good to hang with buddies.

[top]Re eqing…What about Boosting one frequency range and cutting a complimentary 'band' somewhere else. Do you do it much? where/when? What works for you? - ozzy Osmond

Ozzy, trust your ears. Learning how to EQ things is a NEVER ENDING learning curve. Several times in my career I thot I had finally gotten it, only to discover a few months later I had more to learn. This is what helped me the most: I used to sit and "practice" EQ'ing my favorite CD's with a GML parametric EQ. At first all I did was make something better at the expense of making something else worse. After about a year of this (for about 4-6 hours EVERY day...yeah I know I'm kinda a fanatic nut, but it seemed FUN), I actually started making the entire record better. Well, probably not better, but more like I WANTED IT TO SOUND. How does this relate to your question? Well I could say subtract 100 from the kik and add 100 to the bass, but that would be a miracle if it worked in your case. By learning on a good finished mix, you will see very quickly what the frequencies you are adding and subtracting do. At first, you will add and subtract 2-4 dB before it sounds different, and after a while you will only be adding 1/2-1dB and it will sound drastic. This brings me back to my opening statement. I have seen some of my producers turn eq knobs without even knowing what they are turning. They just listen turn, listen turn, listen turn it back. After about 10 minutes it sounds amazing. I look at the EQ, and to my amazement it is pretty close to what is "right". It ain't the "rocket science" some engineers would lead you to believe. Like I said a million times before it's MUSIC! We are musicians, we KNOW. Experiment!

[top]Any tips for mixing dance music that would be played on vinyl in clubs. Do you need to have a lot of bass on your mix or does the size of the pa system's in clubs make everything sound bass heavy anyway. I don't want to be adding too much bass so that the whole mix ends up sounding dull. Should you use a lot of compression over the main mix using something like Waves L1 or L2 or would using a multiband compressor on the bass give more punch?

Also what kind of frequencies would give a kick drum real thump?

Any tips would be appreciated. - Krisstoff

If a law were passed that everyone on earth had to use identical speakers, our jobs would be so much easier. Most clubs here (USA) add sub bass, say 80 down. That is an area that most home studios, and for that matter professional ones also, have problems monitoring. If you can't hear it accurately, about all you can do is watch the woofers and listen when they crap out.

Compression is a book in itself. I personally don't think compression makes things "better". I look at compression as having two jobs. One, to increase the overall level, by managing the hot spots, and two, as an effect.

I agree with most of what has been said. Let me add that sometimes the most important frequencies in a kik are 3-5K. It helps your ear find it. Also be very detailed in the area from 180 to 120.

[top]How big is the contribution of the mastering engineer to your mixes? - Darth Fader

I use mastering as a safety net. Most of the time, Brian Gardner or Eddy Schryer do my mastering. They do very little compression or EQ, but get the overall level up. I don't use stereo bus compression, so this surprises me. I also have asked them to let me know if a particular studio is making me mix worse or better.

[top]I was just wondering about when you first hear the songs you will be mixing. Do they get to you as a good quality demo or unmixed (but well tracked) separate tracks? How closely do you work with the songwriters? In most cases, is the band the main writers of the song or is it production teams eg. The Matrix , Max Martin (Cherion), writers from Murlyn Music (Sweden), other top songwriters from the US, who write the songs?

Also with a track like "Get This Party Started" - Pink are the A&R's or Managers like "Dave, this is a hit, lets get it mixed and released ASAP" or were they unconfident about it's potential until it actually hits the charts and they hear peoples and radio stations reactions. Who wrote that song anyway? How much did Pink herself have to do with it? - remo

Some of my clients spend days on their rough mixes, and some are just thrown together (check out the 2 track thread). I like the challenge of beating a great ruff mix. Usually I "cheat" and really study the ruff, and use the best ideas from it. Of course, I try to make the ideas mine. On "Party" (Pink) we (Pink, Me, Linda, and Damon Elliott) were trying to make an ALBUM. Linda Perry wrote the song with Pink. We were hassled all along the way. We were fired a couple of times, and threatened with the album not coming out. Pink had such a strong vision that she wouldn't turn loose. We knew it was a great record, but it almost didn't come out like we envisioned it. Finally, to his credit LA Reid saw the vision and really got behind the record. I was going through an "Andy Wallace phase", and was trying to combine that with my "Dr. Dre phase". Only a handful of songwriters show up to sessions. In another thread I give a list of priorities of who I listen to. It really varies all over the place as to who writes the song.

[top]I've often wondered actually how good guys like yourself are. Being involved mainly in sound design, I'm constantly amazed by how top pro's can transform seemingly worthless sounds into something cool and 'quality'. Is this the case with mixing? Can guys like yourself resurrect bog standard mixes into something 'quality'. Can YOU make that much of a difference?
How much is a mix 'you' and how much rests on the original recording?

PS. Sorry, I'm not trying to be an arse, just always wanted to put this to a mixer of your calibre! - tee boy

Man, you guys are giving me that carpal tunnel thing! One thing I have noticed about me (and other mixers I admire) is the WILL to make something sound great. The skill is one thing, but I have noticed that some of the staff (newer engineers) at the studios I work at, give up too quick. People ask me about width, clarity, low end, etc. That's just the way I have always heard music, and will stay here 10 days if necessary, until my mix sounds the way I hear it in my head. Wow does that ever sound egotistical (sic), but bear with me. Today I am working on a mix in which ALL the music is on two tracks. This mix should take about 3 hours. I am into hour 13. I have taken and placed snare and kick samples by hand for each and every kick and snare in the 2-track instrumental. This has taken me and Ariel about 5 hours. I have tried about 25 things on it from Trans X to TC Master X to Neves, Pultecs, 1070's, etc., and didn't like any of them, except the TransX. I split the stereo track to 5 pairs of faders. One I rolled off all lo end, one is just for lo with a DBX 120X on it. One has the snot compressed out of it (DBX160XT), for midrange, and then I combine all these to get the final sound I am hearing in my head. If I can't make it sound great, it ain't leaving here. So, what I am trying to add here, is WANTING it to sound good is the one single thing all top mixers have in common. Also, anything you do for 10-20 years, you should be good at! Well, I guess that isn't always the case, just listen to the radio! I will expound on this more, because I think it ties into the "cliff diving" thread. Once again, let me say, you guys make me feel pretty special, and I thank you for that. But ALL of you have the ability to do UNIQUE things. That's all I do, is sell my uniqueness.

A lot of producers shop their tracks. Suddenly the track gets some attention, and they realize the old hard drive it was on no longer works, or they were in a hurry and forgot to write down settings, etc. Usually it is a fact that they can't find it.

As to who should get mix credit, that is a tough question I had not given much thought to. I guess if all I did was "master" the mix, I shouldn't get credit. When you change it as much as I do, I consider it not a 2 track mix, but 2 tracks I was given to mix. Nicodemus, what do you think?

Let me give you an example of one of the songs on Survivor by Destinys. Beyonce was given a CD of the demo track. She dumped it onto a ProTools rig and recorded the vocals, and did some edits to the track. I had to have the mix done in two days, because of deadlines. I get the vocals from NY, and the track from another part of the country. They don't match. Timing is different, and somehow, the pitch is off. Well after a lot of work it was a single! It took 48 straight hours. Fun. Job security. Oh and by the way (I hate BTW), I never told anyone, just did it.

Waves MaxxBass

[top]Any tips for dialing in the kick and bass guitar in today's heavy stuff? - badchi

A lot of people think of the process as carving out EQ valleys for the kik (or bass) to sit in. I do this to an extent. If your bass is sine wavey and your kik is an 808, you have problems. In that case I would use MaxxBass to add higher harmonics to the bass. If the kik is lower sounding than the bass, you can add a sample with some mid or top punch so your ear can find the kik. If the kik is higher than the bass, you can try adding some distortion (Sans Amp) to the bass. Just work with it until they sound good. Make sure you check both on little speakers. That helps a lot to find the higher frequencies that help your ear find the sounds. Every song is different.

[top]Any favourite Maxx-Bass Settings you use a lot? - Shapemod

I use MaxxBass to make a low sine wave type bass sound cut through on little speakers. MY settings are:
freq= 98
ratio= 2.10:1
response= 19.0
hipass= 24 dB/OCT
decay= -12

[top]I always enjoy hearing about top engineers/artists doing stuff totally "wrong" in the studio. (eg Bono recording in the control room with the monitors blaring) stuff like that. Any really weird stuff that's made into albums you've mixed? Just curious, thought it might be entertaining (and maybe even useful!) - Krs

The 1st studio I worked in didn't have a lot of outboard gear. I didn't realize I was at a disadvantage, because I didn't know what gear was out there. I heard all these sounds on records and figured I should be able to get them. Well the studio had an elevator. I put two speakers in the bottom of the elevator shaft, and hung two mics off of the bottom of the elevator aimed towards the speakers. I would raise or lower the elevator until I got the delay/sound I wanted. I would put an "out-of-order" sign on the elevator doors, and mix away.

It's about creativity, not gear. It is easy to forget about the music, and inflict OUR taste all over the place. Gear is only about 25% of it, the rest is creativity. At the level I work at we all have the SAME gear, but we all sound different. I think the most important quality to have is the WILL to make a great record, then the realization will follow. I always say I can teach anyone HOW to get a great snare sound, I just can't teach WHAT a great snare sound is.

[top]How do you get the kick to sound clear but keep the lowend body? - Ultimax

I would guess that the top end is not right. Check out one of the other posts to see how I do it. I can't remember which post, but it has to do with splitting the kik and using various compression. Remember if you want more bass out of a bass, just turn it up! It's BASS. if you want more low end from a kik, turn the son-uva-bitch up. Psycho-accoustically, the ear needs some 800-1K, some 3-5k and some 10k to "find" the kik. Add these while in the mix. Don't be afraid to turn up the hi's in the chorus. It gives the feeling that the drummer hit it harder. Let us know if this helps. Remember, don't be against adding a sample that has the frequencies you are missing.


[top]Are there any go-to plugs/ outboard chains that you use for drum mults? - no ssl yet

For kiks and snares I rarely use plugins. I know you don't want to hear that, but the outboard gear I use is actually not too expensive. Let's take kiks today. I tap off a piece of the original sound, and split it to 3 tracks. The original I EQ with the board (SSL). On the second tap I run it through a 160XT, ratio 6:1, and knock off enough to get the mid attack or thud to come thru (don't use the Over-Easy in). Run this into an API 550A. Next, take any compressor that has variable attack and release and use kinda fast A/R. Crank the threshold down to knock off 25 or so dB. Run this into any EQ and focus on the attack. You might have to add 20dB at 10K. Experiment. Now combine all three tracks plus your samples (usually 808 type subby sound, or mid thump sample, etc.) Pick your samples so they don't change the original sound, just make it better. Before you knock this technique try it. I do the same with vocals, snares, bass, guitars, and damn near everything. The beauty of this is that you preserve the dynamics and transients, but still have compression! So your apparent loudness, clarity, and punch are still improved better than if you compressed and EQ'd only the original sound.

[top]I was wondering how you got your foot in the door for mixing and producing for some really big name artists? Was there like one thing that really helped u get in the biz, or was it more like meeting people and networking? And then knowing someone who knows someone and then being in the right place at the right time? I'm very curious!!! - silver_shake

My mom was a great guitar player/teacher, and was an artist in every way. She was named after the opera AIDA, and music was and is a passion in my family, who immigrated here from Spain. I started playing in bands at an early age. Some successful, some not. I was in a band with Bob Burns (1st Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer--Free Bird, 3 Steps, Sweet Home Alabama etc), and was getting a little tired of the road. The guitar player in that band, Larry and I decided to build our own studio, and become a studio band. Around that time an artist and Producer in Atlanta met me and just gave me a shot, Phil Benton, and Paul Davis (several top-chart records). I mostly did everything from cleaning toilets to recording. It was great! OJT is the best (on the job training). I just recorded everyone I could find, mostly for free. I didn't have debts because I didn't own ANYTHING, and what little I had was always in the pawn shop. Perhaps this would be a good time to get tissues to wipe the tears and snot...OK back to story. It was never a plan, just water rolling down hill. I am, and have pretty much always been a hippie, and it just worked out. The one thing that seemed to separate me from other engineers was I was and am obsessed by the studio and music. Engineering was a means to this end. Without music, and the making of it, life is a lot less important.

[top]How much do you have to deal with label folks poking their heads into the studio? - Curve Dominant:

For me, I think that most A&R people are very sincere and hard working. Does this mean they are not sometimes pains in the ass, of course not. I try to respect the opinions of people in this order:

1. Artist
2. Producer
3. Writer
4. My dog
5. A&R
6. Managers
7. My staff

There are some great A&R people with dead-on ideas: Ron Fair, Teresa White, Larry Jackson, Omar (Will Smith), Damien Smith, LA Reid, and 10 or 15 others I can think of. Most try hard but just have too many other responsibilities on their agenda. I try to accommodate people on the above list as long as they are sincere. I consider it a skill just like EQ'ing.

Eventide H3000 Factory

[top]What recent new ProTools plug-ins have you started using more and more, has something come along that really blew you away? - Dutchmuzik

I also like ChromeTone by McDSP alot, Trans X and that vocoder plugin by Waves. I will think of some more and let you know, but I really love the H3000 Factory and Revibe.

[top]When you hit the chorus, etc are you using different PT tracks with a different chain to make those jump out more, or letting the bv's do it...or faders or neither? - Jho

I like to put efx on only a portion of the spectrum. I will take an exciter that is on the backs, and add chorus to that. Or vocal doubler on the H3000. That way you are not chorusing the mud on the bottom. I will also put a harmonizer in front of the reverb, and put it up an octave, so my reverb is an octave higher than the vocal. I automate the Plugins on the vocals, especially the EQ's to make each word pop out.

[top]1. Do you charge differently and get different points when you re-play/replace tons of tracks?
2. How much time do you give for these tasks? Knowing that you're very busy), and that every situation is different; how long does it take for a re-build on a song?
3. Do you do the rebuild at home in ProTools and then mix in the expensive room, or do the whole thing on the clock at the expensive room?
4. Does the studio time come out of your budget, or do you just pass that along as a line item on your invoice to the label? The same for cartage? - Juniorhifikit

1. My manager handles all that. Sometimes we get points, and sometimes I mix for free. I try to do whatever it takes to mix for friends, and to mix the music I like. If I am not knocked out by the song, usually it is a friend or Artist I really like. I don't have a fixed rate, I just trust my manager (Jac Colman) to get me songs I like, or to make sure a good friend is taken care of.

2. Usually 1-10 hours to redo a track. "Get The Party Started" required changing all the drums, and creating intro and ending and alot of PT tricks. Linda and I spent about 6 hours on it. I just charge by the song, so I don't charge xtra for that. I don't want the producer to think I'm trying to take their job, or make more money by trying to get my ideas in there.

3. Expensive all the way. If I'm doing it free, I should at least do it in luxury.

4. The client (label, producer, or artist) pays me, and pays the studio separate. Most of the time, rentals are added to the studio bill. MY rentals are billed by me.

[top]How far do you as a mixer influence the content of the track? Do you get involved in the arrangements, the programming and the sound selection; adding, replacing samples? - Renie

I ALWAYS "augment" the drums. Most producers don't have the facility to hear full spectrum, so I usually add sub to the kik, and maybe a sample with some knock (800-3k). Go right now and pinch the kik and snr from No Doubt's "Hella Good". They are great to add to other samples. I am known here for straightening out failed productions. So I am expected to do whatever it takes to "fix it". But about 1/2 the stuff I get is already pretty close. Every producer wants something different from me. Some want the demo, but slightly better, and some want me to replay everything. I don't think you can have a static approach, every song is different.

[top]Do you find that your plug in chains are constantly in flux perhaps even more so than the hardware equivalents and do you ever fall victim to the feeling that a new piece is best just because it's newest ? - Jam

That is the beauty of Plugins, there is always something new. You don't feel as bad erasing a piece of software, as you do letting a piece of gear that cost you $5,000 collect dust. I am addicted to new plugins.

I use the Waves L1 as a safety net. I like it to catch about no more that 5 dB, after my main compressor has done the bulk of the work. Today, I had a Missy rap that was giving me fits, so I tried an L1 clamped down to knock off about 12 dB, with slow release, and it sounds amazing. The song features Christina and is in the movie SHARKS TAIL, out in about a month. It's a remake of "Car Wash".

[top]Can you give us a brief rundown of your career moves that took you to the dizzying heights you are at now. When did you get started? Was there a major "turning point" where it all took off for you? - remo

I am the one person that you should probably NOT use as a model for success. I am basically still a hippie. I just loved playing and making music all my life. Several times I thought about checking out of life early, and the one thing that kept me goin was music...making it. I played in a lot of bands, and actually just kinda fell into the recording side of things in my mid 20's. I would have tried engineering sooner, but I just assumed I wasn't good at it. I seem to have always had a knack for knowing what sounds good. I tell my assistants that I can teach anyone HOW to get a great snare sound, but I can't teach anyone WHAT a great snare sound is. Think of a great painter without the ability to pick great subjects to paint. My advice to you is to record anyone who will sit still enough to record them. I did hundreds of free sessions. One day it dawned on me that I was actually getting better! The money will come. Just record, listen to music, make music over and over. Find your pleasure in doin it, and everything will follow in time.

[top]I would like to know the origin of your "Hard Drive" nickname. Any nice story behind it? - DrDeltaM

I was working with Bell Biv DeVoe, and Richard Wolfe gave me the nickname. It was easier to pronounce than PENSADO.

[top]Who rides the master fader instead of using a 2-buss comp on the stereo mix? What happens when you go to mastering when using this technique? - LumenStudio

I move ALL the faders. I like the sound of things that mimic a live band (as opposed to dead bands). Sometimes riding the MF is the only solution for making the last chorus scream. I push the kik up every 2-4 bars, pull bass up in chorus, snare up in spots, etc.

[top]Would you be at liberty to tell us about any tracks or artists that have had a popular radio release that was done ITB? - Genericperson

Kelly Clarkson "Miss Independent", Mel C "Never Be The Same Again", Ice Cube stuff on Players Club, Eternal "Angel of Mine"...there are a bunch more but I forgot. Those mixes didn't have one single piece of outboard gear! I usually mix 65% ITB, and 35% on the SSL. Whew, some of my first all ProTools mixes were truly awful. But I got better, and Digi was gracious enuff to incorporate a bunch of my ideas.

Gates STA-Level

[top]Would you be kind enough to let us in into the vocal chain you use for B.McKnight? - RaGe

Brian's engineer, C. Wood, is one of the best. I run Brian through McDsp E6, then into an old Gates STA-Level compressor (tube similar to LA2A), out of that into an Avalon 2055. I try to do the carving with the E6 (the way it comes up, no preset), and broad gentle strokes with the 2055. I might add a bit of guts (600) with the console (SSL). If you can't find a Gates, then the Bomb Factory LA3 is pretty close. Sometimes I add a little too much on top, and de-ess with Waves unit. I rarely knock off more than 2-3 dB with a compressor, preferring instead to ride the fader. I split the signal to the console into 2 faders. One has the chain above, and the other fader is usually an 1176 (Ratio=4, A=fast, R=medium) and knock off about 8-10 db. I compensate for the duller sound with the 2055, or 1073, 560A, and on the thinner notes, I will add more of this fader. On the Breathy notes, I use more of the Gates fader. I just don't like the sound of compression on vocals, so I compress "manually" with the fader automation.

[top]Re-mix clients in the control room. Do you ask them to stay out of your hair for a while? Are they ever there when you first bring the tracks up? - Jules

I come from playing in bar bands up and down the east coast for 15 years, so I tend to miss the live audience. Unless the client is actually sitting at the console watching every move, I don't mind. I will usually test them early by making something sound really awful, and if they don't say anything we keep rockin'. I've only had to ask people to leave a couple of times, cause they were messin' with my vibe. But I truly think it is OK to get a couple of hours head start alone. When you finally get a reputation, they tend to love everything you do. The process is very individual, and what works for me might not work for you. Next time you want to clear the room, turn the air conditioning to freezing, turn the lights wide open, and cycle a beat that starts and stops at out of time wierd spots. Then excuse yourself to go pee, and when you come back 5 minutes later the room will be empty!

[top]You're down as saying you often prefer plug's over hardware in listening tests. Just for starters, do you find this is the case with reverb also? - Renie

Reverbs are the one thing I prefer outboard. I use Plugin verbs for special efx, like taking a long verb and flanging it and putting that on a background note and let the flanged verb fill a big hole. Digi just sent me a couple of verbs that seem promising. I use Reverb One and Waves verbs alot on guitars, and synths, but mostly I still prefer the 2016, EMT250, Lexicon 960, and TCM 3 and 5000.

[top]When did you first start doing mixes in the box? I think I read a Keyboard mag a few years back saying that you used to do a lot of arranging before getting into mixing. (not sure about that) At what point in the development of DAWs did it occur to you to do a mix fully in the box? Was it a gradual thing? or a full jump into the fire? What issues did you have then? Are they the same issues now that DAWs have improved (processing power, better plugins, etc)? After thinking about this I think the article that I read was about Rhett Lawrence so take out that part in the question. - Exmun

Well, I have been Rhett's main mixer since '96. I have really learned a lot from him. He is genius. I actually started in the SynClavier box. It was one of the first DAWs in the '80s. One of the guys who gave me a start was Paul Davis. In the eighties, Paul wrote and produced in/on the SynClav. "65 Love Affair", "Cool Nights", and "Bop With You Baby" were all top 5 hits, and caused quite a bit of controversy because there was no tape. An engineer by the name of Ed Seay was brilliant on those records.

[top]Didn't you work one the Bell Biv DeVoe stuff? I think that's the first place I ever saw your name...I am curious if you have any details on that stuff...Did you work on the song "Poison"? I always thought that was a very interesting song, both from a writing standpoint and the engineering side. It is rare to hear a psychedelic/rap/r&b song! - toledo3

Yeah, I am proud of the remixes to "Do Me Baby", "Thought It Was Me", and "When Will I See You Smile" (all 12 minutes of it!) Bell Biv DeVoe was great because we could break all the rules, and it worked. The radio and video versions of the above songs were my mixes. I still love the mix on "Thought It Was Me".