Sylvia Massy is the only engineer/producer to ever do a Q&A twice on the GS forums - beyond having an amazing resumé featuring the likes of Johnny Cash, Tool, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Tom Petty, Beastie Boys and way way more, she has collaborated extensively with Rick Rubin, stored her gear at Sound City where it was used by other A-list bands to make very important records, become an accomplished graphic artist and successfully conquered the worlds of both book writing (with "Recording Unhinged") and education (as a visiting professor at Berklee). She’s a music and sound polymath who was insanely fun to have around, supplementing both her sessions here with exclusive pictures, drawings and more. This article is an amalgamation of both of her Gearspace Q&As - maybe someday we’ll have time to have her around for a third!

[top]In your book Recording Unhinged you mentioned the concept of recording an album on a private jet, amongst other left-of-field ideas like when you threw a guitar off a cliff, or even tracking all the guitar parts on a battery-powered amp. What are the adventures in recording you are dying to try but haven't found the logistics or budget, or even perhaps partners-in-crime necessary to be able to do yet? - Gideon K

I have always wanted to try running audio through different gasses, and record how each gas affects the sound. This would require a pressurized chamber and probably some good fire suppression because there are some gasses that may ignite.

I've had this idea ever since I was a kid, pondering over the effect of helium on a human voice. When you breathe in helium, say, from a balloon, and talk, you sound like a chipmunk. So I asked my teachers: does the helium cause constriction of the vocal cords, or is it the effect of sound going through thinner air that causes the voice to change? (yeah, I was a weird kid)

I'd like to try sound experiments with helium. I'd also like to try neon, and would use a glass chamber or tube for that, because I believe some high frequencies might light up! Anyone who has similar interests in experimenting with sound and gas please write to me. Especially if they have access to a facility with a pressurized chamber.

[top]I thought about setting up a small recording studio to support the local musician community. I wonder what advice you would have when it comes to starting such a project, in terms of studio space, gear etc. maybe some hints on how to NOT blow all the money instantly on a fancy console. - Xaser

What a great idea this is. I fully support your endeavor. I've often thought about starting a similar place. I would create a non-profit organization to get this started, and contact manufacturers for their support. Most manufacturers offer steep discounts to educational and non-profit programs teaching music and technical skills. Plus there are excellent private and government grant programs for the arts, but only to non-profits. This will help you to stretch out your own dollar investment. To go for the non-profit, you will need a very detailed plan on what you want to do. This will include:

-Mission Statement
-Key Personnel Info
-Start-up Costs (Including equipment lists)
-Operational Plan (Where is the facility? Will there be accommodations?)
-Financial Plan (Where will the funds come from? private/crowdfunding/grants)

As far as what to get for gear...well I would go with Pro Tools or Logic as your recorder. Solicit Apple for an educational discount on computers. Solicit software companies for discounts or comps on plug-ins. PreSonus makes some reasonably priced and good sounding mic pres that you can rack mount. The M80 8-channel is very good. You'll probably need two or three of them. Here is a simple ensemble of mics and other gear:

  • 1 Sennheiser 421
  • 2 Shure SM57
  • 4 Shure SM98
  • 2 Shure SM81
  • 2 Shure KSM 32
  • 1 Countryman DI box
  • 1 Sennheiser 421
  • 2 Sennheiser 421
  • 2 Shure SM57
  • 2 Countryman DI
  • 2 AKG 414
  • Shure SM57
  • Shure SM7
  • Mackie Big Knob
  • 6 sets of Beyerdynamic D770 Headphones
  • Furman Headphone System w/ 5 boxes
  • 3 Presonus M-80 mic pres
  • KRK Rokit 6
  • Buncha Mic Cables
  • Buncha Instrument Cables
  • Buncha Speaker Cables
  • Lotsa Adaptors
  • Lotsa Power Strips
Setting up in a business incubator type commercial space could be a good starting spot. I like open-room recording, but that may be too weird for most engineers, so you might need to budget for control room walls and windows.

One other thing missing from the list is a good analog summing system, but maybe for the baby bands you don't need it. But, if you have a non-profit, actively helping young musicians to cut their teeth on recording, you'll find analog consoles being dropped off at your doorstep soon enough.

And finally, you'll probably want to budget for some decent instruments. Young guitar players grow immeasurably when you put a real Gibson in their hands. Or put the drummer on a nice Yamaha Recording Series kit. Suddenly they get it!

Good luck!

[top]Let's talk about drum reverb...what unit and preset do you favor or does it vary to the point of open for anything? Also what of reverb on the rest of the kit and overheads. - Mappee

Actually I try to use a natural reverb over anything else, recording drum room tracks with some light compression. Sometimes I will have the drummer play the song without cymbals, or with the cymbals muted by towels, so we can overdub the cymbals later. This allows the room mics to be pushed up higher in the mix because there is no interference from obnoxious open hi hat or the drummer riding on the crash cymbals. And you can hit the compression harder if you like the pumping effect it has on the drums.

Another way to control cymbal wash in the room mics (post tracking) is to send the snare track out to a PA speaker and record the room back into the session. I go through some techniques of how to do that here:
When natural room is not available, or sounds too small, I will give the snare some extra space with a Bricasti, or a taste of Manny Marroquin's Waves reverb plugin.

[top]I've been keeping up with some of your social media and I was curious on how you set up the potato filter and what it does? - Chris DeLaCerda

During a breakfast roundtable at Mix With The Masters this spring, we discussed how you can power a small clock by using a potato. So, why couldn't you use a potato to drive a speaker cabinet? We had to try it!!! With the help of the workshop attendees, I cut a standard speaker wire in half and inserted a pair of potatoes in line. One potato for the positive side and one potato for the negative side. Just jabbed the wires into them. Then we connected our potato-modified speaker cable between a Marshall head and a 4x12 cabinet and tried to play a guitar through it. Unfortunately the Marshall tube amp kept blowing fuses even though our ohmage measurements showed that it would work. But we did not give up. It was not until we tried the solid state amplifier that our experiment worked. Here is a video of our potato filter triumph.

What does it sound like? To answer that, Mike Fradis from Waves and I spent a day re-creating the potato filter and trying other items inserted into the speaker cable, taking detailed measurements and documenting the effect to the audio signal.

In general, these were our findings:
  • Potatoes: attenuation and a slight high frequency shelving.
  • Apples, bananas, carrots, oranges: Different levels of attenuation, depending on the size of the item with light high-pass filtering.
  • Hot dog: Very flat response with attenuation. Slicing the hot dogs in half will reduce the amount of attenuation. We were very impressed with the hot dogs.
Interesting, you say? Well that was only the beginning. Mike Fradis and I also set up a series of experiments running the speaker lines through various power tools and kitchen appliances. This was something Ed Cherney suggested I try. Basically the idea is to cut the cord off a powered drill and connect the speaker cable to run audio through the drill. Amazingly when you hit the right notes, the drill will start up, being powered entirely by the audio. And what a crazy sound that is! I've used this technique while recording guitar solos. The sound of the guitar is full of whirring and grinding sounds as the motors are running. You can try it with blenders, hair dryers, jigsaws, vacuum cleaners. Different motors have different characters. I've now built a jig so it is simple and non destructive to change out different motors.

I will add a video of our motor set-up. Stay tuned!

[top]not a question...but did green jello's record! I loved those guys. - marty lester

When I first moved to LA, I took a job at Tower Records in West Hollywood for a while. Bill Manspeaker and Bill Tutton also worked there. They had just moved from Buffalo, New York, and had this comedy band that performed rock versions of nursery rhymes while dancing around in ridiculous costumes on stage. I love musicians with a sense of humor, and arranged to record them on a friend's 8-track. It came out so funny and good that they got a deal with Zoo Records.

We set out to record the album "Cereal Killer" at Sound City with two drummers, one of which was Danny Carey who had another band called Tool. Zoo Records had also inked a deal with Tool, so to save the budget we tracked the drums for the first Tool record "Opiate" at the same time since all the mics were set up. The Tool guys were hanging around on the Jello sessions, and you'll hear Maynard James Keenan singing on the Green Jello hit "Three Little Pigs". He is the high voice that sings, "Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!"

On occasion I would perform on stage with Green Jello when they played the song "Food Fight". This is when a half-dozen people dressed as different food items would storm the stage and start fighting. There was a french fry, a chicken drumstick, and a pack of juicy fruit. I was usually the slice of pizza.

[top]I saw your diagram regarding the secret sauce! I know you don't want to reveal it but despite that I wanted to ask what's your second seasoning that you sprinkle onto your mix? - Synth Guru

Aaaah, the secret sauce. It changes from time to time, but lately it is this: A pair of Western Electric 111c passive transformers on the stereo bus! Slap those suckers across your mix!

A friend named Devin Powers sent me the unit pictured below. He started using passive transformers on his mixes and his idea has caught on with several Los Angeles mixers, including Ross Hogarth. Ross turned me on to the technique while I was doing research for the Recording Unhinged book.

You can find a your own pair on eBay and try this too. The Western Electrics are great, but RCA, Malotke and UTC have made similar transformers. I'm sure there are also European equivalents. These are passive audio transformers that were often used in telephone operations. They are usually wired 1:1 but if you go in the 160 ohm terminals and out the 50 ohm terminals it will give your mix a ballsy saturation that is very exciting. Pumps up the sound of your mix!

[top]Your approach to recording, at least in certain instances, might in some ways be described as "adventuresome." In a world so driven by results of a particular standard and deadlines, how do you reconcile the demands of that end result and the artistic license to continually try new and different things? Of the "new and different" things you have tried, as a whole, would you say the ideas tended to work more often than not, or the other way around? - Duke Murdock

I spoke to a musician friend yesterday who told a tale of studio woe. He and his band played shows together for years because it was fun. They had that special musician communication where no words were spoken, everything was expressed through sound. The group moved through a live set naturally like a school of fish, sensing new musical directions in real time and instinctually playing as one. There was such joy in their music, they wanted to share it, so they rehearsed for several weeks and perfected 12 songs for a CD. But when they went into the studio (not my studio) all the fun evaporated. They were isolated and couldn't see each other, stuffed into dark little rooms, had difficulty with Headphones and struggled to play to a click. Tempers frayed. Ultimately every ounce of spontaneity was squeezed out of the band and the recording sounded stiff, nervous and clinical. My friend was so disappointed by the experience that he found no love in recording. He never went back into the studio again.

It is easy to see how this could happen. Recording studios, like dentist's offices, are full of strange equipment and people motivated to find problems. "When was the last time you went to the dentist?" "You should have been flossing." Like a dental assistant putting an x-ray machine up to your lower jaw, some of the recording equipment is placed up close to your body to expose what you are playing. And, like a doctor's office, you are stripped down in an examination room, waiting to show a stranger all your faults. Of course it makes a musician nervous! So if I can keep the player from feeling like a "patient", instead, creating the anticipation that "something fun is going to happen", all that panic is reduced. I try to plan for something fun in every session. From, "Hey, let's record a song in the back of a van while driving through San Francisco!" to, "Let's play the trombone underwater!" or even just, "Why don't you sing through a fan?"

If you schedule extra time to do something unconventional at the end of your recording project, you'll find that everyone looks forward to becomes the reward for doing all the hard work that is necessary to make records. And knowing that it is going to be fun makes the whole recording experience better. Less over-thinking of the guitar rhythm sound. Less laboring over every minute little hi-hat part. "C'mon, let's get this done so we can blow **** up!" Suddenly even the more experienced session players rediscover that sense of wonder in making sound.

Surprisingly, most of the sound experiments do make it into the final mix. Even if for a few seconds. Last week I worked with a band called Hypnotic Vibes from Colorado. As their "adventure", we planned on recording their horn section underwater. I thought there was no way it would sound good. But as it turned out, the sound worked perfectly in the bridge breakdown! And nothing was ruined or broken in the process! See how we did it here:

[top]Reading back, you said that you change heads VERY frequently. How are you doing it so often? I saw you said that you were switching between takes on some sessions! I'd think that switching it that often would lead to tuning problems because of the acclamation of stretching the head. Also, you said you'll sum the snare top and bottom. Do you usually compress the two individually before summing? - Mark

Previously, I wrote about my routine for miking and recording drums. I talk a bit about tuning and drum heads here:

"If you want your drum recordings to sound good, learn how to tune drums! Have fresh heads available during tracking and change often if you want crisp attack on the snare and toms. During the Tool sessions we changed tom and snare heads between each TAKE!!!! Hydraulic heads sound good live, but often sound thuddy and lifeless in the studio. I usually use Remo Ambassador single-ply coated on the snare top, and clear on the tom tops."

There were several tom-heavy passages in Tool songs on both "Opiate" and "Undertow" and drummer Danny Carey hit the toms so hard that the drum heads were cratered and lost their sparkle after each take. It was necessary to take the time to replace the heads and tune them up. Again and again. We could have extended the life of the toms by using thicker heads, like Emperors, but they would not record with such crispness and clarity.

One way to get the tom head tuning to settle in quickly is to replace the head and tighten down the tension rods, then set the drum on the floor and press your knee into the top, stretching the head out. Then tighten down all the tension rods again. Do this a couple times. With the Remo Ambassador heads, this will usually get them warmed up and ready to play quickly. It is necessary to keep checking the tuning though. Especially if you are using older drums with looser tension rods.

As I described in the "Recording Unhinged" book, I like to tune the toms into the key of the song being recorded. To do that, after stretching out the drum head, I'll take the drum over to a piano and detail the tuning. On Tool's "Undertow" we paid close attention to make sure all the toms were tuned into the key of each song. Lot's of toms on Danny's kit = lots of tuning time.

Also, while recording drums I will sum the top and bottom heads of the snare and toms, but usually do not use compression. I will, however, use compression on drum rooms and sometimes the overheads. Typically just a "touch" of compression on the main pair of drum room mics, and heavy compression on at least one mono room mic. This mic is usually placed right in front of the drum kit, about chin height. This came about because so many of my sessions had a scratch vocal mic, which had a good amount of compression, left open during a drum take, and the track turned out to be the best drum room sound ever!

If the song we are recording has a lot of "space" in the drums, I will use some compression on the overhead mics because it extends the decay of cymbal crashes, and it brings out more of the color and harmonics of the cymbals. This really only works when the drummer is not crashing on the ride cymbals or playing an obnoxious open hat all the time.

[top]I'm curious, with that amount of down time, how did you keep the band "fresh" and ready for takes? Also, did you need to recheck for phase and levels if you were moving mics to take toms off stands to change heads? - Drumsound

The songs were long and Danny was hitting the hell out of those drums during the Tool sessions, so a little break between song takes was actually welcome. I try to act fast and get the drums re-tuned as quickly as possible. Yes, checking phase is essential, especially because I would expect to be cutting between takes. For that reason also, I would have to make sure the new snare tuning matched to tuning on the previous takes. Agh... it is a lot of work and tedious detail. But the results are well worth it!

I'll find the key of the song first, then tune the toms and snare to that key. I usually use a piano to find the right notes. Then when changing heads, go back to the piano and match the drum tuning of the previous take. I will sometimes use my trusty little Jaymar toy piano for note reference, it is a very handy studio tool! If a piano or the Jaymar is not available, I will use a guitar or other instrument for note reference.

More about drum tuning:

When I tune drums, I pick notes in the song's key that are closest to the natural timbre of the drum. So if the song is in D, the drum could be tuned to D, E, F#, G, A, B or C#. Most of the time an E or A will work. I'll try hard to get the pitch accurate, because it is surprising how bad a slightly flat tom or snare will sound in a song. It becomes very distracting. At least for me.

The best way to hear the pitch while tuning a drum is to lightly press a finger into the middle of the head as you tap it near the tension rod. Match the pitch of that tension rod to a note in the key, then go around to all the drum's tension rods one by one and do the same. With snare drum tunings, you'll want to throw off the snare wires until you have finished. By lightly pressing a finger on the head, you are damping the drum so you won't hear the overtones. Just the pure tone. That is the note I listen for while tuning. I don't usually use the Drum Dial. It is a pretty cool device, but does not help with finding pitch. I can pretty much match all the tension rod pitches by ear.

Kick drum is also nice to match to the key of the song, but I find my ear more forgiving on the bass drum notes. I usually use one of two tunings on a kick: either a lower, open boom - or a higher, tight, punchy tone. Actual notes seem less important, but matching the pressure on each tension rod will make it sound better.

I have one of those little Jaymar toy pianos in every studio. I use them to work out melody and harmony parts, tune vocals and tune drums. And the sound of the Jaymar has made it on dozens of my recordings. It can be super creepy, especially when you slow the recording down to half speed. Sounds like church bells from hell.

[top]How have you been using your Gates Sta Level lately? Any tips or tricks you can share with us on using the Sta? - 127Riot

I was first introduced to the technique of using broadcast compressors for music recording around 1993. What a revelation! That discovery sent me on a radio station treasure hunt which I describe in this thread.

I managed to buy a whole truckload of vintage broadcast compressors during that time, and kept some of the best, while selling off the rest. Among the best of that haul? Gates Sta-Levels. I kept almost all the Sta-Levels. The 26-J and the 26-U, both awesome units. Also look for Gates SA-39b, CAA LA-1D, Gates Level Devil, RCA BA-6A ~~~ mmmm and the old Western Electric stuff!

I imagine the Sta-Level to be a burly good choice for distorted guitar, because it won't sound "pinched". And like you, I find the soft control of the Gates STA-Level to be a no-brainer for bass guitar, but I mainly use my Sta-Levels on vocals. They have a slightly different character than my other favorite, the Universal Audio 175b. The Sta-Level is a bit deeper and rounder, so it is an excellent choice to balance out the shrill timbre of a female voice that needs to be toned down. However, the Sta-Level will enhance a male voice by exaggerating it's deeper god-like overtones. I packed one of my Sta-Levels in a suitcase and took it to Nashville to record Johnny Cash's vocals for the "Unchained" album. It captured the bold yet vulnerable humanity in Johnny's baritone voice. One of the songs we recorded was "I've Been Everywhere" in which you'll hear the strength of the Sta-Level on Johnny Cash's voice.

I've included a few session photos from the Johnny Cash sessions. Rick Rubin produced, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was Johnny's back-up band, I engineered. That is Johnny and Rick in the polaroids. I took them then drew on them while they were developing. And the black and white photo was taken by photographer Martin Atkins while we were recording at Sound City circa 1996. You'll see Johnny, Rick, Tom Petty (walking out of the picture), Carl Perkins (seated), Tom's tech (damn if I could remember his name!) and me setting up a mic.

[top]You seem to employ studio spaces that are all one room - not the more traditional live room/control room setup. But do you feel that it can be a compromise in getting sounds and doing things like checking phase on the fly? - M.S.P.

Open room recording" is better for me, mainly because I'm always hooking up some kind of contraption and studios usually don't have enough tie-lines so I'm having to run cables under doors and such. I like to set up a mic and run the cable directly into the patchbay, or plug an external mic pre directly into the back of the recorder, or console or rack. I like to set up the vocal mic right next to me while I'm recording vocals so I can grab and harass the singer if I need to. I like to yell across the room and be heard if the talkbacks are not yet set up for a session. Or just yell at an assistant to frickin' do something right. I will start throwing chairs if I have to push my way through multiple lead doors to save a $20,000 vintage tube mic from being hooked up incorrectly. And most control rooms are not big enough for all the crap I like to play with.

Plus, if you free yourself from the idea of having a control room, pretty much anywhere can become a studio.

It does take getting used to though. You have to wear Headphones a lot. I must have loud and detailed Headphones so I can hear what is going on over the din in the room. Here is a bit about the Headphones and headphone system I use.

I have gotten very good at recognizing phase differences in drum mics with Headphones. I mono the individual mics on a kit and compare two at a time to judge the phase relationships. It takes time, and I usually have the drummer (or assistant if they can play drums) play a simple, steady beat for about 8 minutes while I quickly go through my phase check. Mainly concentrating on kick, snare and overhead mics.

[top]I've read that you use the Beyerdynamic DT770 Headphones a lot. I'm also a great fan of these Headphones and I'd really like to know which impedance version do you use, if you've ever tried the other versions and what do you use to drive them. Have you ever noticed any decrease in high frequencies through the years? Because my old ones don't sound as bright as the newer ones. - Jetam

Correct, the high frequencies do die down after a while on the DT770s. I use the freshest pair in my studio for critical listening almost daily, and recycle the older sets to the musicians for tracking. The drummers will get the oldest pair, because their high frequency hearing is usually shot anyway. Hahaha!

The DT770s are loud enough to make rock bands happy. And they stay on everyone's head pretty well as everyone is thrashing around. They last a long time and are easy to buy replacement parts for. I've swapped out many drivers, ear pads, head bands and cables. The grey fuzzy ear muff get nasty after a while, so it is pretty easy to tell which Headphones in the collection are the new ones. They have the fresh fuzzies!!!

I usually use the "Pro" 250ohm models, because I can drive them pretty hard with my headphone amps. During tracking we have a Furman HDS-16 headphone system with 6 individual boxes for the players. Probably one of the most valuable pieces of gear in my studio. Why? Because musicians are not as cranky when they can fiddle around with the knobs and make their own mix.... and when musicians are happy, we get more work done and it's a helluva lot more fun!

[top]I just got your book on Friday, and my wife and I are enjoying it very much. We initially opened to the vocalists section, and had a few good laughs. Thanks for a good read. - Xmission

Thank you so much for mentioning the book. It was a year out of my life, a lot of very hard work and a big learning experience. And I can't wait to do it again!

Here is one of the panels that did not make it into the book. It is a musician's guide to making pizza in a toaster, called "Cheetza". That is my friend Rich Rees doing the demonstration...

[top]How has your approach to engineering changed overtime? And, how has the musicians' approach changed overtime? Not restricted to "electronic rock" bands but also in general, now you might find loops in bands that in the 90s were (or seemed to be) completely electronic-free. - MrCarloB

The music of Ministry, NIN and White Zombie was an exciting hybrid incorporating electronic and programmed elements starting way back in the eighties. I loved that stuff.

When I first started recording this style of music, we were recording on analog tape but were using Digital Performer to expand our track count and add some programmed elements. On Machines Of Loving Grace "Gilt" we used a very early version of Pro Tools (1994), which I absolutely hated. It didn't sound that great and was super clunky, but you could recognize it's importance, so we forced ourselves to use it. Michael Fisher was the musical groundbreaker on that project. He would weave strange percussive sounds into songs like "Richest Junkie Still Alive" with his programming. Another way we would use loops would be to either play by hand or trigger short drum loops with a click from tape. Not perfect but we made it work.

I used to do a lot of editing of drums on 2" analog tape back then. This meant I would actually physically mark where the kicks and snares were on the analog tape with a white pencil. Then I would measure the distance between the kick and snare by laying the 2" tape out on the face of the tape machine or a door moulding, making marks as to where the kick and snare should land at a certain tempo. Then I would measure the entire section of the song and correct the timing discrepancies by cutting out small slivers of tape (or adding them in where the drums were rushing). It would help to give the drummer that super-human feel, which you would need with any type of music where programming was involved. Tool's "Undertow" was full of this type of drum editing.

Powerman 5000 bandleader Spider was heavily influenced by his brother Rob Zombie. Where Rob loved monsters and gore, Spider loved aliens and outer space. So we set out to make a rock-metal-disco concept album about a dystopian futuristic world. The album was also recorded on analog tape, but by this time we were really embracing Pro Tools (1998). On "Tonight The Stars Revolt" we employed the help of my buddy Statik for programming elements. He had helped me earlier to program the piano smashing samples on Tool's "Disgustipated" plus he'd been working with Skinny Puppy and his own awesome Collide project, so he was perfect for the PK5000 record. I also hired Joe Barresi as the engineer, it was one of his first gigs out of being an assistant at Sound City Studios.

I believe the PM5K album was the first time we built song templates in Pro Tools sessions first, then while the analog tape was chasing the computer, we recorded the live drum tracks against the programming. Again, editing the drums to the tempo to match the programming was extremely important, but this time we edited drums in Pro Tools. An extra level of awesomness was added by mixer Scott Humphrey when he mixed "Tonight The Stars Revolt" at his place in Hollywood. Scott added the cartoonishly large beats on the song "When Worlds Collide" and reshaped the vamp to really take it over the top!

I've included a photo taken during the Machines Of Loving Grace session... my first experience using Pro Tools. Note the middle-finger salute!

[top]You've got a tremendous amount of experience owning and managing studios. I would really appreciate it if you could share your thoughts on the key elements of running a successful commercial studio in today's challenging business environment. - Deuce 225

I've had studios for 25 years now, first in the B room at Sound City in Van Nuys, then in Weed, California at RadioStar, now in an awesome old church in Ashland, Oregon.

It was difficult to schedule my own sessions in the Sound City Studio B because it was booked and maintained by Sound City's management. Kind of frustrating, but heck, it was making money...when that arrangement stopped working, I pulled my gear outta there and moved up north, restoring a dilapidated theater in Weed to start RadioStar Studios. The town of Weed, California is a 5-hour drive from any metropolis area, so it was unexpected that we were able to attract any clientele. But the studio grew! Starting with one room in the theater with the Neve 8038, then a second tracking studio in an adjacent building with a Neve BCM-10, then a mix room upstairs with an SSL J-Series, then another studio in a nearby house with a Trident Series-80, then a giant dancehall tracking room with a digital recording setup. 5 rooms! In the middle of nowhere!

So why did it work for 15 years? What was the magic formula for RadioStar's success? Manager Chris Johnson and I marvel at what happened in Weed and came to some post-mortem observations:

Built-in Clientele: First of all, I came from Los Angeles already having established myself as a producer with my own clients. If you are a studio owner in a remote place depending only on local business, you might have a difficult time keeping your studio booked. It is better if you don't have to start from scratch, but not impossible to build a new business.

Low Overhead: By moving to a little low-rent town, I was able to purchase commercial property for a fraction of what it would have cost in Los Angeles or any other more populated area. Having a low monthly nut meant I didn't need to work every day, and could invest in other things, like GEAR. And I didn't spend a lot of money on acoustic design, I just set up the old Neve and got started!

Standardized Recording Formats: I realized early that by using Pro Tools over other cheaper, simpler (and sometimes better) digital recording programs made it easier for my clients to bring projects in from other studios. At the same time sessions could be sent out from RadioStar to be mixed at other professional studios with few compatibility issues.

On-Site Accommodations: Chris and I now realize that the secret to our RadioStar success was that we had accommodations for five bands at any time! We built a dozen adult-sized bunkbeds and created living spaces in apartments, basements, lofts, houses and even an RV. The rates we offered to clients usually included accommodations, so we got people to come from all over the world to our crazy studio in podunk USA. Seriously. This was a big part of why it worked.

Internet Promotion: I found that starting dialogue with artists directly was a more effective means of promotion than doing blanket mailings of studio advertisements. While in it's heyday, I spent at least one day a week listening and writing bands directly on Myspace and with the help of interns, I discovered some fantastic music. Many of these bands became clients of the studio! Today I try to keep up on Facebook... Wow, there is a lot of great music out there.

Offer Something Unique: I suggest that you make your studio environment as interesting as possible, and offer something no one else has... for RadioStar it was recording in an old vaudevillian theater, an unusual acoustic space. For you, how about an airplane hangar, an old sewing factory, or an air-raid bunker? I'll travel halfway around the world to record in Castle Röhrsdorf in Dresden, Germany (photo below). If it wasn't for the fact that it is in an old castle, it might just be another boring studio. But if I have to choose, I'll go there. Also, having unique instruments and other gear available will attract musician clients. For instance, specializing in piano recordings by offering a Bosendorfer or classic Steinway will make your place a destination studio. Or have a crazy selection of old synthesizers! Or a cutting lathe! It is not enough to have a giant selection of plug-ins, though it may be necessary for you to get into the game at all.

Be Versatile: Offering services besides music recording will get you more business. I've been asked several times for mastering services and know that many young clients want to go to where they can get it all done in one place. Brokering production jobs to other producers will broaden your clientele. Being able to offer the services of session musicians is also an advantage. Another big one for me is offering string arrangements. I get a lot of return business and referrals because clients can get killer string parts on their songs. That is something not many studios offer.

Multi-Tasking: And, having worked with Prince and Rick Rubin, I learned how to run several sessions at the same time. Both Prince and Rick Rubin would delegate responsibilities to a trusted group of engineer/producers. I did the same. I would train engineers from the ground up as to how I like the sessions to be recorded, organizing the tracking in such a way that the sessions could bounce between rooms, or even between engineers, and everyone would understand the system and where to take it. I would stroll between sessions and spend time where I was needed. Initial tracking days would require my full attention, but while that was happening in Studio A, I would also be supervising the setup of another project's mix upstairs on the SSL in Studio B, while guitar overdubs were being done by one of my engineers in Studio C, editing was being done in Studio D and rehearsal recording was being done in Studio E.

The big multi-room studio in Weed was a magical place, a lot of hard work with many rewards. One of my favorite memories of being a multi-room studio owner was how all the bands would mingle together in the community kitchen, sharing meals. And how the different nationalities would discover each other, inviting the neighbors to play on their songs, adding an international spice to the musical stew. It is a shame it is over, divorce and politics put an end to that beautiful dream. But one crash won't take the "studio addict" out of me. Tomorrow Chris Johnson and I go into contract on a new building... a new unusual property to set up our second room in Ashland, Oregon. I am so...insane...Hah!

[top]Small diaphragm condensers versus large diaphragm condensers. When would you try one over the other and what would be your reason for this? - Jeremyglover

In the world of condenser mics, I generally choose the large diaphragms for bigger jobs, and the smaller diaphragms for more focused tasks.

Small diaphragm condensers work well in tight environments, and capture better detail in higher frequencies. I would choose small diaphragms for acoustic guitar, hi-hat, ride, percussion, and the upper horns on a Hammond organ's Leslie cabinet.

Large diaphragms usually work better for wider, full-frequency recording. I would choose large diaphragm mics for piano, vocals, overhead drum recording (cymbals), strings and orchestral recordings.

Certainly this is not an absolute rule. I've used the small diaphragm Mojave MA100 condensers for the decca tree recording of a baroque orchestra with great results. And I've often used a single Mojave MA200 large diaphragm condenser for all kinds of jobs on the same project, from drum overheads to vocals to percussion to acoustic guitar. Mainly because it sounds great on most everything and I didn't want to lose momentum by swapping out and re-balancing the mic between overdubs...just GO GO GO while the musicians are HOT!!!

[top]I would like to know a little bit more about the specific details of the snare reamp technique hitting the snare with the sound coming from the speaker. Regarding microphone placement, how do you put your room microphones using this technique? How are your choices regarding microphones and placements for this task? - jakelorenz

When I do a snare re-amp, the room mics are placed depending on the size and type of room. Generally I will choose mics and techniques similar to how I would place room mics on the initial recording of a drum kit. A good reference might be the placement and measurements for the Bonham drum sound. Paul Wolff turned me onto this technique. I drew the diagram below for the Recording Unhinged book:

When Matt Wallace first showed me the snare re-amp technique, he had placed the PA speaker and snare in an old echo chamber at Bear West Studios in San Francisco. The chamber was narrow and tall and was painted with a very thick, glossy paint that was acoustically very reflective. I think he had a pair of pencil mics, maybe KM54s, pointed at the snare in an XY position.

I'd like to try doing a snare re-amp in a bright room with an M/S miking technique. I just haven't had the opportunity to try it yet. Because snare re-amping is usually done to repair a problem with the original snare recording, hopefully I won't need to try it. Recording a great live sound in a good room to begin with is always a better option!

[top]I recently became the caretaker of a beautiful UA 175b. It has really captured my imagination. I'd love to know your favorite uses for them and/or places you DON'T find yourself using them. Or even...where did it surprise you? - Worksinframes

Not many girls love their compressors like I love my Universal Audio 175b. The first time I saw one was at Hollywood Sound Recorders in the early 90's, in a studio with a sweet API console and racks of this old gear that seemed a bit crusty. I had been using blackface Urei 1176s up to that point, along with UA LA-3As, Teletronix LA-2As for the most important compression jobs, but was intrigued by this brownish-looking ancient thing with big bakelite knobs. I tried it on a vocal recording and whooosh, my life was changed. It evened out the voice beautifully and had a soft, warm character. It was not as crisp and fast as my 1176, but brought forward details in the voice that had been hidden.

So I set out to find one to buy. It was not easy to find an engineer willing to let go of their treasure, so I had to pay a lot for my first 175B - $1700. That was a lot of dough to spend on a compressor in the early 90's, but I had to do it.

I've experimented extensively with the 175B's uses, finding it works especially well on acoustic guitar, bass and drum room. But with vocals, it is the best. It is soft and light when you need just a touch of control, but when you hit it hard it really digs in without getting edgy. Over time I've found my favorite vocal chain which includes both a UA 175b and a UA or Urie 1176 in sequence (see diagram below). I'll use the lighter, softer touch of the 175B, and the harder limiting of the 1176 to create a vocal recording that is warm, colorful and detailed; with a little edge to help the voice poke through a thick backing track.

If you are on a hunt for these compressors today, you'll pay a pretty penny through traditional sources. And when you get one, they are finicky to maintain. I have two, and usually one of them has an issue of some sort. But it is worth the bother. A great alternative is the Retro 176 limiting amplifier, which is being made today by Phil Moore of Retro. I've put the Retro unit along side my 175Bs and they are pretty damn close. Close enough to fall in love with.

[top]Generally, do you prefer to use pedals paired with semi driven amps to get your distorted tones or do you prefer to use just a fully cranked amp without anything else? Which ones for what task? (overdrive, fuzz etc...) I've read in this Q&A that you used a TS-9 and JCM 800 with SOAD. What's exactly the role of the overdrive pedal in that kind of rig? I've read somewhere that sometimes you split the guitar into two amps...but I always found it tricky to adjust all the stuff (two cabinets, etc...) in phase. Any advice? And finally i'm curious about what are your all time favourite amps. - Jakelorenz

I love the sound of an old Marshall 100-watt lead amplifier, 1970's really get it's natural color and growl, you have to crank the hell out of it. I mean turn it up so loud you can't stand in the same room with the cabinet for more than a few seconds while a guitar is being played. But oh, how nice it sounds behind a microphone!!!

Sometimes it is easier to use a pedal in front of an old Marshall to get the gainy sound you want without rattling the house down. An Ibanez "Tube Screamer" will do the trick, or a "Hotcake'' pedal as I describe in this thread: Guitars and distortion tones.

Another great old Marshall head is the JCM800. When I worked with Dave Navarro and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he used a huge stack of these amps running at the same time. Big sound!!! With this amp, you have more gain control and can get a nice saturated tone directly from the amp's front panel. No pedals required. However, it is also a great amp to run with pedals. If I want a real fuzzy tone, say with a "Rat" pedal, I might run the amp's gain setting lower and cleaner to let the pedal do more of the work.

I have not had a lot of luck with rack mounted or big mongo multi-effect pedal guitar units like Digitech and such. I think the sounds they make are too brittle and somewhat cheesy. I will gravitate towards stringing together a bunch of pedals instead of using a guitar box of pre-sets with a digital display. There are exceptions though. Line-6 makes a collection of green, blue and yellow multi-effect pedals that are pretty damn good. Not even sure what they are called, but they don't have a digital display on them.

Super aggressive "metal" amps I like are the Diezel and Mesa Dual-Rectifier. You can get similar sounds using Boss pedals like the "MetalZone" but if you have a Dual Rec or a Diezel, you don't really need a pedal to get a brutal tone. I also love the Rivera amps and use my "Knucklehead Tre'" quite a bit in split amp is wonderfully aggressive but not full-on metally.

For a growly, sexy, blues tone, there's hardly anything better than a Matchless DC-30 combo. It just has the perfect color for expressive guitar solos. But besides the Matchless, I've had great luck with random little off-brand combos I've collected from back rooms of pawn shops: Valco, Piggy, Fender Champs, Kays, Silvertones, Teiscos, Guyatones and Danelectros. Of these little oddballs, I think the Piggy is my is one of those battery operated camping amps that just screams!

A friend and previous client, Scott VanFossen, makes an incredible line of low-wattage guitar amps under the brand "Bullhead". I have one of his early designs with the tag "Fathead" that I love, but in essence it is the signature Bullhead sound. Sweet, ballsey and easily saturating.

Oh, and there is one more secret weapon... this damn Peavy Classic 30 combo, holy cow. It is a big surprise. Sam Goodenough from the Austrian band My Glorious brought it to our sessions several years ago and left it at my studio. I am taking care of it until he returns to collect it, though I am secretly hoping he leaves it here forever...

When I track gainey guitars I usually use a split amp set-up, as described here.

The illustration in that thread is the specific split guitar set-up I used on the System Of A Down debut album. Depending on the project, I will swap out the guitar heads for what is appropriate. I don't usually use compression on guitar recording, but for SOAD I did, using the old Western Electric "Army Man" compressor to get that "ripped speaker" sound. When recording guitar solos with some of the little combos described above, it will usually be just one amp, one mic to one track. Everything else, all the heart, guts and soul - well that will come from the guitar players themselves.

[top]Do you have any advice or techniques on how to give sampled drums a more realistic presence in the mix, so it blends well with instruments that were recorded live? - Atomicbot

Some easy ways to make fake drums sound "live" is to pump them outside of the box. This will require a PA system, stereo room miking, close miking, duct tape and a loose snare drum...and a decent room...but no drummer required if you've already programmed the parts.

An easy thing to do is to send a sub-mix of all the drums into a nice sized room and mic that room, adding it into the mix. I call that "re-amping" the drums. If you want to give the snare sample more depth and color than try the "snare re-amping" technique that I learned from Matt Wallace. Here is what you do:
  • Send the sample snare track out of the recorder
  • Run it into a PA and set the PA speaker on it's back facing up
  • Place a snare Drum Face down, wires up, on top of the speaker
  • Tape it into place with duct tape
  • Mic this contraption and record it back into your session
Every time the sample snare hit plays through the PA, the pressure of the amplified sound smacks the head of the live snare drum you've taped to the speaker. This will add more snare rattle to your drums if you want it, or more depth to your sample snare if you use a deeper snare for your re-amp. This technique is also fantastic to liven up a snare that wasn't recorded so well. And be sure to record both a close mic and stereo room mics for your snare re-amp.

I've included an illustration from the book that I drew to describe the snare re-amping technique.

Sometimes if I find myself recording in a cool room, I'll re-amp a whole bunch of stuff through a PA just to capture the room sound. Not just drums...last year I found myself in an awesome castle in Dresden, Germany (Castle Röhrsdorf), and some of the spaces were so unusual I re-amped everything!

[top]I love your art work in Recording Unhinged. Just wondering what kind of gear you use for your drawings? Ink? Markers? And is the book hand painted? Lots of fun in those drawings and love how you share your inventive approach to recording. - OLDNOOB

Thank you so much for asking about the book illustrations! I spent many stoned teenage hours enjoying "Zippy The Pinhead" and "Fat Freddy's Cat" by Gilbert Sheldon... and R. Crumb, well that guy is a frickin' hero to me. And I'll always be fascinated with the imagination of Dr.Seuss.

My partner and I, Chris Johnson, are both Trailer Park Boys fans. TPB is a silly "docu-drama" on Netflix about a bumbling trio of Canadian mis-fit stoners. Chris and I decided to make a fan poster in the style of "Where's Waldo" to send to the show, just for fun. It came out so good that it empowered me to try other things.

I start with a pencil on paper, the old fashioned way, inking in the image with sharpies after I get it laid out. After erasing all the pencil hatch, Chris scans it and colors it in Photoshop. The world of computer art is new to me so the "analog/digital" hybrid is my way of operating for now. Spending more time illustrating now than I have for the last 25 years has made me the happiest I've ever been.

It was here on my first Q+A that I started drawing diagrams in the cartoonish style. This directly led to several of the images in the Recording Unhinged book. In the book, Chris and I worked together on most of the concepts, gags and "easter eggs" that you'll see in the more detailed panels.

Stay tuned for several other art projects we are working on, spawned from the Recording Unhinged book, which may include trading cards, coloring books and hopefully Recording Unhinged Part II. I'm also working on a separate series of illustrated portrait galleries, including "Great Inventors", Great Scientists" and "Great Industrialists." These are more serious projects, because I want to give school kids something fun to learn with.

[top]Are there elements in a mix that you usually don't pan LCR? Are there bands or producers that request a different panning approach and/or is this ever a point of discussion in your work? - Doorknocker

I guess I'm lucky in the sense that for the last 20 years I've been tracking and mixing on a console that only gave me L-C-R in the monitor section. My old Neve 8038 has been modified to allow for panning in the expanded mixing mode, but the hard choice of Left, Center, or Right was imprinted into my workflow.

There are a few things that I will place in those spaces between the center and hard left or right. Hi-hat I will usually place just off-center to the left. Toms I will often narrow the span from high to low so the power of the drums is mostly coming from the center.

A single acoustic guitar and vocal together could typically sit in the center of the audio picture, but I might offset the acoustic to let it come out from behind the vocals a bit.

I might fill in those middle spaces more dense and busier mixes, but usually with more airy sounds, keeping the power and punch coming from the center and far panning positions. I have enjoyed using 3-dimensional processors to throw sound behind the listeners head too. On Tool's "Opiate" there is the sound of a phone ringing on the behind right side of the mix during a drums solo. Hah!

[top]I have noticed that you tend to favor the 421/57 combo on guitar amps and will normally sum them to a single track. I was wondering if you can elaborate on this? - KamandaSD

I've been recording aggressive rock guitars pretty much the same way since day one. It works darn good, so if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

Below is a diagram I drew for the "Recording Unhinged" book, which shows the basic recording technique used for the System Of A Down debut album recorded for producer Rick Rubin. I used this setup while recording Daron's guitars at Sound City Studios and Rick's house in West Hollywood. It is essentially the same set up I use for most rock sessions, with the swapping out of different guitar heads and cabs to document each project's individual character, but the mics and techniques are usually very similar.

In my previous Q+A, I went into quite a bit of detail on the setup, including choices of guitar amps, speaker choices, microphone placement and blending. Here is the page.

I really like the summing of 57s and 421s on rock guitars because I get more edge from the 57s and more beef from the 421s. So from track to track on a song I will change the blend of mics on a cabinet, as well as adjust the blend of cabinets together. From the console position I can control the guitar sounds without a lot of swapping out amps, cabinets or mics. A whole range of sounds are available just by moving a few faders! And from the console position I can really find the sound that fits the song without guessing.

This brings up a point I find extremely important. Make mix decisions as you record! To do this I determine the placement of a part even before I begin recording it. Will this part be in the middle of the picture? Will it be panned wide for drama? Next I make track count decisions, for instance in a verse I may only want one track placed in the middle, but when the chorus hits I want the audio panorama to get wide and powerful. Well, then I will plan on recording four tracks (four separate performances) so I can place two on each side. That'll make for some tasty good guitar drama!

I use this approach in nearly everything I record: vocals, strings, keys, acoustic guitar and electrics... and when the tracking is done, all the panning and blends have already been finished and the tracks have been recorded in such a way that very little EQ or processing is needed. Maybe just adding some fun stuff with plug-ins and the overall stereo bus processing for a little pre-mastering EQ and compression. And there ya go!

[top]Thanks a bunch for the detailed answer. Love the diagram too. I was wondering, is there any specific reason the 421 is mic'd on the top portion of the cab and the 57 is on the bottom portion? Or is it all personal preference? - CEG85

The System Of A Down guitar diagram above shows 421 mics in certain positions on the 4x12 cabinets. These mic positions can be changed around, however I prefer to give each mic it's own speaker.

I'm happy with both the older and newer versions of the Sennheiser 421, not hearing a radical difference between them. As long as they are switched to the "M" setting. Oh, and as long as the damn mic clip works! You'd think by now they would have fixed the chronic problem with the mic clip breaking. And the clips on the Sennheiser 441 mics were even worse, but I think now they are using a more robust plastic!

[top]You've previously mentioned you use 2 LA3As on bass (one for DI, one for amp mic). How hard are you hitting them? Do you for example hit the DI harder than the amp? Or are you trying to get similar compression levels on both? - Ozzy

Yes! I find that a pair of LA-3As do a great job of controlling unevenness on both a bass DI and a bass amp being recorded at the same time. From my experience, having a matched pair of these “audio levelers”usually provides the best results since they are processing very similar waveforms from the same performance.

I try to be reserved with the limiting on either DI or amp when recording bass initially, just controlling the wild sub notes that sometimes poke out. This leaves room for much harder compression later during the mix stage, if desired.

I might use less limiting with the LA-3A on the amp, depending, because the more gainy Ampeg SVT-type signals seem to have "built-in" compression. But a more open-sounding, cleaner bass amp may need to be clamped down harder to keep it even. I also find that some tube bass DI boxes have great color, but are very uneven from one note to the next, so depending on the type of DI box, I might want to hit the limiter harder there too.

When I talk about "hitting the limiter harder", this means increasing the left "Gain" knob while at the same time increasing the right "Peak Reduction" knob. While the unit is in the "GR" setting, I'll watch the meter to see that it moves to the left when reacting to those unwieldy bass notes, without moving a lot the rest of the time. I hope this description gives you a clearer picture of different ways to use these boxes. The Waves CLA plug-in reacts in much the same way.

Here is a diagram from the "Recording Unhinged" book that shows how I used the LA-3As on the Tool "Undertow" album:

[top]Very simple. What are your favorite pedals? - Victorian Needle

The question: "What is your favorite pedal?" is like asking, "What is your favorite wine?" to a wino!.
But there are several I seem to gravitate towards in sessions. First, I've been in love with Zachary Vex's Z-Vex pedals for some time now. He's very inventive, and started out by offering uniquely hand-painted cases on his designs. Some Z-Vex Pedals that I like:
  • Fuzz Factory
  • Seek-Wah
  • Wooly Mammoth
  • The Probe
And recently I discovered dozens of incredible guitar effects from a company in Akron, Ohio named Earthquaker Devices. Some interesting boxes are:
  • Rainbow Master
  • Terminal
  • Dispatch Master
  • Organizer
  • Pitch Bay
  • Spatial Delivery
  • Speaker Cranker
Then there are my old friends:
  • Super Fuzz: The ultimate fuzz that goes "raaaarrrrrr" with one setting and "zzzzzeeeezzzz" with another setting.
  • Hotcake: Designed by the drummer from the popular New Zealand 80's new wave band named "Split Enz". I like it because it adds just enough of a boost and growl to give life to any listless guitar, without obnoxious shouting.
Here are photos of some of these beauties, along with a pic of a whole buffet of Earthquaker Devices...

[top]Avatar's Feathers and Flesh has quickly become a favorite album of mine. The songs, production, mix, and artwork comprise a wonderfully unified whole. I'd love to know more about how you went about choosing, organizing and assembling these pieces in the preproduction stage. - Lwetli

When I first heard Avatar's song "Use Your Tongue", I knew I had to work with this band. The INTENSITY of their music and image, the colorful and animated singer, and the band's dark sense of humor was very intriguing to me. Now, it happened that I was going to be in Washington D.C. on a date when Avatar would be playing a show in neighboring Baltimore, MD, and my manager thought it would be a good idea to go meet them at the venue after their show. The band is from Gothenburg, Sweden and this opportunity to talk with them was a delicious coincidence. So I got a rental car and made the trip.

Meeting any band after a show to talk production is often a difficult thing to do, especially with the more popular bands... and maybe more so because I am a girl and the burly guys guarding the backstage often look at females as meat to throw to the band members. Hah. Back in the nineties I was being considered to produce the second Limp Bizkit record, and drove up to Poughkeepsie, NY to see them play and meet Fred Durst after the show. But meeting the band after they got off stage was bewildering. There was a line-up of girls at the tour bus, all clamoring to meet the band, and I was just one of them. But I was there to discuss recording the next Limp Bizkit record!!! I don't know what all those other girls were there for (okay, maybe I have an idea...)

After 20 minutes of standing outside the Limp Bizkit tour bus with a line-up of over-ornamented girls, trying to convince the burly security guard that I actually was a producer and that Fred was expecting me, I got disgusted and left. "**** this!" I just got back in my rental and drove away. Later, when the second Limp Bizkit album hit multi-multi-muli-platinum, I really regretted not fighting my way in to see the band.

So fast forward about 20 years, September 2015 in Baltimore, I had just seen Avatar kill it on stage. Wow, what a great band. And I was ready to sit down and discuss producing their next record. But the girls started to line up to meet them at the merch table, and again, I was just another girl in line to meet the band. I waved down one of the burly security guys and said, "Hey, the band is expecting me." He looked me up and down, shook his head, pointed and said, "Get in line". Agh. I could feel my blood pressure rise. I turned my head to look at the front door of the venue and thought about my escape, but I wasn't going to make another million dollar mistake. No way. So I pushed everyone else out of my way. Pissing everyone off and not giving a damn. I pounded my fist down on the table, "I'm Sylvia Massy, and I'm here to talk about your next album!" The security goons rushed up and grabbed me, one on each arm, and began to drag me away... but Johannes, Avatar's singer, suddenly stepped forward. "Wait! Hey, that's Sylvia! Oh, we are so glad to see you!!!"

So that is how it started with Avatar's "Feathers and Flesh". That first night, after the Baltimore show. Me almost getting kicked out of the venue. And finally sitting down with the band on their tour bus to discuss how we could make the heaviest, craziest, most extreme and creative metal album ever. How we could cross boundaries and tell a dark Nordic tale with guitars and drums and bass that rockers, goths and even art **** would love.

And there is more about the actual "production" of the album to talk about, so stay tuned!

[top]Prince seems to be the ultimate modern iconoclast - unpredictable and very hard to categorize. What can you tell us about his character as both a stellar performer and creative songwriter? What seems to make him tick, as an artist, and how did you go about capturing performances with a renowned workaholic (in a good way) and always in full on creative mode? Any good stories about approaches to his vocals, in particular? - Grandma

Oh boy, probably everyone who has worked with Prince has great stories from the experience. He is the most unpredictable, unnerving person in the studio and he is also the greatest musician I have been lucky enough to work with.

My most memorable experience was at Larrabee Sound in Studio B. I set up the room with every kind of musical instrument I thought he may need, with a selection of guitars and basses, a pedalboard with effects, a Roland digital keyboard and a drum machine. He burst into the room and I immediately put the Studer A827 in record. I did not want to miss a second of anything ('cause I knew it would be bye-bye for me if I did). Prince tapped on the drum machine with his left hand, playing the kick with his thumb, snare with his index finger and the hat with his pinky. With his right hand he played a bass part on the Roland keyboard. He did not program or sequence parts, he played them all live and I recorded the parts and made notes. "Use this for the verse, use this for the chorus" he said. Then he spun around on his heels and went for a guitar, but it wasn't the guitar I had hoped for. He went for an un-tuned, rusty-stringed old Tele that was shoved in the corner of the room. "Oh ****!", I panicked. Put the track in record and hoped for the best. With that old Tele he played the tastiest licks, all in tune. He instantly knew how to correct the tuning on the guitar by the way he fretted each chord. My mind was blown!

The experience of the next hour is carved into my memory, there I was in the studio, just me and Prince. He was playing the Tele like a madman, spinning and dancing wildly. Showing off just for me. Like my own private Prince show. I'll never forget it.

Again, he played four bars of a verse lick, four bars of a chorus lick, then gave me arrangement notes on the song he was creating. Then he spun around on his heels and left the room without any clue when he would be returning.

I pulled out the studio's Publison Infernal 90 and sampled and flew the parts together, creating a finished song ready for vocals. The Infernal 90 was the best thing going for digital sampling in 1990, all the flying of parts done basically by hand. Load a sample in it's memory, put the Studer tape machine in record and play the Publison back onto the tape. Tedious work.

I'd wait for Prince to return, often into the late late night hours. Some nights I'd call his manager in Minnesota and she'd say, "oh Prince is in Paris, you can go home now..." Oh, okay... But when he did show up, I was there ready to go! For vocals I had a Neumann U67 set up in the control room, hanging directly over the SSL E/G 4000 console, just in case he wanted to steer the ship himself, and that is exactly what he wanted to do. That particular day he came in the room, listened down to the comp I had created, then said "Okay, you can sit outside." Huh? Oh, okay.... I sat just outside the door of Studio B for what seemed like an eternity. I could hear him in the room working away, singing. Four hours later he came rushing out of the studio and headed straight out the front door of the building, saying "mix it" as he passed me. Whooosh! gone.

I went back into the room and listened to what he had recorded during those four hours. Layers of vocals, with super sexy leads and pairs of harmonies and incredible counter-point backing tracks. Must have been 30 tracks that he had recorded, layered, comped and panned. I learned so much from that session on how to build vocal tracks.

I spent the rest of the evening mixing the track. Prince coming back in for the big listen? Well that was an entirely different story... and wow!

.... to be continued .....

[top]Could you maybe share some memories and anecdotes of your work with Seigmen? If at all anything unusual and interesting, from the engineering point of view of course. - Voidar

Seigmen brought me to a village called Spydeburg, pretty much in the middle of the beautiful but nowhere-ish Norwegian heartland where we set up our session in a tidy little place named Studio Nova. They had a decent tracking room and a vast, galactic Soundcraft board nicknamed the "Bigfoot". Not my first or even my second choice, but whatever, I was going to make a great record out of it anyway. Sometimes you just have to work with what is available and shut-up about the rest. But there was no analog multi-track tape recorder in the room! Agh! Robert, the studio owner, looked at me with disbelief. "Why in the world would anyone want to use analog tape?" Plus I also wanted to cut the tape and would need a 2" splicing block, razor Blades and splicing tape. Well that was pretty much an impossibility. The studio had already upgraded to an open-reel digital Sony 3324 machine and the analog deck and accessories were long gone.

I wanted to make a thick, aggressive rock record for Seigmen and knew the digital machine wasn't going to cut it - so I threw a fit. Within an hour, Robert somehow rolled a dusty Tascam Saturn 2" tape machine into the room, and miraculously we were able to source just enough tape stock for the project... so we were set. Oh, except... no splicing equipment! I generally will record several takes of one song then splice the best parts of the takes together to make a master rough edit of the song. Then further edit that master by tediously measuring the length of time between each kick and snare, removing or adding time into the tape to make the drums sound in-time and super-human. Same thing I do today with pro-tools, but back then it was done with razor Blades!!!

So how would I assemble the Seigmen masters without a splicing block? Or a decent industrial razor blade? Or a white marker or proper splicing tape? Well, again, I just worked with what was available. I drew a guide on the flat cardboard cover of a book and used scotch tape to hold down the 2" tape while cutting. I marked the two places on the tape that I wanted to put together with a pencil, stacked the two marked pieces of recorded tape on top of each other and cut the tape at an angle with a rusty razor blade straight from the manager's face razor, then taped the ends together, again with clear, office-style scotch tape. And it worked. And the band was great. Noralf really played his heart out. You can hear the passion in his playing on "Total".

So that was one good story about Seigmen. It kind of dates us as being analog tape dinosaurs... but it is fun to think that at one time we actually recorded music with oxide coated plastic strips cut with sharp objects. It seems so dangerous today... hah!

[top]On your site a couple of items on your "gear porn" page caught my eye. An old wards airline combo amp ('64, I believe, I have one myself) and the much-hated around these parts, AKG C1000 tagged as a "Maynard mic". I wonder if you can point out any cool applications you've used these on. Also re:Art, I really dig your acrylics, are you planning on selling prints? - everybody's x

You'd never think a C1000 would be the star of a session, but it was Maynard's choice for vocals on the Tool "Undertow" sessions. It had a sparkly top-end and Maynard could rough-it-up when he sang. I wrote a "Gear Stories" column in Mix Magazine about the C1000 and how we wrapped it up to reduce handling noise. You can read about it here.

Ya never know what might work on a session, and you need to keep your eyes and your mind open for any possibility. For instance, who would have thought that one of those little Marshall micro-amps would be the main sound of the Spiderbait "Tonight Alright" album? Jeez! The mic is bigger than the amp!!!!

Those 60's Airline, Supro and Silvertone amps are extra special too. They can still be found in yard sales and in garage storage spaces around everywhere. Never poo-poo a crappy little noise-maker!!!

Oh! And the ART? Well I'm working on several art projects at the moment, and I'm posting up a bunch of crazy things I've done over the years to my website. The on-line gallery will grow as time progresses, and YES I will eventually be selling prints and originals! Keep checking back at: Sylvia Massy Artwork

[top]Hi Sylvia!, I just came across a video from the session in Sound City with the band Tool. Can you remember anything from that session, drums, mics, tape? - OlofBerggren

During the Tool project I really learned how to record drums better than anyone (haha!). Of course it helps if the drummer you are recording is one of the best in the world...

Danny Carey's "Undertow" kit was a wood-shelled Sonor with deep toms. I miced both top and bottom heads of the toms with Sennheiser 421s, flipping them out of phase with each other. I equalized the top head mics for the best attack, then brought up the bottom mics in the blend for the body of the individual tom.

The snare was a ridiculously deep brass shelled Sonor. I also miced the top and bottom of the snare with a Shure SM57 and Sennheiser 441, using the blending similar to the toms. Top head equalized for the attack and tone of the snare, bottom head brought up for the zizzle of the wires.

The overhead was miced with an AKG C24 in a M/S pattern, as described in another post in this Q&A. The M/S overheads were super wide and Danny's bright Paiste cymbals had a gorgeous sustain.

Danny plays like a monster. He would shred those Remo Ambassador heads. We were changing heads between takes. We did not switch brands to Remo Emperor or any other thicker skins, we wanted that fresh crisp sound of the Ambassadors. So we went through a whole lotta heads.

The recording of the drums went so well on "Undertow", this is the technique I still use today. Here are photos from the Tool sessions, below. You can see more on the Tool page of my website here: Sylvia Massy Tool

Universal Audio LA-3A

[top]I LOVE the guitar and bass sounds on Undertow (especially the bass). Can you provide any information regarding the signal path(player's rigs/general settings, tracking/room choice, and mixing) and techniques used to capture these great sounds? Also, how different would you say they ended up sounding from tracking to mixing? - DJBlueDrink

The specifics of the Undertow guitar are as follows:

Gibson Les Paul Silverburt into a splitter, into two heads and cabs, as described in the other guitar posts in this Q&A. The particular heads were a Marshall Plexi-style 100-watt Lead head and a Mesa Dual Rectifier head. The Marshall head set very loud but dynamic, the Mesa gainy and squeezed. Both cabs were newer 4x12 Marshalls with 75-watt Celestion speakers.

The guitar cabs were miced with a 57 and a 421 on each, with all mics generally summed into one track. However on the verses, sometimes I recorded each amp/cab combination to its own track, panning them wide. The differences in the character of the amps made a nice panning effect in sections of the song where there was only one performance.

The bass guitar was very unique on the Tool records. I worked with Paul D'Amour, who had a Chris Squire signature Rickenbacker 4001. The CS model has hot pick-ups and it hit the amp harder, making it growlier than most. Paul's choice for several songs was a Mesa 400+ bass amp, which had a graphic EQ on the face. It was generally set a bit scooped out of the middle. The bass was recorded through my Urei LA-3A set-up, and all guitars and bass tracks were recorded to a Studer A827 2" 24-track tape machine.

[top]What are some of the most emotional and / or soul touching performances you've seen throughout your journey as a producer? - Ilovetubes

Well, it depends on what type of "soul touching" we are talking about. A Berkeley band named Nevercore hit me in the gut with singer Obadiah Bowling's tirade against the 9/11 bombers... "Die Motha****ahhhhhs".... this guy screamed it from his soul, he was there, a serviceman who fought in Afghanistan. He meant it.

Another group named Animal Alpha from Norway made my blood go cold with their "Death Waltz". Singer Agnete is a beauty with a soft sweet voice of an angel, which in a turn of emotion can rip open your heart. True art of sound. Here is a photo of that otherworldly creature:

And of course Johnny Cash laid his soul bare with his vocals on "Unchained". I am still choked up when I listen to the title song on the album.

I admire any singer who is brave enough to step in front of a microphone. You are standing there naked, exposed. If the lyrics are your own, the world will be judging you by your words and performance. Fingers play a guitar. Your mind and emotions play your voice instrument.

[top]What sort of destructive processing do you do to your audio before you begin to mix? And what is your forethought during that process to achieve the low end mass you're aiming for? Do you sometimes low-pass things differently depending on the track or do you have a set range of freqs you carve out first and foremost? - eastcoastnme

The best thing in the world is having a great sounding mix the minute you push up faders. To get that you need to record your tracks in a way that they fit together, without a lot of fixing or shaping to do in the mix phase. I record guitars generally with plenty of midrange, rolling off the rumble. Bass guitar is recorded with extra low frequencies. I check phase carefully and sum drum mics in advance to avoid phasing struggles later in the mix. I record an extra sub mic on the kick. I record the overdubs instruments in pairs, often to give the vocals a place in the middle of the mix later.

Where I do most of my mix work is in the stereo buss compressor and stereo buss EQ. I'll use reference material to help steer the overall sound of the song I'm working on. I usually place the stereo EQ first, with the compressor following. I'll adjust the stereo compressor to give the drums some snap and mush everything together. The stereo EQ will add the "air" on the very top.

When mixing, if you are not fighting with your individual tracks, you have freedom to work on delay throw effects, filtering, dynamics, panning and fun stuff!

[top]What part of the recording process do you enjoy the most? Which part could you do without? And finally where do you think the music industry is headed in the future? - Scorpiwoman

My favorite part of recording has to be the last few days of tracking, when the picture becomes clear and the finish line is within reach. It is also the worst part of the session, because stress is high and time is usually running out. Hahaha!

Hard to say where the industry is going. Happy to see that most people are paying for music on-line now, but there are so many choices and a lot of the choices are mediocre. Shopping for music used to be like going down to your corner store. Only a few choices for a tube of toothpaste, and that was all you wanted because it was all pretty good. Now there is a huge supermarket with a whole aisle of toothpaste: whitening toothpaste, freshening toothpaste, organic toothpaste, the blue stripey kind of toothpaste, flip up caps, travel sizes, toothpaste with scope, kids toothpaste, brightening toothpaste, with baking soda, with breath strips, with whatever!!!! Agh! Too many choices!!!!

It all needs to shake out. There will be music in our future, lots of it. How we find the good stuff, not sure...

[top]Would like to hear about anything of interest in your sound work with the band RAGE Against the Machine. Thanks again for your kind spirit and generosity. - AfterViewer

My encounter working with Rage was brief, just a quick mix for the Tibetan Freedom Concert, the big show that the Beastie Boys put on a while back in NYC. I worked on their live recordings at Electric Ladyland Studios on a humungous purple SSL G-series console. Most impressive.

I did get to know Rage early on when Tool opened for them during a UK/European tour, because I was lucky enough to be a passenger on the Tool tour bus for 4 days (until I couldn't stand it anymore, too stinky). I was on stage during a show at Brixton Academy when Rage was on stage. Tom Morello took his clothes off and the crowd went nuts! Everyone was jumping up and down in unison, including everyone in the balconies. I thought for sure the whole place was going to collapse. Never seen anything like it. I've got photos of it around somewhere. Gotta dig those up...

The next morning we all enjoyed breakfast at a local inn - Tool, Rage and me. Tom Morello walked in the room with a towel wrapped around his neck, like you'd expect a guy from Yale to wear it. Love those guys. Frickin' awesome band, good people.

[top]How do you wrap your head around so many styles, so successfully? Is it all just music to you, or do you break each style out into a particular way of thinking and working? - kennybro

There is great music in all genres, and sucky music too.... A devastating hard pummeling, shrieking act like Soilwork makes me smile and feel good the same way that the silky clear voice of Sophie Barker totally absorbs me. I guess I'm looking for honesty. And I love a sense of humor. Don't take yourself so seriously!

Working on a variety of genres keep my senses sharp too. I must study new micing techniques to really capture a string quartet or a taiko drum.

I seek out projects that are different and varied and challenging.

[top]Wondering if you have a preferred microphone and signal path starting point for overheads,kick and snare? - Keystone

Oh yes, there are a million ways to mic a drum kit. I'll generally use the same, simple, tried-and-true system as a good place to start. Within this system are very, very important things to pay attention to.

My mic choices are generally as follows:
  • Kick inside - Sennheiser 421
  • Kick outside - NS-10 speaker wired reverse to use as a sub mic, through a countryman DI
  • Snare top - Shure SM57
  • Snare bottom - Sennheiser 441 (reverse phase)
  • Hat - Shure SM81
  • Ride - Shure SM81
  • Tom tops - Shure SM98
  • Tom bottoms - Sennheiser 421 (reverse phase)
  • Overheads - Mojave MA200
  • Rooms - AKG 414
  • Mono rooms - whatever looks like fun!

When setting up the mics I try to have them all pointed in the same general direction to reduce phase cancellation, usually all drum mics are angled somewhat in the direction of the back wall. The overheads mics are set in a way to target the cymbal groups. I'm less concerned about where the snare is in the overhead image. I especially check for phase issues between snare and overheads to make sure the drums sound big and punchy all the way around.

All mics get routed into the Neve 8038 console with 1073 mic pre/EQs (lucky me!).

I suggest to NOT record each mic to it’s own track. I will sum several mics on the console using the bussing, checking phase carefully then committing to a blend in advance of recording. I commit top and bottom snare mics to ONE track. I commit all tom mics, tops and bottoms and the whole array to TWO tracks, carefully adjusting levels and phase. I find the toms and the snare will sound better if you blend and record the mics together at the time they are played. I keep the kick "inside" and the kick "sub" mics on separate tracks, as well as the overheads, rooms, hat and ride.

I use compression during tracking only on the rooms, and maybe on the overheads, depending on the type of music.

If you want your drum recordings to sound good, learn how to tune drums! Have fresh heads available during tracking and change often if you want crisp attack on the snare and toms. During the Tool sessions we changed tom and snare heads between each TAKE!!!! Hydraulic heads sound good live, but often sound thuddy and lifeless in the studio. I usually use Remo Ambassador single-ply coated on the snare top, and clear on the tom tops.

I suggest having a favorite go-to snare on hand, tuned and ready at all times. That way if you are struggling with the client's crappy snare, you have an instant winner within reach. I use a '70s Ludwig Black Beauty. It is consistent, clear and loud, always sounds great.

Kick drum is easily adjusted by adding or removing damping material on the inside of the drum. I'll have a selection of towels, t-shirts, blankets and pillows on hand for whatever is needed.

A loud hi-hat is not always your friend in the studio. I have darker, quieter hats on hand in case the client's hat overwhelms the drum recordings. Nothing worse than trying to get rid of an obnoxious open hat later on in the mix!

Finally, and most importantly, the drums always sound great when you have a good drummer. Drummers who consistently play hard make the drums sound better!

[top]Can you tell me something about recording and mixing the Casanovas album? In my opinion it's one of the greatest "newer" rock albums, so I'm interested in any details on how it was made. - Loewenlaerm

The Casanovas came to Weed, California from Australia to record in the massive vaudevillian theater I have set-up as a recording studio. See what it is like here.

We did this album entirely analog on my STUDER A820 2" machine, first time I've done all analog in a long time... no, actually I did cheat a little bit... We recorded initial tracking of drums, bass and guitar live on tape, keeping the live takes intact, then I transferred those masters into ProTools and slaved the ProTools back to the Studio A820 to continue with overdubs and vocals. We punched in on vocal tracks, comped vocal tracks together old-school from track to track on the Studer. Then after the overdubs and vocal comps were done, it was all transferred back to our analog tape tracking masters and we did our mixes from that.

It's important to do an analog tape project like this now and then just to make you appreciate the richness of sound and the magic of a good performance. The Casanovas was a band that could actually pull it off, they were suuuuuper tight and exciting. We captured it all on tape and kept the performances intact, warts and all. I still get tingly when I listen to this record.

[top]Do you require bands track to a click, or does it depend on the project? Do you come across drummers who are incapable of playing to a click? What do you do in those instances?
Any tips on helping people nail tight performances? Psychology? - Richard Salino

The use of a click can be challenging for both drummers and those who record them.

The Tool music is full of tempo changes and slight fluctuations, nearly impossible to program into a click without completely ironing out all the feel of a performance. My solution was to document the tempos in the entire song, then "play" a drum machine live during the recording. The drum machine, an Alesis SR-16, was programmed with a cowbell click that I would set with the first tempo of the song, and as a mapped tempo change was approaching I would turn off the machine, changing tempo quickly, then drop the machine back in on the downbeat of the next section with the new tempo. Some of the Tool songs had 5 or 6 changes, so I was kept real busy during tracking. If we missed a section we would play that section's tempo on the click, the band would track to it, and I would cut that section into the master (2" tape, baby!).

I still use the Alesis machine on occasion when there are multiple tempo changes in a song and I want to keep that live energy. I have yet to find a way that I can "play" the click out of ProTools so it hits on a downbeat. Sometimes on songs with multiple tempo changes and fluctuations, like on the aggressive Americana Patchy Sanders project, I'll have the band play an entire song "freewheeling" (without click), then record each section separately using the ProTools click. After getting the desired performances for each section, I'll string them together using the transitions edited in from the "freewheeling" performance. Big tedious project, but well worth it.

On the other hand, I've been surprised by some drummers who do not use a click at all. Steve Ferrone is one such drummer. During the recording of Johnny Cash "Unchained" no-one was playing to a click. In fact, it was just Johnny with Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and Howie Epstein sitting around in a circle, playing songs. The drums were put on later. Steve Ferrone listened back to the multitrack and played along to it. His performance tied it all together. Amazing. It sounds like everyone was playing to a click. That is why those cats are "professionals".

"We don't need no stinking click!"

[top]Are there any necessary life practices you partake in to keep from getting burnt out? Any advice from someone with such an advanced career on how to keep life good, while always doing music? - Tapehiss

I like the cave life. It's a weird thing. Being a studio rat generally keeps me out of the direct sunlight. I have a whole little world set up in my studio with a Neve, espresso machine and internet. Who needs much more? For years I would have only one day "off" a week, spent driving a couple hours to the nearest Costco to get supplies for the studio (I live in the middle of no-where in the mountains). Haha!

I admit that my life has not been balanced, but would have it no other way. I am driven to produce. Friends have to drag me away from my projects to go for a walk in the park, enjoy social time at the pub or watch a movie on the couch. It is hard to relax, I'm restless!

That being said, I'm making big changes to broaden my life experience. My untapped resource is my art, so this is the new focus. I'm creating open time in my schedule so I can paint, animate, sketch and draw. Even in recording sessions I will now have an Easel set up and will be working on a painting. I can easily direct the session while madly mushing colors on a canvas, and now that other part of my mind is no longer neglected. Funny thing is, the music I'm working on affects the way the painting develops. I was working on a progressive Americana project by Patchy Sanders and painted a giant banjo with pyramids. I was working on a kids record by Lucky Doug and the Stinkbugs and painted a cast of stinkbug characters. I was mixing a heavy industrial project by Awaking State and painted a feathered pterodactyl.

Life is actually pretty damn good! See more of my paintings here.

[top]How do you, as a producer, find your inspiration? Could you possibly share some defining "light bulb moments" from your career? - Mikdanish

I can think of an important "light bulb moment" that completely changed the direction of my career.

Back in early 1992 I was scheduled to engineer Tool's debut album. I visited their rehearsals to discuss how we would record. I had not been asked for production advice from the band, but after several hours in rehearsal, I realized they needed help. They needed a tie-breaker, someone who was not in the band to make judgment calls. In that way Tool's inter-band politics could stay out of their delicate decision-making process.

A loud bell rang in my head when I realized they needed me. This was that "light bulb moment." I was filled with ideas and immediately jumped in to offer help. Having previously been trained to "have no opinion" as an assistant engineer at Larrabee Sound, when the opportunity came to help guide the project, I was ready. I had many opinions!

That was the turning point in my career when I changed from just being an engineer to being a producer. I loved this band. I loved their music. I knew how good the album could be. And now I could help to steer the ship. Tool is an amazing live group, no denying that, but more than just documenting that stage energy with audio photographs, I was painting their portraits with my own style, directly choosing colors and textures.

Since the Tool records, I am not intimidated by big hairy mean-looking tattooed rockers. Nor am I intimidated by fame. Everyone needs someone they can trust to tell them when they suck. When to try harder. When they've reached their peak performance so they can move on.

[top]How do you approach the low end of a mix? Do you engage in sculpting with EQ or do you specifically mic the bass cab and kick drum in a way that allows for them to coexist from the onset? - Dwaynedelario

Glad you noticed the difference in the low end on Tool's music!

For "Undertow" and "Opiate" a DBX 120X-DS was used on the bass and the kick drum in the mix... mmmmm... maybe just a wee little too much? haha!...

The DBX 120X-DS is an external rack-mount subharmonic synthesizer unit, I've included a photo of one below. It has a very recognizable sound. The way I use it synthesizes one octave below whatever instrument is put into it. Here's how I set it up on Tool:

Turn up only the 50Hz pot on the front panel, leaving the other three frequency selections turned all the way down. Apparently the DBX was designed for home stereo use, because it has RCA inputs and outputs. Use only the sub RCAs on the outs. I actually only use one side in and out, using it as a mono effect for the kick and bass. I use this DBX unit on almost every mix. If you use one of these be careful, if you don't have good monitoring in your studio you could be turning up those sub frequencies too much. I has happened to me!


[top]I love how all the Showbread records sound, do you have any suggestions on tracking synth and mixing them in a rock song? What is your usual process when working with outboard/software synths? - andyblakewalker

First of all, here is my favorite synth...a Roland SH-101!

Not much to it, monophonic, no midi, a wild animal. Love those analog beasts. I've had many including a beautiful ARP 2600 which was completely uncontrollable, but so much fun!

Often I will re-amp a modern synth to give it the gritty character of the old analog beauties, but only if there is room in the mix to do so. Synths can have a tendency to take up a lot of space because so many patches are stereo. I'll try to go mono with placement to keep them from being space-hogs. Because of the imagination put into many synth sounds, I love to really juice them up by panning them wildly across the picture, or drenching them in reverb and placing them in the far background.

Re-amping is useful because it can make a relatively boring patch sound like a human is really behind it. I use small guitar combos for re-amping in the booth at my studio. Favorite re-amping amps are my little Piggy and Valco, seen here... more awesome gear toys on my "Gear Porn" page: Sylvia Massy Gear Porn

[top]In this particular thread you told some stories and said, "To be continued..." but didn't get the chance to return to the thread. I would love to hear some more! - ionian

In my first Q+A, I told the story of working with Prince at Larrabee Sound in West Hollywood. How he would give me a "private show" while we recorded, spinning on his heels as he played... then jetting out the door telling me to "mix it" as he left. Well to continue the story, I worked on that one mix for hours... and hours and hours.... Never knowing when he was coming back. Or if he was coming back. I had to resign myself to the fact that I was not in control. That was just the reality of working with someone with such a strong personality as Prince.

And he was a very busy guy. And it was not all music that kept him busy. During the first day of the first session I had with Prince he asked me for a "big overstuffed Grandma's chair" (I've shared this story in a Mix Magazine article before, but I'll get into more detail now that the great purple one has passed.) After finding him the right chair, he smiled, sat down and his assistant (and half-brother) Duane handed him a stack of women's fashion magazines. I was confused. "Is he gay?" I wondered. He sat quietly and fingered through the pages of Vogue, Glamour and Elle. This was my first day, so I had no idea what was going on, but a few days later it became clear. As he looked through these magazines, he would spot a girl's photo he liked. He'd show Duane by pointing at her photo, then hand the magazine to him. Turns out Prince was shopping --- for models!!!! The girl in the photo would be contacted and flown out to the session the next week. It was the strangest thing. And these girls would line up. He'd have a different model every night, and they would open doors for him. In fact, he would usually have two limos outside at the curb; a black one and a white one, AND his robin-egg-blue BMW in the parking lot. And there would be a girl in each limo, just hanging out, waiting. And sometimes he would just abandon both of them and drive off in his beemer. Just leaving everyone baffled. Hahaha! The balls on that guy!!!

Okay, so back to the "big listen" story. I worked for hours and hours on that SSL E-Series console, man, I wanted to just blow his socks off with how good the mix was. I wanted to have him love it so much that he would just say "that's it, it is PERFECT!" So I was careful not to "over-mix". When I got it to a point where I thought the mix couldn't get any better, I stopped working and parked myself outside the entrance of Larrabee's Studio B on the couch. Waiting. And finally at about midnight Prince showed up. But he was not alone. He had a girl with him and she looked very excited. I quickly stood up and followed him into the room so I could play him my masterpiece, but he blocked the door. He said, "that's okay, I won't need you", and he and the girl went into the studio by themselves.

So I sat back down on the couch and waited. Prince for certain didn't need my help to play the mix back. Or do anything for that matter. He was faster and better at everything. I think he just tolerated us mere mortals. And I could hear him playing the mix through the door. It was a slow sexy song where Prince was singing about what he was gonna do to you tonight, or something like that. One of so many Prince songs that did not get released. And it was a long song, maybe 7 minutes or so. Then it was silent in there after the song finished. And I waited. Then Prince burst out the studio door with the girl, both of them looking a bit sweaty and disheveled. And they went straight out the door! Gone! No word on the mix, not even an acknowledgement to all the time I worked on it. And I got it.... I just worked all day on a song written just for Prince to get his rocks off with a girl. Wow. It was kind of icky, and kind of cool at the same time. But mostly icky.

[top]When mixing a track how do you approach the sound stage and placements of guitars and other elements in the stereo field ? Could you give some pointers regarding panning and placement please. - Darenzo

Mixing! So many variables! Let's talk panning:
Direct center, hard-left or hard-right can make for better instrument and vocal positioning in a mix. Try the dead center or hard pan your mix elements and layer tracks directly on top of each other, differentiating each of them through EQ, not placement. Whenever I can, I'll commit to one of these three positions. It is a trick that Rick Rubin taught me. Maybe because the old analog consoles did not have variable panning pots, only L-C-R as a choice in the monitor section. It just sounds strong and confident this way. The L-C-R panning in the mix also gives the lead vocals an important opening in the sonic panorama. Big dry vocals, right in the middle. Right in your face. That is a Rubin thing.

I use an external rack-mount Studio Technologies AN-2 to widen the vocals in mixing. It is a simple box with just a few settings. I love the Rubin technique of vocals big and dry and right smack in the middle of a mix picture, and the AN-2 helps to create that effect.

Studio Technologies AN-2

During the Tool records, I panned the toms of Danny's drum kit across the L/R audio field, small tom to big tom. I might not do that today. It just seems so mundane and predictable. Better would be to narrow the field, or heck, mono the toms. When you stand in front of a drum kit and close your eyes as it is being played, you are not hearing the toms flying across the room left to right! Sometimes the perspective of the drummer sitting inside a kit surrounded by the toms is appealing, but I'd rather have the drum instrument in one position on a stage, with other instruments surrounding it.

Recording tip: When initially recording a drum kit, try balancing the toms by monitoring the returns in a mono position when checking tom mic levels. This is the best way to listen for consistency and phasing. Then no matter how you pan the toms later in your mix, they are always perfect.
There is much to discuss in mixing technique, I hope to revisit this subject again!

[top]I saw on your website that you like the Mojave M-200 (I think it's now the MA-200). "If you don't have a Telefunken U47 in your mic cabinet, try one of these great mics on your vocals". Would you care to elaborate on that? - Stikka

I love the Mojave MA-200 and use it on vocals all the time. I own a beautiful classic Telefunken U47 which unfortunately has a chronic connector problem, so although I would reach for the U47 first, I'm often using the Mojave as back-up. No problem.

On a recent Sublime session my U47 was on the blink and we wound up using the Mojave MA-200. The singer, Rome, immediately went out and bought one.

The Telefunken has a wooly, somewhat grainy sound, warm and round and not too crisp. The Mojave has a similar body and warm breath without the stinging top end that I hate in most modern reproductions. I've bought and sold many of the newer boutique mics, and have tried dozens of them in studio "shootouts" over the years. The Mojave is one of the nicest most versatile mics you can have in your collection. I suggest buying a pair and using them for overheads, vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion, piano, Leslie cabinets, etc.

[top]I am curious who's work be it band, engineer, producer, and/or mixer you admire and are inspired by? - Ekedmo

Although there are many I admire in the recording industry, the one person most influential to my production style would have to be Rick Rubin. He is a hit-maker, a diamond-miner, a mad scientist. He is like a top chef - with an uncanny knack for combining the right ingredients. In Rick's kitchen the menu constantly changes, but it's always a satisfying meal.

And Rick will take risks. I remember when he played the Geto Boys for me for the first time. Here was a rap band in 1990 that wasn't singing about Nikes and booty. They were singing about murdering your grandmother. The music world was about to get turned on it's head, and Rick has continued to shake it up again and again. He is not pigeonholed to any specific genre. Look at his discography - from Beastie Boys to Dixie Chicks to Jay-Z to Adele to Slipknot. Holy cow that is all over the map. And he acknowledges the Legends of our music culture. Tipping the hat to the greats like Donovan, Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash. Not all commercial successes, but rightfully respected by his production efforts.

Rick Rubin knows "Production" with a capital "P". He drives a machine that turns out great records, one after another. And the more he produces, the better his chances of something hitting big. Part of the reason why he has had so many big hitters. As a producer you can only do your best to find the right songs, get the good performances, make it an album or a single worth listening to over and over... beyond that you lose control. Hand the finished product over to the label and cross your fingers they won't dilute the music's power, aim it in the wrong direction or completely lose it under a crush of other obligations. Rick bypassed all that by running his own music companies. His fearlessness has really changed the direction of the music biznezz.

I had the good fortune of working with Rick on the first System Of A Down album. He is the only one who would have listened to a song like "Sugar" and imagined it to be a radio hit. That took real vision, or maybe just real balls! System Of A Down was a band I really wanted to produce and had met with before Rick came into the picture. Maybe it was destiny that Rubin would discover them. He offered them an album deal. Of course the band went with him as the producer. I contacted Rick directly, asked for and got the engineering gig on the System record. And I am absolutely grateful to have been a cook in Rick's kitchen for that fine dinner.

[top]Re Prince Diamonds And Pearls album, I was wondering if you would share with us some interesting highlights about the recording and/or mixing process of this great record. - Claend

During the "Diamonds And Pearls" sessions, I often had extra instruments lying around in the studio in case Prince wanted to try them. One was a Yamaha Gemini II acoustic guitar that I had bought at Guitar Center on sale for $200. A nice sounding guitar but nothing too extraordinary. He used it on many tracks on Diamonds And Pearls. "Walk Don't Walk" has the Gemini as the main instrument. At the end of that week of sessions I saw him having my guitar packed up in his roadcase. I had to put a stop to that!!!!

[top]You're stranded on a desert island en route to picking up yet another award... In the wreckage you find a Mac with Logic installed and someone's wallet containing $300. Whilst surveying your island, you find a magical shop selling off second hand studio equipment and other related bric-a-brac. Outside the shop, a bunch of eager musicians are smoking joints (stay with me...). What bare essentials for recording heavy rock and acoustic ballad style music in a home DAW environment would you buy from the shop for under $300 to get half-decent results? - GracelesS

Shure SM58 mic, Boss blue Compression pedal, Tech21 SanAmp pedal, Presonus Audiobox. Mmmmm did I overspend my budget? Typical.


Ooooh, scratch that Presonus. For your budget you should look for these cool little ART Tube Pres. They come up used for around $50 and with the money left over you can buy some Mai-Tais on the beach!!!

[top]I would love your take on how you track vocals. I realize every project is different. Do you record a bunch of tracks and then comp? Do you just get what you want in the moment? How many tracks do you record for verses vs. choruses? Harmonies? Do you use multiple mics on the same take? I would just love to hear how your approach your vocal sessions. - Cookie

I love tracking vocals. I usually give the engineer the day off as I dig in for a one-on-one with the singer. I prepare by creating 16 or so Work Tracks in the ProTools session, all with the same input and output (I don't use playlists). I open the "comments" boxes on the tracks in anticipation of making performance notes. The returns will have no effects. I don't want the singer to hide behind reverb wash.

My favorite vocal chain is a Telefunken U47 into a Neve 1073 mic pre/EQ with a UA175b and a Urei 1176 limiter/compressor on the way to the recorder. Not much EQ adjustment during vocal tracking, but I'm not shy with compression and usually have them set fairly strong. I ask the vocalist to get loud so I can set the peak level, then I ask the vocalist to sing softly to make sure the quiet stuff comes up.

I start by recording two full passes of the song, so the singer will feel comfortable and I can get to know the song. These "warm-up" tracks provide a visual guide of where the vocals are in the song. Those first two takes are usually full of good performance bits that I can put into the comp later.

After the first two "warm-up" takes, we will concentrate on one section of the song at a time, recording four or so takes of verse one, etc., each take recorded on its own Work Track, staggering tracks as we go. As we record, I tap notes into the comments box, identifying what parts of that performance I like, using an easy labeling system:
  • V1 = verse one
  • PC1 = pre-chorus one
  • C1 = chorus one
  • BR = bridge
  • etc...

So, if I like the performance on the third phrase of the first verse, I will mark it as: V1c*

More stars signify liking it better. If I don't like the take, I don't mark it. If I really like the take, I'll mark it with three or four stars! By the end of recording, the comment boxes are usually full of notes, which I use to make a comp of the best parts of our vocal recording. I'll create a Lead Vocal Comp track in the session and drag the best bits from the Work Tracks onto this track. The notes make it so easy that often I will have the Comp finished before the end of recording, as I'll be cutting, dragging and pasting while the vocalist is still singing. I'll then listen back to the Lead Vocal Comp, detail it, move anything with timing issues, clean up and add fades.

Often there will be good left-over lead vocal takes, and I'll use those to create a pair of unison doubles to add dynamics in the choruses. I will also build color by adding pairs of harmonies in sections of the song. If the singer does not have an idea for a harmony, I will sing some harmony ideas, using a talk-back mic to record parts into the session, then have the singer copy what I have done. Many vocalists do better to sing the harmony part without hearing the lead part that they are harmonizing to.

Oh, there are so many situations and challenges in vocal recording to address. I have a whole bag of tricks to get what I want out of a vocalist. I'll often distract them in ridiculous ways to get their mind off of their throat. Tasks like "pretend you are swimming", or "jump up and down", or "run around the block three times and come back and sing". Once I had a singer dress up in a wedding dress to get her magic vocal performance. On the System Of A Down record, I had Serge hang up-side down and scream. His face turned bright red and his eyes started to pop out. Almost killed the I stopped doing that!

Here is a photo of a finished vocal session, with the Lead Vocal Comp at the top, Lead Doubles directly under it and pairs of Harmonies and other backing tracks. Ready to mix!

[top]How long have you been out in Weed, CA? It looks absolutely beautiful there. - Scottmckaygibson

I started a pro recording studio in a little lumber town of 3000 people, way out in the middle of no-where at the base of Mount Shasta in the California Cascades. What was I thinking?

Haha! As it has turned out, it has been extremely successful. During it's history, RadioStar Studios grew from one room to five rooms in various downtown properties, with apartments, guest houses, dance-halls, rehearsal rooms. At its peak we had a Neve 8038, an SSL J-9080, a Trident 80-Series, a Tac Matchless with a Neve BCM-10 sidecar, a Digi Procontrol, with Studer and Otari multitrack recorders and seven ProTools rigs. Because of divorce and other reasons I've brought the studio back down to the one big room with the Neve 8038. I've retired the RadioStar name. Sold off a ton of equipment but have saved my core studio set-up. Still contemplating whether to stay in Weed or move the studio to a new location. Who knows what the next year will bring?

Why did it work? Well, I was blessed with having had commercial success before leaving Los Angeles to move up to the woods. I have not been dependent on local business in the Weed area. In fact 98% of my business has come from outside of the area. Clients traveled from Switzerland, Spain, Ireland, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Brazil, Germany, England, Columbia, France, Australia, and just about every state in the U.S.. Guess we got a good reputation and we stayed booked with me running between sessions, recording vocals in one room, checking a mix in another, approving guitar performances in another...for several years my life was an exhilarating blur. And I had a kick-ass staff to back me up.

So my secret to running a studio in a little town has been to bring in clients from elsewhere. I'm not sure I could have done this without the luxury of a solid reputation that came before the Internet swept away the old business model. I think it's still possible to start and run studio in a little town without the credentials I have, but like I've repeated several times in this Q&A, do it for love, not money. If you don't have a traveling client base, try to plant yourself in a town with a thriving local scene and you might do alright. I recently visited an amazing studio just up the road in the college town of Ashland, Oregon. Jim Abdo went all-out on his home studio, hiring studio designer Chris Pelonis to build his room. He's created a nice little business for himself with just local clients, so I know it can be done. BrokenWorks Productions -- For Artists And Their Craft

[top]What is the Army Man compressor? - Henge

The "Army Man" is a crusty old Western Electric frankenstein broadcast tube compressor I dragged out of an old radio guy's garage in Pasadena around 20 years ago. It has exposed wiring which I have not covered up, making it extremely dangerous when children or certain drummers are around. (hah!)

I have not done any maintenance to make this ancient compressor work properly. In fact, I don't want it to work properly because it makes anything you run through sound furry and explosive. For example, I'll route a mono drum room mic through it for extreme compression. Doing this makes the drums feel exciting without accentuating the high end on the cymbals. I might also go for the same effect on vocals and guitars, but in these cases it must be pushed to the absolute extreme to deliver the goods!

During a session, Serge from SOAD stuck a little toy army man in it, thus the nickname "Army Man" was born. That little toy soldier has lived in there ever since and he must be doing a great job of guarding those precious components, it has never let us down.

This compressor was used all over the System Of A Down record, so much so that it probably would have been impossible to create the overall sound of that album without it.

The "Army Man" Compressor

NHT M-100 Professional Monitors

[top]What kind of levels are you monitoring with? And does working with loud music usually equal a loud control room for you? Have there been times when an artist wanted it LOUD, leading to some records being made on far fields more than nears? Also, what gear do you like to monitor with? - jose & ol gray

First thing about mixing: I try to keep the client out of the room if possible until the mix is 98% complete. I want the client to make a judgment on the entire landscape instead of having them listen to each individual track as it is placed into the picture.

While sculpting the overall mix structure, I start with the monitors at moderately loud levels. I pop the mix up to the large main monitors for a little while as I shape the lowest frequencies, then bring the mix down to the near-field "one click" setting on the Neve to make sure the vocal levels sit nicely in the track. Finally I like to do a headphone listen to make sure there are no hidden problems with edits, panning or digital artifacts.

I find that louder monitoring will mask unwelcome distortion problems and seduce you into thinking the vocals and cymbals are perfect, when at lower levels you will hear them screaming loud in the mix. Also- louder monitoring will fatigue your ears much sooner, making your next mix more difficult. Lower level "one click" monitoring is essential to find the vocal placement for me. Even checking the mix from an adjoining room is a good test to see if your mix is as tasty as it can be!

Of course when the client is finally allowed in the room, I'll crank up the levels for the first listen. Nothing like a little volume to impress!

I use NHT Pro M100 monitors for the majority of the time while mixing, with Genelec 1035 mains and Yamaha NS10s for near-field detail work. I live in my Beyer-Dynamic DT770 Headphones. Love the plushy earfoams. Mmmmm.

[top]How do you keep fresh ears? How do you set up your daily workflow? Do you reduce listening in order to keep control over the whole thing (mix)? And another thing that goes with it: when do you know a mix is finished for you? - Horizon

I've learned from years in the studio, ears get tired after 10 hours of concentrated listening. The brain gets tired too. You start to make mistakes. Your judgment gets fuzzy. After midnight I find it more difficult to problem-solve and can easily get frustrated. I used to keep recording into the wee hours of the morning, until the inspiration wore out, but now I cut off sessions at 10pm, even if we are on a roll. I know that staying up late will ruin productivity for the following three days. In order to stay on schedule, I'll push everyone to get out of the studio and get some rest.

The session schedule that works for me is from noon to 10pm, with absolutely one day off a week. If you are on a long project, you MUST have that one day a week to rest your ears. Minimum.

I try to record in a way that the song is already pre-formatted by the time we go to mix stage. Decisions are made on panning, placement, stacking, tuning and samples ahead of time. Mixing becomes fairly straightforward at that point. I start a mix around noon, pushing up all the faders on the board to get a quick balance. Just get that stereo buss compressor moving, detail the overall sound with the stereo bus EQ, automate vocal rides and delays and maybe put in a little "slippery fader" to make the choruses jump up. I work quickly, mixing analog on the desk, grabbing several faders and making many moves during a single pass, not laboring over details that don't really matter. Then I shut it all down at 10pm and come in for a fresh listen at noon the next day. That is when I know if the mix is done or if it needs a bit more tweaking.

Moderate listening levels will also keep your ears from getting fatigued. So far 30 years of recording hard music has not produced hearing loss for me, and that is the way I want to keep it.

I rarely listen to music when I am not in the studio, which upsets people who think I should enjoy listening to their home-made recordings.... well, if I'm not working, I'm not listening to music. Music is generally not entertainment for me. It can be enjoyable, but it is serious business in my world.

[top]It's interesting that you mention you rarely listen to music when you're not in the studio. How do you keep up with the latest trends? - epotts06

As far as listening to music outside of the studio, I want to be knowledgeable about the latest trends, but not influenced by them if I can help it. I take time to research the buzz bands, but that type of listening is categorized as "work-time" for me. This is not to say that on occasion I don't enjoy driving with "Kid-A" or a Charles Mingus classic in the car.... but for me whenever there is music in the room, my focus is automatically drawn toward it. It is a curse. Even background music in a restaurant. It steals my concentration, makes it difficult to hold a conversation because I'm so busy picking apart the arrangements, melodies and rhythms. Elevator music becomes offensive! "Robot" vocals on country music radio while I'm eating breakfast at the diner is like fingernails on a blackboard! If I listen to music I want to be fully engaged and willing, then I'll let myself be completely absorbed.

[top]Have you ever been involved in a project where you felt that you couldn't get the best from a band? What kind of lengths have you had to go to in the past to get a chilled and creative atmosphere in the studio? - Greengravel

I've worked in some real dumps. Sound City was a dump. I tried to dress it up by fixing the broken stained glass, replacing furniture and light fixtures, painting the hall and office. But it didn't change the fact that you still had to wash your coffee cups out in a broken bathroom sink, and the couches were so gross that you needed to cover them up to sit on them... But it was "comfortable" and it did have a certain vibe. My room at Sound City had upgraded lighting, a nice couch, and a hell-a lot of great equipment including my Neve 8038.

When I moved to Weed I wanted the new studio to be comfortable enough that you could put your feet up on the furniture, but not so awful that you wanted to leave right away. When I found the theater building I knew it was the place. The theater had all kinds of special spaces to record and hide out, and it had a commercial kitchen with espresso machine and modern appliances, and an apartment for bands that was an upgrade from a touring bus but not too fancy. Just in case there was apartment trashing going on, and there was.

The Tool guys like the mystical candle/pentagram crap... but I stopped lighting candles in the studio because when you are a studio owner you don't need fire hazards where they are not fully monitored. No more candles unless the singer is a big baby. I used to carry all kinds of Christmas lights and lava lamps into the studios but since the entire theater is an art piece, no need to dress it up any further.

In some ways I want the clients to feel uneasy and on edge. That they are not sure what is around the corner. Haunted studio stories abound at my theater, and they keep musicians on their toes, restless and uncomfortable. I'll keep the lights bright and the room cold if I'm trying to get a certain type of performance from an artist. Once I told Maynard from Tool to run around the block several times before we would continue recording vocals. He needed to be angry in order to really get that blood-curdling scream. He came back in after the run and really let it rip. That was the master take on "Crawl Away" on Undertow. A really pissed off Maynard.

Here are photos of what happens when a band gets "comfortable" in the studio's apartment...

[top]How and to what extent, overtime have you had to adapt and change your style/workflow, habits, luxuries to changes in the industry, budget, expectation, and clients.anything from communication, pre prod, studio time, editing/mixing time 1994-2004-2014, Basically, how differently does Sylvia Massy conduct business and make music today vs 20+ years ago? - Passenger

Wow, things have changed. In 1994 I was dependent on record labels and musician managers for jobs, now work comes directly through social media or through my website.

I used to work in commercial studios, now I almost exclusively use my own facility. Up at my place, it is paradise. All my favorite stuff is there. I am most happy about this because no hired studio had the "perfect" ensemble of equipment anyway.

I used to travel to work on mix projects, now sessions and mixes are sent back and forth easily with file transfer services. No need to travel. Long distance mixing is a major source of income for my business. For that reason I don't need to live near a metropolis with mix studios. I can live out in the woods.

Big budget projects are scarce today as compared to 1994, but quality of life is way better, and for that reason and quality of my music production is also way better. The trick is keeping overhead low. Sometimes hard to do when you want to keep up with technology and love gear the way I do.

Just today I found two broadcast consoles available for trade…not anything I really need but what the heck, sounds like something I could have fun with! On my next project, we might just record the whole thing through an old RCA radio console! Would a record label allow that to happen back in 1994? Probably not with their money.

So, the Digital Age and the Information Age has given us all incredible freedom. Studio recording is no longer an exclusive club for well-connected producers and musicians. Anyone can be a star! Maybe not a "super-star", but a star none-the-less. And that is okay! I think back to editing 2" tape and listening to cassette refs in the, how did we ever do it back then?

[top]What are your thoughts, as a big member of the industry, of entering the field of recording? Do you believe it's pretty much not feasible to do so as the lead source of income, for an average person? - Mark

I was drawn into the world of recording because I love sound and music, and to be honest, I just like hanging out with musicians! I wanted to be loud and make noise. I never thought it would make me money. I'm a trailer-park girl at heart, so living cheaply was not a problem for me, at least at the beginning. It was more important to suspend disbelief for a time, creating soundscape paintings, even if it was not with my own music.

For those entering the recording industry I can make some suggestions:
  • 1. Do it because you love it, not because it is a "wise career choice" because it is not. You will be working for peanuts for a while.
  • 2. Make sure you understand music if you are going to record music. You don't have to be a great drummer to record drums, but know how to play a simple beat, know how to set up a drum kit, understand the motivations behind the musician's musical choices. Know how songs are constructed. Know why you like certain songs.
  • 3. Become a producer, don't rely on only being an engineer or editor if you want to make music recording a career. Musicians need someone to help guide them, and that can be you.
  • 4. Try to record as many projects as you can. Work quickly and consistently. Pull the handle on that slot machine over and over again until you hit. Doing more projects will increase your chances of success. Get one solid hit and you may instantly have a career.
  • 5. Get some sort of "paper" on every project. Find a standard production contract and use it to get a percentage of royalties on every recording. Even better is to get a small chunk on publishing if you can. Be tough and forceful in this area. Remember, it's "just business, boss". If a musician doesn't want to give you a royalty and sign a contract, charge them more up front or don't work with them at all.
  • 6. Invest in vintage and boutique equipment, instruments and microphones as well as the latest digital gear. Recording clients are always impressed by my big rack (haha!). Vintage gear does not depreciate like DAW, plug-ins and modern plastic recording crap. Then if you fall out of love with the whole recording idea, you are in a much better position to sell and get out without a huge loss. mmmm.
  • 7. Don't ever expect a regular paycheck. Plan for financial ups and downs. You will be working for yourself, and if you don't like the situation, move on quickly and without malice.
  • 8. Don't be discouraged, Stick with it! It is fun, creative, and there is nothing better than listening back to work that you've done, falling in love with the results. And it can become a lead source of income, but maybe it is better to consider it a lifestyle choice. Live lean and mean. Make music. Make love. Make art 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

[top]How much attention do you pay to converters? Do you carefully choose them to keep sound as close as it is on tape? - funka

I'll be upgrading my studio's ProTools recorders soon, and I will be outfitting the systems with Burl Mothership converters.

[top]How much time do you typically spend on an album? Also, do you feel the quality of an album increases the longer it takes? or do you believe keeping it short and simple adds to the magic? On longer sessions, what are your thoughts on keeping everybody motivated and in a good mood? Thanks again, greetings from snowy austria - in the red

When I book a session into my studio, I want a minimum of 2.5 days per song if the songs are of average length and complexity. This is based on drum tracks being recorded at a rate of 4 songs per day; with a full day for editing, overdubs and vocals; a full day for mixing; and a little extra time as a contingency for each song. Of course booking more time takes the pressure off everyone and usually makes for a better outcome.

Pro Tip 1: Get ready for the vocalist to be sick right before he is set to sing. Be prepared for tuning problems to eat up overdub time in tracking rhythm guitars. Hopefully you will have enough time in the studio to write a new ending to a song if you need to, create hook melody parts to underline the choruses and tighten up lyrics in the verses. And hopefully you will have time to really have fun in the studio without the clock burning a hole in the back of your head. Even for just a few hours of glorious creativity.

Pro Tip 2: Get ready for the band that says "we are totally prepared" to not be prepared at all.

On the other hand, if you have too much time you might think the song needs children's choir, pan-flute, orchestral bells or chanting monks. Or worse yet, too much time and you may never finish the album. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but it's quite true. I always suggest putting an absolute ending date on the recording. Embrace the results, and don't second guess unimportant details.

Neve 1073

[top]When tracking a band, do you more or less have default signal chains that are your "go to" for all instruments (ie pretty much the same mic and pre choices on guitar cabs, always same mics used on drums no matter the artist etc etc) or do you go in and choose your setups different for each and every project? - AJCruz

I admit to being spoiled with having dozens of Neve 1073 mic/pre EQs for my front-end. Don't need much more than that!!!!

If the sound is thuddy, I lean towards using a Shure SM57 or Sennheiser 421.

If the sound is bright, I'll lean toward a Telefunken U47 mic.

And if it needs compression, the first thing I'll think of will be the Universal Audio 175b.

Of course there are all kinds of variations to this template, but these are my top-drawer tools.

[top]To the "What do you actually do as a producer?" question, you throwing a guitar off a cliff. Was this a reference to the recording sessions for "Gilt" by Machines of Loving Grace? I vaguely remember a story like this... or maybe it was something about putting an amp outside on a cliff to get a particular sound? - Sempervirent

Yes, during the Machines Of Loving Grace project we did drag a Marshall double-stack up a cliff above the ocean near Indigo Ranch in Malibu. This required plenty of muscle and several long extension cords so we could power it up at the edge of the overlook. We drilled a hole through the "sacrificial guitar" (painted gloriously by Scott Benzel, MLG's singer), and tied a long rope onto it. Then we got the longest instrument cables we could find and plugged the guitar into the amp. Guitar player Tom Coffeen readied himself to play the guitar at the edge of the cliff and I set up a portable Panasonic DAT machine and a pair of Audio Technica AT8004 mics on either side of the guitar rig. Tom bashed the guitar against the cabs and it started to to scream with a loud feedback howl. Then he tossed the guitar off the cliff. Once it went out of view down the cliff, we could only hear it crashing and breaking in the most elegantly beautiful destruction through the Marshall. We pulled on the rope and dragged the guitar back up the cliff to take a look. It was in pieces held together by guitar strings.

The guitar mayhem ultimately did not make the final cut on "Gilt". The album was dark and moody (concrete/grey is the perfect description) and the crashing feedback was just too distracting. Oh well, it was definitely worth the trouble setting up for the big dramatic guitar toss, if for no other reason it made a great story and built vivid memories for a lifetime. Studio owner Richard Kaplan insisted on keeping the pieces of the guitar, which he immortalized into a plaque which hung on the wall in Indigo Ranch Studios until its closing in 2006.

I have set up a page of photos from the session and will continue to add pictures as I dig them out of my archives: Machines Of Loving Grace

[top]I am a huge Jane's Addiction & Red Hot Chilli Peppers Fan- What was it like incorporating Dave Navarro's style and sound together with the Chilli Peppers? it is definitely one of their different sounding Albums any insight into guitar and bass sound of that album would be great? -- any anecdotes would be appreciated as well-- - Deelow

Dave Navarro is an innovative player, and uses an array of stomp boxes to achieve textural character in the parts recorded. He used a stack of JCM800 heads in the studio, which are integral to his sound. He and Flea worked very well together, and I think overall it was a good fit during a time when the band was battling through SUBSTANCE abuse problems and needed a fresh approach. I recorded the Chili Peppers during the Navarro era, so I don't know much about RHCP without him.

[top]Yourself and one of my other beloved mixers (the late great Mike Shipley) both professed a lot of love for the Sta-Level. How often do you use the Sta-Level, and do you ever use it on things other than vocals or bass? Any notable examples where it really was a key component in your mix? How significant do you find the difference is between the Retro reissue and the vintage Gates? - bambamboom

The first time I saw a Gates STA-Level was in a session with producer Jimmy Boyle. It was stout and military in style, and had a soft yet firm grasp on the vocal he was mixing. I was impressed. He had other unusual broadcast limiters and compressors, such as RCA BA-6A, Collins 26-U and Gates SA-39b. This was around 1993.

I immediately started cold-calling radio stations on the hunt for these units and found them relatively plentiful and inexpensive. This was at a time when radio in the United States was changing from analog to a digital, so the old broadcast tube compressors were sitting on dusty shelves in the back rooms of the stations, ripe for the picking. I took the opportunity to buy as many broadcast compressors as I could find, keeping the best units and selling off the surplus to my studio buddies. I found fantastic vintage gear by CBS, Collins, Spot-Master, Gates, Innovonics, RCA, Electrodyne, GE, Federal, Harris and Western Electric.

Over the last few decades I've had a chance to really get to know the personality of each brand of these vintage compressors and what they are good for. I find the Gates Sta-Levels are the most versatile, they are excellent on vocals, bass, drum room, acoustic guitar. They are not too wild but you can push them hard for effect. Unfortunately the old Sta-Levels will periodically need maintenance, and if you blow a 6386 tube, it is costly. The Retro re-issue Sta-Level is a great alternative to the vintage Gates unit. I have put them side-by-side and find them very similar, with the Retro more steady and stable than the old Gates. If you're holding out on not buying a re-issue in the hopes of finding a vintage unit I would tell you not to wait. The re-issue units will get you 98% of the way home.

Sta-Levels are definitely on my "must-haves" list. Here are other items I can't live without:
  • Universal Audio 175b
  • Urei 1176
  • Urei LA-3A
  • Empirical Labs Distressor
  • Aengus graphic EQs (500 series)
  • Oh yeah, and I "must-have" a Neve 8038 with 1073 mic pre/EQs

[top]Every rock album you touch has the biggest, ballsiest guitars. How do you go about engineering a great, huge guitar sound? - Eggsmack

Thank you so much!!! There are few tricks I can share for the best guitar sound. First, you need a good guitar player (haha, duh). If they know how to fret properly, it will be easy to record them without fighting tuning problems. Then you need some quality instruments. They don't have to be boutique brands, just solid, consistent guitars like Gibsons or Fenders. It is nice if the instrument has been set up professionally, but remember, if the player does not fret properly, no guitar will sound in tune. If you find that every guitar the player picks up has intonation problems, it probably isn't the guitar.

Next, I like having the guitar plugged into a splitter box running to two heads and two cabs (as described in the entry about the System Of A Down guitar sound). Best if each head has a different character. For instance, the combination of a warm, round Marshall Plexi head with an aggressive VHT Pittbull head works well. One is midrangy and dynamic, and the other is tight and scooped. Take this into consideration when choosing speaker cabinets also. Having the Marshall Plexi going into a cabinet with vintage 30 watt speakers makes sense, and the VHT going into a cab with modern 75 watt Celestions is a good match. Watch out for too much gain on the guitar amps, let one of the two heads give a lot of note so you can really hear the chords being played without being clouded by distortion.

I put a Shure SM57 and a Sennheiser 421 mic on each cab, micing the speakers very close, at the seam in the center of the speaker cone. I bring up all 4 mics on the console. My preference for mic pre/eq is Neve 1073, just don't gain up the pre too much. Bus all 4 mics into one bus, so you can record a blend of the 4 mics to one track! Correct any phase problems if the blend sounds thin. You'll find that the 57s carry the edge and the 421s add the weight in each cab. Listen to the mic blend on each cab individually then blend both cabs and adjust the combination for each performance you record. For instance, if you want dynamics in a melody line, feature the Marshal Plexi, or if you want ripping rhythms, push up the VHT in the blend.

I like to create a landscape with guitar tracks, using the set-up described above. Here is how it's done:
Listen to the song from beginning to end, mapping out the sections where the guitar story is told by one voice, and where multiple guitars will add an exciting dynamic. I generally have one guitar performance running through a song, adding two more performances in the choruses split wide (and sometimes four). I call these the "doubles" and "triples". I try to have the player match his original performance on the doubles and triples, but we may try different guitars and heads. I especially like adding a pair of baritone guitar performances under the choruses for extra big impact.

Wow, I could just keep going! Thanks for letting me share this with you. Hope it makes sense. I will try to revisit this thread and add more tips and insight.

[top]Did you have a mentor, or engineer you spent time with at any point in your career that shaped your success or style? Have you brought others with you into the studio to mentor them? If so, any notable names? - spurratic

NARAS P&E Wing Director Maureen Droney was a huge inspiration. Back when I was a puppy she and Leslie Ann Jones showed me that I could be a great engineer, and the fact that I was a girl had nothing to do with it. Maroon 5 / Faith No More producer Matt Wallace inspired me to think outside of the box. He was the first engineer I assisted, and I fell asleep during that first long late-night session. He has not let me forget it to this very day. As the assistant to Dave Pensado, Dave Bianco, Michael Brauer, Keith Cohen, and Tom Lord-Alge, I learned how to pace myself and work within time constraints. Prince taught me patience and how to stay on my toes. Rick Rubin is my true hero. I learned how to love producing music through him. He taught me how to listen.

In an effort to give back, I have mentored many young engineers, and helped them learn the craft. Some notables are recognizable names: Nick Raskulinecz, Rich Veltrop, Todd Montfalcone, Lori Castro, Ulrich Wild, Jared Scott. You can see a page set up to acknowledge all the interns and engineers I've taken under my wings:
Sylvia Massy Alumni

People who love production and relentlessly work towards their dreams have a good chance of turning it into a rewarding lifestyle.

[top]How do you acclimate yourself to the monitoring environment, the live spaces, and the equipment available when you go into a different facility? - timstoel

Most rooms are not perfect, or should I say NO room is perfect. You make do with what you have. I might want a large hall for a big exaggerated drum sound, and a small room for a tight intimate drum kit. I might need both these sounds for the same song, so I look for spaces that are as versatile as possible. My studio is in a cavernous theater. To control the drum sound I have built a truss system that I hang canvas panels to create different sized rooms. I'll often set a drum kit up in the lobby of the theater to get that tight intimate club sound. Sometimes I'll set a drum kit up on stage and pull the curtains, keeping the cymbal wash out of the big room.

When I recorded System Of A Down at Rick Rubin's home studio, I had to record in a big cement room full of creepy antique taxidermy mounts. There was no dedicated booth. Not a great place to do vocals. My solution was to buy a large camping tent, tall enough to stand up in, and that became our vocal booth. Serge Tankian, the singer for SOAD, set up the space as his private sanctuary. Because of this he delivered brilliant performances. I have yet to get the pot smell out of the tent.

I use reference music to acclimate to a new studio environment. I'll listen to what might be appropriate for the project: Meshuggah, Crowded House, Jet, Beatles, Queens Of The Stone Age, Al Green, Mumford And Sons, Foo Fighters, Sufjan Stevens are some... I'll move around the room to find where the bass pockets are and move my listening position if needed and if possible. If I'm unfamiliar with the room, I will periodically check my chosen reference so I can keep moving in the right direction. I will also use some of my own recent mixes to keep my ears in tune.

[top]I know that many people don't actually know what you actually do as a producer. Maybe you could give a short summary of a typical album-creation-process and what your part in it is? - Xaser

The broad definition of a Record Producer is someone responsible for making sure a project gets done within time and budget constraints. There are also 3 sub-types of Producers. The musician/producer, like the Neptunes or Rodney Jerkins, the engineer/producer like Jack Joseph Puig or Nigel Godrich, and the fan/producer, like Rick Rubin and Jimmy Iovine. The musician/producer usually creates all the music and often writes the songs, bringing in vocal talent to front the project. The engineer/producer will craft the sound of an existing project, often using equipment and technique to create the magic in the studio. The fan/producer may never actually touch the console, but will help choose the songs and guide the project by bringing the right people together.

I find my production style falls mainly between the engineer and the fan, but I'll often add musical elements including string arrangements, vocals, mellotron. My function in the studio is to keep the project going, to tell an artist when a performance is not good enough, and to let them know when it is. Many artists can't tell when they have finished, especially with endless ProTools tracks and the ability to continue to change without commitment. Someone has to say "stop" or the record never gets finished, so I can be the artist's "reality-checker."

A typical album production starts with me directing an artist to write 30 songs so I can choose the best 12. Day one of recording will have us listening and discussing the songs and agreeing on the list to record. I usually work with an engineer who will set up the studio the way I like it, mic-ing the entire band to play the songs live to a click. I'll detail the drum sounds, tune the kit, move mics, adjust EQ until we are ready to record. We will record a bit of a song and discuss the sounds. I will make any additional adjustments until we are all happy and ready to go. We then record several takes of each song and I'll give the engineer notes on what parts to comp together for the ProTools tracking masters. Then, depending on the project, I'll have the engineer fine-edit the drum performances on the multi-track masters before continuing into overdubs.

I map out a strategy before doing overdubs, and make a plan on how to complete the project within the time given. I'll often give the engineer the job of recording the foundation tracks, and I will come in afterwards and approve performances. I want the foundation tracks to be done quickly so we can dig into the vocals and the color parts as soon as possible, this is where I can really help a project. I like to bring out unusual instruments so we can experiment with sounds and parts. I'll give musicians writing tasks that inspire them to stretch their wings. We will try the Hammond C3 or an Optigan on a part. We'll drag out the huge suitcases full of percussion instruments. We'll try adding group vocals or string parts. Maybe a sitar. If you are so caught up in fussing over a rhythm guitar sound, you may never get the chance to really get creative.

As a producer I approve mixes before the band comes in for a listen, and I'll often do the mixing myself. I prefer to have another engineer set up the mixes so I can take a fresh listen to the songs before finishing. I hope I have interpreted the artist's vision and gone beyond their expectations!

PS: There's another aspect to producing that I didn't mention above, and that's the ability to get great performances. There is so much to Producing a record that goes beyond gear, engineering or other details. It's the performance! I do have somewhat of a reputation in this area, and I've been known to be a bit outrageous in my efforts to push the artist into that magical zone where they stop over-thinking and pour their heart out into the microphone. The psychology of how I accomplish this is my secret sauce, and it's a recipe that can't be easily reproduced. I've fired guns into pianos, driven motorcycles into the studio, thrown guitars off cliffs, burned almost everything, etc. It's the ability to open a scene where suddenly people stop internalizing, and start spontaneously creating. Lightning in a bottle, so to speak.

Neve 8038

[top]In the Sound City documentary, Dave Grohl buys the Neve 8038 from Sound City. It looks like it has since gone to you? Just interested in how that came about, and how much work was necessary to get that console re-commissioned? - bambamboom

Yes, I have a Neve 8038 from Sound City but not Dave's. I bought my 8038 in London from CTS Studios and had it shipped over in the 90's, where it lived in the B room at Sound City for the better part of a decade. Many important records were done through it at Sound City, including those by Queens Of The Stone Age, Sheryl Crow, the Black Crowes, Smashing Pumpkins, Johnny Cash, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Lenny Kravitz, and Frank Black to name a few. It has a distinctive sound that is instantly recognizable. Dave Grohl bought the 8028 out of the A room. That was the Nirvana console.

I brought my Neve up to my studio in Weed, California, where it has been cranking away for the last 14 years, installed into an vintage vaudevillian theater. It is outfitted with Martinsound Flying Faders automation so it is a workhorse for both tracking and mixing. The console has rarely been fussy, however on occasion it is "possessed" by spirits of the old theater. Usually happening around 2am, I've heard stories of the temperature dropping in the room and the whole console coming to life! Lights flashing, faders whipping around wildly, strange sounds coming out of it. After a really crazy haunting episode while Kai Huppunen from Methods Of Mayhem was in the studio, Channel 13 stopped working entirely.

Of all the gear I have bought and sold over the years, my Neve console is absolutely the best investment I've made. It continues to amaze and I use it just about every day. And yes, Channel 13 is back in operation!

See more about the Neve and my studio here:
Sylvia Massy The Theater

[top]To me the guitars on the first System Of A Down record are some of the chunkiest if heard to date. I've always wondered how they were tracked, what gear was used etc…? That record really stands out sonically to me. - Ben E

From the System sessions, Daron was an organic, guitar-into-amp kinda guy, with as little extra as possible. Les Paul and SG Gibsons were go-to guitars, and he started to use an Ibanez Iceman in the studio. The amps were mostly Marshalls, with the focus on the Marshall JCM800. Pretty standard equipment, really. Daron's explosive style of playing was what made the performances so special.

We recorded most of the guitars at Rick Rubin's home studio on his sweet little Neve 8068. I brought in racks of my own processing, and used my "Army Man' compressor on most of the guitars (that is my secret weapon!). I've drawn a diagram of the set-up:

[top]When you go through mastering what's the most important thing you look for when choosing ME and studio? - Karibu

Beware of mastering engineers who are just frustrated recording engineers! They insist on putting their sticky fingerprints all over your carefully polished mixes, often gumming it up with too much EQ and compression. Or worse yet, they sausage your mixes through their standard settings without listening for what the track really needs!

I don't leave much for the mastering engineer to screw up. I finish the overall EQ on my mixes by running them through a GML 8200 for a bit of pre-mastering detail. I also usually use a stereo compressor, a Neve 2254, Fairchild 670 or Alan Smart C2. I like to have the mix leave my studio as close to absolutely complete as possible, so it will compare to any commercial release it may be played against, even before mastering.

I had a well-known L.A. mastering engineer argue with me on the mastering of a guitar heavy track. The mix sounded big and ballsy with a nice crunch when it left my studio. But what I got back from his mastering was unlistenable, harsh and thin! He said: "This is what I always do to rock guitars". I knew I was dealing with a cretin. Last time I ever went to that mastering house!

The magic of a guy like Bob Ludwig is that he won't attempt to fix what isn't broken.

[top]What is the proper way to mic a shotgun?
- Iamlark

I have drawn a diagram describing the set-up and routing of the mics during the recording of "Disgustipated" on the Tool "Undertow" album. I bought two upright pianos and we mic'ed them up, then shot and destroyed them with sledgehammers and axes in the back studio at Grandmaster Recorders.

Caution!!!! If you try this technique, make sure your engineers and assistants are not directly behind the wall in the direction where you are shooting. Also, keep the mics out of the "shot spread" area of the shotgun, or you are likely to lose your mics. As you can see in the diagram, we had placed a Shure SM57 in a hazardous area and it did get shot. Luckily the record label picked up the cost. Not sure what they did about the assistant.

[top]1. Ok so, I was wondering about Maynard in the studio. I have seen him drinking coffee in videos when in the studio. Since caffeine constricts vocal cords, did he track vocals after drinking coffee?
2. How is Maynard in person?
3. And finally, what was the vocal chain like? Anything interesting or out of the norm? - Victorian Needle

Maynard was loads of fun to record. On stage he is very serious, but in the studio he is a real jokester!

Yes, it was an AKG C1000 mic through a Universal Audio 1176 limiter on the Tool vocals. We recorded most of the singing parts at Grandmaster Recorders on their Neve 8028 (1073 EQ). That was my first real engagement with an 8000 Neve besides the one in Sound City, and I fell in love with the character of the desk. I swore to buy one after the "Undertow" album, and soon I met my 8038 while working in London on Skunk Anansie. I still have that Neve 8038 today and she's my daily driver. But I digress...

The harsh effect of coffee was not a concern during those recording sessions, in fact I wanted to stress Maynard's voice so it would show up in the emotion of his performance. In the Mix Magazine article I talk more about the techniques I used to get Maynard out of his own head. Whatever it takes - bottles of whisky, running around the block, hanging up-side-down, hiding the 420... all techniques to get a certain emotion out of a vocalist.

For singers that I need a sensitive performance from, I'll pull out the candles and the Throat-Coat tea...

[top]What mics/pres did you use for tracking the acoustics on unchained. They sound really sparkly and nice (Martin d-45?). Also how did you treat them EQ wise? And lastly, was Unchained tracked to tape or DAW? - Chris900

I believe the specific chain was a single Telefunken U47 into Neve 1073 direct patched to Studer A800 analog tape. Johnny played a D-35 Martin (black, of course). His playing was simple and strictly rhythmic, Tom Petty and Mike Campbell played most of the color guitars on the "Unchained" album. Lindsey Buckingham also played acoustic on the track "Rowboat". Tom brought a beautiful Gibson J-200 acoustic to the sessions. I remember it was a great sounding guitar.

Johnny had to play his acoustic while he sang, like a comfort thing, so I recorded a direct signal through a Countryman DI as well as micing the guitar. Where his booming voice bled into the close mic on his acoustic, I pushed the direct signal to make up for the blurriness.

I'm personally not afraid of recording a rhythm acoustic with a simple Shure SM57 mic, especially if what I am going for is a woody, earthy sound. Sometimes I will add a compressor to the signal, a soft, warm tube-style, like a Gates Sta-Level. The Sta-Levels got used a lot on the Johnny Cash recordings. I rarely record a "stereo" acoustic, using two mics.

Telefunken U47

[top]Further re Unchained with Johnny Cash? I'm in awe of the American Recording series, and in this record in particular his voice was really strong. - Santiago

Those Johnny Cash sessions have been the most memorable of my career so far. He was strong, and tall in stature but had a fragile character from what must have been a hard life. He was the first to say that he "don't sing too good", and he wasn't too fancy on the guitar either... but what an engaging deep voice. What a storyteller. What a true legend.

I tried several mics and compressors on his voice, but thought the Telefunken U47 mic worked the best, with a classic Gates STA-Level broadcast tube compressor. When Rick Rubin flew me to Nashville to work with Johnny at the Cowboy Arms Hotel And Recording Spa, I packed that mic and compressor in my suitcase. I like that combination because it softly brings all the detail forward in an intimate performance. During many vocal sessions I will use that combination with an additional Urie 1176 after the Sta-Level to bolt down any wildness that might come out of the vocalist.

So many wonderful things happened during the Johnny sessions, I could go on-and-on...

[top]Do you have a certain method/placement for overhead microphones? What mics do you like using for overheads? - Nu-tra

Since each drummer sets up his cymbals differently, height and placement of overhead mics is custom on every kit I record. When I place the mics, I chose positions that best pick up the individual cymbals, wherever they may be. I'm generally less concerned with having the snare centered in the stereo image, but I'm careful about phase conflicts with other mics on the kit. My favorite overhead mics these days are a pair of Mojave MA200 mics that I got from Dusty Wakeman (hi Dusty!). They are large diaphragm cardioid-style tube condensers similar to classic Neumann U67s. I have on occasion used a M/S technique to record overheads. To do this I use a stereo mic (AKG C24 preferred), placing it horizontally over the drummer's position, with one capsule facing directly down in a cardioid pattern and the other facing sideways in a figure-eight pattern. I bring the signal from the cardioid "middle" capsule up on a single channel on the console, while the figure-eight "sides" capsule I split and bring up on two channels of the console. The split "sides" channels are panned hard left and right, and I reverse the phase on one channel by using a reverse-phase patch cable in the patch bay (I find this sounds better than reversing the phase on the channel strip). After all this complex set-up, I push the out-of-phase "sides" channels up equally then add the "middle" signal into the picture... the spread and directionality of the overheads is quite dramatic!!!! Once I thought about it real hard and figured out exactly why this technique works... ouch, it hurt my head.

[top]I wonder if you've used DAW’s and/or plugins and what you like or dislike about them? - ctms777

I was the queen of editing on 2" analog tape. The Tool songs were full of edits that would flitter through the transport as I rewound the tape. Danny Carey was an amazing drummer, but the extra editing would make him sound super-human! I measured and cut the tape to correct small fluctuations in the drum tracks. Today, every drummer sounds like superman, it is so easy to process drum tracks through Beat Detective or similar plug-ins. You can't deny the power of Pro-Tools to improve performances, I use vocal tuning plug-ins like Melodyne and Auto-Tune, and augment the drums with samples using the Drum Replacer plug-ins - but I still tend to edit the drums by hand in the box. That way I can interpret the intention in the drum fills and keep intact the natural push-pull of a drummer's performance.

I lean heavily on my old Neve 8038 console for the front-end and continue to mix through it doing some sub-mixing and processing in the box, but not a lot. I prefer to commit effects to recorded tracks instead of stacking plug-ins. I started working on an SSL Duality recently and am thinking seriously of buying one. It has the analog work surface I love for mixing, and can switch so easily into the DAW mode for easy in-the-box work. This finally makes sense.

[top]What is it that you think makes this business so male dominant? What factors do you consider to be part of the reasons why there aren't as many women pursuing engineering as a career? - MattMullin

Yes, it is too bad there are not more women in recording. I think most women are just too smart! Why would anyone get wrapped up in an industry where you have to spend decades of 14 hour work days isolated in a cave without making any real money for years, maybe never? Most women gravitate into fields that allow them to grow socially, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. After all, we women are wired to build families.

It takes years to get a foothold in the recording industry. You need an obsessive personality to stick with studio work through the lean years when it does not pay well. Is it worth it? Absolutely! I've been in the studio with Prince while he played guitar and danced on his heels right in front of me. I've had Johnny Cash sing a song especially for me, and I've handed a Telecaster to Tom Petty and told him, "here, try this". I've mentored hundreds of young musicians and engineers and I keep in touch with so many of them to this day. They are my children, my large extended family. I am blessed!

Recording music is a tough business and many women (and men for that matter) give up after just a short stint. The ones who hang on will hopefully break through. Don't do it because you want to be rich, do it as a lifestyle choice. My relentless drive comes from doing what I love. I've wanted to produce music since I was a little girl, making up imaginary radio shows on a tape recorder. I've had my ups and downs in life, but living art and music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is my destiny. Add a good cup of coffee and I'm in heaven!