October 23rd, 2019

The end?

I'm done being a mixing engineer. I still use that skillset, but that role is not for me anymore. My social has mixed messaging and I want to clear them up. A great deal of where I am today is owed to recording and mixing music. That path has brought me a lot of great music, memories, and friendships. I really value the perspective afforded to me, and I hope to keep giving back in any way I can. I got what I needed to out of this path, and I think I understand why I chose this, but while it was happening, I can't say that I did. The choice to go into recording/mixing seems like an unconscious decision; when the opportunities presented themselves, and I jumped wholeheartedly, but lately it's felt like I was running away from my true intentions. From the start of piano lessons in 4th grade, music performance is really been the thing that's always propelled me forward. Back then, the words eluded me, but pulling strange shapes made out of sound and manifesting them back into reality is what it feels like to be grounded in myself.

My job at Maple Tree was to help people capture their best performance, but in almost every session, I remember feeling like I should be producing instead of recording. I knew better than to overstep my boundaries, so I kept my mouth shut. I don't know that I've earned enough gravitas to to go around ripping apart other people's songs and really push them towards the human limit. I don't know that I trust myself enough with my own music, and if that's the case, then what exactly am I doing? I guess that's the point of this post, a public declaration that I'm jumping into vulnerability and persistence. @lucas was 11 and I are dropping a beat tape soon, and after that, I'm finishing a project that has been in flux for years now. I've wasted so much time not pursuing this, it's gonna kick my ass, but I guess that's what I want.

Re: boot

September 23rd, 2018


Out of the blue, my brother said he hooked me up with a recording gig by mentioning me to one of his co-workers named Jake. Sure enough, Jake emailed me, explaining his vision for his debut project and asked me to help him record his it. I asked him to send over some phone demos of him singing and playing guitar, which he turned around pretty quick. Just like that, we were off.

Lego Bricks

Initially, I only got one demo, and by the sound of it this was clearly a guitar-driven project. As Jake sent over demos, I began charting them out and practicing my way around them. When I felt ready, I started laying down tracks; guitar always came first, and each song had at least six electric guitar tracks. I had my work cut out for me; three sets of doubles for a really aggressive, thick sound. I'd say it took maybe an hour per part, and we ended up doing six songs, so you do the math. With guitar in place, I moved to laying down the rhythm. Since there wasn't a budget to track drums in a studio, I resorted to programming drums; it forced me to imagine what the part should sound like before laying it down, but I would never try to program drums for this kind of music, ever again. The bass followed the chords for the most part, although there were some moments where it had a counter groove; those parts were recorded straight into the interface, DI-style, on five-string active bass.

Those three sets of instruments made up the bulk of the music, but sometimes the song required a couple extra instruments. Acoustic guitar was, by far, the hardest instrument to get right due to apartment living. The electric instruments are nice because you can just plug everything in, no mics required, but you can't really do that with an acoustic guitar. As tracks got parts added, they got uploaded to the cloud so we could both mull over the arrangements. Eventually, Jake asked me to write a guitar solo for each track. Over the years, I've guest solo-ed on a bunch of projects and as a result, I have my own process: jamming. I just record myself noodling over the track for a while and splice melodies out of different takes together to create the narrative. With the narrative nailed down, I re-record the entire spliced solo and call it a day.

Bring it on home

After finalizing the arrangements, we moved on to cutting vocals. We booked a session at good ol' Maple Tree Studio where we would meet face to face for the first time. I showed up an hour early for setup, and threw up an AKG C414, a Neumann TLM-103, and a Violet Amethyst as first guesses for the mic. When Jake arrived, as part of his warm up, I had him sing through each mic. We quickly moved forward with the Violet Amethyst as his vocal mic. The final vocal chain used was the Violet Amethyst into a Toft ATB16 into a DigiDesign 003, with a BLA mod, and finally into ProTools. We took the same approach for each song; he'd sing a couple complete run-throughs and we'd go back, section by section. By the end of the day, we had cut five out of six tracks and were feeling pretty good. Since we didn't get through all six songs, we decided to book another session in a few weeks.

April 14th rolled around and we found ourselves back at Maple Tree. The first item on the agenda was cutting the vocal for “Run or Stay” since we hadn't tracked it yet. Jake took me by surprise during the outro of this song with this gnarly, guttural scream which I think sounds amazing. We did a couple more takes of the scream and took a break to rest his voice. From there, we went back and re-recorded around 40% of the vocals on the rest of the project. With another intense eight hour session behind us, we both finally felt ready to start the editing process.

The vocal channel-strips used in “Diamond Piercing“

The glue

With all the tracks now done, I returned home, backed everything up, and started comping. If you don't know, comping is the process of stitching together various parts of a track to form a more polished performance. For me, after comping comes mixing. Truthfully, I use a lot of (probably too much) processing power come mix time, and these mixes were no different. Each vocal has stacked compressors to better control the volume and do proper gain-staging. Listening back, I kept wanting a more edgy bit on his voice. For this, I used a twist on "parallel compression." To achieve what I want, I duplicate the main vocal and add heavy compression, light distortion, and mix it in at a lower volume. The same process was used on both the electric guitar, bass guitar, and even the drums. For my time-based effects, I routed separate sends for both delays and reverb, saved it as a preset, and blended to taste on each song. The amount of reverb changed dramatically on "One More Time" where Jake wanted to go full-on arena rock, but the rest of songs have a pretty mild amount of reverb.

After about a month of sending mixes back and forth, Jake was pretty happy with the results, which meant it was time for mastering. Each two-track got an instance of iZotope's Ozone and started out with an EQ, compressor, and maximizer. A couple of revisions later, and some much needed car tests, and we landed on final masters. All in all, the process took almost a year, a fact I blame on the roughly 300 miles of distance between us. At times, the process was challenging and I picked up some good experience working in a "modern-rock" style. If you're curious what the final project sounds like, I've linked the single (my favorite track) below. Check it out and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!