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If You Could Work With Any Artist, Who Would it Be?

Transcript
Warren: Hello everybody, hope you’re doing marvelously well. We’re back here with another FAQ Friday. Frequently asked questions. Please, as ever, subscribe, hit the notifications bell, fill in a form, send in your — I don’t know. Apparently, you have to do lots of things now to get notified that we have a video up.

But here it is! We have a new video, and it’s a wonderful FAQ Friday with some great questions. So let’s start with the first question.

I’d like to know, is there a certain band/artist that you really want to work with that you haven’t yet, of course?

What a marvelous question. I’ve asked this question myself of a few musicians, producers, and engineers. I’ve heard it asked in many interviews. It’s a really, really good question.

I like it when people also put in brackets, alive or dead, because obviously, those of you that follow me know, that if it was alive or dead, I would obviously go with Queen because of Freddie Mercury. Who the heck wouldn’t? I mean, I’ve worked with some really big bands, and they’ve all said that Freddie Mercury was the greatest singer. Even the singers say that, so who wouldn’t want to work with Freddie Mercury?

I mean, David Bowie, the list is endless.

Now, let’s move into the present. At the moment, in rock, there’s some amazing bands of different genres. Probably Radiohead would be atop anybody’s list of any rock producer, engineer, or mixer. Even assistant team maker, you name it. All of us would love to work with Radiohead. Incredibly creative. They’d be right at the top of my list.

I think alongside them would definitely be Muse. Muse are a phenomenal band.

Now, there’s a couple of band that have been around a few years that I think you should check out if you’re a rock fan. The band I’m working with at the moment, The Matthews Brothers, are really big fans of Bring Me the Horizon, and I was actually really, really blown away with their latest album, because it’s a rock album, like we want to hear, with great rock singing, harmonies, great guitar parts, but also a lot of incredible programming.

So if you can, check out that band, and to be honest, I’d like to work with a band like that, and we’re doing that kind of album with The Matthews. We’re doing something that’s very contemporary. It’s got some classic rock feel in it, but it’s super modern at the same time with a lot of really amazing elements going on.

So in one way, I’m kind of working with the band that I’ve always wanted to work with. This is a band that I’ve been working with now for about four years, since Jack was only fifteen years old, and we’ve been developing and working with them, and I’m more excited about them than probably any other band out there. So I’m blessed.

So maybe, to answer your question, those are the artists I would pick, but it’s a good little segue — you know me, I like to go on tangents — it’s a good little segue to talk about developing artists.

If you live in a town and there’s a great singer, there’s a great band, work with them. Develop them. All kinds of things can happen. You can bring your love of the Radioheads, the Muses, and the classic rock, the Zeppelins, the Stones, the Who, and Queen, and bring all of that energy, and put it into a young artist. Just a little segue there.

Do you use a stereo imager to separate your frequencies in a mix? Is a stereo imager more for the master phase?

Oh, I’ve been asked this question a couple of different times and in different ways about widening plugins, and MS, and all of that kind of stuff. I still have the same theory.

Because I came up just at the cusp of the end of analog and the beginning of digital, I sort of crossed over, so I was sort of making albums on tape, as you know, I’ve got a tape machine over there, and then I started making albums with ADAT simultaneously, and then the first kind of Pro Tools in the mid-90’s.

So I was right there in the middle of all of this changing over. The reason why I mentioned the tape and the analog world is because we barely used widening, MS kind of technique stuff, we were mixing on consoles. Well for a start, initially, consoles were so much wider than DAWs could ever do. The original DAWs would seem to fold in when you hit them hard, when you’re limiting. Don’t get me wrong, new Pro Tools 12 and above doesn’t have that issue anymore.

Everybody that’s mixing in-the-box on DAWs doesn’t talk about that problem anymore.

However, it seemed to me there was a proliferation, at least in my humble opinion in the late-90’s and early 2000’s to use widening effects to try and increase the width of an in-the-box mix. I don’t personally do it, except when I’m doing some individual elements, and it’s usually just things like string pads, synthesizer pads, that I’m just trying to spill out left and right a little bit, so I can just keep the center really super clean for my vocal, for my bass guitar, for my kick, and for my snare, and anything else I choose to keep in the center, but predominately those things.

So I will push the pads and the strings out a little bit wider, however, I don’t like it when it’s on the master buss. I don’t like that sound when you’re in a supermarket or something, and it’s coming out a mono speaker, and it sounds thin and weird, because of some technique that’s going on that does not fold well back into mono.

I just don’t like that, and I’m very, very phase sensitive. Like, when I’m doing The Academy mix critiques, if there’s a phase issue, I’m sitting between the speakers trying to figure out what it is, and the way widening happens is they’re cancelling out the middle, so they’re messing with the phase to make things seem further left and right than they really are.

So for me, try not to use it too often. Having said that, if you watch our Mark Needham course, which is a great course, he does use a little bit of a widening software on the choruses, just to push them out a little bit.

He does it very subtly, but it does make a difference. So check out that course, if you haven’t.

Do you have a twin brother? That’s the only explanation for how you get everything done in a day.

That’s — yeah, thank you for saying that, I appreciate it. Yes, we work exceptionally long hours. Did you notice what I just said there? We work exceptionally long hours. I have a team of guys and girls, and we work super, super hard. We’re multi-tasking, we’re presently at the moment — like yesterday, for instance, we worked in three different studios.

In the morning, I did — I filmed feedback Friday for The Academy, and we critiqued ten songs. I always do it first thing in the morning with fresh ears, and I listen to mixes.

Occasionally, I’ll do it in the evening, but 99.9% of the time, it’s the first thing I do. We come in here at 9AM, Andrew sets up the camera, yesterday it was Eric. Typically, it’s Andrew, and we film, and I listen to mixes, and I mix critique. That goes up into The Academy on Fridays. It’s just a great way to interact with everybody inside of The Academy that already are interacting with each other, and giving each other ideas, but this is me listening to those mixes and critique.

What I love about doing that, is most of the time, those are productions that I’ve done myself. Some of them are like, piano/vocal. Some of them have like, 197 tracks in them… The point is there’s all kinds of variations. Some are done on tape and transferred into Pro Tools, some are done on Logic, the point is, there’s every shape and size. We’ve had heavy rock, we’ve had classical-ish, we’re going to have more classical-ish, we’ve had jazzy stuff, we’ve had acoustic stuff, country stuff, root stuff, we’ve had EDM, we’ve had a blend of EDM and indie rock… The point is, we do every single genre in there.

We cover all of the bases, so I like to start in the morning fresh. That was yesterday.

Then at 10:30 the same day, we went on and did a one hour and fifteen minute live stream on YouTube, which we try to do every Thursday. Then at — it would’ve been about 12 — yes, it was 12 — Eric dropped me off at Harmony Studios, and I worked with a new artist that is signed to a Japanese label, and the A&R person came down, and we listened to about four songs that we’d been producing, went through it with the A&R person. Then I did a conference call with a couple of people on Skype, and then after that, Ace Frehley turned up with Fernando, who’s this incredibly talented guy. Ken Sharp, for those of you who know Ken Sharp, the writer, and also the singer/songwriter, and we worked on a track and we finished at 1AM.

So my day started at 9AM, work, and finished at 1AM. That’s not every day, but it’s a lot of days a week.

This is what I do for a living. I work in the music industry, but getting back to the beginning of this, it’s a we. Now, I’m also working with the Matthews Brothers. So Eric, after dropping me off, went to go and pick them up, then took them over to Bob Marlette’s, where they were working on drum programming on a new track that they’re working on, and then today, I’ll be going over after I film this to go and work with that.

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The point is we’re always doing tons of things. Andrew is doing stuff as well, we’ve got a great, great team of guys here. Basically, I want to be in a situation where I can be creative at all times. I’ve worked very hard my whole life to be creative, and anything that you can do to support your creativity, and you can have people around you that help you with that, you are going to succeed. But it’s taken a long time. I’m not 21, I’m 22.

No, I’m not 21, so I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve built up a great team of people, so yes, I do a lot, but then also, so does Eric and Andrew and everybody else around me. They all work very, very hard. Don’t you, Eric?

Eric: Oh yeah.

Warren: So thanks for the question. Oh, and no, I don’t have a twin brother.

Do you actually tend to activate a low cut and use EQ and compression while you’re tracking vocals? If so, what is your first approach? Do you use the EQ pre- or post-compressor?

That’s a marvelous question. I learned from three or four different guys. Pretty closely. And all of the guys that I learned from — that would be Jack Douglass, Don Smith, Dave Jerden, and one session I did in the late-80’s with Andy Jackson — each one of those guys did not apply any EQ to the vocals. Oh, and also Mike Clink. No EQ to the vocals. And of course, I’ve worked with 100 different producers and engineers and mixers since then, and 99.9% of the time, they never EQ’d the vocals going in. They wanted to print big, fat tones, where if they wanted to reduce or increase any frequency, it was already there in the vocal, and not removed.

Also, if you’re not EQing, you’re not compensating for a mic, and when I was lucky enough to always be making records in studios with massive mic collections, we would change the mic before we would apply EQ.

However, the one part that I may do if I’m using one of my 1073s, I may very very occasionally do, is apply maybe a little high pass going in, if there’s a lot of low rumble, traffic noise from outside, or AC.

However, I don’t. I very rarely, if at all, one out of 1000 times, apply any EQ to vocals going in, and the guys I admire, the guys I appreciate, also don’t do that as well. In about a week or two, you’re going to get to download Darryl Thorp’s session that we recorded at Sunset Sound, and you’ll also watch the video, and you’ll see him mixing on the fly at the end of the session, and you’ll see what he did EQing on the way in, and there’s little, if nothing applied. It’s all about mics, having the right mics, and putting them in the right position.

You’ll see. It’s pretty wonderful.

Have you ever used Waves Bass Rider? If so, do you think it’s an alternative to MV2 compression on the sub?

Yes! I mean, that’s a really, really good question. You’ll see when I mix vocals and bass, I treat them very similarly. I want every articulation in a bass performance, because if you get a bass guitar when you go high, the low end will disappear, so it’s not all about turning the high note up if it’s an A on the 14th fret of the G string. It’s not about turning up the volume, it’s about applying more low end. That’s where a multiband compressor comes in, and an R-Bass.

It’s very hard to understand what multiband compression is doing when you’re low down, but with R-Bass in conjunction with a multiband compressor can really bring out some low end. You know, double up if you’d like. Increase the low end when you’re going higher up the neck, but when you’re talking about the bass rider, I think it is a very subtle, easy way to keep that signal consistent.

I think the Vocal Rider as well is a great plugin, and quite often, I’ll use the Bass Rider and the Vocal Rider going into another set of compression. I know that sounds crazy, but everything inherently has a sound, and I don’t mind using two, three, four, five plugins. Using a lot, if they’re all doing something subtle and applying some piece of information that’s improving the signal.

Now, that sounds really freaking obvious, but I get sessions to mix all the time where I open them up, and there’s seven plugins, eight plugins on it, and it’s just insanity.

It’s like, boost, cut, boost, cut, boost, cut, and it’s like, they’re boosting one frequency, and cutting something right by it, and trying to correct that with another one, and another one, and another one. They’re creating issues that are being amplified by one plugin to another to another, and often, I think Howard Willing said this when I interviewed him. Howard said that a lot of the times, when he gets those sessions to mix, he just mutes all the plugins, goes back and listens to the original recorded sound, and realizes it started off better than where they ended up.

So what I’m saying is I’m not afraid to use a lot of plugins, which is like, maybe using the Bass Rider, or the Vocal Rider on vocals, and then compressing or even using the MV2 after, because I’m not — the MV2 is like a fix-it. You can definitely just put it on the bass track and do this, and it will sound amazing.

However, it’s going to maybe increase some frequencies more. I mean, I recently used it, and the distortion in the bass came up a little bit more, but I compressed it lightly going into it, then used the MV2, and it was a little bit more pleasing.

So the MV2 is an amazing plugin. It’s one of my personal favorites, as you know, but the Bass Rider is still a very, very good tool,and it will keep some of the dynamics in your bass line as well. Because it’s not like you necessarily want the bass line to be a keyboard. You want all the notes to be even in a mix, but there might be moments that you just want a little bit more articulation pushed up.

So my point is, experiment, use them in conjunction with each other, and see what works for you, and it will probably — not probably — it will definitely vary from song to song.

Is there anything else other than EQ, de-essing, and passing to get rid of harshness?

I’m assuming you mean obviously low passing, meaning sort of filtering out the high end?

Yes! Back in ye olden days, not joking, because it wasn’t that long ago, but when you were mixing on consoles, one of the things that I used to love to do with really aggressive, high middy kind of guitars that were kind of ripping my head off, or overheads that were overly bright, is I would stick really expensive compressors on them. The Manley Vari-Mu for instance is really famous for just controlling mixes, busses, whatever it might be.

Not only does it compress the signal, it just seems to make the high end sound really smooth. So in the perfect world, I would take my guitar buss, and then stick the Manley Vari-Mu across it, and it just was magic. It just got rid of some of that harshness.

The other one of course, is a Fairchild. Very famous for controlling high end, and not just dynamics, but adding sort of a sheen. What do I mean by a sheen? We’re getting into words. I hate using words to describe sounds. What I mean by a sheen is the high end seems to be there, but it seems to not feel so bright, jumping out unevenly. Now it seems to just feel really smooth.

So, reach in your plugins and look for some tube emulations, and you’ll find they’ll do a marvelous thing. Another thing that I use inside of Pro Tools is the Lo-Fi plugin, but you can also do it with a Klanghelm, the MJUC, because they have distortions in them which are darker. Lo-Fi does it. You can play with the distortion and the saturation. Decapitator you can do it with. You can use saturation, believe it or not, on harsh sounding room mics, harsh sounding cymbals.

Just bring the tiniest amount of saturation in. What happens and why do I say that? Well, the first thing that tends to distort or saturate is the high end, and it just smooths it out.

So try that as well. Saturation could be your friend. Tape emulations could work. They’re great ways to smooth out the top end, so tape emulation, saturation, Decapitator, Lo-Fi, Klanghelm MJUC, you know, all of those things are fantastic.

These are really, really great tools to use. But a de-esser is a good one for me though. I use it all the time to contain the high end of acoustic guitars, electric guitars, overheads, that kind of stuff, but saturation is definitely your friend as well.

Can you make some more series about mix breakdowns?

Yes, I know those were very, very popular and I definitely will do some more.

Thank you ever so much. I love this community. Everybody here helps each other out, they have great questions, there’s great interaction, I feel really, truly blessed, so thank you ever so much, have a marvelous time recording and mixing, and I’ll see you all again very soon.

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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