Interview with Fabian Marasciullo (Drum Mixing, Aria Mastering & More)
So I am here with one of the best mix engineers — best engineers in general to walk the face of the earth — [laughs] I’m blowing you up already. No, I’m here with a great dude, a guy you know by reputation. His name is Fabian Maraschiullo, and we’re going to talk about a couple things involved in the record making process.
So how are you doing, Fabian?
Fabian: I’m good, my brother, how you doing?
Matt: Everything is good!
So, I like to keep these things quick, I like to get some point, so we’re going to do one little quick thing on technique, one little quick thing on philosophy, and then we’re going to talk about Aria, because both of us were involved in the beta of that program.
Fabian: Sounds good!
Matt: So basically, I’m just going to take this opportunity to ask questions that are concerning me, and assume that they’re the same questions that are concerning everyone else.
Fabian: I’m sure they are man, that sounds cool.
Matt: Alright, so let’s start with a technique thing. You are pretty much known as the drum guy. That’s not anything new at this point, but specifically, when I hear your drum stuff, there is a quality where the drum almost seems to step out of the speaker, like, here’s the speaker, and then the drum is just a little somehow coming from in front of it.
It’s almost like a magic trick. It’s something that I always try and emulate, and sometimes, I get it, and I have my own techniques for it, but you seem to get it whenever you want.
Fabian: [laughs] Well yeah, it’s kind of my thing, you know? I love it. [laughs]
Matt: So give me a little insight into the process of getting that effect.
Fabian: Well you know what, man, it’s like — I kind of grew up with — drums were like, A number 1, and my background, my history growing up as an engineer, you know, coming up with Rodney Jerkins, you know, it was like, back in the dark child days of like, when it was like, you know, the Michael Jackson, and all of the — the Britney Spears, all of the heavy duty Pop records and all that stuff, he was known for like, being very aggressive on the drums. You know what I’m saying? So that’s what I’ve come up around, so it was always just — the kick drum is just as important as the freaking vocal, you know what I’m saying?
And we’re talking about Michael Jackson, which is crazy, so that’s always been my thing, you know what I mean? From the beginning.
So I do a lot of molding — I don’t know how technical you want to get with it —
Matt: Let’s go on, I think my viewers are pretty sharp, so let’s go full on.
Fabian: I mean, like, I’ll take a kick drum, and you know, nowadays, the majority of the records I get to mix are — they’ll be like, an exported from say, Logic or something like that. You know what I mean? So you get like, a stereo — you know what I mean — stereo kick, snare, multiple ones or whatnot.
So what I’ll do is I’ll take the regular main kick, and I’ll kind of just give it a little bit of EQ to just clean it up a little bit. You know what I mean?
I try not to take so much away from what they had there. You know, the vibe of it, you know what I mean? Because I’ve always approached it as — and I don’t know if this is a segue into the next question, I don’t want to ruin that, but we’ll just go with it.
My approach has always been to kind of not reinvent song. You know what I’m saying? Like, to me, you guys worked on it for so long as a producer and artist, and by the time it gets to me, I feel my approach in my job is to just put it on steroids as opposed to recreate this and impose myself.
That’s my thing, I never want to impose myself on a song. You know what I mean?
So I’ll take the original kick drum, I’ll clean it up a little bit, I’ll get rid of some problem things if I need to. You know, a lot of guys don’t realize a speaker will crack at a certain point, and that’s not necessarily a good thing, you know?
So what I’ll do is I’ll — you know, I’ll do some filtering, take out some stuff, and then I’ll make a mold of it, make it mono since it’s going to be mono anyway, bring it down to a single track, and then I’ll run it through a couple of different things.
Distressors used to be my bread and butter, man, but you know, digital compression has gotten so much better now, and by now, I mean since you know, ’03, ’04, we’re talking about a decade of — god, I feel fucking old — but it’s like, you know, you’re talking about a decade ago compared to now, digital compression, especially with the UAD and the newer Waves stuff is great too.
Matt: And the Empirical Labs. Empirical Labs has one too.
Fabian: Yeah, exactly, you know, the funny thing is, everybody is like, “Yo, check out this and that,” I haven’t even tried it yet. Like, you would think I would be first in line to get that, you know what I mean? But I haven’t.
But there is one piece of outboard gear that I have to use, and I use it all the time, and you can get it — it’s not even expensive, it’s a Drawmer MX40.
Matt: The punch gate.
Fabian: The punch gate, yeah. So I’ll take a kick, and I’ll jus try and get that,and you can select the frequency — it’s so cool, because you can — and I’m sure there’s other things that do it, but you know, you can select the frequency that the gate opens, you know what I mean? And then it adds a little push at that frequency.
So what I’ll do is I’ll have the kick where it is, and I’ll try and get a little bit of upper chest out of the MX40, the punch gate.
Then from there, you know, maybe another channel will have a transient designer, and then I’ll just roll off all of the bottom, and that might just be for some flicker air type of stuff. You know what I’m saying?
Then you kind of just blend it all back together. Then, that FabFilter, the FabFilter Pro-L? It kind — I don’t try and use it as a — I don’t want to say this the wrong way, because people think I’m freaking crazy, like an effect compression, but that’s just like a final cleanup. That’s what I use that for, the end.
So I get a little blend of those guys, then I’ll put it through that FabFilter, the Pro-L from FabFilter, and then yeah, boom, there we go. You know what I’m saying? That’s where I’m at.
Matt: It’s funny trying to backwards engineer that kind of sound. I sort of came up with something a little similar.
Well, I have a punch gate for one thing, and I sort of — there’s a button that you can press where it adds an insane amount of smack to whatever frequency you’ve selected. You kind of have to run it in parallel, because it totally makes the drum disproportionate.
Fabian: Yeah, exactly, it’s disrespectful what it does.
Matt: It’s disrespectful!
Fabian: Yeah, exactly.
Matt: But it’s funny, because I’ve also been using these multi-band transient designers that have come out, like Alloy has one, and the Joey Sturgis one has one, and I’ll take the top end band, which is almost exactly what you were saying, and it’s like it pulls the ear to the sound, and it makes it feel like — you don’t even really hear it as enhanced top end, but it pulls it out of the speaker.
The weirdest thing out of all of it is I will very often is that I will very often use — I use the Oxford Limiter to do it, not the Pro-L, but — because it’s got that little enhance —
Fabian: Similar type of vibe. The Oxford is nice and clean, I know what you get.
Matt: If you need just a little more presence at the end of the day, that enhance knob is really convenient.
Fabian: You got a little bit more for — yeah, yeah, I might steal that from you man. I’ll check that out tonight.
Matt: Yeah, but I just think it’s funny, because I find myself boosting these transients, and then hitting into a limiter, and it’s like, it seems so counter intuitive, but I’m glad that I’m on the right track with that stuff.
Fabian: Yeah, and you know, the thing is, nowadays, it’s like a constant battle, man, as far as overall volume. You know what I’m saying? It’s like I hear it all the time. “You know, the rough mix is louder,” and I’m like, alright, that’s fucking great, you know what I’m saying?
But you know, it’s flat, and it’s full in itself, but it’s louder, okay, whatever you say.
Yeah, it’s kind of like we used to have our hands are starting to get a little more tied with what we can do, because there’s only so much room. You know what I mean? And it’s kind of like — Dexter Simmons used to tell me that — it’s funny the way he worded it, he was saying that the loudest part of a record can only be the loudest thing.
So basically, if the kick — it’s common sense, but if the kick is the loudest, which I always want it to be, or the snare, the whole record will feel lower.
So it’s kind of like, fuck man, I’ve got this crack, and now it’s like, “Okay, I’ll pull it down.”
You know what I’m saying? It’s definitely a vicious dance, but it is what it is.
Matt: It does sort of — it becomes that mother of invention a little bit, because your records, I have never had a problem being loud on playback. Like, I mean, you know, and it’s varied over the years, but your drums still always have that defined dynamic.
Maybe not always, I don’t know about — because I’m sure there’s some mastering engineer that’s squashed it once or twice.
Fabian: Yeah, we won’t get into that.
Matt: We’ll talk about mastering in a second, but yeah man, that’s awesome.
So you did start to segue into the next concept of the more philosophical thing, and you said you’re not really reinventing the wheel when it comes to making the record happen.
I know from insider information that you do a ridiculous volume of records. At times, doing as many as like, four or five mixes a day.
Fabian: Yeah, there’s been some crazy freaking days like that.
Matt: So how do you not get eaten alive by revisions?
Fabian: You know, I kind of plan ahead. You know, years ago, from 2008 until 2011 — yeah, alright, so I tried to challenge myself, because I was always in a big studio, but there came a point where I saw a change in the business, and I saw the trend of where it was going as far as what labels can afford, and you know, what they can give us to get a record done.
You know what I’m saying? It was turning into a lot of all ins, and you know, the revisions, yeah, it started to catch up with me when you’re doing an all in, because that’s what they want to do, and you’re in a big studio, and five days later, they want to turn up the hi-hat a quarter dB, and I’m sitting in here like, “What the fuck, man.” I’m here like, “You want me to go spend another $1,500 at this studio to” — $2,500 at some of these LA studios, and it’s like, what the heck?
So what I tried to do was, generally, Thanksgiving to New Years is a slower time in the music business, because the record labels are closed, everyone hits their vacation, the budgets are frozen, especially for mixers, because it’s kind of like, you know, we have to wait for the top of the year to get the POs rolling. We’re not mixing without a PO.
Well, maybe some guys, but not me.
But anyway, so what I started to do during those times was, you know, I had owned a lot of equipment, so what I started to do was try to match the mixes that I was doing in the big rooms. And you know, I don’t want to say in the box, because it’s never been in the box, but hybrid. You know what I’m saying?
More of a you have something, you have some key pieces, but we’re not in a big studio with every channel out on a board or that kind of stuff, so I would take that time when it was a little slower or when I was supposed to be on vacation and resting, I’d take that time to try and challenge myself to beat these mixes.
I started gearing my business more to being that way, and it came to be where just as important as quality was, it was just as important for streamlined work environment.
So you know, nowadays — because before, the money we would make, you’d take more projects, you’d take the lower budget, the label only got X amount of dollars, you’d take the all in and figure it out.
So what I’d do was yeah, I have it setup now where I have a couple of key pieces of gear that I have to change between songs, but…
Matt: Sure, yeah.
Fabian: But quick picture that I put in the folder. You know what I’m saying? And if I have to go back to change it, I change it.
And at any given time, I’ve got 15 to 20 songs active. At any given time. And it’s kind of like, they’re bouncing around, and it’s like, I just take good notes. You know what I’m saying? And it is what it is. I just review, and I kind of make everybody hit me with the, “Alright, cool, send that in an e-mail.” Because I know we’re going to forget what the hell I just talked about.
I try my best to keep up with it, but yeah, so my workflow, with the summing, and you know, and I tried to keep my outboard gear to a minimum, but there are certain things I can do without. But yeah, so that’s how I kind of, you know, approach revisions. It’s not even a problem anymore, because I spent that time a couple of years ago.
See, but I did like an old school approach. There’s a lot of newer guys, and I don’t know how they can do it. You know what I’m saying? I don’t know how they can learn — like, I was able to get it to sound a certain way because I knew what was happening there, and I was able to — you know what I’m saying? Emulate it as opposed to — I guess that’s the way they learn, you know what I mean?
We’ll call it the new way. I don’t want to keep sounding like an old freaking man. I hate when guys talk like that to me, but you know, here I am. I think I might have gotten way off the subject, but that’s my workflow, you know?
Matt: [laughs] This interview was brought together by Aria Mastering.
So how have you been using Aria? I know that you use it a lot.
Fabian: Yeah, every day. It’s my — like, the Pro 250 mix a month thing is not even enough, you know what I’m saying? That thing is like, I told Collin, if there’s ever a power outage in Atlanta, I’m fucked. I’m totally fucked.
So you know, there are days — there are some days where I’ll get a cool record, like I did French Montana’s album recently, and we — a lot of his stuff, he uses Harry Fraud. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him. A producer from New York. He does a lot of that street sample type of music, so I was using Aria on mix type A, and I would just put the sample through there, and then line it back in.
It was really cool. You know what I mean? Things like that. But for the most part, it’s my — it replaces my old L2 maxed out. [laughs]
Matt: So you’re not just using it really as a mastering tool, you’re also using in the mix?
Fabian: Yeah, and bring it back into the mix. I’ve done snares with kicks, yeah. Cool man, you’ve got to be careful, because sometimes, you’ll take off some of the stuff, and it’s a tool to me. You know, it’s not just a mastering thing, it’s a tool, and I think — see, Aria to me has always been since Collin first introduced me to it, I was checking it out, and I was like, “Man, this is really great.”
For someone on my level, does it replace mastering? No. You know what I mean? Does it replace a mastering engineer. For me, no it doesn’t. To me, it’s a tool, and it’s a great tool.
For somebody that’s got their — I could see if I didn’t have access to Collin — you know what I mean? If I couldn’t afford or the project couldn’t afford Collin as a mastering engineer, then yeah, to me, it’s fucking the best thing in the world. You know what I mean?
I’ve had it, and I’m not going to say any names, but I’ve had it actually beat out things that were sent to master that I didn’t want — sometimes, I don’t have control. You know what I’m saying? Of where it goes?
So I sent things to major mastering, and you know what, I think it — I mean, sonically, it’s fucking awesome, man, but I think just like anything else, I think a lot of people get caught slipping sometimes. Us engineers, I’ve done it before, you know what I mean? I’ve had my ass kicked before, and I think, “How did I let this by? How did this guy do that?”
And I think that’s kind of what happens, and I think that’s the great thing about Aria is it keeps people on their toes. It’s definitely better than the other digital service, because I’ve tried all of them.
Matt: Some people suggest when new automated technologies come along, it can potentially hurt the field or diminish the craft.
Do you think Aria is going to be good for the field of mastering, or that it will be negative? What do you see as the ramifications?
Fabian: I think it’s absolutely a positive thing, and I’ll tell you why.
It’s going to take away a lot of the BS guys that are just robbing people. Okay? That are just Instagram famous clowns.
It’s also going to put the top tier guys on their P’s and Q’s, because it’s — it can no longer be auto pilot. That’s the beauty of Aria to me, and I’ve said this to Collin, and I said this to people, anybody that asks me about it.
It can no longer be auto pilot, because now, you have something that can work for cheaper than you that’s going to give a good result. A great result.
Matt: Well alright, man, thank you so much for taking a minute and chatting with me. It was much appreciated.
Fabian: My pleasure man, thanks for having me bro, I appreciate it.
Matt: It was much appreciated.
Fabian: I’ll see you — I mean, yeah, we definitely got to catch up bro.
Matt: Any time, I’ll hit you up. Come through.
Fabian: Yeah, you definitely, I know exactly where you’re at man. I’ll come knocking on the door. I’ll see you.
Alright Matt, take care, I’ll see you soon.
Matt: Yeah, take care.