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Chris Lord-Alge – Part 2: “Mixing & the Magic Chains”

Transcript
Chris: For me, Dan Harmon was one of the best teachers to me. He was so smart and really hard on me, and he taught me how to edit 2-track. I mean, Living in America was like, six minutes and forty five seconds long.

It became three minutes and forty seconds by him pointing to me and going, “Cut there, on that snare drum. There.”

“Where?”

“Here.”

And I’m slicing and he’s going, “No, do it again. That’s the master.”

Erica: Wow.

Chris: Loved it. But we were moving vocals around the same way, so I had no choice but to follow his lead, he said, “Just let me show you the path, don’t question it, just go with it.” So that was cool.

Erica: They didn’t have Command+Z then.

Chris: No Command+Z. Command+Z is that small sliver of tape that fell on the floor that you think was the one you used and you tape that back in. Yeah, Command+Z for all those out there, Command+Z is undo and we didn’t have undo back then or redo.

Erica: It’s a different approach now.

Chris: I think Command+Z almost makes it worse, because you may not commit to the perfect cut or the perfect edit. You’re like, “Ah, I can always fudge it and Command+Z it.”

Erica: So I’ve heard you mix in three hours or so?

Chris: Yeah, I mean, it depends on the song.

Erica: So how did you end up honing your style and getting it down to this sort of three hour science maybe?

Chris: Well, I mean, I think the three hour science is just because I figure the song out and there’s no nonsense about it, and I hear how I want it and I just get it there. You know. And that’s what makes it three hours.

There’s a lot involved that makes it three hours. It’s all that you’re so used to your rig, you have your stuff done the same way, there’s no questioning it. Also, to make it happen in three hours means that you don’t question your instincts ever. You never look back and only go forward, so that’s the winning combination right there.

Guys that are scratching their head, turning knobs, going, “I don’t know if this is going to work here, let me try something else.”

That’s not making a song become a hit or making it happen. That’s just screwing around.

Erica: At what point did it get to this science? Did you start off that confident and that tight and that sure? Or has it been a process of learning all your gear and figuring out what you like the best and what chains work best for you on vocals or guitars or whatever else it is you’re doing?

Chris: I think it’s exactly what you just said is you find all the magic chains, and you have them all ready for you. “The magic chains.” [laughs]

You have all the magic chains, and really you get them to work for you, and you know this is going to work no matter what on all these songs, or that that’s going to work, and once you get that, you know that half the problem solving is done, so what becomes more important is making the song work, because getting the puzzle figured out is the hard part. Making it sound good should be the easy part.

Speaking of mixing, looking at this desk, which is the car I’ve been driving for a few years now since its inception. I bought the one model and I stuck with it. Four or five hundred thousand miles later, it’s still working. Well, I guess we wouldn’t count it in miles, we’d count it in mixes.

I’d say ballpark, fifteen-thousand? On this console?

Erica: Fifteen-thousand?

Chris: Okay, maybe twelve-five. The oil change comes at fifteen. Maybe twelve-five is we’re still good.

Erica: How many records is that? Do you even know? I can’t do math.

Chris: It’s a pretty large number, but that covers a pretty large course of history, but I would say that this tool here was the best designed mixing tool ever made, because it’s like the piano of mixing, where right now, okay, I have a song on the desk, I can easily go and modify fourteen or fifteen different things as I talk to you, and not worry about a mouse on a screen, which everyone is used to, and move faders, and talk, and apply whatever I want to do all at once.

It was really designed for the hands on. Just cause and effect style of mixing. So it’s because it’s all analog.

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I mean, obviously, when I was introduced to it, I was more about the function of the desk than it competing with the sound.

The sound was great, but the thing that made it win the race was the affectibility of the automation, of the gates on every channel, the compressors, it was so built to do that thing that Clearmountain started. Like, when he started mixing, oh my god, that’s what it’s going. That’s where it’s going.

This console was the tool that engineered that style to happen.

Erica: You consider Clearmountain the ground zero of mixing. Yes?

Chris: Absolutely. For me, it was — Bob is the creator of — like, he is the master of who started the mixing, which became a thing.

Erica: Because it wasn’t a thing prior.

Chris: No, it was like, the engineer would mix a song after the last overdub, make a few tweaks to the producer, and off it goes to mastering.

There wasn’t “the guy” that grabbed the song or the tape and went to his own place and did his mix. He was the first one that became the hired gun to grab whatever, and Bob’s going to do it.

As soon as I got wind of that, all I wanted to do was be like Bob. Even to this day, I still feel that if I can be in the same league as Bob — and this is not me just Bobbing out here, but it’s just me being honest about it.

Erica: What record in particular? Was there one in particular that inspired you of his work?

Chris: Reckless by Bryan Adams. When you hear the drums on that, you just hear how loud the thing is, and the guitars. I mean, obviously that, but once you’ve heard Let’s Dance, game over.

Erica: So you have all of these chains. Are they all analog right now? I mean, with the CLA plug-ins and all the plug-ins that are at your finger tips, I would imagine that you have a collection over the years, and the ability to get your hands on really fabulous equipment.

Are you doing mostly analog or a combination?

Chris: Definitely — on this side of the desk, where I am, it’s all analog. So I picked all of my favorite stuff analog to plug-in.

When I build the master from the other side where the Pro Tools rig is, I’ll use some of my plug-ins to at least make the recording sound more like it’s corrected or ready to go, but all of my stuff on this side of the desk, because the console is analog, is all of my analog chains and all of my outboard gear.

And yeah, I’ve picked some winners over the years for sure.

Erica: What’s your favorite?

Chris: I mean, my favorite is definitely for vocals, the blue 1176s, and the particular one that I use, I mean, I have the one limiter that’s seen every singer. I mean, it’s gone from Bono to Springsteen. It’s gone from Daughtry to Nickelback, from Stevie Nicks to Sheryl Crow, from Shine Down to Sugarland. I mean, Tina Turner to you know, I mean…

Erica: How is it that it works for everyone?

Chris: Well this one particular one just has character that works on 90% of the vocal tracks I get. So if there’s ever a fire, I’m unscrewing that one and leaving the rest to go. [laughs]

Erica: With the new technology, with every — a lot of people doing stuff in the box, has it changed — it must have changed the process of mixing for you by what you were receiving from producers?

Chris: Well of course. I mean, for me, the mixing in the box, I see how it works for people, and if they’re happy with it, great. Now, with recording, there’s less to EQ it, less to — keep it flat, and let him deal with it later.

There’s more about this stuff that needs to be super charged a bit more than it used to be, because we’re not dealing with hiss, we’re just dealing with the file.

Erica: But now you must be dealing with more tracks then you’ve dealt with before?

Chris: I would say the numbers have definitely steadily increased. I don’t see anything below a hundred anymore. I see stuff closer to 200.

Erica: That’s a lot of sound to organize.

Chris: Especially through 48 faders or 44 faders.

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