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VLOG #1: Matthew Weiss, Taylor Swift & Black Box Analog Design HG-2 Plugin

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VLOG #1: Matthew Weiss, Taylor Swift & Black Box Analog Design HG-2 Plugin
VLOG #1: Matthew Weiss, Taylor Swift & Black Box Analog Design HG-2 Plugin - youtube Video
Hey folks, Matthew Weiss here, welcome to the new Monday, Wednesday, Friday video log, courtesy of The Pro Audio Files. I’ll be your host, Matt Weiss. Normally, in every show, I’m going to do a featurette, but since today is the very, very first of these, the featurette is going to be on me so you know who I am.

I guess you don’t really need to know that much, but the basic gist of it is I’m a music producer/audio engineer, I’ve been working in the business for about a decade, maybe a decade and a half depending on how you define the word, “working,” and I’ve been working on some pretty cool projects. I’m not going to brag, but there’s a discography and all that kind of stuff.

Anyway, suffice to say, I’ve been teaching for awhile, I’ve been working for awhile, a lot of good things have happened.

Now, a couple little background tidbits on me. My parents were both artists, my father was a bass player, my mother was a sculpturist, they’re both retired and in different businesses now, but I grew up with that background, and I carried music with my all throughout my childhood, getting into high school, I was working the sound board pretty often at all of the school plays and functions. Even in college, I was working as a sound tech.

Went to school originally for creative writing, but I decided that I was going to switch over to music, because at the time in my life, I wanted to be Danny Elfman. I mean, let’s be real, who wouldn’t want to be Danny Elfman? Those scores are amazing!

Anyway, that didn’t really pan out exactly the way I wanted. Well, maybe a little bit, but it sort of occurred to me that it wasn’t so much that I wanted to be necessarily making music all the time, it’s just that I really loved music. It’s always been in me, it’s always been something I’ve been interested in, and so I started veering off toward the field of not so much making my own music, but helping other people make theirs.

That’s come in a number of different forms, whether it’s been producing bedding tracks, helping other people produce bedding tracks, adding instrumentation, or recording and mixing the recordings themselves.

So this eventually turned into a career. Took a little while to get off the ground, and I would say the most important thing that made this work was that I started bumming myself up to New York, where I met up with a gentleman named Mark Marshall, who took me under as an apprentice, and I met up with a woman named Denise Barbarita who did the same.

Those two people have been hugely influential on my life. They are still people that I rely on to this day whenever I need advice, or whenever I just need to have a little pat on the back or whatever, and Mark actually contributes to this channel as well.

Then when I got myself back to Philadelphia, I decided that I was going to make it as a studio engineer. Mind you, this was about 2007, when studio internships and studio engineering jobs had shrank massively. There had been a lot of studio closures.

So I decided I was going to get in one way or another, and I started telling everybody around town of Philadelphia that I didn’t care what it would take, I was going to get them into a studio so I can record and work on their music, and that would mean even helping the bands pay for the actual day if need be.

So I repeated this process for a little while, and found myself at a place called Studio E recording a jazz band, which is owned by a gentleman named Bobby Eli. He decided that I did a really good job, he was impressed with what I was doing, and he asked me to come back the following week to help him out, and on my very first day, I got to meet Damon Harris from The Temptations, which was pretty cool.

I stayed with Bobby for about three years, then moved on to become a freelancer. So that’s my story, that’s where I’m coming from. Now, every show, not only will I be featuring somebody who maybe doesn’t get the shine that they deserve, or just deserves the spotlight for a moment for something, but I will also be featuring something that’s happening new in music today, and this week, I’m going to kick it off with something that basically, if you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve already heard, and that’s the controversial, and I don’t know why it’s so controversial, Taylor Swift song, “Look What You Made Me Do.”

So I’m going to play a little bit of it, and then I’m going to discuss not so much whether I like it or dislike it, because I don’t think that’s so important, but perhaps, try and figure out where some of the controversy is coming from.


Okay, so obviously, I skipped the verse there, and there’s a reason why. I think the controversy really comes around the chorus, or, as what I’d like to point out, the anti-chorus.

So what does that mean? Well, we’ve got this pre-chorus where it’s steadily building. There’s a lot of tension in the pre-chorus, there’s a lot of these distune things that are happening, there’s a crescendo that’s happening, it’s building up, it’s building up, it’s building up, and then rather than this big chorus that has this full out chord that really emphasizes the key of the song, which is what we’re really used to hearing, and a top line that’s like, a melody that’s really catchy, it does exactly the opposite.

Everything disappears and it moves to just a drum beat and a very, very dry vocal that’s basically being spoken. So that’s called an anti-chorus. It’s where you expect big, but you get small.

Now, we’ve seen some really successful examples of this. One of my favorite has been on the more recent Meghan Trainor records we’ve heard on No and Me Too, this occurs, and then the anti-chorus turns into a full chorus the second time it passes around, so if you want to check that out, I’m going to pull them up real quick.


So you’ll notice that sort of followed the same format, where there was this big buildup in the pre-chorus, then it dropped to this very sparse drum beat, along with a spoken kind of chorus where there really isn’t any kind of top line, it’s all just sort of said, and there’s no real reinforcement of the chord, and then when the chorus goes back to itself for the beat part, that’s when it becomes the actual chorus chorus. So it’s a really interesting format where it goes pre-chorus, anti-chorus, chorus.

But the Taylor Swift song doesn’t do that, and so it commits to this very dark, very stark look on things, which of course, is going to polarize people in how they take it.

What I will say is that the Taylor Swift song has a really, really cool introduction going into the first verse, so if nothing else, you can appreciate that. Of course, my opinion is just my opinion, and it’s not the only opinion, so what do you think of the Taylor Swift song? Do you think it’s well produced? Do you think it’s well written? Do you hate it? Do you love it? Do you hate it and love it?

Let me know in the comments section what you think, and maybe don’t just comment what you think, but maybe also throw down why, because that’s really what music production is about. Understanding why people receive things the way that they do.

Now, the third thing that I plan on doing every episode is going to be something that features a technique that centers around a piece of equipment, or some kind of technological development that I happen to be particularly fond of.

This week, I’m going to be featuring the Black Box HG-2 by Analog Designs that’s founded by my friend Eric Racy. This is a really, really cool plugin modeled off of a hardware unit that he built awhile back. It’s pretty new to me, I’m still getting used to it, it has a lot of moving parts in its controls, but what it does is it uses distortion to create various textural effects that can draw the ear to the sound, or grind the living snot out of it, depending on what you’re trying to do. Usually, I’m trying to draw ears to the sound.


Anyway, I’m going to play the before and after, and show you what I mean.

Alright, here we are without it.

[mix, no HG-2]

And now listen to the low end.

[mix, with HG-2]

So I’m giving it just a little bit of color on all of the low end elements, meaning the kick, the bass synth, and the 808. All of it is going to one buss, which is then being ground up just a little bit in this analog box, Black Box Designs HG-2. It’s got like, five names. Bear with me.

Alright, so here we are in solo mode without it.

[low end soloed, no HG-2]

And with.

[low end, with HG-2]

So it’s very subtle. I’m not really changing much with it, and what I can show you is that I’ve got these little two gain stages set in a way that I feel compliments the sound. This triode kind of gives things a little bit of glow and pop in the upper-mids. It’s not quite as full as the pentode, but it’s a little bit more pointed, and the pentode is a little bit more of even and odd harmonics, so it’s giving a fuller and grittier sound.

In this case, I wanted something that was a bit more pointed and a bit more subtle, so I’m leaning more on the triode than on the pentode, but what I can do right now is I can go in the other direction here. If I lean on the pentode…

[low end, pentode engaged]

So that difference is subtle, but when I lean more on the pentode, I get what I would describe as a pillowier, sort of chewier sound, whereas when I lean more on the triode, I get sort of a more polished and pointed sound, although both do do a little bit of rounding to the overall sound in general.

Alright, let’s hear it in the mix again. Without.

[mix, no HG-2]


[mix, with HG-2]

And chewy pentode, just for fun.

[mix, pentode engaged]

Actually kind of has a cool sound in the mix with leaning more on the pentode, but anyway, what I really want to point out is I’m using distortion, not so much to actually distort the sound, but I’m using that color and that little bit of extra kind of compression that’s happening to draw the ear to the sound. In a way, I’m using distortion to make something clearer, which is a little counter-intuitive, but kind of a cool effect.

So if you’ve got the Black Box Analog Design HG-2, drop a little something in the comments section. Give me a tip on a way that I could use it. How are you using it? Because I’m pretty new to this thing, there’s a lot of moving parts, and maybe I could learn something for sure.

Also, if you’re doing a similar technique to what I just demonstrated, I would love to hear what you’re using to do that, if not this particular plugin. Let me know.

Alright guys, this show is brought to you by you, so if you dig what I’m doing, click that like button, and click that subscribe button if you want to get more of it, more content, more great information on music production. Also, we’ve got a lot of cool things that you can check out in the description section. A lot of cool links, a lot of good tutorials, one of the ones that’s coming up is Mixing with Reverb, it’s coming out September 18th, it’s something I made so you can understand what reverb is, what it does, and how to use it in your music production.

Alright guys, I’ll catch you on Wednesday.


Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

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