Stan Greene - Mix Engineer

Psychology of a Mix Engineer: An Interview With Stan Greene

Stan Greene is a mix engineer based out of North Hollywood, CA.  He started his career working at one of the most renowned studios in Los Angeles – Larrabee Sound Studios in North Hollywood, CA and worked as a mix assistant to Grammy award winning mixer Manny Marroquin. He assisted on records such as Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive” and Colbie Caillat’s “Favorite Song”. After interning and assisting for over 2 years at Larrabee, Stan decided it was time to step out on his own and pursue engineering head on.

Since his departure from Larrabee, Stan has gone on to mix on projects such as Big Sean‘s Billboard #1 selling album “Dark Sky Paradise”, Wale‘s Billboard #1 selling album “The Album About Nothing”, O.T. Genasis‘s RIAA Gold smash hit single “CoCo”, the Terminator: Genisys Soundtrack, Danity Kane’s Dawn Richard’s consecutive #1 solo projects (“Armor On” & “Goldenheart”), The FiNaTTicZ‘s hit single “Don’t Drop That Thun Thun”, and many more!

Get in touch with Stan:
Website: stangreenemix.com
Twitter: @MixerStan

 

Can you describe how you got your start in music?

Music has pretty much always been a part of my life. My mom used to be a singer/songwriter, my uncle was a drummer and my other uncle was the program director for a radio station in Philly.  So I was always surrounded by music.

At an early age, I dabbled in production and song writing.  The thing about me though is that I’m very realistic with myself and my abilities. I was producing and writing but realized I wasn’t really that good so I decided that I should focus on something else.

I probably got into engineering, eleven or twelve years ago but it was on a much smaller scale back then.  I went to college at Howard University and I actually got a degree in Business Management before I went to recording arts school for a year in Washington DC.  Even back in high school and college, I was recording in my dorm room or in the basement of my mom’s house.  I was always trying to come up with ways to make things sound better.

 

Now were you recording people because you were producing and wanted people to rap or sing over your productions?

Exactly.  It was more so because I was recording my own stuff.  For example, if I made a beat and was making a demo, I had to record vocals and mix it down to make it sound like a completed project before I sent it off to try and get placed.

When I first started out I was using this program called Cool Edit Pro [Laughs], I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it or not.  I used to use that program extensively back then.  Actually, at the point when I thought that I should take recording and engineering classes (to get better and really take it serious) was when I decided to buy Pro Tools for the first time.

I really wanted to get my stuff to sound good and be on a more professional level so I bought Pro Tools – I think version 6 or 7.  As you know, Pro Tools is way more advanced then Cool Edit so when I opened it up for the first time I was like “I have no idea how to use this thing” [Laughs].  I had a session in a day or two and I panicked so I cancelled the session.

It was at that point that I decided to look up places that gave classes to learn Pro Tools.  At first I just wanted to go to a weekend course and do one or two classes to get a feel for it but I ended up enrolling in a full audio engineering course for a year and a half at a great school called Omega Studios School of Applied Recording Arts and Sciences in Rockville, Maryland.  I just got totally immersed in engineering, was at the top of my class and was all in.

From there I was like, “you know what, I want to focus on being a mixer” and that’s kind of how it started.

 

Did you get the Mbox when you first got Pro Tools?  Like what gear were you using back then?

Yup, I had the Mbox for a while.  I actually still have mine. [Laughs]

mbox

 

Me too [Laughs].  On your website I read that you assisted for Manny [Marroquin].  Can you talk about that for a bit?

So after I graduated from Omega, I was thinking of ways that I could get into bigger studios that had more artists for mixing seriously.  One of the things I was doing was listening to a lot of music (of course) and I would always look at the credits and see that a lot of my favorite songs were mixed by this guy named Manny [Marroquin].  I was like “who is this guy?” He’s mixing every song that I open up and he’s mixing at a studio called Larrabee.

Manny Marroquin at Larrabee Studios (photo courtesy of AEFPR)

Manny Marroquin at Larrabee Studios (photo courtesy of AEFPR)

I was trying to figure out how I could become his assistant mixing engineer like did I have to apply or email him? I really wasn’t sure.  I figured out that the best way to get in was to work my way up at a studio so I started cold calling a bunch of different studios from Miami, to New York, Nashville and everywhere else.  I actually called Larrabee first and out of all the studios that I called, they were the ones that were hiring interns.  But the condition was that I had to move out there, get a car, and find a place to stay BEFORE they would consider me!  So I dropped everything in DC, and moved to LA.

Some people move to LA but still don’t know what they really want to do but I moved there because I wanted to be a mixer and because I wanted to work under Manny.  I had a really focused goal of what I wanted.  When I got to Larrabee, I was an intern at first but I worked my way up to a runner.  After about a year or so into doing all that, Manny asked me if I wanted to start helping out in his room with his assistant at the time and still my good friend, Erik Madrid. I was like “Yeah I would love too!”. I was calm on the outside, but jumping like crazy on the inside!  From there I was assisting.

 

And was there any knowledge that he passed along that you feel is vital to your mixing these days and also what it was like to work with him?

To be honest, one of the biggest things that I learned from assisting Manny was how he deals with people and his clients.  He’s extremely personable.  He makes you feel like your one of his homies right when you meet him for the first time and makes you feel really comfortable.  That was one of the things that amazed me.  When I first move to LA, I wasn’t really like that and I learned to be more personable and social by watching Manny.

I think learning to deal with people is a huge part of being an engineer – especially a mixer.  If an artist or client doesn’t feel comfortable with you and you’re making mixing decisions on their baby, they’re not really going to trust your creative decisions as much.

Also, I was a younger engineer that grew up in the digital age. Manny is mostly all analog.  I’ve never seen someone as analog as Manny.  He’s a huge gear head.  All that gear that you see in those pictures, he uses [Laughs]. That’s not for show! You can definitely hear all the analog gear in his mixes, they’re very warm and musical when they need to be. I try and incorporate a hybrid of that analog sound with the digital world in my mixes.

 

I heard your mixes and it seems like you mix many different styles.  What’s your philosophy when it comes to going from, let’s say, a hip hop record to a pop or country song?

I think that it’s all about the approach.  A lot of times when people come to you for a mix it’s because they want your ear.  It’s a fine line between trying to impart how you hear the song and also maintain the vision of the artist. If you decide a song needs a fat punchy drum but the artist doesn’t want that, you could end up losing a client and they’ll go to somebody else who “knows how to mix their style of music”.

With me, the way I approach songs is that each song is different and I approach every one as an individual body of work, which I think helps tremendously when mixing different styles.  I’m not going to mix a rock song the same way that I’m going to mix a hip hop song.  I don’t make all my kicks big and fat and I don’t make all my synths very aggressive and mid rangey.  It just depends on the song.

But when I do mix I try to make it sound as full and as big as possible but with their vision of the song in mind.  The best thing you can do as a mixer is just defer to the artist and put your ego aside.

 

Another thing that I noticed is that you use a lot of reverbs and delays.  Is that fair to say or I’m hearing something to that effect but isn’t really there?

I mean I like to do a lot of cool little effects here and there but it all depends on the song.  If there is a lot of space in the verses between words then automatically I think about adding effects but it’s all in respect to the song.  So if I feel like the song really needs it, I’ll try something.  If I think the song is empty and I know the artist wants it like that but I still want to add a little something, then I have to figure out if its that important to me to add that and if it helps with the emotional impact of the song.

 

Something I noticed about your midrange is that it sounds very crisp and clean and it’s not smeary.  So is that something you focus on during the mixing or is that something that the mastering engineer addresses when he gets the track.

When I send out my mixes for mastering I try to get them as close as possible to where I think it should be. So yeah, I do actually like to have a really clear focused mid range.

I was actually having this discussion with a mixing buddy of mine and we were going back and forth doing blind tests on converters. He was talking about one of his favorites and I was like “I kinda like this other one”.  We both realized that the converter I liked was more aggressive in the mid range where as the one he liked had the mids scooped out a bit.  Right there I realized like wow, that’s how I mix too [Laughs].  I kind of gravitated towards the converter that brought out more of the mids.

So yeah, that’s something I definitely focus on and yeah, I love it, it sounds great to me.  But of course, too much and it would hurt the mix so over the years, I’ve kind of figured out how to massage it so it still sounds good and smooth but it’s also still present.

 

Okay, since you mentioned the converters, can you tell me which ones you are using and how you are using them?  What are you doing to get that midrange you’re talking about?

Well one of the cool things about my set up is I don’t have a lot of high end, expensive gear. All my friends that hear my mixes are always like “What are you doing?  Are you mixing on a board?”  I always tell them that it’s pretty much all in the box.

When you first start, you don’t have a lot of gear so you try and maximize the potential of your gear.  I’m an extremely aggressive and competitive person and still wanted to mix at that high level but I didn’t have all the gear that these other guys had.  So I had to figure out how to use it.

So currently right now I’m using 2 Saffire pro 40’s as my interfaces and I run my mixes through a Dangerous D-Box which has 8 channels of analog summing that I use extensively.

Saffire Pro 40

The one thing I want people to take away from this article after reading it is that it doesn’t matter what kind of gear you have. Its about the music and your ears. Don’t limit your thinking to always trying to get the latest and greatest.  Some of your favorite songs were done on pieces of gear you probably wouldn’t expect!

 

So the Dbox is giving you the mid range color that you like?

It definitely helps for sure.  I honestly don’t know what I would do without the Dbox, it’s amazing [Laughs].  I wouldn’t give it away for anything in the world.  It’s funny, because I’ve done mixes (just to see what it would sound like) where I would and wouldn’t run the mix through the D-Box and it’s a drastic difference.  If you heard the mixes without the D-box you wouldn’t describe them the way that you just described them now.  It sounded good but it just sounded lifeless, it didn’t have as much warm mid range, it wasn’t as wide and I felt like I couldn’t get to a good mix as fast.  So yeah I run mixes out of that back into the Pro-40.

d-box

 

Can you talk about your set up?  Like from top to bottom, what are you working with?

I’m mixing everything pretty much out of my NS-10’s and the amp is a QSC Audio RMX 1450.  It’s a pretty simple set up.  I have the Saffire pro 40, the Dangerous Dbox and I actually just bought my own Warm Audio 1176 and Pultec replicas which I just got in the mail.  And that’s pretty much it.  It’s pretty simple and getting the sound that I have now was just a whole lot of trial and error for years trying to get my stuff to compete.

 

And what about your room?  How big is it?  Is there treatment?

It’s crazy because a lot of stuff that I’ve done up until a few months ago was done out of my apartment in my bedroom. I mixed CoCo in that room! I treated the hell out of it using a company called GIK Acoustics.  I got a bunch of their 242 panels and their bass traps strategically placing stuff around my room.  I just treated everything to where it absorbed enough of the frequencies to where I thought I could get an accurate picture of my mix.

Stan's Original Setup

When I first started in my room about 5 years ago, I had to reference things in my car but once I got a feel for how things responded in my room I essentially didn’t have to do too much of that.  At a certain point, I kind of knew exactly what was coming out of my NS-10’s when I was mixing.  That’s just attributed to me mixing everyday.

 

Back to the Dbox for a bit, are you pushing into it?  How much headroom do give when you print back in Pro Tools?

It depends. I have the sum output at max level or close to it most times.  Also I’ve only really used one interface so I don’t know if using another interface would give me more headroom, you know what I mean?

In terms of printing it back into Pro Tools, I give it a good 10dB of headroom I want to say.  From there, I’ll push it up with my master bus processing.

 

Okay, so let’s talk about that then.  I wanted to ask you what you’re using on your mix bus.  You’re monitoring the Dbox and it goes back into Pro Tools to print, but are you monitoring your mix bus plugin chain before or after the Dbox?

It depends on how you want to mix.  D-box aside, I mix with nothing on my master bus pretty much until a certain point.  To start of with, it’s a completely naked mix except for individual processing on the tracks.  Once I get to certain point in the mix where I think it feels really good, I’ll start pushing it some more but it’s only when I get to certain point.

In terms of processing before or after the D-Box, I always like hearing my mixes from the D-Box after my processing in Pro Tools – I don’t like hearing it before.  To me, it doesn’t make sense honestly so I like hearing everything after my master bus processing.  So most of the time, I don’t have anything on there at first and I’m mixing with the D-box, I’m hearing that sound, and then I’ll start adding things on when I get closer to the end of the mix.

 

So at that point, you start getting it up to a more finished mastered sound and then go back and make tweaks if anything starts to fall apart?

Exactly, yeah.

 

When you print your mix inside of Pro Tools, do you add anything else or just a limiter?

Just through trial and error, I have like 8 or 9 processors on my master bus.  They always change because I’m trying new things.  I’m sorry [Laughs], let me clarify, they aren’t all active.  Depending on the song or the genre of the song I’ll start making things active like a certain EQ or compression and I’ll try them out.  If they don’t sound right, then I’ll make them inactive and I’ll try another compressor that has a whole other vibe.

So instead of always reinserting that plugin for every new session, I kind of just bring that in automatically and they’re all inactive.  So overall I might use like 2 or 3 active plugins on my master that I actually use for the final mix.  It’s usually always going to be an EQ and a limiter.  Sometimes I like to use compression but honestly man I don’t even do a lot of stereo bus compression on my mixes.  I don’t know if you can hear that or not but to me I did it for a while and I never liked how my mixes sounded.  It’s weird because you always hear about stereo bus compression like it’s a staple and you have to use it.  Maybe I do a good job of compressing things inside the mix, individually but yeah on a lot of records I’ve done I didn’t use stereo bus compression.

 

Do you use limiters on the individual tracks as well or just the mix bus?

Um, it depends.  I don’t really use them too much on individual tracks.  I mainly use them on my master fader. I love the limiter from Ozone. It has great flexibility.  As much as we mixers don’t like limiters, it’s essential that you have one.  Artists want to hear it loud right? [Laughs] If their demo song is louder then your final mix then you’re going to have a problem.  You kind of have to learn how to love them.

 

izotope-ozone6-imager-full

 

Can you explain your workflow in regards to organization and editing?  Do you use templates?

One of the biggest things with mixing especially if your mixing a lot of songs in a month or a year is organization.  I’ve gone back to older sessions I’ve done and was like “oh my gosh, the snare’s here and the background vocals are there”.  Everything was all over the place.  So the first thing I do when I get a session is I organize it.  I put all the drums and instruments first, at the top of the screen and then the vocals afterwards all with their own color scheme.  That gives me a consistent color-coded layout so that if I ever want to go back 3 months from now, all the sessions are pretty much going to look the same and I’ll know exactly where everything is.  So the first things I always do are organize, lay it out on my screen, color code it and route everything.

I have an FX template that I bring into every session.  It’s literally FX that I’ve used and created over the last 4 years.  I would say I probably bring in at least 50 or 60 FX tracks into my template.  Half of them are inactive just to save processing power.

FX Screenshot 1

Stan Greene’s FX Template 1

FX Screenshot 2

Stan Greene’s FX Template 2

 

Wait, 50 or 60 tracks of effects?

[Laughs] Yeah, I mean half are inactive and half I pretty much use all the time and then some are really cool crazy trippy effects.

 

So can you explain some of these effects that you are using?

Well I won’t use all 50 of those effects in every song.  So it’s similar to how I do it with my master bus where I have 8 or 9 plugins loaded but they aren’t all active and I’ll bring them in when I feel I need to.  So I’ll always bring in like 50 or 60 FX tracks but I might only ever use 5 or 6 of them.

Because I mix a good amount songs over the course of a month, if I were to manually recreate every single FX track then that would waste time so it’s all about time saving so I can be as effective and as fast as possible.  If I’m like “this interlude needs a couple trippy effects” then I’ll bring in my “Stan trippy delay” and I’ll make it active and punch it in.  It’s about having it there so I can shave off a couple seconds here and there with the setup process.

 

Okay but can give me an idea of the kind of FX you’ve created?

It’s all the basics, I mean I’ve always used a reverb – short and long.

 

And which plugins do you use for that?

It depends.  I’ll use the UAD Cooper Time Cube sometimes, the Dverb or the Altiverb if I want a really cool lush reverb from an impulse response like the Bricasti.  If I want something a bit more gritty or dirty then I’ll throw on the D-verb.  Then I’ll just have different variations of delays like a trippy delay, a delay that’s panning, a delay that slightly flanges and pans or I’ll have a delay that flanges just down the right side of your ear.  So I have all these different cool things and then variations of it.

Altiverb7

 

Where would you start first?  Do you get a balance going or do you start with one instrument and build everything around that?

It depends on the song and the instruments but most of the songs are going to have drums so I’ll usually start with the drums and get them to slap really hard.  Then from there I’ll just work my way down, like the drums, the bass, the music and then finally the vocals.

But honestly, there’s times (maybe 1 out of 4) where I’ll do a mix and I’ll start with the drums, then the bass and a few hours in I’ll hate the mix.  I’ll bring everything down and then start all over again [Laughs].  I’ve started over on so many mixes and they always come out better – it’s funny.

 

As far as EQing goes, are you doing more subtractive, additive or is it an equal amount of both?

I probably add more EQ on the master buss then I do on the individual tracks.  I do a lot of subtractive EQ like notching out frequencies that are annoying to me and taking out frequencies in the low mids sometimes.  I do way more of that then I do additive.

It depends on the song too.  If the vocals were recorded in a garage or with a really weak mic, I’m going to have to add a bunch of EQ, there’s just no way around it.  I don’t care about the rules, if I have to add 10dB at 3k, I’m going to do it to get it to sound good.  But if I get pretty good vocals that have been recorded well, I don’t just automatically add like 12k to make it sound bright.  I’m usually notching out a lot of that stuff so it sounds smoother and it fits better when I want to boost a little more – volume that is!

 

In regards to cutting frequencies, are there areas that you find yourself gravitating more towards?

Well because every song is different and every one has a different vocal chain, there’s no specific frequency I go to.  I’m usually always just sweeping around but usually I find that between 2k and 7k is where I’m notching out frequencies the most.

 

Really? And what about the build up in the low mids?

Oh yeah for sure, I’m always doing a scoop here or there on the low mids and then in the highs I’m notching things out.  I’m generally using a really tight Q like around 18 or 20 so it’s really precise.  But yeah the low mids I’m generally doing a light scoop and that’s almost always automatic.

 

And what about the instruments?  Do you find yourself trying to sculpt those around the vocals and drums for example?

Yeah and it’s cool because I just realized that the [Fabfilter] Pro-Q 2 can use side chaining to compare two different waveforms which I just started doing.  Usually I just do it by ear but it helps me when certain frequencies aren’t working together.  So a lot of times I’ll use the Pro-Q2 to see where the frequencies are clashing and then I’ll notch out whichever one I want to sit in the background.

Fabfilter ProQ 2

 

That’s interesting.  So you’re saying that I can pull up two sounds on the same graph?

Oh yeah, definitely.

 

So I’ve been using it for like a year and I never knew that? [Laughs]

Yo dude, I’m telling you the Pro Q2 is amazing.  I just used it last night, there was a guitar line that was clashing with the vocals so I chose “bus 1” for the key input on the guitar and then sent the vocals to that bus and then I saw both of those frequency graphs flying around.  Then you can hold one of the waveforms and then just pull it down and it fits right it.  It’s amazing.

 

What’s your favourite in-the-box EQ and why?

My favorite one?  That’s hard because each one does it’s own thing you know what I mean?  I am using the Pro-Q2 a lot.  Is it cool if I give you a list of like 4?

 

Yeah but I mean if you can’t find your favorite, then what about the EQ that you tend to use the most?

Okay, so the Pro-Q2, the Digi EQ3, and REQ 6 I use a lot but I also have been using the UAD Pultec – It’s really really smooth.  I feel like right when I put it on, without doing anything, it sounds great and slightly better.  When I push a certain frequency, it really does something nice to whatever I’m running through it.

Also, if I’m mixing a track and I can’t get the stems, I use the [Plugin Alliance] Noveltech Character plugin a lot, which uses technology that affects many different frequencies in a signal that’s pleasing to the ear. It can add nice warmth and body to certain things when used right.

noveltech-character

 

And what’s you’re go-to ITB compressor?

For compression I use the Softube Tubetech CL 1B compressor and the Milennia TCL-2 from Plugin Alliance.  They are both emulations of their classic hardware counterparts.  I don’t do a ton of compression at all actually [Laughs], but they are the ones that I use the most.

cl1b

 

So if you aren’t doing a lot of compression I’m assuming you do a lot of parallel comrpression?

Sometimes, yeah I do.  When I’m processing drums, I’m kind of EQing and sound designing in a way to get it to where I want it to go.  But yeah, I do use parallel compression sometimes, it just depends.  I have no real rules and it just goes back to my approach that every song is different.  So sometimes I’ll do parallel compression, other times I’ll just EQ the shit out of the drums and other times I might send it to a distortion effect and add some grit to it.  I don’t think I’ve processed drums exactly the same on every mix or even on the same album.

 

Are there any plugins that you like in terms of adding crunch or mid range punch to a sound?

Yeah the Slate VMR plugin has a Neve 1073 emulation and it’s crazy because they have a drive and line input knob section on it. I was playing around with it one time on a vocal and I just turned up the line input.  I was like “Whoa, wait a minute.  These vocals sound way better now” [Laughs].

 

So all you did was dial in the line input a bit and boom, they popped out?

I just turned the line input knob up 1 db and it sounded amazing.  I haven’t tried the UAD or Waves versions but I’m sure they sound amazing too.

 

If you could give me one technique for mixing hip hop drums so that I could leave and become a better mixer, what would that technique be?

Man, you know what?  This not only goes for hip hop drums but anything really.  If you want your mix to be big, fat and punchy, it’s all about gain staging [Laughs].  There’s been some mixes that I’ve gotten from some people that sounded pretty good but it just sounded kind of cluttered or it was pushing the master bus way too hard.  So I would bring things back down to a comfortable level and then start pushing things forward.  So if it’s a hip hop song and I want the drums to be more punchy, I’ll bring things down so I have more room.  It’s so simple because I’ll have more headroom to make the drums punchy as opposed to trying to push everything up so there’s no room to make anything have their own space.

When I really started focusing on gain staging, it really started to make my mixes bigger, fatter and punchier.  You just have more room to play with in the mix.  So that’s the biggest tip that no one wants to focus on.  Everyone wants to focus on the plugins or the tricks, which helps, but if you’re parallel compressing drums that are being pushed to the max in your mix, it’s still not going to sound big.

 

So to sum it up, you’re saying that to make it louder, you have to make it quieter?

[Laughs] Yeah, pretty much.

 

Okay great, well that’s pretty much all I have so thanks so much for your time and for being part of the interview.

Yeah, no problem. Thanks a lot.

 

  • Scenarist

    I also started with cool edit pro. at the time I did not have a dedicated interface and used a radioshack mic plugged directly into my soundblaster sound card

  • Rob Mayzes

    Awesome interview Justin.

    Really good to hear somebody talking about the importance of being personable and friendly as an engineer. Too many people overlook this!

  • Chad Sabo

    Stan, so proud of you man! Awesome interview. Looking forward to more killer mixes from you!

  • Jonathan Glover

    The drums on CoCo baaaaang! Good interview. Need to get a D-box now.

  • Brittany Jo Sojka

    Incredible interview!! From someone who knows nothing about mixing, that was a cool read to understand more about what Stan and other mix engineers do! Does not sound like an easy job, but how fun!
    Great story of someone following their passion, moving to California, and being successful here!

    • Thank Stephanie. I’m sure Stan would be happy to hear your comments!

  • doug hall

    Nice interview, Justin! I’m a fan of Stan’s work. Best to him and you, too.

    • Thanks Doug. Best of luck sent your way as well!

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