Psychology of a Mix Engineer: An Interview With Chris Carter

Fiesty Chicken StudiosChris ‘Von Pimpenstein’ Carter grew up in Eugene, Oregon where he made his first professional recordings in high school as a founding member of the – then popular local band – The Boogie Patrol Express.  He is an award-winning hit record producer and mix engineer with three #1 hit radio singles, numerous top 40 charting records and over 100 placements in film/tv.  Some of the artists Chris has worked with include Jasmine Trias, The Backstreet Boys, J. Holiday, Christabelle, Mr. Rally, and more.  Check out his Wikipedia Bio.

Chris is currently working out of his Professional facility known as The Feisty Chicken.  The studio is located a few miles north of Washington, D.C. in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Chris was gracious enough to take a break from mixing and give his time for this interview where he removed all filters and held nothing back.


Where did the nickname ‘Von Pimpenstein’ come from?

I was producing a rock record and due to what I will call a “personnel issue” there was no drummer.  So I programmed the drums and did a good enough job that, to this day, nobody knows other than the band and anyone else in the studio.  When I turned in the credits I just didn’t list a drummer, but the band wanted to credit me of course. I told them not to credit me as the drummer since anyone who knows me knows I don’t play drums.  I was concerned it would damage the record’s indie rock street cred., if you know what I mean.  And since I could care less about that particular credit, it didn’t bother me.  I told the band to credit anyone else, or make up a name.  When I got the CD it said the drums were played by “Chris Von Pimpenstein.” After that it started to become a little bit of a running joke and the name stuck.


What does your current mixing set up consist of?

Cubase 6.5I’m mixing in Cubase [6.5] now; I gave up on Pro Tools a long time ago.  A lot of people like it but it just seems mindless to me to continue working with a piece of software that has so many handicaps.  It just couldn’t do what every other program could do.  In Pro Tools 10 they were bragging about Clip Gain, I’m like seriously?  Everyone else had that since like 1999 [laughs].  Also, being tied to their hardware is stupid and running Pro Tools Native just wasn’t going to cut it because I’m running 200 channels on a mix.  Plus a majority of the files that come to me are consolidated files anyway.  Since switching I think I’ve only lost one mix gig because I wasn’t running Pro Tools.

Minimus 77I have a control room, an ISO booth and a machine room for all the noisey stuff.  My monitors are Yamaha HS 80M’s and an old pair of the Radio Shack Minimus 77’s which are getting hard to find and there are no replacement parts for them.

For my converters I have an old Motu 828 MKII that has been heavily modified.  It’s not very glamorous; maybe I should put a big sticker on it that says “Modified”. I mean no one really gives a rats ass anyway as long as it sounds good. I keep thinking that I want to replace it so I have more In and Outs but the reality is to get something to sound better is going to cost me a lot of money.  Also I don’t really need that many In and Outs because plugins are getting so good now that the trend is not going to be for me to keep loading up on more outboard gear but it is going to be more plugins.

For the outboard stuff I have a pair of 1084’s [Neve], The Aphex 104, one of the original Pro VLA’s, and I have a couple custom one off compressors and preamps. I’ve got The Brick by Groove Tubes that I love to death.  It gets a really bad reputation because you really have to know gain staging well in order to get it to work and not sound distorted.  I also have a little Soundcraft mixer that I use when I’m producing and using keyboards and stuff like that. There’s a bunch of other gear, but those are the things that get used the most frequently.


When did you start mixing and how long have you been exclusively mixing full time?

I always mixed out of necessity but I was really much more of a producer when I was coming up.  What ended up happening was people really liked my mixes so they asked me to mix their songs.  That’s sort of how the transition started plus I always really loved it. I still love producing and still produce a handful of records a year but I really (really) enjoy mixing.  It’s such a collaborative process.  You’re coming in towards the end of a project where everyone’s already put effort into it and all the creative ideas are there.  You’re just there to score the winning run.

Recently in life I’ve been soliciting it [mixing] a lot more, partially because I love it so much but also because it’s so much easier to work with many different artists.  As for producing records (not just beat making), the budgets just aren’t there to fly people all over any more.  Mixing gives you access to a bunch of artists you wouldn’t otherwise be able to work with.  I’d say a third to half of my work comes from outside of the United States.

As for how long I’ve just been exclusively mixing records that I didn’t produce, I’d say about 6-7 years.  But it was more of a fluid transition; I didn’t just wake up one day and only mix records.  It was very spotty early on and then about 6 years ago it became my main thing while producing started to take a back seat.


Back when you were producing a lot more, was there ever a time when you woke up and thought “Screw this whole production thing, I’d rather be mixing”?

I mean, I still do both but it’s funny that you said that because I can always mix and I’m always in a mixing mood.  I never have any angst about it and I never wake up stressed, it just comes natural to me.  With producing, there’s so much pre production and planning involved that I do wake up thinking, oh my God I’ve got to work with this band and produce.  But it has its own rewards like when everyone’s in the studio and you’re rolling a long, it’s a lot of fun.  However, there’s also a lot of stress that comes attached to producing, at least for me.  Mixing is just one small piece of the record making process and with producing you’re responsible for overseeing the whole damn thing so there’s a lot of management stress that comes along with it.  Also with producing there is a lot of schedule coordinating but with mixing I set my own schedule.  It’s definitely much simpler to mix.


Do you think that being a producer helps you when it comes to clients trusting your decisions?

As far as making decisions, I think that being a producer, a trained musician and also having been a performer helps.  However, I don’t think that gives the client any more confidence in me.  In fact I think sometimes it might actually work against me especially with new or inexperienced producers because they kind of want to protect their baby.  They don’t understand that I’m just mixing the record.  So they get a little defensive and think that because I’m adding a certain reverb on a vibra slap [laughs] or whatever, that I’m trying to trump them as a producer.  I mean it is rare but it does happen especially when they thought they were going to mix the record so they get their ego bruised a bit.  So yeah I don’t think it’s ever helped on the trust issue and on the rare occasion it can hurt.


That’s funny because I was expecting a completely different answer [laughs].  Now what about when you’ve been working with an artist for a while and you’ve developed a rapport.  At that point does the trust factor go up?

Yeah, I mean the trust factor goes way up after I start working with anybody because I don’t play the bullshit game.  A lot of guys do and it’s probably better for business to play that game, you know like “Oh everything sounds great”.  I’ve just never been that kind of person and I tell people if I don’t think something sounds good.  On one hand I can bruise some egos and maybe I don’t get repeat business from that person but other people really appreciate that.  They know that if I say something is good that I really mean it because they’ve also heard me tell them it sounds bad.


On average how long does it take you to mix a track?

Usually for me to get a mix to a point where I’m ready to send it off for approval it takes about a day to a day and a half.  Sometimes I split the time up between two days but the total time spent will be enough to fill an entire day.  Or If I have a lot of house cleaning [cleaning up tracks] than I might do that on one day and the mix on the other.  The reason is because if I spend like 3 hours cleaning up crap that should have been cleaned up before it came to me than when I’m done I’m generally not in a good mood and pissed off at the song [laughs].  At that point it’s not good for me to go into mixing it so I’ll just can it for the day and move onto something else.  But I’ll never send out a mix for approval on the same day that I mixed it I always sleep on it.


What time do you usually start a mix?

It depends on how busy I am.  If I’m really under the gun, I’ll be here at 8:00-8:30 am; otherwise I’ll start at about 9:30 am.  It also depends on what time I get my kid to daycare [laughs], that’s one variable.  I try to avoid the whole working late thing.  I don’t know who these people are that are sitting there trying to mix records at 3:00 am.  You know my ears don’t work that great after an entire day of hearing noises.  My ears work much better in the earlier to mid part of the day.  Plus it’s good for family life.  Before I got married I did the whole, roll out of bed at 11:00 am thing.  I would start working at like 2:00 pm and then work until 2:00 am.  After I moved in with my girlfriend (later to become my wife) I quickly realized that my routine wasn’t going to work.  I had to switch my work schedule to her work schedule, try to do Monday – Friday and also keep my weekends open as much as possible.  It works out a lot better that way.

It’s make a huge psychological difference when it’s lunch time and you’re like, Man I got a lot done already.  You just feel like you can keep going forever.  But when it’s midnight and you’re at that point, you kind of feel like, fuck I’m still working [laughs].


What’s one mixing tip you’ve learned that you feel brought your mixes to a whole new level?

It’s something I always knew but was never able to do it and that was to forget about all the technical crap and mix purely from an emotional stand point.  It’s something that’s easier said than done and actually doing it is really difficult.  One part of it is knowing the technical stuff so well that you don’t even have to think about it.  It’s kind of like driving a car.  In the beginning you have to think about the gas, the brake, the turn signals etc.  Eventually it becomes automatic and you don’t have to think about it. Mixing is the same thing where you get to a point that you no longer have to think about all the technical crap and you’re just automatically turning knobs while thinking purely about the emotion of the record.

Realistically with all the processing power we have today anyone can make a good technical mix if they’re willing to spend the time.  But making an emotional mix that resonates with the listener is a completely different ball of wax.  No amount of time, processing power, plugins or magic outboard ‘wonder box’ is going to save your ass.


Okay, so then when it comes to finding the emotion of the song, how do you go about approaching that?

Obviously some records are better than others and it depends on how good the song writing is, how good the artist is, how good the production is and then how good the engineering is.  Some records are great and other records I’m flipping over the cushions looking for raw emotion you know [laughs].

It’s easier with a finished record [laughs], you just throw on MTV or the radio.  When you’re getting a record to mix having a really good rough mix makes it a little easier.  Even then the rough mixes are often done by the producer who’s usually so attached to the song that they can’t see the forest through the trees by that point.

I mean I wish there was a really simple formula for it but there isn’t.  But the lead vocal is the main thing and it trumps everything.  One thing that I do is I’ll play the lead vocal with my computer monitor off and I’ll picture the music video.  Every video has that shot where they’re [the artist] singing straight into the camera, I like to picture that in my mind.  It really helps me ignore everything else that’s going on in the record.  I ignore all the music, all the bells and whistles and just focus in on that singer picturing all the expressions on their face.  If you combine that with the lyrics and their delivery you can kind of get a feel for it.  At that point it just becomes my job to make sure that I can get their message out to the listener.

I always trust what I feel in my heart.  I know they say trust your ears but really at the end I trust what’s in my heart and if it makes me feel something when I listen to a record.  When it gets to the end of the mix, I need to feel the emotion from within me and If I don’t feel that emotion then I need to figure out what the fuck I need to do to make it happen [laughs].


You were talking about trusting your heart and not just your ears but besides that what’s one tangible thing that you feel contributes the most to the outcome of your mixes?

I’m not a gear snob or a “Gear Slut” as they say.  I don’t want to say that I care less about gear but they’re all just tools and it’s ultimately how you use them.  I’ve seen way too many people prove that it’s 95% about the person and the gear is maybe only 5% of the equation.

Mix Engineer Chris Carter's Control Room

The Fiesty Chicken Control Room

The one thing I would say contributes the most is my room.  The room that I have now is so frigging accurate and it just makes everything so much easier. I have complete confidence in what you’re hearing.  I remember back in the day I’d burn a CD then play it in the car, then on the boom box and a bunch of other sources to try and figure out what was wrong on each one so I could average it all out.  But ultimately it was never really right even though I could get it close.  I just think that having a really accurate room is absolutely the most important piece of equipment and unfortunately for a lot of people that’s just not 100% possible.

People sometimes email me or they’re on the forums saying “I’m renting a place so I can’t do anything”. I’m just like that’s bullshit because I remember back when I rented a place, I could still put bass traps in the corners and hang panels for first reflection points. I mean they can’t do what I’ve done to my room now because there is a lot more construction going on but still there’s no excuse for at least trying to get your room half way there.


So looking back to when you had to listen on multiple sources, was that helping your sound or do you think now that it was actually damaging it?

It definitely helped me because when I first started out I was working in a sun room that was attached to the back of a house.  It was a glorified closet and measured 10 ft by 5 ft, I swear to God.  The only saving grace was that the outside walls were so thin that the bass frequencies wouldn’t even reflect off of them, they would just pass right through into the backyard [laughs].  Even then it still sounded like crap and at that point I didn’t really understand much about acoustics at all.  I mean I had carpets hanging from the walls [laughs] and I literally had to go and play it back on at least 3 different boxes and average everything it.  It was a poor substitute but it was the best I could do and anybody that doesn’t have a really accurate room should check their mix on multiple sources.


Acoustics treatment is very affordable these days.  If someone could save themselves the haste of always checking their mix on multiple sources, then should they invest the money?

Yeah checking your mix on multiple sources is a major chore and it’s always a compromise.  It’s like trying to drive from here to the grocery store but you can only make left turns, you know what I mean? [laughs] Like making basic panels and bass traps isn’t rocket science.  It requires nothing more than maybe the most basic of wood working skills that every one learned in sixth grade wood shop class.  In fact you don’t even need that much skill and for $500-$1000 you can turn a decent sized bedroom into something that’s at least half way accurate.  In many cases, honest to God, you could probably make it better than a lot of professional studios [laughs].


As far as role models or mentors, who was the biggest influence on your mixing career?

It’s interesting that you bring that up because I used to read liner notes like a mad man.  What started happening was that it started to colour the way that I perceived the record.  I thought that because a certain engineer mixed it, it sounded better than if ‘Joe Blow’ down the street did it.  So with the advice from a fellow colleague, I stopped reading credits entirely and it helped tremendously because I heard everything for what it really was.  As a result there’s mixers out there with records that like and dislike so it doesn’t really matter who it is.

Tom Lord-AlgeAs far as one person, I think Tom Lord-Alge probably had a big impact and he’s one of the guys that I would actually sit there and say, oh he does this damn trick on every fucking record and I’m going to learn how to do that!  So yeah I’d probably say him more than anyone else.  Even with my use of delays, which people often comment on, a good amount of that comes from his records.

But overall I just try to be a sponge and soak stuff up from everybody; you can be a superstar or nobody.  I think that you can learn from anyone.  There could be a kid down the street who has no clue what he or she is doing and makes really horrible recordings but then they do that one good thing.  I’ll be like hey show me what you did, I want to learn from you [laughs].  I don’t really care who it is, I just try to listen to records.  There’s so many records that I don’t know who worked on because I don’t read the credits any more but I just know what I like what I hear.


Your records sound loud but they don’t sound damaged.  They have dynamics, they are present but not harsh and they have that apparent volume that you need in a modern record.  So how do you go about managing all that without sacrificing the sound?

I think it’s because I don’t rely on the limiter and don’t actually mix with one on my 2 bus.  My final mixes are generally about 12 dB’s quieter then the final master. So if you took my raw mix, put a limiter on it and then cranked the input 12 dB’s, you’d be at the final volume.  Also I don’t slam my track levels, in fact most records that I get I’m trimming things down quite a bit.

I also pay attention to psychoacoustics and how the listener perceives sound.  One example is with the kick drum.  There are two major elements that really impact the listener:  The high pitch attack (transient) and the weight of the kick.  So the kick might have to cut through and hit harder but instead of turning it up I’ll just bring out the attack which is an auditory cue for the listener’s ear.  Everyone understands how rhythms repeat and that initial click which cuts through everything, tells the brain the kick is hitting right now.  Once you’ve got the brain convinced that the kick drum is hitting, it can fill in the rest of the picture itself.  Once the brain knows that the kick is there the low end boom doesn’t have to be that loud because the listener already knows it’s there.  The low end can kind of get masked by some other stuff because I already told your brain that there’s a kick drum there.  This is especially true for Hip Hop 808 kicks.  Instead of trying to get that boom to cut through just get that click to cut through and then the brain will know that the boom is there even though it might be a bit lower in volume.  It ends up being the same psychological result for the listener.


It seems like you keep a lot of sonic information in your records.  What I mean is that it sounds like you don’t high pass or low pass very often.  Am I right?

I don’t do that crap, [laughs] honest to God.  I’ve never understood it when people talk about carving out space for things.  I mean I’ve tried but it just sounds like shit every time.  I know that there are mixing engineers that really stress that philosophy and have mixes that sound really incredible but I don’t know how the hell they do it.  I just decided not to play that game.  Honestly, I just work with the arrangement – I want everything to sound full.  For example, I don’t think in terms of the synth needing to be separate from the bass and as a result cutting everything below 400 Hz.  I’m cranking 10 kHz on bass lines all the time.  What it comes down to is just working with the arrangement and figuring out how to make everything cut through and be present.  When I high pass something, it’s strictly for the sound of that instrument and to make it sound better but not to make space for something else.

Another thing I never do and I see people talking about all the time, is like boosting 60 Hz peak on the kick and cut 60Hz dip on your bass line.  That makes no sense to me and I don’t understand it at all.  That’s like trying to make two people be in a loving relationship by tweaking one person this way and the other person that way.  Where just loving each other is the best thing you know. [laughs] I don’t play those games at all and I try to make everything sound full.  That might be why the records sound loud even though they aren’t louder than anything else


So you aren’t big on making space for things by low passing and high passing but what about the low mid area?

There have been a couple of times that I’ve had to side chain or use a multi-band compressor on a vocal.  That’s usually because I have to correct a problem like a horrible recording or distortion.

The low-mids are a tricky area and I’m trying to think of what I do.  I kind of think that the low mids take care of themselves a lot of the times because I don’t boost anything in that region.  The vast majority of times when I’m EQing instruments, for example, I’m generally using a low shelf or a high shelf.  I’m doing relatively little Peak Filtering.


And how do you approach shelf filtering?  What would be your frequency start points and how much would you boost or cut?

It depends on what it is.  If it’s a mid range synth and there’s not much low frequency information then I might have to go up as high as 300Hz or something.   My general philosophy on boosting with a low shelf is boost lower then you need and boost more.  For example, with a kick I’m usually boosting 35 Hz if I’m going to add lows to it.  I don’t go and boost 60 Hz or 80 Hz.  So if it’s a bass line and I think that it needs 3 dB’s at 60 Hz, to get the right amount of low end, I’ll boost 10 dB at 35 Hz instead.  If you looked at my EQ setting, you’d be flipping out [laughs].  You’d see these massive boosts at super low frequencies.  But by boosting lower than my intended frequency, I still get what I’m looking for but I avoid a lot of that the low-mid build up.  If you’re boosting exactly what you need like 80 Hz for example, you’re also boosting all the way up to 250 – 300 Hz.  Those frequencies up there are getting the really shallow part of the slope from the boost.

Andy WallaceI actually first discovered it by reading Mix Magazine (I believe).  Andy Wallace was talking about EQ’ing bass on all these metal records.  He said he would boost a ridiculous amount way into the super sub lows and then send it to the compressor.  I was like Mother Fucker, that’s how he got that sound on LinkinPark or whatever. [laughs] I started listening to the mixes that he had worked on focusing on the electric bass and it just sounded killer.  Then I started using it and it was like the holy frigging grail.


I’m still kind of fascinated by your approach on the low end and the low mids so let me give you another scenario.  Let’s say you have drums with a bunch of low end, a synth bass, an E. Piano, some electric guitars and then strings.  Between them all there’s a lot of low end information.  How do you manage that low end and make sure all the parts aren’t conflicting with one another?

I’ll put the guitars left and right, the electric piano and bass go in the centre and everything else just kind of takes care of itself.  I mean if the electric piano has a lot of left hand stuff then it’s playing a lot in the lower frequencies.  Unless the musician is an idiot it will be playing the same thing as the bass line or at least something complimentary. So it’s going to work with the bass already even if it’s got a lot of low end information.


Okay.  What’s the one Digital EQ that you wouldn’t be able to live without and what are you listening for from a tonal perspective?

The bulk of the EQing I do is with the Neve 1081, 1084 and the Pultec.  I also use DDMF IIEQPro; it’s one of those graphic ones that does all this crazy crap.  I use that if I have some major surgery that I have to do but it’s very rare that I pull it out.  The reason I like the Neve and the Pultec is because they have really broad Q’s.  The broader the better because I’m not a fan of doing surgery EQ and I don’t want to hear frequencies poking out.  That’s basically all I use and they do that low frequency thing really well.  There’s a lot of digital EQ’s that just don’t do it well at all.


What about adding saturation or distortion to the mix?

aphex104  There are a couple things that I do.  One is that I have an Aphex 104 in my rack, it’s the one with the big bottom.  The low end is kind of like a parallel compression and the high end is like a harmonic distortion.  I have that on a couple of inserts and I’ll have it set up as a group bus.  I pretty much never use it on rock mixes but I do use it often on Hip Hop and R&B mixes.  More often I’m using it [distortion] when I get those frigging sine wave bass lines that drive me bonkers.  There’s really no good reason to use a sine wave as a bass line because by definition a sine wave has no harmonic content.  What that means is that if the frequency is lower than a smaller speaker can re produce, it’s going to spit out nothing.  Then you’re going to have a song without a bass line or a song that has half a bass line and you can only hear it when it plays the higher notes.  When I get those situations I frequently add distortion just so I have some harmonics to work with so that I can get something to come out of a 3 inch speaker.  If there’s even just a hint of a note there, the brain has something to grab on to and then it can fill in the rest.

For a lot of other stuff I don’t really add much distortion unless I’m going for a distortion effect.  Sometimes I’ll push something into a piece of gear extra hard.  Also the IK Multimedia T-Racks Black 76 does a pretty convincing job and when you push stuff into that they get a little fuzzy.


What’s your go to digital compressor and what are you listening for when you use it?

molot03There’s a few that I use very frequently but the one that I go to the most is probably the freeware guy called the “Molot”.  It’s made by this Russian dude and I frigging love the thing.  It’s got two modes and they are supposed to mimic a Neve 33609 and a Fairchild 670.  I don’t really think either one is convincing but I don’t really give a rats ass how accurate it is [laughs].  I pretty much just use it in the “Fairchild 670” mode.  I don’t know what the heck is up with that guy but he understands attack and release characteristics really well.  It’s almost damn near impossible to get that thing to sound bad, I swear to God.  That’s my generic utility compressor because I like Optical Compression a lot.

I use the IK Multimedia T-Racks Black 76 all the time particularly when I need some tone.  With the Black 76, once you go past 3 dB’s of compression it starts to get just a little bit woolly, it’s very subtle but it’s there.

Another one I use a lot is an old freeware one from Kjaerhus.  A long time ago he had really good freeware effects.  I use it in place of a dbx 160x to get attack from a kick or snare drum.  I also use it when I have a bunch of vocals (80 – 90 tracks is not uncommon) that didn’t get any compression during tracking.  If I put like 80 Molot’s in the session than I might just be using horsepower that I could be using for something else.  So sometimes I’ll use that Kjaerhus one just to give me a few dB’s to mimic tracking compression.  I’ll usually use that on vocal stacks and not when mixing lead vocals or something important.  It’s a fairly flexible compressor and it can do a lot of things.

bassdrum_compHere’s another juicy little secret that will blow your mind, it blows everybody’s mind.  I have one compressor for one purpose only and that’s for chorus vocal stacks.  I don’t even know if you can find a place to download it now but WAY back in the day there was a set of plugins called the Blueline Plugins and they were horrible.  This compressor is even horrible and it sounds like ass on everything.  It pumps like nobody’s business and it just sounds bad.  But it is magic on a chorus vocal stack and I have tried and tried to find something else that does what this does and I have yet to find anything that does it.  I throw that sucker on a bus of chorus vocals and I’ll use that as the glue and it’s like money in the bank every time [laughs]. With anything else it’s like you can’t listen to it but for that one task its killer.


Do you do a lot of sample replacing?

My mode of operation is to trust the producer as much as possible.  I’ll do it as an absolute last resort.  I’ll fight tooth and nail to get what they gave me to sound right.  But if I have to I will do a sample replacement and luckily in Cubase is the easiest process.  You literally just select the track and tell it to set all the markers and it spits out a midi track for you.  Sometimes I just need the click because I can’t get their kick to cut through at all.  But it’s not that often and usually I can get what I need from the tracks that are given to me.


As far as automation goes, how do you use it and how much of it is on a mix?

Some records have very little automaton and some records have a lot.   It really comes down to whatever the record calls for; you have to let the record tell you what to do.  There’s the kind of automation for a lead vocal so that you make sure it’s always at that right level.   If certain words are too low you gotta ride them up.  You could also automate a delay throw to come in on certain words.

But then there’s also automation for creative purposes. For example you might have a big cymbal crash that rings for a few seconds before anything comes in and you may want that crash to slowly go from stereo to mono.


I know you aren’t a huge advocate of high pass filtering but what about reverb returns, do you do anything at all to them?

Yeah I do a lot of that.  It’s very common for me to put a compressor on a delay or a reverb.  With delays I don’t really have to add a lot of EQ because most of them have a built in HPF and LPF so I just use those.  A lot of times with reverb I will put a HPF on and pull out anywhere from 100 Hz to 300 Hz, depending on the sound.  With certain instruments or vocals, there’s stuff down there that you don’t want reverberating around because it creates kind of a mess. Sometimes I’ll get crazy and throw a flanger or a chorus on a reverb to make it extra swirly but not super obvious.  I’ll usually keep the mix knob really low.


When a client hires you to do a mix, how do you prefer to receive the files?

Consolidated audio


Okay let me rephrase. [laughs] Do prefer Raw Wave files or files with all effects and processing on?

You know that’s a touchy subject.  I have a little thing on my website with instructions on the best way to send me files and I always say to take off all effects – send it to me dry.  The people who are going to screw it up are the people who shouldn’t be printing any effects, plain and simple.  The engineers and producers that are really good are going to ignore those instructions anyway.  My attitude is if you want to track with EQ and compression and as long as it sounds good, then go ahead and do it.  The thing is that people who aren’t really experienced are probably going to fuck it up and it’s going to make my life a total nightmare.  There’s nothing worse than getting these kick drums that are compressed to death.  I’m like what the fuck are you doing? If anything, especially on an electronic kick drum, I’m trying to put more dynamics into the damn thing rather than try to take it out.  They’ve been programmed by people on these stupid forums to sit there and suck the whole life out of it with compression.

If it’s distortion you obviously have to print because that’s part of the sound.  If you’re recording electric guitar and you’re using and amp sim and it has distortion and a spring reverb, than that’s cool to print.  Another thing is something like tremolo on an Electric Piano, you have to have that or it’s not going to work.

The one things that always screw things up is reverb and delay and generally speaking I almost never get records with reverb and delay printed.  But for the people who are good and say they have a delay that’s really critical, they’ll send me a dry version and a 100% wet version so I can blend them together.

In summation [laughs], unless you’re bad ass, then I prefer no EQ or Compression.  Also there’s really almost no justifiable reason to deliver stuff with reverb and delay.  If you really need to do that, print it on a separate track so I can blend it.


And what’s your policy on revisions?

The way that I work is I’ll do as many that are necessary; I don’t put a number on revisions.  The only thing that I do is I’ll put a limit on the total amount of work that I’ll put into the record.  It’s kind of like a safety net.

Generally it takes about 0-3 revisions for most projects.  Every once in a while you might run into a complete whack job or you’ve got the artist whose in disagreement with the management whose in disagreement with the label.  They end up fighting each other and want you to do different things and you can’t get a clear direction.  If things were to really get out of hand than there’s a ceiling that I wouldn’t go past.  Like if they want me to start trying things that should have been done in the production process then I might tell them that I would have to start billing them by the hour.  But I’ve gotten good at managing clients that I haven’t really had to enforce that.  So the basic answer is an unlimited amount of revisions.


What about the payment part of the process?  Do you bill the client after the mix, ask for a down payment or charge them up front?

If it’s being paid for by the Major Label then I’ll do a P/O.  I don’t like it but I’ll do it and I’ll charge them a lot more because it’s a pain in the ass.  The majority of the work I’m doing is independent artists and with them its money up front.  When I first switched to money upfront I thought that I might lose business be the reality is that there hasn’t been any repercussions.  I don’t do the split thing.  I used to do that but often times its more trouble than it’s worth.  I’d finish the mix and request payment but then I’m sitting around waiting for six months because they’re too busy spending their money on weed [laughs] that they didn’t save enough to pay me.  Then I’d have to keep track of the project files to make sure they don’t get deleted.  So now it’s just 100% upfront for anybody other than a Major Label.

But it’s not really an issue because now almost everything is done by credit cards and we’re not talking about an exorbitant amount of money.  The reality is that if you don’t have a credit card than that’s a warning sign that I probably shouldn’t be doing a split payment with you [laughs].  If nobody will give you a credit card than why on Earth should I do a split payment?  That makes no sense.  It just tells me that you aren’t going to be able to pay the rest of the money.


Besides the payment issues what do you find is the difference between working with a Major Label artist and an independent?

Other than how I’m getting paid, there’s really no difference.  It’s the exact same job and I put the same amount of effort into it.  The only difference that I can think of is that there may be more ears [with a Major Label] listening to the mix when sending it in for approval.  That’s not necessarily the case but I do have a rule that if they are approving by committee then they need to discuss it amongst themselves and designate one person to send me a list of the revisions they want changed.  I don’t want to get notes from the manager, the bass player, the A&R etc.  The thing is everybody wants something different so you can’t make everyone happy.  So I just let them duke it out themselves and then they send me one list


Okay Great!  Thanks for all the great information and I appreciate your candidness when answering the questions.

No problem; it was fun.  But I can ramble on a lot.  Once you get me started talking about audio it’s tough to get me to shut up.