Rick Rubin

Sylvia Massy - Getting The Best Out Of Artist & Hardest Decision As A Producer

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4 Steps To Start Making Money As An Audio Engineer

Learn How To:
- Get Your Foot In The Door
- How To Find Opportunities and Work
- How To Find Artists To Work With
- How To Price Yourself

Sylvia Massy is well known in the industry, not only for her incredible work or the artists that she has worked with, such as Tool, Johnny Cash, System Of A Down and many more, but also her unique approach to recording and getting artists to perform at their best. 

In this interview, Sylvia opens up about her struggles to break into the industry, working with Rick Rubin and his approach to producing, her own unique way of producing artists and how to get them to "get out of their head" as well as how far you can push them. She also speaks about her hardest decision she had to make as a producer and so much more.

I hope you will enjoy this interview and let me know what your thought are in the comments below.

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You moved to Los Angeles to try and further your career but it wasn’t as easy as you thought to break into the music industry. What made you keep going and not giving up when it seemed impossible to reach your goal? 

Los Angeles is a place where dreams are made, so, me and all the various people I met were all on a quest to make a living doing what we love. We were all taking menial jobs to be able to pay rent but at the same time trying to make as many connections in the industry as we could. I had a job at Tower Records in Sunset Boulevard and there I made the most important connections in my career. In this little retail shop, I met some people who were in a band called Green Yellow whose drummer also had another band called Tool who we would go watch performing in the clubs. Soon I found myself in the studio with Tool and that’s how I cracked into the industry. 

Also, there was a pivotal moment when I finally got a job at a studio called Larrabee Sound in LA, which was the studio where I worked with Aerosmith, Prince, Rick Rubin and as an assistant for many big mixers. However, I almost lost that opportunity because the night before I had stayed up partying so I had a hangover and I was going to call in sick and cancel my session. Although, I made the decision at that moment that if I was really serious about this, and wanting to make a career out of this I had to make some hard decisions and actually “grow up” so I stopped partying, stopped drinking and stopped doing drugs as well as stopped smoking pot and cigarettes. I went through a big withdrawal but got through it and I have been sober ever since. I think that that was probably the most important decision of my career. 

How long were you at Tower Records?

I moved to Los Angeles and hit every recording studio, I had plenty of experience and a good résumé but no one wanted to hire me. So, my first job in Los Angeles was to paint Christmas windows but eventually got that job at Tower Record. It lasted about a year but it was such an important thing to have a job and be able to meet as many people as possible. I think when you first move to a new town like LA, New York or London you have to give it some time before you actually get an opportunity. It doesn’t happen right away, you have to be patient and slowly make these connections with people. You have to tough it out for 2 years before people start looking at you to trust with their projects. 

I see a lot of students that get a diploma and start knocking on doors to get a job and they are frustrated when they don’t get a job after 6 months of graduation. They may move to LA but here it’s difficult to keep your head above water when you can’t get a good job right away. You have to be prepared to tread water for a while, have roommates, share a flat, have a couple of jobs. But keep your nose into the recording scene, see bands play, make connections with people.

Before moving to Los Angeles you got to co-produce The Sea Hags with Kirk Hammett, which did well and earned them a major label deal. Unfortunately, you didn’t get to work on their major label debut, how did you handle that setback, especially being in the early stages of your career?

My first studio job was in San Francisco, which was a bit by accident because I was more involved in radio production but I knew how to use the equipment. I got a starting position in a music studio and would record my band in the middle the night and these recordings came out really good so people would ask me to do their records too. It wasn’t that I was trying to produce or anything, I just knew how to use the equipment and wanting to record my own music. As soon as I started working for other people that opened up these opportunities to work with new bands and at the time there was a great punk scene so I got to work with upcoming bands like Adolescents, Skid Roper, Tuxedomoon, Christian Death, MDC (Millions of Dead Children). Then there was this band called Exodus which I did some demos with, who Kirk Hammett was associated with. Then I got chosen to co-produce The Sea Hags record with Kirk by the studio owner. However, because we didn’t get hired to do the major label album with them, that’s when I realised I had to move to LA to further my career.

Sylvia, Kirk and The Sea Hags

Sylvia, Kirk and The Sea Hags

How did working with Rick Rubin influence your methods and decision makings in the studio?

There are three types of producers, the engineer type, the musician type and lastly, the fan type, which Rick Rubin is. He is not a technician, nor musician, he is a fan and that makes him a completely unique producer because he listens to the songs and chooses the material, very carefully, to be recorded. He also puts himself in the position as the end-listener. Rick will also start with having the artist write 100 songs or more and then he will pick the best 20 and out of those 20 he will record 15, which will give you a darn good record. 

You can like him to a chef, for example, he makes the recipe and chooses the different ingredients to be used, meaning, he chooses the engineer, the studio, the drummer, and the songs. He lets the musicians and the engineer work together and then he checks on them periodically, so he is not there every single day directing the session, he comes in every now and then to make decisions about the direction of the project. He is not micromanaging at all and because of that musicians love him because they get to take the range in some way. Also, he has the ability to come in and listen to a song and make one statement that will hit the hammer on the head and then he will leave. It’s amazing! 

I have also worked with Rick, where he has been there every single day and every minute which was with Johnny Cash with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers as his band. Rick was, I believe, in awe of Johnny and those two guys just loved each other so Rick wanted to be there as much as he could. However, on other projects, like with System of a Down, it wasn’t necessary for Rick to be there every minute. The record was going to be great because the band was so great. But, going back to my previous statement, he puts the ingredients together, lets the cooks take care of it and then he will go back to check on them. 

You said that you found out early on that the talent really needs a producer, maybe they don’t think they do, but they do. In that case, how do you convince them what you bring to the table is beneficial for them?

That’s all in the psychology of producing a record. If it’s an artist that’s used to produce themselves, I might step back a little and let them drive the truck in the direction they want creatively. Also, in this case, I will act more as an engineer and only make technical decision such as trying to record instruments in different ways or trying another vocal microphone, etc. 

The thing about productions is that I can’t be precious about my own personal ideas, even though I might be really passionate about it. I can make suggestions and let them decide if they want to pursue it or not. For instance, I worked on a Sublime record and I really thought that some backing vocals would be a good idea on a particular song, so when they were not in the studio I thought of some backing vocal parts and recorded some as a suggestion, however, the reaction I got from them after having played it to them that was pretty dark, there was a dead silence in the room. Some of my ideas are embraced and some might drop like a lead balloon, so I can’t be precious about them nor can’t get hurt about it but I will always do my best to help to make a production better. 

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You have utilised some tricks that are definitely not in the books or what they teach you in school, such as making Maynard from Tool run a few laps around the block, having Serj from System of a Down hanging upside down. Where do these ideas come from and how do you persuade the artist that it could be a good idea to try them before they know you that well?

I think that a lot of musicians think really hard about what they are doing, they are self-conscious, unsure, so I do these crazy things I do to get them out of their own head. For instance, if the singer is not getting a good performance I will shake him up a little bit, like have him running around the block or hanging upside down. Although, the performance hanging upside down wasn’t that good the performance after that, when we had all laughed it off, was great. Same with running around the block, Maynard was pissed off, but because of that, he wasn’t thinking of how his throat wasn’t going to work, he was thinking of how angry he was. He screamed and it was blood-curdling, it was real. Also, throwing a guitar of a cliff or whatever fun things that we can think of can also used as a reward, as in, if we can finish all the basic tracks and don’t get bogged down with minutiae we can have fun and do these crazy things, but before that you have to get your parts done. It works as a great reward for getting through the huge amount of work that needs to get done to make a great record. 

Sometimes, the recording you get when you do these unusual fun stuff is really good and special. It’s always a challenge to make a sound that is new that someone hasn’t done before, so whenever we can create new sounds in the studio I think it’s important to try. 

What inspired that sort of thinking? Did that come from a different experience in life or was it something you learned from someone? 

I have a lot of ideas all the time. I collect ideas on paper and sometimes it’s appropriate to bring one of those ideas to a project. For example, on ToolUndertow, there’s a track in the end called Disgustipated, which was recording I did any experimental recording on. I had a small budget and we had some time to spend in the studio, I bought a couple of upright pianos and miked them up, then had the band destroy them with sledgehammers, it was fantastic!

So, if you start there, how do you beat that? 

It's been a constant challenge to see if we can go for something better and bigger. 

I’m also exploring different places to record in, especially with the ease of laptops and great interfaces nowadays. I have experimented with recording in Cathedrals, salt mines, nuclear power plants, cooling towers which is very exciting these days. Also, this summer I’m going to record in Switzerland in a hut on the top of Mont Fort with a band called Punk’d Guns, as well as going to London to do a recording in a tube station with a band called God Damn.  

I also heard that Al Schmitt did something similar, where he went to Taj Mahal to record? 

There’s a fantastic story about that where Al was recording a fantastic flute player called Paul Horn (check here on Apple or Spotify). They got the permission to record at Taj Mahal but they had to wait until the middle of the night to start recording. This was because they had to wait until all of the tourists had stopped coming, and the second reason was that there were so many birds that lived in the rafters that they had to wait until all that noise had calmed down. They manage to record in the middle of the night and they were able to do some fantastic recording in there. However, they did have some issues with the sound of birds dropping falling to the ground, so they had to try record in the silence between the dropping. 

What has been your favourite failure in the studio which lead to something unexpected that you are still using today?

I have a piece of equipment that I found in a garage of an old radio tech, it’s this old crusty compressor called 121 Western Electric. I bought it and set it up in the studio to recorded drums with, and it was the most broken sounding piece of equipment but it was fantastic so I decided to never fix it because I don’t want to jeopardise that sound. I nicknamed it The Army Man. I wanted to use it as a serious compressor but realised it was much better as an effect and I still use it to this day. 

What has been your hardest decision to make as a producer? 

It was this very sad experience where I had to fire a drummer because of a record label. I wouldn’t have fired him myself because I thought that he was a good drummer but the label was more interested in having a famous session drummer play on the record. They wanted Josh Freeze, who is a great drummer, to play on the record. However, it was totally unnecessary, and what it did was that it kind of broke up the band because they had been playing together since they were kids. And now they were doing their major label debut album and the drummer gets sidelined so he has to sit and watch another drummer play his drum parts. That was really sad. I had to do it because it was my job to bring the message to the band and tell them that he had to sit this one out and that Josh was going to play instead of him. It was a terrible decision by the label. 

How did you keep the session going after that? 

It was very hard. Because the drums are at the beginning of the session, and we had done all the pre-production and we were ready to jump in and record. The drummer was doing great, although I expected that I would have to do some drum editing but I would have to do that on anyone. After that, the rest of the session was tainted by the sadness of having let him go. 

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You are able to see the talent in an artist and extract the best out of them. Do you have a go-to technique or philosophy when it comes to bringing the best out of an artist? 

I think artists have the ability inside them to communicate the message in the music. Especially with singers, I want them to really tell me the story because you can tell if someone is just reciting lyrics from a page and you can tell if it’s not their own words. However, if it’s a song they wrote and they are singing it and telling the story it makes such a huge difference in the performance. Therefore, I feel that it’s important, as much as I can, to get them feeling comfortable enough to talk to me and tell me that story musically and lyrically. 

I also think that the musicians need the freedom to make mistakes. I want them to feel comfortable making mistakes and not be perfect because those mistakes become the most important part of the final recording. I encourage them to feel comfortable enough to do their thing. Let’s say I want to get a particular performance, for example, if the music is angry and dark, I don’t want to have a studio that’s comfortable with candles lit, I want to have it way too bright, maybe ice cold, maybe I want the singer to strip down to his underwear so he is so incredibly uncomfortable that he is going to shriek at that microphone. Then again, if it’s a very personal and intimate performance, I will put curtains all the way around the artist, make it very warm and dark and make sure nobody is in the room except me and the artist. Even make it so they can’t see me. I want them to get right up on that mic and I’ll crank up the compression so that their voice is so loud in their headphones that they can only just whisper and I can really get that performance from them. 

Also, not waiting until mixing to get a certain effect is important too. For example, let’s say you record an artist with a good/ high-quality microphone, but you want them to have a character, like a vintage microphone from the 1920’s, you will get a much better performance if they are singing into an old retro lo-fi, carbon or crystal mic. For two reason, they are looking at it, they are touching it and it will remind them of this feeling and the sound in their headphones will be more reminiscent of this old style. 

I think it’s much better to use equipment so they can hear what they are doing as it’s happening instead of manipulating it afterwards. 

How do you know how far you can push someone to get the best out of them?

There’s a point where you have diminishing returns on your investments and that’s when you back off. Especially with vocals, when you are really working a singer and you are doing 3-4 songs a day, which is a lot of work for a singer unless they are touring a lot. Their voice might not hold up to that. You just have to recognise there will be a point when you have to let them rest and let them do something else because you will just hurt them. Even with drummers, guitar- and keyboard players, if you are working really hard on a part and they are not getting it, just take a break and move on. That’s when I often times send someone to take a walk or even call the rest of the day. You have to make those decisions in order to save everyone. Usually, if you do call the session and take the day off because people don’t get their part, people get really upset about that, angry at themselves and start worrying about the budget. It’s a very hard to thing to do, but as a producer, it’s really, really important to be firm and call it. It will most likely be a better day tomorrow. 

Thank you, Sylvia, for providing such great insight into your work and amazing value we can all apply to our careers. 

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Andrew Scheps - Character vs Clarity, Quiet Times, Mixing On Headphones and Much More

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4 Steps To Start Making Money As An Audio Engineer

Learn How To:
- Get Your Foot In The Door
- How To Find Opportunities And Work
- How To Find Artists To Work With
- How To Price Yourself

Andrew Scheps is really well known in the industry and having worked for bands/artists such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Black Sabbath, Adele and many many others he is certainly among the top mixing engineers out there today. 

Andrew's work on Red Hot Chili Peppers Stadium Arcadium was one of my big inspirations to work as an audio engineer and what ultimately got me to move to London, so this was a special moment for me.

In this interview, Andrew talks about early struggles about breaking into the industry, how he prepares for sessions, working fully in the box, character vs clarity, favourite failures, mixing on headphones, dealing with the quiet times and much much more. 

In this interview you will find many things you can take away and apply to your own career, I know I will, so without further ado, here is Andrew Scheps:

Andrew in his now old studio, Punkerpad West

Andrew in his now old studio, Punkerpad West

In your early years you got to work for Synclavier as their repair tech and You ended up in some pretty big sessions as well as going on tour. For example, with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Being fairly new to the industry at that point, how did you handle working for such big clients? What did you learn? 

Since the job was something I knew I could do, I knew I could handle it. It was a pretty specialised job taking care of the Synclavier's but I made sure that I knew the things I needed to know really well. However, I had no idea what it meant being on tour and dealing with a road crew, loading trucks, planes, et cetera. But if I knew my part of the gig well, the rest of it would be ok.

And you know, pure luck. 

 

Could you expand? 

Coming out of college I thought I was going to work in a studio but then I got the opportunity to work for New England Digital who made the Synclavier. That’s what lead to everything else. The Synclavier was such a big and expensive thing and on Michael Jackson tour, it was a big part of the show.

Now, everyone has a playback system on their iPhone, but back then we were taking a huge amount of equipment to do some playback and if it didn’t work it was a nightmare, but since I was trained by the company I couldn’t have been better prepared. 

I was really lucky that those kinds of jobs existed back then and that I was able to do them so early in my career because working on something more creative takes time to get good at. For example, if you get thrown in a producer’s chair right away you may or may not be ready for it, but if you get thrown in a technical job you either know the technical stuff or you don’t. And it doesn’t necessarily take years and years to get better at it. 

How were those years after having finished university and trying to break into the industry? What did you find hard then and how did you solve it?

That job at Synclavier came up when I was still in college. A friend of mine who had graduated a year or so before me was working for them and knew there was an opening and recommended me for it. 

However, in the previous two summers, I had spent my time interning at different recording studios. I spent the summer of 1986 at a studio called Planet Recording in New York and in 1987 I spent the summer at Music Annex in Menlo Park. 

To get the job at Planet Recording I looked in the phone book and got the addresses of every single recording studio in New York City and handed out resumes. I didn’t hear anything back for weeks. It was very relentless and I must have handed out over a 100 resumes. I would call and call but nothing. Then one day, Planet Recording needed someone to answer the phones at night. I got lucky because Planet was a smaller studio with very cool projects coming in and they also had rehearsal rooms for bands to use.

How was it to work at Planet Recording? 

It was amazing, at one point Ramones rehearsed there and there were a lot of Hip-hop sessions going on in the studio. Doug E. Fresh was doing La di da Di and The Show, which I think was the first platinum 7” single. A sort of underground hop hip thing that turned into a huge hit. When there were no calls to answer they would let me sit on sessions.

You have worked in many sessions with many of the world’s biggest musicians and artists, how do you prepare for those sessions? Do you have a specific routine you like to follow?

Preparation.

You can never do enough preparation.

You need to have everything in your head and written down. For example, which microphones to use, placements, which preamps to use and where to put them all so you can get to the vocals really easily.

Where to put the musicians and one of the most important things, their headphones. How are they going to hear and see each other because that is the biggest thing to get a good recording, making the band comfortable. If they can’t hear what’s going on they can’t play. Every single aspect of that has to be right. 

Show up early, be completely ready to go, so if someone walks in and sits down by the drum kit you are ready to hit record.

You can’t decide everything in advance because the session goes how the session goes, but it’s good to have planned out as much as possible beforehand so you can react to the chaos and still be able to record, no matter what changes. For example, if they decide to record the drums in the control room, you can do that and make it work because you have everything under control. 

Andrew with a bit less beard and a smaller setup

Andrew with a bit less beard and a smaller setup

Your choice of going fully in-the-box was a big talking point within the industry. some people said you got such great recorded material that you don’t need to go out of the box. How do you handle that situation? Did it ever affect the amount of work you got or was it mainly a talking point within the engineering world?

It was really weird. The fact that anybody cared was amazing to me and that anybody bothered to talk about what I used to mix on was incredible.

Right when I was making the transition there were a couple of projects and they wanted me to do it on the console but I said no because that’s not how I was mixing anymore. Those projects went away because it was more important to them what kind of equipment I used than anything else.

If you are hiring me only because of the gear and you want to use a console you should rent a studio with all the gear, but if you want me to mix, you should want me to do it no matter what I use. Luckily, there were only a couple of projects that happened on. 

In regards to the idea that everything I mix is so well recorded and that’s why I can mix in the box: I don’t even know what that means, it seems like such a bizarre thing to say to me. Obviously, not everything I mix is well recorded, some stuff is but some stuff isn’t. But what does that have to do with whether or not you need equipment vs plugins? That’s trying to make the argument that there is something magic about equipment that you will never have if you are not using analogue gear, and that to me is a ridiculous argument. 

Some of the best sounding records ever were made in the 1950’s and 1960’s, for example, the Rudy Van Gelder, Blue Note, records (check this playlist by Blue Note of some classic Rudy Van Gelder recordings). Therefore, using that same argument would imply that we shouldn’t use anything made after 1958. 

Of course, the better the recording is the easier it is to mix it, but I rephrase that, because “better” doesn’t mean better in audiophile term, it’s about the musicians that made it and how they made it sound more like the finished product. For example, it can be a very well recorded album but if it’s suppose to be a really trashy sounding punk record, better/audiophile-quality isn’t really appropriate. 

Also, getting cleanly recorded drums to sound really aggressive and dirty is really difficult because you end up distorting the hell out of them and you got reverbs and extra compressors going. It’s a nightmare. I would much rather have a “bad” recording but exciting if that’s what it's supposed to sound like. 

So, would you prefer, in a recording session, to go for character rather than “clarity” so to speak?

Yes, if you had to choose one, character. If you have the character of what’s there then you don’t have to do anything to it, just balancing, panning and you are done. Whereas if you have all this clarity but the character is completely wrong, you have to create the character which is much more difficult than creating sonics. I can take a very muddy recording and create space and make them sound bigger, however, if you have a very boring, clean recording of something, that to me is much more difficult.

For example, you have to do a lot of work to bring character to it. There is no knob for "character" so you have to find other ways to achieve that. They are plenty of knobs for EQ, so if you have to EQ something to make some space it’s an easy thing to do. Although knowing how to EQ it is the trick and it’s something you learn with experience. 

Also, if a song is supposed to have a certain character but none of the tracks have it, then everything is built on a foundation that is wrong. All the overdubs, the vocals, everything has been done to something that isn’t what it's supposed to be. If the drums change, what’s to say that all the overdubs are going to make sense any more? You probably going get to the point where the vocals are not aggressive enough and you might have to go and record them again. 

I would rather have decisions about the final character of a sound to be part of the recording rather than the other way around.

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Do you have a favourite failure? As in a failure that set you up for later success?

It’s something that happened really early on in my career. It was the summer when I was working at The Music Annex in Menlo Park. I had gotten a chance to assist in a session, it was a really cool band and a great producer. It was my first real session as an assistant but I ended up talking too much. I had ideas about the guitar parts and I thought I was helping. The producer very nicely, during the session, managed to get me to realise that I had to shut up. During dinner later that night he explained to me about the hierarchy of a studio and just because you think that you have the best idea ever doesn’t mean it’s an idea you should talk about. I got to learn about studio etiquette and it’s something that as soon as you are told about it’s obvious. 

If you have an idea that’s great, tell the producer during the break. It’s not because you don’t have the right to have a good idea. It just makes thing confusing and messy and it’s not something that makes people perform well, which happened to the guitarist I was throwing out ideas for, it just got him confused. 

Being a total screw up in my very first assistant session, and having the producer being that cool about it really helped. From that day on I have never done that in a session since. It was a very important lesson.

Looking back on your career are there any, or several moments, that you thought: “This is heaven, can’t believe I’m working with this artist/project.”?

Tons. If you look at my discography, if I hadn’t had them there would be something horribly wrong with me. 

The obvious one is working with Red Hot Chili Peppers, I had been a fan of theirs since the very beginning. I saw them live in 1986 when they were playing in small clubs, so being able to work with them was absolutely amazing. Every single day in the studio with them is incredible. 

Then there is a band called Motorpsycho (check them on Apple Music, or Spotify), from Norway, who I have been a fan of for years. I could never get in touch with them although I tried a couple of times but it didn’t work out since I didn’t know any people who knew them. However, in the last year, I got to mix two live records for them which was absolutely incredible. When I finally met them all I wanted to do was to talk about their old records and ask how they did this and that, so just being able to have a conversation with them was amazing.  

Not only artists but also being in the room with Al Schmitt when he was recording an orchestra was amazing.

Being a huge fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers myself, they are the reason I started playing bass and eventually getting into production and mixing, so it’s quite special for me to talk to you as well because as you, they were a big part of my life. 

Yes, it’s amazing. I just listened to Stadium Arcadium for the first time in a while and one of the songs that I didn’t even mix, Animal Bar, just absolutely blew me away. Ryan Hewitt’s work on that is just so good and it’s such a great song. 

Also, you can get just as blown away by someone you haven’t heard of before. They don’t have to be famous but it’s amazing when you do get to work with people you admire and it turns out to be even better than you hope. This can happen in any session which is part of the magic of working with music.

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Speaking of Red Hot Chili Peppers, who Rick Rubin produced from Blood Sugar Sex Magik and onwards, how did you end up working with Rick initially? 

I had a couple of friends who were working for Rick, especially Dave Schiffman, who recorded a lot of records for Rick. He would recommend me when they needed stuff because, just like with the Synclavier, I had moved on to become a Pro Tools guy in Los Angeles. I not only knew Pro Tools but also how to transfer back and forth from analogue tape and keep things locked up. 

The first thing I got to work on with Rick was Saul Williams - Amethyst Rock Star (Listen On Spotify), where they had done a lot of the record with an MPC60. They had dumped the drum programming to tape, in stereo, so when they started to mix they wanted to split up some of the drums but they couldn’t lock the MPC60 back up to get the stuff out separately. It was drifting all over the place and I came in as the tech/audio janitor to fix it.

At the same time, Rick was working on a remix album of Wu-Tang Clan songs, where System of a Down had done one and Tom Morello was going to do another one. Rick asked me to set up for that recording so I ended up recording Tom, Chad Smith and Serj Tankian. It was a crazy week of recording everything that came up and that’s what got me starting working for Rick. 

The next project that I was really involved in was the first Audioslave record (Listen here on Apple Music or Spotify). I came in while they were finishing up basic tracks to put all the takes together and get ready for overdubs. I also did a lot of vocals with Chris Cornell and bass with Tim Commerford

Are you still working with Rick as often as you used to? 

Not nearly as much, I did a ton with him on and off for 12 years and then it tapered off, but that’s just how it goes.

Looking at the other side of the coin, has there been any moments when you have thought that you can’t do this anymore?

There have been sessions where it has been stressful and moments in the car on the way to the studio where I have doubted if this is really what I wanted to do, but that’s more about me than anything that has to do with the session. I stress myself out, I’m not super secure about things and always feel stuff will go wrong. But that’s part of the preparation. You rehearse the session in your head, but sometimes the rehearsing in your head will also go horribly wrong and you think this or that can happen. 

I have had months-long periods with no work coming in and that’s after huge projects, for example, after the Adele record I had over three months with absolutely no work. You start thinking that maybe you are done and have to start doing something else.

However, the good thing is that I have made those periods be the start of something else.

For example, the first time it happened I started working with a friend of mine who did home theatre installation and learned a ton about that. I also decided that I wanted to teach so I taught a class at UCLA, which was great because it turned out I’m pretty good at speaking and teaching. That turned into doing more workshops which eventually turned into Mix With The Masters, doing videos and stuff like that.

It made me diversified which I think is really good because the music business is really horrible for money, even if you are working all the time. Being diversified is really important so you can have other things you can do. So for me, that’s what those periods gave me, a chance to try other stuff out. 

This leads me to my next question - how you do handle the quiet times where not much work is coming in? 

It’s terrifying.

It’s not just your career, I also had two kids in school and a mortgage to pay for. It goes beyond the possible failure as an engineer, instead, you are looking at the possibility of failure as a human. You just have to deal with it and figure out other things to do.

I saw a post from Greg Wells and he was speaking about a similar time in his life where the phone stopped ringing. It seems these things happen to almost anyone in this industry and it all depends how you deal with it. 

Yes and it could be as simple as scheduling. You might have three records all at once and then nothing, or the thing you do is a bit out of style. There could be a hot/in-style kid who does the same sort of thing you do and now he is getting all the work because he is on peoples’ minds. 

The good thing is when you realise these situations are a part of the norm and start looking at them as opportunities to learn something new.

Could you recommend any piece of gear/software under $200 that has improved your work as a mixing engineer?

Shure SM7, although that’s a bit more than $200. It’s an amazing microphone. The best snare microphone you will ever use and it’s also the vocal microphone for almost all of Red Hot Chili Peppers songs ever recorded as well as Thriller. 

You said you mix a lot on headphones today, how are you able to judge your decisions properly? 

You get used to it. I was travelling and somebody asked me for a mix so I tried it. It went much better than I thought and over the last 5 years, I just had many more situations where it was difficult to get to my speakers. 

I still check (unless I absolutely can’t) every single mix I do on speakers and there are certain times where I think the kick and snare work fine on headphones but when I listen back on speakers I can tell that they might be a little too mushy and that they need to punch more or something like that. But once I hear the problems on speakers, I can then easily hear it on headphones. For me, it’s things like the impact of a mix I won’t necessarily know unless I check on speakers, just because you actually don’t get the air moving on headphones. 

Headphones are also really good because you don’t have to worry about the acoustics of the room you’re in.  You are wearing the studio on your head and it always sounds exactly the same wherever you are. 

The important thing with mixing on headphones is that it translates, it doesn’t matter exactly what it sounds like in the headphones, you just have to adapt to know what to do to make it sound good no matter where you listen. 

I use the Sony 7506 (£119 on Amazon) they are cheap, so worth trying. For me, they work. I can actually feel the low end in them which is something I can’t do on other headphones.

If you mix on headphones and then go to your speakers and notice there are a lot of problems, go back to your headphones and make sure you can still hear those problems. If you can’t you should try a different pair of headphones.

This next section Andrew answered some of the fan questions that came in from the Your Audio Solutions community.

Olly Cobb: How do you approach achieving analogue saturation and colour now that you're working ITB? Do you think the digital emulations stand up to their hardware counterparts?

The short answer is yes, it’s better because you have so much control over it.

Analogue saturation is just one type of saturation and the things that mimic it, like the Waves J37 and Phoenix (by Crane Song) which are awesome. Although, I don’t think of it as being analogue saturation. 

Harmonic distortion is something that really helps shape sounds and glues things together. It used to be something you couldn’t get rid of if you were using analogue gear because it distorts unless you barely touch it. It was something we hated as engineers because we didn’t have a choice but now everyone is missing it and wants it. They are a million tools that saturate, for example, there is a saturation knob on Echo Boy so use that instead of the delay, it’s incredible. There are a million different ways to distort things and they are all really good. That’s why on the channel strip I did we put three flavours of it because there are so many ways you can achieve it and they all sound great in different situations. 

As to whether an emulation of a piece of a gear sounds exactly like the piece of gear, probably not, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the idea of it. You are not trying to mimic the piece of gear, you are trying to get the same feeling of that distortion but with much more control. 

William Bowser: What's your preferred interface, converters and clock for your in-the-box mixes?

When I’m listening through speakers, I use the Avid HD I/O and before that, I used the Avid 192 and I always used it with its internal clock. I don’t use external clocks. 

I think the internal clock is really good and I think most gear sound best on their own internal clock because it’s built to work with that clock as opposed to when you are switching it to an external clock mode. When you do that it also has a much more serious phase lock loop, to catch up to whatever clock that is going on outside. But it’s just a personal preference. 

I also do quite a lot of mixing with headphones and for that, I’m usually using a UAD Twin because I like the headphone amp and again it's running on its internal clock. The idea is, if you are mixing 100% in the box the clock, unless it’s a terrible clock, doesn’t matter except for your own monitoring. Because you are printing digitally, it’s only for the D/A while you are listening. 

Let me know in the comments below if you enjoyed this interview and if you have any more questions. Could perhaps lead to another interview with Andrew where he could answer yours.