How To Make Your Mixes Translate Well Outside Of Your Studio

3 Tested Ways To Increase Your Client Base Cover.jpeg

- Are you a home studio owner or professional audio engineer who is struggling to find clients?

- Do you want to build relationships and find more artists to work with?

- Are you struggling what to say or write to bands to make them come back to you?

Mixing can be so much fun, especially when you are that point when everything is sounding kick-ass.

The drums are hitting hard, the bass is groovy, the vocal sits nicely on top and we feel like kick-ass mixers.

Then we take our mix out in the real world and it sounds completely different.

The vocals might not feel as loud anymore and all of a sudden the drums are lacking all of its low-end.

This can make us start questioning our decisions during mixing, for example, we might question if the vocals are loud enough or if the mix is too bright or too bassy.

You might even start looking for that perfect control-room to mix in, but that will most likely take a lot of money and/or time. Time you can spend mixing and honing your craft.

So, what can you do in situations like these to fix your mixes?

Mix Quiet

Mix quietly

Mix quietly

One of the biggest impact my mixes benefitted from was to start mixing really quiet.

By mixing really quiet your perception of where things sit in the mix will improve dramatically. You will start to notice, really easily, if something is too quiet, too loud or too bright or bassy.

By mixing really quiet you will start to have a more “even” mix and when you check your mix in other speakers, it should be a much more pleasant experience rather than one of dread.

Beyond that, it will let you mix for longer periods of time because you will not suffer from tired ears and a tired brain.

This technique works great on either headphones or speakers.

Learn Your Room, Speakers, Headphones, Etc.

Learn your gear

Learn your gear

I do a lot of my mixes on headphones (I’m using the Sennheiser HD650) and over time, by playing these mixes in rooms I trust, I know how loud, for example, I need to make the bass so it translates well.

Even if you don’t find a perfect room and it varies a bit from room to room, make a note how it sounds on speakers you trust and how that sounds in your headphones.

Depending on the headphones you are using you might find that you need to make it feel a bit too bassy or slightly less bassy to make it translate well to speakers.

You also need to learn how your room sounds. Perhaps it hasn’t been designed by an acoustician which means you will most likely encounter some problems.

Listen to a lot of music and take your mixes to rooms you can trust so you know at which frequencies you have a problem at.

Make a note of this and apply that knowledge to your new mixes. Go back and check, did it improve?

Too Bright Or Too Bassy?

Too bright?

Too bright?

By implementing the previous techniques you will hopefully start to feel when something is either too bright, not bright enough, etc.

However, if you, like me, compare your mixes to other songs out there, you might find that your mix is never as bright as them.

Does that mean you need to go in and brighten every track in your session?

No, but you can perhaps add a dB or two on your master track just to brighten it up a little (Assuming you still have some headroom left).

Use some reference tracks that you know well and that sounds great wherever you listen to them. Compare them to yours and try match the brightness or the low-end if that’s what you need.

Again, listen quietly to make the best adjustments.

Side note: Don’t only mix super quiet, make sure you check your mix at loud levels too. It’s important to feel and hear the impact of your mix and if something pops out that you didn’t notice before.

Use Analysers

Built in analyser in the SSL EQ plugin

Built in analyser in the SSL EQ plugin

Something I heard from a prominent engineer is to use analysers. Especially when you are starting out.

How does your favourite sounding track look on the analyser? How loud is the bass?

Try and match your mix with your favourite track using an analyser and see how it feels.

The track you compare to have most likely been mastered so make sure you don’t get fooled by the level difference. Bring the level down of your reference track down to yours so you don’t get fooled by the “louder is better” syndrome.

I hope some of these techniques helps and let me know in the comments below what you think and if you have any other techniques you want to share!

Lesson Learned From Having My Music Mixed By Someone Else

As sound engineers, it’s amazing when you get hired to record or mix someone else’s music. It means the band or artist like what you do and trusts your opinion, however, how often do we base our decisions on our own perception about the music rather than working from what the band actually wants and how they hear things within their own music?

This was something I recently experienced but with the roles being reversed, as in, I was the artist and someone else was mixing it.

When I received the music it was nothing like I had envisioned it, instead, it was done with the intention and taste from the engineer.

To be a great engineer it’s really important to understand how it is at the other side of the glass, as in, you have experienced being recorded yourself or you know how it is playing live. For example, having some experience being an artist you know how important it is for them to feel relaxed in the studio and if you are doing live shows you know how important the monitoring is for them on stage.

The same thing goes for mixing other peoples music.

So, how come we sometimes can get stuck in our own way and think we know how something should sound if we haven’t fully understood the artist we are working with?

Unless someone hires you because they love your sound then you are free to do whatever you want, of course, but for most of us, that is not the case (yet).

The Importance Of Asking Questions

So, what can we as engineers do to understand what the artist hear in their head and make them become a reality?

Simple - ask them questions.

For example, before starting the project, whether it’s a recording session or a mixing session, call them up and talk about their music.

Ask for references and which artists they like. What do they like about them? Is it how the vocal or drum sounds? How they pan their guitars? How massive the bass is?

Anything you can pick up and learn the better of you will be, and the more likely you are to deliver a killer recording or mix.

Being Able To Decipher What Artist Means

It’s not always as easy that you can just ask questions to artists and get answers that you can start implementing. Sometimes, artists can say one thing and mean another thing.

For example, a Grammy-winning engineer told me once that an artist he was doing some mixing for had asked for it to sound like the ’70s with big reverbs, etc. However, when the artist heard it it was nothing like he had meant.

These things happen all the time, therefore, it’s really important to dig just a little bit deeper. If the artist asks for a particular sound, for example, a 70’s sound, send them some references or mention some artists that you associate with that decade and ask if that’s what they mean.

This could save some time down the line so you don’t have to mix it once and then come back and mix it again, completely different.

Asking bands and artists for rough mixes is also a really good way of getting a better understanding of their intentions, and gives you something to compete with

Sometimes it’s like cracking a code

Sometimes it’s like cracking a code

Let Go Of Your Ego

Working with bands and artists music, that they sometimes have spend years writing, is something that should be treated with respect and it’s our duty to, at least, ask some questions about their vision and how they want to hear it.

Therefore, it’s important to let go of your ego as much as you can and realise it’s not about you, it’s about them.

Now, I’d love to hear what you think about this, do you have any experience of this happening to you? Let me know in the comments below!

Why You Should Use Delays When Mixing

You most probably know what delays are and you might even have come across a cool delay guitar pedal that makes you write some awesome psychedelic songs. Perhaps you have seen delays being used on various mixing tutorials online, especially on vocals. You know you can choose from 1/4, 1/8, 1/16-notes delays, and many other note values. (Using the Dotted note value is actually one of my favourite delays to use on drums, but more on that later).

Delays can be used to create special FX or give width to instruments, therefore, still allowing them to be dry and upfront in your mix.

In many of the pop songs nowadays, delays are almost always heard on the lead vocal, so let’s have a closer look at some examples.

Check out the delay on this track by Ariana Grande. Pay attention to the space after the first line of vocal, after she sings, “…I can barely breath

Pretty nice. Here they used delay, with some additional feedback, to fill out the space between the vocal phrases. It’s also in tempo with the track, which helps keep the groove going.

Below, another example, this time Beyoncé - Halo. The note value stays the same but listen to how the feedback increases the closer we get to the chorus, wherein the verse it’s a single repeat and in the pre-chorus, there are many more. This creates more excitement as the track builds. Pretty neat.

Now, all delays are not that obvious and many times they can be used to create width without being heard. This can be applied to vocals, guitars, drums or whatever you can think of. This is usually done with short, between 10-30 ms, delays. Below you can check this out on a drum kit. A short delay has been applied to the snare drum, the right channel and left channel vary slightly in it’s delay time to give us the spread of the image.

Did you feel the snare drum getting wider? Pretty cool, right!

As you have seen so far, delays can be used in many instances, but we are not done yet. Delays are also a great tool to add groove to a drum kit. Have a listen below.

I like to think of it as I’m adding ghost notes. It just grooves a lot more. Also, experiment with your note values, in this case, I used an 8th note delay but sometimes you get a better result with a 16th- or an 8th note dotted delay.

Learning about these various situations where delays are used is important because it will allow you to decide WHY you want to use a delay in a certain situation. Do you want to fill out a space, like in the Ariana Grande song? Do you want to create excitement or a sense of urgency as in the Beyoncé song? Do you want to widen a particular instrument? Do you want to enhance the groove on a drum kit?

The options are many but knowing what you want beforehand is the most important thing. Don’t just slap a delay plugin on something without asking what you want to achieve first.

The Most Important Features

The essential features you need on your delay plugin are, in my opinion:

Note value - Allowing you to change between 1/1 to 1/32nd notes.

Feedback - Allowing you to create repeats. Such as in Ariana Grande - Into You.

Low and High-pass filter - Allowing you to shave some of that low- and high-end of the delays. Allowing the delays to be “tucked” under without being overly distracted.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, was this helpful? Was there anything I missed that you like me to go through? Let me know!

Tom Lord-Alge - It's Not The Gear It's Your Ear

Tom Lord-Alge is a two time Grammy-Award winning engineer and has mixed records for bands such as U2, The Rolling Stones, Oasis and many others. Tom is currently working out of his studio, Spank Studios, in Miami where he has been for the last 20 years. 

In this interview, Tom speaks about how he started out at the age of 16, getting thrown in the deep-end by his brother Chris Lord-Alge, which decision in his career he like to change, when a mix is finished, how you should deliver a session and so much more.


Tom’s studio - Spank Studios

Tom’s studio - Spank Studios

You started out working on live shows doing light and sound when you were only 16, how did you manage to get a gig at that young age?

It starts with having a phoney ID. 

Joking aside, I was raised and had been around musicians my entire life and the cats who offered me the gig were friends of my older brothers. When they offered the gig to me I approached my mother because she had to sign me out of school, which she was fine with.

…as long as you are working I don’t have a problem with that” she said

Also, I’m the youngest of six kids so she had already dealt with my other siblings who wanted to leave school to pursue a career in music, however, since my mom was a jazz musician she was very happy that her three youngest kids were pursuing a career in music.

You mentioned your mother, how did she influence you in terms of your life in music?

Her name is Vivian Lord and she is a jazz singer, pianist as well as a jazz educator. I have very fond memories as a child being in bed hearing mom performing or rehearsing with her jazz trio. When they took breaks my mom would go to the kitchen and make everybody something to eat, of course, the musicians would be in the basement with myself and my brothers and they would be smoking weed, “Here, have hit of off this” they would sometimes say to us. I was immersed in the whole culture and lifestyle in a relatively early age so it always seemed normal to me and that’s all I knew.

One of the first sessions you did, having been thrown in the deep-end by your brother, was with James Brown - Living In America, how did you handle the pressure? 

You just deal with it and I think having been around musicians and artists my entire life before I ever walked into the studio, certainly didn’t hurt. However, then James Brown and the producer Dan Hartman walks in, but once you get past that initial shock of who the person is you realize what you are there to do. 

How I got thrown in the deep-end during that session was that my brother, Chris, got out of his chair and left the room, just to see what I would do, so, I sat down in the chair and took over the session. Later in life, Chris said, “I had to see what you were made of so I walked out of the room because I needed to make sure you were on top of what was going on. I needed you to be aware of the situation and if you could handle it”

I guess I did OK. 

From Top left, Unknown, Keith LeBlanc, Arthur Baker, Little Steven Van Zandt, CLA, TLA (Unique Recording circa 1985)

From Top left, Unknown, Keith LeBlanc, Arthur Baker, Little Steven Van Zandt, CLA, TLA (Unique Recording circa 1985)

You have also spoken highly about Bob Clearmountain, in which ways did he influence you as a mix engineer?

Bob’s influence on me was his use of EQ and what the vibe of a mix should sound like. Also, Chris and I would listen to his mixes and admire, for example, his compression and once we got better at replicating Bob’s mixing style we took the bits that we enjoyed and made them our own. 

Bob is a very, very consistent mixer, his mixes always sounded unbelievably good and that was something that I strove for and was inspired by. It didn’t matter the song, it sounded like he treated every song as if it was the song that made his career. To this day I still have a great relationship with Bob and have a ton of admiration for him because he really forged and invented the mixing engineer philosophy.

Bob’s treatment of drums were also really great, for example, Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones and all the Bryan Adam stuff that came out in that era. He did great rock records in the 80’s when there wasn’t really any rock records being made, obviously very different sounding then the rock records being made today, but when you listen to them they don’t have a time stamp, like other records in the 80’s. Records like Let’s Dance by David Bowie which Nile Rodgers produced is another freaking spectacular example of Bob and then you go to the whole other side such as Chic - Le Chic, holy shit, what the hell is this, again, mixed by Bob. The list just goes on and on and on.

Do you have a specific routine you do before going into a mixing session to be able to bring your A-Game?

Coffee! I have had a very specific coffee cup for 25-30 years. It has kept my coffee warm for years. That’s the start of my day, then I sit in front of the console, open the session I will work on, give a listen to the rough mix whilst setting up. At this point, I’m also mapping out the song, such as the different parts, where the strong suits are and how I want them to sound.

I go through a whole plethora of emotions while mixing, from elation to disappointment, from exuberance to share terror, from making decisions to being indecisive. Although, at the end of the day that’s part of the process and through the years I have learned not to second guess myself and instead go with my gut. I can’t give my client his mix until he gets My mix and I have to get My mix out of my system first, but generally speaking I always go with my initial impression.

How do you know when a mix is finished?

It’s being finished the whole time I’m working on it but once I’m putting the last parts in there’s always a handful of things I like to do on my console. For example, drum moves, which are easier on the console because I’m using outboard gear or console compression as oppose to doing it in Pro Tools. However, in Pro Tools it’s sometimes easier to do guitar or keyboard rides. Once the last parts are in it’s two or three passes of automation and that’s usually done on my small iLoud speakers by IK Multimedia. I use them because they are really nice and similar to what I feel the majority of people are listening through. 

How is it having your brother also be a really successful mixing engineer?

It’s fucking awesome, my brothers, Chris, Jeff [Lord-Alge] and I are inseparable. Jeff runs a backline company and he helped me build my studio, Spank Studio, here at Miami Beach. When Chris and I get together we really don’t talk too much about work but when we are out doing the trade shows together it’s all about work, but it’s awesome. 

Chris and I have always said one thing, it doesn’t matter which Lord-Alge mix it is, as long as it’s one of us. 

TLA & David Byrne of The Talking Heads (Unique Recording 1984)

TLA & David Byrne of The Talking Heads (Unique Recording 1984)

Is there anything specific you learned from Chris that is a vital part of your workflow?

Everything. Chris had been bugging me for years while I was mixing live shows, saying I would really excel in the studio and that I should come to check it out and finally I took him up on it. I already had the knowledge of balancing and audio but Chris taught me how it is being the keeper of the vibe and what it’s like to manage a session.

We also used to screw around in the studio, for example, when we were both mixing at Unique Recording Studios, maybe he would be in the B room and I was in the A room or vice versa, and at the end of the day we would say, “come and listen to this snare drum”, that was our thing back in the day, “OK, who can get the snare drum the loudest?”. 

Also, if it wasn’t for Chris I don’t know where my career would be because he was the one who did all the dirty work, he cleaned the toilets and worked his way up the ranks. I didn’t have to do that. I walked into the studio and was hired as an engineer immediately based on Chris’s recommendation. I’m forever grateful for that and I’m very pleased and happy that I didn’t let him down

You have had a long career in the music industry, so, if you could change one decision you’ve made, what would that be?

I probably wouldn’t have asked Pink Floyd why they wanted me to mix their record. I’d like to have that one back. I had lunch with David Gilmour and Bob Ezrin and I asked them, “Why do you want me to mix the record?”, I think I had one too many Sake’s but I was very flattered but I didn’t think I was worthy and obviously, I wasn’t because I didn’t mix it.

I use this expression, “I know where the bodies are buried” because when you open a session you hear what the band is doing and the genie is out of the bottle. This was my thought process when I had lunch with David Gilmore. There’s a part of me that knows if I had mixed it, it could have ruined the experience of me enjoying it because I would have known where the bodies were buried. 

It changes your perception of the artist when you find that stuff out, for example, with Peter Gabriel, who is one of the most influential artists to me and my brothers. When I got to work with him the genie was let out of the bottle and now I know where the bodies are buried.

TLA, Peter Gabriel & CLA

TLA, Peter Gabriel & CLA

Many people are struggling with perfectionism, therefore endlessly tweaking their knobs, or not finishing their projects, is this something you have experienced and how did you deal with it?

You got to know when good is good enough. You can tweak the knobs until the cows come home but it’s not going to get any better. Try to be the keeper of the song and keep the presence and the vibe of the song alive. Mixing is compromising, there are certain things I don’t compromise on but there’s only so much I can do with a recording. When you get a bad recording you do the best you can, although, if you polish it up too much it shows all the warts, so my job is to keep the vibe and the intent of the song intact without over-polish it or making it too perfect, which I do have a tendency to do sometimes.

I heard you speak a lot about the next generation of engineers and producers. What would be your number 1 advice to us in terms of getting and maintaining a career in the music industry?

First and foremost, when you are working on your session in your DAW, if in the back of your mind you feel that your idol is going to open it up, that will change the way you work. In my case when I was a recording engineer, I was taught to keep things clean and well notated. Think about if Bob Clearmountain was going to mix this, what would he say when he heard these tracks, so my recommendation to new engineers and producers is that in your workflow, even though nobody will ever open up your session you never know, so make your session tidy, spend time notating things, it’s very important. I get session all the time that are written in hieroglyphics so I can't figure out what half the things are sometimes. 

Also, don’t get hung up on gear. Learn your rig. Pull all your plugins out and just have 2 or 3 of the main things, as in, 2 EQ’s, 2 compressors, 2 reverbs, delays and a couple of speciality plugins and master those. Choose the once that are your workhorses that do the most for you and from there you just keep adding the colours.

Remember, It’s not the gear it’s your ear. Trust your ears, monitors and the decisions making process because that’s the whole things about mixing, trusting the decisions you make and be able to live with them.

Also, when I get sessions and I look at their master fader and I see 5, 6 or even 7 plugins on it I know this engineer is a hack and that he has no idea of what he is doing. You shouldn’t need to have that on your master fader. I can do it with one plugin on my master fader, for example, a compressor just to pull everything together.

What has been your hardest decision you had to make in your career?

Right now, is what to do with the studio in my house. I never had a studio in my house up until 3 years ago, but I love it. However, the problem now is that I don’t have a life. Throughout my whole career I never had a studio in my own house so I was able to separate work from my personal life but with the studio in my house, if I’m not working I’m still here making it better, doing maintenance because I like to keep my equipment at peak operational level. 

I’m going to sell my house because I have been in Miami Beach for 24 years and I have done what I need to do here so I’m looking forward going into the next chapter and I’m leaning towards not having a studio in my house. 

Are you moving back to LA?

I haven’t decided yet but I’m leaning towards New York City. I’m from that area and I miss it. There are some opportunities for me to park my gear so it’s something to consider. I’ll miss Miami Beach, but I had a great run here. 

Now, let me know what you think in the comments below!

Michael Brauer - Developing New Ideas And Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Having worked in the music industry since the 70’s, Michael Brauer has done records with legends such as Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, John Mayer, Coldplay, Rolling Stones and the list of huge artists goes on. 

Besides the artists he has worked with, his unique style of mixing, especially how he uses compression has made him one of the top mixers in the industry. In this interview, Michael opens up about how he first got started, how he expresses himself through his mixing, favourite failures, going out of your comfort level to keep developing new ideas and stay fresh, what he learned from working under Clearmountain and so much more. 

Michael shares some really great knowledge that you can definitely apply to your own work and career so I hope you enjoy it.

Photo by: Sonya Jasinsk

Photo by: Sonya Jasinsk

You started out in the shipping department and eventually became staff engineer at Media Sound Studio in New York. Could you tell us some of your experience from starting out to eventually becoming an engineer? What were some of your biggest struggles and how did you overcome them? 

Our job was to stock the studios every morning, deliver tapes and packages to clients, either at the labels or at home. We also helped to set up and break down sessions. I became head of shipping in a few months and when the shift ended I would offer to assist any of the engineers. I was 25 when I got hired so I was actually older than some of the engineers. It didn’t bother me though since I was there to learn from the best and I was happy to be there. The hours were really long and it was a while before I felt that there was a light by the end of the tunnel. However, considering how it’s now to get ahead, I moved up the ranks very fast and became a staff engineer in two years. 

The main struggles I had was to understand what Dolby did and hearing the differences between compressors or even hearing compression in general. 

You said: “The tools and toys are simply an extension of the thought process. It's really about being creative and visualizing how the song should sound and feel.” What led you to that approach and how can you as an engineer develop that creative/visualization skill? 

That came from me being a musician. It wasn’t the drums that made me good, it was how I played them. Watching and listening to the producers inspired me to be more sensitive to the song being recorded. I imagined I was singing the song and delivering the message. Therefore, it came naturally to me that the more emotion and heart I put into the recording and mixing, the clearer the artist’s vision became. I was very physical when I was mixing, I moved the faders a lot to create more dynamics and crescendos. Luther’s first album “Never Too Much” is the template for how I would approach mixing right up to the present. 

How important is it to get out of your comfort level to further develop your skill as an engineer? What is your favourite way of stepping out of your own comfort level? 

As an engineer, it’s crucial that you evolve at the same rate as music. A fresh new idea today, that is appropriate for the record you are making, has a shelf life. It may be groundbreaking and completely cutting edge, however, when the record comes out and if it becomes popular everyone will copy it, therefore, it stops being fresh. If you base your career on that, the day will come when you use it on an artist and they are not going to like it because it’s been done, it’s old. 

It’s tempting to sit on your laurels but then you are no longer cutting edge because music has evolved and you haven’t. So the way I approached it is simple; take a few months to think about an idea you want to start using, spend 6 months developing it on whatever songs that are appropriate for the idea. Then search for the artist that the idea will sound great on and will bring the uniqueness out off. Work it until you feel you’ve completely nailed the idea and it’s sounding great at home and on the radio. Enjoy the success of it for another 6-8 months, then slowly stop making it your go-to idea because you are now being comfortable with it and that is the beginning of laziness. The idea is no longer fresh so it’s time to get out of the comfort zone and start on something else. 

I look forward being out of the comfort zone because the alternative is being considered old in regard to sound and thought. Since I always want to have young, exciting, music coming my way I need to have fresh ideas and sounds to contribute to the mix. How can I do this if my sound is 20 years old? I must evolve as a mixer at the same pace that new artists are evolving and that requires knowing the newest technology, plugins and keeping my sound fresh and modern. 

Michael Brauer -Gwen Guthrie session2 @compass point 12:82.jpg

What are the main things you teach your assistants when you teach them critical listening and how to base their mixing decisions on what they want to hear rather than just following your “presets”? 

First thing I do is tell them not to overthink what they are doing. Don’t think, just do. React to the moment. Second, I teach them to avoid focusing on the wrong element in the song. Third I teach them to mix with their heart, not their head. 

Many people in this industry seem to experience moments where work doesn’t come in, sometimes over a few months or even years, have you experienced this and if so, how do you deal with it? 

Yes, we all at some point during our career experience slow periods. It can be from a few days to a few months. If it’s a year or more it becomes a whole other problem. They way I deal with a few days or a couple weeks is to take care of things in my personal life that needs my attention as well as enjoying my time off. I’ve had a couple of summers where it got super slow but I do my best to keep upbeat and positive. It’s not easy but I get through it. It’s a good time to work on new ideas or take on spec projects. The worst thing you can do is sit around and do nothing. That just gets your mind in a bad place. 

Assuming you have a good manager, they will let you know what’s going on so speak with them about projects you want them to go after. Or, maybe it’s time to reconsider looking for a new management if you feel there’s a pattern with them being lazy or not going after the records you want to do. Most important, though, is not to blame everyone around you. Take responsibility for everything. Who hired the manager? You did. Who didn’t keep on top of keeping your sound fresh? You did. Who isn’t out there networking? You aren’t. Now, when it gets into 4 months and upwards to a year, you’ve got yourself a serious problem. Aside from the financial stress, labels and producers are not thinking of you for their records. You need to figure out why. A year is very serious because labels, artists, et cetera want to see what you’ve done recently and a year is a long time because music and sound have changed, and frankly, if they don’t see a current discography they may not have the confidence that you are going to do a good job. I’ve seen great managers turn careers around for a new client that hasn’t worked in a long time. Doing it by yourself will be extremely difficult to pull off, but it means reconsidering the team you have around you. Do it sooner than later. 

Michael Brauer -first two racks 2 '92.jpg

What were some of the most impactful lessons you learned from working for people such as Clearmountain, Delugg and Bongiovi? 

All three were completely different in their approach to engineering and temperament. It was such a great experience to watch them achieve the same endpoint from different perspectives. Tony Bongiovi was just a badass engineer who came from Motown and his sounds were so funky. His personality was unique, he didn’t take shit from anyone and always had complete control of the session. As an assistant you had to be out of the way and alert at all times. He might very well say, "I gotta catch a bus in 20 minutes, take over the session Brauer." He always spoke his mind with the artist. If the song sucked, he told them. He wasn’t condescending but he did make sure the artist was going in the right direction and he was pretty blunt about it. It worked for him because that was his personality and he seemed to always be right. Bob Clearmountain was always chilled and he would come up with sounds and ideas that were simply mind-blowing but also very intimidating to me because of how great he was. I often wondered that, if I’d be even half as good as him I’d still be very successful. 

Michael Delugg was my mentor and best friend as was Harvey Goldberg. Michael was high pressure, you had to be on your toes with him. He moved really fast and was a brilliant engineer who was a master of compression. He taught me about compression and is a major influence on me taking compression to the next level. He was also a master with keeping the clients happy and running the show smoothly, even when there were 10 people in the control room all raving lunatics. We would do big advertisement dates with 40 musicians in the studio and the guys producing were usually intense, nervous and hyped up on something but Michael would keep calm and keep them happy. It was incredible to watch him in action. He was a true master on interpersonal communication. 

You have worked in the industry since the 70’s, are there any moments that stand out to you that was really special? 

There are many moments but to name a few: 

Meeting and working with Luther Vandross certainly stands out. He taught me how to feel R&B. My approach to recording his records kept his music very fresh and modern sounding. He showed me how to put emotion into everything I recorded and mixed. 

Luther Vandross and Michael Brauer

Luther Vandross and Michael Brauer

When I did my first big recording session which was for a commercial with 40 musicians in a room, all playing at once. It was epic in that I was completely over my head and it needed to be recorded and mixed in 6 hours. I pulled it off without anyone noticing how nervous I was and not trying to distort anything, except the bass, but nobody noticed. I knew that if I survived that day everything else moving forward would be easy as pie.  

I saw you mentioned that your fear of failure is a motivation to you, but how has that fear impact your life/work and how did you overcome it? 

I’ve never overcome it. It’s what keeps me going and doing the best job possible. It comes in different degrees. I think it’s lessened by the amount of confidence I have in myself but when there isn’t some fear sitting there in the background, there’s a possibility of complacency that might set in. And that can lead to nothing but failure in my mind. 

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

My complete lack of understanding and hearing compression…if you can believe it! I mixed a song that was so compressed in my early year as an engineer that it didn’t matter how loud you brought up or down the monitors, it still sounded like the same volume. It scared the hell out of me so I didn’t touch a compressor for months after that. However, with time my ears began to tune into the difference in sound and feel between compressors and what compression actually did. Instead of making an instrument sound small, I learned how to make an instrument sound big with the right compressor. 

What has been your best purchase for $200 or less that has most improved your work in the studio? 

Plugins like iZotope RX or some of the sibilance plugins from Waves or FabFilter.

Mixing With One Set Of Plugins

Do you obsess over plugins? Do you always feel like you need new plugins to achieve the sound you have in your head? Do you spend more time trying new plugins than actually mixing music?

Like this guy's comment: "...it’s so easy to get distracted with plugins and get nothing done." 


"...I’ve noticed they’re many [plugins] so you end up looking and searching all the way and wasting time..."

Can you recognise that feeling?

Playing around with plugins can be fun, but don't let it be the main thing you practise, especially if you are starting out. Then you need to focus on developing your ears and mix as much music you can, regardless of which plugins you use. It's after a while when you have developed a certain palette with your current plugins that you can go ahead and develop more "flavours". 

Recently, I decided to only use one set of plugins and my reason for this was threefold: 

1: To emulate as if I was mixing on a console with an EQ and a compressor on each channel strip. I wouldn't constantly reach for a different hardware unit for each channel (even if they were available)

2: To learn one set of plugins well, getting to know their tone and developing a palette of flavours I could use for future mixes. 

My Plugin-List. Fairly small, no?

My Plugin-List. Fairly small, no?

3: Spend less time messing about with different plugins (my plugins list is actually kind of small)

How can this thinking improve your mixes? 

First of all, it will save you time which can be spent improving your mixes. 

And as stated before, this will let you develop a flavour palette which you can use in the future and you will know which plugin to use if something needs a bit more of a certain tone. This is harder to develop and memorise if you are constantly trying and buying different plugins. 

You can make faster decisions if something works or not because you don't have a 100 compressors to choose from.  

Experiment with how they are sounding if you distort them, of course, you can do this with all your plugins, but limiting the number of plugins you are using will let you absorb the sound and internalise it much more profoundly. 

Having a reason to use a plugin and not just putting it on there because you think you need to. By knowing the sound of your plugins, it will give you a better purpose to why you want to use it.

Obviously, you also save money, which you can spend on other stuff for your studio. Such as microphones, acoustic treatment and whatever else you prefer. 

You don't have to limit your plugins to only use the stock plugins, use whichever brand you like. I decided to only use the Slate Mix Rack and the other compressors available in that subscription, so it's not a ton of plugins but more than enough to learn and internalise. 

Let me know which set of plugins you will use in the comments below. 


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


- Are you a home studio owner or professional audio engineer who is struggling to find clients?

- Are you wondering where to start and have no clients?

- Are you struggling what to say or write to bands to make them come back to you?

Andrew Scheps is 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?


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.


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.


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.