Welcome to my new SoundBetter! My name is Doug Fenske and I am a multi-platinum, GRAMMY-nominated, 13-year veteran of the Los Angeles music production circuit (combined sales of over 4 million copies). All services are performed at Westlake Recording Studios (Rihanna, The Weeknd, Michael Jackson, Imagine Dragons) in Los Angeles.
I am a specialist in a detailed and sophisticated style of vocal production and mixing. My vocal production and mixes have appeared on songs with: Frank Ocean, Chris Brown, The Wanted, LL Cool J, Jamie Foxx, Emily Osment, Jordin Sparks, INXS and many more.
They key to understanding vocal production is knowing how to make the singer or rapper sound like the best version of themselves as artists. It all starts with the performance! Great performances and recordings always translate into a better finished product.
High-level, competitive mixing boils down to understanding how to EQ for clarity, how to compress for control, individual and collective balance, summing and stemming. I offer digital and analog mixes performed on large-format SSL consoles at Westlake Recording Studios.
Please feel free to contact me regarding any of my services or check out my Instagram @SoundsLikeDoug.
Send me a note through the contact button above.
3 ReviewsEndorse Doug Fenske
Very quick and easy to work with!
I had the pleasure of working with Doug at Westlake Recording Studios in Hollywood and can say he is extra talented, hard working, and exactly what you need for your record regarding sound expertise, production and vocal production. Great communication and top level if you are looking for quality :)
10/10 highly recommended professional from the studio facility, console, outboard gear, knowledge of both engineering and production inside-out. My cleanest records have been a product of this guy’s work! Hire Doug ASAP!
Interview with Doug Fenske
Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
A: I am most known for my contribution to Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. I am certainly proud of this work, as it yielded me a GRAMMY-nomination. The session consisted of myself, Frank and André 3000. If you would like to know the entire story, feel free to continue reading and excerpt from a feature column I wrote for Music Connection. •• I had personal plans for the evening on March 8th, 2012. Around 6pm I received a phone call from Steve Burdick. Steve is the owner/operator at Westlake Recording Studios and the phone call went something like this: Me: “Hey Steve.” Steve: “Doug, I have 3000 coming in to Studio C at 8pm and I need a veteran.” Me: “Done. I’m on my way.” That was all I needed to hear in order to break my plans: a session with André 3000. I got dressed, hopped in the car, grabbed a Red Bull on my way and arrived 45 minutes prior to downbeat. After entering the studio I asked the 2nd engineer, Matt Brownlee, to set up a vocal chain of a Sony C800G/Neve 1073/Summit TLA-100. I chose this chain because: • C800 gives me a bright, detailed tone • The 1073 provides rich, crisp harmonics and gain • The TLA-100 has a nice, thick tube sound and really warms up the voice Andre arrived solo and we exchanged pleasantries. He told me that the session was actually a feature for a songwriter named Frank Ocean and that Frank was to arrive soon, so Andre and I talked shop for a bit while we waited. During this time, Andre handed me a hard drive and said, “Can you open the session called Pink Matter?” I pulled up the session, imported my vocal template and we took a brief listen. When playback arrived at his verse he said, “Okay, I already cut some vocals and I want to use the same mic.” When I asked which microphone he used, he responded “an SM57.” As my mind silently spoke words that are not appropriate for this column, I verbalized “sure, no problem at all.” I instructed Matt to replace the gorgeous C800 with the 57 in the existing vocal chain. Frank arrived solo a short time later (I have been fortunate enough to have sat in many studio power triangles over the years). Everyone assumed their position, with Frank behind the console, me behind the computer and Andre in the booth. I dialed in the vocal chain and heard a surprising result: the vocal crossed the professional threshold and didn’t sound bad! We started recording, but like any session, it was not without a speed bump or two. I’m known for being nimble behind the Pro Tools rig, but we were having some buffer and latency issues, probably due to a preference from the previous session. I was able to manage the issues and finish cutting the vocal, albeit a bit slower than normal. The session wrapped successfully, including a full preview of Channel ORANGE, and we all went on our respective ways. With regard to the purpose of this writing, what can we take away from this story from a microphones perspective? First thing is first: purchasing an SM57 and wiring it to a $500 interface will not fetch a GRAMMY nomination. Bear in mind that this 57 was put through a fantastic mic pre and compressor, so its sonic characteristics were greatly enhanced. Having an incredible artist on the other side of the 57 certainly goes a long way as well. What is safe to say is that while the microphone is a very important part of the input chain, the other components (pre and compressor) matter greatly. A microphone that isn’t necessarily designed for vocal recording can be enhanced enough by a high-level vocal chain to be useable on a voice.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: Fortunately, I have reached the point in my career as to where I can work on my own terms. Even though I have a wide catalog of work with major-label artists, I have always had a deep affinity for independents. We are at a great moment in time as an industry for that, as the collective success of all indies has begun to outweigh the major labels due to advancements in distribution platforms and technology. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I am currently working with independent artists, some of which are start-up. Crafting their first pieces of creativity from scratch, and setting the tone for their entire brand, is very rewarding for me.
Q: Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?
A: I would certainly recommend any of my Crē•8 Music Academy alumni. SoundBetter is a place they go after graduation to begin their contracting and careers. Marcus H., Lynz Munich, Joseph Schmidt (Jophes) and Aubrey Aura are just a few of our many talented alumni on SoundBetter.
Q: Analog or digital and why?
A: Both. Why would someone ever reject either side? They are both tools of our trade. Some sounds and plug-ins are meant to “sound digital”, such as anything from Serum or the Waves H-Delay. These synths and plug-ins should be allowed to be what they are meant to be. Putting a wavetable synth though a vintage, analog tube compressor does not yield a desirable result. It sounds confused. On the other side, plug-ins that are meant to emulate vintage, analog gear can be left alone as long as the actual analog gear is available. If a real 1176 is available, I would reach for that every time before I would reach for any sort of plug-in version. Finally, I do not advise any attempt to replicate a digital plug-in with analog hardware. I mentioned the Waves H-Delay. There are settings in that plug-in that are just not replicable by my favorite analog delay unit (the Lexicon PCM 42). I would never remove H-Delay and try to replace it with the PCM 42 (and vice versa). Allow the gear to be the gear, whether it be digital or analog, and adjust your expectations accordingly.
Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?
A: I promise to be accurate to their requests. A long time ago, I learned to deliver exactly what the client desires. No more, regardless of the intention, and certainly never no less than what was agreed upon.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: The greatest reward of my life is starting with a blank DAW session and ending up with a finished product that has been properly registered, distributed and consumed. The feeling is difficult to describe, but it lives somewhere between achievement, vulnerability, excitement, tension, anticipation and gratification. Fortunately, I get to repeat that process over and over for a living. There is literally nothing else in the world that is comparable. It is my entire existence.
Q: What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
A: Most common questions: Where in the song should I stack my vocals? Any place where more instrumentation enters, but the sound of the vocal should remain thick. Remember not to over-stack and be sure to make them tight and unanimous. How many lead vocal take should I perform? As many as it takes. For some artists, four or five takes is enough. For others, it’s more like 24 or 25. Either one is completely acceptable, as long as all of the elements of the song are present in the DAW session and performed properly. How can we achieve the same result for less money? This is a challenging one, but is not impossible to answer. For the most part, I spend a lot of time cleaning up vocal tracks before tuning or building entire Pro Tools sessions before mixing. Hence, the less time I spend preparing, the more time I can spend working. If the client is able to accurately prepare tracks or DAW sessions and deliver them as such, I can turn over work more quickly, which saves on the budget as a result. Where should I get food in LA? The late-night LA recording studio staple is definitely Bossa Nova. Brazilian food, open until 3:30AM on weekends :)
Q: What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
A: Have you heard about the magic plug-in that creates a perfect performance, mix or master? Nope, neither have I. My job is to make the existing performance and song the best it can be, but nothing exists that will fix a recording, performance or mix that is not up to par. Knowing what is (and isn’t) possible in a recording studio is an important trait for a prospective client to possess.
Q: What questions do you ask prospective clients?
A: Communication is paramount to obtaining successful results. However, there is not always a “shared language” between professional and client. I begin with questions about the desired sonic texture of the vocal and/or mix, followed by a request for a reference or target song. After the prospective client’s response, I generally ask a couple clarifying questions to verify that we are on the same page moving forward.
Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A: I would advise to do your research! Examine the music industry professional’s catalog. Does their previous work and experience seem like something that would lend itself well to your project? You already whole-heartedly believe in your project and are prepared to commit time and money in order to see it through to the finish line. Shouldn’t you be just as diligent in the hiring process as you were during writing and production? Ask yourself honest questions about what kind of professional would nurture your creativity and help to create the best possible version of your song.
Q: If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
A: Does the desert island have power? An SSL 9000 J, Blackface 1176, Teletronix LA-IIA, Lexicon 480L and an Eventide H3000. That would give me, or anyone else, everything they need to polish their tropical, desert island inspiration :)
Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
A: My career path began with the saxophone when I was ten years old. I spent eight years in jazz and symphonic training, followed by a three-year stint of performing live music. After attending a music engineering school to allow my technical skills to catch up with my creative, I began interning at a recording studio. I ascended through the ranks very quickly and became a fully independent music professional in early 2009.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: I would describe my style as detailed and sophisticated. That’s not to say that I don’t know how to allow a raw, emotional performance to remain as such. But I know how to enhance, flatter and properly feature the most important elements of a song. There are myriad processes that are involved to make sure the final version of a song maintains its original creative intent.
Q: Which artist would you like to work with and why?
A: Although I have been fortunate enough to have worked with many artists of which I am a fan, I would love to work on any project with Justin Timberlake. In my youth, I rejected his style of music. He and I are only one year apart in age. However, as I matured, I noticed his records doing the same. Now, he stands as a critically respected, commercially successful, career artist. The list of artists who meet those three criteria is short. I connect with his music and message.
Q: Can you share one music production tip?
A: Since we have been speaking mostly about vocals and mixing, one piece of music production advice would be to not over-orchestrate your songs. The DAW will allow us to voice 512 tracks – that doesn’t mean that we should use all of them! Overcrowding the stereo bus with elements that don’t support the song causes two problems: it interferes with the intelligibility of the lead vocal and can become distracting to the listener. The most important part of any song for commerce is the lead vocal. Songs that have an instrument, effect or element that occur too frequently, clash with the rest of the instrumentation or compete for attention with the vocal rarely become successful. This is especially true for mid-range instrumentation, including an overdose of synths, guitars, FX or the like. Remember to serve the song.
Q: What type of music do you usually work on?
A: I usually work on anything that is meant for commerce. In its traditional sense, this means “pop” music….”pop” being an abbreviation for popular. Pop music has five foremost sub-genres: organic, electronic, urban, rock and singer/songwriter. I am well-versed in all of these sub-genres of popular music and know how to maximize their viability.
Q: What's your strongest skill?
A: My strongest skill is delivery. I’ve become known as a “finisher”, in the sense that I know what it takes to nail a deadline with results that meet, surpass or exceed expectations. Finishing a record essentially boils down to making decisions. Having the experience and the foresight to efficiently and accurately make those decisions directly contributes to a working professional’s ability to finish and deliver.
Q: What do you bring to a song?
A: Experience. I bring 13 years of high-level record production experience to each and every song. This is particularly important when things don’t go according to plan. When things go wrong or take an unanticipated turn, understanding how to adjust approaches and procedures in order to secure the end result is the definition of an experienced professional.
Q: What's your typical work process?
A: For vocals, I like to start with the lead vocal first. It’s the most important element in any song that is meant to be successful. Assuming the vocal has been comped, I will tune the entire lead vocal using Melodyne. Upon client’s request, I will Melodyne the background vocals too, but this process is very time-consuming and usually yields a result that is “too perfect”. For that reason, most background vocals are tuned using very specific Auto-Tune settings. For songs and sessions in which the vocal is meant to artifact (the famous T-Pain sound), I suggest that the client dials in their own Auto-Tune settings and delivers the session to me in that way. Finally, the stacked background vocals are aligned to one another, creating a tight, unanimous finished product. For mixing, either digital or analog, the approach is the same. The fundamental elements of the song, which are most important to the song’s creative intent, are mixed first. Next, the most important supporting elements are added. Finally, the small, detailed pieces of instrumentation are added on top of everything else. Most mix engineers follow a similar order of operations: apply dynamic effects, apply time-based effects, set levels, adjust effects if necessary and perform automation. From that perspective, my process is not much different. However, the main difference between a digital and analog mix is the song passing through plug-ins versus iron, wire, tubes and circuitry. The sonic difference between these two processes is palpable.
Q: Tell us about your studio setup.
A: All of my work is performed at Westlake Recording Studios in Los Angeles (Rihanna, The Weeknd, Adele and many more). The studio has a rich, 45+ year legacy of producing critically and commercially successful songs. There are seven studios with consoles that include two SSL 9000 K series, two SSL 9000 J series, an SSL 4000 G and two SSL AWS 900+ desks. Westlake is loaded with outboard gear as well. Some of my favorite dynamic and time-based units are: UREI/Universal Audio Blackface 1176, Teletronix LA-IIA, Neve 33609, Emperical Labs Distressor, dBx 160 VU, GML 8200, Avalon 2055, Lexicon 480L, Eventide H3000 and the Lexicon PCM 42.
Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
A: The way I listen…I like to call it “The Circle of Listening”. Say, for example, that I hear a song that is written very well. I’ll research other songs in that writer’s catalog and listen to several of them. While listening, I may be inspired by the mix on one of those songs. Then I will research and listen to that mix engineer’s work. During that time, I may run across a record that was produced well, so I will dig in to that producer’s catalog. I may stumble upon a song that was written well while listening to the producer’s catalog, and the circle continues.
Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
A: Most commonly, I perform: vocal editing, vocal tuning, digital mixing, analog mixing and mastering for my clients. I estimate to have done over 2,000 sessions in professional Los Angeles recording studios. That experience has enabled me to be efficient, precise and detailed.