What are you working on at the moment?
I'm just finishing the E.P. which I chose as my sample song. It's by an artist called "It's Not Me." On this particular record I wrote the string score, recorded everything here at my DNA Music facility as well as mixed and mastered it. It's Not Me is the project name for singer-songwriter Adam Coe. He and I played all the instruments on the record except the strings, who we contracted locally.
Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
My third solo record was produced by my mentor, Jeff Wolpert. His approach to production was in depth. We knew so much about what the record was going to sound like from our pre-production demos. It was still a pleasant surprise when we invited some of Toronto's best session musicians in. Watching them taught me so much about preparation both in the musical sense and also in terms of the flow of the session. I was the songwriter a multi-instrumentalist but I would also submit some rough mixes of performances I had recorded and edited. It was like David collaborating with Goliath and I treasure the time I got to sit in the back seat and watch Jeff mix. He deserves every one of the four Juno's he's won.
Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?
Andrew Scheps is someone I could watch for hours. I love his attitude and workflow and I've integrated some of his techniques into my day to day mixing routine.
Analog or digital and why?
I'm old enough to have some experience with analog. I'm digital all the way. To me the important factors on a recording are the talent, the room and the microphones. If the piano is real and the guitar amp is real I don't get hung up on mixing in the box. The recall is more important than anything else. I studied under an amazing engineer who was an early adopter of ITB mixing and so I've never second guessed it.
What's your 'promise' to your clients?
I guarantee my work. My attitude is easygoing and I enjoy doing revisions and refining a mix. I work with folks who can communicate their expectations clearly. If they're being realistic and they do their job and I do mine we're guaranteed a great outcome.
What do you like most about your job?
When I was a little boy I would listen to The Beatles and I wished I could travel to that place that seemed to exist just behind the speakers. I'm hopelessly in love with the entire process. Mixing has a certain solitary zen that I love but I also thrive on being in a room with a bunch of musicians and managing a complex session.
What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
A lot of times I'm asked about whether or not I like the genre they're operating in. My answer is that I don't really listen to specific genres exclusively. There's great work being done in every conceivable weird sub genre. I think there is a practical knowledge of genre specific "tricks" one needs to bring to every project but I also think coming to a project with fresh ears and a broad perspective be helpful.
What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
The general public seems to think all recording happens the way it did in the very early days. It is possible to craft a great live in studio recording, but it's much more rare today.
What questions do you ask prospective clients?
I most often request examples of work they love and that usually snowballs into a conversation about why they love it. From there I can make technical inferences about how the work was done and relate experiences I may have had with similar material. I like to know what the driving force behind a prospective clients passion is. People are endlessly fascinating and it's always rewarding to learn about what an artist loves about music as well as what motivates them personally.
What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
Communicate often and make extensive notes. The more information you can provide, including examples of work you love, the better you can be served. Always remember that it's your wedding.
If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
I have a four channel Great River preamp that has been out of production for a long time. It has huge iron transformers and is excellent on acoustic sources. In addition to it I would bring my AKG 414 b-uls, my AKG C12vr and two AEA R84's. You can record just about anything with those four mics and a nice preamp.
What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
I opened my first recording studio when I was 15. My first album was done at a much nicer studio out of town when I was 17. Since then I have spent the majority of my time working in studios or in studio retail. I opened up my 2800 sq ft facility here in Sarnia in 2008.
How would you describe your style?
I don't have a specific production or mixing style, the song always dictates what needs to be done. I do like creating dynamic mixes and I always record in environments that are conducive for whatever instrumentation i'm working with. I often record flat with no effects, eq or compression but I will mix as I go. I've worked with real acoustic instruments all my life, and very often with many musicians playing together. I understand how to work with a recording that has a lot of instrument bleed and how to manage a lot of tracks with extensive instrumentation.
Which artist would you like to work with and why?
In the studio: I'm a music helper, I can get as involved as my clients would like. My requisite is only that they want to make a great record. Artists with passion make the job of record production easy.
Can you share one music production tip?
The execution of a concept doesn't have to take long at all. However you can't be over prepared in the ideas and planning stage. Making sure the room is wired up before clients walk in, creating a great mixing template to draw upon for inspiration are good habits to have. I like to know everything I can about a song before I start a production or a mix. Careful planning gives you freedom in the moment once you start working. It can keep you focused and efficient but also allows you to break rules without painting yourself into a corner.
What type of music do you usually work on?
Indie Rock, singer-songwriters, Country and Punk Rock is what I regularly get hired for. I really enjoy classical, Jazz and Big Band recording/mixing. Over the years I've also worked on Worship music and Hip Hop.
What's your strongest skill?
Understanding how important a song can be. I've dedicated my life to deconstructing recordings and trying to figure out what makes certain recordings, certain songs, work. My commitment to the records I love is what led me to try and understand every possible aspect of recording that I can. Nothing excites me more than talking to a great drummer about their playing style, or understanding room acoustics and mic positions from a master engineer. All of that passion stems from how important certain songs and recordings have been in my life.
What do you bring to a song?
I began my musical life as a songwriter. Suggestions for the song come easily. During a mix there are a lot of ways to enhance and amplify those moments that are supposed to either supply tension or a climactic payoff. The most important skill though, is to listen. Not only to the song but to the artist and producers stated vision for the song. Having an easygoing attitude and a fresh perspective gives me insights on how to strengthen material that perhaps wasn't considered previously.
Being a multi-instrumentalist and someone who has written orchestral pieces for several records I bring my arranging sensibilities to the work I produce or mix.
What's your typical work process?
I mix totally in the box. Since I track the majority of the work I mix, I am constantly mixing through the production process. However, on mixes that come from outside the studio, I typically start with listening carefully to the rough mix and try to establish what the client is looking to achieve. From there I investigate the tracks looking for things I need to clean up before I start working on balances and tones. Having mixed records for 20 years, I tend to just follow my intuition and a mix can be built from any number of angles.
Tell us about your studio setup.
DNA Music is a 2800 sq ft. facility in Sarnia, Ontario. Sarnia is a small Canadian city I've operated in for eight years. We have a nice microphone locker, great preamps and a 1500 sq ft. main room I track, mix and master in. We have collected a collection of instruments that includes a pipe organ and a Fender Rhodes. We also have a house drum kit, many different guitars and acoustic pianos.
What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
I mentored under Jeff Wolpert in Toronto after he and I worked on one of my own records together. He has four Junos (Canadian Grammy) for engineering and production. My other major influence would be fellow Canadian "all-rounder" Daniel Lanois.
Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
I specialize in mixing however at my facility, DNA Music, I do production work and engineering. I'm a multi-instrumentalist. My strongest instruments are voice and guitar but I have played bass, keys and drums on many records as well.