Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
If I were to point out a project that I am most proud of, I must humbly admit I would have to say one of my very own. Back in 1994, I cut a record with a band I was playing with at the time. We recorded at a great studio; however, the band was never satisfied with the final mix. Fast forward to 2013, I went back to the very studio where we cut the album to find it was still owned and operated by the same person. I was also surprised to find he had transferred our entire project onto WAV files! He provided copies to me, which I quickly rushed home to remix! All of my former bandmates were involved in the project, which quickly turned into a 20 year anniversary re-release of the record. We wrote a new song for the record, remixed the old songs and even re-recorded instruments and added additional instrumentation! The outcome was like night and day. Being 20 years older and more experienced, plus mixing the record completely to our taste, brought a new life to the record…one we never thought we would have heard 20 years ago! I have never been more excited about a project, nor have I ever felt more satisfaction over a finished product.
Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?
My guarantee is this (and it is literally written on my website): “If we cannot address your needs, we will help you find local resources that can.” And I have done this unconditionally on more than one occasion for one reason or another! I believe part of being a good mixer (or a good businessman in general) is recognizing your inability to address the clients’ needs (whatever the reason may be) and directing them to a place where their needs can be met. That being said, I haven’t been on the site long enough to really get to know my peers; but as I become familiar with the expertise on the site, I will definitely keep them on my referral list!
Analog or digital and why?
Each have their pros and cons. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE the analog sound! There is an argument over whether or not one can tell the difference – and I feel my ears are sensitive to the differences between the two formats! There is something unmistakable about an old Fleetwood Mac record or an old Billy Joel, Pat Benatar, Heart or Hall & Oats record. There is a warmth and fatness that is so identifiable and that is so different from a digital recording. Digital recordings seem a bit harsher to me, especially in the upper register of the frequency range. HOWEVER…I work in an all-digital environment. Everything comes in through my Mackie 8 Bus or through my mic pres PRIOR to hitting the interface. But at the end of the day, everything is mixed completely in the box. The bright side about mixing ITB is that recall is much easier…and FASTER! But if I had my rathers, I would continue working just the way I am! My current “hybrid” process is efficient and gives me the (and my clients) the results we want.
What's your 'promise' to your clients?
I would call this more of a goal than a promise. When I work with clients, I tell them that I want to help them make a record that they can listen to in 10 or 20 year and have absolutely no regrets. I realize I cannot do this alone as a mixer or a producer; but I do try to facilitate the process of getting the client to set their sights on making a record that will be “timeless” to them. As a musician, I often listen to songs that I recorded 20 years ago, and sometimes I find myself saying, “Holy cow, what was I thinking???” As a result, I promise my clients that I will do everything in my power to help them create a record they will be happy with. For example, if my client is unsatisfied with something they tracked or if they feel something in a mix is questionable, I will make sure the issue is corrected so there is absolutely no doubt in their mind once the project is completed. There may be no such thing as the perfect project, but I do want to make sure that my clients are provided with every opportunity possible to address everything they are not happy with in the studio. I believe that by the time the music is ready for distribution, artists and bands should feel a sense of security and pride when displaying their music to the world.
What do you like most about your job?
When I was more focused on songwriting and playing guitar, I used to love the creative process of writing and arranging music, as well as playing in bands. However, the creative process of sitting behind a mixer (or computer) and mixing a song provides a satisfaction that is unparalleled to anything I ever felt as a musician. There is nothing more challenging, gratifying or creative (to me) than mixing – marrying multiple tracks and successfully making them coexist with one another within the context of a song. But that isn’t the most fun part! The most fun and gratifying part of the mixing process is giving life to a song by giving it movement, dynamics, direction and feeling. I love the endless possibilities that one has to turn a song into this living, breathing “being” that, in the end, will be heard by an audience and will touch them emotionally on so many different levels. This process, to me, is extraordinary. To be part of this process is humbling. To be chosen by an artist or band to help in this process is both an honor and a privilege.
What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
One of my biggest challenges where I live is the fact that I am surrounded by world-class studios, and people think you have to record in one of these studios to make a good record. My studio is a home-based studio, and the misconception is that anything recorded in a home studio environment is not on par or not on the same level as a “professional” facility. I guess, for all intents and purposes, people perceive me as being a “project” studio or a “demo” studio. This has made building my business and building credibility quite challenging, to say the least. I strongly believe that it is not the gear, nor the building nor the location that makes a good record. Because you can’t buy talent, creativity and dedication in any music store.
What questions do you ask prospective clients?
Most songwriters are inspired by a specific (or number of) songwriters, bands, styles of music or sound. Usually, one of my first questions to a client will be, “If your song or record could sound like any record by your favorite band or artist (production-wise), what record would you want to sound like?” Based on the responses of my clients, I do my homework by researching the artists and productions that come up in our conversation. This always serves as a good starting point for me and as a roadmap in the mixing and/or recording process. If I am recording the client, I will know there are certain things I need to do and focus on to get close to what the artist is trying to achieve sonically. If I am only mixing, this still provides information and guidance in the mixing process. This strategy has been extremely useful for me as it allows me to make what is in the artist’s head, from a sonic standpoint, more tangible and more attainable.
What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
Don’t hire someone because they charge a cheaper rate or because they charge an arm and a leg (price can be synonymous with quality both ways). Don’t hire someone because they have a ton of great gear. And certainly don’t hire someone because they are more well-known than others. The most successful, fruitful and memorable projects I have ever been a part of had everything to do with a mutual love and respect of the music being created. Find a mixer or producer that understands you and that connects with you. Find someone who connects with your music and fully understands your vision. This is the person who will treat your songs as if they were their own, who will go the extra mile and who will truly take your music to the next level. Everything else should be secondary.
If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
I would take my laptop, one of my AKG C414s, my Focusrite ISA Two mic pre, my interface and my M-Audio midi keyboard. (Does a generator and a limitless supply of gasoline count as gear???) I believe that when it comes to music production, sometimes less is more! I feel like these are the more essential pieces of gear; because when I was starting out, I could pretty much produce a record with this much stuff! From a music production standpoint though, going back to basics isn’t always such a bad thing!
What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
In my early 20s (during the early 1990s), I was dead set on becoming “the next guitar god!” After essentially “burning out” and losing interest in the live scene, I quit playing in bands around 2000 and focused primarily on songwriting and recording. This soon escalated into building my own home studio and recording and mixing – first for myself and subsequently for other bands. Over the years, I have dedicated myself to writing, recording, producing, mixing, mastering, coaching, occasional gigging and even doing session work from time to time as a guitar player. If asked to, I will even do live sound on occasion. I try to keep myself as involved as possible on every level. I believe in order to be a good producer and mixer, one has to have his/her finger on the pulse of every aspect of the music business – from playing to studio work to live music. So I never try to limit myself!
How would you describe your style?
First and foremost, I believe in humility and constantly remind myself when working with clients that the music is not mine. With that being said, I do consider myself a risk-taker when mixing a song - and even when producing. For example, if I am mixing a song and I hear an empty space somewhere, or if I feel that a chorus needs something to excite it and bring more explosiveness and dynamics, I will sometimes add a certain element such as percussion, a subtle sound effect or even another instrument. Sometimes, the artist will tell me it’s the most amazing thing they have ever heard…and sometimes the artist will tell me to remove it and leave it like it was. So I comply and life goes on. I am never afraid to TACTFULLY suggest ideas that I feel would take the song to another level. The worst that can happen is the artist says, “No.” I feel mixing is such an immensely creative as well as collaborative process, and I find it difficult to hold back suggestions I feel can contribute positively to a song - without being demeaning, egotistic or condescending of course. I believe that by being fearless about sharing my ideas as a mixer, neither I nor my client have anything to lose!
Which artist would you like to work with and why?
This question is difficult to answer. As a mixer and producer, I would not want to limit myself to a specific artist or genre. Every musician/artist/band has something unique to offer stylistically, musically and professionally. I want to explore this and add as many colors to my palette as possible. This, in the long run, will make me better as a music professional on all levels.
Can you share one music production tip?
The following is a strategy I use in the pre-production phase of recording when necessary. From time to time, clients come in with music they have played over and over again (in various renditions and situations) but have never committed to a recording. This makes it challenging for many to conceptualize what they want the song(s) to sound like in the context of a sound recording. In most cases, clients I have worked with who have had this dilemma start spinning their wheels, often making it hard to move forward and commit to a final version. In this scenario, I often use the following strategy, which has always been effective in getting the recording process back on track:
I tell them, “Think about a song that is timeless and significant to music in general – for example, Bohemian Rhapsody. No matter how many times one has heard a live version, cover version or any other alternative version of the song, the recording itself is timeless. It is the mental snapshot of the song that we carry so vividly in our memories. It is the one and only way that Queen captured the song ‘on tape,’ which was forever frozen in time. Keep in mind that songs can be played in many different ways on stage, and many of our favorite artists play different renditions of their hits as the years go by. But, what was originally captured on tape, vinyl or hard drive is what will live on forever. Now, if you could capture that same magic with your song…if you could freeze your song in time…if you know that the song you record today will be heard by the masses 20 or 30 years from now…how would you want it to sound?”
This strategy has always been very beneficial and has helped me to focus my client’s mindset toward the “hear and now” of, not only creating music in a studio environment, but also identifying a stylistic goal and working toward it.
What type of music do you usually work on?
I find myself working on a lot of country, rock and singer/songwriter projects. Because of my geographic location (Tucson Arizona), these genres seem to dominate the market more than other genres. I occasionally receive calls from hip hop artists, and I have mixed some R&B projects as well.
What's your strongest skill?
As a mixer and producer, I feel my strongest asset is the ability to support a band in “constructing” a song during the recording process. I had a mentor several years ago (circa 1994) who taught me a valuable lesson in song arrangement from an instrumental standpoint. His key messages still resonate to this day: 1) There is a time and a place for musicians to shine in a song. In pop music, for example, each instrument must give space to the vocal – which is usually the focal point. When everyone overplays, the focal point is quickly lost; 2) Make sure the bass guitar and kick are playing mostly the same thing. If they are not, your bottom end will bottom out. 3) Instruments that share the same frequency range will fight for space in a song. Always be cognizant of this from the beginning and make arrangement adjustments if necessary. These tips, and many more that he shared with me, have been an integral part of how I write, produce and mix throughout the past twenty-plus years.
What do you bring to a song?
A song should be a living thing…something that constantly moves from beginning to end…something that evolves from intro to verse to chorus to bridge to solo to finale and so on. There is a considerable difference between the sonic value of a song and its emotional value. Mixing isn’t only about leveling, EQing and adding effects here and there to make a song SOUND good. To me, it’s much more about, “What can I bring as a mixer to highlight dynamics, emphasize emotion, bring movement and breathe life into a song?” A song is about energy, emotion and vibe. I am always trying to find a way to make a song move forward instead of falling flat. I try to bring this concept to every mix I have the privilege of getting my hands on. As I listen to a song for the first time, and as I move through the mix, I constantly ask myself these questions: “What does this song need to move forward and be more dynamic? What does this song need to faithfully emit the emotion, intent and meaning of the lyrics?” A mixer MUST be able to answer these questions and to recognize opportunities to take the mix to the next level!
What's your typical work process?
My work process is anything but typical. When I sit down in my control room, my process is guided by the work that needs to be done, whether it be mixing, recording, mastering, editing or other tasks. Even how I approach a mix or a recording session depends greatly on the band/artist, genre, song and other factors. I don’t like to say “I have a typical process,” because if there is anything I have learned over the years - recording and mixing artists and bands is anything but typical or predictable. I allow the needs of my clients to always guide me and to help me determine how my workflow needs to be, and I never take a cookie-cutter approach to anything! Being flexible in this way allows me to be a better mixer and producer, to adapt to the needs of clients and to better serve those who hire me for my services.
Tell us about your studio setup.
My studio setup is small but efficient. I record through a Mackie 8 Bus Series 24 channel mixer, which goes through a Tascam US 16x08 audio/midi interface. I track into Pro Tools (right now 10 HD) and also do the majority of my mixing there. I occasionally use Adobe Audition CS6 for audio editing and other miscellaneous tasks. Both DAWs offer something very unique, so I use them according to my needs at any given point during the production process. I mix strictly in the box and have a ton of plugins from a ton of developers! I monitor through a pair of 1st generation KRK Rockit 8s. I love these speakers and know them very well. From a hardware standpoint, I use Focusrite and ART mic pres, ART and Dbx compressors and Joe Meek EQs. I also have a Digitech GSP2101 and PODxt Pro for guitars and bass guitars. My mic locker consists of AKG C414s; Mojave MA201s; Audix drum mics; Shure SM81s, 58s, 57s and a SM7b for vocals; a Rode NT2000; and other large and small diaphragm condensers. My midi controller is an M-Audio Keystation 61, and my control room walls are COVERED in my wife’s beautiful artwork!
What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
Being a musician myself, I have been inspired by numerous musicians throughout my lifetime – mainly guitarists since I am a guitar player. However, ever since I began focusing on mixing, my focus on inspirational figures has also transformed. People like Bob Clearmountain, Al Schmitt, Eddie Kramer and George Martin are my heroes. Their stamp on the music industry from a recording and producing standpoint is very significant and something I greatly admire. Other mixers I greatly admire include (but are certainly not limited to) Andrew Scheps, Joe Baressi, Michael Brauer, Manny Marroquin, Jack Joseph Puig, Joe Chiccarelli, the Lord-Alge brothers and the list goes on.
Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
I offer a variety of services at my studio, Cimamusic Mix & Mastering. My main “menu” consists of recording, mixing and mastering services. In addition, if requested, I will step into the role of producer, having produced and co-produced several artists that have come through my studio. I also assist artists with songwriting and song arrangement.