My producing and mixing is a collaboration with you, the artist. Steering you into a successful "hit formula" is a great way to get your second hit, but staying true to your vision and what makes you passionate is your best chance of success as an independent artist. I will offer you ideas and technical skills to support YOUR vision.
I own and operate The Light House, a recording studio just north of San Francisco. When I track you, I will create an environment that is encouraging and inspiring. If you are new to recording, I will patiently walk you through the process. If you are more experienced, I will gently lean on experienced players to keep going to get the best possible take out of you.
In addition to tracking, mixing and mastering at The Light House, I frequently help solo artists assemble a team of session players to produce a full band album. As a producer, I offer consultation on song arrangement, instrumentation, and give feedback on the existing takes. I will find the session players needed to round out the project (if necessary).
As a mixing engineer, which is a service I offer both in person and online, I see my role as listening to the song as it was tracked and hearing what kinds of effects, subtle or extreme, the song is asking for. I take every mixing job seriously, and focus on the dynamics and tone of every sound source, listening not only for what needs a boost of what frequency but which modeled analog compressor or EQ will best bring out what that source is needing.
I am a songwriter myself, and I tap into the same creative source when mixing that I use to write melodies and lyrics.
I'd love to hear about your project. Click the 'Contact' button above to get in touch.
7 ReviewsEndorse Smilin' James Heyser
James is a talented and attentive engineer, he helped create a beautiful album in a short time frame. His touch truly made the album special, and his rates were reasonable. Can't recommend him enough!
I had such a great time with James,had to record a whole album with him.Firstly,his personality is to date,the warmest and most endearing of all sound engineers I’ve seen and worked with,I’m sure a lot of you have worked with some whinny ones,James’s personality is the first thing that welcomes you.Secondly,his professionalism and knowledge of sound and use of several softwares is exceptional.
First of all, James is a good guy. His pricing is more than fair, and he truly wants to partner and collaborate. Recording can be intense and arduous in general, so having a friendly, competent, patient engineer and producer is really important. James recorded my debut album and I was very happy with the experience and the final product.
The thick drum sounds I got from James's treated drum room at the Light House for my band El Radio Fantastique - as well as productions for numerous other artists - are still some of my favorite studio sounds ever. Natural and fat! Thanks, Smilin' James!
Our band recorded our first album with James, we were super green to say the least but spirited and optimistic. James was patient, professional and extremely personable through the entire process. We won a lot of lifetime loyal fans and made great friendships due to the project and give James great credit for his wisdom and engineering prowess.
James was very professional to work with. He is a great listener and really went deep when he was mixing and mastering my stuff. The final product sounded great. Everyone was really into it.
During my experience recording with James, I always felt cared for as an artist first and foremost. I felt his investment in what I wanted to accomplish. His confident yet respectful encouragement for me to try things I wouldnt have thought of also felt very supportive and was perfect for creative exploration and growth! Thanks James!
Interview with Smilin' James Heyser
Q: What type of music do you usually work on?
A: Hip hop, bluegrass, folk, country rock, I listen to it all and I mix it all.
Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
A: Most often I take someone's simple song, like a keyboard or acoustic guitar track and some lyrics and a vocal melody, and help adapt the musical arrangement to suit more instrumentation, and then book and track session players to turn it into a full band album. Other times I work with songwriters who aren't interested in a large arrangement, and of course sometimes there is a band and I simply help them create their album.
Q: Which artist would you like to work with and why?
A: This might sound wierd but I don't really wish I could work with anyone I've heard on the radio. For one thing, their sound is already "there", I get excited when I hear material that is strong already but also has room for improvement in a way that I can provide.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: I'm a chameleon, really the song dictates my style. I will say I like mixing powerful drums, and vocals with interesting effects that most listeners never notice. I believe it's the details you don't consciously hear that separate a decent mix from a really amazing one.
Q: What questions do you ask prospective clients?
A: Show me the material and tell me what you can afford. I can work on almost any budget but the workflow must be defined by how much you can invest. That doesn't' mean I want to take all your money - it means I want to structure the project so that it gets finished before you run out!
Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
A: So many. I really enjoy what EDM and pop can do to brighten your day or help you work up a sweat on a dance floor. I'm also really inspired by jam bands and folk artists who have a message to share. That's what got me into music - wanting to make music like the music that I helped shape me or inspire me.
Q: Tell us about your studio setup.
A: The Light House has a modest live room, but extremely well worked out acoustically. It's not dead, but the acoustics are tight (short decay). I track my drums with linear, omnidirectional Earthworks QTC-1's for overheads, which makes them very natural sounding. It's easy enough to turn knobs to give character, but it's nearly impossible to work backwards from a recording with a lot of coloration and make it sound natural. I have a midas console for most preamp work, don't mix much out of the box, but I do track vocals and other key elements through a Pendulum Audio Quartet II, which is an astounding piece of gear. It's all tube. The compressor is transparent but gives me 20db of headroom when something spikes, and the EQ sounds so nice it's the only time I EQ on the way in. The vocal booth and control room are spacious, plenty of room for a band to sit in on mixing sessions and the iso booth is 8x12, which isn't huge but with two large windows feels very comfortable.
Q: What do you bring to a song?
A: Passion, creativity, and technique. I've been developing my craft for 20 years, but I haven't lost the desire to take every project as far as it can go, even if it's not totally pro. I won't lie and say I'm not happiest working on a session full of pristine recordings of amazing musicians, but I really enjoy the challenge of making a rough home recording into something that can be enjoyed. I also get a satisfaction from knowing that I'm giving 100% where other engineers might not.
Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
A: Twenty years now. That's when I bought a recorder to record my own songs. That turned into recording friends, then associates, then running live sound, and eventually running a recording studio. My current one has been open seven years, the first one didn't do so well, that one I opened in 2004 I think.
Q: If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
A: 1) Pendulum Quartet II, 2) Earthworks QTC1's (I'm gonna cheat and count that pair as one!) 3) AEA R-84 ribbon mic 4) Neumann U87ai 5) Avalon U5 DI
Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A: If you only have a few dollars to spend you might get some value out of the Fiverr crowd, but don't delude yourself into thinking they are giving you a professional mixing job. If I see one more engineer promising a "radio ready mix" for ten bucks I'm gonna be sick!
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: The excitement when things are really coming together. And knowing that they are coming together in a unique way because of the creativity I'm expressing.
Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?
A: I give 100% to every job.
Q: Analog or digital and why?
A: Digital is the new analog. Huge names are mixing in the box. Why? Because they like the sound of digital? NO! Because with analog modeling, you can have a convincing representation of every analog piece of gear you could imagine, with no patchbay signal degredation and no clunky workflow or limitations based on how many channels you have of this EQ or that compressor. Mix the drums on a Neve console and the rest of the band on an SSL console into a Trident mixbuss. Add tape or even vinyl vibe to any track or buss you want. It's amazing!
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: A lot of hip hop one-offs, getting ready to mix an accapella band, and I have an ongoing project with The Brad Curtis Project. His songwriting is amazing right now, it's exciting.
Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
A: I've helped a few singer-songwriters accomplish a lot on a shoestring budget. That felt good. One of them actually brought in recordings she made in a walk-in closet on cheap mics, and I still listen to that album sometimes because the songwriting and vocals were so solid. I'm also really proud of what I've done with the Brad Curtis Project, because I've been part of every step from preproduction scratch takes through mixing and mastering what eventually are very dense complex mixes.
Q: What's your typical work process?
A: With online mixing, I ask for a session or .wav export, and I look everything over and talk price. I don't give quotes on material I haven't heard. Then I dig in and when I'm getting close I send a 30 second sample to the client to make sure I'm taking things in the right direction. After a few revisions, when the client is hearing what they like in the short samples, I ask for payment and send the full song. For tracking, generally I like to get as many performers in the studio as possible at once, even if limitations with gear or bleed mean some of the takes are scratch takes. Keep moving through all the material till we have solid rhythm section takes, really what's critical is drums. But having the drummer vibing off of a full band influences his performance, so I want everyone there. From there we can build a rough mix so that everyone can overdub vibing off of the full song.
Q: What's your strongest skill?
A: Hearing what the song wants to have that isn't there. I literally start hearing flanges, reverbs, delays, different tones on the sources, and then I mix to replicate what my imagination has already created.