Category Archives for "podcast"

RSR048 – Neal Cappellino – Recording Vocals With Alison Krauss

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR048 - Neal Cappellino - Recording Vocals with Alison Krauss

My guest today is Neal Cappellino, a multiple Grammy® awarded Producer and Engineer who has called Nashville his home for more than 20 years. In 1992, he built and operated a commercial recording studio for several years and now maintains a private facility, The Doghouse, which is home base for his work.


Neal is a member of NARAS, AES, and Leadership Music 2016, and he also sits on the board for the Melodic Caring Project, a non-profit company that streams live music events to hospitalized children around the world.


With a performance background in keyboards and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, Neal has built his career on empathy for both sides of the glass, helping guide platinum artists as well as emerging independent talent.


His extensive credits include Alison Krauss & Union Station, Vince Gill, Joan Osborne, Avicii, The Gabe Dixon Band, Dolly Parton and Brad Paisley.

I love going back and listening to things I did years ago and hearing how unselfconscious the recordings were when we were on tape. I really didn’t know anything and we were just capturing. I think those are just as validating success stories as the stuff you get awards for. All my work with Alison Krauss has been remarkably rewarding and that's on a daily basis because as demanding as it is, I learn so much from the creatives that I work with. I love learning about the technical and I’m always trying to be better, but there’s something about just learning about how creative people function and how they listen, what matters to them. I just like the musical moments where it just kind of lifts off and that happens with people on instruments not on an editing session. I just did a great record with Jeff White. It’s a bluegrass record and we did it in Vince Gill’s home studio. The level of musicianship was through the roof!! Those are the times I feel like it’s a success. The other part of it is just having a balanced life because this is not the only thing in the world that’s happening. You have to take care of yourself and your people. If I can provide and be healthy and present for all the other aspects of life then it's working.

Neal Cappellino
What is Success??

What are some typical challenges people face when trying to start a commercial recording studio?

First and foremost today is contracting a market place. I think you’re looking at a landscape that has gone through a thorough disruption via technology and the democratization of what we do. So I would have to say the challenge is coming up with a viable business plan in this marketplace now. I feel like I'm here by waging the war of attrition and I think that there’s a definite solid middle class of people that are professionals in this industry that are disappearing, be they people or studios. So I would say to anyone who wants to put a commercial recording studio together, run the numbers. I think the creativity is important and the music is wonderful but the recording studio business is a tough road right now and I think it will be for some time.

What can happen in home studios now that couldn’t happen before?

Everything really. Tracking is a little bit harder. You know the pendulum swings and then it comes back into the middle ground again and not too long ago the pendulum swung way to the side of home studio and home everything. People came back towards the middle when they realized that maybe things weren’t sounding quite as good as they wanted to. But by and large, myself included, people have rooms in their homes where you can do some of the heavy lifting of mixing for instance, overdubs, certainly things like vocals, guitars, and editing. Editing was that extra step that was invented with home studios and the advent of digital. The absence of that clock on the wall ticking away the hourly charges at a commercial studio is liberating. So pretty much everything, it just depends on your particular space.

“It’s all about meeting people and pollinating” - Neal Cappellino

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Working with Alison Krauss

I have to give props to Mike Shipley who’s no longer with us. Mike was the primary recordist on that and mixed Paper Airplane which we won awards for. I spent almost two years on that record and that was predominantly Alison and I in the studio doing instruments and vocals. I’ve worked with Alison in some capacity since maybe 2002. We were pretty much camped out. We started at Blackbird and then moved over here to The Doghouse. If you want to geek out on tech stuff, her signal path at that point was a Sony C800G microphone and I was going through a Neve preamp into a TubeTech CL1B. That changed on the background vocals depending and who and what song it was. On guitars I used nickel diaphragm KM54s or KM56s (small diaphragm tube mics) and just recently started using sE Electronics RN17s which are transformed, small diaphragm condensers that work great on string instruments. On dobro Neumann M49 (large diaphragm tube) sometimes a Schoeps. The sound hole on a dobro projects a lot of the low end and then the resonator you get a lot of midrange tone. You put one mic on the lower side of the resonator pointing at the resonator getting a lot of the honk. The other one you put over the sound hole just above some distance away and that like an acoustic guitar you get the low end.

What are your favorite ways to time align the pickup of the acoustic instruments to the mics?

I have a lot of UA plugins and they have the IBP, I’ll use that. Sometimes I’ll just shift the track on the ProTools edit window and see where it clicks into a more solid image. Of course I say don’t do it, but I look at it and pick a transient to see how far I am off. I can get it in the ballpark visually, but ultimately you just have to listen to it. It’ll change according to the frequency you're listening to as well, so if there’s a little bit of smear (I hear it in the top end where it’s not focused) a lot of times you can compensate for that with EQ. But it’s kind of the integrity of the imaging which the the articulation and if those are smeared that makes us do other things like add top end EQ which might not be the solution. Maybe it’s just pulling one mic down or adjusting the levels to find basis of tone and more solid articulation.

Melodic Caring Project

Levi Ware is an artist from Seattle. He was a client, now a friend. He was kind of finding his way in music and one day happened to be asked to perform for a young girl who was in the hospital with cancer and he did so via skype session on his laptop. I think it affected him profoundly. He realized this is what music is for me and my life and him and his wife formed the company and asked if I would be an advisor for them. It’s been a slow, tough go for them. Nonprofits have a hard time raising money and getting awareness, but they are doing great work. The format for them is tying into touring artists live venus. Like they take a mix off the board, they have a really well done 3 camera produced shoot, the artists agree to address the children that are joining the live feed. They also coincidentally call their kids Rockstars because they are real Rockstars of the show. They dedicate a portion of their show to the kids and even go as far as taking the cameras backstage. It goes so far, not only from the healing element of music, but the idea that this is something that they get to look forward to. Really emotional stories from both the children and their parents about what these concerts do for them..give them hope and strength and more determination to get through their chemotherapy or surgeries or what have you. So it's just one of the ways to give back. I applaud Levi and Stephanie for what they do. It’s not easy but it’s really gratifying.

“Failure is the best learning mechanism we have” - Neal Cappellino

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Jam Session 

Q- What was holding you back at the start?
A -Probably having a mentor, I think I skipped that step. I think a lot of my learning came from learning my own lessons by making my own mistakes versus the traditional path in this town which is to work at a studio as an assistant or an intern and I did none of that. I just came to town and started building a studio. I probably would have learned a lot quicker if I would have had a mentor or somebody to learn from. I did eventually learn from folks, but it was a little bit later on.

Q- What are some common things people often start out needing help with?
A -  I think people need help with being patient. Everybody wants the silver bullet and it just doesn’t work that way. I can tell you what I do, but you’re going to have to do in a dozen other ways to to find out what works. Spend the time doing your own thing and learn. Don’t be afraid to incorporate other people’s tips and tricks, but ultimately it has to be your own distillation process.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?
A -  I wanted to learn from Richard Dodd and I asked him if I could work on some sessions with him and he said, “You can learn from me, but I can’t teach you.” I took that to mean he’s not going to stop his workflow to show me anything and it was up to me to know how to learn in that situation.

“It’s hard to put a clock on creativity” - Neal Cappellino

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Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A - Everybody loves compression, it can do so much. I find when I get tracks that have been over compressed it’s largely due to a low end frequency that triggers compression to happen before it would really be necessary. So one of that hacks that we were sharing up at gearfest last week was inserting high pass filters before you compress. One of the things I do to clear up a mix is get rid of all the unwanted low end stuff. High pass filters are your best friend

Q - Before you listen, what are some numbers you would throw as suggested starting points for a low cut filter for some different instruments?
A-
 On a male vocal I might start at 50 or 60 at a pretty steep slope high pass filter and see how it affects the tone. Electric guitars and bass there’s a point at which the bass tapers off and the guitars pick up in that low mid frequency so you just have to play with that. On acoustic guitars there’s a lot of woof that comes out at 200 and that might be more of a notch than it is a high pass filter but sometimes depending on what you want to do with acoustic guitars I’d run that high pass up past 120 maybe up to 200 if you want more articulation on string and pick. Same thing with snare, you want to filter out a little bit of the kick drum so that it’s not triggering the snare compression, set your high pass somewhere around 80.

“The first thing I do is just pull up the faders and listen” - Neal Cappellino

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Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
A-
 I’ll make a shameless plug about these reflection filters I’ve been using. A reflection filter is this kind of U-shaped baffle that has a sound absorption material on the inside and you place it around a microphone and it doesn two things it helps you isolate the microphone from bleed and or to tune the space that you’re in. So if you’re in a really reflective room and you don’t want that much reflection getting into the microphone, the reflection filter can knock down those reflections and help you control the acoustic space a little bit. A lot of times I’ll use a piece of foam that I stick on a snare mic to block some of the high hat from bleeding in.

Q -Share a favorite software tool for the studio
A-
 I love having the ability to bring up a big template of reverb and delay effects. One of the things I’ve been using a lot is Thermionic Culture Vulture plugin to give tracks grit. Vocals, B3, guitars if they’re too tame and you don’t want to really re-amp it, that’s a cool tool. I do a lot of circular sends to delays and reverbs and sending vocals to a delay then sending that delay pre-fader to a reverb kind of cross-pollinating the effects. That’s always fun to me creating different dimensions with delays and reverb.

“A lot of times our ear interprets low frequency as distance” - Neal Cappellino

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Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - Quickin is helpful. Keep track of your expenses just so you know real world what it costs. There’s nothing more helpful than looking at the numbers and knowing where your money is going. You can get a really good picture of what you’re doing by looking at what you’ve paid and what you’ve been paid, and then what that sorts out to at the end of the year, or quarter, or month or whatever. I would pay somebody to help you do your taxes at least a couple of times so you can see how to navigate that. It’s hard to be self-employed you have to pay self-employment taxes. I would do it above the board, you don’t want to get caught owing back taxes. You just want to sleep at night knowing you’re not going to be vulnerable somewhere down the line for something like that. And then if admin rights. If you’re a creator and have authorship or if you’re doing production and there are royalties involved, the admin stuff is really cumbersome but it’s worth getting your hands around whether it’s copywriting songs or registering with soundexchange or a PRO. Do that stuff because when the time comes, hopefully you’ve receive revenue from it. It also helps you in your dealings with clients. Not many people know if you’re registering stuff with soundexchange musicians actually share a portion of the digital royalties from soundexchange if you register it right.

Q -If you had to start over what gear would you need? How would you find people to record? And how would you make ends meet while you got started?

A - I would probably outfit myself with limited resources with some sort of portable multi-channel recording situation that I could move around with. Whether that’s going to other people’s spaces or maybe going to live venues seeing shows. If I was younger and putting more energy into going out a lot that’s probably what I would do. There’s been great success stories of people attaching themselves to artists for the love of the music that they make and ended up working on projects together and that end up being the launching pad. So I’d probably put money into a laptop based multi-channel recording setup, and interface, some affordable pres. Antelope Audio makes a 32 channel pre which is pretty nice. So that you could go to a club or someone's home studio. Find the things that are ubiquitous and versatile. One of the most versatile mics is the 57, the 421, the RE20, the Audio Technica 4033. Those sort of purchases will go a long way towards accommodating many different scenarios. As far as making ends meet, multitask. You’re going to be a position of supporting this career endeavor at first, so it’ll take a lot more than it will give back. I would support that hopefully in a parallel field, maybe you’re in video production or working at a club.

“Give it heart” - Neal Cappellino

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Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A - I think it’s be the right person. Hang in there and like I said there’s a lot of people that can do what I do and do it better, but there’s only one person that can be myself. A lot of what you bring to a situation is who you are: personality, chemistry, your heart, your work ethic, your intention. All that stuff factors in. It’s the intangibles that add to the picture at the end of the day.

Contact: 
NealCappellino.com

Big Thanks to Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!

RSR047 – James Waddell – An Expert on the Maschine

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

If you dig the show I would be honored if you would subscribe, and leave a rating, & review in iTunes.

RSR047 - James Waddell - An Expert on the Maschine

My guest today is James Waddell, a producer, engineer, sound designer, and mixer. He is the owner of Lyricanvas a studio in Nashville TN offering music production and mixing to clients from all over.


Some of the artists that James has worked with are Aretha Franklin, John Oats, Indie Arie, Bobby Jones, Kloud 9, and Molly Moody.


And James music has appeared on shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Die Hard 2, Frasier, and Dr Phil.


Some things I know about James: He is an expert on Native Instrument Maschine, records his drums with nothing but Shure SM57s, and rides to the studio on a bad ass Harley Davidson

Stick with it. It’s not about making a gazillion dollars, it’s not about winning awards. I think that for some guys who do music some of them do it because they do want that fame, but then there are other guys that just do it because you can’t not do it, it’s their soul. If I was working at McDonalds, music would be a part of my life in someway because I feel like I wouldn’t survive without it. If that’s what you feel on the inside, then do it at whatever level that you’re doing it because that is what’s going to give you the satisfaction just knowing that you’re doing it.

James Waddell
Inspirational Quote

Do You Miss Old School Midi?

I think for me I’m hands on kind of guy so it made sense to me when I connected multiple devices and I knew that I had a .06 millisecond delay between each midi note. I think the part that gets me now is everything being more virtual so I have to imagine that inside of my computer and I think that sometimes will get stifling when a company will come out with new terminology that means the same thing as something else but you’re not sure and you’re like what is this for?! A lot of times in documentation there’s not a lot of explanation of what that is. You just get new terminology and you have to figure out exactly what it does. You have to do the routing in your head rather than physically.

The difficulty now is that I feel like there are so many parameters involved in those [technical] issues that we have now that any one thing can not only cause that issue, but can cause it by varying degrees where it was a given before. Its .06 milliseconds per blah blah, but now if I pull up this plugin its this much, if I pull up this plugin it’s this much, etc. 

“Bringin’ it back to midi" - James Waddell

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Native Instrument Maschine

Native Instruments has changed my life. I think I jumped on that bandwagon with complete because being a keyboard player you’re always looking for more sounds, so I moved into it there. Then Maschine came out and I bought one of the first mark one’s and tinkered with it on the 1.X software and that was great. When they bumped up to 2.X it just really added life to it. As with everything else I still have sync issues occasionally. The thing about Native Instrument Maschine is that you can use it in so many ways. When I’m editing or replacing sounds I just use Maschine. If I need to add loops I use machine because I can pull it up as a plugin in ProTools create whatever beat I want and drag and drop it as a loop, drag and drop it as individual sounds, & I can drag and drop it as midi data all in an instant.

What is Maschine?

Essentially I guess Maschine the actual hardware device is nothing more than a midi controller with pads and knobs. The software side of it would be comparable to what a DAW does without maybe the audio side of recording tracks because you don’t record tracks as audio. But as far as recording midi or samples you can still use plugins within Maschine. So all of my UAD plugs that I use to mix in ProTools also will pull up as individual plugs in Maschine on tracks. The other thing is it’s been my VST bridge. You can’t use VST instruments in ProTools, so I’ll pull up Maschine and then pull the VST plugin up in Maschine and now I have that VST plugin in ProTools. There’s always ways around.

Native Instrument Maschine

What is Mixing All About?

Man, I think that mixing is about capturing somebody’s vision and helping to make it the best it can be. To sound the best it can be, to feel the best it can be. I don’t think it’s to take your vision and impose it upon the artist, because there already is an artist. We’re in a service industry. I’m here to serve this artist and to help them succeed in life. So my goal should be to take whoever they are and whatever they are trying to share to the world and not fuck it up.

I’m don’t say that you take an artist and don’t put some of yourself into that project because you have people that come to you do mix because of what you do. Because there’s a certain little thing you have that you do. I do a lot of stops, reverse swells, and beat drops that people kind of know me for. I’m the guy that has a lot of low end

"I approach my mixing from much more of a feel and much more of a musical standpoint because I’m not a very technical guy" - James Waddell

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Mixing Tips for Stereo Bus

All I do with my stereo bus is just try to make it loud for the artist to walk away with something that they’re not cranking their radio up too high. I’ll bring my threshold down just the slightest amount and then rather than hit it, I just send more make up gain from the compressor into that limiter and turn it until I can get it as loud as they can stand it. I strictly do that just so that the client can leave with a loud MP3 to listen to.

Mixing Great Drum Sounds

I like 57’s, they just work. I think there’s a little bit of an edge thing to an 57 plus the fact that they’re dynamic mics they are a little more directional so I can kinda move those guys around on overheads and get a nice sound. A lot of times I’ll record with nothing but 57s and maybe a D112 on the kick. I never cut drums in a giant space not because I wouldn’t, just because most of the stuff I do is at my place. When I started out I was going to other studios more, but in recent years most of what I do is in house. You can explore where you put your drum kit in the room. When you’re in a large facility paying $2,000-$3,000 a day you can’t just move the drums 8 times to every part of the room and find the sweet spot, but when you have your own space you HAVE to find the sweet spot because you don’t have as many of them so you have to move them around. You have time and ability to move the drums or mics around until you find the sweet spot. After time your tones get better.

Sometimes I use Maschine to replace my kick and snare. I guess I don’t replace them, I normally add to the original kick and snare that I have to give it the things that I may be missing.

Treatment for Drums to Prevent Ringing: Old t-shirts and duct tape will do that. Sometimes just bleed of cymbals (overdub crashes) so I can really use those room mics and not have to fight with having to pull up a D-esser.

What about triggering in Maschine, does it have a trigger feature for audio?

I use a program called DTM by Massey or I use Melodyne. Either one of those I’ll use to convert my audio tracks into actual midi notes. Once I bring them back to midi notes, I’ll normally pull them into Maschine, if I don’t pull them in Maschine I’ll pull them into Battery which is another Native Instruments plugin just depends on the style of music.

Mixing Great Vocals

I think I’m one that’s not scared of compressors. I use them a lot especially on vocals. Especially with todays pop music, today’s music in general the vocals are pretty squashed. Probably the one tip I would say about compression is make sure you don’t over compress, but yet you can over compress. If I tell somebody man I hit that vocal 12Db on this compressor and then went straight into another one and hit it another 10. I think the key is using fast release times so it doesn’t sound like it’s compressing. When you make those releases slow, it’s obvious you just squashed the shit outta something, but if you use faster release times and it’s letting go and it’s only catching those peaks, then I think you can get away with more compression.

I use D-essers and I’ll use maybe 2 or 3 if I have to. It varies where it is in my chain. I do a lot of parallel stuff so I’ll have a vocal track that is maybe squashed but then I’ll kill all the s’s and there’s nothing in that track but the good stuff. Then I can super compress him and not touch the original and just bring it in lightly under.

“I think all failures are important as long as you learn and grow from them” - James Waddell

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Jam Session 

Q- What was holding you back at the start?
A - The one thing that was holding me back and I still think it sometimes holds me back is not thinking I was ever good enough. You’re so exposed as an artist and I think that anybody whatever they do, they think what if somebody doesn’t like what I do? That’s okay. You have to get to a place where you feel like not everybody’s going to like what you do and you’re confident in what you do

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?
A -  I worked with a producer, Sanchez Harley, who’s an amazing producer. He once told me, “James, if you don’t have a heartbeat.. you’re dying, and if you’re not breathing..you’re dying. It’s the same way with a track. Every track needs a heartbeat and every track needs to breathe.” Now whether that’s muting tracks as an engineer when you’re mixing to give it space to breathe. A lot of times especially with the technology we have now, back on the day we only had 24 tracks and now we are unlimited with those things so people will throw the kitchen sink in. You might get a track that has 6 kick drums and 4 snares, but at the end of the day you pick the things that are important and that you need to create that space and openness. If the client needs something you bring it and try to fit it back it, carve a space for it. All these tracks don’t need to be here just because they were recorded.

“I think that our ability is what gets us the work, but it’s our attitude that keeps the work coming” - James Waddell

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Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A -  Back to Native Instruments not only do they have Maschine, but they have this complete package that has synths and samplers and their effects are really cool I’ve been using those a lot in my mixes now. They’ve got this delay called replica that not only does it delay, it does a handful of things. I was playing on it with this ethereal thing it was doing to the vocal, but it wasn’t quite a delay. So I dropped a delay on a delay so I could move the effect

“Always, Always have a backup!” - James Waddell

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Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
A-
 My favorite right now is the Neve 1073pre. Those sound really good.

Q -How important is it to have a trackball when you’re working and what is it?

A -The trackball is a mouse type device that has multiple buttons on it that you can program to do various operations. I’ll create different sets for zooming in and selecting and deleting all at once. But when that’s gone I have to think where everything is. Check out the Kensington turbo mouse.

“Just the fact that I get to do music everyday is success for me” - James Waddell

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Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A -There are a number of those and it depends on whether I’m tracking or I’m mixing. As far as EQ, Metric Halo tracking strip would be my go-to and again its all about how the plugin works, how it interacts. It’s really more about efficiency because the state of the industry. There are a lot of EQ’s that work great, but as far as a quick guy you want something that’s efficient.

Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - bought the neat receipt scanner. It’s a little scanner and they have a subscription service where you can subscribe and you can scan pictures with your phone and there’s a physical scanner as well. That’s changed my life more than anything because I hate the business side. When I get bills or receipts in I can pop them in that thing and it scans them in and I don’t have to get a big envelope and save them anymore I can throw them away and they are right there in one place. It does a good job analyzing and organizing them.

“If I find something I like, I’m a true evangelist” - James Waddell

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Q -If you had to start over what gear would you need? How would you find people to record? And how would you make ends meet while you got started?

A - Setup maybe a mac mini, I think that both apogee and UAD have small devices. I actually have the Apollo twin which I think is a great device. Again I use ProTools as a recording program, but I could download Reaper for free. Then I would have to have some sort of Machine or some way for me to make my beats, I would prefer that little set up that way whether I was working for somebody or not I would have enough to create on my own. To make ends meet, I’d do whatever it took. When I started out, I wasn’t making ends meet as an engineer, but I started teaching at a technical college here 2 days a week. Finding people, I would probably go out to shows and clubs listen to bands and whatever the local scene is.

Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A - When you’re working with other people, it’s all about attitude. Not just being a nice guy, but being a great hang. Before you agree to do a session you check out three things, does it pay well? Is the music cool? Are the people you’re working with a cool hang? If the session has two of those three you do it!

Contact: 
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Lyricanvas.com

Big Thanks to Tyler Cuidon & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!

RSR046 – Steve Marcantonio – John Lennon At The Record Plant

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

If you dig the show I would be honored if you would subscribe, and leave a rating, & review in iTunes.

RSR046 – Steve Marcantonio - John Lennon at the Record Plant

My guest today is Steve Marcantonio, a Grammy winning producer, recording engineer, and teacher from Nashville TN. He is also a member of NARAS, a Leadership Music alumnus, and winner of the ACM Engineer of the year award.


Steve Marcantonio started his career at the Record Plant Studios in New York City in 1978.

While at the Record Plant he worked with such artists as The J. Geils Band, Aerosmith, Kiss, Heart, Graham Parker, The Blues Bros and John Lennon.


One remarkable and heart breaking story is that Steve spent 8 days in the studio in December of 1980 with John and Yoko. After they left on the night of the 8th John was killed. Quite a shock for a 21 year old who just started in the business 2 years prior.


Steve’s credentials include Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Reba, George Strait, Alabama, Restless Heart and Deana Carter. And In recent years Steve has done records with Brantley Gilbert, Thomas Rhett, Band Perry, Taylor Swift, Hank Jr, Steven Tyler and Cheap Trick.


And though he didn’t include it in his bio I know Steve is also dead serious about cooking real Italian food!

For those of you out there that are listening to this either just starting out wanting to be an engineer, maybe working on a session, or just an intern the best quote that I have which was ingrained in me when I first started out is, “As a second engineer you’re to be seen and not heard.” You might be in a session and someone might say something that you know is wrong, don’t come right out and say it. There’s certain ways of going about that, but you should just keep it to yourself. Don’t show up your engineer. When you’re in a session, it’s not about you and what you’re engineering and the gear you’re using. It’s not about the problems you’re having or you may not like the studio, you may hate the studio. It’s about the artist; it’s about the song you’re recording

Steve Marcantonio

“My cousin Joey was the bass player in the Four Seasons” - Steve Marcantonio

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Keep Your Promises

Roy Cicala hired me off the street. I didn’t know anything, so he wanted to teach me his way. I learned a lot of valuable lessons from him. One of which is when you’re booking time with someone you have to keep your promise that you’ll work with them, even if you get booked by someone else who’s a much bigger name. You don’t go by the name, you go by the booking. I was actually involved in a project with the Blues Brothers. I worked on the soundtrack of the Blue’s Brothers movie. It went on for about 6-7 months. I don’t think there was a budget because we spent a heck of a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of other things. Along the way I got to learn about a very valuable piece of equipment back then it was called the BTX. It was this white little console that held two tape machines together. Well in September of that year Jonny and Yoko were working on Double Fantasy and they booked the studio and they wanted me because I knew how to use the BTX. I thought for sure that the producer of the Blues Brothers having worked with me for 5-6 months would have said oh sure. He said, “No, I need you here with me.” At the time John Belushi was very famous, the Blues Brother’s movie was going to be huge, but I’m thinking to myself man I have the chance to work with John Lennon. I didn't make any fuss, and as it turns out I missed that chance, but I got my chance late afterwards. You can’t get too bent out of shape with names, you have to keep to whoever it is you’re working with.

“I was known as Roy’s boy” - Steve Marcantonio

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John Lennon at the Record Plant

In 1980 I hadn’t been at the Record Plant for two years and I’m working with John Lennon. It was december that year and they had recorded enough songs on double fantasy to make two records Milk and Honey was the next one. This particular song they brought in was not on Double Fantasy and they wanted to release it as the next single for Yoko. It was a song called Walking on Thin Ice. If you listen to it, it’s sort of like a dance record. I remember the first day, I didn’t even want to look at him because I didn’t know what he was like and I didn’t want him to think that I was [judging him]. So that day I was just really concentrating on what I had to do to keep it together and he had a guy from the BBC there and the one thing I remember him talking about was love me do. When he said that I was like, “Holy Shit! That’s a member of the Beatles sitting 10 ft from me!” It blew me away! By the second day the ice was broken and he was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever, ever worked with. Very down to earth. You know he walked around NYC without any bodyguards. He was such a cool guy and time that was the pinnacle of my career.

                      Yoko Ono - Walking on Thin Ice

I remember the night before he passed it was a Sunday night early Monday morning which is the most desolate NYC night. We were on 44th and 8th about a block away from times square and it was about 3 in the morning and I had already been there close to 20 hours. The producer said let’s take a break and I was fading so I went for a walk. I started to put on my jacket and he said, “Hold on I’ll come with you!” And it was just me and him walking outside and no one was there. No one was there to see me and him, that was so intense for me. Also, the day before he had given me two crisp $100 bills to buy him a clap track because he was collecting studio gear. That night we heard he was shot and I didn’t believe it. I said no way because he just left. But sure enough it turned out to be true. The following day I came into the studio and handed the money back to Roy who then got it back to Yoko.

“Holy Shit! That’s a member of the Beatles sitting 10ft from me!” - Steve Marcantonio

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Gretchen Peters

I would say my number one highlight besides working with John Lennon is I got to record a song with Gretchen Peters. She’s probably one of the most amazing artists I’ve ever worked with. Great singer, great songwriter, she doesn’t write with anyone except for Brian Adams. She had a song she wrote called, “When You Are Old,” and it’s about getting old and tired and grey. My mom had been getting old and she was into music and said, “I want bridge over troubled waters to be played at my funeral.” I gave her this song and she said, “That’s the one I want played.” So sure enough in the funeral home, we played that song and there was not a dry eye in there. That’s one of my major accomplishments besides the grammy. Having that song played for my mom that I recorded was incredible.

                    Gretchen Peters - When You Are Old

Running a Great Recording Session

Obviously you have to pick the right mics to go with whatever instruments you’re using. In order to get a good mix you have to have good sounding tracks. You’d be amazed at some of the stuff I have to mix, I’m not sure where the producer was when they were recording it. In order to get a good sound, you have to have a good sound on the floor whatever instrument you’re recording. Is it in tune? Are the heads changed on the drums? Are they in tune? Does the drummer hit the drums with the right velocity to get a good sound? These are all elements that you’re dealing with as a engineer. I have go-to mics for certain things, but I’m not opposed to trying new things. I have to keep up with the times. I realized in order to stay current I have to try these things. And I love it, I think it’s great!

Secret for Mixing Great Vocals

Country and pop vocals tend to be louder than rock records. What I use mostly in ProTools is RVox, it kind of evens out the vocal. A lot of times too I’ll mult the vocal into where there’s different EQ or compression on it and I’ll use it in different spots in the chorus or verse. And also most female vocalists have an EQ point somewhere around 1k-2k that really hurts your ears during specific spots and a multiband compressor can take care of that or you can just scoop out that EQ. As far as recording vocals, my favorite go to vocal mic is an SM7. It has everything you need. There’s no real, real lows or sparkling highs and the artist can get right up on it. The best thing about it..it’s cheap. When a vocalist says big, most of the time it means a lot of reverb. I tend to use delay most all the time on anything instead of reverb just to give it that width. On a vocal the delay has to be used differently in the verses than the choruses. Instead of sending it to a delay, I duplicate the vocal and I put the plugin right on the vocal. So instead of having the send go up and down, I’ll just clip gain the vocal up or down. I think you have better control over an effect

Tips for Stereo Bussing

When I first started, we never put anything on a stereo bus. These days I start with my slate mix rack which has the meter on it so that I can see, and then I use the virtual console, then depending on the song I go to API or Neve. You can strap the virtual console on groups like all the drums and you can just affect it with just one plugin so they all see the same thing. I don’t use individual faders these days, I’ll bus all of my drums to a master subgroup and on those busses I put my virtual console and I also use a compressor. Sometimes The SSL compressor but lately I’ve been using the Slate virtual bus compressor. When you put a plugin on in protools at first you should always bypass in and out to make sure you’re just not hearing it louder because whenever you hear something louder you instantly think it sounds better, so you should always set your unity gain on a plugin. Having said that with virtual bus compressor its louder because its compressing and limiting and what have you. The last thing I put in the chain in a tape machine.

“Go with your gut and your soul” - Steve Marcantonio

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Jam Session 

Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A -  There’s not a session that I do that I don’t record acoustic guitars and your listeners might be rock and rollers that have never receded acoustic. I got to work with Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick and he’s a trip. He played the guitar sitting right next to me while I’m engineering. I asked him if he had any acoustics he looks at me and goes, “Acoustic?! I’m a rock guitar player why should I play acoustic?!” Just last week I was working with Dan Huff who’s a great producer and incredible guitar player and we were doing acoustic on this one song and he wanted a really distressed sound so we went into a distressor mode on the acoustic. After 35 years, I never thought of putting that on an acoustic! In addition to that we also had another mic that was clean. Its nice to commit to doing something, but it also nice to have a fallback. I would never think about distorting an acoustic or a drum, but try it once in awhile, you never know! For distressors, if you don’t have the UA the Waves Eddie Kramer tape machine is cool.

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
A-
 Drums are my favorite thing to record. I think a lot of people hire me because they love my drum sounds. When I’m recording a room sound, the UREI 1178 is my go-to. I hit the bottom button and the top button and I just slam it. I get it to where it’s blended in a little bit, but I love having heavy duty compression on my drums. Another thing I’ll do is take a mic, the Buyer 160 or any other kind of ribbon mic or maybe even a 57 and I’ll put it right above the kick drum facing the toms and the snare and just compress the snot out of that too. It really adds a nice effect to the overall drum sound so those are my go-to things in recording.

“Go by your ears, don’t go by your eyes. We listen to music we don’t read music” - Steve Marcantonio

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Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A -As far as plugins go the UA plugins, I can do records only using them. All their plugins sound pretty close to what they’re emulating, slate plugins and soundtoys..those are my three favorite brands. I would say amongst all of them echoboy is one I use all the time. I use that in delays and I always go through all the different modes whether its tape or transmitter or am radio, that’s one of my favorite plugins. As far as software, those are my three go-tos. 

Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - My wife keeps reminding me I’m a businessman and I’m sure your listeners will hear this and go, “I’m not a businessman, I’m an engineer!” But you’re running your own business and I guarantee you in the course of my career, I’m probably shy $10,000 of bills that I didn’t send. It’s difficult to just go in there and send a bill right away, so I got a guy. Every now and then you gotta call a guy, there’s a guy for everything nowadays. I got a production guy here who does all my billing. He knows every studio here, every record company person. I've waited sometimes for 3 months for a check. You can’t make too much of a big deal with these labels because they might get tired of you and say, “Steve’s a pain in the ass, I don’t want to work with him anymore.” You just have to stay on top of it. I pay Mike Griffith a small percentage to take care of my bills.

"I would hope that engineers get very involved into the song or the track they’re recording” - Steve Marcantonio

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Q -If you had to start over what gear would you need? How would you find people to record? And how would you make ends meet while you got started?

A - Well the first thing I would say is go wherever the music scene is. Go to clubs and get to know musicians in the area. You might have to work online if you still have clients from where you moved from. Otherwise you just have to scratch and claw your way and find out where the music is and go from there. So I have almost the identical setup you have, but of course nowadays you can just get a laptop and some kind of UA hardware and do it that way. If you want to find a place to record you just have to find someone to go in with you. One of the most important things to do in this business is network. You have to get around and get your name out there, meet people, you never know where they are going to be in a week or year or month from now. Be really nice to people and network.

“Be really nice to people and network” - Steve Marcantonio

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Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A - I would say to go with your gut and your soul, listen before you speak, and use your ears not your eyes, especially nowadays there’s too many people coming into the control room going “let me see it.”

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Big Thanks to Tyler Cuidon & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!

RSR045 – Roger Alan Nichols – Recording Vocals With Steven Tyler

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RSR045 – Roger Alan Nichols - Recording Vocals With Steven Tyler

My guest today is Roger Alan Nichols, a producer, recording engineer, rock musician, and songwriter from Nashville TN.


He is owner of Bell Tone Recording in Berry Hill where he produces great sounding rock. In fact when I recorded my record Skadoosh which includes the track "American Winter" on the Mix Master Bundle I turned to Roger for guitar tones, borrowing the Bogner, and Bassman guitar amp heads for my sound.


Roger started out in Nashville with his band Dreaming In English as an artist and later moved to production and engineering after Pro Tools made it possible for him to create professional home studio. He has since moved to this beautiful commercial location at BelTone Recording and records with many country and rock artists.


Some of the Rockstars that Roger has written for, performed with, produced, or recorded are Paramore, Mix Master Mandy, Seal, Ryan Humbert, Robben Ford, The Mean Tambourines, The Campaign 1984, Tyler Bryant, and Steven Tyler

There's no competition for this place [Nashville], LA would like to think that they could compete, but there’s no way. I mean the musicianship in town, the ability to write, the emphasis on recording and the recording arts, the facilities that we have here, the cost of living, it just seems like in Nashville people get to work, roll their sleeves up and do it.”

Roger Alan Nichols
Why Nashville? 

Touring Professionally Early

I toured with this company out of Florida that produced bands that toured high schools. You know as a young songwriter this is probably the best thing that ever happened to me. We did three to five shows a day for ten and a half months straight and it was doing assembly shows in high schools. And one of the things that we had to do is we had to learn a song or two a week off the top 40. Depending on the area that we were in whether or not it was Louisiana, Detroit, or Alaska, wherever we were, we would have to do what was hot in that area. So as a young songwriter we were always learning how to play these songs that were hits.

There were really two things that happened on the road in those early years for me that really helped me understand a lot about songwriting and putting songs together. First being that we had to constantly learn hit songs. You start to identify things in songs as to why it is a hit. Then the second thing that happened in 1981 I had my parents cosign a loan for me for $1,300 and I got a Fostex 4 Track. It was gigantic! I would spend my free time writing songs and I would use the 4 tracks to kind of work on arrangements and guitar parts. As I started to learn how parts worked together and how tones can work together, it was a very interested period and I look back at it. Parts of that time felt like a waste, but some of the stuff that I learned as far as playing the songs and learning the songs and having the discipline to work on a 4 track every night, I learned a hell of a lot.

Musicians Relationship with Technology

With technology providing opportunities for people to record and to write and to create art, the thing that is always in the back of my head is just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. That I think is one of the biggest obstacles right now with music. The fact that technology has allowed us to create really great sounding stuff with no filter. Now from an artist's standpoint, I love that, that’s the way it should be. The way the business is now the gatekeepers are gone and everyone applaudes that. But the bad news is is the gatekeepers are gone. So there’s a lot of stuff out there that’s really mediocre. A lot of stuff that is put out that should be developed better.

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” -Roger Alan Nichols @BTrecording

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The way records are made now is we send files around. I’ll get a track and record a guitar part and I’ll send it off to someone else and then they’ll add something and whenever they start to mix it, whoever mixes it you end up carving the hell out of it EQ wise to make it work in the context of the mix. The way records used to be made is the band would set up in a room, decisions were made about placement of amps and mics and so forth. Then the snapshot was taken. If you solo’d the guitar or something, it might sound really shitty by itself, but in context it would sound amazing. So it was about the complete photograph as opposed to the individual in the photograph

Being A Producer 

As a producer one of the easiest failures to make is to not listen to the artist. I think that is a common mistake especially if you have artistic visions or perspectives. It’s easy to go "Well really what you need is this." I have learned the hard way that is not a good thing to do. You want to be good at what you do, and you want to be able to contribute to the vision, and a lot of times you just stay out of the way and help facilitate the vision. It’s not about contributing to the vision from an artistic voice, but it's creating an environment for the artist to find out what their voice is.

“As a producer one of the easiest failures to make is to not listen to the artist” - Roger Alan Nichols @BTrecording

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Cutting Vocals With Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler is just this spinning top of energy. He’s everything that you would imagine him to be. But here’s the thing that's really amazing, is to first of all be in your room and hear his vocals coming out through your speakers, and to look through the glass to see him standing behind your U47. You go, “Woah that’s Steven Tyler!” it’s pretty remarkable.

The other thing that struck me is how hard he worked. Like he would say "Hold on a second!" and you could hear him practicing the first line into the song and he would be changing his vowel sounds and practicing a couple different approaches, and he’d pick a direction and say, “Alright, let’s go for it.” But he worked really hard and that was impressive to see.

For a guy at his age, really he doesn’t have to do anything, he could just sing Dream On the rest of his life and make more money than most of us could ever dream of seeing, but he works really hard. The second thing that really blew my mind is the first day he was here, his assistant was going, “Hey Steven we gotta go, come on we’re going to be late!” and Steven grabbed that guitar right there and said, “Check this out!” And he starts playing all these new songs he’s writing.

To see this guy so excited about creating music at 60+ years old, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, to see him so excited about making music still was inspiring. He knows exactly what’s going on, he knows exactly how to do it, and he made everyone feel incredibly comfortable and it was really one of the funnest couple of days ever. I was blown away at how amazing it was! 

Secret For Great Vocal Sounds

Secret I got from background singer Perry Coleman. You don’t dare give this guy any instruction because he knows what to do. He’s sung with so many number ones. There’s two things that he does that are really stunning. His phrasing is immaculate. I mean he’ll listen to the lead part and he will match the phrasing to a tee. And then when he sings he does this thing where he self-compresses.

The way he sings a phrase he’ll roll the s’s off, he does all this kind of stuff. If you solo his vocal part it might sound funny, but put it with the lead and it’s brilliant. I’ve never had to tune one vocal that he has sung here. Ever. If he’s singing to a lead vocal part, I’ll tune the lead vocal first so he’s singing to a tuned vocal so I never have to touch him. The really interesting thing that he does is if there’s a lot of S’s or P’s, he’ll sing through his fingers. What that does is it splits the wind and reduces the impact of the diaphragm of the mic and it also reduces the energy that the mic is receiving. It’s brilliant.

Secrets For Great Guitar Sounds

There’s a couple things you can do. Obviously you have to have well intonated instruments. I think that's the most important thing. You don’t necessarily have to have heavy gauge strings, but I’ve found that heavier gauged strings allow you to dig in a little more and keep the intonation in line. It also pulls heavier tones out, sounds like they have more weight to them. All my guitars are at least 11’s.

Again it goes back to your ability to pull the tone out of the instrument with your hands. It’s how to attack the string and how you hold the pick, and how you pull the tone out of the instrument. The biggest misstep with a lot of guitar players is they use too much saturation and they feel like that’s going to give them a bigger, nastier sound. Depending on the part in the song it might work, but if you’re planning on stacking guitar parts, you can bigger sound if you air on the more cleaner sound and stack those parts.

“If you play more instruments it allows you to communicate ideas a little clearer” - Roger Alan Nichols @BTrecording

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Mixing Tricks For Acoustic Guitars

I always parallel compress my acoustic instruments. I blend it in where the compressed signal sits right in the center and the uncompressed signal moves to the peaks and the valleys. You get the articulation and dynamic sensibility of the acoustic instrument. For acoustic instruments there’s a chain I always use and it always sounds amazing. I use a Neumann Gefell 5802 which is a small diaphragm tube microphone, and I use a Telefunken V72 and I use a little bit of the LA2A just to kiss it a little bit. If I’m cutting the acoustic guitar part I use a really light pick and play lightly, what happens is the guitar sounds huge.

Mixing Tricks for Heavy Guitars

I use a lot of filtering, so if we’ve got an intro, verse, chorus, I’ll automate a filter to come in during the verse so that the filter reduces the size of the guitar in the verse then when it hits the chorus the filter kicks off and the guitar sounds huge. I want to make sure that the grind and attitude of the instrument doesn’t change. I love really heavy guitars. I love cutting them so that the downbeat and the step-off notes are tight.

"It all starts with the drummers right foot” - Roger Alan Nichols @BTrecording

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Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A - How things were done. When I was learning how to play, I’d put the needle on the record, listen, play, needle on the record, listen, play, etc. There was no YouTube demonstration of how to play the chord voicing or how to connect these devices with this. You had to find the local hot shot at the music store and ask him how it’s done or sit and observe. There’s something to be said about being able to hear a song and go, “I know what those voicings are, I know what those chord changes are,” because your ear is developed to that point.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?

A- This is what Richard Dodd shared with me a couple of weeks ago, he’s brilliant. "Do you know how you can increase the processing speed of your computer? Learn to type better" 🙂 …. I think the best advice is to shut up and listen and observe.

“Show up prepared” - Roger Alan Nichols @BTrecording

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Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A -  Right now it’s all about volume and that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I like to think instead of dynamic range, I like to think of scene changes. I think that's important because the verse has a whole different scene than the chorus. Again the phrase I always use is "the trajectory of the song."

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
A-
 I used to take a polaroid camera and I would take snapshots of everything: mic placements, EQ settings, etc. Then I would have a notebook and give it to the drummer to sketch out his kit and mark the size of his drums and what heads he was using and where mics were placed and keep track of lyrics. It was basically a journal of the record. For me, that was a way of keeping track of the process.


“When mixing a track it’s really easy to think about stuff you don’t need to think about” - Roger Alan Nichols @BTrecording

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Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A -If I had to use one it would probably be the SSL E-channel (the waves plugin). The EQ is great, the compressor is great, it has a gate if you need it, phase switch, it has a slider on it if you need to trim something.

Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A -I think the most important thing to remember is that if you’re working on a track or writing a song or working with a band and it’s not going well, it’s not the end of the world. If you’re frustrated in the studio one day, don’t listen to music, go home and relax, have a glass of wine and watch a movie or something, and hit it again the next day. The most important thing about having output is you have to have input. If you don’t have input then you aren’t going to have any output. If you’re gonna write a song you have to be able to experience some things in life to write about. Sometimes you have to be reminded it’s okay to have a certain thought about something. If you’re working with someone and they say, “Oh, I don’t really like that,” it can shut down the whole train of thought. That can be a real detriment sometimes. That doesn’t mean the idea sucks, it just means maybe we need to rethink this.

“The most important thing about having output is you have to have input” - Roger Alan Nichols @BTrecording

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Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A - To realize that you probably don’t know how a lot of it’s done. It’s really easy to be in a conversation with people and feel like you have to validate what you’re doing with false sense of knowledge. It’s okay to not know how to do something. It’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to be curious about stuff. We’re in a business where we’re always trying to qualify something subjective, that’s a horrible thing to try to do.

Contact:
Twitter - @BTrecording
Music - https://soundcloud.com/rogeralannichols
Bell Tone Recording

Big Thanks to Alex Skelton & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!

RSR044 – Jim Reilley – How To Write A Song For Music Row (Or Not)

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR044 – Jim Reilley - How To Write A Song For Music Row (Or Not)

My guest today is Jim Reilley, a songwriter, producer, and recording artist from Nashville TN. I’ve known Jim for years as an incredibly prolific songwriter, and have been Jim’s recording engineer when he was producing for the artist Stephanie Quayle.


Jim’s band The New Dylans with Reese Campbell started back to 1986 when they recorded with the rhythm section of 10,000 maniacs and landed critical acclaim for their “folk rock” sound. Michael Stipe of REM called them one of his top ten bands for 1986. The New Dylans continued through breakups and makeups over the decades that follow, and have more recently released a new album called Meta, with Robert Reynolds of The Mavericks, and Ken Coomer of Wilco.

The New Dylans - [Can't Go Home] Again


Jim moved to Nashville in 1998 and landed a publishing deal with Curb Publishing where he wrote songs for nearly a decade. Over 45 of Jim’s songs were recorded by artists including Vince Gill, Hal Ketchum, Jack Ingram, Tim O’Brien, Sam Bush, and many others.


I know Jim from the studio as a producer, where he is also very prolific, and is often producing sessions back to back. He has a no bullshit fast and fearless production style that demands great performances from the musicians, and might track more than 10 songs in a single day.


I split my personality in half where I’m partially writing songs, partially producing songs, and partially perform and make records on my own”

Jim Reilley

Songwriting

The words on some of the songs that really inspired me, it’s amazing that there’s only like two verses and a small chorus. Here in Nashville everyone’s like, “You got to have a bridge and the second chorus has to be different...” Not really. Some of the songs are so small and brevity is really important. I also feel like in the studio, knocking them out quick doesn’t always work. You don’t always have the luxury of having a great engineer or great players or great artist. I've always admired and studied the work of Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), George Martin and Geoff Emerick (Beatles). 

"Everyone that wants to get in this business should see this!" - Jim 

What Do You Do When You Produce A Record?

That’s a good question and a lot of artists want to know that too when it comes to money. It’s different for every artist and every production I do is different in one sense and that is that I kind of look at the artist I’m working with and decide how much influence or intervention there should be on my part. Typically an artist that I produce usually I’m a fan of, most always now. A lot of times I’ll just let things happen and then arrest something that isn’t working too well as opposed to getting too heavy handed and oppressive about it. I’ve seen where producers have been that way and it works sometimes, but I don’t like to be that guy. My whole philosophy when I produce somebody is I always say... What I’d like for you to do is have a record where you can meet a random stranger in an airport and after they ask, “Well what do you do, what are you all about?” You just hand them the cd and you don’t have to say anything else. This is the kind of music I do. I don’t have to say, ‘Eh it’s kind of folky poppy, but it’s blues and it’s cajun.. The music will speak for itself. If I did my job right, then they are proud enough to give that without having to say, “Well the producer wanted me to do this, but I didn’t want to.” I’ve had so many people give me projects that they’ve done where they’ve had to qualify virtually every song on the record. I just want to listen to it. It does me no good to produce something for someone that they aren’t happy with because ultimately I want them to be proud of it and give them what they ask me for in the first place.

What About Your Internal Process of Inspiration, How Do You Approach That?

I don’t like to script a lot of stuff so much because then I feel like I’m kind of tethered to that, but it does help when you’re trying to move fast. Sometimes you do need to hear it to know it’s wrong. I’ll be the first one to do an experiment and say, “this probably isn’t going to work, but for me can you just take two minutes and try this.” I’ll never be a guy who says, “No, absolutely not, we can’t do that.” After I hear it and it’s terrible well then I’ll say that, but until then I always like to try. 

“I’ll never be a guy who says, “No, absolutely not, we can’t do that” - Jim Reilley @BuddyCruel

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What are the Basics of Copyright?

That’s a tricky thing. So much music is so easy to get to now. That even trickles down here in Nashville to even playing the songs live. A publisher will tell a songwriter, “well don’t play that at the Bluebird because someone else will hear it and rip it off.” Half of me is like, well maybe. That does happen, it’s happened to me! But at the same time where are you going to play? What are you going to do? Just be careful. As a writer you have to have this sort of attitude that well if they want to take it and do it better, let them try. For Youtube, I would try it as long as it’s copyrighted. There’s form PA and form SR. From PA is the actual copyright of the song. So you write the words and the music, that is a copyright for that song. Form SR is the form of the sound recording. It copyrights the recording, not the song. You can do multiple songs so basically if you do a record you copyright the whole record on form SR for one price. Whereas form PA you send a recording of the words and music with a lyric sheet. Some people will mail it to themselves so they have the postmark on it, but it’s just safer to do through the copyright office (You can do all of this online) Then your song is copy written! If you have some crazy mojo on this vocal or crazy guitar sounds you came up with that's really exclusive to your song, use copyright form SR so the sound of the song is copy written. A lot of times there’s so much music going on that just getting noticed is a success story these days

What Makes a Great Song?

That really depends on a lot of factors. I don't really think anyone knows, maybe paul mccartney might know. I think everyone knows when they hear one. To me a great song can be the riff, it could be the hook, it could be the melody, it could be the drum part. When I produce artists I ask them to make me a list of songs either for spotify or on a CD of what songs they love and why. What about that song do you love? Is it the vibe, is it the mood, is it the drum pattern, is it the vocal? So it helps me do shorthand. So we go into the studio together and make a record without having to explore all those options (we do sometimes), but this way I know what you do and do not like going in.

“If I get writer's block, I’ll go back and look at the things that influenced me” - Jim Reilley @BuddyCruel

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Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A - Probably my lack of knowledge or my insecurity. I was kinda like I don’t really know what’s going on. The only thing I learned was that no one knows what’s going on, so just go for it.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?

A- Musically as a songwriter. Roger Sovereign who was at the time the head of BMI. When I first got here 20 years ago, I met with him and he loved what I was doing he said, “There’s two kinds of songwriters that come to Nashville. One that comes here and looks around and says, ‘Oh Shit!’ and goes back home. And the other looks around and says, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’” After that, there’s two decisions you have to make. You either become a songwriter that writes for the market and is a co-writer and writes specific songs for a specific type of role, or you just write songs. Chances are the writer that writes for that specific need is probably going to be a lot richer and a lot better off monetarily, but not necessarily as a fulfilled artist. So you kind of have to decide are you going to be the writer that writes for the market and notices all the trends and not necessarily writing a lot from the heart, or do you just write songs and hope they get home.

“I think getting cuts in Nashville is tough and it’s getting harder and harder” -Jim Reilley @BuddyCruel

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Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A -  Doubled vocals, old school. I love a doubled chorus. I love little ear tricks, ear candy, so it’s not so much about you must always use this converter or this microphone. That being said an SM7 goes a long way for a vocal mic. There’s also no replacement for a well tuned drum set. There’s a lot of great records that sound like hell because the drums aren’t tuned right. You know there’s some great drummers in town that know how to tune a kit and its magic when it’s tuned right.

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
A-
 The SM7 is one of my favorite mics. There’s so many people that do mic shoot outs. You know who didn’t do those? The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. I think its kind of silly in a way, just sing into the microphone that’s there and make it work. That being said, the SM7 is pretty rugged and a universal mic so is a U87, but you can’t really go wrong on that on vocals for almost everybody.


Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A -I guess I would say Abbey Road Samples on Reason. Those are amazing and they sound great and fit into a track really well. Its funny a lot of times those fit better into a track than a real piano.

“Being a people person is really an important qualification to being a producer” - Jim Reilley @BuddyCruel

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Q - What are some tools that are part of the writing and creative process that are really useful to you?

A - It’s really hard to get away from the iphone. There’s a thing called music memos with drums and everything. It doesn’t lock in all the time, but I love it! I also use the guitar toolkit app, it’s like $10. I use a lot of open tunings and it allows me to list and catalog every open tuning I have. Basically you just write in the notes and you can hear the strum.

Q - Whats a process for you for capturing a song?

A - It’s difficult for me because I can’t read music, so I can’t write down notation and stuff like that and I don’t read number charts. I just memorize the songs. That requires a lot of mind work on my part, but it’s the only way I know how to do it.

“Sometimes that’s what makes the great song, the wrongness of it” - Jim Reilley @BuddyCruel

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Q - If you had to start over what gear would you need? How would you find people to record? And how would you make ends meet while you got started?

A - It wouldn’t probably be much different. I would have to find a studio that I could work with and camp at. I don’t really have the mind to find a rig. I guess I’m not a studio rockstar just more of a pretender. I admire it, I appreciate it, and I know enough. But I would have to find a good place that I would be comfortable in to create. If I did have to get something that I would have to have at home, I would get a good laptop and someone to show me how to use ProTools.

Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A - Listen a lot. So much time is spent on creating and that’s really important too, but make your music. Make it so you like it. Please yourself. It’s not really about anything other than pleasing yourself at this point. But at the same time I think it’s really important to listen to what has come before. So you know what not to do, or what to violate, or what to emulate, because you’re not the first one doing this. It’ll inform you in a lot of ways.

Contact:
TheNewDylans.com
New Dylans Facebook
Jim Reilley Facebook
Check Out Jim's Solo Album!!

Big Thanks to Tyler Cuidon & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!

RSR042 – David Thoener – ACDC For Those About To Rock

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR042 – David Thoener - ACDC For Those About To Rock

My guest today is David Thoener, a multi Grammy winning producer, engineer, and mixer with a true rockstar list of credits to his discography. In fact David made many of the records that I grew up with that help define rock music for me.


David started his career in 1974 as an assistant engineer at the Record Plant in New York City, and learned his craft creating Aerosmith "Toys In The Attic," Bruce Springsteen "Born To Run," David Bowie "Young Americans," John Lennon "Walls and Bridges," Electric Light Orchestra "Face The Music" and Richie Blackmore "Rainbow Rising."


David then moved on to engineering and mixing records in 1976, and has since enjoyed a thirty year run of hit records including classic records for AC/DC "For Those About To Rock”, John Mellencamp "Little Pink Houses", John Waite "Missing You", all the hits from the J. Geils Band, Matchbox 20 and many others.


In 2000, David won two Grammys -- Record of the Year and Album of the Year -- for recording and mixing "Smooth" by Santana featuring Rob Thomas.


David has mixed hit records for Jason Mraz, Faith Hill, and Sugarland, and has made records all over including South Africa, Sweden, Australia, Mexico, and Japan to list a few.


I am very lucky to be able to have this interview in person since he lives right here in Nashville TN. Please welcome David Thoener to Recording Studio Rockstars.

There are no rules, it's whatever sounds good. The way that you create something, there are no rules on that. It might be the most crazy idea in the world, but if it sounds great and it works... then it works.

David Thoener

Thoughts on Recording Schools Today..

​With all these schools now, a lot of guys that are going to these schools think that they are going to walk out of school, and going to sit behind the board, and going to be working with Jack White on his next record, and that’s just not going to happen. It never has happened that way! Every place that I would go when I would deliver these packages, I would fill out an employment form... I’ll clean the toilet for you, I’ll do whatever. Persistence and luck. And I have to say 50% of being successful in the music business and especially as an engineer is luck. It’s being at the right place at the right time, or some musician that you’ve worked with in the past, that just happens to say to another musician, “Hey, you’ve got to work with this guy. He’s really good, I think you’ll like him.” Then all of a sudden, it happens. It’s getting those relationships together. I want the listeners to realize that you just don’t walk out of school and walk into an amazing job.

Do you see similarities for music releases now vs back then?

Acetates in those days were not to be used for manufacturing purposes, they were just used to take your record around, because every A&R guy and every label had a record player. They didn’t necessarily have a tape player. Acetate was the medium they would play your music on. So I would cut acetate discs of a couple of songs for artists and I would make tape copies. They would take those acetate discs and tape copies around to different places like RCA and CBS. It was hitting the pavement and walking around and trying to make appointments with A&R guys, and sitting down, and they would put your record on, and then give you the thumbs up or thumbs down. And then you’d walk out of there and go to the next place!

Really the consumer is the winner now-a-days. As opposed to an artist or the people that are in the position of making the record, because you have iTunes now, and iTunes takes a fairly decent percentage of the sale of your single. I don't even know what some of the sites like Spotify and Pandora pay. I mean you're paid pennies, to my knowledge, on the amount of records downloaded.

I think there are more one hit wonders these days. There are a lot of bands that I listen to on some of these streaming mediums that I think ‘man that’s a really great song!’ I’ll check out the record and I’ll find several songs that I like a lot. And I would normally become a fan of this band, but a year goes by and they’re gone. I find that more these days. I guess it’s a combination of being able to go in and do a record way, way less expensive than it used to cost, so the bar is lowered. 

“Believe in yourself. You really do have to believe that you can make a difference" - David Thoener

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This J Geils Sound is sort of an introduction to the 80s sound. It seems like there were more effects happening on those records?

I have to credit Seth Justman, the keyboard player. He took over the production reigns on a lot of those records and Seth was into interesting sounds. He had a keyboard with a pitch bend on it, one of the first ones. We were more into delays than reverbs. 

Recording and Mixing AC/CD's
For Those About to Rock 

The drums were cut at the rolling stones rehearsal cavern. It was 20 min outside Paris. We used mobile 1 as the record truck because it was a big empty stone room.The drums were recorded by Mark Dearnley. He ran out of time. He had another commitment to another producer, so they called me up to finish the record. So I came in and finished guitars: rhythms, leads and vocals.

To get the most amazing guitar sounds (they weren’t into layering) we used Neumann's 87’s with a pad so close that they were almost kissing the cloth. That was the mic that got the tone they were looking for.

The AMS-RMX for mixing For Those About To Rock. AMS gave me a prototype of that unit. That’s part of the snare sound, the other part was taking the eventide pitch control and it had a feedback. So we would take the snare down an octave and turn the feedback up.

What advice do you have for us about mixing vocals?

It's the exact thing I’ve been doing for 42 years, I do exactly the same way now as I did back then. Every singer sounds different, right? So, some people say the Telefunken 251 Elam is my favorite vocal mic and I record everyone on that. But one size does not fit all. So what I’ve done since the very beginning, unless you've worked with the artist before and know what they sound good on, I get four different microphones that I have an intuitive from listening to them sing acoustically in a room I’ll choose four that I think will be most appropriate.

If I have an opportunity to use a 251, I’ll put that up, if I have the opportunity to use a Neuman 67, I’ll put that up. I’ll usually use some sort of Audio Technica, sometimes something like an SM7, sometimes a 414. I mostly lean in the condenser direction as opposed to the choice between dynamic, condenser, or ribbon. Ribbon might work for certain sounds, but it's a little bit darker and fuller.

So I’ll have them all lined up and all coming through the board flat. I’ll go through and get gain structure, no compression, very simple. I’ll have the singer sing the first verse and the chorus because naturally the chorus is going to be harder sung than the verses. They’ll try mic one, mic two, mic three, and mic four. And I’ll invite them into the control room to listen to the four mics, I want them to have a say. If it makes you really happy, then we know which mic to go with and clear the other three.

“Manual mixing. You had to use a console like you would a keyboard” - David Thoener

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What are great go-to strategies to make our mix come together if you’re in the box?

There are some great plugins out there and I’ve been mixing in the box since about 2007. Analog tape retains a signal and has a bump around 60 cycles in addition to a saturation quality. But aside from the bump and roll off that you get from a tape machine, it’s supposed to just faithfully playback what was put into it.

I really just want ProTools to play exactly what I put into it, and that’s what it does! The Opticom XLA3 that was offered by Plugin Alliance. I downloaded the trial and put it in to level match to other plugin I was using. Theres a quality to it that I really dug. It has a swtich that you can go fast, normal, or slow for compression times. The drums just felt like they were alive.

I like a lot of the new slate stuff. If I have to get a quick rough mix together, I’ll throw that on between the equalizers and the compressors. You can go through and get things ball-parked really quick. I love the McDSP stuff. The equalizer is like a multi-band compressor but it’s a multi-band equalizer, works just like a multi-band compressor.

Last thing I want to mention is that new Abbey Road Plates that came out about 4 or 5 months ago. Download the trial and try out reverbs have always been the hardest things to try to get to sound (in the digital domain) like they’re in the analog domain. Their echo chambers and rooms sound real. The Oceanway emulation sounds amazing too. P2 audio has a convolution reverb that has different theaters. Try all the trials! See if you believe it's something that can help you.

“When I go into making a record, I go in 150%”  - David Thoener

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Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A - Really nothing held me back, I knew what I wanted to do. I had a mission. I just had the focus in mind of getting there as fast as possible, whatever that took.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?

A- Back when I came into this business and was assisting some amazing engineers, nobody gave me any advice. They were all very guarded about how and why they did stuff. Honestly, I got no advice. Possibly some bad advice even.

I was thinking about buying some gear back in the 80s. Especially when Record Plant went out of business in ‘89, there were some amazing gear that was going for like nothing. They were telling me, don’t buy the 670 fairchild for like $1,000 because if I’m paying you, then don’t think I’m going to pay for your gear as well.

“I’m always trying to record the end result at any moment” - David Thoener

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Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A -  1 .Research the band. If they don’t have a record out, go to some live shows and get an idea of what they’re all about. If they have records out research the previous records and make yourself familiar with everything about them

2. Always check your mix in mono! I realize everything's in stereo, but there are phase issues that you won’t necessarily hear in stereo, but you will hear in mono. So every once in awhile hit the mono button and see how your mix folds down into mono.

3. Another cool trick, especially for expressive rock stuff. I personally like to pan my guitars. With your two rhythm guitars, pan one left and one right. I’m looking to get them in balance in the mix. I’ll balance them in stereo and monitor them in mono. Naturally they are going to drop down a level around 3 DB or so, while in mono I’ll raise them to where they are balanced with the drums and the bass. When you go back to stereo, they are kicking your ass.

4. Unless you’re using compression for an effect, I would use compression on the record side to control the guitar, the bass, or the vocal but not to a degree where you can hear it. Pop it in bypass, in and out, and if you can see that the compressor is doing its jobs without hearing it when you pop it in bypass and then back in the circuit then you’ve reached a good spot to stop right there because when you get into the mix mode you can always compress more.

5. As far as getting the low end right on a mix, know your speakers. Take records that you’ve done prior, and when you’re trying to get your bass sounds, you can always use a reference song to see if your mix is close to that. I use a lot of high pass filters a lot of times even on bass, even if it's just taking out 25 cycles. I always try to get my kick and bass to work together so that my kick drum is accenting all the notes the bass is playing together.

“I mix in a DAW all the time now” - David Thoener

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Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
A-
 If I’ve got one, an ELAM 251 Telefunkin microphone, which is very hard to get.


Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A - I think going back to what I already covered the Opticom, the new Slate stuff, the new McDSP stuff, new Abbey Road Plates.

Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - For all the rockstars out there, it's very, very important to save your money because this business is feast or famine. At one time you’re the hottest guy in town and you have one gig after another and you think, ‘man I’ve arrived. This is my life for the next 30 or 40 years. I’m just going to do every great record out there.’

Don't ever think like that. Even the best artists, the best engineers, the best producers, the best mixers will have ups and downs, this is 42 years for me and I can think back to the 80s where I would be off for two months and I’d think oh shit it's over, but I was always saving. So even when I’d hit those periods of 2, 3, 4, or 5 months where I would not get called, I never had to worry about paying my rent. I didn't live a high lifestyle, I kept it and I knew every month if money was coming in or not, I could pay my rent and bills.

“A great record is a great record. It doesn’t really matter what medium its recorded on.” - David Thoener

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Q - If you had to start over what gear would you need? How would you find people to record? And how would you make ends meet while you got started?

A - It’s almost like that desert island question. I’m a huge believer that a lot of the gear doesn’t necessarily matter. If I was in a situation where I had 10 57s and Altec mixer and a two track tape recorder, I’d make it work. So your imagination is the guide for that one. Finding musicians. It has to do with relationships.

Go out to clubs and try the best you can to meet the guys after the shows over. If you’re able to get access to a studio you can mention to them you’d like to go in at their convenience you’d like to go in and record. That’s hard to do because even recording digitally costs money.

Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A - Listen to other bands and other genres as much as possible. As much as I kinda hate the concept of Spotify and Pandora, I hate the fact the artist and people involved in those records aren’t seeing the money that they once saw. At the same time, these different streaming means have become great for the public. It allows me to listen to things my peers have done or a lot of amazing new bands I can find. There’s so many great sounds, they’re inspiring! It gives me ideas, so when a mix comes up I can draw from something I’ve been a fan of. 

Contact:
DavidThoener.com

Big Thanks to Tyler Cuidon & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!

RSR041 – Jeff Powell – How To Prepare For Vinyl Mastering & Recording With Jim Dickinson & Tom Dowd

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

If you dig the show I would be honored if you would subscribe, and leave a rating, & review in iTunes.

RSR041 – Jeff Powell - How To Prepare For Vinyl Mastering & Recording With Jim Dickinson & Tom Dowd

My guest today is Jeff Powell who got his start as an assistant engineer at Ardent studios in Memphis TN and steadily advanced his career over decades to become a multi faceted gold, platinum, and Grammy winning record producer, engineer, educator, and vinyl mastering engineer.


Jeff also chairs the Producer and Engineering wing for the Memphis Chapter of NARAS, and is an adjunct Professor with the University of Memphis Recording Program.


His career has allowed him to work with many greats in the studio like Jim Gaines, Glyn Johns, Rob Fraboni, John Hampton, Joe Hardy and Jim Dickinson. And Jeff has even the honor of recording six albums with the great Tom Dowd.


Finally Jeff learned the art of mastering vinyl, and has been cutting records under the name Take Out Vinyl for artists from all over including The Twilight Singers, Centro-matic, Mickey Hart, and Lucero.


Jeff has a long career in recording and a list of credits that include Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Tonic, Big Star, The Bottle Rockets, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sharon Jones, Centro-matic, Primal Scream, Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, and The Afghan Whigs

“I’ve been through quite a ride as far as technology goes”- Jeff Powell 

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How to Premaster your Record for Vinyl

Larry Nick taught me: “This machine is going to tell you what to do, not the other way around.” There are parameters and limits for what it can handle. I cannot handle somebody just giving me a manufactured CD and saying put that on vinyl, I can’t do that as is. Number one I’d have to turn the volume way down, if I didn't it would just be a distorted mess full of overcuts and skips, so you have to ease it on there. That’s where the skill of cutting vinyl comes in is figuring out how to take what people give you and getting it on the vinyl as best you possibly can with its limitations. The first thing I do when I’m doing a vinyl project is listen to it. I think a lot of people when mastering just dig in and go, but I have to aesthetically think about it a little bit and see what the last song on the first side is going to be compared to the first song, all that matters.

I wrote a chapter in Complete Audio Mastering: Practical Techniques by Gebre Waddell. Its all about how to premaster your record for vinyl to get the best results because there are two different ways of looking at it. What I sell my services for is a direct transfer, to take what you give me and put it on vinyl as best I can. But what is happening is I’m doing more and more ‘mastering.’ I need to EQ it a little bit, compress or peak limit it a little bit. The biggest thing for the listeners to know, if you want your record to end up on vinyl, D-ess your vocals and watch your levels of your high hats and symbols; it’s high frequency information and that's something thats too hard for the needle to track

“Don’t ever think you have it all figured out, there’s always something to learn” - Jeff Powell

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General Rules of Thumb for Getting Things Ready for Vinyl

- D-ess High End
- Center the Bass

  • You want your low end information to be centered because it causes a larger excursion for the stylus to try and cut that and can cause it to actually skip out of the groove if it's not done right.

- Think about Phase

  • I’m thinking there’s a lot of plugins out there that are stereo widening or something to that effect. To me a lot of times when it's a band with huge guitars that are panned hard, I hit the mono button and they disappear, so they’re out of phase with each other. A lot of times the reverbs will disappear when I hit the mono button. So I think those are due to the desgin of the plugins and things like that so check your mixes in mono to make sure things don’t disappear. I love hard panning too, just be careful and check your phase. When things are out of phase the groove starts to look like an hourglass and get narrow and the needle again can pop out of the groove when it's trying to track it.

Running a Recording Session Smoothly

  • Be ready. I’m always extremely prepared and use an assistant on pretty much every session I do. I think that’s something that starting to go by the wayside because of budgets and things, people can’t afford them. They either expect these young engineers to work for free or they just don’t use an assistant and I think that’s terrible because that's the only way they can learn, its invaluable experience for them just to be in the room with an experienced engineer. I just think the time that it saves and the way the whole session will run with an assistant is far superior than trying to save the extra $150 a day to do it yourselves, it just depends on the scope
  • If you’re not used to being on the other side of the glass. Go stand in front of the mic and just for a minute, don’t talk, just see how long a minute feels like when you’re standing there. You see people in the control room and you don’t know what they’re saying or if they’re talking about you. It seems like an eternity. I think another thing that is missing these days is rewind time. You just spacebar, spacebar, spacebar, again, again, again, you just wear them out, man! I don’t like that. Yeah you’re saving time, but there needs to be a breath or a thought, you have to know the difference

“I don’t want worry to ever set in on my sessions” - Jeff Powell 

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Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A -I gotta say nothing. Nothing held me back, I was so determined, nothing could hold me back.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?

A- I was so fortunate to work with so many great producers and engineers. One was ‘don’t get married’, but I ignored that. I’ve been happily married for 23 years. I met my wife in the studio, she's a musician as well. You do have to have a really special person that understands all the sacrifices you have to make like not seeing you a lot of times or leaving town, but it all works out in the end.

“You should only go into this business if no one can talk you out of it” - Jeff Powell

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Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A - When they’re running through the song on the floor and you’re in the control room, then they start playing the song again and they’re halfway through the song and you're going, they think I’m recording. So first thing you do is even if it's halfway through, hit record, then go out on the floor and move a microphone, even if you don’t need to. If you think, that they think you’re recording they’re going to ask you if you got the take.. Don’t be that guy. Go out there and move the snare mic an inch. If they think they’re recording they’ll be like what the heck?! Just tell them the mic went out and you had to wiggle the wire.

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
A- 
I like weird stuff. Cheap mics that aren’t supposed to necessarily sound good. I like different textures of things. I don’t get upset if the singer doesn’t feel comfortable singing into my Sony 800G $10,000 mic, if he wants to sing with an SM7, whatever it takes to make them comfortable.


Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A - I’ve been turned on recently to the Fabfilter D-esser and EQ. I love it, it’ll do what you need it to do and still be subtle with it.

“Ciblience is my enemy” - Jeff Powell

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Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - If you haven’t seen Tom Dowd and the language of music you have to. Get that DVD and go see it. I used to require my students to look at that. It's a great story about his life and how he got into recording. He’s just an amazing guy and changed recording.

Q - If you had to start over what gear would you need? How would you find people to record? And how would you make ends meet while you got started?

A - I’d probably hang out that the bars and try to get a feeling for what the scene was. What bands are cool, what bands do you like along with the local mag you can see who’s playing and what are the cool clubs to go to, probably start there and work back. Then what are the cool studios in town who are the studio cats in town. If I was just starting off I’ll make myself available. Can I intern here? Anything to get your foot in the door. I had a simple Protool rig with apogee quartet, a few good converters with mic pres built in. I bought two brent avril 1272s and API 312s. I had a 57, a 421, couple earthworks mic, and my sony 800G.

“As far as miking drums, I’m a minimalist now” - Jeff Powell

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Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A - Being able to get into a session and work with an established engineer preferably someone you admire and think is getting good sounds and stuff. But just being in the room any way you can and getting used to hearing good sounds. Then whether you do exactly what that guy is doing or not isn’t really important, just getting your ear trained to hear really cool stuff and putting your thing to it, that's the whole trick.

Contact:
JeffPowell.net
Facebook 
Email: jeff@jeffpowell.net


Big Thanks to Alex Skelton & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!

RSR040 – Matt Ross-Spang – Working at the Famous Sun Studio, Learning from the Great Sam Phillips

(Press play on the green strip above or listen on iTunes with the link below)

RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

If you dig the show I would be honored if you would subscribe, and leave a rating, & review in iTunes.

RSR040 – Matt Ross-Spang -
Working at the Famous Sun Studio, Learning from the Great Sam Phillips

My guest today is Matt Ross-Spang, a Grammy winning engineer, mixer, producer and recording historian. Matt began his career at the young age of 16 interning at Sun Studio in Memphis TN, which he revitalized during his decade of work there bringing it back to it’s original analog roots. After his time at Sun Studio He has more recently migrated over to Sam Phillips Recording Services, home office and studio for the legendary Sam Phillips.


In 2015 Matt won a Grammy for engineering and mixing Jason Isbell “Something More Than Free.” And he has recently broken the top 10 Billboard country charts for engineering, mixing, and co producing Margo Price’s debut record “Midwestern Farmer’s Daughter” for Third Man Records.


Matt’s extensive credits in the studio include Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jerry Lee Lewis, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Jakob Dylan, Justin Townes Earle, JD McPherson, Chris Isaak, Mark Ronson, The Wood Brothers, and Brett Dennen to name a few. And he has also worked with acclaimed producers like Dave Cobb.


The City of Memphis has even nominated Matt as one of its “30 under 30” Memphians and in 2016 awarded him a key to the city while proclaiming April 25, 2016 as Matt Ross-Spang (day) in Germantown,TN.

“I feel like everyday is a success because I get to keep doing this. I’m so grateful” -Matt Ross-Spang

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Sun Studio

The Transition back to the Analog Roots at Sun

Equipment wise it wasn’t the same. They had a Soundcraft TS24 console that we recorded through a homemade PC rig to before Sonar it was Cakewalk Audio, and we had a 2” MCI machine that was just a dust collector. I didn’t know anything about microphones. I remember my first day as an assistant the guy asked me if that Leslie worked and I didn’t even know what a Leslie was. It wasn’t the gear that Sam Phillips used, it was more modern stuff from the 70s on and as I worked there more and more, we were using 24 tracks or 18 tracks in this little room which was about 18X30. Sam Phillips had 4 microphones going live to mono tape and in the early cases he went direct to disc and that stuff sounded incredible. To my ears, what we were doing wasn’t as cool sounding. If he could do it with 4 microphones and I can’t do it with 12 then this is all on me, so I tried to reverse engineered it and started from there.

Sam Phillips

Sam started Sun with no money in 1950. He had worked two other jobs to try and make this little recording studio happen. So many people think that Sam was a lucky hillbilly that just happen to record Elvis, but Sam came from Florence, Alabama, he loved radio, he loved communication and he started by recording big band music at the radio station. Part of the reason he wanted to come to memphis was the Mississippi river and the other half was Biel street because at the time it was the only place where black people could go and have fun, let loose and be themselves without worrying too much about the Jim Crow laws. He wanted to record these bands playing on Biel street that no one was paying attention to, so he started this studio to do that and eventually he quit the nice job to focus just on Sun. Now we all know it turned out really well for him. In 1950 they didn’t have recording equipment, you could buy radio equipment and multipurpose it for recording. He spent $800,000 in 1958 which is about 7 million dollars today to build a unique high-tech studio that would grow with the technology.

“Sam passed away in 2003, I started a few months after he passed away. I never got to meet him.” - Matt Ross-Spang

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Margo Price

First girl in billboard history to have a top ten record without a hot trending song

I’ve recorded a lot of people at Sun the past 10 years, I’ve work over 330 days in the studio most years, but I felt a little bit like what Sam must have felt like when Elvis came in and he saw this natural talent that no one else had heard yet, I think there's something incredible about that.  I felt that way in regards to Margo when her and her band came in, I was completely blown away.

Recording Margo

Everyone came in to work and had an amazing time working. We did it all live. We had no headphones which I think is a big part of recording at sun is not having headphones so i think everyone is seeing and playing off of each other dynamically in the room and making way for the vocal. Margo sang right in the room, she overdubbed some vocals later, but it’s all about polar patterns. So SM7 or RC77 that reject well, I found parts of the room where I could stick her kind of in the middle of where everybody could hear her voice naturally, and it picked up room instruments. I would have her within about 8 ft of the drums and the drums would be in the middle back of the room and she would be off halfway down the room.

The drums on that record are two mics I used a Shure 55 on the kick drum (The Elvis Mic) and I had an old altec 11 it was one of Sam Phillips’s favorite mics they call it the coke bottle mic but it's the first american condenser (1947) microphone its tube, it goes all the way down to 10hz. I put it all the way down on the omni and it catches the whole kit in a really cool way and its glass capsule so it has a really weird sound.

“When you have those no-headphone moments, everyone is listening to each other not just listening to themselves” - Matt Ross-Spang

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Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A -I think being so young, I couldn’t stay out that late. My parents only let me be out till 12:30. I remember when I first started interning I never got to see what happened at the end of mixing, because they’d start mixing and I had to leave because I had school the next day.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?

A- I think my best advice for people is to watch everything. I see so many people that come into studios that want to learn, but then they stay on their phone cause they think it's a boring part because they aren’t seeing you actually touch a compressor or something and seeing how people talk to each other and relate to each other. The engineer I learned from at Sun was so great at welcoming everyone and making them feel at home. At Sun, people come and freak out because Elvis Presley cut here and Johnny Cash and people get so nervous, so you have to really get good at becoming their friend and letting them know you’re here for them. Before I ever touched a piece of gear I sat there for months watching him talk to people and how he handled people. Thats a huge part of it because this is a people business, this isn’t who’s got the best compressor in town.

“I’m a microphone geek, I love gear, but I don’t want gear to ever get in the way of a session” - Matt Ross-Spang

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Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A - The quieter you play, the bigger it can sound I think that goes for every instrument out there.

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
A- 
Microphones I think are the biggest piece of the puzzle. Everyone loved neves back in the day because it was one of the first pre’s that had clean gain. Now every pre’s got tons of clean gain. So I think mic pre’s do have sounds, but more importantly it's what microphone you have. And instead of EQing you can move a mic an inch and it changes everything especially ribbon and condensers. One of my favorite pieces of gear is the spectrasonic 610 complementor and most people who know me know I’m a geek for spectrasonics. I have tons of their equipment. But a 610, it's one of the world's most fastest compressor. Most people don’t understand how it works because they try and use it like an 1176. It’s so fast it doesn't bump, the limiter comes in at 50 nanoseconds, the compressor comes in at 60 nanoseconds. It's so fast you can pop a microphone into the complementor, plug that into a speaker, you can drop the microphone and instead of blowing out your speaker, it's so fast it tracks the waveform and it'll catch the transient. It’s that fast.


“You’re your biggest selling tool” - Matt Ross-Spang

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Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - Phone a friend. I think that's the biggest thing in the world. You can read a book, but everything you’re going to have a question about is pretty much unique to your situation. Often times, we’re recording with friends, so you don’t want to hit friends with some crazy contract. The business side has changed a lot so, I try to stay away from that stuff as much as I can. I hate talking about money, I hate talking about business stuff because I do this to make records. Go with your gut.

Q - If you had to start over what gear would you need? How would you find people to record? And how would you make ends meet while you got started?

A - I’m sorry.. Good luck!! If you’re in that situation and sticking through it, you’ve got what it takes because this business is really tough and you’ve got to do it because you love it. If you’re in that situation you’re obviously in it because you love it, not because you’ve got $20,000 to blow on something. This whole thing is a people thing. Everything I’ve gotten in this business has been through friends or through word of mouth. So you need to go out and meet people, introduce yourself. You can’t do that over the internet. You’re your biggest selling tool. As far as equipment there's nothing wrong with Shure57 and simple microphones like those. Don’t spend too much time on gear, just get a set up that works and doesn’t crap out on you and get your name out there and meet people and do stuff for cheap

“Be fearless. You don’t want to look back on something and regret it because you only have one shot at this stuff” - Matt Ross-Spang

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Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A - What’s great about our job is that everyday is different. Everyday is unique to itself, you're never going to have the same day twice in a row. What you did one day might work amazing, and it may never work again. You always have to try and better yourself. I love my time at Sun studio, but I feel like I got stuck because I felt like I was doing the same things and I knew the studio and the equipment so well. I felt like I wasn’t growing anymore, so I quit a steady job with a steady paycheck and became independent. I threw myself into the fire again, and I’ve grown so much. Be fearless. You don’t want to look back on something and regret it because you only have one shot at this stuff.

Contact:
southerngrooves.com
Facebook
Twitter

Big Thanks to Tyler Cuidon & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!

RSR039 – Jody Stephens – Big Star & Ardent Studios

(Press play on the green strip above or listen on iTunes with the link below)

RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

If you dig the show I would be honored if you would subscribe, and leave a rating, & review in iTunes.

RSR039 - Jody Stephens - Big Star & Ardent Studios

My guest today is Jody Stephens a rock star, session drummer, songwriter, composer, producer, and studio administrator in Memphis TN. Jody’s music has had a great influence on me through his work as the drummer for the legendary band, Big Star. So it is a great honor to be here today at Ardent Studios to interview Jody as part of my “Memphis series.”


Jody’s session work and live performances have allowed him to play with many artists and bands that include Matthew Sweet, The Afghan Whigs, Velvet Elvis, Golden Smog, and Bill Lloyd. He has been working in and around the studio for decades and is also the administrator for Ardent Studios and Ardent Records.


Jody’s recent band is called Those Pretty Wrongs with Luther Russell of The Freewheelers. They have released a beautiful single called “Lucky Guy” that instantly takes me back to Big Star.

"Lucky Guy" - Those Pretty Wrongs

“Good music comes out of struggle or uncertainty” - Jody Stephens

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Ardent Studios

“Magic can happen here at Ardent Studios” - John Fry

You walk through these doors and we have three studios, it can be a pretty communal experience. When Big Star was working on the third album we were maybe in B at that time, but Steve cropper had a session in A. Steve kind of wandered over and laid a guitar down on Femme Fatale (our third record). But that happens all the time, and even if it’s not that kind of interaction, people walk through those doors knowing that there are folks in other studios pursuing that same sort of dream. Sometimes you walk into a studio a little uncertain about the outcome, but having people around you going through that same experience is very communal and can be comforting. John started Ardent when he was 14! We're celebrating the 50th anniversary this year!!

“You aren’t trying things if you aren’t failing a lot” - Jody Stephens

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Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A -My parents were amazingly supportive as was my older brother Jimmy, him and I played in a lot of bands together, he was kind of my mentor. The first thing I always thought was silly with my taking up drums is it's the most embarrassing instrument to start out on because you sit down and you’re trying to make your left hand and right hand, and left foot and right foot all do independent things and you just feel awkward and clumsy. When I was 14 or 15 I thought, “wow, I wonder if I could get away without playing the bass drum to make it easier?!” Obviously you just kind of keep at it and things like that work out. 

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?

A- I think the best advice is pursue it because you’re passionate about it, because you have fun doing it, and because you enjoy that interaction with other people. The problem is, if you’re going to be pursuing it for money you’re going to be really disappointed. 

“It’s all in technique and balance” - Jody Stephens

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Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A- Dynamics in drums. I have a tendency to hit drums really hard, but I think you get better sounds by not hitting them real hard. Some of my favorites are when I wasn't hitting the drum really hard, but if it's sort of an uptempo rocky thing I just can't help it. Life is White on Big Star's Radio City Album, if I had been hitting them really hard, Hampton used to say you'd choke the drum. So that's part of it is how hard you hit, dynamics. 

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
A- 
You know the kind of stick you use to hit it has a lot to do with the way the drum kit sounds, not to mention the way you hit it. We have a lot of vintage gear here that I’m certainly grateful to have, vintage mics and that sort of thing that make a difference sonically and the way you hear someone's voice or the way you hear the drums, Fairchilds come to mind. We have stereo and mono Fairchilds and those are always kind of cool for voices. It’s nice having those options. We have a compliment of really nice tape machines.


“There's not one best sound thats universal for all songs” - Jody Stephens

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Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - One thing that attracts people I think is the talent at the studio, the engineering and the production talent I think that's probably first and foremost. I think if you're an engineer coming to a studio or producer, you want a nice compliment of gear. You want a console that sounds good you want to know that everything is serviced properly and works.

Q - Any advice to keep your finances working?

A - Diversifying helps we have royalties coming in from artists that we worked with as a record label and others as a publishing company.

"The common denominator for all [styles] are melodies and engaging lyrics” - Jody Stephens

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Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A Buy an instrument, learn how to play it and have a passion for playing it and just enjoy playing it, then things start to happen. People hear you and are engaged by what you do, people start helping along the way. That's how you gain entry. It's a long process, there's no real short way to having that studio experience, unless you have some sort of financial backer. To make it brief.. How to do you get to carnegie hall? You practice.

Contact:
ArdentStudios.com
Those Pretty Wrongs Facebook
Greyhoundsmusic.com

Big Thanks to Alex Skelton & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!

RSR038 – Ian Brennan – How Music Dies (Or Lives)

(Press play on the green strip above or listen on iTunes with the link below)

RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

If you dig the show I would be honored if you would subscribe, and leave a rating, & review in iTunes.

RSR038 - Ian Brennan - How Music Dies (Or Lives)

My guest today is Ian Brennan a recording artist, producer, concert promoter, activist, and author. He is a GRAMMY-winning producer with four GRAMMY-nominated records for Best World Music, and Best Traditional Folk.

Ian has many interesting tales to tell. Whether performing a weekly show in a San Francisco laundromat for five straight years, or producing records in the recording studio, or promoting concerts for crowds of thousands, or traveling the world recording some of the most fascinating music you might hear, Ian Brennan is always creating, recording, and writing about it. And as a result, has an intimate understanding of music.


He has written a fascinating book called “How Music Dies (Or Lives): Field Recording And the Battle for Democracy in the Arts” that shares his deep understanding of music, culture, and recording. He helps us look beyond what the world recognizes as music through popular recordings, and into the core of what music really means to us as human beings.


It is an ear opening journey around the world with the intent of preventing us from deafley stumbling toward the end of music through innocent global homogenization of culture, by guiding us to a better understanding of what music really sounds like when it matters the most.


Ian has had a long career of recording his own music and producing other’s music, both in the studio and outside of the studio. His client list is loaded with names that you might recognize like Kyp Malone & Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio), Flea, Lucinda Williams, David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), Nels Cline (Wilco), DJ Bonebrake & John Doe (X, the Knitters), Bill Frisell, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Jonathan Richman, Richard Thompson, and many more.


But it’s the names that you wouldn’t necessarily recognize that tell a truly remarkable story of Ian’s recording career. Projects from around the world like the Malawi Mouse Boys, The Zomba Prison Project, Hanoi Masters, and Italy’s Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino are recordings that Ian passionately writes about in his new book.

Here are the three main labels where most of the releases can be found...

"In the USA last year they estimated over 100,000 [music] releases, yet most countries in the world didn’t have a single release internationally of popular music"

-Ian Brennan

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Sainkho Namtchylak

She’s virtuosic, has a 5 oct range. The last record  she collaborated with rhythm section from Tinariwen. It was more song oriented with instant composition, for the most part they wrote songs on the spot. We recorded a double album literally in 5.5 hours in one afternoon. We didn’t release all of it, but that type of singer gives new meaning to what it is to be a vocalist. Somebody who not only has that range but somebody who has a range in terms of tone you know where they can literally sound like other people and even like other species, mirroring the sounds of the environment (water & wind).

Malawi Mouse Boys

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. The Malawi boys have been singing together since they were small children in their village with no electricity, radio, tv, or running water, and they have built all their own instruments. Music is a part of their daily lives and they literally learned to sing together so they’ve never sung apart. I think when you stumble upon that, any mic that's within six feet of them is going to capture something potentially cool. The depth of the musicality is so profound because they’re not viewing it in a consumeristic way, they’re viewing it in a very natural way. They don’t feel that it's in limited supply. And one of the most incredible things about their group is the ability to adapt instantly. So if they feel like it, one of them might switch and sing lead on another song without ever having done it before and without planning and rehearsing it

Zomba Prison Project

We went into the maximum security prison from Malawi and worked for almost two weeks with the men and women there on songwriting and recording. We recorded over six hours worth of music which is a lot because it involved 60 people and most songs were recorded just once. From that we released a record and much to everyone’s surprise it received a grammy nomination at the end of 2015. That became a big story internationally. The individuals involved were age 27-70. With the men, we recorded in their little rehearsal area, with the women, we recorded in the dirt courtyard of the prison. As far as the EQ area, I always turn mixes over to better engineers such as John Golden of Golden Mastering. 

Ian Brennan
Learning to Use Your Own Voice

I think it’s fine to have influence but it's fairly consumeristic and can be somewhat indulgent and there's nothing wrong with that either I think for a lot of artists it’s good to purge themselves, abstain from listening deliberately to recorded music and to try to listen instead to things that are more random. There's not silence. There’s no such thing as silence, but the sounds that they are surrounded by. That’s one aspect and I think that it's often times good for people to go to the other extreme and really to embrace something is an obsessive compulsive way. Something that might really move them it might be a single song or a single performance and that's kind of an ancient traditionally musically technique sometimes to literally play the same song until you drop for days at a time. Learning to forget, where it becomes so deeply embedded that you’re able to then move on to the level of expert, where it’s all forgotten… get into the zone and do things that no one can consciously produce


Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A - I think it's always fear that holds people back. You know, I think rather than trying to deny fear which is often times people's goal, I think to acknowledge it and then to proceed is usually the better course. When I began equipment was so hard to come by I mean this is before the Tascam Portastudio, so it's been brilliant to see the accessibility of recording for people that doesn’t require that pressure to go outside their own home and spend huge amounts of money, that they can develop more organically and build up to something bigger.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?

A- Some of the best advice I ever received was make sure musicians are standing up and moving when they’re recording. More specifically, I would refine that to make sure that people are doing whatever they normally do. So if they normally play guitar and sing, they should play guitar and sing and not track a guitar and try and sing to it. Everybody’s different.

“If everyone’s happy you’ve hit some kind of compromise medium that lacks point of view” -Ian Brennan

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Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.

A - Again I think it comes back to the point we were just talking about, record in the manner people are comfortable recording. Meet them where they are at. So if they’re a night person, record at night. If they’re a morning person, record in the morning. I really believe in recording somewhere that has meaning to the individual so that it does have a sense of time and place even if it's not outdoors.

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
A- 
When I’m recording outdoors I use battery operated recording devices: Tascam is kind of the origin of home recording, Zoom. Outdoors the sounds that present the most problems are wind and transient sounds. But otherwise with proximity, when the mics are close, that’s all you tend to hear.


“When [artists] surrender to who they truly are, they are embraced” -Ian Brennan

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Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A - I think that any noise reduction is going to be invaluable. This is the thing about the digital era that is so incredible to be able to do things today that we couldn't do two years ago, let alone five years ago. iZotope, Waves, Cedars, it's a miracle what can be done. I’m sure they’re going to become more plentiful in the next coming years

Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - Pollstar.com is a great resource, its about live recording but I think its a way of learning anecdotically about how the business works. They put out the equivalent of billboard for the live music industry. Even though I’m not very concerned with the commercially aspects of the business, it can be very fascinating to see the changes. One of the big misconceptions that people have is that the music industry is dying and the music industry is in fact growing. They are making more money every year, it's pretty stable. They are making more of it from live rather than recordings, and they’re making it from fewer people which is a sad trend.

“I think all recordings are field recordings” - Ian Brennan 

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Q - If you had to start over what gear would you need? How would you find people to record? And how would you make ends meet while you got started?

A - I think knowing that you don’t need so much equipment as much as people might believe and that the relationships are going to be what's important is something that can lead to contacts. If you’ve got a Tascam 680 and a VRE20 and a lavaliere can always come in handy and a couple of 57s and 58s and AKG 451’s, and ideally a couple of those sound device preamps but even without those, I think you can record just about anything quite well. As far as meeting people and going about it, I believe hugely in volunteering and giving people a sample. It better to be proactive and active then to sit back passively and wait for someone. I’d much rather go out there and just agree to record someone for free!

Q - What are some things you need for recording and traveling?

A - Duct tape. Duct tape is about all you need. If you've got duct tape, you’ll find a place to put the mic. In most cases there’s going to be chairs around, just tape it to a chair. If you’re outside, you tape it to a tree. It’s not ideal, but necessity is the mother of invention. There’s usually a way to make it work. Also I really believe in laying microphones on the ground that you can get really good sound that way. Particular if you are talking about specifically foot taps or wanting to get more of a mono sound of a single solo performer, it can sound really great! That’s the only place there’s going to be any reflection if you are outdoors.

“Necessity is the mother of invention” - Ian Brennan 

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Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A Tell the truth. It means, have integrity, be direct with people, but also in the music itself try to find the truth of the experience and again there's no right or wrong way to do things but i think that when people share a genuine experience people value that almost more than anything else. You know people are starved for attention, but people are also starved for honesty. People that are very nice and social and try to too hard and ultimately are maybe being artificial sometimes have less success socially than people that can be quite blunt and I think we should be empathic with people and sensitive and care, but at the same times, it's amazing how a bit of candor can go so far with people because it does eliminate fear ultimately. They realize they’re with someone who's going to tell them the truth and they don’t have to guess and doubt and I can take it or leave it.

Contact: IanBrennan.com

Big Thanks to Tyler Cuidon & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!

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