RSR031 – Dave Tough – Producer’s Room - Recording Studio Rockstars

RSR031 – Dave Tough – Producer’s Room

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR031 - Dave Tough - The Producer's Room

My guest today is Dave Tough, a Dove award-winning producer, engineer, and songwriter based here in Nashville, TN. He is also a music industry educator at Belmont University, and an active voting member of the Recording Academy (Grammy Awards).

Dave has won the Grand Prize in the John Lennon songwriting contest 2013 (Electronica Category) and in 2009 (Country Category). He has written and produced over 150 songs for major motion pictures and television including Pretty Little Liars, Empire, Glee, Nashville, and CSI.

And Rockstars, you may also enjoy his television show called Producer’s Room with Dave Tough, featuring interviews with music industry creators, and studio tours.

"The focus of the show is a little different, we talk more about the creative process rather than focusing on the technical side"

“It's not our job as engineers to judge the lyrics, we’re judging the tonal qualities of the recording” @DaveTough

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Writing for TV and Film

"Film is more emotion based meaning the texture and temporal quality of the recording has as much to do as the lyrical content. It's the antithesis of Nashville. In Nashville it's all about the lyrics. We are gonna look at the floor and say that's a red rug with purple flowers on it and we're really going to describe everything about it. In film and tv we leave it more ambiguous. We’d say that rug makes me feel delicious. It’s more of a John Lennon approach. It evokes an emotion, not only the lyric but the texture of the song."

Writing Tips for Electronica Pop:
"My wife and I have a band called Xavier & Ophelia. Our song “Falling Down” won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2013. For this song we wanted to do a Hall and Oates chord progression to a dance beat. So when I sat down to record it, I used references, I like this high hit on this song and this drum beat on this song.. As far as tonality there aren’t any rules besides managing the low end. Side-chaining the bass to the kick."

Mixing Tips for Country Music: 
"The first thing is the lyric. Lyric’s got to be heard and cut through so vocal intelligibility is number one. Clearing out the low end besides for bass and drums. Making the others crosshatch together and finding little places in the spectrum that they’ll work together."

“If you’re going to record music.. you should understand music” @DaveTough

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Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A - Two things, one I started from a musical perspective. But when I first said I’m going to be an engineer I thought it was a science. I thought man I can do a calculation to get from point A to point B if I once again do this compression ratio, but the more you live you realize it’s more of an art. The second thing was I had gear acquisition syndrome. I realized after a long time that you don’t have to have all of that.

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

A- It’s all about the song and the arrangement and all of that… With my students I’ll play them a really good song, and a really bad produced song and ask them which one they want to listen to. It really depends on their frame of mind, but they see that the production is not what it’s all about. So if you don’t start with a good song, good arrangement, good players, you’re not going to get too far in the engineering world.

“If you want to eat in this town, you’re going to be working on other genres that you may not be a huge fan of” @DaveTough

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

A - I would say a really solid signal chain on the front end. I’m all about the pre-production, good tones, good arrangement. If I’m speaking for producing I would say also keep a rolodex of musicians. What I typically like to do is if I go out and see a show I take a note on my iphone this drummer is good at rock. Being able to cast players for different kinds of records.

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
Favorite hardware would be a good instrument, and then my signal chain of choice would be something simple like a U87 a solid state condenser mic that has a flat response so I can tweak it later and a nice preamp.

“Engineering was only a function of composition for me” @DaveTough

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Q - Share a favorite software tool for the studio

A - Believe it or not, I actually dig the CLA bundles the Waves OneKnob. Everyone’s like you have the be a beginner engineer to use those. I think one of the most important things as an engineer is to capture your initial gut reaction and if I’m going through plugins and tweaking stuff for 30 min to get a bass sound.. I lost my gut reaction, I lost my initial impression. So with those types of tools the general CLAs, JJPs, Waves Bundle, that kind of stuff that has little pre-sets and their signal chain is built in, I can capture 90% of what I’m hearing within 3 minutes. Other stuff I was thinking about, I use Waves RVox I use a lot, of course everyone uses the UAD stuff. Another tool that changed my mixing was the oxford bundle by Sonnox's. The oxford limiter on the master bus, the oxford eq… One other piece is gear is the warm audio 1176. For $500 it’s pretty nice!

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

A - The problem with engineers, is they only want to hang with engineers. That’s totally the opposite of what you need to do if you are trying to start a business! You need to go hang out with the people that need you. So like here in Nashville you need to go to NSAI where all the songwriters hang out and they don’t have any technical chops. And those are the people you need to hang with because then it's a win win. They can use what you do, you can use what they do or their money.. Either way.

“That’s what I love about engineering and music in general.. There’s something to learn everyday” @DaveTough

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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 - First of all I would go out to the clubs and meet some of the musicians and pick their brains. After that, as far as a setup, when I worked with Bruce Swedien (Michael Jackson’s Engineer) one of his ten commandments was always mic in stereo. So maybe two U87’s, two LA 610’s and maybe some apogee converters and a laptop. As far as making ends meet, I heard a good piece of advice from a songwriter once to get a job at night so you can use all your fruitful energy during the day for your craft and then when you’re sleepy you go to work.

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

A - Find what your deep driving desire is and find your unique voice, I think that’s so important. It may take you not 10,000 hours but 20-40,000 hours to find your unique voice. If you think about all the great artists, Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, George Massenburg, they all have a unique voice in their genre. On the flip side always try to work with an artist with a unique voice. When you can start becoming selective, dont record that guy that sounds like John Mayer, because we already have John Mayer. The label doesn’t need him, society doesn’t need him. You need to find someone with a unique voice that’s saying something unique lyrically but also sounds different and that’s where you’re going to have your best chance at success.

“You will become what you are...whatever’s in your heart, it will manifest itself” @DaveTough

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