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RSR047 – James Waddell – An Expert on the Maschine

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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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’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
 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!


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