SPOTLIGHT | MIXING MASTERS
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
it is difficult to stress how VITAL the MIXING PROCESS is within the overall PRODUCTION of music. its all well and good to track clean INDIVIDUAL RECORDINGS of all your PARTS and INSTRUMENTS, but if the listener cannot appreciate the final product due to everything competing with each then its all for naught. NAIL THE MIX is an ongoing subscription-based online audio school that basically gives participants all the stems of a song to MIX at home, only to learn from the MIXER on the project to explain via a livestream or prerecorded video how the end results were achieved. which is pretty cool.
for someone like me that is not an AUDIO ENGINEER, learning how the sausage is made when it comes to MUSIC PRODUCTION is still very much endlessly FASCINATING. a few years ago the longtime LEGENDARY BRITISH METAL publication KERRANG! took Q&A's from participating MIXERS and republished them under the MIXING MASTERS tag for their readers. participating MIXERS include DAVE OTERO (CATTLE DECAPITATION, CEPHALIC CARNAGE, TETRARCH), ERIK RON (MOTIONLESS IN WHITE, GODSMACK, SAOSIN, I PREVAIL, BLACK VEIL BRIDES, PANIC! AT THE DISCO), MACHINE (LAMB OF GOD, CLUTCH, VISION OF DISORDER, I AM THE AVALANCHE), KRISTIAN "KOHLE" KOHLMANNSLEHNER (ABORTED, CREMATORY, POWERWOLF, BENIGHTED), SAM PURA (STATE CHAMPS, THE STORY SO FAR, HUNDREDTH, BASEMENT) and KURT BALLOU (CONVERGE, KVELERTAK, RUSSIAN CIRCLES, TORCHE, HIGH ON FIRE, TRAP THEM). its absolutely EDUCATIONAL and a PHENOMENAL new leaf worth turning even for avid fans of the genre with no background in MUSIC PRODUCTION. definitely worth checking out.
by the time of his untimely passing in 2006 at the young age of thirty-two from cardiac arrest related to his ongoing battle with LUPUS, LEGENDARY DETROIT HIP HOP producer J DILLA was an INNOVATIVE, highly sought after COLLABORATOR and BEAT-MAKER of the first order whose INSPIRED COMPOSITIONS were appreciated and utilized by the likes of A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, DE LA SOUL, RAEKWON, THE PHARCYDE, D'ANGELO, ERYKAH BADU and COMMON to BUSTA RHYMES, THE ROOTS, EMINEM, MF DOOM, BILAL, REDMAN, MADLIB and TALIB KWELI among many others before and after his passing. his UNIQUE sense of RHYTHM, which he performed by hand on his AKAI MPC3000 sequencer-sampler, made use of disengaging the quantize setting (which when engaged essentially sets everything to a grid).
let's take a moment to make one thing absolutely clear.
J DILLA did not live on the grid. he was his own METRONOME and basically humanized HIP HOP production making the RIGID TECHNOLOGY ebb and flow organically almost like a JAZZ MUSICIAN. he referred to such RHYTHMIC EXPERIMENTATIONS as "drunk funk." his touch is something that has influenced countless producers in his wake, but obviously has not been replicated. DONUTS (STONES THROW, 2006) proved to be his final recording and was created as his DIMINISHED and ENFEEBLED physical limitations rendered him wheelchair-bound as he was losing his battle with LUPUS. the album showcases a SINGULAR composer and BEAT-MAKER at the top of his game (and the profession) as his SOUNDSCAPES and COLLAGES seamlessly transition from one EVOCATIVE aural landscape to the next. it proves that in spite of his physical debilitation, his CREATIVE SPARK and COGNITIVE ABILITIES were as on point as ever right to the end. such can be heard on STANDOUT tracks such as "GEEK DOWN," "TWO CAN WIN," "DON'T CRY," "WORKINONIT," "U-LOVE," "GOBSTOPPER" and "LAST DONUT OF THE NIGHT." my suggestion however is to listen to DONUTS in its entirety as one extended sonic MEDITATION.
it does not disappoint and is a fitting EXCLAMATION POINT on a career and talent cut down way too soon. his legacy is continued by those who take INSPIRATION from his SOUND including current PIONEERING producers and musicians like FLYING LOTUS, PHARRELL WILLIAMS, THUNDERCAT, DANGER MOUSE and TERRACE MARTIN among others. its interesting to consider that in retrospect many critics have considered him to be more of a JAZZ musician than a HIP HOP producer which only further proves his SUBTLE TOUCH and DEFT MUSICALITY that seemingly knew no limitations. his ART very much seemed to be a flawlessly composed, direct EMOTIONAL expression in and of the current moment a la JOHN COLTRANE, MAX ROACH or THELONIOUS MONK.
RIP JAY DEE
as some of you know, my cousin BRIAN is a recording engineer with production credits ranging from MACMILLER, A$AP FERG, and CLAMS CASINO to YEASAYER, DIRTY PROJECTORS, NEIL FINN and RAIN MACHINE among many others. when DEER GOD was still a viable entity as a recording studio a few years back, i had a front row seat to witness both IN-THE-BOX PRODUCTION via PRO TOOLS as well as the interplay of mixing such with our modified MTA 980 console.
in the years since, watching the CELEBRATED veteran recording engineer ERIC VALENTINE (QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979, GOOD CHARLOTTE, THE DWARVES, TAKING BACK SUNDAY, SMASHMOUTH, THIRD EYE BLIND, THE ALL-AMERICAN REJECTS) deconstruct his WORKFLOW and RECORDING TECHNIQUES at length and in EXHAUSTIVE detail on his MAKING RECORDS WITH ERIC VALENTINE YOUTUBE channel has been an equally EDUCATIONAL experience for an interested layman like me. its also pretty COOL to see the amount of overlap with what my cousin used to do regarding computer PLUG-INS, MICROPHONE PLACEMENT and other general RECORDING STRATEGIES.
VALENTINE has recently begun publishing new content on his YOUTUBE channel after an extended break that saw him sell off his longtime BAREFOOT RECORDING STUDIO in LOS ANGELES and moved with his wife to VERMONT where he converted a large barn on their property into an EXTENSIVE recording facility. in honor of such reengagement, i wanted to post some past video "production deconstructions" of NOTABLE songs he's either engineered, produced and/or mixed. i find this stuff FASCINATING, especially when it comes to the THOUGHT and EXPERIMENTATION that goes into capturing MEMORABLE sounds that fit the intent and vibe of his client's songs. you really get a PALPABLE sense of the ARTISTRY involved with bringing your favorite recordings to life beyond just the physical performance of such. there is so much more involved in he PRODUCTION of such. i also included two INSTRUCTIONAL videos he did for the SOUND ON SOUND magazine's YOUTUBE channel a half decade ago that saw him both explain how he utilized reverb chambers and a myriad of amps to create lush aural textures, such as "GOD OF WINE" on THIRD EYE BLIND's debut THIRD EYE BLIND (ELEKTRA, 1996) album as well as EQ'ing those ICONIC fuzzed-out tones on QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE's iconic SONGS FOR THE DEAF (INTERSCOPE, 2002) album. fun stuff.
whats so cool about VALENTINE is his VERSATILITY, creating both irredeemably CAUSTIC and DOWN-AND-DIRTY PUNK ROCK a la THE DWARVES as well as the immaculately orchestrated SURF ROCK palettes of more pop fair by the likes of SMASH MOUTH at their peak. it is beyond INCREDIBLE that the same dude is responsible for producing such DISPARATE sounds from seemingly opposite ends of the ROCK N ROLL spectrum.
at the very least, his YOUTUBE channel is worth checking out. if not also his extensive production catalogue as well. enjoy!
memoirs written by musicians are funny things. there is always the question of motive for presenting such a personal narrative to the world and what agenda is being bolstered or spurred by such an effort. oftentimes it is a rehashing of the salad days of an artist or worse, "correcting" musical history. the better memoirs, and what comes immediately to mind is THE DIRT (review linked HERE) by NEIL STRAUSS / MOTLEY CRUE and LIFE (review linked HERE) by KEITH RICHARDS, often tend to celebrate a bygone era. the movers and shakers of the past contextualize the decisions of the artist and are very much on equal footing structurally and emotionally in the narrative. the artist themselves serves almost as a conduit or representative of a larger whole or particular scene.
i'd put PORCELAIN: A MEMOIR (PENGUIN, 2016) by noted DJ / PRODUCER / MUSICIAN and animal rights activist MOBY in that later category. his memoir is very much a celebration of the downtown MANHATTAN club scene of the late 80s and early 90s from the perspective of an economically-depressed HARDCORE kid from CONNECTICUT who was conflicted with his talent, ambition, self-doubt, social awkwardness and immense intelligence. in that 80s club scene he found a inclusive community that was very much about living in the moment and celebrating and supporting on another, and the upbeat music and drugs of that period reflected such. what i found particularly interesting about this memoir was how MOBY's career tracked with the evolution in ELECTRONIC MUSIC in the early to mid 90s when harder drugs like heroin and ketamine took over and darker down-tempo music became more prevalent. it was as if the carefree atmosphere of the scene had sobered into a walking nightmare.
now i am going to completely out myself here. i am familiar with AMBIENT groups like APHEX TWIN, ORBITAL, THE BLACK DOG, BOARDS OF CANADA, AUTHECHRE and SEEFEEL, ELECTROCLASH groups like LADYTRON, FISCHERSPOONER and LE TIGRE and POST PUNK groups like DEPECHE MODE and NEW ORDER, but for the most part i am a neophyte when it comes to the HOUSE MUSIC that this book gets into. such is why i decided to read this book. i am mostly familiar with MOBY's later more subdued string of records such as PLAY (MUTE, 1999), 18 (MUTE, 2002), HOTEL (MUTE, 2005) and LAST NIGHT (MUTE, 2008) that came out after the time period covered in PORCELAIN. which is basically saying i only knew him after he gained worldwide success with his PLAY album and his genre-crossing hits like "BODYROCK," "NATURAL BLUES," "WHY DOES MY HEART FEEL SO BAD?" and, of course, "PORCELAIN." i say all this because its very interesting to learn at the close of the book that it was this sense of being resigned to failure that led to his biggest success as cliche as that sounds. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR in one of his memoirs talks about the fact that athletes die twice, once when they pass their athletic peak and the other when they pass on like the rest of us. during the making of PLAY, MOBY has lost his mother to cancer and had begrudgingly come to terms with his own irrelevance in a scene that had moved beyond hm. those songs from that breakthrough record, came from that mindset which to me is endlessly fascinating.
this book covers a lot of other subjects such as MOBY's relationship with FAITH and CHRISTIANITY, as well as SEX and ALCOHOL. seems fitting that those two sets of obsessions are continuous throughout and are never resolved. makes sense to me.
i shouldnt be surprised that a musician so well composed and thoughtful in his interviews would not be capable of writing such a well-considered memoir, but there you have it. i highly recommend this memoir whether or not you are a fan of his music, which is probably the highest complicated i can make. enjoy.
SPOTLIGHT | KEN ANDREWS
photo manipulation by nacrowe
when i discovered the band FAILURE in the 2000s when i was in college, years after their demise, i could not believe that i completely missed out on such a great band during their heyday. it made me reconsider my MOUNT RUSHMORE of great bands from that ALTERNATIVE ROCK era (JANE'S ADDICTION, FAITH NO MORE, TOOL, ALICE IN CHAINS, NIRVANA, SOUNDGARDEN, etc) to include one more. specifically the sounds found on their respective second and third releases, MAGNIFIED (SLASH, 1994) and FANTASTIC PLANET (SLASH, 1996) are HUUUUUUGGGGEEE.
almost PINK FLOYD-ish without the literary pretensions. just huge rock riffs with lots of space. in fact whenever i listen to their records now, even the releases post-reunion, i just feel like i am experiencing a defined space with lots of DEPTH and WEIGHT. its amazing that FAILURE mastermind KEN ANDREWS produced and mixed those records back in the 1990s. since their demise he has been an in-demand mixer that has worked with NINE INCH NAILS, PARAMORE, A DAY TO REMEMBER, TENACIOUS D, THE ICARUS LINE, JIMMY EAT WORLD, and M83 among others.
started before the quarantine, he created a YOUTUBE channel where he goes over his mixing techniques and utilizes the FAILURE back catalogue as examples. even if you are not a musician or studio rat, just a fan of his band then this is a real treat. its next level that a dude that went the DIY route (even with regard to their stylized, futuristic music videos) was able to track and mix content that held up to professional standards of the time. its also cool to get a sense of his writing process, which is layered and methodical.
if you haven't heard MAGNIFIED or FANTASTIC PLANET, please stop reading this and just go find a comfortable place and zone out on SPOTIFY for the next two hours. you can thank me later.
thank you to FAILURE for retweeting out posting! so cool.
SPOTLIGHT | RHYTHM ROULETTE
photo manipulation by nacrowe
for me one of the great aspects of HIP HOP PRODUCTION is the cutup tecnhique whereby a song is made of an assemblage of parts derived from one's vinyl collection. the more eclectic arguably the bette. in my mind it gets into concepts of postmodernism and poststructuralism, which is why i've used songs like "BEWARE" by PANJABI MC feat. JAY-Z when explaining such ideas to high school students. that song incorporates a traditional BHANGRA drumming pattern, JAY-Z and the NIGHT RIDER THEME SONG. shouldn't work well but it does.
anyway, the discontinued YOUTUBE series RYTHM ROULETTE produced by MASS APPEAL featured numerous top-flight HIP HOP producers walking into a local record store to buy three records while blind-folded. they then went to their respective studio setups and went about creating a beat based solely on those records. what i love is the randomness and chaos of it and the fact that when it works, it really works as some of these concoctions are downright seriously slammin'. you really get the sense that music hast the capacity to transcend all and seemingly disparate musical styles really do have the potential to speak on the same level.
if you have any inclination to appreciate HIP HOP production, or perhaps even appreciate writers like WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS and his cut-up technique, this series is definitely for you. entertaining as all hell.
SPECIAL THANKS TO 9TH WONDER FOR RESHARING OUR IG STORY!