Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hanging with Roger Nichols

I was fortunate to get to sit in on a master class recently with Master audio engineer Roger Nichols. This cat is responsible for some of the finest recordings and mixes of our time. He is truly an "Engineer's- engineer". You may have heard his work with Stevie Wonder or maybe James Taylor. How about Frank Zappa? The Beach Boys? Plácido Domingo? The list goes on and on...
He has won 6 Grammy Awards for his work with Steely Dan alone. These are some of my favorite works of his. Grab a pair of earphones or your favorite HiFi speakers and listen, really listen to the audio beauty that are the Steely Dan recordings. Try "Aja" or "Two Against Nature" for starters... The clarity, the punch, the definition and mood evoking vibe is truly a standard by which all other recordings in this genre can be held to. Studios all over the world pop in a Steely Dan CD to compare their own recordings to see if they are up to par. I do it all the time.
Anyway, he said some cool stuff and I am going to share a few of those things with you, the faithful reader.

Getting Started With a Mix- pull up all the faders- doesn't matter what you start with (he organizes with Drums starting on the Left and started there) get a quick balance of all the instruments and then print it. I am paraphrasing a bit here but he said that often, when someone asks for a quick "demo" mix to listen too for that night that often they come back to that 'quick mix' as their favorite. How fast did he mean? He said " you throw up some faders, quick levels and about half way through the song -Boom- print it". (that really is fast!) A bit of fine tuning may be needed from there but you have your strong base. I interpreted this to mean that many times you should go with your gut and don't over think the mix. Now, as many of you know, this is not the *only* way he has worked in past. Mr Nichols said- "Gaucho took 5 years to make. We would try some stuff and we would say "scrap it" and go on to trying something else"

"The TV Mix" sometimes on Television performances, the artist will perform with all the backing tracks (Background Vocals included) while singing live. Roger likes to use this concept as a mixing tool to gain a fresh perspective on the musical accompaniment. IOW, try muting the vocal and see how the meat and potatoes (the rhythm section, strings etc.) sounds.

Reverb Tuning- Convolution Reverb tails are "In tune" -Digital Reverbs are not Not in tune because of chorusing. Natural reverbs are in In tune.

Spoke highly of the Massey L2007 plug for bus compression.

Basic Elements Mix/verbs etc.. should sound good with 3 elements like Drums, Bass, Piano or Drums, Bass, Guitar. Strip down and listen.
I am going from my notes and memory here but I think he was saying that when you are dealing with a huge complex mix, don't be afraid to break it down listen to only a few elements. If your rhythm section doesn't sound great by itself, back to the drawing board.

Roger shared a ton more stories and tips but you are gonna have to hear him speak yourself to
get them all. He speaks regularly and you can check his site to find out when/where. Check out the Master Class link. (there are also a TON of great articles from the man himself at his site) Even if you have to travel to hear him, it's well worth it!

Partial list of credits from his Wiki
Steely Dan and John Denver, as well as many other major music acts. His client list also includes the Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa, Crosby Stills & Nash, Al Di Meola, Roy Orbison, Cass Elliot, Plácido Domingo, Gloria Estefan, Diana Ross, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Rickie Lee Jones, Kenny Loggins, Mark Knopfler, Eddie Murphy, Michael McDonald, James Taylor, and Toots Thielemans, to name just a few.

Sunday, September 06, 2009