A few years ago I did an album purely for my own pleasure, it was a bunch of old songs I had written from the late 1980s and early 1990s. I used session musicians from all over the globe to put the album together and I spent two years to finish the project. It took that long purely because I was constantly changing my studio setup and effects racks along the way, but I did finish it eventually.
During this lock down I have become restless and the desire to do another project has grown to the point where the wheels are now in motion. I intend to use the same musicians I used last time, simply for the fact they are so damn good at what they do. I use a drummer from London in the UK, and the rest are sessions players in Los Angeles, USA. I mixed the previous album using the DAW I had been using since the mid 1990s, MOTU Digital Performer. Recently I decided to try the Harrison Mixbus DAW, of which there are two versions: The standard version for US$89, and the 32C Version which is based on the Harrison 32C Console and sells for US$349.
After reading a lot about the standard Mixbus, and liking the interface which mimics an old school console I decided I would take the plunge and try it out. I instantly liked the sound of Mixbus, it sounds ‘less digital’ than MOTU Digital Performer. After spending the next month or two playing with Mixbus, I decided it was my new DAW, after more than 30 years with Digital Performer!
I love the workflow with Mixbus, and I love the fixed 8 buses on the right, just like a real analogue console of old. Yes it is limiting as you can not add more than the standard 8, but so be it. However Harrison eventually sent me an offer to upgrade to the 32C version which offers 12 buses, and a far more exotic EQ section on each channel among other benefits. So I took the plunge there too, so now I have three DAWs, but have settled on Mixbus 32C for this project.
I know I am giving up many of the list of features that MOTU Digital Performer offers that are not on Mixbus, but I am old school and did not use all the power of the modern day Digital Performer anyway. One of the great features of Mixbus (both versions) is the inbuilt compressor/limiter on every channel strip. Simple to use, and it provides very clear visual of the compression on the track. I also decided to move away from the Universal Audio Apollo Twin I had been using since selling off my previous studio gear. I love the Apollo Twin, but I needed more I/O and Universal Audios larger Apollo’s are simply too expensive, particularly for what I would be using it for. Instead I purchased the new Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 Gen 3 interface.
The Focusrite gives me the ability to setup my rack of effects on the 8 in and 8 out jacks, using each stereo out pair as hardware effects sends in Mixbus.The effects I currently have here which were bought for testing, sampling and perhaps review are as follows:
But wait you say, there are five effects in the rack that means 5 stereo pairs are needed right? Not really. The Yamaha SPX90 and the Roland SDE-1000 are both mono in, so I could send each a mono signal, my problem however is the return, I am out of returns. So at the moment I have the send going into the Roland SDE-100 and the output of that feeding into the Yamaha SPX90.
This will change however as I am likely to on sell the Roland SDE-1000 after testing and sampling it. If interested let us know as this unit is MINT and I doubt it has ever been in a rack until we put it in one, in fact I am not sure it has ever been used prior to now, that is how good the condition is on this one. So sit back, and enjoy the journey, it should be fun to do once again, and I am looking forward to working with all the musicians to get this track done. We will be updating this page as the project progresses so come back regularly.
Above you can see the basic template I created before I begin adding in the audio tracks from the various sessions players. You will see I am only using nine of the twelve buses (on the right side) at this point but that may well change as things progress. I have setup the hardware sends on bus nine through twelve, and from the channel strip I simply send the signal to which ever (Bus) reverb or effect I want it to go to. I am then bringing the reverb/effects signal back in on four separate tracks for recording or play through to mixdown. I also have five buses setup for Drums, Bass, Guitars, Keyboards and Vocals, all of which can also be routed to the external hardware effects. The three remaining buses will likely be used for plugin effects such as delays or reverbs, so this is quite a flexible setup that manages both a hardware and software mixing setup very well indeed.
The drums will be the first thing recorded, and for drums I use a brilliant drummer in London, Max Saidi. Max has a business called WantDrums.com where he provides drum tracks for musicians and film studios the world over. Max provided drum tracks for most of my first album and he always provides exactly what is needed, great musician and great drummer. He provides every thing you need for your mix, including multiple snare tracks for example that include the top, middle and bottom snare. I asked Max to think along the lines of Carter Beauford for the drums, with reference to the hi-hats in particular. Basically, I did not want a simple straight forward hi-hat on this song. As is usual, Max delivered exactly what I wanted, first go. The next day he forwarded the individual drum tracks which I put into MixBus 32C and exported a rough drum mix to send off to the US session players, and in particular, Andrew James who will be laying down the bass part.
I worked with Andrew James on my album a few years ago, and just like Max he delivers the perfect bass part every time, first time. Andrew’s list of credits include Kesha, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato along with TV credits including The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel, Late Night with Seth Myers and so much more. On this occasion I was not sure what he delivered was right, but but I know he has a vision in mind of how the song will play out so I always trust his instincts. When I heard his bass track in context with the guitars it made so much more sense, and it drives the song along far more than the demo did.
Once again, I have worked with Greg Pajer on my last album, in fact he did every single bit of guitar on that album. Greg is a fabulous musician who delivers the perfect guitar tracks every time. Greg writes and produces a wide variety of music for TV, Film, and Commercials. His music can be heard in major motion pictures such as Like A Boss, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Bumblebee, xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, Zoolander 2, and movie trailers for Baywatch and Sherlock Gnomes. But along with all of that, he can rock out on stage with the best of them and does regularly in LA on various projects working with Andrew James and the singer I use Chris Hodges. On this occasion Greg delivered an acoustic guitar, the electric guitars throughout and the wailing lead at the end.
Chris Hodges did all the vocals on my last album and he is a true professional to work with. Chris is something of a chameleon as a vocalist with the ability to sing in many styles but at heart he is a rock singer, and a very good one. On this song Chris reworked some of the lyrics and played with the melody a little. In total Chris provided five vocal tracks for me to work with, but in general it is the lead vocal and two harmony vocals. With the brass now added in the choruses, the track is now ready for mixing, which will happen next week and then it is off to mastering!
I decided to use a light hand in terms of reverb, at least compared to my previous album where it was used liberaly. I chose to add my favourite snare reverb once again, the Sony MU-R201 on patch 31 which has a 1.7 second decay on a plate reverb setting. I sent the snare out to the Sony via the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 Gen 3 Interface, and then back in via the Focusrite to be recorded on to a new track. Next, I setup the Roland DEP-5 to a plate reverb and sent the Vocals and Brass out and back in to be recorded.
This method allowed me to mix without the need to have the reverbs at all times. From there I proceeded to mix the song with a range of plugins for the compressors and delays. I used the Emprical Labs Arouser plugin on the vocals, snare and drum buss. A healthy dose of Sound Toys Microshift was used on the Lead Guitars, Vocals and Brass. The Sound Toys EchoBoy was also used on the guitars. A mix of Waves SSL Channel and Slate Digital’s Virtual Mix Rack EQ and Compressors used on the drums.
I have known Ben Wever from Ordio Mastering here in Sydney for a long time now, and have watched him grow his business over the years. His studio has gone from a fairly mundane setup to what can now only be described as spectacular. Up until recently his studio consisted of a lot of Avalon Design and Rupert Neve gear.
A couple of years ago he upgraded the monitoring to the brilliant ATC SCM25A Pros and they are fantastic. But just prior to doing the mastering of this song, he offloaded the Avalon Design gear and replaced it with Maselec, API and Empirical Labs. Along with the existing Universal Audio Apollo, Grace Design Monitoring System and the rest of his setup, Ben has certainly made this mix come to life. His rates are far too low for the quality being turned out, so get in now before he gets too popular and charges more!