With New York-based band We Are Scientists currently in the middle of making their latest album, frontman Keith Murray has vowed to give Q readers an insight into recording process by writing us a series of missives straight from the studio. In his fourth instalment the singer explains why recording at home isn’t always as simple – or as cheap – as it seems…
After weeks and weeks and weeks and then a couple of additional grueling weeks writing, rehearsing and recording an album, all the while scrutinizing and second guessing one’s own instincts, there’s something unbelievably relieving about finally handing over the tracks to the mixer and saying, “It’s your problem, now.” I mean, yes, it’s terrifying to abdicate your work – your baby, if I may be so dramatic (and I say that I may be given that it’s my column, and I’ll embarrass myself with rhetorical excess if I want to) – but it’s also exhilarating to realize that your personal heavy lifting on the project has come to an end. It’s now your turn to sit around and snipe criticize someone else’s hard word. Enter The Mixer.
Unfortunately for any gratification that might have come to us via schadenfreude during the mixing process, we happened to have chosen a mixer that we like on a personal level. We like him way, way too much for any professional good to come of it. We’ve spent many hours in our expensive mixing studio shooting the shit, swapping musical war stories, debating whether Billy Crystal‘s head currently looks more like an old potato or a pale, prolapsed rectum. More problematic than the exorbitant overtime charges, though, is the concern that our affection for the man himself could be obscuring our ability to objectively judge his work. Are these mixes REALLY as phenomenal as we believe, or are we simply so enamored with the guy that we’re subconsciously ignoring the fact that he forgot to include any drums?
There’s historical precedent for this. I’ve certainly had my personal judgement clouded by adoration in the past. I direct your attention to Exhibits A – C: the girlfriend to whom I kept lending my car despite her chronic insistence in aiming it directly at trees, the girl whose illiteracy I found “a charming protest against academic pretension”, and, perhaps worst of all, the girl who, despite consistent corrective coaching, reliably referred to actor Josh Hartnett as “Josh Hartnick.”
Fortunately, our mixer’s resume suggests that his work is as objectively sound as our personal love has led us to believe, and, so, at this point, any notes on his mixes that we can deliver are the product of absolute personal whimsy and/or deeply ingrained aesthetic flaws. For my part, I can never get enough reverb. Any track of any song, any time, could use a little more reverb. By the time we were working on song number five, our mixer had begun opening sessions with the announcement that under no circumstances would he be adding any more reverb to anything. He’d deliver this message while looking squarely at me, sometimes pointing a finger, sometimes giving me a healthy shove.
I’ll also do anything to obscure my own vocals. A recent note to “add a double to that lead vocal, plus maybe a low octave under it, and then maybe some chorus, and, yes, I’m gonna want some thick reverb, there” elicited what I considered I highly unprofessional shriek of frustration from WAS bass-man Chris Cain (who, I will use this opportunity to opine, since he’s not here to defend himself, would know a good doubled, low-octaved, chorused, reverbed-out vocal if it bit him on the ass). This all goes to show, of course, that mixing is, ultimately, a deeply subjective art.
I’ve always got the nagging suspicion that half of the suggestions I make go entirely unheeded – that, instead of actually executing a change, our mixer is simply fiddling with faders and controls that do absolutely nothing aside from convincing me that my will has been done. If I’m right, though, and our mixture is a devious, manipulative hack, I forgive him. I love him too much to hold an offense as minor as phantom mixing against him.
Look out for the next exciting instalment of Track Marks next month, but get your fix in the meantime at Wearescientists.com.