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more... ArtistsRecording TipsStudio LegendDecember 2013Black Sabbath

Studio Legends: Andrew Scheps

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Scheps hanging out with the Hives' Nicholaus Arson, Vigilante Carlstroem, Dr. Matt Destruction, and Chris Dangerous Photo by C. Villano

Do you view each song individually, or as part of an album?
I don’t worry about how stuff goes together. It’s almost never a problem because an album usually has common threads. The songwriting. The vocalist. A lot of times the drums have all been tracked at once. There are enough common threads that it’s almost better to find what is amazing about each song, and to discover what will be super-cool for it. It keeps the album fresh as you go. If you worry about trying to make it consistent, all that happens is you end up with a slightly more boring record.

So you start each song completely from scratch?
In terms of the source tracks and EQing, absolutely. But the outboard gear I use for parallel compression, reverb, or delay is always there. What changes is what gets sent to it on each song. I’ve got a couple of stereo things that usually work on drums. I’ve got some stuff that usually works on vocals. Sometimes I add bass to the one that’s on the vocal or … well, that’s the part that changes every time.

Most people working in home studios are working in the box. Is there any essential gear for them?
I think a control surface is essential. If you’ve never mixed with multiple faders in front of you, you’re really missing out on something awesome about mixing: being able to ride a bunch of things simultaneously and really feel how you can change the balance going into the chorus and stuff like that. In terms of audio gear, I really don’t think there’s anything essential. The stuff that Tchad Blake [engineer for Peter Gabriel, The Black Keys, Sheryl Crow, and many more] is doing completely in the box sounds so amazing that you can’t argue that you absolutely need to have an analog bus compressor or anything like that. It’s just not true.

If someone wants to put together a great home studio, what’s most important to focus on?
Well, the drag is that it is a chain of gear and then acoustics, and the weakest link is the weakest link. You don’t want to have any weak links. The speakers are critically important, as is your listening environment. If either of those is terrible, then it doesn’t matter what else you’ve got going on. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a professionally treated room. My control room is not professionally treated. It looks like a big living room, and I love that.

How do you decide when a mix is done?
That’s a really hard question! But I always know. As I work on a mix, the one thing I want is for it to hit me emotionally. Until it’s doing that, I’m not done. I also build up a mental to-do list, whether it’s building vocal effects in the chorus, making sure the downbeat of the bridge is a big deal, or doing some panning moves. Until I’ve ticked off everything on that list I’m obviously not done. But really, I just want to hit play at the beginning of the song and be engrossed all the way to the end and think it’s awesome and want to hear it again. If I get to that point, then I’m done.

Let’s talk about 13. It’s been said that Rick Rubin wanted to recapture the vibe of the first few Sabbath records. Did you get simple sessions, as those early albums would have been, or did you get tons of tracks?
For most of the album, it’s the live tracking band plus one guitar overdub and vocals, and that’s it. I never had conversations with the band or Rick about this, but I assume he wanted to recapture the way they made their first few records really fast. As far as I know, they made the first record in two days. They just were a great band. They jammed, and that’s what was awesome about them. Obviously the vibe and lyrics and stage show were big parts of it, but they were also just a great band. Rick wanted the album to feel like those guys playing together. The arrangements absolutely speak to that. Tony [Iommi] did a bunch of overdubs. There were extra guitars and keyboards and some really cool sound effects and things. But those were always meant to sound like overdubs. They weren’t meant to finish the songs. The band tracks finish the songs. That made it really easy in some ways and really difficult in others. When you’ve got a nine-minute song where 150 things come and go, all you need to do is make sure everybody can hear all those things. When you have a nine-minute song with only bass, drums, two guitars, and vocal, you’ve got to keep everybody’s interest. It can actually end up being a little bit trickier to mix.

A Mixer’s Glossary

Automation. Using a computer to record and play back fader moves and control changes during a mix.
Bounce. To re-record a track or tracks to a new track, including any plug-ins or effects used on the original tracks.
In the box. Working entirely within a computer, using plug-ins and software tools rather than hardware processors and outboard gear.
Mixing. According to Andrew Scheps: “The mixer is the guy who gets all those performances that have already been recorded and has to make it into a stereo thing that you can put on a CD or iTunes.”
Out of the box. Using external hardware processors and mixers rather than software in a computer.
Parallel compression. A technique where uncompressed signal is mixed with a compressed version of the same signal.
Ride. To move faders while the song is playing to adjust the mix.
Rough mix. An impromptu reference mix created during the course of tracking.
Solo. To play back a track in isolation, with all other tracks muted.
Tracking. According to Andrew Scheps: “Tracking is setting up microphones and recording the performances.”

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