Nail the Mix – Instructing the Next Generation Part I

Wednesday, 19th April 2017

Levi: On top of that, you get a community that supports you. I feel that can’t be emphasized enough. Joel, you touched on this earlier…when you are online you can see advice from people who have been working for 4 months versus someone who has been working for 25 years and there’s the danger of weighing it equally. Along with that, one of the problems online is that people are horrible to each other. Just go on YouTube and go on any of our friends’ channels. People like Ola or Ryan Bruce, and look in the comments. It is just a vile cesspool of negativity and hate. It’s just people trying to make music and everyone is just shitting on everyone. You go on some of the audio groups on Facebook – people ask questions…basic recording questions, like “How do I import tracks at this sample rate into my DAW” and people just rail them!

We have a community where that’s not allowed. People get kicked out of our community for being that way. Our community is there to help people get better, regardless of their level. In our community, you will have people who are just beginning all the way to our Nail the Mix guests, who are in there as well. So you have some of the best people in the world along with some of the freshest, greenest noobs in the world altogether and they get along and help each other out. Where else can a noob ask a question about how to max out their PC for recording, and then get Kane Churko giving them advice…and it’s all totally cool?

Not just that, but our community extends into real life. We have chapters all over the world, from Norway to Canada to California to Germany, and they get together in real life and they hang out and help each other out. Even if some of them do it for purely social reasons, and not career reasons…that, in and of itself, is huge. One of the things we hear from a lot of people is that it is a life-saver for them to meet other people who love to sit in a dark room and look at a screen and play with audio for 10 hours a day. It’s hard to find friends who share that interest, and now they have a way of finding not just one, but many people like that in their own area, that they can connect with in real life. Some of them have started bands together, traded work together, and some have even started a studio together…it’s amazing.

Wanasek: I’ll just pile on…we’ve really pushed the spirit of giving and generosity. For example, yesterday we did a pay-it-forward thing…something we do about every six weeks or so. Everyone goes in and we say, “Hey guys, offer up something for the community for being a part of it. You’ve taken a lot out of this, and the only thing you’ve offered is a little bit of monetary value in exchange. Why don’t you offer something to help somebody else out just out of pure generosity?” For example, I mastered 4 songs for free yesterday. Some people will re-amp a guitar track, or will edit your song or do a mix for you. You get a thread with hundreds of people offering up different services and they trade, and help each other. It’s all done for free and for fun…just for the love of doing it and networking. They are building real, lifelong relationships.

Dead Rhetoric: With the idea that this isn’t just confined to the Internet and you have these groups forming…is this becoming more like a movement?

Levi: That’s what we are looking towards…

Wanasek: We hope so…it’s even to the point now where some of us, on the owner side…me, Eyal, and Joe have physically been to the events and interacted with these people on a personal basis. We give them career advice and listen to their problems…it’s a cool thing. We did a meet up in Chicago a few months ago and there were a ton of kids that came out. Everyone was so excited and got along great – we hung out all day…drank beer, played go-karts, and I did a really good, long seminar for them that was educational. Just to see the enthusiasm and excitement about it…it’s cool. You see them in the forums, and then after that they are buddies helping each other out. It’s just a really positive thing and it’s very exciting to watch.

Audio has been a traditionally secretive business. The fastest way to get kicked out of a session back in the day was to ask for advice from the pro. Like, “hey man, how did you get your snare drum [sound],” and that’s like coveted and secret information. For us, that’s BS. We think that’s stupid. I can tell you everything I know about audio and show it to you, but at the end of the day, it’s you who has to develop those skills, and it’s what you do with that information. You are always going to hear differently and have a different style and sound. Just give the information away! It’s stupid to keep it all.

The whole societal movement of audio is going to progress as a community…the bar isn’t going to be raised if everyone keeps it to themselves. It’s through collaboration. It’s so cool that so many producers and bands have come on board and it’s just grown. So yeah, I think in a way it is becoming a movement now. Producers are starting to come to us and say that they want to be a part of it. They get to be the star for the month, and it’s almost, in a way, becoming a validation for some of these people. It’s really exciting and it’s growing into a great thing, any way that you look at it.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned this briefly earlier, but you are branching out this month with Billy Decker and some country music. Is this something you’d like to see the site do more of – in terms of branching out from metal/rock?

Levi: I think rock and metal are our roots. We love rock and metal and we come from rock and metal. All of us have our careers in that genre. That’s the majority of what our audience is into. So I don’t think we are ever going to shed that, and I think it would be a big mistake to shed that. But it would also be a big mistake for us to only do rock and metal, because everyone who is great at mixing pulls from various genres. Every great artist, mixer, producer, or just great creative person I know of, not just in music…people pull from different styles to create their own. There’s nothing more boring, one-sided, or just crappy than the kind of person who only listens to one style of music and tries to play the same style of music. They’ve got nothing to offer to take things forward. We will always try to bring new things in, while never abandoning what our core is.

Wanasek: I think the great example of that is Billy Decker…

Levi: He loves metal!

Wanasek: He signed up for Nail the Mix, which shocked us, because we were like, “Billy, you’ve got more #1’s than all of us combined, times many factors. Why are you subscribing to Nail the Mix? You don’t need to learn how to mix.” Billy said, “Here’s the thing. I’m sitting here in Nashville and its super competitive. The way you guys mix your drums in metal is really cool, and I want to bring that to Nashville…bring a more aggressive sound. I think it’s going to really push the envelope and transform it, and be a positive thing, so I want to learn how to mix that style of music.” The light went on in my head…he just gets it!

We try to push this to the subscribers and students all the time. It’s great that you can mix metal songs and you can get a good metal mix…but especially if you are just starting out and you aren’t already a famous engineer, at the end of the day you might get someone who walks through the door who might be into dubstep and emo and want to combine it with their acoustic guitar and make a song out of it. If you can’t figure it out, they are going to go to the guy down the street. When I was just doing local bands and regional stuff, I always looked at the trends, and whatever was coming in, whether I hated it or liked it, I had to learn to like it as a producer. I didn’t understand this whole scene metal thing because I was into Gothenburg and shred for many years. When the scene stuff came out, with the breakdowns and the ninja punching…I was like, they don’t do that at Slayer…I don’t get it. But I had to get it, and then I got it and I started getting a ton of clients from it. Then emo and all that stuff came in. Instead of being like, “you know what, I’m not going to record that…that stuff’s stupid.” I embraced it and asked what was good about it. Then I learned what was good about it…

Levi: And you started wearing guy-liner and started styling your hair funny.

Wanasek: [Laughs] Definitely not…but I was able to get a lot of the clientele. When alt-indie, club, and EDM came through, you just have to learn how to do it. Because I was able to adapt, I was able to write songs and master, and through all of that, I was able to make a good career. So it’s important to stress to some of these students that are set in their ways. It’s great that they only want to do death metal or grindcore or some really obscure genre, but if you really want to do [mixing] for a living, and you really love music, you have to let the genre pre-conception thing go. You need to embrace and love other types of music – it’s okay. No one is going to doubt your metal cred and make fun of you if you listen to a pop song once in a while, or even all the time. It’s okay, it’s not a bad thing to enjoy music. You should love music – that’s why you’ve been doing this. So we try to push that it’s a good thing to do.

For example, you never know when you are doing this, in what genre you are going to land. You could just do a song for a random band in a weird genre that you have never heard of and all of a sudden that song and style blows up and you get 20 more clients like that, and you are the king of the genre and you sit back and you are like, “whoa, I don’t even listen to this music and now I’m a top three producer in it…what the hell happened?” That happens all the time to people, so you have to be open-minded. It’s important to embrace different styles and genres, and if you want to do it for a living, it’s a core and key component that needs to be in your mindset.

Levi: Getting to do it for a living in the genre and style of your choice, with only artists that you love, it is one of those 1% of the 1% of the 1% type situations. That is the ultimate luxury and the true definition of winning beyond winning. That is a very rare thing. For us to tell people that it is a realistic goal would be very dishonest. In real life, that goal is somewhat unrealistic. We know a few people that have attained it, but I can count them on one or two hands. To make a living as an engineer is a very realistic goal, but it does involve being open to various genres.

Wanasek: I feel very deeply and passionately, speaking from my, Eyal, and Joey’s side, to tell people the most reality-checking style of truth possible. Sometimes people say we are really brutal on our MixCrits or some of the advice we give. But it’s reality…it’s the truth. I’m not here to give you smoke and mirrors and tell you that on your second day you’ll be mixing Linkin Park. This is what it takes, this is the amount of time, these are the strategies you need to use, this is how you stay and maintain, and continue to be competitive. It’s not an easy thing to do – it’s competitive, difficult, and challenging, but that’s what makes it great and exciting. I feel like we really pride ourselves on being advocates of reality and what the business is actually like, and trying to provide solutions and strategies to overcome its challenges.

Part II of Kyle’s talk with Eyal Levi and Joel Wanasek will post tomorrow night, April 20th.

Nail the Mix official website
Unstoppable Recording Machine podcast

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