We got all sorts of different EQ’s and compressors, and auditioned all sorts of different pieces. We had a bunch of 1176’s which I used a lot, and I listened to specific ones for specific things. Neve 33609’s got used a lot, an API 2500, the Chandler EMI, and the Cranesong. As far as EQ, we had GML, Avalon, API, Neve. Most of our reverb was EMT 140 plates, real ones.
What’s special to you about a real plate reverb?
You have to find a good one first. They’re all different, but when you find a good one, they’re so warm, smooth and spacious sounding. The emulations are nice, and they’re always the same, but the real thing takes a little searching around for, and tweaking, but when you get it there’s nothing like it.
Plus, some of the reverb was Capitol’s live chamber, which is world-renowned. We recorded the orchestra there, and then they also brought some of the vocal tracks back there and recorded the chamber.
How did it inform your mixing to have done most of the basic tracking, and some of the overdubs?
That’s nice because I knew what was there, and it’s easy to treat something when I know what I went for. It speeds up the mixing considerably, since we discussed the sounds and actually got them to tape and Pro Tools.
We didn’t need a lot of drastic EQing. The thing is to do it with mic positioning, and to not do drastic EQs. That’s one of the reasons that people are really liking the sound of this album, because it’s very easy to listen to. Things aren’t twisted all over to work with each other.
I take it Daft Punk attended the mix sessions.
They were around the control room a lot of the time. They’d go into their Pro Tools room, I’d set up a mix, they’d comment on it, and we’d work on it. We would always leave it set up for the next day to finalize it. Some songs took a few days, some were quicker.
We didn’t do any recalls, we just worked on each one until it was right, which was a really nice luxury to have. Because to recall something like that…even though the board has recall, you’re twisting it back. And the outboard has a picture, but you never get it exactly right. So we got it exactly where we wanted. That spot.
We had a really good team, of course. Seth Waldman was our assistant – he was an excellent assistant, a really good engineer in his own right, very knowledgeable and helpful.
Daft Punk has an engineer that was on the whole project, Peter Franco, who was indispensable. He physically engineered stuff, he was a liaison, he kept everybody appraised of what everybody else was doing. He’s a very knowledgeable and talented engineer, and he deserves a lot of credit.
Dan Lerner was their Pro Tools guy. You can imagine how many files there were, and things to keep organized, and not having to think about a lot of that myself was great. Dan was logging all the files, and he knows Pro Tools really well, so he kept it moving smoothly.
And the techs at Conway Recording were great, especially keeping up with the demands on the tape machines. We mixed to three Ampex ATR-102 half-inch tape machines simultaneously: the one at 15 ips had Aria Electronics, one at 30 ips had standard heads, and the other at 30 ips had high-fluxivity heads. They sounded slightly different, and we mixed simultaneously to all three.
Daft Punk listened painstakingly to every take, A/Bing, deciding which character of analog machine best complemented the song. In a lot of cases we’d make different prints on the tapes using the same automation, but with different master fader positions for less and more saturation of the tape. Then they’d pick with print sounded best to them, to master.
Every time we changed a reel, the Conway tech staff checked the recording line of all three machines with an Audio Precision analyzer, to make sure the tape was consistent and that the distortion was low. That was a very painstaking process.
In the mix, what was the vibe you wanted to maintain from song to song?
That it wasn’t overprocessed, and that the sounds were natural, warm, easy to listen to. It offers a really nice contrast between acoustic, warm sounds that aren’t over-compressed or overhyped, and electronic sounds – some of which are warm themselves, while some are more aggressive.
What’s your approach to crafting a dance mix? What makes it really work?
You want to move to it. Of course, it’s in the arranging, but the mix is just keeping the elements that make you move. I had a preconceived notion about a lot of dance mixes, that they’d be expecting drums that are super big and punchy, and everything subservient to that. These guys didn’t want that – they wanted it to be more subtle, nice to listen to, and not beat you up. They really knew exactly what it should be.
How do you apply that specifically to mixing the drums, which are so crucial to a record like Random Access Memories?
It’s the whole thing we’ve been talking about: tracked correctly, not overprocessed, although we did use some parallel compression on occasion to help the drums punch through.
My advice is that the most important thing is balance, and for the sonics of each thing not to get in the way of other elements. You don’t want too much happening in one frequency range, not the same kind of texture and harmonics. But the most important thing is the balance and the inter-relations.
Nile Rodgers’ guitar is so signature on “Get Lucky.” What approach did you take to mixing it? How do you walk the balance between featuring it and not letting it overpower the track?
I just put up his track in the mix, and got the right balance! I experimented with balancing and other positioning, and working other stuff around it. He didn’t have to be processed – Nile just sounded great the way he is.
There are some mini-epic songs here, “Touch” (8:19), “Giorgio” (9:05) – is there a difference in “long-range” mixing for longer experimental songs like this?
It’s something that’s entirely different in every case. You have to know what’s happening in the next section, and what the arc is going to be. You’re mixing something, but you’re conscious of what’s to come, and later on in the song you’re conscious of what passed.
I can’t be more specific than that, because you look at “Touch”, “Giogio”, “Motherboard” – they have a lot of different movements. The common thing in the approach is you have to have the overview of the whole thing, probably more so in those than when mixing several different short songs.
Last question: You weren’t that familiar with Daft Punk before you got onboard with this project. What did you learn about Thomas and Guy as musicians by the time it was done?
They’re very, very creative guys. Visionaries, I think. Daft Punk looks at a long span of musical history and musical future, they exist in several decades at once, and really put it all together. They also really know what people want, and what really strikes people right.