I’ve got something pretty special for you guys today. A little while back I had the opportunity to interview Eric Owyoung from Future of Forestry (the band I toured with last year!). Eric has a record label called Sound Swan Records and recently put together a website to advertise his mixing services. This interview is mainly about mixing, but I think there are a few things in here that home recording people like you and me can take away from it.
Here we go, enjoy!
A: Hey Eric. Stoked to be doing this interview! I had a blast on this last Advent tour with you. Are you fully recovered and back to normal life yet?
E: Tour puts me out for at least a week after. But then I’m on to the next thing.
A: Awesome. I really want to talk to you about mixing. I was amazed when I found out that you engineered and mixed your own stuff. Which Future of Forestry releases have you mixed?
E: The last 4 releases for Future of Forestry. 3 of them are from the Travel Series. The last one is the full length Young Man Follow.
A: Do you do it all in your house? Or do you have a separate studio that you own or rent?
I did all of these in a studio that I own. It’s in a separate location.
A: Let’s back up a little bit. How did you get into mixing?
E: It came out of necessity actually. As an artist and producer for my early stuff such as Something Like Silas and later Future of Forestry, I wanted great mixes, but the guys who were doing that were charging a few thousand dollars per song. So out of necessity, I started to mix my own stuff in order to achieve artistically what I was hearing. It took me awhile to wrap my head around mixing. It’s a totally different ballgame than the creative process of writing and producing. It’s much more of a detailed process, something you have to invest yourself pretty heavily in order to get any good results. It’s paid off though. Now its one of the main things I do and one of the things I love to do the most.
A: Do you have a certain style or signature to your mixes?
E: I’ve always sought after an analog approach to mixing. Analog gear has the capacity to create a vibe, an energy, and a sense of urgency especially in rock music. In more mellow music, it has a sense of realness. I’m always finding a way of pushing my gear to the max so that everything starts to feel like its being pushed. The end result is the rawness of the British mixing sound, yet I’m also making sure my mixes are simultaneously big and clear.
A: Then are you an analog only guy?
E: No way. I think it would be stupid these days to ignore what the digital world is capable of. I use plug-ins that would probably amount to millions of dollars if I was using the original gear. There are also plug-ins that no gear can reproduce. I can do precision tasks such as cutting exact and narrow frequencies and doing automation on them. It’s pretty limitless. I think the combination of analog and digital is where I’m able to find a place between the dirtiness of analog and the clarity of digital.
A: So how do you know where to fall on that scale of dirtiness vs. clarity?
E: That’s totally dictated by the song really. That’s the beauty and fun of mixing. I get to respond to the music as it has a life of its own. Some songs are wanting to just shine through with high fidelity and other songs are begging to sound like the equipment is about to blow up. I love the process of responding to that need in songs. I think that’s where I get the choice to take it to the next level. A lot of people can make a song sound good. But few people take the time to see the identity a song can have and really bring that out. That’s something I search for in every mix I do. That’s what makes the whole thing an exciting challenge.
A: What is some of your favorite analog gear for your mixing?
E: I would not survive without my Empirical Labs Distressors. My Alan Smart C2 compressor, LA2A, API and Chandler EQs. I mix everything through an SSL and Neve board combination. I put stuff like drums through Neve board which has that raw sound. The SSL board gives me punch and clarity. Everything is converted with Apogee converters.
A: So with all this gear, does this mean only good mixing can be done through analog?
E: There are tons of guys out there recording and mixing albums on garage-band, and some selling more records than other guys who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment. So much can be done with a computer these days. I started mixing “in the box” for at the beginning of my career. For me though, as I continued to mix professionally, I started wanting to achieve a different sound that I couldn’t get on a computer. So I had to start dropping a TON of money just to get it a little bit better! It’s the law of diminishing returns at that point. You can get a mix from bad to good with just a few bucks. But the path from good to great can cost a lot of time and money.
A: Which is what a lot of independent artist these days are lacking… money. What advice do you have for those who are mixing on a budget?
E: If you know what you want, then don’t let anything hold you back from pursuing it. The beauty of making music these days on computers is that you don’t have an hourly studio rate ticking as you try to mix and an analog tape machine running out of tape as you edit. You can spend a lot of time experimenting. Mixing takes a lot of time and the results seldom just come without a struggle. Just be prepared to struggle through it, and don’t forget to take a step away to get perspective. Be willing to try new things and learn a lot in the process.
A: Who has inspired you in the mixing world?
E: My first inspiration was one of my producers named Ken Andrews for the first Future of Forestry record. He was one of the first guys I met who was producing and mixing all of his own stuff. During that time, he was mixing the Copeland records and he was doing it in the box with analog summing. So I was like, “Hey, if this guy can do it, so can I.” On the other hand, Chris Lord Alge mixes are everywhere on every radio station, so of course, I reference his stuff for anything of a commercial sound. Michael Brauer who mixed a lot of the Coldplay stuff has been one of my favorites. He really respects the uniqueness of songs and giving them identity rather than just making songs sound like everything else out there.
A: How do you involve the artist in your mixing process?
E: The internet has really changed things for the better in this respect. I remember being on the artist side where we’d listen to a mix by the mix engineer, and after one listen through on some unfamiliar studio speakers cranked as loud as possible, we’d then have to instantly come up with any mix tweaks on the spot while studio time was rolling and burning our budget. With the internet as a part of the process, I’m able to upload the songs to my server and let the artist and producer sit with the mixes for a few days. Then, after discussing the mix with the artist/producer, I’m actually able to recall stuff with precision with my hybrid analog/digital setup in order to make tweaks. With the analog gear, it takes awhile still since its not just like pulling up a session on a computer. But its totally worth it because it gives the artist and producer the ability to listen to the mixes on all their familiar speakers whether that’s a studio speakers, ipod, or their car. The end result has always been better this way. People need time to discover what they want out of a song.
A: What are some of your favorite mixing projects you’ve done for other artists?
E: I just finished an album by Canopy Climbers (release date May 21, 2013), that was kinda fun. Its rock but with a cool Copeland vocal thing which i found fun mix.
A: When mixing for someone else, do you prefer to charge by the hour or per track?
E: I hate charging by the hour. It takes out the goal to achieve great art and instead makes goals include the horrible idea of money in the project. I charge per song or album and if it takes me 5 hours or 5 days to finish the song, I get paid the same thing.
A: If you could give one piece of advice to people considering mixing their own stuff or others, what would it be?
E: Mixing takes a lot of time. I think you can start a career in producing just by understanding music and being good at putting it all together. But mixing takes hours, days, and years of listening and trying things out. I don’t know anyone that just started mixing without putting in the time. You just have to decide you are going to put in the time, and realize that it may be awhile before you start feeling like you know what you are doing. After so many years of mixing, I still sometimes feel like I’m so far from where I want to be.
A: Awesome, well thanks so much for your time Eric!
E: Thank YOU, Andy!
You can check out Eric’s new website here. Maybe he can even mix your next record!