Working with Nigel Godrich...
Thanks so much for all your responses and support (and of course, your music). I've been lurking this forum for a while and so much of what you've written has been helpful to me and others.
I'm more a studio-oriented guy so I was wondering if you could tell me a little about what you may have learned working with Nigel Godrich. Things that are both psychological/emotional and technical, I guess. How quickly or slowly he works, how he treats the bands/artist - how that's influenced you - and maybe, philosophically, the way you both utilize effects and processing in the mix. And the way you both seem to create a vibrant, teeming world for whoever you're working with.
Also, if you picked up any tips on the arrangement and tracking/mixing stages. I've noticed he's got some quirks - like certain particular drum set-ups and he also seems to cut up bits and pieces and heavily effect them in the back of the song. If you've got any insight into that process or anything similar, I'd love to hear about it.
The reason I ask about all this stuff is because it seems like not much information gets out about sessions Nigel's done. And I suppose by now it's clear that he doesn't like to get into the technical stuff (publicly, at least).
If these things are kept private for a reason, no big deal. Just thought I'd ask while I had the opportunity. I'm a total geek for sonic excellence on recordings. You know how it goes.
Thanks so much for all that you've created and helped create. A major influence on me, no doubt.
Thank you for this post, Jespoc.
This is a bit of a large thing to comment on, probably best reserved for an interview or something. I only say that not out of vanity, but rather because I just don't feel like typing that much! :)
Nigel is great. Suffice to say, I look at it like this: with Nigel, it's 50% taste, 30% excellent basic recording fundamentals, and 20% innovation.
He has strong ideas about things, and is very clear about what he doesn't like. However, when recording with him, one never feels that you are under a totalitarian regime. It's not even a benevolent dictatorship. He invites participation. We try stuff. We do lots of group overdubs. We process. We flip the tape, we stand in the echo chamber, we all play piano.
I don't know exactly what I've learned from Nigel with my work. By osmosis, all of us have certainly absorbed plenty. On the other hand, by the time he first worked with all of us (Mutations, 1998), we were all around 28 years old, experienced, and plenty ripe with our own ideas. So I'm sure there has been a modicum of "takeaway" from us to him over time.
We all use the same monitor speakers that he turned us on to years ago, that I will tell you. :) (Acoustic Energy AE1 Classics). And no one uses reverb in more creative ways than Nigel. No one.
I've spoken on this many times, but sometimes, we'd mix songs with all hands on the console. And put it down to half inch the same day we recorded it (Mutations, Sea Change). Other times, we've labored over tracks in ProTools for weeks (The Information). It's been a wild ride.
I look forward to the chance to work with Nigel again, for sure.
Great Justin. Thanks again.
I've always wondered about how a producer is tells someone that an idea's not so strong or not great/cliched/etc. That human element and navigating that territory is pretty intimidating to me. Being a good dude without being a "yes man" at the same time.
Truth be told, I'm someone who has made music by myself for a long time. But learning technical things has always seemed less daunting than developing the people skills. And serving what someone else is trying to do while also being critical in a constructive way.
For example, you seemed to bring something different out of Anthony Gonzalez. And it sounds like you (both) ended up at a really tight, particular vision. Getting there (to that resulting vision), learning how to articulate that stuff to the person you're working with is probably most of what I'm interested in learning from conventional studios. Probably the only thing (aside from a nice acoustic space) that really makes me consider interning.
People skills...the human element. Vague territory. I know, I hear you.
The Anthony/me relationship is something that we didn't predict at all, we just gave it a try, and it worked. Good thing too, because we went through some considerable trouble moving him and all his stuff out here from France. ;) Sometimes, the natural symbiosis happens, and you get lucky. Sometimes, it's really really hard. I've definitely experienced both extremes in my short 5-7 year run as a producer thus far. Part of learning the ropes for me has been to gradually be less and less self-critical when those relationships don't go the way you hope they will. It's rarely someone's fault, just the nature of teaming up with people creatively as you lock yourselves in a box for months.
Being less self-critical is certainly one thing I've tried to consciously work on. Very tough at times, even if I have the best intentions.
Another random question: on the records you've done lately, do you still mix by hand (one-pass, everybody-on-the-faders)? Or has automation (DAW or console) kind of taken over most of those big emotional moves? Do you think doing a manual mix has a massive benefit?
Just starting to ride the entire song myself lately. I like some things, but I'm still practicing I guess.
No, all my mixes are automated. There's just too strong of a need to do recalls these days...swiftly and perfectly.
Hey Justin. Thanks again.
You mentioned Nigel's excellent tracking fundamentals. As a musician who's come into the producer's role, did you have to develop an engineering side, as you would with bass playing, or do you separate that part out to someone else?
Like, with a guitar amp or something, do you just stick a mic in front of it, go with the feeling and that's it? Or, from having worked on some meticulous recordings, did you pick up a specific way of going about things? Levels when tracking, phase, etc.
(Not to say that there's always a method or things are always fast and loose.)
One thing about Nigel's productions seem to be that the texture of stuff is really preserved well. Quality, distinctive sounds even with all the EQ, compression and effects going on. Especially on those Beck and Air albums.
No, I never really "had" to develop an engineering side, but I did anyway, and over time it's become more and more essential. Engineering is my weakness...particularly when it comes to the big events: tracking drums, and tracking strings. I think that at this point, if I just had an engineer helping me out for those two parts of a record (if strings are even needed), I would be fine to have everything else well in hand. So I've always separated out engineering to someone else when I could afford it.
Another good reason for me to not be the full-time engineer is that it sometimes buys me extra time during the day to do some other important things in the other room: work with the artist on certain things (lyrics, sounds, parts, etc), put on headphones and make beats or program synths, or to do logistical planning or admin.
But every time I go through a process of a record, I do more and more of the engineering. I find it less daunting over time, less arcane, less exclusive.
Part of the problem is that in my past like many people's past, there have always been a certain number of engineers I've run across who have deliberately made it seem hard. They seemed to like to make their knowledge and skill belong in an ivory tower, and frowned on the idea of sharing that hat with a "non-engineer".
Nowadays, knowledge of engineering is more egalitarian, and the days of "men in white lab coats" is further and further behind us in the rearview. However: I'm always going to be one to suggest that it's all about using the right tool for the job. Meaning, if someone you can hire is better adapted to a task, why not utilize their training and skill to help get a better result, if you can afford it?
But to answer your question more specifically regarding the guitar amp example: no, I'm not quite that haphazard. I know what mics and pres work best for what amps, and I know where to place them to get the sounds I want. But that's just something that came over time, just like anybody.
Great thread Jespoc! Thanks Justin- this is really interesting.
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