The Day Iconic Mixer Andrew Scheps Ditched His Console For A Laptop

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When a Grammy winning mixer and long-time analog advocate moves from working on a Neve console to a system that fits in a backpack you know the In-The-Box revolution is in full swing.

I met Andrew Scheps (Adele, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jay-Z, Metallica) on the set of Pensado’s Place last summer and sat through his interview when he dropped the news to Dave – he had moved 100% in the box.

Initially I was shocked, since I’ve known him as a console mixer for so long, but as you’ll see, he has some great reasons for the switch.

Andrew Scheps on the Waves Masters Tour at the Village Studios on March 13, 2011. Photography by Brian Petersen at www.brianapetersen.com Email Brian Petersen for licenses regarding this image. © 2010 Brian Petersen

Photo by Brian A. Petersen

D/A Conversion Is The Worst Part Of Any Digital Chain

The thing that was getting at Andrew the most about using outboard gear (including his favorite compressors) and running his Pro Tools sessions through the console was the fact that he had to convert all of the audio from digital to analog, and then back to digital again.

During his interview (which you should watch in its entirety) Scheps explains how much better it is to keep the audio in the DAW. In his own words:

The D/A conversion is the worst part of any digital chain by far [so now] I don’t go through any. I feel like I’m sonically gaining something by never coming out [of the box]. – Andrew Scheps (U2, Justin Timberlake, Green Day)

Andrew brings up a great point. While good conversion is necessary for quality outboard processing or summing, it’s not just the A/D part of the conversion that’s important (bringing the audio back in to the computer), but what happens to the audio when it leaves the digital domain in the first place.

All your audio must leave its perfectly quality digital state and be “processed” back into analog only to be “processed” again on its way back in.

Just more and more signal degradation. Getting further away from the original sound you were given to mix.

Nobody Could Tell The Difference In My Mixes

The biggest fear for a guy like Andrew when it comes to moving all in-the-box is whether or not the quality of his work will suffer. Will people notice a change?

I wouldn’t be [mixing in the box] if it weren’t that for me at this moment my mixes sound better. When I started to send mixes [that were done in the box] to the clients and all I got back were normal mix notes, I knew that this would work. – Andrew Scheps (Beyonce, Ziggy Marley, Black Sabbath)

He brings up another good point. When the bands, labels, and occasional friend hears one of his in-the-box mixes and don’t say “Hmmm, something is weird about this mix, it doesn’t sound as good as your normal stuff…” you can be sure that mixing that way isn’t a downgrade in quality.

In fact in another fantastic interview, Andrew mentioned that he mixed a project on the road on headphones!!) and the mastering engineer didn’t do anything to it:

One of [my mixes] was mastered at Abbey Road, and they have amazing gear there and the guys are great – and when I sent the mix I warned them “I don’t know guys, let me know if you hear any problems,” and when the A&R guy walked in the room 30 minutes after mastering began the engineer said “I mean you paid for another hour so we can run it through some gear if you want but I’ve already done a flat transfer of the mix because it’s done – there was nothing to change. – Andrew Scheps (Audio Slave, Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga)

Dude is mixing major label projects on headphones, on his laptop, while traveling, and the mastering guys at Abbey Road can’t find anything wrong with it. Impressive.

What Can We Learn From This?

More and more top level mix engineers are leaving the hassle of analog and jumping head first into in-the-box mixing. Andrew Scheps is just one of the most notable in my mind because of his history of strong advocacy for analog mixing.

On the Avid forums he wrote:

I am painfully aware of my legacy of quotes referring to mixing using analog equipment. That is how I mixed. For years. I was an evangelist for it; as much for the ergonomic, visceral workflow as the sonics. Now I mix ITB. It’s a completely different way of working. I still love mixing and try and make every mix I do super exciting and musical. – Andrew Scheps (Kid Rock, Our Lady Peace, Josh Groban)

So how does this apply to us home studio (and almost all of us) in-the-box mixers?

It simply reinforces one thing: the gear you mix on is not the bottleneck holding you back from sonic greatness. You are.

And that, my friend, is fantastic news!

It means that you don’t NEED a Neve 88RS or an SSL4000 console to get a pro sounding mix. You don’t need racks of boutique outboard comperssors.

Heck, according to Andrew, you don’t even need studio monitors! The dude does a lot of his mobile mixing on an Apollo Twin and a pair of $99 Sony headphones.

So why do his mixes sound so great if he’s using the same kind of gear you and I have in our studios? Two reasons: great raw material and some ridiculous mixing chops.

If you were to focus all of your energy on recording better sounding tracks – tracks so good that when you pull up the faders they virtually mix themselves – and then improving your mixing abilities, you’d start delivering final mixes that you are proud of.

Yes it will take time to get better.

But improving yourself as an engineer is the only guaranteed way to improve your final mixes. Gear will never do that for you.

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53 Responses to “The Day Iconic Mixer Andrew Scheps Ditched His Console For A Laptop”

  1. Grayson Peddie

    I’ve mixed my song that I’ve submitted for entry with floorstanding speakers (Polk T50) and Superlux 668B headphone. Since I don’t have studio monitors, my floorstanding speakers double as my home theater and for creating music, among other things.

    Reply
  2. Rob Mayzes

    Wow. That’s incredible that nobody even noticed the change over. What a guy.

    More and more iconic mixers are taking the plunge – and that’s SO awesome.

    Reply
  3. Sam Sharples

    What an inspirational article. We have no excuse. I have the same pair of$99 Sony headphones and a laptop with some incredible software – time to make music.

    Reply
  4. Kevin

    These guys are so lucky that they get great sounding tracks. I want to see them try to mix some indie stuff that doesn’t sound so great and hear the results. Seems like most of the time its pretty much all good sounding stuff.

    Reply
    • Thomas Jones

      You’ve missed the essence of the post. Whether it’s indie or pro, all your records need to be recorded good. You can’t record garbage sounding tracks and expect pro sounding results. It’s all about how your input sounds

      Reply
    • Damian Brantley

      Lucky?

      I personally think any up and coming mix engineer is considerably more lucky if they are dealt sessions that require more attention/poorly recorded. It forces noobs (which we’ve all been at one point) to think outside the box in our mix approach, no pun intended…

      I’m thankful for all of the janky sessions I’ve received… It helped me learn far more than I would have versus just having excellently recorded sessions all the time, from the get go… I’m more than positive Mr. Andrew Scheps has had his fair share of poorly recorded projects to deal with… I’m also sure those rough sessions helped shape Andrew’s chops to some degree…

      It’s great to be versatile enough to mix ANY project; well recorded or poorly recorded… Nevertheless, time proves again and again that the RECORDING process is THE first step in creating GREAT mixes.

      Reply
  5. Tom Camp

    Love it. Great article as always, Graham. Always putting the importance of the artist/creative before anything else and pushing us to be our best.

    Reply
  6. Grayson Peddie

    Google Chrome: “The site ahead contains malware”

    Ugh! Why is this happening? I get that a lot lately every time I visit THR.

    Reply
    • Pete M

      The malware pop-up is probably sponsored by some angry manufacturers, who want to sell us the next ‘wonderbox’ for our mixes 😉

      Reply
  7. Ronny

    No need for clocks when you mix in the box.

    That’s right, every time you connect different gear in digital you need clocks for them to run properly together. Not while working in the box.

    Reply
  8. Katsune

    Man,… this really is the “revolution”. We are so lucky that someone from the top shows how it is done,…

    Reply
  9. chris

    Graham….THIS is why I follow you. ANOTHER fabulous article that is blowing my mind. Recently I wheeled my huge analog mixer out of the mixing room because I noticed the same thing as the dood in the article. I did a mix on sony earbuds, checked it on Adam A7’s and did a very small adjustment or two and the mix was good. I couldn’t believe it. It really sounded nice in every place I tried it. I was expecting something just the opposite. Anyhoo I’m going in the box with a GREAT tube front end.

    Reply
  10. Larry Green

    So, if you record a song in your DAW, mix it down in your DAW and burn it to a CD is the song is still in digital format? Is it only when you listen to the song that it is converted to analog? So when you are mixing on speakers or headphones is the song is essentially converted to analog? Just some thoughts.

    Reply
    • Mikey

      Everything that’s heard with ears is analog. It’s only digital inside a computer as in 1s and 0’s.

      Reply
    • Mikey

      So the answer is that it IS analog in headphones. Not in essence but in fact. Anything you can hear is an analog sound. A person talking to you is “analog”. All sound is analog.

      Digital audio is more like the storage medium and is coded as 1’s and 0’s.

      Reply
  11. Sasha

    Perhaps there is no sonic loss in quality, but the ergonomics of typical in-the-computer mixing are awful. Small screen, keyboard, mouse/trackpad. It’s claustrophobic.

    That downside can be mitigated to some extent with control surfaces and a large display (or displays)…

    Reply
  12. YOHAMI

    That’s a testament to his skill, methodology and routines. Im sure if he became deaf he could still get a mix sounding good by just looking at the label names and meters. Likewise a great photographer will do beautiful photography with an old iPhone.

    However, if you’re starting, make things easier for yourself. Get impeccable acoustic treatment, high end studio monitors, a a few of high quality instruments and gear.

    Reply
  13. Darren Musatto

    I wish he would have addressed the issue of summing. The rise of stand alone summing amps are the result of industry demand for a solution to flat or thin sounding bounces and mixdowns of an all in the box session. They are becoming a standard piece of back end gear in pro, all in the box studios. By doing your mix completely in a computer you are potentially losing width, depth and life to your mixes. Many agree that analog is summing is a neccessary final step to a digital mix session.

    Reply
  14. JJ Johnson

    The biggest advantage to ITB mixing wasn’t even alluded to, and even if you have SSL, recalling the board settings doesn’t include all the outboard and patching. TOTAL recall, I am not sure about every DAW, but when I render a mix with Reaper there is a companion file that prints in the same location that includes all parameters to that particular mix. Another layer of A/D and D/A is not terrific, but I can’t believe anyone didn’t already get that. Two studios here are all proud of their Trident 80 series consoles, which look cool but are just basically a big pile of TL071 and TL072 op amps, and 30-year-old capacitors that dried up sometime around the turn of the century. Ergonomics? Uh, consoles got so big that a chair on wheels was a necessity just to navigate them, and you can buy a 42″ TV to sit in front of for less than that chair if it is worth sitting in for more than an hour. FIR filtering in analog? Uh, not happening as it only exists in the digital domain and is so powerful and good sounding that once you try it you are going to be loading it in everywhere. We won’t even mention how expensive it would be to try and buy all the analog hardware that comes close to what is available online for free. Why it takes a mullah saying it is okay to do something before anyone gets it has always been a mystery to me. I saw a comment above about at least treating your room (myth, if we are talking about anything more than a stuffed chair or two and a rug, maybe) and buying some good gear. Hmmm, is an eight channel I/O that costs less than five hundred new and can be found daily at GC for 250 used, and a commonly rebadged Chinafunken tube mic for 175 good? Music box store powered monitors, BX8 scooped up for 200 for a pair, I don’t think you need to spend a fortune to do things that studios that were 50 bucks an hour off-time couldn’t get close to back in those over-glorified analog days, when the maintenance guy was probably more important than the guy in the hot seat. We won’t even talk about some of the abortions I saw concerning soldering at places that people thought were good. Funny how much a Strat plugged into an amp with a squashed pre-amp can hide. Let the music do the talking……https://soundcloud.com/jjinvegas/dont-leave-me-behind-jj-johnson-and-the-mullahs-of-methadonia-002

    Reply
  15. Pete M

    This article is so encouraging! Thanks.

    I am aware of the fact, that a pair of Sony headphones won’t turn me into the new Andrew Scheps, but if he did it, I can do it, too… one day!

    Reply
  16. MSR

    Graham hit on a great point that took me FOREVER to grasp…recording quality tracks. I went to ‘audio school’ and I’m always researching. Even though I’ve heard this point many times, my stubborn self still thought I could fix issues in the mix. So I’ve taken on several projects that weren’t recorded to the best standards. I worked hard and would still end up done with mixes that were lacking. Even though it’s made me better, I wish I had just adopted this philosophy early on! Young engineers…TAKE HEED!

    Reply
  17. Dave

    I can see this as the only way the industry will move forward as the digital revolution continues. These prized consoles and outboard gear will eventually end up on the scrap heap or picked up by eccentric collectors. There are just too many advantages to working in the box and as this world of music production continues to advance, eventually no one will look back.
    Maybe one day I might be able to buy a Fairchild 670 for $10- Think I might be waiting a while!

    Reply
  18. Charles

    We have a generation that’s so concerned about the “back end” of audio engineering with thousands of plugins, DAW’s, and various software available to us. But the problem is this: Garbage in = garbage out….There’s no emphasis on the “front end” with new engineers, so they spend hours polishing turds. Get your sounds and tone sounding great in the recording stage. I have never been in a professional where the engineer was spending the majority of the session messing with plugins. They spend time getting solid sounding tracks. My .02

    Reply
  19. LouisB

    Coming from the analog world and working in the digital age and owning SSL and Neve Consoles as well as lots of outboard gear and plugins, I can say that other things need to be considered besides the tools used. As many said before, the recording stage is the most important part of the process. Garbage in = garbage out. No doubt. But width and depth in the digital word and running all those tasks in the box with the panning law in the daw world, I am not too convinced yet but that’s me and what my ears are telling me. The big reality in the real world is that, A) most a&r’s and label people today have very little knowledge of how a recording should sound, other than just like whatever is on the radio, B) most music will end up as an mp3 file, iphone etc… Many projects are getting mixed using a stereo track of the music + vocals on top. I am yet to hear a record from this day and age beat “Off The Wall” “Thriller” or most Earth Wind & Fire records and that’s just on the soulful side of music. I heard the latest Black Sabath album and it sounds nothing like their older albums from the 70’s. Again, that’s just me and my ears. I always tune my speakers, rooms, ears and mixes listening to “Off the Wall” on vinyl. I can’t find any recording from today that will serve me this purpose. To each their own, but I am sure that those who are approving his mixes can’t tell the difference between an analog mix from a digital one, or the difference between wav and mp3 files. How do I know? I record and mix all day and go through the same process. I mix mostly in the box for the industry and analog mixes for myself. Very feel people can hear the difference. My 002$

    Reply
  20. Michael Callahan

    LouisB, you are right on. I am quite new to this and also an old man learning a new way to enjoy my time. I use a stereo track split to L & R (GOOD copy of the music) and then sing with it. I can tell the difference from Wav to MP3 a lot of the time and I hate that I have to convert so most people can listen to my amateur songs. I am wondering if this rear buss has any merit for just my vocal. Anyway thanks for your thoughts. I have a bunch of LPs and even some 45s that didn’t warp and there was good music made before digital meant anything more than a finger. My .01

    Reply
  21. Saleh Ahmed

    Hi. I am a singer from Bangladesh. I have a home studio as well. Thanks a lot for the free staff you are providing. A great job really. I wish your more success.

    Reply
  22. Ian

    All those great tracks weren’t recorded on a laptop… The best way to Record a live band using 32 tracks with 10 headphones mixes is for all of this to happen in the analog domain before it goes through conversion. THERE IS NO CHEAP SUBSTITUTE FOR GOOD ANALOG INPUT SIGNAL. That’s where all great records start. Not with whatever video game Waves is selling these days.

    Reply
  23. Paul Odiase (The Les Pauls)

    Get it right at the recording,and the mix it in the box part does get much easier i think!
    Anyway i spend more time now getting the initial recording as good as i can get it !
    Thanx Graham !
    Bless yer cotton socks me lad !!
    Paul

    Reply
  24. Charles Howard

    Andrew Scheps is misleading young engineers. Gear matters. ITB mixing would not be great if you didn’t record it great. He’s working with professional artist who send him professional mixes that use professional outboard gear. He really can do what he does because of his experience but don’t be fooled great analog gear has its place. This guy is bragging but he is being misleading, NOTHING BEATS EXPERIENCE! He built his name on analog gear now he’s forgotten what got him those Platinum Artist. Duh analog! It’s just irresponsible for future engineers.

    Reply
  25. Malcolm Pollack

    As some have pointed out, you can’t put your live band in the box. I agree that everything else can be done well, or even better, on the virtual console (although I don’t think I will ever not miss having a warm Neve or SSL under my hands) — but unless you are dealing with one player at a time, to record live musicians you need a room, you need good mikes, and you need good analog signal paths for all of it. For all of that, there is simply no substitute for a physical, not-in-the-box studio with a fine console. Fewer and fewer of them exist any longer.

    Reply
  26. Andi

    If you get tracks which have seen a lot of Hardware in tracking, sure you can make it sound good ITB. But if you have to mix a lot of virtual sounds its a big help if you print the single tracks with some hardware. They sit better in the mix, mixing gets more easy. Both domains can sound great – if you know how to deal with them. I think mixing hybrid is the most easy and time effective way to get a good mix.

    Reply
  27. Muhamedali Ismaili

    A am very impressed that Andrew Scheps choosed and replaced pro consoles and outboard gear with simple tools for recording. That improve to us that we really don’t need outboard gear to get a pro sound in our homestudios. Just by the necessery stuff like an interface, a pc/mac with a preffered DAW and a pair of headphones and there you go. Till now I was a “must have” guy that wanted gear so it could look like a pro studios, but what do I really need it for? And by the way it’s not cheep stuff we are talking about. I am very interested in vocal recording and when I get the chance I will buy your education videos about vocal recording. I have to say that you, Graham mentioned everything that I thought about for a long time now. Thanks for being understanding to us, or to me personaly.

    Reply
  28. Luis

    I agree with almost everything in the article Graham . We do have the capabilities and tools to get a great mix in the box. The part where I kind of disagree is when you ask

    “So why do his mixes sound so great if he’s using the same kind of gear you and I have in our studios?”

    The reason being is because I imagine he records through all analog and an maybe his nice console. Like you have though us mixing starts in the recording stage.
    How much processing do you think he does when recording?

    But putting what I disagree aside I do believe Andrew would be able to do a great album with just an interface and a computer because he has skills

    Reply
  29. Iraklis Prokopidoglou

    U2 are terrible music! Unlistenable with no artistic value. Its the same non-demanding song, played and recorded again and again on all of their albums. No orchestration too…
    Cannot trust the guy who mixes that garbage music.

    Btw who mixed “jesus christ superstar” (version with ian gillan)? This is the man.

    Reply
  30. Guillaume paillotin

    Andrew came to ITB because of the sonic quality of the new ProTools HDX, which has gain in precision and the mixtable in PT HDX seems to have the same headroom than a mixtable. It has to be said. This new technology replace entirely a SSL or a Neve.
    Andrew said that he first compare a few mix he has done on his Neve and ITB. He told us ( at a MTWM session) that ITB is not only a little bit better, but it’s totally far away, in a sonic way, from his Neve. Digital word is now much better than the Analogue word.

    You couldn’t do what Andrew does without it

    I think we could lose something with that technology : for example, Andrew used to have 4 or 6 Urei1176 and each one of these has a particular sound that he knew perfectly which one would go to the lead vocal and which ones would be used for his “rear master” bus.
    Now, in the digital word, we will all be using the same 1176. So I guess that the future of plugin would be to create the 1176 plug of Andrew that he had from Abbey road studio or something like that. Maybe they could devellop specific plugs of these gears that all this legendary mixers owned in their studio, the gear that make them so specific.

    Excuse for my poor english

    Reply

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