If you like hard hitting rock mixes, then you probably like Andy Wallace’s work.
Famous for mixing Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Coldplay, and even Guns N Roses – this guy has been crushing it in the studio for over 50 years! The sad thing is, he rarely sits down with the media. So when I saw Sound On Sound landed a major interview with him I was pumped.
Wallace is a brilliant craftsmen, and I wanted to pull out three of the his biggest “secrets” to mixing from the interview and share them with you here.
Photo from Mix With The Masters by Victor Lévy-Lasne
Secret #1 – The Quick Mix
All too often when mixing we like to start off by doing major surgery. We want to dive in and start “making things sound better” – whatever that means. I’ve suggested for years that a great mix starts with a super quick mix. It seems Andy Wallace works this way as well.
I’ll usually be throwing things up very quickly, almost like doing a quick monitor mix, and balance everything very quickly, just to see how all the elements are supposed to sound together, and I have a basic feeling of the entire track. – Andy Wallace, Mixing Legend
There’s a reason why Andy does this (and you should too). Actually two reasons.
First doing a quick mix before you dissect each element individually is smart because you start with the whole song in mind and make better choices of where to place volume faders and pan pots. You are listening like your audience will.
Secondly, by working quickly on this mix you don’t have time to over-think things. Your first impression is generally correct, so in one sense by moving quickly you are preventing yourself from screwing things up.
Secret #2 – One EQ/Compressor
One thing that surprised me was to hear Andy Wallace explain that he pretty much only uses the same eq and compressor on each track in each mix. He mixes on an SSL console and simply uses the built in channel processing – hardly any outboard gear.
I am not shy of using EQ, and it almost always is board EQ. I have found over the years that I use less and less outboard for mixing. It seems that the SSL can give me what I need. – Andy Wallace, Mixing Legend
Please don’t miss this powerful point and think that it’s because he uses a real SSL EQ and compressor that his mixes are awesome. The takeaway here is that simplicity is what works.
By deciding to commit to simply using one EQ and one compressor for 90% of your mixing work, you have eliminated a lot of pointless decision making, thereby allowing you to mix faster and with more creativity because you are focused on what you are DOING with your effects, rather than on which one to use.
Secret #3 – Ride The Faders
A lot of Andy Wallace’s work has been on aggressive rock records (Slayer anyone?!) – and naturally people want to know how he gets such hard hitting mixes. Is it compression? Limiting? Some magical and obscure piece of outboard gear?
It turns out the answer is simply riding the volume faders.
I’ll spend a lot of time riding certain [bass] notes up that seem to be getting lost, and notes down that are jumping out too much. This stage is mostly a matter of fine-tuning the automation, riding this up a bit, swoop something else, maybe have a part 3-4 dB louder when the chorus hits and then bring it down gradually. I’m playing around with things that I feel add to the drama and architecture of the mix. – Andy Wallace, Mixing Legend
These days you don’t need an SSL 9000 series console to do this – your DAW has powerful automation built right into it!
And most of the time it goes under-used by the typical bedroom producer.
What Wallace is doing here is simple – he’s taking the power of moving the volume fader (mixing at it’s most foundational) and is now automating it for certain tracks at certain moments in time. I call this sweetening – either way, it works!
Like a movie director using edits and cuts to zoom in and direct the viewer’s attention for a moment, riding the faders allows you to direct the listeners ears to what you want them to hear in a given point in time.
What Wallace Didn’t Talk About
Interestingly enough, the one thing Wallace didn’t talk much about at all during the interview was gear.
When asked, he divulged his favorite tools (An SSL and Pro Tools) but that’s all the attention he gave his equipment. Instead he talked about minimalism, feel, music, and understanding the artist’s vision.
It’s funny how all home studio owners seem to want to discuss is gear, when a mixing legend like Andy Wallace would rather talk about “creating impact” and uses virtually the same setup he’s had for over 5 decades.
Makes you think.
Any thoughts? Share them here.