After my, albeit limited, experience producing music in Boston I knew that for me the mixing process was a very very integral part of creating music. The studio, and most importantly the mixing console, IS an instrument. With the mixing desk we create the canvas that becomes the soundstage, the landscape for the music to live in. With the mixing desk we also filter the colors that are involved in the particular piece of music. The musical instruments are the brushes and the musicians supply the painterly technique. (((I went to art school so a lot of my metaphors come from that world)))
At first I relied on engineers to help me find my way around mixing consoles and patch bays, but starting with La Semana, released in 2004, I mixed and mastered every single release.
A little bit of history:
In the Nineties mixing consoles with automation became available and were used by most pop stars. These machines had moving faders… which meant that each of the faders, and some of them had up to 96 channels/faders, had a motor that would move it. That’s a lot of motors that could fail… These consoles were also gigantic. They looked cool, but they cost around a million dollars and studio rental that involved them was therefore enormously expensive.
We recorded several album at Sound Design in Santa Barbara between 1990 and 1993: Poets & Angels, Borrasca, Solo Para Ti, and The Hours Between Night + Day. The analog recording machine was a 24 track Studer, the console sounded great but had no moving faders. Sometimes we mixed with all hands on deck. Thirty seconds into the song one person would slowly pan an instrument track, or an echo, from one side to the other, while another person might turn up the bass during a solo section. I wish I had some photos of three or four of us with our hands on different faders and knobs. And every mix was a unique performance. You got one little turn of knob wrong you had to start over. In that sense the mixing console became an instrument we had to perform with.
In fact every time you returned to working on any song you had to start over setting EVERYTHING up. Every EQ, every level, every pan, every reverb and echo setting… all had to be entered for that song… EVERY TIME. I remember wanting, no needing, to change the mix of Samba Pa Ti for the album Solo Para Ti and rushing to the studio early in the morning on the very day that the engineer had an appointment with Doug Sax at The Mastering Lab in L.A… We set up the mix, recorded the result and he jumped into his car to make the appointment.
Doug Sax mastered every album of mine starting with Solo Para Ti in 1991 and ending with Innamorare in 2000. Doug Sax had great ears and great custom built gear… he also mastered a lot of Pink Floyd albums. In 2000 he asked why I came back to him when my mixes sounded so good already. From then on we mastered albums at my studio.
Viva! was the first album that was mixed at my new studio in Santa Fe, in 1994. I had invested into a mixing console that had many great sounding analog parts, but used a PC-based computer to recall everything. At $120k it was a relative bargain and it was compact. The problem with the console was that I never really understood it. So I hired the guy who came to set up and demonstrate the console to be my engineer. Gary Lyons (((he shares the exact spelling of his name with a UK engineer/producer and if you go to AllMusic you see both of their work listed together))) engineered the mix of Viva! in 1995, and subsequently every album starting with Opium and ending with The Santa Fe Sessions, which was released in 2003.
For Opium the engineer Gary Lyons and my brother Stefan mixed the music. It was an experiment because I wanted to test my theory that the first impression is most important, an experience that gets lost after working on a mix for hours. So Gary and Stefan would make a mix and then they would play it for me and we would discuss my reaction to it.
In the Arms of Love was the first album we recorded digitally, using a Macintosh. I understood the Mac and by the time we worked on The Santa Fe Sessions I would work on the album by myself from time to time. In 2003 I bought a Power Mac G4 with a Dual 1.25 GHz Processors. I used that machine from 2003 until this year when the power supply died and I had to replace it with a used G4 with Dual 1.42 GHz processors.