There are only few artists and bands capable of producing their own music. A good producer keeps a certain distance and is not involved with the love affair an artist can have with arrangements and sounds. A producer is objective and musically impartial which can really help an artist. For many musicians it’s very helpful to have someone who’s not in the band to coach them and spark new ideas or insights. Good producing means amplifying that which is great, truthful and unique about a group or individual. Taking that which is already there and making it better, rather than turning it into something it is not. The dynamics between and artist and producer can be of great value.
What makes Volver Studio different from other studios?
The most important difference is that you are guided by a producer that relates himself to the content of your production. There’s a big difference between someone that can really help you along, instead of someone that just presses record. Besides that, Volver Studio is an amazing studio to work at with great equipment and spaces.
Do you prepare a lot?
No. I’ve noticed that if I get into a session without too much prejudice, the results are better. It opens me up to the music at hand. I’m very scared of what we call “demoïtus”. If you listen to a demo too much, you can get attached to certain passages. This is not always what is needed for a production.
Does a song change a lot during recording?
Yes, most of the times it does. I’ve got a radar for song shapes and musical eloquence. In most cases, changes in the arrangement, tempo or song shapes are necessary. Sometimes a song needs a dynamic lift two minutes in. It’s a very exciting process that requires a big amount of cooperation between the producer and the artist.
Do you focus on the lyrics as well?
Of course! The lyrics are extremely important. Sometimes the lyrics communicate a different vibe than what’s happening in the song musically. That requires some tweaking. I always work from a writer’s perspective and try to elevate that which is lyrically strong. Everything should work together.
Do you also work with session musicians?
I do. I’ve got a team of my favourite musicians. All strong in a certain genre or area. Still, working with session musicians has its limitations. People that can play anything can sometimes be a bit boring. I love working with bands that are limited in their technique because in most cases, these limitations become their strength. Because they can’t play anything they create their own unique style. That, to me, is very interesting.
How do you make the people you work with feel comfortable?
I think it’s very important to literally and figuratively create space for an artist. Everything that’s needed for an optimal performance is legitimate. I’m always focused on the artist 100% and try to give them everything that is needed. The effect of lighting some candles, making some ginger tea, or thanking somebody after a take, is enormous. Sometimes though, you have to keep somebody in check. The song always dictates what is needed. The result is paramount, even it makes me unpopular. If I know someone can perform better than they are, I’ll always do something about it.
Do you have a radar for talent?
Yes and no. If you ask me which song on the album should be the single, I’ll guarantee you, I’d choose the wrong one. However, I can feel if someone has something special. For example, I’ve worked with artists like Laura Jansen, Bertolf, Sanne Hans (Miss Montreal) and Judith Jobse years and years ago. I don’t think it’s all that relevant either; talent. If I take a look at myself, my colleagues and artists, we all got to where we are now because of sheer perseverance. Talent is part of the equation, but the hard work never stops.
In what price range is Volver Studio?
I always tell my student, the studio business can be divided in three segments. The top segment, in which there are only a few studios in the Netherlands, often offers a lot of facilities that aren’t really necessary in making a good production. The middle segment, that includes Volver Studio, is often much more value for money. The lowest segment is quite broad and includes many lone wolves with computers.
Do you use compression and equalising during recording? Or only during the mix?
This depends on what I want to hear. I try everything in my power to get the sound I hear in my head during recording. It gives me the insight to see what the production needs and it saves a bunch of time during the mix. How I get the sound, isn’t that important. Compression and equalising can help, but microphone placement and phase relations are just as important.
What’s your favourite microphone?
I’m not sure. There’s no such thing as a bad microphone. However, some microphones are much more useful than others. I do use a lot of ribbon microphones. They sound calm and warm and can be altered during the mix as I like. I also love the mics built by the American Josephson. INSANELY expensive, but beautiful in every way. Then again, you can be sure I’ve got some 57’s.
Do you use vintage equipment?
Sometimes I do, but vintage gear isn’t very reliable and incredibly expensive. Often cloaked in a robe of nostalgia that doesn’t necessarily make it sound good. Of course I do own and use some vintage gear, my tape delay and spring reverbs for example. I don’t really see myself buying very old compressors, because there are so many incredible units that are still being made. Units like Chandler Limited’s EMI compressor, or Summit Audio’s TLA 100A.
What’s your favourite outboard gear?
I really love Tube-Tech’s equipment. Some of their compressors are amazing and I especially like the PE-1C Pultec style EQ. I’ve also really grown to love my Gyratec EQ. Built by Gyraf Audio, a tiny little company in Denmark that makes incredible gear. Rupert Neve Design, the Portico line is also very good. Most of the gear in de A room is built by Crane Song. The Spider, Egret, Avocet, Falcon, Insigna and of course the Trakkers. Of course, I’ve also got a lot of SSL gear in the studio, like the mixing desks, filled up X-Rack, Fusion, VHD pre-amps and the XLogic G buss compressor is also very good. So good in fact, that I’ve got two.
Do you work on a mixing desk?
No, we don’t work with a traditional desk. We do work with high quality 48 track summing (SSL/Crane Song). I started doing this work when the first DAW’s came along. I couldn’t afford a big desk, so I trained myself to work with doing this work in the computer. Later on, I started to see the value of analog gear and started doing more research. I did think about buying a big desk but I also see its shortcomings. You’re stuck with one particular sound. I think it’s way more exciting to work with many different types of pre-amps, all of them with their own character. I know exactly what each unit sounds like so I can be very precise about when to use them. This helps the creative process. Of course, sometimes I’ll drool over some vintage desks I see for sale online. They got a certain mojo, reminiscent of times gone by. But reliability is key, and if you buy such an old desk, you might as well hire a guy with a soldering iron to keep it running for you.
Do you mix analog, or digital?
This depends on the production. I almost always start mixing analog. The analog sound is amazing, the moves you make are sometimes quite crude. You can be a lot more subtile and precise when you work in the box. I do often sum the mix analog on my SSL desks and the Crane Song Egret.
Do you often use analog tape recorders?
I really like analog tape, especially for drums and bass. Sometimes I record directly to tape, but more often I use my 16-track Studer as an insert during the mix. What you get from a tape is the tape compression and of course some noise. Noise, if present in moderation, can sound pleasant.
What’s your favourite stereo technique?
I rarely use A-B set-ups. Most of the time the stereo image is too wide and it’s very phase sensitive. The exception is when we record grand piano. Usually, A-B is the way to go in those cases. Depending on which role the grand piano has in the production, of course. As of late, I tend to use Mid/Side set-ups a lot and ever since I bought my Coles 4038’s I’ve loved using Blumlein set-ups as well. When I’m recording drums, I really like going for the so called Recorderman Technique. One overhead above the snare, the other over the drummer’s shoulder. Both equidistant from the snare and kick drum, to ensure a good phase relation.
Do you use room mics often?
Yes. There are few times I’m not looking for some sort of depth in the signal. A great way to create depth, is by using room microphones. Especially when recording guitars and drums. Using room mics during vocal tracking can also be quite interesting!
Do you master your own productions?
More and more often. Of course, it’s great to have a second opinion when you work with an external mastering-engineer, but ever since Francis and myself started mastering for others, I seem to be doing it myself sometimes. I’ve got a network of great mastering engineers that I like working with, but even then, it’s quite hard to explain exactly what you want to hear sometimes. In most cases, this means that a record has to be sent back multiple times before I’m satisfied. Good thing most mastering engineers have a lot of patience and, like me, love their jobs.