Joey Sturgis Interview Part 1
We're talking now tio mr joey sturges and uh if uh you guys don't know don't know much about him um you probably should uh he's probably one of the best known most influential producer mixers in aa and heavy music of like the past ten years uh worked with huge bands like asking alexandria devil wears prada we came as romans just all kinds of massive bands and ah in a way kind of helped redefine sounds of the water metal I'm not trying to sound like an ass kisser either but it is basically the truth and so want tio want to welcome you on man uh how are you doing well how's it going do good going good man started been ah been here for what eighteen hours this is like the eighteenth hours so we're uh that we're uh we're starting tio certainly get really deep into this so thanks for coming on and I figure well ah well I just wanted to maybe like introduce you to people who may not be familiar with your uh to those who are familiar with you maybe talk about like your background a little bit...
because it's not like you just came out of the room producing nobody comes out of them producing everybody at some point sucks and decides they want to do this so like how did that happen for you like when how did you even get into this in the first place well, I was actually interested in computer science mostly uh I never really intended to be like a producer or an engineer, but I do come from a musical family and everyone in my family at least plays an instrument or sings so my thing for a long time at least in my teenage years was to play drums and I was in like, um like hardcore bands and grind corps bands and stuff like that and uh where it all started wass I was playing drums in a grand corps band and we wanted tio create a demo, but of course you know, grind corps bands don't really have like money or budgets or anything like that, so we didn't really know how we could go and record because we don't have any money. So I found out that one of my friends had kind of a little home studio set up in his garage and I asked him if I could come in and night time it kind of mess around with the computer and just kind of bigger things out on my own and I did that for real until I got kind of decent it just recording like basic demos and stuff like that? Well, what do you mean by long time like what's it um I mean, I can't really remember to be honest, but I guess it was at least a year of just fiddling around with stuff and being a different bands and you know, finally ended up in that in that band where it was like it was the right time where the band needed a recording and I knew enough to do it so it made sense and then what happened? We put the recording up on myspace and advance just started like private messaging us and asking like, you know who did this and how how did you do it and of course the answer was we just did it ourselves and and of course they started asking like, can we? You know, is there any way that we could just drive over there and record with you've got a lot of bands from ohio because ohio wasn't very far and, uh, you know, one thing led to another and I was recording bands on the weekends and eventually got to the point where I was making enough money on the side tio stopped going to work and just keep doing that the demos and the recordings for the other bands. So is the last time you had a quote unquote job that, uh when I was nineteen so ten years ago okay, cool, yeah it's a dream for everybody to be able to not have to I mean, this is definitely a job, but but it's not at the same time so do you think that from that point on was it like uh was it like a steady rise or did was there a moment where it was something like all right now I've reached a level or like have you or have you even paid attention to that because I know some guys who have done really well who have never even paid attention they just kept going and going and one thing led to another and kept on going and yeah I would describe the progression to be pretty natural like that I think one of the things that I always focused on was trying to impress a least one person of all the clients that would come in so if I had like a band come in there was always that one guy who is a little bit further ahead musically compared to everyone else and I don't always try to impress that guy and uh I got lucky and ran into a couple of people who weren't so immediately impressed with you know what I was doing so it kind of drove me teo teo challenge myself and to do better and you know I'm really thankful that I think I landed on just the right path of of people who helped me build my career up and get better at what I do that's cool so it was actually so you're motivated tio just make clients happy who you think would have otherwise been unhappy yeah, I was like determined to not only make it worth their money that they were spending it worth their time but to also like form some kind of business relationship that will last beyond whatever we were working on you know? I wanted people tio want to come back to me and I want to spend more money with me and do more record with me and that's where I really try to invest uh, you know, whatever I was, whatever I was doing with my time was trying to invest it in into those projects, so I know that we didn't discuss this in advance, but I think that this would be really, really fascinating for, uh, everybody watching anyway, it's just because everybody wants to know how to grow their studio business but like, do you mind sharing? Just like on a simple level? What some basic things that guy's khun due to, like, help their relationships with bands umm grow in that way that you're talking about? Uh, yeah, I think number one, don't be afraid to get on the phone if I feel like a lot of people these days are almost afraid tio jump on the phone call especially that someone you've never met it could be a little bit daunting to just pick up the phone and talk to someone you never talked to before but I think that goes a long way nowadays especially with, you know, messengers and texting and e mails and all that you know, just giving on the phone and hear in each other's voices and just being willing and available to talk on the phone is a big thing I think the other thing is being organized was your email I know a lot of people who don't even understand what the reply all feature is and that's really frustrating like we were talking about that yes was that I think on the first day we were talking about that exact same thing about mixed notes and reply all versus reply just use google dots instead but yeah, and I tried to kind of set things up so that the trying to make things easier for the artist so for example I'll say ok here's, you know, mix to a mixed version two of the song please you know, gather all of your notes into one email and just send one replied because if you have, you know, five different guys tellingyou five different things and some of the notes could even be contradicting that creates a problem where you have to contact each different person of the band or maybe even contact the band's manager to get the issue resolved, but that issue could be resolved internally within the band if you're telling them hey you know, listen to the song of few times compiled all your notes into one place and then just sent one replied and I can address everything and you know they might even knock three or four things off the list just by talking to each other it's amazing how um independent everyone is now because everyone has like a smartphone or something and people just open the email and china and and then the next person does and it starts to become a confusing mess so if you kind of organized the whole thing and put it like it tio a step by step process and tell them you know, just follow you know, follow these instructions and everything is going to go smooth that it really helps out a lot you don't get that situation where one guy wants the base ladder and the other guy wants the base softer and one guy wants that solo and there and another guy doesn't want that solo on there and then what uh have ah how about this? Because I think a lot of people are not sure with how to go about, uh, dealing with a situation like that they say you're the mixer uh you've been hired by band to mix an album and a conflict comes up a difference of opinion between band members and they can't come to a resolution about it like, for instance, the guitar solo sucks and according to one guy guitar solo is great according to another guy and they're going to fight about it where does that leave you? I think you know that can differ with experience if you are someone like me that was done, you know, tons of records maybe the band just trusts my final opinion but if you're in a situation where the band doesn't necessarily trust you and maybe they can't decide on themselves, I would say just give us an option you know, like I could try this I could charge that you guys are welcome to maybe experiment with re recording and sending it to me later we can mix it with solo, you know was out to solo and comm plug it in whenever you're ready or like I would just try to offer as many solutions as possible and kind of make it easy for them to just choose one like almost multiple choice you know, a lot of graphic designers do this too, and I think that that's worth noting whenever I've worked with a really good web designer or an artist or graphic designer uh it's they've never given me here it is have fun or like some mixers have like here's a mix they've always given me well here's like four different versions and kind of tell me which one you like best and we'll expand on that and uh, I've actually start employing that in sending mixes to people like here's three different versions of the same kind of idea that you could be talking about pick one and it seems like people just like having a choice yeah and it's amazing how I think a lot of mixes don't really think of that you know I think when you get into bigger projects with a major label type stuff uh it's kind of common for teo still able to ask for vocals up vocals down based up based down you know drums louder drum softer because they want o experience all of those differences and make the choices that are best for you know what they're trying to do at the end of the day have to remember that you're just facilitating a product for someone else that it's not really yours and it does involve your creativity and your work and it is a part of you but at the end of the day it's it is someone else's art that you're trying to you know make better so you take that into consideration for sure enter up real quick and say that what he was just talking about with the drums up drums down locals up vocals down but whatever alternate mixes in that template that we were going over on the first day the way that it was routed to where you just arm all the tracks and hit record and there you go you get all your stems limited mix non living and mix instrumental mix quickly whatever you want vocals of vocals down that's all in the template and it's very very easy to tweak from there just real quick do you do you have when you mix do you have ah template like that set up already where all that stuff is just ready to go or do put it together yes oh yeah you do yeah most definitely have the ability I'm pretty much ready to do anything that someone would ask me and I make it easy on myself for sure so if someone saying like yeah the drums need to be a lot louder I could either go in and and grab like guitar bass vocals and pull those down or I can push the drums up with like one fader so it needs to be set up where you've got access to make those kind of moves and a lot of times off get notes on like the levels of vocal harmonies so have all my vocal harmonies air at least going to finalized vader's where I can control the line of the harmonies throughout the entire song yeah, that makes perfect sense definitely I think one thing that we've been discussing a lot is that when actually mixing in orderto get ready tio to do a mix the idea is to take as much complexity out of the situation as possible so that you can his focus on doing your job and not be caught up routing a million things and worrying about two software yeah I'd say the biggest thing I hope people you know if they don't walk away from this was with everything that the one huge thing they should walk away from this is uh being organized that is like the most important thing to having a great mix is the more organized it is easier you're going to you know, be creative and make the mix what it needs to be yeah, well, you know from my own personal experience before I started to, like become really, really strict about organization and sessions it would all you know, mixes would eventually get to a point where making a change is what takes way more time than it's worth and it just becomes a real problem there's always that glass ceiling on a disorganized mixing you don't know where it's going to be but it's kind of like when you're coding something and if you start with disorganized bad code eventually like your programming a website or something eventually you're going to hit a glass ceiling to where either it's going to take forever to make tiny changes because it's set up improperly or you're just gonna have to start from scratch and the big problem there is if you have things set up to where it's a pain and asked to do something that would make the song better then you are digging yourself a grave and that's where the organization kicks in is to make it to where like if you have the idea you want to do so you know something that's complex and you want it to be easy so that you can try it out listen to it you know see how it makes you feel and not have to go spend a whole day just on one idea you want to be able to try multiple ideas are multiple move to see you know what the result is yeah it's and I like how you put that you really are digging yourself a great because um a you're mixed suffers because you didn't try out enough options to really know what's best and be you suffer because your motivation suffers once your motivation suffers you're mixed suffers and long story she exactly everything sucks so let's real quick if you guys can put it back to the uh you know, real quick I just wanted to tell people how to find you online if they don't already know there's lots of places tio find joey online, you can find him on twitter and just a screen shot this and keep it in your wallet uh facebook uh let's start talking about what we prepared because I feel like we could probably talk for about four hours you're probably going to get to it if we, uh so we don't get cut off so let's start with uh I think that I think that this is ah really, really important maybe the most important thing when you get started with the project is defining you know what the situation is like uh I mean what it says right there, what are you doing? Who are you working for? Like what's what is going on? What are they hiring you for and there's a lot of gray area here and I think that's that's part of what I kind of want to talk to you about is defining that grayer and howto actually figure out what it is that the client actually wants versus what sometimes they'll tell you because you do have tio be an interpreter sometimes yeah, your point know who you're working for that super important because there are some people out there who don't realize that otto tooting vocals isn't part of mixing, you know, that's actually part of editing and it could be really frustrating, especially now where home recording is so popular there's all kinds of productions that are being created in unprofessional environments. So you're getting, you know, any variable or a variety of projects where things were done properly, you know, it it's hard because you a lot of times almost everything you work on, you have to educate somebody he you know it could be a manager it could be a and r guy if say like look, you know what you're asking me to do is it is it part of what you're paying for it like if you're a mixer you know or even if you're an editor someone's asking you teo like if you're editing a song and someone's telling you turn the base up there's something really wrong there yeah, you know? And I think what's what I think would be helpful for people teo teo you come away with some insight on is at what point is it ok for people to even say that because it's I feel like there's two situations number one uh when you're when you're really hungry for a career at the very early stages I kind of need to please everybody and you build your name and go beyond the call of duty and you know, do what has to be done I mean, you still have to do that when you're successful but even like uh you know, if you were working at one hundred percent when you're successful uh when you're building something got to be at like one hundred fifty percent with things and at the same time you don't want to set the precedent that you're going to do work for free because then like I know some labels if you agree to do a cheap record for certain labels you may see it as, uh as you're doing them a solid this time for a baby band, but they see it as is cool we can get this guy for this cheap let's see if he'll go even lower next time so and, you know, that's pretty common in music how do you get around that but also not have people? I think you're a dick in the process, right? Yeah, I mean, that is a tricky one, I think you have to be honest with yourself and see what your kind of willing tio put up with and make sure that you're not going to put up with things that are wrong for too long. I know when I started out, um I would be willing to, you know, uh, pitch correct something if I was mixing it and, you know, probably did that for a number of years until I got to the point where it was like, you know, the mixes were more complex and there was a lot more vocal tracks and b starting to become impossible to do both, you know, in a time effective way. So I think it was important to note is just what are you willing to dio in exchange for putting yourself, you know, if you're working on let's, say you're working on an album and the only thing that needs to be done to make it right is editing the vocals and it could possibly if you do this it could it could get you in the door with this band toe return with another record then yeah sure doing I mean corner maybe that maybe that's a sacrifice you you have to make to get that client to come back and when they come back this time you're going to say hey uh you know, I did a favor for you the first time but this next time you need to make sure that we've got things taken care of so yeah and I guess that next time if they respond favorably to that then you know you've got a good relationship and if not then you have to ask yourself well how much self respect you have and are you willing to be in this type of situation where ah where you're not respected by the people you work with and uh you know, that's I think that I'm not trying to take this in a negative direction but this is a reality that anybody getting into this field needs to be ready tio to deal with is but your when you dealing with jobs these days what you're being asked to do we'll go far beyond what you're being paid to do it's because there are so many nineteen year olds now who can maybe they won't do as good of a job as one of the big boys but they'll do close enough ish kind of tio at least get the product out um and so for some guys you say no and that's it see you later so it is it's a tough thing to balance and I think personally that you have to just decide what's going to make you happy in the end and, uh what's going to serve you best but uh you know, another thing you could do is is kind of hook up with some other people who like, say you really like mixing um try to find some people online that I like to edit and just say look, hey, every once in a while when I get a client who needs some editing done, you know, I'll refer you if they're interested I know that's worked out pretty well for me because I still to this day get projects that come in that you know, if I'm just a mixing it, I get stuff all the time it's not edited right? And I'm like calling up my editor and say, hey, you know, I've got a project for you uh and I'll tell the band like, you know, hey, I think this song could sound a lot better if we if we go to this editor and, you know, just set it up like that and in and do it all for the band without you know, having tio throw it sort of the ball back in their court and say, you know, you go find an editor or are you know I'm not going to do it instead of that maybe it's better to have a situation where you're like hey, I know a good editor if you guys have a couple extra bucks to throw his way, you know he could make a massive improvement on this and just set it up like that yeah, it will delegation is also good for I think that that's good also for your ears when you're mixing because to not be editing uh like that saves your brain and your hearing for actually making mixed decisions so yeah, some of the best mixers are doing that, you know, they have preppers that come in and take care of that stuff so that when they come in that could be created yeah. So all right, so that said they like we were just saying I guess communicating with your artists and you label about ah about what exactly is going on is super important and it's up to you to decide what your ruling put up with but I think that we came up with a little list of important things that should be communicated no matter what uh ahead of time, which is how you're going toe and this might sound simple but it's really important how you're gonna get files back and forth you would be surprised how inefficient that khun b with some people and uh how exactly you're going to communicate because you know some people don't answer the phone some people never answer their emails like how is this gonna work and uh what are you going for? You know there was this mix what do you want? Yeah the other yeah that's that last point there you know, getting a reference mix it's like if you're just loading up the files bear and you have no idea you know what? How allow does this lead supposed to be in the chorus and how loud or the harmonies you know does a band like the harmonies to be really quiet as a band like the harmonies be really allowed there's a billion questions you could ask the band but they could all be answered by just one simple reference mix and it's surprising how I think you were saying earlier I was talking to you the other day how there's a lot of guys who don't want to hear a reference mix they just want to make something blind and I don't really like that because all the time that the band spins with the producer and the studio working on a rough mix is actually really, really valuable times well spent, you know, there they're answering a lot of questions for you. Yeah, totally, I and yes, I definitely do know people who don't ever want to hear the reference mix, but I don't agree with that approach on dh actually, we were just talking about that two days ago with josh newell during his call, but he was saying that in or him as being a mixed prepper for bigger mixers in him, like handing something off that's going towards, like one of the big boys like andy wallace or coming towards him. Uh, that rough mix is everything because exactly what you just said all the same reasons, like, you know exactly what the song is, and there you go now just make a better version of it a better sounding version of it. Um, so that said let's, let's start talking about actual mixing stuff, and I think that one thing that andrew, wait and I just talked about it and have you heard the call or not? But we talked about the importance of the song itself being a huge factor in the mix, and I know it mixes that I've either done myself or assisted on our mix, engineered on the ones that are the best recorded and the best arranged and best ridden somehow. Also turned out to be the best mix a little sorry that school so better this next slide? Well, talk about source material, so about that was a fine, we just switched it to the slide that's what we're talking about? No, I was just saying that the best mixes that I've been involved with either as a mixer, mix engineer or mix assistant were the ones where the songs were the best recorded, the best arrange and the best ridden uh toe where you could just play the raw tracks and ira sounds pretty cool. It was loaded and hit play and it's maybe it's not releasable quality, but it's it's good. A lot of the songs like are especially like in the metal genre. We're doing a lot of utility type stuff when we're mixing, you know, we're making sure that a billion kick hits could be clear when they're all played next to each other, but I think there's a whole other side to it, too, where you like, what you're talking about, where a song is just really great and one of mixes job is to do on something like that is to make it even better than great and that I mean that's just like, um when you when you have good source material, it almost mixes itself. And you listen to the song and you let the song almost drive the car you're just their toe you know make sure it goes on the right roads and I think like um some of dangers work you know there's a lot of it that's on the radio and I really actually uh uh really have inspired by some of the stuff that he's done it's really cool yeah he's great and he helps a lot with writing and he and he takes that approach of the song is not good enough there's no way that uh it's goingto turn out great in the end so you got to do what you got to do uh which you know comes up to this next slide that we've about which is basically a question of what is the job of the mixer and I guess it is basically to take it home and uh you got you got to define what taking it home means at the end the day let me ask you something like uh just as a contrast to andrew will say you get something to mix and uh and like the song sucks or uh but it sucks in a way that you do good fix like you know what to do like if you just made these changes or whatever added these parts or what not uh what's your what's your take on that where and where do you draw the line you know yeah, depending on who it is, I might just do it anyway and send it over and just say what do you think this um you know you don't want to offend people so if if it's someone you're not really sure how they would react to it that I would probably pasch first you know make sure that it would be comfortable with you like cutting their song all up and stuff but yeah there's been a lot of situations where you know, we get all the way down to, like, mix revision number five and uh all of a sudden we realized wow, if we cut this part half and move this part over here the song is way better and we just do that stuff because ultimately in the end it's all about the song and you know, if if you're not willing tio get the song from point a to point b then you kind of suck you should be mixing agreed and you know, as a I guess is an alternate view to that like when you can't uh you know, they're so situations where it stuff's just not gonna be good you know what I mean uh where the tracks just you just in a bad situation and I feel like we talked about this before like that can be very motivation sapping for people, so we talked about how you keep from losing your mind in a situation where you know like say something does suck and the artist won't let you fix it and that's not on the table like it's just you're here to mix it and that's it and I think we both agree that's you can you can frame that in a positive light by looking at his opportunity just get better yeah and uh don't take yourself like so seriously that if the artist wants one thing and you want another that you're going to just cancel the whole project and say, well, I don't want to put my name on that like you have to realize that it is a job and you're working for other people's art and I think the best mixers are the ones who are willing to sometimes take a passenger seat when when the time is right to do that yeah, absolutely and, uh I think I think sometimes it's uh I think it's a hard thing for some people learn because obviously if your producer two year paid to have an opinion you know you're you're expected to have a strong opinion so but sometimes is a mixer uh you are supposed to kind of turn that opinion off and go for the sonics so and you need to learn when when it's when it's ok and when it's not ok to teo you know, to fight the good fight so let's talk about the million dollar question um, so something sucks and, uh you're not going to rewrite it or anything but like, it sucks and you're stuck with it, you got to mix it policy replace like what's uh, let's talk about that for a little bit like, uh, where do you draw the line? Well, if you know, if I get a person who sends me a bunch of vocal takes and I makesem and I send it back and they're not happy with the vocals and they're like, well, you know, let me, uh, let me redo my vocals and try, you know, try the new mix, so I'll do that, but if that keeps repeating over and over and over, I'm going to say, uh, you know, maybe we should, uh maybe should wait on the song or something like, but it is hard to talk about this and because there's so many different capacities, like someone like me who has ten years of the experience can make those kind of decisions where someone else might be relying on this song to, you know, get by through the next week or something like that and that that's really tough, and I don't know where you draw the line in those situations, I think you just have to, uh you know you have to put up with it is what it is if that's the work that you've got coming in now if we're talking about drums you know there's some salvageable things you know, drum replacement you know, if if it comes in everything was great but the kick mike that they used was you know, I fell off the uh the stand is just laying in the kick drum yeah, you know, replaced the kick especially if if you know that it's not going to work in the mix and you got to be honest with someone, especially if they're trying you know, tio have some pride in in the engineering part of it, you know, maybe they're saying all we want to use all riel drop it have all really drawn likes and you realize there's no way you're gonna get kicks out out of this thing you're just gonna have to, you know, level with them and say the reality of it is there's no way you're going to make this a good way need to replace it your kick mike was on the floor yeah, and you know what? Ah, just to be fair, I've seen that happen too lots of really legit guys do like recording something and mike fell office standing these things do happen so and, uh, you know uh, I've seen things way worse than that happened. That brings up a funny story of of, uh, I'll just tell you really, really fast. A certain band, um, was recording themselves and we're going to mix them, and but they were drummer was questionable, so we said, why don't you use a kick pad, make our lives easier because we're going to edit the drums? They're recording them. We had at the drum, send it back. They tracked the rest. We mix, uh, sort of like here, when you use a kick pad, it'll it'll just make life easier. Trust us. Well, we don't want to buy a watch like, ok, we'll send you hours here, he one or two, so I lent them the kick pad, sent them and wait, get a phone call, two days, three days laters, like it sounds really weird where you're supposed to mike this thing. So I tze pretty cool.