For the next four weeks, XLR8R will chat with four indie engineers who invite us into their studios to discuss production philosophies, gear, and how to set your music free. Next, we chat with producer/engineer Chris Coady, who has worked with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, !!!, Telepathe, and Blonde Redhead at his East Village studio, DNA.
What’s the centerpiece of your studio?
A vintage SSL G Series mixing board which has been restored. It makes everything that goes through it sound like a hit song.
What pieces of gear do you most often return to?
I’m most comfortable using Neve 1066 preamps, 1176 compressors, and SSL mixing boards. I use Pro Tools for editing and Yamaha NS-10 speakers for monitoring, though I desperately want to find something better.
What element of production do you usually spend the most time on?
I like to take my time on every step if it’s an option. During basic tracking I like to get everything set up and record for a day while changing slight details. During mixing, I like to take at least one day per song, if not two. Some people think you can over-think a mix, but I have yet to find one that didn’t benefit from taking extra time.
What are the most important elements to have in check before a record gets mastered?
First, I make sure that everyone in the band is totally happy with the mixing. Then I listen on different speakers at home and in the studio to make sure the vocals and bass are at the right levels. If something sounds off and there's time available, I recall the mix and change it. A lot of times the original mix with flaws is favored over the perfected recall mix.
When a band comes into your studio, what do you typically wish they had more prepared?
I would like bands to be more prepared to take risks and try new things. Being in the studio gives a band an opportunity to set a new standard and to make sounds that have not been heard on any album before.
What are some strange things you've tried in the studio that ended up having great results?
One of my favorite things to do is not to record ambience tracks on instruments and instead use digital washes of sound to fill out the space where that ambience would naturally be. This way, you don’t hear a guitar player playing a guitar in a recording studio in New York City–instead, you hear a sound which sounds nothing like something you would hear in real life. It sounds more like the music is coming directly from their imagination. It still comes as a shock when I suggest it to a band rather than the traditional method of putting a hundred ambience mics around the room to make the recording sound very “real.”
What was your experience of working on TV on the Radio records, considering there is a producer (David Sitek) in the band?
When working with TVOTR, I take on the engineer role and take care of the recording and technical side, while Dave handles all of the creative and musical responsibilities in the studio. The coolest thing about Dave as a producer is how he interacts with the bands. It’s really magical. It’s almost like turning a studio into a dream world and when you enter, you leave everything behind at the door. He gets some really amazing recordings that way, and if I've learned anything from him, it’s to treat the studio and the bands in a way where they feel more empowered in the studio recording than anywhere else.
Do you think that's a personality thing, or are there specific ways of creating that atmosphere?
I think it’s a matter of attitude about the situation. You can sit in a room filled with expensive equipment and feel one way, or you can kind of make the whole studio transparent so when people play and record the studio ceases to exist in the music. I think those are the best recordings: ones where it doesn’t sound like a bunch of people sitting around in a room with no windows waiting all day and then picking up a guitar and punching in their part.
What’s an album that you always turn to for its production quality?
Some of my favorite albums for the sake of production are Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, Kate Bush's The Dreaming, and Wu-Tang Clan's Wu-Tang Forever. The Dreaming has so much imagination in the production that you hear new things every time you hear each song, no matter how many times you have heard it. Also, Kate Bush comes from a theatre background, so for every vocal on the album she assumes a new character–sometimes childlike, sometimes scary monsters. It gives the whole thing this other dimension. Later, in an interview, she would admit that the album was the sound of her losing her mind. Fleetwood Mac's Tusk is the sound of people drunk on success but not nearly out of ideas. Lindsaey Buckingham’s songs are riddled with engineering errors but it simply adds to the feel. Listening to this album makes me think that they used more varispeed effects on Tusk than The Beatles used on Sgt. Pepper’s. Wu-Tang Forever has some of the most amazing vocal performances, as well as some of Wu-Tang’s best use of sampling.
What are the most common mistakes home producers make?
A lot of home recorded demo stuff sounds pretty good–there are some noisy tracks or some bad mic-ing but the feel is usually great. I think it’s pretty amazing that any kid can record at home using their computer and make a masterpiece if they have it in them. Making an album is something that doesn’t necessarily require money–more so just the will to do it. Grizzly Bear's Yellow House is an example of people going into a house (a yellow one) with a computer and some mics and making a masterpiece.
I guess I feel like home recordings often don’t knock that hard…
Well, the mix is probably the issue, When you take the tracks into a proper mix room and sit with some really nice speakers positioned properly you can really dial in a hard mix. When you're at home on headphones in a tiny Manhattan apartment it may be hard to really hear everything. Things like Ariel Pink always sound better when they are mixed and recorded at home, though I’d be interested to hear what he would do with an unlimited budget in a proper recording studio.
Last Week: Efrim Menuck