Audio Primer: Producers

Old Man Doom explores the realm of production and recording in extreme metal.

I was reading through the comment section on Red Fang’s newest song, “Flies,” the other day when I came across a disturbing comment. This particular comment said something to this effect: “Man, I can’t believe they compressed the guitars so much. This is doom metal, it shouldn’t be compressed. What a terrible producer and mastering.”  Now, the actual comment was far less intelligible and far more profane, but the crux of the argument here is that the sound of the new Red Fang song displeased this semi-illiterate listener for some very specific reasons. I took exception to this comment – and many others like it lurking on videos and forums all over the internet – because it revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of audio, production, and the roles of those involved in making an album.

This particularly ignorant example inspired me to write this piece, and several corresponding pieces, on this exact topic: audio in extreme metal and hard rock. My goal is to clear up some of the misconceptions about the different aspects of recording, production, mixing, mastering, etc. that come up in almost every discussion of new albums and songs. I am personally invested in the audio production profession, so this topic is close to home for me – but my perspective is just one of many, and I do not profess to hold any objective truths about it. If you’re still with me, let’s jump into a crash course on audio, starting with the role of the producer.


Producers

It is probably one of the widest used terms in any discussions, reviews, or copy of new music. It is also the most vague in terms of the responsibilities and duties one must perform when taking on this role. In short, the producer is an individual whose job is to make sure an album is delivered to the record label on time, on budget, and on par with (or exceeding) the quality of the band’s previous work. This last responsibility is often times subjective. A producer’s duties might include booking studio time, managing the band’s studio time, communicating with the audio engineer, writing music with the band, delivering the various iterations – instrumental version, remixes, etc. – of an album to the label and into your ears. This is, more or less, my working definition of what a producer can and most likely should do for a band.

We have all heard horror stories from musicians, bands, managers, and even producers themselves about the production of certain nightmare albums and the evil producers behind them – but in reality, especially in our insular extreme metal community, good producers are more abundant and can really make a difference, taking an album from pretty good to KILL. Yes, there are those producers who are notorious for doing virtually nothing for a band and literally sleeping on the job (*cough* Rick Rubin *cough cough*). These guys are far and few between, at least in our community. More commonly, a lot of our favorite band’s work with producers who make it their job to combine their technical know-how with their creative experience to draw out the very best a band has to offer and more. Guys like Kurt Ballou, Dave Otero (Cattle Decap, Cephalic Carnage, COBALT), Billy Anderson (Sleep, Agalloch, Pallbearer), Jens Bogren (Amorphis, Ihsahn, The Ocean), Ross Robinson (Slipknot, Red Fang, Sepultura), Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis, Alice In Chains), Joey Sturgis (The Devil Wears Prada, Delugé), and many others put on the producer hat and get involved down to the microscopic level with a band’s material.

How did Kvelertak rise from an unknown band with no recording experience or demos to their name to releasing one of the best debut albums of 2010 (my favorite debut of all time)? It was a deadly combination of great songwriting, work ethic, and an entire month of pre-production and recording with the master, Kurt Ballou (Converge), at his now legendary Godcity Studios. The man has perfected the methods for achieving maximum clarity with maximum rawness, even before hitting the record button. This producer-driven input absolutely defines Kvelertak’s self-titled debut.

“I can’t take anymore do-it-again’s. If I have to do it again, I’m gonna pitch a bitch.” Yeah, well the dudes from Mastodon have Producer Matt “Do It Again” Bayles to thank for their excellent, career-defining albums Leviathan (2003) and Blood Mountain (2006). There is no such thing as fixing it in the mix, only perfect takes are real. Bayles may have been a tyrant in the studio, but all those extra takes and the band’s willingness to work with him made for some killer records at the end of the day.

Ross Robinson would make bands like Cancer Bats and Red Fang track their songs live in the studio while throwing cups and bottles at them and pushing the musicians around to simulate a rowdy audience. In turn, this gave the performances a pissed-off, aggressive edge that can’t be achieved while tracking instruments individually in a clinical, closely edited environment. As ridiculous as this method sounds, I think it definitely accounts for that little extra venom on the Robinson-produced records by those bands.

Producers do a lot to influence how an album turns out, from holding sway over songwriting decisions to making sure that the musicians are giving it a 110% in the studio. They are not so much quality assurance as temporary band members whose goal is to visualize an album as a whole rather than instrument by instrument, as the musicians do.

rivers-of-nihil-guitar-bass-playthroughRivers of Nihil produce their stuff in-house.  Literally in someone’s house.

Sometimes there are caveats to producing. There are bands out there who know their material well enough and can produce it accordingly, trimming the fat where it’s needed and keeping a balanced perspective on what works for them (Rivers of Nihil). But many times, bands are unable to keep that perspective, and the musicians – or individual, as is most often the case – in charge of producing their material can overindulge in the writing and riff/song-vetting process (The Faceless), yielding a confused and inconsistent end-product. A producer can sometimes be that outside creative influence – a consultant of sorts – that helps balance and give perspective to a band that would benefit from it.


Our extreme metal community is host to a number of fantastic, legendary music producers. They are part of the reason why our favorite albums sound the way they do and why that awesome riff comes in at just the right time. They tend to stop studio “experimentation” from going too far and they can really hone in on the best aspects of a band and bring them to the fore. Producers have sometimes been heralded as “the worst” or “evil,” but when you look a little closer at the process behind making some of the great albums that are released each year, you might notice just how much a good producer is worth.

Next time on the Audio Primer, I’ll be discussing the roles of the Audio Engineer, the Mix Engineer, and the Mastering Engineer.

Courtesy: [Photo]

Written by:

Published on: September 8, 2016

Filled Under: Metal, Nerd Shit

Views: 782

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

    No Fenriz discussing the Transilvanian Hunger production?

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    This is a good article. Maybe I can use it as a reference point for my next album and how to produce it.

    • Howard Dean

      “Kenny Rogers Roasters chickens are …moist, not dry. Kenny Rogers… Roasters is better than Boston Market and Popeyes… Kenny Rogers Roasters is a fairly average dinner experience for the average American.”

    • Señor Jefe El Rosa

      I sure hope the next release has something to do with beer reviews

      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        Mr. In Your Liver 3 won’t be out for a while.

        • Señor Jefe El Rosa

          I await with shivering anticipation.

      • Elegant Gazing Globe

        I want a rating of cheese whiz flavors

    • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

      Try recording in a basement next time or a bathroom for a more natural reverb sound.

      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        I might.

      • The Tetrachord of Archytas

        We did a bathroom amp for all the clean guitars on the last project I tracked on. Always a solid idea

      • Howard Dean

        Or mausoleum. Get that sweet necro reverb while buttfucking a corpse!

        • Dumb fun fact, I was in a band named Mausoleum in highschool.

          • Howard Dean

            Not the old school DM band Mausoleum that’s also from Pennsylvania, right? Because if so that would’ve been pretty fucking rad for a high schooler.

          • Haha, I wish. But no. I honestly had no idea who that band was at the time. I probably wasn’t even aware of Metal Archives for that matter.

  • Howard Dean
    • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

      My man! BYAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Señor Jefe El Rosa

    Awesome article Old Man Doom! I really enjoyed it and look forward to the continuation of this series.

  • Elegant Gazing Globe

    my experience in a previous career promoting touring theatrical shows in 500-5000 seat venues in 120 top US markets, is that the producer is the money man, and decision maker, not the boots on the ground doing the real work. But in music recording it must have a bit of a different definition.

    • Señor Jefe El Rosa

      Yeah, it is interesting to compare the role of the “producer” throughout different fields

  • Great write up OMD, I was fortunate enough to work with a great recording team on the last recording I did a long time ago and learned a great deal about the whole process. Ballou, Otero and Bayles are some of my favorites in the biz.

    • Old Man Doom

      Very cool, man. I loooove those dudes.

  • Another thing I took away from recording is that it’s your band under a microscope. Even the slightest error is going to show up in the finished product and as mentioned in this piece, it can’t be fixed in the mix. I always felt that you walk into a studio with rough drafts and walk out of it with songs.

    • Señor Jefe El Rosa

      I’m so glad we have people with actual experience on this site. I enjoy hearing everyone’s real world experience

    • RustyShackleford

      Totally agree. I’ve only recorded a handful of times for just personal projects and only then realized how many mistakes I was making with riffs and solos. I once did what felt like a gazillion takes of something before my buddy helping me opened the door and said “Hey. I just want to let you know that you DON’T SUCK! Do it again though.”

      • I got kicked out of the studio the first time around because we sucked and were told to go home and practice.

    • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

      Warts and all, pretty much.

    • It’s nice to know some one that does recording for a living 😉

      Much less stress.

      • My best friend interned at the place we recorded, he knows his stuff and if we ever get our acts together we’ll do a project.

        • Yeah, it’s way more laid back when you are dealing with someone you know. And, much cheaper. Haha!

          • Yep, the last and best thing I did was for free because the owner owed my buddy some loot.

  • Some of my favorite drum production right here. Raw and heavy.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjuuXfPQFY8

    • Señor Jefe El Rosa

      That does sound good.

      • Kai Hahto once had really amazing taste. Not so much anymore. Cough cough Nightwish.

        • Cough cough easy money in pocket.

          • Señor Jefe El Rosa

            Haha!

          • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

            Saw Hahto do a one-off reunion with Rotten Sound a couple o’ years back. Dude is, if possible, even crazier today.

          • Well that’s rad!

    • This footage is something to behold.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHoY51VCluI

      • Howard Dean

        Some of the most retarded sounding shit ever. Can’t believe someone thought this sounded good.

        • I’m guessing the engineer spent a lot of time either slacking off or tinkering around with different sounds and was nearing a deadline and just said “Fuck it.”

      • Hubert

        This sounds like a brick thrown against wet cardboard.

      • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

        Worst drum production ever.

    • Old Man Doom

      That drum sound is fucking great.

  • RustyShackleford

    Great article OMD!! It seems this is one of those situations where there’s no “right” answer, but definitely a lot of ways to go wrong and fuck up something that could be good. There’s a cool scene from one of the Lamb of God documentaries where the producer (Machine) makes chain smokin, alcoholic Randy Blythe run around the block and get exhausted before he does the final “Walk With Me In Hell” deliveries. I find I don’t have the best ear, but learning the way producers set up the recording atmosphere to get the best performances (like the Ross Robinson stuff you described) is interesting to me. Yep!!

  • shitposts

    • shitposting continues

  • Dubbbz

    Great article. I was listening to Melana Chasmata again the other night and really focused on the production. For the style Triptykon plays, I really think the sound of that album is perfect.

    • The Tetrachord of Archytas

      I really need to dig into that one more. I picked it up in one of my really large hauls so it didn’t get the play time it deserves

      • Dubbbz

        It’s kind of a weird mix of styles for them. Some tracks are very riffy, and others are almost riffless, but the drums have a tasty palpable thwack to them that works so well for what they do.

        • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

          First have of the album has some decent riffs and the rest, devoid of riffs. The dude hasn’t written an amazing riff since To Mega Therion.

          • W.

            There’s one near the end, IIRC that has a riff I really, really like, but it’s in a song that’s far too long.

          • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

            Another sad reality of that band. Cut the fat out!

          • Max

            Now that we all have editing software, I frequently cut songs down that I find too long. I also reverse engineer fade-outs (which I’ve never been a fan of) and sometimes even create segues when I liked the first song but thought it was getting too boring in the second half or whatever. Naturally I also sometimes EQ muddy recordings for extra brightness, etc. (Only seldom, though.)

            All this – in addition to simply not playlisting whichever tracks I consider filler – has enabled me to transform several 6 out of 10 albums into 8 out of 10 albums.

          • Max

            I have a mix CD in my car of the best songs from Monotheist and the best songs from Eparistera Daimones. Because Tom G’s guitar tone is such a big part of that band’s sound (and the production on either record does nothing to compromise this), the whole CD sounds pretty much like a cohesive album.

          • I really want to like Triptykon, but I just can’t. Boring.

    • Old Man Doom

      You are absolutely right. I don’t know who they worked with, but they nailed the cavernous oppression of those songs.

      • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

        Santura and Warrior/Fischer did it with Michael Zench.

      • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

        Just came to me, if you dig Triptykon/The sound, check out Kuolemanlaakso (any album not called The Gothic Tapes), produced by Santura – great sound, and somewhat simimar music.

  • The Tetrachord of Archytas

    This is awesome. What are your thoughts on glorious accidents in recording as opposed to flawless takes? I find often that sometimes a demo take of a section or riff is almost impossible to recreate because of a perfectly timed mistake that sounds awesome

    • Old Man Doom

      Oh, I come across that all the time. There’s a story out there about Kirk Hammett’s glorious accident in the middle of the solo in The Thing that Should Not Be. I guess his fingers slipped off the fretboard and he recovered quickly enough to finish the take. When the producer listened back, they both thought it sounded gross and awesome, so that was the final take that made it to the record.

      I personally would much rather have some human error qualities in my recordings than maximum quantization.

  • Señor Jefe El Rosa

    This is one of my favorite sounding albums of all time. Andy Wallace has been involved with a lot of bands and records.
    https://youtu.be/XxHqst5XFIo

    • Andy Wallace has some quality work under his belt. Can’t recall which of his works I like off the top of my head.

    • Alabama 3 and Ben Folds Five as well. Count me in the Andy Wallace Club™!

    • Old Man Doom

      Without looking it up, I’m pretty sure that Andy Wallace mixed almost all of Slayer’s albums.

      • Señor Jefe El Rosa

        He did a whole lot of mixing and engineering

    • Ayreonaut

      Man rob zombie might be a power douche now but white zombie rocked

      • Señor Jefe El Rosa

        I love that album.

    • Max

      The Andy Wallace sound is, basically, my favourite sound for hard rock records. I was just listening to “Tearing” by Rollins Band last night – it still sounds crisp and punchy as hell all these years later.

      It’s the benchmark I try to live by when I mix my own crap.

      • Señor Jefe El Rosa

        Solid man! His mixing on Arise is another classic. I also like that he was part of classic RUN DMC albums, he has a nice wide variety in his catalogue.

  • Waynecro

    Thanks for the informative article, Old Man Doom. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series. All my musical endeavors are pretty DIY–for example, my latest album is 40 minutes of unrelated single-guitar riffs recorded on a smartphone voice recorder–so I rarely work with actual professionals in a professional setting. The only producer I’ve ever worked with was the band’s guitarist, who named himself producer and started throwing the title around like it meant something. “I get the biggest share of the nachos because I’m the producer.” That guy was a fat asshole.

    • Señor Jefe El Rosa

      Mr. President, your comments are truly wonderful.

      • Waynecro

        Dear Mr. Boss:

        you = the best

        XOXO,
        WN

        • Señor Jefe El Rosa

          Awww shucks!

    • Put it on bandcamp. Make millions.

  • Max

    I’ve “produced” just two records in my audio career – studio-wise, I’ve mainly worked in mastering and voice-over recording.

    Neither of them was a metal record, I might add. And in fact, I wasn’t credited as a “producer” on either of them because technically I wasn’t: I was the recording and mixing engineer (and with some reluctance also the mastering engineer – I’m not generally in favour of mastering a record if you’ve already mixed it yourself, but the clients insisted). Nevertheless, from a engineer’s perspective, when there is no designated “producer” you do tend to fall into that role if the band needs advice or guidance about something.

    Thinking about both projects retrospectively, there’s a lot I wish I’d done differently, and mainly it revolves around the regret that I hadn’t MORE explicitly taken on the role of “producer”. I really wish I’d insisted on the first band recording to a click track, for example. They were actually decent songwriters and players, but the drummer (though he had a good style) wasn’t strictly great with timing.

    As for the second band, they had two vocalists; one male and one female. When introduced to the woman, the first thing she asked me was: “Do you have Auto-tune? ‘Cos I’m not a very good singer.” In the event I didn’t, but it wouldn’t have helped, because we were tracking the whole band live in the same room; which means the instrument bleed into her microphone would also have been auto-tuned and the whole thing would’ve sounded fucked.

    So instead we just had to omit the songs that she sang lead on.

    • A: I’m not a very good singer.

      B: Then why are you singing in this band?

      • Max

        Well, basically that’s what it came down to, at least in the studio. Live, and at a local band level, these things are often less noticeable.

    • Old Man Doom

      Ouch, in regards to the singer.

      I’ll definitely be mentioning the fact that a producer can end up wearing multiple hats (producer, audio engineer, editor, mix engineer, mastering engineer, etc.), especially if budgets are tight, in the next article.

      I was supposed to be the mastering engineer for a local indie band back in November, but they had no idea what “mastering” entailed, so I was also the mix engineer. We get into the control room and I find that their tracks were not edited, and the ones that were sucked ass. So, I had to go back and be an editor. Then, and only then, was I able to mix and master. And they insisted on watching me do it all while providing backseat mix notes. Fucking terrible experience, but experience nonetheless.

      • Max

        Budgetary constraints permitting, I’ve always been of the view that the best way to make a record is to have one person each wearing a different hat: One guy to produce, one to record, one to edit, one to mix, and one to master. What’s even more ideal is if each of those guys has an assistant. It might take longer, cost more and may even result in more acrimony and frustration – but the record is guarenteed to sound better than if one or two guys did it all, in my opinion.