DANCING WITH FEAR
ENGINEERED, MIXED & MASTERED BY GEORGELEVER AT G1
Sometimes through tragedy, life brings new challenges and opportunities.
The passing of previous producer and good friend George Christie, brought me to Miscreant.
The idea of prospering from someones death is a difficult one to contend with. George has left my life and as a result I’ve worked with people I may not have done. I’d rather it wasn’t this way and Christie was still here, but this is where we are at.
Christie was a large contributing factor to Miscreants previous material and I had to pick up where he left off. Writing new material with the band involved keeping previous material in mind whilst putting a spin on new material and further developing the bands sonic identity.
The challenge we were facing, was: I am not George Christie, I can’t be Christie and I’m not going to make Christie sounding records. So, we had to move away from that. Although myself and Christie had similar ways of working in some respects, we also did some things differently, and have a completely different output and sound.
Life is difficult, this record was pretty tricky. Down below is the process and the journey. Coffee anyone?
DRUMS AT MIDDLE FARM
At Middle Farm, we operated through my usual workflow. Setting up the kit and choosing sounds that we liked, re-heading and tuning the drums, re-amping guitars and bass DI’s and then finally tracking vocals and processing those all using the lovely array of outboard available at Middle Farm.
I processed everything and committed to tones so that when I came back to mixing, everything would be roughly sitting in the right space and I wouldn’t have loads of tracks to contend with. This is something I aim to do every session. If I’m happy with how things sound, I’ll commit to it. At least getting it into the ball park sound we want to achieve, then further tweaks and shaping can be made when mixing.
Interestingly, we used the 13 Inch Guru snare – This was a new addition to the Middle Farm, it was the first time I used it and it sounded great!
We encountered no major challenges or problems at our time at middle farm. Solid drummer when tracking, hit hard. Blasted through it all. Everything went well and everyone was happy with the result.
THE LEARNING CURVE
There’s always something to be learnt from each session I do. The time spent with miscreant was no different. Mistakes were made…
This session is the reason why I stopped using a mic shield to stop bleed.
I used the Steven Slate modelling mic and the Beyerdynamic m201 on the snare and annoyingly I put the mic shield too close to both microphones and blocked some of the vents and the mic was no longer directional anymore…so the polar pattern shifted to be closer to omni and although it sounded great there was now too much bleed. I had to work a fair amount with the mix balance in order to get rid of the bleed. That was a mistake. So, going forward, either don’t use a shield ever again or use headphones to check placement in future…
To get around the issue I used my brain (yup it exists) and I was really smart (see) and I used a lot of different sets of upward multiband compression in order to redirect the top end so it wasn’t smudged everywhere. Then after that process I then went through my more typical processing routine. Distressor etc.
This was one of the last sessions where I mastered my work myself.
On the whole I have switched to using external mastering engineers. I started to appreciate that bands could afford external mastering and it brought a bit of TLC to the songs.
When you’re having to self-master, I think about the project differently and in retrospect perhaps do things that I don’t think are beneficial. When you start off mixing you want to self-master because you’re scared of showing people your bare bones. You want it to be your thing completely and be in control. But it’s actually just: ‘I don’t want someone that could be better than me to tell me that I’m bad at what I’m doing so I’m just gunna sort of hide that’…
However, when I started getting the opportunity to work with external mastering engineers. One: I realised that my mixes sounded better as the engineers had different ears to mine and approached the music from a fresh perspective (the fancy gear didn’t hurt either) and Two: that’s their specific job and that’s what they’re good at. I don’t consider myself to be a specific one on one mastering engineer I can “master stuff” that I’ve not mixed. But it’s the equivalent of rebalancing and making the output louder for someone else rather than knowing any of these clever tricks that these guys can do with outboard.
So, when I knew and found out recently that I don’t suck and mastering people are cool and I can trust the ones that I like. It’s a lot easier as it gives the band the control of the delivery method. There’s less back and forth. It means the mix is done when it’s done. I’m less likely to want to fiddle when mastering, if you still have access to the mix session whilst mastering you can want to change levels and it becomes a bit excessive. It’s option paralysis. Knowing that you can doesn’t mean that you should.
During the miscreant sessions, I started to put into practice industry knowledge I had learnt from working with label bands such as loathe, holding absence, sleep token etc.
I know information that isn’t common knowledge and if I work with bands to improve their rough knowledge of how the industry is moving, I stand a better chance of getting them a better result.
There’s a lot of situations where I could make a record that the band want but it’s not necessarily the record the band needs. That conversation and that development aspect of the job is now one that’s happening fairly often but it’s not one that I am intentionally seeking out. Its connecting the dots rather giving them a “10 step plan to being famous”…it’s just connecting the dots…
Since the miscreant sessions this ‘outline plan’ chat is something that I have since put into practice with other bands if they needed it. Giving them some structure and somethings to think about.
WHAT WAS DIFFERENT THIS TIME
The sound design of the first track was all built up from the use of all organic sounds turned around and processed in an original way to be synthetic rather than just using synths. This original sound design is something I try and achieve on each record I am a part of.
I sing on the second song ‘agony’. This song is based on chord phrasing from Muse.
If you are aware of muse and the common things that matt Bellamy does when he’s writing you’ll pick up on this. This added something different to the record that helped define Miscreant’s pallet a bit more.
The guitar tone is a result of by-amping. Running one amp into the next amp and then out of the cab, rather in parallel they run in series. Essentially cutting out the need for a boost pedal. The pre-amp I used was a software version of the Mesa MK5. The reason I chose this is because the way the EQ works on a Mesa MK5 works is, it shapes the DI sound before it hits the first gain stage rather than it being an EQ after the first gain stage.
I used the Mesa to shape the DI before going into my Randall Amp which then went out to the Mesa and then back in to Logic. The amp plugin has its own compression and movement which changes the way the DI moves.
I chose to do by-amping as it was something I had read about a long time ago but I can’t remember where…I always wanted to try it so when we were demoing the record I attempted doing it in software and we liked the result so much that when we re amped for the record, I wanted to bring over those qualities to the in real life amp realm. I think it sounded unique, it’s just a different sound. The approach is different as it doesn’t sound like how normal boost pedals sound, but it does a similar job. I also did this as I like to try something unique for different people I work with rather than doing the usual tube screamer, 5150, mesa cab, sm57 for everyone…
We used Programmed Bass as there was a lot of tuning changes throughout the record, it made sense to do this and spend more time on the drums and vocals at Middle farm to utilize our time as best as we could have. Bass was programmed using the Dingwall NKI Bass by Impact Studios. The DI was processed and Reamped by me.
IN THE END
(it doesn’t even matterrrrrrrrrrerrrrrrr)
George was one of my best friends and during the time I knew him, probably the most important person I knew and got to share my space with. He wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine but no working relationship is. He was my brother and I’ll always miss him.
I hope the record is something that others can come to and helps Miscreant to elevate themselves to new platforms and beyond.
It took for this blog to be written for me to appreciate that I haven’t finished coming to terms with Christie being gone and that it could feel something like this for time to come. Thats okay, its sucky but its okay.
Thanks for reading, thanks for coming back and I hope that there was something in this blog that you didn’t previously know before hand.
Overall I have learnt a lot from these sessions and have practiced new ideas that I discovered whilst working with miscreant in recent sessions .
Since working with the band, through guidance and a good record they are now signed to Stay Sick (US). As a result of the sessions, the band rebranded and created a plan for moving forward. I don’t think they knew they were going to rebrand their sound at the time but the move to do this seems have done them the world of good. Hopefully the label will now push them in the right direction and provide the support needed.
Closing this blog and bringing the words to an end is tricky.
Its made difficult by the fact that this could be one of the final pieces of closure between myself and George. Closure that I’ve not yet been able to achieve completely.
If you made it this far, kudos. You’re a better reader than I am and have far more patience too.
Thanks for being my friend and making me a better producer, even thou you didn’t get to see the results immediately. I’ll forever owe you a debt. I’ll see you when I do.
Words by George Lever
Edited and transcribed by Nathan Smart