This is this. This ain’t nothing else. This is this.

Let me tell you something.

So I mixed a song.  For the first time in ten years I darkened a studio door and wrestled a creation into what I think is palatable for the masses.  It’s what mixers do.  We polish and hopefully enhance an earnest, artistic musical effort. I had to do it.  I was scared.  New technology.  Tapeless.  No comforting whir of analog multi-tracks.  No printing the mix to a Studer half inch and editing with a razor blade if necessary.

None of that.  Archaic and obsolete.  Old school.

Hit the space bar and the track starts over.  Click in the box and enter the frequency you want to manipulate via the numeric keypad.  Pull the curve up and down with the cursor.  Write cuts visually.  Dial it up or down with the mouse after you’ve selected the “Q”.  Enter reverb and delay times consistent with note value based on beats per minute.  I didn’t touch a single fader and the only knob I fingered was the gain knob for the system I was monitoring on.

It was all about the mouse on a Mac.  Weird.

For what it’s worth, I produced, recorded and mixed my first record when I was twenty seven years old.  It sold a hundred thousand copies.  I had my first top ten multi-platinum hit before I was thirty.  I started as a janitor for A&M studios at twenty years old and was making records for the label long before the age of twenty nine.

But it’s been awhile.  A long time.

I was a little worried about a lot of things.  What if I couldn’t figure it out?  I’ve never been the most technical guy on the planet.  I worked with plenty of absolute geniuses and understand my place in that hierarchy.  Honestly, my biggest question and fear was whether, despite the entirely new tech, if I could still pull it off.  The extra added pressure, this was for my best friend since childhood.  We played together when I sucked and he was brilliant.  The engineer who’s studio it is and who cut the tracks, I’ve known since pre-school, the drummer I’ve known since his early teens and the guitar player has been my very best friend since we were thirteen.  I’ve only known the bass player for the last year but he’s a whip smart guy with no shortage of humility or musical ability.

They are an excellent band.  They can play.  They play anything they want, with an ease and level of musicianship that is rare.  I tell you this but you must understand that I know the difference.  I’ve worked with the best players.  Often.  I don’t wanna name drop, but I have to so I won’t.  I’ve been there. Over and over.

I co-produced and engineered Everclear’s “Sparkle And Fade”.  Art Alexakis should have let me mix it.  My mix of “Santa Monica” slays the mix that appears on the record.

I’ve been around but it’s been awhile.

These guys can play and they can write an excellent pop song.  I’m trying to tell you that I know.  I know the difference between shit and shiny.  They call themselves the the Atomic Giants and they are the best band that Carson City has ever offered.

Ten years I guess.

It is an awesome and sobering fact to me.  I might just still have a handle on this.

It’s not finished yet, but I trust them.  What follows is a letter I’ve written to them of my advice on how to bring it home.  I’m leaving town in just a few days to get back to my life so I can’t put the finishing touches on what I’ve wrought.  I want you to be interested enough to read my blankmanship in the context of the track that I hope I’ve figured out how to let you listen to.  There should be a link that takes you to it.

Davey V. plays drums and he has the grease.  My best friend Sean plays guitars, we have shared many a comic book, Chocodile, Rondo, Kiss and Van Halen record and he is my personal Jesus.  My new friend Greg plays bass and my new old Friend Mike Sarceno gives it throat.  They don’t suck at all.  Tom is the engineer of merit and receptacle of my thanks and gratitude.  A very sweet, very talented and capable man with really good ears and a nice pate.

Here’s my letter to the band:

Kool and the gang,

This is good shit make no mistake.  We’ve put the muscle and sinew on her but we just haven’t killed the beast,  We stab it with our steely knives but no cigar yet.

You must rub the monster.  Massage it now.

It’s a static mix and it needs finesse.

Some guitars are just a little loud in general like the first petite solo and the chorus guitar part should build to where it’s up to now.  Make sure that chorus guitar part is panned just a little off center to the left (ten degrees-no more).  Too loud in the beginning but nailing it at the end.  DV’s toms need to show up in a cocktail dress in a few places too, don’t be afraid to ride them a little.

Careful with them there guitars because they are driving this bus with Miss Davey.  The lock rocks and Greg’s bass is an excellent anchor.  Key to the bounce.

The axe just needs to come down a red hair (RCH) here and there and allow the chorus guitar part (the one that comes in on the second half) to to build to where it is now and that’s gonna solve a lot of your problems.  You’ll find the mix opens up if you do it right.

Do that first and listen to it.  Trust me, I know.

It’s all about dynamics by subtraction.  Pull things back before you push things up.  You know when when you’re watching fireworks and some mouth breather keeps wondering out loud if it’s the grand finale?  Shut that prick up by removing all doubt.

If the bass fur is bugging you guys, do what you gotta do, just pay attention to the bottom while you do it, Michael Douglass does not mix without sack.  I understand that pulling the fiddles back a little might pull the skirt up on the bass but I got it locking with the kick so be careful because it’s a Playboy vagina you little bastards.

You might want to play with the panning of the solo so it’s just off center (eight tracks for a solo you fucker?).  And try a real short sixteenth note delay on the chorus guitar part panned just off the opposite side of the original.  Be subtle, I encourage you to try these things but leave the solo dry, it’s the reason it spanks your face.

That little mitigation of the guitars might lay the vocal bare.  Tricky.  Remember it’s a pop song and not a power ballad so dry things up a little if you need to.  But be careful you fucking pricks.

I don’t trust you at all, but I got my CD.

Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you these things because it’s pretty aggressive pop mix already.  Woulda had this polished by now with a post coital butt in the ashtray on the bed stand if it were back in the day.  Chase these things down with Tom Thumb, listen to him because he’s good with levels, he rocks and has an excellent pate.  Remember when evaluating balances to listen really low and that it’s all interdependent.

Most of these musings could compromise the power of the pop, discretion is the better part of valor.  I gave unto thee big ass pop because that’s what it is.  It’s a strong vocal, a great melody, wonderful guitars and a shit hot performance.

Think about cleaning up the guitar at the end on the fade after the last note, it’s subjective so decide what you like but visit it.

Okay, work with that chorus guitar part, pull the first solo back an angry inch, think dynamics and building to the bootlace launch and you have golden power pop.

I had a blast and I’d take another whack if you’d let me and there was time of course.

Be proud gentlemen.  It was a pleasure and I loved every minute, I still got it and you guys never lost it.

Thanks boys, I’m still walking a foot off the ground.  As they say in the South, ‘preciate ya now.

Oh, and as your lawyer, I am honor bound to advise you to write more goddamn songs.  You’re on to something.

This is why you haven’t had my political crap for consumption for a little while.  I hope this is as remotely interesting for you as it has been for me, because for me it’s been ridiculously and spectacularly swell.  I’m pretty fucking excited.

It’s gotta good beat and it’s easy to dance to.

Drinks for my friends.

Here’s the link, listen up:

01 Track 01 3


13 Responses to “This is this. This ain’t nothing else. This is this.”

  • Teresa:

    Awesome Michael! I’m so glad you went back, if even for a moment…you have so many talents my friend…I’m happy you were able to bless others with it! Now…to listen! Love you! T.

  • REIYA:

    Who’d of known, I’m chronilogicaly lost in space & time, regarding your life.

  • DavidLee3:

    Awesome Mike, I love the vibe of the band & it has great performances.
    I agree with everything you told the band but while you spoke of subtraction for dynamics, you made me think of something that I, as something of a fellow audio nerd, couldn’t let go without saying. My only aim ever is just to help make songs their best…

    That being said & If I may be so bold, I’d venture to say that the song overall would possibly benefit even more – dynamically speaking – by either removing the doubled gtr during the verses or panning and balancing that 2nd gtr a bit more tucked into the 1st gtr. The guitarist sounds great, I honestly don’t think it needs a double in the verses.

    I just feel like bringing the true stereo guitar stuff would slap people in the face a little better if they started at they “There’s nothing I” part of the chorus – @ :44 into the song. Anything before doesn’t really feel necessary in my humble opinion.

    You said “subtraction” & that’s just my two cents cuz you sparked it out of me. You bastard.

    Bombay on the rocks please with an acai berry chaser please.

  • Michael Douglass:

    Dave,

    You already know I respect your opinion as both an engineer and as a sublime musician. Point well taken. I’ll make sure the band is aware of your suggestion. Thanks man 🙂

    Coming right up my old friend.

  • Michael Douglass:

    BTW, find me on facebook again. Michael Wade Douglass.

  • Sean:

    I kind of like DavidLee3’s suggestion…I just wish we had more time to experiment…up to me and the boys I suppose…one of many tracks to come. Thanks again Mike, you are the best.

    • Michael Douglass:

      Yer a loose lipped cashier. You need to play with it a little if you have the time. I would approach it wearing glass bottomed underwear and a tube top.

  • Hey, Mike!
    I like what I read and I like what I heard! Forgive me if you have covered this before, but it begs the question; Why did you ever stop producing and engineering before? I am sorry if it’s too personal. I realize there’s a lot of BS that comes along with it.

    your friend,
    Rhonda Z.

  • Pamela Veselinovic:

    It’s a good song. Kind of reminds me of Lenny Kravitzy and somewhere in there the guitars were kind of Whitesnake-ish. Nothing wrong with that.

    Mike, you were so serious back when I knew you, and I understand now that you have focused your seriousness elsewhere for a while. Don’t give up on the things you love and have mastered. Get back to it.

    I didn’t stick around the music business long because I made more money doing something else, and then my brother, a guitar player, was killed in a car accident while on the road with his band. It was the famous – band on stage and was booed off waiting for the guitar player who never showed thing. They thought he was uncharacteristically late for the show, but he was dead. I lost my stomach for live music. I couldn’t listen to blues guitar or much else for quite a while. It ended for me definitely.

    Not you. You were made for it.

  • Michael Douglass:

    I left those guitars dry so they wouldn’t sound too metal. It’s power pop.

    It’s so funny to me, I don’t remember being all that serious, yet somebody just pointed out how serious I am now. I think I’m pretty easy going; maybe a little passionate. If I could literally afford to get back into music, I would but I don’t see it as possible right now.

    Your story is heartbreaking. I’m sorry. Thank you for the kind words 🙂

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