| By Thomas Brett |
Max Morton is one of the biggest metal producer/engineers in Ukraine. He’s worked with several internationally successful bands such as Jinjer, Shokran & Ignea, and doubles up as the incredibly powerful lead singer for his own band “Morton”.
MORTON – Divine Descent (Live)
In a recent interview I did with Max, I asked him if he would shed a light on his minimalistic approach towards capturing “mix ready” electric guitar tracks, and whether he could give me some insight into how he goes about treating them in a mix:
The guitar tones you achieved on the latest JINJER album are great! How crazy were your processing chains during mixing?
MAX: You don’t have to go crazy if you get a few things right at the source! If you have a tube screamer, your low-end doesn’t sound flabby anymore… If you have a great picking hand, and if you’re only using “just enough” gain, then you no longer have those huge dancing peaks at around 200Hz…
JINJER – I Speak Astronomy (R/P/M/M Max Morton)
In the mix, I don’t go below -2dB when I cut… because if you have to go below that, then there’s something wrong with the amp settings or the microphone placement, or maybe you’re just choosing the wrong speaker in the cab.
When you go in and eq-out every little thing, your tone ends up sounding like nothing. Your brain is designed to concentrate on the things which make up a tone, and all of those little peaks add character to your tone. The best thing you can do is to just concentrate on the worst frequencies and simply leave everything else be.
Were the guitars tracked live through an amp set up in the room?
MAX: I actually always re-amp, because it’s much easier to understand how your guitar behaves when dialing it in alongside the mixed drums, mixed bass, and rest of the arrangement.
With Jinjer, it was a single microphone about 1 inch from where the cap meets the cone.
I like to start with the microphone, because it affects the way I’ll tweak the knobs on the amp. I find that the real sweet-spot for metal is around where the cap meets the cone. If you go straight on-axis then it will always sound sharp, or if you’re mic’ing up the cone then it will sound soft.
Max Demo’s The Framus Cobra Amplifier (Used On The Jinjer Album)
It’s much easier to dial-in or dial-out a huge amount of mid-range by just turning a knob on the amp than it is to try and get the perfect mid-range through microphone placement alone.
How do you feel about digital amp simulation software?
MAX: Some things are changing. I think the margin between what you can achieve with “real stuff” and emulations is eventually going to disappear. Even now, with plugins like Mercuriall Audio’s “Spark” for example… I really love the plugin, I think it’s extremely natural and have used it in several mixes already. It sounds unique as you can move the mics and they blend really well together.
Max’s Excellent “Spark” Review:
When I record bands, I always just capture the DI and use plugins or a Kemper for monitoring. They sound and feel %95 identical to the real amplifier, and it makes it much easier for me to choose, comp and edit takes before reamping later on.
It seems like you’re really focused on getting things right at the source in order to simplify the rest of the process!
MAX: I like simplicity, because it often helps you bring complicated ideas to life.
Unfortunately it isn’t always an option within certain genres of music… Extreme metal, for example, is one of the most specific and difficult genres to record. You have a thinner window of things you can do to make it sound good, and everything beyond this window sounds bad.
Another band which I really like, and did a mix for recently are Shokran. They play oriental metal, and are getting pretty big at the moment.
SHOKRAN – Creatures From The Mud (M/M Max Morton)
They have a very powerful guitarist and bass player, and the tuning was quite low. With the bass guitar for example, you have to make it sound right and cut through the mix properly. That’s where you have to blend a couple of different distorted basses with high-passes before the distortion and make sure that these signals are all properly in phase.
My point is, simple moves often work way better for simple music, but don’t always sound best in genres where there are inhuman performance speeds going on!
Was there a specific “eureka” moment which led to you achieving the kind of tones you’d always been searching for?
MAX: That’s a difficult question…
I think at various stages, I came to the same conclusion: Great performances guarantee great results. If something is played really well, then you can throw an amp sim on it and it will sound good. If it’s played poorly, you’ll die by the hand of surgical EQ, editing and re-amping…
A Perfect Example of The “Great Performances” Max is Talking About:
IGNEA – Halves Rupture
What do you think is the biggest mistake of engineers who are struggling to get good tones in the studio?
MAX: I think the biggest mistake would be to tweak and tweak while listening endlessly for hours and hours until you get so fatigued that you begin to feel like you’ve hit a wall.
I remember getting so frustrated in the past when I wasn’t making any progress, any I would just be trying the same things over and over again with no results to show for it.
Instead of that, the best thing would be to listen in short portions, think, and try to understand before quickly reaching to tweak things. Understanding won’t come immediately, because there are many things which you need to understand. At the very least, try to understand a little more each time you are going through the process.
Any current projects in the pipeline which you can tell us about before concluding this interview?
MAX: I’m currently working on finishing up my band’s (Morton’s) second album. It’s a huge 13-track, 80 minute album recorded on different guitars, different basses, in several different tunings.
MORTON – Through The Never (R/P/M/M Max Morton)
In this case it was quite an experience, as I was doing all of the composing, arranging, guitar/bass playing, vocals, lyrics and production myself. I didn’t want to edit the vocals or riffs at all, because that’s what I always do with clients. With my own project I really wanted to just play and sing everything without any tuning or timing correction… Which meant there was a lot of time spent learning.
I’m extremely thankful to Max for taking the time out of his busy studio schedule to graciously share from his extensive knowledge and experience with me.
To sum up the most important tips I took out of our discussion in a few short sentences:
- Don’t over-do your reductive EQ. Focus only on the stuff that’s truly bothering you, and try to leave anything which isn’t well-alone.
- The ever-so-simple “cap-edge” position is a great starting point while mic’ing metal guitars. There’s a reason it’s been used on tons of awesome albums by guys like Max Morton, Andy Sneap and Colin Richardson. Don’t over-complicate your microphone decisions without a valid reason!
- Capturing guitar DI’s can allow for a far greater level of editing flexibility than working with amped tones.
- Simplify things wherever possible. Don’t automatically opt for the most complicated solutions for the sake of grandeur when there are far more practical options available to you.
- True greatness comes from the performance, not the technical “studio magic” that we’re often too heavily obsessed with…
- Do your research and truly learn your tools before blindly piling on a million plugins. Chances are it’ll probably sound better if you just bypass everything and go back to square one!
This concludes “The Key To Mix-Ready Guitars.” I hope that this article has given you some new ideas to try out during your next project. Be sure to comment below if any of this information has helped you out, or if you have any questions.
Stay tuned for more production/mixing related articles in the not-so-distant future!
Thomas Brett is a producer, mixing engineer and songwriter at Brett Brothers recording studio in the UK. Check out the Brett Brothers studio website for more information and articles on all things mixing www.brettbrothersstudio.com
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