All of us strive to create records like those we’ve grown to love. Behind the scenes of those records are a select few masters who gave us a sonic experience like no other. If you had the opportunity to spend time and learn from those masters, would you not take that chance? Would you not cherish the opportunity to learn how Eddie Kramer recorded Jimi Hendrix’s guitar? Would you not jump at the opportunity to find out how Michael Brauer achieves an incredible 3 dimensional and dynamic mix? There is a reason why these select few mixing engineers are in demand, and now you have the opportunity to learn directly from them with Mix with the Masters.
If you are like me and are a part of the audio community, whether as a professional or enthusiast, I would find it hard to believe that you have not heard of the Mix with the Masters seminar. In case you have not heard of it, the Mix with the Masters program offers the opportunity to attend an exclusive week-long music production seminar which is held at the incredible residential studios La Fabrique in the south of France. There are several recording engineers who I’ve idolized for their exceptional record (pun-intended) on making great sounding albums. One of those engineers is Eddie Kramer. If you have not heard of Eddie, I highly suggest checking out some of the albums he was involved with. Chances are, however, you already have. Eddie has worked with several artists who are now in the Hall of Fame. These include The Beatles, the late David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones. Needless to say, when I heard he was one of the Masters, I jumped at the opportunity to learn from him and applied to attend the Mix with the Masters seminar.
It was not too long after submitting my application for the seminar, which included some basic information regarding my career and aspirations as an audio engineer, that I received a response asking me whether or not I was still interested in attending. I was happy to hear that there was still availability because in order to make the learning experience more personal and effective, the seminars can only support 15 students at a time. As you can imagine, there is a lot of interest in this seminar and spots fill up rather quickly. I was beyond excited to know that in a few weeks I will be learning from Eddie Kramer at the incredibly beautiful recording studio La Fabrique. As you can imagine, however, there was a lot of planning needed considering that this seminar will be taking me across the Atlantic ocean and all the way to Southern France.
Here are a few travel tips for those of you who will be attending or plan to attend the seminar and who are coming from the United States:
- Flying into Paris is much cheaper than flying into Southern France. There are also more flights into Paris which allows for more flexibility regarding arrival and departure dates.
- Take the high speed TGV rail from Paris to Avignon. There are other ways of reaching Avignon, but the train is by far the fastest and most convienient choice. You are able to catch the train right from Charles De Gaulle airport.
- If at all possible, plan to arrive in Paris a day before the seminar starts. The seminar begins early in the morning and traveling to Avignon from Paris by train takes several hours. After spending a few hours flying and taking the train, you will be exhausted. You also risk being late. There are plenty of affordable options for hotels in Paris. Some hostels even offer a room for around 20 Euro a night.
- Bring some extra cash. Although the seminar provides three meals a day, there are nights where you will go into the beautiful town of Saint Remy for some local food or a few beers.
- The summers can get very hot and the winters are cold in Avignon. Pack accordingly depending on what time of year you are attending the seminar.
After a long voyage that included flying from JFK airport, making a quick stop in Paris, and a three hour train ride to Avignon, I finally reached my destination. The studio is located in a beginning of the 19th Century farm within a massive mansion in the town of Saint-Remy. For those of you who are unaware, Studio La Fabrique is a state of the art recording facility. The walls of the recording studio are covered with shelves with an impressive 200,000 vinyl records, 30,000 films, and hundreds of books. The space dedicated to recording is an astounding 6500 hundred square feet, and some rooms have a ceiling hight of 40 feet. The center piece of the control room is a 72 channel version of the Neve 88R. Many consider this console to be one of the best sounding mixing consoles, including myself. Artists have the option of recording in Pro-Tools HD or 2 inch analog tape. For more detailed information regarding the outboard gear and incredible microphone collection visit Studio La Fabrique’s website.
After spending a few minutes getting to know my fellow seminar attendees, we were called into the control room to finally get the seminar started. We sat down quietly at the back of the control room waiting patiently for our master himself to enter. I was not sure what to expect of the audio legend Eddie Kramer, but I looked forward to finally meeting him. A few minutes later, Eddie walked through the door. He introduced himself and welcomed us to Studio La Fabrique and told us he looked forward to teaching us, and perhaps maybe even learning a thing or two from us. The first day was spent learning about Eddie’s career. He setup a video monitor where he shared with us some of his photography collection which includes exclusive and rare photos of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones. He also shared with us some outrageous recording session stories that ignited our enthusiasm and set the pace for what was to come. Little did we know that Eddie had a surprise for us: several multitrack sessions from the original Jimi Hendrix sessions. We watched and listened as Eddie brought up one fader at a time as he built back up famous songs such as Purple Haze and All Along the Watchtower. It was incredible to hear the little nuances that can only be heard when listening to the isolated guitar, bass, drum, and vocal tracks. Eddie than opened the floor for questions which lead to a lengthy discussion about microphone selection for drum recording.
Day two and three were spent recording. The Mix with the Masters seminar arranged a rock band from Spain to come track three songs with Eddie in order for us to observe his recording technique. Eddie was keen to let us know his philosophy on recording:
- He was a firm believer in recording to tape, even if it’s later being dumped into Pro-Tools.
- He almost exclusively works on analog boards. He believes you can achieve the most dynamics from a mix that way.
- He emphasized the importance recording the tone and sound of the instruments on the front end, which includes EQ, compression and FXs. His reasoning behind this is that when you approach the mixing phase all decisions are already made and you can focus on mixing rather than delaying it.
- Eddie’s microphone selection changes often depending on who and what he is recording. It was clear, however, that when he has the option, his go to microphones tend to be Nuemann and Telefunkin microphones.
Day 4-5 were spent mixing. Eddie encouraged all of us to stand around him while he mixed on the Neve so we can watch exactly what he was doing. As explained in his recording philosophy, a lot of the tone of the tracks were already achieved through microphone positioning, EQ, and compression on the front end. Although I’m sure many of you are would be wondering what were his exact settings for compressors, EQ’s and FX, you will not find that here. Nevertheless, here are a few important mixing tips I took from watching him mix.
- He did not use one single plug-in. All FX were from analog outboard gear, including the tape machine for saturation.
- He generally goes for the Universal Audio 1176 compressor for guitar tracks.
- He emphasized the concept of not keeping your faders static. He spent a lot of time fine tuning his automation.
- He tends to use a lot of parallel compression, especially for vocals.
- He spoke often about serving the song musically rather than technically. Throw up the faders and create a quick mix based on instinct and feel.
- Eddie is very experimental and is always pushing the limits. His experimental nature is clearly heard on most of Jimi Hendrix’s albums and he continues to experiment with sound and FX to create something new and fresh even today.
Day six gave us the opportunity to bring in two multi-track sessions we personally recorded and to have it mixed with Eddie himself. Each attendee would load up his Pro-Tools session and bring it up on the board and mix it for a bit with Eddie. We would then explain our reasoning behind microphone selection and present the final mix for constructive criticism from Eddie and the rest of the seminar attendees. I was a bit nervous about showing my mixes to such a legendary figure. Eddie was not afraid to voice his opinion and quickly pointed out that he thought my mixes had too much high-end information and that I should allow more dynamics in my mixes. Overall, however, he mentioned that my mixes sound incredibly professional.
It has been a little over three years since my time at the Mix with the Masters seminar. The lessons that I have learned from watching Eddie have stayed with me since, and I honestly believe they have made me a better recording and mixing engineer. Aside from learning from a legend, I have also met some incredible individuals who I have bonded with over our love and passion for all things audio. Some of those individual I consider close friends, and I when I look for advice regarding my mixes I tend to turn to them. So is it work it? Absolutely. If you are able to attend one of these seminars, I highly advise it. I am hoping to return someday soon to Studio La Fabrique to learn from another master. The lessons learned are invaluable and the overall experience of traveling and staying in southern France are an added bonus.
If you have any questions concerning my experience at Mix with the Masters, please feel free to contact me. For more information on the seminar itself and how to apply, please visit the Mix with the Masters website.