How to album | Mixing and mastering with Chris Jones
Chris Jones is based in Würzburg in Germany and has been in the music business for a long time. He is a boss at recording, mixing and mastering and his list of artists now includes rappers from India aspiring to roll the dice and make their debut.
My first contact with Chris was earlier this year when I decided to get into the studio to record my album. Words were getting ready. The backing tracks were taking shape. While I didn’t work according to a structured plan with milestones, I knew that moving forward was the only way.
Sustaining momentum in this instance meant studio recording, mixing and mastering. I got in touch with a couple of studios to understand what they had to offer. Chris’ stood out in the way he engaged with me.
I was open about doing this for the first time. That I was naïve and going to ask a lot of questions.
Chris took this challenge up, explaining what he and his team could do and the process they would follow to help me get the album out. From the beginning of our working relationship, he was able to answer all my questions, to guide me and to help me in instances where I was stuck.
He gave me a step by step overview of what we would do together and gave me some timelines to work with.
He told me that once I got the album recorded in Berlin with Max, he was going to take over and then see the project through to completion. This meant mixing each track and mastering the entire album.
I was new to mixing and mastering. Learning about the process and figuring out what inputs I needed to give was an education in itself. It has since made me deeply listen to different tracks, especially hip-hop songs and helped me tune in and lock in to pay full attention.
Now I am able to identify how and why subtle shifts and arrangements have been made, why some words are emphasized with additional vocals, how delays and reverbs are layered over certain words for added effect and why some songs sound so cool.
Songs sound cool when they have been mixed and mastered well.
If a dish needs to be prepared, each element that goes into it needs to be prepared and put in the right quantity at the right time, subject to the appropriate amount of temperature and treated with care and diligence.
Mixing is a bit like that.
Each instrumental track and all the vocals volumes are adjusted, their placement in the sound field is decided, they are all blended together to seem better than the sum of their parts and then, subtle changes are added to the vocals so that the words pop out and feel good to the listener. It is a great blend of art and science, intuition and process, all of which Chris has many years worth of experience with.
My job in the mixing process was to go through each track and ask for what I specifically wanted. Early on, I realized that in my songs, the doubles volumes (additional vocal tracks that were laid down for chorus / emphasis) would sound better if they were subtle, and so they remained at 20% of the main vocal volume.
I wanted the sound of the drums and bass to feel like they do when you listen to music by Nas, and Chris, like a boss said – “Yeah, old school hip-hop sounds. I know this, no problem.”
I had to identify the bar and the timestamps at which I wanted emphasis, and the emphasis element consisted mostly of delays. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they did not. Chris helped me take calls by saying that he would not advise me to use delays in certain places. We both got to play around to fine tune the sound for each track to the level that you get to hear it now.
Chris and I used Whatsapp and spreadsheets for communicating. Anything related to the music was on spreadsheets – so that the columns contained the timestamp, bar number, lyrics and the changes I was requesting for. I used to type and Chris used to send me voice notes.
Unfailingly, Chris began his voice note each day with “Good morning Hari!”, like he was a radio presenter who had a good start to his day. His enthusiasm was infectious and it helped give me energy as we worked through track by track.
The track that took the longest to get right was “Pale Blue Dot”, especially the ending because I hadn’t thought it through fully when the studio recording had been completed. It was only later that I figured out that I wanted some fanfare with the way the track ended, and Chris and I played with a few options before the current version was locked down on.
Chris Jones, thank you. You were clear in your communication with me, you answered all my questions and helped me and guided me in my first attempt at putting together an album. Your years of expertise in recording, mixing and mastering and dealing with artists has made this album sound so much better than I could have ever hoped for. Without you, this album wouldn’t exist.
If you want to record with Chris at Peak Studios, you can go to www.peak-studios.de or write to me at conversation at thoughtbrownie dot com and I will put you in touch with him.