Turn on the radio; you know, the one that's playing the hit songs of today. It won't be long before you hear something mixed by Manny Marroquin. With his touch gracing truckloads of top ten and number one songs, plus over 250 million albums sold worldwide, we've all heard his work. Artists like Bruno Mars, Whitney Houston, 2Pac, fun., Pink, John Mayer, Shakira, Maroon 5, Rihanna, Ludacris, the Rolling Stones, Duffy, Mary Mary, Kanye West, Imagine Dragons, Lana Del Rey, Alicia Keys, and John Legend have all benefited from his skills. I met up with Manny at Mix With The Masters, a weeklong seminar hosted by various recording luminaries in the French countryside of Provence. I was able to watch him lead the workshop for most of the day and picked up some cool techniques before our "live" interview. It was great to catch Manny in an "educational" mood, and the resulting chat was a blast.
How are you doing, Manny?
It's always great to be here. I get here, meet these guys, and remember this is why I do it. It's fun. When I was growing up we didn't have this. Guys were very closed up. There was no sharing of information. They called it "secrets." It seems like today there are no secrets. I figure that as a mixer it's a level playing field. We all have the same plug-ins. It's not really about the equipment that we're using; it's about your taste, your gut, your heart and soul. I think that people are becoming more comfortable talking about it. Programs like this, and magazines like yours; those are how we keep it going. This is our little subculture that we want to hold on to, and hopefully help someone achieve what their full potential is.
I look at GarageBand, and I think if I were a teenager today that I'd feel so lucky. When I was young I wanted more than my 2-track cassette recorder.
When I was in high school I saved every penny just to get a 4-track. You can get anything now and be producing music at any age. I'm extremely lucky that I came at the time I did, going from tape with big budgets. We used to spend a week getting drum tones!
Yeah, like ten or twenty different snares with different combinations of mics and rooms. Then making that transition from tape to Pro Tools. That transition unfortunately killed a lot of careers. We're creatures of habit; we didn't want to change. I'm so happy that I have knowledge of that to take to this new generation. Just from learning as an assistant to mic a kit, it gave me so much confidence and knowledge of how to EQ things and how to listen.
Earlier today you discussed how to layer samples for a kick drum. If we were dealing with a live drummer, we'd be finding a way to get that sound from the kit. But here you are trying to make that sound by sculpting these layers.
Exactly. Nowadays when people send me sessions to mix and they have a bunch of horns, they're usually all zeroed out in the session. I'm like, "Why did you do that?" Back in the day we'd track the horns, and the producer would be in the room saying, "A little more trumpet." That's part of production. You bounce it to two tracks. Nowadays they're like, "No, we want to see what you can do with them." I'm like, "What do you mean? You did the work already that you like. Why would I have to redo everything you've already done?" It's probably going to sound the same. I feel like we're still in the Wild West of how to send proper sessions to people to mix.
They come in all kinds of different shapes.
My poor assistants spend so long just organizing. Sometimes people will send stuff that's not even the right song. Hopefully someday those will be the good old days.
Currently you work out of Larrabee Sound Studios [in Los Angeles]?
Yep. It's a great place. It's one of the best studios in the world. When I was beginning, I always wanted to have a room at Larrabee, because all the guys I looked up to had a room there at some point. I've been there for about 15 years now, and it's worked really well. They've got different rooms where they have a G, Duality, and a K [SSL consoles]. If I want to do some grimy stuff with the G, or some poppy, cleaner stuff, I'll go to the Duality.
You can book rooms as needed?
Exactly. It's really cool and unique. I just haven't been able to do the whole in-the-box [mix] thing. I don't know if I ever will. I'm still old school, using the desk just like when I started. I grew up watching guys "perform" mixes. That's what we've been talking about this whole week. Perform a mix, as opposed to visual mixing. I think there's something to be said for both. I've had way better results if I perform it, then fix, and then perform. I keep talking about left brain/right brain and the psychology of what we do, how to get the emotion, and all that stuff. I think sometimes nowadays we forget that. We tend to forget that, at the end of the day, music is about an emotion. That's all. We're selling an emotion. We know that, but we don't really think about it. So sell that emotion!
While doing one of the mixes earlier, you were saying to find something for the listener to keep them hooked.
Yeah, keep them engaged. It's like the push-pull. Walk somebody through the song. Sometimes you let them go, and other times you reel them back in. "I love you. No, I don't love you anymore. I do love you."
Tension and release is a big part of music.
Yeah, it's emotional, utilizing those things. You need to be aware how people react to music. Some productions are better than others. When you hit a wall it could be production, it could be a bad day — whatever it is, how do you get out of that? How do you hopefully get a song sounding the way it was intended? It was in someone's head at some point, right? How do you get that and build it to its fullest potential? I think sometimes we lose track of that.
Do you feel it's almost like archaeology, when you first hear a track that you've been sent to mix?
Absolutely. That's great; I'm going to use that. [laughs]
What's one of the first things you do when you get a new track to mix?
My assistants get it ready for me to mix on the desk.
What does that entail?
We always ask for a rough [mix] that they like. You'd be surprised. They have the wonderful job of going through the rough mixes, going through each section, making sure that all the tracks are there, that they all match what the rough is, and [that it's] the right arrangement. Eight out of ten times, it won't be the same arrangement. You'd be so shocked. We get files that are not ready to be mixed.
Is that because elements are missing?
Missing, or it went to this programmer and this producer; and then they did vocals at this studio, and that studio, or they had disk allocation issues or whatever. And then they send it to us because we have to mix it right away. Sometimes it can take a couple of hours, and other times it can take a few days just to put together. It kind of sucks, because that's time that my guys have to spend.
Do some songs or albums have a project manager to follow along and keep it on track?
Oh man, every project should have that. That's a great idea. I'll sign up for that job, just to get it done right. [Sometimes] they'll have ten roughs. The artist will like one rough, but the label will like another rough. Or they like the demo. Deciphering that is another set of emails.
Are you also using that to gauge what they might be expecting from the mix?
Yeah, maybe. It depends how many roughs they're listening to. The really cool part is when you have one rough that everyone agrees on. Instead I'll have, "Hey, listen to this demo from 2012. Listen to the vibe of that demo. Then listen to this rough from three months ago. We like the way the instrumentation and arrangement is. Then listen to this rough from last week. This is the latest one." You listen to all three roughs, and they're like completely different songs. Where do you go from the demo that only has Rhodes and vocals, and then you have a fully-produced version of that? You know you'll never get back to that. Deciphering this is another part of the process. Once we've done all that, maybe I'll have two roughs. Then we try to combine the two somehow. We get it on the desk, and I come in and start mixing from the desk. At that point, it becomes a creative process for me. At first I just get lost in it. I haven't heard the song the way the artist, producer, and everyone else has been hearing it. I want to capture that raw emotion. Deciphering all that is where the art comes in, where it involves your taste.
Have you ever had sessions where you were asked to mix something, but felt like you were the wrong person for the job?
No, I don't think so. Only because the cocky little 22-year-old in me comes out and says, "No, I can mix it all. Challenge me." I don't care if it's any genre. I'll give it the best that I can. I love challenges, and I think that's really what drives me. There have been records where I'm intimidated by them, but it almost puts me in a weird state of mind where I'm more focused. The more you get comfortable with what we do, that's the moment that you're done. There's a whole line of guys who are ready to take your spot. Being comfortable is not good, but then we need to be comfortable at the same time, because we're creatures of habit. It's like doing yoga. You're holding this really hard pose, but your mind has to be so clear. Your breathing becomes really slow, yet you're holding this tough pose. That contrast is kind of like mixing sometimes. You've got to have your adrenaline going, but yet you've got to be very conscious of what you're doing at all times. You've got to be in control at all times, or else you can go into that deep hole.
Do you have much attended mixing anymore? It's shifted so much over the years.
It's shifted a lot. I would say 50 percent, which is still a high number.
Higher than I expected.
I talked to one guy, and he was like, "Oh, I haven't seen anybody in five months." Maybe it's because I'm so charming that people just want to come and hang out with me! [laughs]
That's it! Do you have a well-stocked fridge?
Yeah, there's a bar and a grill outside, as well as a big parking lot. It's great when they [the client] show up, because we get done quicker. I can see their body language, which tells a lot about how they're listening and what they're thinking.
There will be someone sitting on the couch, and you might have your back to them, but you can feel if they're not liking something.
I'm like, "Okay, that's a flag. Note." It's easier, and it's fun. That's the way I grew up making records, with people in the room. I miss some of that but, at the same time, I don't miss some of the clients who come in and shouldn't really be making mix calls. Honestly, they don't know what they're listening for. I'm still mixing, I'm thinking it's sounding really cool on the [Yamaha] NS-10s, and some clients will be like, "Man, it needs to sound bigger. It just doesn't have any low-end." I forget that I'm on the NS-10s. Then I'm like, "Hold on. Let me play it upstairs." Somewhere with some type of sub [woofer]. It's a completely different experience. They're like, "That sounds so big! The low-end feels so good!" Exactly. What if I said, "Oh, wait. It's not big enough. Maybe I need more low- end?" More of this, more of that. I get insecure, start doing it, and the next thing you know, the mix is gone.
That's part of the game.
It's about training your clients. How are they going to react? Some of these folks shouldn't be coming to the mix to make changes. I'll print a version before they come in, they'll make changes, and they end up undoing 80 percent of the stuff. Then they'll stop showing up at that point. They're like, "No, go ahead. Just send it to me." There are positives and negatives.
You don't want an artist to feel left out, or a producer to get shunted aside.
You're right. Especially producers. "What do you mean I can't come to my mix?" It's not that they can't come to the mix. "Why don't I send it to you first? You can listen to it in your studio, send me notes, and then you can come. Then you hear it in my room, but you know what it sounds like in your room." Stuff like that. Figuring out ways that save time and save on those... not recalls, but those stem updates.
Do you ever discuss what they're listening on at home? That can be an issue.
Yeah, that helps. But, at the end of the day, I trust my room and my ears. Regardless of where they're listening to it, they'll say, "It needs more bass." I'm like, "Are you sure?"
Right? I can't hear the [Roland TR-]808s! "Where are you listening?" "My earbuds." We're adapting. If I distort the 808 and bring it back in, I can actually hear the tone now on the earbuds, and I can get them to sound big on the big monitors. Adapting is key.
Isn't that also a dangerous curve? You can kind of dumb it down so far that you end up with a really shrill mix, or one that's not inviting.
Yeah, I think it's that balance. I'm getting to know the frequency for the earbuds that's not going to destroy the mix, but instead is going to add a little bit. It's weird how we're thinking about stuff like this. In the early days, we didn't think about any of that. We had a whole other set of problems though, like the biasing on the [Studer A]820...
"Which Dolby was that recorded with?"
Or track, "24's SMPTE is leaking way too much." Makes for great stories!
You mixed two Rolling Stones tracks a while back [for the GRRR! collection].
Was that the kind of occasion, like you mentioned earlier, where there's a bit of pressure?
I try not to put pressure on myself. I was super excited because it was their 50th anniversary, as well as the first original tracks in about eight years. Don Was produced it — I love him. It was incredible. It was just so flattering to get that call. I'm a fan of their music, so for me it was a dream come true. I had worked with them on the recording end when I was working with Babyface back in the day [Bridges to Babylon]. But to be able to mix it and see their names on the desk, it was pretty amazing. I was just excited. Talk about adrenaline! My thing was like, "How would I like to hear the Stones as a fan in 2013?" I kind of went for that. I thought it was pretty cool. It still had the integrity of what they are. Then we did a remix with Jeff Bhasker, which has a more contemporary sound. But still, the Don Was sound and his produced songs, they had that energy.
Was it amazing to solo the drums and listen to that feel?
Oh man, yeah. There are a few moments in your career when you can honestly pinch yourself and think, "Whoa, how did I end up here? They're going to walk in and kick me out. Done! Time's up, kid!"
How many tracks was a session like that?
You know, it was pretty straightforward. It was just drums, bass, and a couple guitars. It was pretty basic. Sometimes songs that have less tracks are harder to mix. There's a lot more room to hear mistakes, as well as [room] to fill. It was just exciting to be on that. I treated it really aggressively. I tried to go for it. Luckily they liked it. That was amazing.
Do you know if the tracks were sent to other mixers at the same time?
I'm not sure. I don't know. Nowadays it's like, "Let's get three guys to mix it and see who wins."
I noticed earlier that you were mixing songs part by part. Is that something you always do? Starting with the loudest chorus?
Yes, exactly. I'm trying to mix really hot, so I get the loudest section of the song and work backwards. I feel like once you've got that, it's easier to bring it down as opposed to the other way around. I'd start with a verse and get it really slamming and hot, but then I'd have no more headroom. I'll listen to the rough, and find the loudest section. If it's a ballad, or an R&B kind of track that's more linear, it doesn't matter. If it's a very dynamic track, I'll go straight for that loud section. Your kick and guitar tones sound completely different than they would in the verse. That's when I start popping EQs and giving things a different treatment.
To facilitate something like that, do you have your assistants break the song into sections?
No. I do it on the fly, as needed. I keep preaching about "as needed." If it doesn't need it, then I leave it there. If it doesn't give me the same vibe on the verses as it did in the chorus, then what's the problem? Isolate the problem. That's when I either pop an EQ in or out, mult it, or chop it up and do it myself. It's so easy and quick to do anyway. My assistants are trying to set up other sessions.
It sounds like a busy place.
It's cool. It's busy, but it's a good time. It's a time that I'll look back on. I'm trying to enjoy every moment, because it could disappear like that, I'm sure.
Looking through your discography, it seems like a hell of a lot of output.
I'm trying to work smarter, faster, and stronger. The older you get, the more secure you get as a mixer, and the more you've done. You just get better at it. The thing I've learned more in the last ten years is how to get out of jams. That was my biggest problem. It would really mess with my psyche. I wouldn't get depressed, but it would really affect me. I'd go into the bathroom and splash water on my face... like, "You suck, man. You suck." I would take it really hard. I can't be feeling like this. I had to figure out a way so that if I hit a brick wall, how do I get over that wall without having to run into the wall and break my face? I feel like now I've got a really good system. The output is great. I'm not cutting any corners. I'm just working smarter. The level too has been a very high level, and that comes with a lot of responsibility. You have a lot of people relying on you, and a bigger bullseye on your back. There are a lot of people who want to see you fail, and a lot of people who want to see you succeed. It's a business. For me, thankfully, I just want to mix. I just want to push faders and EQ.
When was the moment you really felt like your career was transitioning into mixing?
I've always wanted to be a mixer. I went to a music high school, Hamilton Music Academy. We did music, as well as a little bit of English, math, and history. When we were auditioning to get into school, I was there with my drumsticks ready to see if I'd get in. The guy before me was killing it. I'd never heard anything like that before. I thought it was a teacher, not a student. It was Abe Laboriel, Jr. I thought, "Shit! What else can I do with my life?" They had a little Ramsa studio board, a Tascam 8-track reel-to-reel, and I just fell in love with that. I signed up for Electronic Music, which was basically to learn how to be a producer. It wasn't popular; we had eight kids in the class. What we had to do all week was program and write a song (not lyrics, but music). We had a [Yamaha] DX7, [Yamaha] TX81Z, an Oberheim [synth], and an Alesis drum machine. We programmed stuff, and then Friday our test was to show what we'd been working on. The teacher, David Sears, came up to me and said, "Oh, that sounds good. Now you gotta mix it." I'm like, "What? What do you mean?" He said, "Run this, track this, put that through here, and blend everything. You can do this." From that moment on, it became an obsession. Something that I had programmed I could completely change with frequencies. Not by programming, or with musicians. No, just frequencies alone. It really fucked me up. I had no idea. I was 15 years old, and I was obsessed with mixing. I would go to Guitar Center — they had 8-track machines, so I'd sit at Guitar Center mixing whatever little demos were there. I just became obsessed with it. That's how I landed a job at Enterprise Studios. They were doing a lot of the hair bands at the time. It was fun to learn on that stuff. That was the best school, I gotta say. To me, tracking these bands where we'd spend a whole week with all the different snares, all the different kicks, and all the different cymbals.
What kinds of bands were you working with there?
It was Winger, Queensrÿche, Arcade — guys from Ratt and Cinderella. It was the tail end of the hair bands. [Producer] Beau Hill used to work at Enterprise a lot. It was just great learning from guys like [James] "Jimbo" Barton, who'd be telling me, "Okay, go track that guitar with the guys from Queensrÿche." I was 19 at the time. It was a great background for someone like me. I grew up listening to hip-hop, but also playing and being a music head. I think that kind of laid the foundation for me. Once the hair bands were done, it became a hip-hop studio. That's really where I learned the chops of hip-hop, having a guy tell me to blend his kicks. It was something I didn't really understand, but these young producers were great teachers. "Listen to how it feels." It was all about the feel.
You were learning from your clients at that point.
Absolutely. You just can't buy that type of experience; where the clock is on, the pressure is on, and they need something. It was high pressure. They weren't nice about it. If you don't deliver, you get fired. Simple as that. It made me really hustle. Having chats with cool producers: "There's a conversation between the kick and snare. Let me play A Tribe Called Quest." They'd say, "Learn how to speak that language." From that moment on, anything I ever heard I was listening to that conversation — in hip-hop and R&B. Not only did I learn how to properly mic a drum kit, but I learned how to mix programmed drums and beats. It was the best school for me to do that. And having the knowledge of being a drummer.
Right. How drums feel.
How I used to tune my snare based on the kick, and vice versa. Or how I wanted my hi-hat. Looking back, it was kind of like a perfect storm for me to be able to learn all that. That's really how I got into mixing. I kept bugging the studio manager to let me in to shadow a session. It was the classic story. One night, the assistant was sick of this one producer. He was tired of being in the studio until 6 in the morning. He left at 10 p.m., and [the producer] asked me to do a rough mix. I did a rough mix, and then woke him up around 4 or 5. "Hey, check it out. I got it." He listens to it and calls his partner in New York. He said, "I found this kid. He's going to mix the whole album." The album never came out.
That's how you learn.
Then I did a lot of Taiwanese and Japanese records. They'd ask me to come over and mix them at Enterprise. It was cheap mixing. I could really fuck up the mixes — none of my friends or peers who were trying to hire me would know I had screwed up a mix. That prepared me for the real sessions, the ones that started shaping my career.
Were there producers, or mix engineers who you looked up to?
Bob Power. Bob Clearmountain. I was a big fan of the guys who were innovators at the time. The crazy thing is that they're the nicest people in the world. I noticed that all the guys I looked up to were just really incredible people, as human beings. You hear all the other stories. You can do this and still be a good person. It prepared me to be conscious of how I treat people.
Bob Power got his break because other engineers didn't want to be doing hip-hop. If you hang out with Bob, you realize he's very curious and excited about music.
Absolutely. He's a music fan. You've got to be a music fan first. I'm a music fanatic. That's it. I always say music saved my life — in a really corny way — but it did. You mentioned Bob saying he got into this because no one wanted to work on hip-hop. That was very similar to what Enterprise was going through. All of a sudden hip- hop sessions started coming in, and none of these guys wanted to do them.
It just seemed foreign to them?
"Oh, there's not real mic'ing. There are no musicians in the room. There are programmers." Exactly. For me, it was an opportunity to work on stuff that I enjoyed. It was good.
Were you buying records like that?
Yeah, absolutely. I probably couldn't afford them, but I would go into the record store. I'm more excited about music today than ever. I ask all the artists I work with who they're listening to. I'll write it down; I have a list.
I've always done that.
That's great. So you're a music fan. You're constantly listening as a fan, but you're picking up things here and there. I don't want to lose that passion. I recently read an article someone sent me from the Huffington Post that said at age 33 people stop discovering new music. I definitely don't want that! You've gotta be passionate about it. How can you be in a business that's not based on a passion? You've got to be a music fan, right?
I think you've got to always know about more music than your clients do.
I had this pretty difficult artist. She was making some really weird comments on the mixes. Finally I asked her, "What are you listening to nowadays?" She goes, "Oh, I don't listen to music." I said, "What do you mean? You must." She's like, "No, I stopped listening to music five years ago. I think everything's crap today."
And she's trying to make a pop-oriented record?
Yep. It's funny, because I felt kind of sad for her. "This is your career and you're not embracing it? I'm counting the days. Your days are coming." They're going to be gone really, really soon. It's sad, because she's a very talented, sweet artist. I think she just lost the passion for music.
One of the things I saw you do today was filtering sounds. Are you drawing in manipulated filtering through a song, in some cases?
I tend to do that a lot for dynamics. We've talked about the loudness; the level wars. I feel like the only way to have dynamics on a track like that is by filtering sounds.
Pulling frequencies in and out, or featuring frequencies?
Exactly. It's simple as that, but it's so effective if you do it the right way and find what instruments to do it with. It's so effective. It's a style of mixing that I keep working on and developing. I always say that "it's in your back pocket" if you need it.
If you roll the high-end off a source, it can stay away from the brightness of a snare hit and then bring the high frequencies back in.
Exactly. You either accentuate it, or take it away. When you want emotion or dynamics, you bring it out. That's how I approach it. That's usually a very effective way.
It mimics a horn crescendo, things that are built into a music arrangement. Pushing the note harder at the end.
Arrangement is so important as well. Transitions. Maybe there's a synth that needs to grow, but it just goes like this. [draws flat line in air] We like to feel those things. That's why EDM is so great too, because the dynamics are so exaggerated. You'll notice they do that a lot with filters, and then it opens up with the climax. I remember listening and thinking, "Hey, why don't I do that in some of my mixes?" That's really how it started, playing around with some filters. Very subtle though, to the point where you can't really tell. You can feel something happen.
It's also important to understand how a sound enters the mix, sort of the ADSR [Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release] of every sound — organic, non-organic samples; everything. How they come into the mix, and how they leave, is a huge part of our work.
Yep, it's amazing. How can we help the arrangement? If you have a track that's been incredibly produced, you may have to do less of that. Then you have tracks that need a little help here and there. That's the "producer hat." Let's help these transitions. Usually that gives you a sense of emotion and forms an emotional attachment. People wonder, "Why do I like this song so much?" There are very subtle things that we've done to create a connection to that song. My buddy, Michael Brauer, always says, "I'm going to grab your hand and walk you through three and a half minutes." That's really what it is. You let them [the listener] go, and catch them again. It's about that interaction. You're just helping it.
Does it feel like a fine line these days between mixer and producer?
I think there's a very fine line. The lines are blurry now. The producer is an engineer as well. The engineer is a producer, the mixer is a producer, the producer is a mixer, and the mixer is a mastering engineer.
The artist might be tracking their own vocals.
The artist is all of the above. I remember growing up as a tape op. Nowadays you do it all. There's a level of excitement, because there are no rules. I try to focus on what is cool about it, because we have no choice.
You get to have your own way of working and create something that's your own. That's why work comes to you I would imagine.
I hope that that's it. I think my clients, at the end of the day, realize that I put a little piece of my heart in things. As corny as it sounds, I kind of do. I really put a piece of what I feel into it with what they've given me. Sometimes we get stuff at the 20-yard line, and all we need is an extra 20 yards. Sometimes it's at the goal line. Other times it's in the parking lot. Recognizing that, I think, is the art form too; recognizing when it's at the 20-yard line and what that means. Earlier I played a song that I mixed almost 20 years ago. I remember I spent six hours creating a whole breakdown section, with drops, reverse things, and explosions, because it would have been boring without any of that. I think that's why they liked my mix. Someone else had mixed it before me. It was a different type of mixing back then. Nowadays there's less of that, because the producer has the tools. We don't have to work on those delays, production stutter effects, or whatever anymore. Now it's a whole different art form. It's still tricky, because now it's almost not what you do to it, but what you don't do to it, in a tasteful way.
Do you find yourself undoing other people's mixes?
Not necessarily undoing it, but masking it in a way so that it's not a focal point. You want to help the song.
It starts to become a little political.
A lot of this business is based on egos. If you mute something, that's personal. Right? Instead of mute, I'd rather filter, or bring it way down. Then at least I can honestly say, "No, I didn't mute anything. It's still in there. It's just low."
Do you find that it sometimes opens up a creative door? It creates a texture you might never have thought of?
Yeah, sometimes. Then you run with that and keep building on it. There are so many things that go into the psychology of what we do. This is the fun part. We have to deal with it.
If you turn in a mix no one's happy about, guess what happens?
Exactly. I always talk about ego as well. Look, you've got to be confident but not cocky. You notice an insecure mixer. That's really easy to spot.
An insecure mixer will do a 0.2 dB boost and ask if everybody's happy.
I'll take the risk of someone not liking my mix for being an over-exaggerator than being too mellow or safe. I don't like safe music. I'll be happy, even if they don't like my mix.
You talked about dirtying up sounds earlier today. What makes you look at a track and decide it needs dirtiness?
It just needs some grease, man. Grease it up. Coming from an analog world, I always felt like Pro Tools cleaned things up. Maybe that's just in my mind. If I hear something that's clean, I want to kind of fuck it up a little bit. In every mix I try to look for whatever's good and whatever's evil. If there's too much good, we need some evil.
Like a harmony on the chorus against something fuzzy and nasty?
Exactly. You have angelic sounding vocals and you've got a pad. Put some distortion on the pad. You don't have to completely distort the pad, but give me a little grease on it so that subconsciously you're thinking, "Heaven and hell." That's just the way I approach it. It's character. It's taste. Listen to as much music as you can. That will build taste.
Figure out what you don't like.
It's as important as what you do like. The other thing is passion, right? How do you teach passion? Schools obviously don't teach it. It's up to the individual to grab onto it. You can be passionate about anything, and you will be happy.
You have a line of plug-ins out through Waves [Manny Marroquin Signature Series].
Waves has a signature plug-in series. There's a guy that believed in me there, and they asked me to do it. It was just an opportunity for me to selfishly create a line of plug-ins that I can use for myself. I use them on everything I do. It's had a great reaction. The EQ is modeling five different EQs, on 12 different bands. When you go to 12 kHz, it is this one piece in my room. When you go to 150 Hz, it's another piece. It's like a hybrid, super EQ. My delay has five different things you can do on it. Before, I'd have to spend so much time getting an effect that I just wouldn't do it. You get lazy.
That's an honest thing that people don't talk about.
We all do that. I get a little lazy, like, "I have something that could sound so cool on this guitar. But never mind." I thought, "What are the five or six things that I really need that would be cool to have?" The Triple D has DeBoxy and DeHarsher. I want to be able to get rid of the harshness. Let me just get the curve that I tend to take out all the time. That's based on how I hear. Waves was cool enough to do this together. It's been a great relationship.
Do you ever get afraid that you might be developing too much of a mixing style and stamping things in a certain way?
I don't think so. Earlier we played a dozen songs. They're very different. Even now I played some of an album [Wildheart] by Miguel that I'm really excited about. Those songs are very different. It took some shaping, because Miguel is Miguel. How do you combine what he really wants with, "Hey man, this is your third album. Let's push it this way." It took a little push and pull, but it's an exciting album. You listen to that, then a couple of other songs I did, and it's completely different. I don't want a sound. People say they love the way I mix, but I don't think about that. I honestly just think of the producer who brings me the song, how they want it to sound, and I help them get there. What I said earlier too is that the best thing that can happen to a mixer is when the artist comes in and gets emotional. I can't think of a better compliment than an artist who's been living with a song, probably wrote the song, and has heard it a million times... For them to get emotional is amazing. Luckily I've seen that a few times in my career. All I need is one of those every few years.
You must be doing something right!
I hope. I'm telling you, one day somebody's going to walk in and say, "All right buddy, time to go." When I was nine, [my family] came to America. It was the height of a civil war in a third world country [Guatemala], and my Mom said, "Hey, we're going on vacation."
That's what you were told?
Yeah. My mom said we were going on vacation to California. My approach and attitude to all this is that I'm still on vacation. Even the worst day of my career is the best day of my life. Of course I'm being a little over the top with it, but that's my approach. It's that simple. It could be a lot worse. I'm enjoying every moment, and every song I mix. It's incredible.