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Music

I Turn Knobs, Until It Sounds Good—Mixing With Tchad Blake

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In this article I summarised what I know about Tchad Blake, how he mixes and the tools he uses.

Background

Tchad is one of my favourite characters from the pro-audio world. He is a producer, recording engineer, mixing engineer and musician.

He collaborates with the Mix with The Masters educational company where he teaches one-week mixing and recording courses in the south of France. The courses cost around $10,000 for a one-week seminar.

Tchad's won multiple Grammy awards, such as:

  • Sheryl Crow—The Globe Sessions, 1998
  • Suzanne Vega—Beauty & Crime, 2007
  • The Black Keys—Brothers, 2010

Tchad is famous for strange, eccentric sounds, tones, sound design textures and spaces. Much of the time he reaches these sounds through unorthodox tools and methods.

Be it metal pipes, screwdrivers, scissors or a coat hanger, he works with anything. Tchad likes to create binaural records for which he uses a dummy-head with artificial ears.

Mix Console
Early on in his career, Tchad worked on a large analogue mixing console

General Mixing Philosophy

Instead of specialising in any sound or style, Tchad does his thing and mixes any music he feels like when taking on a new project. 

Tchad lets the music dictate the direction when mixing. Emotions are the most important part of his job. With more than 30 years in the profession and counting he still tries to figure out things.

Mixing the Mid-Range

Tchad doesn't use any special techniques. Most of the time he uses volume, panning, EQ and compressor. For stereo field he pans things to left and right, for example guitar to left and vocal to right. But not always hard panned, like in LCR, but rather what the song needs.

Mixing Loudness

Before the computer era, he used only 1-2 dB compression on the master bus.

Nowadays he gets materials, which on people used a lot of Waves L3 limiter. And when they hear his mixes, they are disappointed. Louder sounds better, even for himself as well.

He uses McDSP ML4000, to stay in the loudness competition. Tchad likes how it sounds but his mastering engineer doesn't. He laughs at it because it shrinks the space he needs for the job. He puts on a limiter from the start of the mixing but he deletes it when sending to mastering.

It is a good tip to attach the louder version as well, so everybody can listen to it in both versions so there is no surprise.

Sidechain Compression

He uses it very rarely. For example opening a gate. Essentially Tchad avoids it because he feels it to be complicated.

Visual Tools—VU Metering, Peak Metering

Tchad uses them as general tools. They can be any type of, like VU or peak. When he is in a studio that has great tools, he uses them and checks the visuals. But he never makes a decision based only on them.

Monitor Speakers

At home Tchad uses the Linn 328a. Linn is a British brand making hi-fi products. The pair were $32,000 back in 2005. He recommends them highly even at this luxury price. 

The best in them is that they provide the same frequency response and tone at every sound pressure level. The lows are going so low, which is unusual in this category.

During teaching, he uses the Neumann KH 310, the Barefoot MicroMain 27 and the Yamaha NS10.

DAW Usage

Tchad uses Pro Tools exclusively for mixing, editing and production.

Plugins

Sound Toys Devil Loc: Tchad uses this mainly on drums with sends

SansAmp PSA-1: he uses this on almost everything: drums, basses, vocal, guitar. This is Tchad's absolute favourite plugin. The style of it is a bit of lo-fi. You can use it for saturation and distortion. SansAmp plugin is part of the Pro Tools plugin suite

Tip: if you use Ableton you can try Saturator to get a taste of the possibilities. Its sound is different, but it contains several algorithms and characters to do the job

Tchad also uses these plugin brands:

  • URS
  • Audio Ease
  • Eventide
  • Massey
  • Soundtoys
  • OhmBoyz
  • McDSP
  • iZotope
  • Prosonique
  • SSL

Plugins By Type

  • EQ: URS API for every channel
  • Compressor: SSL channel for kick and snare, Massey MT4-et for everything else
  • Drum bus: C4 multi band compressor és SSL compressor (sometimes 2 SSL)
  • Sends: Echoboy, Altiverb

Master Channel Plugins

  • Slate VTM
  • Crange Song Phoenix
  • EMI Chandler Curve Bender
  • ML4000
  • Ofxord Inflator

Vocal Chain

  • Soundtoys Decapitator
  • Waves LA-3A
  • Waves L1
  • Waves RVox
  • Bomb Factory Fairchild
  • Waves 1176
  • Oxford Compressor

Group Plugins

  • Guitar: SansAmp
  • Snares: SansAmp
  • Bass: SansAmp
  • Overhead: Omnipressor

Many times Tchad uses them only for coloration, like tape simulation, saturation, distortion and compressors. 

With tape emulation he doesn't aim for authentic sound, but more or less just doing colouring. Sometimes he even uses it on the master track as well, trying out different kinds of saturations.

Favorite Guitar Pedal

Most often, he uses Univibe.

Tchad's Favorite Musics

He listens mostly to these artists:

  • Dre
  • Timbaland
  • Eminem
  • 50 cent
  • Missey E
  • Audioslave
  • Queens of the Stoneage
  • Goldfrapp
  • Kings Of Leon

Summary

  • Buy the most expensive monitor speakers you can afford
  • Learn the DAW and its plugins well, use them, and maybe you will find a favourite, like the case with SansAmp for him
  • The workflow and flow experience are first class elements for the whole job. Try to focus your attention for long hours, but with frequent breaks
  • Mixing is ideal for remote work. You don't need to go to a studio or office.
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