“Mixer” Mark Williams has a GRAMMY nomination, platinum engineering credits, and is truly revered by his peers as one of the premier recording and mix engineers. His career has no style limits, ranging from gospel superstar Kirk Franklin to the live recording of the highly successful Bonnaroo Music Festival.
Recently, Auralex Acoustics’ Product Specialist, Jeff Hedback, sought Mark’s perspective, via an e-mail interview, on the effects of control room acoustics, his mix approach, and his unfailing drive to make great music.
JH: ”Briefly, describe how you started recording music.”
MW: ”Up through High School, I was determined to pursue a career as an artist (painter, not performer) like my parents. Discouraged by a lack of good art classes during my one year in college, I began to work in underground radio and also look at booking artists as a line of work. This was in Chicago at the end of the 1960’s and demo recordings were not as commonly used at that time for booking. Playing recordings of my folk artists to club owners seemed like a good way to get bookings, so I assembled a pile of old gear to make live recordings of my acts. Very soon I was being hired by artists that I was not booking to make recordings for them, and I got out of the booking altogether to became a recording guy.”
JH: ”How has your knowledge and awareness of control room acoustics effected your work over the years?”
MW: ”Early on I realized that one of the great challenges for an engineer was to make mixes translate from the control room to the consumer’s listening environment. To this end I originally concentrated on checking mixes by listening to various dinky speakers, car radios, and even using small FM transmitters to send mixes out to a car in the parking lot. Acoustics for control rooms used to be just sort of dead with occasional mysterious bass traps. And graphic EQ was a badly abused Band-Aid in many studios; often causing as many problems as it was hoped to cure. Mastering labs generally had better control room acoustics and as I began to attend more mastering sessions I began to realize that resonant problems in a studio control room were often the biggest set of problems. Having mid band resonance in a control room could make me think my mixes had a richness and color that unfortunately only existed in that particular space, not in the mix. Nowadays, a better understanding of acoustic resonance and the availability of devices to treat it make it possible to hear much more accurately while mixing.”
JH: ”Do you have any reference methods to see if problematic reflections or modal issues are likely to alter your mix decisions?”
MW: ”I carry several CDs of familiar material and I make sounds with my voice and hands to listen for anomalies that may be present, such as flutter echoes and resonances. I also have a MAX-Wall system that I have added into rooms where I felt some immediate improvement was needed.”
JH: ”What begins the mix process for you? In other words, do you start with the entire track and refine, or do you start from one source and build?”
MW: ”To become familiar with a track that I am mixing (if it is not something I’ve recorded myself), I study rough mixes from the tracking sessions and may listen to many of the tracks at once. Following that, I clear the faders and begin balancing what I call the ”rhythm engine”, as in bass, drums, and chords. As this foundation begins to function, I next add the lead vocal and begin to wrap the other instruments and voices around it. Once the mix has been essentially assembled, I try to avoid soloing individual tracks more than absolutely necessarily. This is because what really matters is how those sounds relate to the others and make it through the mix rather than how they sound individually. If you make too many decisions while soloed, your sounds and internal blends will not take masking effects adequately into consideration.”
JH: ”Mark, I’m aware that you have an Auralex treated editing suite. Can you describe how this room functions as a part of your business (so to speak)?”
MW: ”My projects take me to many different studios, mobile trucks, and locations. All of these projects bounce from one format to another and my edit suite is a space that allows me to handle many interim parts of projects, including edits, auto-tuning, transfers, comp’ing, etc. So much of modern production involves fiddling with computers and this gives me a space where I can hear well and take care of these chores without needing to rent another facility.”
JH: ”There have been many changes in the recording and record businesses in the last five years alone, from your perspective, what are the most important aspects to keep in focus regarding making great music?”
MW: ”Projects that were made with a vision by artists with something to say seem to be the projects that I still enjoy years after working on them. Attempts to manufacture hits are often just cheap shots with no real content to sustain them past momentary fashion. Good productions of good music should stand for years and bring a better artistic and financial return.”
JH: Thank you Mark for this embedded ”snapshot” into the battlefield known as the control room. Your support of Auralex Acoustics has been and will continue to be greatly appreciated. Happy mixing!