Mixing Outside the Lines

Jul 30, 2008 2:05 PM, By Janice Brown



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Peter Katis in his sound laboratory

Peter Katis in his sound laboratory

It’s a fact that lower budgets mean shorter production cycles and, ultimately, more no-nonsense mixing, but engineers working with experimentally inclined artists find ample opportunity in the mixing process to satisfy all manner of sonic curiosity. The following engineer/producers will let loose creatively when mixing a record if given the latitude, effecting and embellishing the recorded work, creating unique sound environments and blending in elements of their sought-after personal aesthetic.


Indie-rock bands come from far and wide to work with producer/engineer Peter Katis in his Bridgeport, Conn.–based Tarquin Studio. Very often co-producing, recording and mixing records—as he’s done for Interpol, The National, The Grates, Tokyo Police Club and Mates of State—Katis enjoys the latitude bands give him, now more than ever, to indulge his creative instincts in the mixing process.

“Bands tend to come to me because they like the sound of records I’ve done and they want me to do ‘that’ to their record,” says Katis. “For example, I tend to go for a heavy, muscular drum sound, even in gentler music. A lot of times, in the mixing stage, I can make a drum kit I haven’t recorded sound like one I did record.”

Katis will use parallel compression on drum tracks in his hybrid analog and digital mixing environment. “I’ll bring all the drum tracks in Pro Tools up on my analog board and use subtle analog EQ and compression, and then print it all back into the computer,” Katis shares. “But I’ll also print a bunch of extra tracks of parallel compression, nailing a kick, snare or everything, with a compressor, then print it to its own track and blend it in with the uncompressed sounds. I’ll do that on every record, but vary the amount of crazy aggressive drum sound when I’m doing the final balances.”

Katis notes that the most radical changes he’ll enact during the mixing stage lately will be to add musical flourishes for texture, more so than doing any extreme sound processing. “I’ll suggest we add a bunch of additional guitar and keyboard parts in a section, and the band will be surprised at the suggestion, but then we’ll do it and they’ll be into it,” says Katis. “It’s a tricky thing to mix to the point where you feel you’ve done everything you can do with the tracks, sonically, and you know it’s just about adding more, musically. And the musical additions tend to be subtle, but they add something that no amount of processing could.”

Katis recently co-produced, recorded and mixed the new album by Scottish indie-rock band Frightened Rabbit, whose sound—though suitably gritty and rough-around-the-edges—feels lush and filled-out on the record. “A lot of the record is pretty stripped-down, but on some songs there’s actually loads of low-key and ambient stuff going on,” Katis describes. “During mixing on the song ‘Backwards Walk,’ for example, we added lots of cool little musical harmonies—little guitar swells and feedbacks and keyboard lines that ripple in and out.”

Distortion tends to come in big on Katis records. “Usually, the more I can distort things the better,” he says. “I am not as much a fan of compression as I am the distortion that a cool compressor can bring. In addition to the parallel-compression technique, where I blend certain overcompressed tracks, lately I’ll overdrive the entire drum bus and you’d never know that it’s distorted; it just sounds cooler. Drums (not cymbals; this only works if there’s not a lot of cymbal action) love to be overdriven—you’ll get all sorts of tone out of them that otherwise you’re just not hearing.”

Even in the most modest treatments, Katis adds, the drum bus will go through a Neumann EQ and an API 2500 compressor. When working on vocals, Katis looks for opportunities to blend interesting textures in by effecting the double or background vocals. “I just got this new preamp from No Toasters, and it has this setting where you can overdrive it insanely—we used it on The Grates’ album to record a lot of the doubles,” Katis shares. “I’d completely overdrive the double and then tuck it underneath the regular vocal, and it sounded awesome. At the end of a couple songs, you hear it full on, and it doesn’t sound like a human voice; more like a Moog synthesizer.”

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