Music: Ludacris in Surround

May 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson

THEATER OF THE MIND BRINGS RAP TO THE FORMAT

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David Rideau on working on this remix:

David Rideau on working on this remix: "There's a general plan you follow, but also a lot of it is inspiration as you get into experimenting with panning."

The choice of Rideau as the mixer of the project would seem to be a natural: During the course of his 30-year career, he's engineered and/or mixed for a who's who of R&B and smooth-jazz artists, such as Shalamar, George Duke, The Whispers, Earth Wind & Fire, Babyface, Gladys Knight, Janet Jackson, Patti LaBelle, Boney James, George Benson, TLC, Larry Carlton, Lionel Richie, Al Jarreau — it's a long list, but admittedly short on rap names. He has done several surround projects in the past, however (his favorite is the 2004 Live Sessions by the West Coast All-Stars, featuring Tom Scott, En Vogue, Chris Botti and others), and he relished to chance to work with a mainstream rap artist like Ludacris.

Theater of the Mind gave Rideau a wonderful playground in which to work. Alternately serious and lighthearted, poetic and profane (sometimes both at the same time), the album has the Atlanta-based Ludacris as the master of ceremonies in a string of pieces that are socially conscious one moment and darkly humorous the next, and which paint vivid portraits of street characters and the requisite tough-and-tender heartbreakers; all the while, Ludacris himself boasts and jokes and chides and occasionally gets real serious. The guy's got a million one-liners — many of them based around sports imagery — but he also lets his impressive list of guest rappers and speakers bring their own flava to the party, including T.I., The Game, the ubiquitous Lil' Wayne, Ving Rhames, Spike Lee, Chris Brown and T. Payne. Sonically, the album was already a marvel before Rideau got to his surround mix, with loops and sequenced parts and voices and effects all bursting forth in unexpected and often playful ways. Kudos to the 17 engineers and six mixers listed in the credits.

I asked Rideau to lead me through his approach to a project like this: “The first thing you do is listen to it with great attention in the stereo form,” he says. “And while you're listening, you're thinking, ‘Maybe I can break out these talking voices over here and to the rears, and maybe I can bring this effect or this reverb to the rears.’ There's a general plan you follow, but also a lot of it is inspirational as you get into experimenting with panning.

“The sequence of events in this case is, after I listened to the record really closely, I requested to all the producers and engineers and mixers, and I put the word out to the record company, that in a perfect world, I'd love to have [Pro Tools] stems of everything. Now that's an instant turn-off for most mixers because it's a lot of extra work. If you can imagine how many elements there are in a song.

“Some things were simpler, but the average would be at least 40 passes of a five-minute song. What happens is, for every element that you like to have a separate stem for — kicks, snare, hi-hat, other percussion, background or lead instruments; whatever — in a perfect world, what a remixer like myself would get is off the stereo bus: That element solo'ed, and at the same time I'm also getting the effects — whatever treatment is on that element, I'm getting the stereo version of that on a separate track. It's a lot of stuff — it's more than an ocean. Some mixers sort of do it automatically — Dave Pensado, Manny Marroquin [both mixers on this album] — they're buddies of mine, so when I call over to the studio, and say, ‘Hey, I need stems,’ they're like, ‘Okay, they'll be there in an hour.’ And it also makes a difference when you have a nice studio with assistants who can do that stuff for you.

“But in some cases, with guys like me who do a lot of mixing in my own studio, you call, and say, ‘I need stems.’ and it's, ‘Oh, my god!’ So with the guys who didn't automatically print stems, I would go through each song and try to get the bare minimum of what I'd like to have separate. Needless to say, I wanted a lot, but in some cases I know you can have five things making a backbeat that I don't have to have separate. Anyway, I went through and made lots of notes on the stuff that I wanted, and the guys were for the most part very accommodating and very cool. In some cases, guys even said, ‘The track is so simple, I'll send you the entire session and you can work off the session,’ and that worked fine, too. There were three or four of the tracks that I started from scratch myself, and I either derived panning from the session itself or in some cases I did the stems myself from the sessions.”






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