In The Trenches With Eyal Levi of Audiohammer Studio: Hands-On Heavy Audio Engineering
Eyal Levi hasn’t ONLY performed various audio engineering tasks for the some of the top dogs of modern metal with some of the most competitive sounds on record -- He’s also been in the thick of the action as the guitarist of Daath and Levi/Werstler. As a part of Audiohammer Studio in Florida, some of his production credits include working with The Contortionist, Demon Hunter, August Burns Red, Whitechapel, Arsis, The Black Dahlia Murder, Misery Index, and Reflections. He’s also engineered Daath’s records as well. Moreover, he’s taken to hosting interactive seminars on creativeLIVE.com, where inquisitive minds can learn how to distinguish themselves from studio chumps.
When he speaks, he educates. Fortunately for us DIY-minded folks, he likes to speak an awful lot. In fact, he has his own blog over at MetalSucks. In a Metal Underground exclusive interview, however, he has checked in to let us know a bit about his view of the changing landscape of audio engineering in heavy metal, as well as gave us a few good tips for good measure.
Frank Serafine (Progressivity_In_All): About how many clients per month does Audiohammer handle, in totality?
Eyal Levi: 3-6 bands.
Frank: Have you personally seen that number increase or decrease over the years that you’ve been at Audiohammer? Do you see that as a sign of anything larger in the audio engineering world?
Eyal: If anything, the amount of work I’m doing has gone up. But we exist in our own little bubble here. I realize that work is hard to come by these days.
Frank: Do you see the job of recording studios shifting to more commercial work than band-oriented music?
Eyal: I’ve heard about some studios getting into that kind of work, but we have the opposite problem at Audiohammer. We have to turn bands away (I’m booked halfway through 2014), which is a good problem to have, but I feel terrible every time it happens. I wish I could work with everybody who approaches us but there are only so many hours in the day.
Frank: Do you see the job of an individual audio engineer or mix engineer becoming more important as an individual contractor with their own gear than collectively as part of a studio?
Eyal: Well, there are a million different ways to run a studio… It can be the old-school model where the engineer/mixer rent a room at a studio that owns all the gear, an owner/operator thing like Godcity where Kurt Ballou owns his own space and all the gear in it, or anything in between.
At Audiohammer it’s kind of a hybrid: Jason [Suecof] and I own the properties right smack down the middle. And then Jason, Mark, and I all own a bunch of our own gear, and we borrow/rent/steal from each other as needed for each project that comes through. For example, the drum room is in my house and they’ll usually rent it from me when they need it. On the other hand, Mark has our insane collection of amps in his room and that’s the first place I go to when I need to nail a tone.
I like the way we do things, but at the end of the day anything can work. Just depends on you and your needs. Whatever works for you.
Frank: In the age of the increased quantizing of drums, manually noise-gating humming guitars through editing, and the extensive use of digital effects, what are their importance to you in your work?
Eyal: My answer is that it depends entirely on the band. Specifically, what sound they are going after and if they are good enough musicians to pull it off. If they want to sound like Black Dahlia but show up at the studio without practicing any of their material or doing any pre-pro, it’s just not gonna happen unless I dig into my bag of tricks. On the other hand, some bands (like Black Dahlia) show up uber-prepared and nail it in one or two takes and I do very little editing/quantizing/etc. I always prefer to do as little digital magic as possible, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
Frank: How many times does it typically take to mix a song before you decide that it’s correct and done? (Example: Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was mixed something like 90 different times, and in the end, they decided to use mix #2 after all) If only once, how long do you typically spend on that mix?
Eyal: Again, that totally depends on the band and the song. Some of my best-sounding mixes were done in a few hours because I was working with great musicians who had a clear artistic vision of what they were going for. On the opposite end of the spectrum there are those nightmare projects that devolve into an endless cycle of mix notes and seem like they take forever to get out the door. Most projects fall somewhere in the middle.
Frank: What would you say are the most important aspects of a modern heavy metal mix, and have those aspects changed much since you started recording heavy metal?
Eyal: Well, I started recording back in the late 90s, so a lot has changed since then as far as what our ears expect. Things will continue to change, and I’ll keep adapting like I always have. Trends will always come and go, but the one thing that hasn’t changed and never will is that when you have great players who have great songs, you’ll almost always end up with a great mix. It always comes back to two things: the musicians and the songs, and the great producers never lose sight of that.
Frank: What is an example of a metal recording (that you did not have a hand in) from the last two years that you personally find to be an exceptionally-engineered recording?
Eyal: I guess you might call it more hardcore than metal, but I really love Andrew Wade’s work on “Get What You Give” by The Ghost Inside. It’s one of the most ferocious guitar sounds I’ve ever heard, and the whole mix is just so thick and loud without ever falling apart. And it sounds very modern and clean without getting too fake or overly-edited like a lot of bands in that genre.
Frank: If there is any part of the recording process, from the time the first track is cut until the masters are submitted, that you would like to see done away with, what is it? Or would you add anything to the recording process that isn’t standard these days?
Eyal: The thing I’d add to the recording process that isn’t standard these days is adequate prep. By that I mean a few things. First of all, solid pre-pro/demos, so when you go into the studio you know how to play all the material and you know what you want it to sound like. Second, all the little things that you do in the studio that seem like a hassle but are absolutely critical to a good recording: the right strings, changing heads/strings every song (or more), tuning all the instruments religiously, and so forth. Trust me, all that stuff matters way more than what plugins or samples you’re using.
Here’s a video I did that goes into more detail:
Frank: Lastly, how has the experience of doing your creativeLIVE educational sessions been?
Eyal: It’s been a great experience! My last class had over 5,000 live viewers, and we took hundreds of questions from them via social media and answered them live on the air.
What’s great about creativeLIVE is that all their teachers are working pros who are out there doing it in real life, making the records that sites like yours cover every day. Not some guy in a classroom who hasn’t made a legit record in his life, but the guys like me, Andrew Wade, and Kurt Ballou who have been in the trenches for years.
For example, in January I’m doing a class called “Advanced Drum Production” where I’m going to teach our real-world Audiohammer drum workflow: tracking acoustic drums, using Superior Drummer, and all the editing/mixing tricks we do like sample layering and Beat Detective. It’s literally the ONLY place you can learn this stuff! Sign up free here: Advanced Drum Production
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