In The Trenches with Jesse Cannon: Heavy Metal Audio Craftsman
In our last interview with a heavy metal audio engineer, Eyal Levi of Audiohammer Studio, we dug into the thrilling world of modern heavy metal recording and mixing, as well as heard about his upcoming online “Advanced Drum Production” clinic through CreativeLive, where viewers can stream educational clinics live with music industry veterans. You can read that interview here. This time, fellow CreativeLive instructor Jesse Cannon of Cannon Found Soundation Studios in New Jersey imparts several choice bits of knowledge in that area in an interview with Metal Underground.
As an established craftsman of sound who has worked with Dillinger Escape Plan, The Misfits, Senses Fail, The Cure, and many others, his words are backed by hours upon hours of actual studio time in the painstaking pursuit of high fidelity, tested and re-tested. Of particular note for the do-it-yourself crowd are his responses to being asked to describe common barriers to good production and how to get around them.
Frank Serafine(Progressivity_In_All): What sparked your interest in audio engineering?
Jesse Cannon: When I was 13, my father was kind enough to get my band three hours in the local studio in my hometown. I was so mad we didn't sound exactly like Guns N Roses, ‘Appetite For Destruction’, I decided I needed to learn how to record to get what I want. I started buying books and then a four track. I'd then record anyone who would let me for years. Eventually bands wanted to pay me and it just hasn't really stopped since then.
Frank: What are some really special albums that you remember working on fondly?
Jesse: Ten years ago this time I was working with Ross Robinson and Steve Evetts on The Cure's ‘S/T’ record in Olympic Studios in London and that was an amazing experience. Every night, being reduced to tears with how insanely passionate and intense Robert was during those sessions with Ross pushing him was a real inspiration. Working with Steve Evetts on A Static Lullaby and Senses Fail was really fun since we were just learning to make recording solely in Pro Tools without tape work right.
Getting into things that are basic today like intense drum editing, before anyone was doing it, was really interesting and took a lot of experimentation to get what everyone takes for granted today. I also had some of the best times of my life doing Man Overboard's ‘Real Talk’ and Transit's ‘Keep This To Yourself’ since I was really close with both bands, taking on both a manager and producer role.
Frank: Initially, what sort of recording equipment did you record with when you were first starting out?
Jesse: When I first started working, it was all tape and usually some sort of low end Mackie or Soundcraft console in the studios. I then got a job working for Alan Douches at West West Side Music, and, in addition to a mastering studio, he also had a ton of recording equipment. I then started working on a great console and tape machine and ran Pro Tools locked to the tape machine.
Eventually, I stopped using the tape and got a Pro Tools system for my own studio and haven't locked back much. I learned early on that if you have two great mic pres, a great compressor, and a few great mics, you could make great sounding records at home if you tracked the drums in a great studio. Now I am lucky enough to have the studio where other engineers come to track drums and a second studio where I can do overdubs.
Frank: What's one thing that you wish an audio engineer had told you before you first started working on records?
Jesse: One? I could go on forever… Learn what head room and gain is and do a lot of experiments with it. Take more time getting a good performance from someone than editing a bad one. Don't sweat taking on bad bands to make money to have the equipment to record good bands. No one will ever hear or notice the bad bands you did, but a lot of people will notice the good ones you do.
Tape isn't magic and these days it isn't even a sound a lot of people want on their record. Don't feel the need to use every tape simulator or long for analog tape. In fact, many of the cheap tape machines will make your tracks sound worse than cheap digital.
Frank: In the DIY audio engineering world, there's the potential for a lot of really bad recordings. What are some frequent walls, or barriers to good engineering, that you see DIY engineers hitting all the time?
Jesse: Great question! The first thing, to me, is a lot of engineers don't get that investing in two really great mic pres is the most important thing. A great mic pre can make a $75 SM57 sound amazing but a cheap mic pre can make a $4,000 Neumann sound terrible. Once you are done with drums, you rarely need to track more than two tracks at a time, so invest in two great channels.
As well, your monitors are all about having a great relationship. Don't constantly upgrade them. Instead, buy a mid-priced pair and develop a relationship. Listen to music on them. Mix, track, and get to know them. The better you know them, the better tones you will get.
Frank: How long did it take you to come up with a mix of a record that you were thoroughly happy with?
Jesse: You can be happy with mixes you have done? I am kind of kidding. I really enjoy listening to some record I did around 2007, so that was eight years into doing this full time. I think part of being a craftsman is never being totally happy with your work. I have kids write me about records I did in the 90s asking about tones, so I know I am hard on myself about this, but I think there is a big thing that you almost shouldn't be happy with any mix. You should be growing so much that all you can hear is what you could have done better. I push myself really hard to always experiment and grow, so it is very hard.
Frank: Is mixing an art that anyone can master if they have the time and dedication?
Jesse: Yes, but master to the point that people want you to do it for them? Not always. A lot of mixing is taste and some people have tastes that other people don't want. I know some people who really do have an amazing command of a mix and get what they want from their mixes, but the fact is other people don't like the way they sound. You can master it, in that you are getting mixes where you reach your goal of how it should sound. The question is: do others want your tastes on their record?
Jesse will be hosting his own CreativeLive seminar, “Fundamentals of Mixing,” streaming live through the website beginning on February 12th and running also on February 13th and 14th. You can sign up for the seminar at this link and see about learning more from a whole slew of streamable classes on a variety of subjects.
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