Digital Minds
Rob Hill - The Man Who Stays Up All Night to Finish Your Record
By Marsha Vdovin

Rob Hill at Abby Road Studio C
Rob Hill is one of the super hot young producer/engineers/mixers who is keeping very busy these days, and he's huge UA fan. He actually went to music school-not engineering school-and learned on the job. He's had the amazing experience of working on such huge projects as the 5.1 remix of Queen's classic 'A Night at the Opera', and the Korn album, 'Take a Look in the Mirror'. He also produced the recent Everlast album, 'White Trash Beautiful' and did several albums with Cypress Hill and mixed a solo project from Cypress Hill DJ, Muggs ('Dust').

When did you start playing music?
"I was always around music, my mother and grandmother both played piano, and always played around with piano, but I never had any formal lessons. I started studying music in grade school playing woodwinds in the school band. I then got into the whole rock and roll thing, and got my 1st guitar when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I then got my first 4 track at 13 and first drum machine at 15."

You attended Berklee for a while, right? Why did you go and why did you leave?
"I did attend Berklee College of Music. I decided to go there because it was so well respected as a music college, and my very good friend Allan Pahanish was in his 3rd year at Berklee when I was of the age to attend.

“As far as the UAD-1... Uh, again, the secret is to use it as much as you possibly can!!!”

Why did I leave? First it was incredibly EXPENSIVE, and secondly, I was learning so much about music, but not actually playing music. It was too much to stay on top of my studies, and I had very little time for writing and or performance.

Bottom line, I was broke, I was feeling like I was learning more from my friends than my classes, and I [then] was getting lots of outside work (outside of Berklee that is...)"

What was your experience there like?
"I really enjoyed my short stint there. I studied professional music; whatever that means. It was much more about the people and the experiences there. There was such a plethora of quality musicians. In Boston, Berklee, New England Conservatory, and Boston Conservatory are all within a few blocks of each other. This made for an excellent musical environment.

I ended up getting into so many styles and genres of music there. I always ended up getting the MP & E (Music Production and Engineering) students from Berklee to agree to record my musical projects. Although, I usually ended up taking over the session, and started being known for doing such... That made getting studio time even harder to do."

How did you get involved in the LA music scene?
"I started working for East West - The sample and loop company. I sold loops and samples to a lot of producers, engineers, and sessions around town. I used to go and help with different sessions when they would need "sample help" or loops etc. This was in the early 90's when rock records were getting a definite Electronica vibe, like Marilyn Manson, and White Zombie etc.

At some point along the way, my good friends in a band called Powerman 5000 from Boston, got signed to a Dreamworks deal. They had come to me to do some pre-production and some loops for their new record. This was an opportunity to work with the great engineers Sylvia Massey and Joe Barezie. From then on, I kinda swindled my way into working on bigger and cooler sessions."

What is your basic studio layout: Monitors, mixer, DAW, outboard gear, software, etc.?
"I currently have a new AMD 64bit DAW running Nuendo 2.0 with a UAD-1 card, and the TC card also. I have 6 Tannoy powered 8" monitors, with a 10" sub. I use the Sony DMXr-100, mostly for the inputs, pre's and eq / compressors. I have a UA 2-610 and a stereo pair of X-73 remake Neve rip offs. I have some original 1073's and 1081's, a re-issue LA2A, and an 1176. I also have a whole other rack of stuff that I never use anymore."

Do you have any secret tips or techniques involving the UAD-1 or your UA hardware?
"Well, if this is a secret, I must be a genius. I use the 2-610 on everything!!! Drums, guitars, vocals etc. I get so much use out of that pre, I wish I had another 3 or 4 of them. It sounds accurate, but better.

As far as the UAD-1... Uh, again, the secret is to use it as much as you possibly can!!! I love all of the plugs, I use a majority of them on every session I do. I really love the LA-2A on a vocal buss, the 1176 with all buttons in on the drum overheads, The Dreamverb on EVERYTHING!!! And I use the new Precision Limiter on my stereo out buss, or drums, or guitars, or anything really.

The Cambridge EQ is also very clean and accurate, I have the DMX R-100, The interface and the controls are similar. I really love the way this plug-in sounds, simply amazing.

It is to the point I would rather leave the hardware LA-2A and 1176 off and use the plug-ins. I just get to have so many more of them on the UAD-1, and then I'm never totally committed to a setting until I mix down. Don't get me wrong, I love the hardware, but unless I am absolutely sure about the input, I would rather leave it for the plug-in version."

You are very versatile, how do you describe what you do?
"Well, I do whatever pays the bills. I will wear many hats in any session. I will produce, engineer, mix, edit, play a variety of instruments, sing on rare occasion, program all of the time, and offer advice when asked.

I mean, I'm not an established engineer like Elliot Scheiner of Frank Fillapetti, I don't get calls for that. I'm not a known producer like Michael Beinhorn or Brendan O'Brien. I am the guy that can get your session done in the middle of the night after everyone has gone home. I have found that it is good to be diversified in your talents.

If I only engineered, Frank and Elliot would take all my work, if I only produced, I would never get any gigs above local band demos. The labels only give gigs to their close posse of friends; rarely do they step out and use a new producer on a band. But, if you can get in as an editor, and end up with performance or production credits, or even publishing, life is all good."

The first time I listened to the album Dust by Muggs (which I love by the way) that you mixed, I felt like I was listening to CD by several different artists. But the more I listen to it; I have come to realize that there is a sonic continuity that comes through.Is that something that you thought about consciously in the mix, and if so, can you share some of the techniques you used?
"I just listened to that the other day. Thank you for your compliments, I really love that record too.

Let me first say, that was a very cloudy time for Muggs and I, if you know what I mean... The whole project was an experience I would never trade for anything. I have so much respect for Muggs and his thing, and I was given a lot of leeway when it came to exploring the sound (with more cowbell).

The one thing that Muggs always kept me in check with, was the lo-fi 'dusty; sound that is a common theme throughout. If anything sounded too clear, or too hi-fi, it had to be tweaked to his liking. You have to understand that some of those songs are soundscapes of hundred's of tracks, and Muggs remembered each little sound that he wanted to hear through the record noise and overpowering low end.

At first I had some trouble understanding his vision on this project, but I finally got 'red eye to eye' with where he was headed. Once I understood the method(s) of his madness, making 'Dust' became an amazing experience."

Can you describe, in detail, some of your latest projects?
"Well, after the Cypress Hill, Northern State, Zayra, and Everlast records, I decided to take the risky plunge into executive production / label guy... This simply means financing and producing unsigned bands out of my own pocket. I currently am producing a band called Depswa.

This is a risky endeavor, but I believe in the band and the songs so much, I couldn't afford not to do it. Depswa had an album out on Geffen a couple of years back, during know, the whole post 9-11 world. The album was called "2 angels in a Dream". They had some moderate success, toured on Ozzfest, and built a nice fan base. The problem was with the buyout of Geffen by Universal music group, and certain high-ups in the Geffen camp that put absolutely no promotion dollars into the record. Without mentioning any names (J.S.) really dropped the ball on this record. In my opinion, it was one of the best rock records I had heard in many years.

So a couple of months ago, I was approached by Jeremy Penick, (singer / songwriter for Depswa) He played me some pre-production demos he had been working on. I was absolutely floored by the songs. I became very excited with the premise of working with Jeremy and the band. So, here we are. Doing this record, hoping for the best.

Funny thing is, other really great bands and artists are hearing the stuff we have been doing, and have become excited to work with Jeremy and myself on future projects. If all goes well, we find a good home for our new label as an imprint with a major, We will have another 4 or 5 bands ready to go shortly there after.

Wish me luck!!!"