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10 Questions with Mick Guzauski, the Mixer Behind Daft Punk, Pharrell & More

10 Questions with Mick Guzauski

When Universal Audio last spoke to Mick Guzauski in 2013, he was fresh off mixing Daft Punk's wildly successful, Random Access Memories. The landmark record was just one highlight of Guzauski's multi-Platinum resume that spans over three decades, and includes titles from Prince and Barbara Streisand to Pharrell and Eric Clapton — and that’s just scratching the surface. Guzauski's mixing prowess has not only made him a legend in a fickle, hyper results-based industry, it’s garnered him over a dozen Grammys.Here, Guzauski talks about what he feels is important for young mix engineers to keep in mind as they learn the craft, as well as a few tips on his favorite UAD plug-ins.

1. When you first started in audio, you mixed live sound. Did this inform your later career as a mixer?

Oh yeah, quite a bit. I did a lot of orchestral sound, and trying to translate all of those instruments through a big PA system taught me a lot about balance and how things really sound.

2. How does one sharpen their skills to better recognize the blending of timbres?

One way to really understand mixing is to be involved from the beginning of a project — not just the mixing part. Start out doing entire projects from beginning to end — from moving mics around and tracking, on through the final mix.You will be a much better mixer if you know how and why things are recorded a certain way. Go into the room and listen to how the drums and guitars really sound. Don't just stay behind the glass.

3. You recently tracked and mixed a song for Big Data here at the Universal Audio's Studio 610. Can you describe that process?

Sure, that was a three-day session to write and track the song “New Body.” Big Data flew out to record at UA a few days in advance. At the time, he basically just had a vocal hook, and some backing tracks that he had composed in Ableton Live. He flew in a group of really talented musicians and a singer, Lizy Ryan. So he was writing parts as we went, and I tracked it using three Apollo 8ps into Pro Tools. These days, I mostly just mix. So it was fun for me to basically come in at the early stages, and track and mix the entire song, end to end.

“What I do is not about one specific thing, whether it's an instrument or piece of studio gear. It's about how all of it fits together.”

4. So let’s talk plug-ins on that session. What UAD plug-ins did you use, and how did you choose them?

I used both the Neve® 88RS® Channel Strip Collection and API Vision Channel Strip to track the drums. I used the 88RS on toms and overheads. Its preamp and EQ sections are very smooth, like the hardware. And for the kick and snare, I used API Vision. I've always liked the punch that API stuff gives a kick and snare. I also tracked vocals through the 610 A plug-in from the UA 610 Tube Preamp & EQ Plug-In Collection.

5. Can you describe how you would utilize two very different compressors, say an LA-2A versus an 1176?

The Teletronix® LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection offers a wonderful set of emulations of one of my favorite compressors. I use the LA-2A Silver on bass guitar and vocals when I need a smooth, warm, unobtrusive compressor. In fact, the LA-2A is perfect for ballads, as it's an inherently slow compressor. But if I want faster compression within the LA-2A universe, I use the Gray LA-2A model, which clamps down slightly faster as the signal approaches unity.

Conversely, I use the 1176 Rev E version from the 1176 Classic Limiter Plug-In Collection when I want to keep a vocal steady in a dense mix. With the adjustable attack and release time, you can really time it and make every syllable stick out. For more distortion and color on a vocal, I will use the Blue Stripe 1176 plug-in.

6. The LA-2A and 1176 are very "colorful" compressors. What if you want something more transparent?

The Precision Limiter plug-in is very useful for controlling peaks on drums, percussion tracks, and sub groups because it is very easy to match the perceived level of the unprocessed audio with the processed audio.

For instance, if you want to limit the peaks but keep the same loudness, set the Precision Limiter's input level to achieve the desired amount of limiting — +6 for example — and then set the output level to attenuate by the same or slightly less, say, -5 to -6 dB. This will prevent over compression or over limiting by limiters on the final mix bus.

“When I want to keep a vocal steady in a dense mix, I reach for the 1176 plug-in.”

7. Do you ever put plug-ins on the mix bus?

I always put the Manley® Massive Passive EQ plug-in on the mix bus. It has a very “airy” and defined top end when boosting with a 16K shelf on top. It’s the only plug-in that I know of that exhibits this characteristic.

8. At what point do you insert the Massive Passive on the mix bus, and how do you dial it in?

I insert it once I have the basic balance and tone of the mix. I usually tweak it a few times along the way until the mix is finished. I sometimes use a fairly broad 4.7K boost too give a mix a nice presence. I sometimes cut a bit at 180 or 270Hz — that really cleans up the mud. I also sometimes shelve up a bit at 47Hz for some low-end power. The high pass filter also works well to eliminate sub sonics.

9. Your mixes have such a great sense of space. How do you pick your reverbs?

I use the EMT® 250 Classic Electronic Reverb plug-in on instruments more than vocals, although I will use the 250 on vocals. I like the 250 because it has a unique, rich-sounding reverb that's a little limited bandwidth-wise — like the original.

When I use the EMT® 140 Classic Plate Reverberator plug-in, one thing I will do is place it on two channels and use combination of Plate A with a certain EQ and Plate B with a slightly different pre-delay. This gives me a reverb sound a lot more dense and rich than either one of them alone.

I also use the AMS RMX16 Digital Reverb plug-in, often on percussion. For example, if there's a tambourine just hitting on the two and four in a ballad with a lot of space, the RMX has a wonderful high-end decay. In fact, I have a real RMX16 and I don't use it anymore!

“You will be a much better mixer if you know how and why things are recorded a certain way.”

10. Any sage advice for those looking to get into music mixing?

Try and make your mixes something that you, yourself enjoy listening to. Also, it helps to be open minded. Every project is different, so don’t try and twist a mix into something that it doesn’t want to be.

— Darrin Fox

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