Dave Tozer on Making Hits for John Legend with UAD-2 & Logic Pro X
"I'm constantly learning about new gear and technology, and even older gear as well," says Grammy-winning New York producer, engineer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and expert UAD-user Dave Tozer. "I’m always searching for more knowledge and new ways to make records sound great."
Tozer’s deep inquisitiveness — and equally deep musicality — have led him to chart-topping success with artists like Kanye West, Jay-Z, John Mayer, and Justin Timberlake. One of Tozer’s most recent triumphs came via collaboration with his longtime musical teammate John Legend; Legend’s critically-heralded 2013 release Love In The Future featured Tozer as executive producer, mixer, and as a writer on multiple songs.
To craft platinum tracks for Legend and beyond, Tozer goes deep with Logic Pro X, UAD plug-ins, and a streamlined workflow that powerfully combines the two. Here are his thoughts on new gear, producing for A-list artists, and how you can synthesize a powerful UAD-plus-Logic production flow all your own.
What's new and exciting on the gear front?
I’m always tinkering, getting new hardware and software, and trying to stay inspired. I was inspired the very first time I picked up a guitar and learned to express myself artistically, and it’s great when I can learn a new piece of technology and feel inspired in the same way.
It’s been really rewarding working with Apple’s new Mac Pro. I use it to power my studio here in New York and it’s been working out great — especially in combination with Logic Pro X and my collection of UAD Powered Plug-Ins.
It’s all about power. The new Mac Pro represents a higher price point to enter in and it’s not for everybody, but if you’re recording, editing, and mixing records, you need a snappy engine that drives everything.
I have a ton of RAM — 64 GB — which helps when I’m using heavy sample libraries and working on big string arrangements. It’s also not uncommon for pop projects to have one-hundred-plus tracks, so it pays to have a fast machine loaded with RAM.
How important are UAD plug-ins to your production process?
UAD plug-ins give you some of the best tools for realizing your creativity as a producer, mixer, or engineer. If you’re a professional and you don’t have UAD plug-ins, you’re screwing yourself, because they’re great tools for helping you paint the sonic pictures that we all try to create. They work particularly well with Logic Pro X. Obviously, you can use them with any DAW, but the workflow I love with Logic Pro X has to do with its Library, which is something Pro Tools doesn’t really have.
How does that work?
If you’re working on a track, you can have a single windowpane for your plug-in library. And if you have your plug-ins presets in AU format, all of your presets appear on that list. For example, you can click on something like, say, the Fairchild 670 from the Fairchild Tube Limiter Plug-In Collection and any factory preset — or preset that you’ve created — will come right up on the screen. All you have to do is scroll through your presets, click on what you want, and you access it immediately without having to dive into the plug-in’s interface, or drill down into pop-up windows or sub-menus.
That sounds helpful.
It’s great because it allows you fast access. For me, it’s all about workflow. The whole idea is to eliminate any blockages from your creativity — and when you’re interfacing with a computer, there can be many. [Laughs]
How about automation when working with UAD plug-ins and Logic Pro X?
The automation is very straightforward and being able to have sample accuracy on plug-in parameters is great, especially if you’re automating things like LFOs or filtering, elements that really need to be super tight. You can choose to draw automation or set hardware controllers to the plug-in, which gives a tactile feel to the plug-ins.
Can you offer any further tips on nailing the Logic Pro X / UAD workflow?
UAD plug-ins feature some awesome presets that are built by the pros, but some come in AU preset standards, and some don’t. When they don’t, my interns and I will make them ourselves, just going to every plug-in preset and saving it as an AU preset so it populates the Library list in Logic.
The Library is dynamic, so if you click on a software instrument input, it’ll give you a list of every software instrument in your rig. Then, once you do open a UAD plug-in, it will dynamically change to show you all of the presets you have for that plug-in. That’s really powerful in terms of workflow.
When you get used to knowing what UAD plug-ins you’re going to use on your mix bus, save them in a template. Just like hardware pieces in your room would be, make sure that your software is patched up and ready to rock when you need to be creative.
Also, you can create what are called Patches in Logic Pro X, which make it easy to recall complex effect chains and routing configurations. For example, if I’ve dialed in a great combination of an 1176, a Pultec, and a Fairchild, and maybe an Ampex tape machine to make it sound like I’ve recorded the vocalist to tape, and maybe even a send to an aux reverb channel, I can store it all as a Patch.
There’s also a cool feature called Track Stacks, which allows you to pack multiple tracks together. When you use the summing option, all the tracks get submixed through an aux channel.
How does that work in terms of your production flow?
I especially use it for recalling layered instrument sounds. Let’s say that you’re loading a Patch called “Mike’s Crazy Piano Sound.” You could load a Track Stack, which might include two or three software instruments — say, a piano, some weird, plunky sound, and then a Moog bass. You’re triggering them all together when you’re clicked on the Track Stack, and all of your routings go to that same summing aux. It’s like if you were to route the outputs of those individual tracks to an aux, except that Logic Pro X does it really intelligently and automatically. You can save all of that routing, all of those settings, as a single Patch.
That does sound particularly helpful with vocals.
If you have a whole vocal chain of UAD plug-ins saved as a Patch, all you have to do is select the Patch in the library and boom, you have the whole thing set to record or mix. I don’t think you can do that in Pro Tools. You’d either have to have that stuff already loaded into your template or just manually load everything.
What are some of your go-to plug-ins when you’re mixing John Legend?
For John’s last album that I produced, Love In The Future, we used a lot of the Ampex® ATR-102 Mastering Tape Recorder Plug-In. I cut all of John’s vocals on the hardware Ampex unit as well — we got great results from using the hardware and software versions on different things. I tend to go for character when I’m using these tools, and I really like the Ampex plug-in for that.
Beyond that, I used a lot of the 1176 Classic Limiter Plug-In Collection and the Fairchild Tube Limiter Plug-In Collection which I love on vocals and various instruments. I’ve also used the Moog® Multimode Filter / Multimode Filter SE Plug-In which sounds incredible. I actually own a Moog Voyager, but on the UAD plug-in, you have a bit more variety on the kind of filtering you can do, which is cool. The voyager’s filter has a serial low pass/high pass mode which basically acts as a bandpass filter, but the UAD Moog filter has a choice of low pass, high pass, or bandpass, and it sounds fantastic.
What about reverbs?
What I certainly use on records, and love, is the EMT® 140 Classic Plate Reverberator Plug-In. It sounds brilliant and I’ve gotten to know how to dial it in well, I think. I also love the Roland® RE-201 Space Echo Tape Delay Plug-In. Sometimes I just use it on the Spring Reverb setting, though I do a lot of automating in real time, as I’m playing back, with both that and the EP-34 Tape Echo Plug-In I try to get them to freak out and do the weird things that analog delays do, when they start whacking out the pitch if you change the time-settings just right.
What’s an example of that real-time automation?
There’s a track on John’s album called “Caught Up” where, at the end, you can hear me working the time and settings of the Space Echo with John’s vocals. The music’s dropped out and it ramps up in pitch. Kinda freaky. [Laughs]
Another one I’ve used a good bit — and you can hear on John’s and Kimbra’s vocals on the song “Made to Love” — is the Helios™ Type 69 EQ Plug-In. That was a very adventurous production. There are a lot of filtered vocal sounds on that record where I used the Helios to crank up the midrange — it gives this really cool effect right around 2K, and puts an interesting curve on the low end. Another one I used a lot for that project was the Cooper® Time Cube Mk II Delay Plug-In. You can get some really interesting, unique delay sounds out of it.
“UAD Powered Plug-Ins give you some of the best tools for realizing your creativity as a producer, mixer, or engineer.”
Can you talk about plug-ins you used for the track "All Of Me?"
For John’s vocals on that, I used a Neve® 88RS Channel Strip Plug-In, the Pultec MEQ-5 & EQP-1A together from the Pultec Passive EQ Plug-In Collection and the Fairchild 670. I also used the EMT® 250 Classic Electronic Reverb Plug-In in this particular case, and the Cooper Time Cube.
On his piano, I used the Neve® 33609 / 33609SE Compressor Plug-In, the Helios, Pultec, Fairchild, and SSL E Series Channel Strip Plug-In. I used the Roland® Dimension D Plug-In on the robot voice — that’s a cool plug-in. I also used the SSL G Series Bus Compressor Plug-In and Pultec on the output buss.
Did you use any particularly personalized settings on that song?
In terms of the Fairchild on the vocal, nothing too extreme. I did some EQ carving and compression from the Neve 88RS, but that was subtle as well. There was a lot of adventurous production on that album as a whole, though. I ended up doing some pretty cool stuff. The song “Asylum” is a great example of some of the more adventurous production & sonics. Somewhat “Dark Side of the Moon” inspired.
In general, do you only use certain UAD plug-ins on certain instruments, or is it all up for grabs?
I use the UAD lineup across the board on everything — a lot on buses. I do like the Fairchild on things like background and lead vocals, but also on bass guitar, for example, and I might tend to use the API® 500 Series EQ Plug-In Collection on guitars. For more refined sounds, I'll go to the Precision Enhancer Hz Plug-In or Precision Enhancer kHz Plug-In and other tried-and-true pieces like the 1176 collection, or Teletronix® LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection. I go to those a lot because they just sound great. You can make a whole record with just UAD plug-ins and be pretty damn covered.
Stepping back from the tech — what’s producing really all about for you?
It’s not about how awesome you are as a musician or an engineer — though that certainly helps. It’s more about how you interact and work with people, and if your taste lines up well with the stuff they're working on. You have to have good taste!
When working with a big artist, what should a producer always keep in mind?
It’s about trying to create the best environment you can for the artist. If you’re working in the studio with someone like John Legend, you want to create the right kind of atmosphere, to keep the vibe and spirit positive. Then you can really get at the work of bringing out the greatness of that artist.
Sometimes you also have to hold the artist to a higher standard, and it can be a fine line, knowing where that standard is and how to help the artist elevate his or her game. That comes with experience.
You also have to bring what you have that’s unique to the table and let that shine. Your job is partly to enhance ideas, to use the combination of your ideas and the artist’s ideas to create something better than what either of you could have done alone. That’s the key.
Photos: Michael Vecchio
— Michael Gallant
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