Saturday, February 27, 2016

Interview: Joey Sturgis

Joey Sturgis is one of today's most recognized modern rock-metal-metalcore producers in the United States: his huge sounding drums and hyper polished productions made him earn an impressive credit both among producers an bands,  
He represents also a new generation of mix engineers (that will probably grow with the time), one that does not have the old hardware mixing board and hardware racks as reference for quality, but that prefer the flexibility of using only (or mainly) plugins AS A CHOICE, instead of an economic need.
Joey is not only a good mix engineer, he also produces a serie of plugins for mixing, speaker impulsesdrum samples, and he even has an online mixing course (along with other collaborators) called Nail the mix, on which he explains his techniques.
Here's our interview:

GuitarNerdingBlog: Hello Joey and welcome to Guitar Nerding Blog! Tell us your story: How did you become a mix engineer?

JoeySturgis: Hey guys! Thanks for having me here. I started producing, recording, and mixing out of necessity. I come from a musical family and around the age of 18, I was playing drums in a metal band. We needed a demo to post on MySpace, and so after finding out one of my friends had a cool make shift recording situation in his garage, I decided to learn how to do it on my own. He gave me a key and let me come in late at night to play around. I just started messing with stuff and experimenting. After a while, I got good enough to record my own band's demo and put it up on MySpace. We got a lot of interest from that demo, and before too long, I was recording other bands on the weekends because they were dying to work with me. That grew into a web of contacts and soon enough I was very busy. A record label owner (Craig Ericson) took interest of my abilities after I had done a few key projects that he was signing and soon after became my manager. The rest is history!

GNB: Which are your career highlights? Which are the artists that influenced you the most? Is there still some collaboration that you would like to do?

JST: I have a lot of career highlights, but I think a big moment that stands out is getting an RIAA certified gold record for the single "The Final Episode" from Stand Up and Scream with band Asking Alexandria. Unrelated to that achievement, I am mostly influenced by guys like Chris Lord Alge and Randy Staubb. I think the most interesting collaboration would be me and the band "Between The Buried And Me".

GNB: What do you think about today's music business? What are your thoughts about underground and mainstream music scene of nowadays?

JST: Today's music business is a very diverse landscape of informal and formal backgrounds ranging from experienced to "I have no clue what I'm doing". Because of this, the expectation for professionalism is a little low in the music industry in general, and I've found a lot of clients rarely understand how the business works at all. This makes it hard to navigate projects and negotiate working terms for producers. I think underground music is very interesting because I believe very firmly in a generation of creators who are growing up with YouTube in their life, and social media as a strong self-promotion platform. I think we'll see more and more DIYers in the Mainstream music scene soon.

GNB: What do you think about the digital music distribution? What about the file sharing? How do you think the music business will evolve in the future?

JST: Digital Music Distribution is an amazing concept that the music industry failed to capitalize on when it first came into play. If the Music Industry would have come up with something sorta like a cross between Spotify, YouTube Red, and Apple Music services combined, with a cap on listen count, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now. Unfortunately, we're in an unfixable mess unless streaming services cap listen counts. Until then, no one will agree on what a listen is worth. I think the future of selling music is to just make it free and make everything else cost more, or making all music ONLY stream-able and cap the number of listens per month and then tier the pricing.

GNB: Since many readers of our blog are mainly interested in the technical side of the music world, can you tell us something about your studio equipment? Can you tell us something about the last recordings you've done?

JST: I am mostly ITB meaning "in the box". I never have been a OTB "out the box" engineer. I just capture as raw as possible into the computer and then use plugins to modify the sound. I mix as I go because I also produce 99% of the projects I work on, so I know everything that's going on from inception to final product. That means I can get away with recording things a certain way knowing how I'll mix it later. A lot of people don't have that luxury. In fact, there's been a few times in the past where I've had to send stuff off to other people and they call back scratching their heads because I can't assume they'll understand my crazy mess hah. That said, here's the gear:
RME FireFace 800 Interface
Presonus Central Station
AT4040 Microphone
CountryMan DI
Tons of plugins

Sorry it's not more glamorous, but this is all you need to make albums like I do. Oh and you'll need a local studio to go record drums in.

GNB: Tell us something about you recording studio (The Foundation Recording Studio): which Daw do you use? What are your favorite vst plugins? Do you use hardware outboards or you prefer to mix in the box?

JST: The Foundation Recording Estate has been in Michigan for a number of years now, we are exclusively Cubase 6.5. All of my engineers use this, and all of my records have been created on a version of Cubase throughout the years. My favorite plugins are actually the ones I design myself (Joey Sturgis Tones) and the Waves stuff. I don't have any outboard hardware, it's too limiting for my work flow. I prefer to be able to change stuff on the fly.

GNB: What is your opinion about the world of amp/cabinet simulators nowadays? Do you think eventually they will replace entirely the classic hardware or will there be always an "uncanny valley" between the simulation and the real thing? Does this apply to hardware processors like compressors etc?

JST: Amp and Cab simulators have come a long way, and I would know because I design my own with my company Joey Sturgis Tones. You can check out our simulator line known as Toneforge. There's no way to completely replace hardware, because in the computer, everything is either a recreation or a virtual simulation. The virtual simulation will always get better with time, but never meet up with the exact replica of the hardware. This is because simulating infinite variability in a circuit design is never going to be 100% possible. However, it might be possible to reach a point where human hearing can't distinguish the difference. It is entirely possible to recreate anything that is linear, but as you mention compressors and other non-linear processors, it will never be completely possible to replace them. However, we can get close enough now to fool almost anyone, including audiophiles.

GNB: Let's talk about guitar tone: what is your favourite way to get a good guitar tone? Do you use vst amp simulators or you still prefer to mic a cabinet? Have you got any tip to share?

JST: I typically use my own amp simulators or work on my own designs for amp simulators to get the virtual guitar tones I'm after. It takes weeks and sometimes months of tweaking to get all of the adjustments right. It's a series of saturators and filters to get the amp sound up to snuff, and then more filtering and EQing after that. I haven't really mic'd up a cab in AGES. It's probably been 8 years now. Impulses and virtual amp / cab simulators can get you really far. I have many accomplishments to show for it! The biggest tip I can give anyone is that EQ matters the most, next to a GREAT performance.

GNB: Do you have any advice for the guys that wish to open a recording studio on their own, or to become mixing or mastering engineers?

JST: You gotta be willing to sacrifice a lot to go far. The playing field is no longer level, there are people who are enrolled in services like Nail The Mix who are getting a leg up on everyone else and taking over the workload. If you want to succeed today, you gotta be enrolled in something that's actively dishing out new knowledge like that, or you're going to fall behind to all the most updated trends and techniques.

GNB: Tell us something about your JST line of plugins: how is the creation project behind them?

JST: Joey Sturgis Tones is my plugin company, we strive to create audio products that unlock the creativity and full potential of musically gifted people. Our mission is to just make it easier for people to make great music. Essentially I have around 300+ plugin ideas written down, so we just try to tackle them all, one at a time. Each plugin takes about 6 months to a year to fully realize, but we're working hard to speed up the time it takes from idea to completed product. It's hard because sometimes ideas are great, but when you get them as prototypes in your hands, you realize they could be better. And that's where the feature creep begins to happen and the longer it takes to reach a final concept.

GNB: Do you have any tip or suggestion on how to use your plugins? Or some setting you prefer?

JST: My plugins are created to be tools, so settings aren't necessary. You don't need settings for a phillips head screwdriver, right? Or a hammer. So yeah, it's just a tool that you use to get great sounds. It's meant to accelerate your ability to create great music, and designed to spark your creativity.

GNB: Thank you for the interview, tell us something about your future projects!

JST: In the future, I will be working hard to improve everyone's understanding of audio and production. There's a lot of bad information out there, so my goal is to educate everyone better on the topic of audio!

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