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In the Mix: Q&A with GRAMMY®-winning engineer, Darrell Thorp

Darrell Thorp is a seven-time GRAMMY® Award winning producer, engineer, and mixer with over 20 years in the industry and multiple platinum® records to his credits. After a four-year stretch in the Navy and completing an audio engineering degree at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, Thorp moved to Los Angeles and began interning at Track Record. Within six months, he was promoted to the assistant engineering role before Conway recruited him away. Ultimately, he landed at Ocean Way where he met esteemed Radiohead producer, Nigel Godrich. Soon, Thorp became Godrich’s engineer and went on to record Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief,” Beck’s “Sea Change,” Paul McCartney’s “Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard” and many others.

Darrell sat down with Avid to chat about his path to the console, his storied career, his favorite Pro Tools features and mixing in Dolby Atmos®.

What started you off on the path to the recording industry?

Back in high school I was really involved with my church and eventually was hired part-time to work the sound for all the youth group and Sunday services. For a while, I was also recording and editing the daily radio show the church produced.  Working at my church helped build my interest in recording. I thought about doing live sound for a while, but the studio seemed to be where I wanted to put all my effort and have a career.

Did you grow up in a musical family? What instruments do you play?

My family was musical. Mom and Dad sang a lot. My Dad bought an acoustic guitar when I was 10 and we both started to play, sharing the same guitar. I still play guitar, but I stink. I really don’t have much time to play these days. And to be honest, I was really never that good.

What spurred your interest in engineering?

I was always intrigued by the SOUND of a record.  I used to think to myself, “How the heck did they do this?!”  Huey Lewis and the News “Spots”, Queen “Another One Bites the Dust”, Stone Temple Pilots “Core”. The studio magic of putting performances together and hearing what was created—mysterious! I had no idea how these recordings were being created. I really wanted to learn.

I know you served in the Navy. How did that experience inform your approach to music… to recording?

The US Navy taught me how to deal with the long hours and no sleep. When I started in 1997, sessions could start at 10am and go until 3 am. Then, a session could run 9, 12, 15 days straight with no days off. Then, I could be booked on another session the next morning starting at 9am. It was a grind.

You attended the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, moved to LA and worked your way into some of the most prestigious studios around. I read that you considered Ocean Way your home. Like much of the industry, it’s undergone several transformations. With budgets and recording itself changing so much, how has this impacted the way and where you work?

The budget is always the first topic to come up with recording a project or a record. Sometimes, the artist only has X to make a record and we can’t afford to spend a month at United. But, we might be able to go in for a few days and cut drums in one of its amazing rooms.  From there, we would do overdubs, guitars, keys, vocals at a smaller studio for a couple of weeks. I’m fortunate.  Many of my clients really enjoy being at large commercial facilities. It makes recording really easy. The rooms and mic selections are some of the best in the world. I realize how lucky I am and I realize how a lot of artists don’t have the same luxury.

Tell me about your home studio. What’s the set-up like? Do you use a console or are you doing everything in the box?

My studio is called 101 Recording. I do most of my mixing at 101 and I don’t have a console. I am working all in the box with an arsenal of plugins. UAD, Avid, Softube, FabFilter, Massey, Plugin Alliance, and Sound Radix are some of my favorites that I always go to for various carving, EQ, compression and effects.

What’s your take on mastering given the abundance of plugins?

Mastering is a key process to me. I rely on the Mastering Engineer to help clean things up. I also find that most Mastering Engineers have really good playback chains and EQ chains. Even if a Mastering Engineer is adding half DB at 15KHZ on my mixes, somehow that little half DB goes a long way to my ears. The track will feel done and complete to me sonically. Plus, I really need the help with volume matching from song to song in the sequence of an album.

 

What was your first foray into mixing in Dolby Atmos®? How did it come about and how does it compare to mixing in stereo?

I was asked to mix “The Sky is a Neighborhood,” by the Foo Fighters in Atmos. The first words that came out of my mouth were, “HECK YES!”  Sounded fun.  And it was fun! A lot of fun! I was invited to the Dolby Atmos Stage in Burbank, where I took my sessions and my boot drive with all my plugins and settings. Since the album was mixed in the box it was really easy to remix in Atmos. The spatial panning in Atmos is crazy. No more left and right boys and girls! Forward, up, down, center, over your head, over your head center! Back, Back right. Crazy.

 

Do you see yourself taking on more spatial audio projects?

I am always open to working in surround 5.1 mixing or now ATMOS. I hope projects in the future have me mix in ATMOS more often.

You’ve worked with Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Lake Street Dive, Paul McCartney, Beck, Lili Haydn, Dwight Yoakam, The Goo Goo Dolls, Jay Z… it’s an eclectic list of credits. Is there a common thread across these projects? Is your approach to working with, for example, Lake Street Drive, different to working with more established acts?

Thank you! My approach is always the same, but it’s kind of a trick question. Most of Lake Street Dive, for example, was done live, in the same room, no headphones, with a few baffles—Such a fun project to cut that way. Beck, however, is usually a five or six piece band, but everything is isolated.

 

What are you working on right now?

Hmm… I don’t know if I can say! Honestly. Cool, cool things. Some things I’m tracking and mixing, some just mixing, but one or two where I am tracking and mixing the project. But I don’t want to ruin the artist’s plan to debut new albums.

What are you top five features you always use in Pro Tools?

Playlists

I can’t explain how big a part playlists play in my workflow. It’s essential. I try to be extremely efficient in my workflow while recording. Playlist ‘.01’ is always take 1. Playlist ‘.02’ is always take 2 and so on and so on. With this work flow, I can make a note that the second verse was the one. And being able to comp between performances once recording has finished is the other must-have, can’t live without, feature. Last, but not least, if I ever edit a track while recording or mixing, I duplicate the playlist, rename it, and perform the edit. This way I can always go back to what was there before with a mouse click.

A…Z Commands

One-touch quick commands are my staple for workflow. I can clean up, edit, cross fade, nudge, separate, zoom, zoom tracks with quick commands so easily and quickly. I don’t have to look at the keyboard to fade, or crossfade.

Muting regions 

I love this feature. The ability to mute a recorded section and not delete is key with production. I always work in a way where nothing is ever deleted. I try to manage my files by keeping every blurb and bleep and still lay everything out in a way where I can find anything in a few seconds. Being able to mute a part that was recorded but is not now needed in the current arrangement is a most useful tool. I can keep the part that was recorded on the track and in the timeline, but not hear the part.

Sends for headphone mixes 

The one thing that Pro Tools excels at more than any other DAW is very low latency while recording.  Even with plugins. With low latency, I can make sends or have multi-channel mixes or stems for different playback or monitor sources. When I’m tracking, either in a full band situation or just a single overdub, I like to make mixes of instruments for headphones. Most studios have a multi-channel headphone box for the artist to make a final mix of how they like to hear the song. This way, I can give them drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals, vocal effects, and the current part they are recording and still maintain my mix in the control room. I love to mix as I go, so to speak.

Trim Automation

This is a big one for me. When I mix, I do automation rides on an Artist Mix, usually by track, or part by part. But what I have found is that with lead vocals, and sometimes other instruments, I need to go back and listen through line by line. Sometimes, the ride that I did in the second verse was not loud enough. The vocal gets lost by the musical effects announcing the second verse. With trim automation, I simply grab the line and turn up the automation in trim mode. Plus, 2 DB? Sounds good! After the trim, if I’m happy with the result, I usually consolidate trim automation. This feature applies all the trim automation that I did to the main automation volume graph. A very useful feature especially when going through mix notes for a client.

Make your mark with Pro Tools

Create music or sound for film/TV and connect with a premier network of artists, producers, and mixers around the world.




Avid Creative Software — The Right Tools for You

At NAB 2018, we announced a comprehensive line-up of video, audio and notation software that empowers creative professionals and aspiring artists alike.  Whether you’re scoring, recording, mixing or editing, you can create at the speed of inspiration using the tools embraced by the industry. Now, there are products for everyone—and they’re more affordable than ever.

We’ve expanded and better aligned our creative software brands to make it easier to understand the product tiers and grow within the family as you develop your skills and career.

 

• The popular entry-level “First” products are all free and make it even easier to unleash your creativity.

• Need more power? Step up to the full versions. This tier offers more functionality to help you tackle increasingly complex projects and tighter deadlines.

• The “Ultimate” products are the most advanced and comprehensive. With unparalleled collaboration tools, connectivity and game-changing features, you and your team can increase productivity and accelerate your workflows.

Check out the comparison charts to learn more:   Pro Tools    |   Sibelius   |    Media Composer

So what’s the BIG news?!

 

• Sibelius welcomes a new FREE entry-level version—Sibelius | First
Sign up to be notified when it’s available.

• Media Composer is now available at a super affordable price point- starting at only $19.99 USD – get it now

• Media Composer | Ultimate offers advanced functionality and options that were only previously available as add-ons – get the details

• Pro Tools | HD is now called Pro Tools | Ultimate and includes additional options – get the details

 

Are you currently using one of these creative apps? Upon your next product update or renewal:

 

• Paid Sibelius | First customers will become Sibelius customers. You’ll get the same great product, simply with a new name.

• Sibelius customers (version 2018.3 and earlier) will become Sibelius | Ultimate customers. You’ll have the same best-selling product—with a new name.

• Pro Tools | HD customers will become Pro Tools | Ultimate Along with the new name, you’ll also benefit from some new options.

• Pro Tools and Pro Tools | First customers won’t see any changes. You’ll still be able to create, record, edit, and mix music and audio with the industry standard.

•Media Composer customers (version 2018.3 and earlier) become Media Composer | Ultimate. Along with the new name, you’ll also see some new options.

•If you use Media Composer | First and would like to upgrade to Media Composer, you can do so at a new, lower price point.

 

Also, did you know that Avid updated its versioning terminology? Now, software updates align to the year and month of release. For example, Pro Tools 2018.4, is an April release.

 

Get the latest details about our exciting product announcements:

Pro Tools — Power your sound with the tools that power the industry

• Sibelius — The fastest, smartest, easiest way to write and share music

Media Composer — The professional’s choice for creative editorial

Make your mark with Pro Tools

Create music or sound for film/TV and connect with a premier network of artists, producers, and mixers around the world.

Discover Media Composer

Accelerate storytelling with the tools embraced by top movie, television, and broadcast editors. And power through HD and high-res editing faster and easier than ever.

Express yourself with Sibelius

Create beautiful, captivating scores more quickly than ever before with the world’s best selling notation software.




Meet the New Media Composer Family

For over 30 years, Avid Media Composer has helped professional editors create films and television shows that have captured the imagination of audiences around the world and now Avid is making the Media Composer experience more accessible for everyone with a story to tell.

At NAB 2018, we are announcing a new line up of Media Composer products that provide a range of functionality for the aspiring artist to the most experienced editor.

For artists just beginning their journey in editing, Media Composer | First delivers a complete, yet streamlined creative toolset built on Avid’s renowned editing model – for free – with all the features and functionality they need to tell great stories that can easily be published to popular social media channels.

With a more expansive and customizable solution for any kind of project, Media Composer provides independent editors with all the tools they require to maximize their creative talent and stay ahead of the competition.

This is all in addition to Media Composer’s reliable media management, deep editing tools, and the ability to master to any resolution. Editors who wish to move up from Media Composer | First to a complete version of Media Composer can do so for as little as $19.99 (USD) per month!

For the most complete offering in post-production, Media Composer | Ultimate not only empowers creative teams with access to Avid’s unparalleled collaborative capabilities, but also includes game-changing tools such as ScriptSync, PhraseFind and Symphony to accelerate the editing process and make the most of every spoken word in the project.

With Media Composer | First, Media Composer and Media Composer | Ultimate, every editor has access to the right solution for them, at a price they can afford.

Key Features

Media Composer | First

Media Composer

Media Composer | Ultimate

Media Composer Perpetual

Free

Publish to Social

24 Tracks Video / 64 Tracks Audio

High-Res Mastering

Shared Projects / Bins

MediaCentral | Panel

Floating Licensing

NewsCutter NCRS Tool

Symphony Option

PhraseFind Option

ScriptSync Option

Media Composer | Cloud VM

Option/Feature Included
● Option/Feature Available but not Included

Check out all the great Media Composer features at www.avid.com/media-composer/features

Discover Media Composer

Accelerate storytelling with the tools embraced by top movie, television, and broadcast editors. And power through HD and high-res editing faster and easier than ever.




In the Mix — Q&A with GRAMMY® Award winner, Lu Diaz

For the past 20 years, three-time GRAMMY® Award winner Lu Diaz has been mixing and producing some of the biggest artists in the music business. He has over 40 Gold and Platinum Awards and, along with his brother, Hugo, is responsible for launching Cuban rapper Pitbull to fame.  In 2016, Diaz won his third GRAMMY® for his mix work on Morgan Heritage’s GRAMMY®-winning album, “Strickly Roots.”

Diaz sat down with Avid’s Adam Lebowski and Heather Waters to talk about producing, developing talent and the Pro Tools features he can’t live without.

 

You have a multi-faceted career. How would you describe what you do?

What I do, regardless of the role that I may be in, is basic at the core: help the artist I work with to bring their vision to life.  All artists have a vision and an instinct that they want the world to hear and feel. I have these things called “knowledge” and “craft” that I have honed over the course of my career.  I use these skills to help them achieve their goal.  Whether I am mixing, producing or managing, I try to be as transparent as possible.  When my brother and I signed Pitbull in 2001, he was really a Hip-Hop artist.  As I got to learn more and more about what his goals were and what was important to him, I began to think of him as an international artist, with a much broader appeal.  At first, he wasn’t too receptive to the idea, but as he grew as an artist, his perspective changed.  Little by little, he began to see the vision he inspired in us.  We just pointed him in the right musical direction and the rest is history!  From a mixing perspective, Kodak Black is a perfect example.  He comes from the mind that his records shouldn’t be mixed. Lol! You can imagine the challenge that presents for me.  We’ve had some good conversations about mixing, so he has grown in that aspect.  Mixing his last three albums, I had to push aside much of what I want to hear with the mixes and govern myself more by the feel of the mp3s he takes home after his vocal sessions.  So, transparency is crucial for a project like Kodak.

Lu Diaz and Pitbull, Chile 2011

Your music is immensely successful and heard around the world. What’s your crowning achievement?

You know people always ask me what is your favorite song you’ve mixed or produced etc., but if I am answering that question honestly, I would have to say that making my mark on the musical landscape is really what makes me feel accomplished.  Although I’ve been so fortunate to have had a part of many successful artists, like my brother and I signing Pitbull to our label, recording and mixing songs for so many big artists—at the end of the day—the collective participation in these projects and careers is what is truly gratifying to me.

 

You’re known as someone who has a knack for developing artists. What is artist development and what’s the key to doing it well?

Artists are just people with a unique talent and more importantly, a desire to tell a story. If you can stay focused on that throughout the process, the odds are really in your favor.  Now, I know that’s a general answer, but it really is a true statement.  Plainly and simply: you really need to believe this person you are working with is a star.  You need to be a fan of their music and story.  With that said, you need to be flexible in your approach. No two artists are alike, so when you take on an artist’s career you really need to adapt to their story.

Music Never Sleeps

Having worked with Pitbull, DJ Khaled, and so many others, do you believe there is a formula for creating music with mass appeal?

If there’s a formula, I want a copy ASAP!! Lol!!  Are there things that work musically or sonically speaking?  Yes, of course, but musical and/or sonic tricks are just that.  In my opinion, the mass appeal comes from a great song at the core.  No matter what kind of music you are making, the one common thread 99% of the time, is the honesty and relatability of a great written song.  Now, beyond that, there is a huge role producers, recording engineers, mixers and mastering engineers play in amplifying the feeling and power of a great song!

 

As an engineer and producer, how does Pro Tools help you develop musical ideas whether you are building a track from scratch or polishing a final mix?

Pro Tools for me is literally at the center of almost every aspect of creating and mixing my music.  Even when I use an external sequencing software, I am wired into Pro Tools via rewire and always tweaking sounds as I go along in the creative process.  Pro Tools has always just made sense to me.  Now, when it comes to mixing, there is literally no other software I have ever used.  Pro Tools is simply the standard.

 

What aspects of a mix do you obsess over?

Getting kicks and 808 subs to work together!!! LoL! In my line of work, I deal with 808s and subs quite a bit.  A couple of the ways I get them to work together are side chain compression and high pass EQing. Kicks and subs tend to have phasing issues that cancel out each other’s frequencies, which make it frustrating and difficult to control.  Let’s assume you have a kick that has a lot of sub harmonic information. With a high pass filter, I’ll roll off everything from, say 60hz down, to mute those sub frequencies that may be problematic when I introduce the sub (808) on top of it.  In a case where a kick and sub bass are working well together, but overload the low end, I will use a side chain compressor on the 808/sub bass and trigger the side chain compressor with the kick.  This allows the kick to really punch through without overloading the low end. Keep in mind, these are not an exact science, but for the most part they do work in helping you fit these elements together.

 

What projects are you currently working on?

Last month, I finished Kodak Black’s “Heart Break Kodak” album and next month, I’m off to Nashville to work with reggae group Morgan Heritage on a very cool project.  They are recording a greatest hits album with a country flare and I’m going to do some mixing work on it.  I love the merging of musical styles, so I’m excited about this project.  Their new single “Pineapple Wine,” which I mixed, is out now and showcases this new sound.  I’m also managing a new artist out of New Jersey Tony Mike and we are getting ready to drop his next single, “Slide on Me” featuring Torry Lanez. I mixed and produced, along with my partner Juan Peña (The NGiNEARS).  And finally, we started some work on Dj Khaled’s next album, “Father of Asahd” and will probably be working on that sometime this spring.

Diaz and reggae group, Morgan Heritage

What are your top 5 features that you always use in Pro Tools? Can you give examples?

Tough to narrow it down to five, but ok.

1.)   In Pro Tools 2018, I love the new “track preset” feature. It is literally saving me a ton of time. Two big thumbs up!  I would always use a template to start my mixes and now, I can just drop presets as I go into my mix sessions.  I’ve already accumulated a ton of presets; it just gets better.

2.)   I’m a huge fan of region groups.  Moving audio groups around is so fast and easy. I use it to line up two track vocal sessions to the spread-out music files all the time, flying hooks around and doing tricked out edits.

3.)   Track Commit is another huge time saver. I can’t tell you how much time it has saved me creating my stem sessions.

4.)   The VCA is another feature I love using. To really control your gain structure, the VCA is essential.  Unlike an AUX group, a VCA lowers the fader of the individual tracks in relation to each other.  This is important because if you group tracks through an AUX, you can potentially overload one of them. If you just lower the AUX track, you are just lowering an overloaded signal. To get rid of overload, distortion, peaking, etc., a VCA will help you achieve a better gain structure.   I personally use it a lot to do volume trims to my entire mix when I’m hitting the master bus too hard.  I love it!

5.)   Clip Effects is another awesome feature that really took my workflow to another level.  I usually do a 30-minute speed mix where I get the initial placement and sound of the core elements.  Then, I’ll even out the vocals a bit and sit back and listen.  This process has become even faster with clip effects. A little gating, compression and EQ on the fly works great!!

Lu Diaz in the studio with Drake – EXPLICIT LANGUAGE

Lu Diaz and DJ Khaled mixing Welcome to My Hood - EXPLICIT LANGUAGE

Make your mark with Pro Tools

Create music or sound for film/TV and connect with a premier network of artists, producers, and mixers around the world.




Avid Launches Young Storytellers Competition at Claremont High School

Earlier this fall, Avid launched the first annual Young Storytellers competition in partnership with the Cinematic Arts Program at Claremont High School in Claremont, California. Created in honor of former principal, the late John Mann, the contest was open to both beginner and advanced students using Media Composer | First and Media Composer, respectively. The challenge? Create a two-minute video without dialogue.

Nearly 150 students participated in the contest, submitting 36 short films. With judging criteria set by the CCAP curriculum, the Avid team pored over the submissions and selected six finalists.

Editing inside the Avid Media Lab – Grace Dorantes – Show Producer for The Wolfcast

The winning film in the beginner category, The Comeback, was conceived, produced, shot and edited by Matthew Roebuck, Charles Valadez, Andrew Hammill and Dillon Leslie. It portrays a story of friendship, teamwork, and determination.

In the advanced category, the winning project, The Hitchhiker, is a surreal film that evokes shades of David Lynch. It was created by Flora Elliott-Zukerman, Elijah Kupetz, Garret Liming and Nisreen Radwan.

Sara Hills, who instructs in video production and oversees Wolfcast, a student-run daily news show created using Media Composer, said that when she made the transition from professional filmmaking to education, she knew immediately what her students needed.  “Avid has made Media Composer so affordable for the high school level that it made sense to get this wonderful tool in the hands of our next storytellers. I wanted to be sure they had the best tool that would set them up for success.”

Kyla Morris, a senior in the advanced film production class and a member of Wolfcast, is thrilled with the choice. “I’ve been in the program for four years now and I love Avid. From the green screen, to the editing tools, Media Composer has great features. It’s easy to use and it allows me to tell the kinds of stories I want to tell.”

Meet Media Composer | First

Learning Media Composer | First can open the door to a career in media and entertainment. Make a name for yourself starting now… Use the tools the pros use—for FREE.