This is part three of an Avid Blogs series by Brad Kohn, producer, writer, musician and artist from the UK, who shares his experience producing songs for the Miss Nomers Number project. Make sure you also read part one and part two of his article series.
After returning from Portland and completing tracking at New West Records, it was time to start mixing. There was a certain amount of tidying up to do given we had tracked in 3 different studios, New West were still using Pro Tools V9 – which was somewhat cumbersome with session file formats and locating files – and some of the ideas had been started on my laptop.
I had initially planned for David Pollock (from Supernatural Sound) to mix the album, as I really liked what I heard of his work after tracking the horns with him. Due to unforeseen circumstances he couldn’t continue with the project so after delivering “Ziplining Tunisia” and what became a back and forth co-mix on Cruel Geometry, I took it upon myself to mix the rest of the album. At this point I was still somewhat new to America and had yet to set up my own mix facility.
As such I tried a number of different studios until I found my eventual home to mix the project in. I started off at New West Records, however one day after 4 or 5 sessions there I was contemplating the drive to Burbank while standing on my balcony overlooking the Sunset Marquis pool.
The Marquis was the hotel I would stay at when I first started coming to LA and I remembered they had a studio there that would be perfect. I walked over and re-introduced myself. Before long I was doing the back and forward on “Cruel Geometry” with David; he at Supernatural and me at Nightbird.
Unfortunately the deal at Nightbird didn’t last and I started looking around for a new place to work. I did a session at Clearlake which was productive but I didn’t want to keep travelling over the hill and was missing some of the vibe the Marquis had. My friend Steve Kofsky kindly lent me one of the studios at Hans Zimmers RC Prods while I was up against deadlines and in a pickle. (Thank you buddy if you’re reading this!)
In among all of this, I had to fly to London to record Russian Metal Band – MOB – so while in Europe I continued to mix the Miss Nomers Number project at my facility in Home Farm Studios. I ended up doing the bulk of the job however, once back in the US, at the wonderful Village Recorder.
The Village oozes vibe, is impeccably run and has a rich history (even by international standards). The building was originally a Masonic temple and went on to become the American HQ for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the Transcendental Meditation movement, before it was turned into a recording studio.
My cousin, Vernon Katz, is now the Senior Elder of the TM movement and so I have a connection there that goes much deeper than meets the eye. Jeff Greenberg and Tina Morris make everyone that comes through the door feel like royalty and I cant thank them enough for making me part of their family, even if I still don’t get the event e-mail invites!! (The occasional phone call is fine.)
All the studios had Pro Tools HD as standard, which in addition to being my DAW of choice, also allowed me to deploy HEAT on some of the tracks, which I was using to give some of the mixes a bit more character. I love HEAT and now that I’ve transitioned to mixing natively, it’s the one thing I miss from my card-based rig. Come on Avid, let us run it natively!!
I like to record at 96Khz, so as I got deep into mixing, with computers being what they were, I was relying on HDX systems for its increased capability and Delay Compensation and given I use Universal Audio products that add increased processing time to the system.
Peter came to LA to add his creative input at one or two of The Village sessions. Thought the sessions went well, Peter and I didn’t always see eye to eye on the mixes. He preferred things to be neat and clean whereas I thought the music benefitted from being more vibrant and a little unruly at times. I’m not afraid to stand up for creative decisions I believe in however on this occasion it may have lead to a communication breakdown between Peter and I. One of my takeaways from the project became knowing when to pick my battles.
A few days after delivering the mixes to Peter, I went to Universal Mastering where Nick Dofflemeyer had invited me to come in and check out their facility. Peter Doell very kindly consulted me on the mixes while showing me round. His room sounded fantastic and it quickly became apparent that the low end on 3 of the tracks was out of balance. I immediately called Peter to let him know I had found a problem in the mixes and would rectify them straightaway on my own dime. Unfortunately he had been alerted to the same problem back in Philadelphia and had already decided to give the tracks to another mixer. He felt that having a mixer on the East coast would allow him to tame the energy to his liking. We agreed that I would send over the sessions so that they could modify my mixes on the provision I would have the ability to have the final say / a last pass on whatever changes were made. Ultimately I was never given access to the modified sessions and so though the mixes for Something’s Up, Dancing Shoes and Lie Cheat and Steel sound pretty good, they could have come out with more character in my humble opinion.
Perhaps the biggest let down of the of the project was how it was marketed. I had brought in Hani Nasser, Steve Hardy, Leah Zeger, Michael Jerome, Jeffrey Radaich, Fonogenic and all the other talented and colourful musicians not just for their playing abilities but as a “band of gypsies” of sorts. Being an independent project the idea was that everyone would cross-market the work and hence everyone would benefit and enjoy the increased visibility. It also very much suited the vibe of the music and reflects the story of how the music took shape. Unfortunately the PR team that got assigned to the project had other opinions and didn’t understand the idea of a project with multiple singers, musicians and multi-instrumentalists. As such the project got branded “Peter Evans”, Peter replaced my vocals with his own on Lie Cheat and Steel (a riff I wrote when I was 19) and Cruel Geometry was taken off the physical product.
To make up for this it was suggested we write one more track that Peter could sing. He decided he wanted to do something with a Talking Heads flavor and together we came up with Pre Fab. I like how organically it came together; Peter sent me some lyrics, I put together a musical vibe and it wasn’t long before I booked the session at Ocean Way, now United, to cut it. I assembled the same team but this time brought in Alex Al on bass whom I had seen work with Michael Jackson and was by that time working with me on “Social Gravy” project.
From L - R: Alex Al, Michael Jerome, Jeffrey Radaich, Peter Evans, Brad Kohn, Joshua Stubee
I had a lot of fun with Pre Fab and ended up mixing it on my laptop. It is was a shame the marketing took the wind out of the project; it ended up losing most of its momentum and, for a time, it was hard for me to let go of all the hard work we had put in. In the end I had to think of it as a project that contains a lot of good work and positive energy but has yet to reach its market potential. That said I hope to include it in a catalogue licensing deal at some point.
The last step was to get it all mastered. I have worked with a number of well known mastering engineers (who I will not name and shame here) and have generally been unhappy with the results. At the time of this project I was regularly running into Grammy winner, Gavin Lurssen who is part of the TM movement through The David Lynch Foundation and also a biker. We got on well and I thought he would be a good guy for the job. Working with Gavin and his team was, and is still to this day, my best mastering experience. He’s not inexpensive but as with most things, you get what you pay for. His style also suited what Peter wanted for the mixes without overly coloring the work I had done. I think we only had one revision on one track.
All in all I’m proud of the work we did. I created a lane for Peter which made space for his quirky sense of humor and individual inclinations. In continuing to pursue it he has grown as an artist, honed his voice and gained valuable experience as an artist and producer. I can also say I learned a lot from the project and am immensely grateful for it. It was an evolution for me as a producer and there were lessons learned in what not to do as much as what to do at times that both assisted in my professional development. Since producing Miss Nomers Number my preferred way of working has been tracking live bands in larger studios rather than the layer-by-layer approach, which is so common these days. Not that I didn’t do record live before but now that’s how I set up as many projects as make sense to do that way. I truly believe the majority of the magic in music lies in the exchange between musicians and though this can be simulated or engineered, it’s certainly most fun when it’s captured in real-time.
I would like to thank all those involved with the project, particularly: Peter Evans, Allison Shaw, Eddie and Anita Kohn, Claudia and Aram Afshar, Ryan Kohn, Ellis Sorkin, Jeff Greenberg, Tina Morris, Steve Kofsky, Michael Jerome, Leah Zeger, Jeff Radiach, Christopher Wabich, Josh Stubee, Alex Al, Gary Briggs, Richard Garcia, Mars Ponte, Johnny Powell, Stan Bock, Hani Nasser, Richard Hardy, Josh Stubee, Jennifer Feeney and Gibson, Steven Slate and Slate Digital, Erica McDaniel and Universal Audio, Sara Griggs and Avid, Gavin Lurssen, David Pollock, Chris Harrison, Katherine Hoye, Jessica Freedman, Ben McLain, Rachel Bearer, Rami Jaffee, Samon Rajabnik, Michael Papillo, Alfred Goodrich, Ed Glendinning, Yulia Miroshnikova.
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