AP: How and when did you first get involved with producing/engineering? Your answer to the previous question may answer this, but what did you start with first, and how did you then adapt to the other?
K: Back in the day, Zack and I played in a band together. Zack’s dad had an analog reel to reel in his basement with a bunch of microphones. In high school, our band was determined to record some demos so we figured out how to get the reel to reel to work so we could have tapes to sell. Yeah, I said tapes. This was in 1995. So basically after that we wanted to know how to make our recordings better and better. In 1998, Zack and I had a class together in high school that let us leave to go intern somewhere. There was a new studio in Atlanta called Tree Sound that had just opened up, so we decided to go intern there so we could learn more about recording. After high school, Zack went to The University Of Georgia to be a music performance major and then came back to Tree Sound and quickly went full time. During that time I went to Middle Tennessee State University and got a degree in recording, then came back to Atlanta and started back at Tree Sound.
AP: How do you prepare to work with a band? Do you listen to previous recordings? See them live? What if they’re a small band with no previous demos doesn’t play shows, etc.?
ZK: We love it when the bands send us demos of all of their new songs for the record through email. That helps us prepare in advance. Of course we scope out all of their old material before we work with them to help make sure that we like what we are getting into. We will go to a show if the band’s playing in town. Of course, that also depends on whether we actually have the day off. But we love to show support to the bands we’ve worked with in the past and/or looking forward to working with in the future.
AP: How do you set the right tone for a session?
ZK: We typically try to hang out a little bit with the band before we dive in deep so that we can Bro Out a little bit before things get too serious. When we worked with Driving East, we took a break from recording and we left the studio to go play Laser Tag. It was hilarious.
AP: What’s the best way for bands to get in touch with you? Will you work with unsigned bands?
ZK: The best way is by emailing us or contacting our manager. His name is Mike Kato and he works for the Bennett Kaufman Entertainment Group in L.A. Just email Mike@bkentertainmentgroup.com. Both Kenneth Mount and Zack Odom have personal myspace if you wanted to talk directly to them.
AP: What software do you use? Why did you choose it over all the other programs out there?
ZK: We use Pro Tools everyday in the studio. For loops and crazy sounds we use Reason 3.0 and an Mpc2000xl, Triton keyboard. We have always used Pro Tools.
AP: Vocal mic of choice? Do you use it for all vocals, or does it depend on the singer?
ZK: We have 3 main mics that we use on vocals. We do test out mics on singers if one isn’t cutting it. For most recordings we have used a Neumann M149 tube mic on vocals. But when we were doing Chroma (Cartel), the Telefunken U47 sounded so good on Will that we used that mic for him. Tree Sound just got a new mic that we got to break in on this Sick City album with the singer Josh. The mic is called a Telefunken Elam 251. It sounds AMAZING! So we aren’t always set on the same mic, but we love these three, the ELAM 251, Telefunken U47, and the always good on everything mic, the Neumann M149.
AP: I’ve heard about your special drum recording techniques; tell us a little about that.
ZK: We LOOOOOVE recording drums. There are a lot of factors that go into making a drumset sound good. The 3 main factors are tuning, mic placement, and EQ, and obviously it all comes down to the guy behind the set. We learned how to tune drums from Tony Adams. Tony is an amazing drum tech. He drum tech-ed for Matchbox 20, Aerosmith, Sevendust, basically a ton of huge bands. He has written books on drum tuning; he’s a legendary drum tech master. He taught us his technique about tuning the drums to the keys on the songs, and it’s changed our drum sounds drastically.
So when start doing a drum session, we throw on new heads. We prefer Remo Coated Emperor or Ambassador heads for the toms. And for the snare we LOVE Emperor X coated heads. We put those on the heads and stretch the crap out of them by standing on the heads. Then we take all the drums into Studio A by the piano and start tuning the drums to notes. I am a drummer (Kenneth) and when I first heard of tuning drums to the key of the song, my first thought was that’s the most retarded thing I’ve ever heard. But it really makes a HUGE difference. For example, snare drums all ring at a note. Lets say the song you are working on is in the key of G. A good note for the snare would be a D. If the snare is ringing on an F# it would sound like a black and a white key next to each other on a piano. The toms are tuned in 4ths apart from each other. Anyway, when the drum set is ready to go, it’s time for miking it up.
Tree Sound has a room called THE CAVE that we do a LOT of drums in . It’s a HUGE room with a stage and a rock climbing wall and a full PA system. We take full advantage of having a huge room to record drums in . We set up about 19 mics on the drum set, including 2 pairs of room mics. We have (2) Neumann M149 close room mics about 10 feet in front of the drum set. Back at the rock-climbing wall, we put up 2 Neumann U89’s about 16 feet in the air to capture the natural reverb of the room. All the records we have done the drums have all natural reverb, we just control it with how much of the room mics we mix into the song. One song we did with the Fold, it’s called “Revisited,” the drums sounds during the first half of the song is pretty much only the room mics. The tricky part with lots of room mics is when the drummer is hitting lots of crashes and rides then it tends to be too washed out. So if its just a closed hi hat beat or a marching snare drum part, we crank the room mics\ in the mix. The craziest drum technique we tried on drums was when we were doing Cartel’s Chroma. We had this huge punch bowl of water and put it in front of the drum set. We took 2 SM57’s that were our own (not the studios) and put condoms on them and put the mics under water in front of the drum set. We wanted to hear what drums sounded like underwater. It was hilarious. It actually sounded better than you would think. After a few songs we got crazy with the mics and put them in the toilet by the rock-climbing wall just to see what it would sound like. The condoms kept the water off the mic. I think we laughed for like an hour at how ridiculous it looked. We never ended up using it, but it was funny.
AP: Which monitors do you use?
Zack and Kenneth: Yamaha NS-10’s with a sub. Got to have a sub!
AP: What’s the one piece of equipment you can’t live without?
ZK: Hmmm.. an SSL console and a Pro Tools rig. I guess that’s 2.
AP: Have you ever used a POD or other amp-modeling device? What’s your take on those?
ZK: No way. PODS are dope for home recording, don’t get me wrong. If you have an apartment and you want to record at 4 am in the morning, PODS are amazing. Between Zack, Kenneth and the studio we have every amp that the POD is trying to copy so we just use the real thing. I think anyone would if they had that option.
AP: I was reading an interview a while back in Tape Op where a producer mentioned that he’s often had to bring in studio musicians (many times late at night, behind the band’s back) because some of the bands he’s worked with were utterly incompetent at their instruments. Is this a decision that you’ve had to face? If so, how do you break the news to the musician?
ZK: Yeah we’ve heard stories like that. We’ve been very fortunate to work with amazing bands that can all play pretty well. We have never had to do that. That’s some shady crap!
AP: This is a pretty hot topic right now at AP.net, but what’s your take on the use of auto-tune in recordings? When or why will you use it (or not use it)? Is it just another tool (like tuning a guitar)?
ZK: Auto-tune is a great tool, but shouldn’t be used as a crutch for a vocalist. When we do vocals, we have the singer get in the booth and we will run a verse over and over. Once they are warmed up, we get about 5 amazing, strong, well performed takes of all the parts and then we comp the vocals. Comping vocals is when we go through each phrase and pick the best one we like.
We try and get the artist to get the parts as perfect as possible. If they just can’t get it and we are in a time crunch, then we’ll break it out. Or use it specifically as an effect. We think the autotune effect is WAY over used, but sometimes the band feels very, very, very, very strongly about wanting it on a specific part of a song.
AP: What studio tricks have you developed over the years?
ZK: Recently when we were recording Cartel, we were trying to create this crazy sound for the end of a song called “If I Were To Write The Song…” We took a remote control car and put it next to Joe’s Guitar and cranked the gain and when we turned the car on it made this crazy sound. You can also accomplish this sound with an electric drill.
When we were recording a band called THE LESS, we did this effect with playing a grand piano with a guitar pick. We opened the top of the piano and with one hand held down the keys we wanted to hear and plucked the strings in the piano with a guitar pick. It kinda sounded cool.
On the opening song of the new Cartel album we were going for a Beatles-sounding vibe; for the drums we put a bed sheet over the entire drum set and then we duct-taped Zacks wallet to the Snare drum. Then we only set up 3 mics to record the entire drum set, kinda what they did back in the day. It sounds really freaking cool and really old school. It totally fit the song, you just have to hear it.
Kenneth has built a bunch of microphones out of old telephones that he wired to a mic cables. So for crazy sounds we’ll put the phone mic up and it makes the “phone effect” but it’s the real thing. We like doing some background vocals through the telephone. We’ve used it on drums, and guitars before.
AP: What’s your take on analog vs. digital?
ZK: For rock bands these days in a top of the line recording facility, it seems that digital is the most time and cost effective way to do things. But we do like to record drums to 2-inch tape as well as mix down to ½ inch tape given that there is enough time and money to pay for it. We use the Studer A827 2 inch machine. Tape compression rules.
AP: Do you guys have a production name?
ZK: Yeah, it’s called ZK Productions. We have a website also at www.zkproductions.com. You can check out pictures and clips of bands we’ve produced , recorded and mixed. It also has all our contact info on the website.
AP: What studios do you guys use?
ZK: We work out of Tree Sound studios in Atlanta. We started our career there. Tree Sound is an AMAZING studio. It’s like a recording studio amusement park. Just go see the pics on the website (www.treesoundstudios.com) It has 2 SSL rooms , Studio A and Studio 11. It also has 2 amazing drum rooms, the Studio A live room and The Cave. And Tree Sound has 2 smaller overdub studios. The gear is top of the line. We have been very blessed to get to call that studio our home.
Lots of big artists come through that studio. Jimmy Eat World, Beastie Boys, Death Cab, Ludacris, OutKast, Akon, David Gray, Collective Soul, Matchbox 20, Sevendust, Elton John are just a few of the tons of artists that we have had the amazing opportunity to record when we were working at Tree Sound.
AP: Do you have to like the band’s music to work on their project?
ZK: Yes. Absolutely. If we don’t like the band’s music, we don’t work with them.
AP: What advice do you have for people who are interested in getting involved in engineering and producing? Do you recommend reading any books or things like that, or should one just get their hands dirty and try experimenting?
ZK: Producing is one of those things that can’t really be taught at a school. Engineering can, but really just develop your ear by listening to other records, and talking with other producers/engineers. We developed our own way of recording, but it was by watching, working, and learning how other dudes did it. The only rule in recording is that there are no rules. Everyone does every thing differently. So find your own way and get the best you can at it.
AP: With Cartel’s recent success, have you noticed a lot more people looking to work with you?
ZK: Yeah, we’ve noticed.
AP: Have you ever chased a band down and invited them to come record with you?
ZK: Yes, Cartel is a perfect example. Back in 2004, the Atlantis Music conference was being held in Atlanta and we were trying to decide what bands to go see, so Kenneth was doing research and heard some of the Ransom EP stuff on their website. It was pretty cool so we decided to go check them out. They were playing at Hard Rock Café. We only saw 3 songs, and we were BLOWN away. I remember thinking, “Wow that kid can freaking sing.” They were amazing live. That same night, Rory from the Militia Group had flown out to scout out the band.
We went up to them after the show and were like we HAVE to record your band. Tree Sound was cool enough to let us bring them in so we could record one song with the band as kind of like a trial. We went over to Josephs’s (lead guitar) house and we did preproduction on 2 songs. They had these 2 awesome new songs called “Say Anything (Else)” and another song called “Honestly.” We could only record one song, so we went with “Honestly.” We went into studio A and did the entire song in one day. When the final mix got back to Militia Group, everyone was freaking out. We were too, because of how awesome it turned out. Cartel got signed to Militia Group right after the Hard Rock show, so a full length album was the next step. We soon began doing prepro on Chroma, and I guess the rest is history. Those guys are so much fun to work with that it’s not really work. It’s a bunch of friends recording music together. That’s what any recording project should be. It’s crazy how it all came together and how important that one day was. We only had 21 days to record and mix “Chroma.” We were pulling late nighters but it was so much fun. Even on the last night before we had to fly out to get the album mastered , songs were being mixed by Zack in one studio, Kenneth and Will were still tracking the song Q and A in another studio!!! We had to fly out to LA to get the songs mastered the next day. I think we got done at about 4AM, slept one hour, and then got on a plane to go to LA to get the album mastered.
AP: What pieces of gear would you recommend for a beginner to get started with (hardware/software/mics/etc)?
ZK: Get an Mbox and learn Pro Tools. Then learn about lots of different styles of music and learn about how a band works. The best way to learn to produce is to be in a band for a long time and be involved in the writing. Then practice recording your band. That’s how we “became” producers I guess.
AP: What’s currently in your stereo/playing on your iPod?
Kenneth - old Radiohead, Jacks Mannequin, The FOLD, Rihanna –that “Umbrella” song is dope, Forever the Sickest kids, Cartel’s new album, we just got it mastered like 4 days ago, Hit the Lights demos, I am so stoked for their new stuff, its amazing, Holiday Parade mastered mixes, THE LESS-indie Atlanta band that is amazing. Honestly, I use my iPod for work so much. Even after we finish an album I listen to it over and over again. You put so much time into recording an album it’s nice to sit back and enjoy it. I like the new Norah Jones album actually, it’s relaxing. That’s what I’ll throw in on the way home from the studio. I like jazz and blues also.
Zack Odom - OUR LADY PEACE, Need to Breathe
AP: What are some of your favorite albums, production-wise?
Kenneth - Jimmy Eat World’s “Bleed American” and “Futures,” Foo Fighters’ “Colour and the Shape,” Switchfoot’s “We Were Meant to Live,” Blink 182 and AFI (Jerry Finn did those albums and I think he is an awesome producer), Nirvana’s In Utero for the drum sounds, and Linkin Park’s “Hybrid Theory.”
Zack: I only listen to Aerosmith. Just kidding.
AP: How does it work with having two producers instead of one? Does one of you just engineer and the other produce?
ZK: We both do exactly the same thing, we switch off recording parts. We are both involved in an album from beginning to end. We bounce ideas off each other. Even when we are mixing, we switch off.
AP: So let’s talk briefly about life in the bubble for Cartel’s “Band in a Bubble.” What were your thoughts when you first heard about the bubble and that you were going to be featured on the show?
ZK: It was in January and we were working with Mayday Parade doing vocals. Zack got the call from Chris Black (Cartel’s manager). He gave us a very vague description saying MTV wants us to live in some kind of glass house and film us recording the next record and they want to make a show about it. At first we both were thinking that is the craziest thing we have ever heard. We were stoked to be on TV though. We didn’t know too many details until about a month before we went in. The bubble people got us all the equipment we asked for so we were confident we could still give the album a great sound. We had 16 Neve 1081 preamps, an AWS SSL console, 2 1176 compressors and a Neve 33609 compressor and some outboard SSL channel strips. The mics they got us were SICK. We were using C12’s for over heads on the drums and we had the Elam 251 for vocals along with our normal set up for guitars and bass. Those C-12 mics and the Elam 251 cost about 10 grand each. They were also right in the path of the rain the night the window exploded from the storm. Glass fell all over Nicks guitar pedals and rain was pelting the mics. That was crazy. Lucking nothing was broken besides the glass. Overall the bubble was a lot of fun and a lot better than we thought it was going to be.
AP: How distracting was the bubble when it came to getting work done?
ZK: The days that events were being held was the most distracting, Such as M-Day (Memorial Day). There were like 300 people in front of the bubble begging the band to play, beating on the glass with their fists and screaming for the band to sign autographs. Luckily the control room was completely isolated from people looking in. So once we went in the control room we were able to concentrate and get stuff done. We got most of the record done during the night when we were left alone. There were A LOT of late nighters in the bubble. We got pretty used to the cameras being in our face so that wasn’t a really big distraction. It was really weird when we would take breaks and eat though. It felt like it was feeding time at the zoo because we would be eating and there would be people in lawn chairs out front just watching us eat. It was really bizarre. It was also really weird that people could hear everything we were doing, and see us on the Internet at ALL TIMES. We would sometimes make fun of rollerbladers coming down the pier to look at the bubble. We didn’t know for the first week that our voices were being broadcasted out though a PA system0 so they heard everything we were saying. Haha. Oh well, who cares.
AP: Do you feel that the bubble affected Cartel's music in any way?
ZK: Absolutely not. The band was extremely prepared and we were all on our game. We had all the exact recording equipment that we would have used at normal recording studio. So nothing sonically was sacrificed. The bubble actually had really good acoustics. We are all very happy with how it came out.
AP: Many people wondered about/were skeptical of the acoustic qualities of the bubble - what were the acoustics like and did they pose any challenges when it came to recording?
ZK: We both were very skeptical when we got there because we didn’t know what the environment was going to be like until the day we started the show. The bubble was made of basically insulation covered in silver spandex. It was almost the same material used in studio baffles. It was pretty dead sounding inside. The control room was built by an awesome studio designer, Fransis Manzela, so it was all really well done. The biggest challenge was where to do the vocals. There were only 2 rooms, the bubble and the control room. We ended up putting Will up in the control room to do vocals and we all used headphones instead of the NS-10 speakers when we tracked vocals. All the speaker cabs and the drums stayed in the bubble and it worked out really well for us. Once we shut the control room door you couldn’t hear what was going on in the bubble.
The isolation was surprisingly awesome. After a few days of getting situated, we felt like we were right at home. We often forgot we were on a freaking Pier in New York city and being filmed ALL THE TIME!
AP: Did you try any different recording techniques in the bubble?
ZK: The bubble had these intercoms so the band could talk people outside. One night we miked up the intercom and we had Will do vocals through the intercom for a background part.
AP:Have you or your manager noticed any increase in calls from potential clients as a result of the show?
ZK: Yeah we are getting tons of calls.
AP: Kenneth, any plans to continue recording Retro vs. Techno songs? What happens if a label really likes your stuff and offers you a deal?
Ha, yeah dude Retro vs Techno was a fluke of nature. That seriously came out of the blue. I want to do more songs totally, I want to do an album. I just need time to write it. If a label offered me a deal? I would be flattered haha, but I wasn't trying to get anything out of it. You can go to myspace.com/retrovstechno and download it for free. That song was completely recorded at my house. I didn't have mic either, I used a telephone to sing through for vocals. So more Retro vs Techno will come, I just need a subject to write about. Maybe a song about fat chicks on myspace that lie about what they look like. That could be funny.
AP: How does one learn to become a producer?
ZK: Find an artist you believe in and record them, then do it again, and again. Learn about a piece of equipment and get awesome at it. Take everything you learn and come up with your own way of recording. Always try to make every recording you do better than the last thing you did. Also know music theory and know how to communicate with a band. And we think personality has a lot to do with the success or failure of a producer. Bands want to work with someone they like to be around. So make the recording process fun and don’t get stressed out. So just be cool and have fun and be awesome at what you do.
"Producing is one of those things that can’t really be taught at a school. Engineering can, but really just develop your ear by listening to other records, and talking with other producers/engineers. We developed our own way of recording, but it was by watching, working, and learning how other dudes did it. The only rule in recording is that there are no rules. Everyone does every thing differently. So find your own way and get the best you can at it."
Love these dudes that quote is dead on and 100 %,right this concept is something that should be taught to all those hip hop cats who go to school thinking they will learn how to be a producer , the thing you go to school for and can sorta be taught is audio engineering, but at the end of the day either you have it or you dont. as far as the article goes, best article yet with producers (- the cartel bubble filler), really cool dudes and very open on their work ethic. rock on.