An Evening with Jeff Glixman

Jeff Glixman’s résumé is, to say the least, pretty damn astonishing. Having sat behind the board for everyone from Bob Marley to Kansas to Eric Clapton to Ludacris, Glixman has truly been there and done that — with both “there” and “that” summing together to equal “over 30 million records sold.” It’s true: Jeff Glixman is one of the most sonically savvy recordists of the last 30 years — and he has the Grammy nominations to prove it.

Having done stints in studios all over the world, nowadays Glixman resides in the quaint locale of Bethlehem, PA, where he practically lives in StarCity Recording along with cohorts Jim Gentile and Lily Salinas. Together, the group operates a truly world-class studio, working in all areas of music production from engineering basic tracks to mixing in 5.1. So we decided to pay Glixman a visit to talk tech about all things recording, get a literal boatload of choice tips and tricks, and find out how some of the hottest up and coming acts find themselves spending an evening with Jeff Glixman.

EQ: So tell me about this new studio [StarCity Recording] I keep hearing so much about.

Jeff Glixman: The studio’s managed by Lily Salinas, who has worked with me since I was in charge of the reconfiguration of Universal Music Group’s East Coast studios seven years ago. When Jim [Gentile, president and CEO of StarCity] and I decided to put this all together, I knew I didn’t want to be bogged down with running a major facility, so Lily was brought on board to handle the management for us. We have an SSL 9000K in one room and an Axiom MT Plus, which was formerly Mutt Lange’s, in another control room that we just completely refurbished because, even though the facility is just a few years old, I wasn’t satisfied with the sound or the feel of the room. All our live spaces, which run from medium to large, sound really great; and we’re just finishing building a performance stage in the theater. We have a smaller production room as well, which is also a surround sound room. And as we have multiple rooms at multiple price points it allows us to still do our productions while being available for public projects.

EQ: How is business for you out there in Pennsylvania? It seems to be a bit off the beaten path.

JG: So far, so good. I’m not sure that we could be anywhere near this price point if we had 14,000 sq. feet of production space in New York. Also, it’s just a really nice, peaceful environment. Everyone who’s come here has enjoyed it thoroughly. We’re about an hour and fifteen minutes out from New York and Philly, and there are lots of accommodations available. Plus, gambling was just legalized here.

EQ: What current projects are you working on?

JG: Well, there are three. I’m working with the Rhythm Devils, which includes members of the Grateful Dead and Phish to produce a kind of documentary/performance DVD/CD that has really just started. Also, Tyrone Vaughan, which I’m working on with Zak Rivizi, who is our chief engineer and co-producer on several of my projects. It’s a great, fun project that’s really special to me — we recorded it all analog. I like the commitment by the artist to do this in analog instead of in the cut-and-paste world. I enjoy the process; I’m willing to make a lot of decisions early on, and I like the way you conceptualize and move forward in the linear domain. You don’t have unlimited tracks; you decide what you like and want to keep and what you don’t. Also, Nathan Lee Jackson, our first signing StarCity Production, is in the midst of 22 tracks with Zak right as we speak.

EQ: For Tyrone’s project, what kind of deck and tape are you using?

JG: I’m using a Studer A827 Gold Edition with Quantegy GP9 tape — it’s the machine I use for every analog multitrack project, but the tape was just what was available when we started tracking. Lily has just located the distributor/manufacturer for the BASF 900, which now goes under another name. They purchased all the gear and moved the operation to Holland. I’ve just taken a big delivery of that and it appears to be just like the old 900. I love that tape.

EQ: I ask because I just got off the phone with a well-known mastering engineer who was complaining about how all the new tape is crap.

JG: It’s funny: I’ve had other people say new tape is crap, but I’ve still had good results. I don’t know, maybe it’s the batch? Mike Spitz at ATR Services is also manufacturing tape, and he dropped off a sample of his beta tape; it sounds excellent. I had absolutely no problems with the quality — no shedding at all.

EQ: Is it still around $200 a roll?

JG: Actually, it is close to $300 now. It makes for an expensive project.

EQ: How many takes are you keeping of each song?

JG: I have no restrictions on it, I’m pretty good at saying this is right and that’s wrong. But there’ll be a multiple of two or three; it’s rare if you only have one. For the whole project, including the B-reels, I’m using about 20 reels.

EQ: Which room are you using?

JG: I cut Tyrone’s project in the large studio A, our major space with the SSL, and then the overdubs are being done in the Axiom room where we have a lot of external gear available, a lot of class A mic pres.

EQ: What are you using for the drums? What mics and what configurations?

JG: I usually use three Neumann U87s — about 12 to 15 feet back — to carry the bulk of the drum sound. I use the kick drum as the center point to make sure they’re all exactly the same distance. This project was no different; I moved the particular kick and snare until I loved the way it sounded in the room, and then miked it up from there. I also used two Neumann M149s in omni as more distant room mics that were back 20–25 feet from the drums, in a room that’s 40 by 38 feet. I don’t like the sound of overheads on drums, but I’ll close mic on cymbals, like using a Neumann KM83 on the hi-hat — along with the Sennheiser 421s on the kick and toms and a [Shure] SM57 on the snare — so I can add them in if needed.

EQ: So did you have to dampen or deaden the room?

JG: We have some rather large gobos;12 feet tall and 4 feet wide, double-paneled, used soft-side out — that I had behind the drummer because he was right in front of a glass wall. There was just a little too much high-end coming off of that. So that wall was kind of semi-dampened, but the rest of it was just open in the room. It’s a really balanced, terrific sounding room, which is the key to getting good drum sounds. Besides that, the drummer has to be able to mix himself. My recording style that I’m using to capture his kit is dependant on this, as I can’t go back and balance the toms with the mic levels later and still maintain the ambience. As you bring up the floor toms, that shifts the image of the kick a little bit, and I like to get a very solid, clear image on the drums. For example, if he does a great take and he was just a little heavy on the hi-hat in verse 2 he’ll say, “let’s do it again.” I love that commitment to cut in this fashion, it makes for a fun project and when it’s all there, it’s just all there. You’ve got all the instruments at once so, even though we may go back and replace guitars, you can always tell where your song is.

EQ: How much of the initial, live tracking did you really end up keeping?

JG: I ended up replacing a large part of the guitars, probably 80% or so — strictly because we wanted to really narrow in on the different tones for each song, not due to the performance. Some of the bass I tracked for the same reason, just looking for tone.

EQ: So did you end up using DI/mic combination for the bass?

JG: All mic. A Sennheiser 421, I believe. We were using a ’64 Fender P-bass into a ’68 Sound City 50 watt amp with a 2x10" cab. It’s a real fat combination. The amp is not loud, but it has incredible tone. It’s very similar to the tone John Entwistle had on “Behind Blue Eyes.” We also mildly compressed the bass to tape through a [Urei] LA-2.

EQ: Did the guitar setups vary at all?

JG: The guitars vary. I rarely compress guitars at all, to or from tape. I usually get exactly the sound I want out of the amps, of which we have a nice selection: early Sound Citys, a ’65 Ampeg Gemini, a Tyrone’s heavily modified ’67 Bassman, a bunch of early ’70s Marshalls, Orange amps, and a beautiful Matchless that Phil Jamison custom made for us. It’s just about everything you could want.

EQ: Sounds good. What goes in comes out.

JG: It sure does. When you create this good organic foundation everything just fits together so well. The boys are just playing their guitars right through their normal effects and into the amps.

EQ: What about the vocals? What was the signal path like?

JG: For Tyrone, the match was a Telefunken U-47 tube mic into a Jeff Tanner GTQ 2-A pre through an [Urei] 1176 limiter right to tape.

EQ: I take it you are mixing on the 9000K?

JG: Yes. That’s a beautiful console, and it sounds amazing. I’ve always liked the ergonomics and flexibility of the SSL and enjoyed mixing on them.

EQ: Do you feel you’re using the board to get any kind of color, or is it just clean and you already have the color you want?

JG: It’s a pretty transparent console if you choose to use it in that fashion. The thing about the 9000K is that you can get it really punchy, like an old G+ SSL will get punchy. You know, even when we’re doing a bunch of our Pro Tools sessions we split it all out into the SSL, and we do our processing through the SSL. I love the channel compressors on the SSL. If we’re working in Pro Tools we’re really using it as storage or smart storage; there might be a few level rides and some cleanup work but it’s still our big tape machine.

EQ: So you’re obviously not a big plug-in type of guy.

JG: It depends on the project; some of them sound real good. I’m not real big on plug-ins but that’s because I’m fortunate enough to have other gear that gets me what I want. For the Tyrone Vaughan project, I wanted not to be fooling myself — living in the old world — so I went to great lengths to record this to Pro Tools at 88.2kHz and analog simultaneously without passing through either medium. I then returned to Pro Tools on one half of the console and analog on the other half. The difference is night and day. For my purposes, it worked way better in the analog domain. I was describing this to another person in the business that had a similar experience who really gave a description I wish I’d given: The analog return sounded just great, it sounded just like what I wanted to hear and expected to hear — and coming out of Pro Tools it sounded like a different song. It sounded so different we double-checked to make sure we were doing things right! I then transferred all the analog recordings in to Pro Tools in 88.2 and that sounded fine. Something in that initial capture is radically different and I don’t know if it’s analog noise and the other one is perfect or how it works. It’s fine after the transfer, but the original just sounds two-dimensional compared to the analog, which sounds a mile deep.

EQ: So you think it’s the tape compression, and possibly the sound is just not being duplicated?

JG: I really don’t know. I don’t cut hot to analog — not looking for compression — but when you try and mix the two, the analog mix goes together just instantly. You want to do something: to add EQ, compression, some kind of something to the digital track. However, I’ve cut loads of stuff in Pro Tools that I like too. I’m not going to go around and say you’ve got to use one or the other. I have great results with Pro Tools. I don’t process much within Pro Tools but, like I said, I’m always fortunate to be in a position where I’m doing it on the board with a lot of great outboard gear.

EQ: Why not go as high as 96kHz?

JG: I’ve done it in 96kHz. I really don’t hear any difference between 96kHz and 88.2kHz, but when you do the math and get it down to 44.1 it just seems better to me to use 88.2. Bob Ludwig suggested I use 88.2kHz when I was working on an Allman Brothers project that he mastered. I don’t know if it’s easier math for the computer or more natural.

EQ: Yeah, I sometimes wonder where we’re going to be in ten years, having 9000GB sessions from recording at 2304K. Anyhow, what do you typically mix down to?

JG: 1/2", Pro Tools, and, occasionally, DSD.

EQ: When you’re doing a project, how involved are you in the mastering process?

JG: I’m very involved in it. We get mastering projects here at the studio, which I’ll master. I just never would master my own mix. I need that objective ear.

EQ: So what do you use on your two bus?

JG: Typically a Neve 33609 Discreet or the SSL compressor.

EQ: What percentage are you mixing to half-track and what percentage to Pro Tools? Do you do both and decide later?

JG: We do both and then decide. Sometimes it sounds good one way, sometimes it sounds good the other . . . unless it’s a budget project.

EQ: You mix in 5.1 a lot. Tell us what you do during pre-production. Are you planning tricks for the 5.1 mix out ahead of time?

JG: Unfortunately most of the 5.1 mixes I do are of already existing material. I’ve only been involved in one project where I got to record the source that I was going to mix in 5.1. It was a live performance of The Orange Sky that I did in Trinidad. I spent a lot of time with their house mixer and engineer for dialing in the sound system. It was an old 1,400 person theater — we got a great sound in that theater from the front of house sound, and then I miked the room to anchor the surround position. It was the easiest thing to mix because it was all there from the beginning.

EQ: Tell me a bit about the mic placement.

JG: I had a stereo pair above the stage center behind the drummer, in a little balcony area. Midway back I had two mics off to the side and another two for the rear of the hall. In the mix, I had to do a little delay to just get the phase tight between the mid mics and the rear mics. It’s pretty obvious and it gets real clear real quick when you’re in the right place.

EQ: When you’re doing a 5.1 mix you’re adding reverb to make the space? How do you know the reverb times? Is it just a feel thing, or is there some heavy math involved?

JG: For me it’s a feeling thing. Certain times there’s an established prerogative that you’re working toward — like with [The Allman Brothers] Live at the Fillmore East. That is an extremely respected and established performance that everyone is familiar with, so you want to follow the parameters of the original mix but also want to come up with something different. I was working with the content producer at Universal and he was looking for an audience perspective. The only audience mics were on the stage, so I really worked with delay to get the audience perspective — what I figured was about 20–25 rows back. I didn’t really have a lot of house mix, but I was able to determine the reverb times by listening to certain parts of the performance. I used a Lexicon 480 to emulate the room and tweaked it for that, because you’re trying not to have a different reverb in every corner of the room.

EQ: When you’re mixing a live record in 5.1, are you physically moving tracks inside the box to adjust time or setting delays to make them line up?

JG: All of the above; they’re all different. Like with the drums on Live at the Fillmore East there were only four tracks total for two drummers — so on that one I had to do a lot of track-splitting and simulation. Because of the processing and the separation, you need to apply certain delays; you don’t want it to get phase-y or anything.

EQ: It sounds like a bit of a pain, but it sounds like you enjoy it as well.

JG: It’s a blast. Like anything, it has its own set of problems and challenges but it also has its own set of rewards.