Thomas “Plec” Johansson is a Swedish producer/engineer and he has worked with such bands as: Soilwork, Scar Symmetry, Onslaught, Mors Principium Est. He works out of his Panic Room Studio in Skovde, Sweden. We talked about how amazing Air Conditioner can be compared to new studio gear, why producers shouldn’t pay too much attention on the internet, what to do when facing a deadlock situation with the client and much more!
1. What was the thing that got you into Music Production?
I think, with only a few exceptions, that every single successful rock/metal producer started out as a guitar player. It might have something to do with guitar players generally being gear geeks with abnormal attention to detail and that makes the studio a very natural place for them to be. For me, being a guitar player things just got to the point after all the 8 hour days of practice where the studio and the ins and outs of music production took over my attention instead.
2. What’s your stance on the digital vs analog battle?
My journey through all of that is quite different from other people’s since I’ve done a lot of time in both camps. I started out basically the same way as everyone else my age which meant a cracked bundle of Waves-plugins and a pirated copy of Cubase. This was considered very hobbyist and involved everything that professionals liked to laugh at and make fun of. Fast forward 20 years and this is the way all professionals are working now even using exactly the same old Waves plugins, hahaha! Does it suddenly sound better after two decades? Of course not, people have just gotten used to it and lowered their thresholds, no pun intended..
I first did 5 years of time working ITB, loving the features and not going crazy about the sound..
I then did 2 years of time OTB mixing analog, loving the sound but going crazy over all the limitations..
I then did 5 years of time ITB once AGAIN, loving the features and not going crazy about the sound..
I’ve now done 6 years on modern SSL consoles, loving the features, workflow AND going crazy about the sound. So finally it’s come full circle for me.
The problems start when people try to make digital models of analog gear I think. Digital sounds great to me if you use digital for what digital does best, which is clean and pure. Plugins trying to emulate analog gear never sounds as good to me. Most developers consider their users not being able to distinguish the differences so they cut corners in their designs to make them very CPU friendly and easier to develop which is just not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love plugins as much as the next guy and developers are for the most part doing an awesome job but the whole modelling thing is just way over-hyped for my taste, and it’s crazy when people walk into a studio now seeing a real 1176 and think that’s a hardware recreation of a plugin which is a clone of another plugin which is a model of old analog gear.
I still do mix ITB whenever I have too many things going at once and can’t use the console for everything and even though I’m happy with the results on a musical level, I don’t get any long-term listening pleasure out of it since I always hear what it could’ve sounded like.
3. Do you think one day software, emulation-hardware etc will surpass the real thing?
Yes, this would be wonderful and of course it will happen at some point, and probably sooner than later if someone would be perfectly honest and explain to me why they can’t still to this day make a software reverb sound just as good as a cheap hardware box from the early 80’s that has 1 millionth the processing power of modern DAW’s. The same old story about that being up to cheap internal AD/DA converters making them sound so much deeper, real and 3D, is REALLY getting old..
It’s kind of like the world successfully colonized Mars but is having trouble figuring out the basic act of walking!
4. How do you see the current Music Production scene? The pros the cons, what we might be missing/what we could improve?
The music production scene is quite beautiful these days! I love the way we can now work and if it wasn’t for that technological development I for one could’ve never been fortunate enough to make a living doing this. What we are missing these days is that concept of good workflow and decision making since we don’t have an established way of doing things anymore compared to engineers some decades earlier armed with just a couple of 24-track machines. Even though we can work so much faster these days, things were a lot easier back then due to formats and working methods being standardized on a global basis. Imagine sending a finished ProTools mix-session loaded with plug-ins out to another studio or try opening that session on your own setup 5-10 years from now. Basically impossible! Compare that to a session on a 24-track 2″ reel which can be set up on any machine in the world even decades after the fact and be played back properly. It’s not really a fair comparison but you get the idea.
Today, people are used to doing it their way and their way only and put off very important decisions for someone else to make, just hoping that it will turn out alright, haha! Which can a lot of times make things quite inefficient when collaborating on projects since there are a lot less trained professionals out there now who have a deeper sense of what’s going on.
5. What’s the latest piece of gear (hardware/software) that made you go bananas?
Studio gear has just become great tools that rarely impresses me anymore since you get used to a certain level of quality working with top analog gear and since there’s been very little true development in the last decade in terms of plug-ins were developers now are more interested in upgrading their GUI’s and reusing old cookie-cutter algorithms, I have to say that what impresses me the most these days is the air conditioner in my control room.
6. Let’s say we could get the brightest of the brightest and smartest of the smartest to come up with a piece of gear (software/hardware) and it could eliminate one annoying thing, what would it be (could be audio or anything, physically impossible or possible)?
Acoustics!… and guitar players! Did I mention guitar players?
7. If you could give one piece of advice to a young starting home-studio producer, what would it be?
Stay off the internet! No really.. there’s SO much misinformation going around as fact even in this day and age. I just know that I could’ve shaved a few years off of my development if I would’ve listened to my own ears instead of the internetz’ early on. The internet is a huuuuuge source of information and especially in this field today, but always remember to trust yourself before trusting anyone else.
8. When facing a deadlock situation, guitarist wants this and drummer wants that. What is your escape from that? What’s your diplomatic go-to solution to all that?
Well, usually the worst thing even though you sometimes have to, is not to argue. Arguing over anything in the studio usually takes longer than trying out whatever the argument is about.. If the arguing persists, you end the session and go have a beer. Usually everyone is on the same page the next day hearing it with “fresh ears”.