Ryan “Bart” Williams, known for his low frequency onslaught in The Black Dahlia Murder. These days he runs his company Augmented Audio & does New Media for Metal Blade Records. He has just finished tracking for the upcoming The Black Dahlia Murder album which will be out this fall via Metal Blade. He has also recorded bands like Walls of Jericho, Bloodlined Calligraphy and many more. We reached Ryan and we spoke about the early days of recording, how low can you tune before you’ll have issues, how Metal production has divided into different camps,the importance of A/Bing and much more!
Around 1999 my Dad bought a digital “8-track” by Roland, I believe it was the VS-840. This thing was hilarious and awkward looking back, it had many “virtual tracks” so you were basically doing sub mixes and bouncing them down like you would back in the day. It recorded on frickin ZIP DISKS! LOL! My dad plays guitar but isn’t really a recording guy so after he bought it he let me borrow it for a few months to learn it so I could then teach him how to use it….. That was really it, I was a 19 year old kid in a band and I all of the sudden had a way to record my friends and myself, so that’s what I did. I taught myself a good amount through trial and error and eventually went on to Recording School. But that Roland was definitely the thing that launched my production career. Thanks Dad!
2. What’s your stance on the digital vs analog battle?
My thoughts on the Digital vs Analog battle are…. I don’t see it as a battle. Digital is obviously superior in many ways and has opened the door to EVERY musician having the ability to record themselves and even lay down ideas or compose from a PHONE! Analog is misunderstood in a lot of ways, I often hear “vinyl sounds better” and maybe because of the limited high end and possibly less compressed masters it can sound better to some people, but objectively digital can replicate sound without as many limitations and without degradation over time. There are also some nostalgia factors involved with analog, for example hearing the crackle of a needle on vinyl is not something the musician never intended for a listener to hear, but now we have plugins that will add that for ‘effect’. We get attached to the limitations of our media, and like the mistakes in classic records it becomes a part of the art, and there is nothing wrong with that. Ultimately though the bigger question is whether or not the entire universe at the smallest resolution is digital or analog and as far as we can tell now it is digital, so you can’t really beat that!
3. Do you think one day software, emulation-hardware etc will surpass the real thing?
As an owner of a Universal Audio interface and a Kemper I would argue that digital has already far surpassed analog, maybe not in terms of pure fidelity, but I have what would literally take up a huge studio space plus a huge storage space of outboard gear, amplifiers, effects, tape machines, hardware reverbs, console channels etc and they take up zero physical space. We are trying to effect an audio signal in certain ways, in the end anything that can be done to that audio signal in an analog chain can be replicated with math and built into a digital system. In the end no matter how cool a real piece of analog gear is we are going to be able to replicate it digitally and yes we will far surpass what analog could ever do. We should however have a respect and gratefulness to the analog recording pioneers that that created the gear and techniques that will forever color the way we hear music.
4. How do you see the current Music Production scene? The pros the cons, what we might be missing/what we could improve?
As far as Metal goes the production scene is pretty interesting right now. I feel like you have a few different branches going in separate directions. There is a heavily edited and processed branch that is doing some amazing things, I’m thinking Periphery, Rings of Saturn, the Djent scene as a whole. This branch may be losing a bit of the human feel and sound of music but at the same time there are people returning to analog and or trying to de-computerize and re-humanize the sound of recordings, bands like Goatwhore and Ensiferum are recording to tape. As a whole though the current music production scene is complicated and I don’t think any one person can even have a good overview of it.. I could maybe speak about the metal scene but there are so many people producing things that sonically have never been done before, Deadmau5 and Skrillex come to mind. I have no Idea how they create their tracks but I enjoy the result. I also really admire people like Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as well as the huge number of Vaporwave producers. I guess my point is we get focused in our little genre and start to think that’s the way things are, but there are many branches and interesting things happening all over, most I’m sure I’m not even aware of! But as far as metal goes I think the biggest things I’ve noticed lately are people sharing and helping each other. Learning from your peers is what it’s all about, there is a Facebook group called “Metal Audio Engineers”, multiple forums and people like Eyal Levi who have transitioned to educating full time. If you want to get educated there is no excuse anymore. I have also seen the over saturation of ‘producers’ and mixers muddy the waters a bit, but more people understanding recording in the end will only lead to better recordings for everyone to enjoy.
5. What’s the latest piece of gear (hardware/software) that made you go bananas?
The last piece of gear I got that made me go bananas was probably My Universal Audio Apollo – but more specifically probably the hardware they have emulated in software and the fact that it runs with near zero latency for tracking and mixing. Even more specifically the SPL twin tube Processor (UAD emulation) has made it into multiple mixes on everything from vocals to guitar.
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)?
I would definitely want an A.I. assistant that could act as engineer for my productions… “computer edit those drums the way I taught you”.. “computer fix the tuning of this track”, “computer find all the sections that are ahead of the grid and highlight them for me”.. You get the idea. And as far off as something like that may seem, I’d bet in 15-20 years these will be some of the basic functions of DAWs.
7. If you could give one piece of advice to a young starting home-studio producer, what would it be?
My advice would be A/B your work with productions you like. This is probably the single most powerful thing you can do to improve your work. I’m sure by this point everyone interested in audio work has been told this or just learned to do it on their own, but I don’t think it can be over emphasized. Learn to articulate what you are hearing in a mix you really like, learn to spot frequencies that you have too much or little of compared to pro mixes, learn what constitutes a “good” sounding snare, guitar, bass, piano, etc. Never just work in an isolated box, always have some reference to go off of and try to be brutally honest with yourself and your shortcomings.
8. Bands tend to tune lower and lower these days, how does that make you feel? Not only as a producer but also as a bass player? Also do you think we have reached the Mariana Trench or do you think there’s room to go even lower?
Low tuning is a funny thing, mostly guitars and basses don’t really like it. Fortunately now we have longer scale instruments and a plethora of bigger strings to choose from, but don’t forget if you tune down a guitar you are going to have intonation issues, same with bass. Unless you have a true temperament guitar you’re always just “close”. So by god if you are going to tune down learn to intonate your guitar and bass as close as possible. And always remember Meshuggah did it better.