Coffee Break Club: Sylvia Massy

Coffee Break Club: Sylvia Massy

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Sylvia Massey is an American producer/engineer who has worked with bands such as: Tool, System Of A Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Prince, The Melvins and many more. She works mainly out of her private studio in Ashland, OR. We spoke about the what got her started, $30,000 one-trick-pony’s, the future of recording, which album she’d like to go back to and redo, why all bets are off when she goes to Europe and much more!

1. What was the thing that got you into Music Production?

​I have always loved reggae music, especially dub reggae re-mixes. As a teenager, my ska band recorded a demo in a professional studio in San Francisco. We did some of our own dub mixes just for fun. When I realized that the dub was actually created by a mixing engineer manipulating the original music with splashes of reverb and delay, I knew this was something I wanted to do!​


2. What’s your stance on the digital vs analog battle?

​It’s been a while since I sold my Studer A820, and once in a while I miss it, though I admit not very often. Digital recording has so many advantages to analog recording. there is no longer a reason for me to handicap myself with analog tape. Mixing is a different story.

I have had a love/hate relationship with Pro Tools since 1994, but it has only been recently that I have gone to fully mixing-in-the-box. I think that the plug-in emulations have finally gotten good enough to rival their analog equivalents, and there are enough wacky fun effects and virtual noise boxes for me be spontaneous and adventurous in the mix room. Every once in a while though, as I listen back to a quick rough that I did on the Neve console immediately after tracking a project, I’ll marvel at a special “something” missing when it stays in the digital realm. Soon I will be mixing Turbonegro at Amper Tone Studio in Oslo, and I’m looking forward to trying a true hybrid approach to mixing. My approach will be to sub-mix stems in the box, then send those stems out to Amper Tone’s Neve console. I will be using analog stereo buss EQ and compression, and will bring vocals and other specific tracks to the console to use analog Neve 1081 EQ. We might even commit our mixes to 1/2″ tape to try to get that magic something back….


3. Do you think one day software, emulation-hardware etc will surpass the real thing?

First of all, ignore the graphic appearance of the plug-in. If you take a perspective of plug-ins as having their own unique character, then modern software easily surpasses anything older and analog. Face-it, a Waves or UA emulation of a Fairchild 670 just ain’t gonna be that close to a real one…. but that is not all bad! Today, you have more control than ever before.​ You can make it sound like an old piece of gear, something recognizable, or make it do something completely different. I think one of the advantages of using the analog 670 is that you didn’t really have to think about it too much. You put a signal through it and it sounds great. A $30,000 one-trick-pony. But damn, it’s a good trick. With the digital versions you have to really use your ears, and your eyes, and your brain. Watch your input levels because hot digital is awful.

5. What’s the latest piece of gear (hardware/software) that made you go bananas?

​I love the Looptrotter analog stereo limiter (the Emperor) and the Looptrotter stereo compressor (the ​Monster). They are fun and easy to use, and really enhance my recordings. I’m looking forward to working with Looptrotter, a Polish company, on building a large-frame analog console to debut at NAMM in 2018.
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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)?

​Looking forward to a lightweight, buss-powered 40-input digital interface​, so I can record massive sessions off-the-grid, using just my laptop.


7. If you could give one piece of advice to a young starting home-studio producer, what would it be?

​If you know how to write and program music in a computer program, you have a big advantage over the “engineer” type of producer. Especially now. ​Trends in popular music are moving into more electronic and sampled types of songs. Of course there are holdouts, like Jack White, Black Keys, Royal Blood. But if you are starting out and looking for an edge, try using Logic Pro, Reason, Ableton Live and other music composition programs to enhance your artist’s music. Not as adventurous as the engineer/producer, but maybe you can have a foothold in both worlds.

8. If you could go back in time to remix/master/record one album, what would it be? (Can be your own production or someone elses production)

​Definitely I with I could re-master the first Tool record, “Opiate”. I think the mastering on that one sounds a bit weird… not at all how it sounded straight off the desk after we mixed it. I learned early to be careful with mastering. Choose an engineer who will listen to the mixes and only add what they need. Not just a cookie-cutter mastering job that carves too much out of the middle.


9. How do you stay healthy during recording process? Exercises? Diets? Things to avoid? Things to remember?

It is much easier to control diet when you have your own studio with a kitchen. I will cook a whole week’s worth of meals on a Sunday afternoon, then load individual dishes into the refrigerator to keep me fed throughout the week. I find that works to keep from gaining weight, but as soon as I take a trip to Europe, all that discipline goes out the window!!!


10. What’s the 1 item that a new producers shouldn’t be cheap with?

​Front end!  You can make great recordings with nothing but Shure SM58s, so don’t worry so much about a mic budget… but a quality front-end is essential. I suggest getting at least a pair of great mic pres/EQs​. How about a pair of Rupert Neve Shelford 5052 mic pre/EQs? Yummy!!!
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