Multi-Platinum mixing engineer Tony Maserati (Black Eyed Peas, Beyoncé, Usher) recently gave us an under-the-hood peak at the Tony Maserati Signature Series and its brand new plugin, the Maserati GRP Group Processor.
What was the concept behind the Tony Maserati Signature Series?
Well, the concept was to create or, in a way, replicate patches of equipment, chains and settings of equipment that I've been using for many, many years—whether a vocal chain or a particular chain with settings I use for kick drum. Obviously, all of them are specific for different kinds of instruments. The engineers at Waves listened to examples of music with my chain and without, and we talked quite extensively about how I achieved those, and what the settings were, things like that. We didn't do any cloning, but we did quite a lot of A/B listening. Essentially, we got very close to several of the chains that I use on a daily basis.
Was this a long process? How did it work exactly?
It took us about eight months to do, because I was in the middle of mixing three or four records at the time. I worked primarily with one of the Waves engineers and then he brought it to everyone else. Essentially, we spoke a few times a week. I would work on things, send him emails, and audio examples, and even pictures of what I was doing and diagrams of chains and then of course we worked on the GUI together—the interface. So it was quite a long process and I'm very happy with what we came up with.
Are there numerous processors behind each plugin?
There are quite a few processes behind the face of every plugin. In most cases, there's a main channel and an aux channel or two. The values of what gets sent those auxes was pre-determined by me and by the mode setting on each plugin itself, and I change those values based on what instrument may be sent to them. So yes, there are quite a lot of intricacies and they do mimic my chain. In fact, they mimic the network that's involved in the chain, whether it's an aux send or a return or just some way for me to EQ before it goes into a reverb. All those kinds of ideas are included in each plugin.
Do you ever find yourself using them yourself these days?
You know, it's funny—when we first finished them and they were released, it took me quite a while. Now it's been over a year and I do use them quite a lot. But then I realized it takes me some time to incorporate any new piece of equipment into my setup. I find them to be great shortcuts to help work through ideas fast, giving me a better starting position to enhance those ideas.
If someone wanted to get the same results using other plugins, what would it entail?
I don't actually think it's possible. Think of an engineer as a small town doctor showing up with a small black bag filled with all his tools and tricks—things he's got to have to do his job. Well, included in my bag of tricks are these plugins. So I don't think they're something that people would come upon innately and easily. They might have a similarity to them, but I can't say that they would be identical. And that's what makes each set of ears different.
Let's briefly go through each plugin, and tell us what's unique about each one. We'll start with guitar.
Sure, the GTi is one of my favorites, and I use it the most these days. The effects, although meant to be quite subtle, can be turned up now with the update you'll be able to turn off the dry signal, which is great when you'd prefer to use the plugin for its effects only My intention was to create a plugin that allowed the user to get a fuller, wider sound if they so desired. And the GTi plugin has some great effects, for thickening or enhancing harmonic content. The modes are quite interesting in that one.
How about the bass plugin?
The B72 plugin is quite simple actually. I like a pretty fat bass sound, and I typically use some vintage gear to get my bass sound. I'll often split it off as well, and do a bit of EQ-ing to try and bring out the finger noise on the strings and some of the more high end content. I also added a really cool effect that I always love for bass which is a sort of chorus spreading effect—great for synths and things that you want to envelope the mix.
Let's move on to the drum plugin.
The DRM plugin is quite simple. It's based on the idea that you want to be able to control the transient, or what I call 'snap' factor, which would be essentially the attack time of the compressor with some EQ thrown in for good behavior. Then, I've got controls on there allowing you to increase what I call 'thump' as well as a few other equalization controls. My thinking is, you'll be sending a whole drum kit, piece by piece to it, or a loop sample of a drum kit, and it'll perform great for both. My intention simply is to be able to use it with the wide variety of material I work on.
What can you tell us about the vocal plugin?
The VX1, like the bass plugin, was meant to handle the duties of getting a good sound, not doing surgery to a poorly performed or recorded track. Getting it to stand out in the mix is paramount. The vocal plugin needed basic 'pre' equalization ready for the variety of timbres you'd find in most musical material, with usable effects increasing the vocal's presence and stature within the mix—because vocals do require a lot of energy and work to make them really stand out in the mix. But I think this plugin actually works perfectly in helping the mixer make a vocal stand out and adds some really interesting effects.
The effects plugin.
The HMX was almost a throw away. It was one of those things that I was just having fun with. I sent it out to the Waves engineers for a listen, and we didn't really think much of it. As time went on, we realized we dug the effects that are involved in that one, so we fashioned it for pianos and Rhodes. It kind of widens the perspective and adds a bit of harmonic content as well, making it a bit richer. There's also a delay built in which we thought added bounce. Not sure if that qualifies as intent, but that's how we made the HMX.
Now, tell us a bit about the new addition to the Series.
Well, you know, we've been touring around, showing off the plugins, and quite often during the question and answer section of the event, we'd be asked if I would create a mastering plugin or 'finishing' plugin. I kind of rejected the idea of a mastering plugin immediately. But what I really thought, and was helped by a couple of the Waves guys in thinking about it, was a buss plugin—sort of a group out plugin, something that you would use on your master group for vocals or your master group for guitars, which is quite often the way people are working these days. They'll do quite a lot of tweaking individually, but then they'll send everything to a group master, and may want to bulk that up or get a bit more excitement out of it. So we created the Maserati GRP Group Processor, a buss plugin which has several of those ideas in it. I'm really happy with it. It came out better then I expected, and I'm very, very excited.
Is it divided by instrument?
The GRP works in the same way that all the other plugins work; in that it'll have mode buttons on the face of it. Of course, each one will say what it thinks you should put into it, and then it'll give you a few adjustments as well. So it's very, very similar to the other plugins, but its intention is to work over a group out or a master group, that kind of thing.
It's really meant to help that final blend sort of jump out a little bit. It's got a bit of equalization involved but no effects, no shredders, none of that kind of thing. In fact, the compression that I'm using in that network is very, very subtle, because generally I don't do major compression over my groups; I'll have an aux for that. So it's not meant to be that dramatic—it's really meant to add sheen on a great blend of background vocals or just sort of compress a drum kit together, making it really feel like it's got some air to it.
It sounds like a cool plugin.
You know, I'm very excited about this update because for current owners, it's a free upgrade. I think most of them are going to get a gas out of the GRP; it's an exciting addition to the bundle. The ability for them to remove the dry signal from the original plugins means, in essence, they're getting four more plugins, not just the new GRP plugin. Now the GTi, VX1, HMX and B72 plugins will allow you to cut the dry signal and use it as an effects plugin. I think it's going to be a great addition and a brilliant upgrade.
What are you working on these days?
I've been working on a new artist Alyssa Bernal, on Interscope, produced by Martin Terefe and Pharrell. It's a great record, and I think it'll fit in with some of the more organic things happening but still sound very young.
Do you find that your mixing approach changes according to musical style?
You know, I have to say that my approach is similar, in that I'm always looking to find the elements of the production that are supporting the lyric, the melody, and the overall idea of the song best. So that approach always remains the same, but of course, if I'm doing a mix for a hip-hop record, it's going to be a different approach frequency content-wise than say, a more pop record, like this Alyssa Bernal record. So it varies, yes, but approach-wise it's quite similar.
So when you say frequency-wise, you mean in hip-hop you'll put more emphasis on the bass and on the lower end of the spectrum?
Yeah, exactly. There's more focus on the kick drum and the parameters change. Which elements are going to be at the forefront and how it's going to fit on a radio is different, so I need to adhere to some of those parameters.
How often do you change things around, make a verse a little bit longer, stuff like that?
Well, I guess I would make a verse longer, but more than likely there's a chance I'll put a breakdown or a turnaround in that makes more sense to me. I'd say that about 50% of the work that I do, I get to be creative that way. But in all honesty, most of the time the clients, the producers, the artists, have a very specific idea of how they would like the production to feel, and they outline that quite well in their rough mixes and with what they send me in the file, the Pro Tools file in my case. And generally what I'll do is put things, drops, or I may add instrumentation, usually drums, that I think help accentuate the idea or make a particular section stand out.
In one specific case, there's a song on the Alyssa record called, 'One Of Us Has Gotta Leave' where Pharell and Alyssa are talking back and forth. Martin, knowing that I was going to mix it, left me a bit of room in there to be creative and do some pretty cool things. I took a sample of some instrumental bits from later on in the song, and added them into this little break section that he had created. The idea worked out great. So things like that do happen quite often, but most of the time I'm just trying to embellish and accentuate the idea of the song that the producer and the artist have already put in there.
Have you ever received something that's cluttered with over-instrumentation, and you really feel that you have to mute a lot to make it happen?
That happens quite often. You know, it really depends on my relationship with the producer and the artist. I've actually worked with people who expect me to cull some of that, what I consider to be overkill, as far as production goes. Then there are times when I do cull things, and the producer has me undo my edits. It really depends on my relationship with them and how well I know them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I'll make what I think is an amazingly poignant section that previously I thought was way too cluttered and way too cloudy in its direction, and they'll say 'No, I want all that stuff back in.' And you know, it happens, happens all the time. But I try to go in the best direction I can for the song.