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Paul David Hager on Mixing Miley

Sep 05, 2010

Equally at home working front-of-house or in the studio, mixing engineer Paul David Hager is a seasoned industry veteran with years of experience working alongside such artists as Katy Perry, Pink, Avril Lavigne, and Goo Goo Dolls. Hager recently made a bit of time in his hectic schedule to catch up with Waves.

What projects have you been working on recently?

As far as mixing goes: the new Goo Goo Dolls record, Something for The Rest Of Us; a few tracks from Soul Aslyum; the new Miley Cyrus live concert DVD and ABC special; a number of tracks from Jack’s Mannequin; and Steven Page’s (of Barenaked Ladies fame) new record. I did a week of broadcast mixing for Miley Cyrus TV events, and I’m heading out on the road for a 6-week tour with the Goo Goo Dolls.

How did you get started in audio engineering?

I started out as a guitar player in a rock band in high school. Wanted to be a rock star. I did a little bit of studio stuff with my band and it got me interested in the production side of things, but at the time, I hated being in the studio. Then my band ended up breaking up (as most do), and I used to go see a band that practiced next to us. After telling them that they never sounded good live, they said, “Well, why don’t you see if you could do any better”. So, I mixed a show and their fans said it sounded better. And that’s how my life as a live sound engineer began. The funny thing about this is that my dad was a sound engineer in the early sixties, but he never told me until I started mixing bands. He mixed Murray the K live broadcasts in NYC, but he moved into telecommunications after that instead of continuing with music. My dad and I, we even mixed the same band, 30 years apart. He mixed the Kingston Trio in the ‘60s, and I mixed a show with them in 1993.

Anyway, I liked mixing bands live because you saw the reaction of the people right there in front of you. Plus, in the early days, it was harder than it is now to make a record on a low budget. A $50 an hour studio did not even come close to sounding like a $300 plus an hour studio in LA. Not like today, where you can have a computer with some good plugins and mix a record that sounds like what’s on the radio. So my interest in the studio side was low, but I always wanted to bring what was being used in the studio to live. In 1991, a studio in Massachusetts, Courtlen Recording, recorded a bunch of the bands that I was mixing live. So I started bringing in bands and getting my feet wet in the studio. From there onwards, I kept moving between both live and studio.

I figure live mixing will always be something you can’t do without. You can’t download a concert experience. But I love mixing in the studio as well, so now I consider myself just a mixer, both studio and live.

Do you approach studio and live work differently?

To me, the differences are becoming less and less apparent. I approach them both in the same way. How can I make this mix exciting? Having the ability to use the same plugs live as I do in the studio is a great advantage.

When did you move from analog to digital consoles?

I moved to digital consoles for mixing live in 2004 after using a DiGiCo D-5 for Butch Walker opening for Avril Lavigne. As far as studio mixing, I didn’t mix fully in-the-box/ digital until 2007. I was still using SSL consoles, but now I use the Waves SSL Channel.

What are the differences between analog & digital?

Analog consoles will always have a great sound. Well—at least Midas ones (laughs). But with digital consoles, there are many advantages that analog don’t have. One is the ability to have a file that has all your effects and inserts on your console, and then you can bring the file to another console and so on. You can have all the same kind of hardware outboard pieces and set them in the same way and they will still be different. Also with digital, you create a template with all your stuff, somewhat dialed in, and can use it for one-offs with bands you might be only doing one show for. Better then starting from scratch every time.

When did you discover Waves?

I started using Waves plugs in 2000. I think the L1 Ultramaximizer was the first Waves plugin that I used.

How does Waves MultiRack fit into your workflow?

I use MultiRack to access my Waves plugs when I am not on an Avid Profile or using Pro Tools. When I have to go mix a one-off or a radio station performance, I just bring a MOTU 8-in/8-out box and my laptop and I am ready for what ever is thrown at me. MultiRack gives me great power in a very small package.

What are your favorite Waves plugins?

All of them!

Describe your signal chain, from the stage mics out to the FOH speakers.

My mics go to an XTA active splitter, then to an Avid Venue stage rack. From there, they go through many plugins and processing (depending on the channel). The output of the Avid FOH rack goes AES to 2 Cranesong Hedd units, then AES to a DPL processor to matrix the signals out to Lab Gruppen PLM 10000 and !4000 amps to Clair Bros i3 line array main PA and BT 218 subs.

What advantages are there to using plugins vs. the processors that come with the desk?

The plugins have more character, more colors to work with than the plugs in most desks. I want all the 250 crayon colors, not just the 8 pack!

Are you recording the shows?

Yes, direct to Pro Tools. I mix everything, then I have either Dave McNair or Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound master it.

What advice would you give to a young FOH who wants to move to digital?

First, I would say to use analog first to get a feel for it. Then, when you make the move to digital, you can have a good feel for what analog sounds like and then move on to the advantages of digital from there. But the most important thing is to be creative, and make your mixes exciting!