Linkin Park guitarist and producer Mike Shinoda gives a glimpse into the making of the band’s 2017 album One More Light, with song-by-song insights into the album’s production and mixing.
1. “One More Light”
How did you get the vocals to sound so pristine and warm in this song?
The mic was actually a Flea 47, which is a Neumann U47 replica. Once every few albums, we do a blind test mic check session, where we rent up to ten mics and test our vocals on them, to see if we need a different mic for the music we’re making. Voices change over time, so it’s a good habit to get into. We compared multiple U47s to the Flea, and the Flea won in a blind test. We had a few different plugin chains for the vocals, which varied from song to song but usually had the CLA-2A and CLA-76 compressors, H-Delay, and – used sparingly – the C4 compressor.
2. “Sharp Edges”
The acoustic guitars in this one sound very unique, almost like a 60s recording…
Yes, our lead engineer Ethan Mates has a beautiful acoustic guitar we always use. Choosing the right guitar is really the key, I think. I think we just recorded it with the Flea mic, too.
In most of this album, the electric guitars are very deep in the mix, yet at the same time quite spread out – almost like intricate pads creating an atmospheric effect.
Right – in many cases we double-track a guitar part and pan out the two tracks hard left and hard right. There are a couple moments on this album where slightly different parts are being played on left and right, which only works on a case-by-case basis. But for a little extra enhancement, the PS22 Stereo Maker and S1 Stereo Imager were definitely two staples of mine.
3. “Good Goodbye”
The bass in this song has a very healthy sound, with extreme low, yet you can hear the notes very clearly giving strong harmony support.
That was a sub tone, kinda like an 808 sound. I basically over-drove the internal compressor on my sampler software, which gave it a smooth distortion and brought out some higher frequencies in the sound. It’s a useful technique to make a sub sound audible when someone hears it on a laptop or phone speaker. You just have to be careful not to drive it too hard, or you lose the body of the actual sub frequencies.
4. “Nobody Can Save Me”
What are you using on that unique manipulated vocal featured throughout the song?
That’s one of my favorite sounds on the album. It was one of our scratch vocal tracks which we cut up and made the melody out of. There’s some basic low-pass filtering here with the Waves Linear Phase EQ, a little distortion, and a reverb with very short decay time. The filter is opened up in different sections, to make those sections feel bigger.
5. “Talking to Myself”
The drum sound here is impressive in that on one hand, the kit is very straight forward (while not being in the forefront of the mix) and yet it really cuts through and does the job.
That was a very delicate blend of live and sampled sounds on the kick and snare. It’s mostly in the recording, but there were samples added under the kick and snare that give it that punch. My original drum sound was a little bit grimier and raw on the first few mixes with [mixing engineer] Manny Marroquin. But as we mixed the rest of the album, that song seemed too dirty. Manny went back in and added another sample underneath the kick and snare, and dried up the overall shape, which helped it cut through and feel more defined.
6. “Sorry for Now”
It seems like everything in the verses and part of the chorus is chopped up, reversed, gated or God knows what.
Studio magic! Brad [Delson, Linkin Park lead guitarist] and I had some assistance from our co-producers Blackbear and Andrew Goldstein on that track. The whole thing was like a mad science experiment, with everyone throwing things into the mix. Andrew and I had our laptops back-to-back, both in different software with audio lines going into the board, and a third computer playing the song back.
Do you use plugins as a means to the end, or as a creative tool in itself as one would use an instrument?
Probably both. Some sounds are enhanced by a plugin; some are dependent on one. Morphoder is one of my favorite examples of a creative plugin: it’s a great vocoder. We used it all over the place on our albums A Thousand Suns and The Hunting Party.
I tend to record into the computer as I write and add plugins as I go, gradually sculpting the sound of the song as it progresses. I’m not a “fix it in the mix” kinda guy. My go-to plugins are H-Delay, the CLA-2A Compressor, the C4 and C6 Multiband Compressors – and I actually like the OneKnob Series for specific applications.
For more about Linkin Park's creative process in the studio, watch this short video with Mike Shinoda on how the band achieves its sound.