‘Summing-Up’ with Justin Paul Hill & Dangerous Music
For music producer, mixer and mastering engineer Justin Paul Hill, the move from stage to studio was a logical transition. Having begun his musical journey touring the world as vocalist and producer for the band SikTH, Justin’s experience of life on the road as a performer was fused with a comprehensive understanding of the tools and techniques necessary to make great records; a combination both rare and advantageous when building an effective working relationship with artists. Ultimately, after spending much time centre-stage, the desire to get behind the faders on a more permanent basis was just too strong. Justin has since gone on to become a well established engineer in his own right, working with some of the top names in rock, metal and alternative genres.
We recently supplied Justin with a Dangerous Music 2-Bus+; a state-of-the-art analogue summing box and controller that delivers character, depth and headroom to digital mixes. Operating from his studio on the outskirts of London, we asked Justin to share a little insight into his process and approach to recording, as well as some details on how he’ll be integrating the 2-Bus+ into his already impressive setup. He kindly obliged…
Could you describe your current setup, and how you typically like to work?
I spend most of my time working out of my purpose-built mix, master and overdub studio. In there I’m running a hybrid setup, I have a Pro Tools HD native system that breaks out into 16 channels of summing. That goes into the Dangerous 2-Bus+ where I also have an Alan Smart C2 on the external insert. Additionally, I have a DDA QMR console and some select pieces of outboard which when mixing end up on hardware inserts on my interface.
Where and when did your love for rock, metal and alternative genres begin? Are there any familiar challenges you often see?
I guess that genre just feels like home to me. Growing up as a kid I was obsessed with listening to rock and metal, which led to picking up a guitar and forming bands at school. But it was when I joined the band SikTh as a vocalist that things got more serious. I spent my 20s touring extensively and being engrossed in that scene. We signed a couple of decent deals so I got to spend a fair bit of time in a variety of studios which is where I picked up the production bug. From there I just naturally transitioned from a singer into a producer as I found myself enjoying being the other side of the glass more. I find most people in the industry prefer touring and being on stage but I really get my kicks form being hidden away in the studio these days. Saying that I feel really lucky to have experienced being an artist, it was an amazing time and has really helped me relate and understand where bands are coming from when they’re in the studio.
I think the main challenge for me at the moment is mixing tracks that bands have self-recorded without much experience and on budget gear. When I’m producing a project I can be meticulous with everything, but when you have no control over the production it can be challenging to hit the standard I’m looking for. Saying that I do find that side of it interesting and always find a way to make it work, it just takes longer to find the sweet spot!
Any ground rules/philosophy you adhere to when approaching mixing? What are your favourite ‘go-to’ pieces of gear that get used most frequently?
Recently I’ve been approaching all my mixes with the “top down” process which has sort of crept into my work flow over the last year. I have a setting for the 2-Bus+ and C2 which I leave as my starting point, and similarly have a series of plug-ins set up and running on my buses right from the beginning that I import from a template. As my starting point is always the same I can get my bearings quickly which gives me more time to be creative later on in the mix where the more detailed work comes in.
In terms of my favourite gear I’d say the 2-Bus+ and C2 are the first things to get powered up and the last to be switched off, so when I’m mixing they are really getting used. I’m also impressed with the Two-Notes Torpedo, it’s a clever bit of kit and really helps me interact with valve guitar amps on another level. Then there’s my RND 543 which is a real work horse, it sounds smooth and slick so I’m often using it on vocals, bass or even room mic’s on drums.
“With a redesigned analogue summing circuit that exceeds previous specifications, the 2-BUS+ delivers unsurpassed imaging, dimensionality, punch and headroom. While the 2-BUS+ active summing sounds incredible on its own, it now includes three innovative custom colour circuits that provide a vast array of flexibly routed tonal options. Harmonics is a euphoric odd- and even-order distortion generator; Paralimit is a hard-hitting FET-style limiter; and X-Former is a pair of custom wound Cinemag output transformers with an exclusive core-overdrive circuit.” – Dangerous Music
What does the 2-BUS+ bring to your setup? What is it you like about it and what features get used the most?
I often produce bands in commercial studios, by the time I’m wrapping up a session I’ve got the tracking spread out all over the console so I’ll print a version for reference of where we’re at. Then I’ll relocate to my own studio to do the mix, but it was often frustrating hearing how different it all sounded without the board. For a while I was opening it up on my DDA console – I like the EQ on it but I was never a fan of the summing. That led me to try out a few summing mixers and realise I could capture that size and depth I was getting with from a high end console but in a much more convenient space. From testing out a few of the leading units on the market it was clear the Dangerous 2-Bus+ was the one for me; it’s sound and functionality stood out a mile from the rest. I love how it can handle anything I throw at it and always retains it’s crystal clear sound. Even when I drive it hard it never falls apart, it’s always adding that depth you’d expect from high-end summing that makes your mix shine and feel that bit more special. Saying that, I’m a huge fan of adding saturation to a mix – sometimes I want just enough to glue and pull it all together, other times I’m looking for character and vibe. I love how this unit give’s me two controls (harmonics and x-former) so between them I can dial in a sound that’s appropriate for each project.
Finally, the Paralimit is the icing on the cake. I’m a huge fan of FET compression, I use it all the time to add punch and bite throughout my mixes but to have it “all buttons in” running in parallel on my mix bus is genius. I’m not sure I would have thought to try this out myself, but as soon as heard it in action I was sold. To my ears it adds a very musical knock and smack in the mid’s and tightens up the low-end. I prefer to dial in just a small amount of it as it has the power to crush and mangle if you set it to, but if you add just the right amount it feels perfect.
Any plans for the studio moving forward? What’s next on the Studio Wishlist?
Although I love the workflow and consistency of being ITB I’m really enjoying the life that analogue has brought to my mixes. I plan on continuing to invest in select pieces of outboard that add something special I’m eyeing up the SSL Fusion, Dangerous BAX EQ and Manley Variable-Mu at the moment. I’m also interested in high-end A/D converters such as the Dangerous Music Convert-AD+ as it would be nice to know I’m getting the best representation of my gear back into the digital world.
And finally… How was your experience with Funky Junk?
It’s great to be able to chat to guys that know their stuff. When I’m speaking to them I feel like I’m geeking out with a mate rather talking to a sales team. They’re super friendly and put no pressure on at all. Nothing is too much trouble and they’ve been really great at helping me test and figure out what gear is right for me. Funky Junk is my go to now for studio equipment, I can’t recommend them enough.
For studio bookings and more information on working with Justin, head to www.justinpaulhill.com