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In The Studio: An Interview With Elliot Scheiner

A legend explains his approach to mixing and shares insight on some of his projects...
This article is provided by Bobby Owsinski.

Here’s an excerpt of an interview with Elliot Scheiner from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook.

Elliot has long been recognized as one of the finest engineers working today and has a shelf full of industry awards (five Grammys, four Surround Music Awards, Surround Pioneer Award, TEC Awards Hall Of Fame and too many total award nominations to count) from his work with The Eagles, Beck, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Sting, John Fogerty, Van Morrison, Toto, Queen, Faith Hill, Lenny Kravitz, Natalie Cole, Doobie Brothers, Aerosmith, Phil Collins, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand and many, many others to prove it.

He’s also one of the nicest guys in the business.

In this interview, Elliot talks not only about his approach to mixing but about some of his projects as well.
Bobby Owskinski: Do you have a philosophy about mixing?

Elliot Scheiner: I’ve always believed that if someone has recorded all this information, then they want it to be heard, so my philosophy is to be able to hear everything that was recorded. 

It’s not about burying everything in there and getting a wall of sound. I’ve never been into that whole concept. It was more about whatever part was played, if it was the subtleties of a drummer playing off beats on the snare drum next to the backbeat, obviously he wants that heard. So I always want to make sure that everything that’s in that record gets heard.

If you were able to accomplish hearing every single instrument in the mix, that was a huge achievement. Granted, maybe there wasn’t as much information when I started as there is now. I myself have come across files that have been a hundred and some odd tracks, so it’s not as easy to do that today. 

I have to admit that the way some people record things today is a bit peculiar. All of a sudden you’ll be dealing with 7 or 8 different mics on the same instrument. Like, for example, an acoustic guitar will all of a sudden have 7 different viewpoints of where this guitar’s being recorded. 

It’s mind boggling that you have to go and make a determination and listen to every single channel to decide which one you want to use. And if you pick the wrong ones they come back at you and say, “Oh, we had a different combination” or “It doesn’t sound quite right to us”, but they don’t tell you what they did! So granted, it is a little more difficult to deal with those issues today, but I still take the same approach with every mix.

If you have a hundred tracks, will you try to have them all heard? Or do you go in and do some subtractive mixing?

Elliott: Well, it depends if that’s necessary. I don’t usually get those kind of calls where they say “Here’s a hundred tracks. Delete what you want.” It’s usually not about that. And I have to say that I’ll usually get between 24 and 48 tracks in most cases and hardly ever am I given the liberty to take some of them out. 

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I mean if something is glaringly bad I’ll do that, but to make a judgment call as to whether background vocals should be in here or there, I generally don’t do that. I just assume that whatever an artist and producer sends me is kind of written in stone. They’ve recorded it, and unless they tell me otherwise, I usually don’t do subtractive mixing.

How long does it take you to do a mix on average?

Elliot: Depending on how complicated it is, it usually takes anywhere from 3 hours to a day.

3 hours is really fast!

Elliot: Yeah, well a lot of time you just get a vibe and a feel for something and it just comes together. Then you look at it and say “How much am I actually going to improve this mix.” I mean if it feels great and sounds great I’m a little reluctant to beat it into the ground.

For me it’s still about a vibe and if I can get things to sound good and have a vibe, that’s all I really care about. I still put Al Schmitt on a pedestal. Look at how quickly he gets things done. He can do three songs in a day and they’ll be perfect and amazing sounding and have the right vibe. So it’s not like it can’t be done. Some people say that you can’t get a mix in a short time and that’s just not true and Al’s my proof.

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