Mix engineer Wez Clarke has mixed top-sellers for Naughty Boy, Beyoncé, Jess Glynne, Rudimental, Little Mix, Duke Dumont, Tinie Tempah, Ella Eyre – and this year, along with Clean Bandit and Jess Glynne, collected a Grammy for Best Dance Recording of 2015 (Rather Be).
Clarke recently refurbished his London studio, with acoustic design by Munro Acoustics, ME Geithain monitoring, and a Solid State Logic AWS 948 console with δelta-Control.
After eight years, working in an increasingly cluttered space, Clarke made the decision to reassess his studio, and his sound.
“It was more to keep things fresh for me – to have a nice environment to go into every day… It’s really important. Now I’m surrounded by quite a lot of wood and it’s nice and calm in there.”
The breadth of Clarke’s work has expanded somewhat in recent times, as his talent in the mix room has become more widely recognized.
“For some reason I’d got pigeon-holed into dance music – before that there was a lull in dance music and everything I did was Hip Hop and Grime. These days I do much more than that – ballads, guitar-based… All sorts, really.”
Clarke needed a space (and equipment) that would work in any genre, and for him one of the primary strengths of the AWS is its sonic versatility.
“Because it’s so clean, you don’t have to imprint the analogue desk sound,” he explains. “People don’t necessarily want a sound printed on a project at the mixing stage. They might like their sound – they just want it sharper and punchier, and so on – so I need to be quite careful. I think the desk gives you the best of both worlds; you can get either sound you want.”
Another aspect of the console that suits Clarke’s work is the flexibility of the dual-path input channels. Each AWS 948 channel has two input paths and three main routing modes: In-Line Tracking (switched input and return), In-Line Mix (two mix inputs per channel – one on fader, and one on V-Pot), and Stereo (Stereo input channel, including width control). This means the AWS 948 can be configured with 24 stereo channels to mix.
“I think the stereo channels on the AWS were a massive selling point for me,” says Wez. “Everything that comes to me is stereo – literally everything – all the stems… It makes life a lot easier to move one set of knobs rather than two.”
Clarke’s working method has evolved significantly recently, as he used to do most mixing in-the-box with Pro Tools.
“I basically have everything in Pro Tools at zero and do it all on the desk in the analogue world… Once you get the bug – once you hear the sound – it’s difficult to go back; and now I’ve got δelta-Control and I can automate using that, I hardly do anything in-the-box.”
δelta-Control is a plug-in that enables automation of an analog console (SSL AWS or Duality) as if it were a DAW plug-in. The automation system in the DAW is used to record and playback control data from the faders and switches on the console as an alternative to using the SSL legacy automation system.
According to Clarke, this console-centric approach has actually allowed him to work considerably faster than before: “It really does speed things up. I know everyone says that, and you wonder how, but it does. When you’re using a mouse you can only deal with one thing at a time, but on the desk you’re thinking ahead – going all over the place; The EQ controls are right in front of you – straight away.”
In addition to the AWS 948, Clarke has also installed an SSL X-Rack – a 4U modular system with a variety of analog modules available. This one has five Stereo Dynamics Modules, one Stereo EQ module, and a Stereo Bus Compressor (G-Series console centre-section compressor).
“I use the bus compressor over the rec bus, which sums to the master bus,” Says Clarke. “I slam it hard and punch any tracks in on the desk that I want to parallel compress – mainly percussion elements.”
Total Recall on the X-Rack module means Clarke can come back to mixes that are in progress at any time, without losing the analog outboard settings.