At Green?s Convenience - Audio Media International

At Green?s Convenience

At Green?s Convenience
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PAUL WATSON talks to Cores
and Duro – the Producer/Mixer
combo responsible for a large
chunk of the latest
Professor Green Album,
At Your Inconvenience.

Professor green shot to stardom after his debut
album, Alive Til I’m Dead, made it to number two
in the UK album chart in 2010, and his success
has grown ever since. He’s performed at a string
of major venues including the O2 Arena and Wembley
Stadium, supporting Muse and performing alongside
Lily Allen; and Read All About It, the first single from
At Your Convenience, went straight in at number one in
October 2011.

Although four or five different producers were involved
in the recording of Professor Green’s latest album,
At Your Inconvenience, long-time friend and producer,
Cores, engineered and produced a large chunk of the
record in the hackney-born rapper’s London-based studio
facility, ‘The Spaceship’.

Cores has worked in a number of different genres, from
pop and rock to hip-hop, the latter of which, he says, is
where he is most comfortable. He also produced Green’s
first record, so was pretty well versed in terms of what to
expect from the new record and managing the workflow
in the studio.

Cores produced Today I Cried, Never Be A Right Time
(Green’s second single), Into The Ground (the final track
on the album); and Green’s cover version of Where’s My
Mind
(Spinning Out) by The Pixies. He also co-produced
Astronaut, and was given the official title of Executive
Producer in a bid to keep the entire project cohesive.

Voice Box

Vocally, everything was engineered by Cores at Green’s
London facility. Green’s vocal chain is a Neumann U87 into
a Neve 1073; then into a Universal Audio 1176LN; and finally
through a Lavry Blue A-D convertor.

“We recorded all the vocals here and treated everything
as far as it could be treated before it went over to [mix engineer] Duro in New York,” he explains. “Any tuning, any
vocal alignment, tricks like that, I do it all here.”

Although Cores has tried several other mics other
than the U87 with Green, including the AKG C12 and Sony
C800G, he says they’ve never been quite right.

“The U87 works great on Green’s vocals; okay, the mic
doesn’t tend to get the press anymore as it’s not exciting
enough, but it still sounds great. I’m not excessive with
anything on the way in at all; I don’t use outboard EQ,
it’s just a little bit off on the 1176 and that’s it, you know?
Then the rest is all done in the box - and it was great that
Duro worked in the box too; I think the same way he
thinks, which is perfect.

Cores’ main monitors are Focal Twin B6s, which he says
have the best balance of accuracy and vibe, and great low
end for this genre of music. He also has a set of Yamaha
NS10s, a pair of M-Audio Studiophile hi-fi speakers which
he uses for reference, and 2 pairs of DT100 headphones
(one in the control room, and one in the booth). He also
has a pair of Sennheiser HD650 headphones for on the
road work. A Yamaha O1V96 console serves as a controller/
monitor board, and all his production work is
done in Logic.

Beats Working

Cores creates many of Green’s beats from the
London facility. Part of his workflow centres
around Native Instruments Battery, which he says
matches up perfectly with his Akai MPD controller,
which is set on wheels, and sits alongside him in
the middle of the stereo image.
Every drum kit Cores creates is
bespoke, and he always prints
the drum parts with FX engaged.

“That’s a production thing for
me; it’s the whole vibe I am going
for. It’s led to a few complaints
from some engineers, but Duro
got it straight away. It’s rare to
find three kicks and 10 snares in
some genres, so when I sent off
Never Be a Right Time and the drums came back
pretty much as they should have, I thought ‘yes!’;
they sound simple on first listen, but when you
look, there’s so much going on; one small fader
movement can change the whole rhythm.

“Another comment I got from other engineers
was that they didn’t like the long verbs I put on
snares, and there was a stage when we were
mixing the first record when I thought: ‘you know
what, they know better than me, so I’m just going
to shut up and listen and just watch what they do’.
So I took it all in, but wasn’t happy with the mixes
on a few of the tracks; now I know more than ever
what I want something to sound like, so I have a
balanced enough view to know
when they are right and when
they should listen to what I have
done and try to understand it.

“Again, with Duro that wasn’t
an issue at all; I’d print all the
verbs and it was all good; if
anything I’d just disengage the
odd one and re-do it there [at Jungle City] a little bit more
accurately.”

Mix Master

Duro is currently one of the most in-demand mix
engineers in the world and is based out of New
York’s Jungle City studios, owned by Alicia Keys’
producer, Ann Mincieli. It was May 2011 when the
mixing of Green’s album commenced, of which
Duro mixed all 15 tracks, working closely at times
with Cores.

Duro took on the role after finding what he
described as an eclectic blend of super-street, pop,
disco, and “a track reminiscent of a Puffy record”
when Googling and YouTube-ing material from
Green’s back catalogue.

“I was interested to hear what the new stuff
would sound like, and when I got round to mixing
the first single, Read All About It, I have to say I was
pleasantly surprised,” reveals Duro, whose diverse
list of album credits includes Mariah Carey, J-Lo,
Taio Cruz, and Britney Spears. “Mixing those 15
songs took from start to finish around 40 studio
days because there were a lot of little changes to
make along the way, and there was also the UK
time difference to deal with; the project included
a lot of vocals too, and that is always more time
consuming.”

At the beginning of the project, Cores had
sent Duro four tracks to work on. The two were
in constant communication; and after those
songs were completed, Cores and Green were so
encouraged by the results Duro was getting that
they asked him to mix the remaining 11 tracks.

“At that point I did ten days on my own,”
continues Duro. “...And then Cores came over to
New York to work with me in the studio making
final tweaks. We’d dial in stuff here and there, and
send Green the mixes. Cores knows Green very
well, and based on my mix, he’d say ‘I know Green
will want this or that’, so we’d then incorporate
what he was trying to hear into my version, and
then Green would approve the mix. That was
the process.”

Duro mixed At Your Inconvenience completely
in the box on Pro Tools 9 HD. Although he has
gradually got used to using less and less hardware,
he does still print his final mixes onto one-inch
two-track tape. He monitors using his trusted
Genelec 1031A nearfields, and his set of
Sennheiser HD800 headphones are never
too far from his side: “Sometimes if I am in a
room I don’t know, I use them to ensure I get
a definitive constant; I get great balancing
using those cans.”

Cores is clear about Duro’s expanded
role on the album: “The great thing about
Duro is we are on the same page; he has
a hip-hop background, and he really
understands how it should be mixed.
Over here [in the UK], the issue we have
had is that we either get the rock guys, who
tend to focus on the wrong parts of the
mix; or we get the dance guys, who overdo
it all a little bit. But from the beginning,
Duro always understood exactly where
everything should sit, so it was the perfect
way of working.”

NIGHTMARES

With the Nightmares track, there were many different
elements to deal with, including a vocal effect track with
someone breathing and coughing the whole way through.
Duro added some unusual delays to create a spooky kind
of effect, and as a result, the vocal-heavy introduction
sounds unique.

“It’s strange, but it really adds an interesting sort of
dynamic to the vocal which you can’t necessarily pick
out, but it’s there; I sent that to a bus as well, and one
of the vocal tracks was printed with a flange, so I have it
filtered and put on a slap-back delay that’s going back and
forth; and that enhances that effect even more. I used the
Digidesign Long Delay 2 to make that happen.

For the guest vocalist on Nightmares, Royce, Duro used
the de-esser from the SSL E-Channel Strip plug-in, a little
EQ, and some compression; and generated the same vibe
on the Green vocal using the same vocal strip. When it
came to mixing the track, he says he attacked it with a
straightforward hip-hop approach, and as a result, it took
him just a couple of hours.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

The song Read All About It was made up of 70 tracks: 25
main tracks, a further 26 for the orchestra, and 19 tracks
of vocals: main lead vocals; stacked backing vocals; extra
vocals in the hook; several channels of Green’s vocal adlibs;
and a stacked vocal bridge section.

When mixing the track, Duro started with the key
element: the beats. When mixing beats, he pans just like
he would a real drum kit, so there are certain placements
he naturally goes to.

“Sometimes I push a bunch of faders up and make them
loud or low or whatever, but this song had a Pro Tools
session mix already existing. Usually with a rough mix, I
just isolate sections and figure out what pieces I want to
deal with first. With this, I just basically listened to the
drums then took the overdub parts and put them around
to support the loop where the kit sits.

“Next, I started bringing in the pianos and the bass;
there’s one stereo track of pianos and some pads, but
outside of the rhythm section, the piano is the main
element that everything else in the track is built around.”

Practically no compression or EQ was added to the
individual elements within the track, just a little
compression on the piano from his SSL E-Channel Strip
plug-in, and a modified version of a Lexicon ‘large hall’
reverb on the strings section.

On the main vocal hook, which is sung by Emeli Sandé,
Duro applied fast-attack compression using the SSL
E-Channel, and also ran it through his Bombfactory Urei
1176 in a bid to add vibe as well as depth. The vocal was
then de-essed.

At the start of the third verse, as the track is building,
Duro adopted a technique he often uses when mixing this
genre of music: bringing the drums up by 2dB.

“It’s all part of the building the song, and as well as
the drums, I also brought the strings up in volume; it just
gives a song much more oomph and adds a bit of drama
to it also. I raised the strings by 1.5 dB; and to the average
listener, that just feels much more powerful.”

TODAY I CRIED

One track from the album that both Duro and Cores
highlight as stand-out is Today I Cried, a downbeat, dark
composition, which has a running hook throughout, and,
like a number of the songs on the album, features a full
orchestra.

“That track is definitely one of the strongest,” Duro
insists. “The acoustic guitars are only slightly compressed
but heavily EQ’d on the top end, which I did using the SSL
E-Channel to add a little more sizzle – a bit of life; although it also gives it a more sombre tone too. The story grows
as the record grows, and the strings add another dynamic.”

Duro started his mix process on Today I Cried by working on the 20 tracks of drums, which included six snares,
three kick drums, claps, rim-shots, a lot of hi-hat layering, plus an additional snare, woodblock and tambourine
for the main hook.

“I tend to let all that stuff just go where it’s going; I just blend what I’ve got together and create a rhythm
section that I like,” Duro explains. “Then I brought in the piano and the bass; it’s a sampled piano, so it’s not
compressed; I just added a little top end to brighten it up.”

Although that mix took just a few hours, he estimates that he spent roughly one week making tweaks and
altering levels. “Once I had the basic vibe, I added nuances to try and take the listener on an instrumental ride,
with a few tweaks here and there....”

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