Audio Pro International’s focus on the best of the industry’s emerging audio professionals continues with the latest addition to our Rising Stars section.
Answering the questions this time is LA-based producer and engineer Matt Hogan, who shares some of his techniques, and explains how having strong musical skills has allowed him to develop a greater understanding of artists' intentions...
Where did you study?
I studied at Berklee College of Music in the music production and engineering programme. It was a great experience and I was lucky to work with a lot of amazing musicians there.
Where are you based?
I recently moved to Los Angeles and I'm living in Hollywood right now.
What made you decide to pursue a career in audio?
I've been interested in music since I was really young and started playing in bands when I was around 13 years old. We didn't have access to money or studio time but really wanted to record, so I managed to figure out a way to patch from the stereo insert send on the PA mixer we had at a practice space directly into the 1/8" line input on a PC. I think we were doing the mixing in Cool Edit Pro at the time. Through trial and error we figured out how to overdub tracks and from that point on I was hooked.
Later on, in high school, I stepped into a real studio for the first time with a new band to record a four-song EP. I was so fascinated by the gear and this whole other side of music that I'd never really been exposed to, yet was so vitally important in shaping the way a song will impact the listener. That was the moment when I realised this is something I could do for the rest of my life.
Can you tell us about some of your recent projects?
I recently produced, engineered, mixed, and performed on three songs with a band made up of some Berklee friends called The Western Den, which is one of my biggest projects to date when it comes to the amount of creative freedom I was given over all aspects of the project. It's always a great experience when you can share an artistic connection with the band and share their musical goals.
I found myself in the studio listening to Chris lay down guitar tracks and getting really into it. I would start messing around with the Eventide H3500 or Bricasti M7 and he would be psyched on it and maybe change his part to something he might not have done on his own. That type of back and forth inspiration was definitely one of my favourite things about working with them and reminds me why I love doing what I do. I was also able to play guitar, as well as electric and upright bass, which was something I haven't really had the opportunity to do much of while producing other artists up to that point. Those types of collaborative projects seem to encourage some of the most creative results.
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm currently working on my first EP release as a solo artist, as well as producing tracks for a few vocalist/songwriter friends in Boston, New York and LA. I've been exploring a lot of electronic sounds, blending them with real instrumentation and vocals.
Ableton Live has completely changed the way I write and produce songs through live looping and triggering samples/effects with a MIDI foot controller. Since I primarily write on guitar, it’s invaluable to have a near infinite amount of loops and effects to record several layers at a time, and then be able to go back and arrange those different loop layers into a song without having to stop the workflow.
Working with songwriters is a lot of fun because it lets me focus on creating music that compliments their voice and lyrics. Looking at completed lyrics or hearing them for the first time always paints a clear picture in my mind, as opposed to focusing in on little snippets as the song is being written and over thinking the meaning behind it. Aside from these productions, I’m also interning at a studio trying to learn as much as I can and doing live sound on the weekends.
What would you say your main strengths are as an engineer/producer?
Being a musician in addition to knowing the technical aspects of production has really helped me understand what an artist is trying to communicate through their music. Knowing the musical vocabulary, having a sense for dynamics and knowing how to play an instrument in a way that produces the best tone possible has been an invaluable skill in both production and engineering.
What is your favourite console?
I love mixing on an SSL 4000G or 9000, but the preamps don't really hit the spot when it comes to recording. My ideal set-up would be to track through Neve 1073s and mix on the SSL. However, I recently started getting to know a Neve 8078 at the studio I'm at right now and it sounds killer!
Do you use any outboard FX/EQ? If so, what are they used on and why?
All the vocals usually get sent through a 1176 at some point; distressors are amazing for adding saturation and bite if things are sounding a little too nice, especially drums; LA2A on bass and sometimes right after a 1176 on vocals because of the slower attack and light tube saturation, API 560 EQs are the first I go for when I’m not looking for a clean EQ, as they add a nice flavour to everything – guitars, synths, shakers. I'll usually throw one at the end of a vocal chain with minimal adjustments just to run it through some analogue circuitry, especially if most of the mixing is being done in the box.
Then there's the API 2500 compressor for subgroups in OLD mode, with makeup gain turned up so it starts feeding back into itself (sometimes I’ll side-chain the kick on the bass group, and snare on the guitar group for a little more dynamic movement), and mixing through an SSL Bus Comp at 4:1 with 2-3dB GR on the master. I like to get everything a little dirty, if it was produced in the box.
Reverb is a big part of my productions, and I try to create an ethereal atmosphere through use of effects. The H3500 can produce some amazing ambient tones that totally alter the sound of the source instrument. On guitars it can sound magical.
The Bricasti M7 is another favourite for more real sounding reverb tones. I put a healthy amount of reverb on everything. It disappeared for a while in the '90s but I’m trying to help bring it back!
If you could pick one artist/band to work with, who would it be?
Explosions In The Sky. I love their approach to song structure and creating a unique atmosphere using reverb kind of like an instrument. Their producer John Congleton has a really cool 'do it live' approach to mixing almost entirely outside the box that forces you to be making decisions in the moment. I read somewhere that if it takes him longer than four hours to do a mix he starts over! It can be easy to over think the process and end up spending time making micro adjustments that don't really contribute to the emotional impact of the song, so I think it's a really interesting and worthwhile approach if you can pull it off.
Where do you hope to be in ten years?
I want to be the head engineer at a recording studio in LA. I’ve also been getting more involved in post-production for film and TV so I’d love to be an editor or re-recording mixer, but most of all I’d really just love to make records.
To get involved in our Rising Stars column, whether you are an engineer who is new to the industry and would like to be featured, or an experienced engineer who would like to nominate a particular student/apprentice, please contact Audio Pro International editor Adam Savage on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)1992 535646.
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