February 07, 2023
Markus Stretz is a mixer/producer/manager and also runs a small independent label called New Age Records UK for London-based one-man-band Cam Cole. Music Production and Mixing was a hobby/side gig for Markus until he met then-street musician Cam Cole. The two made an album, started a label, made another album and are now touring across the world.
Helping Cam Cole to grow from street busker to playing international tours while building an independent label and still managing to have some hairline left is something I take a lot of pride in. I still have to pinch myself sometimes that this is really happening. More specifically, Cam’s song Mama reaching over 5 million plays on all streaming platforms and being featured on Emmy-winning TV show Ted Lasso while being fully independent with barely any promo budget, is a highlight. Purely sonics-wise my mixes of tracks called “Desire” and “Message In The Mountains” are those rare ones where I wouldn’t change a single thing.
I am this rather odd sort of producer/mixer/manager hybrid. I have spent my 20s learning to mix but also got a business education and got a Bachelor’s degree in International Business, and a Master's in Organisational Analysis. I found that gives me a unique perspective on not only on how a song becomes a recording, but also on how that recording then gets marketed and distributed and how the revenue streams are then captured. So my role mostly is helping someone that has talent but never put out any music commercially before and helping them get their music in front of people. I produce with trying to make that authentic connection to an audience in mind.
What I love most about my work is that I am involved in the entire life cycle of a song: From the first demo and arrangement to the production, the mix all the way through the distribution via our own label and then planning the live shows, seeing people sing the songs back we made. So my job is a) to create the music but also b) to help people discover the music and c) to make sure the artist gets paid. Turns out getting paid is something artists are rather fond of. ;)
I was five when I first consciously remember seeing a drummer on TV. I then begged my parents to get me a drum kit and they finally gave in when I was seven. A couple years later I noticed girls started talking to me when I was playing drums and there is nothing more fun than playing your favourite songs with your friends so I started joining punk and metal bands and got to record music in studios. That’s when I discovered mixing and producing is as much fun as playing drums.
I was always into indie/alternative rock and noisy guitars and that hasn’t changed. It's still my favourite genre but outside of that Synth Pop, Drum N’ Bass, Blues and Funk have replaced my early teenage Trash Metal obsession.
There are three I immediately think of. The first was discovering Britpop and bands like The Stone Roses, Oasis etc. As I said, I used to play drums in punk bands and while punk rock is awesome, the lyrics are often about being a loser or an outsider which fit me as I really wasn’t one of the cool kids growing up. I was 19 and at this party in Germany where I’m from and some guy played Rock N’ Roll Star by Oasis and it changed everything. All of a sudden, this music that was full of self-confidence and swagger was in my life and it really influenced my outlook on things.
The second was taking a weeklong workshop with Joe Barresi in his studio in Los Angeles. He is to this day my favourite mixer on the planet but seeing him do his thing and not only learning the technical aspects of the craft but also how he thinks about the more psychological aspects of music and production and life blew my mind. Once you know him you can hear his personality coming through his mixes. We stayed in touch over the years, and he was always available to listen to what I am working on, really supportive and helped me grow. I owe the man a lot.
The third I share with many drummers and that is hearing John Bonham on “When The Levee Breaks” and Bernard Purdie playing the shuffle.
For years getting my mixes to translate frustrated me. I went down all the wrong paths one can go down, the ones that involve buying more EQs and compressors until I finally was ready to hear the advice that everyone with a bit of experience will tell you about: Spend money on room treatment, monitors and a high-quality pair of headphones before you even think about buying more gear.
I went through a phase of becoming a bit too obsessed with bass traps and reflection points and headphone frequency correction as a result. I could have saved myself some years if I sorted my monitoring out first so yes, I would approach it with that in mind now.
As a microphone the Royer R121 is my favourite. I can’t think of a project in the last few years where I haven’t used that one. Something about the smooth high frequency roll-off of a good ribbon just sounds right to my ears on a guitar amp (in combination with an SM57 of course) or as room microphone for drums, especially in high energy parts with lots of crashes being hit. If you like to experiment with that combo get Royers’ Axe Mount and you will never have phase issues.
In terms of mixing, the Softube Console 1 is my favourite tool. For those that don’t know it, it's basically a controller for Softube’s plugin emulations of various classic consoles. But it is integrated so well into the modern DAW workflow that it allows me to completely switch of my screen and to listen with my eyes closed while turning dials. I love it.
Don’t wait for anyone to give you permission to create and put out music, that includes yourself. Starting out you won’t have the gear, the room, the acoustic treatment, etc. but what you have is time and potential to learn from those that mastered the craft before you. Go and create, put your work out there, learn from criticism, connect with your peers and enjoy the awesome journey that is creating sound. There really is nothing better than listening back to a song you are proud of.
What I found is that no one ever arrives. I got to speak to some of the best in the game and what they all have in common is that they are forever searching for the next improvement. If the best out there are still learning, folks like you and I that are coming up and are still mastering their craft have no excuses not to.
And in the modern music industry I learned having more than one skill set is essential. So other than the audio production side of things develop a related skillset that artists can benefit from, be it graphic design, web design, booking and promoting shows, social media marketing, royalty collection etc.
Oh…and get the ADPTR AUDIO Metric AB plugin and learn how to use reference tracks.
I really started getting into them as a serious tool 6 years ago when I moved to London. Real estate here is pricey, to put it mildly. As a result, many of us mix in our own living spaces. While this has some advantages, like jumping out of bed and being in your studio, there comes a point past 10pm where mixing solely on speakers can invite unwelcome guests in hats and uniforms. Reliable, accurate headphones are a lifesaver here. When I am in the zone, I don’t want to stop at 10pm but I also do not want to wake up the next morning to find what I mixed on headphones doesn’t translate at all on speakers. A hip-hop producer I know showed me the weed test: If the reverb levels you set while smoking at 2am sound right on your speakers the next morning, then you got a good pair of headphones. I don’t smoke much at all, but I can vouch for that one… it works.
Niche topic, but if any of you are out there touring and need some help getting your gear through customs with an ATA Carnet send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
That stuff is a nightmare to deal with so if my experiences with Mexican and French border officials can help anyone not making the same mistakes, I’m happy to help. You’ll get my stories on being forced to play a snare drum with my feet in customs at Mexico City airport on top if ya fancy.
And if you are ever in London and need some help on finding a good pub I’m your man as well.
I loved the attention to every detail from the moment one opens the case of the LCD-5s. Now, I'll admit I once nearly pulled the plug on the LCD-X a while back because I found them too heavy. My first surprise was that you completely fixed that. I have no idea how you managed to put your planar technology into a form factor that does away with the “Audeze’s are heavy” stereotype and still sound like an Audeze but you did it. They are really comfortable.
I am not looking for a fun headphone but rather a brutally honest one. The fact that I enjoy these being brutally honest and I am having fun hunting for that final -0,5db cut on a drum reverb EQ to place it just right behind the initial snare transient… that says it all. I love these. I could go on about the incredible detail, the depth. The soundstage, the neutral non-hyped low mids and tight low end etc…
I am currently working on a soundtrack for an upcoming documentary on blues music, the Mississippi delta and surrounding areas. It’s a lot of fun and I don’t have to worry about vocal reverbs for a change as it’s instrumentals only. The other big one is Cam Cole’s 3rd album. We recorded 20 tracks for it at Rockfield Studios in Wales and we will release those in various drops before the album comes out. In all cases, the LCD-5s have already helped me get to where we want faster.