Audeze chats with producer and mix engineer Les Cooper

Les Cooper is a producer and mix engineer who's known for his ability to create deep and immersive sonic landscapes. Recently, he has shifted his attention to the release of his debut solo album, NOISE, a stunningly textured album which was largely mixed on Audeze LCD-MX4s. The attention to detail in Les's orchestral arrangements and productions have made his work a natural fit for both television and film as well as popular music. Les has received several Canadian Juno awards and gold records and he continues to push sonic boundaries in his home town of Toronto, Canada.

 

"Since getting the (MX4s), I've moved to a mostly headphone-based mixing workflow. I can't over-state how big a difference these have made to my mixes."  - Les Cooper
Here's our talk with Les:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

Well, I've been working on a solo album for quite some time and I’ve finally released it. It’s been a significant shift in perspective to move from being comfortably hidden in the background to now pushing into the forefront.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

I’m drawn to working with songwriters and often get involved from very early on in the process. For me, the arrangement and structure of both the songs and the instruments play a critical role in the sonics of the final mix. I love the process of figuring out how to frame a piece of music. There's so many ways that a song can go but I do find that songs tend to dictate what they want. Once that direction has been found, it's quite fun to build the house and landscape around it.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

I grew up singing with my mom and brother. It was a constant in our house. When I was a teenager, I was drawn to music that could transport me in some way. Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, The Who.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Being from Hamilton, it was hard to ignore the influence of Daniel Lanois. His music had a massive impact on my sense of space and energy in music. I had been working on some of my own music and it was strongly influenced by him. He generously offered to spend an afternoon at his place listening to it with him. It was inspiring to say the least but there was a moment where he leaned over to me, looked me right in the eye and said "you know, you're going for a sound here that's really beautiful but it's been done... and it's been done really well." Ha! He got me there. I worked hard to find my own sound after that day but Daniel's work as well as the work of Mark Howard (Mark engineered and mixed many of those albums and continues to produce amazing albums on his own) remains a huge influence to this day.

I was also lucky enough to spend a week with another hero of mine, Tchad Blake. I learned a LOT in that week.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

I used to have a lot of outboard gear and it was a complicated setup. Dealing with recalls and keeping up with that signal chain slowed my work significantly. Aside from some treasured pieces of outboard gear which tend to be set-and-forget, I have moved to a mostly in-the-box setup and I've never looked back.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

I'm a sucker for a good reverb. I use a Bricasti for creating realistic spaces and I have a spring reverb unit that was built by Chris Benson of Benson Amps which is an astonishing piece of gear. I don't know how he did it but It sounds like the best plate I've ever heard and it's in a two space rack! I'm also deeply attached to my Amphion monitors and my Audeze MX4s. Monitoring is everything and the feedback that I get from my speakers or headphones influences every decision I make.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Listen to tons of music from every genre, whether you like that style or not. There's something to learn from everything you hear.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

Ever since things have been locked down I've been increasingly dependent on headphones. I've mixed several projects now on the LCD-2s and more recently the MX4s. Things translate really well and it's been an eye-opening experience for me. I use Amphion monitors with a stereo subwoofer setup in a tuned room but I find myself turning them on less and less.

Do you have any additional comments or stories you want to share?

I lost my guitar behind my couch for six months when I was in my 20's.
Does that count?

How have your new Audeze headphones affected your work?

I have a very good monitoring environment which includes Amphion near-fields. I still enjoy listening to mixes in a room but it can be a battle against physics. I haven't been able to connect emotionally to mixes in the past with headphones but that changed with the MX4s. Since getting them, I've moved to a mostly headphone-based mixing workflow. I can't over-state how big a difference these have made to my mixes.

I started working on the Euclids for late night sessions. My studio is in my home and working late has previously been a bit of a struggle. The closed back Euclids translate quite well and flipping between them and the MX4s has been quite seamless. I also use the Euclids for vocal takes as they virtually eliminate bleed, and I started using the MX4s for mixing in DOLBY Atmos. I do a final check on speakers but 90% of the work is on the phones.

Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

I've taken a departure from producing other artists for a bit and I released my solo album. I have to say, Audeze has been a big part of this one!
I've been remixing the album in ATMOS and using the MX4's exclusively. What a dream man!