Audeze hears from producer/engineer/instrumentalist Thomas Mitchener

Thomas Mitchener has built up an impressive portfolio with projects including releases from the likes of Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, The Futureheads, La Roux / Tyler, The Creator, Gallows, Counterfeit, Dead!, The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Hello Operator and Asylums.

A multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, bass, keys, sax and drums (among others) as well as a trained sound engineer and Pro Tools operator, Mitch's experience brings an understanding of the artists he works with.

Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?

I find the whole process of production and mixing really exciting and it is such a great feeling to get a project completed in a way that everyone involved is happy with. If I had to mention a few specific records that particularly stand out, I would have to say the first Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes album ‘Blossom’ is one. I’m currently working on a project which has involved me needing to go back over all the old sessions from that album and it's reminded me how proud I am of the record we made. I love its energy and rawness. It was challenging at times to be playing bass while engineering and producing all the live elements of those recordings in a very tight timeframe.

Another album I must mention is ‘Powers’ by The Futureheads. The band had recorded this album themselves and I got involved to mix it. I have been a big fan of theirs for years so it was great to be working with them and seeing where we could take their recordings. It’s a really fantastic, varied and exciting record with a lot of depth to it and I was really proud of the finished mixes.

I recently mixed a track by La Roux and Tyler, The Creator and that was a lot of fun to do.

As much as it’s nice to occasionally look back on work that you are proud of, I think it’s really important to never become complacent and constantly strive to push yourself in new areas, sometimes outside of your comfort zone, to make you better at your work with every project.

What's the best place for those new to your work to become familiar with what you do?

On my website is probably the best place to see my work... Also follow me on my Instagram and Twitter @tommitchener - I post about what I am working on there too.

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

I am often either employed as solely a mixer, or as a producer and mixer on projects. With the mixing work, I am there to quickly learn from the artist what they want from their mixes and try and get the most out of their recordings so they can get to where they want. On certain projects it can be helpful to get a fresh set of ears on a recording in the mixing stage and I love coming into a project at that point. To be able to offer a fresh perspective and some new ideas and treatments to a recording is really exciting.

With the production work, the role encapsulates so many areas and can be very broad. Overall, as a producer, you are being given the responsibility to produce a high quality releasable recording of an artist which totally fits with their musical vision. In my work as a producer my role will often include reviewing and working on structures and arrangements of songs, choosing suitable musicians to play, finding the right recording locations and creating an environment which is relaxed, fun and non-judgemental so the artists can perform at their very best.

With most of the projects I work, I do all of the engineering and stay as hands on as possible in every phase of the work. From pre-production, to tuning drums, to editing, to doing the last round of mix points, I like to be actively involved in every step of it.

How did you get started in music?

Without writing down my life story, I was raised in a very musical family. My mum plays piano and flute and my dad is a guitarist and vocalist, he’s played in bands for most of his life. As a young boy I was surrounded by music and some of my earliest memories are of my dad loading his gear into our house in the middle of the night after playing a gig.

I was encouraged to play instruments and I learnt to play guitar, piano and saxophone from a young age. As I got older, I got very involved in the local music scene, playing in bands, promoting gigs and recording friends while I studied music technology.

As the bands I was involved in grew slowly, I started touring as a bassist and guitarist and would then record local bands in my downtime between touring and working in a local music shop. I toured for a few years, but it got to a point where my recording, production and mixing work had reached a level where I needed to give it my full time attention. I stepped back from touring and focused solely on that and I have been doing it ever since.

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?

As much as working in music is incredibly rewarding and creative, I don’t believe anyone working in this industry that has not had times where things have become incredibly frustrating and seemingly impossible. I suppose a big frustration for me for many years was mixing. I loved playing music, I loved the recording and production sides but I always found mixing hard and found it impossible to know when a mix was finished. I soon learnt that this is not an uncommon problem, as any project has unlimited options for what you can do with it and it can be hard to know when to leave a mix where it is (before you start making it worse while trying to make it sound better – we’ve all done it).

I don’t think I could say one event, or one specific thing helped me to overcome this problem. I just kept mixing as much as I could with the hope it would get better. The more mixes I did, the more of a consistent workflow I fell into, and through practice, I developed my own process. I was starting to notice I was getting happier with my results, and found myself being able to say “I don’t think I can get it any better than that”.

I could have easily given up and decided that mixing was not for me, but I’m happy that I persisted.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project?

Monitoring is really important to all the sessions I do. I find I can work in almost all situations with whatever gear is available to me, as long as I can trust what I’m hearing. When I found the right speakers and headphones which worked for me, it had the biggest effect on the quality of my work. Up until that point I was having difficulty translating what sounded great in the studio into sounding great in the real world (radio, home & car stereos etc.) as I was relying on gear that was not right. The minute I found what worked for me, it helped me get mixes to where I wanted.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire to get where you are in their own careers?

Everyone in this industry has taken a very different path to get to where they are, it’s what makes the people in this area so varied and interesting. There is no set way to go about it, and what will work for some, will not work for others. I think most people though would agree that practical experience is absolutely vital. If you want to be a record producer, or a mix engineer, just start doing it in any way you can. Luckily we live in a time where technology is at such a level that pretty much anyone with a computer has the physical tools to start doing this job relatively cheaply. The only way you really get better at something is to do it, over and over again.

My main advice would be to immerse yourself in music, go to as many gigs as you can, meet as many musicians, learn to play instruments, record anyone you can and mix as much music as you can get your hands on. On their own all these things might seem small, but they are all part of the journey and you will be simultaneously learning your craft while also getting your name out to everyone so people know what you can do. The more work you do the more you will be training your ears, the better you will get at working with people and the more opportunities will open up to you as a result of your work getting better.

How long have you been working with headphones, and what inspired you to start including them in your workflow?

Headphones have always been an integral part of my professional workflow as well as one of the main ways I enjoy music as a listener too. I suppose my inspiration for using them comes from the fact that I grew up listening to music with them, so it makes sense to me for them to be very integral to my mixing process. When I am mixing I will be constantly switching between reviewing mixes on monitor speakers as well as headphones, as you can often hear certain details that can be harder to make out on studio monitors. They compliment each other well and I cannot imagine submitting a mix without having listened to it numerous times on my headphones. Recently they have played an even bigger part in my work as, like us all, due to the Coronavirus emergency I have had to work a lot more from my home, as opposed to the studio. As I cannot use my studio monitor speakers like I normally would in the studio, I have been relying more and more on my headphones and as a result I have just recently completed the mix of an album almost entirely using them. They continue to be a vital tool for all my production and mixing work.

I’m immensely impressed with my Audeze LCD-X’s and they have quickly become a very important part of my mixing process. They sound fantastic, but most importantly they provide an honest and detailed representation of my mixes that seem to translate very well into the real world. When working in a variety of situations, and on a variety of different monitor speakers, having such a consistent, high quality and trusted set of headphones has not only increased my quality of work, but it has also helped me get there faster.