Audeze speaks to engineer, mixer and producer Danny Trachtenberg

July 25, 2023

Danny Trachtenberg is a recording engineer, mixer and producer based in London, UK. Beginning his career over 11 years ago as a studio engineer at Red Bull Studios, where he worked with countless artists including Skepta, Stormzy, A$AP Rocky, Diplo, Disclosure, Jessie Ware and Jorja Smith. Now working out of Ten87 Studios his credits include George Ezra, Alex Cameron, Fred Again.., Dance System, Kojaque, Plan B and Sarathy Korwar.

Danny Trachtenberg in the studio with his Audeze MM-500 headphones

 "The MM-500s have been a brilliant addition to my monitoring."  - Danny Trachtenberg
Here's our chat with Danny:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

I think the Kojaque album Town’s Dead was of particular importance to me as a mixer and producer. It forced me to level up, in part because Kevin (Kojaque) is such a supremely talented, meticulous and focused artist. But also the record covered so much ground reference-wise that bringing all those aesthetics together cohesively was a huge undertaking for me at the time.

There is also a project I’m working on with an artist called CJ Mirra, his debut record, that I’m proud to have helped craft and see come to life. Can't wait for people to hear his songs.

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

Primarily I’m mixing artist records these days, with more and more production on some. A bit less studio tracking than I used to but love to get these sessions when they come up.

Finding the vocal sound, adding layers or even finding the overall aesthetic for projects is awesome to be asked to do. Being given that responsibility is an honour but it’s wonderful to get records that have all of this worked out already. The balance usually comes together really quickly and I can concentrate on creating exciting moments in the mix that help tell the story. I find myself being far more intuitive with these mixes.

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 in London in the 80s /90s so UK Garage and Jungle was kind of my main education. I started collecting records at 15 and spent most weekends in Soho at places like Blackmarket Records and Relentless, and discovered more and more music through digging. Jungle/DnB as a genre is filled with so many references and samples - Jazz, Disco, Soul, Reggae, House, Hip Hop, Ambient, 80s synth wave, Rock, even Pop. Discovering the origins to the samples in my collection is also what led to my tastes, appreciation and record collection broadening.

Shout out to the nerds on the Dogsonacid forum for the sample knowledge.
My earliest experience of actually working with audio was at film school at Bournemouth. Although we were never really shown how to do a post sound mix (it was all more visual and direction focused), I found myself fussing over the sound balance on my films more than anything. Finding the little audio level clip line in Final Cut Pro and filters blew my mind. I discovered Logic Pro 7 very soon after this and a fascination with music production and this curiosity for how to achieve a certain aesthetic developed.

Later I moved to New Zealand in my mid 20s and had a couple residencies playing DnB and early Dubstep, as well as touring with local producers. I learnt a lot from these producers while my curiosity for production deepened. Upon my return to the UK I enrolled at SAE, lived in their studios for a year and then got an assistant job at Red Bull Studios which is where I cut my teeth.

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

I had a teacher at SAE called Carlos Lellis who probably had the biggest impact on me as an engineer. His passion for the craft was infectious. I still to this day count him as a mentor and I usually go to him when I'm having an existential work crisis. His love of teaching has also led to me finding the value in mentorship and teaching too. I've taught and mentored now over the past few years including work in prisons, and this always enriches my love for music and the craft.

Sharing your knowledge and experiences, no matter how trivial it might seem to you, will always be swallowed up by a less experienced and hungry audience.

Currently anything mixed by Shaun Everett, Tchad Blake, Ben Baptie and Dan Carey have the biggest inspiration for me. Shaun and Tchad are fearless. A real fuck it attitude led by intuition and fun.

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 am a huge over-thinker. It's probably the biggest challenge I face in my creative work. (Well, life really.) Learning how to identify the moment when creative flow fueled by gut and instinct switches to questioning and doubting my actions has been the best work I've done in recent times. The moment I feel that piece of doubt slip in, I move on to something else, and revisit things later on, with fresh ears and perspective. Picking the right studio equipment that I can trust to match my intuition feeds into this. I need to feel like my tools aren't getting in the way and I'm not using something for the sake of it. Less is usually better.

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've spent the past 6 months testing, trialing and toying with monitoring upgrades. Monitoring is everything. By far the most important thing in my studio. Probably anyone's.

I had been missing something with my setup (Barefoot Footprint 01s and Auratone 5Cs) and came very close to forking out over £10k for a pair that sounded incredible but sort of felt, well, indulgent and would have put a huge financial hole in the business. On the advice of a good friend and fantastic producer/mixer, Alex Loring, I tried NS10s and immediately found what I was looking for. After 10 years of never really working on NS10s, I final got what the fuss was about. Those plus a borrowed pair of Audeze LCD-Xs. ffs. It's all there. I now just throw on the Barefoots to hear what the sub is doing and check for vibe. But that's sort of it.

Ok, processing-wise - I have a custom Neumann 16x2 summing mixer and an SSL Fusion which are on every single mix. They both give me a broad-brush stroke of colour and energy that feels right to my ears.

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

Being willing to do whatever it takes to get a project over the line will always garner the respect and possibly the continued business of a client. But make sure you have conversations about any work you do that might go beyond your initial job (i.e. production when you are hired as a mixer). Also you need to draw a line in the sand with your rates. Have a minimum, and stick to it. Your absolute bottom should be reserved for projects that you simply don't want to let go because you love the music/artist and believe in it. The sooner you put that into practise the easier it will be to manage money and negotiations as your career starts to get more serious. Anxiety levels will be much lower and you can focus on having fun with your work and creative relationships.

Your skills have value and you should always be paid for it. Even if it's in exchange for something else that's tangible - like royalties (with a contract) or a swap for some other skill (vocals, production, session playing) that you might need on another project. Though you'd be surprised how quickly Artists/Managers find money when you start asking for points in lieu of payment.

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

Since borrowing a pair of LCD-Xs my world view of mixing and monitoring has completely changed. I've always used Apple Ear buds/pods of many iterations to check mixes, but I've never had headphones that played such a vital role in my process as the Xs. And now after hearing the MM-500s..... I'm sold. A convert. I've found them providing a really brilliant perspective on my balancing, EQing and stereo image. Plus the tonal balance between the MM-500s and my NS10s translated really well. They aren't the be all, end all. Monitors are still vital for depth and feeling the air move in the room. But having a trusted pair of headphones to get continued shifts in perspective have helped me keep my ears fresh.

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

Let's all take time to take care of our mental health. And support each other's journeys with it.

We love our work. But it will suffer if we don't take time to work on everything else we need.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

The MM-500s have been a brilliant addition to my monitoring. Checking different perspectives, from my Barefoots, to the NS10s and now the Audezes keeps my ears fresh and workflow moving along without losing where I'm at. The spatial imaging is great and a mix balance translates really nicely onto my speakers. I've traveled with them too and they've proven to be fantastic for writing and production while on the road. The weight is nice and lets me work for a long time without getting tired of wearing them. 

My Audeze have been a vital part of a few projects - At the end of 2022 I finished up some mixes for Django Django's next project, finished an album mix for a brilliant new artist called Evadney and now starting VC Pines' next album. 
I also mixed a Dolby Atmos Immersive project for Nike entirely on the MM-500s and am working through some production music albums for Ninja Tune.

Danny Trachtenberg's Audeze MM-500 headphones