Audeze speaks to producer, engineer and mixer Jonathan Hucks

Jonathan Hucks is a producer, engineer and mixer based between London and Liverpool, engineering sessions for other producers and artists as well as producing bands and anyone that makes lots of loud noise with guitars and drums. He’s worked with artists such as Years & Years, Sigrid, Burna Boy, The Rills, Voodoo Bandits, Fearn, Orchards, Sheafs, and Breezer.

 Jonathan Hucks in the studio with his Audeze LCD-X headphones

"They allow me to monitor with confidence in places where beforehand I would be really having to second guess what I was hearing... Never been blown away with headphones before but these have done it. They're indispensable!" - Jonathan Hucks
Here's our chat with Jonathan:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

I’m really proud of everything I work on but a few recent stand outs would be the tracks I mixed for an artist called Fearn. The minute I heard a 30 second snippet of music on Instagram I knew I had to speak to him and that chance conversation turned into us working together on a run of singles that are still being released. They’re very different records to most stuff I work on so they acted like an audio pallet cleanser and I am so thrilled with the results. Beautiful soundscapes, diverse arrangements of electronic and organic sounds and intimate vocals (some even recorded through an iPhone).

I’ve also just wrapped up an EP with a band I’m super excited about called Voodoo Bandits. It’s out and out garage/surf rock, brilliantly written tracks, super tight and energetic band. We had so much fun in the studio and I think that shines through on the record, can’t wait for that one to drop.

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

At the moment my main role is split depending on the project. Often I’m engineering for other producers where I’m making sure the session runs well and we record and capture the sounds the producer and artists are looking for but when I’m producing bands and artists my role opens up as producing now is all encompassing. I’ll be engineering, editing and mixing; all whilst producing at the same time. As I’m often working with bands on my own without other engineers or assistants I’ll try and keep the engineering on ‘autopilot’ as much as possible, so I can park the technical side of my brain and stay creative as much as possible. Artists don’t want to be watching me messing around with patchbays and mics for hours, they want to be making noise so the quicker I can get the signals going and we’re able to hit record and find tones the better. Preparation is key for this approach, but it's incredibly freeing because it opens up your brain to be creative, focusing on the song and artist, and also listening a lot more which I think is the most important thing.

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

I started out interning at a beautiful small music venue in the middle of rural Essex that had a recording studio attached. When I started there I had never even seen a mixing desk before! I’d always been massively into music but had never connected the dots about how it gets made until then. From there it was simply a lot of luck, meeting some amazing people who let me ask questions/learn from them and then a lot of hours in the studio working my way up.

I’ve always been a huge lover of live music so I think it's important to make the time to get to gigs, it can be hit or miss but there's nothing more exciting or a better way of understanding a band than seeing them play in a small sweaty packed out venue.

Growing up I listened, like most kids, to a lot of stuff my parents had in the house that I picked up from the CD rack. In my teens I went through a huge metal stage which led to some phenomenal gigs, learning guitar but also meant I inadvertently missed out on the huge indie scene in the 00’s. Now I listen to a huge variety of music which I think is super important because it lets you draw influence from anywhere but also as a producer and engineer it's cool to learn techniques that apply to one genre and try to bring that across to a whole different genre of music.

We’re also living in a time with playlists and streaming where people aren’t defined by one genre like they used to, which I think is actually brilliant for music because it's really pushing the boundaries of genre and stopping minds and music from being so closed off. If you can bring influences from a whole other type of music into your genre it can only be a good thing in my opinion!

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

Being given my first opportunity to work in music is one of the biggest factors that got me where I am today. I was looking for some summer work so I applied to a local music venue. I didn’t get a job but did get invited down to hang out with the sound and lighting team. I had never even seen a mixing desk in real life before so to get to hang out, see gigs and learn the ropes was a huge opportunity. The venue had a small studio on the side, so I was quickly learning how to use the desk and run ProTools. From then I was hooked and I didn’t look back. I owe a huge amount to the venue and its owners Kate & Chris for giving me that opportunity because without them I wouldn't have started down this path in life.

It’s really hard to nail down specific moments or interactions that influence me, but I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with a huge amount of talented, experienced and brilliant people and I always find myself coming away from a session having learnt something that will help me on the next session.

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?

Frustration for me comes from chasing perfection, whatever that might be! By relaxing more, trusting my own instincts and remembering that if it sounds good when you’re tracking, it more than likely is!

I often found I’d be buzzing after a session, that feeling at the end of the night where you play back the track after you and the band have spent hours working on it and everyone is bouncing off the walls - if you could bottle that up you’d be a very rich person! But I found that when you’re spending lots of time on it after, editing, mixing and going through things with a fine tooth comb, you can start to lose that feeling of excitement as it becomes a more technical job. Because of this I try to get the post production work done as quickly as possible, keep that excitement and energy up and also focus on making things less perfect and referring back to the above, ‘if it sounded good when we tracked it, it most often is.'

The best test for me is if I can listen to a track whilst doing something else; cooking, scrolling on my phone, answering emails etc, and not notice anything wrong with it, that's a good sign it's all good to go!

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

I’ve been lucky that throughout my career I’ve worked in a variety of incredibly equipped studios so have gotten to use a lot of the gear that us audio nerds dream of using however I still don’t think much can beat classic Neve pres and EQs, they sound absolutely amazing on everything. Super musical, easy to use and sound incredible. Vocals, guitars, drums, bass, synths, you name it they will make it sound amazing. If the studios got some you can bet I’ll be using them on something.

Recently my favourite tools have been sending stuff out my reamp box into my (ever expanding to the displeasure of my wallet) pedalboard, a little 9V cigarette box guitar amp or my Homegrown Devices Spring Ting. Plugins are brilliant but you can’t beat mangling audio and playing with the controls in real time. Recently I’ve been using my Boss RE-201 pedal for vocal delay throws. I’ve got a plugin but automating the delays and feedback is quite a faff, I’d much rather send it to the pedal, manipulate it in real time and record the results back in. It’s also nice to not look at a computer screen for a bit too!!

I was also very lucky to be working at a studio recently with an EMT140 plate directly hooked up into ProTools, found myself sending no end of sounds to that thing, it sounded absolutely incredible.

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

Do it. The time has never ever been better to get into producing and recording. Sure the old path of starting as a runner and working your way up through the studio hierarchy might be rarer than ever with the demise of a lot of large studios; but the amount of incredible tutorials, learning resources and the cheapness and ease of getting equipment that only a few years ago would have been insanely expensive means the barriers to entry are so low. What I would have given to have access to something like Mix With The Masters when I was starting out!

In more practical terms though, just get out there, find artists you love to work with, don’t let setbacks stop you (and there will be setbacks the entire way through your career), learn from them and keep going. You’re only as good as your last record, and as long as you’re always improving, learning and having fun doing it you can’t go wrong.

Recording may look super technical (and it can be) - but at the end of the day it’s a people business, be kind, positive, supportive and enthusiastic. Be fun to be around, help push other people up around you and the same will come back in return!

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

I’ve always had headphones in the studio and in the past have used them to double check mixes on. Recently I’ve had to travel a lot more so find myself having to do mix revisions and editing in less than ideal places so started the hunt for a pair of headphones I could truly trust as much as I do my monitors. Audeze kept coming up with everyone I spoke to so I had to try them out and was instantly blown away. They allow me to monitor with confidence in places where beforehand I would be really having to second guess what I was hearing. Not only that but I have also started to use them when I’m working in the studio almost like a secondary pair of monitors. Alongside this, I’ve also started using them when I’m tracking an artist in the control room. Before I was using LCD-Xs I was never completely confident that what I was hearing was sonically right, but now with the LCD-Xs I can be as confident in this situation as I would be when I’m tracking through my monitors.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?

The LCD-X’s have been an absolute game changer. I’ve been using them every single day editing and prepping sessions for mix on a number of up coming releases both in the studio but also when having to work remotely, and not only have they delivered sonically, allowing me to trust exactly what I’m hearing, but they have also been super comfortable even when wearing them for 8+ hours a day. Never been blown away with headphones before but these have done it. They're indispensable!

Jonathan Hucks' Audeze LCD-X headphones