Audeze speaks with producer and engineer Noam Wallenberg

Noam Wallenberg is a Producer/Engineer who has worked since 2007 carving his place in the Chicago music scene, most recently at Raxtrax Studio. He has had the pleasure of working with artists across many genres such as Alan Parsons, The O'My's, Mac Miller, Donnie Trumpet, and I Fight Dragons to name a few.

 

"My LCD-Xs have completely taken the guess work out of mixing. Between those and my studio monitors, I have a complete picture of my mix from every angle, no surprises." - Noam Wallenberg
Here's our talk with Noam:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?

Hard to choose but I did a record that came out recently with an artist from Michigan named May Erlewine. We tracked the whole thing live to 8 track tape and everything feels like it's from the seventies. I really love how that one came out.

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

I honestly am a bit of a chameleon these days. I spent my whole career saying yes to so many different types of projects that now I end up doing a bit of everything. Some projects I'm playing all the instruments, songwriting, recording, mixing/mastering. Some projects I'm just mixing and I never even meet anyone who's involved. I think I'd get bored if I was doing the same job every day!

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

My parents were both classical musicians so I was kind of immersed in a lot of that growing up. Then I started listening to 90's rock like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Eventually I started listening to a ton of soul music like Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers and also super heady stuff like Dave Holland and Frank Zappa. Now I'll pretty much listen to anything! Now I just love music that feels good and doesn't take much thinking to enjoy. That can span across all genres.

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

For songwriting it's probably Paul Simon, for production I'd say it's Tony Visconti, for mixing it's Tchad Blake. I just adore that guy's approach to mixing, he's been a big inspiration for me in terms of not being beholden to any of my tools. Understanding I can get where I'm going with pretty much anything as long as I'm making bold choices. I met him once years ago and asked some very technical questions about distortion. He answered in such a far out philosophical way that 1. made me think about more than just music and 2. very kindly told me I was asking the wrong questions!

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 hit big roadblocks with some singers who wouldn't be able to perform at the height of what they were capable of when we got to tracking lead vocals. We would spend months and months perfecting every detail of the arrangement and when we finally started with the leads, the artist would struggle immensely. Eventually I started recording lots of my vocals in the control room and recording them as early in the process as possible. Something about that combination takes all the pressure off and makes for amazing vocal takes.

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 use all of the classics obviously, Neve and Telefunken pre's, 1176s, Distressors etc... Lately I've been doing a lot of using these old desktop microphones called Muzak mics. They're designed for ham radios but they sound amazing on guitars when you need something focused sounding. That and my Fender Mustang bass are some of my heavily used tools right now.

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

The old models of career paths in music production aren't dead, but they certainly aren't your only way to get ahead and get information. There's tons of people making amazing stuff from their bedrooms! Just take in as much information as you possibly can online from the people who are making the records you love. Try everything that you read and see about and constantly be making as many records as possible. The only way to learn this stuff is to do it as much as possible. That and probably intern in a good studio for at least some period of time.

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

I used to mix on NS-10's because I was told they were the "hitmakers!" I realize I was missing a lot of detail on those speakers so I would reference towards the end of my mixes on good headphones to see if I was missing anything.

Now I'm mixing on ATC SCM45's which are pretty much telling me the whole story so I use headphones for an extra perspective. I listen a lot at the beginning of the mix when I'm setting up and I listen a lot at the end. I also listen when I'm mastering as my last line of defense for anything abnormal.

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

I was once engineering for Alan Parsons and noticed that the whole time we had worked he didn't touch a single phase switch. I asked him "is there a reason you don't check your phase on everything?" to which he replied, "I check when it sounds bad." As a very technical person I was horrified and I've taken that philosophy with me. I try to only think through the things that need to be thought through. Try to trust my instincts on everything.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?

I've been mixing on these LCD-Xs for a few months now and I'm absolutely loving them! They get super close to the way my ATC SCM45A monitors' sound. In the last few months I've had sessions with A$AP Rocky and Woody Goss (Vulfpeck), everyone has been commenting on the LCD's. All the other headphones I've ever used have me constantly compensating based on what the headphones are supposed to sound like. Constantly having to reference other music while I mix and adding more high end and less low end than I'm comfortable with. On these it feels like I can just follow my instincts and mix towards what I WANT to hear. Best purchase I ever made.

My LCD-Xs have completely taken the guess work out of mixing. Between those and my studio monitors, I have a complete picture of my mix from every angle, no surprises. If it sounds great on both, I know I’m done! The detail is completely ridiculous and I end up catching things on the phones that I don’t catch on my monitors.