Audeze talks to audio engineer William 'Wheeliemix' Robertson

William 'Wheeliemix' Robertson is a French audio engineer, record producer, composer and musician. He's worked with Mick Jagger, Nicki Minaj, Slow Thai, and many others.

 

"My Audeze LCD-X helped me to be even more mobile while mixing... They solve the usual problems we are all facing when mixing on headphones."  - William 'Wheeliemix' Robertson
Here's our talk with William:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?

Probably the one I am working on right now haha! Thing is, every time I listen back to what I did, I think "Haaa I should have done it differently." That's also what's great about this job. If I have to be proud of something, it would have been my journey, instead of any work I could have done.

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

I am a mixing engineer / record producer. I started as a musician. Mainly guitarist, for gigs and tours. Then started doing music for TV, Sync, Advertising (which I am still doing) and now I am a studio rat.

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 music because it was raining outside and I could not go out skateboarding. So to be honest, out of boredom. I started listening to music actively at a "late age", around 12-13 probably. Before that, I had no interest in it whatsoever. Even if it surrounded my life without me realising it.
I started to listen to music thanks to video games I played. I wasn't a gamer at all. But the soundtracks of video games like Spyro The Dragon (some of them were made by Stewart Copeland from The Police!) lead me to like some types of tones, rhythms and harmony (mixolydian especially). Then I went heavily into classic rock. You already know all these bands, AC/DC, Free, Humble Pie, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy, Guns'N'Roses and also punk of that era like The Ramones, Sex Pistols (I know don't judge me), The Exploited, Rancid, The Casualties, Dead Kennedys etc... All of this sprinkled with the pop-punk of the era: Green Day, Sum 41 (heavily influenced by Iron Maiden by the way), The Offspring etc... Then I went into more "hippie" music and more "intricate" types of artists (some from the 80's): The Doors, The Kinks, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Canned Heat, Joe Cocker, Joy Division, Tom Waits, Jefferson Airplane, Yes etc... Then I went into funk, Motown and old school rock'n'roll etc...
Now, I am still listening heavily to 60's music, it's my shelter when the world goes bonkers or when the music industry drives me mad. But I also love listening to 40's music. The quality is, of course, horrible, but tells a specific message that is very emotional in my humble opinion. Of course when it comes to my job, I am getting inspired by more modern artists. Skrillex blew my mind the first I heard him (I know it's "old" now). FKA Twigs also, Agnes Obel, Nothing But Thieves, Yosi Horikawa, even Billie Eilish. I think I like artists that break boundaries. That is maybe why I love Jimi Hendrix and others. Now we are taking for granted what they did, but back in the day it was maaaad. There is a website called radiooooo.com where you can listen to radio from all years and countries. When I listened to 60's radios in the US, when Jimi Hendrix came out (Voodoo Child) it was mind blowing, much more expansive, big and bold than what I have heard. Big "ah-ha" moment for me. So I am after artists like this nowadays, artists that aren't afraid to push the limits beyond the global consensus.

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

I don't think I can speak about heroes, I haven't taken any role models. I just wanted to maximize my joy and time on earth really. I had the privilege to be born and raised in a country that is not in war, in occupation, that hasn't been colonized or plundered. I manage to craft that luck even more into giving me the opportunity to choose what I would like to do. Knowing that I may struggle a lot but I would enjoy it in the end (hopefully). So I guess what really influenced my journey is the day I had to choose, at the end of my studies, between a "regular" job and struggling to start working in studios. I had 0 experience in studios, I was curious and only knew things as they are written down on paper. No real-life experience. I remember that a lot of people suggested that I take the "real job" and do music as a side hobby. I knew that doing so would make me frustrated so I decided to refuse the job, the nice salary and started asking for internships in studios. That's probably the biggest influence that defines where I am now.

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?

Probably my first experience in a pro studio. It was one of the biggest studios in Paris. I was there 10 to 14 hours a day. Sometimes I slept only 2 hours per night. Studying, learning, understanding these super confusing and big in-line analog consoles (SSL 4000E, Neve VR60, Sony Oxford) etc... So much that I barely realized that I spent most of my time with some of the best artists in popular music of the decade. My girlfriend did not understand how jaded I seemed talking about who I worked with. It was because I didn't take care of myself. I wasn't sleeping enough, eating well, taking care of my look, my face, my hair. I made a lot of stupid mistakes during that time, that would have been avoided if I took the time to listen to what my body tried to tell me: "Stop, relax, take a break, look outside".

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

Probably my headphones and my interface. Just because, you know, they work, I know them, they get the job done. Not the sexiest gear but the one I switch on/off the most for sure.
Now my favorite tools/instruments... Haaa that's tough.
For mixing/tracking, I am a big fan of the SSL 4000G. I am lucky to be able to work on it almost everyday. I love its punchy sound, its clipping, its layout etc...
In terms of outboard I am a huge fan of the GML 8200 EQ. My favorite EQ and first piece of "serious" outboard gear I bought.
Then the Thermionik Phoenix Vari-Mu might be one of my favorite outboard compressors. For its tone, what it does to the lows, its saturation.
Urei 1176 blue-face is also a great piece. But very unreliable, some can be quite bad and others amazing.
A pair of Distressors. For their versatility and the crazy things you could do with them.
Pultec EQP1A, originals, are amazing too, despite their messy phase.
When it comes to recording, I am a big fan of Neumann U87 originals, Coles 4038, Shure 545 and a C12. Other mics are great but these are the ones I know and love.
Then for all of this combined, I do really like a nice Studer A80. But nowadays, it is a bit harder to commit to this. We are in times when everything needs to be quick and easy. And tape machines hardly fall into this category. But whenever I can, I try to pass the final mix to a pro-grade tape machine.

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

Curiosity is your friend! I sometimes see people online asking some specific questions and getting answers like "Who cares, mix and learn, use your ears" or even worse: "The end-listener doesn't care and could not tell the difference anyway." I think, in all honesty, that this is the worst answer to give. Be curious and bold, try new things, find your strengths and focus on them. If you want something very badly, think of the path you could take to reach it. Then, you'll see a few places/people you'll need to get in contact with or work with. How to succeed in getting noticed by these people? Well, offer them something they don't already have!
For example if you want to work in big studios, don't offer your time as an intern. It's not valuable, they got 50 interns waiting to get into the studios. Offer something else, something unique. They are probably struggling with something? That's how I got into a big studio with 0 studio experience. I offered my time, my workforce AND something that no one had offered them yet. Work smart.

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

I have been working with headphones since day one! They are a HUGE part of my workflow. Basically they are my only reference. Because I used to move a lot between countries, studios, apartments etc... I needed to have a reliable set of monitoring for mixing while moving. It was way too tiresome and troublesome to move with speakers. So I chose headphones.
Of course when I am mixing in the studio, I use the speakers there. But the headphones are a way for me to have a reliable reference with me anywhere I could go. That's precious!

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

Being curious in the audio world is a rare quality! Don't let naysayers bring down your thirst for knowledge... I could talk for hours about the studio, the experiences (Am I Experienced?), the journey etc... Why not have a coffee together, contact me, I don't bite and always open to chat!

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?

My Audeze LCD-X helped me to be even more mobile while mixing. Before covid-19 hit, I used to travel a bit between different spaces and countries, which forced me to have a "mobile" setup that will let me do mix revisions wherever I could possibly go. I use a lot of outboard gear but started printing it for this purpose. The LCD-X actually helps me to fully mix on headphones with an even greater ease. They solve the usual problems we are all facing when mixing on headphones:
° The low-end relationship between the kick, bass, low synth. The LCD-X has a lot of definition in that regard, which helps to mix this properly while still dialing a healthy but balanced level of low-mid. And the low-mid balance is for me what separates a good mix from a much better mix. Which is what I am aiming to do everyday.
° The reverbs and delays levels. Since headphones are so close to our ear, it is usually quite hard to judge and tailor the right level of reverb or delay for our song. The LCD-X has an incredible sound-stage for headphones. Which helps understanding the space between each instrument and choosing the right reverb for the right tracks or choosing the right delay instead. It is an extremely difficult task that takes years of practice. And the LCD-X are among the rare headphones that make this easier.
° The midrange separation. This is actually also a problem on some mid-field speakers. The midrange can quickly become messy and undefined. The snare can become a spiky transient among the background vocals and guitars or synths. And the kick drum just sounds like a low thump. For some reasons I cannot explain, this is not the case with the LCD-X in my opinion. Which makes me trust them even more for making bold mixing decisions in that frequency range.
° The very tight extra high resonances in the 8khz to 16-17khz range. I usually spot these resonances on the ATC 300 speakers we have in studio A. Although I was pleasantly surprised to see that I could hear these nasty resonances on the LCD-X too! Which shows how precise they are in the high-end. Which doesn't only help to EQ tracks properly in that area but also to compress tracks properly. As a wrong compression setting can exhibit a lot of nasty peaks in the high-mids, highs and even extreme highs.
° And finally the "front to back" dimension of a song. Having that sense of "front to back" depth is usually what helps me to adjust my compression levels and time-based effects. Reverb, delays and compression can put tracks in the front or in the back. Which is usually something that we psycho-acoustically perceive with speakers (with the "phantom center" when speakers are properly positioned and our ears are in the sweet spot). For some reasons I still cannot explain, I can feel the same with the LCD-X headphones. And that's pretty cool to say the least.
I am not completely lost when I switch from the ATC 300 to the Audeze LCD-X. Which, in my book, says a lot.

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

Since I got the LCD-X, I have mixed 4 albums with them. 2 that I cannot talk about yet (but are pretty exciting!!), one from an indie-soul artist in Canada, and another one from a band called Perhaps Contraption. Which was extremely challenging to mix, as it consisted of a full brass section (with a Tuba for the bass/low-end), acoustic drums and vocals and other bits and pieces of sound design. With some songs featuring some strings and a few layers of synths. I mixed around 50% of the album fully on the LCD-X (as I started this project before receiving my first pair). And I did not struggle to mix the rest of the album solely on the LCD-X (even sometimes it felt easier haha).

I also very recently mixed the song Small Catastrophes by Anaïs entirely on the Audeze LCD-X while checking the mix on the ATC 300 from time to time. But the deadline was so short that I had to rely on the LCD-X fully.

Also, as an engineer in Napster Studio in London, everything that I got to work on in this studio, I use my LCD-X for this... That way, it is almost like having Studio A with me everywhere.

I have also fully written, recorded, mixed (and mastered) about 10 songs for sync opportunities. A few of them reached the music supervisor's ears and are in the process of putting into the project (exporting various alternatives and additional stems etc...). Which is great, as it gives me a lot of flexibility in my creative process.