Braddon Williams AMA (Ask Me Anything)
Welcome to our first AMA in a long time. Please welcome Braddon Williams!
Braddon Williams is the director and founder of Metrum Entertainment (music production and publishing), as well as being a music producer, songwriter, engineer and mixer. He spent over ten years working in-house for Sony Music, and as a result, got to work with some of the world's premier musical talent. His credits list includes work with Beyonce, Snoop Dogg, Wyclef Jean, Mark Ronson, Billy Joel, Il Divo, Joey Yung, Toni Braxton, U-Kiss, Kelly Clarkson, The Script, Delta Goodrem, Sunnee, Guy Sebastian, Angela Zhang, The Dogg Pound, and many more. He has had over 40 platinum album credits, a bunch of top ten and number one songs (as both a songwriter, producer, and engineer), worked as the exclusive engineer for Australian Idol and mixer for The X-Factor, and has written, produced and engineered music for award-winning feature films. These days, Braddon is based in Hong Kong and largely focuses on writing and production, as well as working on new original music.
Artists from the New Artist Spotlight community wanted answers to their questions. Braddon was only too obliging…
Eleanor Collides: What are your thoughts on artists mixing and mastering their own songs?
I’m all for artists mixing and mastering their own music, and it can be seen as an extension of the creative process. If the mixing process falls within the skillset of the artist, then it basically boils down to their creative decisions, but if they don’t have the skillset to take care of the fundamentals, then perhaps it’s best to get some assistance. The ‘dark art’ of mastering is less important these days (at least I feel it is). Previously you had to go to a certain mastering house to get really loud masters, but with loudness matching in all streaming services, if an artist can balance their mix nicely, it doesn’t need to be loud anymore, so long as it has got good dynamics, and a good balance of the frequency spectrum. It could also be a good option to have a more experienced mixer ‘guide’ the artist during the mixing stage, offering feedback and suggesting areas to look at. This way they are benefiting from a more experienced set of ears, but also remaining in control of the mix and retain creative control.
Tim Soucy: If you own all your master recordings, is it necessary to copyright your music?
You automatically get the copyright of your music the moment it’s in a format that can be proven, eg. recorded or written down in some way or form. Your PRO/PRS will help protect those rights for you and collect royalties, but that’s more on the publishing side of things. As owner of the master recording, those are yours (so long as you haven’t included a sample, which I’d recommend against as it gets quite tricky in that instance). I have never sought copyright for a recording as it has always been covered in my specific circumstance. In terms of publishing, that’s a guaranteed right, but I also have a publisher who deals with a lot of my registrations, but that is in addition to the right, and specific to releases.
Perfect Lies: Does the music you most often listen to influence your mixing/production of the current artist you are working with, or do you avoid listening to other artists during that time?
I find that they are two very different things. I have music that I listen to and love, and that is my escape when I need to refresh my ears, and there is music that I listen to as reference for a specific job that I’m doing. The music that I’m passionate about and really love will seep its way into stuff that I am working on, but it’s not a conscious decision. As a preference, I don’t usually listen to pop music in my own time, it feels too much like work, but I will listen to pop music in extreme detail as part of work, so I still feel there’s a good understanding of the genre, even though I don’t listen to it for fun. In general when I’m working on something I’ll reference other songs in that genre, specifically to try and pin-point what the artist wants.
Caitlin Goulet: How do you mix a song to allow the vocal to shine?
Good question. In most genres the vocal is the focal point and should be always be centre stage. What processing I apply to a vocal changes song by song, but there are a few things that are generally always happening. First is to have a fast compressor, slow attack, fast release, followed up by a slow compressor, usually an opto. Often this can give the type of upfront sound that I’m looking for, but adding another compressor later on is pretty common. It can also be surprising how much a vocal is being compressed when it’s placed in a dense mix. If there are a lot of things happening in the music, the vocal can be super crushed, but still sound good, so don’t be afraid to push it hard if that’s what’s needed to pop through the music. On the other hand, if the song is more natural, and there is more space, then it’s important to keep the vocal feeling natural. In this type of song, if the vocal is compressed a lot, it will sound out of place, so volume automation would probably be more suitable here. In addition to compression is EQ, and finding the sweet spots to boost and the points to cut. That is all source specific though, so just needs to be dealt with while listening to the vocal in the track. One other thing that is helpful to make the vocal stand out is to use some sort of sidechain on the instrumental bus. I always have the multi routed so that it eventually comes out as a stereo a cappella, and a stereo instrumental. I then take a feed off the a cappella and send it to a processor on the instrumental track. There are a few things that can do this, some are Trackspacer (this is usually the one I go to), Unmask (in the iZotope Neutron plugin), Pro-Q (in dynamic, side chain mode), Soothe2 (in side chain mode) and probably many others. The basic theory is that when the vocal plays, the side chain that is sent to the processor on the instrumental channel causes it to reduce a certain frequency in the instrumental, it’s basically ducking only the areas that the vocal is taking up. This gives it more space by removing those frequencies within the instrumental, but when the vocal is not playing, the instrumental remains unchanged. This should always be done very subtly though, as you shouldn’t be able to hear the instrumental track being ducked at any point,
lofthouse leo: When EMI was taken over by Sony I had songs there from a band I was a part of years ago. I see these songs floating around the internet but wondered how I could go about tracking them down again? I think I have a lot of outstanding royalties because these are being bootlegged.
I think a lot of that would depend on the agreements that you initially made with EMI. Are you mainly talking the recording side of things, or publishing? Hit me up in a DM if you want to go over this more, as the answer might be a bit dependant on a few more details. Also, if it’s being bootlegged, there’s probably not any money being generated from that as it’s an unofficial release.
gimbal.lock: What advice would you give to up-and-coming music producers and engineers trying to break into the industry?
I think persistence is key. It’s not going to come quickly or easily, but it may come if you keep at it. Establishing an identity is also vital, even if that identity is being a chameleon, so long as people go to you knowing they need something that you can do. Establishing networks and connections is also really important, it’s hard to become part of a community if you are on the fringes of it, so finding little ins here and there can really help to find where a door may be opening. Being a great producer/engineer is one thing, but combing that with good people skills is another, so it’s really important to be good at the job, but also to be someone that people want to work with.
Prym/Eugenio Barahona: What’s the best way to give space and avoid clashing between the kick and bass in a mix. They are both low end frequencies so what’s the best way to have them mixed?
This is a tough one, but a really important one. It often depends on the genre, e.g. it’s much more important to separate the kick and bass in EDM than it is in something like jazz or folk. One of the main plugins I use is the Fabfilter Pro Q3, and that plug-in has the ability to compare the spectrum of the track you are on against another instance of the plugin on another track. I’ll often have the Pro Q3 on the kick and bass (or the busses if there are multiple parts to each) and then see where things are hitting, and from there you can see where the fundamentals are, and where clashes occur. Sometimes a little EQ is all that’s needed, other times you might have to get more heavy handed and use some sort of ducking. To do that a compressor or something like Trackspacer, Unmask etc can be placed on the bass track, and then be triggered by the kick. This will result in the bass being pulled down (either a specific frequency if using something like Trackspacer, or across the whole frequency spectrum if just using a compressor) just when the kick hits. For EDM or Hip-Hop music, it can be good to sometimes use something like LFO Tool or VPS Multiband Sidechain and have it set up to very quickly duck the bass for the initial click of the kick. This method mostly works for repetitive types of music that are on the grid but there is an option to trigger some of these plugs via midi if you want to try it on tracks that have a more natural feel. One other option, but it’s time consuming, is to draw automation on your bass track so that whenever the kick hits, the automation pulls down the level of the bass. This can give a good and accurate result but is very time consuming. All in all it’s just about getting the bass to make way for the kick, but then come back in a natural way so that it sounds seamless.
Gray Dream: Regarding art for art's sake, how should we treat a song that was composed to "make people happy" by being super catchy and the fact that people love it, yet it lacks deep musical insights and compared to let's say classical music or a rich rock song such as "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "Stairway to Heaven", which weren't composed to "please" people, this catchy song can be considered poor and unimportant, and would never survive the history of art?
I’m not really a purist of any particular style, I love all styles of music, and I appreciate simple songs, as well as complex songs. If a simple song connects with a lot of people, then it has done its job, if a complex song challenges the listener and connects with them that way, then it has done its job too. I do believe simple songs can survive the history of art, look at Bob Dylan or even The Beatles. Simple doesn’t mean cheaper, and complex doesn’t mean better, so I think it’s about the whole package, and how the audience receives it.
William Lovitt/Quizboy: What advice do you have for musicians who want to pursue sync licensing opportunities?
Getting syncs is a great way to get some good income, generally a lot more than the usual sources of income from releasing your own music. I’ve had music placed in films, TV, video games, and ads, and generally they come from one of two sources, one being through my publisher, or directly from a contact who has asked me to work on something directly. E.g. I’ve done some TV show theme songs because I had a relationship with the producer of the show and it was more of a bespoke gig, whereas I’ve also had some songs placed video games because my publisher had successfully pitched my songs to their client. I’m aware of some of the websites and platforms that say they can help with sync opportunities, but I have not heard of any good success from these. Having said this, and assuming that you’re not with a publisher, I’d suggest trying to build relationships with music supervisors, ad agencies, and talking with music libraries. I wouldn’t be paying anyone to pitch songs on your behalf, and I would be wary of some of the websites saying that they can get your songs in to major labels and film studios, I’ve seen a lot of those and seems like a bit like snake oil to me.
8000 Miles: One of the toughest challenges in mixing/mastering is the usage of (appropriate) references, would you recommend selecting one single "go-to" song that one knows very well and could always use to calibrate the result (maybe even against unknown speakers/room"?
You’re 100% right, references are extremely important to not only counter any differences in room/playback systems, but to also freshen your ears during mixing. I don’t have a go-to track for that, I actually have a whole bunch that I use, and I keep them organised like this; I keep one folder of about 20 songs, in all different styles, and these are songs that I listen to all the time and know really well. Then I have folders for a bunch of different genres of music, and in those are about 20 songs specific to that genre. I know these pretty well too, but not as intimately as the main folder. So all in all I probably have about 100 songs that I use, but 20 of those are my go-to references, and when narrowed down by genre there’s usually around 4 or 5 that I can choose from that will serve me really well during the mixing process. I also use references during production too, and these can be anything and mostly dictated by what the label/artist say that they want. Oh, and for the mixing refs, they are all hi-res, minimum of 44.1k, 24bit, no mp3s.
EliXir: If you could condense all of your knowledge and experience of producing music down to your most important 3 tips for aspiring producers, what would they be?
I’d have to say that Number 1 would be - The song is the most important, followed by the performance. Everything else can take a back seat, because without those first two things, you don’t really have much. No one is going to care how it was recorded, where, by whom, what gear was used, what type of guitar it was, what VST is playing what, all that stuff is just a way to enable a performance of a song. Number 2 - I used to say something during sessions which I think was pretty spot on. People would ask me why am I doing this, should maybe try that, etc etc, and talking about all these complex things they’ve heard of, and I’d just say “it’s rock’n’roll not rocket science”. It’s true, keeping it simple is usually the best way to go. And Number 3 - It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got to be in it for the long game and work accordingly, building things like relationships, networks etc, and let all of that build over time. I’ve had a number of people come through the door who get disheartened if they don’t see results in 6 months or a year, sometimes it can take many many years but if you have planned from the beginning and have set up good networks and make lots of good connections, then there’s a better chance that things will come off.
Mike and Mandy: I’ve read a lot of books and advice on mixing/mastering by pros (Mixerman, Roey Izhaki) that mention an analog summing mixer as an important step in the final mix, but these devices are $$$ and no one today really talks about them. Do you use one? Given how far modern DAWs have come with virtual signal chains and plugins, do you think having that final analog flavor is integral to a great mix? Is it worth the money?
Oh Mike and Mandy you’re going to bring up a lot of PTSD for me on this one ;-) I have spent a lot of time on this very subject, and I used to work day in day out for over a decade on a classic 72 channel Neve console, I used to own the Neve 8816 and used that in a hybrid setup, I also mixed on old SSL consoles. About 8 years ago I decided to go 100% in the box, just because it was much more convenient for my workflow, and because I jump around projects all the time, it just made sense. I tried everything under the sun to bring the ‘analog’ workflow and sound into the DAW. I’ve used all sorts of plugins that simulate it, but in the end, I think I am very comfortable to say that I am very happy without any analog summing, and without using any in the box plugins to try and simulate it. Using analog summing you generally have greater headroom, and can drive it more, but if you’re going out a DAC you’re going to be limited by that anyway, but switching to 100% itb there is near infinite headroom, so when you work out a system that works for you in terms of routing, and hitting your mix bus the way you want, I really think that adding analog summing is just too much pain for not enough gain.
Faded Element: Who were you most impressed by overall working in the studio with?
That’s a tough one, there’s been plenty of really talented individuals that I’ve met along the way, some obvious ones were working with Beyonce, she’s out-of-this-world amazing. I found recording Kelly Clarkson’s voice to be a real treat, her voice is killer. Overall though, I’d have to pick a less well known band by the name of Augie March. They are one of my all-time favourite bands, easily in my top 5. First time I worked with them was just before they had a really big breakout song called ‘One Crowded Hour’ and I got to join them on various projects over the following years. They are so committed to their artistry and their music, and are very opposite to the music industry in a number of ways, so being part of that was really magical, I just loved every session we did and learned a lot about dedication to song and performance, and remaining true to the character of a band/artist.
Ed Eagle: What is the one thing anyone can do to immediately improve their mix without any extra costs or training?
I mentioned earlier about the importance of referencing so that you can keep grounded and keep your ears open, but aside from that, there is one thing prior to mixing that I think is important to mention. A good mix won’t help something that is out of tune, out of time, or just not performed well. A mix can’t work miracles, so it’s really important to have those things in order before mixing. If something is out of tune, best to re-do it, or get it tuned first. If the timing is a bit wobbly, better to fix it, as those things will stick out like a sore thumb no matter how much time and attention is given to the mix. DAWs these days are so powerful, and I think most of them have built in editing for things like timing and tuning (e.g. in Logic you can edit the tune and time via Flex, and in Pro Tools warping does the same thing). Getting those things tight, and even going so far as to edit your bass to the kick so things are tight, and impactful, or timing the BVs so each part follows the lead exactly can really help save time and add oomph when it comes to the mixing stage.
Ben Konarov: What is the most valuable advice you have ever received?
This is an interesting one, I can’t think of anything specifically related to ‘making’ music, but one thing that really stands out is a bit of advice that one of Sony’s senior A&Rs said to me and that ‘being a producer/engineer is 10% making music and 90% being a psychologist/counsellor/therapist/friend’. It really is true, it’s amazing how artists, sometimes very big ones just open up and want to talk when in the studio, and if you’re the only one there, you’ve got to be able to navigate those conversations properly. If something goes horribly wrong in a session, how do you deal with that, if an artist has a temper tantrum, what do you do? If the singer really hates the song and doesn’t want to do it, how do you convince them to get in the booth and give it their all. These are some of the really interesting parts of the job, and some of the most intriguing stories I have are often not related to music specifically, but more the relationships of the people in the room, and the temperament of artists.
Spaccx: Can you describe the most exciting audio project you've completed that gave you the platform you always wanted?
The most exciting music project that I have ever been a part of has to be the first time I worked with Mark Ronson. It was the most difficult, most insane day I have ever had in the studio. Here’s the story… The studio at Sony had been booked by Mark to do some press interviews, which was very common, they’d often go into the studio and use the console or live room as the backdrop. For those bookings, the studio staff weren’t required, so myself and my assistant, a great guy by the name of James had the day off. I was called into a meeting that morning however to discuss some budget things up on the third floor. While in that meeting I got a call asking ‘umm, Brad can you please go down to the studio, Mark Ronson is waiting for you’. I thought that was a bit weird but I went down, and when I opened the door, there was Mark, and about 20 musicians just standing there looking at me. There was also a few label staff members too, so it was essentially an entire room of people looking at me with a ‘WTF?’ look on their face. Turns out the person who made the booking got it wrong and it was a full recording session, with Mark, full rhythm section, string section, brass section, and 4 guest vocalists. Usually, before a session I’d get in a few hours before (or for big sessions, set up the night before), have things set up, patched up, mics out on stands, everything ready to go, but in this instance, it was a completely empty room, everything set to zero. I called up James and asked him how long it could be till he was in, he lived about 45min away but seems like he got there in 20min, and we just went nuts, setting up random things, cutting corners to save time, doing stuff that we’d never usually do, all with the goal of getting a sound up as soon as possible. It took about 2 hours, but eventually we started to get sound, and I’ll tell you what, when the band started to play live, with live drums, bass, guitar, strings, brass section, organ, piano, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the studio. The control room is pretty large, but we had a whole bunch of record people in to watch the session, so it felt quite claustrophobic, but the band started to run the tracks, and I furiously tweaked away and started mixing the playback as they were jamming. They were tight, really tight, and it was just a joy. This should have been a disaster, one of the worst sessions ever, but looking back, it probably turns out to be my favourite. A day later I mixed up the tracks and sent them to Mark, and he was really happy with them. He came back twice after that, so I think I managed to salvage that very awkward moment of everyone looking at me like ‘what the hell?’.
Lisa Thomas: what was the most difficult song you’ve worked on and what made that song in particular more difficult for you?
I think the previous question where I spoke about the session with Mark Ronson has to go down as the most difficult session, but there have been a bunch of things happen over the years that have made sessions difficult. I’ve had a few singers spit the dummy and storm out of sessions because they weren’t into it, but that’s not on me, so I’m ok with that sort of thing. I’m more frustrated when technical difficulties get in the way of recording, because that is my responsibility, but sometimes it’s unavoidable, equipment breaks down etc, so it was more about having a backup plan and getting to that asap. There was one year where I did the winners album for Idol, and we started work on a Monday (the day after the winner was announced) and we had to track a live band, record the vocalist, and mix everything (a full album) by Thursday evening. I’m not sure how much I slept that week, but it wasn’t much, so that was probably the most intense project because of the amount of work required in a short amount of time, but we got there in the end.
Patrik Ahlm: In your opinion, what is the no 1 mixing mistake DIY-producers make, and how can it be avoided?
I think the main thing people get wrong when mixing is to lose perspective. Keeping a reference handy can help ground yourself, so checking back and forth against what you are working on and what the reference sounds like is the perfect way to tell you how you are going. A lot of times, there are certain things in rough mixes that just stand out as obvious problems, e.g. vocal is way too low and buried, or the vocal has way too much reverb, or the kick is barely audible. I’m sure if the artist used a reference when doing their mix, those things would have become obvious errors, but if there is no point of reference, the brain can be tricked into thinking that what they have been hearing for a while is actually correct. Flushing out your ears with a reference can help solve that, and is important for beginners right up to seasoned pros.
Blister Soul: With such an impressive resume of platinum albums, top 10's, and #1 songs as a songwriter, producer, and engineer, why do you choose to do pro bono work with a grassroots community like NAS?
I spent a long time making music for other people, and only recently decided to start releasing stuff myself, just for fun. In doing that I came across NAS and it’s been really fun seeing people release their own music, and being at different stages of their development. It’s all fun, and I do music not because it’s a job, it’s a lifestyle. Sometimes large scale commercial releases can feel a lot less fulfilling than a small independent release, so it’s not really about the glamour or the scale of things, and more about the passion and people.
WorryfulStoner: What made you start making music?
For me it was because I was a super fan of some great 90s rock bands (e.g. The Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead). I was mad about their music in high school, and I had started doing music just so I could start playing their songs. Things developed from there and I found a real love of recording technology, starting out on a 4 track tape machine and going from there. It wasn’t until a number of years later, and a sidetrack down another profession that I decided to give the music stuff a real shot. I didn’t have the musical knowledge or ability, so I pursued the technical side of things, and went the studio route. The short answer to your question is I was an overly addicted fan of rock music, and decided to quit my chosen profession (I was in the Army) and get involved from there.
Gt3: What is the biggest challenge in music right now?
I personally feel there’s been a big drop-off in musical knowledge and ability in modern music. I think someone needs to come along and kick everyone’s ass and remind listeners about the importance of good songwriting and melody. The lack of musical knowledge also seems to result in a lot of stuff sounding the same, or copy-cat songs, so there tends to be a cycle of everyone chasing the same thing. I guess one solution to this would be for education systems to have better music programs, allowing kids to grow up learning the craft of music.
Thanks so much to Braddon Williams for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m sure you’ll agree his answers were truly interesting, enlightening, amusing and fascinating.
Braddon Williams currently has two ongoing personal music projects:
Follow Prototype One on Instagram HERE!
Follow Don Kyote on Instagram HERE!
Do let us (and Braddon) know your thoughts in the comments below
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