July 7, 2008

Daniel Lanois Q & A

Back in March Gearslutz.com hosted an expert Q & A with one of my production heroes, Daniel Lanois. In addition to producing his own incredible records, Lanois has been behind the wheel on records for U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, and Emmylou Harris. It is hard to put into words what makes his work special, but his projects are uniquely atmospheric and always powerful. It is clear from listening to his productions and reading the Q & A that the music, not the gear, is always first for him, just as it should be.

I recommend you head over to Gearslutz and check out the full Q & A… but in the meantime here are a few gems:

“The best thing about having the console and the engineer next to the musicians is fast communication. It’s nice to look at somebody in the eye and talk to them openly in the room. You can think of it like a well balanced band that doesn’t rely heavily on stage monitoring. The more isolation you have the more people you need to monitor the situation and you just might waste a lot of time dealing with fundamentals.”

“I don’t use reverb. I like to use a slap echo with a relevent delay setting. Remember that a muted delay tone creates a sense of distance. I pay attention to the vocal all the time. I don’t add the vocal to the track, I add the track to the vocal. If you keep this angle in mind you subconsciously train your brain to build your work around the center.”

“I use a combination of quiet listening and loud listening. The loud listening juices me up and causes me to be brave. The quiet listening gives me a realistic view of vocal to track ratio. Listening from another room is good for hearing stand-outs and will quickly tell you if you have dead wood. i.e. meandering sections with no melodies.”

“It’s good to build a menu early on. A menu should be made of offerings that relate to the people you’re working with. For example, if the guitar player in the band is excited about playing the slide guitar, let that be a flavor that you come back to a few times on the album. If the singer has a good falsetto, put it on display and make something of his strength. I let the flavors of a record come to me. On Achtung Baby we hit on some guitar sounds early on that we loved. For example, the auto-wah guitar intro for Mysterious Ways. This is a sound that we had not heard before. Reinventing the guitar is not easy and so if you hear something original – use it. Eno, Edge, Flood and I were very driven by the processing of sound at the time of Achtung Baby. We carried this theme thru the making of the album.”

“The best way to create space in a blend is not to have too many ingredients but turn them up loud. In regards to physical space, it is staggering how different a guitar amp will sound from one room to another. I’ve had great results in smallish rooms with high ceilings. The room becomes an extension of the amplifier. The room becomes a speaker cabinet. The full bodied sound heard in that small room may be non-existent in a large warehouse room. The best rock and roll rooms in my experience have been rectangular rooms with tall ceilings.”

“First things first, find out what’s in the hearts of people. If it’s a band situation I try to maximize the skills of the band members. Even if there are limitations. If the limitations are too great I won’t do the record. Once we’re in the arena together, that’s where the dynamics begin. One idea feeds another and before you know it, if things are going well, you have the power of momentum. That’s what I like about team spirit. Regarding song selection, I look for melody in song. A fresh lyrical angle is always good. Any component that will help us do something original is always welcome.”

Also, be sure to check out Lanois’ own site. He is in the process of promoting a new album and a film documenting his process.

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Posted in: General, Production Technique

2 Comments on “Daniel Lanois Q & A”

  1. Hi, Matt Daniel Lanois Is one of my favorites and I find it so cool that he’s one of your heroes. Ive been listening to his new one called (Here is what is), and it’s fantastic.

  2. I am a new visitor to the site, so I started with the earlier posts. The first thing that caught me, aside from the mention of Daniel Lanois’ name, was the comment, “the music, not the gear, is always first, just as it should be”. I am a studio engineer from the middle of the country who made a move to NYC and found a gig as a production audio supervisor for a well known theater. What has shocked me, being newly exposed to a much larger pond, is the gear first attitude of many of the theatrical sound designers. I’m sure I sound like a parrot to the designers I work with because of my constant reminders that it is what goes in to the mics, not the mics, that make or break a performance. I simply wanted to express my pleasure in finding another example of someone who remembers this important point. Thanks.

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