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Pro Tips by Joe Barresi (Tool, Queens of the Stone Age, Slipknot …) for Your Productions

Joe Barresi is one of the leading exponents of the alternative rock, metal and punk music genres in the world of music production. During his 30+ year career he has engineered, mixed, and/or produced albums by Queens Of The Stone Age, Soundgarden, Kyuss, Monster Magnet, Anthrax, Bauhaus, Hole, The Melvins, Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Turbonegro, The Jesus Lizard, Parkway Drive, New Model Army, Weezer, Wolfmother, Biffy Clyro, and Bad Religion, among others. With his massive-sounding, hard-hitting approach which has been described as a “wall of rock”, he has shaped the sound of many classic albums in those genres. In his career, Barresi has worked with a few well-respected producers like David Kahne, Michael Beinhorn, Rob Cavallo and Sylvia Massy.

Joe Barresi

Audio Engineer & Producer

Los Angeles, USA

Grammy nominated, multiple platinum and gold records

Credits: Tool, Queens of the Stone Age, Slipknot, Judas Priest, Melvins …

He is now working from his own studio in Los Angeles, called Joe’s House of Compression, which next to an SSL 4000G+ console and the ubiquitous Pro Tools rig features an extravagant collection of assorted boxes, guitars, amplifiers, and countless pieces of outboard gear which Barresi uses in his quest for new sounds.

As a producer, Joe Barresi sees his role as making the band’s vision a reality and capturing an artist’s true performance. With his distinct recording techniques, he strives to achieve a unique sound that no one else brings to the table, giving each production something truly special.

Joe is a really nice guy and was cool enough to discuss his recording, mixing and production techniques with us in a Studio Talk with HOFA tutor and sound engineer Christoph Thiers. Joe shares these tips and techniques for getting your own, distinct sound, when you are starting out as a producer:

Christoph (HOFA): I would like to talk a little bit about guitars and guitar recording. You mentioned that you are a classically trained guitarist. Looking through all the great records you have done so far, there is a lot of very guitar-oriented music as well. You also already said that reamping is part of your process. So what would be your advice when it comes to tracking guitars?

Joe: My only advice is really to use a single microphone – whatever your mic of choice is: keep the phase out of the issue, to start with. Don’t put two microphones up and start blending things until you can handle that. Manipulate one microphone – and move it. The Dynamount sliders are amazing for this, but if you can’t afford that, get out of your chair and move the microphone, a half inch to the left, a half inch back, one inch back and spend your days off listening to stupid things like that. Reamp a guitar sound with the DI signal you recorded and listen to moving the microphone half inch off-axis or where the speaker cone is, or where the glue is; and also listen to your mic pre, if it sounds choked since the volume is all down. If that’s the case, then maybe pull your fader down and turn up the mic-pre a notch to see if it sounds better and then you go a step further and see how that sounds like. This way you get a feel for where the sweet spots are when you’re recording these things. And then try different mic pres and get to know where the sweet spots are on those.

Christoph (HOFA): So many people nowadays proceed like it is shown in the magazines or online when it comes to tracking, where you should use a certain mic and point at a certain spot. But if you want to have a great sound, a distinct sound, I think it is about finding the right mic placement. Especially beginners think it is about the gear, but I personally think it is much more important where to put the microphone as opposed to which microphone you are using. What is your opinion on this?

Joe: So let’s say if you’re tracking a vocal and you only own one microphone: if you continue to record the same vocal at the same position, you’ll get a build-up of the same frequencies and the colour of that mic; but if you just double the vocal 6 inches away and have the mic off-axis for the double, now it has an EQ built in for the double. You can also move the singer to a different part in the room that is more reflective or more dead, for example, to get different sounds from this one microphone. You don’t have to own an SSL console or any kind of that stuff, it’s about using your ears, not your eyes. In the end doesn’t have to look good, it has to sound good.

Christoph (HOFA): Do you usually capture a DI signal for reamping when tracking guitars and bass?

Joe: I usually don’t record a DI signal when tracking guitars, maybe 90 % of the time; in a few instances, a guitar player might ask for it to have some options later, for example, so we will do that.

On the other hand, bass always has a DI, since it’s part of the sound to me. Choosing the DI for the bass sound is another art and it could change from song to song, just like changing the microphones on a drum kit for different songs. Some bass DIs are brighter and thinner, more midrangey, some are thicker and beefier. The choice of DI depends on the song: a fast, complicated song would probably not have a super-thick DI, but a slow R’n’B-type of song could have a very thick, fat DI. And maybe you lean on that a little more than you do on the amp, if you have an amp at all …

I use the sound of the bass DI quite a bit in a mix. It is also a very clean signal, so if you wanted to add subharmonic frequencies to it or if you needed to reamp, it is usually not all blown out.

Christoph (HOFA): Do you use re-amping in mixing?

Joe: I personally try not to reamp at all, except for bass: I’ll reamp bass on every mix. Even on stuff that I have recorded and where I thought I have a great bass sound: sometimes it needs a little bit of “hair” on it. I have it set it up at all times: it’s a DI through an amp head through a palmer speaker simulator and then it goes through to a module. Sometimes I`ll insert a pedal, like a tube screamer, for example.

I’ll do guitar reamping only if it is a horrendous guitar sound or if it’s too fuzzy, for example, and it should be cleaner. There are ways to make things dirtier with a plugin or adding a pedal to it; but making something cleaner is really tough; then a DI signal would come in and I would reamp, which could be anything, like putting it through an amp or an amp simulation plugin.

Christoph (HOFA): How do you find the right sound for the midrange of (distorted) guitars?

Joe: First, it depends on the monitors you are listening on. If you are listening on very mid-forward monitors, you’ve got to be used to hearing a lot of midrange to know if there’s too much midrange in the recording. Second, get in front of the amp and listen if it sounds good from the start with, and if it doesn’t, it is about the mic placement. Sometimes people use too many microphones, and do not pay attention to phase when combining these mics, or use an interface that can’t handle the power because it has no pad switch on the mic input.

One of the greatest guitar sounds I ever got was with one ribbon mic, moving it for about an hour, listening to it and listening to those guitar riffs in the different parts of the song – the parts are going to tell you, what the sound should be: a super thick, chunky rhythm part shouldn’t be really thin, so you need to move that mic until you capture that wave without it being too crazy, and a cleaner guitar part shouldn’t have a ton of bottom end.

If you’re talking about midrange the question is: what is the guitar surrounded by? If the midrangey guitar is surrounded by a fat bass, you can get away with a little less midrange on that guitar, because it doesn’t have to compete with that bass; whereas if the bass is bright and aggressive and midrangey, the guitar maybe doesn’t need to have that midrange and maybe needs to be darker.

Christoph (HOFA): Can you share some secrets on the Tool bass tone?

Joe: I’m going tell you this: it’s a great bass player. True story: On “10,000 Days”, he wanted to try out some different stuff and we ended up with some Gallien-Krueger heads, still using Mesa Boogie cabinets, and the heads sounded killer. So, on a next record I worked on, I rented a Gallien-Krueger head to check it out and I couldn’t get anywhere near the bass sound, because it wasn’t that bass player. It comes down to Justin Chancellor. He is an insanely good bass player. He has a great sound, and it comes out of his fingers. You hear it a million times, but that’s what it comes down to: the tone starts at the fingers. When the source is good, you can put anything on it, put an SM57 in front of it, everything.

I have mixed records where a great drummer recorded his drums in his bedroom with SM57s for overheads, which no one would ever use for overheads; but with a great drummer, who hears the sound of the cymbal and knows how to play that cymbal without beating it into the microphone – then it’s a great drum sound. So, the source is really the most important part.

Closing words – advice for aspiring producers:

Joe: I’d say from an educational point: learn as much as you can about everything. Period. The more you know about guitar amps, listen to guitar amps, tweak guitar amps, read magazines and experiment with the tools that you have, the better. And always go back to the basics because you never know what you have missed. Take the time that you have, to experiment with these things and learn what they do so you can be that unique viewpoint in your productions and your work, that makes you stick out. Be inspired by music and listening to it. Learn everything you can – and then forget it all, there are no rules!

Thus, for achieving your own distinct sound that makes you stand out in your career as an audio engineer, it is crucial to master also the technical side of music production. This is why we have designed our audio engineering courses to contain a very high practical content, from detailed introductions to all relevant instrument groups and the best techniques for miking and recording these instruments to comprehensive insights into the production methods of a wide range of musical styles.

Find out more about the HOFA audio engineering online courses here ›

You can find the complete interview with Joe Barresi on our YouTube channel:

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Photos: Joe Barresi / Danielle Hardy

Author

Christoph Thiers
Christoph Thiers
Christoph Thiers has been active in the music industry for over a decade and has worked on hundreds of productions of various genres as recording, mixing and mastering engineer. His track record includes artists such as Die Fantastischen Vier, Sarah Connor, Birdy, Nathan Evans, RAF Camora and Boris Brejcha, as well as numerous awards and chart placements. He is also engaged in new media formats and artist development, acts as a consultant to indie labels, artists and start-ups alike and has been involved in various software developments for professional music production. In recent years, Christoph has specialised in immersive music production and handles Dolby Atmos mixes for international label clients and renowned indie artists.

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