Nashville might be known around the world for being the home of country music, but it also boasts the largest concentration of labels, publishers and talent affiliated with the Christian music industry. Two of that industry's most successful engineering and mixing talents are Tom Laune and John Jaszcz. Laune has also started wearing the production hat on quite a few projects in the past couple of years; he won a Dove Award and was nominated for a Grammy™ for his production work on the Platinum Worship album for Michael W. Smith.
I've known Laune since the late '80s, when he worked as an engineer/producer at Ardent Recordings in Memphis. After seven years at Ardent, he moved to Nashville and very quickly became in-demand as an engineer/mixer/producer for the contemporary Christian market. Recently, Laune's production credits have included Smith, Watermark, Point of Grace, John Tesh, Phil Keaggy and live multi-artist records on Sparrow and Rocketown Records. His mixing credits include Bruce Springsteen, Amy Grant, Rich Mullins, CeCe Winans, Michael McDonald, Chris Rice and Ginny Owens, to name a few.
When I asked Laune what he was excited about mixing lately, he mentioned the Nichole Nordeman Woven and Spun album on Sparrow as his recent favorite; that album's first single, “Holy,” tied the record for the longest-running Number One single in contemporary Christian's AC radio history. “Holy” also won pop/contemporary Song of the Year at this year's Dove Awards.
When we spoke, Laune had just finished a live project on Six Step Records with Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Charlie Hall and Christy Nockels at Atlanta's North Point Church. One of Laune's all-time favorite worship leaders, Matt Redman, flew in from England to be a part of the project, as well.
“This is another ‘passion’ record focusing on reinterpreting old hymns with a modern approach,” says Laune. “The church has a studio on-site, and we are going to bring in a lot of my gear to complement what the studio has. [The church] does surround mixing in its studio and makes DVDs in surround every Sunday. They have an Amek Media 5.1 console and 72 tracks of Tascam MX-2424. It's the only church doing surround every week that I know of.”
Laune was one of the first engineer/mixers in Nashville to get into surround; among his projects are a mix for Disney's Beauty and the Beast DVD and a Sparrow/Six Steps Records project titled One Day Live. “I'm looking forward to more surround work in CCM,” he says. “I geared my studio up for surround mixing to picture, so I'll be ready when the format takes off.
“One thing I think holding back surround's success at the moment is the consumer being so confused about what format to buy and how to get the most out of it,” Laune continues. “On the pro end, the tools to make the surround music are struggling to keep pace with what the consumer playback systems are capable of.”
While Laune works in many of Nashville's finest commercial facilities, he has been fine-tuning his own mix studio. “My concept was simple,” he says. “I wanted the best of both worlds, so I designed a mixer that would take 64 discrete inputs from my Pro Tools rig's D/A converters and use the analog mix bus from five different-sounding consoles to combine the signals to stereo outputs. The five mix bus colors I chose were Neve 8068, vintage API [with parts from one of Frank Zappa's old API consoles], Flickenger [a very fat console from the 1960s], custom tube electronics and a mix bus that was ultraclean using Jensen 990 transformers. Implementing this was no small feat and took many months of work, but the end results are stunning. I completely bypass the internal Pro Tools mix bus and give my clients a wide variety of classic console flavors on every mix I do. I use the sound of the five different consoles, depending on what the mix calls for. For example, if it is a real crunchy, clean R&B thing, I can use the Jensen 990. If it's a real organic, rootsy rock thing, I can switch to the API.”
For monitoring, Laune uses NS-10s, each powered with a 400-watt Hafler P3000 power amp bridged in mono. “I've found the way to make NS-10s sound really great is to overkill them with power,” he says.
“One of the things I am really excited about, gearwise, is the Sintefex-Replicator,” Laune adds. “It's a mastering box, where you can use two to eight channels and it can replicate any piece of audio gear, including tape. The company is based out of Portugal and [the box] was designed by the guy who started SADiE. Abbey Road Studios just put in one of these boxes. It's one of the only boxes that I know of that you can do eight channels of Pultec EQ locked together across a mix bus. So, if you're doing a 7.1 mix and you want to have Pultec EQ on every channel, with this you can.”
John Jaszcz (pronounced “Yosh”) got his start in 1978 as a second engineer at The Disc recording studio in East Detroit, Mich., where he worked on sessions for such rock and R&B acts as Mitch Ryder, Parliament/Funkadelic and Zapp. He has lived in Nashville for 10 years, dividing his work between country, gospel, rock and R&B recordings. Perhaps because of his involvement with R&B in Detroit, Jaszcz's first recordings in Nashville were limited to punchy, country dance mixes with producers Steve Keller, Wynn Jackson and Scott Rouse. In recent years, he has recorded conventional country records for Billy Ray Cyrus, James T. Horn and Ray Vega, and had Platinum success with John Michael Montgomery.
Jaszcz says he learned a lot from his days tracking Parliament/Funkadelic, where sessions would often start in the morning and go into the wee hours of the next morning. “Spontaneity was the most important thing,” he says. “We always kept the machine in ‘record’ to capture the moment. Every note and every breath were important, as well as the mistakes. Gear was not the most important thing, although it was well-maintained. We never thought that recording on an API console would ever be thought of as ‘vintage.’ Of course, you don't really notice until you compare your work later.”
Working with contemporary Christian artists of today is a far cry from burning the midnight oil with Bootsy Collins and George Clinton, but Jaszcz says he feels a strong affinity to the Christian artists.
One of his most recent projects was Papa San, a Jamaican artist for Gospo Centric Records, which he mixed at Paragon Studios on their SSL XL 9000 K. “Papa San is a real reggae Dancehall artist, not a Christian artist who does reggae,” he comments. “Working on the Papa San project was an interesting experience all the way around, both technically and culturally. The sessions would come in from three different producers — whom I would never meet during the mixing — in Pro Tools format on either FireWire drives or CDs. Sometimes, the no-producer thing became a problem when we would find out that we didn't have the latest session because the artist had recorded some extra vocals and forgot to send us the latest overdubs,” Jaszcz says with a laugh. “Thank God for recalls — and for Grant Greene, my second.”
Send your Nashville news toMrBlurge@mac.com.