SAFETY HARBOR, FLORIDA – MAY 2013: Apart from being a seriously nice guy, veteran engineer and producer Jay Ruston is a monster talent behind a mixing console, be it physical or virtual. He’s been at it for twenty years and recently leveraged his seasoned perspective and sonic-smashing tricks to mix Anthrax’s return-to-form masterpiece Worship Music and Steel Panther’s much-lauded mocurockery Balls Out. Ruston took to Metric Halo’s ChannelStrip plug-in for those efforts, citing its musical sound and useful presets as part of what made those works so effective.
Even more recently, Ruston relented to the rising tide of incoming Pro Tools sessions that were incompatible with his “if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it version” 7.4 and upgraded to 10. Associated with that giant leap and given Pro Tools 10’s move to AAX, he had to reconsider his plug-in pallet. “I was pleased with the results I was getting with Metric Halo’s ChannelStrip, and I saw that the company was now selling a Production Bundle of plug-ins,” he said. “I needed a de-esser, a multi-band compressor, an enhancer, and more. Coming from the same minds that made ChannelStrip, I figured the Production Bundle would be a good bet.” As it turns out, it was.
The upgrade to Pro Tools 10 was happening just as Ruston was finishing the mixes for the debut album from The Winery Dogs, a super group composed of Richie Kotzen (Mr. Big, Poison), Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, David Lee Roth, Steve Vai), and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater). He held on to the 7.4 mixes in order to give them one more tweak with the new system and the new Metric Halo plug-ins. “The vocals were critical, and after doing some basic equalization and compression with ChannelStrip, I used the Production Bundle’s Multiband Dynamics to smooth out the top end and upper midrange,” he said. “I’ve always used multiband compressors, and Metric Halo’s version is very effective. In addition, I cleaned up some sibilance with Metric Halo’s Precision DeEsser, and I’ve since found that it works just as well with female vocalists.”
Ruston used Metric Halo’s HaloVerb on Portnoy’s otherworldly drum tracks. “All of these Metric Halo plug-ins are so easy to use,” he said. “HaloVerb has only a handful of well-labeled knobs, and it immediately sounds good using any of the presets. I dialed in the sound using the presets as a starting point.” Those statements about HaloVerb generalized: “The Production Bundle is simple to look at and understand. The parameters are sensibly labeled with meaningful descriptions like ‘release’, ‘attack’, ‘Q’, and so on; none of those weird parameter names I find in other manufacturers’ plug-ins.” Despite the fact that The Winery Dogs recorded the album in Kotzen’s house, Ruston couldn’t be happier with the way the final mixes sound.
Of course, well-labeled parameters would only be appreciated on a plug-in that sounded fantastic, and Ruston described the Production Bundle by way of ChannelStrip. “ChannelStrip is so useable because it sounds so musical and pleasant,” he said. “I can slide the EQ curves around and it all sounds good. It’s just a matter of finding the most effective position given the track and everything else that’s happening in the mix. It can go from extremely broad and smooth to extremely tight and clinical, depending on what I need. All of the Metric Halo plug-ins share that same sonic quality – smooth, musical, and yet precise. They do what they’re supposed to do, like a piece of high-quality analog equipment. In that way, they’re also speedy, which is important because I like to work as quickly as possible.”
Ruston also used Multiband Dynamics, Precision DeEsser, HaloVerb, and, of course, ChannelStrip for the drums and vocals on Steel Panther’s follow-up to Balls Out. In addition, he’s had a chance to try out some of the other goodies in the Production Bundle. “The Character plug-in is versatile and sounds, to me, like tape emulation,” he said. “I can use it on bass, which adds some nice grind and really lets it tear. That’s especially useful with Steel Panther because they don’t always lay a rhythm guitar underneath a solo. Another trick I found was putting the snare and kick on a separate bus, compressing with ChannelStrip, and adding Character for drive. Then I mix that back in with the clean tracks to get a really punchy sound.” In addition, Ruston uses TransientControl to dial in percussive attack where needed.
“I know that a lot of mix engineers are anti-preset,” said Ruston. “Not me. I want the maker to show me what a plug-in was designed to do. I want to learn all the secret weapons and tricks that they built into it. The Metric Halo presets are totally usable. I can use the presets for a particular task or I can fire through them and listen for something that catches my ear. Either way, I usually dial things in from there.”
Ruston is excited to use the new Metric Halo Production Bundle on a live DVD for Anthrax that was recorded in Santiago, Chile. Previously, he had to rent rooms to do surround work, but now his system is set up for surround. “For the first time, I’ll be able to use all of my own stuff on a surround recording,” he said. “It’s gonna be great!”
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