HOPEWELL JUNCTION, NEW YORK - JULY 2011: Producer and engineer Jay Ruston has been recording and mixing tracks for artists such as The Donnas, Jars of Clay, Steel Panther, and Meatloaf for going on twenty years. He has watched the technology that is championed by the industry shift and evolve, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. He hangs onto the better bits. For example, Ruston is an avid (ha!) user of Pro Tools, which he pairs with a Trident console for analog summing. Recently, while working with Anthrax on their forthcoming release, Worship Music, Ruston found Metric Halo's ChannelStrip plug-in, which combines the classic frequency and dynamics tools found on the monster analog consoles of yore. Together with Anthrax producer and guitarist Rob Caggiano, Ruston recorded and mixed the album.
"I heard about Metric Halo and specifically, ChannelStrip, from Rob and from an article I was
reading about some mixers and albums I admire," said Ruston. "A lot of them commented about how helpful ChannelStrip was for drum tracks. For heavy metal, it's the drum tracks that need the most post-production processing. Twenty years ago, producers recorded a few stereo pairs of guitars, and the drums were able to sit powerfully in the mix without any conflict. These days, everyone gets that incredible crunchy guitar sound by layering massive numbers of tracks. But we still want powerful drums, and to make that happen, we have to be clever. It takes some pretty aggressive processing."
Ruston downloaded the ChannelStrip demo version and was impressed not only with the sound, but also with the usefulness of the plug-in's abundant presets. As fate would have it, he was just putting the final touches on Steel Panther's latest album at that time and he wasn't entirely satisfied with the snare sound he had achieved. "I brought ChannelStrip in on every single song and ran a parallel snare track through the 'deep snare' preset," he said. "When I blended it back in, the whole thing became way punchier. I was glad I discovered it in time! When the drummer heard it, he flipped out, it sounded so good."
For Anthrax, Ruston found that the kick and snare were too loud in the room mics, which was especially disappointing because he really needed the room to get the right atmosphere on the drums. He used ChannelStrip to hard-limit the room tracks and to pull back some of the high-end wash from the cymbals. Then he mixed that back with an unprocessed track to get the right mix of punch and room. "It sounds incredible," he said. "Way bigger and way punchier than I would have guessed possible. And while I think it might have been possible to achieve similar results with other tools, the whole thing happened very quickly and intuitively with ChannelStrip. It's a very musical plug-in."
He continued, "I know everyone talks about how an EQ needs to be musical, and ChannelStrip has that for sure. But it also has that element of surgical precision that allows me to home in on and fix very specific problems." In fact, Ruston finds the ChannelStrip EQ so "musical" that he has stopped relying on his Trident's EQ. Although it was nice to include on some very special parts, relying on outboard EQ made recalling a mix time-consuming and somewhat unreliable. "In ten minutes, I had replicated the Trident's EQ sound with ChannelStrip. It's interesting that the ChannelStrip EQ is just as responsive as an analog EQ. A few dB often does the trick, whereas with other digital EQs, I often have to go to 6dB or more to really hear an effect."
Apart from compression and equalization, ChannelStrip offers a fully-implemented gate that reawakened several of the tools and tricks that Ruston used to use when he was just starting out. "Because you can clean the noise up in the digital editor, a noise gate isn't as necessary as it used to be," he said. "So I got out of the habit of pulling one up. But with ChannelStrip, it's sitting there reminding me of its existence every time I use some compression or EQ. A lot of the presets make good use of the gate for gated snare and other drum effects, and since it can be keyed, I can draw on a lot of my old tricks." For example, Ruston created a synchronized panning tremolo effect for a pre-chorus on the track "Earth On Hell" using a custom click track and ChannelStrip.
ABOUT METRIC HALO Based in New York's Hudson Valley, Metric Halo provides the world with high-resolution metering, analysis, recording and processing solutions with award-winning software and future-proof hardware. www.mhlabs.com