LONDON, ENGLAND: Michalis “MsM” Michael is a UK-based mix engineer with a growing and eclectic list of credits that includes several Top-20 singles, a number-one single, notable work on Diddy’s Last Train to Paris and going on to assist the chief engineer of the Grammy Award-winning J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. His work while assisting necessitated travel, which motivated Michael to shift his workflow from reliance on hardware processing. These days, he mixes almost entirely in the box (ITB) and relies on Metric Halo plug-ins to deliver sonically-solid sounds with zero hassle. His recent work on Tom Prior’s Bad Advice EP to be released later this summer, which was produced in part by former Arctic Monkeys bassist Andy Nicholson, exemplifies Michael’s new workflow.
Born into a family of professional guitar and bouzouki players, Michael was immersed in music from an early age. “My dad taught me to play guitar, but I was always more fascinated with the amp and the guitar effects than with the instrument itself,” he said. “That led to early experiments with DJ’ing (bedroom DJ’ing as I was only 14!) that got me deeper into technology. Then a friend of a friend told me he was selling a Soundcraft 32-channel mixer, and I was so impressed by how it looked that I gave him my bike for it. I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it, but curiosity eventually led to me recording.” Michael built himself a good reputation for engineering that organically morphed into a mixing career. “Once I started mixing, I just never really stopped.”
That Soundcraft 32-channel mixer grew, so to speak, into a full-fledged studio that, until a few years ago, was loaded with sought-after hardware. “Once I started working for Edward Nixon, the chief engineer of the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, I was assisting rather than running a studio and slowly I saw a more efficient way of mixing and found I simply didn’t need most of my hardware,” Michael said. “That stuff was more about indulgence. So I literally sold it all and mix mainly ITB now. I’m slowly adding some bits of gear that I LOVE, but I almost had to strip it back to the basic fundamentals and learn to use just my ears. That was a great lesson for me. Any hardware I use is an ‘extra’ now. I rely on good plug-ins.”
However, in an industry awash in plug-ins, few qualify as “good.” “I like plug-ins that let me get on with work without thinking about the details too much,” he said. “Mixing is about instinct, and if there’s something that stands in the way and slows me down, I don’t want to know about it. I like to hear good sounds and I like to hear them fast. I get that from Metric Halo plug-ins: simple layouts and quick results. In the hardware world, if a compressor was too fiddly or not doing what I wanted, I’d quickly move on until I found one that worked. Then I’d rely on it and it would become a staple of my workflow. That dynamic is accelerated in the plug-in world because it’s much quicker to just change a plug-in than it is to re-patch hardware. That makes instant gratification with plug-ins very important. Metric Halo plug-ins sound great right away and it’s easy to dial in the right parameters.”
Michael heard a lot of buzz about Metric Halo’s flagship ChannelStrip plug-in, which combines multi-band parametric equalization with flexibly-keyed dynamics processing. “There’s a lot to be said about ChannelStrip, and that’s why it’s been a go-to for over a decade,” he said. “I expected great things – and I wasn’t disappointed, but I was surprised by how great the gate works. I’ve struggled to find a gate that works well on poorly recorded drums, which I have to deal with from time to time. ChannelStrip’s gate works faster than anything I’ve tried before with no compromise in sound quality.”
Michael’s other Metric Halo plug-in favorites are Character, Precision DeEsser, and TransientControl. “Character is great,” he said. “I just throw it on a dull source and drive it – simple. There are plenty of ‘characters’ to choose from and it works without affecting the gain, which is always a mind game. The Precision DeEsser lets me de-ess precisely – how ironic! It’s my go-to. I’ve tried lots of de-essers; some are simple and fast but affect the sound too much. Others sound good but take too much time to set up properly. Precision DeEsser strikes the right balance. TransientControl helped me out on Tom Prior’s EP. There were a few synth bass lines that were a bit too ‘stabby.’ I needed more sustain without losing the impression that they were supposed to be ‘stabby.’ TransientControl worked perfectly.”
“It’s easy for audio professionals to get into the techy details of sound, and that’s fine. But I always try to remind myself that the majority of the world doesn’t care HOW the record was made – they just want to enjoy music. Remembering that music is about emotion and not technical details is an invaluable perspective when mixing,” he concluded.
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