Five takeaways from Andrew Scheps
As part of the Full-Time and Part-Time courses at Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam, we invite national and internationally acclaimed music industry guest speakers for masterclasses and workshops. Typically, these events are exclusive to our students.
Earlier this year, we invited Andrew Scheps, who has been working as a mixing engineer since 1991, to give an online masterclass for all Abbey Road students around the globe. This took the form of an online session, with Andrew Scheps talking from his cosy studio in the UK. Throughout this blog article, We want to share five takeaways from this brilliant and humble mixing engineer with you!
Text: Yoma Schertz | Editing: Alex Sajjadi & Dennis Beentjes
Andrew Scheps, producer, recording and mixing engineer, has worked on countless records with the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Low Roar records, Adele, Justin Timberlake, Metallica, Johnny Cash, and many others more, a lot of the time in collaboration with Producer Rick Rubin. He further became well known for his unique way of working.
Andrew kicks off…
by describing to us how he ended up working in the music industry and sharing valuable advice with the students.
“I didn’t come from a family of people in the music business. So I had no idea that making records was a thing you could actually do for a living; I just didn’t know about it. But as soon as I discovered it, I knew: that was it! I just wanted to do that.”
“As soon as I discovered you could make records for a living,
I knew: that was it!” – Andrew Scheps
“The first time I walked into a studio, I was fifteen years old. I saw this recording console and knew instantly, yes, that’s what I want to do. It also came from being a mediocre musician and realizing early on that I was not going to make it professionally as one. At the same time, I loved music and loved the idea of being involved in music. You have to realize that everybody has their own strength. And throughout my career, I’ve learned that it’s very important to admit what you are not good at or the strongest at. That’s a huge thing to get to. I think at the beginning of your career you want to at least pretend, and if that takes too long, you end up wasting a lot of energy on things you are not naturally good at.”
Andrew really came to terms with the fact that he was good at working on other people’s songs. “I don’t write, and I don’t make things from scratch. But even in terms of writing or arrangement, I can have a lot of input in the artist’s song I am working on. I immediately hear the weak spots in transitions between sections, for example, or how long a chorus should be. This is what I am naturally good at.” Andrew explains to the students that it is important to find out what you are good at because that keeps you going.
Treat Your Career as a Business & Create Structure
Andrew shared a great lesson about his colleague, the Award-winning recording engineer and music producer Tony Maserati. “Tony treats his career as a business and once a year he has a business meeting… with himself. He goes over the goals that he set the previous year, sees where he is at then and decides whether he wants to continue with them or not. And then, he decides if he wants to assess different goals for the next year. That self-assessment is a really important part of what we do because I think we don’t have a normal job since everything is subjective in our field of work. There is nothing that we create that is objectively good about a song or a performance. The only way you get even close to something that is objectively good is when many people agree that a song or artist is good. Let’s face it: if an artist is great or not is a shared opinion among lots and lots of people. So it can be quite hard to assess your own progress in that matter.
Andrew Scheps and Tony Maserati talking about treating your career as a business (powered by PureMix)
This can make it very easy to hang one’s head and think: what the hell was I doing for the last five years? And have you even moved closer to what you want to do? And also, because this business is very subjective, you don’t have milestones for yourself. Most people just grab what is right in front of them because that feels like momentum. But for me, all of the times when I actually made progress in my career were when I realized that I went in a direction I didn’t like, stopped what I was doing, and tried to focus back on the stuff I wanted to do. It is also related to this business mindset since for me, everything in the process of making a record, until it comes to the post-production stage, is just in one word: chaos! This means you have to impose structure on your own career.”
Be on the Background
“I have a horrible imposter syndrome. But I can read a room very quickly. I have an ability to treat people normally, even when I am freaking out. I was always a huge fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and then I was able to record them…imagine that. There were times when I had to pull over to the side of the road before going to the studio because I was experiencing panic attacks”, Andrew laughs. “Then I told myself, you either bail on them, ten minutes before the recording starts, or you go. I just went and got through it. You have to think about it like this: if you are qualified for the job, you are supposed to be there, just like the band is supposed to be there.
Andrew also explains that it is very important to read the room. “You must realize that you are working for the artist, and not the other way around. You have to act accordingly and can’t assume that other people understand your personality. They are busy with their work and creating the best possible performance for their record. This means that you have to understand when you have to be silent and when it’s alright to make a joke or not.
Also, don’t talk about other stuff in the recording time, besides the artist’s work. Try to get rid of relationship problems, being stuck in traffic etc: get their mind on the song you are working on! And understand when they need a break. For the rest, let them discover for themselves that a line can be better or sung differently instead of telling them. Perhaps ask to listen to the song together. Usually, it’s better to let them find out for themselves what can be improved and don’t forget to track all vocals while sound checking, because a lot of great stuff happens when the pressure is off. ”
Rough Mix is Important
“For me, a rough mix of the band is the most important, not a reference track. Talking about what the song should sound like, is not how I work. In fact, I find it stupid”, he laughs. “Do you know why? It’s impossible for a band to explain to me what kind of mix they would like.
Talking about music is like dancing to architecture – Andrew Scheps
If you ask five members of a starting band what kind of music they make and what they stand for, you will get five completely different answers. It’s the same with letting them explain how a mix should sound. I really need a rough mix, so the band can tell me what they like and don’t like. Without a mix, I just can’t do the job!”
When Andrew mixes, he likes to change levels all the time until the mix is almost done, without any form of automation. “If I would automate my tracks when I’m in the early stages of mixing, it would be harder to change them later down the line. I work on a mix until I am sick of working on it and think, yes my mix is ready. This could be five minutes or five hours. The next day, week or month I listen to my mix again. Not until this stage, will I use automation to fix something. I use it on drum fills or guitars, but not all the time: only when it’s needed!” Andrew treats every song the same way. Whether he is mixing metal, rock, pop or even classical music. “When the “chorus” of the song comes in, I don’t just want people to feel the emotion a little bit. No! I want them to cry.”
Communication is Key
There is this expression: being at the right time at the right place. And according to Scheps, in order to get somewhere, you need to hang around at the right places all the time in order to succeed. “It might feel like slow career growth. But to achieve what you want, you have to work hard, be there all the time and be really good at what you do. I just hung around in studio’s all the time, met many artists, and worked my way up. For the rest, you really need to be a people’s person. If you are a great engineer but behave like a jerk, artists and bands won’t return to you. For the rest, be careful not to impose your ego on a song. If you stress that you want to make a record sound like this or that, your ego gets in the way. Instead, you should always listen to what the band wants it to sound like!”
about Ear Fatigue
Suffering from tinnitus and having some dips in his hearing here and there, Andrew gives the students some hearing tips. “Please don’t work too loud. On a low level you can mix just as well. Take a lot of ear breaks and spend good money on high quality or customized earplugs. This is really really important. And if you have tinnitus or dips in your hearing, it’s unfortunate, but remember it’s not the end of your career! You can work your way around it.”
What are you most proud of?
As a closure of the masterclass, one of our students asks Andrew what he is most proud of in his career.
Andrew smiles and explains “I will always remember being in my car in Los Angeles, and the car next to me was a convertible, and they were cranking ‘Dani California’ (Red Hot Chili Peppers) right next to me. And I’d mixed it, like, I don’t know, a month before or something like that. And to watch people enjoy the work you do is amazing. And I can only imagine what it’s like to be an artist. Like, to go on stage and have people sing your songs back to you. That’s the ultimate version of what I got hanging out next to this woman in the convertible, cranking ‘Dani California’.”
Project wise, I am most proud of my work with Low Roar, since we have an amazing collaboration. We create songs together, I can mess up the structure, add segments, add string arrangements. We work and think the same way. So besides being the recording and mixing engineer, I also really feel involved creatively.
Thank you, Andrew Scheps, for being such an open and humble music professional. The students and staff of the Abbey Road Institutes around the globe loved your workshops. We look forward to having you back again.
Do you want to learn more about our curriculum and the different masterclasses and workshops at Abbey Road Institute? Join us during our next Open Day or make an appointment for a personal tour.
Check our staff page for more guest lecturers