“Why did I like my first seminar at La Fabrique so much? Because I was watching people’s lives change in front of me. I could see how excited they were to get information on record-making that they were not getting elsewhere. I could see the looks in their faces: ‘oh my gosh, I get it now. I understand.’ In the months after the seminar I received e-mails from nine out of the 14 participants saying that they had achieved the dream they were after, whether it was working in a recording studio, or with a particular client, or being able to develop the quality of mix they were after. That was beautiful, and very satisfying.”
Jack Joseph Puig’s enthusiasm about his first Mix With The Masters seminar in September 2013 is still palpable several months afterwards. He noted that the sense of satisfaction he experienced in conducting it and in receiving these e-mails was different from that of “having a number one record or an artist telling you that what you have just done is amazing, or of winning a Grammy Award.” But it clearly was powerful enough for Puig to plan return visits to La Fabrique.
“I think it is extremely important that the people who are qualified to be in this kind of teaching position actually do so,” explained Puig, “because the tea boy route has become almost non-existent. The commercial studio world has imploded because of the digital revolution, and this means that there are very few places left where people can learn their craft in the old way. It is one thing to learn about things in magazines and on-line, it is something else to be with someone in the room who shows it to you and is willing to stop and explain himself and go into detail as to why he makes certain decisions and why he thinks they work.”
Puig started his music career playing bass in bands, and entered the studio world in the late 1970s at MCA Whitney Recording Studios in Los Angeles, where Bill Schnee took him under his wing. Puig also names Glyn Johns and Arif Mardin as his mentors. These three legendary producers connect Puig to the rich analogue history of the recording world, which he has always sought to marry with the latest technological and musical developments. He’s been doing this since 1995 in Studio A at Ocean Way studios, which combines the best of the old and the new, with the former represented by his huge, unique, modified 90-input Focusrite desk.
“Too many records sound the same, because everyone is using the same gear,” remarked Puig. “So part of what I’m doing in my mix room at Ocean Way is combining the analogue gear from the ’50s onwards with the latest digital equipment you can buy today, and mould all that together in a collage to create a record that has its own sound and that stands out. If the record is faithful to the song and to the artist and also has a different aesthetic to what’s normally out there, you really hit a home run. I want records to leave an indelible mark on listeners. I want them to remember the record because it’s great. That’s an art.”
To keep pace with the ongoing and all-encompassing digital revolution, Puig has in recent years expanded his working methods. “The hybrid approach at Ocean Way is still a big part of what I do,” he says, “but there are some records that have primarily been made in the box that should remain in the box due to the sonic signature, perspective, colours and attitudes that a hybrid or pure analogue approach cannot deliver. I also now have a highly modified mixing room in my home for clients who are not at a place to afford the major recording studio prices.”
During his seminars at La Fabrique, Puig elaborates predominantly on teaching the art of making great records, in an effort, as he put it, “to help participants go to the next level. That’s about psychology—knowing how to act in a recording studio and how to handle those that are in a room—and about technique. I had someone in my seminar who had been an assistant in a major recording studio and had worked on major records. We were all wondering initially, myself included, why is he here? He felt that there was something not right with his mixes, and he just could not figure out what it was. Nobody had been able to give him the answer, and on first listen I could not detect it either. Then on third listen I detected his problem, and gave him the answer. He practically fell of his chair.”
“For me being able to help him with that and take someone who was really close to having it nailed to the next level was a magnanimous moment. It was also part of teaching people how to move instantly from the macro the micro level, and vice versa. Sometimes you have to go in and make a decision that is very micro, in which you are focussing all the way down to a millisecond, and then you zoom all the way out again and see how that affects a 4-minute piece of music. In movie-making you go from looking at one frame to looking at a whole scene. It’s like, ‘OK, we are making a decision regarding the overhead microphones, but now let’s sit back and listen to how this affects the whole record. These are two extremes. Some people call it left-brain-right brain, and it’s extremely important.”
Learning all the ins and out of the technique and the psychology of a recording environment are one thing. Being able to conduct a career is another. According to Puig, the latter is to a large degree about, “being able to be honest with yourself. You need to be able to objectively ask yourself, ‘what am I really good at? Am I a better record producer, or engineer, or mixer, or musician? I may think doing something else is more attractive, but can I really do it as well as this thing? You will succeed, and get much further creatively and be much happier, if you actually choose to do what you are good at.”
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Q&A #2 with Jack Joseph Puig
Q&A #1 with Jack Joseph Puig
Teaser – 2013 Session