Chris Lord-Alge is a man who needs no introduction. With hundreds of album credits to his name, his body of work is impressive to say the least. His mixes are huge and dynamic, and can leave most engineers slapping their head and saying, "How'd he do that?"
As a longtime friend of Vintage King, Chris was an obvious first choice for our "20 Questions" series. Chris gives us some great insight into his work ethic, favorite gear and the music he loves.
Special thanks to our Facebook and Twitter fans for providing the questions. Let us know who you'd like to see in our next "20 Questions". Tweet your suggestion with #20Questions to Twitter.com/VintageKingDet.
1. What does a day in the life of Chris Lord-Alge look like? Do you keep a pretty strict work schedule? Do you have set hours, or do you mix until the job is done?
My day usually starts around 7 AM with a workout, time with my family, then I juggle the emails and see what the daily specials are. I generally have a set schedule, but there is always a fix, last minute edit, or recall and always something unexpected… That's the fun part. I try to be done by 7 or 8 PM if possible.
2. What is your go-to piece, period. What is the one piece you can't live without?
My Vintage Blue Stripe 1176s. The vocal makes the mix and they help get that vocal sound.
3. How do you receive a Pro Tools session? Do you have any specific requests of the recording engineer or session editor? Do you have a pretty standard layout that you use for most mixes?
I usually just get a PT session or audio files. These days it can come many ways. I request that you send your best work, keep it organized and labeled correctly. It's not just for me, it's for the artist and their music. I have a pretty complex system, but It makes me be more creative with the music.
4. What types of music do you listen to for fun? Are you able to turn off your engineer ears and listen for fun?
I love progressive rock like Pink Floyd, Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Deep Purple, Rolling Stones and some current rock. I listen to vinyl in my control room… It sounds killer.
5. What's your favorite console to mix on and why?
It has always been the SSL 4000 series. They are made like an instrument and have a very simple, yet effective automation system and total recall which is invaluable.
6. Do you have to be in a particular state of mind when mixing? How important is focus, feel, relaxation and concentration?
You have to have 100 percent focus or it doesn't work. The best mixes can be the ones that just happen when you're under pressure and have no choice. There is no relaxing… It's more like a car race with excitement.
7. How do you generally start building your mix? Do you pull up all the faders and go from there or start with specific instruments? Do you add compression and EQ at the start or once you start getting a feel for the track? Do you add reverb or other effects as you go, or more towards the end as sweetener?
I throw the faders up and see what the song is, then try and EQ everything at once, adding effects to everything then work my way back. I try and blow it up first then control the beast.
8. What are some of your tricks for going from a safe mix to an exciting one?
Get mad at it and make it give it up. It's kinda like a duel.
9. Do you generally place the EQ before the compressor or vise versa?
I go both ways. EQ before will compact it more… EQ after lets it run free. So it really depends on how much room the instrument has in the song.
10. What's the CLA "Secret Mixing Weapon?"
My ears and win-win attitude!!! But really, monitoring at low level is the winner.
11. What's your favorite EQ/compressor for electric guitars? How about acoustics?
I like my old LA-3s with API EQs or just the console.
12. What's the chain for vocals? What type of verbs and delays do you usually go for?
That always changes and gets pretty complex. I like my old 1176s or my Retro 176s with dbx de-essers... Plus console EQ and my plug-ins before the desk. I can use up to six delays and four reverbs plus a variety of 70s and 80s effects devices just for vibe.
13. What are some of your favorite plug-ins?
I would have to say Waves is my number one (limiters, reverbs, H Delay), followed by URS for the channel strip which is killer. Bobby Nathan makes some great stuff.
14. Mixing is a really different muscle than tracking. What are some exercises one could do to get better?
I think the only thing is just to be disciplined, have sheer focus and get lots of practice. You only get better by comparing your mixes to someone you respect and finding out how to better your style.
15. Do you check your mixes on anything other than your studio monitors? Headphones or car stereo maybe?
I have five sets of speakers to listen to:
1. Yamaha NS-10s with a subwoofer (1985 versions)
2. M & K super clean powered speakers
3. Big in-wall JBLs. Big speakers from the early 80s. Tuned and sound very punchy.
4. Boom box #1
5. Boom box #2
I don't do headphones for checking mixes.
16. What's your favorite restaurant to get carry-out from while working?
Joe's China Inn. It's really clean and healthy. We ordered so much they gave us a Christmas gift!
17. What's your usual chain on bass guitar? How do you keep it clear and focused in the low end?
Bass guitar is all about the phase relation between DI and amp or SansAmp or whatever extra track you create. Start there and then be careful. I only add mids and top and usually will use my plug-in on the DI to add distortion and sub bass. I keep it simple.
18. What was the first record you can remember listening to saying to yourself "I want to do this!"?
I would have to say Led Zeppelin for sure!
19. Is the client always right, or do you occasionally fight for your ideas?
That is the toughest part of the game. They have to be happy with their music and or production, but you can make it great in your interpretation which really is what you are there for. There is no need to actually fight - Just show them the alternative.
20. What's your favorite EQ and compressor for snare?
Usually, just the SSL module for mixing, but sometimes I'll add in a Manley Pultec and Neve 32264a compressor. It all depends on what arrived on the desk and how mangled the snare track is delivered.