In addition to leading the charge in our Nashville showroom, Vintage King Audio Consultant Dave Rieley is an incredible engineer, producer and mixer in his own right. Dave began his career at the Chicago Recording Company and in the time since has worked with a wide range of artists including Straight No Chaser, Skillet, The Hives and Kelly Clarkson.
We recently sat down with Dave and asked him to take part in our 20 Questions series. Continue on below to learn his thoughts on miking drums, the one plug-in that goes on all of his mixes and hear about some classic hijinx from inside his studio.
1. What led you to working in the studio?
I had stopped playing in bands because I just couldn't find people who shared the same vision. I knew that I wanted to keep doing something with music. The only thing that made sense to me was "Well, I should work in a studio." It was that desire to keep being creative musically that led me to moving to Chicago and getting an internship at Chicago Recording Company.
When I was in bands, the part I liked about songwriting the most was the arranging. I really liked that aspect of it, which seemed to lend itself more to being in the studio and helping other people arrange their songs. You don't have to go tour and do all that tomfoolery.
2. Do you remember the first session you worked on?
I do. It was DMX. I was a third on a DMX session. It was utter chaos with one microphone in what we called the "brass room." The Chicago Recording Company was set up originally for a live room that was for strings, a middle room which was for brass instruments and then a dead room with three isos. There was just one mic in a room for DMX and I was just trying to make sure nothing got broke.
3. You've worked with DMX, you've also worked with Straight No Chaser. What's the difference when you're working with a group like that who are just singing and are the instruments themselves?
It's incredibly different. Working with an acapella group like Straight No Chaser is more akin to working with a ska band, but you only have four microphones. With Straight No Chaser, I want to give the mixer the most flexibility with the voices, so I developed the concept that just use U 87s for everything but the leads. Only because it was consistent. We weren't trying to do any EQing for the singers as they were trying to decide who was singing lead. We'd go in and say "OK, we're going to have Seggie, Mike and Donnie, go sing this part." They'd go in, sing, you'd hear the blend and adjust the blend very little because they each have their own tracks and we weren't combining tracks. We'd adjust the blend and whoever arranged the song would say "Seggie, come out. So and so go in." As an engineer for those sessions, it's a lot of keeping track of who's done what, where they've done it and keeping the session moving clean. Then when it came time to do leads, we'd use a 251 and if we had it available, a 1073 of some sort and a Fairchild. If a Fairchild wasn't available, it would be an LA-2A.
4. What's your favorite microphone of all time?
A really, really great 251 or C12, I think, is phenomenal. I love the EQ curve of it. I love how it does what it does and what it brings to the table. It doesn't work on everybody and it doesn't work on every instrument, but when it works, it's just so serendipitous.
5. What do you like spending a lot of time on getting the right sounds for?
Lunch [Laughs]. I really, really enjoy putting it all together, but I think drum tones are one of the most fun because it's the most interactive instrument. By interactive, I mean it changes from microphone to microphone. Anything you do is changing the whole picture.
Depending on the style, you start with mic choice. Then it's placement and tuning and they go hand-in-hand. There are certain things I have a predilection for. I prefer a good C24 on overheads and if I can't have that I'm super down with a stereo ribbon such as a Royer. I think that's wonderful. Part of that is that I know I will have less phase issues with a fixed stereo mic such as a C24 or a stereo ribbon. I really enjoy what they bring to the table.
I'm one of those guys who drank the Kool-Aid on 421s on toms. I'm a big proponent of miking the bottom head on a floor tom, getting that in-phase and really capturing the resonance. I have a microphone you cant get anymore, an EV N/D 868, that is my favorite kick-in mic ever. I still have my old NS-10 woofer as my sub-out. I rarely use a kick out, I'm not a fan of it, so I just don't like it. I get everything I need with the EV 868 and the sub.
Hats, I'm weird with. I think an SM7 on a hat is fantastic. Ride, some pencil, it mostly doesn't matter on mic as long as I have it. Snare is 57 on top and bottom and 451 top as well and tape it to the 57, in case you want to get some of that pop. Rooms, I'm a big fan of two U 87s in MS mode, I love that kind of depth because it feels better than just catching left and right in a room.
6. What's your favorite part of living in Nashville?
That's funny because having lived in Milwaukee, Chicago, Phoenix, LA, Detroit and Nashville, I've been trying to figure out why I love living here. I can't figure it out, but there is an intangible that makes me feel unbelievably comfortable here. It feels like home, but I can't tell you what it is.
I loved the food in Detroit, the food in Detroit was ridiculous. The people in Milwaukee are bizarrely friendly. The feel of Chicago and the big city is really comforting. LA is LA, there are a lot of things to love about it. Nashville feels like its a little bit of all of that since everyone is moving here. I get all of the things I love from these other cities in this one little city.
7. What's your favorite place to eat in Nashville?
There are two. One is Chauhan Ale & Masala House. Holy crap! It's amazing. You either get it normal or mild. Normal is hot. It's delicious. The other place I found when I first started living here in Sylvan Park and it's Caffe Nonna. It's really small and unbelievably delicious. When I first went there they had an article on the wall like how restaurants often do. This one though was the owner of Chauhan Ale & Masala House talking about the best-kept secret in Nashville and it was Caffe Nonna. It was so funny to see because the night before we ate at Chauhan Ale & Masala House.
8. What's the last album you listened to, book you read and movie you watched?
Oh boy, this is going to be embarrassing. This morning I listened to Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American. The last movie was The Big Sick, which I loved, but that's actually a lie. The last movie I saw was the latest Transformers movie and I thought it was great. I like when things go boom. But yeah, let's say The Big Sick. The last book I read is probably pretty embarrassing like Hitchhiker's Guide, which is the 30th time I've read it. That or the whole Harry Potter series. I've read the series front to back like nine times. The only reason I started reading it was because I threw out my back so bad and I was immobile in bed for like five days. It's hard to read Noam Chomsky a bunch because it's so depressing.
9. Who's your favorite person or band you've worked with in the industry?
The group Skillet. They were the most positive, enjoyable band. They never threw a tantrum. They never got out of line. There was no drinking and no drugs. Whenever it was like "Hey, we're having a technical problem, it's going to be 15 minutes." Some artists would lose their minds, they were always like totally cool. They were super easygoing and wonderful.
10. What do you listen to in your personal life?
I enjoy some 1980s hardcore, pop country and definitely The Cure. So late 80s, early 90s alternative. I like shoegaze. I listen to punk rock and 80s hardcore because I don't care about the production values. It's the truest form of music that I listen to that doesn't revolve around production and I can just enjoy it. Everything else is production value. "How are they doing that?" "What are the lyrics like?" "How are they getting you to feel that way."
11. What's your favorite record of the past ten years?
It's the Off self-titled record. It's an incredible album. Every time I listen to it, I enjoy all of it. I think it was recorded and mixed in four days. They did it at King Size in Eagle Rock, which is a rad studio. I'm really fond of the people who run it and the vibe they have there. That record is just so dirty and gross. You don't even listen to it, you just feel [mimics driving guitar riff].
12. When someone is trying to up their studio game, what's the item you recommend they purchase first?
Monitors. That's an easy one for me. If you don't know what you're hearing, you are wasting your time. You need to have monitors that tell you what you need to know.
13. What's your specific approach in the studio when you work? Analog, digital, hybrid?
For tracking, if I get the luxury, I like to go to tape. Only because I hate looking at a computer screen, I like how it sounds and how it feels. I like the time in between takes when you're rewinding and you get to really think about what you want to say to the group. That's the best time to sit and talk direction. For a three minute and a half song, you have a good 30-40 seconds to talk about what you're going to do. That doesn't seem like much, but compared to the half second it takes to click a space bar button, it really is. It's wonderful to take that time to breath.
That being said, I take it to my DAW of choice and mix completely in the box. Not because I don't think analog gear is superior or inferior. It's more just that nobody wants to pay for recalls. We've all been there where the tweaks will take 10 minutes, but the recall will take an hour and a half. I just act like my mixing sessions are being run on a big analog console. I set them up in the same way. The VCAs are the same eight VCAs I would use when mixing on an SSL console. I know that's limiting, but that's why I like to track to tape. If you don't put any parameters on it, it's going to become your life's work.
14. When people meet you, they recognize you have a unique sense of humor. Give us a funny story from your career behind the recording console.
I've seen a lot of things I never thought I'd see. I saw Elvis Costello shooting a basketball. I worked with My Chemical Romance once and when I ran down to the music office in the basement, I came back up and it was the weirdest shit I've ever seen. Every member of the band had Lysol wipes, someone found a broom and they were cleaning the studio. I was like "What are you guys doing?" They were like "We kind of made a mess, we're real sorry." It was such a sweet, cool moment. I worked with Gerard Way a good couple years later and he came in and I looked completely different. I was like "Hey man, we worked together before," and he realized it and was like "Oh! Hey man." I told him not to clean the studio this time and we had a laugh about it.
15. Is there one engineer, producer or musician who stands out as a profound influence on your career?
I would say more in terms of what I try and do in my songwriting. Mutt Lange is friggin' genius. The problem is there is never a budget to do what Mutt did and to take that amount of time.
16. What's the biggest lesson that you've learned while working in this industry?
I got to work behind a good chunk of people in my career. The thing I learned is that you're there for somebody. Me making my dream come true, when I was doing music full-time, was acknowledging that "I'm helping someone make their dream come true." I'm here for them and I wanted to do what they wanted. I wanted to do all that was possible to make sure that we were on the same page and that we were moving forward with their ideas. That's always been a big deal to me.
The same thing applies now. I have people that contact me and we talk about what they are doing in their studio and I want to help them every bit as much. If they are looking for a certain sound, but they want to buy X device, I can say, "You might want to consider this or this because from my experience, this is what can get that sound for you."
17. If you could only use four pieces of gear to record with for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Fairchild [laughs]. That's just my favorite thing. Realistically speaking, probably a stellar 251. I don't want to cop out and say a 1073, but I kind of do. Nah, I'm going to say a 1084 because of the expanded EQ. I guess a good two-track machine. Yeah, that's it. I would want a great tube compressor, a great tube mic, a good solid pre and something to record it to that sounds incredible.
18. What was the first piece of gear you ever bought?
This will be horribly embarrassing. The first piece of gear I ever bought was software, Digital Performer 2.7. I can't even remember what the little 2x2 interface was that came with it and it was USB 1. It was ridiculous and I made a record with a band a week later. It was pretty funny. It sounded horrible, but it was great.
19. Is there a piece of hardware or gear that you use on everything?
Yes. The EMT 250 plug-in reverb by Universal Audio because I don't have one, but I want one. That reverb is killer and I will put it on every single track.
20. What's a secret tip or trick that you can share with readers that you use in the studio?
This is the thing for me that I need the most. When you're putting down the console tape, I try to write the peoples' names underneath the instrument they play. If you write it small enough and write down the bussing information, no one will ever realize that you can't remember their name. It has not failed me and I've only gotten busted once.
If you're interested in talking to Dave about any of the gear mentioned in the blog or beyond, please feel free to give him a call at 615.866.5015 x176. Check out some of his incredible work in the studio below by listening to tracks from Skillet, Straight No Chaser, Macy Gray and Elvis Costello.