Hughes Drive Productions is a recording, mixing and mastering facility located in scenic Huntington Beach, California. Led be head engineers Shawn Taylor and Ben Kanselbaum, the studio has hosted a wide array of musical acts, including New Leaf, Make West, Scrap Yard Aces and The Simpkin Project.
For the latest in our Studio Spotlight series, we sat down for a chat with Shawn to discuss life at Hughes Drive Productions and talk what else... Gear! Continue reading to find out how the studio runs sessions, in addition to learning more about Shawn's favorite records, audio goals and more.
How would you describe your studio workflow?
We use a digital/analog hybrid setup with loads of analog outboard mic preamps, equalizers, compressors, and effects. For the primary AD/DA conversion, we use a BURL Audio B80 Mothership on a Dante network. After sounds are captured and edited in Cubase, all signals are routed back out into a Greg Wurth Audio 20 channel, all discrete Oracle summing mixer, and a custom Tree Audio Stem III summing mixer. We then add more analog processing, and once we have a nice blend of everything, the final mix is recorded back into a BURL BAD4M daughter card on the B80. Finally, we monitor the final mix through a BURL B2 Bomber DAC that's feed into a Slate Control Analog Monitoring System and a pair of Genelec 1032C studio monitors.
What's an essential piece of gear to your process, and why?
I love using audio equipment with a story. I often use a pair of vintage API 550s (not 550a) on either my drum bus or mix bus. There is something magical about those old point-to-point early API Saul Walker equalizers. Their tone is so rich and punchy that I find it challenging to replicate their sound identically with a plug-in, especially when pushed to extreme settings.
What's your go-to microphone for tracking?
I like the Pearlman Microphones TM 1 large-diaphragm tube condenser. It does well on just about everything you stick in front of it. I appreciate it for its clarity, warm sound, and airy top end.
What about a favorite piece of software?
I have used Steinberg's Cubase for the past 20 years. I love it. The GUI is stunning, the program is very stable, and its robust feature set is not found in many other DAWs.
What's an album that really changed the way you look at music and why?
I love American Beauty by the Grateful Dead. This recording was made in 1070 at Walley Heider's Studio in San Francisco and sounds fantastic. Wally Heider (Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Beach Boys) was a pioneer in the recording arts, and his legacy is still heard today in audio products offered by CAPI (the Heider 312 mic preamp).
The songwriting and composition on this album are phenomenal, the audio quality is impeccable, and the lyrical content is unmatched even to this day. I think the Grateful Dead is one of music's most underrated bands, especially compared to The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and other notable acts of the time.
How do you stay fresh in the studio? What motivates you?
I often find myself listening to music more than I make it, which helps keep my finger on the pulse of what's out there. I love roots reggae music and have played in a reggae band for 20 years, so I am always looking for innovative ways to infuse new sounds into an old-school genre of music. In the studio, learning never stops. There are many new and creative ways to adjust equalizers, set a compressor, or master microphone placement. Every song presents the opportunity to experiment and try something new.
What's a secret trick or something special that you like to use in the studio that you're willing to divulge?
I have two mixing tricks I love to use when appropriate. 1. I find serial compression to be incredibly useful and effective. Serial compression refers to using several different types of compressors in series to achieve a smooth, even performance, especially for vocals. For example, I will first run a vocal through a Universal Audio 1176 AE with a 2:1 ratio, slightly slower attack, set with a quick release to shave roughly 5 dB off. Then I will send it to a Teletronix LA-2A to smooth out the rest.
2. On a vibey tune, I will side-chain compress the delay and reverb returns of a lead vocal or instrument track to reduce some of the rich ambient layers while the lead vocal/instrument is performing. I reduce just enough gain to add clarity and set the compressor's release time in a musical way to bring the ambiance back up once the track stops playing.
What's your favorite project you've worked on in the studio? Why?
I love reggae music and have recorded more reggae albums over the years than any other genre. I recently produced and recorded an album for the San Diego-based reggae band New Leaf that won the 2021 San Diego Music Award for Best World Album. That album was tons of fun to create because of the band's cool songwriting style, excellent composition, and stellar musical performances.
What's something you would like to accomplish in your audio career?
I have three dreams in audio: 1. Open a beautiful multi-room recording facility. 2. Win a Grammy. 3. Create and design my own high-quality no-compromise audio products like a mic preamp or optical compressor.
Where do you think the future of pro audio and the studio is headed?
With computer technology becoming more powerful each year, I think we will see more artificial intelligence-based music tools to inspire creativity. I also believe that Audio over IP (AoIP) protocols such as Dante and AVB will be used more and more by manufacturers, live sound, and recording studios for its flexibility, simplicity, and stability.
However, I personally believe there will always be a place for analog audio equipment, both vintage and modern, within the studio environment. I understand the affordability of high-end analog devices is not possible for every user. Still, for those that can participate within this space, a continuation of the implementation and preservation of analog will push onward and remain in popular demand.