Daft Punk has an engineer that was on the whole project, Peter Franco, who was indispensable. He physically engineered stuff, he was a liaison, he kept everybody appraised of what everybody else was doing. He’s a very knowledgeable and talented engineer, and he deserves a lot of credit.
Dan Lerner was their Pro Tools guy. You can imagine how many files there were, and things to keep organized, and not having to think about a lot of that myself was great. Dan was logging all the files, and he knows Pro Tools really well, so he kept it moving smoothly.
And the techs at Conway Recording were great, especially keeping up with the demands on the tape machines. We mixed to three Ampex ATR-102 half-inch tape machines simultaneously: the one at 15 ips had Aria Electronics, one at 30 ips had standard heads, and the other at 30 ips had high-fluxivity heads. They sounded slightly different, and we mixed simultaneously to all three.
Daft Punk listened painstakingly to every take, A/Bing, deciding which character of analog machine best complemented the song. In a lot of cases we’d make different prints on the tapes using the same automation, but with different master fader positions for less and more saturation of the tape. Then they’d pick with print sounded best to them, to master.
Every time we changed a reel, the Conway tech staff checked the recording line of all three machines with an Audio Precision analyzer, to make sure the tape was consistent and that the distortion was low. That was a very painstaking process.
In the mix, what was the vibe you wanted to maintain from song to song?
That it wasn’t overprocessed, and that the sounds were natural, warm, easy to listen to. It offers a really nice contrast between acoustic, warm sounds that aren’t over-compressed or overhyped, and electronic sounds – some of which are warm themselves, while some are more aggressive.
What’s your approach to crafting a dance mix? What makes it really work?
You want to move to it. Of course, it’s in the arranging, but the mix is just keeping the elements that make you move. I had a preconceived notion about a lot of dance mixes, that they’d be expecting drums that are super big and punchy, and everything subservient to that. These guys didn’t want that – they wanted it to be more subtle, nice to listen to, and not beat you up. They really knew exactly what it should be.
How do you apply that specifically to mixing the drums, which are so crucial to a record like Random Access Memories?
It’s the whole thing we’ve been talking about: tracked correctly, not overprocessed, although we did use some parallel compression on occasion to help the drums punch through.
My advice is that the most important thing is balance, and for the sonics of each thing not to get in the way of other elements. You don’t want too much happening in one frequency range, not the same kind of texture and harmonics. But the most important thing is the balance and the inter-relations.
Nile Rodgers’ guitar is so signature on “Get Lucky.” What approach did you take to mixing it? How do you walk the balance between featuring it and not letting it overpower the track?
I just put up his track in the mix, and got the right balance! I experimented with balancing and other positioning, and working other stuff around it. He didn’t have to be processed – Nile just sounded great the way he is.
There are some mini-epic songs here, “Touch” (8:19), “Giorgio” (9:05) – is there a difference in “long-range” mixing for longer experimental songs like this?
It’s something that’s entirely different in every case. You have to know what’s happening in the next section, and what the arc is going to be. You’re mixing something, but you’re conscious of what’s to come, and later on in the song you’re conscious of what passed.
I can’t be more specific than that, because you look at “Touch”, “Giogio”, “Motherboard” – they have a lot of different movements. The common thing in the approach is you have to have the overview of the whole thing, probably more so in those than when mixing several different short songs.
Last question: You weren’t that familiar with Daft Punk before you got onboard with this project. What did you learn about Thomas and Guy as musicians by the time it was done?
They’re very, very creative guys. Visionaries, I think. Daft Punk looks at a long span of musical history and musical future, they exist in several decades at once, and really put it all together. They also really know what people want, and what really strikes people right.
Daft Punk pushed me to things I wouldn’t have done otherwise. Their direction was great, and it pulled me away from preconceived ideas of mixing, by combining newer concepts with older techniques. It was a good experience for me – I came out of this a much better engineer than when I went into it.
— David Weiss
Want more Mick? Don’t miss this new interview with him on Pensado’s Place:
And the Creator’s Project series, The Collaborators, provides even more studio insights from all of Daft Punk’s cohorts — start with this installment featuring Nile Rodgers: