As a producer, mixer, and audio engineer, Sean Beavan has worked with Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Slayer, Guns N’ Roses, and No Doubt. He uses distressed gear, sampling, and innovative recording techniques to create sounds that haven’t been heard before.
Although Beaven’s work has predominantly been in metal and industrial music, he has recently branched out by mixing actress Jill Hennessy’s country/folk album I Do, as well as making his film scoring and sound design debut on two new indie films.
What is it about heavier genres like metal and industrial that attracts you?
I have always liked the visceral natural of them. There is a big cathartic release of power and energy between the bands and the audience. They speak to each other in a way that respects each other.
The bands and producers are not trying to pull something over on the audience. They are invariably huge fans of the genres, as well as creators, and they are making the music because they are driven by a love for it.
When you were mixing Slayer’s album God Hates Us All, how did you approach the vocals, given all the tuned down guitars and overdrive? How did you manage all that distortion and heft and avoid masking?
I love that record—Thanks for mentioning it. It was an honor to work with Rick Rubin and Matt Hyde on that record. Coming from NIN, my industrial background really helped. Since I’m used to navigating symphonies of distortion, adding artificial vocal distortion to the Slayer lexicon was relatively simple. The tuned-down nature of the guitars lends itself to Tom’s raspy tenor, and to ensure that the upper ranges of distortion weren’t masking each other I tried to sculpt specific points for each of the players.
If I was accenting the 2kHz to 3kHz range in Jeff’s more soulful tone, I was giving Kerry more bigness in the bottom and slice in the 5k range—which left 4k for Tom’s edge and allowed me a bit of 8k for some harmonic “air” as well. The worst thing you can do in those situations is turn up the same range of upper mid frequency on the guitars and vocals. You’ve got to be discrete..
Do you prefer recording drums in any particular way?
Of course, it depends on the vibe and what the instrumentation is going to be and the genre itself. You wouldn’t record the drums the same way for a Jazz combo, or a dark swampy blues band, or a dance pop act, or a metal band. Each has its own distinct expectations and tropes. I like my drums to have drama and impact and character—so I try to apply those three things to the particular genre being recorded.
It gets really fun when a band is trying to create a genre like SHINING did for it’s Blackjazz records. Then you get to create or sound design for something new. Of course you use what has come before to inform where you are intending to go. I like to record to drums to tape using a 16-track head onto 2” tape on a Studer A800 MkIII machine at 15ips for rock. Then, I dump it into Pro Tools to edit. If the budget doesn’t allow for that I prefer to just record into Pro Tools at 48k 24 bit. To me analog or digital is no better or worse. They are just a texture and a choice. Both offer remarkable and terrible things.
When it comes to drum mic’ing, where you place the mics is as important as how you tune the drums and the character of the drums themselves. When you are recording, you’ve got ti make sure you love what you hear before you press record. That way you will never be disappointed later.
Unless, of course, you know that you are going to be doing tons of post work to create unnatural sounds then anything goes. But in the end if you don’t have what you want then make it what it can be. Use your imagination, get inspired. Of course, in order to do that you need to know what you want it to be and that is what makes you an artist.
I know you have a lot of the Overstayer gear, which you don’t see a lot everywhere. What do you like about that line?
Jeff Turzo at Overstayer is a musician and producer first, so his ideas electronics-wise are really musical. Whenever he comes to me with a new piece of gear it feels like he was reading my mind.
I use his new Master and Servant on the mix bus [after] my Alan Smart C1 compressor. I know it does some saturation type effects with the 2nd and 3rd harmonics that just makes it feel like the mixes are bigger than the speakers, and the stereo field feels more detailed and discrete. It sounds like voodoo. It’s magic, which is what you want from gear.
For tracking, I use two versions of his mic pres. One has a FET limiter that I use for practically everything I bring in DI-wise—especially bass. It just sounds like a great clean amp. His channel amp with the Pultec-style EQ is my go to for recording acoustic guitars. Since I got that one, I have not recorded an acoustic without it.
I always use his old stereo FET compressor on room mics for drum recording, but it is also great on the drum buss for mixing. It has a parallel compression circuit with a mix knob so you can crush it and dial in just the amount you want to add. Genius.
You recently expanded your studio, Redrum, to embrace 5.1 surround sound. Can you describe your setup in the control room?
When we moved from The Blue Room last year, we made the decision to create a hybrid studio where I could mix and record music for film as well as music. I have been making the transition to film composition and sound design and mixing for the last few years, and it has revitalized me creatively. Sometimes you just need to stretch your legs and expand your wheelhouse. It was time for me.
Redrum has worked out amazingly. We are able to jam with a full band and PA in the control room and it sounds amazing. [My wife] Juliette complains that her vocals never sound as good through the monitors when we play out. It only takes a flip of a switch and a couple of patches to go from stereo mixing to full dedicated 5.1 surround mixing
We have an old G5 and Pro Tools HD Accel 3 rig with wto 192 I/Os running Pro Tools 7.4 that I have used for mixing music projects for years. It has all my favorite go-to plug ins, and their still hasn’t been a better system made for recording music.
The system is set up all analog through my Neve and it runs though an analog mix-buss insert setup that includes my Alan Snart C1 buss compressor and The Overstayer Master and Servant which I then send back into Pro Tools to record mixes.
For film and TV and certain music projects we have a newer MacPro tower with an HDX setup running Pro Tools 10 and Abelton. We have a couple 192s that are digitally connected via TDIF to an O2R which is set up for drum recording and various live setups for jams etc. Plus, the analog ins and outs are all setup in the patch bays to interface with my old custom Neve console, with 1073 and 1066 mic pres.