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Joe Chiccarelli

By Bobby Owsinski
Even though he may not have quite as high a profile as many other notable big-time mixers, engineer/producer Joe Chiccarellis list of projects are equally as notable as the best of the best. With credits like Tori Amos, Etta James, Beck, U2, Oingo Boingo, Shawn Colvin, Frank Zappa, Bob Seger, Brian Setzer, Hole and many, many more, chances are youve heard Joe s work more times than you know.

How long does it take you to mix a track?

Joe Chiccarelli: It really depends on the material, the amount of tracks, and the arrangement. I try to work fast because I find that the longer it takes the more I get into a sort of myopic mindset and get bogged down with the little details. You miss the vibe and the big picture and just suck the soul out of it, so I like to put it to bed in eight hours or so. In three hours I want it to sound like a record with the basic sounds and feel. In six hours I should have all the balances and it should start to sound finished. After that the artist will come in for a listen.

Having the option to come back the next day is a great thing, though. When you come back fresh there are always a couple of obvious little things that youve overlooked. I find that towards the end of the day my ears get a little tired and I start to put a little too much top or echo on it.

Where do you start your mix from?

Joe Chiccarelli: I have no system. I really work differently for every project and every different type of music. Its a matter of finding out what the center of the song is or what makes the song tick. Sometimes you build it around the rhythm section; sometimes you build it around the vocal.

Usually what I do is put up all the faders first and get a pretty flat balance and try to hear it like a song, then make determinations from there whether to touch up what I have or rip it down and start again from the bottom.

If youre mixing a project, do you vary the sound from song to song or keep it all in the same sonic ballpark?

Joe Chiccarelli: The approach varies from song to song but I try to keep the same kind of reverbs and treatment for the drums. I try to keep some level of consistency but again, Im also treating every song differently as well. I personally like records that take you to 10 or 12 different places.

Do you add effects as you mix?

Joe Chiccarelli: I try to start out with a flat track, then find the tracks that are boring and add some personality to them.

Do you have a standard effects setup?

Joe Chiccarelli: The only thing that I regularly do is to have like an AMS harmonizer on one stereo effects send with one side pitched up and the other side pitched down a little bit. On some projects Im not using any reverbs at all, while on some projects I might be putting all my reverbs through Sansamps or some other kind of cheap stuff. I use a lot of things like Roland Space Echoes or stomp boxes. I feel that those things have a lot more personality than the high-end effect boxes sometimes.

Dont you have a noise problem with them?

Joe Chiccarelli: Yeah [laughs], but I just make it work anyway. Id rather have the personality with the noise than no personality at all. The cheap boxes have such character. Theres a few boxes coming out now that have some color but a lot of the digital stuff is so bright that it just jumps out of the track too much. The new Sony box (the VP55) that I did some presets for is pretty good. I like it because its kinda dark sounding but it finds its home in the track a lot better than the bright, clear digital stuff.

I love to have a real EMT plate or a real live chamber. For me, if I had just one good analog echo or reverb then I can make the whole record just fine as opposed to four or five digital ones.

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