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Exclusive interview with music producer Joey Sturgis

If you haven’t yet heard of Joey Sturgis, you might be too old you will soon. He is very quickly becoming the CLA of my generation and the go-to guy for modern hard rock. His success has earned him a lot of fans and even more critics. Recently he started releasing drum and cymbal sample libraries from some of the records he’s done. Over the weekend I had the pleasure of interviewing Joey via email.


When did you start recording and producing?

I started recording when I was about 19 years old (2004). I played drums in several bands around that time and it came time for us to create a demo, so I learned what was necessary to do it on my own. My friend had a make shift recording studio in his garage and he lent me the key.

What gear were you using back then?

We had a custom built pc running Windows 98SE, the interface was an Aardvark Q10 (PCI based). We had Behringer preamps and a Behringer mixer. It was the worst of the worst.

Wow, that’s pretty ghetto even for 2004, ha ha. You must have been doing something right though because it wasn’t long before you were making records for Rise Records, producing The Devil Wears Prada, Miss May I, and Attack Attack! among others.

Yeah after The Devil Wears Prada got signed from the EP I made for them, the label owner caught wind of me and took some interest. Prada came back to me for the full length. The album was successful and then i went on to do a few more projects on my own before helping to realizing the creation of before their eyes with a few members of past bands I had done demos with prior.

Soon after that, they were signed by rise and once again Craig was seeing my name. At this point I think he saw real potential in me and decided to give me a call. He suggested managing my schedule and helping me get bigger better projects. I was hesitant at first but decided to go for it. The first email i sent him was this list I had fathomed up, almost as a joke, of demands I wanted from him. Things like “I want to do a Metal Blade cd, I want to work with Adam D” etc. I knew those things would never happen but somehow Craig helped make every single thing on that list happen. So for that I am extremely grateful.

Which bands have you worked with in the past year or two?

In the past two years I have worked with:
Kramus
The Devil Wears Prada
Miss May I
For The Fallen Dreams
The Color Morale
Asking Alexandria
We Came As Romans
Of Mice And Men
Before Their Eyes
I Am Abomination
Confide
Attack Attack!
A Plea For Purging
The Devil Wears Prada again
Miss May I again
Asking Alexandria again
Let’s Get It

In the past year you went from running Nuendo to a full Pro Tools HD 3 rig and back to Nuendo a few months later. What were some of the reasons for moving to PT HD and what made you decide it wasn’t right for you?

I wanted to move to PT HD because that is what most of the professional world was working on. Some of my clients were reaching such a big status that there were several talks of having multiple name producers on projects, and in researching these people I discovered they were all in PT. I figured if I wanted to be included, I had better step up now. I had 1 year to prepare ahead of time. Also, in researching PT in general, I discovered some of the advertised features sounded great (like track gaurantee, and better use of DSP). The biggest feature that drew me towards PT and the one I still miss today is Elastic Audio. After learning PT, and even getting the hang of its quirks and bugs, I began a few of my “big projects” of the year in PT. Everything was going smooth with the audio end of things…. then came keyboards. I do most of my production effects, and all of my keyboards using plugins and virtual instruments. Unfortunately, I have to say that Avid does not win on this one. It is so picky about plugins and plugin stability that you might as well mic a keyboard amp… Seriously. I had to move on, because most of “my sound” comes from post production, and PT wasn’t giving me any stability during post production. Some projects actually stopped opening towards the end. I had to rebuild from raw audio in Cubendo to finish.

What is your current studio equipment list?

Computers:
Intel i7 980x Extreme 3.33 GHZ 64bit 6-core with HT
6 GB Triple Channel DDR3 Memory
1 Intel SSD Extreme (16 GB OS drive)
3 Western Digital 640 GB SATA 3.0′s (System, Sample, Record drives)

Intel Core 2 Duo Q6600 2.26 GHZ 32bit 4-core
4 GB Dual Channel DDR2 Memory
3 Western Digital Drives (OS, System/Sample, Record drives)

Mac Pro Dual 64 bit Xeon’s 2.26 GHZ 8-core with HT
8 GB Triple Channel DDR3 Memory
2 1TB Drives

Mac Book Pro (random stuff)

Sony Vaio Laptop (for drum editing when i’m traveling)

Interface / Word Clocks:
RME Fireface 800
Apogee Big Ben

Mic Pres:
API 3124+
2x Presonus Digimax D8′s
Great River ME-1NV

Mics:
Audio Technica AT3035
Audio Technica AT4040
Audix D6
Audix i5
Beyerdynamic M201 TG
Neumann KM184 (Stereo Pair)
Oktava MK012 (Stereo Pair)
Rode K2
2x Sennheiser MD 421 II
3x Sennheiser e604
Sennheiser e609
Shure SM57 w/ Grenelli Mod
Shure Beta 52
Shure Beta 58
Shure SM7b

probably some other’s I’m forgetting…

Monitors:
ADAM A7
Presonus Central Station

MISC:
2x Monster Power 3500 Power Conditioners
4 or 5 LCD monitors
3 or 4 keyboards (on my desk, because I dont like KVM’s)
3 mice (on my desk! haha)
Axiom Pro 49 Midi Controller
Kaoss Pad
Hundreds of cables
Lots of software

Your production and mixing style is very modern and polished. For some reason it seems to polarize opinions on the internet. Countless arguments and flamewars have been started at the mere mention of your name and techniques. Why do you think that is?

It’s human nature. I think anyone involved in this industry has their own idea of how things should sound. Listeners have their own taste in what they want to hear. Fans are the result of these two things matching. It doesn’t always match, and it doesn’t need to. At the end of the day, I’m just a guy that helps these people be creative and entertain other people. There’s definitely a lot of in-between stuff that could be said, but at it’s core its an age old concept. We’re all just trying to make people feel something by what we create. I think the criticism helps me to grow. At the same time, criticism is just the result of a personal opinion. Everyone’s got their own opinion. In the end, you’ve just got to do what YOU think is right.

Why do you think so many young guys, new to recording, try to copy you and get your sound? Is this weird for you?

I think my sound is “popular”. In the 90′s you had literal pop-music, and it had a certain sound to it. Well, I think what I’ve done today is created the “pop” sound of these up-start heavy bands (metalcore/hardcore). If these band’s have fans, its inevitable that there will be people who want to produce music with a similair sound. Parts of this are weird for me, because I sit in my control room day in and day out listening to the sonic characteristics of what I’m working on and I’m thinking, “I have a long way to go to make this sound right.” But in terms of producing, I am content. I am always struggling sonically. From a sonic perspective its weird, but on the production end of things I can definitely see the correlation. My productions just sound heavy man! It’s the “it” factor that people are after. Many of my clients always tell me “just put the sturgis on it.” They’re talking about that “it” factor when everything comes together and makes the song slam.

Are there any engineers or producers you look up to and inspire you?

There are several. I am very inspired by Jason Suecof, Adam D, Andy Sneap, Chris Lord-Alge, Ross Robinson, and many more. All for different reasons.

On Joey Sturgis Dot Com you’ve started putting up drum and cymbal samples for sale. Tell us the story behind these.

After Steven Slate put out SSD, and I had quite a long time to live with them. Life moved on and people started to pick these sounds out from all the productions using it. Early on, I began to feel I should be making my own stuff. When I started getting pretty decent at it, I decided to see what would happen if I tried to sell it my self. My approach is a little different, and the cost is very low. It seemed to catch on with some people, so I’ve kept it going. I think its cool that I can share the exact same sounds I’m using in my mixes.

How many more sets of samples do you plan on releasing?

Well it’s up in the air because I just wait until I have something good enough and then release it. But I don’t plan on stopping. I sample everyone’s kit but the turn out isn’t always great. I could use a drum tech you know. Hint hint.

Are you only going to add samples for the most recent (and future) projects you’ve worked on or will you dig into the sample library for previous projects over the years?

I have slowly begun to dig into the older stuff. The problem is, nothing is labeled very well from back then, and even with contacting the band members, they often have no idea what we actually used either. It becomes a questionable product at this point, because I can’t even tell the customer what the cymbal is. I have some real gems, but can’t release to the public for reasons such as, only recorded hard hits, or lost the multiple session so I can’t go back and remix anything.

Anyone that’s been following you on Twitter knows that your schedule is crazy. It’s not uncommon to see you still mixing at 5am to meet deadlines. I’m sure you love every minute of it. Any tips for keeping the quality level high while working all day, everyday?

Ears:
First and foremost, Turn your monitors down. Then turn your monitors down some more. Learn to seperate what you hear. Most of the time I’m listening to timing, editing, pitch, or something else. Not the mix. Listen for mix when you and the song are ready. Until then, listen for what needs improvement to become ready… I spend a few months getting to that ready state. Then the actual mix takes about 30 minutes. If you’re mixing for hours and hours, you’re going to get lost in all the relativity of volume and frequencies and end up with something thats leaning too much in one direction.

Mental:
Be appreciative. When I start to edit something I just think about how the money I am earning has put this roof over my head and fed me earlier that day. It really comes full circle when I finish things and just feel grateful to be lucky enough to do this for a living. When you think about things in the way that none of what you have would exist without these people who you are sharing a creation with, you really gain a lot of patience and determination. The mental stability that comes from this is what makes it possible.

What is the typical production schedule for a band coming to work with you in your studio?

The first week or so is pre production, scratch & click tracks, drum sampling, and drum tracking. Then there’s a long editing process where I build the final production ready drums. This means quantizing actual performances / sample replacement, or completing samples and programming. Then the drum mix is made and printed. At this point we’re around the 1/3 or half way mark and from here we alternate guitars + bass with vocals (instruments one day, vocals the next, repeat). If there are keys, we do them on vocal days instead of vocal editing, and I hire someone to edit the vocals for me. On the last day we either have a whole album ready for post production, or a whole album ready for vocal editing. Once vocal editing is finished, post production begins. This all happens after the band is long gone. The post production and mixing period is always solo for me. I send the songs out one by one to the band and we correspond over email. Then the final is sent off. This whole process takes about 2 – 2.5 months for every band. It should be noted that after the 1.5 month mark, I am already starting something else. So at any given time, I am working on 3 or 4 completely different things each day.

Do you have any advice for young engineers trying to be the next Joey Sturgis?

Everyone says this, but learn the basics and the fundamentals. After you’re book smart, you’ll still need experience time to vibe with what you know. I’m still learning how to approach the sonics of every day things like kick drums and snares. Also… don’t take anything for granted, and appreciate what you have.

Are there any bands you’d like to work with in the future?

I want to record BTBAM (Between The Buried and Me), haha. My favorite kind of project is the one that takes you around the world, and to another world. I love mixing as many different sounds and styles as possible. Bands like that can put any kind of weird stuff in their music and it will work. That’s what I enjoy most. I would also love to record something like Dimmu Borgir or Behemoth and finally, Dragonforce. =]

What’s next for Joey Sturgis? A day off perhaps?

Actually you are exactly right. A month off actually, for the first time in three years. After that I finish off with Asking Alexandria and then another Sumerian project to be determined (most likely Born Of Osiris). Then hopefully a studio remodel.

Head over to http://joeysturgis.com to get yourself some kick ass drum samples.

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