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Drew Van Buskirk

How Rob Ruccia Stays Ahead of the Curve

By Blog

Rob Ruccia is the epitome of a lifelong musician. After a lengthy career that touched every conceivable corner of the music industry, Rob has maybe made the biggest name for himself in the credits of your favorite plugins and music creation tools. 

Fluent in Pro Tools since version three and always striving to be ahead of the tech curve, Rob has become a go-to engineer for some of the biggest names across the entertainment spectrum. His resume includes everyone from legendary jazz musicians like Daryl Jones and Wallace Rooney to YouTubers like Rob Scallon and Andrew Huang.  

A few months ago, Rob was kind enough to talk to us from his home base at Uptown Recording in Chicago, where he has been the chief engineer for over 20 years. We talked about the early days of recording tech, the dark side of the music industry, and the one lesson you have to keep learning the longer you live in the studio. 

How are you doing on this wonderful Wednesday? 

Pretty good. It’s going to be a busy evening for me, I’ve got a bunch of video syncing I have to do. 

Fun stuff. Let’s get right into it: for those who don’t know, tell us a little bit about yourself.  

Well, I’m a musician first. I became a recording engineer as a way to facilitate getting my music out there. I became a professional touring musician and made a couple of records on major labels, then fell back into the studio and never looked back.  

Do you remember when you first fell in love with the music-making process? 

Growing up there was a piano in my house, so there was always something to push and make noise with, whether it was a pitch noise or a rhythmic noise. My parents allegedly complained about it, but they also fueled it by never taking the piano away. They eventually got me lessons, and even got me a trombone when I wanted to start to play in the school marching band or orchestra. 

Orchestra taught me how to read music, and then I started playing bass. That led me to a metal band, which got me a record deal…and then I realized that it cost way too much money to make records on a record deal, so I learned to do it myself. 

What was the first thing you saw in the studio environment that made you think, ‘This is it’? 

When I saw moving faders for the first time in maybe 1993-1994. I thought I was tripping for a second, like my mind was playing tricks on me. Now of course I know it was MIDI-based automation, and very archaic compared to what’s available now, but it was one of the things that led to me getting bitten by the tech bug. 

It helps that I was already into the computer side of things, and that was where audio was headed at that point. I got in on Pro Tools at version three, which was a lot easier to navigate than a four-track or a cassette-deck recorder, or even analog tape. It was a matter of just finding the fastest way to get my music out. It was a means to an end that led me to this particular end.

Did it purely start as a means to an end, or was there something specific you loved about the process from the beginning? 

I fell in love with Pro Tools because it was like the visual side of music that I was never able to access on tape. Before Pro Tools, you couldn’t see the music you were working on. I know it’s “best practice” to primarily listen while you’re working, but I can read waveforms like a language. I look at a screen and see where the ‘words’ are—they don’t look like words to anybody else, except for people who can read them like I can. 

It’s a passion that I got into because, first and foremost, I like being able to control things and have them automated. Between majoring in acoustic science and my career as a professional musician, I understood the basic premise of how to treat rooms and make things sound good. I eventually started to realize that if my professional music career wasn’t going to make me the rock star I thought I would be, then maybe I could be the wizard behind the curtain. 

How did you end up majoring in acoustic science? Was that always the plan? 

This image shows Rob Ruccia manning the mixing console for a live performance.

Luckily, Columbia also had a pretty well-known local acoustician running the acoustic science program. Since he wasn’t someone I’d be interning for, I decided to study with him. I really wanted to learn about what made sound ‘good’, as well as what made it dangerous and exciting. My final paper was on sonic warfare and the research for that project blew my mind. There are so many ways to destroy stuff with sound. [laughs] But I use it to create. 

Had you worked in studios or recording before you went to college? 

Yeah. My band in high school did our first recordings on an 8-track reel-to-reel, and then it upgraded from there. I had my own Portastudio, then moved to ADAT recording on tape. At that time, computers and digital workstations were super unreliable and very risky to work with—basically, if you didn’t want to lose your whole project, you worked with tape. That was kind of my path to the future of the recording process.   

Was it specifically that element of control and being able to visualize all of it that drew you closer to the studio?  

I really wanted to be able to control what I heard. I’d learned that paying other people to try and get the sound I had in my head was a futile effort. At a certain point, I felt like I was just spinning my wheels. I started to say, ‘What if I could do it myself and get it to sound the way I want?’

Eventually people were willing to pay me to get it to sound the way they wanted. Low-budget projects often came with unrealistic expectations at first, but the bigger-budget projects gave me the kind of control I wanted, so they could have the vision in their head come out in the speakers.  

That’s really where the control factor comes in. Not to say I’m a control freak or anything—it’s just really nice to be able to control every aspect of what ends up going out. A lot of people listen to my work, so it’s rewarding to see the sound I worked on enjoyed by hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. 

“There’s always gonna be the need to have somebody record your stuff and get it out there…After I left the stage, people came to me because they knew that I knew my stuff. I made good-sounding things because I came from a world of good-sounding bands and good-sounding recordings.”

That’s actually a perfect segue into my next question: how did First of October get started? 

First of October was born by accident. I did a project with Rob Scallon before he was a YouTuber. When I first met him, he was just the bass player in a band that came through Uptown Recording. He was just out of high school, maybe even still in high school, at the time. From there, he had me master some of his other projects, and then he eventually brought in a couple of his own YouTube channel projects to do here at Uptown.   

Rob and Andrew [Huang] just decided they wanted to get together and make a record in a day, and they asked me to helm it. They didn’t tell me that they hadn’t written anything at the time, though. I thought they had a record ready to go and they were giving themselves just one day to record it, which is a challenge I would expect from YouTubers, but no. Nothing was prepared—they just kind of came in and went for it. Sure enough, it became a viral thing that led to a second year and then a third and a fourth, going on to the fifth one now. 

Any big plans for the 5th anniversary?

This upcoming year we’re going international again. I can’t spill the beans on it yet, but as an engineer, I am gonna weep when it starts. We’re going to be working in the holy grail of studios.

That’s a really fun teaser. Do you feel like a third member of that band at this point? 

Yeah, and they consider me that. That’s why they brought me to Canada instead of getting a local engineer, and that’s why we’re going on another trip this year. The two of them also now have a new series that came out on April 1st called Sonic Boom. We made 12 episodes in a week up in Canada at this studio called Noble Street, which is a really awesome facility.

Oh that sounds very cool, talk a bit more about that.

The show is like a mini First of October. Each episode is a challenge, with ideas flying around at a breakneck pace until they’ve got something. They rely on me to help them make it happen, because I know what to expect from one of their sessions. At the end of the day, when they’re done throwing a thousand things at me, I can still make it sound like a record.

Speaking of First of October, the “Album in a Day” process is so high-octane and frenetic, yet you never struggle to keep up. Were you always naturally adept at navigating a studio environment, or was it a more gradual development to the point where you were able to handle a session like that? 

Well, the studio environment has naturally adapted to the needs of the people operating them—they’ve gotten increasingly ergonomic, and things are always within reach. 

In the first studio I worked in, I was intimidated by everything. Patch bays, moving faders, microphones on stands with giant counterweights that I had never seen before and wondering why before realizing they’re worth more than my car, that sort of stuff. But always being willing to grow with and adapt to the technology allowed me to get as fast as I am with Pro Tools, which helps facilitate projects like First of October. The days of the 14- to 15-hour studio sessions are kind of gone. 

Can you talk a bit about the process of becoming the head engineer at Uptown Recording?   

My first paid studio gig as an assistant engineer cutting tape at a studio in Illinois called Sound Video Impressions, they were the first studio to have a 16-track tape machine in the ’70s. That was when Pro Tools and this other platform called Sonic Solutions were the first DAWs that people were using to do professional editing from analog dumping. I ended up diving so deep into Pro Tools that my name is actually in the credits of the software because I’ve been a tester for so long.  

I was between 15-16 when I started learning on a four-track, was learning how to automate by 19-20 years old, and then paused at 25 to go on tour with huge bands like Godsmack, Deftones, even Nonpoint, who I still work with now. Then, in about 2002, I fell into Uptown Recording and sort of just made myself chief engineer. 

This image shows off a Ludwig drum kit in the drum room at Chicago's Uptown Recording studio.

When Uptown was founded, there wasn’t anyone there who had the same intimate knowledge of Pro Tools and more modern recording technologies that I did, nor did anyone have a clientele as large as mine. The studio needed business and a chief engineer, so I just jumped in and never looked back.   

Was leaving the stage for the studio always part of your plan?

Yeah, the studio was always part of the plan; the plan was just accelerated when the music industry chewed us up and spit us out, as it does. We were coming from Chicago at the exact time Disturbed got signed, and they’re one of the biggest metal bands that ever broke from Chicago. There were seven other metal bands that got signed at the same time, and they’re the only one that still plays stadium tours. We all got thrown against the wall, and almost all of us fell off the wall.  

That’s what got me thinking more about the behind-the-scenes side of the business. There’s always gonna be the need to have somebody record your stuff and get it out there, and the one that does it better is gonna be the one that gets the business. That definitely translated. After I left the stage, people came to me because they knew that I knew my stuff. I made good-sounding things because I came from a world of good-sounding bands and good-sounding recordings. 

Thinking about all the artists that you have worked with, are there any particular sessions that stand out?

I’ve worked a lot with a pianist and music director named Robert Irving, he was Miles Davis’s music director for 10 years. The sessions I do with him are awesome, he brings in incredible musicians. There’s a bass player he brought in named Daryl Jones who played with Miles and has played bass for the Rolling Stones for a long time. He’s also brought in some guys from Earth Wind and Fire, one of the original singers from the Emotions, just a huge collection of killer, old school, real musicians. They never need any editing—you get a bunch of takes and suddenly you’ve got 19 great options to pick from.  

Those sessions are packed with invaluable information. I remember Wallace Rooney, an amazing horn player who used to work with Miles Davis, as well, gave me all these different tips about mic placement for horns to get the same tone as Miles. That kind of stuff can’t be found in a textbook. 

“I like being able to do things that you can’t actually do in reality.”

Were there any moments working with these legendary musicians where you found yourself in a state of shock, or have you had enough experience where you’re able to just get right into the job? 

Oh sure, there were definitely moments early on where it was like, ‘Oh my god, these are musicians I’ve looked up to my whole life, and now I’m the guy recording them.’ It’s even more surreal as an engineer when these people are giving me compliments and telling me I’m one of the best they’ve worked with. But mostly, I don’t let it faze me. I think that comes from being in a national touring band and running into every major musician at festivals. You can’t be starstruck, because you’re peers at that point. 

In the studio, I’m here to serve them in a way. I go out of my way to make things easy and comfortable for them, even down to making sure their headphones aren’t too loud. Those extra details mean a lot, because seasoned vets will bring up horror stories from other studio spaces they’ve been in. As long as I don’t become the subject of one of those stories, I’ve done my job. 

All right, let’s switch gears. You have a lengthy history of testing products for Pro Tools and other companies, but you’ve been a tester for Slate Digital for a very long time too. Do you remember the first Slate Digital product you tested? 

It was the ML-1 mic. I got Nonpoint to come in in February 2016 to do their first album on Universal. It was huge for me because they booked the entire month. The version of the ML-1 I used with Elias [Soriano, singer for Nonpoint] was a beta version. There’s an album out there with that early ML-1 on it, all just because I was testing it at the right time. 

Eventually, testing the mics got me beta licenses for the entire Virtual Mix Rack, and the rest is history. I love testing hardware—it’s fun to actually physically see the growth in the product. 

Do you have a favorite of the virtual mic models?  

The 67. When I did Sonic Boom with Andrew and Rob up in Canada, Noble Street had a pair of real 67s. I had never used real 67s before, only the models, and I was really pleasantly surprised when everything sounded like I expected it to. They sounded just like my ML-1s.

Speaking of the mics, I remember hearing you talk about a technique you discovered with the ML-1 where you’d automate switching between different models, depending on what kind of sound you wanted in different parts of the song. Could you talk a little bit more about that? 

Yeah, that’s the best accident. I just thought about it in my head: instead of EQ’ing or using things like Soothe or other plugins that are out there to kind of smooth out harsh transients, I figured a darker mic might help. Sure enough, the issue got better, and I didn’t have to automate EQ or anything.

I just got creative with it. I like being able to do things that you can’t actually do in reality. You wouldn’t be able to run into the room and switch mics in-and-out that quickly in real-time; and even if you had two sets of mics on the overheads, they wouldn’t be in the same positions, so you’d have some weird timing shifts or phasing shifts happening.

That’s one of my favorite things about the ML-1: no matter what mic you’re emulating or if you’re setting up a stereo pair, you’re still dealing with individual mics, so understanding how to place them equally and correctly is still important. More and more things are getting removed from the skill set of an engineer because the software can take care of it for you; in this case, I decided to flex my technical know-how and use the software to make the previously impossible, possible.

I do it with horns too: I just did a session where I duplicated all the horn tracks, and then changed the mic on the duplicates and blended the takes between a ribbon mic and a dynamic mic. In the real world, I would never be able to get those in the same or optimal position in front of my horn while keeping everything in phase and time-aligned. It’s just really a helpful tool to experiment with. 

This image shows a view of the main drum room at Chicago's Uptown Recording studio from behind the drum kit.

With that in mind, do you take a hard stance on either side of the “Analog vs. Digital” debate?  

I honestly use whatever sounds best. I often think back to something Chris Lord-Alge said, maybe even in a Slate Academy video, where he said, “Nobody’s gonna die if you turn your treble up to +15.” It’s true. I’m one of those naturally cautious engineers who came from the analog hardware world, so I don’t want to blow up my preamp or have it fail on me because I’ve run some super-hot signal into it. In the virtual world, it literally doesn’t matter. Producers and engineers every day are exploiting the fact that you can have a Neve glowing all day long and it’s not going to die. 

Perfect example: when I was working on Sonic Boom, Rob and Andrew had a real RCA 44 from the late 1930s or early 1940s. It was a super expensive mic, and I felt so nervous touching it. I would never take that mic anywhere or put it in front of anyone I didn’t trust. Meanwhile, with an ML-2, you can get something for $150 that sounds just as good as the original when the software’s applied. That’s a big reason I’m so keen to always be on board and a little ahead with the new stuff:. if it sounds just the same as the vintage, what’s the difference? 

Are there any pieces of advice you’d offer to newer, up-and-coming engineers who are hoping to develop a portfolio as extensive as yours? 

It’s so key as an engineer to have infinite patience. That’s something I find myself struggling with more and more as time goes on. With technology making things so quick and seemingly effortless now, clients expect results so fast, but you have to have the patience to get there. Getting a good result at the end of the day is what the job is all about, but you also don’t want to move so quickly that you’re leaving tons of studio time on the table. As long as you remember to be patient and capitalize as much as possible on the available studio time, you’ll find success in your sessions.  

That feels like as good a place to wrap up as any. You already gave us a couple of nice teasers, but is there anything that you can actually preview for us before I let you go? 

Sure. I’m getting ready to do more Nonpoint recording. They’re going to be working with Chris Collier, who did the last Korn record, so that’s a pretty big deal. I’ve actually turned him on to a bunch of Slate Digital stuff, he’s been using the ML-1 a lot. 

I also got one for Elias from Nonpoint so he doesn’t have to come to the studio to record vocals. That technology was especially key during the COVID lockdowns. Singers could track at home and send me their stems, and I could still use them. It’s nice to work with because while most of the magic is happening in the software, you’re still dealing with hardware. It’s not like an AI coming up with a new Drake and The Weeknd song.  

Meet Transient Shaper!

By Announcements, Blog

We’re thrilled to introduce Transient Shaper, our latest free addition to the Virtual Mix Rack ecosystem. Perfect for tightening drums, boosting bass hits, taming string instrument peaks and gluing sounds together, Transient Shaper is a must-have tool for producers of any genre or experience level.

Though Transient Shaper lives inside the Virtual Mix Rack, you don’t have to be an analog loyalist to make it sing. Transient Shaper is an incredibly flexible sound sculptor that gives you precise control across the entire frequency range of your source. 

How Does It Work?

Transient Shaper does exactly what you expect—and more.

The plugin gives you control over both the transient and sustain of your source sound. Its interface is split into three processing sections: Transient, Sustain, and Output. 

The Transient section features a Gain control to adjust the gain of detected transients. Transient detection is level independent, so you can change the overall level of the track without affecting its behavior. The Warmth knob then adds saturation to the transient. This control is independent from the Gain, so you can add bite to your sound without maxing out your levels. 

The Sustain section features a Gain knob of its own that will either boost or cut the detected tail of your sound. The Transient and Sustain sections are also equipped with Focus sliders that filter the signal and sidechain signal being processed. 

The Output section has its own set of parameters. The Time knob lets you adjust the length of the detected transient or tail of your sound, and the Listen button routes a specific signal path to the output: Transient, Sustain or Out, with all the different processes applied to each portion.

Check out the official trailer below for a quick preview of the plugin, then click here to learn more.

Transient Shaper is available now in Virtual Mix Rack, exclusively in the All Access Pass. To learn more, click here.

Will Yip standing over his workstation at Studio Four.

The Sound of Community: An Interview with Will Yip

By Blog

If you’re looking for authenticity, look no further than Will Yip.

Born and raised in Philadelphia and co-owner of the famed Studio Four in Conshohocken, PA, Yip has amassed a very impressive catalog in his time behind the boards. Having worked with everyone from the endlessly enigmatic songstress Lauryn Hill to metal wunderkinds Code Orange, Yip’s fluency in human connection has translated into a body of work that is defined as much by its sonic variety as it is its collective vulnerability.

“I care about you, and I care about your record,” he shared via video call. Listening to his work, that much is clear. Through his hands-on, personal connection with every artist he works with, each session with Yip is focused on capturing the artist exactly as they are in that given moment in time, as if each record were designed to be its own emotional time capsule.

Speaking to us from Studio Four, we dug deep with Yip for a wide ranging conversation covering (among many things) his humble beginnings, the records that defined his journey, and his undying passion for his hometown—a city and community that never fails to keep him inspired.

Good morning! Happy Thursday. How’s your day so far?

Yo, good morning to you, man. I’m doing well. Busy. This is a busy time, but I’m grateful for it. Can’t complain too much, you know?

Let’s just jump into it. For those who don’t know, tell us a little about yourself. Who is ‘Will Yip’?

That’s a loaded question…eh, we have time today. My name is Will Yip. I’m a music lover, a music fan, a music creator…I just love music, you know. Ever since I picked up a pair of drumsticks for the first time at 11 years old and then started my first band a few years later. That first band put together all of our collective savings—$100 at the time—to record a two song demo at a studio in Northeast Philadelphia. The same way I felt while holding drumsticks for the first time was the same way I felt on the production side of walking into a studio for the first time. Even though it was still like a very humble basement studio. I walked in, I was like, ‘Oh…this is what I want to do.’ 

When did you get your first studio gig?

When I was 13. I went to the head of that same studio and was like, ‘Yo, can I just hang out and get you coffee, clean your bathrooms, whatever you need.’ I just wanted to be in the studio. It was that obsession with being in the studio to absorb music getting made that led to my apprenticeship running the rehearsal rooms.

From there, I started getting into the software and understanding signal flow, and I started building a little home studio in my mom’s basement. I used to hustle, man. I remember a lot of hardcore bands from Philly would rehearse there and record these demos on a cassette. One of those bands was Blacklisted. I went to them and said, “Hey, why don’t you let me record you for free?” And they did. And then they did it a few more times. Soon enough, I was recording a lot of bands’ demos. 

Skipping a few steps, I got an internship at Studio Four in college, and I went back to Blacklisted and told them to demo there for free. I paid for the recording sessions myself because I wanted them in that space. So I recorded the demos, and they called me one day and said, ‘Dude, we’re doing the record with you. We’ll release the demos if we have to.” That record [2009’s “No One Deserves This More Than Me”] was the record that changed my life. That Blacklisted record was the one that brought Title Fight in, which was the one that brought Balance & Composure in, which was the record that brought The Wonder Years in, and so on. Without the people that gave me those opportunities, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today.

The way you speak about Studio Four with such reverence all these years later makes it feel almost meant-to-be. Tell me a little bit more about how it first came into the picture.

It was always my dream to be at Studio Four. Growing up in Philadelphia, I grew up on Fugees records and Lauryn Hill. So many classic hip hop and R&B records were tracked in Philadelphia back in the day, whether it was at Studio Four or elsewhere. And again, I was a studio junkie even when I was 12 years old. I grew up just devouring album credits. I saw the name Studio Four in Philly and was like, ‘Alright, that’s the goal. I’m going to work at Studio Four, and I’m going to die at Studio Four.’ 

But Studio Four wasn’t the first internship I had at Temple [University]. I originally started interning at this other studio called Indre. 

Oh, ok. Then tell me about that internship first.

I actually tell this story to a lot of students to really drive home that point that you really can’t ever take ‘No’ for an answer in this industry. You just have to keep grinding. This studio Indre, they were huge. They were doing all kinds of stuff with the big alternative radio station back then, Y100. They were always doing events with artists like Jimmy Eat World, Mötley Crew, just any and every big rock record you can imagine. Naturally I’m like, ‘Get me in there,’ you know? 

I emailed the student manager to tell them I’d be starting Temple in the Fall and asked if I could intern, or really do anything for free. I just wanted to be there. The reply was just, “No, I’m sorry, we’re full.” That was it. No ‘Check back later,’ nothing. That just didn’t sit right with me. I needed to get into that studio, by any means necessary. So I took my life savings, probably like a thousand bucks at that point, determined to get into that studio and meet those engineers. I booked a session so they could master a record for me…but the record was already mastered. It was probably my best sounding thing at that point. 

I brought it in and the engineer put it up and went, “Holy shit, man. This sounds pretty good. Where did you track this?” I’m like, ‘In my mom’s basement.’ He goes, “What? This sounds better than most of the stuff we grab in the A room.” I told him if he ever needed help, I would take care of it for free. He asked if I was available to run the preamps for a live session he was doing that weekend. That session was in ‘06 for a band called The Fray. 

So I kind of parlayed that to Studio Four. This is proof that Phil’s the best. He said “It’s an open door policy. Just show up.” I showed up that day. I’d never been to Conshohocken before in my life, but I drove there and waited for them to show up. And I never left. Before I knew it, in 2013, I bought half the studio and became a partner. 

The studio just became a part of me, man. I never knew it would bring me this far. From working with Atlantic Records for six years and now having an imprint with them to owning a drum company, to partnering up with incredible brands and being able to co-write, produce and play on hundreds of records by now is pretty nuts.

It was right around that moment of you establishing yourself as a permanent fixture at Studio Four that you were, perhaps unknowingly, shaping the sound of alternative and emo music that would define the early 2010’s. Hindsight being 20/20, do any sessions from all those years ago stand out as particularly foundational to your career path?

I would have to say in 2012 when I got two specific records out of nowhere: Title Fight’s “Floral Green” and the first Circa Survive record I did [“Violent Waves”]. That was really a life-defining moment for me as much as it was a career-defining one. 

Even though I knew I was gonna be making records for the rest of my life, “Floral Green” was the first record where I felt my confidence grow in being the music collaborator that I always wanted to be. I really felt like I was coming into my own at that point. That was the first record where I truly felt like the fifth member, and I was like, “This is everything I want out of making music.” 

Then right after that was Circa Survive. “Floral Green” really primed me for that experience, because at that time, Circa was one of the biggest bands in the space. They just got off a record with Atlantic Records. Before Circa and Title Fight, I’d never done anything by myself that big, aside from helping on sessions for Lauryn Hill or The Fray. These were the first records that were wholly our records. 

Did those stakes add a level of pressure that was higher than you might have anticipated, or did you not really have time to worry about that?

Oh I definitely felt pressure, but I always live like that. For me, every record I do is the most important thing I have to do. That’s how I go into every record. But after those two back-to-back, I felt like I could make any record I wanted to.

It seems to me that the ethos at the core of the Philly scene is one of ceaseless energy. The way bands from that area approach every phase of the process seems so molecular, their drive is so intense. Do you see that hard-nosed mentality manifest in the studio in a way that is unique to people who come out of that space?

I do, and it’s special. And for better or for worse, I feel like I definitely fall into that category. I always tell bands, if we’re gonna do a record, just know I’m gonna outwork you. That’s my goal. I’m gonna make sure I’m the hardest working person in this room, because I care about you and your record.

I’ve always believed your external environment influences your inner environment, you know what I mean? I’ve spent a lot of time making music on the West Coast, I love it out there. I spend a lot of time making music down South, in the Midwest; I’ve done three records in Chicago, for months at a time. And everywhere’s different—Chicago reminds me a good bit of Philly, in terms of their vibe. But that Philly grind, man, it’s a real thing.

For a while in the mid 2010s, it was like ‘Why are all these bands coming out of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, like, what’s what’s going on over there?’ The answer is nothing. If I grew up in New York, I’d be partying all the time as a kid. If I grew up in LA, I’d be out on the beach chilling. But in places like Doylestown…what the fuck else is there to do other than what you’re passionate about? For a lot of those people, they’re passionate about making records.

Let’s talk about making records, specifically some of the more technical stuff. When you think back to that home recording space, do you remember the first piece of gear that you invested in?

I do! I had a computer and I asked my mentor, like, ‘Where should I start?’ He said I needed an interface. So at this point, again, I had basically no money. I cobbled together what I’d made from those $5 an hour sessions and spent what I had.

The first piece of gear I bought was an M-Audio 1010LT sound card with eight analog inputs. I bought that, a Beta 52, an SM57 and I bought this really crappy little live mixer, I don’t even remember what console it was, and that’s how I recorded everything at that point. It was just a 57 and a kick. In fact, I still have that Beta 52, and I use it to this day. It’s on every record I’ve made, which is kind of wild to think about.

With such an early connection to analog, do you have a preference between working in the box vs. out of the box, or are you all about using whatever fits the session best, regardless if it’s hardware or software?

You know, funny enough, I’m working on a session right now and have some Slate Digital plugins up. They’re literally on my screen right now.

Oh, sick. Can you tell me what you’ve got pulled up?

So right now I’m editing some drums, and I’m looking at my Virtual Mix Rack, which is on the shells. I literally just have an FG-Stress and a Custom Series EQ on it, and that’s it. The Distressor has definitely been an integral part of my taste in recent years, both the hardware and software. 

I also have FG-X 2 on my mix bus, which has become my favorite maximizer. In fact, when we send things to mastering engineers without FG-X 2 on it, they ask me to send back another version with the FG-X 2 back on because they like what it’s doing. Really it’s just part of the mix now. That’s become a big part of my workflow. 

Yip in the Studio Four control room.

How has your workflow evolved since you first started at Studio Four? When you first started running sessions, was there any part of studio time that you gravitated towards the most? Is there a favorite part of the recording or mixing editing process that you still look forward to?

I have two favorite parts, and they’re both a little more on the song-centric side. First of all, I love the pre-production phase. Artists come to me because my goal is to be the architect of the pre-production. It’s a very extensive part of what I do. I love the big picture. 

I compare it to being an architect because my goal the second we get in the room is to draw up the plan. We play the song, we sing the song, and then we kind of go, how do we make this better? As an engineer, your job is to take what’s great and elevate it. So, we’re thinking, ‘Does this need to change? Does a key need to change? Do we need a new chorus? Do we need a new melody?’ I really love that part of the process; even though I am an audio nerd, I’m more of a song nerd. For me, the song comes first.

That doesn’t mean that the production and the engineering aren’t a really close second, but the song is paramount. I don’t like moving on until we’re all fully sold on a song. We’re investing a lot of money and a lot of time, and you’re gonna be playing these songs for the next forever, so let’s make sure you’re happy playing these songs. Let’s map it out, and take this record song by song. Once a song is written, we pre-pro it and put it on a grid. After the first day or two of hearing two songs fully done, you kind of already know what the record is going to be. That part’s really fun for me, I’m getting excited just talking about it. 

The other part of the process I love most is finally hearing the top line and tracking vocals. Most of the time, especially on a rock record, the final stage of the song is grabbing this vocal, grabbing the top line and saying, ‘Holy shit, this is it. This is the song.’  Those are my favorite moments. Anthony Green and I talk about it all the time. We used to do a song a day, that was our goal; write a song and capture it, or finish engineering and producing a song. By the end of the day, we had to be hugging high fiving. If we weren’t, we didn’t do our job…but we always did. Every day we’d be like, ‘This is the best song we’ve ever done! Let’s do another one tomorrow.’

When you look at your work with bands like Turnstile or Turnover, their sound has morphed considerably with each release. What is it like seeing these artists blossom in that way, and how much does your role in the process foster that progression?

That’s honestly one of my favorite parts about collaborating with human beings. You know what I mean? I’m not the fool to say, ‘Let’s do something different just to be different.’ That’s not what I’m about. I’m all about, ‘What record do we want to make right now?’ Of course the music should grow, and I welcome that. I don’t run away from it. As long as the songs are good, it doesn’t matter. Let’s make the best songs we can.

For example, on this new Turnover record, we listened to a lot of psychedelic music and a lot of disco. I’m like, all right, this record is going to feature a weird hybrid of sounds and influences, but I also know the songs and the hooks are still gonna be there, because that’s what we do. My job is to see what they’re inspired by and build the sonic experience that they want. The experience that Turnover wants to create now when they’re pushing 30 is different than it was when they were 16, as it should be. If you’re making a record with me, I just want to capture the natural growth that you’re experiencing. I want each record we make to be a classic, timeless timestamp of your life. 

Since the goal is to put these individual life timestamps to tape, is there any part of the process that manages to translate pretty similarly from artist to artist? Or is it an inherently unique experience every time?

I would say more so the latter. The singer from Turnover and the singer from Turnstile are very different people, so the same process won’t work for two minds like that. That’s valid and important for me to remember. They’re artists just like myself, so it’s my job to make sure that we’re doing the thing that’s gonna be most conducive for maximum creativity for the person in the room. 

I learned that from working with Lauryn Hill. She never wanted to move on to another song without finishing the one we were working on. Like, her mind couldn’t leave that thing until she was done. I really respected that. It made sense to me, like let’s live in the song. I remember growing up and making punk records like we all did: we booked studio time, recorded all the drums, then the bass, then the guitars…and I’m like, yo, that’s not how people make hip hop records. No one’s just programming all their drums for a whole album, that doesn’t make any sense. Instead, it’s about maximizing how good each individual song is. 

All of that to say, not only am I approaching each artist differently, I’m approaching every song differently, you know what I mean? I treat rock songs the same way I treat making hip hop beats, looking at what each song needs. That’s why I have 125 guitars in my collection; on Turnover’s “Peripheral Vision,” there were songs that had like 15 different guitars on it because one wasn’t right. Probably the only thing that’s consistent from band to band is the Neve console I’m recording them on, but the processes are consistently different. 

Thinking about your approach to pre-production and your arms-wide-open embrace of artistic progression, I’d love to talk about Code Orange for a second. The album “Underneath” is a totally unique listening experience. What was the recording process like working with those musicians and experimenting with so many different styles and sounds? 

I say what I’m about to say with love, and we talk about this all the time…Code Orange is the most stressful band that I’ve ever worked with. 

When you get guys that have a lot of big ideas, quite often there’s not that much vision behind them. With Code Orange, it’s the opposite. Jami [Morgan, Code Orange’s frontman] is a genius, he has so many ideas. That’s why he has a co-production credit on all those records, because it really is coming from his mind. 

He has out-of-this-world ideas, but they always have intention, they always have a path. Jami won’t suggest an idea without knowing how we can achieve it. He really pushes me as an engineer, and we work really well together. “Forever”, the record beforehand, was kind of that first step into exploring all of these ideas he had—“Underneath” was like that on steroids. He wanted to make a record that was unlike anything else. 

Can you tell me a little about what the songwriting process was like for that record?

“Underneath” was probably one of the wildest record making experiences I’ve ever had in my life, in the best way. There were no rules with Code Orange. Jami wanted something that headbanged like a Travis Scott record and had more effects and keyboards than a Nine Inch Nails record, but was still a metal record that had more bite than any metal record. I’m like, how do we put all this together while still having real drums in there? It was this puzzle that, at times I wasn’t sure we could figure out, but we didn’t stop.

We spent five weeks doing the pre-pro, basically recording the record the first time. Then, we came back here for finishing touches and mixing after they went to Nick Rascal in Nashville to track the basics. I forget how long that second phase of making the record took, but it was longer than the pre-pro stage, because so much of the production stuff happened in the mix. Everything was so meticulous. We set up their brilliant guitarist/keyboardist/producer Shade in the SSL room with Omnisphere, and he would spend upwards of six hours working on sounds based on references Jami and I gave him. Every single sound you hear on that record had that much intent behind it.

Let’s talk about intent behind sound design for a second. One reason I’ve always gravitated towards your work is that, even though each record in your catalog sounds distinctly different, they all have a signature warmth and color to them. Is that a deliberate effort on your end? Is that a sort of natural signature that comes out of your process?

I think it’s just what my ears gravitate to, you know what I mean? I could talk tech for hours but I’ll try to keep it brief. We’ll take the Neve 1081, for example. I’ve used millions of pre amps in my life…my ears don’t react the same way to those as they do to the 1081. It has this character that I just love. There’s a unique, gooey midrange to records that were tracked through there that sounds more musical to me.

In a world where everyone runs from mid-range, it’s not that I necessarily lean into it, I just really like its color. I think when people scoop your sonar frequency and people scoop your 600 Hz, that’s cool, but that doesn’t mean the 750 Hz should go with it! There’s a lot of music there. And that’s what makes you an engineer, man—being able to really get surgical and find these spots that are tasteful and dripping with feeling.

I’m never gonna run away from what my ears tell me, and my ears want me to make what Lauryn Hill called “human music.” There’s records out there, you know, that are larger than life and very bombastic, and that’s cool; some of my own records lean in that direction. But at the heart of everything, all I want to know is how the music’s gonna touch someone’s soul the quickest. Whatever the answer, that’s how I want it to sound.

What’s some ‘human music’ that you’ve worked on recently that you’re particularly excited about?

We’ve got some big stuff in the works over at Memory [Music, Yip’s record label]. We just released two brand new Balance and Composure tunes in April, so that’s huge. Webbed Wing is coming up too, that’s a new project from the Superheaven guys. We put out a new EP a few months ago, and they went from 20,000 to almost a hundred thousand monthly listeners overnight, you know, because people heard it and said, ‘Oh shit, this is special.’ 

We’ve also got this band that’s just rolling out right now called Flycatcher, they’re so catchy, so good. They also have a new EP out that I think people will fall in love with. 

Let’s see…I recently did a live session with a band called Heart to Gold whose energy is just undeniable. Oh, and I just finished a record with a band called Scowl where we took a big creative leap that people are loving and respecting so far. They’re gonna be a powerhouse, that band.

Well, we’ve covered a ton of ground here today. I guess to leave things off, what’s, what’s next for you that you can share with us?

Next up for me is to continue growing everything we’ve started. I’m never stagnant, I make records every day. I treat every record like it’s the most important thing in my life. We have a lot of things coming up that I never thought I would have the opportunity to do. Owning a drum company, running a record label, signing bands, then helping those bands build records…I think that’s just a testament to the strength of our community. I never wanted to be pigeonholed as just an engineer or producer, just like a lot of people in bands don’t want to be pigeonholed as just a “band guy.” We’re all music makers, and I just want to be making music. 

I’m really stoked about some new stuff we’re working on in Philly. People forget that Philly is the indie rock and alternative capital of the world. Mitski, Japanese Breakfast, War on Drugs, Menzingers, Mannequin Pussy, Tigers Jaw, the list goes on…two or three years ago, they were all living in Philadelphia, making music in Philadelphia at the same time. This city is special because it’s a place where musicians can still invest in themselves without sacrificing the music. They don’t have to mortgage their lives for their art the way they might in other big cities. You still invest in your lives while, you know, having a scene to build from. 

That’s why my goal is to give Philly even more resources, so that maybe your next Menzingers doesn’t have to leave; so that if someone wants to do writing or collaborating sessions, that there is a community to do it here. My big thing right now is sharing my resources and helping other people make great music. I want to do whatever I can do to help people make the best music they can.