Posted: October 16, 2008
By Bob Grossweiner & Jane CohenCanadian mixer/engineer/producer Mike Fraser is anxiously awaiting the new AC/DC album to be released on October 20. The first single, "Rock 'N' Roll Train," was released on Aug. 28. He has recorded and mixed the last four AC/DC albums. Mike has also mixed four Metallica albums.
Mike's name is as synonymous with recording and mixing records as Gibson is to the world of guitars. The artists he has recorded and mixed over his 25 years in many recording studios around the world, is a veritable A to Z of the who's who in music. From AC/DC and Aerosmith all the way to Van Halen and Led Zeppelin. Leafing through the pages of Mike's resume is like following the top of the charts over almost three decades. He began his career as an engineer at Little Mountain Sound in Vancouver, B.C. working with legendary producers Bruce Fairbairn and Bob Rock. His easy-going manner and killer ears have established him as a legendary mixer in many genres of music - most notably rock.
Mike has spent the last few years working on different styles of music, from metal to country to singer/songwriters. A few of his recent credits include Franz Ferdinand, Elvis Costello, Norah Jones, Sam Roberts, State of Shock, Kelly Rowland as well as AC/DC. Mike also loves working with up and coming acts including The Dudes, Art of Dying, Hail The Villain and The Fast Romantics.
What did you do before you became an engineer?
When I got out of school I drove trucks and bulldozers for my father's logging company. Previously I played guitar in a small garage band while in school, so when work slowed down in the winters, I re-thought what my goals were and decided I wanted to explore the music angle more. I got a job at Little Mountain Sound in Vancouver as a janitor just to get my foot in the door, and it just kind of grew from there.
Which do you prefer most: engineering, mixing or producing?
I like doing it all. Mixing is most rewarding. As for producing, I'm not musically trained so I choose bands that don't need a lot writing input. I can definitely contribute to arrangements, but I generally choose really solid bands that have great songs and are ready to go right into the studio. Engineering is a large part of the process of capturing the essence of the band. Tracking is great for being a part of the recording and the creative process, and it can be a lot of fun, but mixing is my passion and my forte.
What makes a good engineer?
Someone with a lot of patience, a good listener and a master's degree in psychology! Ha-ha. A good engineer is someone that is able to take direction from producers, labels, management and the band, depending on the situation, and apply it to the recording or mix. The engineer must be able to get the artists sonic vision from their mind and mouth and turn it into a reality.
How can a mixer enhance a project?
|A sample of Mike's Credits |
Artist, Album, Label, Credit, Year
Franz Ferdinand, TBA, Domino, M, 2008
AC/DC, Rockband video game, Harmonix/Sony, M, 2008
AC/DC, Black Ice, Sony, E/M, 2008
AC/DC, No Bull, 5.1 DVD, Sony, M, 2008
AC/DC, Plug Me In, 5.1 DVD, Sony, M, 2008
AC/DC, Stiff Upper Lip, Elektra, E/M, 2000
AC/DC, Ballbreaker, Elektra, Co-P/E/M, 1995
AC/DC, Razors Edge, Atco, E/M, 1990
Kelly Rowland, "Unity" (single), Columbia, M, 2008
Elvis Costello, iTunes – live acoustic set, E/M, 2007
Aerosmith, Pump, Geffen, M, 1989
Aerosmith, Permanent Vacation, E/M, 1987
Metallica, Load, Elektra, M, 1996
Metallica, Reload, Elektra, M, 1997
Metallica, Garage Inc., Elektra, M, 1998
Metallica, Live Shit: Binge and Purge, Elektra, M, 1993
Van Halen, Balance, Warner Bros., M, 1995
Joe Satriani, Crystal Planet, Epic, P/E/M, 1998
Coverdale/Page, Coverdale/Page, Geffen, Co-P/E/M, 1993
The Cult, Sonic Temple, Sire, E/M, 1989
The Cult, Ceremony, Sire, E/M, 1991
E: Engineer M: Mixer P: Producer
A mixer works on the final stage of the project. The song can sometimes make it or not depending on what he does. The mixer enhances the bands performance and hopefully makes the music shine. Again it's that communication from the band and producer to the mixer and understanding exactly where they want to enhance the dynamic of the song. If they want the chorus to open-up and soar or if they want the bridge for example to be a different soundscape the mixer needs to be on the same page as them and deliver what they envisioned. With effects and levels, a mixer can create different atmospheres that help enhance the song.
Do you have a certain mixing style or sound?
I don't think I do. I try not to put my mark on things. The band should sound like themselves and not like me. It sometimes helps to see the band perform live so I can get a real sense of what they're about. I love working on tracks that are real and a great representation of the band. Too often mixing projects come to me that are 200+ tracks, and it's difficult to see and hear what the band and producer were going for. A lot of classic music has been made on 16 tracks. AC/DC is always under 48 tracks. When I'm mixing, I like to bring out their sound, and it's hard sometimes when you can't even find their sound.
How do you get your jobs?
Having worked in this business for almost 30 years, I get a portion of my work from word of mouth. My website and "myspace" (www.mikefrasermix.com / www.myspace.com/fraserproductions) are fantastic tools. People can find me, and I can hear up and coming bands that maybe in the past wouldn't have found their way to me. So technology has been cool in the sense of making it easier for people to find me and for me to hear their music. But finding work is also lot of hard work on my manager Mimi Northcott's part to keep digging for those cool projects and to keep my name out there and current. I don't work with a single producer per se, but I do work a lot with fellow local producer Jeff Dawson, who has produced State of Shock and Marcy Playground. He and I have a great working vibe and really compliment each other.
How do you decide who you want to work with?
I love working on pretty much anything. I try to balance the big projects with smaller up and coming bands. I like to work with bands that work hard and are really serious about their music. The last couple of years I decided to broaden my focus and work on styles of music other than rock, from country to alternative acts. It's been a blast and has opened a lot of doors into other genres. I still really like working on rock music, but it's nice to have a change now and again. I just mixed tracks for Franz Ferdinand, which is really exciting, and was a lot of fun to work on.
How did the AC/DC job come about?
I've worked with AC/DC for about 18 years now. From recording and mixing four AC/DC studio records, a number of live records--Donington, Plug Me In and No Bull--to overseeing the mastering of their back catalog, from High Voltage to Razors Edge. The first record I worked on with them in late 1989, Razor's Edge, the band had approached producer Bruce Fairbairn to add his magical touch. Bruce and I had worked a lot together at the time--Loverboy, Aerosmith--so it was a natural fit. I've been fortunate enough to continue to work with them over the years including tracking and mixing their upcoming album "Black Ice" and their Rockband video game I just mixed for Harmonix.
Is there a different or new sound to the AC/DC project?
AC/DC has their own sound that never really changes. That's part of the band's charm. All of their records have slightly different flavors but not really a new sound. When they come into the studio and plug in and start to play, you get hit by a huge sonic wall of sheer rock n' roll energy. If you've ever seen them live, you'll know what I mean. Just imagine that energy playing just for you in an intimate setting like the studio! Sometimes I think I have the best job in the world.
Have you mixed any live albums?
I've done quite a few live albums: Joe Satriani, G3, Metallica, AC/DC, Motley Crue, Finger 11, Sam Roberts, Rush, Blue Man Group etc. A lot of them mixed in 5.1 Surround Sound. It's often bigger acts that do live records, and I love it. You get to have a visual where usually it's all audio for me. So yes, it's like watching a concert and being a part of the big show.
What's the difference in working in 5.1 Surround Sound and other formats?
When mixing in 5.1 you have a broader scope in which to place the instruments. Instead of having only two speakers--left and right--to place all the instruments you have five speakers--left front, left rear, right front, right rear, and center. I can place an instrument anywhere in the spectrum I want. For most live 5.1 mixes I prefer to do a super wide stereo placement. My feeling is you're watching the band on the stage and want to hear the sound in front of you, not have a guitar or something appear from the rear. The audience tracks can be full surround and that gives you the feeling of being there.
First concert attended
Deep Purple in 1974 at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, British Columbia.
First live recorded concert
In the early ‘80s working with such engineers as Roger Monk and Bob Rock. I worked with Roger on a group called The Nylons. They were a well-known acapella group at the time. Bob Rock and I would occasionally record his band, The Payolas, at a local Vancouver bar.
First industry job
I started working at Little Mountain Sound in Vancouver, B.C. in late 1978. There were no openings for studio work there at the time, but they needed a janitor so I thought at least this is a foot in the door. I took the job. I flipped the mints in the urinals, vacuumed floors and helped out in the studios every second I could. I even ended up sleeping there in the loading bay with a sleeping bag for over a year.
Working with Aerosmith, AC/DC and Jimmy Page.
Not being able to do it all. I hate saying no to projects that I just don't have the time to get to. Everyone has a timetable they're working with, and it doesn't always jive with the time I've available.
Keeping it fresh. The hours can get grueling sometimes. It's a challenge sometimes, but because I love doing this so much it never really gets me down for too long.
Best business decision
Changing to my current management company. Mimi Northcott and Bree Cassidy just rock.
Best advice you received
Love what you do, you'll be doing it a long time
Mistake that you have learned from
Get agreements on paper and have a great lawyer. I've been burned too many times.
Most memorable industry experience
Working with AC/DC. They have got to be the best band in the world. Some of the nicest guys you'd want to work with and their music speaks for itself.
Industry pet peeve
Having my mixes ultimately turned into MP3's. That's not how it's meant to be heard. I wish they would figure out a way to offer full bandwidth higher quality files. Most of the public don't realize MP3's are a lesser quality.
If I wasn't doing this, I would be...
...I've wanted to get my pilots license for a long time now. The hours and commitment I have to music doesn't allow me enough time to pursue this dream--yet.
Bob Rock, Bruce Fairbairn and John Vrtacic.
Mike can be reached at: 604-985-0679; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org