Club Can't Hear: Mixing & Mastering with Jared Leopard

Unspeakable Records is teaming up with CLUB CANT HEAR to support all participants enrolled in our artist development programs! Producers and songwriters currently enrolled in Sonic Identity or Daily Loop now have the ability to ask session-specific mixing & mastering questions that will be answered with a custom video response by expert engineer Jared Leopard. 

Jared is the founder/lead engineer at Club Can't Hear, and has mastered for labels + artists on Mad Decent, Sony Music Group, TAR, and Red Bull Music Academy, to name a few. We sat down with the Andorra-based engineer to talk plugins, common mixing mistakes, and healthy workflow practices. Read the full conversation below!

 

What inspired you to become an audio engineer?

That’s a really hard question. I actually don’t think anything necessarily “inspired” me to become
an audio engineer. It was just kind of something that I fell into when I was producing my own
tracks and writing for other artists as well.

There was a time when I was doing weekly beat challenges with the TeamSupreme crew around 2013, and the songs that I would get put in-between of would sound so incredible and loud and just knock so hard, meanwhile mine were incredibly lacking. So from there, I wanted the songs I made to stack up and sound just as good, and even better than that! That’s kind of how I fell down the rabbit hole of audio engineering, and by chance it ended up being something I am really passionate about.

What is the biggest mistake you see most producers make when self-mixing or mastering
their music?

The first thing would be not cleaning up your sounds. By that, I mean reductive EQ’ing, which is
by far the easiest and most effective thing you can be doing to your own songs and productions
that will get you an infinitely better sounding result than just boosting (additive EQ) over the bad
frequencies.

When you have a 20-30+ track project you’re working on, and you are not religiously High
Cutting and Low Cutting, all of that low-end rumble is gonna be building up, all of that high end
wish-washy swirly air is going to be building up, and you’re going to have such a messy mix.
Lack of reductive EQ is one of the things I see and hear the most that is the biggest mistake
producers make when self-mixing their stuff.

The second thing for the mastering side is: Putting iZotope Maximizer or FabFilter Pro-L on the
master and just cranking down on the limiter to get it REALLY LOUD. Limiting is not the only
way to get a song sounding “loud” and it’s easy to hear when producers are just slapping
limiters on their master to get a loud sound. Proper Mid Side EQ’ing, Saturation, Compression,
Multi-band Compression, Mid-Side Compression, Multi-band Saturation, Stereo Imaging, etc.
etc. etc. Those are just some pieces of a properly done master, and each one is going to be
different and not every master is going to need every plug-in in the world, but there is so much
more than just slapping a limiter on the master.

What is your favorite plugin in your arsenal?

Hands down its SoundToys Decapitator, it’s this really kick-ass single band saturator with a
single drive knob and 5 different ‘flavors’ of saturation to choose from that are all modeled after
vintage analogue compressors. Super easy to use, and incredibly powerful. I use it on
everything.

Another one is probably iZotope Alloy 2, it’s my desert island plugin. It’s a single plugin that’s
got 2 EQ’s, a transient designer which can be single or multi-band, 2 compressors, de-esser
and a limiter, all in one plugin. It’s insane. I’m pretty sure they discontinued it and now they
changed it to their “neutron” plugin which is like the same thing with more bells and whistles, but I just fell in love with Alloy 2.

Tell us about your workflow. Do you have any pre-session rituals or tricks to combat ear
fatigue as you mix?

If you are not taking ear breaks every 40 or 50 minutes, you’re making a huge mistake. All the
best guys in the industry I learned from are ritually taking breaks every 40-50 minutes. Just get
up, step away from the session, go outside, sit on the couch, don’t listen to anything or listen to
something completely opposite to the style of what you are working on. 5-10 minute break and
you’re feeling great. It’s very easy to get sucked into a mix and spend hours on it without
stepping back, but the problem with this is, if you don’t step back occasionally and listen to the
song with a fresh perspective, it’s easy to go down a lane or direction that you might not be
happy with going down, and you don’t realize it until you’ve stepped back 3 hours later and
realize “Oh.. yeah this is kind of crap”. So for that reason, ear breaks are a ritual to help with
fatigue.

Something I also was taught was to have around 3 sessions going at the same time. When you’ve
made progress on one mix and things are going well and you suddenly hit a wall with it, don’t
fight it. Just load up another session, and start working on that one and make progress on that
mix until the same thing happens. You kind of rotate around 2-3 mixes at the same time and it
keeps you fresh so you aren’t hammering your ears with the same loop of a chorus section of
the same song for hours and hours.

You're also an accomplished photographer, with work featured in Street Dreams Magazine,
Elle, Ninja Tune, and so many more respected publications. How does your visual work
influence your music or vice versa?

It’s probably cliche but coming from a photography background you obviously see things
incredibly visually (duh), and I’ve found that this has helped me tremendously in the audio
engineering world. You can really paint an image with sound, you can make things sound really
far away, you can create valleys, you can have things sound all around you like you’re in a
cave, you can make something sound really wet, or really dry, and for me personally- having
that photography background really lets me “visualize” what I would like to “hear” and then start
painting that image with sound.

If you could work with any artist (living or dead), who would it be?

Justin Timberlake, man, working on his vocal recordings would be awesome. He’s such a
talented vocalist I think being able to mix his vocals would be awesome. He’s basically made
your job already easy since you don’t need to do so much correction and you can skip to the fun
creative side!

Jim Morrison as well, just because at the time, with the equipment that was available, and the
unique style of his voice would be such a thrill working with him and The Doors in that type of
environment.

What are some of your favorite tracks that you've worked on?

I spent about a year working with a really talented artist named Jade Statues. We were able to take our time going back and forth between his production and my mix/mastering and the result was something very beautiful. He was a Red Bull Music Academy alumni so the EP ended up being premiered on Red Bull which was really cool.

Also working with Paul Preston (PBDY) who runs the LA label TAR which is awesome. He’s always sending me clips and previews of new talent and artist he’s releasing with TAR, and being able to have my hands on the mastering side of that is some of the craziest music I’ve worked on.

Do you have anything new on the horizon that we should keep an ear out for?

That’s the thing about being a mixing/mastering engineer, there is so much awesome stuff you
get to hear before anyone else! The downside to that is, sometimes it doesn’t release until 8
months later!

There’s a gorgeous release I’m working on with TK Kayembe with an artist named Smooth,
absolutely beautiful vocals on that. I’ve actually just teamed up with TK’s new music group
named THISISWINWIN. I’m doing all their mastering with some mixing help on the side. Everything he has shown me that he is planning to release through there is mad. Summer charts type stuff, very cool.

There are tons more but, you’ll just have to wait and hear! Thanks so much for this Q&A Kate!

 

Want to learn more from Jared? We're honored to have him as one of our guest speakers in Sonic Summer 2018! Registration for the program is now open with limited spaces available. Follow the link below for more information on how to participate: