Switching CapsExclusive Interview with Yoad Nevo
Versatility can be seen from different angles and perspectives but there's a strong advantage to it : it gives a solid richness to the experience of life. In that sense we could say Israeli born UK producer Yoad Nevo is a very versatile and experienced music craftsman who wanted to share his thoughts and musical activities with us. We obviously couldn't be happier.
Bootz : Hey Yoad! What are you working on at the moment?
Yoad Nevo : I am currently mixing with Sia and Leftboy and I recently finished producing albums for an English indie band from Devon called These Reigning Days and for a German electro-pop due called Glasperlenspiel. Apart from that I'm developing for Waves Audio, so my work is very diverse and I love it that way.
We would like to go back to the start, the beginning of your career. I’ve read that you started in Israel, can you explain how you began in this industry?
When I was 16-17, I heard about this engineering school and I went there for a full year. It was more like a course, really, for 8 months or so. Then they heard that one of the biggest studios in Tel-Aviv was looking for an assistant engineer and they recommended me for the job, which was a very lucky break for me, because it was one of the coolest places. Unfortunately it doesn’t exist anymore... But I started working there, basically assisting, I was 17...
|Back in those days, everything was obviously done in the studio, there was nearly no work done at home or any other place. So I spent one year in the studio.|
It’s pretty young.
It’s pretty young, yeah. I learnt a lot. Although I didn’t assist for a very long time because on one of the session - which was one of the biggest artists - the engineer received a phone call - like in the stories ! (Laughs) - and had to leave in the middle of the session. And so the producer said : "Do you think you can take over the session?" and I said : "Sure, no problem at all!". And I was like shitting my pants, really!! (Laughs) Well I somehow managed to survive the session; it was like guitar overdubs and obviously on tape, you had to be very careful not to erase anything... After that I took over the session and I ended up co-producing and engineering the whole album, which was crazy because I was 17,18. And it was a very major artist in Israel. It’s funny because tonight I have a dinner with this producer who basically gave me this break so many years ago...
This album took a while, it took a year to finish. Back in those days, everything was obviously done in the studio, there was nearly no work done at home or any other place. So I spent one year in the studio. After that, I felt like I didn’t want to go back assisting other people so I just left the studio to become a freelancer. I was very young and I didn’t have many contacts. So I just sat by the phone for a year and nothing happened! But then I started picking up some freelance work and I produced another kind of pop act which became very successful and then started mixing and mixing for another 13 years or so, solid, for 18 hours a day, lots of mixing and producing- an album a year or producing some singles. And it was crazy. I used to have assistants that I really liked in 2 or 3 studios in Tel-Aviv. I used to come and record the rhythm sections, the first 3-4 days, let them do the overdubs and then come back to mix it. So I could maximize the time and then I could just mainly mix it. I did 10 to 12 albums a year. It was mad! But I learnt a lot because Israel is a small country and you get to do every style of music, not just one. It’s not like a rock engineer or something. These days it’s more like that but in those days I got to experiment with a lot of musical styles as an engineer and as a mixer. Which was great because I think it contributed a lot to my spectrum and my knowledge and also to the confidence in engineering so I can do everything from classical music to whatever, ethnic music, world music, rock, pop... As a producer, I think that was a major thing to learn all the skills.
Like I said Israel is a very very small market and after a while you feel like doing the same thing over and over again - because I was working with the biggest artists here. I felt like going round and round... I think in France it’s a little bit the same because you have artists which are kind of growing old but the audience goes with them so you have old artists and they keep releasing another album and another album... And I was doing all these albums with, I don’t know, the 4 biggest artists, again and again and although it was good money and good facilities but...
You needed some fresh air?
Exactly. So I decided to move to London, to start over again basically, to start fresh. And that’s what I did in 1998.
So you had the traditional path from assistant to engineer, to producer, in Israel. Then you go to London and try to develop something new. But can you remember the first time when you had something big, in Israel or in the UK?
Well I don’t think you ever know when something gets big. Or maybe it’s the opposite. I mean, there have been so many times that I’ve done something and I felt like : "This is really big!" And then nothing happens! (Laughs) So I would say that happens as often as something becomes a real hit so it’s hard to know! It’s hard to know when you are working on something because there are so many factors like marketing, timing and things that are not related to the actual music. Obviously I try to make everything the best I can to make it sound amazing, so it would have the starting point, the potential for becoming a hit. But after that, it’s not in my power. So I don’t think along those terms anymore. I just try to make it amazing and then hope it will become a hit. And sometimes it happens! Then I’m very happy obviously. (Laughs)
In your case it happened many times!
Well, yeah, quite a few!
|Every time I do a version of something - whether it’s just recording drums, doing a rough mix, doing a mix or a mastering, recording vocals...- I ask myself : "Is this the best way that this song could sound?"|
Just before coming back to the London subject, when you moved to London, what did you discover there? What did you learn, compared to what you experienced before in Israel?
I think I arrived in a sort of late era of big productions with big budgets and all that. In that sense it was kind of the same. So the whole market transition really happened while I was already in London. So I experienced most of that in London. Obviously in London the industry is much much bigger than in Israel so you have a lot of producer management which in Israel, there’s not a real need for something like that. There’s maybe one or two but in London there are so many different, I don’t know, groups of people because the city is so big... You can work a lifetime in East London for example and that could be enough for you! You know what I mean?
Just to finish on the beginning of your career : did you have any mentor or somebody who showed you some tips and tricks, and led you to how you work today...?
Not really because I’ve been an assistant engineer for a very short period so I worked with some really good engineers but I didn’t have the chance to really work through some methods... The fact is that I only assisted on one album from start to finish. I assisted on a few sessions here and there, with some really good engineers and producers but when I left - and I think that maybe I left the studio a bit too early - I was doing freelance work, I had to discover all by myself and I had to teach myself.
The good thing though is that I worked as freelance engineer for other producers and so, in that sense, I had the opportunity to watch them and to learn from them. But as an engineer I had to discover all by myself, from experience, really. That kind of remains the situation today : I mainly produce or I mix for other people but they usually send me the files so I’m still working on my own and I have to discover everything through that work.
Do you think that this period - where you had to discover everything by yourself - got you to the point that now you can have an easier and a quicker way to catch the "global view" on a project from A to Z?
Yeah, I think if you do something long enough, you work hard and you’re really into it... I have one reference point which is that, every time I do a version of something - whether it’s just recording drums, doing a rough mix, doing a mix or a mastering, recording vocals...- I ask myself : "Is this the best way that this song could sound?". And somehow, internally, I know the answer to that. If the answer is : "No" - which it usually is - then I go and dig deeper and try to make it the best that it can be. And this is my only point of reference. I don’t need anyone else to tell me that, you know what I mean? Somehow I feel the answer to that and this is what guides me, really.
Allright. Let’s move on the technical side now. First of all, I’d like to talk about your studio, based around a Neve V5116. This console is a broadcast console at first, isn’t it? Why did you choose this desk?
Yeah, it is. The thing with this desk is... it’s a very very unique desk in a sense that it’s the last desk from Neve to have the full Class-A transformers on the input and the output. And it’s still based around separate modules as opposed to one PCB like on the Neve VR. Although it’s called «V» - it looks a little bit a VR, cosmetically : the knobs are small, not like the old Neves, etc. - the technology is still like the old ones. In that sense it’s a very unique console. But also - as far as I know - it’s the first Neve desk to have dynamics on the channels. So the combination of that plus the classic Neve sound from the 70’s... The sound of this desk is absolutely amazing. The fact that it’s a broadcast rather than an in-line desk doesn’t really affect the way I use it because I use a lot of hybrid mixing so it’s really the best of both worlds. I managed to get two of these desks, because they were made in relatively small frames. They had 24, 36 and 48 was the biggest one. I managed to get two different desks, two 36-channels ones and I merged them together so I have a very big one. But also, on one of them, it was a customized desk for film work so the center section is all 8-way. So I can do a lot of surround work. I use mainly stereo but it’s very handy to have this custom option.
So, working in a hybrid way, do you do lots of stems in your Protools and use the desk as a large summing mixer with EQ and dynamics...?
Yeah, something like that. I have 48 outputs that go to the desk so I do a lot of the work in the box but I also have the Q-Clone - which by the way is my invention and I have a patent registered on that - that allows me to use the desk EQ “freezed”. Also, since it’s a “hands-on” operation, I can really feel that I’m using the desk more than for just summing. Obviously, I have the beautiful sound of the desk when I record and then I have it when I mix. I can use the EQ but it’s also stored with the session. And then I line up the faders to zero then I can recall it very quickly. So I feel like I can set up a mix very quickly using the Q-Clone because I can just go and EQ every channel, push up the faders in Pro Tools, Logic or whatever but use the desk to EQ it. Then I can set up the mix really quickly and then I can implement other plug-ins so it feels like I’m doing it on the desk. Everything goes through the desk, the faders, the mix bus and everything. And I have a SSL Master Bus compressor as well on the Mix Bus. When I mixed only in analog, I used to mix mainly on SSL desks so I’m very used to that master bus compression. I really enjoy the best of of both worlds. The fact that I don’t have to do analog recalls...
Which can be annoying...
Oh yeah, very annoying !
I’ve read that you are a Waves plug-in designer and senior consultant for many years now. Can you tell us how you started working with Waves and what pushed you to work into this area?
Yeah, I started working with Waves a long time ago, in 1996 really. I was called by Gilad Keren - one of the owners of Waves - to bridge between the “real” world and the “geek” world... (Laughs) I would say that’s what I do there ever since. I learnt so much about the technical aspects of the digital world. I’ve been there for 16 years so I initiated quite a few plug-ins, like the Q-Clone and I also other patent on Stereo To Surround... But I’m involved with every product that we make. Sometimes something can be theoretical but you need it to actually sound amazing, the interface has to make sense... There’s so much work to develop each and every product, it’s unbelievable!
But how do things start to design a new plug-in? You just sit around a table with the Waves guys and you say : “Ok, we should do something like this because I see a certain need to use this...?”. For example - for the NLS plug-in - did you get to the point : “I’ve got a Neve V51 and I’m pretty sure we need to design the mixing bus of this desk into a plug-in” ?
Well, sometimes it works like that but sometimes it’s much more complicated. Because you have so many people, agendas, timetables, people working on different projects... Sometimes it takes a while for an idea to materialize into a product. And even then, a lot of times, these ideas don’t see the daylight because some of the products that we feel are not interesting enough or not good enough - regardless of the stage of development and how much we already invested in them - sometimes we just shelf them.
|The Yamaha NS-10 for example affected a lot the sound of the eighties.|
Sometimes you start something but you’re not 100% sure that it’s gonna go to an end.
Yeah, absolutely. Because you explore, you take a concept, an idea and you go with it as far as you can. You try to perfect it, you try to make it sound amazing and most of the times, it actually becomes a great product. But sometimes it doesn’t! That’s just the way it is. But I mean, the process is quite fascinating and I still enjoy it very much!
So it gives you another point on how things are developed, like you’re working with somebody, being a songwriter, an engineer, a producer, a mixer, each “role” gives you the ability to improve another one. Can you say it’s like a perpetual feedback between one step to another?
Absolutely, I create products that will be used by producers and mixers like myself in 2 years time. You know what I mean? So it gives me a very great perspective and an edge because I know we obviously explore the new technologies and all the new trends and I would like to think we affect the way people mix and even create fashions in sound. Obviously some plug-ins apply to that, more than others. I’m sure that the L-2 obviously changed the way music has been mixed and mastered. Not necessarily for the better! (Laughs) It had a real effect. I think that the SSL channel for example was a very important one. I think it contributed to a lot of engineers making the leap from mixing in analog to mixing In-The-Box or using hybrid systems.
What you say about the consequences on the way music can be made basically, that’s interesting...
Well for me, the Yamaha NS-10 for example affected a lot the sound of the eighties. They were there, and people used them, everyone used them and they had A sound. In a similar way when the DX-7 came out, it changed a lot in pop music! Obviously these days you have so many products that a single product cannot really affect the way everyone does mixes or whatever. But I think there are some Waves products that really affected the transition towards mixing In-The-Box and doing things in a modern way. I still like the music that was mainly made in the 70’s; there were no plug-ins, no computers and it’s still my preferred period of music. So it’s not to say that the music of today is better or worse; it’s just a stepping-on with time.
|I use everything that I have!|
Talking about gear, I’ve read that you like to experiment with effects, outboards, guitar pedals... Are there any pieces of gear that you cannot work without?
Hum, I have this piece of gear that was built specially for me by Evgeny Klukin from New Old Sound. Basically he works closely with Waves and he designed all the Waves hardware. He still does. He’s an amazing guy. I asked him to build me the best guitar DI ever! And he did!! It sounds absolutely amazing!! You plug in the guitar and after that it goes through the Neve but even without that, the basic sound of the guitar is something that I’ve never heard before! It’s like an acoustic instrument. Usually most DI boxes sound quite dull and flat and not very exciting to play with. But with this thing, you feel like you don’t need anything else because it translates the properties of the instrument, the electric guitar is almost like an acoustic instrument. These days I record a lot without amps. I use the GTR plug-in mainly, for recording.
The combination of this special DI with the GTR is a winning combination. I feel I can get so many tones with so much control... And because I don’t have to go and set up mikes and play with the amp and all that - but I have it at the tip of my fingers, basically - I feel that it leaves more room for creativity, in the playing, in the sound, in the tone selection. Maybe it doesn’t sound exactly like an amp. But in some situations it sounds really close - sometimes even better, because it’s very clean, it has no noise - and the fact that you just sit in front of a screen, you have so many different tones in an instant, it leads to a lot of creativity. For me, that can be more important than the actual sound, the medium or the format.
But what you got is an idea, very quickly.
Exactly. And you can record it and you get the performance, very quickly. Also because you record the DI sound and you put the plug-in on top of it, then you’re not committed to the sound like you do when you record through an amp. Because when you record through an amp, you record the mikes so you record the final sound. Working with the GTR or other processors for that matter, you record the DI sound and you have all the control in the world! Sometimes you feel like you want to double the DI sound with 2 different distortions sounds or whatever, you have all the flexibility...
So do you like to have the final decisions at the mixing stage?
Well, usually 9 times out of 10 I don’t change the guitar tone but I like to have the choice. Sometimes in the mix stage, you feel like : "This guitar is a little bit too distorted or not distorted enough". So you can tweak it very easily, in the mix stage. I try not to change it so much at this stage because the whole production is based around this guitar sound and you don't want it to change too much...
Talking about the mix, what kind of outboards or plug-ins do you like to use on instruments or that you always insert ?
Obviously I have the Neve desk so it's like a major outboard if you like! I use the SSL Master Bus Compressor but other than that I try to keep my mixes done in the box. Again, except for the Q-Clone, because I like the Neve's EQ so much... But yeah, other than that I like to keep an open mind and to experiment with new processors and new ways of doing. Sometimes I would group the drums and sometimes I just process it individually or both, or whatever... I try to keep an open mind and to see what suits the song's style. I wouldn't say that I have a specific goal or a piece of gear other than the Neve desk.
|I think that the producer's work is a little bit like a detective work : you try to look inside the songs, to look inside... sometimes the guitar part or the atmosphere, you have to pick clues|
So I can assume you don't have any "template"? Each time you start a mix, you start with something new?
Well, because I work with different styles of music, it's difficult to apply the same things. I would say, the one thing in common that I would have on every vocal is a De-Esser, or 2, because I like my vocals quite compressed and that brings out obviously all the sibilance. So I like to keep that in control; so that's something I would often use a lot... Apart from that... I don't know ! (Laughs) I use everything that I have! Including the host plug-ins like in Protools or in Logic; I love the Logic plug-ins, I think they're amazing, I use them quite a lot as well...
Did you discover some new stuff, like special fx or reverb plug-ins...? Did you find something that really amazes you?
Not really, I mean, I don't use reverbs much at all. Maybe I have one and I never use it on vocals. And usually most of the instruments don't really require reverb. All the synths usually come with like delays and reverbs, these days, with all the soft synths... I try to stay away from reverbs. I think I like to get depth using other stuff. I definitely use delays, mainly on vocals but I'm not too fussy about which reverb I use.
That's interesting. Just to finish with the technical side, you talked about the Master Bus compressor but what's your whole mix bus processing chain?
I just go straight to the converter and I use the Waves Maxx BCL as the converter, because it's a really good converter and it has Jensen transformers so I really like the sound of it. Although I just moved to the new AVID HDX converters - I have 48 I/O of them, and they're sounding pretty good as well - they're something about the Maxx BCL that I really like on the stereo mix. That's my Analog to Digital converter.
|But at the same time we're living very exciting times right now.|
Ok, let's talk about your working methods. What's your production workflow? What are the first things you do when producing an artist?
Huh... I don't know, it's hard to say! (Laughs) Basically I think that the producer's work is a little bit like a detective work : you try to look inside the songs, to look inside... sometimes the guitar part or the atmosphere, you have to pick clues on how to proceed. I don't see my role as THE frontman. I'd like to take something and to make it bigger, to make it more communicative. And the product, obviously : at the end of the day, it's a product, a record, a CD or whatever... So I try to pick up clues for that within the demo or the performance or wherever I can. A lot of times, it will be there and I need to pick up something; it will be one thing and then I can really augment it. But sometimes you have to invent that clue. In that sense it's very interesting to discover every time something new or just to let it come to you and reveal itself. I like that a lot.
You have many different hats : musician, producer, engineer, mixer, mastering engineer.... How do you manage to switch between caps with keeping the right distance with all the projects you're working on ?
I think that the fact that I was engineering for so many years, I think that's really the discipline that I approach everything with. It's very strict, very uncompromising and I think that allows me to do different things. Everything I do is related to engineering and I think this perspective helps. Obviously when mastering, it's purely engineering. I'm not aiming to be very creative when mastering : I try to keep the essence. I think that's the whole thing about mastering. You have to keep what's there and make it louder, sound bigger and make it more compatible with different sounding environments so there's no creative process. Once you start being creative when mastering then it means something is wrong! Mixing is very creative but the reference I have is the engineering point of view. So I have a very strict control system which is applied to everything I do. And so for me, those different things - although they seem different - they're not that different.
Talking about the artists you've been working with : Bryan Adams, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Sugababes... Do you see a common point between these artists? And is there a specific project that lifted you as a producer or engineer?
I think that you learn a lot from every project and every project is new. You never know what's going to happen, you meet new people. I think I enjoyed a lot and I learnt a lot working with Bryan Adams because he's juts so real, down-to-earth; we sit together and play the guitar and- just by looking at him - if it's right or not and that's a real exchange. You just know and that's something solid. I think that was definitely a great experience. But I try to enjoy every session that I do because this is what I do every day. I try to make it cool and enjoyable for people as well. Because as a producer you have a role to give the artist or everyone in the room confidence, security and peace of mind to get the creativity and the expression out.
What's your point of view about the music industry situation from all aspects (business, artistic, human) ? What's your point of view about its evolution?
I think you have two ways to look at it : you can look at it from a negative point of view or from a positive point of view. I think that obviously a lot of things happen and I think it's very sad that most of the big studios are being shut down and all that... But at the same time we're living very exciting times right now. There are so many opportunities and it's all changing, constantly and I feel very lucky to be active at this point in time. I feel very lucky to have been part of this old school way of working like the old analog era. I just started in 1986 and that was the last decade of that era. I was there in the beginning when computers started to emerge in the studios. So I consider myself very lucky to have worked with the old school methods and to be pioneering the new technologies, obviously by working with Waves. I'm still doing that so I think it's all very exciting. I try to implement everything I can in my productions and my mixes. And that's why I like working in pop music so much because pop is where you get to experiment to with the latest technologies. It always has been. So it's always a challenge.
|you have to stay true to yourself, not try to copy other people that much|
What's your advice for any young engineer/producer or any student who aspires to become an engineer?
Well, I suppose you have to work hard. I mean these days it's so easy because you have everything on YouTube, you have all these tutorials, all these things where you can learn so much. I found myself doing all those webinars and stuff... So, I don't know, it's all different to how things were when I started. I think it's great but you have to stay true to yourself, not try to copy other people that much, because that was the point. So it's a lot of hard work. And again, keep asking yourself : "Is this the best this can sound?" at any given moment. And then you just know.
The HI-5 Questions
What's your favorite and worst memory about producing an album?
I don't think I have one. I have series of memories... It's all one experience. I've been asked that question many times but I don't have an answer. It's one continuous sort of memory. It's not always very positive; it's not always very negative, it is what it is. It's just one big thing. There are so many artist "categories" : one is sad, one is happy, one is technically interesting, one is... I can't pinpoint it to just one.
Which artist would you like to work with and why?
Oh, very difficult question...! I don't know how to answer that... I would like very much to work with David Bowie because I love his music. Yeah I'm actually thinking of approaching him somehow; I don't know him personally but I would like to find just the excuse of doing that and hopefully I will do that at one point.
What do you love about his music?
I think he's like....so melodic. The way he sings is just unbelievable and the creativity... Just everything he does, everything about his music is just amazing!
You're engaged to produce an artist you love but you're allowed to take only 5 pieces of gear with you. What do you choose?
Well I would say obviously I would take a guitar because I'm a guitarist so... Yeah, a guitar, a keyboard, a laptop...
Two more left...!
Two more??! (Laughs) Speakers and an A-to-D converter!! With those things you can do everything. Well, obviously you need a mic but you can use the Mac mic!! I've done that before and it sounds amazing ! (Laughs) So when I say a laptop, I consider it covers the D-to-A converter because it's good enough for monitoring and you can plug in your headphones! So yeah if I had to choose 5 pieces it would be these ones.
Which guitar for example?
I don't know ! When I was a kid I had one guitar; it was a Strat and this is all I had and I loved it! But now I have so many guitars, it's hard for me to connect to one guitar in the same way. But I would say I really love Gibson SG. There's really something... Not necessarily the sound, because its sound is very limited in a way but the way it plays, I love playing this guitar. It's maybe not most versatile for recording maybe but.... I have a Gibson The Paul which I use a lot in recording because it's very very versatile. It doesn't sound much like a Les Paul; you can do a lot with it. But if I had to choose one thing, I would maybe choose the Gibson SG just because I love playing it so much.
And what about microphones, other than the Mac mic? (Laughs)
If I could find a good U47 in a good state, then that's the best mic you can ever have. When you get a good one, it's unbelievable!
What about keyboards?
Keyboards I don't mind. I mean, I play keyboards but I'm not a pianist so whatever I use... I have in my laptop bag this (Korg) Nanokeys thing and I find it sufficient for me.
Final one : do you have a quote or a leitmotiv in music that you like to use?
I don't know if I have one... But the one thing I would like to advise actually - to everyone, really - is to monitor quietly because then you can keep your ears obviously - which are your main tool - but also you can hear more details, because you ears get more focused and you hear less of the room, less sort of reflections because the room is less active like that. So that would be my main advice. It's not a proper quote but that's what I would like to say.
Yoad Nevo's website: www.yoadnevo.com