An Interview with Dave Pensado & Herb Trawick at the AES Show 2014

At day two of our Ask Me Anything Livestream Events at AES 2014, we sat down with audio legends Dave Pensado and Herb Trawick of the massively popular Pensado’s Place.

Dave and Herb talk all things music and audio in their weekly show, which is streamed on their website, The show includes interviews with top music industry artists, engineers, producers, mixers, and record execs, as well as in-depth tutorials in engineering and mixing.

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Dave and Herb joined us on Saturday, October 11, for a lively conversation about their history in the music industry, past accomplishments, and the future of the audio business. Due to the length of their AMA session, we have broken down the video into three parts at the end of this post. Below is an excerpt of some of the questions asked from the live audience and from fans on Twitter:

Q: What do you use to automate the process of mixing drum tracks that have a lot of bleed through?

Dave: You’re assuming that having bleed from mics is bad. It’s not bad, it’s just how you handle it. If you remember our dear friend Al Schmitt, he always records in omni, the ultimate non-rejecting pattern on a microphone. I would first start with trying to make all the ambience that every mic is picking up work. Herb and I recently did a show with Matt Linesch and he likes all of that. I am not being a smartass, but the first thing to understand is that it’s not a bad thing. After that point I will draw down and automate the ambiance. The spots where there is nothing playing on that track, I will automate down. If you take everything out, you just have a programed drum kit. It’s more of a question of how to use that on a musical level. There are some plug-ins that work, as well. My first choice is to do it in a musical way. I don’t want a piece of gear or a plug-in making sonic decisions for me – I like to make them myself. I like to draw it out.

Q: You have said multiple times that you like to use the rule of thirds while mixing. Can you please expand on that?

Dave: I don’t know if this is the right format for this, but I will give you a two-part answer: the smart-ass part, first, and then the real answer, second. If I tell you exactly what I mean by the rule of thirds, it doesn’t apply directly to audio. So I might steer you in the wrong direction. When I talk about the rule of thirds, when it’s applied to mixing, I am talking about a metaphoric balance between the audio elements. Just like there is a pleasing balance when you apply that rule to painting and to the visual. I believe firmly that the brain assimilates audio information like it does visual information. If you want to understand what is going on in visuals use your eyes to see how you see. The audio world is the same way. It’s not a direct one-to-one correlation between the visual and audio worlds. It’s less pleasing to put something dead center in a photo. Conceptually and metaphorically you can apply that to the mix. It can be a front-to-rear thing that you are using at the same time you are using panning. Be careful though, because you don’t want total balance in a mix.

Herb: Whatever methodology you use or whatever science you apply to what you do,  you always have to be true to your gut. Sometimes the mistake is the thing that makes you stand out. Don’t look at things as problems look at them as things to utilize to get to other solutions that give you a definitive signature. Think in terms of yes, as opposed to no.

Q: How often do you take a producer’s record and manipulate it?

Dave: I don’t look at the process quite like that. I’m not creating anything. I’m putting my taste towards finishing the vision of what was created. I finish the vision and my creativity goes towards that goal. Now whatever it takes to finish that vision within the framework and context of what the producer and artist wanted, I do that. When I started my career a lot of people didn’t want what I did. Why would they? I had no success. As I have gotten more successful, they give me a little more latitude to inflict my taste on it. Everyone has a different tolerance for the amount of taste I inflict on them, right Herb?

Herb: I can tell you from personal experience. When I managed R&B singer Brian McKnight, we were very successful. But I have that kind of relationship with Dave, and, more importantly, Brian had a relationship with Dave, that we looked for him to manipulate the record. We stayed out of the way, because we trusted his judgment. Dave’s particular forte is to take any genre record and make it pop friendly. He never loses the integrity of the genre. It could be as black as you want it to be. It could be country. It could be indie alternative. His sensibility about how to make that a radio record without losing integrity is unlike… there are maybe a couple of other guys who can do that as well. Because Brian was a radio act, we let Dave do his magic a little bit as a producer with leeway. Then we can come in with fresh ears and hear it.

The other thing I think is important to understand is when you, as a producer, have that relationship with somebody it’s important to trust it. It will go some place that for a minute might be uncomfortable, but it might end up in some place really cool. You have to find that thing because you won’t know till they get there. Oftentimes our process is, when clients reach out to me and if I think it makes sense schedule-wise or for various other reasons, the first thing we do is set up a creative call with the client. In that discussion all the chemical stuff is talked about, all the directional stuff is talked about, time frame, deadlines, etc. So that they go into the process understanding Dave’s going to need some time alone (because I hate people sitting on top of Dave at the beginning) and they’re not freaked out. And then Dave will let them know when they can come in. So we set the table, which also starts the trust. This just seems to me to be good client services. More importantly, it makes Dave’s life easier. Then he can mix to his strength. They can work it out together and then they have a one-on-one relationship.

Dave: I like conflict. I like discussion. You show me a happy environment and I will show you a non-creative environment. At the end of the day, I am being paid to execute their vision.

Q: How do you know when your mix is completely done?

Dave: I know when my mix is done when I get a phone call from Herb saying I have these people breathing down my neck. We were supposed to have this Thursday, when are you going to finish this stuff? Come on Dave!

Herb: At least in our relationship, I kind of keep a clock in my head informed by whatever deal we structured, whatever the communication is between Dave and that client. At that point in time the client is concerned about creativity not about whether you got the check, whether the agreement is done, or whatever the case may be. The only back end I need to do at that point in time is sort of understand where we are in the schedule. Sometimes we are bouncing around two, three, four records at a time. There is a point in time where there is a direct correlation between client satisfaction and quality of mix. There is nothing worse then having a funky client relationship. Dave is a perfectionist, so the mix is only going to be so bad, but it ends up better if it’s a cool relationship. The way you do that is by confronting your problems early and you work through them with people.

For the complete AMA interview with Dave and Herb, please check out the three-part video, below.

What was your biggest takeaway from the Pensado’s Place AMA? Let us know in the comments section and stay tuned for more AES 2014 AMA highlights!


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