10 Questions With: Drew Douthit - Recording Engineer

(AbbiR | Posted 2010-02-25)

10 Questions With: Drew Douthit - Recording Engineer

From an early age, Drew knew that he wanted to be involved in music, and developed a strong interest in the technical side. Growing up, he loved disassembling electronics with his grandfather. It also didn’t hurt that he was raised in a very musical family. His mother had an especially great ear for music, and his father is a renowned jazz saxophonist, Mark Douthit. Needless to say, there was an abundance of good music to be influenced by while growing up. He started tinkering in the studio at age 13, and then went on to Middle Tennessee State University to pursue a degree in Recording Industry Management with an emphasis in Production and Technology. While in school, he attained an internship with Michael Davis, owner and head engineer/mixer of Digital Audio Post in Nashville, learning the trade of Post-Production Audio. After college, Drew took a job as an assistant engineer and ProTools specialist for a Grammy award winning songwriter, bass player, and producer, Tommy Sims. Starting as an assistant and working his way up to the day to day head engineer, Drew got to record and work with greats such as Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Isreal Houghton, Michelle Williams (of Destiny’s Child), Kelly Clarkson, Cliff Richard, CeCe Winans, and Pastor Marvin Winans, just to name a few. Drew spent the better part of 5 years with Tommy before venturing out to be an independent engineer. As an independent engineer, Drew was fortunate enough to mix projects for the likes of Salvador, Brian Littrell of The Backstreet Boys, George Huff, KiKi Sheard, a Grammy Award winning record for CeCe Winans, and one of his most treasured works, “December Morning,” a jazz Christmas record by his dad, Mark. One day in 2006, he received a call from Michael Davis inquiring about his interest in post audio again. After a brief meeting over lunch, Drew agreed to join Digital Audio Post as a house engineer and mixer. Since that time, he has edited and mixed television shows that included Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood, Alison Krauss, Trace Adkins, Kenny Chesney, Natalie Grant, Jars of Clay, Mandisa, Take 6, Taylor Swift, and many more. He has also recorded ADR for Ashley Judd, James Marsden, Olympic star Scott Hamilton for the film "Blades of Glory," and enjoys doing sound design for and mixing independent films, including “The Dirty Ones,” which was accepted to the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. While not in the studio, Drew loves to snow ski, play baseball and softball, design and build furniture, remodel his house, and play with his dog, Jack “Bauer” Douthit.

1) What projects are you working on right now? Anything you're especially excited about?

Recently, we completed a show for Rounder Records commemorating their 40th anniversary as a label. The show had three separate delivery mediums, all containing different content. There was a PBS special, a video DVD, and an audio CD. Artists included Alison Krauss and Union Station, Steve Martin, Bela Fleck, Minnie Driver and many more. I truly enjoyed that project. I have a couple of comedy shows coming up in the near future which are always pretty fun and low stress, as well as some indie films to do some sound design and mix.

2) What is your preferred typical studio set up or the equipment that you work with on a daily basis?

Being that I work primarily in post audio for television and film, the products heavily dictate the workflow and usage of gear. I do 100% of my mixing in the box using Protools software and Digidesign hardware. Due to the nature of jumping from project to project with very quick turn around times, a very fast total recall is required. Sometimes on concert shows, we will even mix every song in the same session, automating plug-ins, just so that we don’t waste the time it takes to open individual sessions for each song. This also helps us preserve continuity throughout the show. We have 3 edit/mix rooms at Digital Audio Post, all using a Genelec products for monitoring. I find the 1031's to be quite flat and very accurate for mixing for television. I also check all my mixes on a Sony 42” LCD TV for the “at home” experience. All rooms also have a bass management system implemented to ensure a correct sub woofer response. As for recording voice-overs, we have a pair of Sennheiser MKH 416’s. These are obviously very common and blend well usually when we are matching ADR (automated diaglogue replacement) in films. We have an SSL dual channel mic pre that serves as nice clean sounding pre for voice recording. It can also handle quite a bit of our sound effect recording needs as well. A rather fun new edition to our studio is the Zoom H4n handheld recorder. It is very useful for quick sound effect recording such as footsteps or car ambience.

3) What are some different recording techniques/strategies that you have personally learned/developed over the years?

While recording live concerts, I learned a very wise saying from a colleague of mine. His advice was to “get a bucket under it,” which means you must make sure that you have a good clean signal for everything that you see on stage. We work under a completely different time base and set of circumstances than do most studio engineers, therefore it calls for a well oiled machine approach and an attention to detail. If there is any technique that I have learned over the years in the studio, it is to get a great sounding tone and be patient enough to capture an amazing performance. Communication with the talent is probably 80% of the technique.

4) If someone is just getting into engineering, what would you advise them to invest in primarily? Any equipment that you absolutely can't stand or don't see a purpose for investing into your rig?

This one is easy. For someone just getting into engineering, the number one thing they need to invest in is TIME. Time to learn the craft. Study those who have come before you. Just like a sport, being a weekend warrior by shooting some hoops at the YMCA and then trying to play in the NBA... You just aren’t going to cut it. I mean, yes, people are making decent sounding records in their bedroom that they are playing on the radio, but airplay does not make an engineer great. As for gear, I personally RARELY like those speaker stabilizers like the recoil stabilizers by Prime Acoustic and the Auralex stuff. I'd just as soon use a small poured concrete pad. As far as investments, I would recommend a good set of monitors. Something that you know and trust to be accurate. If you have a small pile of money laying around I would also advise a new engineer to invest in one good vocal mic and a stereo pair of condenser mics that he or she really loves. I wouldn’t go hog wild here, because you can always rent the really expensive vintage stuff.

5) Is recording in Nashville different than recording anywhere else? Have you discovered any trends in recording techniques that are specific to recording in Nashville?

For my line of work, we try to comply and stay somewhat uniformed to what we are hired to do. I know that doesn’t sound very creative, but sometime the complexity of just capturing everything in a proficient manner of recording is what is important. And making things match seamlessly is a must if we are replacing lines in a film with ADR or resinging a vocal because the singer was sick the day of the shoot. Recording music in Nashville, however, is definitely different though. I mean, I am pretty biased, but I believe that we have some of the best engineers, producers, and musicians in the world here in this city. Trends in Nashville... Hmmmm. If you would have asked me this question 10 years ago, I would have said that we are the only place seemingly in the world that uses a lot of RADAR's, but those have long since phased themselves out. I know of quite a few people here using Nuendo, actually. The Ryman Auditorium, along with The Grand Ole Opry both have very extensive Nuendo recording rigs. Some of the heavy hitting mix engineers I look up to here in town use Nuendo, like Gary Paczosa, Bryan Lenox, and Chuck Ainlay. Obviously the country “sound” here in Nashville has a signature that I rarely hear replicated in other parts of the world.

6) Any advice for troubleshooting/fine tuning/operating your recording rig?

Not sure if this counts but BACKUPS are the most important thing in the world. A wise engineer name F. Reid Shippen once told me, “If it's not backed up twice, it's not backed up!” This is very true. I can't tell you how many people have called me asking me to help them resurrect a busted hard drive. Yes, I have some tricks for that, but I almost never have to use them for myself because we believe in making safety drives and DVD backups of everything. As far as troubleshooting, take the chain one step at a time in logistical order. Don’t try and troubleshoot a dirty signal or a buzz by jumping around. Alleviate things one at a time.

7) Have you had any humorous experiences throughout your career with your gear? (Maybe a mistake early on in your career, or something gone wrong while in a session, etc.?)

One time, I got utterly fried by an old school V76 mic pre. I was at the studio by myself, too, so it was a bit scary. Does that count? A lot of people laughed at me when I performed a reenactment.

8) If money was no object, what are some gear/toys that you'd like to have in your setup? What would you buy if you couldn't afford the best?

Hmmmm. A well designed room and a HUGE san drive system setup on Fibrechannel that had a built in backup system that required little to no maintainence. Ha. This is a dream, right? I would love to have a nice api console to set at unity and use as a summing bus for my music mixes as well. I totally hear my mixes that have a lot of transients getting choked to death in the box but it’s a necessary evil of the speed and ease that I need.

9) Any tips on getting to the next level in the music business?

Know people. Not to be a jerk, but I am quite sure that I got a second look because my father is an amazing musician and paved some of the way for me just by spreading good words. Just being honest here.

10) And for the signature last question, if it is not gear that makes music important to you, what is it about music that drives you to make it such a significant part of your life?

To me, it’s the communication of messages to such a broad range of people. Affecting peoples lives with creativity and ideas is priceless.

About Abbi Roth

Abbi Roth is a touring and session bass player, singer, and songwriter based in Nashville, TN. She has played for, recorded, and toured with numerous acts. Most recently, she was on tour with Bo Bice from American Idol this past summer, playing bass and singing background vocals. Currently, Abbi also writes for Bass Frontiers Magazine. She is a proud endorser of EBS bass equipment, Dean Markeley strings, and Gayle Winde Design guitar straps.

Abbi Roth

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