This week’s Sunday Spotlight features Jack Ruston; independent producer, recording engineer and mixer, who works in partnership with veteran producer Nick Tauber (Thin Lizzy, Marillion, UFO etc) making records for rock bands. Preferring studio life to being a touring musician, he’d rather record bands rather than play in them. Clients include Kubb, Reuben, Engerica, Tom McRae, Mozez and Deborah Bonham. At the moment Nick and Jack are working with Gavin Mumby, Karl Wilson and Mike Tonge.
DV: Do you offer any other music production facilities apart from recording?
JR: Aside from projects which we’re doing, I mix other projects. It can be stuff that people send in, or mixes for other producers that I know.
DV: What’s your own personal area of interest musically?
JR: I’m primarily into rock. I grew up listening to bands like AC/DC and Guns and Roses, although I like Bluegrass and other American folk music. I also like a lot of orchestral music and film scores. A record I’m into at the moment is The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me by Brand New.
DV: Do you have a technical or musical background?
JR: I have a musical background primarily. I played violin as a kid and sang in a chapel choir, before switching to guitar in my teens. I then played in bands for several years before moving towards the engineering and production side. Production is mostly about understanding the instruments and how they work, and to have that experience as a player has been very helpful, but I have learned a lot about being a guitar player from producing. In the studio you learn to focus on slightly different things than you do as an instrumentalist. Things that might concern a performer – like ergonomics and convenience – take a backseat to the finer details in the sonics and the tuning.
DV: How wide ranging is your client base?
JR: As a production team we tend to stick to guitar-based genres, so everything from acoustic singer songwriters to the heavier end of rock. We don’t really do much programmed music and never dance music for example, so our clients tend to be bands. As a rule, I think it’s better to specialise. Some people believe that you should turn your hand to every genre, but in my experience clients like to know that you’re focused on what they do. Of course, there are so many sub-genres within rock or dance music that you have to have a fairly broad palette in that respect. There are of course notable exceptions to this theory.
DV: Do you get clients who want to record to tape?
JR: Not really. Generally people are happy to work with digital. Most of the bands we work with are too young to have worked on anything but digital. But that’s not to say that the sonics of tape aren’t useful for rock, especially with guitars and bass, so I do use an Anamod ATS-1 a lot when tracking.
DV: Do you favour hardware over plug-ins for your outboard effects?
JR: It depends. I still don’t think we have any plug-ins that can equal the classic compressors and EQ’s that we all know and love, like Universal Audio LA2As or Pultecs. But there are some wonderful plug-in limiters and effects, like the Massey L2007 and Soundtoys Echoboy. Obviously, the huge advantage of plug-ins is that they recall perfectly, where some hardware just can’t be effectively recalled at all – and they’re automatable. It’s also great to have unlimited quantities of your favourite processors. I think you have to be very careful what and how much you do with plug-ins. I prefer to track with outboard, and then use the software to nip and tuck at mixing. I use an analogue mix bus chain, and I print certain things through analogue chains while I’m mixing, but I don’t usually end up with piles of outboard hanging off the mix. It’s just too inconvenient if we need to recall it.
DV: Do you prefer to record guitars live or use a plug-in solution?
JR: The only time I record guitars with simulators or software is if I’m in a tracking situation where I can’t isolate guitar or bass amps. Nine times out of ten, you want to have the band playing with the drummer, but you don’t necessarily have the luxury of being meticulous with the tuning and performance of every member of the band. So if you can’t separate the amps for those guide parts, you’re left with using a simulation of some sort. It can be a problem using plug-ins when the players have various channel switching things happening, so I tend to use speaker simulator/dummy load boxes like the Sequis one. You can run those without the simulation circuit into a speaker impulse response in Altiverb which is quite effective. But if I’m tracking guitars or basses that I’m going to keep it will almost always be a real speaker. For whatever reason, it’s the behaviour of the speaker that seems so difficult to model. It’s as if it compresses the sound so that the lows, mids and highs all push up against the end stops and combine. I’ve not heard a speaker simulator that can do that yet.
DV: Do you have a favourite vocal microphone?
JR: I don’t have a single favourite vocal microphone. People’s voices are different, and what makes one voice airy will make another brittle, or what makes one present can make another nasal. There are mics that I love; the Brauner VM1 is an incredible microphone, especially if you want a sort perfect bright clarity. I also love the Bock version of the 251. If I had to have one mic at reasonable cost it would be the Brauner Phanthera.
DV: Which mastering software do you favour?
JR: I don’t do any mastering. If I’m giving clients listening copies I will put the Massey L2007 limiter on the mix.
DV: What piece of gear couldn’t you be without?
JR: It’s an impossible question! There are lots of things I couldn’t work without. But I think for a rock producer the most important things are the instruments. I have various snares, cymbals, guitars, basses, amps etc. I wouldn’t want to be without that collection. There are lots of different mics and pres I could use to record those, and end up with a broadly similar result. Of course I have favourites but the source is always the greatest factor in the recorded sound.
Thanks to Jack Ruston. If you or your studio would like to be featured on the Sunday Spotlight, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.