You mentioned being under a really strict deadline mixing the album. Are there things that you do as a mix engineer to speed up your workflow? Does your process change given the amount of time you have to work on a record?
Jimmy: You know, that's really an interesting thing. I call it a psycho-acoustic illusion, because I find that when I have a lot of time, I can just go on and on and on and keep doing stuff.
When I mix, there's a moment when it just turns into a mix. You have it, you play with it, you do stuff, you put it in, you take it out, and all of a sudden there's that movement when you go, "Holy shit, it sounds like a mix."
I'm supposed to be the guy that drives that train and knows when it happens, but I'm just being honest—it's been that way since I was a kid.
I think that’s true for many different creative professions. You bury yourself in the work, and then at some point, you emerge and there it is.
Jimmy: Right. The thing is, when it does turn that corner, everything else happens quicker, and you think, "What took me so long?"
To answer your question, when you suddenly have a deadline, somehow it clicks quicker. Your mind says, "Listen, dude, you need to get to this." You let go of the things that you want it to be and say, "Okay, this is gonna have to do," and you go right to the source of what's gotta happen, to make it happen.
In the interview that you did with The Fader, you talk about what you lose by collaborating remotely via email. I was just wondering if you think we'll ever get back to the point where the majority of music is created together in person, in the studio, or has that ship sailed?
Jimmy: When I work with somebody, we share stuff online. But there's nothing that beats having a bunch of people in the room, slamming heads, and fighting over what they want to get in the final mix.
Think about a magazine, if you will. If everybody's on an island, and they're contributing articles and stuff, that's great. But if you're trying to get a magazine that has some pizzazz? You can't do that online. I mean, you can, but you lose the energy and the fire of the immediacy.
It's hard to brainstorm via email, because the whole process is, "You said that. Now I'm thinking this." That to me is the essence of the creative process—stream of consciousnesses. It’s in real time. That’s where the magic often occurs.
As someone who has worked with artists of many different genres and styles of music, how do you choose the right audio plug-in for the job? Do you have ones you go to first depending on the genre?
Jimmy: When it was hardware, I had it in my head. I knew what certain pieces of gear did, and I would reserve certain things for certain projects.
Plug-ins today all have different character, and there are so many of them, so it’s hard to learn what’s out there. Many times I'll just see somebody saying something about one of them and want to try it.
When I was a kid doing this stuff, there wasn't any magazines, there wasn't no nothing. There was people that came, did their thing, and then you were left with it. And you had to figure out how to make it sound good. That was it. If you got really lucky, you might know what other engineers were doing across town at other studios, but that was about it.
Now it seems a lot of students or mixers that I know spend their whole day online looking at what people did on records and try to apply it to theirs. It's like, that was their record. While it’s helpful to learn the tricks of other magicians, go forth and create your own magic.
Do you have reference tracks for mixing?
Jimmy: I do, but I've mixed such a variety of stuff, and the sound of music is changing so fast and constantly so much. Between my EDM, punk, and regular pop records, R&B and hip hop, it's really hard to find references I love.
I haven't heard many mixes recently that are really rock my audio palate, though there are some great ones out there. Bruno Mars’ "Uptown Funk" is probably one of the most balanced records I've heard in the now. When I listened, I went, "Holy shit. You came as close as you can come to my mixing back in my funk days."
Is there someone whom you've never worked with that you hope to someday?
Jimmy: There are just so many artists, and the whole playing field is just crowded with noise. But one guy in particular is Gary Clark Jr. I don’t think he really needs what I do, but it would be an awesome experience, I’m sure. And Mark Ronson.
Switching gears—when you discovered iZotope, what plug-in did you use first?
Jimmy: Gotta go! Just kidding.
You guys have been around for a while. My discovery was somewhere around 2003. You go to the AES shows, you see stuff. I forgot what I was using originally that got me in there, but I'll tell you the one thing that I did use that saved my life was Trash.
You used it on SexyBack, right?
Jimmy: That's right.
What went into that decision to use it on Justin Timberlake's vocals?
Jimmy: I'd been playing with it, not thinking of it as a distortion device. I don't know what I thought it was. It was just dope. I was looking for craziness in a plug-in, and Trash served that purpose.
Justin's thing was really simple. He came in when we were working on the vocals, and after listening he goes, "I need something really crazy in my voice, man, just something, anything." And I kept thinking, that Trash thing, I've always used it in the bass setting, you know what I mean?
I just slapped it on and he goes, "Perfect." I'm sitting there thinking, "You're kidding me."
I had already been in the rabbit hole of like, "No, not that one, no, let's do that," because that's usually what happens. You gotta keep searching and hunting. Then he just goes, "Perfect." I got lucky that day.
Have you used it on other vocals since?
Jimmy: Absolutely. Maybe not as extreme, because that was extreme.
Do you tend to use it on certain instruments and not others, or just throw it on whatever and see what works?
Jimmy: Well, no. It was also on Timbaland's vocal in the background on that one. It was across all the vocals along the flanger, actually, on the Timbaland part. It reminded me of "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson.
That was my first introduction to using iZotope, and just really being like, "Whoa." Then I started to just kind of hang around you guys, check out more of the stuff you had.
I used Nectar quite a bit when that came out. I loved it for different vocal tracks. It was a little different—widening, giving depth without changing things. Or it would change the color, but it wasn't just an effect.
The other thing about Nectar that’s interesting is the way that you titled the presets. I find that really big in a plug-in. Once again, growing up with plug-ins as they've been developed, there'd be plug-ins that people make but they had no presets. You'd be sitting there dialing in and playing with it, and then it became very boring after a while.
When iZotope came out with that, you had different presets that were already there that meant something to me, you know? And made it easier for me to visualize what I thought I was doing with it.
Based on the name and how it described the sound?
Jimmy: The R&B presets, for example. I'd be like, "Oh, I'm in R&B today, of course that’s what I’ll use." It took me there mentally.
Nectar 2 presets
Ozone 8 presets