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Inside Track: Chris Young 'Losing Sleep'

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Billy Decker
Published January 2018
By Paul Tingen

Inside Track

Keeping up with the Nashville music world means working fast — and few mix engineers work as fast as Billy Decker!

Nashville star mixer Billy Decker spends an average of 45 minutes on each song he mixes. Yes, you read that correctly: 45 minutes. From loading the audio files he’s received to sending his mix to his client, it takes him, as a rule, less than an hour. Recalls and fine-tuning can add another hour: very occasionally, two.

Thanks to his ultra-fast way of working, Decker clocks up 1500 mixes a year, and his personal record for mixes done in a single day currently stands at 17. And it’s not like he’s putting out low-quality, production-line garbage. In fact, Decker’s had 13 number one records in the country world, and was not so long ago invited for a blind mix shootout with some of the world’s mainstream A-list mixers. Decker won.

Finding The Balance

Decker’s 45-minute mix process is not the only thing that’s unusual about him. Despite working predominantly in the country genre, he is a fan of metal. He also loves woodworking, and has a degree in criminal justice from the University of Nebraska. Plus he’s a late bloomer, who had his first number one hit when he was almost 40, with Rodney Atkins’ album If You’re Going Through Hell — the title song was the number one in Billboard’s 2006 country year-end chart, and was the most played song that decade.

“I’m all about balance,” explains Decker. “If something is out of balance, everything is out of whack. Get your home life in order, and all of a sudden your phone starts ringing, the money starts rolling in, and everything falls into place. In the late ’90s I went into engineering full time, and I did a lot of work on songwriter demos, which people did in batches of five, and I was working from eight in the morning until 11 at night. My son was born in 1996 and my daughter in 1999, and when they were growing up, they and my wife weren’t happy because I was away all the time. So I did two things. One was that I decided to focus on mixing. I saw Chris Lord-Alge in all the magazines, working with big artists. In the engineering world he was like the quarterback on a football team. I was like: ‘Damn, that looks cool!’

“The other thing was that I wanted to be home in time for dinner, and I was tired of having to spend hours recalling the console and setting up all the outboard and so on. Someone showed me Pro Tools, and I thought, ‘Wow, I am going to mix in this thing.’ I realised that I could set up faster, recall 100 percent faster, and roll easily from one song to another using templates. This was in the early ’00s, before they had delay compensation and all that stuff. I’m told that I’m the first guy in Nashville to mix a country Billboard number one in the box, using Pro Tools’ bounce-to-disk function and no outboard. This was with Atkins’ ‘Going Through Hell’.

“At the end of the day, we’re not putting men on the moon, we’re just trying to put them on the radio. So don’t take yourself too serious and spend all day on your mixes, and as a result miss out on the finer things in life.”

Twenty-five million album...

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Published January 2018