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Inside Track: Panic! At The Disco

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Jake Sinclair & Claudius Mittendorfer By Paul Tingen
Published April 2016

Jake Sinclair at work with Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie in his Infrasonic Studio.Jake Sinclair at work with Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie in his Infrasonic Studio.

What do you get if you cross Frank Sinatra and Queen? Producer Jake Sinclair and mixer Claudius Mittendorfer helped Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie find out...

While almost every conceivable amalgamation of genres has been tried in these postmodern mashup times, eyebrows were raised when Panic! At The Disco frontman Brendon Urie declared that the act’s latest album, Death Of A Bachelor, blended the influences of Frank Sinatra and Queen. The album’s lead singles, ‘Victorious’ and ‘Hallelujah’, recall the latter band, being hyper–intense pop–rock songs framed in kitchen–sink production. (Sinatra influences come to the fore later on in the album.)

Panic! At The Disco began in 2004 as a quartet, but have steadily diminished in size. When drummer Spencer Smith left the band in April 2015, Urie found himself faced with writing and recording a new album as the only remaining band member. Given his Sinatra–meets–Queen vision, his choice of collaborator seems odd at first sight: young musician and producer Jake Sinclair is best–known for his work with rock and pop acts like Weezer, Fall Out Boy, P!nk, Taylor Swift, Sia and 5 Seconds Of Summer.

However, Sinclair had worked as engineer, mixer and occasional co–writer on two previous Panic! albums, and so Urie was aware of the producer’s eclectic musical background, which proved a perfect foil for the outrageous diversity of Death Of A Bachelor. Sinclair’s upbringing, he says, involved “playing trombone with old jazz guys for 10 years during my high school days. I also played guitar since I was seven or eight and then learnt to play keyboards and drums. But it was the schooling in trombone–playing and reading bass clefs that helped me more than anything in my musical development.”

When he was 18, Sinclair moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was a member of a band called the Films, whose second album was produced by Butch Walker. Sinclair went on to become Walker’s engineer and mixer, working on major projects by the likes of Weezer, P!nk, Panic! At The Disco, and many more. Sinclair has amassed a wide–ranging credit list, producing, mixing, playing bass, keyboards, guitar and singing. In addition to the above–mentioned names, he has worked with country singer Keith Urban and crooner Harry Connick Jr, and it was Sinclair’s contribution to Connick’s That Would Be Me (2015) that convinced Urie to hire him for a Sinatra– and Queen–tinged album...Brendon Urie is the only remaining member of Panic! At The Disco.Brendon Urie is the only remaining member of Panic! At The Disco.

Sinclair elaborates: “Panic! At The Disco do a fantastic version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ live, which shows what a fantastically good singer Brendon is. He honestly is the best singer I have ever worked with, who can do anything with his voice, singing lower and higher than anyone I know, with incredibly accuracy. When you have limitless possibilities like that you can be your own worst enemy, because you have so many options. For this reason it was important to decide on a cohesive direction. The record has ended up being very diverse, but what ties it all together is Brendon’s vocal style and performance.”

In The Beginning Were The Words

Urie and Sinclair spent several months, off and on, writing songs, before embarking on the actual arranging and recording. Sinclair deliberately chose to do things in this order, in many cases also starting the writing process with lyrics supplied by songwriters like Morgan Kibby (aka White Sea), Sam Hollander and Lauren Pritchard.

“We wrote most songs starting with the lyrics because, in my opinion, melody is Brendon’s strongest suit, and I figured that if we got him lyrics to work from we’d end up with better songs than if we first wrote melodies and then tried to fit words to them. Fall Out Boy also start with lyrics. I co–produced their last album [American Beauty/American Psycho, 2015], and I thought it was a really interesting way of working. Starting with the lyrics also was more in line with the way songs were written for Sinatra, and I wanted to go the whole way in this respect, so our aim was that every song on the album could be played with just vocals and a piano, before we later maniacally mangled them with this crazy futuristic stound! And finally, I really wanted Brendon to show off his vocal prowess, and for that reason I felt that it would be smart to write and build the songs around his voice, rather than the other way round.

“The majority of the songs were written on the piano at Brendon’s house. Sometimes he’d provide the chords, sometimes I would, but mostly he worked out the melodies, with me coaching him. Brendon really did all the heavy lifting with regards to the writing — it wasn’t like he couldn’t do it by himself. Once an idea we worked on began to take shape, we recorded it as an iPhone voice memo. In total we wrote maybe 30 to 40 songs that we recorded as voice memos. After we had worked out how the song was going to be, he recorded things at his home, and we then sent sketches back and forth between our two studios.

“I really wanted to separate the writing and the production processes. I think we spent perhaps 75 percent of the time on songwriting and 25 percent on production. A good song is a lot easier to produce than a bad song, so making sure the songs were great makes my job as a producer much more straightforward. After we spent several months writing, with me intermittently being away to work on other projects, like with Courtney Love and Weezer, we spent nearly a month on recording and arranging and three weeks on rough mixing and final production, all of which mostly took place at my studio.”

To Band Or Not To Band

Who needs other band members? As well as being a  remarkable singer, Brendon Urie is also a  very talented drummer, guitarist and bass player...Who needs other band members? As well as being a remarkable singer, Brendon Urie is also a very talented drummer, guitarist and bass player...While Urie is the only official Panic! At The Disco member left, he also has an excellent live band, and the initial plan was to record the album with that band. Then Sinclair had second thoughts. “The live band is really great, so when the songs were ready we thought, ‘Let’s record it live in the studio with them, and a big-band horn section, with Claudius [Mittendorfer] engineering.’ But then I realised that Brendon is uncannily good at playing every instrument. He is an incredible drummer, for example, one of the best I have ever worked with. We decided that it would be better to show that off. So instead we spent three weeks with him playing almost everything on the album, apart from the horns.

“Brendan did all this at my studio, with my assistant Suzy Shinn engineering most sessions. I have things permanently set up there, with all mics plugged straight into my mic pres. I don’t even have access to my patchbay. A big part of the drum sound I get comes from an X-Y pair of AEA R88 ribbon mics that I have over the drums. I really like the sound of that. I also have a Josephson E22 on the snare, plus an AKG D190 about six inches away, compressed with a dbx 165A, which gives a kind of explosive lo–fi sound. For the rest it’s Sennheiser MD421s on the toms, an AKG D12 on the kick and an RCA 44 mono room mic.

“The vocals were all recorded with a Wunder CM7. If you do a mic shootout with that mic it may not win, because it’s not the brightest mic, but I love the way it sits in a mix. So we stuck with it for the whole record. The rest of my vocal signal chain consisted of a BAE 1073 mic pre going into a Purple Audio MC77 compressor, which is like an 1176, and then an LA2A, and a Retro Instruments 2A3 EQ to add some sizzle at the top. I heavily compressed on the way in, with the MC77 doing 15–20 dB of gain reduction, which puts the vocal right in your face. I feel that people sing differently when they are singing with compression, and I’d rather hear how it’s going to sound while I’m judging takes and am directing the singer. I’ve been working with Claudius for eight years, and he early on encouraged me to make things sound the way I want while recording. I don’t EQ much on the way in, though, because I’m sitting in the same room as the artist, so it’s hard to judge what I have. Plus the UAD EQs sound great, so I can apply them later.

“I recorded the guitar cabinets with a Josephson E22 and a Royer R122, placed in phase right next to each other, going into my BAE 1073s, though I recently swapped them for Chandler TG2s. I had the Wunder FET 47 [CM7] on my bass amp, which is a 1964 Ampeg B15, going into the BAE and then the Purple Audio 1176 clone. Sometimes I will also record DI, but for the opposite reason most people will use it: I usually run the amp to be clean and use the Sansamp VT–Bass pedal, which is like $160, on the DI.

“The keyboards almost all came from Brendon in Logic, but some were played at my place. I usually use XLN Audio Addictive Keys for piano, though the piano on the last song on the album, ‘Impossible Year’, was a real piano recorded at Avatar with the horn arranger, Rob Mathes, playing. The vocal for that song was done at my place, and I overdubbed bass later, and the rest was done during the final horn sessions at Avatar, which were engineered by Claudius.

“The record would have been fine as it was, but I thought that it would be a lot cooler if it had a big–band horn section on every song. It was part of being over the top and ridiculous and imagining what would Freddie Mercury do if he was trying to do a Frank Sinatra thing. It was like: ‘Let’s go crazy, we can always delete it if it does not work.’ It worked out pretty well, and we kept the horns on every song. Sometimes they are really apparent, sometimes less so, but they add a sense of air to the songs that wasn’t really there before.”

Atom Heart Mixer

Apart from lead single ‘Hallelujah’, which was mixed by Michael Brauer, and ‘Don’t Threaten Me With A  Good Time’, where Jake Sinclair’s rough mix ended up on the album, the other tracks were all mixed by Claudius Mittendorfer, including second single ‘Victorious’.Apart from lead single ‘Hallelujah’, which was mixed by Michael Brauer, and ‘Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time’, where Jake Sinclair’s rough mix ended up on the album, the other tracks were all mixed by Claudius Mittendorfer, including second single ‘Victorious’.Soon after completing the horn recording sessions in New York, Sinclair and Mittendorfer went over to the latter’s Atomic Heart Studio, also in New York, for final mixdown. Only the first single, ‘Hallelujah’, was mixed by star mixer Michael Brauer. According to Sinclair, who mixed most of Panic! At The Disco’s previous album Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!, he gets his rough mixes to a fairly advanced stage before handing them over. “I mix while Suzy and I record, so by the time the recordings are completed I am pretty close, and I can rough mix all the songs in one day, working mostly in the box. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet, but my rough mixes are pretty loud, bright and deep, so not easy to improve on. Claudius nevertheless managed to beat all my rough mixes, apart from my mix of ‘Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time’, which ended up on the album. Claudius is great because he is relaxed and thoughtful, while I am kind of high–energy and throwing paint at the walls, so there’s a good chemistry between us.”

In the eight years that Sinclair and Mittendorfer have collaborated, off and on, the latter has worked with his fair share of in–your–face, hard–hitting pop–rock bands, like Weezer, Fall Out Boy, Arctic Monkeys and Ash. And like Sinclair, Mittendorfer’s career was greatly advanced by an association with a well–known studio industry heavyweight, in his case mixer and producer Rich Costey. Mittendorfer was born in Germany, and his family moved to New York when he was five. He did a major in music engineering and production at Berklee School of Music in Boston, and following that worked at The Hit Factory in New York for four years. His next job was as Costey’s assistant for another four, clocking up credits by the likes of Muse, Franz Ferdinand, Foo Fighters, Paul Simon, Ash, and many more.

After Mittendorfer went freelance in 2006, his connection with the Northern Irish rock band Ash proved an enduring focal point. The band rented a studio space in Chelsea, New York in 2006 (it was once called The Firehouse, with acts like Wu–Tang Clan and the Strokes working there), and Mittendorfer moved in a year later. He’s since risen to the status of one of the US’s leading mixers, with credits including Johnny Marr, Frank Turner, Temples and many others. He’s also increasingly spread out into production, because, he says, “production is a bit more intense and emotional. Mixing is super–creative, but once in a while you get into some sort of cruise control, and at that stage it’s nice to do something entirely different.”

A Tune A Day

According to Mittendorfer, his mix treatments for Death Of A Bachelor were half and half outboard and plug–ins. Mittendorfer conducted his hybrid mixes during August 2015, with Sinclair walking in and out to give comments.

Mittendorfer elaborates: “In general I mix a song a day. Sometimes if I’m not quite sure at the end of the night, I won’t send it out in the evening, but will make some adjustments the next morning when my ears are fresh. In this case I’d mix by myself in the morning, and Jake would come over in the afternoon, and by seven or eight in the evening we would have something that we both were happy with, and we’d then send it out to Brendon and his management, and Jake would chat with them. He was the filter.

“We didn’t really discuss the direction of the album before we started, because it was super–evident from the tracks that I got. All songs came in with clear ideas. There were no instances where there was any doubt about the vibe and I was asked to try to make it sound like something. Everything was in the right place and well arranged and performed. Ninety percent of any song is about the vocals anyway, and in this case even more so, because a lot of it was about showcasing Brendon’s vocal acrobatics. He’s an incredibly gifted and dynamic singer, flamboyant and very exciting. My job was to highlight that.”

When asked whether the super–busy, high–impact arrangements made life easier or harder for him, Mittendorfer responds: “I guess the music is rather ADD, but in a really fun and playful way! It was never overcooked or overdone. The fact that something new happened almost every second made it easier to mix, because as long as you can hear everything, you’re good to go. I didn’t have to worry too much about holding the attention span of the listener, particularly because the songs were short. Jake’s rough mixes were important, as they usually are, because it is what people have been listening to for weeks or months, and everybody has signed off on them as the direction for the song. So I just try to give it some additional sparkle, a little extra air to make something extra happen. But I stayed within the original context of Jake’s roughs.”

Compact Flash

Unusually, Claudius Mittendorfer’s Atomic Heart Studios is centred around a  setup that would be more typical of a  mastering studio, with Lipinski monitors and a  mastering console.Unusually, Claudius Mittendorfer’s Atomic Heart Studios is centred around a setup that would be more typical of a mastering studio, with Lipinski monitors and a mastering console.Despite the busy nature of the arrangement, the Pro Tools session for ‘Victorious’ is relatively modest by modern standards, consisting of “only” 76 tracks. From top to bottom there are a mix print track, with a remarkably healthy and un–smashed–looking waveform, a mix master track, and a track called ‘Phaseclick’. Below that are 20 tracks of live drums and associated sample and aux tracks (dark blue), four programmed drum tracks (blue), four assorted sound effect tracks (purple), three bass tracks (yellow), five guitar tracks (green), five keyboard tracks (light blue), 10 horn tracks, five choir tracks (orange and pink), four lead vocal tracks (red), 13 backing vocal tracks (dark red), and at the bottom of the session are 10 aux effect tracks (pink).

  • Drums: Waves SSL Channel; FabFilter Pro–Q 2; PSP Vintage Warmer; SoundToys Decapitator & Radiator; Boz Digital Labs +10dB Compressor; Avid Compressor/Limiter; Little Labs VOG; API 550B; Q2 Audio ADR Compex; Urei 1176; Standard Level–Or; Chandler Tone Control.

Claudius Mittendorfer: “The first two tracks, ‘KTR’ and ‘STR’, are MIDI trigger tracks for kick and snare samples. I get paranoid about kick and snare triggers happening at the right time, so I tend to put in MIDI triggers for everything and make sure they’re exactly right. I don’t always use samples — wherever possible I try to use the live drum sounds — but in this case I did add a couple of kick samples, ‘CM1’ and ‘CM2’, and a couple of snare samples, ‘SdSC’ and ‘SdSA’. Most people don’t record drums as compressed and distorted and punchy as programmed drums. A lot of times live drums are a recorded bit on the safe side, so you have to get them pumping to go with the programmed drums.

“All the live drum tracks and my samples have the Waves SSL Channel plug–in, which is the ‘S’ on the inserts, and which is definitely one of my go–tos for drums, even if I don’t necessarily EQ or compress with it. But it will give me many options, including a phase flip and a gate in case I need to do some surgery. There are certain things that have become template–like in my mix setup, and the Waves SSL Channel is one of them, but I have not gotten to the point where I will import audio into my mix template. Each session is still its own thing that I then turn into whatever I want it to be. In this case, some of the SSL Channel plug–ins apply plus or minus 2dB filters, and I added some top end on the snares. But nothing dramatic.

“The ‘P’ on the kit kick, ‘Kc02’, is the FabFilter Pro–Q-2 EQ, and the ‘2’ on the kit snare tracks, ‘Sn02’ and ‘SN02’, is the PSP Vintage Warmer. One of my snare samples has the SoundToys Decapitator to dirty it up a little, and the other has the Boz Digital Labs +10dB Compressor, which emulates the F760X Compex. The ‘R’ on the Room track, ‘Rm02’, is the SoundToys Radiator and the ‘C’ the Pro Tools compressor/limiter, which I also have on the overheads tracks, ‘O102’. I added side–chain compression to the room and overhead tracks, triggered from the kick and the snare, so that every time the kick and snare hit, the overheads and room get super compressed, which makes them sound tight and dry.

“The ‘8’ in the sends on the sample and kit kick tracks is an aux that goes to a parallel distortion track with a Little Labs VOG resonant filter for some low end–end kick ‘oomph’, and it also goes to the outboard API 550B EQ and Q2 Audio Compex F760X–RS parallel compression for the entire kit. The ‘7’ send on two of the snare tracks goes to an API 550B EQ and Urei 1176 for parallel compression, for extra snap and fizz, and all the drum tracks have a send to ‘5’, which has an API 550B EQ and a Standard Audio Level–Or, which is modelled after the 1960s Shure Level–Loc PA limiter. The drums also all go to the Chandler Limited Tone Controls. All these sends are coming back in on the aux tracks 3–7, for phase alignment. Finally, I have nothing on the four programmed drum tracks below the aux tracks, other than the Waves SSL Channel on the programmed snare.”Although he does not use a  conventional large–format mixing console, Claudius Mittendorfer still uses a  lot of analogue outboard gear in his mixes. This rack contains, from top: API 2500 and MAS Overstayer compressors, SPL Transient Designer, Chandler Germanium Tone Control (x2), Urei 1176LN compressor (x3) and Summit TLA100 compressor.Although he does not use a conventional large–format mixing console, Claudius Mittendorfer still uses a lot of analogue outboard gear in his mixes. This rack contains, from top: API 2500 and MAS Overstayer compressors, SPL Transient Designer, Chandler Germanium Tone Control (x2), Urei 1176LN compressor (x3) and Summit TLA100 compressor.

  • Sound effects, bass & guitar: Antares Evo Choir; SansAmp PSA–1; Quad 8 MM310B; Urei 1176; Avid Reel Tape Saturation; API 550A; Warm Audio WA76.

“The four purple tracks contain programmed things, like crowd noises, white noise, explosions, crashes, and so on. The crowd noises track has the Antares Choir Evo Vocal Multiplier plugin, which is fun. It creates all sorts of weird, chorus–like, pitch–shifted sounds, with the end result being that it sounds like there are more voices. The top bass track, ‘Bass’, is the real bass, on which I have the SansAmp. The bass tracks also go to my outboard Quad Eight MM310b preamp and 1176. The two guitar tracks, ‘G101’ and ‘F102’, have the Avid Reel Tape Saturation plug–in, and the other inserts go to my outboard API 550A EQ and Warm Audio WA76 compressor.”

  • Keyboards: Helios Type 69; Chandler TG1; Waves TG12345, OneKnob Pumper; FabFilter Pro–Q 2; SoundToys Echo Boy; Quad 8 MM310B; Urei 1176; Audio Ease Altiverb.

“‘PSCJ’ is a combined piano and strings track, with stabs. The track first goes to a hardware insert on which I have my outboard Helios Type 69 EQ and Chandler Limited TG1, which is a recreation of the classic EMI TG12413 Limiter, and then to a Waves TG12345 plugin, just to spread it out a bit. That plug–in has a fun widening effect. The ‘P’ is a FabFilter Pro–Q 2 EQ, which I use a fair amount to problem solve. It has amazing filters, and it has that great visual display for finding annoying spikes and peaks. The ‘Synth Keys’ track also goes to the same hardware insert, and then the Waves OneKnob Pumper, which gives you that EDM side–chain pumping sound. I put it in just to get a little bit of movement out of that keyboard pad. I did rides on it for turnarounds and motion and movement and dynamics. Then there is again an instance of the Pro–Q 2 EQ, just getting rid of stuff I don’t need. The ‘3’ on the keyboard sends is a ping–pong delay from an Echo Boy — I always have a ping–pong delay in my sessions. The ‘ArpL’ track is that main synth chorus arpeggio that sounds like a guitar, and it has a hardware insert going to a Quad 8 MM310b EQ and a Urei 1176. The ‘2’ on the sends of the piano/string and arpeggio track is an Altiverb reverb.”

  • Horns: Avid Real Tape Saturation; API 550B; Overstayer Saturator; FabFilter Pro–Q 2.

“There are no plug–ins on the actual horn tracks, because I recorded them, and got them to sound the way I want them! They all go to the ‘HRN’ group track, which has the Avid Real Tape Saturation plug–in, and outboard EQ from the API 550B which then goes into the Overstayer Saturator, and then a Pro–Q 2. The horn tracks have some mutes, because Rob [Mathes] put horns everywhere: it is better to have them than not have them. We then later used what we wanted. There’s quite a lot happening in the mid range of this song, but that did not give me any difficulties. I love mid–range stuff, so I was excited and happy to be able to work with it! I guess only the kick has more of a hip–hop impact, but for the rest it is more of a mid–range track.”

More Mittendorfer outboard, with his Retro Instruments Sta–Level compressor prominent in the centre of the photo.More Mittendorfer outboard, with his Retro Instruments Sta–Level compressor prominent in the centre of the photo.

  • Vocals: SoundToys Decapitator, Echo Boy, Little AlterBoy, Filter Freak & Microshift; FabFilter Pro–Q 2; Antares Auto–Tune & Evo Choir; Avid Reel Tape Saturation, De–esser & Trim; Valhalla Room; Empirical Labs Little Freq; Urei 1176; Chandler LTD1; Purple Audio MC77; Retro Instruments 2A3; IGS Volfram; Waves SSL Channel Strip & Manny Marroquin Reverb; API 550B & 525; Softube FET Compressor; Audio Ease Altiverb; Tonelux EQ.

“The four orange tracks are the group chant that opens the track, ‘tonight we are victorious’, which also appears in the bridge and outro. ‘Kidz’ is a stereo chant track from the original track producer, which has the SoundToys Decapitator, an Echo Boy, and a Pro–Q 2, all on the inserts. Jake added several vocals from Brendon that we manipulated to not sound like him, using, amongst other things, a new SoundToys plug–in called Little AlterBoy, which is a pitch–shifter and voice–manipulation plug–in. We used it to make him sound more like a kid and fit in with the original chant. There is also a SoundToys Filter Freak, and on ‘Kids3’ I have Auto–Tune because I transposed Brendan’s voice up an octave and then changed the formant to give it a different character. I wanted it to sound different from his other chant overdubs. That track also has the Avid Reel Tape Saturation for a little bit of a lo–fi effect, and a SoundToys Microshift to give it a little bit of a stereo spread. Sends 1, 2 and 3 go to the ‘Choir’ track below, which has a delay chorus effect from the Antares Choir plug–in and room ambience from the Valhalla Room.This composite screen capture shows the entire Pro Tools session for Claudius Mittendorfer’s mix of ‘Victorious’.This composite screen capture shows the entire Pro Tools session for Claudius Mittendorfer’s mix of ‘Victorious’.Claudius Mittendorfer made extensive use of saturation plug–ins including Avid’s tape emulator and SoundToys’ Decapitator.Claudius Mittendorfer made extensive use of saturation plug–ins including Avid’s tape emulator and SoundToys’ Decapitator.

“Brendon’s lead vocal, ‘LV02’, has an Avid de–esser, which seems to work fine for Brendon, and ‘2’ is a hardware insert, which goes to an Empirical Labs Little Freq EQ, which I love. It is a pretty deep EQ which I tend to use for the lead vocal just in case I want to get crazy with it. That goes to one of my old Urei 1176 compressors. Then the vocal goes to the Decapitator, for some subtle extra drive, and then there’s another Pro–Q 2 for high–pass and a little bit of air, ie. a boost on the top end. I am a booster, not a cutter, except for high–pass filters. The lead vocal double, ‘LV01’, has just the Avid de–esser and a hardware insert which connects to another Chandler Limited LTD1, which is their 1073 copy, and the Purple Audio MC77. If I could have 1176s on everything, I probably would! Now that I finally have the UAD stuff, maybe I will.

“There are two chorus doubles that also have the Avid de–esser, and a hardware insert, which goes to a Retro Instruments 2A3 Pultec EQ clone, and the IGS Volfram, an 1176 clone. Underneath these doubles is the bus for the backing vocals, ‘BV B’. The actual backing vocal tracks themselves all have the Avid de–esser, and some have the Waves Channel Strip. The ‘BV Bus’ has a hardware API 550B EQ and API 525 compressor, and then another EQ plug–in for clean–up, the Pro–Q 2.

“The sends on the lead vocals and the backing vocals group track all go to the purple aux tracks at the bottom of the session. The first four have the Echo Boy, with a long delay on the ‘LNG’ track, a short slap on the ‘SLAP’ track, a mono slap on the ‘MON’ track, and ‘ECH’ has another long delay, with a compression side–chain from the Softube FET Compressor. ‘DMX’ has the Microshift plug–in, and ‘RMX’ gives me a shimmer reverb that I pitched up an octave and then goes to an Altiverb Lexicon 480 reverb and then a Tonelux EQ trim for some more top end and rolling off low end. It’s a very twinkly–sounding reverb. ‘PLATE’ has a Trim plug–in — I flipped it out of phase — a Reel Tape Saturation, and the Valhalla Room. ‘PON’ has an Echo Boy with a ping–pong delay, ‘CMB’ has the Altiverb Cello Studio 2 room, and again the Reel Tape, and the track at the bottom, ‘MRE’, has the Waves Manny Marroquin Reverb, with another plate. I like that plug–in because it has an in–built EQ and a compressor.”

  • Stereo bus: Thermionic Culture Fat Bustard; Manley Massive Passive; Dramastic Audio Obsidian; Kush Audio Clariphonic.

“Going back to the top of the session, the ‘Phaseclick’ track is just a click to make sure I can align the vocals and instrumental. I split my two–bus and also send it through a fancy Forssell A–D converter to a 96kHz Pro Tools rig, and sometimes I want to do some vocal rides in that rig, and with the click I can make sure the vocals and instrumental sections line up. This session was 88.2kHz/32–bit, so I did not need to do the 96kHz mix print. The ‘MST’ track above the ‘Phaseclick’ and just below the mix print is just a VCA master that controls all the outputs, so if I want to give everything a bit more juice, I can. I don’t compress the two–bus very much, so I can easily push the chorus up 2dB or so with that VCA master without squeezing things too much.

“The final mix went to my Fat Bustard, and then through my Manley Massive Passive EQ, a Dramastic Audio Obsidian stereo compressor, and a Kush Audio Clariphonic parallel high–frequency EQ to add some air. But yes, from the waveform at the top you can see that I did not flatten that mix! I like to give mastering something to do. Mixing a song is about dynamics, about getting the choruses to jump out. You don’t want it to be flat, you want to be moving!”

The fact that Mittendorfer did not try to brickwall his mix of ‘Victorious’ is perhaps surprising, given the song’s all–out, take–it–to–11, in-your-face nature. It’s worth taking note therefore that Death Of A Bachelor has nevertheless been a big success, becoming Panic! At The Disco’s first American number one album, and reaching number four in the UK. Clearly, Sinclair and Mittendorfer are experts at moving people, and we’re likely to be hearing a lot more from them in years to come.

Bachelor Pads

Jake Sinclair and Brendon Urie began work on Death Of A Bachelor in April 2015. The writing sessions took place in two places: Sinclair’s Infrasonic Studio in Los Angeles and at a studio they built in Urie’s LA home especially for the purpose. “I found that Brendon is more comfortable writing at home. He had just bought a new house with a two–part garage, so I helped him convert that into a studio. I fitted him out with similar mics and signal paths as I have in my studio, in particular a Wunder Audio CM7 microphone for his vocals, and Chandler TG2 and Eric Valentine–designed Undertone Audio MPDI mic pres. I also recommended that he got a Universal Audio Apollo 8, in part because it comes with the UAD platform, which I adore, and he bought a pair of ATC SCM25A monitors.

“The idea was for Brendon to track his vocals, guitars, and drums at his place, which would be of good enough quality for me to load into my system, rather than us having to recut things later. A number of the vocals, guitars and drums that he recorded at his own studio did indeed make it to the album. I am a firm believer in the idea that the moment you work out how to sing a song, you should make sure you record it that time, because it will never be the same after that. There’s some kind of ghost that disappears when you keep recording. This is the main reason I wanted him to have a good microphone at his home.

“The only thing that complicated things was that he likes working in Logic, and I work in Pro Tools. I’ve used Pro Tools since I was 16 and know it inside out, and I find it hard to get my head around Logic. It’s like a different language to me. So Brendon would export his tracks as audio, and I then imported them, but sometimes I had to ask him to re–export things without certain plug–in treatments, and there also always was the problem of tracks not quite lining up correctly, with me often manually having to nudge things in time.

“My own studio is a mastering room, which I turned into a production/mix room. The equipment is based around a mastering console made by Sterling, which basically is a big rack with a bunch of preamps on the left and a bunch of compressors on the right, and in the middle a tray for my laptop and UAD cards. I used to have a summing rig with the Shadow Hills mastering compressor and some Pultecs, but in the end found that I liked working in the box better, if only because of the consistency and recall ability. I’m often jumping between several projects at the same time, sometimes working on up to half a dozen songs per day. For monitoring I used to have a set of Barefoot MM27s, though I recently got a pair of ATC SCM150ASLs, which I love. I also have a ’60s Ludwig drum kit in the corner that’s great, and I built an iso room for my guitar and bass cabinets.”

Atomic Heart

Draped in hippy–esque rugs and curtains, Claudius Mittendorfer’s Atomic Heart Studio is a desk–free yet analogue/digital hybrid affair like Sinclair’s studio, but with a lot more analogue equipment. “I keep hearing from people who sell all their outboard and buy UAD stuff and live happily ever after inside the box. But I can’t do that... yet,” says Mittendorfer. “Instead am surrounded by racks of outboard gear. I can’t give it up. I love to see lights flashing and needles moving. I like hearing the needles hit the VU meter! I like rolling around my studio in my chair and grabbing equipment. I love 1176s. I have 11 of them — six old ones and a bunch of clones. I love API stuff, and have a bunch of 550s, and I may at some stage get some sort of API console, but for now I have one of these mastering desks with outboard. I look at it as my little Frankenconsole, with EQ and compressors pre–wired into my Avid HD interface as hardware inserts, that I can assign where I want in any given mix.

Inside Track“I have 32 I/O for outboard and another 16 outputs that go to my Thermionic Fat Bustard, which is a summing mixer with which I can add some EQ, as well as attitude from tube distortion. I guess technically that is my console. It is a really cool–sounding box. My monitors are Lipinksi L707’s, which are great three–way passives, with a Bryston 4B ST amp, and Yamaha NS10s with a Bryston 4B amp. I also just got some Auratones, which I’ve placed to my side, close together, to listen to my mixes from a different perspective. I control them with my Crane Song Avocet monitor controller.

“People keep asking me why I keep holding on to all this gear, and for the most part it is really about the sonics. Obviously plug–ins are getting better and better, and they sound more and more realistic. But the outboard gives me tones that are very familiar to me and that I know work. I’ve had my compressors for years, and I know all their sweet spots. I’m not a gear snob. I don’t need to have esoteric high–end things that no–one else has. But even though my outboard still goes through a D–A and then an A–D, and I also use tons of plug–ins, there’s still something I get from the outboard that I can’t get any other way. Obviously it complicates things with recalls, and I have to write down the settings. But it takes me just 10 minutes to recall a mix with outboard.”

A Starting Point

Claudius Mittendorfer: “When I start working on a mix I like to listen to everything at the same time initially. Often when I get sessions in they will have vocal rides and routings that are different from what I normally would do, and if you hit Play it does not actually work on my system, so I first have to undo things to make the session work for me. But in the case of Jake, I can hit play and it is pretty much there. So wherever possible, instead of tearing a mix all down I will start with everything in, and will work on the kick drum and snare drum, still with everything else in, and I will make adjustments accordingly. Only after that will I solo and fine-tune individual tracks. When you have everything going it’s easier to hear what’s important and what is doing most of the legwork.

Inside Track“Everyone tends to hype the drum sound, regardless of whether they listen to just the drums or to everything. But if you’re doing the latter, you can judge better how crazy the drum sound needs to get in order to match certain other things that may also already be pretty hyped. I learned the everything–in approach from Brian Malouf [Michael Jackson, Queen, Madonna], who I used to assist at The Hit Factory in New York. He always asked me to bring a mix up on the console with all the faders at zero or –5dB and we would adjust the levels coming out of Pro Tools to hit the board with nothing too crazy or too loud. It was always interesting to me that you could immediately hear the song without actually mixing. So he could just jump in and mix, as opposed to trying to figure out what is where and having to listen to it bit by bit.”

The Write Stuff

Like many modern pop tracks, the first three songs on Death Of A Bachelor have numerous songwriting credits — in the case of ‘Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time’, 13! ‘Victorious’ is credited to seven writers, as Jake Sinclair explains: “That song was based on an instrumental track which had the guitar riff on it, written by Alex DeLeon [from the band the Cab] and CJ Baran. If felt like a hit, so we worked on writing melodies on top of the track. Mike Viola wrote the ‘tonight we are victorious’ part of the song, and Rivers Cuomo [of Weezer] wrote the ‘we got to turn up the crazy’ section, and then White Sea, Brendan and I wrote the rest. It’s a real smorgasbord, with many different elements, and we then fitted all our favourite parts together. I pushed for us to try several different choruses until the song felt exciting the whole way through.”