Taking a chance on immersive music has paid off handsomely for producer Stan Kybert, who has reinvented himself as one of the UK’s busiest Atmos mixers.
As producer, engineer and programmer, Stan Kybert’s name is on some of the biggest albums of the last 30 years. Stan’s discography includes names such as Paul Weller, Oasis and the Verve, but two years ago, he decided to make a break away from production. Since then, he’s become a specialist in immersive music. Throughout 2021 and 2022, he’s been mixing Dolby Atmos, establishing himself as a first choice for labels and artists looking to explore the new format. Demand for his services is so great, he has recently opened a state‑of‑the‑art ATC 9.1.4 mix room at London’s Tileyard complex.
In effect, Stan Kybert has defined a new career role, which is different from and complementary to that of the stereo mix engineer. He will never start work on an Atmos mix until the stereo mix is signed off, and will always work from stems rather than the original multitrack or Pro Tools session.
“For the majority of projects, I need the stereo mastered WAV and I need the mix stems. And the reason I use the stereo master is to have that point of reference, but also to be locked in for timing. The Atmos mix has to be within one second of the stereo or it’ll be rejected.
“Another advantage I find with having a stereo mastered WAV is that it’s the closed-off stereo mix. The client has approved the mix, approved the mastering, so we’re not going to go back to the mix. With stereo mixing, everybody knows it’s fairly easy to reload the session and make a small change. Therefore, the number of changes has gone up. Atmos isn’t like that. Atmos is complicated.
“We have three stages to an Atmos mix. When the audio comes in, it’s previewed and then pre‑mixed. My engineer, Luke, checks that everything is there, and then it’s brought into my template and then it comes into my room. Luke is on pre‑mix and he does a brilliant job. I will get him the stereo mastered WAV mix stems and then he’ll check it all, tempo‑map it, colour‑code it. And then when I come in to hear, I press Play and then I’ve got that stereo running alongside. I’ve always got the stereo mix on a button. I’m always flicking between them. The Atmos mix has got to be an enhancement. It can’t be worse than the stereo, or what’s the point?
“When I mix albums, or even EPs, I mix them all in the same Pro Tools session. I feel it’s really important, I feel it’s immersive. It is important to be thinking about the piece, and the themes and the threads. If I find the spot for the piano, if it’s that sort of record, then that’ll be the spot throughout the whole album. And if I find that spot when I get to track eight, I’ll go back to tracks two and three.”
The same applies to his use of the LFE (low‑frequency effects) channel, which is meant to feed a dedicated subwoofer in a speaker‑based Atmos rig. “With the immersive experience, I won’t have an album where I’ve got one or two tracks with LFE on them. We’re going to be using LFE across the album or not at all.”
The word ‘stem’ means different things to different people. For some, creating stems might mean rendering stereo submixes of all the guitars, all the drums, all the backing vocals and so on. For others, it means exporting an entire multitrack. Stan is happy to trust the judgement of the engineer who mixed the stereo version; and where bus or subgroup processing is a key part of the stereo mix, he doesn’t want that to be unpicked. “Because I’ve made records, I understand, and I’ll take sound and vibe and feel over separation all day long. If you’re relying on a processor to create that sound, that smack, that hit, that feel, that vibe, then don’t separate it at all, because then all those separates are not the sound or feel or vibe of that stem.
“Atmos is complicated on so many levels, from creation to mix to how we all hear it. Stems are no different. There’s no one size fits all. There is genre, there’s where it’s been made, who’s mixed it. The stems that come from the top five percent of mixers are immaculate in separation, in sound, in feel — but they’re not the same every time as all songs are...