Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) on multi-channel mixing
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Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) on multi-channel mixing

Bruce Soord has become an industry leader in mixing for multi-channel formats and the go-to guy for bands such as Opeth, Katatonia and TesseracT.  We sat down with Bruce to discuss this rapidly-growing sector of the recording industry which has a 'vibrant' fan base and its own share of problems and obstacles.

How did you first become involved in multi-channel mixing?

I was mixing a live Katatonia record in stereo and the label asked me for a 5.1 mix.  At the time I needed the work so I said ‘sure, I can do that’.  I put the phone down and thought ‘oh shit, what do I do now?’.  So I upgraded my studio, did a LOT of research, talked to a lot of people (including Steven Wilson) and figured it all out.

Who have you produced mixes for?

I’ve done 5.1 for Opeth, Katatonia, Tesseract, Anathema, Gong, Riverside, Tim Bowness and (last but not least) The Pineapple Thief… among others… 

What do you think is behind the surge in popularity of the multi-channel mix format?

It has a VERY vibrant fan base.  The flip side is that they are a fussy bunch with very strong opinions.  You can never please them all.  Also I think Steven did a lot to bring multi-channel mixing back to the fore when he did In Absentia and went on to get a Grammy nomination for The Incident. Before that, all I knew of was the old quad releases in the 70s.  And then of course you have the labels like Kscope who themselves promote the 5.1 mixes and special editions.  I don’t know an awful lot of people with audiophile surround systems, but whenever I demo my mixes to friends they are always blown away.  How can you go back to stereo after hearing that??

How do you first approach a mix?  Do you have consultations with the artist themselves?

Not usually, because most artists haven’t got a clue about surround.  Vincent from Anathema was an exception.  He came down to my studio and was really passionate about it, which was great.  In terms of approaching the mixes, i’ve learned the hard way.  My first mix was quite tame, I was very timid with my use of the surround field because I wanted to keep things sounding natural.  But I soon realised the whole point of surround mixes is to take the listener to whole new planet.  The stereo mixing paradigm goes out of the window.  Once you accept that, the world is your oyster.

Is it difficult to restrain yourself then?!

You can of course over do things - playing with the surround should never get distracting.  Where you place that line is very much down to taste.  So yeah, it’s a difficult audience to please but I’ve definitely settled on my approach now.  For the new The Pineapple Thief live blu-ray  I actually did two 5.1 mixes for the show. One ‘natural’ designed to go with the visuals, one more ‘discrete’ designed to be listened to with your eyes closed.  A bit of work, but it was worth it.

What is the ultimate goal with a multi-channel mix?

I think if there is going to be a 5.1 version of an album, it needs to literally surround you without resorting to gimmicks or becoming distracting as I just mentioned. .  It also has to sound good in audiophile systems as well as home cinema systems.  That’s a whole different ball game...

Is there some general ‘rules’ which you will apply no matter the artist/genre?

There are some loose rules..  Keep the drums and bass as a set and generally towards the front.  Some of my early mixes had toms spinning around the room which in hindsight I wished I didn’t do.  As for everything else, there are no rules - that’s what makes mixing in the field such good fun!

What are some of the most common problems/obstacles you find you have to overcome during a mix?

Often I only get mixed stems (for example backing vocals all mixed down to a stereo track),  so breaking things up into the surround as much as I would like is sometimes impossible, which then makes reading people’s comments a bit frustrating. . Also when you expand a stereo mix into surround it exposes all kinds of noises and bad edits you simply can’t hear in stereo.  So a tedious clean up is often required…

So are there any disadvantages of mixing in surround?

One of the biggest pitfalls is the use of the subwoofer or LFE.  LFE actually stands for ‘low frequency effects’, such as cinematic explosions - it wasn’t designed for music!  However when mixing with a full range 5.1 setup, pumping lots of low end into it  like bass and kick drum makes it sound great.  However, if you play it back through a home cinema system, which ‘manages’ the amount of signal sent to the LFE (to compensate for those horrible tiny speakers they come with) then it can become unlistenable due to a swamp of low end.  There are so many commercial releases I have heard that suffer from this problem.  Managing the mix of the LFE channel is really important.  Unless you only care about the audiophiles with full range setups of course. 

How do you know when you are ‘done’?!

When deadline day arrives!

Are you currently working on any mix projects?

Yes I’m actually working on 4 stereo albums at the moment from all over the world.  Progressive rock is such a popular genre everywhere.  I’m mixing a band from India called ‘Paradigm Shift’. They sing in Hindi but it’s incredibly catchy and listenable.  I’m also mixing a band from Chile called ‘Wavesign’, a band from Ukraine called ‘Obiymy Doschu’ and a London artist called ‘Kody’. So yes a very busy summer for me.   I’m very lucky to be producing and mixing such talented bands. And I always try to convince them to do a 5.1...

Which project has been the most enjoyable to work on?

I think ‘Your Wilderness’.  Because it was my own band, the pressure was off.  And it was really easy project, especially with Gavin’s superb drum mix.

Massive thanks to Bruce for taking the time to speak to us.


The new The Pineapple Thief Live DVD/Documentary 'Where We Stood' is available 8th September 2017 via Kscope.  Pre-order here.


Follow Bruce Soord on Twitter @bsoord and at http://brucesoord.com

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