Q&A Session with John Feldmann - Producer, songwriter, vocalist,
and A&R guy
John Feldmann—guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer
of the California punk band Goldfinger—is just your average guy. That
is, assuming average to you is a vegan punk front man and A&R director who
loudly supports PETA, thinks the Beatles’ Revolver is the greatest recording
of all time, knows Pro Tools inside and out, and once made the Guinness Book
by playing 385 gigs in a single year.
“Feldmann with his fury second on a Pro Tools session. John is a big fan
Feldmann, a DiSKussion panelist on Digidesign’s website, has collaborated
with, written songs for, produced, and/or signed to recording contracts the
following artists: Goldfinger, The Used, Story of the Year, Good Charlotte,
Motiv, Ashlee Simpson, Showoff, Unloco, Kelis, and Mest. The day Blue U. reached
the highly energetic, unstoppable John, he was just finishing up some mixes
for the Cincinnati-based band Bottom Line, his young canine assistant engineer/remixer/exec
producer at his side.
“But the most important thing I’ve done all year is raise my new
son Julian,” beams Feldmann.
RED: We usually start by chatting about your overall approach to miking. How
does it change for you from genre-to-genre or artist-to-artist—or does
JOHN: There's a basic setup that I use as a jumping off point for most of the
work I do. I have a good idea of how I want things to sound, and I know how
to achieve that from years of making records. So, that's where I start. That
being said, it's often necessary to adjust from artist-to-artist, and song-to-song.
RED: Talk a bit about your audio chain and tracking with EQ, preamps, and dynamics
processors—does it change depending on what you're recording?
JOHN: My audio chain goes hand-in-hand with my mic choice and placement. It's
part of the template I start off each session with. I always EQ and compress
to "tape" with both outboard gear and some trusty plug-ins inside
Pro Tools. I'm currently using Brent Averill 1073's, the UA 6176, and Sony Oxford
EQ's a lot. However, like with mic placement, my audio chain does need to change
from artist-to-artist and song-to-song.
RED: How do you choose which microphone you'll use in a given scenario? What
are the three most important criteria you look at when choosing a mic for a
JOHN: I consider what sort of room I'm in. Is it highly reflective? Is it big?
Small? Does it sound good? How the source sounds in the room has a big effect
on what mic I choose. Maybe if the room sounds bad, I won't want to capture
the room sound at all. Often times I'm looking for an in-your-face direct capture
of the source that I can manipulate later. So then, in terms of mics, I consider
whether it's a condenser, dynamic, ribbon, or tube, and I look at the polar
pattern. Is the mic going to accurately capture what I'm recording, in the space
I'm recording it, or will it make it sound worse…or better? After that,
it's a matter of trying them out until I find the one that sounds right to me.
RED: Using a track you’ve recently recorded as an example, describe how
you set up a mic to record it (pattern, angling, mounting, popscreens, signal
JOHN: For the guitars on the Bottom Line song "Trainwreck" I used
a combination of a pair of dynamic condenser mics, an active ribbon mic, and
a cardioid studio condenser all on-axis and right up on the grill over the center
of the speaker cones. I used the 1073 pre's and a bit of EQ before tape on that
RED: We also like to ask about crazy sounds you've gotten in the studio—maybe
you planned those, or maybe it was accidental. When have you tried a weird idea
that seemed like it absolutely wouldn't work, technically or creatively, but
then it did?
JOHN: On The Used's song "Poetic Tragedy," I wasn't getting Bert
[McCracken] to scream the way he needed to for the track. I started throwing
every piece of kitchenware I could find at him, and it worked! That was a kind
of accidental method, but it actually did work. I also once recorded a dildo
on a guitar. Now that was not accidental.
RED: And then, of course, we have to ask about the times that an experiment
actually didn't work out.
JOHN: I tried taking the drums out of the studio and setting them up in my
living room for a record. I thought I'd use it on more than one song, but it
didn't really work out and took me two days to set it all up and break it all
back down. I guess that's not that funny of an answer. [note: yes it is.]
RED: What would you say is the toughest thing that engineers consistently have
to deal with in the studio?
JOHN: I would say it's finding workarounds for a broken piece of gear. Trying
to find a way to finish tracking when an "essential" piece of gear
dies on you at 2 a.m. and all the rental shops are closed—that’s
tough. Also, making sure the artist is happy and productive is a challenge that
never goes away.
RED: Thanks for your valuable time today, John. We always end with the one that's
toughest to answer—what's your all-time most memorable gig?
JOHN: My most memorable show was probably when I spit on a cop and didn't even
get hurt—that was awesome. Also, at one show in San Jose, we had 2,000
kids on stage with us, and one time I dumped a big bowl of noodles on Gwen Stefani's
head during the last show of the tour we did with No Doubt. That was pretty