Q&A Session with Dave Way - (Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney,
Michael Jackson, Sheryl Crow)
Learning From One of the Best
Mixer, producer, engineer and studio owner Dave Way
Dave Way is one of those guys who have worked their entire career with, and
for, an A-list of artists, musicians, and studio greats—but it doesn’t
show. He’s one of those ego-less, immensely talented engineers who’d
rather show a first-time studio assistant how to make better coffee and position
a microphone than stand on his past laurels. The greatest, most grateful recording
engineers, mixers, and producers are like that.
Born in Brooklyn, the Berklee College-trained Way has since the late ‘80s
worked elbow-to-elbow with and learned from Shep Pettibone, Teddy Riley, Dallas
Austin, Babyface and many others. His deep discography includes credits with
Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Sheryl Crow, John Doe, Christina
Aguilera, Stevie Wonder and far too many others to list in one sentence. He
also owns The Pass Studios, a commercial facility in Los Angeles, and has mixed
and engineered soundtracks for Do The Right Thing, Bodyguard, Pleasantville,
and Prince of Egypt.
Dave’s latest credits include Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine;
an upcoming album for Ziggy Marley; a song for the movie She’s The Man;
an album for new Columbia artist Susan Cagle; producing new soul singer Nicholas
Barron; and a cartoon theme with his friend Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish fame.
VINTAGEMICROPHONE.COM: Does your perspective on microphone use change depending
on whom or what you’re recording?
DAVE: Some ideas carry over from project to project. Using as few microphones
as needed, for example, or using only certain types of mics for certain instruments—I
don't do anything overly interesting unless I'm going for a unique sound. I
generally use dynamics on most drums with maybe a single ribbon mic overhead,
or at least that’s where I start. If I want a bit more of a hi-fi sound
on the snare, I'll switch out a small diaphragm condenser or just use two or
three large diaphragm condensers and a dynamic on the kick. For electric guitars,
I usually start with either a vintage tube condenser or a dynamic cardioid instrument
mic. Most of the time one of those mics is going to be perfect. When tracking
acoustic guitars I'll mainly use small diaphragm condensers or a ribbon mic,
and the vocals almost always get the old faithfuls: an FET condenser, a large
diaphragm tube, or a large capsule multi-pattern tube mic. Occasionally, I'll
try a new mic that aims at those types of sounds. I do like the Blue Bottle
a lot, particularly with the B0 and B7 capsules.
For a nice piano sound, I'll maybe use a pair of cardioid studio or vintage
tube condenser mics, and if it's a pop or rock record I'll probably put them
in an x-y pattern closer to the hammers. For less dense productions that can
use a nice big open piano sound, I'll spread the microphones out over the length
of the piano, but I generally don't like a piano sound that’s too spread
out across the stereo spectrum. Either way for pianos, it has to have a nice
open image and, of course, no phase cancellations. Many times for piano, though,
I'll use just one mic.
VINTAGEMICROPHONE.COM: What about your signal paths?
DAVE: Unless I'm specifically going for “a sound” that the musician
would be better playing through, I generally like to use very little compression
or EQ when tracking. For some records, when I know we're going for a certain
sonic picture, I'll try to get us there as soon as possible. That way the musicians
are all feeling the spirit and vibe. Other records just require a simpler, more
standard approach. I don't try to follow either path every time but, on every
session, the key is to work fast and to make the musicians feel comfortable
VINTAGEMICROPHONE.COM: Using a specific instrument or voice track you’ve
recently recorded as an example, describe briefly how you set up a mic to record
DAVE: Yesterday I recorded my upright piano for a solo with a pair of dynamic
instrument mics set up on both sides of the player at about shoulder height.
I positioned those one foot back and about three feet apart angled in towards
the middle of the piano. I ran those through a pair of API 512 mic pre's and
fairly heavily compressed it all with a Joe Meek compressor set up for slow
attack and fast release. Basically, it’s that very "Beatle-y"
sound, and I think I EQ'd some bottom end out, too.
VINTAGEMICROPHONE.COM: We also like to ask about crazy sounds you've gotten
in the studio, those unplanned beautiful accidents.
DAVE: For some reason the first one that comes to mind is the time I was mixing
a song after having just finished an overdub. We still had a couple of ambient
mics set up out in the room that were accidentally still feeding a plate return
at the board. As I was mixing, the assistant was cleaning up the room and dragged
a gobo across the floor that created this very cool whooshing sound. He did
that right in a hole in the song where it sounded just perfect! It was a kind
of ocean swell sound and, of course, we quickly yelled out to him—“Do
VINTAGEMICROPHONE.COM: What would you say is the toughest thing that engineers
consistently have to deal with in the studio?
DAVE: Hmmm…the toughest thing for me will always be the vibe thing, or
a person coming down whose putting out some kind of bad energy. Technical hitches
can suck, but we all know those will happen. But if I go to bed at night feeling
like I've had a tough day in the studio, it will invariably be because of some
vibe issue in the studio. Maybe the A&R guy came down on us and had something
to say that we didn't want to hear, or maybe the singer's girlfriend being there
made him deal with everyone differently. Maybe the assistant has an "I
know better" attitude or someone's ego is out of check—these are
the kinds of things that I find can make a session a tough one. But honestly,
for some reason those kinds of days seem to happen less and less for me as the
years move on. I'm very happy about that.
VINTAGEMICROPHONE.COM: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today,
Dave. One more question: what's your all-time most memorable gig?
DAVE: A few come to mind immediately, but I'd have to say without a doubt that
spending a month at Ringo Starr's house and working at David Gilmour's studio
on a boat with Ringo and Mark Hudson were about as big a thrill for me as I
could ask for. I'm a huge fan and admirer of Ringo and the Beatles, and honestly
I would not be doing what I do for a living were it not for them. Helping Ringo
to make some music was a very small repayment for the many years of joy those
guys have given me. I think just knowing I was able to do that gives me the
most pleasure I've had with my career. Plus, I've never laughed and had so much
fun in the studio in my life as I did with them.