--> Keys & Beats interviews Billy Hume
Re-posted from Keys and Beats:
- Billy Hume is the owner of The Zone studios in Atlanta, where the biggest hits from the South are created
- The Zone studios was originally a home that was later converted into a studio
- Billy Hume mixes both Rock and Hip Hop tracks, and gives tips on both in this interview
KEYS: We are talking to Billy Hume, owner of The Zone studios in Atlanta. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. How are you today?Billy Hume: Thanks. Doing great! Working a lot on a bunch of really good projects.
KEYS: Now you’re the owner of one of the more popular studios in Atlanta. How did you get started up?Billy Hume: Long story really, here’s the short version. I’ve had that studio forever it seems. I used to live there (it’s in a house) and I had the main studio in the basement while I lived upstairs. The studio had functioned for years as my private studio for my bands, my wife's band and local rock and country bands that I knew. 15 or so years ago this air conditioner repair man, who saw my studio when he was working there, convinced me of 2 things (he is a very convincing dude and a friend to this day):
a) That I should fix the studio up and expand to the upstairs with a B Room.
b) That I should get into mixing and producing rap music. I had done only rock and country up to that point. I thought , “what the hell? Might be fun!” And from the first session, with Bone Crusher, it was! The air conditioner repairman, Chris Vermillion, then talked me into doing a compilation of local rap artists and producers. We called it Full Contact Sports. It had Bone Crusher, Lil' Jon, Mina Mina Goodsong, L Roc (now producer for Jermaine Dupri) and a bunch more up and coming artists on it. We had Polow Da Don from Jim Crow and all the BME crew hanging out. We never made much money from the CD, but everybody in urban music in Atlanta heard it and heard my work. Lil' Jon and Smurf/Mr. Collipark ended up booking me constantly and bringing all sorts of people through. I worked so hard I don’t even remember some of those sessions. But at some point I suddenly had several songs shoot up the charts that I had either recorded or mixed or played guitar on and man.... the rest is history.
KEYS: So what are some of the day to day activities of running the studio?Billy Hume: First we’ve got to clean up from the night before. Backing up data is now a major task. We do it pretty regularly. Staying in touch with clients is very important. Maintaining the gear. But mostly it’s about coming in and working and making sure that everything I do sounds amazing, no matter what it takes. You live and die by the quality of your work.
KEYS: I know you’ve got wide variety of musical influences. What do you think you’ve been able to extract from your eclectic taste in music and put into your own projects.Billy Hume: Mainly an understanding of music and the realization that there are more things in common between different music genres than most people realize. All music is about the communication of an emotion. You are trying to convey to the listener what you felt at some point and to see the world or a certain situation through your eyes. Yes, I’ve had to learn the different engineering and mixing styles for a wide range of music, but it is the vibe that counts more than anything. Now on a more technical level my eclecticism manifests itself in my putting 808 kicks and snares in rock and country songs, using mandolins and banjos in Hip Hop tracks, not using samples and being hired to replay or re-create samples.
KEYS: As a producer, how does your approach differ from working with Rock bands and Hip Hop artists?Billy Hume: Now that is a good question that is worthy of a whole article. But here are a few things: With a Hip Hop artist you just set up the time and they come in and we work. With a rock band you really need to meet with them, get to know them and discuss what we are going to do in the studio. A Hip Hop artist tends to view his art as his job, his career. He doesn’t really care what I think about him or what anyone else does for that matter and he is on a mission to dominate the world. He is ready to accept criticism because the bottom line is making a hit song. No fooling around with ego when it comes to this which is strange considering how much ego is projected publicly by Hip Hop artists. Because of this background he never takes anything for granted and wants to get things done quickly and move on the next thing.
A rock band on the other hand takes their music very seriously. Sometimes too seriously. It is truly viewed as their art and thus tied directly to their souls. And their ego is wrapped up in every detail of their music from the melody to the amount of echo on the guitar to the type of drum head we’re using on the toms to whether we are going to cut the intro in order to get to the hook quicker. The typical band is also like a club you might have had as a kid with your friends in a tree-house with a sign by the door saying “No Girls Allowed”. They are suspicious of outsiders. And where my role working with a rap artist is more like a partner because I am helping create the music or if I’m mixing I am actively enhancing the mix to take it to another level (which IS expected in Hip Hop and Pop), in rock I am taking music that has already been created and performed and is viewed by the band as something akin to their child, and changing that. A bands first assumption about a producer is fear and suspicion that he will mess it up and change the bands identity much the same way many guys are fearful that their girlfriend is going to try to change them. Now this sounds pretty negative, but it is actually something I love about bands because through that tension arises great timeless music. I wish that bands could adopt a little of the practical business attitude of rap artists and Hip Hop artists would take their music a little more seriously as a true art form which it is.
Billy Hume: Well, I guess that kinda ties in with the last question. Both can be difficult, but in different ways. Hip Hop artists are usually late for sessions. Rock guys often don’t want to put in the hours that a Hip Hop artist will. Over all it’s about the same to me.
KEYS: Speaking from a technical point of view, how does the mixing of a Rock track differ from Hip Hop?Billy Hume: Drums man... drums. You might spend a lot of time getting the low end and kick drum right on a Hip-Hop record, but on a rock record it is the whole kit you have to address, which may have 20 tracks just for drums alone. You might have 4, 6 or more guitar tracks as well. And since they’re live and not sample they are not static, so one setting on EQ may not work for the whole song on an individual track. The focus on mixing Hip-Hop tends to be on the beat and the vocals. With rock it is about the music, mainly guitars and then vocals. The band tends to get really involved in the mix with each member putting in his 2 cents. In Hip-Hop the artist rarely has much to say about the mix. Over all I’d say mixing rock is definitely more of a challenge.
KEYS: As an engineer, you’ve had the opportunity to use both methods (digital vs non-digital) of working on a track. What is one thing that you enjoy about each method?Billy Hume: I dig digital because what you record in is pretty much what comes back out. I can edit easier. Analog did some of the work for you with tape compression. You were also forced to make decisions and commitments about your music.
KEYS: What is one thing that you dislike about each method?Billy Hume: With DAW’s you can have too many choices and take too long to get things done. With analog you would actually lose your high end the more you ran it over the play back heads. The tracks would sound different (and each track had it’s own characteristic to some degree) weeks after you initially recorded it.
KEYS: Personally, I know that I struggle a lot with getting a good overall mix on a track. What tips would you be able to give to people for getting better mixes?Billy Hume: I think the most common mistake people make when getting into mixing is that they start looking at every detail in the mix and lose sight of the overall sound. Your average listener hears music as one big sound. Most people want to tap their foot and sing along, so address the rhythm and the melody. Don’t get me wrong, I love to tweak details and I’ll do it for hours sometimes. But you have to stand back and address the over all sound. Go stand in the hallway and listen to your mix for instance. Also, mix at a low volume. I spend most of my time mixing at a very low volume. We could have a conversation with out hardly raising our voices at the volume I mix. I do put it up on big speakers periodically to see how it’s going to pump, but 90% of the time it’s low. Almost anything sounds good really loud. Make it sound exciting at a low volume and you will sound good about anywhere.
KEYS: What would you say is the best/most affordable way to sonically prepare the room that you are going to be mixing in?Billy Hume: Make sure your speakers are at least 2 feet from a wall. You sitting position should be the same distance from each speaker as they are from each other... the 2 speakers and your head should form an equilateral triangle. Put a diffusor behind you. You can check these site out to get info on that: http://www.ethanwiner.com/
KEYS: With the rise of the “digital method”, we’ve seen a lot of people having the ability to make music and put it out there. What do you feel about this?
It’s killing the major labels. Kinda sucks in some ways for me as I got a lot of work from them in the past, but I always kinda saw them as the enemy, so I say R.I.P. My only reservation is that I have seen the quality of recording and mixing go down, which is why I started my Workshops and consulting business.
KEYS: It’s probably fair to say that the song “I Ain’t Never Scared” was your introduction to the urban world. What was the process like for making that track?Billy Hume: Well, I don’t make the track. It was done by Avery Johnson, however I did replace some drum sounds. I did mix that track and it changed my life.
KEYS: You’re probably one of few people who can say that they truly helped to create a style of music – Crunk - what do you think is the next “sound” that’s gonna’ be dominating the airwaves?Billy Hume: Ha! If knew that I could control the music industry! I do think there are 2 things moving right now. One is this European thing, the new techno/rave sound evidenced on the new Lady GaGa songs. Also, live music or music that can be performed live is important. Much of the income in music will be connected with live performances. And I think people are ready for something more ‘real’.
KEYS: What was your most memorable moment working with a Hip Hop artist?Billy Hume: I’ve got a bunch of them.... David Banner carrying an Uzi into one of his first sessions with me. Laughing so hard at Kaine from Ying Yang Twins that I almost passed out.. he is such a clown. 3-day mixes with Polow Da Don and thinking were about to wrap it up when he jumps up out of a dead sleep and starts reprogramming the drums. Getting in a Ying Yang Twins video (I Yi Yi). Working on a mix with Will Smith (he really gets it).
KEYS: What projects are you currently working on?Billy Hume: I’m working with the Vistoso Bosses. They are signed to Collipark / Interscope. Awesome artists, great album. The single drops this July. Working with my writing team Marv and Cash. Also working with Demun Jones from Rehab on his solo album.
KEYS: Before ending off, I’m going to throw out some phrases, let us know what your first thoughts are.
Best affordable microphone
- Audio Technica AT 4033
Best affordable monitors
- Not sure if this is the best, but for the price... Event 20/20.
Favorite song out
- I’m completely biased of course but the Vistoso Bosses “Delirious” produced by St. James, which has started getting some early plays. I also like this song called “The Climb”. I was suprised when I found out it was Miley Cyrus! Well, I gotta give it to her... she’s really doing it.
Up coming rock band to look out for
- Rehab, Jesse Harper.
Dream project to work on
- Getting paid to work on my own music! Ha Ha! But if not that it would be U2.