The Copper Interview

Jack Joseph Puig, Part 2

[Part 1 of John Seetoo’s talk with engineer/producer Jack Joseph Puig was featured in Copper #84Ed.]

John Seetoo: What is your preferred equipment for listening to music at home for your own pleasure, and given the lower audio quality that has become standard due to mp3 data compression and the prevalence of earbuds over quality speakers as a listening source, how much must you compromise your personal listening preferences in a mix in order to satisfy commercial loudness requirements and monitoring limitations? How do you resolve the gap between the two?

Jack Joseph Puig: As a sound professional (separately from my recording projects and development work with Waves), I have been working with Amazon, Facebook, and Google on their consumer mobile devices. Specifically, trying to make them sound better! Earbuds, in particular, have weaknesses. What is important and what matters most is getting the midrange correct. All of the emotional content lies in the midrange. When the midrange is right, all of these devices will transmit the bulk of emotional material for delivery.

For myself, I have a very nice JBL and McIntosh home system. I run everything through it: music, video, tv…that’s my home preference.

J.S.: What are some of your all time favorite records that you think could have been mixed better, would benefit from having you remix them, and what elements in those records would you change, and why?

J.J.P.: I wouldn’t change a thing. I think that the striving for HD perfection of sound, especially on records that millions love and that have stood up over time, is boring. The tape editing, echo, or any other elements that people had to use as work-arounds back in the day are the innovations that give those records their character.

Somewhere in Japan back in the 1980s, there were some guys in white lab coats who wound up inventing a keyboard. It wound up being called the (Yamaha) DX-7. For some artists – it could be a band like Duran Duran (or other synth band) – certain instruments born from technology created and (when used in a particular way) defined their sound.

Technology often drives the process on what and how we create. I worked with Toto. Without the sound of a DX-7, you wouldn’t have Africa. The technology makes us overcome the limitations of the time to become innovation.

J.S.: Your expertise and love of compressors is well known in the music industry, and Waves actually has several of your customized compressor based signal chains in its plug-in catalog. Aside from the loudness wars, what trends do you see in music where compressors are being misused or not used sufficiently, and why?

J.J.P.: Biggest misuse is in the loudness wars. Far too many people only think it can be used to make soft things louder, and that compression should always be loud and in your face. The main issue for me is that most people don’t realize how attack and release affect time and feel and dynamics. EQ is static. Compression is dynamic, because it can affect time. I suppose an argument can be made for high frequency EQ being somewhat dynamic to an extent, because of the quicker transients, but on the whole, music IS dynamics.

J.S.: When referencing his mixing work, the late Dennis Ferrante sometimes referred to it as, “his contribution to the jam session”, and considered his work on Lou Reed’s, Berlin and his Elvis Presley CD boxed set remixes as examples. He shared your notion of being an “instinctive more than an intellectual” mixing engineer. Is this a zone you find yourself entering into often, and what examples from your catalog would you cite as ones where your mind was so focused into the music that you might have lost track of the exact signal path routing and specific outboard effects and EQ you were using, needing to back track to realize how you arrived at the final sounds achieved?

J.J.P.: As far as backtracking – I always use “save as”, never “save”. In a modern system, (when used properly) the system watches your back. Album “breadcrumbs” are like a digital paper trail. As far as mixing and getting lost in the mix – it happens more now for me than ever before. The system feeds the instinct. In the past seven years, I find my instincts have grown with the system down to the smallest things in life.

You have to honor the instinct (when mixing). It talks to me. You need to honor the power of it and maintain the instinct and intellectual balance.

J.S.: Are there any artists or music genres that you have never had the chance to work with yet, and how would you approach them differently from the norm if you had your chance?

J.J.P.: Latin music. I really have always liked Latin music: its rhythms, its melodies, its intervals…I’m from Latin roots and I also speak Spanish. I miss working in that field of music; I’ve never had the opportunity. What I do in music as far as “feel and attitude” I think would work nicely.

As far as artists whom I’d love to work with: Maná. And Gloria Estefan.

When I speak with you and answer these kinds of questions, I think back on something the guys from Stone Temple Pilots taught me: “It’s ok not to force answers to a question. Rather than B.S., it’s better to give the truth.”

There was a famous guitarist who was asked how he achieved his guitar sound. He created this whole elaborate signal chain, mapped it out with all of these connections and devices – all total B.S.! A fan went out, put in the work and money to copy it. In reality, it was a guitar plugged into a Fender Deluxe with an SM-57 (Shure mic). Not cool!

When I was younger, my heroes inspired me. Now it’s my turn. I want to inspire others and have them take it further.

[Our thanks to Jack Joseph Puig for taking the time to chat with John Seetoo. Photo courtesy of Mr. Puig’s personal collection—Ed.]