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In the Studio with Mark Ronson | Waves 13/10/17, 09:11

In the Studio with Mark Ronson


Which plugin gave Uptown Funk a tougher sound? How many drum
mics were used on Amy Winehouses Back to Black? Find out in this
exclusive interview with 5x Grammy-winning producer, musician & DJ
Mark Ronson (Bruno Mars, Amy Winehouse, Adele).

A living encyclopedia of music, Mark Ronson can tell you the liner notes
and exactly who played what on any album in the last 50 years. But of
course it took more than that to end up with diamond-selling albums like
Amy Winehouses Back to Black or mega-hits like Uptown Funk with
Bruno Mars.

We caught up with Mark at L.A.s Sound Factory shortly after he finished


working on Villains, the latest album by Queens of the Stone Age. He
talked to us about his influences, how DJing in New York during hip-hops
golden age shaped his work as a producer, his favorite piece of studio gear,
and much more.

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In the Studio with Mark Ronson | Waves 13/10/17, 09:11

How has it been working with QOTSA? How do you manage to


put your personal touch on artists from such different genres
while still retaining their essence?

On this record, [QOTSAs] Josh [Homme] had a pretty clear vision going
in. He wanted a very clear, tight, beat-centric sound. Plus, each member of
the band is an amazing musician, so theyre coming in with a lot of
information already. Im pretty lucky that I get to go in with people where
the level of talent is high. And obviously, theres something about what
they do that I already love and thats why Im in the room.

A different situation is sometimes Ill be in the studio with an artist whos


a great lyricist, and theyre looking at me like: What do you think the next
line should be? And Im like: Well, I dont even want to suggest it because
I dont want to pervert or change the sensibility of your unique voice, of
how you push words together that makes me like you. I dont want to turn
them into me a mediocre lyricist. So, theres always that vibe a little bit.

You could also be going in with an artist whos just a singer and theyre
relying on you to provide the entire musical bed so they can write a song
over it. And then in other cases, its a little bit of both. Sometimes its just
going in with no game plan at all and just seeing what happens.

So I think the thing is, as a producer, youre just trying to find the sweet
spot where you can do the most good for everybody in the room without
getting in the way too much of what you already love or think is talented
about that person.

Queens of the Stone Age, Villains of Circumstance

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Your albums have that retro-heavy texture, combined with the


loud, punchy, in-your-face quality of a hip-hop or dance track.
How do you achieve this vintage sound in the digital age? Are
you tracking old school while using new school mixing
techniques?

You know, its a little more of an ethos: when we record an instrument, or


an amp or a drum, we try to use mic placement and tone control in order to
get a sound and commit to that sound. Were not like: Okay, we can fix it
later. When I was working with the Dap-Kings, or doing Back to Black
with Amy Winehouse, or recording Valerie, we only had one mic on the
drums. Its not like something you can fix later or you can change the
balance, or bring the hi-hat up. Youd better make sure that either hes
playing the hi-hat at the right volume, or the mic needs to be closer to the
hi-hat, and thats whats going to happen.

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In the Studio with Mark Ronson | Waves 13/10/17, 09:11

Theres a certain level of intention that happens when youre doing that. It
makes everybody realize that the performance and everything about it need
to be that much more exact because youre not going to be able to fix it
later or adjust it. Musicians playing actual real instruments can still bring
people to the dance floor.

Which mixing gear helps you achieve that result?

In terms of plugins, Waves have been part of my workflow since I ran my


first session in Pro Tools back in 2000 with Nikka Costa. The Waves stuff
was our bread and butter on those, especially the Renaissance series. The
Renaissance EQ and Renaissance Vox plugins are things I learned on; I
know them so well, theyre engraved in me like muscle memory. Theyre
great, they dont take up a load of my CPU and I can use them quickly and
move along with what Im doing.

The one plugin I use the most is probably the CLA-3A compressor. That
was something I picked up from [producer] Jeff Bhasker when we were
working on Uptown Funk. You throw it on a vocal or a bass track, and it
makes everything a little tougher and also makes the mix just a little more
centered.

Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars, Uptown Funk

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In the Studio with Mark Ronson | Waves 13/10/17, 09:11

The API plugins are also great for getting an analog sensibility. When I
dont have the time to get too deep, I can just go into the presets and tweak
them from there very quickly.

Obviously the L2 Ultramaximizer is sometimes I use all the time. And then
theres hardware that I actually have in my studio, like the dbx 160
compressors, but I only have two of those, so once I run out of analog
channels I use the Waves dbx 160 in the box. I also use H-Delay a lot,
especially for vocals.

I also really like Mannys stuff, the Manny Marroquin Signature Series.
Something interesting Manny always does as an engineer is he brings a
slightly more eccentric, slightly psychedelic, outsider-thing to hip-hop and
R&B, especially on the Kanye records. And I feel like that really comes
through on his plugins. Its nice when you can bring out the plugin and

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recognize the character of the dude in it, you know what I mean?

And what are your go-to pieces of vintage analog gear in the
studio?

My favorite for recording, especially for drums, is the Pultec EQs. They can
just do something with the attenuation and the boosting. You can get a
little aggressive with them, and they give me this wonderful warmth. Thats
the main thing. Everything else Im pretty flexible with. Im not one of
those people that have to work on a certain desk or whatever.

The songs you produce sort of take us on an audio history of


modern recorded music, combining so many different textures
and vibes from different eras. How do you manage to do that?

I guess I just grew up as music obsessive. I love music, I collect 45s, Ive
been reading all the liner notes since I was like 6-7 years old. I liked to read
old Billboard magazines for some reason. This is what Im all about, so I
kind of want to know everything about it on all sides of the industry.

I was always a fan of multiple genres. Growing up in 80s in England with


bands like Duran Duran and Culture Club, and then moving to New York,
and then falling in love with hip-hop, but also loving Guns N Roses, then
getting into the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays and all these English
bands when I go back there, and then discovering funk and soul and breaks
through my love of hip-hop because I always had to know what that sample
was from. Like when Busta Rhymes Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can
See came out, I had to go to the record store immediately and find the
original sample by Seals and Crofts so I could mix it in at the club.

I think all of that manages to make its way into what I do. When I go into
the studio and make songs, it just seeps in. Im not necessarily thinking
about these things in my head.

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You know, when I was going to college there was no modern-day music
history course, only classical music teaching: everyone who wanted to be a
classical musician studied the great classical composers, Mozart,
Beethoven, Bach. I wanted to be a scholar, too. So for our generation, that
means studying Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, A Tribe Called Quest, and all
those greats.

Theres definitely distinct things that have been a massive influence on me


like the guitar playing of Nile Rogers or Fela Kutis band, the rhythms of
James Browns drummers, the Motown rhythm section with James
Jamersons bass I mean, I cant play anywhere near as good, but that
influence is always in there a little bit.

Then theres the production of Public Enemy, The Bomb Squad, and early
Rick Rubin. Organized Noise or OutKast are also a massive influence. I
guess its just all of it because Im always working on different kinds of
stuff.

How did DJing influence your career as a music producer?

DJing is how I came up. You sort of hit your stride in these small, sweaty
clubs. You can see everyones reaction in the room. I loved it because it had
this intimacy.

Whats similar in the studio is that Im sort of competitive. Working on a


song, I want to have that banger, you know? Working on an album, I really
want to get that classic, artistic feel that we used to get. And thats
something some records suffer from a little bit today, because youve got an
artist working with ten different producers and everybody wants to have
the single. Classic albums arent just a collection of ten bangers. They need
an arc, and a shift in mood. when I listen to an album, I dont want to be
punched in the face for ten songs in a row. I want to go on a bit of a
journey. And hopefully thats what I do.

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