As a producer, engineer, and songwriter, James Michael has worked with artists ranging from Motley Crue, Meat Loaf, and the Scorpions to Deana Carter, Hilary Duff, and Alanis Morissette. As a singer and multi-instrumentalist, Michael is a member of rock band Sixx:A.M., with Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx and DJ Ashba. Most recently, Michael completed production of the new Sixx:AM album, followed by the latest Motley Crue release, Saints of Los Angeles. Both projects were recorded and produced with his ICON-controlled Pro Tools|HD® system, and all the guitar tracks for the Motley Crue album were created using Digidesign’s newly-released Eleven™ guitar amp emulation plug-in.
“Eleven has really changed everything for people like myself who work extensively with guitar sounds,” says Michael. “We’ve seen the potential for years with small preamps and amp emulation plug-ins, but Eleven is the first plug-in that can honestly replace the guitar amp. It really, truly sounds like the amps it claims to emulate. Many of the older plug-ins are a bit too perfect, but Eleven captures all the little imperfections of those vintage amps. And the microphone emulations are just stunning. I can close my eyes and toggle through them, and it’s just amazing how accurate they are.”
Listening to Michael, it’s clear he’s a true aficionado of vintage tube technology. “When I did the Scorpions album, we spent a fortune on renting a bunch of vintage amps,” he recalls. “It’s a great sound, but the result was always a bit hit or miss. That’s the nature of tubes. Sometimes a particular amp is exactly the sound you’re looking for; other times, it’s just not quite [right]. And most of the time, there’s no guarantee you can get that same sound the next day. Sometimes the sound changes even while you’re working, and you’re just praying for 20 minutes more with the same sound. Now I can honestly say those days are over — I’ve got Eleven.”
From a producer’s perspective, Michael says that Eleven offers a level of flexibility that was never an option when recording traditional mic’d guitar amps. “Eleven [along with Pro Tools] gives me a lot more control over the editing process. I can really zoom in on the waveform of a guitar part. More importantly, it gives me the ability to change a part in the context of the mix. Lots of times you work hard to build up a nice musical bed, then you pop the vocal in and it just doesn’t work; maybe you need to try a different cabinet or room mic, whatever. Now I can do that. I can make changes right up until mastering. It’s really a dream come true.”
Michael is equally emphatic in praising his Digidesign® ICON D-Control™ system. Besides the Motley Crue and Sixx:AM projects, Michael has also used the ICON for surround mixes of Meat Loaf’s Three Bats Live DVD. “The ICON has been a real life changer for me and the way I work,” he says. “I was always a mouse-and-keyboard kind of guy, and I’m very quick with editing on a workstation. But I realized I tended to position myself differently for editing than for mixing, and that affected my perspective as a mixer. Now with the ICON, I can edit and mix from a hands-on producer’s perspective. The ICON helps me make better mix decisions.”
He cites the ICON console’s deep integration with Pro Tools® software as a sea of change from his previous work with large-format analog consoles. “With the ICON, I no longer have to think of the console and the DAW as separate entities,” he says. “My workflow isn’t split between riding the faders for levels and grabbing the mouse to tweak an effect. It’s all one integrated process again. I have no desire to ever go back to an analog console.”
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