How did he get that drum sound on Dylan? And how did you get that name, “Roughmix Don.”

Just so happened that a guy contacted me from a forum a couple years ago where they were chatting about the drums on a recording I had done. It happened to be the Bob Dylan Desire Album that I engineered and mixed in 1975.

“Hello. I’m new here,” wrote Dolphin King,  “And I hope this is the right place to ask this question: On Dylan’s 1975/76 ‘Desire’, the drum sound is ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THIS WORLD –>*DELICIOUS*<–, I mean particularly the snare hits. For example, check out the song ‘Isis’. the snare on that album sounds so solid and powerful, I describe it as inter-stellar-stone-age snare sound. Does anyone here know how that sound was achieved? How do you get such a sound? I MUST know. I’ve posted this on a few different forums. MY KINGDOM FOR AN ANSWER!
Yours,
D.K.”

Well, I tuned in for awhile reading some sarcasm and assorted smartass remarks and DK came back with, “I’ve received some very different answers from different people on this, including on different forums. But thanks again for your reply…By the way, what would your reverb/delay setup be here, if you were trying to get that sound?”

Archtop came back with, “I think it sounds like a real chamber reverb, and there is some on the snare, but not much, at times it seems like I can hear a hint of a tiny short delay (80ms.) on the snare, but in the mix it still seems fairly dry, the verb is sorta washed out and you don’t notice it so easily. If I was trying to get that sound, I would not be concerned with the verb or delay, but look for a snare that is dry and bright on it’s own.”

Seems kind of strange seeing guys write about and speculate and guess what you had done on a recording. So, one of them spotted my name in the credits and sent me an email and asked me to come on the sight.

Posting as “RoughmixDon, I wrote him back, “Thanks for inviting me in. I guess I’m proud to say that ‘Desire’ was one of my best recordings. Drums and bass are my favorites to record. Maybe because I’m a bass player too. I tried to load up the story of the ‘Desire’ session but it cut me off in the middle. Maybe I’ll just have to send it in two or three parts.”

I filled them in with what I had done on that session, since I had taken a lot of notes through the years with a book in mind and then I wrote, “My best advice on trying to achieve the same drum sound is to put “Isis” or one of the others up in your program and a-b and try to match it on the timeline, pitch wise, eq wise and strength wise, echo wise, and level wise.”

In fact, I think this is good advice for anyone attempting to recreate the sound of what someone has recorded. As a side note here, the drums you hear on the song, My Silent Symphony at best advice was very much like Dylan’s fabulous “Desire” drummer, Howie Wyeth, with the great Ronnie Traxler on drums. Dynamite! I recorded Ronnie and all others the same way. You didn’t just set up a microphone, we’d sometimes spend upwards of an hour getting a good drum sound. By the way, I overdubbed about thirty of my voices on My Silent Symphony – Should have been a hit.

“By the way,” DK asked. “Where did you get that name, RoughmixDon?

Well, I explained that for a reference copy, I would set up my mix on a studio session with 8 sub-mixes and ride the faders with 8 fingers riding from the beginning to the end of a song, and almost always, I would come up with a mix that would be at or near a final mix. In a three month session with “Miami” Steve Van Zandt, who hung nicknames on everyone, he hung RoughmixDon on me. Thus was 1977, and I have used it ever since. Later on, I’ll be telling about that grueling winter of ’77, locked in the studio with “Miami Steve,” ‘Southside” Johnny, the Jukes and the “Boss,” Bruce Springsteen. And yes, it was Steve who named him the “Boss.”

Continued with posting my comments on a forum

So I told the guys on the forum that my style of mixing was and is to bring everything to 8 busses and lay my eight fingers on the faders and constantly ride each one with a finger, like playing a piano, against the singer or lead instrument. This will allow snare and tom fills and anything else to be brought up when appropriate. The singer track will always be on my right hand index (bass) playing finger which was and is the most sensitive. I would always help the snare and toms in the mix on their individual buss pots.

This album was no exception. And this procedure makes a powerful player even more powerful. I know that some set up a mix and let it sit there, raising and lowering this and that across a board of 24, 32 etc inputs, but my style has always been to play the mix.

Another habit of mine in those days and what I did on that album mix was to mix a stereo onto two tracks of the 24 track two inch tape, in line of course, with all the tracks. I never used automation. This way if we got a great mix with a slight lacking of a vocal part or instrument, or the bass drum wasn’t loud enough, etc. we could run that 2 track mix again to a 2 track adding the stuff needed.

This is a technique I still use today in digital and I guess others might also be doing this. Do your mix in line with everything else and add or help what is needed with automation. Another idea is to do maybe two or three different mixes in line and then add them together, making sure they are in perfect phase. In my experience, though, I could never achieve that kind of mix with a mouse mix.

In my experience with mouse mixing my taste tells me that it is nowhere near the same as a live mix with spontaneous control, although in c I recorded myself in my personal studio singing 227 (for 227 years) overdub voices on America The Beautiful and did a mouse mix in Vegas 4. As a mouse mix, it’s not as hot as I would like it to be. I did 5 or 6 mixes and a cappella. But none of them had the energy that they should have had for my taste.

Oh well, I added 3 more voices and did it right for the year 2006. However, lately, since I don’t have a digital mixer, I make the most of automation, but I’m thinking of ousting the mouse and going out of the box from digital back to analog to mix through the board back to digital. This way I can use my eight fingers technique with a spontaneous mix. Any comments on this?

By the way, someone spoke of Bob Johnston. He was out of the picture for “Desire.” But if anyone is interested, I have another interesting story about the original hit mix (and my mixing notes of July 26, 1965) on Simon & Garfunkel Sounds of Silence, the album mixes, and Tom Wilson, and Bob Johnson and 6 watt monitor amps. This is all part of a book I am working on. I often wonder if anyone would really be interested?

RoughmixDon Meehan, the unsung hero of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence. So, another engineer took the credit and ran with it. By the way, here’s those notes on my original mix on Sounds of Silence and Somewhere mixed from 4 track. Note the uncanny high end Pultec EQ boost.

SIMON GARFUNKEL S O S MIX crop072665