Miami-based Latin Grammy-winning producer and mixing engineer Reuven Amiel has been part of the music industry for 22 years now. He has experienced the rise of the plug-in first hand and is a treasure chest full of tips, tricks and valuable insights.
Note: We replaced smart:comp with smart:comp 2! The spectro-dynamic compressor now sports sound-shaping option, an entire range of new profiles (single tracks, buses, mixes), a free-form transfer function with compression templates, states, mid/side processing, … and much more.
With his open demeanor, eclectic taste and creativity, Reuven is a sought after music producer and mixing engineer with artists like Adrenaline, Swansy, Gian Marco, PVRIS, RockFour, ZEN, Ricardo Arjona, Susana Baca, Felipe Pelaez, Pony Asteroid, Di WAV and many more on his clients list . From developing new artists to working with well-known ones: They can all be sure that working with Reuven will result in energetic songs with a unique vibe.
Reuven took his first steps into the music scene when he was 17 years old by playing guitar in rock bands. When he and his band went into studios to record, all the mixing boards, effect gear and the recording process piqued his curiosity immensely. Hence, when he moved from Peru to Israel – having a band there as well – he started studying audio engineering and music production in Tel Aviv, completing internships at the best studios in Israel and went to Canada to study with Bob Ezrin (Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Aerosmith, Thirty Seconds to Mars).
Great recordings are half the battle
When Reuven was starting out, he immediately noticed one thing that is still a crucial part of his work: “I saw how older engineers put so much care and effort into the recording process – having the best takes and musicians; working very hard and focusing on getting the right sound. Having a good recording makes a huge difference and it makes everything easier. Today it seems like recordings are usually done very quickly. I feel like the production process doesn’t get as much attention as it should anymore and I can think of several reasons why: The opportunity to record in different project studios causes the recording process to get lost in a longer chain with a lack of focused supervision as well as having access to tools that allow us to improve deficiencies and correct problems after recording. Additionally, with all the opportunities that the internet brings to promote songs, marketing is something that is relied and focused on a lot. As a producer, you need to understand the artist and their goal from an artistic perspective, then convey all this information and have something that represents the artist. That something has to be done well.”
Despite all his years of mixing experience, when having to work with material that is not recorded well, Reuven is still faces a time-consuming challenge. Since there are often a lot of options to choose from that might work, for him the solution to the problem is a matter of trying: “At first I always say ‘I don’t know how I am going to do it but I am going to make it happen’ – and that’s the beauty of it because I don’t know what the right move is in the beginning – the strategy is to try, to use your imagination and evaluate possibilities to solve problems. It’s like a “chess game”; calculate your moves, find your way, find the best way to fix it and finish the mix. Of course, I am talking here only about overcoming challenges in a mix but never get detached from the vibe, the musicality and the artistic aspect of the song.
The art of experimenting
Artists truly appreciate that Reuven gives more than 100% when working with them but his creativity and taste is the reason why they call him in the first place. He explains: “They know I want to give something extra to songs that’s not necessarily obvious or according to the reigning trend. I always want to bring something new to the vibe of the song – like a surprise factor. Art is an experiment, a song is an experiment.”
With the changes in music over the years, his style changed, too: “It used to be more dry and clean. Now, probably this has something to do with the material I receive, my style isn’t pristine. It’s almost a little dirty and energetic – I need to feel energy in a song. People told me that sonically my style has an edge and clarity. I rather be risky than safe, it’s more fun.”
To make room for creative experiments when mixing, Reuven organizes his projects meticulously. “Session preparation, track management, color coding, main bus creation, basic effects ready, check gain structure, … once that’s done I just follow where the song, the vision and my creativity takes me.”
Reuven’s Top 3 Tips for aspiring mixers:
- Always start by creating a good balance in a track
- Understand gain staging – it’s crucial
- Know your plug-ins – experiment with them
The rise of the plug-in
Back when Reuven studied, the director of his school, Yoav Gera, told his class about a concept that was in development in Israel at that time – it was the concept of plug-ins. “I was hungry for knowledge and freaking out about how cool it all sounded. Later, when I just finished mixing a record for my first artist in Peru, I went to Israel to work with a mastering engineer on it. We were using the beta versions of the plug-ins by Waves, they weren’t even commercially available yet. Those were what Yoav Gera had told us about.”
Reuven has experienced the rise of the plug-in first hand and he is convinced that we have already passed the phase of developing emulations of hardware tools. “We are in the phase of questioning, challenging and breaking the mold. My interest is piqued by plug-ins that are pushing the limits of the digital realm. Don’t get me wrong, I love digital emulations. To work on and create new technologies in order to achieve more faithful emulations is an art and it involves a lot of creativity on a high technical level. But I really love it when someone creates a plug-in with the aim to create e.g. the best EQ in the world without it sounding like this or that. By doing an emulation, we are recreating what’s already there, so, we are thinking the same way. But by taking all advantages of the digital world only our imagination and ears are our limitations.”
That might be the reason why he likes plug-ins by sonible: the tools are designed not to resemble hardware but with the users and their needs in mind – using the latest technology to achieve transparent, fast results. Hence, Reuven uses proximity:EQ, smart:EQ 3, smart:comp and smart:reverb – and for each he has found a specific application. “I like to use proximity:EQ in a creative way, for example before the reverb in an AUX return to shape the sound going into the reverb and position the incoming signal in a different way. I love the sound and interface of smart:EQ 3 – I don’t use the AI features so much but I like to see what they come up with. When it comes to compression I know what I am doing and I don’t compress everything. smart:comp is not a colorful compressor. Its sound is clean and modern and I like using the plug-in for compressing just a little to control dynamics and create more consistency.”