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  • 10 Questions with Super Producer Michael Wagener

    By Anderton |

    10 Questions with Super Producer Michael Wagener

    The maven of metal talks tech


    by Craig Anderton




    Michael Wagener is the premier mixer/engineer/producer for metal, with a resumé of work that includes Metallica, Poison, Dokken, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Accept, Motley Crue, Great White, Plasmatics, X, Extreme, Megadeth, and many others—but his versatility also extends to artists like Janet Jackson and Muriel Anderson. We spent a relaxed afternoon in his WireWorld Studios, and after drooling over his recording gear and fabulous guitar collection, asked a few questions.


    Why are you selling some of your amps?


    I use the Kemper Profiler for almost everything. I have so many profiles…there are amps I haven’t turned on in over two years. I just don’t need them anymore.



    The main control room at WireWorld studios


    Do you get nostalgic for tape?


    Roger Nichols and I sat down once and recorded a kick with different adjustments for bias, azimuth, different tape types, and different tape machines. Nothing ever came back with the same punch as digital. Some people say digital stresses the body more, but I don’t know if that’s true. I wouldn't want to go back to tape.


    Do you think 96 kHz makes a difference on playback?


    Once I compared a variety of digital systems, and actually thought that 48 kHz sounded best for a sampling rate for the type of music I normally record. But that could have been due to converter design or some other factor. For playback, I don’t know anyone who can hear the difference consistently between 44.1 and 96 kHz.


    What about DSD?


    DSD really does sound better to me or let’s say: it feels better to me. There’s something special about it, but the problem is you can’t do any kind of editing—as soon as you want to edit, it has to go back to PCM.


    How has production changed over the years?


    Producers used to do just about everything—sometimes even figure out transportation and accommodations for a group, not just musical considerations. Now it can mean anything. Someone creating beats on a laptop by himself can call himself a producer. Oh, and record companies don't give advances to producers any more [laughs].



    Because many of the acts Michael produces are international, he maintains an incredible collection of guitars so artists needn't have their instruments suffer at the hands of the airlines


    What’s your DAW of choice?


    Yamaha’s Nuendo. It feels right and makes sense to me. I use both Windows and Mac, but my recording is all done with a custom Windows machine running Windows 7.


    Why haven’t you upgraded to Windows 10?


    Everything’s working! My SSL AWS 900+ SE mixer talks to the computer, which talks to Nuendo, and everything talks to a bunch of devices in my patch bay. It’s all working, so I don’t see any need to change it. I suppose applying the security patches might be a good idea, but I connect only to sites I know, and only when needed.


    Has your background in electronics come in handy?


    Yes, I can do a lot of the maintenance on my analog gear. I really can’t do anything with digital, though. I also don't understand some decisions companies make, like soldering in batteries for memory backup [laughs]. 



    Michael with a member of the Finnish metal band Lordi


    Are you a “leave your gear on” kinda guy?


    I leave the computer on so I don’t have to waste time booting up, and leave on the SSL and preamps but turn off most of the outboard equipment.


    Where do you see the record business going?


    Sessions in big studios continue to decrease. I think of all those schools turning out engineers…the jobs just won’t be there for most of them. Then again, there’s also a need for ongoing, continuing education for people who are engineers, or getting started in recording—that’s why I still do workshops for beginners and experts at my or their studio. That way people can benefit from what I’ve learned, without having to take the time to discover it for themselves.  -HC-





     Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.


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