Song Exploder: Erik Rutan

The AUS230 Song Exploder project has been a great exercise in group work and critical listening. Listening critically is a very important skill for an audio engineer, not necessarily to mimic great mixes, but to build skills and workarounds to use on the fly in a recording or mixing session. When working in a group, it’s important to acknowledge varying skill levels, opposing opinions and interests, as well as staying focused on the end goal. We did well to establish roles and leadership early on and happily swapped from producer to engineer to musician from week to week – all in the interest of keeping the momentum going. Because we were organised early on – we remain on target and on schedule. It was a great experience to produce and engineer, as well as work as a musician to remind me how it feels to work with an engineer and producer. Understanding/experiencing different roles will help me b the best engineer I can.

For a small group who, admittedly, arrived at the second week of classes with nothing to show, I think the three-man group I worked with over the last month has pulled together a great sounding mix and analysis of Erik Rutan’s trademark sounds in death metal. It assisted us greatly in selecting a song with a straightforward chord progression that easily translated to a harmonic minor vibe, and a lot of online content about Rutan’s recording and mixing process. Being a death metal fan, I tppk the lead on composition and on the first day of demos we arranged a the chords and demo’d the song with MIDI drums and MIDI guitars. Three three of us assigned ourselves instruments to play in the project and I proceeded to engineer in the Audient studio over the following weeks of drum and vocal recording. Assigning roles early on and playing to each other’s strengths really assisted us in remaining focused on our end goal and we achieve our final mix in a timely manner. Luckily, all three of us were open minded and eager to learn different skills and approaches to recording and mixes, and we all came away with a few new tricks up our sleeves.

Another big part of the project was our critical listening, in particular to some Cannibal Corpse albums that Erik Rutan had engineered and produced and Hate Eternal that he’d performed on and recorded. it’s importnt to note how loud the vocals are in Cannibal Corpse versus in Hate Eternal (with Rutan singing). We opted for a louder Cannibal Corpse level vocal, as we discussed maybe this was Rutan’s analysis of his own vocal being the reason for a lower vocal level in Hate Eternal. Rutan’s drum style is unique in that the kick drums are triggered and the snares quite processed, but the drum kit has an organic vibe about it that still sits well in a mix. More impressive still is how well an organic sound can hold up against the rest of market with fully triggered or entirely sample replaced drum tracks. From our research we noticed particularly high stereo overhead mics on the kit, as well as baffles behind the kit to tighten up the room sounds. High overheads filter out the lower frequency information in the overheads, keeping the bottom end of the mix tight and controlled. This technique gives a very different sound to simply high pass filtering the overheads. A great sound, punchy (and well played) drum track gave us the foundation we needed to start layering guitars – another of Rutan’s trademarks.

Throughout the week following the drums, I recorded guitar at home with a combination of a Mesa Rectifier pre-amp into a power amp and Marshall 1960A cabinet, and the Rectifier into Kazrog’s Recabinet software – again using emulations of SM57s and Royer 121s on Celestion speakers. A Mesa & Tubesreamer combo are commonly used on Rutan’s recordings. Part of Rutan’s sound is double, triple and quad tracking guitars throughout his tracks, and I use a combination to achieve the size and weight of the guitar in our tracks. The choruses are quad tracked, and in the verses two of the tracks dropped away to emphasise the size of the choruses and keep the verses spacious. In our final vocal + mixing session, we used a lot of doubling and layer one vocals coupled with distortion and compression to achieve a forward sounding, impactful vocal. We used the BAE 1073 pre amps in the Audient studio into a Distressor, something typical of Rutan’s vocal chain according to some online interviews and online studio tours (though Rutan uses Vintech 73 clones instead of BAE clones). After recording, we ran vocals, guitars and drums through a pair of Distressors in seperate stereo stems, as our analysis of some of Hate Eternal’s mixes showed heavily compressed (define; squashed to sh*t) mixes. The drums and guitar were then printed through the Fatso in stereo and we printed a mix with a combination of the wet and dry prints.

In conclusion, I think we did well to imitate Rutan’s production style but keep some of our own flavour in the song. We learned a lot through critically listening to Rutan’s recordings and our own to steer them towards something closer to what he would do. Our drums were tight but organic and our guitars had a huge, thick and impactful sound. We did really well to keep the momentum going and worked well as a group by acknowledging our own strengths n weaknesses in the interest of the final goal.

Next time I’m stuck in the studio, you might catch me asking myself: What Would Rutan Do?


One thought on “Song Exploder: Erik Rutan

  1. Really good blogging style Lewis. Some great insight into the production techniques and analysis you studied. Next time link to some external works and references to make the blog even more interactive.


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