One on one with Shaking Through’s Brian McTear

1. What was the defining moment for you where you said I want to do this for the rest of my life?
I never really thought about being a producer or studio owner, even several years after I had been building Miner Street. We built it initially to record my band, Mariner Nine, and my studio partner was my bandmate, Jason Knight. Jason let me know he wanted to move to CA, right about the time our band broke up and I subsequently broke up with my girlfriend at the time, as well. I was sort of identity-less, in a weird way. I did have the beginnings of a great studio, and a hunch that the low-fi craze that indie rock was immersed in at the time was going to end. I’d say that’s when I decided to commit myself to learning the trade.
2. Who were your mentors in your background of coming up as an engineer?
My friend Stephen Maglio was probably the first person I had real-life, never-ending gear talks with. It was in 1997. He was about 10 years older than me. We both worked at The Trocadero Theater in Philly (he was the front of house guy, I did monitors). We had hours of down time and that’s what we did. I never considered things like vintage mics or gear before Maglio. He had a bit of a jump on the concept and it really sparked my imagination. I think talking and talking and talking was hugely formative for me. I had a sense of what I was listening for probably 10 years before I ever actually heard a Neve preamp. And even though it was very different when I actually heard it, I think those conversations opened up pathways of understanding and anticipation in my brain.
Later I got to work with Thom Monahan – around 2002 or so. He was a real producer that came to work in Miner Street on a record with The Bigger Lovers. What a great great guy. I totally appreciated the fact that he treated me as a peer. He even said things like “I have no doubt you are going to have a long career as a producer” when he was asking me to engineer the record we worked on together. That meant so much to me.  Helps so much to get a sense that peoples’ confidence in you is the given. I never had to prove anything. We started from the very outset as part of a team.
3. What advise would you give a young engineer looking for a mentor?
I would put the highest value on that person’s personality – their ability to inspire confidence, cooperation and enthusiasm in the people they work with, and the ability to complete projects QUICKLY.  A person with lots of clients is most likely a good person to watch. Learning how to be like THAT, ie. to be someone that people entrust to make their projects a reality… that’s the rare quality these days. EVERYONE can record music. Not everyone can build a client-base.
4. How did Weathervane Music and Shaking Through come to be?
In all the years I have been working as a record producer, I’ve always felt the inclination to provide help beyond the normal services of the studio. I used to find myself advising artists informally when they’d be deciding what to do with interested labels, management, etc. Weathervane was the inevitable formalized incorporation of that inclination. We started in 2009, when the economy was in a tailspin, and the record industry was collapsing. Our hope was to create a model almost like public radio or tv, where members of the public pool together to create content. Only, instead of radio and television, we wanted to record music.
Shaking Through was the eventual end-product. It’s a documentary series that captures the birth of a song by exceptional independent artists in a collaborative, high-end recording studio. The entire process is shared with the public, and members can download the raw audio files to learn about recording more closely, to make their own mixes and share them back with the group. It’s a great opportunity for the artist, and the public alike.
5. How is the campaign going for Weathervane?
Our Campaign is going well. Our goal is to raise funds to produce a 6th year of Shaking Through. Our goal is to match what we finished with last year, which was $23,000. Right now we’re at about $15,000, and the campaign ends on December 15. Fingers crossed!
6. What does the future hold in store for the Shaking Through series?
We’re going to keep on pushing it forward.  I’d love to see Shaking Through reach a wider audience, whether that be through partnerships or sponsors. I have no doubt that it’s the best series of its kind.
7. Tell us a little bit about the recording seminars you hold at your studio.
The recording seminars are very simple, and fun. There’s two types: The basic techniques workshops in which we cover basic microphone techniques – generally our drum techniques, acoustic guitars and vocals, plus we always leave a lot of time to try out things folks bring with them. Someone will pull out a cello or toy piano, etc., and we’ll tackle that on the spot. The other type is the hands-on recording workshops, where we record a song on day one, and mix it on day two. The upcoming December 13-14 session features an awesome group called Birds Over Arkansas and we’ll approach the whole session just like a Shaking Through session, minus the extensive video crew. In both cases, we usually Live Stream the workshops on our You Tube Channel.
8. Let’s talking recording here for a bit. What advise would you give a home studio engineer on recording drums with limited mic selection and inputs?
What usually occurs to me is to tell people to find quality spaces to record in – a relatively neutral acoustic space, with a high, angled ceiling is tough to mess up. In places like this, mics of any price will work. I think people always think that they have to record somewhere in their home, but some of my more industrious friends find ways to get time in all kinds of places.
9. You love to experiment with crazy cool ideas for recording certain elements of a song. What’s the craziest recording idea you’ve had that was highly successful in the process of recording a song?
I love using guitar amp reverbs in mixing. Usually, we put the signal through an array of guitar pedals first – the Roland Space Echo, the Memory Man, and a Dunlop Stereo Tremolo. I also love putting a stereo pair of microphones on a camera dolly and moving them across the amp speakers. I’ve never really seen anyone else do it, but it’s so much fun.
10. Do you feel that in today’s music industry it’s equally important to have a producer’s mentality while being a recording and mixing engineer?
Yes. I personally never had a choice, in my own business pursuits. The goal is to make yourself as indispensable to peoples’ success as you can.
11. What tips do you have on recording a great vocal take?
Make everyone warm-up using a professional warm-up routine. I use Roger Love’s warm-ups, as well as Joy Askew’s techniques. The key is to make it a matter of course, it’s not weird… just do it, ever single time. After a singer is warmed up, let them sing the whole song a LOT. I think it’s totally wrong to think that a person can sing too much. Great singers tend to get better and better if they are comfortable and can sing lots of takes.
12. Finally. Favorite signal chain of all time?
Hard to say… I like the API 312s, the Heritage 1073s, our DW Fearn VT2… But I also don’t think about stuff like that very often. I know I probably should, but…
13. How can people learn more about Weathervane Music and help contribute?
The Weathervane campaign is on Pledge Music. If you really want to help out, you can become a member and right now we’re also celebrating the release of The Mix Roadmap, the process we follow every time we mix. It’s really cool and feedback has been great. Links below: