Ryan Maier

recording & mix engineer

I'm a recording & mix engineer based in Chicago, IL. I am a freelancer, which allows me to work with a wide variety of artists and musicians from MPLS, MN to Nashville, TN. I've been privileged to work with some of the most talented musicians in the business and I don't take that for granted.

The art of the yes man or How to never get a job again

I just finished mixing 2 EPs (10 songs total) in about 3 days. It was a marathon mix session of late nights and coffee. Ultimately, the mixes made it to mastering and duplication on time. Everything fell into place because of quick planning on the producers part, and constant communication. Everyone knew what they needed to do and delivered it. 

There have been cases were I was asked to do a job for people that I wanted to continue to work for and didn't deliver on. At some points, you have to do things you may have never done or don't do well. But, to get yourself in the door you just say, "Yes, I can do that."

If and when you do this, you had better deliver because you aren't going to get another call when you don't get it done. 

You never say no until you're too busy to say yes.  

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Make opportunities for yourself or How to paint Mona Lisa

 

"It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things."

-Leonardo da Vinci

I've definitely have had days that I've had no work and wandering around the house bummed out in a bad mood. I have a choice to make. Do nothing. Stay in a bad mood or make some calls and emails. I've learned that sometimes you have to let people know you are looking for work. 

Other times I find a song to mix and practice my craft. I have lots of songs that no one will ever hear. Just like everything else, mixing takes practice. This gives me the opportunity to learn the plugins or gear I have, experiment with them, and be ready for projects that come along.

r.

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Less is more or Your math teacher was right

I'm not gonna lie. There are many times I get songs to mix and I end up taking certain elements out.

Is it serving the song? Does it matter? Is it covering up something else? Clashing with another instrument? 

Keeping things simple is harder than it seems. There needs to be constant effort during any endevour.  

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Perseverance or How to install software updates

The other night I was in the studio doing some "maintenance". Really, I was just updating software and plugins. Glamourus, right? 

I started thinking about how every job, or dream job for that matter, has its tedious, un-glamourus moments. 

I believe these tasks are very important. Sweeping floors, dusting, moping. Menial tasks, but necessary. Keeping your space clean and organized will help you stay focused and speed your work flow. 

r. 

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The weight of freedom or How to take the next step

In addition to engineering and mixing, I have a part time job. I'm working toward the day I am able to quit that job and be a full-time, freelance engineer. 

A lot of days, I go to "boring" work and I have a hard time walking through the door because I'm thinking about "fun" work all day. But there is one thing I keep in the back of my mind. Patience and perseverance.

It's going to happen if you don't give up.  

Plan for the next step. Thinking ahead and planning will save you a lot of trouble. 

My current job provides a stable income and benefits. To be honest, without a stock option plan, I wouldn't have been able to build my current studio. A little planning went along way. 

Yes, you'll lose that security blanket, but the end goal may be just as sweet.  

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Rick James was right or How to be a better junkie

When you listen to music, your entire brain is stimulated. Music is a hell of a drug.  

I love when a song comes on the radio and the person you're with will tell you what was going on or where they were when they heard that song for the first time. 

Have you ever listened to a song and have gotten goose bumps? Apparently, that's your brain releasing dopamine. Amazing.  

How many times have you wished that music could magically play when you entered a room? Like your own theme music.

Music is a universally powerful thing and it's deeply embedded into our lives. It helps us cope with sad times. It helps us celebrate. There are break up songs, make up songs, wedding songs, birthday songs, funeral songs, sports anthems, national anthems, etc.

Music and its melodies sculpt our cultures and our lives. 

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Take Nike's advice or How to live your life

There are a lot of "what ifs" in life. Different choices to make, different roads to travel. Our dreams and goals ride on the tails of our choices. It seems to me that emphasis is placed heavily on accomplishing our dreams. Almost to a point of paralysis. Meaning, we just don't know where or how to start, so we do nothing. 

It took me aong time to even admit to myself that I was an engineer because I had no "real" credits or a "legitimate" studio setup. It was a big mind game. It effected how I viewed myself and how I want others to view my talents. Like they were this weakness I had and not a strength. 

Somewhere along I realized I just had to decide to start.  No one was going to "discover" me or come along and hand me what I wanted. 

No matter where you are or what your circumstance, just do it.  

r. 

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Trust your instincts or How to live like a crazy person

We are all born creative, to a certain degree. Some people just "have it" from birth and others have to learn it. I do believe creativity can be learned just like our instincts can be honed. It's that small voice in the back of your mind. The gut reaction. 

While mixing, most times I've never heard the song before, so I have a fresh perspective. The first listen is as a music fan, the second, an engineer. I have an initial "creative gut reaction" to the song and I have "technical reaction." 

I went to school to learn the "technical reaction" but there was no class on "creative reactions." How is that skill sharpened? I believe it's a few things. 

Experience. Time. Practice. Critique.

 Start to listen for that voice in your head and trust it. 

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Don't forget your mallets or How to avoid famine

A few months back I was setting up for a session while the producer was talking with the drummer. He apparently left some snare drums and certain sticks they had previously discussed using. The drummer was a young kid and producer a very seasoned vet of music industry. The producer is pretty well known and has a string of hits through his career, so this was a big deal to play on this session. The drummer didn't take it this way. His attitude was as if he had finally "arrived". 

As I was setting up, I could hear the studio lesson he was giving his young musicians. I was glad I wasn't in the control room. The producer wasn't yelling at them, but he was laying down some great knowledge on these guys. The players sat silently. Listening. Taking the lesson in.

I'm in the performance area, cringing. These dudes, especially the drummer, are getting worked over. It made me think about my own experiences of when I've been on the receiving end of a life lesson. Thank God that as you get older these things happen less frequently. 

I place the mic on the snare. 

"You have to come prepared."

The mic for the bottom of the snare get put up. (Remember square pegs?)

"These are your tools. You left the tools that we talked about at home? Any other producer would fire you from the session on the spot. No discussion."

Now the tom mics are in position.

"I'm giving you guys the opportunity to play on sessions and get your foot in the door. I could have called up the best players in Chicago. They would have brought their tools. They don't forget these things."

I'm glad I was there to hear this. If only as a reminder that being able to do what you love is a gift. Not everyone has this ability or drive to persevere through the ups and downs, the feasts and famines. 

r.

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Carving a square peg to fit a round hole or How to mic snare

I was over at a friends studio and he was working on a mix. Something about the drums weren't right. After a bit of fiddling with faders and knobs I said, "The snare drum doesn't match the rest of the kit." 

As he sat back in his chair he said, "Your so right."

He had the drums working together in no time at all. 

This story isn't about my ability to tell you what snare to use. Its' about how things work together and trying to make different elements act like a cohesive unit. 

Some back story on that snare. Apparently the mic on the the top and the mic on the bottom were recorded to the same track. So there was no control over the instrument. Which, for a mix engineer, is pretty annoying. We usually tend to crave total control (another rule I need to break). 

When we sit down to do a task, to accomplish something,  the worst thing we can say to ourselves is "I've got some glue so I can fit this square peg in a round hole. That'll do."

Also, don't record the top and bottom snare mics to the same track.

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When you realize you know the rules or How to bake a cake

Recently, I did some mixes. They were just ok. I did my normal thing. I kept them safe. Vanilla. I sent them to the client and we did some mix tweaks as per usual. Then I didn't hear back for about a week. 

One day, I opened the sessions and started to listen. These mixes were awful. Bland and lifeless. I couldn't believe I sent these out. It was like my career as a mix engineer was a small helpless animal, and I just shot it dead. I might as well told the producer, "I don't want any more work."

"F this", I thought. So I went at them again. Sent them to the producer again and explained that I took a listen and thought they were lacking. He loved them. His exact text to me was "BRO... whatever you did... is killing it... you've stepped your game UP."

Of course now I'm doing hand stands and moon walks. I felt like I was given a breath of confidence. What did I do?

I put the icing on the cake. I was given certain ingredients to make a cake and I handed it in with no frosting. I was mixing gun shy. I kept within my rules for mixing which was completely wrong. I didn't realize that I knew the rules and I could break them. "Alright Ryan, not too much compression." "Keep the processing on the master bus light or nothing at all." "Let the mastering engineer have their space to work."

Your mental game is just as important as the tools you use. I threw those road blocks out and now a whole new level has appeared. If I'm making this cake I'm decorating it. 

r.

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