Name: Chris Baseford
Location: Los Angeles, CA
How did you get started in the business and how come you ended up behind the console as a producer/mixer/engineer?
When I was in elementary school I started playing guitar and soon after that put together a band with my buddies. While the other guys in the band wanted to go play shows, all I wanted to do was rent a 4-track recorder and make demos. Instead of practicing scales and becoming a better guitar player, I’d sit at my amp and pedal board tweaking knobs while I hit a few chords. I often liked the way certain albums “sounded” just as much as the actual songs that were on them, so I was always chasing tones. One summer when I was about 16 years old, I was hanging out in my buddy’s basement where his older brother lived. He had a ton of albums and videos of all the rock bands that I was way into at the time (Metallica, Mötley Crüe, Aerosmith, AC/DC). We ended up watching a movie called “A Year and a Half In The Life of Metallica”. The first part of that movie was the making of the “Black Album” (behind the scenes in the studio). By the time we finished watching it, I’d decided right then and there that I was going to make records for a living. The next few years of high school was a rush to the finish line so I could go to recording school and then into a studio.
Talking about producing, engineering and mixing – three very different roles that sometimes get confused. Is there one you favor over the other?
These days the roles are very blurred. When I started, it was very clear cut and the hierarchy and etiquette was very strict. It seems like today, everyone does everything, even on the same projects sometimes. For some projects, the collaboration and blurred lines can be a huge asset, on others it can cause a lack of focus and leadership, it really depends on the people involved. I’m very fortunate to be able to bounce back and forth between them. There are some projects that I get hired to only engineer or mix, and there are some projects that I might engineer and produce, but have someone else mix. For me, I’d get burnt out doing the same thing all the time, so if I find myself locked in a studio by myself mixing for an extended period of time, the next project I might just track or produce and vice versa.
Looking at your discography, you worked with big names pretty much right from the start of your career. Was there a moment, production or event that put you on the map?
I was very lucky to start my career at Sony Music in Toronto, Canada. Working at a major label from day one was pretty unbelievable and the amazing people I got to learn from definitely shaped my career. To define a particular moment or production that put me on the map would be tough. In a lot of ways I feel like I haven’t had it yet. Although I’ve worked with some of my favorite artists and had a good amount of success so far, I always approach the next album like it’s going to be the most important one of my career. Whether that ends up being the case from an outside perspective is kind of irrelevant. I just love the process and working with talented people, so we make the best record we can and hope it connects with as many people as possible.
You have produced/engineered/mixed anything from latin to pop, rock, country and metal. Is there a genre or style you prefer and that you feel you’ll be focusing more on moving forward?
I’m a rock guy at heart, but when people ask me what music I like to listen to I answer “great music”, haha! I have a pretty wide palette when it comes to music. I don’t really care what it is, if I like it, I listen to it. I usually latch on to certain things in a record: strong melody, catchy lyric, cool production, whatever it is, if it grabs me, I’m a fan. As for making music in a wide variety of genres… it keeps me interested and on my toes. Again, if I’m doing the same thing for too long at a time, I get a little stir crazy. I like to mix it up, work with different kinds of people, different kinds of sounds. I think today more than ever, genres are a lot less rigid, so I get excited about merging styles a bit when I get the chance.
What’s the best thing about making records, and if you were’t making them – what what would you do?
It might sound cheesy, but for me the best thing about making records is hearing them played on the radio or on TV or at a hockey game. I still get giddy every time that happens, even if it’s something I worked on years ago. If I wasn’t making records, I’d probably be trying to make a living as a professional golfer. Funny enough, I hear that’s a pretty similar life to a touring artist or band. And if I earned a living from something else, I’d probably still be tweaking sounds in my bedroom as a hobby.
In a mix, where do you usually start: the drums, guitars, vocals or something else?
I have that bad habit of tweaking stuff in solo. At least to start. So my first step is usually going through and just cleaning up/shaping each track, starting with drums, then guitars/bass, then vocals, then everything else. Once I know what I’m dealing with and have everything at a good starting point, I’ll push all the faders up and start getting a rough balance. From here I’ll decide which instruments are going to get the major real estate and which instruments are going to fit in the spaces between, that’ll determine how I build it.
Is there any instrument you generally struggle with more than any other in a mix?
For me vocals are the hardest thing by far. Especially in a dense mix. Finding the right balance of frequency, dynamics, space, level…and the infinite choices of how to treat it makes it really tough for me. If all I had to do was mix instrumental mixes, I’d feel like Spartacus, but making vocals work with the track brings me right back down to earth! There are certain mixers that have a way with vocals that I’m extremely jealous of. I’m still looking for that ‘a-ha’ moment that makes vocals easy.
Which Toontrack products do you regularly use and where in the creative process do these come into play?
I use Superior Drummer all the time. Most of the time, productions start with a guitar riff or vocal melody and then a programmed drum beat. I always joke that in another life I was a drummer, because getting drum sounds and programming drum parts is one of my favorite parts of the process. I’ve tried all the various drum programs and Superior Drummer is by far my overall favorite. The new interface and new sounds are ridiculous. To me, the room mics are what can make or break a drum recording or sampler, so when I got the Superior Drummer 3 version that George recorded, I was so excited to see all the room mic options and blown away by how great they sound. And I’m of course a huge fan of the Randy Staub and Bob Rock expansion packs!
Name a few productions from your catalogue that you feel particularly proud of.
Like I’d mentioned before, every album that I work on is the most important at that particular time, so when it’s finally finished I’m equally proud of them. There’s an album I just finished working on with Scott Stevens (writer/producer) for the band “Wilson”. I’m chomping at the bit for that to come out this summer. The last Nickelback album “Feed The Machine” I’m very proud of as well. Those guys have a very high bar, so being able to hang in that company and have a blast doing it makes the outcome very gratifying.
Name a few all-time favorite albums that you did not work on where you think performance, sound and feel all come together in perfect balance.
That’s a hard one for me. I have so many categories of favorites: favorite sounding, favorite productions, favorite songs, most influential on my career, etc. A few that stick out: Metallica’s “Black Album”. If it wasn’t for that album, I might not be answering these questions. Mötley Crüe’s “Dr. Feelgood”. The first time I wanted to know who made the album and how the hell did they make this sound so good. Def Leppard’s “Hysteria” set the bar for rock production. Shania Twain’s “Come On Over” may be the only “perfect” album ever made (in my books). Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA”. My very first music memory was listening to this and pretending to play along with a toy guitar. If you produced an album that you couldn’t mix yourself, who’d be the first name on your list for the gig? Great question!!! I’ve already had the good fortune of having some of the best in the business mix records I’ve worked on. I grew up wanting to make records that sounded like Randy Staub, Mike Shipley and Chris Lord Alge mixes, so being able to have them work their magic on a record I’ve engineered or produced is amazing!
Best studio moment ever?
Hard to pinpoint one particular moment. There have been several times when I find myself in the studio working with people that I grew up listening to and have been a huge fan of for a very long time. Guys like Slash, Tommy Lee, Steven Tyler, Chad Kroeger (to name a few). Those are the moments that I reflect back on and think about how awesome of a job this is and that all the hard work and long hours is totally worth it!!
Worst studio moment ever?
Ughhhh…. I’d rather not answer that!!! I just got the shakes remembering that we almost lost a week’s worth of overdubs because of a hard-drive/archiving error back in the day when we’d backup to AIT tapes. Luckily we got most of it back, but remember to make backups of your backups, kids!
Finally, any tips to those looking to make a career in music production/engineering?
It’s the wild west out there. Learn to do everything and anything you can: different skill sets, different genres, different tools, etc. Figure out what you’re good at and market that. Figure out what you’re not good at and get better. Be humble and learn from everyone you come into contact with. Most importantly, be a good person. No matter how talented you are, if you’re an asshole, no one will want to work with you. Spending long hours in a tight space with people you like working with makes this job a lot more enjoyable and rewarding.
CHRIS BASEFORD CAREER HIGHLIGHTS.
- Juno Award Nomination for Rock Album of the Year – Nickelback “Feed the Machine”
- Most Played Song on Active Rock Radio (2017) – Shinedown “How Did You Love”
- CCMA Producer of the Year – Meghan Patrick “Grace & Grit”
- Juno Award Nomination for Rock Album of the Year – Nickelback “No Fixed Address”
- Juno Award Nomination for Pop Album of the Year – Avril Lavigne “Avril Lavigne”
- Latin Grammy Award Nomination for Album of the Year – Ricky Martin “Música + Alma + Sexo”
- Dove Award for Rock Album of the Year – Day Of Fire “Day Of Fire”