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  • Writer's pictureJon Barefoot

Trial and Error: An Interview with Zach Miller of Noise War Sound / Landmine Studios

Zach is a New Jersey based engineer and drummer who operates Noise War Sound and has worked with / played in bands such as Gel, Brackish and Drill Sergeant. Zach and I share a love of Ludwig snare drums and hardcore punk so I knew I had to pick his brain a little.


How did you get into music in general?


I joined elementary school band as a drummer in 1999 and I’ve been playing every single day since. 


How long have you been recording and mixing / mastering and what led you to it? 


I’ve had an interest in recording ever since I started forming bands in middle school - maybe 2002-2003. I figured out I could bounce between the two tape decks on my karaoke machine and thought I invented multitrack recording. Later on in high school (around 2005) my bandmate Paul Howells began recording bands in my parent’s basement - and I would have other bands over to record on his gear on my own time.


For the next 10 years or so I would occasionally demo my own bands songs while accumulating microphones at an absurdly slow pace. Eventually, local bands started coming to me for music they actually planned on releasing and it has just snowballed from there. I have zero education outside of trial and error plus tips I pick up from friends and the internet. 


What was your first session like? 


All of my early sessions blend together because I was so young and it was nearly 20 years ago now, but  generally those basement sessions were just a bunch of children figuring things out and making the best of what we had. I remember having a peavey drum mic pack plus whatever mics my friend Paul had hanging around my basement. We would mic the kit with 7 mics and do scratch guitar on channel 8 (presonus firepod.) I remember at some point another firepod came into the picture, but we really never had enough mics to use all 16 channels.


The mix rig was literally a 6 disc CD changer boombox Paul rigged up to the firepod outputs. I had no idea what any of the plugins did, but I slowly started figuring it out by watching Paul. Those early sessions were a lot of fun and gave me a crash course on tuning my drums and playing to a click. 


My first “real” session was with the band Fluoride in 2017. I borrowed a laptop from a friend and purchased a pile of mics from Sam Ash and returned them the day after the session. We recorded the whole record in one night and did the vocals a couple days later. That record definitely gave me the confidence to start making myself available to other bands. 


How did you decide to set your pricing?


Pricing was always confusing when my bands would use other people to record. The final invoice never seemed to match what we were told going in, and the numbers never seemed like they were based on anything. I keep my pricing simple - Landmine Studios has a day rate and I choose to not deviate from that price. Mixing is less straight forward and involves a conversation with the band, and may vary due to a myriad of factors. I’m not a capitalist and I don’t have any interest in extracting money from bands with no money. 


What’s the dumbest mistake you’ve made while recording or mixing / mastering? 


Not backing up correctly. Luckily I have not lost any raw tracks, but I have definitely lost entire mixes due to hard drive malfunctions. Now I back everything up in 3 or 4 places to avoid that. It’s not free and is super annoying, but it’s worth it. 


What’s your editing process like? 


I have no set way of working and will do as much or as little editing as necessary. Some records are quantized, sample replaced, reamped, tuned & have parts replayed and added by me at home - some are live with the amps in the room with the drums & no click. It mostly depends on the band’s aesthetic and what they are physically capable of playing vs their reference mixes. I want great performances during tracking and will try really hard to get them - but all I really care about is the final mix and will do pretty much anything to get it how we want. 


What’s your process when you’re also mastering what you’re mixing? 


If I know I’m mastering it, I just add a mastering chain to my mix bus and mix into it. I don’t see any point in changing things during mastering when I could just fix the mix.


Dolby Atmos: do you think it could be the standard in the future or is it just a fad? 


There's 0% chance I will invest in the monitoring equipment necessary to mix in atmos any time soon. I don’t know if it’ll become a standard or not, but for the time being I don’t really care about it. I do mostly punk and hardcore - the day one of these bands ask for atmos, I’ll re-evaluate. 


How do you balance studio life with real life (spending time with friends and family, avoiding burnout)?


Luckily, I’m just busy enough to only be in the studio tracking 5-10 days a month. I do all my editing and mixing at home and it gives me a lot of free time and flexibility. I’m not renting studio time for that, so I can start and stop as I please. 


What’s a relatively cheap piece of gear that has surprised you and has made it into your workflow?


I have quite a few very inexpensive snare drums that beat out much more expensive drums on a regular basis. Ludwig Acrolites (you can find one in your grandmas attic) always work for everything. I also have a custom made 3mm brass snare my friend Pete built for very cheap that beats out my Black Beauty, Copperphonic and VK Cast Iron in almost every session. 


Desert island plug-in? 


Waves SSL channel essentially has every knob and button I need for 90% of what I’m doing in a mix. I don’t really care about the “SSL sound” but I do care that it has filters, eq’s, a gate, a compressor and I know how they all work.

 

What music have you been listening to lately? 


I’m often overwhelmed by listening to the bands I record for hours and hours on end - so most of my music listening time has evolved into podcast time. If I just want to listen to music recreationally, it’s usually comfort foods like Paramore, Lifetime,  Box Car Racer and tons of other nostalgic records from high school. 

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